The Queen of Rotten Row: Part Two

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Image: Pixabay

 

On Daisy’s thirteenth birthday, Queenie made an announcement.

‘You’re too big to share a bed with me anymore. Besides I can’t be doing with the rubbish you bring in. Cluttering my dressing table with feathers and snail shells and a quarry’s worth of stones.’

Under Queenie’s direction, Daisy’s brothers built two extra rooms on the back of number five Railway Cottages with soot-stained bricks they’d taken from the line after a signal box had been demolished by a runaway coal truck, and old sleepers instead of proper rafters. It meant Daisy’s new bedroom smelled of oil and smoke even before she’d lit her first fire. She’d expected her mother to be the one to move, but Queenie declared the room too close to the kitchen. She didn’t want her new chenille throw – the colour of port wine – to smell of liver and onions. Daisy didn’t mind the smell, or that the walls leaned outwards or that a dropped bobbin would roll to the same corner each time. At least she didn’t get into trouble for collecting pine cones anymore.

At that time, her little brother Barty and all five older brothers, Sidney, Albert, Cedric and the twins, George and William still slept head to toe in two beds in the middle bedroom. It seemed an alien space to Daisy, stuffed with shirt collars and long johns and a peculiar, earthy smell that made her hold her nose as she passed the door. Sometimes she wondered if the stench of men would drift along the landing and choke her as she slept. From her older brothers she learned words that Queenie didn’t think a woman should use. Every evening as she undressed for bed, Daisy would practice the words, savouring how they distorted her mouth into unfamiliar shapes.

One of Daisy’s jobs was to dust the photograph of her father that hung above the sideboard in the parlour. He’d been station manager at Barnard’s Junction for thirty years, had won commendations for his diligence and conduct and he had a grey handlebar moustache and a beard that cut a neat ‘V’ shape over his uniform. She’d learned all of this from the photograph and a clipping from the local newspaper trapped along with it under the glass – Britain’s finest railwayman dies at his post.

‘That’s all you need to know,’ Queenie always said.

Daisy only remembered his absence – if he wasn’t working he was in the Public Bar at the Railways Arms. He resembled the sailors who gathered by the dockside to smoke and pass around bottles that smelled of Christmas pudding. In her dreams he walked unsteadily, as if on board a storm-tossed ship – in the morning, Daisy always woke feeling sea-sick.

Queenie was the hub of Rotten Row. If a wife received a beating for singeing the gravy or a husband lost his wages on a nag that fell at the third, then it was Queenie who spread the news faster than a man could shout it. When Mrs Cooper put a dent in the kitchen wall with a fire iron because Mr Cooper moved quicker than he had for the previous twenty years, it was Queenie who turned up on their doorstep, telling Mrs Cooper to either get used her husband seeing the barmaid from the Bull’s Head, or get a better aim.

Every day Queenie would stand by the front door, arms crossed and if Daisy was scrubbing the hall floor or sweeping the stair carpet, she would be close enough to Queenie’s look-out post for snatches of conversation to float over the clouds of carbolic and dust.

‘Morning, Mrs Critchlow.’

‘Morning, Sarah. How’s your mother keeping?’ After a pause and the sound of retreating footsteps Queenie would call behind her ‘Says her mother’s doing well, but I saw her yesterday when the fish man came round. Yellow as a buttercup, she was. I give her a week.’

Soon another neighbour would walk by.

‘Morning Ida, you’re looking bonny, love.’

‘Ooh, thank you, Mrs Critchlow.’

Daisy listened for the click of retreating heels then,

‘Should’ve seen her, Daisy. Got another new hat, big as a chamber pot. And the stuff on it! She’s got more fruit on her than Bury market. You watch, she’ll be fat as a sow and waddling down the aisle before she’s come of age.’

***

Find Part One here

 

 

Micro Bookends: Sleeping Beauty

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Sleeping Beauty

Under the leer of a new moon, inky slithers melt into life.

A mermaid licks salt-crusted lips, flicks her scales and dives, breaking through the waves of skin that roll across your chest.

The rose unfurls its petals, nips at flightless doves, thorns snatching at banners declaring ‘Stella’, ‘Gloria’ ‒ ‘Mum’.

You wanted ‘ink’ ‒ to be a man. Now the pictures that smother your skin smother you.
They weave and warp to form a tattoo where you never felt the sting before – your throat.

You dream of the needle, of the sea, of Sleeping Beauty cradled in her bramble nest. You stir, gasp, swallow.

Ink is your final breath-taker.


Another day, another photo of a semi-naked, heavily tattooed man on my blog. Ah, well, such is the way of the world.

This was my second entry to last week’s Micro Bookends challenge – you know, Undertaker, man with big, scary needle – and parp-parp-parp-parp-parp-parp! (How do you do a decent trumpet blast in words?) …

My Sleeping Beauty WON! Winner! Winner! Winner! Hang out the damn flags!

I was very surprised and totally delighted that my third attempt at the competition was succesful, especially as I’d read the other submissions – these folks are just too good. Thanks to David Borrowdale who runs Micro Bookends and to Jessica Franken last week’s judge and worthy former-winner.

If you’d like to read my author page on the site (and who wouldn’t – it’s very good) then click here.

And I shall see you anon 🙂

Found

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The girl with the watery eyes takes me by the arm and her mouth’s smiling, but she still looks sad. She always looks sad. I wonder if there’s something wrong with her.

She leads me into the room with all the chairs in, the one with the big window. Some of the old people sit in there to stare out at the garden, though there’s nothing to see but mud and twigs. It’s raining. It always rains.

I try to explain to the girl with watery eyes that it must be past my bedtime, that I’d better go home to my Mam, but she says I’ve only just had my breakfast. I try to tell her she’s got it wrong, but she won’t listen so I give up. I don’t want to upset her- she smells so nice.

