Crouched behind a fragile tower of half-packed cardboard boxes, Sadie wistfully watches the morning procession: disparate figures scurrying purposefully down the expectant spring streets. “That used to be me.” She mutters hands clasped round her tepid mug of tea. “We’re Outsider Artists now!” her boyfriend Noel shouts late at night banging his fist emphatically on the Formica kitchen table home from the dreary boozer drunk on cheap white wine. Ranged along the dusty window ledges of the bar his ceramic creations are on sale, a diminished collection since two got smashed by a flailing drunk. Noel's triumphant declaration briefly rouses Sadie from her melancholy musing on the frightening speed with which their city life has been cruelly snatched away by financial circumstance. Her fellow writers kindly let her choose the theme on her final Wednesday night meeting and everybody bows their head in silence to scribble about failure. Sadie can’t decide which failure is worst of the two the failure of her stories to ignite a financial spark or her career failure which has left her at the mercy of precarious monotony. They send the taped brown boxes and furniture ahead of them in a huge white removal van. “You going to the most beautiful part of the country why you look so sad?" the Polish man exclaims dragging the cumbersome sofa onto its side. His voice echoes and ricochets around the almost empty basement. Clambering stiffly into the chill star-studded darkness of the platform at the end of the line they discover the station café is a barred up hut long closed. Chunks of timber crisscross the space where there should be a window. Behind huge bay windows that trap the mid-afternoon sunshine they are very near the sky in their new abode and Sadie’s gaze is always drawn upwards to the monster shaped scudding clouds and plummeting seabirds.Down below muffled figures amble slowly along the somnolent Seaside Town high street passing the neglected corners of derelict buildings. There are a lot of groups and meetings about meetings in the town a bewildering mass of possibilities. Following the advice she’s been given Sadie drifts listlessly from one location to another shivering in a musty church hall then sweating in the stifling overheated back room of a hotel bar. One dreary afternoon all her new endeavours grind to a halt when she realises that she might be making enemies rather than friends at these fortnightly gatherings. She adds an account of her unsuccessful forays into the rural social world to her scribbled file on failure and retreats into her self- governed world. At the weekends and sometimes on Wednesdays too they scour the libraries galleries and archives for evidence of the outsiders: poets in penury who write profoundly perfect verse artists who struggle on in anonymous poverty only to have their works unearthed from attics and sheds granting them posthumous entry into the glittering commercial art world. Sadie feels curiously at ease immersed in the faded parchment testaments to the dead outsiders . She paints imaginary pictures of them dresses them elegantly in exquisite threadbare dresses and suave suits, begins to inhabit their world on her solo trudges along the paths and cobbled streets. "Guess what I've found," Noel announces excitedly clutching his latest clay creation in his right hand... “So close to home.” She isn’t ready for the living Outsiders their presence glowing in red fluorescent lights suspended in Perspex at the end of the granite cobbled alleyway. A gnarled elderly woman shrouded in layers of purple stumbles out of the gallery door pulling a suitcase on wheels behind her, a small splattered canvas tucked under one arm She lingers briefly in the street, rolls a cigarette then totters towards the railway station lips moving obliviously immune to the mundane activity of the street. Still slightly bruised from her awkward foray and retreat from the town's groups Sadie admires the purple-clad woman’s eccentricity and complete disregard for the small town niceties. Her energetic presence is a consolation, an aura of adamant aloofness protects her with an invisible shell, conveys the wordless message KEEP AWAY. It’s an unsettling occurrence that offers up an unexpected opportunity for communication. From her post office doorway vantage point, Sadie sees the purple-clad woman’s tumble onto the hard high street pavement tripped up by an uneven cobble. She lays very still sprawled on her front her battered blue suitcase upside down beside her. ... “Oh no!” Sadie mutters, running through the traffic towards her spread-eagled figure. “Are you ok?” she asks crouched on her haunches. When the woman finally speaks Sadie is surprised by her plummy tones. “Thank you so much, my dear, could you help me up?” Gingerly Sadie tugs the woman up into an upright position. A huge purple bruise is swelling on her forehead and blood runs from her scraped chin. Sadie eyes her injuries with consternation. “Don’t you worry a few minutes rest and I’ll be fine thank you for your concern," the woman says tugging a scrap of paper and a chewed up biro from her pocket. “Come and visit, my dear . When I’m not here I’m always home. I don’t go anywhere anymore.” Sadie suspends her investigations into the dead outsiders preoccupied with thoughts of aristocratic dishevelled Greta who passes her in the street the next day without a hint of acknowledgement. She plans her solo expedition for Sunday the only day the gallery is closed, possessive of her new discovery. Huge dark boulders crowd the cliff side shrouded forbidding figures jutting out of the grey drizzle. Further down the valley is lush, green and hopeful. She is looking for a name on an unimagined building. It must be an old tumbledown cottage Sadie thinks passing the bungalow that is slightly hidden by huge rampant bushes. “Ah Greta.” exclaims the elderly man laughingly. “She’s a hard one to find.” A grey cat is sprawled luxuriantly across the uneven path blocking the front door guard like Sadie stretches