A breeze blows still, cooler and sharper than summer’s soft sigh, an edged whisper stealing beneath my ill-advised layers of silk. I should wear a sweater, perhaps. It’s almost time, but I cling to the dying summer as a drowning man cradles the last hopeful flotsam to his chest. It’s not enough, in the end. But it will do for now.
Vibrant spring greens gave way to lively grass greens. Varied hues fade in sunlight that promises much from behind a window, but delivers less than wanted in reality. Here and there, wine red blushes leaves while others flicker orange and yellow, a final bonfire of colour to warm the season’s end. The green of life retreats to its source. We know the dark is coming.
Not today though. Today energetic clouds bustle in cool blue. Scarlet fruits bob and sway. Nature keeps her promises in generous bounty. And in the imperceptibly shrinking day another voice hides. Now you see me, then you won’t. But the world turns, and brings another, harsher time. Gather in while you may.
The automatic doors spring open for me, the only welcome on this chilly grey morning. Hot air blows briefly through my hair and I blink in the harsh lights of low-end retail, piled high, never mind the quality. Price is king. I’m not here for anything fancy. I have a specific task in mind.
Get in, get it done, get out clean.
Taking off my gloves, I flex my fingers and let the warmth seep into my fingertips. Cold hands lack feeling, and I need to discern every change in texture, weight and balance point as I seek my target. I’m not sure where to find it. Time to roam the ground floor.
I think he’s seen me.
I wander, apparently aimless but in fact with a definite route in mind. Back to bathroom goods, along the rear wall to soft furnishings, over towards the tills and retrace my steps. I pause next to lighting.
He’s still there.
No need to panic. I belong here, just walk like I belong here. I do belong here, I do. But he’s following me, upstairs to kitchenware, past textiles. I hide in the furthest corner, flipping through pictures. Maybe when I turn — no, I see him slipping between the shelves.
When I approach the till and the tired operator asks me if I found everything today, I nod and smile and hand over my debit card. No worries about the trifling amount for a laundry hamper. I dreamed of this day, when prices wouldn’t worry me. A nightmare dogs my steps all the same, even though I’m in the black.
Or because of it.
The security guard watches me exit the store today, just like every other day I visit, keeping a close eye on people like me. I want to shove the receipt in his face and scream.
He didn’t see me.
The automatic doors spring open for me, a cold machine welcome. I’m in another store, a giant halogen-bright temple to consumerism. I have a specific target in mind.
Get in, get it done, get out clean.
These salespeople are bright, smart, and cheerful. They want to help, and commission is a great motivator. I am faced with many options to replace my ageing bed. I look around, but it seems everyone is busy, helping someone else, earning commission somewhere else.
They haven’t seen me.
No need to worry yet. I definitely belong here; my bank balance says so. I do belong here, I do. Black Friday deals everywhere, now if I could only get some assistance with all these different sizes, fabric colours and delivery dates. It’s a high-end store with beautiful room sets and lots of empty space. Price matters, but quality matters more.
I’m not here for anything cheap.
I linger by a truly regal bed, its headboard glamorous buttoned purple velvet. Maybe in another colour, it could be the one. Thirty percent off in the sale ends tomorrow. This is the cue. I’ve stopped walking, I’m ready to be sold something.
Ready, willing, able.
I pick up a brochure on my way out. No one asks me if I found what I wanted today.
Tell me a story. Give me tales of a thousand nights, warm scented breeze on my skin, sand in my shoes. Take me to the farthest pole, blue-green fire dancing in the sky, breath clouding in crisp night air.
Tell me a story. Let me taste salt sea tang while sun beats down on wooden decks. Show me dolphins, flying fish, whales breaching white-topped waves. Let me glimpse bright eyed merpeople watching deep under the surface, waiting.
Tell me a story. Carry me on red and silver rockets to vast silent space stations where the stars never go out. Show me galaxies born from cosmic dust. Bring whispers from strange aliens and stranger, once-human creatures.
Tell me a story. Lead me up the mountain, rocks skittering away under exhausted feet, lungs screaming for oxygen. Describe that joyful promised land seen only from the summit, take me there on wings of faith.
Expand my horizons. Play my emotions. Cloak mindless chatter, soothe unthinking wounds, only with words. Let me shed this skin, be someone else, somewhere else, sometime else. Give me distance, just for a while. Let me lose and maybe find myself.
By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
You think me crazy, driven mad by long solitude, but you are wrong. I have braved storms, rain, and blistering sun. Birds call and wheel in the desolate grey skies of winter, and soar serenely in the blue of summer. Lately, the ring whispers to me, day and night.
