A Gritty World

A Review of Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole

It took me quite a while to finish this one. It’s probably the book I read in the longest without giving up. Well, excluding reference works naturally. I bought this in a Waterstones on my first trip to London in July 2018. And it’s always had a bookmark in it somewhere. However, for the longest time, it remained my secondary read. Only after I had finished Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, I picked it up again and found it to be an actually enjoyable read, even though I had long since forgotten the introductory pages. Nevertheless, after that long hiatus this book grabbed me, and enthralled me into a world I’ve never once before considered.

The Physical Book

This is definitely not an especially well-crafted physical book, but it’s also not sloppy. The most striking thing about this relatively sturdy paperback is the striking colour palette of its cover design. One with which I really enjoyed working with for the artwork accompanying this review.

The Setting

The Gallows Pole is set in the last years of the 1760s around Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire, mostly in Cragg Vale and Mytholmyord in the Upper Calder Valley. And Benjamin Myers manages to paint a thoroughly engulfing picture of the Yorkshire moors and the villages, farmsteads, and towns within it. Without ever having been there, my mind could form a picture of the surrounding landscape and feel myself into a striking description balancing between the broad strokes and the little details.

The world Myers paints is a gritty and unforgiving one, but also one filled with glorious detail and thoroughly enticing descriptions especially of food, but also of the seasonal changes rolling over the moor. It’s the writing of a writer who is fundamentally familiar with the landscape they are describing and has done their research to form a vivid picture of life in a long-ago time, right before the onset of the industrial revolution finding its way into the small valleys of northern England.

The Characters

The Book in my hands

In The Gallows Pole, Myers tells, as the epigraph reminds us, The True Story of King David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners. The story told centres around two groups of people, one one hand the Coiners i.e. farmers and workers in the Upper Calder Valley, on the other hand, the exciseman William Deighton and the Solicitor Robert Parker of Halifax working to bring the coiners to justice for defacing the currency of the land.

These two groups are a great contrast, both morally questionable at times, both morally upright in other times. As a reader, my sympathy often changed sides. Sometimes fevering with the Coiners or Clippers and their families, sometimes with those coiners around James Broadbent, who chose to become turncoats, and sometimes with the exciseman William Deighton himself. Myers really did a great job of moving the narrative focus from one to the other.

The most striking downfall of the characters of this book is their lack of diversity. And yes I know, especially with writing based on historical sources, getting a picture of for example women’s lives is often a hard task, fraught with its own trappings, but I don’t think this book would really pass the Bechdel Test.

The Plot

Several years and seasons elapse during the unfolding of the story of the Turvin clippers, as the Cragg Vale Coiners are also called. As such the book is divided into seven parts each detailing the happenings within a season from spring 1767 to 1770, with the epilogue jumping forward to 1775. It’s a varied plot, with turns and climaxes, with sexual abuse and murder, but also with harvest feasts and drinking bouts. Detailed descriptions of food follow similarly detailed descriptions of death.

The book is slow to start and even with a year to forget the first few pages of this book, I didn’t really miss them, nor can I in hindsight really figure out how they fit into the general plot except possibly as setting the mood. After that slow start, however, I found the plot thoroughly captivating and felt the cold of the night giving me cover as I travelled through the moor in the hope of securing a better future for myself as James Broadbent did.

The Writing

I think the writing of The Gallows Pole is its most striking asset. Rarely, have I felt as drawn in into an environment, rarely have I felt my mouth watering as much at the descriptions of food and drink, and rarely have I felt the cold wind of the night so intensely on my skin as when I read this book. I could go on, but suffice it to say, the descriptions are just very enthralling.

Noteworthy is how the narration of the book is interspersed with King David Hartley’s own account of events, often disagreeing with the narration on details of his nefarious dealings. I don’t exactly know how much of these accounts is fiction. I presume most of them are, but they are held in a very different style to the rest of the narration, imitating the local dialect and sociolect of the Cragg Vale Coiners. Sometimes that makes them challenging to decipher, but especially if you’ve found your way into them, they offer a great contrast to the normal narration of this book.

