A Life in Shadow

She heaved a weary sigh as she let her heavy eyes droop. The four gray walls and four gray towers that overlooked a space of flowers had held her captive for an eternity. She craved freedom and yet she was terrified of the shadowy world that lay beyond her castle walls and the banks of her river. So she sat in her castle on her river and watched peoples lives unfold before her. Sometimes when she was too tired to watch she closed her eyes and listened instead to the rush and the gurgle of the river all about her. It was then that she would let her imagination run down the castle steps to be carried away by its unending flow. That river would carry her where she could never go herself.

An interminable exhaustion had been draining her for a while now. Once she had been able to wake in time to sing for the reapers reaping early in amongst the bearded barley, but now she slept too late. As the days dragged on, sleep seemed to have settled in her bones, making every movement tiring and every breath an effort. She looked up and gazed upon the world of barley and rye that clothed the world and met the sky; her wonderful world of shadows. Through these fields meandered a lazy road on which the lives she observed would stage their scenes. She loved that road and the people who used it, fact some of them she knew well and had often seen pass her window. The market girls in their gay coloured garments with ribbons in their hair always brought a smile to her lips. She would follow their progress weaving steadily until they were out of sight, and strain to hear snatches of their conversation that drifted across the river to her window.

Sometimes knights would pass her bower. She would hear them long before they came into sight; the clink of their armour just as much of a give away as their crimson clad pages that rode before them. She liked the knights more than the market girls for they provided more of a show. With their plumes, their shining horses and their deep throated laughs they fascinated her. She could relate to the dainty damsels in their gaiety but these rough shod men were alien to her. They would come riding two and two, she had no loyal knight and true and so she knew nothing of their behaviour, other than their love of course banter and songs. The only other men she saw were the field workers, who would stop and gaze furtively over the river at her darkened window, then drop their heads and whisper excitedly to one another. These poorly clad peasants revolted her and she would try to block them out of her consciousness. But every so often the cruel things they murmured behind their calloused hands would wriggle their way into her ears. And once those murmurs were in, there was no getting them out. Like seeds the rumours took root and like weeds they could not be abstracted but instead bred at the rate of knots, mutating and blooming. Soon her head would be full of what they had said, her ears ringing with their accusations. The only way to regain a calm disposition was to delight in the mirrors magic sights and weave those sights into pictures uncorrupted by shadows as their real life counter-parts were.

And so, to ward off her demons, both those who tempted her to leave her bower and those who tempted her to stay, she sat day in, day out and watched her shadows flit before her. The yards of decorated tapestry folded about her. Over the years she had become surrounded by her pictures and now wore them like a cape about her shoulders, similar to the shadows she wore around her heart. She grew lonely there in her chamber. Soon her worlds merged, and the gay pictures she had so lovingly created became tainted by harsh reality. She looked and weaved and weaved and looked and closed her eyes and dreamed. But when dreaming was done all she was left with were her misty fields and the cold truth in her heart. The mist was mist and no amount of sun could ever penetrate it for her. She would never have ribbons in her hair like the market girls and she would never work from dawn till dusk and gossip behind her hard worked hands like the farmers. She was condemned to a life of looking and not participating. She was unknown and unknowable.

Empty, void she withdrew. No longer did a couple of lovers sauntering hand in hand by her window bring a smile to her cracked lips. Their happiness did not even evoke the self pity and loathing it had formerly stirred within her. She was no longer sick of shadows, she was sick with shadows. Slowly they were consuming her and her brightly coloured pictures, sucking her dry and leaving a husk of the person she had been. Soon even on the hottest days the sun did not flood through her window like it once had, it stayed outside just beyond her grasp flitting with the breeze like her shadows; visible but unattainable.

Then out of the corner of her eye she saw it; that distinct red cross on a white background. He rode with such apparent ease, he and the horse could have been one entity moving and thinking together. His smiled dazzled her tired eyes more than the bright sunlight that was being reflected by his armour. His dark hair shone and his whole being pulsed vigour. He was singing as he passed by and although she only caught a few of those deep, lustrous notes they shook her more than a life time of shadows ever had. She felt the ice around her thaw and she began to stand, her legs shaking after so much inactivity. Soon he would pass out of her sight forever and be lost to the far side of the window. Urgency boiled with in her as at last his bridle disappeared down the road. Then it happened. She hadn’t consciously thought about it at the time, it just happened. She wasn’t even sure if it had happened until she’d done it. But suddenly she found herself facing the casement and she knew that her world of shadows was lost forever, now she had the real world before of her eyes. And it was devastating. In a voice that trembled with fear she cried, “The curse has come upon me”

She left the web, she left the loom, she made three paces through the room, she looked out of her window and saw him riding away from her. The beauty that the mirror had revealed was distorted in life. Her shadows were maimed in truth and the perfections she had feared and loved were illusions. Finally she could bear it no longer; she picked up her mirror and dashed it against the floor cutting her hands on the shards as it cracked from side to side. Then she ran from the room that had held her so long. The room that had not been keeping her prisoner but had been protecting her. Innocence was bliss and now she was soiled by knowledge that was beyond her.

