Navigating sheep infested fields,
legs scratched by thistles and toes stubbed by stones,
they reached the safety of a recumbent matriarch,
scaled her heights with hollers of delight
but seeing the ‘no climbing’ signs,
they slid meekly back down
and faced the terrifying, terrified sheep again.
On up the hill and over the gate
they saw three holey men a hundred miles high
and ran to dance at their feet,
hand in hand, singing their own song.
Then – LOOK!
They went fall-running to the foot of the hill
answering the silent call of the tall-as-the-sky trumpet
and ran straight up inside it to hear their own voices,
but that woman clapped her hands
saying “shoo, shoo”
and they were in a museum again.
Not another bloody stick.
Just how many does a small boy need to tool himself up for imaginary battle?
I know for a fact there are always two or three lying on the back seat of the car
for his sister to sit on and cry, “Oh God! What is that?”
Some of course, are weapons,
but others are polished twists of touching stuff
for hands to rest on
fingers to wrap around
thumbs to rub up and down as if burnishing a golden rod.
Those ones I understand and allow him to bring them home.
Wizard’s staff, lance of a knight, sceptre of a boy king.
Others I scorn and demand they be left behind.
My vision cannot equal his in most cases – or his sister,
“it’s just a dirty stick.”
That time in Wassdale we had lain awake
listening to the howling, rushing dragon
as it thundered around the hills and down the valley
wrenching pegs and guys from soil.
We brave adults ventured out to secure our bucking canvas shelter
to keep the boy king and his sister safe inside.
And he, eyes wide in the darkness, softly asking,
“did you bring my stick back in?”
Once safe in his hand, he breathed more easily and allowed his eyes to close,
armed against the demon who railed outside.
We lay down and I whispered, “it’s fine, everything will be alright,”
secretly believing otherwise.
I reached out my hand to touch his arm and closed my fingers round his wrist
just like he, small boy closed his fingers round his precious stick.
Excerpt from Korakas/Broken Waves
(apologies for layout – strange ways of this Blog spot I think).
I burned the coffee this morning. He hates that. He didn’t speak but his face said it all. He was out late last night and he’s gone to meet someone today about ‘business’. I’m so nervous. Ally is playing outside in the yard and I’m trying to leave everything as if we have just walked down to the village.
I put Ally’s favourite toy on the floor by the television, a cup of milk half drunk, a biscuit on a plate. I hear the chickens squawking and footsteps outside. The birds scatter as Karen thunders into the courtyard, leaping the ones which get in her way.
“I’ve left the car round the back, where’s the luggage?” She is breathless and distracted.
“In the apothiki,” I point to the door of the storehouse on my right.
Drunken Duncan arrives from the flower farm where he works.
“Alright Anna?” he grins showing an array of broken teeth. He seems sober enough today. He helps Karen carry our cases to her car down a track behind the house. She turns and waves. I wish we could travel with her, but she says we would be too conspicuous driving away in her tiny car with suitcases in the back.
“See you there,” she calls.
I raise my hand in reply as she speeds off down the track. I turn to Duncan. He’s forcing a thin kind of smile and touches my shoulder tentatively.
“I’m not as daft as I seem, drunk as you think.”
He hands me a grubby carrier bag. “Go put these on.” I look inside and find black clothes, a village widow’s outfit.
“Look Ally! Mummy’s playing dressing up.” I slip the old dress over
my head, shawl around my shoulders and cover my hair with the scarf. I leave the back door open, as we usually do when we’re close by.
With Ally on my hip, I follow Duncan around the edge of the property towards his farm, turning to take one final look at the house I have called my home for nearly three years. Duncan is loping along and I have to run to keep up with him. We reach the farm via a tree-lined track and skirt round the poly-tunnels bursting with gerberas. Their colouring doesn’t suit this landscape, they’re outsiders like me. Behind one of the outbuildings is a motorbike. I’m still wary after all these years but I know that I have to get on.
“Don’t worry,” says Duncan, “ I’m safe when I’m sober.”
I hold Ally to me, her legs round my waist and bind her close with the shawl. Once we are on the bike you wouldn’t know there was a child with us at all. Duncan stinks of earth and stale sweat, but I hold him tightly.
He takes a side road towards town and onto the Ethniki briefly before
cutting off again and we make our way on the back roads, through the villages. We stop a couple of times. It’s a long trip on a bike. I realise this may be the last time I will drive through olive groves and see goats ambling across the road. Ally is quiet, as if she knows something is happening. When we reach the airport on the other side of the island, we pull into a lay-by. Duncan is very tall and I hug him round the waist inhaling that odour. I am so grateful that I don’t want to pull away.
I walk, shifting Ally onto my hip again. We cross to the airport and join the throngs of tourists on their way home. I feel safer here, anonymous. Karen is waiting at check in and hands me the tickets. She hugs us as tight as she can.
“The flight leaves in an hour. Go straight through to departure. Change at Schipoll, then on to London.”
“Thanks,” is all I can say before she runs off again.
We stand, Ally and I, in a queue of happy, normal people, with two suitcases to our name.