In association with Bushey Museum and Art Gallery.
Joint 1st Place:
Lesley Kerr 'Another Life: A Fairytale'
Brian Bold 'Framed'
Jan Rees 'Repeating The Pattern'
Mike Lansdown 'A Precious Secret'
Ann Crago - Agony
David Elliott - A Good Match
Chris McDermott - Girl in Blue
THIS IS PAGE 1 OF 2 FOR THE COMPETITION
Panama Hat: “Did you know that our old shipmate Bunny Frobisher died?”
White Hair: “Covid I suppose…”
Panama Hat: “Oh no…He was in bed with his new girlfriend…Went down with all guns firing so to speak.”
White Hair: “Not a bad way to go….He was ninety this year same as me.”
Panama Hat: “I assume you’ve heard about another comrade from our Navy days, Tom Gillespie.”
White Hair “No, what happened to him?”
Panama Hat: “Well he’s passed on as well.”
White Hair: “This blasted Covid virus…”
Panama Hat: “Wrong again old chap. He was driving his Aston Martin too fast as usual in the South of France. Missed his line on a hairpin bend on The Corniche and ended up being buried at sea with the car as his coffin.”
White Hair: “Crikey…Though that was also a very fitting end for old Tom.”
Panama Hat: “You must surely have heard about our old Captain, Bill Prosser.”
White Hair: “Good Lord, is he dead as well? Was that Covid?”
Panama Hat: “Another miss old boy….Just like when you did gunnery practice….. You know what a toper Bill was. He was having a drinking contest in his local. After his tenth Gin and It he just keeled over and died with a smile on his face.”
White Hair: “Well it’s time I told you something you cheeky old blighter…I’m sure you won’t have heard about Nobby Wilson.”
Panama Hat: “Nobby!...I thought he’d died years ago. Are you going to tell me he’s a Covid casualty?”
White Hair: “No. Your turn to jump the gun. He did have the virus but you know what a tough beggar he is. He managed to shake it off and he’s still very spry.”
Panama Hat: “So what’s your big news about him?”
White Hair: “He has to get married.”
Panama Hat: “What do you mean has to…?”
White Hair: “He’s been seeing a woman half his age and he’s got her in the family way. Nobby is old school and feels honour bound to do the right thing. I’m going to be his best man.”
You’re looking at me and you’re thinking that I’m playing a children’s game. ‘Look at her,’ you say. ‘How sweet. She’s playing ‘Hide and Seek’. That’s what little children do’.
Then I heard some else say, ‘No, no, no. That’s not true. She’s listening into an adult conversation. One that is not meant for her. I bet her parents don’t know.’
But you are both wrong. My parents don’t know, because they don’t know anything about me anymore.
The year is 1836. It happened so many days ago now. It was the middle of the night when I woke up and went for a walk because I could not sleep, because I never could. I don’t know why, but this time I felt different.
Then it happened.
The horse and cart came up behind me and one man spoke to his horse to stop him, while the other took me up in a blanket and put me in the back of the cart. ‘No Poor House for you,’ he said, ‘You deserve far better. You are coming to work for us.’
I wanted to scream, but I was too frightened to utter a single sound.
So that was the end of my old reality.
Now you are watching my new one, just as I am watching the rest of the world, through a gap in the doorway.
All I have for comfort, all I have had for such a long time, are the pail and the brush. I have even given them names. The brush is called Joseph and the pail is called Mary.
I know you may think this is wrong, or childish, but I have called them these names to give me comfort, because I now have nothing but my faith.
If you can see me, and I know that you can, please help me.
Do not walk away. Please do not.
Stay with me, say something to me, be with me.
For every moment you look at me and stay with me, that is my moment of happiness.
I am not just a painting.
I am me.
I had been so looking forward to this holiday.
We were at Luton Airport in really good time. We passed through security quickly and then went to have a coffee. It was only when our flight was called that Derek started going frantic. He couldn’t find my passport! We looked all around but it was nowhere to be seen.
He rushed back to security but it wasn’t there. What were we to do? They said we wouldn’t be allowed on the flight. Think we had realised that! We then had to leave Departures. Not by the way we had come in but as if we had just come off a flight. A security guy led us through the crowds and back along the route which takes you to passport control when you first land.
