Friday, October 21, 2016

Welcome Home

I know I'm late. In my battered car, I watch the second hand on my watch jump with every palpitation of my heart. The delicate metal of the second hand is trembling, as if it might get stuck. Mom doesn't like it when people are running late. It makes her usually patient nature run wild. A light is gleaming through the windows, yet nobody has bothered to look outside. They are probably busy. I cannot seem to convince myself to leave the car. Having to apologize will at least provide me with an opening line. For a moment I fear that I might have lost my voice. "Hello?" I hear myself asking. My voice sounds unfamiliar. 

Time seems to evaporate. In the rearview mirror I try to fix my hair, aware of how greasy it is. "Bazooka Joe" dad used to call me, when I would wear my hair with my bangs falling over one eye. Yet I have never found any resemblance between the reflection of the fragile young woman in the mirror and that chubby-cheeked little cartoon boy.

I'm not so sure anymore if today is the best day for me to break a two-year-long silence. It has taken a while to get their voices out of my head. I suddenly feel silly sitting in the car and staring at the house. There are coffee stains on the sleeve of my sweater. Why didn't I see them or notice the bleach spots on my jeans as I got dressed this morning? I tell myself that the hair and the stains don't matter... or the ringless finger on my left hand. By now they have probably given up hope that I will fulfill their expectations. 

It has been such a long journey, why rush in? "They miss you!" my brother told me on the rare occasions I got hold of him on the phone. The fact that he has noticed at all makes waves of guilt wash over me. He is not a very sentimental person. The idea of being missed and needed holds the promise of something warm and embracing, yet somehow smothering at the same time... 

Urged to take action by the rumbling in my stomach, I hastily collect my cell phone, my glasses and my wallet and stuff them into my purse. In one fell swoop, I exit the cozily heated car. Outside, it is so cold that I feel naked despite the itchy sweater I have on. My cheeks burn. I take one step at a time. Wiping the dried mud off my shoes, I ring the doorbell. Light floods the porch; I hear footsteps approaching. The door swings open and I'm blinded by the broad smile on my mom’s face as she flings her arms around me.

"Welcome home!”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn Comes Early

Autumn has come.
I see it in your icy eyes -
you long for leaving.

Summer's hazy heat has passed.
Now, October's winds sadly sigh
through golden trees.

I knew one day you would go,
but how was I to know
it would be so soon?

As the last russet leaves
fall to the ungrateful ground,
nostalgia haunts me
like evanescent shadows cast
by a waning moon.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Welcome, Death

Bullets fly. From the arms of men they are received by the bodies of boys. Those too young to experience a woman’s love but too old to be shielded by a mother’s. They drop beside him. He stands and watches; viewing the final expressions of those he could once have called friends. Overarching disappointment, that is what he sees. Disappointment in their training. Disappointment in their Führer. That He had not prepared them. That He had not taught them how to meet death. How, when faced with an unyielding enemy, you welcome death as if he were your friend.

Pools of white appear from the darkness. Lights of the enemy, they search for him. Waltzing across the forest floor, red flashes zipping from their core. Gunfire. Forgetting his orders, he begins weaving as the Wehrmacht officers had taught him. But the crimson sparks, they chase him. Through trees, through undergrowth. When he shoots they swarm and so he scrambles, forcing his tired legs on.

The wings of a beech tree open up offering shelter. Once inside, the branches withhold the noises of war. The gunshots. The shells. The girlish screams of boys. 

A figure appears – British – and a voice from within commands him: hold the gun at chest level, look where the bullet should go. Breathe in. Aim. Breathe out. Fire. 

The British soldier shouts:

“A boy, he’s just…” Silence. 

The balls of his feet release and he springs up, flies forwards. Arms pumping. Breathing, always breathing. Running until the sounds have receded. Running until death’s eternal grasp can reach him no longer.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quite Contrary

Chelsea, 1966: 

I was just leaving school when Kaffe Fassett and Bill Gibb set up shop in the King’s Road, designing clothes based on what young women like me with no money were wearing. On the train back from Aberdeen after visiting Bill’s parents Kaffe saw a woman knitting and asked her to show him how. After that, he was off. Never use 2 colours when 29 will do. And if you’re stuck, add another colour. I’ve been known to call him evil. All my attempts to knit one of his designs have ended in disaster.

Plymouth, 2006: 

I only went to the conference to please Jane who’d organised it. She gave me a ticket as a thank you for baby-sitting her Gran in the run-up. To be honest an afternoon with Gran was more my cup of tea. You could knit properly, let the still-only-slightly-confused conversation float past. But Jane’s brother, the grandson, was coming for the weekend and I wasn’t needed.

I collected my goody-bag from reception then perched on a stool to choose my workshops. Kaffe’s was already full, which was fine by me. But then Jane had a major panic about the conference dinner and asked me to stand in for her at Kaffe’s workshop while she sorted it out. I must say meeting him was quite a thrill. The floppy dark fringe was now short and grey but his hands were never still as he talked about his latest show, Quilt Mania.

I stumbled a bit introducing him but no-one noticed, they just wanted to hear from Kaffe. They’d all brought an object to inspire a piece of knitting. I didn’t have one of course but Kaffe handed me a Midwinter saucer, a gorgeous pattern called Quite Contrary: pink, grey, black and turquoise stars on a cream background. 

He had just the right colours in his vast stash, but people needed more help than Kaffe could manage on his own and I had to pitch in too. No time for designing. At the end of the workshop I was about to toss the yarns back when Kaffe swooped them into a clear plastic bag with a zip lock. 

At the dinner Jane and Kaffe sat far away on the high table like mediæval monarchs. I got rather drunk and went to bed early.

The next day he didn’t appear. I knew he was leaving at 2 to catch a train. At 1.45 his partner appeared in the lobby with matching sets of needlepoint luggage piled on a trolley. At 1.57 he began to tap one pointed purple leather shoe on the tiled floor. I barely felt the brush on my arm as Kaffe raced past, his famous leather satchel flapping open. A flurry of lifted suitcases and they were gone.

The spectacle case had been left next to my coffee cup with one of his business cards inside: Quite Contrary, Kaffe Fassett, April 2006.*

by Susanna Reece

* N.B. This is a work of fiction. It’s possible that the designer-maker of this purse is the author and not Kaffe Fassett!

Monday, September 5, 2016


The moss stuck between my toes
On the riverbank.
Fish nibbled, 
Tickling me
And the laughter 
Made ripples.
People on the other side of the river
Wondered how 
My net caught minnows
I told them it was
All in the toe jam.

by Mary Bone

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nice Girl

The girl - the other girl - is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright. 

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.

Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet. 

I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.

He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake. 

The baby with his eyes, his lips.

I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement. 

In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.

When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say. 

I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely. 

I’m the nice girl, remember?