William Henry Dethlef Koerner - Charles M. Relyea American, Oil on Board Laid on Panel Jes William Schlaikjer Oil on Canvas Lawrence L. Pruett A. Carter American- Edwin Georgi Gouache on Board Benjamin Stahl American- Enoch Bolles William Cahill - Raymond Pease Oil on Board Paul C.
Stahr American- Charles E. Chambers American- Spencer Douglass Crockwell American- Frederick Sands Brunner American- - Denman Fink American, Russell Sambrook American- Arthur Sarnoff American- Robert Hilbert. Gibson Crockett American, b. Charles Dye Clarence Underwood. Bob Abbott. Raymond J. Stuart Joseph Francis Kernan American- Andrew Loomis Tom Lovell Harry Beckhoff Earl Mayan Tony Fachet. Arthur Fuller - Worth Brehm Everitt Shinn.
Charles Dana Gibson - Carlton Theodore Chapman - Carl Evers Ralph Palen Coleman Charles Ellis - David Finkelgreen Robert Berran. Joseph Csatari American- b. Manobla Wilson McLean. Frederic R. Gruger Stanley Meltzoff Rudy Nappi American- James Montgomery Flagg Robert Schulz Charlotte Sternberg Bradshaw Crandell American- Hy Henry Hintermeister American- Orson Byron Lowell Arthur Burdett Frost Samuel Nelson Abbott Richard Sargent Kenneth Tyler Camp.
Ruth Eastman. John Philip Falter Howard Chandler Christy American- Albert Hampson Enrich Torres b. Harry Anderson Frank McCarthy Tran Mawicke William Arthur Smith Maxfield Parrish James Bama Roy Grinnell Born Clark Hulings Jerry Allison 20th Century. Austin Briggs Raeburn Van Buren Stan Galli - Coby Whitmore - Gayle Porter Hoskins Gouache and tempera on paper laid on board James Deneen Clyde Forsythe - Joseph Bowler.
Guernsey Moore - Maud Bogart Humphrey American- Robert Robinson. Cushman Parker Gil Elvgren. Zoe Mozert - Adelaide Hiebel American- Anne Fish - Peter Helck Joseph-Felix Jean Bouchor R Longacre b. Edgar Franklin Wittmack American- Mortimer Wilson Jr. American- Violet Oakley Edward Henry Potthast - Edward V. Brewer American John F. George Brehm James Avati Willard Mullin Ink and crayon over graphite on pebble-grain Coqui Stanley Massey Arthurs American- Edward Kemble - Charles Hargens American- - John Lagatta Elbert McGran Jackson American- Clarence Coles Phillips American- Douglas Duer - Stevan Dohanos American- Benton Clarke McGinnis Oil on Canvas Laid on Board Harold Von Schmidt American- Stanley Borack - Gouache on board Robert Stanley - Norman Rockwell Raymond Johnson.
Barye Phillips Robert Douglas. Elizabeth Shippen Green Walter Krause. Paul Rabut Robert Fawcett - Edward Penfield American- Kamil Kubik - Nick Eggenhofer American, Oil and Graphite on Paperboard Charles Sheldon Harry Barton - Harold McCauley - Harrison Fisher - Sam Cherry - Willy Pogany Angel of Fire and Genitals 2. Angel of Clean Sheets 3. Angel of Flight and Sleigh Bells 4. Angel of Hope and Calendars 5. Angel of Blizzards and Blackouts 6. Dreams 2. The Dy-dee Doll 3. Seven Times 4. Madonna 5.
Max 6. Not So. And indeed she had briefly modeled for the Hart Agency in Boston. Earrings and bracelets, French perfume, high heels, matching lip and fingernail gloss bedecked her, all intimidating sophistications in the chalk-and-wet-overshoes atmosphere of the Boston Center for Adult Education, where we were enrolled in John Holmes's poetry workshop. Poetry — we were both ambitious beginners — and proximity — we lived in the same suburb — brought us together.
As intimate friends and professional allies, we remained intensely committed to one another's writing and well-being to the day of her death in the fall of The facts of Anne Sexton's troubled and chaotic life are well known; no other American poet in our time has cried aloud pub- licly so many private details. While the frankness of these revela- tions attracted many readers, especially women, who identified strongly with the female aspect of the poems, a number of poets and critics — for the most part, although not exclusively, male — took offense. Then writing was too easy or too hard for her.
She became meager and exagger- ated. Many of her most embarrassing poems would have been fascinating if someone had put them in quotes, as the presenta- tion of some character, not the author. And yet the ground for Sexton's confessional poems had been well prepared.
In , Allen Ginsberg's Howl had declaimed: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. At the time Sexton began to work in the confessional mode, W. Snodgrass had already published his prize-winning collec- tion. Heart's Needle, which included details of his divorce and custody struggle. Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell were hammering out their own autobiographical accounts of alienation, despair, anomie, and madness. John Berryman, deceiving no one, charm- ingly protested in a prefatory note that the Henry of The Dream Songs "is essentially about an imaginary character not the poet, not me.
It seems curious that the major and by far most vitriolic expressions of outrage were reserved for Sexton. Someone once said that we have art in order not to die of the truth, a dictum we might neatly apply to Sexton's perspectives. To Hayden Carruth, the poems "raise the never-solved problem of what literature really is, where you draw the line between art and documentary. The in- timate details divulged in Sexton's poetry enchanted or repelled with equal passion. In addition to the strong feelings Anne's work aroused, there was the undeniable fact of her physical beauty.
Her presence on the platform dazzled with its staginess, its props of water glass, cigarettes, and ashtray. She used pregnant pauses, husky whispers, pseudoshouts to calculated effect. A Sexton audi- ence might hiss its displeasure or deliver a standing ovation. It did not doze off during a reading.
Anne basked in the attention she attracted, partly because it was antithetical to an earlier generation's view of the woman writer as "poetess," and partly because she was flattered by and enjoyed the adoration of her public. Her parents, she was convinced, had not wanted her to be born. Her sisters, she alleged, competed against and won out over her. Her teachers, unable to rouse the slumbering intelli- gence from its hiding place, treated her with impatience and anger.
Anne's counterphobic response to rejection and admonish- ment was always to defy, dare, press, contravene. Thus the fright- ened little girl became a flamboyant and provocative woman; the timid child who skulked in closets burst forth as an exhibitionist declaiming with her own rock group; the intensely private individ- ual bared her liver to the eagle in public readings where almost invariably there was standing room only. A few months shy of her twentieth birthday, she eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II nicknamed Kayo , enrolled in a Hart Agency modeling course, and lived briefly in Baltimore and San Francisco while her husband served in the Navy.
In , she returned to Massachusetts, where Linda Gray Sexton was born. The first breakdown, diagnosed as postpartum depression, oc- curred in , the same year her beloved great-aunt Anna Ladd Dingley, the Nana of the poems, died. She took refuge in West- wood Lodge, a private neuropsychiatric hospital that was fre- quently to serve as her sanctuary when the voices that urged her to die reached an insistent pitch.
