Saturday, June 30, 2012

Midnight Memoirs: Ettie

My heart still weeps when I allow myself to think back. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years pass, the pain does not fade and runs so deeply through my veins that I often experience long periods of misery and inertia. I will try to explain what became of my life after the dark, harrowing night in October, 1848. This is not an easy task; I only hope I do this justice.

I had found myself in a most privileged situation after some hard times and six young mouths to feed. After working in the kitchen for two years, I had risen to become the royal wet nurse of Queen Victoria’s children. I would breast feed the two little ones, 2 year old Princess Helena and the baby, Princess Louise, often at the same time, it was non-stop for a while. I could handle it though; I was still feeding my two youngest, Charles and Martha. It was amazing money, Arthur and I had nearly laughed our heads off when we realised I now earned more wages than he did. It was tough though, not seeing much of him or the children sometimes, but we were making it work. My Sister Nancy helped us out, feeding my little two when I couldn’t get back.

Baby Louise was a beauty, so bonny with her short blonde ringlets and big blue eyes; I’d stroke her rosy cheeks as she suckled at my breast contentedly. I was chosen for this job for several reasons: I was healthy, I’d never lost a child, I had a good temperament and my more than ample breasts overflowed with nutritious milk. I knew how fortunate I was, the several wet nurses on constant standby would tell me often enough.

So, there I was, 26, married, mother of six and responsible for feeding the two princesses in the royal palace. I’d often stay over in the servants quarters but I’d try not to leave it too long before I made my way back to our little family house, arms swooping at my skirts and squealed delights as soon as the children heard my voice. I always had to rush back though; I couldn’t have anyone stealing my place, and then I would get the same response from the royal children, a flurry of affection that I had returned.

And then the tidal wave of destruction arrived, haunting my broken mind for evermore. The Cholera epidemic came upon England suddenly, in days thousands were ill, so many dying. I feared for everyone I knew, praying to God for mercy and salvation. Panic gripped the country as corpses piled high, the stench overwhelming. I tell you this from rumour and recounts from the palace kitchen staff, I was safely tucked away, part of the ivory tower. Until the note arrived.

It was the governess who broke the news, Nancy was dead. Gone. My Sister. Dead. Gone. I sobbed openly, fat salty tears pouring from my eyes. My thoughts collided into one another and I felt as though the very ground below my feet may swallow me whole. I fainted. When I came to, I was in a heap on the floor in the downstairs quarters. Mary, one of the maids crouched by my side.

‘You’re not to feed the babes, Ettie. Her majesty went mad; she thinks you might pass on the fever. You must go,’ her voice was trembling, as was the hand stroking my hair.

Nancy died,’ I remembered, choking back a wail. I buried my face into Mary’s arm, the pain crushing and excruciating in my chest.
‘I heard. I’m so sorry Ettie, my love. These are cruel times indeed. You must tend to your own babes now, the family needs you. Give them all a kiss from me, poppet,’ she helped me to my feet and embraced me tightly before seeing me to the door.

‘Goodbye Mary’ I tried to smile but my heart was broken and images of little baby Louise suckling at another woman’s breast pricked at my pride.

The crisp, cold October air filled my lungs and the wind whipped my face. I had not even a shawl to warm me; the black night sky rumbled overhead as the rain started pelting down. I walked as briskly as possible; it was so quiet and eerie. Not even the backstreet pub spilled out the usual noise and drunks. The Cholera must have hit hard around here. I shivered, imagining Nancy fading away, the agony she must have been through. I cursed myself for not being there, not wiping her brow and uttering words of sibling love. The tears started again, mixing with the rain drops. I was soaking, my grey dress sticking to my body.

A flash of movement from the corner of my eye made me spin round. Squinting to see what lurked in the shadows, I saw nothing. My mind was clearly playing tricks. The streets were deserted and silence reigned; only the splatters of rain collecting puddles could be heard, though my heart now raced and I felt on edge. My stride accelerated as a bolt of lightning cracked through the night sky. The low, angry rumbles of thunder setting my feet into a half run.

And again. What was that? I felt certain that I had just seen another flash of movement. I didn’t stop this time to find out. I ran like I never had before, panting, my lungs on fire, and the scenery beside me a bouncing blur. The heavy rain was hindering my every step; I could barely open my eyes for the backlash of water pouring down my face. Yet I carried on, I was close to home now, almost at the top of our street. I just had to keep moving and try to forget the very real sensation that I was being followed.

As the identical houses greeted me with familiarity, my feet slowed a little, the candle light glowing in our window the most welcome of sights my eyes had ever beheld. I had made it. Home. My muscles tight, my breathing rapid, I attempted to calm myself; I’d worry the children half to death if I went in like this. I took a few seconds to straighten myself out although it was futile; I looked like a drowned rat. I opened the door.

The strong odour made me wretch and I gasped back into the night air, the smell of faeces hit my nostrils immediately, causing waves of nausea as I heaved and heaved onto the doorstep. I could not go back in there without something to wrap across my face. I stumbled, another crash of lightning waving goodbye to my nerves and reason. I looked down at myself, I had ripped my dress, and the hanging fabric would do the job, I decided. It took some doing but I tugged and ripped at the tattered material until I felt confident that I had enough to act as a mask to the offending stink. I tied it in a knot around my head and held it close to my face.

Again I slipped through the doorway, not expecting the usual excitement at my return, it was gone now and the children, at least, would be fast asleep. The candle was close to burning away completely so I walked over to the old, faithful wooden drawers and took out a new one, lighting it and surveying the empty room. Even with my handmade mask the reek was so powerful, my body convulsed once more, though I had nothing left inside of me to give. I turned towards the hallway and froze.

‘Arthur?’ I managed to stammer, my voice shaking with fear and impending doom. There he was, lying flat out in his night shift on the floor.

‘Arthur?’ I called out again, louder this time, urgency thick in my voice.

I knew I needed to go over there and see him but my feet didn’t want to know, they were very much locked into position. If I did, if I really did walk over there then my life was changed forever. I knew that. And for just over two minutes, my brain refused to let that happen.

But then I shuffled over and faced the inevitable. He had soiled himself, his face a fixed grimace of horror which is how I now remember him. I can’t visualise the happy, laughing, passionate man I married. I see this.

I couldn’t even cry which still shames me to this day. I think I was so shocked that normal bodily functions such as tears evaded me completely. I remember just saying no. No. No, no, no, no, no, no over and over again, shaking my head in a useless method to make it all unreal. But real it was. And I didn’t know the half of it.
Slowly, as quietly as I could, I made my way up our creaky old stairs, shutting my eyes as I passed the drawing Nancy had done for the children, our smiling faces captured forever, beaming for all to see. Each step filled me deeper with dread but I had to remain positive. I had to remain positive.

I came to a halt at the top of the stairs, where first? My feet turned left and paused at the door of the boys, pressing my ear to the wood in a desperate need for the blessed sound of snoring or creaking beds as they stirred. Nothing. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, opening that door. In the end, I swung it open quickly, hoping for a reaction, but I didn’t get one. My heart shattered then, into an irreparable thousand pieces. I sidled over to the bed and gingerly pulled back the covers. And there they were, both my angel sons, holding onto one another. I stroked Albert’s head, icy cold. I felt Charles’s cheek, the same. I fell to the floor, weeping until I could scarcely breathe, loud yelps escaping from my lips. I don’t know how long I was there, curled up, beating my tight fists into the floor. I hesitated, not really wishing to see my daughters in the same state. But some vague hope dragged me to my feet. I covered up my sweet boys, wishing God would strike me dead with a bolt of his vicious lightning, and strode out of the door, straight into the room of the girls.

