George’s Last Three: A short story

George sat on the bench on the end of the pier, his back to the sea, looking back at the vista of the town as the sun set over it.

The town had changed so much throughout his life, from a thriving seaside oasis in his childhood, a welcome escape from the noise of the city where he had been born. A heaven all of its own. Memories of days spent running from the disaster zone of his mother and father. Running with his brother and sisters to hide between the metal legs of the pier, like a safe apron he could pull on the strings of for protection. Safety his mother had never been able to be, in the face of the rage of Dad. This place had been special then and, even now, with its sense of decay and deprivation, George felt happiness even as he looked across the closed shops and the scattered forms of homeless people on the sea front.

George’s legs were set wide and his meaty paws, with their tattooed digits, rested on his thighs as he started to struggle to breathe and the pain latched around his chest. His first thought was to panic, to fight, but then the pain lifted, like the end of a sudden shower of rain on a summers day. Gone.

It was then that the sallow young man appeared on the bench at his side. George tried not to take umbrage to the fact this youth, with his dark clothes and unlikely colouring, was invading his space when there were at least a half dozen empty benches around them, but it irked him. Little git, he thought. I’ve had enough of these kids on here. He puffed out his breath to signal his annoyance and, in a fit of long redundant muscle memory, cracked his now painless arthritic knuckles into a crunching fist.

George then noticed the tips of the boy’s wings, black and smooth and batlike as they were. While not an educated man, George had always had wit enough to read situations well. It had kept him alive on the streets and seen him well in earning a crust. He put the pieces together: the sudden absence of both sudden and long-borne pain; the appearance, as if by magic; batwings on a person…

You’re not what I expected,” he huffed.

The youth tilted his face to George: “I hardly ever am, this one woman…” His voice tailed off. “This isn’t about what you expect. Or about me. It is about leaving things behind. Making your exit.”

George chuckled: “I always reckoned it’d be the grim reaper. You know, bony face and scythe.” His meaty hand waved over his face before miming a curved blade in the air. The youth smiled sympathetically. “So this is it?” asked George, the weight of his bovine face dropping into a resigned look of sadness.

When you leave the body, you leave it all behind. Every single memory, every single story. We’ve time for just three special moments George,” said the youth.

But it’ll be dark soon,” said George, waving his hand across the view of the town.

You might not have noticed George, but time is stopped. You’re dying, time isn’t a factor any more. We are out of time.”

George’s face crumpled in thought. “Special moments? Just three?”

Just three – think them and we will go back now.”

George’s face uncrumpled and smiled.

He was there in his football strip, the day of his eight birthday, surrounded by his juniors team mates. For the first time ever his father was on the sidelines. There on some sort of a promise from his mother. He could see Dad chatting to Tommy Finnegan’s mother. She was brassy and caught the eye. Even to a boy like him she was noticable. Tight clothes in bright colours. A million miles away from the drugery of his own mother.

Torn back from the momentary distraction, he heard Tommy shout his name and he turned in time to see the cross, heading it neatly into the goal like a dream. His teammates piled on him in smiles and cheers, as the ref blew his whistle for time. Dad roared from the sidelines: “THAT’S MY BOY!” jumping around and grabbing Tommy’s mum in celebration. Right then George was Terence Sway’s boy and he knew it and it felt like his heart would burst. George didn’t ponder what had come next. How two weeks later Dad and Gloria Finnegan would do a bunk. How he and his siblings would be left with Mother and a whole other world of misery. That was just pain and this wasn’t the time for that.

The youth appeared and the memory shifted. George found himself wearing the skin of his twenty four year old self. He looked at his hands, newly tattooed under his wedding band, pulled his fingers into a painless and functioning fist. He was outside The Bell and he felt glee as it all had started to kick off. The fist to the side of his face was well met as George felt the vigour of his youth mixed with the bravado of drink coursing through his veins. Stunned, but by no means distracted, he span back to the source of the sucker punch, pulsing with pure rage and lamped the bloke straight to the nose, which burst with blood across his face as he fell to the ground. George swung his foot into the man’s side, kicking his ribcage up into a curve, before stamping on the man’s face with his boots. George span round, his own eye cut and bleeding from the earlier blow, dripping down the whiteness of his best shirt. His fists were clenched as he expanded his chest, his face screwed as he roared: “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME THEN?”

Violent happiness, perhaps the biggest rush of his life. He caught the figure of the youth in the corner of his eye and the world shifted again.

