West Coast

West Coast

I paced the beach a lot as a teenager,
supposing it was a way of being lost,
going lost, finding my lostness
in the sound of the waves, seagulls
in the eaves of a sky cast black
by fire and onyx.

There were shells stuck in my skin,
bits of them sharp and ridged as glass. Adolescence.
Bottles of Bacardi and Glens
in remnants of lovelorn summers—
each one dug deeper as I walked
and I felt the call of the sea
like a summons. Come back to me

—the waves were strange consolation.
I loved
the loneliness of the sea, its sense of otherness,
of distant worlds, blue and green.

Salt spray
in the faces of children;
sand dunes
where we gathered for drinking and smoking,
wasting time
in the dry ice of shared menthols.

You dig your heels deep
by the shoreline, where your feet sink soft
through the mulch of watery sand,
sinking as if to drift down,
to ease yourself out of matter.

I paced the beach a lot on weekday evenings,
while cars passed behind me, while
normal people went home.
I learned to love
the gulls that croaked on the rocks,
crying cormorants, gannets
and black-feathered auks—
I always longed to spot an albatross,
imagining its body swooping
out of the sea fog
like an omen.

I thought I had forgotten these shores,
the way it felt to know nothing
of what would come; great drawings
dissolved in the tidal pull—come with us.
I thought this world was lost;
I thought
I had lost it all.

by Maria S.

(prompt: seagull photo)

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The Wave Knight

The plan was to build a palace of pleasure, a ship that would sail out through the fog and cloud of the Western Isles and beyond towards America. It was to be called the Wave Knight, in reference to its advertised status as a place of protection and voyage on the scale of epic grandeur.

As time went on, the ship became a monstrous thing, moored up at some vague and imprecise location along the coast near Mull. A local boy, Danny, had been charged with keeping the innards of the ship in order, while its development lulled in the drift waters of a regional recession. Danny’s job consisted mostly of overseeing the cleaning of the ship’s fifty bedrooms, dusting the engine machinery and straightening the oil paintings on the restaurant walls. Mostly, however, Danny organised debauched parties with the maids and cleaners, raiding the kitchen cellar and draining the company’s lustful supply of cigars and wine.

It was on a freezing February morning that Danny’s supervisor finally arrived at the ship to inspect its internal condition. There were hints of business picking up in the area and the project being started again, so he had been ordered to check up on the handiwork of his domestic team. To his shock, he found the rooms in a most dreadful condition – the maids nowhere to be seen – and a hoard of empty bottles stacked on the tables of the ship’s restaurant. Eventually, the supervisor discovered Danny himself standing at the bow of the ship, his head billowed in plumes of smoke as he stared out into the streaky silver of the horizon.

“Danny! What in hell is going on?!” the supervisor bellowed, storming towards his employee. But Danny did not turn his head nor acknowledge his presence. The supervisor watched as he took a final, hungry draw from his cigarette before flicking it into the ocean, the orange glow of its smoulder disappearing into the mist.

“Now look here!” He reached out to grab Danny by the shoulders, but his hands went clean through Danny’s body, as if he wasn’t there at all. He clutched at the chasm of the air, feeling desperately for the solidity of flesh and bone. He discovered the sudden terror of realising that he was alone. The thought made him nauseous and he fought the urge to vomit. Of course, he had just imagined that Danny was standing there; it must’ve been something in those clams he ate at breakfast. The supervisor leaned over the bow, in the spot that Danny had been standing at, and sucked in deeply the crisp salt air. In the distant shimmer of snowy mountains, he saw a rainbow slowly dissolving.

But there was something queer about the horizon. The mountains seemed to grow larger as the minutes slipped behind him. He felt the floor below him rocking, the whole hull swaying as if to a lullaby tune. Could it be…could it be that the ship was moving? With frightened horror, he turned around and saw the wake trailing out behind him. All the scaffolding had collapsed into the ocean, and there was nothing to moor it anymore. Desperately, the supervisor ran to the back end of the ship to see how far it was to the land, to see if there was a chance that he could swim to shore.

