Hair of the Dog

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Hair of the Dog

I awoke to the dog’s tongue licking my hand. When I moved, he jumped off the bed, ran to the door, turned and barked. The hall clock chimed six times, early for me to get up, but I did because I needed a pee. The dog followed me into the bathroom, whimpering. Street noises seemed louder than usual. The dog started barking again and a voice called out from the hall below.
“Anyone home?”
The dog clattered down the stairs woofing wildly. Still in my pajamas, I looked over the balustrade to see the milkman standing below.
“Hello,” he said. “The door was open and I just dropped in to see if everything was all right. Where’s your mother?”
“In bed, asleep,” I dug with my index finger at the sleepy crackling gathered in the corner of my eye.
“Not if I know her,” the milkman said. “She’s run off again and taken a bottle with her. You’d better get dressed.”
I scowled at the milkman, went back upstairs, and looked in my mother’s bedroom. Her red flannel nightie lay in a heap on the floor by the unmade bed, with its rumpled sheets and pillows all higgledy-piggledy. The bed felt cold beneath my fingertips and the clothes she had worn the day before had gone.
“I’ll get dressed,” I shouted. “I’ll just be a moment.”
“Sure,” the reply floated up the staircase.
“You’re right,” I said to the milkman as I met him at the bottom of the stairs. “She’s gone.” The first rays of sunshine touched the stained-glass windows above the door, and fragmented colors danced with dust motes, turning the milkman’s white uniform into a harlequin suit of lights.
“Not the first time she’s gone AWOL,” the milkman winked at me.  “She’s got quite the reputation round here. You’d better go out and find her. I bet she’s in the park with the others. That’s where she goes when the mood takes her. I see her sometimes when I’m in the milk float. I’d take the dog, if I were you. He’ll find her. He usually does.”
The dog whimpered as we got to the end of the drive. I checked my watch: 6:30 AM. The early sun slowly sliced through the morning’s damp creating rainbows in the mist. I shivered.  The milkman waggled his fingers in a silent good-bye and his electric milk float hummed then lurched out into the street with a clinking of bottles.

I stood at the roundabout at the corner and didn’t know which way to go.
“Find mum,” I said and patted the dog’s head. He wagged his tail, put his nose down, turned right, and set off down the main road towards the city center.
Shadows danced on the lower ironwork of the locked park gates. A child’s swing creaked gently in the breeze. The dog sniffed at the gates, lifted his leg on them, gave them a generous squirt, then put down his nose and tugged at the leash.
I followed the dog as he went past the gates and pulled me towards a hole in the hedge, just large enough to squeeze through. The dog whined with excitement and pawed at the gap. I followed pushing aside the bushes.
The dog whined again and tugged me towards a sort of mound that lay on the nearest park bench. Newspapers offered scant warmth to the body that they covered. A hand hung down and the dog licked it frantically. I touched that hand and the dog’s lick joined us in an unholy matrimony. Beside the sleeping figure on the bench, an inch or two of what appeared to be whisky huddled at the bottom of a forty-ounce bottle. Other empty bottles lay on the wet grass, like spent cartridges, some of them pointing at the woman’s head.
Shuffling feet had worn down the grass where the woman lay. I saw traces of blood on bandages and empty syringes. Some needles had been wiped on the pair of torn pink panties that peeped out of the grass.
The dog continued licking at the woman’s hand then stopped, pointed his nose at the sky and let out a single, piercing howl.
I shook my mother’s shoulder.
“Mum, Mum,” I called, but she didn’t move. She was locked in a land where I dared not follow her. I took out my cell phone and called the police.

They arrived with a park attendant who opened the gates and let their car in. They took one look at my mum and called for an ambulance. When it got there, the ambulance men examined my mum, said she was alive, put her on a stretcher, and carried her to the ambulance. I told them I wanted to accompany my mum to the hospital.
“Not with that dog, you don’t,” the driver replied. He got in, started the engine, turned on the siren, and pulled away.

I took the dog home, called for a taxi, and it took me to the hospital. When I got to the room in which they had caged her, she was unconscious. She never woke up.
I buried what was left of my mum ten days later, after the autopsy.

 

By Any Other Name

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By Any Other Name
hortus conclusus
(1430-1432 AD)

don’t let them know
your origins your secrets
hide who and what you are
unholy ghosts will prowl
wild dogs will howl

sister-spouse
a garden enclosed
walled behind whose house
anonymous flowers
roses in abundance
set amongst thorns

sealed-up this fountain now
its well run dry
dead leaves in the bowl
shrunken petals
echoes of children’s voices
their faces hidden
among last year’s leaves

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Trains

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Trains

     You took me on holiday to the continent. Railway trains to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You loved those trains. I hated them. We stopped in the dark at unknown stations. I’m thirsty, you said. Get me some tea. I left the train, climbed down to the platform, went to the restaurant. I had a fistful of money, but didn’t know what it was worth. Tea? I begged the man behind the bar. My mother wants tea. They all shook their heads and offered me beer. My turn to say no. Coffee?  A pause. Uh-uh. They offered me orange juice, lemon juice, wine, and I finally water. A whistle shrilled. It’s the train, they said waving their hands in the direction of the door. I let them choose the money they wanted.  And something to eat. They gave me a sandwich, a slice of cheese in a baguette, then seized some more coins. The engine hooted, a lonely owl, calling for its lost chick.  I ran out of the restaurant, on to the platform. Carriages moved past, slow at first, gathering speed. The last passengers climbing aboard, the doors closing. I ran. The guard, at the end of the train, blew his whistle, waved a green flag, held the last door open, until I caught up. He helped me onto the train, gifting me with a storm of words in a language I could not understand. The doors between the wagons remained locked. My compartment lay to the front of the train. I couldn’t remember the number of my carriage or my seat. Wagons-Lits? I shook my head. Première classe? I shrugged. Touristique? I nodded. The guard grimaced, led me down the train, unlocked doors in the sleepers, led me on and on, until we arrived at my compartment. Restrained by another guard, you yelled and shed tears as you tried to pull the emergency cord that would stop the train. Ah, there you are. What the hell do you think you’re doing? I was worried sick. You slapped me. Now I stand on a different kind of platform, watching another train pull away. I stand here, abandoned, and watch you slide slowly into an unreachable distance.

