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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In The Dwelling Place

Bird Nightmare

I sit in your mouth and it’s warm, it’s a round pink place which enfolds me. And how the rub of your tongue soothes my back, how I hold onto your teeth to give me structure. The food comes in, it careens around me, over and into my spaces, the familiar battering and I despise every morsel but i know their names. I sit in the corner of your mouth, I live in this dark moist world and then you mash your teeth together and I feel them crush and smear my form, stretched out fibres of myself, wavering and flipping in the cave where I live, where no one can see me, where my voice fades to dust on spittle, my streaks are a lick of taste inside your mouth.

And you swallow

and I glide down and down, tumbling into your chasm until I climb and climb. I dig in with where my nails used to be, I hold myself up in the flush. I recall myself, I wriggle on the place where my belly used to be, up and up and through to your throat, slipping, craving a ledge until I rest. I sit on your tongue, it is warm, the bristles massage where my limbs used to be.

I am still. I curl up in the corner of your mouth and when you yawn, I can see the world I used to live in, outside, over there, sparkling and remote.

I live in the crevices in your mouth, it’s dark and tight and damp. This is my place now.

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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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The Frond in The Forest

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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.

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