[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.

Letters [17]

It was a mundane life she chose to lead.

Her brother was off studying to be a doctor. Her younger sister had married a sailor, and was off traversing the oceans. They received a letter from Phyllis every six months, like clockwork, detailing one grand adventure after another. Small notes in the margins to outline the many illnesses she had managed to catch, but mostly tales of escapade after escapade.

Her dearest friend; they were joined at the hip from the tender age of four, had taken herself off to university.

‘What will you become,’ Laura remarked one day, a week before Mary was set to leave.

‘Nothing,’ Mary retorted, ‘I shall become knowledgable and learned, and then marry a rich man and raise some beautiful babies.’ Her eyes danced with laughter and light.

Everything was a possibility for Mary.

Everything was possible.

But for Laura, nothing beckoned to her from the distant, shimmering paths of the years ahead. She had no plans. Her sights were set on nothing.

When they all left, one by one, and she took up her pen at her desk by the window, looking over her rose garden, a deep desolation settled on her shoulders. It shrouded her like a cloak of misery. Her eyes scanned the roses, the trees of the gardens beyond, the acres of forest behind, all with her name on it. And beyond, the hills rolling away pale and blue in the distance.

They all wrote.

John from medical school. Mary from her dorms at university. Phyllis.. yes baby Phyllis still sending bi-annual letters. The days melted into weeks, into months. The letters became scarce.

She was busy enough, of course. She taught at the school on Tuesdays. She wrote for the paper, and soon her published pieces were so numerous that Aunt Martha, her mother and Mrs Norton no longer exclaimed over them with the same gusto.

‘Oh, Laura, another piece! Well done, dear,’

Their eyes did not match their words. They scanned her. Scanned her. Expected her to do things.

They invited young males over – parading her. She said as much in one of her letters to Tom, ink spattering indignantly on her face.

And Tom, TOM, they PARADE me. Can you believe the audacity? Your own mother invited Colonel Williams one evening and then decided she had a headache and could not possibly stay to keep him company, and ‘Laura dear’ would you please be so kind as to take the good colonel out to look at your beautiful roses. YOUR MOTHER, TOM?! Of course, my own mother is no better. She informed me we would be seeing Lady Betsy and to wear my best dress, you know, with the rosebuds. So I got all het up thinking the worst. It was all a wonderful conspiracy. Lady Betsy and Mama walked arm in arm ahead while a tall, gangly fellow whose name I cannot for the life of me recall regaled me with tall tales of life in the Navy. THE NAVY?! I informed him I much preferred the life a doctor leads – the only profession I know most about, since I have a bi-monthly summary from you and my brother.

And then Mary’s engagement. To John. Of all people.

She had a fat juicy letter brimming with the details from Mary. A short concise letter from her brother, the few words he had so clearly carefully selected not concealing the great joy leaping out at her from beneath. Leaping at her and stabbing her right in the heart.

She ought to have been happy. So happy. Leaping over the hills happy.

But she was not.

Evening Interior by Jakub Schikaneder

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.

The Beginning [7]

Dear Laura,

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 John 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. John 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.

John 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. John reckons he is a visionary. He has started wearing those glasses he’d squirrelled away last year, and introduces himself now to the new boys, as ‘Dr Smith’. Never to the Masters, of course, they would whip him to a pulp. A prime fellow is your 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 and mental exertion. Away from bodies and ailments and the study of anatomy. 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, Laura, 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 sun 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,

Tom

Missing [2]

‘What if there was a place. Once you were inside- Lord knows how you got there- you could find all that is missing. Memories. Trinkets. That old diary you shoved under the brown chair in the drawing room and never heard of again, remember?’

‘That,’ said Tom, ‘would be wonderful.’

‘What if I told you there was such a place. A place you could access only when you are asleep,’ Laura whispered. He scanned her face. Like a rose. Soft, smiling, the gentle shine in her eyes, even in this glorious dusk.

‘Go on,’ he smiled. It was getting so dark.

‘A pathway made of shiny stones, winding through an ethereal landscape. Everything looks so near, yet so far. You can see the pathway in the distance, hovering slightly above the low hills upon which gnarled tree trunks hold up cascades of thick, pink blossom.’ She paused for a moment, and her eyes took on a distant look.

‘Why pink blossom?’

I don’t know why it has to be pink blossom. I suppose it could be a violet vale, or a field of poppies. It could be honeysuckle winding up the thick, curled trunk of an ancient tree. Perhaps it was the tree that saw it all to begin with, and it is in the tree that the memories are contained? Or a forest. A forest full of memories. Missing items. Or the MEMORY of missing items?!’ She seized his arm, and he stiffened, but her eyes were shining with possibilities.