The stairway from the room led her out on to a small landing stage where a boat was moored. Heavy, black clouds were descending over the scene and a light rain was already falling about her as she untied the vessel. She wasn’t sure what she was doing but like some seer in a trance, around about the prow she wrote her name. As soon as she was in the boat the tug of the river carried her swiftly to its centre and away from all she had ever known. Where it was taking her to she would doubtless never find out but she cared not, the joy inside her was uncompressible and just the rush of the wind about her loosely robed figure was ecstasy. But she found it hard to look about her, because to either side all she could see were the shadows of her shadows, or the shadows of themselves until they blended into fact, cold and coloured fact. She could not look. And so instead she closed her eyes and lay quite still in the hull of her boat and let the current toss her where it willed and the rain soak her through and through.

She felt none of this, so wrapped up was she in her reverie. She saw only him, and his dark, intriguing looks. She heard only his sweet song in her ears. She began to chant an ancient hymn to herself. She sang a song so old that the earth had all but forgotten the tune. And as she sang, the years were stripped away from her. How long she had sat at her mirror for no one knew. For who had seen her wave her hand, or at the casement seen her stand, or was she known in all the land? And as the years left, her true features and her rawest emotions were left open to the heavens. She thought of him and she sang with all her heart.

For ere she reached upon the tide the first house on the waterside, singing in her song she died. As she floated through the town, people stopped what they were ding and followed her progress on either side of the river. The boat came to the end of its journey and was run aground by the river that had carried it. Her precession of townsfolk flooded onto the shore and round the prow they read her name. A dark, handsome knight stepped forward; entranced by the woman in the boat. He saw her lying there, straight and still like a doll. Contemplated her beautiful face and full lips, silent in death as ever they had been in life. Then in a clear voice, more to himself than the crowd around him, he said, “she has a lovely face, God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott.”

I’m siting in a caravan and a zebra came walking past. And it was carrying a big bag on it’s back. And we emptied out the bag, and what do you think was in it?

A vase with a candle in it, and two green men. And three camels. And a rabbit bounded out of one of their humps. And in his hand he carried a vase of flowers. And out of these flowers there came a bumblebee and stung me.

And what do you think happened after that? My Grandma popped out of the bumblebee’s tail. And in her hand she carried a rose. And she flew up into the sky and yelled, “Goodbye”.

Then she dropped like a silver stone right onto a cloud. The cloud came down and played with us all. Then she went up again, and hopped back into the bumblebee’s tail. And then she popped her head out and caught a golden rose, just like the one she had last time.

And she said, “This is the rose I floated up into the sky with. But look what the clouds have done to it: they turned it golden, didn’t they, Tom, Flora?”

And then a little grey rabbit, a squirrel and a hare popped out of a teasel brush and found ourselves in fairyland, then suddenly back in the caravan.

And what do you think was sitting in the seats – the two green men! I gave them a little tap on the head and they vanished, and there was the zebra with no bag on his back trudging off home.

Then we all went to sleep, and when we woke up there was a lovely golden rose by our bed and our Grandma.

Once there was a giant called Gilbert. Gilbert was an ugly green colour. Each summer he grew carrots and onions. Because Gilbert was green his onions always seemed to turn out green like him. One summer’s day he discovered that he had some really giant onions which were so big that he could have won any competition to grow the biggest onion.

That night a robber named Harry came in to steal one of Gilbert’s giant onions for a competition to grow the biggest. Harry’s next-door neighbour had some very big onions and Harry was afraid that his next-door neighbour might win instead of him. But that was not the only reason that Harry tried to steal Gilberts onions. In fact the reason that Harry stole one of gilberts onions was because all his own had been had been nibbled by slugs and worms and other little beasts that lived in the vegetable patch. He knew the judges would say his onions were horrible and he would have no chance of winning. So that night he crept into Gilbert’s garden and stole an onion so he could enter the competition.

The next day one of the judges was Gilbert. When he was judging he would be alone in a tent. He noticed that Harry had entered with a green onion and it was the largest. It really looked like his. Gilbert was puzzled.

