Principle of Moments by Barry McCann

At first she was mist in the glass. A shadowy haze seemingly over my shoulder as I looked into the shaving mirror, and stubbornly refusing to be wiped away. Then it would fade of its own accord, only to come back another time.

One morning it came into fuller clarity, like the picture of an old television retuned. Features of vapour formed a face, semi transparent in itself until textures of skin and eyes filled its contours. And she looked over my shoulder into the mirror, looking at me.

Of course my first reflex was to turn around, only to find no one there. And no reflection in the large wall mirror to the side, except for mine. When I glanced back to the shaving glass, it too was empty of her.

If this had been a single instance, I would have put it down to some trick of the light or hallucination. But the regularity of appearances suggested the mirror was reflecting more than the eye could normally see.

Despite seeing her only in sporadic flashes, the woman’s features imprinted in detail on my mind. That chestnut hair, those drawn cheekbones and narrow lips. And the eyes pleading with intense gaze. Even within glass, they momentarily connected with mine like opposite sides of a kaleidoscope.

So each time my eyes clenched shut because she cannot exist, not in my world. The prospect of an afterlife had always scared me more than death itself, so I deny it. And also her.

I had lived in the flat just a couple of weeks, an Edwardian build converted into flats. The landlord is as old fashioned as his property, preferring to collect his rent every Friday, cash or cheque.

‘Did any past tenants report seeing a woman in here at all?’ I asked him direct one particular visit.

‘Woman? What do you mean?’ It sounded more of an evasion than a question.

‘Just asking. Keep thinking I’m seeing someone, though in small flashes.’

‘Not on drugs, are you?’

‘No, course not. Could be trick of the light I suppose, especially as I’ve only seen her in the bathroom mirror.’

‘Ah, there you go. No window in that bathroom, couldn’t install one with the layout of the place. And those low energy bulbs take a while to fully illuminate, cause odd reflections in the glass.’

‘Yes, you’re probably right.’ I was prepared to concede, even if he did not sound so convinced by his own explanation.’

That very evening I had taken a shower when it happened. Despite the extractor being on, the room was like a steam bath when I switched the tap off and stepped out. Rubbing myself dry as the air cleared, I was then taken aback by the sight on the wall mirror.

My name is Move. That is how they address me.

The words manifested on the steamed glass, seemingly drawn by finger. I read through them several times, wondering how the hell they got there. They could have written there at any time since I last used the shower, as with invisible ink they would only be revealed once the surface was steamed up. But there was only me in the flat. And no one but the landlord had access. Surely it could not be him. Why would he?

Wiping the message away with my hand, my second instinct was to ignore it. But then I turned to the shaving mirror and one more word.

Bedroom. 

As part of the bedroom furniture is a dressing table with triple mirror, I immediately guessed. Squaring up to the first mirror, I exhaled all my breath on the glass. Within the ghostly looking orb left on the glass was the letter I.

Fetching the kettle, I filled and plugged it into the socket by my bed. Once boiling, I lifted it up to the mirror and layered it with vapour. The words gradually came into view.

When I was another name, the house was mine.

My heart began to beat faster. If this was someone’s idea of a joke, it was a particular insidious one. Nevertheless, I marched back into the bathroom and refilled the kettle. Once boiled again, it was the turn of the middle mirror.

But you are welcome.

She still thinks this place is hers? So that was the scenario but to what purpose. And who was doing this?

Then I checked the third mirror and, sure enough, a final message awaited.

Why won’t you be friends?

That was the one which disturbed me most.

I slept unsteadily that night. Despite wiping the messages away with self-reassurances of a strange prank being played, they left me unnerved. By dawn, I had given up trying and got up to make a coffee. As the caffeine kicked in, an obvious thought occurred and I made for the bathroom.

The shaving mirror was the one I checked first. My own jaded looking face looked back, but no one else’s. Then I turned on the shower, but not with any intention of stepping in. The steam did its work and the words on the wall mirror appeared.

Please, to be touched. Feel the skin of a living pulse.

I then took the kettle into the bedroom and she had been back there.

All I ask is let Move share moments. That was the first.

But people wish Move away was the second.

Let Move touch you. That was enough.    

‘Now I know it is someone real. And leaving me these messages.’ I had called the landlord round and re steamed the mirror, having left the lettering unwiped this time.

‘Friend of yours playing a joke?’ he suggested.

‘I’ve had no visitors for days and these have appeared since. There is no one else.’ His tone became defensive. ‘Well, I’ll have no talk of ghosts! Scares off potential tenants.’

‘Who mentioned ghosts? I didn’t.’

He stopped dead, having inadvertently let a cat out of the bag.

‘Who owned this place before?’ I insisted. He took a reluctant breath and confessed. ‘I bought this property from the estate of the woman who lived here. She’d been found dead, apparently after a long illness.’

‘Alone?’

‘Yes, she lived alone. Don’t know any more than that.’

‘Was she old?’

