story

The Nothingness Beyond

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Lily was scaling the metal cage while her siblings slept soundly.  A man with an East Asian accent smiled and said ‘Ah, she like spider man.’  I laughed and agreed.  She was eight weeks old.  Lily was petite and kitten like, even as a senior lady. She would have been fifteen years old in May.  Three weeks ago the vet said she had a large tumour under her tongue and that she may only have a few days to live.

At nine o’clock on her last living morning, she was lying over my shoulder and purring loudly as I lightly rested my ear on her side to listen to her heartbeat. I sighed as I felt the warmth of her strawberry fur on my cheek. At ten o’clock she was devouring blended prawns. At eleven o’clock she was sitting on the roof of the garden shed, watching a black and white cat skulk across a driveway. At twelve o’clock she was sleeping in her bed by the sofa. At one o’clock she was chattering gaily in the passenger seat next to me as I drove her to the vets.  At two o’clock, she was lying on her fluffy blanket, upon a steel table in a windowless room. She purred as the vet injected her front leg. Her body became limp in my hands within ten seconds. Her eyes were large black discs. She cooled quickly and I took my hand away, what I wanted to remember was her warmth. All that remained was her absence.

‘I’m just happy she is at peace.’ said the vet. ‘At peace’ I thought, she does not have the awareness to be at peace. She is dead. When living things die, they simply die and their consciousness goes with them. To be at peace, one must be sentient. There is nothing. And it is this nothingness that fills my mind with a gnawing black hole where Lily once was. When I think of her, there is a hollow, pulling sensation inside me and I long for her trilling mews. In private, I weep at the loss of her. I apologise for my tears, because I am embarrassed to be bereft at the loss of a cat.

She didn’t know she was going to die that day.  If Lily could talk, when asked the question, ‘Would you like to be killed today?’, what would she have said? Would she have said ‘Yes please; I am in too much pain and I do not want to live another day.’ Or would she have said: ‘Living hurts. My mouth won’t close. My tongue is agony. I drool because it hurts to swallow. I cannot eat without pain but I am so hungry. I cannot clean myself. I am tired and I do not think I will be here long. But I like to feel the air in my whiskers and the sun on my back. I like the smells of spring and the grass blades on my scent glands. I like the taste of mashed prawns. I like the sounds of the garden and I am excited by the sight of the Dunnocks alighting on the bird table. I like your fingers stroking my head and I still want to sit across the back of your neck, like I did when I was young and I am not ready to let go of life just yet. Let me live a little longer.’

No one knows.  No one knows what animals really want at this time.  Perhaps, the survival instinct is stronger than the agony.  The vets think they know but they can only know the human response to pain and apply that to other species. No one really knows if Lily wanted to live or die on that day.  I can only hope that I am wrong about the nothingness beyond.

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Cyanistes Caeruleus or Daniel & Erithacus Rubecula or Robert

 robinredbreast_by_chibighibli

Daniel is eyeing the bird feeder.  It is suctioned to the kitchen window and contains a single, half-decimated suet ball with hulled sunflower seeds poking out of the top.  He leans forward readying for take-off.  There is a shadow on the other side of the feeder.  It moves.

Gavin spots it first and whistles: ‘Dan, Dan, Dan, Danny, Daniel!’

Daniel stops and looks at Gavin: ‘What is it mate?  I’m on my way to lunch.’

‘Shadows, moving shadows, pink hands; it’s big, really big.’

The giant shadow is standing at the sink.  It has bright pink hands that it plunges into something white and foamy.  It walks away.

Daniel grows impatient.

‘Sod this for a game of soldiers.  I’m Hank Marvin.’

Daniel stretches indigo wings, leans forward and pushes himself away from the protection of the thicket.  A flash of red shoots out from the cotoneaster and charges into Daniel knocking him off course.  The red pecks viciously at his sweet-lined eyes.  He is spun around and over and upside down before he falls to the patio floor.  He lies on his back and blinks only once.

Image source: http://www.deviantart.com/art/robinredbreast-39849967

Industrial Infant

Industrial infant

Industrial infant

 

 

The ticket booth is sepia-coloured.   The seller wears a beaked cap.  His mouth hides behind a thick moustache.  He tells me I can go on the steamboat or the train or even one after the other.  As my sleeve brushes the counter, my fingers turn shades of pale grey.  The gold pound coin falls from my hand and twenty silver shillings land in the centre of his square palm.

I step onto the platform.  I look down and there is a newborn baby in my arms.  There are black surgical pen marks tattooed all around his tiny cranium.  The bosomy, wide-hipped woman who takes my tea-stained ticket looks at him admiringly.  She does not see the oddity of his scars.

