Not in this family 

Gayle held the pot to her abdomen as she stood in the middle of the front garden.

“How about here, Sophie? What do you think?”

Sophie contorted her mouth and looked down at the gravel space that was plugged with tufts of grass. Then she shrugged.

“Okay.”

“I think this is a good spot,” added Gayle. “It’ll get plenty of light.” She bent down slowly, her hands trembling a little under the weight. She set the plant down and then straightened up. Only then did she realise she had broken a sweat across her forehead.

“Mum,” uttered Jane, by her side. “You should’ve just let me…”

Gayle hissed and backhanded the air as if preventing the words from ever arriving. Jane shrunk and Gayle returned her attention to Sophie.

“You must remember to water it everyday, especially when it’s hot. Then, one day it will grow into a bright, yellow sunflower.”

“Say thank you, Grandma,” murmured Jane.

“Thank you,” replied Sophie, twisting on the ball of her foot and breaking into a grin.

Gayle looked at her fresh, sun-blushed face and then to the gap in her lower front teeth, which Sophie tongued habitually as if it was the source of some new and delightful flavour.

Gayle smiled back, feeling satisfied. It seemed the spirit had merely skipped a generation.

“Well, it should brighten things up a bit,” said Jane, with a sigh.

Her gaze wandered upwards to the gritty facade of the new house and suddenly, Gayle wanted to tell her how it was so much more. How the flower was a symbol of hope, of a new beginning and soon, how it would be something to remember her by once the thing growing inside her took hold.

But she didn’t, of course. It wasn’t the way. Not in this family. She could only give her doe-eyed daughter a hard look as she turned to her, side on.

“Cup of tea?” asked Jane.

“Thought you’d never ask.”

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In case you missed it, Tony Walsh’s delivery of his poem at the Great Manchester Run, is worth a moment of your time.

It’s a shame that these swells of inspiration and coming togetherness only seem to occur following such a tragedy. If we could find it in our everyday then maybe great and good things would happen more often..

You and me

I wake to gentle little grunts and turn over to see you restless and stirring, your eyes still closed, as if in a bad dream.

Outside, the sky has barely begun to turn blue. Is it always the crack of dawn with you?

I get some warm water and drag you out of bed. It’s not as bad as I imagine, but why does it have to smell so much?

You start to thrash around and your finger goes to your mouth. Just hold on, I say, but you’re into full throttle now and I can’t believe the noise that can come from such tiny lungs.

The hum of the microwave calms you down and I wait with powder in hand while the horizon turns pink across the rooftops.

Familiar questions enter my head, urgent and painful. Still no answers. Just you and me.

Weave and flow – extracts from a Sardinian holiday #2

“It should be just up here,” said Stefano, as we bounced along yet another dusty, isolated track at the base of Monte Nieddu.

As before, there was no signage to indicate if indeed, this was the right way to the swimming hole. All we had to go on from the beginning was word of mouth and the name of the nearest village. That, and some directions from an elderly woman who appeared to be the only resident in town on this particular day.

In the back, the children could barely keep their eyes open while Veronica and her sister leaned their heads wearily against the window like two convicts in cross-country transit.

Suddenly, a red estate appeared from the opposite direction. The driver stopped and exchanged words with Stefano. It turned out they were also looking for the elusive river and had information on its whereabouts. Stefano swung the car round at the nearest layby and headed back down the hill. By the side of the road, the driver and his son waved us down and pointed to a pathway heading through the pine woods.

With renewed vigour, we piled out of the car and followed them down a thin track. Before long, the trees petered out and we were surrounded by sun-bleached granite formations that seemed to weave  and flow almost like a river. The path began to descend into a blind gorge and then we were presented with that most precious of resources – water.

Despite the midsummer heat, a steady stream made its way between the rock and collected in a pool just right for jumping into. On the far side, the water continued its journey off the lip of a ravine and plummeted into another gorge where a group of climbers were following its course deeper into the landscape.

 

 

Vanquishing evil

They gathered in a circle, their feet sinking into the muddy ground at the centre of the clearing. Overhead, clouds loomed, as if closing in to hear the passing of the judgement.

