Widdershire is the brain-child of three intelligent, insightful women. Women who have dreamed of being writers since their chubby little fingers could hold a pencil. Women who have filled notebooks with scribbled thoughts and devoured fiction for decades.
But these glorious, intelligent women have busy lives. We started a website without fully realizing that there would be moments of “I just can’t write this week!” and “My kid has been sick for 48 hours straight and the last thing I want to do is think about that website I started with my friends.”
So, we took the summer off. But we’re back. Fall is the default start of the year because of school starting and we’re using it as a relaunch after a summer of absence. Plus as we all know, fall is the best season. So, as you sip your pumpkin-spice-whatever and listen to the sounds of crunchy leaves under your feet, rejoin us in Widdershire as we publish our creative works. We have a few new features we’ll be rolling out over the coming months and we hope you’ll return to read them. We love stories and we love sharing them with you.
Thanks for reading, thanks for returning.
The Women of Widdershire: Annemarie, Jan and Steph.
Sometimes I see you alone. You frown at your stack of notebooks, look back at your laptop, punch out a few keys. You heave great sighs that you think no one can hear because you have headphones in.
Sometimes I see you with someone else. You never look terribly comfortable, or happy. I never see you with that person again.
You don’t see me.
People don’t know how much we are watching them. They don’t see the cameras or the microphones. They remember us when a crime has been committed, when we “review the tapes” and go out on a warrant. We bring in the perpetrator without hassle, generally, and we are lauded as heroes. Then we fade into the background again. That is how it should be.
I am in charge of watching certain tapes, looking for people who are planning to break the rules, or incite dangerous thoughts, or engage in risky conversations. I zoom in on your phones and computers and notebooks. I run the words through programs that make them easy to read. I watch you because you are on the watch list.
It has been months now. I have done good work. I am in charge of your file. Today you wrote “I feel that our blindness to the panopticon in which we leave is perhaps less innocuous than we would like to believe. I feel that we are being distracted from the truth: that our very thoughts are not under our control.”
I need to turn you in.
I feel you are right, even though I am the panopticon. I am the jailor inside the dark tower. I watch you and I report you and you never know.
You are beautiful, and intelligent, and you are so lonely. So, so lonely.
I feel we have so much in common.
My supervisor has asked for a report. I know there are cameras on me. I know those cameras see the things I am working on, that someone may or may not be observing me to see if I will do my duty or follow my heart. I do not know when they will strike.
I tell my supervisor that you have been writing incendiary things, that you are threat. They ask if you need to be rehabilitated or removed. I don’t know. If I give the wrong answer, I will be removed. I do not want to be removed. So I give the answer I must, and this terrible world, this controlled, sterile, unloving, uncreative world is allowed to carry on.
I ask you on a date. You wait for me at the restaurant, polishing your glasses. I have watched you for so long that I know you are both pessimistic and hopeful. I am led over to your table by the waitress. You see me, and the hope rises in your eyes. We have a lovely dinner. We both enjoy ourselves.
When we are done, the black car is waiting outside. I open the door for you. You get in. I close the door. There is a second black car, and this time the door opens for me.
I did my duty, but my feelings betrayed me.
composed on an airline napkin:
The sun over clouds
Puffs of fluffy white candy
composed on a sidewalk:
Decent down the hill
Look Mom! I’m really going!
Summertime bike ride.
composed on a phone:
Fondling the closet
Duck. I mean folding the clothes.
Belinda arrived in London at the end of August, telling her parents it was just for a fun trip abroad before college started. She knew there would be others heading to King’s Cross on September 1st. It had become a pilgrimage of sorts for fans – and this year was special. This year was the “Nineteen years later” date J.K. Rowling had written about. She knew when she showed up, there would be people she knew there, if not by face, then by screen name.
She wasn’t even the biggest fan, it had been William who drove her crazy with Potter facts and showing her what he’d found online everyday, it was William who brought her into this online community. William who wouldn’t be with her.
They had been messing around in the backyard when he fell. Somehow this was the catalyst for all that came after it. She’d egged him on, taunting him to climb to the very top of the tree, then he tumbled, fell and landed in a heap on the ground. If only she hadn’t done it, if only she had made him keep his feet on the ground. She lived it over and over, thinking that if she had just stopped him that day, then nothing that came after it would have happened.
