The Book Store

  

Today I walked into one of the most beautiful book stores I have ever been in. 

Sometimes book stores just have this aura- this sense that the walls are lined with stories and not just printed pages. I wanted to thumb each spine and read every word. What really caught my eye were these reimagined covers of some old classics. They had gold edged pages and were intricately designed- you could tell someone had really put thought into how to capture the essence of the story and not just rebrand an old tale to sell again. 

It may have been the light pitter patter of rain outside in the dark, or the warm glow of fairy lights- I can be manipulated by atmosphere like any fool. But I think it was more the smell, of new books and the fresh leather goods they had for sale. I think it was the smile of the shop keeper, who left their store open for wanderers like myself. I think it was the sense that this store wasn’t just selling a product but something special, like each book was a present with a surprise inside. 

This is true- when I got in the car, virtually dragged away (by the words “I am parked illegally and will leave without you”), my mum said when I was little I had entered a writing competition in that very book store (and won). I have absolutely no recollection of this. But it is fact that, since I was young, I have loved to read and write. To tell my stories and to make people laugh with them. 

However, receiving stories is just as fun as creating them. Reading books has always been a way to expand my mind, take me places and remind me of a world that is not half bad. A world full of magic and justice and love- although rare in their purest forms, they exist. Good will triumph over evil, the girl will get the guy and the world will keep on spinning, a little better for its heroes. 

And to step inside a book store is to step into a world of possibilities. 

To step inside a good book store is like flying into that world.

Advertisements

I like to write poetry…

(This short story is based off a secret I was given in a class, and asked to turn into a narrative. The original secret was “I like to write poetry about everyday experiences”.)

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to write poetry. I don’t mean garbage like kids are forced to do for the HSC or like Shakespeare who everyone thinks is so great but is secretly just making clever “ya mum” jokes. I mean real poetry. 

I kept trying, even when it was really hard. I wanted to write from every day experiences, stuff that I knew well, but it’s hard to rhyme anything with dishwasher, or lunchbox, so for a long time I’ll admit I was stumped. I mean, George Papanakis could write stuff that would make you weep, or sit for hours pondering the meaning of life. He was the kid who sat next to me, and every time we’d have to hand something in for English, I swear, the teacher would beam as if they were getting handed a crisp hundred dollar note, not Georges homework. But whenever I sat down to write, whether it was about X-rays, My Xbox or my eczema, poetry did not seem my expertise. 

So one day, I decided to go to the professional. 

“George?” I asked, sitting next to him one recess. 

He grunted, not looking up from his book. I hadn’t thought he was busy and he was just sitting there, moving only to shove a bit of sandwich in his face or turn a page. Looking at the amount of lines of concentration on his face, I realised maybe I’d caught him at a bad time. 

“George I need some help.”

“No, Juliet Chen does not have a crush on you, she only pretended to win a bet.”

That stung a little, but I pursued my aim.

“No, George, it’s not about girls. It’s about poetry.”

George ripped off a bit of paper bag and bookmarked his page. “Poetry?”

“Yea George. You know, I know you’re good at it and I’ve always wanted to be able to write about stuff in a beautiful way, so I just thought you’d be able to give me some handy hints.”

George looked up at me, chewing slowly. After a bit, he patted the bit of bench beside him. “Take a seat, mate.”

I sat.

“Look mate, you’re not very good at writing stuff.”

“I know! That’s what I’d hoped you could help with!”

“You didn’t let me finish mate. If you’re not good at it now, and you haven’t been before… I don’t think you’ll ever be, mate.”

“What?” I couldn’t have heard him right.

“You just don’t have the gift, mate.” 

“The gift?”

“The gift, mate.”

” I see.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“No worries,” I said, hopping up lightly. “Thanks for your time, George.”

“Sure thing, mate.”

“And mate?” He called after me.

I turned around, tears threatening to cascade from my eyes.

“Yep?”

“I’m sure you’re good at other things.”

For the rest of the day I couldn’t concentrate. The gift? I absentmindedly doodled on the back of my workbook. 

I felt like I’d been slapped across the face 

After being told I didn’t have the gift.

The gift of writing, the gift to create,

And my whole world had taken a shift. 
All this time trying to do something great 

And writing line after line,

Could it be, possibly, inexplicably, 

I had been wasting my time?

All my passion, my love for words

The way they skip and interlace

A dream I had dreamed since just a boy 

Was gone without a trace.

Good at other things?

I didn’t actually want to be.

All I wanted was to write,

Good, great, poetry.

I put down my pen and tried to focus on what the teacher was saying. George was probably right- I couldn’t write poetry if I tried. 

The Old Woman and The Fool

There was once a king and queen that lived in an stately castle on the top of a hill. They were kind and fair rulers who were never seen without a smile on their faces and nobody knew that the secret to their tranquility was that each evening, after a long hard day of ruling, they’d sit down and be entertained by their Fool. He would dance about, crack [mostly clean] jokes and play out little scenes until they were laughing and relaxed. 

