Sian Evans lives and works in Manchester, where she runs a translation company with her husband. She has a BA in English and Creative Writing and an MA in Innovative and Experimental Creative Writing from the University of Salford. Sian writes flash fiction and short stories, many of which have been published. Whilst learning how to be a mother to her young son she has started – yet another – novel.
NO WORDS WERE SPOKEN
Once upon a memory they sat back to back on the jagged rocks. One young girl and one young boy. She had blond hair and he likewise. They had been married a few days before and now they were on their honeymoon. They sat by the water as the waves crashed around them. The weather was inclement today and they had not dressed for this stormy interval. The skies were clear that morning. The cooler weather did not bother them as they were lost in daydreams. He would lick the salty residue of the sea’s spittle off her lower legs later that afternoon. She would complain about the small triangle of sun burn she had on her cleavage, he’d stop listening once she’d directed his attention towards her breasts. So it would always be as the years passed.
Their legs stretched out before them a physical embodiment of their future. Long and smooth youth of the upper thigh and then a mountain to overcome halfway through their union, they knew not what it would be but they would endure. His shin had some bumps pitted along the length, a few blips, as he would call them, to see through in later life. As for her, her shin bone was longer than his; she would spend the latter years of her life without him. But for now, they concentrated on where their pelvic bones met as they sat back to back on the jagged rocks.
She wore a navy top. He liked her in navy, commented on how it accentuated her eyes and her complexion and all the other platitudes a young man in love says to his new bride. After their special anniversary trip to the Caribbean when they’d drunk copious amounts of rum whilst listening to the steel drums around the campfire, he would never comment on how beautiful she looked in navy ever again. After that long together words were superfluous. She knew. She’d listened. Why say something the years of commitment and his daily actions proved true. His top was blue too. They saw a pod of dolphins in the distance and sighed. She reached back and held his hand, he brushed a finger over hers and that’s how they remained. Still daydreaming.
The sea ebbed and flowed, no longer thrashing sporadically and soon it would lap up against the rocky outcrop they were on. The overhead storm was passing and the grey clouds moving on. She would trail her fingers through the water, an absent act, her thoughts on colour charts and wallpaper samples. Crossing her legs at the ankles, she tipped her head back and rested it on his shoulder. He tilted his own, giving her a little loving headbutt. Unseen by her he played with the gold band on his finger. It felt odd. The sight of it was not commonplace in his mind but it wouldn’t take long before he never even noticed it. No longer could he smell her perfume, it was part of her. He’d notice its absence though. His thoughts turned to clean sheets and shower-damp skin.
In perfect accord they turned their heads and watched the two puffins land and then bob on the surface of the water. In unison they smiled. He moved forwards, breaking their contact and opened the backpack they’d bought with them. As she turned towards the sea, moving carefully on the jagged rock, she drew up her knees and hugged them in silent, private, delight at the moment and the moments she’d daydreamed about all morning. They had a fairytale future waiting for them and a catalogue of celebration ahead, more than they could even comprehend. Small things would hold hard at their hearts and memories and larger things would go unmarked. Cupped in her hands balanced on her knees, she held the cup of steaming coffee he’d just handed her. She smiled and chose a cheese sandwich, left the chicken ones for him. A ripped-open packet of crisps was spread between them. Their fingers touched as they tried to pick up the same crisp. He raised it to her lips and she ate it all. They didn’t do romance, she would never offer him half of anything. They took what each other offered with a silent thanks and gratitude. If he wanted a crisp he would get one. Such was how they lived their married life. Yes, they would take each other for granted as the future marched closer and their lives got horrendously busy but they knew the other was there. They didn’t need to speak aloud words of reassurance or banalities. Commitment spoke. Physical presence spoke. Puffins form long-term relationships.
The silence was glorious although they did not know it then. Memory would sharpen it. They didn’t know it because they assumed they would always have perfect moments like this. Naively they assumed that the stress and exhaustion planning a wedding had caused them was the worst it could possibly be. She handed her cup over to him for a refill and he did so inattentively, thinking about dinner that evening and how pleasurable the days were with nothing to do and nowhere to be apart from what they decided. Lazy days as they were coined. He’d long for them in a few short years to come. However, the longing would not preclude his desire to remain exactly in the moment, whatever that moment was, experiencing all. He would never wish to be anywhere other than where he was, he would never allow memories to rule his present or hinder his future actions. To be happy was to be happy. All else excluded. Just be happy. The silence could impede his thoughts but the silence could also calm his thoughts and allow him to be. He was happy being him. Artifice was not something he employed. It would serve him well.
As he re-packed the bag she stood and dusted off the crumbs from her shorts. He watched, paused, thought, smiled and then continued with his administrations. Turning, he set back off along the rocky outcrop, the beach was only a short distance away and the car was parked not much further than that. He knew she would follow. No hand was extended in some poetic gesture of gentlemanly conduct, she’d managed to walk perfectly well before she’d met and married him. She’d speak up if she needed help and he likewise. As she jumped down from the rocks onto the beach, she looked up and smiled. He reciprocated. The puffins took flight.
The sun warmed him and he took off his sweater, tying it around his waist, then swung the backpack up, adjusting the shoulder straps. He set off across the beach. He felt her hands on his waist and heard her giggle behind. Her stunted movements were slowing him down but he didn’t care. There was no rush. She was placing her feet into the prints left by his. He didn’t question why. She was being silly. She was happy. No explanation needed. They reached the car, he went for the driver’s side and she the passenger door. They would drive and then stop when they fancied a bottle of wine, nowhere in particular, no specific spot pre-marked in their guide book. As they pulled out of the car park she looked back at the jagged rock she had been sitting on, daydreaming on and smiled, as the road stretched out long and isolated in front of them she turned on the radio.
Photo by Tomek Dzido
THEY’LL SAY I SMELT OF DAMP
I hate the smell of damp: clothes that haven’t been aired as they dried; the bath mat after my niece and nephew have splashed their way through bath time; the old sock stuck in the corner of the duvet cover that is only discovered when you change the bedding; the unused side alley to the house after a sudden summer downpour or the dank path through the woods. It permeates and it lingers. It’s a smell worse than vomit. It’s an Edgar Allan Poe smell. When I think of damp I envisage mildew and fluffy green mould, I see slugs and worms and water droplets clinging to spider’s webs.
Damp was at the forefront of my thoughts when it happened. Standing by the shallows of the reservoir, I was shouting at the dog to get of the water.
“Jack! Jack,” I growled. “Get out of the bloody water. Now, you stupid animal. Get back here. If I have to come in and get you there’ll be no bloody chicken and chorizo jumbo bone treat for you. Get out now!”
The summer sun was high and the heat was low, coating all in a sweaty body suit. Jack, wild Jack, thankful for some freedom, had taken no warning from me about being sensible in the heat. He had ran and ran and then leaped into the water of the reservoir to cool off. He was a dog, he couldn’t understand the complexities of human speech or read the warning signs hammered into the hard, dry ground on the bank.
Jack wasn’t even my dog. He was my boyfriend’s. Not that he would be for much longer; I’m talking about my boyfriend. Jack would always be a dog. John however, whilst always being a dick, wouldn’t be my dick. So to speak.
“Jack!” Futile I know, yet I still keep shouting his name. It’s that human reaction. I’ve witnessed enough people shouting inanely at their dog and seeing zero results, but it’s what pet owners do. However, I wasn’t the pet owner and I don’t like inaction or looking stupid in front of a crowd. And there was a crowd considering it was a hot Saturday in summer. People were strolling around, kids were on their bikes and dogs were ambling along, sniffing the ground and yapping as they jumped up and down alongside their owners.
There was a crowd when John sped past on his jet ski and the resulting ripples caused waves to crash over my trainers. Trainers never dry well, hence my thoughts towards damp.
Fucking twat! I raged in my head. Fucking moronic twat! These are my only pair of bleeding trainers. I’m running the Charity 10k tomorrow John, remember. They’ll never bloody dry now.
Go for a run Lisa he said this morning after breakfast. Get a little practice in and then we’ll go for a leisurely lunch. Let’s go early, Lisa, before it gets too hot. How about the reservoir? We’ll take Jack with us.
Translation: I’m meeting Pete and Dave for a piss about on the jet skis. Then we’ll all get slashed up down the local this afternoon. If you come with us, Lisa, you can look after Jack and then take him back with you whilst I stay for a few more pints.
Fucking twat! Me that is, for knowing this and still coming.
Even if my trainers do dry I’ll still be convinced that they smell of damp. That will play on my mind as I run tomorrow. People will think I’m unclean.
John waves and grins. He turns and sets back off towards the pier but what he doesn’t see is Jack following him. Stupid dog paddling further out into the water.
“Hey! Hey!” I shout after John, trying to get his attention. A group of lads, well boys really as they didn’t look more than twelve, started hooting in my direction. I had already clocked them earlier as I’d jogged past. They were doing what we had all done as kids, jumping into the water on a hot day. As I passed they’d given me that defiant look only pre-teens can: can’t shout at a kid; can’t tell me off you’re not my mum; what you goin’ to do about it (bitch).
I ran past and dismissed them from memory. Not my problem – Where are the parents? I was envious though, I wished one look from me to John could convey so much. Ignoring the kids, I continued to yell after my idiotic, self-absorbed boyfriend. “Stop! Stop!”
The boys started jeering at me.
Honestly. Like I care!
Thankfully, for now, my niece and nephew were five and three respectively. I didn’t have to contend with the pre-pubescent crap for a long while yet.
I continued shouting and waved to try and get John’s attention, but he wasn’t looking.
“Stop! Wait. You need to stop!”
The six boys on the bridge went wild. All males are simple. What more can I say? I was not interested in their game and clearly, they couldn’t see the danger of a dog swimming out into the middle of the reservoir.
They were in that horrendous boy phase where they were still young enough not to care that they were wearing hideous neon-coloured Bermuda shorts – or surf shorts, whatever, it’s clearly an Opal Fruits/Starburst conversation. To all of my peers they are Bermuda shorts, hideous when I was a kid and still vile now. Massive shorts with spindle-like legs and arms sticking out and then an oversized head with a motor mouth (see what I did there, you’ll get it if you’re of a certain age!) screaming abuse at me.
I gave them a dismissive wave but kids, being little shits, always assumed that everyone was centred on and interested in them.
“We can do what we want!”
“We’re not harming anyone!”
“Call the police, be a snitch!”
I resisted the urge to stamp my foot. The act would lose some impact as it squished and squelched anyhow. Turning in their direction, I gave them that adult wide-eyed death stare that I hope translated into a sentence reminiscent of what their mother would say. I was yelling: shut the hell up you little gits, I’m not interested in you and what you’re doing. Piss off.
“John!” The sound of the jet ski drowned me out. Typical man, all else dismissed once he turned his attention to something else. I’d lasted an errant wave and a blinding whitened teeth smile before he’d buggered off back to his mates. Since when was I a bloody pooch-sitter? Regardless though, Jack the dog was a harmless mutt and if he swam out any further he’d be in trouble. He was an old dog.
Only one thing for it; damn it.
I took off my trainers and started to enter the water.
Blessedly cool; all of the training for the charity run had caused a lot of chaffing and nearly-heeled blisters on my feet. My toes were hot and cramped and the freedom from the running shoes was fantastic. The water felt lovely but I didn’t want to go deeper as I didn’t want to get wet. I would though, that was blatantly obvious.
