NaNoWriMo Makes You Busy

I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit – no posts in the past week! – and I’m sorry about that. But at the moment, NaNoWriMo is taking up all my creative juices.

I hit 32,000 words today, and the end is creeping up. It will be a really meaningful achievement for me to finish this – but I’ll be taking a break from writing for December, I think! I’m not exactly sure why it’s so taxing, as I’m not doing a whole lot else with my time, and I usually get my 2,000 words written within 2-3 hours. But I’m just so tired all the time. Maybe it hasn’t helped that I’ve been sick!

It also doesn’t help that I’m still getting used to sharing a bed with someone. It’s not every night, for sure, but it’s probably at least three nights a week – and I’m finding it hard to adjust! At the moment I’m doing fine up until about 7am (we tend to get up at about 9am, we’re night owls) but then after that I find that my boyfriend keeps twitching and turning and keeps me awake for most of the rest of the morning. I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it and learn to sleep through a little bit of moving around!

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment, pretty much. There’s a lot of other stuff I want to be doing right now, but my energy levels are just too low. But hopefully come December I can catch up on everything else.

I hope everyone else doing NaNo is happy with their progress so far too!

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Outside My Window: Homeless Love

A few short weeks ago the sun would only be setting at this time, but now it is deep night. Today it turned bitterly cold, as though the old gods are reminding us that it is nearly winter. There is no wind, and the pavement echoes with the sharp attacks of my boot heels.

I am walking aimlessly. I left the house with the intention of walking around the block to stretch my legs and clear my head, but now I seem to have set out for the city centre. There is a tearing feeling in my heart like thin fabric being ripped. If I keep walking, if I keep running over this knot in my mind, maybe I will reach a point of calm.

As I reach the heart of the city, I see that the Christmas lights have been erected along the main street of the south side. The sight of them makes something break within me a little more. I am irritated, it is not even Halloween yet, it is much too early for this – and still, I am thinking: “I don’t want another miserable Christmas.”

By the time I reach the university, the tears pushing at my chest and throat have ebbed away, and I have reached determination. I pass a woman whose face I recognise – the mother of a girl I used to call a friend – but I look away, afraid of being recognised. My anonymity is what is holding me together. It is allowing me to believe that I am a different person, in a different life, who will not break apart if this is unfixable. Who will not allow herself to be unhappy in this way.

Once inside the university gates, a feeling of coming home envelops me. The small flat I left only half an hour ago seems distant and alien – it has not seen me through the ups and downs, the terrible lows and the ecstatic highs that these old buildings have witnessed in me. Inside these walls, the greatest love of my life was born and nurtured. And now when it all seems to dangle over the precipice, its memory will be held safe by these monuments of time.

I cross the front square, feet hitting the ground uneven on the cobblestones, and sit down on the cold cement steps of the university chapel.

The world becomes still. I take my heart in my hands and imagine a life on my own until I can imagine it calmly. Until I am serene with the weight of it. I become tall again, my limbs stretching out into the gaps of my independence.

I watch students come and go for a time. A young man in a university society hoodie jogs past, face shadowed by the orange lights; two girls hang out of a dorm room, shouting down at someone below. Above the haze of the city lights and smog, right above my head at the highest point of the sky, pinprick stars gleam coldly. I imagine the worst – my heart rests a moment – and then the world moves on.

The warmth is leeching out of the thin film of sweat that had accumulated at the back of my neck beneath my scarf, between my breasts, under my arms. I feel as though I am sinking into the cold stone steps – or the stone is seeping out into me, turning me icy and paralysed under the Medusa-stare of the chapel. I rise, and zip up my jacket. I consider buying a coffee, and decide against it. It is time to go home.

On my way back up to the main street, I pass a woman crouched in a sitting position against a pillar outside a newsagents. She has the characteristic shabby, mismatched demeanour of all the homeless people in this city – clothes of indeterminate colour, torn and dirtied; hair dry and dishevelled.

But she is not begging; she is paying no attention whatsoever to the passersby. A large plastic carrier bag sits before her on the street, and out of the top of it, a tiny kitten’s head protrudes. It is young, barely old enough to be weaned away from its mother; a scruffy white little thing with a tortoiseshell pattern down its back. The woman dangles a black sock before the kitten, dancing it before its eyes before tugging it away again. The kitten’s tiny claws wave uncertainly, catching on the sock like needles, its green-gold eyes wide and excited.

The homeless woman is as enthralled as the kitten. Her features are tender and smiling, like the face of a doting parent. The moment catches on my heart. I wonder how often this kitten will go hungry in the long nights it faces on the streets, and tears press against the backs of my eyes again. I swallow, look away, and walk on.

 

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short story or vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a little late this week again!

Lazy Weekend

I’ve been having a wonderful, mostly lazy weekend. It started out not so great, as some of my plans on Friday fell through and I found myself finishing dinner with some friends and on a bus home at 10:30. I had just been turned down for another job and was feeling a bit miserable, so I rang my boyfriend who was at the Hard Working Class Heroes festival in town. And so my night turned around – I met him and a few of his friends in the Workman’s club for the last three bands, one of which was particularly wonderful – an electronic trio called Chips. I drank tequila with abandon and we danced up near the stage, and life felt better.

Saturday and today consistent entirely of lazing around in my flat and in my boyfriend’s, faffing around on WordPress and doing a bit of writing. My boyfriend follows football (soccer) so yesterday evening mainly consisted of watching Match of the Day, and we went to a pub for him to watch a match this afternoon while I edited some photos. For lunch we got pancakes, bacon and maple syrup in a café near my flat – an inspired combination, and something we don’t eat enough here in Ireland.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a little insular these days, and I’m not making enough effort to spend lots of time with my friends. And I wonder what my life would look like if me and my boyfriend hadn’t got back together – would I be spending more time with other people, or would I be lonely and adrift? But I’m happy, content. I reckon I’ll let myself settle into this new life and see where the chips fall.

Mr Brown

Mr Brown was a man in his forties with a receding hairline and a fondness for tea. His hair worried him. He began to grow his fringe further down onto his forehead, and felt an increasing affinity with those old men you saw in pubs with truly awful comb-overs. He let his fringe grow, and hoped that when the time came that it could be hidden no more, he would accept his baldness with grace and dignity. His wife, he thought, would surely never let a comb-over in the house. But then, he supposed that she too might be caught unawares, lulled by the gradual decline. So, every now and then, Mr Brown peered into the bathroom mirror and pushed back his hair, inspecting the damage and wondering if it was time to succumb to his impending baldness.

He liked his tea strong with a dash of milk and a small bit of sugar. If he was honest, he actually liked it with a bit more than a small bit of sugar; but he didn’t like to admit this, and slipped in the extra spoonfuls when his wife wasn’t looking. He told himself that it was his little luxury, like the bars of chocolate his wife kept in the drinks cabinet. Mr Brown was fascinated by the way she savoured these bars, nibbling on one or two squares every evening as they watched the nine o’clock news. He himself was not overly fond of chocolate. Sometimes he tried to enjoy his evening cup of tea in the way she enjoyed her squares of chocolate, but he always felt unable to grasp her passion.

His wife was called Rosemary. Although she was frugal with the chocolate, she had a multitude of similar little indulgences, and it seemed to Mr Brown that she spent half her life in their grips. She liked to take frequent long baths – she would light an alarming number of candles, add several salts and bubble mixtures to the hot water, and lie in complete silence for upwards of half an hour, leaving steamed-up mirrors and strong feminine scents in her wake. She also had her hair done every month, another ritual which seemed to take much longer than necessary. The rich, auburn shade of her hair was so vivid that it had erased Mr Brown’s memory of her natural hair colour.

However, on the occasions when Mr Brown chanced to see his wife’s pubic hair, he noted that it was turning increasingly grey, like the fur of a badger. The sight of these coarse white hairs made him think of his receding hairline, and he always found himself raising a hand to his forehead at the sight of Rosemary’s naked body.

Together

There have only been a few times in my life when I feel like the person next to me is an extension of myself. It happens very occasionally – that someone understands you, you understand them so well that the walls of identity slip, just a little. There are probably very few people, of all the hundreds of people you meet in a lifetime, who you could ever feel that close to.

And when it doesn’t happen for a while, for a few years, you forget how it feels. Other kinds of closeness start to seem just as special, and you forget what you’re missing. You can become consumed by people, totally immersed in them and your love for them, whether romantic love or just pure friendship. But that feeling of slotting together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – you know it when you feel it, and suddenly you see what you’ve been missing for all these years.

With other people, it has only happened maybe twice or three times, with one or two very close friends. People with whom I shared transforming moments, moments of epiphany and growth. Often, it’s helped along by alcohol, on those hazy nights when identity becomes so blurred that I have full conversations with myself in the mirror.

But only you make me feel this nearly every time I am with you. Only you can look at me in that way that makes me feel like you can read my soul. With other people, I don’t even believe in souls – I am a sceptic, rational, an atheist and a nonbeliever to the core. But lying in your arms gazing into your eyes, I could believe in anything.

