Invisible me

Something strange has happened since the 17th of March at noon precisely – I have disappeared. But not entirely. Whilst inside my home, my husband, my daughter, her boyfriend, and the cat can all still see me perfectly well. I can even see myself reflected in the many unused mirrors in this house. The image I, and the others, actually see, isn’t great at the moment, admittedly. My hair has gone remarkably fluffy with very pale shades of ginger highlighting the general featheriness. My nose is red beyond belief – a mixture of un-sunscreened neglect in the perfect weather we’ve been having, and no lovely face powder to cover any hint of blaring rudolphity. No make-up gets put on at all at the moment. Why on earth would I bother? And my clothes are all the hideous ones that I would never dare to wear out, but oh so very comfy at home. In any case, all I’m trying to say is I’m pretty ugly (try explaining that to a French person) but I’m visible.

That all changes as soon as I step outside the front door, which I do following all the rules and regulations, with my attestation in one back pocket and my passport in the other, so no fretting please. This time I am allowed to spend outdoors exercising is precious. It’s a magic token to sanity. It’s a Willy Wonka golden ticket to adventure. It’s an hour to believe that I am free and serene and am simply going for a quiet Sunday stroll as I used to do in the old days. This token I feel must be used before someone comes along and takes it away. It has a special ice-cream flavour to it that I must enjoy at all costs because maybe the ice-cream van won’t be coming round tomorrow.

But however precious my time away from home has become, it is also a moment of great frustration and despair. Why? Not because I am afraid. I am not afraid. I am hurt. Why? Because nobody sees me. No, that’s incorrect, everybody sees me, I know they see me, but nobody looks at me. I have become transparent, see-through, a scraped-out, hollow version of myself. I am wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak against my will. I am a floating phantom, seen only by my loved ones. I no longer exist beyond my own garden gate. The Invisible Woman is my new, unwanted middle name.

What has happened to these people who, in days of yore would nod and smile and utter a polite ‘Bonjour Madame’? Some would even stop, shake hands and ask about the girls or the cats or the flowers. We would cross paths, nudging shoulders; or stand close, looking into each others’ faces.

None of that takes place now. I try so hard to catch an eye as I move off the pavement and out onto the street to leave the necessary space between us. I stare and stare and fix a shy ‘I’m so sorry I am avoiding you but you know I have to’ smile onto my face. I desperately will them to see me, to notice my lopsided grin and understand it and smile back. But they don’t. They look straight ahead. Or down at their feet. Sometimes I try a bold ‘Bonjour’ but it gets blown away by their indifference, lost in the high grass and tumbling weeds that abound in the neighbourhood these days.

Yesterday I got angry. But why with her when it could have been with anyone, everyone? The poor thing was pregnant, coming from quite a distance on the same pavement, getting nearer and nearer, gazing right at me. Because of parked cars I had to leave it quite late to step aside, and as I did, her eyes went blank. Not a blink nor a flutter nor a sideways glance. She was like a round-bellied zombie, from a bad horror film. She was obviously scared. For herself, or for her unborn child. But of what? The virus hasn’t touched me. I was neither coughing nor sneezing nor blowing my nose in her direction. I didn’t hug her or kiss her or stroke her stupid face. I was more than two metres away. I was innocently out walking, just as she was. So I shouted ‘Look at me! Goddammit, look at me!’ But she feigned deafness or lack of English and just carried on walking, her features indecipherably shut. To me, to my possible germs, to my potential danger.

Because that is what I am now. Dangerous as well as invisible. That is what we all are. Not to be trusted or acknowledged. To be feared and ignored. Someone who may bring heartbreak and mourning into every single home. And in some people’s eyes I am now undoubtedly a very scary phenomenon indeed. Especially when I start shouting in the middle of the street….

By PoL Úbeda Hervàs

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Letter to my Friend

Dearest Optimism,

Where have you gone? You were here until last week but I can’t find you now. I’ve looked and looked. Sometimes I catch a quick glimpse of your face in the shadows, but then it fades to nothing and disappears.

It’s strange not having you around. We’ve been friends forever, best friends I like to think. You were my Bob Marley buddy, always singing in my ear ‘Baby, don’t worry ‘bout a thing, cos every little thing’s gonna be a’right’. And I would then sing those words in turn to my nearest and dearest, to my friends, to my colleagues. I honestly believed their truth and I tried to make others believe it too, even if some surely considered me as a naive, idealistic moron.

But I’m not singing now. I can’t without you here to remind me of the lyrics. And I don’t even remember the tune.

