Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Red Suede

Beatrice had something to give me.

“I think you’ll like it,” she said, tapping fag ash onto the table.

“Mum! Ashtray!” Rafe said, blowing the cinders into his palm.

“Rafe, go fetch the jacket. You know the one. It will look good on her, no?”

Rafe rolled his eyes and mouthed an apology behind his mother’s back.

“Maybe another time Mum, Jin and I have plans.”

“Are you going to that party, at the school?”

“Yes Mum.”

“Well, she can wear the jacket. Why not? George – go fetch the jacket will you? The red suede one? It will be so nice, with your colouring and black hair.”

Rafe’s father sighed and left the room to fetch the jacket.

Red suede? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I thought.

George returned, holding the jacket between his thumb and index finger like it was a dirty rag.

“Ah, here it is!” Beatrice crooned. “This used to be mine when I was younger. It’s a little dusty but…” She began slapping it and clouds of dust rolled off it. She held it up across my chest.

It wasn’t red but a brownish maroon. It reminded me of the squares of pig’s blood my father used to eat with his noodles.

“Try it on!” she croaked.

With my most practiced polite smile, I slipped my arms into the jacket. After tugging it over my shoulders, the sleeves slid halfway up my forearms. I tried pulling the two sides together to zip it up, but it was too small. How the Amazonian Beatrice ever fit into it I can’t imagine.

“Ach! Look at you! It’s perfect! Isn’t it Rafe? Doesn’t she look wonderful?”

Beatrice tapped her Gauloise and ash fell onto her shoe. George left the room coughing violently. Rafe had nothing to say.

(Prompt: Give ~ 300 words)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jump in the river

The river of stones will be flowing again this July.  Take a moment each day to stop, pay attention to the world around you, and write about it.  If you fancy jumping in and posting your stones each day, you can have your blog or website added to the river of stones blogroll.  But more importantly, you might just catch more than you bargained for.

I have been & will be posting my stones here.  Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Flashy things

Incase anyone had noticed, I didn't post one of my Fiction Project flashes this week.  It's basically because I've been rereading them and rather a lot of them are making me cringe.  Some of them are so bad I don't want to share them anymore and a few I'd like to work on some more.  Whatever mediocrity is left will get posted here. 

In other news, Jake is one month away from threenager-dom.  One month!!  How did that happen?

Also, last week was rather eventful.  After two (or was it three) tantrums that measured 11 on the Scale of Insanity, we decided to pull Jake out of nursery.  It was only after I made the decision that I realised just how stressed I'd been about the whole thing - how the dread of taking him there had been gnawing at me for months.  Then things started to fall into place.  How, even on the days he didn't go to nursery, one of the first things Jake would say when he woke up was, "Do I have to go to nursery today?" and the relief when he didn't.  How they always said he was fine there, but not happy.  How the howling and crying and clinging to me on nursery days wasn't really about Jake testing his boundaries.  Even now that we've already told Jake he doesn't have to go to nursery anymore, he still asks with worry in his eyes. 

As soon as we decided, I felt such relief.  And even though part of me was (and still is) worried about how I'd cope having him full-time at home without a break, letting go of how I thought things should be / how I thought they were going to be, brought with it a sense of possibility I hadn't expected.  It was like the future which had felt dreadfully set in stone was wiped clean.  It's given me a push to do more for myself - consider things I'd been anxiously avoiding - like joining a local writer's group and taking the initiative to visit friends who are available to me, even if they do live on the other side of London.  Doesn't seem like much does it, and yet, in my mind, they'd been built up into almost insurmountable difficulties.  Even getting up at 5:30am on a Wednesday to go to my now-rearranged 6:30am counselling session has brought with it new possibilities.  Getting up with the sunrise, walking around in that magical hour when everything, even here, is noticeably quiet and deeply peaceful.  (Though I'm sure I'll feel differently about it in the winter!)

