Twenty-Seven

Wrote this for a competition.  Feedback is welcomed.

Let’s start on the twenty-seventh.

A mild day.  Not utterly winter, though not seemingly close to spring.  The wind lapped playfully at the trees and pushed against my face.  I could feel the hard boards of the bench underneath me, the thin clothes that hardly protected me from the childish wind and the strands of my blonde hair that whipped against my cheeks.  I breathed in the scent of wood, of pine, and the foreboding, electric smell of a thunderstorm on the wind.  I fumbled in my pocket.  A moment later, a matchbox appeared in my hand.  A few images, black and white as all memories seem to be, played through my mind.  There was the memory of a fairy-tale, long forgotten on the road to adulthood, about a little girl lighting matches on a winter’s night.  Slowly, my hands picked up the box, prised it open and lifted out one of the small sticks.  The end was perfectly round.  I struck it against the side of the box and watched as the tiny flame flickered up.  The colours were bright and stood out against the bleakness around me.  In a moment, the wind had picked up and the flame was snuffed out.  The smoke was all that replaced it, spiralling up like a whirlpool.

All hope is snuffed out eventually.  That is what I believe.  I’ve lived long enough in this world to decide that for myself.

 

I’d like to move on now, to the twenty-eighth.

ANNA.  You haven’t eaten yet today.  You can’t go out until you’ve eaten.

MYSELF. I’m not hungry.  Why eat when I see no need to?

ANNA. You’ll waste away, you will.

MYSELF.  Good.

And Anna pulled me into an embrace.  I tried to tug my way out of it, but she held me tightly.  I felt as if I were in a prison, a prison of emotion.  I did not look at her face.  She pulled away and put her hands on my shoulders.

ANNA.  Do you want help?

MYSELF.  Help?

The words hung in the air, a question unanswered.

MYSELF.  No.  Why should I?

I left the house, pulling my coat around me.  The wind had subsided for the day, off to annoy another citizen of the world.  Perhaps Anna, with her washing strung only loosely on the clothesline.  The town reared up before me, the spindly spire of the rundown church, the collection of buildings and finally, the library.  I entered the building, breathing in the musty, woody smell of old books and knowledge.  I nodded at the people behind the front desk, so used to seeing me walk through those doors.  It was not a large library, with only a few shelves of leafy paperbacks and a few preciously bound antiques.  I liked to run my hand along the shelves, feeling the spine of each book beneath my fingers.  There were whole worlds trapped in there.  I would open one and start from page one, flicking quickly through it from start to finish, catching a glimpse of the world that lay stranded inside.  I usually spend hours at the library.  Anna knows where to find me.  But lately, I’ve been running out of books to read.  And my life has begun to feel like a book about to finish.  I cling deftly to the last few pages, waiting for the world to disappear.

 

Then, the day of the twenty-ninth came.

Anna brought me breakfast on that morning.  She knows I don’t usually eat before lunchtime.  As I sat in bed, curled up in the covers and in my own imagination, I heard the door open.  I opened my eyes and felt the disappointment of reality wash over me.  But Anna was smiling.  I was not.  She held a tray out in front of her, laden with breakfast foods, the likes of which I never eat.  She placed it on my bedside table and then went to fetch a pot of tea for me.  I wanted to sleep again, or read, but not to eat.  I did not want to seem ungrateful, however.  These days, I spend my life seeming ungrateful.  Soon Anna came back, pouring the tea and watching me expectantly.  I picked up a piece of toast and delicately tore it between my fingers, nibbling at it eventually.  Anna seemed pleased, but she did not leave.

MYSELF. Why do you want to watch me eat?

ANNA. To make sure you do.

MYSELF. Why?  I’m an adult.  I can look after myself.

ANNA. I don’t believe you.  I’m your mother and you need help.  I will take care of you.

I wanted more than anything to be alone, but Anna sat down on the bed next to me.  An expression that can only be described as motherly was planted upon her face.  She tried to smooth my hair, as if I was a child, but I pushed her hand away.

ANNA.  What happened, darling?  You used to be so bright and happy.

MYSELF.  I grew up.  It happens to the best of us.

ANNA.  But adults aren’t like this.  You can be an adult and be happy and smile and eat!  You don’t have to live like this.

