What Pegman Saw: The unforgiving sand

Image: Google Street View

When I was a little girl, sand meant days at the beach building castles with a bucket and spade. Once the work was done we’d sit back and admire our hard work, eat shrimp paste sandwiches with crusted nails as the sea undermined the foundations, as the walls softened and melted into the brine.

No castles here.

The sand is too dry – it sucks the moisture from my skin, grinds at my teeth and the corners of my eyes. It’s harder too, filled with the rubble of ancient cities, fragments of musty tombs returned to the light, the secret corners of a lustrous palace laid bare.

The castles melt away and city’s fall. Only the wind remains.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Old Dongola, Sudan.

Years ago I was lucky enough to visit Egypt, to the north of Sudan. Venturing into the Sahara Desert, I can vouch that the sand is pretty much as I describe here – definitely not fit for making castles.

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.

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.