Tag Archives: Prose

FarmLife, October 31, 2015

garden 15

Today I return to the farm. The last time I was there I almost broke my back picking apples from trees that fringe the high grass for minutes and minutes beyond the view of the main house and stables. I had spent the whole day making compote yet there were tons of apples left and another tree still laden, the fruit now falling to the ground with a sigh, with a muffled tut.

Today I’ll almost break my back again bumping that wheelbarrow (how many times this time?) back to the house. Then the kitchen will be warm, sweet-smelling and sticky. I imagine that I am two generations older and that grandchildren will soon come charging in to lick out the pots. They’ll get their knuckles rapped! It tastes so much nicer when it’s hot, they’ll say. Later, I will fall into bed, into the arms of a man who too wants his share of sweet stickiness. What else to do but laugh and I give in, the both of us happy for the night; for its rewards for a hard day’s work.


This piece started its life as an email to a friend, but then it wouldn’t let me go so I elaborated it, my mind already linking it to a new novel high on my To Do list. The farm, a place I like to retreat to, where physical work offers a welcomed change. Soothing. The bath at the end of the day all the more delicious. Notes about life there could well become a regular feature on my blog. Let’s see

Long Time: tongues will wag!

“Jack!” Monica prodded him, “C’mon, you’ll be late for work. Jack… you playing wiv yourself?”

“Wot time is it?”

“Time you stopped wanking and brought some money in!”

“Know wot? You’re as common as muck.”

She leant over, squashing her breasts against his arm, said, “Give ’ere, let me do that for ya…”

But he yanked the sheets back and marched his cheated hard-on out the bedroom.

They hadn’t done it for ages. There he was, wanking off next to her and there she was, only too willing. Monica fell back onto her pillow, wondered what she might be doing wrong, but then thought fuck it, she snatched her cigarettes from the bedside table.




“Hello again,” said Jack as he reached the bus-stop, wearing a grin so wide almost all his teeth were on show. “You and I must stop meeting like this or tongues will wag, you know!”

“I don’t know what yu mean!”

“Don’t you, now. We’ve met here at least a dozen times… wot’m I saying,” he interrupted himself, “dozens! And I get a glimpse of you almost every day, or every other day. You never have a friendly word to say to me though I know you don’t dislike it.”

“Is what yu tink I can possibly have to say to someone like you?”

“Well, you could smile once in a while and say, “Hello, Jack, fancy meeting you here,” or “Hello, Jack, nice to see you again,” you know, something like that. Nice n friendly, like.”

“Nice an frenly me back foot!”

“Wot have you got to be so defensive about, eh? I don’t hiss or whistle as you go past like your lot do. Well, do I? No, I most certainly do not! I’m just nice n friendly, as I said. So wot’s a young girl like you got to be so uptight about, anyway, eh?”

“If is woman yu deh look go look inna yu own kind an inna yu own age, yaah.”

“I beg your pardon?!” It was far too loud to be a real whisper. One or two heads turned. Jack put his back between them and Rose, “How old d’you fink I am, then?” Did he look a mess? He knew Monica could look a damn sight better but he thought he wasn’t doing too badly.

“Yu old enough to be me farda, yaah.” Rose turn her face the other way look down the road.

Wot? Don’t make me laugh!”

But he did. “If I started having kids at fifteen like your lot seem to then I could be your father, grant you that.” She had a nerve! Old enough to be her father indeed! “I’m only -”

“How old you is don’t interest me.”

“Wot does interest you, eh?”

“Wat me do is none a fi yu business.” Is wat mek im no go weh an leff me alone, im is a blasted nuisance, she thought. An where di blasted bus deh?

No blasted bus, near or far, but Lou, as luck would have it, a little up from the bus-stop, Lou stepping out of the newsagent’s and heading their way, hunched over her cigarette.

“Oh ello, Emily! On your way home, are you?”

“Yes, see you.” Rose managed a meaningless exchange for a second or two, but glanced up only briefly at the voice that had so stabbed into her privacy and sliced her open.

