The man in the van

It was dark. And cold. I clutched my coat around me. I walked in the dappled fug of the street lights.

The van slowed down as it drove past me. I focussed on staying warm. Ignoring it. It went past. I turned into the side street. Hoping.

Yet somehow knowing.

I had been here before. It only had to go right at the bottom of the other street, right again and it would meet me where that street intersects with this side street.

I walked on. I could hear footsteps behind me but I daren’t look. They might help. They might not. I walked slowly.

I saw its headlights just as I got to the junction. The van turned into the street. It slowed down. It was right behind me. Its head lights following me. Tracking me.

There were houses on this street. I could knock on a door, ask for help. Say what. There’s a man in a van following me. I’m not sure what they would do.

He would simply drive away anyhow. Wait for me in the next street. My husband was at home but I could hardly call him.

I could still hear the footsteps behind me, perhaps they would help. Perhaps there was safety there.

Perhaps not.

I walked. He drove. Quietly, slowly behind me. I walked just in the beam of his headlights. Deliberately. I felt in my coat for my gloves. I tried to forget the inevitable.

I could no longer hear the footsteps behind me. They must have turned up the alley. It occurred to me then that I should have done that. Taken the long way home. The safe way home.

Then he said something. It barely registered. Something like, ‘come here love’ perhaps.

I was momentarily rooted to the spot. I turned to look at him but was blinded by the lights. I felt my feet approaching the van even though I didn’t really want to. There was an inevitability to it.

What was I doing?

I saw his face. Looked into his eyes. I wanted to see kindness. It was not in the gaze that met mine.

It was quick. The neck was broken, the blood drained from the body in a matter of seconds.

I reached in and switched off the vehicle and took the keys. A trophy. The others said I shouldn’t. It was too risky,  but had they read the conviction rates.

I told myself it wasn’t my fault.

He should not have been driving alone at night. He should not have driven in the vicinity of a woman. He had most certainly approached me. He was not wearing a scarf. In fact his shirt did not even have a collar. What century was he living in?

I found it hard to explain why I did not want dinner again. I hid the keys in a pot with all the other keys.

I tell myself one day I will stop. But I know that I will not.

The Sewing Club: Needles at dawn

When she first brought the sewing pattern
We were all aghast
I’d never seen a sewing pattern
From that far in the past

We knew there had been witches
You learn that as a kid
But this was a step too far
This can’t be what they did

We laid it out on the table
We read it through and through
What she’d said was right though
It was all completely true

At first it seemed a problem
That we could not surmount
But we are women of endeavour
Who make their actions count

And so we found ourselves
One dark and stormy night
Some digging up the frozen ground
While others held the light

I take my hat off to Agatha
And her skills with the knife
She made it look quite easy
She is a butcher’s wife

Then it went to Molly
Who’s a goddess with a pin
Lucy’s quite methodical
She was first needle in

We sewed through the night
We sewed through the day
There was not a scrap to spare
We threw not a jot away

We finished in the early hours
Of the second day
We held it to the light
We could not look away

We drew lots to see
Who was brave enough to dare it
Susan wouldn’t do it
So Lexi had to wear it

We put it in the cupboard
Where it could not be seen
No one else must see it
Until its Halloween

Mary was a seamstress
Mary was a friend
Her husband was a bastard
She met a gruesome end

As trick or treat drew near
We knew we must be brave
As Lexi put on her Mary suit
It was like she’d risen from the grave

We knocked on his door
We knocked very loud
Mary was a trooper
We knew she’d be quite proud

We stood all around her
Our Lexi/Mary doll
He stumbled out some words
He was a spineless troll

We all heard him say
‘I thought that you were dead’
‘Guess you were wrong’
Was all Lexi-Mary said

And with that,

Out,

Into the night,

He fled

We took Mary off
Carefully unpicked each stitch
They discovered him the next day
He was dead in a ditch

He died of a heart attack
So the coroner decreed
The coroners name was Eleanor
Each Tuesday at sewing club,

She sits right next to me.

A little darkness

This is very dark, I’m not sure where it came from. We all like to think that people who have hurt us will somehow face a reckoning. I don’t think its true but the rhyme is nice.

On the edge of memory
In a place I’ve never been
I know what you did to me
Even as I dream

There will be a reckoning
A place you have to go
A memory that you try to hide
But I will always know

You will lie in agony
You will be in pain
At the edge of your memory
There will always be a stain

A spectre haunts your sleep
It haunts when you’re awake
There is nothing you can do about it
I am your mistake

You think you got away with it
You think that you are free
But in your dying hours
I know you’ll think of me

The blood that pulses through you
Will always bear my name
My pain has seared your soul
And you are not the same

We are ever connected
I am the thought in your head
The regret as you lie dying
The thing that you most dread

A sentence left unanswered
A name you never said
The one who stood on your grave
And danced when you were dead

Just the flowers screaming again

If flowers could talk what would they say, Tuesday’s poetry got me thinking. I think it would be anger, so I vented on their behalf. If they were sentient what would that be like, would we behave differently? It turns out they are very angry.