Its director, Dr. Martha Brunner- Orne, figured in Anne's life as a benevolent but disciplinary mother, who would not permit this troubled daughter to kill herself. Nevertheless, seven months after her second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born in , Anne suffered a second crisis and was hospitalized. The children were sent to live with her husband's parents; and while they were separated from her, she attempted suicide on her birthday, November 9, This was the first of several episodes, or at least the first that was openly acknowledged.
Frequently, these attempts occurred around Anne's birthday, a time of year she came increasingly to dread. After administering a series of diagnostic tests, he presented his patient with her scores, objective evidence that, despite the disapproving naysayers from her past, she was highly intelligent.
Her associative gifts suggested that she ought to return to the writing of poetry, something she had shown a deft talent for during secondary school. It was at Orne's insistence that Anne enrolled in the Holmes workshop. Martin" came directly out of that experience, as did so many of the poems in her first collection, To Bedlam and Part Way Back. On a snowy Sunday afternoon early in , she drove to my house to ask me to look at "something. Could it be called a poem? It was "Music Swims Back to Me," her first breakaway from adolescent lyrics in rhyming iambic pentameter.
Years later, when it seemed to her that all else in her life had failed — marriage, the succor of children, the grace of friendship, the promised land to which psychotherapy held the key — she turned to God, with a kind of stubborn absolutism that was miss- ing from the Protestantism of her inheritance. The God she wanted was a sure thing, an Old Testament avenger admonishing his Chosen People, an authoritarian yet forgiving Father decked out in sacrament and ceremony.
An elderly, sympathetic priest she called on — "accosted" might be a better word — patiently explained that he could not make her a Catholic by fiat, nor could he administer the sacrament the last rites she longed for. But in his native wisdom he said a saving thing to her, said the magic and simple words that kept her alive at least a year beyond her time and made The Awful Rowing Toward God a possibility.
I cite these two examples to indicate the influence that figures of authority had over Anne's life in the most elemental sense; first the psychiatrist and then the priest put an imprimatur on poetry as salvation, as a worthy goal in itself. When everything else soured; when a succession of thera- pists deserted her for whatever good, poor, or personal reasons; when intimates lost interest or could not fulfill all the roles they were asked to play; when a series of catastrophes and physical ill- nesses assaulted her, the making of poems remained her one con- stant.
To use her own metaphor, "out of used furniture [she made] a tree. Sexton's progress in Holmes's workshop in was meteoric. A year later, five of us joined together to form a workshop of our own — an arrangement that lasted until Holmes's untimely death from cancer in During this period, all of us wrote and revised prolifically, competitively, as if all the wolves of the world were at our backs. Our sessions were jagged, intense, often angry, but also loving. As Holmes's letters from this period make abundantly clear, he decried the confessional direction Anne's poems were taking, while at the same time acknowledging her talent.
Her compulsion to deal with such then-taboo material as suicide, mad- ness, and abortion assaulted his sensibilities and triggered his own defenses. Convinced that the relationship would harm my own work, he warned me to resist becoming involved with Anne. It was the only advice he gave me that I rejected, and at some psy- chic cost. Anne and I both regarded Holmes as an academic father. Virtually every poem in the Bedlam book came under scrutiny during this period, as did many of the poems in All My Pretty Ones.
She had an unparalleled tenacity in those early days and only aban- doned a "failed" poem with regret, if not downright anger, after dozens of attempts to make it come right. It was awesome the way she could arrive at our bimonthly sessions with three, four, even five new and complicated poems. She was never meek about it, but she did listen, and she did respect the counsel of others.
She gave generous help to her colleagues, and she required, de- manded, insisted on generous response. As a result of this experience, Anne came to believe in the value of the workshop. She loved growing in this way, and she urged the method on her students at Boston University, Colgate, Oberlin, and in other workshops she conducted from time to time. During the workshop years, we began to communicate more and more frequently by telephone. Since there were no message units involved in the basic monthly phone-company fee — the figure I remember is seven dollars — we had a second phone line installed in our suburban homes so that we could talk at will.
For years we conducted our own mini-workshops by phone, a working method that does much to train the ear to hear line breaks, in- ternal rhymes, intentional or unwanted musical devices, and so forth. W e did this so comfortably and over such an extended period of time that indeed when we met we were somewhat shy of each other's poems as they appeared on the page. I can re- member often saying "Oh, so that's what it looks like," of a poem I had heard and visualized through half-a-dozen revisions. Over the years, Anne's lines shortened, her line breaks became, I think, more unpredictable, and her imagery grew increasingly surreal.
Initially, however, she worked quite strictly in traditional forms, believing in the value of their rigor as a forcing agent, be- lieving that the hardest truths would come to light if they were made to fit a stanzaic pattern, a rhyme scheme, a prevailing meter.
She strove to use rhyme unexpectedly but always aptly. Even the most unusual rhyme, she felt, must never obtrude on the sense of the line, nor must the normal word order, the easy tone of vernac- ular speech, be wrenched solely to save a rhyme. Here, she read favorite poems of other poets — most frequently Neruda — and played certain evoc- ative records over and over.
One I remember for its throaty string section was Respighi's "Pines of Rome. But for all the sought-after and hard-won poems Anne wrote — in this connection, I recall the arduous struggle to complete "The Operation," "All My Pretty Ones," "Flee on Your Donkey" — a number were almost totally "given" ones. The newspaper article referred to in the opening stanza suggested the poem; the poem itself came quite cleanly and easily, as if written out in the air beforehand and then transcribed onto the page with very few alterations.
The poem was written much as it now appears on the page, except for minor skirmishes required to effect the closure in each stanza. But because Anne wanted to open All My Pretty Ones with a terse elegy for her parents, one shorn of all autobiographical detail, "The Truth the Dead Know" went through innumerable revisions before arriving at its final form, an a b a b rhyme scheme that allows little room for pyrotechnics.
For a time, it seemed that psychiatrists all over the country were referring their patients to Anne's work, as if it could provide the balm in Gilead for every troubled person. Even though it comforted and nurtured her to know that her poems reached beyond the usual sphere of belles lettres, she felt considerable ambivalence about her subject matter. Accused of exhibitionism, she was determined only to be more flamboyant; nevertheless, the strict Puritan hiding inside her suffered and grieved over the label of "confessional poet.
Seeing through the Fog of Myth
Together we fished it out and saved it, working to make the tone more consistent and to smooth out some of the rhythmically crude spots. Into this sort of mechanical task Anne always flung herself gladly. The results were often doubly effective. I remember, for in- stance, how in "The Operation" she worked to achieve through rhyme and the shaping of the poem's three parts a direct rendi- tion of the actual experience.
The retardation of rhyming sounds in those short, rather sharply end-stopped lines, in the first section, for example leaf, straw, lawn: car, thief, house, upon , add to the force of metaphor in the poem — the "historic thief," the "Humpty-Dumpty," and so on. It was a free-verse poem at the outset and had what seemed to me a malevolently flippant tone. Often when stymied for a more articulate response to one of her poems I disliked, I suggested, "Why don't you pound it into form? In the case of the Faustus poem, the sugges- tion was useful because the rhyme scheme gave the subject a dig- nity it demanded and because the repetitive "pounding" elicited a level of language, of metaphor, that Anne had not quite reached in the earlier version.
