When she finishes writing, she realizes that she has had the battered plush donkey on her lap and has been absently stroking his ears with the hand that has not been gripping the pen, racing to get the words down. Her fingers feel roughened by the nap of the velvet, but she is curiously soothed, almost dozing now.
She has never written anything so fast before, knows it’s not great literature, contains no great truths, no important messages, but she has enjoyed the process of writing it and as she reads it back, sees, all too clearly, that she has levered her own father into the story, made him the dad who nearly always gets it right, except when it really matters.
Her father basked in his own omniscience .
Ask him a question, any question and he would always have an answer, presented as complete fact, the truth.
As a child she believed that her father knew everything, had all the facts of the world at his finger tips, but of course, as she got older, she learnt to doubt him, to even, as her life took her further away, to understand that on some, many occasions, he was actually totally wrong.
She wonders how he would have coped with grandchildren hooked into the digital age, the knowing of everything, actually everything only one click away and how he would have saved face when his answers were challenged.
She closes her eyes for a moment, note-book and donkey balanced against her knees, she doesn’t mean to fall asleep, juts to rest her eyes, but when she wakes it is dark and for a few moments she is so bewildered by finding herself in her childhood bedroom that she is both unsure of the place and even the date, her age, who she is.
She feels like a teenager again, the presence of donkey and her notebook simply reinforcing this. She can almost imagine that she is revising, waiting for her mother to call up the stairs, to tell her that supper is ready and then she remembers why she is here and the re-learning of the loss hurts almost as much as the first knowing did.
There is no-body downstairs to make her a meal, no-body to leave a little plate of biscuits, a milky coffee outside her door in the days when A levels threatened to overwhelm her. There is no-body at all and she sits for a moment, hands wrapped around her knees before the sobs erupt, shaking her body, leaving her gasping for breath, clutching the soft toy so hard that it hurts her fingers.
She has no choice but to wait until the storm subsides, until there are just hiccups and snot and eyes that burn and then, shakily, like an invalid that has spent long, fractious days in bed, she puts her feet to the floor and stands, almost expecting her knees to buckle,waiting for collapse.
But of course she doesn’t, she is her parents’ daughter, made for stoicism and instead she looks around the room, notes the neat piles of books, the half emptied wardrobe and sniffing back the last tear, she goes back to work.
An hour later, the room has been reduced to heaps, all sorted, given a destination, all she needs now are boxes. There are a small jumble of soft toys, rescued from the very far reaches of the wardrobe, these will be sent to a Charity Shop tomorrow and she lifts up donkey, meaning to drop him into the pile, but she cannot, he will have to come home with her, be found a space on a shelf, dusted occasionally and sometimes, just sometimes, held tight when the night seems too dark and the morning just too far away.
Going downstairs, in search of the boxes she is sure are in the garage, she realises that she is hungry, again.
As an adult, She has never been so aware of her hunger, so aware of her need to eat the food of her childhood as she has been over the last few days. She remembers the hunger in her teens, overwhelming her, sending her into the larder to eat slice after slice of bread, before she made decisions, made choices, took control and promised herself that she, not food, would always be in control from now on.
The hunger is panicking her, but, she reasons, this is not real time, not her real life and so, anything that happens here can be ignored, put away, not examimed too carefully.
There is a window halfway down the stairs, its sill a place for ornaments, knick knacks. She has rarely looked at it, rarely even noticed exactly what is there, but now, she pauses, looks at her reflection in the darkening glass. Her face is a mess, eyes puffy, neck still red. She stands and stares at herself, tries to smile and fails and then she notices another clipping, sticking out from underneath a wooden duck, which has stood there, facing left for as long as she can remember.
She needs the distraction, unfolds the paper, not a news story this time, but an illustrated advert, a line drawing of a woman, decorous black one piece swimming costume and the advert heading, but not the rest
“An Important Message to Figure Conscious Men & Women”.
This time her smile is wobbly, but genuine, she will order a pizza, justifying that she is far too much of a mess to leave the house and then she will write the story of this advert, she nods at its familiarity, this is a story she knows how to tell.
The next narrative – “An Important Message to Figure Conscious Men & Women”.
She’s doing the maths in her head, being careful to round down, not up.
Small banana, say 50 calories, coffee, well, that’s nothing really, rice and salad, can’t be more than 200 calories, so that leaves 300 calories for her evening meal.
Gym after work, 20 minutes on the cross trainer, that must be at least 500 calories, power walk and then 20 lengths, gotta be over 1,00 calories in total.
So, that gives her 1,300 calories for the rest of the day or, she does the sum again, if she can keep this up until Friday, that would be 3,000 spare calories….she pauses for a minute, checks the calorie counting app on her phone, is 3,00 calories enough for a pepperoni pizza, she can taste the warm cheese, feel the heat of the box as she carries it from the front door to the kitchen.
It’s ok, she will be good, no garlic bread, no cookie dough ice cream and besides, she’s 3,000 calories ahead and she will definitely go to the gym on Sunday morning.
So, 300 calories for tonight, inside her head, she reviews the contents of her fridge. Tomatoes – good Cucumber – good Low cal, fat free dressing – very good Lettuce – good
Let’s say 100 calories for a salad, another 50 for a banana, that leaves 150 even before she gets to the gym, so she can have a 2 fingered KitKat with her afternoon coffee and still be ahead.
She smiles to herself, if she can keep to this, this time she will definitely lose weight, more counting, this time she has to use her fingers to help. If she sheds 2 lbs this week and really, she can probably call it 3 lbs, especially with all this gym going, that’s definitely , completely going to happen. 3lbs this week, let’s say 12lbs over the month, that’s nearly a stone, so she shrugs to herself, let’s call it a stone, by October she will be 4 stone lighter, she will be slim.
She closes her eyes for a moment, the better to visualise this new slim self and smiles.
More counting, so, if she’s a size 18 now, each stone lost should mean at least a dress size down, lets see, she thinks
One stone – size 16
Two stone – size 14
Three stone – size 12
Four stone, and she can hardly say it, does the counting again in her head, just to make sure. In October, she will be a size 10, it will all be worth it.
3.30 pm – time for a break, time for a KitKat, she hopes that the vending machine has the small ones, but then she shrugs, it’s all ok, she’s 1,000 calories ahead, it won’t matter if she gets a bigger one and besides she’s starving.
As she walks through the office, she wonders why she left school thinking she was bad at maths, she seems to spend her whole life counting.
The piece is short, shorter than she hoped, but she shrugs and as she lays down the pen, the door bell rings and her mouth salivates at the thought of pizza and warm bread and a sated stomach.
She stands up, fumbles for her purse in her bag as the door bell rings again and then goes to answer the door.