Travel

He is Everything: or why I blew my face off

Warning: shocking content.

This story was created in reaction to a true-life tale. The events told herein are purely of the author’s imagining.

I look in the mirror and I am not there.

I walk through my life and I am not there.

I see my friends, I see my family. They smile at me and talk to me and I am not there.

There’s a boy. He’s everything. His love is all I need. I am his.

He’s so gorgeous. My eyes follow him as he walks through the room, he rolls slightly, left to right as he walks, like he’s at sea. His eyes are vivid blue, ocean blue, sky blue, forget-me-not-blue. His smile is radiant, he shines that smile on me and I melt and I am his everything and he is my everything. You’ve never seen a smile this bright before, he is beautiful. See, can you see? He is sun and sea and sky. He is perfection. I drift away at the sight of him, at the smell of him, at the touch of him. But don’t love him too much. Please. He’s mine.

He kisses me, soft and gentle, sometimes hard and passionate. His body wakes at my touch, hard and insistent, my body longs for him, melts into his. We are like one person.

Wait, he’s there! He’s coming, he’s walking towards us.

“Morning beautiful!” He kisses me full on the lips, squeezes my boob. He is the sun.

“Hey you!” I kiss him back, he slips his tongue in my mouth. His friends laugh.

“Get in there!” Always

“Get a room!”

He throws his bag on the floor and grabs the chair next to me, my friends tut and shuffle round the table. I lean into him, his arm wraps around my shoulders and he twists my hair. His heart beats, thudump, thudump, thudump.

“You wanna go out tonight? I know a place..”

Dammit. “I can’t tonight. I’ve got to babysit.”

He sits up, pulls his arm from my shoulders. I shuffle back to sitting, it was easier melting into him. I feel dazed, like I’ve woken from a nap.

“You.. you could come round if you like? My brother goes to bed at 8.. My parents won’t be back till 11, they’re at a..”

“Yeah.” He grins at his mates, “yeah I’ll come.”

“Great!”

“I’m supposed to be coming to yours tonight.” My friend says, with a pout.

“Oh, yeah.. could we make it another night?” She pouts harder and sniffs her nose up in the air. God she’s annoying sometimes.

He leans in again, strokes my neck. Tingles run from my neck down my arms, my back, my nipples go hard.

I’m going to marry him. We’re going to be the first of our friends to marry. There’s no one else for me in the world.

He knocks on the window, I jump up and run to the door. He’s standing on my doorstep grinning, arms wide. I laugh and open the door wider, he scoops me up and carries me through to the lounge. I’ve heard that guys used to do that to their wives- carry them over the threshold. He drops me on the sofa and falls on top of me and kisses me and I kiss him back and our bodies touch everywhere. He pulls a bottle from his coat pocket, vodka.

“I’ll get glasses.”

“Nah, don’t bother. It’s better like this.” He twists open the lid and pours vodka in my mouth. It’s disgusting. The liquid burns my throat, I sit up and cough and splutter. He laughs.

“Urgh, why would you drink that?”

“It’s the best – makes you high!”

That sounds like a good thing. High. Could I even feel higher than being with him?

“You got any coke?”

“Nah, I don’t think so.”

“Lemonade? Anything?”

“Nah, my mum doesn’t like those drinks. She says they’re too sugary..”

He sighs and looks disappointed.

“Juice – there’s juice.” That cheers him up. I get juice and glasses and he pours vodka half way up and I add juice and oh my god it’s disgusting. What kind of high is he on about?

“Go on.” He says, “it gets better.”

I can’t imagine how. He sees my face.

“Alright then, let’s make a game.”

“What game?” I love games.

“Cards – you got cards?”

“Yeah. I’ll get them.”

He deals me two cards and says I have to count them. I’ve got 17. He tells me to twist. I twist. Bust, he says. That means I drink. Ugh. A finger full. I think I’m gonna be sick. He deals again. I twist. 20. He tells me to stick. I stick. He goes bust and drinks two fingers full. Funny game.

I finish the glass. He tops it up.

Then he kisses me and I’m dizzy with love. His hands are everywhere, his legs, his tongue, his kisses. He squeezes my boobs, massages my legs, my bum. He pulls me to him, he’s hard and breathless. My hands are in his hair, stroking his face, kissing his lips, his cheek, his eyebrows, his nose. He is so gorgeous. I’m breathless too, he pulls me closer, kisses my mouth with his tongue, licks my teeth, flicks my tongue.

