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Noir

‘Mister?’

The kid was small, maybe six, maybe seven. Kinda sickly lookin’ too – like she was beaten by life already.

I nudged the coffee cup back across the counter and checked my watch. ‘It’s 11.15 kid. Whaddya doing out at this time?’

‘Please, Mister. You gotta come see. They’re gonna think my Pa did it. But he didn’t. He didn’t.’

The hole in the wall cafe was more hole than cafe. I’d been watching the place for the past three nights – another one of those jobs where some schmuck was sleeping around with someone certifiably married to some other schmuck. The guilty couple had turned out two nights out of three to use the room around the back of the cafe. The room was one of those places where people got tied up in ropes that looked like you needed a month of macrame lessons just to get the knots to sit right. It was no place for a kid, and I already had all the evidence I needed.

‘Okay kid, show me what you got.’

She was quick, and if I hadn’t been so busy looking for sudden movements in the shadows as we passed by the deserted library a little way down the block I might have noticed her bare feet, or that her dress didn’t stir when the August winds slammed into each other on the corner of Fifth and First Street.

I followed on passed a row of shops, closed for two years or so before some fresh-faced artists had taken over the place. The last shop, newly painted red, was lit up, though the light was dulled by lengths of butchers paper stuck to the inside of the window, obliterating any view of the work going on inside. The hand-painted letters splashed across the outside announced the grand opening sometime on Friday morning. I guess they still had a few hours of hard grind ahead of them.

I knew the next place well. The stone church had squatted on the corner since well before I was a kid. It had always been the kinda place even the most ardent believers avoided because the priest was one of those old-school death and damnation preachers who seemed to resent his flock more than he resented the church.

The kid must have slipped in between the bars of the iron gate guarding the pathway, coz the next time I saw her she was standing at the top of the worn stone steps that led up to the entrance. The heavy wooden doors to the church were open, and next to the girl lay a child. A girl, barely six, maybe seven who looked as cold as the stone she lay on.

‘Oh Jezuzt!’ I took the stairs three at a time, pulling my phone out of my jacket pocket as I ran.

‘It’s okay kid, an ambulance will be here soon,’ I said, knowing the other child, maybe her sister, was beyond help.

The girl smiled then, in a way that told me she understood the lie I’d just told. ‘You gotta find em, Mister. You gotta find em.’ Then she was gone.

This was gonna be a long night.

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No compliments

” I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention.”

That’s and almighty fuck off right there, little lady. I’d like to talk like that. Be all la-de-da. Be all I’m so fine I can say fuck the fuck off in 999 ways without using up even a tithe of my vocabulary.

I’d use it at the cafe. ‘Here’s your espresso-doubleshot-soy. I send no compliments to you and your Pomeranian-Husky  cross AND your snotting Labradoodle. Have a vexed day.’

I certainly send no compliments to Uncle Eoin and his accountant friend Walter, secretly married these past five years but who never invited me to their wedding, despite them saying I’d be loveliest bridesmaid in the land… or some shit like that.

Damn. See? Hopeless. Can’t go more than two minutes without my hometown vocab squeezing on in there like that priest at St Beastials, or Beatrices, or Beatniks… whatever. Now there’s one slimy fuck. I send him no compliments. Not to him, not to his bishop, his cardinal, his pope. However far up you can go in his feckless religion, I send no compliments. I mean, did you see him on the news, all that ‘That never happened,’ and ‘I can’t remember,’ and ‘no one ever complained when Father Fucky McFucksticks touched those boys up so bad one of them jumped off that bridge, so it’s their fault.’

That’s just not right.

Did that stuff ever happen in those days of fine muslin and pump rooms, and manners wound so tight even polite words could be hurled across the dance floor like stabby little knives? ‘I send no compliments to your mother. I send no compliments to you, Motherfucker.’

