He woke to a loud and insistent hum. External, although the constant clamour of anger and loss still shouted in his head. Garden machinery probably. It filled the room and rattled through the cavity wall behind his bed. He turned his back on the window, where sunlight was invading through the curtains, and pulled the duvet over his head. He wasn’t ready for the day yet, even though it was midmorning.
The hum settled into a buzz, deep and resonant. On, off, on, off, just irregular enough to be intrusive. Not machinery. Definitely an insect. Impossible to ignore, like his thoughts. He turned on his back to listen. It was hard to place, seemed to be above him. It sounded huge. Damn.
Wasps nest in the loft? Hornets?
He rose, cursing. Cursing the insect, cursing the day, cursing his insomnia, cursing her and the hole she had left. The pain was as persistent as the buzzing but it was easier to turn it to anger than deal with it.
That had been the problem. It was what he’d always done. She’d tried, he had to admit that. Tried to help, to understand, tried to make him happy. She’d realised though that his happiness was not her responsibility, just as her happiness was not his.
He could not pinpoint the sound, no matter how many times he paced round the room. Eventually he got dressed and ventured into the loft with a torch and some trepidation.
She’d taken responsibility for herself. She’d tried harder. Tried even, to take responsibility for him. It didn’t work; how could it? And then she’d left him.
He made coffee, took it outside in search of the continuing noise. There, trapped in a spider’s web by the bedroom window, a honey bee was fighting for its life.
He knew how it felt.
He retrieved a short ladder and carefully freed the bee from its hell. It fell onto the windowsill and lay there for a while. He was just beginning to worry when it took off and flew down the garden.
He wished he could disentangle himself from his misery that easily.
Later, as he was clearing brambles by the shed, the hum returned, much louder this time. He watched the swarm come in, settle in the cherry tree in an ordered buzzing bundle. He wondered if it was the same bee, whether she had brought her friends because she knew he wouldn’t hurt them.
He wouldn’t hurt anything, anyone, not on purpose. But that hadn’t stopped him.
They were still there the following day. The beekeeping friend who came to collect them was cheery. He captured most of them and took them away.
“There’ll be a few left,” he said, “but they’ll go within twenty four hours, probably back to where they came from.”
The little cluster still hung from the branch when he returned from work the next evening. And the next. And the one after that. He was happy to see them. He found himself talking to them, telling them about his day. His friend was surprised that they were still there a week later.
“They’ll go eventually,” he said.
But days became weeks and still the bees stayed. He found himself becoming strangely fond of them, crossing his fingers each evening as he walked up the garden, hoping they would still be there, dreading that the branch would be empty. The relief that flooded through him each time he saw them made him almost lightheaded.
He talked more and more to them about all sorts of things, from the mundane events of everyday to the sadness and guilt that he hadn’t even been able to voice to himself.
He told them about her. About how it had been wonderful. How it had gone so horribly wrong. As summer turned to autumn and then to winter he talked it out and the bees, against all that was normal, continued to buzz and cluster on the branch.
Come Christmas he started to go out a bit more. In early spring he saw her in the street and it didn’t hurt as much. At the beginning of summer he met someone new.
He told it all to the bees. He didn’t know that he was following an age old tradition. He just felt that they should know.
He told his new girlfriend about them, showed her pictures. When she came over to his house for the first time, he took her to see them so that she could speak to them too.
The next morning, they took their coffee into the garden. The bees had flown but hanging from the empty branch was a honeycomb, the cells wax plugged in the shape of a heart.
** ** ** **
Note: Last summer we ‘woke to a loud and insistent hum’ and my husband rescued a bee from a web. Later that day, it did indeed return with its friends to rest in our cherry tree for a few days. It seemed an almost mythic occurrence. How lucky were we?
See the little cottage in the clearing ahead. That is where we will take our repose tonight. We have walked for many hours; you are hungry and need to rest.
“Who lives here?” you ask.
No one now, but it is a place of welcome. You will find whatever it is you need. Food, drink, warmth. A bed to sleep in. Comfort and healing for everything from a broken heart to a wound of the flesh. See, there are lanterns lit in the windows. It is all ready for you.
