hagiography

the autogeography of a no/body

Jan 31

Lost in Holland with an AK47

I want to smash something, because the frustration in here [points to chest, body, head] needs to be out there. The kitchen would be a good place to start. There's lots of metal. Metal makes such a great noise, especially when it hits. Not like flesh. Thump, thud. Crash, bang. And glass, everything's so apparent when you break glass. Instant regret. Most of all though, I want to destroy the books and ornaments, standing in their straight fucking lines, sitting squat in their smug safety. “Oh look at me, I belong here, in this order, I've been here a while now, prettifying the place up, waiting to be read, holding lots of memories between my pages, in my form.” I want to rip them off their shelves and throw them as hard as I can against a wall. Instead, I'm just sitting here, with my fingernails in my forehead, trying not to gouge lumps out of my face.

They had tissues today. I only cried once. Can't stand it when I cry in public. It makes me feel so weak and as if someone might touch me. I don't like being touched with kindness, because I'm scared it'll all come out then, and I won't know how to make it stop. Don't touch me with kindness. Hit me. Hit me really fucking hard so I have to lock my knees and clench my fists and stick my chest out. The fighting stance. I can do that. I have to do that.

It was a silly thing, a short story called 'Welcome to Holland'. We'd done one of those group exercises first: imagine you win a holiday and spending money, but you've only got twelve hours before take-off, list the things you need to do. It would be kinda great, wouldn't it? Fifteen parents sitting 'round in a circle, all of us knowing that we couldn't take advantage of the prize, because we can't leave our kids, our disabled kids. The first thing we'd need to do is refuse the offer, even though we desperately need a break and good luck doesn't seem to come our way that often.

But just imagine you get on that plane and you're on your way to Italy. I've always wanted to go to Italy, to see Michelangelo's work in its natural environment, ride a Vespa, visit the Vatican. Of course, you might read some guide books to pass away the time during the flight and familiarise yourself with the territory. After a couple of hours you land, but when you get off the plane you notice the sign 'Welcome to Holland'. That's what it feels like when you give birth to a child with a disability. All those things you were looking forward to, where you thought you were going, they disappear in a moment and you're find yourself somewhere else.

The words started happening next, key phrases: 'exile, resentment, alienation, exhaustion, sadness, loneliness, guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment, isolation' … it's endless. We all agreed there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It's like staring down the barrel of a gun and being repeatedly shot in the face, except you don't die, because you can't die, that's not part of the contract, you just have to keep on keeping on, it's your responsibility and you can't escape. That's not what we thought we were signing up for. No one there, in the first flush of pregnancy, considered they might still be changing nappies or pushing a pram (wheelchair) twenty years later. Your kids grow up, leave home, get on with their lives, independently … Nah …

I remember when I was pregnant. At thirty eight weeks I went to hospital. “Please take this baby out of me,” I begged, but they refused. “He's too big,” I said. They disagreed, six pounds max they reckoned. I knew something was wrong. Three weeks later I had to be induced. He didn't want to come out. We were poor then, not even a pot to piss in, only thirty seven pence between us. It was a blasting hot June day. I walked to the hospital, couldn't afford a bus or cab. They forced my husband to leave me, sweltering, worrying, on my own.

The next day they shoved something up me and in me. It's tough being induced, going from no labour to hard labour. Seven hours of the most abject pain. I pleaded for an epidural. Eventually an anaesthetist arrived and insisted I pull my knees up to my chest. Lying on my side, my body shaking itself apart, feeling as if I was disappearing. Thank God for my husband. He recognised the signs of medical shock. Threatening violence, he cut through the intransigence of the midwife and other staff, making them to listen to me. They'd ignored me for so long that I'd actually birthed my son's head while curled in an impossible ball. He was slowly being starved of oxygen. Unbelievably, the midwife had failed to notice this simple fact. He came out at nearly ten pounds and unbreathing. They took him away. Alarms went off. Doctors crowded into the delivery suite.

“What's happening?” I said desperately.

They didn't answer.

“Is it dead? What's the matter with it?”

I tried to sit up, but a midwife pressed me into the mattress.