Additionally, ever so often especially as the noose tightens around the neck of the Turvin Clippers, Myers adds a quotation or an excerpt of source material into his writing, even more so, breaking up the flow of narration with contrasts.

Summary

I don’t know to whom I should recommend this book. It’s definitely a captivating read, well at least after the first few pages, but it’s also a heavy read, and dark at times. If you’re interested, be warned. This book isn’t always easy to stomach, but it rewards the reader with a lush landscape of fascinating descriptions and at least I am a sucker for detail. I just love the power with which the details of this story enveloped me, but I understand that such a level of detail might not be for everyone, and is often a point of contention if I discuss books with other readers.

I think if I had to finish this review with a sentence, I would just repeat the advice of the bookseller I bought this book from almost two years ago in London, “It’s a good choice.”

For my other book reviews, feel free to browse the book category. My last review was of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Next up, probably a review of Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower.

Bygone Days

Bygone Days
Wistfully, the heart mourns
Bygone Days

A sunset and dreams
To beget memories I esteem
Bygone Days

Connections lost and found
Directions unbound
Never taken

The road so often travelled on
Never to be travelled again
The view so often marvelled at
Never to be marvelled again
These soft embraces
lost to past spaces
Bygone Days

A wish to be back again
Bygone Days
Uttered in Vain

A wish to change it all
Doomed to do fuck all
Bygone Days

Past happiness’ call
A trap of all
Bygone Days

A sunrise and magpie called
To have me all enthralled
By Bygone Days

Wistfully, the heart mourns
Bygone Days

And the Winner is…

The last time I did these, I complained about the lack of gay. This time, no, sadly the song isn’t gay either except for a tenuous connection. There appears to be a performance of this song by Lys Assia sung at Pride in Stockholm 2013. That’s it that’s all the gay to this song. Not much, but at least a taste of what’s to come in future decades.

On that note, Lys Assia was very much part of the future of the Grandprix Eurovision de la Chanson the Européenne, at least in part due to this song. May I present to you the winner of 1956 Eurovision song contest: Lys Assia with Refrain.

It’s a song that fits exceedingly well in the general field of its chanson-style competitors, maybe too much so. It’s not an uncontroversial winner, not because it was considered a bad song at the time, but because there are rumours about rigging the jury process in its favour. The 1956 Grandprix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne, 1956 had a voting procedure that would never again be repeated in Eurovision history and had some weird provision for replacing the jury from Luxembourg that couldn’t be present at the time of voting. The voting itself was secret, and except for the winner, there were no results published, which probably didn’t help to disperse the rumours that the swiss jury had used the votes from Luxembourg to let the Swiss entry win.

These allegations, however, shouldn’t influence an honest judgement of the song. I already mentioned that it fits well into the general field of its competitors and I think that’s the best I can say about this song. To be frank, I’m kinda done with chanson-style songs, but I guess this is the shitty endeavour I chose to go on. And now I have to live with it.

So, let’s get on with it. After a flare-up of the winds, the song starts with harmonising background vocals that set it apart from many other songs of the ESC 1956 and do in fact provide a good intro to the song. Lys Assia’s voice sets in after that and provides tonal contrast. and from there the song meanders in typical chanson-fashion, slowly curving between highs and lows.

Lyrically again this song hits on standard themes of the love songs of this competition. Allusions to nature and the description of a luscious garden lend themselves to metaphors for love and a call to the wasting years reminds the listener of how undying heartache can be. All that, is a pretty standard love song, without much flourish in narration nor much musical deviation from the norm.

Why did it win? Well, it is pleasing enough, but honestly, I can’t really shake the allegations that concern the voting process away. It seems too standard a song to win on its own, but then the competition was a competition amongst artists then more than between songs and indeed Lys Assia does hit her notes quite well and has an outright beautiful voice.

I don’t really have more to say, I’ll leave you with the continuing playlist and hope you have a good start to your year. Farewell!

This is part 9 of my ESC-Reviews. If you want more feel free to check out my last one or check out my book reviews.

A Dance through Minds and London

A Review of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

It’s not common that I get enthralled by a book, especially not these days. Most often this is not about plot, not about story, but about feelings, feelings and descriptions. This book took me on a very different journey than the last one I reviewed, which was The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf certainly didn’t take me as long to read, and I am willing to extend it a much more favourable review. But I think I need to make some clarifications at first.

