Djnn

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A desert stretched out before her. Cold blue beneath her feet. The sun would be up soon and then the heat would be unbearable. People think this place is empty. But she had grown up here and knew it was anything but. Amongst sand, a sprinkling of scratchy plants break up the monotony and innocent looking rocks hide snakes and scorpions. When the rains come, the whole place blooms. Really, right now it was just resting; a dusty coat hugged tight over it’s party dress.

Then there’re the ghosts. The djinn. She didn’t believe in them herself, the only thing haunting her was herself. Memories and thoughts chasing each other through her head. She was so tired of trying to hold them still, so she was letting them spin, waiting to see which one would stop, play with her a little, then launch itself back off again before she could squash it.

She remembered a time she had been out here as a child. They had met another family on top of a sand dune. Their four wheel drive parked at a jaunty angle just below the edge and they were eating food in it’s shade. The parents were Bedouin but now lived in the city so they could make money and their kids could go to school. The mother sat nursing her baby as two small boys raced round them. He told us he brought them out at the weekends to camp, to show his children the life he had grown up in. Their heritage. There was a look in his eyes that she couldn’t understand as a child. Sitting in his favourite place, wild, with a look of such longing and sadness. She got it now. To be somewhere you love. That’s part of your soul and know that it’s only temporary before you have to leave again. It’s something that destroys you. It was the look she had when she was with you. Thinks of you.

And so she stands waiting for the sun to come up and burn those thoughts from her head.

Jack

You ever loose your best friend?

Well this is my story of how I lost mine.

Have you heard of Jack? And his beanstalk?

I bet you have. But did you know that was his version of the story?

This is mine..

Jack did have magic beans, that part’s true. You see, we all have them, just some people have forgotten how to use them. Well Jack planted one at my feet and over the years the vine grew up through me, twisting up to reach the sky. So we were close but far away from each other. Bound by the vine. Tendrils tangled into my heart, my wrists, my hair.

You should have seen the vine, it wasn’t the usual run-of-your-mill variety, and that’s what I loved about it. Secrets, dreams and souls were bound up in its leaves. Flowers filled the air with their heady scent. And the music it made when the wind blew calmed my wildness. It was beautiful. A shimmer of happiness, in sun or rain.

Everything Jack felt, I felt. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we’d fight, but the friendship always held firm, because the roots had had years to grow deep.

Then a being came into Jack’s life and she didn’t like the vine we had. (There had been others before but they’d never noticed me.) This one declared herself allergic to the flowers.

Now this is the sad part.

Grab a tissue.

He cut it. Just a little at first. Hoping if she couldn’t see the flowers she wouldn’t have an allergic reaction. But she wasn’t stupid, she knew it was lies. So he cut a little more so he could pretend it wasn’t there when she was around. Now I didn’t just stand there. I tried to fix it. Reaching out to him then her. I tried everything I could. But her anger and hate was too deep. There was no hope.

He cut the vine at the base then. Scared at being caught in his lies to her and to me.
Only this was a living thing. And it grew through me. Each cut had hurt, but the final one that killed the vine, hurt the most. Have you ever cut a plant? It dies from the inside out. It rots in the middle, while its outside becomes brittle, splintering into anything that comes into contact with it. Well that’s what was inside me. A painful hole.

So I’m still picking out the splinters and rotting pieces because I don’t want to carry that around with me any more. And I’m working on digging out the roots, because I can’t be hurt like that again.

The hole’s too big to fill in straight away, and on some days I feel it more then others. The gap in my chest makes it hard to breathe.

But remember when I said everyone has magic beans? Well I’m lucky. I have others who’ve shared theirs with me. They grow through me. Binding me with their beauty and friendship. Helping me stay standing. I’ll slowly turn the dark into light.

So on days that you hurt too much, just think, the hole they’ve left, will turn into something beautiful. I bet my bottom bean on it.
So why’s there no giant in my story? Well that’s his part of the story. So I’ve no idea where he got it from…

 

Wild Bird

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There once was a boy and a wild bird. And they were close friends. Some people thought it odd that a boy and a wild animal could be close. But those who knew the boy. Who knew the bird, saw the happiness that they brought each other. And really, that’s all that’s important. What made them the same, not what their differences were.

The bird sang her song for the boy each day, trying to find new ways to make him smile. To make him happy. Because that’s what made her happy. She’d sometimes fly to far mountains and forests, but she always came back, eager to show him a piece of that adventure. Be it a pebble or a twig. And he in return, he taught her to see and hear the world in a new depth. He gave her song it’s magic.

The boy was stuck. Stuck in his little valley. And although he was happy, he knew he would only be truly happy once he left and found his real home, the one his soul ached for. She understood the feeling. She was after all a wild bird and knew you couldn’t stay in one place forever. For years they had sat under stars together talking about plans and dreams so she knew how important it was to him. Together they had cried; laughed, binding themselves closer with these strands.

