Monthly Archives: January 2015

THE GOOD MOTHER

We mustn’t talk too loudly, because Dolly’s asleep in her cot over there. She’s teething, and I’ve only just managed to get her off.

They said I shouldn’t have a baby. They that said if I did it would be taken away by social services because I’m mental. At least that’s what the neighbours said. The official people just said that it would be too hard for me to cope, and I wouldn’t understand what to do.

They think I’m stupid.

I know they were trying to be nice, but it’s not fair to say I couldn’t look after a baby. I mean it’s natural, isn’t it, having babies. Anyone can learn to feed a baby, and change its nappy and keep it warm and safe.

I take her out every day in the buggy, because grandma said babies need fresh air. I never leave her behind in the supermarket like they thought I would. I talk to her and play with her, and she’s learning really fast. I bath her and always make sure her clothes are clean and dry. She’s never had a day’s illness because I look after her so well. I love her more than anything, and she’s easy to love anyway, because she’s so pretty and good, and she hardly ever cries.

And love is what really matters, isn’t it? Just because I’ve got what they call special educational needs, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to love people, especially my own child. Loving is easier than learning.

Anyway, I proved them wrong. They never even check up on her, because I’m doing such a good job. They said so.

I called her Dolly after my grandma, because she was clever and kind and she always said nice things to me, and I want my little girl to be like her when she grows up.

I wouldn’t want her to be like me, because people make fun of me and I don’t think they like me very much. I don’t know why, because I’m always polite and friendly, like the teachers taught me to be.

The father? She hasn’t got a father. I don’t know how it happened, it just did. Well, I suppose she must have a father somewhere, but we don’t need him. He must have been someone I stood beside at the bus stop when my carer took me out one time. When I was in school my friend Lena said that can happen sometimes. She knew lots of grown-up things, but some of them didn’t sound very nice, and I don’t believe people would do them.

Oh! Dolly’s waking up. Would you like to hold her?

Don’t say that! Why does everyone keep saying that? She’s not a doll, she’s my baby, and I’d like you to leave now. Go on. Go away and leave us alone.

© Jane Paterson Basil

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DINING ON LOVE

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When puberty snatched me
away from the meadows
and pulled me towards
untasted temptation,
your love was an entree
that followed an orgy
of meats tough and bitter,
and soft sickly sweets.

A shrug of your shoulders
fast cleansed my palate,
then you fed me fine flavours
of deep-scented spices
tucked in your life-force,
and clean flowing water
leaving the fresh taste
on the tip of my tongue.

But you had another
dessert on your table
and I was an extra
to love and to savour.
You needed to diet
and I had to leave you
to find your way home
and dine with your other.

But though I may hunger
and long for the fullness
that only your presence
can satisfy,
I still taste the flavour
of love-kissed starters,
and honeyed ribbons
still bind me to you,

and all of the scraps
I took from your table
are safely preserved
in my ageing heart.
Each day I remember
the feast that you gave me
and now I am ready
to truthfully say

I freed you, but held you within.

© Jane Paterson Basil

HOUSE MUSIC

Mr. Sharpe’s house sat alone in a peaceful valley, away from the rest of civilization. It was built into a hill. That is to say, it appeared to have grown out of the hill. The front of it was erected on pillars, and the living area sat on top of them, about 15 feet from the ground. It was a beautiful, imposing building, although not large.

I was standing nearby when I heard the window smash, followed by a cascade of shards of glass which tinkled on impact with the paved ground below. A table appeared in the gaping hole where, a few moments before, a sheet of glass had been. At a push from unseen hands, the table toppled out uncertainly, gathering confidence before landing on the paving slabs below, accompanied by the cacophony of splintering timber.

As I watched in fascination, a fridge appeared in the space, only to speedily follow its wooden predecessor. It crunched and buckled as it hit the deck. The door fell off, and lay defeated beside it.

I sat down at a safe distance, to enjoy the show. Next to arrive was a drawer full of china, which flew up satisfyingly as it made contact with the corner of the fridge, before sliding down the heap and shattering. More drawers followed; full of cutlery, small electrical items, saucepans packed with food from the fridge and cupboards; tins, bottles and packages, each playing their unique part in the symphony, each having their own special sound, and yet each item influenced by what it landed on, and by how far it flew before settling. The kitchen units were not spared. They joined the growing heap of debris in front of the house.

