Tobacco Shadows

Books are not the only keepers of narratives. I like to find objects, places, which frame their own stories. The spider-scrawl of a lost letter. A trunk stitched over with fading photographs, nestled in the grey-and-tobacco shadows of an emporium. Flea markets and antique shops creak with the residual thoughts and feelings of other lives; browsing their cluttered corners, it’s easy to find pockets of time caught in the lines of things made to last. Polished cabinets of dark wood, chimed over with mismatched crystal; dolls in hand-stitched clothes, their eyes as faded as the ink on their name tags. Scarred school desks marked with those snippets of playground turf wars and love stories.

sepia chair
HenaTayebPhotography

While I appreciate the need for things made new, the relentless drive to upgrade and update is a bit wearying. New things seem to tell, rather than show their stories. They haven’t yet been imprinted with the life experience of a constant companion, a proud owner, an awestruck admirer. My oldest and most precious books are sellotaped at the spine, stained to the pages with chocolate-spread fingerprints, from those long rainy childhood afternoons spent in my bedroom (curled up on the carpet) beneath a lean-to blanket “tent” eating shortbread-sandwiches; listening to the patter on the windows, and the trailing voices of characters running through my head. Those books were new then, but I made them my own; I wouldn’t dream of throwing them out, though the necessity of new copies is born of loose leaves slithering out between my fingers, whenever I go back for another read.

We’re bound by the things that witness our human state – indifferent as the moon, maybe, but closer to the touch. We all cry and frown and smile and laugh in front of the mirror, and leave worn patches of use on bureaus and tables and chairs. Trace a finger down the spine of a first edition print, you’ll find the crease where a previous owner went back to the same chapter, over and again, to fold down a relevant page like a flag – perhaps underscoring the lines that spoke to their souls, leaving a half-complete message. Our imaginations lead us the rest of the way.

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I was nine when an aunt presented me with the tiny bone-china study of white that was my first thimble. A copper R was set into its front. It began a family tradition of subsequent birthday and Christmas gifts, patterned with seasonal colours and animal profiles, family crests and symbols representing those places either I or they had visited (I have three Jodrell Banks.) Reading Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers”, I felt it might be a good idea to dissuade the little people from taking my whole collection for cups and bowls. After finding a Bible nestled inside one charity shop thimble (with text so neat it could’ve been woven in snow) I started leaving my own little books beneath each china bell. Made from clippings, set with a single staple, dated and signed, they continue to nestle in wooden pockets of the holder. It travels about with me. Turning the thimbles over now and then for a clean, I can’t help but smile at how faded the ink has become.

What are we but stories, after all? I’d like to think that those books will stay inside, when I eventually pass the collection on.

Objects talk. They give away clues of what has come before, may yet come back. Vinyl is thriving again because there are people (like me) who appreciate the tangibility of cool black in the hands, the inimitable *crackle-pop*, the anticipation of sifting through a rack to find old favourites… as much as the drag ‘n drop convenience of a file download. Some of Dad’s LP sleeves had the most fascinating designs, like the heart of a clock, irresistible to fiddly kid fingers. In the same sense, the Brio train set that once belonged to my sister, to me and then to our younger brother, now lives with my two small nephews; it’s their turn to write engine names in pencil along the sides of the chunky track. We’ll see how long the set can stay in the family – like the Christmas tree fairy which has travelled with us from Germany, her pretty white gown missing some glitter, her thatch of hair balding at the back from endless retrievals and replacements in the decorations box. The inside of her cardboard dress is ticked over with dates from the early 80’s, when we three took it in turns to put her on the tree, year by year, for a photo.

My mother’s side of the family kept a house for 300 years. Converted from a farm, with a yard and out-buildings, its thick white walls and blackwood beams were set against the fierce northern winds churning down the moors and hills. Its bean-shaped barn was turned into a beautiful cafe, for their business; it held a little bar in a corner, curved around half a tun (a very large barrel), shaped and polished to flow into the wood. The thick-piled carpet was rosetted and ideal for hopscotch; large beams supported the room, the kind ideal for housing toys in their splits and creases. I kept cut-out paper people in them.

