This used to be a self-published novella but now it’s not. I thought I’d stick it on here.
Jenny rinsed out the cat’s bowls. She replaced the water and replenished the crunchy nibbles. She popped one or two of the gnarly little biscuits into her mouth and crunched them appreciatively, so much cheaper than Ryvita and much more interesting flavours. Smacking her lips she turned from the counter and shushed across the faded lino towards the back door. “Pussikins, come on pussikins.” As she rattled the bowls together the weeds at the base of the back yard wall rustled and the sound of pounding paws could be heard in the jigger. A plethora of cats, all colours and conditions hoisted themselves onto the top of the old stones and then dropped to the hard packed earth below.
Some were rude and made no bones about it. They simply stuck their noses into the overflowing dishes and started to refuel. Others, with better manners spent a few moments washing paws and sniffing bits of paper and leaves until, “Oh my goodness it seems there’s food, oh well alright then, no need to cause offence.” Then there the ones who were just plain lovely, affectionate and gentle, they curled and twisted around Jenny’s legs, purring and humming with feline passion. She tickled one or two ears and let her hands run along a few soft backs, all the while smiling with quiet satisfaction.
She counted them in, sixteen. That was almost everybody. The big tom with the torn ear wasn’t there but then he often went away for days and she didn’t worry. He was his own master that one and no point trying to second guess him.
The kitties were finishing up now and one or two of them were settling in pools of sunlight to drowse and dream. Drawing her old cardigan close around bony shoulders she turned back to the house.
It was so quiet now in the back, at one time this narrow little space was like a main street. Children would run and shout, kicking balls against the walls until there was no choice but to go out and give them a talking to. The continuous thud and thump against the old bricks was enough to drive a person to distraction. Now though it was rare to hear a child, once or twice they would sweep past on bicycles or scooters but they were usually accompanied by mummies or daddies and sometimes both. They wore strange plastic hats and the children had padding on their joints and their hands stuffed into gloves made of stiff material. They looked for all the world like little plastic people.
She remembered riding her old bike out in the country. The wind would whistle against her ears, flicking and pulling at her hair. They had gone out most weekends, a gang of them, speeding away from the smoke and the grime, out into the lovely air to smell the soil and the greenness. She sighed, all so long ago now and not many people left to remember it. It would be lovely to do it again but not alone and there were none of the old gang around now. It was another little treasure that must be viewed and then stored away in her memory bank.
The kitchen was warming, the soft breeze coming in through the door carried freshness into her home. She switched on the kettle to make her mid-morning tea. The little table was glowing in the sunlight through the window and she slid her hand over the polished surface and sank gratefully onto the hard chair.
The world had changed so much during her lifetime. Some of the changes were wonderful of course, the health care, the new and exciting food and so on but she did miss the friendliness. Maybe in some places one still knew ones neighbours, still stopped for a chat in the sunshine or even popped in for a cup of tea but not here, not any more.
There were students in many of the houses and foreign people. That certainly didn’t bother her; in fact she would really like to get to know some of them. How interesting it would be to find out about all the different countries, but they didn’t mix, they didn’t often speak. Except for Mr Shah and his wife in the paper shop, they were nice. She sighed. Oh well no help for it. Things were as they were and at least she had her kitties. She would go down to the butcher later; he sometimes gave her some bits and pieces to cook up as a special treat for them. She sipped her tea and enjoyed the warmth through the window. I wonder where the old tom is, where are you Rags, what are you up to now?…
I know you’re not going to believe me, so look don’t even bother to tell me. When I’ve finished just don’t say anything. You’ll spoil it see. For a long time I thought I wouldn’t tell anyone, just because of that, because I didn’t want it spoiled but it’s just bubbling up in me – all the time bubble bubble. It’s just has to come out so, I thought well I’ll tell you, because I think I can trust you not to spread it around, not to laugh at me. Don’t do that will you. Don’t laugh at me.
So, okay here we go. Do you remember last year? After Justin died and I was such a mess, a total nut job really. Well after the fuss, all the funeral and sorting out the stuff with his will and the bank and when everyone had gone back to the real world and I was left in mine, for the first time without him.
