Absentia

Absentia

Spring comes
when blossoms run
in high winds
from the tree’s pink fists

It is then I think of you. San Francisco five years ago, when you began to disappear. The breeze blew across to the bridge, its stunted red ladders climbing out of the water. We had argued about something or nothing and you would not take my hand. Staring out at Alcatraz, a little rock from here, I remembered reading about the Harts family who lived there until the seventies. Their mail was delivered by helicopter from a US traffic reporter. Perhaps we needed our own island. Acres of space between us to fill with our noise. Or mine, as a year from then you would stop talking completely. I shiver in the heat of the day.

I wanted to hold you up to the light to reveal more than your pale skin betrayed. Unlike a leaf, in which a network of secret veins is illuminated, you were transparent. I tried to drag your tongue into conversations, laying out breadcrumbs of shared memories. Your voice did not sound like it used to – it was as if you were underwater, or calling from afar. How long had it been this way?

Yosemite. We walked together amongst the trees, the tallest in the country. Trunks older than we’ll ever be and six times the height, at least. But even they could not inspire any roots to ground you here, or elsewhere. Alien body on foreign soil. Where do you belong? In something you cannot have. Perhaps that is what you sought. Transient as a scrawling in the sand, destined to be swept out under the surf of tides.

In the evening, we sat around a fire with old friends and I realised they were as wonderful as I never forget they were. The neighbours in our forest, who pass us messages through the tips of branches with underground fingers that stretch. We laughed so hard we disturbed a flock of birds. A feather fell and I placed it in your hair. Poor little pilgrim with a runaway horse.

It takes a lot to severe these connections, those that grow as we do. But you were bent on becoming rootless. Alive through some unknown miracle.

Old as tree rings. The rings that once bound us together, marriage, chains, chainsaw. These details that could not hold you to the world, spider’s strands so delicate and almost unbreakable. Now, when people ask me how you are they find it hard to remember your name. Or anything about you. You have wilfully erased yourself. Your shadow flickers over me now and then, like seconds of static in the radio.

I received mail stamped in bold red RETURN TO SENDER. There were almost twenty letters and I don’t remember sending any of them. I opened envelopes of dead air packed in between lined pages. I stopped after the first three and tore up the rest, fed them to the fireplace. There’s snow outside the window of the cabin. Lake Tahoe looks like a dark iris.

In Canada, the forest burns. The trees scream silently under the blaze. Cars drive on the black tongued highway, walls of fire flanking their sides. Perhaps you were never really here.

Years later, the phone rings. I question hello into the receiver. I wait, an exhale on the other side followed by a whisper. It’s nearly inaudible, but I know it’s you.

I clutch the receiver until my knuckles burst white. At first I’m too embarrassed to speak, but then a dulled rage is unearthed and I yell why now? Why did you disappear? Loathing the effect you still have. I wipe tears away with the jumper full of holes from that Yosemite trip. You say nothing, of course. I stop talking, my quiet removing the words I said in surprise. I listen harder. Waiting for you to begin.

Image credit: A giant sequoia in the New Forest, Hampshire.

Wallflowers

Wallflowers

 

 

The day has folded up the corners of its picnic blanket and parents are brushing crumbs off their children as they pack them into the car. With skin darkened in the sun, they are exhausted by its heat slumped together in the backseat. Crusts of sandwiches not eaten are crumpled into the cool bag. Up front, the mother fans herself with polaroids of split seconds that will come to signify an idyllic summer. Theirs is the only car on the road as streetlamps blink on.

The older child awakens and holds her hand out in the cool breeze. She opens and closes her palm, catching balls of air that aren’t there. The younger one wakes up and quietly starts to cry. His large sniff attracts his mother’s attention, “What’s wrong, honey? Are you feeling unwell?” He wipes his nose with his hand, solemnly shaking his head. The older girl puts her arm around him, she knows. It’s over. He’s already missing the ballgames and warm lemonade.

