Lulu (The Dictionary)

Once upon the Forest of Dean, I was a young woman leaving home. I was packing all my things, and, of course, some of someone else’s. One of the some was a little red dictionary, bound in faux leather, with little dimples covering the cover. Being curious, I opened it up.

I don’t know that I was looking for anything in particular, but here, I found it. As if written solely to satisfy my hunger for mystery, there it was, scrawled in fifty-seven-year old pencil:

‘Merry Xmas ’48, Norman’ – which lead me off in one confusion, as this was my grandfather’s name – ‘Love, Lulu’.

Now, I didn’t know anyone called Lulu, and neither did my mother, whose dictionary it was, when asked. Nonetheless, I needed to know the meanings of words, so I stashed the little red dictionary in my big university bag, and left home.

No sooner had I set foot on the train, that I heard a strange, distant whine, like a dog pining for its owner. Can’t be mum, I thought, that’s just silly. But the thing called out, ever so slightly louder, and I heard… ‘Aardvark…’

I shook my head and settled down into the 1980’s carpet chair, dismissing the hallucination. Trains make all kinds of noises.

I was moving in with a friend from school and college, an old-timer, Melissa. We never spoke much in school, but had gotten to know each other in free lessons at college, meandering the field and annoying our psychology teacher.

We settled into a rickety cardboard student house, No. 8 Warwick Street, and came to be sisters. We ate together, watched three doses a day of Neighbours together, avoided essays and Freshers’ Week together. Sometimes, though, we were alone.

One of these times, Melissa had just gone out and I was alone in the house. I was drying my hair after a shower, gazing out of my bedroom window over the rows of higgledy back gardens and walls, trying to guess which one it was the infamous York rapist was living in, having read of his recent release. Supposedly, it was on our block.

Suddenly the hairdryer started to fizz and smoke, and within seconds, it blew up. Luckily I escaped the damage without a scrape, and grumbled off to buy a new one. I thought nothing of it when, donning my coat and locking the door, a little whiny thing I can only describe as red, whispered, ‘Careful…’

Six months later, I was alone again. Melissa had just gone out, as seems usually to be the case, having discovered a hole in the kitchen wall that allowed more-than-socially-acceptable noise through from what must have been a bathroom next door. Having slept through an unusually cold night, I was achy and tired, and a little jumpy. I put the kettle on. Approximately three-quarters toward the boil, the kettle started to sputter and shake. I stepped back just as the plug spat itself out of the socket, with such force that it knocked the kettle, that had burst into flame at the base, off the counter and into a convenient leak from the freezer. ‘Careful…’ I felt, in my ear.

Another six months later, I had a boyfriend. Wanting to be aloof, with a fresh start in a new city, I was playing it cool. I was an independent woman, throwing my hands up happ-e-y. I was alone again. Half an hour after said boyfriend had left my place, about as much time as it might take for him to make it home, make a cup of tea and get into bed, I heard something. Lying in bed, frozen still, I listened. Three or four different voices, young, male, aggressive, were prowling the back yard, that my window overlooked.

Not daring to pull back the curtains, I listened as the voices, clear as day, seemed to explore the yard and confer with each other. They went quiet for a moment. And then a stone hit my window. And then another. And then another. Independence was far from my mind as I reached for my phone. ‘Please come.’ I said. ‘There’s someone here.’

Obedient boyfriend agreed, and I waited. For roughly twenty minutes more, about the amount of time it might take for said boyfriend to get out of bed, get dressed, bump into a housemate, and then make his way back… the stones and the voices continued. There was a knock at the door. My phone went off. ‘It’s me.’

Sidling down the stairs like a child on a mountain, bum against the ground, I edged towards the front door. A dark figure loomed behind the circus-mirror glass. Boyfriend.

The pair of us crept upstairs and boyfriend took a furtive peek behind the curtain, before pulling it back completely.

‘There’s nothing there, Anna.’

Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.

The next day was moving out day, and I was cleaning the house. Melissa had just gone out to get some more bleach. Scrubbing away at limescale that was probably older than me, my eyes glazed over the grey sink, whirlpooled the plughole, and stared down into the black.

