Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tiny stories 6: Photographs of Mona

Nana doesn't recognise me any more. She's been like this for months now. She's looking at me with bland politeness, wondering who I am. 

It fascinates me a little bit. How can that happen? Is it like one day when you're really old you just can't be bothered to hold that web of knowledge and experience and love together in your head any more? Whoosh, you let it all go, and you're left happy and empty like Nana is now?

But mainly it slashes at my soul. Nana was all I had.

We sit quietly.

She's smiling now. I'm trying to, but it's hard. Ellen's mum helped me look round the nursing homes to choose the right one for Nana. I cried through every night of that week. This one was the best, but I had no idea that people had to live in places like this. 

We've spent hours this way. Nana doesn't talk. Sometimes I do, but she just looks at me with that polite smile. My chat dries up sooner and sooner.

One of the nurses comes in with a little plastic medicine cup. Nana swallows down the red syrup obediently.

As the nurse leaves, her heel catches on a tin box under Nana's chair. She doesn't notice, but Nana leans forward awkwardly and tries to take hold of the box. I grab the papers that come sliding out. 

They're photographs, grainy and yellowed. They're of a girl in a crazy 60s swimsuit and cap, smoking and laughing, sitting on what looks like one of the old chairs from our kitchen. She seems familiar - the hair curling at her neck, the line of her jaw.....

Nana looks straight, clear at me. My breath catches.

That's Mona, she says. You're very like her.

The light in her eyes dulls and her focus softens back to the bland smile.

I tuck the photographs into my bag and Nana's final gift into my heart.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Queen of the Skies

Gorgeous, dilapidated, hopeful, romantic, the Regina Caelis is moored at Cook Street slip, Portaferry. I watched her for a while at dusk yesterday, thrilled to see her three masts in full sail.

She's eighty years old. She was built in Denmark and worked in her prime in the Faroes deep sea fishing fleet. In her forties she became the property of an Austrian couple who taught at the Vienna Conservatoire and spent their holidays exploring the Scottish coasts with her.

 As I watched, several cars came to screeching halts at the sight of her unfurled sails, works of art in themselves.

More than one passerby, approaching with cameras, murmured about Pirates of the Caribbean, and yeah, word is that the owners were approached by the producers, wanting to use her in one of the films. But they wanted to blow her up. I'm glad she was spared that indignity.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Tiny stories 5: Elsie's hat

You bought the hat on a fresh October day in the village of Goodluck, North Carolina. You thought the soft blue straw brought out the colour of your eyes. The roses were an afterthought. They were difficult to attach, but since you'd taken the trouble to dye the pale velvet petals in cold coffee, you kept trying until they were arranged at a flattering angle.

You wore it the evening you met him. You weren't to know that he thought you were pretty but itched to pull the tightly fitting flowers from your honey-coloured braid and see your smile relax.

You wore your Goodluck hat throughout your courtship, until the evening when he did pull it gently from your head and relax your smile. The jaunty blue straw cloche took up its place on a hook on the hall dresser in your new little house. 

Two summers later, you bought some yellow silk flowers, thinking you'd replace the fading coffee-coloured roses. But as you started to unpick your awkward stitching, you felt a pang for your hopeful eighteen-year-old self and let them be.

Fashions changed. Brims widened, feathers replaced flowers, netting became essential. Your blue hat moved from the hall dresser to the top of your wardrobe to the attic. 

You lived your long years carefully behatted. Many of your pretty favourites he still itched to snatch from your head. Some he tolerated, and a few he almost liked. 

But mostly he loved to see your soft hair, as its honey became dove and then snow. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Peninsula sunset

It's a soft evening. The summer's faded, but the hedges are full of lovely husks.

The air is perfumed pink and blue. The clouds tie ribbons over the islands, all one for every day of the year of them.

The earth turns further away from the sun. The dusk saturates.

My great-great-grandmother probably walked this beach and saw this evening too. Sometimes life feels as simple as that. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Riddel's Warehouse

The noise, iron on steel on tin,
Voices lifting, a cheerful hive of clamour,
John Riddel, waistcoated for work, flushed under the glass roof, catalogue in hand,
The goods, hinge, lock, gaslight, iron, mangle, railing, plough part and hoe,
The whole a modern marvel.

The near silence, a cathedral hush,
The light, pale and pure on cobwebs and chalked True Love,
Marcus, earnest in an anorak, believers ranged around, amazed.

This is our Saint Sebastian's finger,
A miraculous relic,
Frozen architecture, mood and memory,
Holy tears of heritage.