Fine Lines

Who knew shopping for a new moisturiser could be so emotionally stressful?

There are so many dramatic, confidence-coroding words to wade through. Defying. Minimising. Reduce the signs of. Fight the signs of. Repair. Fix. SOS. Anti-wrinkle. Anti-ageing.

Anti-life.

The lines of my body and the lines of yours are the storylines of our lives – and I’m so, so tired of being made to feel like I have to fight the signs that I’m actually a living, breathing human who’s lucky to be growing older, and maybe even growing wiser, every day. I’m tired of the impending sense of fleshy doom companies drip feed me from all angles. Tired of heart-deep skin worries. Tired of filters specifically designed to “beautify” and hide “flaws” and distort features; filters that mess with the insides as well as the outsides of our heads. I’m tired of airbrushing. And I’m tired of chasing unattainable, ever-changing perfection.

No cream, no balm, no serum, no filter can substitute for the storylines of a life well-lived.

These are some of my body’s lines…

Little cardboard cuts scratched across my fingers and forearms – the bane of supermarket workers the world over. Palm lines that hold my future and my past, or maybe they don’t, who knows? Teeny, tiny fingerprint lines, all mine. Spidery blue lines just below my skin – beating, flowing, rushing lifelines. Hairband lines – most days one found on my right wrist, some days one found right round my tresses, the ugly ghost of a ponytail. Centre parting line, something I have always, and will always, refuse to change no matter what hairdressers say. Anklet lines, my inner bohemian/hippie/magpie released. Bracelet lines painted against my pulse. Watch strap lines telling fleshy time. Tan lines, pale moon-white skin versus slightly less pale and freckle flecked skin. Sometimes, fake tan streaks. Occasionally, wonky eyeliner. Most days, lipstick smudges. Sock lines dug into my calves. Worry lines etched deep on my forehead, maybe even carved down into my skull, from years of not knowing how to let anxieties go. Smile lines that crinkle by my lips, always ready and waiting to make an appearance, from years of knowing the best family and friends. Teary mascara streaks across my face when it all gets too much. Bra strap lines that dent my shoulders and stretch across my back. Uncomfortable underwire lines that trace up to my armpits. White dashes on my fingernails and jagged, broken lines of varnish. Burn lines, guilt infused. Bleary red veins that creep and crawl in the whites of my eyes after too little sleep, bleary red pillowcase creases that thread across my cheek bones after too much. Stretch marks, silver tiger prints blooming on my thighs, my hips, my breasts. Bikini line, ahem. Crinkles above, below, behind my knees. Little lines on my ears from earphone wires. Face mask lines on my nose, something new to get used to. Mini crosshatched lines tattooed to my hands and knees from my yoga mat. Muscle lines – be careful, I’m stronger than I look. Big lines from chair edges pressed into the backs of my thighs. Lines of book page edges printed to the fleshy bit below my thumb. Necklines – higher, lower, what will people think, why do I even care? Jean seam lines, waistband lines, cuff lines. Careless ink lines slashed across my hands. The whisper of crow’s feet lines beside my eyes, memories of laughter.

I could go on and on.

These are some of the lines of my life.

And they suit me just fine.

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all at sea

the shiny early morning.

the bustle and butterflies and getting ready. the backpack and its almost broken zip. the going, going, gone out the door. the grey, grey roads. mirror, signal, manoeuvre. the parking up.

the walk, walk, walk.

