The girl.

The first time I remember seeing her, I was probably about four or five.  I was playing in the hallway, tracing the Greek key patterns of the carpet with my toes; I was so engrossed in this game that I didn’t even notice her until she was halfway up the stairs.  I thought she was my little sister.  She was small and her blonde hair was straight and long, just like my sister’s.  Much as I had been enjoying my obsessive pattern tracing, I liked the idea of playing with somebody else, so I followed her. 

She walked into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister and an older one; we weren’t rich and as we were still relatively small, two of us shared a bed, sleeping top to toe in surprising harmony.  I wasn’t far behind the girl so I entered the room a few seconds after she did.  She was gone.  Of course, thinking she was my little sister, I presumed she was hiding and began to search, calling her name in case she would do me a favour and come out.  My sister was great at hiding because she was really small; not just ‘young small’, she was ‘small small’.  With very little between us in age, I towered over her and she could fit into places I wouldn’t even attempt to get into.  One time, she hid behind a sewing machine and it took me ten minutes to find her – that’s how good she was … and how little.

But she wasn’t hiding, because two or three minutes into my exhaustive search, she came up the stairs and asked ‘What?’  She had heard me saying her name and come to find out what I wanted.  I told everybody about the girl: what she looked like, where I had seen her, how she had just vanished.  Mostly that!  How she’d just vanished. 

I watched out for her for ages and didn’t see her, but my bedroom didn’t feel like a good place to be in anymore and I couldn’t get to sleep if I faced the wall.  I would read for hours using the light from the landing to avoid the darkness of closed eyes.  My reading improved in leaps and bounds; my ability to sleep soundly was destroyed permanently.

Yet there had been nothing sinister about the little girl, other than the mysterious vanishing act.  If I hadn’t followed her, I probably would always have assumed she was my sister and just forgotten seeing her go up the stairs.  As it is, I know I’ll never forget her.

Years later, perhaps when I was 10 or 11, I was sleeping in a different room, with two different sisters.  One night we heard the unmistakeable sound of a ball bouncing against the wall.  It was the adjoining wall to our new neighbours, who had a young boy and girl.  They were younger than me by a little and didn’t play out.  Certainly not with us, at any rate.  The noise kept us awake for ages and sounded really loud, with the hollow of the chimney breast magnifying every bounce and we grumbled about the terrible mother who couldn’t get her children to go to bed and sleep when they were of no age at all.  We had no room to talk, since we were more likely to read or secretly listen to a tiny portable radio that one of my big sisters had smuggled into the bedroom than we were to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  Still!  At least we weren’t actually out of bed playing ball.

The bouncing went on for days and seemed louder than ever.  Our parents heard it and also grumbled about the new kids next door, right up until the day they were leaving the house for work at the same time as the woman next door had come out to do the school run.  She asked my mum if she could have a word with us, because the ball games were keeping her awake.  The bouncing sound was actually coming from our room.  To bounce a ball against that wall, someone would have to be standing at the end of the bed, just next to where my head would be.

The bouncing didn’t stop, but it didn’t happen all the time and sometimes it came from different places in the house but always upstairs. 

Still, I didn’t see the girl again until one night when I was about 15.  Only me and my little sister were in the house.  She was watching the telly and I was in another room, drawing.  The door to the hallway was open and something made me look up, just in time to see the girl walk past, as though she were heading for the stairs or for the room where my sister was laughing at some comedy programme.  She still looked like my sister, but she had aged.  I didn’t know what to do.  I actually felt too scared to look where she had gone; I couldn’t even get out of my seat.  She was just a girl, who’d never so much as looked at me or said a word.  Maybe she’d kept me awake with her ball games, maybe not.  Eventually I got up the courage to look out of the room and was very relieved to see nobody.  I went and spent the rest of the evening in the same room as my sister, leaving every light lit up and casting little glances to the hall every couple of minutes.

I saw her one more time.  I was an adult, with three children and fast asleep in my bed.  The insomnia she had caused had continued to plague me, but I’d had a busy day, visiting my sick brother amongst other things, and had fallen into bed, exhausted.  A single word woke me up.  Just my name in a voice that sounded like family, but I knew I’d never heard it before.  I knew it was her even before I saw her.  Still blonde, still looking as though she could be my sister, but grown up.  She didn’t say another word, but I knew that she had come to bring me bad news about my brother and she had.  The news came by phone in the morning, but it was just confirmation.  I don’t know how she told me, but she did.

I think I’ll see her again.  I don’t know when or where and I don’t look out for her, but I know it will happen.  One day … and I wonder if she’ll still be blonde or will she be grey, like I am, like my sister is.  I’m not afraid any more, but I am curious.  I just want to know who she is.

