Blog

When my third foot grows

When my third foot grows I will call it Bob, or Nelson, or perhaps something good and kind, like Miranda. Maybe then my foot will be safe from getting lost. I was very careless, see, with that second one. I should have treated it better, taken more notice. Then maybe I wouldn’t have a piece of me missing.

I’ve got to be ready. Ready for whatever comes next. Don’t let on to anyone, but I felt the beginnings of something late last night. I was half watching the weatherman promise sun for tomorrow, and half listening to the rain throw arrows at the window, when it happened. Just a tingle at first, a tiny electric wave brushing across my skin. Then much bigger, like hundreds of pins and needles tumbling towards that great lummox of a foot-shaped hole.

I sat up, grabbed hold of the torch I keep by me for emergencies, and pulled my leg up to get a closer look. There, right where my ankle used to be, something knobbly was pushing its way out. Real slow and gentle, like, but there. No mistake about it: my third foot was on its way. I let out an almighty whoop, hopped over the settee and three times round the coffee table. I made enough of a racket to wake the dead. Sure enough, Mrs McDermott screeched from downstairs, punching holes in her ceiling with Hail Marys and a broom handle. I retaliated with a few more rounds of the room and several shuddup you stupid old lady’s.

So you see, it won’t be long now. If a foot’s anything like a bud or a leaf. I’ll be waving my third foot around in no time.

Miranda. Miranda used to laugh and say, ‘If you really love me you’ll love my toes.’ And I did. I do. Every last one of them. Then it happened. Miranda took on enough work for the two of us. She’d come home from the shop, smile – al done in – shoulders hanging, but not a complaint out of her. I’d say, ‘Sit down love, take the the weight off.’ I’d undo her shoes, peel away her socks real carefully, and squeeze away the day from her feet. I was trying to balance things out, see. Somehow. I wanted to look after Miranda.

It’s the toes that I miss. One lot of little piggies in the bed just don’t seem to be enough.

There we go – definite movement from the ankle down. I’ve measured two inches since this morning. There’s all these sticky out bits like branches, pushing up from underneath my skin. These must be the new bones, after which will come the branches of the foot – then, my all-new row of toes.

Stupid bugger. Can’t stop myself from crying. This time tomorrow I will be a whole person again. I won’t go to sleep. I want to be here when Miranda comes.

 

Published in paperpack: Derek & More Micro-Fiction by Leaf Books Ltd 2007

We Love You Antiques Road Show

Dad took us to sea in a bargain car-boot dinghy. Found the beach, no bother. With Dad’s map-reading there wasn’t a hope of getting lost.

‘Here we are then. Rhossili!’ Dad’s words barked from him like a polished sign.

There was a heavy suggestion of clouds. The beach was deserted. Normal people had warmer things to be doing with their January Sundays.

The boat looked like something you’d play with in the bath.

We clung on like limpets. Dad sliced through the waves. The coldness soaked through to our bones. All hope anchored on the Antiques Roadshow – Dad never missed.

 

Published in paperback: Ada and more nano-fiction by Leaf Books Ltd 2009

Henry’s Breakfast is Still Here

My brother Henry’s been missing for twenty-three hours. Gone since yesterday’s breakfast. He is two years younger than me, and I’m seven. Nobody’s moved his bowl off the table, all his coco-pops have disappeared and the milk is brown and murky. Mam was shouting at Dadda. Dadda threw his cup of tea at the wall and it’s still there now, like a big splatt. Like the wall is bleeding. I put my toast in my pocket and ran out the door. Should of taken Henry with me. He was sitting still as an icicle, his face white as a ghost.

 

Published in paperback: Ada and more nano-fiction by Leaf Books Ltd 2009

How I got to where I am now

Up to now I have paddled in the art of writing. This splash-deep journey began with scribbled plans for a space adventure – notebooks filled with spider-bursts, maps and names. Then a hop over to picture book ideas. Another hop to short stories where I stayed for a handful of years, splashing about, flashing (in word form), bashing out right-brained sentences, opening up the flow of unsquashed words, unsullied by over-thinking – fat, fully-breathing words (at least, measured so by my own standards).

