Love Letters #37

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

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

‘Are you talking to me?’

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

‘Yes! Did you wear those trousers?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t turn down a range of tea.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’ll have a liquorice please.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Love Letters #35

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

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

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

Dear Louie,

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

Yours,

Dorothea

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Flowers from the Storm

I hate love stories. I hate stories written purposely because there will be a romance in the end, and all we get are a string of sex scenes punctuated by poor dialogue and a laughable plot. I don’t mind a bit of romance sprinkled into a plot otherwise meant to be something different. I don’t mind a coming of age novel with a blossoming romance between its pages.

But let me make it so very clear thatI hate erotic novels with a passion. They are sleazy and make me roll my eyes. Sex scenes are just porn, really, cheap and designed to enthral.

However, this book was not an ‘erotic novel’. I was duped into this ‘historical romance’. I was offered the title on a Kindle buying spree. Flowers from the StormLaura Kinsale.

It was £1.99 and the ratings were high, so I thought, who cares for a blurb and bought it anyway. I started reading the first page on Saturday night.

Oh, some arrogant rich man is having sex with another man’s wife. Classy.

Then the man began to have a pounding headache. You know an author does not insert a pounding headache, one that makes one incapable of performing basic needs, for no reason. I was intrigued, but also tired, so I put the kindle away and closed my eyes to sleep.

I didn’t touch it again until Sunday night, when it ensnared me in a vortex of mathematical equations, and a headache that morphed suddenly into lunacy. What. 

I desperately wanted to stay awake that night reading but the husband was getting irritated with the light of my kindle and I was tired.

I lay like a foetus all Monday, folks. I read eight hours straight, I only stopped once because a woman called me about a job interview and another called about a gym membership. I did not eat and did not drink. I was lost in this world.

This world of mathematicians and Quakers and dukes and it sounds so silly and frivolous but there was something so tangible and real about it. I was ensnared, I tell you, bewitched by someone’s hand. Drawn by characters on a page into a world I did not want to leave, and was not ready to leave at 1:10am last night when I turned the last digital page and felt an ache of loss in my heart.

I didn’t expect to love this romance the way I did. So I thought about it. I desperately wanted these two characters to be together by the halfway point. I was on tenterhooks throughout the book, and upon glancing down at see how much I’d read, realised that even at 19% my heart was beating furiously. At 30% I felt nauseous with anticipation. At 50% I felt dread and my nerves were clanging.

Not halfway through the book and already we were being taken on a roller coaster of small literary climaxes. Of fiends and cold baths to cure ailments of the mind and human apes. A field day of all emotions readily available to man, inspired by the actions of people who do not even exist.

The story was compelling. The premise rich and intriguing. The plot vibrant, never ending.

A rogue duke with a pounding headache pronounced a lunatic and put in an asylum. His mother thinks it is a punishment from God for his waywardness. He had some sort of stroke which rendered him incapable of communication, but to medical practitioners, who didn’t know this, he appeared a lunatic. I felt I was being exposed to the depths and layers of nineteenth century thought and medicine, of notions of ‘propriety’, of religion, and this made the story so plausible. Nothing like the crudely assembled plots of other romances I have tried and hated. I was reading about the treatment of ‘lunatics’ – in this case a man with temporal loss of some cognitive part of his brain due to an accident, but also the ‘lunatics’ around him – the stigma with which mental illnesses were viewed, the class system; I was reading about all this and more, and not just a historical love story.

The characters did not fall in love upon their first meeting. There was too much between them, and too many differences in who they were and where they came from for this to be even a passing thought in their heads. After the ‘accident’, and the lunatic asylum, there was a beautiful, gradual build up. Slow, progressing character development, mind development, and after the halfway point, a strong sense of duty deteriorating and blossoming into something richer, stronger, more passionate. There was rich pain, all the characters’ misgivings, their drawbacks, their fears and their hopes painted so richly. Their pain was my pain, literally, I loved it!

That is why it satisfied beyond belief. It was satisfying as ‘romantic literature’ – something I previously despised. However I genuinely feel as though something is now missing from my life. And I know this feeling very well. I had it first at the tender age of nine after reading a book so rich my entire existence paled in comparison. Of course my existence hasn’t paled, but doing daily things now feels irritating. I feel like I need to go back into that world, and I can’t, and I want to be severely upset, but I can’t because the book had a happy ending. See? Why do I react this way if the book ends on a good note? Why do I feel so incredibly dissatisfied, even though I honestly loved reading it? My gut feels wrenched, folks. Perhaps this book awoke in me something I didn’t know I wanted? I want –  I don’t know what I want – and it’s all this book’s fault.

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Love Letters #15

Damon Ludwig was the love of Alex’s life.

Of course, she did not tell him that. She barely looked at him, barely glanced in his direction when he greeted her. Covertly she admired him, though.

Damon Ludwig was the boy next door. Of course he had to be; Alex snorted at the ironic cliche of it all.

She couldn’t help herself, though. Damon was a very handsome lad, but it wasn’t that, really. She knew as well as the next person that just because somebody was handsome doesn’t mean they were very nice.

