Chopsticks – #21daysofWriting – Day 21

Today’s topic is from my dearest and one of my oldest friends (not as in her age, as in our longevity together) Anne-Marie Garner. I love this woman beyond words. She is a powerhouse, generous to the core, smart, funny and cool. It’s an honour to be her friend. It is she who launched the beautiful Knot, Albert children’s book ( and website & merchandise – she worked HARD)  that inspired this challenge in the first place, so it is only fitting that the last blog in this series is hers.

What is WITH spa slippers?

Suzy looks at the snow-white things half attached to her feet. She shuffled here like a 80-year old Boca Ranton resident, slightly itchy towelling robe wrapped about her, hair scrumpled up in a scruffy bun. The slippers are, she reflects, only slightly whiter than her legs, and have no backs – elegant stepping ain’t happening here.

The other Hens have been squirrelled away by therapists. The waiting area is ambient, warm…  fancy magazines and a water cooler, the scent of every aromatherapy oil known to womankind heady in the dark air. Suzy scratches her bum cheek surreptitiously – her bikini is damp from the hot tub and steam room – it’s making her skin itch against the robe. She feels the nerves tugging and looks for distraction.

She has a nosey at the round lady and her daughter opposite. They are definitely mother-and-daughter. You can see how Round Lady looked in her 20’s. They too have “spa face” – facial oils seeping into pores, making their skin glassy and pink. Both are flipping through magazines, glass of cucumber water beside them.  Suzy likes the lady’s blue-grey toenail varnish colour.

A neat, black-haired, white-uniformed therapist, with what looks like chopsticks holding her hair up, arrives with a slip of paper. “Suzy?”

Suzy stands, her long figure unfolding and she tugs at the robe – tightening the belt, trying to make the weird garment longer.  She follows the therapist down a series of small, dimly lit corridors with low, melodic music and is aware, as ever, of her height and size. The therapist asks her some questions, Suzy answers politely, tummy knotting.

They arrive in in the room. The therapist invites Suzy to sit on the bed and introduces herself as Bethany, a slight Australian twang in her accent as she goes through the healthchecks and procedures. Full body massage today. What pressure does Suzy prefer? Any injuries or allergies?

All formalities done, Suzy is asked to “pop’ her clothes off – paper knickers available if she wants to wear those- and get under the blankets. Bethany leaves, chopstick-headed. Suzy is glad to get rid of the robe and her damp costume. She hangs it up so it might dry out more. As she fumbles with the paper pants, she is aware of her body. Her limbs, her torso, the weight and wobbles. She’s naked in a strange room. She tries not to dwell on that. She feels a welling nervousness, breathes. Gets face down under the covers.

Wrapped in warm blankets, alone in a room with some tribal shaman music playing, the air thickly scented, Suzy feels the opposite of relaxed. Stress. Claustrophobia. God she hates Spas. Faux-relaxation. You leave your brain at the door and are allocated timeslots. “Me time” on someone else’s timetable. Deep breaths Suze…..

Bethany knocks quietly and comes in. “Everything alright?” she asks, moving around the room, getting stuff ready. Suzy says yes… what else is there to say? She has her face in that weird hole thing on the massage table. Facing the floor. She feels very alone and a little teary.

Bethany holds a vial of something under Suzy’s nose.
“I’ve gone with aromatherapy oils that will soothe you – deep relaxation – just have a smell of these two and tell me which you prefer. Number one?” Suzy inhales deeply – oooh that’s good. “or Number two?” Who knows? Suzy thinks. And opts for the first.

Bethany begins with the legs. Suzy tightens at the initial touch, but then the warm oil kicks in and she allows herself to relax. Bethany checks the pressure is ok and Suzy find herself saying:

“I don’t really like massages” Christ! Where did that come from?

“Not everyone does. Are you alright though?” Bethany hasn’t stopped.

“I think so.”

“You are carrying a lot of tension – if you want me to stop at any point or if things aren’t ok, let me know?”

Suzy breathes. Settles. Her mind starts to drift after a while.

Chopsticks. She would be wearing bloody chopsticks. Who wears chopstick in their hair to work? Surely that’s not good health and safety?

They were cheap, the ones that triggered it all. Sitting in Wagamama’s with newly-snapped sticks, a black bowl of rice and veggies in front of her – it looked enormous. She was one of a group of teenage girls on a shopping trip, all fancy after the exams. She remembers sweating at the sheer size of the bowl of food. Eating single grains of rice with the chopsticks. Picking precisely and trying hard not to throw up. This was new. Previously she’d have eaten it and gone to the loo. One purge and everything sorted. Today she couldn’t even face the food. Her mate Maria noticed. Commented. Suzy tried to eat, mixing stuff around hoping it would disappear.

She remembers her black nail varnish matched the bowl, as she held the chopsticks with the paltry rice grain clamped.. and how well it covered up her nails underneath, yellowing from the stomach acid they so regularly came into contact with. Forcing that single grain toward her mouth…..

Bethany has moved to the other leg. Concentrate on that. Concentrate on that.
But the motion of hands, sweeping over skin, connecting with muscle and sinew, the rhythm of her body being pushed and pulled….

The panic attack, when it came was, frankly, mental. Wagamama’s became really muffled and hot, her vision got blurry-then-clear-then-blurry. She couldn’t breathe. Like something was sitting on her chest. Her head faint and her brain feeling like… it was on another planet – she could hear one part of herself really clearly, and another part was just white noise. Mouth opening and closing like a dying-fish. Wanting everyone to just fuck off and feeling black, deep, terrifying nothingness. Her friends freaking out….. there’s a whole part after that she has no recollection of. She knows there was an off-duty paramedic who helped. She flat refused an ambulance, seemingly nearly screaming the place down – when she got her breath back – and the manager took her, Maria and the paramedic off the restaurant floor, into a back room. Her mum arrived an hour or so later, apparently. The other girls waited in a coffee shop nearby.

What followed was months of “intervention”. Shame upon shame upon realisation. Her body, painfully underweight; hidden so well by clothes. Her face gaunt and yellow; hidden so well under a mountain of make-up. Her teeth ravaged by puke – she runs her tongue carefully over the £4k dental work her job eventually paid for. Therapy. CBT. Learning to cook. Some weird lesson where she had to “make friends” with a raw chicken breast. Her whole post GCSE life altered by chopsticks and rice grains.

Bethany has moved up to her back.

