Beryl, Carol, Cheryl, Jean & Jean

Seeing or Not Seeing

Do I see only what I want to see?
Do I look beyond the perfect mask?
Do I delve below the surface?

The space of challenge
is tossed and turned on the sea of life,
a lighthouse on a stormy shore,
under the north star.

Seeing or not seeing?
Just a physical phenomenon?
Is there some line of dark light in a meeting of minds?

Find the dark core
where dragons and whirlpools live,
where fireflies play in a midnight forest,
where nothing is cast in stone.
Where silence is tangible,
where the unseen is seen.

Carole Pearce

The Boomerang Effect
Absurdly young for her age, exemplary product of her famous girls’ school, innocent new student – trying out her new name, “ Millie” emerges from the changing room in her pristine black Speedo. Feels   cold, and crudely exposed.

Approaching with the confidence of an experienced Lothario, group rep Bernard, sidles up to her carrying his previous school record of menacing magnetism like a cape around his   glistening shoulders. With predatory efficiency he cuts off her descent into the university’s Olympic-sized pool. Hears her sharp gulp, spies tummy tightening, the deep blush that spreads like spilt blood across her untested face. Slyly adjusts his lycra pants, sweat-lick gleam across his top lip, he breathes salaciously into her face, to ask: ‘Do you know anyone not going to the dance tonight?’  

Glittering eyes invade her panic, his monstrous head looms before her, but he smells confusingly intoxicating. Courageous, she stares back, stutters shyly,   ‘… Er yes, me.’ 

Is this it? My first conquest? Freshly stocked dreams crowd her thoughts, dashed to pieces when he murmurs: ‘Not You – Someone Nice.’   


Like a sore on a deep wound rapidly ripped aside, this lash will leave a permanent scar on her emerging self. Public removal of the Speedo would have been less devastating. In a wormlike torpor, shock held at bay, the scene will replay endlessly; a defining factor in her future self.   


She recalls the incident now, coolly examines his pale face before her Interview Panel. The Board seeks a high-calibre candidate for this prestigious post in the Philosophy Department. He fulfils all the criteria; a First from Cambridge, published papers on esoteric obscurities that underpin his faintly visible arrogance.    

‘…So, Bernard,’ the smile restricted to her mouth, ‘why do you want this particular job?’  Millie fixes him with deadly precision inside the radius of her omnipotence.

Other candidates have answered wittily, or from positions of proven strength: Tortuously, taken aback, suddenly reminded of his irredeemable blunder, Bernard’s tongue clings like a fridge magnet to the roof of his mouth. His Emperor’s mantle of academic excellence evaporates. Rendered mute, a dark red flush creeps from his neck to his hairline; hands tremble in his lap.

Silence descends like a shaft of  Mediterranean sunlight; the oak-panelled room exhales warm rich beeswax.   Unflinching, with measured dignity, Millie pauses and repeats the question, returning his gaze.

With a breathless burst of  ‘Oh I’m so sorry,’ he tries to bluster his way forward, stutters unintelligibly, globules of spit frothing at his lips. Old Professor Price removes his monocle to get a closer look. Bernard’s discomfort implodes, and he staggers from the room, clumsily stumbles over his large handstitched-brogued feet, in an exit of undeniable degradation.    

‘Not Him, I think,’ murmurs Millie. ‘Someone Better.’

 Quietly, she asks for the next candidate to step inside.                     

Carole Pearce

Compos Mentis

Moulted down-at-heel dark pink sparkly slippers, ankle socks, Joyce reaches under the sink, kicks away a saucer of rancid cat food. Overflowing pedal bin at arms length, trudges out the back to drop soggy  carrot scrapings, assorted crisp bags, sloppy  teabags, nearly empty oily tuna tins into the fetid communal bin. Sighs with tiredness, even though it’s her day off. Remembers Stella’s due; back indoors wearily cleans the loo.

Only half-past three, a dark dank grey November sky drips morosely over Aston University; Stella snaps on her reading lamp, sorts Tutor group’s term papers for the Gender/Race/Class,  module. Brightly considers yesterday’s news; a visiting Fellowship in Chicago, Illinois.