A short, loud but muffled thump caught my attention. A stupid young bird had flown straight into the window above my head, which I’d even opened to clear the chemicals from the air. The thing could have flown straight in, or anywhere else, but it hit the glass. I looked down to the yard.

There was no bird.

Returning my gaze indoors, I shook my head, and in that instance, I saw…

There, etched into the glass in the bottom-right pane of the bathroom window, was…

‘Lulu’

The very same handwriting as in the little red dictionary. I reached out and pressed my finger into the name, recording the exact feel of the letters’ curves, the scratchy dips in the glass. ‘Merry Xmas… Love Lulu’

I grew up over the following year, became wise and cynical, forgot, dismissed all but science. I forgot all about Lulu. That is, until my third year of university. I moved back into Warwick Street with my friends who were still studying alongside me. Melissa had graduated already, not having taken a gap year. There were three of us staying together, and the house on Warwick Street was available again.

And Lulu wasn’t there. There, on the same old bathroom window, Lulu wasn’t there. Although, what was there, was a tiny little noise… A tiny little whine, that brushed through my hair with the words, ‘I told you…’

I never took anything that didn’t belong to me again.

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Untitled: a work in progress

Some abstract thoughts at the moment. Do let me know what you think: what you read into it, what you’d like to know, see, etc.

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What would happen if I stopped looking for you? Would you stop coming my way? I don’t think so, somehow.

But what would happen if you just didn’t come my way? Any ‘you’ at all. How does that work?

Open. eyes. Too bright. Close again.

Hot under my hands. It moves. Water? It moves with me, it stays still around me while other parts of it move past, slide past us, but it’s different to water.

This is why I’m so terrible; they come and go so quickly in this grown-up world and it’s a defence mechanism, it has to be, it’s necessary. I must be really miserable inside but I’d be much more, technically depressed if I let myself think about why I do it. They just faff and I can’t hang about anymore. Something’s changed, clicked and I can’t shut off but I switch so easily, they all flow through me now.

How long does it take for singledom to get to someone? The weakest and the strongest. It is a solid, absolute factor in people’s disappearances, I promise you. Without that familiarity with the way of things, the connection, the interpersonal interaction, the self-validation, the confirmation that your body ticks the boxes, your personality is satisfactory and entertaining and special at least for the first few months before the sell-by-date of most new friendships, etc.

Play a happy song, you said. Make it poetic. You cruel, cruel bastard. I’ll never play Tracy Chapman or Fast Car again and it’s all your fault that she’s dead to me now.

I’m still here. I’ll be here for a while if you feel like rescuing me. I won’t call out because that’s… Maybe I should? I don’t know. Help. Do I need counselling? I cry about once a week from no particular trigger.

Michael lifted his pillow to see the ten-year-old ten pound note in its place. The ‘tooth fairy’ (the baglady who slept outside his house on the street, who snuck in through his window to leave him presents she’d been given when he was going through rough times) had been very kind that year. She must have understood that Michael needed a bit more than twenty pence to console him after losing Joelly and a tooth in one day. Especially at the age of thirty-eight.

This was his last hope. He tenderly reached out, picked it up with all the care of a child holding its first butterfly, and laid it out flat on the table, smoothing out the creases with nervous fingers. He picked up a pen.

Attractive-

 

Friendly-

 

…Man, forty-eight, eyes: green, hair: brown, 6’2. Looking-

 

-Waiting for you to happen to me.

 

He heaved on his not-so-unattractive coat, resigned himself to the state of his beautiful, beautiful hair, and tapped goodbye to the paintings on the wall. As he went down the stairs to outside, the paintings breathed with hope.

Outside blurs past as Michael walks quickly but gracefully, covering ground in forgiving steps that, to anyone who cared to notice, would tell of his beautiful, beautiful wants.

