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seven silver buttons
14 March 2007 @ 11:39 am
Trickle of plasma
Blue heart stone
Set in its transparency
Flutters in plastic
Like a flicker
A shutter
A reel.

That my mother
Partially burned
Before the garage sale,
Before dissemination
Of our childhood
Your treacle hair
Dancing in loops.

Just a few
Ribbons left,
Dry filmy ends that
Whisper to the

Mundane fall from the
Plum tree
Left you still.
Trapped in glass
You danced those
Endless loops in
Her projector.

I slit open the night with
A rusty needle,
With spray painted
Pine cones
Stuck into eyeholes;
All I see is silver -
The nights seem so festive.

I parcel the hours
Stacked up to touch you
In the
Pocked moon
To melt his
Soft green heart
seven silver buttons
26 February 2007 @ 05:59 pm
it felt like trying to fold the sky into soft squares. I wanted to give them to my friends - endless grey boxes full of words. I didn't want to make the first fold, the first incision, to commit to anything. Five pale blooms lie crumpled in the bin. I made them out of grey sugar paper.
seven silver buttons
26 February 2007 @ 05:54 pm
Even the bald sky crouched down
To dip it’s dirty fingers in my purse.
Therefore it came as no surprise
The butcher’s strange request.

Outside the sky had a black look
Glowering above the dead-eyed
Shuttered street.
He drew me inside.

Spread like an altar cloth
The sheet was darkly stained
Far deeper than red
The colour of mourning.

He set me down amongst his
Dainty offerings:
Plum heart, brown lung

Beneath balletic half-pigs I splayed
Sides pierced dry.

The taste of filthy pennies
Filled my mouth
Thick wine the colour of oxblood
A poor anaesthetic.

The butcher held aloft his cleaver
Like a monstrance stiff with blood

Out rolled my bloody pearl.
seven silver buttons
26 February 2007 @ 05:51 pm
I named my dolls after you Peter. They were not fancy prom queen dolls done up their ludicrous lengths with ruffles and bows and velveteen ball gowns. Neither were they famished-looking plastic gamines riding around on pink motorbikes whilst they waited to go on dates with their muscular boyfriends. Rather, they were odd little patchwork creatures worked from scraps of satin and fluff heaped lovingly upon me by Marta the laundry maid. She was a wonderful girl of about nineteen who had answered an advertisement in the local paper intending to take on the job temporarily whilst she visited the country. Having left an altogether indifferent family and no true friends behind her she grew to rather like the comforts of our opulent home and the chatter and bustle that a child brings. Later, when you had left us, I think she felt bound to stay at least a short while as ballast and comfort to all that remained of our shattered family group – me.

As a child I had been used to absence – the long dining table set for forty people, the tinkle of glasses and the glitter of knives seemed not to mask but rather to frame the empty places where my parents should have been. I had no way to grasp their memory as you decided to remove and destroy all their photographs to dull the horror of our loss. I understand now that it was not a cruel trick you played on me Peter but rather to assuage your own pain that you took such drastic measures. Being denied access to the true images of my parents I naturally began to create my own and lovingly conjured a regal looking pair to accompany me throughout the loneliest times. Eventually I found it easier to condense them into a single entity, which much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone I christened Hitler. Marta tells me that this was not my only excursion into the world of the imagination; she says that for months after you left I babbled incessantly of seeing you, talking to you, playing with you. Worried that I might be taken away from the house despite my fabulous inherited wealth, Marta contrived to keep me close by her and so to my delight I was allowed to spend all day in the laundry.

There is a degree of treachery in a five-year-old girl that allows her to betray her loss and grief in the briefest of periods and I was not mourning for long. Though I am ashamed to admit it I think that had even Marta vanished I would have possessed the exquisite selfishness to carry on. For I was a solitary creature and though I loved Marta and her dolls I was at my happiest buried deep in the folds of clean sheets, barefoot and often naked in this soft white womb. The laundry had always been a magical place to me full of miracles and potions. I had been discouraged from venturing to the depths of the house before you left Peter; I was thought to be a bit of a nuisance I am sure. As a result I had imagined it as a sort of magical cavern far below full of secrets and magic. The laundry maids appeared as sorcerers in this enchanted kingdom bearing baskets piled high with linen to the surface, sprinkled with oils and herbs and steaming hot. These spiced offerings would be laid out in chests and on our beds and I knew each scent by heart. When I went down to the laundry and watched Marta and her helpers perform these alchemical transformations I had not been at all disappointed by the jars and bottles that lined the walls, at last I had seen their magic potions.

