Monday, 31 March 2008

In My Mother's Kitchen

In my mother’s kitchen I made chips. I made them by peeling the potatoes with a sharp knife, slicing them into shapes like the hulls of little ships and dropping them into boiling fat. Even then, I knew that too much water from the rinsing or from the starchy stuff that came out was dangerous and would spit at me. I also knew to run the cold tap on my arms when the fat spat on them.

In my mother’s kitchen I fried mince and ate it just before the point when it turned brown. It tasted like a million miniscule rare steaks. I lifted it out with my fingers, scooping it straight into my mouth. Once, the bone-handled knife I had been using to stir the mince caught fire but it went out quite quickly.

In my mother’s kitchen, I licked countless bowls of cake mixture. I loved butter and sugar mixed together, a remedy my Gran used for sore throats. I ate cooking apple peelings dipped in a saucer of sugar. I loved banana and sugar sandwiches with lots of butter. We had Vesta Chow Mein once a week and it was salty and the noodles popped as they dissolved in your mouth. Later, when takeaways arrived in town, we had number 23; Chicken Fried Rice but nothing else. Still, it seemed the height of sophistication. We even had curried mince.

In my mother’s kitchen, there was usually a pot of soup on the cooker. It would stay there and be boiled up each day until it was gone. There was usually some tablet – a Scottish fudge-type sweet made from sweetened condensed milk and sugar - in a metal tray scored into rectangles but which went so quickly never made it anywhere else. It was always covered up by just a tea towel. A tea towel would be used to wrap the huge clooty dumpling whilst it simmered away tied up with string. When it was undone, the wrinkles of the cloth where it had been gathered at the top were ingrained on its spicy, fruity flesh and it would be sliced like a loaf and eaten smeared with butter. My mother would fry hers with streaky bacon for breakfast.

In my kitchen, we eat oven chips, red meat once a week, never eat raw eggs, refrigerate practically everything and restrict our intake of dairy products and salt. It’s a wonder I’m still alive.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Sunday: today's post

I've had a hard day today so Monty is responding to Sarah's prompt in my place.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

We Keep Walking

I’m a dog, OK? Got that? They haven’t. They’ve bought me a coat. A green waxed one that does up with Velcro. Velcro, I ask you! That puts me down there in the fashion stakes with toddlers and old ladies in motorized wheelchairs. And false pockets; the point of them being ....? Firstly, I don’t need pockets. Secondly, they’re on my back so I couldn’t reach them. Thirdly, as I said, they’re false. Absolutely pointless. And they bought the wrong size. They got the XXL because there was a label on it saying ‘Labradors’ amongst others. Tell me, would they go into a shop and buy a coat on the basis that it said it was suitable for humans on the label? No. Exactly. And so it slips because although they’re always watching my weight and I’m not actually as fat as they think. Does that mean that they have an eating disorder by proxy? Being overly concerned about my weight just because it’s all the rage is just too unbearable. Suddenly, they’ve started walking me twice as much as before. Which would be fine except that I’m 91 years old. Well, I’m not 91, I’m only 13 but humans are incapable of understanding this so we constantly have to bring it down to their level of understanding.

So we go for these walks around the neighbourhood. They’re so inconsistent. Sometimes they make me sit at the kerb and wait for non-existent cars to pass by and sometimes, especially if it’s raining, I get whisked across at like a ferret on a piece of elastic to the sound of them shouting ‘Come on, Monty! Be quick!’. I’ve got a friend for whom this command is a euphemism for defecating in the back garden.

Tonight, we went for a walking in the dark and it was raining. Where’s the pleasure in that? And I was made to wear the blessed coat. And yes, it’s the same route we took last night and the night before and it still looks exactly the same. I sniffed at privet hedges and lampposts in the most annoying fashion I could in an attempt to get them to vary the route. When we got back to the front door, one of them said:

‘Have you got Monty’s coat?’

‘No. Isn’t he wearing it?’

These humans are really dumb considering that they can talk to each other.

‘I’ll go back and look for it.’

So he did. He went plodding off in the rain to look for the green waxed coat that had fallen off somewhere onto a dark grass verge. He would get very wet. What he needed was a nice new coat. Waxed, the whole length of his body, false pockets on the back and Velcro around the neck. And when he got caught short, we’d see if he could manage to urinate up a hedge without taking it off.

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Velvet Pouch

It is Mother’s Day and I wake up alone in the bed. George is away on business and I half expect not to get anything from the girls without him there to remind them.

The clock radio has gone off because I like to leave it on at weekends for the sheer decadence of being able to ignore its calling. People are phoning in with dedications to their mothers. There are a couple of messages from soldiers in Iraq and many more local voices all praising their dear mothers. I turn over onto my side and open my eyes. My gaze is drawn to a bag on the floor. Okay, so it’s not beautiful wrapping paper but it’s obviously intended for me. They must have sneaked in earlier and the quiet in the house seemed to indicate that they were allowing me a lie-in.

I reach down for the bag and lift it onto the duvet. I want to savour this moment, to tantalise myself. I love surprises, they know that. I slip my hand through the open end of the paper bag and my fingertips make contact with its contents. It feels like a velvet pouch, its pile stroking against the grain of my fingerprints. It’s quite a big pouch, drawn at one end. There’s no string as such but I can feel delicate threads around the top and two beads. I won’t open it yet. I don’t want to break anything; only something very delicate could demand such a perfectly seamless container so I only give a gentle squeeze in the middle. It’s mostly squashy but I can feel an intricate chain of hard pieces; probably a necklace wrapped in padding, I think.

Suddenly, my peace is shattered as the girls burst through the bedroom door, arguing.

‘Who’s she, the cat’s mother?’ one of them shouts at the other. I smile as I think how you always hear the echo of your own voice in your children’s. I know, I’ll open my present and they’ll remember what day it is again and call a truce.

I open the bag and peer inside and I realise that they have forgotten. It’s a dead mole and I scream.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The First Kiss

For the sake of anonymity, let’s call her Brenda. Brenda faces a huge dilemma in her life which she knows will be shorter than that of most people. She feels raw, open and exposed. She is bleeding publicly when she least expects it and yet she is forced to go out. Life goes on in spite of her; to spite her even.

As Sunday had proved, even people with the most kindly intentions treated her badly. They stared straight at her, never acknowledging her presence by mentioning her and yet continuing to be transfixed by her. And it wasn’t just the people in the church. It was the supermarket, too. The bored cashier had been tossing the shopping through the scanner when she suddenly looked up at Brenda. At the same moment a four-pack of beans slammed against the metal sides of the conveyor belt making such a bang that it suddenly seemed as if every single person in the entire store was now staring. She knew that they were judging her; a lifestyle choice, bad hygiene, mixing with the wrong crowds. She wondered how many others there were out there just like her, waiting in the wings for their chance centre stage.

Brenda had grown a thick skin but she had shed it again all too quickly. When would it end? The truth was that there was no cure which was truly amazing when you think of the wonders of modern medicine. It wasn’t that no one had tried to find a cure or even pretended that there was one; they just hadn’t succeeded.

