Lockdown Pondering

Instead of writing my novel I am staring at a bunch of bananas, or more precisely at the juxtaposition of the fruit with a box of Gourmet cat food, a calendar, jars of pasta, a face flannel and a pack of hair grips. The randomness of this arrangement reflects the insanity of my life during these Covid months. If ever there was a plot I have truly lost it along with any desire to keep a tidy house. The absence of visitors due to the restrictions has eroded my inner hausfrau. Instead I have developed a taste for the creativity of chaos. I used to be one for everything in its place, now I think there is a place in everything.

I keep thinking about the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. If no one speaks to me or sees me or hears me for several days there is the equal probability that I am both dead and alive at the same time. The reality of my existence is not validated by others. For ten months I’ve been living in a grainy gritty twilight zone like a scene from a movie shot on Super8. I need to keep looking in the mirror just to check I’m still here. There’s always a tingle of surprise when I see myself, relatively unscathed, looking back.

I am writing this with a yellow pen and therefore prone to optimism.

image created by the author

Sometimes it’s Hard to See

There are times when it’s hard to spot the signs of hope hidden amongst the negativity and gloom that surrounds us at present. As UK appears to sink beneath another wave of a more virulent strain of Covid 19 many of us are teetering on the edge of despair. Today when I opened my front door to another cold and frosty winter’s day I noticed the teeny tiny shoots of crocuses emerging in a plant pot. They were almost invisible amongst the moss, weeds and colourful pebbles but they were definitely there. So however grim our lives might appear at present we must pause and look for the good stuff and remember tomorrow is another day.

Lockdown Christmas

However you chose to spend Christmas I hope you had a peaceful time. I enjoyed an alternative solitary Christmas with my cat…no tree, decorations or turkey but Moroccan Chicken with couscous followed by pumpkin pie and later I watched a Korean zombie movie. This was the view from my kitchen window when I was washing up.

And here was my cat chilling out in her own way…

Wherever you are -stay safe and make the most of the little things in life.

Moving On

Another piece of flash fiction mined from an old notebook. I wrote this just after my relocation to the Far North of Scotland fifteen years ago.

Tuesday morning
Seagulls wail the sound of loss and loneliness as I make my way down the hill to the harbour. The road unfurls a paper scroll and the turquoise shimmer of the sea beckons. On the horizon I see a small red dot, faltering, almost lost in the haze; a warning, a sign, an anticipation of homecomings. Or unwelcome return. I stop on the bridge and watch the ochre discharge of peaty water cascading down the brae. The wind blows cold carrying the stink of diesel from below. I don’t want to go on. Nauseous, I lean against the railings while my stomach spasms, ejecting the loathsome bile of my fear into the river. I’m glad there’s no-one around, only a dog chasing ducks and barking.

Tuesday afternoon
A small red dot on the road behind me, shrinking, getting smaller and smaller until I have to pretend I can still see him in the rear view mirror. An imaginary dab of scarlet on the tarmac like the smudge of a blood stain on a clean white blouse, an embarrassment, something quickly washed away and forgotten. No longer real. Just a story I made up or a dream or the memory of a dream. Ahead lies a clear horizon and an open road. If I look carefully I can see a small yellow dot; a pale circle of gold, insignificant, like a wary hitch-hiker hovering and waiting but getting closer, swelling bigger and brighter and more beautiful. Until I can see nothing else, my vision obscured by glorious yellow light.

And the past is dissolved away, reduced to a pile of bleached old bones at the side of the road.

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Looking for Bluebirds

This post is a little different – not poetry but the first short story I’ve written for a long time. It’s loosely based on my family history. Any feedback or comments would be greatly appreciated.

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The passenger sun deck was anything but sunny. It was deserted except for a man with two huskies sheltering beneath an orange cape. A casual drizzle swirled from a concrete sky. Alina realised for the umpteenth time since arriving in Scotland that she was inappropriately dressed in her chic wool coat and cloche hat. The world around her spun shades of grey. Glassy waves frothed by the railings leaving lacy patterns of spume across the deck and marking her boots. The wind pummelled her eighty year old body like an invisible giant.

