Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Delivery.

‘Be still,’ she mutters to her stomach, the movements tickle like bubbles bursting against the surface. Her eyes flicker, she’s regaining consciousness.

‘Miriam, thank goodness,’ her mother weeps with relief.

Miriam opens her eyes, she recoils as she realises that she’s in the hospital until her eyes fix upon the bright light above her which helps her to feel at peace.

‘Miriam, what’s happening?’ asks her mother.

Miriam’s hands instinctively clutch her abdomen. A fierce pain rips through her. It is time. Her mother shrieks and hides behind a nurse.

Miriam props herself up on the wafer thin white pillows and grits her teeth, beads of sweat glisten across her flushed face. She calmly seizes a scalpel and slits a bloody line across her stomach, the skin is tougher than she had imagined.

They flee immediately, escape, and break free, greeting the universe, embracing the precious light and flapping their wings, Miriam’s whisper of moth babies. 

Remembering Harry.

Everyone kept asking if I was sure that I wanted to be alone on a night like this. I managed not to scream at the top of my voice that of course I don’t want to be alone, I want Harry. But I can’t have Harry. Harry’s gone. And now it’s official since we just said our goodbyes at his funeral.

As the coffin arrived, I looked back at the sea of black garments and sad, red eyes. I tried not to but I kept looking at the curtain that I knew would soon swallow him up and really mean the end. Music blasted though and that felt good, I could feel it humming in my veins. Sinatra. Harry’s favourite, he’d have loved that, Frank’s crisp, haunting voice sending him off, the final lullaby.

Then the words, true ones, proud ones, happy ones, sad ones, all about my Harry. It was odd really; it felt almost rude to be talking about him when he wasn’t here to chip in with a smattering of spicy details. All I could smell were the flowers. I’ve never seen so many flowers in my life and although the floral tributes were kind and touching, the pungent aroma stuck in my nostrils and distracted me further.

After that was the wake. My daughter, Isla, fussed and bothered me with tasteless sandwiches on a paper plate. She was just trying to look after me but I couldn’t eat more than a bite, my throat felt too dry. So I had a cheeky tipple of Harry’s favourite scotch, a big old tumbler full with clinking ice cubes. It went straight to my head and I had to go and stand outside to wait for the brain fog to clear.

Then the obligatory stiff hugs, taut bodies wanting to appear caring but not wishing to actually touch, a peculiar affectionate gesture that didn’t pay off. I just felt tired and wanted to be free of the company. I wanted to come home and sit still and let it all sink in. and here I am. Except that now it’s silent to the point that I can’t stand it and I’m afraid that I let them burn him into a pile of insignificant ashes that I will sprinkle somewhere some day. I don’t want to remember him like this. I pick up the old biscuit tin of photographs and take the first one out. I smile immediately, despite suddenly feeling so desolate and lonely that I wonder if I could too die of this terrible pain inside me.

It’s a picture of us, me and Harry, so long ago, our faces so young and fresh that I barely recognise us. We’re laughing because he’s trying to take the picture of us from an awkward angle and he’s only just made it into the photo at all. At once I’m back in that field, that picnic, on that glorious summer’s day. I can actually smell the newly cut grass that tickles my legs. I feel the burning heat of the sun on my skin; I have to squint every time that it pokes out from behind the gently swaying trees.

I hear a river nearby, a slow satisfied trickle of water. I hear nature in the sky, birds calling out to one another and bees buzz past my ear. I don’t hear people or traffic because we’ve made sure that we won’t be interrupted, this is our special day. I have been excited all week. Harry feeds me a strawberry. I don’t always particularly care for strawberries but this one is more succulent than any I’ve tasted before, juice trickles down my chin and he laughs at me, kissing it away until his lips find mine and I taste the sharp, dry white wine on his tongue which is a heady mix with the delicious fruit.

