Sweet memories

She held the flowers under her father’s nose. ‘They’re from the garden dad. We still plant them each year just like you used to. In the bed at the edge of the patio. Remember?’
It was unlikely he would. Geoffrey Simms had been suffering from dementia for over two years. He sat slumped in the high-backed chair his chin rising and falling with the wheezing undulations of his chest.
The fragile fragrance of the sweet pea blooms skirmished with the odours of human waste and decay that pervaded the Sunnyvale Care home. Somewhere a patient cried out, the wail dampened as it travelled along the carpeted corridors. Jenny squeezed his hand, the skin as thin as paper. Fragments of memory assembled in her mind like a creased picture, her father tying the sweet pea stems to canes while she played with her dolls on the sun warmed paving slabs.
Her father gasped, dragged air into his lungs. ‘Your mum……’
‘Mum?’ Jenny was not sure what shocked her more. Her father talking or her father talking about her mother. She had left their home when Jenny was six years old. Ran off with another man they said. Jenny placed the white vase on the bedside cabinet. The scent of the sweet peas must have triggered a memory, she thought.
‘Dad. What about Mum?’ she asked with the care of a poacher tickling a trout. ‘Tell me about Mum.’
Feet padded softly in the corridor, a trolley rattled past the door. Somewhere a mobile phone trilled bird like.
‘Dad, please tell me tell me about my mum.’
His left eyelid flickered open, and a tear gathered in the corner of the rheumy eye. ‘She’s buried.’
‘Buried? Buried where, Dad?’
‘The patio. I buried her under the patio.’
In the cold silence the cheerful pastel petals seemed to mock her.

Dawn Chorus

 

The cool morning wind coursing though his hair brought a memory to Billy. He is a small boy sat on the rustic bench outside his grandfather’s cottage waiting for the sun to rise. The old man steps out of the front door. They smile at each other and before his grandfather sits; he ruffles Billy’s blond curls with his broad hand.
Present arms!”
They savour the silence for a while, then as the dawn chorus begins his grandfather, who had been a Gamekeeper on the estate, tells him about the birds that are singing. How the skylarks, song thrushes, robins and blackbirds are the first to sing. Then the wrens and warblers, more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, join in. The still dawn air carrying nature’s hymns.
Take aim!”
Then, when the light brightens and food, the seeds and insects, are easier to find, the chorus fades.
He can see his grandfather now sat on the bench hunched forward, chin resting on the hands that grip his walking stick. He turns and smiles.
Billy felt the warmth of the rising sun on his face. It was going to be a fine day.
Fire!”
Surprised at the sudden volley, the audience of crows rose cawing from the surrounding trees in a cloud of black feathers and flew into the brightening sky.

Leave Us Alone


The exotically dressed people below waved almost as enthusiastically as the palm fronds that flapped in the turbulence of the helicopter as it rose thudding into the cloudless blue sky. The pale, almost albino, leader had made a speech while his acolytes poured drinks for a farewell toast. Jacob had signalled with his hands his gratitude for the hospitality and that he would return.
*
“That was absolutely fantastic guys.” Shouted Professor Jacob Rubin as he looked down and waved back. This was the high point of his career. Discovering this hitherto undiscovered race would place him in the pantheon of international anthropologists. He would be up there with Malinowski, Morgan and Margaret Mead. The city, concealed in the chasm, a massive split in the plateau, had astonished him. That such an advanced culture had remained isolated from the modern world was beyond belief. He felt lightheaded with sheer excitement.
Equally excited in the seat next to him sat Eleanor Stanford. A young reporter with the New York Times, she had persuaded her editor to allow her to accompany the expedition. Even now, as the helicopter banked away from the forest cloaked plateau her finger tips were deftly dancing across her laptop keyboard. “I can’t imagine my Editor’s face when this ‘scoop of the century ‘ arrives on his computer.” Said Eleanor. “When will we be in range so I can send emails?”
“It’ll be at least two hours or more.” The pilot’s metallic over the intercom.
“Eleanor, don’t forget our agreement. I must read and approve your report.” Said Jacob.
“Just to make sure his name appears numerous times!” Said his assistant Sam grinning.
“Quite,” said Jacob. “Quiet now, please, I’m going to try and translate the words spoken by his eminence at the farewell ceremony.” He inserted the earphone buds and listened to the recording on his iPhone while writing on a notepad on his knee.
*
They had been flying for almost an hour when Jacob had made a crude translation. “The leader guy said ….it seems to be a curse, Eleanor… it ends…’Our secret will stay with you always” His uncertain voice trailed away . But the reporter wasn’t listening. She lay against him, her lifeless head lolling on his shoulder. Jacob looked across at Sam who was slumped forwards in his harness. He wanted to tell the pilot but his tongue felt paralysed. His unseeing eyes stared out of the window as the helicopter fluttered down to land softly on the still surface of the lake and sank.

