Life After Death

It’s my birthday next week, forty-six. How the hell did that happen? If someone told me when I was a teenager I’d still be alive in my forties, I’d have laughed in their face. It was posh folk who had dreams―hopes for the future, not people like me. I struggled to make it through the day, never mind another thirty years. The adults I knew were having a shit time; either alcoholics, or well on their way to being one. Life was hard, and it looked tougher the older you got. Who wanted to hang around for that? Not me, that’s for sure.

As a result, I thought about death a lot. Although, it wasn’t really death that obsessed me; it was dying that filled my nights with panic and dread. There’s was nothing romantic about it; I was grieving, mourning my own death. Many nights I fell asleep with snot-stained cheeks lying on a tear-soaked pillow. This isn’t something I grew out of, it’s just that as I got older, I recognised it for what it was―anxiety.

One time, I must have been around thirteen, we found a mouse in our flat. I was traumatised and disgusted. Back then I didn’t understand the poor wee thing was no threat to us. I pulled my bed into the middle of the room so it couldn’t climb up the wall. With hindsight, it would have been more likely to climb up the bed, not a sheer surface, but it seemed like a sound idea.

That mouse tormented us: me, my mum and sister, for about a week. Lying in bed at night, I could hear it scurrying around. I imagined hordes of them, crawling up the walls and waiting for us to fall asleep so they could come out en masse and wreak havoc. I now realise the mouse was more petrified of us than we were of it. It was trapped on the third-floor of a block of flats containing more questionable vermin than mice.

My mum put down poison. I shudder even thinking of it now. She placed it on jam jar lids around the flat. Now, I knew I had never touched that poison. Multiple warnings of certain death and agonising pain did the job making sure us kids stayed the hell away from it. But, one night, I got it into my head that I had somehow touched that poison. I mean, I could feel the spot on my lips where it had transferred from finger to mouth, and no amount of reasoning could convince me otherwise.

I lay there as the toxic substance worked its way through my system, shutting down organs as it went. It was about one in the morning when the stomach cramps started. Piercing pain as it ravaged my insides. I lay there, tears streaming down my flushed cheeks as life drained out of me. It wasn’t long before I accepted my fate. What else could I do? Then, something I never knew I had kicked in: my fighting spirit. There was no way my time on this so far disappointing earth, would end like this. So, I did the only thing I could think of and prayed. I made promises I had no intention of keeping but, in that moment, even I believed them. I prayed if I could just live till I was eighteen, in case by some miracle life got better, then I’d be happy to give myself over to the big man. Whether that was the guy surrounded by blinding light offering eternal life or the other one, downstairs, with the flames and the brimstone and all that jazz.

I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke, I was reborn! I’d made it. The universe gave me another chance. Light poured in through the curtains, enticing me to look outside where every window in the street shimmered, making our run-down street look like the emerald city. It was as if I was seeing the world for the first time. I was alive! There was the niggling thought that my bargaining had only given me another five years, but I could deal with that. If nothing improved then in five years I’d be ready to go with my case packed and jacket on.

Then, my mother’s war-cry roared from the hallway shattering my majestic moment. I rushed out and before me was a rabid imposter dressed in my mum’s body. Her face was puce with rage, arms held high, gripping a floor-brush like a samurai sword. She smashed it down on top of the carpet sweeper propped up against the wall. The brush crashed down another two or three times before her features settled back into those of the woman I loved. Lifting the ancient sweeper, now dented and wondering what the hell it did to deserve the abuse, my mum revealed a wee mouse ― flattened and now at one with the floor.

Looking down at that splayed rodent I realised how fleeting life was. One minute you’re reading yourself your last rites thinking your time’s up, only to wake in the morning gifted with another day. Or, you’re scurrying around trying to find a way out of the shitty situation you’ve got yourself into, and some bugger bashes your head in with a brush. Either way, the message was clear; nobody has a clue what the future holds. The only way to find out was to live it.

***

I originally wrote this piece for Your Stories with the Scottish Book Trust, based on their Future theme. See the link below.

https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/your-stories/future-2020/life-after-death

Encounter with the Night

Let me tell you my story
it’s up to you to believe
and should you think me a liar
it makes this tale no less real.

Early evening in April
following a glorious day
I took myself for a wander
before sleep came my way.

Sun was slinking down low
setting cloud and sky afire
causing daylight to blush
as the moon passed her by.

There was an air of possibility
hope still hanging around
honeysuckle seduced the senses
purple dusk seduced the mind.

There she stood by the oak tree
blending in yet, standing out
eyelids closed in meditation
or conversation, hard to tell.

I knew to watch was intrusive
but was unable to look away
she was wondrous as the sunset
enigmatic as the earth.

Just as darkness threw his blanket
over everything in sight
I felt movement, like a whisper
causing me to turn around.

Looking back, I was alone
the tree stood solitary, ahead
a glance revealed only shadows
she was no longer there.

I let the moonshine guide me homeward
a trusting light I knew well
revealing just enough for passage
concealing just enough for pleasure.

