Tallulah Thursday

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Chapter 5

The Winter Palace Luxor

 

She wakes into bright sunlight, so bright she has to shut her eyes again, screw them up for a moment to readjust to the light. For that moment she lays back and luxuriates on the sheets, soft white thick cotton, delicious. The bed is huge and comfortable she stretches brushing away stray strands of her hair that is sticking to her face and turning slowly onto her belly she begins to rub herself against the coolness of the linen. She feels a stirring between her legs but ignores it and reaches out towards her pillow. There as expected is a large creamy envelope, her morning letter from David. It had started out as a joke, him writing her little notes to be left by her bed in the morning, he is an early riser and she never likes to be woken much before nine if she can help it.  So he leaves her messages by her pillow telling her where he is and how much he is thinking of her, and how much he loves her unconditionally.

She doesn’t really understand the concept of unconditional love; she doesn’t believe in it, that he will continue to love her whatever might happen, whatever she does to him. It isn’t in her nature and she has no experience of it from her childhood. Lust and power she knows about, maybe even empathy and sometimes pity: but her love affairs have always been found wanting and she has done the leaving. She leaves as gracefully as she can when it becomes imperative for her to escape any awkwardness, anything that impinges unduly upon her obsession of the moment. , But maybe not this time, perhaps this time something else is going on here of a more permanent nature and yet she isn’t convinced of it. She lets the question mark sit in her brain

She shuts her eyes again trying to return to her dream, not that it has any bearing on her life at the moment, dreams have a world of their own that she enters and leaves every night in sleep, soothed but none the wiser for the experiences that she encounters there. All she can remember from this particular episode of her unconscious is the vibrant image of a beautiful chestnut mare, and the impression that someone was trying to take the horse away from her. It hadn’t wanted to go, that much was clear from the way it threw its head around and tried to escape from the men with ropes loading it into a trailer. The dream slips from her and with a little shrug she sits up in bed and reaches for the coffee left on the bedside table and takes a slug of it. It’s cold now it must have been left there a few hours ago but no matter. She throws back the sheets and opens the veranda windows fully leaning over the wrought iron balustrade and taking her first look at the rolling expanse of the garden.

It is beautiful: here there is no other way to describe it, the same kind of huge palm trees from the front drive are dotted over several acres of formal gardens stretching out as far as her eyes can see. The grass lawns are very green and succulent with water sprinklers playing over them. She doesn’t know a lot about gardens, and she has  no clue as to the names of plants and flowers but David does, that’s one of the things that drew her to him the fact the he knows so much about a huge range of topics while she knows a lot about a select few.

—-If he doesn’t know something he goes out of his way to find out, just for her. —-

The garden is criss – crossed with gravel walkways that are pristine white, looking as if they have just been laid out in the night all new and shining for the following day, and several fountains flare in the circles of bowers where swallows dive and lapwings flutter. A piercing cry catches her attention and she looks up into the intense blue of the cloudless sky to see the wheeling arc of a golden eagle as he stalks his prey. For a few seconds she watches his circling spiral and shivers thinking of the imminent death of something succulent far beneath him. Nature has no heart she sometimes thinks; it is all instinct and eat or be eaten. It’s enough to turn her into an immediate vegetarian. She decides to shower and throw on a bikini and try the pool, she hasn’t seen proper sunshine for such a long time her skin feels pale and dry with the lack of it.

‘Can I come in?’

She wheels around startled and David is there, his face shaded by a large straw hat, a camera slunk across his chest in true tourist fashion and she can’t help smiling at his earnest expression.

‘’Of course you can, thank you for the letter, I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I will’’

She snuggles into his embrace lifting up her mouth for a kiss, she likes his kisses and she’s feeling in such a good mood this morning anything can happen. She lingers on the edge of the bliss of the kiss and he holds her to him his hand shaking slightly as he caresses her shoulder. He moves his palm down to cup her breast and she arches towards him, she can feel the hardness of him pushing against her leg and she wants him here in the sunlight with all his ideas and dreams of her. Dreams which she would rather believe in than the blank place in her head where her past lurks to hurt her if she lets it. The coupling is soft smooth and so very sweet, he is an infinitely caring gentle lover and he wants her to have her pleasure and has become adept at giving it to her. As long as she doesn’t open her eyes and look at the longing for her in his, it will all be alright.

When it is over they lie together and she laughs at the crumpled mess of his immaculately ironed trousers. Then because he has things to see to, surprises to lay in store for them both, he leaves her to shower and make her way out to the pool. The other guests see her as a slender figure in a panama hat and a striped Polo Lauren bikini, who is sometimes accompanied by a handsome older man. They wonder about the relationship, but not much: the couple look totally at ease with each other. He sits reading next to a wicker table and she swims and lounges languidly in the sun, above her head the eagle wheels and again she shades her eyes to look up at it. For a split second the thought appears in her mind that it has come for her that it has a message for her, but she tosses the thought aside and gratefully accepts a fruit juice from the impeccably dressed waiter who is touring the pool with a tray of refreshments. Idly she wonders what it must have been like when this was the residence of the King,

David watches her from under his sunglasses and lists the things he loves about her. He loves her exuberance and zest for life, the way that she always seems to be surrounded by a group of young people. He loves her generosity and her love of Art and Literature, how she will travel through the most dangerous zones in the world to recover an Art treasure. He adores the way her mind works leaping and tumbling from one idea to another so that he could never be bored with her and  how she is a master of understatement and yet a Queen of Regal gestures and self-centeredness when she is in the mood. He loves her determination and focus and also the vulnerability that he glimpsed for a moment in her this morning when she was lying there so fast asleep cocooned in the white sheath of the sheets. Of course he adores her sensuality she is for him the most seductively sensual woman in creation and he can guess how Adam must have felt when tempted in the Garden of Eden. Yes, he feels almost Biblical in his love for her and although his faith in life has been eroded away over the years she has brought back to him his youthful libido and power. He feels like a man in his prime again and it is something he never thought he would regain even if he ever had it in the first place.  Yet he is always moved by the way that she seems to be slightly lost when it comes to emotions and how to decipher them and how she is totally unable to talk about her early life.

—–As if she has amnesia when it comes to her childhood. —-

And above all she has a certain kind of purity about her where her heart is still open, where she isn’t the least bit jaded with the world or cynical about the people in it. She has a way of seeing ’into the life of things’

This morning when he had walked at dawn down the corridor of lions and into the court of Ramses the Great with the blood red sun rising above the small sacred lake in the Temple of Karnak, in that moment he had imagined what it must have been like to be a God King. For that is how it is told that the Pharaohs were thought of by their subjects. They were thought to be created in the image of their God and so they were themselves worshipped by the people as completely and uniquely immortal, with all the earthly emphasis placed on the journey into immortality that is to come. Nowhere in the Pyramid or Coffin Texts as they are known as, does it ever talk of the act of dying itself. That of course is until the appearance of the heretic King Akhenaton and his mysterious Queen Nefertiti.

He watches the eagle swoop from the heights of the effortlessly cloudless sky spiralling down down down. Its eye on the impossibly small scrap of mammal that it is diving to catch and he wonders how this will all be?

