Friday, 13 June 2014

The Paper

The Paper

That's all I was yesterday. Newspaper lining the recycling box in the vestry. Insignificant. Discarded. Buried beneath an empty tea bag box, a toilet roll core and several ignored claims that you too could be a lucky winner. I was waiting. Waiting for my new beginning, for someone to see my rich potential. My chances were flimsy, I knew that, but hope was bubbling in me.
I could help in so many ways. There are so many possibilities.
I could be stuffed inside a wet welly boot to soak up the fun of puddle jumping days, twisted to kindle the warmth at the heart of your home, torn into shopping lists, made into seedling pots, placed on the floor to soak up the damp patch that always seems to fan out from the umbrella stand.
Make me a new creation of Origami.
With love, patience and glue, paper mâché could give me new life.
Couldn't I be allowed a stay of execution from the recycling plant?
But that was yesterday.
Now you notice me and with a sudden gleam of inspiration there is clarity and vision and purpose in you,like an oxyacetylene burst. The lime scale crust that had dulled your imagination has crumbled away.
I am stripped and torn and placed layer upon layer with thought and care
and as I am formed in your hands I imagine the journey and the destination.
Not only have you given me form but you have made me more than I was, adding hessian plumage and a lacy crown (I love my lacy crown).I can no longer fly up like newspaper, insubstantial as tissue, as activity goes on around me. There is more to me now, I am enriched. And as I gain substance I know you will love me in the same way as the creator of heaven loves such things as the sky has made, because they are born of love.
Finally I am whole, complete. You honour me by carrying me through the transept and up the secret staircase passed the jewel-like window so that I can look out through the clear glass panel and see the earth spread out in patterns below, the spring wild flowers on the ragged moors, the trees all at once pushing down and reaching skyward, the rich soil and the promise of new life all around and I know that I am blessed.
And then you bestow your final gift to me. A sense of such purpose and value.
You tell me that I can be an inspiration to all men because I prove what can be achieved with only simple materials and a little love care and imagination.
So welcome and share the celebration of my birth.

The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan

Jo Stripped White

Jo stripped white

(An extract from my novel 'Unmasked')

Circuitous sounds, noises of the past return. The tentacles of dreams shoved, hoarded in a dark recess, reaching out.

Though I don't regret it.

The moment I 'flipped', the shrinks say, was my superid manipulating my ego. Did I hear right? Over the noise?

Though I don't regret it.

A crystallizing of loss, they say together, nodding and smirking at each other. Chiming. Charming!
They write something on a piece of paper, push it over, black spider on white. I make out only one word 'Others'. I eat the paper.

I remember doing that.

I am standing. The table between us has been tipped over.

Did I do that?

I am standing. They are sitting. I am standing and screaming 'the others, the others? The others are not my fault'.

I am lying on the floor, 'are they?' I whisper.

'Yes' they chime in unison, white coat expressions.
'Your behaviour crystallized in a moment of loss,' says the woman, eyebrows contracting.
'A clear case of displacement leading to dissent,' nods the man's glasses.
'Total loss of any loci of external satisfaction which produced the inevitable fall from grace'
'Inevitable?' The man glances towards her
'Inevitable!' Her pony tail sways in emphasis.
'Inevitable' he echoes, looking down at me.

Did I do that?

I want to curl my finger around a knife, something sharp at least and plunge into the heart of their cruelty but the drugs have deleted that thought before it happens.

Had they?

The table, the chairs are gone. When did that happen? The snowflakes of awareness are melting. The white coats have merged into the white walls.

They did, did they?

I am lying in triumph on the velvet floor. My head in a pool of red. Sticky velvet red. Comforting warm noises reach out from somewhere. A radio off beam. Along the padded wall, near where it meets the door, empty eyes stare back at me from the floor. Black rimmed, one is cracked.

They did.

Wait, don't go, the radio is tuning in...

'Christ, Rourke, we are dead meat'
'Not our fault if the shrinks put themselves in danger Mallory.'
'But she was under our care Rourke, and look what happened, fuck...'
'Shut up, listen Jenkins and his mob will be here at any moment, we need...bugger, too late'

Is it?

'Gentlemen, I think we all know each other, now what mess have you created this time, the officer reporting the incident tells me we have two of our best psychiatrists laid down in the basement with their throats cut. Care to explain how Miss nutcase in there got loose....'

I don't regret it.

