You miss her too

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In our garden
under a cool
October sun
I watch as
you crumble
Fall slowly
in your grief
Crushing plants
Dislodging petals

I slide my hands
beneath you
Between the cool
leaves and
your warmth
I gently lift you
Cry into
your limp body
Weep soft tears

I carry you
to your bed
Cover your grief
with her gown
A shroud of scent
to remind you
of her
You miss her too
You faithful friend

Relatively embarrassing

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My nephew, Mark, when he was a mischievous 10 year old, embarrassed his parents at a family gathering and silenced a restaurant. Taking advantage of a lull in the adult conversation he announced “The other day I saw mum and dad wrestling”. Then with the timing of a seasoned comic he paused. My mother, unaware that her eldest son, my brother, had an interest in the sport, smiled indulgently. My father, certain his eldest son didn’t know a half nelson from a crotch lift, narrowed his eyes. “They were in bed” he added teasingly. Another hiatus, then, sure that he had the full attention of his pink faced parents, his grandparents, other assorted relatives and the diners at nearby tables, Mark delivered the coup de grace; “and they were naked!” Many years later my mother, then almost 80, in her second childhood and mildly unhinged, embarrassed me in a restaurant.

Soon after the death of my father we had moved my mother from Scotland to Holmewood a retirement home near to us in Leeds. One afternoon were sat in The Mansion, then a restaurant with pretensions of fine dining.
“Do you remember Doctor Sommerville?” enquired my mother in her mild but loud Scottish accent.
A memory of Doctor Sommerville swam into my mind, he was sitting on the edge of my bed crying, my father consoling him. I was 9 years old ill with bronchitis and he had called one morning straight from attending a car crash with two fatalities, two local brothers.

“Yes, mum, I remember Doctor Sommerville.”

“You know?”

“Know what mum?”

“When you were a child”

“When I was a child, what?”

“What he said about you.”

The chit chat and the chink of cutlery was suspended. Everyone within twenty yards wanted to hear what Doctor Sommerville had revealed about me.

“He said you had very large bowels”

The lady at the next table quietly choked. Further afield there was a muffled sniggers and suppressed guffaws. I frantically rummaged my mind for a change of topic.

“How are you settling in at Holmewood mum?” I asked confident that I was skating on thicker ice.

“It’s a grand place” she said, “there’s a nice library. It’s in the conservatory.”

“That’s good.” My mother enjoyed reading. “Any interesting books?”

“The book I’m reading is about two women.”

“Really.”

“They’re lesbians.” She smiled menacingly, “And you know?”

My world tilted. The restaurant again stilled. The refined lady at the next table spasmed, choking violently, her face the colour of the wine that was slowly spreading on the table cloth, as the astonished waiter missed her glass. The maître d was staring across the room, possibly considering asking us to leave but more probably trying to recall the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

“Know what, mum?” I asked recklessly into the silence.

“They were licking each other’s …………..”

“Bill please!” I shouted, a little hysterically, as my mother’s clearly enunciated Scottish ‘r’s undulated across the restaurant.

If I could fly

 

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I look up, shield my eyes from the hot sun, and follow the bird as it traverses the ice blue sky, wings languidly caressing the air.

My mind soars with the bird. I visualise below, the patchwork of pastures, a palette of warm colours crosscut by meandering veins of green hedges and blue streams. I wonder if there is a purpose to the bird’s lonely journey. Has it a flight plan, a destination; will it meet up with relatives or friends, here or abroad, Africa perhaps?

The bird diminishes. As it disappears into the horizon’s haze I fall to Earth.

Missing God

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Bernie Morgan had reluctantly answered his mobile. He had wanted, needed to be left alone.

“No, no, I’m fine here on my own, Sheila.” Said Bernie into the ether, the heavens, he thought wryly.

“I’ll call tomorrow,” he said to his wife,”yes, yes, I’ll light a candle for him, for Jack.” Fat lot of good that will do for our son now, he thought,  as he ended the call.

