One Of Eight

This piece of flash fiction was written in January 2009 at Kigali Writer's Group. We used to meet at Torero Café (sadly no longer there) to share poetry and prose. As an opening exercise, we would choose a news title and give ourselves ten minutes to write as much as possible on that subject. This particular week featured a woman who had given birth to octuplets in the States. Here's my macabre take on the matter:




I was one of eight – only I was nine.

Like Jonah and the whale, I was conceived in a cavernous void of hot, wet redness.

The sea of creation.

Around me swam life: brothers and sisters formed of sweet, wrinkled flesh. Kittens inside the cat, squirming and petulant. Only, not a cat. A woman. A human woman.

As we grew in size, we pressed against one another. Bottom to bottom, chest to chest. Fighting for the precious space that was once so abundant. Fighting for the air we could not yet breathe.

And then our time came. The birthing time.

A knife cut searing pain through her flesh. It ran in shudders through our umbilical cords. We would have stirred in our sleep and cried out had the morphine of sedation not coursed through our blood, as it had hers.

I was one of eight – only I was nine.

The gentle hand of a startled, disbelieving doctor reached in to lift us out into the air, the sky, the heavens.

“Octuplets!” Was the word he exclaimed, before threading his needle artfully to pull her split sides together like tectonic plates.

And, like plates of earth, I was buried beneath them.


Too small to be noticed, too drugged to be heard.

I was one of eight – only I was nine.

Before I had even opened my eyes, life had closed them.

©Marion Grace Woolley 2011

The Crone of Winter

The Crone of winter stood with her back against the frost,
Her hair was carved from ivory, her moustache made of moss.
Her brow it furrowed hard as ice above her hollow eyes
And when the wind began to howl she’d join in with its cries.
Her gemstone orbs as blue as ice shone with mottled glee
As they streamed with crystal teardrops, as salty as the sea.

She watched as the first snowflakes lightly scorched the ground
And laughed as drifts began to form on every ditch around.
She trailed a cloak of spiders’ webs about  her hematite dress
Which flowed like liquid oxygen and cowled her drooping breast.
Her fingers sharp and twisted like the branches of the trees
Would scratch with chalk-board jarring on the edges of the breeze

Her gilded slippers crushed the life from insects under foot,
Animals weak, from deer to sheep, would fall with just one look.
Breath heavy with the stench of death would whisper subtle words
So soft upon Siberian winds that mortals never heard.
And when she sang the icicles would chime like churchyard bells,
Her smile likened only to the frosty gates of Hell.

Between her glass-translucent nails, she spun a filigree dust
Glittering like moths’ wings, scented with stag musk
Wheresoever it did fall, on birds or trees or children’s eyes
They were protected from the cold, through winter they survived
She held within her full-moon palm the gift of life and death
With one hand she did give the gift; she took it with one breath.

Queen of the Boreal, she has a thousand names
To her our whole existence is but one scornful game.
She lives as long as winter, and longer than the years
She knows our hopes, our dreams, our thoughts, our deepest inner fears.
But all of this, in knowing, no compassion does she spare
She never dwells upon it, and neither does she care.

She sees so little born in the season she purveys
All she looks at perishes beneath her granite gaze
Nothing ever grows, around her or within
A mother or a lover, she has never been.
How can compassion grow, in one compassionless
We don not care for her, why should she care for us?

All around soft powder lies, as fine as diamond dust
The sharp North winds go riding by, howling out their lust
And the Crone of Winter stands with her back against the frost
Thinking on her loneliness; counting out the cost.
For once she loved the Summer King, when the world was new
But she kept this feeling locked inside, hidden from his view.

Back then there was no winter, no coldness in the world
She had been a Countess, skin the colour of pearl.
She’d dressed each day in morning, she’d slept in twilight’s shade
She’d walked each dewy evening along a scented promenade
Filled with honeysuckle, sweet jasmine and night stock
Up beyond the moon and the meteor’s burning rock.

She’d sit herself beside a fountain, flowing with white blood
The gods’ own very nectar, that gave life to the mud.
She’d listen to the nightingale sing its soulful song
She’d wait there every evening, she didn’t care how long
Just to catch a glimpse of him, the burning Summer King
His presence hot and powerful: lion’s claw and nettle sting.

To look upon him hurt her eyes, it hurt her heart much more
Yet still she couldn’t tear her eyes from what she thought she saw:
A little twinkle in his look, a second’s favoured glance
Conveying through the Milky Way a thought that made her blanch
An image in her mind of them laying side-by-side
A look that told her quietly, he knew her deep inside.

Those were eternally happy days, when love’s hope grows undisturbed
Amidst its sheltered garden, with life’s spices and childhood’s herbs.
Where no worms come to burrow the roots, or blackfly plague the leaves
Where every day a new rose buds; expectation towers tall as trees
But into every heart garden, eventually falls some rain
And into hers a monsoon blew, of sorrow, hate and pain.

One day she’d waited half the year and still he hadn’t come
Anguish twisted at her lips; where was her handsome Sun?
Then eventually she saw him, stood there fine as Day
A look of love shone in his eyes, but to her dismay
She saw an awful truth in her all-consuming King
For he was gazing past her; gazing past her into Spring.

Her stomach gave a lurch, breath fled from both her lungs
Bile rose in her throat and burned across her tongue
She closed her eyes and locked herself away in darkest night
She cried away her beauty, her youth and looks took flight
Her blood froze in her veins, all warmth like steam did rise
And when, at last, she opened them, snow fell from the skies

All the goodness of her soul had floated up above
And fell back down to earth as icy, unrequited love.
Her sorrow was so great, her hatred was so strong
That all the earth was void of joy, everything was gone
Buried beneath a blanket of her suffocating grief
Which spared not a single insect, not a berry, bird or leaf.

As Summer fell for Spring and bore their Autumn child
Winter vanquished all the earth; fearsome, rough and wild
Savage in her loathing, time never helped to heal
Forgetting what it’s like to love, to hope, to think, to feel.
Instead she turned the darker arts of murder and mistrust
All that glittered gold before had quickly turned to rust.

But Summer’s blaze burns just as strong as Winter’s fearsome rage
And as the dawn of time grows old and aeons pass and age
As universes spin and turn, as the cosmos reels and gleams
As tides dance, stars implode, rain  transforms to steam
As morning dawns, noon marches on, as sunlight starts do dim
Half the year belongs to her, and half belongs to him.

And so the Crone of Winter turned her back against the world
Engulfed in snow white flakes that all around her swirled
And leaving not one foot-print in the ashes of her life
She sighed a breath of Nordic wind as sharp as any knife
And sprinkling her special dust softly o’re her eyes
She prayed to survive her winter; to see a new sun-rise.