Just then some people came into Gilbert’s tent and asked

“Who is the winner?”

“I am not sure” answered Gilbert.

“Can we see the onions please?” the people asked. “Then we will know who the winner actually is.”

“Yes.”

“Actually you are the winner Gilbert, you have the biggest onion.”

“But I didn’t enter, I am a judge.”

“Your onion is much bigger than anyone else’s so you’ve won.”

And because there were so many big onions Gilbert gathered the whole village together

They all had onion soup for tea.

Ella Milne

January 22, 2009

I had to keep on running. As soon as my Aunt found me missing she would come after me. I was sure of it. I could hear my heart thumping so loudly, it felt like it was going to burst out of my chest .Every several paces I would glance over my shoulder, each time dreading that I would see my Aunt racing towards me. For a long time I stumbled along the road, spinning round at the slightest sound, until everything around me became unfamiliar. More cars shot down the dusty road and instead of forest surrounding me there were open meadows and hundreds of buildings. I was coming up to a town. This would be a danger zone for me because there would be lots of people, all asking what a small girl like me, was doing sprinting down the pavement , on my own, late in the evening. As it became darker and colder, I started to get scared and I began to think of the blazing fire and my warm, cosy bed back at my Aunt’s house and wondered whether I should turn back. But then I thought of my Aunt’s evil glare and the trouble I’d be in for running away. So I hurried on.
It was the music that caught my attention first. It drifted across the fields and flowed through my body making me feel happy. The sound of an accordion and saxophones drew me closer and I found myself right outside a huge tent in a meadow by the side of the dusty street. I heard laughing and happy voices from inside and couldn’t resist peeping through a gap to watch.
The smell of sweet sawdust wafted up my nose. Then I saw the most beautiful honey coloured horse canter into a ring where many people all sat around watching in wonder. A lady cart wheeled over the horse’s smooth bare back. A man held a kestrel on his outstretched arm, and then it glided off his hand and flew around the ring. It landed on the lady’s hand and flapped it’s golden brown and creamy white wings. There were dazzling costumes, all bright and colourful. As time passed by the incredibly talented people in the ring performed somersaults in the air and spun round and round. Some balanced precariously on thin, wobbling ropes, playing soft, gentle music. Others juggled with swords that sliced through the air, flashing in the warm glow of a lantern that hung from the ceiling of the giant, curved tent. It was a circus! I had dreamt of circuses and longed to visit one, but my Aunt had always cruelly refused and said that I was far too busy working for her all day to have time. And now here I was at a circus!
Suddenly, a loud roar ripped through my thoughts and brought me back to the present. I quickly returned to the gap in the big top and what I saw then made my heart miss a beat. Standing in the ring on its powerful hind legs was a huge, furry beast. Saliva hung from it’s pointed fangs and it’s coal black eyes darted around the ring menacingly. It’s long, sharp claws scraped at the ground. Then it’s eyes set on mine and pierced through me like nails. I gasped with fright, so did the crowd. But then I sighed with relief when I noticed a chain was attached to one of its gigantic paws. I remembered then what the beast was. It was a bear! I had read about them in fairy tales but never thought they were real. I loved reading. When my Aunt had gone to sleep at night, I would creep outside and walk far into the forest to a clearing and lie down and read a book in the moonlight. It was the only time I looked forward to, because every minute of the day I was working, while my lazy Aunt lay back and barked commands at me.
