Monday, 25 November 2019

Remembering Abu Simbel by Andrew Shephard



Remembering Abu Simbel

Twice yearly at the equinox
a golden spear pierces early vapour
(sometimes setting clouds on fire)
arrows along the Grimescar Valley until,
encountering an obstacle to its interstellar path
(my house, my cave, my temple)
it rips through a curtain crevice
to slay my dream-bound sleep with blood-red light,
changing me in a single strike
from sleeping animal to waking god.

Monday, 18 November 2019

The Economy of Excaliburs by Owen Townend



Excalibur washed up at Hollingworth Lake. I was down by the shore, feeding ducks at the time. All of a sudden, the sword bobbed up and sent them squawking away. 
           I could tell what it was on sight, ancient and grandiose. The hilt was very plain considering the legend; bronze rather than gold. At least the quartz in its pommel had retained some lustre, if not any real colour. There were quite a few noticeable rust marks along the blade itself too. Considering coastal erosion, I would say Excalibur did well to look so good.
It took me a minute to realise that I could raise it. Did that mean I was King of England now? Arthur's rightful successor? Not too likely. I had glanced at my Auntie's copy of the family tree. She insisted our roots began sometime during the Jacobean era.
Nevertheless, I felt like an absolute badass. I swung the sword around a bit: “Take that, Morgan le Fey! And that, Mordred!” Did Arthur have another enemy with a name beginning with ‘Mor’? I didn’t let that stop me, just kept stabbing and slashing at imaginary invaders. Realising that the sun was finally setting, I sheathed the sword in a Sainsburys bag and rushed on home.
When I got in the door, I called out to my Auntie: "Are you sure we're the Pendergrasses and not the Pendragons?"
She was bolt upright in her paisley lounge chair; fingernails digging into the armrests. Her glasses were perched precariously at the end of her nose as she watched the TV. She glanced at me. "Have you seen this?" She pointed at the evening news.
I saw footage of a little old Jamaican lady talking about the Lord's message whilst waggling around her own sword. Same bronze hilt, same quartz pommel. "That can't be..."
"It is though!" Auntie spoke with a flutter in her voice. "Excali-" At last she turned to me fully and saw the sword in my hands. Her mouth dropped. "You too?"
"Apparently so," I muttered. I read the banner at the bottom of the screen as it scrolled left to right with more Excalibur discoveries in Loch Lomond, Tardebigge Lake, Bala Lake and Lough Ree. Of course, the BBC trained their cameras on the Excalibur that rose from The Serpentine in London.
"What the hell is happening?" Auntie said.
"Some kind of joke, I wouldn't wonder," I said. "Unless the Lady of the Lake made a  surplus supply of swords."
"Who knew she even existed?"
I stopped speaking, too angry to even speculate. It's like when you’re really little and discover something special only to go out on the playground the next day to find everyone else has it too. No big deal.
While Auntie stayed up late to watch Arthurian documentary after Arthurian documentary on BBC4, I went to bed early. I already had my fill of all that and just wanted time to sleep and recover from the emotional rollercoaster of the past few hours.
Before I switched off the light, I propped Excalibur up against my nightstand. It’s not a round table but the top is oval. The bastard sword slid off almost immediately.

Next morning at the dining table, I startled Auntie by finally speaking up. Her grape fruit squirted all over my Weetabix.
"Either we're all the rightful heirs to a mythical king or these swords are worthless."
Auntie watched as I drummed my fingers on the quartz pommel. She winced at the blade that was scuffing her sheepskin rug. "Has it done anything magical?"
"No."
"Does it feel magical?"
I sighed. "Not anymore." 
Auntie tried to be solemn, looking down at the red juice stain on her table mat. Still she came up giggling.
"You say worthless like you've had a big loss in the stock market." She winked. "You have a sword, love, not a share."
It took me a moment but I did give up my scowl. "Bang goes the economy of Excaliburs, I suppose."
We chuckled a bit then checked the news. All in all, only ten Excaliburs were found. At least I was part of an exclusive club.
Since then the press has called. We're all to gather at Arthur's tomb in Glastonbury for a special national news feature. We'll raise our swords and pose for the cameras. Who knows: maybe something significant will happen. If not, at least the day will rule…

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Day the World Changed by Annabel Howarth

The day the world changed, the sun was shining.  

It was long after the party, when all the street was covered with flags made from old clothes and bed sheets, and we’d stayed up late, and I saw my mother smile with her eyes for the first time.  The women were always chattering, but the chattering had taken on a different air, as they prepared for the big celebration.  The factory was closed for the day.  Everyone was happy that day, eating, drinking and smoking, dancing even, into the night.  And mother was full of bumptiousness, as Aunty Sarah called it.  Although mother wasn’t sure that was the right word at all. 

After that we waited “for the men to come home” but the waiting went on.  Mother lost her smile again, but after a while of staring at the door, everything went back to as it was.  Mother went to the mill and I stayed home with Auntie Sarah, until the day I was dressed in new shoes from Aunty Nancy’s shop, and we had our picture taken at the photographer shop.  Me, mother and Ruby,  in a pretty dress with her hair in long plaits and bows.  Then I went to the school each day, like our Ruby.  Mother was still waiting for the men to come home, but months went by.  

The day the world changed, I was sat on the step waiting for mother to come home, pushing my little blue car along by my feet.  A shadow fell across the road, but it wasn’t the shape of my mother.  I looked up, the sun was low behind the dark figure, so I couldn’t see his face at first, but the voice, like a low bell, frightened me.  Apart from old man Joe at number 10, I’d not really met a man before, and he barely said a word.  He just seemed to listen and roll his eyes a lot, whilst sat at his chair outside, puffing on his pipe.

