Emily

I went into service in a country house in Yorkshire when I was fourteen. I could read and write, and my employers, the Bellinghams, unusually, allowed me to use my limited time off to extend my education in their library. It was no Catherine Cookson novel: I worked hard and rose to become their housekeeper; learning along the way that it was best to do your job without fuss and, somehow, to be invisible.

The Bellinghams fell on hard times and they had to let me go; it almost broke my heart. Having no family of my own, I had nowhere else to be; they let me stay in one of the cottages on their estate until it was sold. Despite my excellent references it took months to find new employment with everything being done through the Royal Mail.

Finally, Arthur Broad, a widower and master gardener, employed me as his housekeeper. I was anxious as I moved into his large house as his only servant:a widower and a spinster, whatever next? Tongues wagged in the village – I didn’t care; I needed the job. We became the best of friends – I learnt how to garden and he learnt to be tidy – a miracle. He always kept a diary of his crops and a notebook for his poetry and encouraged me in these new habits. I was no longer invisible.

When he died he left me the house and his wealth. I was both sad and grateful but I also thought there must be some mistake and feared that I would once again be homeless. I was needlessly frugal; I determined to make the money I inherited last all my days. Anyway, I was too old for another job. I grew my own fruit and veg and had meat and fish once a week. I made do and mended my clothes until they looked wretched but I wasn’t going to buy new clothes at my age. My only luxuries were my television and a cream sherry on a Friday night.I lived alone for many years until my arthritis was too painful and I was no longer able to care for myself and reluctantly moved into this care home.

I should have married, had children, but, alas, it never happened. No one visits me, ever. The staff are kind, they know my name, but they don’t know me, and they never will. Despite my arthritis, I still try and write my poems, and for that I thank Arthur.

Once again invisible
I lack the nurture of company
Bereft in my high backed chair
Amidst the piped music of care
I’m quietly avoiding
The embarrassment
Of being visible
I embrace myself
For lack of others’ arms
I wait at idle leisure
For what they call passing
As if it were a game of football
Or an exam to take
To rise victorious
My own arthritic hands
Raised in Pyrrhic victory
Sitting in the waiting room
Invisible at my ending.

 


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

The Funeral

Buonconvento is a beautiful mediaeval small town in Tuscany. Its name means happy, lucky, place. There is a bridge over the river Arbia; this is where the Arbia and Ombrone converge. On the northern side of the bridge there is a bus stop where a woman patiently waits in the warm sunlight; she is happy. Shopping bags surround her feet and she carries a large bunch of dark blue lilies.

Two British tourists join her at the bus stop; to their delight she speaks excellent English. They introduce each other – she is Maria, they are Rich and Polly.

You look happy, Polly says. 

Maria smiles. The sun is in the sky. The clouds float on the breeze. The rivers flow clear and are full of fishes. The cypress trees stand as erect sentinels over Tuscany. The air is soft. There is peace. I am happy.

You have a lot of shopping, Polly says. What’s in the bags?

Pane Toscano; I make my own, but here they have one that is even better than mine. Garlic, my crop failed this year, I don’t know why, so I buy to roast with red peppers from my cantina. Little Carciofi, done Roman style. Early lemons for a Crostata al Limone – with crema! The little new rhubarb for Panna Cotta al Rabarbaro con Rabarbaro Tostato – superb! But tonight we will eat Cavolo Nero and my own home grown dried white beans dressed with olio di Rosmarino – of my own making – washed down with the local Brunello.

Food makes you happy? Rich asks.

Of course, I am a woman of this land. But not just food …. There is also the final reckoning …. You have forgotten what day this is?

We’re on holiday and have lost track of time.

It’s April 17th .

Rich and Polly are perplexed.

Today they bury the Thatcher.

Thatcher’s funeral! Rich roars.

How could we forget that? Polly asks.

Polly takes Maria’s lilies and sets them down on the bags. Rich takes Maria and Polly by the arm and starts to sing, Ding dong! The witch is dead. As they sing they spin like Dervishes in a trance. Ding dong! The witch is dead. Spinning. Dizzy with delight. As Polly and Rich repeat the lines Maria joins in their singing. Passing cars toot their horns as the celebration continues by the side of the road. They stop, breathless.

Why did you hate Thatcher? Polly asks. She didn’t wreak her wrath on the Italian people.

Maria takes a breath. The rich may steal from the rich, but, when they steal the milk from the children, it is too far. Sono del diavolo, del male, Vanno all’inferno! Do you understand me?

I get the meaning, Polly says.

Enough is enough. La morte e la migliore! Death is best.

Their celebration is suddenly sad in this happy, lucky, place.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

 

God

Simon is lonely, but how could he have a companion living, as he does, on the street. He uses a metal dog’s bowl for donations because he likes the sound coins make when they fall. There have been no coin sounds, so far, today; the bowl is empty. 

It’s a winter’s morning as he sits in his wheelchair in the shelter of the Stonebow arches holding a hand made sign – ‘For God’s sake’. The leafleting Jehovah Witnesses, who share the same space, ignore him – they know who God wants – and it isn’t him. They feel no need to share their vacuum-flasked tea with someone like him: in their terms a worldly failure, and, as such, deserving to be cold, hungry and a beggar. 

He is known. He’s done no harm – just an eyesore. He’s been on the street for nearly two years, sleeping rough in an NHS wheelchair. He can’t walk because of his swollen ulcerated legs; the bandages could do with being changed and the ulcers dressed. He wears a woolly hat and all the clothes he owns to keep warm. At lunchtime, a friendly PSCO brings him a hot coffee and a cheese sandwich and tells him, apologetically, that he’ll have to move on. He counts the money in his bowl; not even enough for some chips and a small bottle of vodka to keep out the cold.

By ten o’clock he’s back under the shelter of the arches, parked out of sight in a dark doorway. The High Street is noisy with young men and women out on the town. At eleven a group of five drunks arrive under the arches and one of them starts to piss. Simon, from his wheelchair, protests. 

Look what we got here, the pissing man shouts, a fucking cripple. Within seconds their laughter intensifies as the men dump Simon out of his chair and give him a good kicking. One of them gets into the chair and another pushes it as they race off into the night cheering. He crawls to the roadside – it takes him twenty-three minutes.

Two hours later he’s in A&E in another wheelchair; he’s grateful for the warmth of the welcome given to one of their regulars. It’s almost like the old days before he fell from grace, when he was respectable, had a job and a house. He’s always known that he, like everyone else, is but a hair’s breadth from the fall. But somehow he never imagined he could go this far down.

Simon sees blue flashing lights through the window and two police officers enter. 

Excuse me, Simon says, as they walk past him. Are you looking for my chair? Some lads nicked it.

They laugh. Call 101. 

I was attacked. They stole it. It’s an NHS chair.

They walk on. He hears them, their words going back and forth. 

Serves him right. 

Fucking asking for it. 

Lazy bastard, should get a fucking job. 

Who does he think he is? God?


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Cabin Fever

Since 2008, when his property was repossessed in the midst of the subprime market crash, Bob has lived totally off-grid in a cabin in Oregon, east of Oakridge between the Willamette Highway and Hills Creek Lake. He is glad to be out of the America he has come to detest. How, in the land of the free and the brave, is abortion legal? How come blacks are so uppity? Why is buggery legal? Why wasn’t he, a civilised white man, allowed to live in comfort? How come Hispanics take all the jobs? Who allowed inter-racial marriage? And after what the Muslims did on 9/11 why are they still walking our streets? He has an answer. All these American disasters came because the USA had a President who wasn’t God’s agent. America must be redeemed.

Bob avoids contact with people and uses the seclusion of the forest to protect him from discovery. Every few months he walks into Oakridge to purchase essential supplies with his remaining cash; otherwise, he lives off what he can kill or forage. 

He isn’t lonely; after a decade of isolation his God, bible, beliefs and evolving obsession with the colour orange keep him company. He knows some people believe orange is the colour of joy and creativity. Others think orange promotes a sense of general ‘wellness’ and emotional energy. Yet others believe it may even heal a broken heart. But it is in the bible that he finds the truth that orange is the colour of fire, of wrath, of ambition and determination. He believes that orange represents the power and presence of God and to dream of forging a weapon with fire represents purification and perfection. He knows that if he has such a dream it will be an omen for the arrival of God’s agent and that he must act. He longs for such a dream. Instead, at night, in his head he hears Satan’s laughter at America’s gullibility. It makes him angry. His gun is always loaded; he is ready to fight Satan’s emissaries.

One morning he awakens from a deep sleep. He’s drenched with sweat. It has happened; he has dreamt the dream. He must leave his isolation to witness the arrival, of God’s agent, and that time is now.

Bob walks to Oakridge and sees a poster; the photograph is enough – it’s tangible proof. He hitches a ride to Eugene. At the rally at the Lane Events Convention Center people carry placards ‘Make America Great Again’ – this pleases him. 

Outside the Center police unsuccessfully try to keep supporters and their opponents apart. Fighting breaks out. 

Bob repeatedly chants, God’s Agent Orange! 

A man, next to Bob, punches him in the head. Dumb fuck – we used that to kill Charlie in ‘Nam. Fucking fascist Trump! 

Bob shouts. Agent Orange! 

Dumb fuck! Fuck Trump! 

Bob shoots the man stone dead, screaming, Agent Orange!

A single bullet from FBI agent Maloney brings Bob’s dream to an end. 

Trump doesn’t notice. 


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

The Wych Elm

wych elm

Tana French ‘The Wych Elm’

There are books and there are BOOKS!

‘The Wych Elm’ is astonishing.

Scrupulously, and brilliantly written from the protagonist’s point of view there is nothing allowed beyond the narration of Toby’s direct experience, tortured memory and/or imagination. I was so enmeshed in the narrator’s understanding, or lack of comprehension, of himself, and his history, that I almost came to doubt my own grasp of what ‘certainty’ might mean. The ensemble of characters, the detail of their behaviours and their ignorance of their realities is bewyching. No spoilers here – but as I finished the last page I was bereft, immensely sad and overwhelmed.