Who on earth could be driving this ship?

He clutched the railings of the stern until his knuckles were white. The little village with its pastel-shaded houses shrank from view, until it was nothing but a string of multicoloured fairylights, tied along the land. So he looked below, seeking comfort from the rolling ocean waves – but what he then saw would haunt him forever. Floating along the wake were the bodies of seven maids, their hair rippling out behind their gossamer bodies like so many clones of Ophelia. Nothing was tying them to the ship and yet as it moved they moved with it. The supervisor closed his eyes, shaking. The wind whipped in his ears so that he could barely hear his own screams.

He turned around and opened his eyes and there was Danny, hanged from the mast, his body a hologram, a sickly grin of pleasure smeared across his face. As the supervisor stared into the poor boy’s hollow eyes, he thought he heard the sound of galloping hooves, loudening as if coming closer from a distance.

Prompts: wave knight ship photograph, breakfast, argument

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Skirmishing with Stereotypes?

It was one of those days. Reluctantly, Paula had dragged her weans (she’d heard the weegies call them that for years) on to the ferry at Wemyss Bay to go and visit her Nonna in her pensioner’s house on Rothesay. Nonna Maria at the ripe old age of 72, had such a magnetic personality that she still drew everyone to her. The island, so renowned for it’s gelaterie and summer tourism, had spewed forth it’s young folk into the bosom of the mainland during the 90’s in their own quest for a future. Paula looked forward to seeing Nonna, and making sure she remained a central part in her own children’s lives. Toni kicked Giorgio, he figured she was too busy hustling her 6 shopping bags into the lift behind them to see the twins’ altercation. “Basta!!”, she said rather loudly to them, as the lift doors swished shut behind them. The twins looked at the floor. It was their first time on the ferry to visit Bisnonna, no one else they knew had a great gran, she must be very old, even older than Mrs Doig their nursery teacher. They managed to reach the passenger lounge uneventfully and sat quietly, fidgeting with their Nintendos as the ferry began moving through the water. They had a good look around through the windows while mama read her latest Kindle download. Typical four-year-olds, they were fidgeting and poking each other under the table, until… it couldn’t be!… It looked like it!… It is!… Stereo pre-school age trebles, began uncontrollably shrieking, “Balamory! Balamory!”, and climbed over everyone to get a good view as we came into the pier. Paula went red, smiled shyly and grabbing her bags and bambini, and headed off into the crowd for her family reunion. Leaving us all with a good laugh and yet another sickening self-perpetuating Scottish stereotype.

(Prompts: stereotype map)

by Elizabeth Ann Woods

Spare

“Where did you say you were from again?” the interviewer’s eyes reduced to slits as she looked closely at the girl sitting before her.

“Oh, I’m from Ayr. It’s a town in Ayrshire – South West Scotland.” The girl nodded vigorously. She had been crossing and uncrossing her legs for the last half hour to relieve her nervous tension, and now she felt cramp fizzle up her left calf. She tried not to wince.

“You’re going to have to speak slower love,” the interviewer said in her crisp R.P. accent, “I’ll admit it’s been a struggle to understand you so far!”

“I – I’m sorry.” The girl took a deep breath. “Ayrshire. I’m – from – Ayrshire.”

“Ayrshire…Ayrshire…” the interview pronounced ‘Ayr’ as one pronounces ‘air’. She said ‘shire’ as if she were talking about the place inhabited by Hobbits in Lord of the Rings; not as the girl pronounced it with one quick ‘shur’.

“Isn’t that…” the interviewer glanced down at her iPad and swiped the screen to bring up a map.

“Ah yes, the ‘spare bit’ of Scotland, as they say.” She chuckled. “Well, we’ll be using you as a bit of a spare bit if I take you on as an intern, won’t we?” The girl nodded slowly, following the interviewer’s eyes. Underneath the desk, her manicured fingernails gouged into her thighs.

