Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Hello my lovely readers!  For today’s blog post, I have collaborated with another amazing artist on a short story.  For those of you unfamiliar with this project, I have been teaming up wit artists and photographers from all over the world.  I write a story or poem inspired by their artistic style and body of work and they in turn create a piece inspired by that story.  The idea is to inspire and be inspired in return and so far it has had some wonderful results.  For this collaboration, I have teamed up with the lovely Tula Posy, a book illustrator and crafter from Poland.  Tula creates the most beautiful and unique images, which she sells as prints in her shop, along with badass book marks (all my fellow book worms will understand the importance of a pretty book mark).  If you love her quirky art as much as I do, you can check out her Instagram here and her Etsy store here.  I hope you enjoy it, happy reading…

Tula 3

Bejeweled

Magic is real.  There are many books and stories which declare this already in existence, but I am now adding my voice to theirs in order to emphasise the fact: Magic IS real.  On the most part, it is something you are born into, something you inherit like an old clock from that Great Aunt you hardly visited, or your Grandad’s rare coin collection.  But, on the occasion, magic can be something you stumble upon blindly and without any warning.  Magic can simply enter your life and cause chaos, before leaving just as abruptly and mysteriously.  But before we get into all of that, let me introduce myself.  My name is Eleanor.

Tula 1Before this little incident, I was just your average teenager.  I was anti-social, a little moody, or perhaps a lot moody, and I pretty much hated everything.  My school was simply a red bricked prison for the illiterate hockey jocks that filled its corridors with incessant noise and inane chatter.  My home was a veritable battle ground, with me versus my parents in a verbal smack down on an almost daily basis.  They couldn’t understand why I was so irritable all the time, or why I wouldn’t try out for the cheerleading team.  I couldn’t understand how spelling letters with your arms could be considered anything but a huge waste of time.  It was, in a word, exhausting.

The truth was, I hadn’t withdrawn from everyone because I woke up one day and decided I disliked every other human being on the planet intently, it was because I had all of a sudden and without explanation become painfully aware of myself and my own body, and I was constantly terrified of embarrassing myself.  I suddenly gave a crap what everyone else thought about me, and I hated that about myself.  I hated ME. I decided, it was better to withdraw and surrender, than to battle forth and risk humiliation.  So, I did just that.  I withdrew and became invisible.  I discovered that disappearing was a hidden talent of mine. I was an expert at blending into the background.

But on one stuffy, June day, that all changed forever.  It was a day like any other to begin with.  Wake up. Brush teeth.  Change clothes.  Catch bus to school.  Avoid eye contact with the popular kids with their tanned skin and overly white, bleached smiles as I make my way to the back, well you get the idea.  At lunch, there was to be a sale of sorts, to raise funds for new Basketball team uniforms, or for some extra footballs, or something along those lines, I really wasn’t paying attention.  There would be baked goods of all varieties, made lovingly by the cheerleading team, or more accurately their house keepers.  There was to be some kind of skit by said cheerleaders, to be avoided at all costs, the band were playing something and they were selling off everything from the vast and cobwebbed store room.

You know how every house has that one drawer filled with old batteries, foreign currency and Chinese takeout menus?  Well, this was the High School equivalent.  Everything and anything that was located within its walls, which had no designated place to go, was shoved in here to be forgotten.  There were old instruments, damaged text books, chairs with missing limbs, and the lost property cupboard, filled with every discarded school jersey or dropped hair tie.  I didn’t know what I expected to find, or if I expected to find anything at all, but I found myself excited by the prospect of this sale.  It would be, in my view, an opportunity to see the school from a different vantage point.  After all, what says more about the person than the garbage they throw away? It was a time capsule or fifty years’ worth of teenager’s junk, and I wanted to have a hoke and see what forgotten treasure I could find.

I regretted my decision to attend almost immediately.  Everyone in the school had crammed themselves into the sports hall.  It was too warm, claustrophobically crowded and smelled badly of BO.  But, I was there, so I might as well do what I went there for.  I passed the cake stand and paid one dollar for a cup cake with a large dollop of pink icing.  It was sickly sweet and made my teeth hurt whilst I ate it, but it gave me the necessary sugar buzz to carry on with my mission.  When the skit started (some God-awful footballer/cheerleader/basketball player love triangle which made me vomit a little bit of undigested cupcake back into my mouth), most of the school moved to the end of the hall with the makeshift stage, so I finally felt able to breathe.

When I made my way to the sad little lost property stand, marked by a banner reading Tula 2‘Crap for sale’, something immediately caught my eye.  Just there, underneath a very faded school PE t-shirt with yellow stained arm pits, and a tattered copy of a Biology text book, I saw something green catch the light for a moment.  A diamond in the rough, the very rough. It was a necklace, but one unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It was a black chain, with a single green stone hanging from it.  The stone was not polished or shaped but looked as it must have looked when it was dug from the earth, and a thin black snake coiled around the stone and became the loop at the top in which the chain threaded through. As it caught the light, it reflected a small green blur onto the table below.   It wasn’t beautiful exactly, just unusual and a little rough around the edges.  I immediately took a liking to it and paid the requested five dollars without argument.

Now, as you have guessed from my opening lines, this necklace was no ordinary trinket.  I don’t know how it came to be in the lost property box, or where it came from.  I don’t know how old it is, who it belonged to or why the owner never sought it out once it was lost.  So, if you are looking for the answers to these questions then you will be sorely disappointed.  What I can tell you, is what the necklace does.

The first time I wore it, I was home alone with my Dad, a man older in mind than in body, who shouted at sports on TV and insisted on wearing socks with his sandals no matter how many times he was told how unfashionable this was.

“Elly?”

My Dad calls me Elly. It bugs the Hell out of me and is the cause of many a fight.

“What?”

“Could you take the garbage out please?”

“But Dad…”

“No buts missy.  If you want your allowance, you’ll take out the garbage.  And don’t forget to sort the recyclables.”

“Eugh fine.”

This is a typical example of our exchanges.  Blunt, brief and usually involving me doing something I don’t want to do.  I walked, or should I say stomped, my way down the stairs and out into the garage to do the needful when he spoke again.

“I’ve gained at least twenty pounds.”

“What?”

“What?”

“Did you say something?”

“No, I didn’t.  Don’t try and wriggle out of garbage duty Missy.”

He called me Missy when he was in a bad mood.  This also irritated me greatly.  I was halfway across the kitchen now, closing in on the door to the garage when…

“Twenty pounds at least.  I can barely get my pants closed.  I’ve tried everything, weight lifting, dieting, even running but nothing, nada.  You’re old and fat Carl.  Old and fat.”

I had never heard my Dad talk like this before.  He mostly talked about work, or whatever team in whatever sport was playing at that time, but I had never heard him talk about himself or his appearance.  He sounded sad.  I decided he must be talking to himself, the way we all do when we feel a little low, so I snuck into the living room and hid behind the arm chair so I could listen.

“Keep going like this and Jen won’t look twice at you anymore. She’s so beautiful, she’s always been beautiful.  She could have had any man, but she chose me and my fat ass.”

Jen is my mum, and she is indeed beautiful in that older woman kind of way.  She has always eaten well, always drank plenty of water and worn sun screen, and so she aged gracefully.  But no matter how pretty your mum might be, you don’t want to hear your Dad gushing about it.  Parents fancying each other is gross.  I was about to sneak off again, when I my breath caught in my chest and my heart skipped at least three beats, because suddenly I realised as my Father continued on about his appearance and his concerns about my Mum not fancying him anymore (eugh), I realised his mouth wasn’t moving.  I checked and rechecked again and confirmed it.  He was NOT speaking.  No words were being shouted, spoken, whispered or otherwise uttered. But that’s impossible I hear you say, because I could hear him speaking as plainly as I speak to you now, but dear readers it was true.  For what I was hearing was not my Dad talking to himself, but the very thoughts inside his head.  In five minutes of hearing my Dad ‘s mind whirling, I learned more about him than I had done in sixteen years of living with the man.  I learned that he had been privately going to the gym with a personal trainer, how he had traded his old musky aftershave for a new one he had seen advertised by a twenty something hipster on TV in an effort to appear younger, and how he was considering dying his hair to hide the ever-growing number of greys.