the slooshy, silver sea and glassy sunlight. the tarmac to beach ombre. the flip-flops flipped off sandy toes. the picking a spot, backwards, forwards, back again. the nerves, nerves, nerves. the trying to forget my body. the quick strip down to my costume. the quick march to the water and the cool, cool, cool of it against feet, calves, knees, thighs, tummy, arms. the deep, deep breaths. the sinking slowly down to shoulders. the unsucking of feet from sand, flip-flapping them. the slip sliding forwards. the rippling waves slapping chin, cheeks, nose. the absurd thought of sharks. the imagining of pointy teeth, fins, death. the less absurd thought of jellyfish. the imagining of tentacles, poison, death. the closing of eyes and the don’t, don’t, don’t think thoughts. the stopping. the treading water. the goggling at blue skies all above. the resting. the bobbing. neck back, head up, hair wet, heart calming. the tippy toes peeping above the water. the tide tugging, pulling, teasing. the splash marks on sunglasses and the gulls crying. the paddle boarders. the serious swimmers, caps and suits and goggles. the runners on the shore. the cruise ships hanging on the horizon, sea cities turned to ghosts. the goosebumps flooding skin. the press of time, time, time. the strokes towards the beach. the soaked soles on shifting sands. the walking. the fear of falling over. the nerves, nerves, nerves again. the trying to forget my body again. the quick steps across the beach. the sand plastered to ankles. the relief of hiding in a gritty towel. the lying back. the gentle hush of waves. the tired lungs, tired arms, tired legs. the tingly skin. the icy breeze. the tangled hair, sticky and messy in a ponytail. the book, its pages snapping in the wind. the shimmering, sea-slicked shells. the wait, wait, wait to be mostly dry. the packing up. the double check. keys, phone. keys, phone. phone, keys. the drive home with a salty smile on my lips and a little weight lifted from my heart. the rest of the day sunny and sea drunk.

the dreams, dreams, dreams.

all at sea.

reading at the beach

three weeks, a pandemic, and a supermarket

So, coronavirus.

I don’t want to bring it up, but I can’t not.

I’ve spent the last two months desperately trying to ignore it – eyes closed, hands over my ears, singing a la-la-la song to myself – in a pathetic attempt to make it all go away.

Funnily enough, that hasn’t worked.

All of our lives and so many industries have been touched by this, in so many different ways – I wanted to share my little corner of the experience so far and get some things off my chest.

I never, ever talk about work here – for lots of reasons, but mainly because it has nothing to do with books or writing. And I don’t know whether I could technically get in trouble with someone from some department I’ve never heard of for writing about what it’s been like to accidentally, and bizarrely, find myself and my colleagues on the frontline of a pandemic, but I’m pretty sure I’m not sharing anything sensitive or secret. Everyone has already seen the photos/videos of what’s been going on in the paper, on the news, or on social media.

I work in a supermarket.

The last three weeks have been the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and insane of my working life.

Personally, this is a little bit of what it’s been like…

It’s been shift after shift after shift of hundreds of agitated people swarming all around, filled with a panic, panic, panic that has become harder and harder to shake off at the end of each day. It’s been empty shelves and angry, snide, horrible comments from actual grown-up human adults who should know how to behave better. It’s been people crowding around for pasta and rice and tins and bottles and paracetemol and soap and toilet roll, with no regard for mine or my colleagues’ personal space and, consequently, no regard for our health (and, consequently, the health of the people we live with/care for). It’s been witnessing selfishness and rudeness on a depressing scale. It’s been telling elderly customer after elderly customer that there’s no bread left, no eggs left, no flour, no pasta, no potatoes; it’s been watching them walk off down the aisle with an empty basket and wondering what they’ll eat for the rest of the week; it’s been wanting to cry, knowing that they’ve risked their health to get their shopping but have nothing to show for it because the shelves were stripped of the basics by people who, most likely, were younger and healthier and less at risk than them. It’s been looking at all the queues, people squished together closely, and thinking: “this is exactly what people are supposed to be avoiding right now.” It’s been moments of staring at the ever-growing gaps on the shop floor and wondering: “what if the deliveries actually do stop coming?” (fyi: they won’t.) In particularly dark and melodramatic and pessimistic corners of my mind, it’s been looking at myself and my colleagues thinking: “what if this is worse than they say it is? We’re basically going to be the first people to die. And all so people could fight over toilet roll they probably don’t really need.” It’s been saying goodbye to older/at risk colleagues and presuming/hoping I’ll see them fit and well in 3 months’ time. It’s been itchy, cracking hands from a mix of cardboard, paper cuts, and hand-sanitizer. It’s been a sore back, painful knees, throbbing feet. It’s been getting home and feeling dirty and contaminated – a risk to my family (particularly my mum, who went through chemo last year, and my dad, who has high-blood pressure – plus they’re both over 60). It’s been trying to figure out if I’ll ever see my 94-year-old grandma in person again. It’s been trying to adjust to the side effects of the anti-depressants I was put back on less than two weeks ago – headaches, dizziness, a constant nausea – and then trying to work out if any of the new things I’m feeling are symptoms of Covid-19 or “just” symptoms of being an anxious person. It’s been desperately wanting to catch up with my friends – see their faces, give them the biggest hugs, cry on their shoulders – but knowing that is absolutely the last thing I can do. It’s been thinking “my job is safe for now – but what happens when the economic impacts of this start digging deeper?” And, completely selfishly, it’s been freaking out that I’ll be single for ever and ever and ever more; despairing that my destiny as a crazy cat lady (and now a crazy jig-saw puzzle lady) is pretty much sealed.