The deep bay windows were wonderful to sit in, provided you made enough room for the family heirlooms – clustering dolls, pack horses pulling real wooden carts, china Scottie dogs (my grandparents collected live ones as pets down the years, all called Mack and Piper.) Paintings stood propped and pinned to the walls – the surrounding countryside, done up in oils and watercolours by local artists. Those rolling green hills and purple-fire moors, trickle-run rivers with great slippery stone slabs, and green-black glades of Macc forest. I can close my eyes and find it all, remembering the spice of the heather and the almond-paste sweetness of hawthorns. The twisted black trees set against a turbulent sky. The ubiquitous sheep standing beside tumbledown greystone walls (a lost art) patterned in yellow lichen, the mossy stiles. The cough of pheasants rising out of long grass. The way the sun disappeared behind Shutlingsloe hill, blue in the distance.

Shutlingsloe 04
http://www.walkerland.co.uk

Sitting on the front garden bench with my sister, we’d calculate how long it would take to run up the steep stone-stepped Northern face, before gliding back down the smoother south-side through the forest; a challenge set for amateur runners and athletes at the local Rose Queen festival, held in May.
(I was caught up in this once, when my uncle’s girlfriend was crowned; as a rosebud attendant, I wore flowers in my hair and white leather shoes, the sort of grin-grimace you’d find on someone stuck in a revolving door.)

That festival, held in the county Lord’s sweeping estate, held a treasure trove of local art, antiques, trinkets and toys, books and collectables. They smelled of dust and musk and heaven, of old perfume and different kinds of wood. I learned where to look for good bargains, picking about for cat ornaments and – later – anything remotely pagan. My uncle was into his magic. He bought my first, and only pack of Tarot cards (the Cat People, of course) when I was twelve. It still travels about with me, for the memories over the fading dreams.

My other Nanna was raised by her grandmother, a Victorian. She credits this elegant lady with the traditional values that have – for better or worse – permeated our family since. My great-grandfather was an architect in the dockyards of Tyneside; a combination of essential skills, and two small children at home without their mother (she died when Nanna was three), exempted him from conscription in WWII. Visiting at the weekends, I’d sit on the table (or the counter), listening to Nanna tell stories of her own childhood in Wallsend. She’d show me photographs of our ancestors, their eyes large and dark. There’s something aching about finding your own face in the creased lines of an image, curled at the corners, coloured like jaguar rosettes, honey and whisky.

She and Granddad have an enduring fascination with timepieces. Their home is filled with the chimes and brassy bars of watches and clocks, the tinny clicking of metallic breath counting out seconds and minutes and hours.

Clock face
fineartamerica.com

Tyneside to Herstmonceux – such a jump! – but they took it, because Granddad had landed work at the observatory. When you put your head down and get on with what needs to be done, the odds don’t seem to matter, until you can stop and look around at the things which marked that time. Only then do you dare to wonder how you made it through. If you could ever do it again.

I remember Nanna telling me how, at the new house, they found cold air and newspapers on the floor, yellow shadows. No running hot water. But they laid out all of the little things which would make them feel safe and secure: toys, family photographs, clocks. Beds made up on the floor – “camping out”, to turn the whole thing into an adventure for the kids.

This scene plays in my mind whenever I move around. The first things to be set out are the story-tellers: paintings, ornaments, my katana Yukiko, guitar picks, leather-jacketed books. Everything else is gradually sifted through, in between hours and days, until the room itself becomes a narrative of Me. A lot of it wasn’t mine to begin with; those trinkets and pictures have seen other lives come and go. God knows how many memories are locked behind the face of the clock, bought in a crook-backed Lewes antique shop.

These are the things that leave a trail of ourselves, our time here. One day, the things that were new to me might become part of someone else’s narrative.

kaiser book

And there are some things that will outlast us all.

Shutlingsloe
http://www.stephenpricephotography.com

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Riddle-Speak

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter
It’s isn’t just one of your holiday games…”

So said T.S Eliot, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Three names apiece, one of which “THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess” – I have enough trouble remembering my own, what with all of these trailing diminutives; feathery scraps of childhood.

