FLASH FICTION • POETRY & RHYME
I write when inspiration drives me, so what I write is purely of the moment, rarely planned over time. Except for some longer works on another page.
Some are a consequence of the sheer joy of writing; other times I write as a comment on the machinations of this weird world, were half of us are at peace and half of us at war with each other - whether across countries or just across the road! Then, I hope, I write on the side of justice.
Mostly, what you find here has been written just for enjoyment and not originally intended for wide circulation, but anyone is welcome to browse.
Now she can hear the sea
I hold the lock of baby hair in my fingers; so soft, so fair. I remember cutting it and twisting it into the small, oval locket on its Spiga chain, which now sits next to the tiny spiral seashell, found on Ilfracombe beach. She held that next to her doll’s ear, when we got back home. ‘Now she can hear the sea,’ she said.
The blackbird’s feather, the Victorian penny, the white stone with sparkly inclusions, from another beach, and the ticket from her first train trip.
The pressed wildflower, the charm bracelet: photo booth images, on her own and with her best friend Beth: they are all there.
The Lourdes’ medal on its blue ribbon: we went there full of hope and she returned so much stronger, so much more at peace; but not cured.
And lastly the memories. So much happiness, amongst so much pain.
Tearful, I place all her treasures back into the old, round, Roses tin, encircled with yellow ribbon. Her magic box of memories. She had kept it so that she’d always be with me, she had bravely said, when she knew her time had come.
The following stories and poems have been selected serendipitously, some bright, some sad, all just expressions of life as I find it.
2018 FLASH FICTION
Next day, I closed his eyes
‘I can see the sea,’ my granddad said, as I sat beside him. I looked up, quizzically: the nearest coast, a hundred miles away. Was he hallucinating?
‘No, not waves breaking over a sandy beach. The sea that’s our destination.’ He had noticed my puzzlement. ‘We all start life’s journey springing from the deep dark, to trickle away our early years in blissful ignorance. Only as we grow, touched by others, tributaries giving volume to our knowledge, do we realise our destination. And that, at first, seems so far away. But how far?
‘For some, life starts too close to the sea, the flow tortuous and short. Others are lucky and meander slowly, touching many other lives, enjoying the happy confluence that drives two forces together, creates rivulets and back waters that follow their own course, yet still they must make their way to the sea.’
I was beginning to wonder if some derangement was setting in.
‘I’ve seen the black waters, the still waters and the fast flowing, sun spangled races around rocky flats; the shock of rapids and falls and the sobriety of the deeps. But my measure is up, my joyous journey almost fulfilled.
‘Your mother knows, though she is afraid to tell you. But I think you know, as I knew before I was told. I am sadly weakened, or why otherwise would I lie in this bed, with the sun up high, birds in full song and waters rippling just across the field? The sea I see, the sea I hear, tells me my life has reached the shoreline.’
My eyes glazed with tears.
‘Don’t fear, don’t cry. Life is bright. Your journey hardly started. The sea is where we all will meet again. Once more, together, we shall see the sun shine.’
Next day, I closed his eyes.
Comedy Night at the Club
She had one of those horse-like smiles. You know. All top gum and big teeth; yellow-brown stained from forty smokes a day. Her raucous laugh was a deep bellied witch’s cackle ending in a fit of curdled-phlegm coughing that rattled her chest like thimbles on an old washboard. If she came up close, you’d better duck away fast, or be unpleasantly sprayed. And the jokes? So obscene, the diatribe of blue filth was stomach churning – but she held you spellbound. Pale blue eyes peered from beneath impossibly lush false eyelashes, set in a pancake of over-rouged slap, as she strode her manly gait between tables and out on to the dance floor. A bottle blonde poured into a sequinned dress so tight it thrust her boobs right into your face. And beware the man who heckled. It would be him, not his dinner, that was roasted.
The Barber Shop
I couldn’t believe it was still there, after fifty years. The old barber shop, with deep vee doorway still shared with the shop next door. That was a sweet shop, then: now a betting shop; but both still have that forties’ style window, shared with the whole row of preserved buildings. There’s also still litter from the chippy, three doors down, but instead of old newspaper, it’s styrene trays and green-slimed, empty, mushy peas cartons.
From the outside, I can still imagine sitting on the long wooden bench, awaiting my turn; the shrivelled old guy next to me awaiting his weekly cut-throat shave; the lanky lad in his drain pipes and Teddy Boy jacket, awaiting a trim of his swept back, glossy shined hair, sharply styled into a DA; the glass shelves with jars of oily white Brylcream and Gillette razors; that odd pungency of hair oil and cologne that assaulted your nose – and then there was the busy-bee buzz of the electric trimmer and the white-collar gent being offered ‘something for the weekend, sir.’
