Friday, 2 January 2009

Translation Stuff Done and In Print

Good News Folks,

I recently did some translation work for a friend of mine. I translated the Libretta (the blurb inside a classical music Cd, which talks about the tracks, the composers and, the Raison D'etre basically, from the performers point of view.

The album is called, Bartok, Hindemith, Castillo - a collection of pieces on piano performed by Alfonso Calderon de Castro. My bit is the English - there's a few thousand words there - it was great fun doing the work - a lot of reading and research which kept me going through radiotherapy!!!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

PhD Update

I am happy to report that I will be re-enrolling for my PhD in January after intercalating for one year (taking time off in other words) due to ill health. Currently intending to complete the first draft of the novel prior to re-enrolment, although I also have much more concrete ideas for the thesis aspect of the work also.

This blog contains some pieces of short fiction from my Masters Degree Dissertation: A Collection of Short Stories set in Covent Garden, and also some unrelated poetry and prose. It is not meant to be a definitive example of my work to date, but rather a taster of previous works. There is also a writing CV here.

I look forward to 2009, and being able to write here that the novel is complete!!! If you would like a taster of the novel, please email me with the reasons for your interest, and I will see what I can do!

Many thanks,


Thursday, 24 July 2008

CV Update

This isn't a blog that gets updated very often - more a repository for work that I feel like sharing... and writerly cv stuff!!! There's a mixture of poetry (not much), and prose (considerably more) if you've stumbled across these pages - have a scroll through older posts and feel free to leave (constructuve!) comments.

Latest CV addition:

Translation work for a Cd/album shortly to be released, featuring Piano Sonatas played by Alfonso Calderon. I translated the Introduction and Sonata information from Spanish into English. June 2008.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Poetry for no apparent reason (do we need one?)

Journeys I

Clunk, but no click

in 1976

seat as wide as a double bed

smuggled toys hiding

in the foot-well

waves through the window

and I

a small thing

carried along endless roads

twisting and winding

through the mountains of rock

winter snows beginning

to take hold

the moon follows

like an abandoned pet


roads long and straight

an eternity of wheat fields

wanting to pee

wanting to go home

and then ice cracking

smashing seas with iron bow

rocking and rolling

across the ocean

to white cliffs of chalk

topped in green baize

orange ribbons of sulphur lights

burning into the night sky

obscuring the stars

still wanting to pee

still wanting to go home

but home is where the heart lies



You are a fraud

pertaining to be

a solid object.

‘I am,’ you said,

‘That is enough.

To be.’

But you are just

as much an empty space

as me.


on being

i can hear them constantly asking me

for forgiveness

asking for the earth

as though i have something to do with it

my voice is silent;

angrily assertive

my migraine worsens,

constant prayers.

i told al about it

he said i should listen

to his lot

wailing at all hours-

silence is my truth

i am nothing;

a product of mind,

an eddy in the void

(i go largely unheard)

hui neng reminded me

of the mountain that is

then isn’t

then simply is

of the mirror nowhere

shining bright

i took it to mean

don’t get involved

he laughed

a figment of the imagination

like my migraine

Friday, 1 February 2008

Writing CV

It is a New Year. I'd almost lost sight of that. To celebrate the New Year 2008, I thought I'd share with you my writing CV. And when I look at it, and see how paltry it is, it shall (I'm hoping) spur me on to improve by 2009!!!

Poetry: *Am not really a poet but dabble in it*

Poems included in Edge Hill's publication, 'Peggy's Blue Skylight', Issues No 3 & No 4, edited by Robert Sheppard.

Non-Fiction: *Lurve non-fiction*

2 Letters published in The Times Educational Supplement, 'Friday' magazine. 2002 + 2004.

Editing: What Shall We Write - An anthology of short stories by Year 4 children who attended my after-school writing club. The aim was that all profits from the sale of extra copies produced by the school would go into the English Department budget. 2003.

Article - won first prize for an article on 'Teacher Training', for ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers). 2003.

Two essays in The Road to Somewhere: A Creative Writing Companion Eds. Graham, et al. Palgrave Macmillan. 2004.

Fiction: *This is where I wanna be though*

'Bear Cubs' Short Sory published in Edge Hill's publication 'Two 4 Four', Issue 5, Spring 2002. The story was also broadcast on Radio Lancashire and was on their website for a time.

'The Little God of Insignificance' - Certificate of Merit at the Mere Literary Festival. 2004.

Short Stories - Commissioned to write a series of shorts for Young Voice - a children's charity. 2006.

Conference Papers: *Well 'paper' singular, but more to come, and got over the performance terror*

'From 7 Words a Day to The Squirms: Writer's Block - Myth or Reality?' 21 July 2007 at the Annual Short Story Conference at Edge Hill University.

This paper seeks to find an answer to the question of writer's block, and whether or not it is a reality, or an imagined condition. Drawing on a range of sources, from published writers to my own experiences, it is an investigative journey into writing processes and disruptions to those processes, arriving at the conclusion that perhaps such silences are indeed an integral and crucial part of creativity.

On-line Stuff: *Other stuff out there but you can jolly well find it yourself if you're that bothered!*

A Rainy Night in Malaga A short story that ended up here for some odd reason!
Spanish Tips at The Guardian

Current Work: *Need BIG KICK UP BUM with this one*

PhD: Out of Place: A Novel with an Exegesis: Hybridity in Form and Content.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Bear Cubs by Lisa Ratcliffe

Bear Cubs is a story I wrote before I had traced my birth family. It is about trying to figure out who you are, and where you came from, and about fitting in/not fitting in. Whilst it is based on my own experiences of being adopted, I must stress that it is NOT a reflection on my parents, or my relationship with them. I have to say this because I wouldn't want my parents, who are wonderful, to be misjudged due to my writing. The story is just that, a story, and I have therefore used a judicious amount of fiction in order to make my points. An auto-biography would read quite differently!!!

I hope you like it.

Bear Cubs

Suspended in a poster blue sky are clouds like newborn lambs in mid gambol. The maples on Fifth Street have laid a red carpet on the sidewalk for you, and the Rockies are wearing white. You are walking towards a building. There is a cross above the arched doorway. You have waited a lifetime for this moment. You ring the bell. The door opens. Like static, anticipation hangs in the crisp fall air.

You walk down the hall, following the grey haired woman who wears rosary beads at her waist. She was expecting you both. A second door is opened, a second chance at happiness. Ribbons of light weave their way through half shuttered dusty windows. Silver motes dance and play above the long row of cribs. Tiny angels. Your eyes light on the last crib; the container of all your hopes and dreams.

