The train

One bald man gets out of his seat
So another bald man can sit down.
They don’t speak to each other.
They don’t know each other.
The do know each other.
Its like a dance.

Every day.

That is his seat,
that is the other ones seat.
They wear similar suits in dark blue.
With a light blue shirt
And a medium blue tie and brown shoes.

I plunge myself into my seat, melting.

And what was he doing there anyway?
Half naked.
In a stripped down phone booth.
Leering at every woman,
As if each one should be grateful.
With his 90s hair.

Today of all days.
They are not grateful.
They just hurry past.
He leans on a strut that once held a pane of glass.
His best days are behind him.
His best days are behind the booth.

There is no air conditioning on this train.

He is playing a childs game
On ear phones that don’t work.
Colourful little animals jump small bridges.
Everyone can hear the arcade tinkle.
He does it deliberately.
Plays it loud.

Most days.

Plunging thumbs,
into a control panel.
It annoys everybody.
It’s a protest.
You are not allowed to watch porn on the train.

All around me the world of trains and men, I feel like a freak.

He holds his head high.
The wi-fi was a little slow this morning.
The trainers are glossy.
He really smashed that avocado
Into the whole grain toast.
A sheep in wolves clothing.

A bit yesterday.

With that beard.
More a toad resplendent in cloth.
Still a toad.
He catches himself in the window.
Looking good, looking good for a toad.

Still after all this time, I don’t belong on this train.

I finally let me go

At fifty,
I tried to hold life still,
I found I couldn’t.
I couldn’t hold the line,
For a tiny moment longer.
It took too much to linger.

I let it go.

He was out in the garden.
I was eating lunch,
I packed a suitcase.
I dutifully made the dinner,
For Sunday and Monday night.
Left the key on the table.

And strolled out of my life.

I wandered across this earth.
Slept in odd places,
Lived out of my suitcase.
Severed all the lines,
Sailed out across the sea.
Played a thousand stories.

But none of them was me.

And then one day I wandered past.
A house that I had known,
I knocked on the door.
And the owners let me in,
It had been a life time I know.
Yet I wandered through that house.

In someone else’s clothes.

Another time and place.
Someone else’s story,
And someone else’s face.
I sat out in their garden,
I smelled the summer air.
All around me was familiar.

But was I ever really there.

I’m not sure if I existed.
I’ll never really know,
My feet are sore.
My heart is tired,
But all lined up in a row.
A thousand thoughts and feeling.

I finally let me go.

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.

Portraits from a town: The nose

‘Your nose looks big in that picture. In fact its massive. I mean your nose is quite big anyway.’

I look at the picture. It looks like me. With my nose. Which is obviously not good enough anymore. It was of course a perfectly good nose when we got married. Now after child birth it is suddenly elephantine.

Later on, I google all the ways men have come up with to fix women’s noses, and some that women have devised as well. Rhinoplasty-too expensive. My nose will be fine if I revamp my makeup and contour properly, although I need to be careful not to make my eyes beady by making my nose smaller. Oh the pitfalls of makeup. And the cost. All because my nose -has what-changed? The perception of my nose has changed? Its just a bad photograph.

Later in the week he has friends over, he stops in front of the picture and points out my enormous nose. They laugh together. My son can hear them. I don’t cry, not yet. I feel my nose. I like it. It is functional. Made for breathing, not cuteness.

His friend comes into the kitchen. He tries not to, but I know. I saw it. He looked at my nose. Just to see if it’s like it is in the picture. He smiles at me. I look for traces of sympathy but see only humour there. He does not care about anything else. His friend is married to someone with a big nose. They will joke about it later.

I know now my nose will never be good enough again. Nor will I. I have wrote my imperfections large across the wall for everyone to see. I deserve what I get. There is a photograph where my nose looks big. I have dared to leave it hanging there for the world to see. Is there a greater crime for any woman?

Later on he is giving me advice on how to load the dishwasher. He is clueless. It’s a dishwasher, you can load it however you want. There is no right way, there is just my way and his way. I google how to tell a man he is more stupid than he thinks he is. There is no answer there. Google does not know everything.

Two weeks later, he is still talking about the picture. He wants it removed, it is offending him. I like the picture. I like my nose. I have started wishing for an even bigger nose, just to spite him. I google prosthetic noses. I google false nose warts. I am thinking of vandalising the picture so a trail of snot is hanging out of my nose. It’s a picture. I have a face. It is a nose. I use it to breathe. It is of no consequence to anyone else what it looks like. Still he goes on about it. He tells the neighbours and some of my friends. I want to tell him his trousers don’t match his shirt. I think better of it.

