Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Black Crow

It was the rain that woke me up. The incessant drumbeat on the flat kitchen roof, the higher singing tone of water cascading over the blocked gutter. And now that I'm awake, it's the rain that keeps me up, watching its drops break against the window pane like a series of morse code dots and dashes.

There'll be sandbags across the doorways of the cottages by the river tonight. Bags to sop up the encroaching water, stop it coming across the doorstep; a lumpen wordless bodyguard for each house. I wonder how high the water is now. In the few years we've been here, I've seen it swell over into the fields across the river, reminding me of the Chinese rice fields we learnt about in school, but it's never been high enough to cross over to our side, or inch its way up our street. I imagine the water filling up all the cracks and holes left in the tarmac by the recent frosts and snow, forming puddles for wellie-clad children to jump in tomorrow.

We've been here long enough for me to know which of the roads gets tricky to pass after a heavy downpour, the big dip further along the valley, the road by the lake, where there's nowhere for the water to drain away. I'm never sure how to drive through standing water. I'm scared that if I drive slowly the water will seep into the engine, creep in around the door sills, suck me and the car into its clinging wetness. My urge is to accelerate, push through it as quickly as possible, no matter what great bow-wave I create. Then through the other side, where, if my car was a dog it would shake from side to side and nose to tail, creating a halo of raindrops. Instead I pull away fast, hoping the wheelspin will drive away the water.

When I was a child, my younger sister Caroline was scared of the rain, she always thought it would flood. And as kids so often do, we picked up on her terror. We could reduce her to tears, a flood of her own, by telling her that the house would float away each time it poured. I always liked the imagined idea of de-camping upstairs in a storm, piling up the furniture, eating picnics on our beds, but that probably didn't help for Caroline. Upstairs wasn't a place of refuge for her - not since the time our big sister Ros had so vividly imagined and described 'The Black Crow' that hovered at the top of the staircase waiting to pounce.

Perhaps it was just water that Caroline hated, you'd have certainly thought so if you ever heard her having her hair washed. When we were kids, there was no shower at home and it wasn't til I was a teenager that we got one of those rubber shower hoses that you can fit over the bath-taps. So for years, our mother washed our hair while we stood at the sink, using saucepans full of water. Pour, shampoo, rinse, then repeat. When it was Caroline's turn the sound of each saucepan-full was accompanied by the sound of screaming as she wriggled to escape, trying to duck the water, failing to keep the shampoo out of her eyes. Pour, scream, rinse, shriek, shampoo, sob, rinse, screech, then repeat... scream, scream, scream.

I can almost hear it now.

As I sit and listen in my head to those sounds from long ago, I realise that it's quieter here now. The deluge from the drain has stopped; the ticking of the mantelpiece clock has replaced the rain-beats on the roof. Time to go back up to bed.

I wonder where The Black Crow sleeps tonight.


Jeannie said...

Nicely done, Sharon!

I was almost hypnotized at the end, though it is 1:00 a.m., so that might have had something to do with it ;).

Appreciated its audio-climactic, hair-washing disturbance near the end.

Think it was what I needed to lull me to sleep, meant in a good way, with the ticking of the mantelpiece clock.

Shopgirl said...

I like how you lined up your fear of driving in water with Caroline's fear of hair washing and the Black Crow, and how thoughts and memories of family were keeping you company on sleepless nights. I too think about how my older brother used to torture me then protect me then torture me some more, and how much I miss those days, especially on sleepless nights. The imagery of "if my car was a dog..." made me chuckle. :)

caterpillar said...

Nice one...reminds me of my childhood when I used to scream any time Mom used to use shampoo while washing my hair...I firmly believed that shampoo would blind me...I kind of like the idea of the house floating away...nice....imagine all the places we could go to....:)

Jane said...

I know I said 'Learning to know' was your best post ever
but now I'm not so sure. I love this one - the sounds,
the images and the black crow - beautifully written.

I had a scary something that lived in the wall at the top of the stairs just waiting to pounce so I understand Caroline's fear.

Mr London Street said...

I'm aware that I say this quite regularly, but this might well be my favourite thing that you've written. Just beautiful. Lots of lovely phrases and images - you've clearly put a great deal of thought into this but you manage to make it look so smooth and effortless. The dog image is the obvious one to praise, but I especially liked the "lumpen wordless bodyguards" in the first paragraph. Thank goodness your writing is neither lumpen nor wordless.

NanU said...