As he placed his mobile on the table Bernie became aware of ghostly figures passing the window, dark indistinct silhouettes, a grotesque shadow theatre. Curious, he open the door and stepped outside into the cool air, warmed by the sour smell of woodsmoke.

In the far distance he could distinguish a dull regular drum beat, carried by a gentle breeze and echoing off the walls of the silent houses that crowded the street. The slow boom, boom, boom, a mesmerising metronomic rhythm, lulled Bernie into state of unease. Compelled by a force beyond his understanding, he closed the door behind him and stepped into the stream of people that seemed to surged up the narrow street towards the sound. Carried along, Bernie felt oppressed by the narrowness of the streets, saw shadowy figures in dark passages, his eyes snagging on bizarre door knockers, snakes and dragons, on ancient doors. A church tower loomed dark over the town, lit by the moon’s spectral silver orb diffused by the murky Spring clouds. The sinister drum beat became closer.

Bernie eased himself forward to stand at the edge of the crowd, next to a tall brazier, as the solitary drummer, leading a procession of masked figures, swayed past, trancelike, in time to his simple beat. The drummer turned to stare at Bernie through the dark holes in his hood, and for what seemed like an eternity held his eyes. They were like boreholes, black holes to another universe.

Suddenly, the man next to Bernie clasped his elbow in a painful grip, saying, in a faint but audible voice, “Por favor, Sēnor, help me.”

Startled out of his sorrowful reverie he turned and held the man as he collapsed forward into the path of the sinister drummer. For a brief moment the procession stopped, a silent tableaux lit by the flickering flames of the braziers. The drummer, the first to move, set his instrument on the polished cobbles, threw his hood to one side and knelt beside the stricken spectator, “Soy médico! he said. Bernie stared down at the young doctor, who, now without the hood had become human, in looks not dissimilar to his dead son Jack.

At that moment the door opposite opened spilling a white light across the cobbles. Bernie looked into the church, a familiar and comforting place. I will light that candle, he thought.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This challenge of this creative writing exercise is to write a piece giving a sense of place. My first effort was a bland travelogue about the Easter parade in Pollença in Mallorca, a typically intense Spanish celebration.

By chance a Scottish author that I follow posted a blog story, an exercise in giving sense of place. Accidentally, she had included a critical analysis as her story was a submission for her university course. This made me reconsider my approach and led me to rewrite it as fiction in third person.

 

 

Rocket man

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The launch weather conditions are ideal. A cloudless sky, dark as velvet, alive with stars, is bisected by a chalk line, the dissipating vapour trail of a passing jet.

The countdown ends and I feel the rocket shake, then, fighting to escape the syrupy grip of gravity the rocket propels me skyward.

Suddenly there is silence, a second of serenity. Then, with a sudden detonation the rocket explodes, disintegrates, scattering my mortal remains in the pyrotechnics.

As my ashes drift in the wind I look down, watch as my grieving relatives and friends, in the mournful moonlight, wave farewell.

Becoming me

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Perched elegantly on the edge of my bed, I carefully apply polish to my finger nails. Red talons to match the red stiletto shoes standing on the dressing table. As the buttery glow of the late afternoon sunlight infusing the room changes to shades of mauve and purple, I think, with a frisson of pleasure, of the journey home in the subway. Think of how the good looking young man sat opposite had reacted as I casually crossed my legs, my short skirt riding up my thigh. He had looked up, looked into my cornflower blue eyes. I gave him a soft inviting smile with my red lips and enjoyed, felt empowered, by his look of admiration edged with lust. I just knew he watched, felt his eyes follow me, as I left the carriage at Brooklyn and sashayed along the platform, passed the carriage window, hips undulating, feeling real pleased with my performance.

I complete my nails, hold them up, consider them against the glossy red of the leather. Buying the shoes had been another milestone in becoming me. My drunken mom and abusive father would not recognise the adult version of their child. One day I’ll go home, go to Aliceville and sit in their trashy diner, order seafood gumbo and watch them; an anthropologist observing some low life species. There again, maybe I won’t. Why bother? Why waste the time?

