Life [21]

When Tom was set to leave for three years to study the first years of his Medical degree under the renowned Master Jeffman, he went to find Laura.

She was sitting with her mother in the garden, swinging her foot beneath her, a laugh seemingly frozen on her face. He paused for a few moments; the roses grew up and about the trellis surrounding her stone bench, clustered together, so numerous and nodding in the soft breeze.

He approached them with a smile, and Laura looked towards him, eyes dancing.

‘Come and sit with us, Tom,’ she said gaily, ‘we are just enjoying the roses and the sunshine. What little of it we shall have before autumn sets in.’

‘I don’t know,’ Tom looked at the sky, ‘it looks like we shall have much of this sunshine yet,’

Mrs Smith stood up, ‘I have my calls to make, dears. I’ll see you for supper, Tom?’

‘Oh no. I sha’n’t stay that long,’ he said, ‘my train leaves in an hour. I only came to say goodbye.’

‘Goodbye?! I thought… John said… he mentioned you would be travelling together?!’

‘Ah yes. I will wait for him at the Halfway Point. I have some clouds to catch.’

Twinkle in his eye.

Laura’s mother shook her head, turning back towards the house, ‘My boy,’ she laughed, ‘Don’t let those young men at Jeffman’s take your joy.’

‘I won’t.’

When she had gone, Laura patted the seat beside her.

‘Sit awhile,’ she said.

‘I don’t have much time,’ he scanned the garden, hands in pockets, then paced in front of her.

‘Laura,’ he began, then stopped abruptly.

‘Go on,’ she said gently.

‘As you know, I will be gone for three years. Four, maybe, if it goes as well as I hope,’ he looked earnestly at her then.

Her eyes were downcast, and he saw how tightly she gripped the edge of the stone seat.

He went on, ‘And I was hoping – well, it would be my greatest honour if… if you would wait for me.’

Her eyes met the brilliance of his. A sudden wind surged through the garden, and her shoulders rose up to he ears. Her eyes, usually dancing with light and laughter, brimmed with something he could not describe.

‘Tom, I..’ she began, and her voice was like a knife through his chest.

‘Just say yes,’ he whispered, defeat written all over his face.

‘I can’t promise you that, Tom,’ she said sadly.

He didn’t wait for an explanation. He could not. He did not know how he would react, whether his heart would write itself on his face, whether she would scorn him, or hold him in disdain.

‘Very well. Goodbye, Laura,’ he said, in as calm a voice as he could muster.

The he turned on his heel and walked down the path. She did not watch him go. She let the wind follow after him, she heard the wind whisper in his ears, and she strained to listen to what it said.

He asked her, and she said no.

Image Credit

In the Dusk [18]

His first visit home was tinged with sadness. He came because of her sadness. He did not say so, but she knew.

She was walking in the garden when she heard the carriage pull up to the house.

Just a caller.

It was the right time for it.

Twilight in October. Days shortening rapidly. The breeze not yet cold enough to usher her indoors. Face lifted to the stars, which shone silently in the clear dusk. Distant clouds pink and purple, the surge of breeze every so often rifling through the changing leaves. Not so brittle, not so soft, so the rustle they made was like sheafs of textured paper being flipped through y invisible hands. What stories would the leaves tell?

Any moment now, her mother would call to her. Would say someone or other had called in, and she was to make herself available.

Dreary sigh.

‘Ahh, Laura. The beauty of dusk does not soothe you tonight,’

She whipped around, and there he was. Taller, if that was possible. So brown. Brown so his green eyes lit up his entire face, and the smile that did not appear on his lips beamed from his eyes.

She did not know what to do or say, so she moved towards him and flung her arms around him, hiding her face so he wouldn’t see her tears.

Furiously blinking them away, she exclaimed, ‘Tom. What are you doing here!?’

‘I was long overdue a visit to my dear mother,’ he said, and when she didn’t let go of him, he added, ‘I came straight out here to find you.’

