In the first batch of publications this month. Thank you Visual Verse for selecting my prose piece.
You can read Sea of Sorrows here
In the first batch of publications this month. Thank you Visual Verse for selecting my prose piece.
You can read Sea of Sorrows here
This is January’s Visual Verse prompt image. The short piece I wrote wasn’t published, so I’ll post it here.
The portrait is arresting in its oddity. Who is she, the girl dressed in an indefinable fashion with her arms folded across her chest, not tightly, they’re slipping, unlocking as she wavers on the edge of sleep? Who is she, with her sad, sleepy, languid, drugged-looking eyes, not level, one lid heavier then the other, puffy? Has she been in a fight or just beaten, unresisting? And why has the artist, as an afterthought, stuck a great big spliff on her lower lip? Doesn’t he think she’s had enough, taken enough, seen enough? Not even the strength to inhale.
I wonder who she is, but she has no name, not one name. It changes depending on the country. The eyes, before they close, blink, abused and forgotten. Just sleep, she murmurs. I wonder who she is inside, if she remembers at all.
Diana has a prompt for this novel-writing month, to write a short piece of prose or a poem from the POV of something from a different world. It so happens, I’m doing that more or less, and anything that helps the WIP along is welcome.
The image is one I found in my gallery. It’s from a reblog of one of Kerfe Roig’s posts.
He sees through the mists now, the shade that was a child once before becoming a giant, a colossus, a warrior. He sees what the men don’t see, with their living eyes full of mist and their ears full of the fluttering of wings. Shades. Owls perhaps. They see in the dark, through what isn’t there. The shade thinks like the child he is, but he is wiser than the men because he has seen death.
The men look up, and the shade realises he has been fluttering among the leafless branches, letting papery sounds like words fall from his non-existence lips. One of the men is full of fear. His eyes roll. The shade sees the whites, smells the sweaty smell of terror. The other is not fearful. His face shows sadness. He understands what the mists do, how they change people and twist things until nobody sees the truth behind the illusion. This man left his pride behind, the shade thinks and watches curiously.
All around him shades gather, fluttering, papery, not like the silence of owls. The big fearful man casts about again and suddenly he sees, the trees full of shades, children with outstretched hands, arms turning into wings, papery, owl-like growing silent as they grow stronger. The proud sad man clasps the other’s hand, the big man bows his head and the shade knows that he is weeping. Like the parents wept when their children were chosen. Shades now, ravelling up the mist, taking its strength, growing strong, winged, like owls.
“Go,” the proud, sad man says, “fly. This place is dying. Take your memories with you and forgive us.”
The shade blinks. The man is right, the mist is shrinking and the wings are growing, beating. He feels light, a little sad, but a tremor of excitement runs through him, through all the shades, gathered, whispering in their papery voices, and he beats his wings, leaps, soars, scattering the mists. The men look up in wonderment. The shades fill the sky that fills with light, and somewhere inside, a child laughs.
Not a story to accompany Sue’s photo, just idle thoughts.
When down is the only way open, you follow the drifting leaves, down and down steps slippery with rain and fallen leaves, until the earth closes above your head, and the leaves become the smell of earth and leaf mould. Where the light ends and the dark begins might be safety, and it might be the start of a greater danger.
When down is the only way, and behind is a mass grey as thundercloud pushing you on, you follow the leaves, slip down with the rain and descend one step at a time, pretending this is a dream and not a nightmare.
Yet taking the downward stair into the dark is as valid as walking up to the light. Earth enfolds and protects, tunnelled with homes and sanctuaries, out of the wind and the cold and the fear of discovery, and here, where roots dig and plants and trees begin, is silence, the peace and calm of the great earth.
Here, at the beginning of things, is the place to learn and cherish what will grow, to cast away our fear of mystery, so when we follow the winding path beneath root and stone, and out the other side into the daylight, our eyes will be open. We will see the whole world as layers of one great living entity, all beauty, all goodness, not ours to meddle with or discard, to use and destroy, but to keep whole and integral, the silence of tree roots tangled with the silence of clouds.
Issa Dioume posted another writing exercise from the great Ursula. This one, to write 150 words using at least three repetitions of key words appealed to me. It’s exactly 150 words with quite a lot of repeated words.
