Stream of consciousness

Wow my mind is blank this evening – so to get this done and ‘flex the muscle’ I’m going to just have to write what comes out of my fingers. My fingers – which look like they belong to some olden day maid or ancient crone. I have a cut on my knuckle which keeps cracking and bleeding, so then I put a plaster on it but within minutes it is all soft and white like a scallop and no less sore. It’s all the wiping that’s doing it – as no 3 is spreading her mush far and wide.

Dinner today had been a little vile. The chicken had smelt bad. When she’d started preparing the meal, Margaret had known it did, but there was no more to get out, so she washed it under the tap, cleaning its pinkish grey skin and patting it dry as she would her baby’s bottom. She gingerly sniffed again  – it smelled slightly less eggy. Although she knew that she would be happy to eat a meal without meat, Dave would demand protein, so she cooked it, flinging in spices and chili to try and mask the taste.

Grabbing a spoon, she served the food out and even wrapped the meat up, parcelling it inside the seeded tortillas, she had bought in an attempt to be more health conscious. But when it came to it, she couldn’t put the pieces into her mouth. She began to pick the chicken titbits out of her wrap, building a small cairn of rejected fowl at the side of her plate. The remaining faint whiff made her gag. Why had she cooked it? Please let her not get an upset stomach. Imagine if the whole lot of them went down with food poisoning. It was unthinkable. Yet despite her misgivings Margaret still gave the scraps to the dog. Fingers crossed the greedy mutt would not end up shitting on the floor, though he did that often enough anyway.

When she had been in the final weeks of her pregnancy the dog had crapped on the mat nearly every single night. According to Doctor Google he had been feeling neglected and the only way to make him stop was to give him more fuss. Chance would have been a fine thing, undivided attention had been in pretty short supply as Margaret had staggered through the dying days of her pregnancy. The cramps, the contractions, the fact that the baby had felt like it was living in her arse, blocking her up and making her miserably constipated, it had felt like the dog was laughing in her face. Look at me! Look at me, pooping so easily it just slips out onto the floor, while you walk around with a turd log jam backed up to the middle of next week. A symptom of pregnancy conveniently ignored by many.

Still she’d had her poo in the end – as big and round as Pink Lady apple – and bam, the waters had broken right there on the loo, signalling the imminent arrival of the baby. That wasn’t the final curtain either – several hours later the sensation to bear down and push had led to yet more indignity as a handful of sheep-pellets showered down on her own ankles, before she threw up and then had a baby.

Fresh – part 2 1000 word story

At first glance the place didn’t look too bad at all. ‘In fact,’ Helen thought to herself, ‘It actually looks pretty nice.” It was a red brick building, with long thin white framed windows that looked as though were iced onto gingerbread.

Ignoring the piles of binbags stacked like mounds of dirty washing by the giant wheelie bins, Helen climbed the steps up to the heavy close door and pushed the buzzer. Someone had stuck a piece of chewing gum right next to the silver button, and it had hardened into a greyish pink disk.

The door intercom crackled unintelligibly and Helen heard the deep buzz that signified that it would open. She grabbed the handle and pulled, before unexpectedly stepping backwards – it hadn’t been locked anyway.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor Helen took surreptitious glances along the landings. Some of the flats had bikes outside, others brightly coloured washing and plants. She reached the door of the place she was coming to view and took a deep breath. She was meeting the landlord but had no idea what to expect. This was the first time she’d ever even considered moving away from home, and even now she wasn’t sure it was what she wanted. The places in her price range had so far been pretty horrendous: sharing with tons of other people, too poky or just way too far out of London.

Helen knocked nervously. The paint was peeling and a flake splintered off under her knuckles. The door opened promptly and a small man let Helen in to a gloomy hall. The flat was also small. As she moved inside, Helen realised that she could see the entire place without taking another step. Suppressing a sigh, she smiled timidly at the man. He merely blinked, twitched his moustache and said: “£375 a month for the room. Bills not included. You’ll live with two others, that’s their room, this is yours.”

It contained a single bed, greying curtains at the window, a grimy desk  and a flimsy material wardrobe with an empty silver rail. The bottom half of  the walls were painted a strange brownish red which put Helen in mind of dried blood. The top boasted wallpaper – but not just one design. Instead, each strip was different, creating a dizzying effect.

She glanced up at the ceiling, noting the creeping black speckles in the corner.

“Um, that looks like mould,” she ventured, pointing at the ceiling. The man glanced up, and as though he hadn’t heard, said to Helen. “We can only take you if you have proof of employment. No benefits, I’m afraid.”