But that was wrong, and she knew it. The broken arm had nothing to do with what they found. The doctors kept saying how lucky it was that he’d broken it in the first place, because it helped them catch it early. It felt like one moment they were climbing trees in the backyard, the next she was watching her mother shave off the last of his thin wisps of hair. Chemo sucked away all his energy; he didn’t play volleyball or go for runs anymore. That’s when he rediscovered reading. All seven Harry Potter books in a month. He devoured them, then forced Belinda to read them to so they could talk about it. She was a fan, but nowhere near as obsessed as her twin.
He found friends online sharing his interests and they all talked about meeting. He was so confident he would be well by then. September the first, 2017. That would be the day he would go to King’s Cross.
Now here she was, alone in London, meeting up with William’s friends – ones he’d only known through a screen. She put on a red and yellow scarf and a striped pin and headed to the station. There was already a small crowd gathering around the platform – years ago there had been a statue of sorts erected, a half-cart seeming to be going through the wall. Several girls were taking a photo of themselves pretending to push it.
William had loved that part. He always said it was what got him hooked on the series – the idea that there was this wall he could go through. He would touch every brick wall he came near and Belinda could tell he was testing just in case it happened to be a gateway to another world. His hospital room had a window facing a brick wall and he kept looking at it in those last days, focusing intently on its redness.
Belinda walked towards the group, forcing herself to smile. One of the girls came up to her, smiling broadly. They exchanged screen names and talked about the site they both frequented, then she introduced her to the others in her group. Then came the questions. All they knew was that William had been their friend and Belinda’s brother, but then, six months ago, he’d disappeared from the site. Belinda sighed heavily and told them what had happened. They cried, they hugged her and told her how sorry they were. He had never confided in them that he was sick; his online life was the magical escape from the slow deterioration in his body. This group of friends just saw him as another fan. After watching the clock strike 11am, they decided to all go get a bite to eat together.
Belinda lingered behind, she pressed her cheek against the stone barrier between platforms 9 and 10, willing it to give way, trying to hear the voices on the other side. Tears streamed down her face as she finally pulled away. It was time to go.
Norah believed that stories were true. She grew up reading and read her way through school, all the way through university. Once she graduated, she wanted to write stories. That was all she wanted to do. So she wrote. Or at least she tried to write. Mostly she read books that were like the ones she wanted to write, she read books about how to write, and she browsed Creative Writing courses online, but was too afraid to actually sign up for one. She fell into the life that so many artists fall into: that of the minimum wage job. She had to work so many hours to afford her rent and food that eventually she wrote less and less, and the stories she read became more like escapes from her reality than realities in and of themselves.
She told her best friend, Phoebe, over coffee after their shift at the coffee shop: “I used to believe in stories, in magic, you know? It’s easy to believe in that stuff when you’re a kid and you imagine that you can do whatever you want. Then, you grow up a bit and you just get stuck in a rut and nothing seems magical or beautiful anymore.”
Phoebe said “Isn’t the whole point to write so that you can make your own magic?”
“But I can’t write! I’m so tired after working that I just crash at night, and when I do try to write, the blank page or the cursor just stare at me and nothing comes.”
As she walked home, Norah tried to think of something she would write about, but she was still blocked. She sat down at her computer as soon as she finished dinner, leaving the clean up for later.
She stared at her computer screen, the blank white page with the blinking cursor so familiar. She wrote a few words, then decided they were stupid and deleted them. She didn’t want to write about how she had nothing to write about, she had done that too many times recently and it wasn’t working to help her unblock. Finally, the phone rang. It was Phoebe.
“I’m just on my way to bed. You got anything yet?”
“Not yet, I wrote some things, but they weren’t any good.”
“Do me a favour and just write something now while you’re on the phone with me, and promise me you won’t delete it.
“Ok, here I go, I’m typing.”
“Alright, I’m going to sleep. Night.”
Norah looked at what she had written.
The stories were dying. She had to save the stories.
She sighed, closed her computer, and went to sleep.
The next morning, Norah woke up to the sensation that someone was watching her. She lifted her head and looked around the room, She shook her head and smiled to herself. She must have still been dreaming. She went about her morning routine and decided to bring her laptop with her to work. She had a short shift that day. Maybe she could get some writing in afterwards, if she could get over her phobia of writing in public (what if someone was reading over her shoulder?). She was fumbling with the strap on her bag while she opened the front door and nearly fell over when she saw that there was a young woman standing right outside.
“Hello, can I help you?
“Are you Norah?”
“I’m from The Council of Literary Heroines.”
“The Council of Literary Heroines. You may not have heard that name, but you’ve definitely heard of some of us. The Council made up of all the great literary heroines: Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Eowyn, even Alice, though she is perpetually tardy. Of course it is chaired by Josephine March, since she’s the writer of the bunch.”
Norah was torn between thinking the woman was a loon and thinking this Council sounded pretty amazing.
“What does this Council do, exactly?”
“They try to keep the stories alive.”
“And how do they do that? I mean, they’re not technically real, right?”
“What do you mean by ‘technically real’?”
“I mean, they really only exist in people’s imaginations.”
“Well, I only exist in your imagination, and yet here I am.”
Norah shook her head to try to untangle the knot of her thoughts, but it was just as convoluted when she refocused on the strange woman. There were so many questions that she wanted to ask, but somehow, the one that came out was this one:
“What about the heroes, do they have a council?”
“They do, but they aren’t as concerned with telling stories, more so with battles and war and nonsense like that. Preserving stories has really always been a job for women. But we don’t have time to get into all that. We really must talk about your story.”
“You mean my life story?”
“No, the story you are writing.”
“I’m not writing a story.”
The woman looked at her for a long moment. “I’m sure that you are,” she said, “absolutely certain.”
Norah shook her head. “I’m not. I desperately want to, I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but I sit down, and everything I think about sounds cliche and stupid and I feel like I have nothing new to say. I don’t have a story to tell!”
“You do. You began writing it yesterday.”
“I didn’t write yesterday. I tried to, Phoebe tried to make me, but there was still nothing for hours on end.”
“That’s not true. You wrote: ‘The stories are dying. She had to save the stories.’”
“But that isn’t anything. It is two tiny sentences. The only reason I didn’t delete them is because I promised Phoebe that I wouldn’t.”
“Those ‘two tiny sentences’ as you call them, are much more than that. In them, you name a problem: that the stories are dying. You name this problem because you see that it is true, even if you weren’t aware of that when you were writing it. You also introduce a character. You say ‘she’. When you wrote that word, I came into being. The Heroines took one look at me, and at what you had written, and sent me to you straightaway.”
Norah was overwhelmed. She didn’t know what to say or do. She looked at the woman, and her eyes drifted over to the wall clock by the door.
“Shit! I’m going to be late for work! I really have to get going.” Norah locked her front door and turned to leave.
“But will you do it? Will you write your story?” The woman asked.
“I’ll try! Can I call you for help?”
“I’ll be around when you need me.”
Norah picked up her bag. “Do I just, like, call your name or something? What is your name?”
The woman shook her head and smiled. “I have no idea! I don’t have one yet.”
Had a great time last night. 🙂
Me too. 🙂
I don’t want to be weird, but I’d love to see you again. Coffee sometime?
I’d love that.
Hey babe, miss you
Miss you too. Three weeks feels so long.
I just want to jump through my phone to see you
That would be amazing.
We’ll make it, right?
Of course we will. Amor vicit omnia.
Hey, it’s today!
I can’t wait. 🙂
I thought you were going to sleep in! I didn’t wake you up, did I?
No, I’m too excited to sleep.
Me too. Wanna make out?
Yes, but I’m pretty sure someone would notice if I took the car. 😛
I’m outside. 😉
OMG. I’ll be right there.
Where the hell are you?
Sorry, I’m outside
Are you coming?
Be right there
Getting coffee. Want one?
You left your fucking underwear on the floor again.
Don’t call me babe. I’m pissed off at you.
Love you babe
Fuck off. I love you too.
Seriously, where are you?
Sorry, running late
You can’t be running late. You were supposed to be home an hour ago. I need you here now.
Still wrapping up
Wrapping up work? Or wrapping up with some chick?
FFS, wrapping up work.
You’re late every day. What am I supposed to think?
You’re supposed to trust me.
I trust you to get home when you say you will.
You know it’s crazy here right now.
You fucking forgot, didn’t you?
Fuck. I’m so sorry.
Not good enough.
I’m leaving now.
It’s too late, they gave away our reservation. My fucking mascara is ruined anyway.
I’m really sorry, babe.
Don’t fucking call me babe, asshole.
I’ll be home in 10.
And the day came when at last she took to the sea.
She stood in the prow, spray in her face, hair streaming out behind her, a proud warrior filled with purpose and strength. Behind her, the fortress lay wasted, men lying on the sand, calling and crying for her to come back, to turn, to acknowledge them in some way.
“We did this for you!” they cried. “We are broken here because of you!”
But she would not turn. She faced the wild unknown, the open ocean, dreams ahead of her and nightmares behind.
She would not go back to that land, where she was expected to stay in her tower, to stay pure and perfect and never age, never fail, never cease to do the things asked of her. She would find a new land.
She had heard stories ever since she was a child, stories of a land where a woman could be free. The stories were myth, untrue, only told under cover of darkness to women and children. Only told to the weak.
But the stories gave her strength. They brought a fierce light to her eyes and a new vigour to her muscles as she laid her plans.
They laughed long after she was gone. She was held up as an example. Her fate was that of one who heard fairy stories and believed them. She was a freak, a Jezebel, a betrayer.
Those she left behind never heard from her again. No one learned whether or not she found the mystical land of freedom, or whether she drowned alone at sea, her hair tangling in the seaweed and her body becoming food for carnivorous sea-beings.
But the young girls of the land she had left told new stories. They told stories of the woman who had single-handedly torn down her pedestal, her tower, her prison. How she left men bleeding and calling for her. How she revealed that there were deep cracks in the way they understood the world. In some stories, her ship was torn apart by storm and she was transformed into a mermaid, a symbol of the freedom that comes in death. In others, she survived, she found the new world, and she lives there still as an equal to all.
“Testing, 1, 2, 3, I am Dr. Andy Paris, this is February 15th at 2pm. My next client, has a standing appointment once a year on this date.”
“Hello, Dr. Paris.”
“Good afternoon. Would you like some chocolate? I have plenty leftover from yesterday.”
“Is that a joke?”
“I’m so sorry, that was quite insensitive of me. I’ll put these away. Can you tell me about your week?”
“It’s not just a week now. It’s the entire month. It’s almost two months! Two months of fat diapered babies with bow-and-arrows. Do I look like a fat diapered baby to you?”
“Of course not.”
“Plus it’s not even about love anymore. It used to be about love. Now it’s every kid at every school in the whole damn continent. They don’t love each other, some of them don’t even like each other. Why do they keep it up? Is it just to torture me?”
“I’m sure it’s not.”
“And what do mutated turtles and large eyed women have to do with me anyway? They’re almost worse than the fat babies. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Am I the god of Disney and Star Wars? Am I the god of cinnamon and chalk?”
“Those tiny hearts with writing on them. Are they not chalk?”
“Those are actually supposed to be candy.”
“Really? Well that’s just a slap in the face.”
“Getting back to yesterday, did you do what I suggested last year?”
“I’m trying. I tried to do what you said, but I don’t want to be by myself for two whole months.”
“Did you at least get to a secluded spot yesterday?”
“I…. attempted that.”
“And what happened?”
“I booked this cabin in the woods, this cute little exclusive resort, away from everything.”
“It turned out to be a couple’s resort! Cabin after cabin of blissful couples, all there for..for…”
“It’s okay to say it, saying it won’t hurt you.”
“I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“I was surrounded by them! Flowers and chocolates and stupid fat babies. I had to fly from cabin to cabin. I witnessed three proposals!”
“That must have been very frustrating.”
“I can’t get away from it. When love is near, I have to obey. I have to go and fire my stupid magical arrows all day. It’s exhausting. It’s un-ending. AND IT’S EVERY DAMN YEAR!”
“I know, Mr. Cupid, I know.”
“Same.” [sob] “time” [sob] “next year?” [sob]
“Yes, of course. And more often if you’d like. You cry for as long as you need to.”
that you drowned.
Your little head
and no matter
how hard I tried
I couldn’t reach you
I felt your small body
limp in my arms.
I awoke to your cries
seeking milk and comfort
not knowing my fear
only my love.
artwork by Paul Moffett