Such strange, sensitive children. They grow up, inevitable as a snow used to be in winter. Wind chimes ring. Crickets. It’s now many summers later with hot nights, sultry in Plath’s Bell Jar, a copy of which peeks out beneath the older girl’s bed. Their parents are out for the evening, so they have a party. They invite just under two handfuls of friends and set up the rec room with cushions and bowls of pretzels and M&M’s. They smile occasionally at each other as the boy puts candles on the table and the girl sifts through her parents’ LPs, putting her favourites to one side. Looking up he asks, “Is Sam coming?” She shrugs almost imperceptibly, “Maybe. Is Lucy?” He mirrors her response.

July’s skies do not darken. The pale light hangs through the window casting squares of dusk on the shag carpet. The sister puts on the first in a long line up of albums. Her brother sits on a cushion near the open sliding door staring at the birch tree’s branches swaying. The doorbell rings ushering in a spatter of hellos. Bottles clank as the guests stroll into the room, the caps unleashing a fizz as they’re passed around between the older kids.

“How’d you score the beer?” asks Sam, shyly picking at a loose thread on his plaid shirt. They’re all under eighteen and don’t dare get fake IDs. “Older brother. Got us this too,” says Robert, throwing a tinfoil square onto the table they are sat around. A freckled girl wearing an oversized men’s shirt leans forward to discover the contents. “Sweet!” she says and brings out crinkled papers and tobacco.

The younger brother watches as she grinds the green leaves and rolls a long, slim cigarette. Lucy hasn’t come yet. His best friend Marcus is standing next to him. They both sip from soda cans near the glass doors. Marcus is awkward in the presence of such ‘cool’ kids. He hasn’t grown into his limbs yet and tries to contort himself into the smallest shapes possible. The boy recognises this and tells him Robert is saving up for a Fender guitar. Marcus’s pale eyes meet his. “Talk to him, tell him you play. I think he’s forming a band.” His body relaxes slightly as he goes to sit near Robert.

Records crackle with the electricity of as yet unknown sexual abandon. The girls dance together in the middle of the room, jokingly trying to pull Sam up. He shrugs them off, busying himself with the album sleeves. The girl half closes her eyes, arms outstretched skyward, dark brown hair hangs down her back. Her paisley summer dress grazes her thighs.

You see us together,
chasing the moonlight,
my cinnamon girl.

The doorbell rings again and the boy runs to answer it, content to leave Marcus now he was opening up. Robert’s an easy-going guy, relaxed in the leather jacket handed down from one his older brothers. He’s the one that introduced them all to Bob Dylan’s music. An unpretentious linchpin who somehow made everyone the better version of themselves. Even the jealousy Sam once harboured was sated in his tranquil presence.

The boy opens the door to reveal Lucy under the porch light, its glow painting her skin chestnut against her pale blue dress. He is unsure whether to hug her or shake her hand. He plumps for the latter and she giggles, putting on a mock business demeanour and takes his hand with a firmness that surprises him, “A pleasure to see you, Mr Newman.” He tries to regain himself and shows her to the kitchen, “Do you want soda or water or… something?” “A soda is fine,” she smiles, tapping her heels on the linoleum.

They enter the rec room to stand beneath the hanging cloud of smoke and incense. The night is a still one. Even the open doors do not dissipate the air. Sam flicks the light switch off in favour of candles. The small spark of the lighter flickering wicks into life illuminates his face. He pushes thick strawberry blonde curls out of his face and begins to talk to Molly about the effects of mushrooms on memory in this article he read. Robert and Marcus are discussing Simon and Garfunkel, the latter nodding eagerly and shyly giving his opinion in between Robert’s lulled sentences. His sister is half-dancing, slipping in and out of the conversations between swigs of her almost empty bottle.