Now I think on it, that story is pretty much less about pride and more about a predator; cause that’s what Wickham is, right, a man who preys on underaged girls? But then it gets all kinds of fucked up because one of them marries him. What kind of life would that have been, shackled to a serial predator? Poor Lydia. How fucking vexing. Everyone worried about themselves and no one giving a shitting shit about Lydia being manipulated by a predator.

You know what? Fuck that book. Fuck it to hell and back, then back again right into the lap of that little critter Lucifer. And I’d leave it there too, before clambering back into my infernally charred-black carriage drawn by four fine hell-beasts.  Then I’d lean forward ever so elegantly, and look that ol’ daemon right in the eye and say ‘I send no compliments to your imps, daemons and fiends. They deserve no such attention.’

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Thoughts on stories and atheism at 3:20am

It’s 3:20am and here we are, and here are my thoughts on ‘the greatest story ever told’, and why ‘atheism’ happens.

The GOD story is the biggest story, the greatest story, for many. The all seeing all powerful being who can be everywhere, see everything, speak to all people and all creatures at once—the perfect being.

Except, where’s the story in that? Where’s the story in an ultimate being with ultimate powers that can control everyone and everything?

If I try and work out what the story is, it doesn’t really make sense, particularly as it’s currently told—at least in Christianity. There are too many plot holes. And any storyteller knows that if there are too many plot holes people have trouble suspending their disbelief and get thrown out of the story. In the case of ultimate being stories we generally call these people, atheists.

So, here’s my thinking.

Plot hole 1 in the GOD story. There’s an ultimate being with ultimate powers.

Yep. And?

And nothing. They are the supreme maker of all things, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful.

Right… well, that’s not really a story, is it?

Yeah, sorry. Let’s try and make it into a story.

Plot hole 2. So, this ultimate being makes angels. Some angels rebel, the ultimate being kicks them out of the ultimate being’s haven.

Yeahhhhh-nup. Any ultimate being would know this was going to happen. And if they had ultimate powers they could just make it un-happen. Disbelief not suspended, and why make angels anyway?

Plot hole 3. The fallen angel becomes an all avenging being, out to wreak havoc.

Nup. Not plausible. Because, there’s an ultimate being with ultimate powers who can make anything happen, can control anyone and anything, blah blah. Disbelief not suspended.

Plot hole 4. The ultimate being makes people. They rebel (via the apple). They’re kicked out of the haven.

Yeah, that’s just the angel plot line all over again. Disbelief not suspended.

Plot hole 5. The ultimate being sends their own son to earth to spread the word.

Why? They’re the ultimate being with a direct line to everyone at once. They can just tell everyone and every creature what their wishes are directly. They don’t need a prophet/son to spread the word. They certainly don’t need religious institutions to do this. Disbelief not suspended.

Plot hole 6. The ultimate being makes other beings, but includes free will.

Hmmm, yes, that’s quite a good plot fix, other than the whole but the being is still all powerful and could just override free will thing. This also begs the question, why make them in the first place question. Why would a perfect being make imperfect things?

Plot hole 7. So, what about we try the old, ‘Ah yes, but who can truly know the mind of the ultimate being?’ plotline.

Simple answer, we all can, because the ultimate being is all powerful and could just tell us all what they’re thinking, override freewill and make us understand their thoughts in an instant. So, disbelief not suspended.

I mean, this isn’t just not the greatest story, it isn’t even really a good story, is it? As a matter of fact, the story of a supreme-all-powerful-seeing being who is perfect may really be the antithesis of a story.

Most stories revolve around a flaw/an imperfection in some way. But, how can this perfect being be flawed in any way? The greatest story ever told says that they aren’t. AND, not only that, scientists trying to explain the BIG BANG are struggling with the same plot hole. Why did the singularity suddenly explode? What was the flaw that unsettled everything, caused asymmetry?

Unless…

Unless, this perfect, ultimate being can’t replicate itself. I mean, if they’re all powerful, all seeing blah blah then what need is there for any other? They’re perfectly contained, a singularity, in perfect symmetry, right?

