Thursday, 23 January 2014
There were dreadful and terrifying noises everywhere and all the time but the noises were at their loudest in the silence.
The silence roared and hummed. The silence made panting sounds and drummed and throbbed. Straining to hear what might be approaching through the deafening stillness terrified him. When there were bangs or shouts, explosions or engines, whines or cries, or all of them together, then he was allowed to bury his face into her bony ribs and to pull her circling arms over his ears and not listen and not think, just feel the breath and beat of her body. Thinking demanded knowledge and explanation and nobody said what was really happening. How could he understand when he could not think and no one spoke to him?
The noise was worst in the silence because then she pushed him away and he was alone, detached from safety in the small room, staring at the window. In the girl’s thundering arms he could force the noise away by filling up his small rigid body with screaming and tears. She was not a stranger. She always responded to all his needs except for that for more food unless she was simply not there – absent – disappeared – as happened most days at sunset. When she made him stand up on his own with her fingers across his mouth, he had to be absolutely quiet and then the noises invaded him like bees, humming into his ear-holes and shrilling in his brain. That was her vanishing time.
There was no time past, just the deafening and eternal present and the small room-world that they hid in. As soon as it grew dark, the pale girl would slip away and the noise would settle into a threatening out-of-breath monotone until whoever had gone returned and brought back the wailing. After that he could return to the thudding cradle of her arms.
As it grew brighter each morning they ate a little and dozed. Then tiny fragments of memory swam into the sunlight of his dreams, quiet comfortable words, a woman’s voice, clean warm fabric cosy around him and a song that vanished when he stirred and found he didn’t have the words or the questions to hook the feelings back before the noise overwhelmed him once again.
There must always have been noise – he would never get used to it but it had always existed and it would not stop - ever. He knew that. He accepted it but he fought against it with every breath. Whereas the girl kept the noise at bay by her quiet dumbness, he kept the noise away from them all by the physical effort of surrounding himself with a sound barrier.
If that barrier ever broke –
what would happen if that barrier broke –
if it broke and the girl - and finally himself became the noise -
if he became the screaming he would annihilate the only world he remembered - his world - this room –
What would happen to them then?
What had happened before today had been so terrible that he would never let himself think of it or remember it. It was secret that must be kept forever.
Thursday, 2 January 2014
“THE SHAPING OF WATER”
Writing the novel – the origins of the book.
My father took me to see the Lake Kariba dam wall being built when I was sixteen.
That is quite another story.
I first saw the lake in 1972 when my husband went to work for the North Bank Construction Company and we lived there for a year. Once we were settled in Lusaka, the lake became our favourite weekend retreat. It was beautiful, strange, dangerous, vast and mysterious. A human experiment with the environment on a scale that was difficult to comprehend.
This painting made by me in the late 70's or early 80's tried to capture my conflict about the lake and its destruction of the environment. The girl holds a stone and a stick. The lake has reduced the earth and the forest of the valley to its elements. She stands on the shore full of doubt and wonder.
It is too simplistic to condemn the builders of the lake and the dam but the questions remain to be asked even if it appears there are no easy answers. My novel is a story not a argument for or against but perhaps it will be thought-provoking.
For anyone concerned about the proposed Batoka Dam – ask the questions and keep asking. The environment will and must change but how and why, how much and for whom?
Wednesday, 1 January 2014
“It’s cruel! It’s wrong!”
Sarah is defiant.
She looks at Horse. Horse looks back. Two stubborn beasts with brown, black-lashed eyes. Sarah’s face is round, like her spectacles. Horse’s belly is round from lack of exercise. Ann, Sarah’s mother, can school Horse on the lunge line but she will not be able to persuade her daughter to change her mind.
“We can’t keep him if you don’t ride him.” Ann says, reasonably.
“He’s mine.” Sarah is marginally less strident, and also reasonable. “You gave him to me. I decide what happens to him.”
Adopting the impossible role of the loving realist, Ann says, “Yes Honey, but you don’t pay for food, livery or vet bills.”
Sarah is adamant.
“I don’t want him to be ridden by anyone at all - ever! It’s cruel to make any animal do the will of a human!”
