Tag Archives: Fiction

number 1- the hairdressers husband.

Number 1 – The hairdresser’s husband.

And yes, they have see the charming French film and yes, they would, if they knew any one was writing about them, get the almost filmic reference in the title.

He is the hairdressers husband, happy to accept this label,not threatened when people don’t know his name, comfortable enough in his skin for his absent identity not to be an issue.
As it happens, he’s a teacher. In a secondary school. A teacher of humanities, which to his ears is a great improvement than being a teacher of geography.
Which is what he really is.
Their house is one of the nicest on the street, three storeys, extended kitchen, hallway and lots of carefully restored period bits and bobs.
The hairdresser gets bored with colour quickly, likes to redecorate every couple of years, stay on trend, update with quirky accessories.
The hairdressers husband is beginning to find all this change, the constant painting and stripping and waxing and shopping just a little exhausting.
He hasn’t mentioned the niggle in his left knee, the way his shoulder aches at night,keeps him awake, makes him grumpy in the mornings.
The hairdressers husband will be 49 next birthday, she will be 33, so, he doesn’t mention the knee, the fact that the optician has upgraded his prescription twice in the last year, he doesn’t mention that he’s started to read those viagra emails more carefully, has filed away a couple of web addresses that might come in useful.
One day.
The hairdressers husband has begun to hate bars which play loud music, bars that serve chips in witty containers, bars which have ironic 1970s wallpaper or 80s black and chrome furniture.
He hates the fact that his history, his own history,the wallpaper his mother hung in their lounge, the madly uncomfortable low slung leather deck chair which he saved up for are not just quirky, vintage,but objects that he has owned,touched, looked at so often that he stopped even seeing them,certainly never expected to see them featured in magazines, displayed as icons, statements of design.
The hairdressers husband does not feel vintage,but he does feel almost 49.
The hairdressers husband also hates;
Men in skinny jeans
Men in Uggs
Men with beards so luxuriant that it seems quite possible that their owners have actually slept for 100 years and woken unshaven after a century.
The hairdressers husband does not hate being 49, but he does hate being 49 whilst the hairdresser is barely 32.
He has rejoined the gym,but this time it’s different, he stays away from the free weights section,avoids the mirrors and discovers that his kindred spirits, his people are not the 30somethings with their buff chests, their tight butts, their extravagant hair dos, instead he hangs out with the slightly older than him women, basks in their covert approving glances, measuring eyes running up and down his body.
The hairdressers husband also hates;
Artisan bread
Farmers markets and organic veg boxes, although a box arrives on the doorstep every Friday.
Sometimes when the hairdresser is busy with a wedding or a local fashion shoot, she is a very successful hairdresser, he finds himself in a proper greasy spoon café, ordering fried bread and cheap sausages and streaky, fatty bacon and eating it with a guilty relish.
The hairdressers husband hates festivals and mud and witty wellingtons and bands so horribly knowing, so arch that they seem almost too fay to manage the weight of their guitars.
He has retuned the car stereo to Gold FM and sings along to his favourite tracks on the way to school.
He likes that, the right song can put him in a good mood for the whole day.
He does not hate the hairdresser,he loves the hairdresser, loves her wild enthusiasms, her emotional investment in the lame dog dancers on Strictly.
He loves her energy, even when it leaves him exhausted, physically and mentally drained, but game for anything, giving it his best shot.
He loves her soft, buttery skin, her flat stomach, pert breasts, the tattooed bluebirds on her left shoulder.
He loves to look at her, especially when she doesn’t know that he is looking, best of all when she is sleeping and he, feeling every month of his almost 49 years is awake before the dawn, takes comfort in her body spooning into his.
The hairdressers husband is so full of hate that he is terrified that the hairdresser will find out,that the hate will begin to leak out, pull his features downwards, finish off the job that gravity has begun,make his face become that of his own father.
The hairdressers husband hates this most of all, hates that he is becoming as 49 creeps nearer and nearer, that he is becoming his own father.
He hates and fears that moment , which he knows will come, must come when one day, the hairdresser will look at him and see his own father staring adoringly at her.

He looks at his watch, 4.45, the hairdresser will be home soon,an explosion of bags and flowers and still talking on her phone, but stopping for long enough to blow him a kiss, pull a silly face, leave a trail of shoes and coat and scarf and oversized earrings from the front door to the kettle.
The hairdressers husband smiles, fights back the wave of hatred which threatens to engulf him and reminds himself that he is still only 48, only 48.

Number 90- Downsizing.

Number 90- downsizing.

