I notice that I notice lots of tiny things, but I don’t always file them away. During 2015, I wanted to notice more. I wanted to relate it to words and moments and feelings. I wanted to write down as many as I could and play around with how I presented them.
I drift in and out of sleep, as I have all night. Falling then jolting then awake again. And so it repeats. My headache subsides with each fall, stabbing harder with each jolt. A hot poker behind my eyes, a thick pound in my skull. The room feels like jelly and echoes of Kat’s voice flicker round my subconcious. I daren’t let go of my phone in case she goes with it. My dreams are fitful and loaded. In what seems like minutes, through closed eyes, brightness creeps into my room. My eyes strain under the force of this new day, but I force myself to turn toward it. A shaft of light and warmth bleeds through the curtain gap. I move my head into it’s orange haze. I’m awake. I’m awake.
Figure eights wiggle the water,
Aloe Vera stars the view,
Red brick salutes as geranium kiss, flush in the California Sun.
Palms waft and peel their grapes, terracotta cooks by the pool.
Stone cuddles, grass fills and the man embraces it all.
Bottoms, dogs and innovation, boy from Bradford did good.
It’s the icky feeling in the pit of your stomach. The feel of mistrust in your hands as you read their words. The sick and fear in your gut that fires your anger and frustration at their lack of interest in much, except money. The tingle in your fingers as you type to contest. The beat of your heart because you know you are right but the big boys want to prove you wrong. Some think they can railroad and push you to lose. Some choose to lose cos winning seems impossible. Some do win, but in the process they undermine the very core of good vs evil. The problem is, some couldn’t give a shit about anything but themselves.
The skies are turning, the pressure changing. At the foot of the tree I see her, knees tight to her chest, head buried.
The wind and breaking rain don’t swallow her cries, the waves of a pain she has no control over. Her body judders with each new swell. I stop for a second, what if she doesn’t want me. What if I should leave her. Except the more she dissolves, the more I feel the need. So I run toward her, I shout out her name hopeful the wind will catch it and wrap her up in its sound.
She doesn’t look at me, as I stand before her. My clarity is fogged by her distress. I want to fix this, but that is how we got here.
I lift her face, she resists at first, she tries to hide it. She pushes me away but as I take her lead, and pull back, she turns. She lifts her face toward me and this time lets me take her, wrap her in my arms and let the rain disguise her tears. She tries to catch her breath, she tries to talk but her reasons are swamped.
‘Breathe,’ I say. ‘Take a moment.’
We sit. Her hands in mine. I’m not sure how long for. Eventually she speaks, through breaks in her tears, ‘Why did she do this?’ she asks. ‘Why couldn’t we help?’
And in that moment, I wish I had all the answers.
Tiny windows in the side of the sea wall offered ghost memories of bygone years. Tall ships in for fixing, the stench of fish and rum and hard work. Through the rain, the face of a young girl peered out of a doorway. He blinked to focus better, not sure if she was a trick of his mind, an echo. Or maybe someone was there, shielding from torrential rain and rising tides. As the water slapped against the harbour wall, she cowered. Her dress torn and her arms stretched around her waist to hold herself safe. He stood, from his perch in the warmth of the bistro. Converted from a Fisherman’s loft into a modern day eatery serving tiny cuts of meat drizzled in Jus. Rubbing the steamed up window clear of his breath, she caught sight of him as he waved. But before she could return the gesture, a wave suffocated her tiny frame, stealing her from the doorway and into the ocean…
She positively fizzed with overflowing memories; her eyes bright, like sherbet lemons. She bounced with stories of Africa, the heat, the Masai, her husband. But in the second she mentioned his name, the switch flicked and the stories stopped. Abrupt. Like the unravel had suddenly run out. With her last, quiet breath, she stood smaller than she was before. It was fourteen years since he’d passed, taking with him his stories and her heart. She turned away, head bowed, curved back to my face. Silence was the only answer to any questions I may have had. It was that quick. That absolute. And that sad.
