Goodnight Kiss

Boy in bed

A young child waits alone in the dark
His duvet pulled up to his chin
He waits for his goodnight kiss
But his mother forgot about him.

He can hear her voice, drifting upstairs
She giggles, gossips, drinks tea
And while her son waits alone in the dark
She laughs, obliviously

While upstairs her son is alone in the dark
Thinking, “She doesn’t love me.”

We Were Together

kids
You were five and I was six, and we were together.
You were a princess and I was your prince. Swashbuckling pirates, the fearless captain and mate. A crime fighting duo, superman and catwoman.
We were always together, two halves of a whole. Joined at the hip.
But then your mum began to get anxious. She said that it was time for me to leave. She wanted her daughter to make new friends, better friends than me.
You were loyal. You stood by my side. We weathered the storms, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were nine and I was ten, and we were together.
We created our own world and made ourselves Queen and King. Our people adored us, and we had mighty battles against dragons and witches and goblin armies that threatened our rule.
We were closer than siblings, closer than spouses. Two peas in a pod. One person in two bodies.
But then your mum realised I was still around and she was angry. She threatened to stop your ballet classes. She made you go round to other little girls houses, girls that liked pink and ponies and parties.
You were loyal. You stood by me. We survived, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were thirteen and I was fourteen, and we were together.
You were my first girlfriend; I was your first kiss. We went to the cinema together, to school together, shopping together. You laughed at the funny things I said and I told you that you were beautiful.
We were two halves of a whole, joined at the hip, inseparable.
But then your mum found out I was still around, she was terrified. She dragged her daughter to hospital, doctors, shrinks. “You’re thirteen! You shouldn’t still be doing this!” I was labelled as a bad influence.
You began to waver.
We were together less. You kept giving me strange looks and asking questions that were too near to the truth. As you got further away, I got sicker. I was weak, pale, as though I was wasting away. I felt invisible. I was sure I was dying.
I pleaded with you, I begged you, I kissed you, I told you I loved you, but you had stopped listening. I was a ghost, someone you wanted to forget.
I drifted around in the corner of your vision, watching you erase me from your life. But I was never completely gone. You kept me alive, kept believing in me just enough. I was still alive in your memories of me, but barely. Every day it was harder.
_
You were twenty and I was twenty-one. You were strong and healthy and I was nearly dead.
Your mum approached you and asked nervously, “That… boy. Is he still around?”
You turn and glance at me, the translucent ghost in the corner.
“No, mother, I’ve followed your advice. He’s not my friend any longer.” My heart is shattered into so many pieces that it can’t be broken any more.
Your mum nods, relieved. She motions for you to sit down.
“Well… the thing is, dear… he was not a real boy. When you were five, it was okay to have an imaginary friend. But when you were thirteen…” She shudders delicately, reaching out to pat her daughter’s hand in what she probably thinks is a reassuring way. “I hope you understand now. I did it for your own good!”
You pause. I can see your thoughts churning, but you’re too old now for childhood games.
“I know, mother.”
You turn and stare at me. For a moment, the intensity of your gaze brings me to life. For the first time in months I am solid, human, breathing.
But your expression is flint, and I know that it’s all over.
“We were together,” You inform me, your icy voice echoing through your head. “But I have no need for you now.”
I’ve been on the brink of this for seven years, but the finality shocks me to the core. “No! Don’t!” I cry, running to you. I reach for your hand, thinking that if you felt me, you wouldn’t be able to kill me.
But you draw away with a look of pure loathing and turn your back on me.
I know now that I am dead.
Sinking to my knees, I look down at my see-through fingers. A sharp searing pain tears through me as you rip me out of your head. Tears are flooding from my eyes; everything is a watery blur. I can feel myself being undone by you, my seams being torn apart, the colours under my skin merging with the air.
For a brief moment I am suspended in the air. I am everywhere; and then… I am nowhere at all.

Seedling

Seedlings
 

When did you become so important to me?

 

Your name was such a small word. A pill, easily swallowed

Only it didn’t leave me; travelled to the epicentre,

Burrowed itself in my heart

A seed taking root in fertile earth

 

I didn’t notice for so long; it was only when

The pain of being around you became unbearable

I couldn’t see it, I didn’t know

But the seedling had grown and grown and filled

All the space. Nowhere left to go

 

So it split my heart wide open

I noticed then, but too late to do anything:

Already an unstoppable force

Bursting through my flesh, ripping me to shreds

Splintering my bones. Ruining me.

 

I am broken by you, you have undone the tendons

That knitted me together

My skin peeled off, my tender flesh exposed

For the world to see.

These wounds I bear belong to you.

 

You’re making me live, and you kill me slowly.

Merry Christmas

Christmas Presents

Christmas Day.

At lunch, the little boy squirms, impatient to escape from the dinner table. He pesters and pleads with his father until at last, worn down by the endless complaining, his father sets him free.

His gleaming new toys beckon him from underneath the Christmas tree, and the TV guide lies open, slyly showing all the marvellous movies that are currently on. The boy ignores them both.

He sprints upstairs, switches on the clunky computer and goes on Skype.

As promised, she is online, waiting for him. He double clicks on her name and her face fills the screen, smiling at him from the other side of the world. He hasn’t seen her for seven months.

Her khaki uniform is covered in dust. She smiles like a star in a distant galaxy, distant but warm.

“Merry Christmas, Mommy!”

Refugee

I sip the hot drink and feel the skin on my tongue tingle from the burn. It’s heavenly; so rich and strong, the consistency of syrup or melted chocolate. I clasp my hands around the mug and shiver as the warmth rushes up my arms. Raising the mug to my burnt lips, I take another sip.

I close my eyes, and allow myself to think about the others. How cruel this world is, that luck decides who lives and who dies. If one of a million things had happened differently, Randy would be sat in this refugee camp drinking too hot, too strong hot chocolate and I would be the one buried beneath our high school.

If I look back now, I can trace back the cause and effect.

My sister was two years older than me and amazing at everything. My parents adored her and I grew up in her shadow, doing exactly the same things that she had done two years previously; but I could never do anything to her standard.

When she moved up to high school, she joined the school gymnastics club. Soon she was being entered into county, and then regional, and then national competitions and winning everything she tried. She was amazing. When she came home with all her medals and trophies my parents would turn to me and tell me that “if I worked hard that could be me”.

When I moved up to high school, I didn’t join the gymnastics club. I joined the basketball club.

I was the only girl on an entirely male team. At first, I was terrible. I knew nothing about the rules and the boys teased me mercilessly, but every time I felt like giving up I thought what my parents would say. They would compare me to my sister and wonder why I had turned out so badly. So I put my head down and worked like hell. I improved slowly, but a time came when I was officially a member of the team, and we would go and play games against the other schools, and gradually we began to win them.

I wasn’t at school on that day because of a game. It was huge; if we won, we would be entered into the South West tournament, further than we’d ever got. We’d been training for months. I more was terrified than I’d ever been in my life, but somehow, when I stepped into the court, everything fell away. The match was infinitesimally close but we won, and were in the coach on the way home when our coach driver turned up the radio and we heard the news report.

I am alive because I didn’t want to be my older sister. Is that fair? I decided to rebel and my reward is that I get to survive, while my sister, who never did anything wrong, is dead.

Or maybe it’s not my fault at all. Maybe it’s not my fault but pure luck. Maybe an earthquake on the seabed a thousand miles away caused a small disturbance out at sea that became a giant wave that came and swept away our city. Maybe the world is just randomly evil and cares not for who it destroys.

Or maybe we did something wrong. Maybe our city was evil and didn’t deserve to exist, and some God somewhere decided to sweep it off the face of the earth, like a spring cleaner carelessly ripping through the delicate cobwebs of spiders.

Or maybe this was going to happen anyway. Maybe nothing we could have done would have changed the changed the pattern of events. Maybe, in the future, people will look back on this day and say that this was when everything changed, the pivot point on which everything rests. Maybe this was necessary. Maybe all this death and destruction has some ultimate purpose. Maybe there’s some lesson to be found from this mess.

If there is, I can’t see it from here.

 

 

Sleeping Beauty

She looks beautiful.

Her lips are small, heart shaped and a soft pink colour that reminds me of my grandmothers’ roses. She’s smiling slightly, as though she’s having happy dreams. Her eyes are closed, her dark lashes standing out against porcelain white skin. A faint blush rests on her sharply defined cheekbones.

She is beautiful.

She looks like she’s asleep, as though any moment, she could wake up and smile, and we could talk together again. But she doesn’t wake. She’ll never wake. This is no ordinary slumber.

