a rather small conversation

June 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

A story which I thought was incomplete as the rest of it is lost on my laptop and I can’t find it. But maybe it’s fine as it is. With thanks to Tove Jansson for being there…

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‘How would you know when you’d gone to heaven?’ asked Alice.

‘I’d just know,’ Gran replied.

‘How?’

‘I’d feel different.’

‘What kind of different?’

‘I’d feel calmer because people wouldn’t be bothering me with difficult questions all the time.’

‘What would it look like when you got there?’

Gran puffed up her cheeks and breathed out like she was a balloon and someone was letting all her air out. ‘I can’t be certain because I haven’t been there yet, and I haven’t talked to anyone who has either. I think it might look like that meadow over there.’

They went to have a proper look. The day was baking, the road was cracked and spattered with dried up cowpats, and all the wild flowers in the ditch were shrivelling up. They pushed open the gate and sat down in the long brown grass bending over from the weight of its seed heads. There were ripe buttercups to pick, and low spiky bushes of young blueberries hiding in the grass.

An earwig jumped off a seed head and crawled onto the old lady’s shoe. She picked a blade of grass and flicked it off.

‘Earwigs bite you know,’ said Alice.

‘Don’t think they do’, Gran replied. I’ve been in this world eighty eight years and I’ve not been bitten once.’

‘Well, I’ve been here eighty years less, and I have. Maybe you’ve never met a cross earwig.’

It crawled away and Alice wondered if it might come back and bite her. ‘Are there earwigs in heaven?’ she asked.

‘No,’ said the old lady firmly lying down on the grass and putting her sunhat over her face.

~

Breaking

March 5, 2014 § 18 Comments

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 A fragment of a longer piece

Come away with me, she said in the letter that made her body shiver. There are eagles and dolphins, and perhaps the whales will sing.

She didn’t know why he’d agreed; she did not know him well, but she wanted him, and had to believe. Over five hundred miles he drove as she dreamed. She waited in the rain where the road slipped into the sea, where the fishermen harvested the langoustines. She would be safe. She would sit in the lap of the Gods.

But he had changed. His back was bent, there was no kiss.

‘Come to my bed’, she said.

‘No’, he replied. ‘I feel her here with me.’

She took him to the North Sea where the whales blew. The wind was so fierce he didn’t see the tears. He was blind to her pain. They followed the curve of the bay to where the tide fed the estuary, where the old, granite mountains grew sharp and wild into the sky. She willed him to hold her hand, but she stood alone. ‘Stay with me a while’, she said.

‘I can’t, he said. ‘It wouldn’t work’.

‘Then leave me alone,’ she cried. I know what I want.’

             That night they slept in separate rooms, and in the morning he was gone. Her menstrual blood gushed furious from her body, and reminded her she was a woman. She ran to the bay to look for their footprints. She needed to find them, she needed hope. She followed them along the sand, but then they stopped, swallowed by the tide. And then she knew. She lay down, rolling over and over in the wet sand until she broke, until the pain came out raw and stinging on her skin. It felt better than the pain inside.

She took the wine she had bought for their supper and drank it on the granite slabs. The water crashed onto the rocks and slid over her feet. She was suddenly frightened of her own will. She would slip, she would disappear, she would be nothing.

She threw the empty bottle into the sea, all her wishes lost inside.

Telling The Bees

November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments

Another excerpt or ‘moment in time’ from a much longer piece. Freya, who some of you may have met on earlier blogs, is a fragile, passionate young woman not quite meant for this world. She possesses second sight, and feels things others do not. She tells no one what she knows, except her dog, Lily, and an ‘imaginary friend’ who appears at seemingly random points in her life. This friend does not feature here.

This short piece is what goes through her mind as she makes the decision whether or not to have an affair.

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Freya’s first job was to tell the bees. ‘No one’s died,’ she said. ‘But it’s like dying, so I thought you’d want to know.’ The bees listened, circling with interest around her head. ‘I’m going to make a new life and forget about the old one.’ The bees buzzed loudly and a few settled on her face. ‘There’s really no need to concern yourselves. Nothing bad will happen.’                 

            Freya’s second job was more difficult. The wood refused to catch. It was dry enough, but now a marsh mist was in the air. She stabbed at the bonfire with a stick until the branches of the old apple tree flared hot in her face, and sap bubbled from the bark like treacle. Insects sizzled and popped out of their shells, while others scurried from the heat and hid in the long grass.

The diaries and papers wouldn’t burn. Pages from her past glowed and made chimneys of curling smoke, but no flames would come. She threw a plastic bottle of paraffin on the fire, and as it exploded her ducks rose from the pond and flapped in alarm. Soon pages partly alight flew above the blaze in arcs, and settled in the grass; the words smouldering and partly visible amongst the ash.

But Freya felt a lightness coming: as if she was turning into a bird and her bones filling with air. She took the photo of Robert and his wife from her pocket, tore it in half, and threw the smiling Julia in the flames. Then she opened the well-thumbed letter and began to read.