Well, you, dear reader, might come to this and ask, why the everloving fuck I’m writing a review of what is commonly considered to be among the canon of the so-called “Classics”. I can almost hear you scream: “Well, of course, it’s good; it’s a classic!”. And on some level, I’d have to agree with that yell of despair, but let me tell you why I chose to write this as a review when there would be so many reasons to make this a discussion:

  • I think it’s funnier this way.
  • I don’t think I possess the necessary qualification, the useful background knowledge on early 20th century English writing.
  • I don’t want to make this a spoiler-heavy discussion of a book, I think is very much worth being read on its own merits.
  • I don’t want to be forced to make this about anything but my own opinion. There’s a many good discussion of this book, citing sources, taking actual discourse into account, but I just want to have fun with this.

It’s weird that I come to read this book only now. My then-girlfriend gave me this little book for Christmas 2017 after all, almost exactly 2 years ago to this day. It was a wonderful gift, but as I am with books it usually takes a while till I get around to one even if I look forward to reading it.

The Physical Book

Hiding under the dust-cover …

Its physical appearance is probably what intrigued me most about this little book when I unwrapped it on that Boxing Day in 2017. It was a small gift, and an impactful one even if its impact was delayed by two years. It’s a beautiful book, even if not a unique one in its styling. The edition I got is the one issued by the Macmillan Collector’s Library: a collection of small, little, truly pocket-sized editions of the classics of literature. Their dust-covers all held in a light pastel-blue and golden colour scheme, they hide even lighter blue thread-bound books, embossed with a floral pattern and Macmillan’s M in a square. The edges of the pages are covered in gold paint and a light blue ribbon cuts through the thin and narrowly printed pages full of text.

This book as a physical object feels like a treasure to me from appearance and feel alone. Its design is beautiful and every time I look at it there’s some little detail of mass.produced craftsmanship I failed to notice before. But what about its content?

The World & The Story Behind It

Mrs Dalloway is not set in an alternate reality, not in a different world. It’s very much grounded in real life. Characters walk and drive and wander through 1923, post-war London as they could have in real life. But London is not the setting as much as it is the backdrop for the real setting. The story of Mrs Dalloway unfolds entirely within the minds of its characters. In a way, it’s a dance through minds and London. London’s cityscape sets the beats of the characters’ minds. Big Ben signals the passing of time. The omnibus takes them through a journey in their mind.

The story of this book unfolds all within a single hot summers day, only interrupted by flashbacks through the memories of its characters. A relentless march of time set with Big Ben’s chimes at the midday mark of this novel.

The CharacterS

Our view on the story unfolding is filtered and enriched through us gliding into the mind of this and that character, seamlessly slipping between them. Under this assumption, it might not surprise you to find, a pretty diverse set of characters for a novel essentially set in London’s upper society of the 1920s. Foremost, Virginia Woolf remains occupied with the fate of women in this society. Our main character Clarissa Dalloway is the knot that keeps all threads of the plot together and lends her name to the book itself.

Our main point of view characters are Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh and to an extent Septimus Warren, a shellshocked veteran and his Italian wife Rezia. Clarissa’s point of view is marked by a ton of wit and nevertheless, her stability seems frail at points, she herself is plagued by emptiness and the dread of her greying years. She reminisces about her youth, love, and her age. Peter Walsh, her former suitor, is himself just back from India as he pays Clarissa a visit. He is reminded of the rejection he had experienced at her hand, while Clarissa had a lesbian love affair with their mutual friend Sally …

To love makes one solitary, she thought.

Mrs Dalloway

I could talk much more about every single character, but I don’t think this would get to an end. The more striking fact is that Virginia Woolf managed to fit so many detailed characters into such a small book. In no small part, this is helped by her stream of consciousness style, that allows us to fly into the inner workings of so many characters.

The Plot

In turn, it’s not easy to summarise the plot of Mrs Dalloway. With its many point-of-view characters and the recurrent shifting between them, it’s definitely not an easy task to find a short description or to even follow its storyline. Even calling it a storyline feels slightly inadequate.

