Gaps~~by Mark Huntley-James

Not too long ago, we watched a documentary on Japanese art, which highlighted negative space as one of the key concepts, the unmarked paper around the subject, enhancing and defining, creating detail from nothing.

Recent events and anniversaries have drawn my attention to some of the negative spaces in my life. Perhaps those gaps help to define me, and they are most certainly empty spaces left, but the are far from being unmarked paper.

As I write this, it is almost exactly twenty-nine years, to the hour, since Grandpa Stepney died, forty-four years since Grandpa James died, and almost twenty-four hours since our cat Oatmeal had to be euthanised by the vet.

There are plenty of gaps in my life, but those three will do for the moment.

It’s also eighty-one years since Grandpa Huntley died, but that was more than two decades before I was born, and leaves no sense of a defining gap.

Grandma and Grandpa James lived just around the corner when I was a kid, and were the go-to baby-sitters for myself and my sister, but Grandpa James was also the one who would take us to the park, and most importantly of all, he was the one who taught me how to ride a bicycle. Honestly, my memories of those times are patchy at best – ignoring the no cycling signs at the park, pedalling around the big concrete circle which I suspect was once the bandstand, and the magic moment when I no longer needed the training wheels. And then there was his tiny back lawn which he trimmed to create a road layout, with a junction and pole with three tin cans containing candles to be the traffic lights, blowing them out and lighting them as needed.

Grandpa James has been gone a long time, and the gap is small and faint, but it’s still there, outlining a part of my childhood.

Grandma and Grandpa Stepney lived in Sussex, a half a day’s drive away, and we would visit for Easter, and perhaps a week or two over the summer. Grandpa Stepney introduced me to his shed where he taught me how to solder and do basic wiring. I got to learn to use a drill and a file, although not quite to the exacting standards of his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.

By the time Grandpa Stepney died, I already had my PhD in physics, in part due to him letting me loose in his shed to poke things around and understand how they worked.

As for Oatmeal, the gap is immediate and obvious. For the first half hour of the day I had a nagging sense that I had forgotten to do something, which was to give him his medication, and I am sure that it will be weeks or months until I stop checking before stepping round a corner in the house, because he always slept in the most inconvenient places – doorways, just around a corner, or perhaps on my shoes.

Now that Oatmeal is gone, I shall need something new to write about, because as my partner pointed out today, Oatmeal gets more entries in my blog than the other three cats combined. I’m not sure how exactly Oatmeal has defined and shaped me, aside from the physical impact of six kilos of cat, but the gap is there, wide and uncomfortable and unlikely to get shaded in any time soon.

I think perhaps those painful gaps in my life follow the style of the Japanese art in the documentary – you can pick out the spaces and try to identify what they mean, but that loses the totality of the picture.

My gaps have to be taken as a part of the whole, memories and experiences sketched in with the pencil of life, soft lines and hard shadows, variously blurred and faded with time.

As the automated voices on the London Underground will tell you, please mind the gap.


OMP Admin Note:  Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS  ) – and is working on a third. His contribution to the One Million Project: Fantasy anthology is While We Were Sleeping.

He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


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