Copyright Gabrielle Goldsmith 2014

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


She thought about him now, sitting on the train passing through the increasingly bleak and time-haunted landscape on his journey to the alien North. He was a Southern man, used to oceans and warmer climes. She pictured him smiling, satisfied, anticipating. He loved an adventure. And it was that wild, adventuring heart that she loved in him, the restless pulse that drove her swashbuckling hero on and sometimes took him away from her. She had learned to let him go. There was always more for him to see, questions to get answers to, experiences to be had. He was chasing purpose, running hard from the mundane horror of a life like so many other lives that, in the final analysis, would count for nothing. That was not to be his life. His world was a stage and he was being watched.
“Do you know what you’re like?” She told him once.
He had smiled indulgently, stroking her hair. “What am I like?”
“You’re a high speed train. Every day, you have a different destination - figuratively speaking, obviously. I mean, some days it’s a work day, some a tidy-up day, others a - well, you know. Wherever it is, you’re going there fast. I have to read that destination - it’s always written somewhere - and jump on board. If I don’t read it in time, or if I try to get you to go somewhere else, I miss the train.”
His face fell. “Oh, dear. That makes me sound really selfish.”
“Not selfish. Just needing to get to your destination. To achieve what you need to achieve. It’s my choice whether or not I board the train.”
“I’m glad you do.” He said, gazing at her with fierce, focused tenderness. He pulled her into a close, solid embrace, breathing his warmth into her neck. She sighed.
The first time she saw him, walking across the school playground holding his little girl’s hand on her first day at school, the only thing she had really noticed - with a certain relief - was that he was a man. She was surrounded by school gate mums, permanently set in their cliques from playgroup onward, insecure, gossiping, moaning mums. Their husbands were useless, their kids ran them ragged, the weather was crap and they had to go to bloody Tesco, again. Then followed a conversation about why some of them preferred Morrisons, or even Aldi. Out of sheer loneliness, she sometimes joined in. Not that they ever let her be part of the club; she didn’t have a husband to moan about. She didn’t have anyone.
Then he appeared. His daughter was transferring from another school half way through the term. She was the new girl and her dad was the new boy. The other mums eyed him with amused suspicion as he said a friendly hello, casting glances at his patchwork hippy trousers and then returning to their whispering groups. He seemed undeterred.
And there he was every morning, strolling in, crumpled tee-shirt half untucked, oblivious smile on his face. The other mums continued to ignore him, closing ranks, suspicious of this full-blooded, sanguine personality. So she dredged up courage as a fellow outsider and struck up a
conversation. She couldn’t remember what she said. Probably something dumb. After years of being stuck inside four walls with the ‘Teletubbies’, she didn’t have much to say for herself. She found herself looking into a rounded, gentle, almost bland face, apple cheeks like a happy child, a full smile lifting his tender mouth. Just a nice guy.
But then she looked up and into his eyes. They were a curious sludgy brown - like the colour her daughter made when she mixed all her paints together - but so full of a dancing light, a vibrant intelligence, that she couldn’t draw her gaze away. She glimpsed a different kind of life, like the sun through swaying branches. Even his computer geek glasses twinkled at her. He laughed readily, an endearing chuckle. He didn’t feel the need to discuss the virtues of different supermarkets. And as he walked away, strolling in the sun that seemed to shine especially on him and chatting on his phone, her first thought was: There’s a man without a care in the world.
Her second thought was far more shocking: I think I’m in love with him.
Her first thought was wrong.
Slowly, slowly, as the years slipped past, both their girls growing, she saw just how wrong. He was not the man she thought she had seen, strolling through life without a care in the world. Just as she was not the self-possessed woman she appeared to be, single mother always in control. So, they let each other in, found each other out.
Chatting outside the school gate until long after the other parents had gone home, lead to coffees at his house. Then lunch, days out, evenings out (when babysitters could be found), declarations and the tentative first kiss. The impossible joy of discovering that he loved her as she loved him. By the time their daughters were in their final year at junior school, they were a couple. The other mums looked vaguely disapproving and ignored them both.
For the first time in her life, she discovered what it was to be in a truly symbiotic relationship. She had been used to being the one who did all the giving, but in him she found someone who gave as much back.They flowed into each other’s empty places, borrowed one another’s strength. Each of their naked selves were safe in the other’s adoring gaze.