John would pay for this idiocy. Never would I be left to look after his stupid mutt again.
As I waded up to mid thigh I could hear the bystanders – yes, I had a fucking audience, the shame! – yelling and cheering encouragement to me. I looked further out towards the jetty and I spotted Pete and Dave standing up on their jet ski’s hooting and waving as the water got to my waist. Along the shore line of the reservoir other dog owners were holding their pets in check, it seemed every dog and pre-teen was keen to get into in the water.
Taking what John has always called my ‘huffy-prissy’ breath, a pre-cursor to a long-suffering sigh, I filled my lungs with air and dived into the water. No longer lovely and luxuriating on my hot sweaty body now I started a breaststroke. I was so far away from the shore and swimming towards a certain cuddle with a damp and stinking dog.
The cheering on of the crowd combined with Pete and Dave’s antics had finally alerted John to what I was doing. He turned his jet ski round and closed the distance between him and his best friend. As I treaded water he dragged the now happy, yapping mutt up onto his big boy toy.
I was fuming.
I was getting cold.
John waved and whistled – like I was a fucking dog performing a trick. A heroic act on my part. I refer back to my early thought: fucking twat.
God I was getting cold. Turning I began to swim back to shore. Out of spite, yes. I could have continued towards John as the jetty was closer to the car. But fuck that. A girl has pride. I’ll continue on the circuitous dirt track back to my car and thankfully a change of clothes. John would not be my saviour. I would smell of damp.
“Guys, look at Ollie’s shit swimming.”
“Ha! What you doing Ollie?”
“You never learnt backstroke?”
“Look at him! Even the dog could swim better than him.”
“Yeah come on Ollie, do doggy paddle.”
“Fucking idiot. Hurry up, I want my turn.”
“Even that hottie with the big tits is swimming better than you. Don’t be such a big girl.”
Looking over towards the boys – close to losing my temper and ranting at them because after all I wasn’t their parent, who incidentally had raised foul mouth pricks – I was about to shout out a put down when I too spotted Ollie.
That wasn’t backstroke.
He was in trouble.
I dived. Upon surfacing, I saw I was only a few metres from him.
As I swam I heard the boys continue to joke and taunt him, completely unaware of their friend’s dilemma. Ollie was drowning. With the back of his head towards his friends, they couldn’t see. I could. Water was pooling into his mouth.
At that moment, I was thinking about my granddad. I remembered him telling me a story from his Navy days about a man drowning not metres from him as they had mucked about in the sea on some down time.
The first sign was the silence. The body was literally in a fight for survival, the vocal chords had been shut off, overridden by the body’s primary function to breathe. A drowning person’s mouth alternates between sinking below the surface and then rising above it. There is no time to shout or yell as the respiratory system has taken full control – it wants air. At first he had been flailing his arms but, as his struggle continued, Ollie was physically unable to wave in an attempt to garner some attention. His arms were pushing down on the water, trying to gain some leverage to keep his mouth above the surface.
Ollie was close to being dead. As I reached him I saw him slide under the water and not resurface.
“He’s drowning!” I shouted at his friends. “Get help!”
As I tucked my knees up to my chest ready to dive down, I heard the shouts from the remaining five boys. In that instant of panic, as reality and fear set in, they were just a group of boy’s scared and needing help.
The murkiness of the water surrounded me, reminding me of that dank woodland path that sent shivers up my spine. I smelled damp. It invaded my nostrils, making me want to vomit into my mouth. I’d never liked Edgar Allan Poe.
I saw Ollie. I dived deeper and wrapped my fingers around his wrist. With considerable effort I dragged him upwards until I could get an arm around his chest. Struggling, my chest burning for air, I kicked and kicked, willing the surface to break above my head. I needed air.
Overhead, I saw the water rippling. Someone had thrown a life ring in, I aimed for it but it kept moving out of reach. I heard the hum of a jet ski so I discarded the idea of aiming for the ring and broke the surface instead. Help was near.
“Thank God!” I heard John say. “We’ve got him. Darling, we’ve got him, let him go.”
I saw Pete and Dave’s jet skis bobbing in the water next to John’s. Jack was whimpering. John heaved Ollie out of my arms and then everyone sprang into action. Ollie was laid down on board attached to the back of Pete’s jet ski, and they started giving him CPR. A crowd was on the bridge administering to the now hysterical group of boys.
Jack continued to whimper. He was cold from his swim.
Cold was invading me. I could hear the thumping of my heart.
I began to shiver as I continued to tread water. I was tired.
“Come on Ollie,” I head John say as he absently patted Jack’s head. “Come on, breathe.”
My head began to dip below the surface. I kicked up and then sank again. I kicked once more, again and again.
“There we go. Good lad. You’re ok, you’re ok.” Ollie started spluttering.
It must have been seconds from when Ollie had been pulled from the water. Mere seconds. Less than a minute. I wasn’t forgotten, just assumed safe. All eyes were on the young boy as they should be; he was just a little kid.
Jake barked. I sank.
A drowning person makes no sound.
Photo by Tomek Dzido
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Outstretched arm, twisted wrist and flayed fingers, taut, postured and poised.
My lover hovering and then…then the…d-descent of plush pads on…on…
I arch. I ache. I am.
I’m an anarchist under attack.
Warm breath fluttering over my breast like a thousand dragonfly wings, beating and battering until my nipple is puckered and tight. Torturous tantalising tongue. Tell-tale trail of tyranny.
I feel the act keenly. I wish to reciprocate. My time will come; our time is nigh. The illuminated tunnel with the shadow of realisation visible, I yearn for it too much. Change is imminent and now it is tangible. As close as the curve of your cheek to the palm of my hand and I reach out to stroke you.
Legs lip-locking and luxuriating in the life-pulse that leaps between my lover and me. Limbs limp and languid, cast long in the late afternoon light.
Lithe movements, lithe love.
I am a limpet. In this moment only.
You are the mirror image of me. You are my mirror, an honest reflection. Simple wooden frame or so you perceive yourself to be. To me, for me, you are a gilt frame, gold, diamonds. The frame is irrelevant though all I care about is the image I see. In the glass and the person figuratively holding the glass – you.
Lips meet, tongues clash, juices mix and the bond strengthens. A meeting of more than just body parts, of blood-warmed flesh. This was metaphysical, ethereal and nascent.
I say: Leave him.
You say: I can’t.
I question why.
You say: I’d be ostracised.
I look at you with eyebrows raised. You try to distract me with a litany of kisses down my neck and over my shoulder.
I tell you that you are oppressed, that you are suppressed and that without action you will regress.
You laugh. I don’t.
I say: Stay with me.
You reply: I can’t. I have too much to lose.
I repeat and embellish: Stay with me, forever, like this. Here.
With facetiousness you ask: What right here, in your arms, forever?
Being pedantic I respond: No, I’m not like your husband, I wouldn’t imprison you.
A finger placed on my lips, by you, without thought of how I would perceive your actions. A signifier – all that I fight against displayed in your one, seemingly innocuous, action.
‘We’ do not exist ‘out there’.
I have bound myself to this bed. A binding ritual between us is my delusion solely. Blind by my own hand and made a fool by my blatant naivety.
Patriarchal society is fuelled not by man alone, but by his wife also.
What gain am I for you? What sort of game am I the loser of?
We do not exist out there. Secure in these four walls we are alive, we thrive, we dive into each other and glory in the want and the need and the very essence of our being.
I cannot give that up. I have too much to lose.
I say: I can’t.
You say: Ssshhh.
You are the mirror image of me but change is coming. I will not lie to myself, and you are not lying to me. I do not seek affirmation of us from them. I will not allow the fight to intrude upon our blissfulness.
I look upon you.
Irises of mauve, pupils dilate. Ignition of lust as implacable love leads to ignoble acts. Afternoon scene: Iridescent and illuminating.
Rustle of sheets as I move against you; move around you and in you. Running the gauntlet and gauging my resistance to imminent implosion. Combustible consuming consummation.
“Get out of the way. Move it. Doctor! I need a doctor. Over here, quickly!”
The burly sergeant carried the prone body over his shoulder as he raced down the white tiled corridor. The slap slap of his army-issue boots on the parquet floor parroting deadmancomingdeadmancomingdeadmancoming echoing and fading. Echo and fade, echo and fade, echo and fade…. Ominous silence of the virus. (Zephyr; it came cloaked in invisibility. Assassination of the killers, the conscripted falling on the crest of jubilation, tumbling into the maelstrom of unsuccessful pathological research.)
“I have a boy here. A little boy. He needs help. Help him.” The sergeant gently lowered the boy onto the floor alongside a metal trolley as he entered the ward, the cavernous domed belly of the building. A makeshift ward set up for assessment.
“Nurse,” he shouted. “He has a fever, he’s not opened his eyes, he’s voided into his trousers and he was lying in his own vomit when I found him.” His words tumbled out, anxious to ride on the wave of his exhaled breath. “I thought to wrap him in a blanket but he’s so hot but his little body is rattling, rattling like he has sudden chills. Nurse,” he grabbed the arm of the young dark haired girl. She was not much older than the boy, almost a mirror to the sergeant in colouring and height, two matchstick people in desperate need of food and sleep but vying to save the dying. Like the sergeant’s uniform, her own was doused in numerous stains with vile scents and a myriad of colours. Unlike the army uniform, the nurse’s did not have a blood-stained hole just above the left hip. “Nurse, there are more.”
The sparrow/hummingbird/nightingale nurse’s voice sang out across the ward, her words spiralling up, fluttering skywards to the dome’s peak and finding no escape. Her words fell, tumbling down, somersaulting over and over each other to cloak the patients laying, waiting, groaning on the makeshift beds. She was a songbird: help…help…help… Some patients joined in her melody –
the mellifluous vocals of the diseased. Others didn’t and the fallen words nested (a mockingbird’s nest?) in their open mouths.
…lub-dub-lub-dub-lub-dub, thud-thud, ba-boom, dup-dup, pop-pop, throb-throb…sounds of life – a heart? A gun: lub-dub-lub-dub-lub-dub, thud-thud, ba-boom, dup-dup, pop-pop, throb-throb…
“He had his shot at life…”
The sergeant stood rooted to the spot. Around him medical staff dashed hither and thither. Like fallen white dominos, the beds were lined with regimental precision, up and down and up and down. Each occupied. Many of the other patients were sitting, lying, curled in the foetal position wherever space allowed.
There were days, in the past, even that morning when he would have killed for a bed, so to speak he thought, silently laughing. There were those whose need was greater than his.
“Sergeant! Sergeant!” The young nurse grabbed his arm, her eyes quizzical when she felt the padding underneath her hand but her thoughts remained locked. He wouldn’t have been the first man to pad out his body with layers to keep warm. “We need to go. You need to show me where the other boys are. We can save them.”
“Follow me,” he all but shouted as he turned on the worn heel of his boot and marched down the corridor. “Keep up! Come on, move it, we need to get those boys inside quickly. The street is no place for anyone to be, be it ill or otherwise.”
“Lead the way, Sergeant,” she replied briskly as she signalled for the other staff members to ready themselves for a fresh wave of casualties. He wondered – just for a fleeting moment – if she was betrothed to anyone, promised to another, lost her sweetheart amongst the filth of the trenches, lost all hope in mankind.