Everyday I’ve been to see her. Everyday she’s been trapped in this cursed sleep. I’ve sat and watched as her skin has turned as white as a ghost and her cheek have hollowed. She’s lost so much of her vitality that she’s barely recognisable as herself. And today is the last day. The last visit.

Behind me, the door opens with a familiar swish. I turn. A young man, the Doctor, is guiding her parents into the room. Her mother has snail trails of tears shimmering on her cheeks but she looks remarkably controlled. Her father’s fingers are shaking like a miniature earthquake and he keeps swallowing, his large Adams apple bobbing curtsies. In his eyes I see the pain I feel reflected back at me. He’s trying not to cry. My heart goes out to them both. Losing a girlfriend is one thing, but losing your only daughter…

“I’ll give you some time to say goodbye,” the Doctor says gently, then steps back to give us some space.

Her mother reaches out and squeezes her daughters’ hand. She tries to smile but her mouth won’t obey. Weariness is evident in her face, her hunched back, the exhausted way she holds herself. She looks old. Bending down, she kisses her daughter on the forehead, as delicately as a butterfly.

“I love you, my sleeping beauty,” she whispers brokenly. Then she straightens and moves away for her husband.

He gazes down at his beautiful daughter, his face drowning in sorrow. Sitting down on the hospital bed, he puts a hand on her shoulder. Trying to speak, the words refuse to come. Swallowing, he says gruffly, “Goodbye, kiddo.”

Then he loses control and the tears torrent out of him, spilling down his cheeks. He lets them come. His shoulders shake but he stays deathly silent. I shiver – there’s nothing more terrifying than seeing a grown man cry. His wife puts an arm around his shoulders.

“Come on,” she says coaxingly. He is carefully led out the room. The Doctor follows and I watch them talking. After a moment, they seem to reach a decision and the Doctor comes back inside.

“Her parents didn’t want to watch. Do you want to stay?” I nod, not trusting myself to speak. I expected him to chuck me out. A rush of gratitude floods through me and for a moment my legs feel so weak I can barely stand.

I look down at her. I know that everyone has dismissed her as dead, but I’ve never let myself believe that. Every day I’ve come and I’ve waited for her to wake up. But today, they’re turning off the life support. It seems too soon, far too soon, and I suddenly realise that I never said goodbye.

Leaning down, I kiss her on the lips, careful not to disturb her. She smells of memories, of hot summer days and laughter: a reckless kind of happiness. She smells of her own sweet perfume. She smells of home.

My throat tightens and my eyes are burning like they’re full of acid. Her face is beginning to blur, swimming dizzily before me. But through the veil of water obscuring my vision, I could have sworn that I saw…

“Stop!” I shout. The Doctor jumps and turns around. His finger is hovering over the power button. “Don’t, I just saw her move!”

He looks at me pityingly. “I’m sorry, but she’s suffering grade six brain damage. There’s no way she could move, it’s imposs-“

He breaks off with a strangled gasp, pointing a wavering finger at her sleeping body.

“She did move!” He said disbelievingly.

“Quick, get her parents!” I order.

The Doctor runs so fast that he trips over an oxygen tank.

I look down at her, waiting, breathless.

Her eyes move slightly under her eyelids. Her mouth opens, just a fraction. Then her fingers twitch and her breathing quickens, her chest rising and falling the ebb and flow of the tide. I cling to her bed so tightly my knuckles turn snow-white.

Her mouth opens fully, she shakes her head, her hands clutch the bed sheet…

…And she opens her eyes.

Nothing could have prepared me for this. Everyone thought she was dead, that her brain had turned into baby food, that she would never be conscious again. But her eyes shine like stars and she pushes herself up into a sitting position. She’s not just awake, she’s alive. I’d forgotten how beautiful her eyes were. A slice of sky must’ve fallen and been caught between her dark lashes.

“Kyle,” She murmurs, and reached out her arms to me. I hug her fiercely, promising myself that no matter what happens, I’ll never let go of her again.

“We thought you were dead!” I whisper, emotion breaking my voice in half.

The door swishes open and her parents gasp loudly. “You’re awake!” Her father cries. They run to her bedside and promptly begin to smother her in kisses. The Doctor comes back in, followed by another medic in scrubs who seems to be his superior.

“…for twelve months, a level six coma, little or no reaction to outside stimuli, and then she wakes up! Never seen anything like it.” He takes the clip chart from the end of her bed. Flipping through it, his caterpillar eyebrows fly upwards.

“This is a miracle.”

The Doctor echoes his words. “A medical miracle.”

“What happened?” Her father asks in a shocked voice.

“I kissed her! I kissed her, and she woke up!” I exclaim. She smiles at me and I feel a hot ache in my chest that’s part pain, part pleasure. “He’s right, he woke me up.” She says seriously. “I felt it. The kiss. I felt like I was underwater, and it pulled me up.” Her mother brushes a stray lock of hair from her forehead.

“My sleeping beauty. My darling sleeping beauty. You are awake at last.”

The Ancient Heart

She was bent over, shuffling slowly

Around her dusty and gloomy house

Scowling deeply, each step causing her pain

Her back bent like a question mark

Broken by life, and time, and terrible sights

That had seared themselves into her memories

As effectively as a branding iron.

Her face was a map of wrinkles

Sunk deep, like scars, into dark,

Weather-beaten skin

She possessed mighty wisdom;

Deep, deep knowledge that seemed to come

Directly from the gods of old

As though they whispered

Their dangerous secrets into her ears.

Her eyes had watched time unfold

When she was young,

They were a shocking cornflower-blue

That made the boys stop and stare… But now,

They are obscured by a film of milky fog,

And the blue is watery and weak

Like the cold, misty winter sky. Although,

Despite everything,

Her old eyes still shine when she speaks

Of her children, and her children’s children

Her skin is sandpaper, her back broken by life

But her heart remains undamaged by

The passing of time.

She is the source of many things

Her huge family stretch from her,

Like the thousands of branches

That stem from the gnarled trunk of a tree:

The ancient heart of everything.

Play-Fighting

The clash of metal on metal rings through the courtyard. Pigeons soar, startled, from the heavily laden apple trees. Maysie, our tortoiseshell cat, looks up sleepily from her perch on the garden wall, then turns her head away. If Ma was in earshot, she would probably start shrieking at me and my brother to quieten down. But I know that she is the other side of the house; far enough away that we can work in peace.

My brother, Adrian, distracts me from my thoughts. “Hey, Miriam, are you here to fight or aren’t you?” I look over at him. Neither of us are wearing any more armour that a breastplate. He prefers to fight with a shield: I don’t. His face is flushed from fighting, but he’s smiling. “Sorry!” I say, before raising my sword and preparing myself. My brother pushes his brown hair from his eyes, his expression one of utmost concentration.

As always, he attacks first. He sprints the three steps towards me and aims a forceful blow at my chest. I neatly step to the left and block his attack, then swiftly cut my own blade down towards his shoulder. He blocks, and we are thrown back into our rapid dance with swords. Even though he is two years older, he and I are very evenly matched at fighting. Apart from him, nobody knows I can fight. A girl with a sword is a shameful sight. So it is our secret.

I know his style, and my mind is flitting through possible attacks, blocks and counterattacks faster than I can deliver them. He is a blur, his expression fierce and serious. We are so close to one another, weaving in and out of the way, and yet we never touch. Only our blades clash together, sending ringing noises echoing off the walls of the courtyard.

After a while – ten minutes, maybe more – the familiar burn of exertion starts to wind it’s way around my sword arm. For a while, I ignore it. But finally I admit that I’m worn out. Almost like my confession was the key to a floodgate, my body seems to begin screaming at me, clamouring to tell my brain about all my various pains. But I’m not going to stop. Not now!

I know that Adrian is getting tired too, because his blocks are slower and are barely stopping my sword before it touches him. His face isn’t flushed any more; it’s bright, tomato red. I’m not in a much better state. I feel like I’m burning up inside and I am uncomfortably aware that the hair on my forehead is slick with sweat.

I can feel him weakening: his attacks are getting feebler and feebler. I grin, taking advantage and showering him with blows. Ignoring my exhaustion, I feint an attack towards his right thigh, then at the last second pull out and swing at his chest. He wasn’t expecting that and my blow catches him full-on in the chest. He staggers back from the blow, his bright red face so surprised that I burst out laughing.

I can’t help it; he looked so funny with his eyes wide, his mouth a round ‘O’ of shock. Laughter spills out of me like water from a tap and I lower my sword. Suddenly Adrian comes shooting into my vision, sword held high, and I only just manage to block him. Caught off guard by his sudden attack, he soon has me pinned against the courtyard wall with his blade at my neck.

We’re both panting. He’s gone – if this is possible – even more tomato-coloured. He backs off, lowering his sword, still gasping for air. I slide down the wall until I’m sitting, with my back against it. He falls down, a marionette with severed strings. My heart is pounding and my hand so cramped I can’t prise my fingers away from the sword handle. After a couple of minutes catching our breath back, he says,

“If you hadn’t begun laughing, you would’ve won that.”

I laugh again, the memory of his face flashing through my mind. “You just looked so funny,” I say with a smile. He returns my smile ruefully, running a hand through his chestnut hair. Now he’s won, our score is… let me see… 7 : 8. But in his favour. Drat! Now I’ve got to beat him tomorrow. We sit in companionable silence for a while before he stands up, offering me his hand so that I can too. I groan as I stand, rubbing my sore muscles. “You shouldn’t have let me sit down, I’ve gone all stiff!”

He grins. “Come on, let’s go and get this stuff off before Ma comes looking for us.” Walking out of the courtyard, I whistle to Maysie, who is still soaking up the sunshine on the wall. With her slinking at our heels we troop through the orchard towards the house.

With my sword bouncing at my hip, and the calming, childhood sounds of the wind in apple trees, the purring of Maysie and the cooing of pigeons, I feel perfectly at ease. My limbs still burn slightly, but it’s a good burn now, a healthy I’ve-just-done-exercise burn. I relax. Linking my arm through Adrian’s, we make our way through the heavily laden apple trees, laughing in the summer sunshine.

The Least Favourite Daughter

The tip of the pen hovered nervously over the dotted line.

For months I had been planning this. Tonight was the night I’d finally be free of my family. A new life, with the man I loved, miles away from anyone who could try to boss me around. For months I’ve managed to put up with Mother’s sneering, scathing lectures and all my sisters’ little comments, a happy fire burning in my chest, a secret belonging to me, and only to me. An escape. Freedom.

So why was I hesitating?

The pen wobbled. Just sign it, Jane!  A voice in my head cried. To be free, all you need to do is write your name. It’s not that hard!

But Mother’s face swam into my mind. Her forceful words reverberated through my head. “I will not have my youngest daughter wasting her life on some… some good-for-nothing tramp! You, unlike him, have a future… education… wealth!”

Am I doing the right thing? Is this all a huge mistake?!

Somehow, the slow burning hatred I felt for my mother has faded. Why can’t I hate her? All the rules, the restrictions, the ‘little-girl-on-the-leash’… If I could remember that deep, furious hate, I would be able to do this!

But I can’t. I can’t do this.

A sly voice spoke up in my mind.

So, what are you going to do? Go back home, with four other sisters, all so much older and prettier and smarter than you? With a mother who will always find fault with you, with your appearance, with your personality, always trying to get you to change? Go back home, to the house where praise means being told that; ‘You did that almost as well as Rebecca did. Perhaps if you keep trying, you might be as good as her… eventually…’ You were always her least favourite daughter. She won’t even notice you’re gone. Sign it. Sign that bit of paper, and you’ll be free of her at last.

The pen stopped wobbling. I took a deep breath. With a perfectly steady hand, I signed my name, ending it with a flourish. I handed the register to the man sitting next to me, sitting so close, touching. He carefully wrote his name next to mine.

And next to me… forever. I smiled at him, feeling my old life slip away. Gone is ‘Ms Jane Felicity Hollan-Rushton’.

He turned, his grey eyes shining with love. “Are you ready, Mrs Jane Peterson?”

I grinned. New name, new life. No more rules. No more restrictions. Let it rip.

“I’m ready!”

Written for Ermilia’s Picture It & Write

A Preserved Lily

An old faded photograph.

Lily: that beautiful flower. Preserved

Forever, her sepia-coloured face

Still smiling, in spite of everything.

A gleam in her eyes that I know

Only too well. A gleam

That meant adventures for us,

Her friends; but fear to her foes. Lily

Will forever be inside a photograph,

Her mouth wide open in a cry

Of amusement… or perhaps the

Beginning of a joke. One that would put us all in

Stitches for hours and hours; become another

Private joke, another of our wonderful

Shared secrets. Lily, the girl

With the silvery laughter, and her

Contagious joy. The girl who loved

Everyone with in the same delightfully

Innocent, childlike way. Lily is pressed

Between the thick, creamy pages

Of my photo album. Preserved, forever.

Lily.

That beautiful flower of mine.

Credit for image to Studio B Portaits

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