—This love affair that has torn his family apart.—

Neither of his eldest sons is really speaking to him and his daughter has tried to ban him from coming to her wedding in June. Tallulah of course has become the ‘demon’ in the story, the fabulously pretty woman who has run off with the rich husband, but that isn’t how it is at all. He has practically had to go down on bended knee to get her to even consider the idea of a possible future with him. A figure blocks out the light and she is standing there in front of him breaking through his reverie. He reaches for her hand and it grazes his arm sending shivers down it. He wants her again now; he wants her perpetually and constantly. His libido has returned to how it used to be in his twenty year old self and he can’t imagine a life without making love to her.

Not that it’s anything to do with lust. Yes he desires her but it’s more the feeling of oneness he gets when he is with her in bed. For the first time ever he isn’t lonely, he isn’t ‘doing something to someone’ instead in the twining of their limbs and the catching breath of the rising pleasure he feels at last that he understands the dance of the Universe. And then when it is over he simply wants to reach that place again. Nothing has prepared him for this feeling, in his thirty years of marriage he has never been unfaithful, and in fact he has followed a kind of dog like devotion to his family. Irritated by his own thoughts he orders a drink from the waiter. He doesn’t want to think of the past, of the judgements he is being put through by his children he just wants to live in the present of this magic place with this beautiful ephemeral woman.

Some days he wonders if he has imagined her, that if he blinks hard will she simply disappear?

‘’Why are you frowning ‘’ she asks inscrutable behind the huge dark sunglasses.

‘I’m not, it’s just the sun shining in my eyes’’. He lies, turning away from her for a moment wiping the sweat from the palm of his hand onto a towel. She turns from him and looks into the gardens.

‘’I’m just going for an exploratory walk’’ She tells him wrapping her sarong tightly around her bikini top to make a shift dress.

‘’Come back soon I’ve ordered lunch’’

‘’My God David if we keep eating all these meals I’ll just get fat and you won’t love me anymore’’.

‘’I can never imagine not loving you, however fat or thin you are, I sometimes wish I could ‘’ he sighs letting her go, but she knows better.

Yes Tallulah has heard it all before so many times, the love, the desire the possession, mostly the possession and she has learnt to wear it all lightly, each lover a skin that will soon moult away leaving heartache for them and a renewed .lease of life for her. Her skin radiant from the love hormones, her mind clear and open to the next adventure. And yet this man is somewhat different, he has a gravitas about him, strength of character that the others all lacked; maybe he really does think he loves her. What does she know of the word, only the dull ache in her heart of something known and missed that no mere mortal man can capture. A vague malaise every time she thinks she might have fallen into the shaft of love, only for relief to follow when she understands that it seems to be impossible for her to truly love anyone human.

She is in love with the idea of love, with mythic heroes from Homers Iliad, with unobtainable and dead silent movie stars, Valentino being one of her favourites. She is in love with places and this certainly could be one of them. She is in love with the idea of love and maybe because of this, that she has the ability to mirror each man’s idea of love back to him; maybe this is why they love her. Kingdoms have risen and fallen for the love of a woman and she is the sort of woman that men might die for without ever being able to own. It is precisely this enigmatic ‘otherness’ about her that promulgates her allure. Tallulah has always thought it simply a bit ‘weird’ men professing undying love without knowing who she is. She doesn’t really know herself who she is, so how on earth can they?

Rounding the corner of a bower she comes across a woman sitting on the ground who beckons to her and without a word being spoken between them she is soon seated on a low stool having the backs of her hands painted with henna. She sits sleepily as the bees hum in the blossoms and watches the sun drop from its midday position. The feel of the thin tipped paintbrush is soothing and she is so tired. She leans back against a cushion and closes her eyes.

The gold disc of the sun is now a red orb behind her retina, she hears the low murmur of drums in the distance coming closer and the air thickens around her making it difficult to breath,. But breathe she does deeply and it is the oriental smell of Frankincense and Myrrh that entices her, that and some other kind of resin that she can’t put a name to.  Then she is aware of the low hum of voices, and she is walking down a long corridor with something heavy on her head and all the people around her are wearing white and bowing low on the ground. She smiles, she knows where she is going and he is waiting for her, it’s been so long since they’ve been together, it seems like an eternity. The huge doors in front of her are opening and there are black horses stamping and snorting impatient to be gone, waiting for her harnessed behind a golden disc of a chariot that burns her eyes as it catches the sun.

They are her horses these two black stallions she bought from the Bedouin costing a King’s ransom, but what is gold to her she has so much of it, she has a whole kingdom of it brought up to her from the goldmines of Nubia : it is love and power she desires.  But even as she gazes at the prancing creatures in front of her she understands that she can’t have both those things, she will have to choose .She steps into the orb of the chariot and picks up the reins and then she is off with the wind behind her and the roar of the crowd in her ears. Away from the clean lines of the Palace with its sculptured simplicity and off into the desert to meet with the beloved.

Abruptly a voice cuts through the reverie like a knife carving it away from her, leaving her feeling exposed raw and on edge. She opens her eyes and into the red disgruntled face of David who is shaking her shoulder. The old woman has gone and the afternoon sun is now low in the sky. She must have fallen asleep; holding out her hands she sees a swirl of delicate hennaed patterns swirling down the back of her hands to her wrists. The red face is talking to her and she focuses on the words that are hitting her like cold rain and making her shiver.

‘’Where have you been? I’ve been searching everywhere for you? I almost sent out a search party. You were supposed to come and have lunch, I ordered a delicious lobster for you, and of course it is all ruined now. How selfish can you be Tula? I despair of you ever thinking of anyone else but yourself ‘’.

She looks at him puzzled. Who is this man? It certainly isn’t the person she was going to meet in the dream or vision or whatever you wish to call it, and why is he so angry. Then it all comes flooding back and she remembers, of course, she’s in Egypt with David and he is furious. It takes her a few more moments to gather her thoughts and then she lets him have it.

‘’Hang on a moment there anyone would think that you had caught me behind a bush with the waiter. I have just got my hands hennaed look how beautiful they are?

‘She holds them up for his approval still slightly lost in the dream, her voice languid and throaty. But she is talking to the empty air, David has taken his tantrum around a corner of the garden and disappeared and with a shrug she gets unsteadily to her feet. God knows how women manage to have long relationships with men like this; the demanding nature of it is staggering. Give her a young man any day, one who is grateful when he sees her and pines for her when she is not there.  She lets the anxiety slip away from her like water and tries to recapture the feeling of a few moments ago. It comes back like a warm glow in the area of her heart and she holds the palm of her hand over it to try and nurture the small flame of something that she has never felt before.

—-A ‘rightness’ a sense of belonging, yes that is it. —-

In her waking dream just now she had felt that she was who she is meant to be. Now all she has to do is find out who that is and somehow she thinks the answer may be tied up in the magic of Egypt if she gets enough space and freedom to search for it without the disgruntled David in tow.

She disinterestedly eats a sandwich in the downstairs bar, she hasn’t a clue what is in it, probably something like Tuna and mayo, and it does the job which is to stop her feeling light headed. Then dressing in her room and making sure to take a hat and scarf she leaves the great front façade of the hotel and wanders down to the river. Soldiers with sub machine guns are in evidence everywhere and she remembers the massacre of some tourists on the steps of Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and shivers. There is something a little bit scary about the place as if the thin veneer of tourism could easily be punctured and chaos set in.

