Sandstorm

It was the darkest, coldest night of the year, she felt, as she stole her way out of the side door and into the blackness outside six months ago. The world was alive, still. Cars and lights and surges of people milling around malls and shopping centres like the sun was not going to rise in 3 hours.

It was the meanest, cruellest thing, she said as she ate two scoops of chocolate ice cream.

It was the harshest storm, she whispered, as she put the coats away in the cupboard.

The floors were polished to a shine. Gleaming in the dark. When the sun rose she could see her reflection in them. Her face distorted, blurry, somebody else.

The windows were dusty, so she got her cloth and slapped at them until the sand fell in little heaps on the windowsill. Then she dampened her cloth and smeared the windows so they became muddy. She could no longer peer out of them at the sand storm outside.

‘Perhaps it is for the better, perhaps seeing the storm is worse.’

There was food they had left on the table. Bits of rice by empty plates. Clumped with leftover sauce, some yogurt smeared on the side of the plate. Glasses covered in greasy fingerprints. The dim light that fills the room after a day of torrid heat, after the sun is covered by sand dunes, yellow world, dust up nostrils, clogging all the openings into the house. And when you step outside you have to cover your face. Wrap a scarf around your head, over your nose, only your eyes visible. Like a face veil.

And silence.

I don’t think you realise this, but sandstorms are silent.

After the initial gust of wind and wailing currents, there is only silence.

And a fog of dust.

Don’t stay out too long, you shall wheeze.

It was the coldest, harshest winter.

But the summers are long and arduous. And mountains of dust engulf the city every other week.

Phone Call

“You have to dial 9 before you call an external number,’ he said to her when she picked up the receiver. She looked right at him, piercing black glare right into his hazel ones. He did not blink, glared right back at her. She knitted her brows, he looked at the receiver then at her again as an alarming beeping sound began to play through the earpeice – loud yet distant.

She slammed it down so it clattered, not quite slotting into its correct position, and flounced away.

‘Fine,’ he called after her, ‘Fine. I will do it myself, as I always do.’

He pressed the correct sequence of buttons, held the receiver to his ear and waited. She waited outside the door, which was slightly ajar.

‘Yes, hello.’ he said firmly, ‘It’s me.’

A pause.

‘Yes, she was.’

Another pause.

‘Do you really expect me to believe it works like that? I have been up from dawn doing these things.’

Long pause.

‘The papers will not write themselves, is all I will say. She has been dreaming of this day for three years. She maintains it was three hundred but she was always marvellous with hyperbole.’

He shifted impatiently from foot to foot.

‘Now listen here, Francine. Listen to me…’

He gasped.

‘You will not!!’

He jumped.

‘I forbid it!’

He put his hand to his forehead, and began to pace, picking the phone up and taking it with him. He stopped short when the wire became taut, and turned back on himself, staring at the ceiling and rolling his eyes.

‘Listen to me Francine. This has gone on for far too long. You will remove yourself immediately from that seat so that my wife may sit. And I WILL complete the papers and send them off. If you do not, oh, trust me, lady there will be hell to pay. We do not bake apple pies for nothing. Now I am going to put this phone down and I expect my request to be handled appropriately.’

He stood still, cocking his head to the side.

‘Alright. Good.’

A small smile graced his sour face.

‘Goodbye, Francine.’

Then he turned to the door while putting the phone down and tidying up the wire which had tangled with the receiver’s wire.

‘She said yes.’ he called.

She breathed a sigh of relief, patted her hair, and walked primly away down the hallway, her heels clacking loudly.

He nodded to himself lips pursed. Then allow a smile of relief to take over his face.

As I always do,’ he muttered, putting a cigarette between his teeth and lighting it.

This Land [30]

The long, harsh winter was finally over.

She realised it one crisp day in May, when she felt the warm sun on her bare arms. Her first roses were blooming. Bright, peachy yellow ones. And their sweet lemony scent danced on the breeze and filled her with such joy. Enough to go running barefoot in the gardens, flinging her hair free, the joy of the glorious sun coursing through every vein in her body.

She knew what she would do now.

She knew with all the conviction in the world.

She would go to the train station, and wait on the platform for his train to draw in. She would step forward, and immediately tell him yes.

No, she would hand him a letter.

No, no. That would be silly. She already wrote him a letter. She would just wait for him. And he would know. Why should he not know? He would know!

She raced back indoors, drawing her shawl over her shoulders in the sudden chill that hung around the back door.

‘Letter for you Laura,’ Phyllis called from the drawing room. Phyllis was visiting for the week. She debated whether to go in and get it or not.

‘Who is it from?’ she stood in the doorway, her left foot tapping impatiently on the floor.

