In Shifting Sands

In the valley of shifting sand dunes
I search.
Lost, I stare around me.
Disabled, terrified to move
Should I turn? And if so
This way or that?
Look up or down?
Fearful, confused
My whole self is lost
My soul is sinking fast
My life is already half buried.
The sand shifts under me
Forwards or backwards?
I cannot decide.
The sun blazes and my tears
Scald themselves dry;
My thoughts tumble
and spin in tumult.
What can I do?
What will become of me?
I am lost.
Someone please
Someone tell me
Where did I drop my phone?

sand queryCopyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Check out other people’s entries in the Thin Spiral Notebook

Gold Within Clay

And man said let me create

And God said I will set some of you apart as dreamers
And some will make hollow out wood
And stretch skins and manipulate metal
And they will make music.
And some will look at the world
And wonder “what if”
And wonder what is over the hill
And how they can commemorate the things
The heroes have done or might do
And how to explain the light and the dark
And they will tell stories.
And some will take ugly rock and hard stone
And resistant wood
And fashion beautiful things
And they will be craftsmen.
And some will wonder how to make their hard life
And the hard life of their children bearable
And they will be inventors.
And some will see unfairness and hurt
And they will speak out
And they will not be silent
And they will argue for justice.

And sometimes others will laugh or scoff
And sometimes the creators will be reviled
But if their work is true, then one day
It will outshine the doubters.

But beware when dreamers are imprisoned.
Where minds are closed,
Dreamers will be silenced,
Music will cease,
Dance will be called sin,
Stories will be labelled lies,
Craft will be called frivolous,
Invention and Inquiry will be halted.
Beware when people say
They speak for God,
Yet their words destroy,
Their words create fear of creativity.

Beware when the music is stopped.
Because that is the work of the evil one
And the earth will bleed
And the heavens will weep.

Beware when dreamers are silenced,
Because without them
Who will look for gold inside the clay,
Common ground inside difference,
Love inside fear,
The friend inside the stranger?

lion snake

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Night Navigation

Driving around without a map at weekends was their thing. They liked to follow the road randomly, following signs for odd place names, stopping for stale crisps in strange little pubs where yokels looked sideways at them. Lanes could lead nowhere or to soulless hamlets comprising of nothing but holiday lets or could suddenly emerge onto a main road heading into a busy tourist resort. They discovered tiny coves and ribbon bestrewn trees; the glint of sea to the south, mild or furious; the lushness of farmland to the north, undulating over the outlines of hill fort terraces and diving into ripe valleys.

By sunset they holed up in what passed for civilisation, eating in buzzing restaurants, clubbing if they felt like it, eventually snug in their own weekend flat overlooking the bay.

It was always Sean who drove. Nicole was look-out, spotting silly place names, pointing out the locals. This was the first time she had driven here at all. And it was night. And she drove blind.

He shouldn’t have done that.

It was miles before she could see properly. Even without the tears, all she saw in front of her was the scene playing over and over; all she could hear were the words.

He shouldn’t have said that.

The roads twisted in the darkness under trees and up over the downland. Bend after holloway after turn after hill after valley.

You need to stop.

Nicole pulled up, got out of the car and suddenly nauseous, vomited into the verge.

After a while, she found something to clean her face. Her hands shook and she wiped them down her jacket, down the legs of her jeans.

Stop thinking about it.

Nicole felt an unease crawling up her spine. She was suddenly aware of the antiquity of the land. All land is ancient, but some land has never forgotten it. She did not know where she was. She went to reach into the car for her phone to find out, but she felt uncertain of making any movement, even turning round. Especially turning round.

You’re lost.

Were the steep cliffs and the rolling sea over the hill to her left or right? The night’s clouded blackness was sucking at her, but Nicole knew if she could will herself to get back into her car and drive, she would eventually find … somewhere.

On either side the land rose in defensive ridges. Cold air rolled down them and Nicole, hugging her jacket around her, forced herself to look properly. She was being ridiculous. They were just hills, it was just a road. Nowhere is far from anywhere and the car’s tank was full. It was just the argument still flashing through her mind. Reiterated vicious words interrupted her ability to think, to try and recognise something.

Why are you on your own?

Shh – I need to concentrate.

Slowly, Nicole made herself turn around. Behind her the road curved away into invisibility. She had stopped near a small grove. A few leaning stones, smoothed by time and innumerable hands, were mantled by an oak while yews stood guard on either side. There was barely enough light to make it out but it was vaguely familiar. In daylight it had had a primitive charm. They had fooled around it, pretending to push the stones over and stage-whispering nonsense had acted out… She had lain down in that dark centre and Sean had pretended….

Was that only today?

No, yesterday. It’s later than you think.

Nicole looked at her barely visible sweating hands and wiped them down her jeans again. Her thoughts became more insistent.

He shouldn’t have said that. He shouldn’t have done that.

What are you going to do now?

She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. She had to keep moving. As Nicole turned back to the car, there was a flicker. Had she been here so long with the lights on and the door open that the battery was draining? She hesitated, but the beam of the headlights and the glow of the interior remained steady. A fox must had run across. Or something. Instinctively she opened the passenger’s door, ready for Sean to ask her what had taken her so long and then she saw her bag on the seat and remembered.

You could stay here.

Why would even the notion of remaining in this place cross her mind? Why was she talking to herself?

You should stay here.

The lights flickered again and this time she was watching. Not a fox. A person, people. They were walking towards her and she wanted to back, sweat chilling on her face, but could not move. Her thoughts became louder.

Look round, we’re waiting.

Not her thoughts. Had any of them been her thoughts? She turned and saw them: more people emerging from the grove.

You were here yesterday. You mocked us. You pretended to draw blood yet left the ground thirsty.

“We didn’t mean to make fun of anyone, we didn’t know anyone was watching.” Nicole argued weakly. But wasn’t that when it started? Hadn’t that been when their mood soured?

The people had not moved but seemed to be pressing in on her. She reached for her pocket, and stopped. Appalled at herself, she balled her right hand tightly instead.

We know what you’ve got.

“It was …” she started.

It was what? It has been in your heart for a long time. We just showed it to you.

“If you want blood,” Nicole said, reaching into her pocket again, “here….” and threw the knife into the centre of the stone circle. She was shaking uncontrollably, tears ran down her face and soaked the collar of her stained jacket.

The people were coming closer, herding her into the grove. One leaned in and stared intently. All Nicole could register were the eyes: no whites, no iris. Voids. The soft cold voice burned in her head:

You will stay here. It said. His blood is not enough.

night5

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Dust

I was clearing out my wardrobe when I saw him. He was clothed in quite a neat little outfit evidently made from bits of my stash of dressmaking fabric which was spilling out all over the place, tangled up with the shoes I’d never wear again, the random bits of writing shoved out of the way in haste, two old handbags, a set of broken straighteners (the ones which accidentally got a carrier bag melted onto them) and the slinky dress which had slipped off the hanger (presumably to avoid being forced over my less than slender figure, thereby ruining its straight lines, since I haven’t got any). He was standing with his back against the mdf defending itself with a shield made out of an old loyalty card and a forgotten mascara wand, looking terrified.

“Hello” I said. After all, what else does one say when one sees a six inch mystical creature in the back of the wardrobe.

“Put your weapon down or… or else!” he said.

I realised I was holding the thin thingy attachment for the vacuum cleaner.

“OK” I said, “I’ll put down the nozzle if you’ll put down the mascara and tell me what you are.”

I did as I’d promised and sat in what I hoped was a non-threatening stance. After a moment’s hesitation, the creature put down his defensive weapons and quivering a little, waved his arms to show me the back of the wardrobe.

“I can’t help” he said, “I can’t find the door to Narnia either.”

“It’s not in here,” I said sadly, “I’ve looked often enough. On the other side of that wall is the airing cupboard.”

The creature looked even more scared. “Not the airing cupboard!” he squeaked, “I don’t want to mess with the laundry fairies, they swear like fishwives and have biceps bigger than their heads.”

“There are laundry fairies?” I said with some annoyance, “I hadn’t noticed.”

“They’re not helpers. They’re pixies. Have you got a lot of odd socks?”

“Oh” I said, “But then who are you?”

The creature stood up straighter and announced: “I’m ÆLFNOД then added apologetically. “It means “bold elf”. I’m a brownie.”

I thought about this for a bit. Weren’t brownies the ones who help around the house, who do all the chores which the exhausted housewife can’t manage?

“I hadn’t realised I had a brownie, it’s not been obvious.”

ÆLFNOÐ shuffled his feet. “I hate housework” he mumbled, “It’s not a proper elf job. Pixies and sprites get to have fun. Brownies just get to clean things up ready for people to mess them up again and what thanks do you get?”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

“And I’m frightened to go out because if I meet the laundry fairies I’m liable to find myself inside a sock inside a random pillow case and shoved in a corner of the airing cupboard. All I want is some peace and quiet and a home of my own to look after.” I patted him gently as he started to sob.

I thought about it for a bit and told him not go anywhere for a moment and not to be frightened. I passed him a magazine to calm his nerves.

I got the loft ladder down as quietly as possible and moved some things about. Our attic is quite nice, with a window in the gable end. If we actually cleared out the accumulations of many years of family life, it could make a nice room.

After about half an hour I opened the wardrobe door, to find ÆLFNOÐ intently reading up on the latest interior design trends and held a basket out to him. “Trust me for a moment and jump in here.”

He hesitated, but I said he could take the magazine and some bits from my craft stash and the mascara wand and this was how I took him up into the attic. My daughter’s abandoned dolls house was now near the window and I had put a piece of ribbon across the front door. I handed ÆLFNOÐ some craft scissors and told him to make himself at home.

We toasted his new life with some tiny glasses of wine and I sat there in the light of the window, listening to him clattering about inside the dolls house, reorganising things and thought that if I could get a table and chair up here, I would have somewhere quiet to write away from the family and could keep ÆLFNOÐ company.

Then I left him to it. I raised the ladder and closed the loft. I shoved everything back into the bottom of my wardrobe, opened the door of the airing cupboard and told any laundry fairies who might be lurking invisibly what I’d do to them if I ever caught them.

Then I went downstairs to finish the wine.

Perhaps I should try and be a better housewife. Or maybe I could contribute to research into dust inhalation to find out exactly just how much is needed to make one hallucinate. Or maybe I really do have a house infested with elves.

It would explain a lot.

dust2

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

This Summer

Here is the pale shady tree
and here is Summer returned:
silken breath of sweet smooth heat
under the rippling boughs
and the trickling leaves…
But where are we?

The sky is just the same blue.
The sun, as hot, still stares,
cold into this pool-like world.
The grasses heave and sigh
with flowers floating
but you and I…

Promises have fled like months;
burnt in pyres of Autumn leaves –
the ashes tumbling in floods
or scattered, for the world
to mock, by the winds…
Ripped up like us.

I have walked this far and stop
to stand and gaze where once before
I never gazed. And where the haze
reflects abundant gifts –
the breeze dissolves pain
into new peace.

Here is the pale shady tree
and here is Summer returned:
silken breath of sweet smooth heat
under the rippling boughs
and the trickling leaves…
Let me pause here.

tree in summer

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Patience

She hobbled a little, the Old Woman. That’s what they called her, the village children: The Old Woman. When she came to town to trade honey for cloth or flour, the nastier ones used to sneak into the store and while one of them distracted with tears or apparent shop lifting, one of the others would surreptitiously move the walking stick propped up on the counter. It would be hidden in amongst the barrels of goods, or left outside the door or once, but only once, put in the horse trough. The Old Woman found it eventually, painfully limping around until she did and when she got to the edge of the woods, she would turn around, her face still mostly hidden by the deep sided bonnet and stare at the village in silence. Somehow she always managed to be glaring exactly where the children were hiding.

No-one really knew how old she was or what she was called. People spoke hazily of a lost girl who appeared once but others thought they were muddling up forgotten fact with an old tale. The woman just kept herself to herself in the cottage in the woods and for the most part, seemed to have everything she needed apart from the means to make clothes or bread. The cottage was in a sunny dell where the trees surrounded as if encircling with a loving embrace but their branches did not spread too thickly overhead. She had a little garden therefore, a huge beehive, a few grub-obsessed hens, a small bad-tempered goat and an even more bad-tempered goose. The children who tormented her in town, rarely got close enough to torment her in the woods. A few stones were thrown sometimes, nasty dead things were left on the step at her gate but somehow whenever they did it, the trees seemed to rustle threateningly even though there was no wind and the hens would rush out to look for little grub like toes and the goose would rush at them flapping her enormous wings and screaming. The goat, meanwhile, would eat anything they left, no matter how dead or how inedible and would then glare at them with her demonic eyes until they backed away.

