My plans this afternoon were to make my way down to the river for sunset. It has been another damp and raw day and I’ve hardly been outdoors, preferring the warmth of the under floor heating. But at just short of 3.30pm, I ventured out. I took Kimber, my youngest dog, she’s great company and isn’t too bothered where we go as long as there is something interesting to sniff, lamp posts, bins, fox poo, you know the likes.
With a little time to spare we trotted off down the street. On the way, we met several people who stopped to chat. Due to the time and the fading light I would normally have waved and passed by, but the people who stopped needed an ear and, I felt, some kind words. It’s easy to assume that everyone is merry and all wrapped up in Christmas joy, but that really isn’t the case. So many people are grieving at Christmas, from the loss of a loved one, to family who can’t be close because of covid, etc, etc. And people have worries too, illness, finances, loneliness, addiction, the list goes on. Christmas for many can feel like an enormous burden, so it’s no wonder that the weight of those brief conversations stopped me in my tracks, I too feel the weight off worry and loss at Christmas.
I made it to the river at 15.45pm, but only after giving my best wishes, my ear, and to one person, the wish of laughter on Christmas day, I do hope they get that wish. I took a moment by the river bank to reflect on my short journey and concluded : It wasn’t important to be by the river at 15.42pm, I would get there eventually, I was in the exact right place at the exact right time for someone else, and that made absolute sense to me. Below is a short video of the river.
After standing for a minute or two, we headed to the park, after all, puppy time is fun time.
My sunset might not have gone to plan, but I hope by pausing at the right time, someone elses day was a little easier. Merry Christmas everyone. Peace xxx
I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.
“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?” She shook her head. “Not…” “What can I do?” I asked. She pointed to the window and wagged her finger. “You want it left open?” She nodded. I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water. “I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned. “You said you’d do it later.” “I know, but it stinks.” “It’s just last night’s dishes.” “It’s disgusting.” “I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.” “It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.” “You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.” I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.
I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t. “Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room. “Something from the council.” I took it through to her. “Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.” “It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.” Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows. “They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?” She nodded. “When?” “In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.” “What about us?” “They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?” “No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.
At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air. “Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked. “I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it. “I’ll finish that.” Helen said. “It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped. “Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt. “I’ll go in a minute.” “I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.” “I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her. “What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?” I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.” “Go where? The hotel?” I let out a sob. “Kirsty?” “I can’t go to Peter’s.”
By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in. “What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room. “In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.
“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?” “I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide. “How’s the dissertation coming along?” “Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did. “Are you in touch with your classmates?” “I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.
It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him. I clicked.
“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth. “That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven. “Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?” “I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me. 12,351.
Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes. Breathe in to the count of five. Hold. Breathe out to the count of five. Hold.
I hadn’t seen her in a decade,Not since that time we …Now she’s lying before me, tucked-up warmIn hospital sheets.Her face is older now, saggy in parts -And sallow. Her mouth puckers intoA tight circle when I arrive, an ‘Oh!’ Like that time we…She touches my arm, cold fingersThat leave cold circles for minutes after.‘How have you been? How time flies,Tell me, what have you done since… You know.’Her shoulders hunch, eyebrows rise.She reads my face, faster Than the note I left by her bed…‘Tell me,' she insists, 'did you sail to that island,Where the wind whips the wavesOnto the lighthouse by the edgeOf the sea. Did you?‘Did you climb the thousand stone stepsTo the castle in the sky,Where the world ends And life unfolds like a paper chain?'‘Did you finally find that missing moment, Capture it in a photograph,A half-truth bent into a scrapOf happiness? Or did you leave it behind?’Her chestnut eyes leave mine,Trail the cracks on the ceilingAnd rest in the corner of room.The sound of my footsteps echoAfter I leave.
Window Pain Not a paper bag Or a terracotta mask Can erase this face, Or misplace The dug-out lines, The outlines, the valleys sketched Like map markings, marking my skin. Or the thin Unconventional smile, forced from A gully of pain That rises to the tip Of a pin like nerve
To my lip. Does this body deserve To mask these aging bones
With leather skin Smoothed out, Like putty on a window pane With pain.
Or will night, When dusk coughs The light from the sky – celebrate, and wait until the moon is a silver eyelash on a violet sheet and the self – erased.
