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 Her Grandmother had left it to her and despite its age and outdated mechanisms, it purred and joined the rag-taggles of fabric to each other.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