It seemed that all her recent interviews had followed a similar pattern to this. She had thought that in London, you could walk into any job. Of course, she knew that she would have to be a P.A first to get a leg up into her chosen industry, but she had not known that an unpaid internship was necessary to entertain thoughts of even being a P.A. She was also unaware that, to Londoners at least, her accent was impenetrably thick. Interviewers had looked hopefully at her well-fitting suit and groomed blonde hair when she walked in, but as soon as she opened her mouth to speak she could see them visibly wince. They did not understand her at all, and the indignity of it cut her deeply.

She got a job eventually. It was a good year or so later that the girl found herself at 10pm on a Friday night, alone in a cramped office where she couldn’t see the walls for the amount of paper that was stacked everywhere. There was a deadline to get things sorted before Monday. Not just things: everything. There were documents to be filed, records to be stacked, numbers to crunch, papers to shred and fold and stuff in envelopes. As always, the watery taste of stamps on her tongue mingled with the acidic tang of Red Bull that lingered in the back of her throat.

She thought, then, of the sea – Ayr – the smell of salt stinging her eyes. Somewhere distant, different and beautiful. The cobbled street that led down to the shore and the old boat moored up by the new flats, where as a teenager she used to drink. You could walk from one end of the town to the other in half an hour; you could stand at the harbour wall and feel part of the vastness of the extending ocean. The warm glow that came off the Gulf Stream and flooded her veins like home.

In the office, the caffeine was making her nerves tremble. She took deep breaths and tried to stand up, but doing so upset a cascade of paper around her. The girl’s heart was juddering in her chest, sending stabbing pains up to her head. She slammed the door of the office behind her and rushed over to the nearest window for air. The last cleaner had switched the heating off hours ago now, and the open space of the main office billowed with various icy drafts. The dust made her sneeze as she thrust open the window, climbing into the ledge behind the blinds that collapsed around her. She could not get the window open further than a few centimetres.

Still, she looked out to the skyline that ran on endlessly: terrifying and sublime. She wondered whether she would ever feel happy here; happy, at least, in the way she thought she would. In every glittering window she saw the glint of possible success. There was hope and grandeur in these buildings. They were built for it: every one and all. And yet, as she sat there, cramped and shivering, she had never felt so small.

(Prompts: map of British regional stereotypes)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

Daffodils

Daffodils.
Ceinwen always brought Daffodils on the first of March. When the school was closed for the holiday she would walk over the hills from Llanllyfni to Nebo and go back home on the late afternoon train. I always looked forward to her visits. The only time she would miss would be if the first fell on a Sunday. In those days it didn’t do to be about on the sabbath unless you were going to chapel.
She would come and tell me her news.Of her hopes, fears and desires. Of what Arianwen was up to, her latest flame, the crazy things she was doing.  Arianwen never came to Nebo. she was always too busy. She was younger than us and had that desire to live as if the apocalypse was set for tomorrow. To cram everything she possibly could into the remains of the day.
Those were the days, we believed them to be never ending. Alas the apocalypse came all too soon. Ceinwen joined the WAAF. she was posted first to an airbase in England and then to India. She died in 1942 and is buried in a cemetery  near Calcutta. I can’t even take daffodils to her grave. Arianwen lives in America now. She married an American but divorced him after she had three children and now lives in California.
In remembrance, I always buy Daffodils on St David’s Day even though I left Wales long ago and returned to the West Highlands. No one here knows the significance of the daffodils. Only I do.

by Jane Helen Jones
What were your prompts?: Daffodils desire Apocalypse

Whisky, by Rachel Norris

Orange balm
Burning down, down, down
Fire on the tongue
A charcoal kiss on the throat
The lungs gasp in gentle praise
Lips smack, the glass raised
To the nose
Oaky notes, amber glows
In the light of smouldering coals
Eyes close
The mind wanders…

A hillside high in the world
A leaping wind shivers the heather
On a blasted heath, millennia of weather
Thistle shakes, stags clash their crowns of bone
And then, home…

A stopper on the bottle
A last tilt of the glass
Whisky, no ‘e’…why?
Scotland’s liquid gold that will never run dry