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Sunday, September 10, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
I would like to dedicate this blog post - and the following story - to Love Whitby. Love Whitby is a Facebook page, run by the gorgeous Carol Hixon. It's a love and celebration of all things Whitby; the jewel of the North Yorkshire crown. Anyone who knows me - or is familiar with my writing - will know that I am a Whitby obsessive. To visit the place is to fall in love.
As I sat outside the beautiful holiday cottage, paper and pen in hand, I thought about what this quirky seaside town means to people. I enjoy reading the posts on the Facebook page. Generations of families have holidayed there. People got married there. People spent their honeymoon there. I read with great interest where people are staying, what their favourite view is, what they have been up to. I came up with this short story and, though some themes are sad and difficult, I believe that it shows an understanding of what Whitby means to people - and why.
Pearl’s Ode to the Seaside.
I have always loved the seaside: the sound of the squawking gulls, the sand between my toes, the smell of the hot, fried sugared doughnuts. I first went to Whitby as a small child. My older sister, Vera, had spooked me with sinister tales of blood-sucking vampires. I was quite frightened as the train pulled in; thinking that Count Dracula would pounce and puncture my young neck. I struggled to sleep on that first night. When I awoke the following morning, and saw the beautiful view from the window, I let go of my worries completely. We headed to the beach and splashed excited tiny toes in the North Sea. It was absolutely freezing initially, but it soon warmed up. We buried our youngest sister, Nellie, in the sand. We hunted for fossils and begged for ice cream. We lusted after the gigantic jars of colourful, sticky sweets in the enticing sweet shop window. I had the best of times; giggling with my sisters during the nights. Mother incessantly fretted and told us to be quiet.
“Vera, Pearl, Nellie. Not all the hotel guests want to listen to you, you know.”
It was different as I grew a little older. I still looked forward to our visits to Whitby; even if I was a somewhat cynical teenager. By that point, it was all about flirtatious smiles and eyeing the attractive older boys on the beach. Mother watched me like a hawk, though she needn’t have worried. A smile was just that and nothing more ever happened.
Though, not much longer after that summer holiday, I did meet a boy. Back home in the city where I had been born and still lived. My Frank. Smitten is the word, though it doesn’t remotely do my feelings justice. We had met at a dance at the Community Hall and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Gosh, he was so handsome and he had the most bewitching blue eyes. His pals were a rowdy bunch, but Frank stood out and he seemed different to them. He was quieter and so considerate. I fell head over heels. It was a whirlwind romance, as they say, and after just shy of six months of courting, we were engaged to be married. A date was set for the following spring. My sisters were to be my bridesmaids.
I wore my mother’s wedding dress and how her eyes leaked rivers the first time that I tried it on. It must have brought back memories of her own wedding day. Happy flashbacks of love and commitment, though now peppered with sprinkles of woe as my dad had died many years ago. My mother had been pregnant with Nellie at the time. I studied my mother as she dabbed her eyes on a handkerchief. Greying hair and lines beginning to appear around her eyes. I felt sorry for her. As awful as this sounds, I hoped never to be her – foolishly believing that I somehow had a choice in the matter; that I could hang on to both my husband and eternal youth, simply because that was what I wanted.
Our wedding day was lovely and we were lucky with the weather. After a truly horrendous downpour the day before, the sun kindly decided to poke its way out of the clouds for us, just in time for the wedding photographer to snap, snap, snap away. We didn’t have a party, we went for a nice meal at the local pub with close family and friends, because we had a train to catch. We were going to Whitby for our honeymoon. Frank had never been before, and he knew how fond I was of the place, so he didn’t take much persuading.
I was both excited and nervous on the journey there. I was overwhelmed with joy of being Mrs Siddall. I was also a little fractious about our wedding night. Vera had said that she’d bled, and that it had hurt her at first. Although, it was nice after that, it was all rather messy. I blushed crimson at the mere notion of it. As we checked into the hotel and were shown to our room, I blushed rather more. A double bed with crisp, white sheets. But, also, a view out to sea – all the way to Sandsend – and my giddy heart galloped at the sight of it. I felt a rush of nostalgia for my childhood holidays. I knew that Whitby would always be my special place.
In the morning, once the deed was done, I felt like a woman for the first time. Did people know? Could they tell? It was surely written all over my face? I definitely noticed a new inner confidence, and perhaps a sense of a quiet authority. We climbed the hundred-and-ninety-nine steps and we walked around the dramatic ruins of the Abbey. I was in love. In love with Frank. With life. With Whitby. I cried when we had to return home and our magical honeymoon was over. Though, I would soon be busy turning our tiny terraced house into our first home.
