Pomegranate Juice (short story)

Jayne stood facing the window and watched the room behind her through the reflection in the glass. Helen slept, tucked up in the hospital bed, tilted ever so slightly so that her head was elevated from her neck. An I.V. drip pumped clear fluid into her slim arm and a breathing tube hung from her mouth. Whenever Jayne tried to look at her directly, she found herself hanging her head and watching her through half closed eyes. Somehow, looking at the world from the top floor window made it easier. She could see behind her or focus her gaze outside if she needed a distraction.

A priest came in moments before and she had sent him packing. He was trying to be comforting, but his talk of heaven and God’s will annoyed her. He tried his addresses at poor sleeping Helen and that had been too much. She wasn’t awake to defend herself, so Jayne did it for her. “Helen’s an atheist.” Jayne said. “God talk bugs her, so if it’s all the same to you, go away.” He had tried to protest, but the look in Jayne’s eyes convinced him he was going to lose the argument, so with a quick blessing, he pushed off.

The doctor told her to go home, that there was nothing more to do but wait. Jayne thought of going back to her apartment in the city and it depressed her. She would go crazy waiting there, but she hadn’t slept in a 36 hours and the weight if it all was too much.

The doctor had tried to comfort her, but his tone was grave as though trying to prepare her, to tell her she had done her best.

“It’s close.” He said. “If you’d found her earlier, I could be a bit more certain, but we got to her late. You did everything you could. It’s not your fault. The only thing we can do is wait and hope she comes out of it. We’re watching her ever minute.”

“What if she wakes up and I’m not here? Someone should be here.”

“Her husband finally reached us. He’ll be here soon. Why don’t you go home, get some sleep, have some food and come back in the morning. We’ll call you if anything changes.”

Jayne took another look at Helen. She looked so small and peaceful as she slept. She remembered the time they had stayed up all night watching films lying on Helen’s parent’s bed while they were away. The sun was coming up and peaking in through the curtains when they finally nodded off. Jayne had looked over at her friend sleeping, mouth slightly open, a soft snore like a purr coming from her. They were thirteen. Twenty years had passed, but to Jayne, Helen looked the same as she did then.

Suddenly, Jayne remembered Helen’s cat. She would have to go around and feed it, she thought. In truth, she wanted to get out of that room to think.

“When did Graham say he’d be here?” She asked.

“Soon, within the hour.” The doctor said.

“I’ll be on my cell phone if you need me.” Jayne said, and grabbing her coat made her way past the doctor and out the door.

When Jayne arrived at Helen’s house, the sun was starting to set. She pushed open the door she had been too panicked to lock when they left in the ambulance and wandered in towards the kitchen. Vester, the cat came running at the sound of her opening a cat food sachet and buried his black and white face into the cat food bowl.

Jayne knew the house so well. She wandered through the house towards the bedroom where she had found Helen, face down in the bed, the empty pill bottle beside her on the nightstand. Jayne looked at the rumpled bedclothes, half on and off the bed. It all happened so fast. It felt like she had only been on the phone to emergency services for a minute before she could hear an ambulance coming up the street. Could she have moved faster, she wondered.

Back in the kitchen, she looked out the window into the garden. Helen and Graham had a vast garden and a small orchard beyond the patio. From her vantage point, she could see the six pomegranate trees in a tidy row at the edge of the lawn. Grabbing a basket that hung on a rack from the ceiling, she went outside into the warm evening.

She examined each fruit as she filled the basket. To make pomegranate juice, she needed at least ten of them. The trees had been planted in the first year of their marriage and in the first season of bearing fruit, the three of them had gone out to pick some. Graham threw one at Jayne and it had split, spilling irremovable red juice onto her white shirt. When she swore at him, he laughed and said, “Come and get me. I dare you.”

When the basket was full, she went back to the kitchen and taking a cutting board from the rack laid each of the pomegranates side by side. Helen had taught Jayne her own method for creating the perfect glass of juice. Splitting each of the fruits in half with a sharp knife, she squeezed the plump red seeds from the white, hard flesh of the pomegranate.