But what if they tried?

But why would a perfect being try?

Maybe they were lonely.

Is that a flaw? Can perfect, all powerful beings be lonely?

Maybe.

I guess it gives us a story. One lonely, perfect, singular being who can’t replicate itself, but tries.

BOOM.

And that’s what goes through my head when I wake up at 3:20am.

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Liebster award blog post

award2

Thanks to writer and all round lovely Alayna Cole for tagging me in the Liebster Award blog hop. Alayna asked 11 questions (as per the rules), and here are my answers:

  1. Do you use post-it notes? If so, what do you put on them and can you show me photos? If not, why not and what do you do instead?

No, no post-it-notes, I’m a write in the margins kind of person. I tend to doodle as I write too as my memory seems to be linked to whatever I’ve doodled. It’s been like this since I was very little, and I was forever getting into trouble at school for drawing in English and Maths, but it genuinely triggers learning and memory. I also keep a lot of notes on my phone.

  1. Where do you like to write and what’s your favourite thing to snack on while you’re there?

I write mostly in cafes in the morning before I start my day job. I like the noise and having people flitting around, but not intruding. When a story gets beyond a few thousand words though I end up back at my desk (which is really just a small table in the room at the back of our house).

I drink tea a lot. I have a vast collection of tea, teacups and teapots, so I tend to drink tea more than I snack.

  1. What do you do to motivate yourself when it feels like you’ve hit a wall with a project?

I hit metaphorical walls all the time, so I just do something else for a bit. Mostly I tend to go outside for awhile, or read, or go make some more tea.

When I’m really stuck and can’t think straight at all I catch up for coffee with someone like Terry Whidborne. Terry’s not only an amazing, creative person, he’s very structured in his approach to creative projects. He feeds my creativity while making everything seem okay and manageable. Go have coffee with him, seriously.

  1. Do you prefer to research before you write, or start writing before you research? Or does it vary between projects? How?

I write first and research as I go, but it does vary depending on the project. I was born in England and my internal clock seems forever tuned to northern hemisphere seasons, so I’m always looking up basic things like ‘When does winter start and finish?’

Day job reading also just triggers ideas and links to research. I work with a bunch of agricultural scientists during the day, and they’re forever talking about weeds and cows and germplasm (bloody germplasm). But, it’s amazing how many ideas can come from talking about red witch weed or sentinel herds or yellow crazy ants (which I remember as yellow chaos ants).

  1. What is the most exciting project you’re working on right now? What’s your most neglected project?

The Lane of Unusual Traders is probably the most exciting project I’m working on at the moment, because it holds so much promise, and I get to write a little too.

My most neglected projects (plural needed) are two manuscripts The Last Liberty – a tale of a young girl apprenticed at a place called The Northern Dinsgate Library; it’s a tale about coming to terms with who you are. The other project is called the Krampus Road – about a young girl who gets caught on a road built to imprison the Krampus brothers. It’s not finished, but I did use that to inspire the Tiny Owl Krampus Crackers project, so that was a great outcome.

  1. Do you have any key editing tips that you want to share?
  • Go through your manuscript and remove every single ‘that’ you can find. This advice came via my almost-daughter Cinnamon and it’s the best advice.
  • Get someone to read your story out aloud to you. If the reader stumbles or frowns they’re finding it hard to read, so mark those bits and edit or rewrite them.
  • If you have too much logistical information in your manuscript (e.g. Robert knelt down and picked up the ball. He stood up again and threw it back to Cerberus) then it’s probably a first draft quality manuscript and a long way from being finished.
  • Get used to being edited and don’t get incensed when you open up a document and it’s full of edits. Editors aren’t trying to change or rewrite your manuscript (if they are, then find a real editor), they’re trying to help you chip away all the unnecessary words, and ensure you’ve realised the full potential of your characters and the plot.
  • Writing ‘Emily was terrified’ isn’t terrifying.
  • Learn the difference between a writer’s draft and a reader’s draft. This really helps.
  1. Do you need to know the ending of your stories before you start them? What sort of character and setting planning do you do before starting your narrative?