Horse stands still. Ann sighs and leans harder on Horse. She leans on his left shoulder, one hand on his soft nose, her forehead against the hard curve of his muscled neck. She breathes in the animal heat of Horse, the edible vegetable smell of dung and urine on straw bedding. Herbivorous Horse smells better than carnivorous Cat and omnivorous Dog. Sarah hasn’t yet demanded that Ann doesn’t stroke Cat or walk Dog but then neither pet obeys Ann”s will. Ann averts her gaze from Cat and Dog when Sarah is at home. She feeds them in secret just in case they too have to be freed and returned to Nature which in all likelihood means the wilderness of the Village High Street.
Grungy human vegetarians don’t smell as good as Horse. They are smoked not groomed. Sarah has become a vegetarian and on Sunday nights smells of grunge instead of manure and riding boots. At first it was just hunting that was cruel but now it is riding Horse, or any horse at all. Sarah’s grungy dread-locked boyfriend doesn’t come to the stables even when Sarah is there alone. The Pony Club trophies and rosettes have gone from Sarah’s bedroom shelf to shoe boxes in her cupboard though not yet to the dustbin. Grungy Boy a.k.a. “Sky” has taken Sarah’s virginity but not yet all her pride or determination. Ann still hopes. Sky is however making successful inroads on Sarah’s mind and individuality and Ann despairs.
There is a deadly war going on. A war of morality that only the Righteous will win.
Sky the Grungy Boy is battling with Horse for the soul of Sarah.
Ann tells herself that it can’t be her battle. Her maternal relationship is mere collateral damage. She can take her injuries to the Tack Room and the brandy hidden in the First Aid Box.
Horse must fight his own battle.
It is an unequal battle and Horse will lose.
Horse will lose the battle but Ann will be a casualty too.
“Horse is your horse.” says Ann with decision. This is true but Ann loves Horse more than she can admit. Ann must not be seen by Sarah as her rival for Horse. She hands the reins to her reluctant daughter,
“If you won’t ride him and you won’t let him be ridden by anyone here – not even me – then he must be sold. Here – take him and see that he is groomed, check his shoes and feet – Jane is bringing Elspeth round – they may buy him.”
“I don’t want him to be ridden.” Sarah’s voice is smaller, her lip quivers. The pain of losing Horse is unbearable for her. Ann turns her head away at the sight. She must sit firm. Harden the heart that lost a stirrup at Sarah’s grief.
“He’s too young to be put out to grass.” Ann says, “He needs exercise or his health will suffer and he can’t run wild. Be sensible, Sarah. How can I tell someone who buys him what they can do with him? You can’t give him away – he’s too valuable!” She feels a small mean triumph, a tiny hope, some doubt at Sarah’s next materialist demand.
“You gave him to me, so the money is mine.”
“Sarah, you know how much Horse costs to keep! Remember the deal – if you were to go to university – or have a gap year - “
Sarah is not going anywhere that takes her away from Sky and says so again and then again for emphasis.
“Why don’t you listen, Mum? I will not join global capitalist exploiters!”
Ann remembers that her darling child experimented with chewing while she was being breastfed. Ann bites back.
“You won’t want the money then, will you?”
She thinks bitterly that the money would only go on a yurt or a tipi for Sky. And what would tent-dwelling, horse-riding nomads think of Sarah’s definition of riding as gratuitous and unnecessary cruelty? Ann mutters to herself then sighs. All arguments and persuasions have been tried and failed. Horse is not going to the fields of Paradise or any Happy Hunting Ground, Horse is going to be gone - no more – and finally, together with all horses that have no use and are never ridden, he will become extinct.
“What you don’t use – you lose!” She had tried to say that to Sarah. Sarah had thought that Ann meant to threaten her but it was Horse who was in danger.
“What will you do with the money?” Sarah asks aggressively.
“I suppose,” replies Ann with sadness, “that I will get rid of Donkey at the same time. He has needed to be replaced for ages.”
“Why?”, Sarah is surprised into asking.
“I could use a better quality of transport.”
In fact Ann doesn’t want technology, she likes animal. She wants her feet on the ground and her spade in horse manure.
“You, Mum! A new car - instead of Donkey!” Sarah is shocked.
“We got Donkey because of Horse and for Horse remember? I won’t need a beaten up old van with a faulty heater and a broken windscreen wiper if we don’t have to transport feed for Horse.”
“I won’t buy a new car, but I will buy as green a car as I can.” Ann adds, quickly, before Sarah can criticise.
Mother and Daughter stand between their tame animal past and an uncertain and savage technological future. Sarah holds Horse’s leather bridle, Ann holds the metal keys to Donkey.
Horse simply waits.