The girl wants me to sit down, but I don’t like the chair she puts me in because I’ve seen one of the old men sitting in it. It’s the man who always has his hand in his trouser pocket. He makes me feel itchy and anyway, he smells like dirty knickers, so when the girl leaves the room, I move to another chair- the one with the big orange flowers on the cushion.

Someone coughs and I’m worried it’s the girl that smells of mince, but it’s another young woman. She’s pretty in an untidy way, blond hair falling from a clip on top of her head. She smiles at me and I smile back and for a minute, we’re just smiling at each other and I’m not really sure why.

‘Hello,’ she says.

‘Hello,’ I say. ‘Have you come to see one of the old people?’

She smiles and nods. She has some bags with her, big blue ones with long handles made of a sort of shiny fabric. The bags are open at the top and lengths of cloth spill from them- there’s pink and a peacock blue and something the colour of peas. I like the colours and the shimmery fabric. I want to feel them, but know it would be rude to do it without asking.

‘What have you got there?’ I say, my fingers twitch wanting to touch.

The untidy, pretty girl’s smile widens. ‘Scarves. Would you like to take a look?’

And she jumps up and begins to lay them over the arm of my chair, the colours flowing and overlapping, so that you can see one through another. Pea mixes with the pink and there’s one with butterflies- a pale ash ground with magenta wings- and as she pulls it from the bag and the wings curl and flutter above my head I can’t help but giggle.

At first I’m too shy to touch. The girl pulls out more and more scarves- like a magician with a top hat- and her cheeks flush and all of the hair tumbles from the clip so it hangs round her face all straggly, but still pretty. She takes off her coat and throws it on her chair and she starts on the second bag. She kneels on the floor and starts to lay the slithering cloths on the carpet and over her coat, and it’s all so beautiful.

‘Captured rainbows,’ I say and she smiles wider than ever.

She looks so happy, I’m sure she won’t mind if I hold just one. It’s a blue-green that makes me think of ducks. I run a finger over its length. It’s soft and slippy and the cloth makes little rasping noises as it slides over itself. I curl my fingers around it, scrunch it in my hand and it’s so fine it fits in my palm.

And then.

I smell the sea, taste the salt, feel the wet sand sloshing between my toes. From one hand hangs my sandals, and the wind tugs at my scarf, the teal- coloured one that Simon bought me for my birthday. I realise my other hand isn’t free by my side, but swaying with a rhythm that isn’t mine. I look up. I see a shirt, crumpled as always, and a blond head, higher than mine so I have to lean up to kiss the cheek. It’s his hand I’m holding, that swings me back and forth, that pulls me out of step, then slips back into it. The hairs are golden on bronze skin and I’m sure I’ve never seen a more beautiful man.

‘Simon,’ I whisper, but the wind snatches the sound away.

‘That’s right, Auntie.’

I’m in the room with the chairs. The sand has gone from under my feet and the only smell is air freshener and boiled veg. But the smiling girl is still here. She’s draped scarves round her neck, like boas. Her hand is on mine.

‘You look pretty today, Suzy,’ I say, ‘I like what you’ve done with your hair.’

She squeezes my hand again.


Day Thirteen: Serially Found

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.

This is a second installment, a continuation of Lost, Day Four’s post. It’s about the same character, in the same setting. A little sad and a little hopeful.

Through wooden bone and slate skin

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A boy lives in the roof. He smells of slate and warm pigeon breasts on crisp winter mornings.

Stolen feathers prick his scalp instead of hair. A flightless fledgling, he’s pressed under roof tiles, body bulging between the slats.

Hunched under the low roof, my limbs become a geometry lesson of angles. My foot scuffs the Christmas box- it tinkles, showing off its boa of fairy lights. The boy’s there, tickling my cheek with his musty down. He asks me to stay and I’m willing-unwilling but I sink to the floor anyway and listen, the thick, soft dust a cushion under my knees.

He whispers of the stars, the drift of a million suns that wink and shimmer, filling the sky with inky purple shadows. He bellows of the storms that have shuddered through his eaves, shaking plaster dust from his joists, threatening to tear his wooden skeleton from his slate skin. He drones of the bees, their waxy hexagons that tunnelled through him until his hollows shook with waggle dances and sung with the hive mind. Disturbed, honey drips and falls into my eyes.

He asks to take my hand and instinctively I reach for him. I yearn to count the stars as friends, to feel myself expand under the sun’s rays. He creaks, timbers groaning like a battered mast for love of me.

‘I love you more than the dawn,’ he chitters. ‘More than the bees. I’d extinguish a thousand constellations for you.’

Then I smell his breath‒wind-dried skin and bone, cement ground to powder by damp and time‒ and I kiss him once and stumble away. The Christmas box tips and falls, wreathing the boards with unlit bulbs.

There’s a boy in the cupboard. I run to him as the roof shakes and groans, as brick dust salts my hair and gums my tongue. The boy’s door opens with a sigh. I burrow into him, rip through layers of wallpaper‒ floral, stripe, floral‒ and dig my fingertips into his plaster, searching for his heart. I follow the pulse and thump until I find it, lay my palm over the beats that come faster for the touch of me.

The boy in the cupboard never begs me to stay, promises nothing as I curl in his darkness, my hand on his mineral chest. Soon I’m as cold as he is warm.

The boy in the floor stares through knots and gaps between boards, with his woodlouse eyes, his cable lips and tied-up tongue, tangled with balls of hair and shredded newspaper.

I never talk him.


Success- hooray!

After a succession of rejections, this piece of flash fiction was published yesterday on the website for Flash Flood the National Flash Fiction Day journal.

Do visit the site if you fancy reading some great fiction.

http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/