January 20, 2018 § 7 Comments
‘It’s daybreak, Jack. The break of day…a broken day, I don’t know what to call it anymore. I climbed out of our bedroom window onto the garage roof to watch the sunrise, but it didn’t come and I cut my hand on the glass and bled all over my dress.
That wind the colour of fire came again last night, but hotter. It blew another window out. Now they’ll be no difference between day and night. Like last time.You remember? Like July when we had to cycle home from work with our hats and gloves on singing Bob Dylan to keep ourselves warm. I hate not knowing how long this will last. I know it isn’t supposed to be winter – the calendar on the kitchen wall says it’s May and nearly time for your birthday. I’d send you a cake if I knew where you were…
I’m getting to know when the wind will come because the dogs in the forest bark, and their noise bounces through the dead trees and makes me jumpy. Yesterday they howled and yipped like those prairie wolves we saw in Mexico, and I wanted to warn you. They don’t come into town anymore because people shoot at them. I know one was killed last week because the Townsend’s on the corner made a barbeque. The smell wasn’t right. If I don’t see people doing the killing it’s not so bad, and they’re doing it because there’s no other kind of meat to be had now all the pigs have been eaten. I don’t know what dog tastes like, and I don’t want to find out. I so miss Bobby. I have some tins of his food waiting, and keep his lead on the back of the kitchen door for when he comes home.
The leaves that began to bud on the oak tree, you remember the one in the front garden by the fence? ( we carved our names on its trunk last year) It’s curled up its leaves and they crackled to red dust between my fingers. Everything is covered in this strange skin – a shroud like rust.
Every day I stand by the garden gate and wait. I wait for you, and I wait for passersby to tell me things I think I’ve blocked out of my mind. I shan’t go into the street until you come home. Where would I go? Some people stopped by our fence and told me they’d heard the sun was dying, that it was burning from the inside out. Killing itself. You remember that documentary we watched about solar flares? They remind me of these red winds – but they’re bigger and stronger than the flares we watched spewing from the sun when we wore our special glasses and lay in the grass and held hands. I don’t know whether to believe these people or not – they were kind because they took all my letters to post to you – but their eyes stared and they forgot to blink and smile. After they’d gone I locked myself in.
Jack, the vegetable garden is wrecked. There were carrots and beetroot left, but people came and dug them up. The red wind has killed all the flowers – except for that beautiful red rose I planted by the front door. I found a bud this morning and put it in a vase on the kitchen table so I can think of you whenever I like. I know how sorry you will be about the garden – but it really doesn’t matter – we have plenty of tins of food and a few vitamin pills left. I lock the garden gate now and have stapled the razor wire to the top of the fence. I feel much safer.
The electricity stopped coming from the central grid last week – the lights flickered on and off for a while, but now it doesn’t come at all – so there is no TV, no telephone and no computer. But we’re lucky, Jack, the red wind brings a light that is stored in the solar panels for a few days so I can read our books and write my daily letter to you. It’s better than nothing.
More news. Your rainwater collector is still working well. I had to tie a pair of tights over the main inlet pipe to filter out the dust and they do the job. The water has a pink stain but has not made me sick. You’ll be pleased to hear I am looking after myself without you. I have a wash every day, then rinse my clothes and the dirty pots in the same water. After that I water the garden with any that is left.
There’s not so much noise since you went. The neighbours make none at all now, like they’re sleeping or not there any more, and the gangs of boys have gone elsewhere. The birds still come: I think they must be sparrows. I’m not sure what they are eating but I do enjoy their singing. A new kind of bird has come: it has a long sharp beak and great wings like the sort they have in Tibet. It circles high in the sky for hours on end, then swoops down on whatever it has found to eat. Then others of its kind appear from nowhere. They must have a strong sense of smell. I have forgotten the name of the bird, but I’m sure you will know.
Jack, there are smells that I don’t know. People are making fires. The smoke smells rancid, like they are burning stale fat – I don’t know what it is – maybe they’re cold. Someone set fire to a car yesterday and it looked like ours. It was the one that drove into the lamppost at the end of our street just after you went for a drive to look for Bobby. You might have seen it. There was an arm hanging out of the window for a while – it didn’t move – I watched it. Then the arm was gone, and I smelt petrol and someone torched the car.
