I finally let me go

At fifty,
I tried to hold life still,
I found I couldn’t.
I couldn’t hold the line,
For a tiny moment longer.
It took too much to linger.

I let it go.

He was out in the garden.
I was eating lunch,
I packed a suitcase.
I dutifully made the dinner,
For Sunday and Monday night.
Left the key on the table.

And strolled out of my life.

I wandered across this earth.
Slept in odd places,
Lived out of my suitcase.
Severed all the lines,
Sailed out across the sea.
Played a thousand stories.

But none of them was me.

And then one day I wandered past.
A house that I had known,
I knocked on the door.
And the owners let me in,
It had been a life time I know.
Yet I wandered through that house.

In someone else’s clothes.

Another time and place.
Someone else’s story,
And someone else’s face.
I sat out in their garden,
I smelled the summer air.
All around me was familiar.

But was I ever really there.

I’m not sure if I existed.
I’ll never really know,
My feet are sore.
My heart is tired,
But all lined up in a row.
A thousand thoughts and feeling.

I finally let me go.

Green eyes and wildflowers

I have green eyes.

Children with green eyes,
always tell lies

That is what he said.
As he stood over her body.
I knew that she was dead.

Children with green eyes,

He put her in the ground.
Her body, frail and small.
I never made a sound.

Always tell lies.

There was nothing I could say.
When he came to touch me.
Another girl, a different day.

Children with green eyes,

I watched the wild flowers grow.
Never ever doubting.
I knew the things I know.

Always tell lies.

Year upon each endless year.
I watched the wild flowers bloom.
He seemed to have no fear.

Children with green eyes,

I watched over her grave.
And silently I waited
I told myself, be brave.

Always tell lies.

Then one day he came.
An emerald eyed policeman.
Who even knew my name.

Children with green eyes,

He had read the files.
He had seen the truth.
Travelled a hundred miles.

Always tell lies.

To dig a patch of ground.
To hear a child’s story.
To help me make a sound.

Children with green eyes,

I finally found the words to say.
His story was unchanged.
What it was I saw that day.

Always tell lies.

I heard the judge’s verdict,
You know what she said.

Children with green eyes,
Always tell lies.

But not about death.

Portrait of a town: After School

There’s a new child at school. She heard it on the grape vine. That can only mean trouble. There will be a parent, most likely a woman. That can’t be good.

She stands, there absorbed in the conversation, lightly touching an arm when required. Enthusiastic. Laughter. ‘We must do coffee.’ She says it knowing the listener will be honoured at such an invite.

She spots the child before she spots the parent. Seeing the parent is positively shocking. It always is. Nothing can prepare you. She takes in the clothes (autumnal colours), the hair (average colour), the total lack of makeup! On a Tuesday too. She watches the woman collect her child, look around her for a face that might smile, someone that might catch her attention.

This is the danger moment. She knows that. That point in which it can all unravel. It will be Charlotte’s fault. Charlotte likes strangers, she can easily be drawn into a conversation with that woman. And then bang! Things will change. She will seep into the friendship group. They won’t be this tight knit circle. She will have to admit someone new. Uh Uh.

She looks at the woman hoping it is her eye that is caught. Because she will give her daggers. These are my friends and you can’t have them, not a smile, not a word. They are mine and this is my world. And you are intruding and don’t think you can change anything because you can’t. She wants to pierce her heart. You can do that with newbies.

She can see that other frump magnet standing off to the left. The frump magnet has been here a whole 12 months and whilst her children have made friends she absolutely has made sure that frump magnet never has. She can taste that victory, see the forlorn look in that woman’s eyes everyday when she comes to pick up her child. It makes her smile inwardly. The outward smile is perfect. The inward more twisted. She does not let on.

This is her playground. She was always popular at school. The pretty girl with the swinging hair. And now she is popular in the playground and no saggy boobed badly dressed newbie is going to ruin it. The new woman was thin she had to admit that, and those breasts may have been real. But wait –her teeth, oh dear god, unwhitened teeth. There should be regulations. She hoped her child never made friends. Her child never did. She was loyal like that.

She made a note to look out for what kind of car she drove. She suspected, horrified- that it may not be a 4 wheel drive. There was no way this woman could ever join her friendship group. Ever. She watches Charlotte closely. Charlotte had invited the previous newbie child to her daughters party. She’d even engaged that frump magnet woman in conversation on the door step.

