Grand Grandparents

Knowing I had a few weeks of summer left, before the new semester started, I took a week to visit both of my grandparents. My Grandpa, Old Tin Boot (that’s what we call him – it’s a long story) lives far up north whilst my Grandma, dear Milly, lives on the south coast. Since I had spent two weeks on the surf and sand, it made sense to visit Grandma first. It had been quite some time.

Grandma is one tough granny. I don’t think she’s a malicious bone in her body but she’s notorious for her temper. She throws horrendous threats to the squirrels that help themselves to the grains in the bird feeder and she conjures horrific insults to the postman who wedges her parcels through the letterbox, crumpling every order into a misshaped cardboard polygon. But it never went more than that, and her slurs were never within an earshot of another person. Except for us, of course, but we’re family.

I asked her a question. I asked why her and Grandpa split, back in 1943.

“I’ll tell you, but only once,” she said. Her cigarette flapped on her bottom lip with each syllable like a tiny, glowing maggot. “Your grandfather and I weren’t made for each other. We never should have been together. I’m not sure why we ever married. Now, we shall never speak of it again.” That was that, apparently. It was rather the taboo subject, to talk about their past relationship. Mother told me never to mention it. Grandma never spoke of it before, and any questions were quickly shut off. However, I had caught her on a good day, for she told me that much, and that’s the most I ever knew.

Grandma’s a great cook, and she’s aggressive with her preparation. When she dices, the blade hits the cutting board fast and hard. That poor onion, it shrunk so fast and seemed to melt under the metal. After she scooped the lot into the pan, she began rapidly slicing the bell peppers. The knife, held tight in her old hand, went through the orange and red flesh with ease, producing sharp slithers that rocked on the wood when freed from the body. The rib shavings and seeds flew out either side as if they were spewed from a combine-harvester, some hitting the floor in tiny tings. Her cuisine never met her hygiene, as the food was garnished with her tobacco smoke; I didn’t look forward to tasting it later.

While I wasn’t entirely sure what she was preparing us both in terms of food, she made herself very clear in her words, repeating three times “We were too different.”

She hadn’t seen Grandpa for fifty years, never heard from him, never spoke to him. They met, they married, they gave birth to my mother, and split. Some relationships aren’t meant to be, and I’ve grown quite content with that fact. Better to have two happy people, separated, than argument-fuelled, polar opposite parents who can’t stand to be in the same room as each other.

Grandpa, on the other hand, was calm. I don’t think he’s ever raised his voice, let alone shown any signs of anger. The Thompson boys threw a brick through his window and he only mustered a shrug. It’s not healthy to be so calm all the time. Frustration builds in anyone, it must. I found it hard to believe, how he was. When I saw him two days later, he spoke the same words. We were down at his allotment, picking green beans and courgettes, spring onions and beetroot, when he told be about his past. “Your grandmother and I, it was a mistake for us to be together. We are grateful for your mother, of course, but that’s that. No more questions, youth.”

Not either of them wanted to talk about it. Looking back, I know it’s only fair. It ruptures my gut thinking about my past partners. No good came from it, and I regret I let curiosity find its way to asking them both the same question. I should have listened to mother. Nothing came from it. It didn’t matter.

Despite their differences they so adamantly proclaimed, I loved the small similarities. They both had this ruthless nature with food. Grandpa was tossing the beetroot into the wheelbarrow. The bulbs bounced in and around the metal with harsh thuds. He ripped the spring onions straight out of the ground with full fists of dirt and slung them over his head, not caring where they landed. Whichever green beans weren’t ready, he picked them anyway and dropped them into a pile on the woodchip path. Just like Grandma with her slicing and dicing, commanding the vegetables to uniform and submit to the blade, telling them where to go. When they rolled, she clawed them back, held them down, and split them into halves, into quarters, into eighths.

After spending a lovely day with them, they both had this gentle side that bloomed, just once, in our short time together. Grandma was extremely delicate with the parsley. She gently chopped it with kind, soft, silent strokes as she grouped it with her fingertips and thumb. She lightly lifted the pieces, cupping them in the palm of her hand, and sprinkled them onto supper. Grandpa, on his hands and knees, nimbly picked his spinach leaves as if they were egg shells, and placed them into the hand basket. After, he neatly nourished the naked stems with cool water whilst singing an old blues song, one I can’t now remember. They turned to me, and despite not having seen each other for half a century, they shared the same advice. It’s as if they both said it at the same time. “Be careful with the greens, they easily bruise.”