A year later, I was pregnant and our first child was born. A beautiful baby boy. But, he was still and silent. There was no cry. He had died inside me. We called him William and marvelled at his crop of dark hair, but he was quickly taken away from us and I was left more bereft than I could ever have imagined possible. There is no greater pain. That first year of pining for him was particularly brutal. Frank took me back to Whitby but, looking back. I don’t even remember hearing the noisy gulls. I was locked inside a private bunker of grief and agony. I sobbed, tears mingling with the sea and the never-ending Yorkshire drizzle. At least the weather matched my mood. Sunshine and blue skies would have been some sort of betrayal. We stayed in a small, quaint cottage that time, all alone and nestled away down a secretive little ghaut. I could see the harbour from the window and I would watch the little boats bobbing up and down upon the choppy water. It was about the only thing that could soothe my soul. The violent silence of William’s birth was still ringing in my ears and it became the sickening soundtrack to my childless life.
Back home again, I longed to fill the rooms with noise, the quietness and the nothingness was deafening. I distanced myself from Mother for a while. I had to. Her platitudes, despite being well-meaning, engulfed me with rage. I could not stand to hear that he just wasn’t meant to be. My heart ached out of pure love for my son. And then there were the sentences about time healing all things etc. Well, he wasn’t a thing. He was a beautiful boy. And the questions terrified me. When was I going to try again? Could I risk another pregnancy? Would I lose another baby? Would it be as though I was casually replacing William? It was all too much. So, I withdrew from everything and everyone. I was broken.
I dreamed of Whitby frequently, though it was several years before I visited again. I waited. I waited until I could enjoy all its quirky charm again. I finally found some courage and determination and I conceived another child. I gave birth to the prettiest little girl in all the world: Jennifer. The second she was born, she cried that loud, startling new-born cry and it was so alien to my ears, yet so vastly reassuring that I quite broke down. She looked so much like William and I felt too many emotions all at once.
Once Jennifer could toddle around unaided, we booked our first family holiday. We stayed in a cheery, homely B&B up on the West Cliff. We helped her build sandcastles on the beach and we took her out on a boat trip. She saw a seal and it was all she talked about for days. My seaside days were blissful again and Whitby was, once more, the backdrop to many of my happiest and most treasured memories over the years.
We didn’t really talk about adding to the family. I would never get over losing my boy. And Jennifer was the sweetest and funniest girl. I just don’t think that we had the heart. Anyway, the option was soon taken away. I went through the menopause rather early. I was only in my thirties. I’d had an inkling that something was a bit off and it was while we were away, enjoying another family Whitby holiday, when I started to join the dots together. We’d been walking along the pier, nothing too strenuous, and I felt so odd. I was suddenly much too hot and sweat started to drip down from my forehead and I could feel it pooling at my back. I excused myself and made my way to the public toilets. I looked in the mirror and I was shocked. I looked terrible. I was wearing foundation make-up, but the beads of sweat on my face mingled with the beige cosmetic and I looked like an eerie waxwork of myself. My skin was scarlet. A pitiful moan escaped from my lips. I was quickly getting old before my time. The grey hairs were no longer merely a few sporadic strands that I could tuck behind my ears. I remembered vowing never to be like this: old, ageing; but here it was and there was nothing that I could do about it.
Jennifer blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Yes, I am biased perhaps, but her long, curly auburn hair and those mesmerising blue eyes, that she’d inherited from Frank, meant that she turned heads everywhere we went. It was her turn. It was her time. Mine had ended. I would blur into the background now, largely unnoticed as women of my age largely are. I passed on the baton of womanhood to my daughter and I donned the cloak of invisibility.
Jennifer married Stuart, a local mechanic with a friendly face, kind brown eyes and a polite manner. They, too, honeymooned in Whitby, keeping the seaside tradition alive. Grandchildren arrived, two little boys. Jake and Samuel. I went to Whitby with them a few times and it was always tremendous fun to see the seaside through their young eyes. Donkey rides, crabbing, salty chips in cones accidentally dropped to the ground and the frenzy of the greedy gulls. I watched them eagerly push their collected copper coins into the slot machines in the arcades. But, I was getting older and I could feel it. It took me a long time to reach the top of those hundred-and-ninety-nine steps. The pain in my hip and legs made my eyes water. Though, I always cherished the view from St Mary’s Church. I must have photographed that same view a thousand times, but I never tired of seeing it.
Frank began to slip away. He had developed a horrible cough. I said that the sea air might help, lord knows it helped me sleep. Nothing helped. It got a lot worse. By the time that he’d had enough of my constant nagging and finally made an appointment to see the doctor, there wasn’t much that could be done. It was too late. He was dying. I watched on, terrified, as this once strong man became gaunt and weak. Frank deteriorated quickly. I tried to hang on to the more favourable images in my head. My handsome groom. Frank the father, racing around the garden with a little, giggling Jennifer on his back. I couldn’t always grasp on to them. They would fade too, much like old photographs. Colour drained and we were left in Sepia.
