A Quiet Life

What’s a quiet life, to you?

If the first thought that sprung to your mind is … a comfortable retirement?

Comfortable retirement. Dancing in the living room. Through the dining room. Tap on the shoulder in the kitchen, lit only by a lamp and the shadows of the plants behind his back moving as they sway gently across the hall. Lines deepening on faces, death followed by new life. Leaves falling and blooming again. Piercing cries in the night, but this time they belong to the generation below their progeny so they sleep a little deeper. Urgency no longer beckons them in their dreams, it does not sit on their shoulders anymore and they do not hear it when they are in the shower. Piercing cries. Precious baby they can love without shackles.

What is a quiet life… to you?

Oh, you there. Yes you. I see it in your eyes.

Your quiet life is still. Even in the chaos there is a dark stillness that shrouds your heart as you wander slowly through a crowded hall with two beautiful loves clinging to your skirts, and you see those who are like you, but not like you, and you feel on the fringes again.

Urgency calls you.

It’s a silent kitchen is a quiet life.

Voiceless.

Echo.

Empty buildings, the sun setting and slanting through the dusty glass and the road outside is still, dry, dust pooling on the pavements because..

Nobody calls you.

You grow alone and you may die alone.

That’s a quiet life.

And there is frustration because you have always felt this deep chasm of loneliness. And you thought it would go away. In your teens you waited. In your twenties you yearned. And you approach 30 and it’s banging on your door this desolation and it won’t go away.

You tell yourself, your mother, your people.. you tell them you’re cosy in this cocoon of isolation.

But you aren’t.

You aren’t.

You worry this will seep through the invisible gossamer veil that hangs delicately between you and your children, you worry it will shroud them too like a clingy web that won’t go away.

You don’t want this sadness to be theirs. This loneliness to ache in their chest. Their precious hopeful faces.

You don’t want a quiet life for them.

So you aren’t. Cosy. Happy. Content.

What is your quiet life?

Hug

“Do you want a hug?” I asked my sister.

We don’t do affection. At all. Ever.

“She doesn’t,” my mum said, when my sister didn’t answer me.

I was at the door, leaving home to go back to my home after the christmas-new year break.

“Ahh, I think she does,’ and I went to hug her.

“I’m just awkward,” she murmured into my shoulder, so I gave her an extra squeeze for good measure.

My family do not show affection. It’s clumsy, awkward, strange.

Once my sister was in a state of Terrible Hurt. She was crying alone in her bedroom, in her bed, under a pile of clothes and blankets. Normally we are catty with each other, but that one time I went into her dorm room, climbed into bed with her and held her while she cried.

‘Go away” she said in the end, sniffling.

I didn’t go away, and she didn’t ask me to again.

I don’t know why it’s strange and weird and awkward to give my family affection, when I do it so freely with my children and husband. With my cousins and aunts. With my friends.

Why is it so hard?

I love them all so fiercely.

So why is it so hard?

Liver Pâté

Are you a parent?

If you are, I think you can attest that one of the toughest, most worrying things as a parent is seeing your child ill.

My son has been so ill recently. He has caught one thing after another from nursery, and has developed huge dark circles under his eyes, and lost some weight. I can feel his little tiny bones through his skin, and he has lost that round chubbiness of toddlerhood.

It’s the most troubling thing and frankly I am just burdened by it.

Now of course we are having him checked up by doctors and whatnot, but I also sat down to research some ways to add nutrients into the body after bouts of illness and weightloss.

One of the biggest causes for dark circles around eyes is vitamin A deficiency. I have no proof (yet) that my son is deficient in vitamin A but it can’t harm to get some down him, can it?

Liver is apparently one of the biggest sources of vitamin A, so I sourced some liver from the local butcher.

I hated liver growing up. My father loves it, and the Moroccan way to cook it is to cut it into small pieces, fry it up with onions, garlic, coriander and a bit of cumin. Lots of seasoning, and the resulting liver in gravy concoction is eaten with some crusty bread. Freshly baked french loaf is the tastiest option, according to my family. I could never eat this food. The smell of liver alone put me off, and therefore eating it was simply impossible.

