The desert

The desert haunts me. My dreams are parched and dusty and I wake to drink glass after glass of cool water but it doesn’t wash away the dryness. Is this your last game, your final torment? I longed to return to the desert, yet now it seeps into my nightmares so I can never go back. In this damp corner of the world even thoughts of returning bring no relief. Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head.

A rock, heated to baking by the blinding sun, would make a welcome pillow now. I would embrace a second skin of dust and the shimmering haze distorting time and distance. I would walk to you across the blistering plains with joy in every step, but I cannot cross the street to post this letter to you. The rain is a curtain of glass needles between me and my salvation.

I cannot dream this place. I cannot walk it or live it. Here in this land of damp sponge there is no line in the earth or song in the air to draw me onward. The trails are silent, lost to me beneath the endless water that pools beneath my feet, and I can only sink into the deepening mire.

When you wove your tales of ever-green landscapes, flowing streams and verdant trees I could hardly imagine such a place. But you were the living water to me and I would have followed you anywhere, even across the endless ocean. I did: here I am in the sinkhole of the earth. Like a watering hole in the high heat of summer you evaporated, a wavering mirage vanished into the dust.

I waited so long. In the end it was easier to believe that you were dead than to believe you’d abandoned me; I had to believe that if you still had breath you would have come back to me. You wouldn’t have abandoned me, like a child crying behind a rock, too small to know the predator but full of terror nonetheless.

I was a child of the great, wide world. I knew the joy of the sky and the breath of the night and the deep inner warmth of a body held in the eternal sun. I saw the magic in every rock and thorn bush, and the paths that led between them and the salt pans and I knew survival. Now I am drowning in mud. I cannot hear the songs for its roaring, or see the safe trails for the smears across my eyes. Walls bar my way and I haven’t the strength to open the door, for I know that beyond it are miles and miles of grey and green ribbon, and they will never lead me to brown-orange-yellow warmth. I am lost with nowhere to go.

[Note: Yes, this is fiction.]

[Another note: a friend advised me to rewrite this as a poem.  What do you think?]

We were the children

We were the children then.  Three little pairs of eyes glinting at the camera.  Six tiny feet, thirty grubby fingers and three floppy sunhats.

We’re older now than our parents were then.  Between us, we’ve produced the same number of children, the same number of twinkling eyes and tiny feet.

We’re the adults now, but still I see the little monkey in each of us.

Adding up the scribbles

I hadn’t written a word for weeks.  Granted, there were a few scribblings here and there: jottings on the back of a shopping list; scrawled phrases on a post-it; the odd page or two of disjointed notes.  Not real writing.  So I told myself, and I didn’t enjoy the telling.

Then I gathered them all together.  I began to type them up, expand them, string them together.

Um, I still haven’t finished.  The scribbles add up, you see.  They are the writing, quite as much as the hours spent at the desk.  Probably more so, because they aren’t punctuated by long periods of staring into space and reading other people’s words.

And although I’d already learnt that the scribbles add up to something bigger, I was fortunate enough to receive validation from elsewhere in the same week.  Mother’s Milk Books have awarded one of my pieces a Commended in their recent competition.  Cue much rejoicing!

I tell you this because it illustrates the point beautifully.  You see, I remember when I wrote the beginnings of that piece, and it wasn’t at my desk or even in the house.  I was tramping the fields in my wellies, watching the crows wheeling overhead and thinking about circles.  I’ve learnt to keep a tattered notebook and a pencil in my coat pocket on these walks, and I kept stopping and adding another phrase, another image.  What they were going to become I wasn’t sure, but I kept scribbling all the same.  (By the way, it’s always a pencil, never a pen.  Pencils don’t run out or leak in your pocket.)

And those images became a piece I was proud of, a piece that someone else enjoyed.  They were real writing, after all.

Yes, we need time to mould the jottings and the scribblings into their final form, but we can always be writing, wherever we are.  Mud optional.

It’s not so dark if you turn all the lights off

In the chill of the early winter morning, looking out through the curtains from a bright, warm house, all you see is darkness.  Not just darkness: blackness.  Like a moth, your eye is drawn to the orange pools around the streetlights; there is nothing else to focus on.

Venture outside and the picture changes a little.  Now you see the circle of white light from your torch illuminating three metres of grey tarmac in front of you.  Your breath curls in smoky puffs where the light catches it.  Dark hedges loom on either side of you, but they are insubstantial shadows below tiny faraway stars.

The corner of your eye catches the faintest hint of dawn on the horizon, just a slight fading of the sky.

Turn off the torch.

Now you can see.

Naked winter trees and hedges are charcoal-black against the ashy frosted fields and the inky sky.  In the east the ink fades to palest ice-blue, shading to creamy apple-white and the faintest suspicion of a pink sunrise.  Icy puddles glitter in the starlight.

This is the world the lights had hidden from view; the magic they bleached away.

The beauty of the season

The hedgerows are broadcasting the abundance of harvest-time, laden with hips and haws, sloes and blackberries. Yet the whirr of my wheels as I pedal along, and the grasshoppers in the long grass, still sing of lazy summer days.   The sun paints a wash of late summer haze over the already-harvested fields, tinged with the unmistakable slant of autumn. Bronze, gold and brown mingle with the fading greens in the treetops.

Summer does not end.  It slides into autumn, or autumn slides into it, subtly, without you noticing, until the crisp mornings become cold and the sunshine weakens and loses its warmth.

This isn’t the setting for a story.

This is the beautiful story.

Every year.