Another furious roar broke into my memories. I rushed back to the gap in the tent. A muscular man was standing by the bear, thrashing it with a long, silver whip. I then felt angry. I could see in the man’s face that he was terribly frustrated. Obviously the bear was not doing what the man wanted. Several minutes passed and the bear still growled, angrily. In the bear’s eyes I could see fear and pain. Then he was tugged out of the ring and more performers came on. In the end I had to tear my eyes away from the amazing acts and when I did, I saw how dark it had become and my wonderful happiness disappeared suddenly. I had no shelter. No food. I was all alone. But I couldn’t turn back now.
I silently slid into the shadows and down through a dark, narrow alley. I looked hopefully everywhere for a hidden place where I could rest. All the houses turned their backs towards me uninvitingly, as I passed. I took a big shaky breath, and then walked on.
Eventually, I discovered a small, untidy yard concealed away behind an old, wooden shed. Ivy crept up the walls and weeds twisted up through the gaps in the gravel, which made the yard look like a miniature jungle. It looked like no one had been there for a long time. In the corner of the yard there several rusty bins, crammed with litter. Shivering uncontrollably I crouched behind them. My eyelids drooped and I tried hard to sleep, but the wind howled and the trees moaned above. I tried to sing over the noise to cheer my self up. Like reading, I loved singing. I sang a soft lullaby until I drifted of in to a deep sleep.
Think of a small girl age ten with curly mouse brown hair. A girl who lived in the busy streets of London with her well loved mother and father and a group of very chatty friends. That was me, before I was taken to my aunt’s. I had just arrived home from school one day. I rang the door bell my dad had made, (he’s very good at that kind of thing) but when my dad came to the door, he didn’t grin like usual, and hug me; he was pale and looked shocked. My stomach did a double back flip. What was wrong? What had happened? He gestured me in, but didn’t say anything. I sat down on the sofa, stiff with worry. My dad didn’t offer me home made lemonade and cake as usual, he just stared into space. Finally I couldn’t bear holding it in any longer.
“What’s wrong?” I cried out shakily. Dad came and sat down beside me on the sofa and put an arm around me comfortingly.
“Sophie, it’s your mother. She’s very ill. She’s gone to hospital. The problem is I won’t be able look after you because I have a full time job. We’ve decided it would be best if you went to stay with your Aunt as she is the closest relative to us.
“No! “
“What?”
“I am not going to that witch’s house again. You know what she did to me last time. She used me as a slave!” I shouted.
“Sophie, I will bring you back home as soon as your mother is better. You know we don’t want to send you there.” I didn’t argue any more. I knew it was my only choice. My mum and dad said that they would keep in touch and that I would soon come home. But once I was at my Aunt’s house she took action immediately. She sold the small flat in London, and deliberately took me to a dark remote cottage in the middle of a forest, where my parents couldn’t find me or keep in touch. That was where I stayed for the next two years. My parents didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know where I was. Would I see them again? For all I know they could have forgotten me. Or maybe they could be out there looking for me. But they wouldn’t know where to look.
I was awoken by screaming and frantic yelling! I leaped up from behind the dustbins, ran out from the yard and started for the Main Square where the racket was coming from. As I arrived I saw many people all crowded around a poster on a lamp post. Curious, I squeezed past people until I could see the top of the poster. The crowd at the front were gasping with terror and racing back to their houses. I was now so inquisitive about all the fuss, I desperately pushed closer. It was useful being small as I could duck under people’s arms and edge towards the front .Slowly the crowd became smaller and the street became quieter as everyone hurried back home. Finally, after all the pushing and shoving I could see the poster.
The words hit me like a bomb dropping out of nowhere.

