What Pegman Saw: There are no windows here

Image: Google Streetview

There are no windows here, no interruption in the walls other than the pock marks in the plaster, the parts where the surface is powdery, or damp, or scabbed with old paint. No interruption other than the cell door.

There is a gap under the door a fingers’ width deep. If I lie on my side, nose pressed to the gap I can see the corridor – floor tiles (black, beige, rust red diamonds) specks of rat shit, balls of hair, once a scrap of torn boot lace.

But beyond them is the gate. Cast iron acanthus leaves, palm fronds, stamens grown too big for their flowers.

And it reminds me.

Of walks in Song Festival Park. Of how the trees cut the sunlight into shadows, how that light took fire in your hair but turned your eyes to ice.

It reminds me I was once someone more, something more than this.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview as its starting point. This week we are in Riga, Latvia.

I found this image in the old KGB building where tours are run by the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The country was occupied – brutally – by the Soviet Union in 1940-41, then by the Nazis, then by the Soviet Union again from 1944 to 1991. The museum’s slogan is Remember, Commemorate, Remind.

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What Pegman Saw: Badlands

Image : Google Street View

On the horizon was a band of trees, quite black in the dying sun. It looked to Kitty like a great wave of night, threatening to overwhelm the plain.

Over the previous day, the party had been lashed by rain, pelted by hailstones the size of Kitty’s thumbnail, scarified by sun and a wind so strong it cut the canvas loose from the wagon, leaving it to slice the air like a loosed sail.

‘Badlands,’ Mama had muttered, face hidden by the wings of her bonnet. ‘That’s what they call them. That’s what they are.’

That night, Kitty and Jed were put to bed in the wagon early. Kitty lay on her back, watching the firelight dance on the canvas roof, listening to Jed’s slow, steady breathing as Mama sobbed over her coffee and Papa sung an old song about lost hearts and lost fortunes.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street view as its inspiration. This week, we visit the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Black Hills were dubbed such by the Lakota Sioux because the trees gave them a dark appearance, so I thought I’d include this idea in my story. Part of the Black Hills is also known as the Badlands. See here to learn more.

The blade that cut the cord

They came to the door at sunup, November rain dripping from hat brims and shoulders. So many of them – neighbours, friends – eager breath rising like fog.

Father stood in their way, but one punch and he hit the flagstones, the wind and fight knocked from him.

The leader sent two aloft, the ladder creaking under them. Hay dust sifted between the boards, speckling father’s blood stained lip. He could only stare and wait.

A scuff of boots, a thump.

Then my brother Gabe, screaming, weeping for our dead mother, for Father, for me. An animal howl tore from his lips. I blocked my ears, praying God I could unhear that sound.

In moments they were gone – with Gabe, with the rusty blade he’d used two nights before.

Dust stung my eyes, ground between my lips and teeth.

Our father wept.

***

From a story prompt suggested by Patsy Collins over at Womagwriter Blog.

For any of you interested in writing for women’s magazines, Patsy’s blog really is THE place to go for magazine guidelines, submission tips and links. Absolutely invaluable.

What Pegman Saw: When Archie Gregson lived next door

Image: Google Street view

Archie Gregson lived at Sandy Bay, the guesthouse next to ours.

My mother didn’t approve of Mrs Gregson, her home’s faded pink paintwork, the fact she didn’t wash her step every day or her net curtains every week.

“Clean glass means clean guests, Phillip,” said Mum, scrubbing our windows with balled sheets of the Daily Mail.

I don’t know about their guests, but she had a point with Archie. A torque of dirt circled his neck, river valley runnels up his forearms. In summer he smelt more like the sea than the breeze did.

But when you’re 12 you don’t love people because they’re clean. You love them for skipping stones, for teaching you to catch spiky crabs with a line of string and a chicken bone.

You love them for not laughing when you fall over. For keeping your worst secrets the best.