Many years passed, and the monarchs came to have a daughter, who then also spent her days being entertained by the Fool. He, not having any children of his own, always tried a little harder to make her laugh and loved her as his own. He spent the rest of his days watching her grow up into a beautiful young lady, who took after her parents in her wisdom, mercy and sense of justice. However, time wove its dreaded curse and the Fool grew old until one day he passed away. The royal family mourned their Fool for he had been not only hilarious but kind and loyal. Fearing they would never find a man like him again, they went about their business but the entire kingdom could feel something had changed and although the royals were still good at their duties, it seemed a sparkle was missing from their eyes. 

Years more passed, and the young princess continued to grow. Soon her parents handed responsibilities over to her, training her to be a good ruler. Soon afterwards, they passed away and the young princess was left to rule on her own. As her days grew longer and harder, her once brilliant smile was tarnished. Her shoulders grew strong but stiff. Her eyes were still beautiful, but seemed empty. Her verdicts were intelligent but her heart was cold. And, one day, she walked out into her garden to simply get away from it all. Sitting down on a hard concrete bench, surrounded by beauty she did not see, she began to cry and one of her elderly maids, hanging washing nearby, heard her weep. The pain in her tears resonated within the old washerwoman, who remembered the friendly and bright little girl she had once known and she resolved to do something to aid her mistress. 

So, with a small bundle of belongings [for she only had a modest amount to begin with], she set off to find the girl another Fool. She met many a man on her journey. Young and old, from impossibly handsome to grotesquely ugly, she laughed many times but turned each candidate away, for she knew that a Fool could not just be funny. No, he had to be something like that man from many years ago. He had to give the girl a joy that would last long after he’d left the room. The washer woman had known the palace’s previous Fool quite well and she knew what, therefore, made a good one. 

She continued to search and met hundreds upon hundreds of people who were eager to work in the palace but never found one she was completely satisfied with. They were all missing something, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Although they’d all been funny, there was something not quite right. Was it that their jokes were stiff and rehearsed? With some, it felt like they’d simply sewn together a patchwork of old stories. Was it that they did not understand how to artfully put together a story? Listening to some, she was near retching at the content of their material. No, she knew what she was looking for and she hadn’t found it. 

After searching until her feet were covered in blisters and her eyes were worn from looking, she decided to return to the palace empty handed. As disappointed as it made her, she was no longer a young woman and didn’t want to spend her last days so distant from home. Walking back to the castle, she decided to take a different road to the one she had come on and went through some farmers fields. As she passed through a pear orchard, the tinkling sound of laughter caught her ear. Intrigued, she hustled toward it and there saw, in a clearing, two little girls being entertained by who she assumed was their older brother. His emerald eyes twinkling and his chestnut curls bobbing, he told them story after story until they were rolling in the grass, begging him to let them pause for air. Fuelled by their happiness, he continued to make jokes and sing songs until he too collapsed on the grass, exhausted. The old woman came forward, out of the bushes she’d concealed herself in. There was something about him that she had been looking for. He was it. 

So, the boy traveled with her back to the castle and, after resting for a bit and eating aa lot, she presented him to the now queen of the land. Sitting regally on her throne, she looked down at him, her face stern and her lips straight. At first seemingly nervous, he began to speak and soon lost himself in his story, running around and acting out the parts, weaving marvellous imagery and interjecting with hilarious comments. Although she at first attempted to resist, the princess found herself getting more and more engrossed his tale, until at last she was smiling unabashedly. When he finished, she clapped and laughed, and the washerwoman smiled. She had been watching the entire time, eager to see her mistress’ reaction and when she had, she was satisfied. The girl was happy. 

The Queen asked what his name was and he obliged. She told him how pleased she had been by his performance and he grinned at her, thanking her for being such a lovely audience. She finally asked him for more about himself, and he told her what was most important to him- that he had two younger sisters waiting for him at home. The Queen’s smile immediately fell from her face. 
She thanked him for his service and entertainment, reached into a purse at her side and handed him a pure gold coin. His eyes widened, for he knew it would feed his family for months. As he reached to take it, however, he paused for he had just realised what it meant- the lady was dismissing him from service. The washerwoman too, felt her heart sink. What had stopped her lady from accepting the boy? 

The Queen offered no explanation, however, and so the boy, the washerwoman and the young Queen all went to bed that night with heavy hearts.

The next day, the washerwoman went to collect the washing she knew had been building up in her absence and found the Queen hanging it out herself, already washed and clean. The lady turned around at the old woman’s approach and smiled a little. She explained she’d heard the old woman had gone to find someone to make her smile, and wanted to repay the kindness. Perturbed, the old woman asked, before she could even think to stop herself, why then, had the Queen rejected the young man? He had clearly done a good job and was a good Fool. He could laugh as well as be laughed at, his story was well told and he was well spoken- he was quite handsome to boot. The Queen’s smiled dropped again and she turned again to face the washing. As she hid her face from the old woman, she explained she couldn’t bring herself to take him from his family. Her parens hadn’t done that to their Fool, and she couldn’t do it to another. The old woman gingerly approached the young girl and placed a hand gently on her shoulder. The girl turned to face her. The old woman explained that the Fool had indeed had a family- well, only a wife. And the king and queen, in order to keep their Fool, had built him and his wife a little cottage on their land so he wouldn’t have to travel to see the one he loved. The Queen’s heart was warmed at the kindness of her parents and she asked the washerwoman how she knew such a thing. The washerwoman smiled fondly and revealed that the Fool had indeed been her husband. And, she added, now that he was gone, the cottage was much too big and spacious for her. She was quite happy for the next Fool to take her place and she was quite sure he was worthy of it. The Queen laughed and embraced the old woman. 

