February 13, 2021 § 10 Comments
Monday - on the platform again the day he goes to London breathing shallow waving i turn away the train gathers speed stiff happiness sliding off my skin i wait to get lost in the darkness looking skywards for strength I make myself a bell tower in this sharp bright light he shall be the bell. Just a bunch - a band of pigeons in the station tree preening nearly flirting waiting for another to make the first move my husband calls them rat birds for taking the niger seeds i leave for the songbirds i suppose it isn’t really stealing. From behind the sun a rush of air the hawk sharp a weapon grown fleet with need a jet strike deep into the branches i never heard pigeons shriek like this feathers fly and the hawk twists away inverts stalls a snap roll and is gone. The pigeons ruffle quick to forget settling back quick to remember nothing has changed except the little hawk is still hungry and my breath has grown slow and made more space around me ~
July 14, 2019 § 7 Comments
thinning summer clouds
always the same wild flowers grow here
yet not a trace of him
February 16, 2019 § 10 Comments
Her mother slammed the kitchen door behind her. Freya was alone. Now it was safe. She slipped through the shadows of the damp back hall to the door with the silver key. The room smelled of hot dust. She pulled back the faded curtains and let in a sharp yellow sun. It streaked itself through the cobwebs. Her father’s music room wasn’t as she had remembered. Smaller, darker, it smelled of something not quite forgotten yet not quite recalled.
She slid onto the piano stool and inspected the creases on her palms. Now she was there she did not know what to do. She wiped the layer of dust from the shiny black lid with her cardigan sleeve. The particles rose then settled on the bare floorboards like ash from a forgotten cigarette. Time was changing – shifting gear – becoming hesitant. Freya began to think in slow motion, and her breathing slowed.
Her father’s dreaming hat lay on the top of the piano with his unfinished scores. She picked it up and held it to her face. It still smelt of his cigarettes, but the tang of his skin had gone. He would wear the hat when he sat in the garden and didn’t want to be disturbed – it was his sign. Sometimes he would have his papers with him and a freshly sharpened pencil, sometimes he carried nothing but his thoughts. Freya knew she should not interrupt him until he spoke and broke the spell.
Freya put on the dreaming hat and lifted the lid. Her fingers slithered lightly over the keys as he had taught her. First the scales: C Major, E, D, F; her fingers remembering when to stretch onto the black keys to sharpen the note. Then the minor scales. But as she began to play the sad notes, her hands grew stiff and heavy. She flexed the joints of her fingers as her father had shown her, and then stretched them wide into two starfish. But her fingers did not want to play.
She imagined she was in a concert hall. The audience was seated around her in a semi- circle waiting for her to begin. If you imagine these people, her father used to say, you will always play your best.
But what if I make a mistake? she would counter. Then he would smile and tip his head to one side. If you don’t try hard enough, you won’t make mistakes. Your audience won’t mind one bit.
She began to play the piece she knew best. She played long and slow, she made the music sad. Her fingers began to move without thought between the major and minor keys of Fur Elise. Something caught her breath – she could feel her father’s warmth on the back of her neck: he was breathing in and out in time to the music. Freya froze – she dared not turn around to look at him. As she played the final notes, she felt a chill on her neck and she knew he had gone. She closed the lid and went to the window. She wiped away the cobwebs and closed the curtains. As she left the room she locked it with the silver key.
The next day she waited again until her mother had gone to the garden then returned to the music room. She stacked his papers into neat piles, returned books to his bookcase, put his pencils in the mug on the piano lid. She again began to play. Her hands were still too small to reach some of the notes of the Gymnopedies. ‘I remember what you told me, so I shall try anyway,’ she whispered. She put on the dreaming hat and played slowly at first, nervous of the notes her fingers could not reach, and then, as she felt the warmth of her father’s breath on her neck, she leaned back to feel his body. ‘I want to see you, Dad’, she said. ‘I want to feel you. You are more than flickering light. Be real again.’ She played as slowly as she could wanting to prolong the feeling of his warmth, but as she pressed the final keys she felt the familiar chill.
