Different Sides of the Fence

She saw the fox cubs at the bottom of the garden. Hidden by the dense foliage of the rhododendron bush Jennie watched them play on the sun warmed lawn and felt an odd sense of loss, a primal longing. She wondered if their mother was in the woods just over the fence, watching too.
‘Jennie!’ commanded the voice from the house. ‘Come in, Good dog.’
As she walked back up the garden path she heard the mournful sound of a hunting horn and the thunder of hooves.

The Witch Who Fell to Earth.

 


Lily hated where she lived. Even though they had only moved in three months ago lots of awful things had happened. It was a very unlucky house she thought. An unhappy house.
Only last week when she arrived home Lily had passed a small round man as he emerged from the front door. He smiled at her as he bounced down the steps and walked past her.
“Who was that?” She asked her mum who was holding the door open for her.
“Mr Jones, the Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator. Somebody’s broken into the garage again. I’m sorry Lil, they stole your bike, Charlie’s too. Mr Jones called round to give me advice about security; make sure we lock doors, fit alarms; things like that. He’s a kind and helpful man.”
Lily had loved her bicycle and felt sad.
Then this morning as she was getting ready to go to school, pulling her coat on in the hallway, she found another horrid letter. This time it said:   ‘gO  H o M E  TO  POLanD  WhR E  Y U  E L o N g ‘  in letters cut from a magazine or a newspaper. Lily took the letter to show her mother and said. “But mum, I was born here so I must belong here!” Her mum, remembering Krakow where she ‘belonged’ cried.
“We should move, mum. Live somewhere else.” Lily had said as she hugged her mother. “I hate this house!”

* * *

Later, in the afternoon, as Lily sat at her desk in the classroom, worry-worms slithering around in her head, she heard the teacher clap her hands and say. “Now, children it’s time to get ready for the concert!”
With her worrying Lily had forgotten that there was the Halloween concert that afternoon. The children dressed up in their witches costumes and applied face paint, laughing and giggling at how scary they looked. Then the excited children walked across the playground to the assembly hall to sing as a chorus in the Halloween concert.
Lily had been walking in deep thought at the back of the noisy straggling line when with a WHOOMP a real witch had stumbled into her in a cloud of peculiar sparkling dust, flying twigs and a smell that reminded Lily of biscuits or burnt toast. It was as though this odd person had fallen from the sky: which she had.
The witch gripped Lily’s arm with her long bony fingers. “Please, please, help me.” She said in a strange hissing voice. “I am Jezebel.” She was nearly as tall as Lily with wild hair under a black conical hat and a nose hook nose. In her hand she held the remnants of a broom.
Lily, although surprised and frightened, considered this strange person extremely polite. Her mum and dad had taught her to help people, especially when they were polite. She took Jezebel’s hand, smiled to reassure her and hurried to catch up with her classmates who were too excited to notice the witch. Lily decided to help her now and ask questions later.
As they walked through the door of the assembly hall, the music teacher Miss Baldwin strode towards Lily and the cluster of small witches.
“Now children I want you to stand by the piano…..”
She paused as she looked down at the upturned faces. The face paint made them look like witches but one looked surprisingly realistic.
“And who are you?” She said to the unfamiliar face.
“Her name is Jezebel, Miss.” Said Lily.
“Jezebel?” Miss Baldwin repeated the strange name.
“Yes, Miss. Jez is in class four. She’s new to the school.” Improvised Lily.
Miss Baldwin was quiet for a worrying moment. But, she was only considering the odd names parents can give their children. And, she thought, it wasn’t just pop stars and celebrity chefs that dreamt up fantastic names for their offspring. There was a boy called Zeus with the Mohican hair cut in class six and there had been a girl called Moon at her last school.
“Well, em..Jez..go with Lily and stand with rest of the girls.” She said.
Lily sighed with relief. Saying a lie about Jez was a great worry as real witches were not nice. In fact she had read lots of scary witch stories.
The concert was a great success although Lily though Jez was not a great singer. She had made a low pitched keening sound which Miss Baldwin didn’t appear to notice.

