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I am not a very good gardener. Often, in the past (okay including the last few months), plants have died from neglect or they’ve struggled for survival in a cocoon of weeds. I don’t mean to kill them, I just forget.

 

A little while ago my parents bought me a lot of beautiful flowers for my garden. Okay, I did manage to kill two of the plants before they went into the garden BUT, my point is – I was very touched by their gift not only of the plants but of their time and encouragement. Together, along with my kids, we got the garden looking pretty for the first time in a long time.

 

Since then, I haven’t killed anything.

 

I get so much pure pleasure from these flowers. Roses, daisies, begonias, geraniums, and some others I’m not yet great on remembering the names of. They greet me when I come home every day and give me so much happiness.

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I’ve been really making an effort during these hot summer days to remember to water the garden and make sure the boys weed it.

 

Tonight, as I stood watering the garden and letting my mind drift (because there’s not a lot else to do) I realised that taking care of my garden is a handy metaphor for taking care of my mental wellbeing full stop.

 

And you know I love a good metaphor!

 

Neglecting our happiness, our mental well-being, is pretty easy to do. We forget to weed out the negative and unhelpful thoughts. We think everything is fine and we can just look after it next weekend, when we have more time.

 

When it gets a bit untidy and overgrown, or things start wilting, we get embarrassed when people come round, or look at it. We feel bad about asking for help because we feel like it’s got that way through our own neglect so we should have to deal with cleaning it up ourselves.

 

But sometimes it’s really hard to do by yourself.

 

Sometimes, when the weeds are everywhere, and the flowers are brittle sticks, you don’t even know where to start. It all feels so very overwhelming. And you’re a rubbish gardener anyway. Why bother?

 

But then maybe you see a little flower blooming through the weeds, pushing its way valiantly to the light. You stop and marvel at it, admire its resilience.

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Maybe you ask for help, and people want to help, and you finally manage to clear it all out and replenish it and it brings you happiness again.

 

As I stood there watering I realised that the only way for me to ensure that not only do my poor little plants survive but that the joy I get from them is ongoing, is by investing time and effort into maintaining it.

 

It doesn’t take that long either – a bit over half an hour maybe to water my flowers. A little bit of time weeding. A bit of effort to remember to spray the roses and check for aphids.

 

And it’s the same with my happiness. Now that I have come through an incredibly difficult year of depression and stress and ill-health, I need to make sure I am putting effort into myself – my health, my wellbeing. I need to make sure I am keeping the weeds away regularly. Part of self-care is practicing positive self talk. I need to water the things that bring me joy – spending time with friends and family, writing, reading, exploring – even when perhaps I feel it’s too hard.

 

The focus on effort is not an accident. Being positive takes a lot of energy and sometimes hard work. Keeping demons at bay requires consistency.

 

It’s worth it for my garden, and it’s worth it for my well-being and my happiness.

 

How will you water your happiness in 2019?

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IMG_2966As a parent, you spend a lot of time teaching your kids stuff – how to do basic tasks, why manners are important, how to share when you don’t want to, and why it’s a really bad idea to stab that slug that crept into the dishwasher.

 

But we learn from our children too, most often without being aware of it. With the arrival of 2019 I found myself reflecting on some lessons I have learned from my sons.

 

Taking action on a fear lessens it

This is one of those lessons you learn because you’re teaching it – a case of practice what you preach. I will often get paralysed by fear of bills or the fear of inadequacy. When I was terrified about sending out queries my sons reminded me that I always tell them to face their fears.

 

They were right.

 

I’ve seen them face down fear of public speaking, of telling the teacher they haven’t done their homework, of zooming down a big hill, of embarrassment, and of catching public transport by themselves. I’ve seen them learn that the fear is soon over and that once the action is taken and a decision is made the fear subsides. The movie ‘We Bought A Zoo’ has one of my favourite quotes about courage:

 

You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.

 

This last year I wanted to run away from my writing a great deal but I remembered the look in my sons’ faces when they conquered a fear and I did it anyway.

 

Being useful provides a good sense of self efficacy

 

Recently my parents came around to help us make my garden into something beautiful. The boys dug holes, planted the roses they’d chosen, carried clippings, mowed lawns, weeded. The next weekend they cleaned off the deck and helped clear the garage. They didn’t necessarily start out keen about these things but at the end both of them felt proud of themselves, they felt energised and capable. They had been useful, helpful, and active. All these things help build a view of ourselves as effective and help build our self esteem.

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Patience is more than a virtue, it is a kindness

 

Many, many times, I have wanted to rush my kids through some less than scintillating recount of their latest computer game escapades before my brain explodes. I’ve wanted to rush the bedtime story to get to bed myself or to get on with my own writing or reading. But every time that I have stopped and relaxed into it, been patient with their enthusiasm, their chatter, their slow stories, I’ve seen the pleasure in their faces. Being patient with them and their follies, their passions, their mistakes, their stress about their homework, is a kindness. It shows them that they are valued. They know I don’t love computer games – what they take from this is that I love them. I have a tendency to be impatient in some circumstances but when I remind myself to practice patience I am always reminded that what I am practicing is kindness.

 

And what you reap is joy.

 

One of my best memories is going with my kids to North Head – there are a bunch of old military tunnels and slopes to ride down on cardboard, and seaside caverns to explore. Often on a day trip we go we do the thing and I’m “Okay we gotta go, we’ve done the thing, let’s go.” This day I didn’t. I was patient with them. I listened to the long stories and thoughts and I followed them wherever they wanted to go. We explored that whole darn place. I had so much fun seeing their excitement and pleasure in discovering new things.

 

You also, when you’re patient with the world, see magic.

‘Quick we’re going to be late! Quick! Why have you Stopped!’

‘Look Mum!’

‘What? What are we doing?’

‘Just look!’

There, on his finger, picked up from the fence, was a perfect dew drop, shimmering in the sunlight.

Magic. 

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I took this photo towards the end of last year. I was so entranced by the beauty of these dew drops. I’m glad I stopped to look.

Sometimes you can’t fix things

 

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes you lose everything you’ve worked hard to collect on Roblox and you feel devastated. Sometimes you have to go between two different houses and two different parents and you have to deal with all your conflicted feelings about it. Sometimes you have to go to family things and not the cool thing with your friends. Sometimes you feel scared and sad and lonely and you can’t just wish the feelings away.

 

Being a parent all you want to do is make sure your kids are happy. When you’re able to rebuild the destroyed Ninjago dragon lego the dog knocked over (without instructions!!) you feel like a superhero.

 

But lots of times you can’t do that.

 

My oldest son was bullied a lot in primary school. I could help some, but I couldn’t make it go away. I’ve learned so much about acceptance and about positivity and about holding my kids while they cry for half an hour – not telling them it’s all okay because they know it isn’t, but just letting them know that I am there and they aren’t alone. I’ve learned about respecting people’s distress even if you don’t think Minecraft is anything to cry about.

 

Encouragement and Support goes both ways.

 

This last year was incredibly difficult for me (hence the lack of blogging). My sons have been the most extraordinary cheerleaders and supporters. The care and love they give me has lifted me from spiralling sadness so very many times. I didn’t exactly wander around weeping in front of them, but I was open with them about my battle through depression, I was open with them about my initial hurt over my writing being rejected, I was open with them about my insecurities about my writing, and my struggle to feel ‘enough’. I don’t want to burden them but I think sometimes knowing someone is sad but not why can be very upsetting for kids. My sons were able to cheer me, to remind me to be strong, to let me know they loved me regardless of what I saw as failings, and to show me through small but precious ways that they respect and value me for who I am and what I do.

 

I have always strived to support and encourage and cheerlead my kids. To show them that I’m on the side lines and on their side. Knowing that they were wanting to do the same for me was one of the biggest blessings of a difficult year.

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BCR Christmas Story

This Christmas story uses the characters and world from my latest WIP – Blood Cursed Rose (a Vampire Beauty and the Beast Retelling). I hope you enjoy!

The front door banged, rattling the study windows behind heavy drapes. Lola caught herself smoothing down her jacket, brushing over the pencil skirt that would never dare to get wrinkles. Her pulse thumped.  She twisted her hands away and placed them flat on the table. Listening, but refusing to admit who she was listening for.

Cullen’s voice rumbled through the hall, his sister’s bubbly happiness rising around it. The damned dog barked and yipped. She closed her eyes at the sounds of claws scrabbling on the parquet floor. Horace’s voice rose, her loyal factotum attempting to remonstrate with the humans. A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips as silence fell, and she sank back in the deep leather chair.