We were taken to the head of the queue so at least we didn’t have to stand in line. And then what did they say?
“We need to see your passport!”
“We don’t have it!” I howled with frustration. “That’s why we’re here!”
I was almost crying at this point. Crying with exasperation and with anger at Derek for doing something so stupid.
Derek then had a Eureka moment. He remembered he’d left my passport in his coat pocket – but the coat was back home in our hall cupboard! We phoned our neighbour who has a spare key and she had a look for us. It was such a relief when she said it was there. She’s kindly arranged for someone to bring it. And we’ve managed to book for another flight which leaves in six hours’ time. So all we can do now is wait.
We’ve been sitting here for a few hours now. Derek and I are barely talking and I’ve been trying to sleep. I’ve put my cardigan over my head to keep out the light and the noise. But if I had a pillow I would put it over Derek’s head instead.
It was a tricky pattern, she’d made it once before
It called for concentration, it wasn’t just a chore
She was knitting for her daughter, an angel and a trial
She had her father’s curly hair, she had her father’s smile
He was on a convoy upon the open sea
Protecting merchant shipping from U boat treachery
She never knew just where he was, when he’d be home to stay
To get to know his little girl who changed from day to day
She listened to the radio, she listened to the news
Many convoy ships were lost, many convoy crews
She cared for little Lucy, she had a busy life
She was a happy mother, she was a worried wife
There was a patch of garden where she did her best to grow
Some lettuce and some strawberries, for Lucy loved them so
She wrapped her little fingers around the ripening crop
Enjoyed their scarlet sweetness and didn’t want to stop
So Lucy lived in innocence of her father’s life
He sailed the wild Atlantic in this time of strife
To keep the watch in raging seas, in daylight or at night
To pray for their safe passage to reach the harbour light
Summer turned to winter and on a chilly day
Irene sat beside the fire listening to a play
Then a knock came at the door, a telegram arrived
His ship was lost, there was no hope and no-one had survived.
For Irene talk of victory was hollow, there was none
But Lucy made her smile sometimes, her life had just begun
Irene made sure that Lucy learned about her sailor Dad
All the brave things he had done, the qualities he had.
Loss turned to acceptance as the years went by
But Lucy grew and flourished beneath the post war sky
She thought about a nursing life but then she thought again
She couldn’t join the Navy so she became a WRN
To see her in her uniform filled Irene’s heart with pride
That curly hair, that twinkling smile still standing by her side.
Bad news about your health inflicts its own unique pain.
Facing the Doctor, I heard his words and I felt my whole world collapse in on me. I couldn’t create a single question. I couldn’t voice a single thought. A maelstrom of darkness swirled through my body rendering me dumb and turned me into a black hole. My eyes, my window to the world, became part of the problem. I wanted to curl into my own private hell, and retreat into this darkness.
My husband of 40 years there as always, next to me, tried to take my hand but his attempts to offer comfort were lost in my pain.
“We’ll fight this together. We’ll get a second opinion. We’ll spend what we have to…”
His voice petered out and he tried to turn me towards him, to show that this was a together moment. But it isn’t. It can’t be a team effort. This is not the purchase of a new house. This is my life. There are no plans, no strategies to cope with this. There is no future for me. I will not exist.
I have never experienced emptiness like this, aloneness that defies description. I am adrift, helpless and totally unprepared for this news. I can almost feel my heart shutting down, my brain disengaging from thought. My limbs aren’t responding to commands. Shouldn’t my basic fight or flight instincts kick in now? I seem to have lost all physical and emotional control. I find I haven’t even got the breath to cry.
Instinctively, I revert to childhood and do the one thing that always offered me comfort when life was tough. When my father beat me; when my mother died; when I had my first miscarriage. And now, when I’m told I have no future to watch my children grow; to walk on the beach with my beloved husband. I put my jacket over my head, hug myself and rock in silent agony.
‘Oh John, when are you going to let me have a go?’
‘Sophie, you wouldn’t know what to play. Besides aren’t you reading your book?’
‘Mother said you were to allow me a go. After all, papa did buy it for both of us.’
John played on and when Sophie annoyed him by tugging his sleeve, he deliberately played out of tune. John viewed the penny whistle as an extension of the recorder he had mastered through expert tuition from his school music master, Mr Hudson.