Later, back on the ward, I studied his little face. Half of it was covered in an angry blue mark. “It'll turn pink,” they said, “once he's fully oxygenated”. He was very quiet, fast asleep. I wondered into the nursery, situated next to the nurses' station. A woman at the far end, in a yellow dressing gown, was settling her baby. She turned around. “Can I see your baby?” I asked.

She started to cry. “He has a cleft palette.”

“What's his name?”

“Peter.”

“Can I see him?”

“No one else has said that after I've told them.”

He was beautiful.

I went back to my own bed and slept until morning. Breakfast. Strict visiting hours. No telephone. Jordan was, indeed, pink and the birth mark on his face had become red. I didn't like it. Why couldn't I have a baby that looked normal? What would people say?

A doctor arrived, poked about in the crib momentarily, then stood straight to address me. “ … A fifty fifty chance of being a cabbage.”

“What?”

He repeated himself.

“Get away from me. Get away from me and my baby. Get away. Get out.” My voice rose, I started to throw things at the doctor. Matron came hurrying down the ward and demanded to know what he'd said or done.

He repeated himself.

Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage. Cabbage.

She frogmarched him off the ward and then ushered me into a private room. I can't remember anything else.

Three months later the diagnosis was confirmed by CT scan. My son had (and has) Sturge Weber Syndrome. A facial birthmark, following the line of his trigeminal nerve, is reprepeated on his brain. This capillary abormality interrupts the normal electrical activity. About two hundred people in the UK 'suffer' from this condition and there is a wide spectrum, in terms of how the disorder affects individuals. They couldn't offer us any prognosis.

To a certain extent, the future is always unknown.

Fourteen years down the line and we've been through a lot. Jordan's first seizure was at ten months. They couldn't stop it, apparently that's a feature of Sturge Weber, intractable epilepsy. It did stop eventually, either of its own accord or because they finally managed to pump him full of the right combination of drugs. These little 'adventures' happened every three months for the next God knows how many years; one week in hospital, fervantly fussing by his bedside, followed by two months of rehabilitation, only to find ourselves back in hospital within a matter of days. A situation like that tears a hole in your life.

I could go on and on about: the time they declared him brain dead; the time there was no doctor available on a children's ward to site an intravenous line so we were bundled into the back of an ambulance and blue lighted across a city in rush hour; the time I watched an anaesthetist repeatedly shove an intubation tube down my son's throat in an effort to maintain his airway. It does something to you. It did something to him. Every bout of seizures not only increases the chance of a further cluster, but also, kills part of his brain, turns it to bone, steals a little bit of him and sets him up for further complications.

And you don't even have the luxury of just seeing your own child suffer. No, intensive care units, where the stools are on wheels so they can kick you out the way quickly, are full of children struggling to survive. There was the five month old baby, born prematurely, drowning in his own mucus, crying and crying and crying, until he stopped crying, then I knew he was going to die. Or the car accident victim, with his eyelids taped down, completely on his own, I sat holding his hand for an hour one day, it wasn't right that he should be so lonely …

As I say, been through a lot.

“Do you have any worries about the course?” the facilitator asked. Jesus yes. I've not done this before because I couldn't do it before, perhaps there's only so much reality one person can take. I don't want to go delving about in how I feel, what my expectations are, hopes, fears, dreams, bloody nightmares. As my mother used to say, 'it doesn't bear thinking about'.

“That I'll be defensive,” I replied.

She didn't ask me to justify my response. She didn't insist that I unpick it and work a way round it. She simply nodded. I liked her instantly.

Do you feel numb, blank, guilty, tearful, unable to cope, irritable, angry, suspicious, frightened? Do you have problems with sleeping? Are you easily startled? Do you have trouble concentrating? Do you deliberately isolate yourself? Do you find it hard to make decisions? Is your memory shot to pieces?

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

YES

Define anger. Is that when you want to rip someone's head off and shit down their neck? Is that when you walk down the street, carrying a bottle back from the off licence, with your hand curled one way rather than another, just itching to crack open a skull? Is that when you attack people for no apparent or obvious reason? Is that how you can comprehend why someone might stab their wife to death/be a suicide bomber/get involved in a pub punch up?

Some nights I drink myself into oblivion.

Some nights I do worse.

