The Way We Lied

So far, the only indication that the greatest disturbance for nearly 500 years was imminent, was a large sign on the road verge. “Meadow Bank – A Quality Development of Executive Homes from Orchard Brothers – Building for Families and the Future.” I was doubtful whether executives and families were compatible, recalling the long hours my father regularly spent in his London office and the few hours he used to spend at home. How many times I had wished he could come to the school play or hear me practice the piano.
I was fairly certain that no one was here as the entire plot, including the lovely old timbered house, had recently been sold again for redevelopment. However, there might be a caretaker or watchman in residence, presiding over the desirable beams, the leaded windows, inglenook fireplaces and door furniture, of the kind so proudly coveted and sold at inflated prices in architectural antique centres.
We had heard that the house was to be retained, rather than rebuilt, but I could well imagine that today’s developers would look aghast at its brick floors, roughly plastered walls and draughty diamond paned windows. They would probably want to strip out every imperfect, irregular feature and replace them with accurately measured, weighed and treated modern substitutes. They would create a semblance of antiquity, which with its smoothness and perfection would feel artificial and sterile and so unlike the dusty, atmospheric home where we had once known real happiness.
As I walked up the steps to the stone path which led to the porch, I knew my mother would have loved to see that the box bushes were still thriving. Also the white rose, which she had introduced in her first year here, was showing healthy shoots and promised a mass of flowers for the summer.
The old lion’s head door knocker still jutted proudly from the studded oak door and I rattled it twice, its metallic rap contrasting sharply with the sweet bird song. In this rambling house I knew that visitors could sometimes wait several minutes for their call to be answered so I waited, my hand slipping to the trowel hidden in my pocket. And as I waited I prayed that I could do this today. There was no more time.

Powerless – The Year The Lights Went Out

From October 2013 to July 2014, I posted a daily fictional blog on this site, imagining how I would cope if there was a long term national power cut in the UK. I thought about how we would heat our rambling old house, gathering kindling before the winter rains soaked the wood, how we would pick mushrooms and nuts, hunt for game and how we could barter goods with other villagers. I decided to adopt the voice of an ordinary mother, unprepared for such a disaster, who is determined that her family will survive.
Powerless was never intended to be an accurate survival guide, but I imagined the narrator being resourceful, resilient and positive. I wrote the entries each day and was faithful to the weather at that time. Above all, I wanted Powerless to carry a message of hope rather than an apocalyptic cry of doom.
In the past week, this blog site has seen a sudden surge in traffic, with well over 6,000 hits, nearly all of them re-reading Powerless from the archives. As it is not an easy task to read the blogs in reverse, I have decided to repost Powerless day by day, as well as serialising my novel, The Way We lied.
Powerless will resume on December 1 with the first entry, dated October 8, and will run all the way through to the final entry. If you like it, please share it with friends.

The Last Song – chapter one

Katarina’s mother pulled the shutters tight and turned away from the window.

“There is nothing for you to see out there,” she said. “Go to sleep now.” She creased her lips up into a smile and crossed the room to where Katarina sat hunched tight on the bed. “Sleep darling.” She lent over and placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder, the lightest of touches

“I can’t. I won’t be able to.” Katarina shuddered. “Mrs Malcolm…What do you think will…”

“Shh!” Her mother cut her off. “Just lie down and sleep.”

“Stay with me,” Katarina begged.

“Just for a while, but you must sleep.”

“Do you remember when I was little you used to sing to me? It was something about angels and their arms.”

“Shh!” Her mother glanced towards the window and shook her head. “I can’t, I mean it’s better this way.” She sat down on the edge of her bed and reached forward as if to stroke Katarina’s forehead, then pulled her hand back and instead seized Katarina’s hand and squeezed it tightly.

Katarina flinched but squeezed it in return. “But what do you mean? Why did they take her?” she asked. The images of Mrs Malcolm being bustled out of her house by four uniformed men were not going to leave her for a long time.