She reckoned that she had about a week to go. A week before people stopped staring at her for good. She would never experience that first kiss. It’s a hard life being a cold sore.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

My Best Friend

I've been a bit slack these last few days so instead of writing 3 different stories for the prompts I haven't responded to, I've combined them all! Rather experimental I know but that's just how I'm feeling at the moment. I'm considering scaling down the number of responses as I want to concentrate on cracking on with my novel; I'll see how it goes. To anyone who is reading, I apologise for today's weirdness!

Best friends shouldn’t have secrets, should they? Well I reckon not, anyway. It feels like I’ve been betrayed even though I know that she never meant to hurt me.

I think it all started about five years ago. She’d been on a diet for several months and it worked. All our friends wanted to know how she’d done it, wanted to find out if it was a slimming club or magical soup which had transformed her previously dumpy size 16 figure into a svelte size 10. I worked it out; she’d got herself a personal trainer but I could never get her to admit to it. She never seemed to go out so much and I know for a fact that she wasn’t going to the gym regularly or anything so whatever it was, was happening behind closed doors.

And then there was the suntan. She was supposed to have gone to Bristol to see her Nan for the week and she came back looking more like she’d been in Barbados. Of course, she pretended that it was fake but no fake tan ever looked so authentic. Or peeled.

Her taste in clothes didn’t so much change as just go upmarket. She would reluctantly come with me on Saturday mornings to look for that night’s clubbing gear but she stopped buying from our usual high street haunts. She did, however, appear in a seemingly endless array of sparkly outfits, the like of which I’d never seen in our town.

It was Billy who finally let the cat out of the bag one night when he’d wandered outside of the club to get some air and overheard her on her mobile. When he came back in, we all thought he must be drunk but then she came back in and caught us in full flow talking about her.

It just seemed so ridiculous. Imagine, my best friend, the fifth member of Abba and I’d had no idea. I was so taken aback that I left the club and sat outside on the wall. Billy chased after me.

‘Can you forgive her?’ he asked me.

‘Only if she can get us free tickets.’

‘She has to get us free tickets; knowing me, knowing you....she has to’

Monday, 24 March 2008

Cat Woman

Phoebe had come to live with her sister after her brother-in-law had died. Jenny had taken her husband’s death as badly as anyone would have after forty years of marriage and so she invited Phoebe to move in and occupy Jim’s place in front of the television. Of course, it wasn’t the same but having Jim’s sister near felt as if there was a little piece of him still around.

It was an old flint cottage in the village of Wappledown with two bedrooms. There had never been any children and they had lived there since their marriage in 1964. Jenny was from the next village along but Jim had grown up in Wappledown and now he was laid to rest in there too. It had been a perfect marriage but Jenny, ever the pragmatist, knew that there was one change she was going to relish; no red carpet.

It was difficult to keep the floors clean, especially in winter because you walked straight into the living room off the street but this wasn’t the only problem. In all the forty years, they had had two new carpets and they were both red. Jim had insisted on putting the cat flap in the front door and consequently, both cats would slither through it, usually during the night, with their latest catch.

Almost every morning, Jenny had to step over something unpleasant on the stairs or landing, something that Jim assured her was a ‘present’. This was an argument that she could never understand. If the cats wanted to give them presents, why did they unwrap them and just leave a little bit behind? Anyway, the vet had told them that the only reason that they left these particular organs – gall bladders - was that they were bitter to taste. In fact, he said, it was an act of great skill to be able to leave them intact whilst devouring the rest of the corpse; he likened it to eating a yummy piece of chocolate cake and being able to spit out a foul capsule from the middle without bursting it open. Jenny had been less impressed than the vet had expected her to be but it did, nevertheless, confirm what she had suspected; they were not ‘presents’, just leftovers.

So the carpet was red. Blood red. Jenny wanted a nice creamy beige, a colour to throw a little light into their cottage and she had waited forty years for it.

Phoebe, like her brother, was very fond of cats. When Jenny had asked her to move to Wappledown, she was thrilled because she herself had not been allowed pets in her rented flat. So, she was pretty horrified to see the card in the Post Office window: ‘Good home wanted for 2 cats, one black and white, one all black, both female, aged 9’.

‘How can you even think of it?’ she demanded of her sister-in-law.

‘Well, you know it was always Jim who was the cat lover.’

‘He’d be turning in his grave if he knew what you were doing.’

‘Look, I’m sorry that you’re upset but I’ve made up my mind and that’s it.’

‘But I could’ve looked after them! You’re making a mistake. I ...’

‘Let’s change the subject before we fall out. I’ll make a nice pot of tea.’

Phoebe realised that the conversation had ended but for her, the matter was not closed. Not at all.

Anger and grief surged around her body and her cheeks were flushing violently. She turned her head towards the front window, pretending to be watching the greengrocer across the road arranging his cabbages.

Things hadn’t been the same since Jim had gone. And now this. The funeral had been pleasant as far as funerals go, there were a surprising number of mourners given his advancing years but for Phoebe, something wasn’t right. She had knelt at the graveside long after everyone else had trickled away from the church, unable to accept that this was it. She had never married and Jim, two years her elder, had been her childhood companion and confidant in adulthood. He had looked out for her.

Phoebe had been restless at night time since Jim’s passing. For the first month, in her flat, she had paced up and down so much that the people down below were pleased to see her move out. Jenny was a sound sleeper (although Phoebe couldn’t understand how) so it never bothered anyone but herself.

One night, Phoebe was nearly at the bottom of the staircase when Sarah’s head popped through the catflap. In her mouth was a large, brown mouse. She sat in the armchair by the window and watched as Sarah tossed the shocked creature up into the air, let it begin to scramble away and then come down on it with her paw, quick as lightning.

She observed such rituals nightly whilst Jenny was asleep; sometimes both cats were engaged in the game, sometimes they called a halt to the proceedings and came to sit on her lap and purr. It was only during the day that Phoebe was conscious of her sleep deprivation. The nights she spent awake downstairs with the cats brought her closer to her brother. Sometimes, she got down on all fours with them and pushed a little plastic ball around with her fingertips. Sometimes, she was hungry and would go to the fridge looking for food although she had to be careful not to take too much in case Jenny became suspicious. She would share little morsels of cold sausages, bits of cheese or cake with Sarah and Minny; they were her family now. She talked to them quietly, told them not to worry, that she would sort everything out, that she was on their side now. She tried to explain how some people just didn’t understand and needed to be taught how things worked. She talked about the carpet. She said that they must make concessions, that it was a question of give and take. Between the three of them, Jenny, Sarah and Minny hatched a plan. In no time at all, Jenny would be able to have her new carpet and the girls would be able to stay and they would all live happily together.

Jenny woke up one morning with a tingling of excitement because this was the day that she would go and choose her carpet. The man on the phone had said that delivery would take around three weeks. This would give her time to find a home for the cats; if no one responded to the ad in the window, she could take them to the local rescue centre. She reflected that Phoebe had been taking it remarkably well. In fact, the subject of the cats hadn’t been mentioned since their argument and she was pleased because she had been so worried about her sister-in-law. It seemed as though the move had done Phoebe good, after all.

