Monday, 27 August 2007

Walking the Coast

Just on a wee break on a walk near Montemarcello the other day. Isn't lovely!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

A Village Story

A Village Story
By Susan Vermeulen

They were like birds, twittering around, voices were strangely high-pitched, piercing. One might take-off, fly away or something. But they were human and harmless, not to be taken too seriously; once you became accustomed to them it was fine and he was close to that point now.

Jake scratched his head and his lips, at least, were smiling. He took off his glasses, greeting one group of passers-by while bidding farewell to another in very fluent French. Such an operation had previously proved difficult but it was now accomplished with masterful ease. He was surprised, he hadn’t deemed himself capable of such a feat but then languages are there, they don’t go away, they need some practice and that is not something which can be taught, it takes time and these people helped, they were always talking to you, at you, round you.

For five, no six months he’d existed in this French village, that was a long time. He did miss things and folk from home, they could not be replaced, copied, brought closer in any way. A phone, even a mobile one, a fax, an e-mail, a letter, what do they actually do? They tell you facts and feelings, recall events with laughter or rage or neither which simply push you, shove you, hurl you yet further away and that’s not nice. Jake saw that he was constantly loosing his balance. He’d never known how much he actually felt for certain things or people, now they were far away a piece of him was missing and he wanted, he needed to get it back. Now these village people wouldn’t let him go – so, not wanting any fuss, he gave up and didn’t try to leave so they were, in fact, to blame for their own downfall. Unknowingly they kept this strangely powerful and potentially dangerous man among them.

The people still managed to amaze him. Their frantic words tripped over each other, they did apologize but this was lost in a cacophony of sound as another subject bounded forward and they never actually seemed to need an exact reply. At every instance hands, arms, shoulders even insisted on joining in. Jake was at first puzzled and only gradually understood the power of his comprehension: he was making them disappear!

“Bonjour Jake, ça va?”
“Oui, ça va.” He was fine. He nodded, raised his glass and continued, “alors Pierre – tu vas travailler aujourd’hui?” Jake’s question hit the other in the face – it tilted his head awkwardly to one side and left an enormous, empty, very quiet space which had to be filled by something.

“I don’t know yet if I’ll work. Maybe God will be kind today and give the sick and elderly a few more days – if that is kindness.”

The village undertaker was a charming, charismatic man. He was sorry about the job he did – apologizing to all and sundry for being needed – but he couldn’t go away, like Jake the village had entranced him, leaving would not be easy but then that was never meant to be the case. The bond between these two men was a strong one, they knew already of its significance.

They sat and drank and watched, observing the village dwellers. This occupation was a painful one. As days rushed into each other the people, from head to toe, were getting visibly fainter. They did still pass by, and stop, and talk, and be but they were almost, very nearly transparent! This is a gigantic word which tells you everything, it makes things distinctly obvious, tangible, apparent, or does it?

Pierre and Jake sat on, enjoying the wine; it was young, a Beaujolais, it was indeed French and made them strong enough.
“Et toi – tu travailles aujourd’hui?” Pierre’s question was urgent.

“Don’t worry, mon ami,” said Jake in soothing tones “I must work today, it won’t be long now.” He knew what his task was and that he was capable of completing it.


“I’ll do that again – it’s odd, all wrong.” Jake bent and lifted up the canvas. It hurt his eyes, made him feel physically sick, weak too. Sighing and swearing softly he now picked up another one, it was heavy, it was suddenly gigantic. He was sweating as he eyed the “ordinary” house again, a confusing mass of rooms, of recollections, emotions.

He endeavoured in vain to paint. He had great difficulty now in assuming the role of artist which, over the months he had managed to do very well. His work was now very basic; it made him cry in disappointment or for some sort of reason. But then you can’t always ascertain why tears appear, trickle down, leave you weary. Men do weep too, less frequently, less freely but it happens, it has to. They will never match the female’s tears, those can appear with no change to the facial expression, they trickle down, leaving cheeks wet and saying everything – leaving nothing to the imagination, telling tales.