My Dad had always seemed happy enough in himself, but apparently, he worried about his appearance just as much as his self-conscious teenage daughter.  This made me feel a connection with him for the first time since I had stopped wanting to play catch with him at six years old.

The truth was, my Dad looked great for his age, and much as I loathed to admit it, my mum was still pretty into him.  I wanted him to know this, to feel better about himself.  So after my garbage run, and mild freak out in my bedroom over my new found ability to read minds, I did just that.

“Have you lost weight Dad?”

“What? Have I?”

“Yeah, definitely.  I would say at least ten pounds.  You look good.”

“Ok, what do you want?”

“I don’t want anything, I just noticed that’s all.”

“Yes!  That PT finally paid off!” 

For the rest of the day, he walked with a distinct spring in his step, and I even saw him grab my Mum’s butt.  Yes, it made me vomit in my own mouth, and yes I will be telling a therapist about it for years to come, but it was nice to see him feeling more confident in himself.

After my little episode with my Father, I couldn’t wait to try the necklace out at school.  As someone on the outside, someone who was not privy to the thoughts and motivations of the inner echelon of High school popularity, it was an intriguing prospect to in a way know them, and perhaps understand them.  I felt like Jane Goodall, readying myself to study the apes.  But in truth, what met me was such a cacophony of noise, a mass of bodiless voices all yelling at once, it was basically white noise.  As I ripped the jewel from my throat, I could understand why someone never claimed the charm.  It seems the necklace has no filter.  There was no remote, no way to point at the person you wanted to read and press click, it was simply an antenna, picking up every signal within a 100 metre radius.  It was deafening.

Taking a different tact, I began to seek out opportunities to study my peers in isolation, or at least with as few of them around as possible.  As you can imagine, that was more difficult that initially thought. We humans tend to be a social bunch, and the cliques within my school have long been established.  It was as if even the most popular amongst us sought the security of a group or crowd.  Even the loners and oddballs like me had our own little groups for support, misery after all does love company.  But after a week of trying unsuccessfully, and weirding several students out, I finally managed it.

It was a warm and humid Wednesday, and whilst most of the school poured out into the yard and playing fields, I sought the quiet of the library.  There were few people there, and I took the opportunity to put the necklace on, and walk amongst the stacks, studying the occupants of the room like the books on the shelves.  Much of what I overheard was relatively unremarkable.  The librarian, Mrs Cooper, a friendly faced elderly woman who smelled of soap and wore her gold rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck, was making a mental shopping list of what to purchase from the store after school.  Apart from hearing she suffers from haemorrhoids, I learned nothing there.  There was a boy called Ben, whose last name escapes me, from a year or two below me.  He was working out the math problem before him with a level of intensity reserved for nuclear physicists on the brink of fission.  There was Sarah Caplin, the mousey band girl who constantly ate her own hair, thinking about whether Joshua Elliot, the violinist to her double bass, fancied her as much as she fancied him (I made a mental note to try and find out) and finally Thomas Rodgers, a stoner and constant class disrupter, who seemed to be singing Nirvana in between debating whether he should ‘get the band back together.’  All in all, rather slim pickings and not the insights I had been hoping to discover.

Then he appeared. Matt Johnston, the school quarterback, boyfriend of the head cheerleader, most popular boy in school and all-round heart throb.  He wasn’t really my type, all brawn and no brains, but I could see his appeal with his strong jaw and dark eyes.  He reminds me of the members of those boybands, singing inane songs about falling in love and breaking up.  I was surprised to find him in there, he didn’t strike me as the bookish type, and frankly the fact that he knew where the library actually was made him stand out from his thick-headed peers.  He chose the farthest corner of the library, placing his books on the table in front of him and immediately clasped his head in his hands while he read, as if the written word instantly gave him a headache.  I put the necklace on and shuffled over to the stack nearest to him.  He didn’t even notice me, nothing new there then.

Come on, concentrate.  You can do this.  It’s just Maths for God’s sake.  Focus and keep your eye on the prize.”

 Eugh, even his mind thought in motivational sports expressions.  But then something changed, a noticeable shift.  He became upset.  The voice inside his own head changed, almost breaking, increasing in volume until it must have been bouncing and echoing around inside his own skull. Even outwardly, his body language shifted, from nonchalant coolness to awkward and sad.

“Why are you so stupid?  Why can’t you do the simplest things?  You fail this and you’re off the team.  No football, no college, no escae from this crappy town.  You’re worthless, worthless.”

 I had always looked at that group with a sort of cool headed detachment.  They were nothing like me.  They had everything handed to them, no effort required.  They were beautiful and popular and everyone loved them.  I was awkward in my own body and no one noticed me.  They were getting a free pass through life while the rest of us struggled on.  It had never occurred to me, not even once, that they would worry about the same things I did, like failing a class or not getting to leave and explore the world.  Well, what could I do?  I went over to him (unthinkable I know) and asked if he needed a study buddy.  I gave him some BS about struggling with that particular part of the curriculum (I actually rock at maths) and before you knew it we were chatting and laughing and getting along fine.  Then he surprised me.

“Why are you helping me?”

“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, help each other.”

“But I’ve never even spoken to you before, my friends and I, well we, we…”

“You run in different circles?”

“I was going to say we’re dicks.”

“Oh, well, yeah I suppose you can be.”  I laughed at his honesty.

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“That’s ok.”

“How have I never noticed this girl before?  She’s so funny and smart and beautiful.”

Beautiful?  I nearly died right in front of him.  I never thought of myself that way and to hear someone who looked like he belonged in a Sports Illustrated say that about me, well think it at least, well I’m not ashamed to say it put one hell of a spring in my step.  After that, we would meet twice a week for study in the library and when we passed in the halls he would say hello, stop and chat with me. I hate that it took someone else to make me feel a little more confident in myself, because truthfully nothing changed.  I wore the same clothes, I had the same hair style, but I just stopped beating myself up as much.  I was a little more at ease with myself, not just because someone said I was beautiful, but because I realised I wasn’t the only one putting myself down all the time and more importantly I realised how stupid this mental self-harm was.  No one is a harsher critic about you than yourself. You are inherently biased.  You only see the bad and ignore the good.  I know now that we all do it.  Even the most beautiful people I know hate something about themselves, despite me and everyone else thinking their perfect. Why do it?  Why beat yourself up so much over things that don’t matter anyway? I know it’s easier said than done and I still find myself doing it sometimes but try to remember that happiness doesn’t come from a bottle of hair dye or a cosmetic store, it comes from within. Cheesy, but true.

Every section of the school, every student, from every walk of life, had something they hated about themselves, something they worried about and stressed over until they felt sick. There was the cheerleader I found crying in the bathroom, who genuinely believed all she had going for her was her looks, so instead of trying to expand or improve other areas like her intellect or skills, she focused entirely on retaining an impossible standard of beauty resulting in an eating disorder.  She is now in our study group.  There was the smartest kid in school, the one everyone just expected to go to Harvard and become some big shot lawyer, but whose parents put so much pressure on him to perform, he was driving himself into the ground.  He had no fun, no life, no friends, just his books and his exams.  We met for coffee last week and side note, I kind of like him, as in like like, but that’s another story.

I heard people fretting over their appearance, the fact that they couldn’t afford the latest clothes designated as cool by magazines and bloggers, the zits on their face or the weight they put on over the summer.  I heard them panic about exams and job prospects, even though they were just sixteen.  I heard them get upset about teachers who pushed them too hard and I heard the teachers worry about their car payments or letting their students down.  I realised in just a few short months, that every one, no matter how old they were or where they came from, was dealing with their own crap, their own issues and I realised what a difference I could make in people’s lives with the smallest and simplest of gestures.

Tula 4So, now I come to the moral of the tale, my reason for telling you this longwinded story, the message to take home with you.  Be kind. That’s it, just two words, but what an impact those two words can have on a person.  Everyone you see is fighting their own internal battle so, be kind to them.  Everyone feels lonely sometimes, so befriend them, or just say hi and let them know they aren’t alone.  Everyone falls down sometimes, so help them up.  This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t some magic formula or spell to cast, or complicated process, it’s as simple as helping them carry their groceries or giving them an old coat or blanket.  And when you are kind to people, you find they are kind in return and not just to you, but to others.  They pay it forward because they want someone else to experience what they have.  And the best part?  It makes you feel better about yourself.  You hold your heard up higher, you smile a little brighter, because you know that in some small way, you have made a difference in someone’s life. Confidence shouldn’t be entrenched in how thin you are, or whether a boy thinks you’re pretty, it should come from knowing you give a damn about others as much as you do yourself, in knowing that you are kind.

