Two Stitch Day

Two Stitch Day

Bad things happen in the trenches, there is no other way to put it. I don’t want to remember them, but I don’t think it’s right to pretend as if they didn’t happen. So on a bad day I get some thread and make a stitch on my left sleeve. On a really bad day I make two.

Today is a two stitch day and it’s only halfway through. Lately I have more two stitch days than not. My left sleeve is filling up. I can feel the rough threads pressing into my arm where my clothes have soaked through. It’s raining, but when is it not?

The damp here is so tangible that I can taste it on my tongue, and woven through it all is the horrible festering scent of decay. It winds its’ way through every twist and turn, seeping into the grey dirt of the trench walls. It is the cloying scent of rot that truly makes the place repellent. If the damp is palpable and content to linger on ones tongue, then the rot is a presence that overwhelms and attempts to claw its’ way down your throat, so that it’s all you can do not to retch.

One wouldn’t think we’d be able to eat in such conditions. But we do, starving as we are. It’s why I sit with my back against a stinking grey wall off rot, legs drawn up and soaking wet as I choke down my rations. There are weevils in the biscuits. Little white bodies that wiggle about, almost waving hello. At the start we’d tap the biscuits to get the little creepy crawlies out. Now we just bite in and pretend not too feel the squirming, glad of the extra protein.

Things have been getting worse. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been getting worn down. All the dogs are long since eaten, even though they were mangy and flee bitten. Just another thing gone. We’re losing more than we’re gaining and I can’t seem to care. The rain that used to seem refreshing, washing away the blood, is now mocking. Never-ending it pours from the sky, turning everything to slick sludge so that we are forever caked in mud and every step is an effort. It makes the days grey, but that might be the War. Everyone keeps dying.

I hear the slick squelch of someone’s boots tromping though the mud and tilt the brim of my hat up to see who. It’s Arthur. He comes closer and crouches beside me on the rotting wooden planks meant to keep the mud away. He’s got a handful of rations and is wearing the same oil skin cloak as me. The cloaks would keep the rain off in small showers but did little for the downpour we were sitting in, the trenches offering little in the way of shelter.

“How you likin’ lunch? Reckon I could do with some o’ mama’s home cooking, that’s for sure.”

I have trouble looking at Arthur. He wears a smile like a bad mask; jarring and fake it reminds me of things I don’t want to remember. That’s what the stitches are for. Still, I can’t begrudge him how he copes; I make stitches, and he smiles. That doesn’t mean I look at him when I talk.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be full and warm. Do you?” That isn’t what he wants to hear. I shouldn’t have said it. Arthur wants me to banter back so that we can share some hollow laughter and pretend things are good. But I can’t pretend anymore.

Arthur looks away, “Of course.”

I keep looking at him until he fidgets a little and admits, “Well maybe it’s more like imagination than memory – they’re about the same things anyway right. Right?” The question edges into panic as Arthur repeats it. The smile doesn’t slip, it becomes larger as I watch, stretching in a horrible parody of what amusement should be. He wants me to agree with him, to lie, and I can’t deny him that, not when it’s so clearly what he wants. I don’t have to believe it. I don’t even have to pretend to believe it. I just have to say it.

“Right.”

The stiff lines of his body relax again and the fevered panic that sharpened his features fades, letting his face fall back into its’ usual drawn lines. The rigid smile settling on his lips again. My fingers twitch, but I’ve already made enough stitches for today.

Arthur chatters on at me. I idly run my hand across my sleeve, fingers catching on the stitches there. All I see is grey. A horn sounds, hollow and echoing. Arthur stands. So do I. Time to fight. Maybe die. I stand amongst my fellow soldiers and can’t care that all their faces are washed out, indistinguishable from the grey. I don’t think I can live through another two stitch day. I don’t think I want to.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

Writing Seasons

No this will not be a discourse on the figurative seasons of a writer’s life. There are plenty of those oozing around the web and many more hidden in forgotten spiral notebooks on your study shelves.

Right now I’m focused on a much more literal literary problem. I’m interested in the craft of writing seasons.