He was sitting in a chair, in his home, the home he’d had with Maggie, before he had spoiled it all. It was dark but he would recognise that place, that moment, even with his eyes closed. The warm weight on his chest, the tiny curve of his sleeping infant son, just settled after what seemed like hours of crying. George couldn’t even remember why he’d gotten up instead of Maggie. It wasn’t the norm – maybe she’d been sick or something – he’d normally sleep through any noises because that was women’s work. But on this occasion he remembered sinking into that chair, very conscious of how small George junior had been and he had felt a quiet joy which was so pure, so burning hot in its purity, that it tore through every defence and awareness of mortality. He cried because he felt at once so much love for this child and so much fear that he couldn’t protect him from the world.

George hadn’t meant to feel that, hadn’t meant to return there, and, as he came back to the pier with the Angel of Death, he sobbed without restraint.

Why did you take me back there?” he said as big, bulbous tears fell from his eyes.


“I didn’t, you did. That was the moment in which you were most happy.”

George looked skyward as he wept. “I left that morning. I couldn’t do it, I would’ve been an awful dad. I didn’t see him again until he was a teenager. He hated me by then.”

The youth now stood before him and looked at him square in the face, wings spreading around them both.

It’s over now George, let it go.”

As he started to seep from his body, George was hit by the relief of it all. Had he known of the use for the French expression “La Petit Mort” as a euphemism for orgasm, he might have compared it to other moments which were now lost to him. But he was just struck by the sensation of lightness, unencumbered by the weight of his body, the burden of all the feelings accumulated and pushed down through his life and, in those last moments of consciousness, he felt something he had never before remembered feeling: freedom.

Baubles To Advent: How Very Close

I took my cache of goods to the food bank today, a little early before the end of my #BaublesToAdvent2018 campaign, but the food is bought and better there than waiting in my kitchen.

 

As I drove there, after the daily school run, in my battered war-horse of a family car I felt just how close this could be. When I arrived there, in my charity shop-bought coat and battered pumps, I could just as easily be asking for help as bringing an offering. My partner and I cut our cloth carefully to ensure a roof over our head, food in our pantry and that the children have all they need, but for my job we might be closer to needing this service than I would wish to think about.

I remember an old hand at work, discussing an awful tragedy which had come to our notice, saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Faith or not it is mere chance for a lot of us that we have not become too ill to work, injured or some other circumstances which might keep us from our incomes.

With the exception of the super rich, we all walk such a fine tightrope over these things. We must make sure we do what we can to provide for all, while we can, for tomorrow it could be us.

Ruby Inks: A Legacy

There is no finer tribute to the life of someone you have lost than to take their lessons seriously.

Self-preservation and fragility attribute the comments of friends only to kindness, with no merit, and alienate the recipient from the gift that is being given.

As I wrote in Ruby Inks: She Has Her Own Identity That She Will Not Let You See I benefited from the support of a friend, now lost, in writing. We had planned for a joint project, which I was just too scared to immediately pursue. So I will step forwards and onwards with #RubyInks.

At the start of this project I asked you for Just Five Minutes. Five minutes to read through these four, five minute pen pictures and choose the one you wish to be extended. So many of you supported me in the first effort. So may I ask you for just five minutes more?

I’ll put the poll on my pinned Tweet and will ask you to pick your favourite of these four tiny tales. Once the poll is closed I will take the winner and wrangle it into a longer form, to be published for your approval. If you’re not Twitter literate, feel free to vote in the comments below.

1. A Sea-Faring Wreck

He didn’t really want to have this argument, but if that was what it took, he was weighing in.

Look I just don’t care,” he said. “But it is what he wanted.”

The passage of time had given weight to his large frame. Before he had been big and broad, but never heavy. He sat in the chair of the bland solicitors office, his huge volume surpassing the boundaries of its arm rests and the seat sunk into its mechanism as if he were made of lead. He looked down the paperwork of the will in front of him pensively, looking carefully for any sort of deviation that would serve as an out.

His sister sat beside him, tiny, tidy and tightly wound, her stress induced facial tick more evident than ever, She stared at him from behind her narrow, black framed glasses, burning holes into the side of his big head.

But he never even went on a boat,” she said. “Why the heck would he want to be buried at sea.”

He bit his lip, thought to himself “Sheer embuggerance”, then simply reminded her that, to get her share she’d have to be part of this magnificent, impractical, sea-faring wreck of a funeral.

