Water Towers – Part Nine

shelton-rs-20090501-01I circuited Birmingham, the M42, the M5. I moved to the outside lane, shifting through seventy in eighty, and as I encountered any stragglers who impeded me, Darius’s voice would come back to me. Now why would you even think of doing that? I was on the final stretch of A-road when I saw the water tower from the film. I hadn’t realised that Mona had driven us that far east. I really hadn’t expected to see it. But maybe, I told myself, this was what the whole journey had been about. Its essence, its purpose. Not my chance to commemorate my father, or my shabby attempts to be a son.

After I pulled into the layby, I stayed seated inside the car, watching the water tower across the fields. As though, any moment, something incredible might occur. A shaking of its foundations. A huge wave, reaching this far inland, vast and crystalline and white, folding itself over the structure like a layer of quartz, obliterating farmland and trees. But nothing happened. I opened the window beside me to let in more air, the sound of the traffic more sudden and clear. During this crossover between winter and spring, the landscape seemed leached and stripped out. The water tower stood out stark and white against it. We must have circled the building about twenty times that day. Mona would shoot only a few seconds before moving on to the next position. The pillars at the front. The curve of the arch. The lines of the tank above the central column. Watching the tape again the night before, I noticed that she’d always moved the camera from right to left, creating a sense of movement. In the final shot, the water tower stands at the centre of the frame, rising against the landscape. By this time, I was sitting on the path, watching her. I could remember the intensity of the heat: falling from the sky, rising through the denim of my jeans. I could hear the sound of the grasshoppers in the brittle undergrowth, the crackle like fire. I could smell the yellow rape, the pollen clogged in my sinuses, hard as a nut.



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