Thursday, 30 January 2014

Translated by You

"Dr Keogh...Dr Keogh" the voice at the front desk went up half an octave and, belatedly, caught her attention. What now, thought Charlotte, pushing her hair behind her right ear, an action she had been doing for decades. Especially when stressed. Her hair had took a pummeling when she had sat exams and now it got same the treatment when she marked them. What now, not another missive from the department head, she hoped. Another cloying tale of sickness amongst the staff and would she, could she be ever so kind and deal with another mountain of scripts that needed to be processed by yesterday! This summer virus was playing havoc with the university's ability to cope, with the head's blood pressure and with her free time. It might be recess but there was heaps of marking to do, as well as moderation, course prep, lesson plans and other admin. She should be concentrating on her research or getting away somewhere or at least hiding in the library with a novel.

That was where she was heading as she passed reception, security, call it what you want, in the main building. A pseudo classical bit of architectural froth, all white, turrets and sash windows erected by a philanthropic Anglophile in the nineteenth century. Expensive to maintain but the jewel etc, and it had a lovely octagonal room for the books. Charlotte had taken to escaping her office in one of the newer blocks late mornings , where the phone and the door knocks hardly stopped, and sinking into one of the old leather armchairs in the library.

She spun on her sneakers and smiled at the man waving at her from behind the desk. He was, on the whole, a good man and she did not care for the undergrads derisory takes on his surname. And it wasn't his fault if the Head wanted to drive her like a mule.

'Yes Mr Forknaud, may I help you?' She forced a sweet tone coming up to his station.

'It is my pleasure to help you Dr Keogh, my pleasure today,' he beamed.

'Call me Charlotte please, Mr Forknaud,'. The epithet 'Dr' still rang a little off beat in her head, having recently acquired her doctorate and then this assistant professorship. She still felt very much the new girl.

The janitor cum security cum postman nodded but did not offer the same informality. What he did do was hold out a parcel which had the immediate effect of lightening Charlotte's load. It was as welcome as the sun in spring after a long grey winter at her parents' farm in Alabama.

She was pretty sure what the parcel was as soon as Forknaud waved it at her. Now, in the library, a feeling of excitement spread up from her toes. She recognised the Venetian postcode. Oh great, she thought, I have been discombobulated without these. It had been quite a while since the last. The brown package was thick and sparkled with promise.

Charlotte's first year at the university was closing out. She looked forward to the second and feeling more comfortable. It was as if she had been wearing in a pair of shoes. There had been many 'pinching' moments in the last twelve months and, when they occurred, she returned to the framework, the context of her correspondences with Prof. Baxter. The rhythm of the year was work, coffee, food, wine, sleep, work and more work but the melody was the mesmerising translations of Meredith Baxter and her letters. These were a portal into a world they both loved and, in some way, inhabited. The world of Merytaset and 'The Temple Plot'.

The Temple Plot was Meredith's title for fragments of papyri that purported to tell the story of a high priestess of Amun at the Temple of Thebes during the second century and her discovery of a plot to assassinate the ruling Ptolemaic and female pharaoh, Cleopatra III. The fragments were written in the voice of the priestess. Charlotte, when Meredith's student, had worked on them with her. Intangibly, they always brought her peace. Gave breath, meaning to her existence then. But, time and the need for gainful employment had intervened.

Charlotte eagerly, like a mischievous child, tore at the packet, the papers spilling harmlessly upward and out onto the small knee high table in front of her. Her inability to suppress a whoop of delight brought a rebuking stare from the senior librarian who was passing by. Charlotte plucked Meredith's letter from the manuscripts and hid her flush behind it. She only scanned the contents. It was no more than a note but she would enjoy that later, in the solace of her appartment. It was the captivating image of Merytaset that she needed now.

The novel, an historical called 'Still she wishes for company', lay forgotten in her bag. Charlotte knew that she could do with some company herself, juddering as she was in the Texan heat. Meredith's company in fact but she could endure the heat, the bucket loads of work, as long as she received her communications regularly. She had a child-like trust in her old supervisor's refraction of Merytaset's tale and no long pondered her own translations of the papyri.

Charlotte's eyes ran down the typed prose, each line numbered in the margin so that it could be cross-referenced to the original fragments (photocopies of those were also enclosed). The margins were peppered with Prof Baxter's tight handwriting - notes, comments and questions. Questions? Hmm, thought Charlotte, perhaps she does want my help.

A phrase sprung out at her from the page she was reading. 'Bow down before me false maidens of the winds'. Oh My God, Charlotte half whispered, they made it as far as Babylon, that is a saying of the Goddess Ishtar.

Like a little boy placing his hand on an elephant, her trust bound to the moment, Charlotte thanked her mentor silently and returned to the first page of translation.

"Music splendours the soul, Isis the goddess of bird and fish and human, of all things, whispered in my ear..."

Copyright Gabrielle Goldsmith 2014

Author's note: The above piece owes its origination to an inspiring session on the January 2014 Magical Journey to Kerala, India, a writing retreat organised and ran by Claire Steele. I have used a number of her writers' group sessions, home and abroad, over the last two years to compose different parts of The Temple Plot and these were, suitably given their content, scattered, both physically and in my mind. However, the session in Kerala may well have given me a way to gather them together and give them a focus which will provide some coherence to the story.