Funny the things you remember when driving at night. My mother told me that story like a nativity every year without fail when her secrets were unlocked by Christmas Martinis. I watch the cat’s eyes in the distance leading me home down narrow lanes I seem to travel less each year. I cross the single track bridge and it strikes me as strange how much safer it is after dark, how accidents are easier in the clear light of day, but even in the darkness, the road still leads back to them.
‘You must be shattered!’ says mum opening the door. ‘Such a long drive. I’ll put the kettle on.’ My mum’s answer to everything is a cup of tea. She takes my coat and looks me up and down, frowning at my ripped jeans and bare waist.
‘I’m fine.’
‘She never said you wasn’t!’ Dad sits in his armchair, neck craned but he does not get up. I force a smile and follow mum through to the kitchen. My nostrils are attacked by the smell of cabbage and boiled ham. I suppress the urge to retch, chasing away the memories of childhood which insist on living in this house. I lay the table as though I have never been away.
‘Good wholesome food,’ says dad patting his rounded stomach, and sniffing the air. ‘None of that cosmopolitan crap you get down South!’
I am still trying to think of something to say when grandma appears in the doorway, making me jump.
‘Oh it’s you! Thought you’d pay us a visit did you?’
‘I’m on my way up to Edinburgh.’ I flinch as she squeezes past me into the small dining area, ‘for the festival.’
‘You still busking then?’ she asks.
‘Yes, it’s going well—’
‘Not one of mine ever asked anyone for anything! Busking’s just another name for begging if you ask me,’ and I want to say, no, I didn’t ask you, but I say nothing. Who am I to question her?
‘Well there’s no telling her, mam. God knows I’ve tried,’ says dad.
‘Dinner’s ready,’ says mum, taking her seat opposite dad. Grandma glares at me over the mashed potato.
‘I saw Jennifer last week,’ says mum.
‘Jennifer Smith. You were at school with her. She was doing the shopping with her mum.’
‘Wasn’t she in your class?’ asks dad.
‘I don’t remember,’ I lie.
‘She remembers you,’ says mum.
‘I’m sure she does.’ I try to look relaxed. ‘I’d rather not talk about school.’
‘But she seems such a lovely girl. She got her degree and she’s teaching now.’
I pick at the fluffy mass on my plate still avoiding her gaze. Her disappointment hangs heavily in the air alongside her expectations, but she shrugs and smiles.
‘Good job, teaching,’ she says.
‘I wonder how she’ll deal with school bullies now there’s a government policy on it?’ I say, and the bitterness in my voice surprises me.
‘She wasn’t one of them that picked on you was she?’ says dad. ‘I wish you could have made more of an effort to fit in.’
I want to say it wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but the words are blocked by the lump in my throat.
‘All that’s in the past now,’ says mum, as though the past can be buried by simply ignoring it, ‘I’m sure Jennifer would love to see you.’
Her voice drifts away like the steam from the gravy, in slow spirals, dispersing into nothing. She never did know when to give up. I nod and smile on cue as she tells me how the cousins always ask how I am, about the savings she has made on ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offers at the supermarket. Grandma retires to the sofa in the front room.
I stay in the kitchen wondering how many more memories I can take. I wash the same dishes I washed as a teenager whilst mum makes tea. She has even kept that odd little mug I used to love so much. It still stands out proud on the tray with the fine bone china, unafraid of its difference.

‘Your cousin got nicked you know,’ says dad.
‘He’s going to jail this time though,’ says mum shaking her head.
‘It’s awful. Friggin’ disgusting!’ His glasses straddle the arm of his chair and it suddenly occurs to me how much older he looks, how like his mother he is.
‘I know,’ I say, ‘you’d have thought he’d have given up after last time.’
Three sets of pale blue eyes glare at me.
‘It is disgusting,’ says dad, pacing his temper, ‘that he’s going down for trying to make ends meet.’
‘He was signing on with three jobs,’ I protest, but the damage has been done, such is the ease with which I can break their hearts.
‘I just don’t know who you take after, but it certainly isn’t me,’ he says. ‘You have no idea of family loyalty!’ Grandma nods in agreement. ‘I’ve always said, blood is thicker than water.’
‘Mam, there’s no need for that.’
‘I’m going to bed,’ she says, ‘Margaret! Bring me my tablets.’
Mum follows her reluctantly into the hallway leaving dad and me alone.
‘Take no notice of your gran love, she’s old,’ he says quietly.
‘It’s okay,’ I mouth, and I want to say she’s never been any different, that I understand, but I cannot speak because if I do it will all pour out.
Unavoidable silence fills the room as we drift off into separate worlds. I look around at the photographs on the walls; me at five playing on the shores of Lake Louise, a picture of happiness. There’s that awful class picture I hate and one of me taken on my third Christmas, our first as a family. There’s me on the boat, sailing to England for the first time, and one of me at ‘Sweet Sixteen’, the year before I fled the nest and shattered their dreams.
‘Do you still see that lad from college?’ asks dad breaking the silence.
‘Martin? He’s fine. He just finished his Masters at Manchester University.’
‘You could’ve done that,’ he says, shaking his head. Two years of bitterness eats at his bald patch. ‘Such a shame the way you dropped out and threw your life away.’
‘I haven’t… look... there’s still time to do it,’ I blink back the tears, ‘and anyway, you don’t need a degree to be a musician.’
‘Or on the dole,’ he says more softly, ‘I just thought you’d turn out different, that’s all.’
‘I’m thinking of going over to Calgary in the summer,’ I say.
‘What do you want to go there for? Crap place. I hated it.’
How do I explain that I long to go? That I need answers? ‘I just wanted to see where I grew up.’
‘You still miss it?’ he asks, not waiting for an answer. ‘We only brought you back because we thought it would be good for you. We wanted you to be happy.’ It occurs to me how tired he looks. We are forever going round in circles.
‘I am happy,’ I say smiling, and his love gives me the confidence I need to go on, a bridge which spans the differences between us. He tries to understand but how can he? In his mother’s face he sees his own reflection where I see nothing but questions to which there are no answers.

Later, in the kitchen, mum folds up the tea towel and adds more water to the kettle.
‘Another cuppa?’ she asks.
‘No thanks mum, it’s a long drive up to Edinburgh.’
‘You’ll stop by on the way back won’t you?’ asks dad.
‘I’ll call you... let you know.’
‘I wish you lived closer,’ mum says, her eyes growing red.
‘I know, but I’m fine,’ I say, hugging them tightly, and we all know there is nothing else to say except ‘see you next time’.
I am back on the road and there is only the light from my own car headlamps and the beckoning cat’s eyes to guide me onwards. There are voices on the radio, intermingled and jostling for position...’ I switch it off and let my heart curl around every bend, embracing the road, the journey.

At the front of the house the streets were wide and lined with Maples. The children were sitting in the garden where the mountains could reach the sky. It was bear cub season and the youngest were filled with questions.
‘Where do the mommy bears get the baby bears from?’ asked the little boy with the blonde hair.
‘They grow in their mom’s tummy,’ said his sister after a moments thought. ‘Did we all grow inside mommy’s tummy?!’
‘Sure did!’
‘Did I come out of my mommy’s tummy too?’ asked the little girl, her eyes as black as Indian ink.
‘No,’ they said, ‘Your mom and dad got you from somewhere else.’
‘I don’t know! You’re adopted,’ they said, and when the little girl asked what the word meant she was told it did not matter. She was loved the same, they said, so she pushed her questions into a corner of her heart and ran off to play in the garden with the long grass which would not be home for very much longer.