As such this book is almost certainly one that benefits from a re-read. I would bet it is one that grows upon me with every subsequent read through, giving me only more opportunity to get swallowed in its depth and details.

If I had to try to summarise it I would probably flail my arms around and then settle on:

  • On a hot summers day, Clarissa Dalloway is caught up in the preparations of a party she’s hosting that evening, as she gets visited by her former friend and suitor Peter Walsh just back from India and starts to reminisce about her youthful passions.
  • At the same time, Septimus Warren falls deeper and deeper into the pit of his shellshocked mind, and through inadequate (to the point of absurdity) treatment by the renowned Sir William Bradshaw and Dr Holmes, Warren is pushed towards his suicide.

In itself the plot is short, but what this book accomplishes, is less the narration of a riveting story, but an impressionistic view of British society, and especially the life women can lead within it.

The Writing & Style

Virginia Woolf’s writing seems masterful. Her sleight of hand when switching from point of view to point of view, in between so starkly contrasted characters is often almost imperceptible. The wit she imbues Clarissa with and the poignant observation of subtleties she shows, speak of a great writer and mind.

Her stream of consciousness writing reminds of her contemporary James Joyce, but in its dancing lightness I found, this prose way more accessible to my distractible mind, than I ever thought, for example, Ulysses to be.

Woolf’s prose is imbued with lightness and an uncanny ability to convey the passing of time and the emptiness, so many of these characters feel. It’s hard to not get drawn in by the often fitting and sometimes humourous observations this book makes, and it’s very hard to not feel strong emotions with it. Of course, the elaborate style also takes its toll on the reader. At least for me, this book was not at all a quick read despite its size and relatively small length.

The Themes

There’s more than one theme hiding within this dancing prose. I talked about many of them in my revue of characters already, but I don’t think it would be amiss, to point these themes out again. Mrs Dalloway is not an easy book at all. It’s ram-packed with heavy themes, hiding in so beautiful a prose.

There’s the theme of a troubled state of mental health. Almost certainly something Virginia Woolf felt very acutely herself. After all, she herself had a long history with depression. Mixed in is the trauma World War I left behind, most obviously manifest in the character of Septimus Warren. And at last, there’s Woolf’s unique perspective on women in early 20th-century society, with their lives and success, their relationship to their husbands, age, and not to forget outside of heterosexual love.

Summary

This book is, without question, worth reading. However, I do think it’s appropriate to warn any potential reader. First, on a mostly practical point, this book talks about mental health and suicide, not everyone will be able to stomach such topics. Second, I do think to enjoy this book, you have to like or at least be fine with stream-of-consciousness writing. It’s a masterful example, but nevertheless, it takes some getting used to stream-of-consciousness writing, and this book is definitely not an easy read.

I love the impressions this book has left behind and I loved the experience of bouncing from mind to mind from character to character. Its perspective gives a very unique look into British society. It’s definitely a book on my “Read-this-again!”-list.

My last book review was about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Next up: The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. You can check out my reviews of 1956 Eurovision here or read my serial fiction: Touching a Tree

Dishwashing Tutorial #1

The holidays are coming up. We all know the mountains of dirty dishes accumulating on our holiday feasts. Here’s a gentle YouTube tutorial for the Nerdfighteria Discord Server’s YouTube channel, that explains to you the very basics of dishwashing.

Note that I’m already aware of the criticism my techniques have garnered. I wish to inform you that my technique is very much in need of improvement, but I’d rather put it out there to relieve people of the fear they might have of starting to do their dishes. Badly done dishes are better than mountains of filth after all. With that Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah!

Eurovision: Another Window into 1956

And again we meet in the Netherlands. Wait. Why again? Didn’t we already talk about the 1956 entry for the Netherlands? Well yes, we did, but the 1956 Grandprix de la Eurovision had a special mode of operations. In fact, every country competed with two entries only one of which could win the competition. So again after De Vogels van Holland we are here to hear an entry from the Netherlands: Voorgoed voorbij by Corry Brokken, a slow-paced love song, about a bygone love affair.

