Prescient Spirit

Extract from Novel:

By the time we get back to the hotel I’m exhausted so, when Mark suggests a drink at the bar, I shake my head, kiss him on the cheek, and take the lift straight up to our room. Slipping off my shoes and dress, I crawl between the smooth, white sheets in my undies.

A couple of hours later, I wake, my skin is cold and clammy, the bed soaking wet. I reach out for the light switch – it is when I see the blood on my hand that I begin to scream.

The next few hours are a blur. I must have managed to reach my handbag and call Mark from my mobile. Racing up from the bar, the blood-soaked bed must have sobered him as he rang for an ambulance. I remember pain in my belly, and flashbacks as I was carried through the hotel reception on a stretcher. The journey to the hospital – close up faces, an oxygen mask – did I have an injection? – and all the time, that hideous siren. Ceiling strip lighting as I am raced down never-ending corridors and into a bright, sterile room. I hear voices far away, and I am no longer conscious of pain, but I am slipping, down, down…

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There is a fluorescent white line. I have no physical body, but I am moving fast. In the distance is a sharp u turn. I get closer and closer, then, at the point of the hairpin, I am being ripped in two. The pain is indescribable – infinite, overwhelming – just as I feel I can bear it no longer, I am falling into darkness again.

Now I am somewhere else – a white room with nothing – no table, no chair, no window, not even a door. Just a bright strip light, flickering above me. Above me? Where is me? There is no body in the room. I exist there in spirit, but not in form. My spirit circles the room several times, checking for means of escape. I am ethereal – I could squeeze through the smallest of spaces, but someone has sealed all edges of the room – not even a pin sized gap remains. My spirit sinks to the floor where it curls tightly into a ball.

But, I have forgotten something… What can it be? I have no body – no need for anything physical, and yet, this nagging voice – ‘you have to go back.’

I can hear different voices – distanced, but I recognize one. Although speaking English, I can’t seem to work out what is being said, but the voice is calm – as if everything will be okay. I open my eyes.

‘Hey,’ he says. I look at him. I remember him, and yet I don’t know him.

‘It’s alright,’ says a voice I don’t recognize. ‘She’s bound to be a bit fuzzy. She’s been out for eight hours.’

Out where? Who are they talking about? I blink a couple of times. The man I remember, but don’t know, has hold of my hand. Then that nagging voice is speaking again, and this time I know it is inside my head: ‘This man is your husband,’ and somehow I know that I am in hospital, and this man – my husband – is holding my hand.

And then I remember: ‘My baby.’

‘It’s okay,’ says the man who is my husband. ‘Our baby is fine.’

 

I must have slept then, for a little while, because when I next wake, I can smell the perfume of flowers. I open my eyes to a huge vase of yellow roses – a few stray petals are scattered on the bed. I look across the room and the man who is my husband says, ‘Hey,’ and I try to smile. He taps on the door, then holds it open.

‘Would you like to meet our baby?’ he says. A large nurse walks in, carrying a swaddled bundle. I look down at the pretty coffee coloured face of my daughter, long lashes fringing closed lids. Her little mouth is pursed, seeking something to latch on to. I smile.

‘Hello beautiful,’ I say. My voice is husky – not my own. I reach down to take her tiny hand in mine. Her fists open and close like little stars. I feel something rough on the back of her hand and, looking down, I see a heart-shaped birthmark.

 

I sleep again and, next time I wake, I hear the clatter of cutlery as a trolley rolls down the corridor towards my room. I have been moved from the single room, into a small ward. There are two women in the beds opposite: one is cradling a baby in her arms, the other has a sleeping child in a crib by her bed. I raise my head from the pillow and try to call out.

A nurse comes in. ‘You are back with us. It has been a long time. How are you feeling now?’

I shrug as she takes my temperature and blood pressure. ‘That all looks good,’ she says. She checks my fluids, which are being pumped in via an IV, and nods before moving away from my bed.