From this I have written a handful of all right stories – without the wise protection of a pseudonym in these beginning stages, I am eternally stuck to my wanderings. Perhaps this is the thing. I have yet to make a serious attempt. It is easier to muck about at the edges and do OK. Much harder to give your all, to lay yourself bare, and still come out as not bad.

The stories posted and linked to here are part of the all righters. They are a notch a little way up in the wood and I sure as hell hope I can grow taller. Who knows – but it’s worth a try. And here’s another good ol’ bash on the symbol: You regret the things you didn’t do, more than the things you did…

Catching Butterflies

imageCatching butterflies is like trying to tap into the illusive seam of a good story. The resonance of an idea is felt, chased. There one moment, then lifted away on the breeze. You watch it settle – ah! Resting on a flower-head – and you’re there. Finger hovering over the camera button, holding your breath, ready to capture the beautiful unfolding of wings.

Flitter-flit, and it’s gone.

Here I am, yet again, hovering over the world of Ruchbah Starr, trying to find the way in, to unfold the wings (and not procrastinate with the photographing of butterflies…)

The Meaning of Lost Shoes

Let me tell you about the first shoe I ever found.

This one is significant.  It is the first shoe that got under my skin, reached out and asked me to take notice.  I found it lying in the gutter half way down St. Michael’s hill – a Nike trainer, blue and white, an almost new man’s size twelve.  It lay bright against the sludgy browns of autumn leaves.  What contrast, I remember thinking, what art.  I took out the digital camera that comes with me wherever I go, and moved around to find the light, the perfect angle from which to capture the whiteness of the trainer shining out in the dusk.  I think it must have been the darkness drawing in that gave me the courage to reach down and pick the trainer up.  It felt like stealing, this first time.  I was conscious of disturbing the trainer, plucking it up from a state of limbo between belonging to one person and being possessed by another.

I took the trainer home and placed it on top of my coffee table.  From the edge of the sofa I looked at this piece of another person’s life, allowed my mind to wander around the tendrils of possibilities.  I saw a young man, a student studying Law.  I saw him running in the trainers, along wet pavements, the cold air reddening his cheeks.  I sensed his body, lean and muscular, his pace steady, his movements light and controlled.  I saw him going to the Rose and Crown at the bottom of St. Michael’s hill, to quench his thirst after running through the cold streets.  I pictured him sitting at a wooden table, smiling, fresh-faced, sipping from a pint of London Pride.  He knew what he was about, confident, relaxed, words forming easily; likeable, loveable, loved.  David, Adam, Benjamin – a solid, reliable name.

I don’t know when I began to notice lost shoes.  I don’t know why these disregarded belongings struck a chord with me.  Perhaps it was their fragile vulnerability, lying abandoned in the street like anonymous road kills.  Maybe the shoes chose me because of who I am. I always find one shoe, never a pair.  This is what pulls me in, niggles with my sensibilities.  These lone shoes are a question left unanswered.

This is what I mean.  Have you ever noticed a lost shoe?

When I see a shoe, it’s as if I am reaching out in to the layers, yearning to connect with the lifeblood of what’s out there.  I want to find the heart of the things that matter. Only then can I begin to find my purpose.

I don’t go looking, this is deliberate.  When I find a shoe, it has to be accidental, organic, natural.  I simply allow myself to come across them, to become aware of their presence.

I take photos of every shoe that I find, carefully noting their position before placing them within a clear plastic bag.  I don’t interfere with them in any other way.  All the shoes are preserved as found.  I treat them like the findings in a crime scene, with the same respect, the same care and consideration.  I log every one, precisely, with time and date, neatly and legibly, in a hard-backed book.

As soon as they are sealed and logged, I take the shoes home.  This is just the beginning of what I must do.  The next stage takes time and patience.  When it’s quiet at night, I take out the new find and hold it before me, opening myself up to its meaning.  Only then can I begin to give back the shoes a purpose.  I am their link between nothingness and meaning.

Let me take you back to the first one – the Nike trainer, the man’s size twelve once belonging to the young student of Law.  I sat holding the trainer, feeling the buzz of energy rising off it like a vapour.  I knew what to do.  I slid a Polaroid photo of the trainer inside my bag and headed out into the cold evening.  A sharp wind gusted back and forth, alternately flattening and lifting my hair.  I caught the bus ride in to town, looking out at the passing streets overcast by my reflection in the orange light of the window.  The streets stood bare, like a party after the people have gone, ghostly shouts echoing off the shop fronts, empty cans and crisp packets rattling out the loneliness.

I walked to the bottom of St. Michael’s Hill, towards the glow of windows in the Rose and Crown, pushed open the door to a gentle babble of voices. The barman turned towards me, eyebrows raised.

‘Yes love.’

‘Pint of London Pride, please.’

I took my drink to a seat by the fire, facing out towards the room. I took out the Polaroid of the trainer, watched it’s colours bend and shine in the candlelight.  It felt right sitting there, safe and warm.  I knew.  This is where I would find him.

It only took half an hour before he came in, fresh-faced, newly showered, glowing, confident, reliable.

‘Ben.’

I watched his face redden with the flush of recognition, I watched his smile rise up from somewhere deep inside, I watched him turn, looking round, anxious to find the voice.

A woman stood up from behind a high-backed wooden bench, reaching out towards him.  Their fingers touched, they held on to each other, wrapped each other up, eyes closing in the intimacy.

‘I came to find you Ben.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s all right, it’s all right.’

He held her face in his hands, kissed her gently on the lips, the toes of his new trainers touching the toes of her weathered boots.

It takes an artist’s eye to see what’s really going on.  People come from all over the country to look at my lost shoes.  I have them safe within their own frames, secure behind glass along one wall of my gallery. People shuffle in, chattering and pointing, eyes darting from one shoe to the next, questions popping up in their minds like bubbles in a pond.  They walk from A to Z, following the shoes hanging in alphabetical order depending on the street in which where they were found.  These locations are marked on a map, on the opposite wall, colour coded – blue for a left foot, red for a right; a round pin for a woman’s shoe, a square one for a man’s

I think some of the people come to look at me, to satisfy their curiosity.  They come to see the face behind the lost shoes, they come to try and make sense of why someone, why anyone would want to collect these abandoned, disregarded things.

It’s only when they read the stories behind the shoes that they stand hushed, words falling soft and still.  They nod and shake their heads in wonder.

‘Yes, yes.  Don’t you see?’

‘Look. Come and look at this.’

People come looking because of what they need, because of what they’re missing.  They come looking and they find, me.  They find a young woman, given meaning, anchored through interpretation, framed within the stories of a thousand lost shoes.

Published Work

I have written many short stories, some of which have made it to a few on-line and print anthologies: Eclectica Magazine (Three Flashes, Paper Bird);  Bluemag; Leaf Books; ‘Dancing with Mr Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House’, Edited by Sarah Waters, and Seventh Quark Magazine. I have been a long-listee in the following short story competitions (the good news being – this leaves room to climb!): The Bristol Short Story Prize, Mslexia, and Riptide.

I am currently working on Ruchbah Starr’s Close Encounters of the Extraordinary Kind.

Sugar Stick

I’m holding onto Mamoo’s hand, I can’t stop shaking.  My feet are close together.  My shoes, they are too big, and the rain is dripping off the end of my skirt and running down my knees, into my socks.  Teddy is under my arm, and when the rain gets very bad, I open up my coat and tuck him in.  Mamoo looks down at me.  I think she is crying, or it might be the rain.

I am so cold, my bones are cold.  Stone cold old cold bones.  I wish, I wish I was anywhere else but here.  I don’t ask Mamoo where we are going.  Pappy hasn’t said a word for ten whole days.  He just stares, his eyes are all black and sunk in looking, a bit like Teddy’s eyes.  My brother Michael, he went somewhere ten days ago.  He hasn’t come back yet.

