‘Peter’s Birth’  – A Novel Extract

Peter Francomb was a man whose story was seldom told and, most certainly, he liked it that way. The village he had been born in was small and nondescript, just a few small houses fading away either side of a long straight road. The black earth of fenland fell away behind the house, ploughed in straight lines ready to cultivate the fat teardrops of sugar beet that bulged slowly underground. The plump beet pushed the dirt aside as if making their own bell-jar oubliettes of unseen space. Between March and September their green leaves striped the black earth for as far as the eye could see. From September until Christmas the lorries rumbled past Peter’s bedroom window at all hours laden with beet for the sugar factory. As a boy Peter would kick the odd fallen beet along the verge and watch the factory belch steam into grey skies. The autumn air always filled with an earthy tang from the beet being processed. In the evenings he would watch the factory from the back window; giant clouds of steam lit by the security lights as if it the factory were East Anglia’s version of a spaceport. Peter imagined a space shuttle readying itself for lift-off in amongst the massive tubes and buildings beyond the wire fences. The black dirt furrows behind his house stretched away over flatness almost to the horizon, no trees or buildings to break up the view, only the science fiction chimneys and pipes of the factory in the distance. A bleak wind-filled vista.

His real parents hadn’t lived in such a place. They had lived in a big house somewhere else far away. A house long since sold and Peter had never seen it. It had been an accident, a coincidence that Peter was born in the little house in the fens, with its low ceilings and dark rooms. His real mother and father had been driving to the hospital, her labour having come early. An unexpected occurrence that interrupted their weekend away. Their last weekend away. This was in the time before mobile phones and when his mother’s pains had reached a new crescendo his father stopped the car and rapped urgently on the door of the house in the fens. The stout woman at the door explained that they didn’t have a phone but they were welcome to come in if they liked. His mother lay on the worn out sofa panting, her waters dribbling on nylon carpet. His father knocked on each and every one of the other houses but was greeted with no reply, or a simple blank faced stare look as occupant explained that none of the houses had a phone. They were too remote for telephones. 

So Peter was born in that cottage on that dark September night, the first night of the season that the beet lorries began to rattle the windows. The rattling that would mix with his mother’s screams. The woman in that house, who Peter would grow up calling ‘mummy’, tried her best to help and her husband, who Peter would grow up calling ‘dad’, made cups of tea as the labour went on long into the night. Until, at long last, Peter was born. But Peter’s squirming difficult delivery had left his mother’s uterus ruptured, a fact that went unnoticed, as nobody present was a medical professional. In fact nobody present had ever witnessed a birth before, so they were unused to such events and simply did their best. What else was there to do? How could they possibly know she was bleeding internally? Her face slowly draining of colour as exhaustion and her imminent death forced sleep upon her body and the others fussed over the new born infant. The woman cut Peter’s coiling cord with the scissors her husband had boiled and held over a sterilising flame and Peter’s real father held him softly. His baby son wrapped in an old striped bed sheet. Like all father’s he had a tear in his eye and he profusely thanked the woman and her husband for their simple kindnesses. These strangers that had helped them so.

But when the dawn began to hint at the sky, the woman pulled a blanket up to Peter’s mother’s neck and she noticed her complete stillness. She was no longer breathing and the woman cried out. Peter’s father was beside himself and tried in vain to rouse her. For an hour or so he tried to push his own breath into her lungs past her cold lips and pressed a rhythm on her ribs, but to no avail. Baby Peter slept oblivious to his sobbing, wrapped in his sheet and a blanket and placed into an empty drawer for a crib.

His father left the house on the fens not long after the sun had finally pushed its rays above the horizon. He walked between the green lines of beet leaves away across the endless fields. The woman and the man and Peter who they took as their own never saw him again. It wasn’t that they didn’t try to find him. Of course they did the right thing and told the police and the authorities but no one could find him. Peter had very few relatives of note and in the end a court allowed them to adopt Peter, as they were good people.

It was thought that Peter’s father had done away with himself, or perhaps died of grief at the loss of his wife. Now, either of these possibilities could be true, but before his father truly disappeared he made a solitary trip to London. Here he met with an accountant and a solicitor, and drew up a trust fund for Peter. A trust fund filled to the brim from the sale of everything his parents ever owned. He gave them the address of the house in the fens and instructed them to pay Peter on his twenty-first birthday. And until that birthday Peter would never really know much at all about his tragic real parents. And when the letter arrived telling him that in effect he was a multi-millionaire, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.


© 2015 Simon Poore

The Bee and the Chasm…

…a story for Blythe.

Can there be any light on the very darkest of days? Is this a possibility? The sun is shining and yet even its rays leave a cold shiver of realisation. In bed during the shade of night one can pretend, at least for fleeting moments, that it isn’t true, it cannot possibly be true; this thing that has pierced your heart and left a chasm so wide no one can see across it. Is there another side?
The bee knew it; knew it was possible. Possible that there could be light, even on this darkest of days.
It sat on the pillow next to my face. How it got there I cannot tell, I had made sure the windows were shut from the first chill winds of autumn. I could see the condensation, born of cold, dribbling down the glass. Rivulets of my own breath turned magically into liquid form, describing floods and estuaries of some chilly vertical land on the surface of glass.
I looked at the bee, the cloud of my breathing slowly fluttering its impossibly finespun wings. A bee; such a delicate little thing. Such fragility despite the barbs of its sting. How could such a thing ever possibly fly?
I could see the tiniest of beads of my breath clinging as bubbles between the striped hairs on its torso. Was my face reflected in the surface-tension curve of those droplets?
The bee could barely move because of the cold. Antenna twitching and now and then it tried to take a step, legs wobbling like minuscule twigs sliding on ice. Trying to gain purchase that wasn’t there, just like me. It couldn’t possibly fly. The summer of the bee was over.
The bee was looking at me. And I was looking at it.
“You look sad,” said the bee,
“Yes,” I said, not wanting to reveal the chasm within me,
“Don’t be sad,” said the bee,
“Aren’t you sad?” I said, “Your summer is over,”
“How could I be sad?” said the bee, “It was such a very wonderful summer,”
“But you must be in pain?”
“Oh, the pain is nothing. It is fleeting compared to the long warm summer I had. All those flowers I touched! Hundreds and hundreds of them, spread across the world. You should have seen the colours, so many colours and so bright; all the colours of the rainbow and more. So many more colours than we have names for; colours dancing in the warm air all around me everyday. The scent of all those blossoms; so heady that when I flew between them it made me dizzy with wonder. I spread their sweet pollen so very far and wide. So many good flowers; so many flowers that can bloom and spread and brighten the world because of me. And, oh my goodness, the honey we made! So sweet and nourishing, such a taste you wouldn’t believe!”
“But…but now it’s over,” I said,
“Why are you so sad?” said the bee,
“There is a chasm…in my heart…I’m frightened I will never be able to cross it,” I said,
“Oh,” said the bee, “I have seen that chasm; I knew it was coming when I saw the first brown leaf fall. It scared me too but now I can see the other side,”
“What is there?”
“More flowers, more honey,” said the bee,
“But your summer is over?” I said,
“There will always be more summers, beautiful warm summers, however dark the days may seem,” said the bee, “just think, more blooms to pollinate, more colours to see, more scents, more honey to taste. Look. Look at the rays of the sun,”
I turned my head on the pillow and sure enough the sunlight sparkled diamonds through every drop of condensation on the glass.
The bee was gone. But now I knew there would be more summers out there, somewhere across the chasm…


© 2014 Simon Poore