And it occurred to me, that freedom is not what I thought it was.  Having almost limitless choice and great expanses of time isn't necessarily freeing.  At least it hasn't been for me.  I'm beginning to realise that being told you can do anything and have anything is possibly the least helpful thing you can be told.  Right alongside, "I don't mind what you do, as long as you're happy."  I don't know about you, but hearing these things has the effect of almost imperceptible paralysis on my psyche. 

We're human, we're limited in so many ways.  And yes, sometimes we feel limitations where there are none and we restrict ourselves harshly or unnecessarily.  But being told you can have it all?  It's a fallacy.  We can't have it all, no matter who we are.  We need to know our limits, feel them, like feeling the contours and boundaries of our skin, know them, be constantly aware of them, so we can be present, rooted in who we actually are and live our lives as they unfold.  Being grounded - it's more freeing than I expected it to be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Crash" at The Legendary

My flash fiction piece "Crash" has been published at The Legendary

At this moment the links to individual author pages are not working (the editors are swamped with moving and other things), but if you click here, you can read my story.  It does contain some swearing so if you're offended by that sort of thing you can either read on and then be offended anyway or you can pretend you never saw this.

If you like it, spread the word.  If not, feel free to hurl abuse at me - just make sure it's witty and well-crafted abuse or I will fart in your general direction.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

One breath

I've decided to create a separate blog just for my small stones.  It's here.  I've also posted a link to it in the sidebar of this blog. 

Lately I've been struggling with the idea of making space.  Maybe I always have.  Then today I wrote a small stone for Fiona & Kaspa's wedding and out of it came the idea for the separate blog for daily small stones.  At first I thought this would needlessly complicate life.  I mean, why not just continue posting my small stones here, just as I've always done? 

Well, because I’ve been realising that the act of making space is more than just wishing for it.  There is the wish or need for it, and then the intention to create it and then the act of making it, then claiming it and inhabiting it.  And because this act of paying attention, of taking a breath, of connecting to the world, is very much a ritual, a practice, even a prayer, I wanted to make a particular place for it, a sacred space if you like, both virtual and real. 

Two months ago I decided to stop writing small stones.  I can't even remember exactly why.  I was doing too much and it was starting to feel like a chore, something to tick off the daily list of things to be done.  But I've missed it.  And I find I need that connection to the world.  I've been too cut off lately, living too much inside my own head.  It's a dangerous habit.  Always has been.  When I get stressed, I tend to withdraw, lose perspective, give up doing the things that nurture me.  This is one of the ways I hope to break that habit.  I hope you'll join me over there, from time to time. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


,not to another galaxy!”

“Oh really? Is that why you’ve packed this monster freaking BLANKET?”

“It is not a BLANKET. It’s a hypoallergenic, mulberry silk, summer comforter. It hardly weighs a thing.”

“Uh huh. So I’m paying through the nose for us to stay in a four-star hotel so you can bring your own blanket? I know it’s been awhile since we’ve had a vacation but it’s the 21st Century. These days, hotels have their own blankets.”

“Yeah, and do you know how many people will have used those blankets? Gloria used to work in a hotel and she told me that they never wash the blankets. All that dead skin and God knows what else.”

“But it’s going to be 100 zillion degrees. You won’t even need a blanket.”

“Yes I will, because the room will be air-conditioned. And don’t even think about switching it off and leaving the windows open at night. We’ll bake AND be eaten alive by mosquitoes.”

“What’s a zozigo Mommy?”

“Mosquito darling. It’s a flying insect that bites people.”

“Will it bite me Mommy?”

“It bites everyone with sweet blood, so yes, it will probably bite you and me both kiddo. But not Mommy.”

“Ha ha.”

“But I don’t want zigo to bite me…..”

“It won’t bite you darling. We have special medicine to chase the zigos away. And we’ll keep the windows closed so they can’t get in. Okay?”


“Wait a minute, what are these doing here? Where are the boots I told you to pack?”

