Old Habits

Saturday October 27th the anniversary of the closing down of Leavesden Imbecile Asylum, the day Diana and Stephen Ryle made the move from their London flat to their new house, and the day a young woman’s body was found in the shed in the bottom of the garden of 45 East Lane, stabbed to death by garden shears.

“You’re not wearing your coat” Diana mimicked a shiver and turned on the cars heating.

Stephen smiled. He loved her caring personality, he believed she had enough care for every and anyone that needed it. Stephen glanced into her eyes, and felt sorry for his wife for being cursed with an aptitude for kindness he had witnessed nowhere before.

The road was clear of the usual weekend traffic, and the journey was as effortless as he had envisioned when he was lying awake and anxious in bed last night. In the early hours of the morning as Diana slept, he watched her, mesmerised by how vulnerable she looked asleep.

“We should be there in twenty minutes Di” reaching the end of the motorway, Stephen stroked her cheek imagining her in the home he had been waiting for since they met. As soon as he could he used his inheritance to put down a deposit for a house. Stephen spent no longer than half an hour in the estate agents before deciding on a new build in the leavesden estate. A fresh red brick, two bedrooms, with a large garden, and easy access to the Country Park and chapel.

As they pulled up to the entrance of the estate a mid morning fog was falling on the houses, restricting their view of the new slate rooftops. Stephen stopped quickly swerving to avoid the man in the middle of the road. The man who was dressed in brown suede trousers and a dirty grey shirt revealed a tobacco stained smile as he limped to the pavement.

“Great way to introduce yourself to the neighbours Ste, by nearly running them over!” Diana chuckled as Stephen turned the engine back on.

“Knowing our luck the poor old sod probably lives next door” she opened her window to wave the man over and introduce herself, but when she looked out he was gone.

“Here we are Di! 45 East Lane” Stephen pulled up on the drive and leant over to kiss his wife

Getting out of the car and looking at the house, Diana’s face froze. Her pupils dilated, and her skin acquired sheen of frost. She had the face of a frightened little girl, her fear was confirmed with a zipping of her coat right up to her chin and the folding or her slender arms. Stephen went in, and she followed. She stopped on the doorstop and glanced back at the street, scanning her eyes across the view searching for the limping old man. Disappointed, once inside she closed her eyes and inhaled the smell of fresh paint and removed her coat.

The house was empty, and undecorated. White walls, and white carpets. The removal van had been the day before and the living room was full of boxes and furniture. Diana sat on the kitchen worktop and ran her hands over the granite surface in a motion similar to disturbing the surface of a pond with your little finger.

“Hello in there! You okay?” Stephen’s voice was uncomfortably loud and he pressed his face against hers.

“Shall we start unpacking?” she jumped up, and out of her momentary trance.

It was late evening before even half of the boxes had been unpacked. They had unpacked the essentials, the bedding, a lamp, the wine glasses, the toiletries, her books, the case of wine her mother gave them as a small moving in gift, and her rocking chair. As dusk gradually calmed the walls of their luminosity they stood and looked out at the garden.

“You look tired, take a break” Diana whispered as she moved his fringe away from his eyes “I’m fine, where’s the rest of those boxes?” he took a sip of wine

“Stephen the boxes can wait until tomorrow, nothing else matters tonight, the bed is made. Relax” she took the glass from his hand and stole a sip.

They stood there watching the sun fall and the autumn darkness exhale its maroon smoke into the air. She looked up at her husband, back to the mess of boxes and furniture, and back at him again and let herself smile genuinely for the first time that day.

“Ste did you see the local down the road as we drove past? Why don’t you go, check It out, have a pint, relax?” She asked finishing his wine.

“I’ll be okay, I could do with a long bath and when you get back we’ll have a nightcap in the garden” she picked up his wallet from the kitchen counter.

“It’s our first night here Di, and you want to get rid of me. It’s my house” he teased as he retrieved his wallet.

“Maybe I’m planning a private housewarming and want it to be a surprise” she leant in and kissed him.