‘No, she wasn’t. Forties I was told. I did find some photos while clearing the place out, which I presumed were her. Don’t understand why she wasn’t married, certainly a looker.’

‘Slim face, chestnut hair?’

‘Sounds right.’

‘And she’s been seen before.’

He nodded. ‘Which is why no one stays here long. Guess you’ll be giving notice?’

I shook my head. ‘You needn’t worry about that.’ 

Despite all that had happened, I still did not believe in ghosts. At least not in the supernatural sense. But there is a theory I subscribe to which makes more physical sense, underlined by a reality of time.

I perceive the path from past to present is not a linear one, but an ever outward spiral. So events of the past have not only happened before us, but are happening now by our side. Thus ghosts are merely glimpses of a reality ongoing, a view from the other side of a bridge so to speak.

Question is am I seeing this woman’s past, or witnessing her watching my present? Whose time is intruding on whose? And how exactly was she able to reach across to leave those messages? Maybe it is more than just a bridge that connects us. Perhaps the paths of our world are somehow crossing.

So I denied Move no longer. Accepting her existence need not confirm an afterlife, but simply acknowledge another life co existing alongside mine. However, that lends no sense of the messages she has been scrying. “To feel the flesh of a living pulse” sound more like the plea of a dead woman. Or maybe I was just seeing the surface of those words, a cry of mortal loneliness lying beneath. She was a woman alone. Is alone.       

As the sun set outside, it felt time to answer her call. Entering the bathroom and checking the shaving mirror, there was just me alone. Filling the sink with water, I splashed my face and the hot tap steamed up the mirror. No words left for me this time but, wiping the surface clean, there she was. Over my shoulder, smiling this time. I smiled back, knowing she could see my face in the reflection. She turned, the back of her head fading as she left.

I checked the bedroom and found Move in the triple mirror looking directly out at me. Her face and torso echoed from all three angles, in place of my own reflection. 

I raised my hand and she lifted hers in exact symmetry, our fingers touching but for the separation of glass. Was her image now mine? Or had mine become hers?

 

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A Walk on the Wyreside

Wyre

Like any renaissance chappie, I pride myself as a person of varying creative outlets. Feature writer, author, speaker, lecturer, performer and even photographer.  But one thing I have never aspired to is writing poetry. I like a good poem, and value poetry as a medium; from the O level days of studying the works of John Keats and his various odes, to A level and the jolly stanzas of Phillip Larkin…. though This Be the Verse was conspicuously absent from our reading list. Well, it was a college run by nuns.

As a speaker/teacher of creative writing, one does appreciate how poetry works in its rhythm and metre, to rhyme or not to rhyme, the importance of structure and economy of words. Just not that interested in being a poet myself.

Last year I was asked by Adele Robinson of the Lancashire Dead Good Poets Society about taking photographs for a poetry based project called Walking on Wyre, which was being financed by the Arts Council England and Left Coast. The River Wyre runs through north Lancashire from the estuary of Fleetwood and Knott End, and then 28 miles inland to the Forest of Bowland. My initial job was to photograph various locations along and around the river, which would be used in the published anthology.

But where would the poems come from? Adele set up a number of writers’ workshops at various locations around Wyre country, tutored mainly by writers from the Fylde coast. She also suggested that perhaps I would like to attend some of these and have a go, to which I thought “why not?”

The first was a full day at Wyre Estuary Nature Reserve, which was tutored by poet Sarah Hymas. We were given a tour of the area by a local historian who informed us it had been a working port in centuries gone by and a farewell point for passengers migrating to the Americas. Back at the tutorial, my thoughts pondered this history of the now silted up mudflats as an echo of the ghostly past. That resulted an eight line stanza entitled We Sailed, the second half of which concludes

The fading echo hailing

Lone ferry to cross bank

The photo sepia

The memory vivid.

My next workshop was evening more intriguing. Rossall Point is a coastal watchtower near Fleetwood open to the public and with a commanding view of the sea, which was fairly rough the day we attended. I actually arrived before the others and got chatting to one of the volunteers there. As we spoke, he suddenly pointed me to the crashing waves and the black head of a seal bobbing up and down, the only time I have seen one in the wild outside of California. He informed me that the drawn out baying of a seal sounds remarkably like a wolf. That information, coupled with the sight of isolated sandbanks and knowledge that sacred sites of pagan worship lay along this part of the coast, invoked a two stanza piece I called Release the Sea, the second of which reads

Alone on a sandbank

The sea witch casts circle

Sirens rising to her summons

A seal baying to the moon

So having had a go at the medium of poetry, what lessons did I take from it?

  1. Keep it tight and ensure a consistency of rhythm. This is especially important with blank verse.
  2. Be economic with language and resist the temptation to over enrich. Opulence can work if handled sparingly, but can just as easily spill into the verbose. Spare a thought for your poor reader.
  3. Similarly, a good image can save an awful lot of description, and is far more memorable. It’s important to catch the reader’s attention in order to engage them with the poem, and a striking image will do that. Over descriptive detail is likely to have the opposite effect.

