Liminal Preparations

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There are cracks where the light breaks down and all the darkness left is nougat for shadow. I devour all I have; which is just this small room, a cabin that sways all night and day. When the sad hours come I fold into a question mark, hoping for nothing but sleep. The sea will rock me to sleep. This is less being than breathing.

As the hours pass, the honey crystallises in the jar on the window. I am always in water and yet the memories are hard and congealed. A lump of obsidian brought back from disaster. Black glass, hardened felsic lava. It’s smooth and slick enough to lick, a sliver of very dark chocolate. Bittersweet howl of the elements.

Sunshine feeds me nothing. The moonlight on the decking is lovely. My skin is like frosting, covered in crystals, white and shining. Gulls come in from the west on the thrust of the wind and we hear in our sleep their shouting. I live in the thin space, the evening whisky, the wafer of salty obsidian. I dream of a firth where the seaweed clogs the gorge of the sea and all is a dark, gelatinous, bottle green. You could float and not drown and the world would have you like that, microbial.

These hexagons dripping with golden honey, these desolate soundscapes of gun-coloured grey. If I close my eyes, close my eyes…If I am adrift like this for long, the mariner I’m sure will come for me. He knows these waves, these tides, like I know my childhood streets. He is still in his own way alive; still fighting for that acrid day, the old promise of solid concrete. Until then, I must blow this skin into glass, glow molten for a dawn that may not arrive.

/Maria Sledmere

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A rendez-vous

A rendez-vous
SM

We walk together hand in hand
a soft breeze blowing
on this summer strand
and for ever we’ll keep going
this is my dream

And it’s perfect – she says softly
slides one arm around my waist
and each moment is so costly
that it cannot be replaced
this is my dream

You will see my love is true
she has sworn it many a time
and she’ll return and swear’t anew
all the needs is a bit more time
I know for it was in my dream

so now we sit here you and I
waiting for her, so you can see her too
I promise she’s the sweetest melody
and she’ll swear her vows anew
I know for it was in my dream

So now we sit here you and I
and sit and wait and sit and sit
Don’t grow impatient now, for my
love will be here, where we sit
it was in my dream

It was a dream and she’s not coming
no beach or sun
no soft embrace
a dream, a dream
a cloud         of air      that left        my
lungs
to disappear
it was a dream

(Prompts: disillusion, lover)

Honey and Frost

Honey and Frost
Maria Sledmere

At night I listen to the voices: some
are soft like honey
poured in your ears; others
grasp and grate at you, the raw frosty ones –
full of knowledge beyond you.

The honey ones speak of things I like:
love and music and life.
Oh, she’s married now to that man in the film —

What a cracker of a —
Here’s the latest track from a band called —
You never get the ending because
you’re always listening for the next part.

I love it in the dark, 
the sounds at night;
they are what keeps me awake—
I don’t like to sleep or to dream.
I dream of the cold fingers, coming
out of the darkness all creamy and hungering,
covering the bedclothes with their prints.
They are like frost on my skin
and sometimes in the morning I think I can see their prints
though most likely they have melted.

The raspy voices know all about my dreams of fingers,
but they never let on. They talk about news
and politics to pass the time;
Their words fill the walls like rime.
You can scrape the white crusts off the walls,
feel the cold in the nerves of your fingers.
I had never heard voices like these before;
it was like my dreams had morphed
the voices on the radio.

I have an old purple radio: my Mum
calls it a retro one. It’s purple like a nightshade.
The aerial glints silver
and if you wave it around, the sound will change.
I can warp the voices, stop the words
before they make sense. Make them noise.

All day the songs from the nighttime fill my head.
They are mixed up with the honey voices,
sweetly swaying like my body
tossing around the bed. I write down
what I hear and the notes don’t make sense.
They are nothing but black pinpricks
which escape like moths, taking flight
from the white sheet of my page.

You could not play the same song again that way;
not like you can on the radio.