The silence rolled up the stairs, heavy and expectant, broken by the snick of a latch. She tapped her nails on the desk. If it was important, Horace would come. A dark red ledger thumped as she dragged it open, the numbers fading under unseeing eyes. There was no need for her to go find out what was happening.

In her own house.

A giggle rose through the air, floating in the open window, and she pushed back her chair and strode to the door.

Her heels clattered on the wide wooden staircase. She slowed her stride until they sounded a strong measured tap instead.

Music came through the door of the library, and she stumbled to a stop. The library. How dare they!

She flung open the door and the horrific strains of jazzy Christmas tunes curled around her. Cullen stood in front of a massive tree, glittery snakes in his arms, and Annette rose on tip toes to hang a sparkling orb on a branch.

“What the devil is this?”

Wullie barked and ran at her jumping and licking. She hissed, baring her fangs, and he danced in a circle, wuffing again.

Horace appeared behind Wullie, his smile twisting and an unusual flush ridging his pallid cheeks. The reindeer horns on the normally dapper vampire’s head were ridiculous. Bells. The horns had bells. She refused to pay attention to Wullie sitting quivering in front of her, one paw raised, his eyes fixed on her jacket pocket.

A slow grin spread on Cullen’s face. “I think he’s expecting something.”

“That’s because he has more hair than brain.”

He raised one of those perfect eyebrows and his lip quirked. Heat flushed her cheekbones and Wullie whined.

“Fine.” Avoiding Cullen’s eyes, she dug into the pocket of her suit and pulled out a small piece of dried liver. “Traitor dog.” She tossed the treat down to the ecstatic terrier and strode towards the tree, ignoring Horace’s smothered smile even as her heart warmed to see it. He’d been sinking into the darkness, losing his clawed grip on eternity, and if the dog and silly sweet Annette could bring him out of it she’d do more than toss liver at Wullie each time she saw him.

“What do you think you’re doing with this forest in my library?”

Cullen stretched up an arm, draping a tinselled stream over bristly needles. She kept her eyes on his face, resisting the urge to watch his muscles shift under the thin sweater.

“Hardly a forest, Lola.”

“It’s my house, I’ll hyperbole if I want to. Explain this.” Her arm swept out to encompass the music, the tree, Horace helping Annette pick out baubles. Wait a minute. “Where’s Aden?”

A shadow flitted over Cullen’s face before he rearranged it into a blank calm. “Worried about the whereabouts of your hostage?”

She pushed away the spike of hurt in her chest. “No, just wondering how he managed to escape this madness.”

The door opened behind her and Aden’s heartbeat filled her ears. The sense of him sat at the base of her skull. She looked over her shoulder at the young man with the tray of some revolting looking drink.

“He didn’t escape. He was getting eggnog.”

Heat flushed her chest, a burning shame that made her press her lips together. It hadn’t been her fault. Aden cut a rose.

Horace appeared at her shoulder, his eyes pools of dark understanding in his pale face. He handed her a delicate glass orb, suspended by a crimson ribbon. “My advice? Join in, it’s a big tree and it’s not as awful as you think.”

She lifted the bauble. Cullen’s gaze burned a hole in her back as she stepped forward, her scalp prickled and the ornament slipped through her fingers. It tumbled to the floor, smashing against the wood. Annette gasped and Lola’s hand curled against her skirt. They thought she’d done it on purpose.

The music twisted around her in a taunting dance, winding through the scent of Annette’s nervousness behind her laughter, the rigid hostility rising off Cullen, and Aden’s sullen resentment. Bile rose at the back of her throat. Ridiculous. None of this was for her and they’d ruined her library.

She spun on her heel, ignoring Horace’s outstretched hand, and stalked through the door, down the hall, and straight to the small white door that led to the garden. Her heart pounded a rhythm in her chest matching each step. Fool. Idiot girl. Fool.

The door flung wide as she thrust her way out into the chilled air, inhaling the scent of the roses. The blooms shuddered and whispered and she tried to draw it in, tried to drive out the memory of delicate glass smashing at her feet. Cool earth met her knees as she sank down near the closest bed. Her hands pushed into the soil and she focused on breathing, on the life passing through the roses and the dirt and up her arms. Her fangs lengthened and she squeezed her eyes shut. Control. She could control it.

Aden’s heartbeat pounded at the base of her skull and she swallowed more bile. But it was Cullen’s face she’d run from.

