What Pegman Saw: The Desert Kin

Image: Google Street View

The shack had been the post office of a mining town, now deserted. Sunbleached boards across the windows, tiles missing from the roof like a reptile shedding scales.

‘This it?’ Roddy’s usual cocky smile had slipped as we’d driven further into the desert. Now he was a fifteen-year-old boy again, arms tight folded, fear skulking behind his eyes.

‘It’s okay, kid,’ I said, smiling. ‘Soon have a fire going. Go fetch the bedrolls from the pickup, would you?’

I scanned the plain, the distant ridge of smoke grey hills. At least we’d see someone coming. Any vehicle would kick up a dust trail and as long as we were vigilant –

Something cold brushed the back of my hand. Instinct made me look, but there was nothing. Of course not. You don’t see the Desert Kin. Not unless they want you to.

‘Roddy, I’ll take first watch,’ I called.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Cloverdale, New Mexico. See here to join in.

Crimson's Creative Challenge #60: Diversion

CCC#60

Culvert is the name I have chosen.

Over the weeks of my recuperation, as my bruises faded and bones mostly healed, I considered alternatives – River, Brook, Flow… Shimmer had a certain ring. But Culvert. Culvert fits.

Three months ago, I stepped into the shallow waters as one thing – a good but conventional mind, a man who looked both ways at an intersection, had cut sugar from his diet, paid his taxes.

Hours later, I was dragged out… Changed. Now red lights are a challenge to my sharpened reactions. Dietary advice I leave for those who need it. And taxes… Well, let’s say, any tax collector only visits my office once.

My time in the water diverted my old self and something new was built over the top. The babbling brook that was me is still there, buried under new, hard layers.

Culvert is here to stay.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #60. See here to join in.

Friday Fictioneers: Searching for Len

Copyright-Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Mum decided to sort the spare room in time for New Year. There was a pile to go to charity, black bin liners filled with old clothes and what Mum deemed ‘tat’ in the centre of the room.

On a scuffed table were items she wanted me to put in the loft for her. A black and white print lay on the table, an image of a man who died before I was born. ‘What did granddad do again?’

She paused in her sorting. ‘Worked at Heathrow, ran a grocer’s. Did I tell you about the time the police came for him?’

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Let the image inspire you to write a tale. See here to join in.

Reading Rochelle’s story about her grandfather led me to think about my own.

Horace Reuben Ayres was born in the East End of London within the sound of Bow Bells, making him a true Cockney. He was by all accounts a bit of a rogue.

He did run a grocer’s and work at Heathrow Airport later in life, but early on he was somehow involved in the boxing world (he was said to know the Kray twins, but everyone in the East End involved in boxing would have known them, I’m sure) and supposedly with gambling, illegal outside of racecourses in those days.

He went by a couple of different names – most people called him Len, though my mum doesn’t know why. My grandmother said he was born to a Jewish family, though if he was he was lapsed by the time Mum was born.

Despite searching, no one has ever found a birth certificate or a record of his birth, so we don’t know exactly how old he was and yes, the police did come to the house for him one day. He was in a reserved occupation during the war and left without permission which was a criminal offence. He apparently legged it out the back door while the police came in the front.

I wish I’d known him. He skirted the edges of the law but my mother adored him.

New Year's Eve 1973

Image: sjdents0 Pixabay

‘Lesley Howard?’ Patricia pulled on her cigarillo, puffed a cloud of blue grey smoke into the air. ‘Is that the Brief Encounter chap?’

‘No, that’s Trevor Howard. Leslie Howard was Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.’

Patricia selected a card from the hand she was playing and slapped it on the green baize table. ‘So in answer to the question, “which film actor would you want to be”, you choose the one who loses the girl.’

Bobby rubbed his stocking feet against the flank of a dozing Labrador. Firelight flickered around the living room, casting picturesque shadows over the threadbare rug, the stacks of mouldering newspapers. ‘Always seemed like a decent sort,’ he said. ‘Shot down over the Bay of Biscay, 1943.’

‘A dead war hero? So decent, so proper, such a good egg.’

