GladToCare Awareness Week poetry challenge 6th-12th July. Join Gaynor Kane, Ailsa Cawley, Samantha Terrell, Graham Bibby, Mary Druce, sonja benskin mesher, Yvonne Moura and myself. Let’s celebrate, notice the often unappreciated work of carers, both at home and in carehomes. Please email your poems to me. Monday: Home Carers, Tuesday: Care Homes Wednesday: How Do I Want To Be Cared For, Or Not Thursday: How I Care? Friday: Saturday: ‘A day in the life of a loved one in a care home’ Sunday: Why Do We Care? Here are today’s: Friday: Who Will Be Choosing My Carehome?

Put me in a place

Put me where I smell the air
Put me in a window
Rolling purple heather hills
To front or side

Let me smell the peaty richness
Let me see spring dance
Outside that window
I told you of

Please don’t let me face a wall
Or be trapped in an airless room
Give me my own few things
Where someone chats with me
Just talking of daily things
Without presuming I didn’t always
Live in the shell I’m now trapped

Once I walked the hills I see
Climbed the hills I watch
I’m still a part of them until
You force me to turn from them
They are my memories and life


.thank you for asking.

thank you for asking and the answer
would be quicker if I had cut my nails
to bounce the keyboard here

funny you should ask as i was thinking
over this yesterday while walking


it felt unfair that after all those years
of housekeeping
keeping his house clean
tidy, fitting in with all his
timetables and breathing

not breathing


she had to go to the home quietly
where she remained quietly

her daughter also went later
and remain quiet

i lived in a home in milton road
milton house, place of nighmare
for us kids

wettened beds
stinking laundry


so I stayed quiet

so thank you so much for asking
and being so thoughtful yet I tell

you clearly
that I do not want a care situation ever
for all the good it will do, so i won’t stay

quiet now
forgive me

I hope your dad had green in his view

other colours too


This is written about my Nana who was going into a home permanently, after a temporary home to recover from heart attacks and falls and she couldn’t manage at home anymore. This is her viewpoint to my Dad who felt bad for not having room to take her in

Don’t feel bad, laddie. I know it’s not that you don’t want me. Whatever I say won’t cut it, will it, son? You see I’m used to my own space, my way of doing things. I’m pretty sure I can have that here. The room is a big one. The bed faces the light and I can watch the sky. They wanted me to face the door. The door’s a bore. The sky has pictures and it’s like a moving picture house if I look. I’ve time to do it, now. I’ll miss popping to Liptons for tea, and Woolworths for lunch. But you know I have plenty to keep me busy. I talk to people. Some say I’m nosey and say too much. But these young ones, seem to come to me for guidance. So I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. They’re in a bad relationship, I’ll tell them and say if they’re being taken advantage of. How can they be strong when nobody teaches them when to say no? So I’ll stay here, and dole out the advice to them as want it. Sometimes them as don’t! My days are full. I don’t stay in the communal rooms much. The ones who are going in their mind scare me a bit. I’m scared it’s catching and I’m not being next. I do stay when they sing though. Or when they bring in the history people who ask about my life as a child. I wasn’t always old. I didn’t always have a dicky heart. I didn’t always fall for nowt. But that was then son. I’ve got a few new books. I love these spy stories. They sound exciting to us normal folk. It’s sunny out there and I want to go a walk. Leazes Park in the sun or something nice. I’ll close my eyes a moment and think of childhood, my children and grandchildren. That daughter of yours will be in later. I’ll tell her some stories. She likes my old days chatter. I have all her secrets. You go son, I’m tired. Don’t you worry about me.

Copyright signAilsaCawleyPoetry

Written in memory of my nana Mary Williamson (Cawley) from who I took many lessons and my writing name.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Tessa B. Berring

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Tessa B Berring

Tessa B, Berring

‘I like lean words,/ you know, like ‘spirit’/ and lightly placed / unspeakable things’.

Tessa Berring’s collection Bitten Hair was published in 2019 by Blue Diode Press. Further work can be found via Dancing Girl Press, Algia Magazine, Pamenar Press, Rabbit Catastrophe, and Datableedzine.


