KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Ekphrastic Tanka Tale: 826 words


by Claire Everett

Waiting the return of the boats, Cullercoats, Northumberland
Oil on canvas, circa 1870s, by Frank Holl, R.A.

...But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

—William Butler Yeats

When it comes to my grandmother’s legacy, the coffers are almost bare: a sense of humour; resilience; a gap-toothed smile...(“It’ll make you your fortune,” I tell my daughter). If wishes were horses, beggars would ride—another favourite saying, so I’m told. Ettie Boyle, dead long before I was born. I take pains not to squander this meagre inheritance.

She was Jack’s second wife. The first died in childbirth. There’s no record of the child. My mother, the youngest of four, was, by her own admission, the runt of the litter, so small and sickly, it was a wonder she survived. They lost Mary to meningitis. At fourteen, Lucy went into service as a maid in London; during the Blitz they lost contact and never saw or heard of her again. My mother doesn’t have much to say about John.

Around the turn of the century, Jack had emigrated from Ireland to England. His birth certificate had perished in a house fire, so it didn’t matter that he was past the maximum conscription age when war broke out in 1914. That was where he lost his faith, he said, in that stinking abattoir. Yet he saw the Angel at Mons. Plagued with bronchitis, he could never quite hack the trenches from his lungs. That final winter, he would succumb to pneumonia.

He scraped a living as a hedger, won first prize every year at the county show, but by the time the Depression hit, Ettie had become an invalid after two ischaemic strokes. He’d spent his life on his uppers, but with bairns to feed and clothe and doctors’ bills, where was it all going to end? No matter. As long as there was oil for the lamp and some kindling for the fire—if you were skin and bone already, it was no hardship to tighten your belt a little more. The broth could always be made thinner.

Then there was an accident on the farm. Jack was blinded in one eye and the children were taken into care. Somehow, he kept working, tended to his beloved Ettie’s needs and three years later the family was reunited.

today an artist
tomorrow a dancer...
scarlet rain...
a life of thick glasses
and sensible shoes

From the age of five, my mother, whose vision was already poor, looked forward to her annual appointment at the Infirmary, this being the one occasion when she had her father all to herself; Jack would even hold her hand. The trip also involved the purchase of shoes for the new school year. As time passed, it became less of a novelty. At the tender age of nine, my mother was sobbing when she returned.

“I wanted the black patent ones, Mum.”

“I know, sweetheart. One day our ship will come in.”

Jack didn’t stand for any nonsense. The slightest hint of frivolity was given short shrift. Woe betide my mother if she had her head stuck in a book when there were chores to be done. The evening meal was sacrosanct. If someone came to call, Jack would throw his plate across the table and storm out of the room, unless it was the old gypsy woman, of course. She’d be invited to sit by the fire and my mother would have to brew a fresh pot of tea.

one silver coin
and the moon’s in full sail
crossing the bar...
we’ll make ends meet
with summer gauze

Year in, year out, she’d tell them they’d never have much but it would be enough to get by. That didn’t stop Jack breaking down in tears when he had to listen to Ettie moaning in pain; he couldn’t call the doctor out again with the last bill still unpaid.

“Ettie, my love,” he soothed, rocking her in his arms, “do you still think that ship’s going to come in?”

My mother would hear him praying each night, still hedging his bets when it came to religion.

“Please God, deliver my wife from this suffering. And bring our Lucy home safe and well. Lord, let me see my daughter again.”

Ettie survived him by four years. My parents, when they married, lived with her in the same tied cottage. When she died there was not one strand of white in her raven black hair.

Now there’s a new generation of make do and mend, Child Support and university fees. We can’t afford to be ill.

“Shall we buy a lottery ticket this week?”

“Well we won’t win if we don’t, that’s for sure...”

another wave
breaks against the jetty
still no sign
but oh, how the saltwater
spangles the empty creels


Author’s Notes:

1. Uppers: part of shoe or boot above the sole; on (one’s) uppers; (informal): impoverished; destitute

2. Summer gauze: “gossamer,” Yorshire dialect


Publisher’s Note:

The epigraph above is from a poem by William Butler Yeats: “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”


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