114. You Got The Love

Photo by Krista Bagnell

“Mummy’s going to pick you up from nursery today,” said Violet, as she smoothed down her niece’s hair. Gently cupping the child’s face, she turned it upwards towards her own, and smiled. “Ooh. how I want to eat these little cheeks!” she said. The girl squealed with delight, as her face was showered with “mwah, mwah, mwahs and nom, nom, noms”.

The moment the front door closed, Rosemary burst into tears. Her sister, Violet was leaving today, so she couldn’t put it off any longer. She clapped her hands together, then raised her clasped hands to her mouth, pausing as if in contemplation or prayer. Breathing in deeply, she sighed then walked over to look out of the window. She could see her daughter skipping down the street hand-in-hand with her Aunt. They stopped as the girl pointed to a rainbow in the sky. It’s true what people said. Children were so resilient and a great comfort at times like these. Rosemary pressed play for the company of the radio, then began to busy herself.

It took over four hours to shower, dress, change the master bed, and put on two loads of washing.

Picking out the remaining flowers from several wilting bunches, she created smaller posies that fitted perfectly into two children’s drinking glasses. One for each bedside. She took a picture of one of these floral arrangements, with a slightly blurred family photograph deliberately in view behind. Then she posted it to all of her social media accounts and added the caption “Taking it one day at a time.” There was no way she could reply to all of the well-wishers and notifications right now, but if people saw this picture, at least they’d know she was doing ok.

Rosemary poured the cloudy water from the vases down the kitchen sink, picked out the slimy leaf debris from the plughole and looked at the grubby kitchen sponge. It needed to be thrown away but it was something he’d touched. Was it too soon to get rid of his toothbrush? Then she remembered she’d just washed some of his clothes. She went back into the bathroom and picked up his deodorant, shaving cream, razor, moisturiser and toothbrush and put them in his underwear drawer. There was still so much to do.

At around two o’clock, Rosemary decided to go to the Convenience Store down the road to get something easy and nice for tea. Pizza and ice-cream. Her sister had been so good to stay with them, but she had to go to work tomorrow and life had to get back into some sort of routine. The thought of speaking to her own colleagues made her clutch her stomach. ‘Not fit for work’ was written in spidery Dr handwriting on the sick note, so why did her boss keep ringing her on the pretence of checking whether she was ok, as a cover to ask her work questions? She’d had enough of people saying “how are you coping” and the endless platitudes of “let me know if there’s anything I can do,” without anyone actually offering something tangible that might make her life easier. Like the ironing or cooking a meal. This tired and angry person she was right now would be unprofessional at work, but it was too soon to fake it until she made it. No, a few more weeks away from people was what she needed. She had to face the parents and staff at nursery today. That was enough for now.

Living inside her own head, Rosemary had forgotten just how loud and busy this street was. Double glazing really does dampen down the noise. Hopefully, she wouldn’t see anyone she knew at this time of day. She approached the Convenience Store at the same time as a woman wearing a yellow jacket, who seemed to be in a hurry. “After you,” Rosemary said, then stepped back. The other woman nodded a thanks and walked through the sliding doors. Just then, Rosemary noticed a tiny white feather floating from the sky, right in front of her face.

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Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

A few minutes earlier, Patricia (the woman in the yellow coat) was leaving an almost-identical block of flats on the other side of the same street. She too was preoccupied with troubles of her own. Her phone buzzed and there was a brief flicker of hope that this call was from her boyfriend – her ex-boyfriend – but it was her mother. She double-pressed the button at the side of her phone and lowered her arm. Stepping down onto the pavement, a man on a bicycle whizzed past, missing her by millimetres. She shouted “Oy you! Watch where you’re going!” Further along the pavement, the same cyclist grabbed a phone from a woman’s hand then rode away. Patricia stared as the woman tried to run after him, then she faltered when she realised it was futile.

Patricia turned to hear a woman swearing at a man who was trying to stifle a laugh. Apparently a bird had pooped down the back of the collar of the woman’s blouse, between the fabric and her skin. “I can feel it sliding down my back!” That poor woman was stood in the exact spot where Patricia would have been if she’d not spent the last ten seconds watching a brazen daylight robbery. Reaching into her pocket she felt for a couple of coffee shop napkins and handed them to the couple, saying “there you go. Sorry. It’s not much.”

She briefly considered joining the group of people who were hurriedly crossing the road but thought better of it as the green man was flashing. What did her dad used to say? “First in this queue instead of last in that.” She pressed the button and waited for the cars to pass and the green man to appear again. Just as she put a foot forward into the road, a man grabbed her and pulled her backwards away from the kerb, out of the path of a speeding van that had jumped the lights.

A homeless man sat on the ground a few meters away from the shop doorway. “Spare any change please, Miss?” he asked hopefully. “Sorry, mate, no,” she said, then changed her mind and fumbled around in her bag. She brought out half a packet of cigarettes and offered them to him. “You can have these. I’ve given up.”

