The Meeting

(written some time ago, almost cringeworthy to reread but there’s a good idea hiding in here somewhere.)

I met the girl at the market near the church, the one off Rosemund Street.

The moment I saw her I knew she was special: black hair blanketing shoulders and cascading dark caresses over a slender spine, mascara-rimmed Cleopatra eyes magnifying her magnetism. When our stares reflected, cherub-chiselled lips split into a shy smile. Her washed out black dress shimmied in the breeze, too thin in the November air.

I often gazed at the girls around the market, the ones about my age, longing to talk, to fracture my monotonous loneliness. Complications would arise however, if we became friends, revealing revelations shattering the glass-thin sheen of new acquaintance.

This girl though I couldn’t turn away from. I gazed down at my shoes and blushed. When I looked up, she was there: finger-tipping close, skin a pale-white contrast to that bleak outfit , heart-capturing eyes burrowing, reading my mind, perceiving a pandemonium  of confusion.

‘Hello,’ she said.

I wanted to turn and run. But her eyes impaled me on Love’s unrelinquishing barb.

‘Hi?’ she said. ‘Not seen you here before. You new to the town?’

I unearthed my voice.

‘No, been here quite a while. You?’
‘Same.’

I stuffed my hands into my jacket for fear of appearing the fool with twitching fingers. For an eternity-lasting ten minutes we created conversation, my monosyllabic replies to numerous questions seeming to dishearten her not at all.

We wandered around the tables, her pointing at objects she liked, I nodding mutely. Only fingers jangled in my pockets, no coin to purchase with, and cursing the absurdity of my situation, I made nods and smiles my currency of devotion.

The sun lowered in the sky, the stall holders packed away, we agreed to meet the following day, although I said I wasn’t sure I could make it.

The market being for one day only, we named places we both might know.

She suggested the graveyard nearby. I sighed acceptance.

She suggested the large headstone in the middle. I said I knew it well, it had the name ‘Moore’ engraved on one side.

She said we should walk past now just to be sure. And we did. We stood by the pillar of stone, a cold monument to a once warm human. She smiled and my heart smiled back.

‘Bye, then’, she whispered, ‘See you tomorrow.’

I watched her dwindle and disappear into the distance, swallowed up on the horizon by trees lining the footpath. Turning back past the headstone, I walked along to the neighbouring grave, onto the grey-gravelled rectangle, laid down, and faded back into my eternal rest.

 

I was late. I wasn’t going to show at all, trepidation threatening victory over yearning.

She was there before me, drifting dreamily among dismantled bouquets for the deceased.

I looked down, embarrassed by my tardiness. Her hands, encased in lace mittens, ephemerally traced nearby engraved epitaphs. A black scarf lay snaked around her shoulders, barrier to the decaying air of grey, autumnal days.

‘So, you came?’

‘Sorry I wasn’t here. I was distracted, by decisions.’

‘Shall we walk together?’

We strolled back to where the bustling market existed yesterday. Now it was quiet; infrequent individuals entering the diminishing row of dimly-lit shops, with listless lights whispering in dirt-smudged windows, desperate to dispel the inveigling gloom.

Meandering like congruent rivers round narrow streets, we talked, or she did, while I muttered plain replies, overcome by her beatified beauty, and her earthly friendliness. Once more my lack of discourse seemingly troubled her nought and as I glimpsed her eyes, her lips, her face, her soul, my heart craved to speak apposite phrases of affection.

By happenstance we found ourselves returned to the graveyard, and the monument.

She faced me.

‘Maybe we can do this again. Soon?’

‘Yes. That would be…nice.’

‘So, maybe tomorrow. The same time, the same place?’

‘Huh ah.’

The girl turned and wandered away towards the tall tremulous trees at the far extreme of the graveyard. I watched her slight shape disappearing, my aching heart wishing to wander beside hers.

 

We met again. And a multitude of agains. Each walk longer, each conversation an embryonic dialogue. I became settled in her company, comfortable in her presence. And each time, as I sank back into my resting place, I wished death did not have to be so lonely.

 

One frosty morning the girl did not appear.

