Recollections Of A Summer

The Path

We used to lay down paths behind us as we walked. There was no one to stop us from going where we pleased.

Instead of stones or breadcrumbs we would use the coins we found washed up on the beach by the old pier, spilling out of the rusted machines below the tideline.

We laid the coins down as went through the woods, as we stepped over fallen trees and crossed broken bridges, as we followed half-forgotten paths all overgrown with brambles, the paths we had walked together since we were little, the paths we would have walked forever if we could, if things had never changed between us. If we had never changed those things.

We walked all the way down to the hidden clearing and the cold, shadowed lake that you couldn’t see from anywhere until you came to it and it was there, and we would take off our clothes and step into the water and swim off from the edge, swim all the the way out to the centre.

And we waited there together for whoever might follow our way.

The Jetty

She always called it the pier. I said it was the remnants of an old dragon, its vertebrae fused together to form this truncated path to nowhere, out into the sea. The boat tied up at the end of the pier I imagined was its skull, or perhaps the lower half of its jaw.

I never could decide if it died on its front or its back.

Its wings had been lost to the sea, I said, a faint echo of them painted out in kelp at the line of the tide. The vast caverns of its heart lay hidden, buried deep beneath the beach.

My sister wasn’t listening. She climbed out onto the boat and beckoned me to follow. I watched her swaying there.

“Jump”, she said.

I didn’t want to.

“Come on, jump.”

I did.

The Hut

Rain clattered like stones on the metal roof and we were glad of the shelter.

My sister took some cards from her bag and for each picture she turned over one of us would tell a story, our voices raised slightly so we could be heard over the din. My stories were based on things we had seen and things we had done. What hers were based on I do not know.

As the sun began to set she put away the cards and took out a candle and lit it with the last of the matches, the only dry ones in the box.

I took the candle in my hands and held it as gently as if it was my own heart.

Outside, despite the rain, on the horizon we could see a single blood red star, and beside it a bloated yellow moon.

The Stairs

1… 2… 3… 4… 5…

She had seen it from the cliff top, the dead or dying whale, and wanted to see it up close.

6… 7… 8… 9… 10…

And so I followed down behind as she bounded down the narrow stairs cut into the rock.

11… 12… 13… 14… 15…

Tentatively. 

16…

Counting each step.

17…

One

18…

by

19…

one 

20…

I couldn’t bring myself to look ahead. The steps seemed to fall away vertically below me if I did, gravity welling up almost visible before me, drawing my body forward, forward, to topple and tumble and fall and die.

21… 22… 23… 24… 25…

And I couldn’t look over the side, down to the beach, although I did, I did. I didn’t mean to but I did, and each time its body down there in the sand loomed larger, nearer now, more bloated, deader somehow, deader than before and deader than ever, deader than everything.

26… 27… 28… 29… 30…

I couldn’t even look up at the grey skies in case I lost my footing and slipped.

31… 32… 33… 34… 35…

So I stared intently at my feet, at the tips of my shoes and my careful steps from step to step. Right foot down. Then the left foot next so both were side by side. Then count.

36…

Right foot. Left foot. Count

37…

Right foot. Left foot. 

38…

Right. Left.

39…

Right. Left.

40…

Careful never to hurry.

41…

Careful never to miss a count.

42…

Hoping the stairs would never end.

43…

That I would never reach the sand.

44…

Never have to look up.

45…

And see it.

46…

47…

48…

49…

The Stream

We sat facing each other from opposite banks. Socks balled up in our shoes and placed by our sides, our trousers rolled up to our knees, our feet plunged down into the cold and clear of it.

The water was deep from the rains, the stones we’d placed suggestively as steps in earlier days now almost completely submerged. The waters ran so strong around our ankles the dirt was scoured from our skin, and it billowed out downstream like clouds of blood from old unhealing wounds.

I smiled. She smiled. In the afternoon sun we had never felt so alive.

The Sky

She walked ahead of me across the fields, out under the starry sky. I could see her only as a shadow, a deeper darkness in the dark of night that disappeared when I looked straight at it, so to follow her I had to keep looking away, glimpse her form only out of the edges of my eyes.

I stumbled over something, or into something, tripped and fell, the fall more terrifying for not knowing what had caused it, for not seeing where I was about to land.

When I picked myself up and looked around I could not see her at all. I looked away in every direction, concentrated on every periphery, but saw only darkness, uniform, yet without form.

I called out to her.

I cried.

The world span so fast every star was a blur across the sky and you could feel the whole galaxy turning above you.

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Notes:

1. This was written in April 2021
2. To submit to a thing
3. It was rejected.
4. Also as it’s all taken from An Escape
5. It was really written between 2014 and 2017
6. Please don’t hate me
7. Recycling my past is all I have

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It Was Hot. I Don’t Know If You Noticed.

It was hot. The sort of heat where you feel sick from it, cloying and wet and sweating and sick. Nothing to be done except sit there and wait, sit and stare and fidget and itch. And moan, and moan.

There’s no better weather for moaning. “Urgh, it’s so hot,” every ten minutes, looped, throughout the day, the night, the whole fucking week of it. Followed up always by “Too hot,” half in correction to that earlier “so”, half in confirmation. Moaning to yourself, with yourself, against yourself.

It was all we had. Unable to even use our phones as distraction, our fingers and thumbs too drenched in sweat to operate the screen, their innards and workings too hot to cope, their response even more pathetic than ours – screen glitches, randomised resets, refusals to turn back on. At least the sun doesn’t make narcoleptics of us all. Not yet, anyway.

Out of the house she comes, her hair still wet from the shower. A new summer dress, a radiant smile. A slight fragrance of something, some scent of flowers or fresh fruit. She drops her book on the table top, sits in the seat next to mine, takes a sip of her drink with a small shudder of delight.

Turns to me.

Smiles.

Glows.

“What a glorious day,” she says, the ice cubes clinking in her glass, her smile as wide as the sky, as bright as the sun. “I hope it’s like this all summer long.”

The only thing more unbearable than the heat is other people’s happiness.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in the summer of 2020
2. When it was quite hot

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The Dinosaurs

A big dinosaur and a little dinosaur were walking through the swamp together.

“God, you’re so small,” the big dinosaur said to the little dinosaur. “So small and tiny and pathetic.”

Although he only said that last part to himself rather than out loud. You never say those bits out loud.

“And you’re so big,” the little dinosaur said to the big dinosaur. “So big and huge and amazing!”

The little dinosaur was so excited he even said that last part out loud. He couldn’t help himself. Everyone knew it was true. Big dinosaurs were brilliant. All the stories said so. Big dinosaurs went on exciting adventures and had all this amazing fun together and all their friends were beautiful and they lived in the biggest caves and everything. It was so cool.

The only stories anyone ever told about little dinosaurs were ones where everyone was miserable and dying and ugly and dead. Who’d ever want to listen to those?

“I wish I was as big as you,” the little dinosaur said. “I wish I was bigger than everyone!”

“Well, you just need to put the work in,” said the big dinosaur, magnanimously. “That’s what I did. I didn’t get this big by lazing around all day doing nothing! I did it by working my bloody arse off!”

“I work hard,” said the little dinosaur. “I catch and eat a fish every single week!”

“That’s not work,” snorted the big dinosaur. “I eat a thousand pounds of swamp grass every single day! That’s the sort of work you need to put in if you want to move up in the world. No fucking lazing around in the sun for weeks at a time. ‘Oooh, oooh, look at me, I’m metabolising my food!’ Pathetic. You don’t see us big dinosaurs napping on the job. No, we fucking digest our food while we eat it. We don’t even stop eating while we talk. I’m eating right now! See! See!”

The big dinosaur bent down and took another big mouthful of swamp grass, spitting great lumps of it in the little dinosaurs face as he fantasised about shouting at the stupid pathetic lazy workshy little arsehole. Fucking little bastard! As if you could ever be as big as me! Bigger! What a fucking cheek!

The little dinosaur ran away and cried a bit probably and then resolved to improve itself in the face of adversity, because that’s what little dinosaurs always do in the stories. So much bloody crying. And resolving. Always resolving. Resolving to do this and that and the other and whatever. Fuck them. Little shits.

Anyway the next day the big dinosaur came back and found the little dinosaur was already in the swamp. The little dinosaur was lying on its side and its stomach had burst open and blood and swamp grass and even a little bit of undigested fish leaked out of it all over the marsh.

“Hah!” the big dinosaur laughed down at the little dinosaur. “Less than day of hard work and you’re already sleeping on the job. Typical!”

Later on a group of medium dinosaurs appeared and fought with each other over who would get to eat the little dinosaur but no one was watching by then because honestly what would be the fucking point.

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Notes:

1. Written on March 7th, 2021
2. While still in bed
3. Before getting up
4. I did not feel well
5. Please forgive me

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Why do we love football?

We used to play football over the field, me, my brother, and a bunch of other kids from the estate. It was an obsession. It was all we did. None of us were any good, but we never let that put us off.

We never let anything put is off. One time I slid through some unseen dog’s muck, ended up covered in shit from my knees up to my shoulder. I ran home weeping, of course, in disgust and shame and sheer shivering horror, but I still went back the next day. I wanted to go back that day, but I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t let me. I’d already caused her enough work.

Similarly, when I sliced my shin open on some rusty piece of debris, that didn’t put me off. Didn’t put any of us off. That time, if I remember it right, I didn’t even run home, just played on covered in blood, revelling in the gore and the carnage of it all.

Football was like a mania, really, some desperate delirium. Football, football, football. The drumbeat of our lives. I was 10. 11. 12. It went on and on.

It wasn’t even a field we played on. Just some small patch of grass in a piece of dead space between the houses, bounded by garages and back garden fences, forgotten by everyone except us and whoever it was that parked their car at one end, there every day and gone at night, the visible dents in the doors increasing month by month, wayward shot by wayward shot.

I was too young then for music.

***

I was 13 when it happened. I fired in a shot at goal. It the hit the handlebars of whoever’s bike it was that was being used as the right hand goalpost, ricocheted off into the windscreen of the parked car, looped up high over a back garden wall, and disappeared from view. Followed soon by the sounds of shattering glass. Followed soon by everyone running away.

Except for me.

That ball was mine. I couldn’t leave it behind. An official World Cup 90 Adidas Etrusco. It meant everything to me, loomed large in my imagination in a way incomprehensible to me now.

If I was obsessed with football, I was obsessed with all the rest too – boots, balls, kits, stickers, subbuteo, video games, everything. It was a debilitating disease of the mind. It was all I had.

So I looked around, shrugged my shoulders, and climbed over the fence. No one ever saw me again.

***

Don’t worry. They did really.

***

I wasn’t even in there long, to be honest. It just seemed like forever.

The whole place had the stink of abandonment and despair. The garden was overgrown. The rotary washing line was rusted into its hole. A rotten shed. Paint peeling from the window frames. The back door swinging back and forth on its hinges, the glass from the bottom window panel shattered all around.

I stepped forward, stepped inside, big steps across the debris field, small steps as I shuffled as silently as I could across the yellowing lino of the darkened kitchen.

From the shadows, movement. A white orb, floating ominously, the ball as heavenly object, ghostly terror.

The figure holding it smiled out at me over the top. Was it a smile? I couldn’t tell. She had too many teeth, they were too long, too wide, too white. It stopped being a smile and became something else.

The ball rested on her palm, and the fingers were splayed out towards me. Even longer than the teeth were the claws. Even longer than the claws the fingers. Her other arm hung down to her knee. Those claws scraped at the carpet, undulating rhythmically, unable to keep still.

I took the ball silently and turned to leave. I felt those claws on my shoulder, on my legs, running up my inner thigh. Those teeth I felt against my neck. And as they parted, her tongue slathered across my cheek, searching slowly for my mouth. So cold, so wet.

The ball bounced slowly away across the room. Beneath our feet the crunch of broken glass.

I fell into a dream.

***

After that I didn’t really play football much any more.

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Notes:

1. Written in December 2020
2. The title is from this
3. All though that version’s slightly different from the one they usually show on the tv.
4. But anyway this story has nothing at all to do with that really I’m afraid.