Sexton had an almost mystical faith in the "found" word image, as well as in metaphor by mistake, by typo, or by misapprehension. She would fight hard to keep an image, a line, a word usage, but if I was just as dogged in my conviction that the line didn't work, was sentimental or mawkish, that the word was ill-suited or the image trite, she would capitulate — unless she was totally con- vinced of her own Tightness.
Then there was no shaking her. Trusting each other's critical sense, we learned not to go past the unshakable core, not to trespass on style or voice. Untrammeled by a traditional education in Donne, Milton, Yeats, Eliot, and Pound, Anne was able to strike out alone, like Conrad's secret sharer, for a new destiny. Searching for solutions to the depressive episodes that beset her with dismaying periodicity, Anne read widely in the popular psy- chiatric texts of the time: interpretations of Freud, Theodore Reik, Philip Rieff, Helena Deutsch, Erik Erikson, Bruno Bettel- heim.
But above all else, she was attracted to the fairy tales of Andersen and Grimm, which her beloved Nana had read to her when she was a child. They were for her, perhaps, what Bible stories and Greek myths had been for other writers. At the same time that she was being entertained and drawn into closer contact with a kind of collective unconscious, she was searching the fairy tales for psychological parallels.
Quite unaware at first of the direction she was taking, she composed the first few "transformations" that comprise the book of that name. The book evolved very much at my urging, and gathered momentum as it grew. It struck me that Anne's poems based on fairy tales went one step further than contemporary poets' translations from languages they did not themselves read but apprehended through a third party. Their poems were adaptations; hers were transfor- mations. Thematically, Anne's concern in Transformations was a logical extension of the material she dealt with in the confessional genre, but this time with a society-mocking overlay.
Her attention focuses on women cast in a variety of Active roles: the dutiful princess daughter, the wicked witch, the stepmother. W e see the same family constellations in a fairy-tale setting, ranging from the Oedipal explorations of "The Frog Prince" to the stage-set adultery of "The Little Peasant. Moreover, the conventional happily-ever-after end- ings receive their share of sardonic jibes. Cinderella and her prince end up as "Regular Bobbsey Twins. It was a new lode to mine.
I hoped that by encouraging Anne to continue to look outside her own psyche for material, she might develop new enthusiasms to match the one she felt for the brothers Grimm. And indeed her impulse to work in fable continued in The Book of Folly, where, in addition to three prose inventions, Sexton created the sequence of poems she called "The Jesus Papers. Now we have a different voice and a different Jesus, however humanized, however modernized — a Jesus who still suffers know- ingly in order to endure. Jesus, Mary, angels as good as the good fairy, and a personal, fatherly God to love and forgive her, figure ever more prominently in the late poems.
Always Sexton explores relentlessly the eternal themes that obsess her: love, loss, madness, the nature of the father-daughter compact, and death — the Death Baby we carry with us from the moment of birth. In my view, the sequence entitled "The Death of the Fathers," a stunning investigation of these latter two themes, is the most successful part of The Book of Folly. It would be simplistic to suggest that the Oedipal theme overrides all other considerations in Sexton's work, but a good case might be made for viewing her poems in terms of their quest for a male authority figure to love and trust.
The poems in Transformations mark the beginning of a shift in Sexton's work, from the intensely confessional to what Estella Lauter, in a fascinating essay, "Anne Sexton's 'Radical Discontent with the Order of Things,'" has termed the "transpersonal. Her work took on a new imaginative boldness. Her perception of her place in the canon of American letters was enhanced, too, by the success of Transformations.
Dog, an appellation that is ironic in two contexts. W e were both increasingly aware of the Women's Movement. To shuck the earlier designations of Miss and Mrs. Dog, of course, is God in reverse. The fact that the word worked both ways delighted Sexton much as her favorite palindrome, "rats live on no evil star," did.
There was a wonderful impudence in naming herself a kind of liberated female deity, one who is "out fighting the dollars. It was slippery material, difficult to control. Not all the poems Anne arrived at in this pursuit of self-definition and salvation suc- ceed; of this she was well aware.
Whenever it came down to a question of what to include, or what to drop from a forthcoming collection, Anne agonized at length. In a kind of despondency of the moment, suffering the bitter fore- taste of reviews to come, Anne frequently wanted to jettison half the book. But I suspect this was a way she had of taking the sting out of the selection process, secure in the knowledge that she and I would always rescue each other's better poems; even, for the right reasons, rescue those flawed ones that were important psychically or developmentally.
W e took comfort from Yeats's "lighting-up," allowing the poems to gain meaning and perspective from one another. When Anne was writing The Awful Rowing at white heat in January and February of , and the poems were coming at the rate of two, three, even four a day, the awesome pace terrified me. I was poet-in-residence at Centre College in Danville, Ken- tucky; we had agreed in advance to split the phone bill. Fearing a manic break, I did everything I could to retard the process, long- distance, during our daily hour-long calls.
The Sexton who had so defiantly boasted, in her Ms. Dog phase, "I am God la de dah," had now given way to a ravaged, obsessed poet fighting to put the jigsaw pieces of the puzzle together into a coherence that would save her — into "a whole nation of God. But on another, even more primitive level, God the poker-player was the one living and constant Daddy left to Sexton out of the "Death of the Fathers. Though the reviewers were not always kind to Anne's work, honors and awards mounted piggyback on one another almost from the moment of the publication in i of her first book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back.
Live or Die won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in She was named Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard in and accorded a number of honorary doctoral degrees. Twice in the s, and twice more in the s, Anne and I collaborated to write books for children. Eggs of Things and More Eggs of Things were constructed within the constraints of a lim- ited vocabulary.
Joey and the Birthday Present and The Wizard's Tears were more fanciful excursions into the realm of talking animals and magical spells. Our work sessions were lighthearted, even casual. W e took turns sitting at the typewriter; whoever typed had the privilege of recording or censoring the dialogue or descrip- tion as it occurred to us. Three or four afternoon workouts sufficed for a book. W e were full of generous praise for each other's con- tributions to the story line and to the exchanges of conversation.
It was usually summer. W e drank a lot of iced tea and squabbled amiably about how to turn the Wizard's townspeople into frogs, or about which of us actually first spoke the key line in Joey: "And they both agreed a birthday present cannot run away. W e would do a new collection of animal fables, modeled on Aesop. W e would fish out the rejected sequel to More Eggs, entitled Cowboy and Pest and the Runaway Goat, and refurbish it for another publisher.
Sexton enthusiastically entertained these notions, as did I. Working to- gether on children's books when our own children were the age of our projected readership kept us in good rapport with each other's offspring. It provided a welcome breathing space in which nothing mattered but the sheer verbal play involved in developing the story. Indeed, we regressed cheerfully to whatever age level the text required, and lost ourselves in the confabulation. But between the publication of new books and the bestowal of honors fell all too frequently the shadow of mental illness.
One psychiatrist left. His successor at first succumbed to Sexton's charm, then terminated his treatment of her. She promptly fell downstairs and broke her hip — on her birthday. With the next doctor, her hostility grew. There seemed to be no standard for dealing with this gifted, ghosted woman. On Thorazine, she gained weight, became intensely sun-sensitive, and complained that she was so overwhelmed with lassitude that she could not write. Without medication, the voices returned.
