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Anna Maria Lucia Garcia lived in a box. It wasn’t huge but was big enough. It was all she needed. It kept her warm when it was cold, or sheltered her from heat. With the flaps closed, it kept her dry and, best of all, it concealed her when she did not want to be discovered. Very occasionally, she ventured out leaving behind her past ensuring it was carefully wrapped up and sealed inside. She placed the box somewhere unobtrusive - a disused doorway or alleyway - and headed off to explore the living. It was good to stretch her legs.
We are at the Embassy sorting out paperwork. It's a strange place full of the familiar from home: accents, figures of speech and ways of behaving. It's like crossing the border back into our homeland. We warm to strangers because they are one of us and we are connected to their connections with home. There is good humour about the queues and bureaucracy. People share pens and advice on where to get passport photos and photocopying done. The officials are friendly and polite. We feel as if we have spent three happy hours in the company of family and friends.
The room is filled with people dealing with official business. The three children are bored waiting with their parents and begin a game. The tallest wears a red coat with the zip undone. She pulls the hood up into the air, approaches her sister from behind and catches her head in the hood. They walk pantomime-horse fashion, gesturing and giggling. The littlest watches a while then chases. She catches onto the coat-tail, lifts it and pulls it over herself. Then the magnificent six-legged horse gallops the room, bumping into people, weaving through the queue and whinnying defiantly.
Dreams can be so powerful. During the day, in a phone call, my father tells me my mother is getting weaker. This worries me. Then, in my dreams, I am travelling with an acquaintance. We stop for the night and are planning to sleep in our cars when I realise we're in my parents’ neighbourhood and can just visit. I am so excited about seeing my mother. We walk down the street but I struggle to find their house. Then I realise it's because the house is in darkness as it's late and they're asleep. I wake feeling so disappointed.
Up and down bookshelf, lie books that remain unread. For many, the attraction is still there but it’s nothing like the buzz I felt when I first encountered them in whatever shop it was that introduced us: that feeling I must have, hold collect this or that book. So I tell myself they have to go. I have to be ruthless and face the facts. If I’ve had a book for longer than three months and I haven’t yet got around to reading it, then it really is time for us to part ways. Farewell my friends.
Whoever thought it would be a good thing to give me this kind of brain was an idiot. What were they thinking? “I know, let’s fill her head with many amazing ideas: let’s turn that space in her brain into an invention festival: let’s give her the imagination to jump from one thing to another without stopping ... and let’s have a little laugh at her expense by giving her a complete inability to put any of these ideas into action, produce anything worthwhile or remember any of her thoughts from one day to the next". Doh!
When I was unemployed and probably suffering from depression, there was a period when I listened to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” daily. The drama of it counteracted the inertia in my life. Once Will left for work, I was on my own at home with little to stimulate me. This is probably why I ended up spending a week singing the piece over and over while I taught myself the words. On the Friday, when Will got in from work, I made him listen while I sang along to that song from beginning to end, word perfect, in Latin.
I love the competitions they run in the writing magazine where they give you the first sentence of the story and you have to finish it. Sometimes what I write is worthwhile and I submit it but they have never published what I have sent. Last month I wrote a piece I was really pleased with but never got around to submitting. When the magazine came today I was amazed to find that the story they had published was mine but with someone else credited as the author. Well, okay, it wasn't exactly my story but it was eerily similar.
I come home from a pleasant afternoon with friends. I make a cup of tea downstairs and set about my work at the dining table. I become engrossed and it is a good few hours before I finally head upstairs for bed. The landing and rooms are in darkness. I realise I've not been up here since I got home and suddenly get the thought “what if someone is up here?” For some reason, I imagine the walls plastered with blood and feathers. When I turn on the light at the top of the stairs, everything is fine, of course.
At work I had to destroy an old floppy disk. I broke it into bits and binned it. When everyone had gone home and I was working late again, I found the metal bit on my desk. It resembled a little wall with a door in it. I made some tiny paper-dolls with happy faces and made them snake out of the door as if they were leaving. I gave one a sad face and put it the other side of the door, sitting at a paper desk with my name on. I called it “the office at hometime”.
My father pastes the photograph on Facebook. I’m with my brother and two sisters. We three girls are in matching pale green dresses with tailored collars and fabric buttons. My father’s caption reads, “Girls showing off Mum’s sewing skills”. I remember differently, that Great Aunt bought them for us for special occasions. I am sure my memory is correct. I hated that my mother made all our clothes. I don’t remember the special occasions that I wore the dress but I do remember how special it was having a shop-bought, only-for-special-occasions dress.