Helen felt her cheeks flush as she drew herself up, replying: “I have a job. I’m a chef’s assistant on Mayfair. I’ll be looking after a family there. I’m sure they’ll give me a reference. About the mould….”

“No trouble. I’ll give it a fresh coat of paint, it’ll be good as new, you’ll never even know it was there.”

Fresh

“And this is the kitchen. Virtually untouched, only replaced in 2014, as part of the £1m renovations. As you know the owners of this property have spent much of their time overseas, so it’s in excellent condition, with all the mod cons.”

Sarah paused to let the woman behind her catch up, as they passed through the long hallway that led to the rear part of the building. Paintings hung on the light green walls, heavy white whorls of cornicing decorated the corners of the room, like elaborate frosting on a fairy cake. The door to the kitchen swung open easily, presumably to let the staff push it while carrying plates and dishes to and from the room. She held the door open. The woman did not even raise her head as she walked through the doorway, merely exhaling something that sounded like “Uh-huh” as she swished past.

“You’re welcome,” Sarah muttered in her head, but outwardly she smiled and said, “I think you’ll find it has everything any chef could possibly need.”

The woman was carrying a Blackberry, tapping away with a stylus as she walked. She stopped, raised her head, the glossy curtains of hair parting perfectly around her face as she glanced around the room. She pursed her lips, and very faintly wrinkled her nose. “A working kitchen, I see.”

Sarah glanced around the room, bemused. The room was rectangular, a huge range cooker taking up a good couple of metres on one side of the kitchen. Fitted cupboards in a kind of glittering purple colour were lit underneath with fluorescent lights which rotated in pink, then green then blue. The tiles on the floor were also shiny, and the work surfaces were some sort of solid stone. The island in the middle was almost big enough to be shipwrecked on. Transfixed by the disco-effect lighting Sarah felt like she had turned up early to the school dance and was now left waiting for the hot boys to show up, while she boogied alone.

She cleared her throat and consulted the notes in front of her on her iPad screen. “All of the appliances come with the kitchen, as standard, that includes the Smeg fridge and the Rangemaster oven, obviously.” She faltered as the woman slowly took her finger, and rubbed it along the top of the stainless steel fan fixture hanging above the hob. Then she touched the pad of her index finger and thumb together, and inspected them closely. Sarah could detect a faint sticky sheen of grease.

“This kitchen has been used.” It wasn’t a question, though it seemed to be directed at Sarah. It was more a declaration of fact.

“Well, yes,” Sarah felt a sudden overwhelming urge to giggle, slap her forehead and say “DURRR of course it has,” as though she had suddenly lost ten years of her life. “The owners have entertained here on several occasions, though as I mentioned they have not really lived in for more than a couple of consecutive weeks.”

“Well, it will have to go. We’ll have to rip it out and start again. My employers couldn’t think of cooking somewere that somebody else as soiled. It’s just not right that they should have to put up with something that isn’t…..” she paused, tapping the stylus against her teeth, “…..something that isn’t completely fresh, shall we say.”

Here we go again

And breathe…..LD is finally gone – after  what seems like forever dreading him leaving, it’s come just like that. Ah Impending Doom Syndrome, how well I know thee. I wonder if civvies catch it too, or if it is only Forces couples who get it so badly? We’ve had some really juicy squabbles over the last couple of days, pecking each other like seagulls after scraps, and my bad mood has definitely been taken out on the girls, as I’ve chosen to ignore my ‘sad’ and instead pick the scab of marital relations.

He left just after lunch – and since both big kids were occupied I went a bit tidying crazy today – clearly Grandma’s genes run deep in me. When in doubt, tidy. Move things around until everything is in its proper place. Though that is a task that could take forever in this house – my children seem to live to create havoc, messing with my rooms and my head like naughty gremlins.

The house is not clean, though….I haven’t got that far yet – first of all it’s just been quite cathartic to actually sort out LD’s side of the room. It has driven me nuts for so long that he is such a slob – is it possible that both nature and nurture combined to make him utterly revolting? With his collection of sticky sweet wrappers, crumpled receipts, piles of coins and random bits of golfing tat – when he hasn’t played golf for at least four years – he’s like some filthy hoarder waiting for a hungry rainy day.

