Mind The Gap
Listeners, therein the injustice lies.
Not six weeks old when I would not wake
and now I pay dear for my namesake’s mistake.
She, the purveyor of original sin
as she bit into the apple’s ripe rosy skin.
Today should have been my christening tea,
Instead my family are burying me.
Laid to rest in a pure white dress,
an innocent angel they all acquiesce.
This angel though, she fell through the gap,
displaced from heaven and caught in a trap.
Above the cosmos I met a man named Peter
who introduced himself as the celestial gatekeeper.
With snowy beard and sumptuous vestments
he examined my soul in earnest assessment.
“I cannot give you passage, my child,
though your life on Earth was meek and mild.”
“Upon your soul there is a blight,
my sympathy for your blameless plight.
Holy water would have granted absolution
but as you didn’t receive this sacred ablution
there is naught that I can do or say
Except bless you and wish you on your way.”
Thus I spiralled as a dandelion seed shuttlecock
back towards Earth’s dark black rock.
A drilling motion affording me entry
to an underworld with another sentry.
A dog serpent chimera dubbed Cerberus
his glowing coalish eyes like crimson gerberas.
A guttural voice, half snarling, half sneer;
“Little girl, you have no right being here,
down amongst the sweaty suppurating heat
reserved for those who murder, blaspheme and cheat.
You are pure as the driven snow,
hurry, make your escape and go.”
“Go where?” my pleas fall on deaf ears.
A dawning realisation of all of my fears.
By a quirk of Catholic catechism
my being is in cataclysm;
like an astronaut divorced from his tether -
Drifting in limbo forever and ever.
Once I’d recovered from the shock, and from the unexpected nose-flattening, I took a step backwards and regarded the wall in puzzlement. It was solid enough; my face could attest to that. And it extended the full width of the alleyway, also stretching upwards to the same height as the buildings on either side. The bricks even looked scuffed with age, as if the wall had been there many years.
I felt an impact behind me and was catapulted back into the wall, once again proving its solidity. There was curse and a thump, and I turned to see a young man sprawled on the ground at my feet. He looked up at me, and the wall beyond me.
“What the hell?” he demanded.
“Well, quite,” I said, then offered him a hand.
He took it and I heaved him to his feet. He grimaced.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He arched his back and attempted a smile.
“Just a bit bruised. Where on earth did this wall come from?”
“No idea,” I said. “I literally walked into it just before you walked into me.”
“Sorry about that,” he said.
I shrugged. “Hardly your fault. You had no way of knowing.”
He looked the wall up and down, just as I had done a few moments before. Then he looked back at me.
“I guess that puts paid to my usual shortcut,” he said, with more equanimity than I was feeling.
“Mine, too,” I said, ruefully.
He looked at me in surprise. “You take this route often? Or used to, I should say.”
“Every day,” I told him.
“I’ve never seen you down here before,” he said, “and I’m sure I would have remembered.”
I smiled, taking this as a compliment.
“Well,” I ventured, suddenly feeling coquettish, “perhaps the wall conspired to bring us together.”
He grinned, the expression making him look boyishly handsome.
“Maybe,” he said. “And, in that case, I must offer it my thanks. Do you fancy getting a coffee?”
“I’d love to,” I replied. “After all, we have to figure out another route home.”
“That we do.”
He offered me his arm; I took it and we went back the way we had come, together.
‘Come along, dear. Get a move on and MIND THE GAP.’
The apprentice had dragged her heels ever since they’d landed.
Most of her students couldn’t wait for this part of the course when they could return to the classroom and flap their certificates in the faces of their friends.
She watched the flighty thing dawdle across the stepping stones, pearly white in the moonlight.
‘Did you hear what I said? Mind the gap.’
The apprentice reached the edge of the gap and stared, horrified, into a chasm. Warm, moist air wafted up frizzing her hair and dampening her cheeks. She could see a shapeless monster sleeping in the semi-darkness. All the training in the world could not have prepared her for this hellish experience.
‘I can’t do it, Miss. Can’t I use my …’
‘Certainly not. You know the rules.’
The youngster stepped back trembling. This was not a career she would have chosen but it was tradition. The first daughter of the first daughter, yada, yada, yada. For heaven’s sake, she thought, many of her friends were applauding the feminist movement, striking out for independence and freedom from outdated folk law. Would she be brave enough to face her mother’s wrath?
Miss was losing patience. ‘I must not fly off the handle,’ she repeated like a mantra.
‘I could really do with a cigarette,’ she muttered. ‘Or a stiff drink.’ Both were frowned upon but was there really any harm in herbal cigarettes and a glass or two of elderberry wine? She guiltlessly indulged in secret. Sometimes to excess. This was enough to drive anyone to drink.
Perhaps it was time to retire. She didn’t hanker after foreign holidays or stress-free knit and natter groups. What rocked her boat was the thought of relaxing in a garden, dabbling with her water colours, in the company of her pet, Worm.
It was time for a display of tough love.
‘Right. Enough of this nonsense. Let’s get it done. Five minutes and we’ll be homeward bound. JUMP.’
Miss held out her hand. The apprentice shook her head.
A wet, slurpy sound and groan from the chasm put wings on the youngster’s feet and she fairly flew across the gap, landing safely on the stepping stone. She squealed as the stone shook and dropped a short distance into the chasm.
‘We must hurry.’ Miss pulled a thread in her skirt and unraveled a long thin cord. ‘Help me tie this around the thingumajig.’
‘Isn’t this stealing, Miss?’
‘No, just taking it early.’
‘It’s not normally done like this, is it, Miss?’
‘You have to know how to deal with emergency situations, and this is becoming one of them.’
Miss pulled the cord tight. The stone sank lower. Grasping the end of the cord she jumped up onto a rubbery wall. ‘Move yourself and help me.’
The apprentice clambered onto the wall and together they pulled the cord until their booty suddenly popped free and hung, swinging over the chasm.
‘Ugh!’ The apprentice felt faint. So much gore. She really wasn’t cut out for this.
The monster reared up and wiped itself against their prize. The sides of the chasm contracted, drawing in air with such force and horrendous noise, that Miss and the youngster dropped to their knees, gripping the wall for all they were worth.
‘Don’t let go,’ yelled Miss above the noise. 'We don’t want to lose the thingumajig,’ and together they yanked on the cord until it was resting at their feet.
There was a moan and a strong gust of wind whooshed up from the depths.
Miss gave herself a shake. ‘That was a close thing. Come along, dear. Home.’
As she dragged the object of the exercise along the stepping stones, pearly white in the moonlight, the apprentice happily skipped alongside her.
‘Am I a fully-fledged Tooth Fairy now, Miss? Am I, Miss? Am I?’