…darling, I….what have you done to me? I don’t feel so well. I’m feeling feverish, a little achy, tired and, yes, queasy. You don’t think I’m….?
Ring-a-ring-a-roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tishoo a-tishoo, I think I’ve got flu.
She wondered about the sergeant as she followed on his heels, heels of mismatched height. But then she had noticed that the boots he wore were of different sizes, the right marginally bigger than the left. She’d observed how his gait was perfectly fine despite his uniform displaying a clear tear where a bayonet or bullet had torn into his left hip.
“You there,” he shouted at a man who was cooing to his horse just outside the hospital entrance. “We need your cart sir, quickly now, over here. Follow me.”
The sergeant led them a little further away from the hospital to a narrow alleyway, almost hidden by a stack of empty wooden crates and beer barrels. Behind them a mound of bodies lay, small and quivering. Dressed in grey and coated in grime they looked like a mass of rats, a writhing and distorted mound. Pungent and poisoned.
“… ‘To see the townsfolk suffer so from vermin, was a pity. Rats!’…” The sergeant quoted.
“These children will not disappear,” the nurse said brushing past him. “Too many have perished thus far. I will not lose these children too. Act Sergeant, now!”
“Your cart sir, now. Do hurry please, they need medical attention.” The old man spoke, his words lost in the overriding shouts of the sergeant who was gently lifting the nearest boy into his arms. “Come on! Come on! Come on!”
“Sergeant, look,” the nurse said, pointing to the wooden cart harnessed to the old nag.
He cradled the feverish boy tighter in his arms.
“I was trying to tell you, Sergeant,” the old man spoke. “I’m transporting these bodies to the mass grave. There are more behind me, a train of wagons, if you like. So many dead you see. Need to bury them, kill the virus. Not natural like, is it, all this death after such a war?”
“They’re boys for God’s sake! Children; they don’t deserve this. He has a name this one,” he indicated the body in his arms with a shrug of his shoulders. “George Albert Canning. He’s cheeky; he hates algebra and can’t spell worth a damn but he has gifted fingers when it comes to mechanics and can paint a lovely watercolour, not that he would admit that out loud.”
“You know this boy, Sergeant?” the nurse asked gently, as she moved around the crates checking the pulses of the others.
“I know you,” the old man said, scratching his bearded chin. “Yes, from the other village over. You were the teacher weren’t you before the war. Then…”
“Then?” enquired the nurse, as she took out a pen and gravely marked a black dot on one boy’s forehead. Bowing her head she whispered a prayer and then moved to the small blond-haired boy dressed in trousers too short and a shirt tatty from overuse.
“He was given a white feather,” the old man sneered, spitting at the sergeant’s feet. “And now he has the audacity to wear the King’s uniform. Playing dress up. Playing the hero when really he is nothing but a coward.”
“I am a pacifist.”
“You are a tramp rejected by all who know you.”
“You should be on the back of my cart.”
“There’s no room on your cart,” the nurse interjected. “Carry on please sir; I’m sure your bosses are expecting you.” She dismissed him without a second glance. “Sergeant, do you think you can carry him too? I can manage this poor little mite. If we hurry back we can get more help. I didn’t imagine there were so many…how far they must have walked…Sergeant, we must hurry.”
The day of the week was Tuesday, the date 12th November 1918. Many thought death that wiped out families, communities, and futures was behind them. Over. Dead and buried. Many were wrong. There were 49 days left of the year, the successive years were to take many more last heartbeats including the sergeant and the nurse.
She would have made matron by then and he would no longer be sleeping on the street, few left alive would even know him for the tramp he once was. Death claimed him the free man he always had been in his mind and heart, the only difference was he had a bed to die in and a warm hand to hold as he passed away, his body riddled with the flu.
Clip clop clip clop, their hearts went pop.
Clip clop clip clop, off to the mass grave drop.
Clip clop clip clop, clip clop clip clop.
Tick tock tick tock the virus struck everyone.
A train of the dead, cart after cart: a train bringing the dead… deadmancomingdeadwomancomingdeadchildcomingdeadjewcoming – echoing and fading. Echo and fade, echo and fade, echo and fade….
FOR SALE AT THE CAROUSEL
We all came at the same time. Jet, a boy was first. Then Lola second and me – Star – last. Three of us; three is his lucky number, so he says, and thus he thinks we will bring him good fortune.
I know what he wants from us and it has the Queen’s face on it. Mother says we are her good fortune too, a blessing, a wondrous gift. She’s just happy Father is happy.
Music plays when he is happy. The chiming and tinkling of the carousel’s melody is literally music to his ears and how he makes his money. Father loves nothing better than the visitors coming to ride the colourful horses. That’s not strictly true – he likes the visitors who come to inspect us more.
You beauties will make me rich. Especially you lad, beautiful black boy like you will make them go wild.
I’ve grown to despise the sound of the horses at play. That up and down movement makes me feel queasy.
It is all I have ever known.
Many weeks have passed since Mother brought us here. We were blind for the first few. We’re blind still, not knowing what is going to happen to us. Mother’s words aren’t you all beautiful, aren’t you just perfect, I wish I could keep you all are hollow. All meaning hollowed out but days of darkness seeping into our bones. Yet, we grow strong.
Lola was the first of us to distance herself from Mother. Very little tolerance for fools has Lola, a lot like Father. A schemer. Ungrateful. She knows what is expected of her and she plays the tune as well as the organ that takes pride of place in the centre of the carousel.
I wish I could forget those initial days. Father prowling around and Jet quivering, his body pressed up to mine. Never has he displayed any big brother instincts, we don’t regard each other as such. We will not have a future together, so why form any great attachment? Warmth was enough. It was always so cold with Mother washing us, the air drying us and leaving us so much cooler than before. We were too young to try and fend for ourselves. She taught us.
I soon learnt there was a motive for her motherly teachings.
Footsteps pound above us all day and night; the carousel is a popular place. Everyone likes a ride. It’s cheap here. A novelty. I’d like to see the horses. Just once. Maybe one day.
I’ve grown to love the sound of the horses at play. That up and down movement is a comfort. It’s all I’ve ever known.
We don’t walk anywhere. We can’t. We dream frequently but we never share those private thoughts. We don’t talk much. We can’t.
Move! Come on, out of the way. I need to clear these beds. Make fresh. Visitors are coming later. Move it. Now!
She’s very loving, our mother. Always with a kind word. The thing is, she can smell a rainy day a mile off and we’re her savings pot.
From his comfy chair he watches us. Walking around at his choosing, eating when he wants. He always gets the best on offer. Please him, keep the master happy and business will flourish. Strong, healthy and contented and he will be successful again. Look at us; we are but his ambition coming to fruition.
Come here, bitch. Like the dutiful wife she follows his command and once more she is by his side. We are all but forgotten. Closed during non-business hours.
Hunger isn’t something we have to endure, however. The best cuts are not on offer but we have plentiful amounts up to seven times a day. Fattening us up for market, and that day is fast approaching.
Visitors. They touch us.
They are escorted in to see us. To judge. Face. Back legs. They stroke our bellies and lower. Ever so gently.
We get touched all over.
Mother and Father leave.
We are alone with the visitors.
Father is very happy tonight. He’s made a sale. Jet! Didn’t I say that beautiful black boy would be the making of us?
You did my darling, yes.
Who could resist that beauty?! No-one. Look at his legs, his flanks, that stunning face. Such intelligence behind those brown eyes. He’ll learn quickly.
Jet sits silently. Father continues.
You do whatever they say, boy. You listen and then act and you’ll go far. My name will be known for supplying beauties.
We are not all beauties to Father.
The horses are at play. Going round and round, up and down. We mimic this action down here, in the belly of the carousel. When the music stops we freeze, see who moves first. I’m very good at being still, playing dead.
Father is with us. This is rare. Mother’s job is done.
Jet is playing with one of Father’s toys. It’s a rope. Jet is allowed to call him Daddy now, he is lenient with Jet. He’s playing at being nice. Now that Jet has a new Father he is allowed out to go upstairs but only if he wears his new necklace. A symbol of his subservience. Obedient boy.
What are the horses like, Jet?
The carousel, the horses, the music, those delicious smells that waft down.
Dunno. Didn’t look. I had a job to do.
I would have looked. It’s a magical world up there. So much light and the sound of laughter. I hear that often but not down here. Jet is solemn these days, he knows he is to leave us all soon. It’s the unfamiliar that unsettles him; he has no allegiance to us.
Lola is quiet. Father beat her into submission. She wanted to play with the rope. Father said no. She attacked him. He tied the rope around her neck and he knotted the other end to a stake that was embedded into the ground. When we aren’t looking she gnaws at it; vicious, violent shaking of her head. Salvia drips.
Tonight we are to have visitors again. Lola is untied.
The big man wanted Lola. She left with him.
Another man came later and he took Jet. It is just me now.
The carousel begins to move. For days I have lain here alone listening to the music and allowing the vibrations of the horses galloping to comfort me. Father has gone away and Mother has been looking after me.
There have been no more visitors. Nothing has been required of me. I have grown quite bored.
It’s happened! I am allowed out. I cannot contain my excitement.
Father came back and shouted my name. My name! Star. Star!
I went slowly, not without trepidation I admit, up the small staircase. One step, two, three step, a few more. Light hit me, sound hit me, and smells hit me. All familiar, so so familiar.
There were many visitors there. Yet, they weren’t looking at me. They were handing money over to Father. Mother was there too. She looked to be sleeping.
I stood trembling. My legs were shaking so much. I thought I might pee myself.
The visitors smiled at me. Some stroked me.
Father shouted at me and I felt a warm trickle down my legs. His laugh boomed around the carousel as he flicked a button and the horses came to life.
He pointed towards a large cushion near to the ticket booth. I was to stay!
I lay down, happy.
I am the cold virus that invades your nostrils as I mouth the words I adore you, exhaling warm moist air all over your face; a shroud I made. Stitch and sew and stitch and sew. You look beautiful, pale and covered. A mannequin face; showing the world nothing of what is transpiring inside you. Me. I am inside you. I am of the Coronavirus species; I wear a crown, sometimes called a halo, but I am not that angelic. You will be my queen.
I fear you will be like Medea, although I will not be your Jason. Was he a wronged man or was she just woman?
- He didn’t love her anymore.
- He loved her. He just loved power and status more.
- Falling out of love is possible.
- And loving two women equally is normal?
- It’s not abnormal.
- You know nothing of love.
- I know what I feel for you.
- There are rules.
- Figured you’d say that.
- Love is an imprisonment. A life sentence.
- Blah. Blah.
- Love is the burning of one’s flesh into another so that they heal as one. Conjoined. Connected tissue, the amalgamation of blood, fluids uniting and cells evolving.
I am Cancer. I live inside you. A mutation of yourself. Regeneration and renewal and replacement and then error error error error error. Please accept my sincerest apologies but this cell doesn’t appear to be working anymore. Please try again….never. I was born when the bang went big, when C and E and two L’s became united and drafted their constitution. We, the cells of the human body, in order to perform our duty, establish our birth from our own flesh and blood , ensure we replicate, provide sufficient numbers to be victorious over the non-mutated cells, promote our own demise and eventual death. We, the cells of the human body, become cancer, we do not move on to another host when the current flesh is no longer viable, we stay, remaining.
I am cancer, I am a part of you and I die with you. That is my love. Label me aggressive but only as an outstanding lover, a life partner, your soul mate.
