Football

Football

football

Lewis is my best friend in the world. Lewis is my longest friend in the world.

We have been friends for five months. He is a boy, like me, he goes to St. Luke’s School, like me. He likes football, like me.

We are different in some ways, but I like to think of the ways we are the same.

I don’t like playing some of the games on his playstation because they make me sad, but I can’t tell Lewis why I am sad, so I pretend not to like the games. I say they are rubbish.

I have other friends now but for a time I didn’t have anybody. No friends, no body. No mother, no body, not even my annoying little sister was there, and I miss her when I can remember her.

I tried to forget everything that happened before. Not before when Mummy and Daddy, and Tania and me were all together, but before I was here with Lewis as my best friend. The in between before time. This time is after my family stopped being.

When I was home I used to make believe that I was a soldier and was fighting great action battles and I became a hero and Mummy and Daddy, especially Daddy, was proud of me. But I don’t play those games anymore.  Mummy would call me from the garden and say, “Anton, come in for dinner now.” I just carried on playing until she came and grabbed me and forced me to wash the camouflage dirt off so that we could sit down and eat together.

I’m not supposed to cry, because boys don’t cry, but I do almost every night because I’m forgetting what Mummy looked like and what she sounded like when she kissed me on the top of my head and told me to go to sleep or I wouldn’t grow. I don’t tell anybody that I cry because I do it quietly when I’m in my new bed.

My new bed is part of my new life, so is Lewis, my new best friend.

At first I didn’t speak. I didn’t speak for a long time. I don’t know how long the time was that I didn’t speak but I was trying to make it old again so I didn’t speak anything new that I’d have to lose. I was good at watching when I was silent. I learned all the new people’s routines even though I pretended that I didn’t notice anything.

On the third day here I saw a boy playing with a football, he never smiled but kicked the ball against the wall over and over. I think he was trying to break the football but he just got tired and sat on the floor holding the ball between his legs while he cried.

I was still looking for my family so I didn’t have time to play football or cry because I had to keep watch. And I couldn’t talk to any strangers because they stopped me from looking, so I stayed near the door and waited. Lots of people came but they weren’t my family.

The waiting was not like the waiting that I had to do in my old bedroom when I was being punished for playing out for too long, I knew that waiting, I knew it would end. This waiting was cold and lonely. I didn’t like it, I wanted it to stop.

It did. But not how I wanted it to. That’s why I started playing football.

I was my old self again and I remembered Daddy kicking the ball to me and Tania trying to get in the way. I pushed her over once – I wasn’t sorry then, but I am now. I just wanted to play a proper game with Daddy.

Lewis plays football with me. It’s good, but it’s not the same. But I am trying not to remember why I try to forget because when I remember I cry or just get so sad that I can’t talk to any one for a long time. In those times I feel like I’m shaking and it’s so cold again, and the soldiers are there with their guns, tanks and loud voices. It is very bright as if someone put all the lights in the world on and made them shine just on my house. Then everything is loud and I cover my ears. The next thing I know is that it’s very dark and I can hear the engines getting quieter as they drive into the distance over the rough roads.

I remember hearing some men laugh, but it was not a laugh that I recognised. I did try to make the laugh sound like the laugh of my cousin Stanimir, or my uncle Franjo. I tried to make the sound into something I had heard when it was the time before the bright light and the darkness – somehow it never works, not even when I dream it.

So, I play football with Lewis, and Ryan his brother, and I am OK for a slice of time.

It’s great to have a best friend. Lewis gave me a pencil on my first day at school, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t trust him, he was a stranger. A boy, just like me, yet I was afraid. Now he’s my best  ever friend and we share everything, except his silly games on his playstation.

The only thing I don’t like in my new house are the combat pyjamas – they’re not funny. I screamed when I saw them on my new bed.

When I was in Serbia my birthday was exciting. I got lots of presents and felt special all day long. I was nice to my sister on that day as well because no bad words were said on birthdays in our house. Mummy always made a cake and Daddy organised the games for me and all my friends to play. It was always a long day full of fun. I loved my birthdays and I thought that they all would be the same for ever: me, Mummy, Daddy, Tania and my friends.

My birthday last week was different – it was nice but empty without my old family, my real family.

My new family, who I call Auntie and Uncle, they bought me lots of gifts, more than I’d ever had before, and they were kind to me all day. Lewis and his brother bought me a mini football – I like that. Stefan, my previous best friend, who lived next door to me and was in the same class as me at our old school, he never bought me a football but we shared each other’s games since we were born. I’d known Stefan for ever. I’d known him almost as long as I knew my mum and dad and even longer than I’d known my sister, Tania. Stefan didn’t make it to the old town hall where I ran to a few days after the soldiers had been. Nobody else from my neighbourhood made it there either.

I’d always been the fastest runner in our class, so I ran and hid until the loud noises went away. Mummy told me to run, she was crying when she called out to me, “Run, Anton, run!” I’d been playing in the shed, and was still hiding there when they  came. The soldiers had grabbed her and Daddy had finished fighting and was lying on the ground.

I couldn’t move at first but her voice begged me to go, and when she screamed I went to help her, but she shouted at me in her angry voice mixed with her sad voice, “Do what I tell you, run Anton!” So I ran away and left the soldiers hurting Mummy. And I stayed hidden in the woods for days and it was scary when it was dark. I was always cold and hungry. I don’t like the dark, it frightens me. Tania doesn’t like the dark either. We always have a light on outside the bedroom at night so the shadows don’t come in.

I still have the light on.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2007

(1,370 words)

The History of Ordinary People

The History of Ordinary People
(A short story by Marjorie H Morgan © 2017)

It was a day in April, nothing remarkable had happened on any of the other days in April so far, and Mish wasn’t expecting this Tuesday to be any different. That was the way she liked it, no surprises were the best presents she could every ask for.

When she first woke up that morning she did so only because of the insistence of her bladder penetrating through her sleep. At the time her alarm clock hadn’t yet gone off so she reluctantly opened her eyes as narrowly as possible, and shifted from the bed.

Broken sleep was something Mish had become afraid of in recent years because in those early hours of the day all sorts of thoughts and memories settled in her mind, and even with her eyes clamped firmly shut she was then unable to grasp sleep again. That’s why she liked routines. They gave her comfort, but most importantly, they gave her sleep, they closed her mind from conscious wandering.

Along with a fondness for routines, Mish also liked to dream, and she looked forward to time in bed and the pleasure of deep unbroken sleep. If she remembered her dreams when she woke up Mish would write them in her dream book that was always close at hand on the bedside table. What Mish did not like was thinking, and not being able to stop thinking, especially about the past. About when she was younger and the decisions that she made that had led her to a life settled in suburbia and middle age.

With semi-closed eyes she made her way back to her bed. The darkness that pervaded all the corners of house was confirmation that it was too early to get up, so with gratitude Mish crawled back under the duvet into the warm spot she had just left. She was as desperate to get back to sleep as a someone who was parched with thirst. Laying in bed with the duvet pulled around her back, she started to think about what time it could be. She hadn’t dared to open the curtains at all but there was a small gap at the top of them where a different shade of darkness had peered through. It was not night, but also not quite day. It was the kind of light that couldn’t make its mind up whether to be one thing or another. It was a comforting kind of dark light that assured Mish that there was still plenty of time to settle back into bed and maybe get back to her dream.

This time, sleep came again quickly and soon she breathed evenly as dreams caressed her mind.

The first alarm went off louder than usual. Well, it sounded louder but that was probably the alcohol increased sensitivity that was banging at her head.

As she made her way back from the bathroom for the second time that morning, she stopped by the window and gently pulled the curtains a few inches apart. The sky was still grey, although it was lighter than when she had got up a few hours ago.

Having that extra drink so close to the time she did eventually go to bed had been a really bad idea, she knew it at the time, but did it anyway, the way you do something that you know you are going to regret but carry on and enjoy the guilty pleasure of that moment. Now, in the early part of the morning when she knew she had to get moving, the regret was stronger than the momentary pleasure of the past evening. She made a mental note to stick to her routine in future. But somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that she would be having this reflective conversation with herself again sometime soon.

