Jam

‘Why do you always get blackcurrant jam?’

‘Because it’s sweet but also sharp. I like a little bit of sour.’

‘Well, try this jam.’

‘OK. Ahhhh, strawberry. Tastes like a childhood love affair when there were fairies at the bottom of our garden. We grew them there. I forgot how much I like strawberry jam.’

‘Yes, I realised that. You are stupid. Forgetful. Neglectful. I suppose we forgive you though, frail human.’

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. I watch the families come and go, grandchildren in warm Santa hats and muffled in mittens, daughters and sons, each come to spend an hour in the company of grandmothers, mothers, grandfathers, fathers, uncles and aunts, to show that they care; sharing seasonal greetings, the news and some laughter before they retreat down the wet evening path. They carry gifts wrapped in bright shiny paper and carrier bags filled with seasonal food.

I watch from my window, this coming and going. It’s raining out there. If in the morning I wake early enough while it’s still dark, and I am lucky to look at just the right moment I may see the fox trot up that path and briefly look up.

The Changeling

She never answers when I call but sits alone and mutters or goes amongst the old ash trees and whispers to the leaves. I can’t decipher all she says, the words are never plain, but the music of their pattern is always much the same.

She plays with mud and twigs and lays them out repeatedly in one ornate design. Like hieroglyphs, they seem to have significance, but she will never write her name. Her teachers and her parents are much disturbed by her. They say she’s on the borderline of a broad and complex spectrum that I don’t understand. I ask, in jest, if she might be a special rainbow child. No-one smiled. I’m here as the au pair and I just let her play.

There’s avoidance in her eyes. She simply won’t obey. That much is very clear. They want her analysed, pinned, defined and measured. I know she’s wild, but I have secrets I’m not prepared to share.

She chases hawks away from mice. She calls the birds to comb her hair and lets them hide in there. When she sleeps the owl hoots twice to let the forests know, the fox creeps from its lair and sidles past my fireside chair to rest all night contented, dreaming at her feet. The family is completed.

She’s turbulent. She’s troublesome. She’s stubborn and she’s free. She’s very gifted too, but she won’t let them see. I know it’s very strange indeed, a little fae for sure. She’s always been my own sweet child, there’s no changing that.

We have to make a plan and spin it very soon. We have to get away from here.

I must discuss it with my cat before the next full moon.

Shattered Light

She is screaming out in the street again, a crying toddler in her arms. He has tried walking away several times, but he keeps going back to answer her accusations. The kid is crying. They go out of sight towards their house. I hear bin lids crashing and broken glass. Those two look a match for each other.

 Worried about the child more than anything, I call the police. An impersonal voice takes details. I explain what I have seen. I say a toddler is at risk. I give all the details twice.

 I say, ‘They have gone out of sight now, while we have been talking. Gone back to their house.’

 ‘You have an address?’

 ‘No, I don’t. I’m not sure which house is theirs. There are three or four houses in a row. It could be any of them. The back gates are all obscured by trees. So no, I don’t know.’

 ‘We can do nothing then. Call us again if they come back outside.’

 She hangs up on me before I can protest.

Nothing more happens. Not that day. Soon the lamps are on and the street is quiet. I watch the lights flashing and blinking and changing colours on a Christmas tree in a window across the street. I don’t really have room for one in my place.

The next day, I go downstairs and outside. The broken glass turns out to be a smashed light globe on the edge of the communal garden for our block of flats.

 ‘I saw that little shit deliberately hit it as he walked by,’ Eva says. She shrugs as if to say it’s normal. ‘Now the landlords probably won’t replace it for months, like everything else around here.’

 ‘I was worried about the toddler,’ I say, trying to refocus the conversation onto my main concern.

 Eva looks at me as if I am from another planet and says, ‘Yeh, well that one will grow up to be a shit too.’

 I open my mouth to answer and think ‘What’s the point.’  I know she is a racist. Her Carer is from Jamaica. Eva is nice enough to her face. But that’s not what I have heard her saying to neighbours, calling her a monkey.

 You can’t convert total idiots. Especially the ones over eighty. She isn’t my generation. She won’t change now. No point even worrying about her opinions. Not everyone over eighty is a fool, thank god. My mother wasn’t.

Syringa – the white princess.

