Beneath the concrete lies,
the city’s deepest dreams,
yours and mine, each
Cold, rain dances on the
contents, car parks
Cash ‘n’ carry,
Do you take contactless?
clubs and pubs
puddles, floods, curbs drown.
Closing Down Sale,
Everything must go!
Go, red lights glow –
car break lights, traffic,
thick brick walls
Architecture, not fit for
Kings and Queens of time
gone by, run and hide,
Quick, inside! Safe and sound
Take off, that cold anorak.
A world of mine.
This was an old monologue I wrote at university for one of my assignments. I've edited it and updated it a bit.
I’ve Cooked Breakfast
[Walks in from the ‘kitchen’ with a tray of breakfast things. Puts the tray down on table.]
Mum! Breakfast’s ready.
[Goes to call through the other curtains, ‘upstairs’]
Are you coming or what? I’ve made you eggs…
[coming back. She sorts out breakfast things]
Soft-boiled eggs. Just how you like them.
I’ll change the landing lightbulb Mum, I said, don’t worry about it, I’ll do it after college. I said that yesterday morning. And I completely forgot. I went to see the girls. Mum offered to drive me there and well, I forgot, again.
She’ll want to just do it herself anyway. The lightbulb. And she’ll come down for her breakfast just whenever she wants. It’s the weekend and the first thing she does when she gets out of bed. She wants to change the landing lightbulb. And it’s not even 10 O’clock. And I’ve cooked eggs. Just how she likes them. That’s stubborn for you.
[Sits down and has breakfast. Eating.]
I’m not really that good in the kitchen but I’ve started to help out a bit more, around the house, just to take her mind off things a bit. Not that it’s really helping. As you can tell. [Points to the upstairs landing]
It’s because its worse in the mornings. She wakes up with the tremor in her hand. Her left one. It started in her pinky and she thought nothing of it. Who would? Just a muscle spasm or something.
So now I cook breakfast and I’m getting better at eggs at least. I know I should have already known, but Mum has always been the one who loves cooking. Her passion. She loved cooking for people.
I came down to breakfast one morning, must have been about five or six weeks ago now, and she was sat here crying. And that’s not like her. There was this smashed bottle of milk on the floor. Literally everywhere. I had to try so hard to resist… you know not to say… don’t cry over spilt milk. I know she’d find the funny side to it. Or she used to. I just stood there for a few moments, taking it all in, looking at her. And feeling this, weird, sort of, tenderness between us, sort of like I knew she wanted to laugh but she was crying. And I wanted to laugh but thought maybe I should be crying too, for her I think, but maybe for me, I don’t know.
The tremor could be in her shoulder or up to her neck by lunchtime. Always the left side.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever seen her totally relaxed. It’s a Saturday for God’s sake and she is standing on a crappy step ladder, replacing a dodgy lightbulb on the landing at [looks at watch] 9:46. That woman does not know how to relax. She’ll be doing it to prove a point. Like thats really going to help.
I should fix that stupid lightbulb, but she so desperately wants to do it, it’s like I’m damned if I do it, I’m damned if I don’t. She’ll only find some other job she’s going to do, that I should really be doing. There’s always something I should be doing to make her feel better, to take her mind off it, to ease the pain. But doing it only makes her feel worse. And sometimes all I want to do is go back to bed.
It’s never normally too long before we find something to laugh about though. Like lately, its our shared annoyance of my Aunties – Mum’s younger sisters. They’re always saying she’d be wise to pack in the company all together, about time she spent more time with the family. And yet I haven’t seen them since last Christmas. But of course, now they’ve found out about the tremor, how serious it might be and they’re blocking up the phone lines every Saturday evening.
Thank God Mum and Dad stopped at me, I couldn’t deal with three sisters telling me what to do. Mum tries to be all polite but I know she’s sick of it. Already. And its only early days. They’re all suddenly advisors, therapists, saints. Telling her to go private. Telling her to eat this and that. Quit her job. Relax. Well we could all tell her that. But she’ll do what she wants to do. I guess we all do in this house.
We run a tight ship and we manage fine, that’s the way its always been. Dad’s at work, Mum’s at work. I’ve got things to do, people to see. I’ve got the girls, anyway. I don’t see them as much, Mum tells me to just go see them, but I can’t. So I guess I’ve taken a bit of a back bench. Which sucks when you’re seventeen. Everything sucks when you’re seventeen.