It takes Stephen seven minutes to walk from his house to The Swan, he walks briskly. He walks, with his hands in his pockets, facing the ground. It’s only 7pm but the street feels emptier than London in the early hours of the morning. When he gets to the pub he considers turning back. It isn’t what he’s used to, it’s dimly lit, what Diana would describe as homely and he misses her. He crosses the road, and walks in.

“I’ll have a Brandy please” he leans over the bar and scans the shelves.

Sipping his drink he searches for a place to sit, he decides on a round table with one chair beside the open fire. He falls into the chair and let’s himself deflate. He feels the flames of the fire comfort his cheeks and palms and offers his hands into the fire.

“Careful, one more drink and we’ll have to rush you to hospital with burns” Stephen stood up startled by a man’s voice, wavering and interruptive.

“I know you, I, I think I owe you an apology” Stephen reached for an extra chair and hurriedly places it beside his own

“It was a joke, put your hands as close to the fire as you like what do I care” the man laughed revealing a couple of eroding teeth

“No, I think I nearly hit you with my car earlier? I was with my wife and I couldn’t see you through the fog. I swerved and you ran off”

The man prolonged his grin and sat down beside Stephen, offering his hand to shake. It was unusual for Stephen to experience such humility and carefree a nature in a person, he found it hard to respond initially and simply shook the man’s hand and smiled in return. All Stephen could see was a grotesque smile and dirty clothes and he felt an unusual guilt surface, realising he was one of those people who judges a person’s intentions by their appearance. He picked up his keys from the table and half stood up, it was an easy time to make his excuses and leave, his drink was finished and the silence between them was becoming awkward.

He stood up and went to the bar to order two brandies.

“You’re definitely new, no one orders Brandy in here, rip off!” the man was laughing so hard he spilt half his drink before even taking a sip. “It’s Roy by the way”.

“I’m Stephen, I just moved in down East Lane” Stephen sunk once again into his chair

“East lane, that’s where I used to work before they laid me off. That expensive new housing estate made sure of that. I used to work as a gardener in the asylum, but three years ago the decided to shut the place down and build houses. East lane was the chapel and recreational grounds. Being a gardener wasn’t as carefree as you would think! My god were they strict, they made a fuss about what we had to wear, how many hours we worked, how short we cut the bloody grass” Roy rolled his eyes.

“The asylum? The estate agent said it was a hospital”

“Ha! Is that what they call it? Flaming ignorance. Forty five years I looked after the gardens there, with the help of Eric mind you. Eric is a better worker, but that’s because of his ways. He’ll do anything you tell him, anything. He came to Leavesden as a patient in 1958, he was accused of murdering his young wife. They thought he did it because of his ways, you see he’s particular, likes routine and doesn’t adjust to change. That’s all he was. Eric was no murderer, I’ve been there long enough to know which of em’ where criminals and which were misunderstood.”

“If he was there for murder surely they locked him up?” Stephen struggled to conceal an amused expression

“Sure he sounds suspicious, but they proved him innocent in the end, like I said. About fifteen years after admission, he was cleared of charges. They said the girl killed herself and made it look like he did it. Then he was allowed to work. Stabbed herself she did, who would be able to do that, sick woman” Roy smiled, and offered Stephen a cigarette.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t realise. I hope you don’t mind, but how could you really be sure he didn’t, you know, kill her?”

“Ha! Ha! Because he’s as daft as anything. Let me tell you, whatever them instincts of ours are, they’re rarely wrong. I knew he was innocent the day he turned up all tears and wails he was” Roy exhaled the smoke from his cigarette.

“You’ll see if you meet him, daft as anything. Harmless.” They finished their drinks.

“Oh stay! Stay for another” Roy leaned closer to Stephen, forcing him to wince at the smell of his sour breath.

“I would stay for one more, but Diana’s waiting at home. But it was great to meet you properly. I need to tell Diana your story, she loves all that stuff. Safe journey home Roy” Stephen picked up his keys

“Let’s hope I don’t get run over” Roy laughed uncontrollably. Weeping with laughter, he was stamping his feet on the floor and saliva was seeping through his charred gums.

