Marriage, whether motivated by romantic idealism or social necessity was a key concern for the people of rural Brittany. A number of unusual customs and superstitions once surrounded marriage and the quest for love.Looking for Love in Brittany — Bonjour From Brittany
Footprints along the strand
stretching off to nowhere
A beach all my own
save for curious gulls
eyeing from Hesperides’ skies.
Kernow was never so lush
or windswept; are they bells
pealing on the breeze, like
lost Lyonesse beckoning
to this broken soul?
Maybe heartless time is melting,
melding; I run and run
into the gelid ocean, the two
once twain — now consumed
Copyright Francis Barker 2020
We ran and ran
laughing headlong into the wind
which swept along the shore,
our arms held out like useless wings,
cheeks flushing with life and youth.
When we stopped
we could see where we’d been,
catching our breath
as the waves washed over our feet.
You held me and squeezed, your eyes
the colour of oceans
cool amid those blushing cheeks.
If moments are captured
and etched upon memory,
this was one such point in time
pivoting on eternity
French artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas was born, July 19, 1834 in Paris, France ❦ Famous for his pastel drawings and oil paintings of dancers, …Edgar Degas
An interview done ‘across the pond’ from a while ago.
Elena had a theory that whatever Pluto touched, he could potentially mask or make invisible in a birth chart. It was only a theory. Pluto’s reputation was one of transformation. She calculated that if Christopher Marlowe had been born around 2pm on the day of his birth, Pluto would have been exactly conjunct the Sun. But what did it really mean? She ran it by Mary one more time.
“So I’ve set the chart for 2.13 pm, look at this.”
Mary understood the meaning of this birth chart. “It’s him to a tea, isn’t it? The Moon rising in Leo, all that drama and creativity in his personality. And then the Sun and Pluto locked together in Pisces in the eighth house, he just had to be this shadowy, mysterious and strange individual, a spy – a man wearing a mask! It’s funny, but some say the image of Shakespeare in the First Folio looks like he’s wearing a mask.”
“And look at the well-developed Mercury, in good aspect to that Jupiter Saturn conjunction. He was a born writer too.”
Mary sat up. “Ah yes, of course, the birth and death of kings, that’s true. This conjunction is associated with that. And I would argue that Marlowe’s Edward the Second was really the first history play, very much along the same lines that Shakespeare would continue to write and develop later on.”
Elena then noticed something else. “He died on May 30 1593, didn’t we find out?”
“Look, if I put in the transits for that very day, Pluto is closely conjunct his midheaven and Neptune is hovering close to his ascendant, just like it is in mine right now.”
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
Elena was beginning to feel more than a twinge of excitement. “Pluto on his midheaven might mean his career was rocked to its foundations, destroyed even, but it could also mean it goes underground, to become a career in disguise. And Neptune dissolves his personality. It’s like a kind of death.”
Mary eyed her friend. “Yes, either way he disappears forever. It is all very Faustian.”
“What do you mean?”
Mary picked up the book with the picture of Marlowe in it. “Maybe his play Faustus was not only a warning us about getting mixed up with magic, it was in part autobiographical too. Maybe he’s been in some kind of limbo ever since he died, a place from where he can at least contact us through the medium of dreams.”
Limbo maybe, but Elena still couldn’t figure out the other mystery. “So are we any nearer explaining the initials on that oak tree, I wonder?”
Mary thought for a few seconds. “Not yet, but give it time.”
Elena took the pregnancy test as a precaution, she knew pretty well what the result would be: positive. Michael too had his suspicions, though neither of them had intended starting a family just yet. Although privately pleased, even with the continuing morning sickness, she kept it to herself.
So it was with mixed feelings that Elena booked a doctor’s appointment, somewhat surprised to get an appointment that same day due to a cancellation. She had been sick again that morning, several times, and didn’t feel too good while she sat in the waiting room. It concerned her that she couldn’t see her own doctor. Instead she had been given an appointment with a locum, Dr Kim Parris. At least it was a woman, she much preferred to see female doctors.
