Tuesday 23 July 2024

A Letter to Sarah, Porchester, 1814 by Jane Spirit, a glass of ale

I have shared so much with you, Sarah, over the long years since I was first brought to your shores. I fear that you will think it strange that I cannot share in your joy today, though I can understand it. After so much time, a generation’s worth of dreary days, how wonderful it must seem to you to hear the declaration of peace upon the harbourside and to join the crowds as they stream up the hill towards the market square. There everyone will converge to raise a glass of ale, share food and cheer for the victory that they can finally proclaim over Napoleon. You must forgive me if I cannot share in the jubilation of the swelling voices and clapping hands I can hear from my own small room where I sit silently, shutters drawn. It is not that I do not welcome the coming moment when the beacon at the top of the square will be lit to commemorate the end of war. It is just that for me those flames do not signify hope for the future. My future has been taken from me, as has my past, for I can never again savour the place that once sustained me, from which I was removed, a victim of your war. You have been a true friend to me, and I am grateful, but for now it is better that I stay quietly by our fire attending only to the long-ago griefs rekindled in its dying embers.

As every day, I think of you, my poor newborn baby, your first cry breaking through the wall of inertia I had built against the endless buffeting of ocean winds and the sickness that never quite went away however accustomed I became to the shifting waves. You must have been disturbed by the change in the ship’s direction and its gradual slowing. My pains began as we were being guided into the harbour by smaller vessels who ploughed ahead to lead us in. We prisoners were being fetched from below in what seemed like a rare gesture of kindness but was probably intended merely to speed up our allocation to sea or land once we had docked in the harbour. I held on till almost the last gasp before falling to the floor and screaming with pain in a way that alarmed the young officer who had been placed in charge of us and who called for the ship’s doctor to come and examine me. I scarcely needed his attentions as the rush of birth came on fiercely after that and the doctor had only time to catch you in his arms, moaning about his best jacket being blooded and then secure the cord before passing you on to me to be cradled and fed, wrapped in an old seaman’s shirt. When I looked at you, I saw that you were such a thing of beauty, a light of new life shining in that dark cave-hold where we were stowed as cargo during the months of our crossing. I held you close for the joy of taking deep breaths; the perfume of your skin an antidote to the pressing smell of unwashed bodies otherwise relieved only by the lingering tang of salt water used to swab our quarters from time to time. I drank you in and when I touched your skin it was as if I stroked again, oh so gently, the strong and even sapling that had grown steadily outside my ancestral home, its branches thrusting upwards to the far reaches of our starry skies, but also outwards ready one day to shade us from the searing sun. Seeing you took me back there, son, to my birth home and yours, where you came into being in a wordless act of love and, not knowing that you had been robbed of your inheritance, of the sun, the stars, the tree, lay low, cocooned within me, until the time had come to make your entrance.

My darling, my hope, my remnant of that older and oh so precious life before our capture and removal from the island home of our youth, in chains, lulled by the creaking rhythms of the voyage only to be woken, as were you my precious boy, by the cold reality of our destination, moored up so tantalisingly close to land, but made to stay on board until our fate had been decided. And then came the women of the port, employed to make our daily pottage and to swab the decks. You were one of them, Sarah, and there was something kindly in your face that made me certain you could never look upon my baby and hate me. He was a thing of beauty, and no-one surely would begrudge him the air he breathed or breast that suckled him. Like the other women you could not help but smile to see him, bringing little gifts and trinkets hidden in the rags we wrapped him in. You ran your fingers through my boy’s hair and touched his tiny nose with your first finger, talking slowly, confidentially as if in hope that he would somehow understand you. It was you who called him Chester as you gestured to the fortress walls alongside which our ship had sunk its anchor saying ‘Por-chest-er’ repeatedly and waiting with your finger pointing to my mouth until I copied you to signify the castle where we had landed and then my son’s English name. And as you came and went, teaching us new words upon each visit, we were left bobbing in the harbour: A human surplus kept separate, perhaps for fear that, if others saw us, they might think us too like them to hate us anymore.

You tried, Sarah, to help as Chester sickened with a fever, becoming fretful as he weakened, no longer focussing his bright eyes, or seeking out our smiles. You wept with me when he died as we let him gently down into the harbour deeps, though you would not let me pray for death, embracing me as if you knew the meaning of the words I uttered in the depth of my despair.

He would have grown to be a man by now, Sarah, and you have helped me all these years, persuading the authorities that I should be lodged with you until the war was over as if you knew that, in time, the townspeople would grow accustomed to my presence. They watch me now without fear in their eyes as I work in the stubbly field behind your cottage to tend the little crops we grow before sitting down together beneath the shelter of the little oak that has grown there over time.

