Sylvester (Part 1)

I could describe a single meeting in a thousand pages, and a hundred years in two lines.

It’s all relative to perception, I think. 

The year I met Sylvester was the year I also broke both my legs in a terrible cycling accident. I never wanted to go into the details of it all, but it was ominous. I was happy and carefree sailing down the hill, the wind rushing through my hair and over my face, the sky was brilliant because the clouds were flushed with peaches and pinks, the last hurrah of a setting sun, and my legs had never worked so well, and they never would work as well as in that blissful, euphoric moment. I don’t care to think of what happened next, it doesn’t do me any favours and makes me wallow.

A girl is never any good at anything if she is an experienced wallower.

I suppose I would not have met Sylvester if I hadn’t broken both my legs. As it happened, I was lying in bed mostly for six months straight, unable to walk anywhere. The first three months were a living nightmare, and I was in a hospital bed for most of the time because the doctors weren’t sure about my spine.

I shared a room with six other women and girls, but it was interchangeable. They came and went, and nobody stayed as long as I did. During my sixth week, I lay with both my legs in a cast, staring at the ceiling until a tear rolled out of the corner of my eye and slid down the side of my head and burrowed into my hair. It was a tear of complete boredom. I wasn’t sad at all, I was just idle, listless; yawning but not tired.

That must be what it means to be bored to tears,’ I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had plenty of visitors. My friends from school came around every weekend, and we had a little party by my bedside. Eventually the bulk of them stopped coming but Tommy Hill came without fail, chattering about everybody and everything and keeping me up to date on classroom and playground politics. Samantha Briggs brought me my homework, and sometimes sat with me to do hers and explain what I had missed. I got tired of that quickly, though. It was kind of her but I just wished she would let up on all the studious talk. Her large blue eyes would blink blankly at me if I dared to ask what her plans were for the weekend.

‘Well, there is that Chemistry pop quiz we have on Tuesday, and Mondays are always bulky bag days so probably homework?! Why?! Is there a test I am missing?!’

I would roll my eyes and shake my head, letting her carry on, her monotonous voice drifting above my head and over up to the ceiling, her words jumbling together and mixing up, forming mountains and tumbling down, crashing like waves on a shore of slick, black rocks.

Then, Sylvester.

I was sitting up that day. My toast was ready on the table by my bed, and I was stirring a mug of tea whilst absently staring at the small monitor on the wall opposite, where an old rerun of a staticky sitcom buzzed and twitched its way through a dreary episode, every few sentences interrupted by shrieking laughter.

‘Oh, I like this episode,’ a voice said from the doorway. I turned to look. Peculiar boy, he was. A shock of silver hair over a shadowy face. He wore a terrifically baggy T shirt, almost like a dress, and the baggiest shorts you ever did see. They hung below his knees, and his shins were scraped something terrible. He had two dimples and he wasn’t even smiling, and his eyes were piercing and black. Blacker than the longest night in December.

He was wild and brown, an exclamation mark of a human.

Pushing a trolley into the room, he said cheerfully,

‘Snacks, sweets, magazines anybody?!’

Sarah in the bay opposite sat up and said, ‘Do you have the Guardian newspaper, love?’

‘Why, yes we do,’ he swooped down and lifted the newspaper from the bottom shelf of the trolley, waving it above his head in triumph. Like he had won a gold medal.

‘Here you go, sweetheart. That’ll be £2.50’

Then he winked at me.

I turned away, back to the sitcom, and took a sip of my tea. ‘Rude boy’, I thought. He had no business winking at me.

‘This is the episode where they jump off that cliff, isn’t it?’

I looked up at him again and saw him leaning backwards to see the screen. He glanced at me so I knew he was speaking to me.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, curtly.

Image Credit

She

She was a jellyfish, floating under a wave. Bobbing gently with the ebbing current. Her translucent hair swaying silently around her still face, eyes tightly shut, sealed like death merged with life.

She was the calm in a strong wind. The centre of a storm. The silence as the raging destruction hurled life over a precipice and into the unknown. The deep breath, pregnant with dread.