‘How did you know I would be here?’

She stood back, finally, and her eyes glittered, but her smile took over her whole face.

‘Twilight on a clear day – I would be surprised to find you indoors.’

She sighed again. ‘It makes my heart ache,’ she murmured.

They stood a little whole longer outdoors, as the dusk turned into a clear, shimmering night.

Evening in the Garden by Jakub Schikaneder

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

Rose Garden [1]

She was a rose garden,

A prose garden,

A promising book of succulent fairytales.

Chicken soup for the soul.

She was the most dreary one of them all. Smile when it should have been a frown. Hug when he would have given a shout.

Heartache, arms deep in a bowl of dough. Kneading, kneading, raisins sprinkling.

He asked.

She said no. Not her. Never her.

She was a rose garden.

Not his rose.

To Froth

I bought myself a milk frother. Actually in today’s language that isn’t quite true. I ordered myself one. It’s a little machine whisk, the handle of which contains a battery. The whisk part is a small circle of wire with a curly wire going all over it, and it vibrates or spins when you press the button on its handle.

You can froth milk, or cream, or in my case, a teaspoon of instant coffee and a teaspoon of sugar in a tablespoon of boiling water. Froth that right up until its thick and foamy and double the size of the liquid. Then add boiling water and a teensy splash of warmed milk and there you have something delicious.

Something like a cappuccino, but lighter, frothier, tastier and way cheaper. You can have it as many times a day as your jitters will allow.

Early in the morning before your kids wake up and drag you backwards through a hedge.

Late at night when they are asleep and you’re desperately typing away at your laptop keyboard trying to get this big project done.

In the afternoon, at 3pm precisely, when a wave of deep exhaustion slaps you on both cheeks and then parks its bottom on your eyelids. Heavy heavy, limbs like lead, but you sip from that sweet foam and you’re mildly awake again, setting about to finish off the rest of your day.

I don’t know what it is about life that feels so alien.

I want to write stories and describe things and delve into humanity’s mind, I want to talk to people and explore their minds and learn things and thoughts and opinions. But I find myself on the daily repeating a tedium that is almost set in stone. Written into my soul by the generations before me.

Duty? Law?

My grandmother and her paper thin skin and brown, wrinkly hands pop into my mind often.

I was having a conversation with my husband and mother in law about something to do with children growing up and leaving and I mentioned my grandmother and my husband said, out of the blue,

‘She was very lonely, your grandmother, wasn’t she?’

It felt like a punch in the gut. I thought about her, raising three children alone in London in the 70s, divorced and heartbroken, hardworking and efficient. She packed them all off to uni and waved goodbye as they got married and travelled across the globe and country, and there she resided in her big old Victorian house on a side street in South London.

And yes.

She was incredibly lonely.

My sweet, kind, warm, loving grandmother.

And she is no longer with us. In fact, on the 22nd of July it will have been 11 years since she passed away.

And when he said that a deep sadness rose up so suddenly that I could not control myself, so I got up to go to the kitchen under the pretext of clearing the dishes away.

‘Are you doing to cry?’ he asked me.

‘No,’ I said, as the tears gathered thick and fast in my eyes and threatened to spill out onto my cheeks. I shut the kitchen door behind me and began to wash the dishes to compose myself.

My son ran in a few moments later and his eyes were huge, ‘Mama are you sad?’ he said. He had interrupted his play to check on me.

I turned and smiled at him.

‘No sweetheart, I am not sad.’

He searched my face with his eyes for a few moments and then went back to his game, evidently appeased.

And I remembered searching my own mother’s face like he did. In fact, I still do. I search her voice and her eyes and the way her chin moves.

And I thought about how she too, would do the same to her mother. My grandmother.

I don’t know what all this means or how it relates to a milk frother and being overwhelmed.

Image Credit

In Retrospect

Sometimes after a big massive fight I go away to Retrospect.

And in Retrospect, my glasses become clean. Images are sharper, crisper. The air is tantalising and if I stick my tongue out, I can taste everything. The breeze, the way the birds fly, the blossom petal on a wind current. Everything.

My regret because I pushed it.

My sadness because I pulled at it. Nitpicked it. Wanted to fight at the beach. Get it off my chest. But in doing so, it was hammering his chest.

Don’t go to bed cross, they say. I never do. Maybe I need to visit Retrospect before I try to get things off my chest in the moment.

Retrospect has a fantastic way of making you make mature decisions with your tongue.

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Childhood Baby

I woke up from a horrific dream in which I was living my childhood life as an adult.

My childhood was amazing. There were cockroach infestations, terrible arguments between my parents, and I had a glass thrown at my head once.

By one of them.

But it was amazing.

How can I say this, after listing some of the most traumatic events? I felt loved, a lot of the time. Especially when I was younger. I loved my baby brothers, who are now ‘the boys’, and both tower over me.

I have a lot of good memories, and maybe it’s nostalgia speaking, but I was a happy child.

I do remember a lot of misery and depression, some of which seeps into my adult life, but I was so happy. I loved going to school, I loved my friends. We had so many gatherings and parties, my parents took us to lots of places and really did spend time with us, and enjoyed doing so when they were not stressed. I loved reading all the time and have such fond memories of being curled up behind sofas or under desks with a book. Books tucked behind my textbooks, and once, intently reading a book hidden inside my wardrobe with a torch.

So why was my dream so horrific, then?

I dreamt I was in my childhood home, around the people of my childhood (family, friends), and my baby had gone missing. But I was for some reason supposed to suppress this information. I didn’t know where she was, but we all knew she was no more, and her little sweet voice went ‘mama, mama, mama’ in my head, just how she does in real life. Eventually as the dream progressed I could no longer contain my pain and began to wail in sorrow. The kind of wail where you just cannot help yourself. You lose all sense of anything and give into the hurt.

At that precise moment, my eyes flew open, and it was 6am.

Staggering out of bed, eyes barely open, still nursing that terrible, searing pain, I stumbled into my babies’ room, and there she was in her cot.

Snoring away.

Little fists curled slightly on the mattress.

Long eyelashes dusting the soft roundness of her cheeks.

She has been so tough this past week. Clingy, moany baby. ‘Mama, mama, mama’ all the time, tugging on my legs to be picked up, not sure what she wants.

But today I feel reminded to be so incredibly grateful for her, and am looking at it in a different light. Oh, let the baby be clingy. She needs you!

I have just finished typing this and can hear her little voice, thick with sleep, saying ‘mama’.

So off I go to squeeze her!

Sad

The clocks went back on Sunday morning at 2am. I feel so down about it to be honest with you.

Usually I welcome this change excitedly. I think about warm coats and hats and scarves and soft streetlamps, cosy bedrooms and dim lighting and warm mugs of sweet deliciousness. Candles. Baths. Hugs. Soup. Mother’s curries. My sister’s apple crumble. My husband’s cold cheeks, his warm hands in which my always cold ones nestle neatly.

This year it feels rather desolate if I am honest. It feels hazy and cloudy and tired and achey. It feels lonely, so lonely. A deep aching loneliness. Family so far away. Life so uncertain. Death knocking at the door. I see him and he is so close this year and I don’t know why.

Anyway I googled ‘why do I feel sad when the clocks go back‘ and it’s a very common ailment that people in the Northern hemisphere suffer from. It’s called SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I don’t think I have SAD but the dark season has made me feel sad this year. I think it’s worse too because I can’t see anybody really, and that is really hurting my heart.

