Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Halloween (-ish) Tale 2017

No scariness in here, this story is inspired by the Samhain festival, and the time of year when one may meet with the dead. No zombies, no ghosts, not even a black cat in here! Contains melancholy only. Read without fear!

Sula In The Garden

When you feel the pull, you'll know.
The first time she heard of this she was an eavesdropping child, not supposed to know anything, wanting to know everything, not able to sit still under the table where it was dim and cramped and toast crumbs stuck to her legs.
Her aunts and her mother would hiss, 'Little ears!'
A warning to each other that a child was in earshot.
Sula smiles.
They knew she was there, of course; she can see the memory on a wider screen now, she can stand where the women are gathered, the tea cups and toast plates dotting the tablecloth, the crumbs speckling random and correlated, like constellations.
They would change topic, ask decoy questions: when shall we go to the park, sister?
And she would know not to ask what they really spoke of, because she was smart like that, a thinker, and she didn’t want to be found at their feet.
Little by little, years crept, and she did not fit under the table. She loitered, needing a drink, a snack, a hug, an opinion on the weather, a fuse for a plug.
Her aunts, then her mother, little by little, began to speak to Sula about the Garden.
Do not seek it, do not avoid it. It will find you. It will happen.
You will know, they said, there'll be no need to ask how. You'll feel the pull.
But your garden will not look like any other, so we cannot tell you more.

She looks at the wrought and rusted gate, paint flecked, gothic: she had always liked those kind of hinges, that kind of old melancholia. It was her gate, but it could have been here for a hundred years, could have seen thousands of people, all those life stories passing through. Of course, a gate would symbolise connection, wouldn't it?
She smiles.
She pushes the iron open, hears it sing. Perfectly pitched hinges.
And the wall, grey granite, gloomy, a walled garden, it is the one she had dreamt of, exactly the one.
'I did know.’
Sula puts a hand to cold stone, and then puts her hand on her cheek, feeling the cold transfer.
‘But if I know, why do I have to be here, to see what I know is here?'
There is a question she forgot to ask.

The hinges sing shut. Mist lays lightly on thick hedges, on thick-mossed paths.
It is neither day nor night.
For a moment she forgets which path to follow. She hears the water, silver toned.

She can hear Aggie: her six year old best friend.
Six and a half years.
Aggie was older - she was - until the boat tipped.
And even now Sula says to herself: did that really happen?
Aggie had a particular laugh, high-toned, pleasant. It's easy to hear.

Sula steps around a green corner, finds the pool she knows is waiting. It is deep, deep enough to reach down, to link up with oceans, though it's flat as a mirror.
'I know you are here, Aggie,' she says: 'should I have saved you? Should I have known?'
I feel guilty, she thinks; I can't help it. I couldn't have known, and it doesn’t matter, I still feel guilt.
When I was six I didn't understand. I knew what death was but you couldn't be dead, because you were just here, we ate ice cream.
But you were gone.
And you are gone.
We can talk to the dead, for ourselves. Our purposes, not theirs - what they had is dispersed.
But Aggie, I do not want to forget. That would be traitorous. I can't get you back, but I will meet your memory here.
Sula feels sun on her face, smells the melt of ice cream. She sits at the pond edge, quiet, till the pull returns.

Many paths: you follow the pull. And if this is your garden only? The paths are things not yet done? A multiverse of potentials?

A patch of grass abuts the hedge, housing a glass case, in which lies a locket.
Ah, yes. Here you are.
Love, rejected.
What could have been - that life!
What I thought that life would have been… Oh, it hurt, to lose.
It used to hurt.
Like I fell, the loss was the falling, the nothingness, the ground gone!
And then landed, bruised.
What felt so fatal, wasn't.
The ground was there all along.
'You,' Sula says, 'you I can let go of. You don't have to come back.'
She feels lighter, and absentmindedly dusts off her legs.
She feels the pull.
One more.

One more but the hedge opens out to a small field of bumped, kempt grass, like a graveyard without headstones. This she did not recall from her dream, it makes her jump.
'Well,' she says, aloud for bravado, 'room for future losses, I suppose?'
Not losses, her mother had told her, not really. You learn, you gain, my lovely daughter, you see. And you cannot really regret a good education, can you?

No, Mother.

Sula's last memorial object is the kitchen table of her own childhood home. Where her aunts and her mother drank their tea and always knew where to find a new fuse for an old plug.

This time, it was me that left. Packed up and left my home. And took this travelling path, and don't know if that was right, or smart, or what will be in this place next year. My mother, my aunts: I think they have this table too, in their gardens, the one the children gathered at.
Aggie was there too. We stole biscuits!
Sula catches a laugh and a sob in her throat together.
‘Next year I could bring biscuits,’ she says, ‘we can have a picnic. Your mother, she gave us a bag of sweets, but we were so greedy!’

Sula recalls Aggie’s mother; they had a table too, and more children: how her heart must ache, and carry on.
Would she have an empty place set? A wild flower, in a beautiful vase?

There is nothing on the table in front of Sula. She is glad of it. She will not forget to call home.
‘To see isn’t always to know,’ she says.
She walks back to the path, the green velvet shadow of a path, trailing her fingers in the dark hedge.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

One Of Those Days And No Regrets

Here I am, a writer in civilisation, in a coffee shop of course. 
Almond croissant, no regrets.
A coffee shop in a shopping mall, it isn’t where I’d planned to be, it is One of Those Days. I am dressed for chainsawing, in fact, and looking as out of place as I feel. 
Embracing the stares. 
Observing the flash of advertising, reading the message: you should look like this, to be yourself, but you knew that because you shop here so you’re cool, we’re just telling the rest of the conformists how cool you are. We are advertising you!

