As it’s Groundhog Day, here’s the story behind ’11:42′ – but not because of the cute little woodchuck that predicts the arrival of Spring every Feb 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
When Florence’s baby was born dead, she found she couldn’t cry. Not at first. She had known for some time that it was dead. She voiced her concern to Doctor Foster just the week before, calling him to the house to listen to her still, silent belly.
“Nonsense, Mrs Morgan. I have never seen a young mother as healthy as you,” he declared.
He would hear no more of it and didn’t even bother to open his Gladstone bag or write anything down. Before he left her house, she heard him talking to George in his study about how women flapped too much at the slightest thing. George apologised for his wasted time.
The baby’s face was squashed and swollen and covered in scratches made by tiny fingernails. It would have been a girl. She would have been a girl. Florence named her Lucy out loud, but in her head she called her Little Lost Lucy. She was tiny and beautiful to her mother, and Florence held her cold, grey body and sang lullabies under her breath until the hospital nurse decided to separate them. One to the morgue, one to the ward. Florence wanted to go to the morgue too. So much. She clung to Little Lost Lucy with the last shred of her strength and determination, and the nurse had to fetch two more nurses to help her.
When her arms gave up her baby, Florence let out a noise like a wounded animal. The noise left the room, travelled down the corridor, and reached into every ward. All eighty-seven patients shifted in their beds, even the very sick ones. All of them knew that a mother had lost a child. It was that kind of noise.
Florence was wheeled into a ward where six new mothers sat cooing over their living babies. She was expected to recover from her grief surrounded by the happiness of others. The mothers did not speak to her because they didn’t know what to say. Nor did Florence speak to them, but that was because she couldn’t speak. She was afraid that, if she opened her mouth, the noise would come out again. It was waiting there, somewhere deep down in the darkness, like a patchwork dam holding back a lakeful of tears.
Doctor Foster visited. He patted her hand and ignored the glare she fixed on him. Muttered something about weak hearts. Florence closed her eyes tight shut and when she opened them again he was gone.
George visited. He said ‘There, there. Never mind’, and Florence wanted to wrap her hands around his neck and squeeze extremely hard. But, of course, she didn’t. In George’s humble opinion, there would be others. Florence was not quite twenty. George was not quite thirty. Plenty of time.
Florence dared to open her mouth at last. “I don’t want others. I wanted Lucy.”
Little Lost Lucy, her heart whispered.
“Lucy? What kind of name is that?” George said. “Not that it matters.”
Not that it matters.
Standing in the corner of my grandma’s hallway in my disgrace, the stolen shortbread still melting on my tongue, I placed my hands on the walls, closed my eyes and saw Grandad.
When I’m writing a larger piece of work, one of the fun parts is the conjuring of odd snippets to add to the history or background of the story. Sometimes these snippets end up in the book (like the chapter headings in The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook and the petitions in Blackwood), and sometimes they initiate a complete change of direction.
This snippet will be part of the book ‘Foxfires’. The protagonist, trapped in a snowbound farmhouse with strangers, will come across the thin volume of curious tales with this particular page corner turned down. He is already in fear of his life, so this’ll really make him freak out. Hee hee! (Sorry Jack!)
‘Curious Tales from Travels in Yorkshire’ by M.Nesbitt
Chapter 8: A Disturbance at an Inn on the Edge of the Moors
“In the autumn of 1905, the author was passing through a village on the edge of Saddleworth Moor when he decided to rest and take refreshment at a small inn. At first glance, the inn seemed peaceful and emanated a warm glow from a lit fireplace but, upon entering, I was alarmed to find several weeping women and angry men. A number of the gentlemen were arming themselves as if for battle, though the distressed ladies pleaded with them to reconsider. They made no allowance for a stranger in their midst and continued with their heated discussion.
I asked the innkeeper if I could partake of a brandy as the weather was inclement, and it appeared winter was arriving before its time. He poured me my drink with one ear on the growing dispute behind me. I wondered out loud what was happening and he shook his head with a grimace and told me that Mr Hawkins, a young farmer, had not returned from tending his sheep in the hills. His sheepdog, Bess, came home without him and in a dreadful state, covered nose to tail in mud and bleeding from numerous lacerations. Clearly agitated, she set off again after just a few hours rest, presumably to find her master, and she had not come back.
You never need to throw writing away, because every piece of writing contains something useful.
The previous post – ‘First Day Nerves’ is connected to this one. Both come from the same story, which will probably be called APPLEHEART.
It will be a long time before I can call it a book, and, to be honest, it’s already been stewing for a good number of years. Checking back, I wrote the Appleheart excerpt in 2014, and First Day Nerves is from 2016. It’s now almost 2018 and I have the best part of four chapters. Four years to write four chapters!?
This is what I like to call a ‘slow-cook book’, and they’re often the best. I’ll keep adding to it, and all sorts of ideas will get mixed in along the way. It should make for lots of flavour, just like a long-simmered stew!
My mother said I would regret choosing art as a career. My father couldn’t care less what I chose. He was, however, worried about Ned and drama. If he’d ever seen any of Ned’s acting; if he’d bothered to go to the school plays or the drama group productions like I had, he wouldn’t have been so worried. My brother was a natural. We were still in nappies when he began to people his world with characters from his imagination. They occasionally took him over so that he became someone else entirely. Many times, over the years, his acting made me laugh so hard I was sick, or cry until I had a headache.
As kids, we would sit together in a tent pitched in the middle of the room we shared. It was like a wigwam, but one we’d made by haphazardly stitching old sheets together and stealing bamboo canes out of the garden. Only we two were allowed in. No family. No friends. Because, inside that tent, was our own little world. A stage for Ned, a studio for me. We would sit together for hours, forgetting empty tummies and full bladders and all the boring routines of life. I had my drawing pad and my coloured pencils on my knee. Ned told me all about the people in his world. I drew them for him.
“Draw an apple for Murphy. He loves apples more than anything.”
I drew an apple for Murphy and tilted the pad.
“No. He only likes red apples. Not green ones.”
I rubbed out the apple, picked up the red pencil, and started again. “What about Mia Emilia? What does she like best?”
“Mia Emilia doesn’t like anything anymore. She’s always sad. She has a face like this.” He pulled the saddest face I’d ever seen. “And she only ever talks in a whisper.”
What if the medieval folklore of old was based in truth? And what if just one girl was charged with the task of destroying it? Adventure, swordfights, love, loss, faeries, battles… and magic. All in […]