I wrote something (everyone’s asleep after lunch), and it’s not a poem. An Oracle story. Fiction blurring into fact.
She stands in the cave mouth, gazing down at the sea, blue, glittering. On the sea is a white-sailed boat. In the boat is a man, black-bearded, with a request. She is a mouth nothing more to the man, who is nothing more than a black beard to her. The cave yawns; the white sail approaches. He ties up the boat, reaches inside for two white doves. Their wings beat feebly. She never asks for this, but they do it anyway. Nothing for nothing. She would have them let the birds fly, but they only understand death. What price would they have paid if there was no shedding of white-feathered blood? She sings a wordless song to calm the frightened birds. She can do no more. Between hers, and the world of men is an ocean, a night sky, a towering wall. The blood flows, and black-beard is satisfied. He asks his question and she replies. It is a riddle. She has a limitless store. He will work it out to his own satisfaction. Only she knows it means nothing. He leaves, black-bearded, white-sailed, confident. But aren’t they all? She wonders at the lives they lead, black-beard’s mother, his wife, sisters, his daughters. She wonders if he ever dreams of the volcano simmering beneath his confident tread, how his mother, wife, sisters and daughters hold it on a leash. For now. If he did, he would never ask her to explain the meaning of such a dream. He would have forgotten it before morning, a wisp of cloud mist, a foolish fancy, as irrelevant as the cry of a child in the night. She smiles to herself, a wry smile. If only he understood that there is nothing more relevant than the cry of a child in the night, the beating wings of things that do not want to die, the strong hand of a loving woman, perhaps the volcano would not have to be unleashed.
It’s been a long time since I participated in an Ekphrastic challenge, and the Baer painting isn’t one that immediately appeals to me. On closer inspection though, it became almost hypnotic, and an interpretation grew that became a story. Thank you to Alarie Tennile for selecting my piece.
For dverse, the line of poetry to use in the piece of prose (144 words) is from Michael Donaghy’s ‘Liverpool’
“she’d had it sliced away leaving a scar”
The cherry tree grew in the middle of the tiny kind of garden that makes proper trees look like caged bears. Her mother planted it for the blossom and let it grow tall and broad for the fruit. When she was a child she had climbed into the lower branches to pick the under-ripe fruit, and later, when she inherited the house, learned to love the flocks of blackbird that ate the cherries as soon as they ripened. Her neighbour complained that the branches overhung his lawn, the fruit dropped, the birds made a mess. When she closed her ears, he took a chainsaw to the main branch, tearing a hole in her childhood memories, the only children she’d had. It sliced away leaving a scar that wept amber tears until winter sealed the wound tight shut. The wound in her heart never healed.
Translator’s notes: 1.July 12th is the day Protestants in the North of Ireland celebrate the defeat of the Catholic ex-king of England James II at the Battle of the Boyne by his nephew and son-in-law (keeping it in the family), the Dutchman William of Orange. The Protestant William was backed (along with most of Europe) by the Pope (I kid you not), as one of the measures to keep the Catholic Louis XIV of France in his place. It incidentally secured the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, which nobody cared about one iota. 2.’Taig’ is an abusive name for Catholic. 3. For an idea of what the ‘celebrations’ look like, I suggest browsing the twitter thread #KKKulture.
What we are
It was July 12th and she sat in the shade of a lime tree in the insect-quiet of early afternoon, trying to find what they call inner quiet. She looked at her fingers spread in the dry grass, the mosquito bites on her arms, the sleeping dogs, the heat-shimmering blue of the sky and tried to be entirely in that place, in that moment.
July 12th and a long way away, a fat, laughing Belfast woman and a skinny Asian youth were singing ‘I’d rather be a Paki than a Taig’ for the cameras.
She was a long way from the place her parents called home, but it was July 12th, and the crackle of dry grass was the flames of the bonfires, the tree branches swayed beneath the weight of hanged effigies, and though she dived into an ocean of inner quiet, she would still be a Taig.
This short piece is inspired by Sonya’s three line tales prompt. You’ll notice it’s rather more than three lines. This is the first time I’ve gone into the realms of true flash fiction with this prompt. Must be something in the air.
photo by Marco ten Hoff via Unsplash
We had answered the call, the secret, furtive summons on our group’s private notice board, and we waited with bated breath in the narrow room for him to appear and tell us what we wanted to hear. His words had thrilled us, so full of the obvious that our leaders denied, pointing out their falsehoods, the coverups, urging us to take to the streets and show them we were duped no longer. He burst into the room, a giant, backlit in silhouette, wreathed in smoky light, and we roared his name, stamping our feet. He silenced us. “Your time has come, your moment of glory. They are here, outside the building, the dogs of the conspiracy of corruption, to silence us. Their guns are pointed at the doors and windows. Go! Meet them, like the heroes you are!” We looked at one another, licked dry lips. “And you, Master? Will you lead us?” “I will be behind you, praying for your success, to wade through your blood to take power.” Even in the murky half-light, his wide grin shone white as bone.
A short story for Sue Vincent’s weekly photo prompt. You’ll have to go to Sue’s blog to see the prompt as WP refuses to upload it here.