I feel the trail of his fingertips dance down my spine and by the time it reaches the bottom, I am a shivering delight. Crawling scarlet blushes sear my cheeks at what I am feeling and thinking. As though he reads my mind, Harry makes us comfortable on the grass and we melt at the very same time, sensibility disappears and it is replaced with a mighty passion that we cannot ignore today. We touch each other intimately. I hear our matching rapid breaths and soft moans of pleasure as we make love for the very first time. He holds me afterwards, for over an hour, I fall asleep for a little while, so safe and happy and relaxed, feeling like a woman, not a girl any more.

I open my eyes and wish Harry was here. I would stand in the doorway with my hand on my hip and ask him if he remembered the picnic. He would smile his slow, mischievous smile that I loved and we’d kiss like we were still teenagers, desperate to be as close as possible, super glued together, body temperatures rising.

I place the photo down on the arm of the chair and reach in for another. It’s us again, the happy couple on our wedding day. Again, I inhale at the shock of the youth looking back at me. Simultaneously, it seems like such a long time ago and just like yesterday. I scan Harry’s face, he hated wearing that suit, some fuss and nonsense about double buttons, but I thought he had never looked so handsome. All day long I had felt like we were starring in our own film, everything was so elegant and idyllic.

Closing my eyes again, I remember putting on the silk white dress and the gasps from my mother, my father in curious tears at giving away his little girl (they didn’t know that I had actually become a woman, of course). I recall how my face hurt from smiling; it actually ached due to the permanent beam spread across it. It was magical.

My senses come alive and place me back there; my lips part to kiss him in front of the crowd of joyful faces. Harry kisses me so sweetly that my head spins with the sensuality of it and for the overwhelming love of him. I float outside, on his big, strong arm and confetti is thrown into the air, it’s snowing pastel coloured paper and it gets stuck in my hair but I don’t care. I can hear Harry’s raucous laughter in my ear, I feel him squeeze my hand tightly.

I see us sitting down for our meal, I smell the Filet Mignon and I realise just how starving hungry I am. The nerves are gone, it’s done, we’re married, and I’m his. The butterflies have left my stomach and now it growls at the sumptuous scent of the food before me. I’m actually drooling and impatient. I look across at him and he has the same eager face and we erupt into an understanding chuckle. We dig in and it’s like I’ve never tasted food before. It’s so tender that I forget my manners entirely and wolf it down.

The reception was the most magnificent fun, the big band, the fizz of the champagne, the sweet smell of the cake with the pink icing. Moonlight Serenade plays, our first dance, starting off slow and serious but ending up crazy, struggling for breath as we take up the whole of the floor, my mother rolling her eyes at our antics, Harry’s mother doing the same.

Finally going to bed together and it’s allowed, no more sneaking around, this is it. Waking up feeling him next to me in the morning and knowing that the rest of my life will be spent with him, I am truly content.

I open my eyes and see that I am tapping my toe to the beat of the reception music in my head. It’s amazing how powerful memories can be, that a smell, a song, a touch can send you right there in your own private time machine. It hurts to feel all this, knowing he isn’t here, that I will never see him again, but I need this. I need this time, I have to remember and feel it, put it all together in a folder in my brain to access again and again and again. I can’t be remembering coffins and ashes. Harry was my everything. I put down the picture and turn the next one over. Instinctively, tears prick at the corners of my eyes. I wipe them away. Just for a moment I don’t want to be sad, I want to be as happy as I was in all of these photographs.

Us again, but now we’re joined by a tiny little special person who tuned our world upside down and made us yet happier, our little baby Isla, just born. Harry has the biggest smile here; he’s so proud and has such intense love in his eyes for his brand new daughter. He has a protective arm around me as I cradle her. In seconds, he has become a dad, and what a kind, selfless dad he turned out to be. I could not have picked a better man; there never was a better man.

My senses jump and try and run away as I remember the excruciating pain that it took to get this tiny, heavenly creature out of my body. So long ago now, but I still wince and cross my legs. It’s so difficult to describe, a low pain, dull but it builds to a point where you really are certain that you can’t take it. I remember a few expletives left my lips at certain points, I apologised to the hospital staff afterwards. They weren’t bothered; I suppose they must hear it all the time?

My mind plays out the moment of her birth and that terrifying second of silence where I held my breath in anxiety. And then it came, the most perfect sound that there ever could me, the shrill yet feeble cry of the newborn. It changed me forever that sound, I knew at once that every time I heard that voice, I would come running. I was scared when they gave her to me, she looked so delicate and helpless, and what if I held her wrong, and would I hurt her? I felt the soft cellular blanket and peeled it back so that I could really see her. I wept at the miniscule finger nails, the softest skin in the world. I kissed the crown of her head and discovered a shock of dark hair, just like Harry. She had my small button nose, but other than that she was all Harry, I could tell straight away. The rush of awe and intoxicating love was like some wonder drug. She changed us, right there and then; we were her mum and her dad.

I’m crying now, properly crying. Tears blur my vision and my nose is leaking, sobs catch in my throat. How can I live without him? I know now, it isn’t a nightmare, and he isn’t waking up. Why didn’t he wake up? My whole body heaves and trembles. I want him back. I want to run to the crematorium and explain that I’ve made a dreadful mistake. They can’t have him, he’s mine. I know it’s too late but I just feel so bloody useless and heartbroken and empty.

I put the photographs back in the gaudy old biscuit tin, out of fear of spoiling them with my falling tears. I sit like this for some time, the pain goes nowhere but after a while the tears gradually become quiet and contained, they dry until it’s more of a whimper. I look at the clock, one of our wedding presents, and realise that it’s not quite as late as I had assumed. I reach for my shoes and put them on. I grab the pad of paper and Harry’s perfectly sharpened pencil and write my list: Strawberries, Filet Mignon, Scotch. I’ll go to the supermarket and make myself a memorial supper, toast my wonderful husband and see if I can keep my special memories going tomorrow. And, perhaps, the day after that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Purple Room.

Stop. I remember that I am not supposed to go in this room. It’s just that I can’t remember why. My fingers loiter on the door handle. It’s locked. If only I had the key. I keep thinking about my father’s decanter in the drawing room. It’s a hazy memory but it’s the only one that I have.

Go. My father is asleep on the brown leather armchair; his newspaper has dropped to the floor. I tiptoe by and quietly search around the decanter. The key is behind it, on the silver tray. I glide back to the hallway.

Stop. The key almost burns in my hand, I don’t like the way it feels within my sweaty palm. I shouldn’t have it. I should go and put it back. I know that I should not enter the locked room. It’s just that I can’t remember why.

Go. I’m tired of being told what to do, of being an adult but still having my mother choose my clothes and brush my hair. I put the key inside and hold my breath. I close my eyes in case I see something bad, something that I don’t want to really see.

Stop. What could be in here? Why can’t I remember? I’m frightened and my hand hesitates now that the key has fully turned.

Go. I will only find out if I go inside. I poke the door open a little, wide enough for my left foot to fit inside but not far enough for me to see. I feel around for the light switch and flick it on.

Stop. I feel uneasy. I feel sick. I feel as though someone has their hands gripped around my neck and that I can’t breathe. My head hurts and I feel cold. I think I might be coming down with a bug.

Go. I walk into the room and gently close the door behind me. Maybe it is okay if I don’t open my eyes? How scary can this room really be?

Stop. It is scary; it’s full of terror and a huge palpable agonising pain. I shouldn’t be here. I just can’t remember why.

Go. I must do it. I must take a peek. Suddenly, I remember being a tiny girl; I’d got into trouble for sneaking into next door’s garden. My mother apologised to Mrs. Drabble with a red face and told her that I had always been an inquisitive child. Sometimes I feel that I will always be that little child, I don’t think that I am allowed to grow up. I can’t explain it.

Stop. I want to open my eyes but the churning mixture of half memories keeps them scrunched tightly shut. I want to open them. I want to open them. I want to open them.