The roses hushed and nodded and batted at her head.

After a long moment she pulled her hands from the dirt and shifted to sit, the pencil skirt smudged and marked with dirt. She regarded the toes of her stilettos and pretended she wasn’t listening for the strains of that awful music coming from the library.

The chill of the ground didn’t bother her as it seeped through her suit. A hot ball lodged in her chest.  

After what seemed to be forever the music and laughter stopped. The light turned off in the library. Not until all the lights went out did she stand, catching her heel in the cobbles. She walked the opposite way to the library, toward the small red door on the other side of the mansion and the stairs to her room.

She sat curled on her bed, her head resting on her knees, watching the moon outside the window. Having humans in the house really disrupted her sleep patterns. She thought of reading but each word on the page reminded her of the travesty sitting in her library.

Christmas tree. Who brought a Christmas tree into a vampire’s house?

Cullen. With his smirk and his daring and his complete knowledge that she wouldn’t harm him. He’d brought his family first, then his annoyingly cute dog, and now a tree. She drew her knees tighter to her chest, sparking blue eyes playing in her mind. Having a hostage was supposed to be easier than this. They weren’t all supposed to move in and change things. Confusion twisted her thoughts, as it had done for the last two weeks.

With a huff, she stretched out her legs and hopped off the bed, reaching for the light switch. Colours twinkled outside and she paused, her heart catching. She padded to the window.

Floating out from the library window below were multihued flashes and flickers.

Christmas trees had lights.

A deep urge uncoiled deep inside her. Centuries of dark winters, of decrying the pagan rituals that turned into Christian holiday, sat heavy in her mind.

A Christmas tree with lights was in her house.

Right below her.

She should check it out.

Make sure it wasn’t going to set fire to the books.

She padded from her room in bare feet, grabbing a woollen cardigan to drape over her shoulders. The stairs creaked once and she froze, before reminding herself it was her house and she could walk where she wanted. She crept down the rest of the stairs.

Light danced through the library door in stealthy twinkles of bright colours. She bit her lip and tugged at the soft fleece of her sweatpants. With a tight flick of her fingers she summoned the darkness, arming herself in shadows instead of a suit. Each step into the library sent prickles running under her skin.

Looming and stinking of pine, the tree dominated the room. Ridiculously garish, it beckoned as much as it repelled. Her hand stole up her sleeve to her elbow and she cocked her head, but no sound other than the excited hush of the roses through the window casement disturbed the silence. The lights mesmerised her. Draped in chains around the tree, they both adorned and confined it.  Her eyes dropped to the base and she caught her breath. Boxes with bows and ribbons and shiny paper perched under the lower branches.

Time flowed like sap. Wispy shadows drifted away as her hold on them loosened, her mind enraptured by the colour and the promise sitting at the end of the room.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Cullen’s voice by her ear made her jump, her foot caught in the long hem of her sweatpants. His hand grabbed her elbow, his touch burning like flame through the chunky wool.

A snappy retort pressed at the back of her teeth, driving to get out, to put distance between her and this glowing tree. She looked up at his face, the strong line of his jaw softened by the coloured lights, and swallowed the words.

“Yes.” she whispered.  

A smile spread on his face, crinkling around his eyes, and her pulse hammered through her veins. His fingers slid down her arm, lingering over her hand.

“I realised we forgot something when we were decorating. The most important thing.”

His heartbeat fluttered in his throat and she drew taller, his nervousness giving her strength.

“So important it couldn’t wait til morning?”

He kept his eyes on hers, so blue, so fierce. His hand pulled a squashed piece of plant out of his pocket, the spiky leaves catching on the denim. “I didn’t think so, until I heard you come down the stairs. Then it was all I could think about.”

“A plant?”

He stepped closer. “Mistletoe.” Her breath came faster, and the heat from his body set a flame in her own.

“Cullen, this isn’t a good idea.”

He held the mistletoe over her head, his other hand rising to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “I know. And tomorrow no doubt I’ll remember you’re a beast and I’m a hunter, but tonight is Christmas Eve.”

Her thoughts whirled, freezing her in place. So many reasons humans were off limits. Good reasons. This man in particular. But the smell of him reminded her of a garden in summer, his soft eyes twinkled in the light from the tree, and she rose on her toes to kiss him anyway. As their lips met and his arms tightened around her, she pretended tomorrow didn’t matter. The whispered hush of the roses filled her head. Tonight she would steal a little moment of magic.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Frost crackled into jagged patterns across the window pane. Jack curled his fingers away from the glass then rubbed at the ice with his sleeve. So many years, but old habits died hard.