I am an adult now. And I know that liver is an excellent source of nutrients for my unwell child, so I looked up ways to cook it where it would not taste so… LIVERY.

One great way is making liver pâté! It’s liver cooked up with onions and garlic, some dijon mustard, balsmic vinegar, herbs and seasonings…. and a LOT of butter. You can spread it on toast or crackers and it’s just a really tasty savoury spread. So I made some tonight while my kids were in bed.

Let us see how well it goes down tomorrow, ey.

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Hill [28]

Is this how the story ends?

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.

[25]

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.

Company [15]

Republishing this as part of my NanoWrimo. It fits. It belongs. Is it cheating? Maybe, maybe! But it belongs.

A basket of strawberries, over a slender brown arm, gleaming in the heady sun of July.

A basket of strawberries, and fields rolling away with greenery and promise. Insects buzzing in the thickets nearby, birds chirruping, as a soft breeze swooping through the very tips of the trees, a gentle swooshing sound, bringing a coolness that prickled the tiniest hairs on her skin.

Perhaps now she would turn, and would see a tall, handsome figure walking up the hill towards her. Perhaps he would call on her to wait for him. She would stand, alright, and wait for him, and when he joined her he would whisk her away somewhere. He would have his motorcar waiting, and they would sail into the horizon. Where would they go? She wasn’t entirely sure, but it would be somewhere great. She would look upon his face and a thread of understanding would pass from his eyes to hers. She stood, now, in the long, almost still, summer afternoon, at the crest of the hill, with the scenery rolling away from her, far into the distance, and shadows of clouds drifting lazily across the sunny landscape.

And so, so still, almost like a picture.

‘Hi! Laura! Hiiii!’

She whipped around, her basket almost slipping from her arm. A tall figure, marching up the hill towards her. He was waving his hat madly, certainly not her mysterious handsome stranger. He was handsome, there was no denying that. Handsome, but so… so … familiar. For it was only Tom.

‘Oh. It’s you.’ she said, when he had reached her, and she continued to pick her way across the field. She lifted her skirts a little, the meadow grass rising high above her hem.

‘You say that like you are disappointed,’ he said, there was a small twinkle in his eye, so slight, and it irritated her.

‘Am I not the handsome stranger you so anticipated?’

She looked sharply at him, but there was only amusement in his eyes. Bright, mirthful eyes, as blue as the deep sky all around them.

‘No, not disappointed,’ she said lightly, shifting the basket to her other arm. He glanced inside. Strawberries of all kinds and colours tumbled over each other, small ones, big ones, shaped like tomatoes and hearts, bright red, gentle pink, red tinged with white and green.

‘I’ve come to drag you back for supper.’

‘Much ado about supper,’ she picked a wild strawberry from her basket and popped it into her mouth, ‘I’m not hungry’.

‘My sister sent me after you,’ he said, ‘I’m to bring you home immediately.’

‘Well you needn’t always do as you’re told,’ she scolded, severely, ‘I was rather enjoying my solitude and expecting to have an adventure, until you came along and dis-enthralled the occasion.’

‘Oh, I dis-enthralled the occasion, did I. And what occasion was this, that it commanded you to trail your muddy skirts in solitude through the fields?’

‘Never you mind!’ she snapped.

‘My, but you are sour today.’

She sighed, and then glanced at him. He was looking expectantly at her, and his face was so youthful, so carefree, and his eyes danced just so, in that boyish way of his, that she relented a little.

‘I was longing for an adventure,’ she said, finally, stooping a little to pick a wild stalk from by her feet, ‘and I supposed, when I saw your figure in the distance, that you might be it.’

He contemplated her for a few moments, and his face was blank, and then he erupted into loud laughter, and she laughed with him, because it was frivolous and silly, and he made it seem so carefree, and it made her happy.

‘Ah, hence the disappointment’, he said, wiping his eyes, ‘come now, Laura, your adventure shall not forsake you, but it is time to go back for supper, else they’ll all be mad, and we shall have a merry time of it.’

