Have you ever been on a train late at night and strange desires tease your ego? No? Well I have….
Being an avid people watcher, there was plenty of interest in the crowded train carriage. While actually too crowded for my comfort, station by station the commuting assemblage thinned until there were only a few of us left. My mood relaxed in tandem.
Those passengers left were unfortunately positioned to be reduced to just domes of heads, all different hair colour, scalp tone, hat style; I was disappointed.
Although I know it couldn’t have been by design, there was only one face to be seen from where I sat tightly in my corner. Actually there were two faces, one in profile, warm, friendly, passively looking out into the darkness, the same night-time creating a mirror to accommodate the second; a rather paler reflection that seemed to be looking in my direction across the seat tops. In my direction but there was no eye contact that constituted recognition or communication. My interest was pricked but I was drawn away to muse over a rather shapely dark skinned scull a couple of seats behind him; them.
Further distraction came as the next station slid alongside and my eyes flicked about in hope but returned to the warm face which was now alone, it’s counterpart lost in the whiteness of the platform lights. As the carriage doors cycled open and closed, I studied his rather attractive features. Smooth tight skin, mid thirties, perhaps younger, yes younger; I was trying to kid myself that I didn’t need to consider the youth. Pale grey irises stood out clearly in their clean white pools but a blink hooded then a little and the long dark lashes linking to manicured brows showed them off to perfection.
A ripple on his temple was driven by some agitation of the defined jaw, I caught a pout of gentle rouge brown lips and the forehead rested once more. To one side a neat flat ear was nestling beneath the tightly cropped hair line that gently developed upward only to disappear under a shock of sculpted silk strands wrapping smoothly out of sight to the nape; I could easily picture the 360 degree image in my practised mind’s eye. This indulgence was brushed aside but the sudden reappearance of the boy’s co-conspirator, this time the black backed reflection was not so isolated, in fact it was staring at me, not past me, not through me, right inside me.
Embarrassed, I looked away, but the attraction had already been secured by my psyche and I allowed my peripheral vision to keep the image available; indistinct but available.
They were inviting eyes and my resolve failed quickly and I allowed mine to be locked into them. It lasted for only a millisecond but there was something wrong with this picture; it was my rational brain speaking to me; I couldn’t determine the problem but there was something odd going on.
In the previous minutes, neither of us in this detached intimacy had moved more than the occasional discrete muscle but I froze as the reflective face broke into a smile, I could see it clearly although still locked into the grey pools. His cheek bones had filled out with raised impudence, teeth, white and even, glistened inside lips full. The problem resolved.
The face, the living face hadn’t changed its stoic beautiful profile. Trying to break myself away to confirm this peculiarity seemed impossible but when the wink that was tossed, definitely didn’t come from the statuesque form. Confusion slapped me hard on the cheek and my neck swung round only to be met by the confusion of reflections of reflections in the opposing windows. It was too much to reason and I bounced back to the original conundrum.
The smile was still in place and although I returned it willingly, I hoped that mine was hidden by the high velveteen seat backs between us. Knowing that my reciprocation had been registered, a more comprehensible set of facial niceties beamed out their acceptance of my complete attention.
Still confused I glanced momentarily to the left but felt guilty as a frown dig into his forehead. The visceral version of this peculiarity still hadn’t moved it’s ravishing contours. As my eyes flicked back, I could tell that he displeased as the corners of his mouth had dropped slightly in silent admonishment; I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow in apology. What was I apologising for? I was flirting with a reflection, beautiful, but still only a refection. Was I so desperate for attention? So gullible? My eyes stabbed with pain and they screwed up against another set of bright lights, my head fell forward and hit the seat in-front of me. The train screeched harshly to its rest.
The atmosphere changed. People were getting in my way, there was no room to manoeuvrer or escape as a rotund panting body exhaled some obnoxious curry flavoured breath as it sat heavily almost in my lap; my stomach turned. Disappointment rocked me back into the uncomfortable seat. Craning a stiffening neck around the seat, the vision of beauty was gone, as was its counterpart, leaving only an invisible imprint on the weather streaked glass.
All I could do was scowl at the unfortunate mass next to me.
An unfortunate incident but we got through it.
Bustles about you,
Beds full of patients,
Books full of notes
Curtains pulled round,
Clothes swapped for gowns, thin,
Cups of cool tea,
Crusts curl on plate
Waiting, then wandering,
Watching all, sitting cool,
White coats flutter
Willing students lean in and peer
“This ones a poser?”
The consultant, questions
“Tell me young medic, what
The prognosis might be?”
