Saturday, 24 June 2017

Second Half Of The Year Begins





We were waiting for a storm, it was so hot. 
No one had patience for waiting. 
We knew the correct way to break a heatwave - one needs a storm, preferably heavy.

We were luring the cloud, the wind, the rain, like this:
Stand, hold the heat in your baked head, feel it drum.
Feel it slide into your eyes, down each limb till you are slick with it.
Till you are salt-squinty, agitated, percussional storm bait.
The storm will sense you.
It is drawn to heat, to throb, to windows open, to sighs and brow wiping and dogs flopped in shade.

It had seemed to be working: a tongue of mist sneaked out from the sea.
It took the salt, the desperation.
Night came and the windows stayed open for the bliss of cooling down.
As the curtains bellied out, we dropped to sleep.

The storm had broken elsewhere.
We watched the sky anyway, in the morning, holding cold brewed coffee, feeling rested.

And I found myself thinking about the deer again; sad, profound. Too sad, perhaps, yet it happens. I wasn’t going to write of it but it won’t leave my mind. Then I wasn’t going to share it: same persistence.

So, here it is-

At the side of the lane, as I’m driving, I see a red setter dog lying, head alert, seemingly taking a rest. It’s large for a dog. Too large - it is not a dog at all.
A smallish deer, a young one.
It has antlers no bigger than my hands.
I slow the car. The animal holds still, angled out from the edge; the car won’t fit around it, so I stop and open the door and then the deer panics.
Its back legs slip useless under it. A wound on its lower back bleeds profuse: postbox red, thick as paint.
From the car, I call for help. Put the phone down, step out of the car, walk soft, keep a distance.
I don’t wish for it to bolt again.
Little deer, I say; infused with calm; I am not come to hurt you.
The road is hot and dry.
Splayed against the opposite edge now, the creature turns and stares at my face.
The sun strikes right into its eyes, they are coloured glass, cloudy rainbows.
Can it see me? I feel seen.
I am not sure I can help, I say, but I am not come to hurt.
I hold out my dress to make shade. It lies its head in the shadow, looking at me. I want to sit down, put its head on my lap: one should not do that to a wild thing. It is stilled by fright. By a lack of choice. By some cruel accident here it is, half perfect, half destroyed.
Birds sing. No cloud in the sky.
This has happened, I say, this is all I can think to do for you. All we can do is stay calm, I think. Not add to the fear.
Blood, thick as wax, rolls away.
It is quiet.
I hold out shade.
I am seen.
I will dream of you, I think; I will see your eyes shining. I will hear your hooves run; for I never locked souls with a wild thing like this, it will have an effect.





Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tidings From A Summer's Day




Dear Friends,

Today I tidied the unfathomable shed. Under rusting shelves a bag was malingering, clinking, but in a way that seems more like muttering, as I dragged it out. Contents: six forgotten bottles of six year old homemade cider. It would be vinegar by now, useful for a weed suppressant or wood preserver.  Taking the precaution of being outside - having summoned Mr also, should I be in need of first aid - grimacing for glass splinters, the first bottle catch was flipped - and out burst foam that smelled of cider, good dry cider. I dipped a finger, then a tongue - good dry cider it was! So we took a glass each. Shortly after this I fell asleep in my hammock, later to be woken by a heavy bee resting on my cheek. I went to look at the shed, and the bottles, now lined in the fridge to tame down the fizz, and none of it was a dream. There were many more jobs to do, of course, and many of them done. On hanging up the washing I found a slug in a trouser pocket (they come out clean enough at 40 degrees, if a little dead) but really the cider find was the talk of the day. 

I hope this story finds you well.