There are many things to love about the felidae. The light behind their eyes, that tapetum lucidum, so as to to see between worlds. The way they will greet, not with the wet manners of a dog, but with a dry nose and tall tail-tip. There is a certain pleasure to be had in noting the pause, the wavering head, as they watch for your approach with open hands and blue-black tone. Even the most docile feline carries the glint of a smile.

Creatures like the crocodile and the hawk were worked into the pyramid walls of ancient Egypt, were known as gods and goddesses under the papyrus light; surrounded by hieroglyphics simple in their elegance and, at times, complex as data encryption.

sobek horus
http://www.123rf.com

Horus and Sobek and of course, Bastet – the cat goddess, cast in the half-light as both protector and warrior, associated with the sun (as the daughter of Re/Ra) and the moon, via Artemis and the Greeks. Whatever can be taken from this mythology, it’s certainly a truth that cats are crepescular by nature, at their most active in the pale thresholds before conscious thought, when all lines are blurred as a Nocturne.

Firefly Glow
kfrose.blogspot.com

A cat who would speak with you at length, speaks through the riddle-dance that is appealing in its vagueness. Easy to lose yourself between the muted lines, to forget what it was you were meaning to ask. This is a preferable state when running from details, responsibilities, predictabilities, but the adult world is seemingly governed by such tedious moments, when only the finest-nib clarity will do. I’ve caught myself laughing (rueful rub of the cheek) at my own frustration with an Access Denied. Encouragement reaps its own rewards.

Who would go so far as to break his own limbs to walk as a cat, when no cat would wish to walk as a man?

“Whatever the Alchemist had turned itself into wasn’t a cat.
Half clothed in mist, it trudged painfully towards them from some lunar distance, supporting itself on a staff made from the leg of a panther… Lost in a maze of ruptured highways – burning with rage and desire down every wrenched, coppery perspective, tottering through constant darkness towards every gleam of daylight, deluded by mirror-images, led astray by the very mathematics that had allowed it to penetrate the Old Changing Way: deceived, dazed and disorientated – it had begun to disintegrate. Where cat and catskin had once run seamlessly together, all was in rags.” – Gabriel King, “The Wild Road.”

Crippled by his own hand, each limb contorted and tortured into the supple lines of the feral way, the Alchemist is infused with the energy of sacrificial victims. To control the Golden Cat – that symbolic focus of all natural life – he would walk the wild roads, tying them up in agonized knots, to gain power over this world and the next. We know the highways as “leylines”, in folk lore; but King – the pseudonym of writing pair Jane Johnson and M. John Harrison – employs a lexicon and syntax reminiscent of the free will carried in all wild things, taking the audience between transitions of wary poise, spitfire instinct and playfulness. On the ghost-roads, the smallest feline casts a long and sabre-toothed shadow.

It was through The Wild Road that I became aware of “narrative voice” as something distinct from my own, or that of authors I admired. The protagonist, Tag, is a Burmilla kitten whose movements leap out from the page in keeping with his thoughts:

“‘Alone”, thought Tag.
He tested this idea until sudden panic swept through him. He ran round and round the lawn until he was tired again. He licked his fur in the sunshine for ten minutes. He couldn’t think what to do. He jumped up onto a windowsill and rubbed both sides of his face on the window pane. “Breakfast!” he demanded. But clearly it would not be feeding him today…
He had a new idea. He would feed himself.
“Eat a bee,” he thought.
He thought: “Eat more than one.”
And he tore off excitedly across the lawn.’ – pg 20

This staccato style would quickly become tiresome in another context. This is a life lived close to the ground, defined by the smallest details: that which only a cat would notice and remark upon. Dappled with feline lore and mythology, the novel is narrated in the singular (Tag) and the plural – the nine lives of the cat – infused with the innocent-arrogance of the species.

