Monday, 13 February 2017

Just before a thunderstorm

Angie's story:

It had been a long hot summer. The fields so verdant in late spring were now parched and drained of colour. The trees, though not yet ready to lose their leaves, seemed to have an air of abandonment as if they no longer cared whether or not their branches offered shade to passing weary travellers, and drooping in an effort to reach the ground below.

The girl heaved herself up from the rocking chair where she had been idly sitting, on the veranda, watching a cat cleaning itself meticulously before it too, rose languidly and padded off to find a cooler spot in which to sleep.

How much easier she thought to be an animal, governed entirely by instinct, without the mixed blessing of reason and emotion to affect its choices in life. They took what came to them, happily if those things were to their advantage and if not, driven on by a primal urge to survive, they fought or submitted to their fate.
Anxiety, regret, longing, hate, indecision , they knew nothing of.

The girl now stood looking out across the parched land ahead of her and gently rubbed her swollen belly. Her time was nearly here she knew. Not that she had any experience of this terrifying thing, but the steady growth in the strength of kicks inside her and the dragging feeling in her lower abdomen told her that soon she would have to do what animals the world over do, with no understanding of risk, fear of pain or loathing of the act that caused this new life to be created.

As she stood musing she was aware of the sky becoming darker and the light changing to an eery and unnatural fluorescence. The storm, threatened for days, was finally on its way. She watched, a little mesmerised, as one or two large drops fell onto the dusty planks of the steps in front of her.

With a strange synchronisation, at the same moment, she felt a warmth trickling down her leg and liquid slowly surrounded her bare feet.

This she somehow knew was it, the final conclusion to all those months of endless waiting, enduring, self tormenting misery.
The raindrops were falling harder now and the first rumblings of thunder grumbled miles away.
She turned and walked towards the makeshift bed and lay awkwardly and uncomfortably while the first contraction gripped her and took her breath away with its ferocity.
Not quite as much pain as she had endured with the conception of this creature she thought - but close.

A sudden flash of lightening lit up the now dark and ominous sky, while on the bed almost in harmony, a pain ripped through her body. She curled into a foetal position hoping somehow to avoid the horrors to come. None of this was of her choosing, yet here she was, locked into a force of nature while the storm echoed her agony.

For several hours the storm raged, rain fell in torrents, thunder cracked and a tree, caught in the lightening path, crashed and cracked its way to the ground.
On the bed, the girl, glistening with sweat and often crying out
with an unearthly roar, fought to rid herself of this unwanted invader.

Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the storm abated. Water dripped from trees no longer parched. The light changed and a weak sun caught prisms of colour in the rain drops.
On the bed the girl lay still, apparently unmoving, soundless, deathly pale. Then a movement, beneath her arm a tiny form, wriggling its body to get a firmer grip on the life giving milk it's mouth had found. Red wrinkled fingers clutching the firm young breast now swollen and blue veined.

She turns her head and looks down at this new life. All thoughts of abandonment vanish, as if they never were.
She sees only beauty, perfection, helplessness and dependency. It is hers, of her, a part of her and she would kill to protect it.

The cat reappears, treading lightly through the puddles. Behind her, following her closely, her two kittens. She sees the girl and turns instinctively to check her off spring.

The girl sees her and understands. We are united in this one instinct she thinks and puts her lips tenderly on the tiny head cradled in her arms.

Jackie's poem:
When I was small
 And sat on my wall
too tall
To sit in a sprawl

I heard the first roar
Out on the moor
Clouds scudding - a lot of thudding
A  flash and a clash
My word what flooding

Such a clap and a tap
Then a snap like a strap
Earth and thunder trapped
Like Grandad’s kneecap - poor chap

A bolt of lightening
The sky  dark and heightening
Eerie and  frightening
Made my hair all a whitening

I sat counting the distances
And there were no persistences
Nothing could resist
The force of nature existences

I so small on a wall
Began to brawl
Downfall of drops fell on our “hops”
Breaking in half nature's crops

Then ………….
It stops………
Shone light so bright
What a sight
I on my wall
Had had such a fright

