Bus-stop on a Rainy Day

The zip broke and Jake’s portfolio exploded just as some swine swerved to speed through the puddle near the bus queue.

Rain had already leaked through the gaps and soaked into the cheap seams. Muddy, grimy road-water just added an extra patination to his paintings. The handles slipped as he struggled to hold the portfolio closed and save his work. With rain pouring, no-one could realise that all the tears Jake had dammed up since the tutorial had finally burst their banks and were running down his face.

‘You kids think you know everything,’ said a damp old man ahead of him in the queue. ‘Anyone with half a brain would’ve brought an umbrella.’ He leaned forward, water dripping off a massive, ancient green contraption as he stared into the portfolio. ‘What’s that? Modern art? Bit of rain might improve it.’ He snorted at his own joke, shoulders heaving and more water dislodged in lumps, tipping onto the paintings and sketches. He looked beyond Jake to whoever was behind him. ‘And here’s another one. Umbrella’d spoil what you call your style would it? What are those badges you got pinned on? Save the rainforest? Save the monkeys? They should save you. Even monkeys have got the sense to hold leaves over their heads when it’s raining.’ 

Jake turned so see Cait from college. Cait, who’d glared at his exhibition as if wanting to set it alight with her eyes. He’d wanted to ask why his work annoyed her but as she stood scowling on the slick pavement with her arms akimbo, he knew she must feel like his tutor did. That his art was ‘Too nice. Too hopeful. Not despairing enough.’  Her glare encompassed him and the old man in disparagement of the male sex or possibly the entire human race, then she shoved her hands in her pockets.

Cait hunched in her jacket. The rain had long since soaked all the way through the cloth and she was aware of damp skin cooling. She was unable to suppress a shiver. Even the fortress of her boots had been breached when the motorist went through the puddle. She’d reached out to help with Jake’s portfolio, her hands mottled and blue, but the old man’s words stung. What you call your style…even monkeys have got sense… Why couldn’t people understand? There was so much to sort out – the mess former generations had left through arrogance, ignorance, selfish disregard for the world. The issues were a drowning flood. Cait lay half-awake most nights nearly engulfed by them, trying to dam and steer and navigate those tumbling waters. But she had to push off from the shore and do something, not just drink and eat and sleep her way through life in blind hedonism while the world disintegrated around her. She wanted to save it all – the clean air and the oceans and the animals and even the people who mocked her. She wished she could express what she felt – be kind, be gentle, embrace the sun and the rain and the moon and the sea and the being alive – but her thoughts just came out as furious nonsense. Not like Jake – his art summed up everything she thought. When she’d seen his exhibition she’d wanted to lose herself in his pictures: beauty, joy, hope. She’d wanted to tell him but the words just wouldn’t come. He’d just think her stupid.

Bill had turned to look up the road. He was cold, jealous of the young blood of the two kids who would dry out and forget the rain in no time. Bill was warmed only by thinking of Judith. He was like someone who’d lost a limb but could still feel it aching. Judith wasn’t there but he knew what she’d say, could sense the weight of her arm hooked through his.

But her voice in his mind was disappointed. That was unkind. 

‘Kids should make more of an effort,’ he whispered. ‘Like we used to. Nowadays they’re proud to wear secondhand clothes and have rat-tail hair. Not like you. You were never less than immaculate. Right …. up to the end.’ He swallowed. 

Go on with you, Judith giggled. Remember what the old folk said about our fashions when we were their age? And the girl cares about things. Just like we do.

‘It’s a waste of time. Nothing changes.’

We said we’d never give up hope.

They’d met in the rain on a nuclear disarmament march in 1958. Her umbrella had blown out of her hands as she struggled with a banner and a pet dog sheltering inside her jacket. Dead soft, was Judith. Fierce as a lioness but underneath…

Bill remembered a holiday in the 1960s. Walking along some promenade, they’d passed a hurdy-gurdy man with a dancing monkey, its puckered woebegone face sucking any joy from the tune. 

