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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.

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.

Portraits from a town 10

He sits in the corner of the pub. His corner. He remembers how pubs used to smell. They don’t smell that way anymore.

He is here alone. There are other people here. Other men. They are alone as well. They are alone together. All of them alone and somehow together. In the pub. Scattered over disparate stools, staring at televisions mounted on dark walls, drinking beer from nearly clean glasses.

There is a younger man and a woman in the corner. They lean in, in close conversation. Her shirt reveals cleavage, a hint of bra and then flesh. He stares. It is his birthright. The woman notices. The man notices. He looks away. What is happening to the world when you are not allowed to stare. What is a woman doing in a pub anyway? He does not bring his wife to the pub.

She is at home, the wife. He thinks. He thinks she is probably at home. But mostly she is not at home. She might be out playing bingo with friends. She might be at that odd gastro pub up the road. She might be at her exercise class. He orders another drink. She might be with another man. Whatever she is doing, she is not at the pub. She is not alone.

He chats to the barman who is too busy to talk. He engages in mild conversation with all the others who are alone at the pub. He watches the TV at the pub. He can’t hear the words on the telly. It never used to be like this. He was never alone at the pub. There were friends, laughter, tales of brave drunken men and women waiting to be eaten. When did they all go home? Why did he stay behind? Now he looks down a woman’s top and the world hates him for it. He is indifferent to himself, whoever himself is. He stares at the beer mat. He could count his life in beer mats, he has known so many.  In his head he does not exist, it is all that makes the loneliness bearable. That and the beer.

He looks at his hands, there is no wedding ring. It is hard to remember why he doesn’t wear one. It makes him feel unmoored. Less like he exists at all. Less like he is tied to any kind of life. He has a freedom he does not want anymore. She wears a wedding ring and somehow she is the one that is free. It is hard to understand. He looks at the beer mat.

He likes beer mats. And ash trays and crisps and shirts that spill open as young women lean forward. He stares at wrinkled hands, wrinkles that somehow crept through the door and interlaced themselves all over his hands, what kind of alone is this? Whose hands are those and where did they come from? They are most comfortable wrapped around a glass. They once held the hand of someone who does not recognise him. He drinks some more. Looks at his phone, thinks his children might text. They never do. They learned long ago not to disturb him at the pub.

She is laughing, at the bingo. Wishing the children would stop sending her texts when she is out with friends. But then, remembering them makes her smile, she doesn’t mind so much. She looks at the wedding band. There is the nice man from number 85 sitting over there, perhaps she will slip it off later. It always feels wrong to be faithless with the wedding band on.

Tomorrow night is Zumba with Lexie, then drinks with the girls on Friday. This is what she waited for, its what made all that child bearing and drudgery worth it. Days in the sun, with laughter. They are all going to Portugal, Maisie’s son has a house out there. Girls only.

She does not think of him. He is at the pub. He likes the pub. When the children were young he was always at the pub. He still is. Probably. He barely exists in her mind. Except as a mouth to feed and some trousers to wash. And as a smell in her bed that she is used to but does not like. He slides into bed beside her. She often pretends to sleep. She used to shower as a courtesy buy she doesn’t anymore.

There is silence as she makes the breakfast the next morning. Every morning. She makes his lunch to take to work. Perhaps he knows, perhaps he doesn’t. How can he know anything through the beer haze.  She is still smiling, the man from 85 is quite ‘energetic’ as it turns out. She fiddles with the wedding ring. He married the pub, she has a life. He goes to work, comes home, trudges back to the pub.

Late one night, he wanders home, sits outside in the gutter. He cannot bring himself to go in. When he was young, he was out at the pub, he missed the kids growing up, but what a life he had. Now she has a life and he is alone. He did not see that coming. He did not predict the end even though it sat next to him on a stool every night. He remembers those old men, their hacking coughs, their sagging skin, joining in conversations they weren’t part of. Desperately free. Unmoored. He did not think he would be one of them.

He gets up, goes inside, the smell of another man mixes with the beer on his breath in bed. It’s like their paths crossed just the once in the middle somewhere and now they are moving further apart, and radiating out from the place they once met, are beer mats, like stepping stones. He’d like to turn around and go back, but the beer has slid down the side of the glass and the beer mats are wet. Someone has thrown them all away, there is no way back for him. He sleeps, snores and thinks of tomorrow night at the pub.