‘Please,’ I say, ‘can I have my baby?’

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘baby is due a feed anyway.’

When she goes, I try to pull myself up to a semi-seated position. I am so anxious to see my baby’s beautiful face again. Minutes later the nurse returns, placing a swaddled child in my arms.

I look down at the dark screwed up face and wide indignant eyes.

‘No.’ I say, holding out the baby to the nurse. ‘Here, you’ve given me someone else’s baby.’

The nurse’s face changes from calm composure to quizzical concern.

She lifts the baby gently from my arms then, leaning towards me, she pulls the blanket from the little, angry face. ‘This is your baby ma’am. See his little nose? Just like his mammy’s.’

I shake my head – my heart is racing. ‘No,’ I say. ‘This is not my baby.’

The nurse backs away, the women opposite are staring.

I start to shout, ‘Mark, Mark.’ Everyone is looking at me.

‘Where is my baby?’ I am screaming now, ‘WHERE IS MY BABY?’

Mark comes running into the ward, coffee sloshing from a plastic cup.

‘What’s the matter, what’s happened?’

The nurse looks at him and shakes her head. Two other members of the nursing staff appear. Mark comes to me, cradling me in his arms.

‘My baby,’ I sob. ‘My baby…’ Then I feel a scratch on my arm…

 

I wake back in my single room with Mark by my side, snoozing in a chair. At the foot of the bed is a crib with a swaddled child. Thank God – it must have been a bad dream. I reach out and touch Mark’s hand,

‘Can I hold our daughter?’ I ask.

He looks puzzled, muzzy headed after his snooze. He stands and moves to the cot. As he puts the child in my arms I look down at the dark little face – short stubby lashes lining closed lids.

‘No,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘This isn’t our baby Mark. Look at her. It’s not our baby.’

Mark lays the baby gently down in its crib and begins to unwrap the swaddling blanket. The baby stirs as he removes the white babygro, but it is not until Mark takes off the nappy and lifts the baby up in front of me, that the child begins to complain.

‘This is our baby,’ says Mark. ‘I saw him delivered myself. This is our baby, Hanna. This is our son.’

The Pearl Seekers

2012-10-26-14-24-52Extract from Novel:

As Chris turned off the ignition, the headlights went out. Through the windscreen, Bekka could make out the image of a gate. She willed her brain to adjust quickly to the darkness. Something was moving in the tufts of grass. Chris felt her shudder:

‘What?’

‘I thought I saw a rat,’ she said, turning to look at him.

For a moment he stared at her. Then he burst out laughing.

If she could just keep it light She’d known it was a bad sign when, once they were alone, he’d turned off the main road.

‘A short cut,’ he’d said, with a quick smirk in her direction. Then he’d pulled off the lane in the entrance to the playing field.

Bekka’s heart was thumping wildly. Chris reached across her. The back of his hand brushed against her legs as he pulled a packet of fags from the glove box. The cellophane crackled. He held the opened pack out to her. She shook her head. He shrugged. His match momentarily lit up the car. He inhaled deeply, then he leaned back in his seat.

‘So Bek,’ he said, ‘you and Ben serious?’

‘Yep, course,’ she lied.

He laughed again.

‘Crap,’ he said. ‘He’s just a kid. You need a bloke who knows what he’s doing.

He reached across and squeezed her knee. Her skirt suddenly seemed too short. Bekka tugged at it with her right hand – her left was gripping tightly to the door handle. She glanced out of her side window. It really wouldn’t be a good place to be wandering around late at night. Chris slid his hand up the inside of her thigh.

‘You and Gemma are, like, pretty serious,’ she said.

‘Depends who you’re speaking to.’

He sat forward and, winding down his window a couple of inches, he discarded his unfinished fag. Then he leaned over and ran his hand lightly across her cheek. His finger lingered at the edge of her mouth.

‘I’ve never kissed a girl with piercings before.’

Bekka clenched her lips tightly together.