Bear escaped from circus.
Yesterday evening a bear broke out of the circus. Local police are on it’s trail but they recommend staying safe at home until the beast is captured.

A shiver ran down my spine. I had nowhere safe to go. As I stood by the poster the sun went in and everything became dark; I was almost frozen with fright. I could hear nothing except my fast breathing. Out there somewhere was a bear! Slowly, I crept down the street and up the alley to the hidden yard, where I crouched behind the same bin. I curled into a small ball, trying in the best way to keep my self warm, always hoping that the bear would not sniff me out. A thick mist appeared and suddenly all surrounding objects all took the shape of dark menacing bears. I sat motionless, not daring to move for what seemed ages. That was when I heard it! The soft padding of paws and the low rumbling of a growl. I screwed up my eyes and wished I was somewhere else. Through the mist a huge bear shaped shadow came closer and closer. Then I met the stare of those coal black eyes and I saw the darkness beyond. As the bear grew bigger I became aware that it was limping. Instead of racing towards me and ripping off my head with one swipe of it’s paw, it stopped about five metres away from me and sat down. Then it howled a long wavering howl that showed all the pain it was in. The bear clutched it’s velvety paw and rocked back and forward moaning to itself. Eventually, I felt so sympathetic, and with a lot of courage I stepped out from behind the bins and edged towards the beast. It looked up at me with it’s sorrowful eyes then started moaning again. From it’s paw I saw the glistening blood, oozing out by a huge thorn. I carefully reached a hand forward, but snatched it back again when my eyes fell on the bear’s huge jaw and his sharp teeth. The bear would either trust me or kill me. I took a deep breath in, and pulled out the thorn. The bear let out a painful yowl and I thought that would be the end of it. But then he looked at me. I quickly fixed my eyes on his black nose because I knew that staring into an animal’s eyes might provoke it. I whispered softly to comfort the bear. His ears twitched as though he was listening, his mouth lifted into what seemed like a smile and his eyes glinted. I reached forward and stroked the bear’s soft, dark, brown fur. It was so smooth and velvety and warm. I sat down beside the bear and buried my face into his fur. He licked me on my cheek with his pink tongue and leaned against me. His long, silky fur warmed my neck and head. I fell asleep feeling warm inside and out. For the first time, since I had lived with my Aunt I had finally found someone I could trust.
As the sun rose I opened my eyes and the bright light streamed in. I squinted against the glare of the sun. Next to me my bear still slept. I shifted my position and he awoke abruptly. He nuzzled me affectionately with his soft, chocolate brown nose. Suddenly, to my left I heard screaming and gasps of horror. I turned my head sharply, so did my bear. There were six police officers standing in navy blue uniforms holding notebooks and pens, and when they saw me and my bear wide awake they leapt back in terror! Behind them there were three ambulances flashing their vibrant yellow lights. Then beside them was the muscular man from the circus with his long silver whip clutched in one hand, and the door to a strong, metal cage held open in the other. Gathered in a group further away were all the other amazing performers from the circus. Finally standing bravely in front was a zoo keeper holding a tranquiliser gun aimed at my bear! With out thinking I jumped out from behind the dustbins and ran towards the people.
“Please, don’t harm him!” I yelled “If you don’t harm him, he won’t harm you.”
“Get the girl in the ambulance and off to hospital, and we’ll deal with this beast” one of the police officers said to a nurse, ignoring all I had said. I shouted and kicked but the nurse pulled me away. I looked over my shoulder and saw the muscular man whipping my bear, forcing him to crawl into the cage. I wriggled and kicked until I broke free of the nurse’s grasp. I ran back, barging past the zoo keeper, knocking the tranquiliser gun out of his grip. It skidded across the yard and behind a dustbin. I knelt down next to my bear and buried my face in his soft fur. I whispered words in his velvety ear that he didn’t understand, but were comforting. Slowly he looked up at me. His sorrowful eyes met mine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the silver whip, and all the police officers and circus performers staring at me. I couldn’t let my bear be whipped and forced into the cage. I murmured something in my bear’s ear that none of the people watching could hear. This time however, he understood me. He got up onto all fours and slowly padded towards the mouth of the cage, his head down, his small cotton tail drooping. The police officers smiled smugly. The bear was captured. Their job was done. They climbed into their police cars and drove away. But the circus performers were talking quietly together, glancing at me, then at my bear. I felt terrible because I had betrayed my friend and taken him to the cage. Finally, one of the circus performers walked over to me, the bells on her beautiful, fiery red costume jingling softly.
“What is your name” she said
“Sophie” I replied, quietly
“I am Clarabelle.” There was a long, silent pause and in that pause all the other members of the circus walked forward. ”The bear, he understands you, doesn’t he? Our circus hates using whips to control him, but it was the only way, until now.” I was puzzled at this but Clarabelle continued.” We would like you to join us at the circus, with the bear.” My mouth fell open but no words came out. This was my dream. To perform in a circus, and now it had come true. I smiled. Then slowly I looked at all the people from the circus individually, and then nodded.