How did they know you would come when you did not know yourself? Well, that is the magic; it is not to be questioned, just accepted with gratitude. Try the door. It is not locked.
The table is laid for us and the fire is dancing in the grate. Come. Sit and I will tell you how this cottage became enchanted.
Once upon a time, long ago and far away, a great king lived in a beautiful castle with his wife and their daughter. The land he ruled was peaceful and prosperous, for his greatness lay not in the battles he had won or the power and wealth he had accumulated but in his fairness, his honesty and his generosity. Merchants traded freely and fairly with the neighbouring realms. Farmers grew abundant crops and their livestock were healthy. Artisans and crafters flourished, creating both the practical and the beautiful. There was music and art, poetry and learning. People cared for each other and disputes were settled quickly and honourably.
Often the King would ride out amongst his subjects to share with them their fortunes good and bad. The Queen and the Princess rode by his side. As the Princess grew up, she learned justice and government from her father and healing from her mother. She knew herself to be truly privileged and wished only to become as good a leader as the King.
Now in that country there was a legend: that whosoever held the sacred jewels of wisdom, truth, justice and love was the true ruler of the realm, and that so long as the jewels were protected then so also was the land. The gems were kept safely within the castle. The sapphire of wisdom, the diamond of truth and the emerald of justice were set into the crown that the King wore during state business; the ruby of love was deemed so precious that it was kept in a secret hiding place.
Some had tried to take the jewels, by theft or by force, but none had ever succeeded.
Years passed. But In the shadowy forest at the northern edge of the kingdom, a dark force was growing, cloaked by malevolent magic. There lived a powerful sorceress, whose greed and hatred knew no bounds. All she saw she needed to possess; the wealth and abundance of the realm had drawn her to it and the jewels were her heart’s desire. So she plotted and planned and conjured all manner of evil to do her bidding. She sowed seeds of destruction and discord throughout the region; a fight here, a failed crop there, food spoiled in a tavern kitchen, missing coins from the notary’s pouch. Whispers of plagues and rumours of war spread and festered, making the people fearful and angry. They began to doubt the King’s integrity and to question his leadership. Into this cauldron of distrust the sorceress poured false promises of a better way, a new leader to protect them.
The King tried to reassure his subjects but he did not know what he was fighting. Turmoil and trouble grew until, at the state celebration of the Princess’s seventeenth birthday, the sorceress swept into the castle with her legions and claimed it for her own. The King was cut down instantly, and a spell cast on all present, immobilising them.
“Where are the jewels?” she demanded of the Queen, but the Queen would say nothing save “They are all here.”
So the sorceress had her minions ransack the castle and they returned triumphantly with the crown. Setting it upon her head, she seated herself upon the throne, saying “I am truly the Queen now, and you will kneel to me or die.”
With that she cast another spell; the guests knelt before her, whether or not they wished to. They found themselves back in their homes, still on their knees.
The Queen and the Princess stood, unable to fight the evil magic.
“Where is the last jewel?” the sorceress asked, but the Queen refused to speak. “Very well. You will pay for your stubbornness. Cast her into the dungeon with the brat.” She walked over to the Queen, spoke just before the guards dragged her away. “It will not stay hidden for long. You will tell me. She,” she indicated the Princess, “will make sure of it.”
The two women were bundled away by the guards and dragged down into the dungeon. It was dark and empty – it had not seen a prisoner for years. One guard lifted a set of rusty keys from a nail in the wall while the others cast them into a cell. The door clanged shut and the footsteps faded away.
Tears blurred the Princess’s vision. Her mother took her by the shoulders. “They will be back soon,” she said. “When they have searched again and failed to find the ruby. You must not be here when they return. I fear what she may do to you.” The Princess opened her mouth to speak but the Queen hurried on. “I have a charm. It will create a door for you to escape through. You will have to hide who you are but at least you will be safe. One day you will return. I know this.”
“You must come with me,” the Princess said desperately but here mother shook her head. She reached into her pocket and drew out a silver pencil. Holding it momentarily over her heart, she used it to draw a rectangle on the thick stone wall. A door appeared, light glimmering round its edges.
“Open it,” the Queen instructed and her daughter obeyed. On the other side was a room.
