Ilkley Literature Festival logoLast evening our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe was ‘performing’ in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ with the title Every leaf tells a story. I had intended to read my first attempt at a ‘fairy tale’, inspired by one of the two delightful daughters of one of our members. We each were allotted 4 minutes. When I offered to stand down having ‘done the fringe’ last year, to give newer members a bit longer, that wasn’t accepted. So when my fairy tale turned out too long I thought I’d read part of it. I could not get that short enough while retaining the sense so I did, as John Cleese famously said in Monty Python, “something completely different” – a short presentation about tanka. What I did is below, followed by the full fairy story. For the second fairy tale, already written, inspired by the younger of the two sisters (who took second place in the club’s ‘Young Writer Competition’ last year), you’ll have to wait till sometime in December.

My three-and-a-half minute ‘fringe’ presentation

I sometimes write haiku; last year I read some in our fringe presentation. Less often I write tanka. Both are short Japanese poems. Tanka: tan – short; ka – poem, or song. Tanka are rather like sonnets in that both have a strict structure and in each the first part might suggest a dilemma, the second proposing a resolution. Autumn – nature – is an ideal subject for all three forms. Love is another.

In the sonnet it is the ninth line which signals this change of mood. In the tanka, the English version of which has five lines of five, seven, five, seven, seven voice sounds, or syllables, 31 in all. Ideally the first three lines should stand alone, as should the final three lines. So in the tanka it is the third line which is the pivotal line.

I had a dilemma this evening: our club membership has grown so much over the past year that each participant has only four minutes. My autumn fairy story, one of two fairy tales, inspired by one of two young ladies, sisters, in the audience this evening, is too long for today. That’s the dilemma. Solution, present a tanka and publish my first fairy story on my blog tomorrow where the first young lady can read it as she cannot hear it this evening as I originally intended.

The second story, inspired by her younger sister, I intend to read at our Christmas presentation in Ilkley Library.

Here’s the tanka prompted by my dilemma:


autumn tale written
too long for this fringe reading
fairies won’t be timed
so settle for a tanka
blog sleeps   waiting for Mia

Here’s another written specifically for this evening’s theme:


colours leached from sky
clouds grumble grey   tinted rain
caught by leaves and fruit
apples flushed red invite bites
delight swaps from eyes to tongues

 

A haiku is like the first three lines of a tanka, just 17 syllables. But you have to squeeze the same rules into just three lines. Here’s an autumn one I wrote when I noticed the leaves were firmly on the trees when they were all down at the same time last year:


autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries


Fairy tale

Sitting before the open door on a warm autumn day, Mia carefully traced the outlines of the three fallen leaves she had collected, flushed with the russets and yellows of early autumn.

Removing the leaves from her drawing paper, she began carefully to draw the tracery of veins, thinking of the colours in her paintbox and how she might mix them to match the beautiful colours in the leaves, some dramatic, some subtle. One leaf, with strange curly edges, was a medley of green, yellow and russet; another, rather fat with a pointed tip, was bright yellow; the third, much slimmer, was still green and white from summer though the green was flushed with yellow.

A sudden draught of wind seemed to lift the leaves but, as the draught stilled, they remained upright and two of them began slowly to pirouette, the broad bases of the stems straining down till they resembled the foot of a ballet dancer ‘en pointe’. The third leaf settled with his broad stem base firmly on the table.

Mia watched entranced as the leaves began to dance together before the curly edged one took a mighty leap to the floor, seemed to beckon to the two on the table at which they floated down like feathers to join him. Seeming to acquire two legs in place of the single stem, the three leaves ran to the open door. As they reached it they turned and, curling their pointed ends repeatedly, were clearly urging Mia to join them. She climbed down from her chair and took a couple of paces towards the door. As she moved forward the leaves appeared to grow, the curly edged one becoming quite a bit taller than her, the slim one a little shorter and the more rotund one about the same height.

Mia looked back towards her chair and realised the leaves had not grown; she had become tiny. Trembling with fright, she was ready to run back into the house and even more frightened when the fatter one appeared to speak: “Don’t be frightened; you will grow again when you go back.”

