Jessica E. Wragg

Tag: writer

Where were we then?

Where were we then? Not your back garden on dull coloured deck chairs, the polyester making static against the cotton on my dress. Flocks of birds scattered above us, diving left and right and then disappearing behind the canopy of red tile roofing. I had never been here before.

Where were we then? Not in your kitchen, rich herbs and spices stacked on a metal shelf near the door, my talcum powder footprints on the wood of your floor. Leant against your kitchen counter, condensation on the gin glass, sweat on my upper lip, your tiny dog sniffing at my shins. You said sorry, and I said it’s okay.

Where was I then? Not in your bathroom, naked and damp on the toilet, as I pulled wet hairs from my head and dropped them in the bathtub in the hope she might find them. The window was open, and I could see your neighbours eating bread and olives on their porch. I shuddered when I remembered, pulled an earring out and threw it behind her toiletries, and they were same ones that I had tricked myself into believing were mine.

Where were we then? Not in the bedroom that you share with her. I fingered the material of her clothes and wondered will they fit me, thought about leaving something in the pocket of her jacket – perhaps a ring. We found each other in the dark sweat marks of our bodies on your sheets, on the bruises you left on my hips. You blared smooth piano music from the speaker in the corner, and it did nothing to drown out the quiet between us, awkward conversation, pauses between full stops. The taste of you, bitter in my mouth, brittle on my face, and the white streak in my underwear. The feel of you, those moles on your shoulder like small bubbles of skin. The thought of you leaping up at the sound of the front door, leaving me cowering in your ensuite.

Where were we then? Smoking roll up cigarettes in silence, my expectation twisting our tongues, ready for you. When I asked you where I fit you said you didn’t know. It has been six months.

I found myself at last when I stop it. Tip of my tongue I stop it, stopped it before it slid from my tongue.

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We Need the Forest – Revised

The tracks of the underground train from the carriage window. Hot breeze of the last act of summer whistling beneath my blouse. Barbed wire like thumbprints and fingers and outstretched palms. No, the jungle is not the same as Streatham Hill, but the birds are just as loud.

Jealous of our travelling friends in Thailand and South America we did the best we could. Tooting Bec Common was our wilderness, that place in which we searched for things un-done, never tried, never seen. You wanted mountain-scapes, thick cities rich in colour, but instead the horizon was tower blocks behind Bedford Hill and the same church building; a thick tapestry of brown brick and a canopy of tile rooves.

We blew smoke rings, propped up by our elbows until the room filled with the thin mist of mid-morning, searched the internet for the cheapest flights to the furthest distance. We visited the aquarium and spent hours in the tropics, in the pacific, in the mangroves. We fought through the thickets of commuters going south as we travelled north and hiked the Parliament Hill. In Richmond Park we got as close to the red deer as we dared, ignored the twenty others around us snapping pictures on their smartphones, throwing a peace sign to the buck. The zoo was as close as I came to the SavaWritennah desert, or the outback of Australia.

Car exhaust on our tongues, pigeon shit, stagnant water; we turned them to spices and incense, salt water and red dry dust. Our flat was our cabin; pale floral wallpaper faded to brown, overrun by damp. We looked out onto a neat row of garages; grey, brown, black doors, blue beneath as the paint cracked off. Ten, perhaps twelve angular hatchbacks parked in front but to us they are rocks in a stream. At night, sirens turned to the chirping of crickets, and the headlamps of passing cars illuminated our window like torches. Cars that scraped their bumper on the road taking a speedbump too quickly sounded like the cracking of branches. I worried sometimes that the longing would drive us mad, you wondered if we already were. Me and you, we both fitted in quite well.

And then one night you woke me when the sun hadn’t risen yet. My eyes searched for you in the dark and found you, a figure crouched at the end of the bed. Your body bent double and your back hunched with urgency, the cool side of your hand brushed my ankle. In the black I found your face and felt the damp contours and the rolling tears. The shuffle of your canvas rucksack was soft and quiet, and when you put it on your back I could tell it was heavy from the sound you made. You kissed my hair and opened the door of the bedroom and yellow light drowned the room, blinding me. The last thing I saw was the rubber heel of your boot as your closed it again.

I lay on my back until the sun came up and waited for the birds to signal morning, climbed the tree down from the upstairs window to the forest floor. The soft gravel branches crunched beneath me and the mist hung low by the very ground. I caught a sparrow by the wing and plucked feathers from its breast, hung it by the limp feet and bit into it with a frenzy appetite until the guts dropped onto my chin. I bounced from the rocks in the stream, dipped my toe in cool water of the puddled pavement and ran barefoot over broken glass and the speedbumps. The ground shook with an underground train but to me it was the earth sighing, and when the rain fell thick it got caught in the canopy. I spoke a strange language that I didn’t understand, walked upon my hands and lost my fingernails digging in the dirt.

Wildness is a strange word, but I understand it to be me. We did our best there, in the city. Yet still, the feeling that I needed the forest and the mountains, the beaches of an island and the tongue of natives won me in the end. A life without me seemed to have won you.

My best friend and I, in the bathroom.

An ode to the best friendship that I have ever had. 

I am lying upon your bathroom floor, all cold stone and grouted tile, stray hairs of your flatmates caught in my fingertips and your bedroom pillow beneath my head. Staring into the spotlights my eyes well slowly, blinded by the brightness and you dim them, light a wilted candle in a vase which flickers in the movement of your towelled dressing gown.

“Don’t put your fucking foot in it.” You say, and I don’t, I move myself a few inches away and turn over whilst you get into the bath. You are a slim, small outline in the mirror. I am not supposed to see you naked, but I have, and you are wonderful.

As you lower yourself down your shoulders shiver and you grimace from the hot water and make me turn on the cold tap. I stretch to reach, I am not looking, but my face ends up dangerously close to the toilet and then to the plughole and so I roll over on to my back and let you figure it out.

And then there were are, listening to music from my phone using the grubby white bidet as an amplifier, and the bond between us seems tangible and touchable somehow as you bathe yourself and I listen to trivial details about your day, hanging on your every word as though I depended upon in, upon you, upon us. We talk about him, about her, about them, about that, and somewhere within the wet steam rising from the tub I think: how lucky I am, to be here with you.

We hold hands in the cinema, cuddle in front of the television, re-enact the sex we had with the men the night before using the cushions from your sofa, binge eat fifty pieces of fried chicken and wallow with our gorged stomachs. There is no subject too much, no small piece of stone that we would leave unturned for fear of shame or judgement.

We are two best friends, two sisters in the bathroom. Your body is my body, and my voice is your voice, and I am writing about it now only as a writer can, propelled by love and admiration, fearful that things will ever change. If I could only choose you for life, know that I would.

Upon my body.

Take me in your hands of sugar
and kiss the tepid light, sweet
to the tongue and rhythmic on my tastebuds
like a samba dance.
Read my laughter lines and my love
lines and then tell me I’m going to die.
My life line disappears, somewhere
around my thumb.
Tell me honestly if I am sunburnt,
and I’ll let you know if I think that
you spend too much money on jeans
and beer and fast food. Peel back
the dead skin, make way for new life
upon my ankles.
Heal the scar on my kneecap with
your mouth, leave a kiss print in spit
on the joint.
My lips are dry.
My skin has stubble.
My nails are bitten.
My hands are rough, but with you
they glide softly across your back.

Origins

I wrote this piece as part of a larger project, imagining the origins of London and some of the world’s other biggest cities and the effect that human emotion could have taken on it. The environment and its decline, to me, is one of the biggest issues facing our civilisation at the moment in time, and it’s influenced a lot of my writing recently. 

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There is an ocean, which laps at my shoulders
softly. Prodding me, sending foam sailing across
my skin with every wave. Dull green weeds clamour
the base of my neck like a crowd at the gates.

Forcefully treading water, gently paddling the surface
for four feet deep in ten, my toes curled so as to
not catch the snuggle-tooth coral below, or perhaps the church
spire pushed from the sand like straight, proud shoulders.

And yet, for all the salt, I still taste the dead city.
The sea took it, replaced it with nothing, built water
on its rooftops, covered its head with a bed of sand hidden
between the kelp that travelled here by accident on a current.

The smell is not salt water and plastic and scum it is
saffron, jasmine, myrrh floating through the water on
a bubble of air from the deep. With every shift of
earth comes the perfume of a lost civilisation.

There is an ocean, which laps at my shoulders,
whispering a secret that I already knew. The stories
of children climbing buildings to escape the water,
their fingers scrambling on smooth marble to get higher.

Of the elderly women, so taken by the flood that they
took cups from their kitchens, scooped them up in their hands
and tried to drink it away, expectant and wrinkled fingers
grasping at the china, realising when it was too late.

It did not take minutes for the water to rise, it took
weeks, months – so long that the King himself
did not see it until he got out of bed one morning to find
his slippers not where he left them, but floating by his dresser.

Thin like matchsticks, thick like fists, buildings toppled down
like pins against a giant ball. My father told me the stories whilst
my mother hushed him through the violence. I came here first
looking for survivors but found only schools of fish. My brother

had told me that they were the people – turned into creatures
by the Gods for disobeying them but I know that they are just fish.
I know the stories too well; of a city up in flames, rotting from
the inside outwards, crumbling slowly into pieces like Sodom.

I know the stories of a city which did not see the flood until the
King had lost his rabbit fur slippers. I sometimes see them
on the horizon, still floating on the surface,
heading out in search of a new pair of feet to keep warm.

Rations

I have said ‘I love you’ seven times.

Sometimes I feel like a green glass bottle; thick, sharp, hard. A white and red label wrapped tightly around my midriff, a lot of pseudo-French words and then LOVE RESPONSIBLY stamped on the back. A red picture of a pregnant lady, a warning sign; LIMIT, DO NOT, PER DAY.

I ration myself like alcohol, like the sweet nectar of white wine enjoyed in the kissing sunlight of summer. I talk myself into extra helpings of you, savour the bites until they grow fur and mould whilst still clinging to my tongue.

I am sick of comparisons.

But you, you kiss me with your hands around the back of my neck like the brace position. Like a tumbling aircraft and a steep descent; gasping on borrowed oxygen and feeling my heart plummet into the chasm of my ribs.

You told me that you love me on the top deck of the 453 to Deptford, surrounded by Spanish schoolchildren who got on at Piccadilly and off at Trafalgar. They were loud whilst they were there, and then the silence was unbearable thereafter. I feel like you said it to fill the void. You apologised afterwards.

I looked around at the bus lamps, the orange plastic handles and the threading of the polyester seats. There was chewing gum on the floor, empty cola bottles, a Subway rapper with marinara sauce streamed across the linoleum. I was suddenly hungry and thought about dinner. I was somewhere, anywhere else but there and I could not hold your hand because my palms were too sweaty to take a grip.

You could force my face to look at you, but not my eyes. But like you’d grasped them with your fingers I couldn’t help it.

It was the second time anyone had said it back, and the first time I wanted you to have meant it.