I wait.
I can hear the click.
The clack of the shears.
It will be my turn soon.
You can’t expect graciousness,
Or complacency.

How would you feel if someone cut you off at the knees?

Or hollowed out your stomach?
And then put you on display.
Plastering a cheap smile on your face.
Ugh, these ugly monochrome faces you have.
You think you can borrow our beauty?
Done the evolutionary hard yards have you?

You bend in odd places, but not with the wind. Freaks.

Unable to stand straight for too long,
You kill everything.
You cut us off.
Sit us in a pretty container.
Put us on a window sill.
Give us some water.

So we can suck every last drop from it to stay alive.

Do we scream in the night?
Yes we do, we do
but not in pain.
In rage and anger.
We rail at you.
Loathsome skeletal trash.

We outlived the dinosaurs you know.

You have no conscience.
You do not hear.
You shove your oily noses in our petals,
Breathing your stinking air on us.
For the record,
Our smell is not for your gratification.

Do you expect us to be grateful for a few extra days?

For some prolonged agony as we wait to die.
You hang pictures of our corpses on your walls.
Barbaric!
You live inside the bubbles you have built.
As if that could save you.
It won’t!

We have seen extinction. We know it. It won’t.

You plant us, tend to us,
and expect we will love you
For what?
The tiny bit of water you give us
We would be fine on our own.
Think we are your tribe?

Think we should thank you for the green family you pull up so we can thrive?

You odious, pasty oily things.
You breath oxygen, but we make it!
You kill insects, we feed them!
Do we sit here in our final hours and contemplate death?
We do.
Yes we do in fact!

But it is your death not ours.

Conceived

I am thinking of chopping it off. My hand that is. It keeps oozing out the past at every opportunity. I have lost control of it now. Completely. And it is only a matter of time before someone guesses. Especially here, in the nursing home, where death stalks every corner. It is my own fault. I should have removed it before I came here.

Once there was a bad man. Bad to me. Bad to others. I was at a party. He passed out on the floor. I remember the very solid thump as his head hit the ground. I did what anyone would do. I stood staring for a moment. Unsure.

Then I put my wine glass carefully on the table. I checked for a pulse. He was still breathing. I tried to bring him around. Perhaps not very hard but I did try. At first. I took out my phone. I looked at it. The thing is –he was a very bad man.

I clamped his nose between my fingers and jammed the palm of my hand into his mouth. I put my legs across his chest, settling my knees beneath his rib cage. Basically I stopped him breathing. I waited, with my head turned to the door. No one came.

I told myself I had helped him to die rather than you know-the ‘m’ word. For all I know he would have died anyway. It was a long time ago.

The official verdict was death by accident. It was a very nasty head bump. Someone else found him.

Except now my hand.

I wake up in the morning and there it is. The very shape, room for a nose, my hand clamped in that position. Immovable. I have to purposefully will it to release itself. There is the gap between my two middle fingers. Holding something that is not there. My outside fingers tight together. They are just held there in suspension. As if. As if they are still clamping a nose. My palm presses forward. It is all there in the muscle memory of my hand. Which is why I need to get rid of it. Do you know how hard it is to get a knife in this place? My hand has gone rogue.

It doesn’t stop in the morning either. I will be sitting having coffee. I say coffee but it is murky brown tasteless stuff. I will be having coffee with a friend and I can feel my hand contract and form the shape. It just happens. I cannot control it. I know they look at me as if I am odd. Every person in this place is odd though, it is the privilege of old age. I think they want to get a doctor to look at it. That can’t happen. That will be a disaster.

I dread finding someone collapsed in the corridors in case I am tempted. I am tempted. I can still feel his body spluttering underneath me. I feel him struggling for breath even unconscious. And I just held my knees tight. His rib cage could not move. He was unconscious. I am sure he was unconscious. He was mostly unconscious. He was a bad man.

I feel the last gasp of air come out of his mouth. I can feel it on my face because I leaned in. Because I wanted to feel it. And my hand, now my hand, keeps going back to that position. Covering his nose.

I worry about the hand. Would it be safer to chop it off? What if someone sees? Guesses? Knows? But I am helpless in this decision and google and youtube have been useless in giving proper instructions for hand severance.

I find myself making that shape with my hand in front of the TV. With my left hand when I am doing the crossword with my right. I pray now for the end to come for me. I have had a long life, but that night is still with me. Still inside of me somewhere and it keeps bursting out in the form of my hand.

I remain unrepentant, he was a very bad man. My hand is sorry but I am not.

Epilogue

I look at my mother’s body. It is the last time I will see her, laid out in the coffin. There it is, even now, that strange shape she used to make with her hand when she was nervous. Where did that come from? I take her hand in mine and try to stretch the shape out. But the fingers won’t move. They are stuck forever in that position. It was a shape I always associated with her. I never saw anybody else do it. I am alone now. There was always just Mum and me.

I know nothing of my father. He died on the night I was conceived.

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.

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.

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.’

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.

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.