Grounded

Grounded

I’ve always been able to fly. Well, when I was very young, it was more of a hover. It embarrassed my father, in fact, to this day, my left shoulder is slightly lower than my right from where he pushed me down, but couldn’t keep me grounded. My mother was pleased for me, she thought it would be an advantage as I got older, but she still made me wear dumb dresses which reached the ground and covered my feet when I hovered.

I thought everyone could fly. That it was a natural progression after crawling and walking and it was only as I grew up that it started to create problems.

To weigh me down, Pa made me shoes as big as tennis racquets, on raised soles filled with sand. Ma sewed rocks into the hem of my clothes. As a result I neither walked nor hovered properly, but glided along with a peculiar stop/start effect as the ballast shifted around. It wasn’t too much of a problem until I hit school age, or so I’m told.

By the time I got to round seven years old, Pa couldn’t take the worry any longer. Most kids were kept in line with threats of the ‘bogey-man’; I took to looking over my shoulder and under my bed for government agents or scientists from the Space Agency. Pa said if they got wind of me I’d be stolen away to study, like a frog in first-grade biology class. If we hadn’t lived on the edge of the town, with an empty lot on each side, it would have been much harder to hide my strange gift from folks, but, as it was, we kept ourselves pretty much to ourselves. Ma said that was enough to raise suspicion in itself; in our neighbourhood, families, unless they had something real bad to hide, were much more sociable than we ever were. Ma and Pa were scared if I hung around much longer, word would get out and it wouldn’t be long before trouble came a-calling.

Anyway, it was decided about then that I was to go and stay with Seth and Marnie, Pa’s sister and her husband, who lived a straight four days hard driving from us near a town called Clovis. Ma argued against it apparently, but not very convincingly, and within a week I was gone. Folks might think it odd, but that’s exactly how it was. Faced with the ‘problem’ child that Ma and Pa had, I wager they’d have done the exact same thing.

Ma promised she’d write regular as she could, but couldn’t say for sure when she’d come to take me back home, until then I was to be patient and remember they were only doing what they thought best for me. Of course, I don’t suppose it was easy for them to let me go, or for me to up and leave, but I can’t rightly remember. Anyhow, that’s the way it was. I can’t remember much about this time at all, but now and again if Marnie’s in a good mood an’ all, she’ll tell me a little bit about back then.

I’d only met Marnie once or twice and Seth was a stranger to me. I don’t think they disliked me, it was more that they were unused to children, but for a long time I was unhappy. My parents had never been very demonstrative but had shown they cared in little ways. My aunt and uncle were more subtle, but after a few months they thawed towards me. I forgave them quite quickly, even then I could understand how difficult it must have been to be landed with a flying seven year old.

Life changed considerably. Seth and Marnie scraped a living out of twenty or thirty acres of unresponsive soil in the sticks and, apart from going into town a few times a year, had only each other and an assortment of working animals for company.
I no longer went to school and the school board didn’t chase me. I never questioned why, but presumed no one knew I had moved in.

I followed Seth around and tried to help. He merely hiked his pants higher, grunted, and set off at such a pace that, if I wanted to keep up with him, I had no option but to fly. Nothing was ever said, it was just taken for granted that if any of the dumb stock managed to get themselves stuck in awkward, out of reach spots, I was the one who’d bring them to safety. Now and then he would say thank you.

Marnie didn’t want me in the house holding her back. She said I just got in the way and ‘that for someone so light on your feet, how come you keep falling over them?’ When we tried baking she said I was too ‘heavy handed for pastry’. I think the real reason was she saw little point in teaching me how to run a home; she doubted I would ever marry. She made sure Seth showed me how to rear and slaughter animals. Left to myself, I may never eat cake again, but I sure as heck wouldn’t starve.

The summer I turned 14, was the summer Red and Cody came. I missed all the fun; I’d flown over the fields to the forest, and then beyond, to the lake. I’d spent all afternoon lazing in the sun and skinny dipping. I was on my way back, fooling with a flock of blackbirds, when I heard the two quick shots fired from Seth’s gun. It was the signal he used to warn me if there were any strangers around. I flew home very low, just above the tree line and landed, in a clearing, near the edge of the wood. I was excited; we’d never had anyone visit in the eight years I’d been there, and ran through the fields, without stopping, until I arrived home, sweaty and breathless. I wasn’t there to see their camper-van pull on to our land, but when Cody later described how Marnie, ever suspicious, had welcomed them with Seth’s old shot-gun, I was sorry I’d missed it.

I was about to introduce myself to the visitors but Marnie yanked me unceremoniously indoors.

‘Don’t you go charging at them like a bull in a china shop, Sissy, they don’t need to know everything about us straight off. Here, take this and go and sluice yourself down in the yard, then we’ll eat. Think on girl, people will talk in any case so we don’t need to fill their mouths for them!’ She waved her pinafore at me and shooed me out of the kitchen.

