mama writes

Upon discovering my stash of teenage poetry and making the decision to pop it on my mama rhymes page, along with adding more as it comes, I have now unearthed some more of my writing efforts from yesteryear.

I have very clear memories of walking to school with my best friend telling her stories I had made up the night before or continuing my world cup '86 soap opera starring the two of us hanging out with our favourite 1980s footballers (this later developed into hanging out with our favourite 1980s Aussie band).  Every morning as I stepped out into a school morning, my bestie would greet me with the words 'Carry on' meaning she was ready for the next instalment. I eventually wrote these stories up for her and when she left our hometown for the Yorkshire hills she took them with her. I do wonder if they are collecting dust in some northern attic somewhere. 

My passion for writing has never waned and I could often be found 'highlighting' how to use creative writing techniques for my English classes at length on too-short whiteboards. I hope the 3G hang onto passions they discover and develop in their childhood rather than letting them wane under the strain of doldrum days until their forties arrive. Like me.
n.b. nothing here for kids btw

And the dish ran away with the colander

Oil encrusted dust coats my fingertips.  The morning heatwave has risen to find me removing and disposing of items he and she had collected during the British chapter of their lives together.  It didn’t occur to my father that, on returning to his real mother country, he should really have packed a slim-line version of his domestic history.  I’ve already completed a major clean up of the bathroom and living room, and now in the second week of a holiday, away from my London life to the tranquil Caribbean, I find myself writhing around nooks and crannies of my Dad’s Grenada kitchen cupboards. 
Lurking in the small print of daughterhood is the proviso that if any one parent goes through major upheaval, it is the eldest’s responsibility to be called upon and fix said upheaval; preferably in the guise of a superhero.  I’m thinking Wonder Daughter, resplendent in Tesco knickers hoiked over Next Skinny Jeans; WD emblazoned on a baggy t-shirt and wielding a labelling machine, bin liners and set of storage boxes.  Wonder Daughter has a hotline to other siblings and charity shops in case of emergency.  Her call-sign shines high above cities and retirement homes promising a listening ear and the ability to organize a filing cabinet in a mere 24 hours.  Wonder Daughter will always be there for you but prefers if you didn’t peer over her shoulder questioning whether she is sure that the bag of bulging computer leads really need to be thrown out.  They do.  You own a laptop.
De-cluttering has become my forte.  Realising that untidy surfaces were my kryptonite, I discovered I had inherited the tidy it or lose it gene from one side crossed with the hoarding keepsakes gene from the other, resulting in many a day occupied with ‘sorting stuff out’ - where achievements would surmount to the movement of one pile of memories for another.  However, throw me into someone else’s life’s mess and I’m cut-throat; intent on hacking through decades of bank statements and MoT renewals, I find a recycling box of shredded personal papers a thing of beauty.
Hence the tableau portraying me in the depths of a sweltering kitchen; debating the necessity of having not one juice blender but three and why my father won’t allow me to throw away any one of the six frying pans I’ve unearthed.  Nervously I wave a torch over hidden corners suspecting a behemoth that has evolved in the war against nightly mosquito spray raids.  The previous six cupboards had uncovered enough Pyrex insect cemeteries to inspire a wildlife zombie movie.  I was dirty, I was sweaty and I’d had enough.
There was no warning for the discovery of the item my probing hand settled upon that blistering morning.  It was just there.  A beacon of a past life, an ex-wife, an estranged mother and a childhood of culinary wonder years.   I forget all about the Scary Mosquito That Eats Reliable Helpful Daughters and aim my hand towards the plastic kitchen utensil that has tumbled further and further away from the cupboard door as modern, metallic replacements assume pole position.
I sweep my middle-aged hands across the grubby perforated holes in the radioactive orange colander and remember the residue of salt sprinkles and vinegar promising the dinner of angels.  Friday night homemade chips.  My long time ago Mum hums The Jackson’s Can You Feel The Force? whilst moving chips around four plates with the speed of a croupier.  I see her and I see me, looking at her.  Knees tucked under teenage legs on our dining table cum piano chair, chin resting on my hands.  Watching her through the dining hatch, waiting for her to offer me the last chip that wouldn’t make it onto the blue oriental fable edged dinner plate.  Of course, it wouldn’t; it was always meant for me. 
Mum’s dinners could have provided a cookery supplement to Philias Fogg’s Around the World in 80 days, such was her mealtime prowess.  I trundled off to University in the early 90’s with the assumption that all families feasted on such delights as the Traditional Roast Dinner WITH Macaroni and Cheese to Left Over Chicken Curry Pie to midweek Cornbeef Risotto to Saltfish, Bakes and Plantain to Spaghetti Bolognese to Toad in the Hole.  So imagine my disappointment upon leaving home and discovering that my first set of flatmates expected nothing of the sort.  The miserable absurdity of lonely slabs of meat drowning with two veg in a sea of gravy enlightened me to the cookery laziness that existed outside the realms of my mother’s flawless food banks.
Those Friday night chip dinners denoted a cooking night off for Mum.  Out came the potato slicer granting me the right to crank perfectly cuboid chips through a metal portcullis.  By six o’clock said chips posed grandly next to a fried egg and sausages beside a river of tomato sauce, signifying today was a good day.  Sit with my dinner in front of the telly kind of day.  It may have even been an invite a friend over to dinner day.  Such a rarity would be elevated to Special Day That’s Not Even A Birthday Day.  Banquet of joy in hand, I carefully crossed orange and brown carpeted swirls to the sofa and skilfully raised a knee to turn on the TV whilst simultaneously nudging pink national health glasses back up my nose and flicking out my brace with my tongue.  It landed with precision on the coffee table next to the block of remote control projecting me to optimum satisfaction as the credits to Family Ties began or maybe it was Max Headroom or Rapido TV.  The grainy televisual programmes changed as my legs got longer, my glasses got thicker and my homework got harder, nevertheless with only four channels in service, her dinner repertoire outnumbered our choice of TV stations.  The homemade chip dinner interlocks the years until they become a melee of mealtime memories.
As the third hour of cleaning propels me to put the colander aside in search of cold water, she disappears, fading into a heat haze until the warmth of this memory is vanquished as I drain two glasses of iced water and remember the distance that seven years has carved between us.  Her on one side, frozen in anger and me, drifting motherless with three icebergs of my own threatening to puncture the Good Ship Parenting.  That damn colander in all its 70’s glory sat mocking me with its freedom; which I had unwittingly liberated, and was now using it to beat down any modicum of satisfaction I may have harboured about being a decent mother. 
Do you ever make chips from scratch for your children?
No, have you seen the amount of oil needed to do that? I’m constantly surprised I’m not leaking oil now I’m in my forties.
There are those fat air frying machines now don’t you know?
How do you even know that, you’re from the eighties dammit?
You know she always made her Quiche Lorraines too?
I know, I know, I’m hanging my head in shame whilst my mouth waters with the recollection of Friday Night Special Dinner Mark 2: Quiche and Chips.  A fluffy cheesy eggy jubilation cradling tomatoes or ham or bacon or green veggy stuff, confidently lolling in a solid pie base with finger pinched edges.  All protected by a pie dish that appeared to have its edges finger pinched too, just to make it the perfect dish for the perfect Quiche with the perfect handmade chips for the only day of the week I didn’t have athletic training thereby making it the perfect night.  Mum was the creator of perfection.  Back then, anyway.
The colander has stopped talking to me now because a) I can hear the muffled whispers from behind Cupboard Door No2 and b) I am clearly suffering from heatstroke.
Fox the Dog is sniffing outside expecting breakfast.  Seconds later his nose sunrises over the half open Dutch door and he emits a pitiful whine, which in dog speak clearly translates as I’m awake, you’re awake, what’s the problem here?  I don’t want him to disturb the living room of sweating couch potatoes just yet because I’m convinced there’s more to find, possibly more vestiges of my vintage so I tip the aluminium bowl full of our last night’s chicken dinner bones into his grubby tin and resume my position on the floor, stretching into Door No2.
I rummage carefully past milk jugs and cereal bowls and dinner plates.  A large punchbowl obscures my reach to the row behind so I move crockery like chess pieces, deliberating every move before choosing a safe spot.  Catastrophe is avoided when I slide a tower of side plates in front of the punchbowl and neglect to notice the twelve glasses inside which begin an unruly clatter causing me to hastily shove it back to whence it came thereby knocking a lunchbox behind the shelf onto the dishes below.  I stiffen and create a statue of me.  This wasn’t the moment I wanted to enter back into the realm of mummydom.  Not yet.  Not whilst I was firmly situated in the retrospective Isle of Teenage Daughter and wasn’t in the mood to take responsibility of breakfast demands at that moment. 
The punchbowl was getting heavy and the sight of the lunchbox, in what was clearly a china and ceramic cupboard, was begin to tap on my nerves.  Assuming a position of a poised stealth I imagine I would have learnt in all my intended yoga classes, I put everything back in its rightful place and continue my search. 
Friday night dinners weren’t just about the appropriation of an English gastronomic institution.  That’s not what my Mum was about.  Here was a woman who had battled through migration, integration, assimilation, finding herself in a difficult situation due to the pleasures of a mutual attraction – I’ll leave that to your imagination; but to put it bluntly; she gained a new relation – and would forever find home in this new nation.  She survived her troubles by creating her own rules which transpired in our home when she would sew ra-ra skirts with quadruple layers instead of the usual three, and lay down dinners that surpassed Delia.  Mum would mix and match, and cobble together meals of necessity, designed patchwork cuisine quilts with the contents of a hungry fridge. 
A trickle of sweat traces my spine and I can feel my headwrap suffocating my head, inviting a throbbing headache to stay until its older, aggressive sibling – the migraine – arrives.  I sweep my forehead repeatedly across my forearm until the wrap falls to the floor.  I was absolutely convinced that the item I was looking for, regardless of the thousands of miles between now and our old Essex terrace, would not have been thrown out.  I stretch past four patterned bowls that stir up seas of winter soup and dumplings meals and knew that, in homage, Dad was now using them for freshly caught fish soups lambasted in hot pepper sauce but would always forego the dumplings.  Only she could make them the way he liked: long and so thick they would make a crick crack sound as you bit into them.  If I eat a dumpling that doesn’t crick crack he would say It does spoil the whole soup. I would be forced to send it back.  My Dad.  The self-proclaimed food critic.
One last finger extension and I feel ridges.  I am giddy with elation. I’ve found it.  The pie dish.  Cue gospel choir.  A shadow of its former self with a scratched veneer and cracked rim in places but still, there it is and there I am and there she is.  Faded images of brown tiles are the backdrop to me, lanky with youth in a block pink and yellow top, sporadically shaking my plaited beaded mane.  At thirteen I towered over Mum but that was irrelevant, we both knew who was boss.  A frown momentarily creased the smoothness of her brow as she combined vegetables and herbs and spices to create a Quiche that was saturated with colour and taste.  We’d yum in chorus at the sight of empirical chips languishing beside the eggy French distraction until we took our first bite and discovered its true value, instantly undermining the power of the chip.  She knew the goodness was in the Quiche, everything else was superficial.
My Mother’s kitchen swelled with a cacophony of funk and soul.  With the rising heat from a baking oven she would groove tonight, to taste the spice of life whilst sinking a knife into the golden heart of a sponge cake.  Inspecting the sprinkling of crumbs she would pop it back into the oven for a last blast to ensure a crispy top with the oath that when it bu’n, it done.  A method I still use on barbeque or biscuit baking afternoons which has cost me both jobs to husband and middle daughter respectively.  Mum didn’t use scales when she cooked, preferring, instead, to add her own flavouring to rigid recipes.  What she pinched and sprinkled into a boiling pan would kick the dull out of any dish.  Plastic rainbow strips twisted in the breeze of an open back door and the galley kitchen brimmed with cooking and music.    Her amalgamation of opera splashed with soul, a generous serving of Michael Jackson with a dash of Duran Duran made her cooking a participation sport.  The Sunday Roast was prepared to the classical strains of Handel making way for lunchtime reggae as we munched upon chicken with roast potatoes, rice, mac and cheese, and coleslaw.  A supreme lover of English puddings, my Mum padded out lazy afternoons with Sticky Toffee Pudding or Spotted Dick, or our favourite: The Apple Crumble.  For some, this British staple dessert might seem basic; a Home Economics fourth lesson.  No.  Not in our neck of the woods it wasn’t.  To this day, I cannot be completely sure of the mysteries that came bubbling out of our oven.  We saw the apple and crumble going in but the magnificence that came out was unrivalled.  I might sample from a Michelin Restaurant or be tempted by the finest luxury ranges in the aisles but no matter where I look, or even attempt to bake myself, it’s simply not up to her standard.  Golden brown trickles suggested caramelized sugar and the infinitesimal hint of a spice could have been cinnamon, nutmeg or a compound of both.  Upon tasting we experienced an Apple Crumble high, the likes of which I can never hope to recreate but insist on chasing every Sunday with the vain aspiration of getting the method just so.