Perhaps it was because I had such an imagination and was used too seeing the world I created rather than the one I was living in. Perhaps it was because I was such a wilfully clumsy child always banging into things and begging to be allowed to career down the spiral staircase with no regard to how recently it had been polished. Yet again, perhaps it was the vagabond nature of my existence running wild around a huge house peopled only by myself, Marta and the other servants that allowed my deteriorating eyesight to go unnoticed for so long. One day I heard Marta call me and I thought she must have been very far away because I couldn’t see her. I was hungry and hoped she was calling me for my supper. Supper was a tragic affair with myself and the servants ranged along the vast dining table using the best silver and linen every day. I think that they were anxious to maintain the illusion of your imminent return Peter and their infinite readiness should you choose to entertain a party of one hundred guests. Otherwise what purpose was there in their being employed at all? At their head I would sit as mistress of the house in some uncomfortable starched dress and itchy woollen stockings. I must admit that I found it all a little confusing and inconvenient, much preferring to sit in a cotton smock eating with my fingers. I believe that it was fear that held us all prisoners to this disquieting ritual; no one wanted to face the reality of your loss. Marta’s voice sounded so near now that I could not understand why there was no sign of her. Suddenly, I felt the ground give way beneath me as Marta picked me up and smacked my bottom for hiding and ignoring her. Gabbling in terror I finally made her understand what was wrong.

By the age of six I had been struck totally blind. We could no longer continue to make-believe that things were okay. Marta let the others slip away quietly as she stayed loyally to deal with the aftermath of the terrible lie. She told me first so that I wouldn’t hear it from anyone else; that you had been so sad after mummy and daddy died that you wanted to go to them in heaven, you were never coming back. I don’t know what happened after that but I was taken to some dark place much like any other dark place and the house was sold, the money put into trust for me. Marta returned despondently to her family and all the sordid details came out one by one. When I met with Martha twelve years later I thought I would be so full of questions; why had she kept the fact of your suicide to herself and said you were merely extending your trip? Why had she and the others so wanted to preserve our fairytale existence that no one had thought of the effects on me? Why had they not taken me to a doctor earlier? Why had she patronised me when I was quite resilient enough to learn about the terrible finality of death? In the end it was obvious to me that there were no answers to these questions that I had not already discovered myself. The plain truth was that she had been frightened and acted rashly in a moment of weakness.

It is almost impossible to describe a sensation accurately, even a sensation that you feel more or less all the time. Try as I might I could not describe to you now the sensation of eating something very cold or the warm feeling of passing urine. I reach weakly for these loose and over worn epithets that are really far too vague to convey the most universal of feelings. How then can I explain to you the steady erosion of my store of images, having had noting to sharpen them on since I was six years old? Perhaps the paucity of these tired lexical sets to sketch sensations could be used as a comparison. I have very few true images stored any longer, and without help I find I can barely remember the crudest of visualisations. There is one image that I carry stronger than the others, and that is of the one time that you had the devil in you and played wildly with me all afternoon. It can only have been a few weeks before you died Peter. The spiral staircases had been polished to such a gloss that they seemed almost golden. Taking my hand you followed my lead and swooped gloriously to the bottom crashing on to the fawn rug. I don’t even know if this is a true memory or a wistful fabrication.

I spared Marta the pain and embarrassment of explaining herself to me when I saw her yesterday, but of her own accord she furnished me with a little extra information. A wealthy family took on the house, she thinks that they may have been Americans, and almost immediatly sold on to property developers for twice the price. I think that this must mean it has been demolished Peter, land is far more lucrative to developers that way. I wasn’t sad when Marta told me, far from it. Do you know what that means? It means that I never have to go back and try to glean the truth about you. Our secrets are preserved in those long vanished spirals.
seven silver buttons
26 January 2007 @ 01:40 pm
Frazzled from the night’s hardness she shook out her hair and tormented it with fingers. The cut glass bowl smeary in the cold light grinned lopsidedly with bananas, apples, pears. You weren’t supposed to put bananas with other fruit it spoiled them, made them unfit to eat but she had simply watched them rot to speckled brown. Breakfast always unsettled her, replacing one nausea with another as she gulped it down; scalding tea, soggy and lukewarm porridge, brown mush. She had started choosing a piece of fruit every day now, it felt cleaner to her, the crispness of an apple, the definite curve of a pear. She hated plums though, their yellow-green flesh belying their regal exteriors.