Weather plays a pivotal role in narrative. Beyond the objective way it motivates plot and action, climate affects mood and tone in both monumental sweeps and incredibly subtle nuance. Seasons define culture, customs, language, symbols and associations in ways that few other narrative features can. It is inevitably a major player in any creative work.

walden_pondImagine, for example, that Thoreau had secluded himself on a Florida beach instead of the woods of New England. Walden would be an altogether different experience (with a different title) and we never would have had such an enlightened discourse on the transformative power of Spring:

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last. Suddenly an influx of light filled my house, though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon.

Consider the brooding danger of To Kill a Mockingbird without the backdrop of a long Southern summer. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights without the crystalising Icelandic cold. Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori without the Japanese fall of winter sakura blossoms. The English Patient without the hot, sandy North African war. A Tale of Two Cities without rainy London streets. The White Tiger without the steaming slums of Delhi. Love in a Time of Cholera without the tropical heat of the Caribbean coastline.

In fact climate does more than simply play a part in a single story: its manipulation in one work forms part of a dense cultural mesh through which all associated narratives are viewed. That is, the way authors and storytellers interact with seasons defines the social discourse of the places they write about and the cultures they inhabit.

As an Australian I am aware of a niggling responsibility to try and build on the sparse cultural mesh of our young, small and (let’s be honest) insecure narrative landscape.

When I was just a little book nerd reading my Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter I would often find myself wondering where my parents hid those great piles of red leaves in which to jump (preferably with yellow galoshes). I would wait in my backyard hoping to spot a phantom squirrel nibbling an acorn. I would gaze out over green parks trying to imagine where all the spring bunny rabbits were hiding. I would search around our living room in hopes of finding a crackling fireplace, the one I was meant to curl up in front of while snow fell outside.

In short my imagination was genuinely confused by the disparity between the seasonal landscapes of my picture books and the reality that surrounded me.

DPSAnd thanks to narratives like The Groves of Academe, The Secret History, Wonder Boys and Dead Poets Society I find it easier to picture a school year beginning amidst chilly autumn leaves than in a hot, clapboard classroom under a sadly rotating ceiling fan. Apparently we are supposed to camp in immaculate pine forests in the summer instead of at the beach. And overseas vacations should be at the Caribbean or the South of France instead of Fiji.

This phenomenon of seasonal currency also translates directly into the invented worlds of speculative fiction, finding its way into a variety of speculative genres but most obviously into epic fantasy where Northern Hemispherical climates dictate the law of imagined geographies. Middle Earth is modeled on the seasonal terrain of Tolkien’s native England, as is Lewis’s Narnia. American landscape features throughout Jordan’s Wheel of Time and is particularly apparent in the Western flavor of King’s Dark Tower series.

In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire narrative weather is a major player on a number of levels. It not only creates atmosphere, tone, obstacles, opportunities and cultures, it literally defines the identities of the warring families of Westeros and Essos, and thus the entire backbone of the series.

The_Wall

I’ve dreamed of the day when I would read (or write) an epic narrative where the climatic world was turned on its head. In my version of A Song of Ice and Fire the Wall would be in the south and Dorne would be in the north. The Iron Islands would be the Sandy Islands, and winter would never be coming.

In my world, pumpkins don’t grow at Halloween. Snow doesn’t fall on Christmas Eve. Beaches are never cold, windy places with wooden piers and taffy. Birds don’t fly south for the winter. Heading west means deserts, not prairies, and north the Equator, not the Arctic Circle. There is never a real reason light a wood fire, or rake leaves, or shovel the sidewalk. We steal mangos not blackberries, and bake pavlova instead of pie. Family picnics are BBQs at the beach, not sandwiches in green meadows.

This is the world I know. This should form the landscape of my imagination and therefore of my imagined worlds. It’s a strange thing to have to work against a preconceived cultural notion of tone and place because the culture, while dominant, is not your own. Yet it is part of my responsibility as an emerging creative voice, and a challenge I submit to all those in the same position: to add to this global lens in our own language and rhythm, and make our own experiences, and that of our Southern-land compatriots, a greater part of the world’s narrative imagery.

 

Elise Janes