Anyway, I tried to do as he’d always said I should, to just get on and carry on living. First of all I cleared out his desk, so’s I could use it myself – I didn’t know what to do with all the stuff – The paper and ruler and so on I just put into the cupboard for me to use later but there was other stuff,more personal. I’m wearing his watch, I like that, but his glasses – I just didn’t know what to do. They were still pretty new and so in the end I stuck ‘em in that recycle box at the chemist so they can send them to Africa. I like that you know, that thought of his glasses being worn by a man in Africa, looking at zebras and giraffes and elephants. I think Justin would’a liked that don’t you? He was always a big softy about animals. D’ya remember that cat he brought home one time? A scraggy little thing it was and full of fleas. He fed it up and cleaned it and even had it at the vets and then bugger me soon as it was all fit and well it went to live with them next door. Oh he was fit to be tied over that but being Justin he just said “Oh well, they’ve got something we haven’t.” Mind you, now and again I’d see him leaning over the fence giving it little biscuits. So, yes I liked that idea, his glasses seeing things that he never did, wildlife and such. We always used to say we’d go you know, one day when we could afford it, off on safari – well – ‘course we never did, folk like us we don’t do stuff like that.
Oh, yeah back to what I was going to tell you. Sorry, I get side tracked like that these days, I don’t know why, I think being on my own so much I just let my thoughts wander about here and there and it’s hard to get them back into line when I need to. So, yes. A few days after I’d sorted out his stuff, given his clothes to the Sally Army and his books to Oxfam, God he had a lot of books, dozens and dozens of em. I’d never realised how they were building up and building up – still they’ve all gone now, I just use my Kindle so I can put ornaments on the shelves. I like that, though I have kept his old Bible and his favourite couple of novels. I like to hold them and feel that because he touched em, then I touch em, it’s sort of like I can still reach him somehow. I know it’s silly but there’s no harm is there?
Anyway, what I was going to tell you. Well, I was laying down on the couch, it’s nice about three o clock, the sun comes through the side window and it’s warm and lovely, and the clock just ticking in the background, and the fire crackling and I doze sometimes and read and just think. There I was just thinking and remembering and I felt my eyes closing and as they did I caught a glimpse of a something, just like a glitter off to the side, I jerked awake, you know how you do and all your skin tingles and your heart thumps and jumps. Anyway, I looked over, across at his chair and there was this – oh you’re not going to believe me but here goes. Well, it was like a scene, a sort of vision – God that sounds so daft but it were just like a film, on the chair, on the cushion at the back. There was grass and sky, so much sky, and trees and a lovely river and then as I watched it this movement in the long grass and, oh it was lovely, a lion, true as I’m sitting here, a lion drinking in the water and then it all wobbled and hazed over and faded. I don’t know whether it was a dream or my imagination or just that I’m going batty in my old age, but I’ve seen it since, about six times now, and I just wondered, I thought – well do you think that it’s those old glasses, Justin’s old specs – looking out in Africa or wherever and he’s sending me the pictures back – Do you think it could be. Just maybe, oh that would be lovely wouldn’t it, just as if we’d gone there together and oh I would like that so much.
He came out of the storm and from the very first I wanted to touch him. Dark hair clung to his scalp, a gleaming helmet, and black lashes rained tears onto his face.
He wore a blue shirt, thin and worn. It was moulded to his frame by the rain and his long legs were enveloped in jeans over disreputable boots. I had never seen such shoulders, arms so firm and strong. I had never seen such a shine of beauty in blue eyes. I was captured from the very beginning.
My everyday world spun away from the moment. The crack of the wood on the fire and the bubble of soup on the stove left me and all there was in the whole world was the reality of him, the bulk of his frame in the doorway and the warmth of his blood drying the water on his skin and sending waves of heat across the space between us.
“Jess towels, now girl. Stop gawping bring towels.” My father’s voice speared into the unreal place that I had entered and shattered the magic, as his voice always would.
I handed thin towels to them, his hand brushed mine but there was no sign that he had noticed. I set about serving soup and building up the fire to warm them.
My father pulled up his chair and waved a work roughened hand at the stranger, telling him in his gruff wordless way that he should take a seat at the other side of the table and eat the food. I sat quietly beside the grate waiting for more instructions and trying to eat my own bowl of vegetables and broth as quietly as I could. My eyes strayed over and again towards the table and he glanced my way more than once. A hint of amusement teased at his lips but there was tension in his frame and something more, an expectation perhaps or simply a figment of my overheated imagination.
