I have been so busy with everything else! Including getting a job as a Communications Assistant last week (woo hoo!) that I have neglected sharing my writing with my fellow bloggers, so here is the latest short story I am working on! Would love to hear your thoughts.
I want to go back
It is always that day that I go back to in my mind. I can go over and over each tiny detail because for some reason that day, I was present in every moment. It is as though I knew that one day I would need the memories.
I had a cold and for once I had decided not to do any work. Although it was Saturday, I often worked on my writing, or did some PA work for a client. Not that day, I had decided to do nothing. I slept late and lay even longer waiting for everyone to leave the house. I was only half aware of David and Jennifer leaving in the morning. I heard Hugh getting up having a shower and shaving, but I waited until he left before throwing my legs out of bed and opening the curtains. The sun was shining. I smiled. It had been a bad summer and it was rare to see blue sky. I got dressed, walked to the shop and bought every newspaper they had. The girl behind the counter looked at me as she pealed back one newspaper after another from my pile and asked me if I wanted a receipt. “No thanks” I said. I was happy to leave her guessing as to whether I was a professional researcher or some kind of weirdo fanatic. In reality I was both. Accused by John of being a terrorist because I didn’t believe in bombing the Middle East and ill informed because I didn’t read newspapers, I did what I always do, and decided to read everything.
I made breakfast and sat in the back garden for hours reading, congratulating myself when I could tell on the first article which political party the newspaper supported and whether or not it supported independence. I fought back tears reading the local newspaper: an ex-solider had jumped off a balcony in Thailand and local people had raised thousands of pounds to get him home; two cats were looking for a new home after their owner had died of cancer. I was incensed about local councils taking out risky loans using tax payers money and about the biased reporting on strikes, but only mildly, because I reminded myself I was relaxing.
I lay on the lawn and watched the clouds float past like I did when I was a child. I fell asleep and was awakened by my neighbour coming through the gate to look at suitable trees to help me hang my new hammock. I joined him and his wife for coffee and biscuits in their back garden and we talked about my job interview which somehow digressed to the government, the origins of the federal bank, interest and the absurdity of suing someone for not paying back a loan of money that never existed in the first place – as always. Then my neighbour read his book, and I listened to the music of the day: the hushing sound of the wind through the trees. There is nothing better in the world than a windy day with a blue sky, I thought to myself. We sat for a while in silence. I read some short stories from the Guardian and felt sorry for a little girl whose family mocked her first attempts at writing.
My neighbour left to walk his dogs. I took the ropes he had given me and with the help of Youtube, instinct and my memories of hammocks in Australia, I threw the ropes around two trees and made some very amateur knots. I wrapped the ropes around so many times and made so many knots that I got the hammock up and myself in it without thumping to the ground or the trees falling down. I lay back and listened to the sounds from the garden and sighed.
I looked up at the underside of the leaves in the tree above me, the veins were so red they could have had blood running through them, the edges of the leaves so sharp that they seemed to cut right through the air. The sun had chosen some favourite leaves to shine on through gaps in the branches and the wind caressed every one individually as though playing an intricate instrument. I picked up Rob Roy and persevered with the strange Scottish dialogue. An insect landed on the edge of the book and seemed to lean over and ponder the words. It didn’t have the resolve I had to labour on with the reading and flew back into the air. A bee buzzed just over my face and I didn’t flinch. I was with them: the insects and the birds. For once, we existed together without disturbing each other.
If only I could suspend time and float in this moment the way my body was hanging in the air, weightless and still, I thought. It was a lovely idea and for a second I felt it, but like everything, it was fleeting and I became aware of the rushing of the river at the end of the garden. It reminded me that everything moved on. The sun was getting lower in the sky, the heat was leaving the ground and not even the blankets I had draped over me would keep me warm for long.
I looked towards the house. I loved that sight. My washing hanging in front of the white house, a record of everywhere I had been and everything I had done that week: working, running, showering, sleeping. All evidence of my weekly activities taken off, rinsed clean and hung out to soak in the sun. I breathed in deeply. I watched the birds flying overhead, intent on some task or other, oblivious to the thoughts in my head. I sat up on the hammock and thought about taking it down. It was going to rain tomorrow, so I had to take it down, but I was reluctant. There was something final about it. I untied the knots and unravelled the ropes, thinking about how everything was always so easy to unravel, despite how long it takes to put up: hammocks, societies, countries.
I took all the washing inside. I remember everything; every towel I folded, each of the cushion covers I hung on the radiators to dry off, Hugh’s motorcycle helmet on the big striped chair in the hall, the leopard print fabric on top of my clothes rail, the shoes I had taken off that were sitting on the floor, both toes touching as though my feet still turned in towards each other, the trees in the garden reflected in my glass globe on my writing desk, the white peace ribbon I had taken from Iona Abbey with Jo pinned onto the teddy Lisa had given me.
I want to catch the day like the end of a ribbon and hold onto it, but it floats out of my reach and drifts away.
There must have been more days like this afterwards. It wasn’t quite the end of the summer but I don’t remember any others like that one. Perhaps it was the last one that I spent entirely on my own in that peaceful state of mind. Perhaps it is not one memory, but several, joined together by my mind in an attempt to take me away from the torment of now.
I had been optimistic then. I believed in the good in people, and that the only thing that was important was to fight for it, no matter what was happening in the world and no matter what other people said. Do I still believe that? I don’t know. It changes you. War. Even if you see it coming, even if you know why it happened, even if you know it had to happen. It changes you. You can’t hold someone in your arms as they die without a part of you dying with them. Especially if you know it could have been prevented, especially when you know that it is not for the good of mankind. What do you do? What could we have done then? I was never even sure I was right about it all. I hoped that I was wrong, that I was one of these conspiracy theorists. I tried not to think about it too much, to focus on doing and saying good things, on learning about things, but not dwelling on them. My gut knew. Your gut always knows. Yet I did nothing. Other people took a stand and went out there, protested, took extreme views, but they were marginal – would it have mattered if we had all joined them? I say we, the people who agreed with me were few and far between. Even my parents thought I was slightly mad. I half believed them.