Jenny put on her dressing gown and slippers and headed downstairs for a wash and to make a pot of tea. As she passed her dressing table, she picked up a tissue. As she neared the bottom of the stairs, she paused as usual to look for the gall bladder; firstly, so that she could avoid stepping on it and secondly, so that she could pick it up with the tissue. Amazingly, there was none to be seen. She even paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked upwards to double-check. But no, there was definitely no ‘present’ this morning.

She put the kettle on and went to the bathroom. By the time she had come out, the kettle had boiled and she poured the hot water into their cat teapot. She would take a cup up to Phoebe along with her tablets. She hummed to herself as she thought about the day ahead, waiting for the tea to brew. She wondered what the chances were of getting Phoebe to come with her to the carpet shop; she rarely went out these days.

She poured the tea into bone china tea cups because it always tasted better to her than in grotesque mugs (like the cat mug Jim used to drink out of) and went to the front door for the milk. She added milk to the cups and put Phoebe’s on a small tray next to her medication and a small glass of water.

She took the tray upstairs, knocked quietly and went in to the room.

‘Good morning, Phoebe. How are you today? You’ll never guess what. There were no gall bladders on the stairs this morning!’


‘Good? Hah! I thought you liked them!’

‘No, I mean it’s good that you’re happy about it.’

‘So how about coming with me to pick a carpet today then? It’ll do you good to get out.’

‘Thanks for the offer but I’m rather tired. If it’s OK with you, I’d rather stay in bed for a while.’

‘Well, OK then, if you’re sure. I’m going downstairs for my shower now so give me a shout if you need anything.’


Jenny almost skipped downstairs, picked up the post and went through to the bathroom. She turned on the shower and whilst waiting for the water to run hot, she popped back into the kitchen. She’d left the milk out. She opened the fridge door.

She was going to have to cancel her trip to the carpet shop. She was going to have to call Doctor Simpson. And there she was, thinking that for once, the cats hadn’t killed anything during the night or left a gall bladder on the stairs. But now she’d found it now alright. It was in the fridge marked ‘do not touch’.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The wall went up far too quickly

The wall went up far too quickly. She’d been told it would be a couple of weeks at least. It had only been yesterday when she had walked the grey uneven pavements in the neighbourhood, head down, focusing on the difference in height between slabs and not tripping as she shuffled along. She kept her iPod turned up loud playing Bach and never glancing upwards, the first she would know of an oncoming stranger would be the confrontation with their shoes. Of course, Susan had to plan crossing roads more carefully; it was best to take these routes mid morning or early afternoon, most definitely before school finishing time. She would walk to celebrate, walk to commiserate, walk to ruminate. She was the walker; that was how she had become known in the town. She had never been seen talking to a soul, had never waived to anyone, caught someone’s eye or smiled in any particular direction. It wasn’t that she didn’t smile at all, just not for others. In the absence of any outward signs of communication, Susan was a blank page waiting to be inscribed.

And this is what had happened. She went to see the doctor. The doctor saw Susan’s potential for inscription and wrote a prescription for antidepressants. She shouldn’t expect any result for two to three weeks and should come back in a month’s time.

So here she was stepping out of her front door and being blinded by the grey sky. The clusters of daffodils in circular flowerbeds in her street were like miniature suns swaying in a luscious green galaxy, the wooden fences brilliant and intricate carvings, door knockers were the finest pieces of sculpture and graffiti on the garages had become the most exquisite works of art. There was a man coming the other way. He had a stylish handlebar moustache, a handsome tweed coat and beautiful brown loafers. She wanted to kiss him. And so she did. She also kissed the policeman who kindly offered her a lift in his car. And his friend. And all his other friends too. And the nice solicitor.

Before she knew it, she was in a room, waiting for a doctor. Deprived of any human contact for a little while, she grew restless and she started to pace up and down, once again surrounded by walls.

Friday, 21 March 2008

You open the box

You’re walking alongside the stream where you always walk but there’s something on your mind and you don’t know what it is. There’s a dam in the water and you wonder if it’s just a haphazard pile of branches or a dwelling carefully constructed by some creature. But this is a distraction; the stream meanders to the left, to the right, cuts a ravine and as you follow its path, you slide down the slope with the dried leaves. You are so caught up in the beauty of the water, the way it seems to giggle as it hops over the smoothes of stones and caresses the little green hairs of the plants that cling to their sides. Through the bare canopy of the trees, beams of sunshine drop spangles of light into the stream which fade and are renewed by the musical flow of the water. As you walk, you are aware of a rustling under the brambles, the scurrying of shy animals darting for cover from the trample of your boots; you don’t want to disturb them so you don’t follow their invisible trails or register your interest outwardly. Before long, you are lost and you look around for a familiar tree or telegraph pole. There is none, just thick forest; and is that a clearing ahead? Yes, let’s go there.

In the clearing is a small cottage with a red door and checked curtains and fresh roses at the windows. You walk up to the door and lightly rap the knocker twice. With the second knock, the weight of the cast iron pushes the door open and you find yourself in a small, square living room with an inglenook fireplace. The fire is lit but there is no one around as far as you can see. You kick off your boots and sink into the winged armchair wondering what to do next. You raise you feet onto the footstool, wiggle your toes inside your thick socks and lean your head back. You fall asleep.

When you wake up it is dark and your back is aching. You twist your spine to try and get comfortable and then realise that you can’t because there’s not enough room. Your feet cannot move sideways, you try to kick upwards and you can’t. You free your arms from your sides; they have pins and needles. You begin to panic. You take a deep breath and suddenly become aware of a strong smell of wood preserver. You start to feel hot. The feeling is coming back into your hands. Your fingers trace their way up the vertical sides encasing your body; it’s a box. A box with a lid. You open the box.

You sit up, your joints are stiff and your eyes unaccustomed to the sunlight, even though it’s fading. You’re in a clearing, surrounded by forest. You’re lost and you can’t remember a thing. You hear the trickle of a stream. You follow the sound; it’s like someone giggling. You will go and ask them the way home.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

First she throws away her watch

First she throws away her watch. It’s left a red imprint around her wrist, even though her frame has become bony; she has steadily been removing the golden links each time it has loosened because then she knows it’s for real, that she’s not imagining it all. She really can’t believe her luck.

She removes her hairband and what’s left of her hair tumbles freely, so fragile that it blows across her face with the lightest breeze. The generous mane of shocking red has diminished over the last year and now her scalp resembles the most threadbare of carpets. It’s probably the drugs, they say. She needs them to calm her nerves. Who wouldn’t in her position?

She undoes her earrings; diamond studs bought for her by Steven and she tosses them into the water. Half a dozen or so ducks ski across the surface, wings flapping, mistaking the gems for bread and then they disperse disappointed with their catch.

She steps out of her sling-back stilettos and feels the cold concrete underneath the balls of her feet, probably ripping her tights but she doesn’t care. She’d bought them for her first date with Steven, a meal at an Italian restaurant. He isn’t Italian, of course, but he is strong, dark and handsome. She kicks the shoes over the edge and watches them sink as the air bubbles out of them and they fill with water.

