Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rose Man

Maud lost her heart to a rose. A single closed pink bud presented to her.
Until then, she known him only as the Rose Man. A quiet and gentle young man who tended her grandmother's garden; a neighbour's son who lived two doors down from her dear nan. His name was Arthur. Arthur Booth. And he had an affinity with roses.
His voice was soft, as soft as light summer rain, but when they quarrelled it became as hard as hailstones. At their last meeting, sharp words were spoken and hers in particular were as prickly as thorns. Their nine month courtship ended abruptly before he left to join the front. Maud begged him to desert, to resist, to be a pacifist; she didn't want him to die for King and country and refused to write to him. Women feared for their men, but most wanted them to be courageous; not Maud. She wanted Arthur, who had passed the medical, to stay and accept the taunts and white feathers.
There were younger men just as scared as him Arthur said. Just boys. Despite his misgivings, he owed it to them to stand up and be counted. To fight and even die alongside them. It didn't change anything between the two of them, but Maud wouldn't have it. If he went, they were finished! She didn't want to pine or live in hope like other sweethearts; she wouldn't search for his name in bulletins or be afraid of a knock at the door.
Those words once said couldn't be taken back, and soon more were thrown and hung in the air like London's smog. He was weak, she was selfish. He would be sure to get killed, she was cruel and callous. Neither of them meant it, but the tension sizzled like a storm that wouldn't break. Maud grew silent and Arthur, after one final glance, walked away with heavy footfalls which echoed up the garden path.
Maud, who had been terrified of further wounding her lost heart found it bled anyway. Too proud to back down, she constantly thought about Arthur and moved into her grandmother's house where she felt his presence lingered in the garden. She befriended his family, talked to his roses and breathed in their heavenly scent. She found the words to reconcile them, the words she wished she had the nerve to write or speak.
Arthur too was stubborn. He wrote letters he didn't send.
When it was confirmed he was missing in action, his belongings were returned and with them was a packet of letters tied with string and marked, 'For Maud.' He'd poured out all his thoughts so that the words read like Tennyson's poetry. Maud's tears dropped onto the fragile papers for while their raised voices had rung in her head, he, without her knowing, had continue to love and had forgiven her.
She knew Arthur was dead for the roses which climbed up the brick wall began to call her. They'd never answered her before, but now they seductively whispered, “Come into the garden, Maud...” So that each day she said farewell to the setting sun and welcomed the rising moon there. Maud's visits were so timed that as she approached a red rose would cry, “She is near, she is near” and a white rose would weep, “She is late.” Their sweet musky perfume entering her blood when each twilight she admired them.
This late renewal of Arthur's love, even in death, revived her withered soul, because through the roses he loved her still and would always be with her.

Maud by Alfred Tennyson

Thursday, 24 July 2014

North Wind

Is it more courageous to flee or fight? Should you just go where the North Wind blows you?
These thoughts had occurred to Esther before, but she was stuck. She couldn't run, she couldn't defend and she had no friend to turn to. In trying to decide what to do with her life she had completely cut herself off. She found she didn't mind the seclusion and thought it would only be for a short time, but this separation from the minutiae of life had been prolonged.
Somewhere the plan, without her consent or knowledge, had been altered; instead of drawing her out, it had drawn her evermore inwards. Esther was baffled; she'd always had the tendency to be withdrawn and sullen, but there had once been a more playful side. Where had joy gone to? Was the other an act and despondency her true nature?
Turning from the outer world had seemed the answer. How many times had she heard people say 'Give everything up and you won't look back. You'll wish you did it sooner.' Did she wish that? She hadn't move forward or back, not one iota.
Esther wasn't the sort to harbour regrets, but she did have a reflective nature. What if I did this or had done that? Should I have fled or tried harder? Why had the winds stayed still when I'd asked them to propel me?
Now lost to herself and to those around her, the winds blew forcefully, but could not stir her. She was too afraid to allow herself to return fully to the outer world and too unwilling to be blown. The impulsive part of her that craved letting go was always overthrown.
The North Wind however pleased her. On particularly windy days she took to walking on the common where she covered her head with a slate coloured shawl and allowed the North Wind to mercilessly pummel her. It tugged the skirts of her dress and whipped the shawl from her; it brushed her bare arms and face until her cheeks were a rosy red. It made her dark eyes shine and seem more alive than dead.
In spring, this great wind twisted leaves from the trees and made petals flutter, and as this confetti swirled Esther imagined the North Wind lifting her. She pictured being wind-blown, the blocked feeling driven from her; swept along on a wind-tide, the land drifting beneath her. The trees swayed and the grasses of the level land rustled, but although Esther's mind was moved, her figure was barely rocked. The gale could not carry her off.
At night, she liked to listen to the murmurs of a rising wind; she didn't mind if it stole in and wished she wasn't untouchable. The curtains billowed, blinds slapped the windows, doors creaked to and fro... Arriving unannounced, this blustery visitor was welcome in her house for she wanted so much to put her fears aside and fly or float. She hoped this bullish air would grab and shake her.
Often, she cried to the North Wind, “Why won't you take me?” Although she knew the answer: she sabotaged herself, she was the obstruction. The North Wind was powerful, but her will was too strong and stubborn. Esther stopped herself from doing what she wanted the most: to give in and let the rushing North Wind take her.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Three Miniature Pigs