Sam leans over to Robert, “She’s really something.” Unlike Molly, sharp tongued, round and smiling, she was unobtainable. Dancing around her own spiral. A dream they had both woken up with physical signs of. Not just lust, but the desire to share that freedom. The brother saw them gazing at his sister. He was not embarrassed, but proud of how cool she was. Even Lucy seemed to think so. Those two shaded wallflowers inched their hands towards each other in the near darkness, watching the dancer in the middle of the room. They interlock their fingers. Lucy turns to him and smiles, her teeth gleaming.

The beer supply ran dry quickly as the heat held. The sister grabs Molly and goes off to seek her parents’ liquor cabinet. They come back into the room with four bottles apiece and redrew the lines on the bottles in a clumsy attempt to conceal their consumption. Sloshing the barely there coloured liquids in martini glasses and any tumbler to hand, they chug back the ill-conceived concoctions with grimaces and burning throats.

The brother and his friends stand to the side, Molly sees and pours them a drink to share. She doesn’t condescend, telling them to add more soda if they don’t like it, “I swear adults pretend to enjoy this shit”. Both Marcus and Lucy sip and wrinkle their faces. The brother, in a show of bravado, necks the cup’s contents, “No big deal, I’ve drank worse”. Their cup is refilled, but he is the only one who drinks for second, third time.

Records are dragged off the player leaving scratched trails. The group has divided, stopping their close-faced conversations to sip spirits or smoke the joint floating around the circle. Sam is slowly edging his hand up the older sister’s leg as she talks about Jim Morrison. “I want to write with that wildness, Sam. Listen:

– Moment of inner freedom
when the mind is opened & the
infinite universe is revealed
.”

Molly is resting her elbow on Robert’s knee, watching Sam trying to get lucky. She jibes, “So Robbie, gonna wow me with some poetry?” He pretends to think deeply, “There once was a girl called Molly, whose presence made everyone jolly. She was down on her luck and desperate to –” She pushed him off the chair before he has the chance to finish. They both start to play wrestle on the carpet.

Noticing the party’s bell curve is descending into physical contact, Lucy says she better go home otherwise her dad will worry. The boy starts to feel not so good and begs her to stay, but she kisses his cheek goodbye. He sees her walking out of the room but can’t muster the energy to get up. The smoke is becoming too much. He staggers across the room to the sliding doors and hits his knee on the table, knocking off some bottles. Outside, the fresh air hits him making the trees in the yard double. He falls to his knees and throws up. Sam starts to laugh at the boy and the sister pulls away from him so quickly, he doesn’t see her interest in him evaporate.

The boy tries to focus on the blades of grass when he feels a hand rubbing his back. “Lucy! You stayed, I… Sorry.” He tries to tell her all his feelings, but his words spill together. A carrot lingers on his chin as he looks up. It’s his sister. She shushes him, proffering a glass of water.

A car pulls up in the drive way as the boy vomits the last of his stomach’s contents. Robert and Molly quickly and quietly begin Operation Clean Up with mutual expertise. The sister half carries her brother to his room with Marcus’ help. She takes off his t-shirt and tells him to drink the water and take a shower. She’s authoritative, but loving.

The guests slip out the back door through the bushes and run down the road laughing. When they’re out of immediate eyesight, Sam turns back to the house and searches for the girl in the upstairs window. The light is already out.

Next morning, the boy creaks open the door to his sister’s room, “Hey, you awake?” She murmurs and rolls away from the window, “Come ‘ere”. He goes to the bed and she lifts the sheet like a sail. The sunlight dances over it as she wraps him up in a hug. He tries to turn and face her, “Thanks for -” “Shhh! Too early,” she replies and links her fingers with his.

Image credit: James Vaughan via Flickr.

Fast Food

Fast Food

It’s late at night, or very early in the morning, depending on how you want to look at it. Under the eternal glowing lights, day and night meet to merge into a rotation of shift patterns, on and off. The security guard holds open the door under the golden arches, an impassive Saint Peter beckoning lost souls in to salty salvation.

