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> > > A selection of short stories by Lynne E Blackwood

11 June 2013

Biography

photo of writer Lynne Blackwood performing against a black background, her hand raised forward in front of a blue projection of photographs

Lynne E Blackwood reads at a live literature event from the Writing Our Legacy writing group at Nightingale Theatre, Brighton in January 2013. Photo (c) Bip Mistry Bipmistry.WordPress.com

Lynne Blackwood started writing in April 2012 after illness terminated her professional activity. She worked as a consultant on projects with schools, hospitals and refugee women in the Republic of Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union. After moving to the UK she worked as a community project development consultant, working with women asylum seekers and ethnic minorities.

Lynne’s writing is drawn from a long life rich in emotions and events, and also stories from the people she has been privileged to meet and listen to. She is of Anglo-Indian descent and her emotional heritage plays a strong part in her writing sensitivities, reflecting a mosaic of experiences and cultures.

Lynne is part of the Writing Our Legacy, Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) literary community group based in Brighton. She is currently writing short stories for an anthology around the loose theme of ‘women’ and two novels. ‘Catopsis’ is magical realism and set in Paris. ‘Rings of Chalk’ is a crime thriller set in the Republic of Georgia.

 

Life is inside a mechanical watch

My Father opened the back of his watch when I was about six or seven years old to show me how the mechanism worked. I remember staring in fascination at the tiny and larger cogs whizzing backwards and forwards, ticking through the multitude of seconds, notching up interminable minutes to compose the hours displayed on the watch face.

Maybe it was then that I realised just how time was composed and in my childish, but already analytical sponge-like mind, I felt that instant click of ultimate knowledge about who we were and what we were doing in this life. My family, the people I knew and my place in each hour, day, month and year all fell into place as a patterned kaleidoscope of endless possibilities and interactions.

I was too young to understand and seize the full implications of these cogs turning in a timed frenzy, let’s just say I FELT it inside of me, a deep rooted gut instinct that had no explanation but just WAS. That image stayed with me throughout childhood and a good part of my adult life as a partially unexplained certainty.

Our life is made of cycles. A minute cog wheel will wash the seconds away at frightening speed… sixty heartbeat seconds transformed into a minute. Another wheel turns more slowly, giving us a short time to reflect on the expired seconds, and then sixty minutes away and it’s already one hour later……and twenty-four hours later it’s a day that has gone by. Each day turns into a week, a month, a year and before we know it, time has flown away devoid of useful meaning. How many of us can say that each second holds a memory, an emotion or a thought? Very few, I imagine, including myself.

Our life is made of those one-hour, half-a-day watch and cog wheel cycles, repeated incessantly. Only the date changes, not the workings and tickings. We repeat everything in life, our mistakes, our emotions, our joys and events. It’s a never-ending cycle until we look closely at the mechanism of time and realise that the day’s date has changed.

We go from one cycle to another, one calendar date to another, further into the future of our lives where all is repeated in one way or another. The cycles just become more intense, clearer, stripped of the superfluous trappings that cloud our awareness. Mistakes to be repaired, emotions to be conquered shine like stars in a dark sky, calling us to observe closely, to reach for infinity, to move each cycle further into the universe that surrounds us.

(c) Lynne Blackwood 2012

Excerpt from a short story: The Lesson in Dhansak

Clip clap, splosh and flop as my 1950’s Clarks shoes hit the cobbled street trickling wet-grey with morning rain.  We walk all three.  I swing, attached like an appendage to my Father and Uncle, I am the flesh-link between older and younger brother.

Little brown monkey.  That’s what they call me at school when innocent cruelty burgeons in the playground.  But I don’t mind. I am rich with who I am and shine like gold with friendly smiles and playfulness.

“‘Water off a duck’s back.’ ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. These are your mantras,” my father says to me.

“Rudyard Kipling loved India. If you had been a boy, I would have called you Kim,” he continues.  So he calls me Lynne, after the Lady of the Lake because he loves the Arthurian Legends and because I was born in Wales. Then he reads Rudyard Kipling to me, tells stories of his childhood and youth, shows photos with crinkly edges of a black and white Blue Train steaming through the Nilgiri Hills and one of him standing in front of the Taj Mahal.  He looks young and eager, as if he has no sticks or stones…yet.

He says how my Grandmother loves us all, but doesn’t want to leave her tea plantation because she has adopted two orphans, brother and sister and must bring them up.  Another two and that makes ten; ten children.  A wondrously large number of brothers and sisters, all depicted in the black, white and greyness of colourless paper that arrives in folded blue aerogram envelopes.  Eagerly awaited fragile containers of news and anecdotes, they fall in gentle spirals like a shower of silver eucalyptus tree leaves over our family days.

My mind wanders into the mysterious labyrinths of a child’s thoughts and I hear the clip clap of cobbles talking to me from under my heels.  Father and Uncle hold tight onto my hands as we walk up the incline of this narrow Bristol street.  How old am I?   Seven or eight? I can’t remember.  Age is not important at this moment in my life.  I only think of my Uncle’s wedding in a few days’ time and I am excited at being a bridesmaid.   I’m proud of my new, white Clarks shoes and take care not to scuff them on the uneven cobbles.

We follow the immigrant families’ homes, up and along the row of shabby terraced houses.  Silence and subdued sadness pervade, each house displaying the same drabness, the same conformity of stacked red bricks.  Prison red, a reminder of those in the Home Country where rioters end in painful squalor.  Doors are closed against the damp, windows sparkle in a clean effort to maintain dignity in this not so foreign country.  An infinitesimally small number are draped in brightly coloured silks as a final, hopeless defiance of identity.  I am oblivious to this hidden pain of loss as I swing, little brown monkey.  We continue up the hill, towards Aunti-Ji’s shop where my Uncle will collect spices, sweet cakes, vegetables and provisions for the wedding meal.

