Anita Dawes – Scarlet Ribbons

Crossing the English Channel on the magic carpet was one of the best journeys of my life, everyone should travel this way! I usually suffer from motion sickness in most modes of transport, but not this time. It was like being in a dream, and I found myself flying over France in no time at all.

Ailsa was standing on the doorstep of Bingergread Cottage, waiting for me with a cat in her arms and a sweet little dog at her feet. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny, so we decide to sit outside in the fresh air to talk.

As this was a ‘meet and greet’, I was prepared for all sorts of questions, like why I had become a writer, so I was surprised when all Ailsa said, was “Tell me who you are…”

This threw me completely off guard, and I found myself thinking, just who am I?

Sometimes I think I’m like a sponge, sucking up everything, then throwing it back out as something new. Mostly, I live inside my head, watching people go past my window. I give them all new identities, new lives, and then I write about them.

I wrote Scarlet Ribbons at a time when I was obsessed with where the mind goes when it retreats from our world. I imagine it must be like dreaming, but a dream you cannot come back from. And I love the song Scarlet Ribbons. I usually have a song in my head when I write, for it seems to help the process somehow. The lyrics create the characters, and before I know it, they are busy writing the story for me.

At 71, I’m still searching for the Holy Grail, that special something that will explain so much and make everything clearer. I love the unknown and the mysterious. I collect stones and rocks and love dark, rugged places. I often know things I shouldn’t, and my kids call me a witch.

(Don’t we have a lot in common, Anita? AA)


Scarlet Ribbons

Maggie is a typically happy, self-centred and complacent woman. She thinks she has a perfect life, a devoted husband and a lovely home.

She has no idea that fate has other plans for her. And when a car loses control and mows her down, leaving her in a coma, her life changes dramatically in an instant and she finds herself in another world.

A world where she rescues a sad neglected and abused child from a violent situation, but when it looks as though she will wake up in her own world, she has to find a way to bring the child back with her.

Is this other world real, or was she only dreaming, locked in the prison of her coma?

If it is real, can she save this child?

Excerpt from Scarlet Ribbons

I could still hear June talking, her voice just a whisper somewhere in the back of my mind like an angry bee. Somehow I knew it was a lifeline. As long as I could still hear her, I wouldn’t lose contact with the real world, my world.

I wanted to pull myself back to hear what she was saying, but there was something more urgent pulling me forward, past the darkness, towards strange streets and houses I’d never seen before. The kind of streets you wouldn’t want to live in.

Except for timely reminders on the television news, it would be easy to believe they didn’t exist anymore. No graffiti-laden walls and children playing among the rubbish but I could smell the dirt and decay. It didn’t seem to bother them; they played happily around the broken furniture. Water-stained mattresses became springboards for some imaginary game.

Why was I being shown these poverty stricken urchins with clothes that hardly covered their bodies, covered in dirt that looked as if it had been baked on their skins for months?

It was like watching a slow moving film. The houses looked old, worn and neglected; as if no one cared anymore about the way they lived. I’d seen enough. Let me go back to the hospital. Leave me alone. I don’t believe any of this, it’s not real.

I felt my body being shaken, the way I’d seen mothers do, to make sure the child knew the seriousness of whatever they’d done wrong.

As I continued along the street, I could hear people talking inside their homes; mostly conversations of despair. They looked as worn and beaten as the houses they lived in. I was beginning to feel like a peeping tom. I tried to concentrate on June’s voice, wishing I could turn the volume up, but it was no use. She remained a tiny buzzing sound at the back of my mind.

I was being forced to spy on these people and kept asking myself why what was I supposed to see?

That’s when I heard raised voices, a man’s voice, hard and cruel without emotion, and a woman is crying. I could see a small face in an upstairs window pressed against the dirty glass; the face of a girl no more than eight or nine, with dark curly hair and huge fearful brown eyes. Her tears had left white tram lines through the dirt on her face.

She appeared to be looking straight at me, and for a moment there was a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach as I wondered if she could really see me. Why wasn’t she playing outside with all the other children?

The row coming from the rooms below was changing. The woman had stopped crying and was screaming back at a rather large, flabby man in a dirty, ragged vest that might have been white once. His stomach hung over the top of trousers that were held up by a black leather belt he was in the process of unbuckling. Yelling at the woman to shut her mouth or he’d let her have it.

She continued to scream at him, and I heard my own voice shouting at her to be quiet. I could feel the breeze that pulled the torn curtains half way across the open window, blocking the man from my view. I heard the slap of leather against skin and the woman fell to her knees.

Her scream filled my head with anger, and for a moment she was quiet, her hands covering her face to stop the belt from leaving its mark there. Red welts were appearing on her bare arms.

Neighbours stood on their doorsteps, listening, doing nothing.

I wanted to go back to the hospital but was forced to stand and listen to the sound of leather striking skin. I wanted to scream at the neighbours to help, but I was without a voice in this world. Yet, in my own world I know I’d have hidden away from the troubles of others, needing only Jack. Why now did I feel the need to interfere?

I looked up at the small window above the front door, at the child’s face. Eyes so dark, filled with such sadness. I wanted more than anything to hold her, to wipe the tears from her eyes. To tell her she would never again have to shed tears of sorrow, only joy.

But this was no fairy tale, no happy ending to be so easily written. This was really happening. The pain so visible on the child’s face came from somewhere deeper than the sounds of a mother’s anguish. The child was being tormented too.

I felt the pain and shame of it, almost as if it were my own. Could I help her? If so tell me how I heard myself scream at the darkness.

But no answer came.

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