But you’re trembling as much as me,” Mia protested.

Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m always doing it when there’s a little breeze. By the way, my name’s Aspen, though some people call me Quaking Aspen because I’m often trembling. Let me introduce you to my friends; the beautiful slim one is Willow and that mighty fellow is called Oak.”

Come on,” urged Aspen. “There are many more of us who’d love to meet you.”

Pulled by Aspen on one side, Willow on the other, Mia stopped as she saw a carpet of hundreds of leaves with scores of different colours. It was here she had picked up the three leaves she had been drawing earlier. But now there were even more colours, all shades of yellow, brown, red and green.

As she watched a little breeze stirred the leaves and soon they were all upright and pirouetting just like her new found friends had done on the table.

Come on, come on, come and join us,” several of them called.

I don’t think I can do that, pirouetting like that,” Mia answered.

Of course you can,” said Oak as he wrapped himself around her and began to spin her. Faster and faster she span till, lifting one foot off the ground and lifting the other till she was on her toes, she was surprised to realise she could pirouette just like the leaves. She was spun from Oak to one of the other leaves, then another, then another, until she was quite out of breath. “Oh, that was fun,” she gasped as she sat down among the dancing leaves, who one by one sat down too.

Let’s have a story,” called one. “Yes, yes,” many answered. “Who will start?” asked one with a different shape to Mia’s new friends, with five points like half a star.

She’s a really good story teller, her name’s Maple,” said Aspen to Mia, “but everyone can tell a story. There’s usually a big argument about whose story is best.”

Mia stood up. “Look, I’d love to hear your stories but I must go back or I’ll be missed and my mum will panic. Can I come another day to listen to your stories?”

Oh please do,” the sitting leaves chorused.

You’re right,” said Aspen, you will be missed and that will never do. Come on, lets go. Oak and Willow will come back with us and no-one will know unless you tell them about us. But they won’t believe you, so that’s alright.”

But first we want to give you something to remember us by, something which will help you with your art,“ said Aspen. “Look, it’s on the ground right in front of you. It’s for you but you must keep it a secret. Even if you tell about us you must never mention what our gift can do.”

Looking down Mia saw a tiny acorn, like no acorn she had seen before. It sparkled with dozens of ever changing colours.

Go on, pick it up. It’s for you. It will always tell you how to make the colour you want but remember, you must never tell anyone it can do that. If you do, it will lose its power and become an ordinary acorn.”

Now, let’s go back. Put us on the table, climb back on your chair and nobody will know you’ve been out.”

Joining ‘hands’ the four friends danced back to the door and as they went inside sure enough, Mia grew to her former size and climbed up onto her chair as the three leaves appeared on the table and lay down just as they had been before they began to dance.

Mia, Mia wake up. You’ll fall off that chair and hurt yourself.” Mum’s voice was a little worried. “Wow, I’m not surprised you’re so tired. Those paintings of the leaves you collected are really beautiful. I don’t know how you managed to make all those colours.”

The leaves took me to the woods and showed me how they get their autumn colours. They are called Oak, Aspen and Willow. And they can dance.”

Come on, you’ve been dreaming. Did you learn the names of the leaves at school or did you look for them on internet?”

No, they told me their names. They are so clever; you know, every leaf tells a story.”

Oh well, if you say so. But your painting is really beautiful. Now, come into the kitchen, it’s teatime. You’ve been dreaming for sure.”

Mia climbed down from the chair, taking a last glance at the three beautifully coloured drawings. Had she been dreaming? Opening her hand, the tiny acorn sparkled at her …

… and she smiled.

§

I haven’t yet got a title for this story. Can anyone suggest an enticing one?

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My haiku which have been posted on this blog over the past five years or more have been collected together, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. They will be put on a page under the ‘haiku’ tab; until now that has had all the posts put in the ‘haiku’ category, which may not all have contained one, just ‘talked’ about them. It will hopefully make more sense. I’ll also put tanka there, few.