Two hours later, grey hair drenched from leaky guttering above  a tatty  front door, Joyce sits in the old family kitchen of the soot-stained terraced house. More tea, talk of Aunty Joan’s hip replacement, cousin Bill’s faulty hearing aid; Trevor, just bone lazy, chucks money away on booze, women, the latest ghastly tattoo: a writhing serpent ascending from fiery Hell, all dusky blue scales, leery eyes, a suggestive darting lime green tongue.  

‘’E does absolutely nothin’ ’round this ’ouse!’ Pursed-lipped sigh. She’s made sure Mum’s out at Bingo. 

Where’s this leading? Stella refuses to register unsavoury smells, stale damp towels, old fried onions; and that poor Joyce still suffers with her feet. Aging rapidly, she keeps the family going. She hasn’t yet mentioned mother.

‘See, they’ve changed my shift up at the ’ospital; I don’t get back in time to cook  proper meals like I did. I said to Trevor, no good moanin’, it wouldn’t ’urt you to do a bit ‘round ’ere. But it’s useless. Look Stell, I really need your ’elp. I’m norr askin’ yer for money.’ 

Comforting images of Chicago. Stella takes another biscuit out of pity; nods, holds her tongue, sees flight bag, passport, ticket.
‘Stell, I went ’n saw the sister up at the ’ome. I told her Mum’s still compismentis; she’s just gettin’ old, and my ’ours up  the ’ospital make it ’ard …’

Distinct warm whiff of salt and vinegar, a hot squidgy parcel of chips dumped on the table, Trevor slips his greasy ancient anorak on the back – door peg.  Alright kid? ’Ow yer  doin’?’ Busies himself with  plate, fork, shakes out his share, drowns them with tomato ketchup, lumbers off to gawp at the TV. Bulging serpent  above the neckline of his
grubby vest, throbs towards the leatherette settee next door.

‘Yeh, ok thanks Trev. ’Ow’s yerself?’ Reverently drops her head, closes her eyes.

A reunion after several months still manages to bring on a mild panic attack. Stella breathes in. Embraces the pungent mix of chip fug, rising damp, flea-bitten cat; smiles hard at Joyce, pats the swollen resting hand: ‘You’re right, we need to think, she’s not gettin’ any younger. You’re marvellous with her Joycy, she couldn’t do without you.’

‘Well, exactly. That’s my problem; see that ’ome’s  already full, waiting – list  long as yer arm, ’n  I was wondering if you’d go, like, ’ave a word. You at the ooniversity and that. Only, well, … It’s like this Stell, that chief porter up on Ward C ?  ’E only went ‘n booked us in to Blackpool for Easter week.  So it’s up to you and Trev really. I don’t mind as a rule,  but it’s  six years since I ’ad a proper break,  an’ me  ’n Ken.’

Joyce’s face is suddenly radiant; bathed in desperate hope.

Winded by a disorienting wave of grease-induced nausea, stung by sudden inexplicable tears, leaden lump in her throat, Stella can’t rightly slot this into place. She draws a slow ragged  breath, feels a loss, keen as death.


Now our anti-hero’s stuck at  ‘seventeen’.
He’s younger than that Stella with a bun;
While Joyce the middle sister, loves her egg and chips,
is not averse to blokes, and drink. She’s lots of fun.

They’re living now in Birmingham, slum clearance ’54,
they’ve a telly, noisy neighbours, and lots of yapping dogs;
Trevor’s just a criminal, bombastic and a pig.
Sinks pints amongst diseased and stinking yobs.

Our Stella won a scholarship, her mind a gleaming jewel,
 works in the University these days.
Has a flat, a comfy sofa, a geranium in a pot,
a bookcase and a string of published plays.

Can’t believe her luck in fleeing the dysfunctional family home,
she  enjoys her annual holidays in Spain.
But their mother’s such a problem, with her ankles and her knees;
she turns up on Stella’s doorstep. What a pain!

Now Joyce has heard of Frail Care. It’s new, and rather chic.
Her interview with Matron a relief.
With Stella back on Campus, and Trevor always out,
just convince the board that Mother is a thief.
It’s so sad she never married, caught the tail-end of ‘Care’
spent her best years cooking onions and tripe.
[ Trevor squandered all ‘is money on ‘is women, and ‘is booze,
large tattoos that spanned his biceps;  she would snipe.]

Yo! The moral of this story is Be Wary Where You’re Born.
You could end up living in a city slum;
with no education,  income,  an’ a life of battered pride;
 body wracked with dreadful swellings like your mum !