“I cannot come with you,” the Queen continued. “Only one may pass.” She embraced her daughter. “Be safe, my darling. May we meet again.” Then she pushed the Princess gently through the door. As soon as she was on the other side, the opening vanished and the wall became stone once more.
Thus the Princess found herself in a tiny cottage in the woods on the border of the kingdom. (This cottage). Scared and alone, she had little choice but to try and make a home there and learn to live off the land. She remembered watching farmers planting seeds and bakers baking bread, how the seamstresses sewed clothes and the maids lit the fires in the hearths. She recalled the knowledge she had gained from her parents and from all those who had lived and worked around her. Though her heart was well and truly broken, she would not give up.
As days became weeks and weeks became months, she began to carve out a new life, simple and quiet. She planted a garden and grew food and the healing herbs her mother had taught her. She collected fallen wood for her fire and water from the stream. Sometimes she would walk through the wood and onto the road, following it to the village nearby where she exchanged vegetables for bread, flowers for cloth, kindling for sugar and salt. She offered healing for those that needed it, balms, tinctures, liniments and syrups. These she gave freely.
“This is the gift my mother gave to me,” she would say. “A gift that I can pass on to you.”
But she noticed the change. A deep sadness covered the land like a blanket. The sun struggled to shine and the stars were dull in the heavens. Gales whipped the air and the rains were heavy. It was as if the very skies wept.
As one year became two and then three the people struggled more and more. There was little music or poetry. Smiles were rare, laughter rarer still. The new Queen, angry that she had not yet found the last jewel, ruled with an iron rod. Her guards searched constantly, leaving terror in their wake. She demanded tithes and tributes from everyone, even those who could not afford it. Fields became fallow, livestock sickly. Flowers would not bloom and children could not play. The Princess grieved for her parents and her beautiful country as she continued to offer healing for those in need. Her garden, somehow, seemed unaffected by the blight that cursed the rest of the land.
Word of her abilities and her kindness spread. People came from further and further away to seek her skills. One day a woman knocked at her door, hooded and cloaked. The Princess ushered her in, thinking that she must be very afraid to need to stay so hidden. Once inside, the woman lowered her hood and the Princess recognised her mother’s maid.
“I have come to bring you home,” the maid said. “For you have grown into a wise and strong woman and your kingdom needs you.”
“What can I do against the wicked magic of the sorceress,” asked the Princess. “I don’t have the power to fight her.”
“You have more power than you think,” the woman said. “You are the heart of this land. That is why your garden grows when little else will. Why you still heal others when all around you people fight and steal. You are the reason that the sorceress cannot find the last jewel.”
“I don’t understand. Please, sit. Tell me first of my mother.”
“She still languishes in the dungeon. The sorceress was furious when she realised that you had escaped. She keeps your mother prisoner to taunt her. She still believes that eventually she will gain the location of the ruby.”
“I do not know where it is. How is it that I keep her from finding it?”
The maid smiled. “Because it is in your heart. Unlike the other gems, the ruby chooses its own guardian. It chose you. That is where your healing power comes from, the strongest magic of all. Love. And that is how you will defeat the sorceress. The wicked cannot survive in the light of pure love. Come back with me now. Save your people.”
The Princess was aghast but she did as she was asked. Fearful as she felt at the prospect of facing the sorceress, she longed to see her mother again and bring harmony back to the land. She was shocked as they travelled, by the bare fields and dried up rivers where before there had been a velvet patchwork of crops and softly flowing waters. There were few people on the roads now and many of the buildings were in a state of disrepair.
The castle however was as beautiful as she remembered it. She wrapped her cloak around her and pulled up the hood as she knocked on the door and asked for an audience with the sorceress.
“On what business?”
“I have information about the missing jewel.”
That got the guard’s attention. She was shown into a small anteroom while he scuttled off to announce her. Finally she was shown into the great hall where the sorceress sat on the wooden throne, the King’s crown on her head. She walked toward her, suddenly unafraid.
“Why do you not bow to me?” the sorceress demanded. “And why have you not bared your head in my presence? I am your Queen.”
The Princess stood in front of the dais in silence.
“Your audacity astounds me. I should hang you from the tower as a snack for the buzzards. Tell me where the jewel is or that is exactly what I will do.”