With love, and a raised glass,
Lisa xx






Saturday, 27 May 2017

Night Storm






This day someone had turned the technicolour on. 
We lift our sunglasses to check, and quickly put them down again. It is hard to tell colour from fire, flower from lava. 
Grandchild 2 is home with us, too poorly for school, and I too am feverish, though it is hard to measure when everywhere is hot. 
We need a sea breeze.
At the beach Grandad has good sandals for walking on low tide rocks; we do not, us Wild Girls, we put bare feet down on every surface, retract some, retry; then know the fullest joy in wet sand, in sea water swirling to our knees, all skirts tucked up. 
(Although on the roughest terrain, to get here, Grandad’s was the best hand to hold.)
The sea breeze is exactly as we had needed it. 
We paddle back, drink droves of fresh water; we drive home, windows downwardly wound, the little one sleeps and sleeps.
Later we go to work. The heat has seemed to dissipate. We come home, sit under stars to eat supper. 
Mr says there are not as many stars as he’d expected, maybe there’s cloud incoming.
So we open a bottle of wine, wander indoors, begin to feel sleepy.
A twitch in the electrics, a hiccup of light, a small clue only - Mr is shouting - ‘You have to come outside!’
Everything is lit.
It’s past midnight, the sky is flashing white - we can count leaves on trees, but their colour is drained; all the heat, all the colour has been drawn up to the sky!
We stand under the thunder, under the lightening, feeling each drop of rain, until the deluge comes - we can’t even open our eyes, we squint to the door. 
Blinds drawn up, we lie on our bed, rain dotted, exhilarated - the sky illuminate, the sky resounding; till we are dreaming gods and hammers, dreaming sea and sky.
In the morning all is washed green, and Mr has swallowed some thunder, it rumbles in his throat.




Friday, 5 May 2017

Cold Kitchen







First day, last month of Spring: 
Even the rain seems pretty, falling to fresh leaves, caught on bright petals; a water veil draping us. Dog has been hose-piped and rain-rinsed and still a trace of spilt wine sits on her shoulders. She cares not. 

The house is cold, a little in mourning - our way of life having shifted lately, with the demise of the Rayburn. One morning at 3am the carbon monoxide alarm sent its shrill noise upstairs; at a more civilised hour the chimney man came, and it couldn’t be fixed.
I thought Rayburns lived forever.
Alas!

So now we wait for the landlord to do sums and calculate an acceptable replacement. Most likely a wood burner will arrive, fingers crossed it will have a back boiler and heat our water too.

Meanwhile we have pulled the pillow draught-catcher out of the front room flue, lit the tiny open grate each evening.
Meanwhile we are using an electric oven, which ought to seem more convenient - but the Rayburn was always lit, there was none of this waiting for warmth. 
Things ferment half paced in an unheated house.

Meanwhile, in the polytunnel, a jungle of sprouting shoots wriggle under the weighty scent of flowering lime, a fat frog patrols for slugs. Down in the garden, raised beds are fixed with new walls, onion leaves spike, wild strawberries climb everywhere.






Monday, 17 April 2017

A Slice Of Wedding

In the way that a wedding cake, or cheese if you prefer, is a whole, of which one has a slice, this is my version, my slice of wedding. It starts well before the day, with making syrups and painting signs, but this writing will begin the night before, with Mr and me and three little granddaughters.

The littlest, Grandchild 5, is teething. Grandad is sent to the sofa, so one of us will be alert enough to drive to the venue. In-between her gnashing of bumpy gums comes adorable cuddles, like she is saying thank you, and admirable wind. At 3:30am magic exhaustion kicks in. 
At 6:27am Grandchildren 2 and 3 appear, complaining that they cannot sleep.
Granma says: ‘Go jump on Grandad.’
6:35am Grandchild 2 returns to complain that Grandchild 3 has snotted on the carpet, closely followed by Grandchild 3: ‘But I’ve cleaned it up, Granma!’
Granma says: ‘Go jump on Grandad.’
Grandchild 5 opens her sparkly fresh eyes.
Granma says: ‘Coffee.’
Bless her, she can’t remember where she’s put anything, but somehow coffee, breakfast, clothes, a packed car, it all happens. (Grandad did help.)