It is, ostensibly, a crime novel, which makes as much sense as saying that Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a ‘thriller’. I hadn’t read any of French’s work until this book – I shall remedy that oversight.

Do read this fantastic book.

Saul Bellow ‘Herzog’

Herzog

I’ve been reading Saul Bellow’s ‘Herzog’ (1964) and it’s given me pause for thought, not least because the intensity of the writing is overwhelming; the way Bellow works with the conjunction of improbable partners in misunderstanding and even (imagined?) malice reveals the plight of the creative mind. His prose is aggressive, sharp, staccato daggers as they pierce me with the uncertainty, challenge of life, but tempered, still softened, made conditional, by the salve of familial memory, love, and Moses’ Father Herzog.

And also pause for thought because it has made me, yet again, think about what I write and how I find the ‘right’ form to do that.

The constant commentary provided by the ‘letters’ Herzog writes captures the duality of writing one thing at exactly the same time as thinking about something quite else, of being something, or somewhere, else, evidencing the struggle of setting down the complexity of inner and public life in words, and not, moving images.

And he’s funny! But it’s funny that’s humourless;  the bone jolted in your elbow; the ‘humour’ engendered by the latest pogrom – but still funny!

Though it’s a book of its time it feels, somehow, like a work from the nineteenth century  set in the twentieth in the USA and not Europe in the ghetto (where it actually feels it’s set) from which it stems. Where does success, self worth, achievement and respect exist?

Bellow, aka Herzog (?), is erudite to a fault. Amidst the ‘academic’ arguments, the endless dropping of names that give Herzog purpose, validity, authenticity, everything, so that every memory and thought and plan collides with every other idea in spontaneous combustion as smoke and flames burst from the page leaving me exhausted and astounded hiding from the heat.

The personal becomes universally crucially relevant so that Herzog’s dilemmas are those  we all face in trying to make sense of one existential crisis after another whilst, in Herzog’s case, inflicting yet another upon oneself until the finale.

He asks. Am I this? Am I that? Is it me? Is it her? Is it? Is it real? Is it? What? What is my life? What is the point? What am I? Herzog bellows!

His life unravels, as it must, a tragedy, and it made me weep. Inevitability. Loss. But, also hope. That we, readers, may … do what?

What a writer – that isn’t interrogative (as he might say) but a statement of fact.

When I am, once again, ready, I shall read this book again – unhurriedly, ignoring plot, sustained by the joy of Bellow’s writing, laughing, frustrated, delighted and inspired. That’ll do for me.

“PIGS IN HEAVEN”

pigs in heaven

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel ‘PIGS IN HEAVEN’ (1993) is intriguing.

Initially there is something ‘Updike-like’ about Kingsolver’s prose – sharp ironic writing laced with humour. Early on – “Alice wonders if other women in the middle of the night have begun to resent their Formica.” Later – “You might see things better on television, but you’ll never know if you were alive or dead while you watched.” But, unlike Updike there is a sort of inevitability, a preordainedness, here that is quite different from the tension of the Rabbit books. It’s not a tragedy but rather a celebration of love over adversity.

The portrayal of the Cherokee Nation as a haven of familial support, love and joy makes no substantial reference to the impact of significant poverty and racism instead representing an ideal state of oneness in ‘Heaven’ that it would be a joy to be part of (some of the time).

The plot – no spoilers – resolves itself as if by magic – which is what it is – a ‘romance’ in which the best of all possible worlds comes about through (apparent) serendipity aligned with the scheming of Ms Annawake Fourkiller and the finger of god suggesting the inevitability of the victory of good over evil.

This novel feels good and there’s little harm in that right now in the midst of Brexit and the idiocy of Trump. Nothing wrong at all with love winning the day, but … the pain that has been suffered, the legacy of sadness, to get to that ideal ending is but chaff blown away, and almost forgotten, in a gentle breeze from the idyllic world of the Cherokee Nation in Heaven. But rock on – we could do with more of it! I enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD

Olga Tokarczuk’s novel is magnificent.

unnamed-1unnamed

The title comes from William Blake.

The blurb on the back cover is good but doesn’t do it full justice.

I couldn’t put it down.

There is so much to take from this work e.g. what Fieldfares can do to an attacking hawk; “Newspapers rely on keeping us in a constant state of anxiety, on diverting our emotions away from the things that really matter to us.” And insight and argument into the human condition in the this century and the dilemmas we all face and not just in Poland.

Please read this book

News from somewhere

Things have changed.

In a conscious attempt to make it more interesting and provide better navigation – aye, aye Captain! said the gnome. The website now:

  • Is up to date
  • Contains many more of my photographs eg. in Gallery 2 there are 100 images made over the last 50 years.
  • Includes a new piece of writing on Cormac McCarthy
  • Includes information about what I’m up to
  • And much more…

Come have a look at what’s available now. You can follow me using the blue “follow Phil Cosker” button on the homepage (on the right, just under the picture).