‘Well,’ Phyllis peered at the handwriting, ‘it looks like Mary’s handwriting actually. It came through this morning. Ethel collected the letters from the post office.’

‘Oh. Mary!’ Laura darted across the room and snatched the letter from her younger sister’s hand. She ripped it open and hurried out of the drawing room, with Phyllis looking after her as though she had sprouted another head.

‘Why the rush!?’ Phyllis called anxiously, getting out of her chair.

‘I am meeting .. I am going to the train station,’ Laura threw over her shoulder, before taking the stairs two steps at a time. She dropped the envelope on the floor and shook the letter out, reading as she hurried into her room and shut the door behind her.

Dearest Laura,

Your letter was beautiful. I do miss you so. We have settled in nicely by the sea. John’s practice is marvellous. And I am doing so well with so much fresh air to cleanse my lungs. They have accepted my application at the College and I have my first class on the first week of June. It’s only a small class; I shall be teaching the summer students before they move me onto something more permanent. They say it’s a probationary period. I am not at all nervous, I tell you. We are both looking forward to your visit in August. I have the most wonderful room here for you. It looks right over the sea and the window is as tall as I am! Every night when the days are clear I watch the sunset and I think how you would adore this darling little room. You would feel right at home here. And come September, when our number shall increase by one… I feel giddy thinking about it!

Now for the real reason I write to you so hurriedly, Laura. Tom refuses to tell you, so I must do it myself and warn you before he arrives, lest you have the shock of your life. He is engaged to be married, my love. To Rosaline. Remember Rosaline? You got on really well with her at the Winter dance when you came to visit us at Leighton. He is bringing her and her mother back with him for the summer. Says he wants to give them the tour of the town. I expect he wants to show them the old haunts. Rosaline tells me he tells her about your roses and she is keen to see them. I write only to let you know, so you don’t keel over or anything silly like that.

With all my ferocious love,

Mary

She finished reading the letter and her legs were frozen in place. A soft knock on the bedroom door, and when she didn’t respond, Phyllis pushed it open and peered around.

Laura’s face was pale.

‘So you know,’ Phyllis’s voice was gentle as she came into the room and took her sister into her arms.

Laura shook herself free, tossing her head.

‘Know what?’ she snapped, folding the letter and putting it away into her drawer.

‘About Tom?’

‘Oh! Yes, of course I know. Why are you being so motherly all of a sudden?’ she said curtly, pulling on her coat.

‘Laura, come now, don’t…’

‘I’m going for a walk, Phyllis. Please. Allow me to get dressed in peace.’

She pushed past her sister, seizing her shawl and wrapping it around her neck. She picked her hat up and stalked out.

Roots [29]

I don’t think you understand how this works.

How does it work?

Well, when the Beast’s wind blows, it says things to me.

Both of you? At the same time?

Well, if we are in the same place, yes. But otherwise no. It tells Tom different things.

So it speaks differently to you than it does Tom?

Yes! Yes, Mary, exactly.

And do you know why it only speaks to you two?

It doesn’t only speak to us. It spoke to you once, remember? It speaks to Aunt Martha.

Yes, but only that once.

Maybe, my dearest, sweetest girl, maybe some people are more in need of it than others.

Why does Tom need it?

I don’t know, darling. If I knew, I would.. well.

You still wouldn’t say yes to the poor fellow, would you.

Stop it, Mary. Don’t talk to me of such things.

Well. I think you’re stubborn and silly. And I think you have trained your ears to only listen to the silly things that old Beast tells you. Who knows how old those words are, and from which ancient tree they came. Who knows how long they have lived in these lands, and what hold they have on them. And you let them into your mind, and you let them make decisions for you. I think it’s all silly. I think you’re growing older, Laura, and you are putting roots where there is no soil.

Don’t you tell me where I ought to put my roots, Mary.

Well, I shall. I shall tell you. I think you’re wasting your time.

I am not!

You don’t laugh anymore.

I can’t.

The Beast has taken your joy away!

That’s absurd. If that was the case, my joy would have vanished ten years ago.

Something is not right, Laura.

I tell you, you don’t understand how this works!! Now stop it. Let us walk the rest of the way home in silence. The moon is large tonight. I want to feast my eyes on the world bathing in its silver light.

Image Credit

Hill [28]

Is this how the story ends?

Will the edges be tied together like a piece of cheesecloth containing three warm scones? Put gently into a woven basket and carried over the edge of the hill?

They never told her there was a cliff on the other side.

You don’t hurtle to your death, though. No. This isn’t that kind of story. Death and decay and spattered brains on relentless rocks do not soothe a soul.