Seth eventually took Cody on for the rest of the summer- we needed extra hands then, to ensure we ate in winter- and Red would help out where ever she could. He got them parked up in the shade behind the old barn and left them to settle in. Marnie rustled up a sandwich and a jug of cool iced tea, which they had in the VW. After that, it was understood they would eat with us, not in the house, but under the shady tree in the front of it.

I filled a pail of clear and icy water and washed the grime from my face and neck. I was about to swill my arms when I felt somebody watching me.

A woman was standing a few yards away, smoking a cigarette. Scarlet nails slashed the air as she lifted it to her mouth. I was entranced. As she exhaled, she threw back her head, then turned, and sauntered lazily around the corner of the house, her long, auburn curls jiggling in perfect rhythm with her unruly behind. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by her. Seth, half hidden in the barn’s shaded doorway, suddenly drew deeper back into the shadows as he became aware of Marnie watching him, as he stared after Red.

I never noticed anything until it hit me how tense it got when Marnie had to share space with Red. She no longer ate with us, merely laid the heaped platters of food on the table, and silently went back indoors. I couldn’t see her in the shaded interior of the kitchen, but I felt her keen blue eyes on us as we ate the food she’d prepared. Cody was a good farm hand and around him, Seth became almost garrulous. In fact, the more Marnie withdrew, the more Seth came out of himself. We were a happy group, falling silent only when Marnie re-emerged to bring a pitcher of beer and brusquely decline any offer of Red’s help with the dishes.

I took to spending every moment I could with Red. She dazzled me. I discovered she’d married at 15, pregnant, the year she won her local beauty pageant. A further two pregnancies followed as quickly as her attraction to her husband waned. One day, she was out shopping alone, a rare treat, and completely out of the blue, she hitched a lift at the truck stop on a rig making for Texas. Walked away from her babies. Just like that.

‘So take a lesson, kid,’ she said ‘build some memories before you settle for what’s waiting for you. That pretty gold band on your finger just keeps on getting tighter and tighter the longer you wear it, until you just plain can’t breathe!’

‘Is Cody the trucker you got a ride with?’ I asked.

‘Hell no!’ she laughed. ‘I was sick as hell of him after 72 hours. Cody, I met just when I needed him. He’s the one who christened me Red; kind of suits me wouldn’t you say, better than Betty-Jo ever did!’

Before I could learn anything more Seth came looking for her.

‘Need you to help, Red; Cody’s busy. He’s trying to squeeze a few more miles out of the pick-up. Darn thing’s hissing and a spitting like a fox in a trap,’ he said to her.

She linked arms with him and laughed up into his face. ‘Happy to oblige, boss.’

I expected Seth to push her away, but he laughed right back down at her as they crossed the yard. Nothing made any sort of sense anymore.

I was hurt when I tried to talk to Marnie and she turned on me.

‘Red too busy?’ was all she said, but it was enough to pull me up short It made me realise just how much I’d excluded her since the VW had pulled on to our land and I determined to make things better between us. That night, after yet another supper which Marnie didn’t eat with us, I waited until Red and Cody returned to their camper van.

‘Guess I’ll hit the sack,’ Seth said, yawning. He reached out and ruffled my hair.

‘Yeah, me too. Goodnight, Seth.’ I followed him into the house.

Once inside my room, I leant against the back of my door and heard the click of the latch as Seth entered his bedroom, and then heard the unexpected second click as Marnie left it. I waited until I heard the soft rattle of the screen door closing and then quietly followed Marnie. I heard the slight creak of metal against wood before I saw her, in the swing chair Seth had rigged up for us, at the far side of the stoop.

She had her eyes closed and was humming softly to herself whilst her fingers idly toyed with the corner of the sun faded quilt which lay loosely across her shoulders. I sat at her feet with my back against the wooden railings and was surprised when she spoke.

‘Your ma made this,’ she said. ‘Every square worked with love…Dreams in every stitch…’

I loved it when she spoke of Ma and Pa. The letters they’d promised to write came so rarely now; Marnie said it was surely because every time Ma thought about picking up a pen and writing, it reminded her how much she missed me and that I was one lucky child to be loved so much, by so many people. To tell the truth, the only thing that made my parents real for me was when Marnie told me about them; what Pa was like as a boy and then how happy he’d been when he began courting Ma, and how he near burst with pride when he discovered I was on the way.

Her voice trailed away and I held my breath willing her to continue. She was quiet for a long time and I thought she had fallen asleep. I stood, slowly easing my cramped bones, and as I tip-toed past her, to go back to bed, she reached out and gently touched my arm.

‘Stay awhile, child.’

I sat once more, at her feet.

‘Your ma made this,’ she repeated, fingering the patchwork quilt, ‘five years before you were born. She worked it a full four months and then parcelled it up and sent it. It lay in the post office in town for three weeks before we got word that a parcel had arrived for us, and I made Seth fire up the old Buick and go straight down, into town, to fetch it, told him I’d not move from the stoop until the dust devils blowing behind the car told of his return.
‘It was for the crib of the child I was carrying. I had the names already chosen, Sonny for a boy, Lainey for a girl.’

I must have gasped, or made some sort of noise, but somehow I couldn’t say the words I needed to, to find out why, if she’d been pregnant, I hadn’t seen hide or hair of a cousin, either Sonny or Lainey. Before I could even attempt a question, she spoke again.

‘I fell, over there by the big tree, flat on my back, my belly near splitting in half like a ripe melon, and screaming and hollering fit to deafen folk half a county away. Still wasn’t near loud enough to bring Seth running though; he was mending a fence in the far field and between his hammering and banging and having his transistor radio on at full blast, he never realised anything was wrong until he near fell over me when he came looking for his dinner and had to deliver a dead child instead.
‘That was my one and only baby, I somehow never managed to catch on again. Near broke Seth’s heart.’

She seemed to have run out of words and, for the life of me, I could think of nothing useful to say. I clumsily got up and joined her on the swing chair.

‘Marnie,’ I started, but she put her fingers over my lips to still me.

‘I’ve heard you jawing with Red, seen the way you hang on to her every word. Why do you think she’s so fine, Sissy? A woman who can’t find happiness unless some man is chasing and lusting after her; a mother who’d walk out on her babies without a second thought? Just how long is she going to be satisfied with Cody; will she just up and go and ruin another life?’

‘But Cody loves her Marnie, she won’t leave him.’

I, who knew nothing about love, least not grown up love, defended both Red and Cody.

‘Some women, Sissy, will never have enough with the love of just one man and, sure as God made little green apples, Red is one of them. You can moon around after her all you like, child, but mark my words, she doesn’t care for you, she don’t care ‘bout anyone except herself.’

I wanted to talk some more to Marnie, to show her that I still loved her and that there had to be room in my heart for others besides her and Seth, but as usual I couldn’t find the words. Marnie looked at me sadly and before I could think of any darn words that would make things good between us again, she stroked my cheek, almost regretfully, rose and went indoors.

For the first time since I’d met Red I wanted to fly. I wanted to take off into the indigo velvet night and chase the gossamer clouds dancing across the glowing silver moon, but I craved the release from confusion that sleep would allow too.

I went inside quietly and was surprised to see Marnie asleep on the couch beneath the window. I stood a moment, watching the play of shadow on her face, and wondered how long she’d been leaving her marriage bed as soon as Seth entered it.

The next morning every thing seemed better, as it does when you’re 15. Breakfast had been eaten, and the crockery, unusually, still lay on the table. Neither Seth nor Marnie were to be seen.

I spread a fresh baked roll with butter and generously helped myself to some of Marnie’s special spiced plum jam. The coffee on the stove was cold so I drank a glass of milk, cool from the ice-box. As I finished, I saw Seth crossing the yard towards the tractor and shouted to him through the window.

‘Where is everyone?’

He appeared as miserable as Marnie. If they were both unhappy, why they didn’t just sort it out and get things could back to how they were, I couldn’t begin to imagine.

‘Marnie’s taken the truck and gone into town, some damm fool errand to run.’

In all the years I’d been there, I’d never known her to set foot off the farm without Seth.

‘Oh, well.’ I thought. ‘No Marnie, no chores.’ and watched as Seth gunned up the tractor, got off it and shouted for Cody to ‘hurry the hell up’. As Cody turned out of the yard, heading for a hard days toil in the top field, Seth headed off to the barn and I headed off looking for diversion, its right what folks say – the devil does make work for idle hands.

Ignoring the messy breakfast table, I went to my room and rooted around under my bed until I found the magazine Red had gifted me. I stroked the smooth shiny cover with its colourful headlines screaming ‘How to keep your man from straying; are you a Real Woman?’ above ‘Fashion and make-up tips, hot from Hollywood’, and a picture of a good looking guy, arm around an impossibly beautiful dark haired girl with gleaming, unlikely white teeth. Restlessly, I went and looked in the full length mirror in Marnie’s room.

I took my pony tail out of the rubber band that had held the last batch of post we’d collected, and pushed my bangs out of my eyes. Hair fell around my face in dirty blonde feathers and strong clear blue eyes despaired of the mud-splat of freckles over the bridge of my nose. I looked at my tan legs poking out curiously from the bottom of my overalls, and the worn uppers of my sneakers. I quite liked the T-shirt, an old one of Marnie’s with a cute sweetheart neckline, but could see it was getting too tight across my chest which had embarrassingly sprouted since last summer. Well, I couldn’t do much about the fashion bit, but maybe Red had some makeup she didn’t use?

Excited, I ran on to the stoop, then across the yard and stopped. Marnie had gone into town; Cody was up in the top field, but I couldn’t see or hear anyone else.

I thought Seth would possibly be working in the barn and expecting Red to be in the camper, I headed in that direction. She wasn’t, so I sat in the yard a while, letting dry crumbly soil slip through my fingers and kicking pebbles, until I remembered how much I’d wanted to fly last night. I couldn’t leave the immediate area without telling Seth, he needed to know when I was flying so he could look out for me, but I reckoned it would be safe enough if I didn’t go too far afield. I decided to fly no higher than the buildings around me. The old tractor engine would warn me of Cody’s return, dust on the top road of any unannounced visitors, so the only one I had to be wary of was Red. The risk, to be honest, only made it more enticing.