Everyone around us looks the same.  There are so many people, all tired and hunched over and very sad.  No one can think of anything to say.  We are all thin and grey, like the rain.  I tuck Teddy in tighter and move closer to Mamoo.  Some people are sitting down on their suitcases.  I don’t know why we are standing.  Maybe it’s because we’ll be off soon.

***

When Michael came running into our house ten days ago, he could hardly talk.  He was breathing so hard and fast, his whole chest was going up and down.  Mamoo put a chair underneath him just in time.  He was trying to catch his breath and tell us something all at once.

‘Take these…quickly…hide…they’re coming…please.’

Michael undid his coat, and two small potatoes, a leaf of cabbage, and a carrot fell onto his lap.  The carrot was so orange, we all stared.  My tummy started hurting.

‘Hurry!’  Michael shouted.

Mamoo picked up the vegetables and ran to the cold fire.  She buried them in the ash, deep down so they couldn’t be seen.  We all looked at the fireplace, then at Michael.  He was crying, not loudly.  Michael’s sixteen.  He never cries.

Mamoo knelt down by Michael and put her hands on his face.  She wiped away the tears, making him all dirty with ash.

‘Michael, I love you,’ she said right up close.

Pappy put a hand on Michael’s shoulder.  Then we heard the footsteps, running closer, louder and louder.  And the shouting.  I felt sick.  I forgot how to breathe.  Mamoo started to cry, shaking her head from side to side.

‘No, no, no,’ she kept saying, over and over.

We could hear people shouting, ‘please no, please no.’

Then guns.

Bangbangbangbangbang.

It was all quiet then.  I ran to Mamoo.  She pulled me close, really close.  She held me and Michael so tight.  I felt safe.  Then the footsteps began again, getting closer.  Michael stood up, wiping his face with his sleeve.  He looked down at me.

‘Be good for Mamoo and Papy, Munchkin.’

Pappy let out a strange kind of moan, and held onto Michael, pulling him right in.

‘My son, my son.’

That was the last time Pappy spoke.

Then they were at the door.  They didn’t stop to knock.  They smashed it open.  Mamoo pulled me closer.  There were five of them, five German soldiers with horrible faces.  They spat at us like we were dogs.

‘Filthy Jews.  Look at this stinking place.’

They started laughing.  Not nice, happy laughing, but mean, wicked laughing.

‘Hey, lazy Jew.  Get out.’

Michael gave them a look so hard, I smiled inside.  One of the soldiers hit Michael across the face with his gun.  Mamoo squeezed me so tight, it hurt.  I couldn’t see Michael’s face; he was gone with a gun in his back.  He never looked round.  The footsteps went away, I couldn’t hear which ones were Michael’s.  There was crying from the street outside, and Michael’s blood on the floor.

***

I can still taste the soup that Mamoo made.  It was the last thing I remember eating.  If I close my eyes to the rain, I can smell the sweet carrot going up my nose, I can feel the warm taste of cabbage on my tongue.  I never used to like cabbage.  Mamoo tried to save some soup for the next day, but we couldn’t stop our spoons going in for more.  Even Pappy ate, but his words didn’t come back.

If I wiggle my toes, I can feel the rain squeezing through my socks.  I think of summertime, long long ago, running outside to see a rainbow.  The sky was blue then, with white fluffy clouds.  And the rainbow, it was all the colours of the world.  I filled my shoes with puddle-water, jumping and splashing like a frog.  The rain was warm and kind, making way for the sun to come out.  Now the rain won’t stop falling.

‘Mamoo, I’m cold,’ I say.

‘Hush, Eva.  It won’t be long now.’

She takes off her scarf and wraps it over my head.  I feel warmer straightaway.  Pappy looks at Mamoo, and begins to unbutton his coat.

‘Don’t, Yoseph,’ she says, holding up her hand.

