Secret Toast

He always asked for secret toast. His bedside table stacked with books, the curtains always flung wide open and the windows dangling on the edges of falling off. Surges of winter air when the months were cold and gusts of fresh earthy breeze in spring. In the summer hot air pregnant with the scent of the roses outside and the apple trees burdened with their scarlet load. Tangy and sweet.

Secret toast, melted butter, the thinnest layer of strawberry preserves. Preferably with a cup of tea. Cocoa when he was smaller. Becky would bring it upstairs to him. After he was tucked in bed. After the lights were turned off. After he had brushed his teeth. He would hear the familiar creak of the stairs down the hallway. The squeeze of the floorboard just outside his bedroom door. Secret toast and hot cocoa.

‘Now eat up and go straight to sleep,’ Becky would say, leaving him with it.

She wouldn’t sit and talk to him, or play a game of chess. He never stopped pleading. By the light of the moon, he sat alone in his bedroom eating his secret toast and sipping his warm hot cocoa. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the large windows of his childhood bedroom. Sometimes the stars would twinkle through the dormer window of his adult attic. Studio attic. Stacks of books everywhere, no shelves to put them in. Stacks of books neatly put away in shelves in his childhood, probably by Becky.

Secret toast at 12am, 1am, 2am, three.

Secret toast with butter and the thinnest layer of the cheapest jam he could find at the local corner shop. Cup of tea with a splash of milk and a tablespoon of sugar. Sweet and strong, like arms guiding him through the tough moments of it all.

The loneliness of it.

But the comfort in its familiarity.

Image Credit

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!

Sylvester (Part 1)

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

It’s all relative to perception, I think. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, Sylvester.

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

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

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

Pushing a trolley into the room, he said cheerfully,

‘Snacks, sweets, magazines anybody?!’

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

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

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

Then he winked at me.

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

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

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

‘I don’t know,’ I said, curtly.

Image Credit

Love Letters #34

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Love letters #47

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

But what was missing?

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

That was not it, though.

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

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

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

WHAT, oh, what was missing?!

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

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

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

The waves.

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

Don’t Cry

You’re so noisy.

Don’t speak, don’t breathe.

Heavily behind me.

Through your nose.

Long toes. nails. Harsh.

Scratchy voice, cackling.

And heat under an old green coat.

You’re so noisy.

Don’t tell me I’m wrong.

Don’t fake your beliefs, to make me happy, and then curse what I believe, when you’re tired of the lies.

Don’t swear

don’t SHOUT

Don’t breathe, just stop. Stop breathing. Just sleep.

Don’t blame, don’t bemoan, don’t lament. I am not your beacon of happiness.

I am not made to suffer your fury, your happiness, your pain.

I am human.

And when I leave, don’t cry.

You’re so noisy.

I want out.

But

I’m scared to go

Because you think you’re entitled to me.

You’re so noisy

So ill

so broken.

When i LEAVE

Fix your bones

don’t smoke.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t cry.

Don’t cry.

Those hacking sobs

those tears

not of pain

but of bitter selfishness.

 

N.B. this was real. not is. a v long time ago. thank goodness.

813391-7.jpg

Image credit: Carmen Renn

Preta

Always thirsty,

Always drinking,

Always hungry,

Never shrinking.

Preta.

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

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

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

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

The cats are in the bins again, Hank!’

 

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

 

Goosey Goosey Gander

I think I have hit a creative slump. I don’t know if its because I am exhausted from working, and travelling to work, and travelling home, and cleaning up, and making tea, and reading books, and trying to be social by calling my friends so they don’t think I have abandoned them..

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Third week at work this week, and I spent the day working on a few editing assignments, reading up on my training program, and when I had completed that, I had nothing to do… So I planned my blog.

I never really had a plan for this blog, you see. I decided to write one day, at the end of 2013, never thinking this would last because none of my other blogs lasted. Last it did, however, and I am proud to say I have been blogging for nigh on four years!

In light of that, I have decided to no longer blog when the whim takes me, but to adhere to a somewhat lose schedule, which will enforce my creative processes and demand some content out of my fingers.

I figure I ought to be resourceful, and all that, and just because I now have a job, doesn’t mean I ought to let my own goals and aspirations fall into the ditches.

Real grimy those ditches are, I’ll tell you that. I had an old gentleman wade out the other day, positively shaken. He’d been accidentally thrown in there by the lady next door, she had no use for him. She claimed he wouldn’t say his prayers, and he told me the most harrowing story of how she grabbed him by the left leg, threw him down the stairs and then rolled him into a ditch! That was no accident, I assure you. The poor old fellow was convinced it was, however, so I gave him a goose to calm his ruffled feathers and sent him on his way.

I digress.

The plan for this blog is to blog the things I usually blog, but with a little more structure and, well, consistency, I suppose. So everyday for a fortnight I will blog (except for weekends, of course, weekends are for family and books and gardening and delicious homemade things made by my younger brother and my younger sister-in-law – last weekend it was apple crumble made by the brother and caramel brownies made by the sister-in-law – yum!), and each blogging day will cover certain themes and topics. For example, Wednesdays are supposed to be ‘flash fiction’ days, but because my creativity is hanging out to dry, I have decided to turn it into a ‘wherever-the-whim-takes-me’ day.