Is that gorgeous garden still there? Is it overgrown with weeds and trees now? Has the street been bombed, the house too? Where are my neighbours? Are they still sitting there? Does the river still run and trees still sway? Of course they do. Bombs can’t stop rivers running or trees growing. Only nuclear bombs can do that and I have to at least be thankful that no one was that stupid. In the end we were right about that too, us hippies, us tree huggers. The nuclear weapons were a threat only. We would not kill ourselves to kill our enemies. At least that is something to be glad about. There is some comfort in knowing that the trees will remain, the flowers will continue to grow, the insects will carry on.
I used to argue with John about guns and about killing. I would say that the only way to stop it is to refuse to do it. You don’t bomb a country because they have bombed you – it doesn’t make it right. The only way to stop is for everyone to stop and say: killing is wrong for any reason. Now look at me. I knew it would be different when you are being attacked. What can you do? The instinct is to survive. I am guided by reason but driven by instinct and in a life or death situation, instinct always wins. It still doesn’t make it right. I should never have been forced into this situation where I am fighting for my life and for the lives of my love ones, but fight I must.
I have killed. I never thought those words would form in my brain, never mind find their way out into the world, but I have. I don’t care if God will forgive me or not. I cannot. What does God matter to me? I looked into the eyes of the man I shot and I saw just that, a man. Not a terrorist, not a fiend, not a devil, not God, but a man, like any man and I saw life leave him. You can’t kill someone without killing a part of yourself. It happened to be a part that I liked. Why did you make me do that? I stand here, rifle in my hand, so out of place in an adult woman’s arms, but here it is and if you come towards me, I will shoot you. I might even shoot you if you are an ally, I might not realise in time, but in the end what does it matter anymore? You are as much a stranger to me as the enemy and if you are coming towards me, why shouldn’t I shoot you? Why should you survive and the other stranger should not? You see? You see? Don’t you see what it has done? I was good once. I was full of hope, full of promise, of great ideas and wonderful words. They mean nothing now and never will again, because I am a killer. I look over at John and hate him. He looks worried.
Yesterday we went in close, so close. I saw a figure coming towards me and I cocked my gun and pointed it. The figure held a gun, but I noticed it was small and it had long hair. As it got within my eyesight, I could see even from the distance, blue eyes. It was a girl. She was dark skinned and dark haired, but her eyes were watery blue and light reflected from them in every direction, like they were made of glitter. She could have been my daughter, no older than sixteen. I was struck dumb and I let my gun arm fall to my side. She kept walking towards me, and I waited. She had also lowered her gun. I heard shouting behind me, but I couldn’t hear what was said. I started to walk towards her. We were very close and then my ears exploded and she fell to the ground. I tried to run towards her but I was dragged back and pinned down. They told me that the bomb came from her side, but they would say anything.
I feel like I am in the same spot, and I am looking for her, but it is not the same field, and she is not here. The ringing in my ears from the bomb never stopped. It has made me less jumpy because I don’t start at every noise now. I look up at the sky thinking that maybe it is still the same, but even it is obscured by cloud and dust and it looks an unearthly orange colour. I look around for trees, but this is just one large field in what could be anywhere and in the distance all I can see are unnatural clouds. I look for birds and in the distance, I do see them, but they are circling an area to the left in a way that makes me shudder. I see that girl’s eyes still and I feel the tears coming, so I close mine.
I try to get back. Back to where I was, in the garden. My eyes are still closed but I can feel John looking at me. I can feel the look on his face. It is horror. Not at what I have done, but at what it has done to me. I don’t want to see the horror in his eyes, I don’t want to look at another set of eyes. I want to go back. I want to go back to my home, to the garden, to lie in that hammock where I am just nobody lying on a summer’s day, listening to the wind. I open my eyes and look at John and I let the tears fall now. I have calmed down and on my face he will see I have let something go. His expression changes: his eyes widen and his mouth forms a firm straight line as he prepares to run towards me. He won’t make it in time. That’s the thing about guns. They don’t give you time to reason. I lift my hand up and for the last time I pull the trigger.
Would you believe that last night, I fell asleep with such energy that I (including my bed and all my blankets) fell right down through the floor of this existence into another place of time. I know you think that these things are the work of science fiction however I am telling you that it happened to me. It was actually a rather nice feeling. Being in my bed and asleep, I was very warm, relaxed and comfortable. It wasn’t at all the sickening rollercoaster ride they tell you it is.
When I arrived at my destination, I was pleased to find my stomach and all my other internal organs still in place. I was however a little disturbed when I realised that I was no longer a woman, but now a man. I have to say it was refreshing to be so light in the chest and my back…
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Would you believe that last night, I fell asleep with such energy that I (including my bed and all my blankets) fell right down through the floor of this existence into another place of time. I know you think that these things are the work of science fiction however I am telling you that it happened to me. It was actually a rather nice feeling. Being in my bed and asleep, I was very warm, relaxed and comfortable. It wasn’t at all the sickening rollercoaster ride they tell you it is.
When I arrived at my destination, I was pleased to find my stomach and all my other internal organs still in place. I was however a little disturbed when I realised that I was no longer a woman, but now a man. I have to say it was refreshing to be so light in the chest and my back felt instantly straighter and less tense. What was rather distracting, were the extra bits and pieces that belong to the male anatomy that now belonged to me. I have a new understanding of how impossible it is to think about very much without being aware of it although of course perhaps that was just because none of it was there before. I think it best to leave that subject for another time and instead to describe to you my surroundings.
