Valley of the Seahorses.
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour “
I took the serum, Nancy. You told me not to, but I did. You know me- ever the rebel.
I couldn’t bear the thought of the answer to all my questions, to my life-long research and years of toil, just stagnating in a vial in a lab, with no-one to test its efficacy. It would be a crime against humanity, a disservice to posterity, I reasoned. So one night, I crept into my own lab, like a thief in the night- even though it was my own lab and I had security clearance- and I injected the formula into my pre-frontal cortex.
I was foolish. I was naïve . I was damned naïve fool.
Needless to say: the serum works. It works too well. The human brain can now perceive different alternate realties that it would usually through a complex process of quantum mechanics, filter out and discard. Every second, every choice we make, every action, even the seemingly insignificant ones, lead to different destinations, like branches forking off from a tree. Now I can follow them and explore them all Nancy. I need not worry about “the road not taken.”
You won’t believe this but so far I have lived in 470 realities and counting. Every time I go to sleep I awaken in another version of myself. Dreams are the entrance way. They open the door to a widened perception and my serum keeps the door open, wide enough for a person to enter through and experience it whole.
Only the door never closes Nancy. It opened out to infinity and I have no idea how to shut it again.
You were right- we could synthesize a chemical compound using the Mandelbrot set equations. You always said, mathematics was the universe’s base code, the underlying pattern and chemistry was about weaving the fabric.
Remember the first night we met? After the conference, stranded in a hotel as the a storm raged outside? We talked for hours. First in the restaurant, then the bar, then my hotel room...
We talked about anything and everything. I still remember the passion in your eyes and the heat in your voice as we argued about Mandelbrot fractals. I loved how you described the awe of infinity , the beauty and elegance of mathematical patterns that could go on forever. Your favourite iteration was the Valley of the Seahorses- I remember that well because I googled the patterns afterwards (math was never my forte) little did I know I would be tumbling through it just a few months later.
You quoted a William Blake poem that night, with tears pooling in your eyes, and I recall taking a breath because I knew I was falling for you. Even though we had only just met and love was a notion so alien to me then -I knew I wanted to spend my life with you. But I was all science wasn’t I? Lived and breathed it, rarely found time for anything else much less a relationship.
I was wrong Nancy. I have lived so many different realities that I have drifted into the realm of madness. I can’t recall which one is which , they all blend together like living Jackson Pollock painting. But there’s one thing that I’m absolutely certain of: I only love the versions of reality with you in it.
And no matter how many choices I make and how many different lives I lead, I can never repeat that night in the hotel.
I have to explain myself. I have to write this down otherwise I will lose my true self completely, but I feel like a ghost, a fraudulent copy, an attenuated version of me . I float from one existence to another, unmoored, with no direction or purpose. Until last week when I heard that William Blake poem again in a podcast and I silently broke into pieces, crying under damp bedsheets like a new-born for two straight hours.
I tried to kill myself that night Nancy. I had hoped it would be some sort of reset switch. But I just awoke in a divergent timeline. I tried several times since then in actual fact. I have drowned myself at sea, I have thrown myself off a skyscraper, even laid down on train tracks only to wake up in a different reality, living as a train driver, desperately trying to hit the brakes before I hit a body on the tracks. It was insanity on a Mandelbrot loop.
That’s when I came to an epiphany. Well, more like an educated guess , but it was my anchor, something I could grab hold of ,something to guide me back to dry land and back to you.
You see my serum opened up the brain’s perception to space: multiple realities, multiple locations, divergent points in the universe etc. But what if it could be applied to Time?
If I could alter the equation and chemical compound to include the recursion of time- there may be a possibility I could experience a different past.
A past where, or more accurately, when- I didn’t take the serum. When I stayed at home, enjoyed dinner, snuggled on the sofa and watched you sleep instead.
So calculated and I developed and on another stormy night, which I saw as a benevolent omen, I injected the modified serum into my brain. Now that’s when Alice careered down the rabbit hole and disappeared forever.
All paths, past and present became like an open map to me. I could see it all. I could see where each branch splintered ,where each fork in the path led. I could choose my destination like ordering from a menu and appear there- alive and present- but just outside of my own body. I was in the ether. The astral field. Nirvana.
I felt God-like, superhuman, existing in a heightened, spiritual form and once again you were right- you always said “spirituality was just science we couldn’t understand yet.”
Well, I understand it now.
And thanks be to God , I found the version of me that led to you.
I saw myself six months ago, sleeping sweetly in that same hotel, after the first day of the conference. Unaware in blissful ignorance that not only would I meet the love of my life, of all my lives, the very next day, that I would also lose her a few months later, purely due to my own hubris. I wanted to shake him awake, to explain everything, to slap him in his arrogant face and scream don’t do it!