- Her love for him was impassioned.
- It was demonic.
- His was lacklustre.
- One’s love cannot be compared to another’s.
- We all love differently?
- We are individuals.
- Not when we love.
- I retain my identity even when I am a lover.
- The act of love is all about transformation.
- Sometimes the lover wishes to change me.
- The act of love is all about transformation.
- Sometimes I feel that my lover wants to live inside me. Be me. Alter my very make-up.
- Evolve you.
Roughly five litres of blood run through a human body; many many cells, white, red, platelets, all entrusted with a specific job. When in need I was your transfusion. You weren’t looking. You thought you didn’t need me but I was witness to your internal bleeding and I knew I had the answer. I was the answer; just call me Platelet. I flowed into your veins and was dispersed around your body, carrying the very air you breathed. I became you. You are me. Entwined – our love glowed red. As I travelled, exploring, a grand adventure of the inner workings of you, I detected the infectious disease and my fury raged a deathly white. What was this illness, this vileness, this inconsistency – LIE – of the hippocampus? An enemy had invaded and tampered with you. When, where, what poison was administered?
- You cannot blame Glauce for wanting to look beautiful on her wedding day.
- She was marrying a man who had already pledged his love to another.
- Any bride would wear a beautiful gift.
- She was poison, came from poison and died by its hand.
- Medea killed her out of revenge.
- It was borne from love.
- A woman scorned…
- She was much, much more.
- You admire her?
- She knew how to love.
Love is more than episodic events. The hippocampus stores time-related memories. Oh hackneyed phrase, but, we were not confined by time. The temporal lobe of the neocortex is where we existed. It was here that we processed mutual sensory input, creating a language only we could speak, numerous ways to say I love you, numerous derivations of what it meant to love, to be the recipient of love, to be the giver.
To give myself so freely.
This sole aspiration achieved.
To discover my soul is but a cell that needs to evolve.
To encompass you.
To ingest my own lover.
Lip locked. Chained.
The emerging double helix of us.
ET TU, BRUTE
“Coming, ready or not.”
A giggle split the sky. Magpies – two for mirth – took flight. Leaves rustled as their wings disturbed the warm, late-summer air. Gnats hovered lazily. The daisies poking out from the long grass swayed daintily without a care. Neither friend nor foe to the little boy hidden under the jumbled planks of wood that created a dome in the middle of the scorched ground.
“Coming Toby, coming to get you.”
“Coming to beat you.”
“Coming to eat you.”
High-pitched laughter pierced each announcement.
The little boy quivered and bit down harder on his bottom lip, his chin trembling as it cradled between his raised knees. Arms banded round his legs and were held by an invisible padlock of panic.
Toby’s unadulterated fear had come to fruition. They had found his sanctuary.
Just as summer was beginning a new girl had started school: Angela. Blond hair, blue eyes, oh, she looks like a sweet, sweet angel Mrs Hutchinson their class teacher had said. An angel of death; four magpies had chirruped at the classroom window the day she entered, standing in front of Toby, twirling her hair around a finger as she rocked her hips from side to side. He had been drawing a funny face on the pad of his index finger; he was confounded as to why that had triggered her hate.
That was Monday, on Tuesday she had wheedled her way into his friendship group – Connor and Oscar – and on Wednesday those three were playing without him. Thursday saw him solitary in the playground and sniggered at in the classroom. The last day of the week they followed him home, jeering him, pushing him, but they didn’t chase him as he took flight.
The holidays then began and he was alone. For the first time ostracised and left confused to wander the woods building his castle for one, catching a fish dinner for one, training his army of one to fight the dragon with three heads.
“Toe-bee! Toe-bee! Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
No. No. No.
Please don’t come any closer.
“Beware, beware. Can you feel my stare? I know you’re there. Time to play truth or dare.”
Leave me alone!
An ant crawled around the rim of his trainer, bumping up and down over the running stitch pattern. This was a lone soldier, he belonged to no army. But he was brave; he travelled his own path facing the danger ahead with courage. Why aren’t I like that? thought Toby as he flicked the ant onto his finger and watched him change course, hurling himself off this unexpected ledge and, having landed, forged ahead once more.
Through the gaps in the wood, he watched as the three marched towards his castle.
A silver streak glinted in the muted sunshine. A slug’s trail. That’s what she was, Angela the slug. She left a vile stain wherever she went whilst she searched for food. She fed off others’ sorrow. Before she came along he had been happy. How can one stupid girl change that?
“Ah, you’re hiding Toby. Like a scaredy rabbit.”
“He’s crying for his Mummy,” Connor added.
“ Wah! Wah! Wah!” Oscar cried.
“Are you peeing yourself in fright Toe-bee?” Angela trilled.
The apex of his trousers was dry. He audibly exhaled in relief and then dared not inhale in case they had heard him. But they know where you are you fool! They know you are sat here, huddled under a pile of wood, hiding, scared, waiting for…..what?
He’d built the den the day after he had run home, the sweat of dread trickling down his back and the stench of his own terror chasing him. It was a private place, his den. Protection. Where popularity did not dominate, where people were invited – not that he had issued any invitations – and no one had prominence. There was no king of the castle. Yet, now, there was an evil queen.
The evil queen always died. Because she was stupid. Because her enemy challenged her. I can do that.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
The noise broke through his shroud of trepidation. She was just a girl. A silly one at that; his little sister had the same tinkerbell laugh. It was annoying, thought Toby . When his sister riled him he told her to shut up and go away. So why haven’t you done that with Angela?
It was clear – he wasn’t scared of Angela, he was scared of the power she wielded over his friends. They could hurt him with their distance, they had already. Of their own volition they had abandoned him and taken her side. Like all evil queens she was the coward , she used them, her henchmen to brandish her strength. Only their fists could hurt. Albeit her words were just as powerful with the barbs they left but only because he let it matter.
She was just a girl. Connor and Oscar just boys. He had made them the monsters when really the only monster was his imagination.
“I like your castle,” she sneered. “I’ll fight you for it.”
It wasn’t a sophisticated structure. Merely an overlapping of loose planks, erected to leave a gap large enough to accommodate his eight-year-old self. An old, frayed rope acted as a door knocker, door handle and lock. It was this that he held onto now as he scrambled out of his den.
“I’m here Angela.” Toby said standing tall.
“So you are.”
Another tinkling of laughter.
“What do you want?” he asked, taking a confident step forward.
“I want that den. I want to make it my palace.”
“With them,” he indicated in turn to his old friends, Connor and Oscar. They’d betrayed his trust, they were disloyal to him, stabbed him in the back for a mere girl. He was Julius Caesar; they were Brutus. Mrs Hutchinson had taught them all about the Roman leader.
“What?” Angela’s step faltered.
“I said: have it. It’s just wood. A simple den; they taught us how to make them at Cubs.”
“Well, I want it.”
“And I said you can have it. I can make another.”
“Goody. It’s mine then,” she said as she side-stepped him and pranced past. “Thank you Toe-bee.” Those words were sung into his ear on a mellifluous tone that rang hollow.
“You’re welcome.” To the slugs and spiders and stench of rotting fish…I am rather good at catching fish, must try harder to make fire though.
As he stepped forward he could hear her sigh of dismay.
“There’s just about enough room for you two as well,” Toby jeered as he looked his foes in the eye. “If you want to spend your time with a stinky girl, that is.”
Connor cast a glance at Oscar who merely shrugged.
They did nothing and, in that moment of indecisiveness and inactivity, Toby’s epiphany came. He realised that it wasn’t him, it was them. They were everywhere; weak people who blindly followed the shiniest light.
“Hit me if you want. Go ahead. I’ll fight back.” Oscar’s eyes had wandered over to where Angela was using a dock leaf to dust the top of the den. Connor was looking like he wanted to fight, but merely for the fun of it.
Two magpies flew overhead.
Toby walked away and he didn’t look back.
If he had his time again he would have changed one thing. He would have said Fuck Off more. Perhaps not in those words per se but the intention would have been there in his actions and his demeanour. He wouldn’t have waited around to give the green light on other people’s judgements. Time for him had been short. Life had been fantastic but he’d lived it 9/10.
His thoughts returned, as they frequently did, to that one day when he should have uttered those inflammatory words – inciting to others of course; he had to remind himself that, in this version, he was unperturbed. Chuckling, he watched the scene again that had been playing in his mind for, well, insert a time frame, he didn’t concern himself with that imprisonment any more:
“Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to…”
Look at her, Holy Hell and God’s buggery (sorry God…sorry-ish because look at her) she is amazing. I am so punching above my weight with her but… simply Wow.
“…do you, Douglas Robert Donaldson take Gorgeous Stunning She-actually agreed-to-marry-you as your lawful wedded wife?”
The first time, the minister had said ‘awful’ not ‘lawful’, which was a Freudian slip on Doug’s part in ‘writing’ his script. It had made him double up with laughter, so much so he had thrown up, figuratively of course as Doug was dead after all and thus he didn’t need physical sustenance any longer. Perhaps it would have been more apt to say he had dry-wretched when the inability to breathe had set his body into revolt. But then… yes, there is a clear problem with that description too. Suffice to say, he had found it hysterical. Gorgeous Stunning would have given him a swift slap for that sort of derogatory word play and he would have loved it!
The simple interplay of words – trivial conversation – was a deafening silence when he had no voice and just an exchange of ‘question and answer’ over the shopping list/children’s extra-curricular activities/pencilling in some time for sex was sorely missed.
So… back to that spring day when, clichéd, life for him was beginning. He’d scripted the following utterances, for utterances they would have been in the liberated state of FO.
“Fuck off Mum and Dad for your censure on what I have done so far in my life; especially in relation to Gorgeous Stunning. Fuck off Best Friend’s future wife, yes you sitting in the seventh pew on the left. Mate, she’ll be after you later, claws bared and you’re too drunk to do a risk assessment on her. I say fuck off because Gorgeous Stunning is always gorgeous, even when she puts a little chunk on after having our four kids. You make her cry in ten years, three months and twenty-two days’ time and I never said anything. Idiotic Moron. Well I am saying it now… piss off, get out of the church, I don’t like you and never have, your invitation was only courtesy because Mum wanted her old-school friend here and, as her daughter, you are the plus-one. Rick, you’re next… Jake, little brother, Rick’s a drunk driver do not ever get into a car with him. I know you won’t listen to me as you never have, but please remember that date: March 17th 2010. I never blamed him, never said an angry word as I was too caught up in my own grief and then after I took the coward’s way out of silence and that was just wrong. You’re a murdering bastard Rick, fu….”
And so it continues, his re-scripting of his wedding day. A… what was that word his daughter always used… fancy, posh concept she had learnt at Uni… ah, yes, Rhizome. Some botanist term for subterraneous plants with lots of roots and offshoots and the like, which are meant to signify the epoch-like nature of time or some such shit. Time being in a constant state of flux so that the past, the present and the future and the alternate universes and so on (blah bah) all merged at one point.
Whatever all that gumpf was his daughter waffled on about, that was his wedding day, the if-I-could-do-it-all-again one. His entire life pinpointed to one moment.
The setting was not lost on Doug; he knew exactly why he had chosen that specific scene from his life. He had a single regret, the one thing that would have made up the remaining tenth; he hadn’t fully appreciated what he had. Family was a blessing, a home was everything. It wasn’t about the pub with his mates all the time, perhaps just one cosy night in with Gorgeous Stunning where they passed the evening in a mutual bliss of do-nothing, perhaps that early morning Saturday trip to the leisure centre for Swim, Slide and Waves with the kids, perhaps once he could have cooked Sunday lunch for everyone. Hindsight was wonderful but it was crippling.
