Snow overpowers me. Winter approaches, all run for cover. Not even the mountains that surround us can block out the snow. Nothing can defend us. Nothing can stop Christmas.
The Humans run, trample my grass with their careless feet– but soon, the trampled grass transforms into footprints in the snow as the blizzard comes down on them like a gavel.
Brown mud frosts over to white. My lakes freeze, my leaves fall, turn yellowredbrown, waste away. They leave my tree branches to reach desperately out for their fallen friends, but they too are suffocated by snow.
I am so cold.
And so lonely.
No-one protects me: only themselves.
The Humans in the South all run to the only shelter in my valley: the little barn with the sloped thatch roof and its dark spruce walls. It’s not big enough for all of them, and not all of them can run fast enough – most of the children are left behind. My poor children.
One little boy – “Nathan!” his Mother screams after him from the safety of the barn – trips over his untied shoelace. He tries to get up but slips again and cracks his head down on the black ice like a whip. The snow catches him, snowflakes quickly engulf him, covers the jumper that’s as red as his cold-bitten skin. Slowly, slowly, the change begins. His red jumper mutates into a red jacket. A black hat grows out of his head. Flesh becomes wood. His mouth hangs open. Little Nathan is the first to fall victim to Christmas. But not the last.
More Humans, from the North, charge to the barn but cannot get in. Those inside barricade the door. “No more!” they say. “No more room in the barn!”
Oh, please, let them in.
Those outside scream. They pierce through me like a bed of needles. But they soon quieten. The barn is no longer surrounded by Humans, but Snowmen. And Nutcrackers. Elves. They surround the barn, frozen, forever trying to enter. They are the next to fall victim to Christmas. And won’t be the last.
Even if, one day, they will be safe enough to leave the barn, – their prison – no matter how much they hack and dig, shovel and plough: they will starve. No food can grow through my frozen ground. No fruit can grow on my barren trees. My water lies dead still in my lake.
There is no life.
I am so cold.
Wait, what – what’s happening? My trees – they’re growing something… baubles. Baubles have sprouted from the leafless branches. The trees have new friends – but their new friends are too heavy. My weaker branches snap off and hit the ground with a mushroom cloud of snow.
Fairy Lights dance into the valley with their blinding light. The little grotesque creatures hop from branch to branch, nutcracker to nutcracker, dash across the snow, light glowing from their twisted wings. The disgusting things line up in perfect formation, giggling. Are they making a path? A – runway?
A red sleigh crashes down from my sky. The Reindeer that pull it thrash with their antlers, send Fairy Lights in all directions. Still, the Fairy Lights giggle.
“Hold! Hold! Hold!” says the big fat man in the suit redder than my little Nathan’s cold-bitten skin.
The Reindeer stop. Look around. Sniff.
The big fat man cracks a whip.
“Father’s going to find you,” the big fat man whispers.
The Reindeer stomp. Sniff.
“Are you sleeping? Are you awake?”
Fairy Lights giggle.
“Father Christmas is coming – for you!”
Fairy Lights illuminate the barn that protects my people and the Reindeer charge into action – the sleigh skates across me, cuts deep into me.
The Snowmen, Nutcrackers, and Elves that surround the barn unfreeze. They hammer on the door, walls, windows, once more. The rhythmic thump thump thump echoes around the valley until they eventually break in. And the screams begin again as the Humans are flushed out of the barn. It’s stopped snowing; at least they’re safe from that.
The big fat man – the Father of Christmas – cracks his whip from atop his sleigh. CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! With each and every CRACK! a Human becomes an Elf. With each and every CRACK! they forget me, who held them so carefully, so lovingly, since they were a baby, despite all they did to hurt me. With each and every CRACK! they kneel before him. Slaves to his w-w-w-will.
The snow is fal-falling again. The little br-br-brown barn is overcome by the wh-wh-white blizzard.
T-the co-cold. It’s too-too-too m-much. I-I-I I’m f-f-f-freezin-ing. N-no I must h-h-help th-them. I-
This plea is a direct Turtle – English translation from the account of David the Turtle. If you have any queries for David the Turtle, you can access him through myself, his manager, at email@example.com. If you wish to donate in response to David the Turtle’s plea, go to www.savetheturtles.org.
I liked my Ocean, I think is what you Human’s call it. We call it Shhwsh because that’s sound it makes. I like being in Shhwsh with Nellie and Lily and Sally and Michelle and… [Translators Note: The names listed are the names we gave to the Turtles. The names used by David the Turtle are native to his language. We are unable to translate them. The list continues for some considerable time.] They went off to the yellow rocky place – beach? – we call it Crshhh – to lay eggs and come back with little Me’s. We need smaller Me’s because there less and less and less of us every day. We dyin’. Cos of – what you call it – tasplic – no – plastic! Yes, yes, plastic!
We dyin’ coz of plastic.
