Friday, 26 April 2013

Linseed Oil

This is a short short story. I hope it is long enough to convey the intended meaning….

Often stories come to me from one phrase that I heard in a totally different context, and I make up a whole new scenario from. This one is a mixture of the real feeling I had of being first pregnant (mainly the nausea) back in the days on two incomes when we could afford new furniture, and the line ‘I guess we love one another’ from another couple of dear friends, whose fate was sealed together at something seemingly offhand and random. Happily, they are still together, unlike this fictional pair (there, now I’ve gone and told you the ending in case it was too subtle).
Linseed Oil
The wood was as dry and sallow as some of the books contained on its shelves. 
“About time someone did this,” he said, the words in themselves an accusation against her. “This ought to fix it. Been in the shed awhile. Should still be good though. Don’t think this stuff goes off.”
As soon as the lid was removed, the smell of the linseed oil permeated the room. Almost immediately she choked back a dry retch. It was as if her olfactory cells had the reaction imprinted upon them.
It threw her back 13 years, to that first dreaded excitement of knowing she contained a life within. The bookshelf had been new, the unmistakeable linseed smell wafted through the house. Each morning as she rose to get breakfast, the smell hit her first, followed by a wave of nausea. Then came the fear, which sat cold and hard, somewhere deep in her belly, near the soft, warm tissue that was to become another person.
She remembers telling him of her suspicions, almost as a weapon in a heated conversation about their unlikely future together. The arguments had been thick and fast, and now they mixed with words of blame and anger. Neither had planned on a baby, and indeed, each had been secretly planning a different future. A simple test result would decide their future. 
Although they both awaited it, the shrill, demanding telephone ring made them jump. He was the one who answered, nodded resolutely, and said ‘I see. Thank you,’ as he hung up the receiver.
“Well, I guess we love each other then.” was all he said.  
Almost without question, their lives had merged after that.
And now, two further lifetimes later, the stench of the linseed oil still made her physically ill.
“No. I was wrong. It goes off alright.” Too late, he resealed the lid. But the smell had already escaped and like an ethereal genie, could not be put back.
Their gaze held longer than was necessary.
“I’ll be off then,” he said lightly, and he firmly shut the door behind him, still carrying the jar of oil.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Confessions of a Coffee-holic

My name is Monique Reymer and I’ve been a coffee-holic for most of my adult life.”

There. Now it’s out in the open.

For those of you who know me, this will come as no surprise, merely a confirmation of what you already suspected.

I don’t know if there is a cure. I’m not sure I want one. My new-ish coffee machine and I have an on-going relationship of mutual affection (Okay, its mainly one-sided- I adore it, I’m not sure it realises I exist), and it has ‘bought’ me many a friend, who, in our café deficient rural area, happily come to imbibe at my place. I’m sure it’s just the coffee they’re after. I usually just have two – or 3 – coffees before midday, and no obvious serious side effects to date. I blame (or credit) my Dutch heritage. The Dutch always have a ‘second’ everything – a ‘second cup,’ a ‘second drink’ and they even have a ‘second Christmas Day’!
A warm up exercise in the online writing course I have been doing was to ‘eat a piece of food and use it as a starter to write about’. I had my steaming, freshly brewed cup of coffee on the desk beside me, so it felt appropriate to use that as my subject. I had fun writing this and even more fun reading it to my friends one morning (over coffee, of course).