The time came for the journey to begin and the boy was very happy. But he was also scared. He was scared that somehow she’d get lost and that people wouldn’t understand a bond between a wild bird and a boy. So he put her in a cage to keep her still close but also protected.

The bird loved the boy and couldn’t imagine the world without him in it. So she stayed in the cage, even though she was a wild animal.

They set off together, along an unknown path. They didn’t know how long or difficult the journey would be. The only thing that drove them on was they both knew it was important. He deserved to be happy after all these years of talking about it.

Over the days, the bird found she didn’t want to sing. Her life was now controlled and it made her anxious. When and what she ate was decided by him, although he always tried his hardest to make it her favourite. She appreciated it, but it made the food taste like cardboard. He’d decide when he’d put her cover on her cage at night to sleep. She knew it would be coming, making her count the minutes she could still see the sky, before being plunged into darkness. It was not knowing when it was coming that made it hard. Then she’d sit alone. Cut off from the world. A tiny voice wondering if he’d remember to come back in the morning.

The journey continued, the bird always hoping that the end was just round the next corner. Over the next mountain. Because she knew she was fading.

The anxiousness and sadness started to make her feathers drop out.

She saw how happy he was on his adventure so she tried hard to find her song and ignore the sadness. And he loved the bird, so he tried to distract her when he could and ignored the quietness and falling feathers.

The bird had a lot of time to sit and think in her cage. And she realised that soon he would start to resent her. This sad, defunct song bird. He wanted to be happy. And how could he be when he looked at her? So she had to decide. To stay in the cage and hope she made the journey or leave. All she knew for sure was that she was a wild bird. And that you can’t cage wild things. They die. No matter how hard they want to live.

 

 

 

(postscript) After I showed this to the person who inspired this piece, he asked if I’d had Charles Bukowski’s Bluebird in mind when I wrote it. A poem he had introduced me to several years ago. I didn’t at the time, but having reread the poem I think I must have subconsciously. And that made me smile. See. I think there is hope for this wild bird.

(march 2016) The bird stayed in the cage, but the boy was happy in his new life. And he made it clear that there was no room for the bird in it every time he forgot about her or lied. The bird was not something that added to his life in any way any more, so he let her go. It’s going to take the bird some time to grow her feathers back. But she will.

Bluebird

Into The Woods

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Once upon a time…a long time ago there was a girl. I know there’s always a girl. But this one was sat in the window watching two magpies. They in turn were eyeing up the leftovers she’d trailed across the dirt. She’d turned crumbs into paths, into roads. Eventually the braver one fluttered to the floor, soon joined by the other to quickly demolish the escape plan she had been daydreaming of.

The crumbs were left by her brother. His last meal under this roof. She’d watched him through this window as well. He’d paused at the gate, looking back at the house, then up at her. She’d raised her hand, fingers splayed as she pressed them against the glass. He raised his hand to match hers. Then he was through the gate and swallowed up by the forest that surrounded the cottage.

Raised voices scared the birds, scattering them and bringing her back to her bedroom.

The voices downstairs didn’t so much as tango with their words now days, as cage fight. Man and woman in the oldest fight of time. The girl descended into the shouting, pausing at the kitchen doorway. The man was sat at the table, beetroot faced, spittle forming in the corners of his mouth. The woman was bent over a chair, her bony fingers gripping the top, white skin looking ready to crack. If she could have lifted the heavy wooden chair, she probably would have swung it at his head. The air crackled with the hideous words they shouted to each other. So intent on being right. So intent on destroying each other. Picking on their weak spots, conveniently forgetting anything that wasn’t to their favour. Slugging it out to score imaginary points.

“I wish you would just shrivel up and die from cancer!!”

“Oh you’d like that wouldn’t you! Then you could run off with your fancy woman!”

And so it went on. The girl had heard it all before. When it first started, she had cried. Begged them not to fight. To make peace, torn to pieces by watching all the hurt and abuse going on. Her love for them meant she felt every word and blow. But eventually she realised that they couldn’t turn back now. Their words were buried deep into each other, wounding them permanently and weirdly tying them closer to each other. They enjoyed as much as hated the fights and the girl wasn’t even sure any more if they could now live without the hurt and pain. That’s why her brother had left. He couldn’t handle it any more. There was nothing left of these two. All their energy and attention was poured into this fight and their love for anything else had long since withered away. Her brother was right. How could you be around someone who couldn’t see you and only cared about someone they hated.

The girl tried to avoid eye contact as she headed for the door, grabbing a half loaf of bread from the sideboard.

