Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Fault Line

Today's prompt is 'The Fault Line'. How I arrived at the following then is anybody's guess although I think I was thinking along the lines of a division of the selves. Who knows?

As Susan put on her tracksuit jacket and stepped out onto the balcony, her lungs took in the first drenching of humid air. Overnight, she’d forgotten the leaden humidity that had flowed like molten lava into her lungs when the aircraft door had opened; the chill in her room was more reminiscent of home in late October.

There were no bathers, just a pool man and a waiter pushing a big trolley covered with a white cloth. The clinking of plates and the thud of cutlery against wood came bouncing through the air telling her where she would find breakfast although she guessed that it wasn’t time yet.

Susan wasn’t alone that morning. As she looked over the edge of the balcony and past the bougainvillea a blonde head moved out from the main building towards the pool. She looked at the parting in the hair. The tapping of heels on the paving slabs had caused the invisible sparrows waiting for breakfast crumbs to take flight. This was someone who was used to making an entrance. The source of the tapping was soon revealed to be a pair of white stilettos. Each tap came hot on the heels of the previous one, marching to the tune of a vibrant pink pencil skirt.

Fearful that she would be spotted spying, Susan retreated to her room and brushed her hair, hoping that her highlights wouldn’t look too brassy in the sun. Even with the doors shut now, she could hear raised voices coming from the pool or the restaurant outside. She was hungry, her stomach confused by the time difference and she needed to settle the turbulence within by eating breakfast.

The lift arrived swiftly. Its interior was mirrored and smelled of a vaguely familiar perfume. As the doors reopened to reveal a cleaner mopping the marbled floor, Susan recognised that feeling of disorientation. Here she was again. Alone in a foreign hotel, not knowing where she was. Or who she was.

The cleaner looked up and smiled deferentially and Susan smiled back. She would not initiate conversation with the woman in case she couldn’t speak English. Instead, she strode up to the reception desk.

‘Excuse me, what time does breakfast start?’

‘Breakfast is at seven Ma’am.’

‘Thank you.’

On the wall behind the desk was a row of clocks, each one set to the times of different cities. The central one was the largest and told her that it was seven o’clock. She was relieved. The receptionist had gone back to her paperwork as if Susan had already left. She turned towards the automatic doors leading out onto the terrace. As the doors parted, a commotion danced and spiralled through the blast of warm air and she hesitated for a moment. There was laughter and shrieking coming from a huddle of white coats in the corner of the poolside restaurant. Should she go? Of course, she was hungry and happy noise posed no threat. Or did it?

The gurgling from her innards and the waft of coffee on the warm breeze pulled her towards the restaurant like gravity itself. It was always a challenge working out the etiquette for each hotel. She wasn’t sure whether just to sit at a table or wait to be seated. The white-coated waiters were still gathered around one table and failed to notice her entrance above the din they were making.

Susan unfolded the napkin and spread it out on her lap. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on the backs of her hands. She didn’t want to look desperate so she avoided looking over at the crowd. She gazed sideways at the buffet display of melons, pineapples and mangoes. She wasn’t sure if she should just go over and help herself or wait to be offered coffee. There didn’t seem much chance of anyone coming over so Susan quietly rose and made her way over to the fruit. On her way, she noticed some chrome jugs on a side table. She decided to take a detour and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Even the cup hitting the saucer didn’t attract anyone’s attention. She resumed her journey over to the fruit. The stunning display of oranges, reds and pinks were redolent of something else but she put this out of her mind whilst she piled up a plate. There were cooked items in stainless steel dishes; scrambled eggs with what looked like onions and peppers, diced fried potatoes and bacon so crispy it was almost black. She would be back for her second course.

Having arrived fairly late the previous evening, Susan hadn’t really had a chance to size up many of the other guests except for a drunken couple dressed in sequins and swaying about in reception trying to ask for their room key. So as the melon dissolved in her mouth, she drifted back to thinking about the gathering in the corner and the woman who sat at its centre. The waiters were being very familiar with her. A celebrity perhaps? Surely a celebrity would have an entourage or at least some dress sense. They definitely knew her.

As Susan neared the end of eating her fruit, she stood up to make her second visit. Still no register of her existence. At the same time, a group of people arrived at the restaurant. Their exuberant manor immediately drew the attention of the waiters. It seemed as though Susan was going to eat the cooked food unnoticed too. With the edge taken off her hunger, she noticed that the food was arranged between the most exquisite displays of exotic flowers, that the tables were draped in the highest quality of cotton cloth.