Stephen made sure he had his wallet and his keys, took the glasses to the bar, and thanked the young boy polishing the taps.

“Poor old guy, comes in here every night and gets himself plastered. Been that way for years Dad said, he calls him a raving lunatic, but I think he’s just bored” the boy dimmed the lights and rang the bell.

“Roy, last orders mate!” he ushered Stephen closer and whispered “we have to make sure he doesn’t leave Eric home alone for too long”.

Diana poured herself more wine, and took the bubble bath and the bottle of Chardonnay in either hand. Switching off the lamp she let out a sigh of relief that lasted the entirety of her journey up the fifteen stairs to the bathroom. Turning on the taps and removing her heavy jeans, she climbed into the bath. She took a long sip of her wine as she poured the bubble bath under the faucet leaning in to inhale the scent of rose and lavender, the scent of her wedding night.

When the doorbell rang she giggled. A little drunk, she took no precaution getting out of the bath. She nearly slipped as she grabbed a hand towel that only covered her torso.

“Forgotten your keys yet again! Oh old habits will definitely be dying for you darling” Assisted by another giggle. Feeling a draft she paused as she reached the hallway, she wrapped the towel tighter around her shoulders.

Then opened the door.

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Hazel: A Ghost Story

Early morning and a crowd of mourners are gathered around a plot of distressed earth. A silent rain is weeping from the sky. There aren’t many of them, three umbrellas shelter their heads comfortably. Only one of them, an elderly woman is crying the rest are looking into the grave with resting expressions. Aching from the weight of the freezing dew the white tulips decorating the headstone hang their heads. The elderly woman emerges from underneath her umbrella, and hands it to the vicar. She is shaking and walking towards the headstone.

“Michael had to go, they were going to lock you away” her voice is quivering.

The umbrellas remain still, a strong roof hiding the heads of the locals gathered here to pay their respects to an old friend. The woman who is now hunched from the weight of her wet clothes has tired from crying, her voice wails like the crows circling above. Head bowed like the limp January grass, she reaches for the headstone. Trailing her chalky anaemic fingers across the inscription she kneels and rests her forehead against the side of the expensive grey slate. Here Lies Hazel Luna Born March 3rd 1935, Died December 31st 1965 Taken Suddenly May her soul Rest In Peace. Minutes pass with her sat in front of it. The wind sways like a metronome, and the woman continues gliding her fingers back and forth as if playing a stringed instrument. The mourners are all close their eyes in appreciation. She sits there, dead still, as if imagining time had frozen.

“Hazel, my dear Hazel, please find peace” a whisper is all she can manage.

The vicar reaches for her hands, helps her to her feet and offers her a handkerchief. Mrs Luna stands slowly then holds onto his coat and sobs violently. Rain progresses into hail and sleet, urging the gravediggers to begin shovelling earth onto the coffin, and finalise the burial of Miss Hazel Luna.

“Forgive me” the woman utters as she is cradled and taken aside by two of the mourners.

It was a January evening when I arrived in St Lawrence Village, a small Hamlet just west of the capital. As I walked through the high street towards the Churchyard the hairs on my cheek stood up although I felt no chill provoking their movement. Had I not been so cold and immobile I would have shuddered upon realising nothing had changed, the Village was still in the winter of 1947. I wanted so badly to see the Butcher still alive and well handing out his warming broth. My journey through the village to the church was uninterrupted. Releasing the latch from the gate and stepping into the churchyard the memories of evenings playing hide and seek, of hours spent in amongst the gravestones trying to guess what each person would have looked like replayed in front of me. I was briskly reminded of the way the church deprived the grounds from any light, its muddy brick exterior meant it was permanently cloudy and damp. The grounds resembled a swamp, and every step was taken with caution. Not long after I walked across it I slipped and fell onto my back, I lay there for a few seconds imagining what it would be like to be dead and buried in here. As I stood up, I looked at the trees. Such gaunt things with no leaves or colour, as dead as the skeletons they were supposed to be sheltering. I couldn’t help but view them as symbols. Perhaps they spell out what it means if you find yourself roaming here too long. It means you too, are dead and rotting, a resident of the earth and no longer a wanderer.

