May 8, 2014 § 22 Comments
December 12, 2013 § 14 Comments
Beyond rabbit clipped dunes
The sea sighs.
Shells rubbed smooth of past.
Fragments of lives broken
Swarm and tumble in sun-glitter.
They chatter in tongues.
Screech as wave sucks.
Wing tips ruffle in cliff top thermal
Circling spindrift foam.
Calling for Posiedon.
Oyster catchers quick skitter.
Beaks darting jab for rotting fish
Clinging to sightless fish bone.
To all my wonderful friends who write poetry. How can I improve on this?
October 31, 2013 § 7 Comments
She used to say if I really wanted something to happen I should draw a picture of it, close my eyes and wish. So after he died I drew her holding hands with him on the beach. I paid particular attention to their faces. I flushed their cheeks, filled their eyes with light and turned the corners of their mouths into smiles. I made each drawing different because it made the spell stronger. Some had blue skies, others grey, and some had the cloudy stripes of a mirage or a moon rising from the sea. I drew ochre suns, thunderstorms, and rainbows arcing over their heads. I always made the sand yellow because that was my favourite colour.
But the magic wasn’t working so I drew more and more, and the wind blew through my open window and scattered the wishes over the bedroom floor. I left them where they were. The pictures grew old. They curled at the edges and turned yellow.
Each night I traced the shape of my parents on the windowpane with my fingertips, and then knelt by my bed, my hands in supplication. But still my father didn’t come back. I became frightened of the dark after that.
When she wasn’t sleeping, my mother wandered around the house. She peered into dusty corners, pulled open drawers, examined cupboards. She became a hunter. But when I asked her what she had lost she simply shook her head.
Soon she stopped answering my questions, and the edges of her body disappeared like the smudged shadows I made when I rubbed the charcoal off my paper with a rag.
Our days grew still and colourless, and the house took on the faded dullness of a thing aged before its time. My mother let the range go out and the kitchen became icy cold, facing in on its own depths like a cave. The mirrors, the windows, and the silver teapot with the dented spout, no longer glittered when the sun cast its light. Even the flower garden, so beloved by my mother, began to sink back into the earth.
I held images of our past deep inside my body. They were safe there; protected from the misery that filled our house.
But they made me feel disconnected. The kitchen had been a place of warmth where squares of sunlight slanted through the window onto the scrubbed table. My mother would butter my toast. She scraped a curl from the yellow roll wrapped in greaseproof paper, spread the butter so thickly it seeped onto the plate. There was my father’s kiss on her cheek, and the lightness of her laugh as she brushed him away. But the eggs I remembered most of all: almost green in their grassy yellowness. I cracked one open every morning with the silver spoon and watched its slither down the outside of the eggcup.
My bedroom filled with paper, so I drew in the kitchen. Soon a pile of paper grew on the table, the edges curling inwards like dying roses. The chickens hid their eggs in the bushes and there were no eggs for breakfast. That was when her sister Maria came. On the first day she wore a cheesecloth dress the colour of sun. She cleaned and cooked and I knew she understood what would make my mother better. Maria made the house shiny and gave it back its sharp edges again, but my mother stayed in her bed.
I drew a picture of a celandine and left it on the kitchen table. ‘Thank you,’ said my mother. The weak spring light struggled through the window, and she pressed her face against the pane until it grew misty with her breath. She began to cry, and taking the scissors, went to the garden and came back with a single celandine. She put it in an eggcup on the windowsill.
The next day I drew a crocus. Again my mother took the scissors, and this time returned with a bunch of the yellow blooms. She filled a glass with water, arranged the flowers, and took them to her room.
‘And now she refuses to come out,’ sighed Maria. ‘But at least she says she’s hungry.’
Soon the daffodils came, but after a week I stopped drawing them. ‘It isn’t working,’ I told Maria. ‘The more she picks, the more she weeps. ‘What shall we do?
‘Nothing,’ replied Maria. ‘Look what she’s done to the house. She’s filling it with yellow flowers.’
‘But she’s getting sadder and sadder.’
‘No,’ said Maria. ‘That’s not what she’s doing. She’s found the tears she never cried, and now she’s using them up.’
My mother filled more teacups with crocuses and celandines and put them on the windowsills. She filled jugs with daffodils and narcissi, and draped branches of forsythia over the inglenook. And still she wept.
I gathered the drawings from my room and from the kitchen table. ‘I want you to burn these now,’ I said.
‘Why?’ Maria asked.
‘Perhaps she doesn’t need them anymore.’
Maria shook her head and smiled.
‘Where is she?’ I asked.
‘Busy,’ she replied. ‘Look.’ She pointed through the open window to the garden. My mother was digging. Every few minutes she stopped to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
‘But she’s not fine,’ I said. ‘She’s crying.’
‘Listen,’ said Maria. ‘When she’s not crying, she’s singing.’
September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
A ‘Moment in Time’ from an unfinished novella…
‘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.