Poinsettia

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Poinsettia

     You can sense it, you can feel it, the alert spirit that guards this room. Walk in there at your peril. No, don’t. Just stand at the door and observe the poinsettia. You bought her a real one, a year ago, but she forgot to water it and when you visited, leaves and flowers, had crisped and dried, withered and perished. You even found cigarette butts stubbed into the pot’s powdery earth. You bought her another one, this time an ever-lasting, artificial flower, scarlet blossoms of silk with yellow-dotted plastic beads. Today a feather-duster breeze cleanses and enriches the leaves, replenishing their faded splendor. Motes rise, their dancing angels of dust hovering, suspended in a sunbeam that picks out their supple luxury. Their fiery tongues cry out to you from their green plastic pot in this empty room. The plant throbs with a startling vibrancy in this early morning light that enlivens piano keys, table top, and the polished, wooden chair arms you cleaned yesterday.  The poinsettias seem to wring butterfly hands as they gently flap in the breeze from the open window where thin lace curtains twitch, shaping the sunlight into light and shade. Her ash tray sits by the radiogram and awaits her return. That last cigarette, lipstick staining the filter, stubbed out and cold, waits for a companion. Later today, you will go to the hospital and visit her. You do not want to enter this room for its guardian spirit demands solitude and silence. You do not wish to create a disturbance, yet something moves you, and you walk over to her flower. A film of grey cigarette dust rises once more from the silk poinsettia, disintegrates, and dances before you. You bend your head to the silken surface and feel dry leaves brush their butterfly kiss across your cheek as you breathe in the ashen smell of stale tobacco.

Butterfly

 

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Butterfly 

     Un-mown the front garden, the grass long. Like hay, no flowers in the borders, how could there be when nobody can bend down to plant them? They want me to mow the lawn, but I can’t. I call a man who has an industrial mower, a hay-maker, and he comes and does the job, front and back, within half an hour. Even with a scythe, it would have taken me a couple of days.

The magnolia tree leans low across the red-brick wall that separates the house from the street. White butterflies, its petals, blown on the wind, and its perfume regaling our noses of the waft of the wind. We leave the ground floor windows open during the daylight hours so we can take in the thick, rich, delicate scent.

     Pale and delicate, a cabbage white butterfly floats into our yard from the road. The roses are not yet in bloom, more thorn than rose. A sudden gust blows the butterfly across the garden and it shreds its snow-white wing upon a thorn: sudden shriek of white against wall and grass.

     Looking back, remembering  how I cast her ashes over the sea, thoughts pound in my head like waves on that Gower beach. Each word is a grinding of small pebbles. Mother, you are a swift river of blood contained within my skin and bones.

Friday Fiction: Big Blue Sea

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Friday Fiction
6 April 2018

Big Blue Sea

bad story I shout … because anger is stronger than fear … and I can’t analyse this story … I can’t look at it objectively … lucidity fails me … because I’ve been there … and because this story takes me back … returns me to that dark tunnel of the machine’s mouth … back to those flashing lights … back to the clacking teeth of the surgical saws … back to my own biopsies … those invasive surgeries … so deliberately concealed … so little understood … back to the memories of my mother … lying there … silent … needles taped to her arms … motionless but moving … ceiling lights casting orange shadows over African violet bruises on her arms … I communed with her in silence … my spirit seeking her spirit … in a wordless dance of two spheres … bonded by a common gravity yet circling suns … each in a different universe … spheres that would never again meet … not in this life … not in this dance … a beach … she was … with the tide running out … abandoned … empty … and nobody told me … nobody … said … a … word … as I sat there … and now … as I sit here … I find … I cannot write a word …

 … yet when I dream … I revisit these scenes … or do they drop round to visit me … returning like dream-ships in the night … white sails flashing beneath the moon … pale figures restless on spider-fine cordage … and the sequence a black-and-white conjunction of something just beyond my fingers … shy sparrows that I reach out for … yet cannot quite grasp … nor can my night mind exceed them …an Easter flower on a white-clothed altar … flickering candles snuffed out between finger and thumb … dark ghosts of spirits spiraling … surreal images dredged up from the unconscious and paraded at the tide-mark edge of the semi-conscious mind … only to be flayed by the rays of the rising sun and scattered into a million diamond drops that cling to the eye-lashes … and I remember looking at the pastel-paint walls of her hospital room … or looking out at the place I parked the car … beneath her hospital window … and a black dog played in the car park … ran round in circles … chasing its tail … as my dreams chase their tails and weave their willow-wand images in and out of my Mind’s flawed flower basket … weird this fishing weir … these circled sticks netting dreams on the open sea … as a dream-catcher traps them at the window and holds them … stopping them from coming in … and they perch like chirping sparrows in search of breadcrumbs … welcome on the window-sill … singing their mourning chorus … and no … I will not mourn … I cannot mourn her passing … for she is long gone now … I watch the last bus … the last train … pulling out of the station … and me in my dreams abandoned on the platform … and the train pulling away … like a sailing ship … bearing her to her final holiday … a cruise across the big blue sea …