Glancing at the time on her phone, she saw the date and knew that she wouldn’t go back to sleep now that she had remembered, not that she could ever forget this date. There was now no chance of even five minutes of numb resting between the alarms. Clarity slapped her awake and she pulled the duvet even closer around her as she lay still with a fixed stare from her wide open eyes. Mish’s gaze held fast to the shaft of light fighting its way through the curtains onto the wall. Today was why she had the extra drink last night. It wasn’t a mystery, but it wasn’t something that she had purposely brought into the front of her mind. That glass of smooth merlot was her medicine to help her forget and sleep. Well, that’s what something in her said as she had poured herself that third large glass of wine. It didn’t work. It never did. With a sigh Mish threw back the duvet and pushed her feet into her slippers.

This day began the night before, when she was clearing up the kitchen before going up to bed. There was a tune on the radio that jolted her, she switched stations quickly and that’s when she reached for the wine that was sitting on the table.
Now the day began all over again, in the sombre grey light of the April morning.

It was the longest day of her life, every year the same thing. Just like the first time, when she was the same age as her son.

It was that thought, that stayed with her all day and caused her to raise her voice when she got home in the evening. Shouting and arguing were activities Mish didn’t like to partake in, especially since Jay had left; they left a sense of bitterness in her mouth and mind that even the sweetest glass of Ribena couldn’t displace.

It was later than usual when she eventually got home after work, and the shops had been full of indecisive people who didn’t know what they wanted to eat later.

“Shall we have pasta or a pizza?” The two women walking down the same aisle as her were asking each other for menu suggestions. The only thing was, they were doing it with their trolley – full of biscuits, packets and cans, positioned askew the aisle, so Mish couldn’t squeeze past the pallet that the store employees were unloading a little way ahead of them all; they had created a bottleneck. She didn’t want to back up and go all the way around, because she was sure that they would be at the other end of the aisle by the time she took the long route to the herbs and spices that were just beyond the shelf loads that were being slowly unpacked.

‘Pizza,’ she thought for them, ‘please choose pizza’. The pizza bases were on the shelf just to their right, she wanted to reach out and put a couple of packets into their basket just to get them out of the way. But they looked like they couldn’t be bothered to cook, they looked like they never cooked anything from scratch. ‘They’ll probably need the ready made pizza from the fresh food counter at the back of the shop,’ she thought as she took a second glance at their shopping.

‘Just move!’ Mish screamed inside her head. Then she said, “Excuse me,” in the politest tone she could muster. Her tone had a slight edge to it, despite her best efforts at calmness. They both jumped in surprise at her voice, she was inches away from the woman with dark brown hair peeking from under a maroon hat. Was she a woman or a young girl? Hard to tell from that angle and the clothes she was wearing, more like a shift than shapely clothes.

‘Younger than me by a long way’, Mish mused to herself, ‘should have more of a clue about food by now you’d think.’

“Oh, sorry,” the woman closest to her mumbled as she hastily pulled her trolley in to the side, banging into the shelves as she did so. “Oops!” she exclaimed to no one in particular.

As she walked past them Mish felt guilty for the way she had judged them on the content of their trolley. What did she know about them after all? Nothing. She knew nothing about them, the same amount they knew about her. But she did suddenly wish that there were rules for trolley behaviour in shops like the rules for using an escalator.

At the front door she nearly dropped the bags as she struggled with the shopping, her work bag and the keys. She really should have made two trips to the car, but she was reaching the point of exhaustion and just wanted to be indoors and sat down with a cup of tea.

As the door swung backwards into the hallway she stumbled a little and called out, “Josh? Josh? Where are you? Come and give me a hand, please.”

“Oh hi! Can it wait?” his voice trailed down the stairs from his room. “I’m busy watching something. I’ll be down in a bit. Alright?”

“Seriously?! Get down here now! I need your help.”

“Can’t it wait?”

“No. It can’t. How often do I ask you for help? Hardly ever. Please come and help me. Now, please!”

Angrily, he stomped out of his room and walked down the stairs where his mum was standing in the hallway.

The frustration between them collided in the air as they glared at each other.

‘This is so not on,’ Mish thought.

“When I was your age …” Mish could hear herself drifting off before she really began and when she knew that she needed to be focused and give a life lesson. But suddenly she didn’t care that she was getting distracted and that made her afraid. She needed to care. She knew that what she had started to say was important for her son to hear. Well, she had thought it was when she had started speaking, suddenly, she didn’t care about talking anymore and all she wanted to do was to wind back time and be in the bedsit in Surrey. All alone. All alone with nothing but her pain, her hopes, dreams, disappointments, and great unmade plans for the future.

The guilt that hit her when she realised what her thoughts meant made her face flush with embarrassment.

“Are you alright?” Suddenly, Josh was paying attention to his mum. Usually, when ‘she started’ as he liked to label the talks that she launched into with him – several times a day it seemed, he would put on that look that made it seem as if he was almost paying attention, but not too much otherwise she would know something was up.

“Yes, yes. I’m fine.” She lied.

He knew she had lied to him as he had read her face since he was a baby. Josh also knew that when his mum lied to him she got really sad for days after. What he didn’t know was that it was not the fact that she had lied that made her so sad, it was the reason behind the fact. That was a mystery that he had never been able to fathom. Once he had even searched in her room when she was out, to try to find out what her big secret was, trying to see if he could unlock the mystery to her infrequent withdrawals and repetitive playing of seven old records. But then he got bored with looking at her things that he thought were old and pointless. ‘These things would look great in an antique shop,’ he thought to himself as he sighed in frustration having not found anything worth a second look. If he had kept going for a few more minutes he would have uncovered the leather bound notebook, hidden in the drawer under the unused handkerchiefs. It was the perfect hiding place, because Josh, like so many other people, didn’t see the point in cloth handkerchiefs, especially the embroidered ones that his mum liked to collect, so he moved on with his half-hearted search before giving up and retreating to his room to watch something on TV. As he left her room, he looked over his shoulder to see if he had left it the same way as he had found it. Josh knew his mum loved having him in her room when he was in the mood to talk, but she hated it when he left things in a mess, especially in the kitchen. At night, when he was used to furrowing for food he was like a wild animal: he was too tired and didn’t care about the mess that he left. He knew that it annoyed her, but he also knew that he intended to clean it up later. Really, he did. Unfortunately, later never seemed to come before his mum blew her top and shouted at him to clean something or another up. It wasn’t really his fault that he was so busy. He wished she could understand what it was like to be him. But he didn’t ever say that. Instead he said, “I was just going to do that.”

But, being a teenager the time that the thing, whatever it was, would get done, never seemed to stay in his mind for longer than a few seconds. The truth was that he kept forgetting as there were more interesting things to look at, people to text and talk to, photos to post online and … well, life was more exciting that doing chores. Josh also had a failsafe fallback position because he knew that his mum hated mess and he could out-wait her. It was like a card game, he held the trump card which meant he never had to do anything if he didn’t want to. She would always give in first.

“When I was your age …” She started to speak again, and that’s when the dream journey into the past and a different future began.

‘When I was your age, I didn’t imagine that I would be here now, a parent, a home owner, an office worker. When I was your age … I had just left home and I was living in a bedsit, sharing a house with strangers, living hundreds of miles away from my family for the first time. I was working at a new job, in a new town doing something I wasn’t sure I could do. I had managed to convince my employers that I knew what I was talking about, I lived in a state of anxiety for years. I was sure that they would find out that I really didn’t have a clue and had blagged my way into the company by a series of unexpected turns of fortune.

There were many evenings when I would go back to my bedsit, doing my best to avoid all the other people in the house. I would furtively use the shared kitchen and bathroom when I knew they had all finished or were out somewhere. Sitting in my room, watching my portable TV or listening to the radio on a low volume, I was aware that my life was moving ahead of me in a direction I had only taken because I was too obstinate to accept the alternative. That’s another lie. I was afraid of the alternative. That’s the main reason that I had left home.

There I was, barely eighteen years old, living independently near the South coast, working in the head office of an insurance company. Why? Because I didn’t have any one to offer me an alternative. I didn’t have a cushy home life. I didn’t have a choice but to choose to survive and that was my best option. At the time, when I was your age, I felt like I was living on the moon, isolated and afraid.’

Instead of any of those thoughts she said, “I’d offer to help before I was asked, and I’d do things around the house when I was at home.”

“All I’m asking for now is a little help to put the shopping away. Is that too much to ask for? I’ve had a long, tiring day. Can’t you just help me?”

