Thunderstorm

After weeks of relentless, unusually intense heat, the weather forecaster announces a violent thunderstorm with possible flash flooding in the East of England.  That and we've been promised the longest lunar eclipse – with blood moon, no less – in a hundred years.

 

My heart sinks when I hear of a forthcoming moon or sun eclipse.  I live in England, and England, as proved – as if proof were needed – by recent political events, always has to be different from everybody else.  So, while much of the rest of Europe is awed by this spectacular display of cosmic art, England, true to the spirit of the Reformation, has to shield its residents from too much magnificence with a blanket of cloud.

 

By 8.30 p.m., when H. and I go for a stroll, I know that, unless a coup de théâtre by our recently-returned grey weather suddenly raises the curtain on a patch of clear sky, preferably where the moon is scheduled to rise, the extraordinary eclipse is something I'm going to see in other people's photos.  The air is so dense and heavy, it's an effort to pull it through your nostrils.  The moisture is so oppressive, it makes every step laborious.  We decide to go back home and breathe more easily indoors in the breeze of an oscillating fan. 

 

Exhausted by having worked all day and overwhelmed by the heat, H. falls asleep to the regular, slightly rheumatic creak of the electric fan that's recently been brought out of storage after several years.

 

I am not sleepy.  On the contrary, I feel a sense of anticipation, of excitement I usually experience before a thunderstorm.  I love thunderstorms.  Even as an easily frightened child terrified by things real as well as imaginary, I always felt strangely safe during them.  As I close the curtains and switch off the lights around the house, I catch a glimpse of a sky that's like marble, with different shades of deep grey infused with lilac, gold, blue, terracotta and red.  I wonder if it's the blood moon seeping through the clouds.  A flock of starlings circles over the Norman church tower a few streets away, then settles on the crenellations, like a row of soldiers ready to face the invader.  

 

I take my notebook and pen and sit on a chair facing the window, which I've pushed open as far as the frame allows, my feet on the sill, watching the gradually darkening sky.  Everything feels still.  I switch off the radio and the silence is suddenly thick with possibility.  The only sound is the whirr and creak of the electric fan behind me.  I consider turning that off, too, but the heat is unbearable, so I just tune its noise out of my ears and focus on the sounds outside the window.  There is enough light to write.

 

I smell the unmistakable, slightly metallic scent of impending summer rain.  Like a refreshing shower of silver after a day bathed in gold.  There are hints of lighting splashing here and there throughout the sky, now a mottled apricot-gold.  A hesitant breath of cool air laps the soles of my feet.  Then a sudden gust of wind ruffles the short palm tree in the neighbours' garden.  A playful gesture.  And here it comes – drops of rain drumming gently on the glass pane and the roof tiles.

 

I glance at the church tower.  The starlings are no longer on the crenellations.  I wonder if they've huddled up inside the walls.

 

A small white cloud drifts quickly across the horizon.  Purposeful.

 

The flashes of lightning are now more frequent, brighter, more urgent, until there are explosions of blinding white before me.  The church tower is floodlit.  I remove my feet from the sill.  Something black flutters a few inches away from the window pane.  Is it a leaf? No, it has wings.  A bat searching for refuge.  Although fascinated, I quickly pull the window pane closer to the frame.  I don't want to deal with a panic-stricken bat inside a house where you can't open the windows in full.  It's now too dark to write.  I can't make out the ink from the paper.

 

The mane of the neighbour's palm tree is suddenly swept right back with violence.    There is a vague rumble of thunder.  Another small white cloud rushes across the horizon, as though seeking safety.  I take a small torch and shine a small ringed circle of light on my notebook.  I pick up my fountain pen again and resume scribbling.

 

I hope the next thunderclap will be louder.  I long for a thunderstorm like the ones I would watch while growing up in Rome.  Like the ones we would always get immediately after 15 August, once Ferragosto was over.  With the skies letting rip, the water pelting down into rivers streaming down the streets, and thunder that exploded as though tearing the air apart.  This thunderstorm is more subtle, more understated.

 

Two little white clouds now flee across the horizon.  Anxious.  The wind is now shaking the window pane and I hear something crashing in the street.  The sky is now a dark, reddish brown. 

 

I feel a surge of power within me.  Whole.  At one with myself.  My fountain pen runs smoothly on the pages I keep turning.

 

Then an alien light takes over the garden and filters into our room.  Brash.  Intrusive.  The neighbours are in their kitchen.  I can hear their television, their laughter.  Their noise upstages the storm and drains the silence of its possibilities.  I suddenly become aware again of the whirr and creaking of the fan behind me.   

 

My fountain pen stands still.  I put the cap back on the nib.  I forgot what I was about to write.