This got me thinking seriously about 'spoken poetry' or 'poetry slams' as it is called in the business. If you have never had the joy of experiencing this, check out ‘Sarah Kay’ as a good example. Her ‘if I should have a daughter’ was on a TED talk which I luuurved. Sarah Kay, TED talk: 'If I should have a daughter'  or this one with Katie Makkai - Pretty  I always did like public speaking (weird, I know. Most people hate it. I am a ‘closet exhibitionist’- lol. ) So I may be working more seriously on Spoken Poetry in future – watch this space- but for now, have a coffee as you read:

You can spend three hours a day playing the piano, practising and practising until every last note is perfect, the rhythm and cadence faultless, the nuance and emotion effortless. And then you play the performance piece, and it is done. If you don’t keep up the practice, it won’t stay perfect. You are only ever as good as your last performance. It’s not like a painting you can put on the wall, and say ‘see, look how good I once was’, even if you never paint again.
 Coffee is not like that. Coffee is like the piano. It doesn’t matter how many you have, if today’s is better or worse than yesterday’s. All that matters is the coffee you have right now.
 It starts with the aroma, long before the first drop is drunk. Scent wafts in the air, luring the senses of even the non-believers who stick to their herbal teas, teasing the nostrils and seducing the saliva glands. Then there is the ritual of the making – the whirr and hum of the grinder, the hiss and splutter of the milk frother, the gurgle and chug of the coffee maker, combining to make a symphony of impending caffeine.
The product itself is a sight to make many a barista swell with a sense of proud satisfaction. Soft milky whiteness, with an artful scattering of cinnamon dust on the snowy surface, hides the true content of the black, inky bitterness lurking beneath. 
 The cup, too, an important part in the illusion- sturdy, but beautiful; graceful, but functional; bright, but practical. The mere movement of lifting it to one’s lips, the aroma coming at full force towards the unsuspecting nose, the flavour ready to attack the innocent taste buds, are worthy the drama of a full length feature film.
Then, finally; The Tasting.   The foaminess of the milk, the smoothness of the blend, the gentle bitterness soothed by the hint of cinnamon, swirl around the mouth in a dizzying combination, rendering the brain defenceless as it is at once both drugged by the headiness of the brew, and then shocked, as if struck by a lightning bolt in the mouth. Alert now, the body admits defeat, as it succumbs to the giddying effects of a brew well made, well presented, and well imbibed.
The concerto is complete.
The audience rise to a standing ovation.
Today’s coffee was good.




Monday, 8 April 2013

Alternative Realities

Seeing the newspaper report of the 2 Degrees CEO & his wife being hauled out of their crashed wreckage off the coast of Raglan (not far from here) is somewhat poignant for me, as my partner is also a private pilot, as is his father – it’s been in his blood ever since he was a lad. There are no guarantees for any of us - every time we jump in a car, we take a risk of not making our destination. Flying is no different- there some increased risks (especially with aerobatics like he does!), but there are less idiots up there in the sky. Pilots are by nature very cautious folk, but still, sometimes sh*t happens, as it must have for the Hertz couple.   Arohanui.

When I write, inevitably I draw on my own life experiences. It may be as simple as a line I overhear which sparks an idea, which leads to a story, or it may be an actual experience I have gone through. The tricky thing is to write about these incidents without indicting anyone – including myself! So of course I change characters/scenes/ plots/ outcomes from the original, but still some may recognize the original occurrence.  What you will never know is which bits are real and which bits I made up!


One day I am going to take these stories I made up from real-life jump-off points and publish them in a book called ‘Alternative realities: things that might have happened but didn’t”.

This story will definitely be in it:


I watch the clouds every day from my hilltop home, forming shapes and patterns over the landscape. As individual as personalities, no two clouds are ever the same. Some days they are painted streaks against the azure blue sky, wisps of vapour I can almost taste as a hint of lemon in an icy sorbet. Then there are days the balls of cotton fluff dance along the sky, animal shapes which contort and change as they race in the wind. Other days, they hang full and heavy, pregnant with rain, threatening, menacing.

 He should have known better than to take off that day.

 And the sunsets. Oh, the sunsets.  As the sun leans down in the western sky beyond the mountain, the last gorgeous golden rays radiated each day are taken by the clouds and enhanced. Silver linings shine out behind cumulus, fingers of light stretch through between cirrus, every slightest hint of colour is reflected and refracted to produce a rainbow of not just the usual orange and red and gold, but tangerine and cerise and mauve and peach, yes, peach - into the indigo evening sky. 