I do. Two innocuous words. He should have penned an Ode, composed a Sonnet or at the very least told his wife that his declaration was eternal. Douglas had merely repeated after the vicar and thought about the reception and the copious amounts of booze he’d pre-paid for. The wedding night was to be epic. He wished his marriage had been. It had been, to a degree. He awarded himself 9/10 for his role in it. Not enough.
“…OMG, is he really saying…”
“…he’s your son Martha….”
“….go on bruv, stick it to them…”
Endless were the responses he created to his would-be scenario. Shame. He so wished he had said all of those things and more, done more, proven himself more, had more time just to be part of it all. Because ultimately she was his wife. His life. His eternal I do. There hadn’t been the occasion for one last stroke of her back as he drifted off to sleep each night, or the clank clank of spoon against mug as he made her morning coffee, no more sighing as she turned Match of the Day over to The X Factor Results Show, not a single eye roll to be had when she came back from an all day ‘lunch’ with the girls with eight glossy shopping bags and a wry smile on her face.
A romantic weekend in Venice, a rose named after them on their Ruby wedding anniversary, a photograph of that sunset in Bermuda on that first holiday they took without the kids. Immaterial. He wanted the sound of her snoring, the warmth of her breath, the absent toe-kick which meant he had to get up off the sofa and get a low-fat-snack-as-it’s-after-9pm-and-I-shouldn’t-really.
The vow he should have written, should have said as he looked her in the eyes and held her hands in his, as he watched the tear role down her cheek and heard her intake of breath that would be expelled on the softest of sighs was ‘death will not make my love soluble’.
She walked through the arched portico of the train station, a small bag in her hand. It hung solidly at her side, weighing her down. It was the same bag she’d put the cauliflower in that she’d bought yesterday from the market; the bottom was full of green leaves, partly eaten by caterpillars, partly crushed by the contents of the bag. Brown was becoming the dominant colour. She hadn’t had time to clear the bag out. Not that it mattered really.
Her shoes, serviceable and well-worn, thumped solidly on the tiles. Her thick stockings were starting to sag. She’d start knitting a new pair that night after she’d washed up the tea things and her younger brothers played with their toy soldiers in front of the fire. Her father would take himself off to the pub to read the paper in peace and discuss the new foreman at the mills wi’ t’ lads. Her mother would begin baking the bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. Her time was now used for additional chores, after all she had no need to go to church anymore, her extra lessons were over and her job at the mill was starting next week.
The station was shelter from the harsh winter wind that whipped through her clothes, chilling her skin. But she didn’t feel the cold. She was burning up, damp under her arms and between her legs and a sheen on her face making her nose and forehead shine. But she didn’t unbutton her heavy green wool coat. She had no hat, no scarf and she wasn’t wearing any gloves so that the cloth straps of the dark blue bag dug into her fingers, red raw, turning purple, going blue.
A station guard was lighting the gas lamps.
“Uh, ‘scuse me. Does tha know time please?” Her throat was dry. She’d been chewing her bottom lip. Her nose had started to run as the heat thawed her out. The guard took his watch from the pocket on his waistcoat. She noted the shiny buttons, noticed how he flicked the lid, read the time, nodded, closed the lid with a click and said, “A quarter ter four miss.”
The heat was escaping from the high buttoned collar of her coat but she didn’t unbutton it. She sniffed and ignored the urge to wipe her nose with the sleeve of her coat. She’d find a tissue in the Ladies.
Her throat’s dry.
I long every day for your smile.
Her tongue’s thick in her mouth.
Shush someone might hear.
The skin of her lips cracks in the heat.
Kind eyes, kind touch, always kind to the outsider.
The mirror mocked her – she refused to look. She already knew what she would see: her face held immobile, reality shining dull on the surface. Nothing beneath.
“I’m jest cleanin’ ‘em love.”
An old woman bustled about.
“Th’ one at far end be free.” She walked into the cubicle. Did nothing. The water gushed flooding the bowl and the chain swung from the cistern.
She washed her hands. And washed her hands. And washed her hands.
The bag remained, a bundle of blue shoved behind the toilet bowl.
She forgot the tissue.
The Left Luggage office was directly ahead. She went in. She needed a small suitcase. The guard behind the large wooden counter was arguing with a passenger. She stood and waited patiently. After the clock ticked two minutes she caught the guard’s eye and pointed to a suitcase behind him to his right. He gave it to her, and continued to argue with the rail passenger. When questioned, the guard behind the counter wouldn’t remember her.
She was faceless, nameless, a passenger stranger. She was nondescript. Walking down the aisle to the last cubicle, she reached behind the toilet bowl that momentarily cooled the skin of her hand and pulled out the canvas bag. This she placed in the open suitcase. She shut the suitcase. She lifted the suitcase and walked out of the cubicle past the old lady who, when asked, wouldn’t remember the girl in the green coat.
Sturdy shoes thumped on the tiles as she walked over to the ticket counter and waited.
He’d a wife but she hadn’t known that then. He hadn’t asked her to return home to Cairo with him. Besides she had no passport. Before her death she would go abroad once, to the Isle of Man for her honeymoon, but that didn’t count, not really. One of her sons would emigrate to Canada but she would never be invited over.
He’d kissed her between Hard Times and long division.
A gradely lass.
Small chest. Wide hips. Thick ankles. She was a good girl – mostly – with a genuine smile and a kind touch. She would never be surly, she was far too practical for that sort of folly, a true northern lass.
She would have a secret, but unlike all the others hers would make the headlines.
Yet this single secret – cross my heart and hope to die, stick a knitting needle up my quim – she never revealed. Not once. Ever. Simply because no one asked. Why would she be inclined to tell? Nay one fer foolishness our Sarah.
There was a little girl who had a little curl hidden in her locket. And when she was good she did it reet there on t’ pew whier t’ Matleys sit every Sunday. Shockin’, reet shockin’! A’ve allus said, ‘ant a allus said Maud, that girl ‘ad th’ divil’s own wickedness in ‘er and what she did, ee well, it were reet ghastly.
An’ dus thee railly think it were ‘er Mrs Smith? Sarah ast in a whisper. That woman ther talkin’ ‘bout int paiper.
And when she was bad she was horrid.
She boarded the train. The suitcase was placed overhead, where it would remain after she alighted from the carriage. It would stay there until the conductor handed it over to the Left Luggage office and the guard opened it and then the police were called and the reporter reported and she went to market as normal.
He was on her skin. He breached her skin, to live under it, in it, outside of it, but close. Always close. Egypt didn’t look that far away in the atlas. Not as far as Canada.
Skin on skin. A sin.
Skin on skin. She had wanted him.
The doors began to slam; louder and louder as the conductor worked his way along the carriages.
She stood on the platform watching as the train pulled away.
The headlines hit the stands quicker than she expected. Baby found in suitcase! Suffocated new born found on train! Murder on the 3.57 to Huddersfield!
She peeled the potatoes as her mother tut-tutted and her father grumbled into the paper. A tear rolled. You alreet Sarah lass? Yes, Ma. Knit a new pair o’ socks fer yer brother Sarah, Billy seems ter ‘ave lost one agin. What that boy does wi’ ‘em, I dunno.
It hadn’t stopped crying. She’d had to make it stop crying.
…the question on everyone’s lips is ‘why did she do it’?
If asked, she would have said ‘ow could I explain t’ colour o’ its skin? But no one ever did.
SUNRISE OVER CAPPADOCIA
The sun rose and then it set. It did this every day. What transpired below the glowing globe in those hours of light happened. The vast majority of the events were uneventful. Nothing truly occurs on a day-to-day basis that hasn’t been witnessed before by someone somewhere going about their innocuous business. This blindness is born from indifference. Footsteps are placed and then trampled on by further footsteps of unrelated people following the same path. Taking the steps that moved them forward. Left, right, left, right. Some in a direction pre-planned and others to the unknown. The multitudes walk for various reasons but the Sun is only governed by one. Rise, shine and then set.
The lone man walked. He was followed by others. They were all strangers. A train of traders walking to market to start the day of earning enough to feed their families or their habits, be they good or bad…
“ ‘Be they good or bad?’ What is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what it says.”
“Only in a shit piece of writing.”
“What is the premise to this piece anyway? It doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere.”
“I’m writing my way into it.”
“Great! Start something else, something that actually has a plot to it.”
A bright sun casts long shadows. David thought Emily was brighter than the sun, her reach penetrated into him, warming him, energising him. He had brought her here to Cappadocia as it was different. Just like she was. Nothing about Emma conformed and so he felt, no it was more of a compulsion, to try to exceed what she expected of him. He wasn’t deep and unfathomable, he wasn’t wacky and carefree, he certainly wasn’t afflicted by anything that could be attributed to an avant-garde nature. He was just David. She was more than her name. His actions had to be grandiose to be memorable.
“He’s going to propose. Whoop. Whoop. Boring”
“Some people like a good romance.”
“But this isn’t a good romance, it’s obvious.”
“Well the premise to a romance isn’t exactly complex; boy meets girl, they like each other, they kiss…”
“Blah, blah, blah.”
“Right. Ok. Fine. I’ll change tactic.”
The coach was unbearably warm, despite being advertised as fully air con. Brian fiddled with the air vent above them for at least half of the journey, which meant his growing gut and sweaty armpit….
“You can’t bloody steal someone else’s work.”
“She won’t mind.”
“I think she will. Write your own stuff. God! Seriously!”
“I didn’t think you’d even notice.”
“I read everything that Cathy Vella writes; she’s my favourite writer on the site. Did you read the one titled ‘Colin’?”
“Well…thanks for the support.”
“Write something of worth then and perhaps I’ll alter my allegiance.”
It was easy to sit in the sun and watch. He’d been staring at the rock formations for over an hour and yet he could find nothing metaphysical in their construction, certainly nothing divine. He wasn’t looking specifically for any answer that transcended time or expecting a dogmatic conversation by some unseen being, he understood his position, even if he wasn’t resigned to it. The only reason he was here was because she had wanted to visit.
There she was wandering around, taking in as much as possible in the limited time that they had here. Trying to memorise the images in front of her, and knowing her like he did, trying to abstract some sort of meaning – an understanding – for her own sanity. Seeking answers in rock formations was as futile to him as believing in last minute miracles or even worse…faith. Faith in what? He watched as she placed her head against the heated stone and breathed deeply – in, out, in out – she’d be doing that ‘mindfulness’ technique she had been introduced to at Pilates.
The only thing he was mindful of right now was the smell of pork, the smell of his own skin burning under the heat of the sun.
As she lifted her head, he saw the ghost of a smile on her face – stupid phrase he berated himself silently. Ghost of a smile. Phantoms of any sort didn’t exist. Chuckling, he shook his head. Silly woman, she had projected her feelings/worries/blah-blah onto the rock. Trying to comprehend or at least justify his imminent death; compartmentalising his mortality with the immortality of the rocks. But they weren’t immortal they just had a longer life span than he did.
Death comes to us all.
Death was a dick.