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You Don’t Have To Read This, But I Hope You Do

Dear Sir,

I thought it best to contact you by mail, considering the events of this past week. You don’t have to read this, of course – I’m sure you are very busy, after all – but I hope that you do. Perhaps it will do you good to hear an explanation of events from a point of view other than your own.

After the events of the dance on Friday night – I’m sure I don’t have to explain that in detail – it seems a vital misunderstanding of the importance of our … tryst (shall we say) … has begun to blossom in your mind. Yes, I enjoyed myself very much – as I hope did you – but I thought a man in your position would have understood, as seemed clear to me, that this was simply an enjoyable dalliance rather than the precursor of something, indeed of anything, deeper, or more personally committing.

Now, it is possible this misunderstanding arose from the manner of my departure, which I admit was in haste, and taken without the necessary politenesses which such occasions surely warrant. So please forgive me for my sudden disappearance – although I should say that the hour was exceedingly late, and indeed not just you but most of your guests seemed slightly worse for wear by then. Even in my haste, I did still call out a ‘goodbye’ across the room to you, but it seems that my words did not rouse you sufficiently from your slumber for you to recognise it as my farewell.
It seems however, that my words did, indirectly, contribute to our misunderstandings this week, as apparently you were awakened enough by them to have subsequently watched my departure through the windows of your room, catching a glimpse of me fleeing through the front gates as if pursued, and I assume this is where your belief that I had been kidnapped, or was in some way being held in servitude, was formed.

In point of fact, I was simply hurrying to catch the final carriage of the evening, for it was a cold, wet, and very long walk home for me if I happened to miss it, and I was very much determined not to do so, not least because of the clothes I was wearing – I had not even brought a coat, nor boots, and the thought of my gown being ruined by a mile or more of walking through puddles and mud made me shiver in an anxiety probably unknown to those such as yourself, who have others to worry about such mundane matters as the washing of clothes.

Now, having laid out the facts of the evening in question, and having made clear that I accept some fault for the misunderstanding that has, evidently, occurred, I would like to turn to your behaviour in the week since.

It is of course very flattering to discover that you enjoyed the evident delights of my company so much that you’ve since been searching the city to find me – or ‘save me’, as you have reportedly been putting it – but that does not give you the right to barge uninvited into my home, insult my mother, accost my sisters, and accuse all and sundry of god knows what crimes and misdemeanours against me (‘an innocent’, as you kindly put it, although innocent of what I do not know).

My mother has been in tears ever since, and is simply inconsolable. To have someone of your power and standing insult her so brazenly, and with so little foundation, was deeply upsetting for a woman of her years (and long-avowed patriotism), and was, I believe, genuinely shocking to her on a spiritual level. If even half the things she alleges you said to her are true, then, well, I too am truly lost for words.

At least, if I am to search for small mercies, with my mother you were merely verbally abusive. Yet in your overzealous attempts to save me from my own family, you inflicted, beyond the spiteful insults towards their appearances, such grievous injuries on my two sisters that I fear it will be months before they can walk again. I have never seen wounds of such severity inflicted outside of a war, and even with months of rest I am not sure their feet will ever fully heal.

I am truly sorry I was not here when you called, as perhaps all this upset could have been avoided, although, in my darkest hours, I fear that, in fact, it would have been much worse. As it was, I happened to be working when you arrived – which is what you no doubt consider my servitude, but to the rest of us is known simply as employment.

Of course now, not only do I have to continue to support myself and my mother on my meagre earnings, but my two crippled sisters, too.

So it seems, even if after all this I somehow decided to consent to attend another one of your parties, there is much less chance of my being able to find the time to attend. I suppose I should consider that at least an amusing irony of the whole affair, and one which presumably would have made me laugh if not for the horror and harm inflicted upon those I love in service of it.

Thank you for the return of my shoe.

Please do not call at my house again.

Kind Regards

Cindi

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Notes:

1. Written on October 13th, 2019
2. This was previously posted here as Tale #102
3. But is now being reposted (with some slight editing differences I expect)
4. Due to it being performed at a Liars’ League event
5. On 14th February, 2021
6. Where it was performed wonderfully by Martine McMenemy
7. Whose reading I enjoyed very much

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