Few would live the life of a lighthouse keeper, but I have been more than content to polish the lens, oil the gears, and light the lamp. When storms batter the headland I am unafraid, for this is when I serve my purpose. There could be none nobler than saving lives.
Now, my time is done and you are here to take my place as keeper of the light. I watch the ocean swell and fall back as it has done for ever. The sun moves across the sky and the stars light the night, and on the cycle goes. What is one life, measured against the sweep and grandeur of nature? Everything and nothing.
Once, a long time ago, I took off my shoes and ventured to the shoreline. Light breeze, warm sun, a perfect day. I thought to paddle in the calm waters. One step, another, and the water gripped my ankles, far colder than expected, far stronger than I could bear.
I screamed and ran. That night a silver fish admonished me in dreams. Open your heart. Close your eyes. Release knowledge and grasp truth. I woke and did not know where I was.
Near the beach, a patch of calm water grows in the sea. This is not usual, and you should stay away. The ring itches on my finger but remains bright, even after all this time. I think it washed up on the shore, but I’m not certain any more.
I cannot remove it.
Each night, silvery creatures drift in and out of my dreams. You know, the dolphin says. The endless sea, the tiniest rock pool, the tear in your eye are all the same. You know, the hermit crab says. This house of refuge is only lent, not given. A mermaid flutters cold slender fingers against my cheek, showing me four rings, then a swish of the tail and she is gone, leaving only her voice. Let go.
Humour me. It has been so long since I spoke with another soul.
I have seen great weather systems march across this wide horizon, and plucked shivering half-drowned men from angry seas. I always saw it coming, but I have run from my own storm. So many lives saved, so many more given. Who decides what is a fair exchange between land and sea?
Dreaming and waking are one to me now, full of whispered memories. The sea picked me, and gifted me this ring and a life that should not have been mine. I stand and let the sea caress my skin. When the sun pauses in the solstice sky, when time hangs in the balance, that will be my moment.
I see my slow walk into the calm shallows, the riptide that will pull me under, deeper, back to the start and the end of life, where a silver ring was given and now is forfeit.
The ocean and the raindrop are the same, and shallow waters will lead me to the deep questions. Keep my secret, but do not mourn. My life is a price worth paying to know the answer.
He tasted her mind and realised he was starving – unknown
Dancing girls twirl bright and golden, limbs lustred to slip through the hands in a whisper of scented oils. A brilliant array, spread out to tempt a prince mired in jaded expectation. Perfect sweetmeats, empty glossy promises on the lips.
Bright. Gold. Red. Gone.
She is silent, an insubstantial shadow in the light of her better favoured sisters. Eyes lowered, plain garbed, unremarkable, she vanishes behind another dream confected in jewelled feathers.
He rises, leaves the orgy of consumption behind him, seeks her in the forgotten labyrinth of the palace. His hand stays her flight. Understood.
And so to a perfumed chamber. Purple and maroon, silk and velvet, secrets and lies.
Apparently submissive, her hand slips into a pocket. But when she raises her head, fire blazes defiance from her eyes. He steps back, hand on sword.
I do not refuse my esteemed prince, asking only that I might read to him first.
She opens the small volume, gold letters glowing on its spine.
And the universe cracks open and explodes before him. Questions, answers, songs for eternal ages, ancient wisdom and otherworldly beauty. His desert heart blooms, cool rivers quench parched lips. Her voice swathes him in clouds and galaxies and everything that has not yet come to be. Time sits at her feet and listens.
The prince savours thoughts, feasts on ideas, nourishes his soul, gobbling all. The moon sets; she does not stop reading. He is drunk on limerence, enthralled by wonder.
He wakes alone, faint afterglow of her words in his ear. How could this lyrical banquet leave him so hollow with longing? He did not know true hunger till he tasted her mind.
He had not understood.
A lifetime might not be enough. He searches still, for his hidden spirit with the phoenix burning in her eyes and dragon flames dancing on her tongue.
you break on me like a wave
a swell of careless seduction
drawn to dangerously calm waters
pulled under a riptide of love
you snatch my breath clean away and still
lending you the heat of passion
holding close to my cold and slippery siren
I’m longing for oblivion, a temporary respite
from all the stuff that’s spinning through my brain, night after night.
What can I do when nothing seems to help me slip away
from everything that clutters up my mind, day after day?
I’ve tried all of the recommended old wives tales and tips.
From four o’clock no caffeine is allowed to pass my lips
but white noise drives me crazy, so warm bath and black eye mask
is what I tried. Alas no luck. Is it too much to ask
for a few hours escape from all the worries that I’m feeling
that keep me far from sleep, as I stare up at the dark ceiling?