It is then that I understand the world will rend us apart. It is only a matter of time.

I will cry a thousand tears. He will have been right all along. My nose was too big for someone like him. It is astonishing we stayed married so long. He will not cry any tears.

One day he will know the tears he did not cry for what they are. They are the contents of the bottle. It is not a new bottle. Men have bottled things up forever. It is a glass bottle. One day it will shatter and break and the tears will fall out into the world. They will fall in one great big puddle onto the floor mixed with fragments of glass. He won’t remember my nose. He will wonder why, search for answers that he did not keep. He will call. I will hang up. Our son will ferry between us.

I will sit and look at my nose in the mirror. I will not think about how it looks. I will suck in the air and know the sweet smell of freedom.

Portraits from a town 11

He winds down the window. Music is pumping out of the car. His head is nodding in time. He thinks its in time. It might not be in time. He looks in the rear view mirror. The trailer is still attached.

He puts his elbow on the door frame. He looks at the grey streaks in his hair. What’s that phrase-‘silver fox’. His paunch pushes against the seat belt.

There’s a notification from social media, a new video. He is following a 23 year old who does yoga on instagram. He messaged her about his ‘downward dog’. She answered. He thinks they have a connection. He is wearing beige trousers.

He has taken off his wedding ring especially for this trip to take the cardboard to the recycling centre. He turns up the music.

He thinks of his wife wandering around the house in flip flops and bold prints hiding her stature under swathes of fabric. He has definitely connected with that yoga girl, even though he isn’t quite sure what a downward dog is.

The music is something he found on his son’s phone, it’s probably the latest. He gets the thundering bass but the lyrics are a mystery. Every word is said so fast. Still soon he thinks, he and yoga girl might converse more and he wants to seem modern. He sees a woman walking along the street, middle aged, no make-up, nameless trainers. She looks at him. She will not know this music. He is sure of that.

He arrives at the recycling centre. Parks up. Checks his look in the mirror. He gets out of the 4WD, looks around. If he isn’t wrong, he is the most attractive man at the recycling centre at the moment, maybe for the day, even the week. He hitches up his trousers. He wished he was wearing a shirt, he’d undo a button, show some chest.

The recycling bins are quite high. You have to throw stuff to get it in. He is ready. Pumped. It is not a competition. If it was a competition, he would win.

He has borrowed his son’s trainers. He hopes the lad will never find out as he begins slinging cardboard into the cardboard recycling. There is something macho about slinging cardboard he thinks. Its primal. Like throwing a spear or something.

He has taken up a lot of space parking. That’s ok, every man here must feel inferior in his presence. They can probably tell he works in banking. Well actually in a building near a lot of banking headquarters, its almost the same thing. He works in the banking district.

He wished he had a bigger trailer for the car. His trailer is a tiny little box thing. Of course he could have fitted all the recycling in the back of the car but who does that when they own a trailer? He liked the way it felt to shove all that cardboard into a confined space. How it felt to hitch that trailer so hard to the back of the car.

And then there is the added difficulty of driving with a trailer. He is very good at driving with a trailer. It might even be his super power. He imagined yoga girl watching admiringly as he hitched that trailer. Then he noticed, Mrs whats-her-name across the road peeking through the curtains. She is so old, so very old. He wonders if he will ever get old. He’s not sure if that bit of cardboard went in. He should have brought his glasses

He looks around to see who is watching him. No one is watching him. They are focussed on getting rid of their recycling. Probably partly intimidated by his masculine stature.

Where’s the car key? Oh no, has he lobbed the car key into the recycling? He will have to call his wife to come and bring the key. In the fiat 500? Where’s his phone? In the car? He will have to ask someone else to call his wife. He doesn’t know the number. He is not good with numbers.

And then, a flood of relief as the young man in the parking space next door says, ‘Excuse me granddad, but I think you dropped your keys.’

He hates the way young people have no respect for older people. He goes home.

Portraits from a town 10

He sits in the corner of the pub. His corner. He remembers how pubs used to smell. They don’t smell that way anymore.

He is here alone. There are other people here. Other men. They are alone as well. They are alone together. All of them alone and somehow together. In the pub. Scattered over disparate stools, staring at televisions mounted on dark walls, drinking beer from nearly clean glasses.

There is a younger man and a woman in the corner. They lean in, in close conversation. Her shirt reveals cleavage, a hint of bra and then flesh. He stares. It is his birthright. The woman notices. The man notices. He looks away. What is happening to the world when you are not allowed to stare. What is a woman doing in a pub anyway? He does not bring his wife to the pub.