The first time she saw the house, it was, all too appropriately, lashing down with rain. The sort of rain that soaks you immediately, leaves you wet to the bone, hair plastered to your skull and not able to shake off a feeling of your own impending death.

The estate agent leapt from his car, tried to usher her quickly into the house before she noticed the street drinkers congregated on the corner, the bags of rubbish piled close to but not actually in the bins and the baby screaming in a pushchair parked outside the corner shop.
He smiles nervously, runs a hand carefully through his complicated hairdo and shrugs,
“ it’s not the best end of the street” and he points down the way to the leafy end, the end with the neatly parked cars, the planters outside every front door,
“But” and he shrugs again, “well, it all costs and if you’re on a tight budget….”
The sentence trails off and they both stare in silence at number 90.
It’s neat enough, basic UPVC double glazing, a solid wooden door and a small paved front garden, she smiles, tries to concentrate on not crying in front of this shiny, happy 20 something.
The front door opens straight into the house proper, the house has been modernised by a jobbing builder, so the walls are painted magnolia, the two rooms have been knocked together and she can just see into the kitchen, a basic modernisation, clean, adequate, good enough for the first time buyer this house is marketed at.
She tries very hard not to think about the other kitchen, her kitchen, the kitchen at what is still, very soon not to be, her home.
That kitchen is huge, the furniture lovingly discovered, restored and nurtured over the, every item with a back story, a chapter of their lives, a little anecdote to laugh over .
The Welsh dresser they bought in Wales on a holiday when it rained every day and they were reduced to attending strange and sad farmhouse sales,the dresser cost next to nothing, the specialist removal team were more expensive than the whole holiday, but,but, they agreed, worth every penny,when later, sensitively restored it stood, strong, plump, with grooves worn into the wood from generations of Welsh housewives scrubbing at the White wood.
The green glasses they found in a Parisian street market, stupidly overpriced, but perfect on the glass shelves in the master bathroom.

This house is too small for almost everything they own, she owns, he owns and anyway, she is not clear about what she will be allowed to take with her, what he will argue must stay, must continue to live in the family home, must give security for the girls, limit the amount of upheaval she is forcing upon them all.
Some days now, as they rattle around the family home,she feels his eyes on her, his face blank, neutral, looking at her as if he has never seen her before and then she cannot make eye contact and retreats to another room.
The girls have gone back to university, not making eye contact with her, turning away when she tries to speak to them. They have not allowed her to take them back at the beginning of this term, instead, boys, boys who are friends, not boy friends have packed cars with duvets and boxes and house plants and not the carefully packed containers of homemade cakes and biscuits and stupid flavoured vodka and bags of fizzy sweets, these have been left, placed carefully on the centre of the shaker kitchen table, not even opened.
Pushed away.
This house reminds her of the student houses that she and he have so often moved the girls to over the last 2 years.
This, the house that she will probably buy is exactly like a student house on the first day that students move in.
Minimum spend, neutral, just enough space, nothing extra, no luxury.

They walk upstairs, the middle aged woman and the very young estate agent, she silent,not responding to his patter, not hearing his edgy jangling of the enormous bunch of keys in his right hand, his attempt to fill the gaps, where she should be talking, asking questions , taking part.
There are two bedrooms,not three, no chance of giving the girls their own bedrooms, no possibility of even playing at making another home where they might come.
One day, maybe, when they have forgiven her.
The big bedroom is big enough for a double bed, but there is no room for her chaise langue, no room for her Victorian screen, no room for her Edwardian nursing chair.
No room for any of her history, their history.
Walking downstairs again, she calculates that she can find room for a small dining room table, enough space for three, maybe four chairs. She wonders if she still has enough friends to even need four chairs, wonders if in the train wreck which is what is left of the marriage she has destroyed,she has enough of a circle of friends to ever have another dinner party, even the scaled down, bonsiad social life that this house would dictate.
The estate agent is speaking, looking at her, has clearly been sPeaking for some time, but she has missed almost all of it
“…..small garden” and he opens the back door and ushers her outside and it is not what she expects, not what she expects at all.
For some reason, apathy, funds or time running out, the builder has done nothing to the tiny garden,no decking, no neat paving slabs, the garden has been left untouched.
Yes, it’s overgrown, plants left unchecked, weeds choking more delicate flowers,but, someone has made a garden here.
There are beds, curved beds, each one carefully edged with those blue industrial bricks that cost a fortune in reclamation yard. There are trellises, a space which must once been just right for a tiny garden table and chairs and old fashioned roses, gone overboard now, but not totally lost, still saveable.
She stands and looks around carefully, sees clematis, wisteria and climbing hydrangea struggling out from beneath the Russian vine and the couch grass.
The estate agent has gone into some mad marketing overdrive, is telling her about the bus services and how close the nearest supermarket is, she puts up a hand, stops him in mid flow
“ it’s fine, I’ll take it, I’m offering the asking price “ and then she turns away from him, bends down to inspect the clematis more carefully. There is a space beside it, or rather there could be a space, with a little digging, a little clearing, perfect for hostas and maybe even a bushy salvia.
She smiles for the first time since her fall from grace.