Carole Pearce

Careers 1969

 Life categories ‘Careers’, ‘Love’, ‘Money’ ; she often chose a  20:20:20:  formula as a child to win the board game. Loves to win, spot the main chance, sadly ignorant of the bigger picture. Even now the pattern repeats. She feels destiny tickle her toes as she wickedly smuggles deep into the delicious beachfront Blackpool hotel bed, courtesy of   the Department:  An Easter week long Physical Educational course, Archery. She already enjoys the sport, simply fancies a free holiday, and the Certificate will eventually help her teaching career.  Tangy sea air pervades the draughty bow windows under the heavy, gently glowing, copper velvet curtains, her gorgeous young toothpaste flavoured gymnast husband slides beside her, bountiful backlit Adonis.   Anticipation, hints of spicy aftershave, a stomach thrilled with three full meals a day, tropical overpowering central heating, a cutting, vicious east wind blasting their Rococo palace; she sighs, replete, sets her target. There are about a thousand other young teachers gathered for this varied Easter vacation training programme. Palpable excitement floods the testosterone-loaded coaches to and from the daily sessions, ambience free zones. Squads of   vigorous young studs keen to conquer brightest, fastest, best. Coy power females obviously doing the choosing.   Carelessly clouded in fragrant Freesia, soon their birthdays, she jokes it’s time they had a baby; stupid or programmed? Driven by a deep primordial urge to complete her pleasure, it’s her move. She could ask for anything right now. Instead of thinking, she lies back, giggles, enjoys the moment. Breathes in, fills with a sense of utter contentment, already mentally satiated, fat, gorged, in total control, hugs herself. Central figure in her own shimmer pink docudrama, monumental naiveté; she’s confident her new perfume will do the trick. Keeping her distance, she draws in her young flat tummy, thinks – next year I’ll be a mother !  Arrow sharp.  A no-brainer. Eagerly reads her mood, brushes her arm, he’s got his promotion, hates condoms, and being a PE teacher, thinks only of scoring soon. Understanding his consent, she hovers, moist, prepared, exquisitely composed, unaware that her entire life is about to lodge squatly at the bottom of the economic ladder: No warning gong of doom, no red flag. She takes a moment. Lifts her face above him, encircles his neck, kisses him with more tenderness than she has ever known or shown, holds nothing back, as though the quality of this offering will determine the outcome. Without a benign sky fairy, or god of any persuasion watching, waiting to slap him back on track, Adonis is in for a late night. Remembers his team is playing away, hopes he can catch the result later. He plans a departmental ski trip soon. Val D’Isere is practically snow sure in February.  Better not mention that at the moment.  Tentatively, a winning tactic, he reaches out, pulls her into his arms, presses her into his hollows. Birmingham could slip to the bottom of the league; rolls her beneath him, masterly. Her heart floods with gratitude, quiet pride, knowing he will never let her down. She bites around his collar bone ferociously, scrapes those tanned broad shoulders, back. Feels the need to be in command. Experimentally, wriggles down, nips and laps sensitive inches of flesh, inner elbows, kneecaps, hip joints. Dominatrix, on a roll, pins him against fresh white linen, forces his arms flat. Lightly strokes his powerful legs, magazines stress the need for differentiation; ardently rakes his thighs, enjoys his rising excitement. Going for gold. Target practice or what!  Blindly she burrows into his safety zone, drinks in his body smells, feasts voraciously on his firm strong flesh, explores her nesting site:  Bullseye! Heady fragrant solid walls of warm seductive muscle wrap around her, gym workout getting a result, has he set the alarm for the overseas cricket report tomorrow morning? Wordlessly they rock in unison, melting into each other.  She rears up onto him, nips his ears, nuzzles his neck.  Reeling, he gazes at her, pleased, surprised, covers her face and neck in firm sweet kisses, picks up the pace, lets his rhythm flow. Defensive play no longer an option, with a bit of luck they should thrash the Aussies. She lets her sensual, sexual self swim in a dizzy giddy swoon of ecstasy, float on a wave of gaudy desire, whilst her scheming self makes sure he won’t regret it.  Canny. Absorbing his energy, heat, and passion she blinks, time seems to drop away; best case scenario, she’ll be resigning this summer. She visualises ‘home, family,’ newly discovers her life plan, sublime comfort. Classes of over thirty, her workmates will be green with envy; to give up inner city teaching!  Eldest of three daughters, she loves being first, should have two before she’s thirty. A whole new identity sweeps in upon her, no idea where this new self comes from, wild, unstoppable. Most probably get her maternity clothes in the summer sales. They are closing down loads of shops in the precinct. Shifting into a lower gear, delicious soft pure kisses fuel the giving of pleasure; create a fresh layer of commitment, dedication. Extending foreplay, swaying, rolling, they savour their slow satisfaction, testament to their future. The pram should fit snugly under the stairs. Let’s hope the new neighbours are child-tolerant. Generous lips pay sweet attention to eyebrows, temples; cheeks press together in a tender physical promise, to love, honour, cherish.   Obey the breeding imperative. They hold on to each other as one, believe in the silent mutual pledge of total loyalty. Mothercare have their sale soon! Lungs almost bursting, never happier, wildly ecstatic to have taken this irrevocable step, she gasps at the intensity of her orgasm. She’s really getting this right.  Living Bliss!   Forget any thoughts you ever had of   Travel, then.   Fodder. 