The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

Well poetry is stunning. It stuns – I wanted to join in. I love the way you can read a poem and feel ‘yes, yes, oh my god, aaagh, that’s it!’ It answers. It enquires.

And poetry is a form of longing. Longing has always been an inspiration to me. The inherent uncertainty of it, the urge to reach, to open up, to lean

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My parents were the first people to read and show me poetry – nursery rhymes, story books, prayers, songs. And just talking introduces one to poetry doesn’t it? I’ve always been in awe of speech – how an idea, or a feeling becomes heard, becomes language.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Aware of the dominating presence of older poets?.. Yes. Always….Well, some poets are simply always there taking up space. In mainstream UK bookshops you will always find Philip Larkin! But it isn’t his fault he’s got stuck forever on the high street – it is the cloying nature of capitalism and its stale (dead white male) imagination.

Poetry I love is poetry that lives aware of but in resistance to ‘dominating presences’ or ideas of ‘authority’. Poetry that guides and inspires through ever shifting writing communities, that spits and breathes through small presses, intimate collaborations, generous readings, no limp and docile magazine.

If poetry has a power, it is its sensuality, its sharp insanity, and the multiple ways that it can veer.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a writing routine. I write when I want to, or when I can . Usually at night and at home.

5. What motivates you to write?

I love listening to conversations. Often it is an overheard phrase, a couple of lines in a book, or online that will start me writing…. Or it could be a disagreement I want to untangle/be rid of, or the love of an image I want to look at for longer. Sometimes it is an emotion I want to channel somewhere. Words are good for that; transformative, tender, blunt, and bony things.

I rarely write with a sense of wanting to write ‘about’ something. It is always something more immediate, sudden. And often I’m left with nothing except the feeling of ‘having written’.

Perhaps that is the motivation – to write so as to have that feeling? I find it hard to know my own motivations. I am not politically motivated to write, but at the same time I believe that all good poetry is political. It challenges. It agitates. It finds (and obscures) meaning.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic? I try not to have a work ethic around poetry.
Poems are survivors not products. Writing a poem never feels like ‘work’ – it feels free and visceral. The best poems are bloody – something like muscle or a heartbeat. Though sometimes the best poems are like birds and outrageous laughter.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

All writers influence me. Or all writing influences me. Even writing I hate influences me. It shows me the edges and the stinking troughs! As a young girl I loved Paul Gallico and Muriel Spark: Love of Seven Dolls and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie contain everything – Darkness, naivety, humour, sex, betrayal, sadness, warmth, insight…

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Who do I admire now? I find that question harder and harder the more I read. It becomes hard to separate ones reading into individual writers. Is that a cop out? It probably is. I love reading what friends are writing and reading. I like to pick up books in shops for their covers. I like finding obscure texts on mind theory online, etc.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I’m never opposed to doing anything else, but I write when I know that it is only words that will get me close enough to what I am looking for, to what feels imperative in that moment.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say I can’t answer that. Or I would ask ‘What do you mean?

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I always have a little heap/smatter of words sitting in my laptop and which I tune into most days, not every day, but sometimes everyday. It is easy to get bored/disillusioned too. To feel ‘oh yes, here’s another unnecessary poem’. I’d like to work away from that – to make everything feel valuable.

GladToCare Awareness Week poetry challenge 6th-12th July. Join Gaynor Kane, Ailsa Cawley, Samantha Terrell, Graham Bibby, Mary Druce, sonja benskin mesher, Yvonne Moura and myself. Let’s celebrate, notice the often unappreciated work of carers, both at home and in carehomes. Please email your poems to me. Monday: Home Carers, Tuesday: Care Homes Wednesday: How Do I Want To Be Cared For, Or Not Thursday: How I Care? Friday: Who Will Be Choosing My Carehome? Saturday: ‘A day in the life of a loved one in a care home’ Sunday: Why Do We Care? Here are today’s: Thursday: How I Care.