She was the shadows when you slept, the coat behind the door, the woman silently watching as you tried to coax yourself to sleep. She was there, even though you convinced yourself she was just the dressing gown. Everything looks frightening in the dark.

She was surreal reality, dread behind a closed door. She was the exhibit they ignored, because it made them feel uncomfortable. She was the haunting in Connecticut, the dried eyelids in a box. She was the soft breeze that blew out the candles when the windows were closed. She was the buzzing sound of a wasp when there was none to be seen.

She held her breath for as long as she could, and when she surfaced, life flooded into her in the gasps she took of the air which hummed with oxygen. Her eyes flew open, and reflected the vivid blue stretched over her head. The waves crashed on the distant shore, and her muscles ached with the struggle for life. She kicked, hard, and glanced back. Silhouettes stood on the beach, children’s laughter carried off by the wind.

She was alive, not dead. Death hadn’t captured her yet. The current was far from her curled toes, and she pushed her chest forward with strong strokes of her slender, young arms. Back to the shore.

Back.

To life.

‘Darling, you were away for so long!’, Mam said, as she meandered with long, swaying strides towards the blanket which lay slightly rumpled in the hot sand. She bent over and towelled her hair dry.

‘I was drinking the sea,’ she murmured.

‘Do you want a sarnie? Before Chris eats them all. We’ve got egg mayo and tuna.’

‘I nearly died, mam.’

‘Don’t be silly, we were watching you the entire time.’ her mother said, cheerfully, handing her a sandwich out of a fat orange Sainsbury’s bag next to her foldable beach chair.

She took it, a fat rectangle stuffed with filling and molded like a pillow in saran wrap. She looked at the sea, crashing gently on the shore. Swimmers splashed as the sun beamed down beautifully.

I could have died, if I’d wanted to. 

Purple, Orange and Black

Books and films, in essence, are thoughts. Other people’s thoughts, that you think when you read them. You may take them as an opinion and inherently disagree, but these are still thoughts and ideas, and they add to your trove of thoughts and ideas and influence you. That is all there is to say about that.

I was not worried that The Colour Purple would influence me negatively, because if anything, it is the story of strength and perseverance through the roughest of lives. But I remember reading Alice Walker as a child, and Toni Morrison, and I remember feeling terrified and revolted, and wishing that the BOOK, you know, the symbol of happiness and life and adventure, wasn’t so vicious and dark. I kept trying to pick it up again, hoping this time it wouldn’t be as gruesome, but it was, and I felt violated. Of course, I am not blaming the books. The books are wonderful, and helped to highlight to many unfortunate things in the world, and gave a voice to previously unheard voices. But I was only nine, and I wasn’t allowed to read it but I still did, so I only had myself to blame.

And so, when I read The Colour Purple, I was tentative and afraid.  I was worried I would read more terrible things that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth, no matter they were the harsh reality, and still are the harsh reality of so many women around the earth. I don’t want to know that these things can happen, I don’t want to read about them in sordid detail, and hear the literary thoughts of those who inflict them, because these thoughts are the real thoughts that have been thought by real people. People who, if I saw on a day to day basis, I would probably avoid. I would. I think I would. I wouldn’t want to associate with them, because I wouldn’t want to learn what was in such a toxic brain. I wouldn’t want to familiarise myself with those kinds of thoughts. And so, when such thoughts, even when married to GOOD ones, are in my hands, in my living room, on my sofa, I feel violated. I feel obnoxious and worried and disgusted and heartbroken.

I watched the most recent season of Orange is the new Black, and while it was raw and honest and reflective of what is true for so many black people in America, I felt that it was poor. Why do the white people get good endings? Why did the black girl have to be condemned, and the Mexican girl get deported? Life is hopeless if you’re ‘coloured’ in America, this show seems to say. There is no hope for you.

I think that is a shockingly poor message. I think that while reflecting on what really does happen, there should be something to incite some change, too. Some flicker of hope. Something to suggest that there is a way out, that we have to keep fighting, not just give up. Was this show made by white people? This is black, this is white. That is the message I got. And that is how it is.