Irritation set in again, and made her square her shoulders, ‘need they be so .. so.. rigid!?’

‘They are worried,’ he smiled gently, ‘John isn’t here, so I expect I am your company for the evening, and your mother wanted to make sure that you were available for it, and behaved like the lady that you are.’

‘Lady, indeed!’

‘Well, is the promise of my being company not enough to entice your stubborn spirit?’

Laura threw her head back and laughed heartily, ‘Oh, Tom. Company, really?! You aren’t company anymore. You don’t need me there to entertain you, when all the others are there. You’re simply — why, you’re part of the furniture!’

He regarded her silently, and the laughter vanished from his eyes. She didn’t notice, for her back was to him, as she sailed along ahead of him.

The breeze rustled through the tall meadow grass, the buttercups and wild daises rippling in wonderful waves across the sloping hills, the wind pushing clouds along in the sky, the leaves gently conversing with each other in the distant thicket. A loud motorcar announced itself on the road just beyond the field, whizzing past in a flash of silver and red, and then silence once more. Silence and the earthly sounds of nature, and the two of them, picking their way through the field and on to the road, her ahead, him behind.

Little Things

When I come home to my mother’s house, it is the simple things that remind me of home.

She doesn’t live in my childhood home anymore. I don’t have my own ‘room’ here; me and the kids sleep in my sister’s room whenever we come and stay. There is a lot of unspoken tension, and lots of standard-family issues, but there are also things that remind me of being little again.

Things that make my senses spark, my tastebuds come alive with the remembrance of something that made them what they are today.

Things like, a steaming bowl of harira, which is like a Moroccan minestrone soup. It has a tomatoey base, with celery, parsley, onions, ginger. Chickpeas and soft pieces of boiled lamb float in the rich soup, and thin vermicelli pasta pieces with some brown lentils make it a complete meal on its own. Of course, in my family, we have to serve it with parisian, which is what Moroccans call ‘french bread’ – something leftover from the French colonisation of the land. Fresh warm crusty french loaf slathered with a generous layer of salted butter to dip into your bowl of tasty soup. Makes my tummy feel like it’s home.

Things like, although my parents don’t get on anymore, the sound of my parents talking from their bedroom. My dad’s voice low, my mum’s soft, up and down in tone, lulling me to sleep. Then in the middle of the night, the sound of my father snoring rumbling through the entire house, all three floors of it. That too, is the sound of comfort.

Or today for lunch when my mother and three year old son sat together having what she calls ‘dipping egg’, but what is more commonly known as a half boiled egg. Tapping the top, dipping buttered ‘soldiers’ into the thick, golden yolk. My son loved his lunch, he has never had ‘dipping egg’ before, for I have never eaten it since I grew out of childhood. I had an egg of my own, and the taste of the warm yolk on buttered brown toast instantly took me back to my childhood kitchen.

Small things.

Small little things you never know you missed until they come back into your life again.

Bowl of fresh harira, food for the soul.

The Bear

There is a bear.

He stands tall on his hind legs like a two-legged creature, his head is turned upwards and to the right. By his side is a little thing. Big ears, elephant-like, but smaller than a mouse. They are walking into the sunset.

I like to think there is an ocean before them, frothing and foaming and if they were to take one step further they would float down into its murky depths. Poor quality imagery, no details, fine lines taken away stroke by stroke, muddy waters brushed over the image until it is as lucid as the ocean in which they should fall.

Sadness is a heavy, dull emotion. You can’t always contain it. It seeps like octopus ink, making marks on everything I touch. Large questioning eyes. Tears when one should be laughing.

Accusation everywhere, deep insecurity, and overwhelmed burnout.

See I don’t know what that bear and elephant-mouse are looking at. I see them everyday in the shower, when I brush my teeth, when I cream my face. Same motions, autopilot, but I always find my eyes drifting to meet that bear, tall, six foot, seven, eight, even. I like to think he is looking off at the answer. And that he might know what it is.