He just stood there looking at her. He made no effort to reach out and take any of the grocery bags from her. He was confused. He heard what she was saying but he couldn’t figure out what she wasn’t saying, and he was thinking about the film he was just watching too.

“What have you been doing while I’ve been out? Did you even …” Mish trailed off as she walked away from him and went into the kitchen. There she saw that the surfaces were still full of dirty dishes that he’d moved from his room the day before.

Spinning on her heels, she turned to Josh, “I thought …”

“I’m just about to do it.” He hurriedly said, walking past her and lazily moving a few items around the worktops. The truth was that he had forgotten about them, as usual.

“I’m done!” Mish dropped the three bags on the floor and walked out of the kitchen.

“Mum?” he called after her, but she didn’t stop. “Mum? What do you mean exactly when you say ‘done’?”

She ignored him, something she didn’t like to do but at that moment Mish was sure that any words that came out of her would hurt both of them.

With her hand on the bottom of the bannister Mish hesitated for a second, she really wanted to go back and take the frozen items out of the bag and put them into the freezer, but that would make her dramatic exit seem weak, so she carried on walking up the stairs and went into her bedroom. Closing the door behind her, she stood with her back against the dressing gown that hung on the brass hook at the back of the door. The warmth of the fleece-like material against the back of her head calmed her breathing for a few moments. She felt swaddled and stood still while her breathing returned to normal.

After a short while she could hear the freezer drawers opening in the kitchen, and the sound of frozen items being dropped into them.

‘That’s something,’ she thought wryly. ‘Why is everything such a big deal?’

She took a few steps and flopped onto her bed, Mish realised that she was still wearing her coat and started to cry. Not because of the coat. And she cried with silent tears, of course. She never cried so that Josh could hear her. Mish thought that he never knew, but the days when she had red eyes were also the days when he would surprise her with an unexpected kindness. It was a mutually agreed blindness to the truth, they both practised it without a word.

The house went quiet and she drifted off into a semi-conscious state where she was crying in her dreams. Some time later Mish heard the creak in the fifth step as Josh made his way upstairs. His hesitant footsteps reached outside her closed door. Then nothing for several seconds.

‘“Mother?” the simple word was accompanied by a knock at the door.
“Yes, Sweetie,” the tired automatic response came from the corner of her mouth.
“I’ve made you a cup of tea. Shall I bring it in?”
“Go on then,” Mish replied after she hastily wiped the remaining tears from her face and adjusted it to wear a tired smile.

Josh pushed the door open and lopped in.
“Where do you want it?”
“On the coaster, of course!”
“Of course!” he laughed his rich deep laughter and then sat on the end of the bed. He was staying for a moment. That was unusual.
There was a hint of nervousness around him even though he feigned the look of casual indifference.

He scanned her face while pretending not to look at her directly at all, that was something he was getting good at. He noticed the slight redness in her eyes, but didn’t say anything.
‘I thought she’d been crying,’ his internal dialogue started up and he assessed the state of his mum while deciding what to do. ‘I was right. Oh God! Not again. What is it this time? Ah well.
… Humour usually works,’ he thought. ‘I’ll give that a go, then I leave her be.’

“Why have you still got your coat on? Are you cold? Or are you having a ‘senior moment’?” He looked straight at her as he spoke. Again he laughed and the corners of his eyes crinkled up like a beautiful piece of linen.

Despite herself Mish smiled at him and pulled herself up, propping her back up against the huge colourful cushions that were strewn on the bed.

‘He really does care,’ she thought. ‘He is such a darling!’ Even though there were times she could cheerfully strangle him for being a brat, at that moment all she thought of was how wonderful he was.

Mish smiled involuntarily as she remembered the joy he gave her from the moment he was born. She remembered all her hopes and dreams for him as he lay in her arms, and now, looking at him sat on the end of her bed, Mish felt guilty all over again as she replayed the words in her mind as she reprimanded him for his laid back approach to life.
“When I was your age…”

And suddenly she was grateful that Josh was not having the same life experience that she had when she was his age. In the bedsit, all those years ago Mish would never have guessed that her real life’s purpose was not insurance but being his mother, especially as she had barely been mothered herself. It was in that same secluded room that she lay alone after she had just stopped the process of being a young mother herself by a simple hospital procedure: in and out. All done.

Shaking the memory from her mind she smiled at him. He was such a lovely boy.

That was his cue. He knew it was a real smile. Not one of those fake grins that she used to try to placate him when she couldn’t be bothered to talk anymore.

“Right, I’m going to my room,” he responded with a crooked grin. “The kitchen is tidy, too.”

“I should hope so! It’s about time.” Mish retorted and they both laughed.

“Sorry about the delay in service,” he said as he walked out.

(3,777 words)

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

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Arena

Arena

The prologue

Grass is persistent and always finds a way to grow through concrete, as does love; it will find the soul no matter how deep it has been hidden by anger and loss. Weeds often shadow the grass and differentiation is needed.

The stadium of life can catch you in the spotlight when you least expect it. Then individuals become transfixed by a persistent beam like rabbits on a country road.

Act 1

What is born each night and dies each dawn?

I am here.

This is who I am. Here in this world. I have chosen to use my real name. Then, why would I do otherwise? This is virtually all I know.

I did not ask questions until it was too late. Like Lego we clicked together without any real effort or struggle. Close fitting. Comfortable.

I entered this virtual world as my self. My history has taught me to be honest. I told all within a moment. I felt no shame and the mute self that usually shadows me had fled in the glare of the neon flat-screen. As I experienced this new birth I shook my cocoon loose. I realised that I could never go back. I shrugged in my chair; I planned to stay here as long as you could bear. I need you more than I need to sleep.

Tomorrow always takes care of itself. It releases its anchor and slips into today, yet it still exists as tomorrow.

When I did not know you, when you lived in my concealed thoughts of the future, then I was not enslaved. I was free to roam and be just a part of me. Now I have to be more of me since what is born can never return to the ovule state. There is no reversal of my growth. Going back never works … only death will stop my dreams, but it will never stop my heart and the love that lives there.

I did not know your history or who you had decided to reveal to me when we met and joined together in that aligned world.

For months, or maybe it was mere shards of moments joined together, we rearranged the other worlds so that in effect we could meet. The real consequence was the withdrawal of emotions from the flesh and blood that surrounded me. Knowledge was ignored in place of emotions and desires. I believed the façade and I took time to enhance it.

The keyboard tapped out my dreams and you interweaved yours with mine, as if you knew me. I was never hidden, at first; I tried to hide when it was too late. I had revealed too much of my heart and nothing could heal it. Like Juliet, I did not want it to be healed. I wanted to suffer in the Buddhist way, to feel the pain, because without it I would forget. I have no desire to forget or to move beyond the knowledge of the love that has captured me.

I willingly neglect my duty to develop the cessation of the painful feelings that are my new world. Why stop now? I never stopped to reflect before I embarked on this act of revelation. Did you?

I grew to know you. My life was reversed as I moulded it to fit in with yours. Whatever gaps I placed in my story you filled them and fitted into them like decorator’s caulk. Not once did you disappoint me.

Silence.

Feeling full is a satisfying state. The thousands of hungry people that roam the earth looking for nourishment first have to satisfy the base craving for food before the desire for love can be approached. In the position of comfort I found you and mirrored your contentment.

I didn’t care about love until I was loved and loved you back. But even then I didn’t really care. It was still part of the game that I have played all my life. I dig for the elusive value that flirts with my sleeping mind, and then when I touch something of a unique and different form I am frightened so I quickly give up the search as unfulfilled. Fear of success makes me run.

If I find this prize too soon what else will I have to do for the rest of my time here? Knowing that you hold my matching part I run.

You see, you surprised me by your affection. It was unexpected. You got under my skin when I had sewn myself up tightly years ago. No room to breathe, or so I thought, no room for any kind of emotional manoeuvre but you parallel parked your heart with mine. Matched.

It was not love that caused the other millions to perish. Not many people have ever died of love. Absence of love caused the murders. Somebody should have said so before.

The day I entered this world, the one you entered simultaneously, that was the day when we became gods and began to create our universe. In the beginning there was void and our lives were without shape and darkness covered the face of our non-existence. The loss that had accompanied my body since birth was arrested for a wonderful week as we discovered our prosperity in each other. The shadow of decay was eclipsed as you covered me and we became one.