Gladly I did not land on a cobbled street in the middle of a city in my pyjamas or on my bed. The bed had gone and I was fully clothed. At the precise moment I arrived at my destination, I was walking. I became very conscious that I did not want to seem out of place, so I mimicked the gentlemen around me by walking with my torso tilted backwards, my chest out, my chin in the air and my arms swinging by my side. They were all dressed in smart suits with hats on their heads and it was clear to me that I had in fact landed in a much earlier time than where I started when I fell asleep. I made a guess that it was perhaps a couple of hundred years into the past. After walking in this manner for several minutes, I was aware that I was receiving some very peculiar looks from passers-by and when I checked myself in a shop window, I saw that I was not in fact one of these genteel men, I was rather poor and shabby. This was extremely embarrassing and I very quickly corrected myself by bending myself over in the opposite direction, my shoulders rounded, my back hunched and my head looking towards the ground. This drew much less attention. I was afraid that if I did not fit in, someone would notice that I was not supposed to be there and I might turn into a pile of ash instantly. I was not sure of the rules, but I knew enough to know that you absolutely cannot upset the balance of things.
I had the distinct feeling that I was perhaps a character in a famous novel, and I was half expecting Charles Dickens or someone similar to step out of a front door to absorb the scene around him only to put me into a story later. When I did look for him, I remembered with a slight chuckle that I had no idea what Charles Dickens actually looked like. I did watch a film where Ralph Fiennes played Charles Dickens, but I doubt very much Charles Dickens would look like Ralph Fiennes in real life. This kind of speculation was completely futile of course because I was not sure at all whether any of this was actually real. I pulled my wandering mind back into the present (or the past however you want to look at it) and continued on my way, for I had a purpose that was as yet unknown to me.
I walked up the hill and as I got further into the city, the streets and the people became more dirty and grubby. The city centre was busy and everyone seemed in such a rush which made me glad because it meant they paid me no attention. I had to dodge goodness knows what coming from the contents of pans thrown out of tenement windows by strong armed women with cross faces and sweaty brows. I tried not to deviate from the plan, but the sights around me were very distracting. It was so wonderful to be walking through another period in time. It made me feel very nostalgic. There were no cars, no traffic lights, and somehow, the buildings and streets seemed more real. I knew this city, I recognised the cobbled street that led to the castle, the alleyways and steps that led back down to Waverley Station and Princes Street however it occurred to me that that was not what was at the bottom of the steps in this time, it was the loch – I could smell the stink of it.
I had been so busy taking all of this in that I had not noticed how bitterly cold it was. A wind blew in from some naked part of the world and I looked towards the sky. I saw that it had darkened although it was still the middle of the day and the clouds had that wonderful grey/blue glow that meant snow. No sooner had I admired the strange dark light than the flakes started appearing in the air. It occurred to me that rain is something that happens to you while snow seems to exist around you. The snowflakes increased in volume and size and filled the space between everything. The wind began to blast my face and my chest hurt. I knew this was completely against the rules because I was supposed to keep going, but I bundled my worn, holey clothes into the entrance of a small shop with a glass window and a wooden maroon frame. I began to shiver. I pulled my feeble jacket around my body and the collar further up my neck as though I believed if I pulled hard enough I would create more material and cover my freezing skin.
I looked in the window of the shop and saw a tall lady standing behind a counter. She was smiling at me as though she were really pleased to see me. I had a feeling at the time that I knew her, but I couldn’t place her. She was out of context and I couldn’t remember where she should be. She had old fashioned wavy hair that was almost short, but not quite. Her face was all curved lines, round eyebrows, upturned lips, soft chin and smiling eyes. I liked that kind of face. She gestured for me to come in and although I was a little hesitant, I felt that it would be rude to ignore her. I opened the door and blew into the shop with the snow and wind.
“You must be freezing. Come in. Come in.” she gestured.
I didn’t say anything but nodded, I did not trust that my voice would be masculine enough to match my body. The woman stood and looked at me, smiling sadly. I wanted more than anything to reach out to her and touch her hand. I resisted since even in my own time it would not have done to touch a stranger’s hands like that. We stood looking at each other for a few moments when another lady came through from a room at the back of the counter. This lady had shorter, curlier hair and she was wearing glasses. She was a petite little thing, but all completely in proportion. She had a more angular face, like my own (well my original one, I had not examined this new face yet). She looked up at me and said, “Ah yer here wee yin. Right. Right”.
Clearly she also seemed to know me and I had the same feeling of familiarity. She was rustling around in a drawer behind the counter looking for something. She seemed out of breath in a way that suggested that she always breathed like that, like she had some kind of heart or lung problem. She kept saying to herself every now and then in airy whispers, “Right. Right”.
She turned around with a look of satisfaction on her face. She walked over to the counter and said “C’mere wee yin”.
I walked over to the counter and as I approached, she handed me a little parcel wrapped in brown paper. It was put together very neatly and tied in thick string. I accepted it and stood looking at the two ladies a little confused. I wasn’t sure whether this was part of my purpose that day or not. Something was a little out of sync. I felt like it was me, the female me who knew these ladies and not the man that I was in this existence (if that makes any sense). However I thought it best not to argue and had decided to leave without much fuss. I felt like I wanted something else from them, I felt like there was something I should be saying to them but I could not force any words out and I understood that I could not speak to them. I felt quite upset. The smaller lady nodded her head in a final way and said, “That’s it wee yin. You’ve somethin’ tae dae wae that. That’s whit ye came fur. Right. Right”.
There was no arguing with her so I left the shop. The snow and the wind blew right into my face and made my eyes water. I walked faster now, I was eager to finish this journey and get back.
