An Orange in the Morning

If she stared out at the ocean long enough, she knew that God would drop more ink in; that the colour would flower out to a deep, lapis blue, gathering its darkness in the distant shadows, the lay of the horizon which was, to her at least, the end of the world.

It was easy to forget that she was being held prisoner, with the ocean so close, its ebb and sigh mingling with the sad, weeping birds, sounding like the croon of an oboe across the bay. Lyra had spent many days on the turret, crawling out from her tiny room in the fortress tower to stare out at the vastness of water, whatever the weather. In glittering sunshine, she felt immortal. In storms, she held her arms up to the crackling sky. The rain and wind sometimes buffeted her, soaked her hair, her face, her tunic. The guard warned her, but she would not heed him. He sneaked in oranges from the Eastern cargo ships, and she ate them greedily, kneeling on the high walls, oblivious to the drop into the ocean below.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard once said, watching her as she watched the ocean. He even leaned forward, touching her arm.

“Don’t,” Lyra said. She knew the gulls were watching; that they had their master to report back to, swooping back and forth with their beady eyes. The guard’s hand fell away, dropped like a bird shot from the sky.

He was her friend, in a sort of way. While he slept, she hid out in her room, biding the hours. In the darkness she clawed at the brick walls, feeling for their texture in the way that a child feels the skin of a leaf for the first time. She stopped going outside, hoping that the world would stop turning without her in it. Maybe she could stay in this limbo forever.

One day, an Admiral arrived at the fortress, wearing his royal blue and white suit. Lyra was reminded of her days at sea, the men she used to kiss like rough cut diamonds and the sweet dark mouthfuls of rum. The Admiral conversed with the guard and she heard war and betrayal and whore escape the snatching hiss of their whispers.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard said again that night, closing the door of her chamber. This time, it sounded like a warning. He slipped something into her cold hands.

Two strangers came for her, early that morning. She offered her wrists to them as they bound and dragged her down the spiral staircase, through dimly-lit corridors and out into the pale and waiting dawn. A crowd had assembled, swinging their banners and screaming. Torches were lit on either side of the gallows.

Lyra stood before them, tall and angelic in her white nightgown, soon to be spattered with crimson blood. A fragile shaft of milky light gleamed off the silver blade. Lyra felt for the orange in her pocket. She was glad that she had saved it.

In front of everyone, she bit into her orange, savouring the sour bright taste in her teeth. She imagined she was biting into the sun, feeling its heat spread through her as it sunk down into her mouth, down into the strong blue ocean, softly dissolving as she swallowed, feeling the juice go down like the world going down to the darkest depths of the sea, sinking, sinking…

She saw the light beyond the horizon, the glimpse of white, of starry light – and as the blade sunk deep she knew she was free.

–Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: arm, prisoner, img_0019.jpg)

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?).”

Azure and the Revelations

They christened her Azure, because like the deep blue of the sea her little blue eyes were a wealth of hope and happiness. She was raised in humble circumstances, with the lovely nourishing of nature – of rivers and fells and forests for company – and with the firm instructions of her mother. But when Azure turned thirteen, her mother died quite suddenly of a nervous condition that the doctor would not explain.

Azure had no sense of what to do with herself. Without her mother’s guidance, she did not know who or what she was and how. Her father was no help, and retreated into his books. A nursemaid from the village fed her after school and helped her with her homework, but other than that, Azure was a lonely thing, adrift in a world uncertain.

She found friendliness in the valleys and hills around her father’s cottage. While he withdrew to private study, Azure played in the wide green world that was suddenly open to her without her mother’s restrictions. She would hang upside down from a yew tree, listening to the linnet singing. She would dangle her feet in the clear mountain streams, where the water rushes past with the coldness of ice. She would take off on a Sunday afternoon and climb the summit of some new peak, finding solace by a lake where she watched little fish circling in stream after stream. In a rainstorm Azure would find shelter under the bowers of her favourite trees, nestling in with the flowers and ferns and leaves. She learned which berries to eat, which mushrooms to pick and where the faeries lived.

When she thought of her mother, Azure would not weep anymore; she would fly down some mountainside until the thoughts rushed from her head and she was more alive than ever she could be.

But Azure’s name bore a prophecy, and the world would not stay her own forever. When she was fifteen the war broke out and all the city children were being sent to live in the country. Azure offered to train as a nurse but her father would not allow it, and even when he was drafted and she had only her grandma to answer to, she was still forbidden. They insisted that she get an education. It’s what your mother would have wanted. Still, she had little time for books or figures; all Azure wanted to do was feel the dew on her skin and the pleasant caress of the wind. Whenever she sat with her homework, idle at her father’s desk, she felt unfaithful to nature.

To make matters worse, the city children were leaps and bounds ahead of her. They knew long division and the capital cities of Europe; they could recite Shakespeare by heart and list monarchs and dates from history. In class with them, Azure felt nothing but the awareness of her failure.

One day, however, it was snowing and the school was closed. All the children had turned up in their hats and scarves and now were lost and shivering in the desolate playground. It was hours before the adults would come to pick them up. It was Azure that had the Revelation.

“You think you know everything,” she told them, “but there are things you haven’t seen.” She took the troupe of children across the village and out into the fields. The snow was falling thick and slow around them, blinking bits of ice in their eyes. Their cheeks grew rosy as they chased after their leader, who knew the contours of the ground like the back of her hand. They danced across great puddles of ice, raced down hillsides, linked arms and sang an elegy to a dying eagle. They buried its beautiful body with snow. The war and the cold were forgotten as the children crouched in the forest and listened to the stirring crickets, the squirrels rustling in the undergrowth. The animals always knew how to take shelter.