The wind animated every skeletal limb of those awful ugly trees, but I heard no rustling. The silence was ethereal. With every gust that passed a craving in me grew stronger, I had no idea what this craving was for but It whirled and spun faster and faster. Until my stomach felt like a small innocent bird trapped in barbed wire manically flapping its wings trying to break free but only speeding up his death. An overwhelming feeling of anxiety surrounded me, and I feared I might faint. I made my way to the bench beneath the trees, offering a panoramic view of the graveyard and the dimly lit high street illuminated the background replacing the missing stars from this evening’s sky. The crows gathered and opened their beaks, they were screaming and screeching at each other but I heard nothing. Looking up at the sky clotted by sharp black clouds, I took a seat. I waited to feel the icy rain water solder my thighs to the bench, but I felt nothing. Too cold to feel numb. I could feel, taste, smell, hear, and see only my thoughts, and I felt like a migraine.

The churchyard was empty. Desperate for company, I scanned the ground with my eyes hoping to spot a dog walker or someone. Half an hour passed and it was still just me, the crows, and the trees. A darkness was looming over the village, night was setting in but my thoughts never turned to leaving and finding shelter. Instead I wandered further into the graveyard, I wandered until I was amongst the oldest of graves and the Church began fading from view. Wading through headstones I saw names from my childhood. Every other headstone a person I saw last time I was in St Lawrence. This was the longest I had been here without seeing another human being. The privilege of company seemed illegitimate, as though I had returned as a criminal, or as though I wasn’t really here at all. I reached in my pocket for a tissue to catch the tears I expected to warm my cheek any second now, I took hold of my scarf and brought it closer to my neck preparing to comfort my throat when the lump that accompanies the doom of loss blocks your airways. Neither the tears or the lump came, my vision and my airways were clear. More than clear, I felt every molecule of the ice in the air. The anxiety returned and I had an urge to move in some drastic way to confirm myself as living, I wanted to collapse onto my knees and scream. To never stop screaming until someone came. I would scream in mourning of the village where nothing has changed apart from the faces or lack of. I looked up to remind myself I was actually alive, walking, and breathing. The clouds began to rapidly cluster. I felt an intense claustrophobia, and an impending sense of doom like I might die if I didn’t feel something soon. Then the rain came, the fine type that you think won’t affect you much but when you get inside you’re soaked through to the bone. I ran towards the church for shelter. The door was already open, inside a fire was burning, but no one was minding it. I walked straight over to it and leant my face close in to dry off, but I was already dry. Not a drop of rain had landed on my body.

“Am I alone?” I asked, but I couldn’t be sure if any sound surfaced from my lungs.

The church was as silent as the yard. Not even the pelting rain which had quickly progressed into a storm could be heard. Nor the cracking of each flame, or the echoes of my heavy breaths.

I couldn’t return to my mother’s house in this state. I hadn’t seen her in five years, since the summer of 1960. On a beautiful Tuesday morning I gave birth to my Michael. Mother had had the adoption arranged soon after I told her the news of my pregnancy. All the while I carried Michael I knew he wasn’t really mine, I wept night after night. But she had no words of comfort to offer, all she had to say was “actions have consequences Hazel” which she said every day for nine months. I woke the day after his birth to an empty cot, and she woke the day after that to an empty house. Lily from school moved to her parents’ farmhouse the year before, and I knew where it was because I stayed with her at Easter. It took me a few days, but I got there and begged her to let me work for her. I vowed to never see mother again, never set foot in St Lawrence.

Last week the migraines and the pains started, Lily said I might have Polio, that horrendous disease that killed Tommy Cleaves last month, he had migraines and muscle weakness that made him bed ridden. On Friday night his mother sent him to bed with a cup of Horlicks and a cold flannel for his head, when she went to wake the poor thing in the morning he was dead.

