For The Ravens’ Song

 

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Ruby liked to dance, she liked to wear layers of skirts and things that jingled and she spun herself around. And if it was a Friday she would sing. Fridays were the days when she went into town and she allowed herself the luxury of visiting the Tiffin Tea Rooms. How the owner Mrs. Joyce would crinkle up her face when she came in and she’d sit by the window near the plastic flowers and stare out. Mrs. Joyce would bring the teapot over, always assam and ginger and a slice of sticky marmalade roll.

‘So, thank the good Lord for a Friday,’ she would say and wolf it down. The butchers would save her a rabbit and it lay on the slab out the back, by her string of sausages, plump and pink parceled up in greaseproof paper.

‘I’ve saved you a titbit,’ grinned Mr. Jarvis and she took it from his blood-stained hands.

‘See you next week,’ he called out as she left the stench of carcasses behind her. But it was Friday so she allowed herself to buy the wine, nothing too fancy, you understand, just something smooth with plum based notes, to sand down the edges of her day.

The Morris dancing had been going well, she’d joined the group when Angie in the Post Office pointed to the advert in the window just above,

Honda mower, runs well offers over £90.

‘You show ‘em, Girl,’ her Mother used to say, and she did. She danced as a child, she danced around her wedding bed and there, in the town square despite the pain in her back and the corns on her feet, she stomped and swayed and she beamed from the side-lines as her new friends mashed up the ground. Of course, the cramps came late at night, in her shins, after the hours of skipping but she was determined to do it.

I will do whatever it takes, she thought to herself, to be that dancer, I have to let this rhythm out. Her costume glinted and shone, made with care over months as she sat at her old singer sewing machine. Her Grandmother had left it to her and despite its age and outdated mechanisms, it purred and joined the rag-taggles of fabric to each other. She coated her hitting-stick in tar, till the smell of bitumen made her eyes water and before it dried out she rolled it in plastic jewels from her childhood jewellery box.

She remembered her friend, Lyn, whose new heart necklace had knotted up on itself and how she’d sat on the bed in her bedroom, picking at the chain with her slender fingers. She spent ages on it while Lyn came and went and bought cake in that her Mother had baked in the afternoon. Ginger cake, almost too spicy and when the knots gave way to her fingers, she ate the cake and Lyn cried. She thanked her and hugged her and told her they would be friends forever, but they weren’t.

The jewels burned out of the blackness like fragments of hope and she twirled it in her hands and the costume ruffled as she climbed inside and hid away under the headdress. She had constructed it from her favourite hairband with a tangled mess of wool and wire, feathers thrown in, here and there, ones she’d bought from the craft shop by the river but mostly the ones from the park, on her walks, where she pinched them up from the earth or found them under bushes and she brushed the soil from their softness and combed them back into shape when she got home.

She felt such a power in her costume, as though all the times in her life when she’d felt fragile and broken, were just a dream, an aberration from the girl she used to be. And here in her kitchen, by the warming pot of stew, under the rosemary hanging up high, she felt so strange. And the strangeness took her by the hand to the mirror and the strangeness showed her her face, feathered and free, released from the old form as she nodded away to herself.

‘This will do fine, my dears,’ she said to her ornaments and cages of stuffed animals. Ruby ruffled her feathers, she opened the front door and sniffed the fresh air.

‘My dears, I do believe it’s time,’ and she climbed her spiral stone staircase in the corner of her lounge. The wall was cold like it always had been, the lumps of raw stone jutted out and she stroked them with her long fingers as she made her way upstairs. In the bedroom, her cheval mirror smiled back at her by her walnut dressing table with silver topped perfume bottles and photos of her cats. The once white lace doilies had turned to cream but their patterns were so intricate and in each thread, she heard a bird song, a calling from a distant beak and she glanced at them. It had been years since she used to iron them on a Sunday morning, to spruce up her room for the week but when she did, when the windows were open and the crows made themselves known, she would count. Ruby counted the threads that made the snowflake pattern and the picot edge framed the central star shape with nine tiny flowers.

Counting always helped to calm her down but she didn’t need to count today because now she had her feathers. She shuffled towards the arched window that flooded her small room with light. The window had been her reason for buying the property 48 years ago, how it filled her with joy, how even then it felt like a doorway to another world. She would sit for hours watching the sparrows hop from branch to branch as she made lace, as her fingers blurred the shuttle to and fro.

