Blacklight

“What just happened?” she asked, looking at the lamp.  There was no answer.

“What just happened to the light?” she said, louder.

“Nothing.  What are you talking about?”  She looked at her husband: his head barely visible behind his laptop.

“The light did something.  It went out.  Or something went in front of it.  The room went black for a moment; didn’t you see?”  He looked up at the lamp and then at her.

“It didn’t do anything.  I would have noticed if the room had gone black.  You probably blinked or something.”

“For God’s sake, Ben, I blink all the time.  Do you think I don’t know what blinking is like?  You don’t even notice a blink!”  Frustrated, she threw the newspaper onto the couch beside her and got up.  She went over to the light and poked the bulb.  “Ow!” she breathed.  She shook the base.

“It’s gone a bit black now your fat arse is in the way!” laughed Ben.  She spun around and frowned at him.

“I’m going to bed!”  She strode to the bathroom, slammed the door and sat on the closed lid of the toilet.  She realised her hands were shaking a little.  Fury?  Fear?  Something else?  If the light didn’t do anything, perhaps she had a brain tumour.  Perhaps there was something pressing on the back of her eye, creating vision problems and making her temper short.  No.  Not the temper thing.  That was all Ben!!  No …something had got in the way of the light; he didn’t notice because he was looking at a brightly lit laptop screen.  He wouldn’t have noticed if she’d done a fan dance in front of the lamp.  He never noticed anything she did.

As the water ran into the sink, she watched her reflection blur and fade in the bathroom mirror.  She looked better in the steam.  The water was a little too hot as she stood with her hands pressed flat and her wrists smarting.  They didn’t look like her hands in the water; they looked like a stranger’s hands.

By the time Ben came up to bed, she’d been asleep for an hour, but he turned on the light, walked over to his side of the bed, turned on his lamp and yawned, “Turn that light off for me!”.  She did.  Then she lay on her side with her back to him as he opened a book and began to read.  The flowers on the wallpaper looked like giant moths in the gloom, and the shadow cast by her own body made it seem as though they were struggling to crawl from the earth, to free themselves from a two dimensional chrysalis: but failing!

When she woke, it was as though she had been shaken and for a moment she thought one of the children had come into the room.  Her head was fuzzy and her tongue so dry it clicked as she tried to swallow.  “What’s up?” she heard herself mumble before realising there was nobody there.  Her head felt so much heavier than it should, but even so, the last of their children had left 2 years before and had already been long past the age when you come looking for your mum after a bad dream.  According to the clock, it was 04:11, but it wasn’t reliable.  She felt for her phone and checked the time on that.  04:11. Holding her breath, she listened for anything that might have woken her, knowing that it wouldn’t take much: the sounds of the fridge, the central-heating turning on or off or just being old, a rattling door, nothing at all.  There was nothing to be heard, but she couldn’t get over the feeling that she had been shaken.  She shuddered and her breath came in a burst and shocked her with its loudness.  It took more than an hour for her to get back to sleep and when the alarm rang at 7, she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all.

In work, the hum of the library was a comfort for her twanging nerves.  Her back hurt as she pushed the trolley to the far end, where she would begin the ritual of replacement: checking the other books on the shelves as she went, using a sixth-sense to find out-of-place books, carelessly used by people who didn’t have respect for the knowledge stored here.

It was while she was moving a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ from ‘J’ to ‘P’ that the lights went out at the end of the stack …for a moment.  She felt so vulnerable.  She turned to one end and then to the other, then pushed her back against the shelf, her hands shaking wildly and her chest feeling so tight it could have been encircled by invisible arms.  She forced herself to walk to the end of the stack.  To where she could see other people.  It calmed her a little and she walked to the desk.

“Did you have a problem with the lights over here?”  She tried to keep her voice casual but wasn’t sure if she had managed.  Laura looked at her with a frown.

“Are you alright?  You don’t look well.  Sit down before you fall down!”  She did.  “You’re a funny colour!  Do you want a drink of water?”

“I’m alright.  I didn’t sleep well.  I just wondered if you saw the lights flicker.  They did up by the children’s stacks.  Just for a second.”

“No.  They were alright down here.”