‘And what precisely are you playing, John?’
‘What? You don’t know Mozart when you hear it? It’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik of course.’
‘Well, I would never have guessed,’ said Sophie looking up to the ceiling and breaking into hysterics. ‘I think Herr Mozart’s music is safe from you!’
John stopped playing with an abrupt high pitch from the penny whistle. He passed the instrument over to Sophie who wasted no time in performing her own favourite tune.
‘And what might that be?’ said a grumpy John.
‘Yes, I know it’s Bach, but which one?’
‘Oh lord, must I spell it out to you? It’s the toccata!’
‘I never would have guessed,’ said John sarcastically.
‘Then we are even, but at least I play in tune which is better than you dear brother! And to think, you are supposed to be the next great composer.’
‘May I remind you that very few great composers seldom played an instrument, let alone anything in tune on a musical instrument.’
‘Is that so?’ queried Sophie. ‘And who may they be?’
‘Tchaikovsky for one. Berlioz for another. Even Schumann was not proficient on piano until he received lessons, so Mr Hudson says. I do not intend to be the same,’ said John confidently.
He snatched the penny whistle from Sophie’s grasp, and she let out a scream which John, note perfect, repeated on the instrument in hand.
‘Now children! said Nanny entering the room. ‘The rain has gone. Time you went outside and John, stop that infuriating noise at once! Your father is working in his study.’
She watched the knitting grow under her nimble fingers. How many weeks had it been since they received the telegram telling them that Graham was missing in action. Irene wouldn’t believe that he had been killed. He had got lost that was all and would be coming home and, as the rhythmic sound of the needles calmed her, she believed that as long as she kept knitting her beloved son would be safe. Before that fateful day she had knitted socks and balaclavas to send to his unit near the front, a contribution to the war effort – and it gave her a connection.
Irene managed to fill her days with activity. She had dug up her husband’s verdant lawn to grow vegetables and spent hours making jam from the fruit she had harvested from her garden. The oven spewed out cakes and buns for her to take to the centre where she helped in the canteen. So many hungry children and wounded soldiers passed through its doors seeking comfort – their shocked faces made her worry but she set her feelings aside to help those in need. The evenings were the worse. After dinner Wilfred would don his tin helmet and grab his gas mask ready for his shift watching the night skies for enemy bombers. The house was so empty. The clock ticked in the corner. The china knickknacks glowed in the firelight. She pulled her chair closer to the fire and picked up her needles. This fair isle pattern had proved a challenge but now she had nearly finished the sweater. The clicking of the needles soothed her and she would drift into memories of knitting matinee sets while eagerly awaiting the birth of her first, and only child. She still had them neatly folded into tissue paper ready for him to marry and have his own children. He had worn out the jumpers she had made over the years but now he would have new sweaters and socks when he came home. His cheeky grin would light up her life and she would breathe again.
One early and dewy Autumnal morning an old man stopped at his destination, which was not too far from his cottage, where his daughter’s family were visiting him later that morning. He leant heavily on his ebony walking stick, whilst standing in a small woodland clearing; his tired body happily breathing in the musty and earthy air. He could smell the damp leaves of orange and gold, which had fallen from the tall trees surrounding the little oasis. Looking around, he then stepped a few feet towards where a sought-after mushroom ring was growing.
The weary old man pulled his red scarf closely about his thin neck; then bending down, he carefully placed his own lovingly hand-carved wooden pixie alongside the largest mushroom of the ring. He also took a red ribbon from his pocket and tied it expertly around the stem, creating a flourishing bow, and thought how his two grandchildren will marvel at such a magical sight, as he had promised to take them mushroom picking today.
Whilst trying to stand back up with the help of his trusty walking stick, the old man became very dizzy and fell gently to the ground, cushioned by the carpet of golden leaves. As he lay on his side unconscious, a sparkling drop of dew fell silently from the red-bowed mushroom onto the head of the wooden pixie. At the exact moment when the droplet reached the pixie’s hollowed out eyes, the old man awoke, seeing what he believed was a magical miracle, but he didn’t like to see the tearful pixie being so sad and softly whispered. “Don’t weep for me little one. My last Autumn has finally come and my body will never suffer another cold bitter winter. Be good friends little fellow to my lovely grandchildren – Betsy and Henry.”