After that, the old woman began to gently move her things out of the house as the new Fool and his family moved in. Each night, their belongings spread out a little more, but they did not disturb the old woman from her small bedroom. The boy took the place of the Fool and from that day, the Princess ended each day with a smile. The elderly woman, quite satisfied she had done her duty to take care of the royal family the way they had taken care of her and her husband, one night fell asleep in the bed she had once shared with the man she loved, but dear reader, this is not a sad ending. For, as the Princess was made to smile by her Fool, so then was the old woman made to smile by hers. 

Rest

“Hey”, she said, gently leaning on the railing. He looked up surprised. It was freezing cold and his hands were blue. “Hey,” he responded.

“How are you?” she asked, consciously looking out to sea instead of meeting his gaze.

“Oh, I’ve seen better days,” he responded with a smile, taking a step back so he could see her face more clearly.

She smiled. “Well, you see,” she said, looking down to examine the pattern on her gloves, “it’s my first time here in California.”

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow and a sly grin began to spread on his face. She watched his grip tighten and released a breath that had been stuck since she had initially noticed him.

“Yea,” she continued, reaching out to grab his shoulder “and not to kill your buzz,” her grip tightened, “but it would really ruin it for me if you jumped.”
No, I don’t really know how I came to be in San Francisco. I mean, like most people, I had a plan for the next couple of years- uni, settling down, beginning a career- but I guess a spanner got thrown in the works. I mean, when the person you were making those plans with drops out, it makes a lot of sense to pack your bags and fly to America. 

Before you ask, I don’t know what made me go to the bridge either. I had heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was so big that every time they finish painting it, they have to start again, and I couldn’t comprehend something of that size. A work of art constantly being attended to and never being finished. That night, I was just sitting in bed eating from the mini fridge in my room, and watching a movie. I paused it half way and left.

 
When I was eight, I told my English teacher what was happening at home. He looked at me, smiled and said I should be grateful because at least I’d be able to stick up for myself when I was older. After that, every time I’d walk into English, I would look up at my teacher and remember that there is no use telling anyone anything. I ended up failing English, funnily enough. 

When I was eleven, I got into my first fight. It wasn’t over much- an action figurine or a playing card or something, but a voice in my head said “I can win this one”. And I did. And when a cop came over and asked what was going on, I told him to walk away, and he did. And that was when I learned that the world was fair. If no one was going to look out for me, no one was going to look out for the kid in the alleyway who had something I wanted. If I wanted it, I had to take it. And so, fair was fair. 

When I was seventeen, my mom died. When we were sitting at her funeral, the priest started talking about how God offers rest, how he is just and merciful. Mom didn’t get rest through justice or mercy though- she didn’t deserve to die, and the man who did was living and breathing right next to me. I guess that’s why the idea of “God the Father” didn’t really appeal either. That priest was wrong. That God was wrong.

When I was twenty two, I met her.

 
When he climbed back over the fence, I didn’t know what to do. He had felt so far away until he was right in front of me, and I hugged him. Completely without thinking about it, I just grabbed him and hugged him- he was really here in front of me. I could feel him laughing and when I let go, he had this huge smile on his face. Something in me realised he probably hadn’t been hugged in a long time. After that, I invited him to dinner. I had some money on me, but hadn’t seen any of the city apart from the route to my hotel and the view outside my window, so I asked him where we should go and he just began to walk as if it were any ordinary day. 

As we walked, I asked him about himself and he answered each question concisely- accurate but short sentences, like he wasn’t used to talking about himself but he was glad to. Or maybe he just thought I deserved the answers. Perhaps he just didn’t care any more. I guess neither of us thought we would get this far. So we continued to walk until we reached a small and nearly empty Chinese take away with a few tables and chairs scattered inside. A small old lady was seated at a table, a cigarette in her mouth, peeling string beans. She glanced up when when we entered, tapped her ash into the bucket of scraps, and returned to her work. A young man materialised out of nowhere and handed us menus, pointing to a booth next to the window. I placed my coat on the back of a fraying vinyl chair and sat down, putting my gloves in the pockets. He pulled up his sleeves to reveal arms that were milky white with scars. He noticed me staring, but didn’t say anything and I quickly turned to my menu as I felt a blush creep up my neck. I took off my scarf. He called over the young man who had been waiting for us eagerly, and quickly rattled off his order, as if by heart. I stammered out a foreign sounding dish and hoped for the best. He gave the waiter his menu and turned to me. 

“So.”