Half an hour later, she was still waiting, the appointments evidently running quite late. Elena was wondering whether she should go to the toilet, when the light on the screen flashed. It was her turn. Taking a deep breath, she stood up and walked briskly to the surgery door, ignoring the slight sickness she was feeling once more in her stomach. She knocked on the door.
Some women had rather deep voices, she figured. She opened the door to find no one.
“Please, sit you down,” came a voice from behind a white screen.
Doctor Parris emerged. He was putting on a jacket, his hair swept back. He was clean shaven and smirking. Elena blinked a few times during those few seconds. They seemed to be gilded with a semblance of eternity.
“Elena, what a lovely name,” he said, sitting down in front of her. “That’s Italian for Helen, isn’t it?”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
Elena had taken herself off to the spare room, the very room where Michael had said she had sleep walked in to the previous night. One thirty and she still wasn’t asleep, she was simply too apprehensive, too much going on in her head. Once more she lay back and opened another book she’d borrowed from Mary. She came across a reference to the fact that most children were baptised within two or three days of birth, at least until more recent times. This was because of the much higher rates of child mortality. It made her think. With that thought in her mind, she lay the book down and closed her eyes.
The room was dark, quite small. Long curtains were closed, just a peep of light came through a gap. Outside there were distant voices, so she opened the curtain a touch to see. It was the canal or river she had seen before, though there was less activity this time, as if it might be evening. As she turned away, she noticed a mirror with an ornate frame on the right wall. Keeping the curtains open, she looked at it. Elena had the clearest blue eyes, a smooth, ivory complexion. She brought a hand to her face, touching the soft flesh.
“I am… quite beautiful,” she whispered.
She recognised the room, the bed in the corner where someone was lying. Walking up to the bed, she recognised him, though he made no move, as if he was asleep. She peered more closely; then he opened his eyes, slightly.
“Elena,” he croaked, weakly, “you have destroyed me.”
She stepped back as he reached out, trying to touch her. “What’s the matter with you? Is it something I’ve done?”
“Elena, you have destroyed me.”
She felt a sudden unease. “What have I done?”
He tried to smile, though it seemed to be difficult. There was pain written all over his face, emotional as well as physical discomfort.
“Just… tell me who you are.”
His hand fell limply by his side, a weak gaze remaining fixed on her where she stood.
Kneeling down she put a hand in front of his face. There was no breath. She checked the pulse on his wrist: nothing. His candle had burned out. Elena closed his eyes, reached forward and kissed his cheek. Then she sat on the chair next to the bed. Tears began to well up in her eyes, though she wasn’t sure why. Did she know this man? And if so, how?
“I want to come out of this dream now,” she said out loud, wiping her eyes. Yet she remained in the room, apparently present in some time which may have been four hundred years ago. She began to feel queasy, quite strange in fact. So she stood, but had to sit down again, feeling quite faint. She bent down on all fours and was sick into the empty chamber pot by the bed. There was no cloth or tissue to use, so she wiped her mouth on the bed sheet. Suddenly without the strength to get up, she lay on the floor, closing her eyes.
Elena felt the gentle stroking of her hair. Opening her eyes, Michael’s concerned face was examining her own.
“It was quite a shock to find you lying here.”
“Where am I?”
“The toilet, I see you’ve been sick. Something you ate last night, was it?”
“No,” she said, faintly, “I don’t think so. What time is it?”
“Six o’clock. Have you been like this before, recently?”
Elena thought for a few seconds. “A little yes. I thought it was the lack of sleep.”
Their eyes met, instinctively, though neither dare ask that most pertinent question. Michael helped her to her feet and led her back to bed.
“Get some sleep, I’ll take the day off, it won’t matter.”
“I’m not sure I want any sleep.”
“Hm, because of him? This strange kisser fellow?”