Epiphanies.

Forgotten sweet nothings.

She was not his rose, she was a rose garden. Perhaps it was a garden of beautiful but thorny roses. Perhaps the thorns grew thick and monstrous around her, like dragons holding her in her rose tower. He glanced at her in the dark, now. Barely seeing her face. But knowing exactly what it looked like, as her arm reached out to the starry sky above, her voice soft, high, scattered around his thoughts like water, but warm, something to nestle into.

1011353-dreamland.jpg

Love Letters #17

I have a little secret. But shhhh. Don’t tell anybody.

Is it a glamorous secret? Dripping with intrigue and diamonds?

No, more like a sombre, deadly secret. One you might divulge by accident, and the other party laughs after a moment of hesitation because they think you are joking, and you just go along with it.

Oooh. Sounds juicy, darling. Do tell me more, I am dying to hear it.

I bet you are.

Don’t hold out on me!

Well, and I do really mean it when I say keep absolutely mum about what I’m about to tell you – well– it turns out, I am actually, erhhm, well, WELL…

Oh for goodness sake out with it. I’m half off my face anyway so it’s not like I will remember any of this tomorrow.

Okay, you know Peter Grimstone?

Yes of course I do. He is my cousin’s husband.

Oh, well in that case –

But my cousin and I are positively enemies. She’s so catty, I couldn’t-

No, sorry, this is ridiculous. I don’t know why I even –

Please, John, you can’t – you have to finish what you started – 

WELL – it turns out old Pete is a dark horse and a half, you know.

What sort of filthy secret is he hiding, then?

Not filthy so much as – well, make up your own mind when I tell you –

Come on, you’re killing me.

Alright, I’m getting to it. Jeez, Lorna, you’re so impatient –

I –

Anyway, like I was saying, he is the darkest horse of the lot. Back in the days when I used to hang around with Drake’s crew, we knew this guy who we all called Red. I say we knew him but we didn’t really, none of us had ever seen him. He would pass our goods on to us wearing a hooded cape and his face was covered like an assassin – but his eyes were always there and they were not the sort of eyes you’d forget, really. Striking blue and really electric.

Mhmm – so why did you call him Red?

I’m getting to that. He told us he was Red and nothing else, and we were all wondering why he was a Red and not a Blue or a Black – maybe red is more dangerous, who knows – anyway one day we were coming back to Drake’s flat where we used to hang out most nights, and half of us had just got off work so we were really looking forward to a night of just unwinding –

Oh, you naughty boys.

We were young, Lorna, young and free.

I’ll bet you were.

And we were coming home and Drake tells us Red is dropping some things by, and one of the boys, Dodge, we called him, says, ‘how abouts we pull that Red’s mask off to see what is lurking under that cape’ and we all jeer at him because it’s never occurred to any of us to do that, although we’d all been wondering for so long who the heck this guy was. ‘Nah, it’s too dangerous’ Drake says, and we laugh him out of the ballpark for that because there were seven of us and one of him – I don’t know, though, it seemed dangerous and none of us knew why. As far as we knew he was a one man show.

Go on.

Well, Dodge told us he would do it since none of the others wanted to. And sure enough, in the alley by Drake’s flat there was Red, leaning against the wall, and he reached his gloved hand into his cape and brought out the goods, and Dodge went for it, and as he reached out his hand to take them, he jerked quickly and grabbed at Red’s hood, seizing the guy’s head because – would you believe it – the hood wouldn’t come off! And the guy was just standing there and none of us said anything because we’re not confrontational like that, and Dodge stood back, kind of bewildered because his plan failed and what to do next?

What did you do next?

Nothing. Red took off his mask and there was no face under there, then he slowly put the goods back in his cape and his face was staring at us and it was like this cave of darkness under his hood and he spoke, he said, ‘Goodbye, fellas.’ and then walked away and we never heard from him again.

That is odd. What’s that got to do with Peter?

Well the other night, I was at Peter’s place –

I didn’t know you were all pally with Peter!

We haven’t been together long, Lorna.

But he is my cousin’s husband!

So you said.

I just thought you might have told me.

Peter and I met at your brother’s wedding.

Humph.

