These are the things I never told you.

Sometimes I wish I was free
My head is clearer without you
Yet my shitty heart is relieved when you come home

You are extreme
I can’t find safe middle ground
Destroy me by day, adore me by night

Before you came I was alone
I had control and a good life
Now I’m yours, everything I touch fucks up

This Prison We Share

“Can we carry this love that we share
Into the open air?” (x)

As Anna’s fury began to drain away, like the puddles after thunderstorms, she was left with emptiness, no feeling but the throb of her cheekbone. The silent rooms around her yawned out, the music that Cally loved so much silenced. That was all her fault. She’s destroyed the music, and laughed as she did so; and the expression on her face would be something Anna remembered forever.

Oh gods, what had she done? She hadn’t meant to push the girl so hard, to cut her so deeply. Months of being cooped up on house arrest were driving her wild, but Cally was sweet and vulnerable. Snapping on her was like taking a magnifying glass to ants and watching them burn, for a lack of more interesting things to do.

Anna slipped out of the doorway, treading past the evidence of their fight; Cally’s broken records, lying smashed on the stone floor. Never again would their music fill the rooms, removing their grim reality and replacing it with hope. Now the walls pressed in, a reminder of the prisoners they were.

Anna slipped inside the room, moving to the end of the bed. In the gloom, Cally’s form was a dark island in the white seas of sheets. Even asleep, her forehead was tied up in unhappiness, and the moonlight illuminated silver tears trails staining her cheeks. She looked broken, tiny in the expanse of the room. The girl was so coiled up within herself, it seemed like a desperate attempt to hide; to make herself less of a target. Anna looked at her, and the dam inside her broke.

“Oh, gods.” Her voice, riddled with guilt, shattered the words. Lifting up the sheets the girl slid in, pressing herself to Cally’s back, wrapping her arms around her protectively. The girl stirred.

“I’m so sorry,” Anna whispered, again and again. “I’m sorry, Cally.” She was trying to heal wounds with words, perfectly well knowing nothing she said would be enough. “Cally, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” The girl in her arms turned to face her, her hair dark in the moonlight. Cally’s fingers brushed against her girlfriend’s cheek, where the bruise was already swelling. She said nothing. Burying her face in Anna’s shoulder, her thin fingers dug in and clung, and she drifted off to sleep.

Anna stayed awake. The fragile body in her arms, so tiny and easy to miss, was infinitely precious. She kissed her cool forehead, wishing she could smooth out the worries that lingered there. How long will the two of them remain like this, locked up in this tiny cage? With Anna as the feral beast and Cally a mouse of a girl, there can surely be only one ending to this story. Anna shiverd, holding the girl close, and wished things were different.

Major

“Why is this so important?” I bark, frustrated at Sadie’s erratic behaviour.That girl has been acting weird all week, and now she demands to be taken to the Major for no reason. “Is there something wrong, Private? Some complaint that can’t go through your commanding officer?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, I’m fine!” She hollers back, but her skin is flushed and she wears the look of a cornered animal. “Just let me go, for god’s sake. I need to see the Major.”

Even as she speaks I’m shaking my head, rejecting her crazy offer before it gets too far. “No way in hell. Not unless you tell me what’s going on.” I plant my staff firmly between my feet, standing in her path. “Private, something is clearly amiss. You’ve been acting odd ever since Ravenglass. You know I can’t have you in the field if you’re a liability.”

Staring down at her feet, she scuffs her shoes. I can tell she’s upset – her bottom lip overhanging, her eyes narrowed. Whatever the problem is, it’s clearly a big one. This is far from normal behaviour. “I’m not a liability,” she spits, her inner soldier recoiling at the insult. “Just let me see Major!”

“Why?” I demand, taking a step closer. I can see every fibre inside Sadie stretch, the muscles in her neck shivering with tension. And then something inside her snaps. Her head jerks up, chin outthrust, eyes burning and it’s impossible to look away.

“Because I love her!” she shouts in my face. I’m frozen in shock, expecting any answer other than this. Sadie reads the disturbed expression in my face and her jaw hardens.

“I know that there’s no future in this. I know about her husband, family, whatever. I know all that.” She swallows, her words rushing together. It seems to me like she’s never said this aloud before.