A moment of beautiful hope as Michael stands outside the supermarket, head up, taking in the happenings of the inside. Plastic bags dance in the wet wind. Water falls slowly, not hitting but coming to the ground and moving into it like lovers from-years-ago-across-a-crowded-room. And all that jazz.

Michael is inside now. He waits behind the woman with ten bags of sugar and in front of the man with toothpaste, bananas and bandages. He picks something from the stall at the till; he doesn’t see what. The woman turns her trolley in a long, rounded move and gives a slow kickstart before riding on the back bar underneath. She is tired.

The cashier waits, smiling. She doesn’t feel the need to talk to Michael. A smile seems enough. Her brown eyes are bright, and warm. They tell dreams of deserts and beautiful calm. She shows willing and acceptance, but Michael doesn’t really see it. He hands over the note, almost not letting go. The rain falls slowly for a moment more.

‘Three Kisses’: a work in progress

A short story I am having trouble continuing, about three girls who grow to confront their darkest fears. I’d love to hear what you think is going to happen, or what you’d like to happen next…

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In one world, one lifetime, three girls grew up towards three kisses.

 

Alone, they each discovered, over the length of their young lives, their deepest, darkest fears.

 

They thought this was probably quite an important thing to know, as things go; something that might come up.

 

Nira feared big ears, grey hair, short legs and cats, and stayed away from knitting. She never brushed her teeth or bathed, or sat up straight at dinner. Her mother told her these were things that made a girl a woman, and Nira wanted none of that. This little girl was afraid of old age, in all its wrinkly awe. This thing affected everyone, and held their hand till death. What good was womanhood if that was where it went?

 

Fara followed friends around, all morning, day and eve. She jumped up at the crack of dawn and swapped a teddy for a mum. Saying goodbye, to Fara, meant hello again to someone new. You never saw this girl alone, for money, food or sleep. She seemed a happy child to most, chatty and alive. Fara didn’t care for silence, or boredom, or doing things for yourself. Loneliness was the storm cloud hovering near Fara’s heart.

 

Cold was a more complex child. Cold made footnotes of her post-its. She bracketed in birthday cards. She wrote letters at dinner, giving thanks to the host. Her mother just smiled her thanks. Cold made phone calls twice a day to those she’d just seen, to check and double-check they’d heard and understood everything she said. Cold was keeping track of life by making sure they knew how every word and comment she uttered was really intended. The worst thing that could ever happen to her was to be found in the grey place between grateful and expecting, tired and uninterested, or ill and injured. So she still wrote to tell people, even if she was uninterested.

 

One day these three lives merged under one sun; one that was arching its back over sleepy lapping waters that could have been put there just for this.

 

One carpet saw too many greens one night, and one dish smashed too many. One girl was fed up with playing by the rules. Nira ran away from home, and away, and away, and away.

 

One hand got sweaty and sick of holding onto another. One hand pushed, and one belly felt the weight of one hundred worlds falling into one place. Fara decided to find new friends somewhere else.

 

One letter too few came to one room in one house, and one tongue spoke a final full stop. Cold went turkey on her notes and calls and took a vow of silence. Her words weren’t welcome here.

 

Tired feet worked through a day and a night, while tired lips awaited.

 

One head cocked across a clearing, made of sugary, spicy trees, while… nice things… hung about above.

 

Brown eyes stared right into green, and blue eyes joined right in.

 

Nira reached out first and made the bravest steps of all. Nice things moved out of the way, and sugar sprinkled down.

 

Fara sheltered in the spice, aching for that hand.

 

Two minds grazed under that sun, green troubles and brown shared.

 

One heart stood lonely on but watched how tears were left unsaid. Then wandered off for a little while, through icing in silence.

 

Later, later more, Fara was lead by brown-eyed hands. They told her happy things were close, though she could feel that they were really talking to themselves. Green eyes and brown felt the uncertain warmth of another as they looked up through flossy snow to see a low thing sitting.

 

Warts and straggly hair turned to see them, through eyes that knew about slugs and snails and other things from under rocks.

 

Nira gasped. She had never seen anything so terrifying than what sat before her, gripping the ground it sat on as if it might otherwise float away. Fara felt her place was somewhere else right now, and went to find it.