‘Poor little thing,’ Judith had said. ‘It’s cruel, that’s what it is.’ She’d cried a little and in the middle of the night, Bill agreed to buy the creature and keep it for a pet. But next day, the hurdy-gurdy man and monkey were not to be found.

Perhaps the angry girl was just another Judith. And when had it ever been more important to look right than to do right? 

Umbrella, Judith whispered. 


We always kept a spare folding one in the shopping bag. Give them the old one – you don’t need anything that big anymore.

Bill swallowed, then straightened his shoulders before turning.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Just lost my wife, but it’s no excuse.’ He held out the old battered umbrella he’d had since 1958 and nodded at the portfolio. ‘Take this – protect some of that art.’ Then he gave Cait a trembling smile. ‘Forget what I said. There’s always hope. This umbrella’s big enough for two. Perhaps you’ve got ideas to share. Someone’s got to save the world. It wasn’t me and Judith. But maybe it’ll be you.’

rainy bus stop

Words and art copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

In the Diner

Outside rain pours onto a city dissolved into night.

Inside, the diner is garish with comforting colours; I smell coffee, fried food and damp clothes. I gather my things.

At this despairing hour, there is music, but little chatter. I should go, taking and leaving loneliness.

I should go, returning to my world; rejecting yours.

You catch my hand.

I should go. I should not look into your eyes. But I do. Through my tears, I see your tears. I am lost. Lost in love for you. Lost mapless at a crossroads.

Your hand holds mine.

I do not leave.


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

From a prompt “Lost” on Thin Spiral Notebook – check out the other reactions

Letter to My Bully

I found the old class photograph and I looked for you.

I can remember your words, most of them.

The words that stung, that ripped into me, then undermined me even when they made no sense: weird, strange, not normal, ugly, stupid, clumsy, useless, soft, cry-baby, weak: the jibes about my body, my face, my hair, my skin, my family, my past, my future.

I remember the separation, the isolation, the other-ness.

But guess what? Your face itself is blank.

Do I wish I learnt earlier to hide the pain? Maybe.

Perhaps I wish I had stopped looking at myself sooner and looked at everyone else instead to see that their vulnerabilities, their weaknesses, their weirdnesses, stupidities and so on were no less than mine. It was simply that theirs were not pointed out.

I certainly wish that it had not taken me so long to realise that you were the one with the problem, not me.

Someone who could uses fear to make companions is just as friendless as someone who sits alone. Maybe more so.

And if I was vulnerable and sensitive, in fact, if I am still vulnerable or sensitive then I am glad.

I have learnt that these are good things to be.

At least I can recognise pain and doubt and fear and try to comfort rather than exploit. I want to be kind and loyal. I bitterly regret every unkindness or disloyalty I have ever been guilty of.

And I do not fear failure. I know I can start again and again and again.

You thought that failure makes you weak. But you were wrong. It is not failure which makes you weak. Failure makes you strong. Failure makes you look at yourself and analyse what went wrong and move forward.

Being cruel makes you weak. Being a bully makes you smug on victory, building yourself up and up … but there is nothing but destruction waiting when you fall.

So I can look at the school photograph and find myself. I remember how alone I felt in that class of young faces. I can name most of those other children, including the ones who told me afterwards how afraid they were of you and the ones who tried to be kind even when you picked on them for trying to befriend me. But I can’t find you. If you’re who I think you are then you looked like everyone else. You don’t look so scary.

I am not ashamed to have been that shy, lonely little girl who didn’t know how to hide her feelings. I am proud that I have grown to want to be kind.

Are you proud to be the one who made me cry?


Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Cliff Face


Hanging onto the edge
“Don’t look down” –
If I fall, there’s no way up
“Don’t look up” –
I’ll be overwhelmed
“Don’t look over” –
Tantalising yet distant
If I take one step
It might be over
Or night will descend.
I press my face to the wall
Nothing but blank rock
“Hold on”
Someone can help
“Look down” – I’ve come so far
“Look up” – I’m nearly there
I lift my face and
Look sideways – I am not on my own
I will reach out one finger
I will take one step sideways
I will hold out for the light

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Harbour Mouth

As usual, dinner choked her and she ate barely anything. Sam didn’t notice but poured her more wine. She drunk some white. Then some red. As usual, she went to bed drained, pincers at her temples and took paracetamol and ibruprofen, and valerian because otherwise how would she sleep? Sam was still watching TV. What was on TV tonight? Nothing. She quietly packed a bag and wrote him a note. 4.40am every day and she was wide awake, mind churning churning, options like the doors off one of those unending corridors – is the answer here? or here? What even was the question? When the alarm goes off her body ached, her eyes leaden. One foot in front of the other, shower, wake the kids, make breakfast, put on the face, do the hair, say goodbye to Sam, take the kids to school, late again, tutting stay-at-home mums watching her as they gossip before going for coffee or to walk the dog or clean their clean houses. Go to work. Endless emails, like the fairytale with the self-filling purse only with the opposite effect. The fuller the inbox, the more drained she felt. Rushing to get the task done for the vague thanks she’d get, providing data so that someone else would get the praise. What did it all mean anyway? Who wanted those endless stats? What did I do in work today? Nothing. Rushing to get back for school pick-up. Late again. Angry teacher talking to her as if she was six. Driving home with the kids, “what did you do in school today?” “Nothing – what’s for tea?” At home, the overflowing laundry, the pointless cooking of tea – prodding of broccoli, shovelling of pasta. What did I do at home today?  Nothing.  She tried to put all this in the note, waiting for the valerian to kick in and took more painkillers. When she left, who would even miss her really? Exemplary employee, caring wife and mother – just functions. They’d miss the functions. How could they miss her? She had been lost a long long time. She tried to put it in the note, but it was hard to put it into words. She wasn’t sure what she was writing. The next day at 4.40am, she slipped out of bed and out of the house. She got to the coast and wondered vaguely if she’d shut the front door. She imagined the house – wide open, wondering where she’d gone – the overflowing laundry, the untidy rooms, the toys crying “organise us!” and the fresh air blowing in whispering “she’s gone, she’s gone” and the children and Sam sleeping on and on until they woke and tried to remember what she looked like and life going on without her. She got to the coast and looked at the harbour bridge shiny in the dawn.She didn’t remember it being so long, the end was barely visible, the other side of the harbour mouth hazy and clean. She didn’t remember it being so narrow, only room for her.  Weren’t there buildings on the other side? Where was the traffic? Maybe it was always this quiet at 4.40am. Was it still 4.40am? No it must be later, time for the alarm to go off. Surprising there is no traffic. She starts to walk across the bridge. Why am I walking? Didn’t I bring the car? Never mind. It’s peaceful here but looks even more peaceful there. The buzzing, the humming, the relentless noise of her mind is silent. Nothing can be heard, not the sea, nor the wind, nor the town behind her. Is the town behind her? She doesn’t want to turn and look – the other side of the bridge is more inviting. There is a person coming towards her, as vague as the bridge, it is calling to her. It must be shouting because it’s so far away she can’t tell if it’s male or female, but the voice is like a whisper, she closes her eyes to hear better. “Not yet,” it says, “Go back, go back, here is some strength, go back, go back” and rain starts to fall on her from the clear blue sky, “come back come back” and she opens her eyes and Sam is holding her, his tears falling on her face, and she is in her bed and he is holding her and he has her letter in his hand, crushed against her, and he has her letter in his hand, crushed against her with its scrawled words: “I’m lost. I’m so tired. I want to sleep forever. Find me.” And he is whispering “you didn’t wake when the alarm went off, I didn’t know, I didn’t know” and he pulls her up to himself, crying into her hair and she steps back off the bridge and into his arms.

bridge 2Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission