Tag Archives: loneliness

Horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 2


All morning as she stares at the computer screen in front of her she is vaguely aware of the usual background chatter, like a radio playing In another room, she can, if she concentrates pick out individual words, even whole sentences, but, she can just let it drift over her, a comforting and familiar chorus of low level annoyance, hunger and a moment or two of anxiety.
The pony has, as usual, been pushed away for the better grazing by the bigger horses.
Alice is worried about something strange, unfamiliar in the hedge.
Oliver wants to know that she will be there soon to bring them back into their stables.

Talking to animal or having animals talk to you, is not, she muses, when she takes 5 minutes to walk away from her desk, all its cracked up to be.

The messages the horses send her range from the dull, at least if you’re human – The grass here is better than the grass over there, To the mysterious , odd almost impossible to translate thought pictures about some equine deity and clouds and the smell of earth and then sometimes the downright horrific, the pony she passed on the road, screaming out its pain and fear from a cancer that nobody had diagnosed.

Her own horses, she can generally cope with. She works hard to keep them safe, secure, spends some time every day sending them messages of reassurance and maintenance and mostly, they manage to keep their voices quiet, try not to bring on the headaches that leave her pale, shaking and unable to meet the eyes of her colleagues and neighbours.

Local pets, the ones she knows live nearby, the ones she passes on her way to the corner shop recognise her, see her as something useful to them, a translation service they utilise when other forms of communication with their own humans have failed them.
“ tell them I don’t like chicken cat food”
“ The collar they bought me is too tight”
“ I get lonely when you go out all day”

These massages are easy to deal with, there are simple ways to pass these on without drawing attention to herself, but there are others which cause more difficulty to her and which sometimes she decides that she can’t hear, doesn’t understand and then she feels disloyal, dishonest. She feels as though she has let them down, those eyes, of cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies and above all, horses, expecting her to sort it out, make it better.

“ Every bone in my body aches now…let me go “
“ when you are not here, your new boyfriend locks me in the garden for hours and forgets to feed me”
“ you love the baby more than me, I hate the baby, I scratch the baby whenever your back is turned “
“ I don’t like you, but you feed me, I prefer the lady in the next house but one “
“ I didn’t mean to kill the hamster, it was an accident”
“ when you ride me, you are too heavy, you hurt my back, please stop”

She has become adept at passing on information to the humans, the other humans in ways that keep her safe.
She is not mad, knows that all of this is not usual,not normal and not something that she should be drawing any attention to, any time soon.

So, instead, she offers up tentative suggestions, wonders out loud if an owner has ever considered a change of feed, if they could use a dog collar that doesn’t fit her dogs.
Some times she takes direct action, scooping up a cat used a football and stealing it away to rehome it far away away from the man who wants to punch his boss but instead kicks his cat across a room.

Her neighbours feel a distance in her and so keep their own distance. She leaves so early in the morning, arrives home after dark, clothes mud spattered and humming with the aroma of horse and dog, that almost nobody ever really notices her and if they do meet she is polite, pats their dog, asks after their cat. They do notice that she never remembers to ask after husbands, wives, children, but after all, they rationalise, if they think about her at all. She has no parter, no family, no life that they can see, poor soul and then their phones ring or a child calls out or the east Enders starts and they forget their train of thought and they only think about her again when they notice how well their tabby kitten looks since they took her advice and changed his brand of cat food.

At night,when she lies in bed, the weight of sleeping dogs a comfortable pressure against her knees, she can, is she chooses to reach out and touch the minds of all the local pets.

The spaniel next door but one, Lord of the sofa now his family have gone upstairs to bed, he stretches full length, yawns, farts and falls asleep.

The grey cat who has discovered a nest of mice and is lying in the flower bed, belly flat against the damp earth, waiting patiently for the first one to poke its nose into the night air before he pounces.

The chickens at number 7, roosting in an unruly bundle of feathers, mad, blank chicken eyes closed as they doze and plot where to hide tomorrow’s newly laid eggs.

She lies quietly, almost asleep herself, closing her mind to the other stories, the ones she does not want to hear, not tonight , not any night.

She lies quietly, so close to sleep herself and tries to forget the face of the man at work, the man who sits two cubicles away from her , the man who explained today, how he is training his pitt bull to hate black people, and as he talked she could hear, a roaring bark of dismay and incomprehension from his dog who wants to love everyone and be loved.

She lies quietly and just before she drifts into sleep, decided that she will change jobs soon, move on to somewhere else, somewhere new.

At 4.45 the alarm jolts her awake again.

