False Flag

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This may not fit in

this may not sit well

with the order of things

with the man-made, dull hell

of the nine to the five

of the being eaten alive

by the overtime is king

by the work to survive

I’m not so conforming

I’m not so law-abiding

as my outward appearance

might lead you to believe

I might talk a good game

I might look meek and tame

I might primp, paint and preen

I might smile, might act keen

seem eager to please

seem happy to tease

and honour your superiority

bow down to your authority

but it’s all in your mind

but it’s not for you to decide

but look ‘round you’re behind me

I’m way out in front

my charm is the offensive

don’t get all defensive

It’s too late for that now

you know it’s the truth

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Witch’s Knot

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I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.

I knew this, not because pink doesn’t suit me (it damn well does), but because it was the one colour we had been expressly instructed not to wear for Ember’s naming day ceremony. Her parents (For Life and Beyond Partners, excuse me), didn’t want their darling daughter to be influenced by gender stereotyping. I understand and appreciate that, honestly I do, but for God’s sake (whoops, sorry, no religion allowed within the not-quite hallowed walls of the Gaia Foundation Space) – the poor mite is only one moon-month old (yeah, moon-month, that’s what I said). I hardly think a fuschia blouse is going to have her chained to the kitchen sink for the rest of her life, do you?

I am, as everyone knows, the difficult one in our family. I have a normal office job, a normal semi-detached house, a normal car (“Just think of the pollution, Verdantia, just think!”), and a normal healthy dollop of cynicism for anything that marks me out as different. My name – yes, it is Verdantia – does that all on its own. I don’t use grey water for my garden (it’s entirely paved over anyway, just like the front of the house, I mean, I need somewhere to park my car). I really don’t believe that organic food tastes better (prove it, go on) and I just am not interested in finding the farm shop when there’s a perfectly good 24 hour supermarket down the road that sells nice looking, clean vegetables that don’t deposit soil all over the boot of my car. And yes, I do drive there. I hate walking, especially with loads of awkward shopping to carry.

“You could make a living doing that kind of thing.”

I turned to the speaker – another one of those lentil-obsessed, heavily-bearded tree-huggers, no doubt. My sister and her For Life and Beyond Partner didn’t seem to know anybody that dressed or behaved normally. I was pleasantly surprised – my new acquaintance was wearing a decent suit, not a thread of hemp or bamboo in sight, and hallelujah (does that count as religion?), was clean-shaven, and not too bad in the looks department either.

“Do what for a living?” I smiled tentatively. I understand that I can be quite brusque at times. It hurts Mother Nature, so I am told. Hence why I’m not counted as one of Ember’s Future Guides. Thank Go- err, goodness.

“Oh you know, flout the rules, disrespect the wishes of the For Life and Beyond Partners, upset the equilibrium of every single one of little Ember’s moons forever.”

I shot Mr Clean and Oh So Alluring a look. Was he taking the mickey? Had he read my tboughts? Was there something in this Alignment with the Universe thing after all?

He winked at me. “I can see it in your face. You’re just as disenchanted with the whole charade as I am. And I’ll let you into a secret, my brother – the proud commune-embracing father – was smoking a crafty Marlboro outside McDonald’s earlier. He’d just been in there for a Quarter Pounder with cheese meal. He’s no vegan and he certainly wasn’t born with the name Wynter.”

I snorted in delight. “No!”

“Yep. His name’s Gary. Mine’s Joe, by the way.”

I blushed. “Shit. Me and my sister don’t have normal names. She really is called Eeryris.”

“And you?”

“Verdantia.”

Joe threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an awful name and there’s nothing wrong with being different. It’s just the look on your face, as if they’ve made you swallow that awful excuse for beer they’re serving later. It takes like goat’s piss – umm, I imagine.”

I laughed along with him. Yeah, maybe being a little bit different wasn’t so bad after all. But not goat’s piss different. Or Life and Beyond Partners different, for that matter.

“Do you want to go for a pint of weak-willed warm beer and a really authentic English curry?” he whispered, just as poor Ember was doused in well water and her parents pledged her to a life of abject abnormality.

“Last one past Hecate’s Wheel has to drink the goat’s piss before we leave!” I yelled, throwing caution and my fuschia blouse to the winds.

Ember will thank me for expressing my womanly strength when she’s older.

Helium

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I loved the way she said “balloon”. She said it as if she were blowing bubbles.

I had been infatuated with her since I was seven years old, from the first moment I saw her dance into the playground as if she had wings. She seemed to hover above the asphalt, a radiance in her smile and warmth in her eyes as if she was merely waiting for all the joys that the world was sure to bring her.

As for me, I was a surly little girl at that point, or so my teachers used to say. I was often to be found in the darkest corner of the playground, hidden in the shadows of the chimney stacks rising like sentries from the factory roof next door. I pressed myself so closely to the depths of the gloom that my cardigan and skirt would be smudged with the soot that clung to the walls. I was an observer, a collector of moments that I would hoard jealously to myself and  recreate furiously in my notebooks as soon as I got home.

Maddie, oh Maddie. She was the light of my life for thirteen years. Unlucky for some, for her, most people thought, as her light infused me with joy and my darkness forced her to deal with practicalities of life. To everyone else, she lost some of her vivacity, her enthusiasm for the world, but to me, when we were on our own, she shimmered like heat haze on the horizon.

The plane was two hours late. I had shuffled in my seat, crossed and uncrossed my legs, picked at a hangnail until it bled. ‘Come to me, Maddie’ the words had reeled endlessly in a constant circle of unrelenting obsession, as if I could will the plane to pick up speed, to land in my lap and deposit my desire right here, right now.

The stain on the wall is all that remains. I go back there sometimes, to the playground, to my past, to Maddie. If I run my fingers over the bricks, pockmarked with age and beaten and crumbled with wind and rain, I can almost feel her gripping my hand in glee as we daubed the wall with bitumen from the caretaker’s stores.

“Maddie ❤️ Rosie”

It was still there, all these years later.

All these years after the plane never landed, all these years after my own heart shattered into a million tiny fragments and I closed my notebooks forever.

You see, Maddie did love me. It hadn’t been a one way street.

Even if her flight never returned her to me, my love for her had been returned a thousand-fold.