In the Gap of the Gods

And now for something completely different, I don’t normally do poetry, here’s why:

There are gaps.

He sees them as silence to be filled.

I see them as space to explore.

We run at them, at speed together,

To see who gets there first.

He fills the space with overpriced words,

I guard it by wrapping myself in its silence.

It is an endless dance, like the moon and the tide.

We push and pull at the shadows of the world.

When you found yourself surrounded by friends and laughter,

That was him.

When you were lonely because the phone never rang,

That was me.

When the world crushed you with its noise,

That was him.

When you sought and found sanctuary in solitude,

That was me.

There is a balance, a see and a saw,

Endless, the two of us, evermore.

Portrait from a town

On weekends he witnesses car accidents. A picture in words. What does he look like in person? Does he live in your town?

On weekends he witnesses car accidents. On Saturdays he drives to the supermarket car park. He sits and waits. Sees it. Then tells the at fault driver he is innocent. Hands over his details. He has been a witness in 47 accidents in 3 years. Each time he has told untruths. Each time he has said the wrong person is at fault. He wonders if any insurance company will ever figure it out. He does his shopping on Tuesdays. There are never any accidents on Tuesdays.

He particularly likes Christmas, there are more accidents at Christmas.

Every evening, he comes home from work. He gets out of the car. He could walk across the grass to the front door. He could. But he doesn’t. Instead he walks down the short drive and out the gate and around on the pavement and in the front gate, up the front path and goes inside the front door. He likes the feel of concrete under his feet. Concrete is firm and resolute. It makes him feel in control.

He is not in control of the grass.

He works. He has done the same thing for ten years. He has done it so often he does not know what it is. He isn’t certain anyone knows what it is. He likes tuna sandwiches. He watches western movies. He wants to ride out across the open plains. He cannot ride a horse. Instead he secretly longs for cowboy boots with tassels and patterns stamped into the leather. But this is England. They would stand out. He does not want to stand out.

He has pictures of cowboy boots on his phone.

He is secretly in love. With a woman on the train who he has never even made eye contact with. She reads books instead of looking at her phone. That is odd. She wears clothes that don’t quite match. They could be odd together if he could just speak to her. He cannot speak to her. Maybe she is mute anyway. He waits for the day her wedding ring is missing. One day the wedding ring is missing. He almost takes the opportunity to sit in the same carriage as her. He could sit behind her looking at her calf. He thinks about her calf. A week later the ring is back.

He does not sit in the same carriage as her.

He watches pornography. He does not watch pornography. He has it on as he reads the paper. It is not the same thing. He was married once. He has a vague memory of it. There are pictures. Of him smiling at the wedding Maybe in the spare room there are still pictures. It was a long time ago. The dog has been missing. For years. Perhaps it is in the spare room too. This weekend he will wash the car. Last weekend he washed the car. He has cleaned the outside of the car every weekend since he bought it.

He has never cleaned the inside of the car.

Inside the house is the furniture, it has been there a long time. The TV, the couch, the bed. There is not much else. He should go out drinking with mates more often. Take up a hobby. Leave the house more. Perhaps he will get another dog. He looks at the beer stashed in the corner. He should take in a boarder. Except in all those movies, boarders are serial killers. If he wants to survive he should not take in a boarder.

He wants to survive, there is no safe boarder.

He takes a beer from the stash in the corner. He switches on the TV. He thinks of how he needs to make a change. He will make a change.

Tomorrow he will walk across the grass.

Stories in two sentences

1: The car hit the wall and I heard them say, ‘She’s dead.’ Now I can only smell wood and dirt, but that can’t be right, because the wall was made of bricks.

2: I want to reclaim my heritage, be the girl who tamed the wyvern. As its teeth sank into my neck, I could briefly smell its breath, feel its tongue on mine as I realised the story was a myth.

3: I came home late one night and someone had swapped all my furniture. I woke up the next morning and my husband wasn’t the man I thought he was, I stayed anyway.

It’s about the blanket

I am distracted by the idea of ghouls in the bath, of serpentine creatures seeping up through the plug hole and devouring my children. I need help. I can’t sleep. It’s ridiculous I know. I’ts about the blanket. I know how silly that sounds. It’s a throw, not a blanket, what is the difference-where you put it? IDK.  It’s all the same.