“Right. With your frigging monster feet your stupid frigging boots take up half the frigging case! We’re going to the Maldives,

(275 words ~ Prompt: galaxy)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to...hold the sea in your palm

The latest prompt is now up at 26n.  Go take a gander! 
(This post will make more sense too...)

(Photo taken at The Turner Centre in Margate)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Tears, ghosts and morning glory

Jake shrieked with abandonment when I left him at nursery today. Asking repeatedly for one more cuddle, one more kiss and then clutching my neck, “I want to go with you Mummy!” As I walk away to catch my bus to the hospital, I see myself throwing his shoes across the room, the ones he decided he didn’t want to wear as soon as I’d fastened them on. I see myself shouting at him, telling him I’m going to be late for my appointment and that the Doctor will shout at me. I hear myself asking him, “Is that what you want?”

I see myself walk away in impatience as he wails, on the pavement now, for me to fix the wheels of his bus or he won’t go to nursery. I see myself thinking I should stop, that it’s mean to let him run after me, crying like that. And yet, I don’t stop, my head mired in fury about how sick I am of having to go through this every week. Then I see him fall, flat on his front, palms slapping the concrete, screams up a decibel or three. I’m a cow, a cow, a total fucking cow. No wonder he cried the way he did, when I said goodbye. And there goes my bus.

I get the next one and it is only on the bus that I realise I cannot just nip to the Museum of Childhood on the way home to pick up a present for Jake. And I marvel at how my brain had been holding onto this twisted logic for days, absolutely disregarding the fact that Whipps Cross hospital is nowhere near Bethnal Green and that the only reason I believed it so easily was because my last dental appointment was at the Royal London. I ponder whether this is due to age or stress. And yet, even knowing, there is still a part of my brain that traces a route from the Royal London to the Museum of Childhood, following it as if I was reading a map of my day, as if my mind had the ability to tear up roads, uproot hospitals, relocate inconveniences.

At Whipps, I just make it for my appointment, only to be told they are running 45 minutes late. So I settle into Michael Cunningham’s A Home at The End of The World. The first few chapters are set in childhood. Unhappy parents unable to overcome their humanity, seen through the eyes of 5 year olds. My old friend guilt rises to the surface and I pick at it like a scab. As I read I decide Michael Cunningham is my new favourite writer, resolve to read everything he’s ever written.

His writing has me in goose bumps, inspiring me as I read, releasing images for stories I want to write, like ghosts that want to be seen. I scour the depths of my bag for a pen. There isn’t one. I close my eyes instead, choose to memorise the contours of one ghost, imprint it onto a flickering screen to look at later.

An hour and 20 minutes later, my name is called. A nurse asks me if I’ve had the scan they sent me for, at the Royal London. I say yes. They ask me when. I can’t remember. I am told to sit down again. Another 10 minutes and I am finally seen by the oral surgery consultant. The impacted wisdom tooth they want to take out is not only awkward in that it has three roots instead of two, but it is also sitting very close to a nerve. Although they will try their best not to nick it, there is a risk that I may lose some sensation to my bottom lip. It’s so complicated the consultant says he wants to do the surgery himself. I take it as a good sign. I’ve heard wisdom teeth extractions can be brutal. Maybe they’ll be more careful this way, more gentle. I’m told that I will need someone to look after me for 24 hours after the procedure and I wonder what would happen if I didn’t have Paul. I’d have no one, I keep saying to myself. I’d have no one. I want to feel angry about this, or at the very least, a little bit sad, but the thought of it suddenly bores me and I don’t have the time.

They tell me I need to have an x-ray done but I have to leave to pick up Jake. The bus I need doesn’t arrive. It’s threatening to rain and of course I’d decided not to bring a coat. I take the next bus that comes which gets me halfway. The rest of the way I walk, stopping at Greggs to buy some food. Just as I’m debating the pro’s and con’s of eating while walking, it rains. I stuff the food in my bag and start London-walking. It’s nearly one o’clock and I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast. All of this makes me angry but all I can do is swear at weather.