And reading The Colour Purple, right after watching the last season of Orange is the New Black, opened my eyes wide. Things have only changed in the past hundred or so years in terms of technology and social perception. Things have not changed when it comes to how non-white people are treated in America. But Alice Walker comes out soaring, compared to the makers of OITNB. She screams from the rooftops that all is not lost, that there is hope, that a poor, black woman can overcome her adversaries and succeed. In spite of them, because of them.

 

 

 

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Love letters #47

There was a strange, still emptiness in the room. Something amiss. Shrouded in darkness, wrapped in the cocoon of her duvet. A small light filtered in through the gap in the curtains, it appeared to twinkle. Oddly comforting, like a lighthouse. A beacon in the dark.

But what was missing?

It was chilly. Drafts wafted under the gaps in the door and through cracks in the floorboards. She was not used to this, of-course, but the hot bricks by her feet and the layers of blanket snug around her body kept the warmth on her; only the tip of her nose was icy.

That was not it, though.

She closed her eyes. Sleep evaded her that night. Her first night. A shiver ran down her spine, of excitement, anticipation.

A long voyage over seas and land, through changing climates, meeting wonderfully odd folk. Folk from forest and desert, rich folk and poor folk, scroungers and generous benefactors. Chums, and motherly matrons. She thought of all the personal cards she had stacked so carefully in the writing desk they had put in her room, what a pretty desk, such ornate inscriptions, and what a lovely set of paper and pens left for her to use.

She was simply exhausted. Her bones felt leaden, her neck ached from months of travel, and yet, that evasive slumber!

WHAT, oh, what was missing?!

She thought of home. Of her mother laughing, her singing loud and warbled, in tune but not in tone, but her song much loved, much adored, and so, oh so taken for granted. She thought of her father, hammering away at the cracks in his home, restoring and fixing in his free time. He adored his children, and worked so hard for them. His beard was speckled with white, and wrinkles formed intricate webs around his kind eyes. She thought of what she had left, and a lump grew sturdy and strong in her throat, stubborn against her swallows. Her house on the little hill, the beach just a few metres down, and always the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

The sound of waves lulling her to sleep like a soothing lullaby.

Angry waves in the storm, gentle waves lapping against the sand, up and down the shore, sunrise and sunset and vigorous, tropical rain. Incessant, rhythmic, comforting. The one constant in life’s ever growing, ever changing flow.

The waves.

Slumber finally crept around the door, seeping into her room, her mind filled with the sound of the sea.

Ergophobia

What do you suppose we call laziness, when it is diagnosed by a skilled physician?

What, do you suppose, we call the consistent, affluent pouring of money into a trough, from which we cherry-pick luxury?

What do we call it when a young man idles under a tree, hour to day to week to month to year? A book hangs lifelessly from his soft hands, and the humming tick of his mind slows to a mere clatter, every few hours or so.

What do we call it when the sunrise is missed, for years on end, in favour of a warm bed, the result of long nights of amusement and carousing?

Well, Adrian Dermody certainly didn’t know. He didn’t stop for a moment to think anything of it. It was nothingness to him.

Nothingness decorated with soft scent and gilded most marvellously.

And yet, there was a perpetual cloud around his vision. He was listless. He was calmly suffocating. There was no mirth in anything.

‘What is the matter with you?’ his mother said, crossly, when he picked at his supper, sliding the food around his gleaming plate like a petulant child.

‘Why mother, I tire of life,’ he said drearily, and leant on his in-turned wrist to stare glumly out of long, rain-lashed windows, which reflected the marvellous dining room in which they sat.

His mother, who had been ergophobiac all her life, merely tutted and rang the bell for the servants to clear the dishes away. She would then rumble off to recline on a chair, while she talked idly of nothing with her son and her husband, the latter of whom would murmur absently that he was ‘listening, dear’, whilst he laboured away at the week’s newspaper puzzle.

For he, too, was an ergophobiac.

And ergophobics will never be happy, and mark my words.

 

Love Letters #42

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’.

‘Your 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.