And now, the kitchen must have been cleared, because black bin bags were appearing, to land with an apologetic whump, and split open, vomiting pastel shirts, dark woollens, crisp grey suits and white cotton underwear. Yet more clothing bounced out of oak drawers as they touched base. I saw ornaments, shoes, beds and bedding flying out of the window.

I wondered, if I closed my eyes, would I be able to tell from listening, what new thing had presented itself? Not wishing to miss any part of the show, I didn’t experiment with that idea.

I particularly appreciated the sound made by the ceramic bathroom fittings as they crashed to the paving, their white fragments flying and skimming scratchily.

The TV was disappointing. I have heard that old-fashioned televisions explode. Sadly, state-of-the-art ones don’t. But it made a kind of music, as did the old-fashioned sound system, when its moment arrived.

The sofa knocked an exterior wall light off the wall, adding a subversive note. Its weight brought the whole orchestra to life beneath it. It was sturdily made, and didn’t break. Neither did the armchairs, which rebounded off the sofa to cuddle together beside it.

After the big pieces of furniture had been dispatched, the valley became quiet. There were no other houses for miles, and visitors were not encouraged. I thought about Mr. Sharp. Times had changed. These days, he was a recluse, but he was taking a rare holiday, and at this moment he was on a plane bound for Slovenia.

That he ever claimed to be a music teacher was a travesty. When we were students, he mocked and derided our music. Although angered and hurt by his attitude, we hadn’t given up, and now we’re the biggest name in contemporary music. We’re hailed true artists who’ve brought music out of the dark ages and made it real.

The rest of the band are taking some time off while I work on this project. I find satisfaction in the knowledge that it will be one of our cheaper productions. The only expenses were the ‘prize’ of the holiday, that we had to pay a teaching organisation to present to Mr. Sharp, and the workmen to carry out the job. They’re coming out of the building now.

I switch off and pack up my portable recording equipment, and we get in the van and drive off.

All that is left for me to do now is the creative bit: make the sound into music. I think I may call it ”Sharp House.”

© Jane Paterson Basil

UNDYING LOVE

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At the beginning, she would count the hours until he returned and enclosed her in his radiance, bringing blossom-rained meadows which would welcome her, and star-tinkled streams which would sing sweetly of the purity of their love.

Then after weeks of secret assignations, guiltily he would retreat back into his own life, leaving the trees and the flowers, walking past cold concrete and wet pavements into the everyday warmth of another love.

She would count the days of her exemption from the swell of his embrace, and carry a picture inside her head, of a blonde slick of hair falling over Germanic blue eyes; of the sudden flick of the head which flung it out of the way, only for it to settle in the same position a moment later; of a rueful smile that filled her chest with floating feathers.

But she knew that he loved her and that knowledge sustained her, as days became weeks and turned into months, and she waited for him to return and clear the blizzard that raged in her head.

And then one day, at the sound of the bell she would open her door, and he would be standing there again, his eyes filled with longing, apology and sorrow, his arms outstretched. She would walk into them, and, hidden from unfriendly eyes, the meadows and streams would expand and enfold them again, singing out the melody while carefully omitting the chorus.

For eight years she enjoyed oases of such pleasures, and during those weeks, each night she would tick off the hours before they would be together again, but these all too rare periods were followed by months of drought, while away from her, in the arms of his wife, he sowed the seeds of his children, and played with them in the park as they grew.

Although they were helplessly tangled together, he never touched her naked body, but when she pressed her cheek against his chest, and he entwined his fingers in her hair she felt complete.

During the months of his absence, physical intimacy made no difference to her either way: she was without feeling, so she allowed her body to be sullied by those who thought that sex may lead to love, as was the fashion. It passed the time, and seemed to make others happy, until he walked into her life again, and she walked out of theirs without a backward glance.

One day, desire overcame his morals, and as he hurriedly assisted her out of her clothing, she momentarily believed that this was what she had always desired from him. Afterwards, while she lay naked in his arms, feeling somehow cheated, he told her that he wanted to be with her always, that he was going to leave his family that night, collect her, and they would go away together.

