Where The Wild Roses Grow – Part V

2019

The rain falls lightly on Crapo Park, Burlington. The trees, their leaves, seem beaten, reluctant to solidify against the rainfall. A steady late-Spring/early-Summer rain. The kind that can overstay its welcome, stubbornly remaining constant throughout a day. The kind that can derail plans, upend outlooks. The moisture clings doggedly to the grass below. An icy blast of wind occasionally meanders in from the Mississippi River beyond the park’s perimeter.

            The park itself is quiet. A dog-walker ploughs a lone furrow, quickening their step, on the far side of the expanse, their resentment to the situation and conditions matched only by the exuberance and exaltation of the dog itself.

            Tucked away, hundreds of yards or so, beyond the park’s main area, or what would, in kinder weather conditions, be known as its ‘thoroughfare’ of sorts, sits a small clearing by the edge of a dense congregation of trees. Once home to the remains of a derelict, rotting, rusting segment of a rollercoaster – an image, a moment from another time – now the clearing plays host only to a collection of overgrown shrubbery. Grass, weeds, nettles, bushes; all projecting the image of an unkempt entity in dire need of grooming. Now, as in the case of the trees, however their unkemptness is sullied, or dampened down, by the constancy of the rainfall.

            Within the clearing itself, four females gather. All four are dressed conservatively, all four dressed in black. Three of the women huddle together under two umbrellas, one of the women is positioned slightly adrift of the other three. She’s crouched down, seemingly pawing or digging at the ground in front of her.

            ‘I think I’ve got it, you guys.’ Rosa turns to the other three, blinking through the rainfall as it trickles down from her wet hair.

            ‘Don’t be ridiculous Rosa, it’s been twenty years. It’ll be long gone.’ Chloe sniffs. ‘Let’s get going please, it’s freezing out here and…and…just let’s get back.’

            ‘No, I swear,’ says Rosa, ‘look, I remember planting one of those roses with it. Y’know, the pink ones, the wild ones.’

            ‘Can you see that? That can’t have survived all this time?’ Madison asks as she switches the umbrella from one hand to the other, using the liberated hand to brush a strand of hair from her face.

            ‘I think some of it might have.’

            ‘Rosa, c’mon, this is just silly, forget it, please’ says Chloe.

            ‘Chloe, just…just let her, ok.’ Hannah entreats Chloe quietly, placing a hand on her friend’s wrist.

            ‘But…I mean…it’s not…I mean, it won’t bring…it’s…this is helping no…’

            ‘Chloe, please.’ Madison turns. ‘You know this place was important to her. Besides, where you would rather be? Back at that house? The one full of tears, the one full of misery? No, that wasn’t her. At least…at least not the real her.’

            ‘I’d rather be with my wife, Maddie,’ says Chloe. ‘I’d rather be with my wife and my son. I’d rather be with them than be here now, even if it is back at that house. I’d rather be anywhere than here just now, it’s too hard, it’s not…fair…ok, it’s not fair!’

            Hannah puts her arm around Chloe’s waist as tears fall from her friend’s eyes. She hugs into her, a single tear inching its way down her own cheek. Madison switches the umbrella between hands again and reaches out for Chloe’s hand with her own. Her mouth clamps shut, twitching as her eyes well. She turns her face away, all the while gripping hold of Chloe’s hand.

            ‘Guys…’ whispers Rosa, competing quietly with the steady sound of the rain. ‘Guys, look.’

            The other three shuffle over to Rosa slowly, a small mass of black moving as one through the slowly-developing overgrown morass. Hannah takes her arm from Chloe’s waist and grabs onto the umbrella, allowing the latter to wipe her eyes with her hand. They halt at Rosa’s back, towering over their friend. They look down at the sodden earth, past their friend’s mud-stained hands.

            ‘Well I’ll be…’ Madison’s eyes widen.

            ‘Holy shit, it can’t be’ says Hannah.

            Rosa allows herself a smile. ‘I’m pretty sure it is, Han. This feels like the right spot, look the trees are that far away, the dents on the ground just over there where the metal would have been.’

            ‘Crazy.’ Chloe’s face betrays little emotion, her eyes fixed on the ground, staring straight at the very sparse collection of small blackened bones huddled in the hastily-dug crevasse at their feet.

            ‘Well,’ says Madison, shaking her umbrella slightly to free it of rain, ‘that is fucking gross.’

            ‘Same old precious Maddie,’ says Hannah, smiling slightly as she looks at Madison.

            ‘Aww, and let me guess Han, you think it’s cool? Same old quirky, creepy, doesn’t-give-a-shit Hannah, is that it?’

            Hannah laughs a little. ‘No, I wouldn’t say they’re cool. There’s something, I don’t know, poetic or enduring about them. I don’t know. There’s something nice in that they’ve lasted all this time, like us. Through the years. Through all seasons, all weathers etc. Y’know?’

            ‘Wow, ok steady now mademoiselle,’ says Madison. ‘Poetic. Pfft. Paris really has changed you, hasn’t it?’

            ‘Ha. Only in the best ways, Maddie my dear.’

            ‘But we haven’t.’

            The three of them look at Chloe, Rosa bringing herself up to a standing position.

            ‘Sorry Clo?’ says Hannah.

            ‘I said we haven’t. Have we? We haven’t all ‘lasted through the years’ have we?’