But he takes it off and lifts it around her shoulders.  Just then Pappy’s eyes are real, and he looks at Mamoo, holds onto her hand with his hands.  For a minute we are all joined together, and I feel warmer inside.  Then Pappy’s eyes shut off again, and he turns away.

I watch a man creeping like a crab through the people.  He’s holding something underneath his coat.  Some people shoo him away, and others are swapping things for what he’s got.  He gets closer and closer until I see that his hand is full of little sticks.  I see another girl; she is watching the man too.  She looks across at me.  I don’t know her, but she smiles.  I think she must be older.  I like her face.  She’s got long, black hair like mine.  Mamoo plaited my hair this morning, in two neat plaits that come over my shoulders and are tied with strips from my old nightgown.  It was too small for me.  It should have come down to my ankles, but I wore it until it was almost touching my knees.  The strips are just as good as ribbons, pale blue with small pink flowers.

The man with the sticks has stopped in front of the girl.  She looks up at her father, who looks sad and reaches into his pocket to give something to the man.  Then the man gives one of his sticks to the girl.  She looks at it, very closely, and then she shuts her eyes and licks the top, just once.  She opens her eyes, sees me looking, and smiles across again.  Only this time, her smile is a real smile.

When the man with the sticks gets to me, I pull on Mamoo’s hand.

‘Yoseph,’ she says, quietly.

Pappy turns slowly to look at the man, and then at the man’s hand full of sticks.  Pappy feels inside his pocket and pulls out his gold watch.  He opens it up and rubs his finger over the glass.  Then he closes it, very carefully.  It is my Grandfather’s watch, and Pappy is holding it out to the man.  The man takes it quickly, and gives me a stick.  I look at it.  It looks like a lollipop that has been sucked until it’s almost gone.  I shut my eyes, like the girl, and lick just once.  It tastes like a thousand things I’ve forgotten.  It tastes like Heaven.  Mamoo squeezes my hand, and Pappy looks at me.  He almost smiles.

I wrap one of my hair ribbons around the stick, to keep it safe for later.  Then I hide it up the sleeve of my blouse.  I can feel it against my skin.  The rain is still coming down, and everyone is standing now, because I think it must be time to go.  I can hear shouting.  It is the same as ten days ago.  The Germans, they are angry and frightening.
‘Mamoo, where are we going?’

‘Don’t worry, Munchkin.  They’re just moving us somewhere else.  To work.  A different place to live.’

Pappy moves closer to us, and puts his arm around Mamoo.  Then the soldiers come towards us, pointing their guns; everyone is lifting up their suitcases and queuing to go through a building ahead of us.

We go into the building, and the soldiers take away our suitcases and throw them into a pile.

‘Your belongings will come separately,’ they tell us, looking down.

And then we’re out the other side, back into the rain, and there is a train that we have to climb into.  There are so many people all pushed together.  Mamoo holds onto me tightly, and Pappy jumps up onto the train to pull us up too.  The soldiers are sliding the doors closed, I can’t move, I’m squashed behind Pappy, and Mamoo is behind me.  Everyone is shouting, calling out for each other.  There’s a woman screaming for her son, she’s trying to push towards the door, crying out his name, someone is trying to pull the boy up from the platform before the doors close, but his hand can’t reach.  The boy is crying for his mother, but the doors have closed, and the mother is still shouting, screaming.  I shut my eyes.  I think of Mamoo and Pappy being all around me.  I think of Teddy being tucked in tight.  I think of my sugar stick, warm and sweet.

***

I think I must have slept, but I’m still standing.  It is so dark that when I open my eyes it is just the same as having them closed.  I can’t tell how long we have been going, but it is quieter.  All I can hear are the wheels of the train, and the sound of a hundred people breathing.  It feels as if there is hardly any air left, as if it’s all been sucked out of the train.  I am so thirsty, I wish the rain was in here with us.  I can’t move my arms, I can’t turn around.  I can’t feel my toes any more.  I think of my sugar stick. I think of what one lick would be like.  I think of being in the warm sun, with an ice-cold lollipop melting against my tongue.  But the smell in the carriage is so bad, all I can think of is being afraid.