Much to our chagrin, we were often force fed Songs of Praise during pudding afternoons but I am filled with the memory of a warmth that perpetually emanated from that kitchen and would combat the cold welcome from outside in the real world.  I can still recall the cocoon she created in our home through the mood of the music she chose or the food she cooked.  Whether good, bad, sad or indifferent the temperament of the woman would sear its way into our meals and our days thereby calibrating our mood of response.  And maybe that’s where it goes awry - this reminiscent stew filled with ingredients from the good food guide to parenting. 
I glance back from the depth of my years and see me, again.  The mahogany table is bathed in a dim, swinging light because I have just nudged the dining room table lamp.  The effect is akin to an interrogators bulb in a film noir; caught in the moment Agent Mother has The Kid bang to rights:
“You’re gonna eat all that liver, see.  Before you get off this table that plate is gonna be clean, see or I’m gonna shove it down your throat.”
“But Mum, I’ve eaten everything else”
The fantasy ends here because I did sit and finish every last, dry, rotten piece of liver.  Concurrently I flaunted the idea that I was a vegetarian so couldn’t eat liver anymore which, fair play to my Mum, she supported wholeheartedly.  She didn’t rubbish my newfound morals and even made one night’s dinner completely vegetarian.  By the end of the first week, my nerve was well and truly tested come Sunday when it seemed the chicken looked bigger and more golden and she reminded me with every luscious slice she brandished on plates around the table, that it was such a shame I didn’t eat meat anymore.  Thereby ending the most important lesson in being a kid.  The House always wins. 
The pie dish and the colander sit before me with their tales told, an indelible morsel of the past in these weary apparatus.  As though thumbing the pages of a family photo album I recall the worn out reminders of, what my children now refer to as, the olden days, and I am compelled to question when and how the years grew bitter?
My mother and father were thrust into the 1960s long after the ardour of peace and love.  A vortex of clashing cultures, racist institutional ideologies, a parental push out of education and then the obligatory blues party that brought them together.  Islanders seeking love on a mainland that didn’t want them and wrestled against them.  Working the hell out of every day and their velvet flares, my parents brought me into a life where reading, school, manners, good behaviour and family were paramount.  When white faces would look into our black faces and believe us to be stupid, poor and criminal, the weight on our shoulders was to disprove that perception all the time. In everything we said and did.  You didn’t just walk the street as you; you walked as many.
We lived on a newly built British Airways estate in West London among a plethora of peoples.  A White British couple with a scary Alsatian dog that didn’t talk to us, the couple not the dog; an Indian family with a son I rode my bike with, an Irish family with a daughter I played in the park with, a mixed couple with a son I had an almighty crush on.  Apart from the Alsatian lot everyone had kids and we’d all get together with the kids from the estate across the road and we’d ride bikes along the canal and catch daddy long legs in milk bottles and go to each other’s birthday parties.  Come to think of it, the only birthday parties on the estate were either at ours or at Colin’s - the mixed-race boy crush.  Party rooms full of British kids who ate jam tarts and played Pass the Parcel, dropped off by their immigrant parents who slipstreamed their native vernacular with a new British tongue, made new lives and started a new generation.  The new British were already here; long before Blair’s rebranding in the 1990s.
Only a few years before I was born, my parents had made their nervous, excited journeys from their respective countries to board aeroplanes to the British Isles and battle the greyness of a harsh reality.  With British passports in their hands, they believed themselves to be British.  As did I.  But at the age of 9 I merrily eased myself into a row boat down a bigot infested stream because they’d decided that it was time to leave the relative harmony in West London for Skinhead-on-Sea.  It was here that I quickly learnt that my Britishness did not equate to white Britishness.  I could eat all the fish and chips I liked.  Something about me just wasn’t quite right. 
I’d never been confronted with prejudice so any talk about racism sat in the back of a draw marked Birds, Bees and Bigotry.  Within a few days my understanding of the world and my place in it shifted on its axis.  The shock of being called names because I wasn’t white was earth-shattering.  Wog.  Coon.  Nig Nog.  Rubber Lips.  Blackie. A Racist’s Thesaurus that came with accompanying sound effects be it monkey or Chalky White’s honk.  I understood how it felt to be different.  I discovered how to burn with shame.  I learnt what it meant to be reviled by children and adults alike.  I then experienced an agonising desire to be invisible, to fit in, to be like everyone else. 
I’m not 100% sure if Mum and Dad could empathize with my experience.  That’s not to say they weren’t victims of racism.  They were - I’ve heard the stories.  But I wonder if they stopped to consider that although their small island memories were waning, there was still a part of them that could revisit the barefoot walks home from school or feel the sunshine de-hydrating the rain drenched streets.  I wonder if they stopped to consider that when the catcalls of go home nigger accompanied my walks home from school that I honestly thought they meant the three-bedroom mid-terrace house I was heading to anyway, albeit a little faster now.  I never had the ammunition to respond; was never given the words to protect my crushed pride.  Without the armour of retaliation, I suffered verbalistic assaults that dented my self-worth for years, culminating in a black teenage girl who considered herself to be trapped in a World of Them, desperately looking through the glass but unable to gain access to the World of Us.
I now contemplate whether that is how they looked at me; their child with a (supposedly) tangible connection with Britain.  Just as their parents had provided a better life for their children by emigrating here in the fifties and sixties, so my parents must have thought so too by raising their children in the seventies and eighties.  By the Laws of Average and Generational Gaps this should be the case, and look, I’ve got nothing else to compare my life with – I have only ever lived in the UK – how ever could they have foreseen that their first born would develop such a confused sense of self?  Up and down my small-town Essex streets, in and out of friends’ houses, along school corridors I was forever different.  Outside.  Other.  Initially I put this down to my being the newbie in the classroom but the constant line of questioning or requests to touch my hair erected an insurmountable wall of difference.  I regularly roll out the tale of the little white girl, seemingly desperate to be my friend in that first week at primary school, who would always follow me to the toilet.  This is a thing girls did, I wasn’t concerned until the relentless need for her to know if I was brown under my clothes ended in her asking if my bum was black like my hands and face.  My impertinent response of “No it’s green with pink spots” was met with a worried silence then a nervous laugh followed by a quiet “Really?”.
The Essex years continued with such delights as being asked to stand out of a birthday party game where the children covered themselves except for their hands so the birthday girl could guess who was who.
“Oh love, they’ll guess you because of your brown hands, won’t they?  You can play in the next game.”
For the next game the children covered themselves and the birthday girl had to touch hidden heads.
“Oh love, it’s that spongy hair of yours, it’ll give you away, won’t it?  You can play in the next game”
And so, the line of demarcation was drawn in Sharpie pen (had they been invented then).  And so, it continued:
Popular Girl at High School: Twin John thinks you fancy him but really, it’s me.
Me: Why would he think that? I don’t fancy him (I did, but…you know…).
Popular Girl: Because I told him that there’s a girl that fancies him in our class but he’d never go out with her and he said was it you because even though he really likes you he’d never go out with you because you’re black. 
I mean what was I supposed to do with that information?  Hair style or the way I laugh is one thing but my face?
I must point out that I was the only black child in the whole school so I carried these moments alone.  Some sympathetic teachers dealt with the racist bullying quickly and firmly.  We expect that in schools these days but it really did make all the difference to my school life.  I loved school despite the daily slalom avoiding the kids ready to pelt me with xenophobic insults.  And I had such good, good friends who fired dirty looks at my bullies and told their parents, who then told my parents, who then berated me for not telling them myself about the incessant tirade of abuse.  And after all this, home was shutting me out too.
It sounds petty now but when I was banned from blue-tacking posters of pop stars in my bedroom because my Dad didn’t want to come home to walls with white faces on them, I was incensed.  The spiralling rejection of me was relentless.  Of course, I now understand that facing the institutional prejudice within the civil service, he hardly wanted pictorial reminders of his oppressors once he was in his castle.  But I was a teenager.  In the selfish glow of the teenage planet there is a mistaken belief that, like the first man on the moon, their steps through life have never been made before.  Pioneers of paths already explored, The Teenager begins to view The Parent as an inferior species; how can two humans get fashion, music, the reason for living so incredibly wrong?  And whilst, The (beleaguered) Parent may offer snippets, nay, volumes of worthwhile advice and guidance, The Teenager is too clever by far for this outdated nonsense; The Teenager is far too busy foraging whilst The Parent watches from across the road in a classy restaurant eating foie gras.  But isn’t that the nature of the generational beast?  We gnash our teeth and rage against the enemy that is our parent until it’s time to beat the hair shirt on our middle-aged backs as our own offspring roll their eyes at the very presence of us.
If I’d known, back then, about the jobs Mum lost because she deigned to wear her hair natural or about Dad sharing a workspace with people who thought it funny to put monkey photos in black colleagues’ lockers; maybe I would have respected their sagacity.  It wasn’t until Mum came home raging about both next-door neighbours boasting of the collaborative boycott against a new Asian owned corner shop, that I fully comprehended how we were perceived. The boycott was deemed a success as the Indians were going back home and there’s a white couple taking over so we can all go back in again.  They may smile and chat over the fence, send Christmas cards and pop in for tea but the line of demarcation was in our street too as thick as the fences between our front gardens.  We were simply not one of them.
And whilst I was obsessed with trying to fit in with my all white friends, my parents were occupied with providing a safe haven and pushing us to better the best that we could be.  This is nothing new to black children of my generation – this was our mantra.  But my ignorance led me to rebel against my difference and I grew to hate the cause of my difference instead of seeking strength and solace in those that were like me – as my parents did with their peers, via long drives to visit extended families or meeting with other black families in our area so their children might acquire some kinship with other black kids in other white schools. 
How disconcerting it must have been for my parents to raise children in unfamiliar and unwelcome surroundings and see those children grow up with this fusion of self, dependant on the company they were in.  They had done it to survive and, unwittingly, had passed this dexterity on to us.  And so, we tailor our talk to the room we enter, we splice our Christmases with traditions borne from both ends of the Atlantic, we nourish our mixed heritage daughters on the foods and the music that straddle trade winds and timelines.  I have learned to love the bits of me that lay neglected from my schooldays be it my hair, my nose, my lips, my bottom, or my blackness.  Like my mother sprinkling turmeric to make the rice yellow before shovelling a tin of Cornbeef in to concoct what we understood to be Risotto, I find peace and power in an identity that is at once shared and individual.
My prowess at decluttering has peaked and my father is satisfied with the skinny kitchen that has shed its weight of the past.  Listening to him talk me through how he’d like me to do the same with the study, I look to my daughters lounging on the sofa watching the Olympics.  They are wearing Team GB t-shirts and Grenadian wristbands, eating mangoes from their Grandpa’s garden whilst cramming dry cereal, brought from the UK in a barrel, into their mouths.  My father brandishes a box full of ‘important’ papers yet I spot a letter dated 1993 in my teenage hand.  The first sentence contains the phrase ‘I’m sorry if…” so I stop reading to avoid revisiting adolescent blunders and pay attention to what he’s saying.  His accent surfs between the clipped British dialect of instruction to the melodious Grenadian lilt of comfort. 
When no one is looking, I covet the pie dish and the colander.  Wrapped in swimsuits and jumpers they come home.
2017 (submission)