“Oh I wouldn’t eat that, it’s stale. Of course your useless mother forgot to buy more this morning. Even though I reminded her twenty times. Does she care?! NO! She’ll let us all STARVE!!”

“I TOLD YOU I’D GO LATER!”

The girl opened her mouth, then closed it again as she left. The heavy door helped block some of the screaming as she hurried up the path. Like her brother she paused at the gate, but she didn’t look back, instead she stared into the dark between the trees. They’d never been allowed that deep into the forest so today she really would be heading into the dark. Picking a path she thought her brother had taken, she set off, her head still buzzing with their words. Only in the silence did she realise just how deeply imbedded they had lodged into her too. Tiny knives sticking into her thoughts, bleeding into everything.

The further into the forest she pushed, the more her chest hurt with every breath, tears finally spilling. When she could go no further, she sat down on the forest floor, amongst the leaves to eat some of the bread. The leaves made a giant jigsaw puzzle sprawled out across the floor and she was messing up the pieces. She tried to fit them back to together before lying down to look up at the sky instead. Above her, tips of trees bled into tiny patches of blue.  Dark and light. She closed her eyes and listened to the world breathe. When she opened them again the sky was blushing pink. The world had softened as she had slept and exhausted day was slowly falling asleep helped by wind’s lullaby. In the wings, night was slowly waking, ready to take over the next shift. She stretched and looked to see which way to head next.  The path was faded, but she thought she could see the odd pebble between the wood anemones. Her brother liked to skim stones along the ground as he walked, so with no stars over her head, she decided to follow the stars at her feet. She knew she wasn’t lost because she didn’t really know where she was going.

And so the girl wandered on, with a lighter heart, the tiny stars gave way to occasional dots of blue, clusters of bluebells almost purple in the sunset’s light, until she bumped into the drifting path of woodsmoke. She adjusted her direction and followed this new invisible string.

Finally, as weary day finally gave up and fell asleep, she reached a cottage. A solid chunk of stone walls, weathered  and listing slightly to the side with age and weight. A silhouette passed the window, and although sightly distorted through its thickness, it was still one she recognised well. Her brother came back into view, pulling another shadow to him before he bent down to kiss it. Something unseen scurried by her feet. This was no time to turn back. She knocked, feeling skin and bone against hard wood. The sound echoed round the trees before trailing off into silence. Everything was waiting to see what would happen.

A bolt was drawn back and a dark haired woman stood in the light glaring at her. The stare should have melted her into the ground or made her turn and run, but knowing her brother was inside made her stand tall. From out of the shadows and from behind the woman he stepped. Surprised and then smiling.

“Gretel!”

She breathed out and smiled. “Hansel.”

The Raven And The Girl

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Did I tell you the tale about the raven and the girl?

She would watch each morning as he would arrive. He’d hop from floor to tree, then from branch to branch. Until he reached the corrugated metal roof of the building that the tree leant against. He would always pause, survey his kingdom, then vanish across it’s flat surface, safely hidden by the the height and angle of the roof.

His brothers and sisters were always somewhere nearby. Arriving in a flurry of wings and noise, they would call to each other, laughing as they wheeled around the yard. He always walked. Or hopped. Preferring to take his time. To watch. Only flying at the last moment when he would finally launch himself up, low in the air, to join the others.

On the days they were late, the girl found herself pausing in her work to search the sky for them. Him. Other birds filled her bird feeders, a multitude of colours and feathery fluff balls of sizes. She moved softly between them or just sat quietly watching them, tolerated by these happy wild things. A robin liked to sit on her table and inspect her biscuit eating habits. But the ravens were different. They were the teenagers of the air. Loud and unruly, keeping their distance and flying off as soon as they noticed her presence. Quite often she would turn and find them in nearby trees watching her. Hanging out together.

She learnt to listen out for the sound of his wings. The noise they made as they rubbed the air. He was different to all the others and it was if her heart would flutter in time to his wing beat.

Then one morning she finally got close enough to see him clearly. He was walking carefully, turning over pebbles under the bird feeder, looking for any dropped offerings. Totally absorbed in his task, only pausing briefly when the right wing tip brushed the ground. He’d pull it up and carry on again, repeating the process every few steps as it kept drooping.

“Ahh that’s why!”

Even though the words were soft, under her breath, he turned and inspected her carefully. The first time they’d looked into each others eyes. Her cheeks flushed as this wild thing looked into her soul, weighing her up. She felt the world slowly spin before he finally broke eye contact, turned and took off to join his brothers and sisters in the trees. Only then did she realise that she had been holding her breath.

Trees filled up with leaves, then flowers, which hung heavy, trailing petals to cover the floor and break their landing when they had finally picked up the courage to drop gracefully to the earth. Spent in their beauty.