Oh, me too. Having my hair washed over the sink by my mom was just the worst torture. No way to keep the shampoo out of my eyes, face down like that. Water by turns scalding and icy. gah!

Ruby Tuesday said...

I have to thank Mr London Street for introducing you via Twitter ... This really is a delightful piece of writing so descriptive..lovely xx

Jayne said...

And you write this in the middle of the night? Staggering amount of talent over there. It's just a gorgeous piece. Stirred so many painful hair washing memories of my own. (And reminded me of my own fear of over sized puddles.

Nicole said...

Gorgeously written. I can see so much of this and feel the damp.

Madame DeFarge said...

I love the sound of the rain, but then, have never had the experience of being flooded. Maybe I would regard it with less benevolence if I had. And it's always strange how we are haunted by the sounds of the past.

Pat said...

The sound of rain means buckets in
the back porch and - if the wind is in a certain direction - in the garage too.
I enjoy your writing even if I don't say so every time. That's why I come back.
In my next life I shall be an elder sister and be beastly to my younger siblings.

Bth said...

You really do capture memories beautifully. You walk the reader along your scenes, they come to life as you create images which jump out of your writing. I liked especially you comparing the car to a shaking dog - brilliant!

Sally-Sal said...

The part about your sister screaming through getting her hair washed made me laugh really, really hard.

I don't know how you do it, but your writing, no matter what the subject is always brilliant.

Dani said...

This is a beautiful piece! It sort of illustrates the way the mind wanders through topics and memories when we have nothing to do but think.

Love. Really, well done.

legend in his own lunchtime said...

When I got to the bit about getting your hair washed over the sink, I could feel the grip of my mother tighten around ny neck. Wonderful writing. I'm looking forward to more so I'm off to follow. Thank you.

Murr Brewster said...

I've always been most afraid of being flooded out, until I found out I was living over a stupendous subduction fault. Now there's no end of things to think about and fill my shorts.

Do NOT drive through deep water. I will never forget seeing a car swept away--fast as a meteor, vanishing in the night.

This is a beautiful post. I'm reading it while rain pounds on the skylights.

Sharon Longworth said...

What a lovely bunch of comments - each one is very much appreciated.

Jeannie - I didn't realise until I re-read it that I'd written so much about sounds! I'm glad this helped you get back into sleep-mode and honoured that you stayed awake long enough to leave a comment!

Shopgirl - thank you! Brothers and sisters can be so horrid to each other (unless they're SallySal who is one heck of a sister) it's odd how often we still end up loving our siblings.

Caterpillar - I'd never really thought about the nicer side of the house floating away - but you're right it could be brilliant.

Jane - thank you so much. Your comments are always thoughtful, so your praise is very much appreciated. I'd love to know more about the scary thing that lived in the wall.

Sharon Longworth said...

MLS - thank you. Your comments both inspire me to keep writing and terrify me that I'll disappoint next time. Looks like I did ok this time - phew!

Nanu - It was absolute torture wasn't it? If I think about it hard enough I can still taste the shampoo that I ended up swallowing as well. Yeeuch.

Ruby Tuesday - thank you so much for following MLS' Tweet, reading the blog and leaving such a great comment. I'm glad you liked it.

Jayne - there's a lot to be said for middle-of-the-night writing - no interruptions or distractions. I have to admit though that it usually needs a good edit in the cold light of day.

Sharon Longworth said...

Nicole - thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope I haven't left you too uncomfortable in the damp!

MdF - the sounds thing is strange - the more I think about it, the more I realise how much I remember by sounds - my sense of smell is pretty rubbish, so maybe it's making up for that?

Pat - Oh dear, the bucket routine doesn't sound much like fun. I do like the idea though of reinventing ourselves for future lives. I will come back as the spoilt youngest one!

Bth - I continue to be so pleased that you see things worth commenting on in my writing - thank you!

Sharon Longworth said...

Sally-Sal. thank you, thank you, thank you! And I'm glad I made you laugh.

Dani - yep, the middle of the night is great for that sitting, thinking thing - although most of the time I don't manage to do much more than just sit.

Legend - thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment - and for the follow as well. I'm sorry if the gripping memory caused any neck pain!

Murr - 'a stupendous subduction fault' - oh my, I have absolutely no idea what that is - I shall have to go and google it! In the meantime, thank you for your comment - and I shall follow your advice about the driving and deep water thing.

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Corte Inglesa said...

Just having a nose about your blog, I really loved this post. You are a fine writer Sharon- really.