That is how the ancient Egyptians thought  of their world , ready any moment to revert back into primal chaos and the work of the Pharaoh and Temple priests was to  keep ‘Maat’ or order in the world and prevent the chaos of the ‘’before time’’ taking over.

—–The chaos of the demons and the desert, with its constant threat of invaders and the coming of plague and nightmares which were unnameable. —–

All this was the underlying fear of the common people that the priests played on. The chaos might return if the rituals in the temple were not carried out each according to its allotted custom, and the Pharaoh himself was the divine form of the God Osiris on earth .The great Temple with its labyrinth interior was a place of darkness and secrecy, its inner sanctum only frequented by the priests or Royals and it was believed that the Gods actually lived in the Temple itself. Amun was hidden deep in the inner sanctuary where only the High priest or Pharaoh could visit to leave offerings and give thanks; to make requests in the name of the people of the land of Egypt. After each of the ceremonies their footprints were covered in sand as they left to make sure that no one intruded. The air was scented with expensive incense and in breathing it in they believed that they were breathing in the God himself and creating an inner divinity.

The ordinary people worshipped at home on their own small altars of household Gods or outside the Temple in the courtyard when it was known that the daily rituals were taking place inside. She has a deep need to visit the Temple now and on her own, she doesn’t want to have to listen to the voice of David beside her explaining in minute detail the history that she would much rather discover for herself. Rather lucky then that he has gone off in a red faced huff leaving her free to do as she likes at least for the time being

It is sunset now, the great orb of the sun at the height of the top of the scant brown mountains of the West Bank hovering above the tombs in the valley of the Kings and again she feels the bubble of something rise inside her as if she has a job to do but she just doesn’t know what it is. Along the road by the river are carriages with tourists jolting about being driven back and forth by gesticulating locals and she sits on one of the benches strategically placed along the river bank to get a feeling of the place. In the distance she can see the great pylons of the Temple and she has a great longing to go there. Decisively she steps out into the traffic and hails a carriage, and is soon sitting up with the driver watching the scurry of the river boats and the languid elegance of the great sails on the river as they trot briskly towards the Temple. It’s about a two km journey and in that time Tallulah is soon on first name terms with the driver who calls himself Dell Boy which is lost on her as she has never watched the TV show,

They round a curve in the road and there it is, breath-taking in the rose light of the sunset   the huge monument to the past glory of Egypt, the biggest Temple in the world, the great gates watched over by the two immense statues of Ramses ii. She catches her breath and leans forward, the shadows are lengthening and the place is being closed up for the night but money changes hands and she is soon wandering through the great painted columns , ghostly in the sliver of the new moon that is visible over the sacred lake. She sees shadows of the buildings that used to house the priests where now there are none and she blinks quickly to dissipate the illusory image of another larger building to her right. She’s being weird there is nothing there now except the lake and sun baked crumbling ruins to one side of it. Dell Boy has promised to wait for her at the other end of the Temple complex at the corridor of sleeping lions as he calls it which is the avenue of human headed sphinxes on lion’s bodies that link the Southern gate of Karnak to the Temple of Luxor.

As she walks through the massive columns of the Hypostyle hall she marvels at the sheer scale of the place and then she rounds a corner and suddenly she is completely alone in the immense structure. But instead of being afraid she feels lightness take over her feet and she strides purposefully through the gloom as if she knows exactly where she is going.

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Chapter 6

Willow

 

Her head aches, she leans back against the cold porcelain of the ancient Victorian bath tub and watches the steam rise upwards obscuring the rest of the room, settling around her like a fog. It’s cold up here in Scotland even on a late summer evening like this one, through the skylight she can see the moon huge and voluminous staring back at her in a dangerously dark sky. It’s three am. She knows that she should be asleep but the adrenaline of the gig is still pounding through her, drum and bass rooted in her blood, and her head does ache so. Willow washes herself with the last small bar of soap bought from the market at home. French soap, it reminds her that it will soon be time to go home and the thought relaxes her, makes her smile and sink further into the hot water.

The perfume of roses mingles in the steam with the perpetual smell of Frankincense that she uses to smudge the flat with. It’s something that her gran always did, as a little girl it used to make her cough when she came home from school and found the house muggy from it. But now she likes it and buys the small hard granules from the Neal’s Yard shop in town, and burns them on charcoal, to remind herself of her home. It’s a way of protecting and sanctifying space, warding off the darkness and the things that lurk out there to get her. She shivers, the water is rapidly chilling and with an annoyed lurch she gets out of the bath and stands swaying on the bath mat, her towel wrapped around her. Lucy is asleep, too many vodka’s and tonics and she has the flat to herself for once. She bundles on a clean T shirt warm from the airing cupboard and walks quickly to her small bedroom under the eaves. They were lucky to find this flat, but it’s the end of their time here, soon it will be final exams, her show and then hopefully London or Paris and the big wide world of Art with its hands open wide to embrace her.

Well that’s a lie for a start; no one is probably going to be the least bit interested in her but in a\ way she doesn’t care. Painting and drawing is the only thing she can do, the only thing she ever wants to do, and the one thing she has always had to do. She jumps into bed and pulls the duvet up around her and for a moment stares at the chilly little room that is empty of anything much other than her canvases stacked against the walls for safety. She closes her eyes and for a while flickering images of the evening come to her. It had been a good night, the band not as cool as she expected the drummer not as tasty. He was a bit of a prat in fact and she’d ended up on her own in a corner watching the proceedings and nursing a glass of wine. She frowns and curls into a foetal ball trying to keep her toes warm, she had met someone, a tall bloke who worked at the place, he’d been on reception when she came in, said he was a photographer and handed her his card. As it happened she needed some shots done for publicity for the program at her upcoming show, so that was handy. He seemed a little odd, but then wasn’t everyone these days. Anyway she had promised to give him a call tomorrow and that’s what she would do.

Her eyelids begin to twitch in REM movement and images come to join her across the bridge between light and dark, consciousness and the collective world of images that she is even more at home with, she dreams.

—– She is small again, so small that no one will ever find her, except Gran. She is in her bedroom at home and can look out over the rocks to the lighthouse and the sea beyond. The sea is calm today, rolling blue, aqua: there is a slight shimmering film of something silver ,what she calls ‘’sea magic’’ on it and she can see a beautiful lady in a white dress with a veil floating just above the top and turvy slapping of the wavelets. . The lady has long dark hair and is carrying a bunch of flowers, it looks like it is her wedding day but then what is she doing floating out here above the waves? All at once Willow is on the edge of the rocks, and the lady is nearer now and talking to her in a language that she doesn’t understand. The words come out of her mouth like stardust, not as sounds but as bright shining globules of fire, they spark up into the darkness and then disappear. Now, the sea has changed to purple and the lady begins to float away from her, laughing and beckoning to her to follow. Willow doesn’t hesitate she jumps in at once, not remembering that she hasn’t learnt to swim yet, but the water is warm and she is light as a feather that floats on top of it. It occurs to her that it might be a lot quicker if she flew and as the thought comes into her mind she is floating up out of the water and towards the lady who takes her hand. Then they are both laughing and Willow feels totally safe and enclosed in a joy that she has never felt before. They  are flying faster and faster  up into the clouds and the sun is a red disk that they are going to reach any moment now, she can feel the heat on her skin, feel the burning splendour of it. But then a thin grey voice from the past is calling her ……..’’Willow Willow come back ………….I need you…..we need you here, it isn’t finished, it isn’t started, it hasn’t begun…’’

She looks behind her and her Gran is there on the rocks, calling her, her grey hair unpinned and wild in the wind her dress flapping, her hands waving and Willow knows that she has to go back, knows that the time to go with the lady isn’t yet, and as she thinks this she lets go of her hand and wakes up. —–

Willow hears the drone of the first aircraft of the morning humming above her head on approach to the airport. It must be around five thirty, the dream is still with her, her limbs deliciously relaxed and she burrows back down into the mattress. She smiles sleepily, the lady of the dream comes to her often, both in her sleep and sometimes she transfigures from a scrap of light into a figure in her paintings. Willow doesn’t know who she is, but one day she will find out, one day soon. She reminds her of someone from a painting she has seen, almost the same but not quite.

