An Unfortunate Discovery

I sat in the car with my wife and travelled up to the cemetery where I’d been buried not long before. She didn’t know I was there, of course, I was now the silent passenger, the observer, the helpless carer whose love for her continued on like an afterglow on the planet where we had both lived. My presence  would gradually fade as the last embers of my emotion vanished from this place

She seemed to be disoriented and walking up the wrong path. At last she arrived at a grave. “Frank Sutherland, Father to Christopher and Cecelia. 1954-2015”. . . My name was Phillip. Pausing briefly she then knelt and laid the flowers on his grave. I had known him well, a local care free drunk and party man who left a litter of children across the locality and died in a moment of reckless euphoria at the wheel of a borrowed car. On one famous occasion he had run for mayor.

I became aware of a presence and now here he was beside me, cheery as ever, and standing in death by his grave smiling down at my wife. “We first slept together twenty-three years ago.” he said by way of explanation, “Sorry, but, bloody hell, she was a goer and half wasn’t she”. I would have raised my eyebrows if I still had any, but I could still feel surprise.

After the rare episodes of love-making with my wife, where our hands moved only as much as was necessary to ensure a satisfactory conclusion there would be a pause. A feeling of shyness mixed with embarrassment and then it was always the same. I would roll off and she would say “Thank you.” Not in a cold way, but in a clear and deliberate voice, as though I’d just bought her a cup of tea: that was it, followed by slumber; the routine was unchanging. She was my one foray into intimacy; perhaps I had missed something.

I was a surveyor, on the neighbourhood watch committee, golf club member and local historian. I attended church regularly and made every effort to support my family: I’ve no idea what Frank did. He always seemed to get by on a wing and a prayer, somehow evading responsibility and defying the normal laws of economic gravity ,and the downside of reckless living, till he had one escapade too many.

Work took me away a fair bit, but we talked on the phone, and her reliable calmness was always a source of pride to me in my journey through life. “She could dance”, continued Frank, “as if there was no space or time, you know; urgent, wild”. There is no anger in death, only love and regret so regret it was, waves of it. “Didn’t you feel any shame,” I said ” Destroying the bonds of another family”. “Life’s too short for regrets, at least mine was” he replied, visibly, or possibly invisibly amused, depending on your circumstances.

The mutual object of our affection was now kneeling in an act of fruitless prayer for his soul as we stood beside her. I, feeling more and more like a guest in her life rather than a part of it, turned to him in sorrow and said, ” At least I have my child. She goes on”

“Have you ever studied your daughter’s eyes” he said, “They are my colour” and his frame rocked in silent laughter. He seemed to be finding death as amusing as life. Hell, I discovered, was loving someone who viewed you without respect, and having your memory ridiculed at your passing.

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Life Without You

I never met you, knew you, or had your love but then I did. The image of the girl who would walk up to me in life, as if it were some railway station and laugh, smile and warm your heart in my embrace faded slowly from my hopes.

That image of your soft brown hair and loving eyes and cosy coat keeping you all warm, and with that scarf of yours peeping from your collar, and those brown shoes you loved, because your dad had bought them never materialised and so I made do with adding tales of disaster to a life apparently lived to amuse those more caring of themselves than I.

I dreamed of our conversations, and the way you’d smile when I did something silly, and how you’d know me like no other and make each moment with you like a prayer. I looked for you in places when young: confident that soon our paths would cross in some gallery or long since vanished bookshop and then less frequently because the hope you’d match your step with mine faded with time and advancing years.

Now you are old as I am old, and on a path uncrossed with mine, subject to compromises I also made and marriages built on the fear of being alone.

You would not love me now, raddled as I am by disappointment, and choices sculpted out of desperation rather than good judgement: the victim of my own chaotic search for perfection, rummaging through careers, and eating romance as if it where a chocolate, wasting my innocence on the fruitless quest to find you and build some idyll: always looking for the perfect moment.

Now, with my last sip of innocence, I dwell on my growing sense of obsolescence, part of a world disengaging from its rhythms in the blind search for some improvement, sliding towards an unwritten future

Posted in creative writing, Fiction, Love, Peter Wells, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

An Improbable Courtship

Only in one area did Bernard display a pleasing quirkiness and sense of community eccentricity: that was in the Lower Saddleworth Jousting and Knightly Courtesies club, of which he was club secretary and a long serving member. Following a Saturday morning cutting some shapes on the village green, he was now in a café with his morning coffee, pleasingly unaware that being a man in a full suite of armour, and with the sun glinting off his visor, might present an unusual figure to the locals.

The problem he had, which he had not yet communicated, was that the visor had become jammed during that morning’s high-jinks, and he did not have the nerve to ask the café owner for a straw small enough to slip through the tiny apertures insisted on by the health and safety committee so that a knight, thus encased, could continue to breath.

Just when all seemed lost, and the coffee was about to cool below those temperatures generally recognised as offering the most pleasure to the drinker, a glamorous blond sat down in front of him and said, “My knight in shining armour. How are you darling?” Bernard may have returned her smile, but we have no way of verifying that. Still, unusually forward for a man with his social caution, he said, “My Visor’s stuck.”