The ticking forward of the world draws gently to a halt. The thoughts and feelings dispersed in my mind rush together like the tide, becoming a single unified feeling washing over me. I become still. And this life that we all embark on alone becomes complete – because I am no longer alone. Because you are in it.

Humiliation

Getting life right was proving to be more difficult than she had bargained for. And really, she admitted to herself, when she said ‘life’ she really meant ‘love’. When things were ticking along romantically, she could pretend to herself that the other parts of life were large and significant – succeeding in her career, achieving things creatively, keeping friends close. But when the love was taken away and its chasm yawned at her feet, everything else became tiny, miniature, like furniture in a doll’s house.

Love was supposed to be grand and overarching, all-consuming and devastating, and in this it had lived up to her expectations. Love had been like learning a new language, like finding a whole new person in someone she knew, like picking something up by accident off the ground and discovering it was your whole life. But with it came the darkness of fear, and the unpleasant truth that for someone people, love was not everything.

She had been prepared for heartbreak and loneliness, had known all about what the longing and missing might feel like. But she hadn’t expected the cruel realities, the gritty detail. The promises broken, the cold gazes, the unreturned phone calls, the refusals and betrayals. She had not been prepared for the humiliation.

Catch your fall

He’s closer now
He’s closer now to losing
To losing it all
And he’s closer now
He’s closer to the
Final fall

She pushed him to
She pushed him to a cliff top
A knife edge
But his love still holds
And his heart enfolds
The crumbs she’s left

But when he jumps
He will fly like a fallen angel
Without wings
And when he jumps
He will leave behind
All the mess she’s left him in

I will not let you drown
And I’ll be waiting on the ground
To catch your fall
I will never let you drown
I have learned from my mistakes
And I’ll be waiting on the ground
To catch your fall

He wakes up cold
He wakes up cold and shaken
And shaken by life
Cos the nights are long
And he prays for day
But it looks worse by light

He’s tired of this
He’s tired of crying
And that’s how it starts
But I’m not her
And I’ll never be
Cos I don’t break hearts

But when he’s ready
He will face the truth
And she’ll come tumbling down
He’ll spread his arms
Like wings or a crucifixion
And embrace

I will not let you drown
And I’ll be waiting on the ground
To catch your fall
No I will never let you drown
You won’t suffer my mistakes
And I’ll be waiting on the ground
To catch your fall

He will suffer
He will not believe
That he can survive
He will suffer
He will learn
And he will heal

Cos the saddest thing about love
Is that you can just have enough
And then it stops

But I will, I will not let you down
I will, I will not let you drown
No I will never let you drown
I won’t let you suffer my mistakes
And I’ll be waiting on the ground
To catch your fall.

Roses

I don’t believe, he said,
Roses never stay red.
But I won’t leave, she said,
Until the petals are all dead.

He took her hand, and smiled
with the closeness of a child.
She holds his hand, and smiles,
and it’s bursting in her eyes.

Hope, it sits
upon these lips.
Hearstrings are torn.
Hope, it sits
upon these lips
Shadows are born.

I don’t believe, he cried,
I am hollow inside.
Just let it out, she cried,
There are things that words can’t hide.

He took her hand instead
questions spinning in his head.
She held his gaze and said,
Don’t you crush my heart of lead.

For hope is rich
upon these lips.
Heartstrings are torn.
Hope is rich
upon these lips.
Shadows are born.

I don’t believe, he said,
Roses never stay red.
But I won’t leave, she said,
Until the petals are all dead.

Her gaze falls to the ground,
a single tear without a sound.
He pulls his hand away
and says, Today is not our day.

But hope is rich
upon these lips
and just one kiss
will not hurt you,
yeah hope is rich
upon these lips,
a goodbye kiss
will not hurt you.

 

I wrote this song in November 2005, but I found it yesterday and thought I would share. It’s one of the few old songs that I still like. I might record it over the summer.

Cherry Tree

The first raindrop
upon my rooftop.
The first teardrop
singular and lonely on my cheek.
But I’m not grieving,
no, I’ve just stopped believing
in the undying truth
of the words I’ve yet to hear you speak.

The first star dies
in my black skies.
The first fallen sun
so graceful in decline.
And I’m not leaving,
my heart is only bleeding
at the thought of losing
what we might find.

Watch me, watch me fall.
You make me feel too much.
Watch me, watch me lose
my heart to you.
I surrender
I surrender it now.

One cherry tree
still holds its blossoms.
I want to stand beneath it with you
and watch them fall.
We will catch them in handfuls
and I will kiss you
until the petals coat the ground
and I can’t feel at all.

Demise

Every time she woke, she felt she had lost something. The confusion was numbing. She would hold her breath, hold her muscles completely still, containing the panic. Then she would remember. It was not so much remembering as realising she had known all along. It was like waking in a bath and realising you were submerged in water. She remembered herself.