So I decided not to wallow in self pity and do something about it. I have decided to light some candles every evening and tidy up properly once the sun has set, so we have a cosy space to relax in. I have decided to have a hot drink with my son before he goes to bed, just me and him (and maybe his dad if he has finished working on time), have a natter about our day and what books he would like to read before bed. I have decided to keep lamps on in the evening, to wind down. I have decided to take a brisk walk in the morning and a short one in the afternoon while it’s still light out. Get some of that Vitamin D aka happy hormone. Exercise and vitamin D apparently does wonders for the mood. We shall see how these changes help. If they do at all.

Have I missed anything out?

What do you do when you’re feeling low? Has anything you’ve tried helped you get out of a funk?

Gladioli

Sometimes things look down, and then they look up again, and then minutes later they droop forlornly.

Much like old tulips left in a vase too long, the water around their stalks dried up and brown.

I planted some gladioli in my garden last year, and I did not take care of the plants during my pregnancy because I was just too ill and overwhelmed. Yet some gladioli still persevered despite the neglect. Two gladioli to be precise. I don’t know what colour they will be but they make me feel happy and also fill me with regret.

Happiness because some plants thrived, and I will have a little splash of colour in my garden.

Regret because I wish I’d planted more things this year.

However I know that babies are more important and there will soon be more chances to plant pretty things, perhaps even with little grubby chubby hands helping me!

So things look up, you see.

They do. The world carries on carrying on.

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This is gladioli. Not my gladioli. 

Write in Good Times and Bad

Some people do their best writing while they are depressed. And others write beautifully when they are happy, their emotions lending wings to their minds and their fingers. It’s all down to emotion at the end of the day, and how one perceives feelings, and reacts to them.

I’ve learned that people react so differently to the same emotions and situations, which is why you can never win at situations no matter how hard you try. If you can’t get through to someone, you can’t get through to them.

In my previous life I have managed to write the best during my times of depression, but now that I am 25 and feeling a way I have never felt before in my life, I find that words somehow escape me.

I don’t know why this is. I thought that if I let my emotions out in stories they would somehow live a life on paper that they couldn’t live inside my mind. But it doesn’t work. On paper they seem mundane and mismatched. They teeter and totter on the edge of a cliff and fall off. They are the missing planks in a swaying wooden bridge, and you just fall right on through when you try to follow the track.

They just do not do the truth any justice, and it leaves me feeling frustrated and sad.

So I have come to the conclusion that my best writing happens when I am marginally sad, but not overwhelmingly so. When I see hope shining like a beacon at the end of a time period. Now time appears to stretch endlessly before me and hope is dragging her heels behind. Why, Hope, WHY? Well, she replies, I really don’t think that time has anything for me at the end of her path. I feel like time is shaving pieces off me as each of her seconds drip off her chain, like desolate, worthless diamonds.

Did you know that diamond rings are worthless if you want to resell them? Jewellers will only charge you for the price of the band, whatever metal it was made from. A fascinating piece of knowledge I got from my husband’s friend’s wife, who is a jeweller. I’d always wanted a diamond ring but now I am glad I don’t have one. But I digress.

You see my sadness cannot be fixed with time, or so the naive youth in me bemoans. It knows it will have to go through a harrowingly narrow tunnel before anything changes. Or it could get solemnly worse and I will just end up old and regretful and the vicious cycle continues.

So there. I am an in-between writer. I can’t write well when I am happy and I can’t write well when I am desolate, but there is a good in-between niche that hits the spot just fine.

Apparently L M Montgomery wrote her later Anne novels when she was in depression. Perhaps that is why the Anne voice we know and love recedes massively in her later novels.

Some people can write when they are both happy and depressed. Others can channel their particular emotions while writing and produce work that is representative of it, challenging themselves marvellously and being just ridiculously talented at making terrific use of their mental state, whatever it may be, to produce written work.

What kind of writer are you? Do you write best when you are happy, or sad? Or both? Or do your emotions not feature in your creativity at all?

Also, secret question, are all men afraid of conflict? Is it an inherent trait of a man? Is that why they don’t communicate with¬†their wives/partners?