“It presents with a lump sir,
It could be,” he pauses,
“It might be,” notes rustle,
“It’s definitely a…. hmmm”
You listen all eager but
Young faces they’re frowning,
You’re not really certain,
Your nerves begin to crown
Patience is expended,
Pan-faced professor is grim,
“Pull together you students,
Please, what is this in him?”
You look round, still blank faces,
You must seem very tense,
“You’ll be fine” says the sister,
“You just sit still,” she grins
“Well I’ll tell you them shall I”
Words of wisdom they flow
“We’ll cut him just here, yes,
What size?” but they don’t really know
In confusion you stop listening,
It’s their job, you just lie there,
In the end you’ll be better,
Into their hands, you just relax
Dreams devour you,
Dull pain now, there,
But by doctors orders
Bed baths over
Bag of pills and
Back home you go.
Morning shines new,
Miss the food, no,
Miss the appendage?
Maybe a little,
This piece was written for an ‘in house’ competition for one of the writing groups I am part of; it didn’t win but that’s OK. You can see the winner here if you would like – or dare to!
Although I don’t personally have the pleasure of using the new recycling wheelie bins, I sometimes hear the chatter of them; today for instance. I was picking at a few errant weeds in my front border when a quiet conversation weaved its way through the hedge and caught my attention, mainly because of the rather superior tone that was being taken.
“He always gets left out there, look at him, all black and dowdy, always last to be collected but then that’s understandable I guess.”
“You can be such a snob at times.”
“Excuse me, doesn’t my natural pedigree show, blue blood always comes to the top you know.”
“Well it’s blue and on the top but you are hardly something very much different…..”
“I beg your pardon,” the voice cut in, “I know you’re green with envy but have you seen my special compartments? You can’t deny that I’m here to provide the more valuable service, this bit in here, that bit in there and only the best of course, would you like to have a read of yesterdays Times?
“No thank you, I’m more of a Gardeners World reader.”
“Humm, I guess you are. Anyway, all the dirty rubbish gets passed on to him. All that black bag business and constantly smelling like some, well I don’t know what I’m just surprised I’m expected to stand next to him, he can get a little whiffy you know, saying that, so can you on a hot day; is there nothing you can do about yourself?”
“I’ll have you know I’m just as essential as you, I was specially purchased you know, not everyone has one like me, we are very particular who and what we service.”
“Well that’s just it isn’t it, you service whereas I’m a necessity, EU regulations don’t you know! You two have been around for years doing your best, but now I’m providing the new and most valuable service.”
“Watch out he’s coming back.”
I was almost tempted to pull back the bushes as see what was going on but didn’t want to be seen as the nosey neighbour. After a rumble and a scrape, the conversation continued.
“A good dump today was it?”
“I do have to say it’s nice to get rid of it, I think two weeks is a little long even with a good fitting lid like I’ve got but of course you don’t have to think about that in your cosy separated life do you?”
“Now now my good man, we all have our part to play, someone has to deal with the dross, and if the lid fits, or in your case not very well,…hahaha.”
Even I could see that this wasn’t very a kind attitude but another sound of movement dragged me away from the thought.
“See you later boys, I’m off to do my Special job, all that fresh-cut grass, mmmmm, sweet heaven.”
The voice faded and was soon accompanied by the gentle hum of a lawnmower. The remaining parties were quiet for a while and I was struggling to find any more weeds to remove but continued the pretence anyway.
“You can be quite harsh you know, even a dirty old thing like me has feelings you know.”
“Well, yes, I’m sorry, but it’s him, he’s itching to get in-between us, every time he goes out I dread that he’ll muscle his way back in and then where would be, we household chaps have to stick together don’t you know.”
“I do, but it’s still not very nice to listen to, you understand how I would be lost without you, how I managed all these years on my own I shall never know.”
“Now then you silly smelly old thing, you settle here next to me and I’ll sort the other one out, we can sit here quite nicely and sort out the troubles of the world together, I don’t think I could do it on my own if the truth be told.”
“Thank you Henry, you are so good to me.”
“That’s OK Bert, someone has to take charge so it might as well be me.”
Things went rather quiet but I had a picture in my mind of the two of them happily nestled in the corner of the yard quite happy in their own company. The haughty voice piped up again.
“I do wish you could straighten up those numbers though, they do rather let the side down… what, what?”
“Now then Henry, you know you like me being a little kinky, mmm?”
Back in my kitchen I tied off the top of the carrier bag that I used for rubbish and tossed it into the industrial sized steel bin in the communal area, the receptacle grunted it’s usual gruff thanks and I nodded in return.
A further contribution to the 99 word collection. This one was inspired by a place we would all like to avoid I’m sure ?