“Brethren, it is a dark day,” said Martha. “Once again, the Lord has punished us with this tempest. Do you not see the fruits of your doings? Must we keep suffering for all our sins?”

She glared at the group of wretched individuals who hung their heads as she spoke. “Unclean we are; unclean, pitiful things. You leave me no choice. Offerings must be given, more sacrifices must be made.”

In the centre of the group, Lorna was listening dutifully. But in her chest, a weighty breath bounded about and she could hold it no longer.

“How can we have sinned?” she blurted. “Do we not do everything you ask of us?”

Martha’s arm shot out like an arrow. “How dare you question God’s judgement?”

For a moment, Lorna faltered as all eyes turned on her. But her anguish was unabated. “We have nothing left, can’t you see?” she replied, clutching at her ragged clothing. “Why would a just God want us to live this way, in the dirt?” This last word, she hurled, and it echoed about the clearing like a thunderclap.

Before Martha could respond, another member of the group spoke up. “Yeah, what have we done?” said Victor, from behind curtains of white, matted hair. “Everyday, I work the fields. Anything that’s harvested I share with the villagers. I’ve never taken anything for myself, only given, yet still you say I’ve sinned.”

“Behold these blasphemers,” bellowed Martha, throwing her arms wide. “They choose to go against the one true word. Tell me, brethren; what punishment should befall them before they bring about even greater sufferance?”

But now, a steady murmur was passing amongst the group as others voiced their own grievances. Martha continued to declare and gesticulate, but her commandments were drowned out as collective anger boiled over into hysteria.

With gnashing teeth and wild eyes, the mob advanced on Martha. A hail of hands and feet fell upon her body, muffling her screams. After a minute or two, she no longer resisted the blows and the crowd erupted in jubilation.

Lorna danced among her fellow villagers, as they clasped each other by the shoulders and celebrated their actions. Despite the dark skies, she looked to them, thanking the heavens for an end to their misery.

Once the excitement had died down, the villagers looked again at the ravaged body of their former leader lying on the ground. Lorna stood with them, waiting for some sense of righteousness to emerge, a sign that justice had been served.

“We’ve done it. We’re free!” she cried, grabbing the sleeve of her nearest neighbour. But her words seemed hollow and out of place. A few others echoed her cry, but their elation also fell flat, like a spring fete in a rainstorm.

Lorna let her hand fall by her side as the last whispers of joy left her. Then there was only the sound of the wind and the beating of her heart.

I could drive forever – extracts from a Sardinian holiday #1

The heat bore down on my head as I crossed the car park of Il Redentore. The door handle to the hire car was almost too hot to touch and the seat burned the backs of my legs as I sat down. I cranked up the air con to full blast, letting the coolness fill my lungs. Then I began to feel excited.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the festivities. After all, it’s not everyday you get invited to a traditional Sardinian wedding with all the wild boar, seafood and herbaceous liquors you could ask for being (literally) handed to you on a platter.

However, I was finding the 40 degree heat a struggle and the continuous effort to communicate as the only foreigner at the party was a strain. I needed a breather and the only escape was the road in this part of the island.

I took a right out of the gates and quickly realised I had made a mistake when the road veered towards the motorway. I imagined being forced miles away from my only reference point, before a slip road funnelled me, panicked and sweating, into the indistinguishable landscape.

Thankfully, this being the Sardinian countryside, I was the only car on the road so I casually swung it around and cruised off in the opposite direction.

No sooner had I passed by the venue than all signs of civilisation dissapeared.  On either side of me, burnt yellow fields rose up towards the hilltops. Tufts of greenery still peppered the scenery, however, and great bushes of magenta flowers were bursting from the roadside.

Further on, the road opened out on to a spectacular straight, its vanishing point nestled far within the hills. I considered I should probably turn back at this point. It was hardly the most sensible idea to be driving away from the only place I knew, alone, in a foreign wilderness. But I also knew that adventure doesn’t often come from being sensible. So I put my foot down.

Roles and responsibilities 

As soon as Andy walked in the office, he knew there was going to be trouble. It wasn’t so much that Sarah was hunched over her desk with an unhealthy looking sheen on her face, but more the luminous green glow permeating the ceiling above her.

Andy backed towards the door. How many ‘duvet days’ had he banked? Perhaps he could work off-site for a while, at least until someone else showed up. Breakout?

Just then Leanne clocked him.

“Oh, hi Andy. Do you know what’s happening with this?” she asked, gesturing towards the ceiling. “I’m supposed to be interviewing clients today. It’s not a great look.”

“Sure,” said Andy, nodding emphatically. “Obviously, it’s not something I’m able to deal with. Have you reported it to anyone?”

Leanne blinked rapidly. “I’ve got enquiries coming out of my ears.”

Sure you have, thought Andy. There’s plenty of space between them, after all.

Andy switched on his computer  and glanced at the clock. 9.15. Surely someone else would be in soon.

“Any idea what started it?”

“Well, there was a bang on the roof earlier. I thought it was probably one of those mental seagulls doing a kamikaze.” Leanne gave a screech and looked over at Sarah, but her glazed eyes didn’t appear to register anything.

Andy was watching the loading symbol circling round and round when Sarah’s head hit the desk. Meanwhile, the green glow took on a deeper colour and the wall began to droop like an undercooked pizza.

“Oh my god!” yelped Leanne. “Andy, do something! “

“I’m still waiting for it to log on,”he replied, spreading his fingers in earnest.

“Surely, there’s a procedure for this kind of thing, isn’t there?”

“You’d think so.”

Andy felt the sweat bead at his forehead. Was there? It wasn’t like anybody actually read the paperwork.

The computer uttered a soft tone and the desktop finally appeared. Andy pulled his seat in.

“I’ll email head office.”

There was a crack followed by a shower of plaster as the ceiling came down around Sarah’s desk. Through the hole Andy could see the edge of what looked like a spaceship. Beside it stood a dark grey figure holding a weapon that was firing out luminous green rays.

Leanne waved her hand about at the dust. “This is outrageous! How can they expect me to work in these conditions?”

“I know, it’s unbelievable,” agreed Andy. “I’ll copy in all managers. There’s been no training for this whatsoever.”

The door opened. Tracey walked in.

“Hi everyone, how are…oh my god!”

“Tracey!” said Andy. “You’ve been on the first aid course, haven’t you?”

Tracey flinched. “Er, yeah, but…I mean…we weren’t trained how to deal with…this.”

“We appreciate that,” said Andy, “but as you can see, this is quite serious. If you’re able to do something…”

“Have you called the emergency services?”

“I’m up to my eyeballs.”

“Surely, we need to call them?”

“Okay, do you want to do it? Obviously, you’re more qualified than I am.”

Tracy’s eyes narrowed. “I haven’t been here so I don’t know what’s going on. It’s better if you call.”

“I’m going to take flexi,” announced Leanne, packing up her things. “What are they going to do – fire me?” As she stood up, the alien fired its weapon at Leanne and she collapsed to the floor.

Andy picked up the phone and dialled 999.

“Hello, which service do you require?” asked the operator.

“Er, well, I’m not sure.”

“Okay, what’s happened?”

Well…it looks like we’re being attacked by aliens.”

There was a pause. “Right, well I can send all three, but just so you’re aware, there is now a charge for any unnecessary callout in line with recent policy changes.”

Andy rapped his fingers on the desk. “Let me call you back.”

“What did they say?” asked Tracey.

“There could be charges involved.” Andy sat back in his chair. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be responsible for incurring extra costs. Surely, that’s for management to decide.”

“Yep, absolutely,” agreed Tracey.

Andy began tapping away at the keyboard. “Dear all, we had an incident today in which I was required…”

The alien swept it’s ray gun across the office, this time towards Andy. On any other day he might have been worried, but there was nothing in his job description about dealing with alien invasions. That was one document he had been sure to read. Clearly, someone was going to get in the neck and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be him.