Number 59- the only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box

Number 59 – The only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box.

And even when she says it, the moment the words leave her mouth, she knows that they’re not true.
That this truth belongs to her mother and her mothers life.
Nowadays, almost no one dies in their own home and even if they do, a neat black van will take away the body, probably, although, she has no first hand knowledge of course, probably in a body bag or on a stretcher.

More and more, she finds that her mother is somehow inhabiting her mouth, phrases pop out
“ take your coat off. You wont feel the benefit”
“ a nice cup of tea and scone “
“ I don’t hold with…..”
“ in my day”

They make her feel old, they make her sound old and she isn’t, not really, not truly old.
75, it’s no age at all, not nowadays, not like in her Mother’s Day.

There are women far older than her in the Tuesday Aqua robics class, in fact she is one of the younger ones, well, slightly younger ones.
They all wear sensible one piece swim suits, usually blue or black, with sturdy shoulder straps and modestly cut legs.
She has, once or twice, dared to wear her bright red costume, it makes her feel cheerful, makes her feel a little Baywatch, but her mother’s voice crept up on her last time she wore it
“ mutton dressed as lamb”
“ no better than she should be, that one”
And so, it’s stayed in her underwear drawer and she’s dug out the black one instead.
She does refuse to wear a swim hat, even a frivolous one with pink and green flowers bouncing on top when they run on the spot in the shallow end of the pool.
A swim hat is an admission of old ness and she’s not ready for that, not yet.

Aquarobics is part of the week’s routine.
Monday is community choir
Tuesday aqua robics
Wednesday book group
Thursday is lunch with the girls and Friday, well, Friday is mother day, being a mother day, being a dutiful grandmother day and once a month, she tries to be a dutiful daughter day and visits her own mother, well, her own mother’s grave for a spot of tidying.

And of course, on top of all of this there is the garden, tiny but perfect, her allotment, walking the dog with the 4pm dog walkers and a bit, just a tiny bit of cleaning and grocery shopping.

Other women, the many other widowed women who sing and read and swim and fill their week with busyness, complain about how much they miss cooking and cleaning for husbands, now dead and children, now moved on.
She, on the other hand, cannot get over it the liberation from domestic tyranny, no more standing at the fridge, desperately trying to think of what to cook, no more cleaning and then turning her back and finding the mess creeping back again.
She has discovered ready meals, jacket potatoes, cereal for dinner and toast at any time.
She delights in her Spartan washing up, one bowl, one cup, a plate and one knife and fork and has discovered that a woman who goes out most days makes very little mess and the mess she makes is comforting when she does put her key in the door at the end of a busy day.

The dog, the last dog is very little trouble too.
He is some sort of a terrier, small, brown, fond of toast, they often share a slice in the morning while radio 2 plays something cheerful, sometimes she sings along and he looks quizzical before returning to his crunching on the toast crust.
They walk every day around the park with the 4 o clock dog walkers, the retired teacher, the man who doesn’t say much, the girl with lots of piercing and a boy friend who is on dialysis and needs a new kidney, the other older woman with the four sheep dogs all called after footballers, who wears her team scarf even when it’s not really cold enough.
They talk about the dogs, about other dog walkers, about the youth who sit on the kids swings, saying and doing nothing, but somehow exuding low level menace.
The youth are the reason why they walk together and why the man who doesn’t say much always walks with these women, keeps them safe, keeps an eye on stuff.

75 she thinks, no age at all, even when she occasionally looks in the full length mirror in the bathroom, no age at all.
Still got boobs.
Hair defiantly coloured, currently mystic violet. She knows it annoys her daughter and entertains her granddaughter.
Stomach soft now, a little thickening,but still acceptable, still able to wear a size 14.
No age at all.

Her mother’s voice whispers in her ears as she stands, naked in the bathroom
“ making a fool of yourself “
“ don’t draw attention “
“ act with dignity”

And then she picks up the little brown dog and waltzes into the bedroom stark naked and sings, badly, to whatever tune is playing on the radio.

Her neighbors make her laugh sometimes, especially the young ones, the ones on their first homes, crawling up the property ladder, the ones with plans and lives that start at 6 am and finish after 8 as they collapse onto their sofas.
They ask her questions about the neighbourhood, make statements about the good old days, assume that they know about her life
“ I bet it’s all different here now”
“ I bet you didn’t have to lock your front door when you first moved here”
“ I bet this was a real community back in the day”

Mostly, she just nods and smiles, Even when inside she is raging, on a bad day, or laughing silently, on a good day.

