Sunday, 3 March 2013

Atmospheres



Writing about nothing but a sense of place. 




1.Remembering Disneyland
 
The window is opened an inch just to let the room breathe a little as the rusting setting sun is just perching on the trees across the way and peeking into my window, hitting the Oleanders full on. The perfume hits my nose and pinches my sadness, ‘hey kid, this is why you walk and talk, get over yourself’. A seabird screeches for a partner somewhere in the outer banks, and just then I can smell the sea, a little sour as it worms its way by stealth into the room. 
Upstairs, Mrs Hack plays her husband’s jazz records and for a few minutes she can forget that he went to ‘Nam in ’65 and never came home. Oh, the sweetness of the dulling of the senses.

Across the street, as the dusk drops down bringing with it all those things which it’s known for, some kids leave the ice cream parlor screaming and hollering and remembering their almost perfect day at Disneyland, ‘if only Josey hadn’t thrown up over me’ shouts the nervous one whose eyes gave up the ghost a while back.

And so I sit and pour a drink as the sun packs up and finally leaves the room and a steel chill hits my stomach and I wonder why in all those years, I never got to go to Disneyland.


2.Stones Under The Snow

She used to sit on her Grandpa’s knee and he’d hold her so tight like she was the only person in the world that ever mattered.
Whatever the payment was to get on his knee, tears or frowns, when she was up there she felt safe.
Nothing could ever hurt her there.
She would run her hand through his thick white hair and giggle at the little bumps on his head.
“Old age,” he’d say.
“They’re stones under the snow. Grandpa,” then she’d laugh ‘till it hurt.
Although she grew and married and had children, whenever anything was bothering her she’d go to where her Grandpa rested and talk awhile and she’d feel things were good again.
One Christmas, as she knelt on the ground, the snow came down and covered her Grandpa’s grave.
Her Grandson, who had been waiting, came to see what was wrong, she said “Why nothing’s wrong, honey, I’m just looking at the stones under the snow.”
And as he walked back down the hill, he could hear his Grandma laughing out loud as if she was hurting.





3.Before You Even Care

In the morning when the heat makes the frost rise as steam
I’m going to open that door and breathe in every last drop of freshness -
I’ve waited so long to exhale that all of it will taste that so much sweeter
In the morning I’m going to pick up the bag I packed tonight,
Walk out through the door and never look back
You had your chances, all of you, to make a difference,
But I can no longer stand the stale seedy smell of fear
In the morning, I’ll be so far down that long road before you even care.


4.The Boy Who Told Stories

That harsh winter came without warning which meant that we spent so much of our time indoors. I knew him as the man who gave away money. He was a friend of the family and, as such, was always in our home.  “Tell me another story”, he would say, and I had those stories by the hundreds.  “Ask the boy”, my father would tell folks, “He can conjure up such wonderful worlds”.  I always wondered what happened to the man. I hear tell that he left his family and went to London; imagine that, our Mister Shakespeare in London Town.


5. Main Street

The warm air blows off the panhandle for the second time that week,
As the old wooden chair on grandfather’s porch
Creaks its way to salvation.
And Brittle Andrew howls his madness and  frustrations into the wind
But there ain’t no one listening, not even God.
He’s left these parts a while back.
Somewhere out there in the Mississippi, an alligator,
With wasted stealth, sits waiting on its prey to pass its mouth but it never will,
Least  not this particular night.
And hanging from a swamp dogwood tree is the crumpled body of Leroy Shants
Who broke the code of entering the ice cream parlor while
Those troublesome white kids were taking a lifetime to leave.
The Pastor sits looking at his wife wondering how he’d got to be where he’s at,
As Betty Sue spends the final hour of the day putting on some makeup she knows
Is all wrong and does what she always does and cries herself to sleep.
Undertaker Boy swigs another sweet bourbon knowning that he’s  jealous of the dead,
And as my eyes weld shut, the rain falls on Mitchell County and washes away the blood.
Main Street has made it through another day.



6. The Dying Days of Savannah Highs

It was just as the sun was cooling, that through the slatted Louvre doors Analise had her legs spread from China to Timbuktoo. She didn’t care, least ways not when Reverend Blue was watching, just like he always did. She hit a mosquito on her right side but the effort was way too much for this time of day and so she flopped back against the caring softness of the pillow. The rush of air threw up a whiff of stale body odour but why should she care when she was young and she was beautiful and that was all it took. Least ways that was all it took this side of the river. She rubbed her top lip, the one that was prone to too much hair but she knew she was Greta Garbo, so she didn’t care. The little kid from down Sycamore Street stood in front of her and at first stared, then without asking he did his Charlie Chaplin impersonation. She raised a smile to let him carry on with his dreams but both of them knew he had failed. In the end she stood up and walked across the lawn as it spat out a vapour. It was August, it was Georgia and these were the dying days of the Savannah Highs.  


7. The Flight of the Geese


She stood staring at the sky and with one deep breath the arctic air slashed the back of her windpipe.
She had almost to close her eyes to see their forms in the upper field as the sun seared the earth.
The wild geese had been there for days, nestled in the higher ground, feeding from the tilled soil and waiting – just waiting.
Every year they came and every year their presence caused a stirring in her heart. She felt right again. She felt needed.
She painted pictures of them as they fed in the field, she sketched their flight and sometimes she just smiled. She listened to their cries and more than once she was sure they called her name.
The geese swept in formation over her house and bestowed upon her a victory wave as she lay in bed, grasping her bed cover whilst looking from her window.
On the morning that she never woke again, the geese prepared themselves to take to the skies; to head home and to carry another soul to that resting place in the far, far north.
They had got what they had come for.


8. At The Cracking Of The Heart


I woke just as the clock chimed five and the smoke from the evening fires was welcoming the dusk.
As I lay there, happier than I would ever be again, I could hear the laughter of next door’s children – conversations, words, shrieks but never really sure what was being said except that all of life was out there.
The smell of dinners on tables up and down the street slipping under the window and dancing in the room.
I looked at you my love, my own, sleeping peacefully - still not aware that I would be leaving soon.
I remembered all of it for later: the way the setting sun cast shadows on the flock wallpaper, a souvenir of another time, the way your face smiled in sleep, the smell of the end of the day.
By seven, I would be faraway and heading for a war.



9.The Walking Wounded

Sally Anne leaves the house at number 17 with her heart almost bursting through her chest.

She’s pregnant, ‘with child’ as she read somewhere - just like the girl who was on the cover of  that magazine – Sally’s really really happy, she’s already deciding how her new home will look. She only found out while her Mum was making the toast and tea and the little line turned blue.

At number 22, the curtains twitch as Sam Lot watches his little distraction, Sally, walking down the street - bless her. Tonight’s the night he’s going to have to tell her it’s over; his wife is beginning to suspect.

The Hammerston twins, Fred and Irene at number 31 leave together, saying ‘good morning’ together to everyone they meet. As they run up the street for the West Town bus, Irene wonders how she’s going to tell her brother about her job up north.

Next door in number 33, Geraldine paces the floor – ‘born worrying, die worrying’ her mother used to tell the neighbours. But the lump on her breast makes her pace faster.

‘Lucky’ Jim turns into the street after finishing another night shift at the old plastic Works. He knows it has its bonuses - Jim had no trouble finding stuff to wrap his wife up in. And every morning when he finishes work he buys a newspaper, ten menthol cigarettes from the corner shop and wonders if this will be the day they find her.

In the little shop on the corner, Andy, the milkman, delivers another crate of cream and then creeps out having failed to ask Matilda - who works there – if she’d like to go to the park on Sunday.

Matilda’s heart is almost bursting through her chest as she waits for Andy to ask.

And Hugh, big strong Hugh from number 36, can’t tell anyone (not even his best friend) that his black eyes - which he covers with his wife’s makeup - are not from playing sports. She’s warned him, if he acts like a child then he must be punished like one.

He’s hidden the packed bag in the shed for the day he leaves her.

At the white house on the corner, Alice takes in gentleman callers until her husband gets back from a far off land.

And in the bus shelter Eddie drinks a can, not to brighten the dull day but to tone down the colours.

And from every house on the street comes the screech of silent screaming.


10. Grandma's Radio


He delivered it, all pleased with himself, the night of the electrical storm which stretched all the way across three counties.

Old Jake had nothing else to give his sister, my grandmother, on her wedding day.

It lived proudly in the corner of the room and worked its way into being part of the family.

The night my father was born, my grandfather cranked it up to a full ten and couldn’t understand why the folks on the radio weren't sharing in his joy.

The day my uncle died, I guess he was about seven years old, my grandmother couldn’t understand why the newscaster still kept talking as if nothing had happened. Didn’t they know? She wept.

When my grandfather went away to war, the radio was her friend, it was never off, it made the house seem busy, she said.

When the radio told my grandmother that her husband was coming home, she lifted her skirt and danced on the table when no one was looking.

That day, that black September day, in New York City when they flew the ‘planes into those buildings. Well that was the day we switched the radio off.

For good, we said.

When they cleared out my grandmother’s house, the radio was sent to the garage and that was where it stayed until I found it yesterday.

I've cleaned it up and changed its heart so it can play all the new tunes and talk about the new world - about the new joys and sadnesses.

I think it’s time I started listening again.


bobby stevenson 2013

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