Postcard From The Pennines

We take one of those silver sinewy roads that snake up over the hills
Driving into the mist, listening to Nick Drake

It’s a strange situation
Finding ourselves visitors
To this bleak and melancholy landscape
Where once I made my home

This land, my land
Bruised purple with heather
Her soft curves scarred over with stone walls
And stories of dead children
And villages lying drowned under reservoirs

We park up and tramp like tourists over the rocks
“Desolate,” you say, into the silence

Desolate

Back in the car you put on some Artie Shaw
And we head back south

Into the sunshine

(c) Em Fleming

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I ♥ My Ferret

My ferret has merits beyond compare;
All snuffly and muffly and hidden down there.

If you want to meet her, her hours are crepuscular
You’ll scent that she’s there, you can tell by the musk of her

She’s earthy and gamey with honey beneath,
Tangy and salty and also quite sweet.

She’s a sleekit wee beastie if ever there were;
All slinky and playful and covered in fur

She’ll slip through your fingers, she’ll tickle your skin
She likes to be out, you can’t keep her in

She’s funny and naughty, she’s nobody’s wife
Destroyer of worlds, she could ruin your life

If you’re good you can rub her little pink nose,
But just mind your fingers – she’s sharp teeth, tha knows.

(c) Em Fleming

First Of The Angry Young Men

It wasn’t lost on me, the cosmic joke that your flat was on Gallows Hill and the house I shared with my man was behind the old prison. I’d run back there in the morning from the thousand tiny deaths I’d died in your arms the night before. Reprieved, resurrected and sent back to my cell to wait out another day. The legends said there were tunnels under the city. A tunnel from your home to mine for the prisoners to scurry along, safe from the lynch mob above.

I could have done with that tunnel.

Mostly it was just the milkman winking, but I lived in fear of seeing someone I knew or worse – seeing one of my tutors, or seeing your missus in tears. There was never any sneaking away. The dogs’ home at the bottom of your street would set up howling as I tiptoed past and the workmen in the caff would look up and nudge each other at the grinning girl stumbling down the pavement, carrying her shoes. It would have been easier to stay the night and say I’d been at a friends but that wasn’t how it worked. Staying the night would break the rules and stop it being a game. I’d always slipped out by five a.m.

You should have been a one night stand. Sharp cheekbones and sharper teeth. I should never have gone back. You weren’t like the others though. You had fought Death. I was impressed. I was the only person you didn’t lie to about your scar. You told people you’d been knifed in a mugging. You told people you’d had to climb out of a crashed car. You told people that you’d been savaged by a bear. Anything but the truth, which was they cut you open to make you better, but it might not last. Death could come sneaking back more stealthily than I ever snuck away.

When I first met you the line across your belly was so red and angry I was terrified. I stopped fiddling with your belt and looked at you. “Can you fuck?” I asked. “Can Ah fuck,” you replied, pleased with your joke. So we didn’t, not then. But you got better. Stronger. And then you could fuck and you did fuck and we did fuck all through autumn and spring too. You wouldn’t fuck your girlfriend but you’d fuck me. “Just like the Mafiosi,” I said to the raised eyebrows of my girlfriends. “She’s too special to him. Too pure. I’m the one he can’t resist.” They raised their eyebrows higher and eventually stopped talking to me altogether. You were an angry man, much given to cornering them on the dance floor and demanding to see me. They were terrified of you.

But I wasn’t scared. How could I be scared of a boy I’d seen sobbing and frightened and afraid he was about to die? How could I be scared when you called me around with a takeaway the first time you were well enough to eat proper food again? I could never be scared of you, no matter how much you raged and fought and kicked down fences. I was scared you’d make yourself ill, and scared you would stop wanting to see me but I was never scared of you. The only thing you bloodied your knuckles up on was brick walls.

All autumn and all spring. There is never a winter or a summer in a university town, and especially not in ours. The rain came down and blurred any line between the seasons. The rain came down. It was a strange time. Most of England lay underwater. It was difficult to get out of the city, trapped as we were right in the middle. The only time it didn’t rain was when I wanted it to the most, on those walks back home just before dawn. I’d lean my forehead against lampposts trying to get my breath. The sky should have been sobbing and so should I. How could I when I was grinning so hard I had to put my hands over my mouth to hide my smile? The wind would blow through my hair and ice up my skin. That’s how I’d slip back in the bed. Icy cold. Did he know where I’d been? I expect so.

You thought that’s how I was. Northern, like you. Tough, like you. I was once. I had been. Then I met the man I loved and his Southern heat melted all the ice off my heart and left it soft to the touch. When you squeezed it, it bruised. It hurt. I waited til your angry red line was just a silver mark. Your scar was fading away, as mine was just forming. I ran my fingers up and down it and looked at you, all healed up.

“Will it come back?”
“Let it. I’m ready for it.”

A pause.

“I’m leaving.”
“Aye.”
“You’ll be alright?”
“Aye.”