 

“You’re old.”

 

“I am.”

 

The answer seeming to satisfy Nira somewhat, she approached the thing and started pulling at purple ferns growing conveniently close by.

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To be continued…

‘The Gods Smile’

This is a an undeveloped short story containing strong language and domestic abuse.

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MaRa was the problem. Ma was ok, and Ra was better, but MaRa wasn’t very nice. Big H was warm like sleep The Day. Ra put it like that. Ra liked it like that. Red came up when Ma came in. Ma came in and flung. Something changed in the still of Ra’s shoulders. Big H shrunk. Wasn’t warm anymore. Ma was the doing one. Ma did. Ra never did anything. Anything Bad. But Ma said he did. So he did. Ma put down orange crinkly things and she stared and she went and she flung. Ra shivered and put me away.

 

It doesn’t have to be like this. Like Tuesday. I’m just fucking hot in here. Did you ever think about that? Why don’t you put some more layers on or something? Selfish bastard. I come home to the muggy stuff you’ve created and all I want is some fresh fucking air.

 

“The house is freezing.”

“They’re my fucking windows, so I’ll open them if I want.”

 

Cupboard bang.

 

“Yes that’s mature isn’t it, your windows. I’ll just cut out all the door handles shall I and put them under my half of the bed in shoeboxes labelled Rob.”

“Oh fuck off Rob, they’d be our windows if you lifted a fucking finger and maybe, God forbid, ventured outdoors once a month. I’ve just been round Sainsbury’s three fucking times because I didn’t have anyone to help!”

 

Oven on.

 

“Mel if you even believed that was what you wanted you’d have made fucking sure I did it because you know that’s how it works.”

“I’m sorry, what the fuck? Of course it’s what I want, I want you to stop being a lazy fucking arse and get out of my fucking space.”

 

Face on.

 

Your space?”

“My fucking space.”

 

“Don’t swear around the baby.”

 

“Whatever, Rob. Whatever.”

 

Ma is very loud. This makes Ra sad. Ma gets loud and Ra gets quiet.

 

But I won’t give up on you because you see me. You really see me. You know everything about me from the inside out and you’ve done it, learnt it, elevated it higher than I ever believed in even myself and shown me just how well it all works, how much it’s worth, how much more it has an excuse to be here. It. Me. How much more I have an excuse to be here. And I know you know this because you do it again. Over and over, you’re always here, you keep reminding me in Our Way just how much we love each other, just how much we care. And you’re crying again. Again? Whoever else in the whole big wide fucking world gets to see a grown man cry more than once? This isn’t normal. This is as good as it gets. This is fucking enlightenment. And somehow it makes me feel like more of a woman.

 

Yeah. Swish your hair. My spirit will seep down my face, like always, like Tuesday, and you’ll feel more of a woman.

I’m not comfortable with this. This is my boundary. Fair enough. So we know. Take each moment as it comes. So I get up and take it with me, into the bedroom. Bed room. Room for beds. I carry it. It lets me. I put it down. It’s all about the yellow today, Mel made sure of that. She absolutely takes the fucking cake sometimes. Yellow has to be the most clinically irritating colour of our time. Our time? All time. But I wasn’t there for all time. So our time. Yellow babygrow. Even the words are made of bile.

It looks at me and away and at me. It’s not tiny, like she’d say. It’s small, yeah, but it’s there. It’s there enough for you to see it. There enough to be. People exaggerate about babies.

I take the softest thing I can find. Soft but smooth, I won’t shove a toy in its face. Hairs in its mouth. That’s just unpleasant. Pillows are cliché but hey, so are we. I push softly. Softly and not for long. It lets me. It loves me, I think.

 

Ra is strong. Gods sit under the Cloudy Big, and smile, and do nothing, because Ra is doing Grace.

 

For a moment I think of that; whether it can hear in the same way we can, whether it can see any of what’s happening in front of it or whether it sees in black and white like a dog. But only for a moment. It’s ok. It has its bears and elephants and a nice big window to look out of.