With a well perfected move, Chris jerked a lever and her seat tilted back. He was above her, his eyes glinting in the darkness.

‘No!’

Bekka glared up at him, feigning an assertive challenge that she didn’t feel. She was unresponsive as his mouth met hers. He was trying to prise her lips apart with his tongue. He moved his head back a little. She could taste the stale smoke on his breath.

‘You’re quite a tease,’ he murmured.

‘I really need to get home. I’ll get grounded if I’m not back soon.’ There was a tremor in her voice.

His hand was moving between her legs. As he tried to kiss her again, she turned her head and his lips landed on her neck. He sucked hard.

‘Ow,’ she said, pushing him away.

‘Shit! You’re a frigid little bitch aren’t you! Don’t worry. I’m not that desperate.’

He pulled away, and sliding back into his seat, he started the engine. Bekka allowed herself to breath.

….

He drove like a maniac. Bekka closed her eyes, thoughts exploding in her brain.

Which would be worse – to be raped or killed in a car wreck? She didn’t speak, just concentrated on trying to keep her body as far away from him as possible, as the car pitched and rolled.

With a squeal of brakes, he came to a stop a few streets from her house. Bekka had to consciously uncurl each finger from the door handle. Climbed out, she slammed the door.

The car sped away so fast, it unbalanced her.

‘Prick,’ she screamed at the tail lights of the battered Golf as it disappeared in the distance. Hot tears began to course down her cheeks.

Bekka started to jog towards home, but her legs were too wobbly to run. She knew she was in deep shit. She was way past her curfew. She would have been home by midnight if that tosser hadn’t tried it on. How stupid was Gemma to let him drop her off first? She became aware of a car cruising along beside her.

Oh shit. Had Chris come back?  She hunched her head down and kept her eyes glued to the pavement, pulling at the cuffs of her hoodie with clenched fists. The car pulled away sharply from the kerb, tyres screaming.

Not Chris. Just some other prick hoping to get lucky after a night at the boozer. She couldn’t believe Chris had tried it on like that. Wait till I tell Gemma! But even as she thought it, she knew she wouldn’t be saying anything. Gemma wouldn’t believe her precious Chris would hit on one of her best mates. Chances are, she would get blamed for leading him on. Best to just keep her mouth shut.

She checked the time on her mobile. Twelve thirty. If she got grounded she wouldn’t be able to go to the Disco. Cutting across the manicured verge, she turned into her cul-de-sac.

Shit!

The lights were on downstairs – now she was really for it! As she reached up to put her key in the lock, the double glazed door was wrenched open, Mum was standing there in her dressing gown looking wild and crazy.

‘Sorry, alright? It wasn’t my fault.’

‘Is your sister with you?’ Mum was shrieking.

‘Like she’d be with me!

Pushing past Mum, Bekka went into the kitchen and turned on the tap full blast. Water splashed over the marble worktop. No-one cares if I’m okay.

Mum closed the door to the porch and went back into the lounge, resuming her position behind the velvet curtain where she’d been anxiously scanning the path leading to the house.

Bekka watched as the water poured down the drain, breathing deeply. Thank God for Liv – if she’d stayed out later than her for once, maybe she’d get away with it. It was odd though – Liv never went anywhere. She filled a glass with water.

‘Night,’ she called sweetly to Mum as she went up the stairs.

The Travelling Philanthropist

amsterdam-031Extract from Novel:

Wednesday 2nd September 2015

Clutching her mobile, Tamara was weaving in and out of couples sauntering along the Embankment, her way lit by the multi-coloured fairy lights of the restaurant boats. She could see Westminster Bridge ahead. No flashing blue lights, thank God, but what will I say when I get there?

She hadn’t even stopped to message Matt. Must be nearly midnight. He’ll wonder where I am. Her last text had told him she was just leaving the bar – but she’d sent it before listened to Kalianne’s voice mail:

‘Thank you Tamara for try to help…. but Mrs Gee, she says I don’t work. She find new nanny – go back to America without me. I don’t have no hope now – but it okay. “Never calm so deep.” I know what to do.’