***

When the train stops, the doors slide open and there is a lot of shouting.  Everyone is falling out of the carriage, they can’t stand up, their legs won’t work anymore.  Some people don’t get up. I think it is still night time, but there are so many lights, I can’t see.  Pappy goes out first, and lifts me down.  His arms are shaking, and he almost drops me.  Mamoo is right behind.  I see her face for the first time in a long time.  She is starting to look like Pappy.  I feel really scared.  I hold onto her hand.  I’m not going to let go.

The soldiers are shouting again, telling us to go into the building.  I can’t see where we are.  We all go quickly, as quickly as we can.  The Germans, they are shouting again and again.  They are pushing the men and the boys into a different place.

‘Pappy!’

He turns and bends down to kiss me, he kisses Mamoo, he’s falling over, stumbling, the soldiers are pushing him with their guns.

‘Elsa!  Eva!’ Pappy shouts.

Then he’s gone, and we’re being taken somewhere else, and I don’t know why this is, I don’t know why we are here, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Inside it is colder than the night outside.  There isn’t a bit of me that doesn’t hurt.  The soldiers are telling us to take off our clothes.  How can this be? I can’t move my fingers.  I can’t undo my buttons.  I can’t undo my shoelaces.  Mamoo helps me.

‘Don’t worry, Munchkin.  We are only being cleaned.  Just stay close by me, and everything will be all right.’

‘But what about Teddy?  I can’t leave Teddy.  What about my sugar stick?’

‘Teddy will be waiting for us.  Give me your stick.  I’ll look after it.’

Mamoo snaps my stick in half, and closes her hand around the end with the ribbon.
Mamoo is shivering.  She undoes my plaits, so that my hair hangs right down my back.  She does the same to her hair.  We smile at each other.  I don’t want to need anything.  I know that I need to be brave, for Mamoo’s sake.

We are lined up, and then I see what will happen.  There is a man with scissors.  He is going to cut off our hair.  I keep telling myself:  ‘I don’t need anything.  I don’t need anything.’  And then the man is cutting all Mamoo’s hair away.  It falls to the floor in big black clumps.  He keeps on cutting, and then he shaves her head until she has no hair left.

‘It is so you don’t get lice,’ he tells us quietly.

1It is my turn.  I shut my eyes.  It’s a strange noise, the sound of the scissors on my hair.  I feel so light afterwards.  I touch my head.  There’s nothing there anymore.  Just a fuzzy softness.

We go through to a big room.  It is empty and very cold.  I don’t know what is happening.

‘Mamoo, will we be given new clothes?’

‘Yes, Eva.  New clothes.  Clothes that are warm, and clean.’

She holds me close.  I look at all the women and the girls.  All without clothes.  All without hair.  Their eyes are so big.  Huge eyes in small heads and thin, bony bodies.  I don’t even feel ashamed.  They are all like me.  We are all in here, together.

Everyone is waiting.  Some people are crying.  I look at the ceiling, at the showers, where the water will come out to clean us.  Then everyone is quiet.  There is a strange hissing sound that I’ve never heard before.  We all look up.  A mist is coming down.  It smells horrible.  People are beginning to cough.

‘Eva, take the stick.  Keep it in your mouth for as long as you can.’

I take the sugar stick, and unwrap the ribbon.  The mist is getting to the back of my throat.  There are moans and cries from all around me.  Mamoo kneels down, I kneel down beside her.

‘Don’t be afraid, Eva.’

I put the sugar stick in my mouth.  I feel the sweet warmth on my tongue.  Mamoo unfolds and lies on the floor.  I lie down with her.  I feel her arms around me.

I think of the girl like me.

I think of Mamoo reading to me at night, her bedtime kiss.

I think of Pappy’s funny laugh, his dark brown eyes.

I think of Michael pushing me on the swing.

‘Higher, Michael, Higher.’

I think, I think of touching the deep blue sky.

I think of sweetness…

…think of warmth….

…of light.

 

Published in Seventh Quark Magazine 2005