MYSELF.  But I do.  You don’t understand.  You never will.

ANNA.  You don’t give me a chance!  Angela, what happened at the school?  You never told me.  Nobody can tell me, nobody knows the truth except for you.  If you did something wrong, then don’t worry.  God forgives us all.

MYSELF.  God doesn’t exist.  If he does, then he must be blind.

That hurt Anna.  She blinked and tears appeared on her flushed cheeks.  I looked away from her, down at the floor, out the window, at the breakfast painstakingly prepared but barely touched.

MYSELF.  I’m not ungrateful.

The words were barely more than a whisper.  I’m not sure she heard them.

MYSELF.  But I’m beyond help.  Nobody can help me.  Not a doctor.  Not a mother.  Not God.

Anna pulled me close again, stroking my hair and wrapping her flabby arms around my bony figure.  She kissed the top of my head.  Of all those black and white memories from my childhood, I never remember her ever doing that before.  Perhaps it was because I was capable as a child.  And now I am as proficient as a baby, except that I cannot eat and cannot laugh.  I may as well be dead.

 

The day of the thirtieth came and went.

 

On the thirty-first, I ran out of books to read.  I needed to visit the library.  So I pulled myself out of bed, shaking with the effort, and dressed myself in many layers.  The wind outside was blowing at my window, trying to claw it open.  It pushed me along though I tried to resist it, as I tried to resist the memory of Anna’s despairing, disappointed face.  The library staff at the front desk nodded at me.  I nodded back, wanting no further conversation.  But it was not to be.

LIBRARY.  Are you well today, miss?

MYSELF.  Quite.

LIBRARY.  I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you look a little sickly.

MYSELF.  Thank you for your concern.

As I browsed along the lonely shelves, my fingers finding Hawthorne, Hemingway, Hugo, Irving, I could hear them talking about me.  My ears picked up THIN and UNWELL and SCHOOL and DEAD and SURVIVOR.  I did not want to hear anymore.  I picked out the first book at my fingertips and strode to the counter, the book clutched to my chest like a small child.

 

And then, suddenly, something caught my arm.  It was coupled with a sound, a name, a calling out to me.  I turned around and my breath caught in my throat.

 

For days, for months, for almost a year now, my vision had been clouded with strangers.  Everyone was a stranger.  Everyone who was not there, who did not suffer as I suffered, was a stranger.  Everyone who did not know the truth.

 

And now here was a face that was familiar.

 

LAWRIE.  I hardly recognised you.

He kept holding my hand safely in his.  I could not breathe.

LAWRIE.  Have you been eating?  Tell me you’ve been eating.

I frowned.  I did not know what to say.  Lawrie shook his head disdainfully and stood up, immediately pulling me protectively to his chest.  I stood there, bony arms hanging limply.  He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me lightly on the forehead.

MYSELF.  I didn’t know you survived.

I hardly had enough breath for the sentence.  Shock had encased my body and I could not move.

LAWRIE.  I didn’t know you survived either.

MYSELF.  Then how did you know to come here?

 

The article, crumpled from its time in Lawrie’s pocket, was months old.  The headline made me shudder.  FOUR HUNDRED DIE IN SCHOOL MASSACRE.  I did not read the article.  I could not.

LAWRIE.  Come.  Let’s go eat something.  You look famished.

He took my hand and pulled me out of the library.  A knot twisted in my stomach.  I’d left those books behind.  I needed them.  But I did not have the heart to stop him.  So I left along with him, watching the librarians, behind their desks, watching us.

 

If Lawrie had been Anna, he would have ordered for me.  He would have sat, drinking a latte in a mug, and watched me eat every morsel.  But instead, he ordered the same as I did.  We picked at the food on our plates and he held my hand under the table.  When he let go, my hand felt bare and cold.

LAWRIE.  Tell me what’s been happening, Angela.

MYSELF.  Nothing.  Nothing’s happened.  Why don’t you tell me about you?

LAWRIE.  Me…  I’ve been looking for you.  That’s about it.

His eyes wandered to the ground, then shifted back up to greet me.

LAWRIE.  Have you been seeing anyone about your condition… Angela?

MYSELF.  My condition?

I frowned.

MYSELF.  I don’t have a condition.

LAWRIE.  Well then, how about you talk to me.

MYSELF.  Talk to you about what?

LAWRIE.  About why you’re so thin.  About why you aren’t eating your food.  About why you haven’t smiled since you saw me.

I sighed.  Lawrie’s eyes were painful to look at, so my gaze dropped to the table, to my food.  I felt his warm hand clasp mine.

LAWRIE.  Just because bad things have happened to us, it doesn’t mean they have to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

I shook my head.

MYSELF.  No.  You don’t understand.  Nobody does.  I’m a bad person.  I can’t let go of what’s happened… because it’s what I am.  I can’t change who I am.”

LAWRIE.  No, you can’t.

He stared at his food as well, his eyes in that safe middle-distance between painful emotions.

LAWRIE.  But you can find somebody who loves you despite it.

MYSELF.  My mother doesn’t love me.

LAWRIE.  Maybe not.

His eyes found mine again, finally.

LAWRIE.  But I do.

 

On the first day of the month, the new month, the clouds passed.  I saw the sun.  They say that people living in England sometimes become depressed because there is very little sunlight.  Perhaps this is true.  And when the sun came out again, it was easier to see the figure of Lawrie next to me.  We had been in love once, when we were at that school, but now there is only understanding.  Not love.  Not romance.  But the base connection that occurs between two people who experience a bad thing together.

 

And because of that, I can live again.

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The ANATHEMA

The ANATHEMA came to me one day in August.

It crept in through my window while I was sleeping,

Flat like a huntsman, crawling through the gap

Between the room and the outside darkness.

And then it crept into my brain,

Took up residence,

And acted accordingly

For the rest of the day.

 

And when I awoke, I felt it awake with me.

It steered my legs, my arms, my emotions.

It turned me from my food,

Took hold of my mouth and pounded it

Into a frown.

It tugged me away from my work,

Towards the life of a lazy student.

I told it not to,

That I was busy,

That my life lay before my eyes in Birdseye view,

But it would not listen.

 

It whispered messages in my ear,

Messages of hatred and cruel ANATHEMA

That led me to pause, to glance slowly around

With careful suspicion of everything.

 

It told me that the Birdseye view was a lie,

Planted by people who did not care for me.

I would never grow to love it.

INSTEAD, it said, in a tiny, insipid voice, TRY THIS.

IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY

AND EVERY HUMAN WANTS TO BE HAPPY.

 

And how do you know?  I asked it, in a frightened murmur

Because you are not human.

And you are not me.

You do not know.

And I will not believe you

 

The ANATHEMA was angry,

But soon it disappeared

To seek a more hospitable host.

Second Semester of the Year

We have a fading interest in life,

As we sit in the chairs meant for

People years our junior.

Our impatient, blatant sighs fill the air of the room,

The click of fingers on a keyboard,

Bored fingers that cannot

Work any longer.

Our condescending stares pierce through our elders,

Pulling them apart,

Limb by limb.

These walls have captured us and we long to be free,

To conquer the world,

One step at a time.

Picture of a Writer

Now, this is my ACTUAL character description for English.  The one that I handed in was edited a bit more, but I like this version better.

Slender fingers curled around the cup of fragrant tea.  It was a vicious black from Morocco – stunning to the taste buds – that made her smile when the perfume filled her nose, the bitter taste her mouth.  As she savoured the drink, her thoughts flew.  Faster than any aeroplane could have taken her, she travelled to Africa.  Morocco was, to her knowledge, a place filled with sand and Bedouin and spices.  She could smell the tang in the air, feel the gritty sand on her tongue and hear the foreign language like music to her ears.

She put the cup down and stretched her fingers.

Looking down at them, she realised that if a stranger saw them, they might believe she had a skin disease of some sort.  Her right hand was spotted, dotted all over with splodges and stains from the ink.  Her fingers were almost black and she stretched them out in front of her face, studying them.  It was as if they were disappearing into the darkness.  If she held them up against the window, they might seem to disappear completely, becoming invisible against the black of the sky, as if her fingers were slowly being eroded away.  What a queer, sad disease, she thought.  Lucky that she didn’t have it.

