Little Tommy’s Day: A Poem for Toddlers.

Little Tommy wakes up,

It’s dark all around.

Listens very carefully,

Doesn’t hear a sound.

He bangs on the cot-sides,

Makes lots of noise.

Cries very loudly for

His mummy or some toys.

The door opens slowly,

Mummy picks him up,

All his banging and his tears

Have given him hic-cups.

 

Wrapped up in his blanket

Right down to his toesies.

Watching from his buggy,

And feeling very cosy.

Mummy is behind him,

They’re going to the park.

A nice bit of fresh air,

Now it’s no longer dark.

The pond is full of white swans,

Flapping their big wings,

When they see the breadcrumbs

That Mummy always brings.

A spin around the playground

Beneath the cloudy sky.

Whizzing down the steep slide,

And swinging way up high.

 

Tommy’s sitting bored now,

Stuck in his high-chair.

Peas shoved high up in his nose

Fish-fingers in his hair.

In walks his smiling Daddy,

In walks Mummy.

Daddy walks up to his chair,

And tickles Tommy’s tummy.

Mummy shakes her finger,

“Food is not a toy!

Eat it up, every bite.

There’s a good boy”.

 

The bath is full of bubbles,

To wash away the muck.

He builds a bubble castle,

Then breaks it with a duck.

Wrapped up in a fluffy towel,

he can’t stop wriggling.

The air from the blow-dryer

Has him really giggling.

 

He drinks his bedtime bottle,

Warm on Daddy’s lap.

A story of a little bear.

Who won’t go for his nap.

Tommy’s lying in his cot,

Dad turns off the light.

A little kiss on Tommy’s cheek,

“I love you. Night Night.”

A Strand of Wind : A Poem

A Strand of Wind

 

If I could see a strand of wind,

I’d watch where it would land.

I’d creep up slowly and then pounce

And clasp it in my hand.

 

I’d carefully sneak it home that day

And bind it around my finger.

A wedding band for only me,

A private place to linger.

 

Every night I’d take the strand

And tell it all my stories.

My secrets, gossip and my dreams

My woes and all my glories.

 

Then on the nights I’d lay awake,

Unable to close my eyes.

I’d pick each thought out of my mind

And flick away the cries.

 

I’d unwrap that little strand of wind

And tie each thought so tight.

Then twist it back around my finger

Holding me all night.

 

When the strand would get too heavy

And no longer could I wear it.

I’d throw that strand into the air,

And then the wind would bear it.

 

That little strand would float away,

My secrets hidden deep.

My mind would feel so light and free

No obstacles to sleep.

 

If someday I found I missed it,

Returned to my wakeful bed.

I’d reach up into night sky

And catch a star instead.

 

Early Mornings: A Poem for adults.

Early Mornings

The whimpers slowly turn to moans,

And soon to full blown cries.

I throw the blankets off my body

And force open my eyes.

I think back to the night before,

That foolish glass of wine.

It caused this pain inside my head,

A good idea at the time.

I stumble slowly down the hall,

And push open the door.

Something painful under foot,

Some toy left on the floor.

I lift my child into my arms,

Her body shines with glee.

This daily greeting of pure joy,

You’re back, she grins, For me!

I forgot to put my slippers on,

Not even a pair of a socks.

I change my daughters leaky nappy

As my feet turn to icy rocks.

Clean and dry, I hug her close,

And sit down on the rocking chair.

She drinks and gulps her milky breakfast

Quietly twisting strands of hair.

Full, she wriggles off my lap,

Sliding swiftly down my legs.

Her toes touch the cold wood floor.

She turns back to me and begs,

Grunts and groans, her arms held high

Up, she gestures, Take me back!

I distract her with a doll, a rattle,

Her beloved jumping Jack.

A minutes peace to sit back into

the cushions of this soothing chair.

A minute to myself to wake,

And rid my eyes of morning glare.

The toys soon will lose their wonder.

I force myself to stand.

I pull open the spotty curtains

And look out at the waking land.

The sun is shining gently in,

Filling the room with light.

She toddles to my cold bare legs,

Grabs them with all her tiny might.

She points to the door, an order

Telling me where to go.

She giggles when we’re in the hall

Faster, she grunts, Why so slow?

We reach the door of my own haven

My bedroom light has just turned on.

My husband’s hidden beneath the duvet.

Then “Boo!”, jumps out, the laugh is on.

Hysterical giggles fill her belly,

She jumps into his waiting arms.

My heart soars, my head has cleared,

Impossible to resist her charms.

I flop beside them on the bed,

The three of us a piling muddle.

This simple pleasure in my life,

The weekend morning cuddle.

Baboon Dragon: A Poem

Baboon Dragon

Little Baba closed his eyes

And said good night to Dad and Mum.

When in his dream he saw a dragon

With orange scales and a big red bum.

Despite the dragon being so tall,

Despite him being so terribly smelly,

His big red bum made Baba laugh,

The giggles burst out from his belly.

The dragon lowered his angry head

And fire came blowing from his nose,

“How can you be so rude and cruel?

I cannot help how my bum grows.

I simply cannot understand

Why people never find me scary

Instead they always point and laugh

Each and every time they see me.”

Baba watched the dragon’s face,

His sad black eyes full up of tears.

He decided then and there

To take away the dragon’s fears.

“We’ll find you some green underpants

With one big spiky orange scale,

They’ll cover up your big red bum,

They’ll even match your swishing tail.”
They found a seamstress in the town,

Sleeping soundly in her bed.

“Wake up,” cried Baba, “We need your help,

Go and fetch your needle and thread.”

For one whole night and one whole day,

the seamstress worked on steady

When evening came she finally stopped

At last the underpants were ready.

Into his pants the dragon climbed,

“They fit me perfectly!” he cried,

“I look so frightening and so fierce,

Perhaps I’ll even find a bride!”

While walking back to the dragon’s cave

They met the world’s bravest man.

“Aghh!” he cried, “A scary dragon!”

He turned on his heel and away he ran.

The dragon shouted out with glee,

“Now I’m as scary as all the others!

No one will laugh at me anymore

Especially not my fiery brothers!”

A maiden dragon watched the pair

Admiring high above a hill

The handsome dragon, so big and scary

And a little baby she could kill.

She pounced down onto little Baba

“No!” cried dragon, “He’s my friend.

He saved me from a life of sadness

He put my misery to an end.”

“But what shall I eat?” the maiden asked,

“If I can’t eat babes for dinner?”

“We’ll eat soup and bread, and apple pie.

Even if it makes us thinner.”

They looked into each others eyes,

They fell in love and vowed to wed.

So little Baba said goodbye

And woke up in his cosy bed.

Writing my First Novel: The Editing Process

While editing my first novel I realised that there were many tips I wish I’d known before I’d started writing in the first place. Hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes in my next first draft. And in case it would help anyone else I’m writing down some of these tips:

1) Think carefully every time you write ‘In fact’ , “Um” or ‘Suddenly’  and ask yourself do you really need to write them?

2) I noticed I was regularly switching from active writing to passive writing. Passive writing did not work for me. If I had noticed myself doing this in the first draft I would have saved myself a lot of work later. As it happens I wasn’t even aware of the difference between these before I started editing.

3) Editing and re-writing are dull and boring but also essential and liberating. Liberating because knowing I would edit at a later date meant I could allow myself write really badly just to keep the ball rolling and the words flowing. I chopped about 15% of my original novel on editing and rewrote whole scenes. I even chopped a whole character out of the book. Yes, grueling work, but worth it if it meant I never succumbed to writers block.

4) I fully believed I was going to hit the notorious 40,000 word block. And the minute I hit 40,000 words I decided, right so, now I must be at my block. Actually, I wasn’t. I gave myself a good talking to and just got on with it.

5) For awhile my story lagged as I tried to fill in the gaps of some uneventful weeks in the plot. On editing, I realised these gave nothing to the story and only served to bore the reader. Therefore I skipped ahead leaving some weeks unexplained because nothing was going to happen in them anyway. At the time I thought it would be detrimental to the story and I decided I would come back to them later. But when I revisited I saw that there was no harm done whatsoever.

6) It is not easy to chop characters you love, or delete concepts or scenes that you are proud of. There were some scenes that although they made me laugh out loud, I later saw that they played no part in the story as a whole. Therefore, they served only to take away from the flow of the story. Copy them and turn them into an idea for a short story at a later date if they are that good. But don’t keep them in the novel if they take away from it, or even if they just add nothing.

7) On editing I spotted things I had never considered in the first draft: Timeline errors, a lack of location references, concepts being introduced too late, characters with similar names that makes reading confusing….. Taking a note of when ideas are introduced, a list of any names used, when things happen etc. can help enormously. Unfortunately I didn’t realise this until my third draft when the discrepancies were blatant. The same goes for deleting: Make a note of anything that needs to be re-inserted elsewhere when you delete a scene. Otherwise you may have a memory of writing something that is needed for the story, but you may not remember deleting it.

8) Write and then wait. For 6 weeks I didn’t even look at my completed first draft. In those 6 weeks I wrote a second novel, a shorter 12,000 word children’s novel. So by the time I came back to edit the first novel it was out of my system (almost) and I could see all the mistakes and plot holes clearly.

9) After rewriting and then rewriting a few more times, I found the words blurred on the screen and I could no longer see the mistakes. I printed a paper copy and waited a week, giving myself a much needed break. Reading the paper version I noticed a lot more errors. I felt like I was back at the beginning of the editing process. Mind-numbing but worth it.

10) Just before you think you’re finished, read it out loud. Obvious, and commonly recommended, but what a difference that made. Not necessarily for plot, but for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, spotting repeated words, weak description and unrealistic dialogue.

The whole thing take ages so be patient. Luckily I write for pleasure and have no intention of giving up the day job so I took my time. Every now and then the editing process became overwhelming so I took a break from editing and wrote a short story for a day or two. Editing does not feel like creative work, so taking a small break to write something new helped my mind feel creative again. Writing the first draft took approx 3+1/2 months. Then a 6 week break. Then the editing process including at least 6 drafts took me a further 2+1/2 months. I was in shock to be honest. Now I know that writing the first draft is the easy part. The editing is the real challenge.

Evening Jog: An Adult Short Story

After the last good night kiss has been delivered, I stand in the hall and inhale. It feels like my first uninterrupted breath since I woke up this morning. My mind is a swirl of thoughts and to do lists.

The sofa looks like a luxurious cloud of comfort to my tired eyes. But the doctor ordered me to run. Said I needed to clear my head.

I lace up my mucky grey runners. Once they were white. My children would never wear anything this dirty. I wonder why I hold different standards for them.

Outside the air is colder than I expected. Darker too. The last time I left the house at this time was in the peak of summer, when the night sky held no distinction from the day.

I am about to stretch my muscles out when I remember hearing that you’re more likely to injure yourself if you stretch first. I’m not sure if I believe it. But life is too busy to risk it.

I propel myself forwards, swinging my arms to give myself some momentum. As soon as I am jogging I am glad that I have come. The sharp wind smacks my face, awakening every skin cell that had already fallen asleep.

I feel a pool of thick saliva collecting at the back of my throat. The street-lights hover above me, forbidding me to spit it out of my mouth. Nobody enjoys seeing that.

The foot path keeps breaking for roads, forcing me to slow or stop; the whole neighbourhood designed for cars before people.

I pass others out walking and don’t look to see if I know them. I don’t make eye contact, I just run.

I feel a stone in my shoe. I tilt my foot slightly to avoid it hurting but after a few steps the twisted position hurts more than the stone. I stop, annoyed at losing my rhythm. It’s not a stone but a triangular piece of green glass. I didn’t spot it when I was running, too busy trying to clear my mind to notice the pavement. There is always broken glass around here, though I have never seen anyone breaking it. I pull it out of my shoe and throw it into someone’s front garden hedge. I tell myself the ugly privet deserved it.

