I am supposed to be writing for myself this month but there are six days (about) left and I only have ten thousand words of the fifty thousand minimum limit. I shall give up without much of a fuss this month And hope for the best in the next month I set aside for some writing.
With cheer I say, I do believe I have once again stumbled upon the Writing Blues! Everything seems to come to a juddering halt before the brick wall of discouragement. None of my characters will adhere to my commands. They have wilful souls of their own, and oddly, all seem to be biased towards the defiant, sullen demeanor. This will not do at all, because they can’t all monopolise the brooding inclination. They can’t all have the same damn personality!
These aren’t blues, though, so much as purples. This is not the muffled thump of me falling into a pit of writing misery. This is the tremulous hanging in the airless space between inspiration and avolition. Between red and blue. In purple.
It was the darkest, coldest night of the year, she felt, as she stole her way out of the side door and into the blackness outside six months ago. The world was alive, still. Cars and lights and surges of people milling around malls and shopping centres like the sun was not going to rise in 3 hours.
It was the meanest, cruellest thing, she said as she ate two scoops of chocolate ice cream.
It was the harshest storm, she whispered, as she put the coats away in the cupboard.
The floors were polished to a shine. Gleaming in the dark. When the sun rose she could see her reflection in them. Her face distorted, blurry, somebody else.
The windows were dusty, so she got her cloth and slapped at them until the sand fell in little heaps on the windowsill. Then she dampened her cloth and smeared the windows so they became muddy. She could no longer peer out of them at the sand storm outside.
‘Perhaps it is for the better, perhaps seeing the storm is worse.’
There was food they had left on the table. Bits of rice by empty plates. Clumped with leftover sauce, some yogurt smeared on the side of the plate. Glasses covered in greasy fingerprints. The dim light that fills the room after a day of torrid heat, after the sun is covered by sand dunes, yellow world, dust up nostrils, clogging all the openings into the house. And when you step outside you have to cover your face. Wrap a scarf around your head, over your nose, only your eyes visible. Like a face veil.
I don’t think you realise this, but sandstorms are silent.
After the initial gust of wind and wailing currents, there is only silence.
And a fog of dust.
Don’t stay out too long, you shall wheeze.
It was the coldest, harshest winter.
But the summers are long and arduous. And mountains of dust engulf the city every other week.
“You have to dial 9 before you call an external number,’ he said to her when she picked up the receiver. She looked right at him, piercing black glare right into his hazel ones. He did not blink, glared right back at her. She knitted her brows, he looked at the receiver then at her again as an alarming beeping sound began to play through the earpeice – loud yet distant.
She slammed it down so it clattered, not quite slotting into its correct position, and flounced away.
‘Fine,’ he called after her, ‘Fine. I will do it myself, as I always do.’
He pressed the correct sequence of buttons, held the receiver to his ear and waited. She waited outside the door, which was slightly ajar.
‘Yes, hello.’ he said firmly, ‘It’s me.’
‘Yes, she was.’
‘Do you really expect me to believe it works like that? I have been up from dawn doing these things.’
‘The papers will not write themselves, is all I will say. She has been dreaming of this day for three years. She maintains it was three hundred but she was always marvellous with hyperbole.’
He shifted impatiently from foot to foot.
‘Now listen here, Francine. Listen to me…’
‘You will not!!’
‘I forbid it!’
He put his hand to his forehead, and began to pace, picking the phone up and taking it with him. He stopped short when the wire became taut, and turned back on himself, staring at the ceiling and rolling his eyes.
‘Listen to me Francine. This has gone on for far too long. You will remove yourself immediately from that seat so that my wife may sit. And I WILL complete the papers and send them off. If you do not, oh, trust me, lady there will be hell to pay. We do not bake apple pies for nothing. Now I am going to put this phone down and I expect my request to be handled appropriately.’
He stood still, cocking his head to the side.
A small smile graced his sour face.
Then he turned to the door while putting the phone down and tidying up the wire which had tangled with the receiver’s wire.
‘She said yes.’ he called.
She breathed a sigh of relief, patted her hair, and walked primly away down the hallway, her heels clacking loudly.