 
When we sat down to dinner, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in a few days, like in preparation. I didn’t see the point of fuelling a vehicle that was going to the junk yard. I didn’t have my wallet on me, or anything, so I had no cash- I just sort of assumed she’d pay, and I hated myself for it. I don’t like accepting gifts, but I didn’t see a way out. She wanted a meal, and I needed one. So I took her to this crappy place on the outskirts of town- I’d been there a few times before to do pick ups and deliveries, and it was a real dump. Dan pretended not to know me when I walked in, which I was grateful for, but what was the point? He wasn’t surprised when I walked in, but I had figured for a long time that if I never walked in that door again, no one would notice. She ordered cows tongue but I’ve heard Australians eat funny things, so I didn’t question it. You know, it might not even have been her culture- it might just have been her. It took a while to climb over the ledge, and I was standing on the edge for a few minutes before she came along, looking down. No one stopped me or even honked from their car. Just like every other day, no one noticed. Except her. 

I wanted to get rid of Dan as quickly as possible so I ordered the first thing that came to mind and started to ask her about herself. I had already told her all the basics about me, but I wanted to know what had led her to be where she is. She sort of looked all embarrassed and awkward, like she didn’t know what to say. You’d think answering a question about yourself would be the easiest thing, but I reckon she was one of those people who like to listen more, and for that, I liked her.

 
I guess his transparency made it easier to talk to him. He’d been so open about his life- his mum dying when he was young, getting involved in gangs and drugs- everything that had led up to a point in his life when he felt worthless. I began to think that maybe a part of me identified. Sometimes, I think a part of everyone does. The sense that you’re not worth someone’s time, or energy, or love. The feeling that it might make things easier if you weren’t around. We all just live around the line of letting it overcome us. Today, he had crossed that line. So I told him about the past few months. Falling in love with the man of my dreams, and making plans about forever. The moment when it all fell apart and he left to live a different life. A better one, without me. And he listened. Even when my voice broke and my eyes watered and I struggled to explain how it feels to wake up on a Saturday morning and realise you have nothing planned, or how it feels to talk to everyone you were so excited to tell. He didn’t move except to pass me a napkin. Once I was done, he asked, so quietly that I barely caught it, “so why are you still here?” 

 
My earliest memory is of my mom holding me and telling me it was going to be alright. We were on the floor, and she was cradling me and rocking back and forth, and I had no idea what, exactly, was going to be alright. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t. 

When Dad came home drunk that night, and was ranting about the football scores, I didn’t even look up from my phone. I keep thinking that I should have. Mom was already busy preparing dinner, and scrambling to get him a beer while I was blindly scrolling through images, purposely not facing him. What a disgrace he was, how ashamed I was, he couldn’t even stand up straight. Recently, though, I’d been coming home more and more often exactly the same way. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He told me, plenty of times, to look at him and greet him like a good son, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I didn’t care. The stupid thing was, I didn’t believe him. 

My dad beat me for the first time when I was seven. Up until then, it was mom, but that night, I got in the way, and he realised it wasn’t any different, so he kept doing it. By the time I was seventeen, I figured I could take it. I’d learned to take it. He beat me, I beat others. Fairness. But that night, he didn’t beat me, he pulled out a gun. And I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to face him. Mom saw it. He gave me a last chance, and I ignored him, and she was next to me and then- 

And then she wasn’t. 

That night I lost the one person in this world who cared. The one person who kept telling me I was worth something, and the one person I believed. And it was my fault. And I went through four years of convincing myself it was okay, that I could keep living with a hole in my heart that I could cram full of things to keep me from remembering I was garbage. 

 
I couldn’t stop talking. After months of not telling anyone where I was going or why, I couldn’t stop telling him what had happened to me. But when he asked why I was still around, I stopped. I think everyone feels, deep down, that they are worthless at some point. But there also sometimes comes a point when we realise we are not. 

When I was twelve, I was invited to a camp, and I’d never gone to one before outside of school. It was very different. The food was better, the people were nicer, and I had the most fun I’d ever had in my life in that one week. I struggled to figure out what was different about this than other camps or hang outs. On the last day, a man got up and told me what exactly was different- these people knew what they were worth. They were worth loving, they were worth protecting, and they were worth dying for, and someone had done exactly that. A perfect man had died for the wrongs of imperfect people, and there was hope. Because even in a world that likes to tell us we are worthless, there is a voice above the rest screaming we are worth sacrificing everything for. And that’s someone worth listening to.

As I told him, I watched his eyes light up. His shoulders straightened, and his goofy smile faded to something much more beautiful. As I told him about Jesus, I said that I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to be worth dying for. 

“I can,” he said.

 
My dad still lives in the house I grew up in. Many times, I’ve thought about going to that house and burning it to the ground. When I think of all he did to me, and what he did to mom, I sometimes think to myself he is not worth the ground he walks on. But the biggest fear for me growing up was that I was becoming him, and in that, I was also becoming worthless. Why should he love me when I was a reflection of him and he hated himself? But, as much as I’d done wrong, she told me about someone who didn’t care. As worthless as I felt, here was someone who, like my mom, had stood in the way of death for me and given me a second chance. A love to fill the hole is what I had needed. And as I sat there and listened, I slowly felt what I had resisted for so long- I felt rest. 

The Starfish Story

Too many people have never heard the starfish story, so here it is. 