Aunti-Ji is not really my Auntie, but my Uncle’s Aunt-by-future-marriage.  Complicated in my child’s brain but she is family, that much I know, part of that extended network of relations, so essential to Anglo-Indian life in 1950’s Britain. I was about to discover my cultural difference and the reason behind my school friends’ jibes and chants.

Father explains carefully about adding ‘Ji’ when addressing my elders, in sign of respect.  He says no shouting but a voice soft like the wet mists on the tea bushes.

“Your voice is a snake,” he explains, “she lies coiled under a tea bush and is quiet, or slips gently, rustling undergrowth as she makes her way through the eucalyptus forests. But,” his voice then becomes stern, “but, when the cobra rises to strike, her hiss and fangs will frighten and kill. The victim’s dying is painful, so remember the power of your voice when you talk to people,” he finishes.

I will be the rustling cobra at this Anglo-Indian wedding where I will meet, greet and be presented to many from the Home Country.  They are my family now, a large sprawling generation-filled mangrove tree, Indian roots spreading from their feet, crossing the oceans to where they had left and lost everything after Independence.  Generations’ memories locked in crinkly-edged paper that comes with blue aerogram envelopes tainted by ink-stained fingerprints. Precious word-blue jewels defiled by lack of care and respect.

(c) Lynne Blackwood 2013

Click on this link to see Lynne E Blackwood reading The Lesson in Dhansak at the Nightingale Theatre, Brighton, January 2013

Excerpt from a short story 'I am Niko'

Mariam was making little progress against the powerful blizzard that swung wild flurries of bitter snow around her slight body.  The long line of refugees twisted and turned through the deep drifts and up the steep mountain pass like a chain of dark ants, dancing a drunken waltz in time to each howl of the wind.

They had all fled together in the dead of night when Russian tanks had crashed into the villages, crushing wooden houses indiscriminately, shelling people, fields and dwellings.  The tanks had been closely followed by a cohort of mercenaries from Northern Caucasian states; not paid, but given the promise of bounty.  In other words, the licence to do whatever pleased them.  They had entered houses, killing savagely but with particular intent on slaying all the males; young or old, it didn’t matter.  They raped, pillaged, and then set fire to buildings and people in a frenzy of genocidal destruction.  A pack of mad wolves descended from the freezing Caucasus Mountains, they ripped and tore apart the fabric of ancient communities.

Mariam had seized their month-old child; her husband had thrown his long goat-fleece cape around her shoulders and thrust some bread and cheese from the kitchen table into her trembling hands.  Then he had pushed his unwilling wife out of the side door, thrusting a hunting knife into her already full arms.

“Go now,” Giorgi shouted.  “Don’t look back, just go and save yourselves.”

Those were his last words to her.  Mariam ran out of the house, barely hearing her husband’s screams above the crackling roar of gunfire, tanks and mortars as their home came under onslaught and her husband desperately attempted to delay the intruders for her to escape.

She continued running then turned back at the top of the snow-covered rolling fields.  Hidden amongst the hazelnut trees, she saw her husband fall under the blows and gunshots of a mercenary gang.  When they decapitated him, Mariam saw his head roll over and over again on the frozen ground, the blood pouring like crimson wine onto the snow.  She stifled a scream of horror as she watched and looked for the last time at his beloved face staring into the black sky, his features transfixed in an expression of painful surprise.

It was bitterly cold.  The goat’s fleece cape was hung with clumps of iced snow that weighed her exhausted body down.  Her hands were rigid and numb with holding the child constantly.  A frozen chill gripped her bare head where her hair was matted heavily with ice.  The extreme cold enclosed her skull in a painfully tight embrace that affected her vision.  She looked up with difficulty at the long, winding black snake of fleeing people and realised she had fallen even further down the line.  Five days now, and they still had to cross the three thousand meter mountain pass that rose before them.  A vanguard of strong men had escaped the slaughter in the valleys below and gone ahead to clear a path through the deep drifts and reach the villages on the other side to bring help.  Another group of the sturdy mountain men followed the refugees from behind, helping them from the snow where they fell continuously from exhaustion and cold.  Some kneeled, catatonic with grief and horror, unable to move or speak.  Other companions were barefoot or in night-clothes and slippers, their feet frostbitten and unresponsive.  Many had already fallen, and remained behind as dark patches on the icy whiteness, spread out along the narrow path as milestones of the fragility of life.

They reminded her of scarecrows in the fields at her farm.  Arms spread-eagled as if wanting to take off, up and over the pass to safety, but grounded in ice.

“They have flown elsewhere,” she thought, as she attempted to free one frozen hand, wishing to cross herself three times in respect for the dead.  Weakness overcame her and she realised through her exhausted haze that many more scarecrows were now lining the narrow gorge.  There were smaller ones, too.  A child lay beside its grandmother.  Both were icy pale, their cheeks once coloured now blending with white snow.

She began shuddering uncontrollably and pulled the fleece cape tightly around her and the child.  There had been nothing to eat for three days.  The lump of cheese was gone, the last sour crumbs mashed between her teeth and fed to the baby.  She had even tried to suck the brown paper that had once held it.  Her milk had dried up from the ordeal and the infant wailed weakly against her breast.  The last men were now behind her and although she cried inwardly, no tears flowed.

(c) Lynne Blackwood 2013

Comments

Nikki Copleston

/
12 June 2013

Good to see these powerful stories here, even if only as extracts.

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