“Yes” I whispered. “Yes, I would love to!” I had never felt so overjoyed and so excited in all my life. I ran over to the cage and opened the latch. My bear bounded out. His mouth seemed to smile and he could understand what was happening. Now no one felt scared of him any more. The circus would be my new home and Clarabelle and the other members of the circus would be my new family.
A few days passed and I got to know the entire circus as if I had known them for my whole life. There was Clarabelle, who owned the honey coloured horse named Treacle and could do somersaults. She was married to a man called Fred who trained a magnificent kestrel. Fred and Clarabelle had four children. Joe and Leo who were fourteen and seventeen could juggle with fire and swords; and Lizzy and Anna who were nine and twelve preformed somersaults on ropes that hung from the ceiling of the big top. They also owned a brown and white mare called Cookie and a blue and red parrot called Polly who could talk! Samuel, a friend of Fred played the violin and could dance on a tightrope at the same time. Mike, Samuels’s brother, was very strong and preformed weight lifting. He could also hold a girl called Grace in the air by one hand while she flipped and spun around. There were eight amazing musicians who played several instruments each and could sing beautiful songs. As for me, I taught my bear to sing and dance. My bear loved having someone who cared for him and enjoyed performing.
Over the summer we practiced non stop to make our first performance in September be outstanding. We got up at around seven o ‘clock to begin practicing for the day, stopped at eight in the evening to relax and went to bed at nine or ten o’clock. We slept in our own caravans. I slept with Lizzy and Anna and my bear. As well as performing with my bear, Lizzy and Anna started teaching me somersaults. All the time I never even thought about my mother and father or my aunt. I was having such a good time. They could still be looking for me. Or perhaps they had given up or maybe even forgotten about me.
The great day arrived sooner than I had expected. We spent the whole morning getting dressed up in our wonderful costumes and doing our last practice. My costume was a blue and green dress with darker blue tassels and bells that were sewn on around the edge. I also had bells and colourful bracelets around my ankles and wrists, and a pearl necklace around my neck that Clarabelle had given me as a good luck present. Lizzy and Anna plaited my hair with red ribbons and blue beads.
Just before the performance we all sat in a section behind the big top, talking together. I could hear the seats filling up with people all chatting happily. I felt nervous but excited. I fed my bear with honey covered hazelnuts (one of his favourite treats) and I ate a banana to give myself energy. Then the first performers Joe and Leo went into the sawdust covered ring. Outside in the ring I could hear gasps and stunned voices as Joe and Leo juggled with swords. I stroked my bear and he licked my cheek lovingly. I brushed his fur to make it glossy and I groomed Treacle’s coat for Clarabelle. Time passed and I heard cheering and clapping and music. Finally it was my turn to go on with my bear. I felt so excited. I walked towards the crimson curtains, my bear beside me and I drew them open. Hundreds of faces stared down at me. I skipped round the ring, my bear at my heel. I heard the amazed and scared voices above in the stand and I felt the soft sawdust on my bare feet. I performed all I had practiced and when I skipped out of the ring I could hear the loud cheering and clapping. After all I was only a small twelve year old girl with a huge bear beside me. As the crimson curtains closed behind me I was greeted by Clarabelle.
“Well done Sophie” she said kindly as she patted me on the back.”And well done bear.” The circus ended as quickly as it had begun and slowly the big top grew quieter as the audience went home.
This was what my life was like for the next two years. Performing. Moving somewhere else. Practicing. Then performing again. I loved every bit of it. So did my bear.
Then one evening in Crossingham, a village near London, where I used to live with my parents, we were getting ready for a circus performance. I was wearing the same dress I wore the first time I performed in the circus. I was sitting by my bear, feeding him with his favourite treats, honey coated hazelnuts and waiting for our turn to perform. Anna and Lizzy were sitting next to me, talking to each other. When it was my turn I opened the crimson red curtains and walked into the ring. I looked up at the crowd and saw all their amazed faces. Then, right on the front row in the middle two faces stood out to me. A man and a woman. They looked so familiar. I just couldn’t work out why. When I had finished I skipped out the ring and sat down on a hay bale and thought. They were so familiar. Then the two faces matched up with two people in my memory. Two very special people. They were my mother and father! I knew it. I sat there trying to take in all that was happening. I hadn’t seen my mother and father since I was ten. That was four years ago! But I was sure it was them. My breathing became faster and heavier. My bear looked at me, tilting his head slightly. He was wondering what had happened. I whispered in his ear. His black eyes glinted. He understood.
As soon as the circus had finished I ran out of the back door of the big top with out telling anyone, my bear at my heel. There standing by the big top on the muddy grass, their backs turned were the two people I had always wanted to see. My mother and father!
“Mum!” I shouted tearfully. “Dad!”
They turned to see where the noise was coming from. They looked at me and for a moment I was wondering whether they were my parents or not. But then my dad’s eyes widened in disbelief and he whispered something in my mother’s ear. Her mouth opened in a shocked smile.
“Sophie” she whispered “Is it really you!”
Tears of happiness crept to the corners of my eyes. I nodded. I had found my parents!