‘A boy walks along a beach after a storm, and littered along the beach are hundreds of starfish, washed up. He knows they will die out of water, so he starts picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. A man walks along and asks him why he’s bothering. He says “you can’t save all of them, how do you think you’re making a difference?” the boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the ocean. “Made a difference to that one,” he says.’

For everyone who is a vegetarian and not a vegan, everyone who has dropped small change into a charity jar, everyone going on short term mission instead of dedicating their lives, remember- it made a difference to that one.

The Mild Insomniac

A story I promised a girl a long time ago.

 

“You know, staring at a screen for too long will stop you going to sleep,” Mum said.

I laughed and rolled my eyes.

We both knew that wouldn’t make a difference.

 

Slowly, one by one, the lights went out throughout the house and I lay on my bed and scrolled. Sleep had enveloped my family and carefully tiptoed around me on its way out of the house. Gee. Thanks.

I listened to the gentle ebb and flow of Mum’s breathing slip around the cacophony of Dad’s snoring as I gently pulled on my old, worn black boots. I pulled on a hoody that had once been claimed as Dad’s and stepped outside.

 

The wind greeted me with glee, running through my hair and down my spine. It was a little colder than I had thought it would be. The stars twinkled up above, dancing and waving at me, snug in their blanket of sky. I blew a lone curl out of my eye and shoved my hands deeper in my pockets. Nothing moved- everything was asleep. Only the stars were ready to greet me, the moon smiling down surrounded by her children. I sat on a bench outside my house.

I wasn’t lonely. The wind whispered to me and leaves chattered back, disturbed from their slumber by the pesky breeze pushing and shoving them from their beds. I smiled- so I wasn’t the only one who never seemed to be able to lay in bed. Whenever I tried to close my eyes and rest, the day would play through my head like a movie and, like a director intent on nailing every detail, I couldn’t rest until every thought had been thunk. Songs would play like a band, ideas would creep around my mind like ivy, and little worries would dance around like jumping jacks, my eyelids no heavier than they had been at midday. My muscles twinged with regret every morning, my mind running on the fumes of an empty tank, and yet, sleep eluded me. And so, here I was. On a bench, outside my house, in the cold.

Very cold.

I thought of the Spanish magazines I had left on my bed.

I thought of my friends all safe and sound asleep in their beds.

I thought of beds in general.

 

When I was awoken by the birds and the sun, my nose was frozen.

Part 2: Pirates and Penance

“I’ve never had a woman aboard before,”he said, walking around the cabin and absentmindedly playing with whatever he came across. “Indeed, from memory, I was specifically warned against it. However, you have apparently been doing a good job patching up my crew, and so the plan of leaving you next time we reach port was discarded. Also, Scrubs would have slit my throat as I slept. So, you stay. Agreed?” He looked to her.

Dove nodded.

“Swell, swell.” He resumed fiddling with the many objects the room was filled with. There were candles that barely lit a room full of beautiful and rare objects. Dove herself was struggling to concentrate as he continued to talk. 

“So you’re one of my crew now. Well. The rules are that you can take whatever you please- funnily enough, people tend to steal less when they know they can have what they want. Besides, we’re pirates, so we get into our fair share of trouble for taking what isn’t ours. But here, aboard my ship, we share. You’re allowed in here too-” he gestured about him- “and there’s a lock on the door, although I’d personally prefer not to be locked out myself.” They both smiled and Dove nodded her acceptance of the conditions. 

“Sorry it took me so long to invite you down. I suppose I just wasn’t sure what I’d do when you actually came. That’s really all I wanted to say though, so you are free to go.” 

Dove nodded and turned to leave. She, as happened many times each day, had something to say but not the words to say it. She quickly turned around and kissed him on the cheek. He put a hand to touch where her lips had met his skin, surprised. 

“You’re welcome.” They smiled again. She left.
Dove soon became a normal part of the crew. Scrubs had warned of the consequences of anyone who dared advance on her without her consent, and the men were quite certain he could deliver, despite his shuffled hobble around the ship. There then came the day when Dove experienced what the pirates spent every day waiting for. The cry came- a passing ship. All of a sudden the lazy scene sprang to life, every man scuttling to perform his role. Masks were donned and Dove shepherded downstairs, to wait for the men to return. They were ready. She was content to leave them to it. Blake emerged, brandishing his pistol and cutlass, and led them by swinging over to the other ship. All the could be heard from below was the cry of “take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives!” And with that, a peace overcame the girl and she sat on her bed to anticipate the amount of injuries that would be sustained. 
It was much sooner than she expected, however, when she heard the clump of boots on the wooden stairs. She stood to greet the man coming down below, but took a step back when she realised she did not recognise him. Her back hit the wall and he smiled at her, but not the friendly smile of her Captain. He was well dressed, and clean, but his smile made her feel as if he were covered in slime. Before she had fully comprehended his intentions, he lunged for her and pulled her to the ground. She hit wildly at him, and he pinned her arms above her with one hand. 

“It’s always better when they fight,” he growled into her ear, his breath hot and wet. 