“What’s that my darling, my little chickadee, my bold warrior” said the glamorous blond and Bernard repeated the information. Without further ado she removed a nail file from her well-equipped handbag, fiddled around with the visor for a few seconds until, sure enough, it opened to reveal the face of Bernard, complete with pale moustache and steamed-up glasses. “You’ve got lovely eyes” she said and started laughing, while Bernard quickly attacked the coffee now within a half-degree of ruin.

“Are you married?” she asked and Bernard shook his head. “Are you living with anyone; in a serious relationship; or the victim of any weird impulses? Bernard kept shaking his head. The women, later revealed as Beatrice, smiled and said, “A Knight in shining armour and still available: lucky me. You can buy me lunch”

Thus it was that Bernard, the unluckiest of men, got pinned against the wall by good fortune and offered a fresh start in life. She, it transpired, was his missing link, and they were married within three months. To see the pair of them setting off to local Jousting events suitably attired, and with a small can of emergency oil in her maiden’s handbag, was to see how happiness can bloom in the most unlikely circumstance, and those who see life without hope can still be saved by chance.

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Related To The Bard

William Stir-Arrow was, and possibly might have remained, a playwright whose abilities would remain concealed from the general public where it not for a peculiar conversation held at some publishing house.His family legend had it that they were intimately connected, in some way, with a famous Elizabethan playwright, and who are we to argue with them. It might have been a blood connection, or one of acquaintanceship, or that they both loved the same kind of jam, but that connection had inspired member after member of this family, for generation after generation, to move their quill, pen and then cursor across the page in search of that telling phrase which would finally earn them immortality, and possibly elbow that Elizabethan upstart off the pitch of life and into the obscurity some felt was merited by his language.

Thus it was that our William had penned his new play “Measure For The Tempest” with a hero by the name of Duke Smirk who struggled with the upbringing of his daughters. To date he had sent it to one hundred and fifty publishing houses and , unknown to him, been the inspiration of more comment than any other manuscript. “Is this pure gibberish or just unadulterated garbage,” asked an editor of his new assistant as he held up a sample of dialogue for his inspection.

“Forsooth Yo chum, into the very bed of rock the teapot rung”. “What does that mean?” asked the puzzled Editor, and his new assistant, eager to impress, searched for a meaning not involving a slip of the pen or simple derangement. “It has a ringing quality, don’t you think?” he ventured, and the Editor looked at the dialogue in this light. “No it doesn’t” “Perhaps we should be careful” said the eager new junior, “You know how the man ridiculed by one generation can becomes the prophet of the next,” and they both looked carefully at the phrasing once again. “Once more to the bard dear friends and swilge our grapes”.

“Puzzling” said the Editor, “The word ‘swilge’ has a certain tone to it. What do you think it means?”. “Well that is the problem with prophets” said his junior, “Their meaning often only becomes clear some time after they’ve popped their clogs” “Popped their Clogs” said the Editor and raised his eyebrows, “You seem to be infected by this man’s use of language” The junior, now certainly was infected by possibly unwarranted enthusiasm stood back and said to his boss, “Declaim the line sir. Speak it out as if you where on stage”. Swept along by the interest of his new colleague the Editor did just that, and raising his arm, said in a loud projected voice ” Forsooth Yo chum, into the very bed of rock the teapot rung” putting plenty of Rrrr’s into the last word, and sure enough there was a certain dynamism to it which took you far beyond the land of meaning.

“I think you’ve got something here” “Oft till the night wings flap oe’r surried plains” he said, booming out the next line which on reflection, seemed to have no connection to the one proceeding it. Once bitten, both men started quoting liberally from the book and laughing with gathering abandon at the very oddness of it all.

So it was that this curious item was published internationally and started the new hobby of proclaiming nonsense in public, a fashion previously enjoyed only by those of a political persuasion.

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The Solitary Road

It was in the way he drank: time was not in short supply for this gentleman who sipped at his glass and studied the wall ahead for things to contemplate: a solitary figure in a near-empty bar, an afternoon drinker, but not a drunkard: just a man trying to remember pleasure, and those days when he led a busy life with choice as his companion. Now he was a man who had drifted out of the social round as money proved to be in short supply: those holidays abroad spent rollicking with friends and his habit of clowning in the early morning were now just episodes from his past.

He sipped his drink and wondered how it would be if he could begin again: the careers he might have followed, the chance to walk once more through wilderness, and watch the stars, glittering and beautifully indifference. To those around who might catch him in a glance, he seemed a disconnected soul, one who’d looked at life and forgotten what it was he had to say; who cramped himself into ever smaller spaces, and opened doors for people busier than himself.

Someone walked towards him, some young lad, and asked if he had the time. Yes he did. Time was all he had, but that is not what he said. “Three thirty five,” his voice was crisp and clear; he knew better than to try and engage strangers in conversation: that was for the old, and he was not old yet, not in his own mind.