“I’ll never bother her with my problems. It’s a crush, that’s all it’s ever been – all it’ll ever be.” Sadie looks me in the eye, and I’m scared by how young she looks. Despite everything she’s been through, this – attachment – makes her seem like a child. “Let me see her. I know she’s injured, but I’ve heard enough rumours to be scared for her life. Let me go and put my mind at rest.”

I stare at my soldier. I never knew. Slowly, I take paper and pencil, scrawling her a note. While I write she’s as tense as a bowstring, seemingly terrified of receiving an insanity order. When I hand the note to Sadie, her eyes skim the words and then flash up to mine. The ocean of relief and expectation in her face is enough to sink me. I never knew, I never guessed.

My girl turns to leave, clutching the note like it’s solid gold, and I automatically bark at her. “Private!” Normally I would follow with a reprimand – something along the lines of, ‘I dismiss you, not the other way round’, and then a suitable punishment – but I my throat closes around the words.

“Sadie.” I’ve never addressed her with her first name before, and she turns back with startled eyes. “Stay as long as you need. I’ll make sure they don’t miss you.” Her watery smile speaks of a thousand thank-yous, and she nods gratefully before disappearing.

As she goes I wonder why I said that. I seem to be softening in my old age, like rotting fruit. Soon I’ll be a good-for-nothing old sap . But it was something about the way she spoke – the awful, awful loneliness of it. She’d locked herself into a cell with those feelings, and no-one knew better than herself that she was doomed. I hope that she receives some relief from seeing the Major, even if she can be no more than a Private to her.

Reaper

The last words of a dying man. They’re supposed to be profound, aren’t they? Something that will sum up the life they’ve lived, be the conclusion that they’ve reached, the fatal punchline to their joke.

In my experience, there is nothing profound about them. They are always confessions; of love, of murder, of sin, of hope. Questions. A last minute redemption plea. In my job, I’ve heard them all.

You can always see the moment that they realise that they are about to die. Then the terror takes hold, the frantic fear that the secrets they’ve tucked into the creases in their cardboard faces, the urgent words that they never voiced out loud – all these things that are so important will die with them, and no-one will ever know.

That’s where I come in. I will come and stand by your shoulder, watch your time-torn face. Then bring in the king. Enter death as a beautiful woman. Enter death as a scar-flecked monster. The edge of a blade, a bullet to the heart, a needle in the dark. And kneel beside you, performing death’s wake. I am the reaper come to untie your soul.

I am the last person to hear you. I carry the confessions of generations. And your questions, as sweet as they may be, mostly go unanswered.

Except for sometimes, when I just can’t help myself. When you seem so lost and so scared and so hopelessly young that I want to cry, ‘No, this is a mistake – send her back, she is just a child’. It’s times like this when I will embrace you and tell you the story of your life. I will share with you the way that the last confession of your parents was one of love. They died with the words on their lips, just as you do now.

And I will move on, to my next body, to their last words. But the confessions take their toll, and the memories of humans fills my head. It is always the young ones are the ones that hurt me the most.

What Happened to Us?

Are you mad at me?
Or are you just tired?
Is there a lot on your mind or are you royally pissed?

What happened to us?
Where did that love go?
Did I miss your grand declaration of utter indifference towards me?

Should I leave now?
I can tell when I’m not wanted
Perhaps I’ve overstayed my welcome – or perhaps you are just a bitch.

A Sledging Poem – By Dad

Noses are red, fingers are blue
Sledging is fun (until you fall off)
*
Lucy is a teenager
And all the boys have fled
For now she is a fearsome lass
Especially on a sled
*
If you hear her coming down the hill
Just get out of the way fast
She’ll flatten you against the hedge
Unless you let her past
*
When sledgings over, peace returns
And Lucy trudges home
Keen for warmth and food and company
At the end of a long days roam

Our Mayfly Love

The mayfly lives for an extraordinarily brief amount of time
Their name literally translates as ‘lasting one day’
They are born – they mate – they die.
So brief that they’re barely here at all.