Then, I knew I had company
a hand in mine, the lightest touch
her gentle breath on my neck
farewell exhaled onto skin.

I carried on towards home
a knowing smile on my lips
even now I remember
my encounter with the night.

Now you’ve listened to my story
do you believe what I say?
Maybe you too have a memory
if not, I hope you will have, one day.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day30

Moment to Moment

Take solace in silence
see time as a gift
find patience in waiting
give yourself a chance
leave pressure alone
send worry away
tell tomorrow to wait
let this moment, now
be more than enough
to be thankful for.

NaPoWriMo2020 Day29

House on the Hill

(Inspired by the first line from Five Poems for Grandmothers by Margaret Atwood)

The house on the hill
remains stubborn and strong
wind-whipped into shape
endless battles
with storms.

I still see you standing
half-blind yet defiant
stooped over age-bent
anchored in place
to a past
that’s long gone.

Weathered face
steeped in kindness
for those you felt
were deserving.
You believed
I received
I cannot thank you
enough.

I know I won’t
find you there
but hope some parts
of you remain;
a scent in the kitchen
a melody in the hall
warm hug in the doorway
it still hurts that you’re gone.

Our iron-forged bond
effortless, unbreakable
through our shared
love of words
both spoken and read.
I feel luckiest, though
to know you best
most of all
as a place to call home.

Now, I stand at your house
on the hill, standing tall
rain-soaked
plaster crumbles
eaves decay
full of holes
yet, no less of a home.

It is ravaged by time
like us all in the end
I aim to fill it with love
if I manage even half
as much as you did
I’ll honour your memory.

So, when it’s my turn to leave
feed the worms and the trees
I’ll leave a legacy behind
one that stands the test of time.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day28

Confounded

Cultural demons beat
damned wings in impatience.
Patriarchal propensity
clings to yesterday’s norm.
Demands are unanswered,
spiteful hector, unheard.
Expression mangles in fury
as the madness takes hold.
Resistance confuses
such inherent expectation.
Femininity, surely,
guarantees acquiescence.
Is it so,
can it be,
the revolution’s begun?
#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day23

Killing Time

What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger.
A new superpower
government-gifted
to the sacrificed herd.
Or, better still
call them heroes, instead—
our essential front-line
left unprotected and blind
to get on with it all.
No-ones asking
for heroes
or super-fucking-powers.
Just a fighting chance,
enough ventilators
(and masks).
Society’s clutching
its last strand of sanity,
ripped out at the roots
in frustrated rage.
Reality? Should have
its license revoked,
along with the jokers
calling the shots.
I’ve seen horror movies
offer more hope.
Humanity reveals
its tainted underside
reckless protesters
assemble to give
ignorance a chance.
Vague regulations
social distance resistance
encourages the selfish
who couldn’t care less
about the widows they make
for freedom’s sake.
Pandemonium weakens
to washed-out dismay.
Astonishment fades
to shady complacency.
Take a bite of the news,
try and swallow the bile
acerbic indigestion
a bitter reward
for your time.
Truth’s an alien concept
to the trusted elected.
High-born sociopaths
(or game-show hosts)
play with thousands
of lives, the stakes
have never been higher.
It’s no witty affair
when empathy’s scarce.
So, take yourself for a walk
your once-a-day jaunt.
Mind, set a brisk pace
keep depression
at bay, for a while.
It’s killing time.
#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day19

Shattered

Silence shatters; violent eruption of rage.
Fury surges forward taking no prisoners.

Agitated bluster, like a fist raised in anger.
All bark and no bite? Who can decide

when foundations are shaking, imagined or not,
tremors travel inward, fear fragile as glass —

transparent enough to reflect the nightmare,
no less frightening because it’s familiar.

Doesn’t mean it belongs here.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day13

What do you want to achieve today?

Firstly, apologies to anyone who thinks this is going to be an inspirational post about what wonderful, creative things you can do during lock-down.

Whilst I’m in awe of those who are learning new skills, adhering to a carefully thought out schedule and generally excelling at life, that simply isn’t me.

Today, my achievement is that I woke up at 9 am. You may be thinking, oh, did you want to have a long lie? Sorry, let me explain. Today I wanted to wake up at 9 am because for the past four days I haven’t been able to get out of bed before midday.

Let me put this into context. I’m a mother of two; one is 9 and the other is 18. I’m married. I have responsibilities. I am in my second year of a university degree course. However, I also struggle with my mental health.

I guess the point of this post is to show that everyone’s goals are going to be different right now. This is a weird and messed up situation. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Set personal goals and celebrate achieving them. Know that what you are doing is good enough.

Tomorrow, I might add something else, I might not. If I can get up at 9 am for two days running, I’ll be happy with that.

Whatever you achieve today, no matter how small, I admire your strength. If you feel you haven’t achieved what you planned, there’s always tomorrow. I admire your courage to keep trying.

You’re one of a kind, each and every one of you. Please be kind to yourself.

Stay safe, everyone!

H x

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