I pass under his blank stare, with a tipsy smile of radiant thanks, to join the zigzagged queue of road maintenance workers, partygoers and teenagers with nowhere else to go. In the booths either side of the tiled counter-bound aisle, customers consume their compact meals alone or in small groups. The hum of a group of hooded youths’ hushed words is punctuated by shrieks of drunken revellers that bounce against the walls. Like tiny islands with their own dialects, chatter fuels the undercurrent of sounds. There is no music, not here, or in any of the other mirror image restaurants that spring up on every street.

After placing my order, a choice I will undoubtedly regret tomorrow, I watch a slim server named Mafelda checking a large batch of fries dripping hot fat. An automated supply of burgers emerges over the top of a counter pushed by a hand seemingly disconnected from any being. The chubby little paper ovals are shoved to sit with their familiars until an order is up. The servers joke with each other in between bored calls of “Next please!” The thought of clocking off shining behind their eyes.

Moments later, my food is folded into a brown paper bag and dispensed with little vigour, sauce sachets thrown as an afterthought. I turn to seek my own booth and settle to an empty one by the bathrooms. Sipping a coagulated milkshake, I assume the intent stare of other lone diners on the meal ahead. I am halfway through a mouthful of slim fries when my gaze lifts to a voice asking, “Do you mind if I join you?”

I survey the new arrival to my island; he’s baby faced but good looking, well dressed in dark clothing and incredibly perky despite the hour. I wonder if he’s on something, and if he has any left. I raise one shoulder, “I’d be delighted”, half mocking the formality of his introduction and trying to calculate his aim at choosing this occupied booth over any of the others.

We offer tidbits of information about our evenings, before he reveals he’s a trainee detective with the police. I burst out laughing, “But you look about twelve!” His quick smile removes any doubt of offence, as he shows me his identification. Intrigued with the prospect that he’s legit, I fire every question at him that bubbles into my head to which he enthusiastically responds. He doesn’t have a Luther style coat, he has not yet broken down any doors and avoids my insistence about reported police stashes of illegal substances. He knows his new position sounds impressive, but any arrogance he may have is scuppered by his can’t believe his luck answers.

Huddled over our trays, he asks me about myself in between the layers of questions I’ve stacked before him. I wonder how good his interrogation techniques are, film images mentally flickering. In my wine-fuelled state I believe my countering powers of deduction are excellent. Without directly asking, I find out he has a girlfriend, where he’s from and that the police station is around the corner. I knew the last fact before our conversation began, but still count the remembrance of it.

He picks up that I mention a current relationship twice, jokingly assuring me he won’t try anything. So I decide to flirt, without aim. It’s strange the ease with which people open up when someone appears genuinely interested.  Under the tacky bright lights the best and worst of anyone is accentuated.

We finish, crumpling our wrappers and slurping the last sugared liquids, leaving behind the forever open doors and walk into the night. A drizzle has just started and we quicken our pace. Of course we are going the same way. We actually are, not one of those quick lies that strangers say to prolong a conversation. Though I get the feeling he would have walked me as far as possible.

The roads are comfortingly busy, even now, as we turn down a tree lined side street that is home to the station. He exaggeratedly exhales and looks at the building, its single light a beacon among the leaves, “Well, this is me”. Not very subtle, detective, I think. “I’ve got another eight hours before my shift finishes,” he says. “Shame,” I reply, “but if I find any intriguing clues I know where to go, at least.” There’s a pause. Though we have long since realised nothing could go further in any direction from this chance Friday night meeting, it feels like we’ve skipped a step.

We exchange numbers, out of social custom, though it’s doubtful that we’ll speak again. Perhaps another dreary morning I’ll meet him over quick calories, like Brief Encounter but with more cholesterol. Or, more likely, I’ll think of him the few times I’m drunk and desperate enough for greasy burgers.