Some more waiters emerged from the kitchen and were ushering the new arrivals in the restaurant to tables adjacent to the woman. So, they knew her too. They were together. In an instant, veil of waiters in front of the woman was drawn back and Susan could see her face clearly.

Two years ago, Susan had been to Barbados, two years before that it had been St Lucia. She enjoyed the variety of cultures and the climate of the Caribbean; the relative safety of being confined within a hotel complex was as appealing to a woman holidaying on her own as to couples. Susan liked to watch the weddings in the hotels, wishing that she could be involved in some way. She kept a private score: best wedding music, prettiest dress, presentation of the groom, choice of flowers. She considered herself an impartial judge with the inconspicuousness of a chameleon.
Susan put her head down. She thought about slipping under the table but remembered that the debris of her half-eaten breakfast would give her away. She’d got it so wrong.

This woman was no over-dressed drag queen with an entourage. She was a bride. Just as Susan could blend into the background and avoid people’s gazes, this woman sought them. She’d been there in Barbados. And St Lucia. But this was the first time that Susan had recognised her.

Susan would spend the years between holidays saving and planning for her next trip. This other woman had done the same.

Susan had blown it this time. Something had gone wrong with her judgement and she was willing herself to dissolve into the pool of melon juice on her plate. But all that was just wishful thinking and her old self had already evaporated in the heat.
The reality was that she could no longer go unnoticed. This was it. Nothing would be black and white anymore; a whole palate of colour was about to be splattered all over the blank canvas that had been her life.

Of course the planning of it had gone like clockwork. Ever since Barbados, she and Ben had been comparing scores on wedding music, pretty dresses and flowers; no detail had been left to chance. But this woman in the corner with the pink skirt and white stilettos wasn’t comfortable.

It was only when Ben arrived after his morning run, slowing down as he passed the coffee machine, the fruit and admiring glances of both families that Susan remembered where she was. This was the first morning of what would be a fortnight of celebrations. No more pre-wedding nerves.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The bench

This is a bench of significance. At least to us. Ten years ago, after an enjoyable evening at the pub a crowd of friends came back to my house. We listened to music and talked and talked. Gradually, everyone left one by one until there was just one friend remaining. We kept talking. We decided to walk down to the park and watch the sun rise. We sat on this bench and talked some more. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the sun rising because we were facing West; one minute it was dark, the next it wasn't.

The bench stood firm against changes in the surrounding landscape; the rebuilding of the nearby sports centre, new paving slabs for people to grind their cigarettes into and the tickling of the new hedge's fingers as it shot up from behind.

You can see from the picture that there's been some sort of traumatic event. The unnoticed spark from a cigarette, an illicit barbecue that went wrong or someone who just spontaneously combusted? Maybe. I'm sure if your trousers were on fire, you'd notice before you got to that stage. How can you not notice the sparks, the burning before it gets to your bare skin? We'll never know. Just like we never knew when we sat there talking as friends after a long night that one day, three years later, we'd be married, walking past the bench with our children.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Something you see every day

It’s at times like these when I’m very thankful to Sarah for her prompts. Here I am, up even earlier than usual, just having my Ready Brek and thought I'd just check my emails etc. No sooner had I wandered over to Sarah's blog than I had suddenly got the urge to write something. Yay! It’s made me realize how important it is for me to keep writing daily. Let's ignore the fact that I got up early because I need to wash my hair before the children's swimming lessons at 8am and that I will be running through the doors with them at the last second and making them change in reception, I really wanted to write. So, thank you Sarah! The reason why this is such a turning point is that I’ve been preoccupied with my novel and it seems such a huge task at the moment plus I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. The result has been that I have produced nothing of anything for the last few days. Therefore, I’ve decided to have a few days off from the novel and enjoy some random writing. The prompt is ‘something you see every day’ and I’m going to describe an object in great detail. In true Rolf Harris fashion (just realised he’s got the same surname as me but with only one ‘s’) fashion, see if you can guess what it is before you get to the end.
Its upper surface is a brilliant grey, depending upon the light thrown in through the patio doors. If you screw up your eyes, it could be a model of a town: rows of detached bungalows, a community centre and a block of neighbourhood shops. And yes, I think there’s a sports arena because I can see the outline of the tiered blocks of seating. Beyond that is another small residential area bordering onto the industrial estate. At the very far end, is one lone building with a massive space in front of it; must be some sort of retail development. Come back to the end from where you’re viewing and you can get a sense of perspective. You can see that the ground immediately at the front of our town is not so brilliantly shiny as it is in the distance. Look closer still at the surface and you can see that it’s not contours in the land but sticky fingerprints. Also, there’s some graffiti in big letters printed across this piece of open space. No, it’s too neat for graffiti. It’s a company’s name, an advertisement.
Now, here’s one last thought. In my novel (told you I’m preoccupied by it), I keep coming back to one thought, a quote I heard from somewhere: ‘You spend your whole life looking for something that isn’t there and then one day you’re not there’. I suppose it’s about focusing on the details and not being able to see the bigger picture which is the overall theme of my writing at the moment. So, there’s a clue for you – if your house is anything like ours – it’s something that you frequently lose sight of.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Monty's Blog

