I Remember

I remember the splash of the waves against the side of my grandfather’s wooden boat, my brother standing proudly by the mast.

I remember sitting in the back, snuggled like a chick under my mother’s arms, the sea salt and my long blond ponytail lashing my cheeks.

I remember being passed to land like a bag of sugar, an exulted terrified scream then the freedom of the warm rocks beneath my feet. Away I sped, an uninhabited island awaiting exploration by five-year-old me. 

I remember our trusted blue Opel Kadett swaying in the sling, over land, over the ship; a pendulum of our future. To stay, to go. Awed, fearful, I awaited its plunge to earth. 

I remember the car’s thudding descent to deck, the rousing cheer from family on shore, a cheer that turned to tears as the giant ship eased from the dock. 

I remember the confusion. Why cry at this adventure?

I remember my guilt. Should I cry too? A guilt often repeated. 

I remember the hastily arranged assembly. The morning’s floor wax still potent and sickening. A keening nausea as we heard the news. Mr Kewley died last night; the incomprehensible words sought comprehension in my nine-year-old heart and mind. 

I remember the poke in the chest, the verbal jibes, and the scornful faces. ‘Why aren’t you crying?’ they taunted. ‘He was your favourite teacher after all. Taught you all that creative writing rubbish.’

I remember the searing slurs.

I remember my silence. Shaking my head as I walked away, not shedding a tear. 

I remember once home just sitting on the sofa, stroking patterns of light and dark gold, the softness reassuring, safe. Not the usual TV or books. Just space. To think. Here the disbelief turned to truth. 

I remember my mother’s concerned questions. Then we rocked, me as a baby in her arms. We both wept at the loss. This was my first death; I had been lucky. 

I remember my first kiss, stolen across a lilo, the warm Mediterranean Sea lapping my body as I paddled languidly to land. My first kiss! A moment I will always remember, bubbling with excitement, with unadulterated joy of being so grown-up. 

I remember splashing along the shore, the air mattress dangling loosely in my grasp, ripples of emotions echoing into eternity.

I remember my feigned indignant recount of THE kiss to my mother. A secret I’d pressed like a diamond to my heart to treasure forever. A secret bursting to be shared. 

I remember her brief questions, her sweet smile. ‘We are meeting later,’ I declared. And so we did!

I remember the strums of the bouzouki, the warm light and night, seeing people on the dance floor, chatting at the tables. There he was! Heading over to me. Almost swooning, a maelstrom of emotions rushed through my body. We had a quick chat. He asked my age. ‘Fourteen,’ I replied nonchalantly. A surprised look flittered across his face then quickly vanished as he invited me and my family to meet his family. I was stricken!

I remember rueing my young age. 

I remember longing for its return. 

I remember a normal spring day, the German lesson in the Portakabin going as usual. My five friends and I. Unflappable Mrs Stockums at the front. As normal in the sixth form we discussed topics with ease and determination. 

I remember the quiet giggles. Who was it? Katy? Sally? Chris? As a fast moving contagion the laughter skipped from student to student. Side-bursting laughter. We tried to rein it in. Honestly. Amidst the uproarious chuckles, we cast furtive nervous glances to our teacher. Was she laughing too? Impossible!

I remember the cacophony of pure happiness. At life itself. Such a jubilant sound of innocence and delight at being. We barely dared look at one another, such was the danger of setting off another cascade of stomach-churning laughter. 

I remember the ache of my side, the slam on the teacher’s desk. ‘Go outside,’ she mumbled, pointing at the door. ‘Ten minutes then come back silently. And sit apart.’ The biting breeze startled us as we marched up and down, calming the inexplicable immersive laughter. It hadn’t quite disappeared but already I was mourning its departure. 

I remember those summers of sizzling sun, drifting in dinghies along thirsty riverbeds. 

I remember those school days, whether good or bad, always coddled at home.

I remember too much. 

I remember too little. 

© Annika Perry, February 2019

LOST // FOUND

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The air crackled with a chill that September afternoon, the first trace of damp etched into the atmosphere. 

Emma saw her first, then the rest of the children turned towards the woods at the edge of the park. Like an apparition, the woman stumbled out from amongst the trees and undergrowth resplendent in her cerise woollen coat.  A coat peppered with a menagerie of coloured notes, all pinned on at angles. 

Her mutterings at first were only audible to the sparrows in the trees, to the skittish robin, to the strident magpies marching across the tired grass. The ground was churned up by football boots, dried into uneven lumps of decay. 

‘Where is it, where is it?’ she mumbled gruffly. Erratically the woman spun around, her eyes cast down eagerly on the ground, with a keenness of a child looking out for Father Christmas. Her eyes bristled with expectation, joy then with a sudden turn, angry filthy swear words spewed across the park. 

Appalled Emma careered backwards, right into her friends and the cascade of children toppled like dominos, silent in shock. Righting themselves, the disheveled group at first failed to notice the approach of the woman; concern engraved on her face, bewilderment fluttering in her eyes. 

‘Have you seen it? My child?’

Agog, they barely listened, their attention held fast on the woman’s coat and the pinned notes.

I’m sorry. Appeared many times. I’m lost. Please help. My name is Emma. 

‘Please help me,’ she said. ‘I must find it.’

The children fanned out across the park, not sure what they were searching for, occasionally shouting out a find to Emma the older. Emma their friend remained with her namesake. Ahead of them a note tossed like an autumn leaf across the terrain, swirling in the strengthening breeze.

‘Stop it!’ shouted the woman. ‘There it is!’

Emma dashed over, picked up the dusty note, glancing at the elegant handwriting. 