I was lucky to be rescued by you, Sarah, and I thank you in the language you have taught me for the aid you gave me. Still, you know, as I do, that your story is not my story. Mine runs another course, told in a different tongue, on an island place across the oceans, moons away, and ended long ago when my husband fought back against your people and was struck down and I travelled the seas by force to birth my child who sickened on that coffin-boat.

You deserve your celebration, Sarah, your moment of joy, as I deserve my chance to muse upon past happiness and sorrow. Do not search for me on your return. I plan to rest for a time under the oak tree where we buried Chester’s trinkets, and then at dusk to take myself down to the deserted harbour and watch the incoming tide from the rocks below the castle. Think of me as I will be there, happy for a time, alone, content, then leaning ever closer to the swell to share my whispered story with the sea.

About the author

Jane Spirit lives in Suffolk UK and has been inspired to write fiction by going along to her local creative writing class. 

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Monday 22 July 2024

Warned by Louise Arnott,soda

As Tyler pulled into the parking lot in his brother’s blue Honda Civic, Kara bounded out of Dairy Queen at the end of her shift and leaned in through his open window.’ Wow, Tyson let you have Civi tonight? I want behind the wheel. Come on. You know I’m a good driver. Just for a while. Please.’

 Tyler hesitated. Kara would likely dump him if she didn’t get her way but if Tyson found out, Tyler would never be allowed to borrow Civi again. Which would be worse - losing the girl or his car privileges?

Knowing in his gut this was a bad idea, he specified, ‘Okay, but no speeding, no fooling around.’ He eased out from behind the wheel.

Kara shoved past him, adjusted the seat and fiddled with the rear-view mirror.’ You are so not fun.’

‘You can only drive for a few minutes. Pay attention to what you are doing.’

Kara turned the key in the ignition, shoved in the clutch, revved the motor, and shifted, landing in third rather than first gear. The car lurched and stalled.

She giggled. ‘Oops, missed.’

Tyler protested, ‘I thought you knew how to drive a stick shift. Let me…’

‘I’ve got this, Tyler.’ She ground the gears, finally landed in first, popped the clutch and gave the car enough gas to keep it going. The car lurched forward.

Tyler grumbled. ‘Don’t ride the clutch. You’re going to burn it out.’

Kara stuck out her tongue. ‘Don’t be a backseat driver. I said I’ve got this.’

‘Don’t go past the shop - Tyson’s working, that’s why I get to drive her.’ Tyler drummed his fingers on the dashboard.’ And don’t go by my house. If Mom sees us, she’ll tell him.’

The next three shifts were smoother and Kara brashly headed for the highway exit.’ Let’s see what Civi will do. Tyson will never know.’

‘He will. He checks the odometer before and after I’ve borrowed her.’

      She rolled her eyes.’ Does weird run in your family?’ Rhythmically tapping her fingers on the steering wheel she said, ‘you should just turn back the mileage. I bet there’s a you-tube about how to do it.’

Tyler shook his head in disgust. What was with her and rules, anyway?

He suddenly saw what Kara was about to do and shrieked, ‘Don’t.’

Too late.

She recklessly swerved into traffic, missing a Fed-Ex truck by inches. The driver laid on the horn and Tyler dug his fingertips into the dashboard.

Kara cracked up. ‘You’re an old man at seventeen.’

‘Stop it. Keep both hands on the wheel.’ Tyler sat, knees locked, right hand in a death grip on the ‘oh shit’ handle. ‘Kara, watch the road. You’re gonna get us killed.’

Blue flashing lights in the rear-view mirror and the whoop of a siren startled Kara. She over-steered, veering into the right lane. The car pulled in behind her and the siren whooped again. A no-nonsense voice came through the police car’s public address system.

‘Pull over and stop the car. Immediately, Kara.’

‘Rats. It’s my dad. Why’s he out on patrol?’

Frantic, Tyler searched for Tyson’s insurance and car registration in the glove compartment. Kara checked her makeup and fiddled with her hair in the rear-view mirror. She impatiently revved the car engine.

‘Oh man, oh man, oh man! Shut off the engine, Kara. Now. We are in so much trouble. Kara, don’t anything else. I never should have…’

‘Cool it, Tyler. It’s just my dad. He’ll give me a blast and tell you off for letting me drive with only my learner’s licence.’


‘Yeah, but I get my Novice one next month.’

Sergeant Grayson walked along the passenger side of the car and lit up the interior with his Maglite.

‘Tyler Morrison, I thought you’d have more sense. Does your brother know what you are doing?’ He took the paperwork from Tyler’s shaking hand.

‘Yes, Sir, I mean, No sir, Mr. …um Sergeant Grayson.’

Sergeant Grayson shifted his flashlight, illuminating his daughter’s face. ‘Licence.’

‘Oh, Daddy, don’t be silly. You’ve known me my whole life.’

He snapped his fingers. ‘Licence.’

