Tara Anegada, Emily Ash, Maddie Craig, Georgia Hamblett & Alex Tyndall
October is the month of fallen leaves and cosy hot chocolates. In essence of this month, we gave our writers the word ‘safe’ to inspire their work. This is what they came up with.
I will never write you a love poem, and yet
My brain always yells,
But with you the screams quiet
Into soft, sweet sounds.
As British awkwardness becomes global formality,
Seldom we make contact outside virtual reality,
Privately, I yearn for the things I used to dread,
Like cars congested in traffic jams, surrounded by Red,
Instead I am stuck — suffocated by space,
Merely a smile can escape my masked face,
A day at home alone becomes a month of mundane mess,
Brimming with anxiety and helplessness and stress,
Daily visits down Memory Lane invite cruel comparisons, tempting gloom,
Fuelling me to scrutinise the eventless present, in my empty room,
But ‘boring people get bored’ is a phrase I choose to deny,
As I passively observe the inactivity in my life,
I overdose on television and online dates with strangers,
To comfort my loneliness while I hide from the dangers
While outside, the Invisible Killer stalks its prey,
Ruling and dictating our lives each day,
Alas, Hope remains, although everything seems bleak,
Heroes keep fighting, protecting the weak,
Intervals interrupt life, like the ends of acts in a play,
Ambition is our patient audience, accepting this delay,
So, surrender to Stagnancy, and put action on hold,
Stay safe and be aware, adhere to advice that is told.
She jumped into water.
She’d always liked to swim. Well, she’d like to say she’d always liked to swim, but having gone through the rigours of writing a personal statement the year before, she had learnt that saying one had ‘always’ been a certain way inclined was a hyperbolic turn of phrase. No one came out of the womb with an undying passion to study medicine, she could remember her sixth form teacher telling her, while scribbling out the first line of her personal statement – ‘I have always wanted to study medicine’ – with blood-red ink.
But Leah had loved to swim long before she’d set her sights on becoming a doctor. She’d started swimming lessons aged five and, since then, her next visit to the pool could never come soon enough. That again, however, was a comment made looking back through rose tinted glasses, or swimming goggles. As Leah’s mum often reminded her, usually to illustrate the moral that ‘you don’t know unless you try’, Leah’s first lesson had comprised of more tardy toddler tantrums than time in the water which, upon returning home, had resulted in Leah spending more time in contact with the naughty step than she had done with the chlorinated waters of the local pool. But once the unchartered wave of fear had crashed and calmed to a steady stream of curiosity, Leah’s apprehension was towered by excitement to dip her toe into the water.
So, since her second trip to the pool, Leah had been hooked. Where others’ childhoods were shaped by singers and TV shows, Leah’s was morphed by purity; the water’s company and unmasked honest form. It was her alcohol, the liquid which bred the current which carried her worries downstream, depositing them on a shore for rediscovery later, if she so chose. The water cleansed her mind and body and had been her natural remedy and unwavering companion since before she could write her name. Through the choppy waters of childhood and adolescence, the water had always presented itself as still and constant, ever unchanging yet adaptable.
But even the water was out of its depth when it came to the invisible killer which spawned and contaminated every aspect of our being. Even the tanks of gas which bubbled through the pool water weren’t enough to sterilize our inferiority and terror. With your head under the water you were safe, but as soon as you took a breath…it was like rolling a dice.
And so, the pools shut. And for the first time since infancy, Leah watched weeks roll by without so much as indulging in a single stroke in the water. How she’d love to have lived by the sea; to have had the water, in its most candid state, to refresh her each morning and relax her as the sun set. But her day dreams were frivolous compared to the nightmares being experienced by those on her island and overseas. Water could kill and cure, it could act as medicine and as torture, it could destroy our settlements and allow us to form them. And yet when it came to the virus, waters’ role had been one impartial. Like the rest of the world, the water which Leah craved lay isolated inside its home, waiting to be reunited with its admirers once again. But only when it was safe.
She dove into the water.
It had been months (six, to be exact) since Leah had last swam a length. She couldn’t sleep the night before meeting her old friend. She couldn’t wait to be engulfed by liberation, freed from the monotony and sequestration she had endured without having contact with water. She liked her own company, but she needed someone else there too. She needed the water to listen to her thoughts as she swam, cleansing them, purifying them. She needed to hear the song that shimmers from water as it glides up and down the pool. She needed water to be around her, embracing her, hugging her after all these months of separation. The feeling of being besieged by her old ally was like that of being shielded by a safety net; the erection of a milestone which read that things were getting better, safer. She wanted to see her hand drift through the pool, leaving a trail of lively bubbles, all mixing and joining without hesitation or fear.
It was colder than she had remembered when she dove in. Her shoulders ached as she swam her lengths. The smell of the augmented chlorine was enough to make anyone cough. It wasn’t the same as before. Leah’s relationship with water was rusty and graceless, out of practice. And yet it was perfect. Because things weren’t the same as they were before, water had taken on a new figure, emerged with a new stance. Leah had found the water again, it hadn’t gone anywhere, it hadn’t changed beyond recognition; it had only metamorphosed in such a manner which allowed flora to blossom from the buds of hardship endured. Things had changed, but the stream of transformation was always flowing, sometimes as a trickle, sometimes as a gushing current. It meanders and winds, sometimes in a way we wish, sometimes in the antithesis.
Yet if we swim formidably, we will always reach the shores of safety, no matter how lost we are at sea.
As the nights draw in and the curtains close,
As the overcast clouds smudge out the sun,
As frost descends, and the sharp North wind blows,
Summer sighs its last, knowing its job is done.
As the trees begin to burn with colour,
As the flowers close up, wither, and fade,
As the harvest basket becomes fuller,
The preparations for Winter are made.
Safe and sound, curled up in our homes are we –
Away from the bustle and noise of life,
Family becomes our main priority,
And, for a while, there is no pain, nor strife:
Only the here and now we all seek to find,
And a sense of peace, shared with all mankind.
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