Chantal Stewart

The accident by the lake

Please watch out for the violin. Don’t damage it. I will come along with you, but please be careful. What was I doing here? I came to the lake to play my violin. Yes, I know it’s nearly dark, but I don’t need to see. I play by touch. That is the best way to feel the music. Yes, I always come to this spot near the pier so that there aren’t too many branches in my way.

What happened today? Well, I was sitting on the pier with my feet over the side. There was a boat tied to the pier. Yes it was empty, just bobbing away there. I was thinking of a song inside my head that I’d been working on when I felt a warm nuzzle at my arm. No, I didn’t hear anything. It was a dog with an injured leg. Small brown and grey with furry hair. It was limping and it looked hungry. I was reaching for its collar when I heard the noise. I saw the collar immediately. It looked like a well kept dog, clean and neat and it had a little disc on its collar. I thought probably its name or a phone number. So as I said, I was reaching for the dog’s collar when I heard the noise. It was a loud screech then a bang and then I saw  the lorry crashing backwards through the trees over there and ending up with its back end in the lake. The motor was still running and the front was angled upwards like a hooked fish.

No I couldn’t see if there was anyone inside. I started running over to it to have a look. That’s when the fisherman appeared. No, officer, I don’t know where he came from. I was running towards the lorry and the he was next to me, also running towards it.  Yes, he said something to me, but I couldn’t hear on account of the wind and the shrieking birds and the bits of machinery breaking off the truck and falling into the water. Actually it does make quite a noise, bits of metal falling into a quiet lake. Lots of splashing, disturbs the birds and they’re thrashing through the branches and the wind is whipping away.

Chantal Stewart

Mrs Rochester’s Dramatic Monologue

Will you come tonight, Edward? It has been many nights since you were last here. It is darkening now. The candles need lighting, but they have taken away the matches. Mrs Poole is late with the dinner. She was late with lunch too, and she only brought some gruel and dry bread. She said she was busy preparing a room for someone. Is it for us, Edward? Have you decided to have me back? Like before. When you first came to the estate, it was bright and sunny and full of life. Remember  how you chased me through the streams and the fields and how you caught me in your arms and loved me. Mama told me to be careful. You were different. You were English. But I did not know how different till I came to your cold, grey country. It sucked the life out of me.  I felt like I was walking through swamps, dragging my body behind me. And that made me so tired that I wanted to sleep all the time. I forget things too. I forget how long I have been in this room, and not in your room. I forget how long it is since you have taken me, and I forget why. Now you come and visit me, each time only for a  few minutes and you talk about whether the bed is comfortable and if I am well. Where has my love gone? Where is my Edward and why have you deserted me? When you come tonight I will ask you if the preparations are for a  new room for us. Maybe you have been planning a surprise for me. Maybe tonight you will carry me out of this dark cold room, and I will be your girl again.

 

 

Chantal Stewart

I  never knew I loved cinnamon
The smell of it
wafting from a pot of simmering curry
or the feel of the hard brown bark
snapping between my fingers
leaving splinters of pungent smell
as I raise them to my mouth.

I knew I loved toddlers
tottering on widespread legs
trying to talk in words like  ”úp”and ”more”
Toddlers with sticky fingers
on sugar highs
from too many sour worms.
Toddlers pressing car keys into draw locks
and beaming with pride
at the right move
though the wrong fit.

I never knew I liked smells
The metallic smell of commuter trains
sour seat covers
a prelude to some new destination
maybe to the smell of apple blossom
or sycamore or pine cones
fresh and new, carried on a  crisp wind.

I never knew I loved dogs
Walking dogs
Snuggling with dogs
feeling their soft fur against my chest.
I must love dogs
because I pick up their poo
even when it is under the washline
where I want to hang
my pristine white cotton sheets
without them flapping into brown puddles.

Chantal Stewart

Try to catch the second when the sun changes into shadow,
lapping against river reeds, obsequious in friendliness.

Holding myself together like hands with tightly interlaced fingers
I search for the greyness of consistency between the extremes.

I am, reluctantly, the rock, the strong one
To remain in the inbetween.

I am the sunlight and the shadow
I am the leftover stubble of a bush

Popping up playful bubbles as I pass over rough patches,
I droop, cowed by age and circumstance.

Chantal Stewart

Mother

Memory and presence. They say that memories comfort you, eventually. But how do memories, which are thoughts conjured up and filtered through one’s perceptions, make up for the reality of a living, breathing person? They do not capture the nowness of a gesture, the waft of air as she raises her arm, the almost imperceptible clearing of her throat and the slight nervous inbreath before talking. They do not capture the smell of her after a warm bath, after feeding the dog, the smell that lingers on her scarf. And they do not compensate for not hearing her voice, picking up the phone to it, opening the door to it, feeling the presence of it.

Hospital bed, crisp and clean. Bedside table with glasses and long white cord with bell ring at the end. Your breathing. Oh, your breathing. And so cold. But I was reassured because you spoke to me when I spoke. Woke up and opened your eyes. But I was wrong. I got it wrong. I should have stayed. I should have stayed to hold your hand.   I wanted to be there for you, but I was so scared. Scared to look you in the eye, knowing what was wrong, and not tell you.

It is impossible for us to understand death because it is the cessation of the mind. All we know from the moment we are born is the mind. How can we think of not having a  being to think with? So we conjure afterlives. We hope for a way of understanding death, not as the end, but as a different state. This state cannot be annihilation, so it has to be a different state of life, we tell ourselves.   A Heaven. A  Hell. A parallel existence.