“Our day has come.” a voice cracked with emotion.  Fatigued heads rested on weary shoulders and free hands sought to hold other free hands.  Voices punctured the blood-shot sky as we stood together on the compound hilltop, watching the sun rise on our revolution. 
Veiled animosity reverberated throughout Alpha Quadrant.  A bad sign.  I’d only been in The Courtyard a short time but the residents had grown restless and the agitated mood gathered momentum quickly thrusting those who disputed proceedings, to the fore.  I had no desire to get caught in the middle of anything today so I stepped up my pace, eager to get home. 
I was on provision duty that afternoon so I’d had no choice but to enter the central zone to collect the week’s rations to feed my apartment block of 12 people.  We barely managed to get by on the meagre portions shared among the six females and six males assigned to Apartment Block T33 and it was becoming clear that the cooking monitors were adding a little extra slop on their own plate; leaving the rest of us hungry.  But at least it was better than the happenings in Apartment Block S45 – a cooking monitor had hidden all the kitchen utensils in his locked bedroom leaving him master of menu and servings.  Between the hormones and the hunger, tempers frayed easily and it wasn’t unusual to see minor skirmishes in the Block corridors before Night Curfew.  Those I could handle.  I kept my head down, kept my dorm unit clean, reported for duty on time, put the toilet seat down and didn’t snore.  I’d only been out of my parent’s house for two weeks but I’d learnt to vacate a hostile situation in less than a minute without anyone remembering I was even there.  But this…this was outside of my comfort zone and something was telling me I needed to get back to the relative safety of Gamma Quadrant; which presented me with a bit of a quandary.
Food rations were distributed at midday in Alpha Quadrant and provision duty gave me the sole opportunity to search for my relatives.  I treasured every precious minute walking among the families of Delta Quadrant and older inhabitants of Epsilon Quadrant.  My feet moved with ease while my eyes scanned The Courtyard for a glimpse of Mama or my twin brothers.  Six years had passed since I’d left the family compound to live in the teenage sector.  Six years should have been time enough to forget my parents.  Contact was forbidden so after the first few nights of crying and puking with homesickness, many shoved thoughts of their loving relatives deep into the back of their minds like a guilty secret.  But me? No.  I couldn’t help myself.  Believe me I’d tried to forget the way Poppa would thrust his thumb between his forefingers pretending to steal my six-year-old nose and I had attempted to stifle the memory of Mama’s songs that filtered into my dreams.  And I had no idea what my older brothers might even look like now.  Were they still in a Gamma Quadrant apartment block or had they got married and moved to a Delta cluster to start their own families? 
The atmosphere had altered again.  Unease rippled through the crowd as they swallowed their rage with the arrival of Alpha soldiers, who had locked weapons on the whimpering body of a young man cowering on the ground.  I allowed myself a single worry about my brothers, who had always shown little regard for Alpha law: were they even alive?

Life in Delta Quadrant
Billie: Stevie, hide this and don’t tell
Me: What it is?
Oti: No time, hide it.  Quickly
(Billie shoves a food parcel into my hands which Oti tugs behind my back.)
Me:(loud cries)
Mama: What you got there Stevie?
(Billie and Oti pinch both my arms)
Mama: (to me) Where did you get this? (to the twins) How did you get all this food? 
Poppa (frantic) Oh no.  Boys what have you done?
Mama (frantic) Get rid of it.  Get it out of the house before The Alpha realise it’s missing.
(Billie and Oti gorge on stolen food gleefully)
Me: (loud cries again)

A scream sliced across the courtyard, over the heads of the resident mob. 
“Not my son!”  a Delta mother screamed fighting her way to the quivering bundle on the ground “Not my son!” she screamed again.  She pounded on the turned backs of the armoured soldiers’ impenetrable circle.  Sharp whispers urged her to be still; be silent; Alpha would see her.; Alpha did not permit this behaviour.  We had all seen prisoners taken.  We had all seen executions.  The mother paced the edge of the soldier fortress like a tigress waiting to pounce.  Her eyes flashed out to the watchful crowd. 
“My son has done nothing.  He’s innocent” she rasped, tears mingling with spittle.  The Alpha Speaker hummed into life. 
I watched her claw at the soldiers scooping her son from the dust and I listened to her wretched pleas as his body was clamped in a metal suit, immobilising him immediately.  His eyes conveyed panic; fear; regret…no, not regret.  I retreated to look closer.  He blinked sporadically as though trying to communicate.  Suddenly he caught me in his stare and his eyes widened and it was then I saw it.  It wasn’t regret, it was relief.  Relief?  But why?   His eyes followed me until I closed my eyes to block him out but I couldn’t escape as the crowded square held me captive, with the sheer force of their desire to observe the goings on.  When I opened my eyes again I saw his gaze had shifted for a final connection with his mother, who soothed her boy with loving words until he was carried out to his fate.  Residents spilled back to their lives until the mother’s pained voice rang out again.
“My son is innocent” she rallied against a turning tide of bodies and baskets “It’s those Angel boys you want to lock up, not my boy”.
My feet kept walking but I had frozen inside.
“Yeah you keep walking Stevie Angel.  Keep walking with the truth that it was your brothers that did this to my boy.  Alpha’s got this wrong.  Those Angel boys have killed my son.” she sunk to her knees at the sight of more soldiers entering The Courtyard knowing they were for her “My boy is innocent”.  Her strangled cries were lost in the marching and the shackles and the orders from Alpha.
I backed out of The Courtyard and felt rows of eyes watching me walk until I was out of sight by the river’s edge.  Feeling my own panic, fear and relief I mounted a Delta Quadrant ferry.  On the empty boat, away from the furore, my heartbeat slowed to a mild gallop. Why had she singled me out?  I didn’t even know her son and I hadn’t seen my brothers in years.  I raised my sector id card to access the boat’s interface allowing me to travel across the River Tartarus, when I heard it:
I lowered my hand but remained still.  I hoped the sound belonged to some aspect of the river boat’s mechanical system.  Or something.
Reminding myself of the morning’s events, I anticipated that this could only mean trouble.
“Psst.  Stevie”
And there it was …trouble.  Times two.
My statue impression failed miserably.
“I just want to get home.  I don’t want any trouble.” I eked the words out between gritted teeth.  I kept my eyes fixed, in the distance, where I could see my Gamma Quadrant apartment.  Gridlocked into identical blocks occupied by 11 to 20 year olds, Gamma was home - until Census Day when the eldest residents would be moved to a cluster in the Delta Quadrant taking the place of the sixty year olds who were relocated to slum houses in Epsilon Quadrant until their ninetieth year.  After which, Omega Quadrant awaited.  Everyone wished death would arrive before their 90th Census Day. 
The voices belonged to my brothers.  The continuous repetition of my name whispered at my feet and the realisation that my boot laces were being tied together made it abundantly clear that they weren’t going to leave me alone.
A hand appeared holding an unlicensed id card, wrapped in foil.
“Swipe it.  Quickly, kiddo”
Billie - the self-proclaimed ‘eldest’ of the twins who, since Poppa’s disappearance called me by my father’s pet name.
“What will it do?” I asked looking down
“Don’t look down Stevie.  Do you want the Alpha to be alerted, dufus?”
Oti – ever the diplomat.  I took the card from Billie’s hand, swiped it then sank onto the bench, cautiously peering down to look at the identical faces of my grinning brothers.

At this point I’m thinking:
a)      I’m a Gamma heading to Delta.  Sentence – execution
b)     I’ve used an illegal id.  Sentence – execution
c)      I’m travelling with two, clearly deranged, possibly guilty, residents thereby making me deranged and guilty by association.  Sentence: execution
d)     I’m in possession of apartment rations which will now:
                    i.            Arrive late
                  ii.            Not arrive at all
Sentence: ostracized, ousted, arrested, expelled, executed.
None of this is good for me.

In spite of the precarious situation and despite the decade apart, we slipstream easily into conversation – mickey-taking, rebuttals, cusses, justifications; until I demand answers at the same time as they hit me with a sucker punch.
“Did you two get Cooper killed?”

“Mama’s waiting for you”

Oti and Billie scramble off the river boat into the shadow of the boundary wall dragging me like a well-loved rag doll behind them.  The tied boots, I had no choice.  We crouch into the darkness of a passageway.
Have you idiots brought me to Delta?” I’m scared and it’s showing.
Billie shushes me and Oti propels me into a tunnel that twists and turns, disorientating me to the point of sickness.
“Are you lying about Mama?” I snarl “Where is she?  If I get arrested, I swear I’ll take you both down with…”

Oti elbows me through a gap in the wall into a dusky cavern lit with candles perched in coloured glass bottles scattered around creating a pool of shadowy faces.  There were people seated on stools and large wooden chests and I became more uneasy as I noticed there were all ages here; a sight to behold in our segregated society.  Broken Alpha Law no1 right there.  Photographs of ancient faces were illicitly, haphazardly mounted on the walls and music filled the space above and between us.  More broken Alpha Laws.  I spun round, desperate to get out but I had become discombobulated in the blend of darkness, bodies, voices and a solid bass.  I put my hands over my ears.
“Feel the music Stevie.  I’m here. I’ve got you”
I am thrust into the smile and arms of Mama and wish I could conjure a gospel choir or fireworks when I see her face and feel the protection of her embrace after all these years.  A man’s voice breathes reality into our moment and gently separates us.
“There’s not much time.  Stevie must get arrested and access Beta Quadrant to make contact with the rogue Alpha”
“Grand-Poppa’s right, Stevie.  The movement is primed but we need your help” she pauses watching bewilderment scuttle across my face “I know, I know, it’s a lot to take in but your brothers will get you back safely after the meeting.”

     Words I file for later:
           a)      Grand-Poppa
           b)     The Movement
           c)      Brothers + Safely = oxymoron
           d)     Meeting

     Words I guess are really important:
           a)      Stevie must get arrested and access Beta Quadrant to make contact with the rogue Alpha

The imposing man with the gentle voice hiding an accent of sunshine and the past stood close to Mama as they doled out directives to nervous, intent faces in the crowd.  Once everyone had nodded their understanding, the room fell quiet.
“Friends” Mama addressed the fifty or so standing before her.  She was wrapped in a golden material, criss-crossed with an explosion of greens and reds.  She smiled an uneasy, reassuring smile “We have a difficult time ahead of us but our time has come.  With the arrest of Cooper and the expulsion of Blanche this morning, the wheels are in motion.  We will proceed on Census Day.  Contact with Zeta and Omega was successful and our friends in those quadrants are primed for our signal alongside those of you leading Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Quadrant.  The rogue Alpha is operational so now everything rests on Stevie connecting with our sister, Sami, in Beta Quadrant.”
The room turned to face me. 
And my face turned to meet the floor.

Mama’s arms were around me again wrapping me in her colourful duvet of maternal love.  She kissed the colour back into my cheeks before leaning back to look at my hair.
“Child, they don’t have combs in Gamma?  Didn’t I teach you to plait it before you left?”
“Mama” I pushed myself up groggily “I love you, I love that I’m here with you but I need to know what’s going on”
“I know, love” Mama cooed, surreptitiously trying to untangle my dreadlocks “We had expected a little more time but when the Alpha sentenced Cooper to death in 24 hours we knew we had to move quickly…which is why his mama called you out.  She needed to signal your brothers.  I just hope your sister heard it too.  We need Beta Quadrant for the rebellion to succeed”
I recalled my list of words and added two more:
      e)      Rebellion
      f)       Sami…my sister

Mama, Billie, Oti and the gentle giant sat around me and proceeded to change the world I knew.

Mama’s Poppa.
His Census Day to Epsilon was before I was born.
Fountain of knowledge about life before The Alpha.

Has dreadlocks like me.
Has my history in his head.
The Movement
Underground organisation:
Aim to reconnect quadrants and live as one
Aim: overthrow the Alpha before next Census Day

Yes to living with my family.
Fighting with the Alpha…meh
Brothers + Safely
My brothers are now in charge of stuff. 
Like rebellions.
Still don’t trust those asshats
Initiated and run by (my!) family:
The Angels are in charge
No traitors…yet.
 1st time for everything
Census Day is a go.
No. No. No
Sami – my sister
All Angels are twins.  I have a twin.
I got Gamma – dumpster apartment block
She got Beta Quadrant – luxury within the Alpha Quadrant for the chosen few.

I now believe in parallel lives.
Seems like she won.

I sat hugging my knees watching Billie orchestrate the silent exodus back to their quadrants under cover of darkness.  The man I now referred to as Grand-Poppa sat beside me, I had to admit, for an old guy he moved with such grace and he was absolutely rocking those dreadlocks.  We sat in muted respect, until the footsteps and voices descended to silence. 
“My wife, your Grand-Mama,” he began “died on the first Census Day.  Your mama had turned ten and the Alpha had been in power only for a short time.  Those soldiers came and took our little girl intending on taking her to the new Gamma compound…away from us, her family, to live with the other young people.  Your Grand-Mama could muster the strength of a lion when she put her mind to it but they broke her heart and her spirit that day” he hung his head and chewed his next words before looking me straight in the eye “And I did nothing.  I stood paralysed whilst my wife gave her life for our only child.”
“What happened to Mama?” I asked afraid to break the stride of his story but also desperate to learn of my Mama’s experience. 
“She became the first cohort of the Gamma Quadrant.  The Alpha proceeded to build towering monstrosities and fill them with our children whilst we languished heart-broken, powerless in what became known as Delta.  They governed us to the point of no free will, they took our freedom, stole our families and created a regime of fear.  We could not be who we wanted to be, who we needed to be.  This is the world you have grown up in, Stevie, not the world we envisioned for your generation.” Grand-Poppa swung his head and hair, solemnly from side to side as though attempting to shake out the memories “When the Alpha instigated Census Day, my life broke in two.  I watched your Mama ripped from my wife’s arms. She fought and fought but they beat her like an animal.  She was on the ground, calling for her only child to be given back when they…” Grand-Poppa’s voice shattered into painful whispers that left his lips quivering a silent dance of vanquished words.  Mama took up the story and my hands in hers.
My mama turned 90 that same day which meant she was to be sent to Omega.  A complex of huts for the elderly where they are left to die.  Shacks with camp beds in room of up to 30 people.  No entry to The Courtyard which, as you know, is the only chance we may have to interact with other residents or maybe even see family.  The Alpha believed the elderly were of no use so erased any sign that they existed from the compound” Mama explained.  My head was spinning and I could sense there was more shit to come, more history to be unearthed that was going to feel like the weight of the earth.  And yet I wanted to hear and I needed to understand why all these people would jeopardise their lives against the Alpha. 
“Grand-Mama refused to go with the soldiers.  She stood firm until she was sure I was gone then she turned to face them, folded her arms and said for all the Quadrant to hear…she said…” Mama’s eyes flashed with pride “You have taken my only child and now you want to take me from my husband to die in that hell you call Omega?  What will I have to live for?  My family is my life” and then she turned to look at Grand-Poppa telling him how much she loved me, how much she loved him and for him to keep on fighting”.
Mama exhaled lengthily as though releasing all her goodness to disassociate herself with what she was about to say.  “They executed her.  Right there.  In front of your Grand-Poppa.”
Grand-Poppa stood up, pulling himself up to his full height, the burning in his eyes upon re-hearing the tragedy of Grand-Mama’s murder had re-kindled the fire of his resolve.
“Stevie, look around you” he waved a hand to the room that had fallen silent in remembrance  “We all have our stories to tell.  Murdered wives, stolen children, banished husbands, lost siblings.  And yet we have not been silenced. We have found solace in each other’s sorrow and endeavoured to grow stronger, together; to dismantle the barriers they have put up between us.”
“They do it so we can’t learn from each other, can’t share our knowledge of the past so that we lose our stories, which will only keep us enslaved within their cages” Billie had joined the conversation while indicating it was time for us to get back to our quadrants “Mama and Poppa started the Neos movement when you were a baby, just before the Census Day when me and Oti were due to leave the family compound for Gamma.  They didn’t want to go through the heart-ache of their parents – that’s the power of history, Stevie, they learned and they shared what they knew with other parents, other families.”
“But the risk!” I questioned “How do you know who to trust? Who’s to say there aren’t people here who will lead us straight to the Alpha?”
“It’s a chance we have to take” he shrugged “What else would you have us do? Sit and wait and watch families destroyed every Census Day?”
“No but…” I faltered.  If I’m honest, I was absolutely, mind-blowingly shell-shocked.  Information bloody overload and now I was expected to gallivant up to the Alpha and get myself arrested.  When all I could picture was Cooper being dragged off by the soldiers in The Courtyard.  That was only a few hours ago – who’s to say that little escapade hadn’t whet their appetite?  By the time they got to me, I imagined they would dispense with 24 hour executions and go straight for immediate death.
“It’s a lot to take in but we are running out of time” Mama interjected and cupped my chin so she could look straight into my panic-stricken eyes and undoubtedly see the fear seeping out of me like petrified sweat.
“I’m scared Mama. I’ve just found you” my voice trembled in tempo with my body “and now you want to throw me into the arms of the Alpha.”
“Stevie, Stevie” Mama hugged me, enveloping my face into her greying afro hair that smelled of my childhood allowing me to cry, hidden.  She rubbed my back with shushes – the way she had done when I awoke with nightmares frightened by my brothers with stories of Alpha boogeymen or zombies from the Zeta Quadrant. “I thought I’d lost your Poppa forever but with the Neos supporters working underground we have found him in Zeta and your brothers have confirmation from six points of our movement in the whole compound and now we just need you to contact your sister in the Beta Quadrant and that’s the seventh.  All the points will be connected and then, Stevie, Stevie…look at me”  I wiped away my embarrassed tears and looked up at my strong, fearless, inspirational, long lost mother “When this is over you will be with us again and we will hold you forever, in the arms of Angels, Stevie your family.”
The trek back over through the dark passages to the River was a lot quieter than when I’d arrived. Except for the occasional comment from Oti about my boo-hooing, the mood was pensive.  We all had a lot to remember.  At the Riverboat Billie dropped another bombshell.  I was to be sent back across the River to enter the Alpha Quadrant tonight; by now I was so weighted down with revelations I had no emotion left to convey.  I repeated back the detailed instructions and slumped into the base of the boat as Billie swiped the scan deck to take me to the opposite shore.
“Billie?” I hissed into the black, hoping they was still there. “Oti?”
They were. I imagined their frowns.
“What?” they chorused
“My sister? Sami? How will I know it’s her…when I get there?”
A groan and a snigger pierced the night.
“She’s your twin Stevie” someone replied followed by
“Dufus” by someone else.
“Oh yeah” I nodded to no-one “Oh yeah” 

A Stevie-How Guide To Getting Arrested By The Alpha And Into Beta Quadrant In 5 Easy Steps
  1. Arrive in Alpha courtyard on an unauthorised boat, in the dark, after curfew, without appropriate identification then walk right up to the first Alpha sentry guard you see. 
  2. After arrest, protest vehemently that you were given your first ever privilege pass out of Beta Quadrant and got lost finding your way back.  Don’t forget to project your assumed name “Sami Angel” so loudly that anyone (i.e. the real Sami Angel) will overhear and locate your position immediately. 
  3. Whilst Alpha soldier checks your credentials, try not to gape when permitted entrance to Beta Quadrant and you are confronted with luxury apartment blocks, food stalls, electricity and surround sound music – remember you are a ‘resident’ – this is your right, so stopping to take a free, pre-packed provision package at the mirrored food stall is normal. As is the signature dance move you perform that ‘Sami Angel’ is known for, which involves you sweeping your feet ‘accidentally’ into the path of accompanying soldier – knocking it to the ground. 
  4. In the 5 seconds you have to switch bodies with the real Sami Angel, ensure you remain composed so as not to endanger both your lives.  Keep your eyes on the door code she enters after being DNA and finger-print checked by the, now upright, soldier. 
  5. Leave exactly seventy-two minutes before calmly letting yourself into the correct apartment and be sure to say a nice hello to your long-lost twin sister. 

So how long have you known about me then…Beta Sister?” I asked, dripping with jealousy. 
Steps 1- 4 - accomplished.
Step 5 – fail
Clearly Sami Angel is a nicer, energised version of me.  Her dreadlocks were neater and her brown skin glowed with the luxury of life missing from my sallow complexion.  She hurriedly stepped forward and threw her arms around me, planting tiny kisses on my cheeks. 
“I have, literally, had thirteen minutes of information about you from Oti two point five days ago but I have been desperate for this actual second to arrive” her words propelled from my identical mouth and she widened eyes that could only have been taken from my face  “We have exactly seven minutes to make contact with the rogue Alpha which will launch Billie’s circuit sensor” she had stripped down to her underwear and motioned for me to do the same “which will short circuit and power down the mainframe tower which will obliterate all Quadrant borders and free us, Stevie, free us.  Now put this on.” 
The charcoal leather and wool all-in-one combination covering us from hoodie to ankle boot transformed us into duplicates. Sami nodded approvingly as I shook my head in disgust.  Maybe we weren’t so alike after all. 
“You remember the plan?” she asked.  I nodded. 
“Do you?” I asked back.  She tilted her head, shrugged then slid open a side panel behind a coloured glass pane. 
And that was it.  The most frightening and exhilarating episode of my life had begun. 
If I had stopped to think about the enormity of the undertaking, it’s likely that I would have handed myself over to the first passing Alpha guard. Again.  But as we dipped low in ditches, hid loftily behind resplendent central zone columns and scurried across the central courtyard like punctuation marks in a contraband novel, I remembered the sacrifices made to get us here.  My heart felt like it was dropping out of my rib-cage and my head was a quagmire of terror and determination.    
Suddenly an Alpha rose from the ground. 
Bodies emerged from the emptiness, swiftly surrounding the two of us and I felt my skin crawl hot and cold at the same time.  I’d never fully comprehended the meaning of fight or flight until this very moment.  I was devastated that we had failed in our brief mission.  Sami linked arms with mine; creating a sisterly chain that signalled we were in this, together, to the end. 

