NOT/NID – writer (not) in residence/ awdur (nid) yn preswylio

Sara Annwyl: The Impossible Murmuration


Sof Wen is twenty one years old.

She is in the basement of the Queen’s Arcade, approaching the fridge.

Sof Wen is twenty one years old and there is no more University.

‘Get on with it’ thinks Sof Wen.

She is in the basement and she is approaching the fridge.

Her green Cafe Quik t-shirt stinks of sour milk.

‘Get on with it’ says Sof to herself, bending before the fridge.

No more University and six months of too many thoughts.

‘Get on with it’ thinks Sof Wen in the basement of the Queen’s Arcade.

Too many flying thoughts for one essay.

Bending before the fridge and taking its weight.

No more essays but sour milk and a secret urge.

To slice her own face open with a knife.

Above the basement the shoppers move in unison, like birds.

Sof Wen takes the weight.

Beneath the sour Cafe Quik green she feels a crunch.

There is a crunch in the basement of the Queen’s Arcade that only Sof Wen can hear.

‘Get on with it.’

Sof lifts the fridge for Cafe Quik.

Takes the weight.

And above her a thousand strangers and their thoughts quietly change direction.




Turk Sunkiss sat by the open door of Arcade Cardiff.

Outside the mall, on Queen Street, a man in his early twenties with Victorian facial hair was singing Radiohead.

He had his amp plugged into the socket provided by the council.

Turk Sunkiss sat by the open door and greeted Sof Wen.

He had been called in to invigilate at the last moment, that morning.

The opening times were not on the window of the gallery.

‘I’ll have to have a word’ said Turk, laughing.

He stepped outside and into the atrium of the shopping arcade, inspected the signage on the glass.

‘I’ll have to have a word with Bobby Gimlet’ said Turk Sunkiss, scratching his head.

‘He once put up the wrong month.’




A mirror ball hung from the ceiling, the size of an apple and suspended on a string.

Knee height.

On the wall were postcards, print outs from the ffuunnsshhooww website.

Authors were not referenced.

Nothing was labelled.

People’s names were scattered across coloured pages on Turk Sunkiss’ desk.

Like confetti.

A tiny row of Fimo bottles of alcohol had been arranged on a plinth.

One of them had fallen.

And someone had carefully, meticulously painted a pretend spillage.




‘It was here’ said Sof Wen.

And she stamped on the floor of the gallery for emphasis.

Beaming at Turk Sunkiss, who beamed right back.

‘Here?’ asked Turk.

‘Actually here?’ he asked.

‘Here’ said Sof Wen.

‘Beneath this space, here.’

‘It was called Cafe Quick, back then’ she said.

‘I was twenty one’ said Sof Wen, feeling the pull and the presence of the basement beneath her.

‘I was twenty one’ said Sof Wen.

‘And I honestly thought that my life was over.’




‘And if you are having fun’ said Turk Sunkiss.

‘Then you aren’t working’ he said.

Three teenagers are approaching the open door behind him.

Turk was telling Sof a story about his foster father.

Turk was talking about how his foster father had noticed the manner in which his friends had been dying.

Dropping like flies within months of retirement.

The three teenagers giggle, peer through the window.

Hang back.

Turk’s foster father had observed this.

The way in which his friends had been dropping.

Like flies.

One of the teenagers, a girl in a puffa jacket and a tight pony tail, breaks away from the others.

Saunters nonchalantly towards the door of the gallery.

Turk’s foster father had observed this about his compadres.

How all of them worked and worked and then dropped like flies.

He observed this about them.

And then he got himself a job in a nursery.

Growing trees.

The girl is at the open door as Turk finishes telling his foster father’s story.

She puts one foot over the boundary.

And runs away, laughing.





Sof Wen watches the cigarette smoke cast its curling shadow across the white brick wall.

She is thinking about Blodeuwedd Rise.

It is late afternoon and windless in the garden.

The light is falling in such a way.

The smoke has more clarity in shadow than it does in substance.

Sof is thinking.

The shadow of her hand is motionless.

She watches the smoke rise from between her fingers.

Something about Blodeuwedd Rise she wants to articulate.

Blodeuwedd Rise and ferns.

Elegant, delicate, tall.

The smoke moves with an intelligence of its own.

It’s very clear and dark in shadow, precisely moving into shapes.

There is a blank page upstairs.

Waiting for Blodeuwedd.

A flute in conversation.

A lilting way of tilting the head and looking sideways.

Something Sof would like to find the words to say.

‘It’s kind of….’ Blodeuwedd would say to her, pausing.

Tilting her head.

‘I suppose it’s…’ she might say next, looking upwards to the left.

Remembering something.

‘But anyway…’ Blodeuwedd would say, touching on an idea gently.

Beginning to describe its form before leaving it unsaid.

‘It was something like that, perhaps a bit like this…’ she’d say.

Sof Wen watches the smoke move from shadow to invisibility.

Thinking about the page upstairs and the way words fall.

‘Oh!’ said Blodeuwedd, often.

A bend of the head and a fern in the wind.

‘Oh, I thought.’

Fascinated with some design.


Drawing the ‘Oh’ out sometimes, or suppressing the sound into more of a ‘Hmmm…’

A curious look upwards to the side, from under her lashes.

‘Oh!’ said Blodeuwedd.

With a tone of wise surprise.

Humorous too, as if she’d always known the discovery was to come.

And had always only been intrigued.



‘Tell me if you can see what it is’ said Blodeuwedd Rise.