We won a competition!

Our short story, We Were Kidshas been selected as the winning piece for Murder&Glut’s The Gauntlet #2 Competition!

A massive thanks to their team for hosting the contest. It was a lot of fun to write for and the news has really made our Friday. They’ve always got great content throughout the week and we definitely recommend them. They’re a lovely bunch!

Our friend, teapotsforelephants, illustrated a picture for us, too. Thank you very much!

Life in Season – Winter

Life in Season – Winter is the final part of a four part series. Please click here for part one, here for part two and here for part three. Thank you so much to anyone who made it this far. We hope you enjoy it!

——————

It was an earliest memory of yours, siphoning through the fine grass and trying to find a four-leafed clover. Father knelt with you, brushing his fingers between the narrow leaves, scanning the ground on his hands and knees. The Smith Woods, neighbouring the turf, stood tall, lovely, dark and deep. Together, you trekked into the heart of the woodland, as far from the buildings and factories as you could get. You washed your feet in the cool streams and soaked in the tranquility and silence. That’s when Father told you about nature. He described it as everything and anything. If it was green and growing, that’s nature. The river runs and the rain falls, that’s nature. The sun shines and the moon glows, that’s nature. “The seed of the Romantics,” he said, “From the farthest of stars to us, right here, on Earth.”

Billy flicked his cigarette into the dirt. He pulled another out of his pocket, offered you one, but you declined. “It’s not all I thought it would be,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left. There’s nothing to it. You work, you get paid. You work, you get paid. Just the same thing, over and over, and then you die. That’s not a life. I wanna travel, you know? Tour the world. Hike some mountains and shit, all of that. I could – I could go and meet a monk, and then he could teach me his monk ways. Then, I could shave my head and presto – I’d be a monk!” Billy laughed to himself, hard and long, while you could only muster a small smile. It was different, everything was, and it was only then you realised. The Towdown Hills weren’t rolling greens, but mud and marsh, speckled with tree stubs. The Smith Woods were gone, every bush and every branch, levelled out and flattened with concrete for the retail parking lot. Billy Ross, the spice of life, was telling his jokes, telling his stories, but you couldn’t relate to it. His flaming ambition never went out while yours was extinguished long ago. Life was fleeting, you thought, and you lost it to the regular life, to the American dream. You hid your ring from Billy, afraid to show you had subscribed to the ordinary. You wanted something new, you wanted what he had: a lust for adventure. Billy was the ticket. “Let’s drink tonight,” he said, “And then let’s go. Come with me.”

At home, Alice was sat by the window. She was reading During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy, and she read it to you when you entered the room. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s so sad but it’s so honest, it’s so true. The spring is fresh, but it must end. The autumn cleanses, but decays. The summer flourishes life, but the winter takes it away. Change is natural.”

Now, I’ve made mistakes in my life, more than I can count on my fingers, on my toes. But it’s all been in an attempt to follow the three most important things in life: love your family, love your friends, forgive yourself. I loved my Father, for all he taught me. I loved my Mother, for her strength. I loved my wife, for her person. Finally, although it took some time, I have forgiven myself for my mistakes.

One mistake I made was listening to my ego back then. I can’t forgive myself for the choices I made that day, so I don’t want to be associated with that person I used to be. What I did was unforgivable. Because of it, I’ve disconnected myself from the past, from that identity. That wasn’t me who rebelled, that wasn’t my anger. That’s not who I am now, instead, that was you. You, in your arrogance, blinded by a life of chaos and anarchy, ignored the words of your dear wife. She asked you not to leave, she pleaded you not to drink, she begged you not to rekindle that old fire but you did it anyway. Something very unnatural stirred, and it changed you. You packed your things and you left. That was the last time you saw Alice Meadows.

You met Billy in the concrete plains of the Smith Wood mall parking lot. You traded swigs from the bourbon bottle as you planned your trip, which countries to go to, which landmarks to see. It had been two years since your last drink, and breaking the seal was a new wave to the beach. Billy threw the empty bottle into the air, and it came crashing down onto a Cadillac. You both laughed and escaped the scene. “I’m hungry for a fight,” he said. You knew just the place.

