Free

IMG_0624 (3).JPG

Free
Flash Fiction

            I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for an anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when its time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it left and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the lines on the wall “one, two, three…” and “one hundred and seventy five” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at 7:03, and strikes the third line at 7:53 … and goes around the wall 33 lines a minute; and leaves that third line from the right at a 3:15 …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But I went there I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that, not even at Christmas.
Neither was I.

Friday Fiction: Finding Fault

IMG_0169

Finding Fault
Friday Fiction

It wasn’t your fault. You look at yourself in the mirror and see your tear-stained cheeks. Your red eyes look back out at you and you lose yourself in them, swimming desperately as their still ponds down you with tears.

“Stop hammering at the door,” you yell at him. “Stop hammering.”

Open the door,” he shouts, stammering in his rage. “Open this door.”

Thank God you locked it is what you think. Thank heavens you kept the key. And here it is in your hand, so it can’t fall down to floor and be hooked away, under the door, so that he can open the door and come at you again. He is shaking the door handle now, rattling it, shaking it like he said he’d shake you.

“I’ll shake you till your teeth rattle,” that’s what he said. And you know he meant it. You could see it in his eyes. You were just too quick for him. That’s all. Just too quick. He raised his walking stick to beat you and you slipped away, in a flash. Just like that. He was too slow to catch you. His one chance came in the kitchen. Once you were out of there, out of that trap, you were up the stairs, into your bedroom. You shut the door, slammed it shut, and turned the key in the lock. Then you relaxed for just a second and that was enough to set you crying. Thick, heavy tears ran down your cheeks. Sobs shook your chest and rattled your bones. You heard him clumping up the stairs, one foot at a time. Clump. Clump. Then he was at the door again. A big, bad wolf, huffing and puffing.

Open this door,” he shouted. “You wicked child.”

“I’m not wicked,” you said.

“Wicked,” he shouted. “Wicked. Just like your father. You should never have been born.”

You placed the bedroom chair against the door, just under the door handle. Then you wedged your father’s sandal under the door.

Earlier, down in the kitchen, you had taken the bread knife and started to cut the bread. But the knife was blunt. So you sharpened it, scraping it up and down against another knife blade, like you’d seen your dad doing. Trying to make it sharp. Then you started to cut the bread. And that’s when he appeared screaming at you.

“Put that knife down.”

“Why? You asked.

“Because I’m telling you to.”

“That’s not a very good reason,” you said.

“You cheeky girl. I’ll shake you till your teeth rattle.” That’s what he said. And then he raised his stick. Red in the face, he was going to hit you. He wanted to hit you with his stick. Only he couldn’t. You were too quick. You went left, then right, then ducked under his outstretched arm as he lost his balance. You ran into the corridor and up the stairs.  You hear him now puffing outside the locked door.

“Open this door now, you wicked child.”

You move away from the door and move to the window. No escape there. You’re on the second floor. No way down. Where’s dad, you wonder. Where’s my dad? He went out shopping. Said he’d be back soon. Where is he? You hear the old wolf as he keeps huffing and puffing, pounding at the door.

“You’ll never come to my house again,” he screams.

“I don’t want to, grampy,” you scream back. “I hate you.”

You wicked girl. You’re worse than your father, you wicked girl.”

Just then, you hear the front door open. The old wolf backs away from the door. You feel a release, a wave of comfort sweeps over you.

“Dad,” you shout. “Dad.”

“She’s wicked,” you hear your grampy say. “Wicked. You have to beat her. Chastise her. Drive the devil out from her soul.”

“What on earth are you on about?” your father asks. “What’s happening here? Look, go down to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. I’ll talk to the little one and try and make some sense out of this.”

Wicked. She’s never coming to my house again.”

Clump. Clump. You hear his footsteps fade away on the stairs.

“Has he gone?”

“Yes. You can come out now.”

You remove the sandal, you turn the key in the lock, you open the door, you jump into your father’s arms ….
“Daddy, daddy …”

“Now tell me what happened.”

It was all his fault,” you say. “Daddy, I didn’t do anything. It was all his fault. He tried to beat me with his stick. He told me he’d shake me till my teeth rattled. I was so frightened. It wasn’t my fault, dad. Honest. It wasn’t my fault.”

Gower

Empress 070.jpg

Gower

To be Welsh in Gower is to spell it funny
and pronounce it worse: Gwyr.
It’s to know how to say Pwll Ddu.
It’s meeting the cows in the lane to Brandy Cove
and knowing them all by name and reputation,
which one kicks, which one gores,
when to walk in the middle of the lane,
and when to jump for the safety of the hedge.

It’s to know the difference between the twin farmers
Upper and Lower Jones.
It’s to recognize their sheepdogs, Floss and Jess,
and to call them with their different whistles.
It’s knowing the time of day by sun and shadow;
it’s knowing the tide is in or out
by the salt smell in the air
without ever needing to see the sea;

and now, in this far away land called Canada,
it’s hearing your stomach growl for crempog or teisen lap
whilst memory’s fish‑hook tugs at your heart
in the same way your father hauled in salmon bass
at Rhossili, Brandy Cove, Pennard, Oxwich, and Three Cliffs.

Commentary: I was checking Gwyr, the Welsh for Gower, where I was born, and found this interpretation of the name. <<G is for generous, your giving nature. W is for wise, more tomorrow than today. Y is for young, the years never show. R is for rapport, friends seek you.>> I don’t know if that’s me, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad set of descriptors to live up to.

 

Growing Up

IMG_0817 (4).JPG

Growing Up
in Brynmill

They drag the kids kicking and squealing
from childhood’s universe into an older
world of smoking and drinking, forbidden
fruits stolen after Christmas dinner when
drowsy grown-ups’ eyes are turned away.

Why do bigger boys follow smaller ones,
buying their sisters’ kisses then thrusting
their fingers into little girls’ knickers, or
invading Woolworth’s and tucking stolen
goods in shirts with their buttons undone?

The games they play: offering a little girl
a cigarette  or a sweet while two boys
wait behind the garden gate with a sharp
knife to  press against the victim’s throat.

Buried Alive

IMG_0688
Buried Alive
Anonymous we are,
never holding land or cattle,
lucky to own our own houses.Some castle
this rented row house
in a winding valley,
two rooms up
and two rooms down,

tin bath in the kitchen
filled with hot water
for when the shift ends.

After supper,
beer for a coal-dust throat,
then the wife, and sleep.

Next day,
a knock on the window,
a pulling on of clothes,
clogs clattering on cobbles,
a tin box sparse with food,
then down to the dark pit
of whatever mine has agreed,
at a price, to bury us alive.

Commentary: So much in this one. Very difficult to write. And a tribute to Rita McNeil’s It’s a working man I am,  two lines from the end. How long did it take me to write? Five minutes or less. Unless you count 200 years of coal mining (in South Wales alone), seventy-five years living and learning to write, and sundry workshops and exercises that have enabled me, just once in a while, to catch the butterfly as it flutters, although it never flies underground.

My Welsh Granny

IMG_0452

 

Poem for the Welsh grandmother
I never really knew

Six o’clock! The cuckoo whirrs its clockwork arrow
from the dark wood of its ambush and the flight
of my granny’s forgotten youth flashes before my eyes
to be buried among the trees. Cats! I can still count
her 1, 2, 3 cats, each one lapping milk from its saucer.

If I close my eyes, I can recall her house, her clothes,
her hair, the very bend of her body bowed over
the ironing board in the kitchen and everywhere,
the sweet and sour smell of white fish bubbling
on the stove for the cats’ supper. The cuckoo clock
strikes again. Each one wounds, the last one…?

Who knows what the last one will bring? Life’s
bitterest blows perhaps? Or missing memories
restored and with them, my granny’s own lost beauty,
with her standing upright, like some glorious flower
illuminated by a sunbeam in the wood’s dark depths.

International Day

14633208_10207317214799871_1242532105939959170_o

International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.