Saturday, 27 July 2013


This was my very final piece for my A215 course with Open University. My final mark all rested on this piece, worth 50% of the overall total so it had to be good.  I enjoyed the life writing so that's where I decided my strengths lay. The subject matter was complicated, I only had a small amount of information from Maisie and some from the big sister so its woven, with fact and fiction side by side.  Some will recognise the fiction, some the fact, but ultimately I hope its an enjoyable read.

( and yes, I got the highest grade for the course , so overwhelmed and surprised but also rather proud. this one is for you Maisie, with love, always)

Loving Maisie

The bees are buzzing around the lavender in a glorious dance. The radio is playing softly and it’s Nat King Cole singing Let’s Face the Music, I hum along: 

‘…while there’s music and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance…’

 The lyrics are so very Maisie. I blink. She loved this song. And I think back to another June when the lavender was in flower.
Here is a box, no-nonsense brown, sensible and sturdy. It's a bit like me. But it should be fancy, beautiful, and sparkly because it contains the little gems that make up memories of my mother, Maisie Gladys Butterfield. Photos are jumbled in with a pressed stem of lavender, an empty scent bottle, her powder compact and letters. What I’m looking for are the notes I made from conversations with her about what happened in 1945, the year my half-sister Janice was born. This was a time she had never talked about. It wasn’t part of my time. Frank was her first husband, and not my dad. All I knew I’d heard from Janice, not from Maisie. It wasn’t discussed. I wanted to write the family tree and I had this big gap but back in 2002 I had eventually persuaded her to tell me the story.

              ‘I hated him and I hated my big brothers.’
 This was a good start, I thought, scribbling away.
             ‘They were at boarding school together, my brothers, Laurie, John and Frank, the son of a family friend.  His family were living in Wales so it made sense with us living nearer the school that he stayed with us during some of the shorter holidays and then the longer summer breaks as well. The boys always had longer holidays than my sister Joyce or me. We were at grammar school but the Freemasons paid for the boys’ education after Father died. Those boys were horrible to me and Joyce.  Stupid, silly things, like there was a photo of me hanging in the hall. Every time they were in the house they would turn it round to face the wall, they knew it made me cross, making me feel like I was invisible. But as I got older I started to take a bit more notice of Frank. He was handsome, I liked the way his hair curled onto his collar, he always was wore it just a tad longer than most of the boys did at that time; it was thick and soft…’
            ‘Maisie? Maisie? Earth to Maisie.'
            ‘Sorry Mare, where was I?  Oh yes, his hair, and his eyes, so blue they were almost black. By the time I was fifteen, I knew I was in love with him. Twenty years old, he was one of the first to join up, him and my brother John. They went into the RAF. I don’t know how they swung it but they both got stationed in the same base down in Kent, Hawkinge. Nearest base to the French coast. My poor mother! John would come home on leave and tell her tales of German helmets flashing on the other side, all lies you know. He was older but he could still tease. Pour some more tea out, there’s a good girl.’ 

Searching in the box and I’ve found the notes.  Just as I am going to close it, I spot one of the larger photos. It’s creased over so I pull it out to straighten it. Photos are still difficult, even after all these years. And this one is especially so. It’s a copy of the one the boys turned to the wall. She’s about fifteen.  The sepia print of the photo enhances the shadows under her cheek bones. Smiling straight at the camera, her face is perfectly symmetrical, a classic beauty.  Gently arching eyebrows frame almond shaped eyes and there is just a hint of a dimple in her chin. Her dark hair is pulled up and away to one side, a small clip holding it in place.  I look like my Nan, all square jawed and practical. Searching in the box there’s also a till receipt from the Imperial War Museum cafĂ© dated June 2002.

 Maisie had announced she wanted to see the replica 1940’s house on show at the Imperial War Museum, the one from the TV programme. Was she up to it? She hadn’t been that well. This was two weeks after  she had begun the story. I couldn’t put my finger on it but my senses, always finely tuned to her health, were picking up that maybe all was not right. But she had made her mind up and we set off for the museum in my small KA, the folding wheelchair taking up most of the rear and Maisie in the front, back seat driving through the streets of London. We parked inside the museum grounds and Maisie entered like royalty, the doors held open by smiling young men. Flirting shamelessly she rewarded them with a flutter of eyelashes and a small wave of the hand. No one noticed my heels banging on the doors or the wrestling I was performing with the wayward wheelchair wheels but that was as it always was -  Maisie the queen bee, centre of attention.

