Flanders Fireworks

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My dear Edith,

Your last letter has been pressed to my chest for the last month, and I apologise for not replying sooner. The rain has been unrelenting, and I did not want to spend ink and paper on a letter that would likely be destroyed by the wet. Please know that the delay in my response does not mean my love for you has in any way diminished. On the contrary, it grows each day, as does my longing for your touch and your company. You are the heaven I carry to get me through this hell.

One of the photographers from the War Office visited recently to take pictures of how we’re all getting on. He was here two weeks; he got lice after the first, and took ill with a fever by the second. It must be nice to be able to head back home because you’re itching and have a warm head.

Before he left, he showed us some of his photographs from his last visit to Ypres. Some of them showed just how ghastly it is here, but some were strangely beautiful. We spend our days and nights living under the constant shellfire, so it’s hard to see any kind of bright side to it, but one of this fellow’s pictures of the night sky over the trenches was remarkable. He had let the exposure of the film run longer than usual, so you could see the trajectories of all the artillery fire overhead. Upon seeing it, I was struck with immense awe, the paths of flying gunpowder, metal and death somehow breathtaking. (The irony that they also take away the breath of those they hit was not lost on me.) The sky was lit up like Guy Fawkes Day, lights streaking along high above the horizon. I feel grisly thinking about it, but it was so beautiful, perhaps more so because it was trapped on film and not aimed at our positions.

But none of those fireworks could ever shine as bright as the torch I hold for you, my dear Edie, and no photograph will fill the ache in my soul that comes from being robbed of your darling smile and wit. (Please send me one all the same – I would love to show the lads what a prize and joy I have waiting for me back home. They will be terribly jealous, and I will be terribly proud.)

I love you forever, my darling. Give Mother a kiss for me, and thank her for the socks.

With all my heart, and all my kisses, I miss you and love you dearly.

Forever yours,

Bert

 

*****

This post was inspired by the photo at the top of the page, highlighted by a post on r/WritingPrompts. Click on it for a link to the Flickr page for the original recolouring.

Please note: this story was written on the fly as an exercise, so I can’t guarantee that any of the historical elements are factual.

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Seven Songs

Seven songs. Seven stories. Some truths. Some lies.

Life On Mars – David Bowie

In bed, we’re tangled. I’ve lost count of the hours, and I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve done our best to eat each other alive, but I know that I have heard this song twice tonight. The first time was a sub-par cover by a female artist I do not dislike, but this time, it is The Man Himself, singing it how it should be sung.

My eyes are closed, and I see a stage that isn’t there. Performers stand on invisible platforms floating through the air. A grand Grimaldi stands opposite a Pierrot, strangely confident in his stance. Lions and silks and bubbles, all swirling around me, and yet I am not there. It’s all around me, but it’s still distant. It’s like watching television, except that I am surrounded and separated by and from its wonder. I feel like I’m spinning and swirling, draped in loose fitting robes that dance as I soar upwards-

He changes the track and I’m flung out of the trance. I am bitter, but I keep it to myself. The real world doesn’t allow me to float on the wind, but there are worse ways to spend your time than this.

 

Baby I Am Nobody Now – Andy Bull

Up front. Packed in. Sold out. Who would have thought it? Everyone should have thought it – it’s a well deserved warm welcome, and the audience are rewarded with a swathe of sound that twirls softly around us like a silk scarf. I get that hit, reach the little nirvana where I’m not stuck in this clunky body, instead I’m writhing through the air like an ethereal serpent.

The melodramatic metaphors come easily as the backing vocals swoop in to fill out the chorus. The sound is massive, so dense that it feels like it could scoop up underneath us and lift us to the ceiling like a cushion filled with air.

They’re playing their way through a fucking superb album, one that’s lifted even higher by hearing it being played live. I think about hearing it and seeing it again, this time with an orchestra filling out the places where the synths have been, raising the crescendo even higher. I get chills at the thought, on top of those I’ve already got.

I open my eyes and remember it’s still happening. I drink it in, and dance.

 

Cold As Canada – Paul Kelly

In the song, she’s watching him sleep, but he left hours ago. I’m sitting on the side of the bed, and I feel the light creep in through the shutters and hit my back. I didn’t stray like the woman in the lyrics, but that’s only because I was never really here to begin with.

There is no sound, save for my deep breaths and the ensuing sighs that reveal just how deep a hole I’m in. My ears don’t need to hear it; it’s embedded itself in my heart and my head and I just want to collapse in on myself and be wiped from the memory of the world.

Maybe not from the world’s memory. Just his.

I don’t know who’s committed a greater betrayal: the woman who knows what on earth she’s done; or the woman who could do no wrong.

She needs to walk away. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know when, but it needs to be soon, before the guilt eats her away to nothing.

It doesn’t matter how it happens. There are no winners here.

There’s no good way to say goodbye.

 

He Called Me Baby – Patsy Cline

Three times.

She had always hated the idea of being called that word. She was not a child.

But he said it, and she enjoyed it.

Three times.

She heard someone say once, “You should only use the word ‘baby’ in a song if it’s actually about a newborn.” She was pretty sure it was a bastardised David Byrne quote, but it didn’t matter where it came from. It seemed like a good philosophy.

The first time. She figured it was the heat of the moment. She tried to ignore it. Instead, she loved it. But she winced a little. Something was wrong.

The second time. Now it sounded deliberate, like they were actually going places. She felt warm, glowing despite the cold air, but something was still niggling at the back of her mind.

The third time. The last time. It hit her like a concrete slab.

She wanted to tell him: “You’re not calling me that because you care. You’re saying it because you think it’s the right thing to say, and it would be.

“But you’re not saying it to me. The woman you’re saying it to isn’t here, is she?”

Instead, she just said, “Please, don’t call me that.”

And that was the last time it passed his lips.

 

Grandma’s Herbal Cure All – Moochers Inc

The fact that she would never see these people again intoxicated her to the point that she just let it happen. She danced in the street, tearing her shoes to pieces on the cobblestones, letting her hair fly in the wind.

 

Man Like That – Gin Wigmore

She often thought about the revenge fantasies she would play out on him.

But every time she thought of one, she would find herself taking him back.

It was a dreadful waste of plotting, in her opinion.

In the end, she just threw coffee on him. Easy and effective, cheap and classic. Him and her.

 

Good Intent – Kimbra

New shoes. Black. Small heel. Buckled, not laced.

Old shoes. Black-ish. Smaller heel, more worn on the left side; wobbles when walks. Buckles are buckled, coming undone.

These things that are comfortable never last.

Don’t Tell Him About Vincent Castiglia

I could have picked any of a number of actually confronting images, but I want my blog to be relatively SFW.

It’s such a rich colour, full of iron and platelets and life. We need it in our veins, in our hearts and brains, or it’s game over. When you think of all the symbolism, it makes sense to use it in my work. Portraits are, after all, a portrayal of life, committing something fleeting to something permanent. By using this as my paint, I infuse the canvas with life itself.

Mix it with water and you can get all kinds of lovely shades. I add aspirin to keep it from congealing on my brush, or to make a putty that I smear on with a small trowel when I want to add texture. It’s not dead like monochrome, but it leaves room for imagination in a way that full colour cannot. You get to decide whether his hair is brown or black. Are his eyes blue or green? As long as all the shapes and strokes are right, you can tell who it is or what they are thinking. You don’t need all those other details. They’re already in the paint.

He is going to make a fine subject. His long, black hair flops over his face so you can’t see his eyes. He laughs with friends in a way that makes me think of kestrels – he doesn’t screech like they do, it’s more that the sharp decline in pitch as he pulls out of the hoot reminds me of the sharp drop they make before they capture their prey. I wonder how I will integrate that sound into my painting. It seems so intrinsic to his personality that I feel a need to incorporate it somehow. Perhaps I will perch a bird of prey on his shoulder, wrapped in his dark locks.