He had left much earlier than her, he did every day now. She didn’t ask questions though about what he might be doing in the early hours, what can you possibly get up to between six and eight in the morning? She usually got up then, eight o’clock and washed her hair. He hated long hair so she’d been growing it past her shoulders, she hated long hair too, the lugs and the dead useless weight of it. Short hair made her look gaunt, almost ghoulish but she did not want to give him the satisfaction.

Last night she had looked at the fruit bowl, and noticed how most of it was dying; a handful of withered grapes clustering round a half empty stalk. It disgusted her to think of the fruit she bought and wasted. Finding a smaller bowl she placed all four of the sweet reddish apples into it and with one swift movement clattered the dirty cut glass bowl and all its rotten fruits into the bin. The apples were pretty much all she liked to eat for breakfast now, they felt the right shape and size to her, the right weight. She would have one after her bath.

She ran a bath full to the brim. She liked the water to be scalding hot so that it made her sweat and her heart raced. It was very much discouraged by her doctors who warned her about the effects of sudden exposure to heat on a heart such as hers. Still she lay there writhing under the flashing faucets as she kept refilling the hot water. This hour between eight and nine was her favourite time of day, she felt encouraged by the idea that anyone’s day could start like this, get up at eight, drink a cup of tea, have a bath. But then when she got out and dried her endless hair, she became restless. The problem was not that she had to get anywhere in a hurry, no urgent appointments, or children to see to or job for example. No lunch with friend’s or sister. Rather the point was that she had none of these things to do, and the washing and drying of her hair had become tortuous, a game of endurance, a useless task like counting the ashes in the grate.

She had been in this house a long time now, seven years she had bathed in this tub, dressed before the cruel glass sometimes quickly, sometimes in slow fascination. The place she had come from was not exactly a bad one, but her mother had a hankering to retire comfortably and see her only daughter suitably matched so she could begin the long process of luxuriating toward death. In exchange for her mother’s comfort she had come here at twenty and now edged closer to thirty having done nothing much in between.

She had worked a little in the beginning; endless arpeggios with clumsy young ladies on the piano. He had made her comfort his priority giving over one of the largest brightest rooms to her lessons; a new piano, ivory drapes to protect her sensitive eyes and pale skin and an expensive record player for her to play all her old records in peace. She had harboured dreams of something more, and asked for the lessons to be terminated whilst she concentrated on her own playing. He had been delighted with the idea, encouraged by her fervour he called to make the arrangements himself to cancel the next term’s lessons. The problem was that she became confused sitting day after day in that white room practising and listening to music and she forgot what to do with her fingers. With her husband gone all day and no friends to talk to she began to miss the chatter of the girls and fell into a sort of blind panic. Crippled by solitude she sat staring at her useless hands and began to accept the inevitable. Six months after she had begun her project, she decided to end it and told her husband with eyes red from crying that she would never be a wonderful pianist, but was fit only to teach children their scales. There was still some affection between them and he had folded her into his arms and comforted her gently, telling her that there was nothing to be ashamed of in teaching children their scales.
The bath was never hot enough for her; it lost heat quickly in spite of the radiator because of the size of the room. By nine she was always ready to get out and dry off in front of the mirror. She needn’t get dressed all day if she wanted, she needn’t do anything. Sometimes she waited until seven to get dressed, just in time for the caterer to ring the doorbell and drop off the supper that they would almost never eat together. She would have her portion and leave his in the oven for whenever he returned. The doctors didn’t like for her to do any heavy work, no cooking or cleaning and certainly no pregnancies in her condition. She sometimes called a taxi and wrapped herself in warm layers to go shopping in the village. There was not much there that she wanted, she had lost interest in clothes and so very rarely dressed these days that it seemed silly. Still she enjoyed going to the market and buying fruit, not much, just a few things - the colours reassured her.