 

Image credit: Junk shop in San Francisco.

Vows

Vows

Love is a catch all word covering many degrees of emotion, from never wanting to leave a person’s side to an overwhelming desire to punch them in the mouth. Not many people will tell you that, especially greeting card companies. Under the calm sea of knowing you are wanted and you want, something a lot more transactional is underway. It’s not necessarily a bad deal for either person, but it’s useful, you know? Like, some people use it as a reassurance when signing off a telephone call or instead of saying thank you after someone gives them something, like an unexpected cup of tea. At times it’s like a big safety net, knowing you could live at your absolute worst, but having someone to love you eliminates just how low rock bottom can be. Other times, however, it has no agenda. Love’s free form grows with time like an overrun greenhouse into a pleasant wilderness of purity at the forgetful hands of its keeper.

The variants of these states are often seen, most commonly, between two people in any manner of settings. Like the way drunks proclaim feelings to anyone, letting them free like balloons in the wind. Or that woman in beige staring into her cup at the airport with a man who was telling her she had to make a decision before the impending flight. At times there are more active parties in the various triangles, squares or pentagons, but two is the amount that makes it complicated enough in this instance.

A stolen coffee meeting extended into a stroll around city monuments. They came upon a nearby church, so commonplace in the bustle of taxis humming along the street, it seemed to have lost the weight that religion symbiotically gives to places of worship.

“Have you ever been in here?” he asked, already walking at a pace towards it.

“Never,” she replied, trailing after.

Beyond the heavy wooden doors, they assumed the hush that others were enacting, mostly tourists, save for one suited man nodding his head and muttering as he faced the coat racks. Occasional exclamations of “Jesus, forgive me” could be heard. They exchanged a look. Perhaps they admired his belief in a town that beggared it. Or maybe the shared eyebrow raise was one of genuine amusement.

They shuffled into the narrow, hard wooden bench in the back row, both looking up at the ornate electrically-operated chandeliers. The midday sun spilled miniature rainbows of possibility through the stain glass windows. “These places are good for the soul, whether you believe in it or not,” he said.

They spoke in hushed voices about religion with mischievous smiles, their shoulders and thighs touching warmly until she sighed and looked towards the statues of saints whose names and stories neither of them would ever know. She broke the pause in conversation with a quiet, “What are we going to do?”

Ah. This was it. Just like magic: you reveal it and it’s gone. Impossible to pin down; that which causes the tone of tension to change from tantalising to taciturn. There’s a difference between having nothing to say and the weight of things unsaid. He too sighed lightly, “Everyone is responsible for their own actions, but in this case you aren’t.”

They both took a moment to consider this, before she replied, “That’s ridiculous”. He mined his way deeper into the emotional well, causing their exchanges to bubble forth, frothing whispers. They had seemingly taken on the fervent ramblings of the man behind them, who was still praying to the coats. The pair of them gabbling over each other, they never seemed like ones to think about the weight of what they were truly saying. More like anything to prevent a silence, to fill that desirable space between them.

The elderly tourist couple gave benevolent smiles induced by the respectful quietude. How easy they made it seem! Enjoying a new destination in their matching waterproofs, the man with a camera around his neck, the woman clutching a pamphlet and sharing her newfound knowledge. They had no idea of the difficult game the bench sitters were playing, trying to ascertain if they felt the same way about one another. How much it was worth. The consequences of cloak and dagger. Tightrope walking along a pendulum; there’s always one person who cares more than the other at any point.

After the conversation had looped around the possibilities and returned to its unsteady beginning, he responded semi-philosophically, “Life is complex and complicated. We can’t always have what we want. You may think this is it, but it probably isn’t good for you.” Just like that. Her face shuttered itself down, once more empty of emotion. She smoothed her skirt, glancing at him briefly in agreement that the conversation was over. They stood up slowly, as if raising themselves out of a bath that still held heat, reluctant to accept the knowledge it was over. But her jaw was set as she made for the exit, throwing back the heavy door that would have banged if he hadn’t caught it.