Had she been wearing false teeth then naturally, she would remove these too. She is well aware of the procedure. In an emergency – and these are desperate measures - one should remove their shoes and anything loose or sharp. She has reached crunch point, the moment to put her theory to the test, to prove that she’s not going mad. His mysterious disappearances, the fact that he’s never introduced her to his family; it is obvious and now she will confront him in a way he’ll understand.

She climbs up onto the railing and teeters there briefly before launching herself off and down towards the water. It is a long four seconds but surely long enough for a superhero to put in an appearance. Needless to say, he doesn’t and she is left splashing around with half a dozen or so startled ducks and she is equally disappointed with her catch.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Keeping Snowballs

Sheila’s husband had left her.

‘I just can’t cope any more. I’ve got no choice. You can get on with it now and I won’t be around to witness it. I’m sorry but I’ve got to think about myself and if I stay here, there will be nothing left of me.’

And so he had gone. He was right about one thing, at least. She could get on with it now and she wouldn’t have to put up with his criticisms, his nagging at her or the hundreds of ways he’d tried to change her. So this was it for Sheila, alone. Derek’s departure left more than a space in her heart; it left a space in the house. She would exchange their double bed for a single. There would be wardrobe space. She would only need one chair and so she could throw out the rest of the three piece suite. There was no need for a dining table, a tray on her lap would do. There would be space in the fridge that hadn’t been there previously and in the freezer too. Ah, the freezer had a particular sentimental value for Sheila because that was where it had all begun.

It was so infrequent that snow fell in their part of the country, much less snow deep enough to actually stick together to make snowmen. Obviously, the snowman she made was too large to put in the freezer but keeping snowballs in the freezer seemed like a practical alternative. After the snowballs, her collection really got underway: the first April shower captured in a bucket, grass cuttings from the first time that Derek mowed the lawn that year pressed into a jam jar, the dirty tissue from his first hayfever sneeze displayed under a layer of film in a photograph album and a layer of skin that peeled off her chest in Majorca which she kept in a matchbox to name but a few.

Now, she would have much more scope for storing her precious memories.

A year passed and one morning, she was sitting on a wooden chair with her back squashed into the corner and the phone rang. Luckily, it was within reach and there was no need to climb over the stacks of boxes to answer it.

‘Hi Sheila, it’s Derek.’


‘It’s Derek. I just wanted to see how you’re doing...and um...I wanted to let you know that you’re going to be getting some papers through the post.’

‘Papers? I haven’t ordered any.’

‘Sheila, you don’t understand. My solicitor is going to be sending you some papers to sign and I just wanted to warn you that they’re coming. And to say hello too. It’s been a long time.’

Silence. Who was this nutter anyway?

‘I think you’ve got the wrong number.’

‘I haven’t! Sheila! It’s me, Derek!’


‘Your husband.’

‘But I’m on my own.’

‘I know you are now but we used to be together. Don’t you remember?’

‘There’s nothing to remember. I never forget anything important. Goodbye.’

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A rough time

‘Comfortable?’ the dentist asks.


What do you think? I’m lying here, tilted as if I’m about to be launched feet-first into oblivion, the blood’s rushing to my head and away from my hands clasped solidly over my stomach (although I can’t actually feel them now, that’s just from the memory of having put them there) and it feels like you’ve just stuffed a couple of tampons into my cheeks.

‘You’re doing well’, he claps his hand reassuringly on my shoulder and this knocks my paper bib askew; he straightens it, because it is his workspace, after all. He starts to have a little tidy up. He gets some tissues and wipes around the outside corners of my mouth. He’s just given me a top-up of local anaesthetic and he’s dutifully waiting for it to take effect.

He’s tapping his foot to the beat of the classical tune playing on the radio and to the rhythm of pounds ticking away from my bank account. I hear the suction thing start gurgling again and brace myself. I close my eyes because I don’t like the intimacy of being eye to eye with a stranger and I don’t want to distract him; I could get a bit of filling in my eye and he might think I’m winking or he might feel obliged to hold a conversation. No, best to keep it strictly minus eye contact.

There is a whining sound, accelerating in an arc from the stainless steel in his hand towards my mouth, it hits its target and neeeeeeeeoooooooooowwww. In my mind, the drill bit would be more appropriate either for an operation in the North Sea or for performing brain surgery via the gums. In reality, I’m sure it is the correct tool boring into my jaw bone and this is not as reassuring as I’d like it to be. Water from the drill is spurting over my face right up to my eyes and tickling the insides of my nostrils but I can’t scratch because I might jerk his arm and he’ll slip and slice me up.

The next week, I’m at work looking out through the window, absentmindedly rubbing my cheek, still nursing the bruises left by my dental surgery. I see a familiar face on the steps. It’s a blustery day and angry cumulus clouds are hanging ominously overhead. It’s almost time to go.

‘Good morning Ladies and Gentleman. This is Captain Knight and I’d like to welcome you aboard this flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle. The weather in Paris is pretty much the same as here at Gatwick and once we’ve climbed to our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet, your flight should be fairly comfortable. In the meantime, I would ask you to keep your seatbelts tightly fastened as we may encounter some turbulence during our ascent. I hope you have a pleasant flight.’

We push back off the finger and taxi down to the end of the runway. Whilst my first officer is busy doing some final checks, I have a wicked idea.

We accelerate down the runway, the nose lifts and the tail end follows. Once the landing gear is retracted, and we are breaking through the cloud, the forecasted pockets of turbulence buffet the aircraft.

I must admit that I do little to avoid the worst bumps although I would never endanger anyone’s life. Obviously. But, on the other hand, if the turning off of the cabin lighting and plunging the passengers into near darkness whilst sounding the emergency alarm could be considered cruel, then I suppose I should be found guilty.

Once we have reached our cruising altitude, I stand up, straighten my tie, open the cockpit door and proceed to walk down the aisle, past the ashen faces staring open-mouthed at me. I make a bee-line for the man in seat 13C. I lean right into his face.

‘Comfortable?’ I ask him.

Monday, 17 March 2008

You write long letters

Over the years,

I’ve gathered moss,

Between my toes

A sterling cross

Is choking me.

Or is it the brambles

Growing where I skipped

Along the road?

Before reason dropped my hand

Scattering my ashes of luck

Into a pit of confusion

And I started to wander

Aimlessly, naked, dead.

Until it was dusk,

The bends were blind

And all I could see

Were cats eyes,

The painted line

Down the centre;

Eventually, in time,

It, too, would fade to black.

You walk on ahead,

You write long letters;

Give way, stop!

Not realising

I’m already dead.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

We met through work

We met through work. I’d been there for a good four months, after the honeymoon period, the steep learning curve and buzz of meeting and being accepted by a new crowd before my impression on them faded like the toner on the sheets coming out of the printer behind my desk.

I’d mostly bump into her in the ladies’ toilets; a grim place. The whole building was grim but someone had made the effort to transform the areas designated as working areas to individual companies by inviting in large houseplants with leaves like accusing fingers to stroke your shoulders as you passed by their tasteful pots. The battleship grey toilets could have been anywhere and always felt dirty even though they were cleaned daily. Therefore, when someone walked in (assuming that they weren’t dressed in grey), their image in the mirror stood out like a red rose in a shroud of mist. The laminated signs on the inside of the cubicle doors ‘If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweet and wipe the seat’ always made me smile; a reminder that somewhere, someone cared, that the greyness and lack of humanity in that airless cube was as temporary as the fullness of my bladder.

