Yesterday, I arrived early to attend the part of Portsmouth’s current We Shine festival that involves viewing a space-y fortified moon-bauble-lamp suspended within the interior of St Mary’s Church Fratton, to gently glow before the altar. No dark side. No cold, cold, ‘nothing’ around it. No astronaut. No star to shine its light off it, internally lit.

A young woman with a small boy, who seemed to be mother and son, were seated on a bench in the church grounds, their backs to the building, peering up at the darkening sky.

“Do you think the moon’s not in the sky because it’s inside the church?” I overheard her ask him.

His expression was of wonder – he couldn’t see it – so nodded fractionally, credulous, yet amazed. I smiled at her, she smiled back, chuckling happily while the boy – perhaps her boy – gaped on steadily skywards, enchanted. As the church hadn’t opened its entrance door yet, I guessed she’d shown him a picture or brought him to see the installation, called, Museum of The Moon, before. Though, perhaps she’d simply spun him the tale, verbally, so that once the exhibition opened, seeing would apparently confirm what he’d been encouraged to imagine: be like believing.

Rachella The Fortune Teller – AKA Rachel, a neurodiverse performance artist – was dressing herself in the sequined clothing of her puppet-like characterisation, Rachella, by her booth next to the church. I paced around the compact set. According to this actor’s Red Sauce Theatre website, later, there would be an attendant dressed as a sneering Victorian lady making sure ‘you are behaving in a proper and sensible manner’.

Rounding the booth, I came upon a very tiny very small-framed old lady – about to my shoulder in height – standing as if glued onto the grass, gawking at the booth.

“I’ve just lost my husband, I don’t need that, do I!?” she half told, half asked, me, with urgency.

Glancing at me, then gawking back at the booth. Her hands dangling either side of her. All her energy seemed to be in her gaping mouth, and rounded eyes. Reminding me of a paralysed fish. Hooked-ish, by the spectacle.

“Love of my life, he was.” she added.

With my pleather-gloved hand, I reached out for her nearest limp hand, and firmly squeezed it.

“You knew love. You had a love of your life.” I stated, with all the sense of wonder about all the love I’ve ever known, and know, that I could possibly, authentically, muster into my voice. Also, of loss. Empathising. Smiled at her, let her unresponsive, as if part-dead, also-gloved hand, go.

She peered at her held-then-released hand without moving it, still, as if thinking, ‘Does this hand belong to me? Did something happen to it just now?’ Then looked at me, full attentively, turning from the booth, beaming.

“Yes I did! I bless the day I met him!”

“You stick with that.” I advised her and walked away to join the queue for Museum of The Moon in the church car park. Praying – please God – that it had been OK for me to have gotten involved. Praying that the little old widow would have enough balance to view me as merely a random person who’d affirmed what she’d said: she probably didn’t ‘need that’, in her clearly fresh-dug grief. Time enough to consider facing her fate when the recent memories of the death of such a dearly- and long-loved one had temporally receded. But – God’s call – not my call, which could be wrong. Her decision. Which, in hindsight, perhaps I could’ve dared to stay and add.

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