“Fetch blankets for Jessies’ bed and air them by the fire.”
He was to stay then, this stranger. He must be the man father had fetched from town to help with the ploughing and he would sleep in my brother’s bed in the downstairs room, below my own place…
The dark came swiftly bringing with it howling wind and sweeping waves of rain. Angry and vengeful the tempest threw itself against the windows and seeped in creeping rivers under the door. It was cold and, though we had oil for the lamp, father said bed was the best place for all of us. I climbed the stairs holding a guttering candle and wondered about the man lying now on Jessies’ bed, before the dying fire in the warmest room of the house. Would he sleep or would the complaining wind and whipping rain disturb his rest and hold oblivion at bay, as it would for me in the chill, wrapped shivering in the quilt Mama had made.
I don’t know how many hours passed before I moved, at what point I threw aside the cover and slipped my feet to the rough boards. I felt the rug under my skin as I crept to the door. There could be no candle and in truth I knew the old house so well that none was needed.
The stairs sighed gently as my weight passed over them. I held my breath lest the small noise should disturb the night that had fallen silent with the passing of the storm.
He was resting on the bed but the glint of moisture in his eyes told me that he was awake. I took a hesitant step from the door and he turned to see me.
He didn’t speak, pulling aside the blanket he simply waited and let me make my own decision, though we both knew that my being there evidenced my choices.
His lips took the breath from my mouth, his hands told me things that I had waited a lifetime to know and his body possessed mine completely with a gentle fierceness that was like the sky after the storm, swept with power and passion but shining with purity.
In the morning father found us. I quaked hearing him make his slow way down the stairs but strong arms held me close. Together we faced the fury and rode on the wings of his wrath until he saw that all was decided and though the time that had passed was unbelievably brief our souls were as one, we were home.
Now he sits on the old chair in the porch, his hands shake as he whittles toys for the little ones but inside that old frame is my man, the one who came to me from out of the storm and I love him still.
So this is a chapter from my current WIP
It would be great to have any comments.
Chapter 12 – The Greenskeeper
In the big front bedroom at The Haven, Jan sat at her dressing table. Her makeup was spread in front of her, expensive stuff, foundation, concealer, blusher. She dabbed it, blended it, applied layer upon layer. It wouldn’t do. Unless the marks faded miraculously overnight there would be no work tomorrow. Her eyes flooded, she looked down at her wrist, rubbed at the bruises, the marks left by his finger ends. The fingers that sometimes trailed across her body, bringing her nerves to life, causing the pulse way down inside. The hands that held her and stroked her hair, the hands that could turn to fists in the blink of an eye.
She lowered her head and sighed quietly.
In his office she could hear Carl, talking on the telephone, or maybe into the computer. His voice raised now and then, sharp and frightening. He would be there now for an hour or two and when he came out he would hopefully be calm. He would touch the bruises on her face, on her body, possibly he would cry. He would tell her how sorry he was, that he couldn’t help it, couldn’t explain the tempest that blinded him to what he was doing. He would offer her things, trips, gifts. “Only please don’t leave me Jan, please. I’m nothing without you. You know I love you. Please Jan. I’ll do better.” When he was like this, anything could trigger the rage. This time it was simply that she had forgotten to collect his suit from the cleaners. She hadn’t forgotten, really, she had run out of time, she had stayed longer than she should have in work, gossiping with a couple of the girls. It had been nice, normal, and then when she had seen the dry cleaners were closed she had no forewarning that tonight it would cause a drama. Often, when these things happened, he would simply shrug, smile and tell her tomorrow would be fine, or maybe say that he would call himself. Not today though. Today it was major. Today it caused violence. When she arrived, he was already home, his coat thrown across the newel post in the hall, his shoes discarded beside the door. He was in the living room, staring out of the window, swigging from a tumbler of gin and tonic, not his first she could tell. “Hello love, sorry I’m late. I went to get your suit but the cleaners were closed.” That had been the last ordinary comment, the rest of it had been yelling, screaming, yes, and some begging. It was the begging that hurt her now, the thought that she had pleaded with him and he had ignored her.
