and something a little different again:
Maura stood under the whirling big wheel, feeling giddy. Lights struck out across the fairground like pulsars, arrays of blistering colours. She felt spaced out, the giddiness wiping out her earlier gloomy thoughts. That was the aching want behind each beat of her 80 year old heart and the sense of something gone or going, like the curling into the soil of a fallen leaf.
Eighty years ran behind her, sequences from her youth often sharper in her memory than her activities that very morning. The years remaining for her to run would span less than a child’s experience she felt. They would run with the speed that age brings rather than in the manner of the endless days of youth. She was hurtling towards the grave.
Her eyes, bright in a face lined like the surface of rough bark from a resilient tree, were as blue as that of a new born baby. She was wrapped up in layers of clothes for the chill of the dark autumn evening, woollen russet jumper and hat, plain jeans and flat heeled brown boots. She wanted to ride that wheel in a superficial way, but knew she no longer held the stomach for it or perhaps the grip.
Stepping away from under the wheel, she shielded her eyes now from the probing lights. The noise dimmed; the whirr of the wheel and the screams and laughter of which she had hardly been aware of until she stepped into quieter space.
It wasn’t necessarily that she feared death. It was more a fear of what she was losing as it approached. She had always taken her chances. If there was an opportunity for a positive experience she took it. Spontaneous. Rarely reckless. Bullet points for a curriculum of her days.
She returned a smile from a passing soul now, the giddiness fading. Her grandson, Darren, had wondered off to get soft drinks for them and she sought him out now. There was no blood link between the two: grandmother and grandson. He was their daughter’s son. Maura and daughter: no blood link between the two. It had never mattered. Did it matter now?
Shelly, blood mother, blood grandmother, had passed two years ago. Maura wasn’t sure there was any afterlife. Their life together, her and Shelly, was all she had and together they had stood, through harsher times. Expectations to live an unwanted life had been high and their love was more than unacceptable. It wasn’t permitted. In fact, their kind of love was relegated to non existence and if they dared to peep above the parapet, they were shunned and even met with hatred. The young ones of today swung rainbow flags from the parapet. She smiled once more, for Shelley and she had played their part. The remainder of the fight, well, that was for the young ones too.
Darren strode up to her with two cans of Fanta. His walk was unbalanced, heavy on one side, like he had to drag his leg. There was nothing wrong with his leg. Today, he had not become preoccupied with the aliens that lived among them, the black head and body of slimy slippery eels on legs. They were friendly folk and talked to Darren, usually nonsense. Sometimes, they comforted him. Occasionally though, they mutated into giant humans and turned on him.
They sat on the low wall at the edge of the fairground, grandmother, grandson. She thought how handsome he was, with Shelley’s coal hair and intense brown eyes. He was released from the locked ward several months ago. He spoke less of the aliens amongst them these days and his high distress had all but vanished.
‘I need someone to acknowledge the meaning in my madness,’ he said.
Maura glanced at him thoughtfully. He was a bit of a lost boy, a freak, even alien. He’d been severally abused, bullied and broken. And he was right, this world is weird. In his world, out there in space, where alien races are two a penny across the galaxies, earthlings are the ones to watch. Why wouldn’t he think this?
‘I see it,’ she said.
‘What’s on your mind? You haven’t seemed yourself a while,’ he said.
She took his hand and squeezed it. ‘I’m getting old.’
‘Mountains are old, rivers are old. They are also magnificent,’ he said.
How would he cope without her, she thought dismally?
‘We’re survivors,’ he said, as though he had read her mind. She glanced at him sharply. He continued, ‘I’m not going down. I have hope. I’m looking at alternatives, ways of coping with my madness. By heck, you’re not going down either.’
She smiled once more, stood, pulling on his hand. ‘Let’s go for a ride.’
He didn’t pause. No doubt for her. One more thing she loved about him.