I never went back. I didn’t see you for a term or two. The last time I saw you you were in ruddy good health. You were fatter and pinker, like you’d been reborn, which I suppose you had. We sat outside in the beer garden, in the rain and talked and talked. It surprised me to realise I’d been in love with you, and it surprised me to realise I wasn’t any more. You had your hand up my skirt the whole time, with your thumb resting by the elastic of my knickers. One of my old friends caught sight of us from the doorway and sneered her disgust. You winked at her. She stalked back inside.

You were going to go back North. I had my sights firmly set on the South. There was nothing between us any more. It had all been washed away with the rain. When I heard you were back in hospital there a couple of years later I was surprised you’d stayed in town. I was relieved I’d escaped. I never found out if you got better, but I don’t believe for one second you would have let Death get one over on you. I can’t believe that. I think about you from time to time. Fondly, but without desire. I’m still a sucker for scars though. Mine are invisible, you see.

(c) Em Fleming

Trans-Pennine

I should have known
We were both still fighting a war
Pre-dating us by 500 years

That for all the motorways and express trains
The Pennines could still beat us

That your theatre would confuse me
And I would clap in the wrong places
Just as my words would confuse you later in the night
And I would have to keep repeating myself

I should have known

When I let you hold me in your factory strong workman’s arms
When I let you put your gritty industrial hands all over me
That it would take more than a few hot baths to wash the inky
fingerprints off

I should have known

That when I said yes and thought I was strong
I should have known
I was wrong I was wrong I was wrong

(c) Em Fleming

Same As It Ever Was

Up then spake the Queen o Fairies,
Out o a bush o broom:
‘She that has borrowd young Tamlane
Has gotten a stately groom’

–          The Ballad of Tam Lin

He had no childhood memories.

He could not recollect his family; his teenage years; the place he had grown up.

It didn’t matter. Tania told him that again and again. It doesn’t matter, she would say, you are here now. Where you are meant to be. With me.

She was his wife. He could not remember their wedding or their courtship. He could remember nothing of the time before she pulled him from the water, puking and sputtering. His very first memory now was of her, beautiful and brave; standing above him in the burning sun, laughing and laughing.

Although she had told him she was his wife he could remember nothing of their life together; of the man he’d been previously. He didn’t understand how he’d managed to marry such a beautiful woman but here he was, and here she was and he didn’t like to think too hard about it being any other way.

You wouldn’t like to remember before, she had told him, so he stopped trying. He let the days go by. He played and he sang, and lay in the sun; drunk on the joy of his own voice. Music, that was something. He’d never forgotten that. The first night of his new life Tania had brought a guitar to him, almost shyly, kneeling down to hand it over. It was the only time he ever saw her cowed. He played without thinking, his quick fingers moving over the strings. Then moving over her. Afterwards, she had cried. She brought the guitar to him nearly every night, and nearly every night he could make her cry. Then she would sleep and he would look at her, in the big bed with its silken sheets and think “Well. How did I get here?”

There had been something before all this, he knew. Somewhere was another world, with other people in it, but he didn’t know how to get back. It didn’t seem important somehow. There was the highway that ran outside the house, but Tania wouldn’t tell him where it went to and eventually he stopped asking. There was nothing else around. Just the big pool down the hill and a big big sky. No neighbours. “We don’t need neighbours,” Tania said, smiling her smile that looked like stars. “Stay away from the water and everything will be alright.”

But the water sang more sweetly than he ever sang to Tania.

***

One day, after she had fallen asleep in the garden, he could resist it no longer. He stood up and slipped from the house, heart beating hard in his chest. He walked quickly to the water, knowing she wouldn’t sleep for long. He would look and then he would come away. This is what he said to himself. He’d said it to himself before but not dared til now.

The water was glassy and flat. And inviting, as he knew it would be. It lurked at the edge of his brain, always, the deep still pool. He lay down and looked at his reflection. Then he looked harder.

There was a girl in the water.

There was a girl in the water looking up at him. Is that why Tania didn’t want him here? He hadn’t known there was a girl living in the pool. She was reaching her hands up to him. He glanced backwards. Tania would not want him speaking to strange women at the bottom of pools, he was quite sure of that. And yet, she wasn’t a strange woman. He looked down at her.

“I know you,” he mouthed. She nodded fervently. Yes. Yes. There was a name in his mouth. “Janet?” he said. The girl slid closer to the surface. He could touch her.

He slid his hand into the water and her fingers closed around his wrist. He pulled his arm back in surprise and she came with him, spluttering out of the water. “Tom!” she said “my god! Tom!” and then she was in his arms, wet through and laughing. He looked at her. “Is that my name?” he said.

“Don’t you remember?”

“I only remember the water,” he said. “Only that.”

She had a tight hold of him, and she was stepping backward into the pool again. He tried to take her hand from his arm but she gripped him tighter. Her foot connected with his ankle and he slipped. She was pulling him into the water and he couldn’t stop her.

“You have to leave now,” she said, “you don’t belong here.”

He was in up to his waist. How had it happened? The more he struggled the firmer her hold. A wind began to blow, whipping up into a twister. The water churned around them. Is that what had happened before? Was this what Tania had rescued him from?