Cheap poem children deals
As she grew increasingly depend- ent on alcohol, sedatives, and sleeping pills, her depressive bouts grew more frequent. Convinced that her marriage was beyond sal- vage, she demanded and won a divorce, only to learn that living alone created an unbearable level of anxiety. But none of these interludes stemmed her downward course. In the spring of , she took an overdose of sleeping pills and later remonstrated bitterly with me for abort- ing this suicide attempt. On that occasion she vowed that when she next undertook to die, she would telegraph her intent to no one. A little more than six months later, this indeed proved to be the case.
It seems presumptuous, only seven years after her death, to talk about Anne Sexton's place in the history of poetry. W e must first acknowledge the appearance in the twentieth century of women writing poetry that confronts the issues of gender, social role, and female life and lives viewed subjectively from the female perspec- tive. The earlier world view of the poet as "the masculine chief of state in charge of dispensing universal spiritual truths" Diane Middlebrook, The World Into Words has eroded since World War II, as have earlier notions about the existence of universal truths themselves.
Freed by that cataclysm from their cliched roles as goddesses of hearth and bedroom, women began to write openly out of their own experiences. Before there was a Women's Move- ment, the underground river was already flowing, carrying such diverse cargoes as the poems of Bogan, Levertov, Rukeyser, Swen- son, Plath, Rich, and Sexton. Of all the confessional poets, none has had quite Sexton's "courage to make a clean breast of it.
As with any body of work, some of the later poems display only ragged, intermittent control, as compared to "The Double Im- age," "The Operation," and "Some Foreign Letters," to choose three arbitrary examples. The later work takes more chances, crosses more boundaries between the rational and the surreal; and time after time it evokes in the reader that sought-after shiver of recognition.
Women poets in particular owe a debt to Anne Sexton, who broke new ground, shattered taboos, and endured a barrage of attacks along the way because of the flamboyance of her subject matter, which, twenty years later, seems far less daring. She wrote openly about menstruation, abortion, masturbation, incest, adul- tery, and drug addiction at a time when the proprieties embraced none of these as proper topics for poetry.
Today, the remon- strances seem almost quaint. Anne delineated the problematic position of women — the neurotic reality of the time — though she was not able to cope in her own life with the personal trouble it created. If it is true that she attracted the worshipful attention of a cult group pruriently interested in her suicidal impulses, her psychotic breakdowns, her frequent hospitalizations, it must equally be acknowledged that her very frankness succored many who clung to her poems as to the Holy Grail. Time will sort out the dross among these poems and burnish the gold.
Anne Sexton has earned her place in the canon. He must be like Sophocles's Oedipus, who, seeking enlightment con- cerning his terrible fate, pursues his indefatigable enquiry, even when he divines that appalling horror awaits him in the answer. But most of us carry in our heart the Jocasta who begs Oedipus for God's sake not to inquire further.
Late August, I speed through the antiseptic tunnel where the moving dead still talk of pushing their bones against the thrust of cure. And I am queen of this summer hotel or the laughing bee on a stalk of death. W e stand in broken lines and wait while they unlock the door and count us at the frozen gates of dinner. The shibboleth is spoken and we move to gravy in our smock of smiles. W e chew in rows, our plates scratch and whine like chalk in school.
There are no knives for cutting your throat. I make moccasins all morning. At first my hands kept empty, unraveled for the lives they used to work. Now I learn to take them back, each angry finger that demands I mend what another will break tomorrow. Of course, I love you; you lean above the plastic sky, god of our block, prince of all the foxes. The breaking crowns are new that Jack wore. What large children we are here. All over I grow most tall in the best ward.
Your business is people, you call at the madhouse, an oracular eye in our nest. Out in the hall the intercom pages you. You twist in the pull of the foxy children who fall likefloodsof life in frost. And we are magic talking to itself, noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins forgotten. Am I still lost? Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself, counting this row and that row of moccasins waiting on the silent shelf. Not til we are lost. Sometimes on The Island, in down Maine, in late August, when the cold fog blew in off the ocean, the forest between Dingley Dell and grandfather's cottage grew white and strange.
It was as if every pine tree were a brown pole we did not know; as if day had rearranged into night and batsflewin sun. It was a trick to turn around once and know you were lost; knowing the crow's horn was crying in the dark, knowing that supper would never come, that the coast's cry of doom from that far away bell buoy's bell said your nursemaid is gone.
Then you were dead. Turn around once, eyes tight, the thought in your head. Kind Sir: Lost and of your same kind I have turned around twice with my eyes sealed and the woods were white and my night mind saw such strange happenings, untold and unreal. And opening my eyes, I am afraid of course to look — this inward look that society scorns — Still, I search in these woods and find nothing worse than myself, caught between the grapes and the thorns.
Up there godding the whole blue world and shrieking at a snip of land. Now, like children, we climb down humps of rock with a bag of dinner rolls, left over, and spread them gently on a stone, leaving six crusts for an early king. A single watcher comes hawking in, rides the current round its hunger and hangs carved in silk until it throbs up suddenly, out, and one inch over water; to come again smoothing over the slap tide. This was the sound where it began; our breath pounding up to see the flying man breast out across the boarded sky and climb the air.
I remember the color of music and how forever all the trembling bells of you were mine. You lay in the nest of your real death, Beyond the print of my nervous fingers Where they touched your moving head; Your old skin puckering, your lungs' breath Grown baby short as you looked up last At my face swinging over the human bed, And somewhere you cried, Jet me go Jet me go.
You lay in the crate of your last death, But were not you, not finally you. They have stuffed her cheeks, I said; This clay hand, this mask of Elizabeth Are not true. From within the satin And the suede of this inhuman bed, Something cried, Jet me go Jet me go. I waited you in the cathedral of spells And I waited you in the country of the living, Still with the urn crooned to my breast, When something cried, Jet me go let me go.
So I threw out your last bony shells And heard me scream for the look of you, Your apple face, the simple creche Of your arms, the August smells Of your skin. Then I sorted your clothes And the loves you had left, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, until you were gone. Surely you would scold me for sitting up late, reading your letters, as if these foreign postmarks were meant for me.
You posted them first in London, wearing furs and a new dress in the winter of eighteen-ninety. I read how London is dull on Lord Mayor's Day, where you guided past groups of robbers, the sad holes of Whitechapel, clutching your pocketbook, on the way to Jack the Ripper dissecting his famous bones.
This Wednesday in Berlin, you say, you will go to a bazaar at Bismarck's house. And I see you as a young girl in a good world still, writing three generations before mine. I try to reach into your page and breathe it back. This is the sack of time your death vacates. How distant you are on your nickel-plated skates in the skating park in Berlin, gliding past me with your Count, while a military band plays a Strauss waltz.
Once you read Lohengrin and every goose hung high while you practiced castle life in Hanover. Tonight your letters reduce history to a guess. The Count had a wife. You were the old maid aunt who lived with us. Tonight I read how the winter howled around the towers of Schloss Schwobber, how the tedious language grew in your jaw, how you loved the sound of the music of the rats tapping on the stone floors.