I stood, feet together and eyes closed and raised my arms from my sides. I rose slowly and steadily and with every inch the pure clean joy I always felt at flying, rose in me. Exhilarated, I opened my eyes and levelled out, taking a long, lazy swoop around the yard, laughing as my toes tickled the tiles on the roof top as I soared over it. Suddenly I realised that I could see Cody in the far distance and, worried that he would also see me, swooped low and flew the entire length of the stoop along the front of the house instead. Round and round I flew, twisting and turning, dipping and diving, my body fluid on the warm summer currents. Around the tree, across the yard and then, extending my flight path, through the huge open ended barn. I relished the air flowing over and around me, warm out side, cooler in the shade of the barn and then the warmth again as I emerged and the soft whispering rushing sound I made as I cut through the air as easily as a hot knife through butter.

I heard the low murmurings before I registered them and where they came from. More than anything else I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately recognise the voices, his, unusually soft and tender, hers, languid and yielding. I came to rest at the foot of the wooden ladder resting against the upper hay loft. I decided against climbing it and instead, assumed the stance from which I knew I could rise noiselessly. Posing, like the crucifix nailed above Seth and Marnie’s bed, I silently rose, higher and higher, until I was level with the hay loft, but I still was unable to see properly; two large bales had been moved to the very edge of the loft to ensure privacy. Holding my breath I continued to rise inch by inch, the concentration needed to control the speed of my ascent making my muscles tremble with effort.

In the hay bale love-nest, lay Seth, my taciturn, dispassionate naked uncle, sated by pleasures possibly only previously imagined, whilst Red, propped on one elbow and as seemingly satisfied as only a cat that’s swallowed a stolen quart of cream can be, leant over him and left slimy silver slug-spit trails of saliva in his chest-hair as her sharply pointed tongue tantalised. She was nude – strangely, I became aware for the first time of the emotional difference of two words which mean precisely the same thing – and I was unreasonably angry to see that she wasn’t ‘Red’ at all; her pubic hair was a washed out brown. And then I saw, they had taken Marnie’s quilt to lie on; the one ma had made for the baby that was never born, from the swing chair on the stoop.

I suppose the day drew to a close as usual; Marnie would have returned from whatever errand she was on, a day in the fields would have stoked up Cody’s usual ravenous appetite, Seth would have made small talk about the next day’s work, Marnie would have cooked the food for supper, but eaten it alone, and Red, Red would have been Red. But I’m only guessing.

From the barn, I went straight to my room and stayed hidden under my quilt every time any one came near.

‘Go away! I’m sick.’ And I was. Sick at heart.

Cody was packing his van when I got up the next morning. Marnie was nearby, poking at a bonfire with a long soot blackened metal pole.

‘Are they leaving?’ I asked.

‘She’s long gone,’ she answered without raising her eyes.

Cody came over to us.

‘Guess I’ll be hitting the road,’ he said. ‘Can’t tell you how sick I am at the way things panned out…’He didn’t wait for a reply before turning on his heel and walking away. I watched as he drove the VW off our land and onto the dirt track that eventually joined the highway. I watched until the dust-devils disappeared completely from sight.

Marnie was still poking the fire, raking stuff into the middle constantly just like she made omelettes in the big black skillet, as though she was afraid something may escape. A piece of cloth, freshly yellow as a corn fed egg, shone briefly before being hungrily eaten by flames.

‘Isn’t that Seth’s Sunday shirt?’ I asked, shocked.

‘Sure is.’

‘Doesn’t he want it any more?’

‘Don’t rightly know what he’s wanted for a while now.’

I looked at Marnie. She had shrunken somehow and closed in around herself and my heart ached for her, but once again I failed to find the words I needed.

‘Sissy, come here.’

She held on to the pole with one hand and held the other out toward me. As I reached her she put her arm around my shoulders and hugged me.

‘Seth’s gone, child…left with her during the night. Took the rainy day money as well; twenty years of scrimping and scratting, gone…goddam them to hell!’

We stood in silence for a long time until the fire burnt down completely and nothing was left of it except a blackened buckle, I suppose from Seth’s Sunday trousers and, incongruously, the bottom set of a pair of false teeth.

‘Yep, Seth’s Sunday teeth,’ she said and started crying which set me off.

We went back into the house and Marnie got her Mother’s silver tea-pot, and the china cups she’d won in a raffle many years ago, down from the dresser. We drank hot sweet tea until the pot grew cold and she excused herself. She went into her bedroom and stayed there for three full days.

I’ve only tried flying once since I found Seth and Red in the hay loft, and found I couldn’t. Don’t rightly know why I couldn’t, but there again, never rightly knew why I could. I just think the pain, heavy like rock in my heart, weighed me down more than Pa and his sand filled shoes ever could.