I watch him as he leaves the bar. He stumbles on the step, despite the fact that he spends enough time here to know full well that it’s there, and it’s always been there. I can tell that he’s had quite a lot to drink. That should make painting him easier. Alcohol thins the blood remarkably well. I may not even have to knock him out.

But I do, just in case. I am so thankful that I live in a ground floor apartment, and so close to such a wonderful bar, full of beautiful people, coming and going at all hours of the night. It makes it so much easier to bring home supplies and subjects. The fact that it all comes in the one package helps too, I guess.

I work quickly, and he is drained by morning. But by god, the final product is incredible. When I was studying, my teachers told me that my style was unoriginal and lacked life; my technique was stale and my work would need something to stand out from the crowd. I guess I found it, huh.

Eventually the canvas starts to smell, so I have to throw them all away. Again, there is symmetry in this. I could seal them and keep that stale smell in, but instead I discard them like others have discarded me. The same way they discarded my talent and my originality.

Fuelled by the glee I take in proving them wrong, I have become hooked on this new, exciting artistic endeavour. I could have a harem on my walls, every colour, creed and gender represented, all with a limited lifespan, as they were when my supplies were flowing through them. They are short-lived, but they shine bright, and only for me.

 

*****

This post was inspired by a prompt from youshouldwrite.com.

His Own Aroma

 

He smelled like cloves.

Then again, I can’t be sure of that. I don’t know what cloves smell like, but they were exactly what he reminded me of: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; all those other warm, comforting spices that go into mulled cider or chai. He smelled delicious and exotic and alluring. Most of all, he smelled warm.

When he came close, I inhaled deeply, trying to embed every nuance of his scent deep within my brain. I was incredibly conscious of whether or not I was breathing in too loudly; I didn’t want him to know just how much I loved dragging him deep into my lungs like cigarette smoke. He was my nicotine. He sent my heart racing. My breathing rate increased and my brain tingled with lust-filled sparks. He didn’t even need to touch me; he just had to be close enough to breathe in. It was intoxicating, sending sensations running through my body from my torso to my fingertips like a sound wave. I could physically feel the pleasure of his aroma rippling through me.

I can’t remember ever smelling him on my skin or on my clothes, only when he was in the room. Every other man I had lusted after or loved had left a trail behind him, but for some reason, he did not. This was probably a blessing. I could have lost hours in his perfume. To have it weave its way into my sheets would have been the end of me.

We still see each other, now and then. His face is still handsome, his conversation still engaging, his sense of humour as dry as when I first met him. He still cuts a canyon through my heart, but it would be deeper if we didn’t speak.

We don’t sit close to each other. There is always a table, a friend or an incense between us, stopping our pheromones from mingling in the air the way they used to. We sit together and talk, but I can no longer smell his warmth. My lungs miss his touch, my breath longs to entwine itself in his, but this is the way things are.

Sometimes when I walk through the spice aisle in the supermarket, I look at the packets on the shelves. I am looking for cloves, but I never buy them. I don’t pick them up, and I don’t let their scent register in my brain. Instead, I exhale hard through my nose, wondering if I was right. I wonder if they smell like him after all.

But I never check. The illusion is better than the reality, and the nostalgia tastes better than the present. In the same way spice preserves meat, protecting it from air and rot, I protect my memories by hiding them from the truth.

 

Spice_cloves

Curious

“Why, hello there, sir!
You seem a lover-ly sir!
Such a lover-ly sir!
Do you have some peanuts?”

That’s what I said to the sir. He had no peanuts to give me. He just looked at me through a big, black eye that made a funny noise when it blinked.

CRICK!

Like a snappin’ twig! CRICK!

The sir didn’t scare me, no no no! My mother always said one should be scared of sirs, but he was a NICE sir. A lover-ly sir! All peanuts and fruit and lover-ly! Mother would be proud o’ him if he was a one of ussems, but he wasn’t an ussems. He was a sir, but no barky-barkys here. No string-falls, no trap, no trap. Not this sir!

Like I told you, told you, told you again! He was a lover-ly sir!

He smelled like he would have peanuts.

*****

Image is “Tame Squirrel” by Jerry Cooke.