Tag Archives: women writing

Number 59- the only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box

Number 59 – The only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box.

And even when she says it, the moment the words leave her mouth, she knows that they’re not true.
That this truth belongs to her mother and her mothers life.
Nowadays, almost no one dies in their own home and even if they do, a neat black van will take away the body, probably, although, she has no first hand knowledge of course, probably in a body bag or on a stretcher.

More and more, she finds that her mother is somehow inhabiting her mouth, phrases pop out
“ take your coat off. You wont feel the benefit”
“ a nice cup of tea and scone “
“ I don’t hold with…..”
“ in my day”

They make her feel old, they make her sound old and she isn’t, not really, not truly old.
75, it’s no age at all, not nowadays, not like in her Mother’s Day.

There are women far older than her in the Tuesday Aqua robics class, in fact she is one of the younger ones, well, slightly younger ones.
They all wear sensible one piece swim suits, usually blue or black, with sturdy shoulder straps and modestly cut legs.
She has, once or twice, dared to wear her bright red costume, it makes her feel cheerful, makes her feel a little Baywatch, but her mother’s voice crept up on her last time she wore it
“ mutton dressed as lamb”
“ no better than she should be, that one”
And so, it’s stayed in her underwear drawer and she’s dug out the black one instead.
She does refuse to wear a swim hat, even a frivolous one with pink and green flowers bouncing on top when they run on the spot in the shallow end of the pool.
A swim hat is an admission of old ness and she’s not ready for that, not yet.

Aquarobics is part of the week’s routine.
Monday is community choir
Tuesday aqua robics
Wednesday book group
Thursday is lunch with the girls and Friday, well, Friday is mother day, being a mother day, being a dutiful grandmother day and once a month, she tries to be a dutiful daughter day and visits her own mother, well, her own mother’s grave for a spot of tidying.

And of course, on top of all of this there is the garden, tiny but perfect, her allotment, walking the dog with the 4pm dog walkers and a bit, just a tiny bit of cleaning and grocery shopping.

Other women, the many other widowed women who sing and read and swim and fill their week with busyness, complain about how much they miss cooking and cleaning for husbands, now dead and children, now moved on.
She, on the other hand, cannot get over it the liberation from domestic tyranny, no more standing at the fridge, desperately trying to think of what to cook, no more cleaning and then turning her back and finding the mess creeping back again.
She has discovered ready meals, jacket potatoes, cereal for dinner and toast at any time.
She delights in her Spartan washing up, one bowl, one cup, a plate and one knife and fork and has discovered that a woman who goes out most days makes very little mess and the mess she makes is comforting when she does put her key in the door at the end of a busy day.

The dog, the last dog is very little trouble too.
He is some sort of a terrier, small, brown, fond of toast, they often share a slice in the morning while radio 2 plays something cheerful, sometimes she sings along and he looks quizzical before returning to his crunching on the toast crust.
They walk every day around the park with the 4 o clock dog walkers, the retired teacher, the man who doesn’t say much, the girl with lots of piercing and a boy friend who is on dialysis and needs a new kidney, the other older woman with the four sheep dogs all called after footballers, who wears her team scarf even when it’s not really cold enough.
They talk about the dogs, about other dog walkers, about the youth who sit on the kids swings, saying and doing nothing, but somehow exuding low level menace.
The youth are the reason why they walk together and why the man who doesn’t say much always walks with these women, keeps them safe, keeps an eye on stuff.

75 she thinks, no age at all, even when she occasionally looks in the full length mirror in the bathroom, no age at all.
Still got boobs.
Hair defiantly coloured, currently mystic violet. She knows it annoys her daughter and entertains her granddaughter.
Stomach soft now, a little thickening,but still acceptable, still able to wear a size 14.
No age at all.

Her mother’s voice whispers in her ears as she stands, naked in the bathroom
“ making a fool of yourself “
“ don’t draw attention “
“ act with dignity”

And then she picks up the little brown dog and waltzes into the bedroom stark naked and sings, badly, to whatever tune is playing on the radio.

Her neighbors make her laugh sometimes, especially the young ones, the ones on their first homes, crawling up the property ladder, the ones with plans and lives that start at 6 am and finish after 8 as they collapse onto their sofas.
They ask her questions about the neighbourhood, make statements about the good old days, assume that they know about her life
“ I bet it’s all different here now”
“ I bet you didn’t have to lock your front door when you first moved here”
“ I bet this was a real community back in the day”

Mostly, she just nods and smiles, Even when inside she is raging, on a bad day, or laughing silently, on a good day.

Just how bloody old do they think she is ?

The days they’re talking about are the 1970s.
Miners strikes
3 day week
Power cuts
Rubbish piling in the streets
Grave diggers refusing to dig graves.

Of course they locked the front door and the back door and made sure that all the windows were closed tight.

And she likes the new community, she likes chicken tikka masala, she likes the helpful family at the corner shop who open 7 days a week, she likes the polish man two doors down who popped in last week to tell her his wife was expecting their first son, she likes the 2 boys with the very neat beards and the pale pink front door, she likes the way this street looks and feels now.

75, she thinks, no age at all and she hums, loudly, a little tunelessy to drown out her mother’s nagging voice
“ 76, your father, when he went “
Your grandmother didn’t know what day it was by the time she was 70”
“ at 75, my body just fell apart”
“ I thought I’d live forever and look what happened to me”

No, she says out loud
75, no age at all.

And she wonders if she has time for a Pilates class this week.

Number 49- the man who hated noise.

Number 49 – The man who hated noise.

The door next door – number 51 slams shut, with a bang so loud it makes his window frames rattle and even though he is expecting it, after all it is 7.35, he still jumps, just a little and slops tea into the saucer, splashes some onto the draining board, he tuts quietly, annoyed with himself, he should be used to the door by now, it happens every morning. It shouldn’t be a cause for real anxiety, but today it is.
7.45 and his other neighbours- number 47 have started the litany of
He doesn’t understand why she needs to stand at the bottom of her stairs and scream up to her oversized teenage son. He didn’t understand why she doesn’t simply walk up the stairs and actually speak to him.
Instead her screams come straight through the thin walls and fill his sitting room with her frustration
“ get up, you’re going to be late”
“Get up, you’re going to be late
“ I said, get up, you’re really late now”.
There are times when he seriously considers punching a hole in the wall and screaming his frustration at her and her sharp, edgy voice and for once filling her house with noise so loud it stops you thinking.
But, of course, he doesn’t.
Instead, he washes his cup and saucer, dries them carefully with the green checked tea towel and puts them both away in the cupboard next to the kettle.
He spends a moment checking the kitchen, work surfaces wiped down, cereal boxes carefully aligned in a tidy row. Sandwich box ready to go, flask filled, Apple polished and because it’s Friday, a two finger kitkat as a special treat for break time.
7.53 and a minute or two later than yesterday, the barking starts,staccato yaps, with no rhythm or pattern
Bark, bark, bark
Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark
And then a longer pause,
But, he has no time to savour this, to hold onto the last moments of peace before he must leave the house because the sullen teen has finally been prised out of bed and the thud, thud, thud of some hideous rap music has started and it’s counterpoint
“Mum, mum”
“What do you want?”
“ mum, I can’t find my PE kit”
The voice manages to be both booming and whining simultaneously
“ I can’t hear a bloody word, turn that bloody music down”
amen to that thinks the man at number 49, but it’s 8.10 and he needs to get going himself.
He collects up lunchbox, keys, waterproof jacket and a book and leaves the house, carefully and quietly shutting the front door.
The dog is still barking , but miraculously the music has stopped and he makes it to the car before the front door of 47 bursts open to disgorge six foot of teenager, all hoodie and rucksack hanging off him and the tssk,tssk, tssk of badly muffled outsized head phones.
Today, he doesn’t have to cope with the barely disguised sneer of dislike and he slides quickly and quietly into the car.
A deep breath and then engine on, the gentle purr of a car well maintained by it’s owner, check in mirror, signal and pull out onto the street.
Some mornings he listens to classic FM, playing low, almost sub audibly, but not today, his nerves are already jangling, he needs the silence of his commute to gather himself for the day ahead.
There are times when he genuinely believes that his neighbors are doing this on purpose, that they are conspiring to actually drive him insane, that this cannot be simply random thoughtlessness, that there must be some planning in all of this.
He doesn’t understand why they find it so difficult to just keep the noise down.
He is always thoughtful, mindful, careful and above all quiet.
Keeps his windows closed in all but the most freakish heat waves.
Only uses his Hoover once a week and at a time he has carefully calculated to cause the least impact on his neighbours- 11 am on a Saturday is hoovering time.
He would never dream of running his washing machine or tumble dryer at 10pm on a Tuesday night.
He saves his DIY tasks for holidays when he is sure that his neighbours are out at work.
He has never owned a pet or learnt the drums or bought a home entertainment centre or had mid week barbecues.
He keeps the volume on his television and radio to levels that can only be heard when he sits, quietly, in the armchair next to them.
But,none of this makes any difference to his neighbours, they seem completely impervious to his role modelling of good neighbourliness.
His offers of timed plugs to help them ensure that TVs and music go off at a sensible hour have caused terrible row,promises of injunctions and in one case and the threat seemed very real, the threat that if he ever knocked on the door again, he would get his face filled in.
After work, he parks his car, carefully, considerately outside his house. The dog next door hears him coming and starts to bark
“Bark, bark, bark”
“ bark, bark,,bark, bark”.
The teenager is home, his mother is not, so the noises are all recreational
Call of duty ..ack,ack,ack from the front room
A music channel from the bedroom and his voice, loud,echoing on a mobile
“ yeah, safe, yeah mate, safe, innit”
The man from number 49 puts on the kettle, waits for it to boil, takes his cup and saucer down from the cupboard and reaches Into the biscuit tin and chooses a chocolate digestive.
He sits quietly in his armchair, places the cup and saucer on the nest of tables next to him and reaches out for the book he has left on the arm of the chair.
He removes his bookmark and has just started to read when the the phone at 51 begins to ring and the dog, not to be outdone, begins to bark in answer.
“ Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
“Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
He doesn’t mean to, but as the front door of 47 opens and slams shut, he drops the book, but gently, not to make a sound when it hits the floor and curls Into the chair, makes himself as small as possible and wraps his arms around his head, pushing his fingers deep into his ears.

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.