Number 51- horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 1


Number 51 – Horses are not the only signifiers of difference.

Some days, when the alarm jolts her awake at 4:45, her first reaction is one of shock,a disbelief that sleep is over for another 18 hours.

From long experience, she knows that the only way forward is speed and decisiveness. It is much, much worse if she waits or God forbid, allows herself to hit the snooze button.

A deep breath and then kick the duvet back, dislodge the dogs and out of bed into the unheated bedroom.

She puts her jeans straight on, on top of her pyjama bottoms, no loss of precious body heat and then hooded top, baggy jumper and jacket.
Her gloves and hat are downstairs next to the car keys.

The dogs have already raced downstairs to wait at the kitchen door quivering with excitement as they stand there, ready for breakfast.

She checks her watch, 4.53 and puts the kettle on, makes a cuppa and drinks it standing at the back door assessing the weather before she collects up the dogs and leaving her cup half full drags them around the block.

She rarely sees anyone else, it is too early for anyone to yet be on their way to work and fate too late for even the most hardcore party animals.

The dogs know how these morning walks go and are business like,keep their sniffing and snuffling to a minimum and 10 minutes later they are back home.

She grabs work bag, packed lunch, her work clothes on hangers and her after work stuff and by 5.20 she is in the car, glad that there was no frost last night and so no window scrapping and rubbing to freeze her hands even before she has started.

She reckons that she could do this drive in her sleep and probably has done, only coming properly awake when a car pulls out unexpectedly.

At this time of the year,the whole drive is in darkness, only the world service in the radio to break the silence all around her. Over the years she has listened to hours of the world service and has absorbed all manner of strange facts. She tries to keep them to herself, but occasional one pops out, usually followed by a silence from her work colleagues and a metaphorical step backwards from them, another layer of distance.

The stables are completely dark, she uses her phone as a pitiful torch to unlock the chain around the gate and even before she parks she can hear them greeting her or at least greeting the arrival of breakfast and morning.

The horses are all looking over their stable doors.
Alice whinnies whickers, an oddly small noise from such a large animal.
Oliver starts to kick the door, panicking that today will be the day that he is left hungry and alone and the pony, the pony simply stares as he does every morning as if her arrival is simply an unexpected surprise.

She has the morning routine down pat, feed, put on rugs suitable for the weather and then the trudge to the field, hideous in wet weather when the mud threatens to suck the boots from her feet.
She once found herself wondering how long she would lie her undiscovered if she did actually fall and drown in mud that comes above her knees.
The answer was frightening and that thought,along with a whole mental box of thoughts to be ignored, has been put to one side, pushed down into her own figurative mud and left to drown there.

The stable work is reassuringly routine, she sets herself little competitions, like to shave time off her personal records and on the best days, where nothing goes wrong, she has a precious 10 minutes before she needs to head off to work and then she stands looking out towards the field and as night turns into early morning, she watches the horses become visible and smokes a single cigarette.

She needs to get the time of her arrival at work exactly right, too early and the night security man will have to let her in and will see her in all her hay, mud and straw covered glory, too late though and there is a danger of bumping into early bird colleagues before she has sneaked into the workplace gym showers and transformed into her daytime self.

Her cubicle is anonymous,no photos of family, partners, smiling faces on holiday beaches. She doesn’t have any of those and over the years she has learnt that photos of the horses,of events they have done, even a rosette or two simply set her even further apart. So, she has compromised on a photo of the dogs and a mug with a thelwell pony cartoon.

She has worked in offices ever since she left school, happy enough with the routine, the regular start and finish times, the 60 minute lunch break and the work that she leaves at the door even before she reaches the door.
She is told that she lacks ambition, but works hard, is rarely off and is happy to allow her co workers to have holidays to fit around families, Christmas and school terms. So, she stays here for the moment.
There will come a time, there always comes a time when she needs to leave and then she will gone with as little fuss as she arrived and within weeks,sometimes days, nobody there will quite be able to remember her name properly. She may leave the mug behind but she will carefully remove the dogs photograph.


The carpenter – no 25

No 25 – the carpenter who looks for love

The carpenter is a small man, shorter than many of the women he works for, he struggles to fit high shelves, reach up to repair the few wooden mouldings still left in the less modernised houses, stands on a pair of neat varnished steps that he carries from house to house, job to job.
He wears the same clothes and sometimes, surprisingly, he is in fashion, cutting edge, the battered denim cap, the donkey jacket, the carpenter’s baggy jeans fall in and out of style. He continues to wear them, happily indifferent to the vagaries of style.
His hands are small, finger nails short, kept tidy by constant use of sandpaper, the fingers are strong, flexible and when engaged in work seem capable, clever.
To the women watching him work, there is something almost magical about his hands, the sureness of movement, their ability to reach into a tool box and pull,out exactly the right tool and the way that each tool fits perfectly into the hand.