He's been at it again. So if you've come here expecting a nice little story, I'm sorry - I've been busy working on my novel. You could, however, check out Monty's Blog where he's ranting regularly about the woes of being a member of our household.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

You're not the only one

I've had some good news this week. A piece of my writing has been selected to be included in a book called You're Not the Only One and it's for Warchild. It's nice to think that my writing can contribute something positive to the world and this is certainly a very deserving charity. So, please buy one!

I've been too busy vacuuming and dusting today so Monty's been the blogger in the household. Please read it and indulge his need for adulation.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Flopsy's Gone

On the advice of our vet and the Wildlife SOS people, Flopsy has been released back into the wild this evening. We took him (or her) down to the edge of the forest. Unfortunately, he didn't adhere to the plan and skip off into the undergrowth but darted off in the opposite direction and across the road in front of a car during which time we all held our breath. Fortunately, the driver braked and missed him as we saw him moving at the speed of light up the path on the other side. Even the magpie which landed and took a peck at him couldn't keep up but goodness knows where he went after that. I walked back later with the dog and did see a small rabbit in front of the forest nibbling at the grass but I suppose it could have been him, at least, I like to think so. Having watched all this take place, I understand why they have a mortality rate of 95% in the wild. I hope we did the right thing .....

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Flopsy Bunny

I've had no time to write today as it's been a little hectic here. Just got back from picking up my eldest son from the station to find that Marmaduke the cat had brought home a baby rabbit. It seemed to be too shocked to move and was obviously far from home so we've put it into an indoor cage with hay, food and water and a tiny cardboard box to hide in.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Supermarket Hell

Sloppy habits had crept into Susan’s life through the back door and were draped sideways over the three piece suite and making layers ring marks on the glass coffee table. She had trained herself to slump in the brown leather recliner with her feet up with large cushions either side obscuring any possibility of even a glance at the grime and hairs on the other furnishings.
Of course, it hadn’t always been like this but shortly after her sister had died, there seemed to be no polish left and she couldn’t find the dusters. In a cupboard, there was a vacuum cleaner but it had stopped picking up and a nasty sour odour deterred her from opening the door.
The only clear area in the entire house was the hallway, just in front of the door to the outside world. She didn’t want the delivery people to think that she was uncouth so once a fortnight, she would push the accumulated dust and fluff into the kitchen with a broom and shut the door quickly. Her library consisted not of books but take away menus and for her entertainment, she would shuffle them and surprise herself with the catch of the day. Although she didn’t make conversation with the drivers – and this would have been difficult anyway because they scarpered as soon as the exchange had taken place – she had her favourites and sometimes her selection of meal hinged upon her calculation of the rosters and who would be likely to appear on the doorstep that evening.

One evening, her meal arrived and things went wrong. And when Susan appeared in the doorway of the supermarket, it wasn’t just the onlookers who were taken aback. There was a man guarding the entrance, looking her up and down. He handed her a basket and waved her inside. The man was wearing a hot red uniform.
She wandered along the first aisle which housed an array of items claiming to be free from so many things that it should have stood empty. There were packets of what could be ham in one aisle and another place where you could watch it being wrapped up. Similarly, there were loaves of bread on the shelves in foil wrappers good enough for astronauts or you could queue up and ask for it to be sliced, for them to sigh for you, put it through a machine and then into a plastic bag. They had boxes of cream cakes or you could ask for the same cream cakes from an actual person who would put it into the box right in front of your eyes, no kidding. The frozen pizzas were ’buy one get one free’ which was curious because she wondered why they didn’t just make them cheaper. What if you only wanted one?
What if you only wanted one thing and you got to the checkout and yet you still had to answer all those questions about parking tickets, schools vouchers, reward cards from a disembodied voice floating around to the beat of a red light and a cacophony of bleeps. And this is just what Susan had to do. There were no cashiers to be seen anywhere and yet people seemed to be queuing up to pay. There were no carrier bags to be seen anywhere.
It was amazing how things had progressed since her last visit. The man behind her with a stack of disposable barbecues helped her scan her pizza. Beyond the checkout were four cubicles. You could swipe your ‘reward’ card to be admitted to the appropriate one; Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or other. Susan hadn’t been to church since she was a child and chose the last booth. Inside was a swivel stool and a selection of buttons.
‘You’re a dirty woman’ a female voice announced.
‘So give me the pizza.’
Susan thought about it. She looked down at the pizza on her lap. She’d made it through the self-service checkout, the barrage of questions and now she was going to lose the pizza after all. Now she understood why they had to give them away and she wished she’d picked up two. She hesitated. She was hungry. She posted the box into the flashing opening underneath the buttons.
‘Thank you. You may now press the redemption key. Your reward card will be credited.’
The swivel stool started to spin and descend towards the floor of the cubicle and Susan, weary from hunger, took this as her cue to stand up and leave. She looked for an exit but could see none so instead, she made her way back to the entrance. The automatic doors closed sharply in front of her and the gentleman in the red suit stepped forward and handed her a basket. Susan would have to go around the supermarket again. She felt like she’d died and gone to Hell.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Educating Kathryn