He has been ill so I have slept on the couch, whole nights under its soft, warm comfort. But sometimes I wake in the night and it’s like there is someone lying next to me. An arm thrown over me, a leg along side mine. I don’t move. Horrified, there is someone there. But when I finally do move, there is only me and the blanket and the couch.  And then I can’t sleep.

I look at it during the day, examine it. It is just a blanket, there is nothing special.

I nestle under it each evening to watch the television. But some nights it just feels more ‘aware’.  One night I spilled something on it and I swear it jumped sideways. Or did I throw it?  It’s the way it slips off me or doesn’t slip off me when it should. I can’t explain it.

When I lie in bed at night, I picture it stretching itself out on my couch. The thing is, it never seems to be in quite the position I left it. I get up in the night and try to catch it out. I folded it neatly one night, and got up at 3am to see if it had moved. It hadn’t. Well at least not in a big way. It had sorted of slipped as if it had just folded itself back into position. I know it can’t be the case. Its not real.

I am getting paranoid, I think the blanket is real, I think there are sea serpents down the plug hole, the kitchen is going to be covered in mould every morning when I wake up. I need more sleep.

And tonight I am tired and I need to go to bed. I brush my teeth, put the children to bed. I am so tired.

I take one last look out through the door that leads into the lounge, into the darkness. And there on the couch is the blanket. I daren’t switch the light on. It is there in the darkness sitting on my couch. It is sitting there as if it is a person. It is somehow draped over the cushion and it looks like it has a head. Like a shrouded body. I need more sleep.

I go to bed. I can’t get it off my mind. I can’t sleep. I get up again and peek through the door. It is still sitting there.

I go back to bed.

No I can’t sleep. Just knowing it is sitting there. I know it’s not real. It’s a blanket, it’s a throw, it is some kind of blanket throw combination which doesn’t matter.

I am bewildered, tired. I can’t sleep just knowing it is sitting there, human like, with form and shape.

 I get up, go out into the lounge. I don’t switch on the light. Why don’t I switch on the light? I make my way through the murky darkness. I reach out my hand to smooth it down in the darkness and as I do…

It turns to face me.

Him and her and me

It’s addictive. I sit watching it with my pig.

The evidence is circumstantial. There is no body.

I remember him, the smell of him. Now he looks gaunt.

There were three of us, that day, a long time ago. I really should find the photograph. Her and him and me.

He seemed so nice. She was full of life. I wasn’t. Now they say her life is gone. Gone that day. Unproven though. Like bread gone wrong.

The sex was great. Mind blowing. Afterwards he didn’t call. Either of us. I thought he would call. I drifted, just wandered away.

I should find that photograph. I could help.

Every day I watch. Drawn in. The pig is going to starve at this rate. He is the man I remember. Somewhere in the outsized suit.

Lazy days in the sun.

Bikinis and beach balls-like a coke ad. Afterwards he never called.

I watch the trial. He recounts it. All of it. The whole day. The days before. There is a photograph. Its not quite how I remember it. Someone is missing.

I must find my photograph. I remember the three of us. Him and her and me. He didn’t call.

Then before you know it, it’s over. Guilty. He killed her. Me. The evidence is circumstantial. I might never watch TV again.

A life sentence. I should call. I could help. Days, weeks, months, he is in prison.  

Then I find the photograph. It is not how I remembered.

The picture is just him. Him and me. I wandered away, never went back. Circumstantial. No body. I remember now. What the doctor said. She was just a voice in my head.

I should call. I could call. I didn’t call. I fed the pig.

Portraits from a town

Part 1

And so this was London. These weird overplayed notes in the darkness of the concert hall. If there was a dress code, it was black and grey and greyish black, like the sky and buildings, as if the whole place was constantly at a funeral.

She was married to man who’s name she never took the time to remember. And when she could remember it, she didn’t know him anyway. They never spoke. She never needed his name. It was mutual.

It hadn’t always been like that. There had a been a spark, a fire, then life. Life was like a fire extinguisher. The thought made her laugh. They had spent their life walking into the gushing nozzle of a fire extinguisher. It wasn’t a sophisticated thought. Not like these weird queasy notes, not like London. 