No, I’m a total pantser. I start with an idea or a sentence, see where the story goes, then write down plot notes as I go. I find it hard to know the ending when I don’t know my characters well. The first draft is all about me getting to know my characters and the world I’ve thrown them into (poor luvs).

  1. Have you noticed any particular themes, motifs, genres, characters, or settings that keep reappearing in your work?

Great questions.

Yes, most definitely. A theme in my own writing is being stuck between worlds, or being stuck and having to work your way out of something.  I also love to play with notions of privilege and power, and the idea that some people genuinely believe that they are privileged because they work harder than others. It’s such a great delusion to work with.

  1. Do you have a favourite book right now? Do you have a favourite book of all time?

Wild by Emily Hughes (author and illustrator) is my favourite book right now. It’s a picture book and it is a wonderful book about not stuffing girls into given roles. The words are perfection, the illustrations are devine. I also love The Arrival by Shaun Tan, mostly because it’s a stunningly visual book, but at the moment Australia has the most appalling policy on refugees and The Arrival is a reminder of something better. It also reminds me of my Dad, who worked for a long time to support refugees.

My favourite book though is Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett. Sam Vimes is an angry man, and I relate to his anger and his constant battle to control it and do what’s right/fair. Vimes, Granny Weatherwax and Death to some extent are basically the same character, and I love their inner struggles and how they all walk on the edge of right and wrong, life and death, and loneliness and togetherness.

  1. What’s the hardest part of a writing project, in your opinion? World building? Introductions? Editing?

To be honest, nothing. Writing is a joy. It’s what I do to be in a creative place. My day job is not creative, and most of the people I work with are not creative (at least not at work), and that’s a challenge and it takes a lot of time out of each day, so nothing about my own writing is hard.

  1. What are your most common procrastination activities? What do you always find yourself doing when you’re supposed to be writing?
  • Social media is the devil.
  • Books are Sirens that never stop calling.
  • Any old movie starring Margaret Rutherford is impossible to pass up.
  • Drawing and painting.

My nominations

My questions

  1. What is your favourite word? Wny?
  2. Who wrote the best sentence you’ve ever read? Why is it the best sentence?
  3. What music do you listen to while writing?
  4. What is the most exciting project you’re working on right now? What’s your most neglected project?
  5. Do you have any key editing tips that you want to share?
  6. Is there a writer that makes you laugh? Who is it, andwhy do they make you laugh?
  7. Have you noticed any particular themes, motifs, genres, characters, or settings that keep reappearing in your work?
  8. Do you have a favourite book right now? Do you have a favourite book of all time?
  9. Who is your favourite illustrator? Why?
  10. If you could co-write a book with a famous author (expired or still breathing) who would that be?
  11. Where is your favourite place to write?

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Tulips

I recently took part in a great initiative called Open Changes, part of the Lost in Track Changes project run by the rather lovely If:Book Australia. Tulips was one of the stories they included in the project.

***

Price trundled from town to town, the tulip bulbs bouncing in the dusty red wagon he pulled behind him. The women paid him little attention, the men he unnerved.

This town was small, but it needed pruning.

‘Who the fuck are you?’

Price stopped walking, eyed a man sitting outside the hotel, and tipped his hat. ‘I’m a man of no consequence.’

The hotel man stood and drained his glass. ‘You look like a dick in that get up. What’s with the black apron?’

Price tugged on the rope tied to the wagon and walked on. ‘I’m a gardener. My garb is suited to my work.’

‘Hey!’

Price kept on, the wheels of the wagon cutting deep into the dirt, as if heavily burdened.

‘I said hey, fuckwit,’ the man clutched the glass and ran after Price. ‘Hey, I was talkin’ to you.’

