Love Letters #38

Have you ever sunk down into the belly of London?

There are vertical escalators, and sometimes they squeak and squeal, groaning under the weight of a thousand feet every second of every day. Never stopping. Hundreds of stories and minds. Millions of thoughts, whispered in thousands of accents, drowned by the voices of people getting things done.

There are pictures on the metal walls, pictures that move and shift and change shapes, kaleidoscopic in their constant swirling motion, and for a moment you want to go to the theatre and see Les Miserable, and the next moment the thought vanishes from your brain as you frantically feel your way through pale yellow tunnels, following the crowd and wondering if you are going the right way, can’t turn back or else people will shove you back the way you came, the rush of hot air pulling you further and further into the belly of London.

Old walls, crumbling civilisations giving way to new ones.

I was born in London.

Tooting.

Same hospital as my mother was born in. So strange, that thought. Twenty four years apart.

My father fell down the stairs and broke his coccyx bone the day I was born. He was rushing to the hospital to see his first child. For twenty three years he hasn’t been able to sit properly.

When I was six years old, my stomach curled and unfurled itself as I clutched a small pink straw bag, descending on those vertical escalators down, down down below the crowded surface of the busy city.

Do we have to go on the tube? Can’t we go on the overground train?

Don’t be so silly, Lenora. Look sharp now, quickly!

My mother, seasoned, marching through the tunnels with myself and my little brother in tow. Stepping onto the train, grabbing the back of her skirt, sick with fear.

Then the hurtle, the loud screaming of the train on those metal tracks, the blackness outside the windows. Why were there even windows, if there was nothing to look at? Terrified. Barely able to breathe. Is this the stop? Can we get out?

No!? Ohhhh. 

A soft groan, deep in my belly.

Any minute now the lights would turn off and the train would stop and we would be stuck down here in the dark and heat forever and ever and

forever.

Loud, screaming, hurtling, whistling, wailing. I would close my eyes, begging for this nightmare to be over.

When I was eleven I read a story about the people who cleaned the underground tunnels.

You wouldn’t believe what they found there. Giant rats, and fleas the size of cockroaches, flittering in the darkness. An old woman spoke of the horrors of those tunnels. Yet, they were a refuge to many during the war. Safe havens, in giant brick pools under the ancient city of London. Curving under the Thames and even crossing by the long forgotten rivers that people seldom remember, yet traverse past daily.

And still, I was terrified.

The tube?! Really?! We can get to Victoria on the overground. What about a bus?! A bus is so much better.

Oh, grow up, you silly girl.

Stuck to my seat, sometimes shoved under someone’s armpit, holding tight, my stomach swaying as the train hustled and swerved and screamed its way through those hot, windy tunnels. Fear seeped through my skin, soaking my clothes and beading on my upper lip.

The roaring becoming louder, and louder, and louder, rising in volume and ferocity,

 – why is it so angry -?!

I open my eyes.

I am twenty three years old. I am sitting on the tube for the first time in three years, and before that, for the first time nine.

London has not been my home for twelve years.

Yet, every time I step off the train and into Euston or King’s Cross, a rush of overwhelming familiarity hits me.

The smells and the noise pollution, rising high in the sky, thousands of lives picking their way through thousands of machines, breathing in exhaust fumes and coffee grounds, heels on newspapers, sweat pooling in the creases of skin, accents and countries and worlds colliding as people get on with their business.

And I love the tube. I love the tube with all my heart.

I love the feeling of standing on the furthest end, watching everybody and their engrossed detachment from the world around them. The ginger man sitting next to a nun, sneaking peeks at her reading material. The woman who is watching a Netflix show and the audience of standing commuters, eyes glued to her screen behind the grimy glass that separates her seat from the doors.

I love the hurtling, screaming ferocity. I love the traffic of humans, all hurrying, running, racing, sweating, on the same journey but so trained in avoiding any real contact with each other. Physically pressed up against each other but mentally floating high above the tunnels through which they are carried at top speeds.

I don’t love London at all. I might love the memories I have, which lurk around unexpected corners and in strange places. That place that I vomited outside the Natural History museum. That spot in the British library where I tried to hide those chewits. That fountain in Hyde Park where I sprained my ankle and subsequently cried all the way home on the 319. That tree where the dog barked at my brother and I, scaring our five and four year old selves half to death. That rookery where we rolled down the hills and I got grass stains on my blue Alice in Wonderland dress.

But I love the Tube.