She sat in the concert hall wishing she’d brought a book. She could sit outside in her mismatched clothes in the empty bar, sucking in the smell of alcohol, her nose in a novel.

This was her life. So different to the other life. She came from somewhere no one had ever heard of and no one else had ever been. It meant nothing, the rest of London came from somewhere else as well, inexplicable how they all dressed the same.

London was another planet. You could be an alien in London and no one would know. It was not like that in the town where she lived. The music baffled her. Was that singing, is there a difference between noise made through your mouth and singing? She thought so.

Part 2

Another working day done, off the train, head down, up the hill, along the high street. It was dark as she dawdled home. Dithering in her bag on the pavement. He rushed past, ear phones in. He didn’t say sorry. He didn’t look. She simply didn’t exist. She was non-plussed, unimpressed. That level of speed, focus, direction was unnecessary in town. This was not London.

She kept going. Down that street, along that one, to her street. The van was blocking the pavement-again. They were standing there talking-again. She smiled. The van door was open. What would happen if she just climbed into the cab and just went through it, opened the door on the other side and leapt out. She didn’t. Wasn’t brave enough. She just went around and home. To Him, the one who’s name escaped her, again.

Part 3

He saw the woman dithering on the pavement, paid no attention, brushed past her, meant to say sorry but didn’t. He would have said it too loudly. These damn earplugs. He was listening to music his wife recommended. There had been a concert the night before. He had refused to attend. This was why. This rotten damn music. This singing, was it singing? It was just noise through your mouth and a plinky plonky keyboard. He didn’t enjoy it. He was trying but he didn’t like it.

This marriage, this life, he hadn’t made it work. How had he gotten here, the same place where had he come from. He was from here but never intended to end up here. He had wanted something different. This music was certainly different.

This noise, this music, it reminded him of a fire extinguisher, one had accidentally gone off at work. This odd music, that was exactly the sound it had made. How could she like it? He made an effort to think of her name when he thought of her. Otherwise he was worried he would forget it.

They had parked blocking the pavement-again. Damn it, he was just going to go through. The door was flung open, why not? Through their cab, open the door on the other side and leap out. They were standing there talking-again. He was going to go through, not around through. He got closer, closer still. Then at the last minute, he swerved, went around. Next time he told himself. Next time.

Two lives, they touched so briefly, almost. More similar than different, despite their beginnings. A moment, but not long enough to make their destinies collide. Maybe next time.

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

He sits outside the house in his car for longer than he should. He loves this car. Its like him, well built, smooth running, up a gear. If he were a car, this is the car he would be.

Outside of the car, inside of the house, is his life. The children don’t fit in the car. She had said it wouldn’t be a problem. Now it’s a problem. Everything is a problem.

He hadn’t thought it would be like this. He had always thought they were together, a unit, as one. It never occurred to him that they just met in the middle occasionally and then went back to their separate lives afterwards. It had been this way forever, when they were dating, when they lived together. They moved in the same circle, different circles, they met in the middle and moved away again as they chose.

And now, now he realised, that wasn’t a relationship at all. Worse. She had become anchored to one spot. Immovable. She was tied to that house and the life inside it. And her life, her circle of movement had shrunk, until she was just standing still looking around her. His circle had remained the same, maybe even gotten bigger. Except now, now she was demanding he shrink it. Demanding she have some of his circle, demanding that she should be able to move. The kids weren’t his fault. The kids were nice to have but shouldn’t restrict who he was. It had changed her, not him.

It was all reflected in their cars, hers full of car seats and wrappers and debris from toddler parties, his sleek and smooth and clean. She was chained to chaos, chained to a single spot and mayhem existed around her and somehow emanated out from her, like it was her super power. She reached out to settle it, but she couldn’t, didn’t want to. The house, their beautiful house, so shiny, so new, with its shades of beige and grey, so well put together, but always untidy, messy, unkempt. There weren’t enough words. He strode through the disorder like a titan, never looking down. He tried not to see it but there were squeaky toys on the couch. He could never find the remote. The place smelled of milk and pooh and powder.  