By the time they left the church, the closeness they came in with was left there also. They went on, with no firm decision in all those words, but always possibility, like the lone flicker of the prayer-lit candle in the doorway.

Image credit: A small church in Reykjavik.

Just Kidding

USA 162

 

Just Kidding

It was the summer he decided to fall in love. Not necessarily with a person but maybe an ideology or a place, like the ocean. He memorised verses of poetry and always carried a book under his arm should he ever need to impress a long haired girl in a suede miniskirt. That was not his soul reason, mostly. It was the year he sought Simon and Garkfunkel’s America. Hopping in and out of air conditioned buses to sticky streets as his eyes darted at colour and sound, building tips piercing sky. Everything novel, nouveau, this could be it – his America.

Day. Eating clam chowder out of sourdough bowls the size of their heads; he sat with his family staring over at fisherman throwing crates in and out of ships. Salt breeze in the hot sun, everything stank of fish. Vacant on guided tours, headphones glued but words squeaking through the gaps between his lobes and the padded black donuts, escaping out into the history of the place it was telling. Bright interwoven lines of the past, whitewashing his short timeline into obscurity. Snapping landmarks on the family camera, enveloping images they would show others as they temporarily imprinted themselves within them.

Night. Real sky muted, curtain of haze dotted with fat unblinking streetlights hovering over the pavement, or sidewalk as they called it here. Drunks on corners throwing dice, their faded football jerseys stinking of urine as they eyed up young girls trailing passed in denim cut offs. Pageant waifs fading into the night. His skin prickles with warm shivers from cheap warm beer as he watches them. The setting sun paints the sky tropical pink, phone poles and their black wires slice the colours into neat pieces. Everything could be a postcard.

He ambles back to the hotel, strange building sandwiched between expensive galleries and cheap liquor shops. Wandering up, down long corridors hiccupping beer bubbles that carry light feet. The highest floor is five but the fire door heads to the roof. View below is not as ant-like as from the Empire. “You know it shrinks in the summer?” said a man to his wife after reading it from the brochure. In the cool roof breeze, he looks at the city piling up on itself, old, new, cranes carting pieces of future in iron jaws. He had not yet discovered Howl, but felt it in his bones, like most teenagers who like books and have a difficult period.

He seeks to ground himself and ends up by the hotel pool talking to two broads, which is not a derogatory term but merely the best one to describe them. Brightly printed pantsuits and pearly dentures proclaim how much they love his accent in between vague comparisons to an endless supply of nephews and cousins. He takes a cigarette from them and drops the titles of books he’s read like the ashes into his lap, saying bold things about a rose-tinted future lined with lofty ambitions.

A young Hispanic girl, maybe early twenties, sits with feet dipped in the pool. Watching her for a while, he analyses her profile in the half light. She is playing with a small gold cross on her neck. Her small fingers loop around the chain, coiling and uncoiling it. At once, he is in love. He’s planning out a story already; where they met, how they would have a long distance relationship and send letters via air mail. Their words carried across the waves transported by planes. Perhaps he would move here, or there, wherever she was from. He had seen her loitering in the lobby, probably waiting for her parents too. He hoped she would lift her chin so he could see her face because he can’t remember it.

Puffed up with beer, he excuses himself from his present company and goes to sit near her. The older women smile knowingly behind their cigarette fog that melds with their perfectly set hair. His bottom hits the concrete as some of the bottle’s contents spills into the unnatural blue. Her feet kick the frothing chlorine with a shy giggle. A moment shared watching the underwater lights ripple from the splashes.