The sign has changed. “Ted’s Gentleman’s Barber” now “Two Tone’s – unisex beauty stylists”. The interior is remodelled in plush leather, brushed steel and glass. I peer in. No sign of any customers – or clients, as I should say, now. I could do with a trim, so I push open the door and step in warily. A stylist of indeterminate gender and brightly dyed hair greets me. He, or could be she, takes one look at my shaggy grey locks, drops the corners of his-her lips and, with tightened nostrils, looks at me slightly cross eyed. ‘Sorry sir, appointments only.’
The sun shines bright
in the middle of the night
and the moon stays up all day.
The clock strikes one
at half past three
as the chickens
start to bray.
In a time before now,
but well after then,
the flowers pushed their roots
to the sky.
And the kitchen maid
stood for hours on her head
putting beetroot in apple pie.
Large oranges grew
on the crab apple tree
and the river ran back
up the hill.
The tide stayed out
for two days at a time,
the clouds in the sky stood still.
Now the grass grows tall
with a bright hue of blue,
the trees taste of Cheshire cheese.
Houses are built
With their roofs on the ground
and huge aeroplanes
sail the seas.
If all this seems strange
and you don’t think it true
take a new look, yourself, at the day.
By closing your eyes
when looking around
you may see this old world
the same way.
The Crocodile Girl
It’s Thursday. Eleven-thirty in the morning. Term time. I look sideways through the open bay window that gives me both fresh air and a view across the sun dappled park. Any moment now, the crocodile will appear from the tree lined cross roads, a little way to my left. No, not what you’re thinking: I don’t imagine things. It’s a crocodile of tiny schoolkids, in bright, reflective yellow, waistcoats that appears around the corner in hand-holding pairs. The same time, every week: except in the holidays.
It’s not the children I’m watching for, but the small, sylph like figure of their chief minder: the brunette bobbed teacher, with the impish smile. She knows I watch. She gives me a little wave, each time she passes. Not at first, because she never noticed me. Not for some time later, because she was suspicious of my voyeurism. Which it isn’t. Then she found out who I was. Found out, I was locked in.
Oh, I’m not talking metal locks. It’s my body that locks me in. Most days, anyway, until my sister comes around. I have a carer that helps with my hygiene, but she’s not allowed to take me anywhere, and a friend from schooldays, who has the occasional morning free to spirit me away, on a brief circuit of freedom: around the park or down to the library and back. Mind you, I make life difficult by staying in my upstairs flat, but it’s home: everything is where I want it, where I can reach it. Apart from my crocodile girl, who is now standing on the corner, marshalling her class and three volunteer parents, ready to cross the road.
The good drivers are out, today. They stop and wait, while the whole phalanx crosses and heads towards the park gate. But then, unusually, they stop again. Right opposite my window.
Ruth looks up – I found out her name when she came to my door one day, a serious frown upon her face. I explained my locked-in state, my war-shattered body, and how the bright chatter of passing children cheers me up: though, not saying that seeing her, each time, lifted my heart. A heart that aches for more, when her tribe disappears from sight, down the twisty park pathways. She had been relieved to know I had no sinister intentions, as I watched her guide the babbling crocodile.
Today, Ruth peels away from her charges. My doorbell rings. It’s her. She knows it’s my birthday, though I don’t know how, but the children have made me a card. “For the brave soldier in the window”, it says. We go to that window. I lean slightly out and the children all wave.
I say she can come to my party, if she likes: although, there’ll only be the two of us. She just says yes. But her sea-blue eyes say more.
Colour of Death
What colour is death?
Some would say a sombre, mourning, black,
others a funereal purple, deep with respect;
yet more the bright white glow of happy release
and joyous recollections,
or the rainbow colours of a mirthful wake.
For me, it is the fiery orange of the furnace,
for I have slain many men: women and children, too.
I’ve laid waste their homes and raped their land,
destroyed their every hope
and sent them fleeing to foreign shores.
And I’ve been cheered upon my way,
as I carve great rifts through village and city,
medals and ribbons upon my chest.
I hear the adoration of a hero’s welcome,
yet my heart sears with pain for what is done.
My heart is blackened now, my soul no longer white,
I have completed my mission on this path of life,
with memories that burn my inward eye,
that carve my downward spiralling destiny,
on the back of the beast that is war.
I am the colour of death.
One for Money. One for Love.
The man I married is not the man I love. Edward, never Ted, my husband, is in finance and obsessed with figures, though he rarely, clumsily, paws mine. I do have a love for him, he’s an excellent dad to the boys; he’s generous, kind and gentlemanly. I never want to hurt him. But there’s Steve, the man I truly love, always have done since my teens, across the bay. He married up, into Society. Good for the job, selling exotic cars.