My nail polish is dry. I slowly roll the nylons up my smooth legs and connect them to the corset studs. I then stand and lift the dress I will wear tonight over my head, let the delicate smooth fabric slide, like warm tidal water softly rippling down my body. I ease the blood red stilettos onto my feet then stand, in self appraisal, in front of the full length mirror with the ornate frame, that leans against the wall. Maybe the red earnings? The red handbag? The hum of the lift ascending distracts me.

The doorbell rings. I walk with elegant practiced choreographed movement down the corridor. I look down at my scarlet- tipped fingers as I brush them across the white petals of the flowers, arranged in the vase on the console table, before I noisily undo the elaborate locking mechanism and open the door.

“Gee, Stella, you look swell. Going to a party?” A sarcastic smile plays on Morgan’s lips.
“What do you want Morgan?” I ask, arms folded, leaning on the door frame.
“Well, it’s real nice to see you too, Stella. And it’s Detective Morgan to you”.
“Yeah, right. So, you gonna tell me what you want Detective?”
“Jimmy Franklin’s dead. Tell me, where were you last night, Mister Winslow.”

+++++++++++++++

James Nash gave our writing group the task of writing in first person about another character. I was trying to think of how to approach this when I recalled a radio interview with the actor Eddie Redmayne. He talked of his transgender role in The Danish Girl and how he had to learn the process or journey that a person undergoes when realigning their sexual orientation. I guess this is not unlike the feeling of excitement and discovery that a girl experiences as she metamorphoses into a woman. I decided to make my character transgender, a subject I am in complete ignorance of, and set the story in USA, a country I’ve never visited.

 

A reason to write

imageThe Scottish writer and poet Kirsty Grant, on her blog   http://www.kirstywirsty.wordpress.com recently posted ‘The reason why I blog‘. I always find it interesting, instructive and encouraging to read the thoughts of other writers. Why they write. For what it’s worth here are my thoughts.

My urge to write is in my blood. My great-grandmother Elsie Walter, born, like me, in Edinburgh, wrote stories that were published in the People’s Friend and various church magazines. She had a book of short stories published that was read as far afield as Norway and USA. Her son, my maternal grandfather, who died in the First Word War was a poet.

In 1959, aged 9 years, I showed a glimmer of promise that the continuation of the family literary tradition was in safe hands. As a pupil at Lasswade Primary School I won a composition competition run by Cadburys. The prize, a certificate and a silver foil wrapped chocolate egg. There followed a 51 year hiatus in my writing career until my daughter, Laura, asked me to contribute stories to her blog http://www.arewenearlythereyetmummy.com . The stories were humorous memoirs, about her early years in Leeds and my childhood in Bonnyrigg, then a small industrial town in Scotland. My memoirs proved popular with her followers and I was encouraged launched my own grandparent blog http://www.lifeaccordingtogramps.co.uk . The content of this blog was still mainly childhood memoirs but also included stories about events in my adult life.

I can understand writing, for some, can be a private activity, a form of therapy; setting out your inner thoughts on paper can bring peace, a sort of self analysis. All that applies to me too. But, I wanted people to read my work. So, I found historical and community groups connected with my childhood home town of Bonnyrigg and village of Lasswade in Scotland on the Internet and posted my work on their sites. This attracted visitors to my blog; old school friends, contemporary pupils and people interested in the history of their community.

I was astonished one day when I received a comment from a woman Janice Kos living in Andover in Massachusetts who recognised the name Tooter Ritchie, one of the characters in a memoir about a failed attempt to introduce the game of cricket at Lasswade High School. Then, a girl I went to school with, commented to corrected some detail of a story about a teacher’s misguided showing of a film about a leper colony to our class of 8 years olds. This classmate, Margaret Sørhagen nee Duncan now lives in Norway. So, thanks to the power of the Internet, like my great-grandmother Elsie, l have readers in USA and Norway!

