© Claire French
“ Hey. you’re doin’ good!” says Younger Boy noticing George’s disappointment. George is silent and still sulking. Younger Boy smiles a bit but doesn’t say anything more. Younger Boy catches the eye of Norwegian and winks at her. It makes her smile just a little. George sees this and it makes him feel worse. He is wallowing in self-pity and snow. Younger Boy hits him on the back. George doesn’t move, choosing to ignore the happy-go-luckydom of Younger Boy’s world. Younger Boy hits him again.
“ Dude, get up, get out of the way. Emergency Rescue is here and they didn’t come for you”
“Shit, yeah, Sorry, just... sorry... thanks.... yeah”
George stumbles up hurriedly with the intent of moving as far away as possible from the scene of his guilt. He is walking through the crowd when he hears the rescue workers say “ Who’s with her?” For a split-second he stops. He chooses not to say anything and resumes walking. He has a strange sensation that he is not walking forward anymore. His legs are moving, rotating forward but somehow he is travelling backwards. It is the crowd, the crowd, the power of the crowd, the awesome power of the crowd is pulling him back to the scene. He is being beckoned by the audience. They want him to see this through. They are relentless. They expect him to deliver - to see the plot through. He cannot walk away from this stranger. Oh no!. The audience has decided how this scene will end and they are major players. There are no extras in this scene. They have every right to demand that he stays in.
He is spun around by this crowd to face the victim. He is a little surprised that he is not faced with himself. Instead, Norwegian is now on a stretcher being carried off by brave rescue workers on skis. She holds out her right hand to George and he is pushed by the crowd to take hold of it. As he does so, he feels the crowd move in. It’s a weird scene. They are simultaneously moving in and blurring away. He is focussed on Norwegian and she is focussed on him and he gets a pain in his right knee in sympathy. He loses his footing just a little bit and as he gathers himself Norwegian smiles and whispers “ Thank you!”. George is smiling. He can’t control it. He has gone all warm inside. He is blushing. He is a hero, and he is blushing. She said “Thank you” and he is blushing. The younger boy sees the scene and rides past George winking at him. Then he is gone and George shouts “Thank you” to the thin air. “Fast mover” he thinks and with that Norwegian is swept in to a rescue van and driven away, without George...
Figures of Eight
© Claire French
The noise is unbearable for Emma. She is sitting at the edge of a long seat. There are four people to her left and they have left her no room. She is not going to ask for more. Instead she will perch there until she feels the girl next to her give an inch and Emma will take it, she will take that inch sneakily and speedily. Her ears are ringing. Actually it is more like wringing or being wrung. She feels like her eyes and ears are changing places in relation to her brain and face. This noise goes through her and it does so only to come back at her. This noise is the sound of her friends. Only yesterday these friends were a source of comfort and their laughter and general banter were as welcome to her as a fleece blanket on a cold night. But tonight there is one person in the group who is really pissing her off and that one person has ruined the whole night for Emma already. This person has changed the tone of the banter and the volume of the laughter to a ricocheting-ly annoying level. Emma wants to punch him. She wants to punch him so that he shuts up, so that her friends stop competing for his attention, so that she can hear herself think.
Added to the showmanship of this already unwelcome addition to the group is the noise of the train. Emma is on a ghost train and all of her friends are already screaming and giggling and there have not yet been any ghosts. Emma wonders what they will do when the first group of actors jump out at them. Emma is sure that their screams will burts her ear drums. Emma also knows that she is shit-scared herself. She sighs. As she does so her chewing gum flys out of her mouth like a missile in a Bond movie and undramatically falls onto the floor. As she attempts to reach down to get it the train sets off at high speed. Well at speed anyway, and she has to hold on to Rosie on one side and the railing on the other so that she doesn’t fall out of the carriage. So far, she is not impressed.
Ric a dee dic Ric a dic dee, ric a dee dic ric a dick dee is the noise that takes over all other “an-nois-ances” as the train passes through fairy lights that remind Emma of coconut ice...
...Emma is about to be pushed through the door.
“Do I say anything?” asks Emma
“No, don’t you dare speak” says the director. Emma is relieved and disappointed. She likes the low voice, wants to try it out.
A mischievious thought enters her mind....but it is halted with the creeping fear that accompanies her “entrance” to face the audience.
“Wait!” she says in an exasperated tone. “I have forgotten what to do”
“Angela” whispers/ shouts the director. “Prompt her!”
This woman with earphones on and a script in hand walks over to Emma.
“Hi” she says in a whisper
“ Hi’ says Emma with a whisper too, feeling relieved but also thinking how similar this greeting is to the one with the director.
“Push open the door with your lance, big gesture ok, give it time” Emma does what Angela says. The whole scene is quite strange. Angela is crawling along the floor behind Emma so as not to be seen.
“ Big Gesture, GO!” Emma flings her arm up and almost hits the roof of the hut with the end of the lance. The audience is enraptured and Emma feels this rush of adrenaline that seems to lift her feet off the floor. She is hovering. But the moment is beginning to weaken and she seems to be frozen. She doesn’t know what comes next. She has blanked. Well how can it be blanking really, she has really never known what she must do next. She was told once just seconds ago. She is starting to freak out. The audience is getting quiteter. Emma doesn’t want to move her mouth to ask what’s next but as if Angela has read her mind. She barks in a whisper
“Move! Go over to the witch, now!” Emma goes at first glancing left and right to locate the witch and then down to check her feet are on the floor.
“Glare and make a big gesture, scary gesture.” adds Angela
Emma does this with wooden legs and shoulders. Angela sniggers and Emma feels herself blushing under her makeup and moustache edges. The audience is howling and Emma wants to go home.
“Now go to the villain and poke him with the end of the lance so that it bends!”
“Don’t nod!” Angela barks.