I took the road to the left of the castle and headed down the hill towards the Grassmarket and the White Hart Inn. Outside the pub was a massive dog tied to a post shivering. I went inside and found the man I was looking for. I walked straight over to him without thinking how I knew who he was or how I would find him. He was a large man with a red face, a shirt that was ready to pop open and small eyes. He looked up as I approached his table and said, “Ah Daibhidh, son. See that brute outside? Fun’ the sorry dug stranded by the river. He’s a Boar Hound. Take him back up the road, get some food fae the Butcher’s and tell Mary tae feed the thing. Bonnie big dug. Kept geeing me his big broon een n’ Mary’s been that doon recently, I think this’ll cheer the lass up. Frank’s the name”.
I nodded my head, went outside and looked at the dog. It was a handsome big dog and although it was dirty, its coat looked shiny enough. It clearly wasn’t a stray, it had belonged to someone, most likely someone with money. I untied the rope and led Frank up the road. He came without so much as a gruff or a strain of the neck. He was as accepting as I was and even seemed to be pleased. I went back the way I came and looked in the shop window where the two old ladies had been but it was now closed. I went to the butchers and got some cuts of meat for Frank before handing both over to the servant at Mary’s house.
I made my way home to Lawnmarket and went to my room. I sat at my desk and took out the brown paper parcel. I unwrapped it as carefully as it had been wrapped and found in it a little red leather bound book. It had the usual gold stencilling on it, but no title. I opened the book and as I often do, checked for an inscription and found written in ink in writing that would have been difficult to read had I not known it:
I thought you might like this quote:
‘Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.’ Sir Frances Bacon.
Perhaps people like us were meant to encourage each other to read and to write so that we can understand a little more of each other, ourselves and of the world.
Read a few words and see where it takes you, write a few words and see where it takes you. It might not change the world, but it will change the way you see it and perhaps the way others see it.”
There was no signature but the words and writing were extremely familiar to me. I opened the pages and they were all blank. Involuntarily, I sighed, put the book down and looked out of the window. I’ll go the library, I thought, and look up Sir Frances Bacon and that will be a start. I was awfully tired though, so I decided to lay down in my bed for a rest. I understood there was a lot of work to do, but the best kind of work. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt so very light. It was good to have a purpose. I let myself drift off to sleep at great speed.
When I woke, I found that the bed I was in was much bigger and had a great deal more pillows and covers than the one I had fallen asleep in earlier. The room was warmer and I could smell a scented candle. It was one of the ones my mother had given me for Christmas. I must have forgotten to put it out last night. I got up to blow it out. Sitting next to it on the ledge of the fireplace was my snow globe with the pictures of me as a young girl with my two grandmothers. It never failed to make me smile. I got back into bed because it was the weekend and I did not have anything I had to rush to get up for. I took my phone out and checked my emails – excellent, a nice long message from David.
I didn’t know him, but I met him in a coffee shop just as it was about to close. We had to go to a bar instead. He was well dressed in a coat and smart shoes and underneath the coat he had on a blue ribbed woollen jumper. He was tall but he was smaller than I had imagined. His torso was very narrow and I noticed he had particularly small hands. His hair was dark, his eyes darker. He had this habit of cocking his head to one side, or did I imagine that?
At times I found him so handsome, I had to look away, at other times his face seemed too angular. He attracted me and repulsed me in equal measure. It was confusing.
We talked a great deal and I found we shared many interests. We talked about music, films, books and he even knew some of the obscure films and musicians that most other people had no interest in. If I could have written him on paper before I met him, I couldn’t have described a man that was more my type, yet there was something very boyish about him, but I have always liked that.
Now, the way things have turned out, I do wonder at myself for asking for him to come into my life. That is the thing about asking for things; you have to make sure you don’t leave certain things out. I asked for a handsome man who made my insides burn. I asked for an intelligent man who would challenge me. He is all of those things, I got exactly what I wanted, but that is not all that he is. There are other things about him that I didn’t ask for, but I didn’t stipulate that I didn’t want those things. Heaven knows, that I simply did not consider that he could be … what he is. God help my soul, I wanted to burn, but I forgot that that also means pain.
Before I met him, I was bored. I am the type of person who gets bored with life easily. Normality feels like being stuck in a closed room at a hospital with the heating turned on waiting for bad news. As calm as I naturally am I wait, poised, hands on lap, back straight until I can stand the suffocation not one second more. I surprise the very air around me and I pounce into action, if only to shake my heart around a little. For the same reason we all do, I suppose: to feel alive. The only difference between people like me and normal people is that I am aware that it is me that does it.
Other people blame external circumstances and people. They think things happen to them, but they don’t. You invite them, the way I invited him.
We went out a few times and very quickly, he made my stomach sick with excitement. Somehow, I found myself suggesting and doing things that were completely out of character. I was very forward with him and invited him to my house. I let him enter my blood stream like liquor; the effects intoxicating and addictive, and the withdrawal poisonous.
He did not love me, I knew that. In all honesty, I did not love him. It was an affair and although neither of us had partners or wives, there was something wrong about it. He had taken over my mind. I couldn’t get past a few moments without thinking about him. I wouldn’t hear from him in days. I would convince myself that I didn’t care, I would teach myself to slowly stop thinking about him and then he would appear at my door. He said very little, but I would let him back into my bed and it would all begin again, his hands touching me, his dark eyes penetrating me, as though they were drinking all the goodness out of my heart, leaving me pale and exhausted. He was not tender, but he was passionate and I found myself acting in the same way.
He would stay the night, but we did not fall into a loving slumber, wrapped in each other’s arms. He lay there and pretended to sleep, but he did not. Try as I could, sleep would not come to me either. I was so aware of him; his breathing, the weight of his body on my bed. When he was lying there keeping me awake, I wanted him gone, but somehow I couldn’t ask him to leave, that would have been rude. He left in the morning, before the others got up. For some reason he didn’t want them to see him although I had told him they knew about him. When I think about it now, none of my friends met him. I don’t like talking about him because I cannot explain why I continue to have him in my life, knowing what he is.