A couple of times, she had suggested therapy and now and then he said he would think about it, but he wouldn’t, she knew that his ego wouldn’t let him talk about this with a stranger. She knew that he would be terrified of it getting out, that his friends would come to know.
Maybe Paul was right. Maybe she was stupid to stay. She glanced around the bedroom, the pillows, the king size bed, the silk curtains and matching duvet, the crystal lamps. She thought about the tiny bedroom in her mum and dad’s house. The nasty little kitchen, the battered furniture.
She turned back to the mirror and stared at her damaged face. She was shallow wasn’t she? She should be braver, stronger. She should get away and have some pride.
Exhaustion swept through her in a great wave. She couldn’t face it, the battles, the solicitors, the look on her family’s faces. They had all thought she was getting above herself, moving here, to where the posh people lived, marrying someone who drove flash cars and had holidays in the Seychelles. Moving away from Bootle where her sister and mum and dad still had their little houses. She blushed with the thought of the shame, trailing back with her tail between her legs. Admitting what she had put up with for years. Admitting to the lies, the faked happiness. And afterwards, what would she be left with, a flat somewhere, her small job, loneliness.
No. She could get past this. He would revert, maybe when whatever it was that was bothering him this time, had been for weeks, maybe then, they could get away. If they went on holiday she could show him how good life could be, again, like it was for the first couple of years. She would give him another chance, yet another chance.
She didn’t know what was wrong, what was causing him to toss and turn in bed and walk the floors through the dark hours, but he would fix it. He always did, and then for months everything would be lovely again. Yes, she had promised for better or worse. She hadn’t realised how bad the ‘worse’ could be, but she would stick by him. She opened her jewellery box, picked up a necklace and dangled it from her hand. He gave her so much, and when he hurt her, he was always so very sorry.
She would stick by him. She owed him that, didn’t she?
He was still on the phone, still ranting. She crept out of the bedroom and downstairs. As she passed the front door she was tempted, for just a moment to drag it open, walk down the drive and never come back. Where would she go. Maybe she could go to Paul’s house. She looked at the clock. It was only just after nine, he’d still be up, probably watching television. He would tut and exclaim, he would pass remarks that would be true, but of no help to her, and then what. She would find herself defending Carl, defending herself and her decisions.
No, she was alone with this.
Anne had never asked questions, never passed comment but Anne had been special.
She walked on into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of white wine from the fridge, poured a big drink, and sat in front of the patio doors and let the tears trickle down her cheek. She raised the cold glass to her face and rubbed it gently on the bruises.
This plot is in need of some attention Sally, it’s looking very poor. Not to worry I’ll do the weeding, tidy the shrub and then look – I’ve brought a bag of bulbs. There are anemones and some alyssum and lobelia plants as well. I’m going to put some new pebbles on it as well. I don’t know where they go but the layer is thinner than it was.
Do you see, when It’s finished it’ll look like a rocky beach, the blue anemones and lobelia and then a froth of white alyssum. I decided to do it this way because I’ve been thinking about that day on the beach. Do you remember Sal, the day we all went down in the new car. Dad was so proud, beaming he was and mum in her summer frock. Then when we got there, the sea, the colour of it deep turquoise, full of sequins. Do you remember the heat haze and how it made the little boats shimmer and seem to float above the water? We were entranced weren’t we? You said you never wanted to go home again, didn’t you? I thought it was magic and then dad had to start to explain about the heat and optical illusions and so on. Took some of our magic away, but that was dad wasn’t it Sal. He didn’t have a lot of magic in his soul bless him, came of having such a hard life I suppose, seen things to knock the magic out of anybody’s soul I suppose, poor dad.
I was thinking how we went afterwards, do you remember, for ice creams and then it dribbled down the front of your T shirt and you cried because it had been new on that day. It was so precious in those days wasn’t it to have new clothes. It’s so much easier now, down to T K Maxx and you can pick up clothes for anything and everything really cheap. I don’t know whether its better though, having it all to hand as it were what do you reckon?
Anyway all this blathering isn’t getting the work done.
What do you reckon, shall I cluster the lobelia at the corners, it’ll trail over the little concrete edges and look like it’s overflowing won’t it. Shall I try that?
Yes, do you like that?
Isn’t it a beautiful day, the blackbirds are flipping the leaves, there they are, over there under the hedge. I love that, they always look as though their having such fun. You love them just as much as I do don’t you. Do you remember that one that used to come and sit on the window ledge, and mum used to chop up the bits of bacon rind for it? Tell you what the thought of those bacon butties is making my mouth water, I can’t have it much anymore, lucky you, you’re not bothered with high cholesterol. Funny that, it’s supposed to be genetic – hey perhaps you were right, all those years ago, when you used to get into such a paddy and scream that you must be adopted because you couldn’t believe you were related to me, and then dad walloped you on the behind. ‘Course you can’t do that nowadays can you? It’s right really I suppose but it made you so mad and you used to flounce off with your pony tail flippin’ from side to side – oh don’t get mad with me, I’m only reminiscing, not laughing at you.
Happy days eh Sal, happy days. Nearly finished, it’s looking much better. I’m pleased with it anyway. I’ve saved a few of the anemone bulbs, I’m popping over to see mum later, give her a bit of a beauty treatment and I’ll plant some of these for her.
There that’s it, I’ll just give this a bit of a rub, make it nice and clean. Eh Sal who’d a thought it eh, who’d a thought it. Shut your eyes love while I do this – he he he
In loving memory of Sally Braithwaite
Resting in the arms of the angels
1952 – 1960
There we are all lovely again. See you next week our kid, see you next week.
A Pound of Flesh.
Would you prefer some liver,
Perhaps a bit of tripe,
Could I press you to a sausage,
The lovely spicy type?
I’ll pop down to the chippy
Buy a bit of fish
Some pies, a quiche, a pasty
Anything but “this”.
You don’t want lumps of human
Sitting on your plate,
It’s tough and bland and stringy
With flavour that you’d hate.
Or hang on just a minute,
Look at what I’ve found,
Down here in my pocket
A coupla thousand pound.
So, I’ll pay off all my owings,
Clear my debt to you.
Then we’ll go get bladdered
Can you do that as a Jew?
“Morning Mary, what can I do for you today?”
“Right, what sort?”
“Okay dokey, how much?”
“Don’t you know?”
“You should know.”
“How the hell can I know unless you tell me?”
“I can’t tell you. I don’t know. You should know, and anyway you shouldn’t blaspheme.”
“No, no quite right sorry but. You’ll have to tell me.”
“I can’t. How can I.”
“Oh now come on, don’t get upset. Don’t start crying. Just tell me now. What do you want to do with it?”
“Well yes, I see that. Eat it, yes I realise you’re going to eat it. How are you going to eat it though?”
“The cheese. How are you going to eat the cheese.”
“Erm, the usual way.”
“Oh, okay and what’s the usual way?”
“I put it in my mouth and chew.”
“Ha, ha – yes, course you do. No what I meant was, are you going to cook it. Red cheese is great for cooking. A bit of cheese on toast you know, a Welsh Rarebit?”
““Rabbit? I don’t eat rabbits, not little bunnies, how can you eat little bunnies?”
“No, no rabbit, there’s no rabbit it’s cheese.”
“So why is it called a rabbit?”
It’s not, it’s rarebit. Nothing to do with rabbit, it’s cheese… oh never mind. So what are you doing with it, the cheese?”
“I’m eating it?”
“Yes, yes but – oh okay. Is it just for you?”
“Why do you want to know? What’s it got to do with you?”
“Well no, nothing of course it’s just that Mrs Hardcastle said that she saw that young man from the garage, the one with the big ears…”
“Well maybe not big, p’raps his hair’s a bit short or – well anyway.”
“What’s it got to do with Mrs Harcastle anyway?”
“Well nothing, it’s just that if you were having visitors, you might need more?”
“Yes, how much cheese do you want, what are you doing with it? How many people are going to eat it – you know – how much?”
“Oh, I thought you were asking me how much it would cost.”
“Well, no. I mean how would you know?”
“No, well quite.”
“Tell you what weigh me half a pound of ham.”
“Right, right. Half of ham. Great ham yes, ham.”
I see you
I see your pain
I see the hurt that drips from your eyes
I see you
I hear your silent plan
I know that you are leaving this world that makes you outcast.
