Triptych – a set of three pictures or panels, usually hinged, so that the two wing panels fold over the larger central one. Often used as an altarpiece. O.E.D.
Collage… an art form in which compositions are made out of pieces of paper, cloth, photographs, and other miscellaneous objects, juxtaposed and pasted on a dry ground. O.E.D.
Maiden… a young unmarried girl, especially when a virgin. Three – Elin, Alice, Gwawr.
Elin: Triptych. We have one panel each. It is hinged, but all the panels measure the same. For we are the same – equal – though our stories are different. We would not want one to have favour over the others.
It will not be used as an altarpiece. The vicar would spurn and shame it. It is a story of love, earthly love; and of customs and beliefs that the Church has long worked hard to bury deep or drive away.
Alice: three collages, one for each of us, done by each of us, telling our own particular story. Collage – some think there is nothing to it, that it is a children’s game of sticking bits and bobs onto a piece of paper; a schoolchild’s pastime, to hang on the wall around the classroom, for smirking parents to admire and claim. Some think it doesn’t deserve the name of art. And, true, we are not skilled painters, and we borrow the skills of others, and make use of what nature gives us – leaves, feathers, flowers; an abundance of treasure left for us to forage and farm. So, yes, we acknowledge a melange of talents and materials. But we also assert that there is art in an idea, and the interpretation of a story. A concept brought to life – that is what we have here.
And isn’t it so much better than a photograph, or picture? For you can touch the rises and the depths, the substance, as if your fingers are wandering amongst it. You can feel the texture and the shape, then reach down into the essence, as if you are entering the story of the picture. As if you are there…
Gwawr: Maidens then, but maidens no longer. No, not now, of course not now, after all these years gone by. For it was a long time ago that it all began, in that past when we were young, and carefree, and summers lasted forever. Now, we are neither one thing or another, lost in the age of in-between. Longer in tooth, wider in girth, greyer in colour. No longer those peachy girls who played and plotted and loved together. But not yet there with the Old Women in the Square, dried up, spat out, bitter.
But we are still together – that much can be said, for sure. Still three. Three. Three it always was, three it has always been, will ever be. Woven, linked, inseparable, entwined – call it what you will. Three, for ‘happy ever after’…
… things shared, held in common, amongst us, yes – but also things different, both in the triptych, and in our lives. So themes are interwoven, yet parts stay separate; stories are shared, but with secret chapters; trusts are held close, then wilfully abandoned.
… a photograph of a place at the centre of each panel – but each of somewhere different. A valley, but a different valley – Grwyne-fechan, fawr, Ewyas. A tree in each, its roots at the bottom, the branches stretching up and round, to twine throughout the whole picture. But not the same tree – birch, oak, ash.
… words flowing in a fluent, scrolling script, but different words for each.
Mementos, souvenirs, relics, kept for all this time, in boxes, drawers and cupboards. Under the bed; under the underwear; tucked behind. Hidden. Till now. ‘Look at this! And this! Can you believe it? Remember?’ Laid out, picked over, chosen. Mine, yours, hers. One for you, and you and you. Two for you, three for you. On and on and on. This, that, the other.
Three beds. Oat-straw; leaves of mountain ash, mixed with the seeds of a spring fern; mattress of maidenhair. All the same size, all just as comfortable – no Goldilocks dilemma here.
Three seasons, one for each – Spring, Summer, Autumn; colours tuned to each. And in each, a different Spirit Night, Ysbrid Nos, when strange things happen, futures are revealed, and ghosts walk abroad. Three Spirit nights, three festivals, three fires. Three ways of knowing – rhamanta; divination; dewiniaeth. And we chose to lift the veil ourselves – no need for witches or conjurors! Ignoring what we were told by those who thought they knew better; the reverend in his pulpit; the teacher in the school. Our mothers and aunts in the kitchen… who had, we knew, done these things themselves when they were our age, all those years ago. But, of course, they, like us, did not listen.