 ‘Take offs are optional, only landings are compulsory’, he often joked, not listening to his own advice.
Clouds. So innocuous. Almost nothing at all. Just vapour. Untouchable, unobtainable. You can walk right through them. So harmless, so innocent, so stunningly beautiful.
‘Metservice says it’s clearing,’ he justified to himself, as he packed his headset.

Swan feathers and tutus, light and airy in the blue sky, innocently hid the angry grey turbulence which brewed just beyond. As if a frustrated artist had wielded her paintbrush haphazardly, dabbing and streaking the sky with violence, the storm fermented far to the west, clandestinely challenging the blue sky.

‘It’s just a quick trip to the coast. I’ll be back by 5. Saves hours of driving.’ He kissed me goodbye, same as any morning.

 In winter, the clouds cannot hold themselves up and fall silently to the ground. Some days it is porridge thick; other days, so light that a halo of sun glows through, silhouetting the trees in a hazy shroud. People grumble, complaining about the fog, cursing the coveting blanket that surrounds us. But it is these mornings I choose to go out, walking amongst the mist along the country roads, claiming the fog as my own in the same way the Scottish claim the ‘mist in the Glen’. I embrace it, as it embraces me.

 He rang the airfield where he planned to land. ‘It’s clear. Just a little bit of drizzle,’ they said. His instincts should have told him to be wary. Drizzle does not fall out of blue sky.

 I am fascinated how I cannot see further than a hundred metres around myself, but as I draw closer to something, it gradually becomes visible until it is part of my landscape. Meanwhile, behind me, what I have passed by is enshrouded in mist. A metaphor for life - the future stands before us,  we know not what it holds until we get close enough to it, while behind us, our past is soon lost in the fading mists of memory.

 He had been flying for years. Flying was in his genes, in his blood.  He was a cautious man, a good pilot. Who knows what else was on his mind, that influenced his decision making that day? And what, now, did it matter, anyway?

 I loved the way the clouds could change my perspective of the mountain, daily. Once I took photos of it at the same time each day for a month. Some days the mountain lay long and languid as a sleeping goddess on the landscape, picture book fluffy clouds dotted around like in a child’s painting. Other days the mountain had completely disappeared, covered in cloud as if a blanket had been hung before it. If you did not know the area, you would never believe there was a whole mountain range just there, just beyond the green grass and kahikatea trees in the foreground. But my favourite scene was when the clouds would intersperse themselves between the peaks and valleys of the mountain, changing the two dimensional scene to a series of foothills and furrows, closer crags and more distant ridges. Suddenly the mountain range became visible in three indomitable dimensions, with the depth and perspective an artist would have appreciated.

 Who would choose the job of a weather forecaster? How can they ever know what might blow in from the coast, island country that we are. It changes so quickly. Most days it doesn’t matter at all, if you get caught in an unexpected shower or happen to wear a layer too many on a warmer than expected day. But some days, it can be life changing.

This day, the sun peeked through the uncertain clouds, some high, some low, some racing through the sky on a fervent wind, while above lurked the greyer, more solid clouds, in no hurry to go anywhere. Knees damp on the grass, my mind drifts with them as I dig, turn, work the soil, planting bulbs. There is something elemental about the smell of freshly turned earth. Perhaps it is our soul responding to the reminder that therein lies the origin of our body - dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

The small aircraft had set out below the bank of high cloud, flying uneventfully across the plains. Tufts of light fairy-cloud kept him company as he watched the road twist and turn below. There is such a feeling of freedom, defying gravity and several other laws of physics, soaring above the intricacies of the everyday, bringing all his senses alive.

The lifelessly dry, flaky-skinned bulbs are placed in the damp soil, hope buried for the spring, when the tulips and daffodils would fill the air with their carefree scent, at the end of what would be a bleak, lonely winter.