  We arrived in the middle of a small noisy school group.  The kitchen was duly scrutinised but it was when we reached the dining room she laughed and pointed. In the centre of the room was a low table with mesh around three sides.

  ‘A Morrison shelter! We had one exactly the same, played cards and all sorts underneath it during the raids. Frank proposed to me under ours.’

She turned to me, mischief sparkling in her eyes.

 ‘I wasn’t a virgin you know!'


I looked around us. The school party had left and we were alone. What do you say to your mother when she’s just made a comment like that?

‘Why so surprised, Mare? We lived each day as it came. He wangled me a train ticket and I met him in the village, near the base. He’d booked a room in the White Horse pub, Mr and Mrs White. Told Mum I was staying with a girlfriend. Hard to keep in touch in those days so I felt pretty safe. It was lovely.  All oak beams and smoky parlour.  Next time he was on forty eight hour leave, he proposed, I accepted. Didn’t have to tell your Nan, she was under the table with us!’

Leaving the house we found the wheelchair where we’d parked it. Helping her slowly onto the seat I could feel the ultra-thinness of her arms and felt the tremble as she sat back. She closed her eyes, just for a moment, then, quickly opening them, said:

 ‘Tea I think, Mare. Onwards!’
              That was the last pleasure trip we made together. By early July it was clear something was very wrong and I was getting really worried so we went to see the doctor who sent Maisie for tests.

An MRI scan, it’s like being in a coffin, cold and frightening. But, very Maisie, she went in, came out with no grumbles. The nurse sat her down with a cup of tea and the consultant called me in.

 ‘Your mother has terminal cancer; I’m afraid we’ve found a tumour on her liver.’
               The nurse brought her into the consulting room. The consultant steepled his fingers and looked at her very directly. But she preempted him.

 ‘It’s cancer isn’t it? I know, I guessed.’

So, that was that. We drove back home.

            She said ‘I think I’ll get into bed now if you don’t mind.’

 I brought the tea tray into the bedroom, putting it down on the side, my hands were shaking and the cups wobbled.  I looked at her, her eyes closed, her hands resting on the quilt. I felt a band of fear tighten in my chest.

 ‘I don’t want to lose you, Maisie.’ My head resting on hers, feeling the softness of her hair.

She gently pushed me back down onto the bed and patting my hand, wiped away my tears as if all this were happening to me rather than her. 

Stoical and serene, she patiently put up with my amateur administrations but as things progressed we called in the professionals. The nurses took over the personal care and this left us precious time to spend together.

I didn’t want to push her for any more of her story but one afternoon she said she’d like to sit in the garden and finish it. I settled her gently into a comfortable chair and wrapped a blanket around her thin knees.

 ‘Now, where did we get to?’ 

The sun kissed her cheeks and her favourite lavender bush wafted its fragrance over us as we settled down to chat.

‘We were married in September 1944. It was only a registry office do but then, most were. We both wore uniform. I was working as a Red Cross ambulance nurse by then. Oh, we had a wonderful honeymoon, spent the night in the Savoy in the Strand. The room wasn’t one of the grandest but we had a beautiful tiled bathroom, very art deco. We had champagne in the evening and breakfast in bed in the morning. Somehow he’d managed to arrange this for us. Always the charmer, he must have sweet talked the receptionist I’m sure. Hotel rooms were hard to come by; some of the wealthier families were living in them, couldn’t get the staff to run the big houses you see. Afterwards we were back on duty. Frank was stationed somewhere else by now, I don’t remember where. And I was working on the ambulances so we had very little time together.  We were renting a flat in Sydenham. I had such fun making it a home for us , for him to come back to each time he was on leave. I don’t think I went without anything. Anything I wanted for the flat we managed to get and it was lovely. Really lovely…’

Her voice tailed off.  I looked up.

 ‘Ok Maisie? The flat? Lovely?’

‘In the sideboard, Mare, in the lounge, there’s an old photo album, bring it out.’

I quickly found it and handed it to her.

‘This is the only photo of me and Frank; it’s the only wedding photo as well.’