It was a sad thought to know it was soon home-time. Home, but not really home. Together, they followed Azure across the white plains of farmland back to the village.

At the school, the parents were full of rage. They wanted someone – some dirty country scoundrel – to blame. But when they saw the happiness on the children’s faces, all was forgiven. They took their children’s hands, and as they looked up to the bright blue sky, they too saw the new world that they already lived in.

(Prompts: azure blue, fidelity, prophecy)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

A Dissident

A Dissident
by Paul Inglis

He didn’t despair.
Looked each man in the eye,
and with a manic grin
made some jokes.
“Please, boys.
Can we make this quick?
I’d love to stay and chat,
but I’ve got a meeting
with the bishop at four.
I’m a busy man these days.”

At the last moment,
he threw open his arms
to embrace the empty air.
Defiant laughter rang out
in mockery of the guns,
and then the rattle of lead.

A red heap by the riddled wall,
crumpled quietly, quickly.
Lies sodden like Autumn leaves,
but not for long.
They’re shooting the next one
in five minutes.

‘Boys’ by Paul Inglis

How did a gang of boys end up here?
I can hardly grow a beard.
What right do I have
to walk through burning streets,
aiming my gun at total strangers?

Got one the other day- he was trying to run,
sprinting for cover in a ragged greatcoat.
Almost made it, but I was too quick for him.
Later, when we were taking his things,
I saw that he looked a bit like me.

Its strange. The biggest town I’ve ever been in,
and its empty. Just us grunts now
shooting each other in front of cafes.
I’ve seen all the famous sights, too-
The imperial palace, scorched,
the grand cathedral, collapsed,
the parliament building, draped in our colours.

Holed up in a museum now,
with no word from higher up.
Thats not so bad, mind you-
haven’t had a moment’s peace
since we entered this dump of a city.

With no further orders,
we wandered among bland portraits,
dusty statues, ancient trinkets.
Took votes on the worst painting
and put bullets through the thing’s face.
Some dull king or other.
At night we threw a couple on the fire,
a wrinkled general and his austere wife.

A runner came by with news the next day:
They’ve surrendered. Not much more from him
before he was off again to somewhere else.
Then ecstatic cries from men in the street,
and a truck rolling by full of cheering drunkards.

For celebrations we shared some bottles
with two engineers and a tank’s crew.
Perched in a broken block of flats
as the sun set on smoking ruins
we sang old songs and played cards.

Its been a strange holiday, I can tell you that.
And I haven’t much to bring back to you
save memories of murder and loss.
To think how long ago it was-
The call to arms sounding out,
squawking from shrill radios:
Turn back the invader! Save the nation!
Dashing lads, the lot of us, marching
to the empty wailing of trumpets.

We said we’d thrash the bastards,
and that was only childish bravado-
How could we push them back?
Yet somehow we pushed them back.
And when we made it to their capital
we tore it down with bombs and shells.
Let the rubble stand.
The fallen deserve their monument.

Now that its over I should be happy-
We all should.
But nobody is smiling.
With victory has come realisation
that there is no going back.
We thew away our lazy summers
and boyish games long ago
on the fields where our friends fell.

Remembrance Day Poems

Here are some poems written by our members for Remembrance Day Sunday 2013:

Permanence, by Jessica Secmezsoy-urquhart

My thoughts escape me
Once more the lucid hour
What life can there be
when permanence stilts growth.

Navy fingers in violet sky
Borderless clouds
To see this morning die anew…
The skin and pallor blushing blue.

The days are growing kind
Awe that turns to terror
Flesh as brisk as matches
too few to light the way.

Navy fingers in violet sky
Borderless clouds
To see this morning die anew…
The skin and pallor blushing blue.

In time the light’s prism
grows grey in dull eyes.
The dryad’s ode lulls
those dead to the world.

Navy fingers in violet sky
Borderless clouds
To see this morning die anew…
The skin and pallor blushing blue.

This is now
the only time
it is ours to glimpse, to brush.
I walk through the poppies
to swim would be fanciful
The air will grow yellow
as my life paints the field.

SO LONG AS MAN IS MAN, by Emily Grenfell

I do believe
If the cause were right
We would all bear arms
We would all fight.
And how do I know this?
How am I sure?
Because we are no different
To those before,
Who shoulder to shoulder
Each man stood
And lay down his life
For the next man would.
They did not know
What would await,
Their judgement
At St Peter’s gate.
They did not know
What would befall,
After they answered
The bugles call.
But when that horn
Let fall its’ cry,
They battled forth,
With heads held high.

These are the figures
That history made,
Their valour from our
Memory fades,
We cannot believe
That we can be strong,
And stand for what’s right
In the face of all wrong.
We cannot believe
That the knights of old
Felt anger, pain,
And the bitter cold.

Can we believe then
That our strength is so
That to a battle field
We would not go?

I truly believe
If the cause were Just
We would step forth
Because we must.
We would defend
Our home, our blood,
And with our lives
Hold back the flood.
So long as man is man
There will be fights.
So long as dark is dark
We’ll look for light.

In the end,
Each side is wrong
But you cannot recruit
With that kind of song.

Remembrance, by Maria Rose Sledmere

Is it possible that we may imagine
The flashing of annihilation
Across a clean November sky?

For these are our children,
Somehow broken, somehow
trapped in the trenches of time.

Where our words and sermons
Weave silver through history,
Like the bright lights that blinded a generation,
The silver of our tears will melt
And meet with the pains of our children.

Our children whose bodies remain
In names etched in granite, amidst
The glints of hope, infinite hours,
And the scarlet of fallen flowers.