Friday, 13 July 2007

The Flower Girl by Lisa Ratcliffe

(More from the MA Collection - a light hearted tale with no point at all to it and the only sex scene I've ever written :))

The Flower Girl

It’s thirsty work, selling flowers on your feet all day, strolling around with a heavy basket on your arm. The punters think it’s lovely, quaint even, to have flower girls again, singing, ‘Who will buy my sweet red roses?’ but the men these days take a good look at your bosom while they um and ah, before buggering off with a dejected looking female in tow.
      'But they are lovely,’ she’ll say, batting her eyelids.
      ‘Yeah, but you’ll have to carry them round with you all night.’ Or ‘What about my allergies?’

I kept up my theatrical strut, weaving in and out of the emptying alleyways, trying to catch the tail end of an audience but it was no use. The punters were a mixture of Opera and Theatre goers, Stag parties, and backpackers looking for the West End. It was either ‘I don’t carry cash, sorry,’ or ‘fancy a shag?’. By the time the fat lady had kicked off over the way, the Garden was like a half drunk glass of coke left out in the sun too long – all flat and with strange bits of rubbish you can’t quite identify, floating in it. I needed a pint. Even Edgar the One Man Band was packing up, cymbals crashing between his knees. His bottler had gone home. He was still counting up after I’d got changed. £9.32.
In copper.
      ‘Not bad,’ he said, ‘not bad for that lot.’
      What can you say? I hadn’t done much better myself.

On a good day, the Market Tavern is packed to the britches with the usual range of Covent Garden folk, from jugglers and magicians to comedians and market traders. The tourists who stumble on their way to Drury Lane, or want a rest from the trad jazz opposite, must wonder where the fuck they are, stood cheek to cheek with people in garish spandex, top-hats and tails, or wearing a cut-up vest riddled with the sweat and soot of a day juggling fire on the outdoor pitch. I suppose even I must look a bit weird, in my full-length Victorian affair, complete with whale-bone corset, which is a killer in the summer, I can tell you. Most days I can’t wait to get back into my jeans. It definitely improves sales though, and it stops people thinking I’m one of the Gypsies who chase you with heather up by the tube, even if you’ve clearly got enough flowers of your own, thank you very much.

This particular night however, the Tavern might as well have been empty. A range of suits populated the tables. I sat on a stool at the end of the bar and cupped the day’s earnings in a desperate hand. I could see it all before me. The newspaper headlines the next day. My parents devastated.

Read all about it… Flower Girl found starved to death in front of Actor’s Church

Emily Clark, 19, was found dead this morning by a Covent Garden local who goes by the name of Joe. Joe, age unknown, wore a Bell’s whiskey cap on his nose. “To keep out the cold,” he said. Emily’s mother and father are coming to London to make a formal identification of the body this evening. “It’s such a tragic loss,” they said. “Now we’ll never have grandchildren.” Her father added, “And we thought she was doing so well.”

I’d no sooner finished my pint when another one appeared on the bar. ‘No thanks, Bern,’ I said, ‘I cannae afford it laddie. Brassick so I am.’ He made some rude comment about never getting his accent right and pointed to the other end of the bar.
      ‘Never seen him before in my life,’ I said. ‘Who is he?’
      Bernie shrugged his shoulders. ‘Fucked if I know, but the pint’s bought and paid for.’

Okay. So I should have just refused, then and there, but that’s easy for you to say, in hind sight. Besides, I got a good look at him before I waved him over. Long hair. Always was a sucker for long hair.
      ‘Well, hello you,’ he drawled, and I think I must have cringed because he took a step back.
      It was a nice suit, it has to be said. Suit plus hair. Interesting combination. Clean finger nails too. And shiny shoes? My heart sank. He had to be gay.
      ‘Er, thanks for the pint.’ I smiled.
      ‘I’ve been watching you,’ he says. Hmm. Interesting diction. Very Sloane Square.
Oh shit, I thought, he’s from the dole office.
      ‘I think you are amazing.’ Voice more natural now. Little spark in eye. ‘I suppose you have a boyfriend, eh?’
      ‘Not really,’ I said, ‘Hedging my bets. Could still be from the dole office.
      ‘Nice outfit.’ He addresses my tits. They aren’t impressed.
      ‘Who are you?’ I ask, and I’m thinking, I only made a tenner, and you’re allowed that.
      ‘My name,’ he paused dramatically, ‘is Felix. My request is to take you home and make mad passionate love to you.’ He leaned in so close I could smell the lager on his breath. What a rude, obnoxious prick, I thought.

And then I had a bit of a chat with myself.
‘What shall we do?’
      ‘Slap him?’
      ‘What if he slaps back?’
      ‘You know I hate the way men do this all the time. Remember that tea-towel wearing prick in the Hippodrome last week. ‘I want to fuck you,’ he said. Just like that.’
      ‘He is gorgeous though.’
      ‘Fifty quid says he runs away like a frightened child.’

I downed my pint in one. He looked taken aback.
      ‘You know the thing about you men is?’ I spat. ‘You think you can say anything you want to a woman. Well you bloody well can’t. What do you think I am? Some whore?’ Buy me a pint and then that’s it?’
      ‘Look,’ he stuttered. He raised his hands, all blue eyes and crowning glory, like… like… I don’t know. That’s not important now. He was a Greek God. Besides, I had a bet on it.
      ‘Felix,’ I said, in my best Devon accent. ‘Drink up lad. Tonight be your lucky night.’

I don’t know what he was thinking when we left the pub. Come to think of it, I don’t know what I was thinking either. I slipped my arm through the crook of his and leaned into his shoulder as we walked across Russel Street and into the gardens. For a brief, wonderful moment, I thought this could be it. He could be the one. Imagine in years to come. We’d be sitting by an open fire, logs crackling, drinking Port… Great Dane taking up most of the floor. The grandchildren would come running in to say goodnight. (They’re staying for the weekend because youngest daughter is away skiing in Austria, having just completed her PhD in Geophysics.)
      ‘Grannie,’ they will say. (I refuse to be nanna.) ‘Grannie? How did you and Grandpa meet?’
      ‘Well, dearest children,’ I’ll say. ‘It was like this….’

      ‘Where are we going?’ asks Felix, and I realise we’re at the tube already.
      ‘Manor House. Follow me.’

I should really have stopped there, of course. Made an excuse, lied, run. But no. I’m a committed sort of girl. If I decide to do something I tend to go all out. So we got on the tube, and we sat in silence, as you do, and I saw that all of his charm had dissipated. He was like a deflated balloon at the end of a party, all shrivelled into himself. I tried to make small talk but he wasn’t having any of it.