As Jayne did this, juice ran from the seeds through her fingers and into a bowl that waited to catch it. Her mind wandered back to the telephone call the day before. Helen’s calm was what alarmed her. The softness of her voice like an arrow to Jayne’s heart telling her everything was fine.

In slow, soft whispers she said it. “It’s ok, you know. You can have him. I’ll be fine, just fine, Sweetie. When he gets back from Seattle, he’s all yours.”

At first, Jayne’s heart jumped. Helen knew, but then her words and her tone were not Helen. She was too calm and Jayne wondered if the revelation had made her hit the wine rack before making the phone call.

A hundred thoughts raced through Jayne’s mind. How did she find out? Did she speak to Graham? Could she lie her way out of it?

“Jaynie, it’s all good. We always did share everything, right? I guess you figured, why not this too, right?” Her words were slurred.

Jayne tried to think of something to say quickly, a denial, anything to buy her time to figure out what to do. Then Helen hit her with the words that truly scared her.

“I’m just going to take a little nap now.”  With that, she heard Helen drop the phone.

Jayne froze for a moment, then grabbed her keys and her cell phone. She would have to speak to Graham, to figure it all out on the way over to their house. Damn, she thought. Graham was away for the week. She rang his number over and over and got his voicemail.

 

When she reached the house, she let herself in with the key Helen had given her for the times she needed a cat-sitter.

They would talk it out, she thought. Whatever happened, they could figure something out. She went from room to room calling Helen and receiving no reply.

Jayne found her on the bed. The same bed they had shared with the same man and Jayne felt sick over what she had done in a moment of madness.

It was only the one time, she thought. No one would ever know and they could go on as if nothing had happened. How could she know? She played the incident out in her head. Had she left something there? Did Graham confess?

She moved to Helen’s side and it was then that she saw the empty bottle. The phone beeped angrily in Helen’s hand.

 

When the bowl was filled with seeds, Jayne took a mortar and pestle from the counter and transferred the seeds over from the bowl for crushing. As she ground the seeds, the doctor’s words rang through her head. “It’s not your fault.” Then who’s, she thought.

She transferred the juice into a tall, thin glass jug and added a tablespoon of sugar. As she stirred the liquid with a long wooden spoon, a thought occurred to her.

She rinsed her hands at the sink and went quickly to the living room as she dried them with a dish towel.

In the corner of the room there was an antique rosewood desk. On it were some files, a couple of magazines and the computer they shared. The screensaver was on, displaying digital tropical fish swimming across the screen.

Jayne nudged the mouse and the screen came to life. Her words to Graham starred back at her. The only communication about the incident that existed and he had not the sense to delete it.  Jayne read and re-read the email. Stupid, sentimental Bastard, she thought.  She wanted to grab the machine and throw it to the floor, to stomp on it and batter it with a fireplace poker until nothing was left but bits of glass, plastic and circuit board.  Instead, she selected the offending email and clicked the delete button. It disappeared, but the queasiness in her stomach remained.

She stood, resolved to put everything away and return to the hospital. There had to be some way to make things right.

She cleaned the counter, tossing the empty shells of the pomegranates into the garbage bin under the sink.

As she poured the juice into a glass, she heard the front door open.

Graham stood before her, surprise clearly marked on his face. Through her rage Jayne could still feel the closeness and familiarity that came from so many years of the three of them together.

“Hi.” He said.

“Hi.” Jayne didn’t know where to begin.

“I’ve been to the hospital for the past few hours.”

Jayne looked at the clock, then out the window. Hours had passed without her notice.

“Helen?” She asked.

Graham stood, his shoulders hunched and shook his head. When he tried to reach for her, Jayne recoiled. She placed the glass on the counter beside her and gathering her things, walked out the door towards the cool grass of the orchard.

 

Writing Prompt: 13 weeks to go

It’s officially Q4. We have 13 weeks remaining in 2017 and all I can say is that I hope 2018 is better because this year has been pretty awful from a global perspective. From Brexit to Trump, Hurricanes to Terror attacks, violent protests and casual racism, we need to do better next year.