He was full of energy, is how she would describe it. He was constantly on the move. Lifting and carrying and bringing in mysterious logs through the front of his house. She would hear his mother berating him for getting mud and splinters all along her newly washed floors. She knew he made things out in the back garden shed, which had been converted to a personalised workshop. He made chairs and carved ornaments, most of which his mother lovingly displayed around her house.

He was funny. And laughed a lot. His laugh was swelling, coming from deep within him, so you knew it was genuine.

When he wasn’t carving, Damon was reading. He read everywhere. In trees, behind bushes, on the garden wall, lying precariously with his solid edges spilling over the sides, in his carpentry shed, on the gentle slope of the roof of his house.

And when he wasn’t reading, he was mowing old Lady Redmond’s lawn down the road or clipping the hedge for Mr Mason whose fingers were riddled with arthritis. He always had time for everybody, and with a cheerful smile he would help them. Sure, sturdy and confident.

She watched their faces when he left them; always smiling. It was like he was the sun and he left his glowing rays wherever he went.

She loved him. But of course, she would never tell him that.

She would carry on in her silent Alex way. Watching when he wasn’t looking, burying herself in her studies, taking care of things as best she could. Her little sister Lem was always in and out of the house next door. She envied her her childish confidence. She would come back with tales about Damon and even though Alex pretended to be nonchalant and dismissive she wanted to hear every detail.

 

Love Letters #14

18.09.1994

Falling in love is like descending into madness. The first few days are euphoric. Everything they do or say is special and fabulous, melting your heart into mush and making your knees tremble with the sheer power of their words, their voice. Then the twisting knife of jealousy and fear begins to pry at the very top layer of your skin, shaving off small translucent curls. Barely noticeable in the beginning, obscured by the encompassing passion of hormones and intoxication. Hormones, I think, can be like drugs, if administered in large enough doses.

Soon the knife digs in deeper and the Alices and Katies and Corals of the world rear their pretty heads and tinkly voices, wreaking havoc in the oh so perfect system.

It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not, it’s not. Every time I think about him my whole body shifts, as though it is leaving this realm of reality and floating a little higher. Everything is a little brighter. Old crushes are now pale and unappealing, mere fragments of memory on the edge of this brilliant sphere in which I now hang.

Falling in love is painful.

I am not too young to understand it. This is love. This all encompassing passion. This drive to do things I have never done before. This mad hunger pushing me outside my comfort zone. The whole world is small and insignificant. Nothing matters.

Until it feels like your whole world is shaken and pulled from under your feet like a rug, and you are displaced and the fall when it comes is hard and harsh and sudden, aftershock reverberating around your skull like a metal stinging wasp.

Who is Alice? WHO IS SHE? I thought you loved me. I thought this was love. I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME.

Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, too numb to cry. Wanting to scream and scream but knowing it won’t solve anything, won’t take the pain away.

‘You’ll get hurt,’ they tell me, ‘you don’t know what you are doing. Stay away from him, you don’t understand love.’

I fell in love. You don’t understand, you adults with experience, that I need to experience this for myself. I am young and naive and too trusting, but this feeling is too powerful for me to ignore. You should know this. I can’t stay away. It is physically impossible. My intuition doesn’t know any better.

And when all your prophecies come true why do you say ‘I told you so.’?

Just hold me and tell me this is a lesson to learn from, like you learned yours. I know you want to keep me away from the pain that you know, but how will I learn until I have experienced the same pain? How will I know, like you know, if I haven’t been heartbroken.

‘Ah, young love.’

That is what they say. Because they know.

Now I am like you. I want to protect my baby from being hurt, from falling in love and chasing that which is bad for her heart and soul. I want to prevent her from feeling like she has been seared open from inside. Like I was. My little baby with the torn hole in her chest.

Now I look back I wish they had dragged me away from him. I wish they had chained me to my room, rather than let me be foolish and have my happiness and sanity snatched away from me so.

They did, though. Didn’t they. I escaped and did it all in secret anyway. All I have now are thorny memories and bitter regret.

Falling in love is like descending into madness, because when you escape its frenzied clutches, you see everything clearly again. You see situations for what they were. You see people for the selfish manipulators they always were to you. Stark reality pierces you from every direction like poisoned arrows, and you wonder, where was I all those months? Why didn’t I see this from the very beginning.

‘Ah, young love,’ they should say, ‘the drug that clouds your judgement and steals your sanity.’

Signed,

L.P.

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Love Letters #8

Walking down the street with his hands in his pockets. He always cleaned up so nicely. His hair slicked back, his face tidy and trim, his suit brushed and straight with the crease in the trousers, shoes shined up to perfection, like brand new, reflecting the street lamps in their gleaming glory.

The pavement was shining with the mist of rain that floated down upon the town. Heels clicked and shoes scraped with the faint gravelly echo of damp street sand. The evening twilight descended upon the world, combining with the golden glow of the street lights to create a surreal dusk stillness, when the streets emptied and families sat around dinner tables, and shops were empty and dark behind their shutters because shop keepers had long gone home.

I stared. Thomas? No. It could not be. Impossible.

But it was, and he was!