Number 75- Waiting for the dogs to die.

Number 75- Waiting for the dogs to die.

There’s no real reason any more, but he can’t shake the off the routine.
Still wakes at 7am, can’t stay in bed beyond 7.30 am and within 10 minutes he has made Karen a cup of tea, delivered it to her in bed and set off down the road with the dogs.
Two dogs, always 2 dogs,one big, one small. The big one for him, company for the runs,the training for the marathons,the half marathons, the club fun runs and a smaller one, fluffy, Karen’s dog, the recipient of baby talk, wearer of jumpers, dog coats, jewelled collars. Her confidant whilst he and the big dog clocked up miles together.

These 2 are the last dogs, old now, their walks pale shadows of the ones they used to take. A gentle shuffle to the paper shop and back, a sniff or two of familiar lamp posts and then gratefully, back onto the sofa and old dog snoozing, snores and snuffles.
Too deaf, too blind to pay any attention to the world outside, the dogs are satisfied to curl up together, happiest when their humans join them and they have no idea,can have no idea that Karen and Geoff are waiting, waiting for the dogs to die, waiting to start their lives again.
Geoff is 63 now, took redundancy at 61, happy to take the package, happy to walk away, happy to be retired.
Karen is still working, but part time now, marking time, more than ready to stop, but she’s waiting, waiting for the dogs to die.
20 years ago, daringly,they bought an apartment, 2 bedrooms, use of a decent sized pool,easy walking to the beach and the bars in the canaries.
Every year for the last 20 years they have made 2 sometimes 3 visits a year, put down roots, made connections, become more than tourists, less than natives.
Their apartment has become to feel like their real home, the place that actually matters, they miss it when they are here, in the middle of this street, not the good end, but most definitely not the bad end and have found themselves taking less care of this house,not neglect exactly, but low maintenance, garden planted with shrubs and reliable perennials, walls painted magnolia,kitchen slightly out of date.
“It will do” they say to each other, because they both know that this house is not the final house, that their real home is in the sun, waiting for them, patiently from visit to visit.
But, they cannot go yet, they cannot relocate with these dogs,these old dogs who will not deal well with that much change, who will suffer, pine for their regular walks, their little routines and because Karen and Geoff are decent people, responsible pet owners, they are waiting for the dogs to die.
And surely, it can’t be long now,the big dog is loosing his legs, doesn’t always make the jump into the boot of the car, suffers the indignity of being lifted up,his face patient, dignified and just a little surprised when yet again his body fails him.
The little dog is almost blind, confident enough at home where Geoff and Karen are careful to keep everything in it’s place, but scared outside, doesn’t want to go off the lead, walks close to the big dog, trusts him to keep her safe.
But, the dogs don’t die, they fail a little more every day,but their hearts keep beating, they keep eating, they keep loving and Karen and Geoff keep waiting.
Friends don’t understand, don’t know why they just don’t take these ancient and frankly, smelly old dogs to the vets and just do the thing,get it over and done with. Get on with their lives, move to the sun.

And Geoff and Karen do know, of course they know what they’re doing, but they don’t talk about it, they just wait,,because they’re used to waiting,used to not getting what they want.

