A Certainty Like This

The hills came back, they wrapped around her like an old friend, like a mother’s arms and she was safe, more than that, she was free.
Iris folded herself into her coat, it was a heavy, twisted wool with a knitted corsage on the left lapel, chocolate brown and as warm as it looked. It would be alright, she insisted to herself.
The platform was cruel. It hollered, ripping bits off people, tearing steel and diesel smashed through air, but she didn’t mind. To be fair, she thought, nothing can get through to me now, nothing can scrape or stab me and she let the trains do their worst. Her hair was thrown upwards like a beacon, her coat billowed out behind, filling her form until she swelled, bigger than her shape, her smallness hidden from the world and then she stepped.

Iris climbed onto the 10:17 to Wolverhampton.

Familiar towns whipped and passed. She watched reflections of people staring into laptops, intent on their day as she gripped the seat beneath her, scrubbed the nap backwards and forwards in her small hand. Yes, she was still there.
And changing for another train she felt the air she needed getting nearer and on and up through cities she used to know, places they’d visited when cars were hired and journeys made. Now it was a screech of a platform and cold strangers looking in beyond her, searching out seats by her side.
Tiredness pulled her down through another change of station and she wondered about her sanity, whether she’d really left home at all and if she had, what would she do when she got there?
She dozed. The weight of the hours closed her eyelids and the rocking of the carriage carried her away. She saw mountains and pine trees, how they framed themselves in one moment. The stream was drawn down through the image like a child’s artwork and it jumbled and glinted over rocks. She was there in the old train. Their train, warmed and wrapped from the Alps, stuffed full of chocolate and memories. The bowl of baked cream, the wicker chickens and the sky. How clear it had been, how far away but its light lit their rooms and their beginnings.

The train shook her awake into the sunlight dropping shadows, streaming out across the land. Iris blinked herself back into the afternoon, ordered a black coffee because she could and sat, mug hugging as she closed in nearer to her old town.


And morning came. Morning, after her tired trudge to the B and B, daylight after the restlessness of lumpen foam, of unfamiliar sounds and scented sheets. But morning came as it did back then, when they slept in spontaneous rooms, when owners smiled and gave them a key to the room on the left of the landing and they were there. It wasn’t just the mountain air that filled her lungs, that sparkled her eyes, it was the touch of herself, it was the sound of her laughter and in narrow streets with no plans, they ran.

Iris walked up alleyways, she walked taller than she was, like a bride to an unseen alter, she traced her steps. And there in the light rolling up the mountains, there in the air that she recalled, she found the pub. She pushed the heavy door and turned left by the coat stand and there she was.
Her hair was dark, long across her shoulders, her fleece jacket, the colour of her cheeks and she looked up. She didn’t see Iris, of course because she was laughing with her boyfriend. His back was towards her so Iris couldn’t see his face but she knew it well. She knew every curve and every furrow and she watched. They pushed the plates to one side, knocked back the remains of their drinks and said ‘let’s go.’
There, on an unplanned adventure with few clothes to their names, there, just north of his mother’s home where they’d travelled to because they could, they laughed and they sneaked out. They left the pub without paying, just once – only once because the staff were unresponsive and they, themselves were young. They were away together for one of the first times and they could run.
He took her hand and they walked straight through Iris standing at the door and how they ran, laughing like children down the cobbled lane until they stopped just beyond her sight, bent double and caught their breath.

Iris left the pub, she followed their trail and held them again in the distance. The girl looked back, saw Iris and stopped. She stood there in the crisp clarity of the mountains, she stretched up tall and wide and flung her arms to the sky. There, in a place Iris remembered, there, with him by her side. The girl squealed out, head back eyes tearing, lungs full and she was free. He photographed her and Dear God, she was so free.

Iris ran, she charged towards the girl and the girl knew. She opened wide her arms and called her home.
It’s alright,’ she whispered as Iris sobbed on her shoulder. The girl took her hand and showed her and there in the mountains with the light falling on her greying hair, Iris reached up. She threw her arms up to the clouds and called out his name.
She pulled the air around her, the sense of him, their purpose and how she’d grown. Iris in the mountains, arms wide in celebration of her form. It was yesterday, it was always there. And it was now and freedom was her name.