“Nonsense!” I told her “I don’t have a disease Lily, I am exhausted from the guilt of leaving mother”

“Go back home Hazel, god knows how long your mother has left on the earth, maybe you need to forgive her and if you can’t do that just forget” Lily stroked my face and told me to have the afternoon off. I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. I needed to go home. I told her I wasn’t to be disturbed, made a cold flannel for my head and buried myself in my bed.

Our reunion will be tomorrow. Yes, I will show up on her doorstep as the Hazel she knew and supported. The only child she and my father adored and nurtured. We’ll talk, my headache will clear and Michael’s memory will be just that, a memory. Not a reason for hatred, or a trigger for pain, but something that happened to me that I will never forget.

All actions have consequences Hazel her face refused to fade with the closing of my eyes, her eyes pierced through my eyelids and into my dreams. Terrified of the darting stare and the repetitive snarlthat grew into an unbearable bark, I curled into the foetal position for protection. Craving peace and ignorance of my senses I was soon guided into an anaesthetised sleep by the white light of the fire.

When I woke I went outside to check the rain had cleared, it hadn’t. There were people huddled around a plot in the distance, I probably knew them everyone knew everyone here, but from back here their faces were hidden by a black and white mosaic of umbrellas and tissues. I walked over, and joined them. I tapped who I recognised as Ian Somers from the watch shop on the shoulder but he didn’t move a muscle. I put my face right up to his and whispered “Ian, is it someone I knew?” and his face remained still and emotionless.

“Ian! I know it’s a funeral but you can talk to me, even just a whisper?” still nothing.

I wandered into the crowd, and saw an elderly woman hunched in front of the headstone. She was blocking the view of the name, and I turned to Rosemary, who lived two doors down from us.

“Rosemary?” she didn’t move, or blink. I felt worse than invisible, I felt completely visible and painfully ignored. My head felt as though it might explode, and I felt like throwing myself into the grave just to get a reaction.

Then the elderly woman stood up and turned around.

“Everyone is a reader… some just haven’t found their favourite book yet”

Everyone is a reader some just haven't found their favorite book yet

I find myself deeply frustrated when I ask someone what their favourite book is or what authors they like to read and they reply something along the lines of “I don’t like reading, it’s not for me” or even worse, “reading bores me”. Before I start, let me just note that my frustration does not come from a pretentious place. In fact quite oppositely it comes from a place of sympathy, for I really do believe that there is the ideal book out there for any and every one. I study English, 90% of my life is centred around books and reading, but there was an experience I had to have, that I believe everyone can have, in order to realise I was in fact a keen reader. This experience is not the first book you read, but the first time you read a book and it shifts you, and places you in this space whereby all you want to do is think and think, you have tons of ideas, passions, opinions etc. and they are simultaneously all consuming and all addictive; it’s kaleidoscopic.

After you find your favourite book you will want to read more and more! It gets you onside, it convinces you that reading is too enriching an experience to deny yourself. When you read you are introduced to places, ideas, emotional spaces, characters and philosophical depths that you may not otherwise get to spend time with and learn about. Of course it is impossible to enjoy every book you read, but when you read a book and you dislike it you can enjoy exploring the reasons why. Why did that character annoy you? And what does that tell you about your own character? Reading encourages you to be self-reflective and to meditate upon questions of selfhood, which are imperative things to do in order to have a healthy relationship with yourself.

(Okay I can’t stop myself, cue a delve into the benefits of reading…) Reading makes you a wittier person. When reading you enter a form of dialogue with the characters yes, but also with the imagery, the lexis, even the syntax. As you analyse and judge the merit of this book you are also perhaps unknowingly becoming a faster thinker. In those moments whereby you disagree with a character, or you notice something that intrigues you about the way they see the world and from your facial expression as you read on, you notice yourself reacting, you’re animated with strong opinions. Even if it doesn’t help you to sharpen your own wit, reading does provide a lovely little opportunity to ‘borrow’ certain witty statements from the characters you come across and slip them into your non-fictional conversations. As well as broadening your vocabulary almost sub-consciously.
Whether you read to study, or read as a hobby, reading is company and to be honest yes we shouldn’t read just for entertainment but sometimes we do and its okay, it’s comforting. Just think about the amount of voices you can access from reading a book. You have the narrator’s time and attention and they have yours. Whether you read poetry, short stories, novels, or even a daily column, you are a reader and even if it takes a really long time, I encourage you to persevere and I can almost promise that you and your favourite book will meet in the kaleidoscopic moment that results from the challenge of establishing your individual reading style.