The Princess calmly lowered her hood and stared at her. A shock of recognition crossed the sorceress’s face.
“The jewel is here,” said the Princess placing her hand over her heart. “It has come home but it will never be yours.”
“We’ll see about that,” the sorceress shrieked. She rose, pulling from her robe a sharp black blade. “I will cut it out myself.”
But the Princess stood fast and light began to shine from all around and within her. It grew brighter and brighter and as it did, the sorceress grew smaller and more withered until finally she was nothing more than dust. The crown fell to the floor, Truth, Justice and Wisdom glowing brightly in the light of Love. Her guards were shocked into stillness, not sure quite what to do. The Princess picked up the crown and turned to them; they bowed deeply, in awe of the gentle strength that emanated from her.
“Please free my mother.”
The two women wept with joy as they were reunited. The Princess offered the Queen the crown.
“It is yours now,” said the Queen, “but I would be honoured to help you in any way I can.”
That is how the Princess began her next adventure, rebuilding the realm into the happy and prosperous place that it had been before. And this cottage is the legacy that she left behind, a place of welcome and of refuge, where anyone may come to find food, rest and safety.
So, now we should eat and take the chance to sleep. We still have a long way ahead of us.
I wrote this poem around the end of 2015/beginning of 2016 and last Saturday night I read it out as part of the performance poetry entertainment at the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Awards Ceremony. I was touched and humbled when several people came up to me to say that they enjoyed it and how much they related to the emotional journey it portrays. They asked me if it was published! They also told me that they thought other people might find it helpful.
With that in mind I am putting it on here. Please feel free to share it if you want to. Wishing you all much love and light.
FALSE FRIENDS AND TRUE
My friend Paranoia came round the other day
I hadn’t seen him for a while; he said he’d been away.
My new friends Joy and Self-esteem don’t like him at all
They say I change when he’s about, I’m at his beck and call.
Anyway, he asked me if I would let him stay
He’d nowhere else to go, he said, he’d not get in my way.
I said no to start with. He said I was a grouch.
How could I just let him sleep on someone else’s couch?
“It’s only for a little while,” he wheedled with a grin
I felt my resolve crumble: should I let him in?
I recalled last time he said this, and I let him stay
A few days turned to months and months, he wouldn’t go away.
So I said no again and then he stormed off in a huff
Self-esteem was proud of me. “I knew you’d had enough.”
Then Paranoia played his trump. He sent his best friend Guilt,
To plead his case, and at her words I couldn’t help but wilt.
“How can you be so mean?” she asked. “He’s always stuck by you.
He’s never, ever let you down, it’s the least that you can do.”
I can deal with Paranoia, but Guilt is hard to fight.
I gave in; he came to stay, but only for the night.
Because when Paranoia’s there, Guilt hangs around as well,
And she brings along Self-loathing, who is as mean as hell.
The three of them get really loud and they give me no peace.
Then I can’t hear anything else and there is no release.
I realise I see less and less of Joy and Self-esteem
They pop in every now and then but I hardly know they’ve been.
Paranoia said that it’s because they never really liked me
They pretended, to be kind, but they’re better off without me.
Self-loathing told me that I am a really crappy friend.
“You’re lucky we put up with you, don’t bother to pretend
You’re doing us a favour by giving us house room.
No one else would bother with a nasty girl like you.”
“Yes, you’re lucky,” Guilt agreed. Her voice held quiet danger.
“We won’t desert you, leave you alone, let you become a stranger.
Another friend is moving in, don’t bother with your protests,
Because she’s been here all along and you haven’t even noticed.”
It was true; when I looked, Fear was curled up in the armchair.
I knew I couldn’t shift her now that she was settled there.
I wondered how she’d got in; through the back door, I suppose.
No matter how I try it seems impossible to close.
So now I was just overwhelmed and there was no escape,
I could only stand and watch my world disintegrate.
The four of them joined forces to wear away at me,
And together they are surely a formidable enemy.
Helpless before the onslaught I retreated to my room,
Curled small beneath the bedclothes amidst the deepening gloom.
It was then I heard it; a whisper through the air
So faint and yet I hadn’t just imagined it was there.
