Mewls

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I’m at the cooker stirring the cheerfully bubbling tikka masala when I hear the little cries. Mewls, that’s the word that springs to me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard mewls before but standing here listening there is nothing else to describe it. There’s something mewling in my garden and it isn’t giving up. Something is stuck or distressed. I can live with that. It’s dark and I’m sure it’ll sort itself out. Whatever it is.

Then marque 4 comes into the kitchen and hears it too. He alerts the gang. Before I can bellow that the dinner is now, finally, ready they are all outside investigating. They follow the sound. The un-abating mewls are multiplying. They are persistent.
‘Help, help’ they seem to squawk. The boys tip-toe over to the Christmas tree. Yes I know it’s September, and no, we are not ahead of ourselves. Last year’s russet tree lies a-slant waiting patiently to be made into firewood. The mewls are coming from underneath the tree. Marque 2 pulls at the tree a little. Then he lets out a long quivering whimper.
‘Oh my god look’ he quavers. We look and we cannot see. Marque 3 shines a torch from a phone in. There they are. Three teeny tiny new born kittens. Huddled. Sprawled on top of one another. Minutes old, if that. Before I can say ‘ah god, now put the tree back’ marque 2 has lunged forward with a towel and plucked one of them out. It’s legs are splayed, eyes tightly shut.
‘Oh my god’ reverberates around my own head. What next?
‘Put him back’ I say firmly, trying to sound convincing.
‘Put him back?’ one or two or three of them wail. There’s definitely an echo¬† around here somewhere.
‘But he’ll die. We’ve read about it. The mother will only look after one or two. She won’t do three so we need to bring him in’. They all seem to be mouthing this line. This entirely fabricated line. I must seem like a bit of a pushover. My head is spinning from one to the other to the other. I’m in a swirl. I try to slide the door closed while sticking firmly to my line. Any hesitation at all and they’ll have the whole lot in.

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There’s a foot jammed in the door. A foot now prising the door back open. Eyes large and pleading, blinking back tears. Tears, if they fall, that will announce the fact that there is a mother around here who cares not a jot about a poor little defenceless newborn. Tears that will say he can’t quite believe he has such a heartless mother. Oh well. He shoves the towel under my nose. Perhaps if I sniff the newness I’ll crumble.
‘Yes, put him back’ I say, looking at my white towel, at what seems to be a patch of blood. Drat.
‘He needs to be fed by his mother. He needs his mother’s milk’.
‘But you could do that’ marque 4 suggests, motioning to my defunct chest, a slight grin forming. He has a clear memory that perhaps he shouldn’t have. They all do. Oh well.
‘Would you have liked it if someone came along and plucked you away from me when you were just born?’ I ask marque 4. He misses not a beat.
‘Yes’ he says laughing. ‘I would’ve liked that very much’. There’s a punishment pending. Suggestions welcome. Then he starts to really think.
‘We should call Nanny 911, she’ll know what to do’ and he sets to it. Nanny 911 is their maternal grandmother. Proud owner of six cats. Yes. Yes, she does fit the stereotype of the old lady living on her own with a rake of cats. All strays, in danger, and rescued by her good self. She will only encourage them, I think, staring at the splayed mite. Weakening myself now a little as they knew I would. I do a Google search, to bat off the encouragement should it come their way. But we are singing from the same sheet. Thankfully.
Put it back, she tells them. It needs it’s mother. Marque 3 has left out a bowl of hamster food for them. It’s all we have. She tells him to remove it. It could attract other animals. The mother cat could be frightened off by others competing for her space. Then she tells them that it is very, very important to put it back quickly as if the mother smells that it has been handled by other creatures she could reject it. Now why didn’t I think of that? Marque 2 is no longer trying to prise the door open to bring in his new pet. He is calling for help with the Christmas tree. Trying to put it back in the exact position he found it.
My own Google search confirms all her points. I’m reading them out. Reading that the very best place for them is to be with their mother. Unless in danger from wild dogs or foxes. Which it isn’t I say.
‘But I saw a fox’ marque 4 says and they are back echoing again about a fox up on the wall spotted by marque 4. I ignore them and their fabrications. I know we’re doing the right thing.

