Home is Where the Heart Stops

Part one

The smell hit her the instant she opened the door. A mix of cats, geraniums and cigarettes. Isabel hated smoking and potted geraniums in equal measure. She didn’t own a cat. She shoved the mountain of accumulated mail out of the way with her crutch. The paramedic placed her bags inside the hall and disappeared down the overgrown path without saying goodbye, still grumbling about how you were only allowed one piece of luggage in an ambulance.

Isabel closed the door behind her and locked it. Her hands shook and her heart threw summersaults of joy to be home, in her own private space, finally away from the prying eyes and probing fingers of the white coats. She’d thought this day would never come. She’d thought it was over, the end of the road, kaputt, finito, nothing left except bedpans, pain and humiliation. No future except days lying in her own stink, face down in a bowl of hospital porridge while the fat lady sang.

Panting with exertion she shuffled slowly into the living room and sank into the cane chair by the French doors that faced onto the garden. She’d missed her mountains, the light and emptiness of the vast sky. Her solitary room on Ward 3A looked out onto a brick wall. She couldn’t see the sky at all, not even a sliver. The only way she could tell if the sun was shining was by the light reflecting in the brickwork, the changes in hue. On a bright day the bricks gleamed like tiger’s eye. On a grey day they were a dull flesh pink.

Now Isabel surveyed her garden, still marvellous despite the weeds and rampant lawn. The hollyhocks blazed magenta. The roses drooped with lush scarlet blooms, the honeysuckle smothered the archway and on the horizon Morven and Scaraben glowed purple in the evening sun. She sat there for a long while, just breathing, in, out, in, out. She was alive. She was home. No one could hurt her now.

And then she saw the boots. Dirty workmen’s boots placed casually in the middle of the kilim rug she’d brought back from Turkey. They were caked with mud, one boot tilted as if they’d been cast off in a hurry, the soles worn, the brown leather wrinkled with age. Her chest tightened in panic and she scanned the room for other signs of disturbance. Everything seemed much as she’d left it the day of the accident other than a layer of dust and a few cobwebs. There were books and magazines in a tidy pile on the coffee table, logs stacked by the wood burner and dead daffodils in a stained glass vase on the window sill. Her grandmother’s vintage clock had stopped at five to five.

Isabel couldn’t bear to touch the disgusting boots with her bare hands so she nudged them closer with her crutch. One of them tipped over and a tiny square of paper fell out. Leaning unsteadily from her chair she picked it up and unfolded it with trembling fingers.

Written in red biro on a torn piece of graph paper was just one word, ‘remember’.

To be continued…

image by the author

The Floating Road

A dark tale from the mysterious peatlands of Scotland….

A small man wearing a hard hat waited at the side of the road just before the bend. Behind him a Toyota pick-up loaded with drainage pipes was parked in a passing place. On the opposite side a gravel track led up through freshly churned peat to the brow of a hill where a JCB digger was silhouetted against the winter sky. The man checked his mobile phone and shuffled his boots in the dirt at the side of the road. He noticed a dead rabbit lying at the edge of the tarmac. It’s rear legs had been chewed off by a predator but one eye was moving in the socket…alive.

A cold easterly wind blew in from the sea. All around him the ochres, rusts and browns of the mossy peat bog dissolved into a pattern of undulating stripes stretching out as far as the horizon. The man had twinkling blue eyes and a rosy complexion but his mouth was permanently twisted into a thin grimace as if he was trying hard not to laugh at a secret joke.

His name was Douglas Macleod but everyone called him Slip because like a fish he would always slip and slide away from troubled waters and swim towards the easy money. Slip Macleod thought he was born lucky. He inherited the family business, a Victorian farmhouse and five hundred acres at an early age. Within three years he made his first million. His wife was slim, blonde and never asked inconvenient questions, even when he indulged in ‘playing away’ and drinking weekends with his best mate Alec. At fifty he had good health. He could drink nine pints of lager, entertain one of those Glasgow tarts all night in the back of his Jag and still manage the seven hour drive home to the Far North without any sleep. A good weekend like that would set him up on a high for at least a month and the best thing was there were no consequences.

The sky darkened and the wind threatened rain. Slip had decided to continue his vigil from inside the truck when his phone exploded into the opening bars of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. The screen displayed an unknown number and for a second Slip hesitated in case it was one of his dissatisfied customers, but then he pressed the green answer button.

‘Yep?’ he growled into the phone. There was a silence. ‘Yep?’ he said again.

‘Hello…hello…can you hear me?’ said a woman with a Glaswegian accent.

‘Yep…who’s that?’

‘…first day…return…mind the way…Gordon please…’, the line was breaking up.

‘Ye what? Gordon who…? I canna hear ye woman!’

‘…got to listen…safe please…it’s coming…’

‘Ye what?’

Slip held the Samsung up above his head trying to get a signal and moved away from the truck into the middle of the road. The screen briefly registered one bar and then none at all. The call disconnected and there was silence. Suddenly there was no wind, just stillness in the grass. Slip gazed into the distance where the silver ribbon of the floating road disappeared into the twilight haze. There seemed to be something moving towards him, a blurred shape too big and too dark to be the familiar blue car he was waiting for. Ferry traffic perhaps or a freight wagon loaded with refrigerated fish heading down the line, no headlights showing despite the November gloom. His phone rang again, now there were two bars of signal.

‘Bloody Vodafone,’ Slip said out loud before he answered. ‘Yeah, what is it?’

‘Watch out, it’s coming,’ said the woman.

‘Ye what?’ asked Slip for one last time.

He didn’t feel much. Just an immense pressure in the back of his head and then all the air was sucked out of him. The final moment he was lying at the side of the road looking into the rabbit’s eye.