 

Love Letters #41

Dear Hana,

Do you know what a wastrel is? I didn’t either, until Master Jeffman called me one today. A wastrel of a boy, he said, shaking his meaty fist at me. What is a boy to do, when called a wastrel? What did I do? I fed the pigeons with his share of the corn, that’s what I did. I fed the pigeons and thought of new ways to become a worse wastrel than I already am. He missed his corn, at supper, and blamed the cook, who was beside herself. I felt truly a wastrel, then, and owned up to it. Suffice it to say that my revenge was short-lived, and I must be more resourceful in future when I decide to carry out acts of subtle retaliation.

On Saturday Twig and I stole some bread from the kitchen. It was for the ducks by Het’s Pond – they seem a little on the waify side lately. Twig reckons it might be because the pond has frozen over, and they have nowhere to fly to. If you’re really quiet of a frosty dawn, you can hear all the manner of bird calls. Jenny wrens, jack daws, tom tits and robin redbreasts. The ducks are quiet, then. You can see them just about waking up, stretching their wings and giving their feathers a sleepy shake. The world is beautiful at dawn; we swing our legs over the side of the bridge and yearn to fish – only we can’t break that stubborn, thick surface of the water.

Twig reckons they should have called it ‘Het’s Lake’, on account of the pond being 40 acres wide. I told him quite dismissively that the idea had already been put to the Council, but to no avail. Twig reckons he is a visionary. He has started wearing those glasses he’d squirrelled away last year, and introduces himself now to the others, the new ones, as ‘Dr Blackadder’. Never to the Masters, of course, they would whip him to a pulp. A prime fellow is my brother, I say, in utmost sarcasm.

In the morning, sometimes, the folk at the House bring their skates down and have a capital time of it. We watch from the bridge, they shout eloquently at each other and have snowball fights on the ice, twirling about and making quite a show of it, their valets and servants bringing them hot cocoa on silver trays, traipsing down the side of the slope as though summoned by magic, floating over the snow like angels of warmth and luxury.

The dawn is our time, though. Our own time, away from the Masters, away from the drudgery, away from the relentless hours of physical exertion. We fall asleep at night as soon as our heads hit the pillows, but we always wake up just before the first light of dawn, when the stars, bright and twinkling in the winter sky, are just starting to fade. We wake up and drag ourselves down to the side of the lake, we listen to the birdsong and saturate our souls in the still atmosphere of a waking world.

And I think of you, Hana, and how I am not truly a wastrel, unless I have wronged you in some way. I am not a wastrel, if the world welcomes me at dawn, and allows me to live in the miraculous time when the skin kisses our part of the globe, and turns night into day. The air shifts, the songs start, and the day stretches, yawns, and slowly embraces the earth.

Yours, always,

Seb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preta

Always thirsty,

Always drinking,

Always hungry,

Never shrinking.

Preta.

In the darkness of the night, the stars tear holes in the black canvas shrouding the earth so they can peep through, decorating the sky with twinkling lights, playing hide and seek with each other and shooting at each other through the silent vacuum of the universe.

A shadow slinks behind the walls of houses. It creeps through the stinking back alleys where rubbish bins line the brick walls neatly, oozing bin juice. It pauses, sniffs, and slinks into an open bin. It guzzles, and slips out again, prowling for more. Its breath rattles in its throat, almost like a death rattle, and as it climbs out of yet another bin, its large, round belly glows in the dim light from the street lamps just outside the alleyway.

Another creature, with the same protruding belly and glowing eyes, slinks around the corner. It stops, eyeing its counterpart on the bin, and a low snarl starts in its throat. Hunger propels its forward, a deep, prolonged ache to fill an unknown void, and it rolls into the dustbin and begins to scavenge for food.

The rattling sound echoes through the alleyway, and a window above is thrown open. Light floods over the cobbles, and a low hiss emanates from the dustbin, as both creatures shy away from the brightness.

The cats are in the bins again, Hank!’

 

I came across this creature here, if you’re interested for background on the creature known as ‘preta’, or ‘hungry ghost’.

 

Love Letters #40

Dear Friday,

Am I allowed to write a love letter to a day of the week? Is it the done thing to do? Am I cheating on Tuesday, if I use her generous time to commemorate her competitor?

