Wednesday 21 December 2011

BANANA MOON: A short story from the archives


Banana Moon

- A Kinda Christmas Story -

It was nearly Christmas but I was broke and I was hiding. I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world. I liked my own company, that is to say I could bare it. I absorbed most of my solitude in writing and reading books. I’d take a walk sometimes, but it was never easy to leave the house. I looked at the time, it was already past three in the afternoon. I had been reading since waking at eight and I didn’t want to finish my book or I’d have nothing to read in the middle of the night. I had bathed and had some tea but I hadn’t dressed yet. I looked at the sky, a lovely wintry December blue and I thought it would do me some good to take one of my walks - I needed to get out of the house.

 Not giving myself a chance to bottle out, I threw on a coat, scarf and boots over my pajamas and descend the stairs. I saw a packet had come in the post. It was from Yorkshire and addressed to Miss Saliva. I opened it and discovered somebody had printed and made mini-booklets out of one of my poems. It was a funny little hashed together thing, photocopied and cheaply made. It had a yellow paper pages. It was being sold for twelve pence per copy. They had scribbled little matchstick men on each page, it was a poor mans flick book. The poem was squew-whiff, the words slanted off the page. I grinned, I quite liked that the poem had its own life, its own little book. It was a poem which made people laugh, so the joke would spread. The idea that a complete stranger had done this and that somewhere there were a thousand copies of these yellow fellas being sold for twelve pence each up north somewhere made me happy, I let out a little laugh and walked towards the Heath.

I think it was the noise that got my attention first, the swish-swish sound. Or maybe it was the lights through the branches. No I remember it was the two schoolboys packing large snowballs in their gloved hands. I stared and wondered: where had they got snow? Perhaps a car windscreen or the rooftop of the park cafe but that seemed unlikely. It was a crisp December, the weathermen had told us there was to be no white Christmas this year. Then it as I looked at the snowballs, I heard the swish swish and it was then I saw the fairy lights, the tops of tents and I heard a generator. My heart raced, I swallowed a lump of excitement and hurried around the hedge to see for myself and there it was. Ice-skating, a real outdoor ice-skating rink. I followed the arrowed signs to the entrance and saw a young couple holding hands going around in unison making that swish-swish; there was a man clutching the fence at the side while his friend looked on laughing...

Ice skating what a wonderful idea. I wanted to call someone, anyone, to come and see, to come and skate. I didn’t have ten pence to phone anyone and besides there wasn’t a soul I could think of, everyone has real jobs and is so busy at Christmas. Maybe another day I would ask someone to come and skate with me. I went to take a programme, I read the leaflet and discovered the ice rink would be there for a whole six weeks.

Its not that I particularly like ice-skating but I smiled and carried on walking, with the swish-swish of skates in my head. The movie rolled on in my head, a film played of us, of you and me, ice-skating wearing furs and mittens, holding hands. Of you and I laughing and falling over, yes you, you would fall over and I would help you back up. Then we’d race and go around and around, we’d spin round holding both hands. You might begin to show off and skate backwards and knock a little girl over and her dad would frown and waggle his finger at us and that would be funny too. Ah and then that lovely ache in our thighs from the skating and our ribs from the laughing. The light weight of your foot when I finally managed to pull your ice-skate off for you. Then maybe we’d sit beneath the fairy-lights and have a hot chocolate or a mulled wine, flushed and red faced, hats and scarves, kisses and Christmas cakes, huddled together. And afterwards maybe we’d go to the pub opposite for Sunday lunch. What a perfect Sunday that would be one day, another day, sometime. It was open until late and the idea of ice-skating at twilight seemed magical and romantic. I would love to do that one day. 

I continued up towards Parliament Hill. The low sun made the wet grass glow a dark orange-red and I liked imagining skating with you one dusky evening at sunset. 

I saw some women with three-wheeled pushchairs and overheard them boring holes into each other with talk about each of their babies. Look a kite! One said, look Marquis, a kite, she said pointing upwards. But the toddler could not have been more non-plussed and dazed. Instead Marquis was staring at the pavement and a dog lapping out of a puddle, not looking up at all, not a jot. I looked where she was pointing and the kite was impressive, part parachute, it was dragging its owner along the wet grass on his knees. He had special kneepads on for it to do that. The kite was a sky-dog yanking on its lead. 

I sat on a bench and I watched a girl on the next bench muttering into a Dictaphone. She was observing me, looking over, up and down, I knew she’d write about me when she got in, I knew because I knew I would write about her. She had a pointy elf-hat, scruffy curls framed her face, she had a stubby nose. She also had the same look in her eyes I knew I had. That glaze, that been-inside-alone-staring-at-a-screen too long look.

I thought she might be a writer, I liked to think she was. I smiled at her but she didn’t see. Then I felt self-conscious and hid my face in my scarf. She re-wound her tape and listened intently back to herself as she walked away. 

I wondered if I should have brought my Dictaphone out too, but I cannot bear the sound of my own voice at the moment its too brutal, too shrill and too wet. Recently I have had something serious playing on my mind, like the lack of daylight, like a dark weight. Its as though I am taking it all very seriously, I can see a dark cloud above my head, its like a stone in a shoe, but above my head, I know its a temporary state, like all states.

The mothers started screaming Grace! Grace! Grace, they screamed Grace! I thought what an unfortunate name for a dog, the word Grace should never she screamed, it must not be shouted across a park, yelled at a stinky mutt licking out puddles, it kills the meaning of the word, makes it undignified. I wish they had called their dog Freedom or even Free Ice-cream or Halleluiah or Eureka or Wannaseemyboobs!

