This is a tale pinned to an ancient door studded with handforged nails . . .
Word came that the Pilgrim had returned. That the tinkling of her silver bangles had been heard along the twitten.That her sandals had scuffed the boardwalk through the dunes to the Chapel-in-the-Sands. That the handwoven bag on her back held new stories.
The children of the village went to check first. The boldest scrambled to the top of a sandheap and crawled through tufts of marram grass to see. The boy with the twisted face gave a grin as wide as the glittering bay. It was her.
The message passed around Shoretown faster than the breeze-blown seeds of asters. By the time the visitors had gone back to their tents and caravans, and bricks exhaled their stored wamth, a fair crowd of locals hung about the dunes.Oh, they came with rugs and hampers, baskets and coolbags – but their ears were even more eager than their stomachs.
The first star appeared early for her shift. She left the evening colours to their parade. So many watched the slow cortège of the sun, they did not see the Pilgrim take her place outside the Chapel-in-the-Sands. She held a poster in her hands. The sort glued to vacant shops and taped to lamp posts telling you of forthcoming attractions in wax crayon colours. Scrawl covered its reverse.
She straightened the stiff paper out. The noise got their attention and she began to read:
This is the city you stumble through, weeping or blinkered. Where old ads curl and still boast of seducing girl stooges. Where residents rush past the too-often-seen art of drowned children. Where the trading of lies is barked like strawberries – bright red overlying the pale mould.
These are the twisted streets you dawdle in, stupefied. Where the wrong word tagged on grimy bricks will slide a knife between your ribs. Where only an endless festival of bright and pretty enthusiasm will do. Where the gala insists you celebrate, though your heart is emptied and your name badge states failure.
These are the dimmed chambers you negotiate, escape rooms you must solve. Where the word hoards tower in heavy cliffs of accusation. Where pearls phosphoresce and diamonds spark cold, inextinguishable fires of memory. Where the voices of praise only bruise your ears, and your fractures are mended with cheap solder.
Go – search for the scent of water. Crane your neck to seek mapped fragments of sky and stars between facades. Follow the crows’ cries, touch each tree still standing for luck. Pavement crack dandelions will light your way in an emergency.
In a small square, ripe for development, unregenerated and beloved, a cracked fountain still runs. Put your hand in – the one that ceaselessly litterpicks – and take the shell the urban mermaid offers. Clamp it still dripping to your ear.
Let the old vowels seep inside your skull. Let the consonants return to their ledges in your synapses. These sounds will wake the mind of a young girl as rain rouses moss in forgotten gutters. Precious as the ointment of the Good Folk, it will have you say your truth at a cost.
The Pilgrim stood still at the end of her reading. Her audience mumbled and whispered, puzzled among their picnicware.
‘Perhaps that wasn’t what you expected, ‘ she said. ‘Still, there will be more for such as care to attend.’
She went inside and brought out a jug of homemade lemonade, delicately flavoured with rosewater and mint. She served it to those who remained, ice tinkling into their glasses like small peals of happiness.