Jean Green

Just dead beetles – a drabble

She wandered in the garden. Both she and the garden were perfectly kept. Both were well manicured, beautifully styled and perfumed.
Roses bloomed in the sunshine. She turned to the birdbath and found that it was empty, dry and abandoned. No birds there, just dead beetles. Rust erupted around its cracked and broken edges.
As she looked back to the perfect garden an awful thought occurred to her. Did she have any dead, dry, abandoned places inside of her?
Was she like the story of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”? And, if so, how would she be able to tell?

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Jean Green

What happens when you kiss a soldier?

Tamsin plays her guitar near the entrance to the fairground every day. She looks sweet and cool in her long dress down to her ankles and her sandals and her hat with daisies and a red ribbon around the brim. A brace of young children stand watching her, fascinated by her fingers as they dance along the strings.

Tamsin watches them with affection but knows that they are not likely to put any money into the open guitar case standing hopefully near her feet.  It is just as well that her father gives her a good allowance or else she would starve and maybe have to live in a garret. She always liked the idea of a garret. Artists are said to starve in them. Although at the age of 15 she doesn’t really know what a garret is.

On this particular day her thoughts are a little muddled. She’s been trying to smoke pot recently and although it makes her dreamy eyed and gives her day dreams she doesn’t really like it and her father would freak if he ever found out. But she needs the sense of peace. It allows her to feel detached from the noise and heat and movement of the fairground. But today the fairground noises flow around her as if they don’t exist. She seems not to hear the shouts, the calls of the stall holders, the organ grinder, children’s laughter or even the screams of fear from the high and wobbly rides.

Tamsin comes here to get away from her parents who really don’t know what life is all about. They really don’t understand her music or even why she wants to dress in flowing clothes, have people admire her voice and the way she strums the instrument. She loves that guitar and she loves the songs she sings. They are all about the senselessness of war and the stupidity of young men who choose to become soldiers. Tamsin despises soldiers,

This is the way she has been feeling this week. But there is a disturbing thought in her mind. She had wandered around the stalls and performers yesterday and seen the Greek belly dancer. She loved what she saw and even found a moment to chat to Nadia – that was the belly dancer’s name. The lithesome movements, the secretive smile, the lowered lashes were things she would love to possess, to be able to use to get people to admire her.

No matter that the belly dancer wasn’t really Greek but just a local girl like herself. This makes Tamsin think that just maybe it would be possible for her to become a belly dancer. She flicks her hair back, closes her eyes and visualises herself with a jewel in her navel catching the light and winking as she moves her hips to the sensuous music.. She realises that somewhere in amongst her songs about war and death and love gone wrong she is strongly attracted to being a belly dancer.

Tamsin shakes her head impatiently and strums out a tune.  She strums a little harder on her guitar, raises her voice a little to make the children who stand solemnly watching her get a good hold of her message about loving your fellow man and the world they live in. Despite her love for the songs so critical war she wonders if the children wouldn’t enjoy a belly dancer more. There had been lots of children watching Nadia. Tamsin’s voice wavers and her fingers falter on chords she has played hundreds of times before.

Suddenly the lights in the fairground seem to dim. The noise level rises. Tamsin sees people running towards the Ferris wheel and then notices that all the lights around the wheel have gone out and it is no longer turning.

People are running towards the wheel, some shouting and screaming. But the fiercest screaming comes from those who are sitting in the cages now stuck at the very top of the wheel. Tamsin moves with the crowds towards the big wheel and as she draws close she sees a man and a little girl in the cage at the very top. The little girl is crying, screaming really, and the man has his arm around her.

She runs back and fetches her guitar. Returning to the base of the wheel she looks up and sees that the man is wearing a uniform. He is a soldier. Tamsin calls up to him: “Hey soldier! Can you hear me?” He nods firmly and she begins to sing for the little girl.

“Once I had an elephant…”. Her voice is sweet and she makes it up as she goes along. The child starts to laugh and the worry on the man’s face is replaced by a slow smile.

Soon the lights come on again and the wheel turns slowly disgorging its occupants onto terra firma. She runs up, embraces the child and then reaches up and kisses the soldier firmly on the lips.

Tamsin turns away and drifts towards the little three-legged stool she sits on to play her songs about love and peace. The weather seems warmer, although a cool wind is starting to blow. She picks up a shawl and draws it around her shoulders. She picks up her guitar yet can’t bring herself to play those anti-war songs and after a few bars stops her strumming.

She can feel the warmth of the soldier’s lips upon her own and she sits quite still realising that if she could kiss a soldier she can surely learn to belly dance.

No matter that her Dad would not approve. Maybe the little girl and the soldier might even have preferred a belly dancer.

Tamsin gathers up her things and leaves the fairground  not quite sure of what exactly she is going to be tomorrow, or even the day thereafter. But it really doesn’t matter – life is so full of promise when you are only 15.

