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Evidence that I don't always finish what I start
I've just come across this piece I entered for an 'Opening to a Novel' competition a few years ago. I wrote it, entered it, heard nothing, and years later I find it in my files. I'm most intrigued to know what I intended to write next, should they have written back and said they liked it.
We lay calm in our beds that
night. Even the baby, for once, slept soundly; even the dog, out in its kennel.
And perhaps that was the odd thing, after all: how trustingly we
slumbered. As if fate had gifted us a few last wholly innocent hours, before
innocence fell away for ever. For when I woke, in the early morning – what was
it? A difference in the quality of the light? Some new texture to the silence?
But I opened my eyes, and I knew it. Something had changed.
Even Mother seemed subdued
at breakfast and her eyes were dark and heavy.
I would say, heavy with an omen, but at that time, she didn’t have the
knowledge. None of us did, except for
Marielle, whose tongue was in mutiny, and who just made tunes at the back of
her throat while feeding her baby, and spoke no to us with her eyes when we
tried to guilt the truth out of her with rebukes.
Not having the knowledge was
an ache, because since Marielle and I slid out of Mother’s womb six minutes
apart, we had never withheld private, secret things. We had even shared breaths
in the night, lying face to face so close, and exchanged darknesses that were not for the
ears of Mother and which would have sent Father scrambling for his wide brown
Now, my twin had a secret
bigger than the whole earth, and it sat between the two of us, a solid thing
behind which she played Peek-a-Boo, only not with joy.
‘When is Father returning?’
I asked, while spooning brown sugar into my breakfast drinking chocolate.
‘Soon, I am sure,’ Mother
said, but her words fell like stones, as though each one were dead before it
left her mouth. I even put an extra
spoon of sugar into my china cup, and she didn’t see, or if she did, she let it
‘Will it be a long voyage?’
I said. Father worked on ships as a
circus performer, teetering on high wires until crowds went ‘Oooh!’ I had only watched him once when we were
twelve and he performed in a local show put on by the Lord Mayor, and that was
only because Marielle and I had tiptoed out into the dark evening when Mother
thought us asleep in the big bed with the dip in the middle where our bodies
lay like two halves of a whole. We had
pulled cloaks on over our nightgowns and slid our naked feet into boots which
we didn’t stop to lace, and had edged into the back of the hall just as Father
was placing one long, slim foot in front of the other long, slim foot as though
in a ballet.
‘Is that Father?’ Marielle had whispered. ‘So – so gentle.’
I stirred the sugar into my
chocolate, clink-clinking the spoon against the cup, and baby Georgia tugged
away from Marielle’s breast to cry. Milk
sprayed from my sister’s nipple and she covered her breast with the thin cotton
of her dress as though with shame.
‘It’s a natural thing,
Marielle,’ said Mother. ‘Here, give me
the baby. I’ll rock her.’
But Marielle would not and
had not, since the baby’s birth six weeks before, given Mother the baby. ‘I am grieving for that little one,’ Mother
had said to me when Marielle was in the garden, pegging white muslins and
flannel squares on a line so that the breeze and they could play. ‘I am grieving, and she is only just born,
Mother did not know that I
had seen how she would watch
for when Marielle had turned her back, and then, walking close to the baby’s
cradle, rest the back of her hand against Georgia’s hot, sleepful cheek, or
twist a lock of baby-fine hair between two fingers. I wouldn’t have known she was doing it, but
her breaths would come faster, like they did when she ran away from Father or
chased a chicken around the yard to break its neck.
It's nearly a month since Christmas and I still have my pile of books and notebooks from friends and family on a chair by the sofa. I can't bring myself to put them all away. There's no reason why I should. No one's dared to move the pile so that they can sit sat on the chair for a while anyway. But these are lovely presents: novels, books of poetry, books about poetry, delicious notebooks .... what's not to like? I haven't always received such pleasing gifts. I was married in April 1982. At the end of that month, I turned 20. Yes, a young bride, and one who wasn't so delighted with her birthday present from her new husband. 'I've bought you an ironing board cover, too,' he said, looking pleased. 'It's the right size. I've checked.' And indeed he had. It was prettier than the plain blue one on this picture: flowery and cheerful. He had tried. Nevertheless, we had words. I was compassionate, don't worry. I was his first
My try-to-get-fitter walk in the fields today was a silent one. I usually listen to the radio through earphones but have lost one of the soft earbuds and nothing spoils a walk more than having hard plastic nudging up against your fragile tympanic membrane. The BBC's 'Woman's Hour' is a brilliant programme but loyalty has limits. It was disconcerting, walking in silence. Listening to radio distracts from the disturbing reality that my legs are propelling me in forward motion because, if I think too hard about this, I frighten myself. Today, while walking, I had to listen to my own thoughts. And now I've listened to my own thoughts, I remember why I like radio better. The inside of my head is like a wastepaper basket. Be grateful that I only offer you a brief excerpt. Oh, look, that bird is - / Where did I put that mark scheme. I'll need it for - / My shoes are getting muddier./ Maybe mash with the fish tonight / really muddy / The trees are definitely more
Ben Cottam (@TheCottam) posted this statement on Twitter today: 'When you're growing up, no one ever tells you how much of your adult life will be spent pushing tumbling Tupperware into cupboards.' I know, right? Why does no one say? And what else does no one tell you about adult life, particularly later adult life? I have made a list. 1. That one day you will say, 'They'll freeze, dressed like that,' and 'Let's go home. It's nearly 10pm,' and think nothing of it. 2. That a summer will come when you will start the days dressed in cardigan and socks and only take them off when it's warm enough to leave the kitchen door open. 3. That police officers, teachers and nurses, rather than getting older, get younger, birthday by birthday, and that one day you will be burgled and then visited by a seven year old with a notebook and a helmet. 4. That the music in pubs and clubs becomes louder, brasher and more sweary, year on year, so that