Foot Reading – Haibun

this is not a kindness
a duty, or a religious metaphor
it is inherent

I fill two basins, rising steam dampens my face, add a few squirts of green, stray bubbles pop against the kitchen window. I ask you to dip a toe, you nod approval, lift the lead weight of your feet, they drop like lumps of land breaking free of the cliffs and falling into sea, sink beneath the surface. Your face relaxes.

blackbirds drop from tree
searching for breakfast leftovers
find nothing but bugs

Every Sunday night (whether I needed it or not, we laugh) you ran my bath, poured in Matey for bubble mohawks, tossed in multi-coloured Tupperware. After being swaddled in cotton, I’d run downstairs and would sit on your knee, in the fireside chair, while you dried my hair and between each individual toe, tickled my feet. Compare the single freckle we both have on our right little piggy.

sky turns from orange to red
pink and purple as dusk descends
swifts swoop in circles

Now, your toes sufficiently wrinkled, callouses waxy white, I ease each foot out, wrap them in the towel. Deformed feet, big toes bunioned, corns on phalanges; the result of too many dances in stiletto heeled winkle pickers. The scissors can cut anything, according to your QVC god, and I have tested this by gliding through a tin of ham.

baby mice, transparent
pink wrinkles, jump from nest
into jack russell’s teeth

In turn, I take these to both parents’ feet. You have shared fifty-three years and your fungal infections, with each other. Twenty toenails in shades of banana mousse, cream cake and custard, ribbed like palm trees or the shells on the beach.

found in pocket
one heart-shaped stone, polished
smooth by your thumb

I remember going to the Mournes each Easter Monday, to skim for smicks in the Shimna, then later after a picnic of egg and onion sandwiches, tea and biscuits, I would paddle in the Irish Sea, look for razor shells, driftwood, mermaids’ purses. Sitting in the boot of the Austin Allegro while you would dry my feet. Carefully pulling the towel between my toes to remove every grain of sand.

-Gaynor Kane ( poem first appeared in The North)

..old blanket..

I watch the blanket breathe,
hope it will never stop.
white, cellular, keeping warm,
the one I love, so vehemently.
scares me, this intensity of feeling,
that never stops,
and continues when the blanket lays quiet……


Spinning Plates

People looked on in wonder, impatiently said
I really don’t know what goes on in that head!
Sometimes so patronising, what can you say?
How on earth do you guess where he is today
Open your eyes you ignorant jerk
Sit quiet a while, it’s hardly work
To still your mind, quell your tongue
He can hear your comments, they stung.
Your back to him, he’s shaking his head
Heard every damned word that you said
Yes, he wanders, him it frustrates
In his head thoughts like spinning plates
Not a juggler, a circus clown sometimes they crash
Fall to the ground, to many shards smash
Don’t you think he’d say if he could?
Doesn’t want this, he ISN’T a fool
So sitting quietly, happy by your side
We talk of things you’d always hide
Subjects varied that you have to share
Your loves, passions, compelled to air
Instead of feeling like you’ve nothing to say
I try to savour your words each day
Knowing soon that this chance will end
When your man in black returns, on you to tend
You know what’s happening you aren’t dense
Can’t they just apply some common sense?
Shaking your head you roll your eyes
Patience lost, listening to sighs
You know they are tired, but you are too
You’ve fought so long, they have no clue
Tenacity making you fight till you’ve won
That’s when you’re ready for the setting sun
Time to leave the world mortals see
Through the door you’re going to be
Talking, laughing and chatting a while
In your voice I hear your sparkling smile
Tell me ‘she’s here ‘ and ‘is it okay to go?’
I have to say yes because I know
You’re happy to see it’s your beloved mother
The fight, battle given up for no other
Knew she was coming for you long before
Take her hand, go through the open door
Gently you lie there closing your eyes
All worries gone, said the goodbyes
I know should I need you where to look
Said you’d be down by the babbling brook
I’d only to call if I didn’t manage to see
And like always and forever you’d appear to me.


Generation Gap

You said, “This isn’t my world,” and then
You shook your head.
That look, deep
In your distant eyes, said
Everything that needed
To be said. And, your modesty,
In that moment of clarity,
More respect than my
Inclination might have granted,
Because you said, “I really don’t
Know what I’m talking about. This isn’t my world…No,
It’s not my time.”
But I am moved to want to somehow
Merge your world with mine.