He sipped again and now he felt the music fill his heart and smiled at that chorus of ghosts from other times and lands who joined him in his solitary world and saw beyond his disengaging, stare. Standing in silent guard over his history he recalled times when plans where more than dreams and urgency filled each waking hour.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, Humanity, Life, old age, Peter Wells, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Poetry In Emotion

Geoffrey Longridge, a widower of twenty-eight years standing, had lost his wife in a car accident leaving him childless and alone. Since that time, emotion was something he employed sparingly, and in his memory of her he had, he considered, a sufficient reservoir of intimacy to provide all the nourishment required to live an ordered life.

Her photographs were everywhere in his house, and conversations with her departed soul remained central to his life. She had been his co-conspirator, his map and compass, and without her he had become a mannered, dutiful soul, working latterly as the chief librarian in his local town.

His sensibilities were tuned to connect with ideas and vistas rather than people: he had a quality of civilised distance about him which marked him out in the community. He was a receiver rather than the teller of stories, but you could tell the quality of your words by the power of his response. Sometimes, in a stubborn attempt to awaken interest in an artistic dimension among the local population, he would invite speakers to give talks at the library on matters literary, or sometimes just to recount their recent adventures. He loved the way some small event could make an individual discover themselves.

So it was that he invited a poet, who had recently returned from the tropics, to give a reading from her latest book of poems: the product of her experiences there. Her sense of life and its adventures seemed exotic to a man whose formative, and then more mature impressions, were gathered throughout a life bound by ritual and routine within the small English county where he had lived and worked all his life. At the appointed hour she arrived at the building and he guided her to the room were a small but appreciative audience applauded her entrance. Brief introductions were made and then the poet began her recital.

The audience was moved by her assurance and intensity: her words igniting their dormant imaginations. She was the living embodiment of artistic courage, a dramatic reader of her own verse, and the audience responded to her urgency. At last the reading was over and, noticeably, the applause at the end of it was more real and energised than the polite clapping of hands which had signalled her introduction. After the event, poet and librarian sat together on a bench near the entrance and looked at the abstract painting before them, which seemed almost like a conceptual map of imagination.

“Do you like abstract art ?” she asked him earnestly. “Yes” replied Geoffrey and suddenly he seemed to be no more than a puppet. A will stronger than his own pushed him forward and he found himself kissing her forehead, then her cheek and finally her lips with a release and abandon which, till now, had been entirely alien to him. She was the first women to whom he had opened himself in twenty-eight years and he was stunned by his own actions. Instead of shrinking away from him she seemed to be somewhere between the polite and receptive as he talked to and then kissed her in turn and again. Finally, without any comment on his behaviour, she told him she had a dinner engagement. They rose from the bench and he showed her to the door.

He had no address for her, apart from her email, or any knowledge of her circumstances, excepting some blurb on her website and after she had gone he sat down again and stared at that painting as if it might supply him with an answer. What does a polite man do, living largely within convention, when he has stepped outside himself and kissed a lady so? The painting offered no advice.

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The Inner Circle

As a young man, sometime before the war, I lived in a world “Of certain certainties” as some poet said, or may have said. I’ve never been of the bookish persuasion but you get my drift: we dressed for dinner, played cricket, gentlemen versus players, every August on the green, and obeyed conventions in public as if conformity were as natural as breathing. My private thoughts were of a different colour, but when has that not been true. After all, as another poet possibly remarked, “Manners the wild savage doth contain” and aint that the truth by God.

Anyway, in those times I, unmarried and a recent graduate from Cambridge visited my aunt in Hagley and found myself co-opted onto the cricket team, some young notable having fallen ill, and played, if I may say so, with some ability. A charming girl approached me at the tea after the match and remarked on my bowling in a manner which invited further conversation.

Her name was Araminta, I discovered, and she was the daughter of a noted local family. Her manner was bright, engaging and possibly beguiling and I wondered how I could extend our acquaintanceship to later in the evening when I knew a small number of the local “worthies,” among others, would be gathering at my aunt’s house for “Drinks” which in those days was a way of inviting people to your home without the bother of preparing a meal.

My aunt, who had little about her of note, apart from having attended the funeral of Queen Victoria, an incident which frequently made its way into her conversation, did what many in declining circumstances do, which was stick rigidly to convention, albeit on a reduced scale, so that offering “Drinks” instead of a meal was a way of clinging to the last of her contacts in gentrified circles without, in her case, the expense of providing full-blown hospitality.

Emboldened by Araminta’s friendliness and forward manner, I asked her if she was “Coming up later” for drinks at my aunt’s, whose name I told her,was Mrs Derringer. Her face stiffened very subtly, in the way only those who have been repeatedly slighted on social grounds would notice, and she said “Sadly I have other plans” before drifting off to talk to another young man I did not know but who had played in the same team as I.

She was a dazzling beauty framed in social caution who, I later discovered, went on to marry a senior civil servant some years older than herself who “worked tirelessly,” which just means worked, at the Home Office during the war. Later, I was employed by an engineering business in an undistinguished capacity, thus emphasising, much to my aunt’s dismay, how far we had drifted from the county set. I married a women who grew to love me in her own way but who disliked any “fuss” unless, of course, she was making it. I never met Araminta again, but my conversation with her was the closest I got to what many people describe as a romance so the snub I received from her remains fresh to this day. The harshest truths, it seems, are often implied rather than stated.

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