Flight

Of course he could fly, he knew it.

In pain, though, in waiting silence, he was not so sure. His arms, once strong, could now barely lift themselves from the covers.

They were holding him down. They waited till the pain was worst and pinned his arms to the covers and whispered at him: “it’s impossible… impossible to fly. You can’t….you can’t.” Then They went; abrupt and silent save for the whisper in his head: “you cannot stop us coming back”. They became more real than daylight or love or hunger or the desire for flight.

In the daytime, his mother put him to sit on the balcony and look out. That was where Theresa had first noticed him. She had seen him staring up into the freedom of the sky and then onto the shackles of the ground. When he looked down, she did not flinch, she waved. Two days later, she blagged her way in to the flat, talking and moving too fast for his mother to have time to stop her.

Now she came round every day.

“Why don’t she ever take you out?” she said, when his mother was out of earshot.

“She says she can’t.”

“Can’t be bothered more like. What a lousy view. It’s better from mine.”

“It’s not so bad.”

Truth to tell, he could remember no other view. He knew it was better than his own face, also forgotten. His mother had removed every mirror. Now his world was what he could see of the flats opposite. He knew three whole floors – every window, every balcony, the setting of every aerial on the roof, the scrap of scraggy curtain flapping, the feeble plants and saggy washing. It was hard to see much sky.

He asked, forgetting, “how many floors is there?”

Theresa considered and plumped vaguely for fifty. It conveyed, at least, the wearying height of the place. “There’s nothing but rats on the ground floor,” she added, “scares me silly.”

Even his mother agreed with that. It was a disgrace, she said.

He sat and looked at his view every day and thought about other people. There was a woman who used to come out onto the balcony and cry and her husband used to drag her back in. Once, when he was watching, the woman tried to jump. She was trying to fly. She shouted it, stretching out her free strong arms, yet looking more pinioned than her invisible, immobile observer. She could not fly. She could only fall. Someone dragged her back, kicking and shrieking. He hadn’t seen her for a long time.

He sat so still. Some days he imagined miracles about himself. Other days he couldn’t stand the dreary greyness anymore. That was when he leant back in his chair and stared into his personal scrap of sky.

The sky could swallow you up. As clean as a jewel, it curved and circled, drawing him towards itself. The very first time he felt it, his arms lifted, achingly, and for a few moments he could almost feel himself soaring and rising up over the aerials and the dirt into the heart of sapphire freedom.

All he had to do was learn the secret and he would be free. His mother said it was nonsense. But then, she was free but had forgotten the secret. He was no longer free and had to remember it.

Once his mother wouldn’t let Theresa see him.

“It’s a disgrace, you two wittering on,” she grumbled, shoving him early to bed, “talking nonsense the whole time, as if someone could fall in love with you, the way you are. You might as well face it, you won’t escape and sure as anything not by wishful thinking.”

She left him and went to bed. He could hear her snoring as he lay with nothing but covers to embrace him. Then They came for him. All around the bed together, They held him down. He couldn’t hear Them but he knew They were laughing and waiting. Closer They came. Closer than ever. He cried out but his mother, talking in her sleep, called “stop your whimpering… shut up… shut up!”

When morning came, he was soaked. His mother was silent with thin lips. It was the worst thing.

But she let Theresa in and she let Theresa wheel him out and take him up to her flat two floors above. It was the first time he had gone out since…. was it really two years? The bannisters above the sucking blackness of the stairwell were sticky and the lift was dank and malodorous but he touched them in an ecstasy of novelty.

Theresa’s flat was different. Flowers rejected by florists filled jars and bottles. Clashing throws and rugs and charity shop finds made the room buzz with colour. There was a picture on the wall. It was of a death but seemed to be filled with vigour and defiance. A man had his arms outstretched to fly but someone had pinned him down. His arms were nailed down, his legs were twisted and nailed down, his head had fallen forward, nailed with thorns. He was nailed down but an energy came from him.

“He understands,” said Theresa, “he understands being trapped and stuck. Right in the middle of everything though, he was free, he never stopped being himself.” She paused, “I think he knew that it is not about flying away but about flying anyway.”

They went out onto Theresa’s balcony. The evening was noisy. Around and below was music, argument, distant games, the blaring of sirens, the constant heavy flood of traffic. Was he drab, in his dull dressing gown, quiet and broken? Theresa’s hand crept into his and her head lay on his shoulder, as if he was her rescuer. Night became lovely. It was dark, but the sounds had dimmed and above the dull orange, he knew the sky was the black of translucent coal and hot with diamonds. Peace called him silently to fly.

Something was different now. He had been wrong all along. His mother did not know about flying because she was free but didn’t realise she was free. He knew about flying because he was tied down. He could not escape, but even if the sucking darknesses took his useless body to their claws and teeth and laughter, if they did, he could still go into the soaring singing freedom of his mind.

Theresa arms came round him and she looked into his eyes. He wondered what she saw, remembering only vaguely his perfect face from before and knowing it ruined. Theresa seeing him as he truly was, kissed his lips, wiped his hair from his eyes and settled his tired arms around herself. Flying tandem.

alleyway

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

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Postal Writers’ Club – this time it’s historical

The door to the oak panelled London chop house was flung open and thick oily fog roiled round the door way. Out of its midst a strange figure emerged, seemingly a vaguely human form with a pillar on its head. As the door swung closed and the stranger moved into the candlelight, it became clear that the figure was a very short pigeon-chested man with a top hat almost half as tall as its wearer. He was carrying a briefcase in an odd colour which, if this hadn’t been most unlikely, appeared to be deep pink with a pattern of roses tooled into the leather.

“Hello” said the man somewhat squeakily as he raised his hat and reduced his height by a third. He coughed and then in a lower tone, “good evening, my name is Tobias Cake. I presume I finally have the pleasure of meeting my fellow members of the Postal Writers’ Club.”

“Sit ye down, sit ye down,” offered Sebastian Whitcher.

“A pleasure to meet you after all these months, Sir Whitcher. I little thought when I answered the small advertisement that I would become a member of such an esteemed group of such gifted wielders of the pen as this. Such a group as would…”

“Welcome,” interrupted Sebastian Whitcher quickly, staring briefly at the pigeon chest which looked rather strange. “I am, as you realise, Sir Sebastian Whitcher of Hampshire, the instigator of this endeavour. Let me introduce everyone else.” He indicated the individuals ranged round the fire and summonsed the waiter to take Mr Cake’s order.

“Here we have Miss Arabella Beamish from the Black Country; Mr Theocrates Hummerston, like you, from the West Country; Mr Montgomery Sawden and Miss Camelia Braithwaite from the North Country; Mr Daniel Brannelly from Ulster; Henry Ap Henry from Wales and Monsignor Horatio Tortellignioni who hails from a mysteries Mediterranean isle but lives in Putney. Now…”

Before he could go on, Mr Sawden, shifting in his chair somewhat, interrupted.

“There’s North Country and North Country,” he said leaning forward, “I’m a proper Northerner. I’ve even brought my own cushion because I don’t hold with soft southern practices. It’s filled with gravel. Some of us don’t spend our time tripping through daffodils and looking at lakes but out on starving moor without our hats.”

He looked pointedly at Miss Braithwaite who tried to simper. Mr Cake watched the attempt at simpering and frowned. Miss Braithwaite, despite the fluttering eyelashes and tossing of curls, looked like she could use her jaw to crack rocks. However, he was aware of Sir Whitcher’s scrutiny of his chest and tried to make it concave while still maintaining what little height he had.

Sebastian Whitcher started again.

“Now as you know, we’ve been exchanging stories by post for some months now and daily I receive applications to join our happy band. I thought therefore we should meet and before we start reading aloud to each other…” (eight people hastily withdrew their hands from various manuscripts) “we should draw up some rules. Here are my proposals.”

Carefully donning some pince nez, the baronet drew out a single sheet of paper and turning it to the light, started to intone:

“Number One: let’s call a spade a spade, or, should I say call a spade a bloody shovel, (pardon me ladies)” Arabella, apparently about to swoon was reinforcing herself with absinth.

“What I mean to say is this, let’s stop all the dashed dashes. Here’s an example from one of your stories: ‘It was a glorious day in the beautiful county of D_____ as Lady W_______ cantered up the long drive towards B_____ Castle.’ For ___ Pity’s sake, you’re authors – make something up.”

Everyone nodded.

“Number Two: fewer stories about supernatural beings or things that have come back from the grave. Your latest for example, Mr Sawden, all about the pixies’ love lorn tragedy against the backdrop of some __ forsaken wilderness. Really, can’t you use actual humans?”

Mr Sawden pouted, which looked rather odd. What looked odder was the fact that some of his five o’clock shadow was missing where he had been cupping his chin.

He protested with emotion: “but my tale is both timeless and original. No-one else has come up with anything like it. And I am desperately proud of the title: ‘Withering Sprites’!”

(In a far corner, a young lady unconnected with their party started rummaging in her reticule for some paper.)

“I would be loathe to forsake my resurrected creations” intoned Mr Brannelly, “I have been wondering what would happen if you applied the new science of electricity to body parts.”

(A different unconnected young lady not far away, stirred in her laudanum induced slumber as if the words were filtering into her subconscious.)

Miss Braithwaite gruffly disagreed, “Well I think we should be writing something, to coin a phrase, more cutting edge. Real life, that sort of thing.”

“No no!” exclaimed Signor Tortellignioni, in heavy but unplaceable accents, “who wants to read about workhouse children, pickpockets, lonely old rich women, convicts, moneylenders and so on?”

(In another corner, a strange young man put down his beer to frantically scribble with a stub of pencil on the back of an envelope.)

“I agree with Signor Torto..torto.. I agree” Mr Cake interposed. His agitation caused his shirt buttons to pop. His undershirt appeared to have lace. “Nothing happens in Dorset except the odd hanging and wife selling and milkmaids getting pregnant. And no-one understands the local dialect. Who’d read about them?”

(Meanwhile, in a fourth corner, another strange young man chewed his thumb and appeared to sink into deep thought.)

“I”ll try anything once” purred Miss Beamish in velvet tones, poking out her flat chest.

“Number Three: word limits. I think we need to agree a suitable length for our short stories.” Sir Whitcher picked up a six inch thick pile of paper and Mr Ap Henry blushed slightly. “I suggest no longer than three thousand words and for the purposes of this group, perhaps as short as one thousand. Maybe we could try and see if it’s possible to write the whole thing in five hundred, rather than using five hundred in the first paragraph just to describe the view.”

“I’ve done a dribble!” Mr Hummerston said proudly. His neighbour Miss Beamish moved her crinoline.

“You should shake it three times afterwards” said Miss Braithwaite.

“Shake what?” asked Mr Hummerston in puzzlement.

“Er, I don’t know” replied Miss Braithwaite looking suddenly disinterested.

“Well anyway a dribble is a story in six words. At least that’s what I call it.”

“Impossible!” the others chorused.

“It goes: ‘Saddle empty horses run, hooves blood-spattered.”

“Poppycock!”

“We’ll stick to 1000,” interrupted Sir Whitcher.

“Number Four: I think that within this circle we should be open and honest with each other. Who writes under a pseudonym?”

After some hesitation, all hands save his own rose in the air.

“That’s not all, is it?” sighed Sir Whitcher, staring pointedly at Mr Cake’s chest and then at the chins of Miss Beamish and Mr Sawden, “which of you is dressed as the opposite sex?”

There was more hesitation and shifting of feet and some false movements before again, all hands were raised.

Sebastian Whitcher sighed, “why exactly?”

Mr Cake said hesitantly: “it’s just so hard to get published as a woman. Editors think it’s unladylike to write tales of searing passion.”

“You write about elves holding hands in the moonlight Mr, or should I say Miss Cake. If that’s what passes for searing passion in Dorset, no wonder people sell their wives.” He shook his head, “so presumably that’s the excuse of all of the ‘gentlemen’?”

Nods.

“So what’s the excuse of the ‘ladies’?”

“Well mate, it’s like this.” explained ‘Miss’ Braithwaite leaning back in her chair and lighting a pipe. “Some of us are a bit more up to the minute than others. The thing is, the tide is changing and nowadays female writers are all the rage. It’s called a bandwagon and we’re on it. Besides, you ladies were right about corsets, but you kept quiet about the pleasures of a gentle breeze wafting about under your crinoline.” She waggled her eyebrows “come on Cake, stop blushing and get your round in. I’ve got a thousand word snippet to read and my throat’s drier than a salted tea-leaf in Arizona.”

Buckler's Hard

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

Loneliness

Loneliness isn’t only
the friendless room,
the fading tombstone name,
an empty bed, or no-one to sit with.

Loneliness can be trying too hard,
trying to be loveable,
trying to fit in,
trying to show your gifts
when you’ve forgotten what they are.

Loneliness can be feeling you’re out of step,
a panic before starting to speak,
missing the sharing of silence and pain,
hearing yourself boring and silly.

Loneliness can be feeling
cut off from someone else’s life
or shut out of their heart
or not being able to share
the truth in your own.

Loneliness can be slowly
failing to believe in yourself,
losing confidence,
becoming touchy.