I don’t hate all commerce, just the soulless lies.
And if you look there are people here doing real human interaction, without phones, they are talking and holding hands, and a child has a shoulder ride, stares up happy at a fake palm tree. 
I like this, and there’s fun in frippery. 
I like sparkle, and colours, and the feel of fabrics. 
I like this, but I don’t want it in place of my wild world.

Yesterday by the river I went walking, admiring puddle-shadows, the rain of leaves, a dispersing mist-haze. 
It was so warm, off came boots, socks, trousers: always I think I’ll paddle but then I’m ribs deep, and I’m tying up my shirt, it gets wet anyway, and the water shimmers, Dog swims dragging her wake-cape round and round me, I’m laughing, sliding on slimy stones, ankle deep in soft mud.
I have a tree for a changing room.
I walk home, squinty, into the sun.

So today, I’m leaving the mall and finding a park. 
A wide open space where leaves blow in heaps and gulls stalk the pond to thieve duck food. 
I’m sitting under a chestnut tree, barefoot, sketching out a story.
It’s a story about how life should go wrong, or you’ll never learn a thing.
My feet get cold, I’m pleased by it. 
One of Those Days and no regrets.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Untypical Witchery

Photo credit: Gareth Lloyd, sourced from Facebook

Red dust shook up, till the sun could be stared at, flat-edge-blurred, as though it were being reforged.
The storm like a bellows through fire came, twisting trees till all the deadwood fell.
We watched to see if it might char.
Leaves blew like sparks, carmine, citrine, circulating.
A storm is not strange in October, but - warm air, no rain?
A tropical tempest?
What untypical witchery is afoot?

Skin aglow, on a short car journey, we were laughing at how hairstyles were impossible serpents, and no clothing could be still (every passerby was a bag of snakes) and then, in a sheltered spot, how three cautious geese poked their heads from a gate before venturing the lane.
What - warm air no rain witchery, and no black cat? No hare? No bat?

Shuffle bottomed geese look back, lest we think to read their entrails.

Photo credit: Mike Batson, Southend On Sea Facebook page

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Grandchild 6, Eventually

Tuesday. A clear sky, a fine Autumnal time. Leaves that fall are all gold, on the branches green keeps hold. Mist in the morning, rolling on the river. The afternoon bright, mild, cooling. Grandchild 2 at the school door, talking-talking, she forgot her bag, she goes back for it. There's an apple sale but our freezer is full, pockets empty. Never mind, she gets hugs from her friends on the stroll to the car, talking-talking, see her reading book, it's called ‘My Mum Is Going To Explode!’ No baby news yet, for this Almost Big Sister. She is happy, staying with grandparents, staying up late, going training, and her old friend Dog to boss about.
Tuesday is fine, though no Mum exploded. Modern medicine has not prevailed.

Wednesday. Grandad put sugar on the last bowl of cereal. Grandchild 2 is not a sugar fan - she has a poached egg replacement. (Hopefully she didn't put the breakfast mistake in her journal.) Grandad makes his second redemption by showing her how to press apples - apple juice she likes, even if it’s sweet. She brings Granma a cup to try. But she is missing Mummy. Granma checks her phone, again, again. Nothing doing, explosion-wise. Some uncomfortable belly tectonics. Not enough to pop.
So, Sister-to-be goes training again, though bumping her foot makes her cry (it wouldn't usually) she is soon mended by a stint of mini-trampolining.
Plus, we fetch her dog to stay with us. Her adorable-overwhelming Huggy Labrador.

Thursday. House has a tide of dog fur. House has a forceful tide of dog. House has a tired, over excited child. (House is also the venue for a business meeting. Somehow some sense is made. And cups of tea. And many apologies, including the constant phone watching.)
Mummy has not exploded yet.
Grandchild 2 and Granma get in a car. They drive to Exeter, to visit the un-detonated Mum. Mum sits on the hospital bed, round as a pomegranate. They will put her on a drip soon, she says, but there's a queue for the labour ward. It sounds so polite.
Granma has to teach so they leave, waving to the window where the Mummy and Daddy are waving back; looking to the pink coating on clouds.
‘Shepherd’s delight! Pink sky at night!’
Later they drive home, goggling a full moon.

Friday. Starts with accustomed mellow mist. Sun and clear sky. A trip to the park (while the car gets new tyres, the tracking is off, the ramp broken, we have to go garage chasing to get that booked in, one of those days) brings climbing challenges, triumphs, a close view of a squirrel, a pocketful of acorns. Also motion sickness for Granma - filming on a roundabout, she should know better!
On the way home ingredients are purchased. Before that fun can begin, dogs must be walked, and a bear hunted and tales told, out in the big wide fields.
A pumpkin is carved, soup simmered, pizza faces made, and cooked and ate, and cards played.
Tonight training is on too late, so the Almost Big Sister goes to Nanny's house to wait.
Granma drops her there. She goes home. She has a nap. She has a shower.
She is not checking the phone, not for a few minutes. So that, of course, is when the message comes through.
Grandchild 6! No further medication required, she was ready to pop herself out.
Never mind late. It's Friday anyway - after work everyone goes to meet her, the little bundle that would not be shifted.

Will you always be this stubborn? Granma asks.
The little one opens her eyes.
Yes, she's going to fit in just fine.

Prenatal Ward Family Portrait