Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Typography of Tears

*Extract from longer piece*

There was a small pile of beetroot accumulating behind a pot plant which Alex was adding to daily. What he intended to do once that hiding place was no longer tenable hadn’t occurred to him yet. He was dealing with this day-by-day. What was the alternative? Tell the truth? That would mean disappointing his mother. He hadn’t analysed his rationale but he felt he couldn’t let her down. She thought he loved beetroot. She thought she was making him happy by bringing him his little salad with beetroot. In fact, it wasn’t bringing him happiness. It was bringing him revulsion.

     She was always telling the story about how she believed he had come to love it so much. When his mother was in hospital having him she had been fed almost exclusively on beetroot. Beetroot soup, beetroot stew, beetroot stroganoff, beetroof pilaf, roast beetroot… but she had been in hospital for a long time because of her blood pressure. At least one week overdue, she had taken it upon herself to avoid the nagging and fussing of family and medical professionals and go travelling into the mountains. Whether she intended to deliver the baby herself was uncertain.

     Not wanting to cross the forest themselves it had been several days before anyone reached her. Finding her missing from her small cottage her family had reluctantly appealed to a massaman they found at the edge of the forest. In turn he passed on the message to his band who were gathered for nightly fire meeting. Word had been sent via the massamen, one of whom had located her at a small cabin in the foothills of the massacurya, in the early phase of labour. She was calmly breathing through the contractions when the massaman appeared. Knocking five times in rapid succession before he entered, Alex’s mother exhaled into a deep growl at the silhouette as he stepped into the doorway. His wide brimmed hat and heavily cloaked silhouette shifted slowly into the room and then he stepped forward one pace. She growled louder and gripped the blankets underneath her into tight bunches in her fists. Alex was on his way and Tay had no intention of leaving the cabin until he was safely with her. 

     The massaman pulled up a chair and waited. As the growling dissipated into steady panting he moved the chair forwards a few inches and waited again. “Tay,” he whispered. Her attempt at a growl was exhaled as a whimper. “Water,” he said as he left the cabin. He proceeded to deftly light a fire, using kindling he kept in his cloak pockets. He had given no affirmation to the family that he would bring her back and it seemed to him, without any discussion, that he would respect her wishes, as were obvious to him, to allow her to give birth here, a place she felt an affinity with. The door to the cabin was ajar and he listened to her breathing as she progressed steadily through darkness and light, riding the waves of pain and euphoria. The air was perfectly cool. There was a breeze that carried sparks from the fire up towards the star dimpled sky, floating higher and merging with the up and away. A small window and a crack where the door had been left open also filled with dull light. Tay was still working hard inside and the massaman yold himself that sitting there was where he should be, just far enough for her to call him if he was needed, but not too far to intrude. A circle of trees protected the cabin which was only infrequently, used by the massamen. The others wouldn’t come looking for him here until the morning when they might send one or two fellows if he had not returned. The night was more than young; it was being born.

     The remains of a fire made by this massaman had lain expectantly for some months, waiting for some wanderers to return in need of shelter. It was just passing that time of year when the seasons trick you. Warm in the day but cool in the night which falls more quickly than you expect it to. This part of the forest held only the buzzing of birds and insects. They were too far from any camps to hear the barking of dogs.  Tay made a noise; a low grumble that could have been a name, and he turned to the door. Now she needed him. He took the pot of hot water from the fire and carried it to the cabin.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

A Tale of a Broken Jug Foretold

Image result for broken spanish jug

Have you ever known you were going to break something? Really known it? It’s always in the worst place possible, the house of a little old lady, somewhere important. Because there’s always too much precious stuff, crammed into a small place (a bungalow the size of a shoebox, a flat the size of the Sylvanian families’ gypsy wagon), too many things placed precariously, too many things that seem to operate with their own unique system of rules. And so many table cloths, not just one, but one under-tablecloth and one over-tablecloth that looks like a large, less strainer-like doily, so that the under-cloth shows through. If pushed on the matter, two tablecloths is probably enough, you might conclude. Well, hold the fucking phone because apparently there are people who would disagree with you. Why stop at two? That person thought. Yeah, the clue, was in the fact that they didn’t stop at ONE. So, now add a pot plant and a crystal bowl. And add some rules for the tablecloths. Write these rules in a tiny notebook with a cover made from recycled paper with dried flowers pressed into the front (don’t tell me you don’t know the sort I mean) and hide it inside a small box with a clown figurine stuck to the top. You’ve read the rules, obviously, so you know that the tabletop decorations, those things, the plant pot and the crystal bowl, get put away when you’re eating, of course. You don’t know where, because you haven’t looked for the tiny rulebook that tells you specifically about tabletop trinkets yet, (no it isn’t in the same notebook as the tablecloth notebook, don’t be deliberately obtuse). In fact, it’s hard to even look around because you’re so afraid of breaking things. There are so many trinkets, you’re afraid you’ll open your eyes, and just knock one over with the movement of your eyelashes. It could be the butterfly effect at work, but in a dangerously chintzy way. Next -- pay close attention --  the eating-tablecloth comes out to cover up the other two. It’s not for aesthetic value, it’s purely practical. Don’t get the wrong idea. Only a mad person would have two decorative tablecloths and cover them up with a third decorative one for no reason. So it’s three tablecloths, got that? And maybe as well as the fact you’re crammed into a space full of trinkets, and lots of obviously well-established rules regarding the use of particular cleaning cloths, pot scourers and tea towels, there’s an atmosphere where people are telling you to relax, or if not telling you, intimating that you should. Because this is a lovely place and there’s no reason to be so anxious. In fact, you’re also trying to tell yourself, (probably in the same voice a masseuse once used to tell you to ‘relax’, when you were  obviously indicating through your bodily awkwardness that you really weren’t relaxed in the way you should be): You should relax here, see how cosy this place is with all its little jars and teacups and trinkets? Everything stashed away in its own place! No space for a single thing more! Not, unless, you broke something, of course. Then the thing you broke would open up a huge trinketless void, which no amount of trinkets or old-lady tea cups or ugly clown boxes could fill. Because YOU broke something, and now you’re the worst person in the world. There’s that inescapable feeling again, you’re going to break something. You know you’re going to do it, there’s almost no point telling yourself to be careful, because that isn’t how these kind of premonitions work. Maybe, it’s just that there’s not enough room, not enough room for you, you’re the one thing too many, and there’s no special space here for you here.