Now those fingers picked up the pen again – a fountain pen as she had always insisted upon using.  The pen itself had been a present, thankfully.  The ink was frightfully expensive, but nothing that her budget could not pay for.  The pen had lasted her for eight years now – apparently unheard of in the world of stationary, as the expression on the shop assistant’s face had told her.  Her friends had insisted that she had more than enough money to pay for a new one.  She knew that she did.  But instead, the money sat unused.  It had been barely touched.  But what did it matter?  She was comfortable enough.

She scribbled a few short words, taking another sip of tea to make the image clearer.  There it was.  The scent of Morocco pervaded around her, enrapturing her senses.  She closed her eyes and the image appeared upon her retinas.  Walking through the streets of Morocco, with no knowledge of the language, her protagonist had no choice but to keep her head down and follow along with the others.  Soon the procession of the Moroccan King halted.  His Majesty himself looked out from the sedan chair, his eyes singling her out.  Fearfully, she met his gaze.  Then unexpectedly, he smiled, a slow, cunning smile.

No.  She threw the pen down.  That wasn’t how it was supposed to work.  The Moroccan King, an exalted, spoilt persona, on his first outing from the palace, was supposed to fall in love with the protagonist.  But that smile, that cunning, sly smile, was not an expression of love.  She closed her eyes and let her memory replay the scene.  Yes, she had not mistaken it.  He did not love her; that was it.  The story could not go on as planned.  She sighed and sat back in her chair, swilling the remains of the tea in her cup, watching the tea leaves collect at the bottom.  She sniffed at it once, then pulled back in distaste.  The story had betrayed her.  A character had moved against her.  She would have to replan once again.  The Moroccan King was planning to use the protagonist to his advantage, to seduce her and then-

“Lottie!” A voice came from downstairs.

She sighed, sitting up in her chair.  “What?” she yelled back down.

“You forgot to turn the kettle off!  Almost burnt the bloody house down!”

“Sorry!”  Not only had the Moroccan King betrayed her, but so had the Moroccan tea.  She looked down at her blackened hands, the pen that leaked ink onto the antique desk.  Perhaps English Breakfast would be better for next time.

Mariana’s Waiting Room

This isn’t a sequel to An Eight-Year-Old’s Philosophy, it’s just an addition.  You don’t need to have read it to understand this, at any rate.

In the waiting room, there are many adults, but only one child.  As the ceiling light flickers and buzzes erratically, her small, wide eyes are drawn upwards in curiosity.  The adults look across to her from time to time, some anxious, others irritated.  Her thin legs swing whimsically as she watches and waits.  Her olive skin is marred with a streak of dirt and while her pendulum legs swing, she picks at the brown underneath her fingernails.

Soon, a doctor comes, his footsteps clattering quickly on the linoleum.  This has an effect on every person who waits.  They sit up, hopeful, nervous, some expecting the worst.  The girl’s legs stop swinging and she clasps her hands tightly.  All eyes are on the unshaven man as he clears his throat.  He does not utter a name, simply nods to the girl and she shuffles over to him quickly, unaware of the eyes that follow her.  He takes her a few steps into the corridor, then bends down to talk to her.  Her eyes cannot stay in the same place for long.  They skip and dart to corners and facets of the room, taking in colour and shape as well as sound.  The doctor barks a command and her attention snaps back to the one place.  As he continues to talk, her hands begin to tear at the hem of her jumper, seeking out loose threads and pulling distractedly.  It is a destructive act.

The adults are watching intently, their eyes unblinking.  They lean over in their seats to watch the scene – the too-large, bulky doctor squatting to convey his message to the tiny, distracted girl.  And then, the news is broken.  Those small, wide eyes blink and, for the first time, meet those of the doctor.  Her hands stop pulling at her jumper.  The adults outside watch as the first tears slide down her cheeks and are wiped away by small, shaking hands.  The doctor’s heavy hand lands on her shoulder in an oversized gesture of comfort, but the girl pushes it away quickly.  Her hands clench into fists and she stamps her foot.  Her voice rises out of her small chest, surprisingly loud.  She demands things of the doctor, yet he shakes his head, speaking from that script that all doctors know.

“There’s nothing I can do.”