However, my theory included more drastic, more violent, measures.
I had to chop down the tree, as it were, before the branches splintered off , to cut if off right at the stem. Ergo, I would have to kill that version of me in order to reset completely. I didn’t know if this would work, it was all theoretical , all complete guesswork but the scientist in me reigned supreme and I knew I had to see it through.
The problem was, just as I was about to execute my plan, the curtain twitched. A dark silhouette formed at the window. The frame creaked and windowpane slowly rose- revealing a murky human form, which quietly climbed its way through into the room. I belatedly realised not only was it was a person but it was someone familiar to me, as I recognised the minutiae of movement.
With burgeoning clarity, I realised that person was me.
Another version of me.
He turned and looked directly at my “out of body” self. His eyes crazed, hair matted, lips cracked. He was an emaciated, shrunken, shell of a man and I knew that version of me had been to the nine circles of Dante’s hell and somehow back again, just to get here.
I mercifully hadn’t experienced his reality….yet… and just as I was about to attempt shouting, he swiftly lifted an axe, swung it with all his might and chopped down the tree trunk- killing the original version of me in my sleep.
It worked Nancy.
All versions of me coalesced! Right there and then in that hotel room. A gigantic wave of memories, experiences, emotions from hundreds of timelines engulfed me and I was so overcome, so overwhelmed and euphoric that I danced with the bloodied axe.
The serum worked and I had come back from the depths of infinity. It was a scientific marvel, a paradigm-shifting creation, I could chemically change the course of human history!
Unfortunately the police didn’t see it that way. They didn’t accept my explanation.
So, now I sit in this high-security institution ,imprisoned in a padded cell, staring at four white walls and I’m begging for your help Nancy. Please visit me. Please bring all my work from my lab.Help me tell my story Nancy.
Tell them about our night in the hotel waiting out a storm. Tell them all about the Mandelbrot set and the Valley of the Seahorses. Show them my serum. Only you hold the key.
Please come quickly. I need you Nancy.
A Requiem for a wish.
“The reason I work so hard honey, is to give you an easier life. That’s my wish.”
It was my father’s refrain. I remember him saying it for the first time ,when I was aged 6 and he had just bought a new swing set which he installed himself on the grounds of our estate, just near the pond. I had asked him, heartfelt and innocent, why he worked so much and why I never saw much of him.
The second time he said those exact words , I was entering my rebellious years, aged 13 or 14 . I was angry at being whisked off to boarding school in some remote part of the English countryside and in my petulance wanted to know why on earth I should listen to him, when he was never around and had no understanding of my feelings and emotions.
It was his mantra and over the years he said it many times, and I believed him.
The last time he said it, was on his deathbed when he handed me his will. He had his death all organised and arranged, a meticulously prepared will so that the handing over of his affairs along with our family fortune, assets totalling £18million and change, would be a smooth process and his lifelong wish would be realised- I would have an easy life and want for nothing.
That was his plan.
When he finally passed, peacefully at the grand old age of 86, I was distraught. Trapped in a dark fog of grief and sorrow from which it took months to emerge . Only then did I start the process of executing my father’s will.
All that was needed was one document, one certificate on one piece of paper: A grant of probate.
“It’s all online now!” My solicitor informed me, shouting down the telephone to drown out the background noise of a photocopier. “We submitted the application last night- should take about eight weeks for the Probate office to process.”
During those eight weeks I came to realize the precarious situation I was in. Apparently, although my father was very rich, he still owed a substantial amount of money to some less than scrupulous characters; a shady consultant who helped him dodge tax laws for example. Oh, the money was there to cover these debts, that wasn’t a problem, the problem was I needed the grant of probate to access and release the funds.
They didn’t like waiting.
Neither did the bank, as father didn’t own our eight-bedroomed mansion and 80 acres of land outright, he still had a mortgage on the place which needed to be paid and there was no way I could continue the payments myself on my modest wages as a school teacher.
To add to my woes, not long after my father’s death I was diagnosed with breast cancer, sapping any and all energy I had to deal with the bureaucracy. But I pressed on, I filled out all the forms my solicitor asked me to, I signed whenever they needed me to sign and I called them on a weekly basis for any progress, but over three months later the grant of probate remained elusive.
“They lost the will!” My solicitor announced, this time to the background hum of printers.
“We had to send in the original will, along with supporting documents to the probate office. But apparently it went missing in their post and scanning department.”
“They lost the will? How on earth does that happen?!”