Price felt the glass smash into his skull. It shattered into shards, slivers catching the light as they flew. Price merely cricked his neck-first left then right-before turning to scoop up a tulip bulb lying on the road amid the glass.

The bulb landed among the others with a thud as Price trundled on.

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The Marquess of Time

I recently took part in a great initiative called Open Changes, part of the Lost in Track Changes project run by the rather lovely If:Book Australia. The Marquess of Time was one of the stories they included in the project.

***

The Marquess of Time picked up the tray and slipped easily around the cafe tables. A mocha for the gentleman in red, a green tea for the woman with inked imps scuttling up her left arm, a ginger beer for Death.

‘Thank you,’ said Death, running one bony finger through the condensation on the glass.

‘Don’t often see you here,’ said the Marquess.

‘I have come to collect War,’ said Death, ever the plain speaker.

The Marquess caught the words, then her breath.

‘He grows ever more greedy,’ said Death, plucking an ice cube from her glass and running it along the blade of her scythe. It sang.

The Marquess nodded, all the elementals had warned her. She didn’t listen. ‘Where will it happen?’

‘At the crossroads of day and night,’ said Death.

‘He will fight,’ said the Marquess, sisterly pride getting the better of her.

Death softened. ‘He cannot win.’

The Marquess watched the noon light play along Death’s blade. ‘Will I be the only one to grieve?’

‘No,’ said Death. ‘Though you will find no solace among others who do.’

The Marquess untied her apron, letting it fall she kissed Death on the cheek and walked out to find her brother.

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The Child in the Garden

There is a child in the garden. A quiet child, of little more than seven or eight. A child with wild hair, pale skin and fiery eyes. She will be the death of me.

When first I saw her she was standing, hands on hips, admonishing the bronze lion guarding the path to the folly. What mischief the lion had attempted I cannot guess. He had done nothing but gaze at the lake since my father put him there one Christmas: the same Christmas my uncle locked himself in the library along with his ill-temper and a bottle of whiskey.

Strange that such a dim memory should puzzle its way through to daylight. For the most part, memories of my childhood lay mouldering among others in some viscid pool filled with bitter spoils. The war had begun you see, and he is the greatest of thieves, purloining memories while laying waste to claims upon innocence. In the end he left me nothing but the smell of bubbling flesh and screams filtered through burst eardrums.

I was pulled from the rubble near Caen, broken in body and will. They sent me home to mend, but a body so broken can only mend so much, a mind so shattered can do little but hope to hold whole thoughts for moments before they seep away through the cracks. So, when the child appeared I bid her good day and carried on through the arch in the hedge, on toward the folly. She found me later, digging and planting as I had done every day since my return. She wandered among the beds, watching me, running her fingers over the tips of the flowers, releasing their scent.

When finally she spoke, her voice echoed strangely, as if there were others whispering with her.

‘They’re wriggly and bent,’ she said, pointing at the flower beds.

It was true, I had dug all the beds that way—curved and swayed, radiating out from the stone heart of the folly.

I have added more since that day, too  many for my mother to bear, though she visits the folly most days.

‘Surely that is enough now,’ my mother says, though she addresses my father, not me. She finds it hard to look at me, though my face bears few scars.

My father stays silent, but sets aside the manuscript he has been working on, his latest treatise on some long dead architect.

Finding no conspirator, my mother turns on me. ‘We have gardeners, Peter, gardeners who know how to look after the grounds properly.’

In am ruining the place, you see. It is a grand garden of some significance or other I no longer care to remember. As for the gardeners, there is Wallace, and Price and his son—they do as my father asks as he asks so little of them and it is a vast estate. Besides, Price and his son mostly work alone as Wallace is aggrieved by gout and sticks to the greenhouses most days.

‘They have enough to do, Mother,’ I say.

Frustrated, she stumps away, back to the house. Then she stops, right in front of the girl who is playing in the hedge. For a moment I think my mother sees her, perhaps hears the girl singing. Then she turns. ‘Mary will be here at six. Be civil.’