“Those families bade us welcome and we went into their homes of our own free will, and stayed on our own terms. They treated us like deities, each cat a god in its own house – gifts and offerings, and prayers for a share in our fertilitiltiy and health, for they were a sickly and superstitious lot.
Before long, they were raising temples, drawing our image on the walls like their ancestors before them. In the new drawings we were guardians of the doors of night, guardians of the realms of the dead. We sat at the frontiers of the shadow kingdom; we watched over the spirits of the dead, to guard them in their long sleep.
The same old fears, the same old hopes.” – pg 172.

Each twisting strand weaves the historical with the modern, passing from Bubastis through London to Tintagel head, along the ghost-roads where nothing is quite what it seems. It hit me between the eyes. Aged eleven, seeking something more than the well-shaped but quaint books that had papered my childhood thus far. They were too obviously human. When Tag chases bubbles around his home, he is “as leggy and unsteady, as easily surprised, as easy to tease, as full of daft energy as every kitten”, progressing from this haven of soft humans and pale light into the wider world; drawn on his quest by a mischievous magpie with an agenda, and a one-eyed black cat with a life layered by papyrus, frost and fire. As even the Majicou knew, through his collective lives as keeper of the roads, the power to move between the primal state and the domestic one comes with a price:

‘”So”, he said, “what am I to tell you, Tag?
That if, as the pretty myth has it, cats are allotted nine lives, I have lived out eight of mine? It would be true to say that. That I am as old as the highways I care for, and which sustain me in return? That cats once got up on their hind legs at night and held not just a parliament but a just parliament with human beings? Ridiculous. No cat has ever wanted to walk like a man. Yet it’s a pity we can’t talk to them, Tag.”‘ – pgs 135-6.

Such a care, to know what you cannot speak of.

Peter .S. Beagle’s story, The Last Unicorn, is a work of art coloured bittersweet with a love transcending shape and time. The scars on the face of a warrior, the marks on a wizard’s hands, map their own stories. Even as the unicorn leaves an inevitable trail along the roads of mankind, so the world of mortality marks her in turn with the necessary lessons of care and regret; a heavier burden for one who had lived pale and distant as the moon.

“The sky spins and drags everything along with it … but you stand still. You never see anything just once. I wish you could be a princess for a little while, or a flower, or a duck. Something that can’t wait.” – Molly Grue.

When changed into a woman by the well-meaning (somewhat undisciplined) magician Schmendrick, to save her from the Red Bull, the wilderness lives on in her eyes, for a time at least; but the grey world heaps dust on the memories of wild beasts and woodlands, and that aching fear for her people which began the quest, begins to fade:

“Now I am two – myself, and this other that you call ‘my lady’. For she is here as truly as I am now, though once she was only a veil over me. She walks in the castle, she sleeps, she dresses herself, she takes her meals, and she thinks her own thoughts. If she has no power to heal, or to quiet, still she has another magic. Men speak to her, saying ‘Lady Amalthea’, and she answers them, or she does not answer. The king is always watching her out of his pale eyes, wondering what she is, and the king’s son wounds himself with loving her and wonders who she is. And every day she searches the sea and the sky, the castle and the courtyard, the keep and the king’s face, for something she cannot always remember. What is it, what is it that she is seeking in this strange place? She knew a moment ago, but she has forgotten.”

She turned her face to Molly Grue, and her eyes were not the unicorn’s eyes. They were lovely still, but in a way that had a name, as a human woman is beautiful. Their depth could be sounded and learned, and their degree of darkness was quite describable. Molly saw fear and loss and bewilderment when she looked into them, and herself; and nothing more.’ – Ch 10.

Yet it is the cat of King Haggard’s castle who knows her for what she is. Bound by his own language to speak through the twisting riddles, of what is and what might be, his truth is never more than an eye-glow.

“How do you know she is a unicorn?” Molly demanded. “And why were you afraid to let her touch you? I saw you. You were afraid of her.”
“I doubt that I will feel like talking for very long,” the cat replied without rancor. “I would not waste time in foolishness if I were you. As to your first question, no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them…. You have very little time. Soon she will no longer remember who she is, or why she came to this place, and the Red Bull will no longer roar in the night for her. It may be that she will marry the good prince, who loves her…”‘

“When the wine drinks itself,” he said, “when the skull speaks, when the clock strikes the right time – only then will you find the tunnel that leads to the Red Bull’s lair.” He tucked his paws under his chest and added, “There’s a trick to it, of course.”