I lost him. My Frank had gone. I was devastated, my head reeling and I couldn’t help but feel angry with him for leaving me all alone, rattling around that house. The weeks were a blur. Black. Mourning. Cards. Flowers. Sentiments. Platitudes. Dishes of homemade casserole. Checking to see if I was alright. I was not alright. Half of me had vanished and I would never see him again. The bed was huge and cold and lonely. Waking up and remembering that he had died was torture. I declined numerous invitations to return to the seaside with Jennifer and her family. I wasn’t ready to see the breath-taking views without him. I thought that I would struggle to make it up the steps without his strong and steady arm.
Some people say that you can die from a broken heart. I thought about this a lot, and I decided that I agreed. It was a slow demise; weeks crawled into the pockets of months and the first-year anniversary of Frank’s death loomed on the horizon. I could feel myself slipping away and I doubted that I would even reach that particularly painful milestone. I was fading. I could feel it. Sepia disappearing into nothingness.
I asked Jennifer to take me back to Whitby. As I hadn’t shown any interest or enthusiasm for anything for months, she was delighted. I felt cold to my bones in that North Yorkshire wind. I wept like a small, frustrated child once I realised that I couldn’t walk up those steps. I instructed Jennifer to go up without me and take a photo of the view for me. I felt wretched.
On the drive back home, I fell in and out of sleep. Snippets of dreams of William and Frank were remembered, other strands were forgotten. I had never felt so weary when I shuffled out of the car and back into my house. Jennifer kissed me on the cheek and said that she would ring me tomorrow. I simply smiled and nodded, but I knew that I would never hear the ringing of the telephone, nor would I hear my beautiful daughter’s voice again. I had given up. I was ready. I was old and it was time. I didn’t feel upset or frightened. I felt a calm and welcoming acceptance.
My darling, Jennifer. If you are reading this, then I have passed and it was my will to do so. I have been so tired and so full of sorrow for all that I have lost. You have been the best daughter that a mother could have wished for. I know that I leave you happy, settled and content with your husband and your children. This is my story. My ode to the seaside. Climb up those steps again for me, dear, and sprinkle my ashes at the edge of the clifftop, right by my favourite bench, to the side of St Mary’s. You know the one. My silly old legs wouldn’t let me go up there yesterday. This way, I will always be in my most favourite spot in the world.
All my love, forever and always,
You can find the Love Whitby group here: Love Whitby
If you enjoyed my writing, my first two novels are set in Whitby, too. They are available on Kindle and as paperbacks. You can find them here: Black Eyed Boy and here: Green Eyed Girl
Thanks for reading.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Ground control to Major Tom.
I didn’t think about the words.
I played with My Little Pony toys,
Action Man seduced Sindy,
Under the covers and in the bathtub.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.
My first pair of high heels:
Poppy-coloured with a large bow.
I liked the clickety-clack sound
They made on the pavement.
I still do; a life-long love affair.
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess.
Sixteen. I thought I knew everything.
I knew nothing.
Stranded in seedy nightclubs.
The floor would spin.
Where was my purse?
All we need is music, sweet music.
And we made our own.
I listened to the words
As we wrote our own song
And fell in love;
Head over scarlet heels.
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.
Sleepless nights and milky smiles.
A love and bond so strong,
My heart could burst.
Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.
Children growing, learning, blossoming.
Pride and contentment.
I think I have found myself,
Nestled within the scribbled pages
Of my own written words.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Dear Christmas Holiday,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this farewell letter. You have been good to me and I will never forget your kindness. Thank you for allowing me to switch of that absolute bastard of an alarm clock for an entire seventeen, most precious days. The lack of the battle of the snooze button has been a real treat.
Not having to do the school run, wash uniforms and PE kits, sort lunches, sign relentless permission slips and remember to pay for a vast array of school-related things has been a true blessing. Not having to be Mrs Bad Cop and remind / force children to do their tedious homework has also been a key delight.
Oh, Christmas holiday, how I had yearned for you. How happy I was to see you. But, alas, I now must say goodbye, and that sucks.
I’m not ready. I’m not prepared to take down my pretty Christmas tree and see the living room look so plain and dull. I’m not ready to stop eating Ferrero Rocher for breakfast, and be back at work, so far away from my fridge. My fridge. Somehow, it still contains all the cheese in the world. I can’t remember the last time that I walked by said fridge without nibbling on some calorific snack or other.
And the booze. Oh, how I have enjoyed the booze. The extra glass or three of wine that I would never be able to handle or justify on a school night. And when the wine got an upgrade and became a rum. Because, who cared? It was the beloved Christmas holiday. I’m holding back the tears as I consider the fact that I must face reality again in the morning. I will greet it with a string of highly-creative expletives, two raised fingers and a face so mardy that Grumpy Cat will fret that her career is over.
I will pine for my fluffy dressing gown. We have spent so many wonderful days and nights together, sat on the sofa, doing fuck all. And it has been magnificent.
Until we meet again.
I love you.
Hugs and kisses,
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Joe stayed out of the way, hiding in the shadows, but he could hear the raucous crowd count down, and then the cheers and celebration as the Christmas lights were switched on in the heaving city centre. He tried to smile at the notion that families were together and having a pleasant evening, but he couldn’t find one. It had slipped away from his dirty face before it had started. He pulled his tattered bit of blanket towards him. It was still sodden from the horrendous downpour the night before. It would have been easy for tears to fall at that moment. Not that he cried very often at all; the exhaustion and the ice-cold wind were just too much for him at that moment. Last night had been typically terrible. Saturday nights always were. But the rain hadn’t stopped. It had gushed down the streets and he had ended up soaked through to his skin. Drunken revellers had been particularly cruel and vindictive. It had started with juvenile jibes; which Joe had completely ignored. The quips were far from intelligent and the drunkards were unable to offer anything witty or that he hadn’t heard a thousand times before. But then they started to throw their glass bottles in his direction and one had gashed his arm. He refused to retaliate. He’d only end up in the shit. They were, somehow, considered to be real people in the world because they had jobs and houses, bank accounts and Wi-Fi passwords. He was a homeless man; invisible, worthless, destined to draw last breaths upon these tired streets. And then one of them had unzipped the fly of his crisp, new jeans and proceeded to take a piss on Joe. A spray of warm, yellow urine had covered his shoes. He had wanted to tell them that he used to be a real person too. But, what was the point? They wouldn’t listen. And nobody ever cared. They wouldn’t even make eye contact. They would deliberately look in the opposite direction. Or incessantly at their phones. They did that all the time now. Living in a pretend way. Tap-tap-tapping and swiping. Not seeing the reality in front of their faces.
He had been real once too; existing on paper and even owning a roof over his head. He’d been an English teacher at a secondary school. He’d been married. He’d had a daughter. And when that beautiful, funny, sweet-natured little girl had been diagnosed with Leukaemia, things had swiftly begun to fall apart. Jo-Jo was as ill as anyone could be. The treatment had robbed her of her golden ringlets and it had left her so wiped out that she could barely sit up most days. Suddenly, there was a lot of vomit and melancholy. He had promised her that she would be okay. But she wasn’t. And she had died. And the angry recriminations arrived quickly. And a marriage collapsed. And a job dissolved. And there wasn’t any help. Joe had been rapidly beaten up by the benefits system. Their point-collecting test had deemed him capable of work because he had thought to comb his hair for his appointment. In truth, he wasn’t capable of anything. Not even killing himself, there had been several unsuccessful suicide attempts. How many of us bring children into this world? And how would you feel to watch them die? It’s a life-long mourning. No first teenage kiss. No jubilant or despairing exam results. No first job. No future. Nothing. Just a funeral and too many flowers. So many flowers that they quickly become and personify the stench of death itself. Never to be purchased again. Never to set foot in a florist to be greeted by that horrific, poignant aromatic reminder. Because it’s too much. And it remains too much.
Joe’s stomach angrily growls and he can’t remember when he last ate. Mainly because he isn’t even able to remember the days, other than Saturday when he wonders if it will be the end for him. He would mostly welcome that. He’s worn-out and consumed by grief and regrets. It might have been Thursday. But Thursday might have been Wednesday. Or Friday. He only knows that he is starving hungry, and the sensation is only becoming worse by the minute as the wind carries the scent of the Christmas market in his direction. He can smell chestnuts. He thinks of Christmas dinner with his family. Christmas crackers, sprouts and a turkey crown. Smiles and stockings and waiting for Santa the night before. He is so far away from this world now and he knows that he won’t ever be able to find his way back. Joe’s tired and the hunger pangs are making him feel sick, so he shuts his eyes and hopes to succumb to sleep.
The cold weather has made him ill. He has a cold and it has gone to his chest. He rattles as he coughs and splutters. He thinks he has pulled a rib as the pain is so severe. It’s Saturday again, and he’s too weak to deal with the drunken bullies. He must get away. He needs to move from this subway. He’s too much of an easy target here. Though he doesn’t know where he will go. Certainly, not the park. Another homeless man was stabbed in there last week. He’d seen the ambulance and then read about it in a discarded newspaper. As much as his body ached, he would have to walk for a while.
He had ended up at the gardens. He wouldn’t normally visit this place. He didn’t like feeling as though he was exposed. He didn’t want the families with children to see him. But, this is where his feet had taken him, and he felt a little brighter just at the sight of it; this urban greenery tucked away amongst the grey of the buildings. He liked the water features and the lights at night-time. And as his dark brown eyes scanned the area, he saw an actual angel. At least she looked like one. Ethereal in white lace and soft blonde curls. Her lips were painted pink and they smiled and smiled, as did her eyes. A sigh escaped from Joe’s mouth. She posed for the camera and pure joy radiated from her pretty face. A bride. A beautiful bride on her wedding day. She was perfection; heavenly and divine. He looked to see who the lucky groom was. He wasn’t quite sure at first, they all looked the same in their suits. He realised that all he had to do was follow her adoring gaze. It was a tall chap, serious looking. He smiled too, though not with his eyes like she did. Her smile could light up the darkest room.
She shivered now, the early December air nipped at her through her thin white bridal gown. Though, the groom didn’t seem to notice. Joe suddenly wished that he had a nice jacket, so that he could be a gentleman and offer it to her. He would place it around her thin shoulders so that she could feel warm. A lady in lilac, wearing an ostentatious feather hat, began to usher everyone across the way. The bride offered her slender, pale hand, reaching out to grasp and entwine her new husband’s fingers. But, again, he didn’t notice, as he laughed with his friends and swiped at his phone. Her hand went ignored and Joe saw the crestfallen look upon her face. He longed to see her smile return, and it briefly reappeared once she realised that her guests were watching her, but it wasn’t real.
He felt bad. He had accidentally witnessed a private moment, a secret thought, that wasn’t his to see. Because her beauty meant that he couldn’t take his eyes away from her, he had become a kind of voyeur. He made himself turn away then, and he was going to stand up and walk away until he suddenly felt as though someone was now watching him.
It was her. It was the angel. She studied him from the other side of the artificial stream. He felt his cheeks burn crimson. He had forgotten this feeling, he was embarrassed. He half-enjoyed the old warmth in his face. She smiled at him; her real one, and his cheeks reddened with the heat further still. Before he could even think about it, a hearty beam spread across his face. She tried to coax him towards her with her hands, but he didn’t move. He didn’t understand. She pointed to the building behind her. The wedding party were filing in and disappearing from his view. Was she inviting him inside? Because that was madness. She tried again, pointing to the entrance, but he shook his head from side to side, he couldn’t possibly accept her invitation. Her special day. Her fancy party. He stank. He was filthy. He was a mess. A coughing fit abruptly halted his train of thought, as he held on to the bench beneath him for support as the pain in his ribs jabbed at his insides. When it finally started to ease off, he looked up, and the angel had gone.
Joe struggled to his feet, and how his bones ached as he shuffled up the path and even more so as he fought to ascend the steps. But, to his amazement, there was a prize waiting for him at the top. She was back, and she was even more truly exquisite up close.
“If you won’t come to me, then I’ll come to you,” she said.
She had two paper plates, one in each hand, and they were both laden with buffet food. There were tiny sandwiches and mini sausage rolls, petite pastries, and crisps. She popped them down on the nearest seat.
Even her voice was alluring; silky and gentle, it matched her face.
He was flustered as her kindness was so unexpected.
“You should get back to your party,” was all he could mutter.
“You’re welcome to join us. There’s more food than we could eat and you look as though you could do with warming up.”
“I won’t fit in, but thanks for asking.”
“Who cares? It’s my wedding, I can invite who I like,” she announced, her hands on her hips.
“Angelica, what on earth are you doing out there, talking to that tramp? Come back inside,” her new husband bellowed his order.
She winced at his choice of words.
“I’m going now. Enjoy the rest of your evening,” said Joe.
“Sorry,” she whispered, with the merest hint of tears in her eyes.
“Don’t be. I’ve been called a lot worse. Thanks for the food,” he said, accepting the tempting treats.
He turned away and walked down the high street. He felt sad that he had caused a scene, even though he surely hadn’t intended to.
Joe wondered if he would ever forget her. He thought that he probably wouldn’t. She had been such a mesmerising sight. He smiled that she had the word ‘angel’ in her name. So fitting.
Another week had passed and the Christmas shoppers were flapping in a blind panic now. He thought of how excited his daughter, Jo-Jo, used to get at this time of year, though his brain fought not to, as the pain was unbearable. He worried about the harm he was doing as he bottled up the feelings and tucked them away. Some nights, he would wake in a sweat, struggling to conjure up the image of her sweet, freckled face. He knew there were freckles, at least. But, she was slipping away further still, even after her death. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realise that someone had sat down beside him.
“Penny for them,” came a familiar mellifluous voice.
The angel had returned. And he couldn’t help but smile. It was such a gift to see her again. He noticed the garish, bright red Christmas jumper she wore, a big reindeer with a pom-pom nose, and it amused him.
“I was wondering if you’re wearing that jumper for a bet,” he laughed.
She put some pound coins into his palm and grinned at him.
“It’s a work thing, for charity,” she explained.
He nodded, he had seen a lot of festive jumpers just lately. It must be a new thing, he mused.
