113. Small Blue Thing

blue is the colour

A series of four flash fictions on the same theme.

one

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Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Alex remembered when she used to get a big bag of those sweets when she went to the cinema. No, it wasn’t a bag, it was more like a big paper coffee cup, with a plastic lid. They were banned at school because her friend would die if she ate just one, or even if she kissed someone who had.

The last time she’d had any was for her birthday the year before last. She’d gazed at the unopened crumpled, yellow packet with the same adoraration as she did her newborn. After a week, she’d added one sweet to her rations every day. Twenty three peanut chocolates. Six red, four orange, four brown, four green, five blue. The packet was faded and squashed, with an eat-by date of six years ago. Some of the peanuts tasted bitter and the chocolate was greasy with a white bloom on it. 

That was her first proper raid. She’d been desperate for so long, but teenage girls were too valuable to lose. It felt odd that after she’d birthed, she was allowed to go on a run, but when the day actually came, she didn’t want to leave him. Two day’s travel there, two back. Seeing places with her own eyes that she’d only ever heard of. The journey home was when you had to watch out for bandits. Why take all the risk when you could just tax someone else?

two

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Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

“Mummy? Mummy? Where are you? I’ve found the cake I want.”

“Just a second, darling.” 

Alex’s mum entered the room, drying her hands on a teatowel. “Show me?”

As soon as she saw the photograph, an almost imperceptible flicker of disgust wrinkled across her lips.

This is the one you like best?” She asked, holding the phone out to her daughter.

The screen showed a photograph of two circular cakes in the shape of a number eight, with smooth, creamy white icing and the number holes filled with bright blue sweets. 

“Yes, I’ve looked at hundreds and that’s my favourite one. Please Mummy, can I have it?”

“Let me send it to myself and I’ll have a proper look later.”

Alex’s mum already knew that this wasn’t the cake her daughter was going to get for her birthday. It was far too ordinary. After all, a person was only as good as their last event. She couldn’t afford to slip down the rankings. Not now. Her daughter would have lots more birthdays to have average cakes. This party had to be picture perfect to maintain her benchmark of 400 likes.

three

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Photo by seabass creatives on Unsplash

“Alex, this is important. You have to pick out all of the blue ones. Every single one. I’ll have to check it before their tour manager sees it”

“Why? Is it because they are a red pill kind of band?”

“No. Well, that’s one rumour. There’s a clause in the contract that if there are any blue sweets in the bowl, the band can cancel at no cost to them. It’s to see whether the promoter has read the terms and conditions properly. They were sick of not being taken seriously and getting ripped off because they were women. Now they get called divas, but at least they’re getting paid. What can you do, eh?”

four

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

“You’re not going to choke. I promise. But you have to take your pills. Look, why don’t you practice with these? They’re about the same size. Watch me.”

Alex swallowed a small sweet then said, “Easy. You eat bigger pieces of food than these every day. You can do this.”

The woman’s eyesight wasn’t what it was. She would never have noticed that her nurse had swapped the sweets for her sleeping tablets. They both had the same sugary, crispy shell. They practiced with four now, then a few minutes later, Alex came back into the room and did the same speech again. The woman had either forgotten, or was easily convinced that she was confused because of her illness. About ten minutes later, Alex’s watch beeped. “Tablet time!” she said cheerfully. It was nearly bedtime so the woman was due two sleeping tablets.

“That should do it,” thought Alex.

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Photo by Mark jackson on Unsplash

89. Sunset

I’ve had chance to think about it and it wasn’t the infidelity that upset me more. I am from an bohemian family after all. It was the secrecy and deceit. The lying. No one can ever know. There was absolutely no need for it. I think I handled it quite well really.

“That’s a nice mug.” Alison had said, as I carefully washed my cup in the sink. “I saw one of those in that craft shop in The Lanes. Don’t you work there on weekends?” The way she had said it sounded weird, like this was her best shot from 100 Instagram rehearsals. We both knew where she’d seen a mug like this one before because there was only one other of them in existence.