He let her see that he was a man in constant conflict, pulled one way by that adventurous spirit - the need to be more than what he was - and relentlessly the other way by his many, many doubts. There were days when he collapsed under the weight of his guilt-blighted obligations, dragged into inertia and ultimately back under the duvet by his inner mantra of failure. His I.T work piled up as he lay in bed or zoned out on with a computer game, his client’s messages ignored. His mum’s calls weren’t returned. Then he would open the door to her with a relieved smile.
On these occasions she sat with him as he forced himself back in front of his computer. She massaged his tense shoulders, kissed his neck, made him cups of tea. With the reassurance of her touch, he could face the terror of those obligations. He could make the phone calls, untangle the coding knots, meet the deadlines; begin to see himself again as the brilliant, gifted man he was. She lent him her vision of himself.
And he let her be weak. He gave her permission to stop pretending, to drop the official party line: I’m fine, it’s all good, no worries… Everything she had pushed down for so long, kept tightly packaged and under control, began to seep out. All the disappointments and failures of the years, the angry protest against circumstances she had been powerless to prevent and that had left her here, a single mum on benefits at thirty-one; all the emotions that terrified her, found a safe outlet in his embrace. And he made her feel beautiful again - a woman, not just a mum.
She remembered the interesting, fun, spontaneous person she used to be, lost for so long in the shadows of regret and duty. She realized now, as he drew out this forgotten self, that she had been bored almost to death.
Where she had been flatlining, he restarted her heart. He e.c.t-ed her fatally dulled brain and pulsed his love through her constricted veins. Her vision, narrowed by years of isolating motherhood, sleepless nights, baby-sick and C.Beebies, was forced wide, made panoramic by his adventurous, questioning mind; the many conversational topics of his supple intellect. He talked to her about the nature of dark matter, provoked her to question or defend long-held, unquestioned habits and beliefs and listened attentively to her responses. They discussed God and death, science and politics, love, ethics and their favourite Monty Python sketches. (He was a die-hard ‘Holy Grail’ man, where she held that ‘The Spanish Inquisition’ couldn’t be bettered.) They lustfully explored the depths of one another’s very different minds, never quite getting enough. He spoke to her as an equal, an adult. He made her laugh, as she hadn’t laughed for years.
And when she saw him with his little girl, patiently calming her many anxieties and holding her close when she cried, her heart twisted with painful pride.
“Well done for trying, Sweetie.” He would whisper into her frustration, as she failed again to get to the top bar of the climbing frame. “You’re a brave girl.” Then he would cuddle her until she said:
“Can I try again, Daddy?”
And when she succeeded, laughing with pleasure as she clung on to the top bar, he stood up from the bench and shouted: “Yay! Well done, darling!” And she gazed at her Daddy as if she was in the presence of a god.
She made a mental promise to be more patient with her little girl.
Of course, they had their moments; days when their bad moods coincided, misunderstandings clogged up the air between them and the man/woman divide seemed unbreachable. Those days when they felt the huge distance between Mars and Venus. But every wound they inflicted on one another, they also healed. They talked, until all their words had run out. Then they continued their understanding with touch, the slow worship of kisses, the soporific delight of skin on skin, limbs entwined, drifting together into sleep. Tenderness, like a dreamy opiate, pulsed through their shared bloodstream.
He was her cure for the every day with all its frustrations, its perversity, its disappointments and boredom. And she was his. Companions on the uneven path of what they were pleased to call single parent life.
Not that he was some paragon of shining human perfection. But he was warm and real in his flaws and those aggravating, puzzling habits, the strange ways his mind worked; all the things that made up the whole man she loved. And she knew he had plenty to forgive in her over-sensitivity, her high maintenance moods and insecurities. But, amazed, she saw that something in her constant and adoring company flowed into his damaged self-esteem, reminding him who he really was and how large was the world around him. Sometimes she would be talking to him and realize that he was no longer with her. A dreamy, distant look had come into her eyes as he gazed at what she couldn’t see. He was looking into a future that might not have room for her. As his confidence in her love grew, he went to places in his dreams she couldn’t follow - missing that high speed train - and she knew she had to let him go there. It was the whole man
she loved and she must let him be that whole man.
One who needed her less.
So, when the interview for his ideal job came up in Scarborough, she was ready to be glad for him. Almost. She pictured him again, sitting on the train through the changing landscape. She thought about his restless heart, thrilling to new adventures and allowed herself a smile. After all, he would be coming back. This time.

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison Stickings 12.5.14.