This is the London Underground. The following rules apply:
      1. Do not make eye contact with anyone else in the carriage unless you are travelling with said person.
      2. Restrict eye-contact with known persons to an absolute minimum.
      3. Avoid all forms of communication above and beyond said minimal eye contact with said persons.
      4. Do not speak.
      5. Do not smile.
6. You may read quietly but under no circumstances may you laugh out loud.

The bus was a bit better. He had his cheeky grin back.
      ‘So what do you do?’ I quizzed.
      ‘I’m an actor,’ he said, over accentuating the ‘or’ before laughing. ‘I’m playing in the West End, at the moment. He grinned. Ernest, in The Importance of Being Earnest.’
      I nodded. ‘Yes, I know the play,’ I said. ‘I can’t see Ernest with long hair though. I thought it was set —’
      ‘It’s a wonderful role,’ he cuts in. Very rare for someone of my age to get it, you know. Tonight’s my one night off.’ He gave me a knowing look. ‘Understudy.’
      ‘Of course.’ At that point I wanted to say, ‘just stop it with the bullshit,’ but he just went on and on about his role in the play, and how long it had taken him to study for it. Learning lines was hell apparently, and the costume fittings were a nightmare. Seeing as the best role I’d landed so far was as a mobile musical florist, I was glad when we reached our stop and he finally shut up.
      ‘How far is it?’ he asked. He was fiddling with his hair a lot, I noticed.
      ‘Just down here,’ I said. I must admit I was feeling quite smug now. Here we were and I could’ve been anyone.

‘Come out with your hands up. We have the place surrounded.’
      ‘I’ll kill him,’ I’d say, grinning at his mutilated body behind the door. I mean, why not? Men do it to women all the time, don’t they? Pick them up and then do horrid things to them. I imagined all the blood. Maybe not. Can’t see the appeal myself, but then it occurred to me that he could be the mad axe murderer. Especially with that affected accent of his. I thought, I bet he isn’t even an actor, just some rich boy with a fantasy fixation.

      ‘You haven’t asked me my name yet.’
      ‘Haven’t I? Oh dear. Sorry about that. Did I tell you about last week’s performance? When the bald man jumped onto the stage half way through Act II?’
      ‘Yes. Twice.’

Sometimes you just have to go for it, at least that’s what my mother always said. ‘Don’t waste opportunities,’ she’d say on the phone, and then proceed to tell me all about her own wasted opportunities. I’m not sure this was the kind of opportunity she meant but what the hell. Felix and I arrived at the front door.
      ‘Big house,’ he exclaimed.
      ‘Bedsit,’ I explained.
      ‘Small but clean,’ I said. ‘I suppose you live in a bloody big flat. Either that or a lowly garret somewhere.’
      He fell silent. ‘Just an ordinary flat, I’m afraid.’

As soon as I got through the door I felt sick. I looked at Felix and he looked at me and to be honest, neither of us knew what to do. I apologised for the state of the place and started chucking stuff in the wardrobe, kicking shoes under the bed. There’s not enough room to juggle a club, but I’m quite inventive when it comes to arranging the furniture. I hadn’t, however, managed to do anything with the single bulb that hangs mercilessly off a dusty cord in the middle of ceiling. The light it cast had a grim, pallid effect, that made Felix look as though he was on his last legs. I dreaded to think what it was doing to me, so I dug some candles out and stuck them on the table at the head end of the bed. Satisfied that it was all cosy, I made a brew and rolled a joint. We sat on the bed, mainly because I didn’t have any chairs.
      ‘I don’t usually do this,’ he said awkwardly.
      ‘What? Smoke pot or pick up strange women with the chat up line from hell?’
      ‘Both.’ He grinned.
      ‘Neither do I,’ I said. ‘In fact, I’ve never done this before in my life. I don’t know what came over me.’
He shot me a quizzical look. ‘So what do you want to do?’ he said, leaning over, stroking my arm.
      ‘I’ll just go and freshen up,’ I said.

My bedsit is tiny but it has the advantage of two things: The first is the door to the garden, which only one other person shares, the nutty Irish woman next door who sees ghosts all over the place. The second is the en-suite bathroom. So I sat on the loo and put my head on the sink, thinking I’d really let things go too far, and was just about to go out and feign either a migraine or insanity when I heard the most beautiful arpeggios. It threw me, I can tell you.

I could see a camp fire in some Italian mountain village. Around it were the local villagers and then, in the centre of it all, was a blond god, guitar across his lap. He took it up and began to strum, then finger pick, something I could never get the bloody hang of. I looked across at this musical maestro and then gave him a coy smile, head half turned. I imagined him singing just for me, the crowd disappearing, a shooting star flashed across the sky…
      ‘I didn’t know you could play,’ I said, as though this was something odd, to not know something about this complete and utter stranger who was now sitting cross legged, strumming away on the end of my bed. I have to say, it was a dirty trick but it worked.
      ‘Oh, just a bit,’ he said. False bloody modesty. ‘And you?’
      ‘Just a bit,’ I say, except I’m being more than honest. ‘I trained as a vocalist. That’s just for fun.’
      He went to put the guitar down but I asked him to play another piece. I liked looking at him, sat there on the end of my bed, playing my guitar, bathed in candle-light. I imagined he would put the guitar down, lean across and tell me how beautiful I was before kissing me so passionately and tenderly that I would have no choice but to surrender myself to him forever.

Well, it sort of happened like that. A bit. He did the leaning in thing, and he stroked the hair from my face, which was quite nice, and then he, well, you know, various un-wrappings took place.

After about ten minutes I realised I’d made a huge mistake. He was behind me one minute, then above me, then under me. Christ, it was like an acrobatic stunt show. I made a few grunts of disapproval each time his elbow met with my head, but it seemed to encourage him even more and finally, I had to say something.
      ‘Felix,’ I whispered, ‘Could you just… do you think… I er…’ Okay, so I’m not that great at verbalising in intimate situations.
      ‘What do you want me to do, baby?’ he asked. ‘Just tell me.’
      That was it. Cardinal sin numero uno. Do not ask me what I want. A man should know what I want. This was not going to work. I saw the future evaporate before me. The wedding on the hillside, the Laura Ashley dress, the tiny bridesmaids, the confetti… everything just swirled away down this ginormous plug hole. I thought, this one night stand thing really isn’t doing it for me, but we’re here now so best get on with it, eh. I bit his shoulder, trying not to draw blood as he manoeuvred himself on top again and thankfully, stayed put.

So there we were, connected at last. He was up there, going for it. His hair surrounded his face, his eyes squeezed shut while little beads of sweat dripped into mine. His pelvis cracked against mine and still he went on, in out, in out, up down, up down, and I was just thinking to myself, my god hurry up and go home so I can put this behind me once and for all when suddenly I experienced a great flash of enlightenment. At least that’s what I first thought.

I looked up at the Greek God and he had a halo around him. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, this tanned creature, dripping with sweat, standing up on his knees, head aloft, with flames coming out of it. Strong weed, I thought, but then I caught a whiff of the stench of burning hair and I realised what had happened. Felix was batting at his eyebrows, smacking his head in a desperate bid to stop the fire spreading. I even joined in but it was no use. I had no idea hair burned so well. It was amazing. No really. It was. I imagined using it as an experiment in a chemistry class.

Eventually he fizzled out, my Greek God. Singed eyebrows and mere embers where wisps of chest hair had once lived. The condom clung to his droop in vain. He was a climber who just lost the summit.
      ‘What am I going to do?’ he wailed.
      ‘It’ll be fine,’ I said, inspecting his face. ‘No damage and the hair’ll grow back.’
      ‘How am I going to explain this to Gail?’ He was inconsolable now. A shaking hand reached for the discarded roach in the ashtray.

Until then I had been feeling quite guilty. After all, was it not I who had been wishing something, anything would happen to get rid of him? Now, I couldn’t help but feel a bit pissed off at this juncture in the proceedings. It was my home that stank, my bed that was full of singed body matter.
      He let out a huge, most unmanly sob. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
      ‘I said you’re fine. No real damage. You should count yourself lucky. The whole place could’ve gone up.’ I tried a bit of friendly cajoling. ‘Hey,’ I said nudging him, ‘You should’ve seen your face. Wish I’d had a camera!’
      ‘Gail…’ he mumbled, ‘My fiancée… She’ll kill me. You’ve got to help me.’

I digested this information as you do a half ripened plantain. He was amazing, for all the wrong reasons. So scared and pathetic now, you had to hand it to him.
      ‘Just put some bloody clothes on,’ I said. ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with something.’
      ‘I really am very sorry,’ he said at last, picking up his jacket. He was half way through the door when he popped his head back in. ‘Er… You couldn’t walk me to the bus stop could you, only I’m a bit unsure of the area?’

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Little God of Insignificance by Lisa Ratcliffe

Can be read here as I can't face trying to sort the html out just yet! Little God is a fun piece that originally had footnotes but I couldn't figure out the html back then, so I had to put them into the main text. Oh Well.

People have reviewed it too, so you can see what they've said. Enjoy.

The Battle of Trafalgar by Lisa Ratcliffe

(Apologies for cross posting - this one is on The Hesitant Scribe - more from The Covent Garden Collection)

The Battle of Trafalgar

I remember everything as though it were yesterday, memories etched into my mind; six of us sitting on the fire-escape of the old hospital; the gardens of the Actor’s Church below, spring blooms teetering on the edge of life, reaching for the sun. I loved it up there, away from the hordes, resting between shows. Crab said it was his favourite place in the West End, one of the few where you could have a reefer in peace.

Evy laughed when I told her how doting Aiden had become, bringing me flowers, smoking outside, and whether it was a trick of the light or just the company I was in, I remember wishing I could take that moment and hold it safe it my hands forever.

* * * * *

I went to Kennington Park in the morning and by lunchtime there was masses of people everywhere, really crowded. I didn’t think that many people would turn up and more joined in on the way. It was unbelievable, even the sun came out. Of course we took the kids, even made a picnic. A lot of us was pushing prams, hanging on to the older ones, trying to keep everyone together. We all felt, well, passionate about it, you know. It was like they was just taking the piss out of us. We was protesting for our children, just like we’ve always had to.

* * * * *

Yes, I was angry. I just don’t get how you can justify arresting a man in a wheelchair. I mean, for fuck’s sake, what was he going to do exactly? Not only that but they wouldn’t let us move. Whitehall was shut off both ends and, well, I can’t see that the police thought it through to be honest. They couldn’t have done, could they?

I did time for it yeah, and I’d do it again if I had to. It was wrong, totally wrong. The saddest thing is we couldn’t get to that bitch who started it all in the first place.

* * * * *

I remember the kids was crying because they was hungry but we just got swept along with the crowd. We couldn’t go nowhere. If the cops hadn’t blocked the roads and started everyone off panicking, we could have all been sat in Trafalgar Square listening to Tony Benn and having our picnic instead of running for our lives.

* * * * *

We were in Covent Garden deciding what to do with our final afternoon in London before going home to Marseilles. It was a beautiful day, but hot. I wanted to sit and watch the performers, do nothing, but my wife kept complaining, saying we had too much to do before our flight the next day. In the end we watched the performers for only a few minutes before taking the metro.

We did not speak to each other again until the evening, when we saw what had happened on the news in the hotel. All those people hurt. Antoinette said how lucky we are that we argue so much.

* * * * *

I was discussing a new juggling routine with New Boy when we were disturbed by the sudden appearance of a rather large and nasty looking police helicopter. We were submerged in its shadow, deafened by the whup whup whup of the rotors as it hovered bizarrely above the church garden. I saw the colour drain from Chloe’s face, hands instinctively covering her belly. Crab was looking around frantically for somewhere to stash his tin full of prime home-grown, and I must admit it took us a while to register the fact that the occupants of the chopper didn’t seem in the least bit interested in us, despite the fact that there must have seen the six inch reefer, wind torn but nonetheless, still sticking out of New Boy’s curled mouth.

* * * * *

The thing that got me was that I was having to pay the tax just like they were, and it was a damn sight more than the old rates were. But you can’t elect a government and cry about what it’s doing. They voted her in, well someone must have. I was just doing my job, trying to keep the peace when all hell’s breaking loose, peace that wouldn’t need keeping if those lazy bastards had jobs. It’s bad enough when you do the football matches but I wasn’t prepared for what happened that day. I’d had the training, read all the books on crowd control but when it comes down to it, you’re fighting for your life, just like everyone else.

* * * * *

I think it dawned on me that the chopper wasn’t there for us around the same time that I noticed the smoke coming from Trafalgar Square. The sky was getting blacker and blacker and it got real cold. Aiden didn’t look too fazed at all. ‘New Boy,’ he said, ‘I wonder what excitements London is bestowing upon us today!’ And then he smiled at Chloe, but I thought she looked scared. In the end I grabbed Hannah and we all followed Evy and Crab down the stairwell. Thinking back, I guess we shoulda just stayed where we were, huh.

* * * * *

The lads who tried to clear Whitehall came up into the Square and I can’t say what happened next. No really. I can’t. All I know is that what felt like total chaos was really highly organised. Them, that is. They had the easy bit, running through the streets, chucking missiles, causing damage. There was only 2,000 of us at first, against I don’t know how many of them. Only a few hundred of us had short riot shields, and all our equipment is defensive. We didn’t have a hope in hell of stopping them.

* * * * *

The crowd just sort of sucks you in really. I don’t know what happened. I can’t explain it. One minute I was, like, completely normal, just walking along carrying me banner, all proud and that, and the next I just got caught up in the mood of it like.