“They’re swapping over from paper to digital, so the whole department is a bit of mess to be honest. But anyway, we have copies but you just have to complete and sign another form- and we can re-submit.”
Four months later, whilst going through chemotherapy, I still hadn’t heard anything. My energy is so low and I’m starting to lose sleep with worry. I received a letter just the previous night from that consultant, looking to start legal proceedings . I was being pressurised by the bank for steep mortgage payments and I was accumulating a stack of final demands ,as it’s impossible to keep up with the maintenance of the estate without a large income.
I called again, conscious of the fact that each phone call to these solicitors is costing me £100.
“There’s a problem with the wording of the will!” My solicitor proclaims, from what sounds like her car phone. “He appointed you as the sole executor and us, his solicitors, as substitute executors. But because he used the conjunction “and” instead of “or”, we need to fill some renunciation forms.”
“I need to fill out another form?”
“Not you no, we do. Each partner in the firm has to sign one.”
“Each partner? How many partners does your firm have?”
“Twelve. I’m driving to meet with one now.”
My despondency is turns into depression and the thick fog of grief engulfs me once again.
Six months later ,I call the solicitors again. My throat is dry and my hair is falling out and I had just received the private hospital bills. I desperately need that grant of probate.
“Oh dear, has no-one called you?” A new voice asks, there is no background noise today. “Your solicitor, Debbie, has passed away. A car crash unfortunately.”
I feel dizzy with shock. I offer my condolences and somehow manage to tactfully bring the subject round to my case.
“ Ah yes, well there has been a setback as Debbie was dealing with everything personally. But it shouldn’t be much longer, I believe our new solicitor Perry is taking over the case.”
Eight months later. I call the government Probate office directly, I need an update. I need timescales. I need that damned piece of paper!
“This case is a solicitor application,” The Probate office caseworker replies in a nasal matter-of-fact tone. “So I can only give updates to your solicitor I’m afraid: data protection.”
“But my solicitor charges each time -I can’t afford it until I get the grant of probate!”
“Sorry. Regulations. I can’t divulge any information to you.”
By now I’m not only losing my hair but also my mind. Each time I think of my father’s refrain and how hard he worked, how little I saw of him, so that he could fulfil his wish- I weep. The vultures have started circling, I even received a letter that mentioned bailiffs -which in my distressed and panicked state I threw away immediately.
Ten months later. Nearly a whole year. And the cancer is taking me.
My doctors have told me quite candidly that the stress I was under exacerbated matters. I sleep all the time; and I dream often of my father and me, on the swing set by the pond , laughing in a summer’s haze, with floating pieces of paper dancing around us in the breeze. I reach out to grab one but they’re always out of reach, slipping through my fingers like confetti.
“Hello? Miss Georgina Hargreaves?”
“Yes.” I whisper, as I lie down to take another nap.
“This is Perry your solicitor. Good news- your grant of probate has been issued , it’s in the post, you should receive it in 10 working days.”
I thank him sincerely and smile, as I finally doze off to sleep.
The dismantling of faith.
Jojo is fiddling with his bowtie again. He’s only six and it is the first time he’s worn one; I bought it especially for this occasion. I help straighten it and also neaten a few curls from his unruly mop that were threatening to rise up and block the view for whomever sitting behind. He does look smart though. Bless him. He looks up at me with big brown innocent eyes and smiles. It’s moments like this ,after spending a hectic hour stressing and fussing to get them ready, that makes motherhood all worthwhile.
Next to Jojo sits his big brother Theo; the eldest of my three children. I notice him take a sneaky peak at his cell phone stuffed in his pocket. I had told him firmly that thing must be switched off or silent and kept away for the duration of the meeting. It was a special occasion and I didn’t want him texting or messaging his friends during it. He was at the awkward, rebellious age of 15 and that message didn’t go down well. His new habit of rolling his eyes nearly set me off when we were getting ready to come here but somehow I managed to keep my anger at bay. If he pulls that thing out again though he definitely won’t like what I’ll do next.
I look further down our row. My husband sits next to Theo, looking smart and dashing as always; his new blue suit really brings out his eyes and the pink and blue tie I bought him to match, sets the outfit off nicely. We’ve been married for 20 years and he still looks as handsome as the day we wed, albeit with a few more grey hairs and wrinkles, a bit more padding round the middle but he still has the same kind eyes and youthful appeal that first attracted me. He catches my eye and smiles at me.
He’s excited as I am to be here. We are all in our Sunday best and sitting on the front row at our Church ready for this special day.
Sitting next to him at the end of the row is Jessica, she’s 9 but likes sitting next to her daddy. She’s looks so young and sweet sitting with ribbons in her dark curly hair and a pretty pink dress I had bought her for today. Granted she hated the outfit; she much prefers rolling around in T-shirts and tracksuits but after some arguing and bribing she finally got dressed and ready just before it was time to walk out the front door. I make a mental note to buy her a new tennis racket tomorrow and fulfil my part of our bargain.
We are sitting on the front row as my husband Eric likes to set an example for the rest of the flock. The kids, despite their quirks, are generally well behaved and disciplined and we usual achieve just that. I straighten my skirt, it’s handmade, cut from a gorgeous satin material with a lovely black and white floral pattern but unfortunately punctuated with a tiny coffee stain on the front and despite a thorough dry-cleaning it still leaves a minute shadow, which serves as a reminder of my shortcomings or a penance for my sins.
We are not allowed to drink coffee. Well, a cup now and then is okay, which is what I need most weeks just get compos mentis in the morning and armed for the school run with three energetic children -but a daily habit such as mine is skirting the line and runs of the danger of getting addicted and committing what we call a “serious sin” or becoming a “slave to the flesh.”
I hoped no-one had noticed.
The lights in the hall dim and we all exchange looks- the broadcast is about to begin.
There are over a hundred of us all gathered in our Church meeting hall tonight, ready and excited to hear the special announcement that was promised to us a month before. We had all speculated what it could be about. We had whispered and gossiped ; rumours had spread like wildfire. Some reckoned it was the date and time of Christ’s return, others mused on a new headquarter building, the most popular theory was the possibility of a change of name. The name: The Church of the body of Christ was a little confusing for some outsiders and sounded a little cult-ish. If gambling wasn’t a serious sin in our Church, my money would have been on a name change.
A hush of silence sweeps the hall as a local brother steps up onto the platform. He announces the video presentation, emphasizes the importance of maintaining a respectful silence and leads the congregation in prayer. After a hearty collective “amen” the large flatscreen TV descends from its alcove above and the broadcast begins.
It is filmed, not surprisingly, at our Church headquarters or what we collectively refer to as “The Head” . The room is more like an office with solemn pictures of Christ adorning dove-grey walls, the camera pans round to a large window at the side of the room allowing beautiful forest vistas to sweep on screen and in the middle, seated around a dark mahogany conference table are the three leaders of our Church; The Brothers in Christ.
Their body language is serious but friendly. They are neatly dressed, well-groomed and all seated with their fingers tented and copies of the King James bible resting on the table, like side arms.
The first brother, Brother Henry, speaks.
“Dear fellow followers in Christ” He addresses the audience with warm eye contact and a sincere smile. “No doubt you have been eagerly awaiting this day and have prepared your heart for this special occasion. I am happy to know, despite the vicissitudes of this world, that young and old have gathered together in a beautiful display of faith and unity.”
The camera shifts abruptly to the next brother which I briefly find jarring. Brother Martins continues.
“Yes. How happy we are to gather together, united in our love for God and for Jesus. It truly is a blessing. However, as brother Henry mentioned we are also living in difficult, unprecedented times. Following the pandemic which affected nearly every country, our world has gone through significant changes. One of those changes greatly affects our worship.”
The camera zooms in, and becomes evidently clear he is wearing makeup for this appearance; I smile to myself as even women in our church aren’t allowed it- not if you are truly modest. (Thankfully I know how to apply my make-up to appear au natural.)
“You may have read in recent news that governments are coming together to form a global court, with united global laws, legislation and procedures. One of those laws is in regard to freedom of worship. Of course that’s a human right but there are other legal implications we are obliged to share with you today, hence the reason for this special announcement.”
The camera pans out and swings over to the third brother, Brother Carlo, I notice he is wearing make-up too.
“Thank you.” He begins with his well-known Italian lilt and pulls out a document. “Now, we know we are chosen ones of God and we have been drawn to the truth of his word. I believe you all have strong convictions and firm faith that this is the case. I’m sure if I were to ask you all individually “do you believe?’ you would reply with a resounding ‘yes’. However, as per recent global legal developments, new laws will come into effect next year. The first being- I will read direct from the document from the U.N Department of Justice…”
He clears his throat and dons a pair of glasses. “Please be informed from the 1st Jan 2024 new laws come into effect that will affect your religious organization. Further to section 2.4 of this document, global religions will no longer be able to call themselves fundamentalists. This means in religious meetings, and religious literature an organized religion can no longer assert that this religion alone holds objective truths, unless these assertions can be proved in a global court of law and are judged by representatives of people from united nations, to be absolute truths. The courts recognize the freeness of religion and a person’s right to worship however, in a legal context, no one religion can claim they alone are the right religion as this judgment must come from the adherents alone and is seen as a matter of personal preference and belief. If a church or an organized religion would like to prove their right to fundamentalism they must follow the legal process outlined below.”
