Monthly Archives: May 2016

Buried alive

A plane crashed
between Sweden and Finland –
where were the survivors buried?
You may have seen this question
in a spoof IQ test
– as did I, aged thirteen –
and if
you have been paying attention
– as was I, at thirteen –
I expect you will reply
“You don’t bury survivors”
because
you don’t realise
-and at the tender age of thirteen
neither did I-
sometimes
the strongest survivors
are those
who get buried alive.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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Survivor no more

Everyone said I was a survivor, and for a long time it was true. Whatever happened, I always picked myself up and remembered how to smile and to laugh again. I learnt to bevel the jagged edges of every cruel shard that pierced my heart, and although they resisted  eviction, my labour removed some of the sting, leaving a broad ache, but there is a limit to how much broken glass one heart can hold, and today I think mine has exceeded it. My heart appears split in two. I feel the shrapnel hitting against my ribcage; no longer contained by that sad little vessel that fought so hard to stay in one piece. Blood spits and drips down the cracked walls of my existence. I have felt almost this way before, but this time it is different. How can I survive this?

Written for The Sandbox Writing Challenge 40: What makes you a survivor?

©Jane Paterson Basil

Self-imprisonment

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I didn’t feel like getting dressed this morning, so I stayed in my rather handsome blue striped cotton pyjamas, then I remembered how, several weeks ago I silently pledged to do something different every day. I reckoned I hadn’t made any particular changes for a few days. I didn’t feel like tidying the bed, so I decided to abandon the habit of a lifetime and leave it as it was. In addition, I didn’t open the curtains and I didn’t shower. Altogether, these omissions amounted to four changes, and I reckoned that got me up to date.

I expected to feel liberated, but instead I feel imprisoned; I can’t go outside, because I’m not dressed and, anyway, I feel too grubby to face the world; and I don’t want to go in the bedroom to retrieve a book I left on the bedside cabinet, because I don’t want to see the unmade bed.

I’m beginning to suspect that today changes may not have been the right kind, and am wondering when I ceased to be a rebel.

Please excuse me for a few minutes – I’m off to make the bed, draw back the curtains, shower, and get dressed.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Nobody’s fool

If asked to describe himself, Billy would have said he had never been anybody’s fool. If anything he had been a leader, though where he led his friends is another question.

One deep velvet night he sleep-walked from the stillness of a boat into the silken waters below. His wet landing was as silent as the moon sliding across the sky. Treading water he saw that his canoe had disappeared. There was nothing but him and the huge, silent ocean, holding him in its cold embrace.

Knowing the way that he had come, he turned as if to swim to the shore, but it was more distant than he had thought it to be. The faraway beach was brightly illuminated as if it were mid-day. All his associates from former times stood together, at the water’s edge; the men who he had twisted into whatever shape fitted him, encouraging them to cruelty and crime and infidelity; the women he had seduced with promises, just to get them into bed, and then abused. Yes, he had been a leader of men and women too, and even from that distance he could see the proof of his leadership in the faces of his estranged children.

The effort of staying afloat was exhausting him. If he could get their attention he was sure someone would rescue him. He shouted for help and he waved, his arms splashing arcs of glittering diamonds across the dark, before disappearing like dampened sparks as they hit the brine.

All his old friends turned their faces his way, and each gazed at him coldly for a few moments, then turned and walked away from the shore, towards their homes and their loved ones.

Just one boy was left, staring out to sea, and it took a minute to trace the memory of the tale behind his face. Then he recalled the stolen car, telling Jim to get in, he was taking him joyriding. He remembered Jim’s unhappy look, and how much ot took to persuade him; his determination to terrify Jim and the surge of pleasure when Jim started screaming; his feeling of Devil-may-care, replaced by the fear that invaded the air, the sharp taste of tin, the explosive sensation beneath his skin, when the car went over the edge.

Billy couldn’t remember if he cared when he saw Jim’s bleeding head, but now he felt shame for his distant escapade. Jim shrugged and yelled into the waking light “Sorry I can’t help, but I’m dead.”

Billy turned away to hide his tears, and found he had drifted to a rocky island, with spiky trees that grew from the stones, and every tree had one giant leaf with a murky eye which stared as he climbed the beach, and although unease prickled beneath his skin, he was so tired that as soon as he reached a soft patch of ground he lay down, longing to sleep.

A fine white mist danced around him, it’s tendrils reaching into his mind, and as it thickened he examined the way he had led his life, the pain he had brought, the suffering he wrought with the selfish games he had played. With breaking heart he vowed he would change if it wasn’t too late. He would make up for all the wrong he did as soon as he woke from this illuminating dream.

Then into the mist strode Jim, arms outstretched; forgiving him everything, and at that instant he knew that he, too, was dead. Somewhere far away his cold shell would be discovered by a cleaner when she came to change the hotel bedding, and nobody would care, and instead of the feeling of dread that may be expected, all he could feel was relief.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Hey Daisy

Hey Daisy, come and have a drink
never mind what your parents think.
Look at that guy with the dreaded hair,
and how about the cute guys over there.
Daisy have a drink and have some fun
get yourself laid before the night is done.