With the time left this year, I want to focus on the positive and changes I want to make to help make the last 13 weeks of the year pleasant and constructive, not only for myself, but for the people around me. I want to be more positive, gripe less, be more future facing and not as negativistic.

To that end, I’m working on a few things to support people at work and hopefully the wider community. Closer to home, I’m doing little things. I’m cooking fresh food, cutting back on meat, learning to bake, playing with my cats more, leaving the TV on in the background less and actually trying to pay attention to only one thing at a time. I have a tendency to only half-listen to people when they’re speaking to me since I always feel like I’m playing catch up with my day. I intent to put an end to that. Life is too short.

At an even more personal level, I have a little challenge for myself. Here goes:

 

  1. I’m reading a book a week for the next 13 weeks. How you ask? Easy, I’m not bringing my headphones on the tube with me, but am instead carrying a book.
  2. I’m writing every day till the end of the year. How you ask? Easy, as I am now. I’m writing for 10 minutes at any point during the day, when to mood strikes and leaving the TV off while I do it.
  3. I’m limiting myself to 25 days of alcohol between now and the end of the year. With the hot toddy I just had for my cold, that leaves me 24. There are 92 days left in the years, so that should be totally do-able.
  4. Apart from what I have to spend to get to and from work, I’m only spending what I can find in the house from today. I’ve been going through my handbags, coat pockets and change purses and managed to find around £26 without even trying. That is more than enough to sort me out, especially if I’m cooking more, taking my lunch and excluding my travel costs.
  5. I’m getting 8 hours of sleep per night It’s going to take training, but if that means I go to bed at 9pm and it take a while to drift off, so be it. Sleep deprivation ages and does nothing for your mood or ability to concentrate. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is often used as a form of torture.
  6. I’m going to do something nice for someone else very day. It might be giving up my seat on the tube, paying a compliment or helping someone carry their shopping up the stairs, but if you make the day a little better for someone, it in turn, can make the day a little better for everyone.

That’s it. Nothing too difficult, but as they say, sometimes the simplest changes are the hardest. Wish me luck. I’ll check in as we go.

Writing prompt (I almost forgot) what are you going to do with the last 13 weeks of the year to make your life better?

Writing Prompt: Comfort Feeding

I’ve just realised the cooker is broken. The oven is fine, but the hob is out of action. Although I now need to shell out for a new cooker, I’m not that fussed. Instead of cursing the limited warranty, I got creative. The fridge is generally where condiments go to congregate and eventually die, for once, I had some left overs and some random ingredients standing on the ledge of their sell-by date. I cleared the counter, gathered a bin liner and got clearing. Anything with a better than average chance of killing me went into the bin. Everything else formed a neat row of ingredients for me to play with. I had an oven and a microwave to work with and a load of ceramic and oven-proof dishes. With my cutting board, kitchen knife and stock cubes in hand, I got to work. The end result was four hours of culinary ingenuity and enough carrot and coriander soup to keep me fed and improve my eyesight.

Over time, there also appeared a pasta bake, grilled bacon, microwaved eggs and the makings of a oven baked frittata. There is something comforting and therapeutic about making enough food for the masses. When my fella asked me why I keep feeding him, on impulse I said, “It’s how I show affection. It’s how I was raised.” It just popped out, but it made me realise that there was some truth in it. Treat have always been a form of comfort in our house, my mother constantly chasing us with bowls of popcorn or store bought bags of chocolate chip cookies. After school was strawberry pop tarts of twinkles. Dinner was always a three part dish of meat and two veg. Mom gorged herself with Butter Pecan ice cream, her favourite to this day.

Maybe, despite my best effort to be my own person, I have finally become my mother. if so, there are worse things to be. She rang me today to say that the campbell’s chicken noodle soup and A-1 steak sauce I requested was in the post. Three to four days and I’ll be drowning a perfectly good sirloin in tangy sauce. In the meantime, I have a vat of soup to get through.

How do you feel about food? Do you enjoy cooking or is it purely functional? Write about a pleasurable experience involving food.

Bon appetite!

Writing Prompt: Say anything

It’s funny how spending three days sick at home is what it takes for me to write, or even think about anything unrelated to work or life admin.

