I exist in the impossible land of the folksong, the acre between foam and strand.

Liminal space. Interstitial.

I’m waiting on the foggy threshold between two months ago and next week. A nowhere place.

They say one should seize each day, not worry about tomorrow or beyond tomorrow but I’m not good at these in-between times. I feel so healthy but know I’m not. The betrayal of my own body confuses me. How could I not have known there was something wrong? And now I have to wait to be put right.

Just like those days before childbirth, I pad awkwardly from project to project, unable to settle to things that normally calm me but instead doing thing I normally put off: cleaning, dusting, rearranging, hopeful, excited, fearful, disbelieving, confused and above all anxious to the point of nausea.

Fidgety, I excavate the strata of my jewellery box – the nearly oldest items are from my teens – some no longer fit, others no longer appeal. Older still are two rings that were once my grandmother’s. Each piece reminds me of moments, emotions, people. Each was once a loving gift or spontaneous purchase. Whyever do I have so many earrings? The light catches on tiny facets of colour. I shall clean these neglected sparkles and wear them again if only for the memories they recall. After this is all over, I shall give most of them away.

Cooking is the only other thing I can sometimes concentrate on.

I find a recipe for my husband’s birthday – a special dish but tricky. It has so many fiddly, unfamiliar steps but my mind stops whirring while under knife, then pestle, then spoon, rich colours merge and flavours blend.

As it slowly cooks, I put the spice jars away. Their shelf is full and chaotic, it had taken me a while to find what I’d required. I must sort that cupboard out – empty the old, out-of-date bottles then check to see what I need to replace.

A jar of paprika tumbles off the shelf as I rummage and the lid pops off. Powder red as dragon’s blood spills everywhere. How ridiculous that something so silly makes me want to cry. But I don’t. I rescue what I can and replace the lid firmly. Then I start my inventory, extracting every other bottle to check its age.

Whyever do we have so many jars of mustard seeds?

I tip the bottles and watch the seeds roll and tumble, trying to remember through the fog of anxiety what they traditionally represent. Is each orb a worry or a grain of faith?

I tip the out-of-date ones away. They trickle down a mountain of out-of-date spices. The chaos of reds and browns smell and look like expired magic. I decide that the discarded mustard represents seeds of worry.

I retain just one jar. But its contents represent tiny seeds of faith to help me cross the space between sea and shore.

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

The Road

Is this the road to failure? Isn’t the light fading?

Nothing is clear. I want to flee the hurt, yet first I want apology, atonement, understanding. But there is silence. Have I failed?

Keep driving. Don’t slow down when tormenters whisper from alleyways. Find the lane lined with friends to help.

The sun sets, but I’ll drive on.

Day will follow night.

And the drag of the hurt will stretch and thin, from cable to rope to thread to hair to … snap… nothing.

I’ll drive on: curving with the road, healing from the jolts, bending with the camber.

Travelling home.

the road

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


Thin Spiral Notebook – 100 word challenge


I flick the fly from my face and arms. Its incessant unhygienic search for moisture irritates and repulses me.

She does not flinch as flies crawl along her dry lips and tiptoe through her eyelashes.

I wish I’d managed to lose that excess weight.

She wishes she had enough food to fill her breasts with milk for her baby.

I wonder if I will ever have a child of my own.

She wonders if her child will live till tomorrow.

I wonder if I will ever have a man to share my life.

She wonders if a man would protect her from other men.

I wish my period wasn’t so heavy, worried the blood might spoil my new clothes.

She wishes she had sanitary towels; worried that she will be shunned as unclean when the blood soaks through the rags and spoils the cast-off clothes from the charity bags.

I wonder how I will pay for my parents’ care as they age.

She wonders, in her damp shelter, under grey skies, how to dry her parent’s urine soaked mattress and shame drenched eyes.

I wish she had a home like mine: cosy and safe, with nice things and friendly neighbours.

She wishes she was back in the home she left, with a roof and a floor and a kitchen and a bathroom, with her own country safe enough to live in.

I wonder what her job had been; if she had been like me once upon a time: educated, qualified, responsible, respected.

She wonders if anyone will ever recognise her worth and skills again.

I know I will never forget her face.

She knows she will never remember mine.

She is a mirror. Not because she looks like me, but because she makes me see myself: not as I want to be, but as I am: well-meaning, self-centred, pampered, rich, safe, ignorant, born in the right place at the right time. Taking my life for granted.


Here is a link to a charity which helps women in refugee camps set up and operate machines to make sanitary towels, nappies (diapers) and incontinence pads. Please check it out and if you know another charity you think is worth mentioning, let me know.

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


When I held you first in my arms I knew
Somewhere your brand new existence
Represented something to be destroyed.
I wanted you to grow up;
In love with variety;
To look for beauty in every genre
Of music, literature, art, humanity.
I wanted you to see a world full of
Strange faces: varying colours, headwear,
Hear different languages and be
Fascinated by difference not repulsed;
To see the person not the generalisation.
To believe or not believe yet understand belief;
Not let any man’s imperfect interpretation
Form an immovable, uncompromising view.
How can I imagine bringing you up to hate
When love is the only thing which has meaning?
Yet the world is in fear of fools who lie
And believe a lie and enforce a lie.
They do not speak for anyone’s god
They have a different master –
One who wants to divide and aims to demolish
Until there is nothing left to wipe out.
You are nearly adults now.
I am about to let you out in the world
To put you in the trust of strangers
To know that you will be on buses
And trains and planes
And sit in restaurants and theatres
Without me.
And I pray that in the end
The fear will not devour you or us but
Consume itself in the face of love.
And today, full of tears of grief and anger
I wish I could reach and touch
The mothers who feel lost and empty,
Overwhelmed by darkness and loss.
Not just the mothers;
Not just the parents and friends or lovers
Whose faces and culture I understand
Whose country I love;
But everyone everywhere who woke yesterday
Wanting nothing but to love and live
And bring up their children
In peace
But had to face the gun instead.