*

Later the editor of the Times wrote:

It is now six months since the expedition, lead by Professor Jacob Ruben, last made contact with their support team. Extensive searches have found no trace of the personnel or the helicopter and we must now accept that the intrepid explorers including our own brave reporter Eleanor Stanford are lost. It is not the first expedition to search for the mythical civilisation. Two other attempt were made in 1935 and 1957. Both disappeared without trace.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The solicitor peered over his half-moon glasses with grave solemnity and pushed the mahogany box across the vast expanse of tooled green leather that covered the desktop.
“Your Godfather has bequeathed this item to you, Celia. There is an sealed envelope inside.”
Celia lifted the lid. Under the envelope was a strange bird surrounded by a nest of white napkins.
“I understand your Godfather was Geoffrey Soames, a diplomat in India.”
“Yeah, I think so.” Said Celia with the disinterested of a fifteen-year-old. She vaguely remembered a fat bloke squeezing her six-year-old cheeks. She stuffed the envelope in her pocket, closed the box and left the musty office and the ghoulish solicitor.
At home she placed the hideous bird with the sharp beak on the mantelpiece next to her parent’s hideous carriage clock and headed upstairs to her bedroom. The box would be handy to keep her makeup stuff in, she thought, flopping onto her bed.
Then she remembered the envelope.

My dear Celia.
No doubt the gift of the bird will be a disappointment. But, whosoever possesses the bird can make three wishes. Choose carefully.
With kindest regards
Geoffrey

Yeah, right? Geoffrey. And I’m Madonna.
Later, Celia put her skepticism to one side and made a wish. She decided to start with wish for a fortnight holiday for two in Magaluf and see what happened.
The next morning her father walked into the kitchen. “Registered delivery for Celia Thornton. Must be important.”
Celia slit open the envelope with the butter knife. “I’ve won a holiday for two, dad!” She squealed.
Her excitement soon evaporated when her enraged father told her that over his dead body she would take her feckless, fuckwit boyfriend to Magaluf.
“I hate you dad, I wish you were dead!” She shouted as she slammed the front door.

*
“The beak penetrated here, Martin. See, just above the left eye.” The pathologist pointed at the small red rimmed hole in the victims head.
“You’re sure it was an accident?” Asked DI Fuller.
“Absolutely certain. I’m guessing he had some sort of seizure. That would explain why he was gripping the ornamental bird so firmly when he fell and impaled himself on the beak. Death would have been instantaneous.”
“A painless death, then.” Said the inspector. “A small crumb of comfort for the family. I’m off to see them next.”
Rather you than me, thought the pathologist running a scalpel around the dead head.
*
Celia listened, with a growing sense of horror, as the inspector explained the circumstances of her fathers demise to her sobbing mother. This was all her fault. She had caused the death of her father. Hadn’t she wished him dead?

*
After the funeral Celia lay on her bed floating in a sea of grief and misery. She had wished her father dead. A common enough aspiration of truculent teenagers, but for Celia a wish that had come true.
Then she remembered. Scrabbling under her bed she found the letter. Of course! Three wishes. She had three wishes!
Celia ran from the house not stopping until the fresh earthen mound of her father’s grave lay in front of her.
“I wish my dad was alive again,” she shouted, startling a woman arranging flowers at a nearby grave.

*
Her father’s eyelids fluttered, then opened to impenetrable darkness. As his fingertips felt the coffin lid inches from his face, he began to scream. His daughter, waiting above, heard nothing.
There is no better sound insulation than six feet of damp soil.

Poems of marching to war

The Last Full Measure

Towards the field of bloody battle
We march the long straight road
To answer the sabres metallic rattle
Of a godless foe who would goad
Peaceful nations to stand and fight
And sacrifice our blood and treasure
For honour, freedom, peace and right
We will give our last full measure

Pastoral Heaven

Capricious clouds, cherubic white
Gaze through the gossamer light
From the vaulted pale blue sky
Swallows fly high on zephyr’s sigh
As we march ‘tween Gallic leas
Amidst the tall and slender trees
That stand in line, a guard of honour
As pale cattle of content demeanour
In lush and verdant pasture graze.
I look upon all this and dream of days
Of peace that are, God willing nigh
And we will walk this path, you and I

***

Two more poems for my epistolary project. The theme is marching towards the front line . My soldier character has yet to experience the reality of warfare.

