Monday, June 26, 2006

The Easiest Things To Do, The Hardest Things To Say

Dear A,
The worst thing you can do, so they say, is start a letter with a cliché, but I have to: by the time you read this it'll be too late to stop the series of events that'll end with you walking into the kitchen, reaching across the smooth granite surface and removing the large carving knife from the walnut block. Will your hand tremble?

By now, you'll have concluded that it's my handwriting; the doctor's scrawl that no amount of detention could ever turn into an elegant, flowing script. Perhaps you'll nick the side of your hand with the knife? Maybe, right now, you're rinsing it under a tap - cold, of course - or sucking hard with your mouth to stem the flood of curses and blood? Even if you hadn't cut yourself, would you have lain the envelope on the solid oak table, simultaneously drawing a sharp breath that cuts not your hand but deep into your heart?

It's all questions, the answers to which I'll never be privy.

However, I can't ponder. There are things I need to get done, things I need to get written.

How I'm feeling, it's not something I can sweat out, cough up; it's innate, like the ability to suck air into lungs, to throw punches.

I think my mother saw it too. Like her, you'd always known it was there, buried somewhere beneath the brash - yet, brittle - skin of my personality. Once, a long time ago now, you'd said, "What, I wonder, is it? What is shrouded by that melancholic cloud?" Do you remember my reply? I do. The exact phrasing, the measure. What struck me was that my mother had said the same thing to me, as a child.

I was only nine. An insignificance, I thought, with my lazy eye, my cow's lick that made the hair on my head go punk, ten years too early. I didn't know that neither of you were reinforcing that notion. I'd been too young to understand. Even twenty years later I hadn't learned the lesson, I couldn't accept.

Of course, acceptance has never been my strong point. I've resolved to change that.

This letter is the beginning.

With love

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Memory

The air around the meadow was sickly, as is the taste of chocolate frosting or the sentiments of old ladies. Flies hung in groups, their intimidation techniques more of an annoyance; bees bumbled from flower to flower. I was running across the field, through the knee-length grass that whipped around my shins, leaving thin red streaks where the blood had come to see who was knocking on the skin of my legs.

I’d been running away. So many years ago it had occurred, but it all felt as if it had happened yesterday. I hadn’t run for such a long time, it felt like a dream every time I recalled it. Now my legs, stained by blue lumps, mottled by scabs and scars, were useless.

I’d long ago ceased to tie my shoelaces, skipping the ritual and pulling on trainers when I left the house. Sometimes I simply left my feet to the elements or pulled thick socks over the twisted stumps of flesh I laughingly called toes. The same stumps that had propelled me through the strips of grass, past the yellow-headed dandelions, their manes of colour thick and stark against the greens; past the congregating flies, the blood-starved gnats and mosquitoes.

Sitting in front of the large mirror that sucked up a good proportion of wall space in the hallway, the back of the chair stabbing at the bruises from yesterday’s physiotherapy treatment, I noticed the changes in my face, how I’d grown into my features. Waves of dry skin lapped around a beach of neck; lips drooping to greet them at the shore; a bulbous nose that looks on in disdain of things beneath it. Dark spots litter my skin and hair sprouts from almost every orifice while simultaneously receding from the top of my head. It’s a face I would have been scared of, would have run from, back in the halcyon days of youth. It’s a face I cannot bear to look at now, one I am not familiar with despite having carried it around with me for almost 70 years.

It’s a face that remembers the meadow, the running, the breathlessness. It displays the marks of that day, cutting deeper than a surgeon’s scalpel, a robber’s knife. I wonder who else has seen these characteristics, these features I have carried since my youth. Perhaps, no one. They are my secret alone.

The day had begun with violent thunderstorms, rain fizzed on the tarmac and the thunder growled its way across the clouded, darkened sky, a malevolent roar that caused the birds to fall silent, animals to cower in fear. I was sat at my bedroom window, watching the cows in the field opposite sit under the shelter of the majestic oak trees that stood to attention along the left-hand side of the field. The trees shivered in the wind, trembling, like soldiers awaiting orders to march to the front lines. The streets were deserted, no one willing to risk a soaking, even though the air was hot and stifling; people had prayed for rain, willed it to come to break up the humid summer days that were becoming more familiar every year – my mother confessed that she harked back to the times when England seemed to be forever under a dark cloud, but I was unsure whether she meant the weather or any number of government ministers, including the current batch of incompetent fools.

The storm has passed quickly, leaving behind the smell of damp grass and a secondary pleasant odour, as if someone, somehow, had distilled the refreshing scents of summer. I wasted no time in jumping from my window sill perch and getting outside, failing to heed to call of my mother to “put on some boots and a coat in case it rains again”.

I headed straight for the meadow.

I strode through the wet grass, caring little as my trouser legs became sodden, heavy, cumbersome. Within minutes I had reached the largest tree in the wood, its circumference too much for my arms to reach around. I leaned back against its rough bark and rummaged through my pockets for my penknife. I liked to leave my mark, like a dog pisses against a bush every twenty feet or so. It was one of “the foibles”, as my mother liked to refer to it; upon catching me digging my knife into a wooden desk at school, the headmaster had refuted that definition, choosing instead to label me, vandal.

Soon, I tired of carving out my initials and walked on to the centre of the wood, where the trees encircled a patch of mossy grass. Laying back in the copse I could see the clouds scattered through blue sky, forever changing; occasionally the vision was enhanced by a swirl of birds or a drifting leaf spiralling towards the ground. I closed my eyes as the sun peeped over me, a golden, burning spy. I felt a shadow cross my face, imagined the clouds had returned. And then I felt another kind of heat, the type that comes with breath.

I opened my eyes quickly and saw a face above me. I startled and made to scream. A hand clamped around my mouth, its roughened, calloused skin impervious to the biting of my teeth. I struggled under the weight of the person, a blur in the periphery of my vision. A heard a voice, but not the words. All I wanted was freedom. At any cost.

It was only when the hand pressed against my face slackened that I remembered my penknife. Recalled that it was in my hand, had been grasped in my fist as I flailed beneath the stranger’s grip. I could feel the warm liquid running down my hand, tickling my elbow and pooling in the pit of my arm. I pulled it away and fought to find my footing as I attempted to stand, the circle of blue sky spinning above me.

A glance down, a body sprawled. The sun suddenly hot against my back, my shoulders. I felt the back of my throat constrict as I ran. I felt the sickness rise up, a sickly sweet taste, a tang of guilt, of fear. I ran for the meadow, for safety.

I ran and I didn’t stop until I got home.