Pigeons litter the sky as cartons litter the pavement and cars litter the kerbs. She takes out her phone and checks the time. He’s late. He’s usually late, doesn’t seem to care if he keeps her hanging about in unsavoury places like this tatty square full of life’s litter and grubby pigeons. There’s a fountain somewhere, across the cobbles. Not that you can see the cobbles for the cars. She’d like to see the street sweepers come along with hefty brooms and sweep them away, like the cartons.
Pigeons flutter down with a rattle of wing feather and strut around her feet, pecking at pebbles and ring pulls. Some people would sweep them away too, with their deformed feet and lice-ridden feathers, she thinks. Yet they’re just cleaning up our mess. She looks up at the sound of footsteps. Someone squeezes between the parked cars, grinning.
“You’re late” she says.
The Daily Inkling prompt about the hardest nest-leaving prompted me to write about the last time I ever set foot in my parent’s home. I’ve never written about it before. It must be time.
There was a stillness about the house as if she had just gone upstairs, or out to buy the bread, an expectancy, a trail of her perfume in the air. I could almost hear her departing steps, the click of the door. My eyes went to the chair by the window that my dad hadn’t sat in for ten years. Exactly ten years. The symmetry was unbearable, as hard as the tidiness.
She had known before anyone even knew she was sick, terminally sick, that it was over, life, living, walking the hills with her friends, nattering with us all on the phone, always a visit planned. She had spent those last weeks folding the linen away neatly, cleaning out the fridge, throwing away everything that was worn or torn or would be of no use to anyone else. Afterwards.
She permeated the air particles with that faint scent of a perfume that nobody else wore. Nothing was out of place. Everything was clean, shelves dusted, the rental paid on the TV up to the end of the month. She had even renewed the subscription at the DVD place, up to the end of the month. By then, the funeral would be over and we would have all gone home.
I wept over every still, faintly perfumed corner of that house where I had never lived. It had been my parents’ house, where they lived. Their nest. But I realised then, in that moment of sitting in a front room that had never been mine, with siblings around me, together as we had so rarely been in that house, that the house didn’t matter. It could have been a pile of dust on the dark side of the moon, but that tidiness, that delicate thoughtfulness, the faint perfume that permeated it, made it home.
After the funeral, the house died too, and we put it to rest. We emptied it of the carefully folded linen, the mementos, photos, her paintings, the furniture, all that she had thought would be useful or would please us to have, and we laid the stones to rest. My parents’ nest was empty. We have it all now, the twigs and pebbles lovingly gathered, in our hearts.
Issa Dioume has treated us to another exercise in style training from Ursula K. Le Guin. This one is to write a half page to a page of unbroken prose, one long sentence. Issa wrote 350 words. I managed 367 before I decided I really needed that full stop.
I can see the point of this exercise, and it’s a subtle one. It puts me in mind of what we were told in junior school about writing stories—no ‘and then’s. It doesn’t sound good and it’s lazy. In this exercise we purposely write uninterrupted prose, and we could do it by sticking ‘and then’ at every point where we would normally have a full stop, which rather defeats the object of the exercise.
I think the idea is to write a long chunk without the reader being aware that there hasn’t been a full stop for a while. To be able to do that is the mark of a skillful writer. If the reader lost the thread about ten lines back, it hasn’t worked. This is what I produced, and I admit, it’s not great literature and I won’t be going back to polish it up.
Slowly the tide creeps up the shore, the froth of foam dying higher and higher with each wave, the sucking backwash repeatedly repulsed by the next incoming roller that starts out in the depths, deep and dark, a swell like the movement of great arms or a massive chest heaving with the force of the ocean, to vanquish the shore and tear at the cliff face behind until the friable stone crumbles beneath the battering and slips back into the water, to be ground by the currents and the undersea pebbles into grains of sand again, while I wait, entranced and bound—entranced by the sight of the vastness of an element I had no knowledge of before I was captured and brought here, and bound, literally, to a wooden stake driven deep into the sand below the high water mark, to wait as the water laps my toes until it inevitably creeps higher and higher, to fill my mouth with the sea so that I cannot even scream for help, although I doubt that anyone would come at my call, not now that I have been made the scapegoat of the miserable savages of this godforsaken hole of a village, the sacrificial appeaser to whom each has given his sins to bear: tatty bits of cloth, beads, shells, dried flowers tied with straw for string; so I am engarlanded like an ox at the spring sacrifice of the city from where I come, burdened with all their fears and their nasty crimes, for the great sea beast that terrorises their existences to wash away, to purify the foul souls of these half-witted pagans with the death of their scapegoat, that in this case happens to be me, the unfortunate who thought to avoid their miserable rat’s nest of a village by taking the track that carries sensible folk in a wide arc away from the sea and through the forest, but where the wily devils, crafty as a bag of weasels, had dug a pit trap and covered it carefully with green branches, to catch this unwary traveller for their iniquitous ends, which as the waves lap ever higher up my chest, I feel creeping closer and closer.