The first time I noticed her, she was looking in the mirror. She’d filled the basin with water and was splashing her face as if trying to drown the worry lines on her forehead. Her mascara was running and she took some paper towel to it, the red wheels left by its roughness giving back a little colour to her cheekbones.

The last time we met it was more serious and she had been crying. There was only one way to make things better; I grabbed some more paper towel, pulled myself together and resigned.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Chewing the fat

It's a Sussex Saturday for me, the last day this term and I'm shattered. Having spent the last 2 weeks working solidly on my term paper, I've only just written my piece for our set exercise for today's session at uni. Therefore, I'm going to share this with you in case it's the only thing I get to write today!

Colin hung around the pine table in the kitchen; its legs had an elegant turn but were chunky and immovable. The chair legs, so easily shifted with a shove from his flanks whilst foraging for crumbs were also immovable when occupied by the diners and his path to the middle would be booby-trapped by the swinging feet of the children who became more fidgety as the meal progressed. In any case, the best scraps were to be had on the outer perimeter of the meal. He knew all about perimeters.

‘I don’t want this, it’s got a fatty bit on it’, the little boy complained.

‘Just leave it on the side of your plate then’ the mother sighed.

‘Can I give it to Colin?’


‘Why not?’

‘Because he’s not allowed to eat too much. Now come on, eat your dinner.’

They were the ones to talk. Look at them, midriffs hanging over their trousers under the tabletop. Quite ridiculous.

‘Look, I’m staring right at you with by best pleading expression. I’ve got saliva dripping from my chops and I’m sitting so nicely, shifting the weight between my front paws so that I look as if I could collapse with hunger at any moment.’

‘But mummy, he wants it.’

At this point, the visiting grandmother interjected: ‘You know, that dog doesn’t need to talk, does he? Just look at him, poor thing. Do you want to go out Colin?’

Not really thanks but I’d better keep her sweet; she’s the only one with the sense to give me anything decent.

Colin goes to the back door and rears up on his back legs excitedly and the grandmother lets him out with satisfaction. He runs enthusiastically out onto the patio to a distance of six feet and comes right back.

‘I thought you wanted to go out?’

What does she expect me to do? You can’t please some people.

In all the fuss, the scraping of chairs along the ceramic tiles, doors opening and shutting and the wind gusting into the kitchen and blowing some drawings off the windowsill and onto the floor, the children had become restless and wandered off.

‘Does he still do that thing where he runs around the edge of the garden at 9.30?’; it was the mother speaking but Colin was only half listening as he could now shove the chair legs aside and was licking the floor. He had vaguely heard however, and at the back of his mind, he wondered just how many times they could have the same conversation. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

‘I don’t think he could have been a hunting dog, do you? He’d have been no good if he was frightened of bangs.’

‘I reckon that he’s a failed police dog or something. ‘


‘You know, the way he tries to ‘arrest’ people if they chase one another. Or the fact that he doesn’t like the children playing with gun-shaped things.’

‘But he’s fitted in so well with the children, hasn’t he?’ (good old Granny)

‘I don’t suppose we’ll ever know...’

Too right.

‘Do you remember the time he dragged Liam around the garden? It was so funny.’

I actually felt sorry for him afterwards but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I’ve got no idea why that boy kept coming around; did he not have any other friends? We never see him any more. Humans are fickle.

‘Oh, he’s a good dog, aren’t you?’ (the grandmother, obviously)

‘Yes’, I raise my eyebrows and almost nod.

‘Aahh’, she pats me lightly on the head. She’s happy.

The children are long gone, trying to squeeze in some more television. The parents are about to swoop down on them and demand that they go upstairs for their bath and are collecting toys scattered around the hallway. The grandmother is scraping the leftovers into Colin’s bowl as fast as she can, saying ‘Good boy, good boy’.

As if it was any trouble. What a result.

Friday, 14 March 2008

It was on the library steps

George’s sister did enjoy Saturdays. He knew that much because it was his one day of respite, the day when she wouldn’t be on the telephone whining about her boss.

He’d never imagined that a job at the library could be the source of so much angst. Since Evelyn had started working there, he had been railroaded into thinking about libraries far too often. It seemed obvious to George that a career as a librarian would be attractive to someone with obsessive tendencies; that urge to order the world neatly, to be constantly tidying away the returned books or to making neat piles out of the ones on reserve, irresistible. Obsessive as she was, Evelyn was more interested in buffing her nails than the bookshelves and kept a nail file and bottle of emergency polish under the counter at her position on the ‘Books Out’ section.

And then there was Molly, a failed academic who even spent her lunch hours stroking the spines of her favourite classics. She wore flowery, homemade dresses that hung stiffly around her mottled legs which would rise up as she reached to the top shelf. But she was safe. The boss, Adam, had a little obsession of his own and it wasn’t Molly; she was ignored.

Unfortunately for Evelyn, it was not the usual Saturday; Adam was working. He kept sliding past her swivel chair, winding his arms around her to reach the date stamp or borrow a pen just so that he could look down her top. He had dirty fingernails, the breath of a sewer outlet , a thick layer of dandruff on his shoulders and damp yellow patches around his armpits.

At the end of the day, it was on the library steps that she decided it was time for a divorce.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Stalker

She used to be an elegant pair of legs sheathed in the orange tights of the day and court shoes with heels of varying thicknesses. She always wore bright suits; royal blue or rich red with gold buttons and round clip-on earrings. She always wore foundation and sometimes there was a little tide mark of brown smeared under the line of her jaw or there would be lipstick on her teeth and toothpaste on her chin as she set off for the office. She would neither be here nor there; no sooner was breakfast over, she’d be defrosting the mince for the evening’s dinner or slapping sandwiches together for the children’s lunchboxes.

She used to be always moving, leaving the house, driving about, rushing from car to building to car and to the supermarket. The trolley in the supermarket suited her style. She could be observed swinging wildly around the ends of the aisles with her head bent forward as if giving a nod to the science of aerodynamics but then again, science was never her thing. But trolleys were. You could almost picture her clattering down the street, picking up conversations from passers by and flinging them into the trolley, running to the school gate, whipping friends off their feet from behind so that they tumbled, laughing into the end compartment designed for - what were they designed for? Flowers and baguettes. Is it normal to keep your flowers with the bread? Is it normal to keep the trolley after you’ve left the supermarket? Or to follow strange women around making accusations of them being off their trolley. Maybe it’s me who’s nuts. Maybe she’s not so interesting. Maybe she wants me to leave her. Maybe I’ve already gone. I can still see her but she suddenly seems smaller.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A secret pleasure

A secret pleasure is sitting in the coffee shop on brown squishy sofas with generous square arms (the sofa’s not mine), a large skinny decaff latte and a chocolate twist. A chocolate twist is permitted once a week but only if I go without breakfast because then it cancels out some of the naughtiness. I open my mouth as wide as I can before slowly, slowly, delicately biting down and I can’t decide if I want it to unravel with the bite so that the chocolate seeps out of the sides or whether it is better if it stays intact and bursts open on my tongue. As it does burst on my tongue, my mouth fills with saliva, the chocolate filling warms and I wish I could make it grow in my mouth without having to rely on the next bite for satisfaction. Before the next bite, I run my tongue around my lips to savour the icing sugar, not so much of a moustache as the white face paint around a clown’s mouth. The icing sugar is fine and intensely sweet, sandwiched between the neutrality of my tongue and upper lip. I try to hang back a little, take a sip of coffee. It’s good that my coffee is large because the oversized cup needs two hands to hold it. But the coffee’s hot and in any case, I should save it for when the chocolate twist is all gone and I want to wash away the longing for the next mouthful by pouring coffee down after it. I circle a moistened fingertip around the plate gathering any delicate flakes of pastry or drips of chocolate but it’s no good. I have to take my second bite and I’m aware that it’s falling away.