            ‘Well no, but I meant more that…’

            ‘Emma didn’t last did she!? That’s why we’re here. We’re here because we, no because I, spent too long trying to ‘do the right thing’, spent too many hours biting my tongue and trying not to fucking say anything when all along we knew he would fucking kill her, didn’t we. Oh, maybe some of you actually didn’t think he was capable of murdering her but we knew he hit her from time to time, didn’t we? We knew he was a psychopath, didn’t we? We knew he was draining the very fucking soul out of our friend didn’t we!? We knew and didn’t do a single thing about it, we knew and yet here we are. She’s gone. So, no we haven’t lasted have we, how the hell can we have ‘lasted’ when we could sit by and watch something like that happen to our best friend? How? HOW!?’

            Chloe turns and walks off, unable to hide the flood of tears streaming angrily down her face. Rosa looks at Hannah and Madison before quickly skipping after her.

            ‘Shit.’ Hannah looks at her feet before looking back up at Madison.

            ‘I know Han.’ Says Madison.

            ‘All I meant was that we…fuck I don’t know what I meant. I just meant us as friends, us as our memories, our friendship has endured, y’know. I don’t know.’

            ‘Has it really though?’

            ‘What’ asks Hannah.

            ‘Our friendship. Has it really ‘endured’ or ‘lasted’ as you say?’

            ‘Well, we’re here. We still talk now and then don’t we, it’s just life finds a way of…happening, y’know.’

            ‘I know it does Han, I’m not getting at you. But seriously, apart from weddings and fu…,’ Madison takes a breath, ‘…and funerals, when do we ever meet up or catch up anymore. Huh?’

            ‘No, I know…but.’

            ‘I mean, when was the last time we were all together? Chloe’s wedding in New York wasn’t it? When was that, four years ago now?’

            ‘I know.’

            ‘And I know life isn’t lived in five, ten, fifteen year segments, it’s what happens in the minutes and hours between the ‘big’ moments, I realise that. But I mean seriously, do we even know each other anymore?’

            ‘Of course we do Maddie, maybe not every day intricacies and details but we still…’

            ‘You didn’t know I’ve moved back to Burlington, did you?’

            ‘Wha…since when? Why?’

            ‘A couple of years now. Back living with my parents. Classy, huh? But see, that’s the thing. That’s not on you Han, don’t think I’m blaming you for that. Or that there should be any blame, anyway. I know you’ve been building your life in France and building a life with Henry…’

            ‘Henri.’

            ‘Henri. See my French accent always was bad, that’s maybe why my arthouse film career never quite took off.’

            Hannah smiles at Madison, thinking to herself that’s another one for her lifelong joke tally.

            ‘Your happy little bohemian Parisian life in, what neighbourhood is it again?’

            ‘Rue Montorgueil…look Maddie that’s not important, I know…’

            ‘No, listen Han. I’m telling you I couldn’t he happier for you. Yeah, I was shocked you left Jack. We all were. But you did what was right for you. You genuinely seem happy, content. You always seemed to be but this 30-something you is happy, content, on a completely new level. I’m happy for you. Really.’

            ‘Thank you. But what is content, I mean true happiness isn’t measured in status or employment, or symbols or, what, I don’t know…’

            ‘I know Han. All I’m trying to say is, yes, there’s love there but we’re all different people. We’re all leading such different lives. Whether it’s you in Paris or Chloe in New York. Or even Rosa. I’ve been back in Iowa for this long and yet this week is the first time I’ve spoken to her since then. I mean, I thought about going to one of her book tour events a few months ago but for some reason I just…it just didn’t seem right. I don’t know why. Probably because I don’t like parading the twice-divorced shitshow car wreck that is my life in front of anyone, let alone my best friends.’

            ‘You’re not a shitshow Maddie.’

            ‘Ha. Well maybe not an all-dazzling, all-sparkling, up-in-lights premiere shitshow perhaps, but I could give a good matinee performance, that’s for sure.’

            Hannah smiles at her again. ‘Your jokes are improving a hell of a lot, that’s something anyway.’

            Madison returns the smile. ‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘that’s something. C’mon.’ She loops her hand through Hannah’s as they hunch together, their umbrellas colliding slightly, and slowly walk over to Rosa and Chloe. The former fully embracing the latter as they kneel on the ground.

            Hannah places her hand gently on Chloe’s shoulder. ‘I’m sorry Clo, I really didn’t mean to…’

            Chloe arches her arm in a triangular shape and reaches back to place her hand on Hannah’s. ‘I know,’ she whispers in a broken voice. ‘It’s just, we should have, I mean we could’ve said…’

            ‘Maybe you’re right,’ says Rosa, ‘but once little Tommy came along I don’t think there was ever any chance that Ems would leave Andy. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.’

            Madison nods her head slowly. ‘Sadly, you’re right I think Rosie.’

            ‘Maybe…’ says Chloe as she slowly starts to stand up, wiping the tears beneath her glasses once again.

            ‘At least he’s going away for a long, long time,’ says Madison, ‘I only wish it were you prosecuting the bastard, Chloe.’

            ‘Ha,’ scoffs Chloe. ‘I don’t think I’d be able to restrain myself in the court room. I mean it’d be satisfying leaping over the dock and scratching the fucker to pieces, but I don’t think he’s worth ruining my career for, do you.’

