Thursday, 9 April 2015

Dust motes - Salt and Caramel writers' workshop

Night fell.

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she had watched the long shadows turn into dusk, dusk turn into darkness.

Her heart started beating faster as she stood up and gathered in a bundle the few possessions she was taking with her. A change of clothes, the little money she had managed to save, a miniature portrait of her parents. She crossed the space between her wardrobe and her trunk. The open lid revealed her painting material, paper, music sheets, a couple of favourite books, and her brother's ragdoll.

She seized the small, rather ugly toy she had made, age six, when her brother was born.

When he had been taken ill she had been forbidden to see him. The ragdoll had been left in his perambulator. She had retrieved it and tried in vain to tell an adult that he needed it to sleep. She had tried and tried, up until the day of the dust motes.
She had been walking towards the barred bedroom when she saw her mother, standing by the door, her hands covering her face and her shoulders shaking, people around her talking in hushed tones. The day had been grey and dark but as the little girl stood by a window, as if removed from what was unfolding in front of her, a ray of sunshine pierced the clouds and dust motes danced their slow ballet in front of her eyes. In that instant she thought that the ephemeral dance was the saddest thing she had ever seen.

For months after she had slept with the ragdoll pressed to her cheek, trying to capture the lingering smell of her brother. If only she had managed to give the toy to him...

She now put the little doll in a pouch she kept about her under her dress, fastened by a long string slung over her shoulder and across her body.

She draped her cloak around her, reached towards her bundle and soon she was walking along the corridor.

As she passed the window by which she had stood all these years ago the clouds moved away from the moon and an eerie light revealed dancing dust motes.

As she went on her way she whispered 'Good bye...'

I wrote this story from the April's writing prompt of the Salt and Caramel Writers' Workshop : Night Fell.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Brave Soldat - Salt and Caramel Writers' Workshop

The children ran towards the gate.

Erika was running ahead of the younger ones, her red hair streaming behind her. As she quickly moved from shade to light her curls looked more than ever like flames dancing around her, in turn as bright as the Sunday dress she was wearing or as dark as her black buttoned boots.

If it had not been for her hair, so much like his own, he would not have recognised her. She had grown and changed so much in the years he had been away. They all had.

As he watched them he felt a longing so deep he could hardly bear it. It seemed he had been almost as young and carefree as Erika when he left to fight in the war. And now… He felt so worn out, so old. He thought his children had changed but he had too. He lifted a weary hand to his forehead, his rough fingers feeling the deep grooves imprinted in his brow by all the years of pain and fear. Before he was called he’d had the face of a boy still, his wife had always teased him about it.

Would she know him? Would she even expect him to be still alive?

He had been made prisoner just before the end of the war and it had taken a long time before he was released. It had felt like a lifetime, a life not his own anymore, slowly escaping him.

Closing his eyes he tried to picture his children as they had been when he had last seen them. Another sunny evening, another garden... The children ran towards the gate. Erika clumsily carried the baby in her arms. They were as carefree as they seemed now but his wife, coming slowly behind, looked worried. She knew that he could be called at any moment. And, as it was, the time had come.

He opened his eyes again. The children had reached the gate and were embracing a tall man dressed in work clothes.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Their shouts echoed in his ears.

He let go of the fence, watched the palm of his hand, all streaked red and white from gripping the cold metal spike so tightly. He turned around and went on his way.

I wrote this story for this month Salt and Caramel Writers' Workshop. It was inspired by one of my favourite songs, an old ballad called Brave Marin or in some versions Brave Soldat (It's an old use of brave as good, as in Mon brave: my good man). Like my story the song tells the tale of a soldier coming back home to find that his wife had received news of his death and remarried.
It's a song that has a particular meaning for me too, as I used to sing it when I was expecting my first baby whom I lost at 32 weeks. It took me a while to sing it again but I did and have sung it as a lullaby to all my children.

Voici une histoire courte que j'ai écrite pour un atelier d’écriture en ligne, sur le blog Salt and Caramel. Le sujet était : Les enfants couraient vers le portail...

Brave Soldat

Les enfants couraient vers le portail.

Erika courait devant les plus jeunes, ses cheveux roux flottant derrière elle. Alors qu'elle passait rapidement de l'ombre à la lumière ses boucles semblaient tour à tour être aussi sombres que ses bottines noires ou aussi lumineuses que sa robe du dimanche, donnant plus que jamais à sa chevelure l'aspect de flammes dansant autour d'elle.

Si ce n'avait été pour les cheveux de la jeune fille, si semblables aux siens, il ne l'aurait pas reconnue. Elle avait tellement grandit et changé pendant les années où il avait été absent. Ils avaient tous changé.

À les voir ainsi il ressentait un manque si profond qu'il se sentait prêt d'étouffer. Il avait l'impression d'avoir été presque aussi jeune et insouciant qu'Erika lorsqu'il était parti pour la guerre. Mais maintenant... Il se sentait tellement usé, vieux. Il trouvait que ses enfants avaient changé, mais lui aussi avait changé. D'un geste las il porta la main à son front, sentant sous ses doigts rugueux le profond  sillon que des années de peur et de douleur avaient marqué entre ses sourcils. Avant qu'il soit réquisitionné il avait encore le visage d'un jeune garçon, sa femme l'avait souvent taquiné à ce sujet.

Est-ce qu'elle le reconnaîtrait ?  Est-ce qu'elle s'attendrait seulement à ce qu'il soit encore en vie ?

Il avait été fait prisonnier juste avant la fin de la guerre et sa libération avait pris beaucoup de temps. Cela lui avait semblé aussi long qu'une vie entière, une vie qui n'était plus la sienne mais lui échappait.

Il ferma les yeux et essaya d'imaginer ses enfants, tels qu'ils avaient été la dernière fois qu'il les avait vus. Un autre soir ensoleillé, un autre jardin... Les enfants couraient vers le portail. Erika portait maladroitement le bébé dans ses bras. Ils étaient tout aussi insouciants qu'ils le semblaient maintenant mais sa femme, marchant en retrait, avait l'air soucieux. Elle savait qu'il pouvait être appelé à tout moment. Justement l'heure était venue.

Il ouvrît les yeux. Les enfants avaient atteint le portail et se jetaient dans les bras d'un homme en vêtements d'ouvrier, grand.

"Papa ! Papa !" Leurs cris résonnèrent dans ses oreilles.

Il lâcha la clôture et regarda la paume de sa main, striée rouge et blanc d'avoir serré le froid pôle de métal tellement fort. Il se retourna et continua son chemin.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

I always wished I had a magic wand... - A piece of creative writing for Salt and Caramel Writer's workshop

I went to sit at my desk and examined my finding. Under the mud the wood was smooth, even polished, but otherwise ordinary.

As I was holding it in my right hand, feeling the weight of it - surprisingly heavy- Blinis came limping towards me, whining softly.

‘What’s up, baby?’

I crouched next to him and looked at his legs and paws . Under one of his feet was a cut that seemed shallow but obviously sore. I was still holding the stick in my hand and as I probed gently at the injured foot the wood started to glow. It grew warm too and, in front of my eyes, Blinis’ wound disappeared!

I had found a magic wand…

The next day, I went to work with the wand in my bag. I did not intend to use it, I just wanted to have it with me.
I crossed the oncology department and entered my office. As usual I went through the files of the patients I was to see that day. The first one was a lady who had no diagnosis yet. I was surprised as I usually saw people who were already undergoing treatment. However this patient had rescheduled her consultant appointment no less than six times and her GP had written a letter to say how concerned he was about her. He thought she was showing signs of acute depression and detailed said signs.

She did turn up for her counselling session with me. She was indeed very distressed and I struggled to get through to her. I was distracted too. I kept glancing at my bag where the wand lay.

It would be easy, so easy, to just make sure that her diagnosis was an all clear. How many times had I wished I could wave a magic wand and solve all my patients' problems?
Suddenly I found myself walking to seize my bag. I took a tissue out of it, handed it to my patient and sat next to her. I rested my left hand on her shoulder while my right hand held the wand inside my bag.

As it had done for Blinis the wood grew warm and I tried to angle my body to hide the opening of the bag so the glow would not show. It stopped. It was done.

I felt so elated! And powerful. 

By then I had completely lost track of what the lady was telling me. I was also getting quite... annoyed with her. Couldn't she feel the magic? As she grew silent I said the words I generally use to close an interview. I realised with a bit of a jolt that we had only been speaking for 10 minutes (as opposed to my usual minimum of 30). Oh well, she would quickly realise that the lump wasn't even there anymore.

I didn't use the wand again.

The next day came. When I went into work there was a cluster of people, a doctor, some nurses, other staff, gathered by the reception desk.

I enquired : 'What's happening?'

'One of our recent patients', answered Claire the receptionist, 'I think you might have seen her yesterday.'

Saying this she showed me the file of the lady I had cured with the wand. She was going to tell me that her lump had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared!

'She killed herself last night...'

You can see more posts or join the blog hop here.

Friday, 30 January 2015


Shall I ask James to write tonight about this play I saw at the new theatre ?

[James : There is no shall about it. I AM writing !
Catherine : Hush !]

It's all fresh in my memory still so it would be better to put my thoughts to paper right away... But the feelings are vivid too and I fear I will in turn cry my heart out or laugh out loud as I did during the play, just writing about it, and wake my little ones, asleep in their cot. Mathilde was true to her word and saw that they went to sleep.

[Mathilde : Of course I was !]

I don't usually go to the theatre to the evening performance but my friend Isabel had already bought the ticket and was taken with a headache earlier today so... There I was, in a proper theatre, surrounded by ladies and gents in their best fineries, feeling a bit out of place really. Then the play started and I forgot everything else...

That first scene with the ghost ! There, I get the chills just thinking about it. I even have to look over my shoulder ! I had never seen a play with a beginning as dramatic as that and I have seen my fair share.

[James: You can say that again...]

I saw The Spanish Tragedy of course. It was good : the unfortunate lovers, the grieving father and mother, the revenge.