En route, the girls want to play car games. Granma daydreams of a nap. The sky is blue-grey, soft, almost sunny. The venue is an old mill turned hostelry, white and wood and calm, perfect for napping. Only by now it’s all too exciting. Grandsons and their cousins tricked out in bow ties, waistcoats, looking like a barbershop quartet. Grandchild 2 explains her dress as ‘purple and like this’ (hands make parallel vertical lines) ‘then it goes POUF!’ 
They’ve heard there’s an egg hunt and can’t wait to get started - what’s all this nonsense about sitting through a ceremony first?
Granma says: ‘You will be awake, and smiling, if you want eggs. It’s called a bribe.’
The deal is accepted. Flower-fairy girls handed to bridesmaids, Granma scurries to her seat, skimming linen past lit candles.

Here comes Mr, walking his youngest daughter through the bright room, and it is no surprise that she is beautiful and glowing, but it makes us cry. We don’t mean to, the tears are suddenly there, warmly overflowing. It is a ritual, yet not too formal - a naturalness to it, a sort of relaxed perfection.

Vows and rings exchanged, we follow the newly wedded out - children disappear and pop back, and disappear, each time a little more smudged in grass and chocolate, shirts untucked, shoes abandoned - they run up and down the path yelling ‘SUGAR!!!!’
Grown-ups reply: ‘Alcohol!!!’

Everyone happy. Even during the speeches, which are not always a highlight, but here are done without glibness, they make us smile. It’s the hijacking of the speech that is my icing on this slice, however - when the Best Man’s son, the youngest nephew of the Groom, is loitering, and given the microphone, an opportunity to say whatever it is that’s making him hover so.
He says: ‘I love ponies.’

For the record, the young man is a keen horse rider.

That wasn’t the end of the day, of course, but that’s the bit I wanted to share. And that on the way home, bamboozled by satnav decisions, we saw a jaybird, a rare specimen, then two ponies with glittery hooves. 



L-R: Grandchild 1, Grandchild 2, Cousin 1, Cousin 2, Grandchild 3, Grandchild 4

L-R, Groom, Best Man

Amused Bride

Bride with her brother, niece (aka Grandchild 5) and sister

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

March Lion





Paws and claws to the door, breathing storms
In it roars, the third month of this year
Daffodils bow bright manes to the King of Spring.
Each unfurling - leaf, petal, tadpole - belies the windchill
Warmth is washing in.
What is left of our snowdrops - dotted foam of an ebbed wave
By night a waxing moon was pulling up tides, and we dreamt
Our feet, unshod, pressing across tawny sand






Tuesday, 14 February 2017

At The Time Of The Snow Moon





The moon is a frozen pond.
It is The Snow Moon. The Hunter’s Moon.
Someone says a lunar eclipse will happen this night.
And a comet!
We are like children with torches forecasting midnight feasts…
But we slumber deep, lungs with cold air replete, minds a-wander.
An early start.
Wake to the sparsest spaced flakes - ten to a cubic furlong, perhaps.
(Perhaps we dreamt this precise detail?)
Blearish eyes are rubbed.
Ahead, a deer, in no danger from ice-wary driving, springs across tarmac.
From a canopy’s winter bones, an owl swoops, parallel.
In a blink, a hedge bird breaks our reveries.
Clips the car, sends feathers a-puff.





Friday, 3 February 2017

How Will We Know Where We Are?





Without the dead ash looming, we had lost our sense of where our drive is. Each time we missed, reversed, reminded ourselves to find a stump and a grand wood pile: that’s where we live.
The altered reference.
We are getting used to it.

Yesterday Storm Doris broke the legs of Lily Scare-the-Crow. Literally weather beaten!
Was this venting frustration, now storms cannot break branches from the chopped tree?

When Lily was our new scarecrow, we would reverse under precarious boughs, be startled by the  person in the rear view mirror, the flat wooden figure with the child-drawn face.
Now, after remembering where we live, we are startled to not find a face.

Lily has never scared a crow, nor lost her smile. She is, rakishly, propped in the lea of the lean-to.

‘What new times are these, Lily?’ I ask. ‘How will we know where we are?’
Ask your heart, she says (it’s what I hear).
And I think, that’s rich, when you don’t have one: but she’s never scared a crow, nor lost her smile.






Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Out With The Old





Christmas or November - 2015 - a phone call came. The casual branch dropping of our dead ash tree had been acknowledged as a danger; it was scheduled for demolition. Storms came, the tree surgeon was busy.
We become accustomed to vigilance at the garden’s end. No one loiters in the road there. We drag the droppage to the hedge, to rot down into good soil.
January 2017 - another phone call. Tree surgeon and crane are booked, the landlord says.
Uh-huh.
It may storm yet, we say, we’ll see.
But we park the car out by a field gate - you never can be sure.

The crane is amazing. It straddles the road, reaches to the sky. Up goes the man in the yellow mesh box. Chainsaw whirs. Bit by bit, down drops our dissected tree.

Dear Fat Trunked Ash, we have loved your silhouette. We have loved to run and startle off a coat of starlings. Loved to see Old Crow sat, stark black on bare branch. We witnessed the last of your leaves falling, looked for buds that didn’t bloom, changed your name.
Dear Dead Ash, we have our near-miss stories. Favourite photographs of you, looming, a full moon caught in your dry twigs.
We have this amazement at the power and skill required to bring your bulk to the ground.
We have wood to sort.

Blurry, the next morning, from the window, check we are not dreaming.
A new view from this garden’s edge.








Thursday, 29 December 2016

In The Middle Of The Winter Feast





On the fourth day of Christmas her true love gives to her:

‘Four German Men
Three Finch Hens
Toowoo Twurtle Doves
And A Part Of A Pear Tree’

But to the dearth of our amusement Grandchild 2 finds a book detailing the traditional 12 gifts and begins to teach herself the proper form. Not so proper she can’t slink off with all the cherry tomatoes. If questioned, we know it was not Grandad. She says it anyway, laughing.

Grandchild 5 can follow the others with her eyes, she wants to be up to mischief like the others say they are not. 
Grandchild 1 kicks a football onto the grass he is not supposed to run on because… something about mud… if he asks Grandchild 3 to fetch for him he has contravened no carpet law! 
It’s not his fault we were all listening.
And where’s Grandchild 4?
Not hitting anyone with a stick of course - that was Dog, he says.
It’s not his fault we were all watching.
Grandchild 3 casually drops a stick behind her back.
But we’re all laughing. 

Frost fading fast, a bright sun. Cold meats on plates. 
Standing quiet, in the middle of our winter feast.



       





Friday, 23 December 2016

Yule Tale 2016


A Slightly Parallel Cinderella







Once upon a time and place, in a slightly parallel universe (for further reading on slightly parallel universe theory please refer to Dr Cod’s excellent Physics For Storytellers) all children were hatched and raised for adoption. 

They were named in themes, and Cinderella was hatched during a craze for old fashioned, gender orientated, Disney character names. 

She was adopted by a spacious mansion full of fabulous toys. She ate fabulous food. She took fabulous pictures of it all and posted them on her social media. From that she made her two bestest-ever-friends-forever, Lady and Tramp. They each lived in toy packed mansions, maybe if anything a little bit more fabulous than Cinderella’s lavish life but they were good enough to apologise and repeatedly tell her that it was okay not to have the biggest and best all of the time, they would still like her pictures and she mustn’t feel bad about herself, she wasn’t unloveable or shabby or really unfashionable.


Even so, Cinderella began to feel that life was essentially pointless unless she could get a pair of crystal shoes before Lady or Tramp did. 
She stayed up all night to create a shopping algorithm that would get her order in first, but then she fell asleep before confirming the purchase and, alas, the order automatically cancelled.

As if this was not tragic enough, the very next day both Lady and Tramp shared pictures of their invites to the Pop Up Library Tea Dance. Cinderella checked and rechecked her mail accounts, but there was no invite. 
She cried, posted up a picture of herself with red eyes, pretending she had a terrible cold and would not be able to go to any events, and thanked everyone for their deep sympathies. 
Then she hid and cried properly, and not even shoes could console her. It was like a pit had opened up in her very soul, which she didn’t even know could happen!

She cried right into the heart of the night. She stepped onto her balcony and felt the cold air on her un-moisturised skin.
She remembered that she hadn’t cleansed or flossed or dressed or done anything that whole day. 
She looked up at the slightly parallel moon. 
‘I want things to be different, moon,’ she said, ‘can you help?’
A ping from her computing table broke the reverie. 
She ran indoors to read, avidly: ‘Greetings Cinderella, this is a Fairy Godvoucher. You shall go to the Pop Up Library Tea Dance and wear any shoes at all, there’s no dress code!’
‘What? I don’t get the shoes?’

But before despair could well afresh, a cold breeze slid across her shoulders. It seemed that the moon was listening.
‘Okay. I will go to the Pop Up Library Tea Dance. I will wear the first outfit that pops out of the outfit generator. I will put an eye mask on first and get some sleep.’

Cinderella slept most of the next day, so she was truly restored for the Tea Dance that evening. Her outfit generator spat out a skirt suit, but she didn’t press the reject button. She dressed, and smeared colours on her face, and pinned sparkles in her hair, and summoned her carriage.

Lady and Tramp were delighted to see her, though obviously so disappointed she hadn’t any crystal shoes. 
‘Never mind,’ they said, ‘emerald sandals aren’t completely out of style just yet, and if everyone has crystal shoes they will go out of style very quickly.’
‘Yes,’ Cinderella sighed. She was bored of their chatter and went to order some tea.

The waiter was dressed in traditional white and black, with dark straight hair in a ponytail. 
‘May I please have a pot of the rose and basil?’ 
‘Of course, which table?’
‘I think I’ll sit here please.’
‘Very well.’

The waiter scooped up herbs, steamed up water, mixed it all in a china pot. Cinderella, being of a gender orientated name, wondered what gender the waiter was. 
‘I don’t suppose your name is Handsome Prince, is it?’
The waiter laughed. ‘No. It’s Waiter.’
‘Oh.’ Cinderella fiddled with a spoon. ‘Well - do you identify as male or female?’
‘Neither. I don’t like to be constricted. I mean I’m all ready a waiter and I’m called Waiter so I suppose I like to at least maintain my inner freedom. In my mind I can be anyone, anywhere.’
‘Oh my lawks,’ said Cinderella, ‘this is the best conversation I’ve ever had in my life!’
She kicked off her emerald sandals. 
‘It’s nice to see people happy,’ the waiter said, somewhat bemused.
Cinderella poured herself a cup of delicious tea. She watched steam curl, breathed in fresh basil, perfumed rose. 
‘There’s a whole world out there,’ she explained, ‘and any number of worlds I can imagine in my own mind - and I’ve explored none of them! That changes from this moment!’
And she lived mindfully and inclusively ever after.

(Tramp was likewise enlightened, but in this slightly parallel universe I’m sorry to report that Lady was eaten by a bear.)





Picture credits (both via Pinterest)


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

A Candle Lit







We live by the light of those we love, whether they are here or gone.
That light is inextinguishable.
To have the light and not the company is an adjustment process we call grief.
Loss is a shadow, equal to the light.
We adjust not to lose the shadow but to see both.
Hard to bear - yet without darkness, light cannot show its full wonder.

Let us look after each other, then, and value our days, our company, and live to leave vast shadows, and understand that pain is a strange gift, a tender, haunting, purposed gift.

And if you are grieving: let your tears flow, let your anger shout, let yourself plead and deny and feel terrible: it is not an easy process. 
Know that other people know grief. 
Know that other people are hurt to see you grieve. 
Know that love is a fundamental response.

There is no time limit to this adjustment process. No right or wrong way to feel.
One day you will stand back and see that the shadow is proof to the strength of the light, and you will be full of wonder.
That light is inextinguishable.
You can live by it.


[Picture credit: TheAttitudeOfGratitude.com]


This was written for everyone, so it's a little generic: sometimes the love and the grief are complicated, sometimes there's an issue of closure, sometimes the lost one is young and bright, sometimes the grief is for one lost in dementia. I'm aware of each of these circumstances happening to someone this winter. Christmas season is full of loving family images and the contrast with reality can be uncomfortable. Sometimes the grief that wells up is simply from this comparison. I'm not trying to dampen festivities, rather open them up, and allow us all to find understanding, acceptance, to hold on to our own light. It's not hug-the-world nonsense, it's nothing new: if we all reach out, everything changes. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Celebrators





Last night we tumbled first into wine, then sleep.
We had watched fabulous things on our television, our dreams were amazing.
I evolved legs to crawl from the bed. 

Yesterday was a Thursday, and the first calendar day of winter. She had swept in, draped with rich mist, strong and archetypal. How could we not celebrate?

This morning, the sun still sunk below an unseeable horizon, Dog goes out, crunches crystals under footpads. Our dead ash tree, scheduled to be cut down twelvemonth before, is a bold statement in a world of miniature wonders. 

Do you know we don’t actually have a television?
We bought a projector, we have a blank wall. 
It makes watching a deliberate thing.
Sometimes we drink wine on a weeknight but we are careful viewers.







Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Silence On Armistice Day







We were writing a shopping list, tapping phones to light up the time.
At 10:59 we fell silent, looked out of the window.

Heavy cloud, clearly defined though the sky also stood grey, the sombre limbs of our dead tree, the blur of bird wings chasing for food and territory, this we saw.
The pattern of rain on panes that need cleaning.
Droplets on hedge-leaves catching a light that’s rising.
It’s always this that catches me: just ordinary people, trooped out, and lost so much, just ordinary people, left at home to watch for letters, to dig into the earth, tend the vegetables, the places at the table that are waiting, waiting.
I sense all the ghosts, and nothing of vengeance; I am not too afraid to fight but this presence, this tide of loss, it tempers the need.
Civilisation seems built on bones.
So, here we are. The new bones. What will they build on us?

At 11:03 we startle, we chuckle, so lost in the moment.
Still - we will not forget.







Saturday, 12 November 2016

A Suburban Walk In Autumn






Rain - an ocean of it
Pavements, gardens, us, under this
Aquatic. All colours deepen
The music of it - a song
of falling, of flood: red-gold
the leaves that settle in gutters
Cold, the windfall apple
Cupped in a palm
The fragrance of it: spiced
Musked, humus:
What falls now, nurtures next year’s fruit.







Sunday, 30 October 2016

Halloween 2016: Miss Olivia Shoreditch Twice Wrestles A Bear



[Photo credit: Tim Flach, via Pinterest]

Miss Olivia Shoreditch had been in her bed for three days straight. She had her reasons, though reason itself had deserted her. There was nothing about it she could recall through any medium but her gut instinct. A terrible thing had occurred, she knew, though not what; she was attempting to recover, and she must get up slowly as there was an angry bear in the corner of her room. 

I will describe to you the bear. 
If it were in front of us now the first attribute to draw our attention would be the phenomenal size of it. It was standing upright, its head curved along the ceiling, hunched from the shoulders. Darkly purplish fur, thick and warm looking, the texture attractive, imbued with an aroma of stale blood, rank and coppery. Claws, lacquered black - hiding any sort of dirt - light slid along the curve of them. Teeth in dark gums were creamy coloured, stained in rusty blotches. Saliva hung pendulous, a burgundy tongue loitered. Eyes were discernible as glints. A rumble emitted from it.

