Tales From The Town #15: Summer

A Summer’s Day

“It’s hot,” Tina said.

“It’s really hot,” Claire agreed.

“It’s too hot,” Ethel insisted.

“It’s not hot enough,” said Daniel.

A Summer’s Night

It was dark outside. Really dark. You couldn’t see a thing. But you could hear it all. It went on and on. It would not stop. Don’t they ever sleep out there?

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Notes:

1. Written on May 6th, 2021

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Tales From The Town #11: The First Ice Cream Van Of The Summer

Agnes was in the kitchen when she heard the music in the distance. A chill ran down her spine. She closed the laptop and waited for what was sure to come.

***

Footsteps on the stairs. Doors flung wide. A swarming crowd of desperate faces, raised from some winter-long hibernation.

***

“Mum! Mum! Can we have some money?”

“For ice creams!”

“From the ice cream van!”

“We’ve got a freezer full of ice creams,” Agnes said. “Can’t you have one of those?”

“But they’re not the same!”

“They’re exactly the same,” Agnes said.

“They’re not.”

“The ice cream van has more.”

“And they’re bigger!”

“And colder!”

“They are not colder.”

“They are!”

“And they might have some new ones!”

“Last year they had some we’d never seen before!”

“They were horrible!”

“Well, our ones aren’t horrible,” Agnes said. “I got the ones we all like.”

“But we’ve been good, Mum!”

“Really good!”

“You said if we’d been good we could have an ice cream!”

“From the ice cream van!”

“I don’t remember saying that at all.”

“Well, you did!”

“You definitely did!”

“Okay, okay,” Agnes said, fishing out some small change from the pockets of her jeans and dropping it into their grasping mitts. “But don’t just buy the ones we’ve got in the freezer!”

***

Footsteps in the hall. Doors slamming shut behind them. Cries of excitement fading out down the street.

***

Agnes sat down at the table and sighed. Of all the things in all the worlds, the continued existence of ice cream vans was the thing she understood the least.

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Notes:

1. Written on May 4th, 2021
2. With thanks to Arab Strap for the title.

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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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July Correspondence

Dear Governess,

I am writing to you as requested. I hope this letter re-assures you that I am not neglecting my studies while we vacation here in the sun.

My mother instructs me to extend her good wishes to you. She hopes the house is not too lonely without us, and that Charles is behaving himself.

I believe the dogs are missing you. Caspar sits by the piano in the drawing room and wails each evening, while Hauser will not eat his breakfast until I sing one of your hymns to him, which certainly brings forth amused looks from the other patrons in the dining room, if not from mother.

Father is enjoying himself. He has befriended a local captain and the two of them spend hours on his boat. Father says they are planning a voyage to one of the islands on the horizon, but I think it is more likely they are going to be making their way round the bays to procure wine and cigars from the market by the port.

The two little ones take delight each day in picnicking on the hotel lawn. The other guests enjoy watching them pour each other tea from their dainty little pots, and the sandwiches the kitchen staff make for them are so enchanting, being cut not into rectangles or squares, but five point stars and crescent moons. Mother worries there is a religious motif here, but I re-assure her that there is nothing to worry about.

Grandmother died. We shall being staying on for the rest of the summer, as originally planned, but her body should arrive with you by Friday. If you have any trouble I am sure Charles will know what to do.

Regards

Alice

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Notes:

1. Written on August 6th, 2019

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half-remembered hazy summer dusklight

Your girlfriend asked you once if you’d help her out with her training over the park one evening, because her usual training partner was away somewhere, or ill or injured, maybe, you can’t really remember.

Anyway she asked you if you’d help her train – it wouldn’t involve much, she stressed, just standing around mostly – and you’d said yes, and you went to the park and she did her drills for the best part of an hour, which involved sprinting away from you to the fence and back, and then her punching away at your raised hands for a minute or so, you holding them up unsteadily, your hands absurdly huge in the sparring gloves she’d given you to wear, this short routine repeated, turn, sprint, turn, sprint, punch, punch, punch, until she could barely stand and your hands were numb from the contact.

As she got her breath back at the end, towelled her face, gulped down her water, you took the gloves off and threw them down with her gear and said, “Man, christ, my wrists really ache now,” and she said, “Your wrists ache? You just stood there,” and you laughed and said, “Yeah, I know,” and laughed again and she laughed too. And then while she was getting changed, sitting down, leant up against a tree, she looked over to where you were standing and said, “You didn’t have to come if you didn’t want to, you know,” and you said, no, you wanted to, it was good, you enjoyed yourself, it was fun, it was a lovely evening.

And it was great and you did enjoy it, but she didn’t ask you to come next week when she went and she never asked you again and a few months later you weren’t even together anymore and these days to be honest you’re surprised you ever were.

But you find yourself thinking about it sometimes, remembering that night over the park, the hazy summer dusklight, your bags of clothes by the trunk of the tree, the cars passing by on the road just behind the fence, windows down, music strobing as they passed.

And her face in front of yours, the intensity of her stare, the joy and the pain as she pushed herself harder and harder, the rage of her fists against your padded palms, the thud of glove on glove, the jolt of every blow in your wrists, in your shoulders, trying to hold yourself there, trying to stand firm.

She turns, sprints away. Turns, sprints back.

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Notes:

1. Written in January 23rd, 2016
2. This was going to be published in a book this year, but in the end it wasn’t published in a book this year
3. So here it is instead

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.