Somewhere Else Writers now have a slot in Cirencester Scene, a monthly magazine delivered to 12,000 homes in the Cirencester area.
How to Open a Book
By J R Moeller
It is one of the unwritten axioms of life that each of us has had a teacher who made an impact on our lives, and not always in the subject taught.
My love of English literature, for example, should have been the result of Miss Crow’s class in the subject.
No. Miss Crow taught me how to open books.
Her voice still rings out. ‘James, do not open that book yet. We will do it together.’
Those were the days when students had to buy their textbooks from the school. The money for books was due at the beginning of the semester. If you were unfortunate and could not afford to pay, you must make do with copies deposited in the school library.
Everyone in Miss Crow’s class, however, had a textbook. She saw to that, sometimes personally.
Once the books were issued, the class was told to place everything else on the floor.
‘Now place the book you have just received to the right of the centre of your desk.’ When everyone’s book was sited correctly, she issued the next instruction. ‘Place the book on its spine, and open it at the centre, laying it thus.’ She would place her book on a high dais at the front of the class and open it. ‘Do not force it, but let it open naturally.’
We were instructed to open half of the first half, half of the second half, and so on, until we had opened the book in some eight places. We then were told to close it, place it upside down on the other side of the desk, and repeat the whole process for the other side of the book.
Miss Crow glanced at the clock. At that moment, with exquisite timing perfected over the years, the bell rang which signified the end of the class period. Another year of correctly opened books was launched.
And literature? Her classes were memorable for events which framed the literature we were studying: a tea party in Dover; a bit of weaving for Silas Marner; a candle for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. I did not always understand the connections, but the ones that were far-fetched often turned out to have the strongest memory. If nothing else, her classes were memorable although I remember very little of the literature taught in them.
Some years later, I arrived in England, but I could not connect anything of Miss Crow’s teaching to the realities of living there. However, I arrived during the Swinging Sixties and life had changed from her land of thatched cottages and quaint customs.
Yet, her vision of England struck me as the true one, or at least an inspiring one. This is not to deny the grittier view, but Miss Crow’s image is the one she passed on to a whole generation of students in that small mid-western town whose only other connection with England was it’s founding by an ex-Colonel from Staffordshire.
Mind how you open your next book.
Frost – by Sophie Livingston
I know it’s freezing. The grass splintered like glass beneath my feet as I walked in and the air is starched with ice but I think it will do us both good to go outside. I feel I am inhaling too many dying breaths in here – perhaps it’s just the automatic fragrance dispenser by the door. HAWAIIAN BREEZE MUM. Is it just me that finds something sinister about the need for so much scent in the air?
I know you can’t talk. The stroke saw to that. Let’s just get your coat and hat and I’ll push you to the river. If we wrap the scarf high no one can see your face, which is good because, to be honest, it is a little frightening. The left side has collapsed completely and when you try and talk globules of drool trickle out of the corner of your mouth. You were always so proud of your looks. Remember Father Docherty? He used to say: “Fine looking woman your mother, Maureen. Let’s hope you grow up like her.” How you bustled round Father Docherty. He must have smiled. All those good Catholic mothers competing to fill his teacup and all the time…
Our Joseph won’t be coming to visit. You knew that. How long is it since he last spoke to you? Decades? It’s funny isn’t it. Your own voice used to be so loud you never could hear ours, however hard we tried and now, you are such a good listener. I’m sure he sends his love. No, actually, I’m not sure that’s what he’d send.
Are you cold? It is bitter here and the water looks black under the ice. Guess who I met yesterday? Gilbert Roberts. After all these years. Gilbert was my own glorious blast of heat. His home smelt of okra and bell peppers and his skin gleamed like aubergine. His mother wore clothes the colour of Caribbean summers and laughed like sin did not exist. Gilbert shone. Mum, and his sunshine warmed even my pinched heart.
How does it feel lying naked in the bath while that nice nurse washes you; her hands tenderly sponging your neck, your armpits your…
You used to say they carried diseases. That you didn’t like the thought of sitting on a toilet after one of them had used it. Have you told her that?
He said he begged to see me when he knew the baby was coming; before you handed me to the nuns; before they handed my baby to God knows who; before the hospital and the electric shock treatments; before the endless, barren years that led to now.
He told you he wanted to marry me.
My goodness, the wind is bitter here. Is that a tear, or just the creeping cold? Let’s loosen your jacket and unwrap the scarf. In an hour or so, I’ll run across the brittle grass and cry for help.
All the short stories and poems from earlier this year and before can be found at Cirencester Scene Archive 2017