The Room

I have recently joined a creative writing course as a way of trying to clamber over the writing blocks I keep bashing up against. The theme for this series of sessions is ‘writing about art’ and, at first, I wondered how that would go. I need not have worried, though, the class is relaxed and informal, the tutor welcoming and encouraging. I find that I have not only reignited the creative writing spark, I come to it with new experiences that I hope enrich the words and their meaning. Last week, we were set a ‘homework’ task. We had two paintings to choose from and the task was to marry description of the piece alongside ‘something more’. Almost immediately, I found a story thread itself through my mind and wanted to dash home and get on the computer. This is the result. I won’t tell you what the painting was until the end, though you may work it out for yourself …

The Room
Lately, the visits had left me with a burning, helpless hurt at sight of her, “don’t you understand me?” eyes but, for this final visit, those forever cherished eyes, which bore unconditional love and hope and belief returned. I didn’t know it would be the last visit; I didn’t know.

I never considered it then but, looking back, there is recognition that she held onto me as much I her. We were clinging together, a flimsy, barely-floating raft launched time and again at cruel waves, challenged to survive, or give in to the force that presented itself. I clung to her and yet, at the same time, I had no need to cling for she was everything she could be, and more. She was solid as well-tended drystake walls, warm as hot-water-bottled beds, yet firm and straight as Roman roads; she was all I needed when life’s plans cut me harshly from everything I knew. She faced her losses, with grace; some might say she was stoical but I think of her as practical, willing to face another day, and another yet, despite the keening that screamed relentlessly within her.

I remember the day she held my small hand as she showed me the room; it’s there like an imprint, forever etched just as it was. I wanted it to be that way in perpetuity. The pine bed with its burnt orange blankets, pillows and sheets in softest cream. Two chairs, pine with wicker seating; solid and reassuring. A wash of blue on walls and doors, ewer, jug, water jug, coats and cardigans. The contrast of the forest green windows, looking strong and determined; secure. Small pine table with drawer for my nick nacks, atop which stood toiletries in pretty ceramic bottles, soap that smelt like her and the hairbrush that may have been my grandfather’s. It certainly wasn’t the type for a small girl but I treasured it all the same, its brushes gentle as though they whispered through my curled locks. Pictures, mirror and towel hung on long nails that seemed to have been hammered to the very soul of the room, defying time and wear. The wood floor with its pinkish blush, soft, inviting. Pictures showed a young man in a blue shirt mirroring the room’s comforting hues, and a young woman in pink, reflecting the floor’s. It was all so perfect; no need for words really though she gave me two – “it’s yours” – and I sank in believing it was forever.

No one tells you then that forever is ungraspable; forever is fantasy; forever is a wish, a hope but it’s not permanency. Forever, in truth, is only as long as it can be and sometimes it’s gone too soon. Years passed like the landscapes in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem that she always read me, even when I was thirty-two; “faster than fairies, faster than witches, bridges and houses, hedges and ditches”. I recited it to her once, just four days before that final visit and I noted the faint flicker of remembering, of connection, though I could never match her reading, never bring that sense of speed and movement and gasping fun to it.

I emptied her home with a detached calm that belied rising panic and agony; how could I do this to her? Give me all the logical reasons in existence – I’m sure her voice would have been in there too – but there was no logic, no reason or belief that could break the tearing, renting ache as I dismantled it all. The Room was last, demoted to “The Room” in a vague, but lukewarm, attempt at lessening the blow. It was all I could do not to lie on the cosy bed of my childhood, close my eyes and never waken, but she deserved more than that of me so I took it apart, piece by agonising piece, until it was done. By then it was a bare room, just a room, and said “goodbye”. I suppose I could have kept all the component parts but, somehow, it would never have seemed right; those things belonged to my past now and marrying them into my future would not cool hurt’s flame. I kept just one thing, just one small and enduring reminder of all she had been, all she was and all we had shared. She knew I’d done it; I knew she knew I’d done it but we didn’t dare tiptoe toward that desolation. It was the only time of pretence between us, though our eyes shared the truth in quickly grasped snatches, gone before they had chance to arrive.

