Simple pleasures

I wasn’t going to take up this dverse challenge because I really couldn’t imagine any situation where anyone would say: you will love again the stranger who was yourself. I’m not even 100% sure I understand what it means.

Anyway, I did it, a 144 word flash fiction from the Eric Morecambe school of literature—all of Derek Walcott’s words are there, just not necessarily in the same order.

 

I never wanted to see you again. Love given and tossed away will have that effect. I used to think I knew you inside out, but you became a stranger, to me as well as to yourself. I never knew who was pulling the strings—you or some deity having fun with us.

It’s been weeks. I’ve stopped counting the days. Your face still shines out of every man’s I meet, his features morphing into yours. Even though I’ve changed jobs, changed address, I still dread bumping into you. But a message from Brenda in my inbox made me smile.

She said you’d been into work with a big bouquet.  When she told you I’d left, your face crumpled, your whole body sagged—like cancelling a kid’s Christmas. You turned in silence, head bowed, abandoning the flowers at reception.

I hope they were expensive.

 

 

 

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Golden age or comfort zone?

 

In my mailbox this morning was a reading suggestion. I obediently followed the link to Amazon to read the blurb, and if I liked the sound of it, the first few pages of the story. I managed the blurb—yet another princely youngest son, hounded from the family castle, finds refuge with happy, peaceful poor folk living a secretive existence in a forest, becomes their saviour (the blurb doesn’t mention why they need a saviour), and they help him regain his rightful inheritance.

Specifically what made me bristle was the pseudo-Medieval society that bears no relation to any real Medieval society that ever was. Medieval is more than just period costumes. But more generally, what is this obsession with royalty and a specific historical period with such alterations and embellishments that it may as well be science fiction? Why are writers still producing this kind of apology for absolute monarchy and privilege, and keeping alive the assumption that ordinary folk need to be led by some kid whose only claim to the job is that he was born of the ruling caste? Not only are the royals the only ones capable of leadership, it’s their divine right.

Admittedly, the other cliché of the humble woodcutter (they are often woodcutters, possibly because it sounds like a suitably Medieval and manly occupation) who defies the wicked king and becomes king in his place, is even more absurd.

What I find disturbing more than irritating, is that both scenarios, the divine right of privilege and the king who rose from the ranks of the commons by dint of hard work and impeccable moral hygiene, seem to me to comfort the myths we have constructed around our privileged lifestyles. We accept as right that the rich shall grow richer and the poor shall be content in their lowly place, and as incontestable that the leaders of society have reached the pinnacle of power through merit.

Call me a left-wing idealist if you like, but I hate this escapist world-building, which after all is supposed to make us dream, of a historical golden age which is no more than the enshrinement of the most conservative of our ideas about society. And no, the answer isn’t to have the same scenarios but with women in the key privileged roles, a sort of Medieval Evita. Isn’t it surely to create a world where the dreams of the generous and the humane come true rather than those of the power-hungry and privileged?

 

#writephoto: Sleep

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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Who knew who built the dolmen or why? Even in his time, it had been older than any race of men, a place haunted by the old ones. In his time, they had left offerings there on the eve of the longest night, to entice the sun to return and lit a fire in the sun’s image out of reverence. The sun always did return, and the year always turned. Though the days grew colder and bitter, they were longer and full of the promise of spring.

In his time, he made sure the traditions were respected. He was chief and sorcerer, smith and poet, hunter and healer. He knew the power of the natural world, and one half of his being was in the supernatural world. He had asked to be placed in this window on the world when he died, with the comfort of stone overhead to shield him from the rain, and the lush green grass draped all around like a cloak of the finest wool. From his window, he could look across the valley to the hill where his foster mother Tailtu lay beneath her cairn, and watch the games held in her honour each year, the leaping flames of the fire at nightfall.

For thousands of years he had watched the flames, each time wondering if it would be the last. Surely men’s memories would fail and the times would change. He had seen the flames dies after the last invasion, only to be revived when the invader was finally driven out. He had seen the stillness that fell when the games were outlawed, and he had seen the excitement of their revival when the wheel turned again.