Wrapping her hair in a fluffy towel, she dressed quickly in white cotton pyjamas. Before she began drying her hair she decided to sit down and eat her apple whilst she had an appetite. She brought the fruit bowl into her sitting room where she often listened to records and read in the shameful presence of the shrouded piano. She had talked often of advertising for students, but the truth was that if she was not going to be a great pianist she could not bear to teach those children who might one day become great. Her husband sensing the hurt which she felt on the subject did not bring it up again. She put a record on, The Carpenters, and sat down to eat.

She liked to do something else whilst she ate; it was a peculiarity of hers. Like doing a crossword or something or maybe reading a book. She had the record on today but that wasn’t enough, the sweetness of the music cleared and focussed her mind too much, she liked to occupy it. She thought that she might as well start drying her hair whilst she ate, and turned up the record much louder. There were no neighbours near enough to complain so she often did this. She reached into the bowl for one of the red apples and realised that there was something wrong, they were all blemished. Even by removing the source of infection, the bananas, the apples were still suffering the after-effects. She looked at the bruise on the apples and started to cry. Lying down on the couch with her wet hair spread all around her she calmed herself down slowly, and took deep breaths. She was twenty-seven years old and crying over apples, crying over hair as the Carpenters record swelled all around her.

There were nine hours until anyone came to the house, nine hours at least for her to take action and do something about her situation, trapped by nerves and shyness and a lot of doctors into the identity of an invalid. There was nothing so wrong with her that she should lie stricken on a sofa because she must spend twenty minutes drying her hair, because she let the apples rot. A wild thought came to her, prettier and more daring than she was used to.
Soon, a great roaring far louder than the music came into the room as she shaved off every inch of her wet hair. From this turmoil came a great quiet, the music stopped and besides the skating of the needle on the empty groove, the room was still.
seven silver buttons
25 December 2006 @ 07:56 pm
Vladimir’s Christmas Coat.

There was something delicious about being naughty, it appealed to Vladimir above all else. He knew that his mother’s stern words of warning sprang from the same part of her heart as love did, he was told so all the time. Still he so enjoyed the thrill of pinching his little sister’s chubby arm and stealing spoonfuls of jam that his mother left out for the moths so as they wouldn’t ruin her clothes. They lived in the dampish woods by a shallow creek that gave little actual water but much grey spray especially at this time of year and which was absolutely perfect for wood-moths. His mother despaired of ever having a nice coat or underskirt or mittens that were not ragged from the hungry moths. Vladimir was not much interested in underskirts or mittens, but very interested in gooseberry jam.

When Vladimir was ten years old he began to be a very naughty boy indeed. Where his mother and sister loved to wander the gloomy woods with baskets picking berries and brambles and exotic fungi to make dinner and decorate their cottage, Vladimir stopped taking an interest and just wanted to kick stones into the creek. Vladimir’s mother tried many times to interest him in cooking, in painting, in gardening, in writing, in playing the unusual instruments that she carved for their birthdays every year. Vladimir was not interested in these things. Vladimir was not interested in anything but skimming stones into the damp creek and feeling a bit sorry for himself stuck in this dark and lonely wood with only his mother and sister for company and no other boys or girls to play with.

It was on Vladimir’s eleventh birthday that something very strange happened. The day was unusually still and clear for November and Vladimir’s mother woke him up bright and early so as not to miss the few hours of daylight they had in the wood at this time of year. He woke up hot and tangled in his sheets, sweating from the nightmares that had plagued him lately. Night after night he dreamed of being swallowed by sea-monsters and clawing his way through their gaseous entrails only to be swallowed once more by the indifferent sea. The world was red to Vladimir; red sea, red heart, blood and gases. Every time he had a bad dream he would wake up to his heart doing a hammer-dance and roiling hotly in his chest. Vladimir knew it was his naughtiness that caused him to feel so violently, especially the lies he told to his sweet and patient mother, but he wanted to keep hold of those exciting feelings and though he meant to stop them, the lies poured forth and the nightmares claimed him. This morning he saw that his mother had made a special effort and there were presents heaped up on the table with some fresh toadstool porridge for his breakfast. Taking it down in one rude gulp, Vladimir pulled on his boots and left for the woods, leaving his presents unopened behind him.