 

A faint ticking from the mantlepiece clock filled the silence. Darkness seeped through the glass. He leaned his hand on the sill, drawing in the cold.

 

Lights flashed from the apartment below, a relentless rainbow of garish colours strung up to hold back the depths of winter. He closed his eyes against a flicker of red and remembered trickles of blood on snow. Those final moments when his destiny was set.

 

Banging on his front door brought him back to now. He left the window with the defiant frost once more rimming the edges, and stamped to where muffled giggles and voices came through the door. His stomach flipped and he wrenched open the door.

 

His scowl had no impact on the young woman with the beaming smile that snuck into his heart a long time ago. Caroline’s small brother poked his head around the bushy tree filling the stairwell with the scent of winter forests.  “We brought you a tree!”

 

Pine and blood, snow and fear. He leaned on the doorframe. “Mighty kind. How do you know I don’t already have one?”

 

Toby pushed around the tree. “Caroline says you don’t know how to celebrate Christmas so we’re going to show you.”

 

“Shush!”

 

He held back a smile. “Don’t shush him, it’s true enough.”

 

Happy lines creased the corners of her eyes and warmth spread in his chest. Normally he preferred the cold but she filled him with dizzying fire that battled with the frost, leaving him breathless.

 

“Do you mind?”

 

He couldn’t disappoint her. “Of course not. Bring it in, young Toby.”

 

The tree filled the corner, casting shadows. Toby grimaced. “It’s gloomy in here.”

 

Caroline shushed him again, holding out a small bauble on a ribbon. Inside the bauble a tiny figure sat on snow.

 

“It’s Jack Frost,” Caroline said. “I bought it for the name.”

 

His eyes flicked up to her cheerful gaze. “This is my first ever Christmas decoration.”

 

“Really? What about when you were little?”

 

He slid past the question. Some things shouldn’t be remembered. “Thank you.” He hung the bauble on the bare tree.

 

“You’re welcome.” Red flushed her cheeks. “I have to take Toby home now, but I hope to come visit when you’ve dressed the rest of the tree.”

 

His heart thudded and a chill filled the air. “I’d love that.”

 

“Great! See you soon!”

 

He closed the door and walked back to the tree. He placed a finger on the bauble and feathers of frost crept up over the glass, encasing the small figure in a cold prison. A small patch refused to ice over. He stared at the imprint of Caroline’s finger. Flake by flake the frost melted, leaving a gift, a tree, and warmth.

 

The above was written for the Blank Page Challenge for December.  The prompt was a Christmas bauble similar to the one here 🙂

 

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Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Aileth raised her face to the grey horizon, dragging her gaze from the freshly turned earth and bright floral displays and closing her ears to the voices wandering in search of hot tea and comfort.

Too young.

If only I’d made more time to see her.

It’s her cousin I feel sorry for.

Do you think she knew? That we loved her anyway?

Squat, sullen clouds loomed in the sky. Full to bursting. Refusing to weep. Every so often a raindrop escaped, speeding its way to the faces below, hiding amongst the tears.

She sighed, her breath turning to soft mist in front of her, despite the chill of the morning having long given way to the afternoon blanket of clouds.

Funerals are the worst.

The celebrant had been dignified but impersonal, clothed in his dark navy suit that hinted at mourning but respectfully distanced him from those whose hearts rattled in shattered shards beneath their ribs. He breathed in sharply between each line of speech. Aileth caught herself listening for the exhale, air running through words to send them floating meaningless and lost above bowed heads.

She turned away from the grave as the first cloud began to cry.

Leaves, golden in death, crunched under the feet of the mourners. Little explosions. Aileth smiled as she walked through a pile of silent foliage, remembering when she was small and would be overcome with disappointment when the leaves didn’t smash like crisps. Drifts of copper covered the park benches lining the path. Ahead lay the small sensible brick building where the mourners gathered. The kind of building you knew would smell of weak tea and reheated pastry.

The wake was nearly as depressing as the funeral. She wandered through the crowd, avoiding shrivelled old ladies who mouthed platitudes she didn’t want to hear. Ubiquitous sausage rolls and asparagus sandwiches sat glumly on the tables. The stiff bread hardly moved as she poked at a folded triangle before turning away. She didn’t feel hungry.