Olivia gets out of bed, slowly, as her gut advises. The rumble is giving her a headache, the smell makes her feel sick. She puts her feet on the floor. The bear growls. Olivia feels her bladder pressing full. So she stands up, punches that bear in the centre of his belly, runs downstairs to the bathroom. The door is not strong enough to hold out an angry bear, but by the time he has made his lumbering way down the small staircase she is done in the bathroom and has dressed herself in some old overalls that had been conveniently left on the towel rail. They glower at each other for a moment.
‘I can’t be bothered with breakfast,’ she snaps, ‘let’s just take this outside!’
But the bear sits down, and opens a canvas bag he has strung across his shoulders. He takes out a leg bone, strung with pink stringy scraps, and begins to crunch it up. 
‘Well,’ says Olivia, ‘that’s just passive aggressive!’ 
She has a glass of water, sips it loudly. She drinks only half then slams the glass down on the kitchen worktop.
‘I don’t want a bear! Can’t you listen? You don’t even wrestle, why are you here?’ 
Nonplussed, the bear continues to chew. Olivia wants to hit him. She wants to hear his bones wrench. She wants to fasten her teeth on his claws and pull them out. She turns her back on him. She sees how nice the kitchen is looking in the morning sun, with washed up mugs standing on the steel drainer, a fresh tea towel hanging on a peg, and those tiles - those tiles with the glint of gold, the exact shade, the exact luminosity of her favourite festival lights. Does she remember? Not quite. A sense of something bright, something elusive, claustrophobically lost under time. She stares. Her eyes become dry then, by recompense, they flood. She is floating in gold flecked water when the bear presses his teeth to the back of her neck. Olivia screams. She runs out of her front door to the yard, the beasts’ claws puncturing her overalls, catching at her skin. Her caterwauls will not stop - she’s made of sharp noise - trapped by a wall she turns, throws herself at the stinking bear, unmatched in strength or size, possessed by survival: she wrestles.
She finds ribs to hit, and soft points of belly and throat. He smothers her, batters her, dots her in flesh wounds. Flowerpots crash. A drainpipe is knocked from the wall. Bins tip and they fight in trash. She throws dirt in his eyes. He throws her to the wall, she can’t breathe. He waits.
‘I’m actually very hungry now.’ Olivia says. 
She feels bruises growing, little buds about to bloom, purplish and fierce like the bear himself. The bear nods. His eyes are scratched and sore, the left one weeps a drop of blood.
‘I suppose I should offer you some toast?’
The bear stares. Olivia shrugs, limps back into her house. She cuts two slices of bread while the bear scuffles in his canvas bag. He pulls out a jar of berries, slowly unscrews the lid. 
It’s all very well, Olivia considers, while he has food he need not eat me. But how much food does he have? If I cannot defeat him, I had better feed him! But - what shall I feed him? Bones and berries, and what? 

Walking to the library followed by a hulking bear she draws some nervous attention. Olivia glares but the animal won’t wait outside. He squeezes in, rumbling, knocking over chairs. She approaches the librarian.
‘I’d like to borrow a book about the diets of bears.’
The librarian stands up carefully, edges around the desk, backs away to the nature section. 
‘Here,’ he whispers, without looking at her. He looks only at the bear.
Olivia huffs, scans the shelves. She finds a book on bears, there’s a whole chapter on their eating habits. 
‘This will do,’ she says, but instead of showing her library card she pushes the librarian over and just steals the book. 

I don’t know why I stole the book, Olivia says to herself. I don’t know why the bear is here! Was it something I did?
She kicks at stones, feels tears brewing back.
Culpable or not, there was still a bear. Fault had little to do with it. She was indeed a book thief - she didn’t know why she had done that. Perhaps she had simply resented the librarian’s bear-free life. 
She walks home, the bear lumbering close. She crosses roads recklessly; the bear scares the traffic. A lorry slams on brakes, the car behind skids into it. Olivia supposes that might be her fault too. If the bear is her fault, then the consequences belong to her. But she does not know why the bear is here. She kicks at an empty drinks can. It bounces harmlessly against a wall. 
Why is there a bear here? Olivia’s head thumps from thinking. She looks to the sky; it’s a sky with a bear under it. She stares at her feet - feet followed by a bear. Tears roll down her cheek. There is no respite. She doesn’t look at the thing, it makes no difference. No respite.