Just how bloody old do they think she is ?

The days they’re talking about are the 1970s.
Miners strikes
3 day week
Power cuts
Rubbish piling in the streets
Grave diggers refusing to dig graves.

Of course they locked the front door and the back door and made sure that all the windows were closed tight.

And she likes the new community, she likes chicken tikka masala, she likes the helpful family at the corner shop who open 7 days a week, she likes the polish man two doors down who popped in last week to tell her his wife was expecting their first son, she likes the 2 boys with the very neat beards and the pale pink front door, she likes the way this street looks and feels now.

75, she thinks, no age at all and she hums, loudly, a little tunelessy to drown out her mother’s nagging voice
“ 76, your father, when he went “
Your grandmother didn’t know what day it was by the time she was 70”
“ at 75, my body just fell apart”
“ I thought I’d live forever and look what happened to me”

No, she says out loud
75, no age at all.

And she wonders if she has time for a Pilates class this week.

Number 20- Je suis un rock star

Number 20- Je suis en rock star

Neal tiptoes into the bathroom, neatly sidesteps the Hans Solo action figure and the my little pony on sentry duty outside the bathroom. He pushes the door open with one finger, winces at the creak as the it opens and pauses, waiting for a sound, any sound.
But, there’s nothing, he breathes out a sigh of relief and pings on the light.

The bathroom is surprisingly large, big enough to house a book case, a battered Victorian nursing chair and the box of plastic bath toys.

Neal turns on the shower and stands for a minute looking at himself in the mirror, morning hair, morning face, everything a little out of focus, a little vague around the edges.
He steps out of his boxers and stands naked in front of the mirror, taking stock and if he remembers to breathe in, suck his belly in, well it’s actually ok.
He’s still got a bit of a tan from their two weeks in the sun, his hair is greying, but in a good way, makes him look classy and his gym going might be a bit hit and miss now, but he’s not too wobbly, too middle aged.
On the beach with the kids this summer, he could felt the odd appraising, approving glance from the yummy mummies and he liked it, liked the attention.
It made him feel as if things weren’t completely over for him, made him feel as if he still had options, other lives, other possibilities.
The shower is steaming now, water pounding against the glass. The power shower was his only contribution to the whole bathroom refit. He wanted a real shower, a mans shower, a shower that disgorged water with such force that his whole body tingles afterwards.
The kids don’t like the shower, they are bath babies, one each end of the bath, a flotilla of ducks and dinosaurs and Lego bricks floating between them, their hair twisted up into mad bathroom Mohicans and quiffs, ready for his wife to rinse off carefully, avoiding any risk of shampoo in the eyes.
He remembers the time BC, before children, when he and his wife would share a bath on a Sunday afternoon, cups of tea or sometimes Mexican beer and his soaping of her back and her shoulders and that special curve of the nape of her neck and then his fingers running down her spine and sometimes bed and sex and sometimes just talking and pyjamas and onto the sofa and rubbishy TV.

Neal stands in the shower, the water is hot and he keeps his head under the stream for a few moments and then he shakes his head, water drops everywhere, he can feel his jowls wobbling, this is what his kids call the dog shake and Neal starts to sing, shower gel in hand and today, he’s feeling a bit nostalgic, is remembering the big tunes from back in the day

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I
Can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Neal even manages a micro rock star strut in the shower cubicle, two micro steps each way, and he’s belting out the lyrics. Voice sometimes distorted by a mouthful of soapy water, but compensated for by the acoustics of the shower and the tiled bathroom.
He sounds like a god, he feels like a god.
Sometimes, he actually thinks that this is the best moment of the day, that everything is pretty much downhill after his seven minute ( two songs, with a couple of repeat choruses) of water and steam and rock stardom.
He is a legend in his own shower cubicle.

As he starts to dry himself with a Disney princess bath towel, he hears the first stirring from the kids bedrooms.
His daughter is not a morning person, takes time to surface. He can hear her talking to the cat who has at some point snuck into her bedroom and taken up residence amongst the cuddle toy mountain. Leah, will, if allowed to, stay in bed for at least another hour, arranging plastic animals on the duvet, singing songs to the cat and choosing her own outfit for the day.
Max is something else, he wakes,more erupts into the morning, leaps out of bed and grabs the day by the throat.
Neal can hear him, a whoop as he grabs his Darth Vader toy and heads towards his dad and the bathroom.
They stand together at the sink. Neal shaves. Max watching intently. They both have a dab of aftershave, Max always get to choose the morning aroma and sometimes he will decide that he’s going to be the one who moisturises Neals face and that goes as well as a three year old and a tub of Nivea for men could possibly go.