Monday, 24 February 2020


After some rigorous enquiries, a replacement teacher had been found for Manel Pujol and she was due to be at the law firm to meet him for the first time at 8.30am. In the young woman's mind she would arrive early, dressed smart, ready to make an impression to match. Instead, she was tearing down Diagonal in the centre of Barcelona,  in the middle of rush hour, trying to avoid being hit by a stream of electric scooter riding business-district commuters, frantically checking Google Maps to make sure she wasn't going the wrong way, wishing maybe a little luck would shine down on her from that cloudless blue sky. Maybe number 364 Diagonal wasn't actually, as it appeared to be, an impenetrable ship of a building surrounded by roaring waves of traffic, and a black panelled door would appear before her, opening like a port in a spaceship, and she would be beamed instantly into Mr Pujol's office, just a minute late, and she'd be smugly wondering how many of her nine lives she had intact. But no, her normal, hustle-ability just wasn't kicking in today, and effing Google Maps was directing her to the back of the building, and her mumbled "ffff-fffkkksss-ks" were gaining strength, clenching up into her jaw, her wrists and her calves. All that new age self-help Eckhart Tolle stuff she had been listening to lately, reminding her to "accept each moment as if you had chosen it", was being mentally crumpled and chucked aside, this was no time for mindfulness, she had to find the f***ing office. This was the sort of morning that she could later fashion into a practice of the third conditional. If she had left five minutes earlier, she wouldn't have been late. If she had given more of a fuck, she wouldn't have laid in bed until 7.30. If.... Then she sighted a portly bald-headed gentleman looking at her over his glasses... oh fantastic, it was Captain Mannering reincarnated as the Catalan concierge of Escalera E, 364 Diagonal, Barcelona.

"Que escalera quiere?" he croaked in between nicotine stained dentures.

Flicking through some screenshots for a name, the woman inhaled and announced with a semi-pre-prepared cavewoman-like stammer, "Estoy.... aqui....por Manel..... Pu.... Pu.... Pujol!"

Big sigh. Deep breath. Awkward pause. The concierge persisted with his question: "ESCALERA E?"

She looked at her phone: "Escalera A". Shit, she was at the wrong end of the building. Mumbling, "vale, vale" to herself, she shot back out onto the pavement where crowds of rush-hour robots blocked her path, she jumped free of the pavement, onto the edge of the main road itself and sprinted towards the other end. Time around her seemed to be speeding up, flowing free as a river, contrary to her own tempo which felt like a crumb moving through muddy water. She paused outside Escalera A, cursing the fact that a building could be so, well, bloody big, and yet still be the same number, and then took a moment to remind herself where she was ("no offence, but this is the land of manaña manaña, f'christssake"), and she breathed out a couple of "accept every moments" and counted some hail "manaña manañas", to a rhythm of in-for-four, out-for-four, whilst also trying to accept in that moment, (as though she had chosen it), that she was emitting an unusually hot mustiness which was not quite in keeping with the calm and professional aura she was hoping to project. She pulled her jacket tighter around her and pushed her face into a smile. 

Here it was, and smiling up at the woman from the concierge desk of Escalera A, was a blonde Yvette from 'Allo 'Allo. The concierge took down the woman's details, head bobbing slightly from side to side, fingers typing deftly, eyes firmly fixed on the screen, noting the woman's name and ID number, and then looked up to enquire, head poised on one side, each word very clearly articulated, "De donde eres?" She said it with a curiosity the woman had not felt directed at her in a long time.

 "De... Inglaterra, de Londres,came the woman's bubbly response ("am I proud of that?" she wondered).

"Oh, que maravillosa!" persisted the Yvette-alike, her face gleaming. "Pues, Mr Pujol is late," handing over the plastic security card, "entonces, you can wait upstairs for him, vale?"

Taking the card, the woman gave Yvette her best sing-song, "Gra-ci-as!" as she passed through the security barrier at 364 Diagonal, Escalera A.