Some mornings when Geoff is out walking the dogs, he thinks about all the things he has waited for in his life,all the times he has paused, waiting for the next thing,the next rite of passage,the next part of his life to begin.
Wait until you’re older
Wait until you have a little more money
Wait until you get that promotion
Wait until you’ve met the right girl
Wait until you’re married
And then the big wait, the one that makes this wait,waiting for the dogs to die, look like a walk (albeit a very slow walk) in the park.
Wait each month,marking off the days, sometimes to scared to count and then watching the months become years and the years become more than a decade and finally there’s no more waiting left.
So, you move on.
Karen and Geoff have moved on, just one last wait left, but it has to be done right, which is why there are no trips to the vet, no out loud expression of what they are both thinking
“please die, please die soon”
Geoff still runs,but dog less these days, feet moving surely across the ground.
He doesn’t cover the distances he used, he’s getting older too,but not that old,not too old, young enough to start again with the sun on his back and Karen at his side and no sense of the absence between them.
He thinks about running along a beach, can visualise it even when he is running along the bypass, counting the lampposts before his turn into the canal. He can see it so clearly that he feels the warm sand between his toes, can taste the salt on his lips, sweat and sea breeze and when he looks down, there is a dog, middle sized this time, brown and tan, bushy tail, lolloping along,matching his pace, covering the ground and he smiles and the dog seems to smile back.
And at home, Karen sits on the sofa,magazine on her lap,but she’s not reading it, instead she’s absently playing with the little dog’s ears and he’s leaning into her, body wriggling with pleasure and at that moment Karen knows that when they finally move, when these dogs finally die, that she will be devastated and the absence, the thing they never talk about, will grow larger and larger,will fill their new lives and suddenly she’s scared and hugs the little dog to her chest
“Don’t die,not yet” she mutters and sits up straight, waiting for Geoff to come home from his run.

A vampire lives at number 84.

A vampire lives at number 84

It’s not immediately obvious, it’s not the most likely place to expect that one of the creatures of the night would choose to live out his endless immortal existence in a 3 bedroomed ( bathroom downstairs option) mid terraced house, but there you are and more pressingly, there he is and the local cats don’t like it at all.

Cats are not renowned for possessing club able, hangin out with the honeys, mi casa es si casa personalities, but, the cats on this street often congregate in small friendship or family groups to soak up sunshine, hurl insults at those considered deadly foes and to do to death any delicate and ideally expensive planting that the human dwellers labour over.
But, but, but, there is one garden that no cat, not even the least experienced, just out of the pet shop, never been through the cat flap before kitten ever steps into.
Even the most brazen, most vocal, bad boys on the block find good reasons to drop down from walls that band all the gardens together just as they reach the vampires back yard and continue that few feet of the journey along the alley floor itself before nonchalantly springing back onto the wall and heading down to investigate which cats flaps can be entered by the appliance of a good hearty head butt.
The cats’ objections are twofold really.
It’s not as though they are actually anti the dark arts and things that go bump in the night, they have no issues with witches and warlocks and actively like Mrs Prosser the White witch at number 56, particularly as her own cat, black of course, is a generous host, always happy to share his oversized bowl of kitty kibble, but vampires, well that’s just a step too far and besides, for delicate feline noses, vampires smell, well, wrong, rank, lower the tone of the neighbourhood.
And of course, there’s the issue of resources, in this mostly tidy inner city area, well, resources are scarce. There’s a real lack of rats, mice and baby birds.
The cats , although rarely ever really hungry, still enjoy a occasional al fresco snack, like to get in touch with their inner big cat and brutally, the street can’t support his feeding needs alongside theirs.
Their best hope is to wait, cross their paws and hope that sometime soon, he gives up his diet light and falls back on the bad old, blood red, neck chewing days of yesteryear.
And quite frankly, it can’t happen too soon.

The humans, of course, are in denial, even when most of the cats and some of the more public spirited dogs have gone out of their way to give warning after warning.
The house is always in darkness, blinds firmly drawn at all times, so well fitting that no chink of light is getting in there. The windows are not just closed, but closed with a finality that suggests that they will never ,ever open again.
There is never a single sound, no television, no radio, not even the hum of a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner. It’s as though the house is beyond empty,but, if you know where and when to stand peering up at the back bedroom window as dusk falls and the street lights flicker on, then you will see something, a movement, the shape of a man stretching, bending and at this point, the cat loitering on the next door’s wall usually remembers a vital errand 3 doors away and slides gracefully, but very purposefully away.
The vampire notices the cat of course, wonders for a moment what cat tastes like in the 21st century, more processed, higher fat content and more crucially, more noticed,likely to result in sad badly photocopied flyers tied to lampposts and a lack of cats allowed out late at night, let out to put themselves at any risk at all.
A slew of missing cats will draw attention and attention is not what he seeks at this point in his very long life.
It will have to be rabbit again, there are still two bucks, crouched together as far back in the hutch as they can be. Their bodies one quiver of fear,eyes focussed on what is beyond the wire, what has come each day for the does that filled this hutch to capacity a few days ago, what has shunk their already small lives to piss and fear and the stench of other rabbit death.
The rabbits have plenty of space now, but try and make themselves as small as possible, wriggling away in terror when his hand lifts the latch and gently stretches out to gather a bunny to his chest.

