He thought about her often. Time being so much on his hands to the point where he felt the urge to nudge it forward like an awkward child who shies back from a room of strangers. Though he hadn’t fallen so far that he lacked willing couriers, he solicited them only to send final missives to his sons. Notes which could cause no great harm if fallen into unfriendly hands for not even his enemies could begrudge a father his last words.

His tower cell looked over the deserted yard and out to the Thames where he tried vainly to drown her image. She’d married finally they told him. She was safe, he heard.

It was nearly two years since he last touched her. Soft and smelling of roses fresh from the markets of Calais. She’d found him, hiding in the dank corridors near chapel, crouched low, hands folded, thumbs indenting a time-worn brow.

“Time is past for prayers,” she said.

He didn’t look up but opened his eyes to the fullness of a sky blue skirt so close he had but to release his clasp and gather her to him like the air.

Once was a time he’d have slipped beneath the folds and run rough common hands up to delve royal treasures well-known. Instead, he reached out a tentative finger, briefly catching the pleated fabric between index and thumb before pulling back to monkish misery. She was beyond his knowing and they both realized it.

“It’s all I can do,” he replied.

He expected her to chide him over his failure of conscious, his weak-kneed capitulation, but she did not. Her grasp of the complicated was as grounded in survival as his own.

“She sends this,” and she dropped an English bible at his feet. It fell flat and hollow, the sound echoing down the drafty hall. “She faults herself only she says.”

“Kindness out of character for her, methinks.”

“Kindess is all the vengeance left to her.”

He looked up. Her pale moon shaped face pinched in places and tear swollen in others in comic effect that nearly cracked his own matching facade.

“I’d heard she’d turned over that leaf,” he said. “Perhaps she is not so shriven as she gives out?”

“Do not jest with me, Master,” her reply worn and thin. The last days have been long and though near over, she is spent like a farthing in the hands of beggar.

“I’ve missed our little assignations,” he countered in a dipolmatic tone that marked him courtier but with eyes that belied the disinterested tone.

“You’ve heard? You’re angry?”

“No,” he said. “How could I ever be made angry be the practical choice. Practicality is the foundation of my life. It is nearly my motto and I daresay will serve me as a fine epitaph.”

“Do you ever want, Tom*?”

He gathered a handful of her gown as she stepped nearer, her fingers playing tentatively through his salted locks.

“Modestly,” he admitted.

“Or wish?” tone more hopeful.

“Not at all,” regretting the cold water as soon as it tripped the tongue.

“Why breath?” she asked.

“Why indeed Mistress Mary,” he said. “Should you puzzle it out, share your revelation with me.”

“And more,” she agreed, slipping away from his grasp until only her shadow caressed his own with the whimsy of a ghost.

A stained wood block tore his gaze back from the water to the courtyard below. A beggar would find himself poorly mounted astride my wishes, he thought. Cold seeped into his forearms and up through his resting chin, chilling his memories as he noted the gathering crowd.

Grey, as though it knew her melancholy, the sky clung to its tears. It wept but a little for her sister as she recalled, stingy when it might downpour and damp the moment called for more.

She stood alone on the parapet. Hooded cloak concealing only so much of her identity as to not arouse suspicion. The times balanced precariously on princely whim and temper. In the yard, she noted the ugly mood and the grimly satisfied visages of the lords in attendance. Little did they know they disservice they did themselves this bleak morning.

He stumbled a bit as he made his way to the scaffold. She wondered that he wasn’t bound for humiliation’s sake. She hoped he would make a noble end without tears but knew that he would not. He left much behind and he was not such a man that his many regrets wouldn’t rise up to choke him at his end. He bent not a whit for his enemies, scowling and impatient for his end.

“I die a good true Catholic and his majesty’s most humble servant who I beg all to pray for so he should continue long and in health,” he spoke to the small crowd as if he were at Parliament, catching unwilling eyes and noting attendance though he did not glance up to see her.

Stepping to the block he knelt before it as if it were the altar and bowed his head to pray before gripping it either side with a soldier’s steeled nerve.

“I pray you all to learn from me,” he said. “Want modestly, but wish upon stars. Had I done this, a happier man I would have undoubtedly been.”

The blade landed to high to be true, the crack of skull followed shortly by a soft gurgle as the axe was lifted for a second stroke. She turned as his fingers clutched convulsively before going slack.

*I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel’s delightful Wolf Hall. I am a Tudor junkie and am well read on the time period, but Cromwell is more often than not a footnote or a very minor character. He is usually portrayed as a self-serving villain, but as the Tudors had a habit of rewriting history to suit their purposes, it’s hard to get an accurate picture of who he was and what might be true and what was merely invention by his enemies after the fact. Mantel’s novel is startling in its compassionate view of him and the hint of a romance between Cromwell and Mary Boleyn (Queen Anne’s older sister and mother of at least one of Henry the VIII’s bastards) caught my fancy though it would have been a very unlikely thing to have happened.