I have a new identity.

Your words formed me and I am marked for life. Like the Jews with the numbers imprinted on their flesh I remain captive to you. Even when you are not here, with me in the now. I am linked to you through these markings. Where you have touched me, outside and in. I have the trace of you forever as part of my flesh.

I have been rescued from my history. The love that is here, now, has stripped me of the mask that I lived behind in safety from you and myself. I am afraid that I will not be able to exist without my disguise. Exposure is a risk that I take alone only once every century.

‘I am giving you myself,’ you said.

‘I want to belong to you, to be yours.’

I hesitate to believe your words. I have heard these lies before. I wait for the punch line. It never comes. Are you true?

I was silent as I heard your heart beating in time with mine. Was it just the one heart that we have started to share? The one dream? A dream is always a risk. Ask Schlinder. His way of making dreams come true was to save a life or a hundred. His risk was to give time and effort to fulfil his vision. He had his list. To be named is to be saved.

I am new yet worn out from being here before. Please do not make me tired with promises that are empty. I still cling to hope.

But you still went away.

‘Loose ends to be tied.’ You said with too much sadness I think.

Your absence is staggering. It touches everywhere I am.

I constantly form you when you are not in my eye line. The memory of your recent presence becomes real in my mind. You rest in my imagination.

‘Is this the last goodbye?’ you asked in a low voice.

‘Let’s not talk of being final.’

‘I need total honesty.’

‘You know that I cannot leave you now, now that I have found you. Is that what you want to hear? That is my truth. I love you.’

‘I just wonder how long these special moments will last…’

‘As long as you value and remember them.’ I said.

‘Do you?’

‘Do I what?’ seeking clarity I persisted in repetition.

‘Value and remember them as I do.’

‘I will never be the same because of them. I am better because of this sliver of existence that we have shared. Because of you… I will.’

‘There is a rightness in this… do you know what I mean?’

‘Yes. I do.’ I nodded to affirm the fact to both you and myself.

Hope. Alive for the night.

Act two

What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not fire?

When I first saw you in Piazza Bra the ancient met the modern as the voices from the arena swooped through my thoughts. You found my soul!

The thoughts of acquiring anything but you fled from my mind. Prada and Gucci departed with Versace, Valentino, and Ferrè as I followed you through the gates into the arena.  I wanted you to notice me, but not immediately. I needed to savour you first.

Solemnly you paraded through the columns and arches. A lone horn player caused the crowds to hush for a moment. Combined applause greeted the effort. When all the visitors revert to anonymity you have moved upwards, nearer to me.

Scholars have spent their lives searching for the soul but it is discovered only by feeling. To know of the soul is to attempt to coax a beautiful sound from an instrument on the first encounter. To know the soul is to be joined as one with the source of the joy. This awakened spirit reigns the body. All decrees must be followed without question.

I climbed the steep steps and gazed at your glory below me. To the top of three tiers of marble arches I spring. Northwest of this structure is now the centre of my world. I sit above you, becoming your crown.

The arena was the perfect backdrop to your beauty. Arena di Verona has become my Garden of Eden. My heart is made of sand and trickles in your wake.

You are the protagonist that my life story has been missing: welcome to my plot.

Maria Callas has sung about us in this place before this intersection materialised in our lives. I have been wandering and everyone looked the same; until I saw you.

I wonder what language you use to express your love. I wonder what blessing brought me from London last week when I wanted to curl up alone in my flat instead. Songs of praise are on my lips just for the pleasure of viewing you. Michelangelo knew the joy when he saw David after years of imagining him. Are you a mirage?

You excite me like a snowstorm and the sun is flooding the stones as I breathe you in trying to calm my pulse. You leave me no choice but to know you. This pure belief propels me onwards. I cannot waste any time, I have to reach through this interval that you have expanded and spread around me.

The cobblestone streets fell behind me. I pursued you from one private garden to another, through the streets bustling with tourists and slower walking natives. The vibrancy eased me along. I remain locked within the defence system of the Castelvecchio.

Within the walls I hunted you. Through the forests of stone.

Panic struck me when your glorious dark hair was obscured by a fervent shopper. I rushed past: too eager. Then, before I could adjust my steps, I saw that you had paused at a gift shop and I charged into you.

I am bare in front of you. I know you read my soul in an instant. Happiness is not accidental.

Embarrassment sits on my face.

‘Sorry…’ I offer while my mind suggest ‘stay.’

I do not move away after offering myself to you. I cannot go now. Never.

‘No problem,’ and you are also planted in the earth.

‘Would you like to join me for a coffee,’ I propose astonished at my strength and willingness to take a chance.

‘That would be lovely.’

‘Do you know anywhere close by?’

‘Via Mazzini. Just through here.’

The brightness inside me starts to transform me; it is forcing the blackness away.

My breath travels rapidly around my head as I look sideways at you. We walk together, like it had always been so. My steps are delighted for this moment. The fractured moments and places are ancient.

‘I felt the mark of your look,’ you said, ‘I wanted you to find me.’

Our last evening together in the Arena was much like our first: the atmosphere was taut. Just two nights and I have learned to talk of trust. Anxiety has not completely vanished but my enthusiasm for you has starved it.  As the sun slithered below the sky and behind the horizon we lit the mocoleto in symphony with countless others. The flickering beams glowed around the stones and smiles. A pale silver light rose in the sky. We wrap around each other while we are illuminated by untold happiness.

‘Beautiful,’ you whispered.

We knew that separation was imminent, but planned against its permanence. You have captured and controlled time. We combine our past and future to make our lives now.

Turandot was fascinating and unforgettable. But I am only entranced by you. I am alive.

Blood. Red and warm, flickering like a flame.

Act three

What is like ice but burns?

You tore away my ruthless rigidity. I am ashamed of my rapid surrender to your approach.

I became undone by a look. I was called without words.

‘Don’t leave me…’ I whisper. Regret strikes me as I speak. I am forever exposed by my plea. I am afraid of separation now.

I closed my eyes while I waited for you to make a sign.

‘You don’t understand how much this means to me,’ I think while my blood attacks my ears with loud drumming.

The silence is long.

You kiss me and I melt like ice cream left in the sun too long. I turn into a humble and suppliant worshiper before you.

Your cigarette drops un-smoked as you reach for my hand.

Desire never had a place expressed outside of my body. It inhabited my mind before your touch.

Now I am no longer underground. You have excavated me. I let you into my hiding place. And I was afraid.

‘I want to tell you,’ I think.

‘What is it?’

‘What?’

‘That you want to say. What do you want to say?’

‘Umm…’

‘Just say it, don’t think and sanction it, just say it.’

‘Well…’

‘You can trust me now you know.’

Locking eyes, I do know. Thank you.

I speak.

Now you really know.

Being fearless and leaving the land of regret I come to you. I learn to walk in pace with you and slow down as I am no longer in a hurry to escape those shadows that surround me like pack dogs. I am looking at the same world in a different way, through our eyes. I want to belong here with you.

I am excited to know what you are thinking about, the way you search the answers out of me makes me yearn to share, sometimes, when I don’t think first. With supreme sensitivity we enter a territory of limitless realities.

Devotion.

You worship me, here and now. I slip between the cracks in my memory.

Then devotion was frightening.

I refused my father. This was my moment in history when my time ran out.

My agony was explicit as the memories repeated.

‘This too shall pass.’ I chant, about everything except us in the now.

Former things have passed away.

Hesitantly I take you through the border of my mind and into my childhood remembrance.

Dedication.

I lay down my gladius. I will not fight off love again.

This world I need to preserve. Reality is no longer harsh. The broken days that hold no being and leave no evidence have gone since your arrival.

‘Since the first moment…’

‘Yes?’

‘Since that first moment, well, I have both loved and feared you.’

‘Why both? Why both?’

‘Because…’

‘I will never harm you, you know? Never. You are dearer to me than … anything. I cannot name one thing because it will diminish your worth to me. I name everything as worthless in place of you. Do you understand me now?’

‘I feared that I would love myself by loving you. I do. But it is past. The fear has passed. I have spoken from inside and now, now, I put my life in your hands. I hope you will treasure it as I do you.’

