12.8.2013 Journal Prompt

Photo by Dorothea Lange
Photo by Dorothea Lange

December 8, 2013: She was a worrier.

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6 thoughts on “12.8.2013 Journal Prompt

  1. Lindsay

    Pippa in her pink flower-print cotton dress, and her barn boots two sizes too big, and her hair brushed flat with a strip of ribbon that always slips its hold. And Pippa swings on the wire fence at the far end of the meadow, even though her mam told her not to. She looks at the sky, marking the height of the sun and the direction of the wind. She’s singing to herself and you would not know she is worrying. She waits for the train.

    There’s a man on the train and it’s his job to stoke the boiler. He has a black handled shovel and his hands are black, too, and his trousers and his shirt. Even his face and the thin hair under his black cap. White only in his eyes and his teeth when he smiles, and he watches for Pippa swinging on the fence and he does not know what he would do if she was not there.

    His name is Billy or Bill, and he never forgets that she’ll be waiting. He does not know her name or the name of her mam, but they are always there. And, as the train slows to take the bend, Billy or Bill tosses a shovel of coal into the grass at the side of the track, and small gifts of candy wrapped in sooty cloth, and soap, once, wrapped in wax paper and smelling of lemons. And Pippa waves to him, her arm stretching towards the sky, and though his name is Billy or Bill, in her head she calls him her Da.

    And Pippa collects the coal in a tin bucket, and the candy and the soap, and she takes everything back to the shotgun house. Her mam smiles and fixes again the pink ribbon in the girl’s hair, and she says to her child that there was no need to her worrying.

    And Pippa checks under the hens for eggs and she worries that today there will be only three when yesterday there were four. And the traps set for jackrabbits she checks, too, and she is relieved when there are no rabbits caught and relieved just the same if there is something snared for the pot.

    And she frets over the stew when it’s bubbling in the pot and she watches so it won’t burn, stirring it when her mam is not looking. And when her mam coughs and holds her chest and her face looks pale and tired and strained, or when the dog doesn’t eat or the cow gives no milk or the wireless says rain or snow or hail, Pippa worries then, too. And Pippa is a great bag of worries and her mam says she should be a child more.

    And so, at the dark end of each day, her mam reads her stories before she slips into sleep. And the stories tell of giants with castles in the air and magic beans that grow impossible tall, or a boy called Ali who finds a magic lamp and he can have anything he asks for, and gold at the ends of rainbows and silver heavy in a pauper’s pockets. And when the story is told, Pippa asks her mam to leave the curtains open so she can see the stars from her bed. And her mam knows it is not the stars that Pippa is looking for. Pippa worries over the yellow sun that has left the sky, and Pippa wonders if tomorrow it will come up as it did today, and she is never sure that it will even when her mam says not to worry.

  2. Lindsay

    So so pleased that you like Pippa in a pink dress. It’s a fantastic picture, but it took your nudge towards ‘worry’ to spark the piece I wrote… so it is not really for you to thank me, but for me to thank you. Your words and the pictures you choose just awaken stories. Thanks Patty.

  3. Lindsay

    When I wake, and sleep still clings to me and lets me go only with reluctance, then I reach for my laptop and I start her up. The white of the screen makes me blink. I put a second pillow at my back and I sit up straight, as if I might be fully awake now. And I start my fingers dancing over the keys, picking out words and seeing where they take me – into sentences and paragraphs and pages. And a girl in a pink pinafore dress stands at the edge of the paddock. She has no name, at first; then she does and she’s called Pippa, and her mam is watching from the window of their shotgun house.

    I do not know what comes next. I never do. Writing is like reading, or dreaming, and I continue just to find out. And the words come a little easy, as though they are not my words, as though they are gifted to me from another place.

    I yawn and beyond the bedroom door I can hear the house waking and the cat making small thunder with her padding feet on the wooden floorboards. I turn back to Pippa and she swings now on the wire fence and she looks to her left, then up at the sky. She’s singing but that’s only to hide her worry. She waits for the train.

    I don’t know why she waits for the train. Maybe there’s a man up front and he works the engine and each day he drops a shovelful of coal by the side of the track and Pippa thinks the man is her Da even though he isn’t.

    I shift in the bed and I need the toilet but, like Coleridge with Kubla Khan, I know that to stop now will be to lose the silver thread, so I stay with Pippa. And she frets over the number of eggs underneath each hen or at what the weatherman says on the radio or for the stubborn cough in her Mam’s chest.

    I don’t know why Pippa worries so. I just know that she does. Worries over the ends of stories, and what is there in the dark when the light goes out, and whether or not the sun will come up on another day and everything be safe and familiar when it does. And though her Mam tells her not to worry, Pippa does.

    There! We have walked in a dream for a few steps. Maybe there is more in the dream and we can take what is written and make it into something greater; maybe the dream is enough and there’s a sufficient ache in the piece and some charm and something beautiful in the writing. And, of course, there’s Pippa and it’s like I am her missing Da and I want to put candy in with that dropped shovelful of coal and yellow soap that smells of lemons for her Mam. And I want the sun to come up the next morning and Pippa to have more than just this one day, and I know I will write of her again.

    That’s how it happens, and I never really understand. It’s like dreaming and words have taken me into another reality, a place I did not know before, and a part of me belongs there now.

  4. Lindsay

    Then a day that is different from all the rest. The sun comes up the same and so Pippa does not see the difference at first. And Mam is already about her business of cleaning and making and mending, and the smell of new bread hangs on the warm air, and the dog is getting under Mam’s feet. Pippa is spark awake and she sits at the table, and her feet don’t reach the floor so her legs swing free. Before her is one of the hen’s eggs in a wooden egg-cup with the top cut off and a slice of yesterday’s bread on the plate because Mam says bread straight from the oven is not good for her tummy.

    See, says her Mam, no need for worrying. Pippa nods, and she dips a spoon into the sunshine yellow of her soft egg, and it is the best part of all her days, the part when the worry leaves her for a moment, and the dog licks at her toes and it tickles. It is too early for the radio and with the sun breaking through the gloom it could be a day for finding magic beans or lamps that hold wishes or money in the pocket of her cotton dress.

    After breakfast, Pippa must do her chores. There are plates and knives and spoons to be washed, and the sheets need boiling today, but first she must fetch water from the pump-well. Outside, the birds know her and she drops broken bits of yesterday’s bread for them to eat, drops the bread thinking her Mam won’t see; and Pippa counts the birds, knows if ever there’s one missing. And she sees the tracks of jackrabbits in the dry dirt and she checks the vegetable garden, making sure the right number of cabbages are still there and the green-feather tops of carrots and the potatoes plants all standing in a row. A day like any other, at first.

    Later, the radio speaks through the steam and the warm sweet smell of carbolic, and it says the day will be hot and dry, and the wind small as the blown breath of horses that only walk. And it begins then: Pippa frets that it will be too dry. Can it ever be too dry, she ask her Mam. And she says maybe she should bring water to the vegetables and she must see that the hens have water, too, and what if one day the well was dry?

    And Pippa holds one end of the sheet from her bed, and her Mam holds the other, and Mam twists the cloth tight like she is arm-wrestling the farm laborers that help bring in the harvest at the end of summer, and the water cannot stay in the cloth so spills and runs into the dirt. And then they shake the creases from the sheet, Pippa’s sheet and then Mam’s; and that done Mam hang the sheets on the line to dry and they billow like clouds come down to earth and the drying won’t take long.

    Pippa in her pink flower-print cotton dress, and her barn boots still two sizes too big, back swinging on the wire fence at the edge of the meadow and she waits for the train. The air is so warm that the world seems all liquid, like Pippa is watching it through tears. And she looks up at the sky and she is singing then and waiting for the train.

    But today the train does not come and that’s the difference in the day, the difference that could not be seen at first.

  5. Lindsay

    I made a mistake there. I did not mean to say that the train did not come. I can think of no reason why it wouldn’t. Not on such a day. So let me alter what I said and let me say instead that the train did come, throwing smoke like churning clouds into the air and thunder rolling under its iron wheels, and Pippa breaks into a smile when she sees the train and in her head she hears her mam saying, ‘There now, no need to worry.’

    But as the train slows, and it nears the bend in the track, Pippa sees he is not there, the man who could be her da if he wanted to be. He is not there on the footplate of the engine, not dropping a shovelful of coal into the long grass at the side of the track, or candy wrapped in twisted paper, or lemon-scented soap for her mam. A different man it is who stands up front and he does not see Pippa swinging on the fence at the edge of the paddock, or if he does, he does not smile or wave or sound the whistle of the train.

    Pippa knows then. She knows that there is a reason for her worry. It is like she has been expecting this day. Like she knew it would come. She runs into the house and in breathless words she tries to tell her mam. The radio is on and the dog is suddenly excited and he leaps between the girl and her mam, and he is barking and thinking it is a game or something like a game.

    ‘Mam, he is not on the train today.’

    That’s what I meant to say before, not that the train did not come, but that the man did not come, for there can be a reason for the man not being on the train. But trains run to timetables and clocks and they never do stop and so I meant to say that the train came and the man did not.

    Pippa’s mam tries to comfort the girl, as she did when Pippa worried over the number of eggs under the hens, or when she fretted over what the weather would bring, or when she cried with fear that a jackrabbit might be caught in the trap. Her mam tries, but fails, for she too is worried now.

    ‘He needs us,’ says Pippa.

    Her mam nods and she pokes the fire till it is broken and she puts a wire guard in front of it so no orange spark can jump onto the floor. And she wraps some bread and some cheese in a cloth. And she fills a bottle with water and, using her teeth, she puts the cork in the neck. Then she fastens a bonnet over her hair and a rust-coloured woolen shawl across her shoulders. And she does the same with Pippa, only her shawl is pink, and they set out together with the dog running ahead of them, and they do not know where they are going, except that there’s the train track to take them back to where he must be.

    And in my head I try to see what awaits them. I try to see the man and what has befallen him, the man who is called Billy or Bill, and he could be Pippa’s da, and he drops coal in the long grass for Pippa to collect every day in her bucket, and candy sometimes, and soap for her mam. I do not know what has happened to him, but he lies in a bed in a room with no windows, and the air is thick and stale and smells of engine oil and duck grease and smoke, and his back is turned to the shut door and he worries over a girl whose name he doesn’t know and he worries that she won’t have coal for her fire today.

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