One ink drawing by Laura Morgans, one piece of writing by Tom Spooner, every day in October.
It may have been the first time I had been crabbing, I couldn’t be sure.
The line, weight, and bucket of water by my side all seemed familiar but I could not recall anything beyond these assembled props. Perhaps I had registered them in the proximity of some other child on a pier somewhere: an inventory of a memory, a catalogue of a past moment. Thankfully, crabbing was instinctual. I appeared to know exactly what to do.
The thin cord of the line was wrapped around a plastic square, like that of a kite. A loose-knit pouch of cheap luncheon meat was secured to the end of the line. I swung my legs around to sit on the harbour wall, allowing my heels to bounce against the stone. It all felt like childhood; my own, others, the very essence of childhood itself. Nostalgia was as bright as the midday sun on the sea, as high-pitched and tangible as the briny air.
A seagull sat on the edge of an orange dinghy and watched as I lowered my bait towards the tangles of seaweed. It reached the sea and the meat absorbed water, I could feel the added weight on the line. Wrapping the cord around my fingers seemed like the natural thing to do. I wanted the tips of my fingers to sense even the slightest change from beneath the water.
Occasionally, I would lift my little finger as if I was drinking tea from a china cup, causing the line to twitch and the luncheon meat pouch to stumble forward. I wanted to attract the attention of a crab, give the impression that the turgid meat was easy prey, a chubby drunk stumbling blind into the wrong alleyway, on the wrong side of the tracks. Each twitch of my little finger was another lurching oblivious step further into hostile territory.
After five minutes of lurching, I felt a sudden change, a shift in balance. Slowly, steadily, I pulled on the line. It was soon above the waterline and I could see it clearly – a tiny crab pincers clinging desperately to the pouch of meat. Another foot and it was still there, spinning in the sunlight. The seagull cocked its head a deliberate inch to the left, eyeing my prize. Another foot further up the seawall. And then the weight disappeared, the crab fell back to the sea with an inaudible splash. I knew it was for the best. Some things were never meant to be.
The aphids fell like snow, gathering at the base of the flowerpot, settling to a sticky residue that would need to be scrubbed. It bothered him that these tiny creatures could so casually and efficiently suck the life from his flowers. Then, once they had had their fill, would relax their grip and fall, sated, to the ground. Even in their death, they continued to flaunt their appetites by decomposing in saccharine strips, decaying to leave glue-like paths.
He had tried to kill them. On several occasions, he had sprayed them with soapy water. He had scraped them off and crushed them between thumb and forefinger, turning the tips of his fingers white and sticky. He had taken them in the bath and drowned them in insecticide. This only seemed to make them stronger, hungrier. Like viruses they adapted, evolved whilst the flowers remained hopelessly, beautifully the same.
After each new attempt to despatch them, his mind would quickly be filled with concern. When would the aphids start feasting again? As he sat down for the evening, he thought he could hear them chomping, licking tiny tacky lips. When he glanced over, he was fairly certain he could see them marching up and down the stems.
It soon became apparent that the aphids would never die. He knew though that the flowers could.
It was with a heavy heart that he removed the flowers from the water. He placed them carefully in the airing cupboard to dry. He scrubbed at the residue around where they once sat and he allowed himself the smallest of smiles. This would be the last time. No more would they be a victim. The sweet nectar the aphids liked to gorge on was slowly drying behind a closed door.
The ballroom was where she first saw him. She remembered his fingers and how they fussed around his starched collar, how the black under his nails contrasted with the brilliant white of the cotton.
She had always been painfully shy and her sisters bullied her terribly because of it. They called her Boo Goose and never Beatrice. At that moment though, she did not feel shy in the least. Like a sail that suddenly catches a gust, she glided across the wooden floor towards him.
Carefully, she removed a cigarette from her case and placed it to her lips, timing it for the exact moment she arrived in front of him.
“I don’t suppose..”
She needn’t have spoke; those grubby fingers had already left the collar and, with something approaching a flourish, plucked a book of matches from an inside pocket.
As he held the flame close to her face, she felt her whole body course with warmth, from the inside out.