Jean Green

Is it like a rainbow
the colour of the blowing wind?
Giving to us this world
in all of its endless beauty?

Or do we need to take
a single colour at a time
form our lives around it
until that colour makes a change
and we change colour too?

Feeling blue is easy
The colour blue speaks for itself
Yet blue is not confined
to feeling down or being depressed
it makes me feel cool too

A pale green misty wind
drifting the far fields can help me
to feel the power of
all the things that nature can do –

The misty green has fled
The wind in the desert blows red
The mirage will shimmer
and oases shine indigo

Yellow colours freedom
and ribbons round the old oak tree
Where have the soldiers gone?
To greener pastures every one

The breeze, mist, trees and all
colours combine to help me to
understand what the earth
will give and has given to me
Past, present and future
The rainbow colours of the wind

Jean Green

Cycling! Sitting in the saddle in the gym. Legs pumping at God knows how many rotations per minute. Up, down, up, down, backwards and forwards they go.
And I get no further.
The sweat begins to run from my armpits and I can feel it, too, upon my forehead.
And I get no further.
The music from my ipod runs through my head. It soothes me. Sometimes it even helps me make my legs pump harder, more quickly.
But am I getting anywhere?
No!

Jean Green

Angels

The laughter gurgled up from that special place inside children that releases chuckles of delight. The sound could be seen in the sparkle in their eyes and it bubbled from their open mouths, wide open, little white teeth gleaming, ivory displayed in concert with the music of their happy laughter.

There were creases around those sparkling eyes squeezed almost closed in a paroxysm of joy; there was a breathlessness there too as the laughter turned to giggles and the little bodies danced and twisted with the mirth of the moment.

There were angels around. It was they who tickled and stroked the laughter into life and then held the notes in their hands, offering them up to God for His pleasure. Angels beautiful and beatific, kind, protective and bearing the life-giving gift of laughter.

And the Devil was looking through the keyhole.

Beryl, Carol, Cheryl, Jean & Jean

Seeing or Not Seeing

by
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.

Jean Green

Friendly flames form pictures in my mind
And my pale blue ink smudges the page
The experience is hot and urgent
And intrudes upon my consciousness with a pressure that demands release

And my pale blue ink smudges the page
Thoughts are energetic and fulfilling
And intrude upon my consciousness with a pressure that demands release
It becomes a hungry conflagration begging to be fed

Thoughts are energetic and fulfilling
Needing to recognise the energy around me
It becomes a hungry conflagration begging to be fed
While friendly flames form pictures in my mind.

Jean Green

Leaving the past behind

The dew lies on the grass and my feet make dark patches as they take me towards the house. Crickets are disturbed along the way. Their chirruping stops and they spring upwards and outwards to escape my footfalls.

Dawn shows herself in the distant horizon, pink and orange and indigo, like pieces in a kaleidoscope – falling and moving and changing, making patterns in the sky.

As I draw nearer the shape of the house, looming large and daunting, obliterates all sign of the dawning day.

I am there! I reach out my hand and grasp the brass handle, turn it and enter by the back door. I find myself in the kitchen. It is a country kitchen, the kind that is often described as “the heart of the home”. Yet now it does not offer the bright and welcoming warmth associated with such kitchens.

The colours of dawn make the house look dangerous and forbidding.

I take a quick look around and then move into the living room.

I know it must be here somewhere but I can’t see it, no matter how hard I look. I start by lifting the cushions on the settee. Nothing there. It isn’t on mantelshelf or on the sideboard in the dining room.

I move into the study. I am anxious and feel a desperate need to find what I am looking for. I pull frantically at the drawers of the desk, turning out their contents on to the floor. Nothing there.

I go towards the stairs and start to climb. There on the third step is the gun. Life and Death are the polarities of the world and I stand there looking at the gun knowing that it can’t take a life. Only a human being can do that.

I look again at the gun’s black outline against the pale blue of the carpet on the stairs. I reach out my hand to pick it up but as I close on it I feel that I could be badly burned if I touch it and I snatch my hand away.

Yet I know that I have to lift that fearsome object. It seems alive, breathing, any minute now it may talk to me.

“What do you want with me?” it asks, “Think about your reasons for wanting me and how your life will change if you take hold of me.”

I pick up the gun, put it in my pocket and climb to the top of the stairs.
And there is the door, right in front of me.

My heart is in my mouth as I reach for the knob, turn it and swing the door wide.

He is there, cruel lips drawn back and fire in his eye. He has been waiting for me just as he had done all those years ago. I find myself in a place straight out of my past.

The devil himself is waiting for me. He knows just how he will taunt me. He will smile a cruel smile of anticipation as he thinks about what he is going to do to frighten and hurt me.

I slam the door and close it on the fear and horror.