I knew from the beginning there was something wrong about him, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. He has this power over me, without having to say or do anything I do exactly what it was he wants me to. Sometimes he has me doubting that it is even him that is making me do these terrible things, but I was never like this before and I cannot stop myself.
I have the strangest nightmares when he is not here. I dream that I am taking a glass of wine to my lips, but instead of simply drinking out of it, I find myself eating the glass instead. The glass cracks on my teeth, the sharp shards slicing my lips and my tongue. The feeling of the glass scraping and crunching against my teeth makes me feel nauseous.
I dream of a large white room filled with people who appear to be hypnotized walking into a dark hole in the middle of the room to death or something worse. I am the only one running around trying to escape, but there are no doors. I can’t really see his face, but I can feel him standing over me his eyes searching for me. I can feel the enormous presence of his shadow, it is the size of the room and those dark eyes flit around the room manically. I always wake up just as those eyes find mine and I wake up sweating. I can get no rest even when he is not there. I am at the end of my wits.
I have begun to feel a deep loathing for myself and everyone else around me. I see right through people, I see their weakness and ugliness and I know that I cannot trust one of them. They all let me down. I am so aware of people looking at me, it makes me want to take my own eyes out, but somehow, I know I will still feel them looking. I am so exhausted and unhappy, I can barely stay awake at work and I cannot concentrate on anything. My line manager has asked me to go in for a talk next week and I am sure I am getting let go. I have given up on all my personal creative projects, I haven’t looked at my bank account in months, I am missing payments on things and I cannot bring myself to look. My guitar sits untouched and neglected in the corner, my laptop has stopped working and I have not taken it to get fixed. I cannot see any hope in anything anymore. It seems like everything is draining away from my life and I cannot stop it. I don’t want to see friends or family anymore because I am ashamed of myself and I feel like they can tell that I have fallen just by looking at me, and it makes me hate them for judging me.
He is here again tonight. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and usually I would feel full of Christmas spirit, but I feel like my house exists in some other world, where the twinkling lights of Christmas have never been seen. This place is a cold, adult place, where children have never been known. The guys are away home to visit their families and it is just the two of us. He is sitting at my kitchen table lounging back on the chair with a glass of red wine in his hand. He is stroking it with his fingers as he watches me standing at the kitchen counter, a glass of wine in my own hand. I try to look away from him at something else and my eyes rest on the bowl of Christmas confetti on the kitchen table. It looks so red compared to the blandness of the rest of the kitchen, like blood on pale skin. His other hand is now touching it. He has this look in his eyes, a gleam, but there is nothing good about it. He is smug, like he is admiring his work. He can sense the fear in my eyes, but not only that, he can also sense the fire that has been lit within me. I notice now that his eyes are so dark, you cannot see the definition of the pupils. His lips are too red and I notice that his eyebrows meet in the middle.
A line comes into my head and spins in it: “He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for”.
A realization drowns me. He notices that I have finally recognised him and he grins showing his small white teeth. The fear is replaced by horror, not at what he will do to me, but at what he will make me do.
I look away and see myself in the window. The distance and the glass have distorted the reflection and when I look at myself, I see two round hollow, dark holes where I should have eyes; instead of myself, I see a monster. It was me, I invited him.
A sleepless night, submerged by black thoughts and dreams that churned around my head leaving my eyes as dark as the nightmares. Strange, grotesque visions of innumerable sets of eyes staring at me in my sleep echoed in my mind; the aftermath of several nights spent dulling my mind with wine. I had asked my trouble doll before I slept for a change of mood in the morning, to wake up in the light, but I think she must have slept in longer than I did.
I fed my weary body, put my trainers on and ventured outside, up into the Carrick hills. It was the only thing I knew that would help to bring me back.
Within minutes, the town and my room with all its appliances and reminders of ordinary life is behind me and all I can see are hills, forests, bushes, trees and animals. I leave my self behind and spent a few hours as nothing more than a part of the earth around me.
For miles and miles in every direction, all I can see are the thousands and thousands of shades and hues of green; the lime green of the fields, the numerous earthy green shades and shadows of the forests. The green is not alone, it is dotted with the white of the weeds and flowers by the roadside which seem to mirror the white specks of the hundreds of sheep scattered around the hills and the purple of the thistles beside the path echo the purple heather gently covering the distant lands like a soft blanket.
I breathe in the fresh air that seems to be so full of life and let it go.
The wind makes the plants and flowers seem to bob along with the music in my ears and once again everything seems to be happening at just the right time. Perhaps this would be what my heaven would look like. I feel the peace of simply existing out there. The butterflies dance along beside me in the air, unaware of anything other than what they are doing. How nice it must be to always feel like you belong where you are.
The air is thick and hot and I can feel it coming from the ground. The sky is covered in clouds, but it is one of those days where anything could happen. It could rain any minute, clean, straight summer rain, soaking me to the skin. The clouds could gather and grow until they smash together causing a thunderstorm; a hot, humid night with lightening and pouring rain that mean tomorrow there would be sunshine. Or, the wind could blow the clouds right over the top of us and into the sea, the storm taking place out there in the ocean where no one but sailors would see it.
Although there is life everywhere, I can also smell death coming up from a gully and I see plants with millions of holes in their leaves, dying. Shorn wool from the sheep lie abandoned on the road and ridiculously look like discarded wigs. I see a bird of prey circling lower and lower before diving out of sight, devouring something or other.
I can see in the distance now the land touching the sky. I can feel a slight change in the air and I know that I will see the sea soon. The land around the coastline looks darker and more rugged. The sea stretches out into the horizon and I remember how indescribably infinite it all is. The sea frightens me, yet I can feel its pull and I long to see it from another country again.
Memories of a different country, of walks in another world come now. The cows have the same expressions on their faces, but they are much fatter and darker here. Different sounds, different dry air. Here the air is so full and thick you can feel the life in it, it feels good to breathe it in.