“Wot you looking for, then? In a bag that small can’t be too hard to find anyfing, can it? I mean there’s not a lot you put in your bag when you’re going to work not like when you’re going out somewhere special I’m off somewhere nice tonight. Fink I might pop out again this aftanoon n see if I find somefing to doll me up a little bit noffing I hate more’n a woman who lets herself go, can’t be surprised if her old man’s eyes start doing the walkies, know wot I mean? Course, me n my old man we’re just like we were from the beginning, wouldn’t change im for the world n he wouldn’t want no other woman, either, I see he’s alright. No-one goes running after a bit a scraggy chop when he’s got steak at home, know wot a mean? Anyhow I must be off, listen, you fancy coming out for a round of bingo sometime? All girls togevva, we don’t half ’ave a good laugh I got noffing against you lot. My Michelle had a golly when she was little got it from her auntie Diane. Loved that little golly, she did. Really, must go, got a fousand n one fings to do before the day’s done. Cheerio, Emily. See you tomorrow!”

You know them people who talk non-stop? No business if you show no sign of interest, just talk talk talk without them even stop to draw breath? This is a kind of person Rose could never stand, like a whistling woman and a crowing hen; they were an abomination. For one long, long, moment, Rose stood with her eyes closed, her head tilted back, as if knocking back some nasty cough syrup. Swallowed she did, too, then set her lips sternly before opening her eyes once more to find Jack turned to face her, not smiling, or self-satisfied, rather thoughtful, even sad. She would not look at him. Said,

“Here yu bus.”

He continued to look at her.

“Look, yu gwine miss yu bus!”

“I’m not taking this one. Not today. I’m catching the same one as you are,” then he ducked away from the vexed look she shot him. “No need to get your knickers in a twist, I’m not gonna follow you home or anyfing like that… where you getting off?”


He sighed, “Look, you can’t stop me from getting on the same bus as you. There ain’t a law against it, far’s I know. If you tell me where you’re getting off I’ll get off a stop earlier, how’s that?” he tried to be cheery.


“Am I talking to a brick wall or somefing?”

After a long, long while, “Me deh get off by Pallard’s.”

Jack nodded, as if contemplating a second option, decided upon:

“Pollard’s, is it? A deal’s a deal,” but his cheerfulness made no impact on her. He exhaled with a slight whistle, his eyes on his shoes.

“Emily -”

Rose jump. He had said her name so sadly, so painfully, but never the pain which she had felt.

“…that first time I spoke to you and made you laugh, your face lit up so much it was an absolute beauty to see… you oughta laugh more often… really, Emily…”

Their bus ground to a halt at their feet.

“Ladies first.”

For her part, Rose hugged her handbag close to her chest and looked obstinately out of the window.

The West Indian conductor stopped in the aisle.

“Two please, mate.”

Rose had no time to protest.

The conductor swung the arm of his ticket machine round till it ching chinged,

Ching ching!

He handed Jack the two tickets.

“Taa, mate.”

Jack Dunbar and Emily Thompson sat upright. Not a word passed between the two a dem. Once, they brushed shoulders as the driver took a corner too sharply. Not a word.

“Pollard’s is the next but one, so I’ll get off here, okay?”

She nodded.

He reached for the cord overhead, suspended from the back through to the front of the bus like a washing line. Pulled it.

Ting ting!

“Some money drop fram yu pocket.”

Jack glanced down to see a coin lying on his seat. “Can’t be mine. I keep my money in my wallet, here,” he touched his breast pocket.

“Well, it’s nat mine neither.”

“You have it.”

“Me say it’s not mine!” she insisted, irascibly.

He picked it up as the bus lurched forward past the traffic lights. “I’ll use it to pay your fare the next time… there will be a next time, won’t there, Emily?”