He allows for a pause as he takes his glasses off and lays the document on the table next to his bible.
The camera pans back round to Brother Henry for concluding remarks.
“This may be a lot to process and we will be following up this broadcast with more information. However, as clearly mentioned the courts of this world have taken away our God-given right to assert we have the truth and it’s our Christian obligation to adhere to the laws of the land and abide by this decision. Therefore, we, as the Body of Christ, can no longer tell you that this is the right way to worship God or this the right path to follow, legally speaking. That is something you must all decide for yourselves and depends solely on your personal relationship with our saviour. Some of our literature and sermons will be amended to reflect this change and I’m sure you will bear this in mind when sharing your faith with others. As mentioned, further information will follow but for now, we thank you for your attention today. May God bless you all.”
The camera pans out and after some soothing instrumental melodies, the screen slowly fades to black, leaving nothing but questions, bemusement and the genesis of a hairline crack in my previously rock-solid wall of faith.
The lights come back on but there is a stunned silence in the hall. The air is charged. Not a sound. Even the babies have stopped fussing.
I glance over to my husband and he is staring at the floor, a deep frown shadowing his face.
My oldest son Theo turns to me and breaks the silence in the abrupt and insolent way that only teenagers can manage, with a voice just loud enough for all surrounding to hear and a blunt serious look in his eye.
“So does that mean we can leave if we want?” He asks.
I am shocked. I am dismayed. I am confused because the answer to that question, it now appears is “yes.”
My husband and I are gathered at the front of the hall with our good friends Nancy and Carl. They have children at similar ages to ours- so as the whole congregation linger after the announcement, mixing together, sharing our views, our children are off milling together somewhere too.
Nancy joined our church about four years ago after converting from Catholicism but she still has that strong stoic Catholic way about her, willing to suffer for integrity. She has been through some tough times after the suicide of her first husband many years ago and spending a few months living on the streets but God has blessed her. After getting back on her feet, she found her husband. She then re-discovered God and joined our church, Carl joined her in her faith. They both now do very well and their three children are a delight. Carl is tall with Scandinavian features, blond hair and blue eyes and a permanent deep tan. Nancy is the exact opposite: petite with dark hair and pale features- they make for a striking couple.
“What do you think Eric?” Carl asks my husband deferring to him like he always does. Carl is quite new to our church and from my own estimations isn’t what we would call very ‘zealous’ . “I didn’t hear anything about this new global religious legislation in the news did you?”
“I just checked on the UN website,” Eric replies gesturing to his phone. “It checks out. Not that I doubted the brothers it’s just happened so suddenly.”
“But that’s not to say we aren’t the right religion,” Nancy interjects nervously “it’s just our organization has to be mindful of what it calls itself right?”.
She seems anxious for some reason and I can’t think why.
“That’s exactly the point. Nothing has changed in our belief.” I say firmly giving Nancy a reassuring squeeze of her hand, but she responds with a nervous look over to her husband.
“But some might think , if you can’t say you’re definitely the right religion then what’s the point in following it, right?” Carl continues and again he directs the question to Eric.
“I suppose,” Eric responds thoughtfully ,that incongruous frown darkening his usually happy features once again.
“But it’s a question of faith,” I submit. “If you have strong faith then it doesn’t matter. You will know in your heart that it’s right. The bible is our foundation and that doesn’t change.”
Carl isn’t placated easily and now I start to understand why Nancy seems so concerned- her husband has big doubts by the looks of things.
“But say you wanted to prove it in court- we would have our side and our interpretation of the scriptures. What would the other side contest it with? Other interpretations right? Other belief systems right? How would we know which is right?”
“But that’s the same as it’s always been Carl, hadn’t you discussed these questions before with the brothers?” I am a one-man defence team for our church, as it seems my husband, my “brother in arms” has mentally gone awol, remaining silent and leaving me in the lurch.
Even Carl has given up on getting a response out of my husband so he faces me now, his blue eyes alight and concern etched into his brow.
“When I raised this question with the Brothers Ava,” (That’s me.) “Do you know what they told me?” He looks around at our group and Eric’s brow furrows even deeper. “They said the courts don’t matter when it comes to questions of faith and that our church leaders have studied other religions, it’s in our literature, and they can tell us with certainty it’s the true religion- we just have to have faith in that, as they are the brothers of Christ.”
There’s an awkward silence because we don’t have a rebuttal.
“Did you ever ask the question?” Carl is asking Eric.