Jake’s flat was swimming with paintings, representations of everything – insides, exteriors, people, (nearly everyone), animals, insects. Feeling their aliveness he was relieved, it made up for the wasted morning, his fruitless endeavour to capture that house – her home. Looking at the art works round his flat he could hear cars rattling through narrow streets. The school, over by the sofa, looked empty but his ears heard the children, they were learning, living and laughing too. There at the window of an upstairs classroom he saw one boy, the youngster was grinning, he looked comforted. Gently Jake stroked and fingered his creations, the paintings settled down, relaxed, colours changed slightly becoming more life like or should that be like life? An expression of acceptance, of resignation crossed Jake’s face, got stuck and stayed.

There was a shark tap on the long window. The blinds were down, who could that be? When he saw he was afraid but he couldn’t help it and let the snake come in. It curled around his ankles – physically allowing its thanks to be felt. It was not a venomous creature – so he would let it stay. On arriving in the village he had been petrified by the proximity of these reptiles but as days passed he had managed to strike up an allegiance with them, only himself and the snakes were aware of this – he told no one. He might need them later on. Then man and creature jumped at a bang on the door. Jake answered it to find Pierre standing there, trembling. His taut lips parted but no sound accompanied the movement. He had very thin lips.

“We must be strong together,” breathed Jake, clutching the other firmly by the shoulders and kissing sagging, pathetic cheeks. He poured a couple of glasses of Bordeaux and placed one in Pierre’s anxious grip. It, the wine that is, was smooth, it was rich, made to sip, to savour and it seemed to understand the men’s dilemma and to sympathize. Glasses called out for more and were filled.

“We will go out again.” Pierre’s voice was a determined one and his dark eyes were not afraid as his wiry, excited body twitched and would not be calmed. He often appeared agitated but usually settled down when he was with Jake who took on the leading role.

Quietly, slowly they ventured forth. The snake, which Pierre had not noticed, was left as sole occupant of the flat, it was going to ruminate, to meditate, plot, plan.

“Stop, listen,” snapped Jake. The crying became very loud. A woman appeared carrying a baby’s rattle which she waved around hysterically. The sound echoed, reverberated. Pierre spoke to her but she wouldn’t even look at him, insanity had arrived with the departure of her child.

“Annie,” she moaned, “ma chérie, tu es parties! »

Jake put an arm around her frantic shoulders but she shook it off. Her short hair managed to be tangled. Quite suddenly her “petite” body became barely visible. Just as quickly her weeping ceased. Mother and child would soon be reunited – she knew this and was glad.

Pierre saw her vanish. He had to look angrily at Jake. “This is your fault, you know, you are to blame. Why do you make my people vanish? Who gave you the right, the power?” Jake looked uncomfortable. This was a question he’d endeavoured to answer himself but remained mystified, it was happening, he didn’t like it but could do nothing to prevent it. “I hope you’ve painted enough to make everything alright,” Pierre continued.

“I believe I have,” reassured Jake, “it’s only Louise’s house that keeps running away – like its owner did.” Saying this he set off for the spot again; he got there quickly for virtually everything was gone. Louise stood at the window this time, her expression was that peculiar one he’d seen before and couldn’t comprehend. He stopped and stared but when he tried to move he couldn’t. Louise looked out of the open window, she waved and called.

“Salut Jake, tu viens m’embrasser, me toucher, m’exciter? «

Jake stood silent although his mouth fell open and he would have loved to respond to her invitation. Louise came outside, she edged closer and with each step she aged, grew ugly, enormous, livid. She stood in front of him and spat. She aimed well and cackled at his soaking bottom lip. Then she turned and hobbled back into her house. As she entered windows were sealed over; the house stood there and it was dead.

Jake moved again. He wiped a hand across his lower lip. And he felt relieved as he made his way forward, through the changing village. He did indeed sympathize with his surroundings but, being invested with the power to transport it safely somewhere, anywhere else he relished the responsibility. He was doing his best, no one could reproach him in any way, shake an accusing finger, crinkle up a confused forehead even or utter a reproachful comment of any kind. He would not be taking Louise or her house with him and felt glad about that. She had been there those past few months but that was all he could say. His last encounter with her had been memorable, not particularly enjoyable, disgusting actually. He didn’t understand or want to understand her behaviour and felt strangely comforted that he wouldn’t be unwrapping her or her house again and didn’t have to explain it to any one.

It was vital, he ascertained, to run a random check on what he had, to this moment, accomplished. He stopped at the locked-up bank, an irrelevant detail for only doors and windows and powder-thin walls remained. The interiors were very “bank clerkless”, almost quiet; only a faint jingle, no it was a jangle of coins was distinguishable. Jake had to grin in a rather childish fashion, he shook his head and remembered.

Arriving in the village this had been his first port of call and, without wanting to he’d put his mark upon the place, he was part of it. If this very special building were to vanish he’d go with it but that would not happen; his “bank painting” occupied an obvious, an enormous space upon the wall. The clerk he’d spoken to was very young, shy too. He had seen him frequently but the young man remained as reticent. Jake wanted to tap him on the shoulder, offer him a cigarette, say or do something outrageous, daring or at the very least unusual. But to want to do and actually do are separated by parched desserts, uncrossable ones. And did he actually want it to be any other way? There had been one occasion when he’d spied a tiny grin and almost heard an irrelevant remark but the quiet voice was overpowered by the rumble of a passing lorry: the bank clerk was never brave enough to try again.

Jake had to hurry away for he could feel regret and that threatened to spoil everything! He discovered a seat in the only café still functioning and ordered breakfast. It was to these precise co-ordinates that he had often gone with Louise, where the two had first made contact, physical as well as verbal for he’d touched he hand, yes, and wiped away a tear, comforting her like a brother then a lover as he kissed damp, pouting lips and whispered gentle words with double meanings for her ears only. She had responded, sat up straighter and closer too, put on a different expression. Jake had felt important – at that time he had room inside him for that kind of responsibility, it made him feel good and very nearly French. That was indeed strange for his body screamed out foreignness – from the colour of his hair and eyes to his tremendous, somehow awkward-sized feet which were constantly apologizing.

Louise had been an exemplary teacher. Unknowingly she’d been the one to make him see what he was capable of, she’d been the instigator of the process and shown him what to paint, how to rescue this little village. They’d often gone to this café at dusk. He’d spied the place before but it hadn’t seemed a drinking or a talking place until he’d taken her in. She’d let him show her how to build a world up round her, to relax there. Louise had responded favourably, she’d been very creative with her world but there was one problem, Jake was not let in. He tried to get in but all the entrances were locked. Then she would go away – never tell him where, for how long, why.


Day dreaming, painting fantastic, almost real images before his eyes Jake went home again. Pierre was standing at the open door.

The two men set to work. They carefully and very lovingly parcelled up canvas after canvas, loading them all into the van outside. Skilfully they wedged bottles into secretive crevices to make them happy later: the snake supervised – that was vital. They then drove away from nothing for now, except for one lifeless house, there wasn’t anything left. They didn’t have to know where they were going it was somewhere. They would set up life again, unwrap the paintings carefully, it wasn’t going to be a straight forward undertaking but they were two exceptional, creative and determined men and they would be successful.

Sand Man

Sand Man
By Susan Vermeulen

They lay there, motionless, entranced. There was no surface movement but, just underneath, lively brains were brimming over with matters that really shouldn’t be talked about! The beach occupants were regal, magnificent and they knew it, revelling in their omnipotence and almost talking with firmly shut mouths.

All around changes occurred, progressively, spontaneously; colours, shades, tones even wouldn’t settle. The multi-coloured human bumps, quite magnificent, exclusively female followed suit, altering imperceptively with each separate moment. The sun is magical, powerful, it does not take second place, only humans can do that.

Mr. Beach sat, no he lay proudly by, grinning, feeling uncomfortably hot, for obvious reasons but wouldn’t have wanted things any other way. He welcomed each damsel with open arms, amazed by the wondrous empty space he was capable of creating; he had been doing this for so long now he’d
forgotten when it had actually started – last year, last century, last millennium! He was responsible for these creatures, he’d realised this immediately, he mustn’t slip up.

Daily, when departure time approached the ladies followed a precise routine; yawning, coming to life they demonstrated, quite un-ashamedly, that yes, their lower limbs did function and they went wandering. On their travels they un-earthed what the sand concealed. They became frantic, frenzied competitors then froze – what was their goal anyway? They’d have to work that one out so, in the meantime, the treasures were carted off to horde, to show as proof, to feel, to talk about as owners.

Each day was new, it hadn’t been there before to encounter these maidens so introductions were an on-going affair. The circumstances were never identical for we are dealing here with humans, prone to ebbs and flows of moods, of emotions. Unlike a tide they were not predictable. Joy and its opposite, (now what exactly is that?) surged up, unannounced, with or even without provocation. The prey had little chance, they were puppets, toys, adopting proffered moods at the flick of a switch. It all happened very much like a hiccup, one which was both felt and heard and, yes, more often than not, hated. Exhaustion accompanied the changes – the victims sank down, they wilted.


One human individual had just hiccupped violently, now she felt very good. Why was that? She didn’t dare speculate, such an operation simply makes excitement tangible. What a shame!

She hadn’t visited this beach before and sat all alone, surrounded by measured, empty spaces. Spaces tend to fill up at an amazing speed on sunny, sultry days like this one so S. made the best of her allotted time, revelling in these pleasurable circumstances, feeling very fortunate, very privileged. She stole a fleeting glance at the other beach-occupants; they all shared a special expression which she endeavoured to copy but to no avail. That must be a thing acquired by time. Nevertheless she felt happy so would retain the anonymity. She closed her eyes, locked them shut but kept hold of the key. No longer feeling, sensing even the surrounding calm this female went back in time, back into time, remembering things – they were ugly, horrible.

Her name was S. – an enormous capital letter usually followed by a dot. She needed to make her name grow to a more normal length, it had to stand up straight and grin. She awoke and shivered, pulling lots of dirty, hole-infested things in closer. Yesterday, needing sustenance, as human creatures do, she’d collected apples in the park and they were sitting there beside her now, in a paper bag. Suddenly they started moving round, they clearly weren’t getting on. S. had never imagined that apples would be capable of such behaviour. She feared their shabby home would fall apart, that they’d get away so she gingerly coaxed one out and nibbled it. The others seemed satisfied at that, they quietened down, they slept, or rested any way.

The bite or rather bit she’d taken filled her mouth, it started to show off, to do peculiar things – clearly the mouthful was enjoying the adventure – pies and puddings were the norm for cooking apples – what a refreshing adventure this made! S. grimaced, pathetically, her taste buds screaming out for sweetness but none was available and she forced the mouthful down, resignedly. It arrived at its destination without too much trouble and strangely seemed to be readily accepted, it wasn’t bad at all actually!

It was an attractively coloured, lidless bin. Only dry, clean things were visible so she sat down, up close to look first with eyes then fingers. And, somehow, she remained there. The wind got up, paper floated past her face and, inadvertently she shoed the pieces away. One envelope though got stuck, it stayed with her. S. allowed it to sit comfortably on her knees for an eternity, then she opened it, that’s what you do with sealed envelopes that will not go away, or what you should do, that’s for sure.