The necklace disappeared one day.  I know I had set it on my dressing table in the exact same spot I always did, but when I went to retrieve it, it was gone.  I never saw it again or worked out where or how it disappeared, but I had this feeling that it had done what it needed to do with me and had moved on to someone else.  I’m ok with that because I know now that kindness is the most powerful magic of all.

Forever: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Forever: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Happy Sunday everyone.  I know it’s the end of the weekend and you are all staring down the barrel of a full week of work, but fear not, I have another collaboration to cheer you up.  For this collaboration, I have had the honour of working with the incredibly talented Elise Mahan.  Elise is an artist and an educator from California, USA. Her paintings and process have evolved from her research of astronomy, natural history, art history, the environment and her work with children.  She creates her paintings using a range of materials such as gouache, watercolor, ink, pencil, graphite, metallic pigments, and collage elements. Through her work, she examines the connections between natural history and symbolism and how they relate to one another within art and within our society.  I am absolutely in love with her art.  Her images have a surreal and dream like quality and they make me think of the myths and legends I heard as a child.  With that in mind, and inspired by her body of work, I have written a short story which I think reflects the ethereal quality of her work.  In turn, she has created one of her stunning images, inspired by my story.  If you like Elise’s work as much as me, you can check out her shop here, and her Instagram here.

forever image

Forever

Her name was Branwen, the daughter of Conol, the Chieftain of the Eastern tribe.  Her hair was the colour of Raven’s wings, her eyes a whirl of blue and green, an ocean in a storm.  She was renowned throughout the lands for her beauty, and it was said her smile could end a war…or begin one.

His name was Cian, the son of Eoin the leader of the Western McManus clan, and the next in line to rule his people.  He was as opposite in looks from Branwen as he was in place.  His hair was of sand and sun, and his eyes were dark, like burnished wood and damp earth.  He would know only forbidden love.

They were never meant to meet, except in battle, but fate had other plans.  When both ventured too far from their homes, seeking answers to questions as yet unknown, and becoming separated from their fellow travellers, they came upon each other in a cave as both sought shelter from the rains.  They were unaware they were enemies, having not yet been schooled in the art of hate by their peers, and so they simply saw a fellow traveller, weary from the journey.

They spoke and laughed, and shared each other’s offerings, him sipping cool water from Branwen’s flagon, and her tasting the bread he carried, roughly torn in two.  They never shared last names.  They never mentioned from whence they had come.  It was simple and pleasant and uncomplicated by divisions as yet unknown to them.  They parted with a smile and the promise to meet again in one week hence.

And so, it came to be, that every week they would find one another in that cave, and share their stories and questions about the adulthood which stretched ahead of them and seemed to burden them with fears and worries they were unprepared for.  Over time, they shared more than stories.  An embrace, a kiss.  Dear readers, they fell in love.

But just as fate had designed to bring their hearts together, it conspired to tear them apart. When the patience of elders grew thin, and suspicions mounted, they were followed and discovered, and dragged away from each other’s outstretched arms under threat of blade and bloodshed. Heartache knows no bounds when two people in love are parted against their will.

There is no power greater on earth, than that of love.  When two souls are separated, they will overcome any obstacle to reunite once more. Despite admonishment, anger and derision at their foolish choice, they were undeterred.  They knew nothing of the battles fought before their birth, or the feuds and vendettas raised by each family against the other, they knew only the smell of each other’s hair, and the taste of lips against their own. Nothing could change how they felt for one another, and nothing would stop them finding each other once more.

They ran away.  They ran from their families, their tribes and their homes.  They ran from people telling them who to hate and more importantly who to love.  They ran towards each other, towards their cave, not knowing what they would do once they were reunited and no longer caring. But fate, she is cruel.  She gives with one hand and takes with the other. Branwen and Cian would never reach each other in this life.  Both would die alone, with the other as their final thought.

The snow storm grew with the intensity of each tribe’s fury.  River’s stopped and becameforever image 2 solid with ice and the moon, afraid to watch, hid from view behind dark thick clouds.  Not even the stars came out, and the thick forest was darker than it had ever been before.  Branwen, eager to reach her love, became lost in the inky black of the trees.  She climbed to higher ground, hoping she would find herself again, but instead found only death as she slipped and fell into the shadows below.  At that moment, Cian, who had almost reached the cave, felt a sharp and sudden pain within him, and he knew within his heart that she was gone.  Unable to live without her, he threw himself on his blade painting the pure winter snow red with his blood.

All of a sudden, and without explanation, everything became silent.  The snow stopped, the animals quieted, the winds ceased and nothing could be heard but the weeping of the Gods.  They had watched these lives unfold with curiosity at first, and then hope, as love it seemed could indeed conquer all.  But human lives are so fragile, so short, and seemingly love, for all of its power and might, could not traverse death.  It is said, that Anu, the Celtic Goddess of life and Mother Earth herself, became particularly despondent at the deaths of these two souls. She took their bodies, and turned them from flesh into something new, something as untouched and as pure as their love had been.  Branwen, with her black hair, became the night sky, and Cian, with his dark eyes, became the very earth itself.  And so, every evening, as the sun falls, they would find each other once again along the horizon, just where the earth meets the sky.  Together forever.

The Mermaid’s Promise: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Happy hump day folks!  I hope your week is going well so far.  For this blog post, I will be featuring the next instalment of my collaborative series I call, ‘Inspired.’  For those of my readers unfamiliar with the series, I collaborate with artists and crafty people from all over the world, writing a short story, which they bring to life by creating a piece of art inspired by that story.  For this piece, I am so excited to have collaborated with the incredibly talented Amaryah, the artist behind the Easy shop ‘The House of Worry Dolls.’  Amaryah takes all of our favourite characters from page and screen, and meticulously recreates them in worry doll form.  She can even personalise the dolls to look like you, your family and your pets to create the ultimate unique family portrait.  Her dolls are incredible, and you can see more of them on her Instagram.  For our collaboration, I wrote a short story inspired by her beautiful dolls, and she took my story and created two unique dolls just for me!  This one was a really fun one to work on, so I hope you like it!  As always, leave me a comment to let me know what you thought, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with all my latest posts.  Happy reading…

The Mermaid’s promise

mermaid 2She is a stealer of hearts. That is how she controls the ocean, with unspoken promises never fulfilled. Her whispers are carried on the winds, and her songs on the beating of the waves against ships. All who listen falter, turning their vessels into shallow waters or crashing against jagged rocks; a watery grave, welcomed with a smile, the spell unwavering even in death. It is said, that she can take the form of desire itself, changing her hair colour or face to appeal to the souls she subdues. One thing always remains true however, her tail. The scales are the colour of the clearest skies, but change with the moving sun, becoming navy or perhaps silver depending on the weather. They reflect the light with every movement and lead men to their deaths, a lighthouse beacon born of flesh and skin, a diamond in the rough.

I saw her once, when I was a just a lad. I was just a deck hand then, given the menial and unlikeable tasks. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were on our way to the Americas. The men were singing and joking, laughing or brawling, the noise of their chatter mixing with the cry of seagulls and the ocean’s sleepy drawl. I was peeling potatoes, when suddenly I realised it had become deathly quiet. I made my way on deck to find all the men aboard standing stock still, the tasks which they had been doing, becoming an after thought to whatever now consumed their minds. They stared, all of them, into the horizon, with wide eyes and calm smiles, as the ship simply drifted, as lost and submissive as the sailors.