2. Patterns In Sand

Young as he is, he is not what he seems. He sits in the sandbox, at just three years old, sketching with his fingers through the grains. His mother only noticed him intently smoothing the top layer before drawing in the box with his hands whilst sitting on the side. She was entranced by his slow, deliberate movements focused on the ground before him. She didn’t see the patterns he sketched in the sand, the swirling, geometrically-sound mandalas he laid out on the surface of it. Had she, she might have thought him a prodigy and boasted of his endeavours to the world. But each time she came down the yard to collect his tiny frame up and indoors, he would have already smoothed the surface back over again. Instead she feared he was a fool, as he had not uttered a word or a sound in all his life. She feared what that might mean, as it had done for her cousin. The cousin never learned to speak and eked out a living in the pit, assumed an idiot but grown into a huge man, with hands the size of shovels and pony-like strength, without ever saying a word.

3. An Unusual Hour

The clock struck an unusual hour as she waited at the station. The clock display was digital which rendered the accompanying 24 bongs odd – sounding out as the clock switched to 24:01:00. Lucy peered at the display, unsure as to the extent of the effect of the three G&T’s she had consumed on the train or the fact she had chosen not to wear her glasses that night. She reached into the deep pocket of her woollen greatcoat and pulled out her own phone which also showed the time as 24:01. She shook the handset, as if resetting an etch-a-sketch, and looked again. The consistence baffled her and she looked around the concourse, casting about to find someone to verify the odd information being presented to her. There were two other people. The man in a bowler hat with an umbrella, checking a watch on a chain, appeared to be an oddly clean shaven hipster, insistent on period detail. The woman was somewhat more interesting as she peered in the space before her, confused and flicking across at the air, but dressed in clothes the like of which Lucy had never seen before, neat but visually far too light for the conditions even within the vacuum of the concourse. It might have been the oddity of the woman which had distracted Lucy as to the fact the concourse had shifted in appearance. All detail had fallen away and just the grey pencil-like outlines of the structure of the concourse remained. This only became apparent to her as she heard the bowler cry out in shock…

4. The News

It was a cold day when the trouble started. No snow, or rain or fog, just cold. She remembered the draft whispering past her ankles as she brushed her teeth in her nightdress, it carried the sound of deep voices at the opened front door up the stairs to her in the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what they said and she paused to listen, only to have her eardrum pierced by her mother’s shriek. The scream dropped into a lower howl and Leonie’s toothbrush dropped to the floor as she felt the grief hit her like a wave of solid water. She did not know who, what or why but she knew that sound, the sound of a suddenly hollowed human. She crept out onto the landing, which overlooked the wide sitting room on the ground floor, and saw the man in the scuffed bright yellow jacket helping her weeping mother to the sofa. Her mother wilted into the stained leather sofa in a shower of sobs, her body shivering with pain. Leonie hesitantly took herself to the top of the steps, a hand over her mouth, unaware of the toothpaste that sat around her dark lips. She resolved to descend the stairs, aware of the potential threat the uniformed man might pose to her and the other children up the stairs, her brothers whose tiny forms were currently cuddled close together in the cold of their bed. She took the steps one by one, grasping unseeingly at the wooden handrail, whose splintering surface irritated but did not distract from the purpose of reaching and comforting her mother. Even at six years old she had been able to work out the reasons they might be here. Her father was late home, even for him, and her mother had started to chant his name under her breath as the policeman attempted to console her. As she rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase Leonie saw the policeman was not alone as she identified the much larger man by the door to the kitchen, silent and threatening mass, with his hands tucked inside his stab vest, as he balanced his substantial weight across his two huge boots. For his part the man, a father of children himself, saw the small child with the resolute but terror stricken face, under the neatly braided hair, and softened inside. This translated to his face falling into a sad puppy-like expression, but did not alter his stance. Leonie reacted accordingly, refusing to move her stare away from him until she reached the uncertain haven of her mother, even then still peering at him frequently to ensure he didn’t scale the stairs to her brothers in the bed above.

 

Baubles To Advent: Not Uplifting But a Call To Arms

Get into the Christmas spirit with this year’s must have item – the luxury advent calendar.

For just £35 you can get a £280 worth of M&S beauty goods behind 25 doors, Yankee Candle offers 24 doors of scented tea-lights and a mere £120 will get you a John Lewis gin calendar.

I’m not feeling it. I live in a country where the United Nations is currently investigating the poverty problem. I don’t feel like indulging. I want family, friends, warmth and time, not consuming to excess. I know there’s people out there struggling to survive, never mind contemplating opening a door to a different variety of artisanal gin each morning.

