She slept more soundly than she has done for weeks.
At home her sleep is disturbed, the cats have become used to her nocturnal prowling, have joined her as she makes another cup of tea, twining around her legs, hopeful for a scattering of cat treats in their neat little pink bowls.
On far too many mornings, she has watched the sun come up and then bone tired, dragged herself out of bed and headed, eyes gritty, head pounding, to another day at work.
But here, in a nest of duvets, cushions off the other sofa, the one that no-one ever sits on, she has slept well, woken refreshed.
She had planned to take herself upstairs, to sleep in her bedroom, the single bed unchanged, her 6th form books still on the small wooden bookcase, but sleep had over-taken her and now she lies for a moment, luxuriating in the warmth, the weight of bedding enveloping her.
She stretches, misses the cat presence, reminds herself that she must ring her neighbour today, check on their well-being, offer more thanks, a definite day of return and then she remembers the story, scribbled quickly into the notebook, the little clipping still paperclipped to the page, a strange prompt for a modern fairy tale.
Babies, she has never written about babies before, has never really thought about the care of small children and is surprised that somehow a baby has forced itself into the notebook.
Her own childlessness was not planned, in her 20s, still in love with her profession, determined to make a difference, to connect with the classes, she was, she reasoned, far too busy, too selfish to make any kind of mother and as she drifted into her 30s and friends, colleagues, neighbours fell into relationships, pregnancies, parenthood, somehow, she got left behind.
Of course there were boyfriends, lovers, significant others, even one or two that earned the title – my partner, but there was never any real sense of permanence, any sense that this relationship, this melding of bones, of bodies would, could, result in a baby, a family.
Her parents never asked although her mother always kept her up to date with the news of old school friends, other people’s’ daughters, but with a light touch and then before her mother could completely give up hope of grandparent status, she was gone and the 40s arrived and the lovers became thinner on the ground and her father stopped asking after especially favoured ex-boyfriends, the ones who played sport, knew about cars, didn’t work in teaching.
Her childlessness, her sporadic singleness has, she realises, become a comfort to her. The lie, that she likes her own company, is too selfish to share her life, has become a sort of truth.
But, this morning, without all the scaffolding that holds her life together, huddled under someone elses’ duvet, she wonders, just for a moment, what her life would have been like, if one of the Jakes or Richards or Steves could have become important enough, could have made a baby.
experimentally, she crooks her arm, imagines holding a baby, imagines the scrunched face looking up at her and feels…..nothing.
It is time to get up, time to start on the side board, time to put the kettle on.
Mug of tea in hand, she dresses downstairs, knows that really she should have a shower, wash her hair but rationalizes that she will only get grubby later.
She looks at her own body as she pulls on yesterdays’ jeans.
generally, she is pleased with what she sees, legs gym toned, stomach flat enough, there are benefits from childlessness, this is only one of them. Her skin still has the hint of a tan from a week in Turkey at half term, her breasts are neat, nothing to attract attention, but sufficient to justify her addiction to expensive underwear.
It is a body which embodies [ and she smiles at the unintentional internal wordplay] neatness, function. Never one to inspire either passion or loathing, it has, she reflect, served her well enough, she can see no reason why it will not continue it quiet effectiveness.
And with that thought, she stand stretches, consider tidying the sitting room, putting the bedding away, plumping the cushions, even the ones on the sofa that no-one sits on, but then she shrugs, there is no-one to complain, no-one to raise an eyebrow. She can feel herself slipping back into teenage mode, a comforting clutter of possessions around her, cups, plates, books and this time no parent to sigh at her. She leaves her mug balanced on the arm of the sofa and wanders, barefoot into the dining room to sort the sorting there.
The bookcase does not take long, her parents, inveterate library users did not acquire books over their lifetimes, there are at best 200 books, some that she recognises as Christmas, birthday gifts from her, still looking unread, unhandled.
Most will go straight to a charity shop she decides and piles them neatly onto the dining table. Some of the pristine hardback she will take home, try to shoehorn them into her own over-stuffed shelves, find time to read them in the next holiday.
The sideboard is more of a challenge, it has become, over the years, a sort of home office, important papers sit next to canteens of cutlery, rarely used wine glasses, place mats, a small box of glass christmas tree decorations.
She pauses for a moment and lifts out some of the baubles, she remembers these so clearly from childhood, the tear drops of red and green glass, the glitter filled special baubles that only her mother would hang on the tree. These, she decides, will come home with her, will decorate her tree this year, although she can see that many of them will not fit with her usual spartan clear glass and white lights arrangements.
She shrugs, this year, good taste can be left at the door, this year the theme will be retro, multi coloured, even a little tacky.
She puts the box next to the tethering pile of books and considers the piles of papers, bank statements, gas bills going back 20 plus years. She knows that much of this will be rubbish, fit only for the bin liners that she has, unaccountably, forgotten to bring with her and is relieved that this absence of attention means that she cannot, with a good conscience, start that task now.
Instead, she starts to move the glasses, the flat leather boxes containing the good cutlery onto the table. She remembers these from special occasions, the rare times her parents entertained, Christmas and birthday meals. This green box, she knows, contains cake knives and forks, a special knife for cutting special cakes, she wonders, just for a moment, where the 3 layered cake stand is and then opens the box, looks down on the ivory handles nesting in the faded green velvet and is not surprised, not really, to find another clipping, carefully placed beneath the first fork.
“Step Father cut off my hands with a razor – maimed chid receives £5,000”
There is nothing else, no story, no date, no clue as to why her father and she suddenly wonders if all of this is her fathers’ doing or if these pieces of paper have been her mothers’ handwork, left, lost, perhaps not even noticed by her father in the years when he lived here alone.
The headline is so odd, so disturbing that she has to stop, sits at the table, reading and re-reading the few words and then she stands, walks back into the sitting room and fully dressed, but suddenly cold, crawls back under the duvet and picks up her notebook and begins to write.
The Girl with glass hands.
Once upon a time, far, far away, in a kingdom across the sea, in a village where nothing ever, ever happened, a girl with glass hands walked down the dusty main street and arrived in the square at the heart of everything.
People stared, although they pretended that they did not.
The glass hands were beautiful, delicate, nails, lines, even the creases where skin should have been were etched on the glass, which was itself tinted with he lightest touch of pink, so that in some lights, the glass seemed to have some warmth, some life within it.
She stops writing, the image of the girl, the glass hands is so grotesque, so horrible that it brings her up short.
She didn’t know that such images even existed in her. This is not her writing, she has no idea what gothic fairy tale she is channeling, did not expect that the old headline would cause this story to surface.
She takes a deep breath, rubs her hand over her face, notes, even in the middle of this possession, that she has forgotten to moisturise.
And then, she grips her pen more firmly, she will write this story, see where the narrative takes her.
She will allow her fathers’ or is it her mothers’ gift to guide her.