The Strangers In This Town…

Quotes

“The strangers in this town,
They raise you up just to cut you down…”

The Lumineers, Angela

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365 Day Writing Challenge 47: Light Switch

365 Day Writing Challenge

47. Light Switch: Write about coming out of the dark and seeing the light.

He sat up in bed and watched her sleep below him. He looked at the face he had known so long, the face he knew better than any other. He remembered the first time he met her, the smooth skin, the flawless smile. Now it was as if someone had taken the youthful oval he knew so well and traced over it – skilfully sketching wrinkles and lines until it had changed in its entirety. The woman lying next to him now was someone completely different.
As he watched he remembered the first time he had seen her face contort in anger. How her plump lips, that he had stolen kisses from so many times, had curled round her teeth. He hadn’t been quite able to believe at the time how he hadn’t noticed how sharp those little teeth were. For days afterwards he had watched them slyly, while she was eating, while she was talking, while she was eating, watching the little incisors cut through meat. Eventually she had dropped her knife and fork with a clatter and asked him if he could please tell her exactly WHAT was so interesting about the way she ate. He had stopped watching after that.
Now his gaze fell over her eyebrows, neatly plucked as ever. He noticed there was a stray hair in the middle, above her nose. She wouldn’t like that. She always maintained her eyebrows herself, (that was her word – “maintained” – as if they were hedges she was pruning) ever since the girl who normally did her brows at the salon had called in sick, and her brows had been done by someone else. The way this mew girl had done it, apparently, was not up to scratch. This was exactly why, she had told him in the car as he drove her home, she didn’t trust people. They let you down, and they messed up even the simplest of things. Her eyebrows had looked fine to him, and he had told her so. She had fallen silent at this, and stared out the window, her face unreadable behind her large sunglasses. He watched his knuckles go white as he gripped the steering wheel. He knew what was coming next, it was just a matter of waiting… It came, as it always did. The long, drawn out sigh, the one that let him know just how infinitely disappointed she was with him, with their marriage, with their life together. It was the same sigh after they slept together, the same tight, painful little smile. And he would ask her what was wrong, so many times, try so many different things, and yet always the same result: nothing was wrong, she was fine, and then that sigh, saying the complete opposite.
He sighed himself now, as he watched her. She never moved in her sleep. No snores, no twitching. Like those statues you lying on top of crypts in churches. Perfect repose. It had seriously made him panic the first couple of times they had slept together. He had fallen asleep with his hand on her heart, the steady heartbeat the only thing reassuring him that she was alive. She had woken up once with his hand still on her breast, her eyebrows raised, not, he thought, in an entirely annoyed way. He grew to hate the way she raised her eyebrows at him, more than anything else. As well as the little sardonic smile that always accompanied them. When he showed her the ship in the bottle he had made, painstakingly, over months. When he finally introduced her, after months of her pointed suggestions, to his small, talkative, overly eager friend Bert from the office. Whenever he came up with a stupid idea – no, whenever he came up with an idea that she found stupid. Because he was stupid, in her eyes. Stupid, useless, disappointing. Ineffectual. An afterthought. He was always there, bumbling after her, getting in the way. He looked down at his hands. Big, lumbering, clumsy hands. He looked them over, flexing his fingers. No. These were strong, skillful hands. Ones that could create things. Kind ones, ones that could stroke and caress. Ones that could love. Ones that could love the right woman.
He sat up, suddenly, like a bolt. He glanced at her quickly, fearfully. Still she was silent. He lifted himself from the bed, carefully and quickly. He eased his suitcase, the one that hadn’t been used since that disastrous holiday to Majorca. He shuddered at the memory even now. He piled his clothes into the suitcase, marvelling at how many he actually had. For some reason he had always thought he had hardly any. His brain was rushing now. Did he have his passport? Driving licence? Car keys? Thank God the car was in his name. Legal papers. Bank statements. There was a bonfire roaring in his head, all of his important documents blackening and curling. He made a mental checklist. Did he have everything? He thought so. He double, triple checked, because he knew that once he left anything he would never see it again.