I see you
I sense your desperation and wait
I hold it in my folded wings with the patience of a wild hunter
I see you
Soon you will come
We will be waiting, the endless legions of the surrendered and forgotten
I see you
Girl of the night
Through My Eyes I See It
The trees in the park are glorious. Like a magnificent pavan they unroll as far as these old eyes can see; their ball gown finery, gold and russet and crimson billowing and tumbling in the breeze. The pain is good this morning. It is there prowling like a great bear around the battlements but for now at least the drugs repel it. Soon though the other assaults will begin, first on my physical self, and then on my poor addled brain.
Here she comes now the “care assistant” who in truth needs some assistance to care. Bright and brittle in lavender and body odour. Brace for the first wave of attack.
“Oh Amy, what are you doing sitting here all on your own? Let’s pop you with the others so that you can watch something more interesting. It’s no good you just staring out of the window at nothing all day.”
Staring at nothing, the billow and wisp of cloud, the glorious, glorious trees and the oceanic swells of winter wheat rushing before the wind. “Staring at nothing.” And she will take me and “pop” me before that abomination; the television. She will line me up with the others ogling in aquatic dumbness at the flashing colours. How I hate it, the joyless laughter, the high priestesses with their pregnant pauses and their pregnant bellies and the ignoramus hoi polloi giggling and flirting, leaping into mutual degradation all for their fifteen minutes and a free holiday.
Don’t “pop” me anywhere you lavender suited storm trooper. Leave me in peace with the song of the birds and the glitter of the frost where it lays encrusting spider webs beneath the hedge. Treacherous vocal chords gurgle and splutter. Outraged obscenities transmute into meaningless drivel and so I am duly “popped”. The second invasion approaches, there is nothing in my arsenal with which to repel.
“Hello Amy, it’s Thursday.”
Good God Mrs Wilkins you don’t say, a revelation beyond all expectations.
“My Gerry comes today. He comes every Thursday without fail. He’s such a good boy.”
First of all you overblown dollop he is not your Gerry. He is Gerry who belongs to the world, he has a wife, a life and a reason to be. He can wash himself, shave his flabby fat chops and presumably grope ineffectively at his wife in the dark to produce his disgusting progeny. He is not a good boy, he is an avaricious little man who comes every Thursday in the hope that you will have expired on Wednesday night and the home haven’t had a chance to tell him. He comes so that he can pack up your feeble belongings and once and for all put this whole miserable responsibility behind him.
“It is a shame that you never had any children Amy, they are such a comfort.”
Comfort my arse you silly old fool. A cushion is a comfort. Haemorrhoid cream is a comfort, Gerry is a cretin.
Now, it comes, the deepest torture. Another careless carer, her mind on bus stop gropes with spotty youths and illicit fags in darkened corners, will spoon pap into my gullet. Bang the spoon on my teeth again you moron and I swear I’ll somehow find the wherewithal to bite your hand. Oysters fresh from the sea in the South of France. Tender pasta robed in piquant sauce bejewelled with fiery peppers and bread still warm from the boulangerie. Drooling peaches and sun-filled melon with a Bacchanalian of sparkling white Bourgogne sipped from crystal goblets as the heat of the day bleaches the hills and diamonds sparkle in the bay. I can’t bear it, not another minute, not another mouthful, jelly and juice and plastic, oh god.
The outsiders approach. The floral tributes, chocolates, pictures of grandchildren. The hugs and kisses, grinning rictus and off set embraces. No don’t come over here, please don’t.
“Hello Amy, how are you today? You’re in the best place there’s a nasty wind out there and you’re lovely and snug.”
A force seven gale off the ocean, lifting my hair, gluing the clothes to my legs and startling tears from my eyes. His hair lifting and flicking as he smiles down at me, the two of us thrown together by the force of nature; external and internal. His arms a harbour, his broad chest my haven, and the warmth of his body welding us together in the blasted sunshine. The sudden silence behind a hedge, and the glory of daytime lovemaking. His tears, my tears, the ghastly separation as he leaves for the airbase, and the violence of waiting for his return. The devastation, the emptiness, and the total loss of reason when he is gone, and then the wretched years of decline becoming this traitorous slug of a body slumped in a dung heap home waiting for release.
He is here, he has come, it is time, thank God it is time.
“Nurse, excuse me nurse, can you come quickly and look at Amy I think there’s something wrong.”
Ah no for the first time in decades something is wonderfully right.