            ‘Meh, I could think of worse ways of ruining a career,’ Madison smirks knowingly, ‘most of which I’ve probably done, But if worst comes to worst Rosa could always base one of her books on you, couldn’t she, make you into a cult star or something,’

            ‘Now there’s a thought.’ Rosa smiles.

            ‘In fact, why not write a story about the five of us Rosie,’ says Hannah. ‘People love reading fiction that contains flawed and fucked-up characters. What better basis to start with?’

            ‘Apart from herself of course,’ Chloe interjects, blowing her nose quietly with a tissue. ‘Rosa seems to be the least fucked up of the lot of us, these days.’

            ‘Oh yeah,’ laughs Rosa, ‘my high-rolling Des Moines lifestyle really compares with Han’s bohemian Parisian fever dream or your high-powered New York family life or Maddie’s LA adventure. Lucky me.’

            ‘Actually…’ begins Madison.

            ‘No but she’s right,’ interrupts Hannah quickly, placing a hand on Madison’s arm, ‘from where you were to where you are now Rosie…well, we’re all proud of you. I know I am. What is that, ten years sober now?’

            ‘Ten, yep.’

            ‘God, if I had to try ten years sober in Paris I think I’d last about ten hours at most.’

            ‘Try ten minutes in Manhattan’ says Chloe.

            ‘Thanks guys.’ Rosa smiles. ‘But I can assure you, at the risk of ruining this sweet moment, that I’m still just as big a fuck up as I was or as any of you think you are. That’s a fact. Being sober isn’t a magic cure-all. I still get depression. I still think about finishing that walk into the Mississippi at times. Not as much, no, but sometimes. It just makes things a bit…easier. Clearer.’

            ‘Well we’re proud of you all the same’ says Hannah, smiling.

            ‘Thank you.’

            ‘And if you ever have the urge to join Emma in Aspen Grove Cemetery then promise me one thing,’ says Chloe, ‘you promise me that you’ll call me, no matter the time, no matter the place. Call. I don’t care if I’m in bed, if I’m the middle of a case, if I’m shopping, if I’m…whatever the fuck I’m doing…you call.’

            ‘I will. Thank you. But I’ll be fine.’ Rosa steps towards Chloe. The two hug. ‘I promise I’ll be ok.’

            ‘Make sure you are.’ Chloe tightens her arms around Rosa, burying her head into her shoulder.

            ‘Besides,’ says Rosa, giggling slightly, ‘I don’t think Sally would be too pleased if I woke up her and Freddie in the middle of the night would she.’

            ‘Which reminds me,’ says Chloe, withdrawing from Rosa, ‘I’ve left my beautiful, loving wife in a room full of mourners and our two-year-old son. If we stay here any longer I reckon her supply of empathy for me might well run low fairly quickly.’

            ‘Good point. Come to think of it I’d better give Henri a call, he’ll be wanting to know how things are going’ say Hannah.

            ‘Ha.’ Madison chuckles.

            ‘What?’

            ‘No, nothing. Just ‘On-ri’. The way you say his name. It sounds so…well, French. Authentic. You actually sound like you belong in France.’

            ‘Ha. Well you should hear me over there. I still sound like an uneducated American to the rest of them, I bet. They wouldn’t be quick to point that out either.’

            ‘I bet,’ says Madison. ‘Does he know Jack’s here today?’

            ‘He…well, he must…maybe…he would assume…young Madison my dear, a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. He’ll just have to accept things as they are.’

            ‘Isn’t that a line from a film? That ocean part?’ asks Chloe, dabbing at the makeup threatening to break free across her cheekbones.

            ‘Titanic.’ Madison nods. ‘In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve used that in auditions over the years.’

            ‘Oh, well there you are then,’ says Hannah with a sly smile, ‘my philosophising is as good as any high-profile Hollywood writer’s.’

            ‘Yeah, you aren’t wrong there…’ scoffs Madison in a tone built on the foundation of numerous personal recollections. ‘Nice and relevant with your film references aswell Han, what was that, like, 21/22 years ago or something? Classy.’

            ‘I’m glad you agree, ma cherie,’ says Hannah, ‘but as much as I, like any lazy stereotypical Parisian worth their weight in clichés, think there is something romantic about strolling in the rain, the authentically American part of me is saying ‘not so much’. I’m with Chloe, let’s go back shall we.’

            ‘For once Han, I agree with you.’ Madison loops her arm through Hannah’s once again. A move so natural, so telegraphed.

            ‘Yeah, probably for the…in fact, no, wait a minute’ says Rosa, stopping herself before walking back to the scene of the small decades old hand-dug grave. ‘Just one more thing.’

            She reaches into her handbag whilst kicking bits of dirt into the small hole, covering the blackened bones. From her bag she pulls a piece of paper and a flower, flattened. A flattened wild rose. The other three approach.

            ‘What’s that?’ asks Madison.

            Rosa holds up the rose and the funeral notice with Emma’s name and picture on the front. The years ‘1986 – 2019’ inscribed below her beautiful smiling face. The other three well up. Madison and Hannah, on opposite sides of Chloe, both place her hands round the latter’s back. A mixture of tears and rain trickles down Rosa’s face as she nods. Wordless. Silent. Unspoken. Carefully she wraps the flattened wild rose in the funeral notice. She places it in the small grave before delicately shovelling dirt on top of it with her hands. Eventually she stands up, treading the dirt down with her dirt-splattered shoes. She turns and moves towards the other three as the four of them embrace beneath the two umbrellas.

