Today I attended my first ever writers’ group (at Chapter Arts, Canton, Cardiff) and read out something I’d written for the first time in twenty years. We spent a short time writing then read aloud and discussed each other’s work. It was liberating, enlightening and not least of all, fun!
The theme for the work today was windows. Here are two of the short pieces I wrote, exactly as I wrote them…
Four hours thirty-seven minutes, all being well. The socket under the seat in front doesn’t work, so I can’t plug in and I’m losing charge. Phoneless hours could make for a very dull journey. I’ve brought a book, but it’s not holding my attention.
This is business, this trip back up north. This is work, this train ride. This is an effort, just to sit.
The fact I have no say in whether or not I go doesn’t make me any more keen to carry out my duty. I was hoping a purely fatalistic approach might make me more accepting, but I resent being here.
Three hours in and I feel I’ve been counting the minutes. Then I recognise it. The sharp point of the roof; a secular re-imagining of a holy building. In fact it’s a funeral parlour.
And there it is before me, rising uphill to the right like and active and threatening volcano, which may at any minute blow.
Sheffield. I wasn’t expecting this. I stare out of the window and greedily scan, trying to absorb every image, nudge every nostalgic sensation. The station, the Showroom, Paternoster Row, the ‘new’ sculpture by Chris what-was-his-name? The University, the poly, the factories, the flat-blocks, the bridge, the green and we’re gone.
I realise my head is pressed to the glass as if to afford myself periscopic vision. I realise I am crying.
Marco wanted a tiger. He’d known this since before we’d even arrived. Raphaella said ‘butterfly’, deliberately and earnestly. It’s a hard word. She always had a butterfly.
Tom was quiet and wouldn’t be drawn into conversation. He was always sullen when his cousins were around. There was something about their Italian ebullience, which he found showy and domineering; whereas all us grownups lapped it up, with Ciaos and ostentatious cheek-kisses.
Tom sat in the low plastic chair and described in some detail that he wanted a white face with black lines through it. The lines should go straight down, top to bottom. The woman with the paints, late-thirties, dyed copper hair said “Like a zebra?”
Tom looked at me with incredulity, as if he couldn’t bear to respond to this woman. “Mummy” he said. “If that’s not what you want, darling,” trying to be patient “you need to explain that to the lady.” To either or neither of us he said “But zebras don’t have lines that go straight down.”
She smiled, with genuine patience. “White with black stripes,” she said, “no zebra,” (she corrected) “coming up.”
Marco’s tiger was painted with whisping lines and some flourish and Raphaella had the prettiest most ethereal butterfly wings across her eyes, but Tom was happiest of all with his stripes, truly satisfied. This was always a pleasure for me to see.
As we returned to the sprawling mass of grown-up family on picnic blankets and foldaway chairs the children received oohs and aahs of interested praise.
Andreas quizzed Tom. “What is it you have, Tom; this is no zebra?” Part-question, part-statement.
“I’m a prisoner,” said Tom “looking out of the bars.”