They think I’m in Sainsbury’s.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen

Today, I am feeling more than a little fed up. I have had my first rejection (the first of many, I am sure) so to mark the occasion, I am going to do nothing. What a coincidence that Sarah's prompt fits in with how I am feeling!

Here is the piece I submitted to Short Fuse:

Sometimes you’re just not hungry and it’s hard to be creative. It’s when the thought of being creative brings the weariness of having a black raincloud following you around for the whole day, an unwelcome inevitability that you can’t shake off. This morning, Amanda is weighed down by such a feeling. It started with the shower, the electric one downstairs that no one else in the house uses because its feeble drip isn’t harsh enough to wake up a manly skin and has the curious habit of suddenly going cold and flashing ‘User Protect’ on its control panel, something no one has ever taken the trouble to investigate. Today, Amanda had been in the shower, making a list in her head (not shopping, that was another one), not just standing there under the drip being idle or doing whatever the others did in the shower, and she got ‘User Protect’-ed. She hadn’t even finished washing. There was usually time enough to either wash and condition her hair (briskly) or shave her legs and underarms (if bristly) as long as she wasn’t too precious about either operation. Exfoliating with moisturising facial pads, their slight dampness suggesting that maybe they had been impregnated with something extra as she had mistakenly left them within arm’s reach of her youngest children but which she couldn’t justify throwing away because of their cost, was sometimes an option if she was really quick and had already done the basics. She resented the time she spent shouting through the door whilst she was in the shower to children searching for lost shoes, wanting yoghurts, the television channel changed or their wounds kissed better. She had tried to impress upon them the importance of only trying to communicate with those in the same room as them unless it was a matter of extreme urgency but unfortunately, their interpretations of these guidelines were flawed and her presence in the bathroom at any time of day drew them like magnets to the other side of the door to ask ‘What are you doing, Mummy?’ and they liked her to be very specific in her reply.

Today, Amanda had got up early. It’s Thursday of the half term holiday and she knows that the only way she can hear silence in the house is to stay one giant step ahead of them. She has crept on tiptoes along the edge of the landing to avoid the creaking floorboards, stepped over the dog sleeping on the turn of the stairs and gone down to have her shower. As you’ve already heard, this hasn’t really gone very well. Usually, the freshness of the morning, the distance that sleep has put between her and the previous day’s irritations are enough to project her on into the day with a measure of positivity. Before she is bogged down in domestic details, she likes to think. But she is irritated. She had started to think about rhythms, rhythms of life, in life and then she started to wonder about Wednesdays. ‘Whacky Wednesdays’ her family have come to call them. Her cooking isn’t bad, or at least it wouldn’t be if she wasn’t trying to cater for so many different tastes: two who don’t like spicy things, one who doesn’t like cottage pie but likes mince and tatties, one who loves cottage pie but doesn’t like mince and tatties, one who only likes shop-bought cottage pie because it’s delicious, one who doesn’t like rice, one who only eats vegetables under protest and one who doesn’t really notice very much at all. The dog likes all of these things, in fact, he has only ever been seen to reject two things: orange juice and lettuce. Amanda, herself, is not fussy. Her Scottish roots have endowed her with the power to make soup out of an elastic band if necessary (although the occasion hasn’t arisen yet) and she indulges herself at lunch times eating healthy homemade soups and big piles of fruit. So why are Wednesdays so bad? Amanda has no idea. Maybe this midweek madness is just a reaction to the routine of the first half of the week . Maybe it’s because there’s usually a roast on Sunday, revisited in another form on Monday, pizzas on Tuesday because she’s always out at ballet and that Wednesday is the first time in the week she actually has to think about what’s for dinner. It seems to be a rude interruption to the flow of sameness.

She’s annoyed with herself for thinking about dinners when she was trying to grab five minutes for herself but it was the rhythm thing and Wednesdays and sometimes you just can’t control what comes into your head. Last week, there had been pork loin fillet and aside from the usual jokes about where this particular cut of pig comes from, they had all approached their plates with the fear they had been accustomed to on Whacky Wednesdays. But it had been good. She had put it in some foil, sprinkled it with sage, some chopped onions and some dried apricots, folded the edges to make a parcel and cooked it in the oven. It had been delicious. Really. They had all liked it. Obviously, she had removed the apricots from one portion, only put one on another, no onions on either of those, and three apricots on the third which were more of a gesture than a serious expectation that they would be eaten, more juice on one plate than the other because he likes gravy and only a spoonful of rice on the last one (which also wouldn’t get eaten but then you can’t please everybody). So it was a success. They made nervous jokes about how maybe Whacky Wednesday would slip silently to another day or that it was building up to one enormous occasion to be unleashed on them when they were least expecting it. Such was their faith in Amanda’s cooking. But they needn’t have worried. Yesterday evening, relieved at having found the perfect Wednesday recipe, she had decided to do the pork again. Except that there hadn’t been any loin fillets on offer in the supermarket that Monday so she had decided to use loin chops. This is the problem with supermarkets, they’re like drug dealers. They get you hooked on something by selling it cheap, then put the price up. She bought the chops instead because after all, they should taste the same. Amanda had learned to tell from the angle they wielded their knives and forks just how the meal was going to go; the greater the angle between cutler and plate, the less engaged with consumption the diner was. She’d put the same ingredients in with the chops, the onions, the sage, the apricots. Her youngest said he had a tummy ache and left the table (in the case of younger children, replace the word ‘angle’ with ‘distance’), the next one would only swallow it with gulps of milk and on the promise of a crème caramel, the next was holding his fork almost vertically saying that he wasn’t actually that hungry and her husband had given up saying ‘I don’t really think that the apricots go’; this was particularly bad as he rarely made specific comments and usually went without lunch and was probably extremely hungry. Amanda’s eldest son was away at university and probably eating beans. She had wished she was with him.

How was it possible to get something so wrong when she was so sure that she had replicated the previous week’s success? The moment when she created that perfect dish had been savoured, devoured and lost forever. So it wasn’t rhythm at all, it was the luck of the moment, having the exactly right ingredients and the right people with the right frame of mind to appreciate what was put before them. No fat, no bones, just the meat of it. It didn’t matter to them that the ingredients were the same, they couldn’t be told. So what was the point in worrying? They would never get that dish again and she would continue with Whacky Wednesdays. Hoorah for Whacky Wednesdays!