“That is nothing for us to worry about, darling. The police know best.”

They heard an engine spark into life and the crunch of wheels on gravel. Katarina felt her mother tense as they listened to the van drive off.

“What did she do?” Mrs Malcolm had seemed so quiet, small, smiley, safe, with a house filled with colourful knitted throws, a bobbly rug, cracked and wobbly teapots on shelves, a crackling fire, her cat, Ditto. That poor cat. Who would feed him now? Perhaps she should. Would the men have left him alone? They hadn’t looked like ordinary police. Their uniforms seemed somehow different, smarter perhaps though it was hard to tell in the dark.

“Can’t you do anything?”

“You are not to worry about it, you are not to mention this again!” Her mother’s tension was threatening to bubble over, but she smiled thinly.

“Sleep now.” There was to be no argument. She switched off the light and closed the door with a firm click.

Katarina lay motionless, straining to listen for anything that might give her clues about what was going on. She heard her parents’ voices, muffled by the wall and by the hushed tones in which they often spoke. She thought she heard a sob but she could not be sure. Finally, when the house was silent, she pushed back the sheet and blankets and slid out of bed. She crept to the window and opened the shutters. The dark hulk of Mrs Malcolm’s house sat there, forlorn and empty.

She heard the distant rumble of a night bus bringing the late-shift workers home from the industrial areas, a dog barking, perhaps in the next borough, and finally a faint ‘mew’. The cat. Ditto. She pushed open the window a crack. The ‘mew’ came again, this time clearer and more urgent. It sounded as if he was in trouble. His third call was distressed as if he was in pain, a cry that went right though her, begged her to come out and rescue him.

Pausing to be sure that there was no sound from her parents’ bedroom she felt for her shoes under her bed and tiptoed across the landing and down to the kitchen. There was a little cooked chicken left on the larder shelf; she would take it for him.

The backdoor creaked as she eased it open and she froze, a cold statue in the night, listening, watching. The moon was not yet full but it was bright enough to give her some vision. Her eyes were growing accustomed to the dark and she could see nothing to worry her so she slipped her feet into her shoes and ran from shadow to shadow along the hard dirt path that divided her house from Mrs Malcolm’s.

She stopped. Something or someone was moving ahead, low down against the wall of the house. How stupid she was to have come out. The curfew was on and if the authorities caught her both she and her parents would be in trouble.

Stabbing pains of fear shot through her legs as she pressed herself against the wall and she held her hand over her mouth to stop a cry escaping. Something brushed against her and she heard the ‘mew’ again.

Her shoulders slumped with relief. It was Ditto. “Hello boy,” she whispered. “Are you alright? Did they hurt you? Are you hungry? I’ll look after you now ’til your mum comes back.” She gulped slightly. Mrs Malcolm might not come back.

Ditto rubbed against her and she bent to stroke him but stopped. She could hear his purr but behind it the murmur of a car or a van in the distance. That could mean only one thing – the curfew patrol.

“Quick, into the house,” she said. She wanted to check he had a safe place to sleep tonight. She also wanted to see inside Mrs Malcolm’s house.

