Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Evening Star

'Every evening it was there steadfast...' Celeste read this line, as she had done countless times, gazing at her evening star. It shone intently and seemed to watch her as she gazed through her window. Its glow occasionally winked in a visible form of Morse Code: Everything's okay, I'm here. Every evening it tried to cast this consolatory spell, but tonight Celeste cried bitterly.
She had remembered she had volunteered and now she didn't want to be here. She didn't want to be human. The evening star she had longingly gazed at for so many years was her Home. Woken up to this fact she wanted to go back and be with her Galactic family. The human life tested her. She had struggled to integrate, to mix, to fit in, but when instead she chose not to conform, this decision made life harder, not easier. She'd engaged in an internal war on herself, but now she understood why she wanted out.
What good have I done here?” She lamented. 'Why did you let me remember?”
She sank to her knees and did something she'd never done before, she prayed, not to Our Father, but to Our Fairest Star in the Heavens:
Our Fairest Star in the Heavens, please help me. I, your faithful daughter have tried to perform my duty, but I'm failing. Guide me, show me the way. Namaste.”
She rose slowly to her feet, glanced once more at her evening star, and tugged the curtains across, although she knew she would continue to sit in darkness. Tonight she didn't want to see her own shadow. She wiped the dampness from her cheeks with the edge of a tea towel and sat down on the floor cross-legged, propping her back against the sofa. She rubbed her forehead to release the pent-up tension, 'I'll close my eyes just for a minute.' She thought. As her eyelids flicked down, her life began to flash before her.
Celeste was paralysed, taken aback by this movie reel which played over and over. She saw herself volunteering before the Star Council and the moment she'd walked into this bodily vehicle: another soul had kept it warm until she had agreed to take it over. Her memory of who she really was wiped out, replaced by already-formed human memories. As Celeste, she reviewed the obstacles she had overcome: the personal struggles, the harsh words and the unkind behaviour, and when she too had shown rough demeanour. But she also saw the kindnesses performed for her and how her actions had unwittingly touched others.
With her mind, she found she could rewind, fast forward, press play or pause. She could relive conversations, observe her actions and listen to the words she had spoken or privately thought. She learnt she had mastered the first part of her mission: she had overcome obstacles in the human condition and was ready to 'wake up.'
As the screen went dead, she opened her eyes, unfurled herself from her seated position, and draw back the curtain to peer out. The evening star was still there, steadfast, and now communicated to her telepathically: Celeste, go forward with this new knowledge. Become an inspiration to others. Complete your mission.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Puritan

You're a Puritan.” The girls had teased just as other girls had teased Lise in Rumer Godden's novel.
It was true as just like Lise, she didn't like to use perfume; 'she had never wanted her hair or her skin impregnated, no matter how good the scent was, how expensive.' But Gabrielle went further. Nothing passed her lips or touched her skin which she deemed unnatural. She was puritanical. Governed by her natural preference for abstinence and purity. She wasn't religious, but she still like to finger her Gran's and her Great-Gran's rosary, which she had learnt was actually a chaplet: a single strand of fifty beads with a tiny cross in silver. Five decades told bead by bead, three times over. Five ones sorrowful, five joyous and five glorious. She wondered when she would reach the glorious, but she didn't believe in repentance. Being pure, she had nothing to regret, but she was very good at being disapproving.
She disapproved of almost everything. She didn't impose her beliefs, but her lip slightly curled and her tone became condescending. Her family and friends always knew when she didn't approve, which was often. She followed her own strict code, although in her youth she had dabbled briefly with boys, meat and alcohol, but this she said was essential exploring. “If I hadn't, I wouldn't now know what I didn't like.”
She didn't want to inspire, but wanted to be free to live her life, as she saw fit, as she chose, but she was pushing her already-strict boundaries to extremes. At first it had been abstinence from red meat, then chicken, fish, and alcohol, and then she became uncomfortable in revealing clothes; she just didn't have the bust to fill low-cut tops. Her figure was more ballet, than burlesque, and besides she preferred a more covered silhouette. She'd never been one for pampering, and the make-up she wore was toned down, so that instead of painting a mask, she showed more bare skin. Any cosmetics she used were made from natural ingredients. She was what others would call a 'Plain Jane,' and prim. There was no gadding about; her idea of fun was not that kind of fun.
But these sacrifices only made her want more; she still did not feel pure, so soon she avoided wheat, yeast and dairy, but occasionally broke the rules she set for herself. Eggs, honey and Goat's cheese were okay if she fancied it, but there were other things she was scrupulous about. She must start the day with a mug of hot water and she must have quiet reading time. As it was to Lise, to Gabrielle peace was balm, and indulging in the silence she would often recite Lise's words: 'The days get richer and richer,' ending each recitation with a contented sigh. She had created her own cloistered prison in order to obtain spiritual growth.
Yet, despite her increasing devotion, Gabrielle could find conflict where others would find none. She was a Martha, but wondered at times if she became a Mary, would she love life more? She had nothing to atone for, aside from the harm she caused to herself regularly. The blasphemous curses and sacrifices; the self-denial. She imagined the nuns, the Sisters of Béthanie discussing her, as Lise had known them to: 'Has she a vocation?' 'Only time can tell, she is searching.' She would have been in their beam, the full light upon her. Could these Sisters have saved her? Gabrielle, the Puritan? Hope came from the rosary and Father Père Lataste's words: 'It's not what you were, but what you are now and what you want to be...'

*Inspired by Rumer Godden's Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Victorian Daughter

'Born in the wrong era', she wrote in the leather-bound book that recorded all her visitors. Recording who they were and why they came, and even what they ate.
To whom are you referring?” Asked her Mama who had just walked in and was reading over her shoulder.
That pretty little thing that just left. The one with curls coming loose from beneath her hat.”
And, what do you mean by that? 'Born in the wrong era'? Mama enquired as she settled herself in her usual spot on the sofa.
Just that. She seemed different, as if she was from a time that's not come to pass yet.” She said continuing to log today's other visitors, including her mother's friends who had complained about their state of health.
Henrietta, I wish you would stop doing that! Rebuked her Mama. “I wish I'd never bought you that book or persuaded you to indulge in the classics. It's gone to your head and I've had quite enough!”
Yes Mama.” She replied obediently, but she'd obviously said the wrong thing for when Mama next spoke her voice was raised a couple of octaves.
Do not call me Mama! I'm not your Mama, I'm your Mum! We may live in Shere, but let's not forget, we're living in the 21st century!
But Henrietta still only replied, “Yes Mama, I'll try.”
Mama gave a deep sigh, rose from the sofa and flounced out of the period-style drawing room with her skirts rustling.
Henrietta, now left alone contemplated her future. Her future in this strange world she'd been born in. Aged 15, she'd recently attended her first interview with St. Theresa's Careers Advisor, Mrs Mason, which had resulted in her being sent home. As far as Henrietta was concerned, she had only been truthful.
Hen, what do you want to do?” Mrs Mason had asked her.
I want to train to be a governess and find my Mr Rochester. One day I hope to utter those words, 'Reader, I married him'.” Mrs Mason had thought she was joking, but she spoke so eloquently and passionately, she quickly realised she wasn't. Mrs Mason had questioned her further, and had seemed alarmed when she'd admitted she didn't want a life like her dear Mama's: smelling salts, taking the air or the water. The 'sofa life' as she called it. Mrs Mason was worried, so she'd been sent home with a note from the Head that said:
Henrietta is unwell. She seems to think she's a Victorian daughter, and needs to regain her sense of the past and present. We advise you to keep her home until she is willing to concede to the 21st century.
On reading the note, Mama had been frantic, sobbing and wailing, until she finally took to her bed for three days, saying 'I'm so ill' over and over. Papa had been calmer, thinking it was female hysteria, and said Henrietta could be schooled in the nursery and at times receive visitors in the parlour. He thought playing at home would be the answer, but instead to their horror, Henrietta became more immersed.
She divorced herself from present day life completely, layering herself only in clothes from the era: boned corsets, camisoles, buttoned bodices, crinolines, shawls, mitts, and boots with buttons. She refused to use modern transport, but would walk or ride an old fashioned bicycle to get to and from local places. If she was travelling further afield, she would try to do so by steam locomotive, but as this was usually not possible, her Papa would end up hiring a horse-drawn carriage or a motor car, and she spoke about the Great Exhibition of 1851 as if she had been there. It was an extraordinarily complex age, which was why she loved it: it had modesty and propriety, and was also rich culturally.
Henrietta did concede partially, but to her the modern age would always seem harsh and unnatural.