Last year, I decided to expand my writing skills beyond my comfort zone of memoirs. I joined a writing group run by the Workers Educational Association. It is called Adventures in Creative Writing and the tutor is James Nash a poet and writer. Under his guidance and encouragement I have tackled a wide range of genres: poems, blank verse and sonnets, flash fiction and short fiction. I have also realised the importance of editing and discovered, after some apprehension, the satisfaction of reading my work to the group. In fact I find reading out loud, to my family or even to an empty room is a good way to test a piece of writing. If it sounds good it usually is! I have no other way of knowing; I left school with a very basic technical understanding of English: nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives are the extent of my knowledge. I was an interior designer for 35 years and I have the sense that there is architectural process in the writing of stories or poems: foundations, shape, structure,style. A word, carefully placed, adding strength to a sentence, a sentence reinforcing a paragraph and so on.

I’m 65 years old, but in denial about my age. The late David Bowie described the oddity creating from the perspective of an old person with the mind of a twenty year old. I like that! I regret not developing my writing skills much earlier in my life. But my hand writing was poor and my education sketchy, due to an intermittent hearing problem as a child. The handwriting is no longer a handicap thanks to the development of word processing and my iPad is my best friend. I’m hoping that I will manage a novel this side of the grave.

Ghost house

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In 1955 I moved with my family from Corstorphine to Bonnyrigg. Moved from a pleasant suburb of Edinburgh to a small industrial town, that had a constant aroma of jute from the carpet factory just down the High Street. My new school was in the village of Lasswade that nestled in a valley below Bonnyrigg, that had a constant chemical stench, a byproduct of the paper mill, that pumped technicolor effluence into the River Esk. But, for me it was the start of a magical childhood; I had come back to my spiritual home.
My mother’s family had lived in Lasswade for generations. I went to the same school that my mother and my grandmother had attended, and where, before the First World War my maternal great-grandfather had run a successful, upmarket, painting and decorating business from the family home. Long before the 1950s, the business had folded, a victim of the economic turmoil and social upheaval, that followed in wake of the First World War. But the family house, 10 Polton Road, remained, like a ship, washed up on a reef, the surviving bemused crew stranded on board.

The house, unchanged in almost thirty years, faced Lasswade Parish Church at bottom of the Wee Brae. As it was on my way home from school, before the steep climb up the Wee Brae, I would often call in, to scrounge pocket money or simply to hang out with the remnants of my mother’s family; my granny, her sister Jen and brother Harry. Uncle Harry was the Office Manager and Company Secretary at St Leonard’s Paper Mill, granny had her widow’s pension and Aunty Jen didn’t seem to work.

A mausoleum of sorts, the front elevation of the house had a large window, which in the heyday of my great-grandfather’s business, would have had arrangements of wallpaper and fabrics displayed to entice passing potential customers, but now was an empty void. To the right hand side of this window there was the door into the shop. A matching door on the left led into the house.