I couldn’t help but follow the almost silent call
It made me walk across the room to the mirror on the wall.
It was then that I saw Hope beside me standing strong.
I’d been so blind but now I knew he’d been there all along.
Somehow I’d forgotten Hope but he didn’t seem to mind.
He very gently took my hand, his touch so warm and kind.
Hope had not forsaken me but he has a quiet voice
And I just had not heard it over all the other noise.
I realised I felt calmer, more than I had in days
I knew that Hope would help me in so many different ways.
“We’re still here,” he told me, “Joy, Self-esteem and I.
But it’s hard to reach you when you’re with those other guys.”
“I’m sorry,” I said sadly, as I began to weep
“But I just don’t know what to do, I’m in far too deep.”
“You can let us help you to find your strength again.”
Hope was reassuring; I knew he saw my pain.
I let him lead me down the stairs and through the noisy four,
They didn’t like that he was there; I tailed him to the door.
“Open it,” he told me, “I’ve got you a surprise.”
Joy and Self-esteem were waiting on the other side.
“It’s really good to see you.” Words came with an embrace.
“Now let’s get this lot sorted out, and give you back your space.”
Paranoia grumbled as he left, Self-loathing raged and ranted,
Fear screamed and whimpered as she was forcibly decanted.
Guilt was the hardest one to shift; she went eventually.
“OK, I’m off for now,” she smirked, “but look, I’ve kept your key.”
Self-esteem just laughed at her. “The locks will all be changed.
She has true friends around her now, and you should be ashamed.”
Guilt was dawdling on the path; Hope turned me to the room
To Joy and Trust and Happiness and Love and Light and Truth.
Self-esteem brought Confidence, quiet and assured
And Gratitude is also here, helping me applaud.
So next time Paranoia knocks, I’ll have the strength to fight.
Next time I will be saying no. I’m claiming back my life.
On 14th February 2017 my second book will be making its way into the big wide world. It took me two years to write Three Words and get it to the point where I was happy to submit it to my publishers, Magic Oxygen. They’ve also put a lot of time, effort and love into it, from the editing to the amazing cover photography and much more besides. A big thank you is due.
It’s a romance at heart, exploring love and those things that pretend to be love but are very far from it; possessiveness, manipulation, guilt etc. It also encompasses love and relationships in the wider sense of friendship and family.
And of course there’s a magical element – because how could there not be? It’s very (and I do mean VERY) loosely based on The Little Mermaid, but the fairy tale rather than the film.
If you want to read the blurb on the back cover, click on the picture above. For now, here’s an excerpt to hopefully whet your appetite.
Tia and Serena left the cavern and swam through the wild ocean in silence, overawed. Tia was the first to speak.
“Did it hurt?” she asked. “When you gave up your magic?”
“A little,” Serena said. “I feel empty now, hollow. Room for a soul, no doubt.”
“Are you afraid?” Tia’s eyes were worried.
“Yes,” Serena confessed. “But I know this is the right thing to do. The only thing to do, for me. I’ll never meet the expectations of the mer, I’ll always be found wanting. At least this way I have a chance. I know you understand.”
“I will miss you,” said Tia.
“And I you,” Serena replied. “But I will always remember, all of you but especially you, Tia. I think you’re the only one that’s really ever understood me. Don’t think that some of the love I hope to find over there won’t be held for you.”
Tia said nothing but she didn’t have to. The crystal tears that slipped from her eyes told their own tale.
Some side effects are more common than others and some are more pleasant than others. There are many more (unlisted) that may occur depending on your personal reaction to TIME. Please do not be alarmed when you are affected; they are all transient.
TIME is a precious resource. Please do not waste it.
The oak stood, remembering; slow memories rising from deep within, flowing like sap to nourish branches, bark, roots and leaves. It recalled its embryonic acorn self, saved from the forest floor by the son of a farmer, who carried it over his heart until his love agreed to marry him. How he and his new wife had planted it tenderly in the field where they would build their house, and how it had thrived in the rich earth and put down roots as they did.