Neal can feel Sara stirring, but it’s Saturday and Saturday has a routine, he and Max have a routine and off they go. The cat weaving in and out of their legs as they head downstairs.

And later, the tray placed carefully out of reach, everyone back in bed together, Leah spooned against her mother, eating a piece of toast, eyes still half closed, a discarded pair of glittery wings just about to slide off the bed.
Max is desperate for the day to start, is bouncing between his parents, and then suddenly sidetracked, grabs the fairy wings and demands that his father fits them.

Neal leans back for a second and smiles, he manages to fit the wings and hold onto his mug of tea, only spilling a few drops.

This, he thinks, might be the best part of the day.

Number 69- Mr Loverman

Number 69- Mr Loverman.

Dave reckons its all about the detail, those little things that make all the difference and that’s why he’s leaning over the ironing board, ironing the sheets.

There is nothing more luxurious than crisp, ironed Egyptian cotton sheets and Dave reckons that even if the girl is too pissed, too tired to notice, at some subliminal level, the whole message of care and attention to detail is absorbed, helps make a night with Mr Loverman just that little bit more special.

Dave is an expert on the little details;
Food can be ready made, but it’s the presentation that matters.
You can ply a girl with booze, but you need to be a bit subtle, cocktails are good for that, plenty of alcohol, but such innocent tastes.
Candles, candles are a big part of it, all girls look better in candlelight and , complete bonus, candle light covers any cleaning failure and these days, he reckons that he looks better by candlelight too.
Cleaning, see above, but somethings have to be done properly.
Fluffy towels in bathroom
Decent duvet on top of those ironed sheets
Books on the bedside table, books are very reassuring
Sitting room needs a little artistic arrangement, needs to look as if he’s just interrupted a quiet night in to let tonight’s girl in, so, open book on the coffee table, half finished mug of tea, sometimes he goes the whole hog and makes it herbal tea, something eclectic musically and, he’s learnt this the hard way, TV both turned off and most importantly, channel changed so that when a girl sits on the remote it doesn’t blast into life with Russian housewives porn.
He’s pulled out the cushions, covered the sofa with them, put flowers, simple, non showy blooms, definitely not garage flowers, in a plain glass vase and sprayed air freshener.
He’s even dug out those photos he found in a charity shop, a family, someone’s family, Christmas and beaches and big dogs and a wedding and had framed, placed casually around. He knows that girls cannot resist picking things up, cannot resist asking questions, cannot resist making assumptions about a man who used to own a black Labrador.
The table is set, plain white China, big plates, will make the meal look smaller, reassure the girl that she hasn’t eaten much.
Dave doesn’t understand the girls and food. It’s simple he thinks, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, job done.
But, over the years and years that he has ironed sheets and sliced tomatoes and laid tables, he has never, ever fed a girl who just ate. He has become adept at walking that tightrope between providing food that’s effectively calorie free, whilst still always having a chocolate based pudding and offering at least one dish that has to be eaten with fingers and, and this is the big one, he mustn’t offer any food that risks the girl feeling fat.
Girls that feel fat, feel greedy, feel that they have let themselves down tend to make an exit, cite early starts at work, a sudden headache, a childcare problem. They have made themselves feel unattractive and cannot bear to see themselves naked even in between fine cotton sheets.

Dave isn’t against fat girls, plain girls, even downright ugly shockers.
These girls are often enthusiastic lovers, as long as he keep the lights low enough to not shake their confidence and makes sure he gets the booze level right.
For him and the girl.

Dave is pretty much an equal opportunities Mr Loverman, he has, to date, and personally he feels he has a lot more special nights in him, slept with ;
Escapees from their own hen nights
A girl he found at a bus stop
And of course the usual bevy of girls he has found, chased, captured and rewarded with a night with The Loverman.

Dave reckons he could run an evening class in getting girls, Dave reckons he’s a zen master at it, Dave reckons, that if he had a superpower, it would be this, he is a shagging superhero.

Dave has an almost 95% success rate, which must put him up there with the super stud muffins and yeah, he does know that knowing your pulling and follow through rate in % is not a thing to share with any of the girls. On balance, probably worse than the whole porn channel thing.