This has been yet another year of change. It has finally dawned on me that this is going to be a permanent state of affairs. Work, in particular has been full of change, which could explain why my brain is racing to keep up and has left little time for me to think about much else.

So, that being said, I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m ill and I’m tired, but somehow, I feel pretty optimistic about writing again. This promote is about free-writing about absolutely anything. Which is what I shall be doing now. I’m not going to edit and I’m just going to let me fingers drift along the keys and see what happens.

Let’s start with the basics. I spoke to my mother yesterday. I emailed Mom and Dad on Wednesday when I decided that persisting with going to work this week was a colossal mistake and that I was never going to get well if I didn’t stay home and rest. A colleague had told me that i was foolish to return to work after only one day off last week (I had already been ill for three days and kept going in) and it pains me to admit he was right. So, I emailed my parents asking them for the only thing that makes me happy when I’m feeling unwell, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Unbelievably, you can’t get it in the shops in the UK. Mom called me to see how I was doing and to let me know that Dad was making up a care package of soup and A-1 steak sauce for me. This cheered me up no end and we fell into chat.

Mom is on a diet, but hasn’t done research on what she should be eating in relation to her calorie expenditure. I felt a combination of shock and the usual parent/child role reversal as I explained that thinks like dairy red meat, peanuts, cream and fruit can be fattening. fruit is a good alternative to biscuits and cake and chocolate (which she loves). Anyway, by the end, I felt like a bit of jerk for giving her a dieting lecture (glass houses) but I tried to be encouraging as I know that any extra weight is bad for her heart. She did inspire me to get myself sorted too. Just a sec, let me put the chicken nuggets down…

I’ve been alone in the house for two days, just me and the cats. That gives me the time to think about the things I want to do for myself as my birthday approaches and the year draws to a close. Work and university have taken up my year and I have managed to fit a lot in with regards to experiences, so I’ll focus in that for a moment.

What happened this year?

  1. Finished university with a Merit
  2. Got into the MSc programme – deferring to next year
  3. Gigs – Greenday, Kings of Leon, Black Sabbath, Guns and Roses, Stone Roses, Metallica
  4. Theatre = As you like it, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, Twelfth Night
  5. Experiential = World Athletics x 2, Somerset House Jaws, Donnie Darko, The Omen, ATP Tennis
  6. Travel = Whistler, Mallorca, Plockton with the 1994 Uni crowd
  7. Reading music beginners course
  8. Reading proper books – nope…

So, what’s the plan for the next three months? Assuming work cracks on as usual, there are a few things I want to start doing next month.

  1. Go back to archery
  2. go back to piano lessons
  3. read a book a week
  4. write every day – anything
  5. set up a coaching website and start activity looking for clients.
  6. Finish application for MA in creative writing for 2018

There’s the list for Oct to Dec 2018. All of these I can kick off today. I have the domain for the website, but need to start getting the content sorted.

I know I said I’m going to free write and not self-edit, but I’m struggling to work out what to say next. I’ve felt a little flat this past few months. There have been changes with work and that has made me nervous. When you’re worrying about whether or not you’re going to be able to pay the mortgage, it’s hard to think about creative life. Maybe that is when it is most important. I want to feel that I can do my job, get paid, pay my bills and have time to focus on other things. Maybe I chose the wrong profession? May I need to not earns as much in exchange for feeling like I don’t have to occupy every minute of my brain on media? I’m rambling now.

If I take this back to writing again, one of the things I’ve been asking myself is what am I going to write? Am I any good? Do I have anything worth writing? Would people want to read what I have to say? One of the most traumatic things I’ve every done is destroy all of my journals. Someone read one of my private journals and used it to beat me with my own words. It was a horrible violation. I was so angry and felt like my privacy had been invaded so thoroughly, that I pulled all of work off the selves and ripped my journal to shreds. Year and years of private thoughts and memories were gone. I put the shredded remains and torn covers into a bag and drove around town, dropping the pieces into skips from one end of the city to the next. I condemned my feelings and thoughts and drafts and ideas to the land fill, feeling like my belief that anything I wrote would be judged by others and had potential to offend was correct.  I felt like I would never be able to publish anything without letting people into my head. I suppose that is the risk with writing. Here I am, five years later and ready to start again. This is exhausting  after years of not thinking properly about writing. It’s time to stat again and be brave and free to say what I think.