Five pictures of grumpytyke stages

Seven pictures of grumpytyke stagesFive pictures of grumpytyke stages

The first haiku below is not mine; it is probably my favourite, the one which first prompted me to try my hand at writing them. It was on a blog called ‘five reflections’; as far as I know it no longer exists. All I can do now is thank the author for many hours of pleasure he began, both reading others and attempting my own.
The pictures are a bit of fun with the 5-7-5 sequence which I posted soon after seeing that first haiku.
Each haiku has under it the title of the post and the date it appeared on my blog. The title is a link which will take you to the post. Very rarely do I post just a haiku; usually there’s some background. Some might not make much sense without it (eg ‘picture haiku), which probably means they are not very good haiku.
If you feel like wandering through them sometime I’d love to know which you like most (if you like any!) and why.


from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

Haiku – my eyes become yours
June 23, 2012

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from one year to three
from Shipley to Banbury
skiffle liberates

Picture haiku
June 23, 2012

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how does someone blind
who cannot see the sky’s blue
create this art work?

Inspiration from blogs and blindness – creativity in food, photography, haiku and writing

July 5, 2012

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take inspiration.
visit the God particle
on a pedal bike

The God particle and inspiration for a would-be creative writer
July 7, 2012

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celestial ships
from another universe
fantasy Yorkshire sky

Sky picture haiku
July 8, 2012

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my long fallen friend
hacked down from your majesty
rest awhile with me

Trees – picture haiku
July 9, 2012

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one destination
straight … curious meander
we wonder … and wait

Picture haiku – life
July 12, 2012

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imagine … differ
climb out of the commonplace
halt … think free … proceed

Haiku – three word prompt – no picture
July 15, 2012

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soul guide … hand taken
serene work on graceful curves
symbol stories writ

Picture haiku – an egg from Bucovina
July 20, 2012

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Earth to earth … to dust
twist … scream … turn … yet now return
games in the graveyard

grass is greener where?
bare footed … treading careless

leaving litter here

A pair felt in a graveyard
July 29, 2012

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biscuits cut from sky
baking in the summer sun
heaven gives …  look up

Picture haiku – sky biscuits in Iasi, Romania
August 3, 2012

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chirruping crickets
all else mute they look to dawn
winter waits … restore

Haiku – no picture this time

August 9, 2012

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a deep thought minute
click to click is time enough
the wind raged … sea calmed

Picture haiku: time cures all
November 29, 2012

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madness frozen out
bones interred together … warmed
peace … buds in waiting

Picture haiku – Daily Prompt: Through the Window
January 29, 2013

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witches tread with care
beware our bouquet … spiky
healthy human food

Picture haiku – Washburn valley, Olympus OM4
June 5, 2013

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green satiated
winter songsters’ sanguine store
shiver prophesy

Picture haiku: rowan
October 20, 2013

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This post does not include a haiku but charts my journey since I began to try to write them

Haiku – a journey through seventeen syllables
October 28, 2013

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white snow dying … grey
children’s faces sad … silent
birds sing … dreams of spring

haiku: snow
January 22, 2015

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office rules to rest
laid among timed paper clips
writing in my head

haiku – writer’s retirement
February 6, 2015

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time travel … from chat
to chat in another time
anaesthesia

anaesthesia – haiku. Hernia repair
May 30, 2015

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leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted … yet to fall

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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distant memory
fighting to recall your face
dementia kills me

sublime poetry
in lyrics of a sad song
speaking to my soul

appegios sooth
minor chords provoke … sometimes
love flows in … and out

The thrill of seeing your writing in print
June 20, 2017

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autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries

A special day doing nothing special. A haiku
October 6, 2017

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tanka

snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair

Performing again! A tanka and a short story
November 19, 2016

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river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

A trip to the English Lakes
April 21, 2017

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i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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The short version (a tanka)

river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

The longer version

Perfect spot

No mobile telephone signal, no radio signal, no internet, just the singing of the river outside the door and the birds. Bliss! We’re in Borrowdale, more exactly on the banks of the river Derwent near the hamlet of Stonethwaite.

A chaffinch, dressed to kill, perches on a branch no more than two arm’s lengths from our door and entices a lover with a melody composed in heaven.

One tree has plucked feathers from the birds …

The freshest green of early Spring bleeds from the blasted trees and the long greened-over molehills and boulders. One tree has plucked feathers from the birds and transformed them into more fresh Spring green as they shower towards the rushing water below.

Priorities correct, two ‘glasses’ of red wine, ‘Toro Loco’ of course, Tempranillo and Bobal wrung from grapes in his far away homeland, stand beside two hastily erected chairs, prepared to catch the last of the sun as it sinks below the highest hilltop to the west. My VW ‘summer’ t-shirt is perfect for the occasion as we eat chicken thighs and pork chops, cooked at home, with salad, and mashed potatoes from a packet.

It’s surprisingly warm here, no cold blast as in the town, Keswick, where we stopped for a warming coffee, there being no heating in Lofty, our forty five year old VW camper. Petronela insisted on buying me a pair of trousers reduced from £60 to £14.95. It reminds me of my mother, RIP, who could never resist a ‘bargain’ whether it was something needed or not. We give Lofty an affectionate pat for having brought us here, the final approach along a pitted narrow track threatening, with one slight wrong move to the left, to tip us down into the riverside area designated for camping. Petronela gives a warning bleat, joining the sheep on the surrounding slopes. I tell her to keep quiet while I concentrate; there’s only a couple of inches on either side.

“We’ll be putting a few more stones down before the season,” the farmer tells me when he comes to collect the £5 per adult per night, clearly having received one or two complaints from the two or three modern car drivers who have ventured here. “Don’t bother for us,” I say, “he (gesturing to Lofty) relishes tracks like that.”

We go to sleep with the birds at eight o’clock, envying no one in the five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants ringing the lake only a couple of bird calls away.

§

Two chatty great tits sound the alarm at 5.30am. I take a quick look through one open eye, enjoying their chatter. Another single open eye meets mine. “Go back to sleep! I don’t want coffee yet,” emerges from some hidden depth in the sleeping bag. I do as I’m ordered.

An hour and a half later the tits are insistent; eleven hours sleep is enough they say. I make the coffee. I eat the raw oats and milk which has been my breakfast Monday to Saturday, with rare exceptions, for half a century.

About a quarter, or less, of the way up. Lofty the camper is the tiny white speck you see between the trees on the right.

“I want to see if I can climb up to that point between the two peaks,” I say. I’m amazed when P says we can try. She gave up on a much lower, and easier, climb on the Cat Bells last year. The first part of today’s climb, maybe to a quarter of the way up or less, was not helped a lot by some rudimentary steps alongside a rushing mountain stream. The steps have obviously been unused for many a year; in disrepair and unstable they were probably more dangerous than any unmarked route. Before they petered out P said she was going no further.

Petronela at the point she gave up. My target is the dip in the skyline to her left.

I debated whether to go on alone as with no phone signal a turned ankle could be a real problem. However, I was determined to take advantage of my new lease of life so continued. I learned later that P waited an hour for me then came back to the van. I didn’t make it quite to the top; I saw rain advancing up the valley so decided it was sensible to turn back. We are in the rainiest place in England. Nevertheless, I was happy that I had been able to get that far; six months ago I could not have attempted a fifth of that height, even on a reasonable track (regular readers will know that I’ve had, still have, some serious health problems). As usual, although requiring far less energy, the descent was far more difficult than the ascent. I arrived back at Lofty 4.1/4 hours after leaving him. P said I was crazy. I said “What’s new?”

The pub

I said no WiFi and that was true down the valley where we are parked. But we decided in the evening to walk the 15 minutes to the local pub, The Langstrath Country Inn, for some soup and to sample the local brew. It has WiFi so I’ve uploaded this post so far though I will not finish it till we’re home tomorrow. A roaring open log fire completes the joy. My legs are killing me but I’m hoping that a couple of pints of an extraordinary brew, Keswick Special, dark with a hint of sweetness, will get me home (or sleeping with the sheep in the field).