My head spins, I can’t think. He’s taking my top off. I lift my arms up and he pulls the sleeves up them and then he’s working at my bra. He doesn’t know what to do with it. His fingers slip and fumble on the hooks. He gives up and pushes my bra up over my boobs. Then he’s kissing them and licking my nipples and oh my god that feels amazing and oh my god is this high? And oh my god I feel weird.

I try to sit up and he pushes me back. I try again and he’s still pushing. He’s heavy. I have to shove him.

“What you doing?” He asks, agitated.

I feel a rumble in my throat. I burp and throw up. All over us. He jumps up and makes a fuss, I fall back on the sofa and groan, if I move, the ceiling will fall in. He says something I don’t hear, I’m tired.

I must have nodded off, ‘cause now I’m looking at the ceiling with a disgusting taste in my mouth and I’m chilly. I sit up and my head pounds against my skull. Water, I need water. Where is he? I wobble out of the room, up the stairs to the bathroom. I’m sick again in the toilet. I sit by the toilet and rub my head

He’s gone. I drink a glass of water and pull my bra down. It stinks of sick..

He doesn’t answer my call. I try again and again and again. Nothing.

I walk downstairs and look at my vomit on the carpet. Something’s shining under the table. His phone! He left his phone! That’s why he’s not answering. I see my missed calls, he might get annoyed at them. I open his phone (passcode 010702 – his birthday) and delete the missed calls. He’s got messages from my friend. Why would she? What could they have to say to each other? I open the last message he sent:

Are you up? Wanna come and meet me? X

There’s a kiss at the end. Why is there a kiss at the end?

She answered:

Yeah – see you at the park xx

Two kisses? Why would she? The park?

I hand him his phone outside the college entrance. He shrugs, says thanks. Walks away.

“Wait!” I say, confused.

“What?” He says, annoyed.

“Where’d you go last night?”

“Home – I was covered in sick.” He says, disgusted.

“Just home?”

“What?” He says, defensive.

My friend walks up, smiles at me. He smiles at her.

“Look..” He says, “we tried it out – you and me – but it won’t work.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re finished.”

“But..”

He walks away. I follow, I call his name. He keeps walking. He takes the sun with him, the sea, the sky.

“Did you meet him last night?” I ask her.

“What?” She asks, innocently.

“Did you meet him at the park? I saw a message. You said you were going to meet him.”

She blushes.

“I..”

“Did you meet my boyfriend last night?”

“Technically he’s not your boyfriend.”

“What?”

“He just broke up with you.”

“Did you meet him?”

“Yeah – he needed a chat.”

“A chat?”

“Yeah – he said you were crazy drunk or something.”

I let it go. I don’t want to know if it’s true. I don’t want to imagine anything other than a chat.

I walk past them at lunchtime. They’re in a classroom. Kissing.

I walk home. The world is blank. I have no place in it. I look at my life and I am not there.

I crawl into my bed and hug my teddy. I feel young again, protected, happy.

I wake up and chuck the bear across the room.

I call him. There’s been a mistake. The sun can’t go out like that. I’m nothing, I’m no one without him. No answer. I call again and again and again and again.

Did you know that my dad keeps guns in his safe? He collects old war guns. I know the combination (02132423 – our birthdays). I twist the dial and open the safe, I pick the smaller gun, take it from its padded case. It’s cold and heavier than it looks. I check for bullets. They’re there alright.

I call him again and again and again. I think someone’s come home. I walk to the bathroom and lock the door. I call him again. Nothing.

I look in the mirror and I am not there. Red eyes and a dripping nose. No wonder he doesn’t want me. Who would want that?

I hold the gun to my chin and look in the mirror. I feel powerful.

I pull the trigger.

That was the last time I saw my face. I don’t have one now. They say I’m lucky, that the bullet didn’t kill me. I’m not sure what lucky means.

The bullet blasted through my chin and nose and lodged in the bathroom ceiling.

They say they’ve looked after me for weeks. They say they can make me a new nose from a piece of my thigh. My mum doesn’t stop crying. My dad is horrified. My little brother won’t look at me.

Where did the sun go?

Why didn’t the bullet work?

I don’t do anything now, I don’t see anyone. I don’t go to college, I don’t study. I don’t see people, unless they’re in uniforms.

My face, when they give me a mirror, is hideous.

It is not there, I am not there.

For the first time ever, I’m not scared of life. For the rest of my life, I’ll be scared of myself. Do you know what’s funny? I was looking for love. Looking so hard that I missed it. My mum and dad love me without a face. Truly love me. I guess I am lucky, after all.

To learn more about the events which inspired this story, click here:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/09/face-transplant-katie-stubblefield-story-identity-surgery-science/

Travel

Three Museums: City of London in a day

Science Museum.

V&A.

Natural History Museum.

One day, two children, two adults, three museums and the crowded streets of London.

Car, train, tube, walk, walk, walk, repeat.

Crazy, hectic, chaotic, frustrating? Check

Exciting, mind-expanding, thrilling, joyful? Check.

Science Museum: Human perception of the sun from the Scandinavian Bronze Age through to solar panels nd nuclear fusion.

Early civilisations saw the sun as a god being pulled through the sky on a chariot led by a golden horse. It was a universal concept, adopted independently in distant realms across the globe.

Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Scandinavians, Ancient Indians, Ancient Greeks.. Separated by time and geography and culture but all looking at the same sun rising and setting in the sky and coming to the same conclusions – golden horses, golden chariots and a golden sun being pulled through the sky. ‘Cause there was no way it was moving by itself..

Sundials; circadian rhythms; seasons; calendars; sun-bathing; sunspots; solar mechanics; solar panels; solar storms.

Materials, rockets and a lunar lander.

Out onto Exhibition Road and a queue two hundred-deep for the Natural History Museum so we detoured to the V&A.

Wow.

Opulent Britain laid out in dazzling splendour. We danced with a venetian harlequin; sat in an 18th Century London parlour; admired tapestries and bed hangings and sumptuous fabrics, gold and silver items of every kind; made our own book plates and built crystal palaces and let the children run a little wild in a 3rd floor lounge.

The queue outside the Natural History Museum was down to around a hundred-deep by 4 o’clock, so we joined it and waited. Which didn’t take as long as you might think to thin-out.

Dinosaur-mad boy led us straight to the dinosaur Hall where hundreds of ichthyosaur, marine crocodile, plesiosaur and pliosaur fossils lined the walls and onto the animatronic t-rex and a trail of dinosaur bones.

Gift shops – mementoes of a crazy-beautiful day and a crowded tube back to Victoria. Run for the train and breathe.

Relax on the journey home and unwind. London – check.

Except, we always leave wanting more. There’s talk of an autumn visit with a hotel-stay. What could we pack into two days in London?

Travel

Just how powerful can a haiku be?

Old age and illness

Are not things that are fun to

Be a part of. No.

One grandma and one

great aunt and one step grandma

Are all so.. Ending.

And endings are so

Bittersweet but mostly they

Suck. Life gets harder.

I remember when

I am with them.. Being small

And full of happy.

I can remind them

Of happy for a while but

Then we remember..

Time and we are lost.

Dementia and cancer will

Win in the end. But

The end is not a

Day or a date or a time.

It is a concept.

Sometimes I wish that

Concepts would fuck off and leave

Us with the happy.

I sit with grandma

And I don’t know who I am.

She’s roaming inside.

I hold her paper-

Hand and see right through to blue

Veins and gnarled old bones.

It’s like holding air.

Are you there Grandma? Can you

Remember any..

Thing? Your cheeks are so

Sunken, is it hard to breathe?

Did your eyes open..

Today? Will you o-

Pen them tomorrow? You are

Dissappearing now.

Hello auntie, how

Is your day? Did you have a

Good sleep? I love you.

I know you look like

You’re there but you lost some parts

Along the way. Thoughts.

Remember when you

Were evacuated and

The Americans..

Gave you sweets? War was

Not so bad when soldiers brought

Candy, remember?

Tell me again how

You were born in a bucket

One Sunday morning.

_

I love to hear how

You lived, all eleven of

You. I am proud to..

Be a Family

Such as ours. You weigh less than

A child now. Going..

_

Backwards. Time reverts.

I love you, I love you I

Tell you. Remember?

Hello my other grandma,

Not blood but family still,

You look so sad, now.

Cancer, they said, is

Back for the third time and this

Time it will claim you.

What do you say to

That? Hello cancer, come take

Me when you’re ready?

_

Months, they say. You sit

Staring at the end. I love

You. Remember that.

_

All in your eighties,

Quietly fading and I

Weep for youth gone by.

I weep for your lives

And the coming of concepts

And the passing years.

I hold my children’s

Hands and walk them through the days,

And we talk of time.

But mostly we laugh

Because if we can’t stop time

We can play with it.

Family is all.

I didn’t know that I thought

That until I did.

Travel

Suffer Little Women – a story

votes for women poster

A fictionalised account of the final days of Mary Jane Clarke (1862-1910)

 

18th November 1910, London, England: Parliament Square

Mary marched proudly towards the square, a colourful sash striped in purple, green and white adorned her bodice, its tail flirted with the ribbon from her bonnet, both jostling for freedom.  She stepped in time with the others, booted, skirted-warriors marching to war, bandoliers stuffed with dignity, purity and hope. They held no weapons, save their tongues, their notions.