She realised she still had ‘Peter Rabbit’ in her hand but she gave it to Laura.  She didn’t want to go back into the stacks.

As she ate her dinner that night she watched a programme about why the bees are vanishing.  She had the main light on and the lamp as well as the hall light.  She felt uneasy alone here now, and Ben had texted to say he would be going straight to the club after work.  She wished they had a dog.  Or a cat.  Or a budgie.  Something with a heartbeat, however small.  The bee programme was over and somebody was explaining how Stonehenge had been built.  And why, apparently!  She pushed a piece of cold fish across her plate with the point of her knife and realised she’d sat for an hour and had barely eaten a mouthful.  She had tasted none of it.

Scraping the food into the bin, she felt as though she had somehow lost a chunk of time and wondered if she should see a doctor.  Maybe, in the morning, she could make an appointment to put her mind at rest …or not.  That’s what she’d do.  Making the decision helped her to relax a little and she decided a warm bath and an early night might start making up for lack of sleep and stress.

In the bathroom cupboard she found some bubble bath that had been a Christmas present and poured it onto the torrent of hot water, filling the bath.  The smell of strawberries filled the room and for a moment she was 7 again and sitting, surrounded by bubbles and playing with her dolls.  Washing their hair.  Making them swim.  She shook her head and straightened up, withdrawing her hand from the swirling water.  Something was pushing for attention.

“What?”  The stark, sudden question made her jump, even though it was her own voice.

She stepped into the bath; the hot water turning her leg lobster coloured in seconds.  She sat down and leant back into the crackling bubbles, relishing the borderline pain.  She closed her eyes and the dolls came back into her mind; they had been called Jenny and Lulu and she couldn’t remember what had happened to them.  They had been there all the time for years and then …where?  She was 7 again.  In the bath.  Playing.  With the dolls.  And then …then …the light had gone out.  No, not gone out …was blocked.  Mum’s friend, Joe was there.

Back in the present, she pulled her knees into her chest and began to sob.

Advertisements

Ferry

You feel it almost before you see it.

A deep rumble and the swish of heavy water.

Thud!  On rubber, on brick, on city.

The ferry is here!

Dipping and rising in the waiting river.

Swarms of feet tap-tapping on the iron drawbridge to the past and the future.

The ferry is here!

The monks used to row the route but now the engines power the icon.

Ferry, cross the Mersey!

You can look at the wake but you can’t tell where it’s been.

Never the same river twice.

All eyes are on the birds, but the birds can’t see.

The ferry is here!

Together we loop and head to shore.

When the music plays you can tell the tourists from the locals.

The tourists listen.

The locals leave.

My ’10 things’ blog post.

By some coincidence, I have recently stumbled (metaphorically) across several blog posts with a ’10 things’ theme, such as ’10 reasons to stop shouting at ducks’, ’10 ways to get your foot unstuck from railings’ and, my particular favourite, ’10 types of bread that can be used as a rubber’, which, for my American friends, I must explain means ‘eraser’.  Actually, none of those things are posts I have genuinely found, but they illustrate the kind of thing that seems to be becoming more and more common.  And since I, too, am becoming more and more common I decided I would have a go at it myself.  But, what to write?

The bulk of these posts seem to be about things that make you think ‘smug git’ and click on another web-page: self-congratulatory things that are really just an excuse to boast.  ’10 ways to make your skin healthier’ translates as ‘Look at my beautiful skin in this array of artistic black and white photographs; ’10 healthy snacks you can take to work’ is another way of saying ‘I’m slim because I actually make an effort, instead of buying biscuits from the snack-trolley!’ and ’10 tips for better writing’ just means ‘I spent three years studying English Language in university and I’ll be damned if I’m only going to use it for sending angry letters to the council about pot-holes.’  I didn’t say they were all smug: just the bulk of them.  The trouble with this model of the ’10 things’ blog is that I don’t have anything to boast about.

So, here is a list of 10 things I can’t make into a ’10 things’ blog post, as well as why I can’t:

  1. 10 things that are better than chocolate:

I didn’t write this because a list that says ‘More chocolate’ 10 times would probably not hold the attention for very long. 

  1. 10 exercises you can do while you’re at your desk.

I don’t work in an office and haven’t done so for many years, but when I did, the only exercises I did were:

The back-stretch, where you lean as far back in your chair as you can until you can see into the boss’s office to find out whether he can see that you’re not actually working

The ankle rotation, where you rotate your clicky ankle that makes a dull ‘thunk’ as it moves (I’m sorry if you don’t have one because it’s a requirement of this exercise) until the person who sits opposite you becomes amusingly irritated and swears at you.  Points awarded for doing it while they’re on the phone to a client.

  1. 10 creative things you can do with flowers from your garden.

Well, to call what’s behind my house ‘a garden’ is stretching a point to its limit.  There are flowers there, to be fair.  About a million dandelions, for a start, and something tall and scary-looking, although that could just be the washing-prop, covered with bindweed.  With a cat of my own and four next door, I wouldn’t want to start cooking anything I found out there, nor would I particularly want to press any of it between heavy books.

  1. 10 books everybody should read.

I’m not the right person to start helping you pick books, since one of my favourites is ‘Everybody Hide from Wibbly Pig’.  It isn’t that I don’t read adult literature, it’s just that I have a special place in my heart for children’s books and their illustrations, so unless you have a 2 to 10 year-old, you’re probably not going to want to investigate my choices.

  1. 10 apps that you really need on your phone.

I have a good phone.  I know this because I have been told so by somebody who claims to know about these things.  The criteria by which I judge the quality of a phone are:

  • Can you phone people with it?
  • Can you text people with it?
  • Does it have a decent camera?
  • When it’s been bounced off a variety of surfaces (which is how it will spend its life with me), will I still be able to use it for the previous 3 things?

If the answer to all of these things is ‘yes’, then I will be happy.

However, I have downloaded apps. Precisely 5 of them: 2 cryptic crosswords, an app for making notes (which has the ingenious name, ‘Notes’), a timer and Kindle.  My daughter insisted on the timer so I could measure her 15 minutes of stretching that she does each night because being able to put both legs behind your head at the same time is somehow not ‘stretchy’ enough. And although I have Kindle, I have only downloaded 2 books: Dracula and Wuthering Heights.  I already own both of those books and have yet to investigate their e-counterparts.  When I’m forced to sit in my car, waiting for children to come out of school, or drama, or dance class, or catering-college I just do a cryptic crossword.  And if I’m being really honest, I didn’t download all 5 of the apps personally; I got my daughter to do it.

  1. 10 soap characters who should have their own spin-offs.

Several years ago, I gave up watching soaps for Lent and never took it up again.  However, when visiting family who watch them, I have occasionally seen isolated episodes and this has taught me 3 things:

  • If an actor has been in a soap, they will eventually turn up in a different soap just to confuse me.
  • The same things happen again and again, so if you time it right, you can watch one episode then watch another episode 2 years later and it will vaguely make sense.
  • Even on a bad day, characters in a Northern soap are happier than characters in a Southern soap.  I don’t know why this is. 
  1. 10 things you should have in your wardrobe.

If you have read my blog before, you may be acquainted with the dire state of my wardrobe.  I am in no position to be a fashion blogger.  But as somebody who ‘walked on the Goth side’ in her youth, I will say that a wardrobe essential for me is a torch which I can use to distinguish one black garment from another.

  1. 10 cocktails to make for a party.

I had some cocktails the day I left college.  As I had written a very long, analytical piece on the 1916 Easter Rising, I chose a cocktail called an Eamonn De Valera.  I don’t know what was in it, but it was pretty potent and I only know that the rumours of my dancing on tables were greatly exaggerated.  It was a chair.

  1. 10 ways to make money from home.

Funnily enough I have genuinely seen this on more than one occasion although I can’t ever remember reading one all the way through.  I get as far as ‘Sell things on eBay’ and I’m off on the hunt for things to sell.  I drag everything out from the loft, realise that nobody is going to want a bald Christmas tree, the empty boxes from 17 small electrical appliances (saved in case we ever need to send them for repair) or several rolls of loft insulation that I probably should have left in the loft now I come to think of it and then I shove the items into the wardrobe and go and eat some chocolate.

  1. 10 things I can’t write a ‘10 things’ blog about.

I just couldn’t think of any more.

At the end of the pipe.

The room had started to go cold as gusts of chattering wind nudged the curtains into temporary peaks.  Somewhere, a door rattled in the cross-breeze.  Day noises had begun to edge over the horizon with the first rays of light but the buzzing in his ears kept them from registering as anything other than a whisper.  He moved his head a little and his own heartbeat bounded, unwanted, into his peace.  He opened his eyes.

In the half-light, he could see the dressing table strewn with her possessions: brushes, lipstick, curling tongs with the cord trailing onto the floor, tissues in imperfect spheres:  grey roses in the gloom.  And perfume.  So much perfume: tall bottles, tiny bottles, elaborate sculptures with pretentious names and cloying scents.  Everywhere!  Not just on the dressing table, but also … he pictured them … on all the bathroom shelves, on the ledge of the bath itself.  Glass bottles perched precariously on a thin strip, ready to plunge and shatter.  In the way.  All the time!

He remembered the first bottle he had given her.  A third or fourth date gift; he couldn’t remember everything, but he remembered how much she had loved it.

“How did you know?” she had asked.

“How did I know?” he wondered.

Click-click. A light flashing on the ceiling.  Once.   Twice.  An early riser, on his way to work, unlocking his car.  Oblivious!  He closed his eyes again, against the weight of the growing dawn.  He knew it would crush him!  The sheet throbbed; he couldn’t understand how, but he felt it.  He felt it as though it were happening to somebody else, or really far away, like everything!  All that exists at one end of a pipe with him at the other.   Listening, feeling, but only from a distance.  He couldn’t even remember being at the safe end of the pipe anymore and he no longer wanted to be there.

His head hurt.  He couldn’t understand why it would hurt when he had taken so many pills.  In a way, he wanted to lean over the edge of the bed and count the packets, even though he knew there would be five.  Five empty packets and three empty bottles.  The thought of the bottles made his dry tongue tap on the roof of his mouth.   Somehow, wanting to move was no longer enough motivation for his muscles and he knew he would never see those packets or bottles again.  He would never see his favourite book or his car.  He would never see his sister or the people he used to work with.  He would never see the pale green walls of the kitchen, the sink scrubbed clean, gleaming; an island of perfection in a sea of degradation.  The big, family-sized kitchen table his grandfather had made, undulating after two lifetimes of warmth and love and another of tension and despair.  Strong, rough under the fingers but smooth and shiny in patches, marked by constant use.  With his eyes closed and ignoring the buzzing and beating in his head that fought to distract him, he could imagine himself downstairs, sitting at the table with a strong tea and an unwanted view of the garden.

He’d grown up with wonderful gardens.  His own garden was in painful contrast to the ones he remembered from his childhood.  His garden was a tangle of yellow grasses and broken fence posts.   He’d only lived in two houses before this one and they’d both had lush, lovingly tended gardens full of glowing colours, gentle scents that he had always been able to bring to mind, before … well, just before!  He missed those innocent fragrances.  And in those other, better gardens, a multitude of insects.  Some beautiful, some dangerous.   Insects that bit and stung.  Insects that buzzed.  The thought of the buzzing brought him back into the now, where the buzzing seemed louder, or was it just that his heartbeat had grown quieter?  Maybe both.  It seemed as though the sounds were all that was left of his life; although he felt them now, rather than hearing them.  From the other end of the pipe.

The cold poked at him, half-heartedly, and he wanted to say something.  Hold me!  Warm me!  Forgive me!  He tried to stop the words forming in his head.  He didn’t want to hear that voice again but his imagination forced it into his semi-conscious ears.  No fingers could stop that sound: the sounds on the inside get louder if you block out the outside.  “Leave me alone!”  Was that real, or a memory?  Memories are real too.  Some of them are more real than others.  Some have lives of their own.

He knew it was nearly time to die.  Part of him had been dead for so long he could smell it on his words and see it reflected in the eyes of everyone who saw him.  They knew.  And he knew they knew.  He summoned every morsel of strength left in his body to roll onto his back.  The ceiling pulsated and the buzzing became all that existed for a moment.  Or an eternity   He could see her now though, lying there where he had put her, at his side.  On their bed.  Her beautiful hair brushed and curled.  Her lips, meticulously tinted.  Her favourite dress arranged carefully to hide the marks.  But all the perfume was gone now.  Every drop, from every bottle, from every room in the house.  All the perfume in the world wouldn’t stop people from finding her soon.  But when they did …they would find him too.

Where to start?

You know that thing where you have absolutely loads of things to do but you don’t do anything because you just don’t know where to start.  Well, that’s what’s going on with me.  There are house-y things to do: school uniforms to wash, as well as dinner dishes, and the living-room needs sorting before somebody is killed by an avalanche of shoes, schoolbags and empty water bottles.

It could happen; I remember a similar catastrophe a few years back.  I think it happened in my bedroom and involved the 17 pairs of slippers (which I seem to have inexplicably accrued whilst only having 3 pairs of outdoor shoes, and to be honest, one of those is really a pair I ‘borrowed’ from my daughter and ‘forgot’ to give back), a stack of Killer Sudoku magazines and Terry Pratchett’s entire back catalogue.  Although, I might have dreamt it.

I’ve been promising myself I’d sort out my wardrobe for a while now: about 14 years!  I suspect that if I got Time Team in to do the job for me they’d be fascinated by the suppositions they could make as each new stratum is revealed.  It might go like this:

Tony: As you can see, Phil is very carefully dusting away the topsoil so as to preserve the integrity of the finds and …oooh!  I think he’s got something interesting.  He’s looking very excited.

Phil: Come and have a look at this.  Don’t come across many of these …

Tony: What is it?

Phil: It’s a jacket …with shoulder pads.  Made from sponge.  You can tell it’s an early example, because the sponge isn’t even covered by any kind of fabric.  And the jacket has the sleeves rolled up.

Tony: Is that significant?

Phil: Very!  It pre-dates the age of good taste.

Tony: Has anything else turned up?

Phil: Nothing as interesting, but we’ve observed a curious thing.  The garments get smaller and smaller, the further down we go.  LOOK AT THIS. (Holds up red label Levi 501s.)  Can’t be more than a 28”.  Fascinating when you compare it to these nylon tracksuit pants we found near the top layer.

Tony: Yes, the Levis would fit down one leg.

Phil: Exactly!

Tony: I think I’m recognising some mediaeval items there.  There are at least three garments that Baldrick would have worn.

Phil: No, Tony.  That’s her newest stuff!

(Cut to both men, shaking their heads in disbelief.)

So that’s why I haven’t got Time Team to do it, despite them being the experts on excavation.  Also, I’m worried they might find some decaying king or other under my Cream vests and the T-shirt with Garfield on it.

There are other things I should be doing.  I should be mending the fence that had the middle blown out of it last week.  Strong winds, not explosives.  Actually, that would be a really good place to start because next door’s children keep wandering around my ‘garden’ (Inverted commas used because that’s another job on the list) and inviting their friends. I assume they’re playing explorers.  I also assume they’ve left the garden, but I can’t be 100% certain of that because they’re shorter than the grass.

There are other jobs I won’t bore you with.  Did you say ‘Too late?’  Well, anyway, I have a long list.  Or I would have a long list if I had written a list, but I haven’t got around to it.  Maybe THAT’s where I should start.  Better go; I’ve got a list to put off writing!

Toast

Sometimes I find I crave a piece of bread

Yet tempted not am I by pallid slice.

I feel I’d rather make some toast instead

To add some warmth and crunch would be so nice.

 

But what to spread upon this humble feast?

That will enhance, not seek to hide, the taste!

A smear of butter at the very least

To leave it unadorned would be a waste.

 

But if such bread I use as has full grain

I may not wish to mar the sweetest seed!

To add a flavour would bestow no gain

Perhaps this toast would have all I could need!

 

So common sense suggests the thing to do

Is not to make one piece of toast, but two!

 

This is a sonnet about toast for That Poetry Bloke who taught me the meaning of a ‘volta’ then reminded me when I forgot!

A Sonnet for the Journey

Life holds its sway but only in the hour

But after, what will be we cannot know.

For now our thoughts and actions are in flower

Until our time is done and we must go.

 

So, on the road we place our weary feet

And step on step play out the things we must.

Though we may never leave this lonely street

Until we give such matters up to dust.

 

Yet while we still must travel in the light

Our minds are primed to focus on this main.

To dwell not on our future’s arid plight,

Until we own the madness, to stay sane.

 

We judge our life not by the likely cost,

Since by that act its value would be lost.

‘Will write for food’

So, this is the thing.  I’m 47 and I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  When I was very little I wanted to be a number of things that begin with the letter ‘a’: architect, artist, archaeologist, apoet.  Oh alright, the list wasn’t as exclusive as I’d have you believe, but I really did want to be those things.  Apart from a brief period when I was about seven and I wanted to be a nun; the outfit seemed pretty cool, my teacher was a nun and she was lovely and I’d just made my First Holy Communion and the ‘holy’ hadn’t worn off.  Oh, and there was that time I wanted to be a Gorgon and tried to magic myself into one using the contents of every bottle from the bathroom cupboard but merely succeeded into turning my mother into a banshee.  But I didn’t end up being any of those things; not even the Gorgon.

This is my work-life in a list, with some of these things having happened simultaneously and some being ‘on the side’ so to speak:

Trainee mechanic (work scheme*)

V.A.T. clerk (temporary*)

Recording studio lackey

Jewellery maker (painting wooden miniatures which someone else made into necklaces etc.)

Pencil for hire (portraits mostly)

Pen for hire (poems, wedding invitations, seating plans, sundries)

Librarian (temporary*)

Finance clerk (several different places)

Health Education Officer

Freelance writer (Published: 1 short story, 3 articles: No, you shut up!)

Mother (It’s work!!)

Supply teacher

Supply TA

Supply teacher again

 

And that brings us to here.  A few things that were unpaid, I have omitted.  And today, I sent my resignation letter to my supply agency so I suppose I am now back to just ‘mother’ (still work!).  I have assessed my bankable workplace skills, which are few:

Good grammer and speling (just kidding)

I.T. skills (Office packages, mostly.)

Good in a team

Capable of working independently

Hard worker

Can feign people-skills if forced (I might stop writing this on job applications)

You see? Not a lot to work with. 

 

On the other hand, I also have these skills:

Can write poems in many styles, on many topics, to order

Can write lyrics but play guitar really badly

Can write in an academic style so it seems as though I know what I’m talking about

Can draw pictures in pencil, fabric pens or ink

Can paint, but not amazingly

Can decorate cakes as long as I can sit down to do it (I don’t copy – I like to innovate)

Can paint pictures on icing, using food colouring (Not a massive call for paintings that melt in a warm room, to be honest)

Can turn things into a pun to the point where you might want to punch me in the face (Also not a big call for this skill apart from on Twitter)

Can make toy cats out of old socks (Alright, technically that should be ‘Have made a toy cat out of old socks’ – He’s all black and his name is Sockrates)

Can be very creative (Currently working on a special creative project involving old eggshells – I will blog this when it’s done. You’re excited now aren’t you!) in fact, CAN’T STOP being creative!

Can usually save you the bother of going for a dictionary because I am a proper cleverclogs with words

So, what do you make of this?  Is there a paying job in this mess?

I’m trawling through the job websites looking for something clerical but I haven’t any recent experience and I’d love to go back to library work but sometimes I wouldn’t be able to access low shelves unless I simply fell on the floor and I’d probably just drop all the books and get shushed by the other librarians.  I’ve written a book for young children and I’m just starting work on the illustrations but from what I read it’s THE most difficult genre to get published.

So let me pitch you some ideas:

  • If anybody wants to pay me to tweet for them I can guarantee** them 300 followers in just 3 years.  It doesn’t sound like many but I have a very strict quality-control policy.  
  •  Do you know anybody who wants a nice drawing of a hedgehog (no idea why I picked ‘hedgehog’ – psychologists, feel free to analyse) or a bag with their favourite cat drawn on it?
  • Should I stand outside Aldi with a sign saying, ‘Will rhyme for money’? 
  • Should I just go back to square one, empty out the bathroom cupboard and turn myself into a Gorgon? 

All suggestions welcome.

 

*This was the 1980s – thank you, Maggie Thatcher!

** can’t guarantee this but it’s where I’m at now