Only One Heart

We are symmetrical
Beings – those of us who can call
Ourselves fortunate
To live in a body
Without injury
Or disease.
We have these
Two beautiful ears
With which to hear
Our creator’s call, and eyes to see,
And arms and legs and feet.
Though we have but one
Heart with which to live
And spend it how we choose: to take, or give.


.after bright.

sonja benskin mesher

i wonder where I went that day
after being sacked

i would have gone back home
if I had of had such a thing

i may have looked in the posh shoe
shop window for comfort

that store figured a lot in my early days
losing myself in the display, styles 
and colours

I bought a pair once
they let me pay the four pounds
as I did not earn much more than
that weekly

only on tuesday did we discuss our
lack of money then
now with lockdown
we spend little
though we have


coming in back home with those
shoes she laughed then scolded me

who do you think will look at you
notice you

at work the upholstery assistants

I still like shoes james
and boots

and my home


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Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez (two contrasting forewords)

Messenger's Booker (and more)

Reading literature about, or associated with, the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) I was struck by the contrasting styles in two of the forewords I read in two back-to-back titles. Whilst this is a post that doesn’t directly address the literature of the revolution, the different approaches by Carlos Fuentes in his “Foreword” to ‘The Underdogs’ by Mariano Azuela (tr. by Sergio Waisman) and Gabriel García Márquez,  ‘Pedro Páramo’ by Juan Rulfo (tr. by Margaret Sayers Peden) piqued my interest and I thought it may also interest other readers.


Carlos Fuentes opens his short piece with a precis of the events of 1910-20:

The Mexican Revolution (1910-20 in its armed phase) began as a united movement against the three decades of authoritarian rule of General Porfirio Diaz. Its democratic leader, Fransisco Madero, came to power in 1911 and was overthrown and murdered in 1913 by the ruthless general Victoriano Huerta, who promptly…

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The Labyrinth of Solitude – Ocatvio Paz (various translators)

Messenger's Booker (and more)


Octavio Paz, Nobel laureate in 1990, winner of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 1981 and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1982, a writer and diplomat and my first stop in a journey I intend to take through Mexican literature.

‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’ is not a book you “review”, just like you don’t review an encyclopedia, it is a monumental work, revered for almost sixty years.

I need hardly warn readers that my opinions are a series of reflection, not a consistent theory. (P 381)

 My edition, published in 1985 by Grove Press, contains a translation of the original 1961 book length essay ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’ (translated by Lysander Kemp), an essay “Critique of the Pyramid” written after the student uprisings in October 1968, which forms part of an extended section titled ‘The New Mexico’ (translated by Lysander Kemp) that “develop and amplify the Hackett…

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Mexican Masks – Carlos Fuentes & Octavio Paz

Messenger's Booker (and more)


More Mexican literature from the 1960’s, today something a little different again. Carlos Fuentes’ novel ‘The Death of Artemio Cruz’, translated by Alfred MacAdam, covers, in non-linear fashion, the period 1889 to 1960, by joining Artemio Cruz on his deathbed, where various prompts that cause him to recall his past are presented to the reader.

At some later stage I will present my thoughts on the novel as a whole, however early in the book there is a passage that aligns wonderfully with Octavio Paz’s ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’, more specifically the Spanish and Aztec history. Artemio Cruz, on his death bed, is thinking and addressing himself in the second person:

Because you will have created the night with your closed eyes, and from the depth of that ocean of ink, a stone boat – which the hot and sleepy midday sun will cheer in vain – will sail toward…

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GladToCare Awareness Week poetry challenge 6th-12th July. Join Graham Bibby, Mary Druce, sonja benskin mesher, Yvonne Moura and myself. Let’s celebrate, notice the often unappreciated work of carers, both at home and in carehomes. Please email your poems to me. Monday: Home Carers, Tuesday: Care Homes Wednesday: How Do I Want To Be Cared For, Or Not, Thursday: How I Care? Friday: Who Will Be Choosing My Carehome? Saturday: ‘A day in the life of a loved one in a care home’ Sunday: Why Do We Care? Here are today’s: Wednesday: How Do I Want To Be Cared For, Or Not ?