But those are just my conclusions. Other writers and editors may think differently.

Walking on Wyre was published in the form of a fold out map containing over three dozen specially composed poems by various writers and is available from to purchase from Amazon. And will I try my hand again? Maybe once I have Ode to the Taxman sorted out.

Eva’s Song

My first contribution to Lancashire Archive’s Tide & Time project, based in Morecambe. It is based on the case of Eva Wilcox to drowned herself in Morecambe bay after seeing her estranged boyfriend for the last time. Thank you to Vicci McCann for encouraging me to take part, and Sarah Hymas for her help and advice.

Eva’s Song

Eva’s Lover

She just turned up on the doorstep, like a memory come back to haunt. We had been an item, but she were back in Sheffield and I were here. Then I get the letter saying it would be better if she got a boy in her own town. I felt the same way and didn’t even reply. She were a chapter closed and my life turned a new page.

So I walked her back to her digs in Morecambe and things were fine enough. Met her next day on the prom and we spent a few hours. Then day after, she reappears as words. A note suggesting suicide. But her last letter had not resulted in the new boyfriend it promised, so I didn’t heed the heartbeat of this one. I never thought she’d really do it.

Eva’s Witness

Just before ten, was on my way home along Marine Road when I saw her. She was stood on the landing stage by clock tower with her hat off and holding it in her hand. She seemed somewhere else. Like a ghost. I knew she couldn’t be going for a walk on the beach, not with tide in. But then she suddenly jumped into the water, in her clothes. I got nearer and could see her head above the water. Being such a warm evening, I reckoned she were bathing and modesty prevented her from undressing first, so I walked on and left her to it. Did wonder what happened to her hat, though.

Eva’s Father

There was no warning, not even hint. On the day she went, she was full of her usual spirit. Did chores as normal, even spoke of joining the W.A.A.C.

Then she went out and never came back. And I hear nothing for three days. Then the letter arrives, postmark Morecambe. It’s signed by her but from someone else. Someone troubled. Not my Eva.

Suddenly, constable turns up. As soon as I opened the door to him, I knew it were trouble. They’re like lawyers, always bearing bad news, especially when they take their helmets off. Quiet chat, consoling cups of tea. Then I follow Eva to Morecambe. And the next time I see her, is the last time.

Eva

You had expectations of me, Dad, as any father would. However, truth was, there were two of me. There was dutiful Eva, the one I let you see. The one you cherished. But beneath her ran deeper waters, an Eva with desires elsewhere. And that elsewhere was George, who drifted beyond my reach.

I thought releasing him would be my release, but the longing became more and more. So I made a pact with myself and swam after my George, even if this meant the way back would no longer be open. In the end, I had to let him go forever and the promise of a future was broken. A crossroads where I could only bury my heart.

You see, Dad, there could be no return to the life we had. George had changed everything, and that changed me. And the change in me, changed you in my eyes. So, I surrender to the sea and drift away with the outgoing tide. A siren without a song.

Barry McCann

Visit the site

http://www.timeandtide.xyz/blog/evas-song

The Shadow Inside

Golden mile

There is nothing but the sound of my own footsteps brushing the ground of an empty promenade. Where colour once met laughter, buildings now lie shuttered and cries of seagulls echo in the breeze. A town has closed shop for season’s change and the Golden Mile is haunted by absence.

I pass Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, its loudspeaker invitation to roll up now, mercifully, silent. Once, I did step inside and didn’t believe a word. But I do know the plastic façade that is the museum’s frontage masks a building‘s secret. A past hidden from the outside. Cross that threshold into within and walk through a living memory of window bays with no view. Nothing to look out to but a plywood cocoon. The lonely soul of a house that once was.

Where now reside two headed sheep and men with four eyeballs, landladies ruled over troops of servants. Breakfasts and dinners were cooked, linen washed and beds changed. Guests home by 10.30 before the bolt went on the door. The Friday changeover as old residents were traded for new.

They say ghosts still stalk these floorboards like ripples across a pool of time. But, no, the building is a ghost. One that sleeps beneath the modern sideshow layer. And would Mr. Ripley’s clientele believe that… Or not?

Written and narrated by the Barry McCann for a sound sculpture created by Lucy Stevens, December 2011. Broadcast Grundy Art Gallery 2012 for the launch of  ther Walls Have Ears anthology by Blackpool Heritage.

Get Writing!

Welcome to Writing Without Tears, the blogsite of creative writing. Nevermore than now has writing become so popular and the age of the internet has nurtured new genres of the written word, such as flash fiction. Writing Without Tears aims to share tips and ideas on creative writing, as well as examples of finished written pieces. So if you have ever fancied taking up the quill and being J. K. Rowling…Or Harold Robbins if that takes your fancy, then this will hopefully be the site for you. So, get writing!