Proof that limited education keeps the British teaching workforce topped up, 
stultifies the senses, deadens higher consciousness; crushes creativity, arbiter of  taste.

Forty years later, wryly recalls Blackpool, modest expectations, her ruin and salvation. Blame that 20. 20. 20. formula. Small semi, daughter and son within three years, finally made Head of Department: Fair share of ill health through relentless Government led curricular policy changes.  Be careful what you wish for. Having cleaved those lower rungs, slogged away at the chalk face for almost thirty years, they count themselves fortunate to have their health, thank god for P.E. fitness. Those 60’s   dudes knew how to rock ‘n roll alright; see she’s smiling!   Shame

Carole Pearce

Just breathe Just breathe Just breathe.  Safe in the universe.
Moody temperamental phases of the moon.
It ain’t pretty, but it’s real,
for rain it shall, and write I shall.
Varsha Patel

Without cruelty, sharp blueblack
slapping sea chops.
Ferry shudders, slips, tips. Subterraneous hell,
slanting horizon, slow recognition, no warning.
Avoid annihilation, retaliate, strive, reach;
arrow sleek precision.
Boundless pent-up fury, without and within;
fight, no time for rage. Unleashed waves pulse,
hesitate. Urgent, unfettered, a single surge claims
crowded gangways, decks of lorries, a Lexus,
brand new 4 x 4’s, clamped, shocked.
Gratefully pierce the surface. Emergence, miraculous reprieve.
Just breathe – Just breathe –Just breathe. Safe in the universe.
Random flicker of precious life, compelled,
no letting go. Sore raw muscles cling, claw.
Livid saturated scrap eyes death or deliverance.
Ancient gods beckon, kiss the brow,
mesmerizing inky portents,
relentless churning, fatal indigo whirlpools.
Elemental icy fingers stiffen, close;
mindless obliteration, instant wipe-out.
Waterlogged kaleidoscopic hope, mirrored
silver flashes,  fickle stars.
Whimsical resonances sing of mercy,
moody temperamental phases of the moon.
Vulnerable neck, viable brain
wars the water for redemption.
Consciousness grabs, stabs air from painful places.
Glassy plunge beneath glowering
emerald peaks, wreaks havoc. Breathing water,
swirling desperation, helpless descent.
Crash of cerulean torment, ache and longing: Anonymity.
Swabbed decks stream with violet horror.
Lascivious  destiny. Scurrilous
senseless  sea. Intent tossed aside – a match on a jonquil pool
gone, bewildered.
Mindless crimson destruction, foaming madder menace,
alizarin demons; anonymous threat, ruthless games of terror
 –  it ain’t pretty but it’s real.
Spent  grief requires explanation, recompense.
Resentment in the face of withering corporate disdain.
Hundreds slain, collective outrage, bitter gnawing
individual loss. Crushed by institutionalised pusillanimity,
stainless steel eyes, chilled ultramarine. Storm the ramparts,
reclaim power, seek justice. Regard the pale wraiths,
grey victims of calamity: Devious double dealing, rank denial,
blatant  betrayal. Comfort smashed; blame the sullen
fluctuating sea, recidivist, flattened into beauty, darling of the poets. Deliberate defiance, let the people roar. Slam the door on vile weather, shout, scream,  shiver.
Ignore squalls, torrential, horizontal outpourings,
for rain it shall, and write I shall.