This song fits in very well with the rest of the field of 1956. Its slow pace and gentle chanson-style melody, don’t really make it stand out. It’s not a bad song at all, it’s just not an outstanding experience, and one I’ll probably forget as soon as this review is published.

Lyrically, this song continues the themes of windows, and spring as a stand-in for love from the last entry Aprite le Finestre. Unlike in the Italian song, however, this song laments the closure of such window. The singer standing outside a closed window wanting in, back to their bygone love, aware that this love is gone forever.

In fact, the window has closed. And the narrator stands outside. Sad over a lost relationship. Sad, because it meant more to them than to him. Of course, in 1950s lyrics we don’t need to pretend anything other than a straight relationship was read into these lyrics by the audience, and a straight relationship was probably intended by the authors as well. After all, this song was performed by a woman in front of orchestral instrumentation. I, however, decided to use a woman for the picture accompanying this review because I can and because I needed a bit more gay in this very straight year and probably decade of Eurovision.

Fret not, there’s more gay coming in future decades of Eurovision, but at least in 1956 Eurovision was a very tame piece of entertainment, designed to please the masses, and not yet the flamboyant celebration it has become in the decades to follow. I’m definitely looking forward to that. For now, I have to be content with the somewhat bland chansons of yore though.

One interesting aspect of the song remains though. It is less about the song but more about its singer. Corry Brokken will turn up soon in Eurovision history, and she’ll win a contest, host a final and announce the points for the Netherlands in another one. All before becoming a lawyer and the judge of law.

As always, I’ll leave you with a playlist of all 1956 Eurovision songs. Thank you for your attention, and see you the next time, when I go through Eurovision history…

This is part of an ongoing series to review Eurovision History.

Raphael the Corgi

And again this year’s Project for Awesome comes to an end. The IndieGoGo campaign is still running, but the live stream has ended. That means if you want to you can still donate if you want to, I think for 3 more days (as of the time of publication).

But what remains afterwards? Well, most importantly a good chunk of money for charities with worthwhile causes. But that is not everything, especially the community is richer of inside jokes, perks and references again. One of those inside jokes is Raphael the Corgi.

This was supposed to be a post-mortem of the entire Project for Awesome, including the live stream, but after the live stream just left me kind of alienated between boredom and guilt, I scrapped that project. What I still did, however, was a bit of fan-art for Raphael the Corgi, one of the more spurious perks of this year’s Project.

Raphael the Corgi looking to the left

For the first time in a long while, I metaphorically unpacked Adobe Illustrator and got to work at recreating the Corgi plush in a format that would be emoji-appropriate. I stuck closely to the headshot of the perk itself, but I removed detail.

It took me a bit of experimentation with different gradients and flat colours to get his fur down. I think for bigger versions a few lines of allusion to fur texture would be a worthwhile improvement, but as the primary intended use was for use as an emoji on the Nerdfighteria Discord Server, I didn’t bother with that. It wouldn’t be visible at emoji sizes anyhow.

Tests on my own Discord server

I experimented a bit with removing the contour lines and making them bigger and uploaded the exported png to my Discord test server, to see how it works as an emoji.

Turning him around to the right was a suggestion by a member of the Nerdfighteria Discord Server and it honestly adds a bit of dynamic to the dog.

After a few complaints, why I use light mode, I submitted a version of it to the emoji contest per e-mail.

A Corgi in Space

After a bit of more feedback and google image searches, people demanded a space-faring version of the little corgi. And I got myself to work and made a space background for the little fella and gave him a spacesuit helmet. It remains an artistic impression, I wouldn’t let Raphael out in such a scant space suit; after all, it leaves his whole body unprotected. And just to complete the story, I submitted this version to the emoji competition as well.

I hope you enjoyed this view into my creative process and I hope you stay around for more of my content. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Or you can take a deep dive into my writing. Recommendation of the day is: Incidental History, a review of Michael Chabon’s novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

A Few Changes – Mostly Widgets

This is only a short update to inform you, dear reader, of some changes to this blog. There’s nothing amiss, but because I’m at times a bit strapped of the good old cash that chimes, I added a way for you to support my work. At the time of publication, it’s a mere link to my ko-fi page, but I would be very thankful if you should decide to chip in with a tip. Maybe I’ll add some additional perks for supporters, but for now, that is enough.

Other than that I added another widget at the bottom of the left sidebar, that includes a few cover images of the books I’m currently reading grabbed fresh every time from my profile on Librarything.

I Want Spring

Today, I present to you the first Italian song in Eurovision history. Of course, following the language traditions of old Eurovision, it is in Italian. A rule to impose languages was only introduced in 1965. The song appears to be a straight forward hymn of spring and love.

Sometimes it seems hard to ascribe meaning to something beyond the surface level. This song is one I can’t find any deeper meaning to at all. The writing behind this song is a surface recantation of tropes about spring and love that have been culturally present in Europe for centuries. But hey, before I get too much into the weeds, how about you try and take a listen?

To my eyes, the lyrics are very inoffensive. And I think it’s supposed to be that way. It certainly isn’t the only shamelessly inoffensive song of the competition. It more so fits into a pattern of inoffensive post-war texts. Designed to please an audience only too well accustomed to the trouble, life in tumultuous times can breed. In this sense, not the inoffensive songs are the exception of early Eurovision, no the ones that have a deeper message are a meaningful exception. I don’t want to praise some of the songs I’ve reviewed and found meaningful too much, but for an interesting take on post-war beauty, I would recommend you to take a look at what I already wrote about Luxembourg’s first entry.

Franca Raimondi’s take on the tropes of love and spring is definitely flatter than Michèle Arnaud‘s. After all, it is lacking any pretence of societal criticism, but there will be many inoffensive and strikingly uninventive songs to come in Eurovision history. We’ve already heard inoffensive songs, like De Vogels van Holland and I don’t think every textually inoffensive song is a bad one or not worth the time of a listen. There’s more to songs than their apparent meaning, and often it is we the listeners that can ascribe more meaning to a song than any line of text. After all, the author is dead is in the case of 1956 Eurovision almost certainly a literal truth and not just a paradigm of criticism.

And if only to spite me and my rant about the blandness of its lyrics, the songs melody actually makes me happy. I can’t really fault this song for its lack of meaningful lyrics. The melody, actually, hits a nice groove for me. It is light, reminiscent of a blue band fluttering through a spring breeze. And the Italian lyrics, I don’t understand without translation anyhow, just add to, my desire to feel the breeze of spring on my skin, to feel the sun and see its light hit the fresh flowers in a way that produces an incredible glow of colour.

Anyhow before, I fall in love with spring to much, here’s the playlist of all Eurovision songs from 1956 I’ve reviewed so far:

I would gladly hear your opinion on this song and review, and well if you want more of my reviews, why don’t check out my last book review or one of my favourite reviews from ESC 1956 Speaking Like a German Melancholist?

Touching a Tree IV

Envelop

“So yeah, I’ve started questioning my gender too. I don’t know. Sometimes I doubt myself. Maybe I’m just a copycat, but then again, the whole concept of being a man never clicked with me, but I don’t think I feel like a woman either. I just need a space where I can safely experiment with this stuff.”, Dennis continued.
“I mean, welcome to the queer community, I guess. I’m glad you’re taking the time for finding yourself or, well, at least a way to yourself. Can I hug you?”, Laura replied while Dennis was wiping a tear off his left cheek and smiling that weird and distorted smile one smiles while being in tears of relief. Dennis nodded.
Laura walked around the small table in one step and hugged them, “I definitely didn’t expect that” she mumbled to herself, but she could feel Dennis shed a long-held tension in her embrace.

As she settled back down into her seat, she asked, “Have you told anyone else yet?”
“No, you are the first person, I trusted enough to tell. I mean you’ve been the reason I started to even question my gender in the first place.”
“I don’t know if that should make me feel honoured or not. I’m just glad you’re closer to the person you want to be”, she smiled, “I hope your parents deal with it better than mine if you should ever tell them.”
“I guess, but it’s still making me nervous. I know my parents have been awesome with you from the beginning, but I’m still scared about how this might affect my relationship with my parents.”
Laura fell silent for a moment, churning over thoughts in her head. After a while, she smiled awkwardly: “Do you mind if we go to yours and — I don’t know — drink a cup of tea? I could deal with a bit quieter environment.”


