Dearest H,

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Today is Sunday and my first real day of leave since arriving here now 43 days ago. God rests and all his children also. I am as always writing to you from beside the bay window, where pink clouds come by, and plane trees luff at the wind. I do not think you should worry so much about love or how we sign ourselves at the ends of our letters.

Mr. Ibriham of the ice-cream vans is out today, looking them over fondly, though he has to be careful what with this weather and his condition. We are in a cold snap. I had to stop to scrape the windscreen. The ice came away very dry.

They have started work now on Telegraph Hill Park - paths are to be laid, and trees planted, in October, which is the best time of year. Just before the closing in. I saw Suzy there recently by chance. She looked well - still very much the broken doll, though her hands are older. Mine remain stiff from work. Dogs will be allowed in the lower park while the upper is being renovated, and then the inverse. I live as you will remember a little way down from the park. Mr. Ibriham of the ice-cream vans is one down from me.

Mr. Ibriham's son is here running the vans, which he does once a week, on Sundays, though they never move. He is checking the oil, draining the refrigerators, opening the chokes as the engines warm. Mr. Ibriham likes to keep them ticking, just like his heart. All twelve tyres are bald and flat to the ground. The son is called Mosha and drives a van with Gibbons Printing Company proud all down the pavement side. He parks in Sherwin Road, where wild cherry-tree blossoms are caught in the cold snap. Suzy said she was cold too; she was wearing strange leg-warmers. Better for bicycling she explained.

Mr. Onu is uphill to the right-hand side though I have not seen him today. There is something about the blood of Jesus and love or sin written into the concrete of his forecourt, and his wife teaches in a school. I sponsored two girls to walk to the river for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, at a pound a mile and seven miles of walking. We all have to look after our own. Mr. Ibriham I think hoped his son would ride the ice-cream vans once his own hand had turned in. These vans are his hopes, left out in the rain.

My mother thinks she would like to plant a wild cherry tree in our forecourt. Not the leaning elm or ash or pale silver birch as they grow too tall, and their roots open the pavement and till water from the foundations of the house. Fruit-bearing trees bring boys with sticks. I think I found a hair of yours in my dictionary.

Mosha is the Ibriham's fourth child; he wanted her to keep bearing until a son was born. You are lucky, Mrs. Ibriham told my mother, to have had him second. She is a small woman with a wheeling crate she takes shopping and permaluxed red hair. The Onus have seven children - boys and girls I cannot tell their order. There is a daughter who come evening with the lights turned out. A kind of Gospel swing. I could hear her as I painted the render skirt late one night on that side. Full of passion, and maybe love or sin.

Mr. Ibriham has asked me if I might have a pump for his bald flat tyres. I wonder if they would even hold the air. We are in a cold snap now, and Mr. Ibriham is suffering fond memories. His question came from somewhere which had almost already given up. There is a wasting point whence people turn and look. I had a bath last night and thought about you - they'd been playing that Sondheim song on the radio; coffee cups and telephones and so on. Astonishing the places people find to put their hearts. As it happens I do have a pump for Mr. Ibriham - it was my grandfather's who used it on his ride-on mower. There was a large garden in Surrey.

Mrs. Onu is trying to grass her back garden. It is covered in black plastic sheeting and is off limits to her family. Her boys dawdle occasionally on the forecourt with whips of tree branch, and the blood of Jesus cuneiformed beneath their feet. When I pulled the plug I lay down and listened to the whole bath drain. There is a line running all the way to the sea.

Thirty years or so ago they separated the sewers in London: one for rain off the roads and another for people's houes. It used to be that flash storms could could fill the system and faeces would spill up into the streets, the morning's washing pour back through your basement, old baths where you had thought about distant things rise again and ream from beneath the manhole cover. In torrents of rain and noise and night people broom tinily in purls of flood. Now it is only the rainwater that overflows, in dark sheens by bus stops, in halos beneath the standing lamps. There is one on Mr. Onu's forecourt which complicates his parking and so he asked the council if they would move it. Yes yes yes! they replied, and for only £3,000!