Annemarie's Story

Just Before the Thunderstorm
He left just before the thunderstorm.
" I'll take a walk over the top and get a bottle of really good wine before the shop closes - it's such a glorious evening.."
Ten years earlier Josie and Logan had literally bumped into one another at an art exhibition. It was the prelude to a magical, passionate relationship compacted into a single week together each year. Impossible to consider anything else - Josie's marriage was no great love affair - a question of a decent man marrying his pregnant girlfriend -  but they had raised two adored children who, certainly whilst young, bound them together. Logan on the other hand was happily married but to an invalid wife increasingly unable to look after herself.
Both honourable people, Josie and Logan did not allow their affair to encroach on their everyday lives - there was no discussion about each other's family, no meetings, no contact except on the eve of the one special week in order to finalise train times. Their affair was conducted as though  in a bubble, ethereal and precious not touching each other's daily lives.
As ever, driving to pick Logan up from the low whitewashed Welsh station, Josie imagined what life would be like if Logan were free, her children old enough to understand were she to divorce their father, but that was just a dream. This was her week for painting; her husband had his week of sailing with like-minded friends and she - well a week away to indulge in her painting hobby, uninterrupted by family.
One precious week, always towards the end of Autumn, in the same little cottage nestled in a dip on a blustery headland in west Wales reached by a winding, potholed lane leading from the village; no telephone, no mobile signal, no television - just the two of them.
Logan was just exiting the station when she arrived but flitting across his face an expression she did not recognise. He seemed somewhat subdued as he put his case on the back seat, climbed in beside her and turned to embrace her. Puzzled she set off.
The poplar trees lining the road stood black and bare, almost spare of leaves, their tops shimmering in the autumnal evening as though angels had passed in the night sprinkling gold dust. Logan broke the silence and speaking haltingly he began:
"Josie, my wife...she died about four months ago..." Josie took in a swift intake of breath.
"Oh Logan, I'm so sorry."
"Well we had wonderful times together before she became ill and quite honestly it was a release for both of us, I think. She was in great pain, bedridden and unable to do anything for herself. It made my heart break to see her like that. The end came very gently." Josie reached out to hold his hand, to clasp it comfortingly, yet the two of them were silent each with their own solitary thoughts as they drew up outside the converted stone cowshed, its one large window reflecting the trees and the evening sun.
The cottage was bathed in a crepuscular copper glow, the sitting room as though bathed in warmed honey.  
Logan had brought some logs in before leaving for the shop and Josie set a fire for later, then washed and peeled some potatoes, battered out some slices of pork fillet, all the time a fluttering in her heart; she felt like a butterfly newly emerging from its pupa, waiting for her wings to strengthen and unfold. Here was hope for a future, a future for herself and Logan together. The children were adult now, no longer needing her and she was sure she and Peter could settle for an amicable divorce.
In a reveri stepped outside to pick some herbs, delicious aromas of rosemary and thyme wafting in the breeze.Looking up from the dainty purple blossoms Josie noticed the belt of louring pewter cloud, dark and threatening hovering over the village.  Once indoors she busied herself getting her art materials ready. A fresh canvas on the easel, tubes unctuous colours on the paint bespattered table and brushes laid out in a regimental row. First they would take their usual bracing walk over the headland down to the hidden cove where the western waves shuddered their briny foam on to the pebble-strewn beach.
A sudden flash of lightening illuminated the room, thunder in the distance followed by a steady pattering of raindrops against the window. She hoped Logan had taken refuge somewhere, the pub perhaps, until the thunderstorm was over. She put the meal on hold and began to sketch out some ideas for her new piece of art.
The storm continued unabated for several hours, hammering the tin roof over the kitchen, running in rivulets down the window accompanied by sheets of lightening. Gusts of wind rattled the old oak door and howled down the chimney , the flames in the fire leaping and dying like some dervish dance.
When she fell asleep, Josie had no idea but a constant loud hammering on the door
Woke her abruptly. Logan - he must have forgotten his keys. Rubbing her eyes she opened the door. Before her against a calm, cloudless azure sky and standing in inches of muddy rainwater was her son.
"Michael, what on earth are you doing here? How did you find me?  Is something wrong? Come in, come in."
"Oh mum, we have trying to reach you since yesterday. We had no idea where the cottage was and no mobile signal. Eventually I got in touch with your editor and she passed on the address." Michael was shaking, his face white and drawn.
"Please sit down, mum. I have something to tell you - yesterday at work Dad had a massive heart attack. It was totally unexpected and he died in the ambulance." Michael was sobbing as he held his mother close.
"After his office contacted me I came as soon as I had your address but what with the sudden thunderstorm last night and the rain it took much longer. Then just out of the village before you turn  off for here the police were setting up a roadblock. It seems some chap was the victim of a hit and run in last night's storm. They were just carrying the body into the ambulance when I got there. You could still see  a smashed bottle of wine where he had lain." 


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Light in the Distance

Angela's contribution.

She knew she had seen it - a light in the distance, she was so sure, and yet now, as she came gradually nearer to where she felt it should be, the darkness enveloped her even more.
She must have been walking now for at least two hours, along this straight unending road, devoid of houses, or any signs of human habitation.
The backs of her shoes were cutting into her heels, and her hands with no gloves were becoming numb with the cold that had become more severe as night had fallen.
Even so, small discomforts compared with what would surely have ensued had she not left when she did.

As she tramped along she replayed that last hour again. The now all too familiar arguments between her and Thomas. This time though things had become more serious. She saw another side to the young man she thought she loved. His face had been contorted in rage and frustration. He had gone for her, raising his hand and slapping her sharply across the face.

Her shock was palpable as her cheek reddened and wheels appeared where his fingers had left an imprint across her face.
Her instinct had been to run, to get away from this changed man, this violent stranger whom she felt perhaps she had never really known.

Yet now, two hours later and in unknown countryside she was feeling her resolve fade a little. Yes, she had to get away but to where and would he follow her? She thought not as there had been no sign of any vehicle all the time she had been walking.

Of course it was now probably well past midnight and here in the depths of the country, traffic at that time was very rare.

She peered hard again into the darkness. She had been so sure there was a light. Yet now all she could see was the eerie outline of trees and hedges closer to her and in the distance just velvety  blackness.

As her shock and hurt produced by Thomas's behaviour began to settle a little new emotions of vulnerability and fear started to take over. She had run out of the house with just her coat, not stopping to grab her bag from the bedroom. So now she had no phone, no lifeline.

The more she thought the more she began to panic. She did not know the road, this was Thomas's patch not hers. If anything should happen no one would know, she could be left there injured or worse.

She tried to pull herself together and think rationally.  There was no moon so she couldn't get an idea of direction although she thought she was heading vaguely for the nearest village.
All she could do was to keep walking in spite of the pain in her feet and trust she would come to somewhere. It was such a long almost straight road though, with no little cross roads and sign posts.

Suddenly she saw that light again - in the distance just for a moment and then gone again.
So it wasn't a house light, probably too late now.  If not that what else. Who would be around with a light at this time. Someone up to no good she assumed and with no comfort or hope of rescue. It was perhaps important that she wasn't seen by whoever this was.

Now she kept her ears peeled as well to catch any sound of who this might be as she walked inevitably closer.
This was so out of her usual day to day life as an office worker with everything ordered and predictable. The outdoor life had never appealed to her and she had no skills or experience to cope with this. Now she just felt very alone, vulnerable and more and more scared. She regretted rushing off as she had,even though it seems the obvious thing to do at the time.

It occurred to her that Thomas had made no effort to come after her even knowing that she would be completely lost and terrified when she failed to find any signs of life in the surrounding countryside. How could he be so callous? Obviously another trait of his personality she had not recognised or he'd kept well hidden.

She was gradually aware that she needed the loo.  She'd been putting it off but now she must do something. Even with no one around old habits and conventions instilled from early life made her search for a bush just off the road for some privacy.

As she pulled back the undergrowth a harsh whisper came to her from further in the trees. 'Hey! What are you doing?!'  Shocked and embarrassed she had no time to answer before she heard ' mind where you tread'
Talking into the trees she whispered back 'who are you ?'
A hundred possibilities instantly ran through her head - all terrifying.
'Badger watching - are you from the other lot?'

Relief flooded every fibre of her being.

' No, I'm just completely lost and alone, it's a long story.'

'Yes, well no time for that now, just tread carefully around the sett. I'll light your way for a moment.'

In the momentary light, she saw a young man, not much older than herself,  well wrapped up and camouflaged.
He glanced at her and gestured to sit by him.

'Probably not much more chance of seeing anything now you've disturbed them.'

'I'm so sorry' she said.

'Yes, well, I was getting a bit cold anyway - thinking of turning in soon' Where were you heading for - if it's on my way I'll give you a lift'

'I'm afraid it won't be on your way but I'd really appreciate a lift to anywhere warm.'

'Ok.. wait there and I'll collect my gear'

She watched as he carefully collected all his equipment.
What a strange thing that this young man, enjoying the antics of the badgers should have been that light in the distance.

There is no end to the ways one can meet one's soulmate!

Annemarie's contribution:

The Light in the Distance
I watched the four of them put on their coats, gloves and boots. I was pretty sure they would leave me at home and sure enough I was told to stay behind. After they had set off in the cold January winds I let myself out and followed at a distance. The blue skies were bathed in a late afternoon copper glow, the ground icy cold and crunchy underfoot as I dodged behind bushes and trees, getting sprinkled with the frosty icing from their leaf-bare branches.
I was never allowed into the forest on my own or with them - too far they said - but I was determined to see where they went this time and the forest was close to home so I shouldn't have any problem finding my way. After all boys are meant to have adventures!
It was quite easy following them because like all adults they were talking all the time and now and then casually cracking dry branches under their boots or crying out when one of them caught themselves on a stray prickly bramble.
The further into the forest, the darker it became. The low bushes, honeysuckle, hornbeam and varied undergrowth below the oak and beech trees gave way to a soft dry mattress of pine needles and a dense, dark covering of gloomy green pine trees the only hint of colour in the black and white of winteriness. I couldn't hear them so well now; I was sometimes running, sometimes hiding and then the forest road split two ways. Panicking I chose the wider track. It was patch worked with deep muddy puddles and soon i was covered in cold, sticky mud. Evening was creeping in - I stopped and listened - which way had they gone? I had no idea – I had lost them! Suddenly the ominous silence was broken by a trundling roar as a dirty, mud spattered 4x4 rumbled round the corner. In terror I turned round and raced down the road chased by the 4x4.                               I could feel my heart pumping, I knew I was panting loudly, gasping for breath but I managed to veer to one side, in amongst the army of towering trunks of fir tree. Perhaps it wasn't a hunter but some evil guy who preyed on children. I stayed cowering for many minutes; once or twice I thought I heard someone calling out faintly in the distance. But who? It might be him trying to entice me. It was impossible to tell as the sounds were so muffled in the steadily darkening forest. I realised I had no idea anymore which way was home and my heart was still pounding. Perhaps I should just rest up for while against the dry hollow of a tree. I must have dozed off because Iwas awoken by a steady drizzle of rain. My legs ached and I was drenched through and then I heard ominous grunts close by. Frozen against the tree I saw -and smelt -a family of wild boar picking their way through the scrub, snuffling and snorting as they riffled through the leaves and snouted up the earth looking for acorns. I had never seen a real boar before and the male looked terrifying, huge tusks glinting in the dying evening light. When it felt safe I painstakingly picked my way through the pine needles, brambles and muddy paths.
I was completely lost, I tried different paths; threatening shapes appeared in the gloom and I still had no idea which way was home. Then, cutting through the dark silence and the fearsome cold I imagined I heard a tinkling sound .I had been very brave setting out but now I jumped at every sound, an owl hooting from its lofty perch, some deers lightly tiptoeing across a clearing and any amount of scuffling and scrunching amongst the dry crispy leaves on the ground.
It must have been at least four hours since the near miss with the 4x4 , it was pitch dark, misty and no moonless and all I could do was try and find the source of the faint tinkling sound which had a vague familiarity about it.. My legs were tired, wet and claggy with mud, my heart still pattering away as gradually I left the forest behind and came to open fields. Then again I heard that clanking noise and glimpsed a light in the distance. I waited hidden behind a large wooden farm gate watching as the wavering light grew nearer. Every now and again it was motionless and I heard the clanking again and - was that my name being called? The light closed in, it was a bicycle ridden by a man who stopped to tap against a tin and yes he had called 'Barney'!
He picked me up, my fur wet, soggy and muddy, my little heart still beating fast, he hunkered me inside his jacket and we wobbled our weary way home in the dark.
Now when they go for a walk I stop at the gate and watch and wait until they come home - no more forest adventures for this cat!