Then, now, there was Friday. It was a girls night out, one of the few times she would leave the house without them attached. The in-laws were coming, thank goodness, the in-laws were coming. But she wanted to take his car. It was like she hadn’t looked in the mirror lately. It wasn’t right that she should be seen in his car. In his head, there were two lives and they should be kept apart. There was the one that happened in the messy car and then there was this sleek, lithe machine. The former was her but this was him. He hadn’t changed, he had managed to carry on as before. He was aghast at how anchored she had become, how stuck. This car was not built for people who were anchored. This car was built for freedom.

He wasn’t sure what he’d ever seen in her. She had become an alien species, glued to that house. Riveted to that spot. That child, one or the other of them endlessly attached at the hip. He was faking it. He spent every spare minute watching porn or sitting in this car. This sleek clean vehicle. The world around him changed. He sat still in his nice shiny car. There is no way she could use this car.

An answer: Unclever, ungiven, undone

A crowd. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Worldly. Erudite.

She is here, pretty. Dress, shoes, gloves.

He speaks. Preening. Glossy teeth. Words oozing out. Applause.

He is clever. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Cufflinks catch, glittering on lights.

A hand raised. Delicate. Ungloved. Not ringed. Red nails. Ignored.

Another hand. Cufflinked. Watched-Rolex. Question. Answer. Applause.

A delicate hand. Again ignored. Another hand. Answered. Applause.

A delicate hand. Eye contact. Flicker. Recognition. Passed over for him. Again.

A tie loosened.

She takes refuge in the bathroom.

Later. She is there. Still. Quiet. Tied, marks on her neck. Unwatched, no one saw.

Did not see her. Don’t know her. A lot of men wear ties.

Blue. Questions from the blue. Blue uniforms. Swarming, like odd little bees.

Suited. Tied. Watched. Look at the Rolex. These are not the clothes of a man who kills.  

Who was she? He? Were they? Ever?

Tied of the tongue. The little blue bees search on. Time travellers.

Was she clever? Pretty? Both maybe? Now you ask, there was a time. Once. Before. He was clever. She was pretty. Tied to her now. Watched-he cannot leave town.

Her gloves drape across her body. She is lowered into the ground.

Her words. Written down. Kept. Tied. In a pile in the drawer. Clever girl. A theft. Of thinking, of words.

I wrote what she wrote. We wrote together. I wrote better. Better punctuation. The words, yes, the words the same. Her words.

Recognition, confrontation, yes, in the bathroom. She fell. Fell. Unwatched, but tied- around her neck.

He is quiet. An answer ungiven. His tie. Her neck. Squeezed into silence.  

A theft of thoughts. Words. A book.

Cold  steel bars. Entitlement still not displaced with regret. Untied, chained, no cufflinks, still cuffed, watched, the Rolex gone, uniformed, no suit. Inelegant. Unclever. Undone.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

She looks at the girl across the street. The loose fitting uniform, the smug jacket, walking beside the older woman, probably her mother. Her own uniform is tight. Curves. She likes it that way, in any event there is no money. She watches them from her spot on the wall. They don’t notice her.

The girl is talking to the woman. The woman is leaning into listen, brow furrowed as if she is thinking about what is being said. She wonders what that feels like. She wonders what the woman is thinking, what the girl is thinking? Probably they are both bored.

Her world is mostly shouting. She has not had a conversation like that with anyone recently. She is always talking loudly, too loudly. Everybody says that. She does that because she hopes they hear. But it seems no matter how loud she speaks no one hears. That girl, the one over the road is not speaking very loudly at all and still her voice is being heard. Perhaps if she looked like that?

She whispers things to herself in the night. But only silly things, like, you are really pretty. But then sometimes other things, like, you aren’t worth anything. Silent tears because she is never alone, there is never space in the house to be alone. No one notices. She is better off out here in the world. There are boys, boys out here. They are not the kind on the telly.

One of them grabbed her once, well actually it was two of them, but the details aren’t important she tells herself. At least it was a human touch. They just felt. They didn’t do anything. She had kicked one of them. She knew she had kicked hard. She hoped it hurt but worried that it hurt too much. She wanted to be a good girl, but a good girl for who.