Last year, heavily pregnant with the twins and still off to work each day, I felt really quite helpless in the face of all the news stories around the disastrous impact of Universal Credit on families. I saw several people suggesting #FoodbankAdvent – to put aside an item for the food bank each day of advent. I mulled this over and realised that it would, by Christmas Eve, be much too late for the food banks to actually distribute the food. So I spent time researching food banks and tweeting the heck out of them – spending 25 days from November 8 2017 giving shout outs to food banks and encouraging people to donate each day – with the hashtag #BaublesToAdvent. Each set of tweets went out with jolly gifs along a Christmas film or song theme.

At the end of the time I also handed over my haul of goods to the food bank – it didn’t seem important to shout that out then.

This year, on restarting the countdown with the hashtag of #BaublesToAdvent2018 I found I struggled to choose and put out jolly gifs. Foodbank donations aren’t an uplifting Christmas event – it is a struggle for survival – its about deciding that we all have a duty to make sure everyone is provided for, without judgement. This is a call to arms, to fight to leave no-one in hunger.

 

So instead I’ve made two videos, just to help people understand what to do and why it is needed, and I will be showing everyone what I am doing and why I am doing it each day.

I’m lucky that I’m able to do this – I really know this – not everyone is. Please though, do what you can. Give your money, give food, give your time to your local food bank. If I had the resources to stump up for the G&T calendar I’d do even more…

Ruby Inks – She has her own identity that she will not let you see.

Today I discovered I had lost a friend.

 

The unique, indomitable Ineke Poultney had left life behind and was no longer there as the powerhouse of friendship and joy she had been in the world, not just to me but to many.

If you didn’t know “Inky” you truly missed out. I’m sorry but, you’re simply too late. However, I would like to share with you something she shared with me – because it’s a little fragment which she left behind with me which says so much about who she was. This is not a betrayal of confidence. We had always agreed these messages would form part of a book – a book I was, simply put, too chicken to pursue right away. This is something I regret. That she would never see these words, under her name and in a book.

I hope in the future to make good our agreement, in the fullness of time.

If you read my blog post “Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes” you’ll know I was working with Inky on a series of writing prompts, which evolved into a plan to write the aforementioned book of five minute responses to sentences which came to Inky’s mind.

The below conversation happened on Twitter messages after this agreement (Inky’s words appear in italics):

“She has her own identity that she will not let you see.”

Get writing!

(I am really looking forward to this!)

Here goes…

She has her own identity that she will not let you see. She cloaks around it the identities which have been placed, unwanted, upon her. She did not choose to be a woman, it was already given with the attendant oppressions it weighed upon her. She did not choose to be disabled, yet there she was, with legs that could not be used, in a world designed for the “norm”. She did not choose the inability to speak her inner thoughts, so was rendered stupid in a world of spoken words, capable of communicating only the most basic of thoughts and intents. All of these were identities imposed upon her, but not a single one was the one that was her. She kept that back just for her. The stories she wove in her mind meant that she was free of assumption and free of limitations. She would describe colours no-one could even imagine, surrounding characters never before created, who executed their adventures in landscapes that the world could not conceive of. But this was part of the identity she will not let you see. When her mother gave her a laptop, ostensibly to allow her to reach out into the world, she chose instead to pour out her own world into words. She did not share it with mother, nor did she take from the world around, she just wove thicker and richer the world within.

WHAT??? How on Earth did you do that??? Are you sure we have never met???

Just change the word “wheelchair” to glasses and you almost have me to a T!!!

You *ARE* going to use that in your book!!! I have decided!!! It is too amazing not to be used!!!

So tell me the back story to the sentence- or was that the FB post?

No – it isn’t the Facebook post! Here goes!

The first line I gave you is actually the first line of a song which I suspect is about me (although I have never dared to ask Kristyna if it is)!!!

Hold on while I find the link to the YouTube video of it!

Listen to the song and you will realise why I was so stunned by what you wrote!!!

The song Inky wrote of is linked here.

I Guess Dubstep Never Dies*.

I sat in the drivers seat of my car, sleeping babies in the back, awaiting the boy as he queued inside the supermarket for sundries and watched a couple walking towards the trolley park.

The woman was tall, strong and carrying weight in the legging and velour top combination that exposed her sturdy form as she carried her child close to her in her arms. A man, who I took to be her partner, shorter than the woman, shuffled steps behind her with a limp, bearing some of the burden on a stick. The child was around the same age as my two little ones in the car and was cosy in a snow suit, wrapped up against the chill of the shifting seasons which brought us to this, the first day of October. The man’s movements were less suggestive of injury than illness. The woman looked back at him and paused, smiling, a moment of genuine love and care. The child joined her with a tiny red-lipped grin and the moment was fixed – of happiness and love. None of the three wore clothes of any expense or structure, their shoes were cheap, everything was well worn and put together in the best way they could muster.