When you walk over the edge of the hill, you don’t exist anymore in the world as we know it.

It was the calmest tempest. It swooped around her, lifting her hair, caressing her hem, plucking at her sleeves with a gentle roar. Its breath was warm, while the sleet fell around her. That is how she could tell the different between a storm and the Beast. It huddled over her, protected her from harsh elements. It whispered in her ear, and she knew which way to turn in a blizzard. Should she stray too far from the Lake, she would lose it. And that is what she was most afraid of.

‘You know,’ Tom said to Laura, one such day, when the tempest blew warmly around them as they stood on the edge of the Lake, ‘I always think that the Beast has you in its grip, and doesn’t want to let go.’

Laura smiled, but she didn’t look at him. It was as though… no. It couldn’t be.

‘You understand what it says,’ she told him instead, ‘you know the language it speaks.’

‘I do, and sometimes,’ he lowered his voice, ‘sometimes Laura I worry about the things it says.’

‘Tosh!’ she threw at him, tossing her head, and walking back up the path.

He stood at the edge of the lake as she vanished into the darkening woods behind him, and watched the sun set serenely over the waters.

There was no wind, save for the whirlwind that caressed his hair and blew kisses on his cheeks. He stood for the longest while, beyond the sunset. He stood until the stars glittered one by one into existence, revealing themselves in their shining glory when daylight removed its mask and became night. He stared up at them, and even as he did, a decision was forming itself in his mind.

If she goes, he said to the tempest, I will go with her.

[25]

Note: I write these daily Novembers to the background noise of my kids screaming. These days like to run around chasing each other and scream. It’s some kind of game. Their cries pierce right through my ears. They interrupt my thoughts and halt my words and make my brain feel like mush . I stop them sometimes, and other times I let them do it, because it seems like they enjoy it and they need to get it out of their system.

I am actually behind.

I am behind and I could panic about it but I won’t.

I won’t let the overwhelm overwhelm me.

Let this be my 25th post.

It has no substance.

My brain is mush.

But brains are mush. And it is within that mush that ideas grow.

Sunrise and Rainbow [22]

My sister sent me a text when I was downstairs in my mother’s house, working at the dining table.

It was 7am. The house was silent. Everybody was fast asleep.

‘There’s a rainbow outside’ she wrote.

Immediately I jumped up, yanked open the curtains, and this is what I saw.

On one side, a gorgeous rainbow. Then behind me, opposite the rainbow, the prettiest sunrise!

Needless to say today I did not manage to sit to write a proper blog post. But I can’t miss a day, not when we are this close to the finish line. Every day in November a blog post! So here is my contribution from today. My eyes are stinging with exhaustion, I am about to collapse into bed, hoping my kids sleep through the night tonight! And I am happy I managed to get a post out before November 22 ends!

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

Of Earth [20]

When it rained, the earth also rained.

Upwards.

The smallest droplets rose from the surfaces of the soil, the stones, the trees, leaves, shrubs.. roses… they rose and collated in the air. A mist. It was like the soul of the earth rising to meet its enrichment.

When she looked closely enough, she could almost discern each droplet, dancing its way up through the atmosphere over the grass. Atmosphere around the knees.

Swirling, whirling.

The day it all began was one such day.

When she arose in the morning the air was dank and grey. She could see the storm clouds in her room, floating just below her ceiling when she opened her eyes.

The bustle downstairs in the kitchen was a sign of life. Sign of life returning. Everybody coming to visit.

When the wind blew, it spoke in her ears, and she strained to listen. Strained as she got dressed in the morning. Cocked her head to the side as she pulled her stockings on, brushed her hair, fifty strokes to the right, fifty to the left.

She pushed her window open, all the way, so the wind whipped through her braid, yanking the loose strands at the front of her face left and right, storming at her, roaring into her ears so loudly that she frowned and shook her head firmly.

‘I can’t hear you when you scream like that,’ she tutted at the tempest outside, and closed her window.

She went down the stairs, slowly, taking her time, soaking the stillness in. Soon the front door would be flung open. Mary and her brood piling in, pink cheeks, hats askew. John following not far behind, his big grin threatening to slice his face in half. Phyllis and her millionaire, ears dripping with glittering jewels, mink scarf tucked around her pretty neck. Her arm would be tucked tightly under his, inseparable, still in love after all these years. Soon everybody would be back from their lives, back to where it all began, back to the beginning.

And when it was all over, when they all trooped home, back to their orbits, she would step outdoors. She would turn her head up to the skies, the tempest would die to a mere whisper. And the breeze would caress her face with its gentle, cool hands, and turn it this way and that, and it would murmur in her ear.

And what would it say?

She would anticipate it all day.

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