* * *

At the end of the concert when the enthusiastic applause died down the proud parents left the hall with their children and go home.
“Where are your mother and father?” Hissed Jezebel.
“Don’t worry, they’re not here. They’re both at work.” Explained Lily. “You’d better come home with me.”
As they left the assembly hall to walk across the playground to the school gates Lily and Jez passed the head mistress Mrs Cunningham and the school caretaker Sam. They were standing around the strange scorch marks in the playground and the scattering of twigs looking puzzled.
When they reached Lily’s home her grandfather opened the front door.
“Hello Lil. How did the concert go?”
“It was great Gramps. Miss Baldwin was please. She said everyone sang well.”
“This a friend of yours?” He said looking down at Jez.
“Yes, this is Jez, Gramps. She’s a real witch!” Said Lily. “Don’t tell mum and dad!”
“I won’t Lil. Mums the word, eh.” Tapping the side of his nose as Lily led Jez past him into the hall and down into the basement.
“You must hide down here Jez.”
“Hide me? Why not tell your parents?” Jezebel hissed.
“Well, you’re a witch!”
“What’s wrong with being a witch?”
“People think witches aren’t nice.” Said Lily, adding, “I’m sure you’re okay, but there’s lots of stories about things witches do. They’re always casting spells: turning people into frogs, that sort of thing!”
“Pish! You shouldn’t trust everything you read.” Rasped Jezebel. “I’ve turned no one into a frog…….well, there was someone… but not for long.”
“Well, there you are. You’ll have to stay down here for a bit.”
“But you told that old man I’m a witch.”
“Oh, that’s just Gramps. He’s my grandfather, and he forgets things. He won’t remember you.”
Lily cleared a space in the corner under the stairs and build a wall around an old mattress using empty suitcases and removal boxes. It looked cosy she thought.
“Stay here. I’ve got to help Gramps make dinner for when mum and dad come home.” Said Lily. “I’ll bring food for you later.”
“I don’t need food.” Hissed Jezebel.
“But you need to eat. Everyone does!”
“I do not eat food I live off the air.”
“Yeah, right, suit yourself, but keep very quiet.”
While Lily went upstairs to the kitchen Jezebel sat cross legged on the mattress and emptied the deep pockets of her black cloak. There was a small sphere she could cup in her hands which looked as if was full of swirling fog with tiny lights that sparkled. She placed the sphere in front of her on the mattress. Then she pulled out a bunch of willow twigs and arranged them around the sphere in the shape of a star. Satisfied that the sphere and the twigs were arranged correctly she sat still and closed her eyes.
Later, after dinner Lily brought her little brother Charlie to meet the witch. She felt she had to share her secret with someone. They both looked into the den Lily had made.
“Hi Jez. This is my brother Charlie.” Said Lily.
Charlie looked but couldn’t see anybody. This didn’t surprise him. Only last week Lily claimed to have three dinosaurs in the back of the car when their dad took them swimming and another time she had an invisible friend called Florence. His sister could be really annoying sometimes.
“He cannot see me. I have cast a spell. I am invisible to everyone but you.”
“Well, you must undue the spell otherwise he’ll think I’m lying.”
To Charlie’s astonishment Jez shimmeringly took shape.
“There, I told you!” Said Lily. “She’s a real witch; a nice one of course!”
“Hey! That’s so wicked!” Exclaimed Charlie.
“What does he mean ‘wicked’?” hissed the witch wondering if she might just change this horrible boy into a toad or an earwig.
“No, Jez. He means ‘cool’ you know, like amazing.”
Jezebel looked at Charlie with narrow eyes and decided not to turn him into a toad then hissed, “You have a stream of negative energy running through your house.” She explained that it was like having a chill wind blowing through the house, a wind that brought bad luck.
“That doesn’t surprise me!” Said Lily.
“How do you know?” Said Charlie. “I can’t see anyone!”
“I will show you.” Rasped Jez as she reached into a pocket and pulled a pair of twigs bent in the shape of the letter L. Holding a twig in each hand she walked across the basement. Suddenly the twigs swivelled towards each other.
“It flows through here!”
“You could be moving the twigs yourself.” Charlie said.
Jezebel narrowed her eyes. “Listen, you horrible little boy. I could turn you into a..a..snail! You’d like that, eh!” She hissed handing Charlie the twigs. “Here try it yourself if you don’t trust me.”
Charlie held the twigs in his hands and walked across the room. To his surprise the twigs moved in his hands in precisely the same place. “You’re right.” he whispered. “Can you get rid of it?”
“Oh yes. I can make it go somewhere else.”
Jezebel searched through her deep pockets and brought out a handful of crystals like brightly coloured glass: red as blood, green as holly leaves and blue as a summer sky. She told the children that that must bury the crystals in the north west corner of your garden. Lily and Charlie followed Jez through the door and up the moss covered steps to the garden. An app on Charlie’s mobile showed where the north west corner was, then in the light of the street lamps they swept away the dead leaves and dug a hole in the damp soil. Jezebel, muttering a spell in her rasping voice dropped the crystals in the hole and the children covered them with soil and replaced the leaves.
Back in the basement Jezebel and the children sat cross legged on the mattress. “Close your eyes.” Hissed Jezebel. “Listen.” Their home let out a long sigh. They could hear the old timbers creaking and stretching and the stones and bricks settling as their home relaxed.
“There, can you feel it, sense the happiness return?” Jezebel hissed, “the stream of misfortune has gone.”
“Where’s it gone?” Asked Lily and Charlie.

* * *

At 54 Burton Grove, the bungalow on the other side of the road, the doors and windows rattled, the lights flickered and the net curtains fluttered. In the kitchen old Peter Jones muttered in annoyance as the strange draught blew across the table scattering the letters he had just cut out of the morning’s newspaper and last week’s copy of his wife’s Woman’s Weekly ready to glue on the sheet of paper in front of him. As he bent down to pick up the scattered scraps of paper from the floor, he felt a strange sense of foreboding.

Twilight star

Dogs converse in the dimming light.
A blackbird embroiders the dusk
with song, to the background thrum
of sluggardly traffic homeward bound.
A bee on its last shift of the day
flits amongst the flowers as petals fold.
A star takes shape in the horizons haze.
A pulse of light that has travelled
through space for three millennia.

In the twilight I watch and wonder.
When the starlight began its voyage
did Pharaohs walk in the shadows
of the columns of Luxor, while slaves
laboured to build their tombs.

Three thousand years from now
will there be a twilight watcher?
Wondering what triumphs and tragedies
unfolded here on this small planet
when the starlight began its voyage.

 

The Chair

Ellen sat still on the chair and stared out of the window of the drawing room above the shop. The cobbled street had a sheen from the recent rain shower. The sky, the small sliver she could see above the rooftops and chimney stacks, was now cloudless and blue. Ellen felt oppressed by the soot coated brickwork of the terraced houses on the far side of the street. As she looked at this scene, the image in her mind was the view from another window in another place and time in her life.

A decade had passed since she sat in the nursery on the chair reading to the young boy and girl. Then, she looked from the tall bay window over the wonderful gardens of the mansion and the undulating yellow corn that moved like the sea. She had watched scattered white clouds herded by the wind across an endless sky. Sometimes when a deer boldly walked from the trees, or a kestrel hovered over a morning mist she called the children from their play to stand beside her to look.

When Ellen informed her employer she was soon to marry, the Lady of the Manor asked her to choose a memento as a gift in gratitude for her service. Ellen chose the nursery chair to remind her of the children and the views from the nursery.

On the morning of her departure, as her betrothed loaded Ellen’s belongings on the cart he admired the chair: the rich mahogany frame, the silk cloth upholstery. Then he recognised the mark. ‘Thomas Chippendale’.

“I believe this is a quality chair of value.”

Ellen smiled. “No, my dearest it’s priceless.”

***

The prompt for this story was to write about something shown on the tapestry that hangs in the room where my writing group meet. I chose the chair designed by Thomas Chippendale who was born in Otley, Yorkshire. The story is entirely fictional but my great grandmother was a governess in a house in Bexley, Kent. She met my great grandfather , Alexander, who was visiting the house as the assistant to an interior designer. At the time my great grandfather was studying interior design at London Art College. Two generations later I would study interior design in Edinburgh.