She writhed and struggled, but he was too strong and she tried to conjure a scream but her lips, dry and disobedient, refused to obey her. As she resigned to what was about to happen, the mans head jerked back. He yelped like a puppy as he was held up by his hair. The captain looked down at him with disgust and pulled him up the stairs, not meeting Doves eye. 
He threw him onto the deck as the men swung back to their own ship. 

“I caught this man below with Dove.” There was an uproar. Dove emerged from the depths of the ship. The men held up their weapons, some bloodied already. 

“He was going to defile our Dove.” The men shouted louder, stamping and clanging their swords. 

“What do we do to men who want to hurt our Dove?” The captain shouted to his men, as he pulled out his pistol. The men went silent. Scrubs stepped forwards. 

“Take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives.”

The other men repeated after him, and the captain looked around at them, his eyes settling on Dove. She averted her eyes to the floor and shuffled her feet.

“What do we do, Dove?” He asked, his voice now little more than a whisper. 

She looked to Scrubs. “Do not take their lives,” he translated her thoughts for everyone to hear. The Captain faced the man, lying on the ground. 

“Today, you know forgiveness. We’ll drop you at the next port.” And he turned to go to his cabin. The man stood and deftly lunged at the captain. 

“I’ll take no pirates mercy!” He cried as his blade glinted in the sun. Seamlessly, Blake turned around and shot him between the eyes, then continued down below to his cabin. Nobody moved for a few minutes, before everyone wordlessly returned to their duties. Two men picked up the body and threw it overboard as Dove stood, her feet cemented to the deck and a tear hanging from her eyelashes. 

As time continued, there were more sieges. No one spoke about Doves first siege- indeed, the Captain did not talk to Dove anymore at all, and she made a habit of avoiding him if she could. The men moved like clockwork most days, with the Captain emerging only to lead the men when needed. Pirates cannot only take, however, they must have contact with land at some point, so there was a point where they came to land. Blake came out to dictate when the men had to come back and what their duties were, the men greedy to find women and drink for a night. The Captain too, disappeared off into the dusk, while Dove decided to stay back with Scrubs. They talked as the elderly pirate told her his story, and how he came to be aboard the ship. She curled up next to him as he rested an arm around her shoulders and got lost in reminiscence. Soon, they were both asleep. 
Dove awoke to quiet groans that were slightly different from the gentle creaks of the boat. Careful not to disturb Scrubs as he snored, she went to the top deck and there found the Captain, a large gash bleeding into his shirt. He was trying to hold himself together, but was as pale as a ghost. She quickly gathered some bandages and salt water and began attending to his wound. He tried to stay quiet as she worked, but when she touched his skin with a swab of alcohol, he gasped and grabbed her shoulder. She took his hand and held it, looking deep into his eyes, waiting for his grip to relax slightly. Placing his hand back on her shoulder, he chuckled with a wince. “You should have seen the other guy.” She smiled and he smiled in return. She worked as quickly as she could, wrapping him up tightly and carefully, then attempting to help him back to his cabin. He walked stiffly, but deftly and as she lay him gently on the bed, he grabbed her hand and pulled her to sit on the bed beside her. She obliged and he held her hand in his. 

“I’m sorry for what I did, Dove,” he whispered eventually. She shook her head gently and put her hand over theirs. He smiled sadly. “I didn’t want that for you. I thought I could protect you, but I thought I only had to worry about my own men. How could I be so wrong?” He looked at her and cupped her chin with his other hand. “I’m sorry, Dove”, his voice barely audible. She breathed in, trying to predict his next move. He looked away, and she breathed out. He kissed her. Her eyes flew open in surprise. 
She relaxed. They closed. She leaned in. He kissed her deeper. 

Part 1- The Scallywag Legacy

On the seven seas, you may have heard there often travel pirates. Rouges and rebels who jump aboard passing ships and take what they please. Well, it just so happened that, during the time we will look at, there was a group of pirates called the Scallywag Legacy. Led by the dreaded Captain Quentin Blake, they were, truth be told, one of the greatest band of misfits to travel those seas for they were renowned for a distinct quality. Their creed, echoed across both land and sea, was “take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives!” With this cry they would leap aboard passing cargo ships, wielding weapons but only to keep everyone in line. 
Well, it just so happened that one day a terrible storm blew them off course and they found themselves bumping against a desert island, the only inhabitant of which, it was clear to see, was a beautiful young lady. The men, starved of beauty for many days, happily welcomed her aboard. Grubby, and in a torn dress, as well as sharply noticing the looks she was receiving from the men (they were honourable pirates, but she was a beautiful lady), an old pirate by the name of Scrubs took pity on her and decided she was to be his charge. He took her to the belly of the ship to find her some fitting clothes and as he searched through trunks upon trunks of gold and booty, he found a skirt and small cloth shirt. Attempting to make conversation with her, he looked up to see her quivering and looking at the floor- it was clear she could not, or would not, reply, and the old man once more took pity upon her. “You’ll be right, little dove,” he remarked, grasping her hand. “Aye, Dove suits thee quite well indeed. May I call ye that, dear?” The girl looked up at him and her face suddenly broke into a beautiful smile. The old man smiled back with the teeth he had remaining and left her to get changed.
Slowly, Dove wiped the muck that had built up over the years from her skin, using a cloth dipped in some warm water. She uncovered every scar and combed every tangle from her hair. Slipping into the skirt, she smoothed her hair to ensure it covered her neck and pulled the sleeves down to make sure they covered her arms. 
When she walked up onto the top deck, every man stopped what he was doing and Scrubs beamed. He introduced her and she smiled modestly and nodded, happy at her new name. The captain, however, did not emerge from the depths of his cabin, even who approached by Scrubs at the prospect of having a woman on board. He was given only the instruction to find out what she was good at and make sure she did it.