It’s been all that and more, but I think that paragraph is big enough as it is.

Basically – but then, this is true for everyone right now – it’s all been a bit shit.

Times all that stress and emotion by a million, and I can only assume that that must be kind of what it feels like to work in healthcare at the moment.

I have no idea what the future holds. Stuff has got super weird, super quickly.

Somehow, unbelievably, kind of hilariously, I’ve found myself classified as a key-worker in a pandemic. I would never ever in a million years have predicted that, but here we are. I’ll keep turning up, keep taking all the precautions I can to keep me and my family healthy, keep trying to help people have access to the things they need.

At the end of the day, though, we’re all key players in this – whether we’ve been classified by the government as such or not. We all help to make the world a better, happier, safer, nicer, more interesting place.

We have to, have to, have to look after each other.

For now, from afar.

Some day soon, from up close again.

Winter Warmers

The weather outside this December has been frightful.

And as much as the fire has been delightful, sometimes keeping warm and cosy and happy in winter means more than just a temperature change.

I find these winter months difficult. I don’t like short days. I don’t like unrelentingly grey skies. I don’t like my skin turning a weird purple, red, blue colour when I misjudge how many layers I need to wear. I don’t like how easily the dreary darkness of outside creeps inside my mind. And I don’t like de-icing my car. (I really, really don’t like forgetting that I’m going to need to de-ice my car and the five minutes of panic that follows as I desperately try and make it so I can see out of the windscreen and actually get to work on time.)

So, yeah. Not a massive winter fan.

But winter is happening here in the Northern hemisphere whether I’m a fan of it or not (rude, right?) so I figured this year I’d at least try to be a bit more enthusiastic about it.

Here are some of my winter warmers:

cuppas. Cups of tea are an integral part of my life all year round, but cold weather definitely ups the cuppa stakes. Plus, winter is the perfect excuse for a cheeky hot chocolate (maybe with a splash of Bailey’s thrown in too).

people. Spending time with the people that make your heart happy is pretty much the answer to all of life’s problems, always.

stories. In whatever format – whether it’s a TV series, a film, or a book – being swept off to galaxies far, far away; parallel worlds; seventies California, etc. puts a rainy English winter in its little old place. At the moment, I’m watching and loving the adaptation of His Dark Materials on the BBC, reading and loving Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I’m so so looking forward to the new Star Wars film.

DJ&TSBook

twinkle, twinkle. Sparkly lights, sparkly tops, sparkly eye-shadow, sparkly hairspray, sparkly hopes and dreams, sparkly and wonderful people – sparkling, shimmering, shining, glittering stuff keeps the cold, grey darkness of December days at bay. Sparkle up your life. Jingle all the way. Let it glow let it glow let it glow.