            Quiet sobs fill the air, peppered by the steady rainfall and the sound of violent waves angrily lashing across the nearby Mississippi River.

            ‘Ah shit,’ shouts Rosa suddenly, a look of shock on her face ‘shit Maddie, I’m sorry.’ She looks at her dirt-stained hand and then at the muddy handprint on the back of Madison’s dress. Madison swivels her head slightly, assessing the damage.

            ‘Meh,’ she says, shrugging. ‘Fuck it. Black was never my colour anyway.’

            Rosa’s shock relaxes into a gentle grin as she looks at Madison’s patently unbothered expression. Hannah and Chloe both laugh quietly, taking each other’s hand and slowly caressing the other’s in the process.

            The four women huddle together, two each to one umbrella, as they shuffle, slowly at first and then quickly as the rainfall starts to increase, out of the clearing, through the trees and across the vast expanse of Crapo Park.

Above the park, and despite the rain, a small bird, quite alone and isolated in the world, swings through the air elegantly, visibly enjoying its freedom, carving its imprint onto the late-afternoon skyline.

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Theatre of the Backwards Play

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I drive
backwards through time,
past shops that sold toy cars,
down the hill I could not cycle up.

I see myself outside the chippie
laughing,
then turning up late
for that date that turned sour.

I remember my weekend job for £1 an hour
where those houses are now
and pass the post box where the post office
is no more.

I wonder how,
with the butcher and corner shop lost,
kids could be sent for messages,
missing out on the penny basket

and so I wonder what is the cost,
as I watch from my driving seat,
from my personal theatre that shows
my own backwards play:
the towers of my knocked down school,
the safety barriers of the once open pond,
and the bush that is no longer able to hide
its kissing occupants,
not that it was I who kissed her that day.

The Fairy Glen

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‘Ooh’

Amy felt a twinge announce itself from within her kneecap as she crouched down. One of the many twinges, creaks and aches that seemed to be peppering her body as she edged closer towards the dreaded ‘old age’. She used her hands to steady herself against the ground. The grass was mostly dry now. Only the barest remnants of moisture survived from the morning’s thin blanket of frost. Drying out just in time for another night’s worth of chill, she thought as the light began to fade around her. She completed the manoeuvre, allowing her knees to connect with the earth.

She sighed – a sigh skirting on the outer rim of contentment – and took in the view around her. One that had become increasingly familiar, but no less beguiling, with each time she visited this place. The Fairy Glen in the village of Uig, one of the Isle Of Skye’s most well known, or lesser known (depending on which websites or travel guides one chose to peruse), attractions. Around her the almost-geometrically perfect hills rose and fell, weaving up and down the landscape. Trees, almost all shorn of their leaves, added a slightly macabre decoration. Some at the base of the hills, perched precariously on the edges of ponds, others seemingly stopping for a breath after clambering halfway up the very same hills. It was a strange place. One of beauty. One of peace. A place both bewitching and spiritual, depending on what angle your mind chose to approach it from. A thousand versions and distortions of the same image to a thousand different people. By day, throughout all seasons, even now in Winter, sporadic, isolated groups of – what she’d guessed were – tourists would make their way through the long, winding, single track road to arrive at this place. Abandoning their cars, buses, bikes and whatever else on one of many grassy verges to traipse around the sight. To breath in its wonder, its allure, its peace. But for now, it was just her. Amy. Her alone. It always was at this time of the evening. Everyone else likely curled up in the warmth and safety of their holiday accommodation or deep within the frothy firmament of their second or third drink of the evening in one of the island’s many local establishments.

‘And so it begins…’ she murmured to herself, leaning down to pick up a rock in the process. She lifted her head once again, this time taking in the sight spread out on the ground immediately in front of her.

Rocks. Hundreds of them. Scattered out in various poses. Some clustered in formations, others piled on top of each other, depicting, to all intents and purposes, figures – torsos, arms, heads. In the fading light, in this place of basic isolation, the formations, the figures, could trouble a more delicate soul, their gothic outlines and contorted features ready and willing to twist and turn their way into the darker corners of a mind. But not to Amy. She smiled. Pleased. Pleased at the sight. Pleased of her previous night’s work. Almost sorry that she would have to pick each formation, figure and message apart and begin again anew. But that she would. As she did every night. She shook her head, smiling, discarding the foolish thoughts.

‘At it again I see?’

The voice crept out of the evening air as Amy applied the final rock on a new, fragile, figure. She looked up, her hands slowly withdrawing from the rock in question, careful not to knock it from its perch. No-one. She squinted her eyes into the distance, afraid the light was combining with her own failing eyesight. No-one. A different tactic was required, she decided.

‘Hello? Sorry what?’ she announced to no one or direction in particular.

‘I said, at it again I see?’

A man, a tallish man with a full grey head of hair and thick-rimmed glasses, stepped out from behind a nearby ridge, holding on to the crooked branch of lonely tree as he slowly ushered himself down a slight gradient.

Amy smiled.

‘Oh, it’s only you Alasdair.’ She turned her face back down to the rocks at her feet and continued arranging them, physically formulating the vision in her head onto the soil in front of her.

‘Aye, it’s only me, dear. As always.’

His voice was soft. Calm. At one with the pervading atmosphere of the place. He approached her and stood above her, his hands on his hips.

‘Every night this is Amy, every night. Rain, shine or bloody freezing. Always at it.’

‘That I am, yes. You are correct.’

Her answer was solid but not without warmth. Sure but with no lack of kindness.

‘Well, I for one don’t understand it. But that’s just me.’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘you never did, did you?’ she let out a slight laugh as she continued to smile, arranging the rocks in what appeared to be an elongated curve.

‘You’ll spook some people you know that? Yeah, of course, some of the weirder folk will think its creepy in a ‘good’ way and some of the kids with the more vivid imaginations will genuinely think it’s the fairies that are up to this every night, but the others? You’ll be scaring them Amy, ever think about that?’

‘Oh be quiet Alasdair, you silly old man. It’s the same every night.’ Her smile remained etched on her face as she began to place rocks in a crooked V formation conjoined with the ones already in place.

Alasdair held his hands up.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘like I say, I don’t understand it, but that’s just me.’

‘Look,’ said Amy, beginning another long curved line of rocks, ‘I tell you this every night so I’ll tell you again. And whether you understand it this time or not matters not because I’ll just keep repeating it every night you ask, ok? Look, sometimes I think people like the idea that even though you can’t see them, it’s good to know that people or things are happening and going on without your knowledge. That the world is still ticking despite your own troubles.’ She took a slight intake of breath. ‘That even though you can’t see them you know someone is watching out for you. I know I like it. It’s a…well, it’s a nice feeling, ok? It’s comforting to feel.’

As her words fell silent Amy placed the last rock in place and lifted herself slowly from the ground. That twinge called out once again. This time she gritted her teeth, only slightly skewing that omnipresent smile. She looked down at the formation of rocks arranged on the ground in front of her. A love heart. Strong, solid, robust.

‘What do you think then Alasdair?’ she asked, slowly reaching out her hand behind, clutching for his.

But he was gone. She felt a slight sag in her chest but the smile, as always, remained. She glanced up at the horizon, the darkness further encroaching on the surroundings. She padded at her winter coat tamely as she felt the evening’s chill suddenly creep into her bones.

‘Until tomorrow then, my dear’ she whispered hoarsely as she turned and walked back down the uneven hill towards her small red car parked on the winding road below.

Her small red car that she and her late husband had driven up and down the island on mini adventures throughout their many years together.

Her small red car with the picture of a young Amy and a young Alasdair, fresh-faced and newly married, tucked away in the glove compartment, the two of them kneeling together beside a collection of rocks arranged into the shape of love heart at the very same Fairy Glen in the village of Uig thirty some years earlier.

Helicopter

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

The sound drove into Tracy’s skull. Each thud connecting with her mind, one blunt vibration at a time. Chip, chip, chipping away at the marrow. Burrowing into the inner sanctum of her brain, dispersing grey billowing fragments of fog. They always did. Every single time. Every single time she heard the robust, thudding of a helicopter’s rotor blades she would allow herself to regress to that place. To that time. To that feeling.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

At first the sound had, if anything, brought her hope. A slight promise, the merest hint, of possible salvation. When all hope had seemed lost the sound had reverberated in the air, carrying with it a confidence and an assuredness. One that told her that a conclusion would be found. One that spoke to her in clear and simple terms, cutting through the tentative whispers of maybes and if onlys. Weeding out the hints, clues and doublespeak of the previous search.

But even then that hope had started to fade. Almost as swiftly as it had been rekindled in the first place. At that point those familiar sounds had lost their own sense of hope, their own beacon of confidence, fading and mixing with every other sound, with every other sight, into the murky gloom of despondency.

But she remembered that hope. Even in the end, even after the inevitable conclusion, that feeling of hope had stuck with her.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

Maybe that’s why she had moved there. To the coast. By the river. By that bridge. Something in her mind had chosen to, if not forget then, pull a veil over the obvious connotations inspired by that area. By the bridge. It seemed to choose to fixate on that sense of hope instead. It chose to harken back to that brief moment of promise when all around seemed futile. And so it is entirely possible that that is why Tracy elected to move there. With that unforgiving view. Of the bridge. Of the river.

Her friends, her parents, had pleaded with her not to. They feared the move would place her within the epicentre of her pain. It would thrust her deep into a spiral of depression that she wouldn’t be able to wrestle herself from. But she had insisted. This was her decision. This was the right decision. She had wanted always wanted one of the flats down by the coast. It would bring her closer to it. To him. To his last moments.

And, once she moved in, it had felt like the right decision. It had. Until…

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

Until the first time she’d heard that thudding, hammering sound of the helicopter rotor blades, carving their path through the night sky. She was unprepared for it. It was unexpected. But even that couldn’t account for the sagging feeling she felt in her chest, the destitution burning through her soul as each thud dug into her skull.

