I love my family. I marvel how I managed to produce two delightful people, my children, Dan and Amy, with my husband of course. My lovely, hardworking, generous husband. But, and it’s a big one, sometimes I want a moment to myself. It might be a quiet coffee on the terrace over looking our sun drenched back yard or after the rain when the colours sparkle like jewels. Or when I put the dinner on and I have a spare ten minutes while dinner simmers or marinades.
“Mum, can you read a story?” Amy, tall and sandy-haired, like her father.
“Amy, I’m having a moment.”
“I’ll get Dan?”
I sigh and guilt gets the better of me. They won’t always want to me to read them a story, my inner-mother bleats. “Yes, get Dan.” And the time labeled mine drifts into the evening breeze.
Later as the house is blanketed in hush, I lie on my back staring at a ceiling I cannot see but know is there. At last, this is my time.
“Cath, you awake?”
And because I cannot pretend, because I am an honest woman, I reply, “Yes,” very sweetly.
It wasn’t always like this. Before Dan and Amy when Bill was away on courses I hated those silences. I filled them with noise: television, music, radios. My life had no stitching without this incessant babbling or crooning. I don’t recognise that woman now.
I work in a busy office. My job has shrunk in importance since I had children while Bill has been promoted to Head of Year at the school where he works. I’m no longer in the city, making deals, finding companies to negotiate, one larger one swallowing up the smaller. A merger, as two minds fuse together. Or two bodies, like a marriage.
Now I work for a small company, Opulent Realty, who sell high-end resort units to the rich and infamous. Possibly to the CEOs of the merger corporations I used to deal with. I tackle the legal end of things. It’s still a merger of type to me. Rich people swallowing up areas of land and property, property that the locals couldn’t afford after a lifetime of living here. I try not to be bitter or cynical. I’m an interloper too, and I need the cash.
What of my merger? My marriage to Bill. Conjugal, co-joined, partners in life. When he gets home from work his day is done. He pours himself a gin and tonic and waits for me to arrive, chasing my tail, the kids in tow after I’d picked them up from their daycare mum. I send them up to their rooms for music practice whilst I start dinner, in my suit, chopping vegetables, searing meat and preparing rice or couscous. I juggle with pots and pans, whisks and basters. At times I feel that’s exactly what I do. Throwing one pan higher than the rest, turning around and catching it, perhaps between my teeth. The crowd calls out for more.
Bill sits in his chair, The Australian in one hand and his glass in the other. His sandy hair falls across his eyes, his face smiles. I’m waiting for the day when he asks me to re-fill his glass, whilst I’m up. I think it crosses his mind, I’ve seen him look up hopefully and then look down again.
I heard a joke the other day. A son asks his mother why brides wear white. “To show purity,” his mother replies. He doesn’t understand what this means but his mother is busy so he asks his dad who answers, “all kitchen appliances are white, son.”
Not, I have decided, a funny joke and hopefully not an accurate one but it makes you think, we daughters of feminists, when a joke like that is still in circulation.
My mother had it all but she never had a moment to herself. Out every night for yoga or classes at uni, in the name of freedom. She didn’t seem free to me. I think time means freedom. Time to get lost in, the time we had as adolescents which even then I suspected might be as good as it got. I yearn for quiet, save for the sound of nature.
I press the blender button to make a puree to bake the meat in. Mechanical whirring, these kitchen appliances were invented to give us more time not make us slaves to them. We take them apart and wash them up, scrubbing laboriously at some small metallic part you can’t quite reach.
“Mum, I need help to make a costume for our play.”
“When is it, darling?”
“Ah. And what part are you playing, Dan?”
“An octopus, Mum.” That radiant smile, the belief that mum can do anything.
“Er, right, let’s see. We’ll need newspapers and green paint.”
After dinner the three of us, Dan, Amy and myself, make papier mache whilst Bill watches the news. The English teacher who seldom helps with our children’s homework although he is better qualified. While I see the symbolism between the octopus and me, the working mother, with all those arms in the air.
“Wasn’t there an interview with that writer you like on tonight?”
I use my forearm to wipe glue from my face. “Not to worry, I’m sure they’ll repeat it.”
Once the kids are in bed, I pour a glass of wine and join Bill on the sofa.
“It’s nice to see you relaxing.”
“You could get involved now and again, Bill.”
“But you’re so good at it.” He drapes his arm round my shoulders and kisses the top of my head. I want to retort that I just get on with it but Bill’s moved on, laughing at a comedian on the television and I’m too tired to make a fuss.
The next morning as we’re rushing out the door Dan shrieks, “One of my tentacles has fallen off,” his freckled face shiny with tears.
“Seven-tentacled octopuses are very rare.”
Dan stares at me, tyring to decide whether I’m lying or not. I hold my breath.
“I’m a special octopus!” As my grinning child heads for the car wearing his costume, his mother prays that the other tentacles will hold.
Amy looks at me in exasperation, winding chewing gum around her fingers. “That was so lame.”
“Shush. Your brother’s happy.”