Mary is the daughter of Lady Beardsley. We were to be married. She visited me for the months I lay in the hospital. I was not kind.

As my mother’s footsteps fade I plant the last of the lavender, breathing in its warm scent.

‘What next?’ asks my father, stretching.

 He has been sitting on the steps of the folly for a good while, spending time with me before he joins Mary and my Mother on the trek to Lady Beardsley’s estate. He does not wish to go, but he is resigned to attending Mary’s engagement party. He is fond of her. They are bound by the memories of visits to see me when I first returned.

What next? The question hangs there, but my father is good at waiting.

‘Roses,’ I answer. I do not know why, though roses will do. I suppose it is because the garden must be filled with fragrance, anything to mask the stench. It followed me home you see. I cannot rid myself of it.

Father nods, gathers his things, and heads back to the house. He will talk to Price about the roses.

I watch him go. He takes the long way back to the house, down behind the folly. Anything to avoid my mother’s ire for a little longer.  But, while Mother rages, at least she rages, how else is she to let out the grief. Father stays silent, believing that fresh air and long walks will heal everything, in time.

None of this is the fault of the child you understand, she is blameless. They grieve for the son they have lost. I am not who I was. I am no longer the young rugby captain, the carefree young son of a lord, the son they parade at parties. Parties. My mother takes my medals in place of me these days. I won them. Won them. As if medals are prizes to be won. I cannot look at them.

I stand, brush the worst of the dirt from my hands and grab some sticks and twine from the wheelbarrow Price has given me. I work away, having marked out the next few garden beds before I realise the girl has been singing that old nursery rhyme about the roses, the one where they all fall down. She looks pleased as she leaves the hedge and runs around the lavender beds, arms stretched out as if she is flying. The singing grows louder, stranger—like others have joined in from afar. Then she is gone.

***

My dreams are filled with nursery rhymes, stretched thin by distant voices. I wake. First light plays across my bedroom windows. I throw on my clothes and head to the shed. The shed is the gardeners’ realm and I the most rancorous pest.

I knock, though the door is open and Price and his son are already at work.

‘Have the roses arrived?’ I ask.

‘No,’ says Price, whose hands, ingrained with dirt, look as if trees will sprout from deep lines in his knuckles. ‘But Wallace gave me a dozen or so from the greenhouse. Pure white they’ll be. The lad can take them to the folly for you,’ he says pointing to his son, a young man of perhaps nineteen or so.

‘No.’ My answer is too curt, too blunt. I do not want the son’s company.

‘Right you are,’ says Price. He ignores my outburst and hands me an old water bottle and a bread roll stuffed with cheese. ‘Whether you eat that or not you must drink.’

I swallow hard, gratitude stuck in my throat, blocking the words gathering behind.

He talks quietly to his son, the lad as he calls him. A few words, none harsh and leaves me to it. I know Price is afraid for me. He senses I carry too much shame to expect life to bear me much longer.

I am partway through planting out the second flower bed when the girl appears. She takes the last rose from the wheelbarrow and kneels beside me as it starts to rain. She fingers the thorns for a moment, tracing the tip of each one with her thumb. Then she takes my hand and presses the rose into it, hard. Her hand is strangely warm.

‘Now it is right,’ she says, eyes on fire. ‘Plant it now.’

The thorns bite, and I watch the blood pool with the rain.  It drips onto the bed. The girl laughs and jumps up. Certain of some small victory she soars among the beds once more.

I watch her, trying to remember the joy of running, of being small. I grasp the rose harder, pressing the thorns deep into my skin, desperate to remember.

Then Price is there, taking my hand to remove the rose. The girl stops and screams. She beats the air with her fists, then is gone.

The shed is warm. The lad places a cup of tea before me and Price tells him to be off home. He does not want me to be uncomfortable.