Eric pauses. He looks at me with an expression I hadn’t seen before and like Nancy it makes me feel slightly anxious- he is having doubts too.
“No.” He replies honestly and stares into the middle distance.
For a second time this evening, I’m shellshocked. Eric and I have been in the church over 10 years, it’s a long time, we are seen as the experienced ones, the spiritually mature ones, the example that others look up to. Eric should have some words of wisdom to offer, some insightful faith-strengthening comments but he looks as confused and dismayed as Carl. As I glance at Nancy, I see the same expression and if I had pulled out a mirror I’m sure I would see the same expression reflecting back at me.
We drive home in silence. My eldest son Theo is texting furiously on his phone. I have no presence of mind to reprimand him. Jojo is snivelling because he lost his bowtie , even though one of the brothers would have picked it up and we’ll get it back at our next meeting and my daughter Jessica is asleep, her pretty pink dress filthy from running outside in the gardens and tripping in the dark.
Eric is driving on autopilot, lost in thought, the frown has now turned into something graver and something more permanent , his usual jovial nature replaced with a solemn seriousness I have only ever witnessed at funerals.
As for me, although I’m feeling anxious and unnerved I am also calm. Calm in the knowledge that even though the announcement raised some questions, ultimately it doesn’t matter; we will still go to the Church regardless, our family will still be together, we will all be at our next meeting and I will still plan our Church cake sale next week.
Nothing will change.
If I had bothered to examine my own feelings a little deeper that night I would have realised that I was in denial. Resolutely clinging on to normality like a clinging on to a rock face with fingernails. But in actual fact that was the moment when everything changed. That announcement was the catalyst, the pull of a single thread causing the whole ball to unravel. The first crack in a concrete wall. The collapse and fall was inevitable.
Theo was the first casualty- or escapee- depending on your perspective. He didn’t last long; it was just after we arrived home from the announcement in fact.
He was still texting, wouldn’t engage with anyone and I found it annoying. So once we arrived home ,I snapped and told him I would be confiscating his phone. He obviously didn’t take that very well and responded by shouting he no longer wants to go to “the stupid church” because we can’t even prove it’s right.
When I responded that it was a question of faith and not law- his argument was actually quite persuasive and logical for someone his age, full of hormones and angst in the heat of an argument.
“Well how are you meant to build faith when you can’t prove anything!”
Jessica followed promptly afterwards and took sides with Theo , crying that she didn’t want to go to the Church any longer because she gets bullied by Nancy and Carl’s daughter Amelia and hates wearing fancy dresses.
“I didn’t know Amelia bullies you honey.” I say comforting her with a hug as she cried.
“She says I’m a mongrel because I’m mixed race.”
Another shell-shocker for the evening.
“She said what?!” Both Eric and I scream in unison.
I’m mixed race myself of Caribbean descent and Eric is white from south Texas. It had been an issue in some towns with some people but had never been an issue in our Church, not with the teachings of Christ of love and impartiality. The sting is palpable. I’ve never been so hurt. Nancy and Carl were our good friends, weren’t they? If their 8-year old daughter is learning and repeating these things to bully other innocent children- what does it say about their parenting? Where is she getting this stuff from?
As I’m still reeling from poor Jessica’s revelation, our youngest son Jojo also starts to cry and says he doesn’t want to go anymore.
“Why honey? Don’t tell me they bully you too.” I ask pulling him into my hug with Jessica.
His cheeks redden as he cries, tears and snot dribbling down his chubby face but he replies in the emotionally earnest way children do: “I don’t want to go if Theo and Jess doesn’t go!”
Even though he is bawling, I smile.
Despite the seismic shift in our previously solid structure, I still felt it was all salvageable. Just a little re-patching here and there, maybe a little glossing over, the damage was fixable. Children do as they are told and if we firmly told them we are all going to Church then that’s what we would be doing. We could get back on track. What we needed was spousal solidarity, to work as a team, singing from the same “Church of the Body of Christ” hymn sheet.
Eric however, has stopped listening to the music altogether- metaphorically speaking.
Since that night he has retreated into himself, becoming silent and moody. He went off to work early Monday and came home late. When he did, we wasn’t present. He would daydream, brood, stare off into space. As I busied myself with the upcoming cake sale, stressed with the uphill struggle it was turning into- especially when two of my most reliable bakers decided they wanted some time off from the Church. I could usually count on my unflappable husband to jolly our way through the situation, full of positivity and good humour , he would know the right things to say to the right people and everything would carry on swimmingly.
Now, however, something weighed heavily on his mind and the weight seemed to engulf him completely.