The walk makes my thoughts steadier, more like a train on a track aiming for a destination, more synchronised with the rhythm of my footsteps than like the circling water in a black hole, round and down, round and down, never reaching anything but getting so dark you cannot see.
I think it is time for some clean living again, for some motivation and some plans and whether anything comes of them or not, I think I will have to leave again after the year is through.
She hadn’t noticed the others leaving, but now she found herself alone with him. They had been sitting opposite one another talking for a while, flirting as usual, oblivious to everyone else. It was quiet now and the sun was sinking lower. She had looked out towards the fields and softly sighed, she loved staying out in the country. It had been the best decision she had ever made to take the converted attic flat. As soon as she saw the photos of it she knew that it was actually made for her, and it was on a farm. She viewed it and loved it and although it was over her budget, she loved it so much that she decided she had to have it. She negotiated the price down a little and took on an extra few hours work a week so that she could afford it. She had never regretted it. It was exactly what she needed. It was quiet, beautiful, serene; the perfect surroundings for her writing. She had never expected to meet him, but as soon as she did, she was instantly attracted to him and she could tell that he was attracted to her. She assumed that he had a wife and family and was surprised when she found out he didn’t. She remembered that he did have a girlfriend in the beginning, but something had happened there and he didn’t see her anymore.
They had hit it off straight away, the way people sometimes do, although it had been a long time since she had felt that way with anyone. She looked forward to bumping into him which she did regularly when she went for walks and then one Sunday he had asked to join her on a walk and it became a weekly thing. They talked about everything on that walk, and it seemed like there was this unwritten code that while they were on their walk, they could talk about anything. He seemed fascinated by her. He questioned her a lot; about her life, about her writing, about her travels, about her previous loves. Usually she was the listener with people, but with him she did most of the talking and he seemed happy to listen. She tried not to look at him too much when they were on the walks, because she thought he was so handsome it distracted her and made her nervous, something always seemed to pass between them when she looked at him, she just couldn’t look at him normally without feeling like her stomach was jumping around. It also made her nervous and she forgot about what she was saying. She hadn’t expected this, she was trying hard to focus on her writing and finishing the book, but she was completely distracted by him and she often wrote about him, and although when she was doing that she wasn’t working on her book, when she did manage to focus on her book it was always very productive and she often felt inspired.
She had felt this moment building over the past few months and now they were on their own on a Saturday night and they had been drinking cider. She turned back to him and looked at him, he was looking at her in that way again and it made her feel flustered. His looking at her made her insides come to life in a way she couldn’t control. She could feel his eyes on her. This time she didn’t look away first. He smiled and turned away to look out at the landscape and while his face was turned away from her, he reached out and touched her hand ever so gently with just two of his fingers. The touch sent a thrill through her, like a drug coursing through her veins. She tried her hardest not to move, to act naturally even though she was in a state of internal intoxication. She breathed in deeply and tried to calm herself. His touch did something to her, she was sure of it. There was an energy that was passing between them and his energy super charged hers.
“Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me” she said to him in her head, trying to will him to do it. She knew she couldn’t be the one to instigate it. He was old fashioned, he had to make the first move, or had he made the first move by touching her hand? He turned back around and looked at her again. His eyes lingered there for a few moments and then he slowly leaned over closer to her, his smile gone. He touched her face gently and then touched her lips with his. It was soft at first, barely even touching, tempting, teasing and then as they both realised that they were actually doing it, actually kissing, they opened their mouths and kissed harder and more passionately. She was not really thinking about anything, she was just kissing, lost in the feeling in her lips and what that was doing to her heart and every single of the millions of hairs on her body.
They parted and she looked at him, they both laughed. She looked out at the sunset again and sighed.
“What is that look you have when you look out there and sigh?” he asked her in his slightly cocky way.
“What look?” she asked giving him a different kind of look.
“The way you always look when we’re walking, you stop talking and then you look around and sigh” he answered.
“It’s a happy sigh. I guess I’m just loving it.”
“Everything” she said simply.
He looked at her, smiled then pulled her over so that she was lying on him, both of them looking out to the sunset, it was hazy now and it was at that little pause before the sun starts to sink fast beneath the horizon. She wished the world would just stay in that pause, because right at that moment, everything was right, everything was where it should be, doing exactly what it should be. For the first time in the longest time, she felt completely happy, no touch of sadness lurking in the background, no fears, no doubts, just happy and just exactly how she should be. “Nothing could have prepared me for this” she thought to herself. She decided that love was not a doing word, she was love and he was love, it was an experience.
My universe and I are always together. We are friends and lovers, brother and sister, mother and daughter, father and son. I am never alone. My universe is always with me, warming me like a beautiful warm patchwork quilt that surrounds me always, comforting me. It is divine and so am I.
We are not separate my universe and I, I am a part of it and it is a part of me. We share something that I cannot explain, something that is in me and in it and in everyone and everything else that I know. It keeps my feet on the ground and brings me back to the earth no matter how high I fall. It is divine and so am I.
My universe is alive all of the time. It never sleeps. It constantly moves and changes and stops for no one and nothing. It breathes along with me and all of the other living things in it. It always knows the right thing to do and it never fails. My universe is divine and so am I.
My universe needs no ruler and it cannot be controlled. It is beautiful and it shows me its beauty in many things. I see it where the land meets the water and the water meets the sky. I see it when sunlight twinkles on the sea like sprinkled glitter floating over everything. I feel it when the ocean breathes with me and soothes my tired soul. I see it when a white bird glides over the blue, green sea. I feel it when I am immersed in the soothing salt water of the sea. I see it when the sun emerges and changes the sky and the air. I see it when the sun sinks and makes the sky burn red. It is divine and so am I.