Their deputation was a wave of indignation storming the House of Men, House of Cards, House of Parliament, old stones wrapped around old ideas.  The streets were lined with spectators, the gates of Parliament blocked by rank upon rank of policemen.  They met in solemn confrontation.

‘Let us pass.’  Elizabeth Garrett Anderson demanded at the head of the deputation, ‘we have come to speak to Herbert Asquith.’

The ranks stood fast and silent.

‘We are here in peace, we demand to be heard.’  Emmeline Pankhurst added.  A ripple of agreement from the deputation. ‘Move aside, let us pass.’ The front line of women edged forward, determined.

‘Push them back – we’ve our orders.’ The police ranks held together, like a shield-wall and marched forwards, edging the women backwards.  Somewhere along the frontline, war erupted.  Shouts of indignation and fear heralded a wave of assault as truncheons rose and fell, fists pummelled and boots kicked.

Mary cowered, should she hide behind the others?  Should she run, should she fight?  She caught sight of Ada on the floor, shielding her face from a torrent of abuse.  She saw, through the throng, Rosa May in her invalid chair, crutches raised in a joust, charging the brutal ranks, ramming the enemy.  Mary saw her thrown from her chair, tyres let down.  Run?  Cower?  FIGHT!  Mary reeled as a stony-faced policeman punched her in the face.  Blood dripped from her nose, she wiped it from her lips.

Mary looked around her at a sea of sisters united in dispute, at their defiant, beautiful faces, her heart sang of ancient warrior souls and she raised her voice above the hum.  ‘Freedom from oppression!’ she cried, ‘Give women a voice!’ She aimed her words at Parliament, hoping to catch Asquith’s hidden ear.

Cries all around rose up “We want votes for women in the King’s speeches!”  “The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill!” “Carry the Bill!”  “Votes for Women!”

Spectators stared.  They offered no support.  ‘Votes for Women!’ She yelled at them.  Their eyes flicked away. ‘Get back home to your children!’  they cried, ‘Harridans!  Harlots!’.  Were they female voices?

Politicians stared down from lofty balconies, dainty drinks in crystal glasses, disdain set hard on their cold faces.  Mary watched a police helmet roll past her boot, flattening a deputation rosette, hopeful colours smeared with mud.

A leering, angry face appeared before her, rude hands grabbed her breasts, pinched and twisted.  Mary cried out in pain, around her, male hands groped female flesh, lifted skirts and tweaked nipples.  What was this fight?  How could women win against manmade law and manmade aggression?

Long skirts bustled round blue trouser legs as women were marched away, arrested for boldness.  The crowds turned away, spectacle observed but unwitnessed.

The press called it Black Friday.  Yes, it was.  Black for its implications:  Black for fear; black for aggression; black for repression and suppression of progression and equality; black for the gender war; black for the shadows male leaders cowered in and black for the shame on their cheeks as they turned away; black for brutality and black for a hundred innocent women marched to jail.

 

23rd November 1910, Brighton, England:  Mary Clarke’s residence

‘You must rest Mary, don’t go out tonight.  They can manage without you.’  Sylvia fussed around Mary, adjusting her hat, re-tying the ribbons.

‘Fiddlesticks, Sylvia, it’s my party, my women.  I won’t send them out on their own.  There will be arrests tonight, mark my words.  Pass me that toffee hammer, would you?’

‘What if you get caught Mary?  You’re not well enough for prison now, not after Friday’s march.’

‘Well, if I’m caught this time, I may just pay the fine.’  Mary shifted in her chair, wincing as her corset rubbed her ribs, bruised deep blue and purple as they were, yellowing at the edges, black along her arms.  Mary thought the black days were far from over, something had shifted in the campaign, something dark had been unleashed and a shadow hovered over them all.  A portent of storms to come.

‘What time is it?’  Mary asked as she fastened the lightweight hammer to her belt.

‘Oh please Mary, just this once, don’t go.’

‘Nonsense Sylvia.  Deeds, not words, remember?  We can’t back down now, a hundred more of our number are in prison!  They beat us and threaten us, take our freedom!  But we are not weak and feeble, we will not be silenced.’

Mary accepted help with her coat and she and Sylvia stepped out into the bracing Brighton evening.  A salty, seaweed-tanged wind whipped at their faces.  Mary and Sylvia marched arm-in-arm to the Royal Pavilion, exotic minarets soaring into the starry night.  Moonlight filtered down through trees and dappled flickering shadows on a crowd of eager, defiant faces.