I  walk through this door, a portal into a lost world, run cross the small square hallway and jump down the two steps to the dining room. Granny or aunty Jen aren’t there so I walk through to the kitchen, a long stone paved room, with, bizarrely, a bath down one wall, and, still used ancient ringers and wash tubs. I continue my search, open the door in the far left hand corner and look into the garden at the side of the house where a path leads to the outside lavatory. The two sisters are busy, hanging washing out on the long line. I say “Hiya” and decide to explore the rest of the house.
Two doors from the dining room lead into the disused decorator’s shop and show room. One opens into the public area, the other into the space behind the counter. I wander around the shop, look into drawers, try on uncle Harry’s Air Raid Warden helmet, play with the rifles (Harry had thrown the firing mechanism into the river), look at the Special Constable’s uniform that I would, as a sixteen year old, wear at a Church Fair fancy dress football match in the park. While I explore, the ghost of my great-grandfather, Alex, is standing behind the highly polished mahogany counter. He is watching the apparition of his wife, Ellen. She has entered the showroom, with tea and biscuits, to discuss wallpaper selection with a customer from one of the large houses, in the Braeheads or Broomieknowe. Marvelling at her cultured Kent accent, he is recalling how he had met her, then a Nanny, when visiting a house in Bexley, the assistant to a Senior Designer who was advising the owner on the decoration of some of the rooms.
After exploring the shop I wander through to the entrance hall and climb the stairs to the first floor, walk past uncle Harry’s bedroom and open the door to the drawing room. Like the shop it has remained untouched since the end of the First World War. Unseen by me there are more ghosts. My granny, who’s soul had died with her husband at Arras, is sat with him, my grandfather Clem, on the settee in front of the elegant fire place. They are betrothed and her brother Al is sitting on a chair opposite, acting, unnecessarily as a chaperone. Al and Clem are best friends, Al the artist and Clem the writer. They are talking excitedly about Clem’s doomed plan to join his brother Richard in Los Angeles to establish a publishing house. As the ghosts of my family talk, I walk, in the sunlight, around the richly decorated room, examine the ornaments, the bright brass Russian samovars, oriental ceramics and look at the watercolour and oil paintings set in tasteful gold frames. My great-grandfather had assembled a treasure trove of art and artefacts. Then, in this life, granny calls me, and I leave my ancestors and head downstairs two steps at a time. In the dining room I sit, drink a glass of milk and devour an unhealthy plate of Scottish cakes, toxic with sugar. As I eat aunty Jen tells me a story about the Romans who, she claims with certainty, brought with them the wild garlic plants that grow, prolifically, in the local woods. Then before I leave for home I read the cartoons from the Sunday Post; the Broons and Oor Wullie.

 
Aunty Jen was the life and soul of the trio. In my sixteenth year she died and my brother and I were handed cards with the shape of a coffin edged with numbers. We had been allocated ropes. She was buried in the graveyard that lay across the road from the Primary School. To the harsh grating call of the carrion crows in the woods, we strained on the ropes. As the coffin disappeared Willie’s feet scrabbled for purchase in the loose soil as he nearly joined Jen. She had been a muckle woman in body and in personality.

Then there were two. My eternally mournful granny and my disaffected uncle. They were both war casualties, my granny robbed of her beloved husband Clem, and Harry, like many surviving soldiers, war damaged. One day, when I was about ten years old, Harry found me in the old shop where, to my joy, I had discovered bound volumes of a magazine, with superb illustrations, published throughout the First World War. He sat down next to me and started to talk about his war experiences. I was taken aback at this, as he hardly ever said a word to me. A machine gunner in the trenches, he described how he had to ensure the trajectory of the bullets hit the chests of the advancing Germans. How too low was no good, as hitting their legs didn’t kill them. He was like a farmer instructing an apprentice in the art of scything corn. A killing machine at eighteen, it was no wonder that uncle Harry was slightly unhinged.

With the death of aunty Jen, granny and Harry decided to sell the house and move into a residential caravan on the new Kevockvale Caravan Park. The contents of the house, my grand-grandfather’s treasure, was sold to a sharp antiques dealer from the city. Anything that the dealer didn’t buy or that wouldn’t fit into the residential caravan, Harry burned in the back garden.

In my final walk through this empty house, through this time capsule, I wondered at the kitchen with the bath against the wall, at the rooms empty of the furniture of life, the sad squares and rectangles on the drawing room walls, evidence of missing pictures. Then, for the first time I go into the workshop that stands to the side of the main house. The door stiffly creaks open and sunlight floods in to illuminate worktops covered with paint pots, brushes and other tools of the decorating trade, as if the workmen had just finished for the day; a landlocked Marie Celeste.
With the sale and modernising of the house it became, along with the school, the paper mill, the post office, a faded memory of the village as it metamorphosed from a vibrant close knit working community into a commuter hub of Edinburgh.

First published as a childhood memoir in http://www.lifeaccordingtogramps.co.uk