The girl turns to him, smiling. Only one of her eyes meets his. The other stares at her nose. The alcohol means he doesn’t mentally jerk like anyone would have normally. Not out of rudeness, but the expectation of symmetry that blurs faces into one another until some feature sticks out like this one. She slides her hand closer across the poolside tiles. He jerks it away and reaches for the beer on the other side him, but smiles back. After a while, she gets up and leaves. The old ladies have gone too.

There is a strange tranquillity in his sense of loss. Television sets cast blue shadows out of all the balcony windows that look inwards, down at the pool. He thinks about jumping in and holding his breath, knowing he cannot swim. He pictures a pool boy fishing out his bloated corpse the next morning, making him think of fat seals on the pier. Out of the corner of his eye there is a shadow, a potted plant spider crawling in the fading light.

“I thought you said you weren’t coming back,” his younger brother says when he creeps back into the room. Habitually sneaking though the hallway lights are on and spilling an oblong of light into the room. He feels like he’s lived a thousand mental lives between the time he left and now. It has only been an hour or so. One that stretched out like the great open highway of possibility the singers reach at in his favourite songs. He grabs another beer from the mini bar paid for by his parents. Shifting in his twin bed, chin in hand, his little brother says “so you aren’t going to join those Harry Christmases then?” The older one feigns great thought, “Nah. I was just kidding.”

Image credit: view from a ferry on a windy day.

The Majesty of Sunsets

IMG_20150304_173053

The Majesty of Sunsets

Burnt orange red and yellow cascade in bold splashes, dipping buildings in copper tones as trees turn to gold leaf and bird wings open and close like black brackets speckling the sky. A slight breeze in the haze of dusk where hours unravel and air hums with traffic, shouts from a playground, basketball thumps against the concrete court.

There’s possibility in the fading light. When it’s this beautiful, as if a brilliant artist layered the Pantone® colours perfectly, a sunset is near impossible to capture. It is in those quiet times, when sun watching becomes an intimate moment alone or with a lover or group, we issue a collective sigh at the seismic kaleidoscope.

The sun must know how beautiful it is. Perhaps it’s quite humble, thinking I’m nothing special, just going about its business. Appearing to rise and set as the earth turns, growing crops and making people run to the beach.

Throughout the year, particularly in Britain, we bemoan the cold and continually changing weather. It’s one of our best conversational pieces. We get taught how to describe it in other languages, es ist kalt, il pleu, hace viento.  When there’s only a faint glimmer or it’s clouded entirely, queues seem twice their length, taxis splash bystanders with deep puddles, the post office is always closed the only time you’re available to collect a parcel and so on.

Until the cloud’s drift off and the sun hangs high, beaming down on those below. It’s much more difficult to feel cross when heat prickles skin and smiles spread like Chinese whispers. Moods are languid when shadows stretch. Going outside becomes an activity in itself; shall we take a walk in the park, cycle, swim in the lido? People bare limbs to absorb rays and colour like fruit, sparking up barbeques with the tiny flaming cousins of the sun. Their bodies dot the banks of canals, skin merging to one multicoloured wave that ripples along the land as the water sparkles. A collective regeneration of vitamin D cells; the positivity is palpable.

I wonder if the sun secretly checks on all the Instagram pages it is hashtagged in, if it happily spikes at likes and shares. Scrolling through posts with a big golden thumb thinking yeah that was quite a good one, I looked radiant that day, I should hang out with those palm trees more often.

If the sun was on a dating site age would be problematic; it was born 4.5 billion years ago or so. But the sun plays it cool, or as cool as it can be for 300 degrees. Just listing hobbies, like an interest in alternate energy sources, favourite music (here comes the sun- for motivation of course), the arts, while trying to avoid any mention of the Mayan calendar. Good traits include punctuality, being bright and gardening, though physical intimacy is a problem.

