A Vision Of My Old Age

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She wandered, this woman, age indistinguishable from the lines on her face. Up, down and along, the breadth and width of the country. Her face was strangely calm, bleached and blanched of the pain of past emotion, past trouble, past life, that had scored their marks indelibly on her skin with a sharp instrument as bitter as words.

Instead, now, she raised her countenance to the kindly sun, let the rain fall upon her eyes, the snow colour her hair and the wind slap her cheeks. At night she slept – never in towns, never on streets where malice and pain lingered, collected in corners like dirty washing up left too long, grey and grimy.

Instead, now, pressed against the earth, curled against a tree, buried by leaves or grass she found her rest.

She wandered, crossing the country, past looking but always searching for a memory. She filled her eyes and mind with sights and sounds to comfort her empty heart. Home; a memory, warmth, light, family, children – curdled like milk left out too long, sour and tainted with expectation. She sometimes took that memory out and carried it, looked at it like an untrustworthy torch, flickering and weak, two small faces raised to hers – “Mummy!”

Then she put it away, put it away in a box at the back of her mind and continued to wander.

She walked north, feet drawn by ancient blood memory and right-feeling, walking away her own family history but unknowingly walking where her ancestors had first come ashore, first lived in sight of the rest of the world.

One early morning, as she lay in the shelter of an old hedgerow she became aware of a fox looking at her, and perhaps stirred by the echo of a family pet, dog or cat, she stretched out a hand to it. It regarded her steadily for a moment, nose working busily to process all the rich human scents and then it turned and slipped away into the undergrowth again.

She sighed, a little saddened, but rose to her feet and raised a calm face to the horizon.

I stoop again to tighten the knot in the rag that’s holding my boot together and walk on, heart beating in time with the rich pulse of the earth.

Summer Son

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He was born to her in the middle of the year, when she was bright and warm, full of love and hope. He slipped easily into the world from her body and at once she felt his absence within her.

However, she nurtured him carefully in the outside world and poured all her love and hope and soul into her son, with his eyes as blue as summer skies, hair as gold as ripe wheat and smiles as warming as the Sun himself.

Mother and son formed the perfect unit of two, never needing anyone else, their spiritual footsteps so closely linked they were like one person. Her son grew and thrived.

When does it begin, the slow inexorable divorce of child from mother; the loving, inevitable withdrawal, as he chose his own paths, his own way, and the life that was once so closely bound to his mother’s diverged.

He kept a part of himself for her; but her boy, her bright boy, into whom she had poured her life and soul, left her.

Autumn crept into her bones and winter settled in her heart; yet still she hoped he would return to her sometimes, and bring a little brightness with him, restoring a little of her own youth.

She was grateful, then for the windows of social media that allowed her to look through at her son’s life and glimpse a little.

Eventually, the soul cold winter triumphed and she gave in on a day not unlike the one on which she welcomed her son into the world. It was only later, when he was checking his messages, that he found out she had died.

Ruin

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And so I find myself walking an unknown yet strangely familiar path – all around me there is a rustling and a fluttering of little birds in the trees and bushes, almost as if they are signposting the way, guiding me.

Along the little lane, surrounded either side by old trees, old country trees, oak, beech, ash and the witch’s own rowan, leaning over me. Along the verges, cow parsley, delicate and as frothily white as vintage lace, ramsons, smelling sharply of garlic and long lush grass, encourages me onwards; my feet responding to some old memory that leads me to an old wooden stile, battered but still sturdy enough for me to cross out of the cool green darkness and into the field beyond.

And somehow what I half-expected wasn’t there. I pick my way across the rough tussocky grass. And as if in a dream, I see it; I am approaching the back of the house, rising in red brick splendour, through the gardens, (the rough remnants, the herbs, the rosemary, the lavender, crushing under my feet and releasing their evocative fragrance) immaculately kept within neat boundaries of shaped box.

I am come home!” and this thought gladdens my heart as I make my way down the old stone steps, old even then, feet wearing away grooves and leaving echoes of lives gone by, and into the kitchen.

Cook’s let the fire go out!”

And feeling the bustling dogs, crowding about my knees, my hounds and her little dogs, my father’s wolfhound – I put my hand out, down by my side and half -expect to feel the soft smooth domed head of my favourite Talbot beneath my touch – heart wrenchingly disappointed yet somehow not surprised when she’s no longer there.

More stairs and into the hallway – grass underfoot now, crunching and dry – and with every hesitant step taken the picture is clearer, dark oak floorboards, rich paintings on the walls, a highly polished side table loaded with fresh flowers – she insisted upon fresh flowers for the house always – and linen fold panelling, gleaming with beeswax hiding the oubliette from long ago – but not now.

