Casseopeia

The boy with the low voice sits hunched by the window, gazing up at the night sky. The girl who spreads happiness is out there somewhere, separated by time and distance, but beneath the same cloudless vista. Their minds are filled with the pain of another recent parting, the tedium of reality putting an ocean between them yet again. Each time the wound is more ragged, and every time they wonder whether the pain of separating is too much to bear, but the pull of love always wins out. The raw grief of parting is ever present, and each time the ache lingers yet more.

They could stop the pain easily if either was brave enough to punch through the inertia, but for now fear holds them rigid. Neither of them know yet, but two short years later she will make the bravest decision of her life. For now though, they exist in a sickening limbo of mutual adoration and suffering. If he wasn’t such a coward he would fly out there permanently and build a life for himself, but fear of change paralyses him. He’s a boy pretending to be a man and failing, or at least that’s how it feels. He’s never believed in himself enough to achieve anything, and perhaps he never will.

The nights are when it hurts him the most, and he knows that she’s suffering too. She’s a time traveller, living two hours in the future, but although kept apart by time and space they take comfort in sharing the same sky. They’ve taught each other the names of the familiar constellations that stretch out over the northern hemisphere, forming a celestial bridge between them. Her favourite is Cassiopeia. He likes Orion. The seven sisters look down on them both kindly, two lost souls both seeking the answer to an impossible question.

The clouds roll in, leaving the sky starless and obsidian. Their connection gone, for now.

“Until tomorrow, my love”.

I Was Only Stroking It, Guv’nor!

They’ve written about me in the paper again.
They say I love wildlife a little too much.
I’m the innocent victim of a media campaign.
I admit I like to look but I try not to touch.

They won’t let me into the zoo any more.
My annual pass has been revoked.
They say I made a pass at a labrador.
They say I was present when a panda was poked.

I assure you all that my intentions are pure.
I vehemently deny all allegations.
They claim I’m excited by the scent of manure.
Allow me to explain, forgive the alliteration.

I HAVE NOT:
Spooned with a seal, southwest of Swansea.
Kissed a kestrel in a kimono called Keith.
Ogled an octopus wearing a onesie.
Held hands with a hedgehog on Hampstead Heath.

I STRENUOUSLY DENY:
Cuddling a caribou in a canoe.
Fondling a ferret in a frumpy frock.
Buggering a badger in a bright blue bra.
Wanking a walrus into a sock*.

*It was actually a tea towel. Not to be confused with a teat owl.

My passion for nature has killed my reputation.
I promise guv’nor, I was only stroking the dalmation.

U ok hun?

He remembers a time when this was all fields.
Halcyon days when the internet was new.
He remembers the day of the dawn of the smartphone
He watched MySpace die as Facebook grew.

He was happier then, with his primitive access.
A handful of friends and nothing to say.
He handed out pokes with reckless abandon.
He checked his phone about twice a day.

It’s all very different now, of course.
He’s plugged into the matrix near constantly.
Eternally scanning to fuel the addiction.
He thinks:
“It.
Might.
Be.
Killing.
Me”.

Sometimes he wants to watch it burn.
Sometimes he needs to let off steam.
The friend requests from his school day bullies.
The casual racism. He wants to scream:

FUCK YOUR MILLIONS OF MEMES OF MINIONS.

YOUR KIDS ARE UGLY AND THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.

YOU SPELL LIKE SOMEONE WITH A BRAIN INJURY.

THE COUNTRY IS SCREWED, BUT THE MUSLIMS/GAYS/LIBERALS* AREN’T TO BLAME.

But he doesn’t say a word.
He just keeps it all inside.
I ask him “u ok hun?
“I’m ok”, he lies.

*delete according to preference/prejudice.

Credo for Hugh Manatee

Try to be kind to unkind people.
Read more books and make more art.
Learn the names of the things around you.
Always take time to laugh at a fart.

Don’t fret about work, it doesn’t define you.
Select yourself a favourite tree.
Read a poem, then try to write one.
Be you, not what they want you to be.

Believe in the things that you want to believe in.
Accept that others hold different views.
Never be violent, don’t be oppressive.
Be selective about where you get your news.

Say something funny to break the tension.
Watch the sun rise whenever you can.
Surround yourself with interesting people.
Wear handsome trousers. Eat more jam.

Find enjoyment in the ridiculous.
Imagine a badger in a jaunty hat.
Don’t be afraid to be an outsider.
Most important of all, don’t be a twat.

The Park

This is a piece I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks. It was written as an entry to a competition for an anthology of stories by amateur writers to raise money for PTSD victims from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Sadly it wasn’t good enough, but hopefully you can find some pleasure in it.

The girl sat on the worn wooden bench, gazing out over the small parcel of green and brown that the council called ‘the park’. It paled in comparison to London’s other great parks, of course, but to the local community it was everything. It was Hyde Park, Green Park and Regent’s Park all rolled into one, and it was their little patch of urban wilderness. A garden for the gardenless.

She’d been coming here for as long as she could recall, but over the past five months she’d found herself drawn to the same spot almost daily. Early morning was her favourite time, when the park was empty and beads of dew glistened on the unmown grass. London was never truly silent of course, but at this hour the sounds of traffic and life were an unobtrusive hum, yet to reach the discordant crescendo that would last until nightfall. The hum of the waking city comforted her in her parkland sanctuary. It had been almost six months, and she thought about them every day.

A small number of regulars used the park at this time, and she’d come to recognise them all. The young man with the briefcase was usually first, dashing along the central footpath towards the bus stop on the main road. He never spoke, but they occasionally exchanged a friendly nod if eye contact was made. The elderly lady with the tubby beagle was an ever present, shuffling slowly through the east gate at around half past six before completing a slow lap around the small, unimpressive pond. The lady puffed, and the beagle panted, but they always made it round. She’d known of the lady for years, a local character, but they’d never spoken. Not until today.

It was the dog that stopped first, coming to a wheezing halt on the path in front of her. “Lazy sod” the old lady remarked cheerfully, gently lowering herself onto the bench beside the girl. They exchanged pleasantries, passing comment on the weather as all Londoners are duty bound to do. A brief lull in the nascent conversation followed, only ended with an excited whoop from the old lady. “Orange tip!” she cried, startling the girl and making her jump. The old lady’s eyes shone with delight. She seemed to be watching something, but the girl couldn’t see what.

The source of the excitement soon became obvious, as a small white butterfly took to the wing from a nearby mess of nettle and bramble and floated lazily over the concrete path past the bench. “Just look at that. Beautiful”. The girl had never paid any attention to the myriad of bugs and beasties that shared the park before but, enthused by the old lady, she looked at the butterfly. What had originally appeared to be a floppy white smudge was revealed as anything but. As it’s name suggested, the butterfly had vivid orange tips at the end of each wing, as if carefully dipped in paint by a skilled craftsman. The underside of the wings were equally beautiful, etched with a calligraphy of rich greens and yellows. The butterfly was a masterpiece, and the girl felt a knot of excitement in her stomach. It had been months since she last had that feeling.

“They’re common, you know. One of the first signs of spring”. The girl confessed that she had never noticed butterflies in the park before, in fact she’d never noticed anything beyond the ubiquitous pigeons that covered every inch of the city. Sensing that the girl was interested, the old lady began to talk. Clutching the girl’s arm she told of the wildlife that inhabited the park. Their park. She spoke of hedgehogs and house sparrows, of bees and blackbirds, of peregrines and parakeets. She described the old dog fox, a mange-eaten shadow that slunk around the park at dusk. She even described the trees, giving names to the vegetation that surrounded them. Faceless forms became oak, sycamore and rowan. The untidy hedge became hawthorn, masses of white buds preparing to burst into flower. Sensing that the old lady was in storytelling mode, the beagle lay spreadeagled and began to snore softly.

She had lived in the same part of London all of her life, born in the mid 1930s less than three miles from where they sat. The borough has been very different back then, of course, with factories and terraces occupying that land that the high-rises would later colonise. The war would change the landscape irreparably, and she described the sounds and smells of the blitz as remembered from the bedroom that she shared with a younger brother. The blitz had devastated the area, whole streets flattened in the blink of an eye, but she seemed to remember this period with an unexpected fondness. “We were like a family, everyone helping everyone else. There we no squabbles or divides, just a sense of togetherness”. She explained that it was during the years after the war that her life-long love of wildlife had taken hold. “The plants soon started to grow on the bomb sites you see, fireweed and poppy turning the ground mauve and crimson. Then the plants brought the insects and the birds back. They’ve been here all my life”.

A ring-necked parakeet, one of London’s newest and most beautiful arrivals, shot overhead like a noisy green firework as the lady got slowly to her feet. The beagle barked excitedly at the prospect of returning home for second breakfast, getting tangled in his lead as they bid the girl farewell. “It’s nice to have someone to share this place with. Nature has been a friend to me all my life, through bad times and good”. After a few steps she hesitated, turning back to look at the girl, still sat on the bench. “Things will be alright”.

The girl sat thinking, long after the old lady had gone. The old lady’s spirit was infectious, and her unexpected introduction to the healing power of nature filled her with an excited glow. The community would always remember, but she knew that they would heal in time. Old and young, black and white, united by a shared experience. She resolved to spend more time in the park, observing and enjoying, and she knew she would bring her friends here too. Love and nature would be her constants, just as they had been for the old lady.

A robin sang joyously from the top of a dog bin, and the girl felt happy.