The old man’s eyes closed forever, but his lips still smiled. The trees and woodland creatures, magical and real, sadly witnessed the passing of a good and long-lived life, that no returning Spring could ever retrieve.
The pixie wiped away his tears with the end of a red ribbon.
Irene knew she should be contented but secretly, underneath, wanted more. She was confused, if she didn’t work out what she wanted, she might just drift…. for eternity. Maybe she’d meet her late father on the other side and he’d say to her, ‘What have you done with your life? I fought for you, made sure you had the best whilst I went without!’ This thought made her stop knitting and feel the emotion behind her eyes.
She and her husband Stanley had expected children, but none had come. It actually didn’t upset Irene but Stanley minded. There was nothing much she could do about it anyway. It just made her think she was made for a different sort of life. What really excited her was writing. This was something her Father had encouraged – he said she had a special talent - and writing made her feel close to him. Stanley, on the other hand appreciated her skill in making clothes.
‘My O my Irene, you look grand in your new dress!’ his eyes shined in admiration of her loveliness.
She would enjoy the attention, but these outfits were important because they were inspired by characters she’d be creating in her head. Characters that featured in her writing which she kept secret. ‘Maybe my Father has arranged for me, from the other side, not to have children so that I can write,’ she thought fancifully.
‘Tell me about your day, Darling,’ she said to Stanley that evening. Stanley loved to impress her with news about his work as a Policeman. Irene listened carefully as something may be useful to include in her murder case. She took the blood red wool and started adding it to the knitted jumper on her lap whilst her mind lapped up technical terms and procedures that would help authenticate the story.
She planned to use a pseudonym when the time came to find a publisher, this way she could be anonymous and, who knows, maybe spend the profits on an underground adventure to further inspire the work.
The white chiffon of the headdress battled with her fine ringlets as the coastal breeze tried to steal Princess Vada’s hat and toss it into the sea. Her red velvet dress puddled onto the sandy beach, sunlight glinting on the gold brocade embroidery. She sat on a rock looking out to the horizon. Searching. Searching.
Standing in the dunes, King Favian watched his only daughter with a heavy heart. She looked so like her late mother, pale cream skin and golden hair, trusting brown eyes that still held innocence. He thought he had done the right thing. Prince Rowan had asked for the Princess’ hand in marriage, but Rowan had to prove he was worthy to marry his daughter and to rule the Kingdom.
“Prince Rowan, you must go on a quest for gold and fine jewels as befits my beautiful daughter. If you return with a filled treasure chest, I will gladly give you her hand in marriage.”
The King had dismissed the Princess’ plea, she loved Rowan and begged he would not be sent away. Consumed by his own grief, the King’s cracked heart made him believe he was protecting his daughter, her future husband must be an explorer, a provider and a warrior. The crying Princess said her goodbyes to Rowan.
“He leaves a boy, but will come back a man my darling, then you will be ready to marry.” The King comforted her.
Word had reached them that the Prince had been so successful in his task that his whole ship was laden with gold; goblets, plates and crowns, and precious jewels including huge rubies, garnets and emeralds. The messenger said Rowan was sailing home and would be with them before Midsummer’s Day. For the last seven days Princess Vada, dressed in her wedding outfit, had insisted on waiting at the beach for Rowan’s return.
Holding a hand up to shield his eyes, the King saw the menacing black vultures circling . In folklore this could only mean one thing, the Prince would not be returning to marry the Princess, his ship had sunk.
Gwen Stratford sucked her pencil. The curve of the Pied Avocet’s beak wasn’t quite right, a degree between natural and forced. The late afternoon breeze nuzzled her sketch book. Time to finish for the day, time for fish and chips.
She dumped her gear on the table, locked the door to her Gran’s bubble-gum shaded beach-hut and crossed the sands. A trot along the raised-mile-walk past the ultra-modern lifeboat station turned duel as Gwen raced the narrow-gauge train returning rock-pink tourists to town.
The maltings glowed in cliched pastels. Landscape artists would be having babies, ‘the light’, but Gwen was content with her commissioned Bitterns and Lapwings. A tumult was going down on the quayside as a barge-crane, span a colossal sculpture into position on the harbour sands.
Gwen eavesdropped, as the harbourmaster waxed lyrical. “Raised fifteen Grand to keep it here. ‘The Last Lifeboat Horse’. Five teams of two used to pull the ten-ton carriage and boat, sometimes two and a half miles to where it was launched. The horses used to race the crew to the gates at the back of the station when the alarm rockets went off.”
The metal framed horse, three meters high, draped in oak beer barrels was a beauty. It spontaneously drew recollections; illustrations on dust-covers - her childhood books.
Gwen drowned her chips in vinegar and one hand on fork, one hand on phone, googled ‘last lifeboat horse’.
She inhaled abruptly, raising looks from the other diners.
A straight arm pointed to a shipwreck; stage left.
The sea at a rolling boil, crashed over the fetlocks of hulking draft-horses; grandparents of the sculpture.
The crew cajoled the train. A lifeboat launched, rudder first. Lives to save.
Gwen scrolled. The Call, Aristocrats; many others.
Gwen’s metier was painting wildlife; birds were currently flavour of the month but several equine canvasses grazed her studio. Stubbs, Munnings, Degas and Gericault’s The Derby she knew well. She vaguely heard of Herkomer but Lucy Kemp-Welch? With a flick of her thumb, Lucy’s Wikipedia page popped up as did Bushey Museum.
Gwen considered; two-hours-thirty-six-minutes, one-hundred-and-twenty-seven-miles away - fastest route A11.
Isaac Gillan sat on his favourite rock surveying the old jetty. He shook, then sparked up a Bic lighter and puffed his spliff alight. He took a deep hit, then scanned the horizon for his comrade. The skunk coursed through his lungs; a complex ebb and flood. Psychological and corporeal pins and needles; Semtex for his soul.
Scratchy clicks caught his ear; Isaac skulked. Only crabby tourists with their stupid walking poles, all togged up in their London ways. More spent on designer walking gear, than he possessed in his whole world. Craving anonymity, he lurked, communing with the incoming tide.
Isaac’s tongue flicked the rawness from where a foetid tooth had collapsed from his gums only the week before. His dilated, agitated eyes searched the shoreline. Stood up yet again?
He exhaled. Smoke oozed through his rotten crowns in synchronicity with a seventh wave that crashed through the jetty’s own putrefied stanchions.
Him and the jetty; a good match. Losers both: A livelihood appropriated when the lorries undercut the harvest’s traditional seaborne journey to market, consigning the veg boats redundancies. A misplaced Father and a Mother who sporadically interfered in his life, when she wasn’t too busy chasing her next bottle of vodka.
Isaac took another hit. At least he had a lucky number; could still get high when Mum was suffering the lows of a hangover. Unsteadily, he made his way over to the jetty, unable to laugh, unable to cry. The warped wooden treads permeated cat’s piss. Exposed rusty spikes threatened tetanus. The boxes of cauliflowers, daffodils and new potatoes that used to be piled high, would have now fallen through these breaches into the swash below. Leaning against the leading light that would never guide another boat, he pulled on the spliff, which glowed, flamed, dropped embers onto his already pockmarked jeans.
Isaac swayed to the end of the jetty and threw the butt into the sea. A paltry offering to Mawgawr. Where was she? Was that the sea monster calling him now? Or just the wind in the cork oaks? Isaac wobbled, regained equanimity, then….
‘I’m glad you’ve come - to hear the story of a dying man.’ He patted the back of my hand, twisted a large gold ring from his bone-thin finger, placed it in my palm, then squeezed my fingers shut.
‘That’s all that’s left. I want you to have it,’ he whispered. His eyes shut and he started to talk, as much to the room as me, eyelids flickering as scene after scene played before him…
‘The winds were unlike any I’d heard in my twenty-two years. Screaming banshees that threatened to pull off your face. And the rain? Came down so hard that it had us pulling on our sou’westers like it were grapeshot.’ He shook his head. A slow, faraway smile. ‘The older men braved the waves, hitting the horses, digging in their heels, urging them into the surf. Surging waves, higher than the roof, they loomed above us and just kept coming, coming, driving everything before them…them poor passengers, wretched souls, didn’t stand a chance. And all the time those banshees kept on screaming.’