There had been nothing else for it, she’d had to stage an intervention. Made it look like the newbie child had deliberately spilled something on Charlotte’s carpet. The frump magnet and her daughter were never invited back. To any party. Ever. It had been a close call. The child had cried, said it was not her fault. She had to insist she had seen it deliberately done. The child had simply poured the red cordial onto the white carpet. When in fact she had to twist the child’s hand to pour it out.

It was a horror story. She had very nearly been caught by Amber. Amber was her best friend but she wasn’t always sure that Amber lied on her behalf in a way that indicated the commitment required from a best friend. Amber’s husband was not as attractive as her husband but Amber’s husband found her attractive. Wasn’t that the key to a best friend? She doubted that her husband found Amber attractive. Although she did note how they sometimes seemed to laugh together. She must talk to Amber about that. It was important Amber understood who was more attractive.

She swished her hair. Flashed her teeth. Glad she was wearing heels because that very tall thin woman with a daughter in the year above was here again. She hated her. They all hated her. Even more than the newbies, they all hated her. She was so nice as well. She always smiled and said hello. But there was unanimous agreement she could never be part of the group. Ever.

Her husband doesn’t understand. He thinks her obsession with women in the playground is childish. But his fashion sense has failed since they had children. He wears a lot of beige and brown. She isn’t sure how much longer she can be married to someone who wears brown. The whole house is white and charcoal, which is a problem because white and grey are this seasons colours.

Charlotte. She is watching Charlotte and the newbie just in case. Charlotte still has a beige bathroom, which is at least 5 years old. It might be time to find a way of getting Charlotte out of the group. Charlotte is a risk. She doesn’t follow trends. She hasn’t read the latest magazine and she suspects Charlotte might visit a unisex hairdresser.

She smiles, she talks. She simpers. She smirks. She thinks about strategy. She looks at Charlotte, is that camel she is wearing? So last season. And leopard print when snake is in?

She watches her own child run towards her and is struck by how much prettier her little girl is compared to everybody elses. Thank goodness, she can’t imagine what it would be like to have an ugly child.

Blood is red

I was stabbed when I was 13. I don’t really remember it. It was 10 years ago.

I see the posters up everywhere. A picture. A boy. Not much older than me. I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t remember. I don’t think it can have been me. He was so much bigger, not older just bigger. He went to my school.

He plunged a knife into my stomach. I remember that bit. The knife. His surprise as it hit something hard. Like I had a rock inside of me. It was inexplicable. He left the knife there. Twisted it. I was looking into his eyes. He looked down. At the knife. A frozen moment. I don’t remember anything else.

No one ever saw him again.

I look at the posters. I feel for his family, but I can’t help.

All I remember after that is lying on my bathroom floor with the knife still inside me. Blood pouring out of me. Its warmth and life seeping through my fingers as I desperately tried to hold my body together.

I remember pulling the knife out. Just pulling it out. I don’t remember pain. I remember my mother coming in, the look of concern on her face. I remember days in bed. Healing when I should have been at school.

After that we grew apart my mother and I. As if she knew something I didn’t. I moved out a few years ago. I haven’t seen her since. She never called the police. Nor did I. There was no ambulance. She literally bandaged me up, put me to bed and left me to heal.

I remember her looking at the knife, at me, at my blood soaked clothes and the floor. So strangely. I guess she had never seen anyone stabbed before.

There is still a scar. I know if I told the police perhaps his family would have some closure. Perhaps every year on the anniversary the posters would not appear. Perhaps they would find out what happened.

My mother burned the clothes, cleaned the floor.

I still have the knife though. An odd idea. I carefully wrapped it. I never cleaned it. I have read a lot of books since then. I take the knife out every anniversary. I carefully unwrap it and examine it. The blood is still there. The problem is every book I ever read said human blood was red.

The blood on the knife, my blood, was not red.

Portraits from a town: The nose

‘Your nose looks big in that picture. In fact its massive. I mean your nose is quite big anyway.’

I look at the picture. It looks like me. With my nose. Which is obviously not good enough anymore. It was of course a perfectly good nose when we got married. Now after child birth it is suddenly elephantine.

Later on, I google all the ways men have come up with to fix women’s noses, and some that women have devised as well. Rhinoplasty-too expensive. My nose will be fine if I revamp my makeup and contour properly, although I need to be careful not to make my eyes beady by making my nose smaller. Oh the pitfalls of makeup. And the cost. All because my nose -has what-changed? The perception of my nose has changed? Its just a bad photograph.

