A taste of freedom

Image: Pixabay

The way down from the cliffs was a struggle, the boulders less even than they looked from a distance. The bladder wrack was still wet, slippery under her heels and she had to use one hand to hold her skirts up – she could just imagine how much trouble she’d be in if her only black dress was marked with slime and seawater.

‘Wait for me,’ she called.

Charlie was already a way ahead, striding from rock to rock. His trousers wore twin stripes down the hips, brown and green where he’d carelessly wiped his hands. His patent boots were muddy to the ankle.

Every part of her life felt shackled – working at the big house, the housekeeper with her sharp black eyes, the mistress running pudgy fingers over every mantel and sill. Free time was rare and even then she was not permitted to walk along the Front or go to the music hall or the fair, only to Church or on ‘improving walks’.

How she envied him those boots, those trousers.

She closed her eyes, breathed in the salt tang. Her corset pinched at the waist, on her lower ribs, cut under her arms. Even her breathing wasn’t free.

This was the closest she came, though.

If they sneaked down the beach, out of sight of the Grange, in the shelter of the boulders, there was privacy of a sort. The wind whipped sand in her face, tugged hair from its pins so it caught in her mouth, flicked against her cheeks – she loved it all.

Gulls soared overhead, hovering, wheeling, calling her to join them, mocking when she couldn’t.

‘Come on!’

Charlie had made it to the mouth of the cove. He sat on the sand, peeling off his boots and socks, turning up his trouser legs. He wriggled his toes in the sand like a little boy.

The closest thing to freedom.

***

The image is of Seafield House in Westward Ho!, UK. My current obsession.

Friday Fictioneers: The Linnet of Livorno


PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

Granny Cora was in music hall back in the day.

She started aged seven with her parents and four siblings – The Flying Beneventis – though the family name was Mossop and the closest Granny came to Italy was sharing a Penny Lick on Blackpool seafront.

At the age of twenty-one Granny married her manager, Gordon, and shed her leotard to become a novelty act – The Linnet of Livorno. She’d stand alone in the limelight and whistle. One moment she was a blackbird, the next a mistle thrush, always ending with a song to make the heart break – the nightingale.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the picture prompt write, share and read the work of others.

I don’t know what the bird in the picture is – I’m pretty sure it’s not a mistle thrush, a blackbird, a nightingale, or even a linnet. But whatever she is, she inspired me to travel back in time.

NB

A Penny Lick was a small glass for serving ice cream most common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The glass would be rinsed off (not very well!) before being used for the next customer.

Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest music hall still standing in London. It really gives an idea of what a typical Victorian music hall was like.

Jane Dougherty’s Words and pictures poetry challenge: The Whisperer

Michael_E._Arth_-Moscow_Metro-_oil_painting,_1980

Tasha had taken the cold journey from home in her stride. She examined every passersby closely: the women with their head scarves in shades of mud; the men’s faces hidden by Party caps, their hunched, overcoated shoulders.

She watched the trams and buses jostle through the city, along Gorky Street. The child hardly spoke, her expression curious but calm – she hadn’t reached for her grandmother’s hand once, not even when a milkman’s horse reared as they crossed the road.

‘This way, Tasha.’

The girl followed Ludmilla obediently, wide, dark eyes everywhere as they entered the metro station. The vaulted roof was golden and blood red with Soviet stars, chandeliers and mosaic tiles blinding in electric candlelight.

Ludmilla caught a glimpse of Tasha’s reflection as they rode the escalator to the next platform. That river of brunette hair, the narrow, pale face – she could almost be her Kaya at that age.

The golden station glittered and dissolved. She turned away, not wanting her tears to be seen. Her poor, betrayed Kaya.

A small hand slid into Ludmilla’s and she shivered. ‘Aren’t you looking forward to me getting my special prize, Babushka?’

‘Of course,’ said Ludmilla, trying to smile.

Tasha held her hand for the rest of their journey and it took all Ludmilla’s strength not to scream.

***

During the Soviet period, children were actively encouraged to inform on adults, even if they were relatives – even if they were their parents. See the story of Pavlik Morozov. Though the truth of the Pavlik legend is contested, the fact he was hailed as a hero by the Soviet state is not.

Written for Jane Dougherty’s Words and pictures poetry challenge. And what a fabulous painting she’s chosen. It’s entitled Moscow Metro and it’s by Michael E. Arth. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be a poetry challenge, but Jane was happy for me to write prose, so here it is.

What Pegman Saw: Madam Light (Post number 1,000)

Image: Google Street View

To the Bobbies she’d give the names Molly Brand, Moll Prate, Maggie Gardener, according to her whim. But to us of the rookery she was always Madam Lighthouse – Light if she looked on you kindly.