In the physics lab, iron filings took on sinister shapes. There were positives and negatives but I was never going to be drawn towards physics. Or chemistry. I remember growing a crystal in copper sulphate solution but I wasn’t going to be enticed by the blue lagoon either. And I was terrified of Bunsen burners; my fear of fire started after two boys burned down the school staffroom and library. They were sent off to Borstal. So I opted for biology, soft option. Little did I know how soft; the teacher had a heart attack and never returned. It was a mixed ability group with some of the most notorious delinquents in the school. Lessons were spent doing anything but biology, only the texts books and the appearance once every half an hour from the head of department dressed in a white coat would give any outsider a clue as to the purpose of the gathering.

The English teacher gave us Shakespeare to read which we did in silence and without discussion whilst he sat at his desk with a pipe hanging out of his mouth. His bald head , sideburns and narrow frame were dated, even for the seventies. He wore rubber soled lace-ups and sat cross legged. When he did utter a word, it was inaudible. I tried to get through my exams by reading Brodie’s notes alone.
The art teacher had bushy, black, winged eyebrows and almost white hair swept to one side. He reminded me of an owl, so piercing were his eyes. He wore neat pale grey suits, spoke in a deep voice with precision. His room was bare, almost sterile. I stopped painting exotic jungles when I arrived in his class and picked up a technical drawing pen, drew a punk pierced all over with safety pins joined by chains and handed it in for my O’Level. No one sensed the change in my work.

I was terrified of not learning to conjugate my French verbs. Moved out of a lower set to the top one, I was in a state of shock; the previous teacher had been off sick more than he’d been there, belonged to the National Front, drove a camouflaged vintage car and called some of the children ‘wogs’. My new teacher upheld grammar school standards, clearly flouting the prevailing laws of comprehensive culture and actually taught me French. He did this with a heavy Polish accent and it was only after I’d left school when I realised that the emphasis in ‘imperative’ should be on the second syllable and not the third. He was way past retirement age and dried runs of black dye were always visible on his neck. He called the girls ‘pretty ones’ and the boys ‘ugly ones’. He would make a chopping motion with his arm when anyone got their tenses mixed up and earned himself the nickname Chopper Kayley.
Maths was hard. I had worked my way up to the top set and hung in there by the skin of my teeth, trying not to be distracted by the teacher who would put his hand on his hip when writing on the blackboard. ‘Teapot’, that’s what they called him. But I was too frightened of maths to call him anything and concentrated on my calculus. Don’t ask me to do it now.

Most people keep one or two of their exercise books from school. But not me. I keep files from my days as a mature student in a special cupboard. They might be useful one day or I might want to reminisce about my days at university.
Cupboards were important places at school too. The humanities teacher drank whisky in his, the art teacher drank real coffee in the history teacher’s cupboard, probably because she was very refined, drove an Italian car and was the spitting image of Lady Penelope. They always shut the door but the aroma of the coffee and her perfume wafted around the nearby corridors. I can still smell the filth, even now.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Now please get in the cake