I was distraught. I searched around the graveyard, retraced my steps countless times, yet no sign was there of the black dressed vision.

As dusk descended I trudged towards my grave. A figure moved out from behind  Moore’s headstone. My heart leapt alive.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I had a choice to make.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’ve made it now. Would you like to come and visit my home?’

Her reappearance had created me lightheaded and giddy. Yet now, should I go with her? Uncomfortable situations would arise; her parents inquisitive, my answers inadequate.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said.

So we walked along the path, towards the trees where I heartbreakingly lost  her each day. On we went, nearly to the gates at the end of the cemetery where my world must surely come tumbling down.

I found I was walking by myself. I stopped and turned. The girl was stood motionless, looking at me.

‘I know about you,’ she said.

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?

‘Eternity is a lonely place, don’t you think?’ she said.

She raised her right hand and offered it to me.

‘Come.’

Our hands held, the girl stepped back onto a grave, gazing at my questioning eyes.

‘Be with me.’

Her legs faded into the earth.

And we lay back, growing fainter, smiling together.

Together for eternity.

 

 

 

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Wow.

Oh wow.

Long time since a book made me say that.

I found The Essex Serpent on Waterstones’ Clearance shelf about two weeks ago. I remembered the title from The Times’ bestseller lists earlier in the year and the cover and inside blurb suggested it was worth the £8 investment.

What a buy.

It’s about relationships, and love in particular. Tell me that prior to reading the book and I might not even have started it. But the blurb mentioned the story was set in the 1890s and the cover, a mix of gold, black and blue swirling flowers caught my imagination.

And after just a few pages the writing style absolutely caught me.

Thomas Hardy came to mind with the vivid descriptions of the countryside, in this case the Essex countryside around the Blackwater area. The writing is quite mesmeric, and having played around with different styles myself, I found the language hypnotic. The characters too are memorably drawn and developed, with the story having a third person POV but giving us an insight into everyone’s feelings too. This might break some rules somewhere but, heck, it works.

It’s interesting that when I came to read the book I had forgotten about the blurb mention of 1893 and I couldn’t quite get a finger on what year it was meant to be set in, I felt it was late Victorian but the lack of any further mention of a date left me in a haze – rather like the story itself, the descriptions of the surroundings and changing seasons making me feel I was almost in another world or in some place frozen in time, that’s the dizzying effect the writing style and the story had on me. Wonderfully intoxicating.

It’s one of those books which you want never to put down yet at the same time never to finish. The main story line of Cora and William is just one which you fear isn’t going to end the way you wish. But I think the author handled that aspect very well. No spoilers here.

I was quite surprised how young the author seems from her back flyleaf description and photo, the understanding of relationships and the perception of Nature suggested a more experienced writer. This, I believe, is only Sarah Perry’s second book.

It’s also one of those books which I think will survive a second reading, and why not more. The countryside descriptions in themselves are worth a revisit and study.

There’s a potential movie here surely or a TV short series.

Right, I’m heading back to that Clearance shelf in Waterstones…

 

 

Holiday romance

(written recently in response to a Writers Group prompt)

 

Kurt shaded his eyes from the Miami sun, the noise of happy children and swishing waves washing around his ears. A teenager trudged by, feet surfing the shiny sand, ears wrapped with wires, face hypnotized by the tiny screen he clutched. A tinny voice escaped into the air. Kurt raised an eyebrow. Who was that high pitched boy called? Bieber? Yeah, Justin Bieber. Huh, not bad for an old guy.

The kid disappeared among crowds of families and youngsters. Kurt sighed. Guess he’d been no better at that age. A transistor glued to his hand, the Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ USA’ driving his parents to distraction as they tried to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Ah, Sunny Isles Beach. In a way it hadn’t changed since he came here with his ma and pa back in ’63. ‘Cept the beachside condos which had sprung up, of course. But the sand and the sea, they were same. And they brought back memories.

Memories of her.

Darlene Geller.

Kurt closed his eyes, felt the warmth of the sun, heard the swish-swash of the waves, and in his head saw long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, a skin smooth and light tanned, eyes blue and alive with life, and a giggle to churn any teenage boy’s stomach.