The sun shone over the quiet suburban street. No one was awake yet. It was a Sunday, even the maniacal car polishers and busy housewives weren’t up yet. The only person awake was a man in a suit and hat, overly formal, as if he were on his way to church. He lifted a heavy suitcase into the boot of his car. He looked, for all intents and purposes, like he was going on a business trip. Except for a small, subtle smile that was slowly dawning across his face. Like the red fingers of sunlight at the start of a glorious day.

365 Day Writing Challenge 42: Warehouse

365 Day Writing Challenge

42. Warehouse: Write about being inside an old abandoned warehouse.

She stole through the black dust and the silver moonlight. She knew her lover would meet her here soon. She knew he would find her, knew his dark arms would reach out and pull her to him, and she would feel his heartbeat underneath the firmness of his torso. She would run her hands through his black, black hair, and he would tell his love to her in whispers as she unbuttoned his shirt and her hands ran, pale and slender, all over his bare chest.

Her breath caught and she stopped, reminding herself that soon this would really be happening, she would be his and he would be hers once again. She found a black, dusty corner to wait in. Only her eyes glittered palely in the darkness.

365 Day Writing Challenge 32: Rewrite a Poem

365 Day Writing Challenge

32. Rewrite a Poem: Take any poem or short story you find anywhere. Rewrite it in your own words.

The poem I’ve rewritten is She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron

He lives in gold, like the sun –

In Eden days of blue and white,

And all that’s freedom,

All that’s light,

Meet in his aspect and his eyes,

A beauty never matched by even

The brightest star of the night.

 

One ray the more, one shade the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which lives in every chestnut strand,

Or softly brightens on his face;

Where thoughts so happily express

Themselves in such a loved resting place.

 

And on that cheek, and in his eyes,

So soft, so warm, so joyous,

The smiles that win, the eyes that see

 

All the good in everyone,

A mind at peace with all he sees,

A heart whose love is strong yet innocent.


Of all the challenges this was by far the hardest. Byron rhymes (and mine in this poem have been patchy at best) and uses meter, both of which I never use in any of my poems. All I can say is thank God for my English degree because a lot of things I learnt there became useful when I was writing this – deciphering what Byron is actually saying line per line especially.

 

 

365 Day Writing Challenge 29: Good Vibes

365 Day Writing Challenge

29. Good Vibes: What makes you smile? What makes you happy?

In no particular order:

1. FOOD
2. My boyfriend
3. My little sister
4. Hanging out with my boyfriend and my little sister just the three of us and I know that these are the people who I am truly myself with.
5. Babies
6. My new job
7. Lying in my bed which is all white and clean with my fairy lights on and feeling warm and safe
8. Spending hours in Waterstone’s deciding which books to buy
9. Reading
10. Finding my own style and wearing what I want
11. My hair
12. Cats
13. Weddings
14. Not having to work at H&M any more
15. Thinking about spending the rest of my life with Max
16. This video:

17. Music
18. Glastonbury
19. Spending time with my cousins, feeling accepted and part of something bigger than me
20. Sex

I wish I could add writing to this list, but at the moment writing is more like a therapy for me. I’m not sure I could say I enjoy it because I’m too critical. There is light showing through the cracks though.

365 Day Writing Challenge 23: Sugar

365 Day Writing Challenge

23. Sugar: Write something so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.

She always sat alone, and he always wondered why. She hid behind her hair, trying to fold in upon herself, sliding past people in the corridor, pushing herself into the corners. Her head was always down, her shoulders hunched. He couldn’t understand it.

He couldn’t understand it because, to him, she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

Once, when she thought no one had been looking, he had seen her smile. He was determined to see that smile again.

It had been on the first day of school. They had both gotten lost together on the way to a class, and had fallen in together in a silent alliance. They had been rushing through the halls, their bags attacking their backs, when, suddenly, he had gone flying. It was a comedy gold sort of fall. Every part of his body flew out in ridiculous ways. He couldn’t have looked more funny if he’d tried.¬†Anyone would have laughed.¬†He¬†would have laughed. And not just a hastily concealed chuckle, but a full-on, uncontrollable belly laugh.

