Portrait of a town: After School

There’s a new child at school. She heard it on the grape vine. That can only mean trouble. There will be a parent, most likely a woman. That can’t be good.

She stands, there absorbed in the conversation, lightly touching an arm when required. Enthusiastic. Laughter. ‘We must do coffee.’ She says it knowing the listener will be honoured at such an invite.

She spots the child before she spots the parent. Seeing the parent is positively shocking. It always is. Nothing can prepare you. She takes in the clothes (autumnal colours), the hair (average colour), the total lack of makeup! On a Tuesday too. She watches the woman collect her child, look around her for a face that might smile, someone that might catch her attention.

This is the danger moment. She knows that. That point in which it can all unravel. It will be Charlotte’s fault. Charlotte likes strangers, she can easily be drawn into a conversation with that woman. And then bang! Things will change. She will seep into the friendship group. They won’t be this tight knit circle. She will have to admit someone new. Uh Uh.

She looks at the woman hoping it is her eye that is caught. Because she will give her daggers. These are my friends and you can’t have them, not a smile, not a word. They are mine and this is my world. And you are intruding and don’t think you can change anything because you can’t. She wants to pierce her heart. You can do that with newbies.

She can see that other frump magnet standing off to the left. The frump magnet has been here a whole 12 months and whilst her children have made friends she absolutely has made sure that frump magnet never has. She can taste that victory, see the forlorn look in that woman’s eyes everyday when she comes to pick up her child. It makes her smile inwardly. The outward smile is perfect. The inward more twisted. She does not let on.

This is her playground. She was always popular at school. The pretty girl with the swinging hair. And now she is popular in the playground and no saggy boobed badly dressed newbie is going to ruin it. The new woman was thin she had to admit that, and those breasts may have been real. But wait –her teeth, oh dear god, unwhitened teeth. There should be regulations. She hoped her child never made friends. Her child never did. She was loyal like that.

She made a note to look out for what kind of car she drove. She suspected, horrified- that it may not be a 4 wheel drive. There was no way this woman could ever join her friendship group. Ever. She watches Charlotte closely. Charlotte had invited the previous newbie child to her daughters party. She’d even engaged that frump magnet woman in conversation on the door step.

There had been nothing else for it, she’d had to stage an intervention. Made it look like the newbie child had deliberately spilled something on Charlotte’s carpet. The frump magnet and her daughter were never invited back. To any party. Ever. It had been a close call. The child had cried, said it was not her fault. She had to insist she had seen it deliberately done. The child had simply poured the red cordial onto the white carpet. When in fact she had to twist the child’s hand to pour it out.

It was a horror story. She had very nearly been caught by Amber. Amber was her best friend but she wasn’t always sure that Amber lied on her behalf in a way that indicated the commitment required from a best friend. Amber’s husband was not as attractive as her husband but Amber’s husband found her attractive. Wasn’t that the key to a best friend? She doubted that her husband found Amber attractive. Although she did note how they sometimes seemed to laugh together. She must talk to Amber about that. It was important Amber understood who was more attractive.

She swished her hair. Flashed her teeth. Glad she was wearing heels because that very tall thin woman with a daughter in the year above was here again. She hated her. They all hated her. Even more than the newbies, they all hated her. She was so nice as well. She always smiled and said hello. But there was unanimous agreement she could never be part of the group. Ever.

Her husband doesn’t understand. He thinks her obsession with women in the playground is childish. But his fashion sense has failed since they had children. He wears a lot of beige and brown. She isn’t sure how much longer she can be married to someone who wears brown. The whole house is white and charcoal, which is a problem because white and grey are this seasons colours.

Charlotte. She is watching Charlotte and the newbie just in case. Charlotte still has a beige bathroom, which is at least 5 years old. It might be time to find a way of getting Charlotte out of the group. Charlotte is a risk. She doesn’t follow trends. She hasn’t read the latest magazine and she suspects Charlotte might visit a unisex hairdresser.

She smiles, she talks. She simpers. She smirks. She thinks about strategy. She looks at Charlotte, is that camel she is wearing? So last season. And leopard print when snake is in?

She watches her own child run towards her and is struck by how much prettier her little girl is compared to everybody elses. Thank goodness, she can’t imagine what it would be like to have an ugly child.

The Draytons

Edward Drayton. He stared at the name on the file.  Another one. This job never got any easier. Edward Drayton had no doubt taken his wife’s name after marriage. Not unusual in these parts. Drayton was an old name, one from the time when Europeans first came here.