In his bed of dark earth, beneath the stone warmed by the sun and the stories whispered by the fairy folk, Lugh lies and watches. From beneath her cairn, Tailtu still watches over him, and the ages old love of mother and son flows between the hill and the dolmen, filling the valley with green peace.

#Three Line Tales: Another world

For Sonya’s weekly photo prompt.

photo by Dave Herring via Unsplash

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Sometimes, you step outside your own neighbourhood, and the world changes from Mad Max to Narnia, a place of silent comfort, where no old cars clutter the kerb, and no kids and dogs run screaming after balls across the unfenced lawns.

You walk across the rainbow path that leads through the expensive residences, and you wonder if the people who walk happily hand in hand along this path to church ever know pain.

You shrug, wrap your arms around your secrets and turn back to your own neighbourhood, where even the rainbow-coloured chalk dust on the soles of your shoes could earn you a punch in the face.

#writephoto: Black crow strikes

Cheating a bit here. This isn’t inspired by the WIP, it’s an excerpt. It’s the point I’ve reached in revision and this image, Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt, fits the story well.

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She wraps her brat tighter across her shoulders; the evening air is cool after a damp summer day. The river is a mass of moving shadows beneath the trees, but she knows the path. If Dónal has asked for a seeing, it is to know the answer to one question. Her belly convulses with fear, tightening her throat, breaking up her breath into short gasps.

There is no light from a fire now, but she knows the path up the valley side well enough. The silence is terrifying, unnatural. Not even an owl cries. She wants to call out but bites her tongue, afraid to draw attention to herself. Branches snag her clothes, tug at her hair. She trips and almost falls. The night is closing in—protecting or defying? She gasps as a tree root rises beneath her foot and she slips. Something skitters away into the bracken lower down. The rock looms, a darker mass against the sky, brushed by leafy boughs. She takes a deep breath and hurries the last few yards of the incline.

Slumped forward, his back against a tree trunk is a man, pale-haired, still. By his side a harp and the glowing embers of an almost dead fire.

“Énna,” she whispers. She hates herself, but before she moves to his side, she looks around, searching the shadows in fear that she is not alone. There is no sound, not even from her brother. She touches the handle of the knife at her belt and, reassured by its smooth familiarity, rushes over the rock, past the bullán stone and its dark pool and puts a hand on Énna’s shoulder. He whimpers. The sound is like the sadness of a child. “Énna,” she says, louder, trying to make him sit up.

There is little light, just the fire glow and the faint light of the stars, but she sees that the front of his léine is dark. She whimpers, echoing his distress. Slowly, he raises his head, leans it back against the tree trunk and Aoife sucks in her breath in horror.

Three Line Tales: The mystic

For Sonya’s three line tales prompt.

photo by Rikki Austin via Unsplash

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Miranda had taken up her place in the centre of the henge on a campstool to keep her robes off the damp grass, facing the east and the rising sun, when dawn was still only a paling of the darkness along the horizon.

The air was in movement with the faint presence of ancient lives that still vibrated in the holy place, and she was certain that this sunrise would reveal the arcane mysteries of the stone circle.

She held her breath as the first cold rays shot across the hillside and probed the entrance stones to touch her dew-damp feet then her knees, only letting it out in a gasp of disappointment when thick cloud smothered the sun and a light rain began to fall.

Full Moon

A second story for the ‘I dreamt I was the moon’ dverse prompt.

 

Nothing really prepares you for giving birth. Grandmothers will tell you, it’s worth it in the end. Mothers smile palely and say, he’ll hold your hand; you’ll be fine. But nobody can explain what ‘it’ will be like.

Can I not have a sample to decide if I think it will be worth it? I asked. Did the soldiers dying in the Crimean War really think having Florence Nightingale hold their hands was enough?

The end of the ninth month loomed. I loomed, like a barrage balloon. Movements slow, the nights were suffocating. I wanted to fly, float, weightless as a seal in water. The pains came and the dream of floating floated out of reach.

I clutched at other dreams and then I remembered when I dreamt I was the moon, and that’s what I became. Round and full, preparing the next sunrise.