He recognised the hard chink in her voice. ‘You and Scotch do not make happy companions.’

She raised a hand. ‘I’m just saying you sound very alike, you and your dead actor.’

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Always doing the right thing. Fighting for King and country. So noble. So very, very bland.’

Bobby reached for his own glass. New Year’s Eve and she was as impossible as always. Well, this year he refused to bite. ‘Who would you be then? Greta Garbo, I suppose, wanting to be alone?’

Patricia’s teeth chinked against her glass tumbler as she threw her head back, laughing hoarsely. ‘No, not Garbo. Too sulky. Perhaps Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. Remember that scene? Her in a top hat and tails?’

‘Huh. Very, very you.’

She raised her glass. ‘I always was the butch one, dear.’ She drained the last of her Scotch, rolled the glass between the palms of her hands. ‘Ideally, I would have been Gable.’

‘Clark Gable?’

Patricia nodded. ‘That sharp moustache, the oiled hair, stamping around the Deep South, shooting Yankees.’ Then with a watery smile, she added, ‘Not giving a damn.’

***

I’m currently planning a new novel and these are two of the main characters. Their spiky relationship keeps drawing me back and Patricia talks to me, even when I don’t necessarily want her to.

For reference, the novel is set in the early 1970s and they’re both in their 70s, hence the selection of old film stars.

NB For those too young to know…

To learn more about Leslie Howard, Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter, Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, follow the links.

What Pegman Saw: Enough

The house was built upside down.

The front door and kitchen were on the first floor, level with the road, while a small bedroom and study were on the ground floor, burrowed into the side of the mountain.

Three rooms, one fireplace, a view over the valley. It was enough.

In the winter he grew strong digging away the snow. In the summer he sat on the front step, watched the hikers march red-faced up the mountain.

The locals had been friendly at first, bringing him cast iron dishes filled with of polenta, rounds of Fontina cheese. But the visits had dwindled as his neighbours realised there would be no warm thanks or smiles, no reciprocation.

Some nights he dreamt of what brought him there, the day he turned his own life upside down. But every flagellant knows his own limits and exploring the past was his.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit the Aosta Valley in Italy. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

A frostbitten heart

Image: Pixabay

Each time the snow fell, covering the land in ankle deep crunch, she went looking. And when ice turned the world to a hard snap, she searched then too.

She looked for the lamppost’s prism of glass, for dancing shadows falling on iron earth, for the faun and his parcels of paper and string.

Standing under heavy white firs, she listened for the chatter of beavers, for the sleigh bells’ frosty chime. 

Always Winter, never Christmas.

The lack of magic became a physical pain, as if the cold had bitten her heart, broken it into glassy shards. Even the brilliant snow held no pleasure for her, as if it was already easing to slush.

She’s old now, still searching. Still driven on by that frostbitten heart. But sometimes, as she plants a powdery kiss on my cheek, I smell rosewater and lemons

and I wonder…

***

For those unfamiliar with the references, do take a look here.

I’m unsure if this is a cautionary tale about fruitlessly seeking magic in a world where none remains, or one cautioning against giving up hope too soon. You decide.

That’s it from me until after Christmas. As you read this I’ll be at work, selling holly and ivy and glitter to the good folk of Bristol.

Happy Christmas all and see you once the glorious madness is over.

What Pegman Saw: On the foreshore eating apples with Dad

Image: Google Street View

Dad was a crane driver at the docks, loading and unloading shipping containers, ten hours a day, six days a week.

Often, to keep us from getting under Mum’s feet, Dad took us with him, left us mudlarking on the foreshore as he swung the sulphur crane limb towards the sea, towards the shore.

I was small then, unable to translate the containers’ markings into words, the words into thoughts.

Dad would join us on the pier at break time, share a square of cheese, chewy ends of loaf, one soft apple.

I’d pester, ‘What’s inside the big boxes, Dad?’ ‘Where are they going?’ ‘Who would need so many things?’

He’d shrug, look mystified, as if it had never crossed his mind to wonder.

That was the difference between us. I needed to know how the world worked, he was content that it did.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. Today we are in Paraguay. See here to join in, share and comment.