Me mam and dad went nuts. ‘Son,’ me dad said, when he came to visit me, ‘You’ve acted like a total twat and now you’re gonna have to suffer the consequences. Even a copper didn’t deserve that.’ I just felt ashamed in the end. It was like something else took over me and I just saw red. I’ve never been involved in anything like that before, or since.

* * * * *

It’s an odd thing to see smoke rising out of the city in such copious amounts. It’s not something I ever expected to see in my lifetime. London. Burning.

* * * * *

They were selective in their looting. This was no public rally, no attempt at using their voice to protest in a safe and civilised manner. I believe that the rioters were always intent on causing destruction. I believe that the rioters had no intention of staging a peaceful protest against the Poll Tax, had no intention of walking quietly to Whitehall, had no intention of delivering a petition free of violence. This was nothing more than an attempt by anarchists and thugs to cause the most damage possible. There is no doubt in my mind that this demonstration was always set to become a riot, which was why my advice was to prohibit any form of public demonstration, rally, gathering or otherwise in Trafalgar Square or anywhere else. 491 arrests were made.

* * * * *

We simply wanted to go home. It was a nightmare. We were caught in Trafalgar Square around 4 o’clock trying to get out but the crowds were too dense. It was all I could do to stay on my feet at times. They must have closed all the exits by then because people were beginning to stampede. You could feel the panic go through the crowd like a Mexican Wave. I remember going under the crowd and James letting go of my hand, and when I felt myself being hurled up again, I was confused when I saw a large bald man staring at me. I don’t know what time it was when the fires started but it was really scary. Men were up on the scaffolding at the side of the Square throwing bricks and bits of scaffold and the next minute it was just thick black smoke and the sun went out.

The darkness seemed to subdue everyone for a little while. I thought it would be over then and I could just get on the tube and go home, but then the smoke cleared a bit and it all started again. I thought I was going to suffocate or get smashed on the head with a brick. I was terrified. I was trying to climb up the church railings of St. Martin in the Fields, to see if there was any clear exit route when I promised God that I would never ever go to a public meeting again if only He would get me out of this in one piece.

I woke up in hospital with 23 stitches in the back of my head. James later explained that he had watched a mounted police officer hit me with his cosh in ‘self defence’. Apparently I was mistaken for a rioter. No one ever apologised even though all charges against me were dropped. I can still remember the smell of the blood on the pavement.

* * * * *

No, I don’t believe we were specifically targeted at all, despite your insinuations. A vast number of cafés, bars and restaurants have been attacked, not just McDonalds.

* * * * *

I think, given the situation we were faced with, that our police force was exemplary in the management of the crowds that day. Trafalgar Square has a capacity of 60,000 people, yet we estimate that there were closer to 200,000 there on the day of the riot. No further comment.

* * * * *

When we got down the stairs and onto the Piazza it was mayhem. There was mass panic; people screaming, running all over the place. Some of them had blood dripping down their faces. It was sickening, really. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. There was just this sound getting louder and louder, and none of us could place it. Crab looked at me, and then at Evy, and then I heard New Boy muttering, ‘Guys, I think we should get out of here!’ I don’t remember much after that, except the sound of Aiden’s voice as he grabbed me and dragged me to my feet.

* * * * *

We like London very much. We came to see all of famous historical sights with group from my country, Japan. We like very much to go Covent Garden and watch performing people. We were in front of crowd, and I was filming man on unicycle. I thought when he cycle away that it is part of show. We wait for them to come back but then we hear horse’s hoof on stone.

Yes, we very shock to see police on horse. They charge into Covent Garden and it was very noisy. The horses slip on pavement and lot of people running. We got lot of video. People were screaming. Lots of things in air. We have very good film when fire-extinguisher go through window of shop.

Then we had run also but we did not know where run to. We find ourselves by public lavatory and Akiko help those of us who can climb up gates. Nobu make crying. I keep camera run for long as I can but Seiko hit by brick and we had try stop bleeding.

* * * * *

I thought it was really exciting. I mean, to have news like that break right under your nose is a gift for any reporter, let alone someone trying to make a name for themselves. We missed the main event in the square because we’d had a meeting that afternoon with one of Bicksy’s cronies. Bicksy was my photographer. ‘It’s only going to be a little gathering,’ he’d said, ‘hardly worth us covering it.’ Christ, did I give him hell for that. Anyway, by the time we walked through to Charing Cross it was dusk. The police had managed to get some barriers up and hordes of people were walking around, bathed in the eerie light that was provided by burning Porches and Jags. There was thick black smoke pouring up into the air, the choking stench of petrol. It looked random at first, but you could see that the only cars that survived were the ones that had seen better days already. I thought, this is what being in a civil war must feel like.

In the end the piece I wrote was rejected. Too biased apparently. ‘If you want to write crap like that, write fiction,’ said my editor, but I saw the police drag anyone and everyone into the back of their vans. It was indiscriminate violence. I saw a young policeman take a scaffold pipe across his back, buckling under the force of the blow, but I ran out of sympathy when another’s cosh came towards me. I held up my press pass and cowered waiting for the blow but it never came. I thought I’d react differently but when it came down to it I just couldn’t stop shaking, and when I saw Bicksy was on the floor unconscious I just stood there staring at him. We lost the camera and all the pictures in the end. I just wanted to get out of there but all the tubes were closed and it was safer to stay put than risk being hit by anything else.

Later we heard that a woman had been trampled under the riot horses in Trafalgar Square while other people were mown down by the riot vans that drove into the crowds. How can you be objective? I thought, if we were in China or somewhere we’d all be dead now.

* * * * *

I think it very terrible because everywhere is such a big mess now, but for me, it turn out very well now, because the seguridad will pay for all the fixing, and I had lot of things already that need fixing in the restaurant, so is okay for me.

* * * * *

I heard that loads of people had looted Denmark Street before the police got there. I was gutted. By the time I got there, people were walking round with new saxophones and keyboards, the lot. There wasn’t so much as a plectrum left. Why am I never in the right place at the right time?

* * * * *

The crowds and the police were gone as quickly as they arrived, a wave of devastation in their wake. Covent Garden looked like a war zone. Shop windows smashed, broken glass everywhere. I had a lucky escape, Aiden tells me, falling like that, taking such a sharp knock to my head. A punk skiffle band we hadn’t seen before struck up an improvised song about The Battle of Trafalgar and we sat on the low wall of garden on the corner of Russell Street in shock, drinking take-outs from the Market Tavern. I remember sipping orange juice in silence while we watched the last of the casualties drift away down the narrow streets.

I told Aiden I was fine to stop him worrying, but I knew she had gone, because I couldn’t feel her moving anymore.

