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? In 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
August 24, 2014 § 10 Comments
May 15, 2014 § 29 Comments
April 5, 2014 § 14 Comments
My energy shifted for a day, and the adrenalin flowed.
Haiku bubbled away inside me anyway.
What burst out of me was this: a modified version of a rough draft I blogged last year when hardly anyone was looking. Apologies if you’ve seen it before – but if you have, I hope you think it’s better…
6.55: Leap out of bed. Stretch. Sun streaks through window. Breathe. Five-minute yoga. Jump in shower. Sing. Get soap in mouth. Blow bubbles. Dribble. Spit.
7.15: Put on clean clothes. Husband rolls onto my side. Knock on child’s door. Knock on other child’s door. Run downstairs. Fill kettle. Plug in. Lay table. Plates, mugs, knives, butter, Marmite, peanut butter. Tea bags in pot. Milk out of fridge. Slice bread. Load toaster. Call daughters. Brush hair. Let dog out. Seamless.
7.30: Girls downstairs. Kiss heads. Tell joke. Spread peanut butter. Milk in mugs. Pour tea. Eat toast with one hand. Fix hair with other. Number One daughter dresses self. Fresh socks. Clean knickers. Dress Number Two. Brush tangles out of blonde hair. Brush tangles out of brown hair. Still smiling. French plait both heads. Brush three sets of teeth in kitchen sink. Rinse. Spit.
7.45: Check satchels. Homework in. And gym kits. Call dog. On with duffle coats. Hats. Scarves. Unlock front door. Grab keys. Open car doors. Satchels and dog in boot. Girls in back. Seat belts on.
7.55: Sing songs. Dog slobbers. Scratches leather seats when smells sea. Don’t shout once.
8.25: School. Five minutes early. Open car doors. Girls out. Open boot. Dog escapes. Hand over satchels. Gym kits. Round up dog. Put back in car. Kiss heads. Smile. God I’m good.
8.35: Beach. Walk dog. Throw sticks for arthritic Doberman and Labrador with skin condition and no manners. Dog snores on way home. Wet sand on back seats. Melvyn Bragg on radio. Uses long words. Show off.
10.00: Husband has cleared breakfast table. Plumped cushions. Loaded dishwasher. Pink note with kisses on by sink.
10.15: Boot up Mac. Make cappuccino. Start penultimate chapter of magical realism novel. First draft.
7.25: Shit. Sleep through alarm. It’s going to rain. Period’s come early. Headache. Stomachache. Back ache. Want to swear. Shower. Scald self. No clean towel. Don’t sing. Pick up dirty clothes. Put on. Husband plays dead. Call girls. Silence. Trip on stairs. Bash knee. Scream. Hammer on bedroom doors.
7.40: Switch on kettle. Don’t fill. Burning smell. Kettle explodes. Open window. Let out stink. Fill saucepan. Turn on hob. Lay out plates, mugs, knives, butter, peanut butter, salami. Marmite jar empty. Fill teapot. Pour milk in. Slice bread. Load up toaster. Scream again. Girls come down. Bickering. Not dressed. Burn toast. Scrape off charcoal. Cut off crusts. Brush wet hair. Scrape back with rubber band. Number One goes upstairs to dress. Won’t come down. Says is sick. Watching TV. No clean socks in house. Blonde and brown hair tangled. Brush hard. Find nits. Brush harder. Number One yelps. Number Two whines. Don’t do French plaits. Don’t brush teeth. Don’t check satchels. Don’t care. Dog sits by door with legs crossed. Coping just fine.
8.15: Unlock front door. Car keys gone. In pocket. Unlock car doors. Satchels in boot. Girls in car. Call dog. Won’t come. Having pee. Steer with one hand. Eat toast with other. Hate peanut butter. Hate salami. Won’t sing.
8.50: School. Bell gone. Forgotten gym kits. Dog runs off. Chases football in playground. Punctures it. Small boy throws wobbler. Offer to pay. Hate dogs.
9.00: Beach. Deep breath. Dog runs off. Catches baby rabbit. Gulps it down in one. It wriggles as it goes down. Want to be sick. Labrador mounts our dog. Shriek. Throw stones. Separate. Put on lead. Haul back to car. Labrador man jumps up and down. Doberman dances around car. Gouges paintwork with claws.
10.30: Husband gone. Beds not made. Breakfast not cleared. Dishwasher not loaded. Cushions not plumped. Back caning. Headache worse.
10.45: Find scotch at back of cereal cupboard. Crack ice out of freezer with screwdriver. Dog sick on carpet. Dead rabbit comes out. Go upstairs. Puke. Feel better. Husband’s clothes gone. Suitcase disappeared. No note. Bastard. Go downstairs. More scotch. And another. Load dishwasher. Plump up cushions. Crawl upstairs. Fall asleep.
11.30 ish: Dream. Large white room. Chapel-high windows. Sun streaming. White carpet. No stains. No clutter. White Steinway. White shelves. Books filed neatly in order. No husband. No children. No dog. No dead rabbits. No aches. No period. I am clean, thin and beautiful. Flirt with postman. Have fling with man next door. Break a heart or two. Novel published. Accolades. Parties. Groucho Club. Ben Affleck invites me to lunch. Have yin yang tattoo done on thigh. Get rich. Cheques don’t bounce. Buy Porsche. Stay single. Break more hearts.
2.30: Wake up. Headache worse. Want new body. Take Aspirin. Phone vet for morning after pill. Don’t make bed. Lost car keys. Find in car. Dog jumps on back seat. Stinks of puke. Daren’t look at self in mirror.
3.00: Hate Tesco’s. Buy kettle, alarm clock, Marmite, whisky, pot noodles. Won’t cook ever again. Husband can go to hell. Want to get on plane. See world. South America. Tibet. Mongolia. New York. Find out who I am. First Class Virgin ticket with thick down pillows. Go dancing. Eat at Nobu’s. Dance to Eric Clapton at Carnegie Hall. Have a Macy’s Credit Card. All expenses paid.
3.45: Late picking up. Scotch worn off. And Aspirin. Girls sulk. Want feeding. Buy chocolate. Don’t sing. Don’t talk.
4.15: Telly on. Thumbs in mouths. Feed dog. Feed girls pot noodles. Open whisky bottle. Out of ice.
6.30: Husband walks in. With takeaway. Says sorry. All his fault. Bunch of red roses behind back. Put in vase. Bathe girls. Put to bed.
7.30: Eat lukewarm supper out of cartons on sofa. Give dog leftovers. Watch DVD. Share bottle. Feel giddy. Load up washing machine. Close eyes.
10.00: Put sticking plaster on heart. Again. Have to think of the children.
March 5, 2014 § 18 Comments
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.