I instantly felt as if I’d been injected with some drug that made my body speed up but my mind slow down at the same time, like something in ‘The Matrix.’ My soupy fog brain felt completely separate and was lagging behind the electric energy racing through my body. I was upside-down. Not wanting to unravel in front of this person who had so calmly attempted to manipulate a reaction, I carefully unpicked what I knew to be true.

Monday night was Michael’s gig. A few people went from the office, including Alison. I could only stay for a quick drink, to say hello, show support. He never needed me when he was surrounded by his people.

Was this her way of letting me know that she didn’t actually “miss the last bus home so stayed on a friend’s sofa?”

Just how do adults navigate relationships in the real world? I barely knew. My experiences with men had been so unsatisfactory. I have no idea how I managed to get through the rest of the afternoon. I suppose, once you’ve decided, or rather, the decision has been made for you, the hard work is done.

When I said I needed to see him after work, he didn’t make an excuse. My patience had worn thin. I had already decided that if he was going to try to continue to ignore and avoid me, then I would just let him. I too would pretend he no longer existed. But, there would never be a good time for “the talk” so we might as well do the decent thing and get it over and done with. Although he refused to come clean and admit it, he knew that I knew what he’d done. Yeah he might very well have had “a hangover from hell” but that shouldn’t stop someone from sending a text to their girlfriend for almost a day after their gig, so was this behaviour sulky revenge? I had believed him when he said he was watching the Tour de France, the World Cup, Wimbledon, having a band practice or whatever it was, every night this week.

No. I knew I was being gently and politely pushed away in favour of the shiny new toy, but of course, he was far too cowardly to do it himself. I had to be the one who officially ended it, although he actually finished us on Monday night. He just never told me. Even someone else had to do that for him.

There wasn’t enough time to do the things I wanted to do, let alone waste it on stuff I didn’t. I’d barely sipped my coke and was playing with one of the few plastic bendy straws still in existence, when the conversation was over.

I had no idea how to break up with someone, because I’d never done it before, so I just said “This isn’t fun for me any more and it’s not really working out, so I think we should call it quits.” It was the second time in a week that I’d left him with a full pint but I didn’t care. He might play guitar hero in a local band but he was nothing to me. The pub was slowly filling up with the Friday night after-work crowd, so it would appear like he was just waiting for someone and they were running late. He looked genuinely shocked when I stood up, shook his hand, and said “There we are then. Good luck mate” then left.

My parents consoled and spoiled me all weekend. My father reminded me that “as an emerging artist” I should “use this experience as an opportunity to not resist what I’m feeling and to channel those emotions into my work”, and “that if we just stayed in our studios, where would we get our inspiration from?” He was right though. I had 72 bowls and mugs to glaze and fire this weekend, and I was already bursting with new ideas for the next batch.

A massive binge of ‘The XX’, ‘The Twilight Sad’ and ‘Arab Strap’ got me through the night, along with a whole family bag of Doritos, a jar of hot salsa, almost a whole sharing pack of Maltesers, and a bottle of Pinot Noir all to myself. I wallowed and grieved for what could have been until I realised I felt relief for getting out at the beginning of something before it got messy. My new sketches slowly got sloppier that night. By 2am Saturday morning , I was jumping up and down, swinging my arms, hair flailing, punching the air, cheerfully singing about how much I didn’t want to be around him any longer. Music therapy indeed. I still felt humiliated, but without shame.

On Monday, I went out for coffee with June, the receptionist from the office, purely, so by the end of the week, everyone would pretty much know I was single again, and why. It was a good deal. June got a juicy story straight from the horse’s mouth, and, with my blessing, everyone got to know some true office gossip. I got sympathy. Alison got, well, whatever.

I just kept my head down, and stayed busy, planning the window display and imagining how I’d feel if/when someone bought something I’d made. After my craft stall I was taking the rest of the stock to the shop on Sunday. Things I’d made! In an actual shop! Not my online etsy shop. A proper shop with a bell on the door. A till and real people browsing. If they sold well, then who knew what would happen?

