Inkmen

When nib kissed paper, electricity fizzed outwards in a spider web of sparks and you were born.

You shocked me at first. You were thinner than I had planned, with a smudge of a moustache on your upper lip. A rumpled suit hung off your body; a pair of spades for hands poked out from the sleeves as if curious to see the world. When you walked, your chest curved inwards on itself, shy, despite the confident stride of your loafer clad feet.

Not a word was spoken until sunset. You sat in the margin and hugged your knees while I sat on my giant’s throne and squinted down at you. Mine. My tiny creation, perched on the edge. When you looked at me, I gasped: I had forgotten to give you an eye colour. Two dark coals were buried in your sockets, burning with a flameless heat. Who am I? you asked.

I haven’t decided yet. I think your name might be Jonah.

You rolled the name around in your mouth like an oversized marble, raising one eyebrow. Every move you made was beautiful to me. I picked up my pen again, eager to fill you out, but you stood up, shaking your head in fear. You hurled your thin body at me and tried to batter down the walls between us. Vaguely frightened, I looked on in wonder. The screams coming from your mouth were strangled, muted. There is no escape for you here, I tell you. This is the world I built for you.

I don’t like it. This is not what I wanted. Oil tears fall thickly down your face and silhouette hands press into your eye sockets. Your shoulders shake.

It is not what I wanted either. Heart pounding, I throw my pen to one side, slam the pages of the notebook shut and stuff it hurriedly onto a crammed shelf. Not only yours, but many muffled sounds issue from the long row of identical jotters: snippets of song, laughter, the miniscule taps of feet pacing. If I close my eyes, I can almost see every birth, every creation.

And I wonder if it was good.

Let me put you back together

Each thick piece of cardboard is tiny between my fingertips. I smooth along the swelling edge, and curl out the scoop on the other side. On the front is an indistinct brown line with dark shading. I bite my lip and consult the lid. It could go here… my hand hovers in the bottom left corner before, triumphant, slotting it into place.

I am practically done. A dated picture of a grinning old man behind a grocery store counter beams up at me, sitting proudly next to a ration booklet. I stroke his face fondly.

At the moment though, he is not quite finished. He has two pieces missing, both skin coloured: one for the hand, the other for the cheek. He looks eerie, like a reflection in a mirror distorted and gaping, and I want to get him finished.

My hand reaches out and scrapes the bottom of the box and finds nothing. The pieces are gone.

For a moment, I stare down at this cheerful man with his honest smile and wide eyes. But then my gaze is drawn to those gaping holes, those roughly-hewn chunks torn from his face and body.

And I burst into tears.

 

Life in a New York Minute: Part 4

By Day Four in New York I had got this notion into my head: I HAD to go and see the flower market. With no real idea of what to expect there, I was largely basing this whim on all the travel blogs and tv shows I’ve seen that display glorious pictures of endless fields of flowers. So we hauled our tired behinds out of bed and braved the sweating, heaving metro filled with morning commuters to get to 28th Street.

1239929_10200548478856111_360140350_nIt was one of the strangest streets I’ve ever been on. Here in Britain, flower markets aren’t generally a tourist attraction. They take place in the early morning and they’re predominantly for business men and women to trawl in the hopes of finding stock. Like fish markets, they don’t seem to make the list for ‘must-see’ destinations.

But if you are ever in New York, you should go along to 28th Street. The pavements are literally lined with trees; orange bushes and buckets of firecracker flowers I had never before seen screening pedestrians from the road. I found myself reaching out to touch the beautiful velvety folds of a plant, transfixed by the pure alien-ness of it. We entered shops 1233629_10200548481336173_200418687_ncautiously, with men calling out in an Italian tongue that lay heavy and fast on our ears, and found ourselves in warehouses that reached back further than we could see. The colours were blazing, the shapes twisted and elegant, the stalks thick, proud and covered with dew.

Just before we left the street, emerging amazed at the other end, I saw a small shop with buckets lined outside the front door – the picture is just to the right. They were my favourite flowers of the day. Like fireworks frozen in nature, they simply popped. 

From there we wandered around countless streets, through Chinatown, before finding ourselves in Little Italy. It looked like Christmas to me, with red, white and green tinsel dangling from one side of the street to the other: a city ready for Santa Claus. Tanned, dark haired men beckoned you in to their restaurants, promises of pizza and pasta and an ice cold glass of water difficult to resist.

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But there was no way we would stop here for pizza. We had another goal in mind.

Finally, after what felt like miles, we found ourselves at the Brooklyn Bridge, joining the throngs of people on bikes, tourists clutching cameras, and determined women striding forward in suits. It sounds corny and obvious but it was JUST like all the movies: one of those moments when being in New York really hits you.

I never imagined I would really be here. (The one with the beard and the camera is obviously not me)

I never imagined I would really be here. (The one with the beard and the camera is obviously not me)

It’s a much longer bridge than you’d think. The wooden slats under feet start to burn in the extreme heat, but every step closer to Brooklyn feels like a success. You find yourself forever looking up and around you, wanting to absorb every brick, every wire suspending the giant structure, every bolt in the railings. The well-known skyline of New York unfolds behind you (though more of that later).