[Calls upstairs again]
Mum! […a muffled reply calls from Mum]
Yeah! and you said that last time!
I don’t mind helping round the house a bit more, but, I think this is it from here on in. Desperately dragging Mum down for her breakfast. I’m now seventeen going on forty. She will come down when she wants to. Just like I used to. I’m the adult, she’s the moody teenager.
I don’t what how long it’ll take… what else I’ll start doing… which is OK, I’m not lazy. It’s just she’s as stubborn about doing things as I was about not doing them.
It’s a rare condition of it: young onset Parkinsons. She’s only 48, and barely a grey hair on her head. Fit, healthy, happy. Just stressed, I guess. And stubborn. Really stubborn. But often the way isn’t it? Healthy’s got nothing to do with it. It could be genetic, I’m not really sure.
The neighbours brought round flowers when they found out. Mum had been over for a coffee on Monday, it must have come up in conversation, and the next day – here, tulips. They’re a lovely couple and all that.
Is this the start of it, Mum said when she got home from work and saw them. Shall I buy more vases? Clear all the window sills. We laughed about it at the time. But every morning I’ve cooked her breakfast this week, I look at those tulips and as lovely as they are – the flowers and the neighbours – I can’t help but think the same thing.
Is this the start of it? Life never the same again. Losing my mum. Watching her become someone else. This thing, this disease, is like the brother or sister I never had – or wanted – it’s getting all Mum’s attention and leaving me with the bits leftover. I know that’s ridiculous – I’m being a jealous little girl.
We’re both avoiding becoming who we’re becoming. Stay like we are. It’s not even as simple as just wanting your Mum to get better. It’s not like that. It’s like…already moved in, already part of her now. So you learn to accommodate it, tolerate it. Like that little brother or sister you never want but they must be embraced into the family. They are family. It’s not your choice and its not all about you. You must learn to get used to it. We’re good at that in our house anyway. We manage, we skirt the subject, we laugh, and we get on with it. We carry on. We change the lightbulbs and we no longer get glass milk bottles.
[Cleaning breakfast things up]
And I learn to cook eggs again and again.
Kelly Punton ©
A big thank you to Kay MacLeod (The Constellation Saga series) for featuring me on her Summer Blog-a-day! Go check out all the other indie authors and bloggers featured throughout August.
Below is a short story called Mjozi and is taken from my upcoming collection (available later in 2019). It’s about a young girl who begins to dream in a different language.
Enjoy and happy holidays!
I had that dream again last night. The one with the blood-stained tree. A magnificent Mjozi that looked like the hand of God had picked it up clean out of the ground and dipped it into red paint – or the Red Blood Sea – and substituted it upon the sandy shores.
The Mjozi is Swahili. It’s a walnut tree. I’ve never set foot on African soil, never encountered anything vaguely authentic of African culture, I don’t think. Those tear-jerking TV appeals they do each year to raise millions for African countries can’t count. But yet for some strange reason, I’ve started to pick up Swahili in my dreams. Just words but they tinge my brain and when I awake, I find myself spelling them out in a morning daze, writing them down in a notebook that now sits on my bedside table. I kept waking up with these words swilling around my head, spelling them as the cereal dropped into my breakfast bowl, repeating them over and over while I brushed my teeth. It was no good, within an hour, they had disappeared and I couldn’t be sure of their structure. So I started writing them down.
I have fourteen words now. The spelling is always accurate and I presume the pronunciation is. The words I keep to myself. I mentioned it to my brother after it happened a few times.
‘Gareth, do you know any other languages?’ I asked. He was rummaging the fridge for sandwich contents – wafer thin ham, cucumber, coronation chicken, pickles.
‘Not unless you count my French GCSE. I scraped a D.’
He replied with his head half in-out of the fridge as desired ingredients were being thrown onto the kitchen counter opposite.
‘I’ve started to pick up some words in Swahili. Is that strange?’
‘Why do you want to learn Swahili?’ He was making as much noise as possible now.
‘I’m not learning them. They’re in my dreams.’
‘So how do you know its Swahili, and it’s not just your subconscious making up words for fun?’
‘I… I write them down and I’ve Googled them. They’re always Swahili words.’
‘Maybe you’re haunted by some voodoo witch in Kenya.’ He was pushing down on his sandwich now, leaving finger marks in the white bread and returning to his computer.
I didn’t know what to say to that. I was fifteen, too old to be scared of fairy tales and ghost stories but also old enough to know that strange things like that did exist outside of my current worldview. I’d always enjoyed tall and magical stories, I was a keen reader, but now it seemed that the more I learned about the real world in textbooks and TV documentaries, the scarier it became.
I’d dreamed about the blood-stained tree three times before last night. I didn’t know it was a Mjozi tree, that was new and additional information. As much as I could try and articulate this dream for you, it’s tiresome and futile. It is short and tenuous. What I can try and express is how the dream makes me feel, about the tree and the way it seems to be chosen, picked out from the rest and placed in the golden sand by the cool river. I sense relief and peace when it is there. But why the tree is blood-stained? Why it must be removed from the woods? I have no idea. They are silly ideas that when I wake up in a cold sweat seem like the most important riddle to solve, but before long school sweeps in and distracts me. The two ideas, the two worlds – School and Swahili – cannot co-exist.
I look through my notebook. Mkate. Wimbo. Maji Safi. Matunda. Kisu. Wingu. Uchafu. Ndege. Tamu.
They are always like this. Mostly one word and simple in meaning. Bread. Song. Clean waters. Berries. Knife. Cloud. Dirt. Bird. Sweet. I can’t make any sense of it. Perhaps there is a story, I know I could make one up if I must but there is no clear narrative. It seems worse to even try to solve it away. The beauty is in the unknown. The dreams and the words do not frighten me, they only interrupt my waking. In that way, I don’t want to share them with others who might try and explain them, rationalise them. It is my corner of exotic. A secret junction where the mysterious meets my comfortable existence.
The dreams themselves, besides the blood-stained tree one, they are what I would call normal dreams. Shopping, at school, sunbathing in the park with friends. They are nothing out of the ordinary. Except when I speak in Swahili. That’s a new experience and I sometimes worry that these words are, deep down, a mother tongue of my subconscious and they are going to burst out in a science classroom or in a coffee shop. Then I really will be frightened, with no explanation. The fifteen year-old white girl from York who speaks Swahili words and no one knows why. No stroke. No holiday. No explanation. Msaliti. Traitor.
I can only hope my dreams stay private, that my Swahili words are locked in the dream world. I am the Mjozi tree, tinged, longing to be planted on a secret horizon, far away from the watching eyes of the forest.
Another year, another reading list. Every year I publish what I’ve been reading for the last 12 months. And in the last few years, I have been inadvertently trying to read more each year. In 2016 I read 54 books and this year 60. A small margin, but margin nonetheless. As usual, I’ve also picked out my top 5 with an asterisk*.
I am, however, going to try something different for 2018 (am I convinced I can’t read more than 60 in a year? Possibly, and I fancy a change). I’m going to read as many award winners as I can this year. Think Man Booker, Pulitzer, Carnegie etc.
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien
The Tempest – William Shakespeare
The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder John Ironmonger
Talking Heads – Alan Bennett
The Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories – edited by Tobias Wolff
Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner
The Understudy – David Nicholls
Wolverine: Origins – Marvel Comics
The Book of Happenstance – Ingrid Winterbach
The Artisian Soul – Erwin Raphael McManus
Imagine (How Creativty Works) – Jonah Lehrer
Wolf Wilder – Katherine Rundell
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave
*The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon
The Buried Book – D.M Pulley
Curious Reality – D. K Cassidy
*Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult
*The Versions of Us – Laura Bennett
*The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Driven by Eternity – John Bevere
Worldkeepers – Jo Tilley
Love Does – Bob Goff
*How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
The North Water – Ian McGuire
Capitalism – A Graphic Guide
Leaves of Grass (Poetry Collection) – Walt Whitman
The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
After Tomorrow – Gillian Cross
How to Look for a Lost Dog – Ann M Martin
We Are Called to Rise – Laura McBride
The Circle Maker – Mark Batterson
Spilt Milk – D.K Cassidy
Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger
Mind the Gap – Phil Earle
A Little, Aloud, for Children – Angela Macmillan
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
Centuries of Stories – Wendy Cooling
Simply Jesus – Tom Wright
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Lily and the Octopus – Steve Rowley
Things Fall Apart— Chinua Achebe
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Stumbling Blocks – Gavin Calver
Long Shot – Dick Francis
Face (The Play) – Benjamin Zephaniah
The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan