Monthly Archives: January 2013


A task from my writing group – 200 words on the topic of debt.

And afterwards, saved from jumping, from falling, he looks directly at her
“I will always be in your debt” he says
and she nods, appraising the truth of this statement.

At first it is easy, a request to mend a dripping tap, chop wood for her stove, drive her and a sickly pet to the vets.

He is happy to help, ater all he is in her debt.

But, the tasks become more complex, long journeys to collect objects she says she cannot live without, heavy manual labour around her home, jobs that take up more and more of his free time.

He considers refusing, but the pause she leaves after each request reminds him that there is a debt to be paid.

And then of course, there are the calls, late at night, rambling into silence or diatribes about the unfairness of her life.
He begins to dread the sound of his phone.

He makes his preparations, travels to the beach, weighs his pockets down with stones and walks towards the water.
He feels only relief, release.

He has made sure that she is out of town this week end.

The Mute

another constricted piece – suggested by one of the wonderful writers in my school creative writing class – 200 words about someone wearing a top hat

The sadness is real enough, helped on by a sharp poke in the ribs, a quick slap to the back of my head and sometimes, when no-one is looking or the family are too grief stricken to notice what’s happening just under their noses, a fist pushed hard into my face, never h enough to bruise or mark though. My pale skin, dark shadowed eyes, sharp cheek bones are what they want, what they need
I walk at the head of the procession, eyes downcast, bony wrists protrude from a frock coat that I have been growing into and then out of for years and years. A restricted diet has kept me small, extended the life of this coat beyond what anyone might consider reasonable and more importantly, has ensured the pathos of me, perfectly to scale with the coffin behind me.
It is preferred that I weep silently as we process, too much noise, drama would be seen to take away from the occasion, to draw attention to myself, so I have become expert at the noiseless tear, the grief filled eyes.
It is a wonder that no-one ever think s to ask what I am crying over.


Comanche Joe and the 55 minute hour

another stolen character story – comanche joe – the only talking dog in the west.

The winter when it came, came hard, icy winds, snow, blizzards straight from Siberia blew in from the prairie.
The denizens of Falling Pines dug in for a long cold spell and looked about for diversions and entertainment.
At first the cow pokes, wranglers, miners, good time gals and assorted n’er do wells stuck to what they knew, hard drinking, gambling and of course the pleasures of the sisters of swing down at the saloon.
The townsfolk, drawing up their collective skirts of moral outrage, crossed the road and prayed for a thaw, but as the days went on and the winds blew and the snow still fell even they felt touched by a terrible sense of boredom, even perhaps ennui and wondered how they could best fill the lengthening evenings.
Comanche Joe, nursing a hangover, a combination of too much rot gut and an ignominious scrabble defeat – the misery of a Q and no U still hanging heavy – lay curled nose to tail in the hay barn of the livery yard wondering how he could face another day.
The silence was broken, as it was every day, by the duet of Iman Mohammed Jamal calling the faithful to prayer and the sombre tolling of the Lutheran bell tower.
Islam and the arrival of the Iman had come as somewhat of a surprise, the result of an unfortunate combination of imprecise directions and an impatient stage coach driver, but the townsfolk, after some early suspicion had decided that the call to prayers was both more reliable and more easy on the ears than the hoarse crowing of the cockerel from the Dew Drop Inn café and grill.
A number of the townswomen decided that the burkha made a sensible outfit for heavy cleaning days and adopted a perky gingham version in place of their everyday pinnys.
The bachelor farmers from the outlying homesteads were, for a while, optimistic that polygamy, as endorsed by the Prophet, might become popular and a few diehards still clung to this hope.
Comanche stretched and now fully, if unwillingly, awake, padded down a deserted main street looking for something to fill the emptiness inside.
To his surprise, the saloon was packed, but strangely quiet. A delicate smell filled his nostrils, Ylang, Ylang, Rose and Patchouli, the aroma therapist was working on something to raise the spirits of the snow bound cowboys. At every table, wranglers, drovers, cow pokes were reading, occasionally murmuring as they shared particularly pithy sentiments with their neighbours.
Comanche recognised the titles from the new section in the drug store and soda fountain (chi tea and crystal healing by appointment) – the library of self help journals.
“Women are from Venus, Men are from Wyoming”
“Men who love(their mustangs) too much and the women who wait for them”
“Homesteading for beginners”
“Getting in touch with your inner cow girl”