He patted my hand before resuming his tale.
‘I remember… the first body, lying on the sand. He was a lad, no older than me. Mouth agape, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. Then came another, and another, until the sand disappeared beneath them. From the cliffs you’d have thought they were laundry set out to dry – until you looked more closely. “We’ve got to get ‘em up the beach!” somebody cried and we all started hauling, dragging the bodies towards the base of the cliff. I grabbed one under his armpits, dug my heels in hard, and pulled for all I was worth. He was heavy - heavier than he should be. Then I saw the gold beneath his shirt…’
He took a deep breath.
‘Their loss was our gain, you see? Made the village rich. But who was the one who showed the light? Who brought the ship onto the rocks?
‘I want you to have it,’ he said, and closed his eyes for the last time.
His secret was safe with me.
This lady here is seeking
The essence of her life.
She wonders who she’s meeting
While sitting on the rock,
Where a bird once lay below.
But then it wandered off.
A prince rode by on steed of white
Jumped down to grasp the bird
Mother vulture swooped, a frenzied flight
As screams of fright she heard.
Then appeared the court magician
To save his master’s life.
“You cannot keep this little bird
Unless she be your wife”.
The prince’s eyes were full of love
This fledgling to possess
So taken with his precious find
The prince agreed no less.
Then by his side a black cone hat
And veil of creamy white
A face so fair and long blond hair
Red gown; brown eyes, so bright.
Each day princess Verna sighs
As she sits upon the rock.
Always wears the black cone hat
Watching the vultures flock
Down to the sea and back again
She stares for one she knows.
She wished to find an answer
To what it really meant
The black cone hat upon her head
She’d often heard it said
Was once a sharp black beak.
Light white veil was once a wing!
Oh to know the truth of a thing!
Swooping, circling and retreating
Just one bird came close enough
Its eyes met Verna’s- she cried
“Oh mother it is me!”
“Help me fly back with the flock
T’is with you I want to be.”
Mother bird flew down to her,
The child she’d heard in need
Large wings enclosed her body
Then off they flew at speed.
When prince and friends did search for her
They found where she had sat
And on that rock was nothing more
But a veiled, black, cone hat.
This is my last chance to tell Mum if I am going to. But how to start?
We aren’t close despite having tea together every day. She says I’m moody because I stay in my room reading. Better to be doing something than sitting opposite her in silence.
She wasn’t always so aloof. When I was young, she read to me every night and cuddled me before bed. Everything changed when Dad left. I remember the night, the screaming, the crash of crockery, the slamming of the street door.
The French au pair was gorgeous, much younger than Mum and always full of fun. I must never mention her name now, though I write to her secretly
My friends tell me it’s typical for middle-aged men to stray when marriage becomes routine.
Mum could get another partner if she made the effort. But she hardly goes out, except to her art class, and then spends most of her time in the garden painting flower pictures. They are good and she has several in the Bushey Art Exhibition that opens tomorrow. That’s why I need to speak now.
Can I risk today’s teacups with my news? Mum is sitting across the table fiddling with her saucer.
“Mum, I need to tell you something.”
She glares at me. “You’re not going to tell me you’re pregnant are you?”
“No, of course not, I just wanted to warn you that I have a picture in the exhibition.”
“When did you ever paint?”
“The picture is of me not by me.” I swallow hard. “Peter, your art teacher painted it.”
Mum is gripping her cup. She’s glaring at me. “Did you give him a photograph?”
“No, I posed for him. He wanted to paint more than a portrait. So I’m warning you my nude picture is in the exhibition.”
The teacup misses me, smashing on the wall behind. I run to my bedroom, collect my case and climb out of the window down the rope I’ve tied to the bed. Peter is meeting me by Bushey church. My new life begins today.
It had been several months since the sisters had been able to meet up.
“How about a cup of tea at our house on Friday?” The arrival of the notelet in Monday’s post had excited Janet. She had not been asked anywhere for months.
Finding a postcard and a stamp, Janet quickly accepted the invitation. and wrote the time and date into her empty diary.
“Now what shall I wear? “Excitedly Janet searched through garments in her wardrobe. She hardly remembered what she possessed. “And will I still be able to get into anything?” she wondered.