At home her hands wobble as she fills up the kettle. 
‘I will have a cup of tea,’ she says, ‘a nice, normal cup of tea.’
She can smell the bear, it destroys her appetite for a biscuit. 
‘I’ll read my stolen book,’ she says, tucking it under her arm, carrying her cup to her most comfortable chair. 
She settles herself, putting the cup then the book down on a side table. She will not look at the bear. She pulls her legs up, props the book on her lap, opens it. A piece of paper slips out, a handwritten note. She reads it.
‘If you feed the bear, dear, it will never leave.’
‘I can’t feed it, I can’t not feed it, I can’t defeat it, I don’t want it, I can’t even eat a biscuit coz it smells so bad! What is going on?’
She cries until her tea is cold.
And what does the bear do? 
He curls up and sleeps.

Olivia is hungry and tired. Her mind is a mess, even her gut instinct is puzzled. She sees that the bear is deep in sleep. 
She will sneak away, she thinks, get some distance between them, then she might be able to think and feel clearly. 
She tiptoes out of the house, down the road. How lovely it is, just to walk. Birds in trees are singing, not fleeing; no traffic screeches to a halt, no one is staring. She strolls, hands in pockets, finds enough change clinking there to buy lunch. She orders at the counter, pays, chooses a table. 
How lovely this is, she is thinking, how lovely, how lovely. I shall probably have an idea any minute now.
She says yes to mayonnaise, and heaps of black pepper. She eats the little biscuit that perches on her saucer. She’s aware of the sky outside, cloudless, and how the trees are turning their leaves to gold fire, and children in wellington boots are fire walkers, and everything is magic when there’s nothing to infuriate.

The bear is waiting for her, on the pavement. 
‘Dammit,’ Olivia sighs. Her stomach is heavy, she does not feel ready for a fight. 
They stare at each other for a while. Olivia puzzles over her brief escape - if she had enjoyed the bear not being there, was that, in a way, still thinking about the bear? The absence was bear shaped, so she had not entirely left it behind? 
‘I suppose I have to defeat you then,’ she says. 
They begin to circle. The bear growls. Olivia shows her teeth. Dark claws flex. Fists are clenched tight. Their circle changes direction, they pace, slow, edge closer. Olivia brings her elbows to her ribs. As the bear makes its leap, she punches out, feels her hand squash the dense fur, then her face is in the fur, the bear has her in an embrace, he means to suffocate her. She twists her face free, and kicks the bear in his groin. He yelps, she pushes, kicks more, bites his paw-knuckles - but he hugs back, pulls her up. She kicks him in the belly with little effect, then seizes his throat, finding his windpipe with both her hands. At this, he drops her, she jumps back. A crowd has gathered, and - a gun - she sees that a gun is pointed at the bear.

Olivia stops. She looks at the bear. He tips his head, which makes him seem puzzled.
‘They’ll shoot you,’ she tells him.
The bear sits down. 
‘They’ll shoot you,’ Olivia repeats. 
She imagines the bear lying bloodied and dead, all the glint gone from his eyes. She looks into his eyes. She sees, reflected, autumn leaves, and herself, like she is gazing on the surface of a lake, and the leaves drift there, and perhaps it is midnight and the stars are mirrored too. The whole universe, drifting over an infinite lake, all in the eyes of this: my bear. She feels as though she is floating, in the lake, in the universe, held in that calm night.
‘I’m sorry I was angry,' she whispers, ‘it’s just been a difficult day.’

‘Don’t shoot my bear.’ Olivia faces the crowd. ‘Honestly, I’m fine. We were just being boisterous.’
‘It’s dangerous,’ someone says.
‘Well, of course. He is a bear. I shouldn't have brought him out here. I’ll take him home. Come on, bear.’
She walks away. The bear follows. 
‘I still don’t really want a bear,’ she says, ‘but I’m sort of getting used to you, I suppose.’
He scuffles in the leaves, snorts companionably. They fall to walking side by side. She opens her garden gate to let him through. He turns his head to the woods; he looks back at her, and she sees none of the universe, only his usual sly glinting, before he turns away all together and hefts his bulk towards the trees.