Beth Timmins

January 22, 2009

Chapter 1
AUGUST 1866 CARAVAN
As she tethered a lolloping Tati to the side of the carriage a proud smile played across her little speckled cheeks. Beneath the sprinkled, dappling, honeyed light, grew gloriously green foliage. The carriage stood magically upon its’ golden coloured wheels, beckoning her to escape away with it.
Her bright green eyes sparkled as she remembered how Pierre had hand-painted the caravan for her father and her while they’d been travelling in the wilds of the West Indian jungles. Pierre was a most colourful artist; their creaky, old wreck had been captured in a fantasy of patterns and speckles. She remembered last evening, how they’d talked until the glinting far away eyes had looked upon the night and on still… He loved hearing her stories; her and her fathers’ intrepid endeavours to the exotics, across the African Congo and their meeting of the Lenge Tribes and the strange Bantu masks that banished the evil spirits. She loved telling him of the mythical creatures with their curious okapi patterns and camouflage. The boy had looked at her with twinkling eyes under his oversized hat, in the shadowy oil lamps, as she’d told of the Rhodesian gold smugglers and how they had wedged nuggets down bamboo to disguise them as gentlemen’s walking sticks. And the time they had perilously crossed the stark plains of harsh Tayataska and almost perished before being saved by a vast caravan of nomadic people, all hugged in thick furs with wagons and carts as far as the eye could see. He would show her strange masks from the Parisian festivals he watched with his mother, and play her enigmatic tunes off his fathers’ accordion; she loved his imitations of the French clowns who pranced about twirling on their toes with all their absurdities and tricks to fool you.
With a hand stroking Tati’s neck, she stood on her tip toes to kiss him; the touch of his soft nose and the few tickly hairs were nostalgic to her and indeed, to Tati. The muddy foal mirrored the scruffy little girl in their looks and their wild, adventurous hearts.
She clambered up the maroon steps between the grand wooden wheels of their Vardo. Only once she’d dropped into the goose-feather cushions did she realise how tired she was from her exploratory day, Pierre had shown her and Tati the ancient woods. She thought of how they’d watched the deer ; how regally the deer had watched her and of when they’d crouched and scrambled with the hedge hog they’d met , O how they’d laughed when Tati had lent down to sniff it and it had tickled his nose with its’ prickles.
Lying under the thick, snugly duvet, her eyes wide open; not a thought of sleep, she wondered what lay ahead. A sudden sense of angst enveloped her, she bit her top lip as it egregiously ate away at her thoughts of happy anticipation, as though something foreboding was expecting.
Their awaiting expedition would be to the Suwemalla mountains of Papua where they would travel by boat, the jagged crag of the peaks were so sheer and sharp on the old, stained-blotted maps, they had been known by the natives as “The Devils’ Toes”, these excited thoughts turned as she thought of how she would sorely miss Tati and Pierre but she looked forward to being with Papa she thought sometimes it was the journey rather than the getting there that he loved, but as he would say, “The voyage is as much a part of the essence of adventure as the exploration”. Every breakfast of the month he’d been rummaging through maps and strange books, so furrowed in thought he’d hardly spoke. She loved how he let her play with his invented equipment and eccentric instruments. All his oddities and entities fascinated her, his treasures from his expeditions when he was young. He enthralled her with the most vivid stories. Last night he’d told her of “The Aztecs’ Gold”, which his Peruvian honey-hunter friend had told him of; he’d said the legendary gold elixir was in truth, the honey from the South American wild bees. What awaiting secrets would unravel themselves for the little girl and her Papa away from their own?