Jake runs to me when I arrive, stumbling onto a sleeping child in his eagerness. Zanab tells me that it took him 15 minutes of crying that he wanted his mummy before calming down and then helping her set up the garden and the room upstairs. She tells me how he polished off his lunch, forking each bean on his plate and eating them one by one.  Before she finishes talking, Jake starts waving at her and saying goodbye.  She quickly tells me Jake told her he likes her and it makes her face light up.  After we leave the nursery Jake asks if the Doctor shouted at me. “No darling, I made it on time,” I say, wondering if he’ll remember this, brood on it, write about it someday.

On the walk home, Jake sees a morning glory bloom that’s wound its way through someone’s hedge. He asks me to pick it. “I want it,” he says “it’s beautiful!” Then he sees his shadow holding the flower and he stops. “Oh, look it’s my shadow and the flower shadow!” It’s a photo moment. Just as I press the button, a butterfly lands on the flower. “Ohhhhhh, a butterfly!” Jake says, still smiling as he watches it flutter away.

Jake says, “I can plant this can’t I? I can grow it Mummy.” And I hate having to tell him that he can’t, hate realising that all I’ve done today is disappoint him. I think how wrong it is, having to tell a child he can’t plant a flower he’s just plucked, that it’s a Universal flaw, along with cancer and homelessness.

At home, I devour my egg sandwich while cbeebies entertains him. Then he wants to read. He picks “Uh Oh, Gotta Go ~ Potty Tales from Toddlers” and after I read to him, my potty resistant toddler wants to put on pants and sit on the potty. Later, as we’re tidying, I pick up the bag from Greggs which I thought was empty but contains a lemon cupcake. I show Jake and his grin is as big as mine. I slice the cupcake in half, revealing a gooey yellow centre.

I don't like morality tales that try to teach people a lesson and this isn't a tale or a lesson but sometimes in the midst of a crappy day, something simple and beautiful and perfect happens and everything shifts and for a moment, you forget the past and all you can't undo and the future and all you can't make certain and you see life, just as it is, new and unfolding.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A do-it-yourself guide to getting lost in your own mind

If you have a minute or ten, try having a go at one of these...

Yes, it is a bit of shameless promotion. And why not? treeshadowmoon and I have been posting weekly prompts to 26n for months now and haven't had much response. We're starting to wonder if we're talking to ourselves out here in cyberspace.

So I thought a reminder wouldn't hurt. And a nice dreamy photo to attract your attention.  (It was taken at the Turner Centre in Margate and yes, the little chap in it is Jake.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Everyone wore their masks except me. I pretended I’d forgotten it at home. No one would check my bag, and if they did, I’d pretend I’d forgotten to look there. “Remember to wear the mask Junie, the strength of the costume is in the mask. Otherwise, what are you?”

I was a kid in a sheet. It covered my whole body except my feet, which were shoved into old sneakers. I’d never felt so many people looking at my idiot face.

I knew Elsie would tell on me. I’d seen her face when we were parading through the quadrant. She’d furrowed her brows, mouthed, “Where’s the mask?” I pretended not to understand.

They’d spent hours on it. Elsie’s Dad and my Mom. Hours planning it. Hours making it. Hours. On a stupid skeleton face. I could’ve drawn it in 10 minutes, 20 tops, even to make the holes and tie the elastic. All he’d used was black marker on white card. Hours laughing, drinking ‘lemonade’, eating cookies.

“Mr Connors did such a good job on this Junie, wear it and be proud!”

The morning of the parade, I went to the toilet and ripped the mask into pieces. I would have flushed it, but I was sure the pieces would float. So I stuffed them between the pages of my science book.

Mom would be livid, but I knew what to do. I’d spent hours in front of the mirror, perfecting my sorry face. I’d wear it and be proud. (250 words)


(Prompt: strength from