And now the end is near. And so I face the final curtain
she sang.
This is the end, my only friend, the end
I sang
It’s the end of the world as we know it
she sparred
Although we’ve come to the end of the road
I parried.

We laughed manically as the advancing spectres came into view.  What a way to go.  Singing the one liner memories we shared thanks to the tuneless renditions from our tone-deaf parents.  In one fluid movement five figures bolted forward, breaching our safety barrier of hope.  I felt Sami’s body tense and I held my breath in anticipation.  A large, rough hand grabbed mine and I screamed as Sami was ripped away from my side. 
“Make contact” the metallic voice of an Alpha echoed nearby. “We must remain intact for 1 minute until the Alpha’s power source is drained” 
Another hand, softer, held my fingers firmly in their grasp.  “Open your eyes Stevie” my mother said 
The faceless outlines had become clearer revealing: 

Our hands held firm, unyielding in the combined understanding that this was our only chance of survival and freedom.  The ground rumbled with Alpha guards, imminent on our death upon sight.  We all craned our necks towards our former homes; now birthing new life as one by one the Neos members broke free shouting directions and instructions to congregate on the shore of the Tartarus River.  Liberated residents snaked through water and wasteland, relocating loved ones in the dissipation of quadrant ranks and marched together towards The Courtyard. 
I had noticed the uniform rumbling had ceased and was replaced by the crashing shells of nearby Alpha guards hitting the ground as their energy waned.  Without access to power, they would not survive.  It was only a matter of time before all the soldiers wound down for the last time.  Our circle was broken as the rogue Alpha collapsed at Grand-Poppa’s feet and, gasping, he crumpled beside it, holding its head and murmuring words only they could hear.  As its electric heart whirred to an end, Grand-Poppa and Mama held each other with tears that juxtaposed the jubilation rising through the compound.
“To the end” Poppa uttered “Your Grand-Mama had us all in her heart, to the end.” 
Our dawn vantage point on the compound hilltop awarded us the sights and sounds of euphoria.  I was rapidly losing my bewilderment and accepting that my life as a Gamma Quadrant resident was over.  I had re-gained my family and relished the notion of uncertainty that lay head with our new life of liberty.  Together in the
arms of Angels. 

 2017 (submission)

Moments to rewind
I watched, whilst holding my breath, as the blustering nurse from the opposite ward came over and removed his bandages.  Delicately and with a neat precision she unraveled each sticky layer form the stump that had once belonged to a strapping leg; one that had carried a proud man in these streets.  Ever the professional, the nurse's face remained set as wafts of his festering wound filled the room. I, the novice, gave a hushed gasp and it was too late to take it back.  His empty gaze rested on me with sorrow.

2016 (in response to : A bad smell and where it came from)

I swiped the condensation from the bathroom mirror leaving a smeared arch and peered at my morning visage.  Leaning forward to apply the charcoal eyeliner I saw her.  Painfully staring back at me from my own eyes.  Mum.  A life spent being told I was the spit of my father when there she was all the time.  Inside the windows of my soul looking out.

2016 (in response to : how you're just like your mother)

The Helping Hands
Carefree and strolling through learned, silent corridors passing the closed doors of my daily hustle.  Pushing through the double doors out to the glass-fronted stairwell, autumn sunrays momentarily blind my path before the brightness is spliced by a filthy cloud.  Steps and doors propel me to a hell-filled hole that I had misjudged for someone else's problem. Falling in, facing upwards unable to cry for help I saw the helping hands that had, at the last minute, chosen to push rather than rescue.

2016 (in response to : what happened to you right before a momentous incident) 

Nestled beneath furry pleasure blankets and cushion the marathon was well under way.  Comforted by the most selfish bar of chocolate I could find and my mammoth wine glass brimming with my beloved Pinot Noir, I settled.  Episode 7 of 24 was just ending. Having realised my intentions the TiVo understood I would most certainly want to watch the next episode.

2016 (in response to : A  guilty pleasure)


Damn this car.  Nothing but money and trouble.  Spent more down the poxy garage over the last five years than on meself.  Pulled over by the police more times that I care to remember just 'cause some bloke before me did a couple of dodgy deals in it.  Bought it for the wife.  And she's gone now too. Well she always did say there's was plenty of room in the boot...

2016  (in response to : set something on fire)

Dear You
Dear You
My heart would truly want to share the beauty and passion of what life has left but my hand has the power, thereby the words you read here, I guess, are my truth.

Isolation and fury and regret and guilt are, apparently, part of life's tapestry - get used to it.  If we constantly strive and struggle for perfection, it'll be akin to expecting a down escalator to bring us up to the ticket barriers.  Enjoy the silence. Rage against the machine.  Don't change a thing. Sorry (will always) seem to be the hardest word.

But this isn't fair then is it? To crush you with my burdens.  The murk and mire of now surely cannot be the total sum of my life.  Simply hearing the strains of childhood chart toppers can summon the weightlessness of a life gone by.  An opening chord, the line that starts the bridge, a chorus to fade silences leaden worries leaving me to bask in my past.

So music, it seems, is what I have learned about life.  The Number One Song on the day you were born will forever date you.  Your song of rebellion, of first loves, of wedding dances.  The chosen chosen to send you into the hereafter.  Music. 

2016 (in response to : write an anonymous letter to a stranger about the things you've learned in life)

Morning Ride

That rain that confidently greets you in the morning with a view to never leaving your side was here.  Donning the required helmet and hi-vis vest I triumphed in the face of wetness and set off.  Uphill.  Panting already at the first incline. Intent on the belief that by the time I reached the summit, my view would be unspoiled as each breath wished for clear sky. 

2016  (in response to : what would you be doing if you weren't doing this?)


The fist came out of nowhere.  Making contact with Callum’s jaw, it retreated back for a repeat attack.  Callum couldn’t see the arm or the face attached to the fist but heard the yell from the fist owner’s mouth.  Something about a “look” and “his bird” and “told you before”.  Callum lay still in a puddle of Budweiser and sparkling wine and blew a floating cigarette away from his nostril.  Looking up he saw Carly. His girlfriend.  Make up refreshed, her face was now sporting a frown and a curled lip.  She kissed her teeth and walked away, whipping out her mobile phone – no doubt to call her girlfriends to decimate his character. Again.  He knew he should have gone straight home after work.  Hot Fridays never end well.

May 2016


Noisily, he angrily pulled open the blind in our loft apartment bedroom.  The shutters scraped along the window frame forcing the morning to burst in, rudely waking me from my medicated slumber.

“I’m off to work” he mumbled through splashes of aftershave.  I croaked a ‘wait’ and slowly pushed my aching body up onto bandaged elbows.  He paused at the door and dropped his head and shoulders with a sigh.  He turned to face me but tapped his watch signalling the necessity for a brief conversation.