Worse than that, Pessimism came to the door the other night and just let himself in without knocking. He sat down in your place and started whispering in my ear. Your voice is sweet and kind but his is cold and grating. He says things you would never have said. He talks of horror and fear and widespread death. He says this will go on for months, maybe years, not just a couple of weeks as we’ve been told. He says we’ll run out of food, and won’t be able to shop. He says the walks around the block will end and I will have to pace the perimeter of our dark green prison hedge. He says I won’t see my youngest in the flesh for longer than my brain can accept. Or my parents, or sister or anyone at all who counts in my life. He says maybe I’ll never leave this house again and if I do, it may be in a screeching white van. Then he grabs my throat and squeezes hard, whereas you used to stroke my cheek.

I don’t want him here. He’s giving me nightmares and a tightness in my chest that scares me more than his words. He’s causing havoc in my head and ripping my serenity to pieces. He’s pulling the walls in closer and closer every minute of every long day and I can’t push them back, so just watch them draw nearer, inch by tiny inch.

But I can’t get rid of him without your help. You’re the only one who can kick him out. You were always stronger than him, and bigger and better. You always knew what to say to keep him at bay. I know you can fight him off for as long as this may take.

So I’m begging you, come home now, please.

Wait, wait, wait, I can see you! Outside the front door, clapping. Clapping as loudly as you possibly can. Clapping in thanks with us and our neighbours and the whole of this shut-down town. As the noise grows louder I can feel your breath on my face, your shoulder against my shoulder, your fingers wiping away my tears. I can see your soft smile and hear your gentle humming begin, as we clap and clap and clap till our hands turn the brightest shade of pink.

Welcome back, my dearest friend. Don’t ever leave me again.

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Rest In Pistache

I am grieving and my heart knows why but my head can’t quite grasp the intensity of the feeling. Grieving for a cat? When others around me are grieving for a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend? How dare I cry hot, salty tears over a small, grey, fluffy ball of fur?

But cry I did. Sobbed, even. Before, during and after she was ‘put to sleep’. The tears kept falling and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop them.

I am crying now, my fingertips slipping on the dampness of the keyboard, remembering the dreaded one-way journey. My voice was shaky as I stroked her, pretending that everything would be alright, knowing damn well that the drive home from the vet’s surgery would be done alone, without that thin, earnest face peering out of her carrier on the passenger seat beside me.

Would I have preferred her to die at home, in the comfort of her own favourite armchair? Of course I would. But watching her suffer for days on end became unbearable. I had to do something, make the final decision that can only be made for our animals, take her in and then let her go.

But the weight of that choice lies heavily on my shoulders. And the guilt of my grief does too. You have no right to be so sad, I keep telling myself, you should be ashamed of yourself. She was just a pet for goodness’ sake.

But are our pets ever just pets? Or are they fully acknowledged, hugely deserving, wholly integrated members of every single family who has the pleasure of ‘owning’ one? Will we ever realise what a huge part they play in our lives, sometimes for many many years, until they are finally gone?

Pistache was with us for thirteen and a half years. Her absence is like a big feline-shaped hole in the centre of our home. I stumble into it sometimes and find myself looking for her in one of her favoured spots. Some days I’m sure I can hear the kitchen door creak the way it used to when she pushed her way in. My head knows it doesn’t but my heart thinks it does.

She was my delightful, much-loved, darling child-cat, so when all is said and done I think I will just cry if I want to…

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The summer silenced me. I found myself gently guiding the words creeping up from the cellar of my brain, back down the rickety stairway to the depths from which they had come. Dark words, damp words, words full of sadness and tears, words which brought a lump to my throat as they almost reached the doorway to my page. As they started their ascent once more, those words had to be struggled with, overcome, and pushed far, far away or they would have scrambled out and stabbed me straight through the heart.
So I drowned them. I held them down hard and poured others’ words over their small, pale faces and hushed them all up for months. I inundated them with hundreds of words, thousands of words from the many, many books I ingurgitated day in, day out, week after week.
Happy words, funny words, words which brought a smile to my face and a chuckle from my lips. Sentences, paragraphs, chapters which kept my brain busy, thinking, searching for answers and following tight plots. English books, French books, any damn book, as long as the flow from the little black letters subdued the ones within, waiting to come up for air.

But my own words keep knocking. Let us out, they scream. You are allowed to be sad. Allowed to talk about us, about them. Allowed to have us drip onto your page whilst your tears drip onto your pillow. If you keep us down here we’ll only hurt you even more.
They won’t stop shouting, so I have let them out. They’re free at last to run across the expanse of whiteness and speak of my sorrow. They can breathe deeply now and fill the empty space that has been cut out of my days. They may once more sit by my side and hold my hand.
But they have been released only because the throat-grabbing pain of seeing my beloved fledglings fly from the nest is slowly abating. The bitter countdown to their departure has been replaced by the sweet countdown to their return. For I realise I can still see them, speak to them, laugh with them, even as I glimpse my own ageing face crinkle in delight inside the tiny square at the top of the screen. They have gone for now but they will return. Not forever, but for a while.
So welcome back, my dearest words. I have missed you. A lot. Almost as much as I miss my baby girls.