‘Don’t cry, my sweet, don’t cry.’

I have allowed you to take me prisoner because I am free.

‘I cry through the release of joy, not through any sadness. The sadness has disappeared. Thank you.

‘You do care, don’t you?’

I hurtle on, afraid again for a moment. Afraid to let a breath or a word slip in before I have laid my soul on the block. There is no retreat. I have no repeal anyway.

‘Indifference would crucify me. You know that don’t you?’

‘If I could be any more devoted … it would kill me. I am yours. You must feel that?

I do.

‘I am your exception because I kiss you without betrayal.’ Those were your ten words of revelation.

I disbelieve my life theory of emptiness. You are my other thought. The darkness is repaired by the person that is you. Things fade in worth.

Your smile wipes away my angry fear and replaces it with love. I have found what I had lost before I knew its name. My thirst is quenched by your presence and desire to make me a part of you.

A love hymn plays between our bodies as you plunge into me as a seal fixed in wax. You cement our foundations and we exist on a plateau. Encased in pure enjoyment. I make no attempts to conceal the pain, for it has died. With joint shadows we can go into the future.

This is the future. I am here.

Your true identity is … love.

Hatred and Fear. Both burn like ice.

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Endings.

‘Mummy, what did she mean when she said I was different? What’s wrong with my nose? Mummy? Mummy? Why are you crying?’

‘Mummy? Talk to me Mummy!

You’re walking too fast Mummy, I can’t keep up… Mummy?’

As the years passed me by in the village so the questions dried up. They were never answered anyway. I knew but didn’t know all of it. But I would. Oh yes, I would know. They wanted me to know. And the others didn’t want me to know. I wanted to know and at the same time I didn’t want to know. So this is how I found out with my clumsy discovery. Some people were happy and some were sadder than a farmer in a drought when they knew I really knew.

Rachel Stitch. That was the girl that first spoke out. We were playing Poo Sticks at the bridge near the barley field by Milk Lane Cottage. Rachel was older than me, she was seven and I was only six, but we were best friends. How long do best friends stay best friends? Why are best friends only best for a while? What comes after best? I found out that Sunday morning.

We were on our way home from church, it was a normal Sunday morning; a bright, but cold, spring day, we were wearing hand-knitted hats, scarves and gloves as we crunched through the lanes on the way home.

Rachel and I ran to the bridge, we always did this, it was our routine every week. We hurried ahead missing the puddles, while our mothers talked and walked at a slower pace. At the usual point we grabbed sticks from the hedges at the side of the lane and raced back to the middle of the small stone bridge.

‘Ready, steady, go!’ We shouted together as we dropped the sticks into the fast flowing water. It was fun. This was like the stories we had read together, but it was our special game. Me and Rachel together in our easy intimacy. We had a common past: this was our world.  Suddenly a dark shadow made me turn to my right and I looked up; it was nothing more than an old bird, a big old bird. I laughed as a blackbird swooped across the path in front of us. That was when Rachel said it. That was when my world cracked and the fissure never healed. The San Andreas fault originated in my chest after the beautiful music from the church organ had not yet gone to sleep for another week. Songs of the world at one rang in my mind: la la la lah la la la lah. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world…

‘You look like that bird,’ she skipped along at my side as we turned to run to the other side of the bridge to watch the sticks appear, ‘but your nose is different. Your nose is too big for a bird. You have the biggest nose I’ve ever seen in my life.’

Suddenly she stopped and looked directly at me. We had looked at each other hundreds of times before, all the days of all the years that were my short childhood, but today Rachel’s eyes were like dead fish eyes to me, they were flat and cold. There was a glaze of distance behind her lids as she blinked. She was somebody else, so was I. We stood two feet apart but thousands of miles away. I did not know what a mile was. It was further than I had ever been. But I felt far away without moving an inch. I was in my dream again. The dream I had before I was here. I was in that dream.

‘Why is your nose so big and why are you so black?’ those were her words. Were they a question or something bigger than a question can ever be? The sticks floating beneath us did not pause except to navigate a rock or clump of reeds.

I thought it was a game and I looked at her with a puzzled frown, I was trying to remember what I was supposed to say next. We always played games together. We read each other’s minds. I was surprised because suddenly all I felt was an ancient yearning for someone I did not know. I moved my eyes to look for the answer. There was nothing in my head. I was lost.

Since she was my best friend, and since that was the last day that she was going to be my best friend, Rachel just carried on talking. She must have been trying to help me out with the game. I smiled at her as I stood opposite her on the cold stone bridge. Our parents had been walking behind us and they were now within earshot of us.

‘You are as black as soot – that’s what my dad says and Mum tells him to be careful in case walls have ears, do wall have ears? And you have a nose like a monkey because you’re the monkey’s cousin…. Is that true that you came from a mud hut in the jungle?’ Paralysed by the absence of joy the gloom of the moment clung to me, it seeped into me like clothes that have taken on the smell of cooking or burning. Unbidden voices told me that I wouldn’t forget this moment in a long while.

‘Look! You won!’ Rachel turned and hugged me. She didn’t know. I wasn’t sure but I felt the change moving in on me and I couldn’t stop it. The tornado of difference lifted me up, flung me around into the star filled night on the other side of the world and then set me back down in the same place as if nothing had happened. The second inside the second that it took for my travels made my feet burn as if I was a Buddhist monk walking across hot coals. I reached a new age but I was harmed.

‘My turn to win next,’ Rachel bubbled as she ran to get more sticks.

I stood leaning on the cold stone bridge afraid to move. I knew I would break into a thousand pieces of dust if I breathed or flinched. My gloves offered me no protection and my coat was like a silk sheet against a blizzard. I stood on the bridge totally exposed: to myself and to Rachel.

My ears were hurting with the words. I didn’t understand. My world was now unstable. I missed what I didn’t know. I understood nothing.

I was startled when I thought I was safe; before I knew what unsafe was I felt it.

I remained fixed to the spot afraid the bridge would buckle if I moved and my mother had to grab me hard to dislocate me. I was torn from the bridge, separated from the skipping child that was me who had run on to it.

I was deaf to my mother’s voice, the only sound available to me was my blood as it exploded and collided inside of me as I experienced the aftershock of seeing myself from outside of myself for the first time. I was using Mr Stitch’s eyes. I was no longer as black as Rachel had said I had turned an ashen grey because I was confused and still only six. I looked up at Mummy and asked her the said questions. Adding ‘Is is true what Rachel says Mummy?’ she never answered me, but held my hand firmly and with a curt nod to Mrs Stitch she pulled me quickly along the lane mumbling something about eggs. That was all she said. Nothing about being black, or having a big nose, or living in the jungle with monkey cousins, all Mummy spoke about was eggs. Got to get to the shop to get eggs. All the way to the shop to get eggs that we didn’t need. We had eggs at home. I knew that, Mummy knew that, but eggs were the first thing she said so off we went, back the opposite way from Rachel and her Mum to get the unneeded eggs. My legs were tired when we got home because we had to walk too fast and Mummy would not let go of my hand. She held it so tight that it hurt a lot but I didn’t say anything else after we passed the church because Mummy was quiet and her eyes had changed to the colour of cold metal.

Mummy was scared, I saw it in her claret cheeks and felt it in her abnormally long strides as I flew along beside her.

Mummy and Mrs Stitch were good friends as well as me and Rachel. But after that day they didn’t like to talk for too long. A whole life of shared memories stopped for all of us after the blackbird. Mummy and Mrs Stitch had longer lives and memories than me and Rachel, but the big people grew as frosty as a winter’s day to each other. They usually only nodded and rushed in different directions. Time made people walk faster. Away, away, away from me. This happened a lot when Mummy and Mrs Stitch were in the High Street. There were only four shops in our village and everybody knew everything about everybody else. But after the Sunday when me and Rachel stopped being best friends, after that day, they, all the people in the village started looking different. They looked whiter and longer than they had before. I felt shorter and darker. I felt black. I was different and I didn’t know what different was. But once I felt it, once the words were out from the plaster on the walls with ears, once everybody knew that I knew, then the sheen of kindness vanished like vapour from an extinct volcano.

I was in a castle all alone. The walls were erected instinctively.  I hadn’t been taught.

At six years old I had no insulation against raw hatred  for just being me.