Regret hung like a lead blanket, muffling voices that spoke of ‘potential’, ‘a second chance’ and a million ‘if onlys.’

One person’s eyes spoke more than any of the loud-voiced people smothering their sorrow in meaningless conversation. Marama stood in the corner, her grief radiating outwards like a physical force pushing well-wishers away. Her long black trench-coat hung from scrawny shoulders over a black sweater and slacks, the only colour she wore a defiantly pink scarf that had drawn more than one disapproving glance.

Aileth curled her fingers into her palm, hesitating. After a long moment, she shuffled closer to the other woman.

Marama’s voice escaped in a harsh whisper. “This is awful.”

Aileth glanced around the room, at the emotional discomfort concealed under saggy cardigans and salt-water pearls. “It sure is.”

“She would have hated this.”

Aileth heaved a sigh. The muffling blanket seemed to be deadening her emotions as well. “Yep. So many people who never really cared and now they feel bad.”

Marama’s face relaxed and Aileth looked past her at the imposing features of Aunt Sarah. Her battleship prow of a nose led her sharp face, hiding a heart like marshmallow.

“Oh Marama dear, please let me say how sorry I am. It is the hardest loss for you young ones of course. You cousins were all very close weren’t you?”

“Very close.” Marama said, her clipped voice keeping emotions at bay.

Aileth dug her hands in her pockets, Aunt Sarah’s condolences sparked too many memories.

“Of course. Are you sure you’re alright to do the tidy up? With her poor parents gone I wasn’t sure what to do.” Scrawny fingers bedecked in tawdry rings twisted around each other. Marama smiled tightly and jangled a key. Aileth reached out to touch the cheerful pink daisy keyring but curled her fingers back.

“I don’t mind. She deserves to have someone who loves her take care of her things.”

Sarah smiled, her mouth lemon-juice-tight in her powdered face and tears glistening in her eyes. “Thank you, dear. Such a shame Aaron is still overseas, I’m sure he would have helped out too.” She strode away to supervise the refreshment table, frowning gently at those daring to take more than one sausage roll at a time.

“Silly old thing,” Marama murmured.

Aileth grinned where no-one could see. “She always was.”

The gloom of the afternoon hit her eyes as she followed Marama out of the building. “I wish it had been a sunny day. Sunshine doesn’t suit funerals, but it would have been nicer.”

They walked to the carpark through a light breeze that lifted the leaves and tugged at Marama’s curls. Chilled air followed them into the small hatchback. Marama shivered and turned up the heater. Lorde’s “Perfect Places” echoed from the radio and Aileth smiled. Only a few bars played before Marama let out a small sob and turned off the radio. Silence filled the drive after that.

They sat in the car outside the small bungalow for some time, Marama’s hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel, her eyes fixed on the Nissan logo stamped into the dashboard. Aileth turned to stare at the house. Sparrows frolicked in the small birdbath in the front lawn. Circulars and local papers spilled out of the letterbox.

“No point in putting it off,” Marama said and shoved open the door.

Aileth sighed as she followed her. “True that. Putting things off never works out.”

A sprawl of late-season daisies fought through the weeds in the garden. Brave yellow and pink faces reached to the grey sky. Marama didn’t spare them a glance, but stood, staring at the lock of the front door, the key clenched in white-knuckled fingers.

A small smile twisted Aileth’s mouth as she bent down to stir the daisies with her hand. “The green thumb didn’t really run in the family. Poor daisies.”

Marama took a deep breath and turned the lock.

A loud miaow escaped from the hall and Aileth’s heart constricted. Marcel.

Black fur rose thick around his hackles and brushed tail. He fixed unblinking green eyes on her then wound around her feet, his yowling cutting through the muffling sensation in her ears.

Marama huffed and closed the door. “There you are! Silly cat! We’ve searched all over for you and here you are dancing in circles!”

Marcel mrrped up at Aileth and she bit her lip. “He needs food, his water bowl will need checking too. Poor cat. Who’s going to take him?”

Marama sighed and picked up the cat, pure black except for the white tuft that Aileth had always thought made him look like a parson. “I guess you’ll have to come with me until we find you a home.” She snuggled her face into his fur. Aileth watched the tears glisten on Marama’s cheek and turned away from Marcel’s unblinking gaze.