The next morning I spot the mother. She looks about three months old herself. Poor thing. So much responsibility. So young. But she’s taking it in her stride. Chilled out sitting underneath marque 3’s sunflower. She regards me with little suspicion as I approach her offering a bit of ham. She steps back for a second. Then she devours it. So at least I know she’s fed and able to feed. They are so quiet today. I’m afraid to look in really. In case the fox wasn’t a fabrication after all. But I do it. Before they arrive home from school. I’ll have to know. They are sound asleep, on top of one another, breathing fast and well. Rising each other up and down with the strength of their new found breaths. Helping one another to stay in the world. It’s a gorgeous oxytocin inducing sight.

The kids arrive back from school and set to making a fun zone for them. They string things from a table. A silver spanner, a blue Volkswagen Beetle, a Sinead O’Connor CD and a bicycle pedal all dangle enticingly, swaying and tinkling, waiting for the kittens to find their legs and come out to play. They peep in under the Christmas tree. The mother has scarpered to look for more food. She’ll be back later. And if she isn’t, well, hamster watch your back…

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A nod

 There’s been a little nod. An e-mail indicating that a story written in haste and submitted for a competition wasn’t a waste of time. If ever writing a story could be. Along with the nod comes an invitation. A day out in the publishing world. A Friday in town with pearls from publishing being shared and devoured. It is the stuff of dreams.

First though, the kids.

‘Hurry up, I’ve got to get you all to school and then get the train into town’.

‘Why?’

‘Because of a story I wrote’.

‘Ok. Cool’.

It doesn’t feel so cool running the ten minute cut through walk in an attempt to make them hurry along. I’m on my own. I’ll be first in at this rate. While they meander with their leaden legs, wrecked after the week of early starts and homework.

‘Hurry’ I bellow down the field and it is only the other parents who seem to pay any attention. Oh well.
At the dart station – it has been two years since I was at a dart station – the nice man behind the counter has his back to me. He’s counting change. Silas Marner style. Heaps and heaps of lovely gold coins. I cough once lightly to attract him. The dart, I read will be here in one minute. He does not turn. I cough a great big whoop of one the next time. No luck. A kind young man fiddling with a machine steps in.

‘Bang on the window’ he says. So I do, feeling rude with it, expecting to be ticked off for my impatience. But when Silas turns around he is friendly and he is kind. I step onto the train as if I do this all the time. With precision and a feigned aloofness. Yes I can rock on into a station with seconds to spare and alight a train as if it doesn’t really matter. As if the next one along in twenty minutes would do just fine. Which it wouldn’t. I’d be late as hell for this important day. Late and berating myself. But hey. The other bored looking commuters need not know. I’m sailing into town as if to my job. I’m one of you. At last.
Outside the library where the event will take place, story tellers gather. They gather and wonder about one another. Ah yes, you’re one too. Congratulations. We’re led around to a back door and into the sanctum. An already filling room of myriad colours and personalities all with a common goal. To read, to write and to be read. All ages, all walks. To my right there’s a lively stylish grandmother. She says that when she got her nod it might as well have been the Booker prize she had got. She was that excited and couldn’t imagine being any more thrilled about anything. To my left there’s a father on a career break, screen writing in the mornings while the kids are in school. I scan the room. Mostly women with a smattering of men. There’s a buzz of sweet anticipation as it begins.
This is our day we are told. We are to relax and treat it as if we’re in our grandmother’s sitting room. Ask questions. Interrupt. Enjoy. The pearls come thick and fast. Editors and agents tell us that the book is back. E-book reading is waning and people are reverting to the real thing. Phew. But fiction is not as strong as non- fiction right now. Fiction is a tough market apparently. Oh dear.
The celebrated authors arrive. They write commercial fiction, literary fiction and crime fiction. We are treated to anecdotes and humour as they share their trials with getting published. Their rejections. The books that never made it to the shelves. They are self-deprecating. They are real. They love what they do, clearly. They talk about luck and persistence. How it takes both to get across the line.
Tips on selling and marketing your book, which is really about selling and marketing yourself, are shared before we swirl around one another for lunch. The young and the old and the middling. Those who have travelled from various parts of the country and further afield and those who have cycled in the gilded hope that the orange/yellow weather warnings turn out to be fiction. Little platforms that people are building for themselves are revealed. Eyes widen at the semi-tapped but largely untapped pool of talent. For some it is a first little nod. Others have had luck before. All are there though in the hope that the little nods and the little bits of luck will, some day, come to something bigger. Out of the people I was talking to, with a kindred knowing glint, it is only a matter of time. Their voices will be out there for sure. They read and they write and they will be read.
After lunch a clever affable structural editor talks us through being a published writer. Writing, it seems, is about editing. About layers which come over time. A first draft should be written instinctively with freedom and forward momentum. It can then be torn apart and restructured with the help of an editor. She details common mistakes that she sees and how to avoid them. The sweetest thing is that she too is submitting her writing to others. Submitting and being rejected. She shares insightful snippets from her rejections. How the publishers are looking for either expertly paced page turners or brilliantly original voices. The room erupts with laughter. Would it were that simple. The authors continue to interject as questions are thrown from the floor. And then it’s time to wrap the dream up. Goodie bags of freshly published books are given to each invitee. Then the disparate group is set to disperse. It is awkward in ways. Shouldn’t people who have been brought together and shared such a special day be able to stay in touch if they choose? Keep up with one another’s progress. Swap tips and upcoming events and the like. It’s the only flaw of the day. The lack of a contact list. We don’t necessarily want to be running around with a pen asking for details, shy and strange creatures that most of us are. So we’re flung back to our lives, buzzing with renewed vigour for upcoming writing projects. Buzzing from the fact that we are not alone, isolating and all as writing can be. There’s loads of us out there keeping the faith, crafting little creations. The best of luck to you all.