Then one cold day, when the world was covered in a tissue paper layer of mist, she had started filling the bird feeders before noticing a black pile of feathers half hidden in the bushes. With heavy heart she moved closer to remove the remains, a single tear slipping down her face. As her hand touched warm, she jerked it back, before carefully, ever so carefully, scooping up the fallen raven. His wing spilling over her hands. Just the one wing. Breath held, and in total silence she hurried back to her house, oblivious to the eyes watching her closely. Moving her hands gently over his body and wings, explaining quietly what she was doing, until she found a small piece of plastic caught round his neck. It had rubbed him raw. Wrapping him in a towel, she carefully snipped the tie, then as lightly as she could, washed and dabbed cream into the cut. Over the rest of the day he mainly slept, ignoring the food she tried to tempt him with, but allowing her to drip water slowly down his throat from a syringe.

That evening, she slept next to him, tossing and turning through the night. Her dreams were filled with birds the colour of night and a boy with a broken arm. He was always just beyond her fingertips, but she felt that his eyes held the stars, just that she couldn’t quite see. He was night and his breath, the tug of tides in her heart.

When she woke the next morning, he was gone, only the flutter of curtain to break the stillness that soaked the room. Opening the door, she ran barefoot into the yard, small birds scattered, a confetti of colour and feathers, but no black amongst them. Near her seat, something glinted. Walking over, ignoring the scolding by ruffled birds, she found a silver locket and chain in the dirt. A single black feather alongside it. Clutching the necklace tight in her hand, she turned slowly, scanning the trees for the eyes she hoped were watching her. But there was no sign. Even her heart fluttered in a hollow, echoey way.

That was the last time she saw them. The locket was always worn, warm against her skin, and if she closed her eyes, she imagined it was filled with the night sky. And every time she saw a flash of black feathers, her heart would skip, but they never sounded the same.

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Inspired by my real life Jackdaws and Jack the boy with a drooping wing.

The Wolf

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The wolf was following. She was sure of that. How close she couldn’t tell, instead she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, snow greedily swallowing each step. Somewhere there would be lights and warmth. That’s what she kept hoping. Promising her numb limbs. Repeating the words over and over, just trying to keep her lips warm with movement. A flicker, seen out of the corner of her eye. Pausing, breath laboured, she leant against a tree, eyes narrowed towards where she thought she had seen it. This wouldn’t be the first time tonight she had imagined something. The light held, blinking slightly as invisible branches brushed past it. Holding her breath she tried to sense the wolf. There may have been a soft panting? But it could also have been the snow brushing off branches in the wind. Forcing her fumbling body she turned and headed towards the light.

The man didn’t know what to make of it. After he carefully opened the door, gun cocked ready, he really didn’t expect a girl to fall through it. The fur lined coat told him she was wealthy and as he lifted her and carried her to the fire, she weighed less then a doe. As he carefully unwrapped the wet outer garments, her slim build and gentle curves stirred something inside him he thought had died a lifetime ago. She was dressed in forest green velvet, a gift from the forest he lived in. Fire warmed her slowly, spreading a brush of pink across her skin. He watched her and the fire, coaxing the woods cackle lullaby.

She woke. Body rigid, letting only her eyes and mind flit round trying to piece everything together. These weren’t her blankets, the scratching fabric was very unfamiliar. But there was a fire, so she was sheltered and warm. A rumbling snore meant she wasn’t alone. Turning her head carefully she found the source. Slumped in a chair, hair stuck to his scull, snaking round from behind his ears. The beard was the same colour, with flecks of white. The man was wearing layers of patched clothes chosen only for their practicality, not style, a piece of orange twine escaped at one side. It had been a long winter for him as well. Trying to move as quietly as possible, she ran her hands over her body to check what exactly had been removed. A sharp, heavy weight reassured her. Her knife at least was still there. Adjusting her position, she had a look around the room she was in, noting how the door was bolted closed and the gun was close to his hand.

He wasn’t sure what woke him and it took him a few moments to work out what was different. Everything was in it’s usual place. Only an empty blanket and pillow on the floor in front of the fire nagged at his sleepy head. The girl! He sat upright, checking where he’d hung her wet coat and boots. They were still there. A small puddle under them. He eased himself quietly out of the chair and circled towards the back of the tiny cottage and the doorway that lead to the store cupboard and bedroom. The slight scuffing told him she was in the cupboard. He paused to listen and make sure, then flung open the door.

When she had found his store cupboard the dusty outlines told her he was running on near to nothing. The flour that was left smelt strange and the few cuts of meat hanging still from the rafters had pock marks from where he’d picked at them. Jars weren’t labelled, but then hopefully he would know what was in there. There wasn’t too much she could make for them from this.