Tamara knew that verse. It was from the Wordsworth poem on Westminster Bridge – her magazine had featured it in an article, Walking Tours around London.

With lungs fit to burst, she took the curved steps two at a time. Reaching the top, she leaned against the balustrade and, waiting for stitch to subside, read the last few verses from the poetry plaque:

‘Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will:’

She scanned the bridge from east to west, but who was she looking for? She hadn’t met Kalianne – just knew her kid was missing – stolen by the Guatemalan government. A mother would NEVER give up her own kid. Tamara looked down at the angry black water. Would Kalianne do something silly? Shoving her mobile into her shoulder bag, she made a careful appraisal of the people on the bridge: Just a few straggling city workers making their way back for the last train. There was a woman standing alone, looking towards the London Eye, but as Tamara started towards her, the woman was joined by a man – the couple linking arms and making their way towards the City. Tamara walked further, surveying the barriers erected across sections of the bridge. Someone could easily stand there undetected before dropping unnoticed into the churning waters below.  Perhaps I’m too late? She shivered. What am I even doing here?

It was a complete fluke that she’d taken Kalianne’s call – her boss would go mad if he knew – but in eighteen months working for Tube and Eye, it was the first time she’d felt a real buzz. This was what she wanted – not to be writing stupid tourism articles. A chance to investigate a real story.

Feeling a jolt, she spun around to face a hooded figure jerking at her shoulder strap. The more rational part of her brain knew it was best to let go, but Tamara wasn’t prepared to lose anything else tonight. She clutched the bag to her, hanging on for dear life.

‘No!’

The mugger took a quick glance around, checking no-one was close, then snarled: ‘Let go bitch!’

For a moment they were both tugging, equally determined not to give in. Then she gasped as the mugger’s fist caught a glancing blow to her chin. Her grasp momentarily loosened, the attacker legged it towards the south side of the river.

She heard Big Ben strike midnight. Her legs began to shake as shock kicked in. Her body gave up the fight. As she sank, the back of her head collided with the carved stone balustrade.

Wednesday 2nd September 1752

Frederick Tweedie made minute adjustments to the equipment. Beside him, Thomas Pestlemore huffed and puffed.

‘Have patience, sir,’ said Tweedie. ‘These things cannot be hurried.’

He tweaked the aperture by another miniscule amount to ensure the lens was pointing at the darkest space between the stars. Pestlemore leaned in over his shoulder.

‘Damn it, sir. Give me some room.’

‘S…sorry. Yes… sorry.’

Pestlemore stepped back, gazing out across the dark waters of the Thames. He looked up at the sky and, with his fat thumb, traced a line, tracking the projection from the equipment to the horizon.

‘Perhaps a little higher, Tweedie?’

Tweedie glared at him.

‘Sorry, sorry,’ he repeated.

‘Who is doing this, me or you? Who, sir, is the scientist here?’ Tweedie strutted forward, tapping his chest: ‘Oh yes. That would be me.’

Humbled, Pestlemore lowered his head and, as much as his rotund stomach allowed, he examined his feet. Meanwhile Tweedie moved forward to make one final adjustment.

‘There,’ he said at last. ‘That should do it.’

‘Oh well done,’ said Pestlemore, clapping his skinny friend on the shoulder-blade.

Tweedie eyed him with contempt, but Pestlemore’s enthusiasm could not be dampened. He hopped from one foot to the other: ‘Are we ready now for the Prism?’

Tweedie nodded his head.

Pestlemore bent down and lifted the object reverently from its wooden case. As he held it aloft, light from the moon caught the crystal sides, and a rainbow of colour cascaded far out across the rippling black Thames water.