Copyright Eileen Brown

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Half Term – NaPoWriMo

Half Term

Behind our house
there is a swing over the river
A lath of wood on plaited string
above the turgid green
in which we plunged.

We’d stand together and push
in looping arcs
until the moment came to launch
ourselves in space,
hand in hand, knowing

that soon, we’d be gasping,
bursting through the blackness,
emerging
giggling, shiny-eyed,
mud streaked faces spittled.

That day
I surfaced, trod water,
waited for you.
Trod water
until my cries frightened

nesting birds from trees,
brought parents running.
Staring at the empty swing
moving gently
like the tug and pull of the tide.

My favourite motivators (part 1)

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov (Photo credit: blue_paper_cranium)

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top. ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers. ~Logan Pearsall Smith, “All Trivia,” Afterthoughts, 1931

I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. ~Vladimir Nabakov

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960
The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener
The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it. ~Jules Renard, “Diary,” February 1895

A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital letter, and keeps on writing prose. ~Samuel McChord Crothers, “Every Man’s Natural Desire to Be Somebody Else,” The Dame School of Experience, 1920

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~Anaïs Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath
I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. ~Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~Vita Sackville-West

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~Mark Twain

Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction. ~Dylan Thomas, letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~Orson Scott Card

A metaphor is like a simile. ~Author Unknown

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Author Unknown

A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer. ~Karl Kraus

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But if you have not a pen, I suppose you must scratch any way you can. ~Samuel Lover, Handy Andy, 1842

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. ~Peter De Vries

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make. ~Truman Capote, McCall’s, November 1967

A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. ~Hannah Arendt

It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order. ~Ann Beattie, Picturing Will, 1989

For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle. ~John Cheever

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous. ~Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon

The expression “to write something down” suggests a descent of thought to the fingers whose movements immediately falsify it. ~William Gass, “Habitations of the Word,” Kenyon Review, October 1984

Be obscure clearly. ~E.B. White

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. ~Flannery O’Connor

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. ~Joan Baez

When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence. ~Samuel Butler

Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains; God composes, why shouldn’t we? ~Audra Foveo-Alba

Plaiting Fog

Plaiting Fog

We’re in Starbucks trying to heal our week with skinny Lattes and putting off going back to one-bed flats and microwaved meals in the suburbs. It’s Friday after work. Ros is talking. She’s a copy writer; she knows how to use words.
“…I knew him less than a year and took my child, two suitcases, and closed the door on my marriage. Can you believe that?”
I nod and drops of rain caught in my hair, splatter, and stain the table’s polished surface.
It only took Max three weeks…Twenty-one days to wipe out our marriage and throw his lot in with his secretary of three months.
I may not be the right person for Ros to confide in.
“Nearly thirty years I’ve known him,” she says, “but I haven’t seen him for twenty five.”
“Did you leave for him?” I say.
I’m not sure I want to hear her answer. Since Max walked out on me a year ago I find it difficult empathising with marriage wreckers.
“No; because of, but not for. I didn’t know when I left if he would come for me, but he did.”
“So no regrets; about leaving I mean?”
“None. And now I know I’ll see him again, I feel like a hibernating animal waking up.”
Did Max ever feel like that about me? Does he feel like that about the new Ms ‘500-words-a-minute’?
“So, why didn’t you marry him?”
“Lots of things… There wasn’t just me, remember, but a toddler as well. Jamie used to call us his ‘Blue Peter’ family; one that someone had made earlier…, but there were other things as well.”
I’m surprised she’s telling me all this. We don’t normally ‘share’; it’s usually just office gossip. A quick coffee once a week.

The untouched Lattes cool in front of us. She stares through the rain trickling down the café window; the blurred headlights of cars passing outside highlight her cheek bones and darken her eyes. Behind her face, just for a second, I glimpse the young woman he must have known.

I think she’s going to stop talking and I don’t want her to.
“Well, did he meet someone who didn’t have kids?” I prompt.
“No. It was me who finished it. Things happened that changed me…” her voice trails off.
I’ve never seen her look like this. Her face seems tight; folded in around itself as if it’s hiding. It’s disconcerting. Since Max left me, I rely on Ros to cheer me up.
“Changed you?”
“My ex turned up out of the blue, took my daughter out for the day and didn’t come back.”
“You mean…?”
“I mean he snatched her. Said I wasn’t a fit mother. Said I only cared for Jamie, put him before my daughter. Ironic really, it was the first time we’d seen him for years. I never realised how bitter he was about me leaving him.
“He said Jamie’s type would never take on another man’s child. And if I didn’t believe him, give Jamie an ultimatum…”
Who would know to look at her that she had a story like this to tell? She was older than me, but you had to look closely to tell. Well turned out. Under her Chloe trench, she was wearing a silk man-cut shirt and her skirt was fabulous; tight, but conservative-until you saw the thigh-high slit; office, but sexy.
“And your little girl? Did you get her back?”
“Yes, a few days later, but something had shifted inside me. I was terrified my ex would do it again, so I wrote to Jamie and finished with him.”
I think of me and Max. And of pride, loss, need, love, fear…
“Why didn’t you tell Jamie? Give him the ultimatum?” I ask.
“If he wanted us, he’d look for us, but I’d moved house, you see. A fresh start,” she says. “Really, I didn’t give him a chance.”
I know exactly what she means.
“And you haven’t seen him since?”
“Not for want of trying,” she answers.
She’s like a swan; it’s all going on beneath the surface.
“Did you marry again?”
“Years later…It didn’t last.”

