Green Buses: a story and an appeal

The four year old girl crouched in the footwell has never heard of christmas and wouldn’t care if she had. She stares at her hands and wipes them on the pink anorak that used to fit but now hangs more loosely from her shoulders.

 

The twelve year old boy next to her is angry and feels himself uprooted and displaced. He has heard of christmas but he blames the westeners who celebrate it for where he finds himself. His eyes tell simultaneously of a child’s dark despair and the blazing hatred of the adult he will become. He is already conjuring revenge in his head.

 
Their grandmother strokes his hair and nuzzles the girl closer to her feet but cannot be their mother. She too knows about christmas but finds it impossible to disentangle her feelings about it from their current plight. The flags of the people who mark it are often the ones which bring destruction, or which hesitate and do nothing to stop it. But some of those same flags fly proud at their destination which promises relief. Those people will be celebrating soon and what will that mean for her and the little ones?

 
Her son crashes into the seat next to her, scarf around his face, weapons bulking his khaki jacket. ‘We’re leaving,’ he says to his children, ‘Stay down.’ The gunfire stops, then starts again. The green bus starts then stops. There are two more starts and stops before the convoy eventually inches away along its assigned corridor of broken, bombed out buildings, abandoned family cars, and three blackened buses once as green as their own.

 
While his mother sobs silently into the chill air, the young father hunches over his children, a futile shield against snipers. He breathes them in and prays not to see their blood, but at least if they die today, the world will be watching. Soon it will be christmas day and then the countries of the puppet masters will be looking elsewhere. Their TVs will be full of joy and fun, their fridges stuffed with food, and their minds wiped of far-off troubles. No news is good news and they will not look for news.

 
Later, when they come back to pick up where they left off, believing somehow that the world will not have moved on while they were otherwise engaged, the father of children, widowed husband of a young wife, and son of a weeping mother, wonders what there will be of this fragile caravan for them to see. He hopes not ghosts. His son glances up at him and the father sees a ferocity burning in his eyes that he recognises. He bends to soften it, to say that there are good people everywhere in the world, but he cannot bring himself to promise it.

 

My thanks to an activist friend, who has spent much time volunteering among refugees at the Calais Jungle camp, for her comments on an earlier draft. She said no one she had met blamed Christians and so I have softened that reference. They do blame the West though, and I have taken licence to push that to the front in service of the message, which is that refugees and evacuees will still be in huge peril while most of us will be looking elsewhere until after the new year. If bombing and injury were not enough, starvation damages young brains, and emotional insecurity damages young minds. How can we hope for positive change when the next generations are so physiologically and mentally vulnerable? If you have a moment and a spare pound or so, please consider a donation to Save the Children for Syria or DEC’s Yemen crisis appeal. Thank you.

In Memory of Shoreham August 22nd 2015

bridge with flowersOn August 22nd 2015, a display jet failed to pull out of a loop and ploughed into traffic waiting at lights on a main road near the airport. Eleven people died.

Two pieces – a poem and a story – in the anthology Let Me Tell You a Story were written in response by authors who lived nearby. These are free to read and hear from August 1st in memory of those who died.

 

 

News report Contains video and still images.

‘North Star’

 

Written for Every Day Fiction’s one-time invitational.

Photo credit: adapted from Polaris the north star by pakpolaris-d34x4z1 via Google images.

‘Control’ now on SoundCloud via MashStories

Control was a competition piece and reached the finals of its group. MashStories have voiced it and posted the audio on Soundcloud. I don’t know if the choice of voice artist was coincidental but she is appropriately British and does a jolly good job!

‘Here the Magic Must Be’ – dedicated to Shoreham

This story was a finalist in Flash Fiction Chronicles’ 2014 String-o-Ten and, like many stories, it has a history. This meant very little at the time, beyond personal awe at the way the cosmic forces of gravity and the motion of the moon and planets become crystallised at the turning of a tide on a river. Finding a bunch of roses lodged in a shrub on the river bank where they would not be  swept out to sea or blown away sparked the theme – a woman investiRoses tree 1ng hope in those forces following a deep tragic loss. If magic exists anywhere in the universe, she wants to believe it will be here.

The river is the Adur in Sussex and the shrub just a few hundred yards from the A27 which, this last week, has been the focus of world attention after a jet ploughed into traffic lights there*. Eleven people died, many more were direct witnesses waiting at the lights just behind those who were hit, or travelling on the eastbound carriageway. Others saw the ball of flame from the airport where they were spectators, and thousands sat in shock at home as social media and TV put out video, photos, and stunned analysis throughout that day and the several that followed.

The road is partially opened today (August 30th) and on Tuesday I will be on it taking kittens for their vaccinations. I will be feeling simultaneously selfish and grateful that I was not there on that day and nor was anyone I know**.

This is the story:

Here the Magic Must Be

The river was almost at its zenith, that tipping point between the heaving press of the sea from the coast and the thundering weight of dark, fresh water draining from the hills. It glittered and sparkled along its banks as if strung with fairy lights.

The woman twiddled her handkerchief until it knotted and then pushed it into her pocket. Twice a day, every day, all of heaven and earth balanced here on this point, she thought. For reassurance, she felt for the handle of the knife that sat quiet next to the handkerchief and watched a pair of terns shrieking and wheeling overhead. They landed on the river, drifting up-stream at opposing angles until the tidal cusp caught them, held them, suspended them in the moment.

The woman saw it. With sudden urgency, she pulled out the knife and reached to one side where a small regiment of roses lay swaddled in cellophane. She lifted the pale tag to her mouth and breathed her warm breath into the name written there, pressed it between her palms to remind him of her flesh, and pierced her finger on a thorn to give him her blood.

Then she stood, cut the flowers free of their wrapping, and approached the water’s edge. If magic existed anywhere it had to be here at the turning of tides, in the repeated drowning and birthing of land. She crouched down, touched the petals to the water and wished.

 

*Approach video clips with caution

**Eight victims have been named so far; one is the son of a friend’s close friend. Like me, many will be waiting and hoping not to recognise the last three names when they come but some will not be so fortunate.

‘Control’

There were many parts of Rosa that acted outside of her direct control and she would watch from somewhere above or outside while they got on with it. Most of the time they just responded to whoever was in the room, but occasionally one took the initiative and went out on a limb, so to speak.

Part of the current Mash Stories competition, Control contains the three necessary key words, ankle, fashion, and criminal, and opens a small window on the world of a woman or girl victim of abuse. The story draws on recent events in Yorkshire, UK where child victims of sexual exploitation were sometimes themselves criminalised and returned to their abusers, and reflects the dissociative impact of sustained trauma such that the prose is also detached and relies on implication and inference for its impact.

Probably not a story to enjoy, as such, but I hope it has meaning and does not betray the victims of this appalling crime.

‘Spirits of the Freeze-Sea’

ice spirit 4Spirits of the Freeze-Sea is the story of the dreadful consequences for Izzy and her sister Shalla when Izzy forgets she mustn’t close her eyes to the ice spirits. Told in three parts, Spirits of the Freeze-Sea brings together All the Birthdays*, Dancing to the Wild Ice**, and the new Shalla’s First Ice Shatter.  Available for eReader download from Cut A Long Story, price 99p.

 

 

 

 

*First seen on Readwave

**First seen in Lancaster university DLMA 2013 showcase as Dance to the Wild Ice.

‘Terminus’

Fine Linen Winter 2015Terminus’ The room stinks; pinned-shut curtains, asleep on their makeshift wire, silently breathe in odours of dead food and trap them there. 275 words. In Fine Linen journal, January 2015. This is a subscription magazine.