It was lunch time. She stood on the over-peopled bright red coach. Everybody’s clothes clashed violently with this colour except her own, that was fortunate. She was sitting on her own, she liked that, she didn’t have to hold a conversation with a total stranger which usually proved very tedious. She was in fact surprisingly good at that but had to be in a certain mood and today was not the day.

Looking out of the window she saw the countryside rushing by. It was green, pale green for it was barely summer and the leaves were finding the right spaces to fill and feel comfortable in. She crossed her legs, closed her eyes and relaxed, this was wonderful, what an adventure. Someone behind her coughed and started talking loudly – she was such a bore. A long string of irrelevant details rushed out, colliding into each other and turning previous comments into ridiculous garbage. S. imagined how she would successfully shut this lady up, it could be cleverly done with surprising ease and the speaker would not even be embarrassed but then S. was very good at certain strange things. She might even make a new friend but for the moment this was simply another creature, an individual sitting behind her and she’d leave it this way.

Then there was the dog. It was a little animal with floppy ears and a quizzical expression. Not young, she (yes, a female called Stella) remained motionless, quiet and still which was lucky for S. was not happy with hyper-excited dogs which kept wandering. She got decidedly angry with owners who would coax and tease their pets like little kids, on occasion giving them even more attention than their own offspring, what a pity.

This means of moving transport or should that be moving means of transport went rumbling, rushing out to a spot, nestled in on the shore, to a beach waiting to receive yet another occupant and S. obliged. She loved beaches, she was already getting excited, anticipating the day that lay ahead, starting to plan. This was going to be her very own day away, she was going to make it work.

Long legs were stretched out luxuriously by their owner. As they inched, no centimetered forward the other letters of her name emerged, surfacing, embarrassed, taking deep breaths, clinging onto each other, separation later on would be virtually impossible and Susanna blinked her eyes meaningfully and sat up. Her name had been there all along, she’d known that but not felt strong enough to bring it out, but things were happening and she did like her name.

As well as the envelope with coach tickets, Susanna had discovered, in the bin, the entire outfit with accessories for the trip. She didn’t know what the bikini looked like on but the beach-inhabitants remained reactionless – that told her everything and then nothing at all really. She wasn’t going to worry about that though, there were oh so many things to wonder, or rather ponder over, she was feeling cool!

The towel went on for ever, it was thick, if a little narrow but she didn’t let that upset her. Then there was the sun-tan lotion and the book. She rubbed the one on and wished she could dispose of the other with similar ease – and then did as she buried it ever deeper into the sand. Books can simply be sent to blind you, to fill empty, pointless pieces of ones life, they work or they don’t work, that depends on your mood, health and the weather of course.

Why were these ladies, for that is all she saw, so wrapped up in themselves? They certainly didn’t look happy and she did know now what this adjective meant. Perhaps the lack of male companions was to blame – but why didn’t they dream, remember, plot, plan? That was what she intended doing, when she settled down, this pastime always kept her fully occupied.

When you feel good it’s nice to share with others and Susanna did start, witnessing, close by, sort of open eyes. But as her words took physical shape walls were built up around her, high and strong with look-out points. So, wisely, she resigned herself to solitary happiness, that felt good too.

An ice-cream seller came walking, distinctly resembling the beach she patrolled – yes, it was yet another female, it was impossible to know where one actually ended and the other began. As she passed Susanna proffered coins and voiced an order or rather a request. But the seller didn’t or wouldn’t hear, her eyes did twitch but she continued on her path. Susanna suddenly recalled a specific, irrelevant incident; she didn’t like or dislike it, her mind was operating, functioning wildly, in isolation, something was daring, challenging her to work it out – but what did it matter anyway? She sat on, ice-cream-less. What was occurring now was a new experience, dimensions were being added to her life in abundance, she wanted to be sure and take it all in for you never actually know when you’re going to have to use your memories, when tiny happenings are going to jump up, wave banners and help or something.

Then there was a man. He was moving, stepping out confidently, looking, seeing but not searching, vague but there. Her compatriots, for that is what they had indeed become, remained immobile, there was nothing, apparently, for them to look at for he left printless steps. His chest and head were bare, quite hairless but, luckily, the sun liked him and did him no harm. As he proceeded he captured the heat in his palms and stroked it. He was powerful. If she had been asked to describe him she could only have said, smiling, “now that is indeed a handsome man.” Most men are not afraid of being labelled in this way.

The route he followed was precise. With care he edged round bundles of bodies, disturbing no-one. Eyelids remained dead, no throats were cleared. On occasion his steps almost touched the sea but there was always one human form separating the two. He mustn’t be washed away for then many things would perish and he wouldn’t be able to do what he had come to do. Reaching Susanna he stopped. She could see him now, up close – he was very different: this is a gigantic adjective, it won’t attach blame, encourage votes it’s just there and is, it has a trillion meanings and likes being used or at least some like using it.

For a million moments the two remained motionless then he was kneeling at her feet. Toes fascinated him and he rubbed Susanna’s teasingly, provocatively but he did look serious – this was something which indeed had to take place. And then her toes were covered, they were hidden by shiny, silver gems which, in the same inkling were chased away by humming stones and the tunes were only those she recognised, that made her stronger, that gave her more confidence, music has that effect, if you let it.

Mesmerized Susanna’s throat was invaded by notes. She didn’t relish chocking so let them out, gingerly at first, then exaltingly, excitedly. He had managed to make her even happier and she tried to tell him this, for a man should be told such things, he’s not always aware of what he has achieved. A silent space emerged and she hummed her tunes, enjoying her space, singing songs secretively. Suddenly she was even more beautiful and she nearly understood.

The couple, for that’s what they had become, stood together – they were similar – heights identical, feet too, hands interchangeable, nails long and fingers with words. She had come to this beach with no expectations of what was going to occur: proudly she gazed at this man who was making her feel jubilant, exultant, another person.

“I will do that,” Susanna whispered but all those around sat up, they stared, looked angry for she was the chosen one. The silent females bore witness as Susanna made her way towards the water’s edge. She was the principal actress now, the one to come between Sand Man and the salty, lapping water. She turned, not to query but to smile, to say she’d stay but she was alone again and somehow she liked it, she understood.

The waves had acquired arms with hands which invited her to visit, to come in, get wet, maybe to disappear. She could not refuse.

Her chosen area was a misogynous one; her legs became heavy, they didn’t know what movement meant! The stones, the shells beneath her gurgled, fretted in sympathy or was that in animosity? Time stood still, only the Sand Man moved. He’d reappeared and risen above the beach and he’d grown hair, it was short, thick, shiny, silver.

Susanna’s legs moved again. She was allowed to leave the water behind her and sit in her place, no it was where he’d been before. She nestled in the spot, she waited, and she did know what for.

And then he was there again – her silver-haired Sand Man. He came quietly, bearing gifts, reaching out, giving more and more and smiling Susanna’s smile. This time they stayed with her, the silver stones and shinny trinkets: Susanna was grateful. He’d been generous but then some lives cost a lot of something!

Susanna gently placed the jewels in her towel which was suddenly, miraculously wide enough to take them all. She lifted it and took it home, to a place planets away. Sand Man, he had come to save her, to help her smile, to find her name again. And, this time, because of all he’d given to her she’d been made strong enough, she would survive.

She rubbed her eyes and opened them, wide. Susanna’s imagination was vivid, awe-inspiring, it always managed to come up with the right thing. She had started building up make-believe worlds when she was very little, when things simply weren’t working out as she would have liked; somehow she had managed to find a way out of everything. Sand Man was her favourite, he’d never let her down and she did believe, one day, she’d find her own man, one to hold her hand, to be with. Together they might actually find that beach again, become part of it, take on the relevant beach expression. All things are possible. Coloured roses can be picked, bloom (what a lovely word) almost talk but let’s stop there.