VIOLET AND SILVER

Violet and Silver came joint first in The Global Short Story Competion (UK) in September 2011.

I like the beach in winter, the cold air biting my naked toes, the water numbing them, like shoving both feet in a snow cone.  People avoid the beach in winter.  It’s a totally different place in January.  School’s out, kids running into the soft blue ocean.  Overweight mothers with angry tan lines, shouting, “Hey, Billy, look after yer sister.”  “No, ya can’t have a bloody ice cream, Jocasta.”

     In summer I come down here dressed in black with my hood up.  My notebook clutched tightly to my chest.  My note book has pictures of coloured kites on the cover, kites against a sharp blue sky.  I write my thoughts in it, my feelings and my plans.  Sometimes when my head and heart are empty I write what I hear.  The clawing of the waves at the sand, the bickering of the gulls, what people say.  “Oy!  Nigel, d’ya want a Chinese burn?”

      “No, I don’t pig-face.”  And people call me the retard.

     But in August it’s just me, my notebook and my frozen toes.

     Mum has stopped asking me if I’m going to school.  Before her words dribbled out like weary water.  Now she is silent.  The silence like empty boxes, all appearance and no weight.  I should love her but I don’t.  I despise her rheumy eyes and her stretchy polyester dresses.  She still drinks, her relationship with discount cider goes back further than her relationship with me.  I hate the odour that pours from her, her badly shaven armpits wetting the fabric of her dress and her washed out bra.  She stinks there too.  She’s hopeless.  You’d have thought giving birth to a fuck-up like me would’ve stopped her drinking.  But everyday she seeks solace in nowhere land earlier and earlier.  These days I can hear her brain screaming for me to leave at 8.00am, my pretence of taking the bus to school going over her head.  She doesn’t spot the clues, how I’m not wearing the uniform.  My saggy bag contains only one book and a pack of cigarettes.  I leave and I know she opens the bottle and pours it into her special glass.  The one I bought back from a school trip to Newcastle a long time ago.  ‘World’s Greatest Mum!’

     Mrs Ellis from junior school told me I was special, that I could sense things others couldn’t.  “You’re as smart as anyone else, Luke.  You’re just wired differently.”

     She didn’t re-assign me to the remedial class, she let me stay in my grade.  When things got too much I could sit at the back of the class and sort the play figures Mrs Ellis had put in a drawer.  Pirates and soldiers, kings and queens in plastic ermine and furs.  I found it hard to concentrate sometimes and my head became muddy, the words fuzzy.  Mrs Ellis understood and because she did, all the other kids played with me.  They didn’t think I was weird.  Because of Mrs Ellis, who smelt of roses.

     On my tenth birthday mum was too drunk to bake a cake for my class celebration.  Mrs Ellis baked one instead.  Double chocolate with a smiley face made out of jelly snakes and smarties.  It was soon after this that Mrs Ellis’s smell started to change.  It was more talcum powder and her breath became metallic.  Not like the angry metal of mum’s breath, it was different.  Her tummy became round and when Mrs Ellis left she gave me her phone number written on a blue piece of paper.  It said, ‘Nina 0407 629333.  Call me if you need a friend’.

     She came back with the baby but I pulled a sickie so I missed her.  I liked her too much to put a fuck-up like me onto her happy life.  I still miss her.

     All that was years ago.  I’m in high school, year 10.  I guess I’ll give up at the end of the year.  There’s not much more they can teach me.  I know how to roll a joint and survive on a dole cheque.  I could get a job packing shelves at ExpressShop, night work.  They pay pretty well and it would leave time during the day to come down here and write about stuff.  Mum used to work at ExpressShop but they binned her when she turned up drunk one day.  The manager, Mr Banks, asked me to come and walk her home.  “Sorry, Luke.  She’s getting too much.”  He felt sorry for me, I reckon he’d give me a job.  

