These stories and poems are my copyright and, as such, may not be reproduced without my permission.
The tombstones are all weathered, some sporting a wonderful patina of lichen that adds to their charm. These markers are old, very old. As I sit amongst their silence my beats faster and several emotions course through me.
To the left of the impressive grey marble stone that belongs to my adoptive father, Peter Murphy, Rear Admiral (Ret), rests a pure white marble one. It belongs to Lisa and Mark Brand. These enduring marble statements of lives long gone bring a stricture to my chest and tears finally spill while at the same time I feel the subtle warmth of remembered love; something that has eluded me in the intervening years. Lisa was two and a half and he forty-seven when they were killed. Their early and destructive deaths by terrorist car bomb meant they were buried in a single coffin. I twist the wedding band round and round as I swipe at the useless tears. Despite the passing of countless years I remember precisely her clear blue eyes, so like his, and her tiny hand trustingly wrapped in his large one as they set off to buy my Mother’s Day present at London’s Harrods store in 1979.
Next to my family lie my closest friends David Preston and his wife Julie who both lived long and fruitful lives. Not nearly as long as mine though. A stone wall behind their graves hold the ashes of their extended family – seven generations of them. And further out are the memorials to others I have loved, still love across the divide of time.
We should grow old with those we love, not outlive them. It is the passage of shared time that allows acceptance of one’s own eventual demise. And yet this old philosophical argument I have had with myself for centuries never has a clear answer. Why not me?
I have gone on without them and lived with the pain. My disability a mutant gene leaving me with a forty-year-old body that never ages and a life that requires new identities every sixty years or so. Despite the loss, for four hundred and ninety-five years I have gone on, an alien amongst my own kind, a sole survivor.
It is no use dissembling. I know why I choose not to join my loved ones even though it is sometimes close to unbearable.
I need to know what happens next.
THE VOID – a sonnet
What does the Void care looking down at we,
tiny, soft-shelled, warlike creatures, far
too thick athwart Earths blue-green mottled sphere.
And we, whose eyes ascend unto the Void,
agog at speckled sources of far light,
eons old; whose cold evolutionary,
careless spawning of a narcissistic race
that questions, selfishly – Who am I?
It behoves our billion egotistical brains
to redirect our thoughts unto the whole.
Allow this small and ever graceful world
to persevere; complex, unique amongst
an infinite, encircling, empty Void.
Tonia looked up at her first home. She had spent her childhood in this very terrace with her parents, her father’s two spinster sisters, her own two older sisters and a very harried mother who had had the audacity to die much too early. Her father quickly followed leaving the three girls to be brought up by aunts who had specific ideas about how girls should behave. And now it was hers to do with as she pleased. And she had lots of lovely ideas about that.
‘Suck eggs!’ yelled Tonia with unexpected antagonism into the murk that had once been the kitchen.
‘Sorry Miss, what was that?’ came the voice of Mr Barker the builder as he wrestled several trestles down the dank and narrow hallway behind her.
‘Nothing Bill,’ Tonia replied slightly sheepishly. ‘Only an exclamation to expel a few ghosts,’ she finished with a snigger.
Bill Barker put down the trestles and then proceeded to bring in implements of mass destruction including various size sledgehammers, pneumatic drills and the relevant power sources for these things. He stuck some plans on the shared wall with the neighbouring terrace and checked the load bearers. Then, taking a large pot of red paint marked those walls and floors that would come down, out, up and away. It took time. So Tonia sat in the narrow back garden looking up at the second and third story windows with their blank visage hiding everything inside.
It had taken a long time for Surrey Hills to become fashionable and there were still pockets where the ladies of the night plied their trade right alongside the drug dealers. But their time was nearly over. The ‘nouveau riche’ were pushing them out with their renovations, lofts, up-market cars and smart phones that regularly called police to report nefarious activities.
‘Miss,’ called the builder, ‘do you want to make the first hole?’
‘Do I ever,’ Tonia called back. As she stepped inside she found a small team of seven men ready to begin the job. Bill Barker handed her a relatively small sledgehammer and pointed to a big red X on a wall. He took his own larger hammer and demonstrated; hold and thrust the hammer, let it do the work. As she lined up the centre of the X a rage she’d never acknowledged broke free, entered her arms and with one huge yell she let rip. The wall, already undermined by years of neglect, gave a very satisfying crack, sending crazy lines in all directions. Tonia struck again, and again, and again until Bill finally grabbed her arms.
‘Sorry,’ she apologised, breathing heavily. ‘It’s surprising the memories this place has resurrected.’ Smiling wry, she handed the hammer back to Bill Barker and returned to her seat in the backyard, listening to the pneumatic drill begin to dig up the pipes under the kitchen floor. The westering sun was warm on her face and she closed her eyes.
‘Tonia,’ called Aunt Gracie. ‘Tonia, come here at once.’
Afraid but defiant, eight-year-old Tonia remained crouched behind the garden shed. She was determined to stay there until Aunt Phylida had calmed down.
‘Tonia. The longer you wait the harder it’s going to be.’
Tonia waited until the kitchen screen door banged closed and then snuck a peek. As she did, the clear sound of the bolt being slid home echoed through the still yard. This had happened before. When Tonia got cold or hungry or just scared she would knock with a loud apology and it would be unlocked. Today it was different. This time she knw she was not at fault. Aunt Phylida was clumsy and spilled the tea on herself. She would not take punishment for something she had not done. But dinner time was near and it was getting cold; she was hungry. Like always, she swallowed the injustice and gave in. She knocked nicely and apologised.
Tonia knocked harder and called out her apology louder. Still nothing. No light, no sounds of food being cooked, no noise from her sisters. Nothing.
At eight years of age Tonia had lived through her share of disasters, including the loss of her parents. Her father’s two sisters had taken over raising the children in an effort to remain in the house that they themselves had grown up in. And they used the same methods as their parents had. A philosophy based on the old adage about children being seen and not heard. Tonia’s mother had waited hand on foot on these two women and now the three little girls had become the housemaids to two embittered aunts.
Tonia was getting scared and her belly rumbled. She banged her little fists on the kitchen door. Eventually she moved around to the side gate that led down a narrow, dark and dank path to the street. At eight she could just reach the latch only to find it was locked from the other side. She called and called till she was hoarse, she banged on door, window and gate until her hands were bleeding. Not even the neighbour on either side came to her assistance.
‘Miss?’ Tonia woke with a start. ‘We’ve finished for the day,’ said Bill Barker. ‘We’ll be back at 7.30am. Will you be here?’
‘No,’ said Tonia with a slight shake in her voice. ‘I’ll go back to my harbour apartment and be back around 8am.’
When all the men had gone, Tonia stepped inside to see how much of the house internals had already been demolished. All that would remain would be the front facade. She picked up the sledge hammer, headed to the back door and began to work up a good sweat.
‘Bitch,’ she said with each slam of the big hammer head into the back door wood. ‘Bitch’… bang, ‘Bitch’… bang, ‘Bitch,’….bang,
Half an hour later, tired and euphorius, Tonia headed back to the big soft bed in her ultra-modern apartment.
Dark love could be exorcised.