There are several of him, you see. Identical bears, their backs to me, better places, better sights, better feelings.

Each bear is a muddied, marbled grey abstract on a large rectangular wall-tile in my bathroom.

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The Nugget

PLEASE SHIP TO THE UK, my fingers screamed into my keyboard. Then I really thought about it and realised that no, I do not have £400 to spend on a sofa type thing that sounds like a mini chicken goujon. In addition, I do not have the space to house a sofa-type thing that kids can climb on. Maybe that is why they don’t sell the ‘Nugget’ in the UK, because houses here are so small that we cannot make room for children to play daring games on climbey things.

No we just make do with our own personal sofas, you know, the ones we sit on, for our children to make obstacle courses with and throw themselves off head first in their quests to understand what their little bodies can handle as they grow into human beings and parts of the society.

It doesn’t make any sense, you know, that houses here are so small. The weather is only nice for about 3 months out of twelve, and so the rest of the time most kids spend cooped up indoors because it’s either raining or just too darn cold to layer up in one million layers and slip and slide in the mud outside before coming home and doing a massive clean to remove all traces of the outside world from one’s teeny tiny living room.

BECAUSE HOUSES HERE ARE TINY, did I mention that?

So if we have to spend more time indoors, why not make houses bigger?

The thousand hours outside people will tell you that kids should be out in nature no matter the rain or snow or sleet or blizzard, and I would agree that it does wonders for the mood and the brain and for exploration and for living in general. However, I also still think houses here are too small, and that it’s tough work taking small kids outside in the mud and cold every single day. One gets frustrated with all the cleaning one has to do. Mud and wet grass are awfully messy and gunky things to have on one’s carpets and sofas and all up in the many crevices of baby fat folds.

All this to say, I really want a Nugget.

An expensive sofa type climbey thing that kids can use to jump on, climb over, make forts with and generally be creative. I think my kids would love it. They are ruining my nice sofas with their games and climbing and I think this would get them off my sofas in my teeny house and onto their own climbey things. I also want them to be able to climb and jump about without me feeling like I want to pull my teeth out in frustration. I also think they need to release energy indoors when it’s especially cold and I have no energy to let them roll around in icy mud or poke sticks in icy pools of puddles that are really overflowing drains at the local park.

I can’t justify a Nugget because we are now in a ‘cost of living crisis’, but I want one nevertheless.

I won’t get one.

But I want one.

And I am just putting this out into the ether, as the stars twinkle above me, as the wind roars in the trees, as the cold air drafting through the windows whispers of a tough winter to come.

Secret Toast

He always asked for secret toast. His bedside table stacked with books, the curtains always flung wide open and the windows dangling on the edges of falling off. Surges of winter air when the months were cold and gusts of fresh earthy breeze in spring. In the summer hot air pregnant with the scent of the roses outside and the apple trees burdened with their scarlet load. Tangy and sweet.

Secret toast, melted butter, the thinnest layer of strawberry preserves. Preferably with a cup of tea. Cocoa when he was smaller. Becky would bring it upstairs to him. After he was tucked in bed. After the lights were turned off. After he had brushed his teeth. He would hear the familiar creak of the stairs down the hallway. The squeeze of the floorboard just outside his bedroom door. Secret toast and hot cocoa.

‘Now eat up and go straight to sleep,’ Becky would say, leaving him with it.

She wouldn’t sit and talk to him, or play a game of chess. He never stopped pleading. By the light of the moon, he sat alone in his bedroom eating his secret toast and sipping his warm hot cocoa. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the large windows of his childhood bedroom. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the dormer window of his adult attic. Studio attic. Stacks of books everywhere, no shelves to put them in. Stacks of books neatly put away in shelves in his childhood, probably by Becky.

Secret toast at 12am, 1am, 2am, three.

Secret toast with butter and the thinnest layer of the cheapest jam he could find at the local corner shop. Cup of tea with a splash of milk and a tablespoon of sugar. Sweet and strong, like arms guiding him through the tough moments of it all.

The loneliness of it.

But the comfort in its familiarity.

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