The river flows as it always did, in turbulent pools where the bank is broken by the deep stone walls. Impregnable, they always said, with the cliff behind and the river before, and my father laughed at the notion of siege. “We have stores enough for two years within and the wells never run dry.” When he said I was to marry the neighbouring seigneur to make our joint lands the wealthiest in the county, the fort became a prison. You vowed you would come for me, as I vowed I would be here when you did. No walls would keep me in if your arms waited on the other side. So I was here where the river rolls, with its whirlpool of autumn leaves carried round and round in the current, trapped between buttress and bank, when you guided your boat with muffled oars silently beneath walls. I was here when you raised your sweet face and opened your arms. You were there, below, when I climbed the parapet, a cord about my waist and tested the strength of the knot about the merlon. And I saw your face, smiling, one last brief moment before my father’s archers leapt from the tower and your smile turned to a grimace of pain and despair. Only I am here now, watching the river. My father believes women have no courage and doesn’t even think to put a watch on me. The FitzHugh is coming tomorrow to finger the goods, the prelude to my sentence, but by then, I will be where you fell, among the autumn leaves carried round and round in the cold, clear river water beneath this wall.
We have longed for this for so long. The weeks turned to months, and now that the restrictions are finally lifted and the army has left the streets in a cloud of dust, we pour out into the familiar silence, and we have forgotten how to show our emotion. No one sings or shouts, or embraces strangers with joy. Sparrows flutter and garden songbirds flash with coloured wings. Grass has begun to grow between the paving stones; the river laps and washes banks lush with marsh flowers.
It hasn’t taken long to discover there is nothing left in the food shops, no petrol in the pumps. The shops that were forced to close are empty, no stock, no staff, no orders. I walk, like many people, following the river to the ocean. It isn’t far, though for months it might as well have been in another galaxy. Soon the rioting will begin, the destruction, because too many have no idea of how to build, but for the moment, in this brief interlude of adjustment to the world of afterwards, there is quiet.
I walk to the beach, the long straight beach that stretches parallel with the waves and the ranks of clouds that layer the sky with hues of red. The waves roll with a sigh and a hiss, licking away at the land, sucking it back into the cradle of the ocean. I wonder if the water will eventually reclaim all the land.
Dolphins and seals, porpoises break and dive. Birds call. We watch the sunset because there seems nothing else or better to do. Tomorrow it will start, the end, and the dolphins will laugh. The birds won’t care either. They will sing as they have always done whether we listen or not.
The virus spread and multiplied, gobbling corpuscles and sucking them dry. The dead went unburied and the vultures began to reappear. We fled the black tide, leaving population centres behind, preferring the prospect of starvation surrounded by the beauty of returning nature to the vain hope of salvation, a vaccine, or simply a cache of food if we stayed in the city.
We had found our way north, taking back roads, travelling as stealthily as we could, and our food had almost run out. It was high summer. Perhaps we would learn what we had forgotten, how to fend for ourselves, or perhaps we would find a deserted dwelling and brave the possibly lurking virus spores to look for supplies.
We drove off the road, hid the car in the bushes and watched the sunset. Never had the silence been so profound. The black cloud that had enveloped the earth and smothered the sky for the last two weeks, hung low and menacing as ever, but a crack had appeared above the line of hills, and last stream of light lit up the lake below like liquid gold.
It was a sign, we thought. The virus is faltering, perhaps dying back with no new hosts to feed upon. You stood, your face aglow, mouth open to shout out your new-found hope, when suddenly your face paled. You grabbed my arm and pulled me down out of sight. But not before the eyes that had opened in the cloud had seen us, and the crack of light on the horizon curled up in a broad grin.
A 130 word piece of flash fiction for the dverse prompt, including the line from Jane Hirshfield’s poem, I want to be surprised:
I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
He brought roses. I put them in a vase straight away while he opened a bottle of wine. It was our anniversary, a whole year of being together. I’d prepared something special for supper. Shame because I won’t ever be able to bring myself to make it again. He had always enjoyed my cooking, said I was better than the restaurant. Cheaper too.
He waited until the meal was over before he told me. Well, that was predictable, I suppose. Apparently ‘we’ were over. The sparkle had gone; it was time to move on. I looked from the roses to his face—concerned, but probably only that I would get unreasonably upset. I don’t know why I was surprised. Every time, love started or ended the same way, with flowers.
A knock on the street door in the night and we don’t answer. We look furtively through the louvred shutters and see nothing, nothing definite, but we know it’s there. You go to check the locks, I watch, see the faintest flutter of movement, a sliding up the wall of the building.
I want to call out to you but daren’t break the night silence. I don’t want to be alone and leave the window, looking for you. There are only two rooms in the apartment, and you are in neither of them.
The front door is unlocked. I fling it wide in panic and the darkness surges forward. I slam the door closed, lock it, pull across the bolt and I think I hear you calling, far away.
There is a creak, a gust of night air and I know a window has been opened. It’s there, in the bedroom. I back up against the apartment door. The bolt rattles, eases itself free. I watch mesmerised as the key turns by itself, clicks.