Freya,

Come to the cottage and sit with me in the lap of the Gods. I will cook for us and light a fire in the hearth. I will take you to the sea loch where the whales blow, and show you where the eagles watch.

I’ll meet you by the dam at Ardnamurtie Loch, thirty minutes south of Ullapool. Remember. I showed you on the map? I’ll wait for you everyday between two and four o’clock. I won’t leave until you come.

Robert

The smoke drifted into the mist making a cloud around her head, and Freya wrapped herself in the horse blanket curling up tight like a caterpillar, and slept.

            As she dreamed, her mother returned. She was working: wiping her hands on the yellow striped apron and bending over a mound of freshly cut lavender. Her long fingers separated each plant stem and removed the damaged leaves with the tips of her thumb and forefinger. There was more lavender drying on another table. It rustled as her mother separated the stalks into small bunches then tied them together with lengths of fine green string. After she’d finished she hung them upside down on a line of butchers hooks screwed into the rafters of the barn. Rubbing her hands together and holding them up to her face, she breathed in and massaged the oil from the flowers into her skin. She turned to Freya standing in the doorway, and smiled. ‘If you fly too high you will crash.’

            Freya woke in the damp grass: cold and unsettled that her mother had not said more. The mist had spread over the ground in thick fingers, and all colour had drained from the landscape. The fire had flattened and spread into the grass, still flickering as unburnt paper caught. She poked at the fire again, then pulling the blanket around her shoulders, went to the house and slept.

            She woke late. Where the bonfire had been was now a flat circle of grey ash.  The only history remaining was in Freya’s head, and that could be easily hidden – apart from her clothes that lay in a pile on the kitchen floor. She took scissors and began to cut: slicing the fabric into long strips. Then she began to cut the lengths into squares. ‘I can make a patchwork quilt of my past,’ she said. ‘Make it new – make it unrecognizable.’ She was speaking to Lily. The dog lay watching her, her head between her paws. ‘Do you think we should go?’ The collie’s tail thudded slowly on the kitchen floor.

‘Yes. You’re right,’ answered Freya. ‘I have nothing to lose.’

She jangled the car keys. ‘Come Lily. We’re going to Scotland.’

*

Do Earwigs Go To Heaven?

November 1, 2013 § 10 Comments

 A fragment of a short story written a while back. The rest is hiding in my laptop and I can’t find it. Maybe the piece works on its own. What do you think? Unashamedly written in the style of Tove Jansson

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 ‘How would you know when you’d gone to heaven?’ asked Alice.

‘I’d just know,’ replied Gran.

‘How?’

‘I’d feel different.’

              ‘What kind of different?’

              ‘I’d feel calmer because people wouldn’t be bothering me with difficult questions all the time.’

            ‘What would it look like when you got there?’

            Gran puffed up her cheeks and breathed out like she was a balloon and someone was letting all her air out. ‘I can’t be certain because I haven’t been there yet, and I haven’t talked to anyone who has either. I think it might look like that meadow over there.’

They went to have a proper look. The day was baking, the road was cracked and spattered with dried up cowpats, and all the wild flowers in the ditch were shrivelling up. They pushed open the gate and sat down in the long brown grass bending over from the weight of its seed heads. There were ripe buttercups to pick, and low spiky bushes of young blueberries hiding in the grass.

An earwig jumped off a seed head and crawled onto the old lady’s shoe. She picked a blade of grass and flicked it off.

‘Earwigs bite you know,’ said Alice.

‘Don’t think they do. I’ve been in this world eighty eight years and I’ve not been bitten once.’

‘Well, I’ve been here eighty years less, and I have. Maybe you’ve never met a cross earwig.’

It crawled away and Alice wondered if it might come back later and bite her. ‘Are there earwigs in heaven?’ she asked.

‘No,’ said the old lady firmly lying down on the grass and putting her sunhat over her face.

Origami

October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

A moment in time. A mother relives the last day she spends with her young son…

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       It had been a year since James had woken her with a question. ‘Mummy. Where does the rain go when it stops being rain?’

‘To the sea,’ she replied sleepily, moving over and lifting the bedcover for him.

‘And how does it get there?’

‘I’ll show you.’ She folded him close.

‘When?’

‘When it isn’t dark. Tomorrow. Now go back to sleep.’

 ~

‘The river’s different today.’ She spoke the words carefully as if they might break.

‘How?’ Robert probed gently.

She gave no sign she had heard him, but began to scratch the dull orange lichen lacing the parapet of the millpond bridge. Her fingers bled into the crumbling brick.

‘That must hurt,’ he said.

‘What?’ she answered distractedly. ‘What must?’

‘Your fingers.’

She didn’t answer but suddenly leaned too far over the parapet. Robert jerked as if stung, his hand flying to the small of her back. ‘Look,’ she pointed. ‘The trout are back.’ An arc of sunlight streaked through the crack willow leaning away from the bank as if it must surely fall, and the bright patch of water glittered as the river trout flickered silver in the light.

Robert held her tight. ‘They like the warmth,’ he said.

‘No, no,’ she insisted. ‘They’re playing.’

He breathed in deeply. ‘So how is the river different?’