He found her standing staring at the hanging meat. She shrank back against the far wall. Dusty cobwebs attaching themselves to her dark hair. Teeth bared, there was nothing refined or gentile about the girl in the rich clothes. Glancing round he noticed she hadn’t actually touched anything.

She cursed herself for getting trapped. The only exit was past him and his whole body filled the sturdy wooden frame. There was a gun in his hand, although not actually pointed at her.

He put the gun away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Of course you must be hungry. I’ll fix us some food. Come sit by the fire.” He held out his hand, trying to coax the girl out. When she let out a faint hiss, he looked into her eyes. The wildness took his breath. Changing tack he backed slowly away, hands turned out, giving her room to leave the room. He’d had to do the same in the summer when he’d left the windows open and a dove had become trapped in the house.

Once it was safe she bolted from the larder and moved back to the main room. She sat near the fire but kept the front door between them.

He kept his movements slow and measured, pretending that he didn’t notice her watching his every move. He left approaching the fire for as long as he could, watching her wince as the metal pole carrying the pot clunked into place over the fire. She had shrunk back, but hadn’t moved further away and he took that to be a good sign.

The man had put together some kind of gruel. It was something he’d made often by the way he moved so confidently. She watched as he teased the fire, getting it to the right height for the pot. Now he was closer she could smell his scent. A musk mixed in with the fire and earth tones. He was very much a part of the landscape he lived in and that comforted her a little. But the tang of metal clung too, reminding her to still be on guard.

“Where have you come from?” he carefully picked up her finished dish, noticing that she’d pushed it a little way from her, giving herself space. She cocked her head on one side, lips moving, as she turned over the words he had given her.

“here” she whispered. The dustiness still in her words.

He frowned, thinking of all the people he knew in the area, true he hadn’t been into town since the last heavy fall of snow but that would stop anyone new moving in as well. Surely? She wasn’t dressed as a hunter or a farmer. Was there a new preacher? Maybe it was his daughter. Would someone be missing this girl?

She looked into his eyes, watching the thoughts flicker across them. The callused hand, red raw from the plunges into soil and cold, rubbed his matted beard. Outside was muted but she still thought she could hear the wolf. It’s breath on the window pane steaming it slightly.

“A woman used to live here. Maybe it’s time to try again.” He looked over to the second set of snowshoes leant against the chimney breast. Slightly smaller then his and a layer of dust on them. He’d buried her in her best clothes, but there was still her cloak and some of her working clothes. They would suit this new one better then the clothes she’d turned up in. More practical. And he was a patient man. He could wait a little while. Not forever. But she would understand that. He was a man. With needs.

“You are sad.” Her voice hung in the air. Amongst the dust specks dancing in the light.

He looked into her eyes. Watched as she walked towards him. Hesitatingly. They were still wild. Dark. Emotions were swirling through them and as he tried to place the thoughts behind the expression, he was only vaguely aware of her hand moving towards him. Reaching out to touch him. The sharp pain.

She looked down at the body. Her hand and knife covered in blood. She knew the look in his eyes. The hunger. She’d seen it before. Experienced it before. Her coat was still wet, but her boots would be ok, especially if she used the snowshoes. Then she found the cloak. Berry red and heavy, good quality wool. Pulling it round her, the weight and warmth felt comforting. Tucking some wrapped food into the hidden pockets she took a deep breath and headed out into the snow. She stopped on the edge of the cottage clearing, looking back and whispering her thanks to the stones for providing again. She pulled up the red hood and headed on her way.

Somewhere nearby the wolf paced, slightly pacified by the fresh kill.

The Cairn

 

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The girl leant forward. Worn creases snaked across her shoes as she stood on tiptoe, arm outstretched to place an object on the cairn.  Even on tiptoe she could only reach half way up the pile of rocks.

 

The woman walked closer to the child, one of her feet scuffing the dirt and scattering tiny pebbles across the dusty track. The girl turned quickly, the wind catching her hair and blowing it across her face. The sun picked out the red splashes amongst the dark brown hair and although her face was partially obscured, the woman was sure there was something familiar about the girl.

 

They stood eyeing each other. The only two, standing at the highest point of this moorland. As far as the eye could see there were only rolling hills. Overhead a single bird was silhouetted against the sky as the clouds played chase across their vast playground.  That’s when the woman realised that there was no sound. She could feel the wind, feather light across her skin and see the purple flowers dipping slightly under it’s pressure. But not a sound or sigh reached her ears. The girl tilted her head, giving it a slight shake to let the wind brush the hair from her face.

 

The woman stepped closer, slowly, so as not to startle the girl. Some of the stones sparkled as the sun picked out the crystal elements imbedded in them. The girl drew back, giving her space, never taking her eyes from her face. Now closer, the woman could see that the stones had pictures painted on them. They were dusty and some stones were sun bleached from the years sitting there. She picked up a small flat pebble at her feet. Even though it had obviously been painted by a child you could still see what it was. A red butterfly. A red admiral to be exact. She knew it’s name from her summers as a child, cutting through the long grass fields on her way home from playing by the stream. Clouds of butterflies would float up, disturbed by the running, laughing children, their wings eye-catching colours in the low evening light. The scent of sun warmed vegetation reached her and somewhere in the distance there was a faint flutter of wings over the soft whisper of grass. The woman carefully placed the stone back onto the pile. Back where it had fallen from.

 

She picked up another, this time it was a cat and although still childlike in painting ability, there was more detail. The stone felt soft as her fingers traced the rounded surface. This cat had similar markings to her cat. The one she had growing up. How many hours had she sat curled up, cuddling her cat, whispering her secrets into his ear? She rubbed the stone against her cheek, closing her eyes and breathing in warm fur.

 

The woman worked up the pile, picking out random stones, letting her fingers and senses pick out the stories on the stone surfaces. Some were smudged, some missing details, but there was always enough of the painting for her to know what it was trying to depict. Finally she reached near the top. A tiny stone, totally smooth to the touch and nearly worn away, but the detail on this one was still exquisite. A man’s face. His face. Each line, each hair painted with love and accuracy. It was cold, but fitted perfectly between her fingers. A sigh slipped past, a whisper tugging at some memory she couldn’t quite place. The style of the paintings never really changed, they just improved in detail as the artist gained confidence and experience.

 

The woman turned to the small girl “Are these yours? Did you paint them?”

 

The girl laughed and the woman saw the flash of familiarity again. And a wildness.

 

The girl twirled her hair round her finger “Don’t you recognise them?”

 

Her voice was a surprise, a sing song lilt without an accent. And yet also familiar. So familiar. They were so close now that the woman could count every freckle sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. And the dimple right next to the left side of her mouth….just like hers.

 

“They are your memories. The ones you kept.”

 

The woman turned back to them. A lifetime of memories. Painted on stones and placed carefully on this cairn. She was still rolling a stone around her hand. The one with his face. So smooth and cold.

 

The girl shivered, pulling her flimsy cardigan round her as she glanced up at the darkening sky. For the first time she looked scared. The woman turned to face the on coming storm, pulling the fragile girl into her, wrapping her arms around her, placing a kiss on top of her unbrushed hair. “It’s going to be OK little one.”

 

They sat on the floor, sheltering as best they could into the cairn as the storm started. The girl made herself as small as possible within the woman’s arms, pressing her head against the woman’s breast. As the rain gathered momentum the paint from the stones began to wash away, the colours combining to a mud colour which ran past their feet. It seemed important for some reason, but the woman couldn’t remember why. All she knew was to hug the girl, her inner child, and make her feel safe. But she was tired and the rain was thick against her lashes making them feel heavy. She would close them. Just for a second. Rest them.

 

Finally the rain stopped and the sky brightened. An intense sun burnt off the residual water, leaving only a cairn of plain stones and the intwined, motionless two. The world was silent again.

The Housewife

 

She hoovered the same section of the rug, watching the fur change direction with each aggressive sweep. Dark balls of fluff from his socks stubbornly clung to the the base of the fibres.

“Stupid sheepskin rug” she muttered under her breath.

It was his idea to get it. She hadn’t wanted it. So of course it had been bought and she was the one who ended up looking after and cleaning it. Like most of the things in the house. Nothing was her choice, she was just the caretaker. He was right though, she didn’t have much taste, she was the practical one out of the pair of them. Her view was that if something was needed for a certain function then they should get it, but only if it would reduce her work load, not add to it. And everything he chose seemed to add to to it. A new toy for him to admire until the next new interest.

With the kids finally out of the house, she should be out enjoying her freedom. Hadn’t she done her time?

But no. She was trapped like the balls of fluff in this stupid carpet.

She gave up and switched the vacuum off. She just wouldn’t look at it, that’s all. Close her eyes to the grubby rug that taunted her.

Now what else was on the list he had given her this morning. Oh yes, to phone the jewellers to see if his watch had been mended. She ran her hand though her tied-up hair, loosening it slightly, strands falling to her shoulders.

Instead she applied her lipstick and picked up her handbag. Car keys jingling in her hand, she carefully locked the front door behind her and set off. Where too she wasn’t sure.

She’d know when she got there.

Tornado

This month our writers group prompt was a picture of the 2006 tornado in Brighton.

Tornado

“Shit, shit, shit!” Alice hopped on one foot as she stared in dismay at the dog faeces on her shoe. She looked round to see if she could wipe it off on anything.