She stares beyond me. I can see the little pain lines etching her face. I look away and busy myself stirring my cold Latte, as though I’m about to drink it.

I didn’t know that she’d been married twice? She likes a challenge!
Ros starts talking again, almost as if she doesn’t want to.
“I made sure that no one would ever again be able to accuse me of putting anybody before my child. I got remarried for security, though I was fond of my husband. I thought that would be enough, but…
“So I concentrated on my career. Maybe too much; I burnt out, got sick. Years of living a lie, I suppose. I had a breakdown. Quite severe. Hospitalised. Stupid really…”
I don’t know what to say. It’s quiet in here today. The kids behind the counter are ignoring us, which means they’re probably hanging onto our every word. I wait for Ros to speak.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of loss… failure…” she continues. “Anyway, I packed the two suitcases and left…Again,” she says and grimaces. “I decided I wasn’t cut out for relationships.”
“And did you stay single?” I ask.
“Didn’t seem much point in setting myself up to fail again,” she says. “I stayed single”

I think about this as I go to the counter for two more coffees – there is no way either of us is going home just yet. I pick up two Danish for good measure.

“So, how did you find him?” I ask as I sit down.
“Friends Reunited. Ridiculous, isn’t it?”
I wonder whether to tell Ros about Max, but…I decide to let her tell her story.
“Are you trying to tell me that you still love Jamie?”
“I never stopped.”

She picks icing covered currants from her pastry and lines them up along the edge of her plate.

“What makes you think he feels the same about you, Ros?”
She doesn’t answer. She merely wipes her fingers.

“Did he look for you?” I eventually ask her.
“He looked; even after he married.”
Whoa! All my ‘wronged-party’ views are returning. Married? You don’t mess with married men.
“Then how can you…?”
The loudness of my voice makes Ros jump.
My friend the stranger.
“And you still want him? Even though..?” I can’t help asking.
I wonder just how much pain she’s willing to cause.
“Even though,” she answers.
Women don’t hurt each other. Men do that for us.

She rubs pieces of the sticky serviette between her fingers until little balls form. I watch her flicking them on to the floor.

“I don’t know how not to want him,” she continues. “I’ve loved him over half my life. I don’t care if he’s married, I deserve him …” Her voice trails away.
“And her… What about his wife?” I ask. “How long has she loved him? What does she deserve?”
“Don’t,” she says staring me straight in the eye, “don’t judge me.”
I look away.

“You told me once, years ago, that you met Max at work.”
It’s my turn to be quiet.
“And when you thought Max was being unfaithful you threw him out. You maybe fought with him, but did you fight for him? Or did you treat it as though it was inevitable, a pattern repeating itself?”
She looks directly at me.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that you were that secretary, the first time around, you know…”
And it’s true. I perch very precariously on the moral high ground.
“Do you know what it’s like to wake alone on your 50th birthday and the only card you get wishes you a happy birthday and invites you for a mammogram?” she finishes.
Something else I didn’t know about her.
I wonder if my eyes fill up for her or me. I wish I could promise her a happy-ever-after with this man she’s loved for so long.
“Don’t do what I did. Don’t run away,” she says. “Life’s for now, not forever.”
You know when you’ve heard the same phrase or saying, or a variation of it, so many times that you stop listening to it? Well, Ros’ words hit me like an assassin’s bullet.
She’s right when she says ‘suspect’ about Max’s affair; I was judge and jury to an offence that may never have taken place. I have ruined the best thing that ever happened to me; and for what? What was I doing? I used to worry that he would leave me, go back to his wife…, but then I told him to go?

We sit watching the pastries hardening on a plate in front of us.

“So, will you meet him?” I ask.
“Truthfully? I think yes…And then I get scared…”
“You mean you won’t?” I interrupt
“But then I think about the next twenty five years without him…” she continues. “When I first came in to meet you, I would have crawled over broken glass to be with him, but now…You think I’m wrong to see him again, don’t you?”
What can I say? That I understand? That sorting my own life out, let alone anyone else’s, is like plaiting fog? That I’m in the same boat; so scared of being hurt, that I’m hurting myself? That she’s made me realise I’ve been busy pulling drawbridges up behind myself just like she has…
What if she and Jamie get together and then he leaves her and goes back to his wife?
I suppose, it’s a risk she’ll have to take. Like me.
Ros is right; life is for now, not forever.
I reach out and take her hand in mine.
“Don’t let anything I’ve said put you off, Ros. Don’t let his anything stand in the way. Let’s face it; if he was happy he wouldn’t be looking, would he?”
I can hardly believe the words that are pushing and shoving to get out of my mouth. Soon I’ll have to admit I didn’t make Max happy. Speak of my raw ache to have children, my resentment of his.
Max was only putting his kids first, giving them breathing space to get used to us. It wasn’t because he didn’t want me to have his children; I only had to wait a while.
I look up and see Ros intently watching me, but she doesn’t ask what I’m thinking about.
And I could have waited; I had a few years left on my biological clock. Instead, I sulked him through the door and he had a sleepover with his secretary.
He may have bedded her, he may have spent all night talking to her; I don’t know. I never let him explain. When he came home the next day I was out and his things were in the hall. I’m nothing if not efficient, he used to say, his dream secretary. I’d left a note giving my solicitors name… I’ve not seen him since.

She stands and takes a ten pound note out of her purse and puts it on the table.
“Same time next week?” she says. The door closes behind her

The staff are keen to finish their day. A girl with full lips, the colour of Ashes of Roses, is checking her eye makeup in the mirror behind the counter.
“Have I got panda eyes?” she asks a boy who’s wiping a cloth over the coffee machine’s steel casing with one hand, as he punches a text message into his phone with the other.
“Shall we do the floor now, or leave it until tomorrow morning?” she says
“Tomorrow. I’ve got places to go…”
“…people to see!” she finishes for him and laughs.
Weekend fever. I take pity on them and leave.

It’s still raining. I like the way the lights shining from the shop windows are diffused by the drizzle.
On the corner of the street I see Ros getting into a taxi. Her patent stilettos gleam; if she was closer, I know that I’d see little balls of rolled up serviette sticking to them. As the car pulls away I see the hem of her trench-coat trapped in the door.
I try to remember when she is supposed to meet Jamie and wonder whether she will. I hope she does. I realise I am happy for her.
I decide to walk home.
Supper. Chicken or fish? How long it is since I’ve tasted any difference between the frozen meals I buy. I should be better organised and batch-bake or something.
I try to compose a mental shopping list that will result in my freezer bursting with healthy, wholesome food. It defeats me. I’m only avoiding thinking about the things we talked about tonight. And the things we didn’t.
Puddles reflect the street’s flashing neon signs; cerise, lime green, Daytona yellow and electric blue, orange from the street lamps.
Rain, in perfect rhythm with the tap, tap, tap of my heels on the pavement, drips from my hair down the back of my neck. I know that tomorrow, when I look in the mirror, I will regret walking, but for now I enjoy it.
The closer I get to home the quieter it becomes.
I can see the flats from here. None of the windows glow warmly. Wheelie-bins still stand where they were left for emptying three days ago. A car’s lights pin point the diamond brightness of the eyes of a bedraggled cat sheltering under our overgrown privet hedge.
Someone has left the front door open. It will mean silver slug trails on the mat tomorrow morning.
Why don’t people ever treat flats like proper homes? It’s all right for those who are just pausing before they take up their real lives; become couples, with children maybe, and pets, in houses like Max and I once lived in. Some of us are not just passing through.
I close my door behind me, pleased to be home. I kick off my heels and throw my coat over a chair.
I like the effect; it’s always too tidy in here.
A flashing red light on the phone teases. Voicemail. I resist listening and go into the bathroom. I uncap some Arpege and watch as it trickles under steaming taps.

A glass of wine, I think.

I lie back in the fragrant water and start to soak the week from my head. The condensation on my glass reminds me of the café windows. And the tears that we both pretended hadn’t trickled from our eyes.

The little red light tempts. I still resist.

If it’s Max he’ll ring back.

Or maybe he’ll…

I quickly tuck my cotton pyjamas back into the drawer and take the peach silk nightdress and wrap from the armoire. They smell of happiness when I press them to my face. Traces of a velvet summer evening, Sancerre and anniversary food.
Aftershave.
©theeditoffice 2013

An attempt at parody

Clapton, Eric - 7 - Lay Down Sally - D - 1977

Clapton, Eric – 7 – Lay Down Sally – D – 1977 (Photo credit: Affendaddy)

I obviously wrote this with tongue firmly in cheek, however some PG may be advisable. Would hate to upset anybody.

 