‘Well met, ladies!’  Mary positioned herself carefully under the boughs of an ancient elder tree and faced her party.  ‘For those of you who survived Black Friday; for those of you who were there in spirit; for those behind bars tonight; for those on hunger strikes – let us raise our voices higher still!  We have a natural right to equal say in our society!  We are humans, we bear men, suckle men and raise men, we love them and nurse them and nurture them and they say SILENCE! We will not hear you!  And we say YES YOU WILL!  Who put them in charge?  They granted themselves the right to govern – we let them build a society that we are denied a voice in.  We are in this world together.  We will be heard!’

‘Hear, hear!’ Chorused a Parliament of Amazons.

‘Let us not surrender our will, let us not be forced into submission!  If they’re going to send us to jail, let us not be mauled and manhandled first!  Who’s ready to fight back?’

A rousing cheer.

‘Deeds not words ladies, deeds not words!’  Mary flourished her small toffee hammer, holding it aloft so it caught a shaft of moonlight and glinted in the darkness.

Relays of women streamed out from the shelter of the elder, hammers neatly hidden along their sleeves.  Their mission was simple, make the government hear them, consider the Bill, allow them the vote.  Allow them!  As if women needed permission to vote!  This inequality had gone on long enough.  They walked through the streets of Brighton, silent in the shadows until Mary gave the order.

‘Now!’

Flick, tinkle, crash.  Toffee hammers on window glass.  Angry righteousness, genteel fury.  So many women injured and brutalised on a peaceful march, a hundred imprisoned!  Those men must truly be scared to have responded so violently.  The suffragettes had agreed to stop the hunger strikes and window-smashing campaigns in exchange for the Conciliation Bill.  Tinkle, tinkle, crash.  A Bill that Parliament wouldn’t hear – one point to government, stakes-raised.  All down Western Road they marched, hammers and stones smashing shop fronts, window panes, door panes.  Tinkle, crash, crash.  If militancy was all that would get them noticed then this was their war-cry!

‘Votes for women!’

Lights blinked on in upper windows, house by house, dark silhouettes loomed and rough voices cursed down at them.  Mary bent to pick up another stone and hurled it through a haberdasher’s window.  She was triumphant.

A hand grabbed Mary’s shoulder, she spun around to find a policeman staring down at her, chin strap cutting into the baggy flesh of his jaw.  ‘You’re coming with me, love.’

Love?  What did love have to do with this?

‘Constable’, Mary complained, ‘you have arrived so swiftly!  We have barely made an impact.’

 

27th November 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

Mary clutched the coarse, itchy blanket to her thin shoulders and shivered.  Physical fortitude eluded her.  Her sisters called her frail, her mum had called her resilient.  Mary knew how to endure – she was tougher on the inside.  She sat on a thin mattress on a cold metal bed-frame in a cold, empty room where iron bars covered a tiny, high window grimed with decades of dirt.  This was Second Division:  Solitary confinement; no access to reading or writing materials; no visitors for a month.  She was on her own with nothing to distract her, save her thoughts.

It had been four days since any food had passed her lips, four days since she had demanded First Division status as a political prisoner.  No, they’d said.   Churchill’s rules.  Pah!  Pompous little man, scared of propaganda.  Mary smiled.  Their campaign was working, she was sure of it.  Why else go to such lengths to silence protestors?  She must go on with the sacrifice.  Four days of quiet torment and strengthening resolve were taking their toll.  Her lips were cracked and bled when she stretched them, her eyelids were heavy and her thoughts tumbled one into the other.

Second time in Holloway, second hunger strike.  She knew what to expect.  The harder they fought for their rights, the harder the government fought back, it was a game of surrender now.  Who would give up first?  The male leaders thought they would win, that it’d be easy to silence a dissident group of angry females but they couldn’t find the right woman to break.  The cause wasn’t rooted in a person or a class, it was not to be found in a house or town.  It was rooted in the hearts of enlightened women and unbreakable.

Mary hugged her legs and rocked herself, reminded of her mother comforting her on the rocking chair as a child.  So strong, her mother had been, so passionate and righteous.  She remembered walking hand in hand with her mother into suffrage meetings, ten years old and scared of the crowds.  She understood those women now.  Understood her mother, too – now it was too late to tell her so.

The cell door swung open so fiercely it banged against the wall, showering plaster to the floor.  The warder marched in, some strangers, one dressed as a doctor.  She had wondered when they would come.

‘No.’  Mary said, determined.  ‘No!  I will not eat.  No!’

They grabbed Mary’s arms and wrists, pulled her off the bed by her hair and shoved her roughly onto a chair.  Helpless as a lunatic, Mary struggled for freedom but her frail, starving body was no match for those brutish arms.

‘No!’  Mary wailed.  Pain ripped through Mary’s skull as they forced a tube up her nostril, jabbing it relentlessly, the tube scraped her nostrils, the soft space at the top of her nose, below her eyes.  Her brain exploded with pain as the tube jabbed at the back of her mouth, scraped her throat, jabbing, peeling, burning.  Mary tasted blood and bile, she retched and retched as inch after inch of tube filled her throat.  Acid rose from Mary’s stomach and bitter vomit filled her mouth.  They held her tight, pinned to the chair.

I am strong, she thought, I am woman.  I am Mary Jane Clarke, daughter of Robert Gould and Sophia Crane, sister of Emmeline, aunt of Sylvia and Christabel, leader of women, voice of a generation.  I shall endure.

They wiggled the tube, flicked it, pinched her nostrils shut to speed the liquid flow along.  Suffer little suffragette.  Blood, bile, acid and milk churned in her stomach, her throat, her nostrils.  They wrenched the tube back out, inch by painful inch and left her there, crumpled.  She slipped to the floor.  Mary vomited over and over, until dry heaves took over and exhausted she fell asleep where she lay.

 

30th November 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

Would they come today?  Mary looked fearfully at the door and listened to the sounds of Holloway; moans and cries; distant clatters; bangs and scrapes.  It was better than silence, she supposed, but still – each layer of sound thumped new horror into her heart.  Was that the squeak of a feeding cart?  Was that the tread of a warder?  Something savoury and sulphuric irritated her nostrils and tugged at her stomach.

A spider scuttled busily across the cell-wall and up to the window frame.  It walked easily past the iron bars and set about building itself a trap in the corner of the window.  Silk flowed freely from its dark little body, shimmering and flowing in an intricately woven web.

Marriage had been like that for her – a beautiful trap that had promised so much and delivered nothing but misery.  John had been a brute and a lousy husband, he blamed her for their lack of children, she blamed not wanting to share his bed.  She’d bought her freedom from him with a legal divorce but had to live with family to get by.  She could have settled with any of her relations, she supposed, but none of them were so close to her as darling Sylvia.  Some trials held hidden rewards.

Where was Sylvia now?  Mary hoped that Sylvia had escaped in time from the window-smashing campaign in Brighton – she’d asked her to return home as soon as any policemen appeared, but the trouble with the Pankhurst’s was that they were so single-minded.  Please, oh please don’t let Sylvia be locked up in here!  Mary thought grimly, I can bear this for both of us.  I must.

 

9th December 1910, London, England: Holloway Prison

A loud blue-black fly protested its innocence as its legs stuck fast to the spider’s web.  It struggled furiously and shouted vociferously in its angry-fly voice.  The spider looked on, still and patient.  He could wait for the fly to exhaust itself.  Mary was exhausted.  Not once had she consented to eat as she sat trapped in her cell yet no ears had heard her pleas or granted her reprieve. Over and over again, Mary endured the tube, the chalky, eggy milk, the vomit.  She grew weaker than she’d ever felt before, her body betrayed her, it was so needy and broken.

Mary longed for her sisters to gather round her and boost her spirit with their tales of freedom and justice.  Mary burned like her sisters but her body was consumed faster than theirs, perhaps her fervour burned brighter.  Poor, old militant Mary!  Fever burned on her brow, she shivered, though her blood boiled.  Mary imagined Emmeline’s cool hand on her forehead, soothing and inspiring.  ‘Is that you, Emmeline?’ she called to an empty room, ‘Our tactics are working on them, Emmy-dear!  We have proven how determined we are!  Effie?  Did you come too?’  Mary sat up and looked blearily around the lonely cell.  Confused, she lay back and closed her heavy eyes.  Dreams and memories dragged her down to blackness.

 

24th December 2010, London, England:  Mary’s brother’s residence

Happy Christmas, Mary!  Freedom for a gift.

Mary had walked out through the open doors of Holloway prison two days before, free but not a little broken.  The sun had welcomed her with a weak winter smile.  Two days before Christmas Eve and a festive fever had burned in her like hope.  Helpful hands had helped her walk to a waiting car and escorted her to a welcome luncheon in the capital.  Kind, of course, to celebrate her freedom but standing had been an effort and talking had drained her.  Food, of course, not the enemy now, had been impossible to swallow.  Those same kind, well-meaning hands escorted Mary to Brighton straight from the luncheon, she’d rested in her chair at home for barely an hour before helpful hands propelled her frail being to an evening meeting with her peers – so proud of her, so admiring.