When you were mine you wore an earphone.
This is Wednesday, May 9th, near Lucerne, Switzerland, sixty-nine years ago. I learn your first climb up Mount San Salvatore; this is the rocky path, the hole in your shoes, the yankee girl, the iron interior of her sweet body. You let the Count choose your next climb. You went together, armed with alpine stocks, with ham sandwiches and seltzer wasser. You were not alarmed by the thick woods of briars and bushes, nor the rugged cliff, nor the first vertigo up over Lake Lucerne.
The Count sweated with his coat off as you waded through top snow. He held your hand and kissed you. You rattled down on the train to catch a steamboat for home; or other postmarks: Paris, Verona, Rome. This is Italy. You learn its mother tongue. I read how you walked on the Palatine among the ruins of the palaces of the Caesars; alone in the Roman autumn, alone since July. When you were mine they wrapped you out of here with your best hat over your face. I cried because I was seventeen. I am older now. One Wednesday in November you watched a balloon, painted like a silver ball, float up over the Forum, up over the lost emperors, to shiver its little modern cage in an occasional breeze.
You worked your New England conscience out beside artisans, chestnut vendors and the devout. Tonight I will learn to love you twice; learn your first days, your mid-Victorian face. Tonight I will speak up and interrupt your letters, warning you that wars are coming, that the Count will die, that you will accept your America back to live like a prim thing on the farm in Maine. I tell you, you will come here, to the suburbs of Boston, to see the blue-nose world go drunk each night, to see the handsome children jitterbug, to feel your left ear close one Friday at Symphony.
And I tell you, you will tip your boot feet out of that hall, rocking from its sour sound, out onto the crowded street, letting your spectacles fall and your hair net tangle as you stop passers-by to mumble your guilty love while your ears die. W e are lying on a cloth of sand while the Atlantic noon stains the world in light. It was much the same five years ago. None of us noticed it then. The pleated lady was still a nest of her knitting. Four pouchy fellows kept their policy of gin and tonic while trading some money. The parasol girls slept, sun-sitting their lovely years.
No one thought how precious it was, or even how funny the festival seemed, square rigged in the air. The air was a season they had bought, like the cloth of sand. I've been waiting on this private stretch of summer land, counting thesefiveyears and wondering why. I mean, it was different that time with Ezio Pinza flying a kite. Maybe, after all, he knew something more and was right. Words are like labels, or coins, or better, like swarming bees. I confess I am only broken by the sources of things; as if words were counted like dead bees in the attic, unbuckled from their yellow eyes and their dry wings.
I must always forget how one word is able to pick out another, to manner another, until I have got something I might have said. Your business is watching my words. But I admit nothing. I work with my best, for instance, when I can write my praise for a nickel machine, that one night in Nevada: telling how the magic jackpot came clacking three bells out, over the lucky screen. Two male Ph. And the missile that launched a missile launched out into a marvelous scientific balloon that rolled and bobbed about in the mists of Venus; suddenly sank like a sweet fat grape, oozing past gravity to snuggle down upon the triumphant shape of space.
And parades assembled, the loud earth tellers spent all fifteen minutes on it, even shortened their weather forecast. The place became crater on each side, sank down to its first skull, shedding forests, oceans, dried bones and neons, as it fell through time like a forgotten pitted stone. These two men walked hopefully out onto their hot empty planet with machines, rats, tanks, boxes, insects and the one odd set of three almost new snakes, to make the tests they were meant to do. But on the seventh month the cages grew small, too small to interview, too tight to bear. The rats were gray and heavy things where they ran against wire and the snakes built eggs on eggs and even the fish began to bump in water as they spawned on every side of each other's swim.
And the men grew listless; they opened the pouch of dirt, undid each locked bin and let every creature loose to live on Venus, or anyhow hide under rocks. Bees swarmed the air, letting a warm pollen slide from their wings and onto the grass. The fish flapped to a small pool and the rats untangled their hairs and humped over the vestibule of the cramped balloon. Old and withered, two Ph. But the two men, that last morning of death, before the first of light, watched the land of Venus, its sweetless shore, and thought, "This is the end.
This is the last of a man like me. And from the planet park they heard the new fruit drop. HER KIND I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. A woman like that is misunderstood. I have ridden in your cart, driver, waved my nude arms at villages going by, learning the last bright routes, survivor where your flames still bite my thigh and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die. For all these present, before that wandering ghost, that yellow moth of my summer bed, I say: this small event is not. So I prepare, am dosed in ether and will not cry what stays unsaid. I was brown with August, the clapping waves at my thighs and a storm riding into the cove. Black arms of thunder strapped upon us; squalled out, we breathed in rain and stroked past the boat. W e thrashed for shore as if we were trapped in green and that suddenly inadequate stain of lightning belling around our skin.
Bodies in air we raced for the empty lobsterman-shack. It was yellow inside, the sound of the underwing of the sun. I swear, I most solemnly swear, on all the bric-a-brac of summer loves, I know you not. Too late to wish I had not run from you, Apollo, blood moves still in my bark bound veins. I, who ran nymph foot to root in flight, have only this late desire to arm the trees I lie within. The measure that I have lost silks my pulse. Each century the trickeries of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed in honor for you are gone in time. The air rings for you, for that astonishing rite of my breathing tent undone within your light. I only know how this untimely lust has tossed flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears toward the intimate Rome of the myth we crossed. I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys my out of time and luckless appetite. You gave me honor too soon, Apollo. During the days that followed, he busied himself hanging coconut shells and dragging palm fronds around. Days and nights passed. Weeks and months passed. He set about his days fishing, collecting rainwater, stockpiling coconuts, and exploring the island.
He sang and wrote the lyrics in the sand, one after the other until whole albums were documented as they appeared on their track lists. Entire weeks were consumed by him writing long letters in the sand, collected and mailed by the wind. One day, he neglected to do anything other than etch a detailed portrait of a woman, enclosing it in a frame. When night came, he pressed his face into it and fell asleep. Knee-deep in the ocean, he pressed binoculars into his face. That other island was definitely bigger than this one, he thought. More of everything.
A sleeping bag lay off to one corner of the control room, where she occasionally rested for a few hours. A large photo of Jason was pinned to a board, with every detail about him noted on surrounding whiteboards. Dozens of staff answered phones or peered at satellite images. As the sun rose on a new day, Jason climbed to the top of the tallest tree, balancing in the nape of two branches. The same jagged rock that had opened a hundred coconuts, opened another.
With a quick glance over the island, Jason entered the water and began to swim to the other island. Shallow breaths rose and fell until the sun came up. He lifted his head off the sand, got to his knees, and drank two bottles of water. He sat on the beach and ate strips of cured fish before climbing to the top of the tallest tree. He looked down at his right thigh, now covered in old scars. The infection had spread, and his skin was black from hip to knee. It no longer hurt him, at least that was good, but he could not feel anything there.
Every time he looked, the skin was darker and had spread towards his knee. It was becoming harder and harder to get around the island and do his daily tasks. When he could no longer hold up his pants with a belt he had made from frayed threads, he went about naked. He chewed slowly to move the food around his mouth and position the bite between the only teeth he had left. One morning, he awoke to find himself floating several feet above the indent where he usually lay. As he floated even higher into the sky, he could see lots of other islands in a ring, and the whole ocean in every direction.