Anyway – I was at Peter’s and we were watching the news because of all the tension lately and he wanted to prove a point about something, so we were watching and then the phone rang, and he glanced at me and asked if I minded and I said no, so he got up and went into a room next to the TV room, not a bedroom, like a tiny study or something, and he speaks in a suspiciously low voice and I saw him look out at me once or twice, and then he closed the door but it bounced a bit open and I saw him take a black cape with a hood out of his wardrobe –

-Gasp-

And he shoved it in a tiny backpack and then he came out to me and told me he was going out really quickly to get milk and did I want anything. I said no I better get going anyway – and we walked out together and he saw me off but when I turned the corner I waited for a few seconds and tried to follow him.

And?

He vanished.

That’s weird.

I know, right?

Do you think he is Red?

I don’t know what to think.

Shifty. But, he didn’t recognise you then from the time your friend tried to take his hood off? Also, he has brown eyes.

Apparently not. And I know! Right?

Unless he did recognise you, and is biding his time?

He’s your cousin’s husband!

I don’t like my cousin.

Good point. Good point. Say, Lorna?

Yes?

Will you marry me?

 

 

 

 

 

Love Letters #49

Let me set the scene for you.

A candid evening. Why candid? I don’t know. Candles around the drawing room. Laura in her peach dress, flowing gently from her shoulders. Golden curls pinned up; it was the evening, she would unpin them soon. Aunt Abigail had rung the bell for supper. She would join Laura after seeing to her roses in the conservatory.

Laura gently arranged the pillows, setting the tables straight. She was purposeful in every movement, as though she wanted time to tick by slowly.

They had left in a hurry; John had a patient to see to and Mary wanted to go in the carriage so she could bundle the little puddings into their own beds. Hugs and kisses, sloppy ones from the darling angels, a sweet one from Mary, a squeeze on the arm, a murmur that she would see her soon. A hug for her brother, tall and grim, lips taut. He had a patient to get to.

Laura straightened up, sighed. There was a soft knock on the drawing room door. Supper.

‘Come in,’ she said, turning to the window to pull the drapes against the darkness outside.

She heard the door open so she turned around with a smile on her face – which then froze, lips halfway there, dimples just beginning to form. A painful drop in her heart. A throb in her chest. Tightening so she caught her breath. Then she composed herself quickly, one hand on her hair, the other to her neck. Her eyes didn’t meet his, they rested somewhere on his collar.

‘Hello, Tom.’ She smiled properly, moving towards the settee. Something else to look at.

‘Miss Smith.’

Another painful throb. She could die. In fact she would. Right there. That would show him.

‘Miss Smith? Come now!’ she smiled again, ‘How could you?’ a teasing lilt in her voice. She kept her smile, dimples dancing, and sat down, arranging her skirts around her as she did so.

‘Laura, then. I.. how are you?’

‘Oh, very well thank you. John and Mary left only moments ago. Did you not see them?’

‘I did. John was in a hurry to get to old Mrs Pettiforte.’

‘Yes, indeed.’

‘And my sister frazzled, as always.’

She heard, rather than saw, the smile on his face.

‘As is Mary’s way,’ Laura agreed. ‘We were not expecting you for another year,’ she said then, abruptly. Her eyes lifted to his face. He was looking directly at her, into her soul, even. Piercing, green. His face, so familiar, so different. Older, more tired. Drawn. Something in his look compelled her to look away again.

‘I know.’ He opened his mouth to say more. She saw him swallow, hard, search her face until she flushed. She waited for him to give her more information. She didn’t know what to ask. How to ask. She could not ask. So she looked at her sleeve and picked at it.

‘Aunt Abigail and I will have a light supper here by the fire,’ she said, after a short pause. ‘Please join us.’

‘With pleasure,’ he said. She felt the settee bend as he sat down next to her.

Supper arrived, as did Aunt Abigail. Larger than life, sailing into the room and immediately taking command. Fawning over Tom as though he were her own nephew, she took control of the conversation. She enquired after his studies and his work abroad. She lamented on the Medical profession, in turns berating it for taking Tom away from them all for such a long time, and praising him for his medical feats, saving lives and relieving discomfort. Laura was quiet through supper. She kept her eyes on the bread; thick slices with a beautiful golden crust. The butter spread generously on top. Beautifully cut slices of cheese, rich and deliciously fresh tomatoes from the vegetable garden. Her tea was milky and sweet. A nice meal.

It tasted like cardboard in her mouth though. There was a pain in her chest, a lump in her throat. Her eyes glittered brightly in the firelight, her cheeks flushed from the heat of the flames. She took her tea in gulps, but the lump in her throat would not budge. It grew larger as the evening lengthened, as she watched Tom become more comfortable, as she felt his eyes look her way a few times, questioning her silence.

Finally he stood up to leave.

‘A wonderful meal,’ he said, as he bid them goodnight.