Once upon a time, a big bad wolf huffed and puffed three miniature pigs for he was contrite at knocking their houses down with his mighty breath, and so decided instead to save them. A new vegetarian, he hadn't yet thought of a way to control these episodes of violence and anger. A red mist came over him when his blood-thirst got the better of him, but when the haze went away he was always dismayed at the destruction he found around him.
On this occasion, he came to just as he was about to roast these three miniature pigs over an open fire. Ashamed, he quickly doused the flames and untied them from the spit. The heat had made the miniature pigs fall into a stupor, so the wolf huffed and puffed on each one to cool them down. His first breath was unusually weak, so the oldest pig got blown to Yorkshire, his second pelted the middle pig to France, and his third flung the littlest pig to the USA, to the home and museum of Ernest Hemingway.
Clive landed in a muddy puddle on a Yorkshire farm, Colin on the beaches of Normandy and Cyril on the veranda of 907 Whitehead Street in Old Town Key West. Clive and Colin were scooped up by well-meaning humans while Cyril was met with benign indifference from a motley bunch of six-toed cats. Clive was carried like a baby to his new home, Colin trotted like a dog beside his rescuers, and Cyril was blankly looked at by sunbathing cats and cats with sharp claws.
Their grunts and squeals it seemed were not understood by cats or people, and so each of them had to make the best of their new situation. Clive was nursed with bottles and put to sleep in a baby's cot, Colin was offered lodgings in an old crumbling house filled with weaponry and suits of armour, and Cyril was assigned his own dormitory litter tray and cat bed. It was a far cry from what they had been used to.
Clive felt undignified, Colin was jumpy on account of the armoury and Cyril was convinced he had concussion, but new routines soon established themselves. Clive accompanied the farmer's children to school, Colin roamed the French countryside, and Cyril prowled the garden. And for the first time in their lives they were dressed: Paddington Bear's red rain boots were pulled over Clive's trotters, Colin, by pure coincidence, was fastened into Paddington's blue duffel coat, and Cyril paraded the grounds in a tailor-made Aloha shirt and Ray-Bans. Each in their way became a personality: a character known and placed in their new setting.
Being huffed and puffed by a remorseful wolf had been totally unexpected, but this turn of events was surrealistic. Strawberry-blond miniature pigs were often transformed into adorable pets, but fame was a rarity. None of their ancestors had left their homes, even of their own accord; it quite changed their views of traditional living. They each, due to pig intelligence, decided to contribute to their upkeep. Clive rounded up chicks and collected freshly laid eggs, Colin foraged for wild fruits and mushrooms, and Cyril, the most enterprising, conducted garden tours and painted watercolours of the six-toed cats, which were displayed and sold in the museum shop. Their lives, which before had seemed full, were now much richer.
Every night, with wet pink snorts and shiny black marble eyes, they squealed their thanks to the stars that had made them cross paths with that unusual wolf.