And so I loved Archie.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that takes you across the globe through google Street View. This week, we pop to the UK, to Great Yarmouth. To join in with the prompt, see here.

Friday Fictioneers: Slices of love

PHOTO PROMPT © Valerie J. Barrett

Nan didn’t have a fire in the kitchen.

If it was cold, she’d turn on the gas oven, leaning inside with the ticking lighter, me listening for the whoomf of the burner, watching for the sapphire flame.

I’d sit on the step with the musty scent of linoleum and coconut matting, the plastic tang of cyclamen growing in the lean-to, impatient for slices of thick white toast slathered in butter, a cup of Cadbury’s hot chocolate.

She’d peer into the grill, owl eyes made large by pebble glasses, hands on hips as the toast crisped.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

When I saw the old range and kettle, I instantly thought of my Nanny Cuthbert – or Lou as she was called – my dad’s mum. We’d regularly visit her in her terraced house in Uxbridge on the outskirts of London and she showed her love with food: toast cut straight from the loaf; hot chocolate; beef suet pudding cooked in an enamel dish.

Her kitchen had changed very little since the war (bear in mind I was a child in the 1970s and 80s) and to some extent resembled the kitchen below from the Imperial War Museum – though Nan did have the ‘mod-con’ of a water heater above the sink.

What Pegman Saw: The scent of nutmeg

Adhiarja was my guide up the mountain. The man reaches no higher than my shoulder but is lithe as a tumbler, an adequate shot with a bow and the best man with a knife I’ve seen.

I felt some trepidation as we left behind the circle of huts, the village fire pit, even the deer-pigs that furrow the sand with their ferocious curved tusks. All have become familiar over these weeks, while the forest remains as much of a mystery to me as it was the day I left Plymouth.

Still, my guide is a good man – patient with my clumsy footing, alert to danger when I blundered on oblivious. He saved my life more than once.

And on reaching the top – what wonders! The scent of the nutmeg trees was intoxicating, catching in my throat, clouding my eyes.

With God’s grace, my fortune lies here.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Indonesia.

When I saw our location, it reminded me of a book I read some while ago – Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton. It gives an insight into the European fight over the Indonesian island of Run (at that time the only place the priceless spice nutmeg grew) and England’s subsequent deal to relinquish the island to Holland in exchange for another island – Manhattan.

Notes

Adhiarja was well named – the Indonesian man’s name means ‘safety’.

Deer-pigs are also known as Babirusa and cave paintings show they have been native to the islands since at least the last Ice Age.

What Pegman Saw: Calamity Hollow

Alis stared out across the Monongahela River.

Wherever she looked was billowing smoke, from the steelworks to the tug boats and paddle steamers, to the shanty town with its huddle of shacks and stove pipes.

On laundry days her sheets came in dotted with smuts. Every sip of water and bite of bread was gritted, speckled black.

‘Not so different from Merthyr after all,’ Evan had said, wrapping oily arms about her waist.

In a way he was right. Half of Glamorgan seemed to have followed them across the ocean to Pennsylvania and seeing the men trudge home, black faced and bowed was so familiar, she had to nip her arms to remind herself she wasn’t home.

She was lucky to have a life, to have breath and water and food, no matter how tainted.

To have a husband, not a ragged corpse swinging from the gallows back in Wales.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that gallops across the world using Google Street View. This week we visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On reading about Pittsburgh, I found an interesting snippet. It seems that in the 1830s many Welsh coal miners and steel workers immigrated to the city after the Merthyr Rising, a protest against working conditions and unemployment. The unrest only lasted a week but during that time several locals and soldiers died. One man was hanged as an example to others.

It’s said that the Merthyr Rising was the first time the red flag was used as a symbol of revolution.

I found Calamity Hollow on the map, on the banks of the Monongahela River.

I imagined Alis being the wife of one of the men who had taken part in the rising. The house pictured is probably too fancy to be that of a coal miner or steel worker, but I imagined Alis standing at that balcony, staring out across the polluted river.