Robert Southwell’s poem ‘Tymes Goe By Turnes’ was the inspiration for 2020’s annual Solstice Shorts event and associated anthology, organised by Arachne Press. My contribution to the anthology was a flash-fiction story called ‘Roots’, born in a Meg Pokrass online workshop.
In ‘normal’ times I would have read this story myself, at the live event in London on 21st December. 2020 being far from normal, however, it was read on Zoom by a professional actor.
In this short video, I talk about the story, and my writing life.
Where he was born, the earth was stony. Nodules of broken flint made his toes bleed. He was never going to stay.
Beneath his college town, the soil is clay-based and dense. He considers settling, for he’s been happy here; he’s been excited by learning, has fallen in love and out of it, watched the flowering of his limbs and his imagination. He’s already sunk up to his knees when winter rains saturate the land and floodwater spreads over the fields. He feels dragged down, trapped. He says Not here.
He spends years in a distant place, a small hot island simmering with wealth and optimism, whose name means ‘Two Seas’. Legend tells of another, sweeter sea beneath the salt ocean, feeding ancient springs that made the island fertile and its people prosperous. In that crumbly earth, he’s both grounded and free. Money loosens everything. He addresses conferences and board directors about the benefits of endless growth.
He marries and moves back home, to a select neighbourhood on a hill near the golf club. His roots are thick and long, but his pleasure in their reach is subtly reduced. His wife, however, is happy. She purrs as she assures him size does matter.
By the time he knows he’s in the wrong place, he’s too deeply anchored. His toes graze tiny threads of mycelium. He used to make corporate jokes about mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them on shit, you’ll never go far wrong! Now he envies them their wordless communication, their certainty of belonging. He starts to hate the golf club.
He’s old. Wives and children have left him. It’s too late to move on, his strength has leaked away, along with his memory and bladder control.
He’s forgotten that his roots have continued to push downward. They’re thinner, and their growth is slower, but they have their own logic, and can find lost ways, seek out hidden paths below. In darkness, they find the other, sweeter, sea.