Poems of War

Home thoughts

Beneath black skies and scattered stars
The trenches weave like unhealed scars
The land betwixt shell ploughed and sown
With broken bodies of men unknown
Their souls held fast by cloying clay
Or wire’s barbed and coiled array
Wraiths watching us poor sods that live
With only our wretched lives to give
As we march forward to fight and die
The ghosts of the already dead sigh
Will I live to see my home anon
Has my future briefly dreamt, gone

Comrades in death

We differ not, from the wrecked limbers
broken bodies or splintered copse timbers
That lie strewn over no man’s land
We differ not, we who can still stand
To shake a limb at a shrieking shell
Or crouch in terror in this unholy Hell
We differ not, as we curse the fates
That brought us to where death awaits
He seeks us out. The machine gun’s scythe,
Snipers bullet or shrapnel. We fall and writhe
In trench, shell hole or hung on barbed wire
For God, King and country we die under fire.

Remember me

Ask not what happened or how did I die
It matters not where on this battlefield I lie
My soul will make the long march home
Along tree lined roads, across fields loam
And walk our path through blossom scent
To clutch you to me in sorrowful lament
And wipe the warm tears from your face
For you held me close in this heartless place
When in trembling terror I wept with fear
As horrors seen peeled back sanity’s veneer
Hold in your memory the man you wed
Not the soldier in a war where virtue fled

***

I am working on a epistolary writing project and needed poems that the main character , a WW1 soldier, would have written. I composed these poems which I hope capture the tone and style of the time.

Head Room

 

I think I am in a room.

There is a floor. A solid surface beneath my feet, otherwise I would fall like a dying bird.

There is a ceiling. Reaching up, I extend my arms, stretch my fingers and touch a ceiling. I cannot fly away.

Walls? I reach out into the inky, impenetrable darkness but feel no walls. I need walls. A boundary to make sense of where I am.

I go down on my hands and knees to move across the floor, the only thing of substance, the only reference point I have. I explore the terrain with my fingertips searching for a wall. The surface of the floor is smooth, glasslike, without blemishes. There is no olfactory sensation. No chemical smell or natural scent. When I tap the floor with my wedding ring there is no echo. No reassuring echo. Only the sound of my breathing.

Then I hear a voice. A distant voice.

I move towards the voice and touch a wall. As I stand my hands slide up the surface. It has the same featureless tactile qualities as the floor. I place my feet with care as my hands search for a way out. A door. A window. An exit from this illimitable blackness.

“Now Mr Jackson, to help me reach a diagnosis tell me, describe if you can, what is going on in your head……?”

The Last Note

“I’m off t’ watch band in park.”
“Okay, Dad, enjoy yourself!” her words cut off by the closing door.
“Do you think he’s okay?”
“He’ll be fine, son. It’s been a year……”
Seth set off down the street towards the village green the round cobbles beneath his feet and the sound of the brass band in the warm air.
“It’s all changed, Ethel. The bank, the baker, Murgatroyds. All gone. Streets full of them charity shops now. Even farrier’s workshop’s apartments. All changed since we were young.”
“Here. We’ll sit here. At the back.”
Seth settled into the canvas chair and looked around. “A good turnout, love. At least the band’s still popular like it was.”
The deep rolling notes ebbed and flowed over the audience. Seth liked the sonorous sound of a brass band. He thought it complimented the soft undulating landscape of the Dales. Then, when there was a passage of sharper, almost discordant notes he saw the web of stone walls that marked the field boundaries, or heard the cry of the gulls that followed in his wake when he ploughed the fields.
“Do you remember the farm Ethel? I loved the farm in the spring. D’ye mind when Elsie got out o’ the field and crossed the cricket pitch when Tom Ainley was about to bowl?” The sunlight caught the brass instruments and Seth, shading his eyes with his land sculpture hand, could make out his grandson on the trombone. “And yon daft dog, Jack, y’ remember Jack that the hens chased…….”
“I’ve got to go, Seth.”
“Oh, Ethel, can’t you stay a bit longer.”
“No, Seth. I need to leave.”
Seth smiled. “I’m tired. I think I’ll come with you, love.”

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.