Friday, 30 April 2010

Palimpsest (#fridayflash)

He is standing in the sea, holding his sailing boat on a string, and jumping the waves of the incoming tide. He ignores his mother's shouts to come and join her on the promenade to have the sand washed off his feet .

I’m in my beach hut, knitting a christening gown for my granddaughter in Australia. Ann, my daughter, has lived there nearly fifteen years.

The sailing boat is wooden, painted blue, with a white sail. My son Danny had a red boat like that.

The boy lets go of the string. Despite the incoming tide, the boat floats away from him. He calls to his Mum, and she shouts for him to run after it.

I want to scream, but my throat tenses up. I can only see Danny. I see his body floating on the waves, and I hear Ann’s final words to me on the day she left.

“You’ve always blamed me for Danny’s death,” she said. “You always blamed me and hated me. So now I’m leaving you in peace.”

I was sat in this beach hut when Danny drowned, distracted by Ann crying. He let go of the string of his sailing boat, and followed it out to sea.

Ann refuses to come home, no matter how much I ask her to.

Suddenly the boy screams, a horrific scream, and he runs up the beach.

"Mummy, Mummy," he howls. "I'm burning, Mummy."

I hear her soothing him on the promenade behind the beach hut.

"It was a ghost," he says, "a swimming ghost. It burnt my leg"

"Let me see," she says, and "Ooh, that's red," and "Now, let's wash that under the tap."

She says it must have been a jellyfish. "Let's get you in the car," she says. He's still crying.

When they're gone, I walk down to the edge of sea. There are hundreds of jellyfish bobbing in the waves.

"Danny," I whisper, looking out for his swimming ghost. I know he is listening. "Good boy, Danny."

Friday, 23 April 2010

Maternal Instinct (#fridayflash)

Katie sat with her head in her arms, weeping.

"It's not meant to be like this," she said.

"Like what?" Doreen asked.

"Like this!  For God's sake, Mum, look at me."

"You'll be okay. You just need some sleep to clear your head. Tomorrow you'll be fine with it."

Katie's sobs were louder than usual, but Doreen knew to stay calm. Katie often got like this immediately after sell-out gigs.

"Remember, Katie," she said, "it's your last chance."

"That's what you've always say.  'It's your last chance,' or, 'Just this one, to get on his good side,' or, 'It'll get you in the papers.'  It's always just one, just one more, then I'll be there, you say.  But every time, a few months later, there's another, and another."

"We don't always get what we want, you know."

"Well maybe I don't, but these men always do - and all because you tell me I should let them have it."

"You give them what they want, they give you what you want."

"But I don't want to be famous!"

"Yes you do.  Katie, you do." Doreen kept her voice soft, like when she'd sing Katie to sleep as a baby.  "You asked me to make you famous."

Katie shook her head.

"Only because you told me I should be," she said.

"Because I knew where it would take you.  Look at what you've got Katie. A beautiful house - just like the one you always dreamed of. And Adam, such a gorgeous, faithful boyfriend.  And millions of adoring fans."

"And I hate it all."

"Don't say that, Katie."

"I'll say what I like.  I hate it.  I feel so empty all the time.  And it's all your fault."

"That's not fair.  I've only ever done what you've asked me."

"What I've asked you?  What have I asked of you?  It's me whose only ever done what you've told me.  And I'm not doing it any more.  I will not cheat on Adam again.  I don't even need a new record deal."

"You do, sweetie.  You've got momentum.  You've got the ride the wave.  Keep soaring while you're flying high."

Katie stormed out of the dressing room slamming the door behind her.

Doreen smiled.  It was nice to get a moment's peace.  She knew Katie would listen in the end. Just like she always did.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cadences of Grief (#fridayflash)

No one had asked me before, not even Bettie, my wife, but when David, my grandson, said he wanted to know about the war for a school project, I could only remember one thing, and I began to cry.  David apologised, and said not to worry.  He'd find out what he needed from a textbook, or from Grandma.  He went to see Grandma in the kitchen.

All I could remember was your limp and bloody body in my arms, and the music I heard as I held you. 

I have heard it in my dreams all these years, and have woken up many mornings, knowing I have heard it, but forgetting its melody.