Mr. Ibriham has offered one of his vans up for seven, or nearest offer. He has written as much in pale brown ink on a cardboard sign, which he props behind the fractured glass of one rear window. Behind tendrils of ivy and dieselled veins. His son confided that seven thousand was optimistic, and he would be lucky to find four. Everything expresses a muted desire to sell. Everything expresses, and yet is mute.

Elizabeth Welsh sang the Sondheim. The recording was made when she was eighty-seven, and most likely losing her mind. Less naughty than Josephine Baker, less drunk than Billie Holiday. Suzy I thought was looking better.

A man called by yesterday looking for a former friend - a little girl who lived here in the early fifties and who he'd play with after school. By God you must be lonely now I thought. Last night I was in an almost endlessly long building, perhaps a mile stretch of terraced housing with the party walls fallen in to make one continuous dilapidated tenement. I was carrying my mother in my arms, past mounds of expired bricks, over holes in the floor between splintered boards and floating limbs of joist. Outside the bombs fell, whistling like children.

My aunt had a fruit-bearing tree on her forecourt, and soon thereafter came boys with sticks and green appley hands, and the pelting of small sour missiles and their shards oxidising silently in the afternoon sun. She moved it the following October, just before the closing in.

Mr. Ibriham is suffering fond memories. It was thirty years ago he moved here from Cyprus and piped his first 99. He is now a sick man he tells me. I have a pacemaker he says and taps his chest where the ribs rise and fuse. And there beneath his ailing heart: a lifetime of ice-creams and hot-dogs, children and dinky tunes. There is a Cypriot proverb that every mutton is hung by its own leg. His relatives visit often, and stay long.

The man was looking for a friend from his boyhood. In the early fifties he was a regular visitor to the house. Much has changed he observed, and all still so very familiar. This garden, those walls .... A split pink ball is stranded beyond Mrs. Onu's sheeted zone, where is lies and fills with rain. Clouds come by, their lower reaches grey and locellated by terracotta pots. I am writing to you as always from the bay window. There was formerly one at the back too I learn but it fell away from the house and was demolished. His friend was called Lucy.

When I was carrying my mother through the ruined building she was so light I was both frightened and relieved. I remember how my grandmother before death was a twist of string in her nightie. We were picking our way through to a distant bed. Occasionally collasped sections of roof align with holes in the ceilings and I stop, amid broken slate, to look at the night.

The rat population has tripled since they separated the sewers.

Mr. Ibriham had a faucet installed for washing his vans. Salt from the palms of summer's children, though their dirt now is all disuse. The pump is very fine with a fire-engine red cylinder, a gauge, and red wheeling trolley. Mrs. Ibriham's womb is exhausted from four. If you are thirsty he said, you may drink. Or water a wild tree perhaps? I don't know what became of the mower, only its rider. Sundays are pretty on Pepys Road.

In Outer Mongolia they ride horses from the age of two. The infant is strapped on his parents who crack the flanks, and the horse bolts until the child either finds mastery or dies in the desert with the beast still prancing. Those who master their horses ride them in turn to the death, with straps and the dust. The horse is on its side now it four legs lock and slump and one eye is in the desert, the other to the bare blue sky. The rider comes round and kicks it in the heart to see if it will fire again, or if it will die this time with its master kicking it in the heart.

Mosha has gone in now, though the vans are still running and our windows rattle on their sash cords. Otherwise the cold snap is very still. We write letters, move papers, frown into telephones. Inhabit these houses. Mr. Ibriham folds up his hopes. He will be ridden into the dust by the battery in his little electronic pacemaker but his teeth are indomitable; they are brown as tree bark and so widely spaced they could never rot. They will be found in the ground like chipped stone long after the graveyard has returned to unceremonied earth. I will be found in you.

London, Feb 23 2004