The curlicue of banister and wide stairs and a memory of small white hands – how proud she was of their dainty appearance, lavishly beringed, small yet strong enough to wring a dove’s neck, poised prettily on the turn of the carved finial. And a memory came then, of the last day, my father’s voice raised in anger, her mocking laughter – the blood and the pain.

It’s gone.

I open my eyes to the present day and find I am sitting on a heap of old red bricks, worn and unnoticeable amongst the tough old grass. The sun beats down, burning bright from the cloudless blue sky. Somewhere above me I hear swifts screaming and the clear bubbling song of a lonely lark. I put my hands to my face to wipe away the tears that suddenly, inexplicably are flooding my eyes.

Maiden, Man, Death.

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She walked with grace in her step and the scent of summer in her hair. As she moved, the folds of her dress shimmered with the rainbows of rivers and moths and butterflies fluttered from it as she flowed along Mother Earth’s ways.

Trees leaned confidingly towards her and she touched them as she passed, with love and care so they blossomed. All the golds of this good earth glowed in her hair, buttercups and daffodils, ripe barley and goldfinches.

When she lay down to rest, the trees and grass enfolded her lovingly, protectively and wild deer showed their trust by lying down beside her. Every morning when she awoke she gave thanks to the Universe and Mother Earth for their gifts and generosity and as she sang her gratitude the little birds stopped to listen.

Her eyes were the clear blue of a summer sky, filled with gentle warmth for every living creature; no snake or spider or scorpion held fear for her as they were all Mother Earth’s children.

Indeed, scorpions curled their tails away to avoid stinging her delicate bare feet and snakes curled themselves in her hair and around her wrists, living coils of iridescent jewellery. The spiders spun silk to mend her dress and as she danced the soft breezes were her partner. Tiny white flowers grew in her wake as she walked.

He stunk. Chemically bad, industrially corrupted. He smiled and fawned, ingratiating, yet grubby in mind and spirit. He strode through life with every appearance of confidence and intelligence; yet inside, cancerous doubt and invasive fear lived.

He searched. He looked for something to fill the dark void inside him – he who had seen Hell sought to bring others to him and his understanding, baiting traps with soft words and gifts, anything to catch an offering for the gnawing hunger inside him.

Others slid uneasy from the clawing need, sensing with ancient animal instinct the corrosive burn of his interest. He dressed with care yet somehow always appeared slightly dirty round the edges, fingers stained and sulphurous, fingernails rimmed with grime that reflected his most secret desires.

Assuming familiarity with those around him gave him the courage. The darkness grew. And then he saw her and the fire burned higher and brighter till it threatened to consume him completely and he knew that only one thing could quench it.

She smelt him before she saw him. The dark smoke of his spirit invaded her senses, yet with her belief in the ultimate goodness of every living being, she turned to face him.

He smiled, invitingly, and on his breath she smelled her death. Fear rose in her throat and she turned to run, to fly, to seek refuge among kindness and understanding. He followed. He crept along behind her on slug-soft feet and she felt every step, his starving eyes on her back like poisoned knives, and the want, the terrible Want.

The darkness struck and took her down – gently, oh so gently, he reached out and clasped her throat, rejoicing as he felt the frantic pulse fluttering like a little bird.

And then he crushed it.

Ground out the beat in her throat like a miserly hand-rolled cigarette. She gasped and struggled as his stench overwhelmed her, but the Goddess was kind and she passed quickly, her life spark ascending as swiftly as a little bird, leaving behind only a faint sweet smell, like incense, and a tiny white flower..

Him? Mother Earth took him, for killing one of hers, drawing him painfully through a narrow chasm in the ground, cracking bones and squeezing flesh till all that was left was a yellow puddle, smelling faintly of urine and nicotine.

Father Sun came out and shone, burning, until even that was gone. And the Earth was cleansed.

Hunger (Adult Content)

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He hungered. He burned. He – lusted. No other word for it.

Unsatisfied by his pretty, clever wife he took to late nights and sleazy pubs, ever on the lookout, the hunt, seeking that special something that would soothe the ache in his loins.

His wife didn’t know – how could she, occupied as she was with their children, their perfect home, their lovely life, their status.

He wanted them all and so he took them, and yes, they were willing enough. The shy and the wanton – both could be bought for the right price and often it was no more than a couple of kind words. Behind the pub, dark corners in slimy side streets, their own rooms or flats – he wasn’t bothered, searching as he was for something to stop the hunger.

He sank himself between the loins of thin, hungry young men who writhed beneath him like buckets of eels; women, drawn to him by the unspoken promise of something dark in his eyes. He rubbed and fawned and licked and chatted – still he burned.

One evening, after a particularly stressful day, he found he couldn’t face the faintly accusing face of his wife and thought he would spend a pleasant hour or so fishing in a pub he had noticed earlier on in the day. Tucked away down a cobbled alley, it seemed cheery enough with an old-world ambience and plenty of cosy booths for an intimate moment.

He collected his drink and turned towards the formerly empty booth he had chose, only to find it taken.

And how… the voluptuous woman was, at best, kindly described as overflowing. Pillowy breasts threatened to spill from her low cut, frilled top. Above her cavernous cleavage, a wide, generous face, blue eyes with heavy lashes and plump, succulent lips that were ripe for biting.

He inserted himself onto the bench next to her and placed a hand on the broad, sumptuous flesh of her thigh – such legs, wide, cushiony. All at once it became the most urgent priority, the most important thing in the world that he should bury himself in her folds of flesh, grasp her and inhale her.

Later – but not much later, they hadn’t got beyond a mutual sigh of consent between sucking kisses – in her bed he rolled and fondled and fumbled, sweating and slippery as she moaned above him, beneath him, around him.

He pushed between her eager legs and pushed. He pushed and thrust and at the height of his pleasure – nothing. He awoke, it seemed, only moments later to find himself in unfamiliar, yet strangely recognisable surroundings.

A dark corridor stretched before him, ridged and heaving, pulsating with every step he took. He put a hand out to the wall, strangely slick and warm, and jerked back sharply as it shuddered beneath his touch. All around him in the stifling warmth, the walls, ceiling, floor heaved and contracted while a low moaning filled his ears.

He wiped his hand against his leg and began to run.

Circle

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Hers was the religion of flower and tree, beetle, bird and dew. In every raindrop she saw the smile of the Goddess, in the curve of every branch, the arms of the Mother.

Barefoot, she wandered through the forest, rejoicing in the feel of moss and twig underfoot. Hers were the old ways, lessons learned when the world was young and still learning itself.

The earth sang and thrummed beneath her feet, the wet and the glory filled with a buzzing life, an energy that could be found in the curl of every leaf, a wholeness in every pebble, every rock; the sometimes wildness and cruelty tempered by the knowledge of a never-ending cycle of life and renewal.

She saw the birds hatch their young and the wild cats nurse their kits, hidden away in dens. She witnessed death, brought by swift fang and slashing claw and accepted it as part of the Mother’s ever-turning wheel; watching as remains turned to bones and scraps, carried away by worms, to be returned to the warm wet earth.

She lived in harmony, balance, showing them how to take no more than they needed, always giving thanks and gratitude and love to the Mother.

Then others came.

From far away, they came with crushing foot and rending hand, ripping and tearing the very heart from the land she loved, the trees she cared for. They came, bringing strange bright gods from hot dusty lands, gods that conquered and devoured.

She watched and wept as they cut down the trees, chained her land in stone and iron. People fled, animals died, and there was no renewal, no honour.

Exhausted, depleted, afraid and angry, she fled, deeper into the wild places where the savage side still dwelt. Finally she found what she was looking for, a rent, a natural cleft in the wet red earth.

She crawled inside, deeper and deeper, till the blood pounded in her ears, her head sang and the arms of the Mother enfolded her in the warm red earth. She closed her eyes and waited.

Waited to be reborn.

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Trust.

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Walkies! Great! Let’s go! What? In the car? All right then… but wait. Stop. Please. Where are you going? Don’t leave me! Gone.

Dark. Alone. Afraid. Where am I? Home. Want to go home – what’s that? Frightened. Noisy. Run. Run. Run.

Hurt. Paws hurt. Tired. Alone. Afraid. Hungry. Afraid. Sad.

Dark. So tired. Sleep.

Gerrout! Go on! Gerrout of it!”

Run. Oh – that hurt! Run. Lost. What did I do?

Bad dog!”

Run.

Tired. Frightened. Alone. Sad. I’m not a bad dog. Just old.

What – run!

Shouting, throwing things and not to play.

Here – quiet, lie down…

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The old dog jumped, startled awake at the gentle touch on his head, and struggled to sit up on tired old haunches, ready to run at a moment’s notice on cracked sore paws.

It’s all right, boy, don’t be scared…”

The young man reached out a hand to the old dog who looked up into his face; and consideringly, carefully, he lifted his paw and put it in the young man’s hand.

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The Show Must Go On

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He closed the door of the flat behind him, pulling it gently to for the last time until he felt the lock click. He sighed, as he closed the door on years of memories too. The love and the pleasure, the happiness of learning one another, the likes and dislikes, the simple joy of finding that other person that made his half whole.

He took a step away from the door, and looked up into the sky, dark and lowering with the threat of rain and the colour of an old bruise. He shifted his backpack so it sat more comfortably on his aching shoulders and hefted his case down the steps, stopping one last time to look up at the window, the window into his past, his happy memories of love and closeness and belonging.