*Inspired by 'A Suppressed Cry – The Short Life of a Victorian Daughter' by Victoria Glendinning.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Hermits

The Hermits were good people. All their lives they tried to do good; all their lives they loved their friends and neighbours; all their lives they'd shared an unbreakable bond that, now only four remained, grew tighter. These four sisters were affectionately known as 'The Hermits', although they used to be called Hodson-Wareing. Not young, not old, but middle-aged and advancing. Unmarried and childless, they lived in a large house with a roof shaped like a steeple and a secluded walled garden. 'There's no place like the Hermitage' was their motto; a sentence they chanted when they wished to return to it.
The Hermits, as they were collectively known, retained the magic of their childhood. The four sisters upheld family traditions, but along with their new name invented fresh ones. The family gong was still bonged for breakfast, lunch and supper, and the old school bell was rung for elevenses, but more often it was employed to call in the gardening sister. Self-sufficient, they grew nearly everything: flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables, and bestowed baskets of surplus produce on their neighbours. They even kept a small brood of contented rescued hens who were erratic layers. Their lives had always been tranquil, but they yearned to be eccentric, so when their eight siblings left or wed and their parents passed, they established this new order: The Order of the Sisters of The Hermitage.
Their parents had brought them up as Roman Catholics, following the Latin Mass and hailing Mother Mary, but as adults they returned to their irreverent love for St. Francis. They didn't want to be known as 'Poor Clares' or 'Poor Sisters', as they were not poor and their Order was not meant to be religious. This was an Order with feminine wiles and masculine gaiety. As The Hermits, they refrained from using their full Christian names and answered only to their shortened versions: Frank, Bernard, Mil and Mon, and symbolised their vows wearing Franciscan-style cassocks with hoods: machine stitched blankets, sofa throws or sheets tied at the waist with tasselled curtain cords. They would often remark that this garb was more becoming than a nun's habit, and it was, as while they wore the same colour it varied in shade: rich, dark, muted, and pastel. The colour of the cloth changed with the seasons and to this they added their own embellishments. Mon's had a sweetheart neckline, Frank's had embroidered flowers, Mil's was trimmed with a William Morris design, and Bernard wore her hood all the time, rain or shine, as she liked the way it framed her face. The Sisters were vain; one never looked quite the same to the other.
In The Hermitage, no room was set aside as a chapel; there were no morning or evening prayers and pop songs were sung instead of reciting the Rosary. Each meal was blessed with 'Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub. Amen. ' and every other sentence was begun with 'In the name of St. Francis...' Monthly Hermittee Meetings were held, in which they discussed house repairs and rotas for shopping, cooking and cleaning, but when complaints were raised under 'Any Other Business', it was usual for one or two Hermits to storm off. Harmony was always restored with a cup of tea and by their twice yearly robe giving ceremony, where they exchanged the 'Colours of the Cloth'. The Hermits would kneel and a villager disguised as St. Francis would drape them with their cloth and anoint it with Spring Water. The congregation then concluded the service with the words: “These Sisters were called, but were not chosen.”

*Inspired by 'A Suppressed Cry – The Short Life of a Victorian Daughter' by Victoria Glendinning.