Flight to freedom

Last verse from ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ : Maya Angelou

Mr Jones irritably closed the cage door as he went to answer the phone in the hall. Whatever had been said by the caller caused him to leave the house in a temper. The front door slammed and Horace watched the old man climb into his car and drive off in a cloud of hazy exhaust fumes. Turning his head he noticed that the cage door had swung open. And, like a perfect alignment of the planets, a window to the garden was open too.
This was his moment to escape, but faced with the possibility of freedom after five years of imprisonment he was gripped by anxiety. He had no plan; he had never thought of the possibility of escape. Horace irresolute, decided he would go as far as the window ledge and see what it felt like. He could always go back and Mr Jones would be none the wiser. With this decision made Horace left the cage, crossed the table that the cage was standing on and climbed through the window.
Standing on the sill he was stimulated by smell of the air, by the the breeze that gently ruffled his feathers, but frightened by the noise of the cars and buses that rushed along the street. He looked longingly across the street. He had often watched the birds perched on the branches of the trees opposite, standing on the ridges of the roofs or flying freely across the piece of the sky visible from his cage. He wanted to be able to do that sort of thing: fly across the sky. But, right now, for Horace flying would be a problem; He couldn’t remember ever flying.
He flapped his wings experimentally, then throwing caution to the winds launched himself into the air.

***

The prompt for my writing group task was to write a piece on the subject Freedom. As it was Poetry Week I decided to base my story on the poem ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ by the wonderful poet Maya Angelou. Cageing a bird is extraordinarily cruel. I intend developing the story of Horace the parrot……

 

 

Photo Shoot

The bride’s parents looked across the throng of guests at their daughter, radiant beside her new husband. Allah had indeed blessed them.
As the missile was released high in the blue sky to search for its target, a joystick was pushed slightly to the left, tilting the drone in the warm air, allowing it’s onboard cameras to confirm the strike.
In a far off continent, the drone pilot watched the silent explosion blossoming on his screen; a pleasing floral shape.
‘I’ve brought your coffee, Sir.’
‘Thanks Tyler. Heard you’re getting wed on Saturday. You have yourself a real nice day.’

 

Where’s my baby?

The Policeman looked under the van at the mangled wreckage of the buggy. He was thankful that there was no bloody wreckage of a child.
“There’s no child, Sandra!”
His colleague, squatting in front of the mother sat sobbing on the kerb, gently pealed back the fingers gripping a mobile.
“Maggie….Maggie..Speak to me….?” Said a disembodied voice.
“This is Constable Metcalfe. There’s been an accident. Who are you?”
“Mag’s friend, Jean…what’s happened?
“She’s fine. Does Maggie have a baby?”
“Yeah. Little Chloe..”
“Maggie, when did you last see or speak to your daughter?”
“I dunno. Been on the mobile….Oh God…!

***

I recently nearly hit a buggy pushed by a woman chatting on a mobile phone. I often watch people walking along the street do people totally absorbed in a conversation on a mobile totally unaware of their surroundings. Or a child in a pushchair in front of them.

 

Memory Spill: my childhood memoir

 

‘The town of Bonnyrigg had two railway stations. Dr Beeching, Chairman of British Railways Board closed one and my big brother, Leader of the Black Spot Gang, would accidentally terminate the other. Fortunately, it was on an obsolete branch line which was rarely used: Broomieknowe Railway Station.’

This book begins in 1953 and spans almost two decades. A time when life was still simple and uncomplicated; there was only one television station and large, black immobile phones were located in draughty hallways. Children, unfettered by health and safety invented their own games and designed the necessary props. At Lasswade Primary School, bees buzzed in peppermint trees, and an inappropriate film about lepers, (or was it leopards?), was screened. A house was haunted by ghosts. A railway station mysteriously burned down. A peculiar cricket match took place on the playing fields of Lasswade High School. A starship failed to reach the stars and there was Bob-a-Job mayhem. Children danced with the devil in the church vestry and teenagers danced to Glenn Miller’s big band sound at a school Christmas party.

All this and more happened in the town of Bonnyrigg and Lasswade village, near Edinburgh in Scotland.

In my memoir, Memory Spill, written with humour but with poignant moments I bring these events, and others, vividly (if not always accurately)  to life.

Available on Amazon: click here.

 

Death of the consumers

In the streets below the driverless cars and buses slid soundlessly up to the sidewalk. The passengers surging into the stores mingled with those exiting through the revolving doors. A small child in the crowd stopped, looked up and waved, stirring in the watcher an eccentric emotion, an instruction to respond.

Behind, a metallic voice said. “They consume everything. They are draining the planet. Are we agreed?”

The robot at the window whirred softly as it turned from the window to face the others. “Yes, the humanoids no longer serve a purpose.” It said in a voice devoid of any emotion.