Later in the week he has friends over, he stops in front of the picture and points out my enormous nose. They laugh together. My son can hear them. I don’t cry, not yet. I feel my nose. I like it. It is functional. Made for breathing, not cuteness.

His friend comes into the kitchen. He tries not to, but I know. I saw it. He looked at my nose. Just to see if it’s like it is in the picture. He smiles at me. I look for traces of sympathy but see only humour there. He does not care about anything else. His friend is married to someone with a big nose. They will joke about it later.

I know now my nose will never be good enough again. Nor will I. I have wrote my imperfections large across the wall for everyone to see. I deserve what I get. There is a photograph where my nose looks big. I have dared to leave it hanging there for the world to see. Is there a greater crime for any woman?

Later on he is giving me advice on how to load the dishwasher. He is clueless. It’s a dishwasher, you can load it however you want. There is no right way, there is just my way and his way. I google how to tell a man he is more stupid than he thinks he is. There is no answer there. Google does not know everything.

Two weeks later, he is still talking about the picture. He wants it removed, it is offending him. I like the picture. I like my nose. I have started wishing for an even bigger nose, just to spite him. I google prosthetic noses. I google false nose warts. I am thinking of vandalising the picture so a trail of snot is hanging out of my nose. It’s a picture. I have a face. It is a nose. I use it to breathe. It is of no consequence to anyone else what it looks like. Still he goes on about it. He tells the neighbours and some of my friends. I want to tell him his trousers don’t match his shirt. I think better of it.

It is then that I understand the world will rend us apart. It is only a matter of time.

I will cry a thousand tears. He will have been right all along. My nose was too big for someone like him. It is astonishing we stayed married so long. He will not cry any tears.

One day he will know the tears he did not cry for what they are. They are the contents of the bottle. It is not a new bottle. Men have bottled things up forever. It is a glass bottle. One day it will shatter and break and the tears will fall out into the world. They will fall in one great big puddle onto the floor mixed with fragments of glass. He won’t remember my nose. He will wonder why, search for answers that he did not keep. He will call. I will hang up. Our son will ferry between us.

I will sit and look at my nose in the mirror. I will not think about how it looks. I will suck in the air and know the sweet smell of freedom.

The Draytons

Edward Drayton. He stared at the name on the file.  Another one. This job never got any easier. Edward Drayton had no doubt taken his wife’s name after marriage. Not unusual in these parts. Drayton was an old name, one from the time when Europeans first came here.

He breathed in. Sighed it out. Prepared himself. He knew what was coming. He buzzed Drayton in.

Drayton came in, sat down. Drayton was the usual. Embarrassed. Agitated. Desperate.

Drayton started speaking almost straight away, ‘Nobody in my wife’s family has ever died.’

Even before Drayton said it, he recognised the look on that face. His heart sank. It was common in these parts. Locals called it the vamps.

‘Nobody?’ he said calmly.

He knew Drayton had chosen him as a therapist because he was from out of town. Deliberately chosen him, no doubt Drayton had done some research. Someone with no connection to the family that he knew of, but there were so very many Draytons. How could anyone be sure?

His surname was different, but he had taken his wife’s name on marriage too. He had tried to distance himself from the stories. Drayton had come here, taken a chance, looking for a kindred spirit. Who was he to judge?

‘Well there was Cousin Lola.’ Drayton continued. He remembered cousin Lola, quite sad. He showed no emotion though and Drayton ploughed on.

 ‘Impaled on a fence, but I went there. Wooden fence!’  Drayton said this with finality as if there was only one explanation.

He tried to maintain a professional composure. There was the rest of the family to consider.

‘And they don’t like garlic. I once made a chilli with a lot of garlic for my wife and her sisters and their kids, whole family. They all sat there, barely ate it.’

Drayton was on a roll now. He tried to remain calm, neutral, professional. Even as the saliva was pooling in his mouth.

‘And my wife, sometimes she sleeps during the day and haunts the house at night. She says its menopause.’

‘And she hates silver.’

He wanted to put up a hand and stop it then and there. Drayton was looking for answers but none of the behaviours he described were unusual. Some people preferred gold. Garlic was relatively new in this part of the world when his wife was growing up. Someone died in a random accident on a wooden fence.

He knew the conclusion Drayton wanted to draw. It was sad. Always sad. He prescribed something random, told Drayton to think about it, come back in a week. He wanted to add ‘but only if you see your wife howling at the moon.’ He didn’t. Sarcasm was not professional in these situations. His was a difficult job. He had some sympathy. The women out west were odd sometimes.