Daisy Daisy you have to go to church,
you can’t leave Jesus in the lurch.
Tell those friends you’re busy today,
it’s better for you if they stay away.
I wish you’d see the risk they pose
when you let them lead you by the nose.

Hey Daisy there’s a party down the road.
Forget about your mother’s moral code,
snort some coke and smoke some green,
dance on the table and make a scene.
Daisy have a drink and have some fun
get yourself laid before the night is done.

Daisy Daisy, come and meet Troy,
he’s such a sweet and pious boy,
he never hangs around on the street,
he’s so much nicer than the people you meet.
I wish you’d see the risk they pose
when you let them lead you by the nose.

Hey Daisy, what an earth is the matter.
You’re throwing up and you’re getting fatter,
looks like there’s a baby on the way.
Sorry mate, I would love to stay
but I want a drink and to have some fun
I’ll get myself laid before the night is done.

Daisy Daisy, what have you done.
So this is the result of you having fun.
You’ll have to abort it and we won’t tell Troy,
you don’t want to lose him, he’s such a nice boy.
You should have seen the risk your friends posed
when you let them lead you by the nose.

Poor little Daisy stares at her shoes
with a razor in her hand and nothing to lose.
She never did play her false friends’ game,
and she cowers when she hears Troys name,
the note by her side tells the terrible truth
of a girl who wasn’t trusted with the choices of youth.

She was raped and beaten and threatened with death,
if she ever dared to breathe a single breath
to her mother who tried to force a match
with somebody she thought was a perfect catch,
psychopathic Troy whose pretty little prey
was taking her life in her own chosen way.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Broken dreams

Sometimes when I look down from my window, onto the street below, I see Poppy unexpectedly, and I don’t immediately recognise her. She’s thirty-five, and even now she seems to glide a centimetre above the pavement, as she did when she was sixteen, her long hair rippling as if a balmy breeze is riffling through it, a faraway look in her eyes.

When she is walking with the two girls the three of them are enclosed in a bubble of love – gliding in a bubble of love – and I find it hard to believe that my matriarchy has resulted in such love, such loveliness.

I’ve suffered with her through all the bad times, and my soul has rejoiced when things have gone well for her, but I never felt that she had the life she deserved. Her school’s refusal to diagnose or even to admit the possiblility of her dyslexia – because they didn’t wish to waste the effort and expense – meant that she didn’t have a good education. When she found she couldn’t keep up she thought she was stupid, and her lowered self-esteem caused her to rebel, and stop making any effort to do what she felt she would humiliatingly fail at.

Poppy had her children while she was still in her teens – conceived by default, she wanted them anyway, and she has been an adoring and attentive mother, always patient, always doing the best she can for both Alexis and Lizzie.

Because she left school with no qualifications, the only work she has ever done has been menial, but she has always excelled within her limited sphere.

I think of my brilliant daughter, who has so much to give, and I wonder if she ever had dreams, and if so, what they were. She has never told me, and I have never asked. Maybe her pathetic education crushed all hope that she would ever do anything – be anything – but although she is not a consultant gyneacologist, or a big shot lawyer, or a star of the silver screen, she is something – something wonderful.

Poppy is coming up the path now. I let her in, and make a pot of tea. We talk about Alexis, who is currently rehearsing for the lead part in a school play, She tells me how pleased Lizzie’s English teacher is with her. I feel the familiar thrill of pride, in my daughter and my two grand-daughters.

There’s a moment’s silence. I take a deep breath, and she looks at me expectantly. She can tell I want to say something.

“What were your dreams? I ask her. “When you were a child, what did you want to do with your life?”

She looks out of the window, and I know she’s not seeing the cars going by, or the paint peeling from the Victorian house opposite. She’s staring straight into her dreams. She glances at my face and then away again.

“I always dreamed of being the mother of two lovely daughters, and my dreams came true” she says.

“Really?” I ask her incredulously. “That’s it?”

This time she looks unwaveringly into my eyes as she replies:

“Yes, really. I have all I ever wanted.”

That’s the thing about Poppy – she will lie rather than cause unnecessary pain to those she loves. My daughter will never speak to me of her broken dreams.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Difficult to believe

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It’s like those times after a wet summer,
when each brief spell of sun
allows you some sense of faith
before the next downpour steals that faith away.
then one day, when you are dressed for fine weather –
reflecting the morning’s temperate promise –
the rain shoots down with a vengeance,
drenching you with its pent-up rage,
blocking the drains and making a river of the street
before ceasing as suddenly as it came,
and the clouds all blow away
leaving a rainbow, like
a vow, or at least an apology.
As your sodden feet tread through the puddles,
you find it difficult to believe
there will be no storm tomorrow.

©Jane Paterson Basil