Lake District 1


Under The Circles Falling

She past a new build on the left and brushed against its huge star in the window. She remembered when the trees were there, when animals hid and insects crept in the hollows of branches that had now gone.

Something about the star gave her hope, gave her a lilt, a swell of a young girl’s life and of family filling the rooms.

And she past by. The sky was swollen, saturated with an end of year rain, with a harsh rain that sliced at pavements, that peeled away the last of the year. And in her mind she was younger, she was hope filled like the fields around her. She was surprised by its sudden lush greenness, like the woman she used to be waving to her from back then.

And back then she was packed, a small bag just for one night and they would stay in the hotel that they loved. She was there in the bright white bathroom, hair curled and velvet dress. It clung to the curve of her belly, to the secret kept inside. And when the time came she would tell him, she would sit on the bed and smile. In fact she glowed, she sparkled and trembled as though she were made of the stars themselves and they laughed. After all their moments this one was the purest, the connection and the gift frozen in time, in the warmth of her hand and his lopsided grin – they were there.

She was back in the unfolding of the night, clicking up the high street in her heels. And with flat black pumps for the journey back down, they walked to the restaurant for the meal. Sometimes now when she past by the same place, huddled at the back of a bus, she would look left to the cream tiled floor and remember the DJ in the corner and the song played just for them.

She was there. Dear God, she was there and right now as she bumped along a wet road in the present, she was back there, beaming, like her soul would fly, bursting from her side.

And later she slipped into the flat shoes as they wandered back down town, to the call of the Cathedral bells. How still the night seemed, yet how full of an energy that she could taste. It bristled around them in the gentle rain, before they made phone calls, before their new journey began.

She was there, at the end of the century, slipping into the new day, softened into it like his hand in hers, as though woven into the time. And always, despite the hours, they would be there. It was their moment, in the darkness, smiling under screeching fireworks, white stars just for them.

For the Soul Dancers

She was wild, she was adventure,

she was passion, she was fun.

She was spirit and compassion.

She was comfort and she was calm.
And when night came, she was star dust

and her breath lit up her road.

And when her tears fell, she was released.

She was freedom and she was whole.
And her wings came and she knew them,

beating out so loud and strong.

And her feet blurred as she took flight,

her heart beat with nature’s song.
And when the dance took its hold of her,

she rippled, she began.

And when its rhythm filled her full, she sang,

‘I am, I am, I am.’



The seagulls are back today, they swoop around, they circle her old home and from their wings she sees the carpet in the lounge, how it turned from spiralled blues to pink. And she sweeps above the kitchen, where the corner chair became a cupboard for the pills, opposite the kettle where she first made him a drink. 

And as she looks, the seagulls fill the rooms, their wings waft feathers in her face and carry her upstairs and there they beat the air, there they hover at the edge of her old bed, with its camblewick green cover and in the light that lifts from day to night and day to night again, she sees herself lying, turning, holding thoughts. 

The cupboard to the right is silent, where the drawer is stiff, the rich deep wood and a lamp stand of fading brass. She can smell the scented carpet and the polished trinkets, there, on a painted window sill that overlooks that world and as her seagulls settle and fold their wings she smells the coast.

Bedruthan rocks wrap around her and as the sand sneaks in her trainers she pads the beach towards him, laughing, parka flapping in the cut of air, then back. 

Seagulls resting on her bedspread, her bed by a bookcase from her youth, crammed with early interests and they whisper. The ivy green curtains are closed, the lamp is off. Her seagulls watch over them, their words and murmurs. 

And it’s August. They ruffle feathers around her and lift her up, away from her black and white skirt on the chair, its bells silent and the birds sing out, it’s always August, they call out, we’re always there.


For The Ravens’ Song



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.






The Frond in The Forest


Once upon a time there was a girl. She lived at the edge of a forest where she took care of a young knight. The knight was her world, his travels were all that mattered, all that she could think of, in the peppermint painted shack where they lived.