‘That day it was screaming,’ she said. ‘Today it whispers.’

Robert had become her bridge to before. Every week he sat stiffly on the hard cane chair in her white hospital room and read her poetry; and then, as the pills began to shield her from the past, he took her walking amongst the trees. Today, she had asked to be taken out. ‘To the river,’ she breathed.

 ~

‘Shall we walk now?’ Robert slid his arm around her shoulders and eased her away from the bridge.

‘No.’ The skin around her eyes wrinkled into a smile. ‘It’s quite safe. I won’t do anything silly.’

She took a small square of white paper from her pocket and began to fold. Creasing and tucking – the blood from her fingers staining the paper – she folded again and again. She blew sharply on a seam and flattened the shape with two fingers. ‘Look,’ she smiled, holding the boat in her palm. ‘That’s what we were doing.’  She blew again and the boat fluttered from her hand and rocked through the air into the water. It landed on its side and drifted beneath the willow.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Now I remember. The river was full after the rains. It screamed at us to stay away.  It spat at us as it spewed itself out from under the bridge. We stood there.’ She nodded towards the crack willow bent over the water. ‘We took no notice.’

‘You were on the bank to float paper boats?’

‘I was showing him what happened to the rain on its way to the sea. James thought the river was angry. He wanted to placate it by giving it our boats as a gift. He didn’t hear my warning. He slipped, and the current…’

The boat hit the bank and quivered. Again and again the ripples pushed it into the bank. ‘It will surely sink,’ sighed Robert.

‘Wait,’ she urged, tears trickling down her cheeks. The breeze suddenly changed direction, lifted the boat upright and it floated downriver.

‘I am finished here,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘We can go home.’

*

Before She Went To Sleep

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

A ‘Moment in Time’ from an unfinished novella…

 

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‘We’re nearly there,’ her father would say; and then, his words having given her permission, Lena would wind down the side window that always squeaked from lack of oil, thrust her chin into the slipstream, and gulp down the saltiness until her eyes watered. ‘That’s enough,’ he chastised. ‘It’s not good for you.’

The sea was hidden behind dunes. Shape changing with the wind, they were always newly formed mountains waiting to be scaled. In spite of her mother’s shouts she would race hard and breathless against the loose sand, the spiky grass slicing at her hands. Scrambling on all fours like an animal, on reaching the summit of the last ridge, she would collapse spread-eagled and victorious. ‘We’re here,’ she would shout. ‘The sea. My beautiful sea!’

Yet she was too frightened to swim. The water was a mysterious thing that harboured creatures intent on harm that Lena imagined on the pages of her drawing book. It seemed then that the sea and sky were only one entity: two things that were surely joined at the horizon – that fine arcing line to be seen on a clear day, but never ever reached.

That was the time she decided to believe in God – and the sky was where He lived. The birds, of course, were His messengers: He told them things, and Lena knew that if she learned to listen she would hear His wise words waiting inside the sea shells or disguised within the shrieks and mewlings of the gulls. Lena did not know then that she believed in the paradox.

She never remembered the weather being hot, and although she knew even then that her memory was not to be trusted, Lena recalled with ease, a greyness, a dampness; even in the presence of a watery sun which made no promise to turn her skin darker than the pale umber in her mother’s painting box. But then her parents avoided the sea in the midday heat, for it was also the time when the beach overflowed with the sound of radios and holidaymakers. They preferred the strand to themselves, and chose to stroll in the early evenings.

As they walked, Lena would lag behind her father chasing the imprints of his boots, placing her own smaller prints carefully within his own. She watched him closely as he took deep greedy breaths and long, vigorous strides, flinging his arms before him as if marching to a private tune. He became an island on that beach, and never spoke to her. Lena would balance on one leg in the indentation his boot had made, then wobble and leap to the next in a kind of hopscotch. Always losing her balance on purpose in the end, she would sprawl headlong into the sand, her body leaving a shadow like one of the malevolent sea creatures she’d drawn in her book. Lena was practicing making herself invisible. Whilst hiding in her father’s tracks she became safe, and ceased to exist.

Sometimes her parents footprints would be close together, which meant they were holding hands; but more often they were separate as her mother paused at the water’s edge collecting pebbles, while her father strode on surrounded by a spraying arc of paw prints from the dogs hungry for sticks to be thrown.

One evening in early autumn a thunderstorm came. Lena remembered the pleasure of the sudden sharp smell of electricity in the air, and how it made the hairs on her arms stand on end. The storm rolled up the coast, the sky above the southern headland turned black, and the seagulls became silent and sheltered in the troughs of the dunes. The lightning sprang like lizard tongues, and her parents ran for shelter, the dogs overexcited and disobedient, their tails in the air like aerials.Lena had so hoped to get wet, but instead she was made to sit in the car as the rain smashed onto the roof and all colour drained from the landscape. How very peaceful she had felt surrounded by that violence. It was at times like those, when the world was angry or disturbed, when Lena felt whole; and now, without her parents to direct her, walking in the rain or standing in a thunderstorm as it fizzed and crackled, gave her a deep sense of satisfaction.

~

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