Opening pages of Yellow Earth

Opening pages of Yellow Earth

A more extensive sample preview of the book, including photos, can now be seen on the Read Yellow Earth page:  Preview

 

Yellow Earth: opening pages of novel.

The mantelpiece clock ticked as Pale apprehensively waited alone in her living room, 6.20 am, a sunny June morning. Beige curtains closed, lights out and a pine-scented candle glowing in the still darkness. She sat on the settee facing the blank TV, nausea and headache fading, winding a length of her thinning hair around her fingers. The radiotherapy failed, she reached up and anxiously touched the hair above her right temple, it was still there. The dull brown hair matched her eyes, forty-seven and no one would notice her parting, she felt so alone, in her home, waiting for death. Photographs of her wedding fixed in dark wooden frames; remembering the day, she smiled to herself, so happy then. Days when she enjoyed wearing make-up, unable to recall the last time that happened. Then her lips were red and her eyes shy but bright, “Now,” she thought, “my skin is as pale as my name. And these lips Charles so tenderly kissed, are as white as my face. I would scare a ghost.” She smiled but was unable hold the moment, empty as the room. Absently patting her beige dress, she studied the walls, same colour in almost every room, beige. “Dad should have called me beige.” A sob broke from within her, threatening to grow. Silent, she suppressed her tears, suppressed her emotions, “I am nothing. Nobody remembers me, nobody loves me…” Her voice a whisper, guilt tugged, she should not think such things. Stilling herself she stared at the wall, beige, nondescript, she sighed, it was her.

The living room door opened breaking the resting darkness, Charles, wearing a blue denim shirt and green trousers, entered and paused, surprised by the darkness. Peering around without noticing Pale, he pulled the curtains back, shocking the room with sunlight. Closing her eyes with a whispered moan, Pale raised her hands, covered her face, listening to unsettled shoes step across the laminate floor. Tears in her eyes, she felt the light invade her lost tranquillity, watched between fingers, her husband of sixteen years lift the remote from the settee and pause, unseeing, inches from her. She stared into Charles’ face, wondering how he could not know her. Five feet ten, ten inches taller than her, trimmed ginger beard and hair, kind brown eyes, she recalled, that once yearned for her. Charles located BBC news with the remote and lowered himself onto the settee. Pale sighed silently, their love as forgotten as a desolate grave, it was unbearable.

“Charles.”

He jumped up from the settee like a frightened rabbit, head swivelling trying to locate the voice.

“Charlie. It’s me. Pale.”

He froze, staring at Pale as if she had materialised before his eyes, recognition slowly seeping through his memory.

“Pale?”

She smiled encouragingly wiping a tear from her eye.

“Where did-.” The memories clicked into place. His eyes lit up, he sat beside her and fondly squeezed her hand. “You seen the news?”

Struggling to speak she placed her hand on his and shook her head.

“Tokyo’s for it. Some bloody great asteroid is hours away. They’re trying to evacuate.”

“What happened to the satellite warning things?”

Charles shook his head despondently and increased the TV volume. Pale sat in stunned silence. An image of a swirling ball filled the TV screen, layers of gaseous purple and mustard gases like snakes circling a globe. A sombre science correspondent stood before the swirling globe dressed for a funeral in black tie and suit explaining the devastation facing Asia and the world, the impact would generate a tsunami to sweep over Japan and the surrounding lands, a dust cloud would encircle the Earth for decades, blocking the sun’s rays and wilting life. A digital clock in the corner of the screen counted down the time to impact, four hours, thirteen minutes, twenty-seconds and decreasing.

Their grip tightened as Pale and Charles stared at the TV in shocked silence. Their concerns for Pale and her malignant tumour had been misplaced, the sombre doctors and sympathetic nurses, hospital intrusions – life intrusions, investigations and examinations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, countless waits and broken moments, heartbreaks and tears to no avail. Tormented, fruitless time. A thousand piercing pins of pain and anguish, to no avail. Those caring, sympathetic, helpful souls, caring for another’s journey, not appreciating it was theirs. She should have patted their hands. Now she bit her lip with sympathy, none would outlive her. No one had more than days, perhaps hours to live. In that moment together, Pale and Charles shared the same thought, their years together embracing, binding their emotions. A smile tickled Pale’s lips, she knew it was wrong but the worry was gone. Charles could not resist her smile and grinned like an embarrassed lover infected with laughter. Their bodies met, tightly embracing, laughing so much they had to part. Tears flooded Pale’s face, she wiped them away with her palm.

“They gave me four months to live.”

“Bloody liars.” He looked into her eyes. “We go together.”

Pale took his face between her hands. “I’ve been so alone.”

On the TV, the image of the swirling globe streaming through the blackness of space grew. Pale sensed an affinity with that strange object, its promise of death was her Jesus, a saviour to give hope and life in death.

“Oh Charles I can tell you now, I’ve been so worried, for you. I didn’t know where to turn. I phoned social services.”

