NANOWRIMO Novel – Cuttings – Day 18


The siting room is beginning to resemble the bedroom of her teenage years in this house.

There is a crumple, a huddle of unmade bedding, clothes are draped over the sofa that no-one sits on, plates have migrated here and stack, unwashed and unreturned to the tidy kitchen.

She has not lived like this for many years, even as a student she took pleasure from neatness, order and she wonders if she is imbibing some strange miasma from the house itself, becoming her teenage self again.

She remembers the regular battles with her mother over her bedroom, the threats to go in there and sort it out, her spirited returns that it was her room and she could do there what she liked and the unspoken words ,the ones that said, from her side, that her mother was dull, provincial, interested only in domestic tasks, keeping up appearances, worrying about what the neighbors would say, but that she, well, she was more than that, a free spirit, a feminist, someone who was going to do more, be more than her mother had even been.

The cruelty of her actions hits her, not for the first time and just for a moment, she wishes, really wishes that she could apologise, make amends and then she considers her life, still in the medium-sized town, a professional life of blameless low achievement, a house which even her mother would approve of, would see the order in and she wonder s if her whole adult life has, in so many ways, actually been a life of apologies for her brief teenage rebellion.

She considers spending a few minutes tidying up, but rationalizes that this room will have to be done properly before the week is out and anyway, she shrugs, she is finding the mess comforting, it feels like she is camping out, living on top of rather than in this house. If she makes it too comfortable, she may settle in, stay longer than is strictly necessary and that thought scares her.

She realises that she hasn’t thought about her own home for several days, hasnt worried about the cats, even about work, it is as if all of that is happening somewhere else to somebody else. She resolves to make phone calls later and then she pauses, home, her home is really not very far away, she could, quite easily, simply go home, sleep in her own bed, return here tomorrow, but even as she thinks this, she knows that this task, this final putting away of her parents’ lives needs her full attention, needs her to be here until the end.

Thinking about her teenage bedroom has made the next room clearing decision easy, it’s the turn of her own bedroom today, somehow this energizes her and she almost leaps up, grabs a slightly less crumpled shirt from her bag, even considers a clean pair of trousers , but there is something delightfully sloth like about slipping back into clothing that has been worn for days, so instead, she dons the same jeans as yesterday and the day before and actually, she realises, the day before that too.

Tea, she thinks, tea, toast and something else, her mouth puckers, trying to summon up, to nail the taste,  the texture she is craving. Bacon, she shakes her head in surprise, she cannot remember the last time she ate or even thought about meat.

Her vegetarianism started here, in this house, a fad, her mother said, something to complicate meal times, something to provide more work, more worry. Her father, a man who habitually expressed complete indifference to food and eating, just shrugged and ignored the battle of will between his wife and daughter.

But, today, she can almost smell bacon, can imagine the pleasure of soft white bread, ketchup and biting down into the crisp salty flesh.

She makes a decision, if the corner shop, a shop that has survived incarnation, re-incarnation, name changes, but which was still known as Palmers to her parents, years, perhaps even decades after Mr Palmer had stopped guarding the sweet counter, stopped calculating the paper bill with a pencil he kept behind his ear, stopped  buying in chocolate covered ginger especially for her mother, had, in fact, stopped being there at all, if the corner shop has the makings of a bacon sandwich, then she will, with a clear conscience, but bread, bacon, ketchup and allow herself this treat.

The shop has changed name, again, but the facade is the same, slightly faded red paint, from the last time she called when she spent 4, or was it 5 days with her father, before the ever-changing bevy of professional carers, volunteers, coordinators stepped in.

The woman in the shop recognises her, but distantly, knows she is not a resident and so her nod is perfunctory, polite, just enough..

It takes her just a few minutes to collect everything she needs  and a few surprising extras, she finds that she craves chocolate, biscuits, sweets and for the first time in years, she simply picks up the things she wants, pay for them, sees them placed in a carrier bag and heads back to the house.

She is surprised that, for a moment, she found her self thinking of this return journey as heading home.

Today is obviously a day of unexpected thought and actions.

contrary to popular thinking, the craved food is every bit as good as she hoped, she uses an extra slice of bread to mop up bacon juice, spurted  ketchup and then bites into a bar of chocolate and sighs with satisfaction and then she  lifts the last item from the carrier bag and carefully, deliberately removes the cellophane wrapper, pulls out the silver foil and holds a cigarette between thumb and fore finger.

She has remembered to buy matches too and that sound, the strike of match against box, the hiss of the flame against the cigarette end take her back to this house circa 1978. Her head stuck out of her bedroom window, inhaling, almost inhaling one of the precious Players No 6 she hides in her sock drawer.

She manages 3 drags of the fag before she has to stop and stub it out, but she feels somehow vindicated, in  touch with a side of herself that she has long put away and there is a simple pleasure from stubbing the still smouldering cigarette into the flowered pattern on the plate.

She stops only to grab a packet of biscuits to take with her, somehow, she suspects that snacks may be needed to complete the work in her own bedroom and then, leaving plate, mug, buttery knife beside the sofa, she heads upstairs.

The bedroom is not unfamiliar, she has on many overnight stays slept here, has even squashed boy friends, best girl chums, college mates in to the neat single bed, but the room feels chilly, dusty. It strikes her that someone, her mum, her dad continued cleaning the room, opening the windows, keeping the cob webs at bay long after they might expect her to sat here.

The last visit was in its own way a vigil, she napped on the sofa, the doctors mobile number on speed dial. Her need to feel like or at least be able to go through the motions, of adulthood, had meant that she could not consider sleeping in this bedroom, her bedroom.

So, she calculates in her fingers, it has been at least a year, maybe longer. since anyone has even opened the door and the room has that smell, not quite damp or decay or even dirt, just a whiff of neglect, of being forgotten.

Her first action is to step up onto the bed and open the window, even the slightly damp November day is fresher than the room and, if she is being honest, she is calculating the levels of guilt versus pleasure that she would experience from sitting, barefoot, legs crossed, on the bed smoking  a cigarette.

But first she will need to move the grey plush donkey that still takes centre stage in the middle of the bed.

She picks him up, hands  find the soft velvet that lines his ears and without even being aware, her fingers start to stroke, almost knead the faded pink fabric. It is enormously soothing and for  just a second, she wonder what would happen if she just slid down the bed and lay there, donkey in hand, her nose rubbing against his plush grey body.She has to fight hard against the seductive power of donkey, but does place him carefully, reverentally at the start of the keep and take home pile.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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