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 Her Grandmother had left it to her and despite its age and outdated mechanisms, it purred and joined the rag-taggles of fabric to each other.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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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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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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The Smallness of Her Feet

 

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There was a time when she first knew him, before the rainbows came. They walked through the seaside villages, buying up lemon ceramics for their new home. But she doesn’t use those jars now. They are filed away on the top shelf that she can just reach with the aid of a stool.

She dusted them with a soft cloth, let her fingers linger around the rim as she brushed and she thought of herself in a dark blue parka, her feet folded away in stiff new trainers. They were blue, the rubber sole had seemed so white but despite their starkness in the sand, they were the right ones for the job. The old grey rubber peeled off some years ago after the saltwater had weakened the bond, after the dried out seaweed had been tugged free and sniffed and thrown out.

She kept the rock from the first beach, where the sand found its way into her soles, she could feel it grumbling under her feet as they climbed the haphazard steps to the teashop. The rock from those days, holding the heat on her windowsill, next to the herbs and green things that she tends.

She was never much of a gardener but the new seeds in thin packets found her leaning into the sink, sleeves shoved up or neatly folded back on themselves, in the way that he would do, and she plants.

She pokes bits down in soil, feeds them and turns to the light. It’s as much as she can manage, tiny things, ceramic pots and the coloured plastic from her youth.

Mother had bought home the bright pots, the dolly mixtured ones when she still lived at home and she imagined a windowsill in her future, lined with fervent things in a spectrum, a rainbow, a nurturing place.

Now the fading plastic sits next the the rocks, the stiffened paint-brushes and chipped cups. The one without a handle that her Mother bought for him, back then, before these plants had grown.

And she preens, she has taken to buying fresh flowers, enjoying the promise, the sense of life in her home and it keeps her focussed on the cycles. She pours out stale water, she pinches off brown petals and she looks.

‘I buy flowers myself,’ she decided. ‘And I will learn – I will learn the latin of this blossom and that and I will find how to care for it well.’

She is often barefoot now around the house. She likes the coldness of the floor, the sense of connection to something underneath. She hasn’t worn trainers for years and the rock still looks the same as when she pulled it from the sand and there are flowers.

She snips off the lost blooms, the crumpled browns making way for new growth underneath. She holds the rock, it’s warm and heavy in her hand, in her day it still smells of the beach.

She can hear herself running towards him, the flump flump flump across wet sand, as grains were displaced by her small feet.

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Frank and I

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Frank was a subtle storm at the end of my year. He arrived unannounced like an old friend at a party who made their way through the throng, crept up behind you and shoved their knees into the backs of yours, crumbling your stance and pushing you forward into the buffet.

Frank was there when I woke, dancing around the garden, pulling out the saplings that we’d planted in the spring, sending leaves up in eddies that jerked and hurled before they dropped fast, to crash and I thought of the Christmas when my teeth fell out.

All through the night the howling and moaning. Rain smashed the glass, pots scuttled down the drive as you leaned in. You knew my teeth had to go. It was time, you said and I understood. I opened my mouth, a little at first, as you hooked your finger around my gums and wobbled. And then more, more fingers, a thumb in the other side and my mouth ached, the corners of the skin split just enough to catch the salt from your last packet of crisps and they swelled. The cuts puffed out throbbing splinters of white heat, drawing attention to the sides of my face, while you burrowed. And in deeper until I gagged, spitting bits of teeth on to your hoovered carpet, and they crunched up, little pieces of me, little shards, my blistered enamel and I swooned. I wanted to pass out, I wanted the fullness to stop but it didn’t and with your hand inside my mouth you flicked and eased, you twisted them out of my gums.

I can see us now, me retching, a slaver of blood that you’d hurry to scrub from the pile and how you looked after your carpets. How the windowsill was gleaming and the cleaning fluids lined up, parading shades of dolly mixtures when the sun came through. But it didn’t shine that day.

Storm Frank peeled the garden, wrenched the nature from this place, as we stood, you smiling, making little towers with my teeth and me, bent double, heaving, wiping saliva off the back of my hand.

My tongue hurt, my mouth sobbed. It was winter and you were so in love with me.

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Old Long Ago

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Well, she thought, here we go again. Yet another year, they tell me. Everything compartmentalised, broken down into fraction and number and though I understand the truth that number is written into our place, I do question it. I question where it started, who made all the divisions? I question these days, these hours, the minutes that we watch. So they say it’s another year, I don’t worry because it’s just number doing its thing. It had a 5, now it’s a 6 and it’s all so arbitrary. I have to make sense of how I will spend it and spend it is all I can do. What skills am I employing, what messages to our son? And I can move. Remember that, I can still move and while I’m in this machine they call time, I must use it. And use it well.

I have a friend, a good friend who though I’ve never met her, I sense that I know. And I mean I know her from a different place, a different world, long ago or out of time, I can’t be sure. She resonates somehow to my wavelengths, I pulse in time to her dance and the friend turns her ignition key just about now, she has her eyes fixed on the horizon and her small dog curled up to her side. As she eases out of her gateway, bristling with choices and verve, I think of her, of the energy to change, of the irresistible law of movement. And as she forges outwards making new tracks, I remind myself to push up from the bed, to leave this warm bundle of familiar fabric and taking my cold feet to the bathroom floor I will find me there waiting, hand outstretched, urging me to spend my moments well, while we’re here, while we breathe.

This concept, this notion of time still around us and I must take our son’s hand for the dance.
It’s January they tell us, it’s the first yet again, as I write. We are here and we have choices. It’s all there waiting for us, in the turning of hands, in the beating of moments.
Wild, possible, untethered – It’s a only a matter of time.

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More numbers and they keep coming. There’s little I can do but allow their process.

Mother bought me an abacas when I was young, I would sit near their old green settee and push the wooden beads back and forth, enjoying the slam and the click. I made patterns with my small fingers and I learned to count. Everyone learning to count, to add another year, another day, another moment, always looking to the next second, the time ahead, then they will have what they need, then it will all be in place and they will allow themselves to smile and be happy. And I can count backwards too, I remember the bear birthday cake. Mother spent ages on it, icing an upended Swiss roll, making small sponge arms and legs, the thick green icing swirled around its paws in scallops of butter cream sweetness.

I can do backwards. I can do then but all it seems to do is underline now.
Now, and my friend in this moment. Her little dog’s paws scuttering over new lanes, firing up dried out leaves as she runs. Something interests her, she stops, sniffs the ground, turns a circle chasing dust and then she’s off, my friend in striding steps behind her.

They tell me it’s another year, my numbers change but it’s arbitrary.
I am here. I am now. I am this moment.

I want to chase flecks of dust.

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