He thinks about real flesh, real food in the same way that a dieter dreams of cakes and chocolate and icecream. His mouth waters at the memories of previous feasts, when gorged on the blood of victims, some willing, some perhaps less so, he would lie replete, a small moan of pleasure escaping his mouth.
His tongue and elegant white fingers licking and dabbing at droplets and splashes.

The rabbit will nourish him, keep body and something other than soul together and the rabbits are easy to come by, although he is having to travel farther and farther to farmers markets, old fashioned pet shops and even domestic breeders over-run by unwanted bunnies.
But it is real blood he want, not the mud blood of rabbits and rats and the occasional shabby city fox, he knows that times have changed. This century is not kind to him.
Leave one blood drained corpse in an alley way and all hell breaks loose and as for living in Eastern European splendour, well, even the vampires think that the future is more EU than gothic.

And so, he continues living here at number 84, he doesn’t have a plan as such. When you have lived as long as he has, well, times change, things come and go and eventually his time will come again and then he will hunt.
Eyes reflecting the full moon, blood red lips drawn back, his every sense more than alive and in front of him, running even though she know that there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide is the maiden or more accurately, because this is what he is focussed on, the maidens neck, pale skin,, veins beating dark against the white flesh and the hunger growing in him as bears down on her.

He stops, blows his nose, takes a deep breath, he is getting too old for this much excitement, needs to pace himself, stay patient.
He removes a morsel of rabbit fur from between his front teeth, hefts the two little corpses into a bin liner and is pleased when he remembers that tomorrow is bin day.

Opening the back door, he looks up into the sky, the moon is there competing with the street lights and the glow for the shopping centre and the huge floodlights from the football stadium across the river, but the moon is still there and he basks for just a second before jumping onto the wall and then down and along the alley footpath and away.
He can taste young fox cub in the air.
As he passes them, two cats, tortoiseshell, mother and son, flatten their bodies against the ground, ears tucked down into their skulls.
They stay there far longer than they need to, still and silent and scared.
Waiting until they are quite sure that he far enough away before they move quickly together.
Over the walls.
Up the tiny garden path and into the kitchen with a definitive bang of the cat flap.
Then,a pause, a regrouping and then sleep, curled around each other for comfort.
Neither choosing to leave the warmth of the sofa tonight.

NANOWRIMO Novel – Cuttings – Day 11

She carries the slip of paper back to the table, sits down and wishes that she still smoked, wants something to mark this moment, but instead she lets her hand hover over the last remaining chocolate biscuit and then she carefully unfolds the square of newsprint,

” lady dwarf named as co-respondent in circus strong mans’ divorce petition”

and then she laughs out loud, the sound bouncing off the tiled walls, sounding louder than it really is.

She shakes her head, reminds herself that there is no-one to see this action and re-reads the headline, still smiling.

It is a gift of sorts, she can, see her mother, or perhaps father, carefully cutting the headline, choosing a resting place for it and then, but it is the then that pulls her up. who exactly was it meant for ? Was it meant for anyone? or is it just evidence of mis-firing synapses, her parents gentle fall into mild confusion, quiet loss and her fathers’ baffled expression as he tried, and failed, to keep on top of names, dates, constantly vanishing personal possessions.

She shrugs, it’s all too late now, she cannot have these questions answered, so has to take the cuttings in face value, left for someone to do something with and as there is no-body else then she will take them as hers, her gift and to what she can with them.

This  one is already pulling at her, a thread of a story beginning to unwind. She knows that now is the best time to start, so takes a bite of the biscuit which she has been absently holding, licks the melted chocolate off her fingers and sits for a moment, absolutely still, waiting for the story to emerge.

The Next Narrative – When God gives you lemons……

I heard that once, that saying and I thought, that’s me, that’s my life and God knows, he’s thrown plenty of lemons my way and I like to think that I’ve made lemonade.

I didn’t ask for any of this, like you didn’t ask to be blond or left-handed or blue-eyed, it’s just what we get given and it’s what we do with it that matters.

So, I’m small, really, really small, but and I say so myself, perfect, a bonsai version of a woman, everything in proportion, but tiny and take it from me, that’s just not true of many of the dwarves I know.

They  look unfinished, lumpy, hands too big, heads too big, but me, I’m a porcelain doll of perfection.

And yeah, I use the word dwarf, hell, why not. In my mind it’s like those black kids using the word n****, I’m just reclaiming it, making it my own and I like to see your faces when I use the word, like to see you look away, try to hide your embarrassment, try to hide your desire.