I am going to sort the tins of food into alphabetical order now, but I will write again tomorrow. Come home soon, Jack. I need you.’
image courtesy micky**
September 19, 2016 § 3 Comments
His mother was a wild creature and knew how to run. With the brown hair-like fleece of her feral descendants, she was living archaeology to the ancient sheep of the Asian mountains. Her son had slit yellow eyes and he slid out of her into the long grass when no one was looking. He was a good size and already at the teat when I found him. Feisty and proud with sharp, thick horns, I kept him as breeding stock.
That was eleven years ago. Every November he did his job. I put him in with the ewes, and five months later each one scraped a shallow bowl in the home field then lay down and pushed out his lambs.
He stayed wild – he never let me know him. And he hated the sheep dog – teaching his brothers and sisters to scatter. Eleven is old for a sheep and he knew. His age could be counted on the rings of his horns. He was a fighter, and his battle scars were shiny and white upon his forehead. He had been warring again with his younger brothers to keep his place in the flock when I found him. His body looked wrong, his neck crooked. Perhaps dislocated.
The man came with the captive bolt in a black case. I made myself watch. I thought the killing would be easy, but his skull was old and thick. The ram fell forward when the crack came. Then he got up. Teetered. Shook himself. The man fetched a bolt strong enough for a cow. A louder crack, and the blood came like a bung lost from a barrel.
I walked away to be sick.
Soon after, the lambs came. A brown ewe scraped and lay down to push her baby out. All day it wouldn’t come. I washed my hands and put my fingers inside. Legs. Two back ones and a tail. Sticky yellow shit and blood stains on my hands.
I waited for her to squeeze and carefully twisted the lamb out of her. Long and thin, it stretched out on the ground. With no breath.
I cleared the mucus from its mouth, its nose. Rubbed it gently. Spluttering. It shook itself to life.
The mother heard the life noise. A lick, a snicker. The only sound she ever made.
August 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
my ancestors neglected gravestones –
what perfect wild flowers
May 22, 2016 § 3 Comments
these old stones
have so much to say –
and keep on saying it
image of an irish standing stone courtesy eileen moylan
May 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
waking in his bed –
a closed window
image courtesy j a eastin
February 21, 2016 § 13 Comments
A short story written some years ago when I lived miles from anywhere with working collies who slept on my bed, a pile of anarchist sheep with strange shaped horns who liked to go walkabout in the night, and some little black Celtic cows…
and an overactive imagination…
‘That’s what I’ll do,’ I said, as I slid a finger up his backbone and made the short, black fur stand on end. His tail twitched, and Gus’s claws slid out of his front paws as a warning. ‘Don’t you see?’ I crooned, putting the flat of my hand on his neck and smoothing the fur back into a shine. ‘Bertha knows everything. She’ll tell us.’ The tail relaxed into a question mark, and the grey slit eyes stared into mine like two empty mirrors.
Gus wasn’t mine. He wasn’t anyone’s really, but he hung out with me when he had nothing better to do. I’d been telling him about the plan because thinking out loud made it clearer in my head. I was going to need Bertha. She was brighter than me, so I was going to follow her around ’til she showed me what she knew. Dogs were clever, and she was a border collie which put her at the top of the smart pooch list. Her nose was one of the cleverest bits about her, and she could sniff out the chocolate biscuits Dad squirreled away for special, even though he never hid them in the same place twice.
Bertha was one of those dogs that pleased herself. She belonged to whoever had what she was after. Sometimes she was my dog if I had something nice in my pocket, then she’d be Mum’s if it was walkies time, but mostly Dad was flavour of the month. The reason was simple: she liked being in the back of his pickup with her head stuck out of the tractor cab window catching flies and keeping an eye on things. That was her job when she wasn’t rounding up sheep. Dad said she wasn’t Mum’s anymore since she’d buggered off. ‘Abandoned us’, he said, squinting as if the sun was in his eyes.
All Bertha did these days was go off on what Dad called one of her adventures, and he said there was nothing he could do to stop her. ‘It’s not as if I haven’t tried,’ he complained. If he locked her in the house she drove him crackers with her howling, and if he tied her up in the barn, the neighbours complained the racket echoed down their valley like she was stuck in a tunnel. ‘She’ll stop running off when she gets used to how things are,’ he said, pinching my cheek a bit too hard. ‘Or if she’s really stupid she’ll find herself looking down the barrel of a shotgun. Either way, we’ll have to put up with it.’