The villain is well into his role hamming it up while the audience is lapping it up. Emma suddenly feels like she is in a cartoon.
“Now grab the villain by the throat. Grab him by the throat” Angela is so into this. She is now on her knees almost lurching at Emma as if making her do it like a puppeteer with their marionette.
“ Throw him to the ground” Angela almost screams
Now Emma feels this collective adrenaline and is getting into it inspite of herself. She is seriously intent on throwing this jerk ham to the ground. Angela recognises Emma’s serious intention to floor this guy. It would e ahrd not to, she has him by the throat and he seems to be off the floor in her hands. She is almost growling at him and she releases one hand as if she is going to punch him to floor him.
“Pretend to throw him to the ground. Just pretend for God’s sake” Angela whispers loudly.
“You’ll get me fired” she whispers audibly.
There is a kerfuffle in the hut. Emma notices the witch stand half -way up and she hears screams from the ghost train of her friends and others shouting “ Get the witch, get the witch. Don’t let her escape. The witch The witch”
“ Stop the witch!” shouts Angela who can afford to let out some of her excitement azs she chooses at this moment. She knows that the audience on the ghost train cannot possibly hear her . They are raucous out there.
Emma suddenly remembers the director’s every instruction as if by magic she knows what she must do and she realises the director’s genius. Yes, she has been sucked in to the terrible place of believing in “cheese” but she understands why. Because it is extremely satisfying on the inside for both the actor and the spectator and right now that is all Emma has to work with.
Emma dramatically jumps in to the path of the witch and stops her with a sudden and grand, authoratative gesture. While she is standing over the witch she leers at her and makes the witch shrink on the spot as if terrified of this strong force in her path. Emma’s big gesture seems even bigger in the shadows. As she catches sight of her own silhouette she is proud and excited to be so fucking huge. If she was a real guy she is sure that she would have got a hard on right at this moment.
The witch pulls her attention back to this great play of which she is proud to be a part. The witch is pulling on her cape and gaggling and gagging as if she is dying. Emma thinks the witch is doing a really good job but finds it a little over the top... until she realises that she must stop this witch if people are to continue to believe. Emma lifts the lance impressively and presses the lance in to the heart of the witch. Well not really. The witch has positioned herself beautifully to be profile to the audience and Emma takes this opportunity to prod her on the side away from the audience. The witch holds onto the lance and guides it under her arm until it sticks out boldly on the other side. She keeps hold of it with her strong arms and melts around it. She falls to the ground and lies there still. No-one moves for a second. There has been some cheering but now there is silence absolute silence. No-one is moving.
Stay still, stay very still!” says Angela to Emma. “Don’t blow this moment. Everyone must stay still until I say GO!.When I say GO! only the villain moves. and you villain only move to the hero. You move as if you are struggling but you want to kill the hero” (Back to Emma) “When he comes at you. You do a big turn. Do it for the director. He loves that moment.The villain struggles from the floor and comes at you. You do a big spin turn in your cape”
Emma feels the weight of the cape around her shoulders now. She likes the feel of it and she is excited to lift it up and spin.
She remembers the Director’s words, “Show off the cape, it looks great in silhouette. I love that moment” he says
“Go!” Angela scream-whispers
Before Emma has time to gather her thoughts she has the dumb oaf of a villain lurching at her. He is so enthusiastic he almost knocks her over. She is upset instantly because she is supposed to be doing an amazing duet with the cape right now and she can feel that she is screwing it up big time. She can sense the director cringing and Angela almost sobbing as the cape is dragged like a wet rag across the floor, with Emma in it.
Emma has to rectify the situation fast and she feels her world get smaller and smaller until there is only one solution.
In a slow-motion transformation Emma is wrapping herself up as if like a corkscrew, spiralling the cape around her until she is totally cocooned in it. She takes command of the cape as if it is a well-behaved second skin or special force field. It sems to obey her every request and she grows taller with every spiral of the fabric. She stands there taller and waits for a couple of seconds.
The villain is enjoying this moment, totally engrossed in both his own role and Emma’s ad-libbing. As the villain makes more of his stumbling and enthusiasm for capturing the hero and preventing him from doing good in the world, Emma inhales a huge breath and throws herself into a clock-wise spin. At first nothing much seems to happen. She is turning but the cape is turning with her staying really close to her body. And then suddenly as if watching a flower grow on fast-forward the cape opens up petal by petal, fold by fold until the entire cape is uncurled and spread open like eagles’ wings. Emma keeps turning. She is like a whirling dervish, spinning, spinning, head up, head down. She keeps spinning and all the audience can see is this fantastic image of the cape and a body turning. It fills the frame in the window and it hypnotises everyone.
Including Emma actuallly. She is now so dizzy she thinks she is going to throw up. Angela and the director are hugging and jumping up and down. Emma has to shout to Angela
“ Angela. I am going to throw up. Help me”
Angela runs from the arms of the director and scrambles on her hands and knees so that she is under the window. “ Don’t ! You can’t ! We are almost done. Hide behind your cape now and sweep over these two so that they can get out without being seen. Do It now! Concentrate on it. You’ll be fine”
Emma is dizzy and while Angela is talking Emma steps on the villain twice. She kind of likes the accident though, which is why it is twice.
“Hide behind your cape sweeping over the villain and the witch and proclaim victory by holding your sword up in the air and standing proud.” Angela is screaming at Emma to take her mind off her nausea at this point.
“Ok” says Emma trying to go over the order of events in her mind.
Emma is wondering why they don’t have an actor to play this part. It would make everyone’s lives easier, especially Emma’s. Could it really be this way night after night.
“ Are you listening? I need you to be paying attention.” Angela is slightly agitated and once she has Emma’s attention she points to the director who has a twinkle in one eye and a piece of gravel in the other.