Artwork by the author

Plot and Bash

Tackle it when thrust through the window.
Look difficult when leaving the control area,
keeping right. Drive gentle up the road.
There may be more than you.
It will contain the time and distance you.
Get to the first junction as somebody else
and set off again. Beware of blindly following.
He may know where he is going or he may not.
Keep trying to make the fit and keep an eye on.
You may end up lost off route, being baffled
on route! Alternative. Pull up, obstruct and try
the hand better than clutter. With practise
you will plot the move keeping at least two.
If you are baffled it may be your opinion
-miracles do happen and he may see. Do it
or provide the clue. As a last resort guess.
Don’t stumble on a code. Use a magnifier.
Don’t discard handouts, keep them safe.
Engineer the maps in alphabetical
to easily locate you in the night.

 

Note:- Plot and Bash is a navigation technique used within British Road Rallies during the 1980s.

 

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Image by the author

The Borrowers

We drift in the wind, nomadic, elusive,
mercurial as scraps of tinsel, we hunt
human gatherings, crossing forests, seas
and cities, passing from home to home
we reap your memories, your secrets
that doze like fish in a torpid pool.

Small, almost invisible, you mistake
us for sunbeams, for insects floating
in the sultry night, for snow melting
on your child’s face or candle light
glinting in your lover’s eyes. We are
constant as the air you breathe, entering

your nasal passages, your mouth, seeping
into your skin and every private cavity.
We grub deep into the coils of grey
where you hide. Without you we are empty
as a church without the presence of God.
We can’t love. We can’t hate. We can’t sing.

So when you reach the top of the stairs
and forget why you are there, when you fail
to recall your mother’s voice or the taste
of beer, when you forget the meal you ate
ten minutes before and your own name,
please don’t mind too much.

 

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Image created by the author

 

The Fall

Small boys sell silver bullets
at the road side, for emergency

use only. In the Land of the Free
clockwork sheep graze sleepless fields.

Do they dream of a lambing
snow tumbling from neon skies?

Do they recall punch-drunk
poppies beyond the electric fence?

The mocking bird twitters
from his gilded tower. Syncopated

rhythms pump black gold.  Blood
moons rise. Hunters summon the blue

-eyed to the door. She drives north
as a skein of geese flies the other way.

 

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Photographic image created by the author

Survivor

Naked before the mirror, her limbs bent in wilful
directions. She was a misshapen tree, bent

by a bomb blast in some forgotten war, misshapen
but surviving in the ruins of a bombed out town

in a ruined land with a name impossible to spell.
Like the victim of a witch’s spell one leg pointed

left, the other pointed right pulling her opposite
ways. Her life was a circle, a gravitational pull

to wayward rotation. Men caught by her centrifugal
spin queued in rotation to see her flicker matchstick

shadows on the bedroom ceiling, flickering
like the wings of a bird in a locked room.

 

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Photo by the author

The Winter Break

The blizzard began, cherry blossom from a flame sky. The road home
vanished. Pink ice floes shape-shifted in the river, bumping
and grinding like clubbed seals. We tended the fire
and played strip poker. In bed you wore lipstick and a balaclava.

On the third day we tracked through the crystal forest. The valley
was a fandango of silence. I clawed at it with my bare hands.
You held your phone up high, immobile as the Statue of Liberty.
We returned to the cabin and played Scrabble with four letter words.

The windows became peepholes. I saw no footprints in the virgin drift,
only the farmer’s wife floating silver between the tree tops.
She was wearing a wolf jacket, her face upturned to the falling snow.
That night you thought you heard singing in the wind.

On your last day, you stopped speaking, stayed in bed, a tender huddle
of bones. I roasted meat on the log fire and drank Jack Daniels. I recited
the tale of our first New Year’s Eve, kissing in Times Square
while rockets fell. I could still remember the neon taste of your flesh.

 

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Photograph created by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Sanctuary

I’m in a small cold place
perched on the edge, the solo late

night representative of Shell.
I’m researching the after

-life, heaven or hell, really can’t tell.
Muffled shadows shift beyond bullet

-proof glass, reveal inner
shit. Look away, look away.

Unleaded or diesel, Red Bull or Rizla,
Twix or a bit of smut, reformed

cheese sarnies, sausage rolls, Golden
Wonder or a pint full cream.

I don’t give a damn, all pie in the sky.
Make sure you buy before you die.

Dive in from the black
well into my bright, where pumped up

demons and angels self
-service, sniff hydro-carbon light.

It is the hour of the wolf,
and we are all overdue.

 

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Photo created by the author

 

 

The Missing

One by one they pass blind
through the living arch,
the children of loss following
Mother’s twisted path of breadcrumbs.
Blue birds peck at their bare feet.
The sun bubbles over yellow fields
where fat cats sleep away the shadows
of the deep purple wood.

One by one they stray,
broken children with tender skin;
tawny robin’s wing, freckled amber,
cuckoo spit, sun kissed pebble, raven’s
feather, morning mist and midnight pools,
following Mother’s cinder path
through the crystal orchard where apples
hang, red and flawless but out of reach.

One by one they stumble, feet bleeding
on Mother’s razor path of barbs
into the dark. Silver snakes encircle, whisper
warning but the children do not hear.
Their fingers seek between the snapping
branches but find no-one. Their tears
blossom roses no-one will ever see
in the depths of the purple wood.

The ancient hermit snips and sews silence
in her cave in the deep purple  wood.
She threads her needle with the fine hair
of a nameless girl, makes painstaking
stitches, a cloak of perfect skin; tawny
robin’s wing, freckled amber, cuckoo spit,
sun-kissed pebble, raven’s feather,
morning mist and midnight pools.

 

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Image created by the author

 

Death Row Weekend

I SAY, I SAY, I SAY

Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.

A hard hitting poem by English poet, Simon Armitage

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