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jack frost. Frosty mornings are pretty to look at, even if they do mean I have to de-ice my car. *supresses eye twitch* I don’t know why a little layer of ice makes the world seem magical and fairytale-esque, but it somehow does. And anything that makes the world seem more magical is worth celebrating.

furry friends. Cuddling a cat (or any pet) is one of the best medicines for curing the winter blues.

knitwear. Cocooning myself in layers of knitwear, snug as a bug in a rug, is one of my favourite things about winter and is pretty much the only thing I miss about it when it’s summer time. It’s one of life’s top comforts for me, physically and mentally. I feel safe (100% aware of how silly that sounds) as well as cosy when I’m swamped in an XXL men’s jumper.

eat, drink, be merry. Life is too short to worry about the calorie content of mince pies and mulled wine. Way, way too short. This year, I’m all in.

planning ahead/adventures. Having things to look forward to and adventures to go on – whether they’re big or teeny-tiny small – are nice distractions from the symptoms of cabin fever that can creep in at this time of year. They’re like stepping stones of hope leading all the way to spring.

Driving in Cornwall in the rain. Roadtrip to Cornwall.

starry, starry night. Winter offers some of the best night skies of the year and staring at the stars is always a good idea.

creating. Write an epic poem. Sew a shopper bag. Knit a Dr Who length scarf. Make a Christmas decoration. Bake a massive cake. Concoct a new cocktail. Build a bookshelf. Play an instrument. Invent a new board game. Paint a picture. Paint a wall. Being stuck inside is one of the best excuses to make something/catch up with projects we would all be too busy skipping dreamily through sun-drenched meadows of buttercups and daisies to get around to otherwise.

something new. Trying new things is always good for the soul, even if it’s simply testing out a new cookie recipe or reading a different genre of book – getting those little grey cells going helps keep those big grey clouds from taking over.

*stops and stares morosely at the darkness outside*

*sighs*

I think it’s definitely time for that mince pie and glass of mulled wine.

♦ What’s your favourite time of year? What are your favourite things about winter? ♦ Have you got any book/film/TV recommendations to distract from the cold weather? ♦

27 Things That Make Me Happy

I turned twenty-seven last Saturday.

Let’s not talk about it. *cries old lady tears*

Ok, so I’m not actually old. But I am actually confused.

What exactly keeps happening to time?

I don’t understand.

*cries again*

Anyway, I wanted to mark the occasion (late, as always) with some bullet points and some of the things that make me happy in life. Twenty-seven bullet points and happy things, to be precise. Plus four photos.

So here they all are, in no particular order:

  • one: family. Dammit those weirdos mean the absolute world to me.
  • two: friends. See above explanation.
  • three: chocolate. Although it also makes me feel sad because it has a scary number of calories in it #emotionalminefield. Mostly, though, the yumminess is worth the calories.
  • four: colourful hair. My hair was untouched by bleach/hair dye up until two years ago so I’m making up for lost hair dyeing time now. And I absolutely love seeing other people’s colourful hair – I don’t want to think about how much time I’ve wasted on Pinterest and Instagram looking at prettily coloured hair.Pastel pink balayage on long hair
  • five: reading (surprise, surprise). I can’t overstate how important reading is to me. Whether it’s books (obvs my fave), newspaper articles, blogs, or even just the back of a shampoo bottle, I am OBSESSED with it.
  • six: running in the rain. I can’t quite believe I’m putting actual physical exercise on a list of things that make me happy, but running – somehow (I think it has something to do with magical endorphin science things?) – does make me happy. And rain is my favourite going-for-a-run weather for a couple of reasons. Firstly, not only is the sound of rain therapeutic and calming, it also conveniently helps to drown out my desperate gasps for air. And secondly, all that sky water makes me look a bit less sweaty and disgusting.
  • seven: high-waisted jeans. The day I discovered high-waisted jeans was a revolutionary day in my life (I don’t even care how sad that makes me sound). Low-rise and mid-rise can burn in fiery jean hell. I have actual hips with actual flesh on them. Over time, I’ve learnt to hate me and my fleshy hips less and – you know what? – I really don’t appreciate my hips being cut in half by badly tailored denim.
  • eight: cats. Cats are just fabulous and they do the funniest things. IMG_20190410_144958_011
  • nine: sassiness and sarcasm. Being sassy and sarcastic is fun. But sassy sarcasticness is all about the goldilocks balance. Too much and in the wrong context, it’s rude – and rude isn’t fun, rude is just rude. You don’t want to overdo the sass. You need to know when sassy one-liners are inappropriate and you need to know when you’re speaking to a gentle soul who needs to be eased into your sassy ways. But don’t be afraid to get sassy every now and again. Sometimes, sassiness and sarcasm are the only answers to life’s problems.
  • ten: lists (see entire post). They make me feel organised which makes me feel happy. In reality, lists just make me a disorganised person hopelessly brandishing a piece of paper decorated with words that somehow made sense when I initially wrote them down (again, see entire post).
  • eleven: stationery. Stationery is life. Life I tell you. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens*
  • twelve: pudding/dessert (whichever word’s your preference). To be honest, I could quite easily go for a three course meal made up entirely of pudding courses. Which probably means I have a sugar-related pudding problem, but, after twenty-seven years on this here earth, I’m finally at peace with who I am as a pudding loving person.
  • thirteen: looking triumphantly around a room I’ve just tidied. Obviously the process of tidying can be horrific, infuriating, and distressing, but the smug feeling afterwards is priceless.
  • fourteen: fresh bedding. It’s just so snuggly and cosy and perfect.
  • fifteen: the phrase “fuck it”. They’re the two most liberating words in the English language. You always know something good, or at least something interesting with mixed results, is about to happen when you hear/say those words.
  • sixteen: (and on that note) swearing in general. I just really bloody love it, right from the bottom of my feckin heart. Sorry mum.
  • seventeen: flowers. They make the world a better, prettier, more colourful, more bumblebee-full, and more butterfly-full place. What’s not to like? Mayor of Casterbridge rose on vintage black lace.
  • eighteen: writing. Although, like chocolate, it also makes me sad. It makes me sad because I get frustrated that I’m not better at it. It makes me happy because it’s the ultimate outlet for my weird little brain and all its weird little ideas.
  • nineteen: the seaside. There’s no place I’d rather be; whatever the time of year, whatever the weather. Man O' War bay, Durdle Door, Dorset.
  • twenty: unexpected book conversations. Obviously all book conversations make me happy, but there’s something extra special about an out of the blue book chat. It’s a magical, warm the cockles of your heart moment.
  • twenty-one: Christmas (when I’m not at work). It’s just a wonderful time of year (when I’m not at work). Eating, drinking, and being merry (when I’m not at work) are all things that I’m good at doing anyway, so the fact that it becomes socially acceptable to do all these things in excess at Christmas time works out really well for me.
  • twenty-two: cognitive behavioural therapy. I was referred for CBT in July last year, started it in September, and in February this year was released back into the therapy-free wilds. This is a whole other blog post and that post will be super long and emotionally messy when I get round to it (not pitching it well, am I?). Basically, although CBT is hard work (why oh why oh why can’t therapists just flick a brain switch and magically fix minds?) the results are worth it and make for a much happier life in the long run.
  • twenty-three: baking. In general, I’m not a confident person and spend a lot of time thinking I’m doing things wrong. But baking is one thing that I am confident at. And I can eat the end result (mostly). Perfect.
  • twenty-four: cups of tea. I ❤ tea always.
  • twenty-five: charity shopping. I know some people get a bit grossed out about secondhand clothes – an attitude to which I have two words: washing machine – but I unashamedly love thrifting. You never know what you’re going to find, it’s much more environmentally friendly, and it costs a lot less than buying new.
  • twenty-six: baths so hot they make my skin a radioactive lobster shade of red. I’m old now and my body hurts – baths the temperature of lava make my body hurt less. That makes me happy.
  • twenty-seven: finishing things I’ve started. Sometimes (ahem, a lot of the time) I get distracted halfway through projects/housework/books/talking/writing blog posts, so actually finishing things makes me all happy-smug inside.