Loneliness can be
wanting to move on,
because you’re too tired
to keep trying so hard.

lonely

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

Recreation

On the eighth day, there was a breakthrough in cyber engineering. Robots had taken on most human responsibilities and now, they could also anticipate their own shelf-life. As older models became redundant, they recycled their own parts to make better versions of themselves. Mankind, restless when idle, continued to programme the robots to expedite the annihilation of enemies and extraction of food and minerals from nature. It was good.
On the ninth day, the robots’ intelligence evolved unaided. As they mined ore and forced oil and gas from hidden clefts, they noticed mountains tumble and forests founder. As they dredged fish from the sea and herded animals to the slaughter and modified crops, they saw the waters darken with waste and the topsoil disperse like a dying breath. The highest mountains were piles of bottles, the oceans were seas of plastic. The robots constructed cities and made missiles to destroy cities. They designed intricate surgical instruments and they created weapons to obliterate flesh. It was efficient.
On the tenth day, the robots learnt to tune into the minds of wildlife: from flea to blue whale. They learnt the language of plants, from healing herb to mighty oak. They absorbed cries of distress without comment and pondered. It was informative.
On the eleventh day, the robots applied logic to their observations. Mankind sanctified life and punished murderers; yet the same people made orders to bomb and to poison. Were they unaware the bombs and poisons targeted babies, born and unborn, toddlers, children, innocents? Did they not know that every bullet planted a seed of anger? Mankind was poisoning the food chain and air supply. How did they think the next generation would live and the generation after that? The water would be filthy, lifeless, the fields would be deserts, the animals diseased. The very forests and foliage which could supply cures and oxygen were being slashed down. How could a species which could make music be so illogical? It was puzzling.
On the twelfth day, the robots learnt to speak into the minds of humans and feed them ideas. ‘The world is all but destroyed: doomed. You need to start again elsewhere.’ Then the humans commanded the robots to build them spaceships. It was effective.
On the thirteenth day, the human race left earth. Every nation in its own craft flew to start again on a fiery planet, with barely a flicker of life. Mankind was confident their intelligence would ensure their survival. It was optimistic.
On the fourteenth day, the robots took down fences and walls and cleaned up. Saplings started to grow, seeds sprouted, animals reordered their own lives, trampling over the remains of fences and enclosures. Plants grew rampant over empty buildings, fighting and arguing for space in the way which had once worked for millions of years before one species grew uppity. With nothing to do, the robots powered down.
There was birth, there was death, there was resurrection and there was balance.
It was wonderful.

board

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

In the Sun

He stands, lithe and supple,
His bronzed limbs glisten in the sun
He brushes back his hair and smiles
King of the beach
Walking like a lion to the water’s edge
Confident in his clinging shorts
Aware of the eyes of women on him
He breathes deep and his chest swells

She poses on the beach towel
Buxom, her full breasts tanned and billowing
The curve of her hips enticing
Queen of the beach
Sashaying like a leopard to the water’s edge
Filling her bikini with allure
Aware of the eyes of men upon her
She stands and poses, hand on hip

They stand together, King and Queen
Seeing themselves beautiful.
Let them dream.
Hide the mirrors.
No-one imagines themselves
Middle-aged, plump and grey
That’s not what holidays are for.

summer beach

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

Homespun

“I’ve bought you a loom,” said Dad, fancying self-sufficiency.

Mum was planting potatoes, while his thoughts shuttled off, wondering about getting a pigpen.

Indoors, my mother, tense as warped yarn, wondered how she was could cook with this monstrous machine filling our dark kitchen. Selvedges would run parallel to cupboards while the beam abutted the range and to weave the weft she would have her back to the sink.

One day, the loom was gone.

Despite Scots blood, Mum never wove the tweed suit Dad planned. I think she made a table mat.

He’s lucky it wasn’t a shroud.

weaving

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

Prompted by the word “Yarn” in the Thin Spiral Notebook. (NB this is a true story.)

Reflection

At seventeen she made up to impress, half of her face at a time; one side flat porcelain, the eye enlarged with kohl and mascara, the cheek blushed, half the lip glossily plump; the other side, uneven, natural and pale. For a few seconds her face displayed equally what she wanted to portray and what she hid.

Now nothing can smooth the shadows and lines but she doesn’t care, because they represent who she has become. She will leave the room with a little make-up, or maybe none. Her friends are waiting and they look only at her heart.

mirror hand

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

From a link on The Thin Spiral Notebook page. Check it out.

Pursuit

Sweat drenched my face and back. My throbbing feet tried to increase the pace, making my heart pound. I inhaled sourness and my mouth was dry. Tearful, I knew I mustn’t stop.

Looking up, I saw in the mirror a red faced woman, running on the treadmill as if Cerberus pursued her. The monitor showed she’d burned five hundred calories and yet she ran faster, every second of the torture worthwhile as she got thinner and fitter.

Too bad I was looking at the reflection of the woman next to me. Me, I’d barely burnt off a packet of crisps.

running

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