 Contribution by Jackie:
The Light in the Distance
The bloodstain spread its hungry red fingers in and out of the loosely woven linen fibers of Captain Richards freshly ironed cream shirt.  It lay under him now like a crumpled teacloth that had seen the back of crystal glass.  The Captain's hat lay soaked by the heavy swell that crashed regularly on deck sending spray and seaweed onto his once highly polished shoes now scuffed and dirtied.

Joe the 1st officer bent over the figure and showed no guilty remorse nor distress but a feeling of relief.     Soon the boat would be his to govern as he liked, the five young matelots would be under his charge and he would be in control at long last.  Wasn’t it a well know fact that 1st officer always inherited a position from a Captain.
He would be able to choose his cargo from now on, order his own supplies choose the sea route that they would take and stop at as many ports on their way - spend three days on land instead of just 24 hours, drink to his hearts content - bring on board his female conquests to romp and play, sleep late in the mornings without the strict rules that Captain Richards imposed on his crew.  

After three long months at sea conflicts had arisen between the two men, one man devoted to his family, his beloved young wife who he had married late in life due to his influential job as Captain of the Cargo ship “Lulling of the Seas”  sailing  from one end of the earth to the other forcing him to see his family only once every 3 months;  On the other hand the 1st officer was a young man alone in the world with no family,  few scruples and a tendency to drown himself in the bosoms of the girls hanging round sea ports, drinking tequila and brandy to escape his hapless past.

1st officer Joe had known that the Captain was particularly keen on arriving home early in March for his son Gregory’s second birthday.   Born while they had been at sea the Captain was particularly anxious to get back for this special date having missed his son’s 1st birthday.   Photos sent by Theresa his wife showed a very alert young boy with bright blue eyes and a tuft of ginger hair that the Captain longed to ruffle, hug and hear the words Dada for the first time. He had promised Gregory to be home for the party this year and had therefore shortened the home route cutting out port stops, reducing time spent on land therefore not allowing 1st Officer Joe and crew to stop for more than 12 hours at a time and thus limiting access to his favourite pastimes which he, Joe, begrudged the Captain.  Conflicts had been raised, jealously developed and exploded into a deep loathing, fighting rage and eventually to the crime that had just been committed.    

  These last weeks as tropical storms, a hurricane in the Gulf Pacific had prevented them from travelling their normal speed - then slowed by a broken mast and then a large unknown obstacle that had severely hit the bows - time had been running out.    

 Captain Richards 46 year old body was splayed in an unhappy position,  belly down and legs awry rolling from one side of the deck to the other in rhythm to the dark grey swell of the angry sea.    Slowly then and bit by bit an arm moved to wipe away the salt that had formed on his lips Captain Richards gradually came too, lifted his head, focused his eyes and peered through the foggy cloud caused by the pain and gash in his side - they were approaching the shore and he could see two lone figures standing on the seacoast - a female figure, long red hair blowing in the breeze with a small boy by her side holding a lantern - Captain Richards heart lifted and soared at the sight;   the gash in his side tightened and sent a searing pain through his body - he could still feel the cold steel of the knife that 1st officer Joe had plunged into his body -the surprise and shock had weakened him and he felt betrayed and disappointment all at the same time;   fighting against the throbbing and almost fainting with distress he managed to lift himself up off the deck - raise a hand to that light in the distance, to his family who awaited him and love spilled over the deck and rolled towards the shore in a last surge of emotion.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Moment of Truth - Burgundy writing group by Annemarie W.

