This weeks’ writing task for my school based writing group – 300 words on the topic of lost, deserted, dangerous or abandoned places.
“But it wasn’t like that”, I want to shout out, set them straight, but when I look around everyone, all these strangers, are silent, intent on the performers moving along the corridor, so i duck my head down, start fiddling with the buttons on my winter coat.
“You don’t want to go to that” said Norah, when it was our turn to make the lunch, ” Might raise a lot of, you know, stuff”.
I wanted to argue with her, explain, but the words were sticky that day, so i ran the zip up and down on my cardigan, taking comfort in the feeling of wool against metal.
Tony brought it up at the weekly meeting, mentioned the poster in the community centre, asked how we were feeling about it and i wanted to say, excited, looking forward to going back, but you have to be careful how you answer those kind of questions, so i said nothing, just rolled the loose threads in my pockets into tiny soft balls.
So, Saturday, my library day, I take my books, but I don’t turn right at the end of the road, i turn left and i walk up the hill, heading towards the miles of metal railings and the big gates and when i get there, there’s a woman, she’s dressed as a nurse, but i know she’s not one, I can tell, but she’s smiling, so i smile too and there’s a little crowd, so i tuck myself at the back and we walk up the gravel drive towards the front doors.
Mr Carmichael would be cross, the gardens are all over-grown, flower beds choked with weeds, he was proud of the flowers, always made sure that the vases were full, cheered up the day rooms, some of the men helped him, we would watch them, know who was having a good day. Sometimes, at the Saturday night dances one of the men would have a flower in his pocket, give it to the woman he was dancing with and she would hide it in her locker until all the petals had fallen off.
I head towards the side door, the womans’ entrance, but two more of these people appear, they’re dressed as doctors, but they’re not, too young, not busy enough and now i know we’re were heading, the tunnel.
The tunnel was famous, a mile of corridors, everyone used it. It was where you saw stuff, heard stuff, caught up with gossip, news. Sometimes people just walked it or on bad days stood still, shrank against walls until someone came and took you back, put the kettle on.
And now we’re standing in a little huddle and in front of us are these young people and some are wearing strait jackets and pajamas and some are dressed as doctors and they’re screaming and shouting and now I really want to tell them, but I bite my cheek, hard enough to draw blood and I half close my eyes and i’d like to rock , but that’s attention seeking behavior, so i don’t.
I’m drifting now, remembering……………
Saturday dances, men one side of the room, women the other, piano and then later, years later, a record player and sometimes wanting to dance and sometimes feeling the music pour through your hands and sometimes it all being too much and being taken back for quiet time and the kettle on.
The laundry, warm, steamy, the smell of soap and hard work and the jokes and the nice Irish nurse, the one who would share her cigarettes.
Fish and chips on Friday and jam roly poly with custard.
The men had a barber, but the ladies had the WRVS women, shampoo and set, the smell of warm hair and setting lotion.
Concert parties, everyone, well everyone judged good enough to be an audience, in neat rows, nurse on the last seat, the one nearest the aisle, a good sing along and a nervous comedian.
And days when the sky seemed too near and you needed to hide under the blankets and someone would save a slice of cake from tea and leave it, quietly, on the bed-side locker.
The young people are writing on the floor now and there’s an abandoned wheelchair placed carefully halfway down the tunnel, everyone in the small audience is focused, all attention on the performers.
i take a deep breath, rub my fingers along the fabric of my good winter coat and quietly slip away.
It’s time to go home, to the home, I walk out of the main doors for the second time in my life and my feet make a soft crunching noise on the gravel path and i wonder what’s for tea.