She pulled out her wallet and tossed it in his direction. Tyler caught it and handed it over.

‘Here, Sir. I’m sorry, she didn’t mean …Sorry, Sir.’

Sergeant Grayson took the wallet and paperwork and strode to the police car. He was gone for several agonizing minutes.

‘Are you brainless?’ Tyler wrenched the keys out of the ignition.

Kara shrugged; Tyler was history.

The Sergeant returned the paperwork to Tyler. ‘I could have the car impounded. The driver, with only her learner’s licence, was recklessly driving an uninsured vehicle, which is not yours. And, your right taillight is burned out.

Tyler held his head back to keep the tears rimming his lower lids from falling. ‘I’m really sorry, Sir. I…’

‘I’m letting you off with a warning, Tyler. You know you aren’t qualified to supervise her.’

‘I thought she had her licence, Sir, or I never would…’

‘Well, now you know.’

Kara grinned. ‘See, I told you Ty…’

Her father ripped her licence in two, leaned across Tyler, and handed her a ticket and her wallet.

Kara pulled back and stared at him. She barked, ‘What are you doing? You can’t …’

Sergeant Grayson held up his hand, palm forward. ‘Don’t.’

Kara wheedled, ‘Give me a warning like Ty. I won’t do it again. I promise.’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘You sure?’

She simpered. ‘Thanks, Daddy. You are the best.’ She crumpled the ticket.

 ‘Better not, you’ll need it when you go to pay the fine.’ He held her gaze. ‘And sweetheart, if I see you driving recklessly or hear about any new misdemeanours, you’ll be grounded until you are at least twenty-five.’

She shrugged off his meaningless warning.

      He leaned back and smirked. ‘And, Kara. Consider yourself fortunate it wasn’t Mom who pulled you over.’

Kara, silent for once, slid out of from behind the wheel and stomped around the front of the Honda. She glared at her father, and mouthed, ‘I hate you.’

He raised one eyebrow and spoke to Tyler. ‘I don’t need to follow you, do I? Take her straight home, then stop at the shop and fill your brother in on your escapades of the evening. Or I will.’

Tyler’s voice squeaked. ‘Thank you Sir.’

Mike Grayson rapped his hand on the roof, signaling dismissal. He returned to the police car and, sighing heavily, called his wife’s direct line at the detachment.

When he opened with, ‘Staff-Sergeant Grayson, ask our darling daughter…’

Paula Grayson knew it was going to be a long night and interrupted him. ‘What’s Kara done this time?’

      He continued, ‘How she spent her evening. I doubt her recollections will match mine.’

Paula came back with, ‘Mike, I can’t always be the enforcer. We need a better way of dealing with our recalcitrant daughter.’

Mike offered no argument. ‘Let’s grab a coffee after work and we can figure out how best to deal with this kid before she is completely out of control. After tonight’s run-in, I’m fully on board with your tough love approach.’


About the author 

Louise moved from land-locked Calgary, Alberta to Victoria, British Columbia to enjoy ocean views. Instead she spends hours in her basement writing-room considering the uncommon in the commonplace. 

Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

Sunday 21 July 2024

Sunday Serial: 240 x 70 26. In the Woods 14 January 2019 by Gill James, red wine


This collection is a collection of seventy stories, each 240 words. They were inspired by the first picture seen on my Twitter feed on a given day. 

26. In the Woods 14 January 2019

 She was lost. She kept going east. The woods were to the west of the town, weren't they? But it was getting dark now.

Then saw it the A-frame house. The windows were invitingly lit up. Logs were stacked up on the veranda and she could smell wood smoke.

She hurried up the steps and knocked at the door. No reply. She looked up to the upstairs window. Were they asleep? "Can you hear me?" she called. 

Still no reply. She pushed the door open. It wasn't locked.

A fire burned brightly in the log-burner. Someone must have lit it. She could smell cooking as well. Garlic. Herbs, maybe meat.

There was note on the table. "Help yourself. I'll be along later."

A few moments later the oven pinged. The food was done.

She waited. It was soon dark outside. She was hungry now. It didn't seem as if anyone was coming to eat the meal.

She found oven gloves, cutlery and a bowl and helped herself to some of the casserole. It was delicious but it made her sleepy.

She made her way up the stairs.

The bedroom was sumptuous. A thick duvet and big plumped up pillows. The ensuite was equipped with soft towels, a fluffy dressing gown and a power shower. After she'd showered and returned to the bedroom she saw the nigh shirt. Had that been there before?

No matter. She was so sleepy now. She slipped it on and climbed into the bed.

She awoke with a start.

"I knew you’d come." This wasn't Goldilocks or Hansel and Gretel. Trevor. The reason she'd run into the woods in the first place. This was  the nightmare.           

About the author

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.  

She edits CafeLit and writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation.

She teaches Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing.    




Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)