To be cared for

If I should cease to be automotive
I would wish to be cared for by tall, luxurious giraffes
On rollerskates
holding plates
Filled with tempting treats
And fancies
Hippopotamuses wearing tuxedos
Will chauffeur me to posh do’s
Where peacocks will clear the way
As Eagles whoosh me away
To a better day
And my tall and luxurious giraffes

-graham bibby

Stay A Bit Longer

Out of the blue
holds my hand

“Stay a bit longer.”

she says. We sit in plush chairs.

“Not enough tea in this.
It’s just water.

Can you put more sugar in it?

What’s your name again?

Are you Brian?”

I tell her Brian is my dad
and no longer with us.

She holds my hand
on the table.

“Sorry to hear your sad news.”

“He was your husband for a bit.”
I reply

Our conversation amongst the loud shouts,
cutlery clang,
bang of porcelain,
of cupboard doors
make her wince
in the luxury care home.


I was just thinking he says
As he lies in his adjustable bed
My beautiful home in Euxton
and it comes to this.

I remind him the other homes
all stank of stale piss
and he recalls as a county heating engineer
the amount of homes that stank of this.

I need a new bed. he says
This isn’t big enough.
My feet touch the bedstead.
I tell him that as his muscles waste
He has no friction so slips
to the bottom, and has no strength
to haul himself back up.

They keep putting my bed controller

beyond reach so I can’t flatten
the mattress. I tell his key worker
to make a note in his file
that the bed controller must
hang from the middle of the bed
not beyond his reach at top and bottom.

They’ve put a duvet on my bed, again.
I want sheets I can peel off.
Biju, his key worker replaces the plastic
tubes stuck up my dad’s nose.
and says “If he’s not getting oxygen
in his lungs he gets cold.”

“And its come to this. Pass
me my bottle”, my dad says
as he rips off the duvet,
delves into his adult Pampers
and inserts his dick into the bottle.

-Paul Brookes

GladToCare Awareness Week poetry challenge 6th-12th July. Join Ailsa Cawley, Graham Bibby, Mary Druce, sonja benskin mesher, Yvonne Moura and myself. Let’s celebrate, notice the often unappreciated work of carers, both at home and in carehomes. Please email your poems to me. Monday: Home Carers, Tuesday: Care Homes Wednesday: How Do I Want To Be Cared For, Or Not Thursday: How I Care? Friday: Who Will Be Choosing My Carehome? Saturday: ‘A day in the life of a loved one in a care home’ Sunday: Why Do We Care? Here are today’s: Tuesday: Care Homes

Sixteen and broken

First job sixteen
A care home full of love
Tough love for a child to learn
Asked to go look after a woman
Glass of water in hand
The door locks behind me
And I realise what I hear
Don’t know how I know this
Primal knowledge of a death rattle

I hold your hand,tell you to relax
Your wasted form claw like hands
Grab on for reassurance
That I’m not sure I’m able to give
I don’t cry though I’m scared
I don’t run but I want to
I can’t leave you alone
You asked me not to and you know

Know it’s your time and you need
A hand,some warmth.
Until your grip slackens
Your words go,jaw gaping
No movement from your chest
You have left the room
But I always remember seeing your face
I was indoctrinated into the death
On that first day and I cried
For a woman

I’d never known
Probably for my loss of childhood
But it made me see in a cruel way
How much the sick,dying,elderly
Need a carer who cares
Who shares themselves
Taking nothing while losing
A tiny piece of themselves
Every single day.

-Ailsa Crawley

The daily challenge

I looked forward to seeing you
your honesty, bravery and talent
You’d been an artist yet now
It’s different because you’re stuck
With folk who are cared for
Just like you but you remember
Every last second of life.

While they think they live
In some glorious yesteryear
And nobody will contradict them
You’re awkward when you do
But you know all that’s gone
See what you’re in for saying
I’m going in my sleep I can’t do that
And when I find you gone.