Darlene Geller.

He’d first seen her by the ice cream truck as he eyed up a Bomb Pop being served to the kid in front. The cherry, lime and blue raspberry had suddenly lost interest to him. Instead he’d stared, mouth open, tongue hanging, at the something actually more deserving of his worship. The girl had been playing hide and seek with her younger brother, and had stepped out from behind the truck inches from Kurt.

‘Hey.’

That’d been his opening line.

‘Hey.’

He remembered going over that word all evening as ma and pa dozed deep at the restaurant table. What a dumb ass thing to say.

‘Hey.’

And bee-stung lips opposite him had replied.

‘Hey yourself.’

What did that mean? He can remember worrying all night about it, tossing and rolling in that bone hard bed in the hotel. Did she mean ‘Go away’, or ‘Hey, let’s talk’, or what?

The man in the ice cream truck had cut in, demanded with his tired, irritable voice what Kurt wanted. By the time Kurt looked back the girl was gone. Forever?

No, he’d seen her again the next day, when he went to hire a bicycle. She was going round and round in circles on a green Schwinn American. He’d handed a dollar bill over to the hire shop assistant, his eyes fixed on the green bike, too shy to stare at the rider.

‘You wanna take a girl’s cycle, sonny?’

The lanky assistant smiled down at Kurt, a matchstick waving lazy from his lips and a knowing look in his glance.

Kurt had grabbed the first bicycle from the rack and hurtled off down the track. As he’d come to the sand he’d determined to go back and speak to the girl. But he’d jammed the brakes on too fast, spun in a sand cloud of panic and had ended up on his butt with the bike across his legs.

‘You never ridden a bicycle before?’

Kurt had looked up. That face, haloed by blond hair, had appeared to float in the blue perfect sky.

‘Heck, course, just, just practising a trick I been working on. Pretty dangerous one too.’

Kurt’s cheeks had matched the red color of his check shirt. He’d tried not to cough with the sand and dust coating his hair and neck.

The girl had adjusted her feet on the pedals.

‘Well, you gonna simply stay there on the ground or you wanna come for a ride? My mom says I can go as far as the pier.’

‘What? Yeah, hey, let me…’

But she was gone, pedalling off along the beach like a Hollywood movie star, t-shirt billowing in the breeze, hair floating like a scarf behind her. Kurt had jumped up, thrown himself onto a saddle twisted and bent and had set off on an adventure to who cared where.

And that’s how it had started.

For the next two weeks they’d done everything together: swum in the sea, buried each other’s brothers in the sand, eaten hot dogs with mustard slow dripping, listed top ten songs and singers, argued over the coolest TV shows, and smoked Luckies behind parked up ice cream trucks late into the evening.

Best of all had been the times just lying on the hot beach, side by side, being fritter fried by the sun for hours on end, talking about their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their secrets. Kurt had felt like he’d found the other half of himself.

Then, like any novel or movie, the end scene had arrived. Cases had been packed, shoes emptied of sand, souvenirs forced into groaning cars, handshakes and backslaps exchanged between grown-ups.

And Darlene had written her address on Kurt’s arm in green biro.

And he’d really meant to copy it into his diary, the little one he kept in secret with poetic scribblings and dark, depressive forebodings of a Cold War exploding hot. He really had meant to.

Kurt had slept solid all the way home to Boston, gone straight to the washroom and, well, you can guess what had happened. Shucks, he’d said to himself later in his bedroom, he thought he could remember the address, he hoped he could, at least part of it. He’d written down the words on an envelope, scribbled a note, his fingers trembling as he inked the letters of ‘Darlene’, and sent it off, promising silently to a God he didn’t believe in he’d go to church every Sunday if only the Lord would help the mailman deliver the letter safe.

 

Kurt stirred. It was time to wake up from his dream of decades past. His stomach rumbled hungry messages. Gee, he realized, he’d been sitting here on the beach for an hour, reliving that holiday, revisiting Darlene Geller.

A body shifted next to him.

‘Come on, Kurt, let’s get back, the grandkids are Skyping us at seven.’

‘Sure, leave the ice box to me, you take the towels, Darlene.’