Updated: Jan 29, 2020
To celebrate the launch of my website, I would like to share a short story of my very own. Enjoy!
'UNDER THE CHERRY BLOSSOM' by Lia Burge Rogers
Under the cherry blossom,
Opposite the smashed, slashed factory
She used to dream she could fly
Each night jumping off the two foot wall outside her house
And each night flying further.
One night she flew to the factory’s summit
And over it
Into thin air.
She was a child when the smashed, slashed factory loomed above her home
She was a child when she flew up to its jagged, wrecked summit.
There was a time in the early nineties, before planning went ahead for more houses, when travellers inhabited the rubbled ground outside the factory. Safe in its border walls, that no Chiswick man dared pass, they lived as they pleased. They were there a year before a brave working-class-man-done-good from next door decided it was time to offer a friendly handshake. They say curiosity killed the cat but for Tony it was just a dicky tummy after accepting a fried egg sandwich on his visit to the caravan.
She liked the idea that you could have a home that moved; that you could decide and go without having to pack the car, which always felt like a day long ordeal that didn’t involve her. She liked the smell of the bonfires they lit in the evenings and the sound of raucous laughter and techno beats as her mother tucked her in to bed. Sometimes though, she’d struggle to sleep, keeping down the impulse to sneak out into the darkness and explore their makeshift homestead in the industrial ruin; warm her tiny hands on a bin-fire and dance by its light.
The old print-work’s walls and windows were scrawled with graffiti. Teen tags. Stars on the I’s and arrows on the Y’s. All that. It was grey and blue and blocked the sun at sunset.
The smash holes in the windows seemed oddly circular, as if they were made by a tennis ball launcher, or perhaps, just a very precise punch. Even as a 6 year old she remembered thinking that it must be awfully dangerous in there and felt great concern for the youths that scaled those barbed walls with their spray cans.
The dreams began that spring, as the cherry tree outside her window blossomed over the front garden. She stood on the wall after school and snatched bouquets of pink spray to stuff into eggcups and watch die by the next day. And at night, she dreamt of flying.
In her body, but watching from the back, she stood on the wall and jumped perfunctorily onto the pavement. She tiptoed to take off but merely bounced and remained on the slabs.
That summer she ran up and down the tawny gold carpeted hallways of her grandparent’s house launching herself off the step between the doors. ‘I’m flying’ she’d yell to her friend ‘I actually actually did that time!’ On the way home from the park in the afternoons a hippy girl would shake a bag of sweets at her and smile.
In her body, but watching from the back, she stood tiptoed in patent red shoes, on the wall. Something scooped her up from underneath and she levitated to the roof of the car, parked on the roadside.
There was dinner table talk of a fight between one of the young traveller lads and the next door neighbour’s son. They’d got up in eachother’s faces at the Cross Keys and one had lamped the other. There was a bloodied nose and a bruised ego to shout around town but the animosity failed to spread to the older, wiser, egg-sharing generation. A few weeks later her dad’s best friend was mugged by some pissed-up posh pricks in Barnes. He looked like a bloated bag of blood in his hospital bed.
In her body, but watching from the back, she raised her arms like an albatross spreading its wings and soared into the air, hovering for a few moments over the border wall before waking with a start.
That autumn, back at school, a girl called Shelley kicked her in the shin five very painful and deliberate times. The big scary mammy traveller was passing with her big scary dog, saw her do it and screamed through the fence so loudly that the playground fell silent. Shelley burst into tears.
There was dinner table talk of planning permission and demolition. Dust. Dust was her mother’s main concern it seemed. Perhaps we’d have to spend a few months at Grandma’s house. Perhaps that would be nice for the children anyway. The shin scab stuck to her tights.
‘Where will the gypsies go?’
‘Don’t call them gypsies’
‘Ok. I won’t.’
‘I don’t know’
‘They’ll just go off to the next place’
‘Will they take their chickens?’
‘I imagine so.’
In her body, but not watching from the back, she exploded into the white sky and somersaulted over the border wall. Vaulting upwards, narrowly missing a pyjama snag on the fractured window frames, she felt her stomach flip over. Suspended in air, she saw the outline of the absent caravan below and a chicken running.
‘Repetitive beats’ John Major legislated, no ‘repetitive beats’
Stray, Mickey, Paula, Sally, Manic Josh, Renegade Sid, Hamish, Darren, Old Frank,
Roger Raver, Max Volume, Charlie Kane
and their kin
rolled up in mucky vans
to the iron gates
of the factory.
Mickey’s axe broke the chain in one blow.
The Victorian terraces looked quietly on,
it’s residents fast asleep and ready to wake to the alarm clock.
Eight vans jigsawed across the forecourt,
ropes and plastic hose wrapped the gate.
Outrage bubbled across the school gate drop-offs and newsagent gossip-stops
Techno beats and bin-fires were not what these
West London dwellers
had signed up for.
Mortgages and investment gardens were at stake.
The school playground was directly opposite the sprawling chaos
of bodies and dogs, boom boxes and drugs.
Polite notices were hastily thrown through the gate,
‘in the nicest way possible.. please go away.’
They smiled at their new neighbours and didn’t smell so great.
And as the tension mounted the younger lads started to play up;
stealing barrels of lager from the high street Chinese
Making it easy for the locals to call them dangerous thieves.
And of course you remember the little punch up in the Cross Keys.
They played repetitive beats,
digging up the power lines to jack the electricity;
plunging the middle classes into darkness
in the middle of their Sunday night roasts.
‘They’re a public menace,
a nuisance tribe,
get them out of there; they’re ruining out lives.’
The council moved them on, out of the factory walls
but now they’re sat on your street, outside your front door,
offering a sweet
to your youngest daughter.
Crack! The maroon van spewed yellow flames.
Screaming from within.
Tony ran into the street and kicked the back door in,
it sprung back at him
and flailed open
as Mickey’s youngest boy burst into his arms coughing.
He held him in his strong paint-pattered embrace and sat on the curb.
It was the last night Theresa Road saw them
Before they took their repetitive beats up to Castlemorton.