My first born Victoria was on the floor just like her Papa; I kissed her dead face and peeled back the covers to the bed. Florence was rigid; her face a sorrowful crumble, her hands still clutched her stomach. I had been so busy attending to the princesses that I had forsaken my own family. I wasn’t here when they needed me. I envisaged the scene with great distress and knelt and prayed for forgiveness. I could not foresee a time whereby I lived with this guilt.

What about Amelia and my baby Martha? Where were they? Had they got out? Were they still alive? Were they out there, somewhere, searching for me? The sensation of hope created a surge of energy throughout my body and I flew out of the room and almost fell down the stairs in my haste.

Catching another glimpse of Arthur laying at the bottom, my insides felt as though they may burst. I stopped to kiss his freezing brow and whispered my sorry, knowing that would never be enough. I peered into the kitchen and it was all over. My life ended. In the corner, I could make out the silhouette of my darling Amelia in the chair; she was holding something and my mind refused to respond. I could not face this. I could not stand this. As traumatic and tragic as the whole evening had been, I knew this sight would seal my fate, propel me to an insanity I couldn’t possibly return from.

I went a little mad there and then, sweeping the rosebud china jug from the table, hearing the smash as I opened the cupboard door and compulsively dragged out every single matching item from the set, the plates, the cups, the saucers. I threw the sugar bowl at the wall and emptied all the spoons out on to the floor. I screamed and I wailed and I just could not dispel the anger, putrid reality and utter hell fast enough.
I hated myself. I marched over to Amelia and pulled the bundle from her adamant, unyielding arms. And I fled. I ran out of the door and immersed myself into the unforgiving, sinister night, unperturbed by the lashes of rainfall and found myself at the river. I should feed the baby. I was a rotten Mother; Nancy couldn’t help me out now could she? No more princesses for me. Back to basics. I sat at the water’s edge and unfastened my nursing dress so I could access my breast. It was wet in seconds, never mind I thought, I must feed Martha. Little Martha, my baby, my treasure, Mummy is so sorry but I’m here now and I won’t go anywhere ever again, I promise.
I moved Martha right up to my breast, expecting immediate lactation. That’s what I did, after all, the human cow. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t taking it? Had I been away too long? Had she got so used to Nancy that her own mother was second best?

And there he was, as strange as could be. His long hair, even longer than my own blonde locks, cascading down his body, black as true as the night, eyes the same colour. His tall frame and long shroud created quite a frightening picture. He was so pale that he almost glistened despite the horrendous weather. At once, I knew he was the flash of movement I had spotted earlier that night. I had no words; I just remember looking at him quizzically.

‘Ettie,’ he purred, holding out a white hand. How did he know my name? I declined to shake it and went back to helping Martha latch on.

‘Ettie, please, see sense. You know she’s dead don’t you?’ his voice was gentle which jarred, stabbing me all over.

I despised him at that moment but my eyes shot straight to my baby and acknowledged his words.

‘Let her go, Ettie, I beg you. You’re only bringing yourself more agony with this charade. Put her down, sail her down the river and let her be at peace now,’ his voice clinked and charmed and I knew he spoke the truth. He had made it so that I could not continue with believing I still had a child, she was gone like the rest of them. My baby was dead.

I still struggle to comprehend how I managed to do this but I actually did lean over, watched the gushing, swollen river water and lowered her into it. I watched as her tiny body rushed away and peered up at him for further instruction.

‘You’ve had quite a night, dear Ettie. I had you in my sights as you dashed through the rain but I let you go. It would have been kinder if I had taken you then, spared you from the sights you have seen tonight. Your heart is broken. I can’t mend it. But let me try to help you now. Let me give you a new reason to exist in this world,’ his words were a riddle but I no longer cared for my well-being. I deserved nothing but the depths of Hell after letting my family die and my world fall apart. I didn’t desire to live when everything I cared for had gone.

‘Come to me,’ he ordered, his arms outstretched. I rose and felt him embrace me. My naked breast rubbed against his silky cloak.

‘This is going to hurt, Ettie, I won’t lie. But it will be worth it. It’s your second chance,’ I didn’t have a clue what he referred to but I didn’t fear pain or death at that moment.

His hand squeezed my breast and his head lowered, his cold lips skimming the nipple. And what came next shocked me right back into the moment. He bit me. His teeth ripped right through the sensitive flesh of my breast and I screamed and screamed into the night. I could feel his mouth hungrily lapping at my blood, gorging at my bust. The pain was unbearable and seemed to last forever. All my instincts shouted fight for your life, but what for? This is what I deserved so I didn’t even struggle, I just allowed him to continue with this agonising act.

It wasn’t long before I sensed I was fading, close to death and I welcomed it. Death was the release I hoped for. But then things changed completely. He pulled at my head until my lips touched his neck. I didn’t understand. What did he want?

‘Ettie, sink your teeth into me,’ he growled through gritted teeth. His absurd request had me speechless.

‘Do it! Do it now or all is lost. Do it!’ He roared, and so I did.

It was the oddest thing in the entire world but I was under his spell and had no sane mind of my own to rely on. I burst his skin and sucked his blood, taking out on him all the heartbreak of the evening. He pushed me away after a while and I felt so tired. I just wanted to sleep. He picked me up and held me close as he ran into the night, faster than the lightning itself. I drifted off and don’t remember that first night at all but I awoke in the same desolation.

‘You are a night walker, sweet Ettie. Your life begins anew today with the taking of another. You need the blood of humans, you will find yourself feasting upon it,’ he said.
Death I had seen too much of and refused to take part in it as a sport. He killed, I drank.

This has continued for over a century and I have come to the decision that I can’t do this any longer. I should be dead. I wish I was. I’m writing this memoir to leave a little truth behind and some sort of testament to my family. I don’t deserve a second chance. I don’t deserve a second thought. I can’t take the pain for one more night. The moment sunrise occurs, I am stepping out into the June sun and my sorry carcass can burn to dust.

Midnight Memoirs: Bess

May the 19th, 1536; Anne Boleyn’s execution, she had never looked as glorious as she did that day walking to the scaffold, with the hush of the gathered crowd, the weeping of her ladies was the only sound at that moment. Even after the ladies helped her undress, leaving her in just a plain linen smock and tucked her lustrous hair into a cap, she looked divine. I remember being amazed at how brave and dignified she appeared, never showing fear of her impending death or spite to those who had put her there. I wept as she knelt, the executioner took a deep breath as he clasped the sword. And then it had happened in one quick swoop, her head rolled straight off and blood spattered everywhere. I swear I saw her eyes blink for a few more seconds and that’s when I fainted. I was carried home by my brother Thomas and taunted by my younger sister Kat. It’s funny that I was so averse to the bloodshed then; but things were about to change. I was about to change and I had no idea what was coming.

I was at my most attractive then, sixteen: petite yet curvy, tiny waist, long dark hair, almost black in colour, emerald eyes, a wicked smile full of promises and lust and betrothed to Henry Seville. I couldn’t wait to make love; I spent most of my days thinking about it and my nights dreaming of it. I was obsessed by the notion of the wedding night so I could strip off all my restrictive layers of clothing and lie with Henry who I hoped would kiss me ravenously and touch my naked breasts.

The evening after the execution I was walking through the market square when I became aware that I was being watched, a real sensation of eyes burning into my soul. I felt afraid although nothing had happened to cause this feeling. I looked around, desperately searching for the eyes that made my breathing sharp. A menacing laughter echoed around my head. My feet gathered speed and knew where they were going; as though they had some secret instruction that my mind was not privy to.

I felt like a puppet, a marionette operated by an invisible force that seemingly was leading me to the old, crumbling chapel. I knew I should go home, dusk was quickly setting and my Mother would be irate if I wasn’t back in a few moments. The Seville family were coming to dinner to discuss the final wedding plans. Henry would soon be at the table, smiling, blonde locks and sapphire eyes, waiting with that look of wonder he always saved for me. But I feared I wouldn’t make it.

As my feet marched up the path, the wide, wooden chapel door opened with a creak. Nobody had pushed it open; there was nobody there, just darkness and flickering candles, illuminating patches of the dark wooden beams occasionally. A shape in the corner I couldn’t identify shifted slightly at the bang of the door as it slammed shut behind me.

‘Ah, my bewitching Bess, how long I have waited for you,’ a loud voice boomed from the dark shape in the shadows. ‘And you look more becoming than ever’.

I flinched, struggling to match the voice to anyone I had ever remembered meeting. Blank. Nothing.

‘I don’t believe I know you Sir,’ I managed, my body shivering, my heart racing, though the name Erasmus now pricked my consciousness which seemed absurd.
‘I hear your heart beating rapidly in fear of me. Why? I am your saviour,’ he teased, invisible and intimidating. My black gown felt more constrained than usual, dizziness swayed me a little.

‘I don’t know what you mean Sir. I have to go home, my Mother will be worrying. I am betrothed to be wed, I must go home,’ I stammered as resolution and control slipped away with each word I uttered.

My eyes searched for the shape that I could no longer see, the lick of the candles not providing enough light. I felt a presence behind me and unlike before, my feet were glued to the spot. I couldn’t have moved them with all the will in the world.

An icy cold breath tickled my neck and a hand stroked my braided hair. My body defied my dread and reacted to the touch, calming and resting into his hard body.

‘Beautiful Bess, the most stunning girl in all of England. I nearly took you as a child, I entered your chamber as you were sleeping, nigh on a decade ago and resisted, knowing that you’d grow into your voluptuous self and it would make the dance all the more sweet,’ his voice was smooth and authoritative.

It was pure vanity that had sucked me into the vortex of his words; I could never turn down a compliment. I was a silly little thing rushing to grow up. I felt sure he could read my mind.

‘Rushing to grow up, Bess is not what you should want for yourself. Imagine yourself in even five years, fat with child, your hair and resplendent eyes will lose their shine. You will age and become the toothless woman in the market square, grey and faded. You can’t let that happen. I can help you. I must keep you as this sparkling jewel for eternity,’ his hand cupped my breast at his last word, sending a darting ripple of lust and passion down my body. I was drowning.

My head tingled as though he were actually inside it, probing and reading and a wave of serenity enveloped me, as had his strong arms. I wanted him. I wanted him to take me in any way he saw fit. I was his and he knew it.

I felt his cold lips skim the sensitive flesh of my neck and I groaned out loud, the echoes of my cries throughout the chapel so arousing. And then pain, the frightful pain. Searing, scorching, and burning as I felt his sharp fangs pierce my skin, his mouth sucking my blood, my heart galloping away. I struggled but it was no use. His grip was tenacious and his strength immense. I felt weak but still he continued, depleting my very being. I was shocked when he let go, I was sure he’d planned to kill me, I felt close to death.

He faced me for the first time, this pale, spectacularly striking oddity with raven black hair and dark eyes and forced my head down on to his neck. I didn’t even think, instinct took over and I bore down with my blunt teeth and bit him hard, ripping the skin a little and taking back the vital blood he had stolen from me.

I was shaken to find I liked it, I wanted it and I just took more, even when I felt his knees buckle I could not stop, possessed and wild, with an urgency I had never known. He broke free and I snarled, demanding more but he was firm that I’d had enough.

I slept then, beside him in a crypt, too weary to argue. Upon waking, I was too frail to move but I discovered I was like him: whiter than white with sharp teeth, other worldly and I could not go home. Erasmus said that the sun would burn me alive and nobody must ever know what I had become. I thought of Henry and wept salty tears of crimson blood, staining my pretty ghostly face. Despite the warnings, I frequently visited Henry over the years. He never even sensed my presence though I watched him intently, bouts of anger flaring when he married my younger Sister Kat and desolation as he grew into an old man. I do believe this broke the bit of heart that remained in my cold body.

I stayed with Erasmus for a long while, until he felt I could make it alone. I occasionally hear stories pertaining to his audacity and outrageous deeds; he’s one of the oldest of us which comes with a legendary form of gravitas among the fellow shadows of the night. I feel no menace towards him, I have had plenty of time to reflect and accept his actions. I don’t particularly crave the company of others like myself or attempt to pass as a human as some have done. I know my place. The decades simply dance, knitting together the centuries as I watch the changes they duly bring, my face as beautiful as ever, and sweet sixteen. I never did get the chance to make love but now my nightly outings consist of finding a handsome man, as much like Henry as possible and I make him mine, if just for a few moments before I watch him die.


As her breathing calmed, Ella let the brown paper bag fall from her lips to the floor. Being in this room wasn’t getting any easier which made her cross with Mrs. Sheldon, her neighbour, who was constantly saying something about time and healing. People had lots of things to say but nothing real to offer, just sayings that automatically popped out of their mouths, Ella thought. The scene had been like one from a film. One of the nasty ones rated 18 that she wasn’t yet old enough to see. But this one she had seen.

The room was quite different now. The sofa had gone, taken as evidence and now replaced with a pristine dark brown model. Ella recoiled and clutched her stomach, a crashing wave of nausea rising in her throat. She trailed her eyes to her school photograph, the one taken before it had all happened, in an attempt to forget the horror. She looked happy there, there was no fear or trauma, just a pretty girl with long blonde hair, parted in the middle, blue eyes and dimples. She'd applied a little mascara and lip gloss because she was 13 and that’s what all the other girls had done. Beyond the photo Ella caught her reflection in the large oval mirror on the wall. Her hair was shorter these days as she’d taken the scissors to it a week earlier and hacked it off in uneven, clumsy handfuls. Her eyes didn’t seem as blue either and you couldn’t see her dimples; they only appeared when she smiled; which was rare now.

Her thoughts dragged her eyes back to the sofa. I should have moved the furniture around; she cursed silently, and thought that might have helped? It stood in the exact place as the old one that had been cream until soaked with deep red blood. She began to wheeze and picked the paper bag up, taking a few short, sharp breaths and eventually relaxing her hold until she felt okay again.
The carpet had been pulled up and taken away, that had been soaked in blood too. At least they had a hard floor instead now, her feet made a different sound so she didn’t have an immediate flashback from that. Everything else was the same, except her duvet. He’d gone up to her bedroom, taken it and covered the body with it. She never saw her pink polka dot cover again after finding her Mum, wrapped inside it, naked, dead and mutilated. They’d taken that too. More evidence. DNA.

Four months isn’t a long time for a girl to accept the scene she had come home from school to find that day. It was the most hideous sight in the world. Now she doesn’t remember her Mum, blonde, smiling and pretty. She only remembers which body parts were missing, that he had cut her Mum’s face. And that he was still out there somewhere. She grasped the paper bag and breathed sharply into it.

The Birth Plan

Kindly get my coat as I have changed my mind.
I won’t be giving birth today, I think you will find.
I did read all the books but this is not for me.
I think I’ll cross my legs, go home, have a cup of tea.
Midwife I may strike thee. Imagine my cervix is a flower?
Are you having a bloody laugh? I’ve been at 9cm for an hour!
He’s made himself a Pot Noodle, my calm, collected hubby
And he’s watching a Columbo which just isn’t bloody funny.
I watch him, brazenly slurping, and hope he chokes on a pea,
Because frankly I’m furious that this is all down to me.
Ouch, Jesus Christ! Epidural, I beg you, please!
I know my birth plan states natural but my brain must have had a disease.
What the holy hell was I thinking? Drugs! Do it! Now!
What do you mean it’s too late, you stupid bloody cow?
Expletives leave my lips, firing around the labour ward.
I won’t repeat them to you (but they’re miles away from Good Lord).
Hubby offers his hand which I am compelled to bite
Because he isn’t in any pain and that doesn’t feel right.
The head is here, I hear someone say.
Can I go home now? Do this another day?
The pressure makes me push and push and push
And scream like a banshee resulting in the gush
Of the slippery newborn and then the blessed cry.
We have a baby daughter. Welcome. Hello. Hi.
Trickling down my cheeks, happy salty tears
As I snuggle her in close and forget all my fears.
Gazing into hubby’s eyes, loving him more than ever,
I forget now, why was I at the end of my tether?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Once upon a time ....

She’d been dumped by text message. Helen was sick of disastrous relationships, fruitless quests, unhappily ever afters. She resented the lies she’d grown up with: there’s a special person out there for everyone, Prince Charming combing the village to slip on Cinderella’s glass slipper, and absolutely everything relating to fairy tales. She dried her eyes on the last tissue and resolved to go and buy some more.

She watched her walking feet, determined to ignore any happy looking couples as she marched down to the supermarket. She closed her eyes as she passed a proud pregnant bump and looked up at the sky rather than face the adoring elderly husband and wife still holding hands after all these years. That’s why she didn’t see the car that narrowly missed her by about two inches, screeched to the other side of the road, causing her to pass out with the shock.

When she came to, she was in the arms of a man, who smiled to see her open eyes and colour form in her cheeks. He said he was a doctor, and that he was so relieved to have spotted her in time, it could have been fatal. Their hearts simultaneously thudded at the frailty of human life, with being caught up in this moment, in distracted attraction, widening pupils and wry smiles.

He took her home and loved her gently. She smiled and never left his arms. Or his flat. They redecorated in the spring.

Napping Blogger Award

So, I've been nominated for the Napping Blogger Award by the rather lovely Miranda Kate.

The rules for the Napping Blogger Award are easy:
  1. Link back to the ones who gave you the award.
  2. Tell us what you do to take time for YOU! That might be a hobby, a musical break, a favorite movie or show, sitting outside enjoying nature, or even taking a nap!
  3. Nominate five other bloggers - especially folks you think deserve a break from their routine.

Well, the mere notion of taking time is hilarious! I swear there is a time thief that sneaks into my house and gobbles it all up. I am a Mum of 3 children, ages 9, 7 and 4. Monday to Friday I have 17 different school journeys to do and the kids keep me pretty busy as I’m sure you can imagine. Also, I have a small craft business where I make bespoke cards and jewellery and accessories to sell both online and at craft fairs. When I’m not doing that I am helping to organise the annual local festival or helping out at school. When I’m not doing that, I’m spending time with my partner, talking at him until his eyes glaze over.

And when I’m not doing ALL OF THAT, I crawl into a corner and hide with a pad of paper and a pen and write as much as I can before someone wants something (which generally is a very small amount of time!). “Mummy.” – The most used word in the history of the world. My kids will walk by Daddy to come and ask Mummy, up flights of stairs if they have to. I’ve never quite got to the bottom of this.

Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of things. I love books and reading, films of all kinds, history, astronomy, the list is a long one. It’s just that I find that I rarely have the time to actually sit and do any of these lovely things. Days fly by and I end up in a flap and a panic, helping my son with his homework while planning the packed lunches and washing school uniforms, tweeting and making cards all at the same time. And then it hits me, the sickening realisation that I haven’t written anything today AGAIN. It drives me potty, I drool over the Arvon site and pretend that, one of these bloody days, I’ll go for it and write in solitude for an entire week. Is this likely? No. Why? Because I’m a Mummy, of course.

So, what I am trying to say is …. it’s the writing that is the *ME* time. It makes me happy. It’s what I want to do. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of. And should you ever spot me, in a little corner, scribbling like mad, then that’s when I’m full of creative joy because words are appearing on a sheet of paper like magic. From my head! It’s beautiful and therapeutic and blissful. And, yes, one of these days I will find a way to do this a LOT more. But, realistically, this could be quite some years away. So, stolen and snatched scribble time it is.

I've spent AGES wondering who to nominate next, there are so many interesting people (and I am seriously nosey). Finally, I have decided to pick:

Michael Sands @wokingwriter

Michael Crossan @michaelcrossann

Six Words Magazine @sixwordsmag

Helen Yendall @helenyendall  

Della Galton @dellagalton

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Him & Her

‘I’m falling apart,’ he joked, rubbing his throbbing left wrist.

She didn’t laugh. She didn’t even look up from the television that blared out like a wall between them.

He sloped off to bed and slept, despite the noise from the room below and the jolts of pain shooting down his left arm.

She went to the pantry and returned with the gingerbread man and bit down.

He awoke screaming. His left hand was missing, like it had never existed in the first place. The skin had perfectly sealed the stub of his arm.

Her tongue licked at the gingerbread crotch.

He produced an exuberant erection.

She continued.

He cried for his missing left hand, but couldn’t resist reaching down to touch himself with his right.

She bit the gingerbread man’s right hand clean off.

He thrashed and shrieked and shouted as his right hand disappeared before his very eyes.

She yanked up the volume on the television.

He wept like a deserted baby.

Her teeth chipped off the icing mouth.

He couldn’t scream or shout any more.

She ate it all up until it was just a head with confectionary eyes.

He took up significantly less space in the bed.

She picked the eyes off, one by one.

He was left in the dark.

She finished him off with a crunch.


She walked upstairs.

He wasn’t there.

She brushed the gingerbread crumbs off the sheets.

He had fallen apart.

She finally laughed.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Frothy broth of hot bubbles
Tickling at my chest.
You enter beside me,
Beads of water
Glisten on your torso.
Our crystal champagne flutes
Clink together.
Cold, fizzy bubbles
Race down my throat.
Your foot strokes my ankle
And I pull you towards me.
Our wet bodies
Slip and slide.
Your hands sink down,
Lower, lower, lower.
Breathless kisses
And dizzying sighs.
A blissful adventure
In our next door neighbours
Hot tub.

The Polaroid

Gingerly holding the fading Polaroid with the tips of her crinkly fingers, she sighed. It had been years since she had dared to open the old biscuit tin of memories. She had to be in the right frame of mind, even after all these years. All her happy photographs adorned the walls of the tired house. School photographs of her three children huddled together. One of them always looking away or grimacing at the staged nonsense of the situation. She’d never managed to get one of all three of them smiling and looking in the same direction. Her wedding photograph, she looked young and full of promises and dreams. Evan in his suit looking dashing as always, a broad grin and a cheeky glint in his eye, she missed him so much. But she had been blessed over the years with her handsome Evan, her beautiful children.

The cracks in the walls of the old aching house reminded her now of her body and the cracks and lines of her face. She often still thinks of herself as a young bride, a new mother, though the mirror tells her she’s wrong. It shocks her to the core at Christmas when she looks around the room. No Evan, the children all grown up and comparing mortgages and car insurance. Grandchildren! 8 of them, all talking about DS and PS something or other, thumbs flicking quickly over mobile phones. And she’s daft old Granny sitting in the corner, boring them with tales from the past and falling asleep after Christmas dinner.

She puts on her glasses and has a closer look at the Polaroid now. Evan, herself, a baby. Their baby. They hadn’t been together long when she found out she was pregnant. She’ll never forget that time despite sometimes, when the pain cut that bit too deep, she wished she could. Who said time was a great healer? Lying sods, she thought, absorbing their young faces and the face of the angel baby she saw in her dreams. Thomas was born bang on time, a normal pregnancy and a normal birth. But one day when he was six weeks old he died. He just died. They didn’t know until the morning and they awoke to the eerie silence where you know something terrible must have happened. She knew immediately. Walking to his cot in a daze, his lifeless body confirmed her worst nightmare. She doesn’t remember telling Evan, in actual words. She just remembers the longest, high-pitched, horrific scream she had ever heard, realising it had come from her own lips, and Evan crying in desperation as he tried to make their little boy magically come back to life just by willing it to be so.

The Polaroid captured a magical day; the skies had been the bluest blue, the pollen count high, the sun a happy little egg yolk. They had gone to the park and played with Evan on the grass. He’d fallen asleep watching the clouds go by. She had kissed Evan passionately and didn’t care who saw her in pure love and gratitude that he had given her this little treasure of a darling boy. Before they left they asked a young girl to take the photograph. It was difficult for her to go back in time in this way but it was the only thing she could do to override the harrowing flashback of his corpse and help to replace it in her mind with a real, vivid and cherished memory.

They had been soulless for a long time after Thomas died, together yet alone, drifting along with a mix of sedatives and a tidal wave of emotional agony. People forgot him too soon, that it should have been his birthday and the anniversary of his death. They’d been very brave, she thought, to try again in the hope of becoming a little family. But thank God, not that she believed in him, that three lovely children followed, woke them up and took them, hand in hand, into the land of the living. She had never been able to break that sort of news to them, that they had a brother but that he was dead. It just got harder to tell them over the years so they didn’t. It was their secret, their binding dark place. When Evan died last year, part of her did too. Her lover, her husband, her confidante. He had a sudden heart attack while she was out and couldn’t get downstairs to the phone. Once again she met that eerie silence and confirmed her worst fears when she crept upstairs and found him on the bed, his handsome face contorted in distress.

This photograph encapsulated her life, the secret one her children didn’t know about. Tears freely splashed down her face and that is what she had needed. A little minute to let out a little of the pain. With Evan gone, who could she talk to now?


Lydia: popular, intelligent and charming, hid her demons well. Today, her demons had demons, though it didn’t show. Watching the autumn leaves dance in the wind through the window, she let the office phone ring and ring. The scene outside was hypnotic and she felt at peace. That’s when she opened that window, calmly climbed out on to the ledge and plunged to the street below.

The Hostess with the Mostess

‘Richard, I told you I wanted to leave half an hour ago,’ she snapped, her angry eyes screamed at him.

‘It’s too rude, we can’t just leave,’ he hissed through gritted teeth. God, she was selfish.

‘They’ll be back in a minute, let’s just make an excuse and go,’ she pleaded, her voice whiny and nagging like a toddler on the edge of a tantrum. He hated that. He rolled his eyes. She was causing problems. Again.

‘Look, I’m bored of Adele fawning over you and I’m fed up of Martin’s apologetic eyes. And I am bloody sick of you happily lapping it all up and not having the balls to leave,’she practically spat out the last few words. She caught her breath, shocked at just how irate she had become. Smoothing down her black silk dress, she looked at Richard.

‘I’m not doing this again Naomi. Not the Adele thing. It’s all in your head. I’ve known her for, what, fourteen years? I am not apologising for having a conversation. Grow up!’ He knew he was in for it now.

Naomi felt her head spinning and her enraged heart thumped in her chest.
‘Don’t you dare twist all this back on me!’ She sneered. ‘We both know you’ve slept with her,’ she struggled to contain the volume of her voice.

His body jerked as though she had slapped him. ‘What the Hell are you talking about? You’re mad!’ His voice a low, rumbling growl, his eyes wide in disbelief.

‘You’ve known her fourteen years? How many of those have you spent between her legs?’ Oh God, her mouth just kept opening and words fired out at will like a machine gun. She’d actually surprised herself at that attack. Is that what she genuinely believed or were the several gins adding their skewed opinion?

His eyes seared her flesh, his hands trembling with pent up rage. He looked as though he wished to harm her but then the door opened. In came Adele and Martin, all hustle and bustle, faux cheer and homemade wine.

‘Anyone still hungry?’ Adele’s voice chimed, smiling with her whiter than white teeth.

An awkward silence filled the air as Naomi and Richard lost the will to continue the charade.

‘We’re going to have to leave I’m afraid,’ he cleared his throat. ‘Naomi’s a little ..... sick,’ his smile fooled nobody. They all picked up on his vicious connotation.

‘Oh I’m sorry to hear that Naomi. Of course, if you’re unwell you must get yourself home,’ Adele twinkled, shimmered and shined, the perfect hostess.
Coats were collected, apologies made. Richard called a taxi. Pointless pretence ensued for a further ten minutes. They were almost home when Richard sent his text.

Adele, I think she knows. Obviously I’ve denied everything. See you Monday xxx    

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Little Florence
Resides here.
Peeking around corners,
Giggling at bedtime.
Mischief and angel
All in one.
You catch her shadow
Before she runs away
And slams the door
To the attic
To play with her rocking horse,
Her favourite toy.
She rocks for hours
And sings sweet rhymes.
Hush now, Florence.
Be still now.
Demolition teams arrive.
It’s time to go
And find some peace.
It’s been a century or more
Say goodbye, Florence.

Take my hand

Take my hand.
We’ll walk through the garden
And admire the moonlight.
Take my hand.
I’ll whisper all my secrets
And astonish your mind.
Take my hand.
We’ll rise above all this
And soar through the night sky.
Take my hand.
Believe in magic
And we’ll create new stars.
Take my hand.
We’ll set up home
On our brand new planet.
Take my hand.
Look into my eyes
And forget all others.
Take my hand.
I stole your heart
And you’re never coming back.

Dream Girl

He dreams of her,
The erotic girl with black hair
And scarlet lips
And ruby shoes
And dark kohl eyes
And wicked smile.
She haunts his thoughts,
Whispers words into his ear,
Strokes his hair
And tickles his spine.
He searches
Just for a glimpse,
A fleeting moment,
To smell her perfume.
His eyes scan streets
And magazines,
The television
And everywhere.
But he doesn’t find her,
Until his mind meets slumber
And her dark magic arrives,
Announced by coquettish giggle.
She kisses him slowly,
Trails lines with her finger
And leaves a lipstick smudge
Upon his sleeping face.

Grandma's House

Sinister stuffed birds “to cheer up the place”,
A mirror so old I can barely see my face.
Swaggering in the corner, the Grandfather clock
Has forgotten its story, its tick, and its tock.
Curious little ornaments polished, on display,
Slapped hands if you touch “they are not for play”
Frippery and doilies, plastic fruit in a bowl,
A fire never on because she “can’t afford the coal”.
Tapestry sewing box too tidy to have been used.
The folded paper in the dust bin, she doesn’t like the news.
An ugly painting of a woman, who’s as miserable as sin,
She always says she hates it as she sips her evening gin.
The slippers under the table quite forget about her feet
Because that’s where they belong, so peculiarly neat.
Nothing serves a purpose or seems remotely real.
Nothing can be touched, not designed to feel.
It’s all artificial, an appearance, a showcase,
Pretence for this old lady in this cold, tired place.

Sunday Night

Once upon a time
In a king size cosy bed,
His toes were afraid to touch her
And he turned away his head.
But that is what happens
When you lay it on the line.
“I don’t love you any more
But everything will be fine.
There isn’t another woman
And I do not wish to leave.
I’ll stay here for the children”.
Oh my, how she grieves.
Her slender frame beside him
Shivers with quiet sorrow.
Her shaken, fragile mind
Worries about tomorrow.
The Monday morning breakfast
When she mustn’t look so glum.
Their little treasures must not guess
That Dad does not love Mum.
And so she’ll boil the kettle,
Toast the bread and squeeze the juice,
Contain the fear and heartbreak
As the screws come a little loose.
But still they will not know,
She has resolved herself of this,
The artificial façade begins,
Perfect family bliss.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Girl in the Mirror

The doctor had called it Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Nina had called him an asshole. She didn’t care for labels. Just for the girl in the mirror. Oh, the irresistible, voluptuous girl in the mirror. Nina watched her intently, privileged to gaze upon her hypnotic beauty, the way she curled the end of her long, black hair around her finger, the coquettish kohl eyes with lashings of mascara, the hidden cheeky dimples as her soft pink lips slowly smiled.