I followed their gaze, squinting in the early morning light, when I saw her tail rise and fall amongst the waves, sending flashes of light all around her. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with deep red hair, and bright green eyes, the colour of the sea after a storm. I too was momentarily agape, watching her beckon us towards her, enticing us with a tender smile and parted lips. But my gaze soon fell upon the jagged rocks protruding from the ocean like a hand, grasping for the surface. It was then I knew her beauty to be only skin deep, a lure for her prey.mermaid 1

I began to shout and scream at the men, even resorting to slapping them or throwing water over their heads, but nothing stirred them from their blissful ignorance. The ship was slowly drifting towards its destruction, and these men were welcoming it with open arms. The ship’s wheel was also trying to get the attention of her passengers, swinging and turning wildly, causing our vessel to shift and jolt, but even her efforts went unheeded. I grabbed the wheel, using all of my strength to turn the ship away from the rocks, away from danger, before securing it with a yard of rope. And then I simply waited, for I knew that senses would not return to my crew until we had distanced ourselves from the siren’s call, her promises and seductions carried on the sea breeze.

I could hear her screaming as the vessel moved away, a terrible, guttural scream like a dying animal. It pierced my ears, and stabbed at my chest, and seemed to surround me, or perhaps it was inside my head. I must have lost consciousness, for when I woke, I was in the Captain’s room, the ship’s medic tending to me, my wrist in one hand, a pocket watch in the other. I felt cold, as if all heat had been drained from my body, and my head thumped to the beat of my heart.

“He’s awake.”

The Captain approached my bedside, and placed my hand in his.

“How do you feel boy?”
“Alright, cold, tired.”
“We’ll soon warm you up. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
“Thirsty sir.”
“No sirs or Captains, not today.”

It was as if my senses had suddenly returned to me in a flash, my knowledge of the creature and the danger she posed. I jolted upright, as if awaking from a nightmare.

“The sea witch…”
“Shhh calm yourself boy. She’s gone, and danger has passed, thanks to you.”

I lay back down, the pillow clammy against my skin. The cook brought me water, and they even gave me a dram of whiskey, to help my senses return to me. I regaled them with the day’s events, leaving no detail out, lest I convince myself of my own insanity. They nodded and listened, and finally, after a pause, the Captain spoke.

“I could hear a voice, more beautiful and tender than any I have ever heard before. It was like liquid gold. She whispered promises and declarations of love to me, asking me to join her forever, offering her heart and her breast. I became enamoured, besotted, overwhelmed. Suddenly, she was the only thing of importance in my life, and I yearned to be with her with every fibre of my being. I am embarrassed to say, I would have gladly given my life, for one kiss.”

Now it was the cook’s turn.

“Aye, I heard the same thing. Her voice rang ’round me head and I could not think of anything but her. I could not, would not, go on without her hand.”

Finally, the Doctor confirmed he too had experienced the same song, and felt the same overwhelming desire to be with the creature, whatever the consequences.

“It was as if, in an instant, she had become my everything, my very reason for existence. I truly felt that, without her breast to rest my weary head, and without the kiss of her lips upon mine, my life would not be worth living. She enchanted me, she possessed my very soul.”

I mulled their words over in my mind. At such a young age, I had no understanding of such things. I had not yet felt the grip of love, nor felt the sting of heart break. I could not imagine losing my head in such a way over a woman, even one as beautiful and magical as the Mermaid. I suppose that’s why I was immune to her song. My youth and inexperience saved me from the Mermaid’s promise, yet to this day, I dream of her red hair spreading on the surface of a clear sea, and I hear her voice beckoning my return. Perhaps one day, I’ll answer.

Finding Time: A Short Story & Unique Jord Watch Collaboration.

Hello readers! It’s nearly Valentines day, my first as a blogger and social media addict, and I wanted to do something special. As this is the time of year when we show our loved ones how special they are to us, I have been lucky enough to collaborate with Jord Watches in order to show you all how much I love and appreciate your support! If you are unfamiliar with Jord, they make the most stunning watches, craved from wood. As a lover of nature as well as classic minimalist design, these watches are right up my street. watch 1I am partnering up with them to offer one lucky person $100 off one of their stunning timepieces- to enter, just click here. Not only can you win this amazing prize, but everyone who enters also gets 10% off any Jord watch.

To celebrate the collaboration, I have also written a short story entitled, ‘Finding Time’ and I sincerely hope you can find the time to read it and to enter this aweseom giveaway. As always, I would love to hear from you guys, so leave me a comment or head to my social media and follow me! In the mean time, happy reading…

Finding Time

This was to be a year of firsts for them; their first house together, their first anniversary, and coming up, their first Valentines day in their new home. But more notably, it was also their first fight. Robert had been working a lot lately. In fact Beth felt like she saw less of him now than when they lived apart. Last night had been the last straw; not only was he late coming home, with no message or phone call to stop her from worrying, but he had very casually dropped into conversation the fact that he would be working late on Valentines day.

The conversation had went something like this:
“I can’t wait to spend our first valentines day together in the house…maybe we could get a takeaway and have a romantic dinner in, just the two of us?’
“Sounds good, but may need to postpone it a day or two after, maybe the 16th of 17th. I have a meeting on Valentines day, so won’t be home until late. Could you pass me the soy sauce?”
“What? But it’s our first Valentines in the new house. In fact, it’s our first any kind of holiday since moving in together. I wanted to make it special. Can’t the meeting be moved?”
“Not really Love.”
“Don’t you ‘Love’ me…”
And then the drama. She had told him he was spending too much time at work, that he had his priorities skewed, that he wasn’t making enough time for them, for her. He told her she was his priority but things were temporarily hectic at the office due to some people leaving, and that it would all calm down once they recruited some new staff. He said she made him feel guilty about his job, something he couldn’t help, and he called her a drama queen. She called him a rather choice word, too explicit to repeat, and that was the end of that.

Two days had since passed, and bar small talk and the occasional necessary conversation about bills or furniture, they had barely spoken a word never mind made up from the fight. She knew it was stupid, but that’s the funny thing about hurt and anger, they are so easy to hold on to even when you know how ridiculous you are being. The truth was, Valentines day wasn’t exactly a monumental holiday. It wasn’t their anniversary or a birthday, but she had had this idea, an image of the two of them eating takeaway out of the boxes because they still hadn’t bothered to unpack the plates, candles lit, a cosy night in just the two of them. She had waited for so long to have a place they could call theirs, and she wanted to christen it. Now, it seemed as if it would just be another date in the calender, February 14th, nothing special. She sighed.

On the day itself, she didn’t even hear him leave for work he had got up so early. She was off that day, using it to unpack and clean, a list of jobs which no matter how long she spent on them, never seemed to decrease in length. After several hours, becoming more and more sick of the sight of newspaper and packing peanuts, she had unpacked a framed photgraph taken at the beginning of their relationship. Robert was standing behind her, arms wrapped around her waist, both smiling widely at the camera. One look at that picture and she realised what a daft idiot she was being. She had complained about hardly seeing him, about spending so little time together, yet in the days since their argument she had spoken to him even less, BY CHOICE. It was time to make amends.

She knew he was working a double and wouldn’t be home until very late, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the day special. She gathered the discarded pieces of newspaper and made a Valentines day banner with red sharpie and string. She set out all the candles she could find to light when he got home, and after a trip to the local card shop, placed some red heart shaped balloons around the room. She also bought a card, nothing too soppy, just a simple ‘Be my Valentine.’ Inside she inscribed, “My dearest Robert, I love you more than words can express. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and selfishly, I want to keep you all to myself. I’m sorry, Beth.”

She placed it front and centre on the fireplace. Normally, she would make a meal or order them in something special, but given how late he would get home, this wasn’t exactly practical. So instead, she baked. At the local shop, she bought the ingredients she needed to make her Grandmother’s shortbread recipe, and she spent the afternoon making heart shaped biscuits. When she was done, placing them down with the card, she looked around at her handy work and smiled. If this didn’t put an end to the silent treatment, nothing would.

She yawned. Checking the time on her phone, it was just after five pm, she realised Robert wouldn’t be home for hours. Beth put her head down on the sofa, and decided to close her eyes for half an hour, but exhaustion took over and she fell fast asleep.

“Beth? Sleeping beauty?”

She awoke to a gentle kiss on her forehead. The room which had been bright when she lay down, was now pitch black. She wondered what time it was.

“It’s late, about eleven.”

She had no idea how he managed to read her mind the way he did, but she loved him for it. He reached beside the sofa and turned on the lamp, revealing her hard days work. He smiled.

“You’ve been busy.”
“I have indeed. I wanted it to be special. Do you like it?”
“Of course I do. You didn’t have to go to so much trouble.”
“I wanted to…look, I’m sorry about the fight.”
“No, I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve barely seen you these past few weeks and it’s not fair. I told them tonight I would be scaling back, new staff or not.”
“You did?”
“I did. I had to get my priorities in order.”

They both laughed, and she threw her arms around his neck and breathed him in, relief washing over her. Fights always create a distance between two people, and every time, there is the chance it may become too great a space to close.

“I have something for you.”

He reached inside his brown leather satchell, papers and books filling the majority of the watch 2space, and removed a wooden box. The box itself was beautiful, just able to fit in one hand, it was smooth and cool to the touch.

“What’s this?”
“Open it and see.”

She pulled off the lid, to reveal a watch inside. It was made of a dark, rich wood, with an emerald green face. She held it into the light, the wood smooth in her hands.

“It’s beautiful, I love it.”
“Check out the inscription.”

She excitedly turned it over, revealing the words etched on the smooth, wooden disc, ‘I will always find time for you.’ She could feel tears fill her eyes as she once again embraced him, and there they sat a while, just holding each other, the only sounds in the room was their quiet contented breathing, and the ticking of the watch.

About my watch

watch 3If you like my watch, and fancy it for yourself, it’s called the ‘Frankie’ watch, and mine is made of dark sandalwood with an emerald face.  You can buy it here.  Or you can click to have a look at their women’s collection and men’s collections.  Don’t forget, every entry into the giveaway also gets you 10% off, so get shopping for that perfect Valentine’s day gift!


Wooden Wrist Watch

The Bookish Box: Official Unboxing.

Happy New years Eve everyone!  I hope you all have a wonderful evening ahead of you, including a glass of bubbly and a kiss at midnight.  To celebrate the end of December, and 2017, as well as the beginning of a new year, I thought I would share with you the unboxing of The Bookish Box’s December edition, which is the perfect theme for the coming of a new year: Destined.  I have had the honour of recently becoming a rep for this amazing company, and I was so excited to receive my first box, I simply couldn’t wait to share it with you all.  If you love it as much as me, you can get 15% off at the Bookish Shop and $3.00 off your first subscription at The Bookish Box  by using my exclusive discount code MARIE.

And to celebrate December’s theme of Destined, I have written a short story in the same theme, which is at the end of the unboxing!  Enjoy the unboxing, enjoy my story and enjoy your New Year’s Eve…it’s destined to be a good one!!

bookish box 1Just look at this selection of bookish goodies!  I practically squealed when I opened it.  The first thing I came upon was this gorgeous Throne of Glass mug, featuring a fabulous watercolour illustration by Aelin Fireheart.  As if this wasn’t amazing enough, inside I found the most beautiful wooden Christmas ornament created by Hello World Paper Co.

Next, I came upon the sweetest Harry Potter candle, created by Whiskey Diamond Candle bb3Co. and decorated with a hint of gold.  I wish I had the ability to capture scents in my images, because it smells heavenly!! And to match my candle, a badass Harry Potter tee from The Bookish Shop, with one of my favourite quotes, ‘When in doubt, go to the library.’ Wise words!!

Beneath this, a stunning Game of Thrones print by @DaniMarieDraws, featuring the Queen of Dragons herself, as well as the monthly theme doodle created by Doodles by Christina, because who doesn’t love a bit of colouring in?

bb4Finally, the final finishing touch, a new read: Roomies by the New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren- keep an eye out on my blog for the upcoming review!

I honestly think it might be the best thing I have ever received through the mail!

 

Running from Destiny

When Helena was born, she was told, “You are destined to be a great leader.” It had been written in the stars they said, and foretold by the elders of the kingdom. As she grew, they told her almost every day of her life, “Take your lessons Helena, so you can grow up to be the great leader you are destined to become.” “Eat your vegetables Helena, so you grow up to be the strong leader you are destined to become.” If she heard her nanny say it once, she heard it a million times, until Helena decided she didn’t want to be a great leader anymore. She decided she wanted to be something else, anything else, somewhere else, away from here. And so, on her sixteenth birthday, under the cover of darkness, she packed a bag and left the kingdom, turning her back on the destiny everyone else had picked and choosing her own.

When the people awoke the next day, and discovered their beloved Princess gone, they wept, for they knew that darkness lay in wait within their boundaries, poised to strike at any moment, and without Helena, their great and brave leader, they were surely doomed.

Helena walked through the most treacherous mountain paths, and faced the worst of all weather. She hunted and climbed and swam and ran, and grew tall and strong. Her life time of training kicked it, almost automatically, and she did not simply survive, she thrived and grew stronger than ever, for now she breathed free air, and could choose her own path.

Sadly, the kingdom grew weaker, as fear took hold. Those amongst them, with greedy intentions and selfish inclinations, took advantage of the climate of uncertainty, and anointed themselves leaders and governors, tearing the kingdom into pieces to rule as their own, fighting to rule the biggest piece, until it lay in wreck and ruin, unrecognisable to any who had known her in happier times.

A decade came and went, and Helena, now strong and fierce, never tiring of her adventures, hurried onwards until she came upon a town in the dark woods. The people were fearful, cowering at the slightest sound. Every time Helena tried to speak with them, to buy a loaf of bread or enquire as to the name of the town, they would run and hide, locking their doors. Only one would talk with her, the eldest of the residents, and therefore the one with the least to lose. She told Helena of a great and mighty kingdom, filled with happy people, who after losing their Princess, found themselves torn apart by greedy, selfish men, who decided to fill the void left behind with their own version of leadership. And so, under the shadow of such corruption and deceit, the kingdom fell apart, and it’s people now feared their own shadows, and struggled with the daily chore of survival.

Helena was touched by this tale of woe, and after seeing how poor the people were, and how even the children were worked as slaves so the men in charge could live in wealth and luxury, she made it her mission to help them. One by one, she faced these men, and one by one they fell on her sword. She freed the enslaved, and opened the castle doors to the poor and the starving, ensuring all were fed and clothed and had a roof over their head. She restored the light to the darkened woods, and the kingdom once again united, began to prosper, it’s people happy for the first time in so many years.

One day, as Helena was helping the villagers rebuild their school, the old woman came to her with a smile on her face, “I told you you would be a great leader one day. I’m glad I made you take your lessons and eat your vegetables.” Helena cried with joy as she hugged her old Nanny, and the people rejoiced at the return of their beloved Princess. Although she had left, she returned stronger, having lived her life her own way on her own terms, and discovered that often, we meet our destinies on the paths we take in order to avoid them.

 

 

Christmas Tail: A Short Story.

santaMerry Christmas everyone!  We are nearly there now.  There’s just a few days left to wrap your gifts, make your Christmas cake and hang the mistletoe.  With that in mind, tonight’s short story is a festive one.  I hope you like it!

A Christmas Tail

I bury myself further into the dead leaves and detritus, seeking out whatever warmth I can from my make shift bed, but it’s so cold now I can see my breathe. There have been so many nights like this, where I shiver myself to sleep, teeth chattering, and with the temperatures continuing to drop, and the imminent threat of snow, I am terrified that at some point, I won’t wake up again. My stomach rumbles. I haven’t eaten for hours, and what I did have, the remnants of a discarded coffee shop sandwich abandoned by a satiated patron before I was shooed away by staff, wasn’t much to begin with.

It wasn’t always like this. I had a home once, I had someone who loved me, who I loved in return. But they died, and my life fell apart without them. I think of her now, her smile, her comforting touch on my face, the scent of her skin. I look up at the stars, millions of tiny pinpricks in a backlit canvas, and I imagine she is up there, somewhere, watching over me. But the thought brings little comfort on this cold and lonely night, and I feel a tear make it’s way down my cheek as I lay my head down to sleep.

****

“Mum?”

“Yes sweetheart?”

I can hear she’s distracted, only half listening as she stirs the wooden spoon in the big bowl. We are making cake, which smells so good, and I am waiting to lick the spoon.

“What if he forgets me?”

“Who dear?”

“Santa. What if he forgets me. There’s so many children. My teacher says there are squillions all over the world. He might forget one or two, it’s understandable.”

“Santa won’t forget you. You wrote him, remember?”