But not her. Instead all he got was just one glorious smile. There was no malice in it. It was just sheer joy and surprise. But what fascinated him most was how it changed her entire face, lifted it, transformed it.

And then, as soon as it had come, it was gone. The sun was back behind the clouds. She had never spoken to him, all that time they had been running to their class, and the fall didn’t change that.

But it had changed him. Changed him irrevocably. He had fallen in love in a second and where this would have made others impatient it made him the opposite. He was ready to wait. Because he knew that one day his patience would pay off, and he would see that smile again.

365 Day Writing Challenge 19: Great Minds

365 Day Writing Challenge

19. Great Minds: Write about someone you admire and you thought to have had a beautiful mind.

This is going to be a bit of a cliché, but I think my boyfriend has a beautiful mind. I find it not only beautiful but fascinating, because it is so different to mine. There are so many things that he has been able to make me see differently, completely different to how I or anyone I know would look at it. That is one of the reasons why he has been so good with my anxiety Рhe is able to make me look at things rationally. I always tell him he should be a lawyer because he is able to argue so doggedly, but also be so pedantic (it drives me mad sometimes) about every tiny detail.

I also think he has a beautiful mind because he always sees the good in people. He always gives second chances, and he always forgives. And he’s so trusting even though so many people have given him reasons not to trust anyone again. I also love his mind because he is free of all the constraints I have, always worrying about what is the “right” thing to do and what other people will think. He doesn’t care about what other people think, he is always himself. That is something I am jealous of and hope I will be able to do some day.
Sometimes anxiety can make you believe that things aren’t real. But I know Max is real because I couldn’t have made up someone so different to me.

365 Day Writing Challenge 13: The Letter Poem

365 Day Writing Challenge

13. The Letter Poem: Write a poem using words from a famous letter or a letter from your own collection.

“You are my lover and I am your mistress, and kingdoms and empires and governments have tottered and succumbed before now to that mighty combination – the most powerful in the world” –¬†Extract from a letter from Violet Keppel to Vita Sackville-West (1919).

Vita,

I truly believed that we could change the world, you and I. Well maybe not the world. But our worlds. We created a little world for ourselves. Fantasies, games. I was feverish for you, desperate for you to transport me yet again. You are a true artist, Vita. A true artist can take someone away to another place through their art, and this is what you did to me. You took me away, made me feel that I was different. That I was beguiling, a dark and sparkling woman who turned your head. But when you left, Vita,when you left, you dropped me unceremoniously back into this world, dull and grey as it is. And as I hit the ground all the magic seeped out of me, like air wheezing from an old sofa. And I was myself once again, dumpy and unoriginal, while you carried on as before, seducing others, reminding me that you, yes you, were the beguiling one, not me, no, of course, of course not me. You were the master of the games all along; you were holding all the cards, while I, foolish dog that I was, followed you with my tail wagging.

You made me feverish, Vita. I felt that I had to have you, otherwise nothing made sense any more, not one jot. Is it sad to miss a fantasy? But how much was fantasy, and how much was real? My head hurts.

Vita. The lights are so bright here. Everyone is so false, their teeth too white, their voices too loud…my head hurts. Too much drink, Vita, too much smoke…the smoke gets in your head, you know?

I know you loved me, Vita. But you didn’t trust me, you didn’t believe me…

Why couldn’t they have left us alone? Left us alone to play, just play, we weren’t harming anyone, play never hurt anyone?

I was feverish, mad. I always wonder about the mad. Who are we to say they would be happier, bungled and botched like the rest of us? Why don’t we let them be if they aren’t hurting anyone?

I would never hurt you Vita.

***

Another unsent letter. This shall go to the smoke like the others.


 

Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West had a long affair, starting when they were just teenagers. The affair ended after Vita accused Violet of breaking their pact (to never have sex with either of their husbands). Vita went on to have affairs with other women and men, most famously Virginia Woolf. Violet went into decline in her later years in France, and I imagined her writing this letter during that time. if you would like to learn more about their relationship I greatly recommend reading Diana Souhami’s Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter.¬†¬†