Alone together

In the further adventures of writing more often and pushing myself out of where I’m comfortable (which is mostly where I talk about writing and being a writer, but don’t do any in case someone wants to read it and then tells me I’m a terrible writer who should be ashamed of myself for thinking I can do it…) I am rummaging through old writing magazines again for writing prompts.

This prompt comes from a copy of Writing Magazine from last year, September’s issue, in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10th) created to draw attention to a campaign led by Network Rail, British Transport Police and the rail industry called ‘Small talk saves lives’ – which recognises that a simple conversation could be enough to interrupt suicidal thoughts. 

This prompt made me think about how much we say without speaking, how loud a silence can be and how much meaning can be read and shared in a small gesture or touch. 

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Alone together.

An island of pent-up, explosive motion sits, deliberately and palpably motionless, in the central seat of a bench at the edge of the platform. Despite the hour, and the people heading in their own busy ways towards work, the tense, dipped head discourages anyone from taking the empty spaces beside her. A space around her almost pulses with the volume of her silence.

Jenny, clenched around herself, letting her dark hair drop, unkept, across her face, is locked around her centre, and something in her mind is screaming such a painful silence that the strangers in the station seem to instinctively give it room, standing at a distance rather than resting their commuting bones beside her hurt where they might catch it. The electric fence of furious tension rings her, herding strangers past as their gaze slips by.

The metal of the bench is warmed by the beating sun, the waves of heat already absorbed by the baked stones reaching back in waves that blur the edges of the platform under a sky the blue of a postcard, but Jenny’s white-knuckle grip of the seat’s edge is hidden in a clenched fist of cotton as she pulls down sleeves to cover her hands, her feet tucked below in a skirt that brushes the ground. The clothes aren’t heavy, but still she stands out, dressed in her autumnal middle age in the burning heat of youthful summer.

Agnes, heading to work, has been travelling from this platform to the theatre where she dreams of being more exciting than she is, but her place has always been behind the scenes. Daily she can be found shaking the creases out of sweat heavy costumes and stitching repairs into burst seams between shows. Used to being unseen, Agnes, sticky in this heat and clinging to the shade to protect her ginger skin from summer’s cruel observation, takes in the scene.

Theatre is never still – at the edges of the stage Agnes waits and mouths the lines of actors so much bigger, bolder and braver than herself – but she holds no envy for their shining light. She takes great pleasure in her sidelined role, enjoying existing beside them, observing. This observational habit has caught a glimpse of Jenny, and something about the silence of her burns even hotter than the vibrating heatwaves on the trainlines passing through.

She wonders what the girl is mouthing, what unsaid words are holding her so still. It isn’t the stillness of a wait, of passing time in daydreams until the train scoops her into the rest of her day, cocooned in a space filled with other people’s lives.

That is the stillness of a person built from pain, from shame somehow. Agnes recognises it from the mirrors she avoids, and the question never fully forms in her mind, but the tips of her fingers tingle with it. Tiny hairs crawl to attention across the nape of her neck, and there’s something wrong that she can’t quite name…but this violently silent girl is the centre of a storm about to break.

A distant whistle doesn’t register but Agnes moves as if it has, stepping towards someone else’s storyline and biting her lip as she pushes through the bristling static that surrounds Jenny. Tentatively, not sure why she’s afraid, she takes the seat on Jenny’s right hand side and feels the curled-up girl beside her tense anew, though she was already stone still and firm.

The sound of her breath seems embarrassing, a slight catch and whistle in one nostril, and Agnes hopes that this quiet girl doesn’t think she’s grotesque, the bubbling human function of her breathing somehow feeling wrong, though there’s little she can do to change it. A sniff, involuntary, doesn’t shift the whistle, but the heaviness of rushing air sounds less obtrusive, and Agnes holds the next breath in, a sigh waiting to go when she thinks what she’s doing, why.

Another whistle on the still air, closer now, and the silent stone of Jenny glances up, a flick of blue that dulls the sky, just as quickly gone and waiting under the waterfall of hair. The stillness of her and the air under this early morning heat prickles dots of sweat across Agnes’ top lip, and the breath she was holding oozes back out in a damp puff.

Ten thousand conversations pass between them, lightning fast communication not voiced, not needed; people are bustling on the fringes of them, more feet stepping side to side, shifting weight from hip to hip, briefcases swapped from left to right, a gathering of people all together, but not at all, and Agnes feels the tension growing; a crescendo has to come, surely? This couldn’t have been better staged. The crackling, nasal tannoy tells them the next train doesn’t stop at this station, and platform two in five minutes will take them on to the next phase of their day.

A tiny nod.

The horn again, now almost upon them, and Agnes understands why she sat, why she crossed into the scorching sun despite the pinking of her rounded cheeks that takes so brief a time. Her fingers still tingle, her pulse speeding up as she lifts one hand; the prickling is as familiar as sewing slips, the needle marking her again, but her blood doesn’t bloom this time; the feeling shoots like lightning bolts to touch the arm beside her. When Jenny doesn’t pull away, Agnes feels emboldened, and slips her fingers further in, uncurling the cotton fist so slowly, and Jenny feels it too. The sleeve unfurls enough for elegant pianists’ hands to glimpse the day, and Agnes wraps her own into them, origami of comfort for a pain she doesn’t know.

The rigid, angular body beside her breathes some granite out and breathes this comfort in, again, again, and one more time; the grip tightens fiercely when the train rushes in, the tannoy shouting lost among the rushing air and flying metal, faces blurred as strangers travel to their destination, unaware and uncaring of the moment that just passed.

In the rush of air their hair blows, lifts, the red and black a dance of joyous life, and, smiling to herself, Agnes knows that it’s ok.

And so does Jenny.

The moment passes shortly after the train, and after a little squeeze, returned, Agnes reclaims her fingers, the tingle gone, and brushes her skirt smooth. She breathes again. The whistle of one nostril lost its impact, and she stands; the next train on platform two will take her where she needs to be. She’s done what’s needed of her here.

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Notes on reading

I am a note taker
note maker
scrawled into the margins
of a book
no longer virgin as my heart
and mind
reach out, reply
to ink written words
telepathy taking my
underlines,
responses, exclamations
all the feelings that I feel
back to the centre
of the soul who spoke to me.

I cannot keep my
emotive
skin-raw answers
to myself, too loud
the craving to be heard
by moments on a page
I hear so loud.

A baby – a baby!

The photo, alive in my purse, is grainy
poor quality
but Madonna bliss
glows clearly there
from deep within, where you
moon round
constricted
clench the very centre
of my body, tight
around the everything of yours.

And I am smiling, hands
caressing you-in-me
and keeping all the times you move
a secret
just between the two of us
because you’re mine this way, and soon
I’ll have to share
you
with a world not good enough
for all you are
and all you’ll be.

But not yet.
Not today.
Beneath the comedic swell
of body housing my whole world
you stretched
reminding of the deadline
fast approaching.

And I pushed back
smoothing, soothing
irritated flexes of an elbow
where an elbow surely could not be
had never been before.

You grew within a barren place
created landscapes
never dreamed
but all at once familiar,
like we’d lived this tale before
and all again you taught me
how
and who
to be.

But not quite yet
the sharing part
one more day
my smile says
and for that day
just one more day
I had my way
then showed you yours.

Pochemuchka

I learned a new word today – it’s a Russian word, Pochemuchka, which translates as “a person (usually child) who asks too many questions” (or “person who talks too much”, according to Writers Magazine, but I think they’re less correct!)

 

This is ABSOLUTELY a word that would have been applied to me – with either definition – as a child, and one which could be applied to both of my sons, with their always busy minds and their never still lips.

I swore I’d never be a parent who said “just because” or “because I said so” – that I would give my children my attention, my time, my focus, every time they requested it, so their questions were never left unanswered – and that, when I was baffled, I’d find the answer for them, with them – and I try, truly I do, but I think the greatest gift I was ever given was a CD of Encarta ’95 – and as time has moved on, I have gifted my sons the magic of “this is how to Google that…”

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It backfires at times when my 9yo, the walking embodiment of World’s Biggest Ego, tells me I’m wrong about something, then backs himself up with facts and evidence (so frustrating…) but the world is so crammed with knowledge, and their minds are sponges, so ready to soak it all in.

This week, I learned a new word – and tomorrow, when they wake up, I’ll teach it to my sons – probably call them it affectionately (in place of “stinky butt”, their current shared moniker) and in return, they will babble their new knowledge at me, forgetting that I’ve been their age and discovered all these things already – and I will have to remind myself that they haven’t and so have the benefit of magic, the world being full of new things, excitement, and wonder.

This week my eldest, at 9, has discovered that he rather likes football, that you can enjoy a thing even when you aren’t personally very good at it, and that the camaraderie of shared happiness can lift the whole country. He has also discovered The Hobbit, and that being on stage fills him with happiness, and he might like to do more drama.

My youngest, at 7, has FINALLY discovered the mind-blowing magic of Tooth Fairies, of celebrating someone else’s moment in the spotlight, and that he, in fact, does not much care for football, but rather likes the fast cars.

And I have discovered a new word which has reconnected me to my childhood self, and to the innocent marvel my babies feel for learning new things, and made me think that I need to take the occasional moment to just listen to them, hear them, and remember that this is their first time here, and the world is a wonderful place.

I made a life

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This poetry writing thing has taken me quite by surprise – I appear to be writing a few a day, at a rate I haven’t since I was an angsty, angry teenager. (The type to write about feeling forlorn, perhaps?)

Some of them I’ve decided not to publish, hence not sharing one yesterday, but I’m aware that this is my own little tiny piece of the internet, and there aren’t many of you waiting on the edge of your seats to see more posts from me!

As I mentioned previously, I’ve got myself a subscription to Writers’ Forum magazine, and I’m still coming back to the prompts I saw in there earlier this week; the next prompt I’m sharing was ‘a first or last breath’.

I made a life.

I discovered another person, inside me
hearts in time and a tiny dance
that swam like our magic, secret world, I held this knowledge tight
until the day my body reached a limit
and an instinct to tear our one to two
that, spoken by the universe, we could not halt
took over
and the world that he inhabited
suddenly
and glacier slow
became a whole new world
apart
from me.

A push, a pull, and life was there
atop of me where once within
and fury filled a face unhappy with this change
of situation
life, but not yet living,
yet
until
a heave of bird like, butterfly chest
breath
creating life so true.

My heart broke
rebuilt
soared
all
in one moment
made anew.

A silver line that binds
my soul to his
stretched ever thinner as he learns to fly
from my soft, love feathered nest
my pride outshining sorrow
as he climbs towards a full grown self
no longer part of me
this journey we’re both on
takes separate paths
as it should be.

 

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