Stuffed

Perhaps it had been the thought of taking yet another stranger, to yet another rented room, which had nauseated her; perhaps it was merely the hunger gnawing deep in her belly. Either way she’d known she had to, if she wanted to satisfy her endless need. She reached over and adjusted the volume on the radio. Clapton -Lay Down Sally- couldn’t drown out her snarling stomach. The bathroom door opened and he came out; she’d known he would be wearing nylon Y-Fronts.
‘Loud isn’t it?’ he said, as he sat on the side of the bed and lit a cigarette. She flicked the dial and selected another station without reducing the volume. Some one she didn’t know sang something about ‘cos I’m a woman…w o m a n.’ Grinning she sat back and watched him stretch on the bed.
‘Come on, babe… I’m lonely.’
She shifted her body, preparing to rise. The vinyl clad sofa exhaled as she stood, and the trembling floor boards told of her path as her feet slapped at the cracked linoleum. His eyes closed, he felt her approach. His excitement mounted at the thought of her engulfing him: she was gratified to see the baby-blue nylon stretching damply over his erection.
‘Man enough for you, baby.’ She noted it wasn’t a question.
He moved to the far side of the bed and she lay down beside him. Without preamble, he turned and started clambering up her. She didn’t deter him, but didn’t assist him either, until she reached out idly and pulled him on to her. His moustache scratched between her breasts and his toe nails, yellowed and horny as carrion crows’ beaks, tore viciously at the flesh on her shins as he scrabbled for purchase.
‘This isn’t going to work,’ she murmured. ‘Honey, I can’t lie on top of you, not if you’re fond of breathing. What do you reckon?’
His floundering stopped. She listened as his lungs snatched futilely at the fetid air.
‘Get on your front, bitch!’
She laughed knowingly and arranged herself on her stomach. He repeated the process of trying to mount her. Patiently she waited for him to realise the futility of his endeavours. She felt him flagging and knew now was the time to stop toying with him. She raised her head and shoulders, carelessly tossing him back on to the bed beside her. Turning towards him she whispered.
‘I’ve got an idea.’
‘God, anything, anything, please!’ he begged.
She slid over him, her flesh momentarily cutting off his pleading. Standing next to the bed she whispered huskily.
‘Ok, big boy, do as I say and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.’
As he recovered his breath she sat him on the bed side.
‘Now, close your eyes hon’ …and promise no peeping!’
Shaking with need he complied. Licking her lips, she looked down at him pityingly before she threw back her gargantuan head and opened her mouth wide. With a practised crack her jaw dislocated, and she swallowed him whole.

©theeditoffice2013

Flash Fiction Wasted

Amsterdam Arena from the air

Amsterdam Arena from the air (Photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer)

 

 

 

Wasted

 

 

Can’t see…

Make a wish!  Broken bucket sand castles.  It’s a gooaaaaaaaaal!  Girls are stupid.  I hate school, mum.  Kissing’s wet.  Go on, down in one.  ‘L’ plates.  She loves me!  No, you were amazing.  Passed first time!  Happy millennium, darling.  Marry me?  Amsterdam rocks.  My beautiful bride.  Seychelles sunsets.  Sex on the beach.  I’m so happy.  It’s a girl!  I’m so tired.  First new house.  Scary mortgage.  It’s a boy!  Office do, men only.  Huge row.  Should go home.  ‘One for the road?’  ‘Shouldn’t really…Go on then.’

Blinded…

 

‘We’ve lost him.  Stop now everyone.  Time of death please?’

 

©theeditoffice2013

 

 

A sudden loss of innocence…NaPoWriMo

I should add that White Lightning is an exceptionally strong, cheap cider infamous for effect rather than taste. Last year, in our small market town, two 14-year-old girls almost died of hypothermia when friends left them after a drinking session on a very cold winter evening.    Fourteen

English: A 16 years old teenager with acne on ...

English: A 16 years old teenager with acne on his cheek – photo taken with flash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blinded by ‘White Lightning’
and cajolery clad in words of love,
she squints and fondly counts the pimples on his back,
as, unnoticed over his naked shoulder,
her childhood, a bright shining bubble,
floats away
high on his climactic sigh.

 

 

©theeditoffice

Pre Echo NaPoWriMo

imagesCARIRV96

Pre-echo

I remember,
days before your funeral,
driving up I saw her
through the window.
Saw her hand falter
as she reached
into the cupboard
for the second plate,
again when she took
your favourite mug
and put it gently
back in place.
As I parked the car
I saw her smile,
look towards your empty chair,
start to speak
then turn and stare
unseeing through the rain-stained glass;
pale face ghost-like in the day’s late gloom,
her features fading like a sepia snap.

And knew that I would lose her too.

©theeditoffice2013

NaWriPoMo Disregard

A camp-site at Lyman Run State Park. Disregard...

A camp-site at Lyman Run State Park. Disregard title (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disregard

 

Bending.

A sapling swayed

by stormy bluster.

 

Yielding.

How you talked

at me.

 

Stressing

what I ought

to be.

 

Compliant?

If you really look

you’ll see

 

I’m just fitting in.

 

Flexible.

That’s why

smiling, I pretend.

 

Twisting to your truth.

 

 

©theeditoffice2013

NaWriPoMo To my beautiful daughter (and her’s)

154403_3908662007494_1796519880_n

To Nicola

 

I still wear the touch

of your skinny arm

snaking round my neck;

indelible.

 

My cheek is still embossed

with kisses

from lashes

fluttering

like hummingbird wings.

 

I can still smell

the bath-time scent of you –

Johnson’s baby shampoo,

Pears soap –

the steamy sweetness

like ripened apples

in a summer orchard.

Now the tiny arms

around my neck,

belong to your children.

We bathe them;

polish them

until they glisten.

 

Making new memories.

 

 

©theeditoffice 2013

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