‘Now please get in the cake’ he said and I just looked at him. By this point I was getting pretty cheesed off. I’d been bundled into the back of some ropey old car, hauled out again and marched through the corridors of a dump in the middle of nowhere. I’d been trussed up, passed through the hands of different men like butter at the supermarket checkout and packed off again.
Up above my head were some ropes, probably left over from the village panto and I tried to eye them up without attracting the attention of the ape who’d been responsible for my ordeal so far that day. I wondered what he had had to do with the other bloke, dressed in black robes. I sensed that there were others in the room and as I tried to calm my nerves by taking a deep breath my nostrils felt suffocated by the dank atmosphere.
The furniture was made from dark wood and I was surprised to see some embroidered cushions in deep red. I had the feeling that escape was becoming a fantasy, that this set-up was too organised, more so than I could have guessed from my journey there.
When I’d arrived at the first place, they’d removed the material covering my eyes. It had worried me because it could’ve meant that they were no longer trying to keep things secret. They were going to do away with me, I was sure. The man in the black robe seemed to be the ring leader; he had questioned me and then the weirdo next to me with the stupid grin. I couldn’t understand what he said, it wasn’t plain English so I just nodded and it seemed to keep him happy.
The next thing that’d happened was a high speed car journey to where I was now. The grinning idiot had been frantic, kept looking out of the rear window of the car to see that we were ahead of the others.
‘What’s the matter Fran?’ he asked, looking at me.
‘Oh nothing. After all, I do this sort of thing all the time. What do you think is the matter?’ I shouted.
‘I thought you liked surprises.’
I was speechless. Who did he think he was?
‘When you said that you didn’t want a traditional wedding, that you wanted to surprise everyone, I found the perfect answer. Now please, get in the cake’ he said, ‘We’re running out of time’.
‘Is it a fruit cake?’
‘Well, that’s alright then’ and we jumped in holding hands and waited for the first guests to arrive.

Monday, 2 June 2008

A momentary lapse of reason

Let me count the reasons why I’m doing this.

1 No one wears coats.
2 I get to sit down.
3 I’m usually eating.
4 People know not to talk to me or telephone during this time, even the children.
5 I’ve done it for years; nineteen, to be precise.
6 I once bumped into them at Bahrain Airport.
7 I can criticise.
8 I can make predictions (even write the script).
9 I can watch people grow old, die or go to Brisbane.
10 I can watch people change and improve dramatically in the most improbable ways.
11 I can watch it whilst simultaneously trying to figure out why it is so improbable by recalling past storylines.
12 It has no beginning, middle or ending but it does have rhythm.
13 It slows me down, prevents me from doing too much.

So, as I lay on the bed watching a video of the omnibus edition of Neighbours, recorded by my husband for me today, having missed an entire week’s episodes, I ask myself why. I ask myself why I feel compelled to subject myself to one hour and forty-five minutes (minus the adverts through which we fast-forward) so late at night and wonder how much I will enjoy this hedonistic activity. I ask myself the same question as those who have regarded my addiction with such mirth over the years, incredulous that I am prepared to admit publicly to my little foible.
As we plough through the episodes, the answers coming to me are those above. Interestingly, it is a chore, not a pleasure and I feel rather silly. Therefore, I conclude that the real reason I watch Neighbours is because I don’t have to think for twenty minutes or so. Even someone as daft as I can’t not think for one hour and forty-five minutes.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Two buy Two

Mrs Noah is fed up of just holding the hammer. It’s a plumbing hammer left behind by someone at her mother’s house who wasn’t even a plumber. So she tries to wallop the metal tent pegs but its slippery, brittle surface just becomes more gnarled than it already is and spits fragments of orange plastic all over the cream canvas. But it’s the only hammer they’ve got. Yes, they’ve got a doormat, ten towels, waterproof trousers and spare socks but no proper mallet. No wonder the person who wasn’t a plumber didn’t bother to take it with them. It’s rubbish. They should buy a new one. Mrs Noah would like to hurl the hammer into oblivion. It’s raining.
Mr Noah is fed up too. Mrs Noah has to be told everything. She was never a boy scout. He thinks she’s more worried about the bits of orange plastic coming off the hammer than getting the tent erected. And it’s raining. Mr Noah is also fed up because his feet are wet and he knows that Mrs Noah is very likely to start nagging him about his choice of shoes. Mr Noah’s shoes have a hole in them and they are the only pair he’s brought. It is also very likely that Mrs Noah will see this misfortune as an opportunity to go shopping.
Mrs Noah thinks that Mr Noah doesn’t like being on holiday very much. She thinks that he needs to go shopping. She calls it ‘going for a coffee’. He needs some new shoes, anyway. They’ll do that tomorrow if it’s still raining.
Mr Noah is thinking about the amount of stuff that has to be fitted into the tent once it’s up. Packing anxiety, his wife calls it. He had the same trouble with the car and she always has to say ‘I told you so’ after he’s spent hours rearranging the countless useless items she’s insisted on bringing. And just why do they have to have two of everything?