“Thank you Miss. Good luck to you, Miss,” he replied. Here was a man with nothing, who was kinder to her than her own boyfriend – her ex-boyfriend. Strangers cared more about her than her ex boyfriend did. Her arm suddenly prickled with goosebumps as if someone had lightly stroked it, but there was no-one there. It was exactly like the secret pang of joy when you think of a new lover. Her eye caught sight of a white feather slowly zig-zagging down, then it gently settled on her right shoulder.

Hurrying into the Convenience Store, Patricia asked for a lottery ticket but changed her mind at the last moment and spent the money on a scratchcard. In a nearby coffee shop toilet, she rubbed off the silver coating on the instant win ticket with a 2p coin.  One four-leaf clover emerged. Two. Three. Four.

No way! She’d only won ten thousand pounds!

She put her hand out onto the wall to steady herself as she felt her knees buckle. Brushing the bits of silver, then blowing them away, she checked the card again. She tried to read the back of the card for details of how to claim, but it was difficult because of the low-level lighting in there, designed to discourage drug-taking.

The woman in the post office seemed genuinely pleased for her and wished her well. Patricia noticed that the woman’s hand was shaking as she slid the cheque through the little window slot. In the bank, she was taken into a side room, which made Patricia feel special, until she realised it was a sales talk about investments and upgrading her account. She made her excuses and left. Next was coffee – although what she really wanted was a proper drink to steady her nerves. Caffeine wasn’t going to help her racing heart. Her apologies for using the loo without buying anything weren’t necessary, as the barista claimed not have noticed her earlier. While she sipped her perfect coffee, Patricia made an appointment to view a flat the next morning, and booked a hotel room for two nights. She needed time to think. This was a second chance so she literally couldn’t blow it.

A few days later, the local paper ran a story about a young widow who’d scooped the double rollover lottery jackpot. “I’ve always felt that I had a guardian angel watching over me. My husband said he’d always look after us. When I saw that white feather, I knew it was a sign from him. We might have lost him but he’s still with us in spirit and in our hearts. I feel so blessed.”

Meanwhile, the occupants of one of the flats above the branch of Tesco that sold the winning tickets, were still finding tiny feathers from a split pillow. Duck down was so light and impossible to catch, clogging up the vacuum cleaner. Even opening a door in the flat was enough to puff up the delicate feathers into the air where they would drift out of the window into the street below.

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Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

80. Pick n Mix

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I’m helping my friend pack up her house. I said I didn’t want to help her on the day of the actual move, because it’s too stressful, and everyone ends up arguing because they’re bone tired. It’s the same reason I gave when I didn’t want to go to Ikea with her. Everyone knows someone whose had an argument in Ikea. Someone I know had a theory that they sell you the dream and slowly draw you in. That’s why it’s so cheap. Before you realise it, you’re in a giant warehouse queue wondering if all of these boxes will fit in the car, and there’s the dread of knowing you still have to build your own furniture.

However, I am expert packer, even if I do say so myself. I’ve done it dozens of times. I know what I’m doing, so she’s left me to it, whilst she packs up her books. I’m on kitchen duty. Bubblewrap. Check. Sellotape. Check. Boxes. Check. Parcel tape. Check. Marker pen. Check. Spray kitchen cleaner. Check. Kitchen roll. Check. May as well clean as I go.

Headphones on. 80s pop. Sleeves rolled up. A bag of chocolate eclairs. A bottle on the go, well, some gin in a small bottle of Pepsi max. It’s what Scroobius Pip drinks, so we call it a ‘Pepe Pip’.

After an hour or so of mildly repetitive and strangely satisfying packing of glassware, plates and saucepans, my friend finds me. She’s carrying a few hardback notebooks. “Check these out.” she says excitedly. “These,” she says, holding up the books, “are my teenage diaries.” She hands me one.

“Oh wow!” I exclaim. “Can I open it?” Everyone knows you don’t read someone else’s diary, no matter how tempting it is or entitled or jealous you feel.

“Sure. It’s probably all bullshit anyway. Angst about why doesn’t he like me or how my life would be totally perfect if I was thin or had a nosejob or better tits. Comparing myself to other girls. That it’s so unfair that I have to have a part-time job. That kind of self-obsessed crap.”

Over the next hour, we forget we are supposed to be packing up her new life, whilst we unpick her old one. We laugh at forgotten fashions, sympathise with emotional problems that meant everything, and remember how easy and carefree everything seemed back then.

“Oh my god.” She says “This is too real. This is what I wrote when I was nineteen.

My ideal man.