Emma is defensive and attentive now, if slightly angry at this bossy team. She is wondering whether she should ask to be paid after this. It doesn’t seem fair that she had to pay to get on the ghost train and then provide the entertainment herself.
“Pay attention” she says to herself.
“ Get on with it” syas Angela “You are losing the audience.”
“ Hold the lance high and reach down. Start sewing up the bodies of the two people who were dragged from the train with your lance. BIg gestures, big, big sewing gestures, like a gaint surgeon, exaggerate your every move.”
© Claire French
Angles, prisms, other people’s children, coffee, papers and words, images and cleaning fluid, skype, animals dressed in weird costumes, applications, phone calls and emails and waiting for phone calls and emails. Dinner tonight. DVD burning. Man on roof. Another climbing up and down the scaffolding just next to my head. Noise. Constant noise. Rhythm - constant rhythm. Sharing of space and time.
Watching the motion of the city just outside my window, cranes with wings and motors, smokers, and movers. Jolted by the beats and soothed by the drones. Distraction or inspiration?
Recycling thoughts, trying to hold onto thoughts long enough to do something with them. It’s all about choice again, and people. Fighting the desire to write from a character. Fighting the impulse to write this in the first person. Why fight it this time?
I can write from the ‘me’ perspective. Yes, I can. This is what I need to do. I will make today the beginning and go in whichever direction my thoughts take me. Perhaps I can get to know me this way. Perhaps I can change. Not that I think I need to particularly, but I would like to grow- more independent, more disciplined, more understanding, I want to dig deeper. get nosey on my own life. This might be a ‘why’ or ‘how’ and you know what- I can fake it- I can make it up - and change my history, here. How can I even trust the memories I have. They are associative- linked to current events that trigger something which is translated as a memory. Memory, schmemory! I like my mother’s stories, my mother’s truths. They are not mine. What are mine?
So yesterday, or the day before, I thought about training to be a chef. Well, first of all I thought I would go to a cooking class but very quickly in my brain I have a habit of turning thoughts like this into a career- and a change of lifestyle. In this instance I imagined running a kitchen - even imagined being a fat, drunken chef working 18 hour days and loving it. All that- while I wiped the counter top, having just chopped a green pepper into julienne strips. But why would I stop these flights of fancy and ridiculousness? It’s harmless. It is. Isn’t it? Distraction or inspiration?
Escapism, but momentary. If I am an addict of anything it is of fantasy. Yes I am a fantasy addict. Maybe that’s why I am awestruck and why I love the X Factor. I love the highs and lows and the quest- deluded or deserved quest. But these flights of fantasy get me into trouble in my everyday world. Sometimes I am just so fucking bored. I enjoy everything in my life. I am extremely fortunate. Sometimes, though, the day just isn’t grand enough- adventurous enough, tough enough. But other days wear me down, overwhelm me, depress me, hurt me. I sound slightly mad. I don’t have bipolar. I am eccentric and imaginative. I am not gregarious, but I am outspoken. I will not make myself the centre of attention. If I am given it- I take it. Actually perhaps that is a good motto for me. If I am given it- I take it. Maybe I should concentrate on “giving it” a little more. When I do it works. Do I run out of steam? I am erratic. But not when I am immersed. Of course immersion is a kind of escapism. I like it there.
My Dad died 14 months ago. I am OK about it. Let’s test that, here. I have cried and I miss him. I imagine the sound of his voice almost every day. He is so much a part of my childhood. But it is not all positive. This is not such a taken for granted kind of statement. It is not so for every child. He was always a kind of a conflicting force. That sounds awful. I don’t know if I mean it to. I don’t know if that is an emotional or rational response. Perhaps it is both. There were some really cool experiences as a family like Scotland- fishing for mackerel and rainbow trout and staying in a big haunted house run by a tiny old woman who lived in the pantry even though the house had 10 bedrooms. I remember my dad presenting my sister with a box of Quaker porridge oats when we got back home. My sister cried for hours. I laughed my head off! Cathy had hated eating porridge in Scotland because the old woman, Sissy, insisted we eat it with salt added. But for some reason, which I am questioning now, it never seemed to be an option that we could say no to it. Perhaps with a father who kept his mouth shut until he burst with rage and frustration, and a mother who lived to please (more about her later) we didn’t really know that we could say no. Perhaps we tried. Perhaps Sissy locked us in the basement because we said no to it. Perhaps I have blocked that out. I highly, highly doubt that that ever happened- which makes it very possible that it did.
So what was this conflicting force to which I refer? Well my Dad wasn’t an artist and didn’t really appreciate entertainment. He was into patient things like fishing and hang-gliding ( not sure how you spell this). He would watch car-racing for hours. Actually I don’t remember him doing this when we were kids. Actually I don’t remember the day-to day of being a kid, beyond dance classes and school. I think he was content. But perhaps he was fucking bored. My mum was an entertainer. We (my sister and I) were dancers- not just ballet class, but disco, ballroom, modern, jazz, tap, song and dance, character, national, ballet. I wonder how my dad felt about that. My mum had always told us that my dad wanted boys. That maybe didn’t help relations. He worked shifts too. I do remember going to pick him up in the car in our PJs. My mum would lift us out of bed and drive to the steelworks. Some early mornings I would be wrapped in my quilt in the back of the car, and I would be dozy but unable to sleep. I am sure I am now projecting this romantic image but never-the-less I seem to remember the amber skies and the grey and terra cotta gravel of the driveway leading up to the steelwork entrance. Driving through the steelworks passed the Security man. My mum saying “Keep your heads down” as if children were not allowed to be seen there. I am sure that this was more to do with keeping up appearances than the Security man having a problem with two sleepy blonde kids curled up on the back seat. Funnily enough I don’t fully remember my Dad ever getting in the car. I have just got a whiff of lead or car fumes from outside the window here in my reality and it makes me think that perhaps that’s what my dad smelled of after work. Maybe the smell sent me to sleep. It is making my eyes water...Powerful shit, steel.
I don’t think my dad ever saw me dance. I could have that wrong, though. Actually I don’t really mind. I never did feel like I needed him to see me dance. I didn’t do it to be seen. I don’t think my dad was proud of me as a kid. Not in a nasty way. I think he started to become proud of me later in my life and his, when he started to understand what I did. I think he was more proud of me meeting a really decent feller! But that makes sense. My dad seemed to have no idea how to be happy and I think he started to respect me because I found it and worked hard to keep it. While my dad could do patient things, he had no patience for other people. ( I just changed the pacing of my writing to accommodate the stop/start of the sirens in traffic). Is that true? No I need to think harder about that. he was really great to talk to about daily things. He was funny and charming and really interesting. I loved him like this. Made me feel warm and connected to him. And I felt like he cared that I was there- in the room with him- and not in his way or a burden. That’s it - sometimes he could make you feel that you were in his way but you couldn’t see what you might be in the way of because he wasn’t doing anything. Maybe he was escaping...?
His dad was apparently a mean man. My dad would never have said that. My mum did. I remember him (my granddad) as chubby and bald. He was a bloody good painter. He was the one who taught me how to colour inside the lines. At least I think it was him. Actually it could have been Nana. She loved telling us how to do things. She is still alive - in her 80s and a bloody good laugh. No maybe my grandad was the one who taught me how to colour -with care. He would sit with me and show how to colour softly and boldly. He would show me how to hold the pencil crayon. He would demonstrate the difference - with patience. He didn’t always have the patience with me though, especially if I went outside the lines. In fact I think if I did go outside the lines he would make an excuse and go out into his garden to feed the birds, again. I can’t remember how I felt about this. In fact I can’t actually remember if it actually happened but I do remember milk and lemonade and maybe this is around the time that the drink would show up. I still remember the taste of it- that I do remember. I can taste it now.
At this moment in time I can smell something slightly sweet in the air. I am slightly freaked out by this because as I write I seem to be experiencing the smells and tastes of the things that I am writing about. It could just as likely or perhaps more than likely be the other way round in that I have probably allowed the smell to influence my memory of an event and associated the two things, which has prompted me to write about this particular thing over something else. Even trickier is perhaps the notion that I am not even remembering but the smell is creating new truths of my history.
I can talk like that here. I can talk about anything. I actually want to go back to these memories though or rather other people’s memories- their memories ( I mean my nan's and grandad's memories). Recently my nana told James and I about an incident that happened just before my grandad died. Apparently as she remembers his last day in our lives, she remembers him climbing the stairs in their small house and going to get something from the bedroom. Hardly unusual apart from the fact that he hadn’t been up the stairs for years. Wasn’t able to with his bad legs and bad heart. But this day he did- which was the day he died. He died later on a train on the way to Scotland as I remember the story. Maybe he didn’t- but I like that idea that he was going somewhere new.
My dad was on his way to Grimsby when he died. No joke. He had also spent a good few months struggling to get up the stairs, with one leg and a bad heart. But with a fag hanging out of his mouth. I hate Grimsby. No-one should die in Grimsby. The name is so awful, dull and depressing it should be like the happiest place to live. A bit like Little John was called little even though he was huge. The it’s grim up north is epitomized in Grimsby. I hate Grimsby. Not sure if I had actually been there before (but I must have been). Don’t like the fact that the only time I can remember going to Grimsby was to see my father, moments after he died. I know the exact moment he died. I felt it as genuinely as I felt the breath leave my body that caught his last breath. I was driving on the motorway going as fast as my little car could handle. A land-rover pulled out from the middle lane into the fast lane (my lane). There was room but the land-rover seemed to hover and glide over - there were no jerky movements , there was no road rage, no sudden change of pace or even a reason for him to move over into that lane as there was so much room in front of him. Even so, he pulled in front of me and in that moment I knew there was nothing I could do.
I got the news from my auntie that he wasn’t doing well. I leapt from my office chair, called the main office and left my office only to find that the security men on the campus had locked me in. I had to wait for security to come and open the door. That there was the first sign to prepare me for my dad’s death. I was trapped between my own office and the outside world just as my dad was between two worlds. Hopefully at that point my dad no longer felt pain. I am hoping that he chose to die- that he followed the release of the pain that came with his morphine dose. I think the doctors knew that morphine would kill him. I knew the fags would. My dad knew the fags would.
This is about my granddad though for another paragraph or so. He was apparently a mean man, as my dad and nan didn’t say. He denied some of the kids Christmas presents and beat on one of the girls (apparently). I don’t think my dad was ever hit? He saw it though- I am pretty damn sure that he saw it. I think that’s why he could be so quiet- because he had seen his own dad hit out with violent rage. Maybe it wasn’t rage maybe it was just force. Maybe that’s why my dad went into the army and also why he went AWOL- same reasons to go in as to leave. But my granddad was the kindest man and most gentle man around the birds in the garden. I spent hours admiring the birdhouse and trying to memorize the names of the bird. "Oohh did you see that one? Look, over there just through those trees to your right, look there it goes . Aaah! It’s coming back. Good bird feed that is. My own concoction."
What was that word he used to say all of the time? Oh- there were a couple of George-isms, extra special George-isms my dad picked up the habit but not the exact same words. Possibly they were all derogatory and offensive through ignorance rather than intent -I would hope. That is easy for me to say having grown up as the words "political" and "correctness" were laughably joined and coined and is now a term used primarily by the self righteous and/ or the pissed off. What did he say? He would pull faces too as he said the words. Actually he may have even pulled the faces prior to saying the words. I remember (do I?) knowing that the word was coming. There would be a silence and a change of facial expression- like a performer he would set it up for those in the know. And with the timing of a good comedian and a clown he would deliver the line for the spectator's (my) ultimate satisfaction. My dad had that skill. What charmers, and what rats they could be....
© Claire French
Eyes blurry, edges stuck together like sandpaper on the outer– working in –more slimey. “Keep Your Eyes Open”. First thing I read as I catch sight of my first unblurred, worldy reference. Born again, on a Tuesday. It’s bumpy. I have been jigged awake. Some might say “nice way to wake up” others might say “not so nice”. Some might just think it – and not say.
Turbulence. Bouncing on air in a metal jacket. Dreams of yellow streamers and a black pool turned out to be influenced by less romantic dried scrambled eggs and black, stale but “freshly brewed” coffee. Smells awake feelings of nausea and stasis. Close eyes again for to change the vision. Technicolour food stuffs. “Keep Your Eyes Open.” OK.
The plane flies across the ocean and leaves red dotted lines in a curved trail about half way up. The ocean goes from top to bottom and the green patches keep it upright in a squeeze. Hour-glassed and breathing fluid. Fuscia Pink creates a pain in my left eye. Against the bright blue prickly upholstery the bright pink coloured soft-to-the touch scarf is both a caress and an invasion. My reaction is loud inside. That should keep me occupied. Especially in the process of calming down the reaction in order to return to a state of the fundamentally familiar. Not that returning to the state of the fundamentally familiar is preferable or either useful. 100,000 feet in the air or however high we are right now with red dots coming out the back of the plane doesn’t require me to be in a state of familiarity. What can I do with familiar from here? Who cares? This is where there is a new familiar. I get to invent it. Is that how it works? I want to ask the man sitting next to me if it is possible to invent a familiar or if it just happens. I want to ask him if he would move his arm from my arm-rest too but I don’t. He is asleep. I do not currently need it. Why would I break his slumber? I am tempted to shout Keep Your Eyes Open and hold up the newspaper headline. Passing on the treat. perhaps that’s how the familiar starts.
I have another coffee against my better judgement and put the headphones back on.
I must have fallen asleep myself. I wake up to the sound of the pilot telling us that we will be landing shortly. I have for a split second forgotten where I am going. I entertain a few options before I settle for the facts. I start to collect my sprawl- it’s a tight sprawl but a sprawl after all. Bookmarks have moved several pages further along in the plots or musings. Pen has dried out. Laptop is dead -almost. Been busy. This trip I was fortunate to sit next to a sleeper. It was easier to hold my space. Quietly about my business with no obvious nosey neighbour.
I look outside and I recognise nothing. I was told that I would not know what to expect nor be prepared for what I saw. How can you prepare for it? In the moment there is an act of preparation, a reflex of protection and a readiness. Trees reach as high as the windows. We haven’t landed yet. A bird’s wing covers all light from my porthole size window and I stare out in fear that I have entered a world where everything is too big for me. too big for me to see and too big for me to do anything with. But maybe here I will also grow big.
I decide to close my eyes again. There the world goes black and in that world it is both small and large. I stick with the image of small until I can fathom how I might deal with it all out there. I count to 20. Well–10. Twice. I open my eyes directly to the outside and there are normal fluffy clouds again. No orange trees or large bird wings with birds attached.
I am sad. It would be sadder to attempt to conjure them back. That might mark the sign of a desperate fantasist. It’s too early. Patience will allow for the imagination to provide other traps and toys. Clunked in to my chair now. Everything clunked into its transport mode position. Nothing can fly through the air inside on this flight. I gulp as the plane seems to take a nose dive. And I swear that I saw a purple dragon fly under the wing and westward just now.
Scramble out of the plane. Notice the red dots from the back of the plane lying in a heap on the runway. They must have caught up. Let’s go people. Keep moving. Sometimes it feels good to walk away from people. Mean. Don’t be sad about it.
I now have a long drive- alone. I have a map, a vehicle and a vague recollection of a series of stories about the woman I am hoping to find. The first road is long, straight and no help what-so-ever for encouraging inspiration or alertness. After a three hour glide on the ground I realise I am drifting in my mind- drifting off into a different period of time. Same place but different time. I imagine a woman driving a pale blue MG, black hair, big shades, white scarf blowing in the wind, casually and stylishly taking in the air, gliding along seeking the curves in the road. I imagine this blue MG starts to fly a few inches off the ground and moves sideways over the grass verge. It gently flips until it stops with a light splutter. The image merges with the ground- and all turns blue. The blue starts off as the colour of the MG and gradually becomes more dirty and grimey- a dirty, gritty blue until its grey. Yellow lines form in the middle of the grey and I realise that I am staring at the road again. Now I drive as if waiting for a resting place. Can I conjure one now?
Click, click. Neon red. How can a resting place appear suddenly on a straight road like this? Here’s Fat Cat Grill and Diner next to the Sleeping Dog Motel, where I doubt that I could conjure the desire to stay the night. I might find that I have to- in this haze of travel mania. I am about to let the food decide my nightly fate. If it’s good- if the coffee isn’t stale I could be convinced to spend more time in this mirage-like complex.
The car I am in seems to drive itself into a parking spot conveniently placed for the door and windows of the caff. As I leave the car I appear to be floating just off the floor. This is how the plane travel gets to me. Doors open for me I look for the aisle lights on the floor and I am both surprised and pleasantly alarmed that they are not there. I pass a man in blue overalls who seems to be leaving pretty quick. I think it might be more like he passes me as I do not seem to have half of his intention for travel right now. I am passed by a woman in a pink dress who is adjusting her hat and putting her gloves back on. Fourteen eyes watch her sneakily as two eyes watch them. She does not look at any of these eyes. She is fixed on the angles of her gloves. She is meticulous about the fit. Her handbag rests over one arm in the crevice between upper and lower. She sits down at a table near the window- alone and opens her handbag very gently. She removes a small hand gun and places it on the table. Her handbag stays open. She stares out of the window. Her gloves rest lightly on the table as if there are no hands in there. As the waitress comes by the woman looks at her only through the glass. Their reflections dance a forbidden dance- the eyes are all knowing here- in this place. The signs are clear- the waitress walks away with no sound. There has been no sound here yet. No sound at all. I have heard nothing spoken, nothing touched, nothing has sounded. The man who passed me did not brush past me. I saw him I did not hear him. Am I deaf? Am I dead? I check my ears for muffs or cotton wool. Have they noticed me? I am not sure. Shit! How do I know? How do I find out? I can’t scream at them.
And then I hear it- the commotion, the scream, the shot, the crashing, the tables turning, the truck engines growling, the door bell clanging, the fire bell piercing, the men roaring, the young girl screaming, the small boy crying, the water thrashing, the glass splintering, the customers running. I have moved only a few feet and turned a thousand times in the last few seconds. Meteor revelation and extreme chaos stun me. This is a tragically beautiful scene. Golden scared silence is broken, shattered silence is loudly displayed. There is no sense in this picture. And no silence either. I search for the blood stains, the dead bodies, the murder, the mystery, the plot, the victim, and the detective. None are here. As I feel my movements become more determined and my search get louder, the place becomes silent again. And with the silence everything falls back into place. I mean everything. The engines stop growling, the young girl is no longer screaming, the young boy is asleep. there is no sign of water. The windows are whole. The doorbell is mute, and everyone is quiet again. The woman in the pink dress is not here. The waitress is. She looks at me- and looks away. I wonder if I am next.
I wonder what ‘next’ might mean. How, with no plot definition and no evidence of the event that just occurred, can we know what ‘next’ is. The silence must leave next. It is uncomfortable to only hear my own thoughts. They are deafening - stifling, but I know this has to be next too. I must find out the waitress’s name. I must ask questions. As I walk closer to the waitress though my walk slows. I almost suspend. I feel a pull towards the floor through the heel of each foot. The waitress is staring at me and still. Still -as she is quiet. I feel that her stare is controlling my walk and my throat. I can’t talk. I can’t ask questions. As I have a thought and begin to formulate a questions it is torn from my mind- it is stolen from me. The waitress blinks and I feel as if I am dropped to the floor. It’s gentle but a long way down and as I stare back at her trying not to stare at my feet I see her look back at me and rise me up from the ground again. I do not want to look down. I like it up here. It’s lighter up here.
The waitress is no longer looking at me. I am doing this to myself and I am more hungry than I realised and I can’t ask for food because I can’t ask for anything because I don’t seem to be able to speak in here. I consider leaving. My hunger won’t let me leave.
I didn’t ask for the food that was brought to me. I wouldn’t have know how to ask for it. I couldn’t even be grateful. That is a thought too complex for this place. As a thought becomes thick in the head it is filtered, sieved, pureed by the atmosphere until it becomes unclouded and uncluttered and simplified. I can’t even say thank you. There is also no-one to hear it. I wonder if it is a place of feeling rather than speaking. But can one feel without a thought?
I have begun to eat the delicious food- there are sensations emerging through this activity. I still cannot hear my swallowing or the cutlery against the plate. I can taste, but the tastes are not familiar. It is more like bypassing taste though. There’s a taste that seems to avoid actual taste or touch. How can it not taste? It must be that these are new tastes - ones that are unfamiliar. How can I compare new? Why would I compare new? Wouldn’t that just be creating another layer of the familiar?
The food is gone. i didn’t notice that I ate it all. If eating it is what in fact I did. The waitress glides over and past. As she moves she swipes the plate up and replaces it with dessert that I know I won’t be able to taste in the same way. And as I watch I notice that she is catching plates from the air. They come at her from just in front of her, just behind her, just to the side of her. She sweeps them up or reaches out her hand at just the right angle to catch the plates with no adjustment required. I admire that. I am twitching in my seat as I watch.
I make a sound. My twitching makes a sound. I hear it. Shit! I stop breathing. I hold my breath. I have made a sound in this silent land. All of these silent people will declare war on me. I am no longer one of them. i have revealed my true colours. I will be shot. There will be mayhem. Loud noises and mayhem - all because of me. I wait. I have to start to breathe again. I can’t hear it and I don’t seem to be making a noise anymore. No-one seems to have noticed.
The waitress is gone. I didn’t hear her leave or see her leave. I know because I suddenly miss her. In this silent place she provided a distraction from the loneliness of the silence place. Yet I am a visitor and I can leave this quiet place anytime. I just don’t seem to want to go anywhere.
And then I am standing and heading for the door. I thought I didn’t want to go. I notice that the waitress has her hand on the red button near the coffee machine. I wonder if she releases it that I might be able to sit down again and stay for a while. She releases it. My hand is reaching for the door. I am leaving anyway. Of my own volition.
Outside the birds tweet LOUD. Almost deafening. I hear my feet crunch along the gravel. The key click clunks in as if I am opening a steel gate 10 feet high. I sit in the driver’s seat with a thud and as I turn the key in the ignition it deafens me. My head throbs. I am aware that my nose is twitching and I am tired, I have just enough energy to make it next door - driving. Sleeping Dog Motel is waiting for me. I will sleep. The door is shaped like a big dog. It’s a shame that you have to spilt it open to walk inside. Once inside there are basket chairs all over the foyer - like dog baskets for humans. I half expect to be greeted by a dog at the main desk. I am thankful that there is a human presence. More than one human presence actually. The couple leaving the elevator look like they have been around dogs too long- not really dressed for public presentation or for other humans. Comfortable clothing for the TV or the dog basket. They seem happy enough though. Holding hands equally scruffy and unashamed. I want to lie down. I wonder if there are any rooms at all. Perhaps there are no rooms. What would I do? The basket chairs look comfortable right now. I hope I don’t sleep in one.