Vladimir was feeling so restless and annoyed that he kicked up all the stones and dirt he could find, scuffing the boots his sister had recently made for him. Pleased with the effect he scowled and scuffled his way deeper and deeper into the woods until he realised that it was very dark and he could not see the way out. A strange, musky smell seemed to linger on the air in this part of the forest and Vladimir became suddenly afraid. Vladimir was not given much to silence, but he lost his bluster and swagger now finding himself alone in the dark woods. A cloud of wood-moths screeched past his face, beating their ragged wings against his cheek. Vladimir screamed and began to run as fast as he could from this cold, brackish place.

There was a horrible squelching sound and Vladimir fell face first into the dirt. Looking down he realised that he had squashed a tiny green frog, softened now into a messy pulp. As Vladimir watched in amazement pieces of the flayed frog came together and sharpened into hard glittering stones. Thinking of his good fortune, Vladimir hid the emeralds in his overcoat pocket and thought of running away from this place to make a life for himself on his own. At this thought, the woods seemed once more to clear and untwist their brambles for him and he ran all the way home hoarding his secret jewels.

A few days later, Vladimir and his sister were busy making Christmas cards at the kitchen table whilst their mother lay down with a headache. Vladimir kept scribbling all over his sister’s cards with a black pen every time she turned her back. Though not quick to anger, this time she leapt at him and shook him with her tiny fists. Vladimir let out a horrible laugh and said to her “I’m going soon anyway and you won’t ever find me again. I’m sick of this nasty forest and the damp and the toadstools. I want an adventure”. At this his sister began to cry so hard that her little body shook and she pleaded with him to stay. Unmoved by his sister’s sorrow, Vladimir simply laughed harder. The tears dripped down her face and clattered on to the floor as hard as teeth. An unholy glee seized Vladimir as he realised that her tears were now soft milky pearls. Grabbing them he thrust them into his pocket and stormed out, leaving her crying at the table.

Christmas came at last and the little family sat together under a beautiful tree that Vladimir’s mother had brought in from the woods. Lighting all the candles, Vladimir’s mother gave each of them their stockings. Vladimir had not said a word all morning and his mother was afraid that he might be sickening for something. Passing her hand across his forehead she felt the fire that consumed Vladimir leaking from him like heat and worried about him. “Poor Vlad, how unhappy you seem, you know how much I love you my precious son”. At this Vladimir wriggled from her grasp and shouted angrily “But I don’t love you!” The words streamed from him and hardened into rubies. At once they settled on his shoulders and would not move. Amazed, Vladimir watched as his coat vanished, the secret pocket full of pearls and emeralds split apart and the jewels covered him from head to toe. A ruby for each lie he told, pearls for when he made his sister cry, and emeralds for selfishness. How Vladimir glittered in his Christmas coat, and how rich he looked. Dazzled by his good luck, Vladimir rushed to the still lake outside to admire his present.

When he reached the pond he could not see himself clearly in the water, there was nothing there! Stepping a little closer he could see a little sparkle in the corner of the pond and he gazed at it in amazement. Peering closer and closer he did not heed his mother’s warning as she ran toward him. With a great splash he landed in the deep murky water and sank beneath the weight of all his secret jewels. This was the red sea of his nightmares, hot and gaseous and full of danger. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Vladimir exclaimed before he sank fully below the waves.

His mother screamed as he disappeared and caught the words as they vanished on the air. “Vladimir! Come back!” she yelled out to the bubbling water. The water was pure red now, churning and sparkling in the last of the daylight, it almost looked the colour of rubies.
At last Vladimir’s mother realised that Vladimir had broken the curse by apologising to her and as the sorrow melted from his heart so too did all the bitter jewels he was laden down with. The water was red because it was full of the rubies that Vladimir had worn. Swimming to the shore, Vladimir appeared shaken but alive and his mother and sister hugged him to them as they wrapped him in a patchwork blanket that they had made for him for Christmas.

Vladimir was never quite so naughty again after that. He still ate the gooseberry jam sometimes, and sometimes pinched his sister, but he realised that he loved his family too much to ever run away. So it is a happy ending after all, though not a perfect one. Vladimir could not resist keeping one each of the jewels and strung them about his neck as a remembrance. Each single jewel had cost him a finger, so he will never play the piano as well as you or I could. Yet you or I have never had such adventures as Vladimir and probably never will!
seven silver buttons
The day my jellies thickened into cells
Barefoot and sheathed in red I danced for you.
Veined starfish I became your carousel
Your waters, your rapids and your jets.
Electric firefly forming in the dark
All thickening vessels, moist and bloody tubes
What pride I felt to dress in crimson robes
Torn from the casket of our matriarch
No stained sheets flown from the tallest tower
Nor spinning-wheel designed to prick and maim
But resolute I shouldered all the blame.