When elephants collide, the impact ripples for quite some distance. You hear the judder of the charge, feel the pounding weight of the bodies as they move towards each other. Then there is a silence as if breath is held - but only for a moment. Then you hear the sickening thud of bone meeting bone, shoulder to shoulder, forehead to forehead, the tearing of soft flesh around eyes, mouth, ears where tusks sink and rip, the slap of ears and curl of trunks in combat. The synchonous bellows reverberate, an angry, painful drumroll into the dark shadows of the trees.
Driving home this evening, I noticed an extraordinary number of cars coming in the opposite direction with one headlight out. The first had the nearest light out. I thought it was a motorcycle so was alarmed when a whole car shot past me. A few cars later there was another - with the opposite light out, then one with the nearest light out followed by another two. I’m always trying, in life, to find reasons for patterns or wonder about hidden messages, omens, signs. Is this a morse code message by headlight? I am still trying to solve this one.
They’re closing libraries. The big ones will become one-stop shops with other services. Smaller libraries will stay only if there is proven need?!?!? The rest will close. Staffing will be reduced and there will be self-service checking out / in.
My children loved the village library where they could choose books or lie on the colourful mats while reading. They loved Betty who knew what books they liked and ordered them in especially. The library has shaped their lives, their love of reading and writing. How will the next generation find this special relationship with books?
From my window I see the chimney stack from the paper mill and the huge conifer two doors down, waving in the strong breeze. I see pink streaks of cloud in a largely blue sky. Occasionally birds fly into that space - some too small and quick to identify but probably sparrows or starlings. Seagulls are easier to identify because they glide, rather than flit, across the expanse of blue. Pigeons lumber clumsily through the air before sinking onto a branch where they huddle and coo. The day lies ahead.I have to decide who and how I will be today.
“Look at me, clever me,” the little girl calls from the very top of the wall.
“See how high,” says the girl on the roof of the shed, “I’m really not frightened at all.”
“Watch me,” she cries, “up on the point, standing on the tips of my feet.”
“Higher than higher,” she shouts to the world as she balances up at the peak.
“Look at me, look at me,” the little girl cries, “From here I can reach for the sky.”
“and watch as I carefully open my wings. See me stretch. See me leap. See me fly."
I’m driving along. It’s pissing down. This is a horrible road at the best of times with people overtaking dangerously. I worry about the trees that lean from the banks. There are large puddles in the road and I aquaplane a couple of times. I decide to slow down. Soon after I decide this, some idiot cuts in front of me turning into a side road. I am able to brake in time. I wouldn’t have if I’d been doing the speed I had been a minute before. I wonder who is looking out for me.
Her birthday falls soon after Christmas, so we ask her to make one big list and we spread the gifts over the two celebrations. This year I lost her Christmas/Birthday list and I couldn’t remember what was on it. So I asked her to make another for her birthday.
Her second list was:
1) drawing stuff
2) make up
3) black sweatshirt
4) hair products
(all of which weren't on her original list).
Then she wrote
5) Refer to previous list
This made me smile every time I took the list out to check things off. She's funny.
I asked her how she wanted to do her birthday. Now she’s older she likes to sleep up to the last minute before getting ready for school. I suggest we keep the gift-giving until evening when we’ll have more time but she is indignant, saying “Tradition is tradition!”
So this morning at an unearthly 6am, we are all piled into the double bed and we sing happy birthday. She reads the homemade cards and opens the gifts ... starting with the poorly disguised box of chocolates which have to immediately be shared around as usual. Tradition is tradition!
The days rattle on like a phlegm-heavy lung, rasping the in-breath and grating the exhale, the rhythm laborious and slow. Each wheeze is strung out until you imagine it is the last then the inhale kicks in and the cycle repeats. Very occasionally the pattern is augmented by a crescendo of coughing, a spluttering that shakes the infrastructure and worries at the joints, then slowly regains balance and settles again in relentless routine. I long for a day that feels like the sharp intake of breath when you hit the icy water of a pool in early spring.
- more commonly naartjie (pronounced nar-chi or nar-ki): soft loose-skinned South African fruit similar to a tangerine.
It was a rare treat to have nartjies in our house. We grew peaches, plums, apples, granadillas, loquats and kumquats but not nartjies, so they had to be bought.
I remember sitting in the shade at school eating nartjies relishing each plump, juicy segment.
When I was older, I learned of the tradition of injecting vodka into nartjies to evade the alcohol ban at rugby matches. People ate them, got drunk, then threw the peels at opposition players.
When I boot my laptop, a message pops up saying “battery needs replacing”. It’s because the battery on the laptop needs replacing but it's become a message to me. It's an appropriate way of reminding me I’m not taking care of myself, not eating properly,not taking enough exercise and wasting time doing meaningless things on the computer: browsing half-strangers on Facebook, playing online Scrabble,choosing music on Spotify I won't listen to and, more importantly, avoiding signing on to 100words.com. Ridiculous, as I know that a good writing session recharges me like nothing else can.
There are moths living in my trouser pocket. You wouldn’t imagine they can survive but they do. There must be egg-laying going on as I feel the mass increasing. I walk carefully to avoid crushing them; sitting is a slow, delicate process and, of course, undressing or washing is impossible. It’s inconvenient but nothing beats the lightness of the moment when, on full-moon nights, an adolescent moth emerges: the furry head, big eyes and curled proboscis followed by the tightly folded body. It's breathtaking sharing the erratic maiden flight, the silver shimmer disappearing into the night.
When I Google myself I am many things. I am male and female, I am young and old and I am many races and live in many places. I have written a book on fitness in children but am also an expert on neo-natal deaths. I love organic vegan chocolate chip cookies but I do not like the Acer Inspire and can list five reasons why. I am a news reporter and anchor and live in Las Vegas. And sometimes I come across the real me - a modest piece of published work. But mostly I am not a writer.
I don't know what to write. So I throw myself something random. It’s a dolphin and it lands at my feet. I must now find out how it got here. I realise I'm standing next to a pool and this dolphin has leapt from the water. Now I have to find out what caused this. I briefly think, "shark" but that's too obvious and maybe factually unlikely.Then I realise that it’s a noise the pool filter is making. It’s high pitched and piercing. Now I look down and see blood trickling from the dolphin’s ears.
I'm struggling to sleep so I've started to do the alphabet thing again. Last night I did birds - Albatross, Blackbird, Crow, Duck, Eagle, Finch, Goldfinch, Hawk, Ibis, Jackdaw, Kookaburra, Lark, M ...., Nightingale, Ostrich, Pheasant, Quail, Robin, Swallow, Thrush, U...., Vulture, Wagtail, X ...., Y..... Z. Then I go back to the missing letters. I think you get Mousebirds and I'm sure there must be a Yellow-something bird. I have no idea about X (Cross-bill?) and Z. I know that before I go to bed, I will Google the gaps. If I'm honest, I'm not sure it helps me sleep.
I go over and over the things I said during that meeting. Sometimes, without thinking, I say them out loud to hear how they sound. I feel cold and my heart races when I remember. If I was my own best friend I'd say to myself, “You know what? You’ve never done a meeting like before. You were nervous but you did really well. You did the things you had to do and said what had to be said. People listened and took on board what you said. It will get easier. You need to look forward not back.”
A strange thing happens with my new boss. I'll say something to him, he’ll say something back and it’s apparent that he has not understood what I've said. So I’ll correct his misunderstanding. But this compounds things because he misunderstands my correction of his misunderstanding which feeds into later conversations when he’ll say things like, “Of course you’re not this or that sort of person,” when in fact I am. So we’re now in a position where the person he thinks he is working with is very real and a complete stranger to me.
The boys had planned meticulously for today's trip. They get up early, shower and are due to catch the 8am train to London for the Model Engineers Exhibition where they can bond over small wheels, cogs and engines. I read on the news there are protests in London today. I check the website to see if the Exhibition is on tomorrow so they can avoid the crowds and possible violence. The venue page "what's on" lists the Engineers Exhibition as last weekend's dates. This weekend is the International Make-up Artists Trade Show. I am tempted not to say anything.
Conversation I hear from my bedroom, one teenager to the other after we'd been to see a psychological thriller at the cinema.
"Don't leave me down here on my own."
"I have to go upstairs now - I have homework to do."
"You're not going to leave me ... I'm scared."
"You're being silly now. How many times have you been attacked before when you've been downstairs?"
"Exactly. And how has the movie increased your chances of being attacked?"
"It probably hasn't."
"I didn't think so."
"But I'm scared, stay with me."
"Just keep watching your back."
There is a black and white photograph of my mother when she was sixteen. She is standing with her netball team. They have their arms around each other's shoulders and they are smiling. My mother is smiling but she is looking to one side not directly at the camera. I recently saw another photograph taken about twenty years ago. In that one too, while everyone else is smiling and looking at the camera, my mother is smiling but looking elsewhere. It's almost as if her general disengagement with life was something she could never hide or pretend not to have.
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