It grew with their children and grandchildren and countless generations since; was glad when it was tall enough to shelter them. Joy coursed through it when people sat beneath the boughs to laugh and chatter, to whisper secrets and stories or just leaned back against its rough trunk to dream. Humans were full of mysteries and tales of far away lands, strange creatures, heroes, villains and thrilling adventures. Sometimes it felt a great longing to wander and see. Most of the time it was content to stand and watch, its presence giving comfort and stability to those around it. It watched as the tiny hamlet became a village and the village grew into a town. Observed as the garden it knew became the local green, with houses and roads ranged around.
It saw the old forest slowly cut down to make room for new buildings.
The oak shivered – the loss of its kindred left it saddened. And yet it endured, instilled with a deep peace from the earth and taking solace from the stories of the lives around it. Even as the other trees were lost and the green spaces dwindled and the concrete spread, it was content. Even as the horses became few and the cars multiplied and the developments obscured the sky and the air became heavy and toxic, it could still feel the healing power of the earth.
Yet sometimes, as it watched the humans, especially the children, it wondered. About how lovely it would be to run and laugh and jump and climb, free of roots and cares and the weight of change. About exploration. Discovery. Freedom.
It was glad of the children. It had seen so much change and they, although different, remained the same, full of laughter and love and questions and stories. Even now, as the adults became more angry and hardly stopped to draw breath, as its new roots struggled to find a path through concrete and tarmac, the children still came. As it stood on its tiny postage stamp of green, amid dark rumours of further destruction, it looked forward to the visits of the children. They, like it, knew nothing of business, profit margins, speculative investment and stimulus. They lived for the moment. And it understood observation, listening, stillness. Although now that was more difficult. So much light, noise, rush. So few of the wild creatures left.
The little girl was a good friend to the tree. She came almost every day, telling it what she’d done at school, at home, about her Mum and Dad and Gran and baby brother. She knew that the tree was her friend too, and so she told it secrets – how she had fallen out with her best friend and how when she was grown up she was going to discover an entirely new species of dinosaur. One day she was upset. ‘Dad says we might have to move,’ she said. ‘Everyone who lives round here. They want to build a new runway so more planes can fly in. So they have to knock down all the shops and houses. But I don’t know where we’ll go. Or you. Where will you go?’
The tree didn’t know. Trees don’t usually go anywhere. But fleetingly it wondered. ‘Could I?’
It was no more than a passing thought to begin with. It could not believe that the humans would destroy all that they had created. But there was anger tainting the air, tension tightening like bands around the community. The people marched and shouted and waved banners and signed petitions.
And then the girl said ‘They won’t stop. We all have to move.’
The tree watched the huge yellow machines in the distance as they ate the buildings away, leaving rubble and clouds of dust. They came closer frighteningly fast, the landscape flat and lifeless behind them. It could feel the rumbling shock waves of destruction as it moved its roots in the soil, but even that gave no comfort. All it could taste was bitterness.
When only the last few rows of houses stood between it and demolition, the girl came for the last time. She wept. ‘We have to go, they’re going to knock our house down. You have to go too. Please go, tree. So I’ll know you’ll be safe.’
Her tears fell on the roots of the oak as it stood, and it waved gently as she left, even though there was no breeze. A deep sadness flowed through it. And as it stood that night, alone with a few desolate houses and the drone of aircraft and traffic and the urban sky-glow hiding the stars and dimming even the moon, it surveyed the emptiness that had once been full of life.
‘Go.’ The realisation rippled through it.
‘Nature alone holds power, yet humans seek control. But they cannot control what they do not understand and that will be their destruction.’
It reached its being deep into the earth for strength and wisdom. Then, with mighty force that shook the ground for miles, it tore its roots free of the cancerous ground and set off in search of a better place.
Candles have a magic all their own. From the time before electricity and gas when they were the light in the darkness, they have come to symbolize so many things for us now, love, reverence, remembrance, hope. They are used in celebration, relaxation, meditation and probably a few other -ations that elude me now, not to mention their importance in romance and their supreme usefulness during a power cut. Candlelight has that mystical quality that is comforting and a little eerie at the same time, so lovely as the darkness covers us earlier, and the clouds blanket us from brightness. Here is an ode to the candle, a spooky little poem in the run up to Halloween. Continue reading →
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