I can follow you anywhere

A love letter to the lyrics of Solid Air by John Martyn

You’ve been taking your time
And you’ve been living on solid air.
You’ve been walking the line
And you’ve been living on solid air

The boy lies on the floor. His face is turned to the carpet, his right cheek scratched by the rough, worn pile.

He is mostly silent. Just the occasional grunt. If he could he’d sink down and disappear.


The woman stands in her bedroom. It is evening. Leaning against the wall is a full-length mirror, the kind you look over your shoulder at in shops. She catches sight of herself and behind her the window. The street is bathed in pink light, like someone draped scarves around the lamp posts. Sunset. The clouds look bruised. The quiet explosion of damage inside; cushioned rage pressing down on the street.

The woman leans down, bending over her son. She touches him on the shoulder.


And you’ve been painting the blues and you’ve been looking through solid air
You’ve been seeing it through and you’ve been looking through solid air

The boy shrinks from her hand. Recoils. Lying on his side with bent knees he places the soles of his feet flat on the floor and walks, in a circle, like the crooked hands of a clock inching their way to bedtime, to tomorrow, to another day far in the future when he won’t feel like this. His mum is behind him now. His feet face the fireplace.


I don’t know what’s going on in your mind
But I know you don’t like what you find
When you’re moving through solid air, solid air

The woman looks at the fireplace. She sees the curved wooden legs, sprouting into pillars where they meet the mantel; the glazed tiles each side of the hearth; the thin vase on the mantelpiece holding the evergreens and white tulips she bought yesterday to improve her mood; the photo of the two of them, smiling. She thinks, allows herself the thought, that this is a nice house. We’ll be happy here one day. It could have been worse.

She tries another question. Was it in class this happened, she says.

Nothing.

Nothing, she’s worked out, she thinks, means no. A grunt might mean yes. Or just OK. Permission to carry on —to continue this line of questioning.

Was it in the playground.

A soft, reluctant sound, up from the throat and out through the nose.

Lunchtime.

The same sound.

Who was it. Silence.

The woman inwardly berates herself. That question was a non-starter.

This a yes no game.

Twenty questions.

Animal vegetable mineral.

Guess who.

Guess who ruined my life today mummy.

Did you speak to a teacher about it.

Nothing.


The boy is curled foetal tight. A shrinking ball. The harder a question, the more tense his body goes. He wishes he had spikes, like a hedgehog.


You’ve been getting too deep
You’ve been living on solid air
You’ve been missing your sleep
And you’ve been moving through solid air

Outside it’s getting dark. The woman sits down on her bed. She looks at the flowers, the shallow murky water she forgot to change. She sees the wardrobe which came with the flat and is too small to fit her clothes. She thinks about what she has to wear tomorrow and what people at her new work will say about the trouser suit which doesn’t need ironing. Fancy, they’ll say. She thinks about how it seems to rain more here.

Was it one of the usual boys. That sound. Like an invitation disguised as a shove. Keep going. Stop. Stop. Keep going.

Darling, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me anything. Appealing to his intelligence. Can you tell me more about what happened.


Don’t know what’s going ‘round inside
And I can tell you that it’s hard to hide
When you’re living on solid air

The boy curls tighter still. He imagines his spikes getting longer, the tips of the needles reaching further, so that when he leans they turn him over and roll him to his bedroom. To the dark. Where he is safe, where no one can see him, where he’s allowed a picture of Dad.

Instead he’s here again, on the floor of his mother’s room. In this city that hates him. In this house that can’t protect him. With the person who doesn’t understand.


I know you, I love you
And I can be your friend
I can follow you anywhere
Even through solid air

When did the wall come down, she wonders. Why didn’t I see it. She feels separated, as if by air she can’t see through. She wonders if he can see her.

It’s like the world has changed state, and is caught somewhere between gas, liquid and solid. All that was certain has evaporated, all that was easy has hardened. Is this permanent? Maybe the fog will clear soon. How thick are the clouds.

For now, his travels are somewhere else. When they both moved here, not all of him came. She can’t tell whether he is moving back towards her, or further away. If he’ll ever come back. She watches the molecules of their old life float in the room. All she wants to do is burst them, or let the open window pull them out into the night air. But she watches her son, the son she can’t reach, and she knows that if his eyes were open they’d be fixed on those molecules, following them, rapt like they were soapy bubbles floating above the bath, and he wouldn’t be trying to burst them, he’d be guiding them towards him, giggling and concentrating, trying to catch the fragile memories in his hand like they were part of him.

And she thinks, how ever long it takes.


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