Isolation, real, imagined, self imposed??? Despite all the anti discrimination laws, essentially it's no better. My kid still looks weird. People still try to talk with/to/at him in a language it takes his brain longer to sift and save, so he stands there, looking like an idiot, being unable to understand or articulate. If he were to say he wanted to get married, have children, that would be considered an outrage. He doesn't have the same opportunites or expectations. No, no, none of us do, everything's dependent and contingent but, broadly speaking, we're in agreement with regard to who, what, when, where and how. He can't even pattern those concepts and, because he's part of me, I find myself alienated from them as well.

The world's not a very friendly place if you don't fit in. What to do? What to do? Round peg, square hole. I guess you can hope the hole's bigger than the peg, in which case it'll pass fairly easily, like a soft stool. Alternatively, you can jam the peg through the damn hole, shaving off the sides, using brute force, but it might get stuck or damaged. Arse. Or you could get a big fuck off drill and make the square hole round. I mean why is the hole square in the first place? I've tried arguing with it, about its inhospitable squareness, pointing out how that invalidates the roundness of the peg, but that's got me nowhere. Fuck the square hole. Holes aren't meant to be square in any event. What bastard decided on all those frigging angles? Bloody squarist.

Back to the anger, the alienation, the suspicion.

Feeling murderous and armed with a drill for a number of years isn't healthy. I've ended up kind of twisted, head-wise, gut-wise, and I don't know how to straighten this out any more, or whether I should even try. Thing is, there was this one time when Jordan was really sick. The doctors, well, they couldn't make him better, stop the seizures, get him above a three on the coma scale. I asked a healer to come see him, she did some stuff I couldn't understand and then turned to me and said “He's in there, but you've got to go get him. He's very frightened and really lonely”.

“Get him?”

“Yes, you've got to bring him back.”

“How do I do that?”

She touched my hand … I sat by his bed all night, eyelids pinned open with matchsticks, WILLING him to come back, I've never wished so hard in all my life, and he did, come back, sometime round about dawn. The first word he said was 'Mummy'. That's my boy. God, that's my boy, tough little bugger, just like his mum, balls of steel, doesn't care what the odds are, what anyone thinks or says, doesn't give a rat's ass. I fight so he can fight to stay alive. I fight so he can have some quality of life. I fight because I don't know how else to be, what to do with it all, where to let it out or how to direct it. I'm like an AK 4fucking7, useless at targetting, loud and noisy, but you can drag me through a river, lose me in mud, get me covered in sand, and I'll still fire bullets, all over the place like, but it's usually sufficient for some purpose or other.

It's changing though. They got us to do this exercise where we had to pick out a postcard from a selection on a table. I chose some African art, man emerging from a stone. I don't really know why. One of the other parents chose a beach scene at sunset. He was talking about it and said 'it's because it reminds me that there's beauty out there'. I couldn't stop the tears. Bastard. He looked over at me and he was crying too. I guess we're all casualties, casually, by accident, in our own way.

I decided to buy myself some rose tinted spectacles, not metaphorically, literally, pink ones, round, £2.99 from some dreadful hippy shop, utterly useless for stopping UV rays, totally wonderful if you want the world to take on a different hue, warm and friendly. I don't know if it'll work, but the physical tends to impact on the emotional in ways I don't fully understand. I've got a lot to learn.

And then I heard this, “We are the universe manifest trying to figure itself out”. What a thought. I'm composed of star stuff. Everything that has existed, does exist and will exist is part of me. Maybe I don't need to let it out or let it in, it's already there, doing its thing, working itself through. Suddenly I didn't feel so alone or as if I had to hang onto Jordan for grim death. There is no death, no struggle, no finality, end or beginning, it just IS. Scary as shit, to be everything and nothing all at the same time. Got to be open though, got to let go, work with it not against it, but I don't know how to be vulnerable, how to accept, what will happen if I stop fighting. Won't there be a big hole if I give up the anger? Perhaps there's a hole already, where I've been eaten away. Does it work like that? I don't know, I simply don't know, but in the words of Otis Redding:-

“But there was a time that I thought

Lord this couldn't last for very long

But somehow I thought I was still able to try to carry on

It's been a long long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

It's been so long

It's been so long

To live too long

But a change has gotta come

So tired

So tired of suffering and standing by myself and standing up alone

But a change has gotta come

You know

And I know

And you that

I know

And I know that you know

Honey

That a change is gonna come”.