I’d never seen this photo before; it was small and a bit dog-eared - Maisie laughing gaily, her new husband Frank smiling; his thick hair covered by his air force cap, his shaded eyes looking at someone or something beyond.  Arm in arm they walked towards the camera.

‘Well, I cleaned and polished the flat, everything like a new pin. Nesting, my mother called it. We hadn’t planned to start a family so soon, but it felt right. Everything felt right.  I gave up work when we found out I was pregnant.  Frank was working much longer duty shifts and by then I was only seeing him once a month.’

A sad smile on her face.

‘It was amazing I got pregnant at all the amount of time he was away. By May I was as big as a house.’

Maisie went on, her eyes closed and now there was a tremble in her voice.

‘VE Day. I’d been invited down stairs to the flat below. Mrs. Ayling, she was having a little do.  I said I’d go as I hadn’t wanted to go to the street party. There was a huge mirror in the flat, an old dark framed thing.  I hated it, hated the way I looked so  - so fat, so worried Frank would go off me.  I stood in front of it and buttoned my coat over my lump. Now, keys, handbag, silly little hat, gloves…  Then the doorbell rang.  I remember I – I… ’

She pulled at the blanket.

‘Are you cold, do you want to go in?’

 She opened her eyes, the luminous blue shining with tears. My mother, who never cried, not even in the hospital, had tears slowly trickling down her cheek.

‘Oh Maisie… ’

She brushed them away briskly and wiped her cheeks.

‘A woman was standing in the hall. Young, blonde, pretty. And pregnant. Not as pregnant as me but still, it was fairly obvious. “Frank White, does he live here?” ’

She stopped talking and looked down, stretching her hands out in front of her.

‘That’s why Janice was born in Cornwall, isn’t it?’ I said softly, ‘You left.’

She nodded.

 ‘I couldn’t stay, had to leave. I packed all the baby things, a few bits and pieces. I took that photo.’

She looked at like it was something she hadn’t seen before.

‘Joyce was living in Fowey at the time, her husband was in Singapore. I don’t remember the train journey, I think I had to stand, it’s a blur. Janice was born in Cornwall and I never saw Frank again.’

We talked, the background buzzing of the bees around the lavender punctuating her story.  The affair had been brief, Frank had told the woman he was married but separated and worse still he hadn’t mentioned that there was a baby on the way.  Working in a pub near his base, the woman had managed to get Frank’s address from his CO. She was looking to confront him because after she’d given him the news of the pregnancy he had taken off.  The two women facing each other knew that he had betrayed them both .  Maisie was heartbroken. But she  told me none of this  with any bitterness, just a pervading sense of loss and terrible  sadness.  The rest of her pregnancy had passed in a haze but with the support of her sister and her resolution not to go under, she gathered herself and Janice up and got on with her life.

Eventually she tired and I helped her back into the house.  I tucked her into bed.

 ‘I never meant to make you so upset.’

 I sat on her bed holding her hand.

‘You know Mare… there is something rather special that came out of all this’

‘What’s that, Maisie?’

She looked at me, her eyes still shining but no longer weeping.

‘You, Mare - there would be no you if none of this had ever happened.’

And she gently smoothed my hair back behind my ears.

 ‘Now, go and put that kettle on, there’s a good girl’

 After she died, I put the notepad in the box, to be taken out in another time. I brought the lavender bush back to my garden, to be surrounded by bees, to grow in a mad riot of beautiful tiny flowers and gorgeous perfume, so very Maisie.














Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Poem for a new day

This is a work maybe complete, maybe in  progress...

The Baby

Beneath the soft white wave he stirs.
Pink tipped like early morning sun touched cloud.
And in that stirring entwines himself and heart into the world.

No gaze returns the misty dew-eyed love that reaches down, enslaved.
He sleeps, eyes tight, safe curled in dark before the light.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Well that was good, what next eh?

Ok, so this was our fourth assignment. As life writing goes, there is about 30% truth in this piece, the rest is designed to entertain, this I realised reading David Essex'a autobiography recently !!!  You have to make it into a story that someone will want to read. Anyways, my tutor really liked it and gave me a stonking overall mark of  85, thank you very much !! Onwards...

These Beans Taste Funny

‘These beans taste funny.’ My sister poked them with her fork.