her arm to reach the brass horseshoe knocker and the cat growls a low portentous rumbling. "Shoo you silly cat," Greta shouts through the window. "Oh, how nice the rescue girl “Greta exclaims hunched in the doorway wearing indoor clothes, purple battered slippers and a green woollen shawl. It’s hard navigating the clutter in the dark hall without illumination. Loud strains of a solemn piano concerto waft under the closed door. Greta beckons her into a tiny overheated room and clears some space on a wicker chair. There is a small cooker in the corner stacked with unwashed pans. "Well, what a busy week I'm having," Greta exclaims. “On Monday the man from London came it’s all the fashion now you know books everywhere about the surrealists what an ingratiating man he was but well its true not very comfortable in here. …. I get so tired of talking about dead friends half dead memories I’m really quite alone now and I don’t know how to cook...” "Oh, should I prepare something for you" Sadie interjects slicing the meandering monologue. “No there’s nothing here but sherry. I do hope you like it." Greta replies chuckling. Greta moves in and out of the room piercing the present very briefly before drifting further and further back into the threads of unconnected reminiscences. Sadie brushes the dust from the rim of her glass and twists the narrow stem, casts her eye over the clutter, stares at the yin and yang symbol on the old tarot cards on the coffee table. The cat called Grey meows plaint fully outside the window. Greta’s aristocratic tones swirl around her rising and dropping in volume. The paintings on the wall lurch forward blurred indistinct shapes leaping through the stagnant fog of cigarette smoke. After the fifth sherry, she shakily rises to go. "Well, Sadie I hope you'll come next week I'll show you my canvases out in the shed". Greta shouts from the dilapidated armchair. It’s just the two of them on the bus home Sadie and the bus driver each locked in their own worlds. Her brief drunken exhilaration crushed by melancholy as she considers the passage from inside to outside a shockingly sombre new proposition. Can the world of the imagination and memory be a substitute for the warm presence of human beings? Sadie asks herself visualising Greta alone marooned in her huge armchair sipping at the amber medicine her head falling forward on the edge of sleep. The words from the song on the radio last night go round and round in her head on a never-ending loop. “You can’t put your arms around a memory.” She hums the tune on the empty bus while rivulets of rain cascade down the smeared windows. Greta is a new contact in a countryside littered with a fleeting acquaintance. Sadie is an audience of one an amusing presence with a blurred outline a smile and a glance. It doesn’t matter. She relishes the prospect of her Sunday afternoon adventure stepping into the otherworldly cavern of Greta’s living room grasping at the revelatory fragments of the things Greta tells her fearful of what a short passage there is left. When she’s away from Greta she doesn’t delve further into all the disparate literature about Greta just takes her in the present week to week. On the third Sunday Greta tugs at Sadie’s arm before she leaves totters out behind her “ “Canvases.” She growls They creep slowly down the overgrown path pushing aside the nettles and prickly overgrowth. “Damn where’s that key," Greta mutters to herself. She tugs the canvases out of the corner of the dank shed huffing and puffing For you, she says thrusting them towards Sadie with shaking hands “No no! I really can’t. They struggle briefly for a compromise and Sadie leaves with a small canvas swirled brown and green. She clutches her precious cargo on her lap on the bus journey home and lays it gently under the bed. Sadie senses the end but doesn’t know how long. The door is slightly ajar on her next visit and she pushes her way in. Greta is disappearing into herself but vaguely senses her presence in the room. Sadie pours two sherries and sits in the wicker chair while Greta naps and mumbles the grey cat curled sentinel at her feet. On her final Sunday expedition out to the bouldered village, it's a blindingly blue day and there is something taunting in the harsh brightness after the monotonous succession of grey Sundays. The man in Greta’s garden looks familiar. “Ah you’re the girl who was asking for directions," he exclaims. “Sorry, Greta died yesterday.” You wouldn't like to give this cat a home, would you?” "No, we can’t not in our attic flat," Sadie replies tearfully. Gripped by the stultifying mundanity of her post-Greta existence, Sadie’s heart jumps whenever she sees a glimpse of purple, and she briefly imagines that she’s still just around the corner but hasn't come out for a while. Greta's canvas slides out of the shallow darkness on its way to a permanent lodging propped against a sun-dappled wall behind a brown teak writing desk. The hypnotic muddy swirls are a prompt, they guide Sadie to the elusive buried words. " Can't believe what you're doing now,” a distant friend emails enthusing at the improved quality of her latest scribblings. The bulging folder marked ‘ Failure’ in thick red pen is moved out of sight. Free of its taunting presence Sadie buys a new one, tentatively labels it ‘Miscellaneous’ buoyed up by the faint hope that things are getting better at the end of the line. Sadie writes and walks and waits for life to take shape suspended outside the inside cradled only by the elements and her fickle imagination.
Kate's short fiction is often inspired by a strong sense of place. She is more interested in writing that conveys atmosphere through an imaginative use of language than stories which strictly obey the traditional rules of narrative structure. After many years of living in cities she moved to Porthleven in 2009 a fishing village in Cornwall. She grew up in a village nearby. Her writing has been published in a fanzine and various online literary journals. Twitter KateW@seaside644