Also, because he’s taken his alarm clock and charger and all the accoutrement that make a bedside table, the room does look rather odd – unbalanced – like he’s left me. Let’s hope he hasn’t. Anyway, all I can think is that I’m glad it’s just Shrivenham and not Afghanistan again or some similar hell hole. If this were tour number three I’d hear nothing for days, going through that gaping chasm of silence that throws you right in at the deep end. As they kill time sleeping in hangars and waiting for flight transfers, you scrabble desperately to get back to the surface after being flung into the freezing lake of full-time motherhood.

This time we’ve already texted – I accidentally got him a plate out at tea time and had to let him know as it almost set me off weeping again – but I’m sure I’ll soon become accustomed to the new routine. And again, I am glad that this time none of my babies are tiny. I remember struggling to answer the plaintive “Where Daddy gone?” a few years back, which tweaked my heart every time No 1 said it, sometimes even moving me to tears. It was worse when she stopped asking, though. At least this time they understand, and they understand that LD is coming back – and Baby no 3 has had time to know and love him before he’s gone away for the first time, her chubby face lighting up with joy when he walks into the room.

Vive la France

The night we arrived in France I started my period. I hadn’t had many before, I wasn’t clued in to the warning signs. My knickers were stained with blood despite the wadges of toilet paper I had stuffed inside. My exchange partner was a boy. There was no way I could explain to him what was going on, and when we got to his house, I declined dinner and went straight upstairs to my room. Once there I changed my clothes, but I had no pads and I burst into tears with the stress of it all. The mum asked me if I wanted to call home. They couldn’t figure out why I was so distraught and I didn’t have the words to tell them, or any inclination to share my stained underwear.

The next day we went ice-skating. I awkwardly hugged the edge of the rink, the gigantic sanitary towel I had found in the bathroom cabinet lodged between my thighs as though I was riding a thoroughbred. Then I saw the most beautiful boy. His hair was dark and glossy and flopped over his tanned forehead. He wore a rollneck sweater – they all did – and blue denim jeans. His skin was clear of teenage acne, but it was his eyes that compelled me across the ice. They were a light aquamarine, a pool I wanted to dive into and never come up again.

I’ve no idea now how I summoned the nerve or found the words, but within minutes we were kissing and we spent the rest of the hour at the rink together, pressed up against the damp wall or skating round holding hands. He skated backwards, his fingers linked with mine, our eyes locked together. My exchange partner, Davide, seemed sour. My new love was his cousin, and so we saw each other again during the holiday, but never repeated our passionate embraces. Patrick gave me a ring before I left, a light tinny circle indented with stars.

I wore it on my thumb and for many years it was like a talisman, a sign that good things had happened to me. I had been the girl who kissed the boy.

Why do I leave it so late?

The sunlight cuts through the room like it’s slicing the air. I see the shimmering motes and in my half-asleep state I’m a child again, my mum telling me that those tiny specks of glittering dust are fairies dancing. “Not just my poor housekeeping,” she’d say, conspiratorially. I keep looking, cracking my eyes no more than a couple of millimetres, the veins and arteries  making dark wriggling worms inside my lids. This shining golden light of early morning feels so beautiful, peaceful. No one else is awake. I want to keep the spell unbroken. And, as though I am a child again, I make a wish. “Let me wake up. Let this all have been just a horrible dream.”

As the room dims I realise I’ve been holding my breath. The sun has gone behind a cloud. I’m no longer gazing at fairies, just dirt. Tattered curtains hang wearily and the cardboard taped to the windows has started to peel away. I roll onto my side and the sleeping bag I am in exhales a puff of stale air, like a last gasp from a corpse. I can smell myself and I don’t smell good. A can crunches under my body and my elbow knocks clinking bottles, glass skittles from last night’s mammoth session. And as I wake, I feel the itch kick in almost instantly. I look for my kit. The spoon, the needle, the bag of powder. It’s still here. My wish has not come true.

Flexing that muscle

The garden is longer than it is wide, with a path running up the right hand side. A weeping willow fills most of the left hand fence, the branches dangling down, tempting the children to Tarzan swing and maypole dance. It is gone four o’clock, already most of the grass is in shadow, but there is a small dappled place under the apple tree where Julie spreads out the blanket.

The blanket is a small orange rectangle. Moggy and bobbled, it has gone through two of her children already and was handed down even before that, but it is cosy and warm and that’s what matters.

She reaches into the black shell of the car seat and lifts out her baby daughter, who is curled and rounded like a pudgy kitten, her shock of dark hair soft and fluffy. She looks like a baby Elvis, with her spikey quiff and sideburns, as well as a cleft in her chin, a dimple, which some say is lucky.