*basks in happy-smug glow*

So there you have it. Twenty-seven happy things. I’m looking forward to another year full of them.

Here’s to being a little bit older and a little bit wiser.

Roses After Rain

Lately, it’s been raining a lotta lot. It’s been cold and grey and cloudy a lotta lot.

On the one hand: it’s great weather for cosy, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug reading. It’s great weather for big, baggy, woolly jumpers – my favourite things to wear. It’s great weather for cuddles with cats. It’s great for cheeky hot chocolates and holier than thou herbal teas. It’s great for baths so hot they turn my ghost-white skin a radioactive-pink. It’s great for morning runs that leave my lungs fresh and clean, but my legs unable to cope with stairs. It’s great for irridescent road rainbows shining, bleeding, and swirling across tarmac. It’s great for lazy lie ins spent listening to the drum of raindrops against lush leaves and blooming petals.

On the other hand: it’s Juuuuune.

*folds away summer dresses and cries tears that turn to ice in the air*

Oh well.

*wipes away icicle tears*

At least roses still look beautiful after rain.

Mayor of Casterbridge rose
Mayor of Casterbridge roses after a June rainstorm…

Secret Diaries of a Shy Girl

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Top secret ramblings of an angsty teenager.

I found some old notebooks at the weekend and it was a strange and eye-opening experience going through them. The oldest one is from almost ten years ago, from when I was sixteen, and it made me smile, frown, and cringe all at the same time. It’s a bit of a mash up – part diary, part story about an Edwardian suffragette, part sketchbook. You can definitely tell I had been reading lots of classics for my GCSEs from the writing style of the fictional bits, and you can absolutely tell I was a teenager from the diary parts (holy moly, the angst!). And from the sketches, I clearly had an obsession with drawing trees and eyes.

The more recent ones still make me cringe a little, though I’m super happy to report I ditched the faux old-fashioned writing style.

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Moody sixteen-year-old me self-portrait.

I’m so so tempted to get rid of them because the idea of anyone else reading them actually mortifies me down to my gooey and very messy core, but I also know I’ll want to read them again in the future – even if it is just for something to giggle at. It’s nice also, maybe even helpful, to see the progression of my style and my ideas.

So it’s back into hiding they go, ready to embarrass me in another ten years.

Camellia Stars

The day was silver; cloud flooded and icy cold.

The ground was speckled white with snowdrops, sometimes pink with cyclamen, sometimes even yellow with daffodils. A great big shiny promise of spring.

Soon. One last winter-soaked breath.

We escaped away from the crowds, away from the drops of snow, away from accidentally photobombing people’s flowery snaps, and wandered into the woods.

Wandering into the woods is always a good idea, despite what the fairytales tell you.

We found no wolves or witches.

Only petals fallen to the path and camellia stars stuck to the sky.

Pink camellias and tree silhouettes in winter.
Camellia stars + naked trees + silver skies

Take Me Home

“Jacob?”

He turned, spine creaking, skin burning. A woman he didn’t recognise stood over him, dressed in yellow and framed in dying summer sun.

“You can’t stay here forever.”

Jacob looked back towards the sea, rubbing his eyelids with sandy fingers.

He could stay. He had to.

The woman didn’t go away like he’d hoped she would. Instead, she sat down next to him, pushing her bare feet into the sand and resting her arms on her knees. Big blue-green bruises patchworked across her ankles and calves, shimmering like fish scales in the light.

“You look tired.” she said.