And right again, this is my chosen career, my profession, like I said, you get lemons and I tried the big world, tried an office job, everyone being kind to me, trying not to stare when I used a foot step to turn  the lights on and off. I was the one everyone came to, poured their hearts out, because none of them ever thought I had that kind of life, real, raw, dirty. To them I was just a doll, something to talk to and I learnt to not see the mens’ eyes on me, learnt to ignore the unspoken questions, the barely thought about, cos thinking about that stuff makes you feel like a bad man, a wrong man, a pervert, physical pondering.

And I’d probably still be there, wearing my age 3 to 4 clothes and do you know how hard it is to find black trousers in that size?, if it hadn’t had been for the freak show and yeah, I know what you’re thinking, freak show, in this day and age. How exploitative, how un PC, how very not modern, but you’d be wrong.

This was the new freaks – freak show run by freaks for freaks, making lemonade, hell, we were making champagne from the lemons we got given.

And I loved it, loved being around people who saw that what I had was special, saw that I was special, made me feel special and the money was great and people looked at me and I looked right back at them and dared them to stare.

We ran late at night, carried good security, ejected the drunks, the pity whores and became cool, stylish, invited to the right parties, got to wear tiny versions of designer outfits.,  there was even talk of me becoming a Vivienne Westwood muse.

Sometimes, people, who am I fooling here, men, it was always men, wanted to touch me, to hold me, offered me a lot of money and hey why have lemonade when you can have Chivas Regal ?

So, I became a teeny tiny courtesan, Polly in your pocket and yeah, it’s maybe not the career path my mother dreamed for me, but she’s not the one who has to live my life and besides and you probably didn’t know this, but dwarves, well, let’s just say, we’re not known for our longevity.

Besides, it’s not like any of the men mattered, none of them got to me. I stayed pure, clean, in my head I was still the porcelain doll.

I didn’t know it, but love was coming, love would fill me, love would lift me up.

See, you need to understand something about the New Age freaks, most of us, well, our bodies are different, born that way and we’re cautious about the others, the ones who do it for themselves, it’s almost as if they’re cheating, but, we need them, they add colour, glamour, so we have the tattooed lady, the starving man, the geek and of course a strong man. They change, a new geek every summer, a different strong man. they come and go, but we, we are constant.

Listen to me, I’ve gone all thoughtful, big words. I’m tiny, but I’m not stupid, I just pretend, it makes me more doll-like, more delicate.

But, the strong man, well, one went away and a new one came and i noticed him, all us girls did, because he was drop dead beautiful and I started watching him,watching him perform, spying on him training, feasting my eyes on his perfect body.

Yeah, you’re right, it was something about the scale of him, the space he took up.

I found myself dreaming about him, his arms wrapped round me, his biceps bigger Than my head, but it was more than that, there was something else, something that made me shy and I gotta tell you, I don’t do shy, no way Jose, but I couldn’t talk to him.

I just watched and waited, waited for the right moment, knew it would come…….

( to be continued)

NANOWRIMO novel – Cuttings- DAY 8 – part 1

Climbing the stairs, she looks up at the 3 closed doors, her parents room, her room, the spare room. She has made this journey so many times over the years, doesn’t even have to think about the number of steps, the sharp bend before the last 3 stairs and then the slightly higher step, the one that takes you to the landing and then the 4 steps to her bedroom door and sanctuary.

She remembers the angry retreats she would make as a teenager, door slammed just so, a fling of limbs onto the bed and a sense of injustice so strong that she can still, 25 years on, almost taste the emotion, although she cannot remember any particular battle, just an over-riding sense of not being understood.

As she reaches the landing today, she revisits other times, drunk at 18 or maybe 19, creeping up on bare feet, trying hard not to giggle, not to fall against the wall, wake her parents and later, when boyfriends were allowed to stay, as long as they had passed some unspoken parental rule, but always in the spare room, tiptoeing across the landing, trying to actually float past her parents room and then whispered, strangely passionate sex in the too narrow bed while old stuffed toys starred on.

The spare room has had other names, the guest room, although there were rarely any guests that got to use the special good towels, the ones kept for best and only hung on the bathroom radiator if a visitor was deemed important or worrying enough, so always for her fathers’ own mother, less so for her other grandmother.

Then the box room, when her parents became more relaxed about their lives, when, thinking back, both their own sets of parents were dead and visitors stayed for supper and usually lived close enough to simply walk home. As a box room, it became as most of them do, a place to put things, to hide anything unfinished, half started projects. A halfway house between the home proper and the shed, the place where objects go to die.