Carole Pearce

Fault Lines            

Fault lines threatening, thinly disguising the flaws.
Armour full of messages like layers of antique silk, protective,
emotional and biographical clichés.The inevitable overgrowth
yearns for completion, combining roots
falsehoods, and bravado. Discoveries, options of optimism.
Photo of your grandparents to tear you apart like parchment.
Wrap yourself in brightness, like a poor performer,
 that  ‘I’ cracked, locked in terrified silence,
 devious, dreamlike, determined, in the dark
makes its own ‘ Begone’  thinly disguising. Don’t let it in.
Humiliation, deny it happened, shut away the pain, hide 
The second ‘I’, laugh it off, leap into the light
 become twice, candle lit perfumed, and shoes for every occasion.
Success, a sharp spear, wards off danger. Sanctuary, soft friends, status,
stem the palpitations, banish the mire of nightmares,
calm to a warming ember the frantic flames within.

Calm to a warming ember the frantic flames within,
stem the palpitations, banish the mire of nightmares.
Success, a sharp spear, wards off danger. Sanctuary, soft friends, status,
become twice, candle lit perfumed, and shoes for every occasion
The second ‘I’, laughs it off, leaps into the light.
Humiliation, deny it happened, shut away the pain, hide
in the dark, make its own ‘Begone’ thinly disguising. Don’t let it in.
Cracked, locked in terrified silence, devious, dreamlike, determined.
Wrap yourself in brightness, like a poor performer, that  ‘I’ 
Photo of your grandparents to tear you apart like parchment.
Falsehoods and bravado, discoveries, options of optimism.
Yearn for completion, combining roots
emotional and biographical clichés,  the inevitable overgrowth.
Armour full of messages like layers of antique silk, protective
fault lines threatening, thinly disguising the flaws.

Carole Pearce

Leamington Spa
1975. The School.
A dilapidated three storey pile, lilac in bloom alongside the back door.
She turns the key. A loud smooth twist in the old lock,
heavy black and white door swings into the wide Victorian hall,
permeated by polish, perfumed products.
She follows the echo down the long passage,
feels cold air snatch spitefully at her nose. 
Repainted metal toy cars parked under the stairs. Intriguing histories,
spent lives, sensed hovering in shadowy corners, gathering on landings, 
watching, seeking absolution. Pockets of damp mould, hang in the air,
drift up from the cellars. Bell – pulls no longer heard by servants.
Dust motes from fuzzy overwashed cardigans,
playgroup fallout, forming it’s own history.
She smiles, knows she has scored a minor victory, cheers herself.
The thrill of secret tactile properties, a stream of possibilities:
Fragile jewel bright tissue paper to scrunch, cut, fold, glue.
Dolls, puppets, masks, easels, the Wendy House,
foreign objects in a foreign concept to her charges and their
Ugandan mothers: Play. No joke, the provision of sanctuary, solace.
Pre-schoolers’ daily glee, wild, creative, constructive.
Puffed out cheeks, tongues guiding safe scissors,
the making of meaning, exuberance before the knowing.

The making of meaning, exuberance before the knowing.
Puffed out cheeks, tongues guiding safe scissors,
pre-schoolers’ daily glee, wild, creative, constructive.
Ugandan mothers : Play. No joke, the provision of sanctuary, solace.
Foreign objects in a foreign concept to her charges,
dolls, puppets, masks,easels, the Wendy house.
Fragile jewel bright tissue paper to scrunch, cut, fold, glue.
The thrill of secret tactile properties, a stream of possibilities.
She smiles, knows she has scored a minor victory, cheers herself.
Playgroup fallout, forming it’s own history.
Dust motes from fuzzy overwashed cardigans
drift up from the cellars. Bell – pulls no longer heard by servants,
watching, seeking absolution. Pockets of damp mould, hang in the air.
Spent lives, sensed hovering in shadowy corners, gathering on landings,
repainted metal toy cars parked under the stairs, intriguing histories.
Follows the echo down the long passage,
feels cold air snatch spitefully at her nose
permeated by polish, perfumed products.
Heavy black and white door swings into the wide Victorian hall.
She turns the key, a loud smooth twist in the old lock.
Dilapidated three storey pile, lilac in bloom alongside the back door.