She had taken to wearing a gold cross around her neck. The small, thin pendant fell to rest between the valley of her breasts. When he fingered the symbol it was warm from her body heat; he thought nothing of the cross and its meaning to her, he definitely thought a lot about where the pendent nestled. Why not? He wasn’t dead just yet; all was in working order.
She turned to look at him.
He lifted a hand and indolently waved.
Raising the camera she took a picture. Pressed some buttons and indicated with a raised finger that she wanted to take another.
For God’s sake! Was she trying to find his best side?!
Was she really going to look back on this photo and think of happy times?
The smell of pork was making him hungry. He motioned to her that he was hungry, he knew rather than saw her roll her eyes and watched as she made her way carefully back over the rocky ground to his position.
They had packed a little picnic. She liked restaurants, liked to sit down at a table and spend his money on artfully placed food on a plate. A cheese roll, warm from being stuffed at the bottom of a rucksack, the cheese sweaty and stinking, filled him up just the same as some piece of meat coated in jus.
As she plastered a smile on her face he absently rubbed his chest, not that the contact could eradicate the pain that he….
“Keep going. You’ve finally hit on something here.”
“I don’t have the time.”
“Find the time.”
“Are you joking me? I am 38 weeks pregnant and have a toddler to care for and I am about to move house. Do you think I have time to continue a story about a dying man and some rocks?”
“Find the time.”
“He dies….the end.”
“Was it at sunset?”
struggling winter sun coffee cup burning my palms burning the moment into me burning me but leaving no mark as I feel only what I think I should feel as I don’t how to feel how do you feel why are you even awake so early because I haven’t been asleep how can I sleep when all you will do is sleep from now on gone gone as weak as that winter sun towards the end an end that we all knew was coming but like Christmas its coming surprises us each year but you will only die once and I shall see many more Christmas mornings cold mornings frost covered morning even when the sun is strong when the sun is high and the sun heats me through to the core that core that you strengthened that you made more than what I thought it could be but it’s just a core apple core eaten slowly by ants and carried away across the earth earthy scent of soil and faeces and rot as decay happens and spreads and ignores the weak winter sun as it gives up the sun doesn’t try to fight to achieve more it succumbs does what it always has each year month and month day after day and I will do the same because perhaps just maybe I have learnt nothing but you never gave up you carried on kept going as the sun set and never rose again as the warmth left and the cold set in and the ants marched one by one and then two by two and three by three three plus three is six and six pall bearers carry the wood the wood of the tree that hadn’t given up but was taken from the ground uprooted and cut and shaped and made into something different is that me now am I just a tree and will my roots spread as far as yours did the coffee is bitter I made it too strong unconscious act to mirror what wasn’t perhaps I am making too much of this the coffee is just a drink the sun is just nothing is just morning will follow morning and not the start of a litany of change only the absence of what once was and how can we fill that void there is the compulsion to fill it pack it to bursting with stuff there is no change change does not exist it is like tomorrow tomorrow never comes as it is always today well change never happens because once that event occurs you enter normality it is normal that you are gone we are now living normal this is normal and I sit here and question what exactly the fuck I am supposed to do with normal I find this whole thing perplexing too many thoughts and no great clarity and lot of verbal pontificating overlaid with hollowness it is as beautiful as the opening of a lily bud but even that weeps perfect beads frozen on the petals to be seen and dismissed we never shared a cold winter morning we didn’t share many mornings lost to memory are those summer evenings long long hours of endless talk superfluous words of dreams and desires aims and ambitions likes and dislikes we changed the world over many glasses of pinot grigio and still the world was not righted it tilted no further when your heart stopped it all kept going endless ebb and flow only a small few bothered to remember even though you touched many how many do we touch our touch does not burn it means little like the cold immobilising my fingers soon they will thaw and the blood will flow as normal the tissue will pink the skin will enlarge and fingers will fatten nails will no longer be blue blue you never went blue just grey and cold so cold and yet I couldn’t stop had to touch you to impart something anything but I sat there and talked and talked and words poured out of my mouth top lip meeting bottom making contact and forming shapes for the sounds to come out and they did as the tears stayed immobile screens of water coating the eyeball shudder and shiver and fidget and shuffle what is there to do what can I say I can’t leave as then you will be alone all alone and where do you go have you already gone or are you still here with me but not in there because your skin is cold I feel the bristles against my palm and it is like nothing has changed but nothing has changed because this is my normality now today I was scheduled to sit in this room titled Chapel of Rest because a wooden plaque over the door I walked through denoted it as such but it is just a square room with a bed on wheels and a beside unit one drawer and one cupboard underneath with plastic purple flowers in a bronze vase etched with some random pattern and I look at these plastic petals as I hold your hand and touch my warm lips to your cold ones and I think of the people outside steps trotting up and down the corridor and I touch your legs to see if the oedema has still made them swell like a pregnant woman’s and I touch my lips back to yours and mumble words in this language that we speak which means nothing if you cannot take those words and memories with you for what am I to do with them now I cannot remember all that I have said and I know not what you retained as important or hurtful did you take the hurtful with you can I take them back even if I meant them as I don’t want you to have any more pain if I caused you upset then let me rectify that redemption is this something I can do I doubt it as words and images course through my head random vignettes and jumbled letters forming a now defunct language I always thought the sparkling frost on the pavement mirrored that the sugar coating on a peppermint cream I walked over this minty treat up those minty steps and through those double doors and it was no warmer inside a weak winter sun struggling I see the beauty in death and that haunts me because nothing happens afterwards but continuance
Photo by Gretchen Peters
I’m not altogether sure why I’m still corresponding with you – and by such an archaic form as a hand-written letter! This is not something that I normally do; get involved with a ‘fan’, so to speak. My rule is to respond to all letters with a polite and curt paragraph – I get so many after all – but your own personal narcotic is hidden between the lines of your scrawling script and it entices me. I’m hooked and I’m not ready for detox.
I question whether you actually seek answers from me Colin or whether you are an addict of questions. Do you just like to construct sentences ending in ‘?’ Are you on an endless journey seeking out nothing as you’re not willing to listen? I wonder if my letters are even read or merely piling up, discarded in their multitude, on the side table in your hallway. The only reading you do is of the self-satisfied smile in the mirror hanging over that side table
I’ll never know and I do not wish to meet. This succession of paper to pen and eyes to paper (sometimes fingertips and lips) sustains me. It fills me up to an unbearable level.
I am Kitty Fane in the throes of her love affair with Charles Townsend and no, (unspeakable thought!), I cannot entertain the discovery just yet.
But you ask of my love and I shall answer as honestly as I can, in the vein of my choosing and thus, under your analytical gaze perhaps I do not answer at all. So be it.
What do you want from me, Colin? How confident are you that I can serve up this desire for knowledge on a silver platter? If you carved into my heart I do not bleed perfectly formed sentences ripe for your understanding. I just bleed. Get your Hannibal Lecter chops around that!
I answer thus:
Language. I am having a love affair with language but no one wants to listen, they don’t care about how I have been seduced, how I am always being seduced. I’m a total floozy, I flit from one author to another, and I love them all. I don’t even care that I’m not monogamous. I have no favourite. Angela Carter once said: What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? I have reflected on this many a time and I concur. This is my adopted approach to writers, to all reading material, to the written word itself.
I don’t even charge. Refrain from writing/asking your questions. Please! Allow there to be some ambiguity in our relationship (of correspondence).
No one seems to care about the power of the word, how it can transform the meaning of a piece, how hearing or reading a particular word burrows itself through your consciousness until all those memories, emotions or anxieties come to the fore that I thought I had long since banished. It’s rare I find happiness in this process.
No one wants to engage in conversation with me about the placing of a comma or the choice use of a full stop. Does anyone wish to do so with you, Colin, on your incessant use of the ‘?’
Names like Lawrence, Dosteovsky or Woolf mean nothing to some because they are not casual flings, you read these authors and you need to commit your all to them. No one gets this.
Is it true you’ve read Maugham’s The Painted Veil more than ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand times?
Do you just drink the one cup of coffee in your life and say: tick that one off?
They cannot comprehend that I read for love, for discovery, for escapism. It is incomprehensible to them that I will forego sleep, food and comfort for the pleasure of being in this relationship. What is wrong with these people?
Colin, everyone loves to hear that I am a writer and they are always asking when the next piece is being published, which is clearly demonstrative of their selfish and puerile nature.
They do not wish to engage in the creation process. They read the poem/short story/novel and they say “$>?*&!!*&##”. Nothing more; I should be thankful they bother to read it at all. I take their money and slink away into the Dickensian night feeling cheap.
Never will I do another interview or write another column piece! There has to remain something of me left untouched. I need to retain me to write.
Last week I started a short story about a woman who realises that she is in a loveless marriage and wants out. The short story became a flash fiction and the flash fiction became a poem because I was once more seduced by the power of the word. I laboured over the language and condensed the story into a couple of hundred words. It was titled Stalactite Colin (or Stalactite Colin, I shall never say) but Stan did not find the connection to the line ‘silently my heart is dripping tears.’ Stan did not exult in the power of the line:
I gave you
My innocence and swept away the crushed petals
and why I constructed the lines with the pause, or even the repetition of ‘I gave you’ first read in the opening sentence.
Stan was bemused, mildly entertained by my play of text on the page, and impervious to the passion of the piece. If I had titled it Untitled and crossed out my name for Anon, would it have elicited more interest, Colin?
Stan did not enquire as to why I had two discourses in the piece and presented them apart on the page, the wife’s internal thoughts down the left and her dialogue with her husband down the right. He did not comment at all.
For all you know, Stan is my dog.
I am dichotomous: I seek adulation for my work but conversely I revel in the silence of a reader’s fingers to their lips. This overlapping, butting up against one another keeps me in constant turmoil. I have nothing to give someday’s Colin but your much favoured ‘?’.
Stalactite will never be published. Discarded. Flung into the fire. Used to line the cat litter tray. I lost myself in The Passion of New Eve instead as a stalagmite formed on my cheek.
Colin, I have said too much, written more today than I did yesterday and yet I am no further along. This time I cannot end the letter; I fear it is never ended, always left open like the door to a lover’s room, inviting and full of trepidation. The door squeaks and I know there is more to come, that tears will flow and smiles will rain down on me and the pencil will snap and the dog will bark and you’ll tack a ‘?’ to the wall like George Emerson did.
I leave you now (with the space at the end of this page).
BRING ME MY SHOTGUN
Nubile. Standing behind the wooden wall that housed the only window of her castle, she gazed out at her prince and breathed against the rough sticks, that she was nubile. She was contented with nubile. No, she was ecstatic. This was her first flush of womanhood.
Seasons of preparation.
Would it be her eyes that he adored? Or perhaps her hands would garner attention, the turn of her cheek or the curve of her spine.
Her hair was to be left down. The heavy dark mass to curtain her face, cast shadows over her cheekbones, whisper against her lips, tumble down her naked back, grazing the mounds of her derriere. She hugged herself, almost doubling over with nervous anticipation of that moment.
Hope. Fear. Excitement.
As the owl screeched overhead she let out a yelp.
“Foolish girl. It’s just Owl. Did he see me? No! I am well hidden.”
This place was no accident. She had built it herself. A palace erected from her dreams.
Giggling, nervous, embarrassed and emboldened she had spoken with her friends about this day, just as they had whispered their own words of expectation to her. Yet, they had had their fairytale; their golden moment in the sun.
She had been left standing, a lone figure on the barren side, an arm outstretched, then two, screaming to be included. Those invisible arms still banding around her middle determined to hold her back.