     I don’t feel sorry for myself, things are what they are.  Sometimes I’m sorry for her.  I remember before I started school and she didn’t drink during the day.  She was young, her smooth face and bleached hair were beautiful to me.  She smelt of cherry lip gloss and strawberry shampoo.  She took me to the play park.  She’d sit in the middle of the roundabout and I tried to push her around.  She’d laugh.  It’s been years since I heard that laugh.  And of course she brought me here, to the beach.  She taught me how to skim stones when the water was flat.  She’d tell me of her dreams to fly to another country where the colours were brighter and the language foreign.  She tried to make curry but it turned to black paste in the bottom of the pan, the acrid smell filling our noses.  We laughed and she talked.  Of any place but here. 

     Something happened to her face over the years.  It thickened and became hard.  An alcoholic mask.  It isn’t pretty.  She’s slipped down so low I don’t think she’ll ever climb back up.  I don’t know what goes on in her damaged brain, all I know is that I wasn’t enough for her.

     It’s getting late.  I watch the change in the air as daylight fades.  It’s colder, but it’s thinner too.  And the colours; chocolate box pink meets fountain pen blue.  The sea becomes milk which is drunk by the greedy shoreline and sand the colour of goblets.  She’ll be passed out now.  I’ll make myself beans on toast and take a book to bed.  My favourite book, a travel book with sparkling photographs of India.  I got it from the library, it smells frowsty.

     The door is open when I get home and there’s a strong smell of vomit.  Mrs Pritchard from next door stands in the doorway – a worried frown wearing a housecoat.  “Luke!  Where have you been?  I rang the school.”

     “What’s happened?”  Ice runs through my veins.

     “It’s your mum, love.  Come on, I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

     “Mrs Pritchard…”  My voice doesn’t belong to me.  It belongs to a little man in a racing car, driving too fast. 

     Mrs Pritchard puts a hand on my arm.  “Luke, your mum had a heart attack this afternoon.”

     Is she dead, is she dead?  I see the fear in Mrs P’s eyes.  Is she scared of me, of what I might do?  I’ve seen that look before in my teacher’s eyes and the mothers of my few friends.  But never in my mum’s eyes.  Not even when I got caught nicking cash out of the principal’s desk. 

     “I phoned 20 minutes ago.  She’s critical but stable for the moment.  They have to make sure she doesn’t have another one.”

     The hospital is ablaze with lights.  I can feel them burning my skin, my eyes.  Mum is lying down with electrodes over her chest.  She is wearing one of those hospital gowns, like the one she had worn when she’d had me.  There’s an old Polaroid in a tin in the sideboard.  Mum smiling at the camera, holding a baby.  The smile reaches her eyes.  We are both wearing blue hospital gowns.  I never asked who took that photo, there were a lot of things I didn’t think to ask.

     Mum isn’t smiling now and neither am I.  Mrs P has disappeared but I can hear her voice, a low murmuring, talking to a nurse or a doctor.  I take one of mum’s hands in mine.  It isn’t soft or well looked after.  It doesn’t have painted nails like Mrs Ellis had.  But it’s my mum’s hand and I don’t ever want to let it go. 

     Although the lights are low and it is deathly quiet I start to tell her about the beach.  The colours and the people, the subtle changes of time and season.  Of how most people just see a golden beach and the blue sea but if you look between those colours you can see violet and silver.

     When the words dried up, I look at her face.  The lines have been ironed out and with a shock I remember that she is still a young woman.  Her name is Mary and she never knew her parents.  She had been raised in a children’s home.  She tried to tell what went on there but she could never finish as she gave way to sobbing.  I don’t want her to die without having known happiness.  I will try to be a better son, if there is another chance.  I’ll spend more time with her, I’ll help at home.  Make sure she’s eating. 

     A young nurse appears, hair scraped back off a face without make-up.  “Don’t stop.  It will calm her, hearing your voice.”

     When my head and heart are empty I take out my notebook from under my jacket and I read to mum, my thoughts, my feelings and my plans.  I think of the beach where I had hidden from her, where I pray I can take her again as she had taken me, a long time ago.