Ten days we knew abandon and desire
Until the scarlet sheath was whipped away
Marishka came upon the final day.
Fresh roses I had never seen before
For in the tower nothing ever grew
Pale jellies shimmered in the yellow light
And dark wine gleamed in goblets. How I drank
What fever! Burning scarlet in my bed
For days you hardened deep inside my sac
Crustacean heart, scarred fins, gilled beast you swam
That rotting-berry stomachache black sea
Emerging from the musky tangled sheets
Marishka bid me sleep well, and I slept.
seven silver buttons
14 November 2006 @ 10:33 am
My father's fishing boat was barely big enough for two. He sailed each day alone. What bliss to drift solitary among the whispering sea. I missed him so much on those long winter days. He rose like a stalactite in the blackest hour, leaving my mother and I in the grey light.

The dreary mornings with my mother were relentless; though she set out pretty yellow cups for our hot milk, she was not cheerful. I think she would have liked a boy. Yowling for scraps my kitten roamed at our feet, sometimes I dropped something but my mother stared so fiercely that I was not often brave enough. I was tamer than my cat. Once I dropped a pink iced bun for her, my favourite. She saw it on the floor and licked the soft pink centre. Tossing her grey head, she sniffed it and laid one sharp claw at its heart. Having discarded the bun she walked off, her tail drooping. My bun was ruined. Now it was no one's.

All day I waited for my goodnight kiss, my bedtime ritual. My dad would come home with the glow of the deep on him. Though he never told me stories about his day, or the extraordinary fish he had caught, still he let me sit quietly at his feet as he plunged his haul deep in the steaming ice. He never called me princess or treasure though I would have liked him to. Still as I sat at his feet watching him offer up these gleaming slivers so delicately wrapped in thin rice paper, I felt like a bride with her trousseau. And my mother stood there her grey head twisted away from the scene exclaiming about the filth, the unnatural stench that my father dragged in with him after spending his day elbow deep in blood. Her words floundered in the empty space and she succumbed to silence. Grey cat eyes flickering between us she did not fan but let smoulder that hot blue flame of love.
It's strange how memory works, because now I don't see the silver glitter of fish, nor the steaming ice, but my father's hands smeared with blood as my mother would have me remember.

In this way my childhood passed as insubstantially as a dream. Do not think my mother lax in her detachment; there was nothing that she could have done marrying a man like that. Though she worked hard every day on the house, the corrosive saltwater still got in. the truth is that my mother's two chapped hands could not protect our little house from the turmoil of the ocean. Her sickness was hidden from me for a long time, as it was hidden from the world. Cloistered together all day in our small white house we did not see much of the outside. My mother talked occasionally of sending me to school, indeed this seemed to be the one thing that had the power to animate her. My father heard us one day, coming home early, his nets fortuitously full that morning, another trip possible that afternoon. I didn't hear him raise his voice to my mother, nor his hand but she was silenced just the same. There was no more talk of school. From this time we talked little to each other, believing that my mother had upset my father in some unknowable way I took umbrage on his behalf. Deeper I must have known that she was not strong, that our dreary existence was not enough and that if she should have done anything, she should have sent me to school. Shut up together all day, we grew accustomed to each other, twisting like smoke around corners to avoid the possibility of touching in the corridors. What my mother did all day I never knew, we came together blankly for meals, the crackle of the radio obscuring any need for conversation. I loved to listen to the shipping forecast, the names grew fantastic in my mind as I imagined my heroic father battling on the waves.

Because we were together so often, I suppose I became used to her bloodless look and long silences. Day by day we did not see the changes in each other until she was to me like a cracked glass figurine waiting to be shattered. All day long she kept to her room, reading she said or arranging flowers. Having no curiosity toward her and growing more comfortable with isolation, I welcomed the time alone and did not enquire further. Now I see that she was battling her enormous sickness and could not have attended to me had she tried.