Freya pulled the curtains closed and locked the door with the silver key. She went to the garden and watched her mother. Freya would gather flowers for the music room.
Her mother stood up and arched her back ‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
‘Just picking roses,’ Freya replied.
‘And where’, her mother responded, ‘did you find your father’s hat?’
image courtesy Robert Langley
December 17, 2017 § 26 Comments
Paulina didn’t know why she’d invited him to dinner. Neither did she know his name, did not want to know it – but everyone called him the birdman. The old man was coming tonight, and meeting him had triggered a remembering in her that shone like a bright light and was feeding upon itself.
That first day she had seen him in the square she thought her mind had been playing a trick. Surely he had been an illusion. But the birds knew better. He stood quietly under the cherry tree with his arms raised as if saluting the sun. The sparrows swooped down from the tree, then swaying like pendulums landed on his shoulders. Some fluttered around his head then dropped like soft stones knowing it was safe to be in his open palms.
People talked. Some said he had been in the war and it had addled his brain, others said he had no family and the birds had become his kin. No one knew where he lived. He always wore a dusty satin dinner jacket with a white bow tie – not the sort that fastened with elastic – and clean white socks that were visible because his trousers – which he wore with red braces – were always too short.
This morning he sat on the bench by the cherry tree. His mouth was turned down at the corners as he whispered to a robin perched quietly in the palm of his hand. The bird cocked its head, then flittered away and landed beside a woman reading a book on a bench. She looked up and smiled as the bird fluttered around her head. After that the old man’s mouth turned upwards.
Paulina thought he looked very alone in the early morning mist – like a statue, a megalith, hardly moving and always there. He stared at the pavement. The first leaves were falling and skittered at his feet. Strands of moist, white hair fell forward over his face. He drew his fingers through the thinning strands and smoothed them flat. He seemed to be waiting for something, and today, even more than other days, he looked so like her father.
She sat down on the bench beside him.
‘The birds are gone, ‘ she said.
‘They always go in the end,’ he replied.
She pointed to a branch on the cherry tree. ‘Look. The robin’s back.’
They sat awhile and talked about everyday things, then Paulina stood up, clenching her fists tightly until the knuckles turned the colour of the mist. ‘Would you do something for me please?
‘Of course. And what would that be?’
‘Come to dinner.’
The old man looked surprised and blinked. But why?’
‘Why thank you. I am only used to giving kindness.’
As she left the square, she knew exactly what she would cook.
She trimmed the flesh from the neck of lamb and set the bones in a saucepan of water to boil. She chopped the meat into chunks, rolling each piece in flour, and sealing them in hot fat. She sliced onions and carrots, cutting away the coarse outer leaves of the leeks and rinsing away the grit. She had cooked this dish so many times for her father. She sighed, peeling the coarse fibres from the head of celery – they always got stuck between his teeth. She peeled and sliced potatoes, arranging a thick layer on the bottom of the casserole dish. She mixed the vegetables with the lamb, seasoned it with herbs, and poured it into the pot on top of the potatoes. She arranged the remaining potato slices in a spiral on the top, then removing the hot bones from the saucepan, strained the liquid and poured it over the stew. She slid the casserole dish onto the bottom shelf of the oven, and began to cry.
She dabbed at her eyes with the tea cloth and remembered what she had to do. She peeled and chopped apples, mixing them with blackberries she had picked from their thicket at the bottom of the garden. She rubbed margarine into flour, and stirred in soft brown sugar. She tipped the fruit into a pie dish and poured the crumble topping over it. The cream was in the fridge – he had liked his crumble with cream.
Paulina laid the table carefully. He would sit on one side, she the other. She took a large winter overcoat from the cupboard under the stairs, shook the dust away, and draped it carefully over the back of his chair. Then she curled up in the window seat, clasped her hands together on her lap, and waited.
May 18, 2015 § 2 Comments