He breathed in. Sighed it out. Prepared himself. He knew what was coming. He buzzed Drayton in.

Drayton came in, sat down. Drayton was the usual. Embarrassed. Agitated. Desperate.

Drayton started speaking almost straight away, ‘Nobody in my wife’s family has ever died.’

Even before Drayton said it, he recognised the look on that face. His heart sank. It was common in these parts. Locals called it the vamps.

‘Nobody?’ he said calmly.

He knew Drayton had chosen him as a therapist because he was from out of town. Deliberately chosen him, no doubt Drayton had done some research. Someone with no connection to the family that he knew of, but there were so very many Draytons. How could anyone be sure?

His surname was different, but he had taken his wife’s name on marriage too. He had tried to distance himself from the stories. Drayton had come here, taken a chance, looking for a kindred spirit. Who was he to judge?

‘Well there was Cousin Lola.’ Drayton continued. He remembered cousin Lola, quite sad. He showed no emotion though and Drayton ploughed on.

 ‘Impaled on a fence, but I went there. Wooden fence!’  Drayton said this with finality as if there was only one explanation.

He tried to maintain a professional composure. There was the rest of the family to consider.

‘And they don’t like garlic. I once made a chilli with a lot of garlic for my wife and her sisters and their kids, whole family. They all sat there, barely ate it.’

Drayton was on a roll now. He tried to remain calm, neutral, professional. Even as the saliva was pooling in his mouth.

‘And my wife, sometimes she sleeps during the day and haunts the house at night. She says its menopause.’

‘And she hates silver.’

He wanted to put up a hand and stop it then and there. Drayton was looking for answers but none of the behaviours he described were unusual. Some people preferred gold. Garlic was relatively new in this part of the world when his wife was growing up. Someone died in a random accident on a wooden fence.

He knew the conclusion Drayton wanted to draw. It was sad. Always sad. He prescribed something random, told Drayton to think about it, come back in a week. He wanted to add ‘but only if you see your wife howling at the moon.’ He didn’t. Sarcasm was not professional in these situations. His was a difficult job. He had some sympathy. The women out west were odd sometimes.

He knew as Drayton opened the door to leave, he would have to make that phone call.  

He called his mother. To tell her to call her cousin. To tell her cousin to call her sister. To tell her to call her daughter. To tell her,

‘It’s time to eat your husband.’

An answer: Unclever, ungiven, undone

A crowd. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Worldly. Erudite.

She is here, pretty. Dress, shoes, gloves.

He speaks. Preening. Glossy teeth. Words oozing out. Applause.

He is clever. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Cufflinks catch, glittering on lights.

A hand raised. Delicate. Ungloved. Not ringed. Red nails. Ignored.

Another hand. Cufflinked. Watched-Rolex. Question. Answer. Applause.

A delicate hand. Again ignored. Another hand. Answered. Applause.

A delicate hand. Eye contact. Flicker. Recognition. Passed over for him. Again.

A tie loosened.

She takes refuge in the bathroom.

Later. She is there. Still. Quiet. Tied, marks on her neck. Unwatched, no one saw.

Did not see her. Don’t know her. A lot of men wear ties.

Blue. Questions from the blue. Blue uniforms. Swarming, like odd little bees.

Suited. Tied. Watched. Look at the Rolex. These are not the clothes of a man who kills.  

Who was she? He? Were they? Ever?

Tied of the tongue. The little blue bees search on. Time travellers.

Was she clever? Pretty? Both maybe? Now you ask, there was a time. Once. Before. He was clever. She was pretty. Tied to her now. Watched-he cannot leave town.

Her gloves drape across her body. She is lowered into the ground.

Her words. Written down. Kept. Tied. In a pile in the drawer. Clever girl. A theft. Of thinking, of words.

I wrote what she wrote. We wrote together. I wrote better. Better punctuation. The words, yes, the words the same. Her words.

Recognition, confrontation, yes, in the bathroom. She fell. Fell. Unwatched, but tied- around her neck.

He is quiet. An answer ungiven. His tie. Her neck. Squeezed into silence.  

A theft of thoughts. Words. A book.

Cold  steel bars. Entitlement still not displaced with regret. Untied, chained, no cufflinks, still cuffed, watched, the Rolex gone, uniformed, no suit. Inelegant. Unclever. Undone.