  • Cannot be bald, short or fat.
  • Has to have good teeth and be very clean.
  • Must have a sister, so I’m not the first girl he’s ever met.
  • Cannot have gone to an all-boys school, because they’re all weirdos.
  • Cannot be allergic to cats or snore.
  • Has to live near to me and have his own car. (Not share his mum’s)
  • Cannot be on the dole.Must have a full-time job or be studying for a degree in something worthy, like Medicine or something with prospects like Law or Engineering. (Not a Micky Mouse degree like Media Studies)
  • Cannot smoke.
  • Cannot have a criminal record.
  • Must love children, but cannot already have any children.
  • Must have already had a girlfriend but she can’t be a psycho stalker.
  • Cannot have been married or have lived with anyone.
  • Cannot have a female flatmate that he has already had sex with.
  • Must play an instrument or be able to cook.
  • Must love his family but not be a mummy’s boy.
  • Not be racist, sexist, homophobic or posh.
  • Must play sport or be in a band but cannot be a rugby lad, football meathead or have groupies.
  • Must be generous. People who are tight with money are also stingy in bed.

I must have passed up on so many men over the years, because they didn’t match everything on that list. Why am I so picky?” she sighs, and closes the diary.

I put my arm around her shoulder and squeeze it.

“God. If my mum had read this at the time, then I would have probably left home and never spoken to her again, god rest her soul. It would have been such a betrayal. I would have been totally mortified. And now it’s just a pile of crap. Wishful thinking about how life was going to be. I had no fucking clue did I? When did we get this old?”

“We’re not that old.” I say. We’re no spring chickens, but who wants all that aggro? Anyway, we’ve had our time. You only think you’re old because you could be the new bloke at work’s mum. Remember, he didn’t even know who Noel Gallagher was!”

“True”

“Do you think kids these days keep paper diaries any more?” I ask. “You know. I reckon they do it all online now, with private blogs. Selfies and pictures of them semi-pornstar posing naked under the pretence of being hashtag body positive, you know, that clean eating bollocks. I read that there is no market for paid porn for female pornstars aged between 22 and 30, because the market is flooded with so much amateur stuff. You’re a schoolgirl then milf”

“That’s really sad.” She says. “They’re obsessed but it’s all so fucking fake.”

“Except hipsters, obvs.” I say. “I bet they go to open mike nights where people read out their own teenage diary entries, to feel deliberately awkward. They probably type their journals on old typewriters or do that bullet journalling. Ha. I’m saying it like I even know what it is.”

“I’ve no idea.” She says. “Did I tell you about that time we were clearing out my nan’s house after she died, and we found some photographs of her posing in her big pants when she was young? I reckon that’s the equivalent of sexting these days.”

“I wouldn’t be young again now, you know. Too much choice. It’s all swiping right and hooking up. Yolo. Fomo. Whatever. I reckon most of them have never even risked asking someone out face to face without being pissed, and are too scared to put in the effort into getting to know someone in case they miss out on their perfect person who is just around the corner. I bet there’s loads of men out there who have never even seen public hair or unshaved legs on a woman. God, I sound bitter. Do I sound bitter?”

“Nah. You’ve not been deprived. You make sense. Someone should tell the young uns that the perfect person doesn’t exist and to enjoy what they’ve got while it lasts. It ain’t gonna be me though. No-one wants an al woman telling them not to have fun.”

Just then the doorbell rings.

“That’ll be the pizza.”

77. A Novel Idea

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So many people want to declutter but cannot let go of books. Any of their books. I move house fairly often and I can tell you that boxes of books are really heavy and dusty! They have to be packed, carried downstairs and loaded onto a van. Unloaded, carried upstairs then unpacked by me. Some books I owned were just not worth the bother. After one move, three boxes of books remained boxed up for over two years.

I’ve had the following conversation several times with people and the most common responses are “Nooooooo! Why would I want to do that? I could never get rid of any of my books! They mean too much to me. I might read them again. I would regret it”

  • Is there a person inside your head who judges your book collection? If you had fewer books, would they disapprove?
  • If someone took away one book a day, how long would it take you to notice?
  • Would you know which ones were missing?
  • Would you miss them?
  • For the prize of a thousand pounds/dollars, could you whittle your collection down to one bookcase or shelf of your absolute favourite books?
  • Imagine you can take only twenty books with you when you move abroad. How do you feel about leaving the other books?
  • Is it sentimentality, cost, status, perceived value, it was a gift, they are a collection?
  • If you love it and will read it again, then keep it.
  • If you don’t, then why are you holding onto it?
  • If you loaned your copy of a book to a friend, and never got it back, would you buy it again?
  • Does your ‘to read’ pile never seem to go down?
  • Will there never be the right time to read certain books you own?
  • If you knew that someone else wanted to read a book that you owned, and you probably wouldn’t get around to reading it, would you give/sell it to them?
  • Letting go doesn’t have to happen all at once. You didn’t acquire them all overnight, so the cull doesn’t have to be dramatic.
  • Books are meant to be read, not to gather dust. There is barely enough time to do everything you need to do, so don’t feel guilty about not finishing a book.

I’m not heartless. I get the struggle. I do keep some books from childhood with my name and class neatly written inside. I bought first-editions of future classics by accident that I can’t bear to part with. Pangs of memories forgotten of old train or concert tickets used as bookmarks. Those expensive signed hardbacks where I queued for two hours to get two minutes with the author.

I’m into audiobooks now, so have digital clutter to contend with, and unlike my spare room, I have a very restricted amount of storage.