The morning brings the slight sickness of a hangover swallowed down with a slice of toast and a strong cup of coffee that nearly makes her gag, but she also slugs back a fizzy vitamin c tablet and everything begins to settle into some semblance of normality. Today is Saturday and she has promised herself a morning in her studio, finishing up the framing of the charcoal drawings for the exhibition. She still has two of the bigger seascape canvases to work she might spend an hour or two painting depending on how she feels when she gets there,., This morning she is going to try to keep her toes on the ground and away from the full fever of painting and this afternoon she’ll meet with the boy / man.

—–What was his name? Ah yes Euan———

She tries to picture him but his face is lost in the fumes and fervour of last night’s gig, he’s tall, gangly, not unattractive but not what you would call drop dead gorgeous. He has a slightly receding hairline, his hair, what’s left of it is dark and short and fine looking. She thinks about him with the detachment of an artist’s eye, and then dismisses him. No, she wouldn’t want to draw him but there is something that draws her to him although she isn’t sure what it is yet. She has the feeling that he is slightly sinister, although she isn’t afraid of him no; he just produces a vague feeling of disquiet in her solar plexus area. She sometimes classifies men into the ‘’dangerous’’ and the ‘’unimportant’’, but this man doesn’t really fit into either category.  By this time she’s walked from the flat to the nearest café and has grabbed a Styrofoam cup of steaming latte and a bacon bap to eat on the bus. Twenty minutes later greasy and queasy but definitely feeling more herself she fumbles with the keys in the lock of the studio, lets herself in and firmly locks the door behind her and then with a large sigh of satisfaction relaxes.

She opens the shutters and puts the most recent canvas onto the easel and begins to mix open and prepare her paints covering her jumper with an old man’s shirt that she’s purloined in the past, probably from the charity shop near the flat.  As soon as she begins to breathe in the scent of oil paint and turpentine it starts. There is a perceptible shift in the light in the room, it magnifies, glitters, begins to pulsate. She feels the same old, same old, tingle that starts in her toes and works upwards in a wealth of warm until her whole body is vibrating. She is trembling like the strings of a harp or violin and that’s when the colours wash around her and she is in the zone.

Willow picks up a brush and starts to paint, the light moves from her room to her fingers to the canvas and within the body of the painting another world opens up and starts to sing its secret song. Seraphic figures float from the bright aqua of the waves to coil in a helix of meaning up into the storm clouds above, Willow laughs out loud to see them fly from her hand to the painting, her wrist is tingling and her hand is moving so fast that she has difficulty seeing it. This is where she lives; this is her world, the world that comes from somewhere where she belongs. Behind her shoulders she feels the light like a cloak of wellbeing and within this space is the benign being that is always with her in these moments, coaxing, guiding, whispering, and imperceptibly moving her hand across the canvas. Once again she feels five years old and is back there where it all began. *

 

*

 

High wire

I’m often hanging by a string

thin elastic & it pings me

in & out of love.

 

The sea, the sky, endless

moments passing by

there is no ‘’if ‘ or ‘’why’’

 

we recreate these fantasies

to live to love to die: but in that final hour

just who am I?

 

I’m often clinging to that cliff

flesh & blood & breathing genes

left by random lovers years ago

 

it brought me life, it brought me loss

the spirit of this wounded world

where old friends turn to prophets

 

ground bones to dust:

I hear them call me in the night

but I’m still bouncing on this string

 

so thin it stretches to the brink

oblivion creeps in:

there is no ‘’how’’ or ‘’why’’

 

belief is only that :

my knowledge frail

I beat myself & scan the sky

 

for Angels wings.

 

Easter Sunday Brazil

 

 

 

 

 

Each morning they re- hang the sky

early, before sunrise; it moves to left or right

and  I look hard to see the gap

 

between here and heaven.

 

The sea returns and returns

sprayed black and illuminates

the swimmers, white in the moonlight.

 

You have your moments; we talk

in broken phrases, as time passes

erratically culling the silence.

 

The girls hover like angels their

skin sweet and multi – coloured

I watch you sniff their fragments,

 

You lie sanctified by dream

a hedonistic sprawl of boy limbs

and soft fur waxed into pillow.

 

We will have to call love another name

suspended in this middle ground we jostle

for significance,

 

find it lacking.

 

 

 

 

The Lion’s Kiss

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Chapter 1

Château de Cerf summer 1176

 

Alysse is cross and she has a headache, and when she has one of these headaches everything is bound to go wrong all day long. She knows that when she opens her eyes she will be able to see things she doesn’t want to see shimmering around the edges of her vision. The things she has never ever dared talked about to anyone, or ‘’they’’

—-Being her elders and betters as they think themselves to be—-

Would either say she was possessed by the devils or making it all up.

All those shadowy people would be here yet again walking in their other worlds that have nothing to do with this one and yet seem to filter in and out of her line of vision. Why only yesterday she had seen that girl again, the one that looks exactly like her but always wears boy’s clothes. For a second they had looked at each other and she was quite sure that the girl could see her as clearly as a mirror image and then the girl had just walked on by through the bedroom door and disappeared.

—-Phut—-

Just like that as if it is a quite normal way of behaving and indeed by now she is starting to get used to all these comings and goings, they don’t really bother her any more except for these pounding headaches that seem to come with them.

Every time that Alysse is bundled to a new place, and there have been many of them recently, she not only has to get used to the strangeness of the newness but also the strangeness of the new other worlds that she catches glimpses of at random moments during the day. This Château is like one of those layer cakes that the cook had produced in the great palace kitchens in Paris for her last birthday. Here there is layer upon layer of meaning, each one distinct and separate yet each one intricately bound to the whole.

When she gets one of these headaches the ‘’other presences’’ get altogether much stronger, and she seems to be able to float into an in between space where she can hear echoes of voices, some of them calling to her. Mind you there is something very sinister yet special about this particular place; she has never come across her own double before. The girl looks exactly like her, same long dark hair and big sad brown eyes, tilted slightly upwards like cat’s eyes. The translucent pallor of her creamy skin is identical, even the same arch of the eyebrow, the exact oval birthmark on her fore arm. It is when she saw that, that Alysse had been really spooked and had darted out a hand to touch her, but there was nothing to touch. To begin with she had heard her voice only softly in the background of her dreams but since yesterday it has become stronger, and now she knows that it is her calling out in the breeze, drifting through the drafts from the attics, saying the same thing over and over….

—- ‘’ I know you’re there, help me help me, I need to talk to you, you need to help me’’—

The voice is more than an echo and yet less than a whisper, Alysse probably needs to pay attention to all this, to work out what it might mean, but not today, today she just wants to have some  fun for a change. She yawns and, stretches again, just how is she supposed to talk to this thin shadowy double person? She plays with the thin gold chain around her neck which holds the key to her journal, too lazy to write her usual morning thoughts down. If anyone needs helping it is probably Alysse, never mind some phantom girl from a distant world.  It will require thinking about this one, and possibly Bertrand could come up with a solution; he knows something about these sort of secret unmentionable   things.

That’s what she loves about him, he is the only one who will really understand, the only one who truly ‘’gets’’ her.  He has travelled all over the world, and he has even been to the Crusades and is initiated in the mysteries, Although up till now she hasn’t been able to get him to divulge the nature of exactly what mysteries he is versed in, yet he knows more about this area of France than he is letting on, and of course he has grown up around here. On those rare occasions when she is able to be alone with him she has noticed that he moves through the landscape with a sense of belonging, with a certain sense of grace that she envies.  Let’s face it if she admits it out loud which she doesn’t want to  There is something oppressive and slightly scary about this  Château and the huge towering  rock that  it has been built on,  which is the site of an ancient hill fort that can be traced  back thousands of years. There has always been a settlement here she knows that, she has passed the cave dwellings that are carved into the great rocks at nearby Montignac on her way here. The place had a primitive ungodliness about it that made her shiver, but yet it suits her present mood of defiance, and it calls to her in a way that none of the other places she has lived in did.

The people here about mutter under their breaths about it being the cradle of civilisation, though what they truly mean by this she doesn’t have a clue. It certainly doesn’t look like it to her, a girl used to the glories of Paris and Winchester. Where is the civilisation in the thick gloomy forest beneath her window or the wide unending flow of the river beyond? The river that curves around the lip of the forest like a silver chain set there to keep her in. Henri likes to know exactly where his possessions are and she is certainly a ‘’possession’’. .Still here at least she might have a bit of peace and privacy while Henri is away, hunting or at war or trying to sort out his recalcitrant wife Eleanor. Nowadays she doesn’t even really want to know which one of these tasks he is pursuing with his usual verve and indefatigable energy, as long as she gets a little peace from him. A treasonous thing to say but, there she has said it if only to herself and really he is far too huge too frightening and too tiresome to be around all the time.

Better still it is Bertrand who has said he loves her, which in her condition she supposes is also some kind of treason against the King, but quite honestly she doesn’t care. Everyone thinks that being a Princess must be amazing and powerful and make you happy, but it didn’t and she ought to know. First of all she had lost her mother, and then she’d been sent away to that freezing cold miserable England and had to learn their God forsaken ways, and then of course there had been Henri.

Sitting up and leaning against the pretty embroidered headboard of her bed she tries to work out when the first time was that she had experienced the very real sense of being able to see into other unreal worlds. Sometime around the time her mother had died and they’d taken her from her lovely Palace outside Paris and shoved her off to horrid freezing grey England to live in smelly castles and be betrothed to that idiot Richard who had never looked at her twice. One day it had all become too much, the cold and loneliness, her fear at never ever seeing her country or sisters again, that and the incomprehensible accent of the language in the English court. She simply hadn’t understood a word any of them had said for months, apart from the matter of fact things of course. Yes, something had snapped inside her, she had had what they classified as a childhood fever that lasted for a week and had them all muttering about death. But she hadn’t died, simply transitioned into something more than a child, and learnt to drift into a cosmic place that she trusted more than the reality she found herself thrown into. Dramatically in her feverish state the magical worlds had come closer and she had found solace there.

She didn’t linger inside the castles where all the shadows had been rather gloomy for a child, full of miserable phantoms with sad stories that roamed the corridors and old ladies that sat knitting on the end of her bed at night when she wanted to go to sleep. Out in the gardens is where she had found the most interesting kind of worlds. She was able to see the sort of things that she supposed Myrridin* the chief Druid at Arthur’s court, might have been able to see, but she didn’t know the names for them.  Her nurse had told her stories of the old days of the Angles and the Saxons, and the Viking Lords that had come with their thunder Gods and their bloodthirsty Valhalla. As soon as she could read she had scoured the Histories of Britain that were mostly written in Latin and had even tried to decipher the ancient language of the Angles where the poetry told of fights with dragons and voyages across distant oceans.

Anything magical intrigued her and Bertrand had told her stories of the power of the old Gods and the ways of the Druids. He had told her of the old religion that was predominant in this region, way back at the beginning of time where the people had a shaman who was a shape shifter and could talk to the ancestors, as well as be able to change the weather and   heal the sick. He told her that the Gods had come down from beyond the visible stars to help create the human race, he told her of the power of the night and the strange mid – summer ceremonies that used to go on here.  He had told her all this and she had believed him and begun to live more rather than less, in the world that he was describing, that is when she had become ‘’changed’’.

It is heresy of course, if anyone heard them talking of these things she would be denounced as a witch and he would be horribly killed, she gets goose pimples just thinking about it. Yet the old world and the magic ways hold a compelling fascination for her. From the shifting sands of time she feels and sees around her, she certainly believes him and in him, and of course it is a lot less boring than praying on her knees in cold dank churches. Although Saints are supposed to be interesting and do miracles and stuff she’s never actually met one so they don’t count, although she is partial to praying to Our Lady when she gets into any kind of fix.

You could say that Alysse is incredibly well educated for a woman, even demanding to learn the old Homeric legends of the Greeks and she has read as much as she can about the Celtic folk lore of the country she was sent to. She read about the labours of Hercules and the battles of Cuchulain but nothing explained the things she could see around her that others couldn’t. Certainly she never sees dragons or dwarfs or anything totally weird and positively mythical like that, no it’s more akin to vague shapes and colours around the flower beds especially at dusk or dawn. The very slow movement of something transparent and breathtakingly beautiful above the apple trees. Or she might be out riding her pony and having left her escort far behind by galloping off in front of them she would glance across what should be an empty field and see a whole village of people carrying on their daily life in front of her. The vision comes complete with cooking fires and the cries of children, and yet the field is definitely empty the next time she blinks.  When she has managed to escape alone on her horse down into the forest paths she sometimes hears the movements of what sounds like herds of animals, passing by her and sometimes it seems that they glide straight through her, yet not touching a hair on her head although it had spooked the horse and she had nearly ended up thrown off in a bush that day..

She can see horrid things too, like the walking waking premonitions of people’s deaths, or the vapours of disease clinging to the poorer parts of cities that they pass through on their grand progresses across the country with the King., Sometimes she has strange dreams, that aren’t quite dreams, and she is able to walk into what she understands is some kind of probable future that doesn’t contain Alysse. That is the fun part of it for then she is quite invisible. She stretches out and leans back more comfortably on her pillows; no today she can’t mention it to anyone, gossip might get around and ‘’they’’ will punish her again. She amuses herself by writing it all in her little leather journal that she keeps tucked safely behind a loose board in the wall of her room behind her bed. No one can find it there and it is a necessary outlet for her, without it she often felt she might burst with all the unseen unnecessary knowledge that she carries around with her. From Bertrand’s description she wonders if she is a shaman that hasn’t been discovered yet, but when she mentioned it to him he just laughed and kissed her and called her a silly little thing.

—-His silly little thing—-

If she had told anyone any of this they might decide it was the ‘’possession of the Mistral’’ that had got into her, whatever that was it seemed to be quite common for women in the region. It would mean another week or two stuck in the chapel every morning with that sweaty old priest who loved touching her in ways that they both knew that he shouldn’t. If they thought she is being at all dramatic as they call it, they would just be horrid to her, although because of her delicate condition they can’t be too horrid any more can they? She flings herself across the bed so violently that it makes her breathless for a second and she nearly falls out onto the dusty floorboards beneath.

It is supposed to be her court for goodness sake, she is practically a Queen already but ‘’they’’ are against her at every turn. All of them Henri’s spies, she had thought that this time she might have been allowed to pick her own friends to be with her instead of having to smuggle them in when the old fool is off fighting his stupid wars somewhere. She lies back on the sheets and squeezes her eyes closed again while passing her hand over her clammy skin under her thin gown. Her skin feels delicious, and her stomach is still as flat as it has ever been despite the fact that it has that ‘’thing’’ growing it. She can’t bear to think about it, she won’t think about it and she will go riding in the forest this morning even though she isn’t supposed to and what is more to the point she will take her lovely gorgeous Bertrand with her.

She twists in the clammy sheets of the great double bed, opens her eyes and squints into the strong sunlight streaming through the open shutters of the high window. She had chosen her room herself, it is perched high up in what they called ‘’the White Tower’’ and it is the best one in the apartments built for the Queen. But the Queen isn’t here is she and if Alysse has her way it is she who will be Queen soon. She spreads out an arm to feel the deliciously cool smoothness of the sheets beside her, at least she is alone, at least she doesn’t have to lie with ‘’him’’ at the moment, but she can’t put it off for ever. Thinking about ‘’him’’ Henri, the great terrifying bulk of the King she shivers and puts it out of her mind as quickly as she can.

She lies listening to the bustling of the household beneath her and the sound of her ladies voices from the adjoining room. The maid Odette brings in a tray of hot bread and cold milk for her and lays it on the bedside table, but still Alysse doesn’t stir, she just bundles herself further down into the sheets and closes her eyes again. She can hear the tap tap tap of the chisels of the masons who she has ordered to carve her new coat of arms into the arch above the main gate. Two lions on their hind legs rearing up and striking out at each other like a pair of fighting stallions.

— Perhaps she will be ill today, that would serve them all right, and it is so hot here even in the early morning how can she be expected to be anything else other than ill——–?

The sound of a lute playing under her window brings a sly smile to her face, Bertrand…..at last. Alysse leaps out of bed all thoughts of her headache gone and hurries to the pitcher of cold water laid ready on the wash stand. She splashes her face and all the usual bits and then throws on her thinnest chemise and a green silk bliaut swiftly bound with a double gold ceinture. It twists like a lithe snake around her still slim waist.   Her hair she leaves loose except for two pieces which she pins back on top of her head with pearl pins. Now she is ready, she wraps the bread in her handkerchief and throws back the glass of milk in one gulp. Bertrand has promised to take her to bathe in the river this morning and that means that all she has to do is sneak out the small back door where he will have the horses tied and then glorious freedom from all these silly women and their talk talk talk. Talk of stuff she really doesn’t want to listen to, she Alysse is sixteen and she is going to have a day by the water with her best friend without their interference, for who knows when she will next be able to escape.

*

 

 

 

The Ship of Dreams

From The Ship of Dreams 2013 to buy the book click here

Prologue

Lilly thought back to the first time that she was here; but the memory was so lost in the mists of time and circumstance that it took her a moment to recall it.  It was as if that ‘’before time’’ had its own dimension, hidden from all that she has become, so that she felt the memory like an old song that she had to remember the lyrics of to gain access to the tune . The words tumbled into images in her brain, just behind her conscious view, as she strove to fit the pictures to the tune of time; but then all at once the past revealed itself to her again and became visual. The fog cleared, the darkness fell away and she stepped once more towards the light.

She was looking out over the undulating waves in front of her, wind, water, foam and a brilliant sea with no land in sight to obscure the perfect symmetry of the horizon. Out there, where the world dipped away from her in a symphony of texture and colour, out there where she was free again.  Impatiently she brushed her hair back from her cheek and sighed with happiness. She watched a pair of lovers take a turn around the deck, walking so close that they could almost touch her. For a moment she felt the tremor of loss, but it passed with a shrug of her shoulders and a twist of her mouth, no one was truly ever gone from her, just out of sight for a little while.  A foaming spray smashed up over the bow sprite, the water drenching her and slapping noisily on the deck. Lilly shaded her hand to watch the pale sliver of a crescent moon balanced against the darkening sky, shadows on the rim of her world and the memories arrived again, vivid unheralded, sending her tumbling back to the beginning of it all.

*

The Lion’s Kiss

From The Lion’s Kiss 2013 to buy the book click here 

Prologue

 

The Château  glows gold in the light of the August full moon and from within the deep hidden shadows come the sounds of laughing voices in the old language, the Langue D’Oc.  Running footsteps ring loud along the stone corridors, while the flicker of hundreds of lit candles in the great hall cast long leaping shadows out into the dark silence of the forest. The Château, which is really a castle, stands proud and indomitable on its hilltop glaring out over the forest to the winding ribbon of the river beyond. This is an old and dark forest that was once brim-full of running herds of the Kings royal red deer. It surrounds the walled gardens of twelve acres of verdant orchards and vineyards of the, Château like a dark cloak thrown across the land for miles in all directions, keeping things safe, keeping things secret. Behind the sweeping arc of the river lie the mysteries of the Les Eyzie valley leading on to Montignac and the mystical shamanic caves of Lascaux hidden deep beneath the growling landscape.

If you stop to listen there is no telling what you can hear but to be sure the night is full of the movements of animals deep within the marrow of the place. You might hear the thunder of the charging herds of the great Aurochs that used to sweep over the landscape along with herds of wild horses almost seventeen thousand years ago. You might glimpse the baleful yellow tinged eyes of a pair of giant cave lions stealthily stalking the herds, or the light drumming feet of the deer escaping the hunter’s swift arrow. You might even hear the pulsing rhythm of the drum of the shaman: its trance like beat reverberating through the earth beneath your feet, or witness the silent shuffling line of the initiates as they make their way into the ceremonial chambers deep under the earth’s thin crust. You may indeed hear the keening of the wind and the chanting of mourners as a funeral troupe winds its slow march through the secret pathways to the doorway of the underworld.

For this is a land where the boundaries between the living and the dead are not fixed, where the seven sisters of the Pleiades constellation are said to descend to earth to claim the souls of the faithful.  Where a legend speaks of a ‘’Star Gate’’, through which in the beginning of known time the descendants of the old ones came from somewhere behind the Milky Way.  Some will swear that they have come across mythical beasts in the forest at night near the magical caves of Lascaux.  There is talk in the bars and cafes of the region of a creature that has the head and upper body of a lion with the legs and feet of a man. This region is a place of shape shifting and magic and if you know the ways of the ancients then you might very well be able to cheat the jaws of death. At least that is how the old myths and legends tell it, and just behind the next shut door is an unknown world where entry becomes a secret code of endeavour that only a few can remember the key to.