Wish me luck.

If you feel like writing, here’s a prompt. Free write about the fear of writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Prompt: Me without you

Loss can be difficult to write about. Some of have also been fortunate enough to not have suffered it yet. When I think of the times I’ve been saddest, when I thought me heart would break, I could not breathe and stepping into the next day was near impossible, I remember that everything passes. I also wonder sometimes how I will cope with the loss of those people I’m lucky enough to still have in my life.

This is a short prompt. Write about loss. Write about someone of something you have lost in your life. Be honest about how you feel, what you remember about them and the positive memories you’ve gathered.

 

Writing Prompt: Snow Bound

From where I am sitting, I can see an empty chair, a window and beyond it, snow. It’s falling in steady streams onto the trees and on the ground. It has been snowing for five days and I suddenly think about what would happen if I was stuck in this room with only my current supplies, my gas fire and that chair.

FullSizeRender

In this room, my supplies consist of half a waffle, some uncooked bacon, orange juice, water, a leftover pizza (pepperoni, 12 slices), four eggs and some Cherry Garcia ice cream. On the desk where I write I have a laptop, several pens, a notebook and the following books:

  • The Alchemist
  • The Art of Racing in the Wind
  • The Complete Handbook of Coaching
  • The Times Newspaper, a week out of date
  • Blue Light Yokohama
  • The Buried Giant

I have read some of these, but not all. I wonder what these items, all of them, say about me.

At best, I could make these supplies last about 14 days. Water is not a problem when you have fire and snow. I wonder what I would do with my time if there was no internet, no phone, no way to leave and no people for that time. Would I read the books? Would I write? Would I sleep, in some sort of hibernation until by fortnight was up?

One of the things I tell myself when I haven’t written for a while is that I have no time. That’s nonsense, of course, but I like to kid myself that is the case. Work is in the way, I’m busy with Uni, I have family commitments, etc, etc…The truth is, that if you want to spend time doing something, most of us are capable of doing it.

Lack of time is rarely the real reason. I think in my case, it is fear. Fear that I won’t like what I write, that it won’t be worthy of anyone reading it. I’m equally afraid that what I write will be too revealing, The same goes for reading. There’s a perfectly good Netflix box set waiting for me. I can absorb information and be entertained if I switch on the TV. The thing is, that TV is only another thief of time. Reading, writing, practicing anything meaningful takes effort, otherwise, we’d all do it, and most of us, in truth, are lazy. I can put my hand up on that one. I see the mirror at the other end of the room and I can look at myself and say, hey you, you’re kidding yourself. Drop the donut and start typing, reading, anything that requires you to be more than a passive recipient of information, images and sound. 

At the moment, I feel like that chair by the window, next to the fireplace is watching me, judging me, inviting me to sit and read. Novels, in my opinion, are never a waste of time. So, here I sit, musing about what it would be like to have a few weeks, snow bound, all to myself with nothing to do but read, write and sleep. Well, guess what, that’s why I’m doing. My friend, the chair, is calling and I feel obliged to reply.

For this writing prompt, write one of the following:

  1. A narrative about someone snowbound for two weeks with the items I listed above.
  2. Write about what you would do if you had two weeks of no people around, no TV, five books (you pick which ones), a notebook, no internet and no way to leave your room.
  3. Write a short horror story about a person snowbound in a tiny cabin with someone (or something) trying to get in.

Enjoy!

Writing/Reading Prompt: Slowly

I have always had a tendency to speed read. The main reason for this is that saying that I had completed a book always seemed more important to me than actually enjoying it. The same can be said of a lot of things I’ve done. I like pieces of opera, but not the whole thing and not all at once. I’m impatient and as Edith Wharton once wrote, “Americans like to get away from amusement almost as quickly as they like to get to it.” I have been trying to change this thinking of late.