Pictures of a girl

His eyes were drawn by the crow as it flapped across the garden on wings like borrowed rags.  He watched until it was a twitching dot, then nothing.  Only then did he return his attention to the pictures in his hand; smudged, old, yellowing, pencil portraits.  The same little girl, drawn from different angles: just her head.   She had large, striking eyes framed by long, curled lashes.  In one picture, she had her eyes closed and a ghost of a smile lay on her lips, in another her eyes were hidden behind the dark floppy fringe, but they were definitely all of the same girl.  Same bow-shaped mouth.  Same dimpled chin.  Same crescent birthmark at the side of her nose.

He looked up at the house.  He’d only lived there for a month, in fact he’d never even visited the area before he’d seen the house, then, one day … absent-mindedly clicking on estate agents’ sites on the internet.  It was just there: the perfect house!  Three bedrooms, original fittings, garage, large garden, much further away than they’d considered moving and a lot more than they’d planned on spending, but it just looked right.  It shouldn’t even have been in the search results.  Just a fluke, really.

Buying it had been much easier than he’d expected; the seller accepted his offer, which was quite a bit less than they’d been asking.  They’d inherited it and just wanted to be rid of it.  His own house had sold quickly, which came as a surprise, and everything just seemed to go smoothly.  Coming here would help them make a fresh start!  It would be so much easier because it was so far from everyone they knew: his family, her family, their friends.  What was left of them!

He jumped as she knocked on the kitchen window.  She was pointing down towards the sink so he nodded, even though he had no idea what she wanted.  He put the pictures back into the tattered envelope they’d been in, slipped it into the satchel that leant against his deckchair then, scooping up the bag, he walked into the garage. 

When he entered the kitchen, he couldn’t see what his wife was doing because everything looked so dark, but as his eyes adjusted, he saw she had potatoes in a sink full of water.  He sighed, picked up a peeler and asked, “What did your last slave die of?”

She laughed and replied, “Asking too many questions!”  She walked away.  He could hear her humming in the living-room.  It was nice to hear her humming again after all this time; she sounded happy when she hummed.  He hummed too: quietly.

They ate their dinner in the garden, chatting about the unexpectedly warm weather, the list of jobs that would need doing around the house, whose turn it was to wash the dishes.  They talked of everything and nothing at all.  The light had barely begun to fail when they finally went indoors and, in spite of an earlier conclusion, he washed the dishes, finding the robotic motions and warm water peculiarly soothing.  He couldn’t hear her humming now, but he heard her laughter occasionally over the noise of the television.

He dried his hands and, gently turning the back door handle, slipped into the garden.  He took a deep breath and identified honeysuckle, lavender, earth smells.  For some reason they made him hungry.  He opened the door to the garage and went in.  Reaching up to the highest shelf, he brought out the bag with the drawings in them and slid them back out.  Standing under the bare bulb, he scrutinised them for something new, some sign to make sense of them; he knew there would be none.  On each piece of paper, just the girl’s face and a date in the bottom, right-hand corner.  He’d looked at them five or six times a day for the last week, since finding them in a box in the attic, underneath some moth-eaten curtains, a few old books and a stack of newspapers dating back forty-something years.  He’d held them up to the light, smudged the pencil markings with his finger to check whether they were real and, time after time, he had placed them side by side with the tiny photograph from his wallet.  Comparing the dark hair in the drawings with the dark hair in the photograph.   Comparing the large, long-lashed eyes, the bow-shaped mouth, the dimpled chin and comparing the crescent-shaped birth mark on the face in the pictures, drawn before he had even been born, with the identical birthmark on the face of the seven-year-old daughter, whose death had come so close to destroying his marriage.

‘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

The Artist

She cannot dance with sharp and breathless grace,

No subtle steps to hold a watcher’s gaze.

No nimble feet, no elegant display,

No spinning glory on a darkened stage.

 

She cannot speak to turn a listener’s mind,

No eloquence that brings their thoughts in line.

No ruling words, no tricks to suspend time,

No means to change the way they will decide.

 

She cannot play a tune to melt a heart,

No melody to send the spirits far.

No soaring notes, no chords of special charm,

No air to be a rival to the lark.

 

She cannot run as though her feet had wings,

No turn of speed to halt a rival’s sprint.

No swift pursuit, no challenge to the wind,

No stirring cries will rouse her racing limbs.

 

But she can make a pencil or a brush,

Caress the paper with a gentle touch.

To find the form, to hold its beauty up.

These riches of her art are gift enough.