The flat land soon gave way to foothills, before he entered the valley with walls of green native bush on either side. Pockets of blue above the distant range hinted at promise and possibility. As he flew further into the valley, the land rose up to meet him from below and the hillsides grew closer. Gradually, the clouds drew in from above, the range ahead became grey. The small plane circled lower and lower, searching for a clear patch between the clouds.

The first rain fell fat and cold, not just droplets but spoonfuls of water, in riverlets down my neck, sending me inside. Dirt still clumped beneath my nails, I put the kettle on. Steam formed clouds of its own, trickling down the glass as it hit the inside of the window, matching those on the outside pane. Quietly, I sat drinking tea, reading the paper, having a perfectly pleasant morning, oblivious to what was just out of sight, just beyond the fog that was yet to clear.

There were no clear patches, anymore. White, fluffy vapour had crept in from all sides, called to the valley floor as the temperature had dropped. The plane circled frantically, like a fly in a trap. Up or down were the only choices.

The water that fell freely, innocently, outside, had sent me indoors to shelter. Yet once inside, I sought its sustenance. Water. One could float on it or drown in it. An element, both vital and lethal, changing form and potency at whim, it seemed.

'Down’ were trees, rocks, rivers. ‘Up’ were clouds, storm, rain, and eventually blue sky. While the earth may be overcast, always, above the cloud, was sunshine and infinite blue sky. It was the best of a bad choice.

I lit the fire. It was not particularly cold, but a fire helped dry out the air, clear the dampness that had surrounded the house as the clouds closed in. The wood was solid and fragrant, a hint of the pine tree it once was, still clinging to it. The match struck immediately. I watched the flames lick and flicker at the paper and tinder dry pinecones. Fire- beautiful, innocent, innocuous - when contained. Deadly, if let loose. Vital, yet lethal. I shut the door to the fire box firmly.

‘Up’ were also the valley walls. Trees, rocks, streams tumbling into cascading waterfalls to the valley floor far below.   Visual Flight Rulebook and all training cast aside, ‘up’ he went, the embracing, encompassing clouds forbidding him from seeing the future, until it was upon him. And in that instant, there was nothing he could do to change it.

Five o’clock came and went. ‘No news is good news,’ I told myself, trying not to watch the clock. And I would be proven right. There would be no news that was good news, that night.

There was no body to recover. The plane had burst into flames, a scorch mark on the hillside his epitaph.  He had always said he wanted to be cremated. His body turned to vapour, his DNA intermingling with the beautiful, turbulent clouds that blew from the west, bringing rain inland.

The young officer had clearly not had experience at this before. This was a small town, it didn’t happen very often. It was certainly the first time in his short career. I almost felt sorry for him, wanted to comfort him in his awkward task. I already knew, of course. There could be no other possibilities. I had sensed him in the rain clouds as I breathed in their density.

There would be just a small article in tomorrow’s paper. Two lines, under the headline ‘Light Plane Crash’.  His name, in black ink on white newsprint. 

People drew in, like clouds, around me, encircling me, enshrouding me, their sympathy a stifling blanket which threatened to suffocate me. The vaporous clouds had turned to liquid and I was drowning in a sea of grief, only some of it mine. Why do people bring food, food and more food, when sadness fills the stomach with its dull ache, allowing nothing else to enter?

I escape from the silent din made by these friendly strangers in my house and walk out, into the cool refreshing mist that the evening has brought. The worst of the storm has blown over, and the stars begin to dare show their faces and between the drifting clouds.

Light. If it were not for the darkness, we would never see the stars, even though they are always there. Deep within, I know this night will pass, the morning will shine again tomorrow. There will be clouds, there will be rain, there will be fire and water and light, but for now, I let the last of the storm clouds that took him wrap themselves around me, as his arms would have that night, and I sink into their embrace for one last time.