In long-gone days, the wraith came at my beckoning, materialising clear as a leaf in a clean running stream brightly clad in nature's hues With wings of light she'd flitter through fields greeting trees, spinning in whirling dervish twirls till balance failed and she fell helpless with glee revelling in endless freedom I watched her mount the Oak, childish fingers clutching ever slimmer limbs climbing high higher Taunting a fleeting theory of God challenging death placing her feet on the flimsiest twig willing the wood to take her weight even as she dared it to defy her credence that her breath would never cease Frozen in time, the child remains forever nine When the world growls and bites I call her and she arrives. She always shows consoling me through the years with her reminder of joy Time breathes mist over my eyes and leads my senses toward a vacuum, yet still from time to time my wraith twists through the claws of time lending me memories of crowning days. Her margins have long since blended into the landscape, her flesh faded to grey evaporating into smoke Her diaphanous wisp floats over fields and streams beside my childhood home; the ghost of the child who was me and I recall that once upon a time I felt immortal and believed I was free ©Jane Paterson Basil
Suppose you’re a child whose dog dies.
Since you’re a child, you don’t know it yet,
but you are at a crossroads of life.
Some cry for a day or a week, but soon respond to sympathy
— love and new bones can help to ease a child’s pain away.
Others are stoic, while a few will play on the loss to get their own way.
I was a child in whom death delved deep,
who wept and raged at the unexpected injustice of mortality —
yet, not understanding how it came to be, refused the kiss of empathy
and tried to weave a spell to bring my Prince to life again.
I failed, leaving a terror of endings clinging to me,
their reinforcements creeping through closed curtains
when I tried to sleep.
At night I heard the reaper, as with scythe in hand he climbed the stairs,
creaking to let me know he was approaching,
I’d hear him chuckle on the landing,
his evil joke jolting me from tears to fear.
He had no need to whisper names;
he was there to kill my parents in their bed.
I’d straighten my twisted nightdress and tiptoe to their room,
waking them with some weak excuse; I couldn’t sleep, I felt unwell.
Several times a week I saved them from the scarlet sweep of his blade
by crawling between the sheets and staying by their side.
Beneath my horror, I was a warrior with soulful weapons
honed to stab a prick of guilt
and teeth to show my quivering bravery;
although the reaper liked to play with me, he feared my wrath;
he always slunk away from me.
I think my mother had an inkling,
and did her best to make me well again,
but when daylight came, I pushed her away with a grin,
thinking it would be unkind to tell the terrifying truth
of the danger that one night
I might not wake in time,
and she would die.
Sometimes I think the responsibility
was too great for a child to take,
but when all’s said and done
she lived to see eighty.
©Jane Paterson Basil
The Adventurer speaks:
You always stayed on dry land, swimming through arid sand. Never got your feet wet. Salt sweat sticking to your vest, grit chafing your delicate creases, sun peeling your blistered body.
You feared the lick of the waves. You though they may may like the taste of you, and, wanting more, slip through your cringing lips, invade your lungs, steal your breath away, replace it with filthy brine bitterly flavoured with the flesh of a million stinking fish and thickened with slivers of ancient shipwrecks.
You feared the towering breakers may crash over your head and drag you to the bottom of the sea . The ocean may feed you to sharks and the sharks may eat you.
“Swim where you will, but leave me be. I will not live my life in peril,” you said.
So I leapt, alone, into the sea.
I cannot say the sea was kind, but it was real. Oft-times I had to fight its sudden moods,
struggle to survive its angry storms. Though battered by its rage, I knew I was alive, and as I age, memories of every rising dawn; when calm seas were lit with sun, will ease my mind, and cheer me as I prepare to fall asleep that final time.
And where will you be? Dried to a husk, with nothing but memories of an empty life
to haunt you through eternity.
<> <> <>
The teacher replies:
You were always digging for thrills, wading through weirs to find the eye of the hurricane, scrambling up crumbling cliffs, potholing without a rope, gazing into volcanoes to watch them erupt.
You said “What is life without excitement? Share my adventure. Let us rescue damsels, slay dragons, conquer swashbuckling pirates.
“Let us find danger. We will fight with teeth and fists and knives, and seek out many lovers, leaving every last one of them aching for our fickle embrace, while we hasten to the next city; the next castle or port; the next victory.
“Come with me.”
I said “I see more interest in a grain of sand than in the life you recommend to me.”
I watched you go. While you supped – and often choked upon – your chosen flavour of freedom, I read, finding the world weighed so little I could hold it in my hands. I leafed through it and found:
a platoon of long-dead soldiers in obsolete uniforms, saluting me;
an oak tree describing its seasons;
an amoeba magnified several millionfold;
the city of Rome in all its ancient glory, and the remains which stand today.
Fascinated, I studied further. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with learning. I selected a subject in which to specialise. I married a kind, intelligent woman, fathered a daughter and a son, and took pleasure in domestic life. I enjoyed a job in education, and I was successful – inasmuch as the majority if my students liked my lessons, quite a few used what they learnt from me to their advantage, and I was enriched by the experience.
I ate healthy food, had the occasional glass of good wine, and when I holidayed with my family, we stayed in average hotels in Germany and Spain. We walked well beaten paths, but they were new to us, and therefore interesting. In my younger days I played squash, but in recent years I’ve switched to bowls.
I often grumble, I have had a few misfortunes, but I have been happy.
My lifestyle fitted the type of ordinary orderliness that you dispise, but I chose it and delighted in it. It suited me, and has served me well. I will be sorry to die.
Most of your adventures were viewed through the distorted bottom of an ale bottle. You lie in a hospital bed, paralysed since that last inglorious drunken street brawl. You lived your life in fantasy, never accepting that knights have been consigned to history books, and highwaymen hung up their spurs long before you or I were ever born. There are no pirates, and dragons only breathed fire in fairy tales.
You have no family. I am your only friend, and you don’t like me. Will you be sorry to die?
©Jane Paterson Basil