But there was still always something missing. A corner puzzle piece, it seemed small and vital. And it would drop slowly, becoming larger and larger as it loomed above her, and then she knew. It was catastrophic. She was not nineteen anymore. She was sleeping in a strange bed. She was a stranger.

A jolt of fear electrifies her; she realises there is someone in the bed beside her. The sunlight streaming from a gap in the curtains plays on the peaks and troughs of his shape under the covers. His body is angled away from her but his head is turned in her direction, his dark curls splaying out on the pillow. The unfamiliar eyelids suddenly fly open and he looks straight at her with unfathomable eyes. She leaps in fright and confusion from the bed.

The past few days, or weeks, are present in her mind but are clouded, foggy. The man in the bed is unfamiliar but she knows she has been sharing this bed with him for some time now. A vacuum of forgotten years yawns behind her. This man fits in somewhere amongst these lost years, like a piece of a long lost jigsaw puzzle extricated from a crack in the couch. For a moment, they look at each other uneasily, she and this man-shaped puzzle piece.

She sits, turning her back on him. A full length mirror mocks her from across the room. She ignores it. She sit on the big white bed and stares at the carpet. She follows its green pattern from swirl to swirl, her eye moving with the shapes across the floor. She tries not to think about this big double bed and what has happened in it, what it means. She tries not to look at the unfamiliar objects. Her things, her objects.

With some reluctance, she begins to look around. She stands up and takes in the room; the green curtains; the floor-to-ceiling built-in wardrobe. She wants to look at the clothes in it, but she is afraid. Instead, she turns and studies the bed again, studiously avoiding meeting her husband’s gaze. Her side is the left side; female objects clutter the bedside table. Nail scissors, moisturiser, a half-used packet of the Pill. The damages foil spaces of the popped pills speak to her of loss. She picks up a lipstick and inspects its garish shade with scientific interest.

A sudden noise startles her; he is rising from the bed and is pacing across the room, pulling open the wardrobe door. He starts to pull on clothes furtively, hiding his naked body from her. Are you late for work? It’s an innocent question, but he stops and stares at her. No, he replies slowly. I work from home.

There is a silence more weighted than the situation seems to call for. They stare at each other like cats, wary and thoughtful. Then he straightens, and leaves the room. The front door slams.

***

She was as alien to him as he was to her. He would wake some mornings before her and lie awake trying to figure out her profile. The curve of her ear seemed more complicated than he remembered; her shoulders were confusing. Her shorn hair was the only part of her that made any sense. It at least acknowledged the change, the difference.

Unwilling to face the realities of the day, he lies now with his eyes closed. He knows she is awake; he can feel the tension emanating from her taut, still form. He wants to avoid this moment of truth, to wait on the sidelines until she has found some equilibrium or coping mechanism, but his curiosity gets the better of him. He opens his eyes to find her watching him with an expression of fascinated horror on her features.

The panic, the leaping from the bed, is all familiar. This has become a ritual, a routine, a grotesque repetition. She moves visibly back and forth from incomprehension to understanding, and he finds himself hoping, as comprehension settles visibly on her face, that she has remembered him.

It is not that their life had been perfect, before. He watches her now, sitting herself carefully back down on the bed and staring fixedly at the floor, and tries to feel as he had then. Some days she had felt like an extension of himself; almost as though he had invented her perfection. He had once lain entwined with her at night, his face pressed into her thick auburn hair; and the line between me and her blurred and vanished.

But at other times she had been alien, impenetrable. One day, she had come home in the evening with her hair cut short around her ears. He never forgot that day, the sense of loss and bewilderment and the tears he struggled to hold back. And on cloudy, cheerless mornings, he had often found himself thinking that although there was nothing wrong about their relationship, there was nothing right about it either.

He has lost her now. But the suddenness, the whole and complete nature of his loss, is paralysing. To let go might be easy but his fingers are locked tight. He feels as though he is teetering at the edge of a steep drop, clutching to a cliff-edge with his toes. She is looking around the room now, studying the objects on the bedside table. With a sort of careful but detached interest, she picks up a lipstick and studies it with a vacant expression on her face. He feels a sudden but violent urge to wrench it from her hands and fling it away.

The drop yawns below him and suddenly he needs its escape. He pulls on clothes like protective armour, but her voice breaks through it. Are you late for work? The question is like a blow. He looks at her again but cannot find her in her own face. They are strangers pretending intimacy.

He takes a deep breath and jumps.

 

Published in The Bell, 2012 – UCD English & Literary Society (University College Dublin)