I brought half a dozen pieces into work the next day and left them on the reception desk with a few flyers, business cards and a bowl of Werther’s Originals to encourage people to get closer. June, told me later that they’d caused quite a talking point, and that Alison had taken a special interest, probably to try to talk to her, the resident sage. June then told me that she’d said to Alison, that yes they were “beautifully made, so quite expensive, but that I would probably have some seconds on my stall if she was interested.” I nearly spat out my coffee with glee when she told me that she’d said, “Seconds are cheaper because they are imperfect.” The icing on the cake was that she advised Alison to get tested for an STD because I was going to.  “These things happen” when you get together drunk with a cheater who thinks he’s a rock star.

That disgusting, greasy kitchen in his shared house. Bicycles and amps in the hallway. Piles of post for previous residents. Pizza boxes and PS4. Record covers used as skinning-up boards. Torn rizla packets and magazines about guitars. Tacit agreements to never mention the (less often than they’d like) sight of a strange girl wandering round the kitchen at 4am in her knickers and a sweaty band t-shirt. Mismatched charity shop hand-me-down plates, chipped mugs with their fading logos. Those cloned vessels reminding the user of one-off, unmemorable events. Temporary items of no value with the expectation of being discarded after use. I only brought one of my own porcelain mugs round so I’d have something decent to drink out of. Well, he can keep it. I don’t want it back.

74. #HearHer

This week, the BBC have a series of programmes called Hear Her, of which I am proud to have contributed towards. My programme brief was tight, and I had more to say on this theme, so wrote this post.

Please note that the following contains descriptions of violence against women.

She doesn’t know why they locked eyes and she held his gaze. She refused to look away or lower her eyes. The camera sought her out. A good-looking, young woman. Probably a third-generation immigrant. Student, most likely.

He caught her expression at the exact point between curiosity, defiance and contempt: the man’s words spitting venom full on in her face. A second later, the moment had gone. The next pictures were of the man punching her once in the side of her head. Her body recoiled. Face contorted in horror. Immediately, two police officers pushed past her and grabbed the frenzied man.

But people didn’t need to see those pictures. He had his money shot. It doesn’t really matter who she was, why she was there or what happened to her. Tomorrow, his name would be known for taking the defining picture of the march.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mum and I were sat sipping tea in the conservatory of my parent’s house. I spotted a pile of newspapers in the corner, ready for the recycling bin. I picked up the latest issue of the local paper and scanned the front page.

“Oh my god, I went to school with her.” My heart started to race. “I can’t believe it.”

As the story unfolded, it transpired that the girl I knew at school had her father’s child, and continued to live with him on the family farm. Once she found out he was abusing her daughter, she killed him. She’d served her sentence and was out on parole. The abuse only ever came to light when one of the grandchildren died and the DNA tests showed some unusual and disturbing results. My old school friend and her daughter waived their right to anonymity to finally speak out.

“And she never said anything? That whole time she was in prison?” For all of those years as a child, she was brave enough to take the beatings and repeated assaults but never found the courage to ask for help.

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My friend is a seriously talented musician. I remember once she told me it took her only four hours to learn to play the mandolin. She found it difficult to get a record deal – not because her music is bad. Far from it. It’s because she doesn’t play the game. She won’t lose the extra 10lb for the photos, show off her assets and court the media. She’s got a ‘bad attitude’ because she’s been known to pour a drink over a music journalist’s head for assuming that she had help with writing her songs. There is only one name on the album’s credits for songwriting. Hers. She composed the music and played all of the instruments bar one. The only musician she employed for the recordings was a drummer. She’s been very vocal about how, at 26, her music career is considered over before it has barely begun, but older, baldy, fat, beardy men can get still record contracts. No-one cares what they look like, how they behave, what they say or ask if anyone wrote their songs for them. It’s only about the music.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

“All that work I did and he took the credit! He could have at least said it was a team effort. I can’t fucking believe it. It was my idea in the first place. I was the one who suggested it in the meeting, but no-one heard me, and then he repeated what I’d just said, then made out it that he’d thought of it! The bloody cheek. Well It’s too late to do anything about it now, but I tell you what. The next time one of my female colleagues comes up with an idea, I am gonna repeat what she just said loudly, and make sure everyone knows what a great idea she just had, so there’s no mistaking it in future.”

Women deserve to be listened to, their voices amplified and messages heard.