She’s been gone more than a year now; anniversaries and special days have all passed by and I’m told the platitudes every bereaved person comes to know. Gran has gone and with her the anchor that kept me safe; held onto me when no one else was there. I don’t see her standing next to me or hear the wisdom of her words though, just occasionally when I brush my hair with the old hairbrush, I am back in that sky-blue haven, enveloped in her love, and strong again.

© Liz Mackenzie
6 October 2017

(The painting I chose to write about was Van Gogh’s Bedroom)

 

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Liz’s Tea Towel

Virtual Tea Towel Museum

Liz is a longstanding friend of mine.  I have known her for more than 22 years, both as a work colleague and as on of my best friends.  We have shared many holidays, days out and experiences, both happy and sad.  We are a good team; our skills and deficiencies balance out.  She can drive (and manoeuvre a caravan) and I can’t; she can cook and I can’t.  I can load a washing machine, deal with the bins and deal with dead animals; Liz can’t.  That’s what friendship is all about.  I, sort of, knew that this Guest Tea Towel was coming up.  I wasn’t sure how it would happen but I knew it would be a ‘lump in the throat’ job.  I knew it would be long.  I knew I wouldn’t have to edit it in any way.  Here is Liz’s Guest Tea Towel, the unabridged version:

IMG_0418This might…

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Tentatively I reach for my pen …

It is, in fact, not a pen but a keyboard that I reach for; tentative is, most definitely, the word however. I have not planned what to write. I don’t know how it will come out. I don’t know if I will publish it or save it or delete it. Here goes.

Through a passing comment to a fellow Twitterer about how writing can, I think, help with expressing thoughts and feelings, I had a few gentle exchanges, culminating in my giving a link to “Meltdown and Botanics”. I then read I am that Girl 007’s Life, Strife & Muses piece entitled “Betty’s Granddaughter”. (I am that girl)

That got me thinking. Why am I not writing anything? Why the drought for nearly a year? If I’m claiming it’s so helpful, why am I not doing it? Questions, questions. If I go back to Meltdowns and Botanics my reasons become obvious to me, if not to anyone else who does not know what happened next. How could it be that I had ‘lost’ my words? I had a plan. I’m good with a plan; I need a plan. Sometimes, though, plans don’t happen because you can’t work out how to make one, or whatever you plan is dulled – like trying to cut bread with a plastic knife when you’re really hungry and you end up accepting defeat; you’re beaten. Was that how I felt? Is that how I feel? More questions.
Let’s go back a bit. My last post was a year ago. On that occasion it was inspired by a combination of the Brexit referendum result and a day out in Southend, ending up going through Shoeburyness. Prior to that I’d been with my plan; the Meltdown to Botanics plan, combining a love of photography and creative writing. There had been bumps in the road but, largely, it was going well. I had purpose amid the chaos of enforced change. I had a plan.
Then, January 2017 dawned (there was more before this but that’s another story). A new year; a new start? A new year; yes. Then death crawled in; it spread its tendrils where they were least expected and took my mum. There; I’ve written it. It’s said. I’m reminded now that I begun a poem in the three achingly long weeks between her death and funeral. Began is the word as I never quite finished it though I will try to now.
Death is so final …
Death is so final
And yet …
I hear her
In Wogan’s Floral Dance
Singing along to the
Twinkle-eyed prance.
Death is so final
And yet …
She’ll be at the oven
Baking her bread,
Time in her hand
If not in her head.
Death is so final
And yet ..
She’s remembered in
Apple pies, puddings and cake,
Dream them on empty nights
Before you must wake.
Death is so final
And yet …
She’ll be there
In the Autumn leaves,
All childhood innocence
Soft as a breeze.
Death is so final
And yet …
Is that really so?
Or are memories and mannerisms
Stored up in others
To touch when you go?
I’ve chosen these 2 photos of my mum because she looks content in both. The one on the left was from the early 1950s; the one on the right late Autumn 2016 – still crunching through the leaves even with a Zimmer frame, with her handbag (so proud of that Radley bag) over her arm and her ‘smart’ coat on.
There’s more of this story to come but I’ve made a start …

From Brexit to Bragg (Billy, that is)

 

Watch the news unfolding
Fireworks exploding
Smashing to the ground
Their spent out litter –
Now who’s a quitter
Today? It’s just not ok.
Where do we live?
The road to disarray.