So now it was seven o’clock in the morning and here she was drinking tea and feeling a bit smug. She’d moved from being irritated about having her creative thoughts interrupted by the droning of domesticity and she had solved her problem. The black cloud was beginning to disperse. She went upstairs to have another shower and just stood there under its torrential downpour for half an hour. She ignored the calls for breakfast from the other side of the door (or whatever it was they were saying because she really couldn’t hear them) and stayed until every last drop of hot water had beaten down on her shoulders. She didn’t wash, she didn’t shave her legs or underarms, she just stood. Unlike the shower downstairs which worked on an electric element and heated the water on demand, the upstairs one relied on a tank for its supply. It would be some time before there was any more hot water available. Shame. She’d just been in the right place at the right time to appreciate it.

Monday, 10 March 2008

And then it wouldn't stop raining

I followed the man in front, matching his pace up the incline. I was aware that I wouldn’t be able to overtake him without breaking into a run, that to do so would make me look foolish as really, I was going nowhere. So I held back, suddenly conscious that the sole of my right sole was going click, click, click; not a hard, sharp click but the sound of the chewing gum that I must have picked up underfoot in the shopping mall kissing the ground each time I took a step.

I needed something to occupy my mind. The cars and lorries passing by, weaving in and out of parked cars and the mayhem caused by the dairy entrance being situated on a main road was unremarkable. I wondered if my friend in front was worthy of contemplation.

Maybe I could guess his occupation. It was midweek, mid-afternoon. It was overcast, not too cold but hardly pleasant walking weather. Either he was unemployed or a shift worker. If he was unemployed, perhaps he was on his way back from the employment office. No, his step was too purposeful, too confident. His clothes were bland; straight blue jeans and a hooded anorak. He wore thick-soled boots, unmarked. So he wasn’t really as casual as I first thought. His left hand swung to and fro as he strode and his wedding ring looked new.

We passed the post box and he stooped to pick something up. A piece of paper. He took a few more steps and stooped again. It was money. He followed the trail, picking up six notes without hesitation. He didn’t look back. Then he took an umbrella from his pocket. As if he was expecting rain.

And then it wouldn’t stop raining and I got wet.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

I left it behind

I walked down the path bordered by miniature sections of logs (for which there is probably a proper name but not being a gardener or groundsman I wouldn’t have a clue) and the smell of body odour greeted me. I had not long eaten my cheese and onion sandwiches - always on the lookout for ways of saving money – and that bitter, acrid smell of the onion on my breath and odour hanging in the air path combined and failed to separate again in my nostrils serving as an unwelcome reminder of our fundamental similarities.

There was a crowd up ahead, the same one I had been trailing all morning. I had tried to shake them off, going one way and then the next but the paths all seem to converge into one as if we were stationary on a moving conveyor belt. I had tried delaying my progress by sitting down on one of the many benches and pretended to read my psychology textbook. It went everywhere with me which was silly really because it weighed a ton but I think that maybe I was hoping that its contents might migrate into my head by osmosis through the canvas of my shoulder bag.

Anyway, I got as far as the crowd ahead and stood towards the back. I’m fairly tall, I suppose, so it was quite easy to see through the glass above the crowd. A disinterested child rammed my ankles with the wheels of a pushchair, another wiped its ice cream on my trousers. At least ten faces were pressed up against that glass to the amusement of the gorilla inside.

I left the zoo with an empty bag. I had thrown my book onto the netted roof and the gorilla had gone up to pull it through.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

She didn’t expect the door to open so easily

It was the dodgier side of the town, the place where most of her school friends came from. It was a new town grafted onto the existing neighbourhoods; rows of cosy railwaymen’s cottages, distant hamlets and clusters of farming communities were now joined into one by concrete, council houses and roundabouts.

The uniformity of each of the new neighbourhoods was both depressing and reassuring; an L-shaped shopping parade consisting of a fish and chip shop, a newsagents, green grocers, mini-supermarket, launderette, hairdresser’s, off-license and ironmonger’s were always present. On top of these shopping parades, there would be a floor of flats accessed by a railed walkway which ran along the front above the shops’ names. Sometimes, you could see washing lines outside the front doors, coloured towels blowing in windy corridor, an otherwise still and grey environment. Around the back of the parade there were public toilets, the urinals visible through the open door; they always stank of pine disinfectant and the paper would fold, not crumple in your fist and scratch your bottom, never absorbing a thing.

Within view there would be an infant’s school and lastly, there would be a community centre. At her own, she went to NTC, dressed as a sailor wearing a scratchy skirt marching on Sundays to the tune of Yellowbird and Never on a Sunday. At this one, she was drinking her first cider under the auspices of a barn dance. Fourteen-year-olds are not generally known for their interest in barn dancing but they quite like the illicit cider. The bubbles went up her nose and she felt giddy. As she ran out through the heavy swing doors to the toilet for the tenth time, she didn’t even notice the pain of her collar bone cracking. But she certainly did the next day.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Treatment

Today, I'm not posting to a prompt from Sarah Salway's blog because I've used the piece I wrote in response to 'What are you waiting for?' for submission to a collection in aid of War Child called You're Not The Only One

Instead, I've come up with this:

I was told at the office. A group of them came from Personnel dressed in black suits, even the woman who seemed to be in charge. They explained what was going to happen, that it must be kept confidential. The key was to act before the damage became public.

They took me by people carrier to my home and collected my young son because he too would need to be treated. Or course, my husband would be there but he would be taken separately.

We picked up my son and travelled past familiar grass verges littered with rabbits and blackened mud from the tarmac, past the airport, under the bridge formed by the terminal building stretching across both carriageways and out the other side to an industrial area. The building looked like a grey warehouse from the outside, anonymous and still but inside it was clean, vast and people in white coats went about their business without looking up. I saw a friend of mine but she didn’t acknowledge my presence; it was clear that she worked there.

My husband was already there, in process. I wondered if he had been affected just by his association with me. Of course, I was anxious for my son and felt guilty that he would have to go through this because of me. I was to go first. They hauled me up onto the moving line, something like a cross between a zip wire and a meat hook. I felt nauseous and my skin was burning. All this because I wore a headset.

When I woke up, the nausea from the radiation lingered on and my eyes darted around the bedroom. Last night, I watched a programme about call centres and meanwhile, my older son was stringing up lamb chops for his art project.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A Late Night Phone Call

There’s a box on the windowsill. In another life in a foreign country, the box could have held cigars or the lock of a loved one’s hair. She imagines its lining, blue velvet with no visible joins, pins, sewing or staples. On the outside it is encrusted with jewels. She presumes that they aren’t real jewels. Or maybe they are. Maybe, if you have something really valuable and keep in on display, such as on a windowsill, then you get to keep it. Perhaps they’re plastic. Someone, somewhere has gone to the trouble of making perfect little blue gems as deep in colour as a sink hole in the Mexican jungle and green ones to match her black cat’s eyes. Its edges are bordered in silver; so intricate that it could have been woven by hand and sewn on but it is solid enough. Solid enough to sustain the presence of a latch, a flap of glinting metal folding down over a small hook, under the bridge of which there is a faint trace of dust. She dusts the bedroom methodically, starting with the bedside tables, the lampshades, the skirting board and the mirror. She dusts the tops of the window handles, restoring them to such a gleam that she sees her distorted face peering into the lock of each one. She dusts along the windowsill, and moves the box ,using both hands, to the left. She dusts where it has been and lifts it back to the right. But she never dusts under the latch because that would be too tempting.

