CREATIVE Mary-Ann Constantine

NWR Issue 109

Star-Shot

Part fable, part mystery, Star-Shot is a short novel set in and around Cardiff’s National Museum. The time is almost, but not quite, our own. As their paths cross in a circumscribed world of benches, parks and galleries, a handful of characters real their stories of obsession, loss and recovery, creating a fragile network of relationships which will help to resist the inexorable channels of silence eating into the city. It’s a story about walking and mapping, about the regenerative power of garden ponds, and the cosmic significance of frogs.

1. (Myra)

She has piled up her dark red hair with a clip, so the building can see the nape of her neck. She puts her bag on the bench beside her and watches the students scattered across the neat grass in the unexpected sun. They sit and they sprawl; their bodies relax. But she is taut and tense as a dancer, painfully self-aware. Behind her, masked by branches, are dark windows, thick white pillars: a civic, foursquare, symmetrical gaze. The sun brightens everything, it sharpens edges. She slowly loosens a soft cotton scarf from around her neck and sits resolutely facing the town centre, the traffic. She eats her lunch and pretends she cannot feel it. But today, she knows, she will go back to work satisfied; she has its full attention. She hates being ignored.

Deep down Myra will admit she is still a little embarrassed, if not confused, by the whole thing. Not the pull of desire itself: a flame is a flame is a flame, she thinks, at least till it goes out. But the object, so mas- sive, so important. She would have thought herself susceptible to quite other forms. Lost churches, empty warehouses, even some of the new stuff, the big projects, all curves and glass and national slate, blatant but beautiful, mobile pigeon-purples and greys. But early twentieth century, Portland stone, with the power and glory of the nineteenth still run- ning in its white veins? At least, she thinks defensively, at least it’s not a multi-storey carpark, or a shopping precinct, or a bank – my God, if it had been a bank. It’s a public institution, civic-minded. It intends well.

She is also relieved to have grown out of the castle, not even a proper castle, and there is nothing romantic even about the proper ones if you stop for a moment to consider them. Barracks. An empty threat. She exempts the stone animals from her scorn, however. They are too much part of her childhood, and she can still recite them, walking from town, with her mum, towards the river. Their frightening eyes. Lions, lynx, lioness, bear, seal, apes. And the anteater, or is it an aardvark, she can never remember which.

The new spring sun is lovely on her face and neck. She has a vague sense of yellow crocuses and a hopping squirrel off to the left. Next time, she thinks, she might even have to bring sun-cream. At last she checks her phone to see if her time is nearly up. It is. Tensing, she removes her sunglasses and rises from the bench, passing the bronze statue of the pensive little girl and walking out of the patch of park to meet the build- ing’s gaze. The shock of it will carry her most of the fifteen-minute walk through the traffic and the shoppers-under-glass, through the derelict patches and building sites, over the railway bridge, back to work.

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These are preview extracts from Mary-Ann Constantine’s forthcoming novel from Seren, Star-shot. Her previous publications include All the Souls (Seren) and The Breathing (Planet).

       


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