It brought it all rushing back. His disappearance. The strew of unanswered texts. The cavalcade of missed calls. The frantic calls to the police, to family members, to friends, to work colleagues, to shopkeepers, to landlords, to barmen, to hotel receptionists, to…everyone. Everyone. The desperation for information, any information. And then when information did start to filter through, of last sightings, of locations, of probabilities, the desperation for none of it to be true. The hopelessness. The pain. The anger. The waiting. Most of all the waiting. And then the knowing. And finally the emptiness. The feeling of having your bones, your intestines, your body literally stripped bare and left exposed for the world to see. A shell, nothing more. Devoid of reason, devoid of clarity, devoid of future.

It had never gone away. It never does, completely. But that sound. That one helicopter sound had brought it all rushing back.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

And then the next night it returned. That sound. Above her building. Heading out to the bridge, circling the river. Searching. Part of her wanted to render the sound as nothing more than an army drill, perhaps. Or a wealthy magnate or celebrity of some sort choosing to be transported in style across the river, without the need to mingle with the riff-raff of the common folk. But she knew that wasn’t the case.

It was the circling. That’s what told her it was different. She would hear the helicopter clumping overhead and disappearing into the distance, its sounds slightly muffled the further away it got. But then it would return. Again and again. Circling the bridge, scouring the river. Searching. Hoping for a rescue but knowing, in all likelihood, it was a salvage operation. And she would know. Know there was another lost soul out there. Know that another had taken the same step her husband had taken. The same leap. The same path.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

And it would happen again and again. The sound. Sometimes weeks would go by without it. A month, even. She would allow herself to be lulled into a false sense of comfort, one of almost serenity. And then it would return. The thud, thud, thudding. Occasionally the sound would thrust out of the silence, digging into her brain, every second night or so. Sometimes on consecutive nights. Another ultimately-fruitless search for another lost soul.

The sound tortured her. Tormented her. She would hear it in her sleep. She would wake up in the dead of night, convinced she could hear it. Unable to fall back asleep, paralysed by the grief and paucity of hope.

At times she believed it to be calling her. Each thud bringing her closer to her own fate. Thud. Thud. Thud. It was calling out to her. Showing her the way. One afternoon she had even started the walk. The walk to where she believed her fate lay. One that would be ultimately peppered by that thudding, digging, battering sound. The same path he had taken all that time ago.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

But something had stopped her.

Something had pulled her back from the edge. Turned her around. Sent her back home.

The same thing, she believed, the very same thing had brought her here. All these months later.

Staring at the bridge. Only this time, a different bridge. A new bridge. A bridge a whole Atlantic Ocean away from home. The Brooklyn Bridge. Waiting to climb on board the helicopter. The one that would let her see New York from the air. Something her and Paul had always wanted to do. Something they had long planned to do. But had never gotten round to. Restrained by work. Restrained by everyday life. Restrained by his depression.

Something in her had told her that no, the sound didn’t have to scare her. Not anymore. The sound was hope. It was. Or, at least, it could be. Anything could be. Nothing had to be defined by an event. No sound, no sight, no feeling could dictate how you could or should live your life.

She would have the adventures they planned to have together. The ones he couldn’t quite make it to. He had tried, oh god she knows that he had tried. But he couldn’t quite get there with her. But he was really. Wasn’t he. He was still with her. He always would be. He was the one making her take this trip. He was the one making her brush out that painful sound with a new one. With a new meaning.

THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD

This time she would shape the meaning.

This time she would dictate things on her own terms.

That sound no longer had to signify grief.

This time there would be hope.

There would be happiness.

Tracy sniffed and stepped towards the helicopter, casting her eye over the rooftops of Downtown Manhattan as she did so. The sound of the helicopter rotor blades thudding into her skull once more. Only this time, she could feel a rush of exhilaration threading through her veins.

A Life In A Day

Brian glanced down at Debbie’s hand resting on his thigh. Clinging to the fabric of his jeans. He reached out with his own hand, gently caressing and then covering hers. A move of affection. One of protection. But still he couldn’t bring himself to lift his head. To raise his eyes. He still could not, no matter how much he willed himself, meet her gaze.

A gaze that was in fact, similarly, not meeting, or looking to meet, his. Debbie’s own eyeline was also turned down, staring towards those entwined hands. A silent, bony, world of defiance. She felt separated, disconnected from her hand. It felt weightless, not of her. And still she watched it twist and twitch. It pulsed gently under the comfort of Brian’s. Unsure. Unsettled.

Both were struggling painfully to fight through the barren deserts that were their vocal chords, desperately seeking the vowels and consonants to form words. To convey feeling. But neither could. The strength, the words, both evading them.

Their hands squeezed simultaneously. An instinctive, unplanned gesture from both. One that prompted both Brian and Debbie to glance upwards. Their eyes met. Their respective gazes trapped by a fleeting movement and now rendered unable to avert. In Debbie’s eyes Brian saw desperation, hurt, appeal. In Brian’s Debbie saw the same along with a troubling darkness skirting the perimeters. One that threatened numbness. It threatened dominance.

She knew she had to speak. To allow the words to trickle from her mouth. She knew not what the words could or should be but she knew she had to be the first to wilt. He was struggling. He was slipping. She could see that. And soon she could lose him completely. However temporarily, she could lose him. And she would need him. More than ever. They would need one another. She could see he was trying, with everything he could muster, but he just couldn’t get there. She had to speak. She had to be the one to break the silence. If only. Just. The words. Words. Little things. So simple. So mundane. Transient. And yet the words. They failed to form. Stubbornly resisted. No she had to. She must. She…

‘What about…’ whispered Debbie slowly, shakily, her eyes fixed upon Brian’s, ‘what about…the time…what about the time our…our daughter…she took her first steps…she took her first steps and then fell back on her bum and landed on the cat…’

Brian looked at Debbie. A look halfway between bewilderment and incredulity. His eyes, once lost and weary, now full of the spark of confusion. Seconds, moments, of silence followed.

‘Remember Brian….?’ appealed Debbie, ‘please Brian…I need you to remember…with me…’

The look in Debbie’s eyes suddenly allowed the dimmest flicker of recognition to light up within him. Brian felt his heart sag. At the pain he felt. At the pain Debbie clearly displayed. He needed her. She needed him.

‘I do…yeah….I do.’ his voice was brittle. Strained.

‘You do…?’ something resembling hope propelled Debbie’s whisper into the realms of audible.

‘Of course I do…’ answered Brian, wrapping his hands around Debbie’s and strengthening his grip. ‘And…and…what about the time…the time when our son first tried spaghetti bolognese. Remember? It took us about month to clean that kitchen afterwards didn’t it…it was chaos…’

He forced the suggestion of a smile onto the corner of his mouth. Debbie’s eyes lit up as she felt her spirit warm. This was the Brian she needed. It was as if they were two isolated enemy soldiers slowly making their way across No Man’s Land to meet with one another in kinship and camaraderie.

‘I do,’ she said smiling, ‘and…and what about the time our daughter fell off that little slide at the playpark that day and bumped her elbow. We bought her an ice-cream from the van and then had to stock up the freezer with ice-cream and ice lollies for every other little bump she had thereafter. We could have opened up our own ice-cream shop…’

‘That’s right, yeah,’ Brian sniffed, his eyes suddenly more animated, ‘or what about our son’s first day at school. All dressed up, looking gorgeous and handsome in his immaculate new school uniform…only to find out it was the uniform for the school up the road! He was…he was mortified.’

Debbie laughed slightly, raising her hand to the area between her nose and mouth to stifle the small snort she allowed to escape.

‘Or when our daughter broke up with her first boyfriend. She cried on your shoulder so much that night I thought she would never let go of you. I thought you were going to kill the poor boy after that. Would have been harsh though. I mean, he was only 9…‘ she laughed.

‘And when our son scored his first hat-trick for the football team. I, who had coached him through years of training sessions in the back garden and stood with him through all weather for every game he had ever played, expect him to come running straight to me, his Dad, to celebrate, but no, straight to his Mummy. His Mummy who doesn’t even understand the bloody game!’

They both laughed at this. Both their grips strengthened further.

‘And of course,’ said Debbie, ‘the first time we had to pick our daughter up from a night out. She could barely walk. Underage and drunk. What a disgrace. But how funny was she in the back of the car that night? Laughing away and telling us how much she loved us. What a sweet girl.’

‘That’s true.’ nodded Brian, smiling. ‘Or when our son had his first lads’ holiday, away in Spain or Greece or some place, and he phoned us at about 4am in the morning, getting us all panicked, only for him to tell us he was missing us and wanted to come home. Haha. By the end of the week he didn’t want to leave that place did he!?’

Debbie’s smile widened further as droplets of water began to form around her eyelids.

‘That’s right’ she said with more than a little faux-affirmation. ‘And who could forget when our daughter went off to University and then came back after the first year to tell us she had met the love of her life and they were going to have a baby. Going to give us…a…
a…a grandchild.’ Her smile wavered slightly, creeping marginally over to sadness.

‘Yep…’ said Brian, struggling to catch his breath. ‘Or when our son…when our son…he…he…he got that promotion at his work. I was so proud…I was so proud of him. So proud.’

Brian’s gaze wilted, the strength instantly sapping from him as he looked back down at his and Debbie’s entwined hands. Once again unable to look Debbie in the eye. He listened though. And could hear. He heard as she spoke. Softly. And falteringly.

‘That was a good day…’ she choked. ‘No…a great day…’ she turned her head away as the tears arrived in waves. Her hand clinging onto Brian’s all the while for dear life.

‘Well…it…’ started Brian. ‘It…could have been…’

‘It should have been…’ exclaimed Debbie through sobs, ‘they all should have been’. Her eyes clenched tightly shut as she failed to fight the flow of emotion. Suddenly she felt the force of Brian as he collapsed against her. Both feeling their raw, contorted bodies writhing in sadness as they held onto one another.

As gradually the tears dried and the lights in the room became less obtrusive they felt their hearts beating back to life. Their hands still clutched together, they listened. They listened to the sympathy. They listened to the advice. They listened to the ‘you’re both still young, you’ll have another chance at this’. They listened to the ‘it just wasn’t right this time’. They listened to the ‘this is far more common than you would think’. They listened to the pity.

But they didn’t really listen. They couldn’t. What good could it do? Or would it do? All they could do was hold each other. And so they did.

They held. And still they held. To the memories they had created. To the stories they had concocted. To the tears that threatened to come in waves. And to each other. For strength. For comfort. For the lives they still had left to live.

New Moon

Deep within the darkest shadows’ dance
lies unseen, the bright new moon,
and so my unanswered questions fall
and leave me in this empty room.

But enduring loss the night sky shines
and blazes with a different wonder,
while my deepest questions are left to probe
past lightning and past thunder.

So standing here, under this new night,
my darkest questions should leave,
but in shadows cast by a different light
they all remain and grieve.

 
Daily Post Word Prompt: Suspicious

Hopeside Manor

PPJan2018The car started first time, which was rather surprising. April fumbled for a moment with the gear stick and slowly moved out of the garage and into the open. Immediately, the sound of the rain hammering on the roof hit her ears and she paused in the driveway for a moment. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all. However, she took a deep breath and, clicking the remote to close the garage door, slowly made her way into the street and drove off.

The windscreen wipers were now on full speed, but it was still difficult to see. The constant thumping on the roof, the hiss from the radio and the wash from traffic as it passed close by worried her. She had made her decision, however, there was no going back, she was going to go, she was going to see the place one last time.

There was a loud noise, of a sudden. It reminded her of that first time when she’d met Graeme in the small air-raid shelter.

I was so frightened, she remembered, not knowing if it was perhaps my house that had been hit, perhaps next door, perhaps a street away. Father was away, in France I’d been told, and Mother was rushing around helping everyone else, as usual. Graeme had spotted me and came over, putting his arm around me. He might only have been 17 or 18 himself at the time but he was so kind.

I remember looking up into his soft, brown eyes and melting. I felt safe for the first time in years. I think I fell asleep in his arms. What was I then, 15?

Outside, lights, colourful lights merged together in the wash of the windscreen. It reminded her of the first time she’d come to Hopeside Manor.

I remember seeing the house for the first time. Gosh, it was huge. I mean, I knew Graeme was from a wealthy family, but this! This! There were lights in the garden! Who would have guessed you could have lights in the garden? And meeting his mother for the first time, my she was a stern woman.

I remember being introduced to her, rather formally I thought. I think I might have curtsied I was so nervous. I spoke to her about books and how upset I was that the library had had to close.

‘A terrible mess this war isn’t it?’ she’d said, and then I remember so distinctly her turning to Graeme and saying, ‘She’s very pretty Graeme, wherever did you find her?’

I remember Graeme holding on to me tightly then, squeezing my hand to reassure me that all would be fine, he was always reassuring me that all would be fine.

There was a sudden stillness outside, save for the patter of the rain, quieter now. A small tear escaped from her eye as she remembered him more.

Then he had to go away, called up on his 19th birthday. I thought I’d die.

‘Wait for me’, he said, as he walked away in his uniform. So handsome. I have a picture still, somewhere, of him in that uniform, looking so young. I thought my heart would break waiting, always waiting for letters, for postcards, for the war to end.

The rain continued. She seemed to be stuck in a traffic jam now as nothing was moving.

I remember going down to the docks, when the ships sailed in. I remember looking at every single man as they came off that boat wondering if I’d even recognise him. Worried that he’d no longer love me. When I saw him finally, my heart almost stopped beating and I couldn’t move. I stared at him as he simply strode over to me, smiled his big cheery smile and held me so close I couldn’t breathe. I remember his first words to me on that return, ‘Marry me April, marry me now and let us never be apart again’.

Now, outside, there were strange sounds. Could it be bells? Why would there be bells? She remembered the bells ringing out at her wedding.

Growing up as a girl on a little estate, who would have guessed I’d ever have a huge society wedding? I still don’t know, to this day, what that dress cost but it was beautiful, and so heavy to wear. We stood there, together as man and wife on the steps of that massive church and I felt as though I were a princess in front of adoring crowds. My only wish would have been for my father to have given me away, but he never returned from France.

Were there now the sounds of crying? A small child?

When Jane was born I was the happiest woman on the planet. She was a difficult birth but it was such a long time ago I almost can’t remember. She’s been good to me Jane, best daughter a mother could ever have asked for. It was just after she was born we moved into Hopeside Manor and made it our home. How long did we stay there? Long after Graeme died.

The cars were not moving. The rain had not stopped completely but the windscreen wipers were no longer moving. It seemed calm for some reason. Someone was at the door. Why would someone be trying to get into her car?

Something snapped the day Graeme died. It was peaceful, sitting at his desk in the small library, Hamish curled at his feet keeping them warm, but the paper unread and the tea cold. When I saw him I knew straight away, and I think Hamish knew as well. He lifted his head and looked at me, and flopped back down.

I sat with him for a while and chatted about Jane and the children, how they wanted us to spend Christmas with them that year. But I loved Christmas at Hopeside, and besides, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to leave it. I don’t think I was ever the same again.

The car door opened and for a moment April was confused. She murmured something about, ‘a Graeme come to reassure her that it would be alright’.

It was Jane who finally persuaded me to leave Hopeside and into the small bungalow. It was closer to her place and I could see the grandchildren more easily, though Iain had gone to the University soon after I moved in. Hopeside was too difficult to look after, the servants all but gone, and it was sold. I read in the news some time ago there’d been a fire and it had burnt to the ground, which upset me greatly. However, I still wanted to see it one more time but it doesn’t really matter now that Graeme’s back.

The ambulance finally arrived and April was carefully removed from the wreckage of her car. Who knows what went through her mind in those last few moments of her life, but to everyone who saw her, it looked as though she’d died peacefully, with a gentle smile on her face.