I board an open-top train and cling to the infant.  Together we ride around the roof of a red-brick wool factory amidst an industrial landscape, over and over again.

 

 

Source: http://www.steamsounds.org.uk/recordings.html

Cyanistes caeruleus or Gavin

Blue Tit in Trilby by Claire Tarling

Gavin is sitting on a bowed branch of firethorn outside the kitchen window.  His hat is gleaming as the sun runs fingers over his plumy skull.  He tilts his white cheek up to the right and blinks away the light to see a fresh, pale green shoot on the branch.  He stabs his short beak tearing the newness to shreds and inside he finds a sweet, juicy aphid just the colour of lime pulp.

‘Mm…I haven’t had one of these in yonks,’ he mutters through part-masticated flesh with two, fine legs dangling from his beak, before gulping down the succulent bug greedily.

Image source: http://www.jijikiki.com/collections/wall-art/products/blue-tit-in-trilby-art-print

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/b/bluetit/

 

To Polaris

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Polaris dust nebula

 

 

February afternoon

Azure eastern horizon

Four hundred and eighty two

Aluminium-encased

Celestially-bound bodies

Reflect solar rays on ascent

Into the stratosphere

Compress and combust

Rotate and thrust

Breach auditory peace

Of wood pigeon coo

Teeter precariously

On twig tips

Winter ornament

To Polaris

 

Image source: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap080111.html

Boy with Balloons

Boy with Balloons, Mrs Mook’s Mantlepiece

When I was a girl, about four or five years old, my parents would leave me with a lady called Mrs Mook. She was a big lady; strong as an ox. She had great, wide hips and salt and pepper hair that had been set in pink, heated rollers. She wore slippers for wide feet and paisley, patterned polyester dresses. I liked it when Mum and Dad couldn’t pick me up before tea time. I liked sitting at her Formica table and eating beef in little squares with sweet, tinned peas and grey-vy.

Mrs Mook had the most extensive collection of porcelain I have ever seen. As we had a cuppa in the living room, Mother would raise her cup to her lips, believing it to be a greater shield than it truly was, and utter in harsh, hushed tones ‘Don’t touch,’ before measuredly sipping her tea and eliciting a demure smile as she lowered her cup.

The boy with balloons was my favourite ornament. He stood nearest to me on the left of the dark wood mantelpiece. The balloons were so appealingly edible and fruit-like with their shiny, glazed spheres. I just wanted to pick one and eat it and feel it crunch in my molars like a pear drop. But I did not. I was keenly observed.

I was excruciatingly restrained, sitting on my hands lest they lose control and propel my child’s body up from my chair. They might fling me into the glass cabinet sending plates and coveted tea sets crashing to the floor, before dragging me across to the fireplace. My wayward left hand might lift my arm and force it in one neat line all the way down the mantelpiece decapitating the blue and white bonneted shepherdess with the upturned fingers, massacring the promenading Victorian couple, slaughtering the proud Dalmatian dog and finally murdering the boy with the balloons in one foul swoop with a crash and a smash into smithereens.

The shepherdess’s head would roll casually along the floor till it reached Mrs Mook’s slippered toe where it would rock gently and come to rest with a delicate nose, pressed between a rubber sole and worn carpet. The pink balloon would break free from the others and rather than float away to the boundless sky, it would land with a sure thud and nestle by my chair leg. My unruly hand might take the charlatan strawberry sherbet and conspire with my guileless mouth which, overcome by temptation and fateful opportunity, will weaken and allow wicked, tiny fingers to prise its lips apart just enough to gleefully pop the pink balloon onto my insatiable tongue.

I must sit on my hands.

I wonder where the porcelain boy is now and whether his knuckles are still white because he has been clutching china balloons for his entire life.

Tom the Dog

A dog called Tom

A dog called Tom

 

 

One day there was dog and his name was Tom.

Tom was walking.  He was a street dog.

He wanted an owner.  He got an owner and he was so happy.

The End.

Zara, age 7

 

I love the way that even in this short and sweet tale, my lovely niece has structured it in traditional storytelling form, with the introduction of our hero; Tom the dog, his plight and a happy ending.  I wonder whether we learn the structure of storytelling or if it is innate.  Zara has read plenty of books so she is influenced by her environment naturally, but perhaps there is a universal formula of narrative that reflects the way the mind processes information.

Zara delivers the tale brilliantly and she was delighted when I asked if I could share her story with you. I hope you like it. 🙂