Friday, July 25, 2014

First Word: Susan Siddeley: Football Part Deux

Fear of Football: Part Two.

It’s over! No more heart-in-hand, pulse-galloping, penalty watching. No more yawning through carefully measured criss-cross passing, no more gasps for brilliant headers, no more scoffing faked falls. No more anguished sighing over the tumbled, tripped and those whose goal-shots go wide. No more air-pumping fists, flashing tattoos, back-climbing hugs, tears rolling down stubble. 
            Can we ever forget the agony on the faces of the losing teams and their supporters? Brazil, poor, poor Brazil, challenged hosts, bereft missing the final, the showdown! Instead, watching arch rival Argentina face Germany. Two middle-sized countries, proud and capable to boot (in soccer at least).    
            I don’t feel sorry as I did watching the mini-states in the earlier rounds, but…. when disaster strikes, it’s far, far worse than expected. A total and unforgettable wipe-out. A 7-1 victory for Germany in soccer-worshipping South America! I don’t cry for Argentina - winning is not a right and when I was young we were sent to bed for throwing paddies; pulling a ‘Messi’ face. But I do wonder what’s so wrong with being 2nd, 3rd, even 4th? (In a Writing Competition your name on a Long List is cause for celebration!)
            To better understand the utter grief of football players losing, plus the riots and bus burning perpetrated after the matches by fanatical fans, I asked my son, who’s involved in competitive squash with scars to prove it, as he headed upstairs after this game, why it was so, so bad. 
            “Winning, Mum,” he explained gravely, as if to a child, “means being First, Top, The Best.  It is the only “goal” for football greats! Their whole lives are spent training for it. It’s win or die!”
            Thinking back, I pondered his words, shuddering. “But some-one has to come second” When I looked up, he’d disappeared. It’d been an exhausting month. 

P.S. The next four years yawn. I’ll miss the anthems, the hands over hearts, the swell of the crowd voice But even more, the glorious feeling of global connection the beautiful game inspires in those able to kick a ball, if not old enough to worry about losing and its after-effects.      

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First Word: Danette Beavers: Curse

I have sent things to hell so many times that I’m not sure even the devil could compete with me. Really, he should be paying me, giving me kick-backs or dividends or interest, or something financial that I can’t allude to because I am financially inept—so financially inept, in fact, that should my husband ever die or go into a coma, I will have to throw up my hands to the sky and beg God to deliver me from that certain hell. Then I will cry, which I do with great regularity, and someone kind and gentle, or several someones kind and gentle, will come along and say, “There, there, Danette. Let’s sit down and have some tea,” and I’ll say, “I don’t drink tea. I can’t drink it without sugar, and if I can’t have the sugar, I just assume not have the tea, but I will have a glass of water if you would like to have the tea, and I wouldn’t even mind if you had yours with sugar,” and that sugar-drinking friend will smile and nod knowingly and we will begin by discussing U.F., and my gentle friend will say that U.F. is something about making the something uniform to correct for the something that has to do with inflation, and then I will shake my head knowingly, too, maybe even write it down so’s not to forget, and then Kind-and-Gentle will say, “Do you know your husband’s passwords for his bank accounts and credit cards and I will say, “Well, I can guess,” and then I will sip from my water glass and then Kind-and-Gentle will thrum his or her fingers on the dining room table and say, “Well. Right, then. How about making an Excel spread sheet so that you can figure out just how much you have?” and I will say, “Would a paper and pen be okay? Because I don’t know how to use Excel. I tried once, but I ended up damning it to hell.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Curse

The house is cursed. Has to be. It sits alone on a hill, top-heavy with a gray slate roof, foundations digging into the rocks like crow claws. Behind it the clouds gather in shades of iron, rolling over the barren trees so low, the turret breaks through the froth.
            The first drops fall plump onto the windscreen as thunder lights up the scene and splits the landscape in two. Carrey pulls her car up the steep driveway, the tires screeching. Standing in front of the three-story residence, it feels like she’s looking at an underwater picture. The house is on the bottom of the ocean, and the milling blue cotton above is the breaking surf. Her throat tightens, and the air is thick when she inhales.
            She makes it inside the double garage as the downpour starts. Sounds inside are foreign. The scraping must be from the branches raking the roof. Ten minutes later she’s in bed, exhausted after then ten-hour drive. She promised Matt she’d call.
            She pressed the dial and his voice come on. “Honey, did you make it okay?”
            “Yes. But the house is creepy. It’s enormous.”
            “It’s only for one night.”
            “Thank goodness.”
            Loud music starts to echo through the space.
            “Carrey? Are you having a party?”
            “Jeez. That’s assaulting my eardrums.”
            “Maybe it’s the neighbors.”
            She stills. “Matt … there are no neighbors.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Of course I’m bloody sure.”
            “Go check it out. I’ll stay on the line.”
            Her bare feet pads down the hall. The wooden floorboards creak underneath as her weight shifts slowly.
            “Matt? Are you there?”
            “Yeah. Can you see anything?”
            She follows the sound to the garage. Her hand folds around the knob. She jerks the door open and peers down the narrow staircase.
            “Matt … it’s … it’s my car radio.”
            “Carrey? Carrey? What’s going on?”
            Her scream cuts through the air, but it’s lost in the music, and the house on the hill.