Big big BWAHHH’s [See Glossary.] come in our Shhwsh and drop big big plastic. In our home! Some of the plastic even bigger than our leader! When we smells them coming – they leave bad smell that makes us ill – we panic and hide, but the Humans on BWAHHH be mean and have twisted faces that go, “Ha ha ha!” as they still drop plastic. They not like Lizzie. She nice and help us when plastic hurt us.
BWAHHH Humans no care. No care when Ozzy has straw up nose and red stuff that tastes like metal coming out of it and he can’t swim or breathe. Lizzie pull it out and heal him. Lizzie nice.
Lizzie can no help us all. We all hungry. Not enough al— algy— algae? Not ‘nough squishy stuff for us to chomp. Or we start eating plastic. Then my friends get skinny. They stop talk. Stop swim. They start to float away away away. But the BWAHHH keep coming coming coming.
When Nellie and Lily and Sally and Michelle and… [Translator’s note: List shortened for convenience.] come back with little Me’s they go, “Shief! [See Glossary.] Where is everyone?” and we point at plastic and at big BWAHHHs that go, “BWAHHH.” And all our empty shells. Floating.
Mickey came to me one day. With plastic around his neep [See Glossary.] He wear it like Lizzie wear the shiny thing around her neep. Hers prettier. Mickey’s hurt him. Lizzie cut it off and feed Mickey squishy stuff.
Leader comes to us. “The little Me’s are dying,” he says.
“Why?” I says.
“They eat plastic.” Leader says.
You Humans even kill little Me’s. What if I fed little You’s plastic?
Lizzie and friend Humans on small BWAHHH’s come and take little Me’s. It sad. We all sad. But they promise they help little Me’s live. Give good squishy stuff to eat and no plastic.
Yesterday, they came again on their big BWAHHHs, and threw more and more and more plastic into Shhwsh. There was definitely more of it this time. A great big piece – bigger even than great Leader – landed on Michelle, on her head. She fell under the water, which is fine, coz we can swims, but she came back up floating. The blue Shhwsh around her; red.
The whales – Lizzie calls ‘em whales – sang. A deep, low, song, that vibrates through Shhwsh. To us. To Michelle. To the rest of the floating shells. Their song blocks out our sadness, for a while.
But it could not drown out the cries of our Leader.
He starved. Not enough algae. Too much plastic. Our Leader, dead, noone left to guide us. Noone left to guide us through our end.
This is why am asking you Humans for help, why Lizzie told me to say this ‘plea’. We dyin’. We has no leader. We has no little Me’s. We no meant to wear plastic round neeps or up nose. Shhwsh no meant to be red. We no meant to starve on Human plastic.
Please help us. We no understand. What we did wrong?
Why are you doing this?
BWAHHH – Boat. [Closest translation.]
Crshh – Beach.
Neep – Neck. [Closest translation.]
Shhwsh – Ocean.
Shief – Fuck.
By Isabel Tyldesley.
The Ginger Man with colours in his hair is an odd man – I assume. A lonely man. A sad man. He paints all the time, but why? His creations lie on my floor, ignored. He leaves me bare and naked. Exposed, isolated. Like he doesn’t want to connect with me.
But he spends so much time with me.
It’s the same all through the repeated light and all through the repeated dark: he wakes, cries, paints, drinks, cries, sleeps, wakes, cries, paints, drin—
“Vincent!” a shrill voice says. The Ginger Man rolls his eyes in my small Sitting Room as she barges through my small Hallway, ever so careless that her heavy footsteps bruise me. She didn’t even ask my permission to enter! He kicks an empty bottle under the bed before she marches in and hangs her shawl on the back of the Ginger Man’s one chair.
“Vincent, darling, wonderful news – I’ve found you a roommate!” The woman looks at him, eyes full of expectation. The Ginger Man’s back slumps and he turns away. Her eyes spy the bottles under the bed and her tight-lipped mouth sighs in a rather exaggerated way. I repress a chuckle. Honestly, how did the Ginger Man not expect her to see them there?
“Huh.” The Ginger Man, Vincent, she calls him, picks up a knife and begins scouring and scratching into the painting.
“Hopefully he’ll make you stop that disgusting habit,” she says, watching the Ginger Man sceptically as he works.
“The drinkin’ or the pain’in’?” The words slur out of his mouth; it’s obvious he’s drank more than the single bottle ‘hid’ under the bed. I should know. He smashed one on me. I try not to let it hurt my feelings.
“Hm,” she looks around. “The Absinthe, of course dear. This fellow, he’s a painter, like you. A successful one!”
“Noh’ like me then, is he?”
She picks up her shawl. “Hm, yes, well, he likes sunflowers, by the way, so, um, why don’t you try brighten this place up a little? It’s such a pretty, nice little yellow house on the outside. It’s a shame to…” the woman looks around, eyebrows raised. What a back-handed compliment. She compliments my exterior and shuns my interior. Typical.
“Mmm,” Vincent replies.
“Well, I’ll be seeing you.”
The Nameless Woman turns and bruises my Hallway again before exiting.