Keys in hand and bag on shoulder I am on my way upwards to a bed. I open the door, drop my bag. I don’t turn on the light. I fall onto a bed and sleep for who knows how long. I wake - it’s dark. I sleep. I wake - it’s light - I sleep. I wake.
Door locks - there is no easy escape. There is always an escape- if that is one thing that Louise is good at it’s escape. So Annabelle can definitely benefit from Louise right now. That’s a turn around for the books, Louise owes it to Annabelle right now- she feels. They have to work together now. This could be very powerful. Will it be powerful? It must - two forces come together to fight an evil. After all evil is a nuisance.
I am grabbed by the arm and turned around so fast that my knees tweak and my neck lashes. I dig my nails into his skin and he glares at me. I wince at him and he winces back. He still has hold of my arm but now I face him square on. He leans into me and grabs my neck with his other hand. He tries to kiss me, pulling me toward him. I am resisting. My neck twinges, my shoulders tighten. I am not sure what he is trying to do but I think he think he knows. I am strong and perhaps stronger then him - especially when I get angry. He is testing my strength right now. I am now in belief that his lecherous ways earlier were not in jest. How could I get here? I am here. And I am biting his neck or at least grabbing his neck with my teeth. He is that close to me and I must protect that which isn’t part of his lfe and will never be. While my teeth are round his neck I knee him in the bolocks until his mouth has to open. Then I stick my fingers in his throat. I have no idea why, but I think I must have seen it on some show. As he starts to sound like he is wretching I pull on his jaw. His eyes widen. I pull down and he has no choice but to follow. I lever him down to the ground dragging him down. His drool runs over my fingers. Slightly disgusting but this kind of drool I prefer. It could be a lot worse. Once he is close to the floor, I try to flip him. I hear a crack- not sure if it’s him or me but the sound is satisfying. He lays there with tears in his eyes. He is almost passive. I still am not convinced and so I bounce my foot on the top of his head. Maybe to try to draw out another crack maybe just to see how his head bounces. I have both of my hands poised over a gun. How did that happen? Where did I get it?
I hear the door knob turn. I don’t know if it’s for me or for him. Is it Anthony or one of this guy’s friends. I can’t handle two of them and I can’t take my chances and I can’t kill him. I wil not purposefully shoot this gun at another human being. No way.
I can’t let go of it. I am rooted to the spot. I am not moving anywhere, I know I must go. I stand for too long. It feels like too long- but I don’t seem to be able to move. I have to imagine Uma Thurman in" Kill BIll" to move. “Wiggle your big toe”
To the window. Must jump from the window into the neighbouring balcony. Heard stories of the danger of doing this. People die jumping. Where’s Jade in all of this? Where’s Jade Bond?
And then there she is - below, In the car I know it’s her. I know she has come to rescue me, and I wish right now that I could save myself. I am even supposed to be Annabelle and I don’t get why, I can’t save myself in either of these roles. There has to be more to it though too. This can’t be all that I was Annabelle for. This man would have attempted to devour any woman.
I am about to jump when I am pulled back from behind. I don’t know what’s going on. I think its Geoffrey back from his stupor full of revenge. I lash out only to discover that Anthony is there. He places something in my hand and pushes me back toward the window. I hear a kind of silencer gun go off behind me and then I see (but not fully see for I do not want to fully see) Anthony drag Geoff’s body to the bathroom door. Another man comes in and switches something for something, from Anthony’s hand. Anthony walks out and leaves the other man to take care of Geoffrey.
I do not want to see what happens. Instead I jump. I jump because it is the only thing I can think of doing, Jade is there at my feet as I land. I land on the car. Crash! I am with Bond- Jade Bond. Driving fast trying to get away....
The old woman couldn’t have made it this far. It would be too far away for her from her home and her ways. Crazy days. Crazy gaze. Why is he looking at me that way? He looks at me as if he recognises me. And I suddenly recognise him. There’s the character that I did not follow - the man of the Lady in Pink fame from The Fat Cat. The first time I met her it was in the context of a man running past me out of the diner. She told me the story of the waiter and the gun. Lady in Pink told me the story of him-them - their relationship and their demise. His arrest and - I don’t have time to hear his story too, do I? Here on the plane? Right here? That doesn’t quite make sense. Is this another example of disassociation? Is he a symbol of my fugitive self. The one that got away, the running and the need to escape- the desire for solitude? I am so tempted to go over to speak with him. I can hardly contain my excitement and curiosity. Although I can stay curious and consider the consequences right here, I am edging in my chair. I am also holding on tightly. He is supposedly dangerous. He is another Arthur- another rat. In the rat-race- as we all are.
I do not muster the courage. I have given up on him. And on the idea of more stories. I need to go home. I am falling asleep - my mind needs to rest. I have nothing for you consciously. And while I sleep look around you and work out who these characters are to you? Where would you choose to go? Write it here, while I sleep.
Go to sleep la la la la la. And in the dawning you will wake up, and spend some to make up new new stories for to write and dream of other fears and plights- or good stuff- dream of good stuff for to have a happy ending. (All of this should be sung in the style of your spontaneous choosing.)
© Claire French
Apricot sea, a shimmering ripple of expansiveness. Murky and shiny an interesting combination, veiling an under-life and disguising the quick and dirty of the real world. In the real world. Where is this? In the middle of something infinite. So how is this the middle? It is not! It is the beginning.
Hanging over the basin, gut wrenching pain. The anxiety finally surfacing and pouring out into the world- where it should be. Out! No, she is not pregnant but she is expectant. Early for a life she needs, unprepared for her emotions as she sees her plans come to fruition. The veil has to move now. Life has to get faster, dirtier, grittier, real.