She lay in the bath, surrounded by bubbles and warmth and the growing desire to stay in. Her planned night out with the girls seemed a good idea at the time, before Friday arrived and the sofa whispered sweet nothings in her ear. She knew that she’d have fun when she got there. She knew, if she didn’t go, that she’d see the photos and wish she’d been part of it. She knew that food was involved and that was always a motivating factor. Indian: Korma. Garlic Naan. Poppadoms. Mmmm, poppadoms. With all the sauces and the mango and the… and wine. Her belly rumbled in agreement with her sub-conscious, going out WAS a good idea. Wine and laughter and friends and happy. She filed the image of onesie and bed, and picked out the file for fun. Ice water splashed across her face, lifting the weight of her day. She could do this, she could do this…
She used to brag about reading Cosmo as her husband sowed his oats. She’d paint her lips designer Orange, her cheeks a matching shade. She’d powder her nose with a pout and a preen, not quite getting to the bit about who might be the prettiest of all. She’d devour her daily egg mayonnaise like food was rationed and she’d not eaten in a week. Before swilling it down with all the fat cola and a Cadbury’s Caramel. She’d snoot at those she didn’t like, and lather up those she did. She’d laugh, head back for all to notice, then check to see they were looking. She’d drown her ego in Chanel and her feet in faux Laboutins, before suffocating those around her with expectation, want and push. She was the very model of a wolf in the proverbial sheep. And yet, she had it all… or so she’d have us think.
Raj, the mythical god of tool and equipment hire. Hailed at the academy, his name was only ever spoken in whispers, such was the power of his will. ‘Do you know him?’ asked the wide-eyed, slightly basic paper pusher. Have you ever met him?’ He said, eager to hear the truth, unable to stop himself as he dreamed, ‘what was he like?’
The Man stood on the other side of the counter, aware he held the power of this man’s dream in the palm of his hand. ‘What is he like, you ask?’ He lowered his voice, leaned in close to the paper pusher and after a glance over his shoulder he said, ‘He’s blue. With a golden halo and hydraulics for arms. He dances to the tune of a thousand generators. He is all seeing, all knowing. He is everything you want him to be and he is more.’
The paper pusher whistled all the air from his lungs, his cheeks full to bursting until his very last breath. He nodded, like The Man had told him all he imagined Raj would be. And as he turned to leave, The Man pulled his jacket over his name badge and the door closed softly behind him.
The freshest, cleanest kind of air blows in from the Atlantic. It’s unsullied by life and business and greed. It swaddles her in salty layers, clears her thinking and reminds her that in the bigger picture, she’s insignificant. It’s not a bad reminder, just perspective. Like when you look to the Universe or flick through Heat magazine. Okay, maybe not Heat. Readers Digest. Anyway. Perspective is easy to lose. Her focus is tunnelled on plans and aspirations of a future she can only guarantee because she’s decided that’s what it will be. But as she walks, the ocean rumbles a constant reminder of who is the boss in this life. It commands respect and invites admiration, like the Kardashians or Stephen Fry. It suffocates the sound of an approaching Air Sea Rescue that follows the coastline, scanning, keeping watch. They fly alongside her and she peers for a glimpse of tiny men cocooned in the giant red and grey that whips up her pride. Her heart swells and she can’t help but smile. This, right here is living. No matter what anyone says.
A drummer boy beats in his chest. Each heart chamber, a different drum. Bass, snare… one of those in the middle left that nobody really knows the name of. Except drummers. Either way, it was beating and making his chest really hurt. She might be the most incredible human being he had ever had the privilege of bumping in to. It wasn’t just the fact that she was quite obviously stunning, but that she carried a copy of A Brief History of Time, and seemed to actually be making it past the first quarter… if the book mark was anything to go by. And when she smiled, she actually looked at him. And when she spoke… okay, he was getting carried away. There was no need to fall in love with his future wife in a lift between floors 4 and 5. They would do it over dinner. He just had to pluck up the courage to ask her. any minute now. He was going to do it. And then they’d spend the left of their lives together. Repeating this story to children, then grandchildren. The lift bell rang out and the doors opened and as he turned to ask her out, she stepped out of the lift and disappeared into the crowd. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow he’d ask. Though he remembered he said that yesterday.
She hated artistic pretension and everything that went with it. It always felt self obsessed and needy. But as time rumbled on, it became clear even she wasn’t immune to its lure. She was beginning to realise this, as she stood in the queue at the post office. When she started feeling she might have let them down. Told their story badly or with half heart. She felt sad for them, like she hadn’t quite understood their message and yet, this could not be. For they weren’t real. There was nobody to let down. So why, as she held their last chance wrapped up in Manila and hope, did she feel a grief in her belly? Grief that this literal last chance was also their last goodbye? She’d spent quite a lot of time with them, grown attached to their plight. But their journey was all but over. And it annoyed her that they’d got under her skin so.
He hadn’t realised how much weight he placed on earning and working and being someone. Now he’s a nobody, he’s half the man. Not by other people’s standards, or none so that matter. But by his own. On his own terms. On his own terms, he’s a nobody. They’re terms he’s judged others on for years, people he thought were less successful than him. Or weaker. Or smaller. Only now, as he watches them continue their lives, from his window seat out onto the world, it all becomes clear: Karma is dishing out the big shit and he is first on her list.
He plays in the water, showing baby how to splash and kick. He swims, cradling baby’s downy head. A woman sniffs her own imaginary baby, remembering that smell. That smell. He counts, then dips and they both come up smiling. He laughs and tickles and the baby giggles too. He showers baby in kisses and every woman within a 10 yard radius sighs. Most of them have been there, they’ve seen this scene with their own eyes, with their own men. They’ve felt all that goes before these precious moments, they’re living all that happens after. The tantrums, the tears, the spots and the secrets. And even though, they wouldn’t do it again. Even though they love their own, but are happy they’ve flown the nest; despite all of these things… their wombs buckle under the pressure of the scene before them. Hormones are a terrible thing.
When someone is smart, and wise and thought-provoking and clever, you could be forgiven for being intimidated. She was smart and wise and clever. She made people think too. She was so quiet with it, barely there. She’d move silently around in the background, her silence made people wary. Until they stopped, and listened to it. And then, they’d see. She would show them things she did, and she would share her passion with humour and humility. She wasn’t sharing to teach, or show off, or shout ‘HEY LOOK AT ME.’ She was sharing because somebody asked, and she quietly spoke, and everyone listened.
Apparently he has eaten today, though you wouldn’t know it to watch him shovel giant forks of runny baked beans in his mouth. He grins and chats enthusiastically through the chews. He declares his love of nuggets, and offers his plate out for more. She’d didn’t even get chance to finish her offer of seconds. The whole thing would be massively endearing if she wasn’t so totally grossed out. She’s never been good with other peoples’ chewed food. She knows it’s only enzymes, and food break down and perfectly normal stuff, but seriously: it’s gross. When her own children do it, she can openly cringe and remind them of their manners, then look away in pretend disapproval. When it’s a guest, who she actually really likes, she is forced to be polite herself. And remember, that on the big scheme of things – it doesn’t really matter.
She just might not sit opposite him next time.
His hands shook as he talked, nerves maybe? Or drink. She didn’t want to judge, but he had that look about him. The one that suggested he wasn’t letting on about something. He was hiding a secret. Nothing major, she didn’t think he had a dead wife in the freezer, or an old business pal under his lean to, but there was something. She considered ways she might catch him out; rock up when he least expected it, Google his name and check all pages returned. Ask his ex-wife maybe? But sometimes, things were best left alone. She topped up his coffee, smiled and made small talk. Time was all that was needed, eventually, he’d trip himself up…
He looks like a whittler, she thought. Not a whittler in the traditional term of cutting wood and shaping it. But a whittler as in someone who whittles. Is it spelled the same? She wasn’t sure. Someone who mithers; someone who bothers and fidgets about things out of their control. If she had to describe what a whittler looks like, she would have described him: tall, thin, almost gangly. Sparing white hair and a furrowed brow. He slouched and shuffled and worried. He fussed. She couldn’t get him off the phone at first, or out of her house later on, or – it would seem – off her back. Which was troublesome, because the things that he couldn’t control, didn’t fall under her jurisdiction either. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine,’ she tried. ‘Try not to worry about it,’ she advised. But he shuffled and fussed anyway. It was sad to see how much he’d changed. How life had ravaged him. ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ said her neighbour, before turning her back and walking away. Just as they all had before.