He nodded to himself lips pursed. Then allow a smile of relief to take over his face.
‘As I always do,’ he muttered, putting a cigarette between his teeth and lighting it.
Well, when the Beast’s wind blows, it says things to me.
Both of you? At the same time?
Well, if we are in the same place, yes. But otherwise no. It tells Tom different things.
So it speaks differently to you than it does Tom?
Yes! Yes, Mary, exactly.
And do you know why it only speaks to you two?
It doesn’t only speak to us. It spoke to you once, remember? It speaks to Aunt Martha.
Yes, but only that once.
Maybe, my dearest, sweetest girl, maybe some people are more in need of it than others.
Why does Tom need it?
I don’t know, darling. If I knew, I would.. well.
You still wouldn’t say yes to the poor fellow, would you.
Stop it, Mary. Don’t talk to me of such things.
Well. I think you’re stubborn and silly. And I think you have trained your ears to only listen to the silly things that old Beast tells you. Who knows how old those words are, and from which ancient tree they came. Who knows how long they have lived in these lands, and what hold they have on them. And you let them into your mind, and you let them make decisions for you. I think it’s all silly. I think you’re growing older, Laura, and you are putting roots where there is no soil.
Don’t you tell me where I ought to put my roots, Mary.
Well, I shall. I shall tell you. I think you’re wasting your time.
I am not!
You don’t laugh anymore.
The Beast has taken your joy away!
That’s absurd. If that was the case, my joy would have vanished ten years ago.
Something is not right, Laura.
I tell you, you don’t understand how this works!! Now stop it. Let us walk the rest of the way home in silence. The moon is large tonight. I want to feast my eyes on the world bathing in its silver light.
Will the edges be tied together like a piece of cheesecloth containing three warm scones? Put gently into a woven basket and carried over the edge of the hill?
They never told her there was a cliff on the other side.
You don’t hurtle to your death, though. No. This isn’t that kind of story. Death and decay and spattered brains on relentless rocks do not soothe a soul.
When you walk over the edge of the hill, you don’t exist anymore in the world as we know it.
It was the calmest tempest. It swooped around her, lifting her hair, caressing her hem, plucking at her sleeves with a gentle roar. Its breath was warm, while the sleet fell around her. That is how she could tell the different between a storm and the Beast. It huddled over her, protected her from harsh elements. It whispered in her ear, and she knew which way to turn in a blizzard. Should she stray too far from the Lake, she would lose it. And that is what she was most afraid of.
‘You know,’ Tom said to Laura, one such day, when the tempest blew warmly around them as they stood on the edge of the Lake, ‘I always think that the Beast has you in its grip, and doesn’t want to let go.’
Laura smiled, but she didn’t look at him. It was as though… no. It couldn’t be.
‘You understand what it says,’ she told him instead, ‘you know the language it speaks.’
‘I do, and sometimes,’ he lowered his voice, ‘sometimes Laura I worry about the things it says.’
‘Tosh!’ she threw at him, tossing her head, and walking back up the path.
He stood at the edge of the lake as she vanished into the darkening woods behind him, and watched the sun set serenely over the waters.
There was no wind, save for the whirlwind that caressed his hair and blew kisses on his cheeks. He stood for the longest while, beyond the sunset. He stood until the stars glittered one by one into existence, revealing themselves in their shining glory when daylight removed its mask and became night. He stared up at them, and even as he did, a decision was forming itself in his mind.
If she goes, he said to the tempest, I will go with her.
I like to think December is dressed in ermine.Her neck drips with rubies. She has a cane, silk pearl gloves, and her hair is done up in such a way as to declare she has all the time in the world. It gleams when the light moves on it, just so, and she does not wear a hat. No sir. A hat would destroythe effect she so longs to have on people.
Would you like an ermine coat, Laura?
Goodness me, no.What an awful thing to want to wear.I don’t know where I would even wear an ermine coat. To the town market? While I am weeding the garden? Milking the cow? Shooing chickens out of the kitchen?
Oh, I am sure you could find somewhere to wear an ermine coat.