Her father would never let her go.
The fight, the clawing to escape, but imprisonment remained. Always confined in the cave with her childhood paintings still adorning the wall.
An untarnished body as the only comfort. Devoid of any memories to heat the night. Not a scratch or a mar or a blemish of passion. The fire in the middle of the cave was an insufficient barrier to the cold blast of wind blowing through the opening; snow banks blocking her escape.
She dreamed of the day when she wouldn’t have to explore her own body, when she would feel a lover’s hand caressing the small mounds on her bird cage chest, strong man hands descending down into her hidden places, marvelling at the baby soft sponge of hair, before…
Lost in her fantasy she didn’t see the mouse scramble away, urgency chasing his tail.
This wooden hut was her sanctuary. Made from the world she lived in, the very environment that sustained her and yet it could not give her what she wanted. What was hers by right.
And it would all transpire this very afternoon. Her fantasies would become reality. Forever done. Never to be forgotten. It couldn’t be changed, not that she desired anything but what was about to happen.
Directing her gaze once more to the bleak landscape beyond the window she waited for her prince to arrive.
“Hurry up my prince. Hurry my darling.”
As the white curtain of snow drifted effortlessly down, the girl oblivious to all but the shape and colour of her beloved she never saw the burnt orange haze slinking across the carpeted undergrowth.
Fox was aware. He had smelled the impending ruin in the wintry air. His nose never lied. Unrest in the forest was imminent.
“He’s here!” The squeal rent the air. She slapped a hand over her mouth to halt the sound but it had already escaped into the silent surroundings. Three squirrels in fright scampered up the nearest tree seeking safety in the top most branches.
“Look at him! Wow,” her breath came hot against her fingers as she bit down hard on her nail. “Come to me.”
With each of his footfalls her dreams changed, metamorphosing into now.
She was about to become.
She was ethereal in her beauty. Her skin was a sheath of paper-thin whiteness begging to be smudged. First dirty touch. She was the delicate fluttering of butterfly’s wings on the barrel of a gun.
“It is my time. My pleasurable secret.” The words brushed her lips, an expulsion of a whisper as she tried in vain to control her breathing. It clouded around her, shrouding her in a nebulous screen.
Sssseeecreet! The hiss escaped her notice, the thunderous rush of blood coursing through her frenzied body deafening her.
It was as sound she would remember after.
Her prince stopped to sniff at the air.
It’s me, she silently screamed. You can smell me.
He knew her scent! Like her he would have fallen into a restless sleep every night since their first touching of souls, dreaming of her aroma and the moment when he could breathe it in heated from her skin once more. When he could add his own to hers. She felt his hot lips against her shoulder blade, a sensual journey up, up to her neck. A sigh escaped her.
Rigid she held herself.
He looked towards the castle as if hearing her exclamation. She slammed her back against the wall.
This was it.
This was it. Her time.
She wrapped her arms around the soft swell of her belly and doubled over in glee. This was it.
‘Yes’ she whispered as she saw his gaze was still on the castle. He made his first move, one single step. Towards…
“What are you doing here?”
“We have come with urgent news,” said Mouse. “It must be acted upon.”
“With wise council,” added Owl.
“Sssooon,” Snake hissed.
“The wind has not changed. I can smell him,” Fox shivered at the impending doom. He fortified himself for the roar that was inevitable.
“Spit it out!” demanded the Gruffalo.
“It is about your daughter,” Mouse ventured with more bravado than he felt.
“My baby girl, yes?”
“She’s a teenager,” Mouse squeaked.
“With natural teenage urges,” Owl spoke with a tilted nod of his head.
It took but moments for their words to register. The roar ricocheted around the cave, the fire extinguished without so much as a protest and the four uninvited guests braced themselves.
“Well, we’ll just see about that.”
SEND HER AWAY
Polly had scuttled over to the far corner where she was presently relieving herself, the yellow stinking fluid, tinged with pink, was running down her inner thighs and over her feet. Mid-flow she sat, crossing her legs and arms like a child and started to sing.
“You!” The Matron said quietly but with firm authority to the orderly who was sweeping the corridor. “I want this floor cleaned, and the windows washed down. Then open them. Is there anything wrong with fresh air?”
It was all her fault, all of it, the bitch. If James hadn’t have raped that girl and if she hadn’t confessed to her daddy and her daddy hadn’t come banging on his father’s door and the girl hadn’t stated that it was Jack when she meant James he wouldn’t be here now.
His brother would pay for this. As sure as that young woman in the corner was a wretched freak of nature, he would get his revenge on his brother. He would use the sluts here because no one believes the words a mad woman says. The doctors might want to believe that these freaks were leading a normal life but he knew different.
All women were lying whores who used their cunts to tie a man up in knots. They play the innocent, with the baby blue eyes and kiss-a-bow lips and pert tits and peach firm arse and her blond hair that curled over her chest tickling the spot where underneath he knew her nipple would be rose pink. She would talk to him with that sweet lilting voice and his cock would stiffen and she knew, she knew she would lick it like a Christmas candy cane and she knew she would break it into sugar diamonds with my precious cunt.
The doctors thought that they knew best, that a woman could be changed but he knew better. His best friend Jim had taught him all he needed to know about the bitches, how to spot their lies.
Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease they never shut up always demanding always wanting more more more more he only had one cock and Jim had told him to force his cock into their lying bitch mouths to shut them up and so he did he did he did he did them in their mouth their cunt their anus and they would stop begging they would be crying weeping screaming silent dead and he would keep fucking them them them more than one two three four more than four more than five more than six they were asking for it with her baby blue eyes and kiss-a-bow lips and pert tits and her peach firm arse and her blond hair that curled over her chest tickling the spot where underneath he knew her nipple would be rose pink she would talk to him with that sweet lilting voice and his cock would stiffen and she knew that he loved her and she laughed laughing laughing laughing giggling freak like the bitch in the corner with her foul body stench Jack told me stay clear of girls like her who would make me love them too much make me want to force me to find out if their pussy’s tasted like cherries Jim said beware of the freak whore who touches herself for she thinks she is better than a man better than me better than you.
I’ve my eye on you John.
“Be quiet!” John shouted at her as she rocked herself in the corner. He was the man, he was the boss and he was the king!
Her hand is under her dress. What is she doing? What is she doing! That dirty filthy slut, she was pleasuring herself! What had Jim told him about women like her? Dirty foul beasts, doing the job of a man, and when that man wants to rub his fingers against her wet pussy they cry No! they cry Rape! they cry.
He kept his head down, he never got into any trouble, he kept away from the girls he did he really did and yet they made him crave them.
“I want you John and I’m going to have you.”
“Shut up bitch.”
“I’m going to have you. I’m going to have you. I’m going to have you.”
John watches Polly in the corner, one hand buried under her dress, her other hand holding the side of her head, clutching at her ear and she’s mumbling and mumbling and mumbling and mumbling and mumbling, he makes a move he says I’m going to…no I can’t…no I won’t…not like that…going to…Jim haven’t I always done what…
… Doctor admit my wife Polly she winked at the butcher, she won’t eat, she speaks when not spoken to, she has green eyes, she doesn’t speak, she’s having a baby and I tell you it’s not mine, she offered my boss a cherry scone with his tea, she walks bare foot in the rain, she walks in the garden at midnight, she walks out of the house without permission, she walks, she can’t bring a baby to term, she sleeps with her brother, she giggles at the postman’s jokes, she doesn’t let me tie her up and spank her, she throws up her food, she sits in her chair and rocks all day, take her away the foul creature she bleeds from her quim every month, she doesn’t go to church, she makes these feral noises during coition, she’s twenty-eight and not married, she doesn’t bleed from her quim every month, she goes to church too much, she sticks pins into her inner thigh, she spends too much time with Miss Elizabeth Spencer, she masturbates, she masturbates and won’t let me watch, she doesn’t play with our children, she speaks too much about God, she doesn’t know how to make a carrot cake, she won’t eat her sprouts, she killed her children, she wears her hems too short, she talks to God and she talks to God and she talks to God and she’ll only follow His orders and not mine, is that right? I ask you: is that right? I’m her husband she must follow my rules, orders, laws, sexual perversions AND she can’t give me a son, she’s not a woman, I tell you, she’s mad! off to the asylum with her, take her away Doctor, get rid of it …
STUCK IN TRAFFIC
When there was silence it meant those dying were still breathing. Although, it was never really silent. Not even when death came.
It took a certain kind of someone to guide death along: the lists of characteristics were numerous; the list of skills was immeasurable; and the total number of dead never decreased.
Here, in this place, death is welcomed. All had been waiting, some more glad of the arrival than others. For the (un)lucky few, they’d checked out before they’d even heard the rat-a-tat-tat of the bare knuckles on wood. That’s a lie, really. Death just pressed the large metal square button at the front door for disabled assistance. Who doesn’t?
Allie never really thought about death. She was healthy. The fear of a freak accident didn’t overly concern her, most likely because she never saw freak accidents day in day out. What she did see was the slow slippage of life to death where the human body gave in to the infiltration of disease or simply said Time gentleman please!. Yet, she was healthy so…
Overhead the alarms sprang into life, blasting the corridor with a siren wail.
Allie smiled as three of her colleagues unhurriedly walked around them and into the room. Within seconds the shrill sound of the alarm ceased.
“Sorry Frank, you’re going to have to wait,” she said to the middle-aged, portly bellied man who was hunched over a trolley as he put his back into moving the bulk up the corridor.
“Seriously, can’t they get a move on? This is wrong this is.”
“When isn’t it?” He harrumphed, putting the brake on his trolley and leaning his right hip against the metal frame, arms crossing over his chest.
“Nature of the job.”
“Some shifts it’s like bloody musical chairs. What’s the deal in there?” Allie’s eyes followed his nod towards the door of Elm despite watching her colleagues enter not moments before.
“Another story we never unearthed, so to speak.”
“I shouldn’t laugh…oh dear, Frank really, you must stop it.”
“Can’t help it. Phrases just keeping popping out of my mouth and by then it’s too late.”
“Surprised I still feel like this after all these years.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I still take my hat off and hold it against my chest as I approach the front door. Daft really. May as well take a seat,” he continued dropping his sizeable bulk into the small purple chair that was one of many that lined the corridor. Crossing one leg over the other he drummed out a tune with his fingers on the metal side bar of his trolley.etal side bar of his troleltne leg over the other he drumped poucoid
“What’s his story?” Allie asked pointing towards the corpse in front of Frank.
“Car accident some months back. Never regained consciousness. Yours? I saw Willow room was empty.”
“Yeah. That’s my one. Poor love, she passed away on her own. Family had only just gone out for some dinner. They’re in the waiting room now, they’re going to see her in the Chapel of Rest once I get her there.”
“Poor buggers. Never gets any easier watching them walk these corridors full of grief.”
The doctor and nurse strode out of Elm, the former writing in his blue folder as he strode down the corridor. A siren above Oak wailed, piercing the tranquil silence of the corridor. Shaking her head and lifting her shoulders, the nurse followed a younger version into Oak.
“Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on tonight?”
“Really Frank,” Allie scolded lightly swallowing a laugh.
“What?” He answered, bemused until his face cleared and he began chuckling. “Oops sorry, like I said, you forget sometimes. Think He’s got an answer to my question anyhow?”
“Even the bosses don’t answer our questions, do you really think Jesus will deign to answer?
“Not unless he’s clocked in for his shift in the Prayer Room.”
“Yeah, yeah, so….hey, wait up! You can’t do that!” Out of Elm the deceased’s body was being pushed on yet another trolley.
“We’re already backed up here. Hey come on! There are people waiting for our guys.”
“We’re closer,” John said smirking. “Slip road entry to the carriage way.”
“Bloody hell. What exactly is the hold then John?”
“Family lost their mother, end of corridor…”
“Edith in Birch?” Allie asked.
“Yeah. Sara and Ann are giving the family some time. They’ll be shepherded into the Prayer Room soon. Then we can move on down.”
Nodding Frank continued to drum out his tune. “We can wait can’t we old boy?” he mumbled patting the covered hand of his patient.
“Hey Frank how are the retirement plans going?” asked John as he put the brake on his trolley.
“Don’t bloody ask. I could kill that wife of mine. Meddling. Mithering. Muttering on about this that and the other. Complaining about some ailment that’s all in her head. I swear, some days you’d think she was dying with all the moaning she does. You’re lucky, I tell her. Damn lucky to have a fine fella like me looking after you. Keeps calling me on this bloody mobile thing – worst invention ever these bloody things – in fact I’ve just got off the phone to her. I said, now I’m telling you Maureen, unless you’re bloody dying…”
It’s never really quiet when death comes. The living are always signalled to its arrival. Loved ones are sent on their way with words not silence.
Other people’s lives continue as they were not moments before, but sometimes, when all comes to a standstill and you’re stuck in a queue, silence fills your head and you remember.
Of course you do, they’re never really gone. They’re merely waiting, stuck in traffic, passing the time until you enter the slip road and join them on the carriageway.
“Are you coming in?”
“Yes,” I answer from the doorway of your study. Reclining on the Chesterfield, knees drawn up with Wuthering Heights open on your lap, a fire raging, a glass of whiskey three fingers deep on the floor within easy reach, you watch me walk towards you.
Perhaps I ran. Were you even drinking whisky? It might have been summer.
“No happily ever after,” I say nodding towards the well worn book.
“I know,” you reply. “I’ve read it before.”
“Of course you have.” If you treated your lovers like you treated your stories we would all last longer – a second reading at least. Read it again, you’ll get more out of it the second time.
I deviate away from lies. I seek the truth in books.
A world contained is a world controlled.
I wonder if I might be in revolt of literature.
I followed your shining blonde hair like Pavlov’s dog. Woof! Woof! Woof! My loyalty was beyond what you could summon. Yet, I still walked dutifully behind you. The only heel in our relationship was the one you crushed me with. You went looking for balls. Throw me a fricking bone!
In the fairytales of old it is always the prince who is enraptured by the princess; he always gets hurt, physically scarred, damaged, whilst she maintains her beauty. Why aren‘t you reading Jane Eyre. You are no Heathcliffe.
Does the reader continue the story or is the story a continuation of the reader? Do I not read to fantasise about another world, another life where perfection roams? I don’t read if I can help it because words mean nothing. There is nothing to read in a passive person.
Fairytales and their fantasies – my world.
I’m off to bed with a good book.
Ok. Didn’t want to fuck tonight anyway too busy washing my hair.
No wait that was you. What role am I playing again?
I go to bed with cadavers; I have sex with these past lovers through my memories. I fall in love with characters. I don’t sleep – witches work best in the dark hours. All laws are defunct here, here in this four walled room, this square box, our tower, our kingdom where you and I listen to nineteenth century love gone wrong.
When you attempted suicide (melodramatic!), many questioned why I did what I did. How can one explain love and desire? Of the person or of the self I hear them cry? It doesn’t matter. Old people die. You were old to me because I was old to you.
Who do you think you are, exactly? I am the prince climbing up my long blonde hair to reach the tower I imprisoned myself in.
Why? Why did you follow the enchantress? This is what they always ask and I always reply with the same answer: I saw myself in the witch. And I always reply with the same answer: because I didn’t like radishes. And I decline to answer because no one has free will when they’re enchanted. And I give the answer no one wishes to hear: I didn’t exist, it’s just a fairytale.
You have the fairytales all tangled up!
Alas! I cry in mock horror. Whatever shall I do? Fear not. My prince will rescue me.
The prince is blind.
Aren’t we all?
How many nights did you liken me to Oliver Twist? Young, naïve, a puppet with/without a puppeteer, you tell me. I am the green grass of home and the grass that is greener on the other side. I am a white gown with a golden ring. I am pink flesh coloured red; rouged cheeks, lips, nipples. I am a dirty hungry child in need of love.
What are you? I am a woman who loves, who cares, who didn’t force but was invited.
I read. I read you. I read your needs. Have I not done what I have been taught/made to do? Why else make me like this, why tease me with flesh, tempt me with words, if to act is to deny myself all but you. Shall I be heroic and offer myself to you for all eternity? You don’t even talk to me. Can you ever be enough?
Should I be heroic and offer myself to me?
Was I supposed to be a statue, devoid of any feeling? Look at me I’m merely made up of a head, two arms, a trunk and two legs; that’s absurd. Dissect me and see my heart beating love. Cut away my skull and see my brain throb with desire. I’m not hollow inside, not any more.
I am a straw doll made up of endless strands of blonde hair.
Endless? Did I write that? Surely not, wait let me have a look…damn; my hair is in my eyes.
You move and so do I. Wuthering Heights is cast aside, but it’s ok, you noted the page number.
Your finger is in my mouth. I lick.
I think but no words form. My mouth is only good for physical love. I renounce language.
“It’s over,” you whisper.
“I know,” I whisper back taking your finger out from between my lips.
She’s foreign to me and I revel in that. Who isn’t captivated by the foreign princess?
Retreating, I find myself once more leaning against the doorjamb watching you from afar. Circling I settle down in my basket.
Book on knee, no dog at your feet, glass in hand you read with no thought to breaking your spell.
There is a twitch under the skin where the blood flows…it still beats the damaged heart. I imagined that when you were gone I would be dead. Merely absent then and I am in a transient state. There is no rational thought when seduced by witchcraft.
The witch cries from below.
Catherine scratches at the window.
I scratch my fleas.
“Don’t forget to leave the key.”
Cocking my leg I piss against your tower.
The witch was an evil bitch who thought she had a new pet in Rapunzel. A puppy! How cute.
Dogs are feral.
The chimes sway in the breeze – zephyr; it blows though me. Puff, puff the north wind blows. Puff, puff the magic dragon. Watch it burn. Burns bright, burns high, burn it burn it burn it burn it until it dies a crispy death. Tears fall; my eyes don’t like the smoke. Red rimmed, scars of red across the white, the devil lives in her, the devil lies with her, the madwoman, the scary woman, the woman who babbles, babbles like a baby, cry baby, cry until daddy comes to pick you up, to cuddle you, to croon to you, he’ll give you the moon. Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are? I do, I do wonder and then my mind is distracted by something else, what else? I don’t know. My memory is not so good anymore. That’s what I choose to believe, that is what they say. Or do they say my memory is not so good anymore, believe that if nothing else. Who’s to say?
“This is Alice. She has been with us a long time,” the middle aged woman says to the younger version next to her. “Alice, it is fish tonight. You like the sea, fish come from the sea Alice. Do you remember the sea?”
“Stoke the oven. Make it hot, hot, hot, hot.”
The chimes: precious chimes, memories hanging from the frame, to dance before my eyes. There was an old nail stuck deep in the wood and I hang my chimes from that. I ask for nothing and that is what I receive.
“We allow them to have a few possessions. Alice made hers into a wind chime. She’s very creative.”
“Grease a cake tin, the one Grandma gave me for my wedding. I like that one, it’s so nicely round.”
So I used my hair. It was long, it still is, my long beautiful hair. My treasure, my trophy, my dowry, mine, mine, mine, I covet my hair, I love every filthy encrusted lock of it.
The chimes go tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, as the stars go twinkle, twinkle, twinkle and the fairies sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle dust all over the earth. To make us sleep. There’s a good girl, go to sleep, mummy will protect you from the monsters, mummy will protect you from the monsters but not from the monster that you will call husband, ruler, lord and…
“Beat the butter, sugar and orange rind until they are light and fluffy; slowly add the eggs.”
“Eat your fish before it gets cold Alice.”
…master and commander of the ship that you built to take me away. Sail away, sail away, to the port of true love, a storm brewed, it brewed, the Gods kept stirring with the silver spoon, making the brew darker and darker and darker until I could see nothing but you. Dear husband – the man of my dreams. Do I dream? I can no longer remember.
“Fold in the grated carrot and chopped nuts.”
“Hi Alice, I’m Mary, I’m going to help look after you. Would you like that?”
“No! No nuts my husband is allergic. Bad nuts. Nuts are bad. Husband allergic. Fold in the grated carrot and chopped nuts.”
The chimes hang from strands of my hair, blonde, grey, white as the pure driven snow, driven to where? Where are you taking me? Will I like it there? Will it be safe? Who else will be there? Will you leave me there? I don’t mind if you do dear loving husband, I don’t mind if you go away every now and again in that ship that you built for me. I won’t mind if it springs a leak, if it fills with water, if it sinks.
“Finally, add salt to the flour and sift the flour and fold into the cake mixture.”
“Alice is a lovely name. When I was a little girl I had a doll called Alice.”
“She doesn’t talk much.”
“Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 45-60 minutes.”
I can’t move. My hands are tied. I hop everywhere. My feet are unbound. I like to hop. Toss the marker. Hop, hop, hop, straddle, hop, miss, hop, hop and turn. Count to ten, there’s a good girl. Show the gentleman what you can do.
“To make the icing, cream the cheese and the butter together until smooth.”
“Pardon? What did you say Alice?”
“Or just butter if money is tight.”
“Add the icing sugar and vanilla essence, and beat…”
The chimes are still. Blow, blow, blow the candles out, a deep breath and then whoosh. What fun! I keep a candle on one of the chimes, a little one from the birthday cake of that little girl from so long ago. I keep a bone. I keep a small knitted bootie – a stitch dropped. A slither of ribbon from a grand ball so very long ago when I was young, fresh, fresh as a daisy, milk the cow and drink the milk and you shall thrive, thrive like a rose between two thorns, pull out the splinter and suck, suck the blood, the life force, from the small digit, dig it, hurry, dig the hole, to put the bundle in, to hide the thing, that no one is to know about, that thing that should never have been. Not to be seen. Close your eyes and it will all disappear, close your eyes and sleep little one there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark. The dark is your friend, the dark is safety, your husband will never wear black.
I feel better now mummy. Sing to me mummy, sing me a song, sing me to sleep, sing me a hymn, singe me, singe my tiny hairs, singe my pink flesh, make my skin ripple, ripple like the waves on the beach. Bury me mummy, bury me under the shingles and then I can play forever. I like how the fish nibble my feet. Ten tiny toes and ten tiny fingers – perfect.
It feels so guh-ooooo-udddd.
It feels so guh-ooooo-udddd.
Guh guh guh guh. No mummy don’t, don’t hurt me, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t honest, I can’t help the s-s-st-st-
The chimes they stutter in the breeze.
Give me the baby or you’ll die. I gave you a baby and you didn’t care if I died.
The chimes sing to me mummy.
“Eat it all up Alice before it goes cold.”