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Listen, it’s Summer…

Summer is in the sounds. Not in the date, although I have to go with the original and official one of today. Nor the long hours of sunshine, nor the heat they sweep through the stifling streets.

Summer enters through my ears, as windows are left open and gardens are used as that extra room we so long for in winter.

The open windows let in the thrumming lawnmowers, the early morning blackbirds, the engine of the scooter delivering the papers. The rumbling train on the other side of the city enters our room on its way to Paris. The cars on the distant motorway accelerate past our bed. Planes whoosh over our heads on their flightpath to even warmer climes. None of these are noticed at any other season. They are muffled by the glass and the shutters and the rain. The winter wind pulls them in the other direction. The summer breeze blows them into our home.

And our garden becomes our living-room. A comfy, closed-off green space on a residential square where we can clearly hear all our neighbours but never actually see them. I know their names but not their faces. I could recognise them by their voice but not by their smile. They are the people I live nearest to but we have never shaken hands. It is very sad but true. We enter our homes by different streets so our paths never cross. But I know their lives as if we were close. Their summer lives. Their winter lives remain a mystery.

The two little boys at the back are no longer quite so little. Their games are changing, their interests shifting. There is a new grandson on the left. He is beginning to speak when before he only gurgled. The four young lads on the right are adults now and mostly gone. The youngest has changed from a squeaky climbing-frame fan to a deep-voiced future engineer.

The years will continue to change these sounds, our own included. We still, and hopefully always will create noisy, chatter-filled mealtimes, but where before there was jumping and swinging and splashing, now there is the whisper of the turn of a page.

So I will be quiet now, fling wide open the window to the night, and simply drink in the sweet sounds of summer.

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Metallic Man

My pen has run dry recently but yesterday, over at Charli’s Ranch, the weekly challenge blew a spurt of ink into my nib and a little piece came to mind.

This was the prompt:

June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.

The prompt led me to Hubby who often glistens. Not with a glittery beard but with sweat. Hard-earned, stinking, glistening perspiration. For Hubby has undergone an amazing transformation from Couch Potato to Iron Man. It has taken him ten years of exhausting yet exhilarating training to become the accomplished triathlete he is today. In August I will accompany him to one of the hardest Iron Man courses in France. During at least eleven hours I will scream words of encouragement at him as he flashes by at the speed of light. At the end of the day my throat will undoubtedly hurt almost as much as his legs.

So this is for my Man:

The tiny drops of water clung to his broad shoulders like sequins, sparkling in the hot summer sun. Some fell to the ground, others were blown dry as he sprinted from the beach to the bike park.

His eyes scanned the dozens of lanes, searching for his space-age contraption, the one he would crouch over for the next five hours, pedalling for his life.

Then would come the marathon, where more pearls of sweat would bejewel his pounding body – this body he had transformed from a great white lump of lard to a lean, tanned, glistening piece of Iron.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "iron man triathlon"

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Linked at the seams

Words have eluded me since the 12th of April when my lovely big cousin suffered a massive heart attack and tragically died.

He was buried this morning on the island in the north of Scotland which he had made his home with his wife of thirty years and their four children.

What words could I have used to make their pain disappear and this tragedy easier to bear? None. For there are no words. Only a dark, hollow emptiness which may recede with time but which will be there for many, many months and even years to come.

And what of his parents who are living the greatest nightmare of all? Outliving one’s child should never occur. But it does. And how do we survive such heart-breaking trauma?

And his sister and nieces and nephews and friends? How are they coming to terms with such a brutal end to a loved one’s life?

My own heart is chipped. The red paint has come loose from the edges and fluttered to the floor. Our childhoods were linked at the seams and the happy memories of our pasts are now shadowed by my tears.

But up in the north of Scotland there are hearts which are shattered. Broken into a thousand pointed shards, each one piercing deep into the pulsing muscle which keeps us alive.

I can only hope that time will heal those broken hearts and that the memory of this exceptionally kind and gentle man will help them take shape once more and breathe and beat in his honour.


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Yep, I’m still flashing, still driven by the need to concoct tiny little stories only 99 words long which usually stay hidden from here, visible only to Charli Mills‘ followers. For their eyes only.

But this week, for some reason, I really like my small concoction. I was grinning as I wrote it and still beaming when I read it. Where it originated is anyone’s guess. I’m betting on an unusually cloudless walk home from work last week. A quick stop on the bridge to admire the sliver of a smile which was the moon that night. The perfectly formed crescent, sharing its light with the river running below my feet, took me to another time, another country, another human’s dream.