Part of change is to acknowledge what you’re changing from, to what you’re changing to and why. I released lately that I don’t always take in what I read, I’m not always present in meetings and I don’t always listen and pay attention to music, singing or theatre performances. I catch myself being somewhere else. My thoughts drift and I although I might occupy a physical space, I’m not really “in the room”.

So, here’s the plan…I intend to actually pay attention to where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll learn to savour the written word that someone took the trouble to put down on paper. I’ll listen to the singer that spent their lives training to perfect their voice in the pursuit of art and the entertainment of others. I’ll listen when my colleagues speak, since their thoughts and ideas are no less important than mine, and the effort to speak to others is no doubt as potentially risky for them as it is for me. It takes effort to stick one’s neck out and when I don’t give something my full attention, I diminish their efforts, I devalue their time and struggle.

For this exercise, try this: Pick a book. Read a chapter quickly. Now go back and read it carefully, really taking the time to absorb what is on the page and what the author it trying to communicate. How do you perceive what you have read differently compared to the first, quick time? Did you get more out of it? Take the time to consider the author and what they were thinking or going through when they wrote it. Take note of the difference. Finally, make a list of times when you were not giving something your full attention. What were you thinking about instead and how might giving that thing or person your full attention have changed the outcome?

I’m going to go read “The Discover or Witches” for 30 minutes, quickly at first, then slowly, slowly. I might catch something new and different in the re-reading.

Have fun. Go slow.

Writing Prompt: Happy New Year

It’s 2017 and this is my first prompt for the year. 2016 brought a lot of challenges, both personally and professionally, but I look at 2017 optimistically, certain that I can make this a better year.

Key points of 2016 included:

  • Adoption of two new lovely felines, Oreo and Biscuit
  • New job
  • Trip to India
  • Took Mark to Sicily and went up to Mount Etna
  • Skiing in Gressoney, Italy
  • Started back at University after 15 years out of education
  • New friends
  • Lots of gigs, theatre and opera including:
    • Don Giovani
    • Cosi Fan Tutti
    • Doctor Faustus
    • Impossible
    • Wicked
    • The Merchant of Venice
    • Richard III
    • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • As You Like It
    • Macbeth
    • Duran Duran
    • Red Hot Chilli Peppers
    • Stevie Wonder
  • Great Christmas and New Year with my family in the US
  • Political Debate

Low points:

  • US Election
  • Brexit Vote
  • Job Hunting
  • Death of my beloved cat, Titch
  • Put on a stone

Although there are a few things on this list that are beyond my control, I can do something about my weight, so that’s part of the 2017 plan for improvement. Marathon scheduled for May this year.

For this prompt, make a list of the high and low points of 2016. Make plans for 2017 and don’t forget to include your writing ambitions for this year. I, for one, plan to write every day. Even if it’s just a few lines. Furthermore, I’m going to start keeping a hand written journal again. I promise to be more faithful in my blogging here and will blog at least twice a week.

Happy 2017 and Happy Writing!

Writing Prompt: Days gone by

It has been close to 6 months since I last wrote in this blog. It is perhaps the longest time I have ever gone without writing, but as you know, life, can sometimes get in the way.

In truth, it was never my intention to abandon writing, but with each passing year it become more difficult to focus. The day to day takes over and one gets sucking into “grown up” problems that distract us from art and reading for pleasure.

So, although my schedule is no less hectic, I say no “no more”! From today, I will not spend my days and nights melting away over TV box sets (as entertaining as they are) or car crash TV. I’ll keep myself informed of world events, but will not torture myself over reading ten versions of the same politic story until I read an opinion I like or that brings be comfort.

To be honest, there are many thing that have occupied my time that are legitimate and warrant my attention. I’ll list a few here:

  • New job
  • Adoption of two new cats
  • New job
  • Return to university after a 15 year gap
  • travel to distant lands (India), but more on that later
  • Significant birthday celebrations
  • illness
  • New Job…

For this, my new prompt after a 6 month absence, write a list of the significant things that have happened in your life for the past six months. Pick one and write a few hundred words about it.

I’m off to do the same.

See you sooner this time!

 

Up ↑