Isobel Terry

Bus stops.

The bus stops. He sits at the front upstairs to see the view. A group of teenagers pour into the back seats. Laughter and remarks to everyone and no one.  He combs his fingers through his bushy black hair. He holds tightly onto his rucksack and hums to calm himself. The sounds of their voices get louder. He gets up to go downstairs. Safer down there. His eyes scan the rows of faces for an empty place.One next to the window, a man gets up to let him in. He sits down.  

The animated chatter and exclamations of the driver to his mate. The tunes on the radio hover between chant and melody. A road into mountains. Bare rock. The cracking of glaciers. Peaks merge with sky. A place where plates collide and mountains grow. The sea is far away. The muffled cough and spluttering of a woman sat on the back seat. It was all sound. Woman sat at the back completely covered. At stops the men got out to let them in and out averting their eyes. Only the men left the bus to pray.

The bus stops. It is not a stop.

The driver and his mate get out to clear a huge boulder in the road. People to help appear from nowhere. Tumbling torrents of clear water. A howling of wind. A running tap. The smell of gasoline and sweat. He stands on the edge of the road tall and poised flicking a small ball between his feet. ‘Keep up’ he plays. His legs twist and rotate. From afar he appears naked dancing on that hillside. No one surrounds him. The ball stays in the air. It can be heard more than seen. A sound of dried seeds falling.

The lights are red. The sun is strong. A woman at the crossing. A car does not stop. Thud. She softens into the impact and spins on the bonnet. Her legs extend and toes point out into the air. She slides off the wing landing on the tarmac. The car stops just inches from her hands. She is completely still, her breath shallow. The driver’s face is frozen in the windscreen. Eyes wide. The rucksack on her back cushions the blow. Her cells spill out all over the road . Some remain on the spot.

At a small village all the men descend. She gets on the bus. The only western woman in these parts. Her bright scarf is drawn tightly around her head. She lowers her face. The women shuffle closer together and she sits down between them. The hooter calls.The engine starts. A rattle of the exhaust. The driver begins to sing along with the radio. A smell of lavender. The spluttering stops. Faint female laughter. The men return and bus moves on. He senses her behind him.

Suddenly she is standing. He does not see how this happens. Some people have gathered around her. They do not touch her. Her face is drained of blood. She waves her arms around moving her lips. The traffic piles up in a long line around the corner. The sound of a siren’s wail. An ambulance is trying to reach her. He looks at her intently for a very long time, breathing through glass. Her hands clasp the railings by the crossing. Sunlight catches her hair. She closes her eyes. The cells return inside the membrane of her skin. A molecular calling. Membranes permeablity changed. Forever.

A checkpoint. A thin barrier. Stoned soldiers surface from their post. Three local men are waiting. One boards the bus holding his Kalashnikov over his shoulder. They have come for her. She does not cry out. There is no sound. All the passengers stay seated and still. In the aisle her scarf falls from her head. She turns to look at him. Her soft eyes, a faint smile. Time is still. Her glance, it hits the back of his eyes like a arrow. In a few seconds she is gone. Head covered. The barrier lifts the bus passes through. The four disappear up a steep path. All he sees is barren brown rock. Black ravens fly around from all directions stretching across a blue grey sky. 

The lights turn green. The traffic does not move. She feels the hand of someone touching her back, just behind her heart. She takes a new breath. A breath from behind herself. The ambulance arrives. He sinks into his seat. The man next to him nods his head. A vague smile. Of mutual recogniton having seen her too.  And her falling and standing. The teenagers tumble down the stairs, the next stop is theirs. He remembers a missing piece.

The sound of the kiss she left on his left cheek.

The bus moves on.

Isobel Terry

The sounds of light

He has chosen this day. A sultry day in July. He takes a seat facing the way the train is travelling. He removes his grey sweat shirt, veins protrude from his forearms. A smell of stale air. His bag nestles into his right side. He lowers his eyes on to a hard backed book with a plastic covering ‘The last man in Rome ‘. He holds it in both hands, one cupped over the spine. The pages are creamy grey, worn. He opens his wallet attached to a chain slithering from his trouser pocket. He shows his ticket to the guard.

Suddenly the voice of a woman. She is sitting opposite him. He had not noticed her. He stays transfixed on his book. Is she speaking to him? He hopes not. She says several words before he hears. He rests his book on his lap and looks up. Something in the tone of her voice momentarily anchors him. A strange distraction, of attention.

You want to know about the sounds in my life? Well, it’s mostly silent. I don’t even whistle. The sounds I hear are from somewhere else. The man in the flat below plays his jazz pieces on the piano. It drives me crazy. The ice cracks melting in the fridge. The thermostat broke. The murmur of traffic I keep out by pulling the curtains and keeping the windows closed. I can’t tolerate the sound of light. And the sound of my own voice. Strange for me, speaking these words to you. He blows out a deep breath. Oh I made a sigh then didn’t I? You ask about sounds and more sounds appear. He looks down, his eye lids flicker. He rubs his right thigh firmly with the flat of his hand. She wonders what he is brushing away. A sensation of tingling lingers in his palm.

Suddenly a vortex of wind. The daylight is shattered. It is the long tunnel through the hill. The lights come on dimly. A roar of sound. In the gloom a deep frown appears between his sunken eyes. A veil of grey drops over his retinas, his skin turns an ashen yellow. She feels cold, zips up her jacket. He becomes completely still. The window catches their reflections both suspended in another silence, looking in different directions. He catches a glimpse of himself on the other side, death is the glass. It seems to last for ever.

Then abruptly, light. From the window he sees the canal. It runs parallel through the hill. A echo of watery darkness, strangely ponderous. His heart beats fast, drops of sweat gather on his forehead, saliva drains from his mouth. A sensation in his head, of a band of steel tightening around it. A line of tension pulls him towards the door. The train is still moving. He stands up. He walks along the line to the door, his eyes focusing on the open button he must press to exit. She follows him. Are you OK? The membranes in his ears have closed over, her voice is faint. A gentle hand, firm and steady, is pushing him towards something. First he feels the heat of it, her right hand on his upper back. At the back of his heart. He closes his eyes. A space opens up between his lungs and fills with an undulating breath. It is a place of translucence, of a lateral dimension, of no fear. And here there is a voice. Not one he has heard before. A fading voice to be quickly captured. It is quiet and rambling with a shallow breath. She listens attentively, with endocrine attention.

I am lost in a strange landscape. I am falling fast, yet of no speed, in a vortex of no stopping. A time before sound, an infinity, a kind of bliss, of going nowhere. I am a cell, the last cell of all. I am afloat in mineral filled fluids. I am alone implanted by the spirits of souls yet unborn. I am breathing, vigorously for my life. I spiral in a space of buoyancy. My heart beat is imprinted in my pathway of evolution. I am a call of awakening, of redemption. I am in search of air, of oxygen, I refuse to die of my own suffocation. I am what is vital in the darkness of the galaxy, where stardust is in the making.

Silence. She stands beside him looking at him, her head slightly tipped to the side, looking at him. She notices in the flesh on his face blood returning. She takes her hand from his upper back. The train stops. It terminates here. Time for departure. She steps onto the platform. She disappears through the ticket barrier. He turns and sits, facing the other way.

Isobel Terry

A suspension of silence 


They part in Millennium Square. A holding of hands. They look into each other faces. A smile. At the end of a leisurely lunchtime appointment a story seeps into their clasp. Of cellular memory.  A lineage of connection. It rises up through their skin slipping down the lines of our palms touching. Vapours of time spill out on to stone slabs. A dampening. Then a parting of hands. One walks away. They wave goodbye She disappears around the corner. The other gathers the lines of story before they dry.

I am ordered to come to her drawing room. I knock. I walk through the door. She sits at her pianoforte tinkling a hymn. The tune I recognize yet cannot recall. The wooden floor boards creak under my feet. A smell of polish.  Bees wax and lavender on mahogany. She continues playing. Wooden blinds cover the large sash windows. The air is cool. She plays in a comfortable gloom. I glance out over the veranda to the fields beyond.. A darkening sky. The rains are coming.

The tune stops. I look towards her. Her magnolia frock cascades around the stool; its hem casts a semi circle on the rug. My eyes rest on the back of her neck. A place of ivory tenderness.  Her hair is pinned up. When she rides her horses her curls hang loose entangled by the wind. I have a sudden memory. It is of my real name. My secret. It is of my grandmother. And in a place of freedom I will use it, after all.

 ‘I have a question for you, Harriet’ she speaks into her score.   

 ‘Yes ma’am’

She turns to face me. She dabs at her narrow pink lips with a lace handkerchief. I lower my gaze. She hands me the bible and says

 ‘Kiss this holy book and swear before God that you will tell me the truth.’

I take the oath she requires knowing what she is to ask. Today I heard my master and mistress quarrel. I rejoiced in the storm that enraged them. In its mist I felt a strange kind of safety.

‘Now sit here this stool, look me directly in the eye and tell me all that has passed between you and your master.’

She points to a small chair in the centre of the room. I sit down and pull my cloth skirt over my bare knees. She remains on the piano stool. Her pale hands lie clasped together on her lap. Her thumbs circle around each other in a clockwise direction. My heart beats faster. Sweat collects under the soles of my feet.  Saliva drains down my throat. I lift my tongue to speak. I know it will not rise. It lies heavy and dry behind my lower front teeth. Fiercely she stares at me. I am sure her blue eyes see right through to my soul.

A suspension of silence I take the bible from between her calloused hands and place it beside me I remember teaching her to read from this bible. She was quick to learn. We had to be careful not to get caught I know she will not speak. I look at her. I have known her face since we were children.  My wet nurse was her mother.  We suckled at the same breast. We played together. She found out her predicament when she was six years old. She became a slave when she was twelve. My father died shortly after. I am the only child. Uncle arranged my marriage for me when I was nineteen so that I could inherit the plantation.

I have been sworn to silence. A fear of his whip, even death, should I speak. The back of my thighs press into the edge of the chair. I remember the day it began. It was a Friday shortly after their wedding. He smells me in his nostrils. A yearning in his groin for my brown flesh.  He whispers in my ear foul words. Words that if spoken out loud would contaminate the air. I tremble. I feel his lips wet on the .back of my neck. He draws me into his room. I know the inevitability of my fate. I am property. From then on he orders me to work in the house. 

I am resting in my drawing room. I hear footsteps, the sound of his boots on the hallway floor. Her muffled voice. His bedroom door closes. I hear a .muted cry through the crack of the door left ajar. A burning sensation engulfs my intestines.  A poisoning of my blood. A shrinking of my lungs. A holding of my breath. A stiff neck. A taste of bitterness in my mouth. I can barely tolerate it .The next morning I see her. I see her heart in the hallway. It has shrivelled between her lungs. Her eyes are glazed over. Laughter has flown from her. I am numbed to her misery. This is the beginning. Of an ever deepening chasm. One I am powerless to cross. I cannot bear to hear her words. And she will not tell me.

‘You can go, I have no wish to know. She mutters with a stern tone. returning to her score.

‘Yes ma’am’.

I hear her footsteps leave the room. My fingers fumble on the piano keys. She shuts the door firmly.