“Whatever for?”

“Your memory.”

Sitting back, he stared quizzically at her. “My memory?”

Shaking her head as if it was a mistake she leant forward and kissed him tenderly on the lips. “The thought of dying alone terrified me. Charles: I would never leave you.”

They peered into each other’s eyes, searching. A sudden piercing pain burst inside Pale’s head blinding her, she collapsed into his arms fighting for breath – afraid she would not even make those final hours. Through the pain she saw Charles, his face shocked and scared, fearing the worst. She felt his arms tighten around her as if he could hold onto her life, stop it escaping her body. His scream, desperate.

“Pale! Don’t leave me! Not now. Not now.” He lowered her onto the laminate floor. “Just a few hours more – a few hours more. Pale! Not now!”

Charles’ face faded from her, his crying, trembling body vibrating through her. “Pale.” But she heard no more, she was alone. For the briefest moment they had been together again, raised hope bleeding on the floor. A silence enveloped her, there was no peace. Pain jarred her brain, pierced her body, energy drained, her life ebbing. Yet in that moment of despair she caught a voice the like of which she had never heard before, and sensed something coming. She shuddered in Charles’ arms, knowing where to look. Through the haze, as vision and cogency returned she found herself staring up expectantly. Something beyond her understanding was reaching out, struggling to find a way to touch her. Beneath, she could feel the hardness of the floor, feel Charles’s heart beating against her, smell his deodorant, the pine scented candle, hear the ticking the clock, the rumbling of frightened crowds on TV.

The bright image of the TV faded, Pale lay on the floor, Charles above her; both turned to face the blackness. Nothing moved. In the darkness of the TV they discerned a shape, the stunned commentator, stood in shadow. Intent, listening, his eyes revealing confusion. Charles squeezed Pale’s hand, prepared for the worst.

“We are receiving unconfirmed reports, I emphasise, these are unconfirmed, from various sources, that the object has disappeared, from radar, from everywhere. Space is silent.”

Pale and Charles pushed themselves up and sat in awkward silence, avoiding one another’s eye, their treasured re-awakening shot into a mire. Pale was the first to break the silence, looking down at her hands, entwining one another.

“You will survive, Charles… I’m glad.”

Charles took her hands in his.

“Don’t… Oh Pale, Pale… I’m so sorry. The fates can be so cruel. I’ll survive but part of me will be lost without you. I don’t want you to go – Pale, please, don’t leave me.”

Tears fell from his trembling face, he pressed his head into her bosom as she protectively wrapped her arms around him.

The clock ticked as they sat embraced in their own cocoon recalling their life together, from their first kiss to that awful moment in the surgery when the consultant confirmed their worst fears.

The gentle quiet was broken by a fierce growling rumble, so loud it shook the room. Startled they grabbed the settee and each other. The rumble vibrated like a ship engine, thundering with the power to slice the oceans and rip the ship apart; the house and everything within creaking and shaking beyond endurance. Their trembling wedding photo shot across the mantelpiece, the vase of flowers on the coffee table, shuddered forward and crashed to the floor, its water dancing on the laminate floor. The walls shuddered ceaselessly, paintings jumped their hooks and tumbled onto the floor, joining the dance, the ceiling lightbulb exploded and the TV swayed unrhythmically then toppled forward.

The thundering irregular beat resonated through their bodies. Pale clenched her teeth to halt the chattering, her bones and muscles trembled in pain. Shaken and battered, a searing pain shot through her head, disjointed visions of white-hot probes entering her brain. Pale squeezed her temples between her hands trying to still the beating, it felt as if someone was relentlessly pressing unforgiving thumbs into her eyes. She sensed a rush of heat and wet as blood trickled from her nose. Struggling to remain upright Pale felt her body collapse, she sank into the floor unable to breathe, unbearable weights constricting her chest.

Disorientated, afraid the house would collapse, Charles forced himself up onto his knees. Gradually aware of an agonised scream beside him he turned and saw his wife curled up into a ball on the trembling floor, her eyes closed and mouth open. Not knowing what to do, how to ease her pain, he slipped his arms beneath Pale’s neck and knees and lifting her, staggered to the front door.

Outside, neighbours were fleeing, escaping their tumbling houses. Charles glimpsed Gerry and Gillian, run into the road, covered in white dust and plaster, Gillian crying, her leg bleeding, Gerry, dazed, searching for somewhere safe to hide. Conscious of the screams around him, people staggering past, shocked and hurt, Charles gently laid Pale on the cold hard pavement, his trembling hands pressed her pale white neck for signs of a pulse. There was none. His hands and arms shaking, he stared down at her unmoving body. Crying, a determination grasped from the pits of his being, Charles pressed his mouth hard over hers and blew. Her nose, he had not held her nose. Again he blew, and again, alert to the slightest movement of her chest, desperately crying to God to save her. Tears stung his eyes as he staggered back. Nothing. Kneeling beside her he raised his clenched fist above her heart. His brain froze, afraid to hurt her, afraid to move. Then, in an urgent finality he shot his arms down. But did not reach her heart. Her hands held his. Pale’s small hands clasped his, restrained his might. She opened brown nondescript eyes, saw the fear in his face and smiled. His resolve lost, barely able to support himself, he smiled back, each reassuring the other. Each failing to hide their fears and concerns.

