THE RELUCTANT POET • by Clint Wastling

He had once posed naked for a charity calendar. He was April with a bunch of pink tulips strategically placed. I wondered if there was any significance in the colour. The tattoos I was already familiar with because I’d previously met  Mark in the gym. I’d stumbled over his note book and sent it spinning under the treadmill.

***

“How clumsy of me.” I bent down and placed my hand under the rubber conveyor. I felt strands of fluff before meeting the hard cover. I pulled this out and blew off the dust.

“Thanks. It’s my fault for leaving it lying around,” he said, removing a headphone and taking possession of the object.  “I can’t go anywhere without a note book and pen.” He smiled and was about to get onto the rowing machine.

“I’m Julie,” I said. He regained his balance.

“Mark.” He held out his hand. That’s when I noticed the treble clef and musical notes dancing across his wrist.

“Nice to meet someone who speaks. They’re not the friendliest.” I looked around the room at the backs of people engrossed in their cardio-vascular regimes. “Are you a musician?”

“No,” he looked down. “Oh! I see. No, I’m a musician of words.”

I must have looked blank because he continued.

“I’m a poet.”

“I thought they all died in the First World War.” My black humour missing its mark.

“Another victim of school poetry?”

“I never enjoyed English lessons; they were dull, delivered by this lady with puckered lips and too much cologne. All I can remember are iambic pentameters and War Poets.”

“At least you remembered them!”

It was something in his eyes which stopped me leaving at that point. Their hazel colouring was lit by an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen before. They shone with passion.

“I must get on.” I pointed at the free cross trainer.

“And me.” Mark sat on the rowing machine and replaced his earphones. I watched him surreptitiously through the mirrors. He possessed fine muscles and a shock of dark curly hair, though it was thinning slightly at the temples. I kept seeing glimpses of my slender frame reflected. I never caught him looking my direction at all. It was as if he was rowing across some distant lake in his imagination.

I did a search of local poets but knowing only his first name, I got nowhere. There was a glimmer of hope though, I found out that a writing group met in a local pub the first Thursday of every month. I checked the calendar and placed a reminder on my phone. Finally after a light meal I cleared bills and bank statements from my desk and sat with a blank piece of paper in front of me. I hadn’t written anything creative since leaving school. I looked around the study and resisted the temptation to sort through the debris of my recent move. I focused on the paper. I picked up a black pen. Nothing came. In desperation I wrote the name Mark.

I looked up the name on the internet: German currency, a given name, St. Mark, The Gospel according to… the mark of the beast. One title piqued my interest. ‘The secret Gospel of Mark.’ Later I found myself unpacking books and shredding papers. I looked across at the lonely piece of paper. Finally I smiled. I was being stupid. I rolled the ruled feint into a ball and flicked it into recycling. I had the idea to look up the war poets on the internet just as the phone rang. It was dad checking I was ok.

“How’s the veterinary practice?” I loved the way he said the words.

“Fine! We operated on a Labrador yesterday. Three hours but it seems to be a success. How are you?”

“Good. The treatment’s working well.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. I worry.”

“You don’t need to. What about you? Made any new friends?”

“Early days. I’m very busy but I’m going to a writing group on Thursday.” I blurted this out.

“That’s great. Never trust a poet though.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Just a joke. Remember Shelley and Byron?”

“Not really.”

“Let us know how it goes. Here’s your mum…”

I wondered why I’d told dad I was going. Now I’d put myself in an impossible position. I’d have to write something, however bad. I bought a cheap notebook with a concealed pen. On the bus to work, I saw an advert for an exhibition of photographs in the library. I made a note for my day off.

***

I stood back and admired a picture of a lighthouse against a sunset sky. Engrossed, I backed into someone.

“Steady on.”

“Sorry.” I turned.

“Hello,” I said, smiling. I was surprised at how pleased I was to see him, excited like a silly teenager.

Mark returned my smile. “I backed into you too! I was wrapped up in this photo,” he said, pointing to the opposite wall. “What do you think?” He moved out of the way and revealed a photograph of himself lying on white sheets, a bunch of pink tulips strategically placed.

I felt embarrassed yet attracted to the picture.

“I was excited and nervous about posing for it but the charity calendar it’s used in raised a lot of money for prostate cancer.”

“A good cause. My dad’s in remission.” I crossed my fingers.

“Mine too.”

There was a long pause in which I didn’t know what to say or where to look. “You’ve got more musical notes on your arm.”

“It’s my cure for writer’s block. There’s something about the pain, the vibrations of the needle, the ink, it connects me. What brings you here?”

“I tried writing a poem. I got as far as the title: The secret Gospel of…” I faltered. “I thought the exhibition might give me inspiration.”

“Are you inspired?” He grinned, pointing at his photograph.

“Possibly…”

“Coffee then?”


Clint Wastling is a UK writer based in The East Riding of Yorkshire. He’s had stories published in newspapers like The Weekly News and online with Every Day Fiction. “Moon’s Child”, a ghost story, is in the Stairwell Books Anthology Pressed by Unseen Feet. His collection of stories, Calico Blue and Other Stories, is available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.


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