But the adults felt differently. When things went wrong: there was illness or fear, the adults would creep to the cottage at dusk and seek help. Sometimes as they approached, they overheard her talking to her bees and thought they’d heard her saying “help him to find me”. It made them more nervous than ever to consult her and they tried to keep it from the priest, but in the end their need for healing was greater than their superstition and somehow the woman’s herbs and honey and listening ear seemed to resolve most things.

One summer evening, a stranger came to the town. He was riding on a beautiful horse, the like of which no-one had ever seen. The man looked wealthy but kind. He was old. Not very old perhaps, but slightly past his middle years. His face told of years of pain and hardship, despite his evident riches. When he stopped to rest the horse, he was offered a night at the inn but declined, saying bread and honey were all he needed and then he would be on his way. There was something sad and resigned in his face, as if he had travelled from disappointment to disappointment for many years.

The baker confessed he was out of bread and all the housewives too said that there was nothing left until tomorrow. The store keeper would have claimed the ownership of the best honey, but his supply had run out. There was nothing for it but to point him in the direction of the Old Woman.

The children followed discretely, wondering how the man would fare against the goat and the goose and the Old Woman’s general disinclination for other people.

The man led his horse deeper into the wood until a cloud of bees appeared. For a moment he stopped. The bees surrounded him like a cloud and the children, hidden in the bracken, tensed, wondering what they would do if he was stung. But the bees just hovered round him, now more like a crown and their buzzing intensified. The man smiled. He straightened his back, calmed his horse and walked on.

From behind the trees, the children kept watch as he neared the cottage. In the twilight, they saw that the Old Woman was at the gate. Not inside, but outside, a small bag at her side, as if she was ready to leave. Her bonnet hung from the hand holding the walking stick and her long hair flowed over her shoulders as if she was a girl. She was not really very old. Just past middle years. As the man approached she smiled. A deep beautiful smile. And she raised her face to him, holding his cheek with her other hand as she gazed into his eyes.

Gently he kissed her and briefly held her. Then he lifted her into the saddle and they followed the other path out through the woods and out into the wide world.

DSC_1010

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Across the Aisle

He noticed the shape of her head first. Age doesn’t change everything. She sat across the aisle next to the window, intently writing on a laptop. It reminded him of her pounding away at a portable typewriter, cursing as her thoughts ran faster than her fingers. Otherwise she was even thinner and maturity meant that the thinness made her gaunt. She must colour her hair now – pretty sure it hadn’t been red back then. He wondered if she remembered him, ever realised how she’d nearly destroyed him, ever regretted her decision to leave. She seemed to once, but his pride, and the dull recognition that she had been right, got in the way. Had it been her heart which broke then? It would give him no satisfaction if it had. Married late they said. Never wanted children which had been part of the problem all those years ago. Chief Exec of something he’d heard. Surprised she wasn’t in first class, but then everyone was cutting back on expenses these days. If she hadn’t grown out of those same immovable opinions, hysterical outbursts, she’d be a terrible person to work for. Her face looked more ready to laugh, so perhaps she had. She was looking up now to see if the tea trolley was coming. Should he say something? His phone vibrated and he looked down.

She gave up looking for the tea trolley and scanned the carriage. Could it be? He was older, lined, his hair quite grey and very thin on top. She remembered his grandfather looking like that. That worried expression seemed to have relaxed. Or maybe she had been the one that caused it in the first place. He was still so good looking, if plumper, more comfortable. Married with a horde of children she’d heard. They must be nearly grown up, around university age. She wondered if he’d ever really forgiven her. When she’d tried to make amends, he’d rejected her. Was that because he knew she’d been right or just stubbornness? All those tears. All that waiting and wondering if she’d made a mistake. He wouldn’t recognise her now would he? Middle aged and grey. She hoped he wouldn’t. It would be nice to think his mental image of her was young and rosy but then it would be nice if he realised she was kinder, that she was sorry for breaking his heart. She dropped her eyes to her laptop again.

What would be the point? He thought. I’m happy, some doors are best left shut.

What would be the point? She thought. I’m happy, some boxes best left unopened.

He got off at the next station and inadvertently they caught each other’s eyes. They did that slightly apologetic half smile that British people do. It said “just in case I knew you, I wish you well.”

And the door stayed shut and the box stayed closed, and the lives that had almost paused, decoupled, started up and moved on in the right directions.wetsbury

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission