Detritus

He leaves you.

No forwarding address. The overwhelming scent of lilies. Three hundred coloured pencils, none of which are the colour of lies. A map of Paris you mark with your battle sites. His father’s ashes. A bag of silk ties you forget to add mothballs to. Four occupied mousetraps. Without apology. The cracked teapot. Only one Leonard Cohen CD. His handprint in blue and black on pink. A smashed bookcase, which you will repair. Bereft. An unused tent. A flock of ancient chickens. To find another job.

You will return some of these but will keep your empty womb.

Swiftly we must go

The sudden moment when you realise that it’s time to move on again seems to happen more frequently. And it’s that time again, the end of summer, I feel the need to fly south with the songbirds.

I wake slowly, as white light creeps under heavy eyelids, catching the scream of the swifts as they tear their way down the street, out-squawking the alarm.  I wriggle around for a while, chasing the comfort that effervesces just as I think it’s firmly in my grasp.

            Showering tentatively, I let hot water rinse away the ghosts of last night’s reverie. Fresh livid purple flowers over fading yellow on my thighs and forearms, tender to the lightest touch. Muscles scream their protest as I tentatively stretch under the soothing heat, breathing steam to relieve the tightness in my chest. She’s gone too far this time, we can’t carry on like this.

Wrapped in soft towels, I write a message on the steam frosted mirror. ‘We need to talk. I can’t take any more.’ And sign it with our name.

Gingerly I dress for work as the coffee machine does its stuff – I need the caffeine hit to jump start this shattered body. Before her festering anger erupted we would breakfast together, wiping flaky croissants from each other’s mouths as the screeching swifts chased insects below us. Covering fragile limbs with opaque cloth, to hide my shame from prying eyes, is an effort. The slightest movement sucks the breath away from me. No marks on my face, but then she knows not to cross that line in the sand. Minimal make up, a spray of scent and I’m ready to face the world and all the day will bring. As I close the door I glance back to the inert mass amongst crumpled bed-linen, knowing she’s not going to like what she hears tonight.

I love the familiar walk to work, feel my body loosening as I dodge the kids on the way to school. The office is at full throttle as I arrive, some rush job creating the buzz we thrive on. I ease myself into my chair, hoping to avoid attention, trying not to look at the two familiar photos pinned up on the wall. A blue eyed brunette smiling for the camera, bikini-clad on the beach and partying in a night club – everyone thinks it’s me in both of them.

A cup of coffee appears in front of me. I turn my head to meet Dave’s smirk.

            ‘You were well up for it last night,’ He said. ‘we couldn’t keep up with you. Again. How the fuck do you do this, out all hours, what’s the secret?’

            ‘If only you knew.’

            ‘Take something when you go home to feed the cat?’ he sniggers. For months he’s been teasing me about going home after work before we all go out. I think they’ve all fallen for the single girl alone with a cat malarkey.

            ‘Well, work your magic on this one.’ He dumps a file on my desk and saunters off, whistling some pop melody about a dark haired girl that will stick in my head all day.

            I bury myself in the mess of paperwork, doing what I do best, bringing order to chaos. Dave’s tuneless notes keep disturbing me, bringing back to her. I try to feel what she is doing right now, hoping it’s something safe. I know she can’t go out, but I can’t stop unexpected visitors being enticed into the flat. My phone trills, almost the same notes as Dave’s irritating pop song. I check the screen to see who wants to talk.

            ‘Hi Meg’ I start tentatively, aware that she may have been party to last night’s events.

            ‘Hey Josie, you at work?’

            ‘Yup, got a big job to sort through.’

            ‘How do you do it? Last night…’

            I interrupt her ‘Yes I know, not sure, I don’t need a lot of sleep.’

            ‘Just wanted to make sure you were OK. That bloke you were talking to when we all left, he turned up in A & E this morning. Head wound, covered in bruises and what looks like bite marks. Won’t say what happened, he’s in a state though. Any ideas?’

Meg spends her days patching people up, coping with everything society throws at her.  She’s my closest friend. Sometimes I almost tell her, now I’m glad I haven’t.