‘Laura, see the boy out,’ her aunt said.

She dragged her feet. Smiled at him, followed him out the room and down the hall. He opened the front door and stepped out into the moonlight. A gust of cold air around her, and she shivered.

‘You’d best close that door,’ he warned, ‘no use getting a chill.’

‘It was good of you to come by,’ she told him. She still did not know what he was doing home a year early.

He didn’t say anything, forcing her to look up at him. Tall, dark with the light of the moon behind him. Crisp wintry air, stars alight in the heavens. She couldn’t see his eyes, nor the expression on his face. Yet she knew he was about to say something, for there was dread in his stance. His shoulders sank with heaviness, the joy he had displayed that evening around Aunt Abigail had left him completely.

‘Laura I…’ he began.

He cleared his throat. Then, abrupt, ‘Goodnight. Be warm.’

He turned and walked down the path. She felt as though a pack of wolves ought to have been chasing him, he should race away from her, she should throw her fury at him and shock the calmness out of him. Oh she could scream! His walk was a meander. He even paused to look at the sky, then back at her. Then he raised an arm in salute.

Fingers trembling, she shut the door upon his wave and stalked upstairs to bed. Not a word to her aunt, who Laura heard humming to herself as she marched past the drawing room.

Goodnight, indeed!

March

March is a pretty month.

A fair month.

A blooming month.

March starts out grey but ends up golden, a full spectrum from bare branches to boughs dusted in pink and white. 

March is the gateway to longer days.
Brighter evenings.
Warmer rays.

March breathes and her breath is sweet.
She roars and her wind is fresh.
She beams and her sun is a ray of promise.

Image Credit

Red and Black

This is how I want mine, that is how you like yours.

Chilli flakes, lemon, tangy tangy sauce for me. Mild and juicy, plain chicken on rice for you.

I like mine sweet, savoury, bursting with flavour. You like yours safe. Warm. Known. Clean.

I like mine messy, tumbled, piled on a plate. You like yours tidy. Neat. Michelin star.

I like red, you like plain. Red on me, black on you.

You like me, I like you, but the mess gets in between.

I like books, you like films, so I can read while you watch things. Hand on thigh, foot on foot, head on shoulder, reading nook.

I like storms. Rushy wind. Messy hair. Chaos and crayons, bric a brac on a tottering tower. You like calm. Green. Black. Sharp lines, white blinds, no rug and clean chair. Leather. Perfume. Smart shoes.

I like spice, shake it up, hot hot hot.

You are still. Sailing ship. Planning calendar. Secure. Control.

When life is chaos, I am at its helm. Hair streaming in the wind. Face turned to the sun.

You need control. So you break down.

Hold my hand. Sail through the tempest.

Chaos meets chaos.

Storm meets calm.

Image Credit

Love Letters #48

I truly think success is contentment, in whichever shape or form that takes.

For me contentment is dancing around my living room like a maniac making my ten month old bay girl laugh. She is a very smiley child. She has the most beautiful little dimples and she is forever making friends with anybody who so much as looks at her.

Contentment is wearing a tight red dress and red lipstick that I haven’t worn in nearly 3 years for a ‘date night’… in my living room. We ended up watching 15 minutes of a movie and then I was upstairs soothing a baby to sleep and he was upstairs cuddling a toddler who was afraid of ‘the bats’.

Contentment is taking my babies to the library on a Monday afternoon and choosing 8 books to take home. It’s stopping in a cafe amid the drizzly walk home and drinking a hot drink with my two year old boy. He is a wonder to behold. He is so human, with all his flaws and beautiful ways. A piece of art, I think, as he sips his warm milk and leaves a milk moustache on his upper lip, which he then proceeds to wipe away on his clean sleeve. My baby girl babbles away in the highchair, waving a croissant around and laughing at herself.

Contentment is making sliced pickled red onions and having them on a cracker with some cream cheese.

It’s tidying up the house.

It’s somebody popping round for a cup of tea.

It’s baby breath, and the warm sweet smell of a baby who has just woken up from their nap.

It’s a mother’s love, that trickles down the generations, and is felt decades and decades later, in hand-knitted cardigans and the echo of a voice telling me a smile makes the most plain face beautiful.

It’s feeling grateful for warmth at night.

It’s the catharsis of crying.

The ability to have hope that tomorrow will be better.

The gentle sigh, the pages of a book, the taste of tea, the sound of someone typing, the growl of hunger after a long day of physical and mental labour, the ache of loneliness, the prayer, the bright and numerous stars in an icy, black night sky.

What is contentment for you?