You’d never have known it
Never said it possible
But my aged, funny, wise friend
I am bereft at losing your presence
You’re not a number
Carers care, carers love
We miss those we lose
And we know you need care


Carers by Jim


Mary Druce (1944-2018)
(from Gray Lightfoot)
I first met Mary Druce just before we performed together for the 2015 Penzance Litfest in a show called Poetry Tapas (poetry for people who think they don’t like poetry). Mary and I were one of four poets, the other two being Katrina Quinn and Colin Stringer.

Mary, originally from Bristol, had travelled furthest to be here that day – twenty miles from Mullion, Cornwall where she was active in writing and performing plays with the local theatre group. Her acting prowess came to the fore when performing her very funny poetry imbibed with a sense of the ridiculous which never failed to make audiences laugh.

However her wonderful poem I Painted Your Nails Today, Betty lovingly invokes the bittersweet relationship of a person caring for somebody with dementia.


I painted your nails today, Betty;
The colour you like, with the sparkly bits.
And you gave me that beautiful smile,
Innocent, childlike, trusting – no Betty, your nails aren’t dry yet!
But still you hugged me.

In this pretty box of souls, the harvest of lives well spent
Now rests chintz-cushioned from this troubled world.
And the hours hang like faded apple blossom
Waiting for the wind to lift and scatter them
into the sea and beyond.
And I know that when I see you tomorrow you will have forgotten
That yesterday I painted your nails.

Betty I’m here again. How pretty your nails look.
I painted them yesterday. Do you remember?
You giggle. No, of course you don’t
And so we both giggle, and I remind her
That she’s not the only one who forgets things…
(God, I have lists all over the place!)

There are scrapbooks in your room; graduation pictures
Of handsome grandsons – all family history;
Loving children; happy snaps of Christmas;
Jolly dogs and tumbling babies.
There has been so much joy in your life, Betty,
Yet today you do not even remember
That yesterday I painted your nails.

I’ve seen the yellowed newspaper cutting, Betty,
Sliding around unglued in its silver frame.
It keeps falling over and gets covered by other things.
It says you were awarded a medal by the Queen
For work you did with orphaned children
In Penang. Another life, a world away.

You don’t remember any of it, do you, Betty?
You may not be able to talk to me but
You can sing like an angel, and know all the words.
Your sweetness shines through the silence.
And so I got out my polish, with all the glittery stuff
And once again I was humbled by the simple joy it gave you, Betty,
When I painted your nails.

-Mary Druce

Escape to the Folies-Bergere

The residents in the block are free to come and go though they pine for romance and bodies that work, and oh, how some of them like to complain – of skateboarders on the streets, the screaming seagulls, the high price of tea.
Each resident has a story. Sad and happy, and a few that don’t make sense at all.
Mrs. Upton’s husband dropped dead at the age of 45 from a ruptured artery. He worked as a signalman on the railway. She tells me this every day. Her story is not a complaint but a constant puzzle. Miss Hopkins likes to moan – the room is too hot, too chilly, the lounge chairs have been moved, someone has put a plant on top of the piano, her feet hurt so, and she was important once, and goodness what’s that seagull doing, walking across the carpet? Why can’t Miss Hopkins be more like Dora, bent in half like a broken reed but always smiling – Dora who bakes sponges, helps out at the Salvation Army and has her hair done every week.

Three o’clock on a winter’s afternoon. A lounge with easy chairs. Light music. Irene and Enid dancing, steps hushed on the pink carpet. Mr. Franklin collecting the empty cups. His face red. Hands trembling.
The room smells of biscuits and moth-balls. No one looking out at the distant sea.
‘Someone’s escaped.’ Bonnie presses a bony hand into mine.
‘Dora. She had a hole in her ticket but she has no idea where to get off the bus, dear.’
‘Has she taken the bus?’
Bonnie sips her tea. ‘What’s happened to the biscuits? Have they all been eaten?’
A seagull flies past the window. It casts a greedy eye in our direction.
‘Scum.’ Miss Hopkins says. ‘Flying rats.’
Bonnie taps me on the shoulder. ‘Dora always keeps a ten pound note in her glasses case so that if she forgets her purse, she always has money.’
Someone has turned up the music but only Irene is dancing, her eyes half-closed; her petticoat slipping down from underneath her tweed skirt.
I fetch more biscuits.
Bonnie grabs a pink wafer. Crumbs fall on her lap and tumble onto the carpet. ‘Irene has such beautiful dresses.’
‘She’s wearing a skirt.’
‘I can see. My eyes are not that bad. Irene is saving her dresses because once you’ve crossed a line, you can never come back.’ Bonnie seizes two chocolate digestives.
‘Back from where?’
‘The red line, dear.’