Sometimes, the women wonder how else his hands might feel, how sure and deft they might be moving across bodies, exploring the curves and grain of their flesh, but then he looks up, weak blue eyes, skin pitted with old acne scars and somehow the moment passes and they bustle off to the kitchen, pull down the mugs kept for builders and open a packet of biscuits bought especially for him.

He never eats more than 2 and all over the neighbourhood, women sit in kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, admiring shelves, cupboards, neat wooden boxes and absently find themselves popping one and then two and then three biscuits into their mouths.
The carpenter is looking for love, or more accurately he knows that love is missing from his life and would, if he had any idea that love can be looked for, then he would be out there, looking, but instead he fills his life and his front room with wood and glue and shaving and tools that fit him perfectly and sometimes at the end of a day, he muses about what it could feel like to fit perfectly with someone else, to have the same sense of rightness that he feels when he picks up his hand sander and feels it fall into grooves within his own Palm.

The carpenter works from home, his front room is his workshop, smells of newly sawn wood, glue, carefully applied varnish lost from his open windows in summer, drift down this street to blend and curl to make new perfumes with the home cooking of Mrs Mohammed at no 37.
Some days you can walk past and see him, back bent over a piece of wood, attention completely focussed on the task in hand and then he doesn’t have time to feel alone and if you stand quietly, watching, you see only his attention, his care, his love of the piece of fine oak under his hands, but, if you stand awhile, eventually, he will straighten up, stretch his shoulders towards his ears and sign and in that sigh you hear the emptiness of a man who makes beautiful objects that live in other people’s homes.
The carpenter has a name, it’s on his letter headed notepaper, the paper he uses for his invoices, each one hand written, numbered in an arcane system of his own devising, detailed, every expense listed, a full description of the item made and at the very bottom of the page, the amount requested, often surprisingly small, written out in full, no numbers, pounds and pence in an old fashioned awkward joined up hand writing, but,at the top of the page, next to the careful line drawing of a hammer and a saw, is his name “Ray Cootes” master carpenter and joined – no job too small.
And actually, he is a master craftsman, time served, city and guilds apprenticeship with Neville Rushton, seven years on the job, two years before he was even allowed to consider starting a piece of work without Neville’s firm direction.
Neville, a man who made taciturn seem chatty, another carpenter living alone, but one who seemed happy, content with the life he had carved out in the cramped and old fashioned, even 30 years ago, little carpenters workshop, Neville who had taught him almost everything he knew would sometimes run his thumb along the grain of a piece of wood and nod to himself
“ wants to a chair,this one “ he would say and then it could be nothing but a chair, even when there was no order for a chair.
Ray is more pragmatic, more business like he thinks, he has learnt to create the items ordered, even when he too hears the wood. He makes tables or bookcases or garden gates out of pine and oak that want to be something different and their inherent wrongness grates on him, but his customers, his women never seem to sense this and always tell him how happy they are with the finished item and he has learnt to smile and nod and awkwardly hand over his handwritten invoices.
His customers are nearly always women, women of a certain age, spreading comfortably into middle age and beyond. Old enough to appreciate his skills, old enough to want items that will last, old enough to feel uncomfortable with flat packs and Swedish design.
They like effort he makes, the extra touches, hand finishing, more coats of paint then are absolutely necessary, a little extra carving on a wooden gate, a few minutes more spent hanging a door so that it will always close with a satisfying snap and they tell their friends about him, make sure that he always has enough work, is always busy, always has a list of small orders to complete.
But he cannot find love amongst them, no matter how much he puts in, how often he carves secret tiny hearts on the underside of chairs, table, on the backs of bookcases.
He used to hope that one of the, one of these comfortable, cushiony women would run her fingers across his work and find his secret messages of love and loneliness.
But,,it hasn’t happened yet, so now he has another plan, another way to find love.
Upstairs, there is another workroom, a secret workroom, where nobody has even been. The room is small, brightly lit, tiny tools, precision sharp laid out in neat rows. The door, well fitting, solid, has a lock, the only door in the whole house with a lock and the key lives on a chain around his neck.
But wait, this is not what you think, this is not that kind of room, this is not that kind of story. There are no bodies here, nothing like that.
There may be, there will be other houses, other storeys /stories on this street and yes, there may be bodies, but not here.
Ray has a secret, he is engaged in secretive work, work he cannot, doesn’t want to share with anyone.
Ray is building, room by room, a dolls house, a perfect copy of this house, his house, but, not, not this house, not exactly.
The house that Ray is building is for someone else, someone that Ray is waiting for, is still confident will come.
A long time ago, late at night he watched, he can’t remember the title or the plot, a film and one line stayed with him, told him what to do, how to find the love he knows he deserves.
“Build it and they will come” said one of the actors, Ray can’t remember who or even why, but the next morning he started planning this dolls house,making ready for something or someone to come.
Tonight, Ray is working on a tiny Welsh dresser, he has already purchased the plates and bowls that will sit on its shelves.
He hums under his breath, a happy engrossed sound, a tiny scrap of sandpaper wrapped around his little finger, smoothing the wood that can only be this Welsh dresser and he waits, knowing that one day she will come.