During these years of deep silence, I felt myself growing indistinct from the house, the pebbles, the beach. My dresses hung loosely and I stemmed from them awkwardly. My mother spent much of her time mending altering and creating these garments like Penelope at her loom. These fog-coloured dresses heightened my indoor pallor and muffled my figure. Yet just as a missing tooth or a lazy eye can enhance an otherwise flawless face, so too my slender limbs and high neck were made the more striking as they emerged from their grey fold. Though I see now in pictures how lovely I was, I felt as insignificant as the furniture.

Until my thirteenth birthday we drifted like this around one another and I having no desire to do anything beyond our small yard, virtually the same. The whole wide sea glittered from my window but could not tempt me in. My only contrast in those blurred, dreamy days was the time I spent with my father. His taciturnity, I believed, was of a different quality to my mother's; her desperate silence stalked me all day until I had even taught my kitten to purr softly so as not to break the stillness. My father's silences seemed rich with untold stories. Alone all day in my room o collecting pebbles for my indoor garden, I was desperately, hungrily lonely and fantasised about my father's love. In theory my days should have been full of lessons and chatter as my mother had promised to teach me herself. There was no-one likely to come and check on us in our isolated wilds, and so I drifted, bookless. There were some books of course; my father's seafaring novels and my mother's murder mysteries, the usual array of fishing, gardening and cooking manuals, just enough to fill a narrow bookcase but nothing to pique the interest of a young girl. Mama why don't we have more books? I used to periodically complain. When we are millionaires you can have all the books you want she caustically replied. She wore her bitterness in intricate layers, sweeping and twining one through the other, one chiffony layer seeming transparent but taken together as thick and restrictive as fog. One sentence could embroil me in her neurotic world for we were not poor as she imagined, but extremely comfortable, and if I had no school then at least she should have bought me books.

My thirteenth birthday approached much the same as any other and I managed a small pang of delight as the postman made it through choppy weather. My birthday itself was on a Monday that year and that was the day we received post from the mainland. We always had a heap of orders from the classier restaurants for my father's fish, and letters for my mother from my elderly aunt who visited us every six months or so when she was released from her duties as Mother Superior of a small and dwindling convent. For me there were sometime letters or cards from pen-pals, and almost always a letter from my cousin Mathilda, my father's orphaned niece. She empathised with my loneliness and often brightened my day by sending extremely well-written and funny accounts of her glittering lifestyle; a whirl of dinners and dances and wealthy admirers. Being only a child at the time I had no idea of the extent of Mathilda's deceit, and that her decadent lifestyle was pure fantasy. Really Mathilda lived quietly just across the bay pouring out dates and locations to one strange little girl. Though it became apparent that I was not her only intended audience. As far as I was concerned Mathilda could be anywhere in the world, I didn't examine her beautifully-coloured stamps too closely but devoured only the words. Sometimes my father would glance over at them with an indulgent smile and say something about how exciting it must be to be young again. My mother never showed the slightest interest in these florid missives, but merely went straight back up to her room with her own lilac scented notes from her cloistered sister.

This Monday was different, I could feel it as I watched the rickety old post boat wind towards the harbour. Sure enough, when the postman rang he had very full hands. My mother shooed me from the door and sent me up to do my teeth. For once she had garnered the strength to take charge of things, and when I went downstairs she was dressed immaculately in white with a starched frill at her neck fastened with a cameo pin. My parents were sitting together at the table and there were pancakes and tea laid out on our pretty china. After breakfast my mother gave me a kiss on the cheek and set out the post before me. Much as I longed to tear at the blue ribbons and silver paper and brown parcels done up in string I knew that the joy of them could not temper the pain of realisation that this level of normalcy had cost my mother so much. The illusion that my parents had tried to create for my birthday was insubstantial and I could see the pain creep into my mother's mouth as she tried not to cry. No-one had told me what was wrong with her, that her illness consumed her like fire and left this ashen spectre behind. Yet in spite of everything I tore at the string and opened my gifts.