The girl begins to wail.  The sound is like an alarm and the adults look up collectively, their eyes wide and staring.  Alarms are common here, yet this one makes them shudder more than any.  It is a sound of desperation, of raw emotion and grief.  It is the alarm heralding the journey of a small child into adulthood, at too young an age.

But in Sarajevo, she is lucky.  Her friend never made it into adulthood.

Café Living

Most cafes aren’t like this, I swear.

No one feels the cold,

Only the breathable air of the A/C.

With pasted smiles

We work our way through customers.

Our shoes squeak on the linoleum

As we try to sneak unnoticed.

Our palms are cracked from detergent.

After working hour shifts,

Our cheeks sore from the

Plastic Smiles,

The scent of soap suds

Starts to stink.

Instructions to Defeat a Thunderstorm

A memoir that I had to write for english class.

A thunderstorm is a stunning rarity here – like a shapely, uneven pearl.  It is something beautiful, certainly, but dangerously beautiful.  In the last three years, there have been about three thunderstorms that I can remember.  In one instance, I was babysitting two children.  One of them, the older one, has Asperger’s.  Sometimes he is capable, putting himself to bed and eating his dinner without a qualm, but other times he becomes like a small child.  He cries for his mother and curls up on the couch like a sea urchin.  Only his mother’s calm words can uncurl him.  But on the night of the Second Thunderstorm, we decided to brave it together – the two children and I, with the help of their favourite television show.   We turned up the volume as the wind howled around us, the thunder booming in our ears, so that we made the most of their high-tech surround sound speakers.  Together, we watched ninja battles and shuriken wars as the thunderstorm swirled and shook around us.  By the time their mother came home, it was over.  Our ears were ringing from the noise and the children marched sleepily off to bed without a complaint.

But the First Thunderstorm was my favourite.  When it happened, I was alone.  I was without the instinctual, parental protection of my mother and father, without my siblings to yell and fight around me.  I had nothing to drown out the noise of the thunder, the high shriek of the wind, the moving of the chairs on the deck above, the violent flashes of lightning and the damp, foreboding smell of the coming rain.  But I swallowed my fear and walked, with my head high, to the piano.

Usually, as my fingers hesitantly press the first few notes, I am frightened by the loudness of it and engage the soft pedal.  On that day, however, the noise of the thunder and wind drowned out any fears of anyone hearing me.  My hands flicked through the music book, looking and looking for songs to play.  Finally, I pushed it aside.  The best of my repertoire was committed to memory.

The first song that I played was beautiful.  The notes sung as my fingers brushed over the keys, the pedal joining the harmony into a clear picture.  It felt strange, as the thunder crashed around me and the lightning lit the black and white keys, for such a peaceful, almost religious song to be playing, to be hanging in the air like a canopy, sheltering me from the storm.  But it also felt cowardly.

The second song that I played was sad.  The notes hung and then dropped abysmally as my fingers wavered, just barely in my control.  The pedal kept some notes behind, clashing, but the thunderstorm rid the air of dissonance.  My heart beat in my throat and my chest felt overwhelmed with emotion.  Finally, the song ended on a peaceful, calm note and my fingers lifted slowly from the piano.

The last song that I played was fast, challenging.  Not only challenging to my fingers, but challenging of the storm that battered the house, the trees outside, that moved the chairs on the deck, that filled the room haphazardly with blinding light.  I had never played that song so fast before in my life and my heart sped along with the tempo.  I played it faster and faster still, to keep pace with the thunderstorm.  The song was powerful, larger than I ever thought it could be.  The melody reared up before me, a roar to meet the storm outside.  When I had finished playing, I was breathless.

But the storm had subsided.  Daylight was breaking again outside and the wind had fallen to a slow breeze.  I had challenged the vast power of the thunderstorm, and in my foolish recklessness, I had won.

The View from Cafe Russe

This is a character description that I had to do for english class…  the only problem is that it isn’t a character description – it’s a short story.  Hence, it’s not going to be handed in.

Angela Northing was born in 1923 to a non-assuming family.  She married a non-assuming husband and had four non-assuming children.  But, despite all odds, she quite failed to be a non-assuming person.