I remember. I had asked for a puppy but my mum told me he couldn’t bring live animals in a sleigh, that it’s super cold up high in the air where it flies, and a puppy wouldn’t be able to stand it, so I changed it to a pink bike. I still wish for the puppy.

“Grown ups forget things all the time, even if they write it down. You make lists on the fridge and still forget stuff.”

“He won’t forget Sara.”

“But what if he does?”

“He won’t. He’s magic.”

“But…”

“Sara, mummy is trying to concentrate. If I can’t make the mixture properly, there will be no spoon to lick and no cake to eat on Christmas day.”

“I stop talking. I want the spoon.

****

I feel like I’ve been walking for hours now. My feet ache, and my coat isn’t warm enough for this weather. I need some heat and some food. I move back into the town centre, following the smells and sounds. I take the back alleys and entry ways. People don’t like my kind, the waifs and the strays, the unwanted and undesirables. We are something to sneer at sitting outside their shiny department stores while they throw away their money on trinkets and baubles. We are the ugly thing you ignore when we beg for food. I learned early on that I got on a lot easier when I stayed in the shadows, out of sight and out of mind.

I find the place I’m looking for, a restaurant near the University. Their bins are always overflowing with food, and there’s a spot by the basement level kitchen, a grate used to vent air, which will be warm and dry. I lie against it, chewing the old loaf I have found by the bin. I can usually get an hour or so here, until one the staff emerge for a cigarette and move me on. Then it will be more hiding, more sneaking, seeking out another spot to survive where I won’t be in someone’s way. I always seem to be in their way.

****

I stare at the boxes under the tree. I know Santa hasn’t been yet, and these are just the gifts from Uncle Tom and Aunt Betty, and Granny and Grandpa, but I check them one by one just in case. None of them are bike shaped and none of them have little barks coming from them. I keep checking the time. It’s almost my bed time, and that means Santa will be coming soon, but I already know I’ll be far too excited to sleep. The night will drag, and I will feel every single minute as I count down until Christmas day.

Last year I got yelled at because I got up too early. I could see that the presents were there, and that Santa had been, but Mummy said that he was still watching, and that only naughty girls got up at 4am and woke up their parents, and we all know what happens to naughty girls…they get coal. She said that my gifts could still be magicked away if I didn’t go back to bed. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I believe her, but there is way too much at stake to risk her being right.

So I will just have to wait and listen and hope that he hasn’t forgotten me.

****

It’s night again, and it’s colder than I have ever felt before. I did’t know this kind of cold existed. It’s in my very bones, along with the damp, and I can’t stop shivering. I have been walking for an age, trying to stop the numbness spreading from my feet into the rest of my body. I know what will come of me if that happens. I think I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road, as the streets I am in now are unfamiliar. The moon is shrouded in thick, black clouds and only the yellow street lights illuminate my path. They cast long and ominous shadows, and I find myself afraid, of what I am unsure, but I feel it nonetheless.

It’s Christmas eve, and the houses I pass all have cheerful coloured lights on strings outlining their shapes in the darkness. Through an occasional open curtain, I can see families gathered, drinks being drunk and food being eaten, and I can hear their laughter carried faintly on the wind. This is the worst time of year for the lonely. There is so much emphasis on family, on parties and gatherings of friends and embracing loved ones or kissing them under mistletoe. But I don’t have any of that. I don’t have a family, or friends, or mistletoe. I feel so alone.

I pass a garden, the gate hanging from rusted hinges, and inside I can make out the outline of a shed. I hesitate, always reluctant to risk showing myself, to face their rejection, that expression on their faces, disgust mixed with annoyance. But as I feel the first snow of winter begin to fall from the black inky sky above, the decision is made for me, and I carefully, and quietly make my way across the lawn to what will be my bed for the night.

****

I check the clock. The big hand is pointing at the 12 and the little hand is pointing at the 5, which means I’m still not allowed to get up. I hate waiting; it never leads to any fun. You wait at the Doctors to get jabs and gross medicines, you wait at school for your teacher to start the lessons, you wait in lines and at bus stops. No good ever came from waiting. I try to resist the temptation to get up, but I can feel my toes wriggling and my feet tapping and I know they have already made the decision to get up on my behalf.

I walk quietly and quickly, avoiding the squeaky floorboard and stick to the very edge of the stairs, taking each step as delicately as I can. I pretend I am a spy like in the movies, on a super secret mission. I feel a little bad for getting up, and I know I could get in trouble, but I won’t open the presents or anything, I’ll just check they’re there, and perhaps give one or two a squeeze to try and guess what’s inside. That’s not naughty really is it?

I poke my head into our big living and dining room, to find the tree lights reflecting off lots of shiny paper and bows. I barely contain a scream as I run towards them, forgetting how a spy would act, and becoming a child again. I place my ear to a few of the bigger boxes, but there is no whimpering, no barking. There is a pink bike in the corner with a big gold bow. I should be happy; it’s pretty and has streamers on the handlebars to make you go faster, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed about the puppy. If Santa is really magic, I don’t see why he can’t bring me a puppy. Maybe next year I should write to Amazon, they seem to deliver anything.

It’s just then I see him, walking across our back garden, towards my play house. He sees me and stops, and for a moment we stare at each other.

“MUMMY!!”

****

I only make it half way across the yard when I spot her. She is small, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, wearing red pyjamas covered in smiling ginger bread men. I freeze, as we stare at each other. It’s so cold now, and I am beginning to feel so sleepy. The little wooden shed in the garden is so close, and I so desperately need a place to sleep, to seek shelter from the snow now falling in great waves of white. If only she would look away for a second, I could perhaps dash inside and hide, but I know I won’t make it, and I know I haven’t the strength to find somewhere else.

And so, I sit down in the snow, and close my eyes, and wait for the people to come and yell at me, to kick me or curse me. I’m too tired to stay hidden any longer, and besides, I have already been seen. Perhaps these people will be kind, perhaps they will let me sleep in their little wooden house, and give me a blanket and some food. But in my heart, I doubt the thoughts almost as soon as their formed, and I know the cold will take me, like it took my love.

I’m just so tired. I’ll just close my eyes for a second.

****

“That’s enough blankets Sara.”

“But he’s still cold.”

“He’s fine, let him have some air for goodness sake or you’ll suffocate him.”

“Maybe we should get your hot water bottle too. Mine is only small.”

“He’s fine Sara. Look, he’s wagging his tail.”

And he is. It’s just a little movement at first, slow and deliberate, but soon he is wagging it like the puppies on the TV and the thumping noise it makes as it bangs off the chair makes me giggle. He was so cold when we got him inside, and mummy even rang an animal Doctor to check what to do. I learned in school that they are called Vets. The Vet said to make him warm and comfortable, and see if we could get him to eat something. No trouble there, he wolfed down my Mummy’s turkey and gravy potatoes, and he even ate the bones!!

He is little, and white with a big black spot over one eye and one black foot, as if he lost all his other socks except that one. Even his tail has a little black end, like it’s been dipped in paint. I stroke his head as he sleeps in the giant blanket fort I have made him, and occasionally, he licks my hand, which tickles.

I tried to pick a name, but Mummy says we have to check to make sure he doesn’t already have a family and another little girl before I name him, in case we have to give him back. I named him anyway; he’s called Spot.

“Now, don’t get attached Sara. He may belong to someone who is out there right now, worried sick.”

“No, he’s mine. Santa brought him. He looks exactly like the pictures I drew for Santa, see?”

She takes the page I thrust at her, and looks at me the same way she does when I have a cough or the chicken pox.

“I suppose he does, but…”

“I guess you were right though.”

“I was? What about?”

“About it being too cold in the sleigh for puppies. He was shaking when Santa delivered him.”

“Yes, well…”

“And you were right about Santa, he didn’t forget me. He remembered me, and he brought me my Spot. This is the best Christmas ever.”

I kiss her on the cheek, before going back to stroke Spot’s little nose. She looks like she may say something, but seems to change her mind, and instead she just takes Daddy’s hand and mine in hers, and we all stroke Spot together, until his tail is wagging so fast, it’s just a blur.

And it is the best Christmas ever, because I have Spot and he has me. Next year, I’m going to ask for a kitten.

Broken Wings and Wall Clocks: A Collaborative Short Story.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are nearing the big day, counting down until we get some time off work, battling our way through crowded shops and snow laden streets and sickening ourselves of mince pies!  This is my favourite time of year, because everyone is just that little bit more generous and thoughtful, and generally kinder.  Whilst this is a season for joy and happiness, it can also be a struggle for some.  I try to be open and honest about my mental health issues, having suffered from depression and anxiety for several years, and I know how stressful, and sometimes lonely this time of year can be as a result.  There is an overwhelming pressure to be happy, and that forced merriment can sometimes have the opposite effect.  If you are struggling with your own issues, I would encourage you to speak out and talk to someone…it genuinely helps.  With that in mind,  for tonight’s blog post, a collaborative short story and the next in my ‘Inspired’ series, I have written a story about my own experiences, inspired by a painting by the very talented artist Lyle Schultz.

Lyle is an artist based in Canada, and a man of many talents.  As well as creating incredible mixed media works of art, which you can find here, he is also a writer, you can check out his writing here, and even a fashion designer, check out his clothing here!  How to describe his work?  I will use the artist’s own words, because he is infinitely more qualified than myself and also has a far more extensive vocabulary:

My paintings are a maelstrom of images and scratches, furious and open, the pictures a window into a mind that is furiously working, a plethora of cartoon madness and pop art motifs running rampant in vibrant colours and bold mark making.  This is a life laid bare, the expression of an artist living to a rhythm of his own making, a riff that sucks in everything contemporary culture throws its way; film, comics, advertising, graffiti, and reinventing it, re-appropriating it, creating a new pictorial language that echoes the work of De Kooning, Basquiat and Grosz, all artists who railed against the status quo, took the outsider in, never moved an inch, fought for their space and demanded to be heard.

My paintings reflect a modern world in which visual saturation is at breaking point, my work is a distillation of the tsunami of images that hurtle through our screens, from the pages of magazines. Everything is here, everything is for sale, our lives imprisoned in a gonzoland of farce and materiality, it is a place that I frenetically describe over and over again, each mark a wake up call, a realisation, an indictment, an attempt to strip away the artifice and indulge in a little bit of magic.

I couldn’t have put it better myself (I genuinely couldn’t).  I was immediately drawn to his vibrant and edgy pieces, and was honoured when he agreed to collaborate with me.  I chose one of his many paintings, which trust me was not easy, and created the story below based on it.  The image inspired me to look inwards at my own struggles and chaotic mind, and to write a story filled with issues and problems, but also hope.  And on that note, I sincerely hope you like it!

Broken wings and wall clocks.

lyleThere are two wall clocks in this office, one directly facing me, and one behind my head. Time is inescapable here, and the ticking away of every passing second, is in surround sound. Sometimes, when I’m not in the mood to discuss my feelings, I stare hard at the little black hand, making it’s way around the clock’s face, willing it to go faster. It never does. In fact, time slows down within these walls, every second dragging and limping by.

“Laura?”

Oh shit, she’s looking at me. Did she ask a question? I suddenly wish I could read minds.

“Yes?”

“How does that sound to you?”

“It sounds, fine, yes. Fine.”

I have no idea if this is the correct response, but I figure I’ve got a fifty fifty shot of getting it right, so it’s worth a punt.

“Excellent. I’ll get those printed off for you then.”

Result! Just another one of Doctor Ferguson’s little exercises, designed to make me change my ‘thought patterns’. I fucking hate the exercises. How can a person change the very way they think? Our thoughts, are as much a part of us as our limbs. I think therefore I am.

The Doctor gets up off the threadbare seat, and leaves the office to locate the printer. I relish these little moments alone, with no questions or analysis. There is a faded poster hanging above the filing cabinet, a ginger cat, hanging from a branch and the words ‘Hang on in there.’ written in bright yellow lettering. I don’t find this particularly motivating, in fact, it pisses me off. If you see a cat in distress, dangling from a tree branch, you go and help it, not take a picture. Dumb fucking poster. The door opens again, before slamming shut of it’s own accord. It is designed to do this, to prevent the spread of fire, but it always gave the impression of being sentient, or perhaps controlled by an invisible presence.

“Here we go.”

Dr Ferguson always falls into her chair, rather than sitting in it. It’s a low piece of furniture, and she is a fairly heavy woman. She always dresses the same, wearing some hideous pastel coloured

cardigan, despite the broken radiators in here producing sauna like temperatures. There’s the same cameo brooch and pearls, as if she is dressed up as a therapist for halloween. The worst part is her lipstick, always the same garish pink, and always smeared on her teeth. Doesn’t she own a mirror?Maybe it’s some kind of test, to see if I’ll notice, to see if I’ll say something. I won’t. After shuffling the papers, she hands them to me, pointing at the boxes marked with the days of the week.

“Just fill in what you do each day under the appropriate heading. Try to include everything, but no need to go into minute detail. I don’t need to know your toilet habits for example.”

She laughs at this. She often laughs at her own jokes. I don’t laugh, mainly because they’re never particularly funny. Sometimes, as in now, I smirk in return, out of pity rather than actual amusement.

“Wait until you see just how much you get up to each day. I am willing to bet you accomplish far more than you give yourself credit for.”

I don’t.

“Even getting dressed and washed is an accomplishment in your circumstances, so think of it like one.”

She always called it that, my ‘circumstances.’ I suppose it sounds better than calling me mental, crazy, broken.

“Will do.”

“Excellent, well that’s the end of the session today. Do you feel like you benefitted from it?”

“Yes, of course.”

I don’t.

“Excellent. Well, then I’ll see you same time next week.”

She walks me to the front doors and buzzes me out. You aren’t allowed to walk about this place unattended. I often wonder what happened to create the necessity for that rule. The building was beautiful once, all red brick and stone roses, but it has been painted and repainted so many times

over the years, that it gives the impression of having some kind of disease, the flakes of paint flaking off like scabs, exposing the red brick flesh beneath. It looks sicker than the patients within.

I start walking, pulling my jacket tighter in a feeble attempt to keep out the cold. The hospital was built long before the need for car parking spaces, and so I was forced to abandon my car a few streets away on a single yellow line. I’ve been over an hour now. I hope I don’t get a ticket. I wonder what the place looked like a century ago, and what those Doctors and nurses would think if they saw it now. I often let my mind wonder this way. It’s easier to think about pointless nonsense than think about the ever increasing anxiety at the thought of a parking ticket, or the many other possible scenarios which regularly clog up my mind. The Doctor says I focus so much on the ‘what ifs’ that I miss out on the here and now. No shit.

I pass two men wearing hard hats and high vis vests, sipping from steaming paper cups. They stop talking, watching me pass. Do they know? I can feel their eyes on the back of my head, boring holes deep and inescapable. I hate that feeling of judgment, the idea of people sizing you up and deciding you have come up short. Dr Ferguson told me, ‘No one is thinking that about you. They have their own battles to fight.’ I think that’s bullshit. Everyone judges everyone else, all the time. Hell, I’m guilty of it often enough. No, it’s easier to retreat and withdraw, than risk rejection.

It starts raining. The entire colour of the sky seems to change in an instant to a dark and foreboding grey, casting a dull filter over everything. Bloody Irish weather! There’s a large oak tree nearby, and I make a b-line for it, taking shelter under its thick canopy. I hate the feeling of water hitting my face; it makes me shudder. I won’t even let it land there in the shower, choosing instead to bend and twist at odd angles while washing in order to avoid it. I try to think of things like this as personality quirks or cute little foibles, but they aren’t. They are dumb and annoying, and they make everything harder. Sometimes I feel like my own mind is against me.

Huddled against the trunk, I hear a faint noise, a kind of chirping, nearby. I look around, and near the tree, under a bush, I find a small bird. It’s brown and mottled, with little flecks of green throughout. Is it a greenfinch? I’m no ornithologist. It’s looking right at me, still chirping, flapping just one wing in a panicked motion, causing it to bob and thrash but not actually go anywhere. It’s other wing stays against it’s little body, and it’s breathing heavily. It must have hurt it’s wing poor thing. I step towards it and it flinches, backing away.

“It’s ok sweety, I won’t hurt you. I just want to help.”