I think one day I will stop dreaming altogether;
a day without toast and tea, a day without weather.

There will be moths in my room,
caught up, stickily, in the frost. I will pick them out
like dead flowers. They will crush
to dust in my fingers.
The nighttime will come
in silence.

(Prompts: moths, purple, retro)

Workshop Creations: Character Week (by Maria et al)

“We thought the idea we had would work best as a screenplay or television series. A bit like Lost, in terms of a set of random characters coming together over an exceptional circumstance, but with faster pacing than Lost and it would be a self-contained series, maybe like six episodes. A bit cinematic, very visual.

My character was: Alfie, the obsessive architect who experiences prophetic dreams.

These dreams portray the collapse of the building he has most recently designed. The collapse occurs in various ways, but always involving some kind of impact, implosion or explosion. Through flashbacks we come to understand that these dreams originate from Alfie’s experience of witnessing 9/11 from his mother’s living room, staring at the television and thinking he was just watching a pretty brutal disaster movie. It was only in the ensuing weeks, with further reporting and a shaky lesson at school, that he came to understand that this thing had actually happened. Throughout the series, there will be stuff about the flimsy nature of reality, the slippery relation between fantasy and reality, representation and real life. In Alfie’s head, 9/11 still sears with this uncanny, filmic quality. He can’t help but design all his buildings in a very similar style to the Twin Towers. All his sketches bear traces of that primal trauma. He used to have dreams where the fall of the second tower would loop over and over again in his mind, and he’d wake up in cold sweats. Now the dreams are about his own creations. He was a very prolific architect and sailed through university, completing his degree in fewer years than the required seven. The dreams of collapsing creations started when he started uni.

He tries to control this strange situation by designing elaborate architectural landscapes, ones with the sturdiest materials. It takes years to build them, but sure enough, the night before opening, he will dream of its destruction and awake to the fresh creation burnt to ashes, collapsed to rubble. After a while, people begin to be suspicious of him and he stops being hired by architect firms. Then, when word gets out about the slightly supernatural trail of bad luck that follows him, Alfie is hired by artists who are interested in the transience of the modern urban landscape. Everything he draws and builds is beautiful, but fleeting, they write on their website. They are planning to make a documentary film which will end up looping in the exhibition rooms of the Tate for the whole of winter. His crumbling towers capture the essence of contemporary consumer futility. In his spare time, he is designing a new hypermarket, in the American style, hoping for success on British shores. He has a hopeful sense about this one; that it won’t fall down, because its purpose is so insignificant. A place where people buy groceries, reduced tellies, own-brand shampoo. Surely it would not warrant the usual extravagant disaster.

Other characters:

  • 2 x TV executives
  • Spy
  • Hitman
  • Adult entertainer

Plot points:

  • People are drawn to the supermarket because it is advertised as an innovation in consumer experience, designed by a famous architect. They want to experience the surreal browsing wonderland of an American hypermarket.
  • Alfie waits for the customers to arrive, watching them from the roof as he nervously sips brandy. He has not had the prophetic dream yet; there is no telling what will happen to this particular building.
  • The spy is actually chasing the hitman, pursuing him through the supermarket?
  • The adult entertainer, Wendy/Gwendoline, is drawn to the hypermarket because it sells very rare health-giving berries (from a specific Australian wetland) at a precious price. This is what also draws the health-conscious (unhealthily addicted to being healthy) TV executive. Turns out Wendy knows a special recipe for unlocking the berries’ hallucinogenic properties.
  • There is a war going on outside – some kind of vague nuclear meltdown between nations. A lump of debris/plane crashes into the hypermarket, shattering half the building. All the characters have to make their way to the safe part, picking their way over collapsed shelves and bodies and bricks like they are trapped in a labyrinth.
  • Everyone is oblivious to the war.
  • There is a television broadcasting disaster on a loop (because the crash cut off the signal and so it got stuck on one particular scene) but they assume it’s just a movie. Deja vu – 9/11.
  • One of the TV execs (the deceitful one) is secretly filming everything as the characters work their way through the hypermarket, fending for survival and trying to work out how to reestablish their phone/internet signal to send for help.
  • It is all about questioning what we take as reality: we witness the hypermarket from each character’s perspective – the anxious architect battling with guilt, the hallucinating Wendy and Steve McNicol the TV exec., the mesmerised hitman staring at the telly, worrying about his cat who is pining at home without him.
  • There is an irony because we know about the war outside and they don’t; they think the supermarket is a sinister environment, but actually it’s providing domestic sanctuary from the war outside (e.g. have cute scenes where characters share Pop Tarts and cereal straight from the packet, chatting about how they miss their houses).
  • It ends with the discovery of a giant telly, and the revelation that the TV executive has been filming them all along; one of them hears their own voice repeating something they have said before and follows it along to discover the telly. The final scene, perhaps, will be the characters all staring up fearfully at this giant screen reflecting their own selves – and they are frozen into silence (a silence perhaps suggestive that even the world outside has ended?).”