Mum, you’re lost. Not I. Come home. Address is on the back. Love, Mark xx

Emma the child handed over the piece of paper. 

‘Mark! I found Mark!’ The woman’s primeval screech of elation echoed into the billowing dusk; a joy swallowed by her very next words, tiny as pinpricks, thin as slivers of silk.

‘Who am I?’

© Annika Perry, May 2018

The above piece of writing was inspired by a prompt from my writing group for our work to be ‘set in a park, in any period, in any location with any number of people involved, you or your character/s have lost or found something.’ Owing to burgeoning numbers of keen writers in the group our homework is now restricted in length.

LASTING SANCTUARY

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Back and forth. The chair rocked gently, back and forth. Years, decades even, I’ve sat here on and off, rocking calmly, the squeak a welcome friend, the worn wood of the arms soft to my caress. Even as a child I sought solace here and closing my eyes, I drifted into a restful doze….

’Williams! Stop that rocking! I swear, I can see grooves on the oak floor. Williams!’

I’d only sneaked in ten minutes earlier and made straight for the rocking chair in its usual gloomy nook beneath religion and travel, navigating my way by memory with my spectacles grasped uselessly in my hands. Those bloody glasses! Bad enough they fogged up a hundred times a day, even worse they were NHS ones.

‘Caught any fish today, Snorkel face!’  That was the kindest thing anyone ever said to me at school. Even my name was a shout and a demanding, irritated one at that.

At last, the glasses cleared and my gasp of awe puffed audibly across the room. A gentleman in the opposite corner tutted disapprovingly, glared at me before returning his eyes to the book in his hands.  ‘Perfume’ if I wasn’t mistaken and one I could recommend to him. Books galore! My usual heavenly delight. The afternoon light shimmered through the windows, the dust danced around the bookshelves, the words within a promise of new worlds, of escape.

The coins in my blazer pocket clinked against each other as I reached for them. Two pounds altogether and well worth saving my 50p weekly pocket.  Who needed sweets anyway? For me it was all about the books. With a push the chair lurched forwards, depositing me on my feet with a satisfying creak and groan. I edged left around historical fiction, turned right at thrillers then stopped by biographies. 

‘What do you want to read them for?’ Dad always asked. Not waiting for an answer he’d reach for a beer from the fridge, his head lost within the cold vault as the muffled one-way conversation continued.

‘You should be out playing football with your mates. Out do you, hear? None of this bookshop rubbish.’

Why did he never realise that the bookshop was my haven, the dark wooden shelves my sanctuary, the books my guardian?

‘Mr Williams! Thank goodness, you’re awake. There was another complaint about that chair yesterday.’ I continued to rock, groggily, trapped in time, my Ralph Lauren glasses on the wonk. I straightened them slowly. ‘It will kill someone, one day, Mr Williams. That young lad, Joe, the one you always tolerate, who’s constantly here, was thrown off the chair yesterday when its arm broke right off. Yes, that one. I fixed it but it nearly killed him. Fell onto the floor, he did and banged his head. Nearly killed him!’

The laughter within me built up gradually, begrudgingly, relentlessly. 

‘Mr Williams, as the owner you’re responsible…’

‘For keeping things just as I want them! As I’ve done for over thirty years. Don’t change a thing! Now, where’s my laptop…’ Still chuckling I nudged it awake and started to tap on the screen whilst inhaling the muggy scent of books with satisfaction.

 A chair that takes people’s fate in its own hands is a story waiting to be published! And added to my bookshelves.

©Annika Perry, 2017

This piece was written in response to a prompt issued by my creative writing group – the options were eclectic and consisted of Lemon Tree Grove, Book Shops or Graveyard. I was tempted to write a short story including all three elements but fear this would become far too long for the group!

bookshop

Images courtesy of pixabay

STUFF

hoardingRecently I joined a local Creative Writing Group and the latest piece of ‘homework’ was to write a page or so around the prompt word of ‘Stuff’. Here is what I came up with.

STUFF

You reach for the floor beside the grubby mattress and your hand stops. Paper. Your eyes flicker to the pile of magazines; this section all sports but the top one is askew and from years of practise you ease it back to perfect alignment. A silent satisfied sigh slips between your lips. Lips, thirst, only now do you realise the rasping dry feeling in your throat, you gag, try to cough, to spit. Anything. Just tiny puffs of air that lift the dust from all around, it flutters freely in the gloomy air, some dancing in the shaft of light beaming through the torn curtain. Light, too much light. You need to eradicate the beam, to restore the darkness, to preserve your stuff. Slowly you ease yourself onto your ankles, wincing with pain, time standing still, each movement agony. Don’t need this. Really could do without this hassle. You mutter. To yourself. The left knee gives way and twisted you fall back onto your hideaway. Surrounded by piles of newspapers, magazines, records, memorabilia. It’s all junk, she said as you came back from the car boot sale. Was that the fourth time, or the twelfth? Just because it’s called a car boot sale doesn’t mean you need to fill it, she joked. At first. Beth was sweet, good, kind. She tried to stick with you, with it. You shake your head, the memory of her too much, too distant, another lifetime. The sunlight moves and blinded you lash out, fast, violently. As vicious as your swiped at Beth. You didn’t mean to hurt her, honestly. You did your time and were set free again. But are you? Ever? Again you lash out at the light, striking it back and forth, striking your cave of print material. You feel a gentle pummel first, then a cascade as first one pile wobbles then topples over. Over you. An endless colossal collapse of stuff. Are you free yet? Vincent?  

©Annika Perry