Jacob closed his eyes. He was tired. His whole body hurt with it, and it hurt with sand and salt and sun. But it was so much nicer than the other hurt, the one that scrabbled at his belly, heart, and brain. That was the hurt he was afraid of.

“I can’t sleep.” he said.

“Not out here.”

“I can’t go home.”

The woman leaned a little towards him. “Not yet. Soon though.”

He shook his head. “Not without my sister.”

“No, I suppose not.”

The woman grinned and he stared at her strange face for a long while. Maybe he did know her? She wasn’t as old as he first thought – only just grown out of being a girl.

She sighed a long sigh and stood, holding out a hand for him. “I think we should go for a walk. It’s good to walk.”

He took the hand she offered – didn’t think it was odd, didn’t care if it was – and wrapped his fingers round her palm, gripping as tight as he could. His skin crackled as she hauled him to his feet and his muscles burned right through to his bones. She dusted off his shoulders, sprinkling sand and salt across his feet.

“We don’t need to go far.”

They walked hand in hand at first, but Jacob quickly slowed. The woman let his hand slip through hers, dawdling ahead. He stared down at the sand as he walked, trying to understand what was wrong with the footprints she left behind. But his eyes hurt and his head hurt and he couldn’t understand what was wrong.

Every now and then, the woman looked over her shoulder to ask how he was.

“Fine.”

Every time, she looked like she didn’t believe him. Every time, she carried on all the same.

The beat of the waves against the sand made Jacob feel better as he walked, and he smiled as he remembered how, just a few days ago, he had thought he’d never like the sound. At first – after his father had dragged him here, after he’d been kicked across the sand, dumped by the surf, pinned down and told not to return home without Lora – he had hated it. It had made him want to rip out his ears.

But now the sound wrapped round him like a blanket, cosy and snug, and he didn’t ever want to be without it.

The woman came to a stop by Cryer’s Cave, gazing up at the gaping scar of hollowed out rock.

“This is my favourite place.” she said.

Jacob hung back from the entrance, scrunching up his face.

“Are you scared?” She crossed her arms and leant against the rock. “I didn’t ever think I’d see the day.”

He frowned. What days had she seen him before?

“I’m not scared.” he lied and started forwards, his heart blundering at a strange rhythm – too hard, too quick. He hoped she couldn’t feel it too, though he was sure it was making the air shake. He tried to focus on each painful step and ignore the woman as she watched him, but he looked up as he passed her, almost stopping when he did.

Her hair was wet.

How had that happened?

She didn’t seem to notice the way her hair stuck to her neck or the way water bloomed across the top of her dress. Instead, she smirked a little smirk and followed him inside.

The cave was like a church, walls of rock towering up and up, echoes crawling off every surface, their breaths bellowing.

“Hello?” the woman called, grinning as hundreds of hellos rattled back. “Is anybody there?”

The air lulled back to quiet. “Your turn.” she whispered.

Jacob shook his head.

“Go on.” she teased. “Yell from right in here.” She pushed her fingers against her chest. “Take all the air you’ve got and scream.”

He shook his head again.

“Oh go on, Jacob.”

“No!” he yelled, and a rush of pain scrambled up his throat. He doubled over, coughing until his lungs felt bruised and he spat phlegmy blood onto the sand.

The woman pushed dripping hair back from her face. “I’m sorry. Are you all right?”

Jacob closed his eyes and waited until he was sure he wouldn’t cry, gulping blood back down his throat.

“I just want Lora.” he said.

“I know.” said the woman, ruining the echo of Lora’s name. “I just want to help.”

When Jacob opened his eyes again, he froze. He blinked, then blinked again, sure his eyes were wrong. But what he saw didn’t change.

The woman’s face was bleeding.

A huge gash had torn across her cheek and blood poured from it, spilling down her jaw and neck. The taste of his own blood made him grimace as he looked at it.

“Is something wrong?”

“Your face. You’ve cut your face.”

“Oh.” She ran her fingers along the gash, frowning.