Each ring of islands was an island in an even larger ring; a chain of chains of islands within itself, as far as he could see. Our seventeenth issue, featuring a captivating collection of illustrated short stories and poems that cast into the future to imagine how life might be different. You showed us how to measure time properly, how it falls in the rise of your ribcage, makes space between your breaths.
Forget the years. This is about days, your age in minutes countable on tiny digits and eyelashes in continuous tallies. You show us how to grab the light with your fist and hold it, your grasp of day. When time fell short we wanted more. At night your hair was a thousand earth-winged moths twitching for the sun. That should have been my first clue.
This one was lying in wait, I could tell. It had the same low hum as a car in a sideroad waiting to pull out. The same discreet indifference. So I swerved off the road before I reached that corner. Walking five rows back from the road, I keep an eye on the blockade as I move past. I can hear now why the engine was on. Luckily, these particular officers are more focussed on smooth hits of the noughties than on detaining boundary migrants.
Continuing through sand, leaf-litter, and the odd ditch, I reach the north-eastern edge of Thetford Forest at dawn. Before me, a light flares on the rust-tipped grasses and poppies. But I need to find cover before the wide sky lets too much sun onto the flat planes of this landscape. I keep low behind boundary hedges, stooping behind stunted Scots pines. About half a mile away, some shabby farm buildings huddle against the fields.
When I make it to the barn, I fall quickly asleep on the rough straw. A man sporting a tattered Barbour and a ruff of white beard is unsteadily urinating just metres away. Turning round, he staggers and almost falls onto the dampened bales behind him. Instead he recovers himself, smiles gently and introduces himself. I thought the transport system was all locked down these days. Not that an old fellow like me knows much beyond what he hears on TV. So, how did you manage to exit our fine capital?
New riverfront flats will shut off the last foot access to Walthamstow. Planning permission went through just before I left, and the path is set to go the way of the pavements. I got out while I still could, heading for Scotland. I was due to make the border crossing north of Peterborough by Saturday, but the roadblock ruined that plan.
What most I love I bite
But the bicycle? Almost all were impounded about three years ago. The government used a spate of HGV deaths as an excuse to conduct door-to-door raids in the name of road safety. They knew exactly who was holding, because the bike park keys brought in a few years back were linked to your debit card — same as everything else.
You must be burning through calories at a rate of knots. No milk either. I stand up, almost buckling on my aching thighs. Walking as though his pelvis has calcified to his thighbones, Bill leads me over to what must have been the farmhouse, before the roof fell in. He probably keeps it in a state of disrepair on purpose, to deter visitors. Ducking under a broken beam, we come into the kitchen.
Many of the large flagstones have been cracked by falling timber and debris. We go through to what was once the larder, presumably chosen for its lack of windows. An old rag rug covers the floor, and a tatty photo of a girl wearing a daisy chain is pinned to the wall. Bill stoops over painfully to straighten a corner of the rug, then lowers himself onto an overturned milk crate. Picking up a tin can with rough holes knifed in the sides, he pours some liquid into the bottom. Sparking a match on the wall, he drops it into the can which flares into flame. Bill balances a pan on top, and measures in oats and water.
Then he slings in the teabag, already dyed dark from previous use.
A short East Anglian with plenty to say
He stares at me a little longer, like an artist measuring the horizon with a pencil before marking his paper. His beard bulges with the upward pressure of his cheeks as he smiles. A few months back it was still possible, but not now. I can help you though, if you want me to? Always used to be a favoured spot for smugglers, only now they pick up rather than drop off. How long do you need? Bill winks and lets out a bass laugh. Never you mind how.
All you need to worry about is being on Horsey Gap beach for 5am tomorrow morning. Just turn up and say Old Bill sent you. No ticket required. Bill hands me the pan of porridge and busies himself with wire while I eat. The warm meal is a powerful sedative, and my lids are starting to droop downwards when tires crunch on the gravel outside. Suddenly alert and sensing a set-up, I look over at Bill.
He seems equally alarmed, and is hurriedly stuffing his wire constructions into a compartment in the wall. He likes to check up on me. He ushers me out of the larder, but not towards the front door. Instead, we duck past cracked wood and swelling mounds of bricks towards the kitchen hearth. There, behind the wood burner, is a man-sized hole. The boat will be there at 5am tomorrow.
I slip through the narrow gap like a deer through a hedgerow and move carefully round the side of the house. He sports a sharp suit, a shaved head and a stern face. Come out of that dump. We need to have words. I can hear Bill making low muffled excuses inside. When the son relents and stoops into the house, I make a low dash for the barn to retrieve my bike.
I sprint off over the clods of earth and fossilised tractor ruts, onto the road. The two men are outside now, the son curved in accusation and Bill unflinching. I cannot tell for sure whether the younger man has seen me, but on this flat track of landscape any movement is like a hare to the greyhound. I had memorised the way to the border, but with this new route I rely heavily on my black-market maps.
Eventually, I reach some low trees. Under their close-knit canopy, nothing grows for lack of light. Dead twigs carpet the earth and the trees stand apart like stakes. My eyes focus in on an overloaded ant struggling skywards. A money spider trails a fine thread of itself stalk to stalk. A small beetle rootles across dark ravines in the soil. Submerged in the greenery, I watch the flowers and grasses wave above me.
I have been sleeping. My mouth feels claggy and earth is indented on my cheek. The sun has set over this lower world, if not over the field above. About now, the last Londoners will be heading home from work, swiping their debit cards over the tube gates and proceeding to their designated boroughs. Since the mayor stopped restricting building on pavements, cafes have expanded right to the road.
Apartment blocks rise directly from the double yellows, accessible only from underground parking. Cars are king, and petrol an extravagance few can afford. In areas where council estates and new-build flats once commingled, luxury apartments have flanked together to shut out undesirables. Once rich and poor lived side by side — now they live back to back.
Better that he was disappointed in me for wanting to stay, than disappointed in himself for preventing me from leaving. I spent my nights in the company of mice, fixing up a bicycle for when the time came. Restoring old parts and noting what I needed to acquire.
I had improvised brake blocks from car tyres and bent some handlebars out of old piping. The project progressed faster than his illness, so I was left fine-tuning the gears and spokes, over and over: skills my Dad had once taught me. Only by then it was my hands that were black with grease, and his that seemed small and delicate. Night has fallen around me in the field now, but it seems translucent in comparison to the pitch of the city.
Those streets transformed fathers and daughters into thieves and murderers. Here, the wind blows freely through the thin hedgerows. It lulls heavy heads of barley, which bob in the moonlight. I had hoped for cloud cover, but least I can see the map.
Back on the road, the hedges slip by in black ranks. No foxes tearing the flesh of a dead pug here. No rats making daylight raids on the Turkish bakery, only to be beaten back with loaves. I hope that a barn owl will swoop across my path in a clean flash and I can count it as a good omen, but this mute landscape promises nothing. Avoiding the yellow stains where towns leach into the night, I speed unnoticed through back lanes, trusting that fear will have tucked good citizens up in bed.