As the motion of the massage connects in to Suzy, she suddenly feels sadness – all that time wasted. A life on hold as she battled herself, her body. There are muscles in her back now and soft fat and tissue. She can feel the density of herself – her solidity, her suppleness. She can feel that she is here – not trying to vanish, not a ball of self-loathing and small, hateful nothingness.  The tears come from no-where and  surprise her. She feels them on her face and the realisation makes her sob.

Bethany says gently “Things are shifting. Do you want me to stop for now?”

Suzy shakes her head, trying to breathe, unable to speak

“You can talk, if you want to,” She says, kindly. She softens her touch. Her hands less-pummelling, more soothing.  As she continues to move, it’s like she’s coaxing something from Suzy…

“I was ill. Eating disorder. I was gripped for a long time.”

“And now?”  her hands sweep up the spine, over the heart-space in the back

“Now I’m not ill” She sobs again, deep, big, fat sobs. Oh God this is awkward.

Bethany keeps har hand firmly shifting, moving patiently. Not stopping until asked.

Suzy re-assesses where she is. Her head is jammed in the face cradle, crying. She realises she’s face-down on something like a padded toilet seat ….. the number of times she had her head down a bog and swore never again. It’s ridiculous. She wants to laugh, suddenly. She hiccups between a sob and a giggle… feeling the laughter rise, her sides contracting. She is properly laughing now, the massage bed moving. The tears from before are now different tears and she is aware that Bethany has also started to shake with mirth…

“Another shift?” Bethany says, her voice high with amusement.

“I think that’s enough.. I think I want to stop now” Suzy says.

Bethany gently smooths her back a couple of times and wraps the towel over her.

“I’ll stay for now, unless you want to be alone?”

“No. Stay.. but can I get up?”

“Slowly”

Suzy gets up and wraps herself in the blankets – she looks, shiny-eyed at the therapist, who looks back kindly, gently.

“It’s the chopsticks” she says – and begins to tell the story.

Reflection

So this one feels like I’m finishing on a “Well.. I started fairly safely 21 days ago– now I’m just going for it”. I’m so far off L&D and Leadership and Change & my work world, I need to re-orientate myself – this blog was only ever meant to be a work one. And that’s ok.. I’m just conscious of it all.

I started with Chopsticks as in musical chopsticks and messed around for ages with a piano recital scenario – but it was unfamiliar territory and I got tangled up.

In this, stuff about physicality and touch – how small things can evoke big stuff – I’m on territory I know and recognise… I can write from here. I see shifts in emotional states, catch those moments that become realisations,  when I coach. I’ve been the girl on the massage table, realising a physical shift can lead to emotional shift too. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

Tomorrow is Day 22 – and there it’s about What Next and What more.

For any and all of you who have read any/ all of the Challenge Blogs, I am eternally grateful – so many of you have commented, contacted me, cheered me on. It’s been quite extraordinary. Thank you. J x

Dreaming the Impossible #21days ofWriting – Day 19

Today’s topic is thanks to Twitter Aficionado, pragmatist and recent Author, Krystyna Gadd – 5th piece of fiction in the series and one of the longer posts. Again, I’ve take a small liberty with the title. But I hope it works.


Seamus unlocks the bottom lock, then the top and the middle one. Same routine every day. He pushes the door open and bends to pick up the mail. Shuffling through the bills as he heads to the kitchen, there is one big blue envelope, hand written address. He smiles. His sister. He opens it with a knife and there inside is a “Happy Anniversary” card, blue with sliver letters and hearts on it.

Karate, you big bear. 3 years today – we are so proud! It’s a magic number and you bring magic. So this next year will be extra special, promise. Keep chopping. Love Batfink & the Babies”  There’s a photo of Siobhan, his niece and nephews grinning at him.  He puts the card on the counter and pins the photo on the kitchen pinboard, muttering “daft cow” affectionately.

He switches on lights, puts the coffee machine on and puts bags in the bins. He washes his hands, puts on the radio and begins the morning routine. Checks the deliveries due in today, takes cakes from the fridge and sets them out on the counter, pulls out onions, carrots, coriander for the soup. Goes about his chores.

Impossible Dreams is three years old. A medium sized, bright, café in a “nice” part of town, rescued from a failing boutique clothes shop, run by the snotty and bored ex-wife of a local businessman. The shop had been part of her divorce settlement. Her resentment ran through the very fabric of the dresses and fancy tops she sold. Very soon no-one wanted to shop there. When Seamus saw the premises, he wanted to bring hope to it.

His redundancy money came in handy. Working with recommended trades folk and his own good eye for design, the café is now a bright, simple haven for anyone who dares to dream.

Open from early in the morning with the head-to-workers, then the mummies and the oldies and the freelancers, to late at night, when there are knitting circles and writing clubs, chess clubs and various meet-ups. Seamus finds he spends a LOT of time there. The idea came to him as he drifted off to sleep one night – so good it woke him up. Drawing on the last 5 years of pain, Seamus wanted a place where people could bring their dreams. One wall of the café is a great big painted oak, with hundreds of leaves hanging off it – each leaf has someone’s dream or hope written on it. When their dream comes true, they are asked to return to the café and take the dream off the wall for someone else’s to go up. They get a free coffee and are asked to tell their story on the website, or a video to Facebook or Insta.

People like Seamus’s idea.

In the first weeks, the tree looked really sad. It took ages to convince folk to put up their dreams, but now three years on, the tree and the café both flourish.

He knows Noosh and Geordie will be turning up soon, so he does what he tries to do every day and goes over to the tree to look at what it holds in peace. Seamus is a big man – 6 foot 4 and broad. These days he has a big red beard – something that in his  Corporate life would have been unimaginable – he unconsciously smooths his beard as he reads the leaves.

Some dream of being lighter, fitter, physically transformed. Some dream of love. Some wish for health, for wealth, for happiness. One man dreams of a very specific stamp for his collection. Another dreams of Olympic qualifying. There was a dream of an Ironing board for a few days. Someone dreams of being the opposite sex. A child wishes to go to Harry Potter World and be in Gryffindor. There are dreams of travel – one lady longs to return home to see her city, currently war-torn an unsafe; a man wishes to find his lost-love in New Zealand; someone is seeking to walk the West Highland Way. Another to drive Route 66. There are dreams of being famous, of being footballers or singers, dancers or actors, of winning prizes and accolades. Old Mrs McLean wished only for a cup of tea with her now-dead husband. Impossible dreams come in many guises, Seamus has learned. (He gives Mrs McLean free coffee often, figuring that particular dream really won’t be redeemable). Some wishes have been up there for the full three years – the leaves discolouring now and slightly curling. He wonders if he should re-write the dream on a new leaf, but somehow that seems wrong. He worries about what will happen if the café fails – where will these dream go?

Thankfully, a lot of dreams-come-true have happened and the Oak daily gives up a leaf or two a day as people come in to tell their stories. Somehow just putting the thing down on a leaf and pinning it to a public place seems to get customers motivated to go do what needs done. It’s quite a wonder to know.

There is one dream not on the tree. Seamus tries to convince himself that he has no dream now, that everything is fulfilled with the café – but his lonely heart has whispered each time he looks at the tree, recently: put a leaf up. It’s over five years since his husband, John, died, a crazy tumour that took him mercifully fast. Seamus died too that day and has slowly been reborn. He had never really talked about his private life at work, so his marriage and sexuality took some by surprise…It wasn’t that he was ashamed or anything, he was just private and focussed on his job and team.  So when it happened, his bosses were so busy processing that this man-mountain was not the Very Alpha Hetro they thought he was, they couldn’t see the extent of the pain he was in. This big capable, funny, quiet, assertive human. They had him pegged. He’d helped with the pegging. When the pegs came loose, it all went to hell.

It took six months for it all to fully hit him. When it arrived – the grief, the unstoppable sadness and the sheer terror that you could just lose anything overnight, no matter how beloved – the wheels fully came off. He thought he was coping – but grief took Seamus to darker places than he knew existed. He doesn’t remember much of that time. The sleeplessness, the anger, the fraughtness, the striving to be “fine”. He swears they made him redundant out of kindness. His sister swears they were “Feckers who don’t know how to give a shit”. Seamus prefers his story… he suspects hers is also true. His friends in the Company were sure he had a case against the business. He was too tired to fight and too glad to go. It took him months, and therapy with the tiny powerhouse Elsbeth, to get himself even daring to believe there might be a future.

He shudders. Not going back there today. And to prove he’s moving forward to picks up a leaf  from the small pile in the wooden box and writes “love” on it. He hesitates. Doesn’t pin in. Notes they are running low on leaves.

As if on cue to distract, Noosh bangs on the door, grinning and waving at him. He unsnibs the lock and she breezes past, with a “morning Seamus!” pulling off her shoulder bag and coat all at the same time, so she looks like she might get tangled. She’s already launching into a tale of What Happened With My Bloody Flatmate Last night and asking him what needs done. His meditation is over. It’s time to work. Geordie arrives a couple of minutes later and he’s straight into the kitchen, changing the radio station and starting food prep, Noosh talking at him as she wipes down the specials board. Seamus smiles to himself as he goes to check the till and the paypoint. He starts to makes the Gruesome Twosome their morning coffees. There’s a knock on the door and it’s the milk delivery. He checks it and asks Noosh to put it in the fridge. The second knock is from someone new. The bakery delivery is normally from the very efficient, rather bland Alan. This is not Alan. Seamus moves from behind the counter to open the door to a tall, brown haired man with a tousled, trendy haircut.

“Is this Impossible Dreams?” He asks
Seamus says “yes”
“I’ve heard about you.” Brown-Hair says cheerfully
“Oh?’
“The dream tree thing. I asked Alan if I could deliver today – I saw you on Facebook” He smiles excitedly, big green eyes, and open, honest face.

“Is it your anniversary?” Brown-Hair asks, nodding at Siobhan’s card on the counter.
“ The café. It’s three today”
“Ah. Magic number”
Seamus doesn’t know what to say.

“Well, I’ve got your delivery” and off he goes to the van.
As Seamus checks the order, Brown-Hair wanders over to the tree and starts to look at it.

“Wow. This thing is… incredible”
Seamus nods “Amazing, isn’t it? People put all sorts up there”
“Oh look. There’s a leaf here – on the table – someone’s not pinned it up”
Seamus colours and feels the ground sink.

Brown-Hair reads it “Love.” He says aloud. He looks at Seamus. “Can I pin it up?”
Seamus finds his mouth is dry. “Er. You should put up your own.” He says abruptly. “I don’t know whose that is”
He finds a leaf on the counter and heads toward Brown-Hair. As he hands it over, practically throwing it at Brown-hair, their fingers touch.. Seamus gets a bolt through him.
Brown-Hair looks shocked too for a split second, then composes himself “Do you have pen?”
“There.” Seamus says roughly, pointing, then turning, troubled.

Brown-Hair writes on the leaf and pins it. Seamus deliberately doesn’t look to see where he puts it on the tree, busying himself with coffee for Geordie and Noosh.

With her perfect timing, Noosh comes out with the Specials Menu. “Hello!” she says “You adding to our tree?”
Brown Hair nods and walks toward her, hand extended “Hello. I’m Dylan” he says “I’m the new baker’s boy”
Noosh giggles “Are you now? Well..” She shakes his hand, “..no offence to Alan, but you are already more fun.”
He laughs and Seamus feels his heart quicken.

“See you tomorrow then?” Seamus thinks Dylan’s saying this to him,  but can’t be sure.
He nods again, finding himself unable to speak.
Dylan goes and Seamus heats up the milk, burning himself on the steam and swearing.

Noosh is standing at the tree, having a good look.
He goes to give her the coffee and she looks at her boss, slyly.
“So Dylan has a dream.” She sing-songs
Seamus ignores her, heading to the kitchen to  give Geordie his coffee
She calls after him “He dreams of dating a café owner, Shay. It’s written right here”
Seamus stops in his tracks. Sighs. Keeps moving to give Geordie the coffee.

“Y’all right, boss-man?” Geordie asks
Seamus nods. “ I think I’ve got something to do, Geord.”
“Whassat then?”

Seamus crosses the café to the tree. He picks up the leaf from the table and pins it randomly near some leaves. Noosh, close to him, watching, sipping her coffee, approving.

“Did you do that on purpose?” She asks
“What?” Seamus responds, suspiciously
“Pin your leaf to Dylan’s?”
“Oh shit” says Seamus.

 

Reflections

My love of writing fiction continues – it feels gratifying and satisfying and I’m cautious about representing a gay man, as a heterosexual woman writing, and I trust it is ok enough.

Exploring the Outside – #21daysofWriting – Day 16

Today is more fiction and I took a liberty with the topic set by the glorious Ruth Dawson – she asked for “Exploring the Outside in Facilitation” – I hope I get forgiven for shortening it & going in a different direction.

Riba steps forward cautiously. Her feet feel really odd. Her steps are clumpy, clumsy – she’s never worn clown shoes, but thinks this might be what it’s like. She frowns down at the strange objects on the end of her legs and sighs. Pink unicorn wellies from Primark – cheapest her Mum could find – the glitter on the toes has already started rubbing off and is all over her bag. Riba loved them in the shop… but here…. Well, here they look weird.