 

 

Scribe Doll

 

Recent Comments
Ken Hartke
Excellent -- I can smell the rain. Sorry you didn't get to see the eclipse. We didn't see it either here in the US (Obama's fault... Read More
Wednesday, 01 August 2018 17:14
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Ken.
Friday, 03 August 2018 20:35
Rosy Cole
I don't know whether this vivid and telling piece struck other readers in the same way, but it seemed to me a perfect summation of... Read More
Thursday, 02 August 2018 12:12
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6 Comments

R. R. R.

Different ways of speech communication is one of my earliest memories. The fact that, at home, my mother and grandmother speak one way, and friends, neighbours and people in the street another. Then there's the way my mother speaks to my grandmother when she doesn't want me to understand what she's saying. The third way. Russian at home, Italian outside, Farsi for secrets I long to know.  I am at the stage in my young life when I have a notion of existing but not living. My body still feels like a chunky box that's the wrong shape for me. Too bulky, too slow, too clumsy, too heavy.  Like a container in which I am trapped and which prevents the lithe, fast, agile, sprite-like me from moving as easily as I feel entitled to by right. 

 

On top of this hindrance to the full expression of my self, there is the disobedience of my tongue.  I cannot roll my "r"s.  This is just another way my body is opposing me.

 

My mother looks sternly. You cannot speak Russian or Italian with a weak "r". Her daughter will learn to rattle "r"s as hard as engines, as uncompromising as machine guns. "You'll practise this Russian tongue-twister," she instructs.

 

На горе Арарат

Ростëт крупный виноград

On Mount Ararat 

Grow large grapes

Where's Mount Ararat? Why are the grapes there large?

 

While my mother is at work, during the day, my grandmother prompts me gently. When my mother comes back home, the evening, it's boot camp training mode. I know you're sleepy.  Say it just once again and you can go to bed.  Come on.  One more time.  Rrrrr.

 

I hate Mount Ararat. There are probably big spiders and nasty people living there. And I hate grapes.

 

I finally manage to produce a guttural "r". "Good," my mother pronounces as though she expects no less. "But no one is French in our family. We need a strong, Russian and Italian RRR."

 

I am caught between wanting them to leave me alone and the conviction that the goal is non-negotiable. It's as though my life is impossible until it is achieved. I dread uttering words that contain "r"s.

 

Then, one day, it just happens as though it were the most natural thing in the world. R r r. My mother is relieved. The uneven edge of my speech has been sanded down.

 

Scribe Doll

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I have always admired people who have a facility with multiple languages, and even more now that I know what went into it ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 02:40
Katherine Gregor
All small children have a facility with languages. It's a neurological fact. I admire people who learn them as adults. Thank you ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 09:26
Ken Hartke
When I worked in the prison system an issue came up on inmates with hearing deficits and the state university wanted to conduct re... Read More
Wednesday, 06 June 2018 18:15
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6 Comments

Rook

My train home wasn't due for another half hour and I strolled up the platform, looking for something to snack on. There wasn't anything particularly appetising left at that time of the afternoon at the small town station, and I was suddenly tempted by a bag of cheese and onion crisps. Crisps in general are my guilty pleasure, although I prefer plain ones, and I probably hadn't had cheese and onion ones since my student days. College food was so genuinely revolting that, more frequently than I care to remember, all it would take was one mouthful to consign the contents of the entire tray to the rubbish before heading to the tuck shop, buying four packets of crisps, and then dining on them in my room.

And so, in memory of my undergraduate former self, I pulled the packet open and the pungent smell of chemical cheese and lab onion hit my nostrils, bringing back a wave of happy memories. I munched and looked up at the East Anglian sky, especially endless and near in Cambridgeshire. Something stirred on the platform canopy above me. Two rooks were looking down at me. Or perhaps at my crisps.  

I glanced around, looking for any signs forbidding the feeding of vagrant birds – you never know these days – then wondered if any of the other passengers waiting for the train would raise any objections.  Were I younger, I would not have hesitated for a second.  Now that I am middle-aged, I have become a little more wary of displaying my eccentricity in public.  After all, a young eccentric woman is seen as endearingly quirky. A middle aged one – sadly – often as mad.

I stared at the birds, hoping that somehow, by a telepathic process, they would understand that if they flew down, they would get some crisps.  Then I hesitated.  Did I really want to give these innocent, unsuspecting creatures, unhealthy processed food? Oh, go on.  I quickly glanced around to check that nobody was watching and threw down one crisp.  The rooks spread their wings and swooped down with as much speed as silent grace.  One of them, the larger one, landed a few centimetres away from the crisp, while his more timid companion kept her distance despite my attempts to lure her closer.  

The large rook walked tentatively towards the crisp then stopped to study me.  I was drawn into the beady blackness of his expression that seemed to plunge deeper and deeper into my soul.  As though the rook was seeing a part of me no other human could.  A feeling of bonding, of acceptance swept over me.  Then he strutted to the crisp, held it under his talon, and began pecking at it with precision.  I couldn't help but admire his table manners.  Such a beautiful rook, with a long, sand-grey beak and glossy black plumage with glints of purple.  I wished I could watch him for ever.  Once he'd finished his snack, I slowly walked away.  He followed me, looking up at me, expecting rather than asking.  I dropped another crisp and enjoyed observing him as he secured it once again with his talon and proceeded to take small, delicate pecks at it.  Every so often, he would look up at me.  Not a furtive, indifferent peek.  There was no red robin aloofness about this character.  It was a quick but penetrating, intelligent glance.  A connection that ran deep and was acknowledged by us both.  I know you, it said silently.  And at that moment, I didn't care what the humans at the station thought of me.