Nina kept a close eye on her, held her stare as she brushed her hair, kissed her gently on the mouth, licking at her glassy tongue. They brushed their teeth together in an intimate silence; they read the same literature spread on identical beds.

The girl in the mirror matched Nina’s desires; they reached their happy conclusion at precisely the same moment, spurring one another on, seducing, teasing, arousing. Nina’s boyfriend, Raymond, had loved it at first, bending her this way and that, the mirror capturing unique angles like they were starring in their own sex show, different, kinky. But Nina hadn’t given a tiny damn, her eyes had ignored Raymond, erased him from the scene. It was all about the girl in the mirror, her perky breasts, her heavenly curves, the splendour, the perfection.

So Raymond had gone, and posted an anonymous letter to her doctor’s surgery, outlining Nina’s obsession, on his way out.

Nina had been upset, fat salty tears raced down her face, her voice caught in her hoarse throat as she tried to explain and ultimately failed. She’d ended up in a rage, stamping on a box of latex gloves, screaming a string of expletives and being escorted out of the building by a bulky, bald man who had laughed in her face. She would never be able to make them understand.

She cried herself to sleep that night, distraught, resigned to the fact that people just couldn’t be trusted. And as she finally drifted off into a peaceful slumber, the girl in the mirror stepped out from the glass, lightly stroked Nina’s hair and kissed her on the forehead.

The Number 93

The 93 bus roars back to life at the terminus. The new driver watches the old man, full of sorrow, shuffle to his seat.

The old man is Jack; he’s 86 and lost his wife, Brenda, last week. They’d finished their nightly Cocoa, creaked into bed and fell asleep. Brenda never woke up and felt cold and rigid in the morning. Jack can’t find the energy or the will to carry on. He has spent the last three days on the 93, on and off, going around and around and around.

The 93 stops at the parade of shops and the driver certainly notices his next traveller, a beautiful blonde in her thirties, long manicured nails cause a struggle in scooping up her change. She smells of patchouli and has ruby painted lips.

The beautiful blonde is Angela, 36. She’s on the way to her weekly hotel rendezvous with someone else’s husband. This has been going on for three drawn out years. What she once considered to be true love has become sleazy in her mind. She has decided to end it. She can’t endure this shame any longer.

The bus snakes its way onto the suburban avenue and the driver opens the doors to a weeping 15 year old girl; red eyes, clutching a tissue that’s full of holes.

The weeping girl is Grace, the only child of a devoutly religious couple. Grace is 11 weeks pregnant and on her way to the abortion clinic. She feels sick and afraid and wishes she would vanish into thin air; so all this disappears. Someone ought to comfort her but everyone is too sealed in their own private misery to notice.

The 93 stops at the park, alongside the neat identical houses with larger gardens, and on steps a man in his forties. He seems distracted and the driver has to check three times as to where he wishes to go.

The distracted man is Steve who can’t deal with the small trivialities today and sits in the middle of the bus, with his head in his hands. He had a phone call yesterday from the doctor: could he come in, we need to talk about test results? Steve isn’t feeling positive; he suspects he knows the outcome. He can’t ignore the blood as he coughs and coughs and coughs.

All four people, trapped by their lives, are preoccupied with their troubling predicaments. The number 93 hectically weaves in and out of the chaotic morning traffic.

‘Does anyone want to get off the bus?’ shouts the driver.

The passengers consider, eyeing one another for the first time. They feel the speed of the bus and, one by one, shake their heads. No, thank you. They won’t be getting off the bus today. The driver didn’t think they would, but even for Death, it’s always polite to ask. His grip on the steering wheel tightens and he hurtles them all towards oblivion.

Bill & Susan

Susan has a colourful life, especially when Bill’s had a few
And he makes her eyes look black and blue
And the split lip starts the red blood flow
That had only healed a week ago
And he grabs her by her once blonde hair
And tries to throw her down the stairs
Alas, still young, she’s turned quite grey
Another price she has to pay
For staying here and taking this strife,
This loving, terrified, lonely wife.
And do you know what happens tomorrow?
He talks of remorse, pain and sorrow.
He’s sorry, he’ll change, he loves her, don’t go.
It won’t happen again, he loves her so.
She listens and trembles and dares to hope
Because she’s reached a wall and cannot cope.


Grandpa’s gone and the sorting begins.
I weep at the plastic fruit on the table,
Explore the glass cabinet of treasures
That I was never allowed to touch.
I dust the photo frames
And empty his sorry little fridge.
I hear the echoes of my girlish laughter
Of so many years ago.
I see my astounded face
When he’d found 10p behind my ear,
When he appeared to have my nose,
When he told me about his childhood.
I creep up the steep, winding stairs
And discover his flat cap on the banister
This crushes me inside,
Bringing heavy sobs of sorrow.
I pick up his harmonica and blow
And he’s instantly back in the room
Until I stop
And he fades away again.
Funny old Grandpa.
Time to let you go.

Spring of '63

I was 15 when it happened, new bosom and eletrical jolts to my crotch, not understanding any of it. We were Catholic, you see, devout with all the trimmings, eternally at church and repenting our sins. Except that I didn’t have any, well not until that day anyway.

He was Jean-Claude, wonder boy, mist of black hair and blue eyes that made my knickers wet. I didn’t think he’d look at me twice with my faded hand-me-downs from my sister Rebecca. But he took me for a picnic and read poems to me in french. It was awfully romantic, made me tingle all over. To this day, I don’t know what he was on about but it was for me, and that’s all that mattered. So he took me, with a keen ardour and I loved him, I really did, probably just for looking at me.

But I had to go and get bloody caught. I cried buckets for a week until Rebecca told me about her boyfriend’s dad who did that on the sly. A few bob and I’d be rid, he said. So I braced myself, felt the knitting needle as he performed the task in hand. I was sick for a long time after that. Mainly because it hadn’t worked. I was still pregnant. A blunder, he’d called it. Jean-Claude returned to France. I was disowned. But I light the candles on Raymond’s fifth birthday cake and I’m glad now that things were what they were.

Happy Birthday

The flimsy white paper plate buckles underneath the weight of sausage rolls, ham sandwiches, cubed cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks and everything else I see her plump hands snatch from the table. My daughter cries, there’s no food left and she only ate two biscuits. I say nothing; nor do I point out to the miserable, hungry children that the fat lady is eating it all. On she goes, her greedy hamster cheeks chewing and chewing, not stopping until all that’s left is a grease smudge from the pizza and a hateful spatter of cake crumbs.


She stared at the empty chair, dark green and worn out. It seemed so peculiar to not see Walt in it, complaining and gesturing as he barked at the telly. She missed the yellow nicotine strip in his white quiff and his bloody awful tartan slippers she’d been trying to get rid of for ages. She’d put them in with him, it would have made him laugh that would. She wept then, remembering his hoarse 40-a-day cackle. She’d kept his glasses though, and his tired blazer, they were in the cupboard under the stairs.


He watched Mary in her garish turquoise smock, huffing and puffing after a short walk up the garden path. They went inside, the cigarette smell almost choking him. As always, his eyes fell to her fat legs, the ones you see on larger old ladies where ankles now fail to exist. She gave him lemonade, a Mars Bar and ready salted crisps. Always ready salted. He told her every week he didn’t like them. She wiped her glasses on the tattered tea cloth and ran her chubby fingers through her matted grey perm.


He’s all she dreamed of lately, her latest fictional character: Erasmus; long ebony hair, slightly wavy and often unkempt, his deep dark eyes. Of course the teeth, once he had the scent in his nostrils, the sharp fangs would glisten. His impressive cloaked frame dashing into the dark night, finding her, gently taking hold of her pale, slender neck and .... That’s when she awoke. Every time. And then she couldn’t quite see his face because he had turned into Johnny Depp again.


Her sleek black bob, her upturned nose, her sneering shocking red lips, she intimidated the hell out of Anna. Achingly stylish in her little black dress and chic scarf, she suddenly felt like a silly, awkward child with snot on her cuffs. And then she spoke in that way people do from down south and her Yorkshire tongue shrivelled and died. She just saw mascara and flawless skin and felt like handing him back to her decorated in a large red bow. I’m not worthy, she decided, next to this stocking clad vixen ex. Here, take him. He’s yours.


I watch her. I always watch her. She’s a creature of habit. Every Tuesday morning she comes here, waits for her red haired friend who’s always late. She likes to flick through the magazines, the glossy ones, but she only ever looks at the pictures. She’s always smiling through lips stained with dark lipstick, Damson Cherry (I asked at the boutique). She sips her tea and always adds a second sugar halfway through. That’s when the red head arrives and there’s a flurry of shopping bags, apologies and gossip. They clap and squeal and then whisper. Always whispering.

Can you see?

He needs you to see her. He thinks that if you can see her he might forget? Can you do that? Can you imagine her and give him some peace? It may be tricky because it was dark; she had only been illuminated by a street light on the other side of the road. Curly blonde hair cascaded over the kerb, her neck at a deeply unnatural angle, her once sweet face set in a fearsome grimace. Blood leaked from underneath her and soaked her white mini dress. Can you see?

May’s Day

It really wasn’t May’s day. Her run of bad luck had started in the morning when she’d left Rodger’s breakfast cooking unattended, to answer the telephone, and ended up burning the lot. The worst thing was that it was one of those pesky double glazing sales calls. She kept trying to butt in and tell the loud lady on the other end the house was council rented but it was no use, the loud lady had a ready prepared script and by god, she was going to read it.

Rodger was cross (just lately, Rodger was eternally cross). He snapped at her, the usual barbs fired across the lemon yellow kitchen, she couldn’t be trusted, she was a waste of space, a useless cook, did she really expect him to eat this rubbish? He threw her favourite cup, the one with the cheerful spring daffodils, it smashed against the wall. Her bottom lip trembled as she felt the force of the slammed door and heard the crunch of gravel as the car sped off. A few tears leaked from her eyes as she set to cleaning up the mess.

May grabbed her handbag and left for town, an afternoon of coffee and cake with her oldest and dearest friend, Pauline. Her steps quickened as she spotted the 97 coming around the corner. She wasn’t quite at the stop when it flew by. The driver saw her but he was having a bad day too so, spitefully left her lonely and sorrowful and twenty minutes late.

Pauline wasn’t too chuffed, she had to be at the hairdressers in forty minutes for her monthly cut and blow-dry. What kind of gossip could they have in forty bloody minutes, she’d sniffed. Typically, Pauline chattered non-stop about herself, her children, how clever they are, never thinking to stop and ask how May’s day was going. May didn’t mind though, she never complained, she wasn’t that sort.

She felt a little lost when they parted ways and couldn’t think of how to spend the rest of the snatched afternoon. So she just went home. The return bus ride wasn’t much fun; it was full of school kids, their chewing gum and their obnoxious strings of expletives. She felt exhausted by the time she reached the end of her road.

Rodger’s car was in the drive which it had no place to be at 3.45pm. She hoped he had calmed down and that they could try and have a nice evening. She’d do him his favourite, egg and chips, and she wouldn’t burn a thing. She’d even do fried bread and maybe even a nice crumble for after? He’d like that.

But Rodger was busy entertaining his fluffy secretary, Miss. Nancy Watkins. Miss. Nancy Watkins grasped the kitchen worktop and Rodger had his crumpled work trousers around his ankles, and was reaching a happy conclusion.

It really wasn’t May’s day.

Better late than never?

Jodie’s period was late, and she was totally freaking out. Was her bust bigger? Her bra did feel a little tight. Oh shit, was she showing? Had she put on weight?

She phoned Dee. Dee knew everything about sex and babies and what to do.

‘Dee, I’m late.’ She gasped as soon as she heard the voice at the other end.

‘Shit.’ breathed Dee. Jodie didn’t have to explain, Dee was a woman of the world, and she knew what she meant.

‘I know. Do you think I might be pregnant?’

‘Did you do a test?’

‘No, I haven’t got one’.

‘Well you need to go and buy one. Have you been sick?’ Dee quizzed.

‘No. Yes. I was actually, last week’.

‘Shit. In the morning?’

‘No, late at night’.

‘That’s nearly the morning, Jodie,’ Dee sighed, merrily lighting a cigarette, Jodie heard the tell-tale exhale.

‘I’d had a bottle of wine,’ Jodie remembered, casting her mind back. She hadn’t made it the toilet and had puked all down her new dress that was dry clean only.

‘That’ll be the baby rejecting the booze, they don’t like it,’ Dee said, authoritatively.

‘Shit,’ sighed Jodie.

‘Yeah, mega bummer. Who’s the daddy?’

Jodie thought. Who had she screwed, in the last few weeks?

‘Well there was Darryl from the pub, remember? I did that takeaway guy too,’ Jodie felt utterly miserable.

‘Go buy a test, and ring me back, yeah?’ Dee instructed.

Jodie wrapped her coat around herself, in case she saw someone she knew. They might guess and tell her mother and that would be freaking awful wouldn’t it? She couldn’t keep it, could she? She wasn’t about to start playing happy families with Darryl or …. What was his name? The other one? She couldn’t remember now.

She hesitated outside the door of the pharmacy, and her mother’s neighbour, Mrs. Hall, was in there. Shit. She dived into the first shop, oh for god’s sake; she was in a kid’s clothes shop.

‘Can I help you?’ asked a manicured, well groomed woman.

‘I’m pregnant,’ she stammered, the first thing that popped into her head.

‘Congratulations!’ beamed the pink lipstick mouth. ‘We have some adorable baby clothing just in, please feel free to take a look,’ she pointed in the direction of the pastel coloured area. Jodie gulped, just about managed a peevish smile and sauntered over.

And then she fell in love: with the tiny vests with the poppers, the knitted cardigans, the striped socks made for the teeniest feet. She touched the blankets, stroked the teddy bears and suddenly felt brave and happy and maternal. She touched her stomach and started to cry. She left the shop and floated home on a cloud of joy, stopping at the pharmacy for a test she no longer felt afraid of.

She hummed as she went to the bathroom, sang a lullaby as she peed on the stick, was about to call Dee when she saw it. The red. There was no baby.

Diary of a Sociopath.

My name is Angela, although I prefer Angie as it sounds sweet and benign; like everybody’s best friend. Ultimately, that’s what I aim to be. I’ll be whoever you want me to be, a clone of yourself usually, because secretly, you’re an egomaniac too. It is tricky to maintain the correct balance and I run the risk of creating fury because, let’s face it, I’m a much better you than you know how to be.

January had been quite tedious until I spotted the brunette in the school playground; seemingly popular amongst the other waiting parents, talkative, animated hand gestures guaranteeing attention. She had three small children, all with the same porcelain doll face. I loathed this ridiculous scene every Monday to Friday; the cliques, the inane friendships created on random facts such as your postcode and at what time of year you all had your legs in the air long enough to conceive a child. It was similar to actually being back at school for me, being the bland and faceless shape in the corner that didn’t fit in. But there is a lot to be said, sometimes, for blending into the scenery, you can reinvent your identity many times over and nobody even notices you were there.

I’ve always dressed anonymously, pale, neutral colours, jeans, plain coat; invisibility. Though once I select a potential playmate I transform into her mirror image; I purchased high heel shoes, chiffon scarves, wore wear make-up and perfume. I curled my eye lashes, bought a designer handbag and appeared as much like the brunette as possible.

