I recall my visits to England with affection. My memories are full of architecture – cold bulks that spoke great narratives of vanished generations. There were museums with jewelry and hummingbird feathers, ivory crossbows, buried ships and silver gowns. There were books that captured inaccessible decades between linen and paper. I stayed in old hotels with uneven floors that served afternoon tea and evening absinthe. I recall ducks, pigeons, swans and white peacocks stalking lawns like irritable clouds.
I remember the castles: cracked and shattered, their silhouettes created bleak mountain ranges and inspired mad imaginings. They were broken limbs; remnants of bodies centuries old that still longed to speak, to tell their life stories.
One castle had a story for me, and I almost walked over it. The castle's name escapes me, but I know that I wandered through its chambers and stood before its tall, yawning fireplace. I looked down at the stone tiles. They were smooth and blank, polished by long-moldered slippers embroidered with flowers and birds, spike-toed poulaines and shoes with tips that curled like a scorpion's tail and then were tied to the knee with gold chains.
All except for one tile. Faintly, like a private message, I saw a gentle design forcing itself through the expressionless granite. I wonder who else noticed that diffuse etching as I heard it whisper of the muzzled fires that whipped away the cold of an English winter.
In its prime, when the walls were whitewashed and studded with antlers and quatrefoils, was that single tile one of a vast design of medieval marquetry? Was it buried under armfuls of dried rushes, scented with a tincture of herb and flower?
Or was it the air that was sweetened – by dulcimers, lutes and recorders? Did it feel the softness of woolen hems as the ladies' dresses warmed the carvings of the cold, granite floor?
When I saw that stony wink fluttering up at me; filtering through the decades, full of confidences and histories, I knew that I had found the secret to that castle's life. I had found its key, right where it was meant to be found, beneath my feet.