“How are you? Has that cough got any better?” she asked him.
“I’m not sure it ever really goes away,” he said, with a shrug.
She looked sad then, and he wished that he had offered her a different answer, a better one. He couldn’t stand to see the pain in her blue eyes.
“I have been thinking about you a lot, and I don’t even know your name.”
He blushed that he had been in her thoughts, that had quite made his day.
“Joe,” he replied.
“I made you some soup,” she announced, pulling a large flask out of a rucksack.
“Gosh, that’s very kind. Thank you.”
“In fact, all of this is for you. You can just take the bag. There’s a blanket, and some socks and a few other bits I thought you might need.”
He was astounded. He wanted to say something magnificent. He had once taken great pride in his vocabulary and word choices. Now, he had nothing, and he felt frustrated by his silence. And the silence continued to grow until it almost became a third person upon that bench, sitting between them.
“If you don’t want them, I won’t be offended. Oh dear. I’m sorry, have I done the wrong thing?”
She was visibly upset now and he hated himself at that moment. He collapsed under the emotion, tears leaked down his dirt-stained face. It was as though she had opened something inside him; unlocked an old, abandoned door, turned on the stiff, rusty tap.
“I am not used to this level of kindness, you must forgive me. You are an angel. A real angel,” he wept.
She threw herself in his direction, dabbing tissue to his wet face, hugging him fiercely as though it could fix all that was broken. And they remained huddled together for a long time, crying quietly into the night. He cried for Jo-Jo. He cried for his old life that had cruelly disintegrated. He cried for this beautiful young woman who had chosen to help him. It was late when they parted, and he couldn’t help but question why she had elected to stay with him for so long, what with her new husband surely waiting for her at home.
Midway through December, Joe was flagging. He was tired. Exhausted. His bones ached and his legs were incredibly stiff in the morning. Someone had hit him last night, he had been punched in the face by a drunken stranger. No explanation was given. The young man merely stumbled away afterwards, as though it had never happened. His mind kept travelling back to marking English assignments, the taste of mulled wine and Jo-Jo opening the windows of her advent calendar. He didn’t think that he could do this any longer. He wanted to fall asleep, under those stars, and never wake up.
As though she had read his thoughts and peered into his very soul, the angel returned once again. She’d brought boiling hot coffee and mince pies for them both. They talked a lot. He told her about his daughter and his failed marriage and when he had been a real person with a job and a mortgage. She got cross with him and told him that he was the most real person that she had ever met. She sobbed at his tale of woe, especially when he described Jo-Jo taking her final breaths and that, as hard as he tried, he couldn’t remember her funeral.
He asked her what she was doing for Christmas and her whole body stiffened. She became anxious and prickly and didn’t want to talk about home, so he left it. If she didn’t wish to talk about it, he certainly wouldn’t push her. He could only guess that the new marriage wasn’t going so well. That devastated him as he vividly recalled her smile and the love in her eyes when she had been that bride, only weeks ago. He felt this more when it was time to say goodbye. She didn’t seem to want to let him go and he knew that he would worry about her until he was lucky enough to see her again. She had promised to come and find him next Saturday. He would make sure that he was aware of the passing days. He would count them. He had something to look forward to for the first time in a long time.
True to her word, there she was. She was wrapped up warm in a white winter coat, fur around the hood, and she still appeared angelic and magical to his eyes. She had brought croissants and hot, sweet tea today. She was fretting about a presentation that she had to give at work. He went over her notes and corrected her grammar, which only served to amuse her to see that the teacher in him hadn’t disappeared at all. They talked about Christmas traditions and they laughed as they compared their childhoods, which weren’t so different really. At one point during the afternoon, there was a long pause in their conversation, which seemed somehow to be her doing. They simply listened to the sounds. The city centre had become a miniature fairground. They could hear the laughter of children, and it didn’t hurt him as much as it once would have. He could handle it because she was there. Joe could handle anything if Angelica was there. She brought him comfort, hope and joy.
The week before Christmas, he felt himself pining for her company. He thought of her wrapping presents, a glass of wine and carols on the radio. Her face illuminated by the lights on the fragrant Christmas tree. He hoped that she was happy. More than anything in the world.
Time dragged horribly as he didn’t see her at all. Where was she? Was everything okay? He didn’t know where to find her, so he was stuck in this terrible limbo of waiting, waiting, waiting.
It wasn’t until Christmas Eve that she turned up, and he could immediately see that all was not well. She had been crying. Her eyes were puffy and red, her face was blotchy. He was on the ground in the subway and she scurried underneath the blanket and he tried to share all the warmth with her that he could.
“Angels shouldn’t cry,” he whispered into her forehead.
“It’s over,” she sobbed.
He didn’t need to ask. He understood. He had half-expected this kind of news.
“Then, what a mammoth loss he shall suffer,” he said.