Dave has rules though, not rules he always keeps to, more guidelines really, suggestions, ways of avoiding complications.
These rules, if they are rules, can be summed up in one simple sentence
“ No mad birds”

Although sometimes he has to admit that you can’t always tell until it’s too late and other times, well, you have to take what’s on offer.
But generally, he avoids the actual card carrying mad, anyone who believes in astrology, girls who want him to call them women, girls who want him to call them at all
, girls who have texting habits, or crack habits or who want to take him home, introduce him to their mothers.

Dave can find a girl anywhere, doesn’t need to haunt pubs or clubs or stupidly expensive cafes, although he’s happy to use these for straightforward hunting, but what Dave likes is going off piste, going off road, taking the lane that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere useful.

So far this year, Dave has met, chased and caught girls he first saw in a queue at the dry cleaners, standing having a a smoke outside their offices, waiting for the Pilates class at the gym and he is secretly quite proud of this one, a girl who he found waiting for the family car to pick her up on the way to a funeral, in fairness to his sense of propriety, it wasn’t a funeral of a close family member.
Dave has a routine, bit of banter, couple of glasses of wine or beer or cider and then the dinner date for 2 days after this,the initial,preliminary sorte.
It gives him a chance to apply rule 1 – no mad birds and most importantly,to set him up as a really nice guy, after all, they’ve been for a drink or 7 with him and then, when most girls are expecting the heavy come on, he goes all Deliah on them and starts talking puddings.

If the spirit moves him and sometimes it does and some times it doesn’t, he will fit in another interim date, the only rule is that the timing has to be odd,the venue off kilter, so, yes to breakfast in a bagel café
Yes to duck feeding and a mini picnic after work
Yes to coffee at a farmers market
And never more than 90 minutes, 90 minutes of his total attention,eye contact, phone ostentatiously switched off and plenty of questions.
Dave isn’t actually that bothered about the answers, but he knows that girls,all,girls love talking about themselves and it saves him having to think of anything to say himself.
He sends 1 text per day to the soon to be wined and dined girl de jour and keeps an eye on the number he gets back.
He can still invoke the mad girls rule if the texting response gets too enthusiastic, too needy, too much.

And then it is D day, dinner day and there he is, sheet ironing and walking purposely around the conveniently local marks and Spencer’s.

He knows, he always knows how the evening will be end, sometimes there are small surprises.
The girl who arrives with a pair of fur lined handcuffs.
The girl who brings a friend.
The girl who cries into his chest, afterwards.

And at some point, late at night, the girl will sleep, neatly or untidily, quietly or with astonishing noise and he will be awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering when she will wake and when she will leave.

He is already thinking about the next girl, the one he has already spotted,already spoken to,already pencilled in to eat here in 4 or 5 days.

He extricates himself neatly, with polished practice from this girl,the one currently in his bed, the one who will wonder what happened, what went wrong.

She will never know and he will, within days, sometimes even hours, have forgotten her name although he often remembers the ex girls, the past girls by what he made for dinner.

Number 94- there ain’t no door that can keep me out- number 2

Number 94 – There ain’t no door can keep me out – number 2.

Kyle tries to pull the tiny slivers of glass for his thumb. He can’t see them, but he can feel sharp grittiness under the skin.
He thought he’d been more careful when he smashed the glass, had wrapped a tea towel around his fist, but here he is, leaning against the kitchen units, his hand hurting. It doesn’t surprise him that the back door at 98 had crappy old fashioned glass, the non safety stuff, the stuff that leaves splinters that will, knowing his luck, get infected and hurt like buggery.

At least he doesn’t have to worry about finger prints cos it’s not like the police are going to break a sweat on another robbery at number 98 and he would laugh, but he’s just pulled a bit of glass out and now there’s blood all over his hand, so,he doesn’t feel much like laughing.
He has a good swear instead, Kyle loves swearing, loves combining words to make mega swears, even invents new words when the old ones just don’t seem angry enough.
Swearing was what got him kicked out of the last school, well swearing and throwing a chair at a teachers head.
Although in fairness, the chair missed, missed by a mile and Kyle reckons that this proves that he wasn’t really aiming, if he had wanted to hit the teacher, he wouldn’t have bothered with a chair, so, if all just proves what Kyle already knows.
People just pick on him for no reason.

His mum went mental, screaming and shouting, but he just stood there staring at her, fronting up to her until she stopped and then he went out.

Kyle doesn’t miss school, not the lessons anyway, except maybe the ones with the teachers who lose it, whose faces go red, who spit and shake and on a really good day, the ones who cry, the ones who turn away and you know that they are close to tears.
He misses that and the corridors and the noise and the possibility of chaos and mischief, but school, what’s to miss?

He’s been to three secondary schools now, new uniform for each one, new bus route, new need to suss out who’s who and who thinks they need to show him how hard they are and who’s weak and needs to learn how hard he is.

And each time, it’s just the same shit in a different coloured blazer and he doesn’t even bother to hide what he thinks and so now he’s at home, waiting for someone to find another school or something and his mum has stopped nagging him and just gets herself up and goes to work and doesn’t say much to him and he’s never said much to her.

Besides, he hasn’t got time for school, he’s got stuff going on and some of it is proper bad. Not like the wanna be gangsters at his second school, the ones who thought that grabbing a handful of sweets from the scruffy corner shop or boosting a phone from a kid in Year 7 made them dangerous to know.

That’s not robbing, what Kyle does,now that’s robbing and if number 98 wasn’t such a cheap git then he might have a bit more to show for it than sore hands and a tenner.
He’s vexed, proper vexed. He could have gone into his mums handbag if all he wanted was a bloody tenner and he wouldn’t be standing here now, trying to dig bits of glass out of his hand.

He thought there would be more, much more in number 98, he thought it would be worth rolling out from under his duvet, worth finding an old pair of trainers, worth leaving a half smoked spliff on a plate,ready for later.

But,there was nothing.
No games machine
No laptop
No phone

Nothing and for a minute, before anger kicked in, Kyle stood there in the middle of the sitting room and just stared, not sure of what to even think.

He felt cheated, after all this was the house that kept getting broken into, in Kyle’s head there had to be a reason, there had to be good stuff there, stuff worth nicking, stuff he could sell or trade or simply keep under his bed with other things, special things, but there was nothing.

He could feel the anger growing, it felt good, his stomach knotted, fists clenched, lips pulled back in a snarl.
At school, they said he had anger issues, said he needed to learn self control, said he made bad decisions and every time some stupid no mark stood too close to him and poked their finger towards his face and he managed not to punch them,he knew that they knew nothing because the control it took to not smash his fist into their fat satisfied faces exhausted him, left him pale and shaking.
They didn’t understand why he had to shout out a really good swear and walk away, pushing his fists into his pockets, his breath ragged,short, head pounding like it wanted to explode.

But standing in the middle of this joke of a room, he could feel the anger growing in him and he was just about to do something and then his phone pinged, a text and he couldn’t ignore it, had to just check it and he was glad he did
“ R U in – bunkd off Skol- fan c a smoke 😆”

So, he took the tenner, why not and legged it back over the fence and home.

GTA, spliff and Doritos and bit of a sleep.
When he woke up, he lay under the duvet on the sofa for a minute, his hand was still stinging and it took a while to remember what had happened and then he felt the anger growing again.

That stupid twat with his books and fucking radio and his arsey stupid bird feeders and his nothing worth nicking.

Kyle sat up, fired up the half smoked spliff and then he knew what he should do.

And this time he was going to do it properly, let number 98 know exactly how bad it all made him feel.

He walked up the path, 3 steps from the gate to the front door and nodded to himself. He was going to kick the front door in, he didn’t care if anyone saw him
“ fuck that” he said out loud and then he said it again,even louder and again until he was standing there screaming and then he leant on the door, ready to smash it in and it opened.

The stupid twat hadn’t even bothered to lock the door.
Just asking for it.

Kyle walked in, took a deep breath and prepared to show the sad little git who lived here exactly how angry he was feeling.

Number 98- there ain’t a lock that can keep me out.

Number 98- There ain’t a lock that can keep me out”

That’s the 10th he thinks, he’s made it into double figures.
It is, he supposes some sort of achievement, perhaps this house could be on TV, next to Britains most haunted,Britians most noisy neighbours,Britains celebrity cribs. This house, number 98, Britains most burgled, although the has to admit, he’s not really sure if it is actually the most burgled, it just feels like that, but, then again it would, to him, it’s his house and yesterday , his house had been broken into for the 10th time.

He’s got the routine down pat now, no insurance company to call anymore, they stopped covering him after break in number 6, the locksmith on speed dial and a courtesy call to the local cop shop. He likes to keep them Informed, doesn’t want them to think that he thinks that the police are useless, although of course, that’s exactly what he thinks, but he knows how despondent the local beat officer gets, how powerless the nice woman from crime prevention feels, so he makes sure to ring them, tell them that this time he is sure that they will catch the bad guys, restore his property, make everything ok.

He sweeps up the smashed glass from the kitchen door, wraps the glass up carefully in newspaper before he places it in the bin and takes a first glance around, takes stock of what’s gone this time.

The ten pound note he habitually leaves in the centre of the table has gone, of course. It’s the idea of the crime prevention officer, it’s meant to satisfy the casual thief, stop them pulling out every drawer and cupboard and sometimes it works, but not this time.

Today’s burglar has opened every drawer in the sideboard , dumped the contents onto the carpet, pulled the sofa cushions off, looking for something more exciting than the TV remote for a TV that doesn’t live here anymore , a half eaten packet of chocolate toffees and a dog brush.
But, he has found the iPod and rejected it, ground his heel onto it and left the remains,smashed, bent and unusuable , the sad detritus of a robbery hardly worth the effort of climbing over the garden wall and breaking glass so that he could get into the kitchen.

Henry used to get angry, used to rant about the scum that used his house as some sort of walk in freebie shop. He used to be scared, invested in bigger and stronger locks, even bought a dog, considered a burglar alarm and then he stopped being able to afford insurance, stopped being able to replace the stereos, the TVs, the lap tops and the microwaves.

At first he missed the things that had filled his home, missed the familiar TV programmes, missed listening to the news as he made his coffee, buttered his morning toast, missed his little dance moves when he ran the Hoover around and then he missed the hoover when it went too.
He struggled to fill the time, worried about missing out on stuff, wondered if there were great world events happening out there that he no longer easily access.

And then something happened, gradually he found that he no longer found himself pacing around the small, neat sitting room, not sure of how to navigate the time between eating, washing up and bed time.

He started to potter around the small back yard, not gardening exactly, but planting a few bulbs, a couple of climbers and then he bought a bird feeder and watched in amazement when even in the middle of this city, birds found his offerings of peanuts and sunflower seeds. He began to recognise regular visitors, the robin who took on all comers, regardless of size, the homing pigeon, hopelessly lost, gone feral, but still a cut above the truly wild street pigeons and still tame enough to sit on the garden fence when Henry came outside to replenish the feeders and seed holders and water saucers.

Henry is not a bird watcher, he has no interest in going anywhere else to look at birds, he can only just name the most common urban birds and even then he suspects that he gets it wrong sometimes.
He is he decides, a bird feeder, a jovial mine host. He makes sure that the dishes are regularly topped up, he offers a selection of tasty snacks and is vigilant, removes stale seeds, chases off any of the local cats who show too great an interest in whats going on.

He has acquired an ancient battery powered radio, but forgets to replace the batteries often enough, so the speech has slowed down, become sub audible. Generally now, he doesn’t bother to turn it on.

And there is the library. It surprises him that he is a member and of course, he could buy books, he has never had any reading matter taken even by the most inept of his burglars, 1 to 10, but,he likes the temporary nature of borrowing books and the routine of his Wednesday evening visit, late night opening, to the local library.

He has become braver in his choices in the last year. He’s stepped out of the shallows of detective fiction and Terry Pratchett , paddled into science fiction and is now wading,a little anxiously, hoping that he’s not going out of his depth, into books that have won proper competitions and even been talked about on the news and he knows this because burglar number 9 went a bit freestyle and attempted to break into his car as well, but clearly disgusted or simply depressed by the absence of CD player or in car entertainment centre, had only the most half hearted go at digging out the car radio and its this that Henry uses to get a news fix on the way to work and on occasions, if the programme is especially riveting, will continue to sit in parked neatly in front of his house until it ends.

He sighs as he throws away the battered iPad, the gift of a colleague who wanted to make it better for him. He has actually stopped listening to it sometime ago, found the headphones irritating and had meant to return it to his workmate, but burglar number 10 has put paid to that.

He casts an experienced eye over the back door, the robber has made a hash of the actual lock, which is impressive given that the key was actually still in the lock on the inside of the door.
The door will still open and close, but unless he gets the lock mechanism fixed, he won’t be able to lock it again.

He pauses then,actually pauses and straightens up from his angled inspection of the damaged door.

He opens the door, he closes the door, he opens the door, he closes the door and then he reaches across the work surface and picks up the back door key.
He can’t quite bring himself to make an heroic gesture, the bird table is full of evening feeders and he doesn’t want to alarm them by throwing the key into the tangle of shrubs.
So, he tosses it into the cupboard under the sink and then walks quickly, purposefully to the coat hooks by the front door, reaches into the bowl where he habitually drops his car keys, wallet and lose change.

The front door key is there, as it should be, he picks it up,feels its familiar weight in his palm and then opens the front door and puts the key neatly under the door mat.

Later, returning from the library, The Life of Pi and Atonement in his bag for life. He opens the front door by simply turning the handle and feels a little frisson of freedom.

Horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 2


All morning as she stares at the computer screen in front of her she is vaguely aware of the usual background chatter, like a radio playing In another room, she can, if she concentrates pick out individual words, even whole sentences, but, she can just let it drift over her, a comforting and familiar chorus of low level annoyance, hunger and a moment or two of anxiety.
The pony has, as usual, been pushed away for the better grazing by the bigger horses.
Alice is worried about something strange, unfamiliar in the hedge.
Oliver wants to know that she will be there soon to bring them back into their stables.

Talking to animal or having animals talk to you, is not, she muses, when she takes 5 minutes to walk away from her desk, all its cracked up to be.

The messages the horses send her range from the dull, at least if you’re human – The grass here is better than the grass over there, To the mysterious , odd almost impossible to translate thought pictures about some equine deity and clouds and the smell of earth and then sometimes the downright horrific, the pony she passed on the road, screaming out its pain and fear from a cancer that nobody had diagnosed.

Her own horses, she can generally cope with. She works hard to keep them safe, secure, spends some time every day sending them messages of reassurance and maintenance and mostly, they manage to keep their voices quiet, try not to bring on the headaches that leave her pale, shaking and unable to meet the eyes of her colleagues and neighbours.

Local pets, the ones she knows live nearby, the ones she passes on her way to the corner shop recognise her, see her as something useful to them, a translation service they utilise when other forms of communication with their own humans have failed them.
“ tell them I don’t like chicken cat food”
“ The collar they bought me is too tight”
“ I get lonely when you go out all day”

These massages are easy to deal with, there are simple ways to pass these on without drawing attention to herself, but there are others which cause more difficulty to her and which sometimes she decides that she can’t hear, doesn’t understand and then she feels disloyal, dishonest. She feels as though she has let them down, those eyes, of cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies and above all, horses, expecting her to sort it out, make it better.

“ Every bone in my body aches now…let me go “
“ when you are not here, your new boyfriend locks me in the garden for hours and forgets to feed me”
“ you love the baby more than me, I hate the baby, I scratch the baby whenever your back is turned “
“ I don’t like you, but you feed me, I prefer the lady in the next house but one “
“ I didn’t mean to kill the hamster, it was an accident”
“ when you ride me, you are too heavy, you hurt my back, please stop”

She has become adept at passing on information to the humans, the other humans in ways that keep her safe.
She is not mad, knows that all of this is not usual,not normal and not something that she should be drawing any attention to, any time soon.

So, instead, she offers up tentative suggestions, wonders out loud if an owner has ever considered a change of feed, if they could use a dog collar that doesn’t fit her dogs.
Some times she takes direct action, scooping up a cat used a football and stealing it away to rehome it far away away from the man who wants to punch his boss but instead kicks his cat across a room.

Her neighbours feel a distance in her and so keep their own distance. She leaves so early in the morning, arrives home after dark, clothes mud spattered and humming with the aroma of horse and dog, that almost nobody ever really notices her and if they do meet she is polite, pats their dog, asks after their cat. They do notice that she never remembers to ask after husbands, wives, children, but after all, they rationalise, if they think about her at all. She has no parter, no family, no life that they can see, poor soul and then their phones ring or a child calls out or the east Enders starts and they forget their train of thought and they only think about her again when they notice how well their tabby kitten looks since they took her advice and changed his brand of cat food.

At night,when she lies in bed, the weight of sleeping dogs a comfortable pressure against her knees, she can, is she chooses to reach out and touch the minds of all the local pets.

The spaniel next door but one, Lord of the sofa now his family have gone upstairs to bed, he stretches full length, yawns, farts and falls asleep.

The grey cat who has discovered a nest of mice and is lying in the flower bed, belly flat against the damp earth, waiting patiently for the first one to poke its nose into the night air before he pounces.

The chickens at number 7, roosting in an unruly bundle of feathers, mad, blank chicken eyes closed as they doze and plot where to hide tomorrow’s newly laid eggs.

She lies quietly, almost asleep herself, closing her mind to the other stories, the ones she does not want to hear, not tonight , not any night.

She lies quietly, so close to sleep herself and tries to forget the face of the man at work, the man who sits two cubicles away from her , the man who explained today, how he is training his pitt bull to hate black people, and as he talked she could hear, a roaring bark of dismay and incomprehension from his dog who wants to love everyone and be loved.

She lies quietly and just before she drifts into sleep, decided that she will change jobs soon, move on to somewhere else, somewhere new.

At 4.45 the alarm jolts her awake again.

Number 51- horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 1


Number 51 – Horses are not the only signifiers of difference.

Some days, when the alarm jolts her awake at 4:45, her first reaction is one of shock,a disbelief that sleep is over for another 18 hours.

From long experience, she knows that the only way forward is speed and decisiveness. It is much, much worse if she waits or God forbid, allows herself to hit the snooze button.

A deep breath and then kick the duvet back, dislodge the dogs and out of bed into the unheated bedroom.

She puts her jeans straight on, on top of her pyjama bottoms, no loss of precious body heat and then hooded top, baggy jumper and jacket.
Her gloves and hat are downstairs next to the car keys.

The dogs have already raced downstairs to wait at the kitchen door quivering with excitement as they stand there, ready for breakfast.

She checks her watch, 4.53 and puts the kettle on, makes a cuppa and drinks it standing at the back door assessing the weather before she collects up the dogs and leaving her cup half full drags them around the block.

She rarely sees anyone else, it is too early for anyone to yet be on their way to work and fate too late for even the most hardcore party animals.

The dogs know how these morning walks go and are business like,keep their sniffing and snuffling to a minimum and 10 minutes later they are back home.

She grabs work bag, packed lunch, her work clothes on hangers and her after work stuff and by 5.20 she is in the car, glad that there was no frost last night and so no window scrapping and rubbing to freeze her hands even before she has started.

She reckons that she could do this drive in her sleep and probably has done, only coming properly awake when a car pulls out unexpectedly.

At this time of the year,the whole drive is in darkness, only the world service in the radio to break the silence all around her. Over the years she has listened to hours of the world service and has absorbed all manner of strange facts. She tries to keep them to herself, but occasional one pops out, usually followed by a silence from her work colleagues and a metaphorical step backwards from them, another layer of distance.

The stables are completely dark, she uses her phone as a pitiful torch to unlock the chain around the gate and even before she parks she can hear them greeting her or at least greeting the arrival of breakfast and morning.

The horses are all looking over their stable doors.
Alice whinnies whickers, an oddly small noise from such a large animal.
Oliver starts to kick the door, panicking that today will be the day that he is left hungry and alone and the pony, the pony simply stares as he does every morning as if her arrival is simply an unexpected surprise.

She has the morning routine down pat, feed, put on rugs suitable for the weather and then the trudge to the field, hideous in wet weather when the mud threatens to suck the boots from her feet.
She once found herself wondering how long she would lie her undiscovered if she did actually fall and drown in mud that comes above her knees.
The answer was frightening and that thought,along with a whole mental box of thoughts to be ignored, has been put to one side, pushed down into her own figurative mud and left to drown there.

The stable work is reassuringly routine, she sets herself little competitions, like to shave time off her personal records and on the best days, where nothing goes wrong, she has a precious 10 minutes before she needs to head off to work and then she stands looking out towards the field and as night turns into early morning, she watches the horses become visible and smokes a single cigarette.

She needs to get the time of her arrival at work exactly right, too early and the night security man will have to let her in and will see her in all her hay, mud and straw covered glory, too late though and there is a danger of bumping into early bird colleagues before she has sneaked into the workplace gym showers and transformed into her daytime self.

Her cubicle is anonymous,no photos of family, partners, smiling faces on holiday beaches. She doesn’t have any of those and over the years she has learnt that photos of the horses,of events they have done, even a rosette or two simply set her even further apart. So, she has compromised on a photo of the dogs and a mug with a thelwell pony cartoon.

She has worked in offices ever since she left school, happy enough with the routine, the regular start and finish times, the 60 minute lunch break and the work that she leaves at the door even before she reaches the door.
She is told that she lacks ambition, but works hard, is rarely off and is happy to allow her co workers to have holidays to fit around families, Christmas and school terms. So, she stays here for the moment.
There will come a time, there always comes a time when she needs to leave and then she will gone with as little fuss as she arrived and within weeks,sometimes days, nobody there will quite be able to remember her name properly. She may leave the mug behind but she will carefully remove the dogs photograph.



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