First up, Summer in Tintagel - out on the 14th of July, Cast Away Stones, finished a few months ago, and The Calico Cat finished just last week!
I am a bit of a writing machine at the mo, though I think I will have a rest now. The extracts are all very different from each other. I hope you like them! Oh, and if any talent scouts or Hollywood producers fancy getting in touch, just form an orderly queue...
Rosa kneels on the lawn. It is summer, but the grass is damp under her bare legs and she wishes that she had taken the picnic rug that Mummy had tried to give her just now. Mummy said that she was wilful and she’d have to learn by her own mistakes. Rosa wonders what wilful means as she pours water from the plastic teapot into a tiny cup and places it in front of Barney, her oldest teddy bear. Wilful is perhaps the same as stubborn. Daddy often says she is stubborn.
‘Would you like tea too, Miss Jemima Puddleduck?’
A stuffed green and brown duck looks at her from its one glassy eye, but says nothing. Rosa nods. ‘Yes, of course you would. You can have a biscuit too.’
Rosa puts cups in front of all her toys and looks back across the long expanse of grass towards her house. The sun hides itself behind a cloud, but that isn’t the reason she has goosebumps forming along her arms. She feels her heartbeat quicken and she tightens her grip on a biscuit. It crumbles and leaves as sticky smear of chocolate on her fingers. Rosa licks the chocolate, but her stomach rolls and she tries to blot out a voice in her head. Daddy will be angry, very angry.
A scream pierces the silent afternoon. It comes from the house and it sounds like her mother. Rosa leans her back against a tree and draws her knees up under her chin. She looks at a grass stain on her white sock and her whole body begins to shake. A siren wails up the valley and she knows that something bad has happened. Very bad.
She has been under the tree what feels like a long time, but then she sees Daddy burst from the house as if he has been fired like a bullet from a gun. His hair is messy and he runs his hands through it with wild jerky movements. Daddy’s tie is pulled to the side and he doesn’t look at all neat. Being neat is something he is very proud of. Rosa tries to make herself small, but he has seen her and runs towards her ... fast.
Daddy kneels beside her and puts his big hands on her shoulders. He shakes her roughly. ‘This is all you fault! Dabbling in evil always ends in disaster, do you hear me?’
‘I ... I ... haven’t done anything ...’
‘Don’t lie! All this mumbo jumbo about ghostly old ladies appearing in my house and warning you about ...’ Daddy’s face looks like a Halloween mask and his mouth twists down at the corners. ‘Never mind. You are going to your room and staying there for the rest of the day!’
Rosa’s arm hurts where Daddy is squeezing it as he drags her back to the house. Her eyes fill, but she won’t let him see. She is glad she is going to her room, because she doesn’t want to know exactly what has happened; the bad thing that has made Daddy so angry. Rosa has a good idea already and this makes her so sad that she can hardly breathe...
CAST AWAY STONES
Sunday morning in our street looked the same as it did on every other day except that privet hedges looked less green, the windows hid behind curtains, flowers in gardens seemed a little more faded and the garden gnomes looked hung-over. It was though the week had been so hard to deal with that the collective energy of houses, humans, plants and gnomes alike had been reduced to emergency levels only. Today being the first of August and the third of a heat wave added an extra layer of apathy and inertia, unbroken even by the tolling of St Bartholomew’s bell calling all parishioners, willing or reluctant to morning service.
Adelaide closed our front door behind her and hurried down the path towards me.
‘Right, I’m off to church and I have just popped the roast in so it will be well on the way when I get back.’ She cocked her head birdlike to one side and looked me up and down. ‘Now, don’t worry about anything while you’re away. I’ll look after your dad. This is your time, go for it, as you young ones say.’ Her lips twitched at the corners and then lifted for at least two seconds.
There was an unexpected lump of emotion growing in my throat, and before I could talk myself out of it, I stepped forward and put my arms around her. She felt solid and dependable and I wondered what I’d do without her. Adelaide said something that sounded like, ‘Awumha’ and patted my back a little too hard.
‘I can’t begin to thank you for everything you’ve done lately, Adelaide,’ I said looking away from her moist eyes, in case mine tried to copy them.
Adelaide flapped her hand and looked into the boot of my car. ‘Nonsense, I did what any good neighbour worth her salt would have done.’ She eyed the iron and frowned.
‘We both know that’s not true,’ I said, closing the boot and leaning my hip against it. ‘You made me realise it was time to cast away stones and that was the most important thing ever.’
Her mouth twitched again and she nodded. ‘Good. I’m glad. And now I’d better pop off or I’ll be late. Safe journey.’ She touched my cheek lightly and then I watched her small figure hurry away down the street. As she passed each house, it seemed to me that the privet hedges and flowers regained their colour, the windows threw back their curtains and the garden gnomes stood to attention and saluted her. Okay, perhaps the last bit was taking things too far...
THE CALICO CAT
My sketch pad is at the ready for those wildflowers, and maybe even a dolphin if we get up early enough on this holiday. Sunrise, dolphins and ocean, who could want for more? I hug Algernon to my chest and inhale the scent of wildflowers, ozone and banana and exhale a heart-swell of peace, calm and happiness.
Happiness is funny isn’t it? Elusive for some, taken for granted by others and unrecognised by many. We are encouraged to think that happiness comes wrapped around a new car, house, various expensive this that or the others, or maybe it is hidden in the in arms of a lover – the Mr or Miss Right that we all must find.
This soulmate has to be everything we dreamed they would be, or if they are not, we pretend that they are and hide our disappointment. To go through life without our ‘other halves’ is to show the world that we have failed, that there’s something wrong with us. Then, once we have found our soulmate and amassed our expensive this that and the others, we need to make sure our success is passed on to future generations. Children are the cherry on the cake, the completion of our world - our happiness.
I worry that while many are in (often futile) pursuit of the all above, they might miss the delicate and wondrous beauty of a wildflower, a butterfly, the scent of the sea, a sun warmed stone, the feel of wet sand under bare feet, the taste of fresh baked bread. Does that make me sound pompous? Self satisfied? I think it might, but I don’t mean it to.
I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, and I know I am very lucky not to have to worry about the practical day-to-day, but I wish people would take their gaze from the monolith of ‘happiness’ more often, slow its relentless build, and instead, truly appreciate the daisy growing through the crack in its brickwork...