In a bigger house on the other side of town, Ruth began to prepare for her sister’s visit.
“I should make a cake, I suppose,” she said, searching through a cupboard for the necessary ingredients. “And I’d better get out Mum’s best tea service.” She blew the dust off a tall teapot and assembled matching cups and saucers. “Does Janet take sugar? I can’t remember.”
It had certainly been a long time since the sisters had seen one another and each awaited the meeting with uncertainty.
“Oh, I rather wish, I hadn’t asked her now,” Ruth flicked a duster round the shabby, but spotless, room as the doorbell rang.
“Oh, it’s so lovely to see you,” Janet beamed at her sister and followed her into the dining room where tea was laid out on a tray. The two sisters looked each other up and down. They were close in age and had always been competitive.
“Well we’re both wearing our favourite colour, aren’t we?” Ruth ran her hands down her brown top.
“Yes”, Janet laughed. “So, how have you been keeping? What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Not much really,” Ruth replied. “Reading lots of books and I’ve even got rid of all mother’s old papers. Had a real turn out!”
And on the window seat, the cat purred in delight that he had been included in this social bubble.
“Irene sitting knitting in an easy chair. A lovely peaceful sight. You’d never know what’s happened.”
From the doorway of the room, Irene’s brother, Gerald looked on fondly but did not disturb things. A quiet, undisturbed evening was just what he needed. He slipped away into the dining room and poured himself a drink.
By the fire, Irene tackled her knitting confidently. She had a basket of assorted coloured wools on the table beside her. The design she was tackling involved changing colour frequently, finishing off one shade and joining in another. The garment on Irene’s lap grew rapidly, brown and cream and green intermingled. She was wearing those very same colours herself. A visitor earlier in the day had asked her why she was knitting something identical to what she was wearing.
”You’ve already knitted a lovely top just like that.” The visitor questioned.
In the background, Gerald and Irene’s mother were mouthing something. The visitor began to feel she had said something wrong.
”Sh.” The mother frowned, and put her finger on her lip.
Irene turned to face her visitor. She knew what they were saying.
Her knitting needles clicked fiercely. “I’m making this for my sister. For Marjorie, she’s my twin sister. We’re identical twins. She’s going to love the colours I’m using.” The visitor nodded enthusiastically.
“And mother always likes us to dress identically. It’s such fun having a twin.”
Saying her goodbyes quickly, the visitor left the room. As she crossed the hall, Gerald hurried after her.
“It’s so sad,” he said. “Irene hasn’t got a twin sister anymore. Marjorie died of the Spanish ‘Flu just after the war. But Irene has never accepted that her beloved sister is not coming back. So, we just have to let her keep knitting. Oh dear” he sighed.
Throughout history Merfolk have used the precious minutes between a person drowning and death to harvest the souls of the undrowned to make brides. Once such Nereid bride was the mother of Prince Frederick who was recovered from a yachting accident and now ruled Oceaniania with his father, the King.
Frederick should have felt excited about his own upcoming nuptials, but his wish was for a love match, not an arranged one. His future bride was extraordinarily beautiful and lay in the depths of the castle waiting to be transformed.
And yet……he couldn’t help feeling that she had not finished her time on Earth. The feeling persisted and on the night before the wedding he stole away to take a final look at her before her transition.
He could see that her tail was now formed, a magnificent green and gold swooping away from her torso. He put his hand on her chest and could feel a faint heartbeat and moving downward to her stomach, he was surprised by a faint kick.
He withdrew his hand swiftly realising what her unfinished business was, knowing then that he could not marry her. He wanted an heir of his own.
Picking her up he swam silently through the waters until he rested on a rock away from the castle.
He blew gently into her mouth until he could feel the rise and fall of her chest. He swam upwards, her tail dissolving as he rose.
She struggled in his arms as her lungs filled again with air. “Don’t panic!” he tried to convey with his eyes, “and you will be fine!”
Nearing the surface, he could see an outline of a life craft and released her to the hands reaching downward. Pulling her back to life.
On the small rescue boat, the girl retched in response to the heavy thuds on her back.
She tried to speak but no words would come. Frantically she turned her head as the boat started to move and below the waves, she could just make out a shape of a half-man, watching and waiting.