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.


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.






Tiny Bells that Jingled


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.





She had a sense of how it would be, how the waiter would have the most beautiful face, soft but still angular and his good nature would spill out over their corner table by the fire, by the old horse brass. And the fire would be warm but not crackling and when the food came it would steam hot, just enough. The beer batter would be popping from the fish, its crumbling whiteness flaking off her fork and they would laugh. The wine would bite the back of her throat leaving plum notes and swirls of dark chocolate in her mouth. She would notice the grain of the table, how the knots in the wood looked like stains of old food and she would scrub at them with her napkin.

But the stains were permanent, the shapes and patterns of age, formed into the its weft and she would look up. The waiter’s face, stubbled and young, said enough but was unable to smile and she tried and she joked but she couldn’t get through and then the food arrived.

Plates that weren’t piping placed down without care, as though they were the final two dishes to leave kitchen, the last two olden fish before the mop down and wash up and she held the cutlery like a man at the gallows and she scooped and she hacked and she fed. The batter fell in flour thick gloops back onto itself,  opening up the greyed out carcass of baked flesh. The vegetables, bright colours offering up a promise that they couldn’t keep, burst to nothing in her mouth and she tried to swallow the resitance of undercooked chips, the fattened fingers of someone else’s failure hung around the sides of her teeth like a creature in the dark, hiding behind dustbins, dislodging food that had gone before and she sat. The wine swirled around the glass, clipping the muck of neglect, leaving its residue on the unclean streaks of a hurried kitchen and she drank.

The smoothness bit the sides, coated her throat in acid and as the heartburn to come rose up from her gut, the potential for pain never far, she looked towards the fireplace, to the embers. A photographic miss match, flicking up, the replica of flames approaching dance, swirling round like she used to, when her skirts were long and thin, her hair thicker against the storms and she would spin and twirl as though she wore no manacles. On sawdust floors under olden lights, cars flashing by in the dark, familiar streets that didn’t scare her and smiling faces. In the days when she could move, when she was lifted in the presence of strangers and the beer batter was golden crisp and melted in her small red mouth.