Tweedie reached out to receive it and, with meticulous care, positioned it at the heart of the assembled equipment. Both men stepped back, regarding it with awe. This was the culmination of many months of calculations, design and planning. The moment of truth. For the first time, each component joined to make a whole. If the prism did not begin to spin now, of its own volition, then everything had been in vain. There was a heavy clunk as the prism began to rotate. It was nothing short of miraculous.

As they watched, the equipment vibrated, yet the lens remained steady, fixed on its target.

Pestlemore cast an eye over his shoulder to ensure the bridge men were nowhere in sight. The watchman on the north side of the bridge had been bribed with a jug of gin and it was not yet time for the south side guards to take their hourly patrol. It was important they were not observed. The whole project had been carried out under such secrecy. Their goal was to gain an accolade for their invention from the Royal Society. As they peered into the depths of the blackest spot in the sky, faint light began to appear.

‘Look,’ said Pestlemore. Tweedie nodded. Silenced by the apparition before their eyes, they were mesmerized as the light grew stronger, reflecting a ray back onto the bridge. Tweedie felt Pestlemore clutching at his arm: ‘What is that?’

Straining their eyes, they peered along the bridge, dazzled by the brightness. Slowly, at the very core, an image was appearing.

Tweedie squinted. He heard Pestlemore gasp as the shape became clearer… a figure, slumped against the balustrade.

1752  DAY ONE

Tamara opened her eyes to shimmering haze. Although it was still dark, she was bathed in a soft beam of light. Her head was throbbing – she couldn’t make out where she was or what she was looking at. As the bright light diminished, objects around began to take shape. A figure was standing the other side of the bridge, looking out across the river:

‘Kalianne?’

Her voice was croaky, unlike her own.

Mercy stood gazing into the dark waters below. Although mist had dampened her woollen clothes, it wasn’t really raining. Would be better if I was soaked to me skin – easier then – to slip down into the water. She shook her head. Not enough courage even for that. Shivering, she felt the last little bit of hope desert her body. Nothing ahead but emptiness, and this dull ache.

A sound invaded her thoughts. Someone calling… Turning her head – something, or someone, on the ground the other side of the bridge. She peered through the gloom. Is it man or woman? Arms reaching out to her… She took a step forward. The cry had sounded female, but difficult to be certain. No. By the attire ’twas a fella. Can’t be too careful… a ploy to get me over there. And yet… She took another couple of steps, then watched as the figure slumped once more. Whoever it was needed her help.

‘Who is there?’ she called.

No reply.

She crossed the road and looked down. Yes, ’twas a woman. As she knelt down, the woman opened her eyes.

Tamara looked up at her Samaritan, dressed all in black. She reached out to grasp the proffered hand, but it was too much – she fell back.

‘Take it slowly Miss.’

‘Kalianne?’

‘No, my name be Mercy.’

Tamara pulled herself up to sitting:

‘Damn.’ Anger and indignation was returning. ‘He’s taken my bag. My mobile – I need to get to the tube…’ She stopped in mid flow, looking around frantically. Everything was so dark – like someone had turned off all the street lights. It seemed as if she was sitting in the middle of a thick, wet cloud of fog. There was a strange, metallic smell – or was it taste – she couldn’t tell. Her head throbbed, and when she raised a hand to her crown, her fingers met a sticky mass. Involuntarily her body began to shake:

‘Where am I?’

To be continued…

The Changeling

20161222_070429000_iosExtract from novel:

The seagull was staring at Tegan. Its beady eye followed her around the shop from its vantage point on top of the display shelf. She stopped fingering the fridge magnets, letting her hand fall to her side. Moving slowly down the aisle, she paused by the miniature lighthouses and fishing boats. Picking up a snowstorm globe, she gave it a shake and fake snow fell onto a seaside scene. Weird! She put it back on the shelf, casting a furtive glance back towards the till. The shop keeper, Mr Crouch, was held captive by the cleaning lady from the caravan site.

‘Well Mr C, if this season don’t pick up, I’m not sure I’ll have a job by the end of the summer.’

‘It’s early yet Margaret. Things never really get going until August.’