For the boys? ‘Let me touch, but don’t tell’. For the teachers? ‘Study hard and if not be quiet so others can’. For her Mum? ‘Be invisible, you were a mistake, if you can’t be invisible be quiet.’ They all had a definition of a ‘good girl’ and she fitted none of them. She was loud but still no one heard. Soon she suspected she would have to choose what kind of ‘good girl’? There would be no time. It would be random, chance. There was no one to tell her. No one to listen to the questions she had.

Somehow she knew she would choose the boys. Everybody did, didn’t they? Maybe not the girl over the road. She wasn’t over the road, she was here on the wall. Soon she would be drinking, maybe try their drugs. She didn’t know. She was gravitating towards the people who could give her something, anything. She would be popular. She would belong. She would be their kind of ‘good girl’. She didn’t want that, but at least they heard her. Sometimes at least. It was touch, human touch.

Still she looked at the girl across the street, walking and talking with the woman who was probably her mother. How did that kind of belonging feel? She wondered. Someone to listen. Someone who thought you might have something to say. She could imagine the measured tone, the careful answers. No shouting. Sometimes her mother looked right through her, at one of the others, at something they had done.

Inside her head she knew stuff, knew she could know stuff. She was clever, it was such a long time since anyone had told her she was clever. She was the only person who knew she was clever. She kept it hidden. There simply wasn’t the space for it. If she just hadn’t had to scream so loudly for someone to notice, to please notice. What was it like to have someone who noticed?

The getting home time was getting later and no one noticed. The clothes were getting tighter, not just because that was what she wanted but because that was all there was. No one noticed.

She knew chances and time were running out. She had the urge to run across the street and grab the woman by the arm and scream, me, me, me, listen to me, I am worth it. She looked at her shoes. She knew she wasn’t. Wasn’t worth the teachers time, her mothers time, her father-no idea. No ones time. No one had time to listen. The voice had gotten louder, the actions more outrageous. She was a lost cause. No going back, just going on further and further down the hill. Like a car crashing over the barrier and down the bank.

They could put on the brakes, any of them could reach out and put on the brakes. But her car kept careening down the hill. The louder she was, the less she was heard. No one heard her scream as the car slid into the bottomless lake at the foot of the hill. She sank quietly into the mire. Seen without being seen. Loud yet voiceless. Even as she struggled through the water, she imagined a hand reaching down. What had happened to that girl across the street, in the nice uniform, where was her hand.

There were simply no hands. She struggled for every breath. Still she drowned in the weightless expectation of a failure that wasn’t hers. Screaming as loudly as she could. She drowned. No one noticed.

Second hand Clothes: Saving the planet in style.

 In May last year I resolved not to buy any more brand new clothes except socks and underwear. I didn’t do it for charity or for anything other than the planet and my own sense of being a grown up and responsible.

The catch was that I could buy anything and everything second hand. And so I have and I have accumulated a massive collection of clothes, almost all second hand. I have more clothes than I can wear.  Far more than if I didn’t have this rule. I feel like buying second hand clothes is guilt free, which it isn’t but it is better than buying it all new and better than it all ending up in land fill. I usually buy in charity shops because that helps everybody.

If you’ve owned it before I am probably wearing it now. Has it been challenging? Not in the way I thought. I never go into ordinary shops anymore. I am not tempted by what’s in the window. I don’t like the idea that there are 15 shirts all the same on the rack. I love the colour and variety of charity shops.

I have bought things that still have the label on them, who knows why anyone buys something and actually never even wears it and takes it to a charity shop. I have bought stuff that is tatty and comfortable and stuff that is shiny and new.  Mostly though I have bought stuff, and it has not felt like I am getting second best, if anything it has made me think a lot more about what I wear and whether I can actually make something work.  

I have a rule that if I own it I wear it. This is proving challenging given the volume I now have.

I express myself differently everyday through my clothes. I have learned to style it up and style it out. Yes- you can wear that into the office, people will comment but only usually nicely and who cares if they don’t.  That is simply a reflection of their lack of bravery in clothing choices. Although I do admit, on some days, no one sits next to me on the train. I also see that as a bonus.

I haven’t really thrown anything away either. There is usually a reason you bought something. Remember once you paid money for it so chances are once you liked it. Clothes are like your husband, there is a reason you married him, take him out of the drawer and try and find that reason again. If you really can’t image why or how then give it away to a charity shop.