By lunchtime the atmosphere was heavy with both the scent of lingering ylang ylang and more poisonously, the toxic stench of self-diagnosed neuroses, personality flaws and incipient mental illness.
A terrible gloom fell over the cowboys which even the good time gals were unable to lift.
Joe himself, seated in his usual chair, close to the wood burner and with a good view of the swinging saloon doors, sighed and stared morosely at the untouched glass of red eye in front of him.
Could it be true that being a middle litter puppy was the explanation?
He and 27 other cow pokes sighed heavily.
It was then that Slim Pickens, cowboy, film fan and current chair of the experimental fiction reading group stood up. He spat onto the sawdust floor, doffed his hat, always a sign of something momentous
“I reckon what we need here is professional input”
There are nods and murmurs of agreement from all around the saloon
“This self-help” he continued “Well, I figger it aint worth a hill of beans”
There is a pause while everyone mentally runs through the list of possible candidates;
And then Slim, knowing that he speaks for everyone, names the only professional in town to be trusted in any situation of physical or mental collapse
“Best get the vetinarian then”
The cow hands and wranglers are not anti-progress, they host a vibrant chapter of the Sceptics organisation and have been in the forefront of a campaign to bring faster broad band to the Lazy Z, Lazy Y and half-hearted X ranches, still stuck in dial up hell, but some habits die hard and they like so many others choose the horse doctor for their own healing.
Butch, lead mule guy at the Lazy X, articulated the common feeling at an Iron John drumming workshop,
“Vet medicine is more than book learning and their patients can’t say where it hurts or when they last had a satisfactory bowel movement”
The whole saloon lets out a collective sigh of relief and Butch and Slim are charged with bringing the vetinarian back to raise the miasma of self-help gloom which hangs like a cloud over the whole town.
Halfway down Main Street at Faithful Friends vet practise, Scott Brewster is comforting a weeping miner as he slumps over the examination table, cupped tenderly in the miners’ enormous and coal dust encrusted hands is a beige hamster
“let it out man” Scott is exhorting the distraught man mountain “ let your grief out”
Finally, the miner nods and tenderly, carefully, hands the tiny mammal over and then shoulders bowed he shuffles towards the door with one final backward glance at the shoebox on the table.
Left alone, Scott takes a moment to centre himself before preparing for the next client, but before he can call in Monty – teeth descale and claw trim, the consulting room door opens & Butch & Slim burst in.
Quickly they explain the problem, a combination of snow- bound ennui and overly critical self-diagnosis and Scott realises that his moment has come.
Stopping only to don a black polo neck jumper and a corduroy jacket, he and the worried cowboys head back to the saloon.
And this is how, 2 hours later, having reached the head of the queue, Comanche Joe finds himself staring at Scott Brewster, vetinarian and self-actualisation therapist. Comanche has been very quiet all afternoon, the weight of the depression, his personal black, well something has been almost too much for him and he pads happily, enthusiastically into the little side room that the good time gals have vacated for the duration of the emotional emergency besetting the town.
Two steps into the room, Comanche is brought up short, Scott is sitting upright on a neat, inoffensive wooden chair next to a chaise longue more normally found in Miss Lillys’ room.
Scott pats the couch encouragingly and after a moment’s hesitation, Comanche jumps up onto the furniture
“Tell me about your childhood” says Scott
Comanche turns slowly to face him
“Puppyhood” he says slowly “Puppyhood”,
And then, sadly, regretfully, he jumps down from the couch and leaves the room.

Crossing Over

A piece of constricted writing – 200 words on the topic of bridges or crossings.

And a piece of music to go with it

They say the first step is the hardest, but it wasn’t, nor the second nor the third. each step took him nearer to here, this stepping off, this crossing over.

And now,one foot still scrabbling for purchase on the path that has brought him here, the other poised for the jump off, free flight, another land, finally, to become, what he is not, quite, yet,

he pauses…………

looking down at his own body, he is suddenly, unexpectedly 6 years old again, holding his mothers’ hand outside Temples – the butchers shop, transfixed by the window display china cow, who grazes unconcernedly on overly green plastic grass, seeming unaware of the careful markings of its back and flanks – a naming of parts – rump, liver, shank. he stands, while his mother deliberates.

even tonight, he cannot bring himself to touch what should not be there, the thick black lines delineating his body bring comfort, an assurance that all will be righted

he lies, quietly, waiting for dawn and journeys end.