I looked at them and wondered what lay ahead for them. The future does not bode well for people with any vulnerability, particularly not in the current system. Meagre offerings for disability are being attacked and questioned in continuous waves in this political climate, relief from poverty even more so. I watch their child with sadness, wondering what sort of a life she will have in this coming world. I wonder for my own children, for my family.

You wouldn’t think, perhaps, that Deadpool 2 has much to say on this line of thought, but there is a part of the dark comedy Marvel action film that has resonated with me in this respect. If you’ve not seen it, it has a character, Cable, a time traveller who has come back from a dystopian future to kill a young boy, Russell, from the film to prevent him murdering Cable’s wife and daughter in his present. He takes with him a blood soaked teddy bear belonging to his daughter as a grim mascot. The journey has used up one of his two charges for time-hopping, the other he plans to use to return to his family once the deed is done.

In a series of events the main character, Deadpool, sacrifices himself to essentially save the soul of Russell and as he dies Cable, seeing his daughter’s bear become cleansed of blood, slides through time again, this time to insert a lead-based arcade token he has taken from Deadpool, into his body suit, to save Deadpool’s life, yet still allowing the sacrifice to be evident enough to reach the heart of Russell.

The point of this isn’t, as Deadpool crows “You did it for me…”, it’s a matter of hope, as Cable reveals his daughter’s name to be in the moment he slips the token. Cable knows Hope will be safe, but he also knows that without this premise, the premise of him being part of something bigger than himself to reshape the history of the future, the future will still be unbearable. Cable chooses to sacrifice the time with his family to try to be part of something more, to create a better world for Hope to survive in.

Hope lives in a world where people are willing to make sacrifices to make it better. That’s the truth of it all isn’t it. Hope lives when good people refuse to give in, where they work together, raising people up and standing in the way, taking the hits. We all like to think that, when the chips are down, we would be the people who would do our bit.

Well the chips are down.

There’s a lot to think about, for what needs to be done next. We all need to be part of something bigger, for my children, for the little girl in the snowsuit, for hope.

* Quote from Josh Brolin, as Cable, Deadpool 2

Message In A Bottle: Looking for a home on the news stands

It is a really frequent occurrence. I’ll find myself standing in the magazine aisle at a supermarket or in a newsagents, desperately looking for something that I can feel speaks to me. I’ve probably spent hours from my life disconnected with the contents of the news stands. Glossy magazines, whilst beautiful, seem to be so light on real, heartfelt content. Gossip magazines hold no appeal. Creativity seems to find itself represented by cross stitch magazines, adult colouring books and home and gardening magazines. There seems to be nothing that reflects my interests of creativity, progress, family, current affairs and culture (I’ll be honest I miss the Marie Claire of the past which fulfilled many of these needs). Generally, if I come away with anything, I come away with a copy of New Scientist and Private Eye, often after a long time standing, puzzled, yearning for a short read home that seems not to exist.

Yesterday I took the twins out for a wander in the car. My partner works from home and often needs a little bit of quiet to go about the work he has to do. So, being on maternity leave and always looking for a new adventure I drove out after the girls had eaten their mid-morning snack.

I’m a believer in the art of Zen navigation (in the style of Dirk Gently – “I rarely end up where I intended to go, but often end up somewhere that I needed to be.”) – today I set out to go to one nearby shopping centre. Instead, via some interesting countryside landmarks and a short stop in a layby to write down some ideas for blogs including this very one, I ended up at Rushden Lakes shopping.

This is a big out of town shopping development and, with its array of high street names, isn’t somewhere I really aim to be. I’d much rather potter around quirky old towns, but that wasn’t where I needed to be it seems. I drove around the perimeter, with an idea in my head to get some lunch with the babies then return home once everyone was fed, and saw the sign for one of the stores – “Magazine World”. Ah – kismet! I had been pondering the lack of viable reading material and lo, the universe doth provide.

I realise this is the fulfilment of a small need but, the buzz of validation in my zen choices, I was in awe. I went through the glass doors with a sense of apprehension and excitement. What I found was truly overwhelming. It was difficult because I didn’t even know where to start. I saw so many things I wanted to read, to touch and consume. I could only spend about ten minutes in the shop because I had two chirping babies ready for food and I wanted to read EVERYTHING. So I grabbed three magazines that caught my eye – the advertisement-free womankind, illustrated short story publication Popshot Quarterly and women’s writing magazine mslexia.

I’m going to have to come back to you on whether or not I’ve found my perfect match. What I do know is now there is a place I can go back to and try to find my light-read home.