She eyes the rest of her classmates, also newly booted.  Charlie’s gone for blue boots – plain, her leggings tucked in. Naade has gone for green – his long skinny legs poke out of the top – knees exposed, with smart shorts above. Honey’s wearing Pink too – hers have got pugs on them. She’s kind of rolled her jeans up over the top of them. Sadiq has black ones on with orange toes. Every single pair are brand new and everyone looks a bit mad.

Riba continues to experiment with walking, away from the crowd. She doesn’t like this place. She is grumpy.

Mrs Aston calls them over and introduces them to the Farmer. She’s younger than Riba expected and.. well.. a girl. Farmers are meant to be men and wear flat caps and have red cheeks and those tweed jacket things This one is in jeans and a t- shirt and a blue puffa jacket thing with no sleeves. Her wellies are also green – but flash ones, with a buckle.. scuffed and muddy. This adds to Riba’s sense of how stupid this all is. Nothing is as it’s supposed to be. Everything is new and strange. It smells weird – like poo and the park when the grass has been cut and the florist shop on the high street, all combined. It’s really quiet – she can hear birds and the wind in the trees – no cars at all. And now the farmer’s not even a proper farmer. This place is strange. She hangs at the back of the group, feeling sulky.

They begin with a walk in the orchard – the farmer lady explains the apple- trees and pear trees and what the Farm does with the fruit. Riba can’t listen because THERE. ARE.CHICKENS. Riba has never seen a live chicken before in real life. They are massive. She thought chickens would be the same size as a pigeon. And these ones aren’t just brown like you see in the Supermarket Ads – these ones are grey or white.. with a couple of brown ones scratching over there. They have beady eyes and weird wobbly jelly things on their heads & under their chins. Riba feels sick looking at them. Gross. She keeps them in her sightline in case they attack, breathing steadily – ready to run. Can she run in these wellies? She’d give it a go.

The farmer-lady starts talking about chickens and the eggs they produce. Naade whispers to Riba that they poo out eggs and she giggles.. but then worries that eggs are chicken poo. Has she been eating chicken poo? She feels sick again. She gets past the chickens as quickly as she can.

On from the orchard, they do a woodland walk. 20 kids in pairs, Mrs Aston ushering them along, the new teaching assistant making sure no-one gets left behind. It’s muddy. Really muddy. Her pink boots sinking in brown, soggy, sloppy goo. The goo is messing up her new wellies. Riba wants to wash it off. She feels stressed and horrible – how much longer does this go on for?

The Farmer has stopped. She is talking about the trees and saying trees can talk to each other, through their roots underground. Riba looks at her classmates and sees most of them are listening – how stupid are they?  Trees obviously do not talk. And how could you have an underground conversation in the dark? She’ll not tell Mum this when she gets home, because her mum might think the trip was a waste of the £3 she paid toward the bus. This place is stupid. This Farmer woman is Stupid. Riba wants to get back to town.

Now everyone has to help plant a tree. The ground has been mostly dug-up, but Gary-the- favourite volunteers to dig, when asked and he and Honey help scrape out mud and dirt and put a little twig thing with a white bag on it in the ground. Honey’s pink pug boots are covered in mud, Riba notes. Even more than her own. And thatisn’t a tree. It’s a stick. They are planting sticks. What is happening?

They walk on to to see some sheep. The Farmer explains it is spring, so there will be lambs. Riba is cheered by this. Lambs are cute. She’s saw some at the City Farm last year with her Uncle and Cousins. She subtly tries to get more mud off her boots on the grass. The farmer explains that some of the sheep are still pregnant and the class might see a lamb get born. This doesn’t sound appealing to Riba – shouldn’t the mum-sheep go to vet hospital or something?

The lambs are surprisingly noisy in the barn – the farmer explains they stay in doors for a few days, then they will go out. Each lamb has a tag on its ear so the farmer can track them and stuff sprayed on their bellies so a cord doesn’t get dirty or something.  The farmer has some brand new lambs – born this morning – which need to be tagged. Do the class want to see? Riba opens her mouth to say “no” but the rest of the class say “yeaaaaasssss”. Riba tries again to get mud off her boots. She feels hot and cross.

The Farmer is talking about lambs and spring or something. Riba can’t tune in properly. The Farmer takes the lamb, which is making a really really loud noise, and holds it between her knees. The Farmer takes a tool in her hands and pulls the lambs ear out. Oh my God what is she going to do to the lamb? She’s piercing lamb- ears in front of everyone? Riba feels hotter and can’t breathe properly. There is a “clunk” and the lamb shakes its head, unsteady, big tag attached to it’s ear. Riba looks uncomprehendingly at what has just been done. They pierced a lamb. They….

“Mrs Ashton?” Sadiq says “ I think Riba’s fainted, Miss”

 

 

 

Reflection

I wanted to do an anti-nature thing. I am a huge fan and advocate of being outdoors, of the country and all that nature can offer, but there are a lot of kids who grow up in urban spaces that are, understandably, completely freaked out in a rural environment. I wanted to write about a bit of that. The freakishness of being taken out of a familiar place, particularly when everyone else seems to be getting on with it and not seeing how weird it is.

I grew up on farms and we regularly had schools in (obviously I never saw them..because I was at school) and one day a kid did faint.. so I’m reimagining that. I like Riba and her grumpiness, her utter refusal to just go with the crowd….

Bees & Butterflies – #21daysofWriting – Day 12

Today’s topic is chosen by Bee fan & beautiful human, Fiona McBride, with whom I have shared many cups of tea and slices of cake.

The whole place smells incredible. That fresh-baked sweetness, tempting to anyone who comes near. Tanya stands back and takes in the light sponge honey-cakes, cooling satisfyingly on the rack, and for the first time in a few days, she feels….. like she’s not entirely crap.

She seeks out a bowl and mixes icing sugar, butter, lemon. No measurements, she goes by the feel of the icing, the sloppiness of it, the weight under the spatula. When it’s beaten enough in the bowl, she scoops a little on her finger and tastes…. The sensation hits her tongue and she assesses… more lemon needed. Two more squeezes, more mixing…another taste – perfectly fine. She leaves it to go hunt the decoration.

Bees. Tiny yellow-and-black bees made of icing. Arrived this morning off the internet. They look so cute. Just the thing.

