Fossil

Everyone has stories they’d rather not tell, stories they aren’t proud of, stories that leave them unbearably vulnerable, naked and exposed. The thing about being an author though is that at some point, if you want to be authentic, you have to share your own shadow side.

This is a chapter of mine.

The sky fell down today. Everyone who ever said it wouldn’t has been made a liar. It has fallen out of the atmosphere where it was perched majestically, and its dense, azure pieces, jagged and haphazard, have collected heavily at the bottom of my stomach. They are rubbing at my insides right now, grating and scratching. Inside, I am a million tiny cuts and nicks. I have swallowed glass. I am torn apart and messy, my soul bleeding out, slowly. It is oozing forward like lava into my organs, hot and pulsing. I am a puddle. I am ceasing to exist.

How is it that when the sum of my life’s parts has catastrophically imploded and crumbled in on itself, when my universe has retracted back to a single atom, all thought and memory and deed and emotion humming electrically at its point of origin, the rest of the world continues on? How dare these people, little ants in a maze with no centre, so self-important and determined, carry on with their lives? How dare life itself continue? My life, comparatively, has been snap frozen like an ancient animal in the icy past. Later, all they will find of me will be fossilised. A relic. My story decomposed. No one will know how I got here. How life drew on, infinitely without me while I waited in this particular moment of time, praying I would wake up from a nightmare I did not choose. Wasn’t even asleep for. No one will know that I stood still, mind racing, trying to comprehend, desperately scratching at rational thought, waiting. No one will know that even in the middle of this monumental collapse, this folding of my world in on itself, I thought the best of you, I saw the good in you, I believed in you. No one will know that at my core, unmeasurable and unobservable by the time my tiny insignificant fossil is found, I loved you with every branch of my DNA, every breath in my body, every drop of marrow in my bones. No one will know but me, and possibly you, and we will take our stories with us and hold them close.

And maybe, as the sky was falling down around us, that was always the point.

An Astrid was Born

I’ve written and self-published a book called This Little Light of Mine (which will be available soon, all being well). In the publishing world it fits the ‘young adult’ category, although I’m not comfortable with labelling it anything if I’m honest (personally, I don’t think anything creative should have to fit a category). Stella is the main character and she has a best friend who happens to be a faery named Astrid. The piece below isn’t in the book, but it explains where both Stella and Astrid come from. When I wrote it I wasn’t actually thinking about Stella at all, I was thinking much, much closer to home.

To unsuspecting eyes, it seemed like an ordinary day that day. For eyes that see, see deep into souls, there are no ordinary days. There is no ordinary. There are only miracles.

The woman with the entire planet reflected in her eyes, the Mother of the Earth, the woman called Pangea, watched carefully as the star she had just selected began to pulse and vibrate wildly. She had chosen this star with great deliberation, keenly aware of the importance of getting it right. A child was preparing to be born on her Earth, and the child was relying on Pangea to select the star intended for her, just as she was intended for the star.

With great responsibility comes great satisfaction, and Pangea was satisfied she had chosen correctly. This star was the one. Up close, it emitted light so pure it was purple. It hummed with the songs of a thousand voices in perfect harmony. The song was for the human child about to take the first breath of her new life. The song sang her name; the song sang for her soul. Pangea had cupped her hands around this star and blown a puff of air through them once to bring it to life, to cause it to wake up, and woken up it had. It was time.

Pangea waited only a short while before the star exploded silently in a shower of tiny, illuminated fragments. She caught the largest of these fragments, a vivid, metallic purple, in the palm of her hand. She uncurled her long, delicate fingers and saw a tiny body lying across the deepest crease in her palm. Its skin had a slight hue of lilac, hair cropped and blonde. Its eyelids were shut with miniscule glittering stars at the ends of the eyelashes. With the most delicate of touches, Pangea skimmed a finger over the body, a girl, and the girl’s eyes opened, large and vivid green. She looked at Pangea and recognised her at once. She felt safe. She pulled her shoulders back and two glimmering gossamer wings erupted from her shoulder blades, the colour matching the deep metallic purple of the starlight she had just been born from. She stretched her wings out to the corners of the universe, not a girl at all, but something else entirely, and then shook them softly, drops of dew showering Pangea’s hand. Pangea began to whisper to the faery. She whispered secrets only nature spirits can know, and she breathed a new purpose into the faery’s soul, a purpose that would be shared with the human child soon. After they had spoken, Pangea lifted her hand, and with a slight flourish the faery took flight and began her journey to Earth, to her human child.