Catch me wearing an ermine, Tom. Just catch me!
I take it you still despise December?
Oh, despise is too strong a word. I think December is very beautiful.
But she does not make you happy?
She makes me more sad than happy.
Sad, Laura? Why?
She is gloom. Doom. Darkness. She has disdain for the sun. She is lofty and cold. She would never embrace you in her ermine arms should you need comfort. Why, she is an icy woman with no heart.
December, with no heart!? It cannot be.
I am very firm in this conviction. She has no heart. If she had a heart, she would relent a little. Give us some hope.
I think she is very hopeful.
Does she give you hope, Tom?
She sent me a letter, last year. A letter that gave me a lot of hope.
He stayed away for three years. Each term, when his fellow students would pack their trunks and shout their goodbyes, he stayed on. Always finding an excuse to stay. One summer he worked as an assistant for an old doctor who lived in a village not far from the Academy. Another, he found himself inundated with work that he had not managed to complete during term, and had a letter from Master Jeffman himself to say he required the services of one Thomas Norton, if his family would be so kind as to excuse his absence.
Each holiday when John stepped off the train alone, or arrived home alone, or exited a carriage alone, her eyes would lose some spark. Nobody noticed. She was still her energetic, cheerful self.
Nobody thought it odd that Tom did not come back. Not even John. He would cheerfully remark on his friend’s ability to throw himself wholly, completely into his studies. He would detail how well Tom was doing, the praise Tom received from Master Jeffman, praise which any for other boy was hard to come by.
And she smiled when her brother spoke of him. Gracious smile, and then a change of track in conversation.
Until one day, she could not take it any longer.
She sat down, picked up her pen.
I do not knowbut that I despise December. It is cold. It is grey. Darkness arrives not long after it lifts. When I see the dawn, I see no colour, save for the few days of sunshine we are so blessed to have. Perpetual GLOOM, Tom. Daises on a teacup. The only thing I look forward to in December is John’s much anticipated arrival. We all wait for him at the station, you see, since he writes which day he will be here. Mary waits, too, and your mother. She expects you, even if you havewritten to tell her you will not be on that train.
We get up early in December,before the dawn struggles its way up our side of the hill. The Lake has finally, finally frozen around the edges. Not enough to skate on – never enough for THAT, but we still dream, Mary and I. She is preparing to set off to new horizons. Come February, she too will be gone and then it will be just me left. She will be an Educated Woman, and I shall be the last remaining farm girl.
I could spend the rest of my life here, Tom. Everyday I love it more. I love the wind blowing over the hills and meadows. I love watching the sun set itself over our lake. I love the rustle in the forest. I love the smell of pine and rose when I fling my windows open in late summer. I love, yes, begrudgingly, I love the frosty mornings of December when every leaf, every twig, every branch, every blade of grass is iced most delicately, the most beautifulhandiwork ever seen. I have no desire to take myself off into the world, or throw myself into studies, or teach, or marry a rich man and sail the seas with him. I want to stay here.With my roses. With my beast.
Daises on a teacup, Tom.
Our Johntells us you are doing so well. So brilliantly well. He says you will be a doctor so renowned one day that none of us shall ever hear from you again, you shall be wanted all over the world. Is that true? I know my brother, he embellishes a lot. He flourishes one’s positive traits until one becomes faultless in his description. You are not faultless, and I know you are excelling, but I want some grisly detail. I want to hear of the fun things you get up to. I want to know what you do when you are not wearing the tip of your nose away on the grindstone.
Note: I write these daily Novembers to the background noise of my kids screaming. These days like to run around chasing each other and scream. It’s some kind of game. Their cries pierce right through my ears. They interrupt my thoughts and halt my words and make my brain feel like mush . I stop them sometimes, and other times I let them do it, because it seems like they enjoy it and they need to get it out of their system.
I am actually behind.
I am behind and I could panic about it but I won’t.
I won’t let the overwhelm overwhelm me.
Let this be my 25th post.
It has no substance.
My brain is mush.
But brains are mush. And it is within that mush that ideas grow.