Sweat glistened on their bodies, forming a film which separated them minutely. She looked at the ground beside her head, and realised that the moisture had been sucked from the grass by the excessive heat of the sun, and she felt that they were to blame, with their greed for each other.

She knew she would always love him.

She rang his wife, who had known about her even before they had married. She apologised and made a promise that she would not see him again. His wife expressed a gentle gratitude of which she felt unworthy.

She moved away from the crackling of dry leaves, to a flat-in-a-house-in-a-street-in-a-town; to emptiness which she filled with pointlessness, and replaced with love and purpose when she married a good man, and had children of her own.

Many years have passed, and now her eldest grandchild is the age that he was when they met. Before she goes to sleep each night, she counts the years, the months and the weeks since she last saw him and she smiles as she looks at the picture inside her head, of a blonde slick of hair falling over Germanic blue eyes; of the sudden flick of the head which flung it out of the way, only for it to settle in the same position a moment later; of a rueful smile which even now causes her chest to fill with floating feathers.

Although the longing for him has never gone away, she is glad that she returned him to his family. She knows his life is richer without her.

But she knows too, that even now, his gentle love protects her from demons that would otherwise devour her.

Sometimes when she sleeps, he comes to her, arms outstretched, and she lays her cheek on his chest and feels his heart beating.

When she awakes, she almost believes that that is enough.

THE HAIRDRYER

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“Hurry up!”

My daughter, under-dressed for the chilly winter weather, hair wet from her shower, apparently needs a lift to Argos to get a new hairdryer now that mine is broken. She’s standing by the car, bouncing impatiently.

“Shit shit shit! I’m going to be late.”

A few minutes ago, I had asked her where she was going.

It doesn’t matter where I’m going,” She had shouted.

It’s aways urgent. It never matters why.

I’m cold without my coat.

I unlock the car, and Sadie hurls herself in.

“Get in the car! Come on!”

Argos is a fifteen minute drive. The first set of traffic lights are green. I exhale, relieved, but I have to brake suddenly when the second set turn red. My hands are shaking.

Sadie is yelling that I should have jumped the lights. The rushing sound in my ears is getting louder.

At the store, Sadie grabs my debit card from my hand and runs in. She’s back within a few minutes with a shiny black box and a benign smile.

“Thanks mum,” she says.

It’s over. My Sadie is back.

At home, I unlock the front door and limp into the house behind Sadie. She casually steps over the dried honesty which still lies where it fell, and her feet crunch on the broken glass in the hallway. As she ascends the stairs, I see that her hair is almost dry now.

I follow the burning smell into the kitchen and turn the oven off, then remove the blackened birthday cake. It was almost ready to come out of the oven when we left. I don’t feel like making another one for her, but I expect I will. I can’t ignore my daughter’s birthday.

I scan the kitchen. The damage is largely superficial this time, although there is some broken glass and china on the floor, and sugar everywhere. I notice the ache in my bruised back as I bend down to pick up the carving knife and place it in the sink.

The tidying up will have to wait. I put the kettle on to boil, and go upstairs to the bathroom.

I don’t want to look at the 2 inch slit in my jeans. I get a clean sponge and soak the area where the blood has dried, sticking the denim to my calf. I shouldn’t have turned my back on her. I shouldn’t have said no.

I take my jeans off, and pull the cut together with adhesive stitches. I can’t go to A&E. They didn’t believe the last story, and their kindly questions made my throat swell painfully.

In the sitting room, the cracked hairdryer lies on the floor. I drop it in the bin and huddle on the sofa with my cup of sweet tea. I stare at the wall. I should clean up, but I feel too heavy to stand.

The next time I will call the police. The next time.

If I can.

© Jane Paterson Basil

THE CIRCLE

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In this dark haven for the dead
geometrically carved stone
juts between contrived angels
organic but not sentient;
grass fast finds purchase
over each newly heaped mound,
and caligraphic curves
list details of those who are
“Safe in the arms of Jesus”
or “Cut down in their prime”.
Silently, within the dirt,
sentiency shuffles
as flesh and bone degrades
as worms feed and fertilise
as soil is regenerated
and on the skin of the grave
a fresh green shoot
gently opens to the dawn.

© Jane Paterson Basil