I used to live a life of curves; the rump of a hill, thunder clouds piling up in a hot sky, my wife’s hip as she lies facing me, the line of her body smooth under the sheet. Nature shows a discomfort with right angles and straight lines, yet men will seek to fashion them still. The mason reaches for a rock, roughly formed, unique. Then he removes its identity with his chipping and tapping and is only satisfied when it is like the others he has shaped.
There are no curves in my cell. It is square based, high walled with rectangular stones. This Saracen builder was indeed diligent. He left few awkward edges, although I found them all when I scrutinised the intimate corners of my world. Sometimes, in desperation for softness, I hurl my blanket across the floor and watch the fabric settle in folds and creases. I see peaks and valleys, river courses, a flat stretch of water, and I think of home.
But I have a gift – the gift of an empty square, and through the space created by right angles and four straight sides, light enters. I cannot reach my square, but I devise the sides to be the length of my arm, elbow to fingertip. Out there, I imagine the beams of an alien sun creating a broad sweep, catching the shiny surfaces; sparkles on running water, flashes of brilliance when a sword is lifted high or a precious jewel shines on a woman’s breast. These things can be seen by everyone, but my square of light is mine and I am blessed because it is rich and intense and solely for me.
It looks west. In the morning, it admits a softness when grey dawn creeps in. If the sky is clear, my light is warm and yellow, paler when it is cloudy, almost white when the moon deflects the rays of the unsleeping sun. As day lengthens, so does my light. It may be framed with regular sides and corners, but the arc of the sun creates subtle changes on the opposing wall. Each evening I wait for a particular moment when the square becomes perfect. Catching my breath I watch it form, then slip into irregularity. I follow its rise up the wall, as it expresses for me the most glorious, most intense shades, before fading into darkness.
Then, I scratch another mark on the floor.
I came to this land to serve my Lord and he has granted me a peace I would never have known if I had stayed by the hearth and grown old with the dogs licking my fingers and my children tumbling around me.
They have taken everything, left only the rags that cover my bones. But in taking everything, they have opened my eyes to something priceless because it is rationed, contained, yet delivered unfailingly through an open and empty stone square.
My square, my light.
Catherine Finch divides her time between the Ribble Valley in Lancashire and South West France. She is married to Gary, and has two grown up children. During the thirty years she worked in education, she often wrote stories, plays and musicals for children. Although reluctant to leave the village school where she was head teacher for eleven years, she is delighted to have finally found space in her life to do some real writing.