Drifter

WOW. It’s been weeks and weeks since I wrote anything for Magpie Tales. I couldn’t resist the prompt this week because I just can’t go past the autumn colours of a maple leaf. Definitely one of the better things in life.

Here is my story –

Reading by starlight. It can be done if there are no clouds and the curtains are pulled back wide from the windows. It is a soft, diffused light the way honey in a jar looks when the lid is removed.

The sentences sparkle like Christmas. There is a sense of vastness, of the otherworldly. It can take tens of thousands of years for the light from certain stars to reach Earth. How can light so old, that has travelled so far, still light up the words on a page? It is a wonder that is almost unfathomable.

I can read by starlight for hours.  I like to think I am Titania – all glorious and regal – but I am probably Peaseblossom, draping myself in moonshine.

The moonlight helps illuminate the pages. In the right setting moonlight and starlight together can mean there is no need for lamplight at all. But moonlight casts shadows.

And shadows remind me of you.

It was late afternoon when the soldiers came.  The maples that lined the garden path leaned together like gossiping women; casting arcs and curves on the path like the edges of cloaks. They were losing their leaves and I heard the crunch of them, luscious as potato chips fresh from the bag.

They were older soldiers – stooping slightly as the trees did – but soldiers nonetheless. Their trousers were so immaculately pressed I thought they must have used an entire litre of water in the iron to get sufficient steam. I couldn’t stop looking at those trousers – I had never seen anything so perfectly done in my life.

Your mother was with me on that late afternoon. She visited a lot when you were away. Over there, she called it. She couldn’t bring herself to say Afghanistan. I don’t think she said it once the entire time you were there. It was as if saying it would make it too real to bear.

Your mother fell back against the wall in the kitchen when the soldiers walked in.  I had offered them tea and I felt bad to see the state she got in. It was as if someone invisible was pushing her. She knew straight away, but I of course, couldn’t imagine that anyone with such magnificent trousers could be the bearer of news that could make the world end.

My world.

You saved a little girl.

One of them, your mother said, her mouth twisting down with bitterness as if a fish hook was lodged there; but a little girl over there is the same as a little girl over here.

They are all worth saving.

I wasn’t surprised at your goodness. That was just the way you were. Putting yourself in danger for someone else.

The little girl would have died if you hadn’t saved her. A bomb would have blown her apart. People being blown apart by things is something a reasonable person shouldn’t have to attempt to conceptualize; it leaves the mind bloated, palpitating. Sometimes the horrors of life creep, heading straight for us like bats out of a cave.

The shadows remind me of you. All those summer nights spent on the lawn under the full moon, counting the ways the silver light fell through the maple leaves.

Filigree.

It was where I first learned the word. Looking at the shadows falling from the maples, filigree patterns given up to the night.

You loved those trees, didn’t you? You breathed them in.

Such colours on cold days. Firelight, clay pots, caramel sauce. The richness of a gentle smile.

I remember you walking barefoot even when the air was cold. I remember the crunch. You pretended to be a drifter; a hero from a Dickens novel with your belongings in a kerchief, thrusting your feet deep into the amber leaves cracking like spun sugar under a spoon.

I saw you, eyes crinkling with pleasure, imagining hours spent walking on leaf adorned country lanes, finding adventures under stones and in the sweep of the wind.

I can’t look at the leaves. Not yet. Some of the colours are the same as the desert. The sand that is burnt again and again by the sun. It might not be, but I think the desert sand is the last colour you ever saw. I want to believe – I pray for it – that you didn’t know it was the colour of sand; that you thought it was a maple leaf, vivid and sweet; following you from home.

So I read by starlight, feeling my way. The starlight is lithe, reining in the shadows. It reconstructs the night. Smearing it. Muting it.

It can’t last forever. Soon my eyesight will give out or I will fall on furniture edged out of place by my starlight wanderings.

Soon I will hear the magpies in the garden, shuffling for bugs, making the leaves brush like crinoline and I will think of the colours.

And I will long to see the shadows on the lawn, so distinct they could be handcrafted.

Soon I will turn the lamps on again. Fill my head with the tumble of colours.

And I will walk, shoes off, on leaves alive with sound.

Unfettered, dreaming.

Like the drifter that used to be.

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21 thoughts on “Drifter

  1. A powerful tale, made even more striking by the whimsical lead in. It gripped me on so many levels, but a punch in the guts describes it best!

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  2. “Soon I will turn the lamps on again. Fill my head with the tumble of colours.