Mr Crouch scanned her provisions, carefully packing them in her shopping basket. He prided himself on providing for the needs of his regulars, as well as the summer holiday makers. This necessitated his store being so full, that his customers had to squeeze their way around stacks of buckets and spades to get to the convenience foods.

‘Always a cup half full you are, Mr C. How’s your David doing? Will he be back for the summer? Such a lovely lad….’

Tegan could still feel the seagull’s enamelled eye boring into her. She didn’t like seagulls. A couple of years ago her Aunt Yvette had come to spend a few days at the holiday chalet with them:

‘Why don’t you take Yvette down to the secret cove,’ her father had said. ‘Give me a chance to get on with my writing in peace.’

Tegan was pleased to have company. Her father seldom ventured out, and she got tired of wandering around the village on her own. They’d driven down in her aunt’s clapped out old Ford. When Tegan opened the tailgate, Poppy, her aunt’s Labrador, was quivering with excitement.

‘We’d better put her on a lead,’ said Aunt Yvette, reading the sign in the small car park. ‘Other people report you if you let dogs run loose on the beach in the summer months.’

They’d made their way down the 109 steep steps cut into the cliff – Tegan holding Poppy’s lead and her aunt carrying a bag with a blanket and their picnic. Tegan already had her swim suit on under her beach clothes. There were only two other families on the pebbled beach. Tegan led the way further along, towards the big boulders where she liked to explore rock pools once the tide went out. The wind was blustery and Tegan’s hair was blowing in her eyes. Poppy was straining at her leash, her paws slipping on the wet pebbles.

Suddenly a big seagull swooped down towards them. Poppy jumped up on her hind legs yelping at the bird. In seconds the bird was joined by another and the two gulls launched an attack. They swooped repeatedly, their ugly voices mocking and shrill. Tegan froze – she felt vulnerable in her skimpy shorts and t shirt. Up close, the birds were huge – wings flapping and beaks wide.

Tegan felt her aunt pulling at her arm and the two of them stumbled back towards the overhanging cliff, dragging the frightened dog with them. They looked back at the blanket and picnic bag they’d abandoned in their haste. Once sheltered, the gulls seemed to back off a little, but the second they tried to venture out to retrieve the bag, they resumed their attack. Other people on the beach were too far away to notice anything, and the wind would have carried their voices away anyway. Tegan and her aunt watched helplessly as the bullying gulls gorged on their sandwiches. They were completely trapped. After what was probably minutes, but seemed much longer, they decided the only thing they could do was to grope their way back to the steps, keeping within the relative safety of the cliff. The predatory birds continued to caw their victory. The day was ruined and Tegan’s special place was no longer special. That was the last time Tegan had gone to the beach dressed for swimming.

Tegan peered up at the ceramic bird, trying to stare it out. She wondered for a moment if Mr Crouch had a security camera installed in its beady eyes. Casting surreptitious glances towards the till, Tegan could see that Mr Crouch was still occupied – the cleaning lady having engaged him in a discussion about the merits of a particular floor cleaner.

Standing in front of a revolving display of sunglasses, she caught her reflection in the mirror – her eyes only just visible below her long fringe. Pouting her black lips, she looked away again, fingers pulling nervously at the frayed sleeves of her over large sweatshirt.

Moving past the small jewellery display, there was a flash of black from her painted nails as her left hand circled in a swift and practised arc, to pluck a silver trinket from its velvet backing. Barely pausing in her saunter down the aisle, she concealed her prize under her sleeve.

The trick was not to rush… take your time… act casual. Tegan was confident her pale make-up would cover any hint of a flush on her face. Nonchalantly, she made her way past the buckets, spades and small fishing nets, to the magazine display opposite the till. Feigning a brief interest in one of the fashion mags, she flicked through its pages. Then, carefully and deliberately replaced it, she gave the briefest of nods towards the shopkeeper and the cleaning lady, and made her way out of the door, pausing only to give the seagull one last and triumphant glare.