The monitors and gauges sat bleeping and flashing in some uncoordinated operetta of care, but it didn’t entertain during the wait. Although the procedure was minor and as they say, routine, the waiting like the thought was proving more difficult.
The clinical smells and the shiny surfaces offered only cold comfort, even well-meant heat pouring from squared ducts was lost in its irritating draft.
“Are we ready?”
The smile in a neat blue uniform failed to pacify the butterflies.
Lying down, hypnotic ceiling lights distracted until with thump of bed against door the reality snapped back.
It never ceases to amaze me where inspiration strikes you, but you sometimes have to be ready to receive it or it’s gone in a heart beat.
In a gently rocking carriage, the curious symmetry of seat handles in your eye line draws you into their simple geometry. With eyes falling out of focus they bleed into one flat abstract form while peripheral vision tries to grab hold of the scurrying hedges, pylons and fences that blur yet remain distinctive. Sadly, no longer the thump-de-dump the of track joints on modern sleek continuous rails yet the pulsing imagery holds you transfixed to this modernist sculpture, silently daring you to break your stare. “Tickets please” rescues you and with a grateful sigh you re-enter the chaotic consciousness.
This is another 99 word piece but is linked to a longer piece, Dark Island, as an exercise in concise writing, let’s see if it works?
For years this had been your happy place, despite being only a sad rocky outcrop, pockets of scented greenery and satisfying pools delight to submerge you to rise refreshed and sated.
Pacing around the shoreline, avoiding its grey foaming lips, the occasional glimpse of a white-topped rescue prove to be just tricks of the mind and it’s only the knightly vision of the rearing dappled stallion holding no benevolence in this solitary jaded pit.
Back in the shelter that now only hangs together with wisps of dreams, the cold nights could take you at anytime and no-one would know.
It’s a dark day today
This narrow circle of life in an ocean of sharks is getting smaller by the day. The dark water lapping inexorably at the delicate shore-line is eating inwards towards wrinkled feet where the general isolation is beginning to feel cold and more desperate, almost by the hour.
For years this had been your happy place to live, despite being only a sad rocky outcrop, there were small pockets of lush enveloping scented greenery and cool satisfying pools of delight to submerge in and rise refreshed and sated; but now even these were drying up and wilting in the emotional drought.
Pacing around the shoreline, avoiding its grey foaming lips, the tip of a once tall proud outcrop flicked into view but remained swathed in the feathery spume of the waves that washed it clean of all humanity and hope. You can’t bear to look it for long fearing that the memories of more intimate times will overwhelm you. It’s lone inhabitant that had often allowed the heat of human entanglement was long washed to their uncertain death in the watery hunger. The few other such places were now only clouded memories but at least they couldn’t taunt you with lingering promises but the certainty of a dry shrivelled humiliation.
Even the occasional glimpse of a white-topped rescue only prove to be tricks of the mind, often only theirs as yours has given up that hope long ago; a knightly vision on rearing grey dappled stallion is a thing of beauty but holds no benevolence in this jaded pit.
With less things to distract a crumbling ego and forgotten care, you stumble back to the shelter that now only hangs together with wisps of dreams. Darkness is quickly drawing you in, the light of a life clouded in mouldering billowing fungi and the threats of rumbled horror.
The hiss of the foam creeping ever closer makes you draw up the rough sackcloth and you croak back a cough from the dust of ashes now long cold, night could take you now and no-one would know, would they even care?
Beside you an email pinged into its inbox but just from the subject line you know it wasn’t from him; that boat has sailed and deep down you know there would be no others cruising onto your horizon anytime soon.
The pale skin reflected the flickering flames of the guarded open fire with only a dull shine on its mottled and now rather pitted surface. Age and environment had not been kind to the poor old thing now nearing what was the end of any useful life.
A small hand grabbed rather roughly at the dry wrinkled neck and rolled the firm but distended body round to have the best side of it face forward in the shadowy light ready to receive some rather more intrusive attention.
“Be very careful Jake,” his mother had a pensive note in her voice, “you only get one chance to get it right remember.”
Jake only half turned his head in silent reply but a bright reflection from the broad polished implement in his steady but obviously eager hand gave a sharp highlight to the already obvious glint in his eye.
“It’s OK mummy, I know what I want to do.”
He turned back to concentrate on the inviting and as yet blank skin. In his mind’s eye Jake had a good idea what he wanted to do but his enthusiasm was dampened by a lack of experience and a nervousness supplied by the enormity of the privilege he had secured for the first time on his own.