While the sun’s lighting another part of the world, the moon looks down pensively at the darkened globe, continents dotted with lights. Maybe it thinks, at least they can land on me; see what I’m all about. They’re the same age, the moon and the sun. Except the moon turns hot and cold as it reflects the sun’s rays – it lacks atmosphere, you see – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some people go for aloof. Some people are night owls. There is such a thing as moon bathing…

At the time of writing, the sun has risen 9,052 times in my lifetime. It has seen the history of the entire world, the future beyond this lifespan, up to the point where it may eventually burn out.  Stationary centre of the universe, unblinking lava star pulling on planets like buttons in the dark quilt of the vast atmosphere. I imagine tomorrow it will carry on like it’s no big deal.

Image credit: the view from my window.

Mindscape

Mindscape

The moon and sun sit high in the blended greys of night and day sky. Two eyes suspended over a barren land. This is where the four winds meet to scatter, a place where time is suspended but moves at twice its normal rate. Lone island of craggy peaks surrounded by a moat of fierce teeth etched from the foaming black sea.

A castle looms out of the haze, piercing clouds with its complex maze of turrets, battlements and stained glass windows. Strength exudes from the dark stones of this solitary sentinel. Periscopes and telescopes peer through arrow slits out onto the wasteland. An inverted panopticon kept by a cloaked figure looking to learn but defend from the world outside.

Deep underground in a locked vault, a glowing, golden orb pulses rays of warmth and light. About it, ivy winds its way around the high ceilings, slinking in and out of padlocks. A host of jungle flowers and cacti flower continually. As far as an eye can see, buds burst open in silent exaltation. Their scent is intoxicating. In this ironclad greenhouse there is seldom wilting. In the darkest corner of the room, a purple monkshood flower sways. High above, a low grumble shoots through the cracked earth.

Something is coming.

From the highest turret, the cloaked body sees the spillage of inky sea. Speckling the swirling black, a fleet of bone white boats sail land bound. The scopes collectively snap shut. A crescendo of locks bolting echoes around the vast structure. The dark stones slowly smoulder, ripening to a dark red to bright white, burning bright. The castle shimmers in and out of view until, as if it has been blown out, it disappears with a static screech.

The ashen boats shatter against the rocks oozing black shadows from their decks like unholy coconuts.  The dark juice drips across the splintered stones, collecting to cast out scores of savage forms.  They shriek and jump to pull rocks from their roots and hurtle them towards the space where the castle sat moments ago. In the rain of rocks the shimmer cracks, spitting the castle back into vision like a fractured mirror. The shadows attack.

This is not the first time they have captured the castle. After each battle, the hooded figure builds more traps, riddles and red herrings between the orb and the outside. But this time the shadows have grown in number.  Sneaking, sleek assassins who slide through the cracks in the walls, the eyes of keyholes, beneath doors, their icy grip poised to snatch the radiant orb.

They flurry around the castle, snaking through corridors until one happens upon a pocket of heat. It stops and shivers in the unfamiliar sense beckoning its wispy comrades. They scan for an entrance, heaving against the ground until their force crumbles the rocky layers to the depths.

The castle is blackening, a burning coal near extinguished. Now the large and small shadows set to unpick the mass of knotted locks that spring open under their sharpened fingers, clattering to the stone floor in a storm of metal thumps. After the cacophony, a final lock releases the iron door to the orb.

The plants recoil in the cold that the shadows bring. Leaves fall from their branches as the tropical bouquets shrivel to vein-riddled monochrome petals. The biggest shadow lifts the orb from its central point. A shockwave pulses across the island. The shadow throws the glowing sphere between its companions. Each touch dribbles ink onto the orb’s surface causing the golden gleam to curdle. A smaller shadow misses a catch and the darkening sphere shatters.

***

The castle fell beneath the moon and sun. The shadows rejoiced and unfurled their black flags from the turrets to celebrate another victory. They stayed only a short while to survey their destruction before skulking back to their bone boats for another island to raze.

A single shard glows amidst the ruins. Tiny shoots spring from beneath the rubble to lean towards its heat. The hooded figure picks up the stones to build a ring around the small fragment.