Sea Babies by Tracey Scott-Townsend @authortrace @Wildpressed #LoveBooksGroupTours

Book Description:

Lauren Wilson is travelling by ferry to the Outer Hebrides, about to begin a new job as a social worker. When somebody sits opposite her at the cafeteria table, she refuses to look up, annoyed at having her privacy disturbed. But a hand is pushing a mug of tea towards her, and a livid scar on the back of the hand releases a flood of memories.                                                   

Some people believe in the existence of a parallel universe. Does Lauren have a retrospective choice about the outcome of a terrible recent accident, or is it the bearer of that much older scar who has the power to decide what happens to her now? 

Content Post:

SEA BABIES Narrative Poem (Based on the author’s novel)                                                                                                         By Tracey Scott-Townsend

It was always about the baby.

Not long afterwards, I wondered how I could grieve so much

For someone that I never knew

But I was telling myself a lie.

Of course I knew her.

I was the only one who did.

I named her Barbara,

After his mother

And I gave him something to remember her by,

Like he asked me to suffer

With my gaping wound inside.

It’s still about the baby.

She was the only one

I ever had, and my scar

Is as raw as it ever was. I wonder

What his looks like now, but I suppose

I’ll never know.

EDINBURGH, (April 1983)

Granny’s Green Steps,

Seagulls cry in the air below the castle,

A blue scarf floats to the ground, and I stumble.

Neil’s behind me,

He spins me round

And we kiss

For the first time.

I can’t breathe, and yet

It feels like a new kind of breathing.

The green slope is bathed

In yellow light,

But I can only

See him.

FERRY to STORNOWAY (September 2016)

Muted light reflects off the sea,

The waves seem angry,

As if they want to force their way in.

I’m afraid of the water,

Obsessed with thoughts of drowning.

But it’s only salt that creeps in

Around the window frames,

Crystalizing on the glass, making patterns

Like a map of the recent past.

Why d’ye have tae leave, Miss?

Sheena asked me.

She should have known,

Social workers never stay long.

That’s two girls I’ve lost:

My Barbara, and Sheena –

She could have been mine,

If I’d trusted I could

Give her what she needed.

But I always leave the ones I love behind.

The ferry lurches

My fingers tighten on the book she gave me

And I’m determined not to think of the wild sea

Spitting out the ghosts of stolen lives –

Driven from wrecked homes –

Deflated dinghies washed up on the foam.

Stop the thoughts. They don’t help.

I can help someone else instead,

I’m going to start a new life,

A new job

Working with other kids –

Make a difference, I hope.

~

This book, Sheena knew I would like it.

Now I’m getting to the good bit –

But, what?

Some idiot

Decides to sit with me

Despite all the tables in this restaurant free –

I want to be alone, I’ll try not to look,

Just get on with reading my book

But he seems to be passing me a cup of tea,

Taking liberties, if you ask me –

Oh no. That hand, I recognise that hand

– But it can’t be…

Neil’s scar, I gave it to him

Shortly before we split up

Neil’s scar, it’s here on his hand

On the table in front of me,

I’d recognise it anywhere. A hand older now

But so am I.

I can’t pull my gaze away, a cough

Jams my throat

Neil, and his scar, they don’t belong on this boat.

I’m leaving the mainland to get away:

Neil’s scar,

What are you doing here?

~

Tea rocks in the mug, like the waves outside.

A moment of dizziness – the sea’s alive

With people adrift – it’s not my grief to bear

But I can’t help feeling it anyway.

Sheena was – I could have called her my daughter

But I didn’t feel good-enough to be her mother.

An eon has passed, and yet I know

It’s no time at all. The hand’s still there, the scar

Tightening over the skin.

The fingers disengage, leaving the mug in place.

I follow the retreating hand with my gaze –

I will not look at him. Not yet: Neil.

The scar’s still pink, raw

As if everything that happened was recent –

An embryo of a wound that goes deeper than skin.

It was supposed to, although I made it unthinking.

Sheena made me a not-mother card for Mother’s Day

But I’ve always been a mother, invisibly.

The hand twitches, I sit transfixed,

Wonder what it’s trying to tell me.

Our hands once spoke more eloquently

Than words, and sometimes they hurt. I scratched his cheek,

Does that scar still show?

But I’m not ready to look at his face just now.

Sweet scar, you remind me of…

I’ll say it under my breath – our daughter.

I wasn’t the only one who ever lost my temper,

Anybody who didn’t know him intimately

Would never perceive the fire beneath

His cool exterior.

When we argued, our hands would throw things

And we cringed from the rebounding shards,

So much fragmented matter to sweep away,

So many unsightly stains left behind –

Not least the ones

In my mind.