It was only as an adult that she understood that for years the spare room had another name, another identity – the new baby’s’ room, waiting for a brother or a sister who never came. She can’t remember when the rabbit curtains came down, replaced by something cream, something neutral, but one day they were there and then, gone.

Standing, one hand on the door handle, she realises that she has never and now will never, speak to her parents about her only child status. As a child herself, she took for granted her single status, enjoyed it, had no urge to share their attention and when her father died and she, an orphan, saw that she was the last of a small suburban line, it was too late to suddenly want a brother, a younger sister and anyway, the patterns of onliness were too deeply entrenched.

But, just for a moment, now, standing here, she wonders what this process would be like with someone else to share it, she wonders what they would make of the newspaper clipping and then, suddenly possessive of the cuttings and the stories , she is profoundly glad that is just her.

The spare room has become shabby over the years, the room her parents and then just her father didn’t worry about, didn’t struggle to keep on top of.

The wall paper is a slightly faded floral,  autumnal pinks and browns , the carpet has begun to fray where the door catches on it. It feels like a room where nobody has opened the door for some time and for a moment, she considers simply shutting the door herself and finding a less depressing task, but, she reasons, this is exactly why she is here and if she is being completely honest, she hopes, wishes, needs to find another newspaper cutting.

The house clearing has become like a scavenger hunt, even when she is not really sure if there is any more treasure to find, is not even sure if there is a treasure hunt to join.

She starts with determination, using the narrow, stripped bed as a sorting area, she pulls boxes, neatly piled carrier bags toward her, makes three piles – keep, donate, chuck.

The keep pile stays stubbornly small and she hopes, needs, to find things amongst all these forgotten items that will speak to her, tell her that they need her, need to be taken home, loved, valued, put somewhere safe and warm.

On the other hand, the donate pile gets larger and larger, towels, spare bedding, her mothers’ sewing machine, she lingers over this, wonders if she could find a space for it, even pictures herself sewing, making something, but the something remains obstinately vague and in heart of hearts she knows that the baby blue singer machine will simply end up in another spare room, gathering dust.

She ploughs on and finally does hit a kind of treasure, photograph albums and then of course she has to stop, curl on the the corner of the bed, shove piles out of her way and fal back into her childhood.

The photographs are, for the most part , neatly arranged in albums.

The cast is small, her, her parents and sometimes her grandparents. It strikes her, not for the first time, how friendless her parents  were, how happily self-contained they seemed to be.

The photographs are arranged chronologically, her as a new-born, a baby, toddler and then school, holiday and high days.

She sees for the first time, now she herself is older, how much like her mother she looks, even their stance is similar, head often cocked to one side, listening carefully or looking for escape, in many of these photographs, she cannot tell which.

Of  course, her father is mostly absent, clearly he was the main photographer and when she thinks back, she has vivid memories of her father choreographing, almost dragooning  them into position

“Smile, just look a little happier” he would mutter at her, not understanding that her serious face was a mark of her concentration on the event, her desire to not miss any element of the experience on hand.

There are a muddle of unsorted photos in the final album and she shakes them out, curious to see which pictures did not make it into an album.

She doesn’t quite know what to feel when she begins to recognise the images, they are all photos that she has sent her parents over the years.

Holidays  she has been on, parties, barbeques, the cats, weddings she has attended as a guest, a bridesmaid and more recently a maid of honour.

There are even pictures of her and boyfriends over the years in a changing backdrop of different sitting rooms.

And then and she smiles with pleasure, although there is no=one to see it, a newspaper cutting flutter onto the bed spread, she pounces on it, excited and then stops.

The clipping is of part of an obituary, just a headline and a blurred black  and white photo – a man, more moustache than facial features, eyes hard, staring out at the reader and the headline

“Director dies at his desk – it’s  what he would have wanted”

The Next Narrative – The Man Who loved His Job More Than His Wife

The widow dabs at her eyes, sniffs and faces the journalist again.

“It’ s what he would have wanted ” she repeats the platitude ” He lived for his work” and she sees the journalist, young, stumbling shorthand, nod and she wants  to scream, to shake him, to make him hear the raw truth in her words, but instead, she offer a cup of tea, tells him that he can smoke if he wants, he has the look of a smoker, drawn and hungry and they sit on opposite sofas, facing eachother……..

( to be continued…..)

NANOWRIMO novel – Cuttings- DAY 7

She reads the last sentence back carefully and for once, her writing doesn’t make her wince or feel that frisson of shame.
She resists the urge to go back through the piece, mental red pen in hand, finding errors, clumsy sentences, could do betters.
Instead, she lets the story sit, reviews its shape in her head and is still pleased.
Thinks, that she may, when her life has returned to its normal shape and pattern, take it to her writing class, even volunteer to read it out, to wait for criticism.
There will be no need, she thinks, to share the trigger, the clipping and her days spent away from the world, putting her parents’ house to bed.