So this is what I came up with for last week’s challenge:

March 22, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme “follow your dreams.”


Its silver beams had lit up his room in Wapakoneta for as long as he could remember.
First crossing his small wooden crib, they now wandered over the checkered quilt made especially for his new Big Boy bed.
He was intrigued by the sphere, struck by its capacity to change shape every single night.
He wouldn’t close his eyes until he had gazed at it long enough for the shadowy patterns to imprint themselves on his young, bright brain.
“Come on, honey. It’s time for bed. Stop looking at the moon now. You know you’ll never go there, Neil.”


Voili, voilà, as we say here. That young man certainly followed his dreams. A lesson for us all perhaps…🌙

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A lazy spider watches me from its parking space on the ceiling. He or she (I can’t tell from where I am) seems surprised at what I am doing. And so he/she should be. I too am surprised at what I am doing. Who would ever have imagined that I – respectable, feet firmly on the ground, head tightly screwed onto her shoulders, middle-aged mother and wife – would get mixed up in something like this?

I blame my second daughter. She was the first person to ever give me one, saying it would help me relax and see and experience things differently. She had been advised by a dance buddy to try one and she now swears by its positive effects.

“Come on, Mum. Just try it!”

I could have said no. I could have sent her off to her room to think about what she was doing to her poor old mother. I could have point-blankly refused to take it. But I didn’t. Because I wanted to try one. I wanted to see what it would do. I wanted to believe.

That was a few months ago. I now carry that first little stone, a shiny, round black obsidian, wherever I go. It lives in my left pocket whilst my pet pedometer lives in the right. Both of them have left strange white marks on my jeans, showing their permanent presence. My pedometer counts my steps but what does my little black stone do?

If you are a firm believer in the power of lithotherapy it has many properties. It protects me from negative thoughts, it wards off bad feelings, it keeps me safe and relaxed and happy.

I know, I know, I know. How can a silly little stone possibly do all that? I have no idea. But since I consider that it can’t kill me by just living inside my pocket, why shouldn’t I give it a try? I don’t know yet if I believe, but when it comes down to it I’d rather have that stone on me than on my bedside table. So does that mean that I actually now do believe?

I’m beginning to think I must. Two weeks ago I ventured into the pretty, little stone shop alone. I asked the very helpful assistant for something for my persistent tinnitus problems. She advised me to use three new stones. Yikes. Then she showed me what to do with them.

And that is what my live-in spider now watches every night. The tinnitus ritual. The flat-edged pale green stone is perched shakily on my forehead as I rub along the side of each ear with the two smaller pale blue ones. It takes ten minutes to complete the task and the whole time I am sure I can hear a quiet snigger coming from above.

But listen Mr/Mrs Spider, the tinnitus seems to be getting better and if I want to believe that these stones are what’s helping then surely that’s my prerogative.

So you can laugh all you like. Now that the tinnitus is finally receding I can actually hear you.


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Dear Sacha

Yes, you will undoubtedly find me ungrateful. No, I will not just keep my big mouth shut. But, honestly?

All I asked for last week was your intervention to help make the never-ending raindrops stop falling. I imagined you may be able to nudge those grey clouds with your angelic, tanned elbow and shove them away from the French skies to let Spring spring. And you did. You pushed hard and the sun shone through. Merci beaucoup.

What I didn’t ask for was Siberian winds to take their place, blowing in from the north east and settling, with a stinging nastiness, into our ears, our eyes, up our jumpers and down the backs of our winter coats. Today I had a woollen poncho slung over my heaviest, warmest jacket, a beret worn beneath my furry hood, and those pesky winds still swept through the layers to chill my weary bones. I mean, come on.

And now it’s snowing. In the south! Biarritz woke this morning to a strange white icy beach. Montpellier saw cars slide along its unsalted roads. The flakes are now making their way north and our once slimy, mossy deck is going to become slippery for a whole new frosty reason.

Geez, Sach, I didn’t ask for this. We don’t know how to walk in the snow here let alone drive. We just don’t have the necessary equipment or training. This is not part of my plan. If I’d wanted more snow I would have emigrated to Canada.

So, in spite of sounding borderline-permanently-dissatisfied could you please bring back the rain? Rain’s fine. I can do rain. Not every single day but now and again is alright, really.

Tomorrow? Great. We’ll take it. We’ll take anything but the cold and this snow. It freezes our fingers and buggers up our brains.

He won snow, eh?

He did, eh?

(Oops, I can feel a palindromic brain-freeze setting in)

Don’t nod.

Was it a car or a cat I saw?


Dammit, I’m mad.

Name now one man?

Sacha. Just bring back the rain…

Biarritz this morning. Definitely an air of our L.S. Lowry to this scene don’t you think? Photo courtesy of RTL.

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