I work myself back up to the same speed, this time my lungs struggle to breath as fast as my muscles demand the oxygen. I have lost my focus and my ability to control my breathing.

I see a young boy ahead. Small, shaved head, freckles. That look in his eyes. The one he must have inherited from whoever he lives with. He is no stranger to me.

“You going for a run?” he shouts at me and his voice reminds me how young he is. About six or seven years old.

“Yes,” I say and run past him. Stopping to talk to him only makes him worse. Ignoring him will make him follow me.

“It won’t make any difference,” he shouts after me, “No matter how much you run you’ll still be ugly! Stupid Bitch!”

I usually have my shield at the ready for this boy, but tonight I was still thinking about the glass in my shoe. I could still feel where it had pierced my skin, wondering what diseases I could have picked up. And so I let his words get in. They hit me like stones, pelting my strong demeanour. I chastise myself for letting a kid get to me, but the unsettling doom has crept under my skin. It’s not what he said. It’s never about that. It’s the fact that he feels he has to say it.

I have never been able to figure out where this boy lives. Who is parents are. He cycles his brand new bike around the estate, around and around. Every time I am reversing out my driveway he is there, daring me to hit him, standing in my blind spot. When I need to bring in my bin he is sitting on top of it, waiting for me to challenge him. For awhile I thought it was just me he taunted. But another neighbour complained too.

I try and wipe his face away, try and push his image to the side. But his clean orange Nike runners and crisp jeans keep finding their way back. Looking at him, you’d think he was well cared for. Until he opens his mouth and his words are full of maggots. Neglect is not always easy to see at first.

I try not to feel anger at the boy as I round a corner and see my house ahead. A beacon of light, of home and husband in this neighbourhood of broken glass and souls.

My muscles are screaming to stop. My lungs feel each dagger of breath as a personal insult.

I stop running abruptly as the realisation of defeat sweeps me. I keep walking, my lungs hauling the air in faster than I would like.

Satisfaction trickles through me that I chose the run instead of the sofa. The feeling of guilt I carry around with me lifts a little. The guilt was there before I had children, but by God did it get worse after they were born. Guilt at nothing, when I really think about it. But then, how many of our daily thoughts are rational?

Each decision of the day seems lighter now. Each decision that carried with it the fear that perhaps I should have gone with the other option. Mindless questions, too many options, this evil that is an over abundance of choice. Never more weighty than when directed at parents. If one is the right answer then the other is the wrong answer. How do you know which is which?

I listen to the traffic on the road outside the estate. I see tufts of grey smoke escaping from chimneys and joining the navy clouds, blocking the tiny stars.

I reach my house and I walk around to the back door. My breathing has relaxed by now. I lean my back against the wall and close my eyes in my dark garden. I picture myself lying on a soft blanket with my feet nearly touching a river. I imagine I hear the water, feel the sunshine, smell the flowers, see the clouds, taste the fresh air. My muscles droop and my soul lifts. I open my eyes and turn the door handle. Whatever my faults, whatever I regret, I have never neglected my children. No matter how many times I have lost my temper today, they have never feared losing my love nor losing me. I have succeeded.

Kitty’s Garden: A short story for adults

Kitty looked out her kitchen window and shivered at the state of the garden. The recent warmth had caused an explosion of growth. It was disorganised and tatty. Tom would turn in his grave if he saw it. She wondered if he could see it. For the past few months she had felt his presence in every room, both comforting and haunting. Every night going to bed Kitty promised herself she would sort out the garden when she got up. Every morning she lacked the energy to find the trowel, let alone use it.

She added an extra spoon of sugar to her tea hoping it would give her the energy she needed. This was her fourth cup this morning and she was still waiting expectantly for the kick.

The door bell rang. The only person who ever rang at this time was the postman, but Kitty wasn’t expecting any parcels.

She opened the door and there stood a scruffy young man. His trousers were green with bits of grass and his hands were thick skinned and mucky. Kitty took a step back and chastised herself for not putting on the safety chain.

“Good morning, and a fine morning it is,” he said in a quick and eager voice.

“Yes?” Kitty said, her eyes skirting around the street to see if any of her neighbours could see her.

“I’ve noticed your lawn could do with an old trim, no offence or anything. I’m just checking if you’d like me to sort it out for you. Here’s my card,” he said.

She feebly took the card. “John O’ Shea. House and Garden Maintenance”, it read.

“I think I’ll manage it myself,” she said.

“No problem,” he said, “Keep the card in case you change your mind.”

Kitty nodded as she closed the door. She took a deep breath. Safe again.

“Oh Tom,” she whispered to the air, “How could you have left me?”

As Kitty washed her solitary plate after dinner the phone rang. Suzie always rang at this time.

“Hi Mum, how are things?” Suzie asked.

“Fine thanks. How are the boys?” Kitty said.

“Oh you know, up to mischief as always. Did you go out today?” Suzie said.

“I didn’t need to,” Kitty said.

“Mum, you can’t hide at home everyday. You need to get out there. It’s summer for goodness sake.” Suzie said.

“I go out every Tuesday for my groceries. I’ll go out tomorrow.” Kitty said.

“I know Mum, but you need to have a life too, something other than grocery shopping,” Suzie said.

“I’ve had a fine life,” Kitty said.

“It’s not over yet. Just because Dad’s gone doesn’t mean you are too. Do you think he’d want you moping around all day?” Suzie said.

“That’s not fair. You make it sound like I’m hurting him by staying at home, when we both know he can no longer be hurt. He’s gone. He’s the one at peace and I’m the one hurting.” Kitty said. She covered the phone and took a deep breath to stop herself crying.

“I know you’re hurting. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” Suzie said, “Listen, we’re going to come visit at the weekend. The boys can’t wait to see you. It’s been way too long.”

“There’s no need to visit. I know how busy you are.” Kitty said.

“The boys are dying to see you. Jack is moping about the house waiting for the exam results. He’s terrified he won’t get the results he needs for College. A distraction would be great for him. And the other two are already bored of the summer holidays. They’d be much happier being able to run around your garden. You know our garden is the only the size of a shoebox.” Suzie said.

Kitty felt a knot growing in her stomach.

“The garden is a bit of a mess love,” Kitty said.

“Dad’s garden?” Suzie said, “Don’t be silly, Dad’s garden could never be a mess. It takes care of itself. His pride and joy.”

Kitty wondered if Suzie had simply forgotten that Tom was too unwell last summer to tend the garden. Or perhaps she had been so preoccupied with her dying father that she hadn’t noticed the garden turning into chaos.

Kitty heard Ben, Suzie’s eight year old, shouting in the background.

“You’d better go love. I’ll see you at the weekend. I’ll make lunch for your arrival,” Kitty said.

“Great, I can’t wait to see you,” Suzie said hanging up.

Kitty sat down on her armchair and noticed she was shaking. She looked across at Tom’s chair with it’s perfectly plumped up cushion, as if it was still waiting for him to sit down. Kitty didn’t want her daughter to visit. Every time she visited, Suzie lectured her and tried to change how she did everything. Her only daughter always thought she knew best. Thinking the garden looked after itself was a fine example of how much she had to learn. Suzie hadn’t noticed the amount of hours Tom had lovingly put into the garden, carefully planting each plant from seed and painstakingly removing each weed almost the minute it appeared above ground. When they were first married she had loved gardening too, spending just as much time out there as he had. It was she who had planted all the fruit trees; spindly stalks that had now become sturdy apple and pear trees. It was when she got pregnant that she had handed the garden over to Tom, what with the exhaustion in the last few months before the birth. When Suzie was born it had been the custom for the woman to do the majority of child-rearing. She was always inside with Suzie or taking her on outings. Tom had invited her out a few evenings to garden with him after Suzie was in bed, but by then Kitty was so exhausted that she politely refused, telling him he was better at it anyway.

Kitty wondered why she had never gone back to gardening. She imagined that every marriage fell into patterns that weren’t necessarily built on good reason.

Now the boys were coming to visit and would want to play in the garden. Kitty knew Suzie would have a melt down if she saw the garden in the state it was in. It would bring how much she missed her father right back to her. The thought reminded Kitty that she was not the only one mourning Tom. There was a whole family suffering. Her role as the mother and granny meant she had to do something to uphold their expectations. Kitty went to the hall and found the gardeners card. It was a coincidence that he had come today. Or maybe it was a little sign.

The next morning Kitty rang her nephew.

“Friar Street Garda Station,” a man answered.

“Can I speak with Brian Smith please?” she asked, “Tell him it’s Kitty.”

There was a moments silence and then she heard Brian.

“Hello Kitty, everything alright?” he said.

“Everything is fine. It’s just that Suzie is coming for the weekend and I need a gardener. A young man came by yesterday, named John O’Shea. He left a card. Do you think I can trust someone who just knocks on doors?” she asked.

“I know John. He’s doing all the gardens around the place this year. He’s a decent lad. If you’d like I’ll swing by on my lunch break and make sure everything is going well.”

“Only if it wouldn’t put you out. I’ll make up some sandwiches for you,” Kitty said.

“That’d be great thanks. See you then Kitty,” he said.

After he had hung up she remembered that today was grocery day. She had enough for Brian’s lunch at least, but it didn’t sit well with her that now she’d have to do the shopping on Wednesday. Wednesday was a much busier day in the supermarket than Tuesday.

Kitty waited by the door anxiously. John was five minutes late and she wondered had he changed his mind. She unlocked the front door and walked out. A woman pushed a buggy past her front gate. She didn’t look over to say hello.

Kitty waited until a car pulled up with a scruffy trailer at the back. There was a lawnmower in the trailer. Kitty felt a bit weak at the knees seeing a huge chainsaw in there too. She reminded herself Brian would be around later.

“Good morning Mrs. Cleary,” John called, looking delighted with himself.

Kitty smiled back, wondering if she had ever had as much energy as oozed from this young man.

“Let’s have a look around then,” he said, “Make a plan. You said there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“I don’t know where to start. I need it in order by Saturday.” Kitty said

“No problem,” he said, “Can I see the back?”

She led him around the side of the house, and he gasped when he saw the garden.

“What a treasure!” he said, “You’d never think you had such a huge garden. There must be close on an acre hidden back here.”

“I thought if you could clear away the overgrowth first I would at least be able to see some of the flowers that must be hidden. Then you could make a start on the grass.” Kitty said.

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, “I’ll grab my tools.”

Kitty watched from the safety of her kitchen window as John pulled out weeds and cut away the overgrown hedge. She was in awe of the happiness he carried about him.

At lunchtime she was so fascinated watching him that she had forgotten about Brian’s visit until the doorbell rang.

“Everything going well Kitty?” he said.

“He’s doing marvellous work,” Kitty said, “He’s turning the place around. I’ll get out the sandwiches.”

“It needed the work alright. You should have called me over last weekend. I’d have been happy to help.” Brain said.

“I didn’t know Suzie was coming until last night. Anyway, you’ve enough on your plate with the two little ones.” Kitty said.

“There’s a heap of sandwiches here,” Brian said, “I’ll never eat them all. Why not ask John in for some and I’ll suss him out for you?”

After lunch Brian went back to the police station and Kitty felt suprisingly calm. Perhaps it was because she knew that John was aware she had a policeman nephew, or perhaps because she realised he was a decent type. He had even left his dirty shoes at the door when he came in for lunch, and had washed his hands with a nailbrush he carried around in his pocket before eating.

Watching John through the window made Kitty feel a glow in her belly. A longing to be out there too.

His bouncy youthfulness was energising.

She changed into some old slacks, a loose t-shirt and Tom’s old gardening clogs. They were huge on her feet and she enjoyed feeling the indentations of his feet under her soles.

“I’ve decided to come and help,” she said to John, “There’s too much here for one person, and only four days to do it.”

“Do you enjoy gardening?” John said.

“I used to when I was more fit and able,” she said, “As for now, we’ll have to wait and see.”

She knelt down next to a flowerbed and felt her knees crack beneath her.

She began pulling out weeds, cautiously at first. It had been so long since she had felt earth on her hands that at first she was nervous something would bite her or prick her. She avoided the big dandelions because she didn’t have any gardening gloves for their spiky leaves.

One by one she cleared away the weeds to reveal the rose bushes. She felt the sweat creeping down her neck.

After about two hours she stood up for a break. Severe pins and needles pierced her legs. She walked briskly about to try and get rid of the sensation. Her old body wasn’t used to this. Once the pins and needles passed she looked at the bed she had cleared and felt a smile creep over her face, first to her lips, then to her eyes. Nothing had given her more satisfaction in months. She felt the pride that came with achievement and she knew Tom would be pleased if he was watching.

“You’ve done powerful work there,” John said, and she realised she had forgotten he was even there. She looked at the rest of the garden.

“You’ve done fine work yourself. I am beginning to see the outlines of the garden again.” Kitty said.

“I’m going to do the lawn now if that suits you. You could take a rest now while the mower will be loud.” he said, and she was touched at a young man having such thoughtfulness.

“I will. I could use a cup of tea,” she replied.

When John was gone and her dinner dishes were washed up, Kitty walked out into the garden. She inhaled the smell of cut grass and felt her heart lighten. It was like a little piece of Tom had returned.

“How did I let the garden become such a mess?” she asked herself. She wondered if she hadn’t been able to face it because it was a reminder that Tom was gone. Did that mean she was getting over it, learning to cope again? She immediately felt a wave of guilt. She didn’t want to get over it. She didn’t want to stop mourning because that would belittle the whole marriage. As if it hadn’t been important if she could move on with her life after less than a year after his death. She rushed back into the house and closed the kitchen blinds.

The next morning Kitty woke aching all over. Sudden work after years of inflexibility. She hobbled downstairs and opened the kitchen blinds, determined not to be overcome by emotion today. She needed to get the garden done for Suzie. She was surprised to see John already at work with a big shears, chopping back overgrown hydrangea bushes. She wondered if summer was the right time to cut them, but thought it didn’t really matter because they were so overgrown that something had to be done about them. She had never been fond of hydrangea bushes, feeling they took up too much space. No matter what he added to the soil, Tom could never get them that nice rich shade of magenta pink he wanted. They always ended up a slightly obnoxious light pink that neither of them liked.

“Are you going to give it another go today then?” John asked wiping sweat from his forehead.

“I’m on a mission to succeed,” Kitty said, “For Suzie.”

It was easier working in the morning without the midday sun beaming down. It seemed quieter and fresher at this time. She noticed John had pulled up the dandelions that she had bipassed yesterday.

She walked to the middle of the garden to clear the circular centre-piece flower bed. She got a waft of a familiar smell and couldn’t place it. She walked around the bed and spotted a flash of colour; purples, reds, whites. Her heart gave a jolt. She knelt on the grass and carefully cleared the overgrowth to reveal a dense cluster of Sweet William flowers. Tom had always brought Kitty a bunch of Sweet Williams on their anniversary. She had often asked him to grow them himself and he had said he would, one day. Kitty’s eyes filled with tears that she tried to blink away. She wondered when he had planted them. She knew they were perennial. She took a steadying breath when she realised he must have planted them just after his cancer diagnosis. He knew he wouldn’t live much longer and he must have secretely planted her favourite flower when he knew he would no longer be able to bring them home. Tears spilled from her eyes, a mixture of nostalgia and happiness. Even from the grave Tom was still doing the small little things to make her happy.

When Kitty returned from the supermarket on Thursday, finally having run out of milk, she panicked to find John had gone. She had been so nervous that he wouldn’t return that she had forgotten to unpack her shopping. But he did return, and with boxes of bedding flowers, already in full bloom. He beamed at her as he lifted them around to the garden.

“The garden needs a bit of colour don’t you think?”John said, “Too late to get a good display from what’s already in the garden, so I thought these would make the place look good.”

“They’re perfect,” Kitty said and then laughed, “Tom always thought buying flowers like that was cheating. He always insisted he had to grow them from seed to get the best result.”

John laughed, “Well, cheating or no cheating, they’ll look great for Saturday and isn’t that all that matters now?”

By Friday night the garden was like new again. It wasn’t as fine as when Tom had cared for it, because so many of the flowers had been starved of light. The roses were few and far between from a lack of dead heading. But the lawn was clear and ready for the boys to run around. The hedges were neat and orderly. Walking around the garden, Kitty rubbed the lavender and savored the smell. She gently touched the rose petals and spotted a fine bulk of apples growing on the tree. John was paid and gone with the promise to return weekly to do the grass and hedges. She was already looking forward to his return. She hadn’t realised how hungry she had become for human company.

She rooted around in the shed and found the secateurs. She knelt down and clipped off a few Sweet Williams to bring indoors. She left plenty still in the garden but it would be nice to see some in a vase in the house. Like old times.

Suzie, her husband Fred and the three boys arrived on Saturday morning. The hall was filled with noise and energy the minute they arrived, and Kitty felt giddy with their presence.

“You look great Kitty, better than you have in ages,” Fred said.

“You certainly look better than you’ve been sounding on the phone,” Suzie said, “I was getting a bit worried about you. But seeing you now, I was worrying for nothing.”

“Can we go out the back?” Ben asked, “Flynn and I brought our bats but Jack said he’s too old for playing ball games.”

“You’re never too old to play ball games,” Kitty said, turning to Jack, ” Don’t you know you don’t stop playing because you get too old? You only get old when you stop playing?”

Suzie and Fred laughed but Jack looked at her confused.

“Go on out. Enjoy the garden,” Kitty said, “I’ll bring you lemonade.”

“Great idea Mum,” said Suzie.

Kitty carried the jugs of homemade lemonade out to the garden.

“You made it yourself?” Suzie said, “God, you haven’t done that since I was a little girl.”

“You used to love it,” Kitty said.

“So did you!” Suzie laughed and Kitty sat down on one of the wooden garden chairs. The next job would be getting these varnished afresh.

“This is the life,” Fred said, “Sitting out here in the sunshine.”

“The garden is just like it should be,” Suzie said, “I though you said it was a bit of a mess?”

“I did a bit of work on it,” Kitty said, smiling to herself.

“Thank goodness. Dad’s garden was always my favourite place in the whole world. It was my sanctuary when I was teenager.” Suzie said.

Kitty was quiet as she watched the boys hitting the ball to each other. Jack sat on the grass looking bored, in typical seventeen year old fashion.

“It’s not just Dad’s garden Suzie. It belongs to all of us.” Kitty said.

“Dad would be delighted you’re taking such good care of it,” Suzie said.

“I know love,” Kitty said, “But I’m not going to keep caring for it just for Tom. I’ll do it for all of us. Especially for myself.”

“That’s the spirit,” Fred said.

“You’re right,” Suzie said.

Ben hit the ball into the flowerbed , scattering some rose petals.

“Boys!” Suzie called, “Be careful. Show some respect for Granny’s garden.”

Kitty smiled. It had never been anything but Tom’s garden, Dad’s garden. But now it was her own and she was going to enjoy it.

Holly Hen (A Story for Children)

Holly hen pottered out for breakfast. She ate her grain and drank her water. It was a cold rainy day. Holly knew the warm summer days were over for another year. She puffed up her feathers to keep warm and went back inside her cosy coop.

Lily hen was sitting quietly and still.

“Are you already laying your egg?” Holly asked Lily.

“Indeed I am, bright and early as always. I like my egg ready for Sarah and Dave’s breakfast,” said Lily.

Holly tried to lay an egg but felt too cold and too tired.

“I don’t think I can lay an egg today,” said Holly, “It’s too cold for me.”

“You Bantams,” said Lily, “You always go broody too early. I’m well able to keep laying for another few weeks.”

“That’s because you’re bigger with more feathers to stay warm.” said Holly. Bantams were the smallest of hens and Holly couldn’t help it if she couldn’t grow bigger.

“Nonsense, you’re just lazy,” said Lily.

Holly didn’t want to be lazy so she tried again to a lay an egg but she just couldn’t.

They heard footsteps and the coop door opened, spilling in light. It was Sarah.

“Good morning ladies,” said Sarah, “Have you any eggs today?”

Sarah lifted Holly up to look under her. Sarah’s hands were warm and Holly liked it when she lifted her. It felt like a little hug.

“No eggs from you Holly, I hope you’re not going broody already. Winter has only just arrived.” said Sarah.

Holly clucked and Sarah put her back down. Then Sarah lifted Lily.

“A fine big egg Lily,” said Sarah, “Dave will enjoy that.”

Sarah closed up the coop and Lily went outside for her breakfast.

Holly tried to lay an egg all day long. By bedtime she felt very sad and went to sleep early.

The next morning it was even colder. When Lily laid her egg she got up and went out for breakfast. Holly wasn’t hungry today. She was never hungry when she couldn’t lay an egg.

Lily’s egg was lying all alone in the straw.

“Poor egg, it must be very cold. I’ll keep it warm,” said Holly.

Holly sat on the egg and it felt nice under her. She even pulled out a few of her feathers so the egg would be closer to her warm skin.

Holly heard Lily start to cluck outside. Lily liked to cluck loudly so Sarah and Dave knew she had laid an egg.

After a while Holly heard Dave’s heavy footsteps and the coop opened.

“Morning Holly, anything under there for me?”he said lifting her up. “I see you’re cheating. That egg is too big to be from a little bantam hen, it must be one of Lily’s. Sarah’s right, you’ve gone broody. I was hoping to get another few weeks out of you yet. My nephew Brian is visiting tomorrow and Sarah wanted more eggs to bake him a cake.”

Dave closed the coop and Holly went out to see the morning.

“Some hen you are,” said Lily, “You’ve made poor Dave very disappointed.”

Holly felt disappointed with herself but knew there was nothing she could do to lay an egg.

The next morning Holly stayed hidden in the coop, too embarrassed to go out. She sat on Lily’s egg again to keep it nice and warm for Dave. Lily didn’t mind her sitting on it. Then they heard footsteps and the door opened.

“The big white one is Lily and the little brown bantam is Holly,” said Dave to Brian.

Brian crouched down and peered in.

“Can I pick them up?” Brian asked.

“You can, but be gentle and hold their wings into their bodies,” Dave said.

Brian tried to pick Lily up but Lily squawked and clucked so loudly that Brian nearly dropped her in fright.

“It’s okay Lily, calm down,” said Dave, “Lily is a great layer but not so tame. She gets frightened easily and isn’t always great on being handled.”

“Sorry Lily,” said Brian.

“Why not try Holly? She’s an old dote,” said Dave.

Holly relaxed totally and allowed Brian lift her, even though he was holding her too tight and pinching her wing a bit.

Brian had a great big smile now and gave her head a gentle rub.

“I love this one,” said Brian, “And look! She was sitting on an egg!”

“That’s one of Lily’s eggs,” said Dave, “Holly has stopped laying for the winter now. She won’t start again until Spring.”

Dave picked up the egg. Brian put Holly back down and she shook out her brown feathers.

“Wow,” said Brian, “Look at all the colours in Holly’s feathers.”

“She’s a beauty alright,” said Dave.

“I’d rather have Holly with no eggs than Lily with lots of eggs,” said Brian and Holly saw Lily look sad.

“Ah now,” said Dave, “They each have their own qualities. Holly is gentle and sweet and lovely to look at. Lily makes lovely eggs and is consistent and loyal. We don’t have favourites, we love them both. No need to pick when together they give us the best of both worlds.”

The coop door closed and Dave and Brian walked away with Lily’s egg.

“I’m sorry for calling you lazy,” said Lily, “I know now how it made you feel.”

“It’s okay,” said Holly, “Sure, aren’t we a fine team?”

“We are indeed,” said Lily, “And you just wait until spring. Together, we’ll make so many eggs they won’t know what to do with them.”

 

Dad at the Toddler Group (A short story for adults)

There’s a big sign on the door: “Mum and toddler group”. Even the sign is telling me I should turn around and go home.

I know if I don’t go in Sarah will kill me. I made a promise.

I look around. As expected, I’m the only man in the room.

Out! Out!” Anna cries, bouncing up and down trying to get out of the buggy. She clearly recognises the place and I know there’s no going back now.

Hold your horses”, I say crouching down besides her.

Excuse me, would you mind standing out of the door way to do that?” a woman asks me. She is trying to get past pushing an enormous buggy. It’s like the BMW of buggies. Big, shiny, and all for show.

Sorry,” I hear myself saying, as I steer Anna’s buggy to a corner.

By now Anna is starting to get frantic, “Out! OUT! OUT!”

I see the same woman looking at me with pity or disapproval, I can’t tell which. l I fumble with the clasp of the buggy straps. Why won’t it bloody open? The other woman is beside me now, cramping me. With no effort she lifts her baby out, pops her onto her hip. She parks the buggy in a bay of other buggies and now there’s no room left for anymore.

Eventually I get Anna free and she potters off to the toys. I don’t know what to do with the buggy so I just leave it the corner. I look for a seat, somewhere I can watch Anna.

I sit down on a small chair in the middle of a row and I feel my arse cheeks spilling over the sides. The chair is the kind we had in primary school, with red metal legs and a tiny wooden seat. I feel stupid and too big sitting on it but better than standing there like an iijit with my hands in my pockets.

There are toddlers running around everywhere, screaming. I wonder if I’m the only person in the room who finds the noise head wrecking.

I watch Anna. She is playing with a toy train, rolling it on the floor under a table. She looks happy.

A woman sits down 3 chairs away with a baby boy on her knee, younger than Anna, not yet walking. The woman is about 30, brown bobbed hair. Efficient looking. I smile at her.

Hiya” I say.

How’s it going?” she replies and looks away, uninterested. She pulls out a bottle with water from her bag and pours in milk powder. The boy waves his arms in excitement as he sees the bottle transform into creamy white milk.

I contemplate saying something, but don’t know what to say.

Maybe “Nice baby”, but I think that sounds creepy. Maybe “Have you been here before?” ,but that sounds like a chat-up line. Maybe “It’s my first time”, and I grin to myself at how that could be taken.

Before I can think of something to say, another woman sits down next to her . They start chatting easily. I wonder do they know each other. Why can mothers always start conversations with other women that they’ve never met before?

I hear a yell and see Anna about to bite a little boy who is trying to grab the train off her.

Anna!” I shout, jumping up, “Don’t bite!”

I grab her but I am too late, she has bitten the boy who is now roaring. Then Anna starts roaring. Great, I think. I see women everywhere staring at me. I can feel them thinking I can’t discipline my child. My stomach clenches. Will I get kicked out? My one year old expelled from the group for biting?

Shhh pet,” I soothe Anna, “It’s OK, calm down. You’re a good girl but you shouldn’t bite. Biting is a bold thing to do isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Anna sniffs.

“And good girls shouldn’t do bold things, should they?” I ask.

“No.” Anna says burying her face in my chest.

I look to see the little boy in his mum’s arms, a young woman, early twenties with orange streaky hair.

I’m really sorry” I say to her, “Is he alright?”

I know I should probably insist that Anna apologises herself but I know that’ll start a tantrum and I’m not in the mood to draw that on me. I’ve long known that becoming a parent means apologising for someone else’s behaviour. Repeatedly.

He’ll be fine,” the woman replies, “Don’t worry about it. They’re demons at this age! Peter bit his cousin only last week. And actually it was him to stole your daughters train.”

I feel relief sweep through me. She’s not angry.

Well, she shouldn’t have bitten him, I really am sorry.”

She smiles again and moves to comfort her son away from the biter.

When Anna has calmed down I look for something new to play with. I spot a xylophone. I let her bang away at it and walk back to my chair. There is a woman sitting on the chair next to mine. I sit down enthusiastically, seeing my chance to get to know somebody. Sarah seemed to know everyone here, before she went back to work. The woman tenses as I approach. Now I feel awkward. Maybe I look desperate. I probably am desperate.

Hi”, I say to her, “I’m Adam”

Lucy,” she says, blushing. I realise that there are two tiny legs poking out from under her jumper. She’s breastfeeding a young baby, only a couple of weeks old probably. Tiny little bare feet.

The woman starts to squirm in her chair.

I wonder should I tell her that my wife Sarah breastfed Anna until her 1st birthday, only 4 months ago and it’s really no big deal to me, she doesn’t need to feel awkward. I consider the word breastfeeding and realise there is something intimate even in the word itself. Maybe I could use the word nursing.

Her baby kicks me in the elbow. I look down just as the mum takes the baby off her breast. I catch a glimpse of her nipple and look quickly away but I can see she is embarrased. Her embarrassment is contagious. She starts fumbling, trying to clip back her bra while holding the baby and trying not to expose herself. I can see out of the corner of my eye that she is blushing bright red.

I decide now is a good time to go play with Anna. I walk tom Anna without looking back.

Do you want to do some painting?” She looks at me excited, flapping her arms and babbling in her own baby language. I take this to mean yes.

I walk with her to the art table and put one of the plastic aprons on her. The sleeves are too long and I struggle with her wriggly body trying to roll up the sleeves.

One second Anna”, I say but she is starting to whine. Eventually it is on. I have sweat on my forehead. I feel exhausted. I’d kill for a coffee.

Anna clambers onto one of the tiny chairs and the woman doing the painting smiles at her.

Hello angel,” she says “Here is a paintbrush. You can use any colour you like.”

Thanks” I say to her, helping Anna dip the brush into the yellow paint. “Let’s go with yellow first.” “Lellow” Anna sings to herself, “Lellow lellow lellow lellow”

She squashes the brush onto the paper, then the table, smearing yellow paint blobs everywhere. Thankfully everything is covered in plastic, fully equipped for a toddlers lack of painting skills.

I look at my daughter. She is beaming. She has a large blob of yellow paint on her nose. I can’t help but laugh at her. She laughs back at me, thinking it is hilarious but not knowing what I’m laughing at. This makes me laugh even more. The facilitator smiles at me. My first truly friendly smile at the toddler group.

After awhile I can see Anna starting to lose interest. She rubs her eyes spreading paint over her forehead. She’s tired.

Have you had enough painting?” I ask her.

She nods her head and climbs off her chair.

I take off her apron and use one of the wipes on the table to clean her hands and face. She squirms when I rub her nose.

Will we go home?” I ask her, hoping she’ll say yes.

She frantically shakes her head from side to side, no. We both know who the boss is.

I walk her over to my chair. The breastfeeding mum has gone. I sit down and help Anna climb onto my knee, trying to balance us both on the miniture chair. She rests her head on my chest and I give her the soother from the changing bag. She relaxes into me, her eyes closing.

I see a woman start handing coffee out over a counter but now I’m stuck under Anna.

Maybe I should just sneak out when she falls asleep. I look at the buggy and wonder how easy it would be to escape around the toys, kids and other buggies. Impossible. There is no way out amidst the bedlam. I look at the door just as it opens.

A man walks in holding a girl in his arms, younger than Anna. He looks around the room awkwardly, unsure where to go. His eyes fall on mine, I smile at him, give him a wave. He looks relieved and walks over.

Heya,” he says sitting down next to me, “For awhile there I thought I was the only man here. Imagine how hard that would be?!” He sits his daughter on the ground. She picks up a building block and shoves it into her drooly mouth.

Tell me about it.”

 

Grassy Toes (From the Sally in the garden series).

Mum was trying to put Jamie to sleep but he was making an awful lot of noise. Jamie was Sally’s baby brother and he didn’t like when it was nap time.

“Why don’t you go out in the garden Sally? It’s nice and quiet outside,” said Dad.

“Can I bring my blanket? I could have a picnic,” said Sally.

“Only if it’s an imaginary picnic. It’s nearly lunchtime,” said Dad.

Sally went to her bedroom. She took off her shoes and socks and put on her big sunhat. She picked up her blanket ,doll ,two teddies and her toy picnic basket. With so much in her arms she couldn’t see where she was going. She dropped them all on the ground and went to find her shopping trolley.

“Have you seen my shopping trolley? I need it to carry my things outside” Sally asked Dad.

“It’s in Jamie’s room. But you can’t go in there because Mum is trying to get Jamie to sleep,” said Dad.

Sally was about to cry but Dad had an idea.

“Why not use you doll’s pram? That’s in the hall,” said Dad.

“That’s a great idea!” said Sally.

Sally put everything she needed into the pram. She pushed it to the kitchen but it got stuck in the backdoor.

“Let me lift that down for you,” said Dad.

“Thank you,” said Sally.

It was much quieter outside. The only noises were the birds in the garden trees but Sally liked that noise. It was much nicer than the noise of Jamie crying.

The pram was easy to push on the patio but was much harder to push on the grass.

Sally took out her blanket and lay it on the ground, trying not to squash too many buttercups.

“You sit there Dolly Lucy, you here Teddy Tom and Teddy Tickles can sit next to you,” said Sally as she put her toys on the blanket.

Sally gave them each a pretend cup of tea.

“I forgot to bring any bread and butter so you’ll have you eat daisies instead,” Sally said to her toys.

Sally sat down and had some pretend milk in her cup but didn’t eat a daisy because she knew that could give her a sick tummy. Toys didn’t get sick tummies so it was okay for them.

Dad came into the garden.

“I’d love a cup of your tea” said Dad.

“You can share with Dolly Lucy. She doesn’t really like tea anyway. She prefers milk.” said Sally.

“Like you,” said Dad.

Dad sat down on the blanket and Teddy Tom fell over.

“Daddy! You knocked over Teddy Tom” said Sally.

“Sorry Teddy Tom, the blanket is a bit small for all of us” said Dad sitting Teddy Tom up again.

“Here’s your tea,” said Sally.

“Thank you. Mmm, delicious,” said Dad pretending to sip his tea.

“Do you know you have no shoes on Sally?” Dad said.

“They’re in my bedroom,” said Sally

“Silly Billy, you’re always supposed to wear shoes in the garden,” said Dad, “What if you stand on a stone?”

“I won’t. I watch where I’m going,” said Sally. “I like wearing no shoes in the garden.”

“Why?” said Dad.

“The grass feels nice under my toe-toes,” said Sally, “It’s tickley and soft and sometimes a bit bumpy and I like it.”

Dad smiled. “That’s a good reason not to wear shoes. I think I’ll try it.”

Dad took off his shoes and socks. He put his socks into his shoes because Mum always tells him his socks are smelly and there’s less smell when they are hidden in the shoes.

Dad wriggled his toes in the grass.

“That does feel nice,” said Dad, “It feels airy.”

“Grass isn’t airy. It’s grassy,” said Sally.

Sally lay down on her blanket and closed her eyes, which is what mum wanted Jamie to do inside. Sally thought it was easy to close her eyes and didn’t know why Jamie found it so hard.

“If you’re going to sleep then I’ll go back inside,” said Dad, “I’m supposed to be getting lunch ready anyway.”

“Can I have my lunch out here?” said Sally.

“Why not?” said Dad standing up. He picked up his shoes and carried them to the house.

“Yippee!” said Sally.

“Oww!” said Dad.

Sally looked up at dad. He was holding his foot in his hand.

“What happened?” said Sally.

“I stood on a stone,” said Dad.

“Silly Billy Daddy,” said Sally, “You should have been looking where you were going because you’ve no shoes on.”

Sally lay down again and waited for her picnic.