“You talk about real people, Joe. Money doesn’t make you real. Having a heart makes you real. And you must stop believing that I am some kind of angel, because I’m not. Not at all.”
“You will always be an angel in my eyes.”
“He isn’t real, Joe, he’s not like you.”
He wanted to tell her something sensible, some sage advice about patching things up. But he couldn’t. The very second that he had seen them on their big day, he had known that this man had not deserved her. Perhaps, no one did.
“It’s Christmas soon,” he said.
Angelica looked at her watch.
“In about an hour. Can we just sit here for a while?” she asked.
“Well, I would have to cancel my meal at The Ritz, but, sure, anything for you,” he grinned.
She laughed then, a sincere hearty chuckle, and she snuggled in closer and closed her eyes. He tried to stay awake, to wish her Merry Christmas and send her back to her home with central heating and a bed, but he fell asleep too. Cosy contentment was a heady concoction.
He awoke to her sharp elbow, digging into his side, jostling him awake.
“Morning,” she said, “Happy Christmas.”
“It’s the happiest Christmas I have had in a long time. Come on, get up, get going. I won’t let you spend your Christmas here.”
“I won’t let you spend your Christmas here either,” she announced staunchly, hands on hips and a determined look in her eye.
“I don’t have much choice,” he reminded her, “However, you do.”
“I want to go to my mum’s house.”
“Wise choice, she hides the sprouts underneath your mashed potato,” he smiled at the memory she had told him about.
“Come with me.”
“I can’t. Look at me.”
“I just see a brilliant man. Maybe, he could do with a hot bath. I will make sure you get one. I want you to have a Christmas dinner, Joe. Mum always makes too much food. But, more than anything, I want you to be with me. Please, Joe. You wouldn’t come in to my wedding reception. Please, come with me now.”
She stood up and extended her hand, her eyes pale, large, and appealing.
He was scared. Petrified of what this could all mean. But, more than anything, he desired to be at her side today. And so, he took her hand.
I have been increasingly saddened, by the growing number of homeless people on our streets today. I always stop and chat and offer what I can, despite not having much to give myself. Nobody should be in this position, and it breaks my heart. My story has a happy conclusion, one that most people don’t get. This story comes with a promise. Myself and my daughters will be wrapping up Christmas parcels of warm socks and festive food. We will be giving them out to homeless people in the days before Christmas. Thank you for reading. Christmas is a time for giving. Let’s give to those who need it the most.
Author of Black Eyed Boy & Green Eyed Girl.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
As the autumn leaves dance through the air and I, once again, turn to my favourite jumper, I think about my beautiful holiday. At the very end of summer, I returned to my favourite destination: Whitby. This North Yorkshire coastal town calms my very soul. I feel better. I sleep better. And I am always inspired to write something when I am there. The views and the atmosphere are so incredibly rousing if you have a creative mind. My first two novels are set here.
Once more, Whitby Holiday Cottages provided me with a perfect base. I stayed in a gorgeous cottage, on Cliff Street, named Abbey View. The booking process had been simple and easy. On arrival, we were greeted with a tray of complimentary drinks and biscuits. Fresh flowers were in several rooms. I knew that I was going to have a brilliant week.
Whitby’s magic had me enthralled immediately and we did so many fun and interesting things over the course of those wonderful seven days. And when it grew dark and we all started yawning, we headed back to Abbey View with smiles on our faces. The view from the living room window was exquisite. I miss that view and I think of it often. I also miss taking my cup of coffee and writing pad out into the front yard in the morning, knowing full well that words would find me and they would soon be caught on to that blank page. And it didn’t take long.
One morning, I looked up at Whitby Abbey and it began to disappear as a fog seemed to descend from nowhere. It appeared rather spooky and my head was coming up with all kinds of ghostly notions. I thought of Bram Stoker and some of the key scenes of Dracula that were set on those winding hundred-and-ninety-nine-steps. As a fan of horror, I quickly came up with an idea. And I scribbled and scribbled away until I had finished.
As it’s almost Halloween, it seems the ideal time to share this with you. Here is my short Whitby story, very much inspired by my stay at Abbey View. Thank you, Whitby Holiday Cottages, for another marvellous holiday.
As the bells rang out from St Mary’s, deep into the night, the creatures of the darkness were summoned from their hiding places. Fog circled the Abbey, concealing the dramatic ruins from view. Snow-white seagulls soared through the ebony sky; so starkly bright that they almost appeared spectral. Even the buildings huddled together, over on the east side, as though they were conspiring to veil some ancient secret. Old whisperings crept along thin ghauts, leading into the still harbour and high up into the clifftops.
Rain splashed the cobbled streets. The narrow strips of pavement glistened along Church Street. This street attracted masses of tourists by day; it embodied the notion of the hustle and bustle of a popular seaside town. Though, it stood eerily empty and silent by night, and it was an entirely altered place by midnight.