The manager asks me to help clear the tables. We’re one member of staff short. We’re always one person short. A waltz is playing but Irene is no longer dancing. No one is dancing now.

When I return, Bonnie says, ‘She’ll have gone to Paris.’
Dora will be lucky if she makes it as far as the seafront. The wind has blown up and spots of rain are splattering the windows.
Bonnie peers at the empty plate. ‘Where are the biscuits?’
‘You must have eaten them.’
Bonnie frowns. ‘Not me. I’m watching my weight. Edward hates it when I put on weight.’
Edward died twenty years ago.
I pick up the plate and walk to the office and here is Dora – her neat grey hair encased in a plastic rain-hat.
‘I’ve mislaid my key.’ She rummages in her green leather handbag.
‘I hear you escaped.’ I take the master key from its metal box.
Dora rests on her stick. ‘Who said that?’
‘Goodness, I only have to nip out for milk and she thinks I’ve run away.’
‘She said you’d gone to Paris.’
‘Paris?’ Dora raises her eyebrows and looks at me as if I were crazy.

Each morning I call up the residents one by one. To check they’ve not died in the night. Or disappeared in some other way.
When Dora doesn’t answer my call, I walk up the stairs, knock twice on her door and wait.
The flat is empty, the interior doors closed. A clock ticks, my feet pad quiet on the thick carpet. Rainwater slides down the window. There’s a framed print of A Bar at the Folies-Bergere hanging on the living room wall. ‘Miss Roberts,’ I call. ‘Dora!’
One plate and a knife on the kitchen counter. In the bathroom a bar of pink soap. A pale blue flannel. On the bedroom dresser a photo in a silver frame. An elegant young woman standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I pick it up. This is a younger Dora, younger than I am myself now.
I almost fall out of my skin. Because here is the Dora who’s eighty-nine. ‘You didn’t answer your call,’ I say. I set the photograph back on the dressing table. ‘You look happy there.’
‘I’d escaped to Paris. I was having the most wonderful time.’ A small sigh. Like a whisper. ‘How about a nice cup of tea?’
We sit in her living room with the ticking clock and the print of the Folies-Bergere. ‘Such an interesting picture,’ I say.
Dora stares at her ring-less fingers. ‘I was going to be married in Paris. I got as far as the church but he never turned up. I was jilted at the altar. Can you imagine?’
‘What a bastard.’
She giggles like a schoolgirl. ‘Yes, what a bastard.’
‘Why did he?’
‘He never said.’ She glances at the Manet print. ‘I heard he married another woman and became a serial adulterer. He wasn’t who I thought he was, after all.’
‘You never married then?’
‘You escaped.’ I stare at the barmaid in the Folies- Bergere. The clock ticks on. ‘She looks sad.’
‘Oh, I’m not sad,’ Dora says. ‘What an exciting life I’ve led. I’ve never been troubled by anything.’ She taps my hand with a gnarled finger. ‘Not like some I know. This place collects them.’
We laugh together and sip the milky tea and outside, a leaf falls quiet to the pavement below.

-Bronwen Griffiths


have you collected seeds
of many years, packed,
labelled, dated.
have you died, and left
the table unprepared.
i have them now in boxes,
a gift, from those who love.
they will bring me work, joy,
an independent air, profound words,
from those who care.


Bios and Links

=Ailsa Cawley

was born in the East End of Newcastle. She is an avid reader and has written poetry since she could rhyme! She also writes fiction and is currently writing a psychological thriller with a paranormal twist. She is now living on the mystical Isle of Skye.