I've taken my fingernails out of my forehead.

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Jan 30

Data Processing – first draft

How to start? How to start? Coffee. Two cigarettes. Gulp, inhale, swallow, suck it back, drink it down. Two minutes later and she's rooting through her make up basket in the bathroom to find a nail file, then a lipstick. Mirror. Pout. Unpout. She raises her eyebrows. Her forehead crinkles. She wonders when her eyelids became so damn heavy.

“Hello doggie.” His tail wags in blank appreciation. The cats in the kitchen circle, mewing. Their food bowl is empty (she makes them share), the back door is shut, they could not possibly suffer the indignity of crawling through the cat flap. Thank you Sir Isaac Newton, all that wonderful fizzick, yet still you failed to grasp the essential nature of feline. One does not want to be independent, one relies on the constant attention of another and, when that is lacking, one primps and preens and discovers distractions.

The telephone rings. She accidentally sits down at the desk. Sure, she's good, fine, excellent, superlatively settled, everything is progressing perfectly. There are small laughs. Lunch. Yes. Maybe. Some time never. Is he? Is she? Of course, that would be wonderful. She replaces the handset and finds herself, once again, face to face with the computer monitor.

Mr T Walford, The Grange, 57 Sefton Road, Manchester, M15 6DJ, 0161 459380

Malcolm Parry, 22 Brunel Close, Andover, Hants, PO6 4FS, 02392 544396

K J Lloyd, 14 Pleasant View, Colchester, Essex, CO3 9QG, 01206 647329

The work does not interest her, but it fits into her life relatively easily. She starts when her husband leaves for work, taps away for a couple hours and then breaks to push a vacuum around the house. Lunch is a simple affair, eaten while staring at a TV that disgorges its entertainment like a desperate anorexic. After a second cup of tea she returns to the relentless database.

Miss L Atkinson, 26 Thorpe Avenue, Barnstable, North Devon, EX32 0TY, 01271 735651

Mrs Vivian Peterson, Flat 2, 74 Wellington Street, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH10 3RU, 01202 868734

Michael Bellamy, 4 Thompson Drive, Much Wenlock, Shropshire, SY13 7JR, 0773 4573947

Does Mr T Walford think he is in a Jane Austen novel. Perhaps the place was already called 'The Grange'? When he bought it did he imagine how the address would look and sound? Was that a deciding factor? Maybe the suggested superiority pleased his wife, Marjorie, “Yes, we live at 'The Grange', delightful, quite delightful”. Marjorie probably wears chiffon and reads The Sunday Times colour supplement.

Malcolm Parry, now there's a straight forward bloke. He passed his driving test at seventeen and bought a clapped out Ford Fiesta. His friends are called Mike, Lee and Dougie. On Tuesdays he goes to The Cobbler's Thumb and takes part in the pub quiz, usually coming third. Malc. Macolm to his mother. Bullied at school, but he works hard, now lives in a new build, complete with fitted kitchen and polished steel appliances.

As for Mr, Mrs or Ms Lloyd, a pleasant view in Colchester, are you kidding? Bored squaddies, concrete and carefully gridded roads do not make for pleasantry. Another new build. Pictureless walls, magnolia paint, wood chip wallpaper perhaps, a corner bath, in beige (known as 'sand' when they chose the suite), three different types of cleaner, two with squirty action, heaven forbid anything actually gets, or remains, dirty. Exfoliate the shit out of life itself. There is no room in Colchester for scum, dead skin, dead wood. Mouthwash. Bleach. Dental Floss. Brasso. Mr Fucking Muscle.

Laura does not like Colchester.

She surveys the room where she sits. Books, small balls of fluff (cat hair combined with dust and general detritus), an open fire, alternately belching and breathing. They never painted the walls, preferring beached plaster, as if the waves come in and out, leaving their impossible imprint on a vertical horizon. Naked. Yes, she likes to be naked. Vulnerable. Exposed. The shivers excite her.

This morning he made her shiver, ripple, quiver. They wedged sex between coffee in bed and breakfast at the kitchen table, leaving a door ajar somewhere between blowjob and ejaculation. When he mounted her, cool as the cucumber between his legs, she looked askance at the curtains. Did they blame her, for still being in bed at ten in the morning? Probably not. Sometimes the material is immaterial.