I sip the tea. The bandage on my hand guards a thick layer of yellowish unguent Price concocts himself ‘to stop the cuts festering.’

‘You ought to be more careful, your …’

I cut him off. ‘How old is he?’

Price watches the lad disappear down the path. ‘Twenty-one this winter.’

There is silence as I take another sip. My hands are shaking now. The lad is older than I thought. Old enough to be given the uniform I so willingly sought.

‘The war will end some day,’ says Price, regarding me with either pity or confusion, I cannot tell which. ‘Besides, they won’t have him, if that’s what’s concerning you. He’s a good lad, but he can only do what he’s told, if you follow me.’  

I place the cup on the table, willing my hands to be still, grateful for whatever it is that ails the boy, grateful for Price as he rattles around and takes up a pair of garden shears and begins to sharpen them.

Before I can stop myself, the words spill from my lips. ‘Did you see her?’

Price stops sharpening. ‘See who? Lady Mary?’

‘What?’ I stand to take my leave, ashamed I have spoken. ‘No. Yes, Mary. Sorry, I must have drifted off.’

He stares at me for too long. I head for the door.

‘At least wait until the rain stops.’

I cannot.

‘You should not punish yourself,’ Price says as I step outside. ‘Soldiers do what they must.’

What they must … I want to laugh at him, hit him, pummel his stupid face. He does not understand. I am doing what I must. 

‘Let me know when the rest of the roses arrive,’ I say, slamming the door behind me.

I make my way back to the folly and find the last rose lying in a pool of water where it fell. I scoop it up, jam it in beside the others and head off to see if Wallace is willing to part with more.

It is long past noon when the girl appears again, a posy of wildflowers in her hands. The rain is gone and the sun squints through remnants of exhausted clouds as the girl places the posy next to me. She is no longer angry, though she does not stay.

I am sitting in the shade of the folly studying the posy when Price arrives with a barrow full of roses. They come from Warburton’s farm, a few miles down the road.

‘They were glad of the money,’ says Price dropping the barrow and wiping his hands on the apron he always wears.

The apron is well worn, with the pockets stuffed with seeds and twine. A rabbit’s foot and a string of black beads are among the other bits and bobs he carries. He is superstitious despite all his practicality. Father says he carries one charm in particular. A small tin fashioned from spent bullet cases. The soldiers make them in the trenches, the first and last gift to a sweetheart or child they may never see. Perhaps this tin was such a gift. He is never without it.

Price removes his hat and wipes his brow with his forearm. The posy catches his eye.

‘Wildflowers … not from around here though.’

No, not from around here. They are the flowers I saw covering small graves in Normandy, flowers from woodlands and meadows ravaged by the toys of generals and madmen. But I lie when I tell him. ‘They’re from Mary, she just went back to check on Mother.’

He knows I am lying, he would have seen Mary walk back to the house, she does not know the way that runs behind the folly.

‘Must have just missed her,’ says Price, before wandering over to see my latest work. I follow, feeling wretched, Price is not a man to lie to.

‘You need to plant them further apart,’ he says, crouching down to inspect the roses. Then, he notices something I have not. This morning the roses were stick soldiers, bereft of camouflage, bearing up as best they could in rain beaten trenches. Now they are covered in buds.

Price looks up at me, momentarily flummoxed. ‘Are these the ones Wallace gave you?’

He does not wait for an answer. In one quick movement he is up, grabbing the posy from me as he casts about the grounds wildly, his gaze coming to rest somewhere near the arch in the hedge. The girl is there, standing perfectly still, her eyes brighter than I have yet seen them.

He has seen her. He sees her.

‘Get them out. Get them out,’ he yells, falling to his knees and tearing at the roses, trying to rip them from the bed

I throw myself at him, meaning to stop him, but pain stabs at my ribs and heart bringing me to my knees beside him. There is shouting. I hear my father’s voice, I catch a glimpse of the girl, then the world turns red.

***

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