As time continued, it became increasingly clear what Dove was not good at.

She could not cook, having survived on raw roots and fish on the island.

She was too weak to scrub the decks and hadn’t gotten good enough sea legs to climb the riggings.

She had tried to sew the men’s shirts and only succeeded in tearing larger holes.

However, the men were quite happy just to have her sit by them as they worked, encouraging them with their smile and keeping them company as they talked and she listened. 

Still, the captain remained unseen. 
However, one day, at the end of a very long day, Dove retreated to the little space which the men had converted into a small room for her. Sitting on her bed was Scrubs, his wooden leg beside him. As he unwound bandages from his stump, a putrid smell filled the air and, without a sound, Dove rushed away. Figuring he’d scared away, Scrubs thought no more of it until she returned with a dish of salt water with some spices mixed in. Scrubs moaned as she gently began to wipe his leg and the pain disappeared. It was clear what Dove could be to them- a nurse. Yet, as a line grew outside her door, the men suddenly ailed with every ache and pain they could find, the Captain remained unseen. 
And so the arrangement with Dove continued for a few days. Indeed, it was quite a few days before she finally got what she had been waiting for. The captain called her to his cabin. 
The girl was nervous, for she had never seen this man and he had never seen her, yet it was by his grace that she was on the ship she had just begun to consider home. As she gently knocked on the door, a garbled response came from inside, and she entered. He swung around on his chair to face her, and they smiled at each other. Quentin Blake was young, with a clean shaven face unlike most of his crew, and eyes as blue as the sea he said upon. His smile was kind and his hands rough but soft. He took her hand and kissed it gently. “Well, Dove, welcome aboard.”

Alexanders Painting

Alexander was tired.His back ached, his legs were sore and the string from which his broad brimmed hat hung around his neck felt like a noose. Much like a business man at the end of a very long day, he loosened the button that pressed into his throat- however it was only eleven thirty. He slumped on a hard bench and dropped his back pack beside him- it too rolled to its side, exhausted. In particular, his feet were sore, as his mother had bought him shoes just a little too big, convinced he would grow into them soon enough. Of course, the very first day he was to wear them there was an excursion to the local art gallery.
To his right, Alex could see the rest of his class hanging onto every word the tour guide muttered. Despite a bow tie and clear interest in his subject matter, the man was utterly dreary, droning on in a monotone dispersed with the occasional stutter. Glancing over at his teacher, Alex thought she might be on her phone. Probably taking avid notes. 

He sighed and rested against the hard wooden back. Surely they wouldn’t be here much longer… The thought then occurred to the boy that he should probably look as if he were doing something. After all, he was sitting close enough to the group as not to raise suspicion that he wasn’t paying attention, but far away enough for most to be oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t. And yet, if she were to look up… He quickly looked around for something to be interested by, and, indeed, right in front of him was a curtain. Velvet, it looked, with a sweet little golden rope hanging just to the right, ready for someone- anyone, really- to yank. The boys fingers twitched, his eyes glistened. Surely no one would notice? 

Slowly he got up, slipping off his hat and leaving it on the chair. Then, with the reflexes and energy only a six year old possess, he slinked across the hall and slipped behind the curtain. He could barely contain his glee as he peeked through it and checked he had gone undetected. The boy suppressed a giggle and spun on his heel to see what had been behind such a pretentious curtain. His jaw dropped in awe.

In front of Alex stood a tall, life sized portrait of a man in a field of flowers. There were little stage lights positioned towards the thing so each detail was highlighted, and, at first, the child could not concentrate as what was in front of him hit him like a train.

First came the colours. Lavenders the colour of violet, violet the colour of ultramarine! Grass, somehow seamlessly shaded from left to right went from the brilliance of emerald to the tired lime of century old terraces, the sky, Alex could see, was flecked with yellows and blues, the sun exuding tints from the first breath of a newly burst daffodil to the darkest burnt umber. As he focused, he looked at the man- the depth of his rich coat, the brass buckles on his shoes, the rosy swell beneath his cheeks. Alexander felt that if he just reached out to touch him, the skin would be warm, and he could feel the blood pulsing beneath it. Of course, the boy didn’t know what to call these colours, but he would one day and when they writhed in his most vivid dreams, he would call out to them by name. 

Then came the detail. The softness of some petals, the roughened bark on the trees, the glint in the eye of the subject proudly beaming down at the child as he was admired. Alexander beamed back. He felt as though he wanted to shake this mans hand- indeed, although he was ashamed to admit it to himself, he felt as though, if he could just run his fingers over the knobbled gucco acrylic, the man would nod his consent and Alexander could jump in and join him. He looked down at his dreary uniform and imagined what he would look like up there. His chest swelled with joy as his eyes flickered over every inch of the canvas again and again, hungrily devouring every morsel. He would leave no corner unravished. 