‘Look, I just put them in the pan and heated them, same way Mum does.’

‘Yes, but they taste soapy.’

I groaned, I hadn’t rinsed the pan properly. We stared down at our plates. Nothing for it, it would have to be the peanut butter, the only food left in the cupboard.

Four (was it only four?) days earlier  Mum and Dad  had waved to us from Dad’s  estate car as they drove away up the small road that ran between the regimented rows of caravans. They had left me, my sister, our bikes and a ten shilling note plus two half-crowns, at our caravan site high on the South Downs at the top of beautiful Box Hill. They had also left a couple of tins of beans, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.

As the car turned the corner we dashed back into the caravan, jumping up and down on our parent’s unmade bed in the lounge area. Ours were rickety bunk beds off a small cubby in the kitchen. We shrieked and laughed, falling into a heap on the blankets and sheets that always held the warm, earthy scent of our mother and the sharp, oily lemon smell of dad’s hair. Grabbing our swim things, towels, hats and pool passes and slamming the door shut (did we lock it, did we care?) we hurtled up the same road on which they had disappeared and round to the pool entrance. I remember we spent the whole day there until closing time, the sun starting to go down behind the outdoor changing rooms. I can still feel the prickle of sunburn across my shoulders and the warmth of the rough towel that I slung around them. Eventually we wandered back to the caravan.

 Looking back, the money was obviously to buy more food with. But this small fortune was blitzed away on an orgy of sweets, soft drinks and comics.  The day after the parents had vanished, we cycled half a mile or so to spend our windfall at Greenacres Mini Supermarket at the other caravan site, called ‘The Top of The World Caravan Park’, as the sign proudly proclaimed .But we knew this was a sham. Our caravan park was right near the ‘View’ on the top of the hill and everyone knew that it was the highest point, not just here, but in the whole of the south of England. We were at the top of our world and loving it.

 So day four, and there wasn’t anything left to eat except the jar of peanut butter.

‘I’m hungry’ Ellie wailed, ‘and I want Mum.’

            This adventure was becoming decidedly thin. I was responsible, at just turned eleven years old for my not quite ten year old sister. We were hungry and penniless.  

I can’t imagine these days that the social services wouldn’t have been summoned by then. Two relatively small children running wild and alone. Maybe in those days it wasn’t so bad and the caravan site was a very friendly place. We had almost grown up there over the years.  Many of the occupants of the neighbouring caravans were families with children and it’s possible they were asked to keep an eye on us. I never knew and I never asked my mum. In fact, I never discussed this time with her at all.  To this day I don’t know why we were there, why they had left us alone.

I had to find a way of feeding Ellie. There was only so much peanut butter you could stomach from a spoon. Then I had a wonderful idea.

We cycled through the woods that surrounded the caravan site. The entrance was a small gateway along the northern perimeter fence.  Through it there were three paths, one a bridle way always full of horse dung, the other circled round and came  back to the main road opposite the ‘View’. The third was the favourite, it twisted and turned and we had built many dens from off this path, forming enchanted spaces out of willowy branches, bending them to our will. This was the path we were taking today.

An hour later, we lay on the short springy turf gazing up at the cloudless blue sky. The hill we called ‘Strawberry Hill’ was no more than a small hillock, surrounded by trees. In my imagination this was the place where Tolkien’s Ents had drawn up the plans to invade Isengard, hooming and humming while Merry and Pippin looked on.  Today, we lay flat out, our mouths stained red from the wild strawberries we had picked and stuffed ourselves on. 

‘I’m still hungry, Mare, when’s Mum coming?’

I remember feeling a big sob rise up inside me. How could they do this to us? Had we done something wrong? And more worryingly, when were they going to come back? I wished we hadn’t blown all the money; I decided that we would go to one of the neighbours and borrow a couple of pennies for the phone, ring them and tell them we were hungry.

There was an irony to our hunger. We were quite probably the best fed children in school. My dad wasn’t just a butcher; he was a master butcher, cooking big fat juicy hams and making all his own sausages. Our family home in a maisonette overlooked the shop window which was always full of either massive sides of beef or chubby chickens, heads hanging down, ankles neatly tied. Exquisite parsley-edged rows of succulent joints and chops sat side by side with the hand- minced beef. Next door was a greengrocer who delivered a crate of fresh fruit and vegetables to home every week. The week’s groceries order was given over the phone on a Friday, a treat I was sometimes given to do, and I can still see the long thin handwriting of the Grocer’s invoice perched on the box always delivered by van on Saturday morning. Hunger was a stranger in our home.