Reflection 6

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

The Promise

My daughter.  My precious girl.  You look up at me with limpid eyes, trying to focus on mine.

Baffled by the freedom of your limbs and losing the warmth of my womb, you curl on my breast, try a tiny suckle and then close those lovely eyes into sleep.

I am exhausted too and I am ready to slumber, but first I will make you a promise.  In you, I can see my mother and my grandmother and your father’s mother and his grandmother.  Already I am sure that you will be determined and funny, maybe quick to anger but loving long.

How do I know?  You are such a little scrap, your ears like little shells, your nose like a tiny bead, your little feet a miracle of craftsmanship.

You are perfect.  You are neither evil nor a disappointment nor a failure to me because you are a girl.  Do not tell me, who has just given birth, that women are weak.  We are stronger than oxen, stronger than the rain storm, stronger than the mightiest tree.   One day your work will be as necessary as your brother’s, your mind as fast, your ideas as fascinating.

Maybe you will find it hard to trust, and you will not be wrong little girl, the world is a cruel place and those who say they love you will say that they must protect you by changing you.  They will say that evil lurks in wait if they do not do that thing, that you will never marry, never carry a babe of your own, that your own body will rise up and destroy you if they do not do that thing.

But I have decided I will not let them.

If I have to run from my own family and from your father’s family, from the wise women with their rusty blades and the wise men with their threats of violence, if I have to run with you, I will run.  I don’t know where we will go my little bird, my little mouse, my precious gem.  But one day the cutting must stop.

And I make this promise to you my darling, that for you and me it stops today.


Mooring Up

His wife didn’t like sleeping out under the stars. Things might crawl on her, it would be damp and she might wake to find something supernatural nose to nose with her.

So the day the world snapped, he knew he’d go alone.

What he really wanted was to be on a boat, moored a long way from land, never going back to work again. But never going back to work was not an option, the sea was too far away and he could only anchor himself in the garden, adrift of the house he was working to pay for.

Taking a week’s leave he traversed the lawn and swayed in the dappled shallows under the cedar, turning his back on the house. Left against the shore of the back door, a note said “Casting myself away. Don’t rescue me. Yet.”

He couldn’t sleep in the shed which was so decrepit that even the resident bat had gone; but he didn’t have to live in it, just know it was there. The July weather was set fine so he erected a standalone hammock between the tree and the shed and placed a small garden chair alongside, facing into the swell of the scrubbery.

For a few days he was marooned, eating out of tins and washing under the outside tap. He imagined the traffic sounds from the bypass were distant rollers on the edge of his lagoon. In the morning, dew sparkling in his hair and beard, he pretended the pigeons and thrushes were gulls. In the evening, he tried to ignore the wafting smells of tomatoes, garlic and chilli and refused to decode the indistinct sounds of shore: the TV; negotiations between his wife and their teenagers; the rattle of closing curtains. Later, rocking under the stars, he heard the curtains open and knew his wife was risking the supernatural to watch over him. Bathed in her love he fell asleep.

On Thursday evening, he felt a clink against the hammock-stand. Looking down, he found a note in a bottle: “permission to board?” After a moment’s pause, he turned to the house. At the back door stood his wife. He beckoned and she walked across to him, awkwardly dragging a chair and carrying a basket of fresh food and chilled wine.

“Are you running away from me?” She asked.

“No. Just adulthood.” He answered.

“I feel like that as well.” She whispered. “And I miss you.”

“There’s room in the hammock for two.” He offered.

She thought momentarily and nodded.

As the sun set, they lay cuddled in the hammock, rocking over the shallow waves of the lawn and listening to the rollers in the distance.

“No pirates in this ocean.” He reassured her. “But we’ll sail home tomorrow. Only shall we cast adrift again sometime?”

She cuddled into his shoulder, feeling the strength of his arms and the warmth of his body. In the moonlight their faces were transformed, young and carefree again. “Yes.” she said. “We will.”

Reflection 4 copyCopyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission


The sudden downpour took them by surprise as they lolled on the grass outside the cathedral. “Quick, inside” said Izzy, grabbing Em’s arm. She avoided the neat pensioners trying to encourage a donation and sat them down close to the door so they could get out as soon as possible.

You couldn’t hear the rain. In fact you could hear very little, just the tourists wandering about taking photos, passing on the stone floor: click click click tap tap tap.

A long way down towards the other end people were just sitting.

“How boring” said Izzy, leaning awkwardly to get a selfie of herself with the vaulted ceiling looming above her.

Em suddenly felt tired. Not from the holiday or late nights, but just tired. It was like being in a car that had been rushing along and suddenly stopped so that all the things in the back crashed into you. All the things in the back of Em’s mind were crashing into her.

She thought about how she’d started to write a postcard to Grandma and was just about to sign her name when she remembered Grandma had died. She saw her future opening up in front of her: no longer at college, no longer supported by her parents, just her – responsible. She wondered if she would be loved, if life would make sense, if she would be worthwhile.

Em felt panic rising and tuned Izzy out, staring towards the brilliant stained glass window, sparkling even with a rain storm outside; and she looked at the people just sitting. Were they communing? Or just being still?

Tears filled Em’s eyes, as she sat there feeling lost. Was this praying? She wasn’t religious. She didn’t have any words to say, so could it be praying – just laying your hurt and worry out?

She felt a hum in the air, like someone saying “don’t be afraid, be at peace” and in her mind’s eye, saw herself enveloped in comforting arms. And the things crashing into her fell and dissolved.