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Posts from — July 2011

Wet Nurse

D

anny remembered the first cry of the child as being as raw and red as it looked. The baby’s face was purple, the blood on it forming into droplets and clouded patterns, as if this newborn’s skin were made of wax, and its mother’s blood must be kept at bay. The child was boastful and hungry all at once, and Danny had stood dumbstruck wondering at how this baby – his son – could arrive in such a squall of wants and desires, curled within those tiny, grasping fingers; how it had all seemed so abstract and easy when the child was but a bump; and now, how he wasn’t even sure which way up to hold it.

Even Raven had been taken by surprise. There had been a lot of crystals, and natural birthing talk, and hand waving hocus-pocus, with her saying, “It’s the most natural thing in the world,” but when it had come down to the birth day, it was an injection in the spine, enough pushing for a large family car, and her first words on being offered that wrinkled, old-man-looking-thing in a blanket, were: “Oh, oh, God, I might drop it.”

“Him”, the nurse had corrected, with a smile, pushing the swaddling down a little from the baby’s thumb. “He’s a beautiful, baby boy.”

Eight pounds two ounces – they say that’s quite big.

Now the dog sits and looks at the bed frame: the white slats gathering dust, as if they’d never seen a mattress, or a wife anxiously holding a baby, peering into the woolly, blue, over-folds of cloth.

On the ground, where a bedside cabinet should be, there’s a scattering of discarded, thorny stems, where the curled heads of roses look in upon themselves, wretched and hard, like dry meat.

The dog’s whiskery snout is relaxed, tongue lolling, tail rubbing the grimy tiles, the brushed arc revealing the glitter of fake mica, like lost magic. The room, the ward, the tall, Victorian windows – trailing straps and sashes – are all empty. Outside, a soft silence falls, as feathers – snowflakes – wander as indistinct points behind frosted glass.

Dogs see clearly. They don’t fall for narcolepsy. They don’t glamour. If only the dog had been allowed into that clean, antiseptic world when it stank like a swimming pool.

“Fuh,” he says, another regret springing forwards. Why they hadn’t decided to have the baby in the town house, within the safety of the derelict dust and boarded up shutters, the septic peeling paint, was a mystery. It was ludicrous. Foolish! But then, of course, it wasn’t. Complications had set in (how could they know the cord was wrapped around the neck?) and there had been that stumbling, falling flight of him carrying and supporting her, as they slipped and slathered through the snow: the virgin white and fresh blood a hypnotic and terrifying vision. And the silence, as if the world were waiting, breath held, to see if they would make it. No cars, no busses were running. The snow had stolen the city.

Well, they did make it to that tall, gothic, place – enfolded in the snow-driven grounds like a carnival-of-horrors ghost house – but if one thing was for sure, the epitaph on his grave would read: ‘Complications set in.’

“Not this hospital”, Raven had whispered. “Danny, not this one.” Her hand crushing his, till her nails cut strips from his fingers; fingers which stung for days after. But it had to be this hospital. It had to be. Otherwise, his entire family would’ve died one inside the other, like Russian dolls.

And now he waits, while the dog smiles, and he’s unsure what he’s waiting for. In the next wing – where windows still twinkle – one, maybe two, women recently gave birth. But not here. Too many fresh-faced mothers fear this old wing and what once happened. Who doesn’t read the papers or trawl the web these days?

But trouble has a way of finding you.

A clump of snow falls past the window.

He exhales a soft, cloudy sigh. Not much trouble there.

Especially when he’s looking for something small, dark as grave-cloth, darting like a dragonfly, droning like a wasp, with a papery note of tattered wings; something carnivorous and vicious, with sharp, little clickity claws like a rat, scratching.

Or, more precisely, a flood of somethings with whispered, incoherent voices rushing down the iron pipes, and marble stairs, tanging the railings, full of mischief and malevolence; sounds he had felt as much as dreamed at the bedside, as those little teeth scythed by, chittering like bone-headed fish. Perhaps all that cold iron maddened them?

And all the time, he in an unnatural sleep, staring into the aquarium, drowning in the wall of water, as the indistinct lens of it distorted the vanishing woman and child, until their reflections faded altogether; and still he was beguiled by the shimmering light, no matter how his mind screamed, look away! Look away!

Glass half full, glass half empty, and now, entirely drained: the aquarium is a blank box in the wall. A few, craterous stones remain, the panes still murky, but the water has long since dwindled to nothing.

Raven!

“Hey!” A rough voice shouts from down the corridor. “Hey, you!” There is a burst of radio static that echoes off the empty spaces and the easy-clean curves at the foot of the walls. The guard has seen the torchlight throwing spectral shadows from the room.

Danny is running, the dog’s claws skittering along with him – sliding out the doorway, tickering over tile edges.

Can you arrest a dog?

“Hey!” The accelerating clump of soft-soled Doc Martin shoes.

It was a mistake to come down from the rafters while the guards were prowling, while the headlines – as well as old feelings – found resurrection on this, their most unhappy anniversary.

Mothers, Babies Stolen!

But no mention of the homeless couple.

No mention of the fugitive partner haunting the closed-down ward: still looking for the maddening things; a fugitive who brought a dog – all-eyes-and-ears for fey and foul.

After the fairies stole his wife and child.

July 26, 2011   9 Comments

Glaistig

“D

anielle can you help with the coo?”

“I dunno.”

“Sure you can. It’s just a big beastie. ‘Sides, she’s had her calf.”

“A calf?” There’s that frown, but it’s massaged with a twitch of intrigue.

“Aye, teeny, and wee, and brown. An’ it can already lick oot its ane ear and stick a tongue up its ane nose.”

She laughs. “Really?” Then, “Suppose.”

The calf smells of new days, and her mother – Mrs Browne (with an ‘E’) – stumps through the moist, byre straw, with big plumes of nostril steam, and still wants to lick the head of the brown, living, glowing calf, whose eyes are as big as baubles, and as brown as peat water, and whose eyelashes are as thick and long as any girl could wish for. It stands at the top of a tottering A-frame of wonky legs, and bleats like a goat.

It’s true – it does have a long tongue.

It butts her leg.

It also has a cowlick like Elvis.

Cowvis? Moovis? Nah, shut up.   

This is the city-farm unplugged. Danielle could have been picking the tomatoes – loves that smell of garden centre and hot salad under glass – loves the fruity, acidic pop of them in a cheek, as the warm seeds flood into her mouth. Maybe, too, spending that last hour before school at the little farm shop, selling home-churned butter, or little duck mugs. But the calf’s okay.

Pushing and heaving the coo – the mam – out the byre is going to be tricky, though. That’s one pooey backside with a swaying windscreen wiper – that tail – flicking around.

OMG.

No clear haunch you’d want to put a shoulder to.

But Danielle gives a hefty pull on the bridle, the corded rope prickling her fingers. Tug, tug. “Cummon. Uch. Stupid muppet!”

Draaaaaag.

Cow’s got all four paws – no, that’s not right now is it? But whatever they are – braced. They’re all spread out. Silly, auld coo. Ha. Ha. It rolls the whites of it eyes and twists its head to the side, lowing once, so low and long it rattles Danielle’s boots, but out it comes – at last – bell clanking, and the little calf follows.

The stump, stump of hooves.

Mam’s got full udders, dripping milk, and that calf sticks his head under and bats around, until a long teat – like a finger of a rubber glove – is clamped in its wet mouth, and it’s tugging away. Slurping.

Yuck. Sounds like a drain bein’ suctioned oot.

Milk and saliva hangs in cords from the calf’s chin.

Danielle – wary of ‘flickage’ –  retreats back into the low-doored byre to confront the reason cows make really bad pets: poo, and lots of it. In the almost-words of that guy in that stupid shark film, which is still worthy of nightmares: “Houston, we’re gonna need a bigger wheelbarrow…”

Oh, ho, it’s the boss-man.

Calvin strides in, all proud in his bright, red wellies. They’ve even got flowers on.

Danielle’s eyes roll to the ceiling in despair. “You’ve still got them girly wellies?”

“Aye, well, at least I hav’ny got a wee…. whatever that is.”  (She’s got a Moshi Monster on her T). “An’ this barn’s no getting any cleaner. So…” He points at the long, pole-handled thing leaning on the wall.

“Wha’dya think that’s fur?”

“Err, raking?”

“It’s a fork.”

“Forking?”

“Good lass. I’ll be down the shop wi a cup of tea.”

Well, that sucks.

Danielle stares at the coo poo through slitted eyes, breathing through her mouth. Man, what a (cough) stinky – uch (retch) …

Calvin laughs his deep, booming laugh and stumps back outside, straw caked to his boot-sides. “Gid luck tae ya, missus”.

 

Let’s just say that clearin’ out some o’ that poo is like panhandling soup wi a fork.

 

When she’s done, face flushed, dusty cough, the fresh straw is spread out like a prickly ocean of gold. Little scratchy bits are still stuck in her sleeves. Calvin whuttocks on over. He’s been checking the bees (which are presumably still ‘bee-like’, ‘bee-shaped’, whatever). “Good lass. Ya can dump the barra oot back.”

“Cool.”

But they’re both kind of caught. It’s sunny, and Springy, and there’s new life wandering.

Calvin leans on the warm fork-handle. “Y’know, we may be a city farm, but we’ve still got a little bit of the auld-country here.”

They watch the calf suckling for a while.

“Is the milk in wee sections?” asks Danielle, “A bottle to every one o’ them teaty things?”

“Naw. Think it’s all joined up.”

“Ah.”

“Maybe.”

A fly buzzes past.

The calf’s nose punch-bagging again, until another teat presents itself.

“That things gan ta pop.”

“Aye,” says Danielle. “If it does it in the next twa minutes, let me know. Otherwise, I’m aff tae school.”

“Sure thing.”

Danielle sniffs. “It is totally cute. Innit?”

Calvin nods thoughtfully and abruptly straightens up. “But look, misses, come back tonight. See if yer mum’ll let you stay over in the vet’s barny.”

“How?”

“‘Cause we got more of the auld-country than” – he nods at the slathery thing – “Wee Eck.”

“Wee Eck?”

“Aye, name just came tae me.”

There is a pause.

“Dinnie look like that. ‘Eck’ is a perfectly gud name for a coo.”

 

***

 

It’s nine o’clock at night. Danielle’s watching Toy Story (thirty-second viewing and accelerating) on the battered, old telly the hands have stashed in the rail wagon. There’s a couple of bunks, and a Formica table, a couple of plastic chairs, and a microwave. This is where the hands (sometimes the vet) wait for cows, sheep, horses, maybe even the rabbits – who knows what – to go give birth and drop a slippery bag of new-born shluck, that kicks and struggles and looks generally beset. But later – after a good lick-blow-dry – it’s fluffy, and so cute it’s probably illegal.

Danielle’s seen the whole birth thing – the miracle – many times, right in the centre of town. Not bad for a lass from the schemes. It was horrible – ya widny believe it – and amazing, and definitely ick. Is that blood? Or just some purply-slimey-alieny thing? Like liver n’ bacon? Is it skin stuff? Yuch.

But mostly amazing.

Like seeing Lady Gaga at the castle: Was that meat? Plastic? Leather? Is she hermaphrodite? Well, whatever. You can just shut yer face – she’s awesome!

Twelve o’clock and it’s kind of spooky out there in the yard. Pitch black. Street-light sodium only reaches the edges of the farm. Downhill, somewhere, the buses rumble – past the duck pond and the little stretch of wild wood, and the nature garden, where the schools collect frog spawn and pick some of the wild plants. Between the farm-world and the real-world there is a ten foot, wire fence.

Calvin’s in the hut, and he smells faintly of chicken poo – a strange, sweaty-sock kind of smell. Danielle probably smells the same way, as they’ve been muckin’ out the chookery for hours. Feels like, anyway. “Well, if we’re hangin’ around,” Calvin had suggested, “may as well get useful.”

Anyway, now they’re eating Chinese noodles straight out of the foil cartons – mam hates that – and they’ve got ‘the forks of failure’, despite an enthusiastic (and literal) stab-in-the-dark with chopsticks, earlier.

One am-ish, Danielle awakes from a strange dream about zombies and a cow on a bike.

The cow was awesome at bunny-hops (cow hops?).

Don’t ask about the zombies.

Calvin’s shaking her shoulder. “Come on, sleepyhead. Out back. You’ll like this. Hat on.  Stop yawnin, you’ll catch a moth. Keep low and keep quiet.”

“It’s dark. Gawd.”

“Middle o’ the night, missus.”

“What are we lookin’ fur? Foxes?”

“Naw. Dinnie trip over everything will ya?”

Clunk! Clank! Kadunk!

“Blimey, it’s like the Tin Man oot o’ the Wizard of Oz, in a tin factory, collectin’ tin cans on – uh – tin can Tuesday. Shush! Watch oot fur that trough.”

And so on; in the dark. Until her eyes adjust a bit and she can see the broad outlines of the byres and sties, the paths about the place, and the wire fences with the animal names, facts, and faces, on laminated cards.

Calvin gives her waterproof a tug. “Naw, dinnie stand oot there, misses. Here. ‘Ahind that bin. Quiet.”

They’re near the cow byre, standing at the shed with the aquariums. A rabbit flops along in the run beside them: a stencil eating silhouette carrots and veg.

“Now, look over there. Tell me what you see.”

She looks. “Uh, shadows?”

“Anythin’ else?”

A bit more staring. Her eyes are playing funny buggers. “Still shadows?”

“Ach, it’s right in front of ya.” He points. “Just there. That.” Whispers, “See it?” And – just like one of those puzzles where you see a candlestick for ages and ages, and then, suddenly, two faces – she does see it: a tall figure, a woman, who walks strangely in a long green dress, with odd, jerking movements – all hip and sway – that none-the less, are elegant in a tumbling, pigeon sort of way. Her hair is long and so are those fingers, intent, as she is, on slipping the cord on the barn door where the cow and calf are secured for the night. That hair is probably a grey, coppery crayon, if you look at the other colours in the moonlight.

The dull ‘dump’ of the door closing can be heard across the paddock.

“Cummon, says Calvin.” His warm hand grips hers, rough as old sacking, and they make it – more or less intact – up to a barn window.

“I’ll give ya a boost. Now wha’dya see?”

Apart from spider webs outside – old, with husks of flies and daddy long legs dangling in them – and the wire lattice of the ‘school glass’ with its corroded wooden frame… nothing.

“Nothin’” is what she reports back, whispering all hoarse.

“Ach, look where the light comes in through the other window. Maybe o’er near the calf. An’ what’s this on yer wellies? You find all the shite o’ the day, or what?”

She giggles.

“And it looks up into that diamond of sodium, street-light yellow. A face of stone. A statue. Its skin blooms with that flowery stuff that grows on trees and boulders. Y’know, lickin. Lichen. Whatever. And eyes, as green as duck-pond water. This woman, has a wildcat look on her, lids narrowed, suspicious as hell, and that dress falls like a flood from that pale, grey, weathered stone of her, that none-the-less is achingly beautiful. Like that boy in sixth year, with the lips, or Danielle’s mother’s long, chestnut hair, when it’s really brushed, or the snow that time up at the big park, falling soft and silent, with the whole world wrapped away. It was wilderness, she thinks – something you could give yourself over to, though it’d like as eat you. This woman is wilderness. Her lips are slightly open, hinting at sharp canines, though nothing is seen; a wolfish prickle at the edges. Danielle has never caught sight of something wilder, more enchanting and more strange. Of course she kin see me, but she’s nae that bothered, is she? Or at least, there’s a pause as all things are considered.

She widney eat me…

Whid she?

“What can you see?” Says Calvin. “I’ve got cramp in ma fingers and shite runnin’ down ma sleeve. Can you –“

And there’s a thud of pinewood as the byre door clumps shut.

Lost it. 

The green dress flickers past the compost bins, and down the back of the greenhouses, then past the back wall, with the billowing ivy and the old door, until Danielle loses sight of the figure amongst the raspberry canes and apple trees.

“She’s quick.”

“Aye.”

Scraping down the wood boarding, Danielle splots back into the mud.

“Have we scared it off? Away, I mean?”

Calvin pushes out his bottom lip and shakes his head. “Naw. She’ll be back.”

“Where’s she live?”

“The auld oak, maybe? I planted a couple of new uns to make a wee grove. Could be the auld wall. So, whatdya’ think o’ that, eh missus?”

“Amazin’. I thought she was wearin’ a costume.”

“Aye, it’s what ah thought. A mask. Looks like a statue, dunn’it? Wearin’ a dress.” He shakes his head with a reminiscent look. “Lovely. Wild. Had to go ask ma ma, though, what it was; thought it was some ‘high-society’ lass breakin’ in the first night. But naw, she’s here for the coo.”

“What doin?”

“What they’ve always done. It’s a Glaistig.”

“A what?”

“Glaistig. Means, ah… one of them.” And he waves a hand in the direction of the trees. “Gaelic, probably. She should be oot in the wilds, but she’s come here tae keep the calf frae drinkin’.”

“That’s a bit…”

“Naughty? Naw. It gets plenty. But in the auld days, wi a herd an’ all, she’d make sure you got milk fur the big house. Stopped the calves gettin’ it all. And in return, you gie her some milk.”

“Really?”

“Aye.  So here.” And he hands Danielle a jam jar.

Even in the moonlight she can tell it’s full of milk.

“Pour it on that stane over there and we’ll call it a night.

“‘Kay.”

The lid comes off with a pop and tinny clatter, and she floods the top of the boulder. The sandstone’s slightly hollow so the offering forms a shallow, snow-white pool.

“Where’d you think she comes from?”

“Naw idea. Maybe like them city foxes in the bins: comin’ in closer to the city where they can, these days. An’ of course, we’ve got a coo (important) and Wee Eck.”

Calvin snorts at the returned look on her.

“It is so a brilliant name for a coo! Now back in that hut, or your maw will have strips off me, an’ you’ll be a grumpy wee shite in yer classes tomorrow.”

They stump back towards the beached wagon.

