I hate those blog posts in which people apologise for NOT blogging, as if they owe it to the world. As if all of you out there are waiting agog for the next deep insights from the highest of keyboard gurus. The posts usually go on to offer excuses of great busyness on the part of the blogger, who has been off saving babies from starvation or preventing the extinction of blue wales.
I have been doing none of those things, I just have not been writing much of late. Some of this is because my heart has been heavy. Also, my day job has been emptying me like a big boot on a toothpaste tube.
However. I have been trying to invest in some other writing- something that requires a longer term plan. It is that thing that we writing types regard as El Dorado. The ultimate ego object for the scribbling type; a novel.
The problem is having something to say, and a story to carry it. Characters that are believable and both interesting and flawed. And we have to write for a long time in the almost certain belief that the novel will never be published, because they almost never are (note the word ‘almost’.)
Novels are secret, solitary affairs, but I have decided to publish a few excerpts on this blog. I think it might make things a tiny bit more real, but I also feel the need to get things ‘out there’ as well as just ‘in here’.
If you find the words engaging, meaningful, thanks. If not, well don’t read them!
The town had only one row of street lights, 17 in all; the boy often thought that they served only to make the dark seem darker. The last lamp in line along the sea front always held a bowl of rain water in its lens that lapped at the light as it fell towards the pavement. When the wind blew the effect was strangely amplified, acting as a kind of sulphur-orange iris, bending the light into evil swirls and edges that he always tried to avoid stepping on.
Today he shrugged his shoulders deeper into his coat as another flurry of rain rattled down the road and splattered onto the roof of the empty bus stop. Despite the dark, the slick surface of the tarmac wore a kind of oily sheen like a whales back rolling through the surface of the sea. He was already soaked right through the thin layers of clothes he wore, but this new shower found the collar of his jacket and injected trickle of cold water between his hunched shoulder blades.
He did not mind the rain- it rained most days on the West Coast where the air blows in still full of grey ocean. He always felt comfortable in the rain, safer even. It keeps most people indoors. Even those who adventure out into it keep their heads down inside expensive waterproof coats. It was possible for him to become almost invisible. He could dissolve into the water and allow it to carry him like a burn might take hold of a falling leaf.
He felt rather than heard the approach of a car driving up from the shore and fought the urge to duck into a hedge.
Its OK boy he whispered, reaching a hand to meet the muzzle of a medium-sized black and white dog.
The shadows startled, leaping to hide from the harsh glare of panning headlights, but the car did not stop; its driver was on a mission, moving too fast for the road conditions, the noise of its engine almost inaudible above the hiss of water thrown out by the tyre treads.
Let’s go. He turned again towards the dark houses up ahead with the dog close to his feet, tail tucked close against the rain.
The small town thinned out, houses dispersing into the fold and curl of ground. Pavement soon gave way to rough cut grass verge, indented with drainage channels that might have tripped the unfamiliar.
After about half a mile the boy and his dog reached imposing gateposts that marked the driveway of a big house set tall above the road. Light from some of the windows spilled over the steep grass bank as they climbed and the boy instinctively darted between the rhododendron bushes that lined the gravelled approach to the front door.
He hardly ever used this door. If asked, he would not have been able to say why. It just did not feel right somehow; like wearing shoes belonging to someone else even if they were the same size as your own. He was also more likely to meet his Aunt and Uncle and would have to have conversations about where he had been, what the weather was like and what food he wanted for dinner. It would be polite conversation, and he liked his Aunt and Uncle, but it would still be better to avoid it if at all possible.
So he left the drive at the corner half way up the hill, and took a less well defined path, shabby with weeds even in the darkness, that climbed up steps then crossed a small burn that was chattering from the rainfall, and found its way to the weak pool of light from the porch at the back of the house. He found the key under the cracked plant pot, and quietly slipped inside.
Wait there boy. He took off his dripping jacket and placed it onto the hooks that already carried a bulging strata of assorted coats, then reached for an old towel to dry down the dog. The dog made a noise half way between a whine and a wobble as the towel proved inadequate to the task of drying wet fur. Douglas paused, holding his breath, wondering if their arrival had now been revealed. He strained and heard a conversation between his aunt and uncle drifting in from the kitchen. There was something about the tone of the conversation that seemed unusual, suggestive of animated urgency.
He took a few careful steps along the corridor towards where light spilled in from the big kitchen, and strained to catch the words, masked as they were by the hum of an old chest freezer and the noise of rain pecking the window pane.
“…..what am I supposed to do? I have not already done my best to find him; if he does not want to be found what the hell can I do about it?”
“What right has that old bastard to make any demands on you anyway after everything he has done?”
“But he is dying Helen. He is asking about James and I need to tell him something.”
“You can tell him that he is reaping what he has sown, and that he should count himself lucky that even one of his sons is at his deathbed.”
“It is easy for you to hold that position- he is not your father. He is my bloody flesh and blood and he wants to see us both before he goes to meet his maker. No one, least of all me, expects any kind of death bed reconciliation… but it just might have done some good you know… It might have moved something on…. It might have allowed some kind of reconnection… if only for the lads sake.”
Douglas realised he had stopped breathing and it was an act of shuddering effort to remind his body that it needed oxygen. He found himself edging back towards the door, panic rising. As he turned however, he saw a black and white tail disappearing round a corner heading for the warmth of the kitchen.
Come here boy he whispered urgently, but it was too late.
“Shhhhh….Douglas- is that you? Please will you stop this dog trailing wet muddy prints all over the floor! Just look at this mess!”
He felt his face going red and there was a lurch in his stomach. He froze for a moment, but then willed himself to follow the dog along a corridor into the kitchen. The black and white floor tiles were punctuated with the marks of wet muddy paw-prints all the way to the front of the vanilla coloured Aga stove, where the dog was already curled up, steaming off a fug-cloud of doggy contentedness.
“I’m sorry Aunty Helen, I tried to stop him” mumbled the boy. “I’ll clean it up…”
He stood in the corner of the room, suddenly not sure what to do with his hands. A tall slim woman with flour on one cheek looked towards him with a deep frown.
“No thank you, you can just leave it to me…as if I did not have enough to do…” then her face softened-“Dougie- just look at you! Wet through to the skin! Look at him Clive!”
There was a movement of newspaper in the corner of the room
“Hmmm? Oh, hello Dougie. What have you been up to old chap?”
“Hi Uncle Clive. Not much really….”
There was a moment’s awkwardness, during which he continued to examine a particularly muddy paw print as if to will it away before Clive cleared his throat.
“Well you had better get upstairs and find some dry clothes old lad. Supper will be ready soon I think…” His Uncle lifted his newspaper up to half mast, as if he was not quite sure as if the conversation was over.
“Yes, yes, away you go Dougie. It’ll be ready in 15 minutes. Have a good wash please as well…” Aunt Helen was already busy with a mop and bucket.
The boy took his cue and headed for the narrow back stairs, grateful to escape. As he climbed over the threadbare old carpet, he heard Aunt Helen’s voice-
“What are we going to do with that boy Clive? It is almost as if he lives in another world!” then in whisper “Do you think he heard what we were talking about…”
He closed his ears and hurried up the last few stairs and headed along the corridor, his blood rushing again and his heart was as heavy as the wet clinging jeans.