The hesitancy had not gone unnoticed but ‘mummy’ stayed back from the arena of carnage that she knew was going to develop. Despite preparing as best she could with an oil cloth cover on the table and suitable bowls and pans ready on the side, she was well aware of the task that would fall to her, as it always had done in the years that they had sacrificed this humble soul.
With Jake taking the first blow this year, it was almost a right of passage in the century< old suite of special things that they looked forward to on their rolling calendar of excitement and excess.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to start you off?” She couldn’t control her excitement any longer, “Just so you have something to work around, I..11
“I can do it!” Jake retorted without taking his eye off the prize, “I’m just thinking about it!”
Secretly she wanted to take a firm grip on the blade and plunge it into the softening flesh, through the now unresisting skin to reveal the juicy interior and all the possibilities that it offered her culinary experience. She focused again on the ironing that she was mechanically getting through all the time planning the rest of the evening in her kitchen. The scraping, slicing, roasting, pulping; she licked her lips at the thought of it and in the momentary closing of her eyes in the pleasure of anticipation found that she had missed that most important event for her young protegé.
The point he had chosen would not have been the one she might have but, it was his journey and he had to make the same mistakes that she had at his age. She almost verbalised her concerns as she watched the speed that the assault was being inflicted.
The second and third incursions had been relatively successful and the space that manifested was recognisable, unfortunately the fourth was totally misguided. She knew that there would be disappointment if she didn’t step in but a mother’s hopes and the indecision that goes along them made her miss the moment and the blade was in, almost up to its short hilt and the second opening that Jake had so clearly seen for his creation was lost.
“Oh, dear,” his mother couldn’t stand back any longer and the iron clattered into its holder and the shirt fell off the end of the board to the floor; it didn’t matter, “now then it’s OK, you’re doing a great job there son, there’s no reason we can’t have a face with an upside down eye, it’s only a bit of fun.”
She had seen the disappointment flood his face knowing that in his world he had messed it up but all she could do was take his hand and guide the blade with him to bring out the face that resides in every pumpkin, which they did.
With the job done and a satisfactory result all round they both brought it to life with a small candle that Jake lit with a long taper through the creatures suitably haphazard nose above the gruesome grinning almost toothless mouth.
“Hot chocolate anyone?”
Jake smiled and leant into his mothers arms with a grin almost as big as the one he had helped to create.
This is a prose poem that is an extract from a much bigger work that I might share over time. I had the pleasure of reading this today in a public performance given by one of the writing groups I am part of; Writers Without Borders. Check them out if you would like to know more about a great group of talented people.
Suddenly all mysterious right out of the blue, school days approach all unknown and new with only one saving grace it seems, a big brothers singular job to look out, Just, if he must, for shy little you only, with the safe sight of home gone he quickly, cruelly, lets go of your tiny trembling hand and walks on at a pace that leaves you blind, while you shuffle reluctant feet, scanning all around, all alone, uncertain of where to go, you run on to where hopefully there should be Others that might somehow happen to know.
Then you see all the other kids, running riotously around, they seem to know each other quite well, not that you can really tell, but doubt delights to confuse you and you’re still not all that keen.
Then recognition intervenes and there, two you smile at but being oh so painfully shy, you still only manage a limp ‘Hi Ian’, and ‘Hi Jimmy’, but they pass you right on by. So you try ‘Hi Helen’ but it’s the same and fully daunted you don’t go for the ‘Hi Peter’, who’s the one that you favoured, it’s sadly all to clear that even by this one impossibly perfect pal, you’re still not really counted.
A bell rings loud and it’s into class rooms all strange with seats that give cold comfort but you diligently do just as you’re told…. is this really what school’s like, till you grow up and get, so very old?
But then with paper and pencils and writing and sums, it all somehow seems to add up to something that actually, quite possibly, could just be fun, so perhaps it’s not all that bad and you decide to give it a go, just for today though, only on trial, you might go with the flow.
Soon then it’s playtime and with cold milk and growing hope you corner your pal Peter, “Hello, would you like to share this?” but with hard spoken “No!” he leaves you all alone again, to just sit and stare into your clean fresh iron hanky and here your disappointment you blow.
Despite many such hardships, this little school turns out not all that bad, days roll into weeks and soon fast forward to unimaginable years, what was all that fuss about, those cold academic concerns, those febrile confusions, bound up in such ridiculous childlike fears. But you have yet to discover that, in whatever educational age, you;’re never going to break into real school society where despite teasing glimpses you remain on the rim of those circles of seemingly impossible friendships .
Perhaps it’s just your mind that blocks such views with perceived incompatibility or can you allow yourself to make that small yet massive move to lift the impenetrable veil of Inclusion…but already you know you’ll suffer the wastelands of Exclusion.