Friday, July 18, 2014

First Word: Ellen Hawkins: Curse

You curse, calling down the devil on the head of some poor soul who has no idea what’s got into you.  Perhaps your behavior has a natural cause: a mere blast of electricity that irritates the brain. It sizzles like fat in a hot pan and sends bizarre messages to the tongue. Words explode on the page in a rush of #%$$#— all of which may only mean ‘bloody hell’.
            Sending curses into the future is another matter; its practice lends malice to evil. As the intended victim, the curse hangs over you or circles your aura looking for a point of penetration. Suddenly you’re caught in its web, unable to understand what’s gone wrong. In this zombie-like state you write or drink coffee or puzzle over a jigsaw but nothing emerges that can lift you above your loneliness.
            Yet even that may be a fairly mild curse.  More diabolical is the one that knocks you on the head at sixteen, and from which you never recover. Call it schizophrenia, depression or any of its other names, but those connected to the spirit world know it’s a curse. Who is responsible? Was Joey whacked about as a child? Or did his mother smoke something volatile and live on garbage and stale onions during the early months of her pregnancy? What nonsense! Science tells us that the package, its genetic code intact, is there from conception, including the presence or absence of a curse.
It might be benign, of course, like blonde hair or webbed feet...
            Webbed feet?  It’s no use.  Goosy, the fictional character in a children’s book I’m writing, insists on lighting her lamp in my brain and it’s she who is controlling my thoughts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Word: Susan Siddeley: Football

(A Mother’s) Fear of Football: A World Cup Recap – 2006 onwards.

It’s here again. In your face. World Cup Soccer.  Crowds, close-ups, scrapping, earth-shattering yells of GOOOOAAALLL... and it all comes flooding back. The School Yard!
            With a gut-churning bell, in the fifties our classroom order vanished as we streamed into the concrete playground for the daily free-for-all. Duty teachers might puff up, arms waving sighting a tripping, shoving or biting; might direct the injured to be carted off and read the riot act, but like FIFA referees they couldn’t stop the massacres. 
            I first realized this in 2006, watching Paraguay being slaughtered in an opening round against England. Paraguay, a tiny, land-locked country of three million. Male population decimated in the 1930’s land-grabbing Chaco Wars. Where was the athletic base? England; male population thirty million, a cold climate and 3.000 miles of coast and cruel sea to toughen it up.   
            Population numbers bother me. I still pore over my dog-eared school atlas, comparing land sizes. I never bought David and Goliath. David might have felled a giant. It was a fluke, man! David wasn’t knocked flying in a tackle for ball possession, a wrong look or jumped on behind the toilets.   
            In 2006 I trembled for mini Togo and petite Ivory Coast; wanted to cry, “It doesn’t matter, loves.” when they lost. I worried for the mothers of the poor men who enabled goals, missed penalties; imagined their sons targeted, like the poor Colombian player who had an ‘own’ goal in 1994 and was later found shot.    
            In 2010, I felt for France’s Thierry, when, Maradona style, he palmed the ball, facilitating a goal for Ireland. Watched nervously as desert giants Algeria and Egypt, surely poorly practiced on parched ground, kicked off.  Watched Columbia and Venezuela, Andean countries where soccer, the simplest of sports - demanding only space, a ball and some shorts - is a real life-brightener, yet where teams pander to squads of supporters full of ill-will. My father might have yelled, “Yer off side Ref. get some glasses,” when he took me to a match, but we wandered home for tea afterwards, we didn’t roam the streets looking for revenge.   
            And did the world really have 214 countries that year?  I quaked for England, never mind Paraguay; for Canada, for Iraq! How did Iraq scramble a team? For Afghanistan – Afghanistan! Was it still a country? Then Uruguay went through! Uruguay, a country the size of Wales, whose name no-one could spell, let alone remember, through to the 2010 South African World Cup.
            Now it’s 2014, Brazil hosting and the event has become personal. My daughter is married to a Brazilian and, until recently, lived in Uruguay. Talk about wish/dread fulfillment. We watch as England, my birth nation, civilized by Rome, home of the Industrial Revolution is sent packing after the first round! Could the reason be that within weeks, the players will be back playing with their professional teams? Luis Suarez, the biter, returned to Liverpool. Did the England teammate, in the heat of Manaus, forget where he was and enable Luis his best goal?  
            Next Italy, Spain and France - other European powers - fall. And Uruguay is through again. And little Costa Rica. How about that? It gets worse or is it better? The beautiful game between Brazil – playing ‘at home’, population almost 200 million, to Chile’s ‘away’ and 14 million - and where many Santiago Writers have spent their most creative years, ends in the dreaded lottery of a penalty shoot-out!
            Cries of “It hit the post. It hit the post.” reverberate. The sad lament, “Chile are going home!” But there’s a consoling addendum. “Chile’s got bottle.” What an accolade! “Bottle” What wonderful word use for the Chilean team and us writers! New football stars are announced. But… what of Jara who missed his/the last shot in the penalty shoot-out. Silence, when it should have been Gooooaaall.
            Oh dear, what’s a mother to do with her fears and an old school atlas, it’s bound to get worse!