Advertisements

THE MUMMY WARS

Before I had children I thought women could be competitive. In the work place, with boyfriends. Wanting to be the prettiest in the room. Things settled down in my late twenties. My female friends became supportive, we could all attract our own boyfriends, and we didn’t need to pinch other women’s. All was lovely in the garden.

Then I got pregnant.

Something started to change, although in the late nineties things weren’t too tough. We’d lived through the battle of the formula bottle and we knew that smoking could harm our babies. But the odd glass of plonk was no problem, was it? Coffee and cocoa-cola? Sure. Sit on the sofa eating Jersey Caramels until your stomach sank and heart burn hit you in the chin. Perk of pregnancy. Cushty.

Then I got pregnant again.

The whole world changed. No coffee, alcohol, smoking or cocoa-cola. No nuts, no sugar, no having fun. Although you could go for a curry, have sex and talk about it openly. And now just off the press, no elective caesareans. Try as a might I was never going to pop one out to the sound of whale music. The inflatable birthing pool was only going to be used in the garden come the summer. Strictly for the kids. Drugs? I was in so much pain that had the baby been a girl I would have called her ‘Epidural’.

Then came breast feeding. Now despite being hopeless at the giving birth thing (failure to progress) this I could do. I really think the word failure should be removed from the notes of new mothers. They have a tendency to cry. Loudly. Breast feeding was easy for me but I have close friends who suffered at the hands of patient nurses, and well meaning relatives who should have just headed for the supermarket and loaded up the trolley with formula. Who said that? Was that me? I know that nature has us squatting in woodland chewing plants and feeding hungry babies with pendulous breasts, while doing a bit of light cottage gardening but sometimes, for some people, this does not work. Making them cry and endure cracked and bleeding nipples isn’t always best practice.

That lot out the way, it’s now time to roll our sleeves up and get down and dirty. Oh my. I was brought up in the 70s. Thanks Mum! There were no safety gates, childproof lids or those rubber things that stop jagged corners hitting baby’s head. The only safety advice I remember was, “Oi put that down or you’ll have your sister’s eye out.”

And yet we survived, albeit with uneven heads and battle scars. Now it’s different.

The childhood industry is a big one. Plastic locks on kitchen doors which mean not even adults can get in them. Toys sanitised in Dettol twice weekly. I confess I didn’t do this one. I figured my kids would build up a healthy immune system by salivating on anything that didn’t move. And we all know about helicopter parenting. Children being driven from play date to piano lesson. When I was growing up there were months when I only saw my parents when it was dark. The rest of the time I was out there, playing in fields which are now housing estates.

Having a child sent me a bit bonkers. A lot bonkers with the second one but that’s a whole other chapter. When No.1 son was a baby I insisted on all his toys being Lamaze. They were bright, soft and educational. Oh, and bloody expensive. When he reached the age of one and was sitting I scoured the earth for wooden blocks. I could only get them mail order and handmade in those halcyon days of the early 00s. But the point is the energy I put into this search.

I also introduced themed birthdays, to help rellos with their choice of presents for my child. How they must have seethed. For his first birthday it was musical instruments, his second; art. By his third I was eight and half months pregnant with his brother and as long as it wasn’t dead and starting to smell I was fine with it.

Was all this for my child’s benefit, after all he doesn’t remember any of it. I tell him now and he looks at me worriedly, wondering if there’s a support group for this sort of behaviour, scrolling through the contacts on his phone.

Or was it for me and my standing in the mother’s group? Those two words can strike fear in any woman’s heart. In my minds eye I can see myself reclining at a table of harassed women, cigarette in one hand (the stress of raising a child perfectly) and a neat gin in the other (same). “Well of course it’s Lamaze or nothing.” I blow a smoke ring and laugh a husky laugh, while the other mother’s jaws drop in blatant admiration.

That was nothing. You’ve got immunization (or not), organic or regular and are dummy’s dumbing our children down, to wade through. And we haven’t got on to the debate on going back to work and the effect of childcare on our precious Fredericks and Genevieves. Then the room divides like the parting of the Red Sea, with stay at home mothers slinging retorts of Tarquin suffering from lack of self-esteem because his mother works and mums in heels and jackets shouting from the boardroom about how uneducated and boring stay at home mothers are. Wearing baby puke rather than Prada.