You are here with me in my dream, but I cannot touch you. I can see you, but with a different kind of sight. Stay with me in this fever dream. We walk through the flowers together. You are wearing your blue dress. I realize how much we both wear blue. And black. You say that you are more adventurous than me though. I would never wear orange and bright green, though I sometimes wear red. Oh, the times we have had! Remember Miami in the hot, drenching tropical rain  and Bristol in the snow, and eating ice-cream beside fountains in France. Remember the tears in your eyes when you saw me in a wedding dress and the joy of simple Sunday lunches and opera  and piano playing. We can have that again in this dream. You can hold me again.

Chantal Stewart

Cloud horses
kick their hooves
and shake their grey manes
at the sun.

At the sun
horses kick their cloud hooves
and shake
their grey manes.

Kick your hooves
cloud horses
and shake your grey manes
at the sun.

Cloud manes
and grey hooves
kick horses
and shake the sun.

Horses kick manes
grey and cloud
their sun
shake at hooves.

Chantal Stewart

As I walked along the road, I felt someone was stalking me. I glanced over my shoulder but there was no-one there. The feeling remained though, like a faint buzzing on the corner of my brain. Something sitting there on the edge. A butterfly perhaps, gently flapping its wings. Creating a  little hum. Not allowing me to forget. To forget that other part of me that had closed off and gone to sleep. Being stalked by a butterfly: that was strange. Or was it my writing mind digging its way out of the misty lakes. Slipping and sliding backwards as it came. Holding on to the smooth sided gyri of the brain, hauling itself over snapping synapses until finally it was back in consciousness, diminished but intact.

Chantal Stewart

Daddy.

You said that you thought you were dying. Pain gripped at your chest. Like a bear sitting on top of you so you could not move. You felt your pulse racing. You could not move from the bed. Could not reach the phone. Could not get to the door.

What did you think of in that time? Did you think of me as a child? How you carried me on your shoulders, galloping like a horse as I screamed with delight. Did you think of me now, grown-up? With your forever-pride and love cloaking me. Or did you go back to when you were a child.? Bare-footed on the farm. Making cattle from red clay. Walking hand in hand with your father. Learning, absorbing, growing. Secure in your father’s cloak.

And, as you clutched your chest, what did you think of your dying? You would not have thought of heaven or god. Did it feel like the end of everything, eternal emptiness? I hope not. I hope you felt always the bond we share. I hope it felt like a velvet cloak of a lifetime’s memories.

Chantal Stewart

An evening
 
Smells of coriander and mustard seed. It is one month since they met and she is cooking a special meal. She carefully selects the right CDs, the right clothes to wear. Not too formal, not too casual.

Combs her hair. Notices that her nails are broken. She chews them when she is nervous. A quick coat of clear nail varnish because she does not like coloured nails. She props up the cushions on the chairs.

The meat bubbles on the stove. She takes crisp green lettuce, bright red tomatoes and slices the knife across them.  Bleeding fresh, bright juice which tastes of passion.

Bleeding fresh, bright juice which tastes of passion. She takes crisp green lettuce, bright red tomatoes and slices the knife across them.  The meat bubbles on the stove.

She props up the cushions on the chairs. A quick coat of clear nail varnish because she does not like coloured nails. She chews them when she is nervous. Notices that her nails are broken. Combs her hair. Not too formal, not too casual.

She carefully selects the right CDs, the right clothes to wear. It is one month since they met and she is cooking a special meal. Smells of coriander and mustard seed.

Chantal Stewart

Emotions, skittish and fearful like young horses
Make me weightless and hold me
I dreamed last night
Of pain drowning me.

Make me weightless and hold me
It is my heart that has fruited
Pain drowning me
In river-faces.

It is my heart that has fruited
Massaging life’s grains of sand
In river-faces
Burps of water bubble over.

Massaging life’s grains of sand
Emotions, skittish and fearful like young horses.

Chantal Stewart

The first line

I sit on the white couch
opposite the large picture window
looking at the green grass

turned grey.
The bougainvillea tree, flowerless
with its lanky branches

stretching out like an untrimmed beard.
A line softly sputters from somewhere
It lays itself down on the white sofa

beside me, tentative like a butterfly,
a blue butterfly
it folds its wings.

I reach out to this pale blue line
quivering beside me
but its wings flash out and it is gone –

across the room
to the wooden window frame.
Winter darkness falling

deepening charcoal grey, midnight sky
and a wisp of blue butterfly
on the window frame.

The line that sputters
from somewhere
sinks slowly into my head

blending with the full moon
now hanging heavily in the sky.
This moon was there before –

Last month
Last year
Two years ago when you left me

‘The moon was bright tonight
as it shone upon
the scattered splinters of my love’.

The butterfly alights
on my forehead.
In my head, someone presses the ‘enter’ key

and moves on to a  blank clean line.

Chantal Stewart

Coriander and sea salt

Copper sunshine on polished leather
Bumble bee flitting over silver river ripples
Whispers of dew on blue bells.

Copper sunshine tongues polished leather
Bumble bee flitting over silver river ripples
Coriander and sea salt
Whispers of dew on blue bells.

Copper polish on leather
Sunshine flitting over river
Silver ripples
Sea salt and dew
Coriander on the tongue
Bumble bee whispers bells
Blue dew.

Chantal Stewart

Wish List

Beloved
I sense you there in the mists
glimpsed but forever hidden from me
your image in my head
so clear and yet always elusive

I list your qualities
They seem so simple
What more than someone who loves me completely
understands me completely
stands aside to allow my life to blossom
while watching with pride and love

Yet, each time things start this way
I am left alone again
seeing glimpses of my beloved
in a face, a smile, a gesture
but never fully there
Alone, I turn inward
wrap my arms around my body
and cling to myself.

(100 words)