Posts Published by Madeleine White

Author of 'Mother of Floods', a full-length speculative fiction, published by Crowsnest.

The Storyteller

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She reached out. He was nestled under the duvet but, if she wriggled her fingers enough, she could just about touch his back – a small spot beneath his right shoulder blade. Awareness of her sudden daring thickened her breathing. There, she’d done it. The warmth of another human being emanated from the sleeping skin just under her fingertips, in turn filling her with borrowed heat.

Holding her own breath she felt the pulse of his. She exhaled, trying to match her rhythm to that of her sleeping husband.

Softly, pioneering fingers were joined by the heel of her hand. She realised that it now occupied a spot she couldn’t remember ever having touched before. She must have done so at some point of course; after all, they had been married for over thirty years. Somehow though, the touching had stopped. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember when.

His breathing changed and he moved. She withdrew as if scalded. Now they were separated again, she didn’t know why she had felt such a strong need to reach out in the first place. Casting her mind back a short while, she seemed to remember being stuck in a grey, featureless Broadstairs High Street. It was a place she knew well but, in the here and now of her dreamscape, the familiar setting had been stripped of all colour.

As her mind started filling in more of the details, a memory of extreme thirst slammed into her. She seemed to recall desperately trying to reach the multitudes of colourful bottles and other goodies on display in the shop windows. Enticed by wares that were sparkling like jewels she had tried to get into one shop and then the next. But, it was the same everywhere; doors were closed and windows barred. The High Street had turned into an arid place of wandering, with nowhere to assuage her thirst.

Then, she remembered suddenly catching a glimpse of brilliant red out of the corner of her eye. It had come while she was unsuccessfully wrestling with the door on Crusties the bakers. And, although she hadn’t been sure, it had seemed as though a figure, clad in top to toe vermillion, was turning the corner into the town’s other main thoroughfare, Queen’s Road. In the expanse of monochrome dullness, the flash of warmth it afforded was heartening; something that both was and wasn’t but, at the same time, offering the promise of something real. So, girding metaphorical loins, she followed.

Shortly afterwards, she found herself back in bed again; the need to touch her husband; to feel that there was life beyond herself, overwhelming in its intensity.

He had started snoring now. Worried that his loud, rattling breaths would wake the neighbours she tentatively reached out again, bringing her hand to rest on the soft flesh at the top of his arm. Leaving it there this time, she must have sunk into a deep sleep as, when as she opened her eyes next, the first rays of a spring sun were pushing their way through the slatted venetian blinds of the shared bedroom.

Reluctantly her gaze was drawn to the corner of the room where a desk, situated just in front of one of the Victorian sash windows, was slowly being infused with the golden glow of the morning. It had only been yesterday evening that another ‘ever-so polite’ agent Email had popped up on her screen – informing her that her novel was being rejected for the thirtieth time. Deciding then and there that she wanted to match this landmark occasion with some kind of action on her part, she had conceived of the plan to replace her writing space with a dressing table.

She remembered re-reading the damning Email for the umpteenth time while wistfully fingering the dreamcatcher hanging from the bookshelf – kept for books she thought would inspire her best ideas.  Having returned with her from a visit to Vancouver, the flat, woven disk with its trailing feathers paid homage to a First Nation cultural heritage. Over time she had come to believe that it inspired and directed her writing.

Propping herself up on her pillows, she looked over at it again; supposing as she did so that, she ought to put it away somewhere also. After all, once the furniture was rearranged, there was no need for it to be there anymore. Anticipating that, in order to complete the removal, she would need all the strength her, decidedly flaky, fifty-five-year self could muster, she turned to get some more sleep. Oddly though, the dreamcatcher seemed to demand her attention, the soft light of its red beads insinuating itself behind her eyelids, even as she was trying to close them.

Finally, driven out of bed to peer at it more closely, she noticed that the colour of the beading in fact, matched the red she had followed in her dreams. Even the webbed pattern of the leather tugged at that half-memory. A sudden wave of emotion robbed her of strength, and she found herself needing to lean on her desk for support. After a few moments in this vaguely supplicant position, she couldn’t help but run regretful fingers over the closed laptop in front of her. It was here that keystrokes had infused her characters and places with life and purpose – while keeping her own hopes and dreams safe within its silver confines also.

She glanced down at the bongo drums she had used to frame some of the narrative and actions of Martha, the middle-aged failure whose transformation her book had been built around. Oddly, the drumming that had started as research had ended up bringing a greater sense of direction to the book as a whole. Not that she had ever dared play them when anyone else was in the house, of course!

Well, she was used to endings. And, at least, she had done what she set out to do. Her book was finished and if it wasn’t possible to get to market, so be it. In the same way that she had dealt with the bereavement of her two children leaving home, yesterday she had closed the lid on her life as a storyteller.

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