Just before sleep, he buries his face in the virginal white silk panties, chosen months ago for tomorrow’s rebirth.

Feral boys what I have f******d

Sometimes, a story title comes without a story attached, but the title is so good, it seems wasteful not to use it, so the title sits on the back burner, occasionally stirred a bit and then something, anything comes together.

This is not a love story, this is not even a lust story, this is not any kind of story at all.

Take 1

His inexpert scrabbling in your bag wakes you and when he realizes that you are watching him through half closed eyes, face propped up into an approximation of alertness, he ducks his head, smiles and shrugs.
Stepping away from the bed, he locates his boots and retreats backwards towards the door, clutching the boots to his chest.

Take 2

He hid a gun in your microwave and although you liked the feeling of living at the edge, the inconvenience of not being able to heat tomato soup or zap potatoes got to you and finally, employing a logic that only occurs when you and everyone you know is doing a lot of cocaine, you wrapped the gun in layer upon layer of kitchen roll and dropped the package behind the washing machine.

Take 3

In the days before text messaging and booty calls, at 3, 4 am, he would scratch and scrape at your door, like the over-sized tom cat that he was. Stomping downstairs, body stiff with resentment and cold, it always seemed to be winter then, face still soft from sleep, you would vow to send him away this time.
And each time, his under-dressed body, shoulder blades sharp as vestigial wings, each rib delineated under an off black t-shirt beguiled you and you opened the door, wondering if there was enough milk for tea.

Take 4

You face each-other on the pillow, his mascara is smudged, eye liner slipped towards his cheek bones, There is a pause while you both take stock of where the evening has brought you.
You close your eyes, feign sleep, hope that when you open them again he will be gone and then wonder where exactly you are and if instead it should be you who is going somewhere.
When you open them again, he is still there, quietly looking at you, you smile, hoping your face is less ruined than his and he smiles back.

Take 5

He enjoys taking you to clubs where he knows everyone and sometimes you dance together, but more usually, you dance and he watches, while people approach him and move away 2, 3 minutes later, nodding, smiling.
You pretend not to notice.
Sometimes he vanishes for hours and suddenly -re-appears, puffed up with self importance.
You pretend not to notice.
And there are the women, always in the back of the car, never the front, that is where you sit.
He converses with them in angry whispers and no-one looks at you.
You pretend not to notice.

I leave my message for you

You know that people don’t see you, not really, yeah, their eyes slide over you, on the bus, in the shopping centre, walking along the road, but they dont see you, see whats on the inside, see what you’re really like.

They never get beyond all the surface stuff, big woman, sturdy, square shouldered, wrapped in a coat that makes you seem even larger . Men sized feet shoved into Fuggs, cheap copies of over-priced outdoor slippers, shoes that always break at the heel, make your walk into a shuffle, slow you down, hold up the mission.

Because , make no mistake, you are a woman on a mission, specially choosen, singled out to be his handmaiden.

And its funny, the bigger you get, the more invisible you are to everyone else, but when his eyes are on you, following you around the room at night, when you bask in the light of his love, then you feel truly noticed, completely visible and it makes the loneliness of the task, not hard, but special, a devotional act.

The table is set up for effective production, black marker pens, squares of cardboard, Iris at the Co-Op saves the crisp boxes for you, plain white paper, you experimented with colours, but it didnt seem right, not respectful enough and of course sissors and glue.

You have a routine, a rythmn – kettle on, big mug of sweet milky coffee, a bag of something soft, chocolatey, chewey. You experimented with hard bitey sweets, but the tone was wrong, broke the quiet ritual of feeding body and soul.

Sip of coffee, fudge melting against your tongue, marker pen in hand and you are ready.

You choose tomorrows’ sentence carefully, you want it to be quite right, perfect, words to help, to comfort those who read them.

You know that there are different ways of doing this.
You have met others who believe themselves to be special too, they give up this choice, trust in divine intervention, copy down the words that they are led to, feel that someone else is guiding their pen, their hand.

Sometimes, you close your eyes and imagine someone, a man walking back from work, a mother pushing a buggy, walking up to one of your little signs , stopping, maybe just for a minute and reading the message.
You know you shouldn’t feel pride, it’s a sin, but just for a second , just one delicious moment of warmth , you visualise them, reading, perhaps their lips moving over the words and then walking on, comforted, by your words.