She stood in front of the window, shook her shoulders, making her feathers fluffle and shimmer and she was ready.

‘You know, my dears,’ she said to a room full of memories, to the ornaments and photos from her life.

‘You know, I am finally able to sing.’ She stepped forward, her white hands took the wrought iron handles of her windows and she pushed them down. They resisted, stiff with age and then gave in. The panes quivered as she forced them wide filling her bedroom with the smell of the countryside, with the thick scent of sheep and distant hum of traffic. Her garden had never looked so beautiful, the lupins swayed, the hollyhocks swirled like a bride on her first dance and the snowdrops turned their faces to the sun.

Ruby took a long deep breath, filled her lungs with hope and clambered onto the windowsill. She opened wide her arms, her wings rumbled and creaked and then she jumped.

‘I’m coming, my dears,’ she called and opened wide her beak, joyous notes spiralled out as flew up into the warm summer sun.

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A Nuestra Aventura

 

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There goes the sunlight doing its thing, showing me that its still there.  It catches the web from last night’s work outside my window. If I concentrate hard I can see the rainbows in it and beyond the neighbour’s lawn, almost lime in its rays and I imagine how warm the grass must feel.

Since I’ve been sitting here, the shadow has moved up my curtain, it seems so drab now as though the hope that the sun bought has been stripped away to nothing. The walls creak and how a new day is pushing into me and if I don’t move from this spot, the planet will still spin. Even in my stillest form I know my heart pumps blood around my veins, that neurons jump the gaps to make these thoughts and cells renew and die. Its irresistible, a movement despite myself and I wait for the minutes as though there’s something coming, someone coming who will lift me from this place and if I hold out and breathe light small breathes that they will find me, like a crushed flower under foot or the scuttle of a lady bug released from a damp cold stone.

And far away in a place untainted by this morning, I am there. I am dressed in purple and my hair, thicker and darker than now whips and tears around my face in the morning bluster. I am up high and all I can see is the sunlight glinting off the waves and a horizon cluttered with boats. And there was laughter, reverberating in my head, bouncing sound waves around my ears and the anticipate of the moments ahead made me giddy with light and with joy.

My god we were filled with such joy.

***

And a pigeon comes to rest on the car, it pecks and slides down the windscreen, startles itself and flies off again. Today there’s autumn outside, clouds that could carry me far, take me away to Nice, to Cannes where the white sand would seep into my trainers. I’d stand by Matisse’s house and wonder what it would have been like to live there. To get up and paint in that light and the market stalls would be full of fresh loaves and the nectarines would compete with lemons and we’d walk, arm in arm, down cobbled lanes, looking out to where the sea became the sky and then I’d paint. After breakfast, I’d look east and on my dried-out primer I would sketch. I’d use charcoal and notice the boats that bobbed and buffered, there in a light that I remember now, I’d push oil around in swirls, cadmium lemon and scarlet lake up to the edge and no more.

I’d throw the bread crumbs through my window into a warmth welcome of air and pigeons would scuttle and drop down for my gifts out there, back there and not here, there in my South of France on a morning that isn’t this one. Here in the autumn beyond this rain stained glass, by the late wasp that nuzzles at brick and the pigeons peck at the roof of the car, they hop nearer now and look me in the eye. They’re close today, it’s October and they seem to know my name.

And then, there we were, further around the coast, under an untroubled sky, in the back of a cab, to old streets. We wandered lost, we held tight and asked questions.  The sun glared and lit the way as you paused with Guinness while I took our boy’s hand and we explored. Imagine that, far away from this world now, by the fountain that spat out our names and we were there. I wore the cream hat with petals on my tunic and we grinned, young and free into my lens.

That sun which lights the green glass on my windowsill, that burns up hydrogen while I think, is the sun that lit our faces on that day, in those moments that I fold around me now. And I can see the shopkeeper where I bought the sweets for our boy and you were there, sat waiting. We found the bus, we found the docks and the wind whipped around our hair. Then not now, there not here, under Valencian skies.