EPSON DSC picture

The rare smell of syringa drags me back in time to the path that ran through our garden beside a slope. A large syringa tree stood there. As summer ended it dropped damp blossoms all over the path making it slippery. I think it dropped catkins at another time of year, but I may be wrong. My grandfather said the tree had to come down. It was my favourite tree. Like a tall and slender, pretty friend. I begged mercy. Repeatedly and at length. But no. Down it came leaving only a stump in the bed of earth. I was disgusted and shocked. That was the first time someone destroyed a thing I loved.

     My grandad said I could make my own little garden around the stump. We planted primulas and a lot of other little bright flowers. I didn’t love them. I neglected them. That’s how life generally goes.

No Change

I thought he would never change, and I was right. It’s not that easy. Oh, I don’t deny he probably wanted to, well, at times. People say it’s about making new habits and discarding old ones. I expect that’s true on one level. But some habits come from deep rooted places.

     I know that as a child he had, oh, what’s that condition called? Ah yes, meningitis and his father used to hit him round the head with a plastic hairbrush. These days the news is full of the consequences or early head injury, aren’t they? And then of course he moved to the city as a child and at heart you could see he was a country boy. He was so much more relaxed away from towns. He was good with children, cats, horses, and plants. If he had been that nice to me, I would have thought I was in heaven. Instead, I lived in hell.

     People say it’s typical of me that I make excuses for him. It’s not excuses, it’s reasons. Knowing the reasons doesn’t mean that I think what he does to me is acceptable. It’s not. The problem is I can’t get away. People say leave. So naive. I have stopped telling them about it now. They don’t understand the problem.

Rain

The rain was constant all night. I listened as it drummed heavily on the outside window ledge. Blocked gutter, for sure. In the morning the rain had stopped. I looked out of my bedroom window at the pavements. The smooth tarmac had a damp gloss and the world looked clean.

     Before breakfast, I took a coffee outside and sat on the bench regardless of the damp patch it made on my pants. The grass was waterlogged and felt spongy. It smelled good out there. I can never quite define the smell after rain but it’s slightly metallic unless it’s fallen on hot earth. 

     I was happy to see the blackbird and threw him some raisins and sunflower seeds I had brought down especially, hoping he would come. The clouds were clearing, and little patches of blue were appearing. The smell of frying bacon wafted over the fence from next door. She was yelling at the kids again. The blackbird flew off and I went back indoors.

A Ginormous Pom-Pom

I turned the corner, and there, coming towards me was a ginormous pom-pom. It was dressed in a pink and purple knit cover, and it swayed as it came towards me. It looked extremely confident. At that moment I felt far from confident. I was sure I was having delusions, until it pushed me up against a brick wall and squished me. I couldn’t breathe. It was in all the papers later. The BBC showed it on the news. No-one knows where it came from. It’s made me a bit agoraphobic.

The Gnome at Your Door

The gnome at your door is not what you think!

He was a proud elven warrior, well-versed in poetry and lore, an excellent harpist descended from Lugh of the Silver Hand, his mother a promiscuous nymph.

When he witnessed the Industrial Revolution he shrunk in stature, fleeing to the fields to hide.

Years later he went to the Somme. It was then his heart turned to stone and broke clean in half. He was transfixed, unable to move, deformed.

How he arrived in our shops I don’t know. I pray that he doesn’t either.

Bow with respect as you pass.

Sad City

The buildings in that part of town had seen better days. The white paint was peeling from classical porticos, the concrete steps were stained, the tall sash windows needed fresh paint and the curtains that hung limp behind them were worn and in need of a wash. If they were washed, they might fall apart. The trees at the edge of the pavement, too closely hemmed in tried to push up the slabs. I notice a dandelion thrusting its way through a crack by the wall. That made me smile for a moment, but the mood didn’t last. 

I turned and walked into a shabby little park with sparse grass and bare stunted trees. Then I saw her; a misplaced middle aged fairy-tale geisha in a long, fitted, brocade dress that had once been the colour of dark jewels but was now faded and made me think of thick dust. She took small hesitant steps. Her hair was up, piled on her head. Her delicate oriental face and her fragile neck were beautiful but outlined by deeply imbedded smoky grey grime.

I imagined her room in one of those houses, feeling sure she lived alone with her old treasures. I couldn’t imagine her cleaning her room. Why would she bother?

I would have liked to invite her to tea, with full ceremony and grace, but I didn’t approach. I was young then. She must have died long ago.