It had been all right in the beginning. By the beginning I mean when we started having two in our family instead of three. Bertha was all over me. She waited the other side of the back door when she heard the school bus stop at the bottom of our drive, ready to lick my face clean and knock me over. She was nearly as big as me when she stood on her back legs, and our eyes got so close I could see two little faces grinning back at me. But I knew it wouldn’t be like that forever, because I was still growing, and she wasn’t.
I thought it’d be easy following Bertha around, but it turned out she was smarter than I thought. She kept giving me the slip. Gus tried to help by waving his tail around like it was one of those snakes that came out of its basket in India when someone played a tune, but that didn’t work. I thought he was giving me clues so I’d follow where the tail pointed. Sometimes I thought I was getting somewhere, but the tail kept changing its mind.
What Gus and I did find out was Bertha spent a lot of time hanging around the dustbins standing on her back legs and pushing them over. She wriggled inside and rummaged ’til she found the leftovers. All you could see was a black tail with a white tip waving about; but we could hear her: it was the only time she ever made noises like a pig. Her liking the dustbins explained why she smelled so bad, but it wasn’t her fault – it was Dad’s because he kept forgetting to fill her food bowl. She took to digging holes in the compost heap too because that was where the grass snakes lived, and Bertha knew how good they were to eat.
So far my plan wasn’t working – all I’d found out was where she went scavenging. But after Dad put padlocks on the bins, I found her digging up the garden. He said he didn’t care – the garden had been Mum’s business. Bertha uprooted dandelions and ground elder that Mum would have hoed out anyway, but then she started on the rose bushes. Mum wouldn’t have been happy about that. Then Bertha found it – and with her nose covered in soil and dribble, she presented Dad with one of Mum’s old gardening gloves. Sometimes I thought Bertha knew how to smile. ‘Look what she’s got,’ I grinned. ‘Isn’t she clever?’
Dad pulled a face and threw the stinky glove in the bin. ‘She lost that years ago. No use to her now, is it?’
‘But Dad, she’s only trying to help find Mum.’
‘I know where she is,’ he said crossly. ‘Living the high life with that new fancy man.’
Gus got bored after that and spent his days sitting on the doorstep stretching out each leg and cleaning himself over and over, but Bertha kept on hunting. Every day for a week she took one of Mum’s shoes in her mouth from the pile in the porch and trotted up close to the garden fence. She went round and round the edge for what seemed like hours, then disappeared when I turned my back. But I knew she was up to something. And she knew I knew.
On Saturday she took one of Mum’s red sandals in her mouth and began doing her round -and-round game again. When she thought I wasn’t looking she slunk through the gap in the fence to the sheep field. This time Gus and I followed. Bertha made herself small, flattening her ears, her tail trailing along the ground. She got to the barn, had a quick look to see where I was, and veered through the big barn doors. Then she did something weird, she went straight out through the back door. She was trying to throw us off the scent – but I ran hard leaving Gus behind, and spotted her squeezing through the five-bar into the sheep field.
Again, she kept close to the line of the hedge trying to look like she wasn’t there. Then I lost her. But there was only one place she could have gone – the old coppice wood where the barn owls lived. ‘Bertha!’ I shouted. ‘Bertha. Come out!’ But as usual these days, she pretended to be deaf.
I plunged into the overgrown wood, I’d never been there by myself as it gave me the creeps. I didn’t like it. It was dark. I stopped to listen. I could hear my heart. Gus’s tail was flicking. Then I heard it. It was like breathing – but faster – like someone was running too hard. I crept closer. It was an animal noise – something was grunting.
Pushing through the rose brambles, the smell reminded me of Mum’s perfume and made me want to cry. The thorns tore at my clothes and ripped at my skin. I licked my wrists and tasted my blood. ‘Bertha. Bertha!’ I yelled. ‘Where are you?’ The grunting stopped and Bertha yelped. There she was – between two hazel bushes, her tail wagging with excitement, her behind spattered with dirt. Bertha was digging a big hole – and around the hole were Mum’s shoes. The shiny black fur on Gus’s back rose, and he spat.
What have you got there, girl?’ I whispered. The smell of roses still filled the air, but now it mingled with something sharper, stronger. It was a nice smell at first – and then it wasn’t.
Bertha howled and wagged her tail; Gus slid into the undergrowth. She’d found what I’d been looking for.
Image courtesy Charis P Sallo