Susan Siddeley: Mon July 6th
680 words

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Word: Danette Beavers: Wept

Glassy River met

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First Word: Suzanne Roberts: Wept

Summer vacations began in January each year. Relatives and friends who arrived later in the season would ask, “Has a bomb gone off yet?” They were referring to the eventual explosive argument. Guests gauged their comfort level by the answer to this question.
            We expected a colossal earth shake every 25 years or so and when many more had passed, people started to get on pins and needles. Just as little tremors released the energy of the moving plates, so little arguments released emotional tensions amongst my occupants. Still the big one was inevitable and it was good to know which side of it one was on. Those arriving in advance of it could expect some exciting gossip and small strategic moves by involved parties; those arriving afterwards had stonewalling, cancelled plans and factions to look forward to. Nevertheless, there were no tears, these were arguments of the ego, rarely anyone wept.

Suzanne Roberts is writing a novel loosely based on written and oral history about six generations of her Chilean family. Their house, which has seen better days, tells the tale.

Monday, July 7, 2014

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Wept


How do you drum up enthusiasm for a word as desolate as wept?  It’s so dense, so drenching, so absolute – no delicate trickle of tears, but a solid, sodden autumnal sadness; a wall of water, with hopes and expectations flattened to a matted mass of leaf-mold in the street – gone beyond repair as long as weeping lasts.
            And after, in the sun, tears are dried and the gutters are choked with leftover misery – all knotted and compacted into the remains of the world’s least appealing breakfast cereal –  swept up with the winter leaves and carted off under the cover of the night to factories with no window and prohibitive red “x”s on the doors.
            All together now, say “yucch.”
            The chlorophyll pads, the leaf spines and the dessicated grief ground up with leftover sheets of fiberboard from the factory floor, masticated into a splintery pulp by machines with cogwheels instead of brains and processing board where their pleasure centers ought to be –
            Ejected on jets of hydraulic fluid – the machines spit it out and ship it out in marked boxes in unmarked trucked and push it in street-corner groceries to dupes like, well, like you and me –
            I could weep!

Friday, July 4, 2014

First Word: Danette Beavers: Sugar

That’s What You Do to Me


lift me out of my chair
onto the dance floor

jitterbug me up the walls
I find myself

shimmying across the ceiling
jazz hands out the window

on to the roof top
Benny Goodman’s

“Sing, Sing, Sing” trumpets scream
trombones slide feet

one-two-three, one-two-three
rock, step

my feet lift
sweet clarinet one-two, one-two

over the moon
I say hey to the cow

as I come back down
a hard descent

back to the ground
where you are not

and I’m full of insulin and dizzy

for one more dance
another sweet taste

of you.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Word: Charmaine Pauls: Accent

When I lived in Montpellier, the cultured French said my accent was vulgar. So were my clothes, my hair, my red nail varnish, and my birthday cakes. In my new country things seemed to be subdued: cloud-blue and mud-pink for babies; a dust of lilac for men’s shirts; a brush of earthy color for women’s skirts; and cakes only au-natural. Vanilla or chocolate. 
            In South Africa we like bright colors that match the hard, Germanic sound of our tongue – red, blue, yellow and green. You see it in the hairstyles, violet or orange highlights and asymmetrical cuts. Shooters are preferred to wine. There are at least twenty different body-shots on the menu of any bar. Men wear khaki shirts, sleeves rolled up, and safari pants. They speak loud and they say what they mean. Our portions are large. Five hundred grams of meat, at least, is the norm. No hard-working boertjie is going to appreciate the fusion of three peas and a scallop on a French plate.
            My preference for birthday parties are fantasy themes, things the kids will remember. Green dinosaurs, magenta Barbies, red fire trucks, and yellow-purple butterflies. The French kids are skeptical of my colored icing, and the parents gasp in horror. At first this makes me question my style, my taste, and my affection for all things top-heavy. But then I go back home, and I slip right in. What I wear, and say, and mean, just Fits.