Dear Sweetheart

You think: maybe this is it. The moon shines through the skylight and you sigh and rip up the page; the page made painfully white by the unwanted brightness. All the words that had only moments ago bubbled up in your chest now sink down again, forming a rock in your stomach. Another day now wasted.

What is it about these cool autumn nights that drive you to the silence of the attic? It is the children, who exhaust you with their endless longing. You love them really, but your love is a kind of virus, something that spreads and eats away inside of you; that mutates and morphs into a hard and enduring endlessness. You can rely on it, its certain dwelling. Sometimes you forget about it, but it will come back to you when you are not expecting it. That drawing on the wall: the crayon is fading but the shape is the same. Seeing yourself in your son’s image; you never thought it would turn everything inside out the way it has.

No, it is something more than the virus that drives you here. As you climb the ladder with your wearied limbs, you feel the thread again; you feel the thread pick up and you can visualise it, clear as the dark clot of leaves in the bottom of a teapot, clear as your first day at school and the image of his face. You are at work stacking shelves and suddenly you feel it all unravelling, as if you were having a panic attack or going into labour. You see the threads spiral out from the coiled knot, loosening and flailing like snakes. It leaves an empty feeling for days.

A summer evening of long ago; it happens on you by chance, as it always does. You click the keys of your typewriter, eking out words like it might kill you. You rely on the words to make things solid again: you need the feel of their tangibility. Crisp scent of grass and starlight in the air; he leans his head on my lap, he tells me about the time his cat died when he was five. You bite your lip. Everything seems fickle and silly against the cleanness of the page. It is a shame to spoil the whiteness. We bought strawberries; we whispered our thoughts about the future. He would buy a camper-van and travel America, and I would go with him after my degree. We would end up clever intellectuals on a lovely salary, then we would be free. Was it even true? Even once? The letters flash back at you and seem hollow and false. You light a cigarette and painstakingly stab a smouldering hole through every word. The smoke fills your lungs and you are calm. But still the thread unravels, and still you cannot weave it tight again.

The sound of crying downstairs. It will be your little girl. You do not go to her, though she is still a baby. You feed a new page into the machine.

In August you got ill. The typewriter echoes round the room, sounding loud and somehow alien, as if another person were typing it. You feel as if the moon could hear you, and the effect is uncomfortable, a conscious voyeurism. They took you to hospital and for months we could not speak; nobody would let me see you. I clung to alcoholic nights by the river with friends, the daydreams charred from the dull glow of so many winter fires. I let anyone kiss me, anything to take me away from you and your memory. You feel something rise up inside of you: the image clarifies. You hear it stronger despite the loudening sound of your daughter’s wailing cry. We only met once again; you probably don’t remember. A cold day in December, the streets powdered with snow, Christmas shoppers clogging the space between us. But I stopped and called for you. You talked of the weather and your mother and you did not look in my eye. You are addressing him directly now, imagining the glitter of his green irises gazing back at the text as you fire it out upon the paper. Electricity simmers through you, shuddering to the pulse of the typebars clicking upon the ribbon. I have thought about it for so long – that awful vacant day. I think about you now, where you are and what you are doing. All the letdowns, the disappointments. I gather up all the gossip I can, try to lace the threads together; you see, no matter what happens I still feel connected to you. I have two beautiful children and I wish they could meet you. I cannot explain it, but I know that if you wrote to me I would travel anywhere in the world to get to you. It streams out of you now and you are not thinking about what you are writing. When you are finished you release the paper from the machine and you do not read over it because it is no longer anything to do with this moment, this cataclysmic silence. The moon disappears behind thick sooty cloud. Now you are truly alone.

You lay the letter on the desk and take up your pen to sign the bottom. It has been so long that your signature seems odd and impersonal. You hover over it, hesitant.

The fountain pen bursts and its ink sprays out across the page. There is a fold in time when all sense slips away. But still you see the words underneath, enduring like the love you feel for your children. Enduring like the memories of that enchanted journey, the future promise of each sparkling place. You close your eyes and look again at the paper, and every speckle of ink reminds you of the freckles on his face.

(Prompts: journey, soulmate, ink)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Crusoe’s Ghost

How strange to find myself here at last! Many months I have waited, through my dreams of turquoise shores to the pineapple sands and the shells that cut into your feet. In my sleep I opened myself like a clam to the possibilities. I would be anything – animal, even – to be here. And now I am.

What a wonder to be the only one, to own some place of my own. To have the luxury of knowing I cannot go back.

I do everything by the book. I erect my shelter, sow crops on the inland pastures, throw stones in the ocean and kill all the feral cats. I am never homesick; not for one minute.

Sometimes I find myself whispering, though what I say and to whom it cannot be said.

People do not appreciate the loveliness of loneliness until they have fully experienced it. There is an inexplicable beauty to be able to plot out one’s day, one’s hour, one’s life with absolute sovereignty. To reign free over every thought and feeling, to tread upon soil that can only be your own, with nobody to challenge it, nobody to challenge you at all. To have no worry of intrusion or offence; to have no worry of the soliciting of difference. I climb high for the coconuts and crack their skulls against the sandstone. Their pulpy juice is exquisite.

I have a herd of goats now, and a dog and a parrot, though they are not my companions. I keep them only because I am following the story. I do not speak and so the parrot learns no words, the dog obeys no orders and the goats do nothing but eat and sleep and secrete my milk. The whole island flourishes as the mother of my desires and yet still I owe her nothing but my company.

In the midday sun, I dig my toes into the sand and kill the little slimy things – the ones that crawl towards the shoreline, ugly and green.

I eat fleshy roots and summer berries, and from the tops of palms I watch the watery paradise that surrounds my island. All society has melted into the sweet sweet sea.

A year; two, three perhaps, have passed. I am no longer a name; I am no longer a human nor even an animal. I am the island itself.

This is perfect.

But everything changes one day. I wake from my goatskin sheets for my morning walk, and what do I see? I see a human footprint. A human footprint. And the terror bubbles up inside of me because I know that this footprint cannot belong to cannibals or savages or Spaniards, because that has already happened in the story. I try to erase the footprint with my boot, kicking sand over and over it, but it keeps reforming before me. And so I am no longer the whole; now I am a fractured reality, a host. For I realise this footprint can only be Crusoe’s ghost.

(Prompts: footprints photo, introvert, curiosity)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Night Eating

So I have this problem the doctors call ‘Night Eating Syndrome’. Every evening, about eight, I start getting the shakes. I might be in the bath, in the pub, at my desk. They start deep in my belly, then shiver all cold throughout my body. Everything goes numb and strange. It makes me want to stand in an empty room and scream, because there’s nothing I can do to make it go away. And in an empty room, without food, maybe my dumb body would be forced to change.

It starts when my flatmates have all gone to bed, probably to watch porn or Match of the Day. I pace my room, counting the clock’s every tick. I’ll sit in bed with my laptop, flicking through distractions. I put on something vapid and stupid, like The Inbetweeners, sometimes even shitey reruns of The Jeremy Kyle Show, downloaded illegally from some American website, where they have subtitles for when the people on it are Scottish or Northerners. I don’t really watch or listen. It’s like my eyes bathe in the screen, sink into a sea of shimmering pixels. I don’t remember anything.

 This doesn’t last very long, and soon I’m up again, pacing. I check the morning alarm’s set for seven. I take out my work clothes from the wardrobe, double check they’re all ironed and neatly folded. I take out my Blackberry and scroll through emails, but my replies to clients can wait till morning. I just want to know what they’re saying. I’ll do the same on Twitter, my eyes glazing down the slipping timeline. It’s all shit; all words spewed up by idiots out drinking, ranting about their girlfriends, or lack of. I suppose it’s Valentine’s Day – or at least, the fag end of Valentine’s Day – but it all seems the same.

Then I’ll strip down to my boxers and get back into bed. I’ll lie awake tossing for an hour in the blueish darkness, with the digital clock filling the room with its glow, like bones through an x-ray. Then the shakes are back and I’m up again, at the window now, lighting a cigarette. I blow smoke into the lukewarm night, where the sky’s always the colour of burnt umber, of light pollution. Two cigarettes later and with the nicotine my shakes are in fusion; an emanating, waiting game in my stomach.

I sneak through to the kitchen in my slippers, watching for mice as the bare bulb illuminates the room. I’m at the fridge within seconds, clawing at carbs: yesterday’s leftover pasta, hunks of cheese, donuts.  Just a great shuddering loveliness of sugar and fat and salt. I’m barely aware I’m doing it; it’s like an inertia takes hold of me and I’m falling without stopping, and all I can do is eat, eat, eat – there’s no alternative, just this void of hunger, this flame that smoulders and hollows me. I move onto the cupboards, stuffing handfuls of cereal in my mouth: bran flakes, Cheerios, my flatmate’s muesli (he’s a health freak, obviously). Packets of crisps: cheese and onion, ready salted. Crackers with lumps of Nutella, white bread rolled up into a ball that’s soft and dissolves in my throat. I can’t get anything down quick enough, and I’m foraging so fast it feels like vertigo.

 I step back to look at the mess. I clear up crumbs, wipe surfaces. The trick is to leave no traces.

But it’s not enough, never enough. The sleep dangles tantalisingly over me; I know that if I get a little more, it will come to me, silky and smooth as a mother’s touch, a loving death. There is only one thing left. I know what I need: chocolate.

There’s a 24 hour store five minutes walk away. It’s three in the morning, and the moonlight pours down all cold and white on the deserted street. I focus on something other than my craving. I think of all the lovers, returning home from nightclubs after candlelit dinners. The thought sickens me. My appetite quickens, lurches. With each step I feel the mass of what I’ve eaten churn in my stomach like acid bubbling among debris. When I get to the shop, tossing five bars of 120g Cadbury’s on the counter, the little old man glares at me with suspicion.

I’m gobbling them even before I get back to the house, tossing away the glossy purple wrappers. The combination of sugar and cocoa and vegetable fat is absolute perfection, a dreamy, delicious relaxant. I close the door quietly behind me and rush to my room; someone’s in the kitchen. As I munch the rest of the chocolate – Caramel, Whole Nut, Turkish Delight, Crunchie Bite – I’m not thinking about tomorrow’s guilt, the brain fog and lethargy that burns worse than any hangover; I’m thinking about that heavenly empire that’s about to enfold me, that ether of absence they call sleep. It’s round about now that the shakes go away, and I’m finally ready to imagine.

by Maria Sledmere

prompts: valentines, chocolate, dreams