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To the Edge

 

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I seem to have spent many hours at train stations recently and I am draw to them, to their sense of purpose, of people moving and having plans, like they belonged, like there were places where they could go and I watch.

There are those moments, you know, when the announcement crackles overhead and the voice has such authority and it warns. Instructions issued, orders to follow and they implore us to keep away from the edge. The next train will not stop. There’s something cold about the words like a noose on a breeze and it hangs there. And then the seconds, then the air turns to anticipation. Feathers caught up in the slipstream, tussle to a safer place, a pigeon beats the detritus upwards and settles out of sight in the flaking paint of the eaves. He senses it coming.

And then it comes. There are these blisters you see, these weals of the world where people wait and wonder. It seems as though, for a frozen beat of our collective hearts that everyone waits and watches from the corner of our eyes. Is it today, is it this moment that they will choose to jump in front of the train? And we are braced, we bristle as the air charges, almost throbs with the approaching sound. And it’s nearly here and we watch and it comes. It’s here, the joyous cut, the ripping surge of an irresistible force, turning the station to dust, screaming by in grey and black. Grey-black, grey-back, grey-black whips my face to come inside, I am sucked into its rhythm, I dissolve in the repeats as it calls out I still live.

I live – I live – I live, listen to me, I’m here with all the potential to tear the heart from your form, to sculpt your skin onto my windscreen and it shrieks and it thunders and I sit, blurred in the fracture as it moves. The opposite platform startles into view, the moment that has passed and taken my hair with it, blown across my face with the chill of actions un met and I am numb.

It dips away to a hollow moaning, paper flutters in a distant screech as it leaves us and no one speaks. No one dares to raise an eye towards the look of a stranger because if we did, if we made that connection to another soul, then we might see them and in that glance, in that act of holding someone’s gaze, we might see ourselves – small and shaking, trembling in a fear we dare not name. And so we look down, we shuffle our stance and pretend we haven’t we shared the thought.

The platform settles, quiet and I check my ticket. I am still waiting for a train but not that one, not the one that doesn’t stop, not today, not here, not now. Not now in this fracture, in this scar of people with places to go to from my platform.

And I am alone in my head and I wait.

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Tiny Bells that Jingled

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She wanted to be lying awake in that bed, the one with the candlewick green cover and the white gloss windowsill would shine to her left in the early morning sun. Downstairs she would hear the sounds of breakfast and the stereo system would play something familiar that she hadn’t chosen herself. Its smoked grey plastic lid would be leaning up the honeyed pine wall and its casters would sink deep into the soft pink carpet.

At the end of her bed, the old wardrobe would loom up, so walnut, so dark and full of the things she no longer wore and the toy rabbit her friend bought her when they spent all summer in the town.

And she wanted to get up and reach into her other wardrobe on the right, the one near the old kitchen chair that she kept at the side of the bed. The new wardrobe that was fitted into the wall, which stored the clothes that she wore now and she would think. It was a morning when she’d already decided what she would wear that night and she would look at the crinkled white blouse, how its sleeves scooped out at the cuffs, like a pre Raphaelite, like someone floating down a stream. And the skirt, the full cotton, how it jingled at the waist, how she’d loved it in the shop, and bought it from the place she never visited again. And she wanted to feel its black and white fabric on her nylon coated legs and she would swirl, she would practice her turns for the evening and her smiles as he’d stand at her door.

And here now, under the ceiling light they kept from his old bedroom, coated in the dust she cannot reach, she would lie and recreate her bedroom and the sounds of the morning before that night. The day before her Father’s birthday party, when they sat and ate and laughed around the table she knows well. And only they knew about the night before, when the pub had been quiet and the breeze by the canal had russeled around her long skirt and later in the still of the house they’d hushed upstairs to her room with the green curtains closed and they had talked and whispered in the dark.

And now, for a second, for a single heart beat under the ceiling light that used to hang over his bed, that hangs over their bed now, she took herself back. And she was there, waking up in her old bedroom, brushing back the hair from her younger face and it was the day, the day he turned up in the evening and she smiled in the black and white skirt.

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Dolores Feeds the Birds

 

Bird Nightmare

If you were in the head of Dolores you would hear the birdsong. She found that morning had turned up again and the trees were full of chattering which surprised her. Yesterday she couldn’t move. Yesterday she was breathing and she knew that to be true because she sat and watched her chest rise and fall, while all that remained of her thoughts lined up in an orderly queue, to present themselves to her.

It had been the hottest day of the year. People had wandered around in shorts, barefoot as though they belonged to the soil while she sat indoors. She poured the southern comfort into a mug and sipped.

Tony would be up soon. He always lay in after work, he always ate steak and mushrooms on pay day and he would tell her she’d make someone a good wife one day – and laugh. He’d roar; head back, broken tooth shining yellow in the evening musk and Dolores would watch his mouth. Mother used to say he had a cruel mouth but she wouldn’t listen to her. Mother didn’t know how good he’d make her feel, he took her out and showed her the sights and she would try food she’d never heard of, long before his frowning, before he started to make her jump.

She knew he was right of course; no one else in the village would take her in, not now. He was the one who plucked her like a rose, who made her his own and he branded her. He would laugh long and wide as he smacked his hand down on the backs of her thighs, and she would wince but she deserved it. She supposed Mother was right after all but she couldn’t think about that now.

Now she had to make the breakfast, now she needed to squeeze the juice from the fresh Jaffa she’d bought at the market, she loved its smell as it pierced her nose, as she rung the life out of it, little bits of pith and flesh floating in her green jug.

And now morning was around her, the birds wanted some plump crumbs. She was surprised at the thickness of the cloud, how the radio crackled and despite the fact she hadn’t eaten for days, she felt no need for food. She felt nothing.

Dolores opened her back door and dropped the phone receiver towards the ground. It caught the edge of the walnut table, chipping its old green plastic like her head when she couldn’t cook steak, when his hands and her hair had entangled and she remembered the sweat of his armpits when she curled small into the floor.

The receiver lay lifeless on the carpet near their door, Dolores slipped out into the garden to feed the birds, they sounded so full of joy. She tilted her head to the side and listened out for the police car.
They would understand.

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Status Update

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I spoke to my elderly Aunt a few days ago, she’s 91, she doesn’t get out much these days and she complained to me that her ready meals only provide carrots and peas and that she hasn’t had a cabbage since January. She reminded me she likes to embroider tablecloths, despite her failing vision and now she knows she needs some help.

‘Do you have anything to do with the internet?’ she asked me. If she could see my bank statement, she would know that much of my spending is done online and that add to basket is a phrase I almost wear like a badge.

I told her I did. And she said she needed a magnifying glass and did I know of something called Google. Winnie, from up the road, had told her about it. I explained about Amazon, I delighted in telling her that, as a student, I could get next day delivery and once off the phone, I searched and found and proceeded to check out. She would receive it the next day, courtesy of my familiar virtual world.

This virtual world is a double edged sword these days. It has brought great help and comfort over the years, connections with people I’ve never met, widowed like myself, and I’ve grown to feel close to them, even though by traditional standards, I don’t really know them at all. I could have a problem in my world, in my day, but if I don’t post about it, they won’t know. They won’t come around and help out or hug because they’re scattered miles away, they only know what I tell them, how I present myself online and this is how it is.

When my son was a baby and my pelvis had become unstable, most of my world was on the bed. A trip to the bathroom would have to be organised in advance and sometimes took so long to get there and back that I used to think I should have taken sandwiches for the journey. I’d have given anything to have had this virtual world, to have had the company of strangers on my bed. And yet they don’t remain strange for long. Now my friends’ list is packed with people I feel I know, people I care about, people, who though I only get a fleeting glimpse into their world, I am connected to. I am entangled in this new society, I flick my phone to update when I wake because in these uncertain days, I’m worried. I want to see if there’s any news on someone who should be there. I feel myself churn away, considering the possibilities of her absence but I can’t do anything to help her. I can share the pleas, I can send pms in the hope that sometime soon she’ll pick them up. But I can’t hold her, I can’t look into her eyes and reassure her it will all be ok. I can’t make her tea and biscuits and sit up till dawn, till the pain subsides, till tiredness takes away our voices, till we can’t talk anymore.

But how I want to, how I wish I could break through this virtual world and swoop down to where she is and know all the things she can’t tell us, to know the person behind the updates, to really know my friend. But I can’t. I can only tap and update my newsfeed, I can only scour the media and wade through their distorted words.

This thin veil of people are a feature of my life now, we are all connected and though we only intersect at tiny points, with snapshot phrases, with glimpses of a moment, of a life – it’s in those glimpses that we reach each other, that we connect to another soul doing their best. A fleeting window on their world.

It’s not the world my Aunt grew up in, with neighbours who knew your name, with a walk to the post office to buy a stamp, for the letter you’d written to a friend. And now she waits for Winnie from up the road, who’s promised to pop in with a cabbage, although I told her I’d be happy to do an online grocery order for her, she says, ‘no thanks,’ she says she’ll take her little luggage trolley and when she feels up to it, she’ll go up the road for some bits. She likes to get out when she can; she lives in the real world.

How I wish our world was like hers, how I would spend time with my virtual friends but I can’t, not in that way. I am connected to them all, these chiffon swathes of souls in the palm of my hand. And I follow their stories, I laugh and cry with them and now I worry, now I ache, now I’m desperate to hear from my friend.

My friend, who years ago held my hand across the ether, when I first landed in this world, who encouraged me to start a blog, who was simply there. How I wish I could reach out and hold her hand now. I hope that someday soon she will see this post and her timeline full of concern. And she’ll know how much she’s loved and back in this binary world again, she’ll update her status to tell us she’s ok.

I wish I could just buy her a cabbage and make everything alright.

This is for my friend – wherever she is.

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Leaden Circles Singing

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She woke to the thought that the long distant wedding guests would arrive today and they came in the afternoon with their neat bags and powdered faces and some stayed in their small room. Others booked into the hotel by the Cathedral where the party would be held and the sun came up on that morning as it rises now, swamped in thick cloud like the years between the girl and the woman. The heat from the hydrogen would burn through later, like the time, like the images in her head. And she would be there.

***

And later the day arrived and it was her morning, one of the few days in her life when she would be in the house alone. And she woke to the tiredness and the bedclothes and the words. She leapt up. How young she seemed on that morning with the phone on the floor and she squealed down rhe line to his friend and her parents and how they laughed that she would see them later on. And her friend was on the way to help and the nine o‘clock door would open to her face.

How smooth the day felt, the silk of her tights, of her underwear, its cold comfort under a patterened paisley wrap and she would wait. She wondered about his morning and the bacon that she didn’t have. How he joked with his friend in the flat and cravats were tied in a hallway mirror until they were just right.

It was a day to wait for doorbells to ring and for wonen. People she only saw twice who would come and brush and preen, while her coffee went cold on the polished wooden shelf and her friend kneeled to the front, strapping laces. So many faces around her, in preparation for just one, one face that would know her with his smile.

And the boots would be on by now and the kitchen floors a reek of lilies and in the bustle and movements of the day she would see herself. Herself amongst the visitors and they came for jobs then left. She would have looked to her bare finger and thought of later, how it would glisten and glow. It was the moments that were a part of her, that would sit like a peeling bell, reverberating through her life, despite the hours, she would be there.

And soon with the help of her friend, she would find the rustling upstairs and climbing into taffeta she would be, there in that moment, that she would live in their bedroom, wrapped and swirling in silk and somehow as she dressed, she knew and felt herself looking back from now.

And she notes how everything is circular, the rippling waves of the bells, the skirts that dance around her and the rings. So many rings on so many fingers, how she loved to decorate her hands just like her Mother in Law, with fine fingers to dress and stone and gems to throw colours up into her eyes. The eyes that have held her world, strengths that fade in and out, round and around, a never ending pattern that holds and releases her like the gold around her finger, like the symbol of a song.

Everything is repeating today, she observed and she knew it always would do, like the indent on her finger, the permanence in the space and in those moments that came round again she filled herself up and drank long. She watched herself across the years and she prepared. She would always be in this moment, the stairs and the full clouds of silk, the faces glint, the gliding whiteness, the chauffer’s smile turned towards her in the corner in her mind.

She would be there in the smell of blossom, up the pathway to their world and in the hours she would live through, by the old wooden seats to the alter and they were there, all of them together,  in one moment and the circles were gold and her finger was bare.

And it was time and there was certainty.

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