            “You must be Lawrence.  I’m your Dad.”

I banged on the door with my fists until Ruby let me in, burying my face in her dress.

            “It’s all right,” the voice said, and I turned to see the tall figure in the doorway, with red wavy hair and watery eyes, smile. 

Ruby’s face lit up and she gently pushed me aside to run into his outstretched arms.

            When mother came home, she screamed, “Law-rence!” through the door, “Where were you? I’ve had to struggle all the way up the…”

            The man stood up from the kitchen chair, where he was sat, with our Ruby.  I was sat in the corner on the floor with my blue car.  The shopping bags crashed to the floor.

            “Where the bloody ‘ell ‘ave you bin, Kenty,” she shouted.  “You’re late.”
            “Ooh, you’ve not changed one bit, Lizzie,” he laughed, and picked her up off the ground.
            “Put me down you daft bugger,” she said, but she laughed, and she didn’t seem to worry about the waste of the smashed eggs that night.  She opened a bottle of her homemade wine, and laughed as the man (my Dad) tap danced on the floor, and I could still hear their loud voices as I lay in my bed, trying to sleep.  

            The world changed, and mother didn’t go to the mill no more.  She said it was because the men came home.  She seemed happy at first, doing the jobs she never had time to do before.  But the days that Dad came home late, and his dinner was at the back of the fire, and I would sit on the top step of the stairs with our Ruby listening to them shouting and clattering about, I would have this black feeling in my tummy.

            Not long after the world changed, I felt a man’s fist for the first time, and I sometimes wondered if the world wasn’t a better place before it changed.  But on the nights when I could hear my Dad cry out in his sleep, I would feel so sad for him.  And mostly he had a shine in his eyes, when he told me long tales of his life when he was my age, swimming in the rivers and playing cricket with his friends, and then he’d look distant and sad when he told me about the time that they took away his horse Rosie for another war, and she didn’t come back.  He missed his friend, Jock, and there was a photo of the two of them when they first arrived in Africa.  My Dad would never talk about it.  He would get solemn and angry and say, “There is nothing good about war”.  Jock never got to go home to his family. 

            And not long after the world changed, it changed again.  My mother’s belly grew so fat and then one day, the baby came.  And that was the day that, for me, things really changed.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Remember, Remember by Juliet Thomas




Remember, Remember

She used to love Bonfire Night, it was the highlight of Autumn for her, she was never a huge fan of Halloween and the grotesque costumes that the other kids found hilarious. She’d shiver in the damp, windy nights, trying to keep up with the older kids on her street who squealed in delight, knocking on neighbours’ doors and running into the distance, before she lost sight of them in the darkness.

No, Bonfire Night was different; warm, magical and filled with ‘Ooos’ and ‘Ahhs’. Bonfire Night meant getting wrapped up in layer upon layer of woollen tights, jeans, fat socks and purple wellies, vests and polo necks, a big duffle coat and knitted scarf, thick mittens and an itchy bobble hat that covered her eyes.

By the time she tramped across the fields, holding her Mum and Dad’s hands, she’d walk stiffly like a robot, snug as a bug in a rug.

Once the fire was lit, she’d edge closer, the heat warming her eyeballs and spreading like warm water across her cheeks. Her mittens would come off, reaching out to feel the heat on bare fingers which she’d wiggle and make dance like the flames before her.

Eventually they’d pull away, dodging the sparks of amber raining down, to seek toffee apples from the white van with mud encrusted tyres and splatters like whipped chocolate up the sides.

The glazed apples on sticks would glow like a mirror-ball mimicking the flames as she’d take her first bite through, licking her lips free of sticky sweet coating and wiping the juice from her chin. The sour was always a surprise to the sweet, making her ears laugh as she shuddered.

Those were the memories that warmed her though to the core as a child but were now discoloured and damaged in adulthood. The significance of a date reserved for fun and laughter, excitement and wonder now darkens her heart in the long chillier nights until New Year.

Striking fireworks that made her heart soar as they exploded to light the inky skies, now stood as a dazzling reminder of dangerous arguments and an impossible situation branded into the calendar of their lives forever.

Life had moved on, as it had to for the sake of their other children, for some semblance of her sanity, for some small chance of healing but she can never forget, especially at this time of year.

Remember, remember the fifth of November. How can she not?

Of course, she can’t ruin the occasion for her children, they looked forward to this time of year and so she takes them, her smile painted on and she fights to not think about another year gone by, that Bonfire Night could have been even more special. More flames. More light. More laughter.

As she stares into the huge, threatening fire, spitting and cracking as crates burn turning them into charred, hollow entities, tears fall and she bitterly wipes them away, thankful she can blame the smoke tonight.

He turns, meeting her eye for a flicker of a second and takes their daughter off to collect hot chocolates and fresh doughnuts, weaving through the crowd, blending into bodies and occasional burst of laughter as children write their names with sparklers. She watches him disappear.

Does he remember too? Does he feel the missing piece at all, 6 years on? Or is it long gone, buried to hide the truth of that time, to pretend it never happened?

Her youngest looks up at her with a beaming grin and ruddy cheeks spotlighted by the flames, his angelic excitement and deepest blue eyes catching her breathe.

He takes her left hand and gives it a squeeze, the kind gesture almost breaking her. She squeezes it back and shoves her right hand deep into her pocket, curling it into a fist.

Where another, smaller hand should be intertwined with her fingers, sits a citrine ring, a gemstone of light, happiness and abundance…..and also the birthstone of November.