… three stories.
One. Two. Three.
Let us look at Elin’s first.
A sliver of birch bark. A dried flower – a yellow cowslip, chosen over a blushed May. It could have been either. Or both. A sixteenth birthday card.
The words of Ruth. Ruth, chapter one, verse sixteen. Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. As if I attend to the reverend and vicar, as if I believe in the Word.
A valentine! I have placed the card itself, still having it after all these years, kept in my box of treasures beneath the bed. A valentine he had made himself, even writing the poem; a verse of exquisite charm, the letters of his name wrought into it, so that I would know it was him, even though he shouldn’t say.
The season is May – to show when we first stepped out together. May Eve, the Spirit Night chosen for me. Nos Calan Mai, the hours before May Day. So, here are nature’s signs of that fulsome time of year.
The colours are the greens and whites and pinks – the growth and the May blossom. The puzzle of abundant hedgerows looking as if they have been kissed by winter again, while others are snagged with fairy jackets, made by the lambs pushing through them for pastures new.
A ribbon from the maypole we danced around the next day. (Yes, I kept a strand of that, too!)
A spiral of dried apple-peel.
A D drawn in silver glitter.
Mistletoe…tea leaves… See! Feel!
These are my colours, dappled and speckled with contrasting hues. A bright summer medley, with shades of midsummer flowers – the pink of the wild rose, and yellow for honeysuckle tumbling over cottage walls. Blue skies, fluffy cotton-wool clouds. (Real cotton-wool, of course). It is a picture of the heart of the year.
He had made me more than a valentine! He had made me a love-spoon, the most intricate design, with hearts and keys and chains. But I cannot put that on my collage – too large and too heavy – even if I had it… So I have cut a picture, instead, and glued it in its place.
A random throw of sequins, standing for glow-worms, leading the eye to St. John’s favourite flower. Yellow, again.
A ladder cunningly wrought from yarn, let down from a stencilled window.
Valerian, the cat’s sleep potion, dried, and powerless, with time.
A dice. Yes, a real dice, fixed firmly in the centre, meaning ‘a throw of the dice’; one, two, three…six. Six lads I could have had, six for me to choose from. Six, who wanted me above all others – me, the prettiest girl in the valley, and all the Mountains round. But I was the one who didn’t know which she wanted, who couldn’t decide and didn’t care. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. Or the flick of the wrist, a throw of the dice, pick this, that, or the other…that’s all it meant to me.
Mine speaks of autumn, the time of All Hallows. Hallowe’en. Nos Galan Gaeaf…when he first stepped forward from the flames. So it is coloured in the tints of the falling. Oranges, reds, browns. Leaves grace the corners, picked from the ground, blown by the giants’ breath. An orange sycamore, yellow oak, red rowan, against the black background – chosen for that darkest time of the year. The time of the spirits, coming back into the open, coming to play with our hearts, and wreak havoc with our souls.
Mine speaks of… But I won’t tell you more. I will keep it secret till it is my turn to tell.
Elin. That summer, when we had all turned sixteen…
Alice. But it had started before the summer… it was in the air all that year.
Gwawr. Yet surely it was Spring when it truly began…
Elin Except we called it summer then – May Day, the first day of summer. Calan Haf, Calan Mai.
So…that summer, spring, season … Call it by any name you want. I remember, we all remember. We talk about it still. And have made this triptych for it. One, two, three. Like the stained glass window above the altar, shards and facets are stuck together, to make our picture story (not so different from an altarpiece, after all.) A story of that time…of then. Let us begin.
Diana Powell lives and writes in the far west of Wales. Her stories have featured in a number of competitions, including the 2014 PENfro (winner), 2016 Sean O’Faolain (long-list), and 2016 Cinnamon Prize (runner-up). They have also appeared in several print publications, including The Lonely Crowd and Crannog. She is currently working on a novella, due to be published in the Spring of next year.