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“Reality”? Offstage

Having finished Coetzee’s Age of Iron, my intertextual feelers now doing overtime: I establish links to Toibin’s Testament of Mary, his The Master, to Derrida, to Hegel and to more scholars/writers than I need mention here as I pursue the link to history (history…) as gendered narration. History. Memory. Life. Death. Re-member. Forget…

Another side step to take a closer look at the tender underbelly of our thoughts and deeds: shadows clot, giving contour to the light, qualifying (resisting?) Reason:

the undecidable is not a clean break it is a quick leap between two opposing possibilities but that touch (Cixous, 2004:11)

the subtle fabric of textuality tenders its thinking network, holding the lips of the wound together by means of signifying subterfuges (op.cit., p111)

I return to history; to slippages, to subterfuges, to the stories that got away and like Coetzee, I must ask: who holds the camera?

I allow it to change hands:

‘I tell myself my grandfather, who died six years before I was born, was a good husband and father. I tell myself I visited my grandmother during the last three years of her life. I ask her if her name was changed to Julia in the 1940s. I ask her if she really hates dad or just resents him for trying to finish the house. I ask her how she survived the death of her first born. I tell her how beautiful she looks in those photographs with the white gloves matching the purse. Were those shoes red? What colour was your dress?
I imagine grandmother and I are sitting in her living room next to the kitchen. A huge wooden table stands in the middle of the room, almost touching the hip-high cupboards. The wood of the furniture is dark and smooth; the morning sun drowns the room in light and heat and makes the cupboards shine. The portrait of André, her husband, hangs on the wall next to the old television set with its two antennae trying to reach the ceiling.
The sofa is not covered with an old blanket and the radiator does not stand next to it to keep her warm in winter. The corner of the room is not filled with a mountain of clothes which have not been ironed or washed in a decade. There is no bread crust under the table fighting with dust balls to occupy the last red tiles in the room. Millions of dust particles do not dance before my eyes in a ray of sun. It does not smell of rotten food and dampness; the heavy green velvet curtains are not loaded with nicotine. There is tea on the table, a delicate teapot and matching cups with golden rims. The air is filled with the sweet scent of cookies baking in the oven. My grandmother opens the lid of the teapot and I can smell peppermint escaping in thin threads of fume.
I talk to her and ask her how she met her husband, how they fell in love. I ask her how she survived the war and how she managed to cope with her husband’s cancer. Did she miss him much? I ask her if she feels alone. I ask her to forgive me for not having visited her in her new flat. I ask her – many things.’


Not Coetzee, not Toibin. Not a Nobel Prize winner but one of my creative writing students – Sophie Gitzinger –  exploring the underbelly of history, facts, identity, of time, of the concepts that push and shove around a higher order (if such it is), and about which we artists and scientists (love to?) bicker. I learn a lot from my students. I learn a lot from so many who purport to have little to say. You’re wrong. And I love pointing that out to you!


(photo by Joan Barbara Simon, copyright 2013)

under my skin: The Nothing Caper by Amy Jo Sprague

Someone once said of me: ‘this is writing from which I stand back in admiration’. Now it’s time for me to pass on the compliment:


‘It came in the night. We were all sleeping in the creaky house and I woke to it lifting my sheets; it made my nightgown bleed. My doll saw it all so I ripped out her eyes the next morning before breakfast. Then it started coming in my dreams, and I thought a monster was asleep beneath my bed, gathering my things. On the scratchy carpet where the sun comes in, it branded my skin with its tongue, so I gave it my voice. Mother and father swallowed it up.
They found me in corners and closets and they didn’t hear their words running from my mouth. I didn’t know so I swallowed the words whole; they fed me spoonfuls of aches that echoed deep into my belly, burning my insides until it dulled.
I began to sweat them out my pores like a broken fever. I washed and raked my skin when I saw them in the mirror. They curdled and clotted the mainstreams of my heart as I took their pieces and ate them. I choked and spewed out a doll that didn’t have eyes. Her messy dress had burned away so they stitched her a new one and kept it inside, and I ran away, hungry.’


