To me, the solstice marks a turning point. Ushering in a new dawn, it is an opportunity for change. New beginnings. So today seems a good time to share a piece that was written for my local writing group, the delightful http://tunbridgewellswriters.org.uk/ as part of our Christmas project. This year’s theme came courtesy of the opening line of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.
“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”
Whilst some may find such prompts restrictive, to me this particular line is full of possibilities, allowing a writer license to explore virtually any direction they choose. To me it is, indeed, all about the potential offered by new beginnings. Happy solstice xx
Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.
But it was an ending currently occupying Michael’s mind. In retrospect Caroline’s departure should not have been a wholly unexpected outcome but it was not a permutation he had predicted. It was precisely this insistence on applying inherent reasoning to all aspects of his life that had, in the end, been the crucial factor in the failure of this particular experiment.
He, she said, always insisted on attempting to quantify the unquantifiable. And when this was not possible he was unable to respond appropriately within acceptable parameters. (Her words.) Quite what acceptable parameters are he was at a loss to define, but was beginning to suspect that a) she demonstrably did not adhere to the same standard criterion of data interpretation as he; b) an empirical logic-based approach was incompatible with the actuality of a successfully functioning relationship.
‘I hate doing this to you right before Christmas,’ she’d said as she left.
Yet what possible significance could the timing of her departure be on the outcome of the situation? He had, incorrectly as it turned out, assumed this would not be a differentiating factor. And although clearly this was impossible to accurately measure, somehow, it was. Seasonal songs provoked unexpected responses in his cerebral cortex. Jostling crowds in the shopping centres were more than just the usual annoyance. Groups of friends celebrating in pubs and bars stirred unexpected emotions; evoked feelings even. It was unfamiliar, unexplainable. So, he had done the only sensible thing and walked away from the hustle and bustle to the top of the hill to more efficiently process this strange and irrational phenomenon.
The bench underneath him was cold but he welcomed the discomfort, finding it sharpened his thoughts as he sought clarity. The gaping yaw of the dark common lay below him, the bright lights of the town a little further away. Those of a romantic disposition, Caroline for example, would probably describe the scene as like something on a Christmas card. But Michael instead saw the lights and the darkness as a pattern to decipher. He was observer rather than participant, and all would make perfect sense with the enhanced perspective that distance offered. All he required was this blessed solitude.
‘Shit, it’s freezing up here. Still, at least there’s somewhere to sit. I can’t walk another bloody step in these heels.’
Michael turned to the stranger who had intruded so abruptly into his contemplation, ready to utter a sharp response, but the breath caught in his throat. She had long black hair, pale skin, cheeks rosy with cold. Her short sequinned dress and thin jacket were entirely inadequate protection against the elements. Puffing in the chilly air, she rummaged in a plastic carrier bag on the bench next to her. Michael watched in stunned fascination as she pulled out a multipack of brand new socks and snapped the plastic ties with her teeth. Peeling off a pair, she kicked off the impractical heels and wriggled her delicate feet into the thick socks. They had clearly been purchased for a man, being far too large for her, but she didn’t seem to care and instead sighed with apparent pleasure and relief.
‘Ah, that’s better. Not elegant, I admit, but a bloody sight more comfortable.’
For the first time she appeared to notice Michael’s strained expression.
‘Sorry. Am I interrupting something?’
He wanted to say yes, to ask her to go away, but no words came out.
‘Okay, quiet boy. I’ll take that as a no. Drink?’
She pulled out a bottle of whisky, unscrewed the lid and took a deep draught before proffering it towards him. He almost declined out of habit but something made him hesitate and he reached for the bottle. Trying not to think about germs or the fact his mouth was in the exact spot hers had been just a few seconds previously he took a nervous swig. It burned, fire and ice at once, unfamiliar yet not entirely unwelcome.
‘I’m like a trusty St Bernard, bringing medicinal alcohol to those suffering in the snow,’ she said.
‘Drinking alcohol dilates the blood vessels and can induce hypothermia in freezing conditions. The notion these dogs carried kegs of brandy is a complete fabrication, due entirely to the extensive artistic liberties taken by Landseer in one of his paintings.’
She stared at him, incredulous, then shrugged.
‘That’s me told. And I suppose it isn’t snowing yet. Won’t it be lovely if we have a white Christmas?’
‘We won’t. The air pressure is all wrong. It’s going to rain.’
‘O-kay. And I suppose you wouldn’t enjoy it if it did, anyway.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘Well, I’ve only known you a brief while but I’m sensing you’re not the type to bunk off work to go sledging or make snow angels. It would be a pain in the arse rather than fun.’
‘I can do fun,’ he replied, wondering if this was at all true. Caroline hadn’t thought so. Maybe her surmise had been correct.
‘Have one of these,’ she said, rummaging again in her bag before handing him a small object like a grenade.
‘What is it?’
‘A seed bomb,’ she said, as if it were obvious. ‘I bought them for my sister but let’s throw them down onto the common.’
‘So that hopefully in a few months lots of wildflowers will grow here.’
‘Don’t the council take care of the landscaping?’
‘This isn’t about careful landscaping, it’s about the creation of random beauty. And all this rain you’re predicting will get them off to a good start. Come on.’
She hurled her seed bomb down into the black abyss of the common below, then grabbed his arm. He flinched at the sensation, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant as she drew his arm back and helped him throw.
‘There!’ she said, eyes blazing beautifully as she turned triumphantly towards him. ‘They’ll be so pretty.’
‘If they grow.’
And it was a beginning, of sorts.