My earth speaks to me in a language I knew before I learned words. I hear it, I feel it. I hear it in gorges where there is stillness in stone that knows infinite time. I feel it in the stone of the earth that has worked with ice and wind and rain to create a beauty that speaks to me. It is divine and so am I.
My universe takes me to secret places where I can look below into a world of life and creatures that I did not know before, a world full of soft movement and magnificent colours that caress the water and the air. It allows me to be a part of it and I float and drift along with the swaying waves. It is divine and so am I.
My universe does not ask anything of me. It does not know names or language or religion. It exists in its state of divinity without explanation and needs no articulation. When it exists in this quiet way, making no excuses and answering no questions, it shows me how to be. It is divine and so am I.
I cannot control my universe and it cannot control me. We simply exist together in a wonderful world of beauty. When I let it be, my universe is me and I am my universe and together we are divine my universe and I.
She feared neither god nor the devil, nor heaven or hell. She walked the earth alone comforting the faithful and understanding the damned. Her purpose was to give living souls peace before they met their death and she cared not where they were going or where they had been, she loved them all. She rested not and had no need for mortal sleep. She had walked the earth throughout all ages of men and had visited the battlefields of ancient wars and new ones. Nothing surprised her and nothing stopped her. She cared not about what names or faces men chose for their gods, or whether they believed in one at all, she eased their pain without judgement. She did it because she was compelled to and because she felt the suffering of all beings as if it was her own.
No one knew when or how she was born or whether she was created by god or by the devil or by some other force. She had no faith in things she had not seen for she thought she had seen everything and therefore she would never be permitted to rest in heaven. She had never killed and she had no evil thoughts, therefore the devil would not have her until she did. She was with everyone and at the same time entirely alone.
She did not age with the years, nor did her beauty fade. She was tall and lithe with silver hair and pale skin. Her face was soft and delicate and pink. Her eyes were like the cold winter sea, a blue, deep and dark, light and true, grey and murky, ever changing like the waves. Anyone who looked in those eyes felt like they were looking into the depths of all souls and therefore their own. She had looked into the eyes of every soul who had left the earth in her presence and she took their pain away and carried it with her.
For lifetimes she had carried out her duties without complaint or question. She knew her place in the world and she had no desire to be or do anything else. She accepted that she would not go to heaven and was glad she would never burn in hell. She did not think about the end.
All changed one dawn at an hour when death was coming to many men on the cold hard ground of war, and she beheld a man. When he looked into her eyes, this man was not afraid. Death was not on his mind when he looked up into the sea of blue and she did not feel that pain that men had in their hearts in their last living moments. She felt something else. Something that she did not think she would ever feel. She felt a longing and a connection to this mortal man that overwhelmed her and she did not want to let him go. She stayed with him for many hours, holding him on the earth longer than was natural. He asked her many questions and she told him the truth and he understood. He looked in her eyes and for the first time he felt her pain. Only then did she realise that she had any, that she had always had it. She had never thought that she was capable of feeling her own pain. She was not human and she would not die, she did not suffer as men. She was for the first time afraid, afraid of something she could not articulate in words or in her mind, but still the man understood. She shed tears and the man comforted her. She knew she had broken the rules, she had kept him too long, he was to be claimed and she was not allowed to stop that although now she felt a desperate desire to defy god to defy the devil and anyone who would take this man from her arms. The rain came. It pounded down on them violently and she knew it was madness. She kissed the man on the lips and she let him go, but she gave him no comfort. She let him leave the world feeling her anguish and that was what he would take with him.
She worried that because of this, she may have affected where this man was taken. She thought that if he was not thinking about god when he died, god might not have him, and he would end up in hell, even if he had not sinned. So she descended through the nine circles of hell to search for him there. Down at the depths of the earth Charon, the ferryman, with eyes not unlike her own made no protestations here, for she was no mortal and she rode the infamous ferry with eyes open. The dark, wrathful water did not weaken her heart. She past sights that would torment a mortal soul where men and women are subjected to suffering brought about by their own actions in life. Although in pain and suffering for their sins, the tortured souls were happy to help her because they remembered the few moments of compassion she gifted them in those precious moments before death despite the mistakes they had made in life. They knew that she would not make them suffer, she would only make them understand, and she would not inflict pain on them to do that. So they loved her and they spoke to her in earnest and they desired to help her cause. Despite their good intentions, they could not direct her to her lost soul anywhere in hell and she began to hope that perhaps she had been mistaken and he had made it to the angels after all and she was comforted and began the journey upwards into the high heavens.
She ascended above the earthly world to search the fields of heaven. She walked in those glorious meadows with streams of sparkling water, among foliage that was alive and fruitful where the very air was filled with a light so divine it was beautiful to breathe. Many men and women would be lost in those fields. The heavenly touch of god all around would make them sigh in complete peace and happiness and they would lie down on the banks and never more think of the dark earth. She saw the beauty and admired the wonderful sights, but she did not feel any peace so she did not rest there. She asked the blessed and the angels who loved her like one of their own. For all the love they bore her, they could not help her find the man she had lost. So few were permitted into these beautiful valleys these days that they would not forget any new man For ages she searched the mountains of heaven anyway and although the land above the clouds was soothing and peaceful and full of such splendid light that no mortal man could ever drag himself away, she enjoyed it none.
She returned to the earth and searched all the lands now hoping that perhaps he had been sent back. It had happened before. Perhaps he had only died briefly and some good person had saved his life after she left to weep. She now walked among the living and neglected the dying. She searched through generations, throughout wars and floods, fire and ice, snow and rain and every other element the earth produced but find him she did not. She talked to the living humans and she heard about their suffering and she found that this race of humans were mostly in pain throughout all of their lives, and not just on their deathbeds. They lived in fear and worry and it engulfed them like a great ocean. They, like her, were searching for something they could not find, only most of the time, they did not know what they were searching for. They waited and searched for men and women they had never met, hoping that they would take their unhappiness away. They were losing faith in their gods, in their religions. This had happened before, but usually they simply replaced one religion for another. This generation of people however were left with nothing. They thought they had worked out how the world was made and that nothing divine had a hand in it. They were lost in a worse way than she was, they were lost from themselves. She tried as best she could to comfort these humans, these sufferers, but she was suffering herself and she did not understand herself either. She felt like she had lost her gift to help the other souls of the world and she felt very afraid that she would be left on this earth with no purpose and no love.