15 more minutes and she knows the cakes are cooled enough to not-melt the decoration. She slathers the icing on each cake – more messy than the internet prefers – then adds one small bee to the top of each. Beautiful…even if she does think so herself for a second… then immediately remembers how they “should” look and how unrisen the cakes are and how she hasn’t coloured the icing like the recipe recommends. She is a woman without yellow colouring in her cupboard. Only blue & red, after the yellow colouring got spilled last week..One less towel in the house from that incident & a weird jaundice-patch on the kitchen surface. She really is shit.

But 12 cakes exist now. She takes off her apron & goes to wash the flour and icing from her hands and face. She takes 4 cakes and puts them carefully in a deep Tupperware container. Making tubes of kitchen roll, she places them between the cakes to secure them. The Bees swarm merrily. She smiles at them for a second as she puts the lid on.

Box carefully placed in a bag, Tanya checks keys-money-phone and leaves. 10 minutes walk, two flights up and along to the right, she knocks firmly on the door.

Sadie take her time, as always. When Tanya first starting visiting, when she was a kid, either Sadie was quicker or T had more patience… Back then, Sadie seemed invulnerable. Now each time she knocks on the old lady’s door, there is a possibly that Something Has Occurred. Tanya wonders when that shift happened.

But she hears the shuffling slippers and the pissed-off voice “Hold on. One minute. I’m COMING!!” like the door was being battered down. Three locks get unlocked..dark muttering from the other side as if Sadie had cast an unlocking spell. Tanya smiles to herself at that.

The door opens. Sadie glances at the girl and turns immediately, starting back into the house with no greeting, as if Tanya was expected all along.

“Take yer shoes off if you are coming in. I don’t need dog turd on the carpet”

“Afternoon, Sadie”

The retreating figure doesn’t stop shuffling “what you doing here in the middle of the day? `You got no work to go to?”

Tanya ignores her, shucks off her shoes and makes her way through the magnolia gloom to the front room. Sadie’s kingdom. It smells like old lady. Decomposition and wee and  clothes-well-worn. The TV is blaring out some crap gameshow. The room is covered in family photos.  For all her slowness, Sadie has made it back to her throne and sits resplendent.

“If you want a cuppa tea, you’ll have to get the kettle going. And don’t forget to make me one”

“I made cakes, Sadie. We can have afternoon tea”

The old lady flashes a look of genuine pleasure for a second. Her eyes wolfish “What am I? The bloody Queen? Afternoon tea? When did you get posh, my girl?”

Tanya grins to herself and goes into the tired brown kitchen. She fills the plastic kettle and places two flowery china mugs on the side. Teabags are in 1970’s original stoneware containers. Tanya fancies these when Sadie has gone.. they are properly trendy now. She makes tea, adds milk and sugar-for Sadie. Finds the tray with the faded picture of a robin on it,  puts the mugs on the tray. She finds a not-chipped plate and places all four honey-cakes, icing and bees still in place, proudly on it. Tea and cake.

“Maybe we are bloody Royalty, Sadie” she says loudly, coming out the kitchen with the tray.

The old lady eyes the goods on the tray and grins: “I won’t tell if you don’t, sweetheart” she coos. “Splendid”

She leans forward painfully, picks up a cake and studies it. “Whassis?”

“Honey-bee cake, with lemon icing. I made them this morning.”

Sadie considers the cake a second longer, then looks straight at Tanya “Whasswrong?”

Tanya tries to laugh to off “What? What do you mean, what’s wrong? I’m all good, Sade. Baking cakes is all”

The old girl is having none of it. Tanya looks at the decrepit body, the terrible polyester skirt,  the baggy wool tights, the pale blue jumper and whatever that bobbly bloody grey cardigan is and feels unafraid. Sadie is old. She holds no power. It’s only when she looks at the wrinkled, angular face…. Sadie’s dark eyes bore into her. Two small windows, more alive and alert than T’s whole body feels. Bollocks. There will be no secrets today.

Sadie turns the cake round slowly, looking at it from all angles, muttering at Tanya, “ “Baking cakes”, she says. In the middle of the day. And her with a fancy job and a boyfriend. Coming here on a Tuesday. Like nothing’s happening. “I’m all good, Sade”.” She looks at T, “ You’ll have to do better than that, Sweetheart.”

“Try the cake, will you?”

“I will in a second. Pass me m’tea?”

Tanya watches the old girl slurp her tea and unwrap the little cake from its delicate paper wrapping. T’s focus grows intense….the world slows down. Sadie regards the cake for a moment. Sniffs it, impolitely and then takes a bite, chewing thoughtfully…… No reaction…. Nothing..Then…..

“Oh. My. Saints” The old lady looks 20 years younger for a second as she looks at the remaining cake in her fingers, grinning, eyes glittering with glee. She looks at Tanya.

“That. Is. Heavenly, my girl. Heavenly, you hear?”

Tanya, who has been holding her breath, feels tears rising. Her face crumples and she hears herself sob.

Sadie is aghast. “Oh Darling… darling… what’s happened? What’s the tears for, eh?” she coos. “I said the cake was good…”

“I know!” T wails, surprised at the noise she just made. “I made it on to the Great British Bake Off, Sadie”

“Oh My Saints! Tanya my girl that’s… that’s…. Oh My Saints…” Sadie seems unsure what to do with her tea-and-cake filled hands. “brilliant, sweetheart… bloody bloody brilliant.”

Tanya cries harder. “AND I found out Matteo has been shagging…that…ugly cow he works with….. I KNEW he was. I got home from work early when I found out about Bake Off…. She was sitting out in our garden.”

Sadie is baffled by this piece of information “That doesn’t mean he’s been shagging her”

“She was in his dressing gown, naked underneath”

“Ah. Well in that case…… yes. He’s shagging her”

Tanya cries harder.  Sadie puts down the cake and taps the side of her leg, making the sort of “come here” gesture you make to a scared animal. T moves toward the old lady, sits on the floor to her left and cuddles in, awkwardly at first because of their size difference, but the two women seem to meld into each other as Tanya sobs. Sadie strokes her hair and mutters unintelligible things.

“What’s he DOING shagging her?” Tanya asks.

“Do you need me to explain the bees and butterflies to you, my girl?”

“What?”

“The ways of the world. Men’s needs.” Sadie says.. then in a faux whisper “Sex”

“Oh Christ Sadie, no.…. and anyway… it’s birds and bees.”

“Bees and butterflies makes more sense.” The old lady declares. “ A bee would sting a bird. A bird would eat a bee. Stupid idea if you ask me – wrong sort of couple. They’d kill each other.”

“And bees and butterflies work because….?”

“They’d fly about happy. Nice colours. Hang out in the garden pollenating and things.”

“Why would the bee not sting the butterfly?”

“It’s go no beak.” Sadie says, authoritatively.