The soup was superb, celeriac and white wine. Thick, tasty and filling, with some great ‘black’ bread. Not cheap, nor the beer, but we’re past caring about the price.

I made it past the sheep, ate some salata de boeuf left over from the Easter ‘feast’ with the remains of the Toro Loco and was soon asleep, though the beer had me up two or three times in the night. Fortunately we have a loo in Lofty so I didn’t really wake up, just as well as it felt like I’d been beaten all over with sticks.

§

Friday morning, 7am, and still feels like I’ve been beaten all over but, coffee made, I’m feeling great. No chaffinch this morning unless he was here earlier and didn’t wake me. A brief visit from a robin who said good morning then departed. It’s been raining in the night and there’s quite a wind this morning with some ominous clouds, though it’s not cold. The valley in which the hamlet of Stonethwaite sits (the road ends at the pub, the track to nowhere continues past the campsite) has its own micro climate and I expect it’s a lot colder elsewhere. Maybe we’ll have a leisurely breakfast and set off for home if the visibility isn’t too good.

It’s raining. So what?

At 9am the Derwent Fells to the north west (beyond the end of the valley) have disappeared in rain and cloud and it’s raining quite hard here now. P’s eyes are grey, not blue, this morning, which means rain for sure. She jumps in the river. Now who’s crazy? Reluctantly we pack up, check Lofty’s oil, and are away at 10.45.

§

2.15pm and we’re home. It’s sunny; a large gin and tonic is easing the pain. Just got to sort out some pictures then post this.

It’s been quite a while since I posted here, one of the problems resulting from running other websites/blogs of one sort or another. To keep the pot boiling (no, this is not one of my cookery/food posts!) I’m blogging here my contribution to yesterday’s meeting of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. We had been set a theme, ‘reflection’ to write something. The situation out in the world, particularly Romania (not surprisingly) and the closeness of Valentines Day, really got me going! It’s the first time I’ve attempted a sonnet.

Response to the set theme ‘reflection’

haiku

leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted    yet to fall

A short short story (100 words)

Mia stared at her bedroom door, closed. Had she really been that bad? No tv, no mobile, no games for the evening; grounded for a week.

“Shit, shit, shit”, she said softly, delighting in the idea that if her parents could hear her it would mean another week’s grounding for sure.

At least they had not made her wash, she thought as she turned around. Wonderfully iridescent blue over long, painstakingly applied black lashes framed the bright saphire eyes regarding her, as brilliant red lips pouted for appreciation.

Smiling, she reached into her pocket …
for her mother’s Chanel Number 5.

Free verse

Rays of gold touch golden locks
Evening shrouds the muted bird song
Fading light illuminates a different vision
Lost memories emerging in gentle ripples
Even in the silence.
Cautiously, I feel for her hand
Tenderly taking it with a gentle squeeze;
Illusion comforts at such times.
One more reflection flickers; we were absorbed one in the other then.
Now, the lake is still, its duty done.

tanka

i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Sonnet

Reflecting on the state of this sick world
I do retreat in love of those close by
When life its fighting flag has almost furled
I look upon what we have brought and sigh.
I leave the fight to those with whistles wild,
Some horns or signs with words both old and new,
E’en those who stand and wait with others mild
In cold, to show more silently their view.
When votes have failed or over-ruled by law
When corrupt men of state or wives deny
The truths so clear to those no less, or poor
Exponents of those truths rest with just “why?”
… I now do little more than pick up pen
… To scrawl my feeble protests now and then.

Blank verse

I know a grain of what I want to say
It’s how to find the words which makes me pause.
I would with love your heavy heart address
But fear my good intent be misconstrued.
The words, as rays from some distorting glass,
So oft bounce back, their meaning now corrupt.
I would not be so mute in other time
Thus quietly I just address your soul
And wait our paths to cross in future lives.

snowflakeShe’s done it again: our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) ‘leader’ has set us up to do another performance – spoken short stories or poetry and music. Even more ‘intimate’ than last time, in Ilkley library on 10 December afternoon – no stage, no microphones, no projector, no technology whatsoever. She set us the task of writing something original with a ‘winter’ theme. I’ve offered a tanka, rather than my more usual haiku, and a short story.


snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair


Don’t touch

“Don’t touch me, please”.

Alicia snatched her finger back just before it touched the window, taking a few quick steps backwards and turning her head to see who had spoken. She had thought she was alone in the room but, where were they? She could see no-one. It must be that younger brother of hers, Ewan, she thought, but where on earth was he, and how did he speak with that delicate voice?

Was it someone outside? It didn’t seem likely as snow was falling fast and it was very cold, so cold that large snowflakes landing on the window did not melt but kept their beautiful, delicately intricate form. It was these that Alicia had approached the window to see more clearly.

“Don’t be frightened, come closer, but please don’t touch me”. The window itself seemed to be speaking. Alicia moved cautiously forward, a tentative step, then another.

“Oh, you can come closer than that”.

Where was that voice coming from? Alicia was a little frighted, but more curious so she shuffled half a step towards the window.

“Come on, just one more step, but be careful, don’t touch the window, not even with your nose”.

Alicia moved forward another step, now so close that she could see little more than one much larger than usual snowflake on the outside of the window glass.

“That’s better, now we can have a chat”.

Alicia’s eyes snapped into focus on the centre of the snowflake, amazed to see two bright eyes and a pretty rosebud mouth and realised that the speech was coming from that mouth, now smiling.

“You do look surprised”, the snowflake continued. “Can you hear me alright? I’d like to come inside for a chat but that’s not possible, it’s too warm”.

Alicia fought with the jumble of thoughts tumbling about in her head. Is she dreaming? Is she crazy? Finally she stuttered some words:

“Oh you are so pretty, a bit like some lace on my mum’s nighty, or some doilies at my gran’s, but I never knew snowflakes could speak”, said Alicia finally, struggling over her surprise. “And you have such beautiful eyes; I didn’t know snowflakes had eyes, or a mouth for that matter”.

“Oh, we can speak but we can choose whether a human can hear us. We only choose children, they seem much nicer than adults. Mind you, there are some pretty horrible children too. I was lucky enough to land on the window and saw you. You looked nice so I chose you. The double glazing is good as we don’t get warmed up so quickly unless you touch right where I am, but it does make it a bit more difficult to chat with you.”

“Do you chat to other snowflakes too”, Alicia asked.

“Oh yes. We chatter quite a bit when we are growing up, up in the clouds. Then we have some serious conversations on our way down because we know that usually when we land we are so packed together and there is so much noise we can’t hear anything. I was lucky today, landing on your window”.

“It must be lovely floating down as you large ones do”, Alicia said. “I just love to watch you”.

“Yes it is good, a wonderful feeling, and we get more time to chat, or sing. But it’s good to land on something like your window because when it eventually warms up, slowly, we quickly go back up again and, if we are lucky, rapidly grow up as snowflakes all over again. I hate it when I land in the sea; I can be there for thousands and thousands of years and it’s really boring. So I’d like to stay here as long as possible, please”.

“Oh yes, I’d like you to stay there forever”, said Alicia, “but anyway, for a long time”.

A noise behind made Alicia turn round to see Ewan had come into the room. “Who are you talking to, yourself? That’s crazy you know, my crazy sister”.

“I’m not crazy, I’m talking to a snowflake. It’s very interesting”.

“Now that’s really crazy” said Ewan, breaking into a sing song chant “My crazy sister, my crazy sister” as he came up beside her.

“I’m not crazy, look there it is and if you talk to it maybe it will talk to you. Come closer and see, but whatever you do don’t touch the window”.

The boy moved forward till finally he was standing right beside Alicia, looking suspiciously at the large snowflake now right in front of his face.

“Say something to it, but don’t touch … Don’t touch. Don’t touch the window Ewan”.

Alicia’s voice rose to a scream as he approached the window, adding a final despairing shout, “Don’t touch” as Ewan purposefully put a chubby warm finger on precisely where the snowflake rested, watching fascinated as its beautiful filigree blurred and a single tear fell, to disappear in the packed snow on the windowsill.