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No, not really. Not anymore.” She wiped the fingers across her dress and turned, scaling a crop of rocks and picking her way across them. “There’s something I need to show you. It’s here somewhere, I just…” She stopped and faced him. “You have to promise you won’t run away.”

He would have laughed if his lungs hadn’t hurt so much. Hadn’t she seen he could barely walk?

“I promise.”

She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “You’ll want to, but you can’t”

“I won’t go anywhere.”

“Good.” She smiled, satisfied. “I won’t be long.”

She turned and clambered down the other side of the boulders, disappearing.

The sea and Jacob’s heart thudded in sync as he waited, and a horrible ache built under his skull.

I won’t be long.

The words went round and round, and made him want to scream. They were the worst words he’d ever heard and the worst words he’d ever said.

He tried to reach back four days and pull them out of the air, tried to erase them from his mouth and from Lora’s ears. He dug his toes into the sand and tried to go back, tried not to walk away, tried not to leave her playing all alone.

I won’t be long.

The sound of shuffling footsteps dragged him out of his looping nightmare. The woman reappeared at the top of the boulders, carrying something. Something with dangly legs and a floppy head. Something covered in shimmering bruises. Something wearing a yellow dress.

Jacob edged back as she descended the rocks towards him, the hurt he was afraid of rearing in his chest.

“Don’t run.” she pleaded. “You promised.”

The dangly legged, floppy headed something swayed at every limping step the woman took, its hair dripping and dress dribbling and face painted with purple-brown blood.

Water bubbled from each corner of the woman’s mouth as she handed the little body out to him.

“Please.”

He took the body in his arms and tried not think about how it was heavier than he remembered.

“I’m sorry.” he said, and the woman smiled.

“Take me home.”

Footprints in the sand at Lyme Regis, Dorset.

>>> No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite get this story right – but I’m releasing it into the wild anyway, because it needs to be free of my head and my laptop before it drives me mad with all the potential edits that can be made to it. The main idea for it comes from how people experience the unexpected death of a loved one. I was reading old accounts from families who lost relatives in World War I, and most of them wrote about seeing/hearing their loved one at the time they died – walking through the garden gate when they should have been (were) in France, appearing in a dream, etc. – and it kind of twistedly got me thinking about how there are no accounts where people see the death itself. It’s always very ethereal and rose-tinted, rather than visceral and horrible to watch. Here, the death has already happened and Jacob is witnessing the drowning retrospectively (and obviously a bit abstractly), to the woman Lora would have been. <<<

Sky Painter

Some nights she found it hard to paint the sky – matching it just so to how everyone had come to think it should look. Some nights she didn’t have to paint it at all – those nights were hard too, hard on her itching painter’s hands. She would stare at the top of the clouds and wonder what to do. Sometimes she would doodle across them, patterns of all different colours and shapes, patterns only she could see. Sometimes she would burst with anger and boredom and tear great, bright gashes through the air. She always regretted those and erased them as fast as she had made them, roaring with all the air in her lungs. And sometimes she would paint it just the same as on a clear and crystal night, because practise makes perfect and perfect was how people thought it should be.

There were nights, however, that she could paint the sky just how she wanted to, nights when no-one would notice the stars were missing.

Those nights, she would pour her whole soul into the moon, big and bright and shining. She would swirl the glowing, glossy emulsion round and round until she was dizzy and heartless and soulless, and when there was nothing left to paint with she would fall, swoop, glide to the ground and walk until her feet were sore – which happens quickly when you hardly use them – glancing up at her whole life, hoping, when the time came, it would fit back in under her ribs and skull.

Mostly, it did fit.

Some nights, there were pieces of it that didn’t.

And on those nights, she would scoop up the pieces of her life and soul and heart she had no room for any more and scatter them across the ground, hoping, when the time came, they would brighten someone’s dark.

Always, they did.

Full moon on a misty, foggy night in Dorset, England.