Steve has a boat. His wife hates it; doesn’t like the sea, except as a pretty border to a sandy, sun-tanning beach. Or the backdrop to a luxury cruise. So she never sets foot on it and he sails alone to a secluded cove three miles up the coast. That’s where I meet him. That’s where we entwine with a ferocity that climaxes in insurmountable pleasure. Where we plan a future that will never exist, for neither of us would willingly break up our family.
Time with Steve is stolen pleasure, as he enfolds me in his arms, as we lie panting in the sun, sometimes on the beach, sometimes on deck; or in the bunk below, when it rains. For those glorious moments we are one.
It comes as a shock when he tells me that business is slow and he has to sell the boat. It’s an expendable luxury, his wife has decreed. He has no argument: it’s his business he has to keep afloat, first.
I’ve talked to Edward. Said it would be good for the boys, too. He’s agreed. He’s buying me a boat, not as luxurious as Steve’s, but fine enough.
He’s made me promise I won’t go out on it alone. I’ve assured him of that.
The Clock Ticks
The clock ticks away on the mantelpiece.
But in the womb, I don’t hear the ticks of each second that lead to birth and new life.
Then, through the years every tick beats a second closer to understanding, to maturity, to achievement, living the life I choose: through joy, through heartache, the gains and losses of a life well lived. But still looking for understanding.
Every second is savoured through children, through grandchildren; through colleagues and friends, through city life, through countryside, through nature: the whole panorama of existence.
And still, I don’t understand why.
Every second the clock ticks, I am wiser, but no wiser.
Every second the clock ticks, a second closer to death.
And I reflect on the high points of my life. And the low.
Until the clock stops. For me. But still ticks away on the mantelpiece.
Pleasure out of doors
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
Others may stroll on their way without a second glance,
But I find so much to see
If you only stop,
Take your time
View the placid plains, the undulating mounds,
The intricate details that grace,
The common place and the rare,
From doll’s house minuteness, a small child’s joy,
To solid, hand worn, burnished oaks of cathedral splendour.
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
Upstanding, erect sentinels that defend against the intruder,
Minimalist plate glass and chrome
Inviting you to explore,
Just to browse
Amongst stockpiled wares, kneel in pews,
Wonder at stately ages past,
Find doors to stairways to doors off landings,
Into rooms of play, or study, or simple sleep,
Rooms that whisper secrets of the night, shout pleasures of the day.
I get so much pleasure out of doors.
The craftsmanship of ancient skills has such splendour,
With intricate whorls that delight the eye,
Massive beams that defy time itself,
Standing eon after eon
Amid crumbling walls,
Decoration peeling in golden flakes, coloured dust,
Laquerless patches, dull against the shine,
No longer gracing muralled walls, lending eternity of entry
To banquets, to balls, to log fired heat and shadowed summer light.
One goes slow
and one goes fast
one tells the future
one tells the past
both my clocks
have a different say
in telling me
the time of day.
Between them both
I guess it right
or middle of night
but oh for a clock
that keeps good time
now that to me
would be sublime.
The glow of dawn beckoned, a sliver of sun just crossing the horizon. Looking down, the sea boiled amongst black rocks, knife sharp glints setting the pulse of the coming day.
He moved further forward to peer down into the wind driven waves, the chill of the up draught full in his face. He new his next move, but was distracted by the mew of a black headed gull, slipping past so close he could feel the beat of its wing as it turned seaward.
A quick look up, then around, to see what other eyes might watch. None human: they would barely be awake, snuggled into warm duvets in hotels and cottages along this ever-popular coast. Only the birds seemed to relish this early morn.
Edging further outward, he felt the rapid beat of his heart, the dryness of throat and an inability to utter a sound. The tide thundering on the rocks below was all that met his ears, calling him, cajoling him. What would it be like to feel the air rushing around his body? Would it be a tortuous descent to a life ending pain that would sear through his whole being?
Nerves taught, he launched himself outward in to free fall, then stretched himself wide, the up current filling his wings as he arced away from the thrashing foam in his first, ragged flight. The fledgling flew high, quick to enjoy the exhilaration of freedom; but too slow to evade the peregrine’s strike.
She stares with cold, cornflower blue eyes, in defiance of what I say, intent on teenage daughter rebellion; knowing so much, knowing so little.
Her pubescent younger sister is less certain of life, but fast catching the ways of her older sibling.
Their mother, the necessary breadwinner since the accident, is a workaholic, bordering alcoholic when trying to de-stress, and rarely home. Her demeanour often sour, her idea of a four-course meal is two halves of a sandwich, a Kit-Kat and a skinny latté. So I do the cooking, with aids, from my disc-wheeled chariot. The housework, too, where I can reach.
The youngest, a boy of seven, is unruly, unkempt – and unplanned – with an angelic expression and ferocious temper.
Now, those cornflower blue eyes have whipped away; the door slammed in retreat.
But they are my family. I love them all. I’d be lost without them.