Evy and Crab by Lisa Ratcliffe

(From my Covent Garden Short Story Collection written for my MA Writing)

Evy and Crab

At first you can hardly believe it’s still there, nestled amongst the ever-changing façades of James Street. The window draws you near with Victorian sweetness. Behind the gold lettered glass, jars adorned with lace necklets sit seductively alongside over-laden baskets. Lavender pomanders rest easy on white linen, and through the spaces you can just make out a stand of ‘home made’ cards wishing Love, Luck and Happiness. Dreams in pretty packages, potions and cure-alls, luxuries you know you cannot afford. You turn away uneasily; navigate the sea of bobbing heads, of carnival colours and backpacks, the cobbles beneath your feet obscured.
        Moving down the length of James Street you smile at the row of moving statues; cracked painted sleeves, a wink or a nod followed by surprised squeals from passers by; The Rock Garden Café.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, clad in sweat, my heart pounding. I dream that I am walking down a country lane. It is summer and everywhere is a montage of colour and noise and I am feeling relaxed and happy, as though the possibilities are endless…

Turning back towards the Opera House you are accosted by development. Gone are the shadowed steps, the pillars and portico. Gone too the walled garden, the mural, the shrubs. You close your eyes, allowing memories to flutter gently through your mind like autumn leaves; images of chillums and change bags; the teasing sounds of siku; the soft caress of Indian silk trousers on tanned, dusty flesh. When you squeeze your eyes together tight enough, you think you can hear a washboard and a tea-chest bass, resonating, rumbling beneath the raw New Orleans vocals, but it is only the bass line of the city as traffic filters through from The Strand. No more skiffle, no more Gutter Brothers on Sunday afternoons. The old days, of weaving through laidback tourists with a hat in your hand and the sun on your face, have been replaced with trips to the park, to the zoo, to the supermarket.

Everyone remembers their first time. For me it was a Sunday afternoon back in May 1987. I emerged from the darkness of the spiral staircase, into the light of the ticket hall, as excited as a child on a Ferris wheel. It must have taken me an hour to walk the length of James Street, stopping every few feet to gape at the next marvel. I remember I stopped beside the antiques market and called my mother. Oh I’m fine, I had said, failing to add that I did not think I would be coming home again.

The supermarket. You wonder how your husband’s coping as you walk towards the Transport Museum, but someone is strumming vaguely familiar songs across the way on the piazza to a small gathering, drifting in and out of focus, the sound of a coin striking another in the guitar case laid out in front of the Transport Museum. He will cope, you are sure, if only because you are not there.
       The heat is palpable now, the air thick. The old lines are in full flow from new mouths on the indoor piazza, whilst outside, fire clubs are hurled from twelve foot unicycles to whooping cheers from the balcony of the Punch & Judy; echoes of younger days, of other worlds. Sound after sound mingle into one, the air flooded; a baby’s cry, a police siren, hellos and goodbyes; another wave of languages you cannot place. You move through the central buildings, wondering what to do, feeling displaced by time.
       Suddenly, through the constant hub and hum of life comes a solitary note, piercing the air like a needle, and you move towards it as though on a wire, running your hand along the red painted iron work of the railings, gazing down into the sunken terraces which were once a part of the old catacombs.

You swear to God, and you’re not even religious, this girl can sing. Carmen in ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt. You lean over the rail, arrested by every note. Punters sit captivated below, sun kissed, sipping white wine, smoking Gauloise Blondes, recharging feet worn down on Oxford Street, rising and falling with every aching note, and then to earth; the spell broken by a round of applause, the hum of background noise returning like radiation, hovering in the air, descending. She gulps water from a plastic bottle and wipes her brow in one exhausted movement before taking her hat and presenting it, upturned, to crowd and rapturous applause.
       ‘Evy?’ A voice takes you by surprise. You turn on a farthing. The sun beats down through the glass ceiling.
       ‘I thought it was you,’ he goes on. ‘What a surprise.’
       A pause. Generous laughter. And now you are looking at your feet; at passers by; at the boy with the girl in the too short flowery dress; at his scuffed shoes; inside yourself.
       ‘Say something...’
       You look up into his dark eyes for as long as you can bear, before lowering your gaze; refocusing on his burgundy neckerchief. ‘I didn’t think you’d… ’
       ‘Still be here? Where else would I be?’
       ‘How are you?’ Is this the best you can do? The heat is rising now, rising from the pit of your stomach, up through your centre, painting your cheeks.
       ‘Can’t you tell?’ He pirouettes, a flourish of the hand over fresh tails; ivory lace shirt cuffs; a tip of his black silk hat for his finale. And then he is still again, his face serious. ‘You look well.’ He hesitates, ‘Better than well. You haven’t changed at all.’ This last line is a lie.
       The heat. It overwhelms. Your mouth is dry, and just as you are thinking, I never should have come, the ground lurches nastily to the left. You reach out to touch the world, checking it is still there, and find only his hand. The market begins to turn in slow, ever decreasing circles, and you fall down, down, down, caught by the spiralling stone steps that reach up towards the surface to where there is light.

       ‘You gave us quite a scare,’ says a woman you have never seen before. She takes your other arm. ‘Is she with you?’
       He nods.
       You are watching the transaction from a distance, in black and white, frame by frame, feeling you have missed the most important point but unsure where to look. Hoisted onto unsteady legs, a pain shoots through your ankle, and this, this is what you are thinking: Fuck. Only you can barely stand, let alone run, and besides, where is there to run to?
       You allow yourself to be led through the teeming walkway to Ponti’s outdoor café terrace, pressed by those bear like arms into his shoulder. No time to think, you find yourself seated and served; hot sweet Earl Grey, a slice of lemon on the side, a teaspoon of déjà vu.
       ‘How are you feeling? Better?’
You worry the sweet smelling tea with the tip of your spoon, the throbbing in your ankle already beginning to fade.
       ‘I’m fine, really.’
       In the café, he takes out a silver cigarette case, removes a slender stick and taps it, filter down, on the table three times, habits etched.
       ‘It’s nice to see you,’ you say, following the script. The weather is next, then the show. You sip your tea, avoid prolonged eye contact, and reprimand yourself for every stolen glimpse.

When I first met Crabtree, I was sitting on the low wall of the raised beds in the garden. It ran along the length of the mural that once brightened the corner of Russell Street. Tapping along to the beat of a tea-chest bass I was lost in the music when he appeared out of nowhere, an upturned hat in his hand.
       “Would you like to give something?” he said, and I must have looked confused because he added, “For the show.”
       “I haven’t got any—”
       “Change! I have plenty of change.” He was grinning now, the hat spinning on the tip of his practiced finger like a carnival plate on a stick.
       “Hang on…” I said, guiltily digging in my bag, but he was gone, consumed by the crowd. I remember I watched him with increasing fascination; a black silk topper held aloft on slender fingers; a flourish of coat tails; a glimpse of long black curls. Later, as the band packed up and the crowd dispersed, he appeared behind me.
       “Pick a card, any card,” he said, and then, as I made a tentative choice, he grinned. “Now hold that thought. I’ll be right back.”