He lost his footing, began treading water and still she kept hold, pulling him down down and down. He couldn’t break free. The water closed over his head and he saw Tania running down to the bank, her image shimmering and fracturing as he slipped into the blue. She was saying something, screaming, but he couldn’t make out the words.

***

Silence. Whiteness. A light so bright he closed his eyes against it. And now there were noises, electronic beeps and whistles and an alarm and someone shouting ‘help please, quickly come, come quickly!’ Janet shouting.

He tried opening his eyes again, slower this time. A woman in a blue dress burst into the room. He realized she was a nurse. She stared at the two of them, open mouthed.

Water was running from the bed and pooling on the floor. Tom still attached to his life support machine and Janet clinging onto him, tangled up in the wires. Both of them were soaking wet.

“He’s back,” said Janet again, quieter now.

Everything on his body began to hurt, all at the same time.

“My god,” he said. “What have I done?”

(c) Em Fleming

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Same As It Ever Was was a Juke Box Story in September 2012.

Did you guess? It’s loosely based on the Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime, and the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.

Apologies to AA Milne

When we walk down the street
We watch our backs
We step in the squares
And avoid the cracks

We hold hands and I swing you high and wide
Over the lines without breaking my stride
You are three and I am ten times that
You’re relying on me to lift you over the cracks

And one day you say
‘Mummy what’s down there?
What hides in the cracks
Between the squares?’

So we stop and bend down
And we both take a peek
With our knees on the concrete
And our hands on the street

I can feel you breathing next to me
And I ask you ‘honey, what do you see?’

‘An alligator with snapping jaws
A family of bears a-sharpening their claws
A lake of fire, a pit of spikes
Sea monsters, dragons and evil knights’

I can feel you breathing next to me
You look up and ask ‘Mummy, what do you see?’

‘The girls and boys who’ll break your heart
The exams you’ll take, the bands you’ll start
The mistakes you’ll make, the people you’ll lose
The paths you’ll forsake and all the paths you could choose’

So we stop and get up and head off down the street
Swinging our arms and not needing to speak
You are three and I am ten times that
As long as I can I’ll lift you over the cracks

(c) Em Fleming

Camden approaches!

I had so much fun doing Camden last year with the non-Brontës, this year I’ve gone totally snooker loopy and decided to do not one but TWO shows, by strong arming some of the Future Perfect gang into joining the fun.

Future Perfect are going to reprise our spring show The Family Plot over two evenings (Aug 5th & 6th) It’ll be a slimmed down version of the show as we have an hour slot, and we’re currently playing about with material and performers to see what works best.

Not The Brontës have a brand new show – Truly, Madly, Keighley – that is coming along nicely. We have some cracking new songs, bundles of new material (my editing knife is sharpened) and an honest-to-goodness sketch which I am really looking forward to performing. Admittedly one of our troupe missed the North so much she’s actually moved back, but we’re not going to let this stop us!

For details of the shows and how to buy tickets, check out the Future Gigs section.

A busy April…

So I came third in the Poetry Rivals final – THIRD. Oh yes! I got a cheque and everything. But it didn’t really matter if I placed or not, because before I went I tried the poem out on various people, got at least two of them weeping and caused an epiphany in the heart of a gruff Northern bastard: “so THAT’S what poetry is FOR” he said/snuffled into his pint. Yes. It didn’t matter where I came – POETRY WON.

Then away to Manchester, to see if they’d let me on the Creative Writing MA. They will! Brilliant. So now I have to find some cash and some time to sort that out… but I have til Sept 2014, so I’m sure it will be fine. Totally, totally fine. (I’ve also discovered there is such a thing as a Practice Based PhD. Watch out academia – I’ve fancied you for a long time. And Dr. Fleming has a lovely ring to it, non? It’ll only take me what, a decade or so? *coughs*)

GIG NEWS:

The Family Plot premiered at the Poetry Café on the 25th April and plays again with some line up changes on 30th May at The Harrison and 20th June at The October Gallery. More details are here on the official Future Perfect pages. We’re also playing the Camden Fringe with an abridged version of the show on the 5th and 6th of August, watch the Gigs page for further info.

Speaking of Camden – Not The Brontës are back with our second show, Truly Madly Keighley, as part of the Camden Fringe this August. We’re at the same venue – upstairs at the Camden Head – 25th August, 8pm. Get it in your diary! You can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to keep up with our preparations. Our first planning meeting went well (the Jägerbombs and chicken goujons helped of course) and I am so excited about the material we have lined up – Sal’s working on some fab new songs and Pol’s excelled herself in the short story stakes – now I just have to get myself together! I’ll let you guys know how that goes…

Peace out,

 

Em X

Here’s the latest

Hi gang,

So me and the Internet are trying this thing out… what do you think? You likey?

There’s a few empty spaces at the minute and bits that would be better if they linked to other bits but hey – it exists and that’s good enough for now.

I’m through the Poetry Rivals final and will be performing for the judges in April. Wish me luck! If you’d like to come along please let me know.

Future Perfect have a new show coming up, The Family Plot, with performances planned from May. Not The Brontës are building a new show, Truly, Madly, Keighley, and have plans to return to the Camden Fringe in August 2013. Check the gigs section for updates.