Seatbelt sign comes on. Again she has no choice but to sit. Her restlessness will not be bound this time. Not beyond this flight - not beyond the curved walls of this portable cage. She will break free of this hold- she will be free of any hold. She will...
Asleep now- head on the window shutter- plastic against plastic. She needs to sleep- to calm her body. Always in shock. As the cage in the sky lowers, she keeps her eyes shut.
Firm in her denial, terra firma approaching. This will not be a crash landing. That would be too dramatic. It is enough for her emotional stability that she can feel the tremble of the wheels as they protrude from the body of the plane. The air creature’s limbs come out to grab the earth, to meld with the ground and to create its mark on the earth’s surface.
She will keep her eyes shut until the plane stops rolling. That sounds like a plan. Plan, shlan. malan, milan. If all plans lead to Milan they would be worth following. But they don’t. Not hers anyway. In fact she is very good at the new plans at the short term plans at the making of plans for tomorrow or next week- but not beyond that.
She has a bag stuffed full of designs. She has swatches of fabric in every colour and texture and more she remembers all over her studio floor back home. She didn’t bring them all with her on this trip and for an hour of each of her days away she would waste it thinking about the fact that she didn’t bring the right pieces with her. She has not looked at them on this flight. They are locked away. That’s healthy. She has looked at them so often she must be able to smell and taste them still.
The person next to her undoes his seatbelt and starts to scurry around at his feet. It takes Sophie all of her will power to keep her eyes closed. To what end you might ask? Asserting her stubbornness with only herself as witness, she squints. She is of course cheating herself in this moment. And only herself.
The man next to her moves more restlessly than is comfortable for her. The eyes open as wide as the window blind is up- all the way open -no slow change allowed. He annoyingly is unpacking and packing his laptop case. As if she was not anxious enough. Now the sounds build it, the movements of the neighbouring people build it and Sophie has to hold on to the back of the seat that she is eager to get away from in order to steady her nerves or at least keep her balance as a way to keep her nerves in check. She breathes deeply, deeply and slowly the sounds quieten in her mind. Things slow down around her as the calmness swells through her. She watches the traffic flow move in slow motion. This could be fatigue but she finds this preferable to her usual anxious state. How can she stay like this? New personality is the only way.
Looking around though she seems pretty happy with her lot, suddenly. The rabble quickens its pace. Luggage is spilling from the roof. Clothes are thrown over faces and blankets litter the floor. Kids calm down to balance their parent’s hectic behaviour. And the rush to the doors begins- even the old people miracle of miracles quicken their pace as if the arthritis is gone.
Sophie finds herself moving with the crowd to the door. She checks 40 times ( at each new row) that she has everything. She seems to be holding everything separately about her person. Draped over her shoulder, tied around her waist, even over her head she is somewhere inside her baggage. Must de-clutter, she says to herself as she re-jiggles all of her books and papers in her bag to pass the time and to make out she doesn’t have quite as much as she actually does. Another self cheat.
Holding onto her sweaters, papers, and scarves, she scuffles through immigration baggage claim, customs and the arrival hall, into a cab and home.
Home. Home is not somewhere, it’s some thing- a feeling- a sense of belonging. Not about belongings but about not longing for anything else. Sophie is hungry. Stepping over the fabric swatches, over more papers she walks into her kitchen knowing already that there would be no edibles. Full of false hope anyway. Too bad. She contemplates the fudge brownie powder mix. Instead she brushes her teeth and falls into bed. Out! Everything must wait-all conscious thought, all action, all anxiety. Tomorrow she will wake up as soon as she does she will be anxious. It would be nice for her, if she is not.
Georgia O‘Keefe said she is fearful every day but that she has never let it stop her doing anything that she wanted to do. Sophie is like that. She could have had more fun doing it though. So Sophie will have more fun. Sophie might mean wisdom but it also stands for “so fun” -so there! Sophie did you hear me? She’s asleep. She can’t hear me. She is not listening to me - and on purpose - very likely.
There is a way in- through the subconscious and as she sleeps she will feel it - first in her head and then to her heart. It is just the way Sophie is. It’s almost as if she has to play it out in her imagination first before there is even a glimmer of it becoming a reality. This doesn’t sound so strange now it is out in the open. This is most likely the way it is for everybody. It is the way it is for everybody- even in sleep.
Sophie is not woken by an alarm clock or the phone - her usual wake up calls appear to be busy with other people and so her morning pace is set by her current sonambulistic state. the fabric all over the floor warms her feet a temporary carpet. These pieces will be a coat by the end of today. She decides in the moment. Setting to work will be another story. And of course to make the coat she gotta at least start putting the pieces together.
Delving into the day, disheveled and drowsy, dog eat dog, doggone work to be done. And we leave Sophie laying out swatches of fabric on her floor. Good Luck there with that, and all.
The writer down the hall is pacing around outside of her apartment door, muttering. She stares at the bikes and growls. “Shouldn’t be there”. Anne walks past her to the elevator and tries not to listen to the disgruntled moans. They are predictable these days. Anne has lived here long enough. The dogs barking in different pitches are also predictable- number of dogs growing as number of lonely older women in building increases. Sorry but it is true, statistically. perhaps I should say that the singe women in the building are getting older and more lonely as time passes, as well as an influx of single lonely women recently.
Elevator opens, Anne lets out a sigh of relief that is is empty. Some days she just does not need to have a morning elevator conversation or have a dog breath on her leg, or drool on her shoes. No she is safe today. Outside the main door she is faced with the landlords power washing the path. She should be grateful for this. And will be as long her shoes don’t get wet, A gentle nod and a smile hides a world of thought. And rightly so.