An occasional series of flash, or sudden, or short-short fictions

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Nellie and Jim

There he goes, with another armful of my things, clothes and photographs, walking to the bonfire. I am in the doorway, watching. He lets the things fall in a heap on the fire, but it's blazing so high that it doesn't dampen down. He picks up a hammer and swings at the arm of the leather settee he dragged out of the house this morning. I remember buying that settee with him.

He raises his arm again and again, lets it fall. Dull and hollow it sounds, marks like wet on the skin. The arm breaks and he kicks it flat, then hurls it on to the flames. The leather crackles, sighs, catches. He attacks the other arm. Maroon jumper with the hole at the elbow, up and fall. Neighbours watch, but say nothing. What can they say? Poor man.

I did not know he would act this way. You find out a lot about someone when they suffer, I suppose. What will he do? What will the boys do? He walks back towards the door. Tears. He does not see. He will not see. He refuses. The clothes, the furniture, the photographs - he refuses everything. Even himself. Oh, Jim, my love. What will you do?

The boys, I miss them too. London is no place for them. Now he brings my shoes, one by one, dropped like coins into a wishing well. I wish, Jim. I wish as you wish.

I can watch no more. I must go. I am in the doorway, and walk through. Goodbye, Jim. Kiss the boys for me. Goodbye, love. Goodbye.

Monday, 22 October 2012

English, Welsh

Ghosting the metalled road
that climbs the valley side,
a wall is divided by a
perpendicular fence. On
one side, the bricks are
cemented; on the other,
dry stones are laid with
deliberation. At the posts,
the dry wall is scooped
by careless feet climbing
or hopping into woods beyond,
to walk the dog, perhaps.
Not far from here, R.S.
Thomas, the bitter bone
of language between his
teeth & tongue, was pastor
of the church at Chirk;
the Marcher land, between
and both English and
Welsh, a border scooping
west at Gobowen. The
hills take mist like brothers,
the farmers Thomas wrote
in English, Welsh an alien-
ated tongue, to him.
Raw-boned, in greatcoat,
rough stone face, abroad
in cold fields and white ring,
he brings to mind my grand-
father. Both upright on
bare earth, perpendicular,
loving language that was not
their own, seeking something,
what? from a Word that
could not answer.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Katie and John

The floor was swept. In the other room she could hear the children sleeping, in a single bed piled with coats. The last of the coal she had banked down and now sat, in the one cushioned chair, by the grate. The light from the embers and one guttering candle gave enough to see, and to sew by.

As the handle of the door turned, she looked up, but did not stir from her seat. She had heard, and recognised, the step in the hallway. As the door opened, she placed a finger to her lips.

‘If you must come in, be quiet,’ she whispered.

Her husband crossed the threshold and closed the door carefully behind him. In grubby working clothes he stood, then after a moment, swept his cap from his head. His thin, sandy hair fell into his eyes and he brushed it back with his fingers, waiting, anxious. Pursing her lips, Katie signalled for him to bring the wooden chair from the table and place it nearer the fire.

‘Quietly,’ she said.

Her husband nearly collapsed into the chair. His dirty moleskin jacket fell open as he sat, and Katie could see the billows of his shirt falling from his thin body.

‘How’re you keeping, Katie?’ he asked.

‘Not so bad.’

‘Still at the needle, I see?’

She glanced up from her sewing. ‘It keeps us.’ She concentrated on the frogging that had to be mended, by morning. Her husband waited, licking his lips.

‘Have you taken?’ she asked. ‘There’s nothing for you here.’

‘No, no, Katie,’ he said. ‘I had a one or two at the Railwayman’s, is all. No need to fret.’ He shifted in the chair, wincing as it creaked under his slight frame. ‘You need a wet after a day at the boilers.’

‘I remember, John,’ she said. ‘I remember.’

They sat awhile in the candlelight, which cast deep shadows in the hollows of John’s cheeks and eyes. Katie concentrated on the frogging, but glanced up to see him nodding in the tepid glow of the embers. After a few minutes, he asked, ‘How’re the kiddies? George and the others?’

‘You remember their names aright, do you, John?’ she said.

‘Katie, you’ve no need to be cruel, love. Course I do. Only little Georgie, he...’

‘He’s well enough,’ she said, softening a little. ‘I see to his schooling. His slate’s on the table there. Getting on with his letters.’

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ he said. ‘My little man.’

‘He’s stout enough,’ she said. ‘He’ll do.’

The candle guttered in the draft from the window, which hadn’t shut quite fully since the new year.

‘You’re looking thin, John,’ she said. ‘That lodging damp?’

‘I’ve had a touch of the rue,’ he said. ‘That Coggins sticks his knee in me back every night so I can hardly get a wink.’

‘You take care of yourself, John Sewell,’ she said. ‘The little ‘uns do love to see their father.’

He smiled, his teeth dark and ragged. ‘That’s right, Katie, that’s right. We got plenty to show for the love we had, sure enough.’ He turned and listened to the breathing in the other room. ‘Lucky devils. Bless ‘em.’

‘The getting and the keeping are two different things, as well you know, John,’ she said, pushing the needle through the fabric and jolting her finger.

‘Now, Katie, now, let’s not quarrel. I didn’t come here for that.’

‘And what did you come here for, John Sewell?’

The question was cast to the neat, swept floor, and John stared at the embers as the candlelight moved shadows across Katie’s scuffed boots and blue skirt.

‘Now, Katie,’ he said, and his head began to nod. His eyes closed, and one hand slipped to dangle at his side, his cap falling to the floor.

Kate clucked in her throat, and got up from her chair. Putting her sewing aside, she took her shawl from the table and draped it over her husband’s legs, then placed the loose arm back in his lap. She tossed the cap gently onto the table.

From the pile of sewing she retrieved the smallest greatcoat and slipped it on, poking her arms out of the sleeves. Poor sod, she thought, to be in the Army when no bigger than I am. But still. Sleeping in someone else’s coat. Again. She shook her head.

She sat down in her chair, took up her needle, and set to work. The candle had a good two hours yet. It mustn’t go to waste.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Magnolia Tree

In a break from normal programming, a poem for National Poetry Day.

The Magnolia Tree

I never dream real spaces; or,
rather, I do, but only one,
a house with a magnolia tree.
Often, the house is empty;
or, I still own a key, and (by
mistake) go in, before it
                  One Spring day, on
the road home, I took a path
less travelled by (me), and I
braved the A13; fumes,
road dust, noise. As I walked, I
saw a cat, dead, lying across a
drain. A moment’s grief, I then
walked on a step; stopped;
again, I looked; and stumbled
home for something to fetch
him in. I could not bear to
touch him, this not-cat, doll,
imposter. I scooped him up,
and put him in the ground by
the magnolia tree.
                                The garden
stepped down, in terraced lawns.
Our old dog, his hot blood up, would
chase the neighbour’s cats, and
hurdle flower-beds in his rage; after,
in his dotage, he would, with some
regret, creak slowly back. The
magnolia tree stood at the end, in
a brick-lined round, where nothing
grew. In late Spring, it put forth
pure delight; more wondrous still,
flowers shed, it seemed to strew
dead earth with marble cups.