Embroidery in Childhood


“Empathise with the maelstrom,” he would cry through the tenement windows, flying down concrete steps five at a time, hammering on doors, howling through keyholes, careering through grim corridors dripping with garish sprayed on colour and tangled tricolour streamers. “Empathise with the maelstrom; we’re freemen of this city!”

Flashing blue lights, amid the dashing dancing neon, reflected in broken glass windows, searchlights, lighting the grey concrete towers as hamstrung youths caught in the headlights wait to be rescued by a saviour in blue jeans. But he was more than a saviour. He would scream, “You want me! You can have me; we’ll charge the happy lot of us,” rallying his support in front of police lines.

Robert Catesby used to live for the glittery gentry, the kingfisher blue stripes over authentic black, garter stars plucked out of trees and woven over broken hearts, and all the ribaldry of the court. Cigarette always in hand, he was the kind of man who dressed in Savile Row but had tattoos on his arms. The often told tale which surrounded his name involved the evening when breezy through self-narcotizing and at the point when the pressures of the penalties lie softer on the conscience, he had walked through The Borough courtyard and spying The Protectors fabled sundial, had walked over to it, clasped its face to his chest and screamed “sceptre and crown must tumble down,” throwing it to the ground, smashing the workings to pieces, before lighting a cigarette and walking on. No one pointed a figure at him, an underling took the blame.

Robert was handsome certainly so, with dark looks, Stuart looks, thick black hair cropped on him of course, as was the fashion of his day, but he brought to mind still that royal prince who had sheltered in the oak all those many years ago. Black hair over dark eyes, shadows light, yet present, pencilled in below them. For all his thirty years his face was strangely unmarked, he had cried only once in his adolescence and early life and prolonged crying, prorogued for however long, does tend to crease the face prematurely, beginning the steady cauterisation of youth. There was in many ways something of the angel undefaced about him, accompanied with the necessary sense of feigned innocence, how long it would last was of course anybody’s guess, but it had already lasted longer than it should, or feasibly could, knowing that features have to give into indignity sooner or later.

Catesby stood for little, only himself and whoever merited his passing fancy at the time, that and the rising of the sun in the morning and the stretching of the early evening into the deepest, deepest night. He would, perhaps, have fought for everlasting night if he could have, but he would never have risked the unpopularity doing so could cause and the debate which would no doubt ensue, he did not like debate, nor the fracture necessary to provoke it. Robert did though strongly believe that beauty was made and not formed, sculpted and crafted, not forged and collected. He believed that love was a fuel, that better wisdom would always out do a worse kind, and that happiness, however pure, was always fleeting.


She had grown into putting her cigarettes out in empty beer cans and denounced embroidery as the skill which had stole away her childhood. Mescaline and chess pieces, ash trays and ravaged spoons, scattered over cloth and thread, half sowed scenes of sun-lit skies and mythical heroes would need blue thread to complete you would think, but she saw things differently, amid the thimbles and the coffee dregs, the needles and the spools. She thought of Catesby as little as she could, which means she never stopped. He had not treated her terribly, he loved women well, but he never had the wherewithal to stay in one place too long.

Emma thought of her aforementioned mutineer, before pushing the needle through the skin, knotted in the end, colours flowing over hands and up her arms, drifting over the sides of the chair and into the empty fireplace, darn given wings, her head being told that air was no longer her necessary element. The needle turned upwards and then u-turned in the flesh, then dug downwards again, and deeper this time, the colour transported within and released, layered down and knotted up. She fell backwards and laughed.

Nerves were her problem, Catesby could talk them away, but you had to get through the curtain first. She had once stood in front of him, torn in two with trepidation, feeling as if her entire front had been ripped clean off, bearing every bone and organ, every sinew, her heart beating too, valves and flesh, something so biologically crude, yet so complex in psychological and emotional worth, bared to all, with a white banner bearing his name pinned across it, like a sash over cupid.

She never considered them to be together, only ever together when they were together and that is all she could hope for. “I could write to you,” she would tell him, “but you’re never in the same place long enough, you are in my life when I see you, and when you’re not, you’re nowhere, no moments in passing, no seconds passed to me in a doorway. The only way I know you’re still alive is through the streamers hung from the windows, the coloured ribbons worn in hair and the hope in eyes that relief is near and the knowledge that that relief is vested in you.”

Colour had become the calling card of the Catesby troupe, in recognition of their patron’s erasable sense. Sometimes supporters would hang coloured ribbon from their balconies, over crumbling terracotta or scatter their paths with coloured confetti. Sometimes a person’s allegiance to Catesby was obvious, violently coloured dyed hair for example, or keeping the constant company of a retinue of garishly dressed dancers. Sometimes for political expediency and general safety, expressions of support would be expressed in tokens rather than statements and yet they were statements of intent nonetheless, a red coloured handkerchief folded in a top pocket for example, or the tip of a cigarette dipped in blue.

Catesby was aware of this, but he acted oblivious, he was the opaque but salient figurehead of a movement waiting for him to make a move. And at his signal, so they hoped, the masses, decked out in their colour, the bright shades of every colour imaginable, would rush from their homes gathering in union and assembly as they went, defacing every symbol of the present regime, destroying everything it had touched, or created, or moulded, for good or for ill.


The cabal, shadowy figures who held meetings at the riverside and in unused corridors, Dukes and Earls, blue bloods all, who despised usurpers who had climbed instead of appeared, looked upon Catesby’s empty flamboyance with disgust. The cabal had taken to wearing all black, puritan black, with thick black eye shadow and cloaks covered in black swan feathers, which gave the impression of silhouetted wings when the wearers walked. They celebrated the catholic mass, in a place where it was firmly banned and corresponded in broken Latin, at the risk of their own stations, but privacy was more important. Catesby was their target, his death the pre-occupation of their days.

Fighting against his own erratic disposition while trying to live up to the brash associations of his nom de plume, Catesby lived at an irrepressible speed. In the days before his fall he would run through the porticos and halls of the court screaming Latin mottos and shouting for her. Catesby tended to wear red,differing shades of course, with Garter blue strung across him tight, like the marker on a tail fin. He knew there was something special about her, the embroidery, the task which had become her obsession, motherly and tame to most, was for her a floral skin weaved over explosions and dirt.

Catesby touched her face and then withdrew, imams whispering in the early morning breeze from white and sculpted poles in the sky. She picked up a loaded needle lying across a blue china plate on the bedside table, china firmly stuck on the table top to sticky spilled drink and red wine rings, and passed it to him. Catesby took a line of chord and tightened it around his upper arm and dug the needle in deep.

He passed through a curtain of coloured streamers, gentleman atop poles screaming through megaphone mouth pieces, the backcloth yellow, like the sun at its strongest. He put his arm up across his face to shield him from the light, but it did no good. The air was laced with glass, tiny particles of glass, you could see them through the ether, the sun catching their sides, floating like chaff put up to pierce the skin. It hurt to breathe. It stung to breathe. But he walked on, his spurs clicking upon the blue painted ground.

As he walked on the glass turned to confetti, drifting through the air, falling on his shoulders and gathering in his hair. The men screaming atop their poles turned to angles and Icarus hit the sun like an airplane hitting a skyscraper, but the sun didn’t even whimper, no, it burned stronger on his fight. Coloured banners fell from rails, emboldened and embroidered, beautiful in their blues and greens and yellows, colourful and knitted banners thrown from window ledges and over trellises covered in poison ivy and flowers in something beyond bloom.

Catesby was being taunted by a revolution that was simply not his, not brokered or organised or conceived by him, but thrown upon his person by a populace, and figures of better power, intent on him being the man to deliver them from their present, to a better life. Everywhere and way he turned he saw colour, beautiful colours, colour so joyous to most, to Catesby became painful and hurtful to his beautiful eyes, sculpted, formed and created as they were to receive colour in all its young and gorgeous glory. “I want nothing more than peace and quiet,” Catesby yelled,” to hold my son by his hand and live out my life naturally.”

The cabal gathered in an ill lit corner, the blackness of their costume making them impossible to see in the darkness of the periphery, apart from the rising and falling of the bellowed red embers of their cigarettes, fed and sustained by the breath which failed so to do for them. Their garter stars sparkling in the sunlight as they stepped into the sunshine and approached Robert.

“You live on fresh air Catesby!” one shouted, “It’s the only thing which sustains you!” They formed a circle around him and a bell tolled for every Catesby heartbeat. The bell stayed steady and monotonous. “Breathe in the glass Catesby let it cut you up!” Another shouted “see any colours now Catesby?” “Just look at the Stuart looks crumble!”

“Look at you all!” Robert snapped back, “rampaging around Fort Belvedere for the abdicated crown!” He coughed, suddenly and violently, and struggled to catch his breath, but he went on, ”well, perhaps there are diamonds in the waterpipes gentlemen, perhaps there is oil in our fingertips and iron ore in these bricks!”

She cradled him in her arms, but she did not scream or cry out. He made no attempts to breathe and she made no attempts to make him. He had gone. Something had left him and it was more than life. His face seemed different, his strong features, once sculpted and brave, were now blunt and suppressed, his dying expression pained, like something had been ripped from him forcefully, and although he had tried to hold on, he had found, much to his surprise, that he couldn’t quite. She closed his staring eyes and cried finally, tears falling down her cheeks and onto his, “Sleep, my darling sleep,” she whispered, “you’re still going to be what we want you to be, empathise with maelstrom, make everybody free.”

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