Alina clung to the metal rail and gazed into a whirlpool of cloud and water. She managed to suppress her nausea. The Pentland Firth felt as hostile as the English Channel in 1947 when she first arrived in Britain clad in her refugee rags. She looked down into the churning troughs of waves and imagined the exhilaration of jumping overboard, the shock of the cold. How long would it take to drown? Would it be peaceful or would her lungs fight for breath despite herself? She hoped the cold would take her first. As a small child she witnessed a Jewish woman drown in the River Dniper before the Nazis invaded. It was a hot afternoon and her family were picnicking on the shore when her brother spotted a body floating near Monastyr Island, long black hair trailing in the water like a death veil. Papa swam out but it was too late. Afterwards, Papa wondered if it had been suicide. Rumours were circulating about what the Germans did to conquered cities but no one wanted to believe them.

Alina peered into the opaque void looking for The Old Man of Hoy in the same way she’d searched the horizon for the white cliffs of Dover exactly sixty years ago. She was haunted by Vera Lynn’s song ever since she learned her parents had been granted EVW status and that they would soon begin a new life in England. On the boat crossing the Channel the idea of beautiful bluebirds and white cliffs filled her with hope even while helplessly vomiting.
Alina was the only one in her family to be sea sick. Her brother, Ivan stuffed his face with salami sandwiches like there was no tomorrow and raced around the boat exploring. Alina arrived in Dover stinking and humiliated without achieving a single glimpse of the famous cliffs or bluebirds. Years later she found out bluebirds did not exist in Britain and she felt cheated.

There was no sign of The Old Man of Hoy. She’d seen postcards of the sandstone landmark in the Hamnavoe gift shop and bought one for her husband Dmitri together with a small box of Orkney fudge. For herself she chose a block of handmade lavender and calendula soap coloured blue and yellow like the Ukrainian flag. The soap was called Forget-me-not. She
was groping around in her bag for a handkerchief when the ship reared and bucked like a wild horse. She lost her balance and grabbed at the rail wrenching her arthritic elbow. Her heavy bag slipped from her shoulder spilling objects across the wet deck.

“Let me help”, said the husky man. His face was weathered and unshaven. He crouched down picking up her purse, powder compact, lipstick, hairbrush, a packet of Jelly Babies and a leather album embossed with gold lettering in Cyrillic script. The man carefully shook off droplets of water from each item and wiped them on his trousers before replacing them in Alina’s bag. He released the dogs who began sniffing her feet. One of them jumped up
placing paws on her shoulders and tried to lick her face. Alina recoiled, lurched sideways and began screaming at the beasts. “Get away, get away!”

She was suddenly back in the camp, tangled in barbed wire with the fetid breath of a German Shepherd in her face and strange guttural cries echoing in the night.

“It’s okay,” said the man, “they won’t hurt you. They’re just saying hello.” He steered her toward a seat. “Take a minute”.

“I’m alright, thank you,” she said but she was trembling. Her hat slipped askew half covering one eye and she straightened it.

A woman appeared beside them. Her face was scrunched up like a ball of wet paper. She held two plastic cups of coffee.

“Here you go, love. Have one of these”, she said to Alina. “I think you need it more than I do”. The kindness in her voice was unexpected and she patted Alina’s arm.

Alina suppressed tears. “Thank you,” she murmured. The coffee was too sweet but it was hot and soothing.“My name is Moira, by the way and this is my husband Alastair. Our scary fur balls are Snowflake and River. They’re completely harmless you know.”

“I am Alina Stepanivna Kravchuk”, replied the old lady. “I am sorry, I am afraid of big dogs”.

“Wondered what your accent was,” said Alastair. “Where are you from?”

“I am from Yorkshire”, said Alina. She put the empty coffee cup down on the seat and the wind swept it away in an instant. One of the dogs lunged after it, barking. Alina pulled her hat down covering her ears which were pierced with tiny gold hoops.

“You don’t sound like a Yorkshire woman” said Moira. “But it’s a lovely accent whatever it is. So are you a tourist? It’s the wrong time of year for a holiday”. The woman laughed revealing a broken front tooth.

“I am not on holiday, I do not believe in holidays. I am looking for my daughter”, said Alina.