Yesterday, Mary had arrived back in London at the heart of her family, they gathered round her in protection.  Mary had survived political torture, again!  The fight burned in her, she could feel it hot behind her temples, burning in her throat.  Mary was angry and overwhelmingly tired.

She picked at her lunch, dry and hard to swallow with her ravaged throat, she sipped her wine.  Perhaps she’d had over-much.  Her vision swam and blurred.  She dabbed her mouth with her napkin, pressed it into the table as she stood, heavily.  She swayed a little as she stood.  Mary excused herself and walked out to the hallway, relishing the cool draught she found there.  She climbed the stairs heavily, frail as an old, old lady.  Her bed, when she found it was soft and inviting.  Mary lay down, her head throbbing fiercely, she pressed her eyes tight shut, massaged her brow.  Her arms felt heavy, she let them go, surprised at how quickly they descended to the bed.  A flash of red flame shot across her eyes.

*

Emmeline excused herself from the table and followed her sister upstairs.  She found her sprawled on the bed, palms open like a supplicant, her face a blank mask of relief.  Emmeline clutched her heart and howled.

‘My dearest sister! My poor, dear sister!  Oh Mary, they have torn you from me.’

Emmeline closed her sister’s eyes with a gentle finger and thumb and bent her own head forward to pray and weep.  As she knelt there, sorrow dragged her down, she thought of her sister, her mother, her son, all gone in this Black year.

‘How many more will have to die for the cause?’  she asked.

Emmeline resolved to campaign harder.  The fight had gained a martyr and a flaming sword.

Not the End

Creative Writing

The Wire – A poem of Ravilious and war

Wire in war takes on shades of brutality.

That which in peace will build a fence or mend a tool, in war becomes a weapon.

Yet it is just wire.

With intent to pull flesh from human skin and harm the soul within.

See this wire, tangled and barbed, heavy with inert threat.

Sharp, cold metal provokes and warns

Come not here!

Distant smoke, cordite drifting landward,

White of eyes and grey of gunpowder, grey of gunmetal, grey of ruined flesh.

No men, no laughter, no whisper.

Dirty, ash-flecked wind whips and whistles through your hair, thuds against your skin…

…rattles barbed-wire like old bones tumbling.

Warships on the horizon – blank-eyed, steely warriors squinting at the shore.

Steel grey.

Mud brown.

Heartless black.

Smoke white.

And yet..

Tangled in the blackest wire, clumped with sea-tossed scorn,

Canary yellow and cherry red like the promise of a Summer afternoon,

The drifted boat, tilted and beached upon the wire.

Tossed away, tossed out of the greyest sea.

There, amidst the shuffle-skidding pebbles,

Beside the shushing grey waves and speckled foam,

There, enshrined in seaweed and salt and captured in a barbed embrace,

An empty boat,

Grasping wire

And no man alive to see

Or wonder

Where did the rower go?

Inspired by ‘Drift Boat’, Eric Ravilious (1941) and ‘The Wire Fence’, Eric Ravilious (1935).. from innocent to deadly, Ravilious’ change in perception as he is engulfed in war. Even wire becomes brutal.

For all those missing in action.

Biography: Annalie Seaman, mother, archaeologist, writer and curious soul.

Archaeology, Travel

Forest Archaeology: a love story

Two initials carved into a tree, lovers making promises they may or may not keep. We’ve all seen them.

A 💕 H forever..

N ♥ L..

We may have made our own, one dreamy-day gone by. But how many of us have done this? (see photo).

The photo below is of a tree in Friston Forest, on a hill above the meander of the river Cuckmere as it winds out to the English Channel.

A hefty iron chain and padlock tied to the trunk of a tall tree. The chain has been there so long that the tree has started absorbing it. The padlock is held fast in the tree bark, folds of bark have grown over the chain where it joins its twin trunk. The growing tree is squeezing its way out of the love-chain, squeezing up and out like a jeans-belt holding in a festive-seasons worth of indulgences. The tree has rolls.

One day, this tree will completely absorb the chain and carry on growing up and out, with a rusty chain of hopeful love nestled in its core. If the tree is ever chopped down for lumber, some curious soul will doubtless discover and ponder at the hidden message locked tight in the knots of the trunk.

On the outer rim of the padlock:

LOVE ALWAYS

Scratched into the metal.

