I keep an old wooden chair next to my bed. It’s got arms, like a throne and a sagging red velvet seat. When we were kids, my dad sat on it at the head of the dining table but we got the honour on our birthdays. Now it’s mainly used for clothes storage, but those upcycle/repair programmes on tv have become a bit of an addiction, and I’m seriously considering doing something with it. This chair has seen so much over the years. It’s not worth anything but it was the one thing I was certain I wanted to keep after we sold mum and dad’s house.
I remember that summer I helped to varnish the dining room furniture because there was a big storm and my dad had to chop down the tree in the back garden.
I can see myself now, at age 13, lying on my belly on the lawn. Well, I’m actually lying on a crocheted blanket that was more than likely made one winter by a distant great aunt that I never got to meet. I’m propping myself up by my elbows, but it wasn’t as comfortable as it looked like in films. I thought I was sophisticated in my floppy hat, halter-neck bikini top and cut-off denim shorts. My bare feet were suntanned with the pattern from my jelly shoes and I was reading a hard backed book without its dust cover. A book that was older than me. A book that was too old for me. One that I couldn’t borrow from the library for another two years. But then, it was the summer holidays, where there was an unspoken, earned freedom. People were more relaxed about everything. I had two jobs to do from the housework list every day, then the rest of the time was my own, so I read, made mixtapes, wrote letters to penpals, went to the local Lido with my friends or we’d watch boys skateboarding.
My babysitter had given me a pile of her sister’s Jackie magazines and I devoured them. One of the tips for meeting boys was to casually read a book in a place where you knew he’d be, and this would provide a conversation starting point. I’d seen a film where a woman asked a man to rub suntan lotion on her back. That seemed like a good plan, but my mum overheard me ask my brother’s friend and she said that she’d do it. I had to stand up so she didn’t have to bend because of her sciatica.
Later that day, Mum asked me if I would paint her toenails for her. She said she wanted me to know that I could always talk to her about anything and no matter what it was, she would never be mad and that there wasn’t anything in life that couldn’t be sorted out. Then she let me have two puffs on her Silk Cut and a splash of Cinzano Bianco in my lemonade. I could still taste that cigarette the next morning.
I enjoyed sanding down the chair in the garage, then varnishing it. I pretended to my friends that the smell of the varnish made me high, and that I could see my hand trailing when I moved it in front of my face, but it actually gave me a thumping headache and I puked up.
A butterfly fluttered into the garage and got stuck on the arm of the chair and there was nothing I could do to free it. I watched as it hopelessly struggled for ages after it tore a wing, before it finally gave up. I felt guilty for not helping, but relieved that it was just a cabbage white with a tiny wing dot in the shape of a black heart, and not the rarer, more dazzling, common blue.
That night, the big storm ripped off the roof from the shed and a tree branch smashed through the greenhouse window. My brother said that it was the butterfly struggling that had made bad things happen. The next day when I looked at the chair, the butterfly was gone. It had been wiped away. Where its leg and wing had been trapped, I thought I could see two tiny marks in the dried varnish.
When mum and dad were out, I’d sometimes sit in that chair in the cool, still dining room, watching the motes hang in the air or I’d gaze out of the window, thinking about what my future would be like. I’d run my finger over the chair arm trying to feel the indentations. They were the smallest reminder of a brief life lived.
I found the moon in a glass on my bedroom table, so drank it. I dreamt ’til I woke, I was Faraway Folk.By me!
That was the line I wrote today in a lovely zoom session with the poet Emma Purshouse for #Librariesweek and #NationalPoetryDay, in conjunction with Wolverhampton Libraries.
I read out a couple of short stories at Hamilton Library in Leicester for #LibrariesWeek with some other writers who are also published by Dahlia Books. I wrote ‘The Infinite Sadness of a Cabbage White Butterfly’ especially for that reading. This is a pic of my little merch stand.
If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, then you’ll already be familiar with the stories in my little zine.