 Wheeling our bikes slowly back down the path I felt despondent and defeated. Not normally a shy child I felt hesitant about asking anyone for money but there was nothing for it.

Looking back I am fairly certain what day they dropped us off, a Wednesday, and when they picked us up. All things were dictated by two things, the opening hours of my dad’s butcher shop and horse racing at Epsom, just a few handy miles up the road from Box Hill.  Mum, Ellie, me and our toddler sister Sally, would all be there from the end of July until the beginning of the autumn school term, even occasionally missing the beginning. Dad would visit at the weekends.  During the shorter breaks  ( and during school time quite probably) Dad would close the shop on Wednesday, half day closing in our town, and drive us the eighteen miles from home to the caravan. If the racing was on he would just drop us all off,  then return briefly later in the evening, say goodbye and head back home ready to open the shop up on Thursday morning. Saturday was also a half day and he would again return either early or late depending on race schedules and then  he would stay over until Sunday when we would all pile back into the car and head home.

I imagine by now we both looked pretty scruffy, scuffed knees and filthy hands possibly.   The strawberries dried red and tight on our faces. Swimming in the pool must have kept us relatively clean but Ellie’s hair, a mass of tight curls always unruly, probably hadn’t seen a comb all week.  Hot, hungry and thirsty we pushed our bikes back through the gap in the fence.

      Can words describe the sight of our parent’s car, parked on the verge? We both saw it at the same time and raced across the path, our wheels sending up a stinging spray of gravel. Mum was standing on the caravan steps, her dark hair tied back in a chiffon scarf, her hand shielding her eyes, gazing around the site, looking for us?  Of course she was looking for us. We hurled our bikes down onto the grass and, thrusting ourselves against her, she encircled us in her arms.

I never knew why or where they had been. I’d like to say I learned a lot over those four days, like resilience, independence, how to take care of myself. All those wonderful life skills. But the truth is I don’t think I learned anything, except how much I adored my parents and recalling the sheer bliss of being in my mother’s embrace.




Thursday, 7 March 2013

Well that was a nice surprise!!

For our 3rd TMA which was poetry I got another magical and unexpected 80 ! I like what I wrote but its so subjective isnt it, poetry? Like art. Anyways enough , here's the stuff...

A series of 3 poems.

March 23rd 1973

(‘Relate’ began life as the Marriage Guidance Council in 1938)

Ripe apples, rosy red: grapes, black and bitter sweet
We love! Our harvest not heaven sent but earned.

The log pile, high in regimental rows
of multi coloured autumn hues. Mice hide
and bright eyes wink but only in the night.

Huge Koi carp swim in lazy ways around
the pond and lift large eyes that softly say
Feed me! We stroke them as they feast on bread.

Mystic nooks and corners fill the garden shed.
A hotch potch mess of deckchairs, jars and tools
Of long forgotten - ‘I never knew we had!’

Like a jigsaw with every piece in place
the garden lives and grows each year. Changing
but unchanged. Rooted in the heart of us.

Nice life shatters.
Like the blacksmith’s blow on the anvil
        heat fuses and
each spark flares and dies.

Nothing can be the same again.
What say you? Is this the end?

The healer helps.
And like two small planets
colliding, imploding
creates from almost nothing  – New life.

Fingers follow each word Jamie [1] writes
And having lip-moved your way across the page
You pause:  glaring at the clock
the order is – Begin!
You shout – Garlic?
The reply – Crushed!
You shout – Chipotle?
The reply - Substituted!
(Red chilli, ok?)
A ‘harrumph’ or similar.
You submit – the partnership progresses.

In this small space,
Like two round peas in a
long pea pod,
We work side-by-side in the heat.
We relate.                 
And, instructions carried out,
the re-creation is complete.
Two halves, re-joined.
Quarter up- Eat, replete.

[1] Jamie’s 15 Minutes Meals

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Well blow me down she liked it

We had to write a poem for our 3rd  tutorial in response to a poem by any contemporary poet of our choice. I chose the beautiful poem 'Swans' by Gillian Clarke. It's sad and atmospheric.

 How can I ,a novice poet , compete with her divine imagery? Well, I can't so I did me best and, well, have a read. its a true story. And, happily, my tutor liked it.

Now because of the rules on plagiarism I have temporarily deleted the poem because it will form part of my 5th assignment so watch this Space !!!


Saturday, 12 January 2013

The whole thing

I got 80 for this, 67 out of 80  for the actual story and 13 out of 20  the commentary. The commentary should have ended a bit better, it was abrupt, its supposed to be an academic piece. So, note to self for the next one... it must be tight and formal.  But I am very pleased with the mark overall.   :)

 Last Words

The last thing I remember before they brought me in here was a crushing pain in my head. I open my eyes; it’s so bright. The cold fluorescent light hangs above me. And there’s this pain in my nostrils, some sort of tubing. What are the  damn tubes for?  I don’t want to be lying here. I’m scared shitless, what the fuck is going on. Someone? Anyone? And then she is here. She’s standing over me, looking down; I smell her perfume before I focus on her. She puts her hand on my arm. I feel the smoothness of her skin, the gentle pressure of her nails into my arm.

She looks down at him, tubes and all sorts poking out of him. Strange to see him lying there, not moving. They say he can see and hear but he can’t speak. His voice. Loud and strident. You could hear  it all over the house, out in the street probably when he was off on one. It never took much to set him off. But now it’s gone. And here, he’s helpless. He’s looking at her.  Oh yes, the fire’s still in his eyes, the powerhouse still there behind them. She sits down on the hard grey hospital chair.

You walked out on me, you bitch. Three bloody months ago. Take your hands off me. I don’t want you near me.

The nice nurse brings her tea in a plastic cup and a small packet of biscuits .

Says ‘You staying long time?’  

She doesn’t really know. She hadn’t  wanted to come but the doctors were insistent, you know, they said things like ‘come in, talk to him’.

 Talk to him?   How long since she had done that? He would talk over her. Raise his voice to drown out anything she had to say. It was a classic bullying tactic, she realises that now. Now she’s had the luxury of time to think about it all. Lovely tea. Nice and sweet.

You left me.  I don’t want you here. I’ve got nothing to say to you. That’s funny. I’ve got nothing to say! I can feel a sob rising in my useless throat. Maudlin. It’s a state of mind. I won’t let myself fall into that.  I’ll get better. And she better look out. You’d better look out.

She wonders what he’s thinking. Perhaps they could do one of those things where he blinks his eyes, you know, once for yes, twice for no. Feeling a bit better? Blink blink. How hard for a man like him, with a  big voice, big fists an’ all. And knows how to use ‘em. Never used on the kid though, she never let him hit the kid. The unremitting stare of those hard grey eyes behind half closed lids. Giving her the willies a bit. She looks around.  The machine above his head, all blips and lines. Up and down, up and down. Zigging. Zagging . And that one,  is that putting the air into him through his nose? Now, what’s it called? A ventilator? That’s life support that is. She knows that. Holby. Look at these holey blankets they use on the beds. Almost the same colour as his cheeks, muddy grey. He doesn’t look well.

 With a gentle hand she lightly strokes his skin, she feels the roughness  along the back of  his hand, the coarseness of the hair on his arm. Her life with him was hell. Yes, she decides that hell is a good word. Describes it in a nutshell.  By God, she was lucky to escape, with the help of the kind neighbours and the police. But, she’s here.

  And she touches him like she hasn’t touched him in years. Caressingly. Softly. Tenderly. He’s closed his eyes. Perhaps it’s relaxing him, calming him.

Her touch is obnoxious to me.  Why’s she here? To torment me? If she hadn’t gone I would have kicked her out. She used me. Her father, he made us marry. Said it was my duty. And I’ve done my duty, by Christ I have. A home, a good one for her and the brat .A good husband and a good father. But she never showed me any bloody respect. A man deserves respect, and in his own home an’ all.  Had to show her. Open my eyes. She’s standing up to go?  What’s she looking at? She’s looking at the machine? Why’s she doing that. Stop looking at the machine. Stop it. Stop looking. You stupid cow. Why don’t you fuck off?

The tea is warm and sweet. Finishing the biscuits as well she gets up, looking for a bin to put the empty cup in. The nice nurse is looking over some paperwork but looks up as she passes.

‘You doing ok, honey?’

She says ‘ Yes, I - I don’t like seeing him.’

The nice nurse sighs and nods. She’s tired. Nine hours shift and she’s waiting for her replacement.

And that perfume.? I don’t remember it. She used to wear something when we were courting. Musky, heavy. Like the smell of warm caramel overlaid with lilies. Sensual. It lay on her skin and surrounded us. We lay alongside the bank, in the crook of the river where it bent, hidden from view. The light dappling through the willow trees that lined that part. Yes, that perfume. I remember that one. I don’t know this one. Whore! Tart! Probably got it off some cheap market stall.  Wears it for her lover or maybe he’s her pimp. Get away from me. Can’t stand the scent of you in my nostrils. Can’t move -  can’t tell you -  don’t want you here. Where’s that damn nurse, the fat, slaggish one. Take her away. Leave me. Leave. Why can’t you all just leave me?

Sitting back down, she looks across the restraining bars of the cot- like bed. He won’t need restraining. Not anymore. He’s been restrained before, but usually by a kind neighbour or policeman. Now he’s just a huge lump of a man but even so, she can sense the force that made him what he was. It’s still there. Contained, restrained.

The nice nurse looks tired, dark rings beneath her dark eyes. They work them too hard, she thinks as she watches her walking round the ward, checking the patients and the machines.  She rummages in her handbag and, following her back to her desk she asks the nurse if she would like a boiled sweet. The nurse looks at her, studying her face.

 ‘Have they told you about his condition? Have you spoken to anyone?’

The fat nurse. She’s talking to her. What are they saying?  I strain to catch some of the words. Feeding tube, catheter, incontinent, hope, recovery, home. Home. I want to go home. The home she left. Left me and took a few bin bags full of junk.  Funny that. I thought she’d have taken more. When she went, it was a shock, no idea she was going. Came home. Gone.  Thought she would’ve have emptied the place. The stereo, the savings books, the valuables. No. She took those stupid ornaments off the mantelpiece, and the photo albums.  Left the wedding album. Took her peg bag off the line. Wondered about that. She could have taken so much out of the house, out of the bank even. She took nothing of any value. Just junk. Strange that.

I’m lying still. That’s stupid. I can only lie still. She’s stopped that damn pawing.  I close my eyes. Something I have control over. My eyes. My windows. My soul.  Will she pull all these tubes out, turn the machine off?  What is she doing here? I must breathe slower, must stay calm; I can feel a sheen of sweat drying on my face.

Seeing the sweat glistening on his pale, sagging cheeks, she gently wipes it with a tissue from the night stand. All those tears, those fears. All the wasted time. A life. Two lives. We should never have married. Never. Blame my Dad. Blame me. Maybe if you had been with someone else? Someone who was a bit stronger? I loved you, she thinks, once upon a time. When we were young. And she leans over and  touches his cheek with her lips. His eyes open. Then tightly close.

What’s that noise?  A sudden change in the sound of the machine above the bed startles her and she looks up.

 ‘Nurse, nurse?’

 The lines, the numbers all change.  There’s a shrill alarm sound coming from somewhere and within a second the nurse is there, gently pushing her to one side. She’s talking quickly in nurse speak, on a radio phone calling for a cardiologist, emergency. She hears her say his heart rhythms are critical, an arrest. The nurse pulls over another piece of machinery that she hadn’t noticed before and stations it next to the bed.
            Pain. Gripping fierce  pain in my chest. I can’t – can’t  breathe.  I can see under my eyelids and in front of the red glare of pain, the nurse is leaning over me, pulling my shirt aside. Pain, crushing me.  Now I can’t see. I feel a tear trickling down my cheek. Where is she? Is she here? Is she still here? Is she…

It seems like longer, as if it’s all moving in slow motion but in reality it’s a few seconds: one moment it’s just her, him and the nice nurse. The next there are doctors, more nurses. They are all moving within the confines of the curtains now pulled round three sides of the bed.  It seems haphazard but when you watch there is a pattern, a rhythm. Like a dance. She stands there clutching her bag in her hands.  No one seems to have noticed she is still here. One doctor is checking his eyes,  his pulse. Another is injecting into his arm. The machine throws out a long, monotonous tone. The nice nurse is holding the paddles of the defibrillator and she is shouting out. Her voice. Powerful.