“Maybe,” she said, laying down her head, “though I get the feeling that I won’t be seeing much more of him in my dreams.”
“I like the sound of that. I’ll get you some water.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
The following morning found Elena knocking at Mary Allen’s door. Her neighbour could see that something was amiss.
“This is getting seriously weird.” Mary brought through a Royal Albert pot of tea and two matching cups and saucers, placing them clumsily on the coffee table in front of the sofa. “Early Grey, Elena, things always go better with Earl Grey.”
Elena wasn’t much in the mood for small talk, she just wanted answers. “What do you think he meant by saying that I feed him?”
Mary flopped down beside her, with a whiff of Chanel 19. “It’s love, isn’t it?”
“Love? But how can it be love?”
Mary poured a little milk into each cup. “I don’t know how, but it is. Love is blind, they say. Never experienced it myself.”
“The problem is that each dream is getting longer, clearer, more real somehow. He even spoke to me, properly this time from his lips, though there weren’t many words. Michael thinks I’m working too hard, but I’m not. I haven’t been able to work for days, I felt quite ill this morning. And I’m getting worried now.”
“About falling to sleep?”
Elena nodded, watching Mary fill up her cup to near the top. “If only I knew who he was, why doesn’t he come out and tell me.”
Mary sat back in the sofa and sighed. “Have you looked at yourself in a mirror in these dreams?”
“I’ve not come across one yet, though I know my hair is a bit lighter than my own, virtually blonde in fact.”
“Then those initials carved in the oak tree, PH, you said?”
“The P could be you, if he sees you as Persephone and the H is Hades. Unless we’re talking about two historical figures.”
“It would be a shot in the dark but I’ll give it a go.”
“You mean, find out all the men in the past whose Christian names begin with H? That would be a very long shot.”
“Not all history, Dear. From what you describe he lived somewhere between 1490 and, say, 1600. And there’s already something bugging me about all this.”
“Bugging you!” Elena reached for her cup of tea.
“Yes, I can’t quite put my finger on it, from what you described about him and that initial H… the number twenty three. I don’t know. We’ll go through to my library in a minute, I should’ve been onto this days ago.”
Mary Allen’s library, in fact her spare room, was an eclectic collection of books, old and new, mainly historical, though there was plenty of biography and fiction too. Elena sat down on the wooden chair and watched her friend peruse the massive selection of titles.
“Maybe we should just stick to the internet,” Elena said, eyeing the grey sky out of the window.
“No, no, Dear. Books are far better, especially my books.”
Elena noticed that Mary was drawn particularly to the Shakespeare section, which included a copy of the First Folio.
“Hm. You know when I said this fellow’s odd behaviour reminded me of Hamlet’s ghost?”
“Yes.” Elena noticed a book that had Pluto in the title, one of Mary’s astrological books. She stood up and pulled it out of the bookcase. “Can I have a look at this?”
“Of course, Dear, jump in. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Elena recalled that some astrologers talked about Pluto’s mask, from the myth of Hades, who was said to wear a mask which could make him invisible. “Maybe this isn’t all about Neptune and the Moon after all, like we suspected.”
Mary turned to face her, peering over her reading glasses. “Go on.”
Elena held up the book about Pluto. “Perhaps it’s all about drastic change and masks and hidden things.”
“What makes you say this?”
“It might be a hunch but think we can narrow down the search to someone in history born on February 23. I just know that number means something.”
“You may be right, Dear. Let’s get to it then.”
An hour later, after much intensive searching on the internet and through Mary’s book collection, they had found nothing of apparent significance.
“It’s looking as though I’m going to have to wait until tonight to find out more.”
Mary knelt down beside her, putting a consoling hand on hers. “It is all rather exciting though, isn’t it? I know it’s easy for me to say, but you really can’t beat a good mystery.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
The following day, Elena was too tired to work in the morning. In fact she felt quite sick until she had a piece of toast. She asked Mary Allen if she fancied a walk in the park. Thankfully for Elena, she did. Wrapped up well against the chill, they sat on a sheltered bench overlooking the river, where a collection of ducks were huddled together for warmth, contemplating whether they should ask for some food.
As ever, Mary was right on the case. “Is there anything else going on in your birth chart, apart from the Neptune transit?”
Elena nodded, vaguely. “Well, transiting Pluto is coming into opposition with my natal Venus in the fifth house.”
Mary looked concerned. “Ooh, your love life is going to change.”
“Mn, I’ve been thinking that, or it might just mean a kind of creative clear out.”
“Cripes, you’ve lost me there, girl. The fifth house is about children too, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but as I don’t have any, it might be more to do with children of the mind. If I’m honest, Pluto scares the pants off me.”
“Really?” Mary took out some bread from her pocket. “I thought this gentleman didn’t scare you.”
“No, not him, I mean Pluto.” She watched Mary throw pieces of bread towards the ducks who all came waddling over. “Astronomers can classify him as a minor planet now if they like, but as far as I’m concerned, Pluto is still very powerful, a heavy weight.”
Elena flinched, looking across at Mary. She had suddenly sat forward. “The H you saw in your dream last night.”
“Only a guess, a stab in the dark..”
Mary leaned toward her, raising an eyebrow. “Could H stand for Hades?”
Elena was watching a mallard duck scramble awkwardly out of the water, rushing to join the feast. “Hades is the Greek name for Pluto.”
“Hold on, though, it was only an H. It might have stood for Hercules, Henry, Humphrey, Hermione… it might not even have been an H at all.”
Mary was touching her arm now. “What if you were Persephone? The way you described yourself to me in that dream, it sounds a bit like her.”
“I couldn’t get out of that room, but it wasn’t in the underworld, if that’s what you mean. It was a bright, clear and warm day this time.”
“If I remember correctly, Hades can come into this world occasionally, according to one version of the myth.”
Elena pulled the woollen hat over her ears. “But I’ve only ever seen this man in my dreams.”
Mary touched her arm again. “Are you sure about that? Think, girl. Hades spots Persephone in a field of flowers, I believe, falls in love with her instantly.”
Elena laughed out loud. “A field of flowers? In February? Where am I going to find that? Madeira?”
“I’m only recounting the story, Dear… Elena, are you alright? Elena?”
She felt even colder now. A memory from the other day was replaying in her mind, over and over.
“Elena, come on – out with it.”
She sat up. “So, it might be nothing, but on Saturday morning I went to the florist. I wanted some daffodils to brighten the house up, remind me that spring was on its way.”
“As you do.”
“I don’t often go there, but there was a new guy serving, clean cut, clean shaven, but now I think of it, he had that dark hair and those eyes, kind eyes, the sort that make you stop in your tracks. And he was certainly very friendly, in a quiet sort of way.”
Mary swivelled towards her on the bench. “If he was that gorgeous, how could you forget about him, not make the connection to your dreams?”
Elena rubbed her tired eyes. “I know, but I did. Maybe it was the change of context, so I didn’t think it was related. That was real life and we’re talking about dreams, aren’t we?”
“And he had very similar features to the man in the dream.”
“In retrospect, yes.”
“Elena, Dear, you must go back there, to the florist.”
She looked at Mary. “I don’t think so.”
“Why not? Are you scared?”
She had to think about that. “Yes, a bit, if I’m honest. Michael would be furious if he found out.”
“Nonsense! I mean, does he need to know?”
“So what are we saying here? The god Hades works in my local florist? I’ve got more chance of finding Elvis working in the chip shop.”
Mary paused, looking at the river. “It does sound rather bizarre, I have to concede. But even so, it’s all we’ve got right now.”
“You’ll come with me, won’t you?”
Mary took both of Elena’s hands in hers. “Just you try and stop me, girl. I’m loving this retirement. And it’s not every day you have the chance to meet a living god, is it?”
“Mary, please, don’t say that.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
also look for Milly Reynolds on amazon.co.uk
Here is my partner in crime‘s latest short story, a romantic mystery spanning the centuries.
The Kissing Game
Elena Trimble awoke with a fright. “What was that all about?”
Michael, her husband, was stirring beside her. “What’s up? Bad dream?”
Elena wiped the sweat from her face. “No. I mean, maybe.”
Michael hauled himself upright, blinking rapidly. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Did she? Elena wasn’t too sure.
Michael was watching her. “Ok, so you’ve had a dream about some other guy. It happens, I get that.”
Elena felt herself blushing. “Well, it wasn’t anyone I know, if that’s what you mean.”
Michael swung his legs around and gazed at the clock. “Look, it’s only half five, and it’s Sunday. What chance of getting back to sleep now?”
Elena reached for the notebook, if she wrote it all down she might be able to make more sense of it later. They said that recording your dreams was important.
“So what was he like, this guy? I presume it was a guy…”
“Of course it was a man! Sorry, for shouting.”
“That’s alright. What was he like though?”
Elena found it difficult to explain, in words. The dream took place somewhere with
quite poor lighting. He was young, charming, powerful in some odd way. And his eyes,
she could remember them, quite dark.
“He kissed me.”
Michael laughed spontaneously. “Did he now. And was this Lothario a good kisser?”
“Yes, he knew what he was doing, if you know what I mean. He had these nice lips.”
Michael smirked. “Was he as good as me?” He reached across, kissing Elena full on the lips, lingeringly.
“Mn, that was nice.”
He looked into her lovely blue-green eyes. “You are so beautiful, did you know that?”
“Actually, I was wondering – is all this kind of..?”
She pushed him firmly from her. “Not at five thirty on a Sunday morning! And besides, I feel a little queasy.”
“Hm, it must be the shock.” Michael flopped back onto his side of the bed. “Ok, so did this Romeo have anything to say?”
Elena flinched at his question. “Romeo.”
“Shut up. It was just you, calling him Romeo, that’s all. I don’t know.”
“What are you scribbling?”
She was trying to draw Romeo’s face. She had already been doodling some things which had come to her.
“What does that mean?” Michael asked, leaning across.
“What’s the date today? The twenty third?”
“Yes, is it important?”
Elena breathed in and sighed. “I think it might be.”
more follows next week
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
A girl from the future, she’d said,
a real chic-chic-whirr!
Pat was her name, dark high heels and
clinging pink dress, a row of
little red buttons before me
which (the paperwork said), would ‘lead
to other worlds’.
So I pressed the bottom button, a thirty
second hologram projected from her eye,
from my time to hers: “My god!”
I said, all-a-gaga,
“she really makes President?”
Button two appealed to my
sense of history. “I can be
any figure you like,” she giggled. So
I thought of Genghis Khan and
recoiled, I mean
I fell to the ground—
the stench of his breath and
bloody blade! so real,
but even he had a human eye.
Button three was ‘anywhere, anytime’,
so there we were in a darkening
Berlin bar, surrounded by
art deco, lots of nods and smiles;
I felt the spirit keenly, the zeitgeist
over my shoulder, whispering: ‘seize
the moment, this
And then she stood and sang for me
like Piaf, posed
like Dietrich, sizzled
like Kitt, singing how old fashioned she was but
I just wasn’t a millionaire, although
“zat, darlink,” she purred, with a brush
of mink on my cheek, “vill be easily
a little like Faustus before
Helen of Troy, though
she was no Mephistopheles;
more legion, everything rolled into one app.
All this time her top
button had intrigued the most.
“Go on— pat it!” she said, smoking
“You see?” She kicked
off a heel, letting
down her futured hair.
“Yes,” she whispered, pulling me
close, “and I, my sweet,
am just the beta version.” I looked
down on Metropolis
from floor 159, so brave,
Some things, clearly,
would never change
Poem © copyright Francis Barker 2012