I started standing closer to this woman, listening in to conversations, developing a flavour of who she was, who she talked to, finding my way in. It was incredibly simple seeing as she appeared to volunteer for every single obnoxious event the school staged. So, baking on Thursdays it was, my son was in the same class as her daughter. She emanated some sort of Mother of the year notion; affectionate and soothing with her children, a frown for every scraped knee, and a kiss for every childish tear. My son knew better than to bother me in this way. I’d had him for an old conquest, my ex colleague Janet who’d been trying for a baby. I timed that one beautifully; they were born three days apart.

I digress, back to the story and my brand new target: Vanessa. So there I was, baking cookies with inept, small children with a kindly smile on my face and twinkles and rainbows in my eyes, when we first met. She loved baking, made birthday cakes from home for internet orders. Naturally, I informed her that this was a coincidence because I too sell fancy cupcakes online. How easy the words trickled off my tongue.

I have no interests, hobbies, job, or time wasting tactics to occupy myself. I just do what I want to do which mainly consists of finding new best friends and seeing how far I can take it. I live off daddy’s money because he believes every word I utter, every imaginary illness and bout of depression I portray. After Mum died last year it’s been a lot more straightforward, there’s nobody standing in my way.

We must go for coffee I tell her, get together and try our hand at selling our home baked wares at the weekends for some extra money? It’s an idea I’ve had for ages, I hear myself saying, but I don’t have much confidence, especially having just lost my mother, I’m full of anxiety and grief and have a heart problem. This could be just the therapy I need. That’s it, right there. I see it; the pity in her eyes, the sad mouth curling downwards, her hand subconsciously resting on her heart. I’m in.

I must say, at our first coffee morning, I was sublime. I squeezed out the impromptu tears, sorrow that my little Alexander didn’t have a father in his life, frustration at deep depression and worry that I could no longer afford to meet our daily needs. By the end, I had her phone numbers, email address and her solemn word that she would find us an event this very weekend, to make some money. I laughed all the way home.

The excitement got to me; I couldn’t wait and phoned her that very night full of gratitude, platitudes and plans. She listened intently and announced that we were booked to supply cakes for a children’s birthday party on Saturday: the birthday cake and 100 cupcakes.

We became friends on Facebook which was immediately helpful as I could see she was married and that her birthday was approaching, all her favourite films, books, actors, everything. It was a fast track friendship, just the way I like them. She was slightly more intelligent than my usual choice, this could have put me off, but I do so love a challenge. Despite her academia, Vanessa was as naïve as they come; after all she’d believed every word so far hadn’t she?

Before I knew it, it was Friday afternoon and I found myself with no cupcakes or the will to make them. I drove down to the fancy bakery in town and bought 100 of the damn things. Vanessa was amazed by “my work” and I happily took credit for the delicately decorated chocolate treats. We were deemed a success by the venue and subsequent orders followed. Vanessa was over the moon, gushing about our teamwork and grateful beyond belief because she couldn’t have done it without me.

Every day we met after that, I’d tempt her with a new sad story over coffee, invite her and the children round for tea, we’d spend hours looking at baking equipment in the shops and planning bigger and better desserts. Clearly this hadn’t been going down so well at home; the fact that she was rarely there wasn’t so appealing to her troublesome husband. The ironing pile reached a new level high; they argued. Occasionally, I would sense Vanessa beginning to try and pull away from my grasp so there was a lot of thinking on my feet and gentle manipulation of her husband’s words to keep up her resolve that she was in the right and perhaps he was hiding something himself to act in this way?

The one thing that I couldn’t quite drag her away from was her children, she’d dash home at every temperature, cough and sneeze, pissing on my day entirely. I needed something bigger to recapture her attention so I told her that it looked as though I might have cervical cancer and that I had to go to the hospital for some tests. That one worked a treat, she cried and cried into her cappuccino and promised to be there for me no matter what.

I had free reign then, I dialled her number at midnight in tears, afraid of what would happen at the tests I had researched on the internet. She agreed to come with me after I lied that my Mum had died after a losing battle with cervical cancer. This didn’t bother me one jot, I used to work at the hospital and still had a couple of contacts there. I just left her in the foyer and visited Pauline and Susan in Human Resources.

Once, after she’d got the children to bed, she phoned, asking if she could pop round for an hour, she sounded upset which thrilled me. I put on Edward Scissorhands (her favourite movie according to Facebook) and managed to fast forward it to the middle of the film before the knock on the door. She weakly smiled at the television and took a seat, her tears were immediate. It was her husband, they were rowing all the time, she could barely stand to be in the same room as him, she found a pair of red lace knickers in his coat pocket and they did not belong to her. Her eyes and nose leaked simultaneously, she smudged mascara on the cuff of her blouse. Whilst I’m sure I effectively conveyed sincerity and sympathy, the giddy butterflies that danced and crashed in my midriff almost had me laughing out loud. I had placed the knickers there yesterday, whilst returning some cake tins that I had borrowed precisely for this reason. I knew there would be fireworks.

I studied and matched Vanessa’s hurt expression and recounted a tale that left me in the same position, this had happened to me, I had no idea he’d been seeing someone else, he left me to be with her, I know how you feel, look, we’re just the same. She cried harder at that, questioning his actions, she thought he loved her, she’s so glad she has me to come to, such a wonderful friend.

The shit hit the proverbial fan later that night. Her husband denied strenuously any knowledge whatsoever of the offensive underwear and, of course, Vanessa didn’t believe him. He walked out, taking as much as he could carry, angry and confused. I didn’t see her on the school run that morning so I’d guessed what had happened. I went round with a large bouquet of white roses (her favourite flower) and a box of chocolates. Her eyes were red, the lids swollen, this was the first time I’d seen her without make-up; temptingly vulnerable.

The children were hungry and wailing; she wasn’t capable of putting cereal and milk into three bowls so I got up and did it, making myself instantly indispensable. Vanessa cried a lot over the next few days and I arrived at 8.30am every morning to walk the children to school and I would sit with her for long lengths of time, listening to her snivels of self-pity; she was broken.

Vanessa’s son and daughters now referred to me as Auntie Angie, an endearing term I had easily manipulated them into using. There was one rather delicious moment at the park when the smallest one fell and grazed her knee, loud sobs echoed and she ran to my open arms for comfort, leaving a vacant Vanessa to view the scene, alone on the bench, another stake in her crumbling heart. She looked straight at me, right in the eye, disturbed and horrified but too feeble to take control. I smiled, stroking the knotted hair of her five year old.

I bought ice creams, accepting the bought affection from them hungrily, wiping their sticky fingers and smeared faces. Vanessa’s bottom lip trembled, she hugged herself for warmth. She couldn’t look at me, her head moved to face my general direction and she asked me who I was. I didn’t say a word. She continued by adding that she didn’t know who I was anymore. Well I’m you, of course, I laughed, just so much better. Her mouth gaped open and she sprang into action, coercing the children to cut short their playtime and come on home. No, she said, Auntie Angie isn’t coming with us. Auntie Angie might not be calling round for a while because we were going to be busy looking for daddy and see if he wanted to come back home. The kids wept, they love Auntie Angie. Auntie Angie smells like Mummy used to smell and she buys them sweets.

Auntie Angie can go fuck herself, Vanessa whispered into the air. Auntie Angie is a fucking sociopath who screwed up her whole fucking life.

The one that got away, it left a bitter aftertaste. Vanessa found her husband and they moved away to start again within weeks. I haven’t let it get to me too much. I went back to the shadows and my jeans and have just spotted a new family; a fresh faced young Mum from down south. I heard her tell the teacher that they don’t know anyone. Well, it’s your lucky day. I’m your new best friend.