I haven’t done one of these in an age. For the dverse prosery night.
The general finally wound up his speech. ‘So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.” His horse shook its head and the general raised his, to stare into the middle distance, a heroic poise. He pulled on the reins, and to whoops and cheers, turned his horse around to ride off majestically to the rear. “They need not fear the firing squad for insurrection, he means.” Alfred spat on the ground and nudged Bill in the ribs. “He wasn’t talking about that lot out there.” The two men stared over the sandbags at the line of men, advancing through the dust raised by armoured cars and tanks. Bill wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Because they’re going to do more’n harm us. They’re going to fuckin’ wipe us off the face of the fuckin’ earth.”
The waiting room is empty, she picks up a magazine opens it anywhere, as you do, just to give her hands something to do, to focus her eyes on something because there’s nothing else, nothing on the walls except a poster with line drawings of toddlers with blue faces, their heads inside plastic bags, or toddlers with red faces being held down in baths full of water hot enough to boil eggs. She wonders what kind of parent sits in a doctor’s waiting room staring at this kind of poster and thinks, hmm, maybe I should stop giving Jayden/Emma/Butternut/Jigsaw plastic bags to play with. She picks up the only magazine and opens it in the middle. It might be a story, she doesn’t know, she just lets the colours run. Her own pastel colours drift across the ceiling making a dream landscape you might find over the bed of a luckier toddler than the red and blue ones in the poster. Drifts of clouds, moons and stars, all sunlit and rippling with tame water fill the pale room. The colours gather in banks and billows so thick the doctor can barely open the door. “Amy Narwhal?” The girl uncrosses her legs and closes the magazine, blows a kiss to the rocking moon, and follows the doctor into the surgery.
Another girl enters the now full waiting room, pushing her way past a bouncing lilac cloud and sits down. She glances at the poster and wonders, are there really parents who don’t know that babies are like lobsters, that if you boil them they change colour and die? She picks up the magazine, opens it in the middle and the colours shrink and change like jumpers or lobsters, and the room darkens. The girl flicks on the light and begins to read. Once upon a time, in the deep dark ocean depths there lived a lobster. As everyone knows, the universe is peppered with constellations of lobsters, each bigger and more brilliant than the next, and this was the biggest, brightest of them all. One night, the biggest, brightest lobster climbed out of his pot— The door opens. The girl looks up. “Is this Dr Beluga’s surgery?” “It is. Sit down and I’ll read you a story.” The lobster clicks his way across the waiting room and takes the seat next to her. He peers at the magazine and taps the page with a blue pincer. “I know this one. Great writer.” The girl smiles and begins again. Her voice mingles with the dark green clouds, and soon the water has risen over her ankles. Somewhere, a toddler gurgles with laughter.
I look out at the July rain, listen to the thunder roll, the wind in the chimney, mop the water off the floor and try to find the voice of summer. In the livid meadow, feral cat shelters beneath a hay bale, watching the kestrel stoop and take the vole from the trickling stalks. There is no end, no stopping of the wheel, even though we have no use for these muddy times. sun sinks in storm cloud and spotting rain—somewhere it rises golden
If I was a grass snake or a wren or a pheasant with chicks to hide, if I was a roe deer with a baby in tow, a fox or badger looking for a place to dig, I would live here in these vole-rich meadows, where willows overhang the frog ditch, poplars, oaks and alders shade the stream, and the deep hedge keeps out the others.
It’s a small place for so many, a safe place, when all around is a minefield. Do they know? When I watch the pheasant walk past with her chicks, disturb the hind who leaves her baby safe in the long grass, when foxes wait in the last light to see what supper will be, and owls perch beneath the porch, I believe that they do.
deer crop midnight grass ignore the tight-closed moon bud in the dark sky-pool
This is the piece of short fiction (which wasn’t chosen for publication) I wrote for the Ekphrastic challenge, the prompt painting After the Storm, by Istvan Farkas. I love the colours in this, purple and green together is among my favourite combinations.
The heavens opened five minutes after the Abbé left the presbytery. A real summer storm, short lived, but violent, driving rain and wind that thrashed green branches. The only shelter was at the top of the hill where the road wound beneath a spinney of oak trees. Someone was already there, a raggedy woman. The Abbé’s nostrils pinched in distaste and he nodded curtly. Clutching his useless umbrella, he turned his back on the woman and gazed firmly out across the heaving landscape.
“You’ll be late for your lunch if this keeps up,” the woman said. “Who is it this Sunday? Lefebvre? Fabre? Meunier?” Her voice was steady as the rain, and the Abbé heard insolence in it. He would not taint himself by replying. “He keeps a good table, Meunier, so I hear. And with the son a courtier at Bordeaux, the wine cellar’s bound to be good too.” The Abbé shuffled, and his stomach rumbled inopportunely. “But they’ll all feed you well. Any of those people. People worth traipsing the countryside in the rain for.” A malcontent, a starveling. The Abbé closed his ears. The wind howled and he heard the crack of thunder. “Not like poor folk. They’d not get you away from your warm fire. Not poor folk who have nothing to pay for a Mass with.” Bitter and envious. “You’d not stir yourself for them, not even if their bairns were dying.” He heard a catch in the steady stream of words. He had no idea who the woman was, but he had nothing to reproach himself with. The clouds hung black, swollen. “You’d think a man of God would have a bit of compassion though, wouldn’t you? Make an exception. A prayer wouldn’t have taken long, would it? It wasn’t the bairn’s fault that her mother had nothing to give.” The sob was unmistakeable now. “If she’d had the money, she’d have given it to the doctor. She might have still had a bairn now, not just a mound of fresh-turned earth outside the cemetery.” The Abbé cast his eyes at the sky, looking, not for spiritual guidance but for a let-up in the storm. “If there was any justice…”
The woman’s voice petered out, and the Abbé found his at last. “Do you dare threaten a priest of the Church?”
She stared through him. Her eyes were sunken, famished. She laughed, a dry, hoarse laugh that ended in a cough. “There is no justice, not here, not from men. But we all die, one day. I’d bear that in mind, Abbé Collet, if I were you.”
She pulled her shawl tight around her throat and, head bent, hurried out into the rain, back towards the village. The Abbé’s eyes narrowed and burned with what he was not allowed to call hatred. There was a time when the Church had been allowed to deal with witches like that. He glanced at the sky, looking for approval perhaps. Thunder growled and a flash of lightning winked at him from over the church tower.
He wondered what that wink signified later, in the last few agonising moments as he choked on a fishbone from Meunier’s otherwise excellent sea bass.