But Hamlet, Hamlet... For one thing that Richard Burbage was enthralling. I think half, nay all of the women in the audience fell in love with him, here and there.

[James : Mother !]

It is our caring instinct that drives us towards those who suffer and Hamlet is by all means one tortured soul.

If I could read I would not mind having these words nicely written on a soft piece of velum, being able to bring them back to life whenever I would want to...

[James : I told you I could teach you.
Catherine, sighing : Yes you did, my love.]

Oh, how Ophelia describes Hamlet after she told him to visit her no more! And the scene when they meet again...

"I did love you once.
- Indeed my lord you made me believe so.
- You should not have believed me ; something : I loved you not."

[James : Mother, stop crying, I can't understand what you're saying.
Mathilde : Hush,  you oaf ! Why does he say that, Mother ?
Catherine : Because she rejected him, but it was because of her father. ]

And then...

[Catherine : Write again, James.]

Then Ophelia drowns herself, and everybody in the audience gasped when they heard the news!

"Her clothes spread wide ; And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes."

I am crying so again!

[James : Let's start again tomorrow, Mother.
Catherine : Yes, let's...]

Thursday, 18 December 2014

New blog

I have a new blog where I talk about language and translation.

You can find it here.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The tiniest of the bigger ones

Once upon a morning in the kingdom of Fiddlediddy everyone was going about their business.

The little ones were going to the-place-where-you-learn-things. It was in the centre of the town, in a place with a garden, a slide and a swing, and on the doors there was a big sign reading :
The Little Ones

The bigger ones were going to the-place-where-you-learn-even-more-things. It was on the outskirts of town and they had to go on a bus to go there. There was no garden but they had a big sports hall and a racing track. On the doors the sign read :
The Big Ones

Then the ones who think they know everything but don't know very much at all were going to the-place-where-you-start-learning-a-tiny-little-bit-of-what's-really-important (only a tiny little bit mind). It was in another town of the kingdom and they had to go on the train to go there. There was no garden nor racing track but there were buidlings with small bedrooms in them as they had to sleep there (the train journey was too long and costed too much to do it every day, two times a day). On the doors it didn't read 'the ones who think they know everything but don't know very much at all' but :
THE Ones
They liked that.

Then there was the place where people really start to learn a bit of the universe and everything. There were lots of buildings all over town, in every town in the knigdom. There was no garden, no racing track, no bedrooms, but there often were coffee machines. On the doors of all the places it read :

Then there was the place where people learnt even more of the universe and everything. It was everywhere. Sometimes there was a garden, sometime not, sometimes there were lots of bedrooms, sometimes not enough, sometimes none at all. There were rarely racing tracks, but there were often stuff, more often too much stuff, and lovers, partners, friends, children, aged relatives, lost loved ones and sometimes no one at all. There were no particular doors to go there, you were in it or you were notl but if there had been doors it would have read :

When someone moved from one place to the other it was almost always a big thing in Fiddlediddy. Everyone, except the interested party, wore a funny hat, danced and sang. Some people said they could have done without all this but it was Fiddlediddy after all.

On that particular morning a boy called Anatole was going for the first time to The Big Ones. He was feeling proud and excited but quite nervous too. As it was his first day a lot of his friends and family were going with him on the big bus driving to the-place-where-you-learn-evern-more-things, all wearing their funny hats, dancing - some holding a large white handkerchief or a stick - and singing. Everyone passed the doors of The Little Ones on their way to the bus station. In front of these doors children were either being very quiet or very loud, crying or laughing, hugging or swatting away their parents. They all looked very small and Anatole felt very big indeed.

At last everyone got on the first bus they could catch. That first morning there were lots of buses going out of town at regular intervals as there were so many people going with the new Big Ones.
When they had finally arrived and everyone had danced and sung and hugged and kissed, Anatole was waved off and found himself on the other side of the doors. He was quite small for his age and when he looked around he thought that all the other children seemed to be much, much bigger than him. Anatole felt very small indeed...

A familiar face suddenly appeared before him. Mr Bladibuss was a teacher at The Big Ones and an old friend of Anatole's family. Mr Bladibuss came from the knigdom of Tiniweeny where everyone was rather small. Babies were the size of your thumb and little children no larger than your hand. Mr Bladibuss was very tall compared to most grown-ups from Tiniweeny and he was about Anatole's height. For Anatole, who had known him since he was very litlle, Mr Bladibuss was a giant radiating authority and knowledge.

'Anatole, my boy !' said the teacher. 'You look a bit lost ?'

'Everyone is so big !' answered Anatole. 'I must be the smallest here !'

There was silence.

Then Mr Bladibuss said, 'I am smaller than you...'

Anatole looked at him with big, round eyes. His brain registered what his friend had just said but he still quite could not believe it. He felt so, so much smaller than Mr Bladibuss, who was now frowning at him and not looking too amicable. People from Tiniweeny are not too sensitive about their size but still...

At last Anatole said, 'I mean, I have so much to learn...'

Mr Bladibuss put an arm around the boy's shoulder, leading him through the crowd of children.
'And that's only the beginning, Anatole. that's only the beginning...'