 

I pull off and it’s ok. Quiet, but it’s ok. Quiet is graceful anyway.

I put it away with its first smile on its face.

 

Ra thinks quiet is best. Ra makes me quiet sometimes and then Ma is very quiet and then MaRa is loud, he says, when I’m too quiet to hear. I’m not supposed to hear.

 

He came back in to me after the usual seven minutes. Sat down, sad face, quiet hands. Same old foreplay.

 

All the stillness and subtlety available on some higher plane in our imagination. The romantic ideal world. It doesn’t deserve this stunted attempt at withholding everything from her but what she chooses to take that I play out in order to be a ‘good’ human being. God forbid we play the innocent and get it right. She’s whet from this look though. Something’s been done right. Chemistry is clumsy, it seems. But it’s good enough for us. We chase and hide and back and forth and come and cry. I pull off, and it’s all ok.

Hello Master-Miss

For Melissa’s bump

With thanks to Ciéran, Heather, Elissia, Sasha and Abigail

Hello in there little Master-Miss, glad to make your acquaintance. I have some things to tell you that I have worked out over time. First of all let me tell you that you are loved, unconditionally, that’s how it works you see, everybody loves you even before you have a name.

There’s Mummy Melissa, and Daddy Mike. There are Penny and George the doggies who will bark off all the baddies. There are lots and lots of aunties and uncles and friends and people of all shapes and sizes that you will meet in your life who will make you smile and give you hugs and make you feel like the precious little star that you are.

Things and people come and go, happy songs will fill you up. Happy times will stay with you, and warmth will blow out from within you. This is sometimes called farts.

Another thing to mention is that nothing is forever. Forever is a lovely thing, though actually unreal. And everything you do will only be for just right then. It doesn’t matter though, you see, because your memory is there. To keep you warm even without farts, and keep you safe from sadness.

Take what you can from life, Master-Miss, it will give you all it can. Remember to say and do and dance and shout and eat and play just how you like. Be open and accepting, forgive yourself mistakes. Be honest and ready to adapt, enjoy changes within yourself. Ride it all out. Time changes everything except everything you want to keep. You can make this journey whatever you want it to be.

Remember to have fun and try to be the best of you. Make friends, because you will be a great friend and it would be sad to deprive anyone of that privilege. Love your family. They made you with love and will love you more and more the more you love.

All moments and faces are borrowed, whether for long or short times. Look on things lovingly, and like them while you can. Don’t think about endings or goodbyes, but take advantage of every minute. Love yourself and be kind, you are only human, and that is pretty special.

Now, some people may come to you and ask you big fat questions like ‘Why?’ Everyone will have different answers for these questions, and it’s up to you what you’d like to think is true. Mummy and Daddy will have their own ideas, and so will Penny and George. It is important to listen to everyone’s answers, and to decide what feels right in your own head after a big fat think. One thing Mummy and Daddy are sure to think is a reason Why, is to bring you up to love someone.

One more thing before you go, think about superheroes. Think about your special powers, and what can make you one. For example, Mummy is very brave for you to come out of her tummy. For another example, Daddy is SO caring that he will keep you from being scared in the dark by bringing you warm milk and teddies to sleep with. Both of them will feed you yummies and care for your tummy so that you grow big and strong.

So, after all this nattering, there’s one more thing to say. You can think and do what you like, dear bean, and let the rest wash away. Try to be the best of you, have fun, and don’t let fear overtake your life.

THE BEGINNING

The Underwater Pillow

No fairytale here you’ll find, I know. You can try all you like. But I know you won’t, because this story is real. A very real story about very real people and very real things. This is a story about an underwater pillow.

You might think underwater is a strange place for a pillow, and you’d be right. But a lot of things that are real, are very strange. And this pillow was very real.

So real it was, but only to our friend in question. The girl of importance. This girl’s real name was Hush, although of course you won’t find the real names here, because they are sort of private sometimes. Times like these. So we’ll call her Hush.