No, not your words.
His words, you are just the handmaiden.
Quite literally, it is your hands that make his words real, your hands that cut the card to shape, your hands that tie the little signs to lamp posts.

You look down in annoyance, you have been careless, made a mistake.
You could start again, but it would be such a waste, the card is already cut to shape, so carefully, painstakingly , you cross out the error, cover up the mis-spelling.
It looks a little untidy, but you don’t think that he will mind, his message is still clear, still easy to read.
And after all, he understood about mistakes, love the sinner, not the sin he said, he will forgive this. He sees that you are tired, cold after the walk home, the long day in the little back office, the one with no windows, the one that the customers don’t see.

You have worked for Mr Solanki and Mr Solanki for almost 15 years now, keeping the books, managing the little office, ordering in, dispatching out. You know they have first names, but you like the formality, the symmetry of surnames.

You keep a bible in the second drawer of your desk, your personal drawer.
The bible, nail clippers, emergency tights and todays’ bag of sweets.
You like to dip your hand into the bag and as you remove a sweet, you let your fingers, sometimes sugar coated, drift across the cover of the little book.
Double comfort, sweetness in your mouth, light in your soul.

You have never told the Solanki brothers what you do after work.
You don’t quite know why, they are openly, noisily religious.
On Fridays, you are left to run the business as they head off for prayers.
You are given an extra days holiday at Eid
In the reception area
There is a photo of the taller Mr Solanki on Haj.
He looks solemn, serious.
You have never asked him about it, but he came back different, somehow quieter, you wonder if this quiet will survive end of year accounts time.

But something, something holds you back from telling them, deep down you are scared that putting it into words, ordinary, everyday words will diminish it, diminish you, so you stay silent.

It’s been a good evening, the text is written up a dozen times, the little notices are ready.
You have a route planned for tomorrow.

Standing up, you stretch, your back a little stiff from leaning over the writing.

In the kitchen, you wash up the cup, plate, knife and fork.
You fill the hot water bottle, wipe down the sink, check there is enough milk left for a single cup of tea in the morning.

You cannot wait for tomorrow to come, you cannot wait to be about his business.


The Anchorite

Anchorite (female: anchoress; adj. anchoritic; from Ancient Greek: ἀναχωρέω, anachōreō, signifying “to withdraw”, “to depart into the rural countryside”) denotes someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and—circumstances permitting—Eucharist-focused life. As a result, anchorites are usually considered to be a type of religious hermit,[1] although there are distinctions in their historical development and theology.

I knew the tree house long before I choose to withdraw from the world.
It was a landmark , once I saw it, I knew I was nearly home,

My withdrawal from the world began slowly, as such withdrawals do.
An unwillingness to meet friends for drinks, lunches. Birthday invitations ignored, phones left unanswered, ignored e-mails piling up in some virtual space.

The withdrawal speeded up, I no longer went to work, answered the door, left the cluttered city flat.

I hungered for isolation, silence, a world conducted internally and then one night I dreamt of the tree house and woke refreshed, replete and knew what I must do.

Living here is simple, quiet, still.

The house moves in high winds, leaks in heavy rains and is suffocatingly hot in the summer. Its’ structure makes ignoring nature impossible and besides, the viewing platform invites careful regard for everything around me.
I watch the world and recently the world has begun to watch me.

Little notes left at the foot of my step ladder, baskets of food, strange crazy things, soft toys, rosary beads, dried flowers.

Sometimes these gifts come at night and I never know who has left them, but sometimes I watch as they, potential penitents, pilgrims, park their cars, walk down the dust road to the foot of the tree, look up at the tree house and leave something.

I have learnt not to read the notes,their neediness, hunger, desires, pierce my armor plated calm, force me back into their world, into the everyday.

And then there are those, mostly women, who come and sit, stare up at the tree, the tree house, me, at first they were few and far between, these silent visitors, but recently, they come more often, stay for longer, are better prepared, folding chairs, sandwiches, books to read and there are more and more of them.

I feel them massing, gathering, waiting for someone, something to happen.

I check the bottled water, the dried fruit, the remainder of the tinned food and wonder how long they will last, how long it will take the silent women to notice that I no longer appear at the window, move around the tiny room, lean over the balcony.

I wonder if I should ask them what they want?