 ‘Clear’ and his body jumps up with a movement it will soon no longer have. And again. And once more. With each punch of the paddles the nice nurse calls out ‘Clear’ and she can almost feel the power herself, the power that’s coursing through him.  And her own body jolts involuntarily.  Then all still. Momentarily the dance stops as the machinery is checked. Then the dance starts again.

I feel light. No pain. Floating in a sea of something soft.  My limbs feel detached. Gently, slowly, I can sense a warmth and what else? Tiredness. But not weary. Just tired. And the red has gone from my eyes and, yes, has gone from deep within me. Peace like I’ve not known for a long, long time washes over me. I open my eyes. I’m standing on the river bank. She’s lying down behind me on a tartan blanket. The light on the river spins and sparkles, fragments into pieces then joins up again. Rippling and dancing along. The willow makes a pattern on the grass which moves with the gentlest of breeze. She’s laughing from somewhere behind me. A rich, warm, low laugh that hangs in the hot summer air.  I turn and she’s…

Someone touches her arm. Gently but firmly they lead her to a chair. Not the hard grey chair. Another chair. In another room. This room has no machinery. No bed. A window.  The nice nurse bends down and holds her hand. She must be speaking to her. The words forming in her large , kind mouth. The words. Nothing more to be done, no brain activity. Nothing. Donor card. In his wallet. Consent. Your consent. She looks at the nurse. Someone hands her a cup of tea. One sugar. Nice and sweet. The nurse is asking her something. She finds her voice. The power.

 The last word. Yes.

Word count: 1996

Part 2

The most difficult part of this assignment was deciding on the narrative voice. I had previously used the first person in my first assignment. I wanted to use a different point of view to demonstrate that I could be versatile and had absorbed the information in the work book regarding viewpoints. To use simply a single first person point of view didn’t allow me to successfully, in my opinion, enter both the characters minds which I felt was crucial to the story.  Experimenting with a variety of points of view, I decided to structure the narrative around the man in first person narration, almost a stream of consciousness,  and the woman in third person. However I was very aware that it could be confusing to the reader. So, I had to find a way around this without losing the impact but also retaining the reader’s ability to understand who was saying or thinking what.   My dilemma was compounded by Jack M Bickham (1997) who states that if, after you have reviewed your work, you have “found more than one viewpoint, get it out of there.” (p38).  This was not very helpful. I had two viewpoints:  inside his head, unspoken but very loud, and her third person, limited omniscient viewpoint. However, returning to the workbook, I read “You might decide the power to move briefly into different minds suits a particular story” (Anderson, 2006, p120) and this was reassuring.   So I persevered with the multiple viewpoints. By using the device of italicising the man’s thoughts it may be seen that the different viewpoints are distinguishable.

 The story is set in a very short period of time. Interspersing the story with the man’s thoughts on her perfume and where he remembered smelling it enabled me to vary the timeline and to bring in time shifts within the structure. I have repeated the river scene to enable the narrative to have depth while it still moved along quickly. I did not want to overuse flashbacks within such a short piece as I was conscious that it could all become confusing. However, I wanted the reader to feel sympathy for the man even though he is apparently not a very pleasant person. It was important for me that there was a possibility of redemption, however slight. His warm memories of being with the woman gave me something to work with without it becoming too mawkish.

Trying a variety of tenses I decided that the predominate present tense worked in the scene’s structure and  also helps to convey the woman’s voice  as almost matter of fact. She drinks tea, eats biscuits. All mundane and of the moment. Mixing the tenses was a device that gave me freedom to vary the mood and convey the everydayness of some of the character’s actions and the poignancy of the memories of the past.

I tend to edit as I go along. The story itself did not change radically. However, altering the order of the paragraphs made a great difference. It flowed better. For example, the section that begins ‘You left me…’ was originally part of the third paragraph. Placing it after the paragraph where she has had her tea read better and I felt happier with it. 

Word count: 539


Anderson, L (ed.) Creative Writing: A workbook with readings, Abingdon, Routledge / Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Bickham, Jack M., 1997, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And how to avoid them), Writers Digest Books