I can’t help but wonder if a world where we celebrated our differences would support us better. I’d also like to stop the knee jerk reaction I have to smug and lofty comments from other mums. On facebook or in the schoolyard. On breastfeeding, inoculation and organic produce. You, with your high intentions, bring out the worst in me.

We have to remember that most of us only want the best for our children and we agonise over our choices. We don’t want to be judged. Smugness isn’t a good look but most of us have reveled in it at one time or another. By the way, does anyone want to buy a box of second hand Lamaze toys? Barely used.

 

 

GOING HOME

I wrote ‘Going Home’ a couple of years ago. It was awarded Highly Commended by the CJ Dennis Literary Award 2010.

I don’t like it here.  I’m on display, wheeled out to amuse.  My bed has wheels.  I sit here with my fellow patients, inert with eyes glazed over while doctors in white and nurses wearing horrible floral blouses, their thick calves in flat shoes, stoop to pick up the chart at the end of my bed, make a note and move on.  I cannot see a window from here, only charts and tubes and drooping flowers in jam jars. 

     Propped up by many pillows I can see two women in beds opposite mine.  One without her teeth, the other without her wits.  She thinks she’s given birth and is waiting for a nurse to bring her baby for a feed.

     “He’s such a bonny boy.”

     And I don’t know whether to feel sorry for her or envy her. 

     The curtains are drawn around the bed next to me.  This one only came in this morning and by the sound of her screams I’d guess she doesn’t want to be here.  None of us does, love. 

     I can’t remember who’s visiting me today.  I used to remember everything.  I was a woman with a wide net, friends and colleagues, dreams and aspirations.  Now look at me, a pile of shrinking flesh in an NHS bed.  I’ll never see the man I love in this world again.  I’m not sure about the next world, if there is one.  It bothers me that there might not be, all that darkness stops my breathing, maybe that’s the point of it.  Lights out until eternity, a frightening thought in a Godless world.

     Ben was a beautiful man.  I’ve seen women with their heads on backwards trying to get a look at him.  He didn’t mind that I was plain, except when some girl decided to make a play for him.  Ben hated the rudeness, how they would ignore me, elbow me out of the way.  All because I wasn’t pretty.  It didn’t bother me.  I trusted Ben to say the right thing and I knew I was worth ten of them.  Beauty and brains, we were, in an unconventional way.  That’s not to say I wasn’t without my charms.  I had long legs and thick chestnut hair, wore pencil skirts and Blue Grass perfume.  Whilst here I lay breathing in the smells of cleaning fluids, over cooked vegetables and the nurses sweat. 

     The new woman isn’t making any friends, she’s still screaming.  Her name is Mrs Richardson.  I heard the doctor trying to reason with her.

     “Come now, Mrs Richardson.  We’re not the enemy.”

     No, they’re not the enemy.  The enemy doesn’t have arms and legs and pens in its top pocket.  The enemy is shapeless and dark and spreads like a stain. 

     Ten o’clock, visiting time, she’s always on time and wearing a dress two sizes too small. 

     “Hello, Mum.”  She leans forward and kisses me.  Gawd, look at her.  No one should have a daughter as old as her. 

     “Hello, Kay.  How was the bus trip?”

     She gives me a funny look, doesn’t think I saw it but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.

     “I drove, Mum.  I haven’t been on a bus since 1972.”

     “Of course not.  Breeding ground for germs, buses.”

     “I see you’ve got a new one.”

     “Yes, a screamer this one.  I’m not supposed to get stressed but it’s impossible.  I haven’t seen her yet, I don’t know if she’s our sort.”

     “Mum!”

     “You don’t know what it’s like here.  Her with no teeth…”

     “You mean Lillian.”  Kay likes to keep up with their names.