Space was quiet, insanely quiet. There was no air to carry a sound. You were alone, alone with your breathing. It was a sensation that caused existential dread in so many space dwellers and travellers, but Laura enjoyed the silence, the loneliness. Here she could be just she, just a person without judgement. Under her spacesuit, no one from the outside could discern her features anyhow. It could have been anyone in the bulky white and stiff uniforms of all those who dared to step outside their vessels out of curiosity or out of pure necessity.

Technically, this was a spacewalk out of necessity, but Laura enjoyed the silence of space too much. It was weird. Usually, she was so distractible, so easily bored, but the tranquillity of space just captivated her. It enveloped her in a soft blanket of calmness. The wide-open space in front of her just made her feel like she found herself without societal expectation without pressure. Calm.

“Krchzz … The battery pack is in section C-12b, you need to anchor yourself and then check the connections!”, the voice out of her headset screamed. “Oh well, here we go again”, Laura thought. This wasn’t the enjoyable part of a spacewalk, but what had to be done had to be done.


Dennis took a deep sip out of their teacup. They were sitting cross-legged on the big cushion in the corner of their room. Laura was sitting across Dennis’s childhood bedroom, leaned against the radiator underneath the window, with her own teacup. She was inhaling the sweet steam of her tea. It smelled of cinnamon. She like cinnamon. It reminded her of Christmas and she like Christmas.

Laura looked up through the window above her. All she could see was a star-filled sky. A blueish glow at the ceiling of her world, the milky way a striped band across her firmament. Would she ever leave this earth? She really wanted to see what was beyond this pale blue dot, but she couldn’t see herself as an astronaut. There was too much wrong with her. Hey, wait, this wasn’t about her. They were talking about Dennis… Where were they? She had lost track.

“You seem distracted.”, Dennis remarked with the smirk of someone who knew what was up with their friend of many years.
“Oh I’m sorry, I was just thinking about the stars, and how much I would enjoy being out there, out of this world, away from my parents.”
Dennis looked down at their teacup, “I guess it would be nice, though, well, I think I would miss you.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that, you can come with me if the chance should arise. Though honestly, this is just a dream, just like me ever becoming a real girl.”
“You are a real girl!”
“Look at me, I’m an awkward boy, I don’t even have the right clothes, just these awkward wide jeans and this hoodie. I feel like a husk.”
“Your clothes are not who you are, Laura, you are a real girl, and as soon as you’re away from your parents you can live that.”
“Oh, how I wish I was away from my parents.”

Dennis untied their legs and stepped over to her. They took their half-full teacup into their other hand and sat down next to her, leaning against the free spot on the warm radiator. “I know this world isn’t easy, but we’re going to figure it out together”, they said as they leaned their head on Laura’s shoulder.


Manoeuvring in space isn’t easy. Unlike on earth there really isn’t anything that would stop you once you are moving. It takes care to not just fly off into space on a somewhat random trajectory. That’s why space dwellers for centuries used varying techniques to tether themselves to their space ships. To Laura said tether felt like a dog leash. She wanted to be free; she wanted to be enveloped by the blackness of space, by nothing. The tether kept her close to her craft. It had made sure she came back inside on every mission she had participated in. And it would probably do so now after she had fixed that goddamn battery connection. Who designed these things?

She turned around for a moment and looked back onto earth on her way to the battery connection. This time she wouldn’t return. There at the south pole, she could already see it, something was amiss. These weren’t normal clouds these were pure destructive energy. The lightning-bolt-like connections within made the whole cloud tinged in a weird neon magenta. She didn’t really want to know, what this cloud would do if it reached more than the barren landscapes of Antarctica.


They had been nice enough to walk her home. She enjoyed walking next to Dennis through the empty streets of this night. They hadn’t talked much, but she could see their smile. They still seemed like a burden had dropped from their heart and she was glad about that. As both turned around the last corner, Laura stopped, “Do you see that magenta glow, over my house?”
Dennis stuttered, “What the hell is that?”

This is part IV of my ongoing series The Importance of Touching a Tree.