Tanya recognises Sadie’s tone, one of stubborn correctness.. the conversation, in the context of everything else, make no sense..she gives up. Stays cuddled in.

After a moment or two Sadie says, “Great British Bake Off” reverently.

Tanya wipes her eyes and looks up at Sadie.

“I know, right? I need to practice my Crème Pat.”

“ I’m thinking about the tea party at the end.” Sadie says. She squeeze T gently “When you win, Sweetheart. When you win”

Then she starts to giggle, “Anyways, I don’t know about crème pat. The only pat I’m interested in is the one I’ll put on Paul Hollywood’s Bum!”

The two women collapse into laughter, holding each other, in the midst of cake crumbs and tea and snot and tears.

What Could We Learn from Our Pets?  #21daysofWriting – Day 7

This was a topic chosen by Kez Smith & I hope touches something close to most of our hearts.

If you are joining now.. this is a #21daysofWriting Challenge I’ve set myself – topics crowdsourced by good people in my network.

—-

Our pets.

They come in all shapes and sizes, Furry, Hairy, Fluffy, Shelled, Scaled, Finned, Combed….. Some say we look like our pets. When I look at my slightly overweight, middle-aged black Labrador, snoring peacefully beside me, covered in grey hair with really bad bad breath…I hope this isn’t so.

But what do we learn from our non-human buddies? What life lessons do they bestow upon us with their presence?  Based on previous pet-experience, here are two suggestions:

Point 1: Death is inevitable

Yes. I thought I’d start straight on a cheery note.

This lesson is brought to you, courtesy of 2 goldfish, won at the Aberystwyth Fair one night some time in the mid 1980’s.  The terrible truth of this story is I can’t remember the names of said fish (In my head it is Finbar & Fishbar, but I know these were the names of my brother’s goldfish, later in life).

I remember winning them at something akin to a coconut shy (again – details sketchy on this one) and bringing them home, carefully holding the clear plastic bag in the back of the car. Either my Dad or my big brother warned me the fish were unlikely to survive the night. I was determined. These fish would live until I was old – like, maybe even 17. These fish would be kept alive with love.

That first night, the fish swam in a Pyrex bowl usually saved for cooking stuff in the new microwave. I was concerned about this… that they might end up in the fridge or zapped accidentally, but they were still there the next day. Alive.

They were pretty and orange. “Why do they call them gold?” I asked – I still don’t think I know, now I think of it. No matter. To me my orange-goldfish were perfect.

After school that day, mum took me to a pet shop (I’d never been to a pet shop) where the fish were bought a proper bowl, gravel, food and the wee man gave me instructions for looking after fish. The need to clean the bowl and top-up the water carefully was verbally underlined. Don’t worry, Good Sir.  I am keeping these fish alive and happy.

On returning home, the fish were transported gently into their new aquatic surroundings – with Mum adding a special prize of two fairly large white coral chunks which had previously been ornamenting the bathroom. Happy fish. New landscape. All was well.

The fish survived for months. And months. And months. It became a talking point with visitors – the fairground fish faring well. Our fairground fish were not the dying kind. They kind of grew and we got a bigger bowl…My fish-for-life plan was working.

Until, that was, I returned home from school one day to feed the fish, as usual. There they were, floating on the surface, pale and un-orange. Surprisingly white in death. Both fish. Gone. Both. On one day. One must have died of heartbreak when the first one died. My plan for old-age fish died with them. I was devastated.

The fish were given a proper burial, in the back garden. I made a little cross out of lollipop sticks and the white coral was placed on top as a sort of marker. Sad times.

The end of that particular fish-tale you’d think…only….it turns out my fish did not collectively and naturally meet their maker, as I had assumed.

The fish had, indeed, been alive for months. And in that time the white coral chunks had grown slimy and greener and greener. My lovely mum decided this wasn’t a good look and reasoned it was probably not good for the fish, so she took the coral out and gave it a damn good bleaching…. Not fully realising that coral is porous. So when, even after rinsing it through a few times, she put it back in the water….

Two bleached fish.

Point 2: They don’t speak your language

Around the same time, my Dad decided we needed a working sheepdog. We were living on the Welsh Agricultural College’s sheep farm in mid-Wales. Dad lectured there & ran the working farm. A little dairy, a little arable, but mainly it was the flock of a few hundred ewes that occupied us. We had a full-time Shepherd, Bertie – who was wee, barrel chested and dark. A serious man of few words. He spoke Welsh as his first language, English as a halting second. Bert trialled sheepdogs Nationally. He was a man who knew his stuff. To my knowledge, Dad consulted Bert about the sheepdog purchase, then went off somewhere to Powys, bringing back a 9 month old, semi-trained, skinny black-white and tan Collie.

Choosing to acknowledge our Scottish roots, we named him Jock.

We had high hopes for Jock – he came from a proud lineage of working dogs. Dad commenced training with the dog with gusto… but after 10 days or so, he admitted the dog confounded him. One Saturday morning, as I pulled on my wellies, Dad said we were going to pick up Bertie in the Truck to “See what can be done with Jock.”

Jock was in the back of the pickup as we drove, face fully into the wind, trying to bite the air as it passed him. My father was unimpressed “look at that daft mutt.”

It seemed we had been sold a pup. Literally.

20 minutes later, I’m standing on the field gate, beside Bert the Shepherd, who was leaning on his crook, flat cap pulled firmly on, Pipe in mouth, watching Dad and the dog.

The dog split the flock. He ran left, enthusiastically, when right would have worked better. He lay down only after several screams. Jock-the-Dog was, indeed, hopeless.

I said so to Bert. Confidently repeating Dad’s assertion that  “This dog is no use”

Bert sighed. Shook his head. Took his pipe out of his mouth and said darkly: “It might not be the dog, Julie fach”.

I looked on at the scene anew.

My father, increasingly agitated. Shouting louder, gesticulating more.

The dog LOVING every moment of running about with sheep – the sheer joy on his face, utterly unconcerned by the yelling Scotsman.

Eventually, Bert could take no more. He shouted Dad back and went into the field.

He called Hopeless Jock over, knelt down beside the dog and seemed to talk to him.

After a minute or so, he stood, full-shepherd, crook slightly out and began running the dog.

Of course, it worked perfectly. The dog dropping, running, shifting direction as bid. Whistles and shouts, calm instructions man-to-dog…. One flock, neatly rounded.

Bert walked calmly back, broad chested and slightly bandy-legged, Dog at his side. As was his way, he stopped without saying anything & started stuffing his pipe.

After a moment or so, he lit the pipe, took a puff or two and looked at my Dad.

“I think I know the problem, Bill.”

My Dad looked up

“This dog. He came from Powys, right?”

Dad nods

Bert starts to Chuckle….

“He don’t speak English…. Mae’r ci yn siarad Cymraeg”

I didn’t understand.

He chuckled again

“The dog speaks Welsh.”

——-

Reflection

It took a while to find what I wanted to write. The title invited an element of “expert”

What Could We Learn From Our Petssounds like something requiring something Proper.

I spent a couple of hours trying to write properly… racking my brains for something intelligent and wise to say.. and in the end, it was stories from my childhood that really resonated… the Goldfish tale and the, frankly daft, notion that a dog might “speak” Welsh. Both are true stories –blurred by memory and my brothers will doubtless tell me I’ve made stuff up… creative license? But when I started writing these tales, it flowed more easily, it was fun – I remembered more deeply than I expected to….

I also felt dodgy putting Welsh words in the tale of Jock – the endearment fachinstead of the formal version of little, bach. Google Translated “The Dog Speaks Welsh” and for any Welsh speakers ( Mark Hendy & Kate Graham, I particularly have you in mind) I may have added something comedy or true or awful in trusting a search engine…

Both stories still make me giggle… so I guess that’s been part of the pleasure of sharing.

Colour – #21daysofWriting – Day 6

Day 6’s topic comes from the brilliant, creative Christine Locher Second foray into fiction, with a flash of colour, I hope

———

Scotland – 1920 ish

Isla sits on the end of the bed, breath held, no sense of how long she has been sitting there, waiting. Hands on her lap. Feet resting on the floorboards. The clock on the mantle ticks solidly. Everything is still and very very quiet.

She becomes aware that she is cold; and with that comes a sense that she needs to move. So she does. She smooths the skirt of her dress, the fabric soft beneath her fingertips, and slowly rises.

She stands for a second, no clear sense of direction, and catches the image of her face in the mirror above the fireplace. “I am pale” she thinks. She regards her dark hair, curled and pinned. Her blue eyes and prominent nose. Her mouth and the angles of her jawline. She sees dark circles and an unsmiling mouth, a gauntness that makes her look older. She tries to smile, but her nerves stop her eyes from catching the feeling. She turns away, her spirit stubbornly refusing to spiral downward.

Today is the day.

She is ready.

She looks down at the dress. A fine thing. An expensive thing. Beautifully fitted and perfect for the occasion.

She takes a deep breath and goes to seek the others.

 

The men have gathered in the kitchen.

The bottle of whisky on the table, dram glasses gathered around it, belies the fact that it is morning.

They stand, suited, smart, hands in pockets, glass in hand or leaning on the sideboard. Some sit at the table. There is talking, gesturing, fiddling with pocket watches or cigarettes or pipes. A shaft of low winter sun strikes through the gloom, dust motes and smoke moving through it.

She enters the room quietly.

Her father has his back to her. Uncle sees her, nudges Father and nods toward her.

Father turns, expectant, arms opening to greet her as he turns. He takes in the vision of his daughter.  He looks at her for a few seconds, staring. His arms drop.

“What’s this?” He says, quietly.

She doesn’t respond

“Isla?” Still quiet. Ominous. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”

She still says nothing, aware that the room is now silent; that all the men are looking her way; that the moment she knew would come is now here. For all she’d prepared for it, she now feels woefully under equipped and afraid.

She opens her lips to say something… but her tongue is thick and her mouth dry.

Father is standing facing her directly, still across the room. His eyes have ignited – cold fury shining from them.

“Answer me, damn you, girl. What the bloody hell is going on?”

 

“There’s no need to swear at the lassie, Gregor.” – A voice behind her. Mother.

She watches her father shift his position, less certain what to do in the face of his wife.  “Agnes. She’s wearing… she’s wearing…” He gestures at his daughter, unable to finish.

“Red, Gregor. Our daughter is wearing Red.”

He considers this for a second.

“What the bloody hell is she doing wearing red?” He explodes, “It’s a funeral for Christ’s sake, no a…. a… hoor’s convention”

Agnes stands beside her daughter, long black coat buttoned up, the cold from outside still radiating from her. She takes Isla’s hand.

“Isla, my lass. Tell your father why you are wearing red.”

She hesitates. Looks at her mother. Mother nods, gently encouraging. Eyes still on Father.

“It was Robert’s favourite dress, father. He bought it for me. In Paris”

Father looks at her, incredulous. “What?” his contempt is searing.

She takes a deep breath. “This is the last dress Robert bought me. He loved this dress. I told him I would wear it to the funeral”

Father looks between Isla and his wife, trying to take it in. “No. Absolutely No.”

“Gregor…”

“No. No. No. What will people say, Agnes? The Minister? What will the Minister make of it? I forbid it! No daughter of mine goes to her husband’s funeral dressed like that!!”

“Gregor..”

“Hush, wife. I’ll not hear it! I forbid this, understand?”

He rounds on Isla “What possessed you, girl? What are you thinking? A Red Dress, Isla? Paris you say? It looks like he bought it for a…. Tart. Get up the stairs and put on proper mourning attire, or I’ll thrash you like…..”

“THAT IS ENOUGH” her Mother thunders.

Isla doesn’t move. The men seem frozen, too. Only the smoke in the light-shaft moves.

Gregor looks stunned for a split second, then recovers. He puts his whisky glass down, purposefully. The silence is agonising. He moves toward them, menacingly.

“Speak to me like that, would you? In front of all these people?” He hisses, quietly.

Isla is terrified. She bows her head, quivering. Her mothers hand squeezes hers and releases.

Agnes pulls herself to her full height, still smaller than he, and stands between him and his daughter.

“Aye. I would.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

She says nothing. Holds her ground. Dares him silently.

In the silence, in the safety of her mother, Isla thinks about the Red Dress. About Robert, returned from the war unlike so many of his brethren. About how he had passed through Paris on his return home. About how her had greeted her, victorious, with the dress. About how he had not seen her for over a year and when she put it on, he looked at her like she was made of purest gold. About the times she’d worn it since. About the promise she made to him, as he lay, riddled with TB. About her fury with God himself that He would return her Man and take her Man in such a fashion. About the bairn growing in her belly that meant this dress would not fit weeks from now…she takes strength from her anger, her grief, her dress.

She steps out from behind her mother and stares him down.

Gregor is taken aback under the eyes of his child. He’s never seen her thus. His own eyes glare back at him, defiant.

“I’m wearing the dress father.”

He shakes his head, enraged.