Our love was a mayfly love
We were so fleeting; two lives never joined,
Only brushing against one another

But in that sweet night with you explained more
Than years in the real world ever could
My teachers never taught me lessons like yours

I still think of you
I still remember your face on the pillow beside me

You are my conscience now
The memory of your words echoing in my head
Perhaps if I listen to your voice, you’ll guide me back to your side
So we can be together again
Even if for just one sweet day; my mayfly

Safe

When I look after my children, I must make them feel safe.
Oliver yanks my sleeve, jabbering about assassins, and Ella presses into my side with warm sticky fingers.
“What’s an assassin?”
I lie. “They are not real. They only exist in books. Besides, they would never come here – our town is too small.”
Oliver says that people will break into the house, and his little sister shivers against me.
“The doors are locked,” I respond. “The windows are bolted. And the lights are all on – burglars never break into a house if they think the people inside are awake.”
Oliver brings up fires, and I have had enough.
“There are fire alarms on every floor. Come on, Ollie; time for bed.” He’s scaring his sister.
He trots off to his own room. I smooth the hair from Ella’s head, kiss her hot skin and pad to the doorway.
Her quiet whisper calls me back. “Mommy? Can you leave the lights on?”
The fear in her voice; her wide eyes; the way her covers are yanked right up to her chin… children shouldn’t have to be afraid. It makes me feel so cold, so weary, so achingly sad. I want my children to be carefree and innocent of the dangers. It isn’t their job to worry.
“Of course,” I reassure her. “I’ll keep them all on.” I close the door softly behind her and tread downstairs.
When I look after my children, I must make them feel safe.
But I wish that I didn’t need to. I wish that this world was safe.

Valentine’s Day

A quiet knock at the front door sends me stumbling from the living room. As I fumble for the lock, I glance up and am startled by the darkness outside; it’s way later than I thought. A shiver of apprehension prickles up my back as I open the door.
My dark garden is unaffected by nearby streetlights, creating a black and grey world. I blink several times as I wait for my eyes to adjust, feeling like there’s a heart pounding in my throat. In the shadows I finally discern the outline of a body. Motionless, the dark figure stands on the garden path, their hands cupped around something.
“What do you want?” I intend my sentence to be a command, but my voice falters and rises into a squeak at the end. I clasp my shaking hands behind my back.
The figure steps towards me, and for a moment fear crystallises my mind. A million terrible scenarios unfold in my mind, and time slows to a crawl. I watch their body slice through still air, creating ripples and shifts that flow out from them, a tsunami flooding from the epicentre, a scent in the air that slams into me like a wall.
There’s too much saliva in my mouth. I swallow heavily, but the smell is overpowering, impossible to ignore. My feet lead me off the porch and out of safety. The closer I get to the figure, the stronger it becomes until I feel like I’m drowning. Deliciously sweet, metallic, cloying – everything I want. Blood. Fresh blood, and I can’t breathe.
“I got you something,” the figure whispers. At the voice my fear abruptly vanishes and I want to laugh at my paranoia; in my old age, I’m growing foolish.
Grinning wolfishly, I reaching out. My fingers brush her cheek and I kiss her. Her smile brushes against mine, her wicked scent hiding behind the far stronger one. She laughs, a breathy giggle.
“You don’t want it to go cold,” she chides, raising her hands to offer me the treasure cupped between them. I gaze at the flesh in wonder. Whole, warm, perfect. It’s so fresh it was practically still beating.
“You did this? For me?”
Her sticky hand ghosts up my arm, her breath in my ear. “Aren’t you lucky to have a girlfriend that spoils you so?”
I can’t articulate the words, so I press my lips against hers to let her understand what I’m trying to say. Her bloody hand tugs at my hair, pulling me close so we are pressed together. After a moment she yanks me back.
“I didn’t go to all the trouble of killing someone just so you could let my gift congeal.” She reprimands me sharply, cupping the human heart in hands stained the colour of rust. My mouth waters, and I take it from her graciously. As I sink my teeth into the thick muscle, I can’t help the loud moan that issues from my throat. It’s heaven; it tastes like it smells, but so much richer. Its been far too long since I feasted on human flesh. I tear off another mouthful, the warm blood filling my mouth as I bite down.
Her sharp teeth gleam white in the darkness. I chew and swallow, my eyes rolling back in my head.
“Oh, god…” I mumble. She’s there, hot body wrapped around me, lips on my throat. Her voice is an echo within my head.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”