“I’ll bet,” Molly said grimly… “oh, cat, wouldn’t it be simpler just to show me the tunnel? You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know,” answered the cat, with a glinting, curling yawn. “Of course it would be simpler for me to show you. Save a lot of time and trouble.”

His voice was becoming a sleepy drawl, and Molly realized that, like King Haggard himself, he was losing interest. Quickly she asked him, “Tell me one thing, then. What became of the unicorns? Where are they?”
The cat yawned again. “Near and far, far and near,” he murmured. “They are within sight of your lady’s eyes, but almost out of reach of her memory. They are coming closer, and they are going away.” He closed his eyes.

Molly’s breath came like rope, fretting against her harsh throat. “Damn you, why won’t you help me?” she cried. “Why must you always speak in riddles?”
One eye opened slowly, green and gold as sunlight in the woods. The cat said, “I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.”‘

The cat knows what it knows, and will continue to look on our world with a crooked head and a mutable smile. We’re still new to the game, after all.

Blog: “Open Your Eyes (Little Black Kitten)”

For as long as I can remember, I have had dreams in monochrome. Subtle shades of silver and grey, which linger between the stark realities of black and white (which for so many years ruled the waking moments of anorexia.) To sleep is to find another world, away from the harlequin quilt of everyday life, and somewhat similar to the muted shades of the feline eye. It is like wandering through a moonlit garden, wreathed in silver mist and soft with deep shadows, crosshatched over with the raking fingers of a tree flung out over a black-diamond sky.

As a child, I would linger at the end of every sunlit Mercy Street washed over in dust and silence, garbage and sunlight-gold. Aching eyes of heartbreak envy, for being born into a human body; I would watch the tails of the neighbourhood cats, as they disappeared around corners too narrow for me to follow.

Though on occasion, I would try. Squeezing through the green and gold light of trees, through their sticky sap and whispering cobwebs; under scratchy wooden fence posts and over crumbling brown bricks of some forbidden garden
(barbed wire to the cheek) –

To find a place not quite of my world, one I could never hope to know, much less possess with the paws of the inevitable hunter. Instinct wins out over even the most domesticated feline, in the wild-barred haven of some secret glade, in a dim alleyway formed of tired walls and black- gold bracketing sunlight and shadows. Flickering flies, like the embers of a pagan fire.
A mind full of sudden silence.

Back then, it was easy enough to follow the cats through the clock and back to childhood, to a time more innocent – in the sense of being unaware of the dark places of the world, and within.

She pictures the broken glass
She pictures the steam
She pictures a soul
With no leak at the seam
– Peter Gabriel, “Mercy Street”

The world of Felis silvestris catus.

I have often wondered how an adult cat might explain the ways of the crepuscular life to its kitten-child. Would it sing as a nursery rhyme, the lines of Yeats’ “The Cat and the Moon?”

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.

The thought returned again, while stuck in the sterility of last week’s waiting room. Time was making his usual slow shuffle about the clock face, muttering to himself with hands deep in his pockets. I flipped through a stack of books left out on the long table, ostensibly for the benefit of their infant target audience, but most likely well-thumbed through by the adults who, with fidgety fingers and frayed nerves, sought the same distractions.

Little Black Kitten
Courtesy of @CuteAnimal_Pics

Almost unbearably cute. I found this image on Twitter, though sadly have no photographer to credit. There’s the all-important hint of pathos around the eyes, the tilt of the head – typical of those small things in the world, who know damn fine that they will have you wrapped around their paw / little finger, soon enough. The image was simply called, “Little Black Kitten.”
This is his story.

Since children are more likely to respond to stories which feature protagonists who are of a similar age / stage of development, I wondered if the same might be said of a kitten.

There are the physical size / spatial awareness aspects to consider. A kitten is small in relation to the world around it. Everything from the vibrations of human feet, to the soft bumbling forms of litter-mates, will be processed by still-developing senses. The world is large, and full of odd shapes and smells. A kitten audience will find themselves reacting on a sensory level to the observations of a protagonist around their own age, based upon similar experiences – this in turn develops an engagement with the narrative, and an understanding of the plot.