The Nothing Caper, by  Amy Jo Sprague



Gertrude: the long way home

Gertrude hauled her purchases home along the long, well-known dirt road. She kept as close as she could to the edge, sometimes having to pick her way through the discarded rubbish strewn along the way; to step past the rusting Coca-cola cans or the squashed Red Stripe. Boxes and wrappers bleached by the sun skirted the road with their dry leaves or else formed a grey mash after the rains had fallen. Every now and then, a tree cast its shade thoughtfully over the villagers on foot with their heavy bags, their chickens hanging upside down clucking away at a nervous premonition, or the children who grew tired along the way and tried to play up. The villagers on foot. Weren’t they all. The sun lashed down on Gertrude as she stopped, put her bags down for a fraction, changed them over and picked them up again. She wished that for once, just for once, someone else would put this hour-and-a-quarter stretch behind them. Two strapping brothers, but it was always her. They’d lie around doing nothing, sit back with a beer in the hand or else be off gallivanting somewhere whilst she, she had to work like a horse for them. Buy and fetch and carry and cook. Wash and iron. Sweep and wipe. Polish and pluck and peel. And there was no use protesting. She was her mother’s only girl. Their father had upped and left as they all did sooner or later, having been brought up with very little respect for their female counterpart, and immune to the notion of responsibility. And if by some chance you found yourself with one of the good ones, you’d have to beat the other women away with a stick and plague yourself daily with the thought that today someone else might have won him to her. So you question and you dig for secrets and sooner or later he can´t stand it anymore so he ups and goes anyway. Menfolk. Sought and coveted and pampered and loved. Attacked and hated and forgiven. Menfolk. Soft as a raw egg and no woman will respect you. Hard as a stone, you’ll find those who like it, but every woman – every head in a scarf, every heart in a chest, every bottom in a tight skirt – was on the lookout for a piece of toast – hot and rough but melting in your mouth. Toast, golden brown, coated with a spoonful of honey to run down the side and stick to your fingers… Menfolk. Laugh, flirt, drink beer. Spit. Strut. Slap. Sing. Fall into a chair and wait for dinner. Pull you close. Touch your breasts. Ride you. Love you. Leave you. Need you. Menfolk. What else was there to do but to resign to them, yield up one’s flesh and string together the precious happy moments, like pearls; resign and yield whilst you still could, and afterwards to collect your due in the perfumed balm of sisterhood.


from Long Time Walk on Water, available at:
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King doth come: who’s gonna clear up the mess?


I was told that The Lord’s Prayer and the text below, Prophets of the Streetlife, have a lot in common… Work it out for yourselves. Brain slobs and/or fundamentalists, back off. I don’t care what you lot think.

Religion and politics: a bunch of rapine, gavel-banging bigots, as the best a nation has to offer in the way of cultural diversion? You tell me… And diversion from what? You tell me…

Give us this day our daily bread  tho the Lord should know we’ll only have time for him once our basic needs are satisfied, but what does the church say about the basic need I keep referring to and which has the dim up in arms? They will insist on mistaking my sincerity for shallowness. Can’t help them. I’ve often wondered why and how the colour purple is at one and the same time the colour of sensuality and the colour worn by top-ranking clergy…

Give us this day our daily bread: watching holiday-makers befall the breakfast buffet once. Had the urge to collude with the hotel to bar their entry a day later. See how long it’d take them to get worked up. Then let them in, only to  discover: a single rasher of bacon, an egg, the corner end of a baguette and a cup of cold tea. All those hungry mouths – and fists – will have to work something out… Hidden cameras filming the rest, peeping deep  into the true heart of our kind.

At times they tell us: think (i.e.: reason), at times: believe (i.e.: don’t think). Most of the time we only believe we’re thinking, or think we believe… and behind it all the permanent attempt to mask the mere finger puppets we all are, hungry for reasons to believe anything at all… Won’t take Their finger out without a fight. Maybe I should be flattered by so much attention: seems like I’m worth fighting for after all!
Still have to clean up your own mess.

Till the next time. Yours, Tatar.


There she stood, hiding; the mother without child, the voiceless woman full of anger. Her smoked nails hammered her evaporated heart snivelling in the grotty kitchen of disaster. Her face, depleted, cauterised. Her eyes wheezed shame at what she knew would happen to her daughter, again and all over again.
Candelaria was a child with a lost childhood, a girl with volcanic bruises, ache squawking in her voice, apocalyptic rages and the teethmarks of her father on her breasts; a child whose nipples hardened when father’s fungous tongue licked them whilst she cried, bled, whilst he totally ignored her. Candelaria’s father had taught her how to fuck. Her mother had taught her how to swallow and how to quench scars with make-up. Scars that could never be silenced.
She was sitting on her chair, a butterfly without wings, the rouge on her mortal cheeks accentuating the surviving beauty of her face seeking the remains of her soul in the grey mirror image. Her black olive eyes smelled the scotch in her father’s mouth, and their lobotomised stars drowned like despairing coins in forgotten fonts. His torturing footsteps she could hear, his collapsing breath she could feel and she had stopped begging for mercy long ago, fleeing behind the lie that it was Eligio swashbuckling between her legs in order to get wet, at least, wet at least.
Mother overheard that violent bed of guilt, sputtering back and forth, sick sweat dripping, the rainy sough echoing through the daughter’s stolen body of gold. Next time I will do better, thought mother. Next time I will help her, take a pan. She knew she would not have the courage, but the illusion would calm her down, her conscience, at least her conscience.
Candelaria urinated fruitless spermicide, her mildewed brothers and sisters, before she reapplied the lipstick which had stained the maggoty nails of her genitor. In the glistening streetlight she could be free; she learned how to laugh on stigmatising streets where succulent condoms and paradisiac joints withered like the concepts of innocence and purity.

(from Prophets of the Streetlight, by Laura Gentile, published in Until Forever Becomes the End.)

Illustration by Jean-Paul Clayette

Laura Gentile replies:

‘The bruised skin of the inner nature next to the graved conformity of human surfaces. Her colourful body amputating itself from enslaving dictations, finding herself in the perversion of the cross’ silhouette, becoming flesh, getting hold of her soul by getting rid of the cross’ devouring burden, to find divinity in her proper features, unscrutinised, un-flagellated, de-victimised, humanised. She can grasp herself with her senses without the need to believe in something higher than herself, she can get there by herself, with her hands, her heart, her mind, not with a cross, in her case. Your honesty is a needle awaiting the reader in its detail.

I think it’s crucial to be able to have the choice of identification/acceptance or of deviation and an alternative quest for the self. What if it can’t be found where it is ‘supposed’ to be? We must tear ourselves from symbols that de-humanise us or constantly remind us that we need to be punished, that we need to walk with aching shoulders and that death awaits us in the end: where and what is human life in all this?

The cross you chose is very interesting; part of a mechanism (not humanism) attached to and controlled by a chain, holding it at arm’s length. It is so unnaturally smooth, basically the knife did a good job here, the surface looks ‘perfect’, no sign of blemishes. For me, it looks like an instrument of penetration that can be grasped, turned upside down, like a weapon that sends untrustworthy invitations, its double in a human form: unprotected, vulnerable and emotionally forced to be pinned down. In a sexual context, when it comes to the father (why use a capital f for where there is a father there is a mother), the cross as a photographed phallic symbol seems to be omnipotent and ever-lasting, always ready, always hungry. The way the woman in the painting gives pleasure to herself using her hands/fingers in this case, assuming the same position/form as the cross itself whilst she ‘drowns’ them (her hands).

(Hands as symbols of action. His are nailed. Hers are free to roam… She may and does act whereas all he can do is die…)

Are her hands free to roam because his are nailed or are his hands nailed because hers are free to roam? Either way nails are seeking and creating scapegoats and they play a very violent and senseless blame-game. Only when they succeeded in cornering human flesh onto a cross do they hold ‘it’ up high, in ‘exemplifying’ torment and death, not in life and action. What is this passion we speak of?’