At night time, the moon catches the silver border and it winks at her. Tonight, at 11.36, the telephone rings. He has gone. She should be sad but she smiles because at last she can open the box.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Everyone Says You're Perfect

Your right index and middle fingers were nicotine stained just as my mouth was stained by the rainbow colours of my rocket ice lolly. I could never understand how you managed to pass so much time in that little room which smelt of hot light bulbs and metal. Those fingers of yours were so big and the transistors you soldered endlessly to build the organ so small; it must have been a very fiddly job. You always had a miniature glass filled with Drambuie. I could smell its sweetness on your breath as you turned your head when I opened the door. You were often wearing headphones, speaking into some sort of handset to someone with an oscillating Donald Duck voice punctuated by white noise from the other side of the world. What did you talk about? The weather. Your soldering iron rested at an angle on the desk and sometimes a blob had dripped down off the nib and onto the wooden surface. The table top was as scarred by burns and scratches as a desk lid in my comprehensive school French class and sticky ring marks had attracted cigarette ash and turned black. Your chair was one you bought especially; a captain’s chair and its leather soon took on the odour of your electrical equipment. I’ve got that chair now; the cat sleeps on it. In the cupboard, what would have been a wardrobe in a more conventional household was your gun safe, a cold metal coffin. Late at night, as I got up to go to the bathroom, I would hear your fingers banging away on the keys of the organ. I couldn’t hear the music but I knew it was there.

When you die, everyone says you’re perfect. I know you weren’t but it doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Childhood Games

If you want to come in my tepee, you can’t. Unless you’ve got the right clothes on. Go away and find some feathers because you can’t have a headdress without them. And a skirt. Boy Indians wear skirts, those leather ones with a fringe. What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll laugh at your legs? I’ve seen them before, you know. Okay, so I laughed then but I promise I won’t do it now. Honest. I know, Dad’s chamois leather will do the job. Go and get some scissors and we’ll cut a fringe on your skirt. Arrows. You need arrows. You can’t be an Indian without arrows, can you? Go and find some long sticks and some more feathers for the ends. We won’t be allowed a knife or anything but we could always use the scissors to cut the sticks up. Make sure they’re really big ones. There are some over there on the rubbish heap. No, don’t worry about snakes. I told you I was only joking about the snakes. In any case, you’re only going to be taking the sticks from the top of the pile. If there was anything living underneath it, they wouldn’t even notice. Don’t look so scared, it’s only a pile of sticks and rubbish. When you’ve done that, you’ll have to go and get some face paints. You know the ones Mum had for the school fete? They’re in the cupboard in the kitchen. You’ll have to stand on the chair to get them and make sure there are no grown-ups in the kitchen when you get them. Of course they won’t find out if you’re quiet. Remember to pick the chair up, don’t drag it across the floor. Hurry up then, do as I said or I won’t let you be Chief.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The prompt: If I could do it all again - not sure where this came from!

As you walk ahead of me through the meadow I try to fall into the rhythm of your gait by filling the clear, dark prints of your boots in the morning dew. The air is damp, quite still on this side of the hill. There are buttercups opening all around us, like sunny polka dots. There are daisies too, some with little pink dashes on their petals. I know all this because I’m small and I’m getting tired of walking up this hill.

‘Daddy, carry me!’

You don’t hear me at first because you’re so high up, a skyscraper with your head in the clouds. I wonder whether you know what the clouds taste like or if birds have ever flown into your wiry hair by mistake. I don’t think they would. I think they’d know that they’d be in big trouble if they did. If I’m going to make you hear me, I’ll have to catch you up and that’s going to be hard. Your giant strides seem purposeful and effortless but I stumble every few steps, fighting my way around mole hills and clumps of dandelion leaves.

‘Daddy, I’m tired!’

There’s a flatter bit coming up and it’s my chance to gain some ground. The big pocket on your old waxed jacket is gaping open at the top, its covering flap torn off years ago. I think that if I can sprint a few feet, I could grab the pocket and you couldn’t escape.

As I try to grab a handful of the material, the smell of cold wax fills my nostrils and it is that which stops me from getting a good grip. You absentmindedly take my hand. I feel disappointed. Our palms are rubbing together as we walk on upwards but you’re so far away.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Different Chairs I Have Loved

Our house is full of chairs for different occasions. The dining room has six formal chairs that make you sit upright, even if the wine and gravity pull you down. Their backs are gothic in design and whilst the overall contour is a comfortable shape, if you start to slide down, you can pinch the flab on your back in their angular carvings. There’s also the piano stool in the dining room which was my granny’s. It must be a hundred years old and the padding in its seat shifts with my bottom as my arms reach enthusiastically up and down the octaves. Its material is gold and blue striped with suspicious water marks. In the corner is a Parker Knoll rocking chair and although it is different now, I remember the pea green bobbly material that used to cover it. I would sit at the big window overlooking the green around which our road made a crescent, watching the traffic moving up and down the street beyond. Granny had sat there too until she died. There were no net curtains and the house was furnished in seventies brown with brown parquet flooring so that when you rocked, the woods made a satisfying clicking noise as they met and parted. From outside, the window looked black but my granny’s white hair rocked backwards and forwards and I could hear the clicking in my head before I got to the driveway. Up in the loft is a white wicker chair belonging to her; Lloyd Loom I think it’s called and I don’t know what to do with it.

The funniest chair I remember is the G Plan one on castors. The vicar came to see my Granny, sat down on it in the living room and shot into the dining room.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The Sound of Love

The sound of love trickles down the side of my face, skirting the front edge of my ear, tickling me. It drips down from my jaw line to my blouse, behind my collar, meandering in its course so that it is headed for the dip in my back between my shoulder blades. I resist the urge to scratch and instead delight in the contact with this foreign source. Its caress is a chance encounter, not engineered by the flick of an umbrella from a passing stranger or by standing under an overflowing awning in the High Street but by pure luck; of being in the right place at the right time in the rain. I wonder if I could have dodged the teardrops, crossed from one side of the road to the other without getting wet but then I would have missed the experience.

The sound of love fills the void left by the summer. The long dusty days in the city, the grit of commuting in my eyes and sticking in my ears making me deaf to everything except the smell of buses. The odd people on the train eating their burgers and plastic sandwiches, too busy to eat at home, too busy to notice what they’re eating at sixty miles an hour, gazing out through windows too opaque to focus clearly on the passing gardens.

In Springtime, we sat on that train together, shared the newspaper, brushed knuckles covertly beneath the seats when shuffling our briefcases and exchanged conspiratorial glances when weirdos boarded our carriage.

You didn’t even tell me you were going. It was three weeks before I admitted that you’d moved on, that you weren’t just on holiday. Just as you’d never said ‘Hello’, you never said ‘Goodbye’ either. How could you treat me like this?