This story was highly commended in the short story category for the Carers UK Creative Writing competition 2017. To purchase the anthology in which this story appears, click here. Carers UK provides carers like myself helpful information and support.
The Impracticality of Home
I sit on the sill of the bay window watching the midday sun wink in the rooftop puddles. A small red helium balloon bobs over the roof of the neighbouring hostel and the sound of a child crying echoes in the alleyway below. I turn around and look up the narrow cobbled road, dotted with bikes and benches, brown haired tourists in matching ponchos, and a road sweeper. The shh shhhhh shhhhhhh of the brushes of his machine hiccough as they suck the remains of somebody’s late night shenanigans. I hug my knees letting the warm breeze that sneaks through the crack in the window touch my face; while the smell of charred meat, chip shop grease and warm bins curls up my nose. The blue curtains billow.
We’d both picked those curtains, trailed for hours around all the charity shops just to find a pair that was long enough for the main window in our new home. Our first home together. Our, we-don’t-care-if -we’ve-only-been-going-out-for-six-months overpriced flat in the centre of a busy student town. I remember sitting on the threadbare sofa, watching her stand on the sill stretching right up to the curtain pole to clip the curtain on to each tiny little hook. ‘Be careful,’ I said and she screwed up her face and told me, ‘I’m the D.I.Y person, remember?’ and I shrugged my shoulders because, in fairness, I could barely hang a picture straight.
I hear a horn tooting and I push the window open wide. It isn’t the patient ambulance service, it’s just a taxi. I hear a thundering of footsteps descending the stairs in the hall. The front door vibrates as they pass the landing and head to the ground floor. I see four of the neighbours burst out the main door in a flurry of neon feather boas, grass skirts and permed wigs and I know tonight is going to be a noisy one.
It was the third flat we’d visited and the best value for money by a mile. I was intrigued by the hand carved double bed on stilts in the small room, while she fell in love with the old Persian rug that covered most of the solid wood floor. ‘It’s a good size,’ I told the estate agent as I sat on the sill and looked around. One of the walls, papered with a grey brick effect looked dated but quirky; the mismatched cushions scattered randomly on the sofa and chairs could easily have been ours and the gap in the wall where a T.V was meant to sit, would be perfect for the plant I’d bought you for our one month anniversary. ‘We’ll take it,’ she said, standing in the centre of the room with her arms stretched wide open. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked, ‘It’ll be noisy.’ And she laughed and ran to the window where some dude in a straw hat sat directly below us playing Wonderwall on his guitar. ‘What’s not to love about that.’ She said and I loved her a little bit more.
The letterbox snaps and a pile of junk mail flops onto the floor along with two white envelopes and a pink one. I can tell from here it’s get-well-soon cards. I wish they sold, ‘I know you’ll never be the same but if you ever need anything just ask’ cards, or, ‘Congratulations on learning to walk for the second time,’ cards. Get well soon is a little presumptuous but I suppose if that’s all there is then…. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I’M HERE! In square letters across the screen. I look out the window to see the top of the ambulance pull up outside the tall heavy iron gates outside the flats.
I remember when we moved in. ‘This place has better security than Buckingham Palace,’ she’d said, as she held the gate open for me to pass through with another box before humphing it up twenty-four steps. ‘It’s your turn next,’ I shouted and kicked over a half empty can of Special Brew that was sitting on the stair.
I run down the stairs as fast as my legs will carry me, past the wheelie bins, over-spilling with junk from the Chinese Takeaway next door, through the black iron gates and to the back of the ambulance where the driver has just opened the two back doors. There’s a smile on her face as big as mine and I reach out my hand as she steps onto the platform and the driver lowers her slowly to the ground. She takes a step forward and wobbles. I grip her hand a little tighter as her feet test the un-even road. It’s shaky at first but we clear the cobbles and edge down the strip of the gutter to the gates. I type in the code twice before I can turn the handle and push it open. She kisses me softly as she passes, and I can’t believe I haven’t kissed her here for over two months. ‘Are you ready?’ We stand at the foot of the stairs. ‘How many is it again? She frowns and I notice her face looks a little paler outside of the hospital bed. ‘Twenty-four.’ I say and take the first step. I hold out my hand. “One…….