And so, this ordinary day was not so ordinary for the human child taking her first breath in her new body. Her eyes, still brand new, could not see clearly. Her ears, still so fresh, could hear no better. But she saw her nature spirit in vivid detail and she heard her perfectly as the faery alighted on her shoulder, untouched as yet by human hands. The faery whispered directly into the human child’s ear:

“I am Astrid. I am born from the breath of Mother Earth; born from a star that sang your name. You have been reborn for me, and I have been reborn for you. I will love you, protect you, guide you, and learn from you. Our souls are joined as one. And so it is.”

The human child listened and let the faery speak. As she opened her mouth and screamed the scream of a brand new child in a cold and brightly lit world, she grasped her nature spirit tightly and knew she would always be loved, always be safe, always be looked after. She gripped the faery with as much intensity as she could muster, and Astrid curled up, content, in the palm of her hand. A new home for a faery who needed a girl, a girl who needed a faery.

Crumbs

I wrote this piece quite a few years ago for my two friends, Wendy and Tom. It’s called Crumbs

I believed in love then, and broken and bruised as I am (as we all are at one point or another) I still believe in it now. 

In a regular city, in a regular suburb, on a regular street, in a regular house, there lived a girl. This girl was not regular; far from it. This girl had the Universe on board, touched by the hand of her God.

But the Universe, and indeed, the Gods the Universe play house with, were obligated by the girl’s contract. They were bound to test her, to erase her, to break her, and then to show her the tools that would put her back together again. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were useless in the face of her restoration. This girl had her destiny for labourers.

So the girl made her way, her slow, deliberate way, leaving crumbs on the ground so she could make her way back home should she forget where she had come from, never imagining that the tiny, luminescent crumbs were not meant for her to follow back, but for something else entirely.

Over an ocean, somewhere else quite regular, there lived a boy. This boy was not regular; far from it. This boy had the Universe on board, touched by the hand of his God. You know how the story goes. This boy, too, had signed a contract with his God that called for tests and challenges and broken bodies thrown into lion’s dens. And this boy, like the girl, rose up and burst forth into a life earned, a life justified.

In the short story version, he crossed an ocean and saw a path. And the path had tiny, luminescent crumbs on it.

And he followed.

One day, in a regular city, in a regular town, on a regular street, the crumbs stopped, and the boy had no more nourishment for he had been feeding on these crumbs and putting his broken shell back together again. Yet he did not thrash about or gnash his teeth or stamp his feet. This boy was treading gently in the world and he knew the world would respond in kind.

One day, in a regular city, in a regular town, on a regular street, the girl was saving her crumbs up. She had only one piece of her shell to glue back into the jigsaw puzzle of her soul, and she was not rushing. This girl was treading gently in the world, and she knew the world would respond in kind. The girl was living, head down, business face on.

And then she looked up, and she saw him, strangely familiar. And she stopped. And then he stopped. And then the world stopped for here they were, meeting on the same path they had both helped to build; her leading the way, him laying the bricks.

The girl asked him, ‘Where have you been?’

And the boy responded, a fleck of shimmering crumb left over on his tongue from his last feast, ‘Waiting for you.’

Memory Lines

grandadNostalgia has me in its grip lately. Memories often drift towards me, capturing my attention, demanding my focus. They are like nature spirits, enchanting, shiny, and distracting, and I can’t take my eyes off them. When the memories move on, having had their way with me, I have lost time out of my day. I really am off with the faeries. 

I know people say we shouldn’t live in the past; we should live firmly in the now, in the present moment. But sometimes memories are all we have. Sometimes, remembering the past is the only way to get someone back.

I wrote this piece in May 2015. It’s called Memory Lines.

I hope you like it.

My Grandad passed away in an upstairs bedroom of a semi-detached terraced house in Nottingham, England. It was early in the morning on an August day in 2008. He’d seen his final birthday less than a month before, perched in a garden chair, soaking up the sun in his back yard – the same back yard he’d maintained for over forty years. He wasn’t alone when he took his last breath, but he had been in pain, measures of dignity already tied up with other dying grandfathers on other deathbeds that week.