SO worth it.

SO worth it.

Remember our seemingly foolish refusal of pizza? Frank Sinatra was a pizza man. He was actually quite famous for being a pizza man. In fact, he liked a certain pizza so much that when on tour he would order it and have it flown out to him. This pizza came from the restaurant we made a beeline for on entering Brooklyn: Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. And on trying some for myself, I have to agree with Frank. It was some of the best pizza I had ever eaten. And the fact that it was huge and conveniently placed before me after our five hour trek down through New York city didn’t hurt.

* * *

Tummies full and hearts heavy with glutted sin, we left Grimaldi’s and wandered over the river bank. I loved this place. From here the skyline of New York spanned from left to right across the blue rippling ribbon. Yellow taxi boats skimmed from one shore to the next. Grass lined the bank where couples and students and families lounged back on their elbows with food scattered around them. And along the way, in the shadow of the beautiful, breath taking, industrial Manhattan Bridge, a dainty bride took the hand of her new husband and stood on the shore line for photos in front of an excited crowd.

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* * *

That evening was our last one in New York City. We spent it the way it should always be spent: in the front row of a broadway show, singing our hearts out and dancing for an encore.

Late that night, we strolled our way through Times Square and back to the hotel, the harsh lights of the plaza blinking behind our eyelids as we slipped into sleep.

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A word on Love

1170874_10200383389848989_674311840_nThis Valentines day seemed to spark a lot of interest. By this, I don’t mean the happy smiling couples (see left) and their overtly flamboyant messages of love to each other that were inevitably plastered all over social media sites. I mean I read an awful lot of negative blogs, articles, statuses and tweets about the day – and those that weren’t openly disparaging of it, were subtly condemning it, labelling it as ‘any other day’.

The thing is, it WAS any other day. It was a friday – and where I was, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant friday, with gale force winds and torrential rain storms – but my point is, it was a friday, just like any other friday. Lessons were finishing for the week, people were driving home for the weekend, families were hunkering down with a movie. Just any normal day.

Except.

Except people used the day as an excuse to shout their love from the rooftops or stuff it in an anonymous envelope, cheeks blushing. People wrote statuses and tweets and blogs about that special someone. Couples went for meals, to dinner, or watched a film with a shared bag of sticky popcorn. For some, it was the first night in weeks that both managed to put aside for each other; conversations were caught up on, and people were reminded where their love for each other sprung from so many moons ago.

Which is why I want to respond to all those people out there pointing out that it was just another day.

Because so what if it was?

Moaning about the fact that it is a constructed holiday for profit, that it has no real roots in heritage or history, is meaningless – true, but meaningless. Whining that there are sickening messages all over your facebook homepage – selfish. Scorning those people foolish enough to buy into the holiday and suggest that they shouldn’t have to have a day set aside for love – well, no they shouldn’t. But equally they shouldn’t have to hide away from it because others don’t like being a part of it.

Negativity over Valentines Day is like complaining that its not your birthday instead of someone else’s. Your time will come, and when it does, you can choose to spend it how you please, but until then, be respectful of others and their choices. We have days put aside for mothers and fathers, days put aside for chocolate and presents. Surely a day put aside for love is the most universal of all of these?

531551_4577213350028_856751058_nThe way I see it, Valentines Day doesn’t have to be about the sexy kind of love, or the soul mate kind. If – as so many note – it is a socially constructed holiday, then make of it what you want; do with it what you want to do. I know someone who renamed it PALentines Day. They bought heart shaped pizzas and watched movies with a group of friends. A couple I know doesn’t enjoy Valentines, in fact they go out of their way to avoid it – but it didn’t stop them celebrating each other by watching a horror movie and going to a bar.

There is always so much campaigning for peace, sharing, and for love in this world – and on the one day everyone makes an effort to promote these very things, it only fuels the flame for the criticism that every day is a day for love.

And I hear you – some people go overboard. Some people sicken even me. I would be HORRIFIED if my boyfriend went to the lengths of some of the guys and gals out there. But that’s not my decision to make. That’s their day; mine was mine.

I spent it with the man I love – the man I plan to love forever. We put aside our friday and made time for each other in the exact way that fits us.

Isn’t that what love is all about any way? Does one little day really need to offend so many people?

For just one day, I ask that we put opinion and prejudice and jealousy and bitterness to one side…and just be glad it’s a day to celebrate love and not hatred.

I love Love. THAT’S what my Valentines was about.

What was yours?

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La Traviata!

The world – the one around me now – has stopped. This is my photo-still. This is my fragment in history. Placing one deliberate foot in front of the other, I walk calmly on stage.

Arrayed in front of me are the thousands of egg-shell faces, neatly packed into their velvet rows. A glaring veil of light separates me from them, smudging their features and smearing the details of everyone beyond the second row. Although I cannot see them, I can hear them. There’s a thrumming force pulsating outwards as they wait for me to begin; a sound like a distant vacuum presses against me as they breathe as one. From behind me I sense the stage hands who, plugged in to their headsets like excitable droids, have stopped unnaturally in their tracks, waiting.

They tell you to breathe when you panic, as if the simple act of inflating your lungs will quiet your nerves. You see it countless times in television dramas: a brown paper bag is cupped over the mouth of a startlingly red-faced victim, crumpling in on itself before expanding again at a comedic rate. The ruddy face drains of harsh colour as calm is restored, an embarrassed smile apologises to the screen, and the world is reset.

There are no paper bags here.

Nervous air judders past my lips and my chest heaves – but then I spot an old man in the front row with wrinkles around his eyes so deep that they look like two balls of crumpled tissue. He isn’t looking at me: in fact, his eyes are closed and he is resting his head against the back of his seat, as if he is about to fall asleep. The only reason I know he is paying attention is because of the soft smile twitching at the corner of his lips. The rapid panic ebbs away and filters through my veins; now it is a mere tingling in my fingertips. I raise the soft palette, imagine a cavernous hall in the back of my throat, and open my lips to inhale. The air slips down my throat with the cool silky touch of water, trickling into every limb and blossoming in every muscle.

This breath and the breath of the vast crowd before me is like the ocean: an endless, surging, effortless tide that washes over and in and around. There is a magnetic reflux to it, tugging and releasing, rising to crescendos and dipping to pianissimo in silent unison with the moon. It is an unthinkable act, inconceivable in its very existence. We suck in the salt water of the air and crash it onto private pink shores.

Just when I feel full, I inhale a fraction more. The breath burrows deep into my lungs, nudging at the diaphragm, inching it into expanse, and I am ready. I am pregnant with air from my collar bone to my womb.

The familiar grip of the rectus abdominus provides the foundation, setting like a well of cement in the contact with oxygen. I am buried in the slatted stage; I can feel the tactile reaction of it against the balls of my feet, feeding strength up and into my softened knees. From the waist down, I am solid, steely, pushing outwards and downwards. The breath squats like a bunker deep underground, anchoring the store of oxygen in a concrete box that fastens the balloon breath billowing out the rest of my body. Slowly, I begin the release, and feel the air rising in me, a warm cloud waiting for transformation.

Up to the diaphragm, this arched dome under my lungs where the air sits like a rubber ring around my waist. It is grazing against the sacks of my lungs; I can almost hear a grating squeak as they rub together. Sque-eze. It is a drawn-out, exhaustive movement that saps the strength from me and squashes the air into a concentrated flow, steering it with purpose. Drawing on the lift from the bunker store below, it funnels the air higher up towards the larynx, the colour of the muscle pinkening, before releasing duties over to the lungs.

They are still fat with oxygen. The branched bronchioles bulge against the air sacks as if seeking more, greedy for the sweet taste; the main store in the lower lung is a sunken treasure trove, rich with product and pompous in its surety that soon it will be in demand. The ground beneath them shifts: this is their cue. Reluctant to let it all go at once, a slow release ensues, a battle of control as all three litres of air whistle back up the bronchi and into the trachea in a victorious race for freedom.

In a wild rush, the air flirts past the vocal chords, revelling in the journey’s disturbance, twanging on them like guitar strings and pocketing the vibrations on their way. Atomic couriers, they whizz through the vocal flaps on humming mopeds, one note clinging to the exhausts in an anxious state of pre-delivery, before re-entering the cavity under the soft palette.

This place is now huge, rounded. It opens up through the nose and billows out the throat; externally, a new chin has appeared. It is like a rouge ballroom, the tongue as rough flooring, the palette a soft, gathered ceiling. The couriers delight in this place, dancing around the pearl columns, gathering each atom into a mass of sound ready to dance their way across the tongue to freedom.

A slit of light bursts into the space as the lips are parted. The mass is released in a perfect, smooth stream; vibrations fill the mouth, tickle the tongue, swirl around each tooth, and burst with triumph into the world. An A, two octaves above Middle C. It pings in the listeners ears, a crystalline drop in the vast ocean of opera.

The old man in the front row, his comforting tiny eyes gummed shut with old age, grins.

When words aren’t enough, dance around in your underwear and dance to bad music.

There are days when I can’t find the words for what has happened: for the thankfulness I feel in my heart or the stretch of the smile I have on my face. I am bursting with words, but none of them do justice to the wonder bottled up in the thunder of my drum beat heart. All I can voice is what was – what comes of it is the next bend in an enticing road stretching towards summer. And good lord, I can’t wait for that.

Keep your eyes peeled for some possibly exciting news here on elspod. In the meantime though, I invite you to share in the tiny nuggets of today that are all I can form on the scattered, iridescent platform of disbelief that is currently my brain.

* * *

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Today was a day of jostling trains, finished novels and sunken ships

Today was a day of scarf wearing and cheek burning and hair knotting winds.

Today was a day of big decisions and three hour long coffees and jacket potatoes gone cold.

Today was a day of nervous hope and voiced worries and silenced fears.

Today was the day I took the first step, made the first leap, and plunged into the deepest depths of the most magnificent pool.

Today was the day I said Yes, the day I shook off How, and the day I embraced New.