Oh but Friday, how I look forward to you. I eagerly await your sunrise, I dance through your hours with a spring to my step, even in the dead of winter. You fill me with joy, hope and an anticipation which grows with every hour approaching dusk.

You signify the end of an arduous week, and the blossoming of freedom and a thousand possibilities. You are better than a Saturday or a Sunday, because rest during your hours feels deserved, somehow; earned.

Oh, I love you, Friday. A deep, burgeoning love. A love that breeds of yearning and satisfaction. A love that comes from tenderness and care; a soft lamp on a tired evening, the soft rustle of pages turning in an exciting book, the warm smell of freshly cooked pizza, delivered to the front door.

Friday, you massage my achey feet, you throw my door open for me and the light flooding out is beckoning, full of promise. On other days I walk in stressed, thinking about the work ahead of me, but on your days, you caress me so and my mind empties. My shoulders relax.

I miss you when your last tendrils float away into the deep night, and I long for you before the new week has begun.

You are my new hope, and my old joy.

Yours most faithfully.

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The East Side

There were some witches, on the East end of town. Only witches, mind. Nobody else lived there, because they simply weren’t allowed. Not that there was an outright statement saying so. It’s just that, somehow, there were never any houses for sale around there. Schools could be seen, but were never listed on national websites. Enquiries were made, but never replied to. Eventually people gave up, and realised that any regulars simply were not permitted on that side, and it was no use pursuing the matter.

If you walked down their streets, a distinct smell wafted into your nostrils.

The smell of burnt.. cake. Sharp, sweet, and slightly frustrating.

Their streets were spick and span. Neat as a pin. Not a blade of grass out of place. The flowers grew politely in their assigned beds and boxes and hanging baskets, and didn’t dare peep over the edges. The pavements were a neat, uniform colour, each tile placed evenly and with care. The cars were parked in order of colour, so a person standing at the very far end of one of the streets saw a rainbow of cars parked along the right hand side. Not the left, mind. That could get you killed.

When newcomers drove through town, they marvelled at the East side.

Be careful,’ the man who ran the newsagents would say, ‘thems the streets what those witches live on.’

Don’t go down the East end,’ mothers would caution their little ones on their way out to play, ‘that’s where the witches live.

Sometimes children would wander down to the East side. They would peep around hedges, which almost looked like they were paintings, drawn out to be mathematically correct in proportion. They would try, sometimes, to peer through windows. They never succeeded at seeing any of the goings on inside the quiet houses. A pitch blackness would greet their eager eyes.

A pitch blackness, I will assure you, which arose from some mysterious magical power, rather than a lack of electricity. The windows looked perfectly normal, and witches certainly don’t believe in blackout curtains, so only some kind of spell would allow nobody to see what went on in the drawing rooms of the witches.

Not many human children, however, got away with these nosy antics. Sometimes, if a witch became particularly irritated by bright eyes or the edge of a curious nose peeking around the corner, accompanied by the sound of terrified giggling and scuffling, a human child would rise to the sky with a look of wonder on his or her face, and be promptly and firmly set down right on the edge of the East side, next to the sign that read, in curly lettering,Welcome to the East Side of Pickletown. Please drive carefully. Do not pick any flowers or step on any lawns.’

Some of the children enjoyed being airlifted in such a fashion, and would conduct little expeditions with their other daring little friends into the East side, purposely poking their heads over hedges. They would scream with laughter whilst floating through the air, shouting that they were flying, and altogether feeling mighty smug and superior.

Then they would attempt to trawl back into the East side, for another ride.

They didn’t ever get one, however. They could never step beyond the sign. No matter how hard they tried to put their feet beyond the sign, they couldn’t It was as if some kind of invisible wall was blocking them. It was mighty frustrating for them, of course. They could plainly see the bit of pavement they couldn’t touch. Their brains were convinced they could walk there, because there was no visible obstruction. However they simply could not, so they attempted running at the wall at top speed (not a very wise idea, I assure you), only to be flung backward on to the pavement in a rather painful manner. That stopped them, alright. They would then give up and plod cheerfully back into their respective side, nattering on about who flew the highest and who was thrown back the hardest.

Not a bad day of earnest playing for the little ones, that’s for sure!