You recognised every person sat inside the bar, each with the same sullen faces sipping in the smokey haze. A whiskey for you, tequila for Billy. The men stared at him, nosing his studded jacket, his sleeve tattoos, his mohawk mane that nearly brushed the ceiling. The quiet murmurs surrounded you. A quip from the man at the jukebox, which played Frank Sinatra, sparked that flame inside. “You look like a fucking peacock.” The bar laughed, and Billy downed his tequila.

You remembered The Masque of Anarchy. The strength of the words resonated with the alcohol in your blood. It was your calling, why Father had brought it for you. It’s for the pride, it’s for the fight, it’s for the lion inside you. You turned and slugged the man, flooring him instantly, and Billy smashed the glass onto his head. His friends bolted towards you but in two swift hits they were downed as well. In a second, the room erupted, the entire bar rose from their seats, threw down their drinks and threw out their fists, into a barbaric brawl of balding men. Chairs were thrown and broken over backs, the snooker balls were lobbed and smashed the windows, and in the heat, you smacked a cue across a man’s head. His face hit the bar, and then bounced on the wood floor. He cupped his mouth with his hand, trying to catch the teeth that protruded out, crooked and broken, the blood spouting between his fingers. You regretted that in an instant, and knelt to help him.

A thrown eight ball hit the back of your head and you fell, landing onto the broken glass, imbedding itself into your skin. You screamed in pain through dizzy vision, and yelled out as a stool was broken across your legs. You tried to stand but couldn’t feel anything below the waist, your legs bent and battered. Billy was still standing, blocking punches, twisting arms, his feet danced between the fallen drunks who writhed in pain.

One man held his neck and pinned him back against the wall. Billy wrangled against his hold, kicking his legs, pulling at his arm. Unable to free himself, he withdrew a knife from his boot and swung it towards him. The man turned his body to the side, throwing Billy hard onto the floor. He wrenched the blade from his hand and drove it deep into his chest. He bolted for the door, leaving Billy on the ground, gasping. The jukebox began That’s Life, and the sirens began to fill the air. You watched Billy from across the room. His hand, wrapped around the knife, released and fell by his side. His mouth agape, his chest deflating, you watched him take his last breath. The life escaped his eyes. Lost in colour. Slowly fading. Lights out.

 

Life in Season – Summer

Life in Season – Summer is part three of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two. The final chapter will be published next week. We hope you enjoy it!

——————

When you’re alone, it’s hard to believe in love. Whilst it married your neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bran, you had to listen to their arguments every night, which dampened your hopes that it could ever happen to you. The slamming fists, the shattering plates. You knew it was expressed in poetry, in literature, but this never convinced you when the words refused to move your mind, soaked in alcohol and clogged in smoke.

You spent your time at the bar. You drank next to the old men, those who ran the gas stations, the bakeries, the water sewage systems and the polling stations. The fights were a regular thing. Alcohol rings like a wrestling bell in these people and within an hour, you were between two or three men, who were flexing their muscles and throwing curses. You were never first to throw a punch, but when they knocked you off your stool, you fought back. At least once a week, you left the bar nursing your knuckles, with blood on your shirt.

One night, on your way home, you saw two men following a girl. Her steps became rapid as theirs became strides, like vicious, hunting hyenas. Before they wrangled her purse from her hands, you pulled them back. Two blows to the head, one to the gut and a kick to the groin, and they bailed, scampering off into the dark on limping legs. “Thank you,” she said. It was then you were reunited with Alice Meadows and it was then, as you helped her up from the ground, that you found your friend.

She worked in the library, stacking shelves and serving customers. As you sat on the grass of Newland Park together, drinking strawberry milkshakes, she told you how she loved to be among the books. When it was quiet, she’d dive between the aisles, scoop the best stories into her arms and indulge from behind her desk. It was her little world she could escape into.

It was then she thanked you again for saving her that other night. She placed her hand on yours. You were happy to have saved the girl, but you never guessed she would save you.

She took you home one day, and she fed you. She watched television with you, she drank coffee with you. She got you outside, she got you in clean clothes, she got you in clean habits, she got you running on weekends, she helped your posture, she held your head high, she made you laugh, she brightened your mood, she strengthened your spirit, and most importantly, she understood you. She read you like a book when you opened up to her and knew exactly what you needed. She was there for you.

One day, whilst helping you clean your room, she lifted your mattress and found beneath two hidden relics of your past. As she held your Playboys in one hand, your face went red. “You’re still a boy,” she laughed. She picked up The Masque of Anarchy, analysed the cover and began to flick through the pages. You explained to her how your Father gave it to you, and how he explained the meaning behind it when you were confused. You told her that he called you a lion. “You are a lion,” she said, and for the first time, she kissed you.