            ‘Oh god. He was fine when I left him, just after you all went.’ The lie came easily. ‘Are the police involved?’

            ‘No, he refuses to speak to them. Won’t say how he got hurt, says he got into a fight with a mate, but I’m not sure. But if he won’t say, I can’t do anything. Just hope there isn’t someone out there hurt.’

            ‘Well not me, I hope he’s OK. Sorry Meg, got to dash, I’m buried.’

            Motion seizes me, makes my legs move. Fighting nausea I leave my desk, have to get into the open air. We’ve reached the nadir of our hell-like existence, time to make some changes, get her back under control. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this, nothing stops the cycle.

            Dave is outside, puffing away on the edge of the smoker’s vile enclave.

            ‘Josie, what’s up? Seen a ghost?’

            ‘Meg’s just told me…that bloke last night…he’s been beaten up or something…in a bad way.’

            He throws his fag away and puts an arm round my shoulder.

            ‘You’re shaking. Thought you’d only just met him.’

            ‘Yes, I had, it’s just the shock. Poor guy. I want to go and see him. See if I can help.’

            A knowing smile spreads over Dave’s broad face. I decide to let him think his lascivious thoughts.

            ‘I’ll tell the boss, say you’ve had some bad news. Off you toddle then…’

The flat is deadly quiet as I let myself in; even the swifts are silent after giving up their chase in the midday sun. My legs give way as I close the door behind me, sending me sprawled against the wall. Now the pain starts, each bruise yelling for relief. I want to wash it all away with tears, feel hot salt cleansing my skin.

            I feel her presence, a gentle touch on my shoulder. Her vague form wavers in front of me, swaying with the motes dancing in sunlight streaming through dirty windows. I can’t look, close my eyes waiting for her to cleave this damaged body in two. Take away at least half the pain.

            We sit facing each other, fingertips touching, eyes closed, breathing together, building the energy for what is to come.

            ‘You’ve gone too far…’ her thumb presses my lips together. This time I summon the strength to brush her touch away. ‘What happened last night?’

            Her eyes widen and a faint smile appears on her pale face. She slowly traces the outline of a bruise on my arm and avoids my questioning eyes.

            The energy in her touch changes. I move my arm as her probing fingers find pain. She holds her arm out, flexes long pale digits as two pairs of eyes watch in silence. She wants the daylight, not just the dark. I’m scared at just how far she might go. That other line in the sand she’s almost crossed. I feel myself shrinking, my hands are becoming translucent. I have to stop her.

A gust of wind sends curtains billowing, startling the resting swifts. Piercing cries vibrate through the flat, spurring us out of our trance.

‘I have to go and see him.’

I force myself up, away from her, out of the door before she knows I’m going. Her screeching follows me as I stumble out onto the pavement. Dark shapes wheel away from the building as her shouts startle the agitated birds again.

Somehow I get to the hospital. While my nerve holds, I go to A & E and ask the receptionist to tell Meg I need to see her urgently.

            As Meg appears, she looks at me and shakes her head. Leads me to an empty curtained off cubicle, sits me down.

            ‘Cardiac arrest, a few minutes ago. He’s in intensive care…’

            Terror washes over me, slides me to the floor again. Somehow Meg is holding me, easing me back into the chair, calming the earthquake inside. She calls a nurse, talks of shock, gives instructions about my care; gently tells me she has to get back to her patients; that she will return as quickly as she can.

            Like a new-born I allow the nurse to manipulate damaged arms out of my jacket. Her badge says she’s called Sarah. She doesn’t notice that I see her face tighten at the bruises; that I hear the ‘tut’ she allows to escape under her breath. She gently washes the tears and streaked make-up from my stony mask. Then her probing fingers find damage on my cheekbone.

‘That’s a nasty bruise on your face. Who hurt you?’

Sarah doesn’t know the real reason I’m here. She talks of X-rays, says she’ll get Meg back to look at me. I nod, then she’s gone.     I slip off the bed, grab my things and get out before anyone can stop me.

As I retrace my steps, the air is heavy with the threat of thunder, sending the swifts into a frenzy of feeding, building their strength before the long flight to winter warmth. A police car flashes past me, stops outside the block of flats where she is raging against my absence. I slip into my local coffee shop.

            ‘Hey Josie, are you OK? Here, let me get you an espresso, sit down.’

I shrug at Brian’s kindness, follow his instructions. He puts a cup in front of me, with a flaky croissant, my usual weekend treat, and then looks through the window.

            ‘There’s some hoo-ha at your block. What’s going on?’

Two blue figures emerge, holding a struggling form, dark hair flying as her head swivels in a swirling rage. Her shrieks fill the street.

            Poor Brian, he doesn’t deserve hot coffee down his pristine apron. I apologise and mop at him with inadequate paper napkins. He disappears behind the counter as I watch her being driven away. A pale face stares at me. Her spleen rattles inside my taut head.

            Freshly draped, Brian reappears with more coffee and sits down with me. Slowly I raise my eyes to meet his as he takes my hand.

            ‘Josie, something’s not right. Is that girl your sister? I always wondered if you lived with someone else. The person I see going out isn’t you. It’s not just the make up and the clothes…’

            I shake my head and tell him that I am going away for a while. Some family business abroad that draws me southward. I tell him I will call back in a few minutes to pay for my coffee.

            ‘No worries pet, on the house. You look after yourself, come back safe.’ He kisses my forehead so tenderly I can’t help the slow trickle of salt running down pale trembling cheeks.

The flat door is ajar. I peep in, see that she’s trashed the place. A few weeks ago she was too weak to move without this body. She has fed on her nightly violence – but she will soon fade. I wonder how long it will be before her fragile form needs me again.

            Throwing a few clothes into my backpack, I dig out passport and emergency cash and cards from under the floorboards. I move quickly, fearing they will be back to search the flat properly.

            As I go back out to the street and head for the station, the swifts are on the wing. Sleek dark shapes, careering without a care, always on the move.

            ‘Bye-bye birdies, I’ll be waiting for you.’

Published in Gobstoppers, Shrimps & Sour Monkeys. Anthology by Fosseway Writers Group 2018.

Detritus

He leaves you.

No forwarding address. The overwhelming scent of lilies. Three hundred coloured pencils, none of which are the colour of lies. A map of Paris you mark with your battle sites. His father’s ashes. A bag of silk ties you forget to add mothballs to. Four occupied mousetraps. Without apology. The cracked teapot. Only one Leonard Cohen CD. His handprint in blue and black on pink. A smashed bookcase, which you will repair. Bereft. An unused tent. A flock of ancient chickens. To find another job.

You will return some of these but will keep your empty womb.

Time is flashing by

Where has the year gone? Halfway through…

So far it’s been a bit of a hamster wheel – write, tend to the pony, work, write, yoga, work, etc…

I’ve made a conscious decision to concentrate on short stories and flash, which hopefully may result in a novella in flash, but we’ll see. An amazing weekend at the Flash Fiction Festival at the end of June has been inspirational. My head is bursting with ideas, ways to find inspiration, and hopefully the courage to let my voice develop. Having got onto a couple of long lists, Reflex and Retreat West, I am getting more confident with the short form, and looking forward to exploring lots of new ideas.

See this skin,

Omnishambles

Surely omnishambles will be the word of the 2019, at least for the UK. I am utterly saddened by the lack of leadership and example setting. MPs debate one thing, then vote against it. A British MEP inflicts a tirade of abuse on the European Parliament, but is responded to with supreme dignity. Our Government admits that Brexit will damage the country, but persist with it.

The sword of Damocles hangs over our country, perilously close to being unleashed. But what has been free is the hate and intolerance shown by certain sectors of society, generally the extreme right and the extreme left.

Rumour takes the place of researched fact. Campaigns were illegally funded, and almost certainly manipulated by other parties who wish to destabilise the EU.

I believe that the government needs to put its hands up and say sorry, we got it wrong, we rushed into something we didn’t understand, we should have spent a couple of years putting a proposal together and then asked you to decide.