It was Light who used the cabbies, the bill posters, the street sweepers and hawkers as her eyes and ears, gave protection in exchange for all they knew.

It was Light who warned us of fresh-faced beat coppers out for an easy collar, of gangs bringing their own toms and dippers into our patch. And when sober requests to move on were rebuffed, it was Madam Light’s boys who did what had to be done.

She shined bright, steady as Dover’s white cliffs, for twenty glorious years.

Until this morning.

She was found in her chair, boots on the grate, pipe hanging slack from her lips.

Light snuffed out.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as inspiration. This week we visit Silver Bay, Minnesota. See here to join in.

NB

Rookery – dense collection of houses, especially slums.

Bobbies/coppers – policemen (I would say ‘police officers’ but in the Victorian period in which this story is based, there were only male officers).

Toms – prostitutes.

Dippers – pickpockets.

Last month was Word Shamble’s fifth anniversary and this is my 1,000th blog post.

The blog has developed over time – I’ve tried humour, book-based posts, a serial and now mainly write flash fiction. I’ve had a lot of fun and ‘met’ a lot of lovely people – both in the UK and abroad.

Thanks to all who’ve read and commented over the last 1,000 posts, my WP family. Hope you can hang around for the next 1,000.

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #67: Twilight at Bicker’s Mill

CCC#67

What remained of Bicker’s Mill still stood, the wooden pillar like a lighthouse in an ocean of reeds and sedge.

Mist was developing as we approached the whitewashed boards, not so much rolling in across the marshes, but rising upwards as if expelled from the ground.

Dor had waded close behind me all the way from the road, grumbling about the wet and the cold and the wisdom of being at the ‘Tween Place’ at twilight. She mumbled, the words becoming formless, an incantation against my foolishness.

‘Hush now,’ I said, taking her hand, and the warmth of me quietened her a little. ‘You know why we’re here.’

The sun settled low, the clouds ink and fire, the low mist a stubborn grey. I lit a smoky fire to warm our hands, to ward off the tremors.

As night crept in, Dor stared across the marsh. ‘There,’ she said.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #67. See here to join in.

Crispina’s talk of Boggarts and Trolls led me to comment about the nature of these between places and the belief that the margins between dry land and water were also margins between this world and others.

Perhaps also part of the reason bog body sacrifices such as Tollund Man (below) were made in Europe through pre-history.

Image result for tollund man

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #66: The Knapper

CCC#66

A last bus rumbled past, leaving behind it diesel fumes and a wash of gutter water.

The night was restless with weaving drunks, corners stuffed with sleeping bags and cardboard mattresses for the city’s homeless.

‘Does it have to be now?’ Marv whispered.

Tyche pushed knotted hair from her eyes. ‘When else?’ She approached the old gaol wall, its dark mosaic of flint nodules.

‘We’re gonna end up in jail ourselves, only it’ll be more shared lavs and shivs than pretty rocks.’

‘Here.’ She knelt by the rusted grill, hand on a particular ball of flint. ‘Get to work, Knapper.’

Sighing, Marv eased down beside her. The wall seemed to glow a little, a faint luminescence only visible away from the street lights. Placing a swollen knuckle on the light, he struck.

Splinters fell to the pavement. A song floated, sinuous on the air. Such longing.

‘We’re here,’ hissed Tyche.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #66. Go here to join in.

NB. Tyche was the Greek Goddess who governed the prosperity and fortune of a city.

Flint is a fascinating material that was used for weaponry and tools long before it was used to make buildings. It’s almost a mystical thing, to watch an expert knapper create an arrowhead from a solid, brittle ball of flint.

And for fun, I thought I’d include a video of my favourite knapper – archaeologist Phil Harding from Wessex Archaeology. And if you want to imagine Phil as Marv, feel free.

What Pegman Saw: Blackbirding

Image: Googgle Street View

Solomon crouched to the last snare. This was often the best place – dense shrubs in the lea of a tumbledown wall, the sound of waves crackling over the shingle beach below.

The blackbird eyed him. It lay on its side as if tipped by the wind, exhausted from fighting the snare. A young cock, strong, clean feathers. The scales on its left leg were torn away, bloodied, the foot nearly off where the wire had pulled tight.

The sun was almost up, the world all greys, the blackbird a scrap of night with a golden beak.

Solomon enclosed it in his hand, rubbing the soft head with his thumb. The bird was too tired to fight, breaths coming fast and shallow.

He’d always liked blackbirds – smart, handsome, harmless.

The neck broke easily with a twist of his fingers. He tossed the corpse into the sea.

Poor eating on a blackbird.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in Vanuatu in the Solomon Islands.

On reading the history of the islands, I found they were a target for slavers seeking labour for sugar plantations. This practice was called ‘blackbirding’.