“Please miss, allow me”
He was well-mannered, a gentleman. She knew better of course. She recognised the yellowing callouses on his palms, the same as her father’s friend who worked the docks. She breathed deeply as she inhaled her cigarette, wanting nothing more than to smell him. She imagined cheap pomade, navy rum and a brooding stale sweat but what she smelt was deeper, more complex. Sandalwood and brandy, library books and forest floor, library books and sea breeze.
Her head was filled completely with colours and sounds and lights and lightness. She felt she might topple over. As Beatrice’s knees finally buckled, he effortlessly glided a chair to catch her fall, guiding her to safety with strong arms without once touching her.
The big band started up a foxtrot and the mirror ball span, releasing the guttering gas lights it had momentarily trapped. Twirling sprites fell all around her like sycamore seeds.
When she finally stood, she already knew where to extend her hand for him to meet it part way. She knew how it would feel to spin around the ballroom with him for the next three hours. In fact, although she did not let on, she knew how it would feel to sleep by his side for the next three decades, to rest her head on his chest and allow the low steady beat of his heart to send her into deep blissful sleep.
We all have private fears, those that we hide from others. We keep them secret because we don’t want to acknowledge that they exist. Some times these fears breakthrough and fill us. Like water flooding a basement. It is a twitchy paralysis that follows; trying to block these feelings and failing, unable to move under their sheer shifting mass.
Gary was claustrophobic. He had discovered this on a caving trip with his father when he was nine years old. He could still remember the panic in his father’s eyes, the concern pulling his whiskered cheeks taught as he watched his son gulp at the stale air in the chamber.
Ever since that day, Gary had avoided confined spaces and telling anyone of his phobia. He didn’t even talk to his father about it, not once.
Gary sought wide-open spaces. He would go running until the streets widened and then disappeared altogether. He would run along tracks until they too disappeared and all that was left was countryside and sky, expanding to the horizon. It was at this moment that he allowed himself to feel safe.
The claustrophobia was always there though, a constant threat. It could come on at any moment, sudden and absolute. His body would instantaneously fill with it and he was helpless.
It wasn’t long before the runs in the countryside weren’t enough. He didn’t feel safe anymore. The hills loomed over him, the evening sky pressed down. It took his friends and family by surprise when he took the job at the research centre in Alaska, but it was something he had always had in his mind. And it worked. His fear abated amongst the endless white. For a while at least.
Then one day he was out drilling samples when the white started to curl up like a piece of A4 paper, until it trapped him inside.
He didn’t know what to do after Alaska. There was nowhere that offered more openness. It was few weeks before he arrived upon the solution.
Gary decided that he would become an astronaut. He would take a mission to the moon or Mars and as soon as they had exited the atmosphere, he would sneak out of the sleeping quarters and get into his spacesuit. He would enter the decompression chamber and slowly open the airlock door. Then he would jump into space. The fear would be gone and he would float free. Until it was time and he would take off his helmet and let the endless black rush in.
There was a photo that he kept in his wallet that didn’t belong to him. It nestled between the loyalty cards of the coffee shops he rarely visited and a book of second class stamps.
The photograph had been cut from one much larger to dimensions similar to a passport photo. It had that late sixties nicotine tinge. It was of a woman, around eighteen but looking older, with black-rimmed glasses and an untidy bob. It wasn’t that she was unattractive, just that her features didn’t quite add up. Her nose looked too big some days, other days it was the hint of a lazy left eye that stood out or the expanding gap to the side of her two front teeth.
He didn’t really know why he kept the photograph at all, let alone in his wallet. Perhaps it was the fact that someone somewhere had loved that face. Each flaw was proof that they loved her, imperfections to build her perfection. It was also true that he didn’t have a photo of his own to put in its place. He had no wife, no children, no family to fold up for his wallet. He carried it as proof of love and to remind him that we would one day find it.
Is there anything better than climbing a tree
and getting to the top to discover a bee?
Is there anything better than being at sea
and hoisting the sails to reveal a bee?
Is there anything better than eating your tea
and finishing it up with the help of a bee?
Is there anything better than finding a key
when it’s the one that frees an unhappy bee?
Is there anything better than a hug for free
When it feels nice and warm like the fur of a bee?
Is there anything better than a garden pea
for using as a football to play with a bee?
Is there anything better than you and me?
Why, yes of course, there’s being a bee.