Then I stopped watching people and let myself stare directly up at the colours, the glowing rock of magenta sun, an amethyst December sky, glorious and all the shades of plum and wine with clouds of dark lavender. I breathed and was quite content to watch as it quickly started disappearing.

I overheard someone say its a Turner sky and I thought yes it is isn’t it, a Turner sunset and I wanted to say I knew exactly the painting she meant, I wanted to tell her I knew Turners anniversary, December 19th, but instead I buried my face deeper into my scarf. 

I could hear the heavy panting of a passing jogger, somebody’s mobile phone, the name Grace being hollered like one might scream thief and the flapping of the kite-sky-dog. I watched the sunset contentedly listening to everyone else’s lives around me. There was the rumble of a train coming into Gospel Oak Station in the distance below and for as long as I wanted I could stare at the sun until I could see coloured spots.

I remembered reading a magazine and someone clever saying in an interview they didn’t believe in sunsets. What’s not to believe in? I pondered, there’s no argument, we all agree the sun rises and the sun sets, I decided then if I ever remembered where I had read it I’d write to that magazine and I began to compose a letter that began, Dear Sirs, Imagine my disappointment upon reading aforementioned article to discover clever clogs does not believe in sun sets… 

Maybe they meant they didn’t believe in spending time to watch a sunset? Maybe, but that’s like saying I don’t believe in seeing rain falling onto the window pane, I don’t believe in hearing thunder, I don’t believe in snow, catching snow on your tongue. I bloody do, I believe, I believe in sunsets I whispered.

It was then the lady sat next to me. She was dressed in purple, a burgundy bobble hat, fuchsia scarf and gloves and she matched the sky. I had to look twice, she was having a laugh, it was as though she had come to watch the sunset in camouflage? She was exactly the same colours as all the sky and the whole sun setting. Her cheeks bloomed a reddy colour too. She was a December fairy, a sunset angel, I told myself. She said hullo and sat next to me and I listened to see if I could hear her thoughts or if she could hear mine. I tried to think good things, Christmas things so if she was magic she would look upon me favourably. I asked her telepathically if she came here often to watch sunset at Christmas time. I told her I believe, I believe in sunsets do you? There was no reply. I couldn’t hear any special voices, she had no message for me, she didn’t start flying about or give me a magic Christmas sunset badge, her get-up matched the sky and that was all there was and as far as it would go. I was disappointed frankly. 

Then I heard her rustling and getting something out of a plastic bag. I looked around and we were alone, we were the only two people sitting down and we were surrounded by empty benches, why did she sit next to me? I looked at the vast sky like an ocean of damson juice and at all the empty benches and wondered why on earth she had chosen to come and sit next to me? Then I looked in horror to see she was eating a banana. A big bright yellow banana. I could hear her jaw moving, I could feel her teeth sinking into the flesh with each bite, I could taste it too. It was so, so terribly yellow and I hated that she was eating that banana. I tried to ignore it and stare deeper into the sun until I was blinded. I tried to picture her eating blackcurrants but then I imagined her gloved hands all full of sticky jam.

Above us the half-moon was rising, ghostly white and the shape of a slice of melon. I thought if the moon had been in a banana shape it would have matched and it would have made sense, but there was no sense in this otherwise. I mean a banana? I could not get my head around it. I wished she had been eating a big half moon slice of purple melon then it would have been all right, the correct colour and I would have forgiven her. It was as if the banana clashed, it was too much, too summer and too tropical and not the right shape or season and I got up in disgust.

I wanted to say to her:  Why? Why a banana? It doesn’t make any sense? You were the sky; you were the purple setting sun, why did you spoil everything with all that yellow? Tell me why? To think I thought you were the December angel or even a sunset fairy…

I stood up and momentarily looked down at her and shook my head, disillusioned, it was as if she had done something unspeakable and intrusive. It was as if she had passed wind or asked me for money. I tutted at her, sniffed and marched purposely away in a diagonal across a field, only narrowly avoiding getting 
entangled with the kite sailor gliding waves of pockets of air with his kite parachute powered boat.

I took wide strides down a muddy bank and I walked by the lake. I started to snigger remembering the poor sunset fairy and her face as I scowled at her. She was something magic, for look at me laughing, the black cloud slipped away and it wasn’t so serious after all was it.

I felt in my pockets, I had the programme for the ice-skating in one pocket and in the other pocket one of those yellow photocopied booklets of my poem. I walked up to a tree and stuffed them both into a hole in the trunk. Whoever finds thus poem in a hole in this tree will go ice-skating and will believe in sun sets. This made me happy. The idea of someone finding that poem in the heart of a tree by the lake, yes, that made me truly happy. 

With a skip in my step, I remembered you, maybe we’ll see each other soon and maybe we’ll go ice skating, maybe we’ll take a walk or maybe we’ll just talk on the phone but if you read this I wish you a very merry Christmas and all the magic of the season. I wish you a prosperous and peaceful new year. I see you smiling and it makes me grin like its not all so serious, it’s a serious as a monkey in a banana moon. There was a last vibrant splash of cherry across a darkening sky, I turned my collar up and headed homewards down the hill, I heard myself singing…

Say its only a paper moon
sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make believe
 if you believed in me
Yes its only a canvas sky
hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn’t be make believe
 if you believed in me…

© December 2005. Salena Godden 
© New version: December 2011

Mose: I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is... scruples?

Addie: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, sure bet they belong to somebody else.



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