“Come on Eric, what’s going on?” I asked bluntly one evening. The kids had gone to bed, I had three cakes in oven slowly rising , a glass of ‘sinful’ wine in my hand but my husband’s lugubrious look was bordering on alarming.
He lets out a heavy sigh and looks heavenward- was he saying a silent prayer?
There are moments in life when you foresee the pivotal nature of it, even though you have no idea where it’s heading. This was one of those moments. Just like you can sense the build-up of subterraneous pressure and the silent rumble of underground tremors and you know it’s time to run for the hills, an earthquake is coming.
“There’s no easy way to say this Ava.” He whispers gravely.
Do I know what he is about to say? Do I have a subconscious inkling a world-shattering confession is on its way? Yes probably, because as I hold my wine glass standing in the low lights of the kitchen, my hand starts to shake and I inaudibly whisper “No.”
“I can’t live this life anymore.” He breathes out as if he’d been holding it in all this time. Tears are pooling in his eyes.
“What do you mean?” I stutter, watching my husband crumble before me.
A solitary tear rolls down and he makes no effort to stop it.
“I’m in love with someone else and I have been for a long time.”
I don’t even need to hear the rest. I place my wine glass down and steady myself on the kitchen counter.
I’m thinking back to how we got together, we were both so young. I was eighteen and he was one year older. Both of our families were a mess, our childhoods depressing. My Mom was an alcoholic and my dad reared his head about once a month with presents. It soon became apparent we were a second secret family and his real family were upstate living in ignorant bliss. My brother and I even snuck out one day when I was twelve, got on a bus and travelled upstate to visit this other family. We saw them from afar, in a lovely affluent neighbourhood, a picture-card-perfect house, my dad’s other daughters blonde-haired and beautiful playing in the front lawn which was the same square footage of our entire house- we didn’t have the heart to knock on the door and introduce ourselves. We just came home, depressed and dejected and swore to never tell our mom what we saw.
Eric’s family were no better, both parents were what you would unkindly term ‘trailer trash’ and most likely drug dealers although we never got to the bottom of that family mystery, they both died a year after we got married in a house fire. The thing I remember most from those dark times were the bright spots: namely my hilarious older brother and his best friend Eric. They would lighten any room, cheer up any situation, they were my world and when my older brother enlisted in the army and got stationed abroad, I wasn’t the only one crushed and devastated.
Eric was inconsolable.
Missing my brother was the common thread that united us, it tied our broken hearts and drew us closer in an inseparable bond.
Well, I thought it did.
“Your brother wrote to me two weeks ago,” Eric continued as if reading my thoughts and expanding on the narration. “He’s back in America.”
“Aaron is back?”
Eric nods as tears stream down his face. “It’s messed up I know. But I’ve always loved him. I thought I could deny it. The Church tells us people change all the time. I believed it. I thought I had changed…on some level.”
“I prayed to God Ava. I prayed every night.I prayed for forgiveness, I prayed for a changed heart. And when I got the letter I prayed even harder for an answer; for some direction.” His face is contorted as if in physical pain and I don’t feel anger: I feel nothing but hopelessness.
How do you re-patch a gaping hole this big? There’s no way back from this.
“and then that announcement…” I groan.
“Exactly. I mean what kind of answer is that? What am I supposed to do now?”
And that indeed was the question.
What was any of us meant do now? That one announcement shattered our beautiful illusion, that one meeting derailed our life’s track and now where do we go, what do we believe? I have a sudden flashback to a builder who casually mentioned a physics term when renovating our house and knocking down an interior wall : Hooke’s law of elasticity. Even a few small holes, drilled in strategic places can compromise the load carrying capacity of a strong concrete wall and bring it down. Well, our family is an abstract example of the trueness of that law.
It didn’t take much and it didn’t take long for complete collapse.
Feeling much like a body without a skeleton, a building without a foundation, a cell with no nucleus; I emotionally detach for short while. I pick up my wine glass, swig the sweet contents whole, and silently muse our situation.
The fingernails have given up their courageous battle to cling on. They are no longer attached to the cliff face. I’m in freefall, left with a chaotic, collapsing, blob of a life and I had no idea what I was supposed to do now.
A week later I am sitting in the front row of our Church. I smile as I look to the side and see Jojo’s innocent chubby face and watch as he fiddles with his bow tie again.
The rest of the chairs in the row are empty.
Jessica wanted to play with a friend from school so went to her house for a sleepover, she has ditched her bullying church friends completely. Theo is with his new girlfriend, someone called Kate an atheist apparently, but who is actually quite a nice polite young girl, despite my prior prejudices toward those who deny God.