From my mother there was a beautiful shell-coloured swimsuit that would shimmer in the sun. From my aunt a set of adventure stories in hardback that came in five separate cartons! Mathilda's gift I saved for last, expecting something lavish, a case of jewels perhaps or a velvet stole. I was a little disappointed to see that there was nothing but a cardboard box with a few greyish parts inside. My father saw my puzzlement and explained that 9it was a magic garden made of salt crystals. Just add water and spend a few hours watching to see it grow into a beautiful garden. Patiently I watched for hours as it burst into a glittering landscape of flowers, plants and snow-capped mountains.
For the rest of the day, though sadness lay beneath, glimmers of delight lit me as I watched the garden take shape. How beautiful I whispered to my mother, she said nothing but flicked a tired smile to her lips and wandered away again. Strange how it got here all the way from Mathilda's in one piece, such a delicate gift she murmured to my father. To my surprise, his face reddened at this and he seemed at something of a loss. Having said this, my mother went off to bathe and dress more comfortably and my father promised my present from him. He told me to go upstairs to kiss my mother as he was taking me out on his boat. Even at my thirteenth year I knew better than to seem excited, to be needy or a bind and at this sudden gift of time together I was merely polite. Immediately I left the room I allowed myself a smile that I just as hastily discarded at my mother's door. Shakily, she responded to my knock and edged open her door a little. Dressed now in a cream robe covered in grey stars she had grown colourless. The white frill having been removed from her neck revealed the sunken look of her lolling head. Goodbye darling, have a wonderful time she implored me, offering her powdered cheek even as she retreated. Guiltily relieved, I ran down the stairs and into the salt-clean air, away from our square white house and into my father's capable brown arms.

As I lowered myself into the boat, I felt no fear, not even a healthy one and blithely abandoned myself to the battered vessel. Sky looks a bit angry Eleanor I don’t know how far we can go out today my father announced darkly. It felt as though my scarf were caught on a nail and pulling at my neck when he said that. No I said look at that cloud. And there was a cloud gilded with the late afternoon sunlight that moved so gently it looked as though it were still. And I knew it was not true that cloud that I had wanted to be so true but as it spilled gold all over my knees I felt infinitely calm.
seven silver buttons
28 September 2006 @ 01:34 pm
i slopped a little soup into my tray. instinct made me quickly right the bowl. just a flick of the wrist to ballast the volatile liquid. for the sake of a few drops of soup my new books lay sodden and brown amongst the shattered china.
seven silver buttons
30 April 2006 @ 11:30 am
there are only 13 days left here and i was sad that we would miss the green afternoon light that soothed us so in the beginning. then at last the blossom fell like scales and tiny green curls spread outward. we will miss the thickest time when light is filtered in through a canopy of leaves, but though they are a paler version, our last afternoons will be like our first.

this is the most perfect room for sitting still and watching. in february i lay mute and seasick watching the sky turn grey, turn black as all the distant streetlights flickered and flared like a picture done in bronze shavings on tar-paper. perhaps this window has stolen many hours from me, perhaps not.

this morning as i awoke i noted that my rasping was worse and the sting in my throat had forced its hornet tail right into each papery lung. a doctor once told me a way of measuring your infection by the colour of your mucus, a spectrum that runs white through black. today i matched my eyeshadow to it; moss green.

what wonderful conditions i have been gifted with this year - a desk at the window, a working computer, and most importantly of all two full quiet days alone at it. have i written what i should have? no, not at all. i have so many unfinished projects that lie languishing at my useless hands. i think perhaps this year my confidence has come a little and perhaps my frame of mind has been improved enough to say that my year at this desk has not been wasted. what i have written in sporadic bursts has been at least not shameful to me, not scrawled over and destroyed. could i call myself a writer? i do not think that i could, it takes some feat of courage to do that which i have not yet mastered. i would call my friends writers, though would they be able to do the same? we talk about it but not often, it is the great black shark that we try to keep fed but sometimes how hungrily he eyes us.

last november perhaps, our fridge began to bulk with ice so gradually that we could easily ignore its niggling demands. slowly it grew so thick that we could barely shut the door and it was dripping on to our food. still we did nothing. finally two days ago our landlords announced they were coming to make an inspection. we cleaned and defrosted the fridge. it took approximately twenty minutes of effort and it was done.

there were three long needles of ice that cracked into perfect shards, i saw that they had been forming for as long as we had been here. i wanted to drive them down my throat as far as they would go, partly to ease the hot dry pain and partly to consume the essence of our stay. they were too dirty of course. perhaps i would be that mother who talks endlessly of eating a placenta then at the last moment baulks at the sight of such a stringy, bloody mass.

twice daily i fear that if i am the only one left to look after them, my teeth will be nothing but ugly black stumps.
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