The King had been taken from them by a dragon. There’d been no sparing, no rolling wars just the sound of its claws in the night, clicking down the pebbled path that they’d built years ago. And it came with its quiet smoke filled breath and its heat and its rage and stole him away in the night. It took him to its lair deep inside the woods, its cave with all its stone cold promises, the moss dripping the names of all the people he’d eaten before.

The girl continued in the shack because that was the path laid in front of her and the young Knight grew. His back grew stronger than hers, his own path flowing out from their home, merging with the girl’s and branching off. They continued to live at the edge of the forest, they collected twigs and rocks and made tiny sculptured shapes in the mud and rain.

In the autumn of the fourth summer the Knight stumbled on a crag, he slipped, twisting his ankle until all he could do was limp to their shack and rest. The girl looked to the books on the shelves, she searched through velvet pages until she found the instruction for The Heal. And there in her small white hands the pages told her to search for the frond that would not age, and to bind it with twine around the injured ankle and then to wait. And she knew and her heart dropped far away as she read to the end of the page. There was only one frond in the forest and it grew at the back of a cave – the dragon’s cave. So she gathered up all of skirts, strapped her tiny feet into the leather boots shed cut and sewed from the King’s clothes and she scooped up the Knight, though he was twice her weight, she heaved him up on her fragile back and though terror charged throughout every vein, she strode out, small painful steps taking herself and the Knight back, towards the lair, deeper into the forest towards the part of their land that they never went near, there in the autumn, walking back right into the dragon’s claws.

And the small girl felt the bile bubble up in her mouth, her ribs pulling tight around her until every breath was an effort and every pulse beat louder than the last but she strode out.
The edge of the forest approached them, the Knight grew heavier but they carried on until the wind sliced across their cheeks, the brambles and spikes fell away and they stood, there, together in the memory of all that had gone before. The cave, the sound of the dragon sleeping and the stench, the saturating smell of yesterday and with stinging eyes and aching ribs, they breathed in.

The dragon was curled at the back of its lair, its scales opening and closing as it slept, its tailed flicked at the tip and its leaden eyelids twitched. The Knight held onto the girl, the girl clung onto the knight but did not speak. They knew there was no option but to walk in and around the stinking beast. They held hands and they walked, the Knight limped, leaning into the girl and the hours passed as they moved. And there came a time when they reached the back of the cave, where familiar sounds chipped into them, where every stone and every clump of moss echoed with the King’s voice and all they could do was sit and wait and watch for the signs to come to them. The Knight fiddled with his armour, the small girl smoothed out the creases in her skirts, they were sodden now, rivulets of moisture chundering down to her feet and they sat. The girl studied the floor of the cave, leaves blew in and out and creatures crawled. The dragon stretched in his sleep, half yawned as his tongue fell from his dripping pink mouth and scooped up a trail of insects that passed by underneath him. They were swirled up on the tiny bristles, scraped back into the hot steam of his jaws before they’d had time to think about it. And he swallowed and he slept.

In the distant corner of the lair they waited, the moss sweated, dust twisted in the last beam of light and the girl looked out. It was time. She didn’t know how she knew but she just did and she took the Knight’s hand led him up to the dragon’s mouth. And he knew too, he blew into its nostrils, disturbing it, rousing it until it sneezed and stood there, rippling fierce, the thunderous chasm of its mouth tearing wide before them.

‘We have to go inside,’ she said, ‘the frond is caught in its teeth.’

And they stepped onto its knuckles and time slowed down. And they clambered onto its jaw bone, dug in deep and hauled themselves up and in. There they sat, panting, breathing out in the rank swimming juice from yesterday’s meal. The small girl knelt up its teeth to catch her breath, they shone despite years of decay, they lit up her face as she paused and bent down to scoop the liquid from around her feet. She moved towards the Knight’s injured ankle and brushed the contents of its mouth around the broken joint and the old beast yawned.

‘I see it – I can see it,’ the Knight called out. ‘There at the back, by its throat.’

And she took his hand and they edged themselves further down his tongue. She tried not to think, she tried not to feel but images severed and lunged. She focussed on why they were there, on the Knight, on his broken ankle, while her heart beat charged with the knowledge of what had gone before. The heat of the the Knight’s hand formed a golden thread inside her, it kept her moving as they inched over the lumpen rancid route.

‘Over there, look!’ said the Knight and they saw, wedged between its molars, a single pale green leaf, battered and torn but still recognisable and they crept. The small girl’s skirts dragged around her, sodden with the moisture from its mouth, the young Knight kept moving forwards, his heavy armour clanking as he shifted behind his Mother and they breathed.

The Knight held on tight around her waist as she reached over, she trembled like their tiny shack shook when the dragon had approached, her heart thudded loud like its feet smashed down their path but she reached out. And with every cell in her ravaged form she stretched out, for her Knight, for their life, and with a surge of energy that welled up from her deepest oldest places, she curled her fingers round the frond and tugged. It was stronger than she’d hoped and the Knight pulled backwards more and the girl dug her nails into the stale flesh of the dragon’s gum. The vast beast winced at the prickle of pain, forming a gush of saliva to swell up pooling around the girl’s skirts, staining the Knight’s armour.

‘Again!’ said the Knight and she knew. And again she stabbed her golden nails into its flesh, and as more gunk swirled up around their limbs she pulled hard, using all the power she could muster in her small white hands.
The frond shifted, unfurled and slipped off the huge tooth, releasing the girl and the Knight. All three of them bounded backwards in a sweated ball, tumbling like the images in their heads, ricocheting off teeth and food as time started up once again. And the dragon finished its yawn. They were catapulted out and away dropping back into the soil of the lair –
with a thump and a cry that echoed through the forest, that shook the tiles on the roof of their home.

The dragon curled up, smacked its lips together and carried on sleeping. The girl pulled her skirts around her and brushed the dust from the Knight’s armour. They looked at the battered plant and as they did, it started to pulse, little sparks of golden green brushed up through it leaves, filling out its form until it sparkled and tingled, it glowed with growth, with force, there in the small girl’s hand.

The girl and the Knight and frond were joined together in the filth of the cave, their strength pulsing from one to the other and the more they looked at where they were the more they saw their journeys. The Knight’s armour began to glow where the patches of rust had slowed him down and he took the hand of the girl and said,

‘This way now, follow me,’ And he limped but less than before and the girl squeezed tight to the frond as the dragon stirred, its belly empty, its need for nourishment never far.

And they left. As quiet as they came, leaving the moments behind them, in the slime and stones of ancient things, carrying on out to the light.

The girl sobbed, the Knight flopped to the floor as she took the pulsing plant and wrapped it with ease around his ankle. The sap seeped into his fracture and over her hands until his limb was bound and secure. She pulled at strands of twine that grew around the trees they sat beneath and plaited them over the smoothed out frond. The colours had faded to a softened soothing pale, a green that formed a balm on their way, to their eyes and aching hearts. The Knight’s ankle started to heal.

Behind them the constant sound of the dragon preparing for his next feast and they left him with his caverns, with his greed and piercing fangs, moved away from the echoing sounds of their fear.

The sun pushed through the night clouds, as it does, casting tiny flecks of tangerine on the dew caked leaves around them. The Knight walked, his ankle stronger than before, the small girl stuck to his side, her skirts drying out in the warmth of the rays and she glowed. Next to her Knight, she walked in the forces that charged from his feet, in her ways, her knowledge, ancient and pure, as they made their journey home.

And through the speckled woods they followed their path, back to their peppermint shack
with its stories and its tales and they couldn’t speak. They had no need for language then, but it was there, in the look they gave to each other back in their darkest world, when they faced the dragon once again. And there, nestling, primed, underneath them was the endless gifts of the King, the murmur of their voices, the in-breath and the start of the roar.

There was a girl who lived at the edge of the forest where she took care of her Knight.
On the windowsill was a small clay vase shaped like double helix and growing up and out from the vessel was a soft green stem, uncurled fronds leaning towards to photons that filled their tiny home.

And they grew.