The Way We Lied

And when I returned it looked the same. The ancient listed house had barely changed since my parents left ten years ago. It was still shrouded in ivy and wisteria, peering under timbered windows through the avenue of yew trees. I walked slowly down the gravel drive, the stones crunching beneath my measured pace as I tried to judge whether anyone was on the site.
Halfway along I stopped, feeling the spring sunshine on my face, watching the light brighten the daffodils and the sparkling white narcissus. Small birds were chirping and darting between the shrubs and a woodpecker was drumming on the stag headed oak. I closed my eyes and the sounds recalled an earlier time, a time thirty-five years before when we first came here.
After protracted negotiations with a difficult vendor, a damning survey and with the help of anxious estate agents, my parents had driven down ahead of the removal van to claim our keys. And we had stood in this very drive, surrounded by nodding flowers, and opened our arms wide to embrace our new property, an old manor house only half a mile from the village. This is all ours now, we had cried and my two brothers and I had run around in high excitement, exploring the gardens, the orchard, the paddock and the old overgrown tennis court.
But now, although it still stood largely unchanged, I knew that the once secluded house was soon going to be surrounded by neighbours. Many more families will live here once the new houses are built in the grounds. There will be small gardens and the paddocks will be tamed by suburbia, caged by panelled fences and dotted with prim geraniums instead of wild meadow grasses and buttercups. I imagined their children playing on brightly coloured plastic climbing frames and swings instead of crawling on their scabbed knees into leafy camps under bushes or scrambling up decaying trees.

Are Clangers Edible?

Digby had a plan – he would wait. The thing would get hungry, or bored, or homesick, or just forget why it was hiding, and then it would come out. His plan had not included being shouted at.

He sat up, stunned. Then quickly went into the lounge and woke Hank, who was sleeping on the sofa.

“I think you’d better come and see this.” They padded, together into the dining room. “I found it outside. It’s just called to me, in Cat.”

Hank tilted his head to one side and studied the creature. “Did it say anything useful?”

“It said,  ‘Hey you,’ and then, ‘Take me to your leader.’ Do I have a leader?”

“Shouldn’t think so. What’s a leader?”

“Should I poke it?”

“No.” Hank pushed his nose towards the alien. “Let’s humour it. What are you and where are you from, little creature?”

Well, so far so good. There were two of the terrifying predators now, but she had not been eaten. The second alien was even bigger though less stocky and a darker orange. It did not look any less dangerous. YFnyrdh’s throat was dry and she was trembling slightly – imperceptibly, she hoped.

“I am YFnyrdh of the Kwmbry and I come from up there…”

The two cats looked up.

“Did it just say it fell off the ceiling?” asked Hank.

“It’s making it up.” replied Digby, “I brought it in from next door’s garden.”

“No…” YFnyrdh indicated towards a large transparent rectangle in one of the walls, “…out there. I come from the stars.”

“Now it says it fell through one of the shiny holes in the big black roof. Has it got concussion?”

Digby had dropped onto his elbows and was beginning to wiggle his bottom. Before he could pounce Hank stopped him. “Give it a bit longer, this is fun.”

“I am a space wrecked traveller, sole survivor from a doomed Galaxy Class ore carrier. I am unable to return to my home world without your assistance.” YFnyrdh assumed the posture of a supplicant. Then, indicating her surroundings with a wide sweeping gesture of her arms, she continued, “Your species has obviously achieved wondrous technological advances, are you capable of interstellar flight?”

“What is a technological?” asked Hank.

“What is advances?” asked Digby.

“You are too modest, this vast hall with its amazing artefacts, the many buildings beyond, only a great civilisation could construct such marvels or take all this for granted.”

“This…” explained Hank, “…is Home.   You don’t construct Home, it just is; it’s more to do with philosophy than physics.”

“And we are ginger moggies from the planet Hereandnow,” added Digby, “and we eat small creatures; even annoyingly deluded, gobby ones that think they are aliens.”

Not going quite so well now, then. Oh, Sqwrll! If this had been an episode of Star Quest she’d just shoot her way out of this mess and steal herself one of their space ships. Only they didn’t seem to have any space ships and Leading Spacepeople were hardly going to be let loose near guns. The crews on VLBCs were notoriously quirky. It was a long time between ports and you had to be a bit mad to be out there in the first place.

“We may have got off on the wrong foot here. Please, let me try to explain. I have inadvertently become trapped on your planet, which, pleasant as it may seem to you, is far from my home. I am considering the possibility that you are not the dominant species here and I wonder if you could put me in touch with…” The voice of the translator distorted. There was a pause, then it said, “Battery low!” in all known languages and went silent. YFnyrdh carried on for a while in Kwmbrysh, but it was pointless.

The Way We Lied

continued….

Chapter 5

I could not fully understand my mother’s reasoning, but I was determined to succeed in my mission. It might be the last and most important task I could undertake for her. She is slowly dying and although the hospice is gentle and comforting, she is anxious and I keep hearing her words, begging me to return.
“Please Lisa, darling, I don’t want strangers finding the box. I don’t want to ask your father. David has enough to worry about. Do it just for me.”
I had agreed, knowing I could not refuse her anything now. My father dutifully visits her every evening, bearing flowers his secretary buys for him. He is still fit and energetic in his 76th year. Although he is no longer a Minister, he is still working hard and soon he will be even more occupied once the second volume of his much anticipated autobiography, chronicling his controversial years in government and his role in Iran, is published. My brothers could go, but they both have demanding careers as doctors and both have strict wives, who would ask questions. I may not have been as successful professionally, but I am fortunate in having a sympathetic husband who understands the ebbs and flows of freelance work. It was obvious that I had to be the one to go and I had to go immediately before it was too late.
As I drove there through countryside bursting with the fresh green of spring, I kept wondering why my mother was so concerned about the capsule. I was sure it couldn’t hold anything controversial. Being children we had written silly notes and donated videos. The adults had given my mother sealed envelopes the morning after the dinner. But maybe Uncle Nick had contributed one of the ribald jokes we were not meant to hear or Aunt Sarah had maligned one of my father’s Party colleagues.

to be continued….

The Way We Lied

continued….

“Tomorrow is New Year’s Day and we have decided, at least I have decided, that we shall mark the start of the new millennium by burying a chest, a sort of time capsule if you like, in the garden. We are going to fill it with little things from the present day such as newspapers, but we also want to include a memento from all of you here. So I thought it would be rather nice if everyone here tonight could write a little something for us to include as well.”
She smiled and glanced around the table at the attentive faces. “I have paper, pens and envelopes right here for all of you, but it’s not a problem if you don’t feel like writing something tonight.” She then looked pointedly at Nick and Charles, who were both grinning at her over their wine glasses. “And I can see that some of you might not feel up to putting pen to paper right now, so you can let me have your contribution by lunchtime tomorrow. Don’t worry, I shan’t let you forget, however much you may drink tonight! Oh and feel free to say anything you like darlings! Your words will not be read for years and years, maybe never, so you can confess to absolutely anything!” She waved her hands and took her seat to a little wave of applause and murmurs of appreciation.
Although they responded with approval, none of the guests reached for pen and paper to write their contribution immediately, but Sarah leant forward and said, “Well done, Caroline. You won’t get any sense out of the chaps tonight, of course, but it’s a really super idea. I’ll make sure Nick doesn’t forget to write his piece for you and help you get everything together for tomorrow.”
My mother sighed again, and then said, rather wearily, “Oh well, when they do feel like doing their bit, they can say whatever they want, for all I care. We’ll all be long dead and buried by the time anyone ever finds it.” She refolded her napkin, then placed it on the table, her hands smoothing the perfectly ironed linen and added, “It won’t matter what they say, the chances are no one will ever read a single word of it.”
Sarah patted my mother’s hand. “It may be the only chance for confession some of these reprobates will ever get. It will help them to start the century anew with a clean conscience.” She smiled with some satisfaction and took a tiny sip of her wine.
I can see them all so clearly even now; how vibrant and strong they were on that memorable evening. But, thirty years on, Nick is in a nursing home, while Sarah still chairs committees and issues orders. Charles has been honoured for his charitable work and Alex loves her newly acquired title. Helen became an acclaimed artist after divorcing Simon years ago. My father is still a highly respected politician and, despite his years, is in the best of health. But my mother, my darling mother, so beautiful on that special night, is nearing the end of her life. And I will do anything to help her find peace.

to be continued….