He knew as Drayton opened the door to leave, he would have to make that phone call.  

He called his mother. To tell her to call her cousin. To tell her cousin to call her sister. To tell her to call her daughter. To tell her,

‘It’s time to eat your husband.’

Portrait of a town: Her, she him.

 It will be like this forever now. He sees. She is on the train platform. She sees him on the platform. With her.

She stares straight ahead.

He is attentive to her.

Deciding where to stand is up to her, he knows that. Like so much now, it is all up to her. He pretends he is listening.

She does not see the pretence. She stares straight ahead as if she is not there.  

He mumbles agreement to her. This is the right place to stand. This is the spot. This is where they should stand. She is standing somewhere else. But not too far away. Maybe not far enough away he thinks.

Her. Flicks some unseen thing from her coat. Her beautiful expensive coat.  Snuggles herself into it, wraps herself in it. Wonders why he has not noticed? Now would be the perfect moment to drape his arm around her.

She can see her, just about.  She knows that she is the other woman. In a maroon coat, might as well be scarlet red she thinks. Her in camel, is anyone wearing camel this season?

She stares straight ahead, hoping the train will come around the bend before she cries.

They both have the same short blond hair. She didn’t know that. Although perhaps one of them is more recent than the other. She tries not to think about her. Her is messing with her coat again. She tries more valiantly not to think of him. Of hands, hair, of bodies intertwined in darkness.

He is attentive, listening, but he is also comparing their legs. She has thinner legs. He wonders if he made the right decision. He looks at the expensive watch on his hand. Of course it was the right decision, splitting the assets would have been financially disastrous. He tries to look interested in her conversation but he isn’t sure.

He still isn’t sure.

Her conversation is just noise in the background. What would she say, he wonders in the pale morning light.  He is trying hard to focus on her, on the words coming out of her mouth. There is something else on her coat now. He wants the train to come.

What is on her coat? Feigning a dirty coat, for attention, why doesn’t he notice. Is he listening? Every fibre of her body is willing the train to come. He is leaning in, but he is not focussed on her. Did she just turn her head? Is that what happened. There is an explosion in her head. Where is that train?

 He has to lean in because he must not be able to see where she is standing from here. This is a train station. Everyone must retain some semblance of dignity.

The wedding ring is hers. That is what counts. Her coat is better.  But that woman’s legs?

Dear god, where is the train.

The hand

I never went outside. Much as a child. I grew up inside. Afraid of the outside. A manor house. Big old stone thing. Creaking walls. Lots of indoor space. Perfectly manicured lawns. I think in half sentences.  

The hand.

I remember everything about it. It is the mark of. My childhood, that patch of lawn. Perfectly Cut. A square. Part of a bigger rectangle. Intersected  by a path. It sat right next to the driveway.

The hand.

I can’t remember how old I was. When it first happened. I was simply standing on the lawn. That lawn. A hand. Green and covered in grass, came up out of ground and grabbed my ankle. I was terrified. Frozen. Rooted to the spot. I looked down. I could see it had hold of my ankle. Then it let go. I examined that grass. Minutely. There was nothing there.

No hand.

A few months later the same thing. Again. It happened intermittently, as I grew up. The hand out of the lawn. I tried never to go out. Grasping my ankle. I stayed very still. It let go. I had an older cousin, Maisie. Her daughter strayed on to that patch of grass. They found her playing on it. But they never found Maisie. There was simply no trace of her. The police investigated. There was nothing.

No hand.

I could see the patch of grass from my window. Sometimes in the semi darkness it seemed to heave itself upward. Roll and then settle again. I never went on the grass. Not after Maisie. Then an even odder thing happened. The grass seemed to grow. In a neat line. Across the driveway. The gardener kept killing it off. It kept growing back.

It was the hand, I know it was the hand.

I knew even then what had happened to Maisie. One day I simply packed my suitcase. And left. I remember stepping over that errant grass on the driveway. Knowing I had won. I took one of my mothers best jewels. I watched from afar. A pariah. A thief. As the house opened to the public. It shut again after a few years. A young woman went missing. No trace was found.

It was the hand, I know it was the hand.

I married. Had a daughter. Then she had a daughter. It is all too painful, even as I think of it now. They were in an accident. A terrible accident. My husband. My daughter. My grand daughter. Not me.  In the days afterwards, that became months and years, I contacted my brother. He invited me home. To the house.

I wondered about the hand.