What am I doing? I’m talking to a bird, as if it can possibly understand what I say. All it knows is that it’s small, and I’m big, and I could kill it easily if I were so inclined. It’s a familiar feeling to me, that overwhelming helplessness. I’m not sure what to do. If I leave it here, it would inevitably be killed by a cat, but if I take it home what exactly can I do for it? I’m not a vet. I have no idea what to do with an injured bird. Shit…I’ll have to leave it.

“Sorry.”

Now I’m apologising to it. If Dr Ferguson could see me now, she would probably have me committed. The rain has become a slight drizzle now. I should make a dash for it before it picks up again. When I was little, I thought rain was God draining his bath water. Mental illness aside, I have always been a bit odd. I get three or four feet before I stop. I can just make out the little cheep cheep of the bird now, and the sound causes me physical pain; that familiar stabbing pang of guilt. I can’t leave it, I’m a vegetarian for God’s sake.

It’s further inside the bush now. I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach it. It takes me four attempts, but I manage to catch it with my leather jacket. I’m now mucky and dishevelled. I look like I’ve escaped from the hospital. This is quickly becoming one of those days.

I don’t know how to hold it. I need to hold it tight enough to keep it trapped within the fabric, but I’m afraid if I squeeze too hard, I’ll kill a bird and ruin my favourite jacket in one go. It’s getting colder. Without my jacket, goose pimples appear all over my outstretched arms, little droplets of rain clinging to the hairs like spider webs. I begin to do a half walk half run towards the car, but stop when I realise how ridiculous I must look.

When I finally reach my car, I realise my keys are inside my jacket pocket. Great! I just about fish them out, almost dropping the bird, and climb inside. I don’t have a bird cage or cardboard box handy, but I do have an extensive collection of rubbish lying about, including a brown paper bag from yesterdays sandwich. Better than nothing. I keep meaning to clean my car, but it inevitably gets put off; too much self pitying to do. There’s bird shit on my jacket and I know the little bugger did it deliberately. I’m beginning to think Hitchcock was right.

I start her up, and edge my way out of the space. Thank God it’s not too busy. Heavy traffic gives me anxiety. In fact, most things give me anxiety, that’s who I am now: Miss Anxiety. Some kind of

mental illness pageant winner. Heaters turned full blast, I flick through the radio channels until I find one playing music. I hate radio DJs; they talk so much shit and expect people to jump through hoops for the privilege of a mug and pen. No thanks. I like music, especially something I can sing along to. It offers temporary relief from my thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, that’s what Dr Ferguson calls them. Involuntary thoughts which are often unpleasant and are always difficult to eliminate. I call them Dick head thoughts, because thinking them makes me feel like a dick. If people could hear what was going on up there, what insignificant, meaningless thing I was panicking about today, they would try to avoid eye contact and walk very quickly in the opposite direction.

We are on the carriageway now. I keep looking over at the bag, I’m not sure why, it’s hardly going to fly off. But I need to know it’s still there, still safe. I do this with people sometimes too, reaching out to my boyfriend in the darkness, checking that he hasn’t left me. There is a small fear, ever present at the back of my mind, that everyone will some day realise what I already know about myself; that I’m worthless.

It takes longer to get home than usual. Despite Northern Ireland being perpetually damp, every driver seems terrified of a little rain water on the road, and slows down to the speed of molasses. I get road rage, yelling obscenities at people who can neither see nor hear me. It makes me feel better; regular, small releases of pressure are better than one sudden explosion. By the time I get home, it’s beginning to get dark.

I carry in the bag and carefully place it on the kitchen counter. What now? I didn’t think this far ahead. A quick google search brings up various unhelpful pages, plus the number for the USPCA. I don’t understand how people survived without google. I read once, that we are losing our ability to retain information, because it is so conveniently located at all times, in our pockets. I am guilty of this. I have a memory like a sieve and without my phone telling me where to go and when, how to get there and what groceries I need to get, I dread to think where I would be. Lost and hungry I assume.

“Hello USPCA, my name is Jack. How can I help you?”

“Um, hi, yes, I’ve found an injured bird and I was just wanting some advice on what to do.”

“What kind of bird?”

“What?”

“What kind of bird is it?”

“I dunno, a small one.”

“Well, what does it look like?”

“It’s small with a kind of browny, greyey greeny coloured body and a little fat beak.”

“Hmm that doesn’t really narrow it down does it?”

He sort of scoffs at this, as if he is being incredibly witty. I’m losing my patience.

“Does it matter? I just want to know what to do. Surely the advice is the same whether I have a blue tit or a bald eagle?”

“Well bald eagles are native to America.”

Seriously? Could this man be anymore of a pleb? I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m not overly fussed on people in general, but I am particularly averse to condescending jerks. I don’t want to say something I might regret, and I still need the information.

“It’s hurt it’s wing. I’ve managed to catch it, but I’m not sure what I should do now.”

“Oh dear, well more often than not, being caught by a person or animal actually kills the bird. Shock you see. You should have left it, and just observed it.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“Well I didn’t provide remote observation, I caught it. What do I do now?”

“Place it somewhere outside, where it can leave if it wishes, but where it is also safe from cats. If it is fit, it will fly off of it’s own accord. If not, take it to your local vet. There isn’t much you can do with wild birds if their wing is damaged, so it would probably be euthanised.”

“Well that hardly seems fair, can’t they splint it or something?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that for birds.”

He scoffs again and I immediately hang up. Smug bastard. I stand a moment, staring at the bag, still unsure what to do exactly. Could I have killed it with good intentions? I peer inside. It’s moving, but it looks scared. I feel like shit.

Without anything else to go on, I take the bag outside to the garden, along with a shoe box, in which I place a few pairs of socks in lieu of saw dust or straw, and a bottle top filled with water, and I place the bird inside it. I leave the lid off, so it can fly off if it wants to, if it can. Then, I sit down beside it, keeping guard. I can’t leave it. I’ve basically boxed up a packed lunch for one of the

neighbourhood cats. At least the rain has stopped.

We sit watching each other, sizing each other up. I wonder what it thinks I am? A predator? A friend? I don’t want it to be frightened. If it does die, I want it to die knowing some kind of kindness. I lean in and gently stroke it’s feathers, “Shhhh, it’s ok. You’re ok. It will be fine.” I speak softly, like a mother reassuring a crying child. I hear words coming out of my mouth that have been said to me so many times over the years; words I never believed. “It’s ok, you’ll be fine.” I suppose that’s just what you say to someone when they’re sick or upset, even if you don’t necessarily think it’s true. It’s kind.

It closes it’s eyes, and it’s breathing steadies. I watch it sleep. I know it’s just a bird, it’s not even my bird, but I genuinely feel upset at the thought of it dying. Sometimes, I imagine things which are unrelated, are signs or signals from the universe. Dr Ferguson calls it ‘magical thinking’, like those people who think if they don’t flick the light switch on and off fifteen times before they leave the house, their family will die. I think, everything is a sign that I’m a failure, that things will always be this way, and they’ll never get better. I want the bird to get better. I want to get better.

I hear my mobile phone ring inside the house. It will be fine for a minute. ‘Mum’ flashes on the screen. I take a deep breath.

“Hey mum.”

“Did you go to the Doctor today?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Are you feeling better?”

I wish it was that easy. I’m the only person in our extended family who has suffered from mental health issues. My mum is used to applying plasters and administering medicine. She doesn’t understand how long this process could take to work, if it works at all.

“I feel the same, but it was only my third session. You have to give these things time.”

“Are you taking your tablets? You know what your memory is like.”

“Yes mum.”

I’ve lived away from home for years, but she still treats me like a child, checking I have clean clothes and I’m eating right. I hate it and crave it at the same time; it’s comforting to know a safety net exists. As I listen to her unsolicited advice, I see movement from the box outside. A small flutter at first, before the bird manages to jump out of the box. I watch it try out it’s wings, moving them back and forth, hovering a foot into the air before coming back down, then two feet, then onto the glass table. I can’t hear my mum now. I hold my breathe, and stand as still as a statue, terrified I’ll spook it and ruin it’s recovery. After a minute or two, it simply flies away. I run outside, but it’s already gone, a black dot in the sky.

“…but you know that right?”

“What’s that mum?”

“You know you can get through this? You’re going to be alright.”

I smile, “Yeah, I’ll be alright.”