     “Yes, Lillian, I know what she’s called.  Her husband comes in wearing overalls, stinking of oil.  Not a tooth between them, they share a packet of digestives, sucking them until they’re soft enough to eat.”

     “Hello, Dorothy.  How are we today?”

     Irene, the tea lady, puts down a cup of tea on my tray.  It’s not Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong.  She pats Kay’s hand and smiles weakly, thinks I don’t notice.  I may be old but I’m not dancing with madness yet.

     I used to go dancing with a girl called Rita, Rita Robson.  She could dance, such energy, I couldn’t keep up.  I learnt a lot from Rita, not just how to dance.  She knew a thing or two that girl.  Everyone wore white for their weddings in those days.  Rita wore a scarlet, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress.  Magnificent and five months pregnant. 

     “Mum, do you need help with your meal plan?”

     Kay homes in holding a strip of paper in her rough hands.  Her swollen knuckles are too big for that lovely wedding ring.  My hands were the most beautiful part of me.  Smooth and even now, still white.  I might have done hand modeling if it hadn’t been such an absurd job, advertising coral nail polish or white gold wedding bands.  I used my hands for my job anyway, doing the books for Ben’s coach business, Newcombe’s Travel.  Not a glamorous job but I had my child too.  What blessings they are.

     “Mum?”

     “I’ll have the sea bass with a garden salad.”

     “Fish cakes with peas?”

     “Yes, yes.”

     “Where’s my baby.  He needs a feed.”  The woman opposite is agitated.  A nurse murmurs something under her breath.  I look at Kay.

     “Her name is Mary.”

     “The immaculate conception?”  I suggest.

     Kay laughs discreetly, she does discreet very well.  An overrated sentiment, indiscretion is more fun.

     “How’s Emma getting on?”

     My granddaughter, Kay’s daughter, has recently given birth.  How depressing to be a great-grandmother.  Are we meant to live for so long?  Ben’s mum lived to a hundred and two.  I couldn’t imagine another 15 years of getting up in the morning and going to bed, hoping to make it through the night.  Ben’s mum outlived him.  That’s not natural.  But there was nothing natural about Mrs Ellis.

     A thin woman with a sharp nose, she could sniff out weakness.  I don’t have to tell you that Ben got his looks from his father.  I thought of his mother as a receptacle, the instrument used to give birth to my Ben.  I wish I’d had the guts to tell her this.  Even my mother, and she was a lovely woman, couldn’t stand Mrs Ellis.  She would walk into a room and the temperature would drop a degree.  A dried up witch, she must have had something on Ben’s father.  Why else did he stay with her?  He was a nice man, Stan Ellis, would forgive anyone anything.  Led a dog’s life though.  Sometimes it’s better to forget than forgive.

     “Mum.  You keep dropping off.  I’ll leave you to sleep.”

     I do feel drowsy.  My eyelids are heavy, my head’s slipping this way and that, a line of drool is collecting in the corner of my mouth.  I half-open my eyes to see Kay talking to a nurse, she wipes away a tear.   Why is she crying?  I must ask her when she comes in next.

     The sound of a plastic tray being dumped on my side table wakes me up but for a fragment of a second I reach out for Ben.  He’s not there of course but I rarely wake these days without feeling his presence.

     “Mmm.  Fish cakes, Mrs E.”  Irene, she’s a joker.  I hoist myself to sitting and re-arrange my pillows.

     “Did I miss sherry o’clock?”

     “Yes, dear.  The Queen popped in for a natter too.”

     She’s very efficient for a large woman, swiftly delivering trays, albeit noisily.  I stare down at my fishcakes and wonder if there is any fish in them. 

`     A sadness creeps over me.  I am in bed, the most intimate place a person can be and I am surrounded by strangers.  The curtains next to me have been pulled back.  Mrs Richardson has long hair, dyed black, and tied in a plait.  Her eyebrows are tinted too and her crimson lips are parted in silence.

     “Hello.  I’m Dorothy.”  I leave it at that for the moment.  I don’t want her to start screaming again. 

     Mary has been given a doll, she’s sleeping, holding onto her baby like a lioness.  Her face looks peaceful and is free of the lines that sketch the women in the geriatric ward.  If it wasn’t for Mary’s grey hair and the baby’s ghoulish plastic grin, she could be a new mother.

     I didn’t sleep at all for the first days of Kay’s life, I didn’t want to miss a moment.  The love I felt for her was colossal, it wiped the floor with me.  This ridiculously small creature had driven a road through my existence, where before there had been only fields.  Now my child has a child of her own and her child is a new mother.  We are a daisy chain of only children, all girls.  How I envy Emma for what she is feeling now.  I loved Kay as much as Kay loved Emma but neither of us wanted another.  I couldn’t bear another child pushing in between Kay and I.  She’s an old woman herself now.  It’s time for me to move on, it’s the nature of life.  But I can’t move on, I’ll never be ready, I don’t know how to let go.

     My fishcakes have cooled as I contemplate a meatier subject.  Mrs Richardson has requested the shepherds pie.  She’ll only do it once.  She has lipstick on her teeth and a catheter.  Her eyes, caked with mascara, meet mine.

     “It’s so undignified.  I don’t know how you can stand it.”

     “I wasn’t aware there was a choice.”

     “I was Miss Glamorgan 1952, you know.”

     That explains the make-up in bed.  I think it’s harder for the pretty ones, at least I didn’t have looks to lose as well.   

     “How’s your meal?” 

     “Inedible.  Did you say your name was Dorothy?  I’m Gloria.  Not my real name, I used to do amateur dramatics.  I was christened Joan.”

     “Didn’t do Joan Plowright any harm.”

     “No.  But she wasn’t a looker was she?”  Gloria’s face froze.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean…”

     “Who are you?”  Toothless Lillian barks.

     I raise my eyebrows at my new friend and feel a little less wretched.  The evenings are the worst.  Evenings should be spent with loved ones.  Or at least with choices, of books to read, of wine to drink, soap operas on the telly.  Here in God’s waiting room we know our stories are ending and as far as I can tell, there is no happily ever after.

     Someone is shaking me, I can smell perfume.  “Rita, is that you?”

     “How did you know? 

     I open my eyes.  “Because you’ve worn Joy since rationing stopped.  How are you?”

     “More to the point, how are you?” 

     I pull a face while Rita shoves a bunch of irises messily into a jam jar.  “If the cancer doesn’t get me the boredom will.  I drifted off after breakfast.”

     Rita sits down in the green vinyl chair next to my bed.  Age has consumed her too.  She is dressed in beiges and creams, I miss those vermilions and scarlets.  Rita notices me staring.

     “Do you like it?  I got it at the Oxfam on Dury Street.”

     “Mmm.  So what have you been up to?  I want all the details.”

     “Well not much, Dot, I’m 87 you know.  I’m cloistered in home help and meals on wheels.  It’s just like here but better decorated.”

     “Who’s she?”  Lillian pokes a bony finger at Rita.

     “The Queen of bloody Sheba, love.”

     We laugh until Rita starts coughing.  “Have you seen much of the baby?”

     “I don’t want Emma bringing her in here, all sorts of germs and super bugs.”

     “No, suppose not.  What’s she called her?”

    “Pearl.”

     “What an old fashioned name, I had an Auntie Pearl.  What happened to all those wonderful celebrity names, Betty Kitten and Fifi-Trixibelle?

     “I know.  We’re surrounded by Ruby’s and Lily’s these days.  Dorothy hasn’t made a come back.  The old girl next to me, her name is Joan but she’s done a bit of amateur dramatics and goes by the name of Gloria.”

     “Is she the one with her face on?  I saw her in the television room, holding hands with a dishy looking man.  Must be her husband.”

     “She doesn’t wear a ring.  Perhaps it’s someone else’s husband.”

     “That’s more like it.”

     I find it hard to keep up as Rita chatters on.  Eventually Irene appears with a plate of food as beige as Rita.

     “Guess you want to kick me out now, Irene?”

     “Absolutely.  No guests for lunch.  This isn’t the Savoy Grill.”

    Rita kisses me on the cheek and wanders off.  Even she has slowed down.  Irene deftly delivers lunches to Gloria and Lillian.  She gets to Mary’s bed and stops.  There’s a pause before a cacophony of noises erupt; bells ringing, feet running, the efficient swishing of curtains being pulled.  The pause had seemed louder.  We listen to the jerking sound of the defibrillator and hold our breath in the hope that silence might help.  It doesn’t.  More doctors appear and eventually Mary’s body is taken away on a stretcher.  Later when the curtains are pulled back, her empty bed serves as a warning to us all.  Next to me Gloria cries softly.

     “You didn’t even know her, none of us did.  We could have made the effort, she might have died among friends.”

     “I’m not crying for her.”

     “Death is a shadow.  Always there even if we can’t see him.”  Lillian with her teeth in for a change.

     “What happened to all that time?”  Gloria wipes the tears furiously.

     “I want to go home.”  I think of another Dorothy who wanted to go home.  Was Kansas a euphemism for the afterlife?

     The mood in the ward is tangible, a solid mass of gloom.  None of us ate our lunch, or said much.

     “Hello, Mum.”

     “Kay?  Is it that time already?”

     She sits down.  “Where’s Mary?”

     “She’s gone.”

     “Home?”

     “No, dead.”

     “That’s sad.  Tom’s parking the car, he’ll be up in a minute.”

     “I meant to ask you last time, how’s his retirement going?”

     Kay smiles with her eyes.  “He’s driving me mad.  Doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

     Tom appears, pushing a wheel chair.

     “Who’s that for?”  I notice the bag at Kay’s feet.

     “We’re taking you home.”

     “But… the cancer?”

     “The doctor says old age will probably get you first.”

     I make a silent prayer to a God I don’t believe in and promise not to make too much of a nuisance of myself.  “Was that why you were crying last time?” 

     Kay kisses me on the forehead.  “Let’s get you out of that nightdress, eh, Mum?”

     “I hope you brought my blue dress.”

FILLING THE PAGES

To pick up a book, to smell it’s cover. Whether it is new and shiny, full of the unknown or musty and old. The pages made thin by other peoples fingers. A spill of food here, chocolate usually. Or coffee stains and yellowing pages that have been highly traveled. It’s an invitation to another world. Your feet tread the streets of the writer’s imagination, instead of your own. You can hang around with characters of the author’s creation, drink in their pubs, dine with them at their homes and share their exploits. Be they large or small. You could be in Middle Earth or the dour streets of the mill towns of Northern England in the late 1940s. 

Before I had children I dipped into and grew with my reading pleasure, one book at a time but something happened to my brain after giving birth. It didn’t turn to mush, at least not where reading was concerned, instead it gave me a super power. I now have the ability to read more than one book at a time, to inhabit more than one fictional world. At the moment I am stretching my legs on the London streets of a parallel universe, fishing in the cold Tasmanian waters where a loved one has recently drowned and discovering a town in the US, not far from Seattle, that I hadn’t heard of before. I am an octogenarian, a pre-pubescent boy and a model recovering from a car accident that has changed my face forever. 

I have a dream. It turns up every now and then. I am reading a newspaper or maybe a new novel. Letters dance across the page, excitement grips me. Where are these wonderful words coming from, who is the author? Suddenly I realise. It’s me. I’m creating them off the top of my head. Just like the cartoon character that walks off the cliff, strolling in the air unsupported until they notice the gap below them. That knowledge alone has them tumbling clumsily to the ground. For me when I realise I am inventing the words, and I can do this for a while, sometimes in another language, I’m quite clever in my dreams, the page turns white. As naked as the Emperor when the small boy points at him. Perhaps that’s why I started writing. To fill in those starkly blank spaces. 

I admit I am at best uneasy, at worst distrustful when someone admits that they don’t read fiction. My husband and father are among that number. Once this would have been a guilty admission, followed by an apology. Perhaps a touch to the forelock. “Sorry Ma am. I’m not much for readin’ and tha’.” Nowadays it seems to be a statement of pride, a boast even. As if mere stories are not to be trusted and all fiction writers are liars. 

It’s a fabulous world out there in fiction. Dark stories, fairy tales, erotic fiction. Whatever tickles your tits till Friday. Science fiction, speculative fiction, psychological thrillers. There are genres to please everyone’s tastes. When I’m writing short stories, yeah yeah, I know you knew I would get to that subject, I am immersed in a world of my own making. I’d like to say that I’m in control, calling the shots, telling everyone what to do as only a big sister can. The truth is it’s like tiny slits that gape slightly, giving me a peak into my protagonist’s world. I wander round, sharing tragedy and triumph, occasionally putting the kettle on. It’s a kind of madness, troweling through the undergrowth where certain wires in my brain are hooked up and somewhat dusty.

Once I win a short story competition or receive an accolade I can no longer re-enter that story to another competition. The stories hang around my hard drive with no one to play with. Next blog I’ll post you one of them and you can let them live, reader by reader. But only if you want to.

 

ONE REASONABLY LARGE LEAP FOR A MIDDLE AGED WOMAN

I’m not totally out of touch with technology, I actually spend a fair amount of time on it. Writing stories, mucking about on facebook. Trying to find out the name of that actor who was married to that tall woman who always wore green, before the husband gets there first. High level stuff really. I would like to say it’s improved me as a person but except for the writing it hasn’t, on any level. But then do I want it to? I won’t do Twitter. I would be living life on line without actually living at all. It’s bad enough that with facebook as funny, poignant and unfair things happen, where I would once smile and look forward to telling the husband, best friend, dodgy cousin. And I still do but ahead of that comes a warm feeling. I can post it on facebook. Fb friends will laugh and cry, even offer advice. It sounds a bit sad when I put it like that.
I have to admit that sometimes (quite often actually) I wake up in the middle of the night and wrack my befuddled brain. After three or four glasses of wine, did I reply to someone’s tragedy or triumph in a scathing, uncaring way? Did I make light of someone’s achievement or share too much of myself? Did I let my real self, the one that rants to the husband without political correctness, out there posting indiscriminately like a mad woman? Up to this time I haven’t actually done that, unless you include the time I joined the P&F at my sons’ school. Leaning tipsily over an email from the president (of the P&F that is) who was braying for new blood. Sipping my second glass of red as I imagined myself being competent and capable, admired by all. People hanging off my wise words as I swept majestically through the school grounds. The experience wasn’t quite like that but they didn’t ask me to leave. At least not straight away.
I have a mobile phone, doesn’t everyone? Perhaps you don’t. My address book is filled with contacts of the husbands. Hardware in our house filters through a hierarchy. Husband, No.1 son and then me. No.2 son would be ahead of me except for the fact he attends a school where technology is eschewed. Finally I have a touch screen phone but I haven’t filled it with my friends and family’s numbers. And it isn’t because I don’t how to enter these details. Alright it is. But there is something freeing about being out there where no one can contact me. Except for those I was fool enough to give my number. Not you, dear reader, obviously. I am always giddy with joy to hear from you.
Getting to the point and yes there is one, I am creeping inch by inch into a virtual world. A new world where I can rant and talk bollocks, practice the art of irony in print. Use it as a platform for a short story or two. Maybe get a few followers that I’m not related to or have blackmailed. I have coffee and chocolate in constant supply and I may be big bottomed but I like to think I am still wide eyed. What do you say? Would you read my blog? I can’t promise anything but I’ll try not to waffle, I’ll endeavour to write meaningful trite and not offend anyone. Technology’s great. You can’t see my eyes dart to the right (or the left), I can never remember which way means I’m lying. You’ll just have to trust me. This is my first blog and new things can be a bit scary. I’m taking it seriously and I won’t be writing it after a few glasses of wine. Not unless you absolutely insist.