       ‘So how has life been treating you?’ he asks.
       ‘Okay. How is your show doing?’
       ‘I have a new bottler,’ he says. ‘The last one set her own show up. She was good too.’
       ‘Was she as…’ You swallow your words with the dregs of cold tea and he does not pursue them.
       ‘So,’ he says, ‘here we are again.’
       ‘Yes.’ After the pleasantries are over there is nowhere to go.
       ‘Why did you leave?’ hangs on the end of his tongue; an awkward silence cutting through the laughter that swells and rises on the indoor piazza. He orders two coffees, and you watch a brightly coloured club spinning up into the air, watching its inevitable descent and feeling yourself curling inwards, wrapped up like a fist. You are thinking of home, wondering how you could have allowed this to happen.

He was unlike anyone I had ever met. He made me hungry for things I could not name, and so different was he, that I had to have him, to cage him. In the restaurant on that first night, so dark I could barely see his face, he leaned across the table and pulled the card I had chosen from behind my ear. How I laughed, begged to know the trick of it. In his hands a deck of cards took on a life of their own as delicate fans formed and folded, disappeared into thin air. And even after I discovered his secrets, held them in my hand, even then, I watched him as a child watches a parent.

       ‘Why did you come back?’
       ‘I had some free time…. I wanted to see…’
       ‘See what, Evy?’ See him? Hear that voice again? Pick another card?
       You are shrugging your shoulders, shaking your head whilst he sits as a measure of stillness.
       ‘I’m married now,’ you say, the diamond on your left hand cutting at the soft underbelly of your finger. ‘I have three…’ Your smile wanes. He is rolling a coin across his knuckles, divining the past in the froth of his coffee.
       ‘Yes, I had noticed.’ These are not the things he wants to hear.
       You smile apologetically, unsure as to what you are sorry for. ‘What about you?’
       ‘Still in Camden,’ he says.
       ‘Still squatting then?’ There is relief in your voice as you feel, perhaps it was the right choice, but it is short lived.
       ‘I bought a house,’ he says. ‘Buskers are allowed mortgages too, you know.’
       And now you are sitting back looking at yourself and wondering what you are doing still sitting here, so close to the fire. You gulp your coffee, look for an exit.

The evening light casts a cloud over the glass roof of the indoor piazza. You are watching him. He is watching you. He smiles, but it is only a mouth smile. There is a reckoning to be done here and it is as inescapable as your next breath and the breath after that.
       ‘I didn’t come here to—’
       ‘To what? To walk around the market? Watch a show?’ His anger rises in small spirals. ‘What exactly did you come back for?’
       ‘Not to see you.’ Your words hang, suspended; a rush of applause from the piazza.
       ‘But you have seen me, so what now?’
       ‘I didn’t want it to…’ You reach for your bag as you rise up out of your seat. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

He proposed once, you know. In Trafalgar Square it was, sitting on the fountain wall, watching the black cabs drifting in and out of the Night Buses. I remember he took my hands in his, enveloped them.
       ‘I love you,’ he whispered, but even so I knew I could not pin him down. I accepted, of course. I vowed to follow him faithfully from one venue to the next, to stand outside Market Garden Security at five in the morning to book the best shows. He was my bird of paradise and I would train him to eat from the palm of my hand. I wore his coke can ring as though it were best quality platinum for at least a month before it slipped from my finger and was consigned to my little shoe-box of memories forever.

You consider your options as you enter the main building. Past the counter, down the stairs, one step at a time. The lights, low and soothing, and the smell of aromatic cinnamon teas unearth memories of mulled wine and rickety tables; bricked cellar walls and laughter. You catch a glimpse of yourself seated in the alcove, hands reaching across the table, a candle gently flickering.
       Behind the closed door of the ladies’ your aging face quizzes you in the mirror. The basin pedestal half conceals a cracked red tile. You re-touch your makeup, smooth down your hair. You take out your mobile phone and wait a few minutes before switching it off. As the door closes behind you with a gentle click, you move up the stairs once more, turning the corner into a flood of light; sunlit windows making everything glow golden; catching on shiny brass taps, glinting on row upon row of polished silver canisters filled with a gathering of exotic, fragrant unquantifiable substances. And oh, how the mind wanders when confronted with such trinkets for the eye. He catches you bewildered and unaware, peering in through the shop front. You wave without thinking. A storm in a Latte. The beating of a butterfly wing.

       ‘You were gone ages,’ he says as you take your seat.
       ‘It’s okay,’ he says. ‘Walk with me.’
       ‘It’s too crowded here. I won’t even talk if you don’t want me to.’

His flesh is warm and dry as fingers curl around fingers. A girl again. Almost. Together you trace the cobbled steps of yesteryear, following the narrow byway which leads to the church gardens.
       ‘I remember this place,’ you say, ‘A little green haven in the middle of a dusty city.’
       He grins like a schoolboy, leaps onto, then over the bench, coat tails fanning out behind him like a peacock. ‘Come on. There’s something I want you to see.’
       You follow him, body acting ahead of your thoughts. Into the shade of the old building you go, and all you can hear is the sound of your feet on the cast iron steps and the rushing of blood in your ears.

On the fourth and final balcony he stops and waits for you, hands on the rail, surveying the gardens below.
       ‘I love it up here,’ he says.
       ‘It’s beautiful…’ and it is, sitting atop a fire escape in the middle of London with a man in a black top hat and coat tails.
He sits down and takes something from one of his many concealed pockets. You are watching in silence. This is what you are thinking; Leave. Before it is too late. But you recognise the small wooden box with disbelief.
       ‘You kept it?’
       ‘Never found one better,’ he says, his voice so soft it is barely a whisper.
You ought to say, ‘Don’t do that,’ but your words are lost along with all resolve, and you find yourself slipping back into the rhythm of his breathing.
       ‘I wanted to be normal,’ you say, by way of absolution. ‘I needed that.’
       ‘You were normal,’ he says. ‘What you wanted was security, and that, my love, is one of life’s better illusions.’ He deftly rolls the papers between his fingers, licks the edges, creates a seal.
       ‘I wanted children, a family. Was that so awful?’ You watch as the pungent smoke emerges from his lips in a perfect ‘O’.
       ‘Are you happy, Evelyn?’
       ‘I think so,’ you say, but sometimes there are no answers, no matter how simple it seems.

You reach for his hand, the present forgotten; encapsulated in the past. You can feel the heat of the smoke as you inhale the hashish deep into your lungs; hold it for as long as you can bear.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, clad in sweat, my heart pounding. I dream that I am walking down a country lane. It is summer and everywhere is a montage of colour and noise and I am feeling relaxed and happy, as though the possibilities are endless. But as I walk the sky draws over me, dark and forceful. I look behind me to see the way back is overgrown with shoulder high bracken, my footprints consumed. The countryside has vanished now, the way forward veiled with a fine mist, and I know, though I have never been here before, that just ahead in the distance I will come to a place where the path diverges and the air is still and thoughtful.

* * * * *