Abigail Elizabeth Ottley (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival. (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival.
NEWTON, HEISENBERG AND ME*
(on life, love and science) I married a man my mother liked when I was just eighteen. His manners were impeccable. His hair was always clean. He worked up west as a wages clerk a season ticket sort of man. From Purfleet through to Fenchurch Street via Barking and West Ham. And then by tube to Marble Arch to do for hours and little pay the work that’s known to make Jack dull when unrelieved by play. A life by rote is not much fun. Old habits tend to oust the new. Football training twice a week a weekend match, and sometimes two. A three hour piss up down the pub. Testosterone’s the clue. Six pints of best er, a bag of crisps and a ball by ball review. It wasn’t always football, though. His best friend had a car. On Friday nights in his weekend shirt he played weekend guitar. Under disco lights, pumped up on pills, in seedy clubs and bars he played the decade’s hit parade and dreamed he’d be a star. The peeling paint, the shambling drunks, he simply didn’t see. His youthful gaze was fixed on fame. Their gaze was fixed on me. Six months of marriage. There we were. Things couldn’t get much worse. I’d mastered the mechanics of his clockwork universe. And once I’d learned the off-side rule there wasn’t much to challenge me. I thought, ‘There must be more than this. I need — uncertainty.’ I found it in a flash, in fact. I didn’t have to look. I was a plump and painted worm that simpered on a hook. And being thus — available big fishes came in shoals. Slow mournful carp and ancient pike — and monstrous things that lurked in holes. Then through the weed a flash of gold — a handsome, random sort of chap. A man who kept you guessing. Well, I fell into his lap. And for a while we got along. He made me laugh. I cooked his meals. Until I got to wondering about his shady business deals. I never knew quite what was what — like where he’d been, with whom, or why. And all attempts to pin him down were met by his evasive eye. His mobile phone was always off. No signal there, no signal here. Or else he'd left it in the car. The inference was clear. I tried to take his measure but by universal law whenever I located him he’d left an hour before. And so I called him Heisenberg because he proved to me the essence of that Principle we call Uncertainty.
*Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a key principle in quantum mechanics. Very roughly, it states that if we know everything about where a particle is located (the uncertainty of position is small), we know nothing about its momentum (the uncertainty of momentum is large), and vice versa.
THE LATE BLOOMING OF HARRIET MILNE
Harriet, a slender and tallish woman elegantly attired in deep mourning, positions herself in front of the mirror in and unpins her hat.
‘Fifteen years,’ she observes to Emmie, her brother’s pretty young wife. “It is a long time to be married. I am afraid I have grown rather used to it. I cannot give the whole business up. Arthur had his faults, it is true, but now I find I miss him. I have placed an advertisement in the Oakleigh Gazetteer. I mean to marry again.’
Emmie’s eyes widen and she blushes to the roots of her hair. Harriet’s boldness is shocking but it is also exciting.
‘You can’t possibly mean it,’ says Emmie.
‘Oh, but I do.’ There is a stubborn line to Harriet’s mouth and a pugnacity about the tilt of her chin.
Emmie and Bertie spend the evening in the parlour. Emmie sits with her head bowed over the delicate fabric of her embroidery. From the startling, scarlet platform of a nodding, full-blown poppy a blue and emerald butterfly is poised to take flight. As she counts threads, she thinks about Harriet and muses on their conversation earlier. Then, without understanding why, she repeats it to Bertie.
Eventually Bertie ceases his bluster and recovers his composure.
‘My sister,’ he says, ‘is quite mad.’ He continues in a calmer, more reflective tone. ‘Arthur, God rest him, was a rough sort of chap but he took her warts and all. More to the point, she needed a man who could keep her in line. Then there was the question of income., of course. If things had come to the worst, Arthur had the money to look after her. Harriet has a wild streak, a dangerous kind of madness. As a younger woman once or twice she had to go away for her health.’
Emmie is shocked by his manner of speaking but she asks no more questions, resolving instead to raise the matter with her friend. She does not have long to wait because Harriet comes calling the very next morning. Her cheeks are flushed from the briskness of the walk and she is all over dewy and damp.
‘Isn’t the rain wonderful?’ she says. Her brown eyes are shining and her hat is on askew as she fumbles with the buttons of her rain coat.
‘Thank heaven’s Bertie’s out,’ observes Emmie who is unsettled by her sister-in-law’s excitement. She takes the proffered raincoat and hangs it on a hook.
‘Oh, Emmie,’ gushes Harriet breathily, ‘you won’t believe what has happened.’
‘In that case we had better sit down and have some tea. Come with me to the kitchen. Annie is away to the market. Bertie is demanding a nice pair of kippers for his tea.
Against the possibility of Bertie’s return, they retire to Emmie’s little sewing-room. It is a clutter of fabrics and unfinished projects but it’s a place where Emmie feels comfortable. She even has permission to light a small fire.
‘Now,’ she says, ‘tell me your news. Later, I have something to ask you. Shall I be Mother?’ Emmie lifts the pot.
Harriet’s workman-like, nail-bitten fingers tremble as she lifts her teacup.
‘I have received a reply to my advertisement,’ she says. ‘His name is Charles Thomas Ingle, a bachelor in his forties and a solicitor by profession. Athough,’ she adds guardedly, ‘perhaps not the very best sort.’
Emmie’s brow furrows but Harriet continues briskly. ‘It is is an excellent opportunity and I mean to have him if I can.’
‘What will Bertie say?’ Emmie says. She is impressed by this show of independence
‘I don’t care what he says. May I have another cup of tea?’
Harriet agrees to show Emmie the letter but will not allows her to read it. Written on superior cream-coloured paper, it was the work of a confident hand.
‘Why can’t I read it? I could help you decide.’
‘Parts of it are racy,’ replies Harriet, colouring. ‘Anyway, I don’t need help.’
Harriet Milne and Charles Thomas Ingle are married a mere fortnight later. Harriet is radiant in dove grey. Emmie braids pink rosebuds in her friend’s still luxuriant hair. Bertie is there, too, very red in the face in the company of a pasty-faced policeman. When the officer explains there is nothing he can do Bertie rages and fumes
Emmie, smart in a tailored navy suit, is there as Harriet’s witness. She stands on the steps of the Registry Office and waves her sister-in-law off. She never does discover if Harriet was truly mad or whether Bertie was just being spiteful. The morning after Harriet’s wedding Emmie packs her bags and slips away.