She remembered from many lifetimes ago the old gods and the old heavens that had forgotten and she thought that perhaps this soul was a rare old one with ancient beliefs and she looked in the after worlds of the past.
She climbed the great tree to the nine worlds of the Old Norse Gods, to the lands of ice and fire and the springs of wisdom. She passed through the ancient halls of the great warriors and saw many souls she had held in her arms ages old. The ancient gods carried on, forgotten and forgetting. The souls of the new humans did not exist for these Gods. They were no longer worshiped by the humans. They lusted and ate and drank and battled as if no winter would ever come. They had accepted no man to their heavens in eons and they had no interest in the mortals on earth living or dead. They were too busy bickering and fighting and feasting to pay attention to the earth or to the angel of death. She went on to the great walls and gates of the goddess Hel’s misty lands where all is ice and the wicked of the pagan times abide. The goddess had taken the souls of the damned since their times began but no man had passed her gates in the modern age and there was no trace of what had been lost.
She paid her dues and was ferried across that odious river of hate to the underworld of the romans and Greeks. She walked over the plains of suffering and among the woeful souls who lived in eternal agony and she saw familiar faces, yet never the one face she was searching for. She passed by fields of indifference and then set out west by the great stream and onto the fields where long forgotten heroes and great men and women spent their eternity occupied in happiness. Here the sun is hot and the breeze cooling for the righteous of old Greek times. She walked over the soft green plains and saw the everlasting joy of the souls there. She talked with ancient men and women and asked if they had seen her soul, if any new face had come among them in recent times. The beautiful faces all answered the same, he was not with them.
She returned to the earth and travelled further. She realised she had forgotten how immense this earth was. Her purpose was to comfort all living souls on earth, but without realising it, she had neglected large parts of it for the last century or so. Perhaps these souls had not needed her recently. Perhaps there was some other like her who had been given the task. She felt afraid that she had let all those suffering people down by not being there for them at their deaths. She felt her whole being, whatever it was falling apart. She stood on top of a mountain and looked up and looked around her. The clouds were gathering and it started to snow. She threw her head back and let out a cry that carried all across the earth. She let out all the pain and sorrow she had held inside her for lifetimes and the sound was despairing to any soul that heard it. She fell to her knees and began to sob – the guilt and pain rushing through her and out of her like a person being drowned. She had never before been aware of how utterly alone she was and how much she needed someone to help her with her own pain, someone to hold her hand and tell her they understood. How she needed someone to love her. She felt so full and empty at the same time. She had an ocean of pain to let out and she let it out in anguish. She put her head on the cold ground but did not feel it. She paused and waited for the sobbing to ebb away. She came back to herself and she stood up and made her feet move one after the other and started on her way again. No matter what she felt, she could not stop searching until she had covered every inch of this world, living and beyond, only now she was not sure what it was she was searching for.
She travelled to the Eastern lands and talked among the people there. She did not seem to remember whether their god and their heaven and their hell were the same or different from the ones she had already passed although she knew that she should. She had come to realise that she knew nothing and that everything she thought she once knew was questionable. So, she listened to the people and they showed her another way.
She found herself among the wise monks of the hills and they listened to her story. They laughed not, and wept none. They simply smiled with understanding. She had not been to their heaven, and she asked for directions there. They continued to smile and explained that no man or god could enter the land of nirvana without reaching enlightenment, it had to be achieved, it was a spiritual journey and there was no shortcut for any soul living, dead or otherwise. She stayed with the monks and she meditated. She listened to their teachings as she had never done before and she learned to be still. She no longer thought of herself as a woman, angel, god or otherwise and she just was, no better and no worse. The despair and the longing did not leave her, but she accepted them as a part of her that would be with her always and she made peace with them. After many silent and still years, she let the compassion inside her take over and she let the white light connect to her spirit and she alighted to the land of nirvana. It was a mirror image of the world she had left and she found she had not left it at all, she was where she had always been only now she could see instead of one world, all worlds, all heavens, all hells, all gods and all people. She saw that the white light was in everything and everyone and that all the time everyone and everything was connected, all of the time. This land was everything and everyone and it was all at once the same thing. The universe was a reflection of her self. Finally she understood and she felt peace and she no longer felt the anguish of loss. She had left all mortal lands and was higher than all the heavens created by men. Then she remembered that she had known this before, she had had been here before and seen the world through these eyes. Now she remembered it all. She smiled and she asked to go back to the earth, because now that she understood it, it was no longer a desolate place, it was a part of all and she was a part of that and there was only comfort in that knowledge. She looked at the faces of all of the gods and all the mortal souls and realised that they were all the same and she smiled in that knowing way to herself.
She let herself be brought back down onto the surface of the world to make the suffering of men lighter and to continue her work to give compassion to the world and this time to receive it. When she landed on the earth, she was human and for the very first time, she felt the earth beneath her feet in the way that only men and women can. She looked around her and saw not the people on earth, but the earth itself, the sky, the clouds, the sea, the trees, the lights, the stars, the sun, the moon, all the wondrous life and colour and she loved it like a brother. She let everything else go and she turned around and looked into the face of the man she had lost and the joy made her cry once more. She had a feeling that he had been behind her the whole time, waiting for her. His eyes told her she was right and that he knew it all and again he gave her comfort. She looked into those eyes reflecting her own, kissed those lips once more, closed her eyes and let divinity surround her on earth.