JULY 1884 TUSCANY
The humidity was overbearing. Imperiously serene and tranquil, apart from the ominous hum of bustling life. Endless rolling Tuscan valleys, wild vineyards and overgrown olive groves, the tatty, old market square in the Italian fishing town of Padua, home to her.
She would ride Tati through the steep valley leading to the stream. Honeyed flecks glinting over her through the vivid green leaves. Tatis’ dark chocolate, stallion mane wildly tossed, his coat glistening from the vigour of their journey. He mirrored her passionate energy, O how they loved this life! As habit tended he would slow, for her to jump up, and off, to pick the vine shading her. Loving the burgundy, red grapes she would grapple a bunch full and drop the plumpest she could find into her mouth ,and bite down bursting the skin, sucking the fruity innards and gulping them down. Tati would follow her to the stream as they drank the fresh, cold spring water, splashing it all over his black, sun sodden back. She would leap atop him they would erupt into a gallop, with this new spring of life, all through the groves. She would the return, ambling into her colourful, bohemian courtyard, dipping her feet into the beautifully sculpted fountain and mischievously spattering a foot full toward Loretta. Loretta would bellow, “You, ha’ ha’ dolcetto (meaning a wine and my little sweet one), ya’ birichino (naughty) ha’ he’ ha”, from inside of the kitchen. Noticing a fresh bowl full of grapes she would leap in to tread them; the squelchy gloop surging between her toes as she squashed. Loretta would then bring out succulent olives and tomato with camogi. Flour patted on her red apron, tied around her ample waist, tints of mossy grey through her dark curly hair, and those big, brown friendly eyes, pictured stories of contented years. Happy crow’s feet and broad smile lines personified her deep, hearty chuckle, known so well to the girl. And after, explore the grand library and having lit the duck fat candle, settle in her grandfather’s rocking chair to an old threadbare book, willingly trapped in her imagination.
She would watch her wonderful Tuscan sun set, possibly paint it. She then might stray while still deep in thought, to her bedroom, then through to the bathroom in which Loretta would have prepared a bath. She would sink into the water, soaking her golden brown skin. She would be enthralled by the dull clouded lustre of the copper and the tink it made from the tap of her fingernail to a nostalgic tune. Thoughts would playfully emerge wanting to dance in words. She would look for the parchments; hard to see in the cluttered shadows. Holding the smooth copper rim to lift up, water dripping from her as she stood. She would gather it as quickly as the thought overcame her and so not to forget, start to grind the black ink block, adding a few drops of water and dip the quill into the powder, loving the thickness of the ink bleeding the yellow tinge of the paper. She would never forget him, everything else but him. As she pensively thumbed through her dusty, old notebooks one poem caught her eye.
I inspire unto the lacklustre souls, To see the true world and its’ true woes.
A wondrous wagon, in which to explore, The whole world into its very core.
A rootless wanderer
The shackle less spirits, the curious souls
Limitless shadows to augment
We tramp beneath wandering skies, Amongst the swallowing valleys,
Freely ensconced with their beauty,
Truly, wildly lost.
The honeyed hues of, Olive, amber, rum and rust There hung the gloriously tinted berries, Ripe, red, intrinsic, Their bloodied eyes unshadowed him, That soul that lived so vividly, His brightness my burden, Nettles enshrouded his mossy grave
His beauty lulled me to a heart beat silent, The wonderful thing, His blackened back and sweet yellow look, His delicate wings, extraordinary Profound simplicity
What of the thistles? All but tilted on their tally thorned staffs Once such a pirouetted plume of purple Now so dank and decrepit, Its’ white petals marbled with muddied dew drops Strewn across the stark, soundless mist,
Autumns’ haze ominously encompassing the woods, Like an aged brow, tinged with auburn curls, While Winters’ thudding knuckles knock at the door.
Her gaze about the room may catch old sepia photographs, inventing stories within which they were bound, while contemplating all the foreign ornaments and antique air looms surrounding her; chapters of her forgotten history. The untidy bookcase with which she was forever intricately entangled like the entwined grape vines clinging to the turquoise window shutters, draping vines laden with purple grapes intently tempting, the sketched bird drawings encased in a little leather book , sitting upon the window sill.
As the night drew she would throw on a white linen shrug, and barefoot as always, venture down the deep trodden stone steps, cool to the touch, into the old, dank cellar. On her way she would pass her great grandfather’s hot air balloon collection with models and sketches and infinite medals and photographs of when he had fervently won the Pacific race. Painted posters from shows and competitions would parade before her as she remembered how Loretta had told her what an avid aeronaut he had been and of how he had fought for England in the Opium wars during the downfall of The Qing dynasty. These stories gave her a sense of purpose and reason, emotions that engulfed her in worthless meaning; barren of consequence. She could never find him. Cutting from this she would then, drawing back the cobwebs, cheekily reach through to an 1801 Fugelo Piccard, cool and glassy to the touch. Pop the cork and drink; the distilled taste embodied Tuscany, tarry and oaky from the barrels, hints of blackberries dancing on her taste buds as she would watch the fire flies dance under the stars.

NOVEMBER 1888. LONDON
She looks for him. Leaving the beauty of Italy . The squalor of London imminent, in the seemingly desolate alley. The occasional click, clack of iron horseshoe on the dingy, cobbled streets. Down a lurking alley the pungent scent of opium enshrouded the derelict Victorian town house. No place for her.
Her tight ringlet hair reflects the waned moon as it glints. She must find him. She gathers her silk handkerchief to cover her nose. It feels soft to her cheeks, contrasting to the coarse ugliness imminent within the strange house. But he is there. This thought alone gives her the strength to enter into the black, wretched place. The oak door cracks open. Two black beetle eyes peer round, from under furrowed brows like the skin of a slack mandolin scratched by nails playing the taught strings. The lines embedding the old oriental woman told of a thorny past as she hurried toward the girl muttering something in Chinese, strange sounds emerging from her tight painted lips. In her rigid, encroaching hold, traditional pipes made from engraved cherry blossom wood with silver rounded bowls at the end, and pockets of opium in the other ancient hand. She utters a refusal and enters. Proximity hides in blackness. Beastly handsome figures lay about as her eyes flitter amongst them. The heavy russet smoke stupefies the room. The faint glimmering of the burning poison lights the ruffians’ expressions: no glimmer they have, shadowed in the tint of the few hanging oil lamps. The oily light flickers catching the glassy bottled green of the Absinth lain atop the table of poets, each caught in their own thoughts, muttering and scrawling absently, woodworm writhing through their nonsensical scribblings. She wanders amongst it. She sees him.

I’ve started work on this, hope it’ll get done soon.