    And I will walk, shoes off, on leaves alive with sound.”

    The whole story is excellent, but these two lines? Oh, man…

    I love this passage as well:
    “I can read by starlight for hours. I like to think I am Titania – all glorious and regal – but I am probably Peaseblossom, draping myself in moonshine.”

    Your talent with description is enviable, my dear, it truly is. 🙂

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  3. This didn’t read like a story but real life. This blew me away
    but I of course, couldn’t imagine that anyone with such magnificent trousers could be the bearer of news that could make the world end.
    The magnificent trousers added so much. This post and your blog in general are wonderful
    I read your post on blogging v writing for money. The sad part is that blogs are needed now and blogging is a communal discipline which is great except when you need the solitude for writing. That’s why I’m putting out very very raw drafts and inviting critiquing. It’s a way of keeping myself out there while being productive. And really blogging taught me more than any class or any editor save one

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  4. HI BRIAN:
    I really appreciate you saying that. A true compliment coming from you. As you know sometimes a story just comes together with ease. That was true for this one. Wish I could do it all the time. Haha.

    Hi SUSANNAH:
    Awww. Thank you so much. It means so much to me that you enjoyed it.

    Hi JINKSY:
    Thank you so much for mentioning about the whimsy. I don’t mean to detract from the seriousness of the subject matter by doing that, it’s just that I think we often cling to whimsy as a way of dealing with darker things like grief. The whimsy keeps us from falling apart. I really value your comment.

    Hi KAREN:
    I was reading ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ the other day. I love the fairies in it. It really is a work of art. I remembered reading it for school in my teens and pretending to be Titania. It is funny how images from long ago stay with you and emerge later. When we like or love something it stays with us, doesn’t it?

    Hi GERALDINE:
    You are so kind to say that. Thank you, my dear friend!

    Hi PIA:
    I saw soldiers in their dress uniform not long ago and their trousers were immaculate. I couldn’t believe how perfect they were. This is what I like – putting details like that into my stories. Hopefully, it highlights the tension somewhat.

    I am with you totally on blogging. Inviting the critiques is courageous but also very necessary because writing is very much about growth and moving forward. We have to do it.

    The final point in your comment is something I am a true advocate of. Having gone to countless writing workshops and seminars and read all the ‘How To’ books under the sun I can honestly say that blogging has taught me more about writing than any class could. Right on!!!

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  5. Hi ANGIE:
    It means a lot to me that you said that. I strive to incorporate that real life feeling into my stories. Thank you so much!

    Hi DEBORAH:
    You are so lovely to say that 😀

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  6. ‘Soon I will hear the magpies in the garden, shuffling for bugs, making the leaves brush like crinoline and I will think of the colours.’
    Something about this line jumped out at me.
    The story is rich and poignant and perfectly captures the beauty and the pain. I love your descriptions, you have a way that isn’t flowery and overblown like a lot of writers. I think that’s why it reads like a real life story, people do focus on unimportant details in times of high stress and the pants is a perfect example of that. And it’s a description that adds to the richness and ‘realness’ of the story.
    Well done!

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  7. Hi CATHY:
    They do, you know. When a friend of mine was told by her husband that he was leaving her she was standing next to a dripping tap in the kitchen. ‘Here I am with my marriage falling apart and all I could focus on was the dripping tap,’ she said. The image of that is just stuck in my head. Thank you for your constant encouragement. I really do appreciate it!

    Hi ALKALINE:
    I am really pleased you saw that. I think it is important not to make a sad story all doom and gloom because life is all about light and shade and I like stories to reflect that. Thanks so much!

    Hi WILLOW:
    I look for the Christmas sparkliness wherever I can. It always makes me smile 😀

    Hi KATHE:
    Awww. I am sorry I made you cry but also glad that I could move you in that way. This story meant quite a lot to me.

    Hi JINGLE:
    I am so glad you liked it.

    Hi CLAUDIA:
    I am delighted. Thank you!!

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  8. Holy Crap Selma! You have blown me away. God, I LOVED this story sooooo very much! I think ONE of my favorites lines had to be this:

    “thrusting your feet deep into the amber leaves cracking like spun sugar under a spoon.”

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  9. Hi TUMBLEWORDS:
    I am honoured by your comment because you are a wordsmith extraordinaire. Thank you so much!

    Hi MELEAH:
    Awww. You are TOO good to me. I mean it!

    Hi GABRIELLE:
    It’s got that distinctive crack, hasn’t it? I heard it crack a while back and vowed I would use it somewhere!

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