Her writing group is a serious one, members submit short stories, take part in competitions, talk about agents, book deals, she doesn’t want to bring this almost whimsical, perhaps other worldly inspiration to the table and besides, she is very aware that her 2 publications to date, 2 short stories in a teachers magazine put her in a very junior standing amongst the other members. She doesn’t think that talking about the strange newspaper clippings and their impact on her will help that status and although she tries sometimes to pretend it doesn’t, actually these people’s’ opinion of her does, a great deal.

Writing, has become, over the last few years, the thing she does.
At first quietly, secretly, something to pass the time, a new take on knitting or hand crafting christmas cards, but, she has begun to believe in it, has begun, on days when the classroom noise is actually intolerable, when meetings are so painful that she wants to stand up and scream, to nurse fantasies of success and escape.
She can see the dust jacket
“X used to teach, now, she writes full-time and lives with her cats in an idyllic rural setting and is working on her 3rd novel”.

Even this day-dream, she realises, is rooted in some reality.
She doesn’t hope for JK Rowling level fame or income, film deals, appearance of chat shows, although, of course, Womens’ Hour would be nice.
Instead, she hopes for, on some days prays for, escape from school, escape from the noise and tedium of teenage minds and teenage bodies.
She has become, she understands, one of those kind of teachers, mid 40s, neatly dressed, career stalled and doing exactly what is required, no more and no less.
She finds herself counting down to each holiday, knowing on the first day of any term exactly how many days there are until the next escape, the next release date.
She sits in day long training sessions, trying hard not to roll her eyes or sigh audibly as yet another power point presentation highlights a new list  of goals and targets and acronyms and nu-speak.
She doesnt bother, very often, learning the names of the new young teachers, she knows that they will, in 2 or 3 years, move on, following some self-imposed career trajectory and that she will be there, counting down the days to half term.

So, the writing is important, if only to fuel her days dreams of something else, something better.

She is hungry and wonders when exactly she last ate something. She can remember the tomato soup, the chocolate biscuits, but her body tells her that this was some time ago. She doesnt remember the last time that she ate in such a disorganised way, no longer keeping a mental note of calories in, calories out. It is both refreshing and a little scary, reminds her of eating in the days before she got a grip, took control.

She is suddenly hit with a memory from this house, her mother and she, curled up on the sofa together, but not this sofa, with its faintly tweed, faintly brown presence. This would have been 2 maybe 3 sofas back, flowery, she thinks, stiff cushions that slipped from behind your back, not really comfortable, not designed for sprawling, more a sofa to sit neatly on, feet together, almost touching the floor.

But it is that sofa that the memory is linked to, the memory of eating shop bought cakes.

Her mother was old enough to feel shame or at least mild anxiety if she didn’t produce  at least a bare minimum of home-baked goodies and in fact she did, dutifully, produce scone, sponge cakes, apple pies, but their shared secret, the little vice was shop bought and not just shop bought, baked on the premises, but packeted cakes, especially Mr Kipling.

They would sit together, a fondant fancy, vienesse whirl, lemon slice on a plate and take quick bites, try hard not to show too much pleasure in these inferior products and of course the whole packet must be eaten so that the evidence can be hidden in the bin, mouth and faces wiped, tea plates put away.

The memory is both vividly pleasurable, the pinks, yellows, strange foamy cream fillings and tinged with guilt.

She wonder who exactly they were hiding the eating from, her father, mild-mannered, showed no interest in anything domestic and she cannot imagine him looking through cupboards for evidence of foolish spending.

She needs to organise some proper food ,maybe even go grocery shopping, but that will mean leaving the house, dressing properly, meeting other people’s eyes , having to hear them shout at their children, husbands , truculent teens dragging behind .

It is the thought of the teens which decides her.

She will not go out today, she will survive on coffee and the remain ing wagon wheels and for old times sake , she will crumple up the packet and hide it deep in the bin, hide the evidence of shop bought treats.

She puts the kettle on, eats the first of the chocolate biscuits and stares out at the winter garden, bedraggled and browning in the autumn frost.

Revived, she stands at the kitchen door, tries to decide which room she should start on.

She cannot yet face the intimacy of her parents bedroom, needs to stay somewhere  safe, somewhere neutral.

The spare room, she thinks, the box room.

That will be the next task.