Soon after my Grandad died, I found myself alone on an island. This is not a metaphor. The only way home was a 7am ferry or a 7pm ferry. I was impossibly early for one, and desperately late for the other. It was the middle of the night when the full force of my Grandad’s death hit me square in the seat of my soul. I was stuck and I was alone, and I felt every single one of my nerves exposed to the cold air as if I had been turned inside out, wrung out like an old musty dish towel and left in a twisted heap on the kitchen bench. My Grandad could do this to me because I loved him fiercely and he died on the other side of the world without me. He had all of my best and most cherished memories tracking through the veins that ran up his arms in ropey, blue map lines. They were directions to my happiness, those memory lines. The minute I found out he had died my memories began to fade, and it was this, more than anything, slowly crushing me that night. What was the last thing he had said to me? When was the last time I saw him? What was he wearing? What did his face look like? The memories were suddenly unreliable. He took them with him along with his veins, along with the directions to my happiness. I was lost.

Not long after my Grandad passed away, I discovered that the Google Maps image of the house he shared with my Nanna showed his car parked audaciously in the driveway of the property. It was perched, majestic and full of promise, on the incline to the front door, shining in the sun. It looked like my Grandad was home. It didn’t matter to me that the photo had been taken before his departure from the world. From my computer chair in Australia, for all intents and purposes, my Grandad was at home in Arnold, Nottingham. Risen from the dead. Never died in the first place.

He was banging around the kitchen with his characteristic display of clumsiness, knocking mugs together, spilling cornflakes all over the bench top, dripping sugary hot tea over the carpet as he made his way to the breakfast table where the daily newspaper greeted him.

He was busy in the coal shed, shovelling black lumps into a brass bucket that he would then bring inside the house and pour noisily into the fireplace, smiling mischievously at anyone in the room because he was loud and proud and he dared you to challenge him. He was kneeling on one knee, fire poker in his hand, stoking the flames until they cracked and popped, coal burning red in the centre of it all.

He was coming down the staircase in his jeans and a t-shirt, coins jangling loudly in one pocket, a handkerchief tucked safely away in the other.

He was in the garden mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, or sitting in his favourite deck chair with a warm cup of tea, enjoying the sunshine and his sandwiches.

He was sitting on the couch with another cuppa, watching football and the news, and then some more football. Possibly, later, Baywatch – a Saturday night favourite.

He was everywhere. He was all over the house. It was a certainty. I momentarily remembered the way to my happiest happy.

Very recently, Google Maps changed the image of my grandparents’ house. The car was gone. My Grandad was no longer there. All I could see was what wasn’t visible in the new image, which was my Nanna, alone and sad in a too-big house, remembering the husband who called her Bluebell. When the car disappeared I lost my Grandad all over again. For the second time, I was an exposed nerve, skin turned inside out, missing him through every pore of my body.

And then there was this – a joyful realisation. My Grandad may not have been at home any more, but he still had all of my favourite memories with him, and now I had them too, more vivid and solid than they had been before. The promise of his presence in the familiar house (even if it had been a short-lived delusion) gave me time to retrieve those memories that I feared I had lost. As well as the spontaneous memories of his character and the way he claimed space in his home, I remembered with ease that one of the last things he ever said to me was a joking offer to “sort out” a troubling friend. Protective to the end. I remembered the last time I saw him was at Heathrow Airport as I was leaving England to go home to the Lucky Country (which, incidentally, had momentarily run out of luck for me or I would have been able to see him again, one last time). My Grandad hugged me tight that day. That tall, heavy-footed, heavy-handed, clumsy man who made a joke out of absolutely every situation, and couldn’t say ‘I love you’, cried. His face crumpled as he took hold of me and he said goodbye. I don’t remember what else he said. It isn’t important. The moving pictures in my memory paint a thousand more words, words more eloquent than anything either of us could have ever uttered.

Today, I remember these things, and they are blessings. Google Maps may have taken my Grandad away from me again, but it also gifted me with the time to get my memories back. It gave me time to make a copy of the map lines on his arms, those precious and cherished memory lines. My Grandad is gone, but he is not lost. I am not lost.

I am the first granddaughter of Walter Bull, and I know the way to happy.

He showed me.