And my husband Eric is meeting up with Aaron- my brother. I can’t comment any more on that; it pains me too much.
But I am here.
Half of our congregation is missing and the hall feels empty, and although my family is falling apart, my marriage is over, my children are drifting and I finished two bottles of wine last night, I’m still worried that someone will see my tiny coffee stain on my beautiful handmade skirt.
I'm not sure if this is real, I just heard it somewhere. A parent was walking along with his young son and happened to bump into a neighbour. The little boy kept staring at the neighbour and tried to look at the back of the neighbour's head. The neighbour was perplexed and asked the young boy "Are you OK little one?Is something wrong?"
The little boy frowned and replied: "My dad said you have two faces but I can't see the other one."
When you swap security for expediency, and there’s no such thing as ‘a job for life’...
When you swap strong families for quick pleasure, to go cheating around on your wife...
When you pursue money at the harm of nature, and the climate starts to change...
When you swap greed for integrity, then moral codes start to misarrange...
When you swap stability for convenience, bedrocks for community start to disband...
It’s no wonder our young ones are fragile, it’s a shaky foundation for them to stand.
Features and functions.
1. Learning pages. Perhaps another section or category dedicated to creative writing techniques, poetic styles etc maybe even with links to advertised courses ( perhaps
a potential source advertising revenue).
2. A critique function. Someone has already mentioned this, and I had thought of the same thing but an added feature, so that when you submit your piece of writing, an extra option is available "open for critique ". That way if you want feedback on a particular piece of writing, people know they can leave constructive comments on how to improve or spelling/grammar errors etc.
3. Easier typing/editing when using a phone. Especially ,when trying to edit or delete, words currently jump, disappear or double up for some reason. (maybe that's just me ?)
4. Post -Covid, an annual Prose event or function (the other meaning of the word ) maybe a competition, seminars, workshops, book signings etc. Where we could meet up if we are able, and enjoy the Prose community in person. :-)
They arrived suddenly.
They appeared overnight. They say evolution progresses in cycles and macroevolution can make great, paradigm- shifting leaps when powered by the energy cycles of the sun and the alignment of Saturn. That’s why it seemed so sudden to us on land, but beneath the dark depths of the world’s oceans, giant octopuses had been silently growing ,mutating and evolving for thousands of years, veiled by the murky microcosms of the seas.
Until one day, they surfaced.
It was a Tuesday, I remember, and I was leaving the house early to head off to work. It was a rainy, dull and dreary day but the sun had just peaked over the horizon of the Bristol harbour casting a warm orange glow and I started the car in its dim light.
I drove along the main road which ran parallel along the shore, enjoying the early morning view.
But then I saw them and I just stopped the car dead, right there in the left-hand lane.
I couldn’t process what I was seeing at first. I sat frozen in the driver’s seat, with the windscreen wipers squeaking back and forth, believing I must still be sleeping and any minute now I’d wake up with the startling realization that it was all a dream.
But it wasn’t. Instead a new, weird reality played out and I got out of the car enraptured in awe.
A giant octopus had risen out of the inky waters and started to walk , eerily up to the beach. It was upright. It was roughly ten feet tall. Its eight, long, jelly-like legs, supported its huge dome-like body and it looked more like a monolithic alien creature from the outer rims of space than anything from earth. It moved silently. Floating almost, as its tentacles gracefully stepped along the sand, in a crab-like motion.
More followed, one by one they inched out of the sea.
Their eyes were black, their skin a translucent grey, and the suckers on each leg were the size of plates. The sight was both horrifying and beautiful. I was mesmerized. I was witnessing the genesis of a new species; the result of millions of years of unfolding nature, a terrifying demonstration of the power of change.
Passing cars slowed and pulled up, some crashing in shock. People came out of their homes, mouths agape, to watch- many filming on their phones as hundreds of huge walking octopuses filled the Bristol shoreline.
Then, a rustling sound. The waters got more and more agitated as something even larger emerged from the murky depths: The Queen.
She was double the size. Gigantic in proportions. Her grey and pink body glistened in the morning light. Her legs stretched out , as her stature towered against the gloomy seascape.
Suddenly, a watery high-pitched roar filled the cold morning air and they all joined in unison.
I had never heard a sound like it before:
a cacophony of piercing aquatic cries.
That’s when they started to run...
Just one thing.
All you need is
one ray of light
to help you see
All you need is
one smile from a stranger
to help you walk
All you need
is the laugh from one baby
to put a smile
on your face.
All you need
is one cheer from a friend
to help you
finish the race.
All you need is
one cup of coffee
to help you
through your day.
So look out for that thing,
that one small thing
and you’ll always be okay.