Remains cry and wail
They’ve lost their sail
And leave just bitter
(And I don’t mean beer)
Today. It’s just not ok.
We’re en route
To unindependence day
(Please don’t cheer)

Heading off to Southend
Normalcy be my friend
1930s artists
Are surprisingly bewitching.
Community for unity
And even nice people
Today, so that’s ok.
In all this disarray.

Cliff lift abandoned
Pier train is cancelled
Desolation mocks
Solidarity’s hand
On which we depend
When in Southend
Yet, it’s ok, today
Come the end.

Driving rain, driving cars
Could I maybe be on Mars?
Shoeburyness is calling
As beach huts sit pretty
On shell sand
They are just grand.
So it’s ok,
To be here today.

Mind’s 80s memorabilia
Song and verse snatching
I’m sure it’s Shoeburyness
Could it really be so catching
To be here
On Bragg’s A13?
If you know the song
You’ll know what I mean.

So at risk of plagiarism
With apologies to Billy
I’m sure his verse was
Never quite so silly as mine.
Yet it was thrilling
And political (if not all the time)
And his A road, his okay road
Is sublime …..

© Liz Mackenzie

 

If you want to listen to Billy Bragg’s A13, Trunk Road to the Sea – here it is on YouTube

Birmingham Botanical Gardens: 6 June 2016

Downsized students snacking
On sublessed slopes.
Animated aviary echoes
Bounding, blending
A jolly melee.

Yet tranquility tumbles
Among lively leaves,
And jaunty flowers
Bend and sway;
A cheerful bunch.

A pricking of cacti
Tall beyond imagination
Promise softness.
Don’t be fooled
By this dangerous gang.

And so to Japan
Of bonsai and angles,
Order and statuesque
Stillness; calling
In whisper-thin note.

IMG_3411

I bring the buddha
And chattering children
The spines and vibrancy.
Slip it in my pocket
And take it home …

© Liz Mackenzie

Home

Oxford Botanical Gardens: 23 May 2016

Oxford Botanical Gardens is a snapshot photo album of memories; emails and texts cut through images of plants and trees, the walled garden, people, contentment.

  • Giant urn blocking spires
  • Respite on benches
  • Rhubarb pots (what was it I so loved about the rhubarb pots?)

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  • Emails from mum’s carer; chest pains again (had 2 emergency hospital visits in last 3 days already – no heart or chest problems)
  • Punt lined river
  • L-plate punters wavering and flailing
  • More emails, more texts …
  • Put the phone to silent awhile
  • Bug hotel community gracing walled garden
  • Relief to chat with an elderly couple in the community * (you’ll understand this if you read Meltdowns and Botanics) https://mywordshare.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/meltdowns-and-botanics/
  • Wisteria dipping gracefully
  • Birds bobbing and students studying on lawns – enough space for all
    Gunnera giant
  • Poppies like burning sun
  • Arches and walkways and glasshouses
  • Colour in surround sound
  • Tropics and deserts; humidity, aridity
  • Soldier like lillies; the charge of the light brigade
  • Snappers and pineapple and gnarled knots
  • Strength to face the text, the emails, the worry, the ‘what next?’
  • * Feeling soothed by seeing the elderly couple emerging from a boat trip later in the day; happiness etches their faces

© Liz MacKenzie

http://www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk

 

Batsford Arboretum: 21 May 2016

A dove? A ghost? A handkerchief? What had I seen? Davidia Involucrata, her doves, her handkerchiefs draped gently along branches, timed to perfection for my visit. Davidia, my dad’s namesake? A derivation of, from Hebrew, meaning beloved, friend, darling, favourite. But here, a tree as yet unseen to me. A majesty, tall and brave; one to stand still among and watch – you may catch the fall, like fluttering snowflake, of one of her treasures.

A garden here of Buddhas and statues, houses tucked below stairs, pillar box red bridges, standing bold and bright, daring you to stay, to soak up ponds with their many jewels. To say there are trees is to say the sky is blue; here there is abundance of hue and size and shape, paths guiding yet freeing your step to wander, absorb.

And, yes, the calm implores me again; calls in its whisper to quiet the mind and still the soul. I observe myself there over, again; each time I return to Davidia with her handkerchiefs and doves. My symbol of peace.

© Liz Mackenzie

http://www.batsarb.co.uk