Grabbing a twig, Alice carefully scrapped the worst off, then dragged her foot along the tiny patch of grass. She was trying not to cry.  Straightening her bag, slung low across her body, she carried on her way, eyes now glued to the pavement. She slowly counted her breath in and then out again, trying to calm the fluttering and accelerating heart beat.  Continuing, Alice rubbed her chest to ease the constricting pain, while taking any chance she could to surreptitiously wipe the offending foot along the pavement.

The roads were filling up now, with large groups of fuzzy haired men lurching together, their primal grunts and calls keeping them in loose formation, while their female counterparts wheeled like nervous ponies, all high-pitched neighs and clip-clop heels. Every so often the circles would overlap, creating a cacophony of squeals and grunts as elaborate mating dances would start.

Alice ignored them all, keeping her head down and as much distance as she could manage, within the narrow lanes.  The bag had worked it’s way round to the front again, banging against her thigh and causing her skirt to bunch up. She was regretting her choice of outfit.

Pausing at the junction, Alice worried in hesitation.  In her old neighbourhood, indecision marked you out as a target and old survival tactics were hard to bury.  Swinging left, she was pretty sure that she was still heading in the right direction, but the narrow streets all looked similar. This one had beautiful people, spilling out of café’s onto the road, all laughing and looking like a Gap advert. Alice tugged at her skirt again and hid behind her hair a little more.

Finally the pub came into view.  Alice pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket and double checked the details. The little hearts drawn instead of dots made her smile. They pretty much summed up Becky.

A bouncer watched disinterestedly as she paused, rubbing her sternum.  Alice flashed him a weak smile, then dragged one foot in front of the other.

“Nothing ventured..”

Before tripping slightly on the top step.  The pub was packed and as she fought her way through, she thought she spotted her friend. Boy she could do with a drink right about now. Becky swung round, spotted Alice and started waving madly. Relief flooded through her as she elbowed her way through.

“Sorry; Coming through; Sorry”.

Engulfed in Becky’s hug, peering through her ruffled hair and over Becky’s shoulder, she could just make out a strong, male arm close to her face, the owner of which was side on to them and angled slightly away. It was the tattoo, a celtic, black fluid design flowing out the end of a navy tee shirt, that drew her eye and made her wonder what the rest of it looked like. Her fingers itched to trace the pattern, but before she could reach out, she was released from the hug.  Becky held her outstretched, the mouth all smiles and moving. Shit, she was talking! What was she saying? Alice smiled weakly and nodded. Becky spun round, pulling Alice in beside her, arm round her shoulder.

“So everyone – this is Alice, she’s new to Brighton, so be nice to her! Alice this is everyone!”

Becky’s free arm swept with flare round the small semi circle of people, crushed together in the packed pub, a mix of people all smiling back at her before moving back to their conversations. All that was except tattoo boy. His dark brown eyes, held hers and he ducked his head closer to her ear.

“Hi, I’m Harry. So you’re new to the area?”

Alice could hardly breathe, just stare into his eyes and beg her brain to come up with something interesting. She nodded.

“I’m just going to grab a drink.”

She gestured at the bar, in case he had missed that they were, in fact, in a pub. He smiled as she turned and fled.

“Shit , shit, shit!”

Why wasn’t she beautiful and witty and clever. At least she was small and ducked under a couple of shoulders, slipping with relative ease to the front. Eventually a neon-pink haired woman come to serve her.

“Double vodka and a pint of ummm, I’ll try the Dandelion beer.”

With the minimum amount of movement the two appeared before her and the change returned. Alice downed the vodka and headed back to the group. Her stomach was now rumbling in protest at the neat vodka and her general fear. Alice hovered next to Becky, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, sipping her beer and trying to follow the conversation.

“So you came back?!”

Harry had reappeared at her shoulder. Now she noticed the slightly lighter flecks of deep amber in the dark brown. Would tigers have eyes like this?  The smile definitely was all teeth….

“Yes.”

Her brain obviously having given up on anything over one syllable.  He laughed.

“Well I guess I deserved that, it was a stupid question.”

Alice ducked her head, a curtain of hair falling forward to try and hide the smile and scorching cheeks. Casually Harry scooped up a lock of her hair

“Are you laughing at me?”

He checked her face carefully, as he took his time looping the strand behind her ear. Alice let out a giggle and smoothed her hair, more to try and shoo his hand from her head where it was causing synapses to short circuit. The vodka and strong beer on an empty stomach were definitely causing her to feel brave.

“Maybe!”

She tipped her chin up, looking at him thoughtfully.

Now where had all her beer gone?  God had she just downed it?!  Harry thoughtfully removed the glass from her hand, leaving her without something to hold in front of her, leaving her only her skirt to tug at. He leaned forward, his mouth inches from her exposed ear, as she inhaled his aftershave.