“I can see the big yellow sun smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is blue around him.”
He lifted his pink nose and took a long sniff.
“I can smell the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten.

There is the feeling of bewilderment and fear, which can cause a kitten to cry out in the plaintive mew for its mother, who responds with a reassuring burr/chirrup, distinctive from her normal purr. A typical situation might be caused by seeing the sun and the moon for the first time, and feeling afraid of their size and omnipresence:

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The sun is big and yellow in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the sun.”

The response of the parent is important, both in text and reality. There is a need, not to overload the kitten with information, but to make it aware of the basic facts / positive and negative aspects of its surroundings, in order for it to appreciate the benefits and the dangers:

“But the moon stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “Her white light shines in the dark. She will make your green eyes glow, so that you can see. All of your friends who have been asleep in the day, will come out to play.

But you must never go outside into the garden on your own, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “You might become lost…I will be with you.”

The title, “Little Black Kitten,” was taken from the original tweet on which the image was posted. It has a lovely mnemonic rhythm to it when spoken aloud, due to the presence of consonance and assonance in the /t/ /l/ and /i/ phonemes, respectively. The repetition of these sounds can create a “handle” on which the audience can fix when reading aloud, as a way of “staying in touch” with the protagonist. They are also beneficial for teaching an awareness of eye-rhymes found in prose as well as verse; rather like developing an “ear for music”, this can help the audience to understand how some words sound better together than others, creating a natural “flow” of words, when writing for themselves.

Alliteration, assonance and consonance can form mnemonic patterns when used in stories aimed at a young kitten audience. They can help with learning and remembering names, keywords and high frequency words, which a kitten may use in everyday life when speaking or reading alone / aloud.

In Helen Stratton-Would’s book, “Who Stole the Moon?”, alliteration and consonance are used to create both a memorable and rhythmic “flow” in the protagonist’s name and the syntax:

Bertie Brown is a very lucky boy. He has a skylight in his bedroom, which means he can see the sky when he lies in his bed. He can see birds, the clouds and aeroplanes, but most of all he likes to lie and look at the moon.” – pg 1, “Who Stole the Moon?”, Helen Stratton-Would.

While the presence of complex sentences in the narrative can appeal to more advanced readers – thus broadening the target audience – it is best at this early stage of literacy, to make the story accessible to as many young readers as possible. This means relying more on simple and compound sentence structures, to allow kittens to develop their reading at a steady pace and learn to trust their own initiative, while making progressive gains from one book to another:

“When I say pull, said Dad, “I want you to pull!”
Mum pulled and pulled, but the stump didn’t come up.
– pg 9, “The Old Tree Stump,”, Roderick Hunt / Alex Brychta

“Are you sure?” asked Bertie, unsure that something as big as the moon could be hidden by clouds. “Yes,” said the wise owl. “If you lie in your bed tomorrow night and gaze out of your skylight, I am sure you will see the moon.” – pg 31, “Who Stole the Moon?”, Helen Stratton-Would.

Repetition of words that are key to the plot, can help to imprint the essence of a story on the mind of the audience. For example, the verbs “pull/pulled” and “push/pushed” are used frequently in “The Old Tree Stump”, to highlight the actions taken by the characters in removing the old stump, via oppositional force:

Dad called Mum to help.
“I’ll push it. You pull it,” said Dad.
“When I say pull,” said Dad, “I want you to pull!”
Mum pulled and pulled, but the stump didn’t come up.
– pgs 7-9, “The Old Tree Stump”, Roderick Hunt / Alex Brychta

These verbs, when used in conjunction with one another, would give the kitten-audience a basic understanding of how the words and their relevant actions can have an antonymous relationship (e.g. in weight training, with the lifting and lowering of a weight = the flexion and extension of an arm joint.)