The copyright of this post belongs to Gabrielle Goldsmith

Wednesday, 29 January 2014



Mother and child,
My snowdrops and daffodils,
Echo of my past,
Wild at heart, mother and

The monthly cycle of fairies on bicycles it seems ride through my garden. Creating havoc.
Was it born to be wild? Was I? I remember mother and child beside the sea, not the lake, of indecision. Oh Mum, why did you not leave? Why did you not leave and take me with you?

Now I return to the sea, to the sea to drown in the memories of that moment. My eyes are wide open at the blue. The bus stop is still there. The shelter long gone. The shelter where we sat, mother and child, for such a long time. We sat the whole day through, it seemed. A time long enough for salutary lessons. It seems. Now, but then?

Then, long enough for even the babble of this wild child to cease. Long enough for every boat to bring its harvest into port. I watched them one by one find harbour, slip by the walls toward comfort. Far out, the sun began to caress the waves. Long enough for your eyes, Mum, to be full like cups of rainwater. Where was your comfort.

'Mum, Mum,' I whispered, too cowed by your sadness to approach. Too scared by your expression to even offer the hugs we always gave freely.

Finally, you let out a sigh to best a foghorn. Your face turned to me. You wore that smile. You stood up. 'This day Gabby, shorter than the rest but never ending, hey?' I blinked. Not comprehending, not then.

You held out your hand and we walked away. Mother and Child. I look along the promenade. There we go, into the future. But only mine. Only mine.

Copyright Gabrielle Goldsmith 2014.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


The contemporary, flamboyant firecracker percolated like a glittering casserole, a perabola resonating the possibility of a shooting star.

The copyright of this post belongs to Jenni Crowe

I See the Saints Everywhere

I see the saints everywhere. Not just in church, although their stiff effigies are there, of course, worn smooth under the ridged fingertips of their desperate devotees. They are luminous and magical, but no representation of themselves any more. Father has had a grille put around them, to prevent any further damage, and the congregation has rioted and left. There are soldiers on the road searching for them, and even the queen is begging them to come back, fearful that they will set an example across the land. The queen is making a map of herself and there are areas of empty geography that need filling by her missing subjects whose concentration is elsewhere. She feels mundane without them; she has lost her sparkle. She promises that the grille shall be removed and the saints restored to us, but it is too late. Everyone else has gone, and I, poor toad of a child that I am, left behind to guard the chickens, have learned to find my holy of holies in all the unlikely places – in the hens themselves, in the leaping fish, in the trunk of puppies awaiting new masters. It is miraculous to go alone into the silent church, to see how the ivory shadows of the ghosts fox the old mirrors, reflective no more. It is miraculous – but lonely – to wait in this crinkled gap in time for the cave of the day to open up to the crunch of footsteps as an army of new saints comes marching by.

The copyright of this post belongs to Julia Correvon

The Prison

The first day of prison felt beguilingly like freedom, a coming home, but it wasn’t. It was a trap when I became somebody else. Surely and steadily it closed me down. The walls encroached while I stood there in my dress of sacking, blue-green jute, and smiled.
            There were compensations in my prison, which I hadn’t anticipated; they brought me joy. The little faces of the babies looked up at me wide eyed while their fists pummeled my breasts. At first greedy, then playful they would dart on and off laughing up at me.
            The first day of prison was the beginning of something new. Inside it’s walls was an unexpected gift seducing me so that I was unaware of how trapped I was. The first day of prison is an eternal story written down by men and women where they stop seeing and knowing each other.
            The first day of prison is a new start. The walls are of my making. They define me. Who I am, what I want and where I am going. Without the walls nothing will come to fruition. The walls of the prison shift in and out. While I look they disappear into the distance and climb high to the stars. The red brick walls metamorphose into slate with steps jutting from them. I start to climb my prison wall to look over the top. Glancing down my world has shrunk. Below are the babies and their world. Up and up I climb hanging precariously to the slate walls. My grip slips, the slate is wet and grey and blurs in front of my eyes. Panic surges upwards. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, carefully. I am lost between worlds neither in one nor the other. ‘Don’t look down, don’t look back.’
            Looking up I see the top of the wall rise higher, out of reach, but climb doggedly, full of determination.

The copyright of this post belongs to Moira Cormack

Love Grates

They set up a wail as they howled the fate of their birth. Where was Papa? Lugubrious, he held the razor to his white cheeks and decanted whiskey into a tumbler. The children screamed for the loss of him even as they found him. There was a melancholy tinge to his reddish fingers that gripped the glass in rigidity – and perhaps in perpetuity. He had no fear of the children newly crowned and anointed, the fire of his loins but no feast for the senses. Howling internally he raised a glass and rubbed a grater against the skin of his calves with an uprolled tan trouser leg. Skin peeled off and flaked onto the carpet. He mourned the loss of his physical form and sought to obfuscate the damage as he wept blood-red tears of bourbon into the cracked mirror. If this was jealousy, he could live with it. It was better this way. Better to feel that than her new emptiness. Better that than the lady newly disgorged of child.

The copyright of this post belongs to Ben Hargreaves