He whistled a little as he walked, his step jaunty, and my heart ached. I loved his whistle, his cheery, melodious tunes. His whistle meant he was happy. He turned quickly into an alleyway and vanished.

I peered into the darkness of the alley, squinting a little. It was like a cavern, swallowing up all light, so I couldn’t make anything out. What was in there? Should I follow?

My footsteps sounded loud on the pavement, so I bent over and slid my dainty heels off, holding them by the straps by my side. I followed him.

I heard his whistle, faint, further down. So I hurried, further and further and I still could not see him.

‘Amelia?’

I froze, my toes curling inwards on the cold, damp concrete beneath me. My eyes focused in the gloom; the brick walls on either side of me were illuminated by the faint lights out on the street; they were glistening.

‘Thomas?’

His voice was so clear, as though he was standing right next to me.

‘Thomas?’ I said again. The whistle sounded again, even fainter, and I knew then that the voice I had heard could not have come from Thomas, his whistle was too far away. Or was it?

‘Amelia..’

I jumped. It sounded right in my ear. I looked around frantically; nobody. Nothing. Just the damp concrete and the strangely glistening walls. My heart beating wildly, I tried to shake off this panic that rose within me like bile.

There is nothing to be afraid of, just carry on, it is not real.

I could not do it. My fingers clutched my shoes as I turned and raced out of the alleyway, the long rectangle of light from the street ahead of me looking so far away, every hair on my body standing on end, screaming at me to go faster faster get out of here before I am grabbed.

Finally I burst into the light, as a car sailed past me on the road. A gentleman walked across the street, head cast downwards. Lights twinkled at me in the shiny, shiny, post-rain twilight world.

I glanced behind me and shivered as I walked hurriedly, still barefoot, along the pavement. It was not Thomas. It could not be Thomas. Not my Thomas, at any rate.

It was not real.

Dear Amelia,

I write you from the depths of this ship. My cabin is fairly tight, four beds confined to a space not even wide enough to fit my length. But it is alright, the boys are friendly, we all await the end of our journey nervously. What will the war hold in store for us? I have spoken to some boys who have already been on the front line. They are cagey, and I heard one telling the the lieutenant that it was hard to remain cheerful about it all. I know they don’t want to terrify us with horror stories, and so we carry on. The closer we get to our destination, the more sombre everybody becomes, but we mask it with our jokes and tales of women and joy, and we smoke and smoke and smoke. Write me, Amelia, keep me updated, all the time. Fill your pages with tales of home.

Yours, 

Thomas

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Love Letters #6

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October was cold. Stating the obvious, of course. Why shouldn’t October be cold? It has every right to, being the pathway to winter and all that. It leads us straight into misty November, it’s when all the leaves wither away in a cascade of vibrant colour.

Yellows and reds and browns were the colours of our days together. I met him on October the first. He was my October boy.

Our boots crunching on the dry leaves scattered around the grass in the park, or squelching on the soggy piles on the shiny wet pavements of the early twilights. Our cold hands intertwined, and we squelched on through the nights. Memories of sweet little conversations over the crunch-squelch-swish through the wet, dripping streets of October.

He would wait everyday outside the university gates, and I would rush out in my tights and red lipstick that I smacked on as I hurried down the stairs after my late lectures. I had to be glamorous for him, even after a long day of work and running my fingers through my hair. His deep brown eyes always lit up when he saw me, and he would hold his elbow out to me so I could slip my hand through, just like a gentleman.

We walked down the avenue of trees, through the park, down another avenue of trees and into the side streets where my flat sat hunched in the furthest corner of a rickety yellow block. There ivy crawling up the side of the outside walls and peeping into my windows.

That October was particularly cold. He brought me a lizard home once. Not alive. Skinned and roasted. In newspaper. Like it was fish and chips. It was tough, like overcooked chicken. But tasty. He brought me a pair of thick, woolly socks which I would wear in bed because our heating conked out. Our noses, protruding from the covers, were icy.

On October the 31st, he vanished.

He wasn’t outside the gates. I thought maybe he was kept in later at work. Sometimes that happened, but he always left me a message beforehand. I went home and made some butternut squash soup, put my socks on and wrote a bit of my dissertation. Lucy dropped by, black lipstick smudged, and begged me to come out.

We had some soup and bread, and she left.

Eleven o’clock. I got into my PJs and brushed my teeth. Turning off the lights, I walked over to the window and peered out between the ivy. Street lamps threw pale glowing circles onto the cobbles outside the block. Black railings opposite me glinted on one side with moonlight. I heard the loud clack of heels on the cobbles, and heard them fade away, a peal of laughter echoing around the silent walls.

I stood there for so long that I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, so I meandered back to bed. I could smell him on my pillow. I buried my head into his scent.

That October was the coldest we’d ever had.

The next day was the first of November, and I woke up to mist clinging, clammy, to my windows. I wore my woolly socks under my boots to university, and walked all funny. Every French accent had my head turning sharply. A shock of black hair on a tall boy, and I stared intently until they turned their head to reveal a face so different from his that a lump rose in my throat.

Maria,

You were the sweetest. Always thinking of you.

Tristan