I run to the window on the landing and look out and down into the garden. The day has moved on and dusk is showing its hazy face.

I see three happy little boys sitting together in a big cardboard box. Each has a bottle of soap bubbles. They wave the little wire wands and bubbles float across the garden. They catch the failing light from the slowly setting sun and fill with rainbow colours. My heart leaps and tumbles. I know these are the children that will one day be mine.

I turn from the window to descend the stairs. As I reach the stair on which I found the gun I take it from my pocket and place it just where I had found it, trying to leave it at the very angle at which I had first seen it.

Slowly I walk to the door, the front door this time. For a third time that day I turn a doorknob and open a door.

I step out. The garden is empty. Yet there still seem to be rainbow bubbles floating in the air.

And so I walk into my future, leaving my past behind in a house I have never seen before.

Jean Green

Prison Break

I lift the latch to release the gate. The steel is cold beneath my fingers and I am sorry that I didn’t put on my woollen gloves.

My hands on the pram look blue from the cold and I quickly check to make sure that my little son is warmly wrapped and snug beneath his blanket.
The blue woolly hat he is wearing is one that I knitted for him as I sat by the fire in the evenings. It matches his pretty blue eyes.

I turn right along the pavement and start walking towards the park. I can hear the sound of my footfalls on the tarmac. The sound is accompanied by the squeaking from the wheels of the pram. The gurgling noises coming from the pram join in to make a kind of music that fills my heart with temporary contentment.

The road is to my left and occasionally a car passes. Now and then a bicycle flies by with a child perched in the saddle, satchel firmly planted in the carrier behind.

On the right are gates leading into driveways where cars are parked, or tricycles stand abandoned and lonely on the lawns.

Suddenly a dog barks and flings himself at the gate. My son shouts, “Run, Mummy!”

Perhaps the dog has a need to escape, just as I have done, to escape the confines of the yard and to walk with me.

I tell him, gently, “Never mind, dog. I understand how you must feel being kept behind the bars of the gate and the high wall which looms above you”.

More walls loom up all the way along the road and more dogs bark at the gates until I feel convinced that the whole population of dogs wants the freedom that I made for myself as I lifted the latch on the gate and set forth into the world, leaving my prison behind me.

The park is a haven of trees and greenery. The different textures of the leaves and bark make spectacular patterns while their colours weave a scene that I wish I could paint.

The pathways, the inlets of shade, the dappled sunlight shining through the leaves bring to mind my favourite poem. As I look around me I can feel the meaning of the first line. “Glory be to God for dappled things.” I too can only glory in what nature has to offer.

And my heart has found kinship with a dog that seemed to want to follow me to the freedom of that dappled park.

I have escaped the boredom of my tiny house, of the kitchen window that shows me nothing but a view of a concrete wall. There is a small area of grass between the back door and the wall. It is like an exercise yard and in it the exercise I get is hanging the washing out to dry on the lonely looking line that occupies that space.

I am shackled by diapers and my days are ruled by timetables – feeding time, bathing time, cooking time, laundry time – and all in solitary confinement.

I take a quick turn around the pond to see the ducks calmly swimming above their reflections, Siamese twins with the birds below them.

Time has fled; I turn the pram around and head back, prisonwards.

Jean Green

The Recliner

She pulls the lever at the side of the recliner and smiles as the footrest jumps up, lifting her feet to a comfortable position.

She sighs and wriggles her shoulders as she sinks into the luxury and comfort of the soft, pink armchair. The cat, perched on the backrest, is purring, warm and contented. It feels as if the sound is coming from between her ears. To be able to relax in this way is something she has had to work for and even after all this time she is still not used to it.

When she was a child her parents called her “Ishmael”, the one who doesn’t fit in, the one on the outskirts of the family. An Ishmael she may have been but she energetically absorbed all the sights and sounds that came her way. There wasn’t much that she missed.

She knew that she had the particular gift of being able to interpret and recognise people’s feelings, aspirations, defects and strengths. She had been able to use this accumulation of observations, and the knowledge and insights that they afforded her, in a particularly useful way. She found her niche in the field of training.

She gave generously of those insights and of her experience. It became important to her to do so and she built a strong reputation as a generous woman, one who was happy to share her experience and strengths with anyone who opened themselves up to receive them.

Yet through all the years she had remained an “Ishmael”, always on the outskirts, always the one who didn’t fit in.

She had no idea of how much she was appreciated, of how she was admired and even loved. Ishmael was forever on the outskirts.

The reclining chair had been presented to her as a parting gift when she left the college on her retirement. A splendid occasion it had been, with speeches and gifts and special catering. She hadn’t expected adulation or even thanks for giving of herself to those who had needed and appreciated her. Yet she had been given all those things at that farewell function and had not really known how to acknowledge them.

She’d had a lump in her throat when it came to the time for her to make her thank-you speech and she was convinced that she had failed to convey her appreciation properly. She had wanted to tell them how every person who had passed through her classroom during all those years had added interest and warmth to the life she had always lived on the outskirts. She wanted to tell them that she had no idea of what she would find to do with her time and her mind and her generosity when she no longer had a classroom to go to or young minds to shape and love.

Sitting in her chair, so cosy and so comfy, she still hears the applause and the cheers.

Phrases from the speeches filter through her mind and she wonders how she had come to the point of being able to give up her life of teaching, of being a mentor to anyone who needed her.

The comfort of the chair helps to ease her arthritic body and she feels as if she might doze off. Her dreams are always filled with action, with interaction with bright enquiring minds. She sees her students in all their stages of development and her affection for them never wanes. Neither does her pride in them.

Some time later she wakes with a start. She closes her eyes again and savours the images that had come to her while she was sleeping.
She sighs. She knows that she needs those dreams. If she didn’t have them she would have nothing at all – except the recliner, of course.

It seems that all those bright young things have forgotten who it was for whom they made the speeches and gave the money to buy the recliner. It seems that they have forgotten who it was that encouraged and supported them through their years of study. But how can they know? She knows what it is like to be young. But they have no idea of what it is like to be old.
None of them ever comes to visit her or even sends her a post card.

Jean Green

The Proposal

I had just proposed to Charlotte. I had admired her and grown to love her over many months. We were sitting in the parsonage dining room, the place where all the books were written.I sat on a straight-backed chair at the table. The stumps of last night’s candles were still there. I could see the velveteen chaise longue where Emily had breathed her last struggling breath. Her dog, Keeper, mournful and odorous, still lay beneath it waiting for her to return.Charlotte, little and dainty, sat opposite me. Her large, expressive eyes were filled with misgiving.

‘Mr Nichols,’ she said, ‘People think that I have led a sheltered life, yet I have seen death and dissipation first hand. I have lost all of my sisters to grave disease and my only brother to alcohol, cocaine and laudanum. Only Papa remains.

‘You may know that my mother died when I was but four years old. Her devoted sister gave up thoughts of marriage and happiness for herself and came from the gentle clime of Cornwall to the rough and punishing Yorkshire weather and its forbidding moors, to look after my mother’s six children.

‘Lately I have been entertained by famous people like Mr Thackeray and Harriet Martineau. The truth is that instead of the praise and admiration I have received in the time since my books have been published, I would rather have been blessed with beauty.‘All my life I have been aware of how plain I am. I know that people say that I have pretty hair and fine eyes but I have little skill in tending the first and the latter are forever hidden by such thick spectacles that they can seldom be seen to advantage.

‘In my own eyes my only virtue has been a determination to make my own way in the world so that I could do whatever was needed to keep my family together. But they have all departed now and only Papa remains. I am all that he has left.

‘I don’t know what you can feel for me, a little, ugly spinster with poor eyesight. Yet I feel sincerely grateful for your proposal. Of course I cannot even consider accepting it for fear of having to forsake Papa. As he grows older he relies on me. I could never leave him in his lifetime. Here is where I need to stay.

‘I have no doubt at all that my new-found fame has pleased him beyond measure.‘I also know that his pride in me has made him see me in a light which is really far above my talents. And so I fear that your proposal is likely to send him into a rage. A rage born of fear of losing me as well as a contrary notion that you are not worthy of me.

‘Please understand, Mr. Nichols, that I have no such notion. My reason for rejecting your proposal is purely that I cannot leave Papa and I cannot ask you to stay tied to this small and backwater parish for as long as he lives.’

The dining room in which we sat was full of reminders of Charlotte’s lost family. There was Emily’s writing desk, Branwell’s paintings hung on the walls and Anne’s music book still lay, open, on the table.The published works of all three sisters were piled in a corner of the small table under the window. Through the window I could see the church where Charlotte’s mother and sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Emily, together with her brother Branwell, lay buried. It was the same church in which I held the position as curate to Charlotte’s father.

She was right. Her father did fly into a rage when she told him of my proposal. He did believe that I was not good enough for her. Yet we married in the end when I promised her that I would never ever suggest that she should leave her father and that I would stay with her – and him – until his death.

Little did I know that our time together would be so short.

My poor little Charlotte died in my arms less than a year after we were married. She looked at me and said: ‘I am not going to die am I? We have been so happy.’

I made sure that I kept my promise and I stayed to look after the Reverend Bronte until he died several years later.

Jean Green

Existence

Walking in the countryside,
the very feeling of existence
I touch the earth
and the earth touches me

The very feeling of existence
– soil beneath my fingernails –
the earth touches me
like goosebumps on my arms

Soil beneath my fingernails,
expands my world like music,
like goosebumps on my arms,
like a cool breath

Music expands my world,
I touch the earth
like a cool breath
walking in the countryside