A few suggestions (of varying genres):
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (I first read this at 17 and had read a lot before it. However, this was definitely that book that had a kaleidoscopic effect of me! First of all I felt compelled to read it all over again straight afterwards! And second of all, it was the first time I had read a book and broke down into tears, the sadness of which lasting for days! …but obviously I’m not suggesting that your favourite book should be judged on the tears you shed.)
Peter Pan, J.M Barrie
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (for those that have a lot of time it is definitely worth it, the characterisation is fascinating)
The Plague, Albert Camus
One Day, David Nicholls
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
Enduring Love, Ian McEwan
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Tender is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Watership Down, Richard Adams
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes
Me Before You, Jo Jo Moyes (for those that want the floods-of-tears moment)
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
The Outsider, Albert Camus
The Child in Time, Ian McEwan
The Forrests, Emily Perkins
The Silver Sword, Ian Serrilier
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Dubliners, James Joyce (fantastic short stories)
The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo (never rule out children’s literature as an adult)

Image Cited From http://www.pintrest.com

Show Don’t Tell (But aren’t we telling a story?)

As an amateur creative writer one phrase I constantly get told to make sure I am ‘mastering’ is the show don’t tell rule. Initially the concept of showing in a story or poem seemed slightly confusing, for I thought it was ironic that I was interested in telling stories yet I am forbidden from ‘telling’. However, after being lectured to about the concept, my mind was radically changed.

Show don’t tell is a genius concept. It was naïve of me to assume I was being told that I wasn’t allowed to tell a story. It’s similar to trying to tell a loved one or a teacher how grateful you are for them and everything they do or have ever done. It’s not going to be translated to the right destination simply telling them, you have to show them. How do you do that? through gesture, tone of voice, emotion, expression etc. You show someone gratitude by doing something slightly unusual, through a characterful gesture. It’s the same case in poetry and prose but just applied in a different context. It’s no use to you or your reader if they are merely given a list of information. You are aiming to persuade, and the only tool you have to craft your rhetoric is language. When you show, you are taking language and using it to incite a visualization, a scene. Make your reader want to engage with your characters, don’t tell them everything they need to know about them so they no longer have a reason to investigate them.

For example:

Telling: “He loved her so much he couldn’t fathom her leaving for work”
Showing: “It was disabling. Before his day even began it was over. Before his brain awoke and engaged, it was dreaming. Her 7:45am departure was the knowledge that a punch in the face was coming, but oblivion of which side it would land upon and at what force”

My 5 Top Tips
1. When using dialogue consider using punctuation to actively make the reader FEEL
2. Use strong verbs and/or phrasal verbs
3. Strategize where you will situate specific details, what needs to be shown at what points?
4. Ask yourself whether you are using your dialogue to merely report and not propel?
5. Use your omniscience wisely, give your reader information in small doses…

Dots Like Seurat

As a child Louise loved that little moment between after dinner and bedtime. She would spend it at her bay window because she loved to watch the tide coming right up to the wall, she imagined it as a dirty towel rough drying the sweat off of the beaches blonde brows. An artist’s child, her mind encouraged her to think of the waves as a life, perhaps as a man, a very punctual Pied Piper.
Mummy said that I can play at Prawle Point on Sundays. I have to wave at her when she is cooking dinner, and wear shoes in the sea. I have to hurry back just in time to wash before she is ready to serve. If I go off out of sight she will make me play in the garden on Sundays. (She will have to make me). Mummy repeated these conditions a lot, in fact she always used the same words when she spoke, and the same tired brush when she painted. “Louise poppet the garden is lovely, oh go! Just be safe, one strong wave could knock you down”. I hate that my mum is so scared of her surroundings sometimes. I mean, she did choose to live at the seaside.
I decided that if I was a grown up I would choose Prawle Point Bay to build my house on, because I would get bored of painting nice still life gardens like Mummy and Daddy. Mrs. Jasper said that ‘nice’ is the most insulting word in the Art world. I drew Daddy a sketch of what my beach house will look like. He said I was dotty for wanting to paint it like the ocean; loads of really tiny indigo ink specks a bit like Seurat. Daddy said that because the ocean is always cruel and selfish Mother Nature will never let him have his own color, he only has blue skin because he sky bathes all day. He said the ocean is “a thief and a bully like that boy Tom at school disobedient, deceitful, and always in detention a bloody bad influence”. I think Tom is just fed up of having no friends.
Daddy said that if I built a house on the beach that within four hours of moving in the ocean will shout at me over and over, basically throw a tantrum. In a selfish rage he will kick and shove me, and all on purpose. He will clench his salt sweating fists and drag me and my little house away and down.
I never agree with Daddy. All the while he was speaking, As an Artist, I was painting in my mind a dancing and breathing Surrealist scene, the Ocean my background. The foreground a petite house with gorgeous kelp hair tied in a bun on the top of her roof, like mine for Ballet. The house had no neighbor’s, but that didn’t matter because it had a flow of driftwood visitors like Mummy’s coffee mornings. Always an ocean full of company but not one friend, not one person to echo with. Mummy’s watercolor Ballerina’s: the same color as sour milk, ill, silent shy.
“Louise! Pay attention when I’m talking to you, are you this vacant at Ballet?” Daddy insisted that the ocean was like the strangers I mustn’t talk to, and that I would be really scared if I got abducted like the sandcastles at 5pm. The Pied Piper is a real life painting perhaps. I would like to be one too. Daddy hummed like I do in class when I know the answer but I’m scared in case the other kids mock me. I often wait a minute and so did he. I’m brave and eventually explain my answer, he just said “We’re not building such a house poppet”. Suddenly I got hay fever again. I put on my jelly shoes, and took my sketch book to the beach because I know she doesn’t like people seeing her cry.
When I got there I ripped out a page and wiped my tears. Then I thought I saw the tide bullying and shoving like Daddy said. I clenched the soggy page tight to let the tears drip dry. Feet soldered to the sand I turned and looked up the hilltop, I could see Daddy painting in the garden. When I turned back around I saw a huge Grandfather clock wedged between the foliage and rocks. He looked like he’d been beaten up. Covered, in moldy bite marks. I think he came from a shipwreck, brought here by the Pied Piper. Mummy and Daddy out of sight, I decided to draw again whilst it was safe. Brown Beauty, he once lived on a cruise ship, he had an argument about constantly feeling pressured to adhere to schedules. For the eyes red, like giving answers in mental math. For the toes, blue, like performing the wrong steps in Ballet. He jumped ship, just threw himself from the lido, no wave, no speech. When he came to Prawle Point Saturday the Pied Piper wasn’t a Daddy, he didn’t warn him about sleeping on strange tides. He just lay, sulking, in the foliage. I was going to ask him if he was alright but I mustn’t talk to strangers, besides I really wanted to tease the tide. Tickle the balls of his feet whilst he was sky bathing backwards and his big sweaty hands were hours out of my reach.
“Louise Poppet dinner’s ready” Mummy’s voice woke the tide. “Quickly please! I don’t fancy my little girl getting swept to sea on a school night”. I put my shoes back on, grabbed my sketch book, and waved Grandfather clock goodbye leaving behind my two sketches (for distraction, comfort) in case he got abducted again.
At bedtime I told Daddy I don’t want my house on the beach anymore because although the ocean isn’t a bully he has a really aggressive friend called Pied Piper, and they’re inseparable. After Daddy kissed my forehead and said that my imagination is ‘adorable’ I did what I always do before sleep, I sat in my bay window. Tonight hoping for a sighting of this ‘Pied Piper’. Five minutes passed, then giant indigo freckled hands starting grooming the sands forehead. To the left I saw the shipwrecked Grandfather clock standing up, no longer bruised. He was a lead dancer, in harmony with the tide. In his partner I saw the Pied Piper; the tides identical twin. Daddy was wrong. The Ocean really isn’t a bully, his family just dance and paint differently to him. Freestyle, Pointillism, Salsa – the hyperactivity Daddy despises.
Daddy and Mummy only like Ballet. They only wear plain t-shirts and hate my polka dot shirts and tie dye skirts. They really hate the circled wallpaper I chose for my room, and disapprove of anything I paint that resembles dots like Seurat. When I dance they only watch if I ‘Dance to the Reed Pipes’. Every dinner time they like set menus. Their ‘adorable’ little girl only gets her chair pulled out when she has showered the sea salt from her hair, and gracefully prances down the stairs, well dressed and well versed in tomorrows’ precision.
As an adult Louise found herself often alone, and sitting in noise. In her small house on the Bay of Biscay she paints for an hour, then puts her paint brushes to sleep. For like any relationship, time apart is crucial to make contact craved. An Artist, inside a thick frame much like that of a large bay window, her mind imitates a jarred camera lens manically snapping the same photograph. Every second tormented with a still life of her childhood home.
Today her brushes didn’t get enough sleep, they collapsed on the job, creating a large smudge in the middle of her work. Putting on her large tie dye kimono, barefoot she ran down to the beach, no, cried, wailed down there. At Biscay wind was abusive and perfection was impossible, barefoot preferable, and timetables utterly insignificant. At this beach any dancer could dance and any painter could paint, for the Ocean and his Pied Piper protected the brave.
Tonight a Sunday night storm angers the tide. Louise and ‘Poppet’ scream in synchronised song as the sand thrusts needles into their open wounds, their ten year old battered Ballet feet. Memory in memory they decide they enjoy the pain, that it’s almost comical. Their feet are like mini canvases with pointillist tattoos that Mother and Father would despise if they were alive.
Louise sits at her bay window every night in that space between after dinner and bedtime. No longer looking for the tied as he walks up the shore, but listening to his songs. She lets her mind reel through childhood memories, a bit like a weird, messed up bedtime story. Hanging out of her window she lets the Pied Piper’s bad breath slash her face with tiny tears, little saltwater dots that stain. That make her cheek his canvas and Louise a real life painting.

My Chamber

I find darkness is so caring I permit his distraction.

I would rather stare into its ocean of cold nothing than take the risk of harbouring a dream.
Therefore, I have to endure a feud between exhaustion and curiosity for 10 hours and 30 languid minutes.
Until daylight rescues me, and unlocks the prison that is my chamber.
After the first ten minutes curiosity begins infecting slowly. It begins to enter from beneath the floorboards, its smoke rises…
Suddenly I am desperately curious about the anaemic light that penetrates through my thin glass windows. Once inside, it disperses and hovers above every reflective surface in sight.
Then, I find myself standing in front of a small square shaped mirror, only able to see the left side of my face. I cannot find the right, I cannot complete the reflection; curiosity thrives.
The reflection is the first time I have not seen both sides of my face at the same time, and I am scared. I am unconscious in an operating theatre; I am the patient of darkness.
As I turn around, something has assembled a 20ft steel wall around my bed.
At this point the intrigue fades and panic quickly takes its place. How do I fight darkness and curiosity? They are invisible! I am human! Every time I try they distract me with yet another one of their spells, another shining hypnosis.
This sleepless night can only be defeated by the floodlight of dawn; curiosity’s lullaby can only be silenced by the song of the very first blackbird.
I have no choice but to stand still. As I remain transfixed to the claustrophobic square mirror, I am introduced to my saviour! Sunlight releases its sword, demonstrates its sheer authority and grants me gradual access to my whole face. As it over shadows darkness the wall melts, as if it were ice, not steel. Curiosity has to disappear with its partner in crime.
The floor is no longer wooden; it is petite diamonds of silver ice! I waltz upon it, imagining the surface of the moon.
When 10 hours and 29 minutes arrives and the last minute ends, sleep becomes safe and my eyes quickly, but peacefully close with content.