The few cars that do pass are preceded by twin lights traversing the hedgerows, giving me time to dive into a nearby ditch. Curving wide of Norwich, I reach Cawston and rattle down the old railway path for some straight miles east. The railway spits me out in the shadowy suburbs of Aylesham town. To get east from here, I have to cross an A road. Cycling along the twist of tarmac leading to my chosen crossing, I stand up on my pedals and lean down over the handlebars.
My rucksack slips awkwardly onto my neck. Trees shadow the fence and I see it too late. Slamming sideways into the rough wood, I feel it splinter under impact. I sling myself and my bike over the barrier, and try to regain momentum in the ten remaining metres to the junction. Blinded by adrenaline and LED bulbs, I make for the dark burrow of a lane directly in front of me. The sound of shouting, engines, and scraping metal chafes my ears. The breath is already tight in my chest, but I have to push on into the warren of country lanes. The road splits and splits again like a probability tree, each time increasing my chances of escape.
My leg feels sore and my hand comes off black when I test it. Slowing to glance down, I see my knee leaking dark, thick liquid like oil. I must have ripped my skin on the fence, on some rusty nail. Every pump of my leg, I feel it spewing blood. Left, right, left, left, right. Hope Bill kept his word and his tongue. The sky is lightening, but the hedges and fields are blurring. A final push out to the sea, bloody from sunrise. I heave the bike into a ditch, then go it on foot as fast as I can. Steps slow through the dunes, two forward, one back.
Sand sticks to my leg and dark crusts crumble off. A boat is still here, silhouetted. I strip off into the North Sea and swim. Open ocean. Tug of the tide. I swing on monkey bars and hang off primary coloured climbing frames, where bare legs endure no more than grazed knees.
They try to tie me into a skirt-suit, paint on glossy black tights, tell me to keep court heels tucked into my bag, and wear trainers for the commute,. My body turned like an hourglass, blood rushes to my head. To let go as I hold on comes as easily as breathing in and out.
Light has a multitude of meanings and nearly all of them are positive. They cover illumination, enlightenment, weightlessness, discovery and delicateness. This is what we would love to fill this issue with: fiction and poetry that gifts our readers with a more vibrant view of the world.
In our most recent issue, a prose poem called Giraffe by Bryony Littlefair quietly embodied this feeling of tiptoeing towards the light. The positive reaction from readers all over the world was a joy to observe, and for the Light issue, we would love to see more of it. In the last four issues of the magazine, two-thirds of our contributors have either been print subscribers, digital subscribers or have read a copy of the magazine before.
So, if you would like to increase your understanding of the work we publish — whilst supporting Popshot at the same time — pick up a copy or subscribe. When you feel better from this — and you will — it will be quiet and unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will be the slow clearing of static from the radio.
It will be a film set when the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops dripping. The moment a map finally starts to make sense. When you feel better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy, have handlebars.
When you feel better, you will not always be happy, but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe. Just a few months before that day, there was no sign of the impending crisis. He often stopped to stare out of the window where he would invariably see Apricot, sitting on a bench at the far end of the small triangular green on the other side of a quiet road in front of the building.
Apricot lived in a neighbouring flat, although she seemed to spend most of her time sitting contentedly on the green, by herself, a gentle smile rarely far from her face, usually staring into space, apparently either deep in thought or devoid of any thought whatsoever. On occasion, when the sun began to set, Jay would watch as Mrs Crawford stormed across the green, grabbed Apricot by the arm, and guided her into their building, sometimes apparently grumbling, sometimes quite loudly protesting about how thoughtless Apricot was, or how stupid she must be, or what a burden she was to the elderly woman.
Apricot would always remain calm, however, and would even look up to Jay and wave as she walked by. Jay had never talked to her before but he always timidly waved back. The first time Jay noticed the knotweed was on a warm day in April. Apricot was transfixed by a single stem rising from a small thicket of sickly nettles underneath the false acacia tree. The almost luminous lime green plant stood out from the browns and deeper greens surrounding it, although there was nothing to suggest it was anything other than an innocuous weed.
Apricot just continued to stare at the new plant, ignoring the teenagers until they grew bored and pedalled away from the green, down the road, around the corner, and disappeared out of sight. When Jay left with his mother for school the next morning he noticed that the light green plant had grown quite substantially and there were several smaller shoots wrapped around the legs of the bench. Over the following days, the nettles withered and the lime green weeds began to spread all around the green, in the shadow of the trees at first, then radiating outwards into the grass.
One evening, on her usual trip to retrieve Apricot, Mrs Crawford stopped to pull some of the plants out of the ground, which were now several feet high. It appeared to be quite a struggle, with roots staying firmly in the soil, stalks snapping, and tendrils clinging on to surrounding plants, trees, and the bench. Soon afterwards, a bored-looking bald man drove a lawnmower in circles around the green, and around Apricot, chopping up the weeds and throwing their clippings all over the grass in the process. The whole of the green was a lighter shade the very next morning.
Even from the bay window, Jay could see that there were thousands of tiny sprouts completely covering the area. When he left for school he also spotted one of the weeds poking through the paving slabs in front of his building. He quickly bent down and plucked it, looking at it as his mother pulled him along. It was quite ordinary — several small soft leaves of that lime green colour protruding from a smooth, speckled, hollow, tube-like stem. He overheard his mother talking to a friend on the phone — she said she had seen the plant all around town and reiterated that the council should do something about it — at which point Jay hoped to see the impressive lawnmower again.
A local newspaper also printed a story that gave little in-depth information, only stating that the plant was spreading, it was apparently harmless, and suggested its sudden great numbers were simply down to climactic conditions. The bald lawnmower man did not return and the green became overgrown, with several patches of the weed reaching the height of most passers-by. The larger stems were now more rigid, like bamboo, doggedly standing fast in the wind, only their leaves and cream-coloured blossom gently wafting. The local radio station interviewed a botanist who claimed the plant was a type of knotweed, probably an invasive species that had been introduced to the country and taken hold at an alarming rate due to favourable conditions and being able to take over niches previously exploited by native species.
He reiterated that it was harmless, would likely eventually be self-regulating, and could even be eaten, just like other species of knotweed. Concern soon grew, however. They were soon everywhere and it seemed that no amount of pruning or spreading of weed killer was doing any good. As such, it was an unknown quantity. While this confused Jay and, to a large extent, his mother, such articles, reports, and discussions had fast become a source of great interest for the many who wondered what was happening to their neighbourhoods.
The government announced an emergency deployment of industrial herbicide, applied by converted gritters. It was the only time Jay had seen Mrs Crawford usher Apricot inside in the middle of the day, as residents were told to stay indoors as the chemicals were liberally sprayed over every outside surface. The action appeared to be successful at first, the leaves and stems wilting and browning, appearing to have died. Repeated efforts were even less effective and a desperate attempt at biological control with the introduction of an imported aphid-like insect also proved unsuccessful.