It was the sound of the thundering freight train at 10pm every night that woke her. She knew that now. At first she thought it was something far beyond the reaches of man calling out to her. Something bigger than her Beast. Something deep in the underbelly of the earth, or soaring above the stars.
When the sound reached her dreaming ears it enveloped her completely. It dragged her by her heavy limbs from deep slumber and into the world of the living. Her eyes focused on the ceiling. Silvery in the light of the moon that always bathed her room on clear nights when the it was in its full form.
He asked her. She said no.
‘Why did you say no?’ her mother had asked, when she ran in sobbing after that fateful day in the garden.
‘I couldn’t lie to him, Mother,’ she told her mother, wringing her hands.
‘It wouldn’t be a lie, dearest.’
‘It would. It would!’
‘Well, who else are you waiting for?’
‘NOBODY!’ and she slammed the kitchen door as she flung herself out, threw herself up the stairs, stamping for emphasis, and then fell onto her bed in defeat. And perhaps some despair.
His face kept rising in front of her eyes when she tried to go to sleep. His face. She loved that face. The way he smiled, always. The secret smile. The boyish smile, when he made one of his numerous jokes or teased and teased and teased everybody who let him. The smile when he was just being himself. The smile he had ready for anybody he saw – and then the smile they reflected back at him. The smile when she spoke, the one she knew was only for her, the one she knew he didn’t even know he put on. He had no idea he smiled like that for her. The smile that she had wiped off his face so cruelly with only six little words.
She wanted to snatch those words back out of the air. Unwhisper them to the wind. Take them back and tuck them away where they belonged.
But where did they come from? They had to have come from somewhere.
Her heart felt sore. Yet the tears would not fall.
The first time they encountered the beast it was when the children were all swimming at the Lake.
It was not really a ‘lake’ – it was a small body of water surrounded by tall fir trees. You could access it via a stony, winding path, the edges of which were flanked by a low stone wall built by hand over a century ago. All the town’s children traipsed down the path in the torrid summer weeks, picnics and clothes in baskets, their chatter and laughter rising higher than the trees which brought them relief from the heat.
It was the longest day of summer. The hottest day. From the moment they woke up in the morning, they were stifled by the heat. When a ten year old Laura went downstairs, all the windows had been flung open, and the drapes hung lifeless in a nonexistent breeze. They had a light breakfast of bread and cold milk, before their mother shooed Laura, John and Phyllis out to the woods to play in the shade. It was cooler there, and on her way out Laura asked if they could swim in the Lake.
‘Yes, yes of course. Don’t forget to take your swimming things. And have Minnie pack you a lunch,’ was the response.
They met Mary once they reached the winding stone wall path. She was picking her way among the scattered stones three paces behind Tom, her older brother. As they neared the Lake, they heard splashing sounds, laughter and screams, and they all smiled at each other in anticipation.
They had to turn a final bend, which, when they did, they found themselves faced by a larger thicket of tall pine trees, rather than the slope down to the Lake that they had anticipated seeing. Tom, who was ahead, stopped dead in his tracks.
‘That’s funny,’ he said, as the others reached him, ‘that isn’t supposed to be there.’
‘We must have taken the wrong turn,’ John said quickly, grabbing hold of his sisters’ arms. The earth went silent. They could no longer heard the shouts and whoops from the Lake.
‘We can’t have taken the wrong turn,’ Tom hissed, ‘there is only one straight path.’
The children stood still. Frozen in place.
A wind started to blow. They felt it surge at them, and before they had any time to react to it, it swelled around them with a shriek so deafening that they fell to the ground. It pulled at their hair, hot and damp, tugged at their clothes, and roared in their ears. Laura, who had fallen next to Tom, locked eyes with the older boy – his, vivid, green, wide, looking directly at her, just so, in that way; she knew immediately he had heard exactly what she had.
Then it stopped, and when they looked up, the world was loud again. Birds chirruped in the trees. The path was clear ahead of them, sloping down to the grassy edge of the lake, where they saw their friends leaping into the water, squealing and splashing as though nothing was wrong.