She liked him, he made her feel special. He laughed at her jokes and sometimes, they’d laugh so much they couldn’t speak, they’d just exchange in sync titters down the phone line. She felt smart and intelligent around him, in control and on top of things. She felt inspired, she could do whatever she wanted. She was brilliant, apparently. And then, they had a difference of opinion. Nothing major, a tiny detail. She wouldn’t back down, because she didn’t see it really mattered. But suddenly she wasn’t conforming. And from nowhere, came his silence. And judgment. And disapproval. And because of this, she didn’t feel so powerful or brave or bold anymore. She felt disappointed and let down. She had spectacularly misjudged who she thought he really was. And that hurt.
She sat, fingers poised, waiting for the muse to strike. Any minute now it would come. Pearls of poetic wisdom would flow from her fingers and she’d be moved, or amused, or touched. Any minute now… She looked out of the window, gazing at the weather. She typed a few words about its ferociousness, before deleting them. She thought about someone who really got on her nerves, typed a couple of sentences about that and then realised that really, it said more about her, than the person in question. She bit the inside of her cheek, then wished she hadn’t when she drew blood and almost typed something about that; except it wasn’t moving or amusing or touching or anything. It was dull. Lifeless, pointless and dull. And so she typed this, because something was better than nothing and apparently, it was all in the edit. And besides, she couldn’t be brilliant every day.
The monster was green. And petulant. He swung his tail around the pantry of her emotions – because yes, that is a thing – knocking Happy, Content and Relaxed crashing. They splintered across the kitchen floor before her. Next he tackled Determined, Focused and Driven; throwing mud at their core as she scrambled to rescue and protect. He stamped on their goodness and spat in their eye. Finally, on the bottom shelf he saw Fight, hiding, terrified by the monster before him. The monster crouched low down and sneered, ‘is that all you’ve got?’ he picked at the gibbering wreck. ‘Call yourself Fight?’ I call you Weak, and Feeble and Capable of Nothing. He turned, and he stomped and he bellowed and roared and in all of that noise, he didn’t notice Fight, creeping out from beneath the shelf. He didn’t notice Fight, tiptoe up to his tail, sinking his long, sharp fangs into the tip, biting it clean off. Fight spat it out, puffed himself up – despite secretly being quite scared – and ran; full force at the monster shouting “CHARGE!” So surprised by the sudden response, the monster ran away, bitten tail between his legs. It was abundantly clear, who the real boss was and he no longer fancied his chances.
Fight looked at her, to his corner on the bottom shelf, then back to her before winking, and slinking back to his hiding place. For now, his work here was done.
As they clambered for the tiny, green leaf goodness, she spied on them through narrowed eyes. How had it taken this long to see they’d been swapped at birth? I mean sure, they looked like her: same eyes, nose and dedication to the Yorkshire Pudding, but spinach? What child enjoys spinach? Apart from those raised by vegans with names like St John, Tobias or Earth-Sky-Moondust… As they chowed down, proclaiming its deliciousness, she shook her head; it was a shame they’d have to go. She really had grown quite attached.
It’s grey. Not a nice grey. Not a rich, deep, thick, sexy grey. Where the waves crash against Samphire rocks and white horses dance across the ocean. It’s more of a ‘meh’ grey. A dreary, dark, wet grey. Where you haven’t noticed there’s a black towel in your white wash and your pants come out like Steptoe’s. That sort of grey. Those are the days for books. Book days. For reading and dreaming and tea. Submitting to destiny, I flick on the kettle and reach in for a teabag, tomorrow will be more dynamic; and so, therefore, will I be.