Before Alice, your life was at a minuetto pace. Tiny steps of bad habits. You thought your life was like stagnant writing. Repetitive stanzas your days, repeating lines your hours, and nights were rounded off with the rhyming couplets of alcohol and tobacco. You were anchored with depression and you had lost the will to live. You felt as if that boulder inside of you was locked in place, unable to move or grow, victim to the erosion of despair. But when Alice pressed her lips against yours, that feeling inside of you dissolved. You shook off the chains like dew and embraced her warmth, her kindness, her love. This was life in season.

You spent your days together. You took walks in the park, you shopped together, you went to the cinema, and you listened to the music from your childhood on rainy days. Every Saturday, you took a blanket to the fields and lay beneath the stars, counting constellations and connecting the dots. “I like it when it’s like this,” she once said, “When it’s still. When it’s calm. When the sun’s gone and the moon has his little moment to shine, to let us all know he’s there.” You returned her smile. “Lights out,” she said.

That summer transformed you. You were healthy, your mind was clear and you felt like you could breathe. With this clarity, you spoke to your mother and apologised, for the things you had done, for the things you had said. While she cried, she understood your anger, your sadness, and how life had been harsh to you. She hugged you for the first time in fifteen years.

On Tuesday, July 18th, you went to pick up some flowers for Alice for her birthday. There’s a florist in town who bundles them together, arranges them in delicate vases, tulips, roses, magnolia. You selected the perfect bunch, each petal fresh and vibrant, each bud rich in colour. On the way home, you stopped by the jewellers and picked up the ring you had chosen months ago.

As you approached the end of your road, you knew life was about to change once again, as you ran your thumb across the ring in your pocket. A person was sat on your doorstep, sporting an olive mohawk with a toothpick grin, and a greaser jacket dotted with metal studs. You recognised him as you got through the gate, that’s when you knew it was true. Billy Ross was back.

Life in Season – Autumn

Life in Season – Autumn is part two of a four part series. Please click here for part one and here for part two.

——————

Your Father rests in Johnson Cemetery, next to his father and his father before him. At the time, death was heavy on your mind, and you too hoped to be buried there, beneath the fresh grass, amongst the daisies and daffodils. Every Tuesday you went down and cleared the autumn leaves from his grave. You spoke to him, told him about the new poets you’d discovered and the new poems you had read. We are Seven, by Wordsworth, was one you studied, hoping it’d help you with the loss; you couldn’t find the strength to subscribe to its optimism, no matter how many times you read it. You were above ground, Father was beneath it.

One night, the Bartholomew kids vandalised the graves, you knew it was them. The joints by the tombstones, the sneaker prints in the dirt. You spent the day picking up empty soda cans, empty beer bottles from the empty, reckless youth. That evening, you followed the eldest one home and threw a stick through the spokes of his bike; he hit the ground hard, the gum flew from his mouth, a tooth bounced into the gutter. You grabbed him by his shirt and threatened him; he shook in fear, he soiled himself and you left him there to weep.

Your mother found out. You knew she would, she had to know where you were, every second of every day. She faced a toothless, limping boy with an angry Mother at her doorstep but they couldn’t force an apology from you. In an attempt to extinguish your anger, she seized control of the house and soon, your life. Overnight, poetry was eradicated. “It’s not good for you,” she said; she threw away your literature. Anything in rhyme or prose was thrown on top of the casserole and beetroot salad you didn’t eat, stomped down by a heeled shoe and hurled into the Sunday garbage truck. You found a cross above your door and a Bible on your bed; it went straight into the bottom drawer. She never found The Masque of Anarchy, hidden underneath your mattress, along with a couple of Playboys, but the house was void of books and art in an attempt to tame your iconoclast persona.

It was a mystery how Father, kind, sweet and gentle, managed to marry this woman. You knew she never liked the way he read to you each night when you were younger, but never thought it would go to this length in his passing. You never accepted her as blood, despite holding the same build, the same eyes, the same frown. You held your atheistic views whilst she had her Christian values running through her veins, five generations thick; they were fierce, they were strict.

You joined the army at the age of eighteen. Whilst sat at the back of the bus on Ronaldson Avenue, your bag between your legs, you saw Alice Meadows sat the on edge of the fountain. Her pink dress made her shine like a flower amongst the hard, concrete buildings. She waved and you waved back. “Goodbye Alice,” you said, through the thin sheet of glass.