The baby lies on her back, happily gazing up at the sky and curving round to grab hold of the toes of her babygro. She has only recently discovered her feet and crows with satisfaction as she caterpillars her way off the edge of the blanket. Her tummy muscles are not quite strong enough for her to make it onto her front, so she lies casually on one side, fixing the dog with a stern stare as he wanders past.

He gives her face a sly lick and settles on the blanket next to her. Clearly this has been laid out for him. His coat is white, black and tan. His ears and tail are down but they prick at the slightest twitch or ruffle in the trees around. He is the guardian of this patch. He knows what he has to do to protect this space and all the people in it. At the moment this little blob presents no annoyance to him, but it won’t be long before she is grabbing handfuls of ear and tail. He has seen it all before and will suffer it again with goodwill and patience.

Flowers in her blood

My friend Alice has flowers in her blood. Apparently, those flowers could be the key to everything. She explained that to me to today, as she described her shittily rapid descent into having cancer, and the slow clawing back that she is currently undertaking.

Sitting at my kitchen table, as she talked me through how a new experimental vaccination will help, I was transported back twenty years to when we first became friends at Sixth Form. I admit it, part of the reason I sought her out then was because I knew she’d be able to prop me up as I flailed through my Social Biology A Level, and that she did, explaining mitrochondrial powerhouses and veins versus arteries. I also became her friend because she was strong, independent and funny. There was no messing with Alice.

But cancer is now messing with her. Today she told me that this is one of the most surprising parts of being ill. As a clinical psychologist she is qualified to be kind, caring and understanding as she helps people to solve their problems. She has been taught how to do these things – she has the bits of paper that tell her she is good at doing these things, and yet here she is, forced to rely on her friends, family and partner to be kind. She doesn’t trust us amateurs to do it right. And it’s true, I feel as clumsy as a bear in oven gloves as I probe indelicately, trying to understand how she is feeling, so that I can empathise and repair and support.

But before we got to that bit, good old Alice listened to me as I blethered and burbled my way through the inane and tiresome occurences in my life. Recently I have been suffering from ‘the jealousy babs’. I’ve felt sulky and brattish and quite desperately disconcerted by where I find myself. I’ve been comparing my results with others and feeling I was coming up short. But being with Alice gave me the slap round the face I needed. Not from her, but from myself. Because Alice has been given a time limit. Where in my selfishness I tell myself that this stage of my life is temporary, just a thing I’m doing for a while, for Alice this stage might be the only stage.

As she accompanied me on Dull Mission of the Day (collect white clothes and bread products from As-dah) I wondered just how she is going to get through the next few years. Alice’s cancer started in her eye. One day the world just folded in half. A flipped up cinema seat, her retina was pushed forward by the mass of cells behind, within weeks her eyeball had been removed. The trouble with the eye, though, is that is connected to all those blood vessels, those pipes and rivers and streams flowing round the body. It took months to find out whether any of the cells had escaped, punted off downriver to take up residence elsewhere.

She was finally given the all-clear a few weeks ago, nearly ten months after she first went to the opticians, and as a result was given the go ahead to take part in a trial in Holland. She is one of 20 people worldwide who have had their blood removed, drip by drip, spun and examined for sticky flowers, and then drip by drip fed back in again. A vaccination is being made from the blood that’s been removed and this will be injected back into Alice’s body once a special crime-busting protein has been added.

The thing that pleased me most today

The thing that pleased me most today:

There is a small hole next to the waste water pipe. In the mouth of the hole is a piece of concrete, about the size and shape of a pumice stone. It balances there, strategically blocking the entrance to a tiny cave, a cavity in the wall of our house, caused by the removal of an outside tap. Why someone thought that we would no longer have any need for such a convenience is by the by, for the hole is now home to a family of great tits.

Because it is directly positioned under the kitchen window, I lose count of the number of times in a day I see the adult birds diving with red arrow precision through this tiny hole. After they departed the nest last summer, I considered moving the precariously balanced piece of cement, but decided against it. They have no trouble getting in and out and it means that the nest is safe from the prying beaks of strutting magpies and the dabbing paws of cats or foxes.

This morning one of the tits paused in his journey between apple tree and nest, perching casually on the rose bush just outside my window. A small grub was visible in his beak. I felt so pleased that he was able to keep his little family safe inside my wall. I like to go and stand in the garden, tentatively creeping nearer without damaging my flourishing rhubarb and emerging sweet peas and listen to the meep meep meep of the chicks in the nest.