Hush was a girl, of course, as we said, and we must keep it real, so she was doing girl things and had girl friends and thought girl things and made girl cakes. Girl plans were made in Hush’s mind, changed over time, faded and throbbed.

Being a real girl, real things happened to Hush. Real things passed her eyes and altered her heart. Real wind blew on the back of her neck and real sun shone on her lashes.

Sometimes Hush felt a little unreal. Sometimes life seemed unreal to her, and she started to wonder whether it was her or things that were real, or if anything really was real at all.

Such massive thoughts would stay in Hush’s mind for days, even weeks, or lurk around in the background for longer. She would go out into the real world and find a little patch somewhere, in the shape of her girly bum. She would peer out into the distance and breathe out through her mouth. It was here Hush first thought of her underwater pillow.

In real time, things go kind of quickly. A day is really just twenty-four hours, and a week is only really seven days. You can even check the months off fast.

However, in unreal time – the time inside your head – things go kind of slow. Real time things will come and go before you have enough unreal time to even see some of them. You might catch a glimpse of one or two, and some might stick to the inside of your eyes as they glide past. But a lot of things are just too much in unreal time.

Hush tried various things to turn down the number of real things getting in, just to give her a bit of a rest. She talked. She thought. She slept. She ate. She didn’t. She tried a lot of things over a lot of years, counting all the time, and after a while she made a decision. It was time to make something. Other than the decision.

Being a thinker, she thought she had thought a lot about it, and had probably come to a pretty safe conclusion. It was time to make her way to her underwater pillow.

Hush had pictured the pillow for a very long time, even in unreal time. The idea had come to her over years and years, and, having tried everything else, she knew it was the only thing to do. She would settle her head on a pillow under some water, close her eyes, and think about all the lovely things that happened.

Hush found her pillow underwater, and put her tired thoughts to bed.  Water drifted through her head in unreal time and made her feel like she was just as real as anything she had ever seen or heard. Real time passed and real things stopped happening to Hush. Stopped making her feel unreal, anyway.

The Little Loves Who Ran Away to Heaven

Once upon a time there were a little girl called Go, and a little boy called Slow. Upon the time that we’re talking about, both were factually little. Go and Slow were soul mates, made to end together, but sadly born apart.

Go grew up quietly, reading and pondering and wishing for more. She listened to music and wrote things down. Kept rabbits and things and stared at their fur.

Slow grew up loudly indeed, running and laughing and making himself heard. He listened to music but didn’t write things down. Kept real things to himself and stared at the ceiling.

Sometimes, when the grass is just right, a little wave of love passes underfoot, and carries two souls towards one another. Came such a day.

The sun shone on Go’s kind heart, and the wind blew on Slow’s thirst for life. Each were carried by a song in their chest, and puppy dogs were present. Young faces found themselves facing each other, mouths telling things like, ‘I dream,’ and ‘I know.’

The pair shared laughs and tears and hugs, their hands passed gifts between. Wild horses were powerless here.

Sometimes again, when the trees are restless, a little something comes into play. A little wave of something seeps into a head, and changes a little life.

Go got to thinking. A dangerous thing. She pondered more than ever, a little too far perhaps. Taking everything in and trying to keep it, her head and heart filled quickly. The world became too much for her little life, and she decided to take it elsewhere.

Slow, at this time, was taking little and lots in, waking in waves and playing life’s tune lazily, missing the notes that might make it too much.

Slow let Go go, she packed her bags, and ran away to Heaven.

Slow stayed and did things for a while, and smiled every now and then. His hand felt little, but his heart stayed big.

One day he got to, not thinking, but feeling. His hand took over his head. ‘You’re just little,’ it said, ‘I know,’ he replied, and he stroked his furry face – for Slow was not now so little. It made him think of rabbits.

He listened to music, one song in fact, for a little time, and then a long time. His hand did some thinking, some yearning, some packing. Slow made his way to Heaven.

One little face turned to see Slow come, and Go have him a smile.

‘I dream,’ he said.

‘I know,’ said she.

Little hands held once more, and forever.