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.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bear Hug

Di Rivers lives with a grizzly bear who gives her hugs.
Ursula had come to her as a cub, a squirming dark brown furry bundle with a black button nose and blonde jaw. Her father said she'd been left behind in their wooden hut after he disturbed two big intruders. Their chair cushions were dented, their bed sheets rumpled and their bowls of porridge eaten, but in their hurry to flee they'd forgotten their baby who he found fast asleep in a drawer.
From that day on, that abandoned bear went everywhere with Di. She carried her father's made-up story within her for she had the gift of inner sight. A gift which she projected out and which turned Ursula from an imaginary cub into a living, breathing bear. Ursula had shielded her from monsters and nightmares, and had made her less scared when her father shot his rifle in the air. And she was there when Ursula caught her first salmon which her father cooked over a camp fire, although Ursula ate her share raw. As Ursula grew tall and broad, Di found comfort in her all-encompassing hugs for she had no mother to turn to and, aside from the occasional pats on the head, her father was not demonstrative.
To be wrapped up in Ursula's hugs was reassuring; Di released her fears and her body relaxed its usual tension. She loved to try to stretch her arms around Ursula's soft, but solid girth. But there comes an age when girls neglect their imaginary bears and dismiss their hugs.
As a young woman, Di had little time for Ursula. At first, Ursula was confined to their wooden hut, but with each day that she was thought about less she faded until Di found she could no longer call her up at will. Ursula simply vanished as quickly as she had appeared.
For many years, Di barely noticed. Ursula was her childhood; resigned to a chunk of memories she dredged out when she was reminiscent or melancholic. You can't deal with the real world with an imaginary bear at your side adults had told her.
Di went through her precocious adult years, not knowing what, but feeling that something was missing. She quickly tired of jobs, friends and boyfriends and moved around a lot. Employers took her for granted, friends demanded she socialised, and boyfriends cheated. In her 30s, in a space of a few months, she'd had a string of dismal jobs, cut herself off from her friends and jilted three men. And then her distant father died leaving her nothing but their remote wooden hut.
Di sold up; gave everything up, no looking back. She was unsentimental about life's trappings and didn't care one jot for material success. She resigned from her part-time jobs, sold her city apartment and donated her possessions to charity shops, and returned to the only place where she had felt loved and protected: to the mini-world she had created in childhood. Aged from life's monotonous blows, she set about reclaiming the forgotten child within her. First of all, she dyed her greying raven hair the colours of the rainbow, then she brought herself a motorbike with a side car.
Gradually, as Di grew accustomed to her new-old life, her body loosened its rigidity and she felt lighter. She let down her guard and was welcomed into Ursula's waiting arms; received into a comforting and restorative bear hug.
Whole at last. Di was home

Thursday, 3 July 2014


When does a girl turn into a woman?
When she develops hips and buds of breasts? When her periods start? When her interest increases in the opposite or same sex?
Or does it come later? When she commits to one person? With this ring, I leave the girl and become a wife...
Perhaps it's when she falls pregnant for the first time? When she becomes a mother? When that fierce love makes everything pale? Makes everything fade as the child takes centre-stage.
Is womanhood every little girl's destiny or do you attain it by deed?
Do some never make it? Never turn from a downy duckling into an elegant swan?
If you're straight and flat, you're not womanly, you're boyish. If you're single, choosing to remain uncoupled or unmarried, you must be frigid or a lesbian. If you're child-free, then secretly you must be a cold-hearted killer.
Woman = fertile and sexy. She must wear figure hugging clothes, dare to bare, leave nothing to the imagination, wear knee-high leather boots or tottering heels. She must swish her hair or be happy to prance around in her underwear all the time. Have a unconcealed fetish for cosmetics, handbags and shoes. She must be sweet and kind, but in the right situation be unafraid to speak her mind.
And this list is not exhaustive. It's amended, added to with every new generation.
Who is this speaker? A female in her 30s who's still trying to figure out all of the above. A female who hasn't had that inevitable fairy tale ending. A female who if suddenly addressed as 'woman' would automatically look behind her.
The duckling never turned into the swan. The girl not yet a woman. A girl-woman who accepts her female gender, but declines the invite to join her more worldly sisters. A part of her wondering if their invite is spiteful? For regardless of the passing years, she's eternally defined as 'young' and 'girl'. She sees their measuring glances and reads their minds: Plank, probably barren, unwomanly. No competition here as she's so obviously not the conventional type.
Most men look through her, see her as a younger sister or daughter even if she's older. A 30-plus adolescent who appears to them to need a man's protection. Brotherly, fatherly behaviour. But she doesn't care for being undesired is marginally safer. Others try to pin her down, but can't. They assume she leads a wild secret life and that her innocence is just a school girl act – it's not.
A female who's always led a sheltered life does not leap to womanhood. She'll run until she's exhausted or pricks her finger on a spindle. The onset of maturity delayed as time collapses and trauma at that precarious pubescent stage shoots up an invisible wall. Trauma that cuts like a knife and changes how she sees herself and how she thinks others perceive her.
Years go by, she forgives, but she can't forget and the thicket has grown impenetrable. There's nobody closed in with her and the light is too dark to allow anybody in. It's easier to stay behind that invisible wall and avoid the deep and meaningful, although she enjoys peeping over. Spends her solitary life day-dreaming that someday she'll know what it's like to not be a girl-woman.