Your fingers curl against

Your own mug – reddening – how long

Until the heat becomes unbearable?

I miss you, hand, I’ll admit it, and have done

Ever since the two of us split. Almost thirty years,

Can you believe it?

It’s unexpected, Hand-of-Neil

To find you on the table opposite me

As I set off for my new life

On the Outer Hebrides,

Does this mean you will become

Again entwined with my hand?

Now that you’re here, Hand,

You seem like a beacon in my darkness,

Familiar, and once much-loved,

If you touch your counterpart in me

You’d find my skin now moves more readily

Over the muscles and bones,

So don’t be shocked by the change,

It happens to us all, with age.

I’m still the same inside, and remember well

How you used to make me feel. It hasn’t gone away,

That stroking of your finger in my palm

Would still have the same effect on me today.

I nearly glanced up at Neil’s face then

But I’m not ready. Not yet.

I need to remember more about what set us apart.

We had no central heating in our tenement flat

Above the shops on Cowgatehead,

We had to work extra shifts to pay the rent

And the bills, but we loved it there.

We kept the gas fire burning,

Piled blankets on the bed

And masked the scent of damp with joss sticks.

The record player constantly revolved

With progressive rock and folk music.

~

Neil’s hand on the smooth table,

Clean fingers, shining in the steam of the tea.

Wait, you started biting your nails?

They were always so immaculate.

I have to look away a minute,

Remembering the manicure Sheena gave me

As a leaving gift. Before she was lost to me.

Spray lashes the window,

And the fear of drowning returns. I’ll focus

On your hand again,

A single finger, tapping. I said “you” –

Perhaps I’ll be ready to see Neil, soon.

It feels like all the losses are connected

Here on the foam of the sea:

My baby, Sheena, the Neil and Lauren who once existed

As an entity.

And the ever-present knowledge

Of refugees, drowning daily.

Hand, talk to me.

Or rather, listen.

Remember the first night we spent together,

Neil and I kissing?

Kissing and kissing in the tangle of clothes

On the mattress, on the floor of the squat I lived in.

How did we get from that to this?

It’s like being in a time machine

Here at the table with you, hand –

Neil’s body so close to me –

I allow my gaze to wander up his arm.

I want to remember him piece by piece.

I can’t look into his – your – eyes. Not yet.

I’ll study the skin in the fold of your elbow,

It’s papery – always a sign of your stress.

Why are you here, Neil, with your arm and your hand?

And what will happen between us,

When we reach dry land?

I see that you’re wearing

A blue t-shirt, I imagine it goes

With the shade of your eyes.

Eyes that I saw for the first time

When my friend brought me into A&E

And you had to examine me.

I’d slipped on the walkway to her boat.

You were shocked at the state of my torn skirt

And my birds-nest hair.

You asked if my foot hurt.

I said of course it crapping does.

You winced, but not as much as me

When you grasped my foot and turned it

The wrong way, by mistake.

You later said you’d never met anyone like me,

And it had made you clumsy.

I saw you again at a party,

And then in the canteen at university.

After that we were ‘going out’,

Which led to the kiss on Granny’s Green Steps,

And to the room in the squat

Until we moved into our flat on Cowgatehead

Where we studied, and went out to work –

Then I got pregnant.

My eyes reach the hollow of your throat,

Where your age becomes more apparent.

We’re in a time-lapse video,

And I don’t know where the time went.

But I still can’t look into your eyes.

Not yet.

The rest of our lives don’t show

In this time-lapse video. Not Sheena,

Nor anything – or one – you left behind

To be here. No. we’re back there

In our tenement flat,

When you broke down

And I gave in.

I hadn’t planned to,

But my heart went out to you

When you explained

The pain you were in.

A few weeks later,

When you thought it should be over,

Your arms encircled me from behind.

I didn’t mean to, but my hand,

With the vegetable knife

Acted of its own accord.

My gaze has reached your mouth,

Neil.

Your lips that I used to know so well,

Surrounded now by deeper lines.

Moisture is falling down your face

And I can feel the same on my skin.

Am I ready yet?

I can’t tell.

Am I ready yet?

It must be time.

It happens in slow motion, Neil –

I meet your eyes, and you meet mine.

Author Information 

Tracey Scott-Townsend: Bio

Tracey is the author of The Last Time We Saw Marion, Of His Bones, The Eliza Doll and Another Rebecca. Her fifth novel, Sea Babies will be released on 1stllection, So Fast was published in January 2018.

Tracey is also a visual artist. All her work is inspired by the emotions of her own experiences and perceptions.

Tracey is the mother of four grown-up children and now spends a lot of time travelling in a small camper van with husband Phil and their rescue dogs, Pixie and Luna, gathering her thoughts and writing them down.

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