She produced a photograph from her coat pocket and held it out to Moira. It showed a teenage girl with long dark hair wearing a gypsy dress, strings of beads and a serious expression. She was perched on the bonnet of a vintage Land Rover surrounded by moorland. The image was over exposed and faded with age. “She’s called Vita. Do you know her?”

“Golly Moses! I doubt it. Don’t know anyone named Vita. Do you Alastair? That looks like an old picture. My mam had a similar dress when I was a kid. Whereabouts does your daughter stay?”

“I do not have her address”, said Alina. Her pale eyes suddenly brimmed with tears and Moira noticed her cataracts. “I only have this”. She unfolded a crumpled newspaper cutting.

“Disabled artist storms Scotland”, Moira read out loud. “Orkney based Vita Kravchuk launches solo exhibition ‘Making Waves’, An Lanntair, Stornoway, October 2005. Her abstract drawings are inspired by the dramatic seas of the Far North.”

Moira looked closely at the small publicity photograph before passing it to Alastair. “Is that her in the wheelchair?”

Alina’s face contorted. “Yes, she is a cripple. A disappointment but we did our best.”

“My brother is visually impaired,” said Moira, “and he’s just as good as anyone else. Your daughter is obviously talented”.

“It was always art, art, art with Vita. All that modern stuff and fancy ideas. She never wanted anything normal like babies or a steady job. Such a difficult girl.”

“Well, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”, said Moira.

“Pah friends! I do not believe in friends.” Alina rose abruptly and offered a pound coin to Moira. “For the coffee,” she said.

“No money required. The coffee is a small gift from a new friend,” said Moira. “Perhaps we can help you find your girl? We own a guest house in Stromness. You can stay the night with us and tomorrow we’ll take you to the art gallery where someone might know Vita. Alastair can carry your bag. It’s too heavy for a lady your age.”

The ship’s tannoy made a garbled announcement about their imminent arrival on the island. Moira grabbed Alina’s arm. The huskies were circling around and growling.

“No, no, no…” Alina protested, her eyes widening in alarm as she was escorted away.

Alastair interrupted, “Look, a puffin!” He pointed towards the stern.

Looking back, Alina saw a strange bird like a parrot, black and white with a curved orange beak and orange feet. It flapped extended wings in a menacing manner before landing on top of the ship’s emergency lifebuoy. The bird and Alina looked at each other for a long, frozen moment as it’s feathers slowly changed to blue.

The Firing

I am squeezing my Self into an empty crisp
box. Guards wearing smiley masks watch
from three rifles distance. Muted comrades
observe from a raised perspex Zoom

box. Guards wearing smiley masks watch
my hands tremble as I clear out my desk:-
driver’s license, a diary with twenty-twenty
visions, a framed photo of a kitten in a tree.

My hands tremble as I clear out my desk:-
a notebook full of redactions, a wee feisty
cactus, a broken compact mirror, tampons,
lipsticks, tissues and a stained pair of pants,

a notebook full of redactions, a wee feisty
box of Black Magic, a blunt pencil with teeth
marks, my first draft of an Utopian Manifesto,
A Dummy’s Guide to Democracies, a sealed

box of Black Magic, a blunt pencil with teeth,
an eraser shaped like a penis, a list of dreams,
an emergency jam jar and a wedding ring.
In the bottom drawer I find the forgotten;

an eraser shaped like a penis, a list of dreams,
the one who truly loved me, the candle burned
at both ends, the first rainbow ever seen, failed
deadlines, a rope bridge with a missing link,

the one who truly loved me, the candle burned
the dirty girl I hated at primary school, the key
to the crystal garden. Shushing faces observe
while I squeeze my Self to an empty crisp.

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Zooming

Dutifully muted we wait in our bubbles, looking
at ourselves looking at ourselves smiling, looking
for clues in book shelves, potted plants, interiors.

Sid’s iPad is a shadow. Patrick props a stepladder.
Magi’s tablet belongs to a Ragdoll with blue eyes.
The third row shows bearded minimalists in grey.

The cool ones are sipping tea from chunky mugs.
The patient ones are still holding hands raised
while their rictus grins slip off screen to scream.

Three minutes to write a poem about the sea.
Try to recall how the sea looks, sounds, smells.
Time rubs out. One by one our bubbles turn black.

Photo by the author