  

Tiz done

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It’s oh so quiet. Back in the house the ghosts of the first morning are everywhere. Packages from the new shirts, empty on the couch. Crusts of toast. Half drunk orange juice. A pair of trousers to return, labelled upside down, bought as a 6 when they’re in fact a 9.

You never get used to it and it never gets easier. That’s the conclusion. Waking them feels cruel. Dressing them in new stiff shirts seems pointless. Walking with them, singing about how nice their new teachers are bound to be seems questionable. Then marque 5 pipes up.
‘My new shoes are electrocuting me’. I laugh. He insists that it’s true. Marque 4 stops to turn off the flash light. But it is not that. It’s something in the sole. Pinching or fizzing or frying away. I plonk him up on the wall, remove the shoe and press into the sole. I can’t find what it is, but it’s something alright. We walk on and he is slow, limping almost, looking pale. If it were a different child a psychological cause might spring to mind. First day nerves. But he is sunny and hearty and that isn’t it either. The pace slows so considerably that I think about carrying him. For a milli-second. You can’t actually carry a child into first class. Not even if he’s your baby. We’ll just have to be a little late.

We are greeted at the door by the support teacher who is aiding Marque 4’s reading. Drat. There was a torturous amount of work we were supposed to plough through in the summer. We did no such thing. Although we did do some. Selling homework to a kid on their holidays is no forte of mine. There isn’t a carrot I could think of to engage him as regularly as I should have. Marque 3 disappears, confident about where is going. He’s in the senior cycle now in fifth class and is bound to embrace it wholesale. I find out where the others are to be and we wend our way through the mixed bag of parents hovering, unsure of themselves, of how they should be. I find marque 5’s class  and we are greeted by his very smiley cheerful new teacher. He will be fine. Sitting down in his named place he whispers that he will just tell her if the shoe is still electrocuting him in the day. That’s how comfortable he is with her. I kiss him, again, and leave to take marque 4 to his room but there’s no sign of him. He must’ve given up on me and made his own way. Or else he’s done a runner. I ask for directions again. It’s at the very far end of the school. I walk quickly, trying to stop myself from breaking into a run, because that would be too weird and anyway, there’s no running allowed in the corridors. I find the room, the door almost closed, so I rap on it and push it open a little. The teacher is addressing a sea of little uniformed boys, all sitting quietly, attentively. Until their heads turn towards me, quizzically. I can’t see him, they all look the same. So I call out to the teacher – another friendly one smiling through a beard – that I’m just checking that marque 4 got there. A little hand waves at me. He’s right under my nose. He looks pleased and mortified all at once. I’m sure I’m in for it later.

I walk away from them feeling like a traitor. There’s no smidgeon of pleasure being derived from the fact that I’m free now for the next few hours. That for the first time in ten years I will not have a double pick up. It will come though, I know it will. Just not today. Today I’m home alone reeling in the quiet. Listening out for a laugh or a plea or a shriek. The new hamster turning on her wheel doesn’t quite hit the mark.

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