 

The mirror in the hall needed cleaning. Aileth gazed at the spots of fly dirt, the grime and dust on the frame. She had never been any good at remembering to dust. Life was too short to worry about dusting. When you were determined to squeeze excitement from every second, wringing it to a desiccated pulp, housework lurked far down the list of ‘must dos’.  Funny. She always thought she’d be embarrassed if anyone saw the mess she left behind. But Marama’s eyes didn’t see the dirt, the mess, the fly spots. Tears flooded and blinded her. Each discarded note and plate received its own lamentation. Marama’s finger stroked down the flowered handle of a small cake fork, crumbs clinging to the prongs. Her shoulders caved in and she shattered into sobs, sinking to the ground.

Aileth stood over her, hand hovering above the tight ponytail, so close to touching.

The rich tang of the cake sat on her tongue still. Velvety chocolate, tart raspberry. A rare treat. She’d fallen asleep on the sofa afterwards. Snuggled under a blanket, tissues and medications close by, she hadn’t been able to face the walk back to bed.

Devils Cake, they called it.

Aileth crouched by Marama, wishing she could make it better as her cousin’s wailing intensified.

“I’m sorry Aileth. I’m so sorry I stopped coming around. I’m sorry I stopped texting. I never stopped loving you, it was just hard.” Marama grasped the fork so tightly Aileth worried it would pierce the soft hand that had always offered comfort. Always reached out. Until recently.

“It’s okay, you know. I was scared before but I don’t really feel much now. I wish I could let you know.”

She reached out, a chill settling between her hand and Marama’s. “I never minded. And I always knew you loved me.”

Slowly, Marama let go of the fork, placing it gently with the rest of the things. She drew in a deep breath, her shoulders rising, and raised her chin. “Right. Lots to do. Better keep on.”

Aileth supposed she should feel guilty but there wasn’t a lot of space for emotion in the chill numbness taking over her body.

 

At last the only place left to clear was the shed. It was strange, seeing your life sorted into piles of importance by someone else. What was discarded, what kept, what was wept over. All her precious books, tossed in a box, while the artsy vase she secretly hated was wrapped carefully in tissue paper. The shed, though. Aileth wasn’t sure she wanted Marama to see. No-one had ever seen.

Golden leaves sat in a heap in front of the rough-hewn oak doors, hanging slightly askew from faulty hinges. Marama eyed them and sighed.

“Oh Aileth. Why didn’t you tell us? Aaron would’ve come round in a shot to get it sorted.”

Her fingers passed over the wood like velvet but her mind still remembered the splintery texture. “Because I could pretend things were different, like in a storybook. This was my secret place. Secret places don’t have plain doors made of aluminium and hardboard.”

Fine silvery cobwebs clung to the doorframe and floated onto Marama’s hair as she entered. Aileth ducked her head from habit. The spiders never bothered her and she left them alone in return.

She nearly bumped into Marama when her cousin stopped abruptly but she sidestepped, not sure if she’d pass through her or not but unwilling to take the chance. And she wanted to see Marama’s face.

Tears spilled from her cousin’s wide eyes, a smile splitting her face for the first time in days. “Oh Aileth. You didn’t stop.”

The dim grey light filtering inside was beaten back by the deep oranges and reds of the paintings lining the small shed. Aileth breathed in, the cool mist surrounding her deadening the scent of turpentine, oil paint, and wood that had always settled her spirit. “I couldn’t stop.”

Every regret, every sadness, every obstacle, she had rendered through her fingers into the paint, transformed into joyous fiery swirls. This was the heart of her. Her spirit. Her illness tried but hadn’t tainted it, her difficult awkwardness never mattered in here. Only the paint and the process and the peace.

That same peace settled on Marama’s face. She leaned against the doorframe, cobwebs and all, and gazed.

Aileth stood in the middle of her paintings and smiled at her cousin. Her edges blurred, feathering into a wisp of air.

“You know it now, I think. That I never minded. Take care of Marcel. He’s greedy but sweet. Tell him I love him.”

She leaned closer to kiss her cousin’s forehead and all that was left of her scattered to the breeze, touching the paintings that shone with bright defiance before escaping the shed to play with the leaves.

Crunch, just like a potato crisp.

 

 

 

 

Originally written for and submitted to the Blank Page Challenge