You sat next to Patrick Wilson on the journey. He introduced himself;  “I’m Patrick, I’ve got a nervous disorder.” You shook his hand, his sweat coated your palm. He explained that joining the army was the only choice for him. His family had very little money and this was his only future, to fight for his country. You lied and said you had the same reason, but deep down you knew it was to escape your mother and her regime. A lion cannot be caged.

You found your tempo in the rigorous routines. Making beds, cross country runs, weapon assembly, orientation, survival trips in the woodland. You felt as if there were a small stone inside of you and it grew with each drill, with each order, to become a hard, masculine boulder. You were the only one who never flinched when Sergeant Angus spat in your face. His booming voice at the end of the night was oddly calming, and it switched you off. “Lights out, cadets!”

You stuck with Wilson during the training. He admired you, although at the time, you didn’t know. You shared jokes and stories from your childhood. Wilson had it rough, but he never let it get him down. He was cornered by Adam Pear and Edgar Mow down by the creek on a morning run. You fought them off; they never laid a finger on him. The thrill of the fight excited you, throwing punches, blocking fists. That boulder inside you shattered the glass cannons of the young boys. You felt strong, you were strong.

But Wilson feared the world of combat. He kept saying to you he wasn’t ready, that there wasn’t a man to emerge from within, nor would there ever be one. On Christmas day, you found him in the lavatory. Blue face, blue toes. For the first time in his life, Sergeant Angus spoke with kindness and sympathy as he tried to calm your tears and soothe your senses. “I’m sorry, cadet. It’s never easy and it never gets easier. You’ve got all of us with you. We’re a team.” He spoke like Father did; he looked like him, with an anchor moustache in a perfect trapezoid beneath his nose, and emerald eyes. However, his words never repaired your broken shell. Time slowed to an andante pace, and it halted when they couldn’t get you out of bed. You signed the papers, you packed your things, they sent you home.

Your room was different when you returned. The Bible sat on your bedside table, the cross above the door was bigger, and the curtains were a bright beige instead of the juniper you liked. They were horribly thin and let through the sunlight.

You tossed the Bible onto the floor, pulled out a cigarette and you hit the whiskey, hard.

Life in Season – Spring

“The Romantics won us wars,” he once began; the title of the night. It’s a sound you always loved when Father thumbed through the pages, softly humming until he found the right place. He’d quietly clear his throat, look down from his nose, and begin. Percy Shelley was your favourite. It was hard to understand, at times you weren’t sure if it was even English, but you loved it. The way Father read was that of melody, emphasising rhyme and meter, alliteration, pauses, soft couplets, sibilance, speech. “Poetry is music,” he would say as you slowly drifted; it was your calming allegro, your slumber song, your lullaby. A childhood of Romantics.

You kept reading poetry into your teenage years. While weekdays were still topped with literature as you read into the nights, weekends were spent cycling dirt ramps and grass knolls with Billy Ross. Both of you raced across the Towdown hills and through the Smith Woods. Billy always rode faster than you, always made more air time, was always able to wheelie for longer; the king of cycling, or the BMRex you called him. He’d give you bubblegum when you met. “Don’t tell Mom,” you said. You admired his indestructible personality. Billy would arrive from home with bruises and burns but never let it erase his smile, which was often garnished with a toothpick. While it wasn’t something you’d wear, you were jealous of his leather jacket. It turned Billy into a movie star. Sometimes, Alice Meadows and Tiffany Green joined you, when they weren’t doing homework. Billy always made the girls laugh, especially Tiffany, who would rest her head on his shoulder. You saw them holding hands once and it made you happy. Emma admired you; at the time you didn’t know, nor did you understand her flirtatious gestures or what it really meant when she complimented your freckles.

Billy never understood the poetry you tried to share, that was made clear pretty quick. “I’m not books, not me, you know. I don’t get any of that stuff but I’m glad you do. This place needs a smart person.” He rolled cigarettes with his frail fingers and smoked them whilst the spring sun set. His fiery ginger hair glistened and glittered with sweat. After the long days of cycling, you both would ride down to the quadrant. Before he closed up and the night set in, Horace gave you both a Pepsi, free of charge. You never knew why. Together, you sat on the curb and counted pedestrians whilst slowly drinking the fizzy pop.