I was outside. I was marked from the outside. In my village I was out of place because I fitted better in another country that I didn’t know.

When was I old enough to know that I was not seen as the same and that the grey and blue eyes that saw me didn’t want to see me so close to them? It was on that Sunday when Rachel and I dropped the sticks into the water and after the blackbird eclipsed the light in front of me. I hate Sundays. I hate blackbirds.

Alchemy.

‘Marilyn, it won’t work,’ I could hear the exasperation in his voice, ‘just think about it. It’s the same with the animals, they’ll isolate her.’

I remember when Jeff said that to me but Molly looked so cute that I couldn’t hear reason, I believed that love and understanding are stronger than bad reason so I went ahead. I brought her home. And I was right. And I was wrong.

And Jeff was right and Jeff was wrong.

The first four years were bliss. Nothing better on this earth than being in Flax Cottage with Jeff and Molly. I had friends then. I thought I had friends anyhow. When do you know if a friendship is real? Is there always a litmus test moment? I would have told Molly to look out for it if I had known what I know now. Hindsight is always clear vision. But I had lived in the village as long as I had life. It was my home and now it was Molly’s as well. My little darling, Molly. I called her Molly because she looked fragile like a small doll and she gurgled for hours, content in my arms. Her fat little fingers explored my face with gentleness. I had never had such a smooth innocent touch on my skin before. Molly my angel, my gift from God.

I prayed for a baby and Molly came. God gave me Molly but He didn’t warn me that the bliss could shake after a few years. She was in the paper. Somebody needed me to take care of her. I cried for a week after I first saw her. I didn’t think she would ever be mine. And she isn’t. But I thought she was mine and I sometimes tell myself she is mine even though I know the same as they know. And now, now, even Molly knows, but once she did love me as if she was mine and I was hers. We loved each other without explanation from our first meeting.

I told Jeff that Molly was special and nothing could break the love shield around us three. I was wrong, again. I believed in good. I was too young to know any better. I see that now but I still believe that it is wrong that I could be wrong. I should have been right, love said so. Maybe I didn’t love enough? Maybe it’s my fault … if I had more love then Molly would be safe, not alone, without me, without … anybody.

Molly told me that I lied to her. She said, ‘It’s not true you know, they hurt…’

‘What hurts, darling?’ I knew the answer but as I played for time with my useless question I was searching for another bigger truth to absolve her pain.

‘Sticks and stones do break bones… and names, yes, names always hurt you. I’m sorry Mum,’ she raced on not giving me a chance to speak. I had no words anyway so I was glad for her need to express her anger, ‘But they hurt too bad…’ Her tears and my tears were the same colour. As they flowed they prevented us from speaking or hearing any more. But I could never cry enough to wash away all her pain. She has been gone for fifteen years. Just a phone call at Christmas and on my birthday. She never let me call her on her birthday, but I always sent her cards, for the first years at least. The tradition stopped when the past swooped down and eclipsed the present.

‘It reminds me of what I haven’t got to get a card from you, Mum’. From 1979 I kept the unsent cards that I persisted in buying for her; maybe one day she will see them. My only way through is to look at the same moon and feel her absence. I know I am missing part of me – without Molly there is no point.

Existing in my current lack of her I know I love her more that I did when she was one and I could feel her warm breath on my cheeks. I knew that love got bigger. I was right about that. I grew my love to cover her, and me, and Jeff. But it was not enough.

Molly was nineteen when she first told me how much she loved me and hated me at the same time.

‘You are the first one in the family to ever go to university,’ I proudly stated as I sat at the bottom of her bed and watched her pack to leave home.

‘What family?’

My smile fell like a parachutist without a chute.

‘Who do I belong to … really?’

The pause was longer than my life.

‘I feel… incomplete…’ she faded away with her words.

All the little questions were there. All the protection was blown away. I was exposed as a fraud. My love was ersatz.

I looked at her and remembered the lies that I had told her. They were to protect her not to harm her, but they took hold of our lives and it’s now impossible to go back to where we came from. The truth is back there, the truth is in the past that is a foreign place; it’s here too.

I told myself lies as well, lies to make the truth go away. The truth about myself and about Molly’s other mother. I didn’t want Molly to ever leave me so I made this new world the best place for her to be, with me, with me and not with them. I needed Molly as much as she needed me. We were right for each other, are right for each other. How do I tell her that they did want her back but I couldn’t let her go because I would cease to live without her?

It’s not true that if you love something enough you will let it go because I was afraid that Molly would not ever come back to me. For years I remembered the lies and watched for a word from her world. It only ever came in my dreams.

‘Nothing has ever reflected me here in the village… how do I reconstruct myself from nothing?’ What answers were possible to the unknown? My lips trembled as she lowered her head and allowed herself to sag onto the bed. The folded clothes spewed onto the floor as her leg dangled over the edge of the loaded bed.

‘Sorry, Mum. I’m not saying this to hurt you, I know you love me, and have done your best, but I don’t know who I am.’

I was silent. Not even tears helped me through that valley of solitude. I was between the question and the piercing look that was travelling over my face like a solitary searchlight for a lost child in a forest.

‘I’m glad I’ve had you, no, what I mean is that I’m glad you had me, but I have to wonder what was the rest of my past like. Do they think of me any more? Am I missed or loved?… you never told me why Grandma stopped coming. I’m old enough now, tell me today, please. Tell me now. I need to know if I should bother to look for them, if I should bother to expect them to come back again.’

Her call to me receives a sad response. I echo her grief. I know it is no longer hidden.

‘Molly,’ her name came easily to my lips, however, I stuttered on the next word for a long hot moment and eventually gave it up; it was not to be mine. I was grasping for solutions to fix her life. I knew this day was due but it is always too soon when you are not ready.

I had practised this moment for years and never wanted to have to act it out. I started again.

‘You are really special to me…’

‘You are my daughter, Molly…’

It all sounded lame. I couldn’t finish a sentence. Speech was heavy and as sharp as flames.

It was then that I knew there were no words, in any language, in any world, to explain. My memories have found me wanting. They were suddenly upon me like an overtaking car on a hairpin bend.

I felt the greatness of my gift from God was now pure bitter herbs.

We sat in the tense room. The bags remained unpacked.

‘They hated me too you know? That’s why your dad left because he couldn’t stand the ridicule any more. They said you were really mine, for that I couldn’t be angry, but they said that Jeff was a fool to keep us both under his roof and that hurt him more.’

‘Molly, I didn’t know. I can’t be blamed for not knowing people had flint words held in their hearts to throw at us, to throw at you. I did try to stop them, Molly. I tried to keep you safe, but the world is bigger than my heart can reach. I’m sorry I failed you, darling, I’m sorry. I only wanted to continue loving you. That’s what I did, that’s what I will always do, keep on loving you. I did my best and tried to make love grow here in the village; it did for a while then the storm of unpleasantness came and nothing was upright any more.’

‘Was that when we stopped going to church? When all this ‘unpleasantness’ started?’ I tried not to notice the sarcasm in her voice, the dam of her indignation was opened.

‘Yes. That was it. I wanted you to learn from me and not them. It was the best I could think of at the time. I’m sorry, darling.’ Even to me the words sounded empty. I looked towards her with empty hope. Molly rose from the bed and came towards me.

‘Oh, Mum!’ With her arms around my neck I felt able to move again. Thank God it was not all lost, I still had my gift.

‘Sorry is too small for this,’ her voice was low and I realised that she was in the past. I had hoped too soon. She sighed and shook then spoke slowly, ‘you’ll never know how I really feel, no matter how sad you are for me, it never happens to you, the look, the pressure on the word, the loose laugh, it’s not meant for you. Mum, you’ll never know.’

Another long life pause was placed between us.

‘Did you know that the look from a stranger, one who is strange for a multitude of reasons, often by choice like personal estrangement, that look, did you know that it lacks the kindness contained in the look from a friend?’ Her eyes did not meet mine. But her question was like a dagger in my heart: I could not ignore it.

Unknown to me her resolve was already set in stone. She was lost to me and that day Molly let me go to find the missing truths. I was abandoned with my lies and my lonely love as company. I was bereft but I saw that it was Molly who was shipwrecked.

I couldn’t reach her because it was then she turned away from me.

‘I still had to go to school on my own Mum, everyday. I was not OK all the time. There are some things you can’t keep away from me, some things you can never feel. You see, Mum, you are different to me too.’

She let go, and I let go too.

I had to wait from then on. I had to wait and watch for a change. Molly left me. I was alone, with my rock heart.

Beginnings.

My name is… I don’t know the answer to that simple truth. I don’t know who I am. I have a name, in fact I have several names, but they don’t relate to anything I know or knew. I am ignorant of myself.

What is the shape of wisdom?

I knew everything when I was six, or so I thought, then I was emptied of light. I was on a bridge and although I wanted to fly into my dreams I couldn’t move. It was a crisp Sunday. I had started my journey to the underground city of refuge as a creature newly born and blind. It’s hard to find the answer when you never knew the question. Inches of discovery took years as I learned the language of warm stone. I folded up inside of myself on the bridge, like origami I kept folding.

Suspense had hung over me for years. I strained my neck trying to see what was there but it never revealed itself to me in any form and neither would it remove its claws from my back.

I remember standing on the bridge, I remember being ignorant and invalid; I had no capability to alter anything but I was in the last moment of my childhood and I clung on to it; I was unfit for the journey ahead. Are we all unprepared for the wall that slams into us? Suddenly I was in a different land, I had not blinked but I had travelled, there was no going back. In this land I was ignorant of any of the rules. Mum couldn’t help me. The blank times were the most frightening. I tried to map my own facts but had no honesty to work with. My memory was blank. It was that simple. My co-ordinates were lost.

A few times I saw strangers that looked as lost as me on the television, no one similar came to the village after I was nine. The old lady with the skin like wrinkled leather who used to come, she unsettled me with her truth, her tight squeezes and her long bright clothes.

She wanted me to go back with her, but I didn’t know where back was. Rachel could have been right. I was afraid. I had to stay where I was confined and visible. She was my family but still a stranger. I didn’t know what to do, I was a child. But I had to take each step alone.

School was the concentration of terror and loneliness. No more best friends. Even Rachel became distant. But most of all I became distant from myself. I didn’t trust myself to know them. I became a watcher and a seeker.

I grew up as resistant as mountains although I still responded to the yearning in my mother’s eyes because she wore her jagged fear there. When I was at school or in the garden the instant she next saw me she would quest my face to see if copies of Rachel’s words had built a way into my life. I hid the fences filled with poisonous darts away from her gaze.

I kept my face fitted out with clean and simple acts of deceit to salve her desire for normality. We never spoke of the heavy words on the bridge, or in the playground, or those words that hung in the air like slaughtered beasts in the barns. We never shared things she didn’t want to know.

The Jesus who we sang about was absent in our house. Mummy cried but didn’t go to visit Him.

Daddy scowled and repeated ‘I told you so, I warned you!’

Life was reborn each day in a clean and simple smock of innocence. I was six years old and Sunday had not yet come. Then I would open my eyes and the dream would vanish.

When I entered a room too quickly and surprised Mummy I would recognise the same old shadow slipping from her eyes as she remembered and tried to understand where I, the child, was buried.

Even her best will could not protect me from my life. My portion of it was due, due to me alone. She was not a filter to my safety.

I was not in a position to forget the clear Sunday adventure into my new world. The record was in my face, in my father’s face, in my mother’s face from then until I stopped looking. Even then, when my eyes closed to the brightness of spring’s cruel birth, even then after the sharp shock had stopped stinging my face, I had no luxury. I was not in a position to forget.

I am so tired, so tired of feeling the weight of every second. It’s time to disappear.

I hid myself within myself within myself within myself like a Russian doll. I am successful at hiding from myself. I don’t recognise my true self now; I have gone so deep within.

I am to be found in the centre of granite. I leave the map to me.

My birth certificate says Mariama Nwakwaluzo. Who is she? I know Molly. I see Molly everyday but I am told that Mariama means a gift from God – to who? I ask if I can be a gift to myself. Who do I belong to? Who owns me as theirs? Who do I claim as mine? Will I ever discover myself? Without me my past was invented. I can find my meaning there or make my own here in the centre of this granite.

I have missed the pleasure of belonging to someone. The advantage of ownership was stolen from me. The day will not be created that makes me understand this theft.

Childhood passed years ago but still I cannot decipher the elusive record of my past for I am still blind. Could any missing information have saved me from now?

It took five years of living as a shadow among shadows in the university to realise that I can’t just burn my past away I must salvage it and claim the finders fee to move forwards. My training as an archaeologist proves mysteries remain in stone for centuries. I search deeply to uncover time and remove ancient power from the stones. The silence of now helps to carry the true memory forward. The mystery of myself is less of a mystery now. I am a stoneshaper.

Gently brushing the dust away I sit back on my heels and reflect; the scars from the stones look like tribal signs. We have all been in a battle and are marked.

It’s not what was meant that matters, it’s what was done – that’s what matters. There is no greater truth than appearance; I wonder if Oscar Wilde knew this truth as he was set in his harbour of stones.

My whole existence is like a watermark, visible and distinguished. I feel right, not wrong.

I have sat at the desk and I watch the Sunday morning grow before me. In front of me lie the doodles of my black ink, they are instructions to myself, to be deciphered from within; they are directions from myself before I knew myself.

Rocks and branches populate the paper giving it a black edge.

It’s time to write a letter to my mother.

(2003)

© Marjorie H Morgan 2017

Lilly Coleman’s Masquerade

 Lilly Coleman’s Masquerade

by Marjorie H Morgan

‘I can remember you, and I want you to remember me, the way it was in the age of the rituals and normal time …’ my thoughts are interrupted by your movement across the room. This is part of the conversation that I plan to have with you later.

You stand beside me, staring at me. I saw your shape cross the shaft of light through the red vessels in my eyelids. I know where you are even when you do not speak. This is the way we have always been. Connected. Full of energy we chased each other around the house always managing to evade capture until we reached the bed, then we fell, laughing together in entwined limbs. Sensing the lightness below the surface and urging it out. But now, in this world of burnt orange I cannot see you anymore. Your eyes still speak the truth. I don’t want you to know me now. I am tired and weak. I was sick again in the night. I moved quietly to the bathroom to avoid disturbing your sleep. The doctor said that I would have pain; he didn’t say that you should share it too. I want you to see me then. Look back, please. That is where I am. There I nearly found freedom.

‘Lilly? Lilly dearest…’

I can hear you. But I will not answer.

It is not time to speak.

‘Lilly? Lilly?’ You refuse to be refused entry to my world. You wait for me. The sigh is unusual. It almost breaks my resolve. Maybe you can see my pupils dashing around under my closed lids. I will not view you. My dreams are my life. I have no other.

I am dancing. I am dancing.

In the wings I pant as I regain my breath. The orchestra soars. I take my position and am revealed.

Plié follows two grand jetés and I stand with attitude as the music breathes.  Mercury approves. Seconds later my body responds on cue to the music that soaks through my mind.  From centre stage I jump and twist. Electricity soars through my veins. No blood remains. The strength in my limbs is due to adrenalin manufactured by nerves. I am free.

As my dancing self I laugh: loud and long. Drinking champagne between rehearsals to remain focussed and relaxed. The future was far away then. We smiled through our eyes. Our ordered lives regulated by fixed music and performance schedules. Bliss. Tchaikovsky and Bach were never far away from our thoughts.

As my sick self I stay silent. The time has caught me. Present.

My beauty is gone. I refuse to wear the wig you bought me. You lie to my face. Aesthetics evade my bone-house. You are not blind. Neither am I. I choose not to see while you lie.

I am a rebel at 31; though not in the Cuban sense. My defiance may not fit with usual patterns. I am well acquainted with familial etiquette. This is not it. My parents still do not understand me. Father refuses to visit any longer and I am glad. I surprised myself when the diseased person took control. I let me do it. I had the choice and I accepted the invasion. I was suddenly tired and willing to rest. I am now a disappointment to my family, except for Jonathan, he smiled at me. He approves of dissent. He was the only one who confirmed that I existed as me, so I will not miss the withdrawing parents.

I know I still have you.

‘Lilly? Dear Heart … Please talk to me. I know you can hear me. I know you are not asleep. Please Lilly!’ The sound of your desperation jars me for a smooth second. Why are you crying? I am well. I am not here. You are here with my sick self. I am dancing. I am dancing.

Only 10 days remain. Are your days longer than mine? Do your hours drag while you watch me appearing to be still? My hours have a different shape. They enthusiastically invite me to touch and be renewed by each moment… and the moments between moments.

I have no penance… except the sorrow I sent you.

Even though misery has made us strangers yet still you linger at my side taking my hand and my heart in hope. I only resist to save you from the dissension within my body. I alone will handle that. I am not used to doing things by myself.

Since we met at the dance academy, in the corridors between classes, 17 years ago, alone has been a thing of the historical past. Of course, neither of our families thought it would last; a teenage fancy was their definition on kind days. But we found each other and persevered. My ego bowed to yours and in reverse I accepted your praise. We made it this far, we made it this far. I love you.

It changed when you went for a walk 30 days ago.

‘Here you are my darling,’ you whispered as your lips brushed my ear, ‘it’s spring already.’

The daffodils were beautiful. The crystal vase was prismatic. And after the door had closed I opened my eyes and savoured them. I said ‘goodbye’ but you could never hear my voice behind my closed heart.

Your fingerprint was on the glass and I caressed it. We no longer touch each other. My body is an aberration to you. And to me. I saw the yellow reflected in your clear eyes the last time I looked at you. Your fear shows in my skin. I lay here matched by daffodils and the new bed cover.

You left the bedroom window open to give me some fresh spring air. Thank you. You changed my lives. My soul responded to the sound from a neighbour’s stereo. My body was invited to move. That was to be the last time.

Freewheeling around the bedroom I was engulfed by the immediate vatic power of this vibrant work of art. Redemption. It discovered me and I wondered why it left it so late. My senses were a pincushion to the fluid rhythms. Instinctively I responded. No thought was necessary; it was release and acceptance all within the moment between moments. I am now relentless for that joy. That fix has fixed my mind and my body always follows. I was suspended behind time, almost resistant when consciousness struck me with my true weakened image through the mirror, but the music continued to creep upon me with its sweet air. I closed my eyes and I moved by heart. I laughed myself inside out. My passion can no longer be held within my frame. New life has come to me.

The discovery shifts my memory to when I first met you. The same wonder and rightness mounts my heart.

But I know that you are with her right now. Do you walk together and drink champagne from the single glass as we once did?

Light on your feet you plunged into my heart.

‘Hello,’ you blushed as you pretended to retrieve the invisible dropped item from by my narrow legs. You forced me to stop and wait. I would have done that willingly if you asked. Your hair was damp from the exercise. At sixteen you were one of the oldest pupils. All the girls talked about you in the changing rooms, they had plans for you. I had you wanting me, without even knowing it. Instantly I reflected your glow. Petronia and Felicity giggled behind me. I did not know how to dream before you taught me how to see.

‘Hello,’ I responded to your call. Despite the heat surrounding us the coolness of surety pierced me, as it has never done since that day: 25th July 1981. It became our first anniversary. We had so many firsts to celebrate together. ‘Our firsts’ we called them. Who will celebrate them now?

My heart is cold … The moment that held almost two decades of life has passed.

The week that Mother stayed, while you were away for that important meeting in Moscow, that was when I decided. I boxed up the pink satin pointe shoes that I wore for the final performance of the Nutcracker in September. They had been mocking me from the stand.

My only possession, my body, has failed me. I am used to perpetual motion but the sacrifice was too great. The kingdom of dance gave me no reward for my years of barre work, for my precision arabesques and pirouettes. I eat now, but my bones and liver do not care. My efforts are too delayed. My body belongs to my sick self now.

I spoke to her. I told her that I knew. The shock that sat on her jowls was fleeting and painful – for us both. She cried for me. She cried for herself. The sun moved in the sky as we saw each other for the first time. We had never had a conversation before. That afternoon my mother and I began to know each other, but it will always be too late.

Mother never missed a performance. Her bridge group accompanied her to her act in the stalls: proud mother. She was always magnificent and kept all the reviews. I was on stage. So were you.

Together – then.

Mother understood and promised never to breathe a word. She sat scarred by comprehension of history’s joke.

‘Father was the same,’ she paused, ‘is, Lilly; Father is the same.’

‘The increase in flowers are usually the sign…’ she continued, ‘then he wants to talk. Something we are not practiced at. He constantly asks me how I am. Who have I seen recently… he wants to know my solitude is in tact.’

‘Yes, Mother. I see the signs,’ then reluctantly I added, ‘and I knew about Father.’

The gasp escaped before she could control it. Behind her rouge the blood vessels reddened. Quickly she walked to the window. Always so elegant, my mother. I admired her as I sat up in the bed. I wondered how long she had known and performed so well. I would never know.

‘How long have you…?’ hesitantly she did a half turn to me, not daring to finish the question.

‘Not long,’ I lied. I am used to lying. You both taught me so well. I have only known of three of Father’s ‘friends’, but I guessed there were many more; belief created many shadows. He began to get careless when I was at home on rare visits. The study door was not always closed and I have constantly walked quietly. Nancy, Clarissa and Charlotte: the names of the shadows. Charlotte. Father whispered your name and the surprise brought me to a halt outside the door. When I heard him speak so gently I believed you had fallen in love for the first time. But you were in the conservatory when I bounced through the house.  Although seeing you reading while the sun freckled your face through the window made me sad, I pasted on my performance smile for your continual loss. You wear oblivion well, Mother, you wear it so well. It must have been easier for him to finally have someone with the same name as you. Pretence comes naturally to us all.

You will never leave him; I know that. I will never leave Stephan. Not today, at least.

I danced to forget. To avoid it all. To avoid you, yes, even you Mother. You took away my life and gave me ballet – it was your dream. I hated every position and combination until they suffocated me with routine and I forgot. Then I could really smile. Forgetfulness is like madness; you live as a different person. Eventually the exercise became my drug and it took me over giving me a new dream: if I was thin enough I could disappear. Away from you all. Food was difficult to control at first, but envy and hatred were stronger impulses. I desired to be the leanest dancer, to be like Marie Carmago: perfect.

Jonathan was sent to boarding school. His letters were short and infrequent but he remained closer than you or Father. He knew too. I missed him more than he missed me; he soon replaced his void with others. He was also natural. Naturally disobedient, you said, although with a penchant for sports. Always running, as if to escape. The holidays at home were too long for him; he preferred to stay with friends. He had his friends. I had my competition from the age of three. Before I went to school I could bend and stretch better than Mrs Cuthbert’s daughter, Amanda. You appreciated the status that I gave you. You prompted me each day to practice. You said I was born with this ‘natural ability’ to be a ballet dancer: I was thin and small. I expected to like it, as you did. I missed that inheritance. I was weak and afraid to disappoint so I complied without complaint. There were years of moonshine in your eyes when you watched me dance. I did it for you.

‘Mother,’ I think this because I can never ask you, ‘Mother, what were you afraid of? What was absent in your life? Did I succeed in making you happy?’

I am doing this for me now. I am dancing. I am dancing.

Stephan, my long love, you gave me my last first: the freedom in my soul. You did not intend to deceive me with your tears; I sense that. You have found a different future. I am now exiled from our unity. I thought we were for keeps. But tomorrow will go like yesterday. There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me. But Lilly is a love memory from your distant past. I am not her. The teardrops have started as I unhook your heart. My sensibilities prevent me from denying you your responsibilities to yourself: be happy, my love. I am. Now, I am.

Thank her for me; your new premiere danseur. Without her taking you for walks, I would never have known that I was understood and belonged. This is a new language that I identify. I know certainty and am safe inside this sound, this world of measured recklessness. I have become me. I claim myself.

I thought I knew music until my contaminated frame heard and understood ‘The Dream’ of David Sanborn. I comprehend and am no longer a divided person. My parents chose the music that had framed my mind for these past 30 years. I was not independent. This new life is pleasure. My mind accepts. I believe because I feel the proof …and still the wonder grows. I will share with you, my darling Stephan, the conviction. This is my destiny: jazz. My light has arrived to snuff out the darkness of my sick self. I don’t feel lost any longer.

There are no further collisions as my first and last carnivals combine. With joy I realise that I am impenitent for my other life. My masquerade is complete. There is life after life…

I am dancing. I am dancing. I am dancing in my head.

(2003)

Copyright © Marjorie H Morgan 2017