To begin with, it was a relief just to be out of the sun. And any relief was welcome.
‘Up there’, you had pointed. Your skinny arm lost in the baggy t-shirt you insisted on wearing.
The air had been a shimmer of jelly above the tarmac where the road became a winding path of small rocks. A splintered wooden sign pointed to a cliff face. We had found them. The caves you were so keen to explore. You had scrambled on ahead, stones skittering under your sandals.
Once inside the cave, I could hear your excited voice, echoing ahead of me, fading. You’d snatched a torch from me, light juddering off the rocky walls, and rushed on. I’d tried to tell you to be careful, slow down, but then I had found myself smiling at your enthusiasm. Both were rare these days. I would happily have just sat on the cool rock floor, taken a swig of water, and enjoyed the view. But maternal guilt had tugged me to go further in, leaving an oval of bright Mediterranean light behind me.
The cave narrowed a few yards in and lowered. As I bent down, a tingle of panic edged over me. I called out to you, but you either didn’t hear or you just didn’t want to. Then, thankfully, the space opened up and there I was, in a huge, wide cavern. Walls glistened in my torchlight, and green strands of vegetation hung in shaggy clumps. And far up I could see a circle of sky, casting a faint cone of light down into the cavern.
I waved my torch around, my panic evaporating, and some markings caught my eye. A fan of faded hand shapes was spread across the lower part of the wall, where the rock was flatter. I walked over and put my hand up to one of the outlines, and it fitted perfectly within. My hand tingled as it pressed against the rock, prickles pulsing in my fingers.
Then my damn torch began flickering. I slapped it, but it was dead, and when I searched in my pockets for my phone all I found was a cheap charm you had insisted I buy at a local market. Yet a light continued to flicker from behind me. I heard a splitting sound, like the crack of a thin bone breaking, and as I turned around red sparks jumped from a small fire burning on the floor, several yards into the cavern.
It was then I saw her. Crouched down, spitting onto a heap of ash, making some sort of dark paste. A re-enactment, no doubt, for tourists. I thought it strange I had noticed no activity when I entered the cavern, but then lately I had been so pre-occupied with your problems, barely sleeping, that perhaps it was no surprise.
I watched silently. The woman, for surely it was a woman, wore a wrap of fur, her hair was wild, her feet bare. She held a hand against the wall next to her and daubed the dark paste around her fingers. As she stepped back to view the shape that she had left on the rock she let out a primal call – of recognition, of delight? I couldn’t say. I felt I had witnessed something astonishing – staged, but memorable nevertheless.
Then you called out. Your voice distressed, muffled from a darkness beyond the cavern. I stumbled towards the sound, my eyes fixing on your distant torchlight.
You had tripped. Your face wet with pain and disappointment. You had placed such importance on seeing these caves – I had no idea why – and now your exploration was to end with a twisted ankle. You tried to bat me away as I reached to wipe your tears and my fingers left an ashy streak on your cheeks.
‘Lean on me. Come and see this.’ I hauled you up, though you resisted, and half-dragged you back to the cavern. But it was empty. There was no sign of the cave woman or the fire. Just us, and the cone of light from the sky-hole metres above. You shook your head in disbelief. What stories would I make up next? You weren’t a child any more! I kept my thoughts to myself. So we stood there – not speaking. The only sound was a background drip plinking periodically onto the rock floor.
You swung your torch around, as if to emphasise that we were alone, and the beam fell onto the fan of faded hand shapes on the wall. You hobbled over and put your own child-like hand against one of the smaller shapes, resting it within the faded outline. Your thin frame shivered and then you turned around and gave a quiet gasp. You told me to look, Mum, look there! You could see a girl, a bit like you, and an older woman, and a fire. They were making handprints together. Couldn’t I hear them laughing? You pointed at the spot, but what I saw was the look of wonder on your stained face.
The images dwindled and disappeared from your sight, although you said later you could still hear their strange language filling the air as we had remained transfixed, caught in something we didn’t understand, nor need to. And when eventually we began to make our slow way out of the caves, we moved carefully and quietly, keeping the memory of what each of us thought we had seen gently wrapped within us so that we would not lose it. Not wanting to speak it out loud.
As we stood by the cave entrance, assessing the steep track back to the car, I reached into my pocket for tissues to wipe away the dirt from your cheeks. The charm came out with the tissues. You took it and let it swing from your fingers – it was a small fragment of rock in the shape of a hand. And as I dabbed at your face with a spit-wetted tissue, you reached out your arms and hugged me tightly.
Thrilled that my little story was Highly Commended by the lovely people at Write Time (https://writetime.org/). I don’t often post my stories here, as I realise most people reading my contributions are expecting to see poetry. But I have been persuaded, so here it it!
Weather: Will withstand average storms, provided they are not constant. Some moderate upsets may improve root strength. Force 10 arguments, or similar, may result in stunted growth. Overall, prefers calm, temperate climate.
Fertilizer: Rich compost of thoughts, peeled and cored over a length of time. Regular rummaging to discourage a morass settling. Sprinkle with grains of inspiration when needed.
Aspect: More robust varieties cope with any orientation. A south-westerly aspect is preferred by most, where a scattering of red light waves generally enhances overall flavour. Some early-risers may respond better to an easterly aspect.
General Maintenance: Requires regular support, especially when showing signs of weakness. Avoid drying out – if not addressed this may result in reduced productivity. Equally, overwatering can be detrimental to effective growth. Check for bugs (esp. the Doubt Beetle) – some infestations can prove fatal.
If treated well, will reward the owner with many years of enjoyment.
The theme for my poetry group this month is ‘The Mind’, which has led me to penning this. Not sure I will use it, but it amused me to write it …
A space upon the shelf. We stare and sigh, and rummage pointlessly in the vicinity. But we know, we knew before we came, there would be none to find. We knew when we heard the news, our helpful media made sure of that with their wilful mischief. Don’t tell me they didn’t know that all it would take were four small words: ‘No need to panic’. A stampede of the desperate. A frenzied footfall filling up their trolleys. Their greedy stash packed smugly in cupboards and lofts and garages, leaving nary a single one for the rest of us. And one wonders, if news of a shortage produces such hysteria, how will we cope when the shit really hits the fan?
This is the last prompt (No 13) for Muri’s Poetry Scavenger Hunt. A Rant Poem. There are so many subjects to choose from, but panic buying is with us again. I don’t know who’s worse – the media for fanning the flames in the first place, or us for over-reacting and panic buying. Just how many toilet rolls can one family use? How much pasta can they eat? How much sunflower oil do they really need? I despair at how selfish we in the West have become – thinking of ourselves first, ignoring how our actions deny others. So, rant over. I guess I’m just going to have to fry everything in butter instead!
I thought you looked sexy, lying there, vulnerable, the sheet rising, almost imperceptibly, the monitor, dancing its red pulse across the screen, bleeping in time with your heart, whilst mine was racing. But then, without warning, your eyes snapped open. You looked at me, then at the tube attached to your arm, and with an angry cry ripped out the iv line.
They lie upon delicate white sheets, seemingly harmless, orderly, quiet, until undressed, cleverly catching your eye with a little extra darkening, like mascara on come-hither lashes, and you are lost.
Your fingers feel the fragile silkiness. Impelled to search further, your eyes widen in wonder at the hitherto unknown, or long-since forgotten, imagination playing with each discovery.
You have opened a treasure trove of beauty and power. But what will you do with it? In the wrong hands It could turn into a lethal lexicon.
I washed my hat. As the muggy fumes of soggy wool drifted up from the bathroom sink, I wondered, Had it ever been washed before? It didn’t resist – as I plunged it again and again into the greying eddy. It became a slimy rag. It surrendered to the soap and warm water and gave up its claim to being a hat. Perhaps I have ruined it? Perhaps I should have left it? I treated it to a blue rinse of fabric conditioner. It is an old hat. It’s the least I can do. It has kept my head warm for many years. It is me. I am identifiable by it. Its black and white stripes are often seen around our local streets. It drips onto the shower bowl, hanging from the hose, like a massive striped tongue, drooling saliva. Hangdog. Waiting. Waiting to dry.
I’d been away for a few years, its true. So what had I expected on my return? To pick up where I had left off? To see my old haunts unchanged? The burger bar near the station where I first met you, still serving flat, greasy baps of squashed meat and limp lettuce? Or Mr Wilson from the hardware store waving to me from the doorway, his ginger wig askew? I saw nothing and no-one I recognised – it was as if my past had never happened. I wandered lonely as. A cloud picked up pace in the March winds and I watched as it scudded in front of the pink foam of sunset, over the rooftops of a new housing estate. Then, in the distance I caught sight of a figure waving, and I heard a voice calling my name. Your voice.
‘It’s only a story. A flipping daft made-up thing Ma used to tell us. It’s not true, for crying out loud!’ But I could see fright in my sister’s eyes and she was holding the door handle so tight her fingers were white. ‘Let me by,’ I shouted as I wrenched her out of my way. ‘Or come with me and see if I’m mad.’ The sun was slipping low as I ran from the house towards the sea. As I reached the cliff edge, the movement of ground was barely visible. But I could feel it. The slow heave and thrust of the land as the cliffs moved their rocky feet and shuffled further into the ocean. Ropes of deep red sunlight pulled the limestone beasts further in, crimson ripples tugging from the horizon, coaxing them. An eyelash of new moon hung faint in the east, watching as eventually the cliffs shuddered to a halt. Loose stones tumbled down into the dusky water as a shoal of laughing nereids emerged from the foamy pink splashes. They swam and swirled, throwing the fading ribbons of sunset from wave to wave. I watched, entranced by their grace and beauty. And from the writhe and glint of skin and scale, I heard a voice I had always known, call out to me: ‘It’s time, my love.‘ I let myself fall down, past the crumbling edge, into the spinning water far below. And as the waves covered my body, I felt the strength of many hands support me – at last.
This was written in response to the latest Visual Verse prompt, and published on their site. The link to their site is below.