I love the old terror that rises in my throat like bile, because my twenty three year old self recognises it for what it really is;

Adrenaline.

Excitement.

Adventure.

Thrill.

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Love Letters #37

When he sauntered into her life one sunny day she didn’t expect to see a pair of muddy trousers hanging on her washing line. The mud had dried into a clay-like colour in the heat of the blazing afternoon, and she squinted at them, not quite believing her eyes.

‘Did you wear those trousers?’ she asked him, and he stopped at her front gate, looking at her.

‘Are you talking to me?’

She had been sitting calmly on her porch steps having a glass of tea, when she noticed the abhorrent state those trousers were in. She really felt irritated, and was compelled to set her warm glass down and stand up. The trails of the torn ends of her jeans tickled her ankles.

‘Yes! Did you wear those trousers?’

He put his hand on her gate, and glanced at the trousers.

‘No,’ he said, pointing at his own, ‘I have trousers, thank you very much.’

She surveyed his ones. They were capris, the hem stopping halfway up his calves. His feet were enclosed in a pair of canvas shoes, like some kind of bogus boater. His calves were tanned a deep, satisfying brown. Like darkened caramel.

‘You sure do,’ she nodded in approval, ‘Would you like some tea?’

‘What kind of tea?’ he asked tentatively. He kept glancing at the muddy trousers.

‘I have a lovely range for you to choose from.’

‘I can’t turn down a range of tea.’

He pushed the gate open, and his walk towards her was wary. The trousers watched him as he made his way up the path. She didn’t stare at him; she picked up her own tea and climbed the stairs, pushing the door open to reveal what could only be described as darkness in the bright sunshine.

‘It’s curious, that you have muddy trousers hanging from your washing line,’ he said, as the darkness within swallowed him whole.

‘They were perfectly clean when I hung them out this morning.’ There was a cross tone in her voice.

On the other side, the entrance to her house was airy and cool. Large windows were flung open, and the breeze wafting in fanned her pale pink chiffon curtains gently. Her floors were gleaming and wooden, with small rugs placed in odd places. One at the foot of some carpeted stairs. One outside the kitchen door. And one just under the window.

She beckoned him into the kitchen where she put the kettle on. He saw that she had a large, sprawling back garden with a little hill right at the back.

As she took a tall glass with a small handle out of her cupboard, he wondered why she didn’t hang her washing out in the back garden. There seemed to be acres of space out there.

‘I have camomile, vanilla chai, peppermint, liquorice, ginger and lemon, fennel, beetroot, nettle…’, she pulled each teabag out of a large glass orbed container as she named them.

‘I’ll have a liquorice please.’

She looked up at him, and a small smile formed on one corner of her mouth. She plopped the teabag in and poured the boiling water into the glass. It cracked loudly, but didn’t break. Small cracks spread like tentacles around the glass, gleaming as they caught the light, and as the water turned dark purple, the cracks took on a magic of their own.

He took the glass she handed to him, silent in wonder, then followed her back outside to sit on the porch steps and stare at the trousers.

‘What’s all this about those trousers, then?’ he asked, sipping his tea. It burned his tongue, so he set it down next to him and licked his lips.

‘I expect someone’s worn those trousers and muddied them, and put them back hoping I wouldn’t notice. It’s quite a bother, really. I suppose I will have to wash them again.’

‘Well we must find out who the culprit is!’

‘It’s happened several times before. I’ve never caught the scumbag. I expect they are quite adept at evading notice.’

‘That is preposterous!’ he said, indignantly, ‘If I were you, I would not rest until that grimy clod was caught and skinned! The audacity of wearing those trousers and not washing them before returning them!’

She looked at him properly, then, surprise on her face.

‘Why, those are my sentiments exactly!’ she said, ‘What shall we do?’

‘Well,’ he leaned closer to her, a conspiratorial expression on his face, ‘I say we set a trap.’

She looked delighted. They carried on plotting, their heads close together on the porch, their teas forgotten, well into the evening. The shadows grew longer around them, and the breeze felt a little sharper. Finally, when he stood up to leave, they had a concrete plan between them to catch that pesky trousers thief.

As the years went by, their plots grew more and more calculated. But the thief was too clever for them, and evaded them at every turn, often setting the very same traps back on them the next morning! It was all a fuddle, really. In the end, after they got married (which they both decided was an excellent idea given that they were co-conspirators in this very large and very complicated plot), they gave in and hung two pairs of trousers out.

The thief never did clean the pair borrowed, but they were always returned, which was enough to convince them both of the small good left in humanity, even if it didn’t extend so far as to include cleaning the trousers one has borrowed to do muddy work.

 

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Love Letters #36

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill

  

Love Letters #35

When they arrived there was a downpour. An opening of the heavens, cracking like the earth’s skull, and the rain gushed down like a broken tap. The footman would not hear of her stepping out unaided, he took his own coat off to shield her from the torrents as he guided her out of the carriage and up the steps, which became a waterfall, sloshing around her perfectly gleaming shoes and ruining them.

They entered the building and he bowed, folding his coat to himself before dashing out again. She watched as he clambered aboard the back of the coach, sodden, and said something to the driver before they clattered away down the cobbled street, the sound of the wheels vanishing amid the clamour of thunder and pattering rain.

If it were not for her dress she would have chased him down the street, letting her carefully pinned hair fall and soak up the rain. She clutched her skirts now in her hands, and let her dainty, sodden shoes take her across the perfectly polished floors and through the main doors of the cathedral. One last glance back, but the street was empty, vendors packed away and doorways tightly shuttered against the grim atmosphere. She couldn’t see to the end of the road, a cloudy haze formed of soot and torrential rain formed a wall, blocking her from the world she could not touch, and which could not touch her.

Dear Louie,

It’s better that you know now – the child is yours. There is no way you could claim him, he will have to be the next heir to the throne. 

Yours,

Dorothea

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Love Letters #34

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Love Letters #33

 

She was standing in the middle of the road, when I first set eyes on her. A light, silken shirt was all that draped her small shoulders in the icy January air. The road was wet with perspiration, and the branches bare. Her face was pale, her eyes bright, and her hair a cloud of golden silky curls, bouncing as she danced this way and that, her feet turning in all directions and her arms moving side to side, up and down.

I noticed her first because she was dancing, but dancing is the usual sight in this vibrant city of ours. I did my double take because of her smile. When she smiled, her eyebrows rose, and she looked almost… surprised. And her chin grew pointy, and the tops of her cheeks pointed outwards too.

If you really stood back and thought about it, she did have quite a sharp little face. But it was so dear and sweet and her eyes sparkled with life and crinkled with joy.

Man, he thought, she really does love to dance. Somebody was standing in front of her, another friend I think, and the other friend was laughing away but in an awkward way, certainly not joining in.

Cars drove right past her, on both sides. Motorbikes weaved their way around her and people glanced at her then glanced away. Did she make them uncomfortable? He really didn’t see how they could do that. She made him so happy. He stood from his safe distance on the pavement, as the sky drizzled gently around him and slowly soaked him through. And he watched her dance away and laugh.

Presently she noticed him watching her. She kept glancing at him, and then she directed her smile at him, giving him his own little dance show. She was waving him over. Her mouth was miming,

Come join me!

He shook his head, smiling widely. She laughed, and he heard the tinkling giggle over the traffic.

Come on!

He didn’t want to. He knew his arms would be too thick and his body wouldn’t listen to him. He was content to just watch her rhythm, the way life seemed to happen around her, draw her in its flowing current. He was one of those who stood on the fringe of things, while life swept her up in its energetic arms and took her whichever way it chose to run.

Please!

A heart shape with her ever moving fingers, and then, as quickly as she had moulded her hands, she was twirling in another direction.

His feet moved against his will, then. Weaving through the traffic, until he was on the same island she stood on, the white painted thick divide in the traffic, separating one directional flow from the other. The no man’s land of the high street.

She laughed, waved at her friend, and took his arms, moving them this way and that, until he, too, felt part of the current of life. He felt it first in his fingertips, a tingling that spread through his body all the way down to his toes, a small spitfire of energy, moving his limbs without direction from his brain. He closed his eyes, feeling the cold, gentle spray on his face, and let the rhythm of the world take him.

***

And that, is how I met my wife.

Love Letters #32

When she looked over the edge of the mooring, she saw the sky. She saw an infinite galaxy of stars spinning away from her in the gentle ripples prodded along by the breeze. Her toes careened a little, so filled with wonder was she, and she felt herself falling ever so slowly forward. Or maybe the sky was surging ever so slowly towards her.

The heavens spread out before her, beneath her feet, and she was suddenly rendered so insignificant in the midst of this surreal vastness. And the universe was still, silent, except for that thrumming background noise one hears even in the depths of the womb. The thudding continuum that is time and space and the place we all come from, and recognise, but are not fully aware of. The sound we all know, and when we hear it we suddenly stand still, recognising the call, but not quite understanding it.

The world behind her fell away; growing more distant with each moment that passed by. Her ears were ringing, almost, and the sounds on the wharf behind her faded. The clank and the medley of voices, human, living, all became something of the … past?

And what would happen if she succumbed to this unearthly sound, coming from the stars, and let the ripples carry her away?

 

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Love Letters #31

I think the sky is actually white, on those grey days. Where the clouds hang heavy in the sky, and the roads blend in with the horizon. The air is coloured with a paintbrush that has not been completely washed off, so the water is a little murky. I don’t think the sky is grey, I think it is white.

Through my little window I can see the winding road leading down to the town. Pristine little houses, just like mine, sit solidly, proudly by its side. Winding along with the road, built to accommodate its wayward intent. The road chooses where it wants to go, we just follow.

The house directly adjacent to mine faces the road at a 90 degree angle from the front face of my own home. Its frosted bathroom side windows look directly into my back windows, and we are separated by my garden and a little alleyway that leads into its own garden a little further to the right. From my window, I can see the trampoline in their garden. The little watering cans. The iron and ironing board through the downstairs window, a peephole into what could only be described as a utility room.

I cannot see its roof, but I can see the side of the black slate that covers it. It forms a juttering triangle, and contrasts starkly with the grey sky fringing it. Just beneath the ebony black line of the slate, there is a board made of material painted white. At the highest point of the triangle, there is a small spike pointing downwards. Both the slate and the white board frame the top side wall of the house. Beneath the slate and white board, red brick creates the rest of the side wall.

This might seem a mundane description to you. But to me, the white of the board under the slate matches the sky on the other side of the slate. And if I lie down, so only the top triangle of the house adjacent to mine is visible, and the shrouded sky spreads out beyond, I can see a bit of the sky directly under the slate. It looks just so – just so the slate roof seems to be floating a little above the red brick.

And that is why, sometimes, I think when the sky is moody and grey, it is actually a stark, stunning white. White to wash the world out and highlight the drabness of human civilisation.

Love Letters #30

I am a liar.

Em, can you help me with this tie?

Didn’t you hear me? I’m a liar.

He leant his forehead on the doorframe. His hair was thick, black, shiny. It was straight, almost spiky and fell over his wonderfully tan forehead. He was outlandishly handsome. There was no denying that.

Don’t you want to know what I am talking about?

He looked at her sideways, and there was tiredness in his hazel eyes, green in the dim haze of the dingy hotel room. Then he walked slowly towards her, slouching, his back a weary hump, and put his head on her shoulder. They stood like that for what seemed like an age.

Dean?

He didn’t say anything. He just leant on her, and she had to bend her knees slightly to support his weight. He smelled of leather and expensive spice. A hint of manufactured tobacco essence, and cinnamon. She could smell his hair, so human and masculine, clean sweat. She closed her eyes and loved him incredibly in that moment.

I lied to you, Dean. I lied ab-

Shhh. Just – shhhh.

His finger was on her lips. He straightened up, tied his tie, slid his watch on to his wrist and went to the door.

Come on.

She went.

They were silent, walking down the stairs. Her heart was racing, and she glanced sideways at him as they emerged through the dirty glass doors of the hotel. He glanced back at the sign, ‘Hotel Mariano’ the ‘O’s were blacked out marks where the metal letters were welded on once. The orange street lamps gave his face angular shadows. His forehead jutted out at night. It reminded her of a gorilla.

Why won’t you talk to me about it?

Just drop it, Emily, won’t you?

And now we’re just going to the party and pretending everything is normal?

Everything is normal.

You don’t even know what –

Just drop it. Please. I don’t want to know.

Do you even care?

I do. 

She dropped it.

Love Letters 29

The trees whisper secret songs through the breeze, but it takes a hard and strong wind to create a true symphony.

Their leaves are each a small instrument, thrumming against each other as the air surges between their branches. Swaying to and fro, back and forth, to and fro, and the thunderous sound of a million cheers filling the air, taking over.

If you close your eyes for just a moment, you will feel like you are flying. Your heart will swell along with the currents, and you will put your head back and let the sound wash over you.

I have always loved that sound. It is a sound that transports you to another world. The voices of the earth and humanity become distant memories in the background, life recedes in the face of this magnificent phenomenon. They are in harmony, and they speak to each other, telling one another things we can never imagine.

The wind does not roar, the trees do, in a deafening welcome.

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