Billy would walk you home. Mom would be standing outside, her arms folded, her foot tapping, like some classic disgruntled parent. Once inside, you’d watch Billy slowly meander his way back down the street, to one side of the road, then the other. He was never in a rush to get home.

On Saturday, April 16th, you met Billy in the park. He was sat on the bench, his head down and his feet resting on a football. He wore a poppy bruise on his left cheek. “I’m going to Breckenridge tomorrow, to be a mechanic,” he told you. “My cousin’s got a workshop there, makes ten bucks an hour. Says it’s a good life if you don’t mind working hard and business men. There’s room in the car for you.” Your passion for adventure never matched his, nor your bravery. You stayed at home, with your roots, with your family.

“Mom will kill me,” you said.

He was sixteen years old when he left. You thought that was the last time you were going to see him. He gave you his last stick of bubblegum; you saved it.

That night, you read The Masque of Anarchy, the epic poem by Shelley. The politics weren’t clear for you nor communicated but Father afterwards put it simply for your rested mind. He said at times of turmoil, there’s strength in the people, in their numbers. All they have to do is realise it when they come together. You liked that, the idea that people can overcome the odds as a whole. Father laughed at your little analogy, how you said it was like the arcade games.

As your eyes fell heavy and your body relaxed, he stroked your head. You saw his tall frame in the door, his hand on the knob; his pebble moustache sitting beneath his nose; his kind, parakeet eyes looking back at you. “You’re a lion,” he said. “Lights out, kiddo.”


Life in Season – Spring is part one of a four part series. Click here for part two.

I’m 83

I’m 83 – Technology isn’t for everyone.

“I’ll put it bluntly: I can’t keep up with technology. I want to take the pin out between the carriages.”

“I’ll admit, when those first televisions came out, we got one and we loved it. My old man shot down to Jerry’s Electronics and spent our holiday cash on it. Loved every minute of it. It may sound quite sad or grey but I ended up having better memories of watching television in that summer than I would have done exploring the ruins of Athens.”

“Now. My grandkids come over with their new phones – they’ve got these phones and they’re six years old – and they show me all their games. They show me their tablets where you can touch the screen, they show me how they can watch videos and films. It’s all very interesting but I don’t like it. Thom – he lives two doors down – he thinks it’s a new thing.

‘Kids are always glued to a screen with their heads down. They’re missing out on the great outdoors. They’ll be on a car journey or plane and they’re missing out on the scenery and the world passing by because they’ve got their noses down, their faces gazing at a screen!’

“I disagree, you know. With that. I spent most of my life with my nose in a book or a newspaper. I bet Thom did, too. It’s just something different you’re holding in your hand, for a different generation. Doesn’t matter. We’ve had dinner tables of silent guests who just read the paper or did the crossword. That’ll always be around and you still see the world go by.”

“But what I don’t like – what I feel is that this whole technology thing is a like a train. It’s 20 or 40 carriages long, doesn’t matter, but I’m at the back – I’m sat in the last carriage with my books and my pipe and my watch that just tells the time. People at the front are on their big screen phones, wireless ear pieces; they’re the technology masters and they’re at the front of the train.”

“There’s this pressure from my family, my friends and the younger people I work with that I have to move up the carriages, that I have to join them at the front. So, to get onto first carriage, I have to own a television. That’s okay, I enjoy that. The second carriage is a mobile phone, I can handle that. But this pressure to move onto the next carriage and have a laptop, and then the next one and have the more advanced gizmo, it gets to me. I don’t want to. It’s too much.”

“All I want to do is to take the pin out between the carriages. They carry on ahead with their pieces, their gadgets, their technological lives and I’ll just sit back, let my carriage come to a stop and I’ll carry on with my paper that tells me the news, my book that tells me a story and my watch that tells me the time.”

“I bet it’s all brilliant. Having this new world of interaction and virtual realities and that. I bet it’s great. But I’m okay missing out on it. I’ve had my time. I’m 83.”