It seemed topographical.

There was a herring bone quality to the image, and within that, forms.

It seemed to be an Owl, to Sof.

At first.

It looked a little like a rubbing.

A little like a landscape.

Sof Wen stared at the image on the screen, said nothing.

And Blodeuwedd watched Sof Wen with interest.

‘Tell me if you can see what it is’ she said.

Sof Wen looked at it for a long time.

Turned to Blodeuwedd, eventually.

‘What is it?’ she asked.

And Blodeuwedd laughed.

She lifted a long finger to the shape on the screen and traced a line beneath the surface .

‘That’s me’ said Blodeuwedd Rise.

‘Beneath the sheets’ she said.

‘I took photographs’ said Blodeuwedd.

‘After the operation.’

‘There’s my stomach’ said Blodeuwedd.

‘Those are my legs.’

‘And there’s the tube’ she said.

‘The drain.’

Sof Wen looked again at the shape upon the screen.

‘Oh yes’ she said.

It seemed clear now.

What had resembled the crown of an owl was in fact the fold of hospital linen.

What had looked at first like flowers.




Blodeuwedd had chosen a boy’s blue for the writing on the wall.

In the space in Arcade Cardiff.

In folds and fronds.

In herringbone.

Her transformation had been framed and hung politely.

On the floor a pile of thrown off clothes.

Each shirt and trouser labelled clearly.

In the corner a denim jacket on a hook.

Embroidered by a friend.

The chosen font was Fisher Price and primary.

Behind a curtain, a private shrine.

To a name.

And a face, painted on Blodeuwedd’s mirror.

A man of reputation.



When Sof listened to the story, she imagined an open topped car.

An American road.

That couldn’t have been the scene.

That wasn’t how it really was and Sof Wen knew that.

But this was the wheel she imagined Blodeuwedd steering.

With the wind in her hair and a famous man in the passenger seat.

It was a broad and sunlit dashboard Sof Wen imagined.

Which housed the tape deck and the radio.

Into which Blodeuwedd had put her TDK Cassette of songs.

Thoughtfully selected.



The passenger was very famous.

It was a big new deal for Wales.

It was a hard job, there was a lot of work to do.

To be at Venice.

And Blodeuwedd was working hard behind the wheel.

Feeling she was on the wrong road, interminably, at the time.

But behind the wheel and working hard.

The passenger was very famous and Blodeuwedd loved his work.

She’d selected the songs carefully.

Spent time.

Tilting her head to listen.

Spending time and looking forward.

Saying ‘Oh!’

She’d put the cassette together carefully.

Looking forward to the conversation.

But when he got into the car he had his people.

He had his people and he had his work to do.

He hadn’t really noticed Blodeuwedd at the wheel.

And when her music started playing.

He switched the mixtape off.



The music went unheard.

And the mixtape was ejected.

The road went on ahead.

An American highway in Venice is how Sof Wen imagines it.

Empty, straight and endless.

No suggestion of a turning.

The car was driven all the way to where it had to go.

The work, itself, completed.

But when Blodeuwedd climbed out of the car.

She left and didn’t look back again.

She went home from Venice.

Climbed under the sheets.

Lay there listening to herself.

There was something Blodeuwedd had to do now.

Something very delicate, something very clean and clear.

Something frightening, painful.

Even brutal.

All Blodeuwedd’s gears were grinding.

There would be a process and an anaesthetic.

And complications after the crossroads that she couldn’t yet anticipate.

Ten operations, it took, eventually.

But Blodeuwedd didn’t know that yet, beneath her sheets.

Where she slept and cried and considered her story.

Its chapters and its titles.



Blodeuwedd Rise looks upwards to the right as she tells Sof Wen her story.

She is sitting in her office, and on the screen there is a map of something.

‘Topographical’ Sof had thought.

‘An Owl’.

Blodeuwedd tilts her head, she’s humorous.

She tells her story and Sof Wen listens, sensing shapes.

There are ferns in the wind and a delicate herringbone over genitalia.

The path is meandering with many tangents.

A file has been opened on Blodeuwedd’s computer.

Revealing photographs of the shrine she made.

Her dressing table from her bedroom.

All the bottles and cosmetics that she kept upon it.

Some posters to the famous man she mocked up especially.

His face on Blodeuwedd’s mirror, painted by a friend.

Flowers, candles, an electric star across the drawers.

Blodeuwedd had sat, herself, invigilating.

Her physical presence in the gallery a significant exhibit.

‘I hadn’t thought of that’ she said.

‘Until it was happening.’

‘But it was good’ she said.


The man himself had been invited.

‘But he didn’t show’ said Blodeuwedd Rise.

‘He didn’t even reply.’

She shrugged, inclined her head.

Elegant, tall, intelligent.

‘He probably didn’t even get the letter’ said Blodeuwedd Rise.

‘He has people’ she said.

‘You know.’



For the private view Blodeuwedd wore the embroidered coat.

The chosen font was Fisher Price and primary.

A local paper came and interviewed Blodeuwedd.

Hoping to sensationalise.

The words were written large in baby blue upon the wall.

The words were written on all her discarded clothes.

The words were written on the coat Blodeuwedd wore.

And when she told the tale months later to Sof Wen.

Blodeuwedd laughed.

Blodeuwedd, who’d been born Benedict, looked up and laughed.

‘John Cale did it’ said Blodeuwedd Rise.

‘John Cale Made Me A Woman.’