You can listen to the drummers that are drumming the rhythm of the storm and who disappear into the obscurity of the night as soon as you come near to them, leaving only the scent of their pungent sweat and the ashes of their fires. The scent of crushed pine needles and the eerie echo of a lost language hover around you for a moment in the night. For the four things that the Shaman is known to be able to do are to intercede with the spirits of the ancestors and the supernatural, to heal sickness, and to control the movement of the great herds of animals and lastly of course they have the ability to regulate the weather.

You may hear the sound of the horses iron clad feet hammering down the forest paths, and maybe if you are lucky catch a glimpse of the medieval court ladies in their richly embroidered dresses, their hair falling long and loose on their shoulders and the chatter of their whispers. Their laughter and their secrets of courtly love spill out under the great August moon that hangs orange and omnipotent above the shrouded mists of the valley, as it always has, as it always will holding firm the gap between here and heaven It is in this gap that all things gather and are available to you, if you know where to look and how to go about travelling the overgrown pathways of the old Gods, some say it is the old religion, but no one seems to know quite what that is.  The whispered secrets are louder hereabouts than the cicadas whose song deafens the night air. In the distance a low rumble of thunder threatens to break through the humidity of the August night at any moment.

For the Château is full of intrigue and some say even murder. It is said that    Château de Cerf was the favourite hunting lodge of Henry ii, that fiery Plantagenet King of England and Normandy who had married their Lady Eleanor of Aquitaine.  His insubordinate son Richard who was later to be called Cœur de Lion won the castle back from an unruly feudal lord by climbing the steep outer walls and murdering all the inmates in their beds. It is also said that when Henri locked his Queen Eleanor up for sixteen long years in an English Castle, he fell in love with Alysse the betrothed of his son Richard Coeur de Lion and brought her here to this place where the lovers would be far from prying eyes. Far from the eyes of others and it was sure that Alysse would never be able to escape the high outer walls of the stronghold, not without help from more than human sources.

Beautiful willowy Alysse, the daughter of Louis vii King of France, became an unwilling pawn in the power game of Kings and kingdoms. She had been made the ward of Henry at the tender age of nine years old and then rumour has it became his mistress at fifteen. The scandal was rife, a man of forty three ravaging a young girl, and the betrothed of his son at that. Henry never cared too much for scandal, he was a King after all, one of the most powerful Kings in his world and he took what he wanted without a care. It was true that he tried to divorce Eleanor and make Alysse his wife but the legend goes that Alysse loved someone else although she plotted to be his wife, plotted to put their children on the thrones of England and France and disinherit the Queen.

So this then was the love nest of the King, and it was the lovely Alysse Countess of Vexin that he took to his bed and his heart. Yet when he had had his fill of her, he left her there above the cold forest to bear his child, with only her ladies and the troubadours for company.  Locals talk of the infamous Chretien de Troyes and his band of musicians visiting the Châteauto sing her the ballads of the Chevalier de la Charette, the story of Lancelot and the adulterous Queen Guinevere. He was  expressly sent by her half-sister Marie, Countess de Champagne to make a point so they say, that adultery has its consequences even in the bowers and orchards of courtly love way down south in Southern Aquitaine, for everyone loved the Queen Eleanor here about.

Poor Alysse, loved and abandoned, set to be Queen of France and England but locked away from her dues in the back hills of Aquitaine.  Her betrothed, Richard Duke of Aquitaine was too busy ravaging the land of his mother, laying an iron fist on the unruly local Dukes who dared to challenge him to care a jot for her.  He and his knights harboured no mercy; raping and pillaging as they went, lying waste the fields with fire to bring his subjects to their knees in front of him. The people who had loved his mother Eleanor now hated the son who ruled in her place. He made sure that he treated Alysse with the utmost disdain whenever they were forced into each other’s company; all because the King wanted her and Henry always got what he wanted, never mind the cost.

This much is still grumbled and talked about in the small village of St Léon clinging to the cliff face beneath the Château. Itis always like this on the August full moon night if you dare to go near to the a Château and watch from the shadows of the forest. Talk is that every thousand years a certain alignment of the planets with this fierce August moon wakes the Châteauand the surrounding countryside from its fitful slumber. The edges of reality become blurred and indistinct and ‘’things’’ brake through the gap between past and future, the possible and mythical

Often you may hear a woman’s voice crying inconsolably from high up in the topmost rooms of the white tower Somehow for a few hours between the rise of the moon and the coming of dawn, time is peeled away and seventeen hundred years of history is as nothing. Anything could happen, and the Château becomes once more the Châteaude Rêves, the Castle of Dreams, as it lives again for a brief interlude.

At least it is perceived as such in the minds of those that have had a few in the local bar, and are on their way home through the short cuts of the woods. It is a magic spot for lovers who believe that the w Château will bring them luck in love, and they walk through the grounds to be near what once was a great love story. They peer into the gloom, arms entwined and lips sealed in each other’s embrace, imagining Henry pushing Alysse out into the darkness of the formal gardens away from the revellers to kiss her in the old apple orchard. They listen for the lute of the troubadour singing of the downfall of Camelot and bemoaning the way that love and courtly love are two totally different things. Then just before dawn, Alysse can often be glimpsed in the Queens apartments, miserably staring out into the coming coral red of sunrise and then turning back inside to write in her leather journal which she then locks with a small gold key that she keeps in a chain around her neck.

The rest of the time the Château is just a pile of yellow and grey stone, turrets and windows facing out over a verdant landscape to the wide river beneath. Commanding and yet inconsequential, Owners have come and gone over the years but no one has stayed long enough to care for it, and none have tried to discover its secrets, until perhaps now.

*

 

Child

From Ultramarine 2014  to buy click  here 

 

Small spaces of light

that lead us from the outside in,

frames dripping condensation,

still the harsh frost claws the land,

crisping the pliable,

transforming elements.

Myopic dreams of troubled seas,

reclaiming land and structure:

the universe exists before and after,

we are but evolutionary modules,

struggling to understand.

 

Windows into our own definition of the past,

“Quick said the bird”

children rustling in the rose garden.

*

My hand outstretched on a summer’s night, silent English garden, latticed glass.  Grandfather moves in elegant curves snipping dead roses hedged by flowers in the twilight, a train in the distance, his sludge green cashmere cardy hugging him as I would. In my four year old mind a switch flicks and the threat of primordial loss swells my silent throat, my hand reaches out to hold, but he oblivious to me moves quietly through the blooms selecting one or two for breakfast trays.

 

*

Through window panes

where the sky changing light

always implacably watches.

 

Next Year in Vietnam

From Next Year in Vietnam …..coming 2014…

 

Chapter 1

Childhood Isle of Man 1966

 

The boy lies in the marron grass staring out to sea, his cheeks are whipped red with the wind twisted sand and his nose is running water from the cold, but he doesn’t notice.  A curlew swoops overhead and takes its cry backwards into the Ayre land becoming an eerie echo in the distance.  The sea is choppy, grey and empty.

—-Mile upon mile of wave scudding ocean.—–

Over there, he can see the rain formations above the Scottish hills, count the minutes before they drop their crescendo of water on him.  Angular slabs of rain moving with staunch rapidity as if pushed by an unseen stage apparatus.

The dog whines at his side and licks his face.  She’s getting cold and wants to be back at the farmhouse sitting in front of the blue Aga, in the blue tiled kitchen smelling the wafts of cooking for the evening meal.  He puts his arm around her, motioning her to be still in an intimate curling gesture and she almost seems to sigh in obeying him. He won’t go back yet, not till the night blows in and forces him inside.