The Poem That’s Carried My Writing

Nesbit –

There’s a brilliant poem by the 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi, and I’ve found when writing drama, it’s been a go-to point for reminding me how to create an interesting element to a story. I first heard this poem at a gig a few years ago. It was a young man playing his guitar and before his final piece, he recited this poem. Being somewhat intoxicated, I rarely remember phrases let alone poems (and unfortunately cannot remember the artist – he was very good though!) but somehow, in my flooded brain of stout and cider, I was able to keep the poem buoyant and remembered word for word.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about. 
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

This poem has always been a starting ground for conflict in my writing. It’s those first two lines that epitomise how drama can be created, how conflict can erupt out of a piece to make it interesting. That ‘field’ Rumi speaks of is the grey area where our actions, our thoughts, our feelings are hard, if not impossible, to be categorised into good or bad. It’s beyond our ‘ideas,’ our laws, of wrongdoing and rightdoing, beyond what we label good and bad. An example:

Robbing a bank is obviously bad. But stealing only enough for a loaf of bread to feed your poor, cold, starving family? That’s when it gets grey – how do we feel about that?

Lying is generally considered wrong but to lie to someone to protect their feelings? Or from harm? That’s when it gets grey – is that the right thing to do?

Brilliant writing has evolved from a character acting or saying something and then ultimately, it becoming a grey area on whether or not they should have done or said it. The television series Breaking Bad springs to mind where you’re not sure how to feel about White’s actions. You’re conflicted, you’re on the fence about how you feel yet you can completely understand both sides; the like and hate groups for the protagonist (or antagonist!) appear to both make complete sense. It’s how you feel about the character. That’s great drama and it’s great storytelling.

It’s help me overcome a lot of problems in my writing and whenever I’ve been stuck or diagnosed with the classic block, I’ll remind myself of this piece. Where is that field? Who’s in it? What do you need to do to get into the field?

The Drought

“I said goodbye to my Father today. Never got on with the man, to be honest. I probably did, once, when I was younger. Never considered him family. But for raising me up, for the shelter and food, and for my first car, I felt it was necessary to see him and thank him before he signed off.”

“I’m sorry to hear.”

“Left me with some last words.”

“What did he say?”

“You remember where we used to sit under that bridge? We took down big crates of Hollor’s and drank them all, lit up a big fire and tossed the empty bottles into the river? We tried to smash ’em on the far bank? We – we never reached it. Every single one sank. I think we went there every Sunday for seven months. Never missed a single Sunday, not until you had Joey, we stopped doing it after that. You being a dad and all.”

“I remember drinking with you every Sunday, of course.”

“One day, Father told me he could drop me off at the station. I was going up to visit Parker, this was before he got cancer. I agreed, you know, my car was still busted from Marcus slamming his bat into it. On the way, he took me to the bridge instead. Now, this was in ’82, back during the drought. And I knew I was in trouble when I saw the bottom of the river. The mud. The sand. There was a mountain of beer bottles that never got caught in the current. Instead, they were piled against a thick, concrete ridge on the river bed. There were hundreds of them, hundreds. And he knew half, if not more, were finished by myself and then tossed into the river.”

“He parked the car and told me to get out. He took me to the edge, right onto the black spot where our barrel fires scorched the earth, and he spoke to me in a very calm voice. “Remember kid, when I was never home? You were always angry at me. I was paying bills, you know. Paying for your tuition with Mr. Ronald, paying for your piano lessons, paying for you to be social. I paid for you to have occupation in your life so that in your life, you could get an occupation. I gave you the chance to be someone. But all I see now is a river bed. No water, nothing flowing, no current. Just dirt. Don’t come back until this river is full as are you, with talent and prosperity. I’m don’t expect you to.”

“Jesus, that’s quite dramatic. Just for drinking on a Sunday?”

“Every Sunday. He was a hard man. Strict, disciplined type. I still have the scars from sneaking sweets after dinner. ”

“How’d he know we’d been down there?”

“I guess he followed me one night. Probably thought nothing of it at first, kids being kids, underage drinking isn’t the worst thing he could find me doing. But seeing how often we’d done it when the drought kicked in, polluting the river and all, not a happy man afterwards. He probably knew as well we’d pissed into the river whilst drinking them. No respect for nature, as he called it. Anyway, didn’t see him for a week. Then a month. Then 25 years. I knew I’d see him again. I wanted to show him.”

“Show him?”

“That someday I would get an occupation, you know? I would get a job. Get a wife. Have kids. Get bonuses. Get a promotion. Wear a suit, wear a tie, shine my shoes, sit on a fat wallet in my office chair in my skyscraper, go to meetings, pitch ideas, talk business and make jokes by the water cooler. I would get what he prepared me for. I would have the water flowing in that river again.”

“So what did he say when you saw him? His last words?”

“He said, ‘I can still see the riverbed.’ I hate him for it.”

“Why?”

“Because he was right.”