Vincent retrieves another bottle, cracks it open on my window sill and turns back to the paintings. He stares for a while. Ponders. Pops some dry paint into his mouth, throws his current painting onto my floor (without asking me to hold it for him) and turns to his tubes of colour. He looks at the yellow – the colour of my exterior.
He swigs the ‘Absinthe’. “Sunflowers, eh?” He examines the bright colour and picks up a brush.
The light and dark cycles change: he wakes, he paints, he still drinks, but he doesn’t cry. My Ginger Man fills my rooms with paintings of pointy flowers in oval vases. ‘Sunflowers’, they’re called. Yes. Sunflowers.
He hammers something sharp into me, like how it felt when I was being born. I don’t mind, because after the pain he hangs the ‘Sunflowers’ onto me and stares ever so happily. Sometimes, the pain is worth it. Sometimes, you must suffer to see the beauty.
A tap tap tap on my door. Vincent alters one last painting.
“Hello, my friend! You must be Vincent!”
I watch as the New Man shakes Vincent’s hand in a firm grasp.
“My, what an awful number of Sunflowers! They’re my favourite, you know?”
“Oh, uh, really?” Vincent replies, readjusting the freshly potted sunflower on the window sill.
“Such a pretty house!” Oh, well, thank you! “I think we’re going to have fun, you and I.”
And so, they did.
The repeated light and the repeated dark stay the same, but less lonely. My Ginger Man and the New Man wake up, they paint together, laugh together, talk together, drink Absinthe together. Paint, laugh, drink, more and more and more. They paint Café Terraces, and the Butcher’s Shop from across the street – no more Sunflowers, thankfully. But then, as the light becomes shorter, and the dark becomes longer, the laughter becomes arguing. The talking; yelling. The painting; fighting.
“You’re just too difficult to please, Vincent!”
“Huff. There’s no need to change how I paint. I like it.”
“Well, we don’t, anymore!”
I assume by ‘we’, the New Man means his painting group. I’ve never seen them. I don’t care.
“Good for you,” says my Vincent.
“You need to move on with the times, Vincent, or you’re never going to sell paintings, you’re never going to make money. They’ll stop selling you Absinthe, you know, if you don’t catch up on your debts!” He kicks the empty bottles.
“’Alf those bottles are yours, and I like my pain’in’ the way it is.”
“What, shi—” he stops himself. My Ginger Man slumps his back and turns away, paintbrush clenched in one fist, bottle in the other.
“I can’t keep supporting you like this. You’re mad. I’m leaving.”
“Ha, Take your new style pain’in’s with yeh.”
The New Man throws open my front door – ouch – and leaves. Good riddance. Me and my Ginger Man don’t need him—
Vincent drops the paintbrush and charges out of my door, bottle still in hand.
Where’s he going? Vincent? VINCENT? Only the Sunflowers hear my calls.
Is he going to fight him? Confront him? The Absinthe makes him act weird. All… shakey and uncontrollable and and and and – not himself.
My rooms get darker. And colder. A breeze flows in through my open door. Frost gathers on my little window. Vincent’s Sunflowers shiver.
I feel a footstep, and my front door is closed. Vincent, oh my Vincent.
He collapses. Half the bottle – now smashed – is clenched in a red fist.
Vincent? His body writhes and turns, hands pound the floor, a horrific shhrriiiieeeeeeeeeeekk leaves him, uncontrollable.
“Why why why WHY did I do that? He’ll never come back now he’ll never he’ll never—” he cuts off with a shriek again that not only hurts him, but me, his friend, his pretty little Yellow House with red splodges on my floor.
He kneels and lifts the broken bottle up to where his ginger beard and ginger hair meet. He shakes, sobs.
Vincent, my Vincent, my Ginger Man, no don’t, DON’T—
He hacks at his ear, again and again and again, until it drops. Covered with the same red splodges as my floor.
He picks it up.
“I’vegottogofind‘im.” My Ginger Man pushes himself up and stumbles away. Away from me. The repeated light and dark changes again: to nothing. To waiting. Just me and the pointy yellow flowers.
The Sunflower on my window sill begins to wilt.
By Isabel Tyldesley.
Pain ted Ladies
layer on the w hit e chalk,
pin ks, yell ows, greens,
pen cil the eyes in black
and dance the Macabre.
Painted La dies
mo oooan a cry as they para de
with their fa ces still
as a Russ ian Doll’s.
Va cant eyes stare—
they’re sc ared of laugh ter
in case their cocoon cr
acks as their white wr
les be tray them.
Skirts billow aroun d skele tal ankles
to rev eal a casket.
By Isabel Tyldesley.
This poem was inspired by that of ‘Skull‘ by Vincent Van Gogh, painted May 1887.
The thrift shop crusader—
—metal straw sword,
tote bag shield—
battles to defend home
whilst you sit in the audience
Mother Earth’s death certificate: signed.
A pair of jeans and a tee requires a kilo of cotton.
A kilo of cotton requires 20,000 litres of water.
There is an ocean in your wardrobe
but you want the seven seas.
By Isabel Tyldesley