“You gave me a bloody scare there Pale, thought you bloody left me – when everything was going so well.” both laughed.

“Sorry, I’m glad we’re together, for the end.”

“But it’s not the end Pale, it’s not. You heard the news, the asteroid thing, it’s gone. Gone.”

“No, the houses, everything’s collapsing.”

Charles tenderly touched her cheek. “It’s all right. It’s just – nothing. A coincidence. That thing, you said, about my memory, you were really worried? Oh Pale, I wish you’d told me. There’s no need to be afraid. I’m here for you. Always, together. You know that.”

Lying on the pavement, her hand held his, she smiled warmly, there was so much to say. Her eyes fixed on him and froze. The smile on her lips lost as she looked beyond him up at the purple-mustard clouds swirling above his head. Disregarding the rumbling and Charles’s confused expression, Pale rose to her feet staring upwards at the object like a forgotten memory. Men, women and children were running in all directions, cowering, dazed, struggling to stand, unable to comprehend what was happening. Unafraid, sensing a presence, Pale stood in an oasis of calm. Charles reached for her and fell backwards as the pavement shook beneath his feet. A tranquil warmth eased through Pale’s body, a thought stirring: “Charles…. I need not be alone.”

A wind wrapped around Pale, she felt a few drops of rain then a sudden fierce deluge pounded through the air, swamping everyone around. Standing on the pavement amidst the chaos that was her home, her refuge, Pale disregarded the torrential rain, letting it sting her face and hands. Cold and unmoving, she observed familiar faces, wandering inches from her, too lost and confused to seek shelter, staggering, drenched to the skin, over the upturned, broken pavement and road. Pale’s eye caught Vicky approaching, a neighbour, two houses away, her blonde hair and summer clothes bedraggled and heavy with rain, weave between fallen walls and upturned cars. She tripped over an elderly man lying confused, muttering to himself, on the pavement, and landed inches from Pale’s feet. Bending down to help her, Pale paused, their noses dripping, almost touching. Dazed, Vicky peered around, trying to see through the sheets of rain, staggered to her feet, pushed her bedraggled hair away from her eyes, and stared directly at Pale as if she was not there. Saddened, Pale rose to her full height, and watched Vicky disappear into the rain. Slowly turning her head, Pale took in the undulating crumbled pavement and road, the fractured houses of her suburban estate; not able to comprehend what she was sensing, realisation dormant but its subduing constraints weakening.

On his knees, soaked, rain running from his beard and hair, Charles anxiously looked around, lost, unable to make sense of what he was doing, aware something vital was missing, a gnawing concern that would not let him rest. Stepping close, Pale bent forward, her hand reassuringly touching his shoulder, his eyes wildly searched. She smiled fondly as he looked directly into her face, it was a stab to her heart, she could not breathe, he scrutinised her without recognition, her words echoing encounters that hung like dreams lost in a mist.

“Charles… Charles, it’s me, Pale. It’s me… Pale…”

He looked through her as if she was vacant air and stepped away, toppling over Gerry and Gillian.

Her heart sank at the promises so well-meaning but meaningless. Drawn to the phenomena above she looked up through the rain, her eyes, ears-  senses – trying to pierce the swirling clouds, touching something she knew, like a gold nugget shimmering around a corner, just out of sight, present even if she could not see it. Her head back, stung by the rain, realisation dawning, she watched the swirling clouds tangle. Unaware how long she stood, events played around her like noisy children, each movement registered. She felt as if she was the centre of a hurricane, momentous forces and devastation buffeting around her whilst she stood alone, untouched by the slightest breeze. Struggling to accept what she sensed, Pale looked at her frightened neighbours, cowering on the ground as their homes blew apart. Their lives in peril, but what could she do, she was a nobody? A nobody, unrecognised, unseen by everyone. She had tried so hard, she could not help who she was, so unremarkable in every way, unseen even to Charles, her world, her dream. The minutes passed like hours, the rumbling hurricane was relentless. Bowing her head, she whispered to the trembling air.

“I, I think… I think I know what you want…”

She looked away, at the turmoil and fear, Charles bleeding from his head and hands, staggering over the undulating road, friends and strangers crying and hurt.

“… Me.”

Not knowing where the strength and courage came from, how long she had to live, Pale whispered to the air, emotions carrying her words, “I – I’m sorry… I don’t… I, I’m not sure I’m available.”

Yellow Earth: opening pages of novel.

 

 

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