Daniel is eleven, and this is one of his first days of freedom after returning from the Swiss school they had palmed him off to while the machinations of his parents marriage came to its globular, sticky, end. Or so they said, he really can’t take it in yet.  This is the year he is being asked to learn about stuff that knocks on the edge of his consciousness like a painful irritation, and it hurts him physically almost like a sore throat or a broken leg in the happening.

Lying back in the long brittle stalks of the grass he feels the rain soak into him, it is real, corporeal; it comes in icy knobs of hail, slamming on his waxed jacket.  As it comes upon him, the sea is lost from view and standing up, hunching his shoulders, hands shoved into sticky pockets he runs across the flat expanse of heather and into the overgrown pathway leading to Kion Dow, The hidden valley.  This is the ‘’Bone man’s’’ cottage and further back on higher ground rises ‘’Larkhill,’’ the empty cottage his mother has gifted to him from her imposing grey slate Farmhouse in its 100 acres of grazing sheep and browsing Galloway cattle.

As he walks he remembers last year, at just this time, sitting in the manicured gardens of the great white family house in Sussex.  The only place he had ever really known before this; his eyes sweep the desolation of the landscape of the Island.  In Sussex, watching from his vantage point behind the hedge where he spent his free time from the local prep school building his future empire of houses, in small bricks and wood from the nearby forest glade, watching the people come and go, talking of politics and art, talking of the things he would one day come to know so well.  His father, tall and angular with a perpetual stoop in his shoulders, sitting at the big table in the dining room through wine laden lunch times talking animatedly with visiting members of the ANC.  Discussing the future of South Africa, wiping the grease from his large round glasses, blinking like a huge tawny owl and throwing his hands around in voluble explanations that resounded off the walls like clarinet music.    From time to time he and his mother would sit late into the night after the evening dinners, the children quiet and playing under the table, the servants layering food and brushing crumbs, before the nanny came to shoo them off to bed.

His mother, always that vague scent of Turpentine clinging to her clothes, stretching obliquely under her layers of powder and perfume, like the stretched canvases she daubed her paintings on.   His mother tall, regal, his father calling her —-….*My Angel*—-   and that just didn’t fit now in his mind.   How could he want to leave an angel?  Yes, she is an aristocratic Queen living through her Neverland of becoming, and somehow through this separation she seems to have lost control of the major strings to pull, has banished herself to freedom and isolation.  Like a Princess gone to ground she has shut herself away in an Ivory tower and lost the keys to joy.

Yesterday as the ferry pulled away from the imposing skyline of the Liverpool docks, and bounded out over the Irish Sea, he had felt a panic, grip his stomach, lodge in the corner of his eyes bringing the stinging tears he didn’t want to cry. He was losing something; but here today walking in his newly found kingdom he is beginning to form a picture of a future he will live in. A future which he will build, brick by brick, something strong and stable that can’t be blown away by the vicissitudes of another.  A future where he will have his own family that no one can take from him.  The gritty pull of the sand and the wild sting of the rain bind him to an earth that will never change however much the grown ups try to make it.

The mist begins to roll in, a fine sea mist; the sort the fishermen dread, the sort that legend has it drew King Arthur to Peel castle.  He feels the way up the small stony path, the dog trotting along happily in front of him her tail wagging gently, her white body with the black spots standing out against the green greyness of the landscape. The smile she keeps on her face like all Dalmatians telling him that she is there and looking after him.   They make their way up the broken path, the path that’s invisible to those who don’t know where to look: tripping on rabbit holes and getting clumps of gorse stuck in his trouser leg. Suddenly there is a dip in the ground and they are in the Hidden Valley.  The Manx stay away from the cottage and its desolation, the roof is off in places and around the forgotten hearth are piles of animal bones.  It nestles in the lee of the small valley surrounded by an irrigation ditch which the rats leap in and out of in droves of whistling motion.  The former owner kept his hunting dogs chained here.

Daniel sits, his back against the rough stone of the wall watching the birds fly their last minute nesting formations in swoops of carefully orchestrated panic. .  He thinks of his mother, she is never far from him wherever he is.  

    —-She ruffles my dark curls and I want to sit in the old armchair in her studio, watch the light play tricks with the bright watercolours on the canvas.  I want to drive with her to the lighthouse and be a speck on her brush as she paints the misty edge of the sea, placing small graphic figures in the boats that battle the waves, rise in Chagall like ecstasy from the troughs of the underworld, to catch me. I want to sit huddled in the old blankets at the back of the Landover drinking tea from a thermos flask and dream of  desert sands that have blown beneath the wheels, watching the concentration on her high pale face, the way her tongue pokes pink through a crack in her lips as she paints.  Why can’t I? —-

He raises his arms to feel the rain trickling down his sleeves not understanding the brief kisses she blows as she passes him on her escape route from the children, from the house. Leaving him with hispink squalling sister and the hard nosed nanny.  

‘’Who’s my very wonderful boy then? ‘’

.She would say absentmindedly in the evenings turning the pages of her French translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

‘’ Who loves you most?’’

As she waved goodbye at the Prep School gates on her way to another painting trip on her brother’s ranch in Australia, leaving him with his heart fluttering his knees shaking at the thought of all the lonely days ahead, without her.

The dog begins to bark anxiously as the wind draws banshee sounds from the trees and she knows it’s time to go.  Reluctantly he pats her and shivering now begins the slight climb inland.  There are no lights at his cottage, at Larkhill , and tomorrow he will explore its musty rooms and velvet hangings.  A place which he can call his own a place where he is safe, and later, much later he will bring all his friends to stay here in the first home he can really call his own.   For now the wind is against him and nearing the lights of the Farmhouse he notices it as an isolated outcrop of life against a dark inhuman nature.  Its stolid square shape with large rectangular windows are like eyes staring down on him as he approaches the back door. Somehow it’s been built in the wrong position and the wind curves around it with the arms of a python, squeezing the warmth from it.

He will grow to understand that always and forever in this place there is a battle of survival going on between him and the wind, him and the natural world that wants none of him.   He will grow to understand that his life has changed radically and forever and that with the loss of his beloved family house in Sussex he has lost an innocence and belief in other human beings that will never return. He has been irreparably wounded, and this woundedness he will always carry with him.

*

Jewish mother

From Ultramarine 2014 to buy click here

 

Your nose

became

a talking point.

 

*

 

One of the first to have rhinoplasty you came home with two black eyes and a plaster inches wide across your face and this time I knew it wasn’t my father that had done it. You kept your family a secret, I had met your parents a few times, I remember china cats on stairways, a dog that had its teeth brushed regularly.  There were black and white photos of your Grandmother in furs, in carriages, talk of hotels that your family owned pictures of you in school uniform with that dark curled hair, black eyes and a nose that curved elegantly across your face.  What were the mysteries that you hid, that made your mother deny your very existence? I remember when you were dying, ringing her to tell her of your cancer, to tell her you wanted to see her. “I don’t have a daughter” she said, and the bitterness was an unpalatable evil down the telephone line.   “I don’t have a daughter” echoes in my head, a lonely old woman with cataracts bound to a nursing home bed unable to forgive or forget what you did to her.

*

 

 

After the nose

the dyed blonde hair

astounded me.