Colours and objects are key words in the narrative. With their repetition, the audience can learn to associate one with the other, in their natural state and habitat (e.g. green grass in the garden, yellow sun in the blue sky, etc.) This helps the audience to connect what they are reading about with their own surroundings, as well as increasing awareness of which colour fits its relevant noun (of particular use here would be coloured fonts in the text, to pick out grapheme-phoneme connections.) Such objects can perhaps be used in word-games such as point-and-name.

While turning this story over in my mind, in that waiting room of Old Man time, there was one feature of the narrative which I kept returning to: the reassuring tone. Planting the idea in the mind of the audience, that to face up to fears does not automatically mean going it alone – though it might seem the more difficult path to take, especially when the easier option is to sleep on, unaware. To keep your eyes closed.

I tried this tactic for a long time. It didn’t work. The world doesn’t go away, nor does it stand still; it moves on, regardless of whether we are looking or not, in the natural progression of things. Change must happen for any progress to be made.
Which was how I found myself that day, waiting to pick up the results of a second biopsy. They were clear, by the way. A cyst, and nothing more appalling than perhaps another needle.

Still, had I not gone for (yet another) checkup, I would have lived with that shadow-burden for a while longer, and – had the results been less agreeable – perhaps a worse outcome.

Time resumed his forward march. I can find the lancing gold sunlight again, walking my Mercy Street, where for a while only shadows had lurked.
Now with one Little Black Kitten, for company.

Children’s Story: “Open your Eyes (Little Black Kitten)”

“Open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “It is morning.”

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The sun is big and yellow in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the sun.”

“But the sun stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “He is big and bright and yellow. His light will warm up the world.
He makes the green grass grow in the garden, for you to sit on.
He makes the red flowers bloom in the garden, for you to smell.

But you must not look directly at the sun, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat. “He is bright and will hurt your eyes.”

“I like to feel the green grass. I like to look at the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten. “I would like to sit in the garden.”

“Then you must open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Mummy Cat.

So Little Black Kitten put down his paws. He opened his green eyes.
“I can see the big yellow sun smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is blue around him.”
He lifted his pink nose and took a long sniff.
“I can smell the red flowers,” said Little Black Kitten.

“Come out into the morning garden,” said Mummy Cat. “I will be with you.”

They went outside into the morning garden. The big yellow sun was smiling down at them. The red flowers smelled wonderful. The green grass felt soft and warm under his paws.

Little Black Kitten smiled up at the big yellow sun.
“I am glad I opened my eyes,” he said to Mummy Cat.

Night-time came. The big yellow sun closed his eyes and went to bed. The red flowers tucked in their petals. The blue sky turned black as fluffy kitten fur.

“Open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “It is night, and time to wake up.”

Little Black Kitten put his paws over his green eyes. He hid his pink nose under his long fluffy tail.
“I do not want to open my eyes. The moon is big and white in the sky,” said Little Black Kitten. “I am scared of the moon.”

“But the moon stays up in the sky, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “Her white light shines in the dark. She will make your green eyes glow, so that you can see. All of your friends who have been asleep in the day, will come out to play.

But you must never go outside into the garden on your own, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat. “You might become lost.”

“I like to sit in the garden,” said Little Black Kitten. “I would like to play with my night friends.”

“Then you must open your eyes, Little Black Kitten,” said Daddy Cat.

So Little Black Kitten put down his paws. He opened his green eyes.
“I can see the big white moon smiling in the window,” said Little Black Kitten. “The sky is black around her.”
He turned his ears this way and that.
“I can hear the night animals playing,” said Little Black Kitten.

“Come outside into the night garden,” said Daddy Cat. “I will be with you.”

They went outside into the night garden. The big white moon was smiling down from the black sky. All of the animals that had been asleep in the day, were playing on the grass. It did not look green. The moon made the grass look white.

Little Black Kitten looked at his Mummy Cat and his Daddy Cat. Their eyes were shining green as the grass in the day.

“The moonlight helps us to see in the dark. She makes our eyes glow,” said Mummy Cat.

Little Black Kitten saw his friends waving to him. They called for him to come and play. He smiled up at the moon.
“I am glad I opened my eyes,” he said to Daddy Cat.