The Moment of Truth.
She had known the two boys since childhood. They had lived in the same street, played together as children and attended the same primary school. The three families had holidayed together, spent endless summers barbecuing and playing in each other's homes. David and Jansen treated Katy like a kid sister. She, being an only child, hero-worshipped both of them. But it was always David who waited for her as she dragged behind on their walks, who encouraged her to be brave, to learn to swim, who ran alongside holding her bike until she was courageous enough to allow him to let go, whilst Jansen dived off the highest board, wheeled down the steepest inclines, showing off his derring-do and prowess. At primary school the three of them spent break time together, both Katy and David protecting Jansen when the other children teased him about his strange hand, the only apparent defect in his handsome young person. Born with a webbed left hand he was teased at school, the other children taunting him and calling him ‘the 'man from Atlantis '.
When Katy was fifteen, her father was posted overseas and the family moved to Hong Kong. David, as a parting gift gave her a snowstorm souvenir of the Tower of London. 'Look at this, give it a shake and remember your friends in the cold snow of a London winter while you sun yourself out there.'
In the intervening years their lives were very different. Katy graduated in marine science, working in various tropical countries, enjoying life to the full; David and Jansen on the other hand had remained in Britain both of them going on to medical school and graduating as doctors, David in obstetrics and Jansen in heart surgery, still in London but at different hospitals. The three of them kept in touch, postcards of sunshine and sea from Katy and now and again a Christmas letter from the boys. Of course when Facebook emerged it was so much easier to share their lives. Viewing their posts, seeing photos of them both, Katy would pick up the little souvenir snowstorm of London, now very scratched and give it a shake and gaze at the snow falling over Tower bridge. She felt a longing for the nostalgic days of her time in England and to see her two old friends.
She arranged a six month sabbatical and arrived on a dreary afternoon in London, her first visit back in the ten years since leaving. She rented a flat near Highgate and it wasn't long before she met up with David and Jansen. Just as she remembered them but Jansen taller, better-looking, if she were honest, than the quieter David. Like many young doctors they worked hard and partied hard and the three of them enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle. Extreme sports, wild swimming and fast drives in his flashy Alfa Romeo, his hands engulfed in his specially made leather driving gloves to accommodate his webbed hand, Jansen was always the life and soul of any adventure. However it was David who stole Katy's heart. He took her to concerts and art galleries, weekends for wind blown walks in the country and quiet evenings in hidden restaurants, and it was not long before she realised her childhood hero-worship had turned into something deep and enduring. Occasionally Jansen joined them on their excursions, always adding an element of excitement and joke de vivre and usually with yet another beautiful girl hanging on his arm.
Jacking in her job, Katy and David planned a simple wedding - close friends and family only, Jansen their best man - and they bought a quaint little mews house in London in preparation for their married life together. With a new part-time job as a lecturer at the local college Katy couldn't be happier, renovating the cottage , searching the antique shops for suitable furniture. A week before their wedding she asked Jansen to help set up her surprise for David - a top of the range sound system and antique chair from where he could relax and listen to the music he loved so much.
The bottle of wine which Jansen and Katy drank to celebrate the completion of house and home led to a second bottle and without knowing how it happened the two of them were making love with drunken passion before the glowing fire, snow falling silently outside.
Now here she was, married, she and David ecstatically happy apart from those dark moments when Katy suffered such pangs of remorse and shame. She and Jansen had vowed never to mention that evening again, not to each other nor to David. Whatever could have possessed her? Euphoria over finishing the cottage, her surprise for David and then, a moment of absolute stupidity after the wine-fuelled celebration? It could not be allowed to threaten their happiness or the men's lifelong friendship.She looked again at the snowstorm souvenir but could not bear to see it shaken, reminding her as it did of that evening of traitorous lunacy and the snow falling silently outside.
David stayed with her during the birth, not an arduous labour but so comforting to have him there clutching her hand and gently encouraging her. Their baby would complete their perfect little world. A cry and here he was. Cleaned and swaddled in a little white sheet the nurse presented the wrinkled little being to his proud parents. Like all new parents they unwrapped the sheet and  counted his ten little toes and on to his hands. Yes all present.
 Then David gazed at Katy in disbelief and back again at the baby's webbed left hand.