A few minutes later, I boarded my train feeling a lightness in my heart I seldom experience.  A sense of freedom, of unlimited possibilities and peace.  Of pure happiness.  It had been just a moment on a station platform, sharing a bag of cheese and onion crisps with a rook.  And yet it felt like such a special moment.  

Like making a new friend.  The kind you feel you've known for ever.

Scribe Doll 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I don;t think we have rooks here - too bad - they sound like wonderful intelligent companions.
Monday, 26 February 2018 01:36
Katherine Gregor
Same as crows, except for a grey beak. I'm sure you have them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o7JQthRpHA)... Read More
Monday, 26 February 2018 20:06
Ken Hartke
I've made a whole career in retirement of being endearingly eccentric. I seems to work better for men. If you happen on to a near-... Read More
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 17:17
992 Hits
8 Comments

Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.

 

The voices gently rise to the stone vaults and fill the 12th-century church, one of London's oldest.  The congregation forms a queue.  Slowly, everybody advances towards the altar steps.  

 

Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris.

Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

 

The rector's expression is stern, menacing almost.  I think I am supposed to look down in humility.  Instead, I stare straight into his eyes, searching for an echo to my thought.  "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,"  he says as his thumb traces a black cross of ash on my forehead.

 

I am thinking of the phoenix.  Of what happens after the return to dust.

 

Asperges me hysopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.

Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.

Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.

 

The soprano pierces through the semi-darkness, and lingers high up before fluttering downwards, graceful, having made her plea for us all.

 

I return to the wooden pew, kneel, close my eyes and breathe in the frankincense.  Yesterday, Shrove Tuesday, I ate pancakes.  I realise that I haven't decided on what I will give up for Lent.  I remember those friends who will probably give up chocolate, or alcohol, or both.  Not eating chocolate is easy for me, and, since I hardly drink, renouncing alcohol would hardly constitute a sacrifice.  Now cheese, on the other hand... Could I manage a whole forty days without cheese?

 

The futility of my thoughts suddenly makes me sad.

 

Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.

Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.

Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam.

Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.

What's the point of giving something up that you know you will go back to on Easter Sunday? Doesn't knowing a privation is temporary make it too easy? Easy and pointless? Isn't the true purpose of Lent to cleanse your soul for Easter? Will my soul really be purer without cheese or olives or whatever other anodyne habit I decide to break? 

 

For Lent, why don't we give up something less tangible and yet destructive to us and to others? Something we would work on eradicating from our minds and washing from our souls?

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

How about we pledge to give up resentment?

We could train ourselves, little by little, to replace resentment with responsibility and forgiveness.  Turn the other cheek.  No, not to ask for another slap, but to remove whoever has struck us from our field of vision, from our thoughts, from our world.  To set ourselves free.

When someone upsets us, we could indulge in making up a story about something that just might have happened to this person that would explain his or her unpleasant attitude.  It doesn't have to be true, only plausible.  And the self-storytelling might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up gossiping? 

We could try never speaking of a third person except to praise at least one aspect of him or her.  Is there nothing good to say about him or her? There must be something, however small.  We could avoid divulging personal information about others.  Instead of using what we know about them as social currency, we could cherish it as a secret treasure.

 

How about giving up sadness?

We could choose an image, a tune or a thought that makes us smile and summon it whenever we feel the clouds gathering in our minds.

 

How about giving up fear?

We could try to imagine that we are safe.  Just making believe at first, until it becomes reality.  After all, we can't make it real if we don't imagine it first.  And if we can imagine it, then perhaps we can create it.

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

 

How about we monitor the words that leave our lips and give up using them irresponsibly?

We could replace "Filthy weather, today" with the more accurate "It's cold" or "It's very wet" or "It's very grey".

When someone asks us how we are, we could discard "Not too bad" in favour of "Very well, thank you".  It may not be true at the time, but people mostly don't ask because they really want to know.  And "well" might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up believing we can't and, at least for a while, try to imagine we can?

 

How about we give up the familiar comfort of darkness? There is a lot of darkness, I know.

Just one candle.  It's surprising how much light just one little flame gives.

 

ScribeDoll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
forty days without cheese? unthinkable!
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 23:31
Katherine Gregor
Well, I'm trying to cut down...
Thursday, 22 February 2018 09:45
Rosy Cole
'For Lent, why don't we give up something less tangible and yet destructive to us and to others? Something we would work on eradic... Read More
Saturday, 24 February 2018 17:39
966 Hits
4 Comments

Writing For Life

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