As the only parent in the office I often get called upon for extra duties. The fathers don’t get asked, they’re not the ones who take days off when their children are sick or help with homework on week nights. I often feel like a hamster in stilettos running round my wheel. If a cake is required to celebrate someone’s birthday, it’s me who’s asked to bake it. As if I am an earth mother who bakes and cooks, makes underwater creature outfits at a moments notice, who is also a manager who churns out legal documents for satisfied customers but can still find time to pop round to Zoe’s when she not feeling well, with a card from the office, signed by everybody, even Cliff the security man.
I remember what it’s like to dash home, have a quick shower, put on my make-up using the rear view mirror when the traffic slowed. Going to meet friends at a bar in town or a blind date with someone called Simon. Actually that was a disaster. Simon’s mate had got his wires crossed. He wasn’t expecting a stumpy size 14 who couldn’t get up on the bar stool without a leg-up from a very disappointed Simon.
On Thursdays I work a half day in lieu of Saturday mornings. A lot of my negotiations happen on a Saturday, the only time the Captains of Industry or Women of Substance have time to getaway. Usually on these Thursday afternoons I grocery shop or collect dry cleaning. Once in a while I’ll pop into the bottle shop and stock-up on wine and gin. I have five hours to myself.
Five whole hours. Five whole hours I’m starting to think that I may be wasting. Surely there must be something I could do for me? Time on the beach with a cheap novel? Visiting art galleries or shops filled with over-priced objet d’art. What if I rented a room in one of the resorts? I could spend some time on my own, no distractions, lie on plumped up pillows in a colour coordinated room. Close my eyes and let my mind fly. I could meditate or imagine myself floating in a boat on a river. Light a scented candle and bask in solitude.
Thursday at twelve I left the office and arrived at Saltair Resorts & Appartments at 12.20pm.
“Good afternoon, Madam.” A sunny blonde with bright red lipstick smiled widely at me.
“I’d like to rent a room for the afternoon.”
Skye, her name badge reads, she looked at me raising an eyebrow.
How I longed to say, ‘It’s for me and my young lover to go at it like rabbits.’ “For work…I…I’m a writer. I’m a writer and I need my solitude.”
She gave me an exorbitant figure which I assumed included the young lover. I paid and she passed me a key. Only they’re not keys these days, they’re cards. Cards which flash red and green in the lock and sometimes give out a weak beeping noise.
The room resembled an over-decorated prison cell. Pastel coloured art-works of flowering meadows and a still life involving a watering can and a pair of gardening gloves. The view was over the roof of the shopping centre.
I took my candle from its tissue paper wrapping, I’d even remembered to buy matches. I put the votive glass down on one of the bedside tables and lit it. I climbed onto the bed and let out a big sigh. I lay on plumped up pillows in the soundless room. No buzzing or whirring machinery, no constant chatter. Just me in a room with nothing to think about. Bliss.
And for a few moments I drowned in that bliss. The clock radio on the bedside cabinet declared the time to 12:40, rudely in red. Four hours until I had to make the journey to pick up Dan and Amy. I looked up at the ceiling. It was laid with tiles that looked like carpet but you could tell they weren’t. They must have a name, probably something with eco in it, Tileco or Eco-Tiles. How ridiculous. I didn’t spend all that money to stare at a ceiling and play guess the name of the ceiling tile.
12:45. I close my eyes and I’m lying on the boat, floating while I drag one hand in the water. It feels cool to the touch. Do I have a cushion under me? I think I must do otherwise I would be too uncomfortable. I pretend to open my eyes and watch a fictitious sky dotted with the clouds as if from a child’s picture book. All is peace and tranquility. Now what? I mean solitude is all very well but what happens next? Nature abhors a vacuum, right?
Damn and blast. It’s me, isn’t it? Something is wrong with me. My eyes are wide open, the room is still neat and decorated in pale peaceful lavender. Why then do I want to scream?
12:53. I should try crossing my legs and chanting. Joining two fingers in each hand in a circle and draping them on my knees. Ooooommmmm. Oooooommmm.
It reminds me of one of the school mums who wears a sarong to pick up her child. Dan took me to one side and begged me never to do this. Sarong woman’s child is called Elderflower or Paprika, something awful. The mum has a flowing mane of golden frizz which leads to me to think of her armpits. She’s a stranger to deodorants.
By 1:05 I’m in tears. The thing I have longed for, which almost defines me as a mother, is time. Time and peace and quiet. Now I have it I find it boring. Does that mean I have spent years with my children, wishing I was somewhere else, for no reason? Does that make me a bad mother?
I sob loud and messy for five minutes. My body is consumed with jerks and jangles. When I eventually stop my body hums from the intensity but it feels good. I had expected to have come undone by the grief, grief for lost time, lost moments, moments when I didn’t give of myself completely.
I leave the room at 1:30 and drop the keys at reception. Skye looked at my face. I realised my eyes must be red and my cheeks blotchy. “They don’t all have happy endings.” I grin at her.
Home is quiet except for next door doing a spot of hammering and a baby crying somewhere. I phone Bill.
“No, there’s nothing wrong. Please could you pick up the kids today?”
I take out a take-away menu from the kitchen drawer, pour a glass of wine and sit in Bill’s chair, my feet on the ottoman. So that’s what it feels like.