I hold you as you scream, raging against death, who is coming to take you.  Blood is streaming from your body.  You have no legs.  Machine guns rattle, shell fire booms through the air.  But as I hold you, all I can hear is music, the symphony we planned to write together.  I see the melody in your contorted face.

After we buried you, dumping your body beside hundreds of others as a uniformed priest murmured a blessing, I tried to recall the music, but it was gone.  The smell of rotting bodies and the twisted harmonies of men laughing and swearing in the trenches while a few of us stood solemn in the rain pushed it from my memory.  The harder I tried to remember, the more the music faded.

Now I hear the music, our beautiful music. I see its streams of bright colours dancing in the air.  You have come alongside death in his mission to call me home.

You are calling me to forsake this life, and I will not rage, as you did.  You are calling me home, and I am coming, I am coming.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Even the Terrorists Go Christmas Shopping (#fridayflash)

Leanne waited until the guard was across the other side of the visiting room to ask the question.

"Tell me why you did it, Tommy."

"Keep your voice down, okay?"  He let go of her hands under the table.  "As far as these lot are concerned, I'm pleading not guilty."

"I don't care what they're concerned.  Tell me why you did it."

"I had no choice.  It was my first operation.  I needed to prove myself."

"No choice?  No choice? You mean they told you to lay down our baby on a mattress stuffed with explosives?"

"Not as such, no."

"What then?"

"'Use your ingenuity, Tommy,' they said.  I thought it was fucking ingenious.  If only you hadn't told the squaddie to piss off when he asked to search the pram.

"I wanted to get on, for our one day together Christmas shopping.  I didn't want to wake Jimmy up, to set him off crying."

"So you told the squaddie to piss off. Full marks to you for how to charm the British Army."

"How was I to know you were hiding anything?"

"How were you to know I wasn't?  If you'd just have let him look in the pram, he'd have glanced inside to see if we were hiding an AK-47, and it would have all been great.  He'd have let us go.  You know that."

"If you hadn't been using our day out to smuggle your mate's bomb-making-kit into the city centre it wouldn't have mattered."

"Are you deaf? Watch my lips.  I. Had. No. Choice.  I joined up for you. 'Protect our community,' you said. 'Be a real man.'  This was my first operation.  No one gets caught on their first operation.  I was a clean pair of hands.  That's why they chose me."

"Well they could've chose someone else.  I'm the one who's left to pick up the pieces.  To do our son's first Christmas without his father."

"Boo hoo.  And you think it's going to be all joy-to-the-world for me banged up in here?"

"I'm going now Tommy. Here's hoping you have a very Merry Christmas."

Her heels clicked as she walked towards the door.

He shouted as she left: "Will I see you in the New Year?"

She ignored him.

The guard walked back to Tommy's side of the visiting room and stood beside the table.

"Merry Christmas, mate," he said.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Why Wizards Need Therapy (#fridayflash)

Extract from Pathos in Magickal Spells by H. R. White (London: Society for Alchemistic Researches, 1721 [censored 1722-1951])


XXI. We have established, dear reader, that Pathos, in addition to Rhetoric, Mineral, and Fire, is essential to the successful binding of any Magickal spell.

XXII. As a magician, you must learn to control Pathos, storing it inside yourself ready to channel into Magickal spells.

XXIII.Pathos should be stored discreetly and should not be shared with other magicians, nor with faeries.

XXIV. Spells cast at the moment Pathos first strikes are always more powerful.

XXV. Casting spells on the spur of the moment, however, is not to be advised, as you may regret the spell, thus necessitating you to wastefully expend Magickal energy reversing its enchantment.

XXVI. Beware, dear reader, of casting a spell in anger. Magickal spells cast in anger are the most powerful of all. Enchantments energised by freshly stoked anger can never be reversed or repelled.

XXVII. Magicians who persistently cast spells in anger are liable to be expelled from all Magickal Societies and to have their license to practice Magick revoked.


XLII. The powers of forgiveness hold no sway in the realm of Magick.

XLIII. Recall the 89th law of the Book of Magick: “The Council of Wizards knows neither mercy nor graciousness. Their memory is everlasting.”

XLIV. Therefore, spells cast with the Pathos of pity almost invariably fail. In the unlikely event of the Magick being successful, the binding of the enchantment will be weak.

XLV. Magicians who persistently cast spells out of pity will soon find their Magickal powers diminishing.