October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

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


       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 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.’


Changing Skin

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Image             She was gazing idly through the kitchen window overlooking the back yard when the idea came to her: she would do it when the last leaf blew off the gingko tree. She loved her husband, but wanted to know – just once – what it felt like. She knew she had to do it soon, before she got too old and no other man would want her. She told herself she was probably being stupid and it would no doubt be a disappointment, but she would do it anyway.

November arrived and the storms came. She glanced up from the morning’s washing up and watched the wind making whirlpools in the yard. Red and orange leaves from the Japanese maples curled through the air like wet broken feathers, and the flat yellow gingko leaves stuck to the wet slabs like imprints of fossils. A single anaemic leaf held tight to its branch, then, almost as if she had willed it, was plucked away by a sharp gust. The gingko was bare.

It was easy. She told her husband she was going to the city to do the Christmas shopping. He had no reason to doubt her. She made a casserole to last the weekend, finished the ironing, and took a bus to the station.

As she tucked her weekend bag neatly under the seat, she smiled. Her husband would have been surprised and not a little confused by its contents. No trace of the Boden wardrobe and sensible loafers; but instead a clingy red dress and black waisted leather jacket she had bought from Karen Millen and hidden at the back of the wardrobe. The high-heeled boots were black and expensive; she had been surprised how easy it had been to walk in them when she had tried them on in the shop.

She studied her reflection in the carriage window unable to concentrate on the thriller she had intended to read, and looked for signs of remorse for what she was about to do; she found none. She hardly recognised herself – it was as if she had put on another skin. She shivered with excitement and pressed her cheek against the carriage window. The clouds scudded low over the fields, turned into grey mist and disappeared into the purple anonymity of the night. On the return journey, she knew, everything would be different.

             A cab took her to a small hotel near the cathedral. Her room, a blank minimalist box with no history written upon it, was unlike any space she had ever slept in. She showered but did not change her clothes, and went down for supper. She scanned the room: a couple of old men read newspapers in the bar, a middle-aged couple ate silently in a corner. She ate quickly and went to bed. She did not dream.

In the morning she went shopping. She bought presents she knew would surprise her family. A pink party dress for the girl – it was the child’s favourite colour; a shaving set for the boy – he would be needing it soon. For her husband she bought an expensive Philippe Patek watch with a large white face and roman numerals engraved in black. She had no appetite for lunch. Before going back to the hotel she bought black underwear and the darkest red lipstick she could find. She walked back through the cathedral gardens, then turning down the lane towards her hotel was attracted by music coming from a pub. The sign above the door said the Chaste Arms.

Back in her room she flung her old clothes carelessly on the floor and changed into her new clothes. She carefully applied her lipstick. I have not lost my figure she thought, admiring herself in the full-length mirror.

The pub sign squeaking in the cold wind showed a metal chastity belt and an improbably large key. She paused briefly, stifled a laugh and pushed open the door. The bar was low ceilinged and timber framed. It was dark and smoky and smelled of beer. Chastity belts hung from the walls and rafters. She thought how ironic it was she had chosen this place. A man sat with his back to her at the bar. He was much too thin for her taste, and untidy black curls spilled over the collar of his brown leather jacket. As she sat down beside him she noticed a snake tattoo on his left wrist.

He turned casually towards her. ‘Haven’t seen you here before.’

‘You haven’t,’ she replied. ‘I’m just travelling through.’ She looked at his empty glass. ‘What can I get you?’

Where Am I?

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