Go. I’m in the purple room. I remember the purple room. The purple room is lovely and pretty. The walls are lilac and mauve and the curtains have tiny daisies on them. I think this was my room, when I was a little girl. Why am I not allowed in here? Why did I change rooms? There’s my rocking horse and my dolls. I pick up the floppy fabric doll with the smiling face and blonde woollen hair. I’m sure this was my favourite, but I have forgotten her name.
Stop. Something’s not right. Something is wrong with the purple room. It’s covered in dust and it smells funny. I don’t think anyone has been in here for a long time. I don’t understand what is going on. I’m breathing too quickly and I need to slow down. My heart is beating wildly.

Go. I glance at the book spines on the case, I remember all of them. I used to be such a bookworm. I wonder why I don’t read anymore.

Stop. My own reflection startles me. I see myself in the dusty old dressing table mirror.

Go. I have to laugh at my silliness. I am being ridiculous, I’m in the lovely purple room with teddy bears and other loves and precious things. I should be rejoicing the return of my childhood treasures. When did I become such a jittery jumpy girl?

Stop. My mother’s at the door and she looks cross with me. She asks me what I think I’m doing.

Go. I tell her that this is my purple room and that she can’t keep me from it anymore.

Stop. She shakes her head, her eyes look tired, and her face looks blotchy. She tells me that this is not my room, that it belongs to Lydia.

Go. I laugh in her face. I tell her that nobody here is called Lydia, she doesn’t exist.

Stop. My mother weeps into a sodden tissue full of holes. She tells me that Lydia is dead; she whispers that I can’t remember.

Go. Who was Lydia? Who was Lydia? I scream out the words until my chest hurts.

Stop. Your twin sister, my mother says, shaking her head. We went through all this yesterday, when I came into the purple room.

Go. I tell her that I haven’t been in the purple room for years, nobody has, and I scrape a thick layer of dust from the shelves to show her. I tell her that these are my things.

Stop. She quietly informs me that I came here yesterday and that we had the same conversation. Lydia was my twin sister; she died when we were seven years old.

Go. I sob. I tell her that I don’t remember.

Stop. She says that it’s because my brain won’t let me, it’s damaged, I’m sick, because I pushed Lydia out of the window after a petty squabble.


Rewind. I see it. I see a little girl with the same face and honey blonde hair as I had. I see her at an awkward angle on the floor below. I remember peering out of the window and my mother’s scream that didn’t end until after that first year.

Go. But this is my doll, I say.

Stop. No, my mother says, it belonged to Lydia; all of this belonged to Lydia. She says that it’s late and that I should take my pills and go to sleep. She says that she’s picked out a soft cotton nightgown for me and that she will brush my hair and sing my favourite song if I come now.

Go. I let my mother lead me out. She closes and locks the door behind us. I take my pills and feel weary. I long to place my head on the pillow and sleep. The soothing brush strokes make me feel warm. My mother tucks me into the bed sheets. She tells me not to go into the purple room again.

Stop. What purple room, I yawn.


Better The Devil You Know.

I normally slam the door on cold callers, even the needling charity ones with clipboards and faux fixed grins, but this was one was gorgeous, so I invited him inside for a cup of tea.

He had the most beautiful eyes, dark, mischievous, irresistible. And that smile, so sultry, teasingly wicked. He talked about a special offer, a £6.66 monthly direct debit, something about a soul and eternity. I was too distracted to listen properly; he made me want to wear red lipstick and whisper obscenities into his ear.

I signed the dotted line.

The Long, Hot Summer.

I was a little girl on a grey rainy Sunday afternoon, playing with my Barbie dolls, I remember it so vividly. My mum switched the television channel over and I moaned at her, claiming that I had been watching the cartoons but we both knew that wasn’t true. A film had just started on the other side, this was a familiar and frequent weekend event, my mum would watch an old movie as I played with my toys. I would pretend that I wasn’t interested but I would rapidly get swept up in the dark and haunting Bette Davies, I’d gasp in shock when Clark Gabel frankly didn’t give a damn about the beautiful Vivienne Leigh and I would smile at the comedy and pure oozing glamour of Marilyn Monroe.