Back to that house. I would go. To live out my final days. He seemed to think there was some justice in what had happened. I still had that suitcase that I took with me when I first went. Tatty old thing. I took it down. Opened it. Empty. Except for a tuft of green grass in the bottom. I sat on the bed.

I wondered about the hand.

There it was, I went home. When I got there. The patch of grass had been fenced. First by wrought iron then clear plastic panelling put up. The gardeners struggled to keep it under control. I watched the grass grow, big and tall. I knew it was coming. Coming for me. It would snake out across the driveway no matter what I did. It was patient.

The hand.

Late one afternoon. After tea and cake, I put on my best dress. I went down to that piece of lawn. I opened the gate. It creaked. Clanked. As if announcing my arrival. I stepped inside. All this time, that bleak dark thing-whatever it was- had waited. I did not wait. I walked onto the lawn.

The hand.

Portraits from a town 11

He winds down the window. Music is pumping out of the car. His head is nodding in time. He thinks its in time. It might not be in time. He looks in the rear view mirror. The trailer is still attached.

He puts his elbow on the door frame. He looks at the grey streaks in his hair. What’s that phrase-‘silver fox’. His paunch pushes against the seat belt.

There’s a notification from social media, a new video. He is following a 23 year old who does yoga on instagram. He messaged her about his ‘downward dog’. She answered. He thinks they have a connection. He is wearing beige trousers.

He has taken off his wedding ring especially for this trip to take the cardboard to the recycling centre. He turns up the music.

He thinks of his wife wandering around the house in flip flops and bold prints hiding her stature under swathes of fabric. He has definitely connected with that yoga girl, even though he isn’t quite sure what a downward dog is.

The music is something he found on his son’s phone, it’s probably the latest. He gets the thundering bass but the lyrics are a mystery. Every word is said so fast. Still soon he thinks, he and yoga girl might converse more and he wants to seem modern. He sees a woman walking along the street, middle aged, no make-up, nameless trainers. She looks at him. She will not know this music. He is sure of that.

He arrives at the recycling centre. Parks up. Checks his look in the mirror. He gets out of the 4WD, looks around. If he isn’t wrong, he is the most attractive man at the recycling centre at the moment, maybe for the day, even the week. He hitches up his trousers. He wished he was wearing a shirt, he’d undo a button, show some chest.

The recycling bins are quite high. You have to throw stuff to get it in. He is ready. Pumped. It is not a competition. If it was a competition, he would win.

He has borrowed his son’s trainers. He hopes the lad will never find out as he begins slinging cardboard into the cardboard recycling. There is something macho about slinging cardboard he thinks. Its primal. Like throwing a spear or something.

He has taken up a lot of space parking. That’s ok, every man here must feel inferior in his presence. They can probably tell he works in banking. Well actually in a building near a lot of banking headquarters, its almost the same thing. He works in the banking district.

He wished he had a bigger trailer for the car. His trailer is a tiny little box thing. Of course he could have fitted all the recycling in the back of the car but who does that when they own a trailer? He liked the way it felt to shove all that cardboard into a confined space. How it felt to hitch that trailer so hard to the back of the car.

And then there is the added difficulty of driving with a trailer. He is very good at driving with a trailer. It might even be his super power. He imagined yoga girl watching admiringly as he hitched that trailer. Then he noticed, Mrs whats-her-name across the road peeking through the curtains. She is so old, so very old. He wonders if he will ever get old. He’s not sure if that bit of cardboard went in. He should have brought his glasses

He looks around to see who is watching him. No one is watching him. They are focussed on getting rid of their recycling. Probably partly intimidated by his masculine stature.

Where’s the car key? Oh no, has he lobbed the car key into the recycling? He will have to call his wife to come and bring the key. In the fiat 500? Where’s his phone? In the car? He will have to ask someone else to call his wife. He doesn’t know the number. He is not good with numbers.

And then, a flood of relief as the young man in the parking space next door says, ‘Excuse me granddad, but I think you dropped your keys.’

He hates the way young people have no respect for older people. He goes home.

There was nobody here

Don’t cry in silence, I thought I’d try poetry again, not sure if the rhythm is quite right.

I learned to cry silently,

To never let it show.

To lie right down beside him,

And never let him know.

He shattered into fragments,

I told myself it was fine.

I picked up the pieces,

 for a life that was not mine.

I stood beside his grave,

I did not know what to say.

I put my emotions in my pocket,

For another rainy day.

And then came the reckoning,

Along with the fear.

I screamed, I cried, I shouted.

There was nobody here.