When the dog dies….

She wonders what will happen when the dog dies.
This dog, the third or fourth they have had together, has been a good one, challenging enough as a puppy to ensure that there was always conversation, projects, minor domestic disasters. The time he ate the washing powder, the destruction of any shoes left lying around, the little accidents in the first few months. All of this has filled the silences, kept them busy, given them something to talk about, when winter evenings stretched ahead of them and bed time seemed a million miles away.

The walking has helped, this dog has been energetic, bouncy, it has been quite legitimate to leave the house for 2 , 3 hours at a time. She knows that she has used the routine to escape when staying would have meant speaking, articulating the distance between them and she suspects that her husband has also used the dog and his routines as a way of managing a marriage gone stale, gone bad, turned rank and sour.

And of course, the dog has become the receiver of conversation, the recipient of secrets, his floppy spaniel ears pricked, head tilted to one side as each of them choose him to tell him about their day, their tiny disappointments, their even smaller achievements.

Her husband, his return as predictable as his leaving each morning for an office where, more and more, he finds himself side-lined, confused and resentful has a ritual which unchanging signals the beginning of their evenings together.

Brief case is left at the bottom of the stairs, cuff links and keys dropped just a shade too loudly into the fruit bowl on the dinning table and then a tiny pause, which she fantasies filling with a scream
“Just bloody leave it, it doesn’t matter” as he carefully re-arranges the fruit bowl so that it is exactly centered on the table.
Some days, she has taken to moving it, so that the bowl, green, ceramic, ugly, a wedding gift from an elderly aunt, his aunt, tethers on the very edge of the table. On other days, she fills it with mad objects, potatoes, clothes pegs, tiny china frogs. He never comments.

Then he makes his way upstairs and standing in the kitchen, she hear him moving around the bedroom, suit off, wardrobe open, the rustle of clothes hangers, suit carefully hung up. A pause,then a small thud of shoes being dropped to the floor as he sits on the bed to complete his evening transformation. She knows that later when she goes upstairs, in winter to turn on the electric blanket,in summer to ensure that the window is open,she will find his socks, pants, vest all left close to, but not actually in the washing basket. A tiny reminder to her that hers’ is the marginal job, the part-time hours, the proximity to home, the laughable take home pay all re-inforce her status as housewife, a carer for him, the house and of course, the dog.

And then he re-appears, neatly ironed jeans, a casual shirt, ready for the next part of the day.
Sometimes when she irons these jeans, she presses so hard on the fabric that her knuckles whiten and her wrists ache with the force she uses.

Then it is dog time and the dog, as used to this routine as she is, emerges from his basket, a little stiff now, a little less bouncy, but still eager. Her husband kneels, strokes the dogs ears and the litany begins
“Best boy, good dog, clever fella, does the big boy want to go walkies then?”
The dog shivers with pleasure, with anticipation, his face split open in a huge canine grin, his attention torn between his master and the lead hanging up on the hook by the mirror in the hallway.

“30 minutes, Yeah?” says her husband and she mumbles something indistinct from the kitchen, they both know that dinner will be ready at the same time each evening, this dialogue is simply another part of the evening ritual.

Ironically,she has found that as local authority cuts have made her job at the local library more and more part-time, almost a non job, that this half hour, where he is home, but not truly home, has become precious and on the rare occasions when truly terrible weather has kept him and the dog indoors, she has felt cheated, bereft of the loss of this tiny last gasp of solitude before the routine of dinner, television, bath and bed time.

She hears the door close behind them and opening the cutlery draw to set the table, she wonders again, what they will do when the dog dies.