Margaret Butcher looked at Mr Crouch and tutted.

‘No good will come of that one,’ she said.

Pushing a Pram at Birkenau

This article was written for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was published in the University of Brighton Anthology ‘Reflections’ in 2015.

Pushing a Pram at Birkenau

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This photograph of my baby in her pram always makes me smile. I close my eyes, thirty five years disappear, and I stand again in my cottage garden in Kent. The breeze tugs and snaps at the crisp, clean squares, making the rotary clothes line creak. I’m so very proud of those terry nappies – their whitey brilliance dazzles me. My lips quiver as the smell of Daz tickles my nostrils. I tilt back my head to feel the warmth of the sun on my face. A blackbird is singing.

Then I hear a giggle. I open my eyes and turn to where my daughter is propped up in her pram just a few yards away. It is a second hand green Silver Cross, with a rather fancy canopy. My daughter is wearing a yellow and white gingham romper suit and a wide brimmed sun hat. I can see two pearly teeth in her cute gummy smile.

I remember how it felt to push that pram. I would wheel it proudly down the hill to the village – it didn’t matter a jot that it was second hand. The pram would glide and bounce, even when laden with shopping for the walk back. With my daughter facing me, I would keep up a constant stream of nonsense which seemed to amuse her.  Now, when I push my granddaughters in their double-decker phil&teds stroller, the girls face away from me and conversation with them is more limited.

Back in the seventies it was predominantly the woman’s role to look after the baby and it was the woman’s job to push the pram. Of course her husband might help her on occasions – lifting it down steps or pushing it up a hill if no one was around to see. But generally the wife pushed the pram. Most of us had proper prams back then – coach built, big wheeled with a nice bouncy suspension. A pram built to keep baby safe and secure. Often second or third hand – there was no shame in that. Of course men are happy to push the modern day equivalent with all the gadgets: four wheel suspension; telescopic handle height adjustment; one handed fold; cup holder for your latte…

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But now I am looking at a second photograph. It’s a little boy I think, in a beautiful old wicker pram. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom passed down mother to daughter? It was always considered good parenting to give your baby a daily airing in the pram. Look at him, with his curly blond hair. My daughter’s hair was blond too. He is trying to pull himself up, curious to see what is going on. Is he leaning towards his mother?

It’s a sad fact that no one knows who this little boy is. If he were alive today he would perhaps be in his eighties, but he is un-identified. His picture comes from an archive of photographs smuggled out of Auschwitz. Prisoners were instructed to sort the prized possessions of the incoming – jewellery, glasses, ornaments, and, of course, photographs of loved ones. They were told to destroy the photographs, but a brave handful of prisoners, at great risk to themselves, decided to smuggle some out. A collection of these photographs became ‘The Last Album’, a book written by Ann Weiss.

Re-reading this treasured book on what is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I can’t help but reflect on the terrible suffering of those held there. Just last week 300 survivors returned to the camp. It is likely that this will be the last year that a significant number of survivors will be alive to attend one of these special commemorative dates. Now it is up to us to remember for them.

I came across an account by Giuliana Tedeshci, recorded in ‘There is a Place on Earth: a Woman in Birkenau’. She recollects that, on Sunday 25th June 1944, she was commanded, along with 49 other women, to push empty prams from just outside the gas chambers to a storage area two miles away, ready for reallocated by the Reich. This was a task that was repeated daily over many months.

I wonder who decided that it should be women who did this job? But, of course, pushing the pram is a woman’s work.

What must it have felt like to push those empty prams in prescribed five row formation across the rough terrain of the camp? Was a wicker pram amongst them? Did those women paint on a face of steely resignation and wheel the prams as if they were no more than a trolley or wheel barrow?

No. I think they rested their hands lovingly on the push bars, counterbalancing the bounce of the wheels. I think they closed their eyes and imagined pink cheeked babies asleep under pastel blankets, lovingly knitted by their grandmothers. I think they carefully lifted the front wheels over any loose rubble to avoid disturbing their absent charges.

I think other women stopped what they were doing to stand in silence as the prams rumbled by. Perhaps those who had lost children in the crematorium, felt their breasts swell with phantom milk – the urge to nurse their dead babies overwhelming them. No word was spoken and no sound heard, but for the odd squeak and rattle of the empty prams.

I think this was the day the birds stopped singing at Auschwitz Birkenau.

That Look

 

That Look 

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Her stare defiant.

Eyes wild, exquisite

in their sadness.

Fear has passed.

Dare you look away.

 

She treasures what she held,

though love failed

to keep the child

safe. Stone

dwells in her heart.

 

Taken too soon

for memories.

Yet she smiles,

whilst lens captures

image of her child.

 

 

 

Forgotten

Forgotten

My dad doesn’t know who I am.

Smiles politely, greets

me with his telephone voice.

Thinks he’s staying in a hotel.

Says his room is not that grand.

My dad’s glasses don’t work.

He stumbles, stutters and stalls

through his eye test.

It’s not the optics that fail him,

but his ability, to recall the names

of the letters on the chart.

I’m no great wordsmith.

Have no knack for scrabble,

anagrams, crosswords.

Never seen the point of long words,

when short will do. But I value

my limited capacity

for crafting words.

One day, like Tootles,

I might lose my marbles.

My words may dry up.

Like dad and Terry Pratchett,

to end my days with dementia?

Grandma’s Button Box

Grandma’s Button Box3346879430_1fe54e2aae_m-1

It rattles as she lifts it from the mantle.

Broken biscuits, jigsaw pieces?

Lid is prised. Five year old

starfish hands delve deep

raising cupped catch.

Each has a story. Toggle

from Johnny’s brown duffle.

Blue rabbit buckled dungaree.

Red ruby off knobbly

wool interview suit.

Tilt kaleidoscope and tiny

pearls from soft kid gloves

tumble, while lover’s fingers

fumble with sequin clasp

on throat of dancing beau.

Foot soldiers on Grandpa’s cuffs.

Once solid, serviceable.

Now translucent, yellowed – like old teeth.

No longer a team. Redundant.

Threads loose. Dispensable.

Wartime make do and mend.

Each knew responsibility.

Black jet on crepe mourning

dress. Sentries

in waiting.

Friends Clump

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Friends Clump

 

Stamp feet

Stride out

 

Mud in ruts

Hoof pocked

 

Clenched fists

Wind bites

 

Jaw aches

Hunker down

Cold gnaws

 

Sullen sky

 

Mustard gorse

Fallen needles

Bracken brown

 

forest vista creates panoramic patchwork of sepia

 

Sun

clefts cloud.

Magic paintbrush

colours heathland with creeping

 yellow wash. Soft floodlight reveals the stage.

 This is the place. Taking turns to circumambulate.

Peppering the roots of the Scots Pine with his ash.

Where they embrace, entwine. Nourish. Mulch.

This conifer will be the finest in the forest.

Sun fades. We shiver, pick pine cone

keep sake and make

our way

home.

Highwayman Coat

Highwayman Coats-l225

Wide collar, deep cuffs conceal

a person of mystery.

Dark, secretive, in disguise.

Narrow waisted, bold shouldered.

Darth Vader, Jack Sparrow,

Highwayman of the apocalypse.

I remember my headmaster,

Sweeping along corridors, his academic

gown commanding fear and dread.

Master of the paso doble,

I swirl my cape like a bullfighter.

Black knight in a game of chess.

I wonder about its history.

Who owned the coat before me,

Before I claimed, cut, tamed it to fit

my sixteen year old frame.

The wearer is assertive, imposing, providing

opportunity to be someone I am not.

Was that me?

When school boys jostled, teased.

Retaliated calmly, crushing

their boater under my foot.

That coat had further lives to free.

I think of it and wish it still had me.