She restates “I’m wearing the dress to Robert’s funeral and that is the end of it. No man will stop me. Not you. Not the Minister.”

He considers his position. Looks at his wife.

“Are you proud of yersel, Agnes? You’ve raised a bloody Pankhurst bitch”

He spits on the floor.

Agnes simply unbuttons her coat, the crimson velvet beneath revealing itself to her husband.

“Aye. I’m proud.”

 

 

 

Reflection

I loved writing this. Just loved it.

I hung out with the notion of “colour” for a few days – debating how to frame it. the name fuchsia blue? The colours of emotion? what to choose what to choose….

At some point on Sunday night I thought about a red dress and the scandal of it… that was a hook for other things.. how it once would have been more scandalous (therefore age the thing) how the outrage needs to be placed somehow (funeral? wedding? although in lots of cultures, colours at weddings and funerals are essential). It began in Wales, with the father outraged in a Welsh accent ( you’ll see why tomorrow) and moved home to Scotland, where I understand the tone and texture of the language.

It wasn’t particularly planned.. the crimson reveal happened after I’d written Agnes was wearing a coat… it kind of came together by playing it through – what felt real or not…

Listening to Random People #21daysof writing – Day 3

This is day 3 of the #21daysofwriting Challenge

Thanks to Sarah Sniderman for the topic.. I don’t think this was entirely what you had in mind… but I thought I’d try a little fiction.

“Liam? Do you have something to say?”

Oh shit… his face has done something. An hour of sitting here, carefully keeping it all blank, purposefully not paying attention, yet looking like he was. Quietly laughing at this bunch of saddos. Thinking about his PlayStation game and the YouTube video he’d watched last night. About football. About what to wear to that club he and his mates were aiming for at the weekend. He’d nearly made it.. another 45 minutes or so and he would have been free for another week.

And now Evan, that weirdo hipster twat who carries a stupid man-bag and puts his coffee in a stupid recycle cup, has noticed him. 

“Me? Nah.” 

“It’s just…when Aisha spoke then…. You looked like there was something going on for you.”

He tries not to shoot daggers at Evan. Tries to smooth his face flat. Keeps looking at the centre of the circle.

“Nah.” He says, defiantly.

But everything’s spilling outward.

She spoke of her big brother. Aisha. Was that her name? There’s something about the way she told the story – something about her voice, about her. The rest of them are angry or stuffed grief-full, or they have given up and are just shells -empty, blank. Some come every week because they can’t believe what’s happened and are trying to..what? Fix it? Feel? Whatever.

Story after story. Stab after stab. Death after Death. Wringing hands over a thing that is done. Over. Walk Away. Wailing, sobbing, stuttering, fury… Like an endless f-ing repeat every week. Pointless.

It does his head in. He knows all this shit. They have nothing new to say.

But she…. She has ……Dignity. The word surprises him as he thinks it.

It’s a word he thinks of when he thinks of his Granma – his Granma with ferocious eyes and a wicked deep laugh. He can hear her saying: “Always conduct yourself with dignity, boy – for yourself and others. Straight back. Firm feet. Heart in the middle. Head without heat”

She would say it when he was little, sometimes sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a B&H, looking across at him like she could see through him. Sometimes, holding his face in her hands, her eyes sparking, her voice kind.

She would say it when he was in trouble or nearly in trouble.

She said it a lot.

He’d never really got what she meant.

Until Aisha.

“I don’t want my brother to be dead. But he is.”

She’s been coming for 3 weeks. This is the first time she has spoken.

Liam’s barely noticed her before – a Teenage Grief-Bag in the midst of a bunch of Adult Grief-Bags. He’d clocked that she wasn’t Fit and moved on.

She sits straight in the orange plastic chair, somehow taking up way more space than her skinny frame should. She is still as she speaks. Head up. Defiant. Not bent by this. 

Her voice is calm, clear. She leaves a silence.

Liam tries to drag his thoughts out of the room back to the weekend ahead…..but she is undeniable.

She brims with tears as she recounts her story. Brother stabbed. Wrong boy in the wrong place. The impact. The ripples. The tears magnify her eyes –pools of liquid colour that catch the crappy fluorescent lights and turn them into something alive and magnificent.

She brims, but she doesn’t tip over. No sobbing. No weeping. Steady. Containing a galaxy of emotion perfectly. He’s in awe of the power within this skinny thing. He can barely look at her. He can’t drag his eyes away.

She has moved so her hands are on her knees, she is still upright, but leaning slightly forward. Liam realises he too is leaning in. He adjusts himself back slowly, tries again to disengage.

She takes one hand off her knee, wipes the snot from her nose with the back of her hand and keeps going, without apology. Those liquid, lit eyes focussed on the middle-distance. The air around her seems to crackle.

She seeks no vengeance. No retribution. She seeks understanding. Compassion. Strength.

“What can we do to help the boys who stabbed my brother?”

Liam feels his throat constrict – it’s like she’s asking him directly – his belly knots, acidic and thick. She speaks with clarity – Her story, voice strong, even when it waivers – even when, at the end, she whispers “I miss him. Every hour.”

Then she just sit there. In silence.

And the rest of them – the ones who normally offer a hug or a tissue – sit in silence too.

Evan says something and Liam wants to slap him. Just shut UP, man. You can’t follow that.

“Liam? Do you have something to say?”

“Me? Nah.”

What the hell can he say? He reaches to find words, but none are there other than: Fuck.

He is physically molten – feet shifting, belly knotted, mouth dry, throat tightening, pulse racing. What just happened?

“It’s just…when Aisha spoke then…. You looked like there was something going on for you.”

“Nah”.  

He can’t look at her. He can’t look anywhere, but at the floor. 

Evan says it might be time for a break. the Grief-Bags begin to stand and move around. Liam can’t move for a second, pinned by the weight of something. 

He glances over and she has four or five people around her, making her tea, patting her shoulders. She is tiny.

Straight back. Firm feet. Heart in the middle. Head without heat…. Dignity

Alright Granma, he thinks, annoyed. I hear you.

He stands and moves toward the tiny girl. All lanky 6 foot plus of him.

He’s uncertain, hesitant.

She turns as if she were expecting him. The Grief-Bags also turn

All eyes on him.

He says  “It was me.”

Her face crumples for a second, questions and shock run rapidly.

He realises what he’s said, horrified and stammers “I mean… not your brother.. I didn’t stab your brother or nothing.. but I did that. Stab. I killed someone…”

She looks confused.

Evan steps in:

“Alright Liam, that’s good. This is a good step.”

Evan hands him a mug of pale tea. Liam takes it, automatically

“Shall we sit back down, everyone?”