I have a dress that is really only suited to a 1920’s cowboy themed party. I have never been invited to one in all the time I have been on the planet.  Yet I did find a way to wear it-I actually arranged a charity day at work-‘if you own it you have to wear it’ was the theme and we raised money for a mental health charity. I wore it that day with a stylish cowboy hat (questionably stylish I would say) I had borrowed. I may yet wear it again, without the hat. If not it has to go to someone who does get invited to 1920’s themed cowboy parties.

Go through that cupboard, look at that dress, see those trousers, style ‘em up, style it out, you are the queen of your own fashion statement. Save the planet. Shop somewhere different and feel the sweet sensation that your clothes are part of a story that is not just yours, they belonged to someone else and have their own story to tell. They have been places you haven’t (more than just the inside of a washing machine), you are part of a chain, a fabric that is passing through lives, yours and maybe after you, someone elses. Go shop, go charity shop.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

She sits next to him on the train. Not always, just sometimes. He never seems to notice her. He has eyes only for his phone, for the slightly illicit morning conversation with the woman in the office. The one who’s butt and legs he fancies. Really he should have set that phone for a smaller font but he is so imbued with the importance of his own subterfuge he doesn’t care who sees. She thinks he thinks that he is too important to bother with discretion.  

He isn’t particularly observant. He lives one street away. She’s walked down that street sometimes. Knows which door he comes out of. Has seen the wife. The woman with perfect skin and bleach blond hair, gel nails, whose hips have widened out but who still fills her jeans and wears her boots with aplomb. She supposes she must still feel sexy. She thinks perhaps he never notices.

She needs glasses to read but she can still read his texts. She sees the words he writes to someone else. She sees someone else’s answers, coquettish, then open, then desperate for a compliment-‘I’m sure its nothing you haven’t seen before’. He replies about what he likes and how its ‘like’ their ‘together’.

She can see the wedding band, has watched him emerge from the house where he lives with his children that very morning. He kicks his bag accidentally on the train. No doubt he is thinking they are all consenting adults. In his bag is the lunch made for him by his wife. She makes lunch for him as she makes lunch for the children. He wonders how the wife  has let herself go so much after only two children. He rests his phone on his paunch. Poorly manicured nails hurry over the screen. His mother had three boys and was still glamorous until her grave. He takes up space on the train. Legs splayed, bag in front of him. He is important. She sits huddled in the corner and watches. She knows she shouldn’t.

She has often thought of just slipping a note to his wife through the letterbox. Nothing malicious, just a heads up, you should check his phone. Then just wait for the ‘for sale sign to appear. It is a non descript house, neat on the outside, with a family car on the drive and a middle aged man car beside it. She never did leave that note

One day he arrives at the station looking more haggard, then she sees the for sale sign a few weeks later. Perhaps someone else left the note? She sees the texts to the woman on the other end of the phone as he tries to extricate himself from something he had never intended. They had all been consenting adults. He has gone a bit far perhaps. He can’t understand her anger. It was a bit of fun between consenting adults, he’d enjoyed flirting like a teenager again. He had no idea she thought he genuinely cared. He looked through the texts, does the phrase, ‘its like we’re together’ indicate anything more than it said. His wife seemed to think so. That line had sent her over the edge. Its also the one that HR were talking about-amongst a raft of others.

His wife seemed to have grasped the seriousness straight away. It still eluded him. The stress has made his belly sag. He clearly has been leaving somewhere without looking in the mirror some mornings. The other woman is reassuring, he is still attractive.

Later that same week, she sees the text, the woman on the train. She notices now that he smells a bit. She thinks its his socks. Not washed. Perhaps she won’t sit here again. She watches. Observes. He clings on to something he never wanted because if he doesn’t HR will want to talk again. He doesn’t even recognise this woman in the conversation on the phone. He thinks about wide hips and tight jeans, boots and gel nails and the comfort of bleached blond hair and wonders where that has gone. He tries not to think about his kids. The bag on the floor is empty. He is buying lunches now. They are the best meal of the day.

He comes to the station via a different route. His shirt unironed, his bag empty, the trousers sagging as the stress takes its toll. She does not always sit next to him. She thinks about passing him a note. ‘Please wash your socks’ and then another day, ‘I think there is snot on the sleeve of your shirt.’ She sits there sometimes wishing she had a pen and paper. She was there the morning he broke up with her, the one who thought he’d seen it all before. The day he told her, it was like they were together doesn’t mean the same as we are together, or I want to be together, it just means ‘its like we are together’ but we are definitely not together. Its just like that. 10 minutes later, there is the summons to HR with a ‘please explain.’

Sometimes, even on a train you are privy to a private moment, to a transformation, a revelation. She sat there one morning, knowing he didn’t see her or recognise her in anyway. She was invisible to him. She looked at the haggard face, the sagging eyes, the sullen complexion, but she was lucky enough to witness the moment, that moment when he finally understood, a moment of vigour and life as he suddenly realised, ‘I am an idiot.’

Portraits from a town 2

I have chosen words for my picture. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town. Who lives somewhere like that.

In the darkness she touches herself. There was boy once, when she was young. They fumbled behind the shed, each eager to make a new experience. She adored him. And then he met the other. Her, perfect skin, long hair and that was that. She had stoically remained friends but he never answered her hello’s again. It was like she had ceased to exist. Her feelings she discovered had been hers and hers alone. She buried that humiliation and never let it near the surface. Perhaps the other girl was dead by now. Died young or something.

There had been another boy after that but then perfect skin, perfect teeth, long hair had intervened again. She had at least the thought of that one never having seen her near naked. No one had ever seen her fully naked. She wondered if she had ever been beautiful. In any event it was too late for that now.

She often walked past the same younger woman in the street. She always said hello. She wondered if she should have gone in that direction, but then that direction had never been allowed when she was young.

There were two brothers and a gaggle of nieces and nephews. She tried to help, to be part of their lives.  One was married to a perfect skinned, chiselled cheekboned woman who never wanted the help. The other brother, the one she almost never saw, she thought he harboured a dark secret. He didn’t want anyone to know. She suspected but stayed away. The door would always be open to his daughter, no matter what. Families were difficult.

She was the second daughter, the one born to look after parents in their old age. Parents who had in the end, died regrettably young. The other daughter, the sister so close when they were young, is gone, somewhere far away. Married. Happy. She doesn’t hear. There is family in the old country. She has meaning there and yet the walls are filled with smiling faces who have never visited.

She is not unhappy but happiness has eluded her too. A sheltered life, she wished she’d been braver. What if she’d taken off her knickers behind the shed. She thinks that now, but then it was a sin.

There never seemed to be a time when the opportunity was there and the morals noose she had been brought up with had loosened to allow it all to happen. She had been ready to fall in love when she was young, but could not bring herself to ‘give in’ too early in the game. Now she was ready for the physicality of it but the opportunity never presented itself. The moral noose had loosened, long after the body had its day.  She looked at the men on the train in the morning. At hands with wedding bands and hands without and tried to make sense of why some had found love and some had not. She remained perplexed.

The house was hers. She owned it and she was proud of that. Her own space. No one, not even the government could take that from her. It was small but with only her it always felt bigger than she needed. The immaculate dining room that was never used, she ate in front of the telly, dinner on her lap.

The kitchen where she cooked more food than she could usually eat. Her clothes always washed and ironed, what else was there to do. The abandoned exercise bike in the room upstairs with the empty bed for the people who never came to stay. She enjoyed her job, thank goodness she enjoyed her job. The grass was done, the garden done, she paid someone, couldn’t be bothered to do it herself.

In the mornings she washed herself deliriously in the shower in the morning, full of life and vigour –maybe once but not anymore. The bones creaked more often now and the hair had more signs of grey. The home done colour would not last for much longer. She struggled into panty hose a size too small and told herself no one noticed the lines cutting into her midriff. No one did, it was expected of a woman of her age. Her hips were built for mythical children that belonged to a mythical man. All she could tell you about him was that he had a moustache. She liked the idea that it would tickle. There was nothing else about him she could really envision anymore. The perfect sculpted boy of her youth had eluded her. The gentle aging with children at her feet had passed her somewhere in the night.

She was not happy. She was not unhappy. There were friends and holidays and her job. There were box sets and movies. It was simply not how she expected it to be, there was no narrative that had prepared her for this life. The spinster aunts she had known had all found a way of parenting another’s children. She had not. She touched herself in the darkness, it made her happy.

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.