The humans inside the cottages slept soundly and could not be roused from their deep slumber. Come the morning, they would comment upon how well they had slept and proclaim that the sea air had been responsible. They never knew or understood that the sea air had so little to do with it and, in fact, they had been under a Whitby spell; a deep-rooted and profound trance. The creatures of the darkness could run amok these antiquated streets with wild abandon, and after hearing the proud chime and cry of the church bells, they stirred from their ramshackle graves. Arms outstretched and the low hum beginning, clawed hands scratched and scooped at the soil. The awakening had begun.
Hums became chants, quiet yet strong and purposeful; a synchronised rumble of growing noise. Tales of former glories, a pretty face and maritime adventures. Bodies emerged, in varying states. Skin was gashed open, revealing bone. In some cases, limbs were lacking. Clothes were tattered and spattered with blood.
The rhythm grew stronger, louder, much like the beat of a heavy drum. As Whitby slept, the creatures marched down the hundred-and-ninety-nine steps. The chant became a roaring sea shanty and it lost its echo to a past well-lived and it became a despairing sonnet of recollected pain. A ballad of anguish and agony that had long been forgotten. But they remembered. The creatures. They both recoiled from the harrowing flashbacks and embraced them. They were important. Lives had been lost, so many of them, and although the horror was relived on a nightly basis, it could not be accepted. So, they lingered, night after night, repeating this haunting process with no closure to end their suffering. How could they move on? They hadn’t found him. He didn’t have a final resting place as they did, and it simply wasn’t right. Not for a lad so young.
His father, the captain of a once great ship, lead the line of ghostly sailors. His pale blue eyes were drowning in melancholy, but a flicker of determination still resided there. He hobbled along on injured legs, and his remaining arm swayed at his side. A long, cruel gash ran down the length of his torso, but he didn’t appear to feel the physical pain. He only felt the eternal love in his heart and the sickening loss of losing his precious son. And he felt the guilt, always, it burned his soul and swallowed him whole. He never should have allowed his only child to step aboard that ship on that fateful evening.
The captain thinks of his poor wife. He imagines her all alone, consumed by grief, and he vows to find her. It’s the same sorrowful story each night. But he never finds her. She’s long gone. Shuffling along the deserted streets, the captain’s hefty, black boots stop dead on Grape Lane. The others stop too, leaving a respectful distance between them.
His timeworn eyes leak tears and they race down his weather-beaten, gruff face. What was once his home, is no more. The building remains, and when he closes his eyes, he can hear his son right there on the street. He’s laughing and playing; he’s full of life. He can hear the sweetness in his wife’s voice, as she gently guides him back inside the house in time for supper. As he opens his eyes, they are gone, and only some kind of shopfront looks back at him. He peers closer. Books. It’s a bookshop. And he cannot fathom how this could be. Where is his wife? And where are the remains of his dear young son?
An ear-splitting, pitiable moan roars from his throat and into the cold air. He cannot rest until he finds them. Though, he senses that this will not occur tonight. It’s late, and now his bones are beginning to ache. So, on he goes, bypassing the other men as they fall into an orderly single line behind him. The ballad of torment builds once more. The sonnet of memories plays as they stride back into the hush of Church Street. The chanting grows stronger as they ascend the many steps, slowly fading to a hum as they climb back into their aged graves, covering themselves up with the earth.
The captain takes one last glance out to sea. It faintly shimmers, though it’s nothing but a blanket of thick, black darkness out there. He too settles back down, deep into the ground, as the boisterous gulls shriek overhead; the only witnesses of the ghostly sailors and their tragic, nocturnal mission.
You can book your own fabulous Whitby holiday here: Whitby Holiday Cottages
My first novel, set in Whitby, can be found here: Black Eyed Boy
The sequel can be found here: Green Eyed Girl
Monday, May 9, 2016
Delights and amuses.
With kooky tangents,
Like growing tree branches
Or a busy map;
And cross over.
A long and interesting life
Makes for many stories.
Tales of dear friendships
And a Sheffield childhood.
Tales of art and creativity
And the Cathedral.
Sometimes, she’s naughty
And eats crisps
But we laugh
Because we’re just the same.
Similar in so many ways:
And moments of inspiration.
She doodles on envelopes,
The pen comes alive
With her lively drawings;
But she talks of going,
Of fading now.
And tears sting my eyes.
I can’t imagine that.
I have never met anyone like her.
Eighty-four and full of vitality.
And a wonderful mischief
Dances in her eyes.
I like to watch her smile
And love to hear her laugh.
You won’t find another Jean,
Even if you searched the world,
Until the end of time.
Caring for feline friends,
She has a beautiful soul.
And she is loved,
And that is why I can’t –
Imagine a world without her.
I don’t think she knows
That she plays such a big part