I was half dressing my dolls in ostentatious ball gowns and half watching ‘The Long, Hot Summer’, until I saw him, and then I forgot all about Barbie’s prior engagement with Ken. Those eyes. I stared at the screen; I had never seen such eyes, the most dreamy, delicious, piercing, scene stealing blue. I felt myself melting and when he appeared shirtless, with a bronzed chiselled torso and those eyes, my knees wobbled and I felt a peculiar sensation in my stomach. I was seven years old and hopelessly in love. I was hooked by the plot, I partly wanted Ben and Clara to live happily ever after, but I partly despised Clara because she had those eyes looking at her and loving her.

My eyes scanned the film credits once it was over. Paul Newman, I whispered his name and a crimson spider crept up my hot freckled face. I was mesmerised. My mum told me that Ben and Clara were married in real life, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. My mum always knew how to piss on my chips. I have never since cared for Joanne Lucky Pants Woodward.

I felt so very lovesick that I couldn’t eat my tea, which was strange as Sunday dinner was my favourite. My mum sent me to bed without dessert and just this once, I didn’t care, even though it was Sara Lee’s chocolate gateaux. I closed my eyes and placed myself within the film, his sultry voice called my name.

After that, I developed an obsession with eye colour. I checked everyone I came into contact with, all the children at school, the milkman, the customers in the tiny local shop, the passengers on every bus, but nobody had eyes as blue as Paul Newman.

Brown eyed boys couldn’t delight me. I had the blues about those blues. I wanted to look into the eyes of a boy and see an ocean, have my breath taken away, find my own soul there. I wanted to find the bluest eyed boy and make him mine. I wanted to be Clara. I wanted my own long, hot summer.

I grew up, became a confused teenager, a time that I did not relish. None of my friends understood my unusual quest, they were happy decorating their pencil cases with stickers of floppy haired band members in jeans, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

As spring arrived, along with my sixteenth birthday, hormones fell with April showers; lust arrived with baby pink blossom buds. I had stirrings and yearnings and longings and needs. I was frustrated, empty and so desperate to be touched that I would lie on my bedroom floor, like a wretched wild wounded animal, for hours, wailing, feeling it as a palpable pain.

The boys in my school year must have felt similar pangs because, all of a sudden, they talked to my chest and looked at my legs and begged me to meet them in the evenings, to go to the park and kiss badly against an uncomfortable tree trunk. I tried it, I wanted to be kissed, tasted, devoured, but I couldn’t feel the magic, the butterflies had died, nothing danced and teased and tickled within my abdomen. I still wanted those blues. I wanted a man, a man with a chiselled torso who would stand, half naked, outside my bed chamber and seductively call out my name. I still wanted Ben. I still wanted Paul Newman and the longest, hottest summer.

College was a riot, pubs, nightclubs, lager, spirits, too many late nights and early mornings. I went along with the frolics and played my part but there was something always missing. I never saw those eyes, those exotic blues.

University was even better, a diverse and eclectic mix of new and old friends, different experiences and perspectives, being a tiny goldfish in a vast yet noisy sea. I even found a film club which was wonderful. We’d all meet up, drink wine and watch old movies. One night, we watched ‘The Long, Hot Summer’ and I felt ill with desire, dizzy, nauseas, hot and sticky. I was seven years old again, transported back in time to my mum’s living room, silly, foolish, lovesick and in awe.

Now I am thirty six and I look around at all my friends, cosy, coupled, married, mothers and fathers. I am still alone, untouched, burning, and still waiting for those blues. I wonder sometimes, if I should have settled, would I be happier. I worry sometimes; where are those blues and will I ever find them. But I so want and need those blues and so I wait.