News programmes shifted from debates and discussions to reports of panic as many fled their homes to travel to areas less affected, which itself caused chaos on the roads, at ports and at airports. Travel was impeded further by the state of the roads, with the weeds pushing through tarmac, making some completely impassable. The media was filled with spectacular images but Jay could see it with his own eyes; villages, towns and cities were beginning to look like nightmarish jungles with blanketed walls, green buildings, lampposts covered in tendrils, walkways carpeted in leaves, and even suffocating trees showing barely a sign of bark.
Only essential business continued as most workplaces and all schools were closed. To add to the excitement, the army travelled around in monstrous trucks to ensure order and safety, distributing canned fruit and other basic foodstuffs, candles, batteries, and wind-up radios. Not that there was enough for everyone. They encouraged those remaining to leave their homes and travel to shelters, to the north, and abroad. She also refused to share responsibilities, to look out for others, and be looked out for in return, by sharing homes with those who were just as unwilling to leave.
She hesitated when she saw Jay staring at Apricot though, as two uniformed men tried and failed to communicate with her before walking away. They left her alone as a full moon started to rise in the sky. The next morning, Jay quietly got up earlier than usual and crept through the hallway, where weeds now poked through the skirting boards. He poured brown water from the kitchen tap into a blue plastic cup and took out a fistful of dry knotweed cake from a tin before creeping back down the hallway, carefully opening the door and walking outside.
He stepped over the cracks in the pavement, cartoon-print slippers protecting his feet from the hard stems of some of the older plants, crossed the destroyed road, and walked over to Apricot. While her hair glistened with dew, and weeds had twisted around her feet and ankles as they climbed up her legs, a weak but definite smile could still be found on her pale face. She gently tilted her head upwards. Jay stood in front of her, nervously hesitating for a brief moment, before holding out the cup of water and cake.
The boy gazed into her emerald eyes as she graciously took the gifts from his little hands and then he sharply turned and ran back to his home. Later that day, when Jay rolled his cars around the harmless-looking plants growing through the window frame, he looked up at a four-by-four steadily making its way around bumps and holes in the road. Sat in the back, the Fisher brothers sullenly looked out across the green at Apricot, lying face down on the ground in front of the bench.
A multitude of the lime green plants delicately reached across her body, weaving in and out of her clothes and running through her hair. You knit me together, Fair Isle in mind, with pleasing colours in an intricate design on a circular needle seamlessly from a fit-for-any-purpose pattern.
But it seems you may have been distracted by daydreams, the TV or difficult decisions so purled instead of knit, wove in the wrong wool and dropped the occasional stitch. Nor it seems were you inclined to unravel, re-knit, pick up the lost loops or correct the tension. I guess you knew that once I was cast off such faults would characterise me.
The melting man splashed into the sleeping cul-de-sac. A man who had often found himself on the wrong side of that line. Tonight he carried a shovel on his shoulder. Already, his voice had left him. That was the first thing to go. He had felt it leave, trickling down his oesophagus, past colon and kidney and inner leg, and then seeping into the ground. He checked his watch. It was 3 a. Around him, ice was beginning to yield to slush, still piled high on the grassy banks of the suburbs but crystallising, crumbled and speckled with grit.
The wrong day to build an igloo, he thought to himself bitterly. But then again, it was the only day he had. Stopping to catch his breath, he took a crumpled piece of paper from his tracksuit pocket. He looked at a house with a big red door and nodded to himself, putting the paper away again. He scraped his shovel along the pavement, listening for a moment. The street echoed, indifferent.
He wiped a trickle of fluid from his nose. It trickled all the faster. The melting man wondered if she had grown since he last saw her, what she would remember of his face. He searched the back of the curtains for a clue. His face could barely remember itself. So he set to work, bending over his shovel again, collecting what was left of the snow into one big pile, rushing from driveway to driveway, collecting and dumping, collecting and dumping. Droplets were condensing on his ribcage, rolling down to where his too-big trousers flapped around his waist.
His arms were becoming wetter and wetter, too. He willed himself to stay cold for a little longer. A door just big enough for a five-year-old to crawl through. On the outside, it must be pristine: not a fleck of soil. On the inside, it should be like a secret. Somewhere to sit and be safe. Somewhere to remember another day, in another life, when she had seen snow for the very first time; how it turned the world to white, how it left nothing untouched.
He had built her a perfect igloo in the gardens and they had huddled in it together. It was a new start for all of them, as if the whole world had been touched with magic overnight. As if it would always be like this. Lola had cried when it melted. All of his memories of his daughter were in the winter. That was due to certain patterns of behaviour that he had found himself trying to explain in many offices since.
It had been that way for as long as he could remember. So he looked over the pictures that he did have, summoned from the depths of his sloshing brain. Of early mornings on frosty days, when the flat was filled with silver light. Of the days she would wake him up, standing on his bed, shaking him out of his fug to play. There were moments he wished he could apologise for. Moments he wished he could repeat. He took them all together in his hands and made bricks of snow. As the walls of his igloo became bigger, he felt himself becoming smaller, shedding layers with every handful that he patted down.
He felt his elbows and kneecaps loosening, separating themselves from his body, pouring themselves down his shins and arms. Opposite him, a lady with a name badge and dangling earrings. He remembered the piece of paper, her edging it across the table like a cyanide pill. No Contact. The room had started swimming, then, and he found himself standing, trying to shout, but just gaping, gasping, gargling. Very much. It was all so gradual, that was the thing.
It was just supposed to be her going to his parents for a weekend, just while he was away and her mum got her head together. And then a weekend turned to a week, and a month, and all the while, things going downwards, him hearing stories of drinking, of tempers being lost too easily, and then Lola found herself in a new family. A nice family, the lady with the earrings had explained to him. Well, these are the houses where the future is kept, he supposed, looking around him. He would have got angry about this, once, but not now.
She had been a part of him that broke away with the changing of the seasons. He felt his skin and muscle and sinew giving way to the water now, becoming an icy skeleton, translucent, spectral. He patted down the top of the igloo. The last gift he would ever give her. Onwards, he thought. As the last traces of his body seeped into the ground, she slept safe. That was enough. When Lola woke up the next morning, she felt as though the world was a blank sheet of paper.
The events of the last five days had taught her to expect magical things to happen in the night. Today was going to be another good day. Perhaps Thomas and Emily would take her sledging again, or maybe they would make snow angels and come back home for hot chocolate by the stove. She jumped out of the bed, dancing on tiptoes to the window, wiping away the mist to greet the breaking light. Outside, the world was warming up; remembering itself. Pavements emerged through grey mush. Flower beds and electrical boxes and double yellow lines were all waking up and shaking off their ice.
Her lower lip curled. But then she saw it; there, in the front garden below her window, a brand new miracle. Rising in a dome from the snow, like a clouded crystal ball, stood an igloo on the lawn. All around it were the footprints of a stranger. Each one exploding with shoots of new grass. But there is a wren that flutters inside my chest, trilling louder than the murmurs of love that do not stay.
Three days since she had tried to give them a decent burial, scrub their blood off the floor, get rid of the smell. The whole town smelled like ash and decay. Almost everyone had the good sense to evacuate, but not Aunt Carol. She and Isaac stayed loyal to their hometown until the end. It looked like robbers had done it, maybe soldiers. It was hard to tell these days. She got used to the smell. The days dragged on, suffocating her in painful humidity. Inescapable and oppressive.