This is so not done. The roughest of drafts and I really envision it as short story that tells about their affair in flashback.

the berry picker by kym gouchie

Filling the basket required a consciousness most neglected in Bird’s opinion. Inattention spoiled the berries by degrees, tainted their potency. Plinth berries spoke ,to those who listened, but young ones now skimmed surfaces and denied whispering existence.  Bird knew sentience flooded the world with a rumbling force that rivaled the periodic tipping and tossing of the foothills her flock called home. She sighed. Caught in a world of rock and scrub, the Pilnth stood out and Bird, who stood out too, appreciated the companionship.

Counting mattered too. Baskets filled differently each time. Bushels changed with seasons. Light and water altered the berries heft, texture and hue. Dark winter rubies became airy rosettes with the first solstice before summer warmed and deepened them for the early autumn harvest.

Squatting in the traditional pose, Bird hummed a counterpoint to her companion’s joyous warbles. Tense when she began, the melody melted her, seeping down to her marrow like the poultice she’s prepared and administered to the trees root system. She rocked on her heel in time with the swaying branches.

Few Plinth’s spotted the mountainside. Traditionally seedlings harvested in late spring were replanted for daughters hatched the previous year. Out of favor for many season’s, Bird’s was among a handful left, and aside from Letty’s, Bird tended them all, but hers was the only one that sang. The others silenced by disinterest, disbelief or death. To Bird, it was all the same.

September 11, 1981

HE called. I was washing dishes. Not the right Cinderella moment, but up to my elbows in greasy suds is more authentic than a size ten threatening to shatter a glass slipper while the other waits for its prince to get on one knee and slice a toe off with the other.

A summer’s worth of eating tuna, celery and rice had paid off I thought when I heard HIS voice, a feathery tickle I’ve known since we were five. I ate so much tuna; I couldn’t go barefoot without the cat lapping at my toes. And my poor toes? Curled under, raw from being ground into the sidewalk every night. I ran the two miles to my old grade school playground, worked my way up to eleven real pull-ups over the course of the summer before tromping my fat ass home.

Twenty vanquished pounds later, HE calls. I can taste the three years of loserdom melting in my mouth. Romanceless fat best friend years, pining for HIM while HE dated every girl we knew and saved his secrets for me.

I thought.

Until tonight.

“It was me,” he said.

“What was you?” I asked.

Not the conversation I anticipated. That conversation gushed over my new appearance and how stupid he’d been to not notice I was so pretty in addition to being funny, smart and a good listener.

“What I told you about Stevie,” he said. “It wasn’t him, it was me.”

“Oh,” and that was all there was to say.

“We’re still friends?” he asked. “You don’t hate me, do you? I couldn’t stand it if you hated me.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

But we ‘re not friends anymore and I will hate him for a long time, I think.

We three were musketeers. Since kindergarten. Over the summer, they went off to band camp and when they came back, Stevie didn’t hang out with us anymore.

“Is something wrong?” I asked HIM. “Did something happen at camp between you guys?”

“Nah,” HE said. “You know Steve. He’s that way sometimes. Moody. Things’ll get back to normal eventually.”

But they didn’t. Stevie wouldn’t talk to me except to tell me I should ask HIM about IT and that I didn’t know HIM as well as I thought I did.

Eventually he explained that Stevie tried to kiss him one night when they’d gotten drunk off Boone’s Farm. He’d turned Stevie down, of course, and now Stevie was embarrassed and mad.

But it was both of them. Twinsies all along. I smelled like the cat bowl for nothing.

The fat girl inside gloated. Like the other girls who dated him and knew will. I can see it now. The looks they gave us this fall that weren’t really jealous at all.

I almost didn’t go for my nightly run, but I decided to punish my inner fat girl for her smugness and I skipped her breakfast this morning too for good measure.

I wrote this for a contest at Nathan Bransford’s blog. I didn’t make the semi’s or the honorable mention. Nathan listed some of the things he looked for and also traits that disqualified. One of notes concerned story that seemed to have a date stamped on in an attempt to make narrative look like a diary entry. I would say my piece resembles that, but this is how I kept my journals as a teen and into my late twenties. I would write about events from my day as if I were telling a first person story, transcribing them verbatim including whole dialogues with commentary interspersed.

The contest called for 500 words max which doomed me too because I needed about double to flesh it properly. I wanted to do that before posting, but I have done a yoga cleanse this week. Yoga sessions daily and twice on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I am beat. I also had some issues at the paying gig to wade through that distracted a bit. I will be back later today to post the revision.