The grey, faded curtains remained resolutely closed, closed like an unreasoning mind, shut to explanation, not at home to trust.

He started to walk away, and, as he did, a light rain began to fall, bringing with it echoes of accusations and questions, the tears, the tantrums. His heart pained and his soul weighed him down, failed expectations biting at his heels like the mad dog of despair.

Ahead, a solitary ray of sunshine made a gleaming appearance through the clouds, coyly peeping at his destination. The theatre.

With every step, the sky brightened and the clouds receded. His heart lifted, as did his step. By the time he reached the stage door, the early evening had warmed and dried.

The backstage scents of body, costumes, old makeup welcomed him. He opened his dressing room door, the door to his future and switched on the light.

Sitting at his mirror, he carefully applied meticulous layer after layer of foundation, blusher, contour, eyeshadow, then outlining a pair of lusciously generous lips, filled in with rich opulent purple. He glued outrageously false eyelashes and with every layer, every sparkle, every glittering false nail his heart healed.

Finally, he stepped into the crimson crushed velvet gown and checked its fall around his hips and stockinged legs, leaning towards the mirror to fluff creamy blonde curls around his sculpted cheekbones.

Drawing one last sigh, casting aside his cares with a flick of his gown, he stepped out. Out onto the stage and struck a pose.

House lights down – stage lights up and –

Hello-oo Dahlings!”

Hope

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Thank you Alex for the use of your lovely photo

It was cold. So very cold. The bitter, biting dry cold where the sky was icy bright blue and the very air sang and sparkled with ice crystals.

The little one waited, huddled in the scant shelter of a dark hedge.

The cold was intense, so cold it made your teeth ache and your bones snap. And still the little one waited.

Night came. Someone was near, watching and sad, filled with worry for the little one who waited but whose spark was now very frail. Hope was nearly gone, abandoned before Life was even really started.

The Watcher could bear it no more and stepped down, down from the dark, down in the singing cold as the stars spun in their icy waltz, down in the bleak night to appear before the little one.

She scooped her up, gently, feeling the little life left in its delicate shell and cupped in her hands, and breathed warmth and life into the little one.

Not very far away, a woman lay, sleepless in the dark and the cold, sleepless in the night while tears froze on her cheeks, warm in her bed but cold in her life. Suddenly she thrust back her duvet and thought she would look out into the calm dark, see if it would ease her pain.

She slipped on her dressing gown and went downstairs to open her door into the night, and there on the step lay a little scrap, a tiny thing.

The kitten looked up at the woman and meowed, faintly, hopefully. She bent down to pick her up, and as the little one purred so the frost in her heart began to thaw.

The Watcher returned to her place and told Him what she had done. He smiled and was pleased for although some may be lost there is always Hope.

Pipes

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The little girl sobbed in fright and sat up in her bed, as once again, the old pipes and plumbing of the house began to scream and whine. Her bed shook as the floorboards juddered, and, panicked, she called for her parents.

They arrived, tired and rumpled from their own room, and the little girl tried very hard not to cry as, for the umpteenth time, her father explained with exasperated kindness how it was just water moving through the pipes that made the house shake, that the pipes expanded and contracted in the heat of the day and the cool of the night.

Unconvinced, the little girl let herself be tucked back into bed and given her favourite teddy to hold. She drifted back into an uneasy sleep.

The days passed, the nights too, and the dark circles under the little girl’s eyes grew. Every night she lay awake and trembled in fright as the pipes howled and wailed their screaming demon song.

The blood pounded in her ears as she lay in bed, taking on the rhythm and depth of footsteps, troll footsteps, that thumped in her head till her heart hurt and she grew dizzy from not listening.

Till one night, she couldn’t bear it any longer. She pushed her warm duvet aside, leaving behind the comfort of her teddy, not even stopping to push her feet into her little pink fluffy slippers.

She crept out of her bedroom, and across the landing, avoiding the creaky floorboard that would alert her parents. She placed her palm against the bathroom door and pushed. It opened silently, obligingly, welcoming.

The tiles were very cold under her feet, and were faintly vibrating, or so it seemed. A tiny whistling, ghostly and ethereal, was issuing from the plughole of the washbasin. The little girl could just reach, if she stood on tiptoe, to pull the light cord that illuminated a tiny mirror over the basin. She caught a glimpse of her own pale, tired face and leaned forwards, a little further, over the basin.

The plughole gaped, threateningly and suddenly the whistling howl was louder. A lot louder and as the little girl leaned forwards, the plughole leered and yawned and gaped and –

Gone. Suddenly swallowed. The little girl was gone.

Her parents would never move from that house. Her father blamed himself, and her mother swore that she could her her little girl calling, lost, somewhere in the pipes.

Thank you to Samantha – great name – of Key Image, for the idea for this little story, after a conversation about plumbing… !