When she first walked into the Café Russe, near the bell tower and in view of the harbour, she ordered a coffee, sat down for a few minutes, then, throwing her scarf briskly over her shoulder, walked out again.  Her shoes made a clattering sound on the pavement as she strode away, the waiters watching with vague interest from the counter.

The next time that Angela Northing walked into the Café Russe, it was at very much a slower pace.  Like the winter sky outside, she looked tired and torn and worn.  In a tired voice, she communicated that she would like a strong coffee, very hot, if you please.  Without waiting for the fragrant mug to be produced, she sat herself at a table, sighing deeply as she offloaded the baggage of her handbag and umbrella.  She thanked the waiter graciously as he placed the drink on the table.  Her gold wedding band lay dull on her fourth finger as she sipped.  Though she was not normally a generous person, Angela Northing tipped the waiter before she left.

From that day she became a regular customer.  And after a while, the café staff became used to her melodramatic changes in personality.  One day, she rushed in with only a moment to spare.  Another day, she stayed for three hours, reading two whole books and smiling casually at the waiter, who asked on multiple occasions if she was waiting for somebody.

In the fifties, as the world became cold and apprehensive, the café changed its name.  Café Russe reminded the people too much of Russia (which was considered only cold and communist, not good for anything, really).  The Queen’s Café was deemed a more acceptable name, and so the change was instigated.  She stayed away for a few weeks, but then Angela Northing was back, tight-lipped and quietly spoken.  Some of the waiters wondered at her silence, but then they noticed the way she pulled distractedly at the gold band on her finger which came off loosely each time, as if it didn’t quite fit.

One day during autumn, she walked past the entrance as leaves swirled gaily around, crunching underfoot.  But she was not alone.  A man was there as well, standing very upright, his hand protectively around her wrist.  He motioned to the café, said a few words, a gesture, an offer.  But she ushered him away.  This was her café; it was not to be spoiled by his presence.

And in May the following year, as the frosty wind pulled at the tiny buds appearing on trees, the Russian man came.  He was frosty like the wind, smelt of cigarette smoke and always wore a scarf tucked up over his mouth.  He rarely spoke, and when he did the words were laced with a thick accent.  And people stared, oh, how they stared.  For he was Russian which, in that time, was synonymous with the devil.

The next morning, Angela waltzed into the café, precisely on time.  But her seat was occupied.  She walked delicately around the man, peering at him.  Then, as she stood at the counter chatting amicably, the waiter noticed the deft movement of her hands, slipping the gold band from her finger and dropping it into her pocket.  When her drink was ready, she sat down opposite the foreign man and simply smiled.

But she never married the Russian man.  She never divorced her husband.  Conformity, like a constant guiding hand, pushed her away from the foreign, alien nature of the Russian, like it did everyone else.  And quietly, in a non-assuming way, she lived the rest of her life looking through the painted glass of the Café Russe, at the life she could have had.

18-8

Written on a bus again.

The bus stands stock still.

The smell of petrol permeates,

A musty smell.

And in the shallow rain,

Shining rivulets race each other across the

Fog obscured, cross-hatched windows.

Nobody moves or talks,

Lost in each other’s words.

The repetitive rumbling of the engine

Fills our ears and we are

Transfixed, hypnotised.

The dull lights flash as if

Heralding movement:

But we still stand stock still.

Wasn’t quite sure about using the word ‘shallow’ to describe rain, but I think it creates the right mental image, do you?

Sunrise and Sunset

This week’s poetry.  Written on a bus trip.

Sunrise

Morning is a secret time,

Of misty, clandestine hills

And haphazard,

Half-light.

It casts shadows in

The wake of day,

A promise to the earth.

In the time when

No man stirs

The earth is itself,

Peaceful and untouched.

The giants are slumbering.

The sky is pale as if

Recovering from the

Sickness of the night.

The bushland glows in

This ethereal light.

How we love to miss it.

 

Sunset

Voices have dimmed to a low hum,

Feet rest on seats,

Heads slumped on shoulders.

It has been a long day.

The trees fly past the window,

The sun waves an unseen salutation

Then dips, pastel hues, behind the horizon.

 

The page and pen are blurring into one.

No choice but to feel where words should go.

And the same desaturated blue of sunrise

Fills the sky this sunset.