“Mornin’, though, I guarantee twa things: one, that milk’ll be done and gone wi, an’ it’ll naw be hedgehogs or cats. An’ twa, there’ll be goat prints everywhere.”

“Goat prints?”

Calvin laughed and batted the brim of her cap. “Christ, aye, wha’dya think a Glaistig walks on? Feet?”

July 18, 2011   9 Comments

The Versatile Blogger Award

versatile blogger award 150x150 The Versatile Blogger Award

T

he marvellous Steve Green over at The Twisted Quill has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award. So thank you very much Steve.

I recommend you go check out his writing, too.

But, before you dash off…

As per the rules, I have to write seven random facts about myself, and then nominate other bloggers to receive the award. So, in a rough chronological order (apart from the ‘thumb thing’):

  1. When I was three, in Malaysia, a rusty nail got stuck in my heel. I threw up out of a car window and had to get a tetanus injection in my backside. My mother tells me the throwing up and the nail were separate incidents.
  2. When I was seven, I managed to clobber my younger brother with a half brick when I was down in the coal cellar of our house. I was hiding and trying to startle him but the throw developed a hypnotic accuracy. He needed stitches on his scalp, and I felt my parents were most unfairly upset because I was so mortified. The ice cream trajectory in Tiger Tempura was based on this memory.
  3. I used to play a game of ‘collapsing bridges’ with my brothers and sisters (which basically meant putting a sofa-chair close to a wall, piling duvets, cushions and pillows over  the gap and then – while one of us crawled underneath – having the others gradually collapsing the ‘bridge’). At one point, after they collapsed the bridge and jumped up and down on the mound with me trapped underneath, I developed mild claustrophobia which I still have to this day.
  4. At twelve or thirteen, I was climbing up a vertical wall of hay bails in the middle of the night, when a tractor came into the barn with its lights blazing. I fell thirty feet and rattled my spine down a stack of potato crates. Stunned and winded, my friend desperately tried to stop me groaning in agony. We didn’t get caught by the farmer, but, after escaping across the fields, I found I had managed to lose a lot of skin off my back.
  5. I can pick up four chicks in each hand, simultaneously.
  6. As an evil experiment, working on Earthworm Jim, I wrote some broad, Glaswegian dialogue lines for Dan Castalanetta and his Groundskeeper Willie voice. The results were hysterical, though not pretty.
  7. I have two mutant thumbs: one won’t bend past forty-five degrees at the first joint, the other is hyper-dexterous. The doctor said that a defect in one place with over-compensation in the other is quite common. I’m still waiting for the rest of my super-powers to develop.
  8. BONUS FACT: I’m occasionally mistaken for Fran Healy out of Travis (which I can understand) and Chris Martin out of Coldplay (I don’t know why). At T-in the Park, while my girlfriend was having a loo break, I was mistaken for both of them by a couple asking directions…

So, to nominating other bloggers. Tricky – I’m always so busy, I never get to read as many blogs as I should, although those I do read I enjoy immensely. You talented people.

Some of those listed here have been nominated already, so feel free to quietly and smugly accept the fact that I admire the daring level of your versatility without your having to re-transmit the VBA meme. I’d rather pick from the full selection of folks I can comment on.

  1. John Xero over at the Xeroverse has created some lovely writing and some beguiling philosophical exposes. The Xeroverse has just been celebrating its first birthday. Read quietly, he may have a temporal hangover…
  2. Icy Sedgwick at Icy’s Blunt Pencil is the very definition of versatility, with many an intriguing writerly creation on the go, from flash fiction and photos, to author interviews and novellas. How she has the time to do everything she does, and read and comment on other stuff, is beyond me.
  3. Aidan Fritz at Aidan Writes is a man who can pull a compact and fully realized world out of the bag like nobody’s business – each world a perfectly crafted miniature. I suspect he lives in his own pocket universe.
  4. Harry at the eponymous Harry B. Sanderford blog can bounce between cactus underwear and deringer-toting bad-gals, with a felicity that will always impress. Rats, cereal, old movies… aye-carumba. I also admire his collaborative powers.
  5. Justin Davies at The Flying Scribbler has exhibited monstrous versatility in his impressive (and now – temporarily – complete) ensemble serial, ‘The Mythical Creatures Employment Exchange’. What happens behind such an intriguing title, you say? Well there was this pink monster, and Santa, and the Kraken and…

For those not celebrated here, the fault is entirely mine: stupidly, I haven’t been reading your blog long enough to comment with more insight, or – in one, particular case – you gave me the award in the first place (thanks again, Steve).

The truth is, this should be a much longer list.

 

All the best,

Stephen Hewitt.

July 17, 2011   7 Comments