He slid in

Breathe

Unbreathe

Like a boat

Into water

Breathe

Unbreathe

With

in

sec

onds

he

was

Miss L Atkinson has squashed her title in as an after thought. Mrs Vivian Peterson might be a divorcee, by virtue of the fact she lives in a flat. Flat? Rice paper is flat. Glass is flat. Does Mrs Vivian Peterson have a heart of glass? Does she wish to be laminated throughout? Laura considers Mrs Vivian Peterson for a moment. Nothing is missing from her information. Similarly, Michael Bellamy, although his marital status remains unclear. On the form is says 'Name', a simple request. What is your name? Laura's name is Laura Miller, it used to be Laura Cunningham. She did not know when she got married that she could have chosen any surname. Her husband, Andrew, did not want to change his name to Cunningham. They had argued. “Cunningham,” he said, “sounds like cunnilingus”. He spat the word out and it landed on the carpet.

Pump

in

GGGGGG

God

Oh God

God

Do all men becum religious when they have their penis up/in someone? Andrew likes to take the Lord's name in vain. Maybe it spur[t]s him onwards, direct communication, slavish adoration, always outside of himself, on his knees, Laura lying on the bed like a rag doll.

Gary Wood, Ken Cant, 24 Staplehurst Drive and 4 Station Street respectively. There is a Bob Roberts (surely baptised Robert Roberts), a David Betts (does he?) and a Ravenscrowned Byrd (either the unfortunate result of drug addled parents or someone with a misguided sense of their own unique magnetism). The road names dance in front of Laura's eyes. She wonders whether, in keeping with council policy, whole developments are christened thematically. If there is a Lebanon Rise is there also a Gaza Heights and a Basra Buildings? What about Afghanistan Acres or Kosovo Crescent?

Wars do not start with bullet fire, perhaps that is when they are declared, but for a war to be truly successful the participants, at least on one side, must hold acne grievances. Pick, pick, squeeze, a topical treatment of antiseptic does not help. Blight. Lack of recognition. A sense of disease and the prospect of a cure, usually involving cleansing. Unfortunately, Laura is unable to wash away her peony memories, red and blue, shot through with pink flounces, those suffocating wedding dresses, oh to be a bridesmaid and never the bride.

When Andrew asked, she had said yes straight away. The engagement ring never arrived, instead the romance was nullified by practical considerations. He earned a good wage. She earned a good wage. They bought a house in the suburbs, with central heating, double glazing and scope for an extension – “You could add an extra twenty grand to the purchase price,” said the estate agent, rocking back on his heels.

They never did need more space.

Naomi Symonds, 11 Elizabeth Place, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 2TS, 01684 249130

Mr P Fielding, 5 Cromwell Road, Fleet, Hants, GU51 4NX, 0208 4263040

And the way people write, some in thin biro, scratched so barely legible. Laura scratches on bad days, but covers the marks quickly with her sleeve. No one notices, except her, and only then after a few hours, or if she showers. Some write in sloppy fibre-tip (black), squashed flat against an unforgiving shiny surface. Ink fares the worst, smudging and smearing, unable to gain purchase with regard to penetration.

Andrew pulls her down the bed like a dog worrying at its quarry. She lies there. She LIES there, making the appropriate groans and gasps, writhing in just enough ecstasy, keeping step with his military formality. Pump, thud, pull, pump, thud, pull, pump, thud, pull, pumpthudpull, pumpthudpull, puthpu, mpudll. Afterwards they eat scrambled eggs, or beans on toast, or bacon sandwiches, or anything else that satisfies his need to reaffirm his atheism. God is for the bedroom, not the kitchen.

Chris Rapley, 32 Kent Avenue, Reading, Berks, RG1 3LG, 0207 1406650

Mrs C Duffy, 27 Queens Road, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, NG18 6TC, 01623 773729

When boredom threatens to overtake her, Laura looks up places she has never been and is unlikely to go. Bracknell she can take or leave, similarly Romford and Ipswich, but Portskewett in Caldicot sounds interesting. Monmouthshire. Big. Expansive. Marlow, very Christopher, maybe there is a church, one of those squat, heart of the village type things that smells musty and has a Norman knight interred under a rubbed-bare-brass-plate set into the floor of the transept. Yes, Marlow would be nice, in Spring, perhaps she could do a tour. “What do you think doggie?” He wags his tail. He does not know he would end up in kennels and she would be in the dog house simply for suggesting the idea.

Ben Mustow, 15 Old Barn Lane, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 3JH, 01892 640663

She stops. She remembers Ben Mustow, her Ben Mustow. It seems so long ago now. He was twenty three and she was nineteen, in her second year at university. Ben, with his sun bleached hair and brown eyes. All the girls liked him, mainly because he had been around, not the block, the world. Instead of the obligatory compulsory gap-year, he took three and crewed a yacht to all the places you could ever possibly want to go, and some you did not. Laura was surprised when he showed an interest in her. She was gangly and inexperienced, had barely read or seen anything. When she asked him “Why?”, wide eyed and somewhat held-in by fear of humiliation, he replied “Because you're you”. That did not make sense to her, but it was unimportant, nothing needed to make sense then.

Now, sitting at her desk, names and addresses dancing in front of her eyes, letters and numbers, she reasons this Ben Mustow cannot possibly be HER Ben Mustow. Both names are fairly common. In entering over five thousand slices of data it was inevitable there would be something recognisable. But Kate had told her, when they met at Julia's wedding, that Ben was living in Tunbridge Wells. Laura nodded, looked slightly to the left, right into the sun. She always did this if she wanted to stop herself from crying. The sudden blast of retina singeing light forced her eyeballs to react by screwing themselves tightly shut, overriding any unchecked bodily function. Then, when she opened her eyes, they were already watering, a result of unfortunate scorching. It was unnecessary to explain the tears, quite natural, completely unemotional.

When she was little Laura used to watch TV with her parents, but only on a Saturday. Dad sat in his usual armchair while Mum fussed about with her usual distractions. The family were particularly fond of The Generation Game, especially the climax. Contestants watched a moving conveyor belt of prizes rattle along in front of their eyes, trying to memorise as many of them as possible. After a couple of minutes, or so, Bruce Forsyth would usher them away, isolate them on a stool and badger them to recall what they had just seen. Inevitably, the stuttering contestants failed to entirely articulate everything and, typically, it went something like “Heated rollers, toaster, cuddly toy, Teasmade, set of luggage, bath towels, cruet set,” and so on, because this is as far as the BBC's budget stretched. At the end Brucie would pipe up with his catch phrase, “Didn't he do well?”, while raising his right arm, palm up, to indicate the audience should concur and applaud.

Laura had not done well.

01892 640663

She drums her fingers on the keyboard.

01892 640663

“What do you think doggie?” He wags his tail.

01892 640663

A decision is either made in a moment or not at all. Potentialities are fraught with the danger of rationality, and people are simply not rational, not when it comes to how they feel. It is impossible to discover what will or will not happen, because the only information available is totally subjective. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Laura makes herself a cup of tea and sits at the kitchen table, her hands wrapped around the mug. She has an overwhelming urge to bite her fingernails. If it is THE Ben Mustow, well, she could suggest a meeting, somewhere half-way between him and her. She just wants to touch base, his name cropped up, it might be good to see each other again. Confidence, that is the thing. Dithering would suggest she was dissembling. Why not? Why the hell not? A cigarette. Another cup of tea. Another cigarette. But it had ended badly. We're older, wiser. Bygones have been allowed to be bygones. What is a bygone?

The phone winks in its cradle, its little red light telling her that its merrily charging away. She clasps and unclasps her hands, remembering the last time she saw him, that picture in her mind's eye, worn and tatty 'round the edges, as if its been pinned to the fridge for too long, absorbing all the airborne filth domesticity produces. He said, right after he withdrew, “When we have children, what colour eyes do you think they'll have?”

0

1

8

9

2

6

4

0

6

6

3

“Hello.”

The woman's voice on the other end of the line is light and breathy, expectant.

“Hello,” Andrew shouts as he comes through the front door, simultaneously unhinging the coat from his arm and dropping his briefcase onto the hall floor. “How was your day?”

Laura looks up as he enters the kitchen, her hand clapped over the mouthpiece.

“Who's that on the phone?” he asks.

This shakes her out of her shocked reverie. “Oh, no one, wrong number”.

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Jan 29

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