In the absence of dedicated privacy – a changing room with a curtain – she crammed herself in to the toilet cubicle. She banged her elbow on the wall, cracked her knee on the door and almost lost her phone down the loo; deftly juggling it into the safety of her pocket. Her body temperature rose from post-swim warm to too-long-in-the-steam room pass out as she wrestled jeans over still damp skin. The process of getting dressed was using more calories than the work out, not exactly the order she’d intended. Dressed and exhausted, she tumbled out of the cubicle with a rumbling tummy and an appetite for bacon. She just wasn’t cut out for this.
She floats down the aisles, a giant coat and faux fur hat swamps her tiny frame. The cut of her jib draws all of the eyes, but she’s oblivious. She’s busy; checking the small print on each item of food, discarding some, going double on others. There’s no pattern, no formula. She doesn’t stick to health foods or smart foods or cheap foods or fat. I follow her, intrigued by her quiet precision, keen to steal a glimpse of her trolley. And as she reaches the till, bony fingers grasping for a ‘next customer please’, she stops. Looks in her trolley and sighs. Then leaves, walks out. Doesn’t look back and says nothing. For the third time this week.
It’s that knot in the stomach that comes first, the pit of your soul kneading your bowels. Then the palpitations, because you know it’s coming, it’s imminent, you could escape but you’re only putting off the inevitable. You try to formulate the words, plan out what you want to say, make sure it comes out as intended. You take a deep breath, because you know you can do this; you’re a strong, independent woman, you’re in control of your own destiny. And as you sit, in the hairdressers chair, all plans evaporate. You smile, you nod, you agree to whatever they say and then you cry. Silently. As they do exactly that.
She hid. Quiet. Too frightened to add her opinion. Too worried who might be offended, who might be upset, who might disagree and maybe, who might not even notice. So, nothing changed and everybody hurt.
They say good defies all evil, no matter what the scale. Today she found that hard to believe.
She battles the haze of a low winter sun, unable to see beyond it. Because of this, she can’t see him standing there, looking, watching; aware that she’s blinded, he makes the most of his secret. By the time the landscape interrupts the bright, he’s gone, and she is none the wiser.
With her head down to ignore and be ignored, I wonder if she doesn’t care, or cares too much, or hurts or hates. It seems impossible to contact her and even if I could, I’d get in too deep, too quick; no way to escape without repeating history. Good intentions misdirected. I’ve reached out before, to the ones who appear to feel unloved. It backfires. I misjudge. My intentions are self-serving. So I, like everyone else, respond in the only way I know how, head down. Ignore and be ignored. And so the cycle continues.
‘Where is your warmth, and love and gratitude,’ she said, as she stern-faced bustled through the crowds.
‘Why would you do such a thing?’ she leered, at the people trying their best.
‘Check out all the fat and ugly people,’ he said, peacock preening his smug reflection.
‘Just look at all my hard work,’ she said, as her team dissolved into the background.
And the irony klaxon went crazy.
Computer games in one room, musicals in another, testosterone oozing from the garage. She revels in times like these; the briefest respite from the wants and the wheres and the can I’s and the should we’s. If she stays still, if she barely breathes; if she pulls the sheet over her head and hides in the dark of her bedspread; peace might reign for another three minutes. One hundred and eighty seconds of pure, uninterrupted bliss.
Tomorrow they go back to school.
Words and paint and history and love surrounds her. A woman in the grey years of a life donated to anything and everything but. Until she chose herself. When giving no longer meant receiving and she became the only person who cared. ‘I love the romance,’ she said, nodding to a faded story, ‘I’ve always loved the romance.’ But romance hadn’t loved her.
Lola pushed Lily over, full force in the back. Determined. Meant. She turned to see him. His eyes searching answers in the sky; this wasn’t in his plan. Beckoning both girls, he dug for thin patience. ‘Say sorry,’ he sighed to a shuffling Lola, who flustered her way toward him. But with a look he’d seen a million times before, she whispered her response; ‘No.’ Then turned and moved away; her back spelling out what respect she had left. He couldn’t do this alone anymore, and yet, he made his bed. Now he must lie in it.