On the front face of the padlock:

B. G.

Their love story is older than the new growth of the tree. Has it endured, I wonder, as well as the chains of proclamation that are slowly disappearing as growth rings on the life of a Friston Forest tree?

Travel

We just met a NASA Scientist!

It was Herstmonceux’s Astronomy Festival this weekend. We went yesterday and blew our minds.

As a society, we talk about quality time. We want to spend time with our families learning about each other, having fun together and bonding. We squeeze these moments into our frantically busy lives and wait for the satisfied feeling to hit us, asking if this is the moment that feels like quality.

In my experience, quality is fleeting. It depends on how much attention you put into your moments. Whether you’re fully there or distracted by planning or regrets or communication with people you’re not with.

You have no choice but to be fully present when you and your entire family are thrilled to buzzing point about the endless possibilities of space exploration.

The word astronaut comes from the Greek for Star Sailor (Astra = Star and nautical = navigation by sea).

Star Sailors.

People who sail through the stars as ancient explorers sailed the seven seas, guided by the stars. The spirit of exploration drives humanity like nothing else.

I saw the sun and moon through large telescopes – in the day time. The surface of the potted moon seen through the lens of a star-gazing device is something legendary. We know what the moon looks like. No big deal. Except – yes, it is. Each crater, each mountain, each valley has a story to tell. Ancient lava lies cooled on the surface.

Moon dust is similar to volcanic basalt found on earth. Scientists are experimenting with volcanic basalt (ancient earth dust) from Germany to see if moon-dust bricks could be constructed on the moon. Wow.

We stepped into a tiny, inflatable planetarium with a very happy and very knowledgable guide to the universe – Jasper. Jasper is one of those rare people with the power to enthuse from the depths of their own enthusiasm.

Mars, Venus, Jupiter? Sure, let’s visit them from inside a tiny dome and gaze up at their ethereal surfaces.

Mars – we’re visiting there soon, there might be water and where there’s water, there’s life.

Venus – too hot to touch, the Russians sent a rocket there that lasted just over two hours before it melted.

Jupiter – a swirling giant with an ever-growing number of moons. We’re visiting Europa soon – it’s ice crust hides an ocean larger than earth. Where there’s water..

I love the inclusivity. “We’re going exploring” – we’re star sailors by proxy because we are part of the human race. “We’re” exploring the stars together.

Lucky us.

The edge of the universe? Sure let’s visit – we go as far as the human eye can see – a vastly distant star and behind it we see billions of galaxies holding billions of stars. Beyond those galaxies is the beginning of time. Wow.

Black holes? Black holes in the blackness of space – with stars orbiting them, drawn in by their massive gravitational pull. Black holes swallow other black holes. We haven’t looked inside one yet because of spaghettification – yep, it’s a thing – the gravitational pull of black holes would pull at your feet and your entire body would be stretched like spaghetti and you wouldn’t survive your trip through the event horizon. In theory.

Carl Sagan talks to us from Earth’s recent past – like the light from a star reaching us after it’s gone – as we glimpse a tiny speck of light captured in footage on Voyager 2.

That “mote of dust” is our home in the vastness of space and all the people we love, all the 7.5billion people walking about on its surface are suspended on Earth, in space.

The NASA Scientist – Christopher -has travelled over from Pasadena, America. He sits inside one of the giant copper domes and waits for questions.

What does he do at NASA? He measures quasars. How much patience does he have with the children and their questions? Endless.

They want to know how to deal with space junk, how to make new materials from elements on other planets and how to find new life in the solar system. They want to know if there are aliens. They want more info on black holes. Spaghetti.

They’re told to keep questioning the universe and to invent equipment and tech for future star sailors to use on the endless voyage into the cosmic unknown. Could they go into space? Today, anything seems possible.

I want to know what there was before the Big Bang. Well if you get the chance to talk to NASA.. he smiles at me and says “oh, you’re coming in with the big one.” Yep, that’s me!

He says we have to look to theology or philosophy for that answer. Science doesn’t know.

He asks whether time exists. If time began when the Big Bang exploded and is travelling with the energy from the blast: will time stop when the energy from the Big Bang runs out? Would time then reverse?

If you play that model of the universe out in your mind for a while, it starts yo-yoing back and forth. Leaving you with the question:

If time can go forwards and backwards, what would happen when time met it’s beginning. Would it explode in a Big Bang?

We met storm troopers and astronomers and beautiful people and we thought incredible thoughts and walked out of the Observatory on astral clouds of giddiness.

Quality.

Mind blasting quality.