“Fancy getting out of here, it’s a bit rammed for my liking…Maybe I could show you around”

“HARRY! You’re not trying to steal my friend are you?!  Now Alice, I should have warned you about Harry, we call him the Tornado because the way he whirls his way through the whole of the Brighton female population, picking them up and spitting them out.  He especially likes fresh meat, don’t you Harry?!”

Harry grinned sheepishly, but his eyes were still fixed on Alice, weighing her reaction.  Alice laughed too.

“They used to call me Tornado as well, because I’m so accident prone, I’m my own disaster area!”

“Oh no! Is Brighton big enough for two forces of nature?!”

Becky sniffed.

“Can anyone else smell dog shit?”

Stone Promises

This month our writers group had to write something inspired by a picture of a net and pearls on a pebbled beach.  So if the picture is of a beach, then I should write about the North Yorkshire moors, right?  It’s funny how your mind can take a tiny element from a prompt and go off in a totally different direction.

Stone Promises

Above me is August blue, broken by the odd bleached, white patch, sedately sailing by.  Beyond the blue, out of sight, is midnight, littered with stars and planets.  And beyond that?  The heather scratches my skin, digging in, protesting at my crushing weight.  Their scent a reminder of half forgotten memories as the wind laps over me. A lone curlew’s pewit cry echoes across the moor.  This is where we came, your hand wrapped round mine.  Now my hands are alone in my pockets, rubbing the smooth pebbles, each a promise given to me.

A trail of salt water creeps, cold against the skin.  The clouds continue past, made up of rivers, sea, lakes and tears.  Tiny molecules which when combined could easily drown me.  Do memories live on in the water?  I shake my head as I would an etch o scketch, to wipe the stupid thought away.  I wish I could rid my mind of all unwelcome thoughts that easily.

A rogue branch takes its chance to harpoon me.

In my heather tomb, I try to empty my mind of bilge, listening to my shallow breath and waves of surging blood.  Piercing the quiet a shrill whistle scares the curlew into flight taking it’s laments with it.  I rise, looking to my left and right as people emerge from the thick heather, a stretched-out line, young and old squinting against the glare and all facing the same rolling moorland.  A nod passes down the line, unsmiling as it flies along, then we set off, slowly, methodically in our measured steps.  A line of waving white, plastic flags, creating a sharp crack.  Beating.  The grouse in front of us fly up in fear, the smarter ones doubling back with cries of alarm.  Over a rise, hidden from view, we can hear the lead shot.  Hunters camouflaged behind the moss-covered, craggy stone butts, their barrels resting on the shaggy, grass tops.

Rolling a stone in my fingers, a worry bead of smoothness against my dry, rough skin.  This was a promise to watch me grow old.  It drops from my hand, soundless as stone returns to earth.  Another pebble, hard against my fingers.  A promise to love me forever, now released from my grip. The trail of pebbles disappear in my wake until only sand remains.

I concentrate on putting one foot in front of another, trying not to twist my ankle.  Our line pinches in as we reach the butts, and I stumble in a hidden fire ditch.   Shooters are handing over their guns to be cleaned, dogs are being called to heel and we are being herded to the land rovers.  I’m watched – covertly – but watched, so I keep my eyes down, my face neutral, automatically reaching for my pebbles, grains slipping through my fingers.

Piling into the back of the transport home, we sit, exhausted two rows facing each other, bouncing on old springs along the dirt track, the tyres kicking up dust as we fly along.  The twins laugh and joke, youth on their side while we sit in silence, smiling at their silliness.  This is their backyard, their playground and today they are getting paid for it.  Catching the eye of the eldest beater, his weathered face turns, the smile reaching through the heavy lines to his eyes.  I smile back, my muscles rusty and sore.

Track turns to tarmac as we descend into the village.  The other vehicles are already there, the guns being unloaded into the store room, ready to be locked away until tomorrow.  With a creak of brakes we stop, the back door is opened and we start to climb out.  I wait my turn snuggled in his jacket, taking comfort in the familiar smell of wax and aftershave.  A hand is extended to help me down, tanned, firm.  I don’t need to follow the line of the shirt up to the neck to know whose it is.  I drop carefully to the floor, hands by my side.  His voice is low, near my ear.  “Want to help me feed the pheasants?”  I stare deep into the forget-me-not blue eyes, not giving me any clues, so familiar yet so foreign.  His hair has grown longer, a slight curl against the tanned neck.

“Sure, why not.”

“Meet here at five?”

“OK.”

He disappears into the throng.

Walking down the steep path to my house, I smile.  This time it’s easier and without the pebbles in my pockets, I feel lighter.  Slipping my boots off in the porch, I carefully hang the wax coat on it’s usual peg then move into the kitchen calling out as I go –

“Dad I’m home!”

Then I remember.