Charles Dickens was said to be paid by the word, but I am not. However, I pay the word with my eyesight, and use it I shall. Did you know my poor eyesight, according to my mother, is because of hours of reading in the dark after she turned off the lights? Streetlamps outside the window are certainly enough light when you need to know if Mr Rochester really is a cockroach or not.

How are you doing this week? Do you have a blogging schedule, or do you blog as and when the whim takes you? Also, why do you blog?

gooseygooseygander_brooke

The Last Day

It was the last day of summer.

The last day the frogs leapt in unison. The last day the Rooks flew into town, sailing on the wafts of music which floated up between the long fingers of flutists. The last day peach gowns were worn, gossamer and chiffon wafting gently in the breeze as though underwater.

It was the longest day of the year, the shortest night. Some reckoned the night didn’t come at all, because the sun was peeking blearily over the tip of the horizon, hiding her fiery hair, but not quite low enough so her rays didn’t escape and lighten the blackness of night.

Penny’s parents were preparing for the sunset, the sunset that would never come.They ran around the kitchen like headless chickens, and she smiled to herself.

She watched them from her corner in the kitchen, where the small window fit neatly into the little alcove, and was a porthole to the view of the sharp, steep landscape outside their house. She sat on a small red cushion, worn and faded from years of use, on the small wooden window seat.

When she turned back to the view outside, she saw the Rooks. An entire flock of them. A colossal black cloud, swirling over the mountainous city, like an ominous vortex. Their hoarse cries rising in the sky, a bellow of extortionate proportions. The very utensils shook on their hooks, the mugs rattled and the cupboard doors vibrated with the sound of over a thousand of them, and Penny slammed her hands over her ears.

The music from the city was drowned, and the sun sank lower in the horizon. She watched as they soared around the city once, twice, and a third, final time, before they swooped upward, covering the sky, and bringing darkness onto the world. Pitch blackness draped her window, and Penny found herself looking at the glass and seeing only her dim reflection, and the reflection of the wooden kitchen in it.

She turned to her parents, they had stopped what they were doing, and were standing, frozen, eyes on the window. The house began to hum with the screeching outside. It was beyond anything she could imagine, and even though they heard it every year, the sound was momentous. Time-stopping. Gut-wenching. She felt it in her bones, her heart was beating to the sound of it. Her breathing changed to match the shift in tune. The sound was increasing. Louder and louder, the vibrations more and more intense, until, as the clanging orchestra outside reached its peak, a sudden silence filled the room. The darkness outside surged, replaced by a dim twilight, and Penny stared up at an empty sky.

The Rooks had vanished.

The remaining twilight would hang over the world for a few weeks, before the black tendrils of winter edged their way across the sky, bringing frost and snow.

The last day of summer.

 

 

Dinner and Charlotte

When Charlotte made dinner, the kitchen was a bomb site.

A no-man’s land of waste and debris.

Two children flailing their arms, running in and out of rooms.

Screaming.

The smaller one, with the large, round, peachy cheeks, chasing the older one.

Large, fat tears rolled gently down her cheeks, which wobbled with each step she took.

Charlotte wailed, taking her burnt chicken out of the cracked oven. Her blue bows twitched atop her head, sitting on a pile of chestnut curls, all askew.

The older ones watched, shell shocked, from the corners.

Charred vegetables. Broken chair legs. Fire licked the stove ring, the choking sound of gas a gentle, whirring background noise.

What’s wrong, Emilia?!’

‘She isn’t giving me my balloon!’

You should share with your sister, Emilia.’

Charlotte wiped the sweat from her forehead.

A car drew up outside. The engine rumbled, jittering, vibrating, humming through the floor. Then silence as it switched off.

The screaming indoors worsened.

A sigh, in the car.

Then he emerged, his shirt rumbled and his face drawn.

When he darkened the front door, the screaming stopped. The children froze. Charlotte bit her lip, staring at the charred remains of dinner.

He took a deep breath. The damage could be heard from outside, but it did not prepare him for the abhorrent sight before his eyes.

Let us go out for tea,’ he said, calmly.

Charlotte dried her hands on a dishtowel.

It appears,’ she began slowly, ‘that a tiger came to tea already.’

Her crimson face, in all its weariness, broke into a gentle, oh so faint, smile.

The End.

4631489974.jpg

N.B. I didn’t like this at all. I wrote it, it needed to be written, but it left me with a strange, disgusted feeling in my gut. So I tried to insert a Carlotta-the-fourth feeling around Charlotte, although I’d hate to think of Carlotta-the-fourth feeling like that. Given her era, however, it must have been inevitable. I also wanted to try a ‘Tiger Who Came to Tea’ ending, because making reality a little surreal takes the harsh, uncomfortable edge off it.

My mum says my dad drives her mad. My aunt says her husband drives her nuts, and that he intends to retire in a remote, mountainous area and she doesn’t want to retire there with him. My old neighbour buys her groceries separate from her husband, and they bicker like cats and dogs. They have been married for fifty odd years. I told my mum, ‘I really don’t want to end up like that.’ She replied, ‘well, you will, eventually. Married couples do eventually get sick of each other.’

I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to rely on my kids to make my marriage interesting. My mother in law doesn’t like to travel or be alone with her husband unless her kids are there. They just don’t have a relationship. And, I don’t know if its because I am 23 and ‘inexperienced’, but I strongly feel that that situation can be avoided. I feel like you can make an effort to like each other, and change with each other, and complement each other over the years?

What is your opinion on the matter?