However, there came the inevitable moment where there was nothing else to look at. He squeezed his eyes shut and peeked through his lids- no, surely there was more! He was so unsatisfied! He glanced at the plaque sitting beside the canvas, outraged that he could not read it. He wanted more of the painting, but if only to know the name of the one who had created it. There was only one solution, as heart rendering as it was. He tore himself away from the portrait, silently promising the man he would return. The man simply smiled as Alexander dashed back through the curtain. He grabbed his backpack and flung his hat on his head, catching it on his ears in his hurry. He grasped each strap, energy pulsing through him, his eyes darting around for anyone who could read the plaque and give him a name- oh but a name! 

“Alexander?”

His blood pulsed through his ears, and he almost didn’t hear it.

“Alexander.”

It was repeated, this time not a question but a command. The boy turned to see his teacher and the class staring at him. 

“It’s time for lunch, sweetie.”

His shoulders sagged. His arms dropped to their sides, the backpack hitting his spine, devastated at the adventure it had been denied. His hat slid off his head and his eyes fell to the floor. He sighed. 

As they trudged out of the gallery, he glanced over his shoulder at the purple velvet curtain and the man in the portrait continued to beam, but maybe just a little less. The bottom of Alex’s shoes whacked against his soles. 

————————

He hit the nail one more time, and gently pressed a thumb down upon it, testing its weight. It resiliently refused to budge and he gave it a thankful smile. Today was the day. 

He practically tripped over himself in his excitement to get to it, but contained himself just enough to handle it with as much care as he had his children, and their children. It shunned it’s bubble wrap as a butterfly does a chrysalis and he looked at it as he had fifty years ago. Gently, he lay it in its frame, and placed it upon the nail newly embedded in the wall, just to hold this, just to display this. His eyes shone with tears as he looked the man in the eye again and they smiled at each other. As Alexander took a step back to admire the painting- now his painting- he laughed as he hadn’t in years. 

The Pit

A story by myself. 

There was once a girl who sat in a forest. She awoke one day to find that she had papers in front of her and to her sides and in them she began to drown. As she sank into the undergrowth, she looked up to see that looking down at her from above were four faces.

One was the face of love. He was smiling and his hand was towards her, but in it he held an arrow. She looked into his eyes as he smiled encouragingly, but he didn’t look strong enough to pull her up. The second was the face of a teacher. It was hard and bent and crooked and although it held its hand towards her, it held a pen. She screamed at the man with the pen- he had created the forest, and this was all his fault. She did not want his hand, or his pen, or his forest. Then there was the face of a man, but he wore a hood and when she looked into the deep darkness under his hood, she felt fear. He held a hand out to her, but in it was a knife. She shivered and turned to face the last man. He was shrouded in light, and he held a hand out to her which was empty, but every time she tried to grab it, her hand slipped. She wanted to grab his hand the most, but it was as if it were coated in oil, and she could not get a grip.

 So the girl sank deeper and deeper into the paper forest, until she could barely see the sun. She began to cry, hopeless. The hands followed her down into the pit.

She looked to the man with the light, and tried once more to grab his hand, refusing to turn around and face the man with the knife, although his pull was much stronger than the others. To grab his hand, she would have to get around his knife, and she knew she would get hurt. He was not an option. Not again.

And so she continued to drown until the last paper covered the hole and she could no longer see the faces of the men, but just their hands. She could barely reach any of them. Desperate, she cried out and grabbed the pen. She tried to write her way out of the pit. She made a little dent in the walls, but trying to keep afloat had left her exhausted and it didn’t do much. She grabbed the man with the light, and pulled as tight as she could. Instead of pulling her up, he came down into the pit with her and smiled. He encouraged her. She could do this. 

And so, from the bottom of the pit, the girl looked up at the two hands. An arrow and a knife. Tired, she wiped away her tears and fell asleep in the bottom of the deep, dark pit, leaning against the shoulder of the man of light. 
She awoke to what she thought was sunlight through her eyelids, but when she looked up, the top was still covered, and the two hands were still reaching towards her. She looked at the man of light and had to look away, for he was too bright. He began to warm up the place more and more, and, afraid, she reached out for the arrow, but, as she had thought, the boy let go of the arrow and it cut her leaving a deep wound. The man of light looked to her and smiled. “Oh ye of little faith.” 

And with that, the forest caught on fire. Everything around her caught alight, and began to burn until, in minutes, there was nothing but ashes. The man with the knife looked at them, and lunged at the man of light. Before he could reach them,mass the girl went to shield herself with her arm, he too caught fire and disappeared into smoke. The boy stood alone, bewildered, and the girl handed him his arrow. The man grabbed her hand and cupped it in his. When he let go, there was an old wound instead of the bleeding scar. He went and sat on the ground nearby. The boy looked to her. 

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You never do,” she replied. 

And he kissed her on the cheek and left. She went to join the man of light and he encompassed her in an embrace.