“What time will you be back?”

A shrugged response.  He did that a lot lately.

“Will you pick up dinner or..?” I faltered as he interrupted me with a frowned laugh.  He did that a lot too.

“It doesn’t matter then” I responded and lay back on my pillow to watch greying clouds shuffle along the blue summer sky in time with his footsteps down three flights of stairs to the front door.

Three months had passed since the accident and it was becoming increasingly clear that he still hadn’t forgive me.  It was looking like I may never receive the absolution I so desperately needed.   I topped up on my pills to prevent then previous night’s dose wearing off and the pain set in.  A searing pain gripped my today before I had the chance to swallow pill six out of ten. 

I hoped the July sun would burn off the hazy morning he had left me with.  I considered life before my mistake.  Evening walks.  Sunday papers in the park cafĂ©. Impromptu drinks by the Thames after work.  A few drinks too many. A stupid decision to drive home.  A blur in front of my car. A body on my bonnet.  A wall. A death.

I reached for my phone to call him.  As normal he answered with a tut “What?”

“This can’t go on.  You either forgive me or we end this.” I threatened

“Really?” he sneered “And who the hell would look after you in your current…” he stopped with a gasp and I heard a sickening crunch then the phone crackled to silence.

Through my open window I could hear sirens moving closer. I redialled. No answer. I redialled again.  Nothing.

May 2016


Walking through the brightly coloured autumn leaves in the forest, Christine began reminiscing.  She remembered when she played here with her brothers; hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, armies.  She smiled at the thought of her younger brother, Simon, complaining at having to seek rather than hide.  Mark, the eldest, always made up an imaginative excuse for Simon, who always believed them.  The children used to spend hours playing in the forest, especially in the winter because of the snow-covered hills.  But now Christine preferred this time of year, she found crisp leaves and warm evenings peaceful and comforting.

Although it was only five thirty, the sun was beginning to set behind the trees, the golden rays changed to the forest’s natural colours.  Christine though back to when after their Sunday afternoon nap, her family would walk through these woods.  Her mum and dad walked slowly together, talking, while Christine and her brothers would run about shouting and laughing with each other.  They would occasionally meet some school friends but would never stop and talk for long, the forest walk was a family moment.

But all that was gone now.  Christine stopped walking, her eyes misted, she felt a wave of sadness over her.  An unaware rabbit scurried past and a bird in a tree above twittered cheerfully. Gone were the Sunday walks and family moments.  Gone were Mark and Simon.  It was only two years that her family had parted and gone their separate ways, yet it seemed like a decade.

As she reached the edge of the wood, Christine looked back.  This forest would always be a special part of her, in a ten minute walk she had recalled some precious moments of fifteen or sixteen years.  This forest was more than a place covered with trees and leaves.  This forest, to Christine, was her living diary.



Darcy’s eye caught a familiar face sitting in the jury.  Standing in the witness box with her right hand tugging at her left sleeve, Darcy tried putting a name to the face but nothing came.
“Miss Walsh, did you hear?” a booking voice brought her back to earth.
“Sorry” she stammered “No, I didn’t hear”.  
The prosecutor, a large balding man with an ungainly walk sighed heavily and lent on the witness box staring at Darcy.  Darcy looked straight back at him watching the beads of sweat dripping from his forehead and down his chin.  One stray drop ran down the bridge of his nose and clung to the end, it refused to fall, bringing sudden amusement to Darcy; she laughed out loud.  The prosecutor stepped back “I see you have regained your senses Miss Walsh” he said coldly “Not to mention your sense of humour”.  Darcy closed her mouth tightly.
“Miss Walsh” he continues facing the court “were you a close friend of Christine Byrne?” he spun around to look at Darcy.
“Yeah we were great friends, me and Chris” she replied confidently yet with an air of sadness “She was me best mate, me and he did everything together, we grew up together and I’ll never forget the …”
“Yes of course” she was cut off by the prosecutor “I understand how you feel” he spoke without sincerity.
“That’s just it, you don’t understand at all” Darcy cried but stopped abruptly.
“Oh? Explain to the court Miss Walsh, exactly how do you feel?”
“ feel frustrated and unhappy because my best mate ever, has been killed in a car crash and her parents accuse me of killing her” tears rolled down her face but her voice stayed strong “Chris was a brilliant mate, we were almost like sisters”
“Really?” the prosecutor asked doubtfully
“Yes” Darcy insisted “We shared so much with each other, we both tried our first cigarette together, for a laugh it was.  We choked together and even threw up together and vowed we’d never smoke again.  We didn’t either.” She turned to face the couple sitting in the front desk “I don’t suppose Chris told you that did she Mr and Mrs Bryne?” Not waiting for a reply Darcy carried on “Chris’ parents knew how close we were, they were almost like aunt and uncle to me.  I can’t understand why they thing I would deliberately drink and drive with Chris in my car.  We both drank a bit much, neither of us was thinking. I have been out of mind since she died” unable to control her sobbing, she choked “I’m missing Chris and feel guilty enough as it is without her mum and dad blaming the death on me”.

The prosecutor turned to the Judge “No more questions your Honour” he said sitting down. Darcy looked around frantically, no-one moved as the Judge spoke for the first time. 
“The Jury will have half an hour to decide their verdict against Darcy Walsh on Christine Byrne” he banged his hammer to signal the recess.  The court stood waiting for the Judge to leave.

The half –hour felt like a whole day to Darcy, the Jury walked back in and took their seats.  The Judge also returned and once hammered his desk, this time to signify that the Jury should now present their verdict.  An elderly man stood up and said “We find Darcy Walsh guilty of the killing by manslaughter on Christine Byrne”.  There followed murmurs of approval around the courthouse.  The Byrnes hugged each other and the Judge rapped his gavel for silence then said “Darcy Walsh will serve a life sentence in prison”.  Darcy burst into tears.
“But I loved her” she shouted as two policeman pulled her from the stand.  Darcy turned in panic to the Jury, the familiar face became clear, and she saw only the face as a sharp image whilst the rest of the court was a blur.
It was her, Christine was there, right in front of her. “There she is” Darcy shouted “She’s not dead, Chris, Chris, Chris.”

“Sssh Darcy” a faint voice told her.  Darcy opened her eyes, everything was white at first then she saw a blue face, no, it was a face covered with something blue.  She tried to get up but a firm hand held her back.
“Darcy, keep still”. It was her brother, Tim.
“Tim” she whispered “Is that you?”
“Yes it’s me”
“Where am I Tim?”
“In hospital but you’ll be okay sis” he replied
“Where’s Chris, Tim, where’s Chris?” Darcy called and a hand reached out to hold hers.
“I’m here Darcy, it’s alright now” Chris spoke softly.  Darcy squinted and pointed at her legs
“What...what’s that you’ve got?”
“Oh these” Chris said looking down “Crutches, I had my legs squashed slightly but I’ll be fine”.  Darcy’s brow lined in confusion so Tim explained.
“You both had a bit too much of the booze Darcy, stubborn cow went out and drove home didn’t you?” he joked lightly then added seriously “you crashed Darcy, don’t’ you remember?” his sister did not reply.  Christine squeezed her hand.
“Doesn’t matter, we’re here now”
“I’m sorry Chris, I’m so sorry” Darcy cried “Please forgive me, I could have killed you Chris. I’m so sorry”
“Forget it Darcy, we’re both alive and kicking” Chris said affectionately and sat beside Darcy’s bed “I’m not going anywhere without you Darcy, now let’s get some kip eh?” Darcy nodded, Tim kissed both the girls goodbye and left them to sleep still holding hands.
The Friends.