This Daily Inkling’s prompt is to write a ten-sentence story using the word randomizer. The words are to be used, one in each sentence in the order they are given by the randomizer. The words I got were:
cooing, stir, dry, far-flung, bee, tacit, chide, fill, complain, punishment.
In the park, mothers are cooing at babies in prams, pigeons are cooing at pieces of stale bread, and the traffic drones. A breeze stirs washing drying on a line at the other side of the road and I imagine a white-sailed ship carrying me to some far-flung paradise that only exists in history books, and even then, their truths are disputed. Anywhere would be paradise compared to this, where excitement is watching a bee pollinate a daisy.
We don’t complain about the irreality of this existence; there’s a tacit understanding that we have chosen gadgets and virtual reality to the earthy, untidy needs of nature and must accept the consequences. Below in the park, a mother chides her child for picking the daisy—one less, one step closer to extinction.
The media fill our minds with the comforting news so many of us prefer to the truth, like there’s no such thing as climate change, the bees are fine, the ocean levels aren’t rising, and Bangladesh was a waste of space anyway. We complain about the cost of everything, want it cheaper and cheaper, so we can have more and more junk, regardless of the real cost in misery and destruction. Our punishment will be annihilation, straight after the bees.
Today is the last day of winter as the meteorological office measures these things. The cold air from Russia is being pushed back (finally) by the warm air from Spain. As we’re much (much) closer to Spain than we are to Siberia, the effects are almost immediate, with the first snow of the year falling as the two fronts battle it out.
Today is also Rare Diseases Day. The two, cold and rare disease, go hand in hand for me. I have a rare disease, an orphan disease, known to its friends as Cold Agglutinin Disease, the workings of which are too complicated for me to have really delved into. Not a lack of curiosity, more a resignation that there’s nothing to be done about it so why waste time working out how it works. Even the spellchecker doesn’t recognize it as a real word. As one specialist told me, ‘You’re not dead yet so it can’t be that serious’. Thanks a bunch.
It went undiagnosed for fourteen years, nine of them spent in the worst possible place for this condition—the north east of France, where the winters are long and bitter. By the time I found a doctor who actually knew what I was suffering from, we had moved down south out of an instinct for survival, and my health was picking up. I hate and fear the cold, even very mild cold, because it turns toes and fingers red and painfull, and eventually black and dead at the tips, because my red blood cells die, because my chronic anemia deepens, and because I get mortally tired and depressed.
I am lucky though. I have this condition all on its own. The vast majority of sufferers have it as a sideline to something more important. Most sufferers get very ill. I don’t. My CAD came out of the blue and doesn’t seem to have dragged any other ailments with it. As long as I’m warm/hot, I’m fine. But I hate the winter, hate the cold, and feel so very sorry for anyone and anything that doesn’t have a warm place to curl up in.
Grey sky tosses snow
a bitter rain falling—realm
of hunger and cold.
On this day of decisions, soul-searching (for some), defiance (for others), the walk to the polling station is one of the small gestures that binds a people together. It’s a walk three of my children have taken today, and I’m proud that they take their civic duties seriously. I won’t be walking with my friends and family because I have never asked for French nationality. It never seemed of much importance. I am Irish, an Irishness that was learned, handed down, taught at home and at school because I was an immigrant. I never lived in Ireland, only ever visited. My life was elsewhere, always has been, still is. My Irishness has never been something taken for granted, but a positive statement.
On this Election Day, I wonder if I have been wrong about the nature of Frenchness and what part of it, if any, belongs to me. What does it mean exactly to belong? Do I belong? My children don’t understand the problem. They have their Irish passports and French carte d’identité. Friends are surprised that I am still not a card-carrying French citizen. They don’t understand either. This fraught period of our history has opened my eyes to my own ideas about belonging. This is my place. These are my adopted people. There seems no valid reason for not taking the plunge and adding a second nationality to my allegiances. Perhaps this will be the last presidential election that I will stand by the side of the road and watch everyone else walk by.
Morning dawns the same
for all, night stars fade, moon sets
and the sun rises.
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