UFOs

Real

That was the start of it, the vigils. Every night at the foot of the Gilt Spears a group of people congregated in a housing estate to look up at the stars. Housewives with working away husbands, fractious toddlers hanging upside down in their grim grip, wailing at the night. Comic book men with costume fetishes, conspiracy theorists with tales of Area 51, young pensioners with an eye for travel, Agatha Burns’ mother, Sandra and Karen (a hairdresser and a florist) and my father, congregating like they did the day of the total eclipse of the sun.

Nothing had ever surprised me more than when my father phoned me. In fact it was more surprising than what he rang to say. Over the years he had maintained an attitude of studied ignorance to my existence even as he indexed his Star Wars magazines. When my mother drew his attention to me, he often seemed taken aback as if he had no idea where I’d come from. And maybe that should have been a clue.

He was breathless – but that was normal by then. Roy spoke urgently into the phone. He said he had seen the lights. He said, ‘we are not alone’.  He said that he had heard music first, five notes on a scale and that he had made his way out to the back garden. Years before his first port of call would have been his telescope in the attic but his mobility was now poor. The world was travelling away from him; his feet could no longer find the floor, he constantly misheard, his near vision was almost gone. He had no trouble seeing the stars however, the further away the better. He drank champagne the night they announced the Glise 581g – the star closest in make up to ours, the Golidlocks planet that was just right for life.

He was even more bubbly there on the phone, he mentioned the music again, then the lights, three lights ‘dancing’ he said, ‘dancing’ It was a word I’d never heard him use, it was something I’d never seen him do although my mother was the kind of woman who should have been whisked about the floor. But he was changed that day, his voice was honey bright, he went on, telling me. I watched the lights fall through the sky. They stopped and hovered over my head. Then they flicked and dipped like the tail of a fish. Then they disappeared, ‘behind the Gilt Spears,’ he said, referring to the hills nearby.

‘Why me?’ I said

‘Come again?’

‘Why me?’

‘I thought you might like to know.’

Then he admitted he couldn’t get Barry, that he’d left a message on his mobile. I think he’d forgotten that Barry was no longer talking to him.

Of course he didn’t expect me to come, especially after the accident, it wasn’t so easy for me to get round. I visited him the next evening after sundown. He helped me take the wheelchair from the car. People were congregating on the green. They were organised. Mrs Burns had made sandwiches and the two young women made hot chocolate for everyone.

That first night we saw nothing but there was a sense of optimism. I watched my father’s face contain an alien happiness. He told jokes, he became considerate, draping a blanket over my legs to save me from the cold. After a couple of hours I went back into my father’s house with him and he talked and talked, a great river of information, all the vital statistics that were necessary for understanding what might be about to happen.

But then in the onslaught he paused, he asked me a question and he listened. I heard myself talking, and I saw him taking notice and I became real.

Night after night for seven days I returned for the vigil. I never believed, but look what had been accomplished – every night talking with my father, repairing the old mottled cloth. On the sixth night, he took my hand and shed tears when talking about my accident. He’d never referred to it before. ‘No one was on the look out for you.’ He said.

The next night we looked up at the sky over towards the Gilt Spears. Again the residents standing with their mouths open and their breaths baited. ‘Do you think there is anything out there?’ said the lady called Karen. ‘Might be, Sandra replied, biting into a marshmallow. Some of the group had given up, they were in front of their televisions watching repeats of Family Ties.

There was a sudden lull, like the bottom fell out of something. I looked up in the sky and I heard the music, the music that I seem to come from a long time ago from among the forest of chair legs as I sat underneath, the girl forgotten. I heard music but I saw nothing, nothing at all.

The people were oohing and swooning, shouting about the lights. ‘Dancing,’ called my father, pointing. When I looked there was nothing there but I heard above my head his perpetual humming, five notes from Close Encounters, this humming I had heard my lifetime through.

‘Three lights!’ he yelled, ‘Look, Look.’ But I couldn’t see anything. Maybe I wasn’t the daughter for him. My father clasped my hand, his tears illuminated in the street lamps.

‘Do you see it?’ he said.

‘Yes!’ I shouted. ‘Yes, isn’t it wonderful!’

He kissed my cheek. ‘Gertie,’ he said, his shoulders heaving. ‘It’s real isn’t it?’

‘Yes!’ I said. He lent down. I placed my lips against the damp wool of his coat. My fingers were crossed.

#fridayflash Ode to Morrison

This is one of many many interrelated flashes. This is for lovely Morrison from The Solid Table Fallacy.

If you’d like to see me reading it instead Click Here. Ignore the robot time check near the end.

I suppose it won’t surprise you to know that I’m a little bit in love with Morrison Pentworthy. He is a poet who bends towards the otherwise forgotten things; sandworm castings on the shore and the fractal repetitions of trees. He is Morrison, a little bit in love with everything. So a story, a story for him.

It was just a year or two ago, many years after everything that happened. Eddie was now Edward White, Photographer. He had tried to make sense of things too – those strange stories from old men and children about lights in the sky, fishy goings on, people from nowhere and flugtags that flew right up to the sun. He had taken pictures, pictures that my father might have called ‘life fancied up’; photographs that made the everyday extraordinary.

There was an exhibition, small scale. One of those where the force unimaginable is contained in a municipal building, slinking quietly into the background of polystyrene cups and industrial carpets, no hype, miles from the Tate or the Turner prize. Of the lights themselves he captured, somehow the hovering, the held breath beautiful and the hope of them. Despite himself Edward White had created something great. Only a handful of people would ever know. But this is Morrison’s story.

Morrison liked to ride the buses, sometimes randomly. He would take a 42 or an 11b or a 49A from the city centre and find out where they ended up. Later he might take the train back and admire the view over Killiney Bay or look into back gardens with clotheslines and old trikes and fashionable extensions. Sometimes on the bus he would have his notebook on his lap. He would awake from this reverie and alight the bus; emerge blinking into some foreign thoroughfare, some anonymous corner of brick and juxtaposition, enjoy the sensation of making sense of it.

Serendipity was one of his touchstones. We all have them. Whether its magpies, astrology, anniversaries, betting odds or Gods or our favourite jersey or bugbear, we all need something to give us a guide rail.

Serendipity. He went out of the bus and in front of him was the small door on which was fixed, modestly, quietly details of this photography exhibition. Inside, moving through the exhibition he felt his chest inflate, words ramming against his vocal chord. His fingers hummed. Yes. He went home and wrote this poem on a scrap of paper and his mother nearly threw it out when she was hoovering later in the week.

Send

Send me a secret story in a song just for me
Send me a grain of dust
Send me a heartbeat flipped, squeezed with lemon juice, soaked with sugar
Send me the sharp stars
Send me the winks in the water
Send me
Send me songs, photographs, breaths, petals, kisses, muddy puddles
Send send
Send send me the satellites and the lights of Japan and the sizzle of electric eels
Send send send
Send me the weave and the weft, the ragged starts and endings
Send

And between the lines, if you could see as microscopically as I do, yes, you would see the word Emily repeated over and over as if it was the shape of his breath. For since he had seen her in the furniture shop three and half years ago, with her children and her disgruntled husband, Emily had become another of his guiderails.

Emily too had gone to the exhibition. She was there on the opening night. She had seen a small write up in the paper and although she hadn’t rung Eddie since he’d handed her his business card at the supermarket when they’d met after all those years, she knew he’d be pleased to see her.

It felt grown up, standing there with a glass of wine and listening to the speeches, watching Eddie from a distance when she’d only ever been wrapped around him, lips, ideas, interests, limbs, kisses, kisses. She felt like a person, away from the children. She went out into the fuzzy evening with a more solid feeling.

She would not have gone back, only it was her mother’s anniversary and she was thinking about the sea. The sea healed, her mother had said, although for Barbara the healing had been only in the head. Eddie had taken some pictures that made the sea look like metal, rising, like the arc of a spaceship or the rim of the earth from space. The way she had felt about Eddie, all that potential was like the sea rushing in but now, (years later) it was all too late. The crest of the wave had fallen and the sea had gone out again.

Morrison with his notebook, his poetry and the secret codes for his sightings of Emily and yet that day, fated, at the exhibition he didn’t recognise her. She was so still, naked of the trappings of life, buses, bustle. Then he saw her hand and remembered the way she had placed it on the dining table in Furniture Land.

The leaf of the poem fell out of his book. There were red and gold highlights in her hair as she bent to pick it up. It was Autumn then and everything was tumbling. A slow light was coming through the window. She did not mean to read it but ‘Send’ she said as she held in in her hand. He watched her as she kept reading.

‘Send,’ she read and the rest and she thought of all the things she wished had been sent.

‘We met years ago,’ said Morrison ‘You wanted me to sell you a table.’  And there it was, that quiet beginning. Later they sat together in a café with plastic flowers and dreadful coffee despite being run by a middle-aged Italian with slicked back oily hair. There were plastic tablecloths so they could not see the grain of the table underneath and the whispers between the grain that silently said, ‘I love you’.

But many years later Morrison Pentworthy stepped down from the podium at a reading of his poetry, now popular and admired, to the steady, constant arm of a white haired lady with eyes like the sky; that strange, inconstant blue. Emily, Emily, Emily. Can you imagine their kiss?