She is at home, the wife. He thinks. He thinks she is probably at home. But mostly she is not at home. She might be out playing bingo with friends. She might be at that odd gastro pub up the road. She might be at her exercise class. He orders another drink. She might be with another man. Whatever she is doing, she is not at the pub. She is not alone.

He chats to the barman who is too busy to talk. He engages in mild conversation with all the others who are alone at the pub. He watches the TV at the pub. He can’t hear the words on the telly. It never used to be like this. He was never alone at the pub. There were friends, laughter, tales of brave drunken men and women waiting to be eaten. When did they all go home? Why did he stay behind? Now he looks down a woman’s top and the world hates him for it. He is indifferent to himself, whoever himself is. He stares at the beer mat. He could count his life in beer mats, he has known so many.  In his head he does not exist, it is all that makes the loneliness bearable. That and the beer.

He looks at his hands, there is no wedding ring. It is hard to remember why he doesn’t wear one. It makes him feel unmoored. Less like he exists at all. Less like he is tied to any kind of life. He has a freedom he does not want anymore. She wears a wedding ring and somehow she is the one that is free. It is hard to understand. He looks at the beer mat.

He likes beer mats. And ash trays and crisps and shirts that spill open as young women lean forward. He stares at wrinkled hands, wrinkles that somehow crept through the door and interlaced themselves all over his hands, what kind of alone is this? Whose hands are those and where did they come from? They are most comfortable wrapped around a glass. They once held the hand of someone who does not recognise him. He drinks some more. Looks at his phone, thinks his children might text. They never do. They learned long ago not to disturb him at the pub.

She is laughing, at the bingo. Wishing the children would stop sending her texts when she is out with friends. But then, remembering them makes her smile, she doesn’t mind so much. She looks at the wedding band. There is the nice man from number 85 sitting over there, perhaps she will slip it off later. It always feels wrong to be faithless with the wedding band on.

Tomorrow night is Zumba with Lexie, then drinks with the girls on Friday. This is what she waited for, its what made all that child bearing and drudgery worth it. Days in the sun, with laughter. They are all going to Portugal, Maisie’s son has a house out there. Girls only.

She does not think of him. He is at the pub. He likes the pub. When the children were young he was always at the pub. He still is. Probably. He barely exists in her mind. Except as a mouth to feed and some trousers to wash. And as a smell in her bed that she is used to but does not like. He slides into bed beside her. She often pretends to sleep. She used to shower as a courtesy buy she doesn’t anymore.

There is silence as she makes the breakfast the next morning. Every morning. She makes his lunch to take to work. Perhaps he knows, perhaps he doesn’t. How can he know anything through the beer haze.  She is still smiling, the man from 85 is quite ‘energetic’ as it turns out. She fiddles with the wedding ring. He married the pub, she has a life. He goes to work, comes home, trudges back to the pub.

Late one night, he wanders home, sits outside in the gutter. He cannot bring himself to go in. When he was young, he was out at the pub, he missed the kids growing up, but what a life he had. Now she has a life and he is alone. He did not see that coming. He did not predict the end even though it sat next to him on a stool every night. He remembers those old men, their hacking coughs, their sagging skin, joining in conversations they weren’t part of. Desperately free. Unmoored. He did not think he would be one of them.

He gets up, goes inside, the smell of another man mixes with the beer on his breath in bed. It’s like their paths crossed just the once in the middle somewhere and now they are moving further apart, and radiating out from the place they once met, are beer mats, like stepping stones. He’d like to turn around and go back, but the beer has slid down the side of the glass and the beer mats are wet. Someone has thrown them all away, there is no way back for him. He sleeps, snores and thinks of tomorrow night at the pub.

Portrait from a town

On weekends he witnesses car accidents. A picture in words. What does he look like in person? Does he live in your town?

On weekends he witnesses car accidents. On Saturdays he drives to the supermarket car park. He sits and waits. Sees it. Then tells the at fault driver he is innocent. Hands over his details. He has been a witness in 47 accidents in 3 years. Each time he has told untruths. Each time he has said the wrong person is at fault. He wonders if any insurance company will ever figure it out. He does his shopping on Tuesdays. There are never any accidents on Tuesdays.

He particularly likes Christmas, there are more accidents at Christmas.

Every evening, he comes home from work. He gets out of the car. He could walk across the grass to the front door. He could. But he doesn’t. Instead he walks down the short drive and out the gate and around on the pavement and in the front gate, up the front path and goes inside the front door. He likes the feel of concrete under his feet. Concrete is firm and resolute. It makes him feel in control.

He is not in control of the grass.

He works. He has done the same thing for ten years. He has done it so often he does not know what it is. He isn’t certain anyone knows what it is. He likes tuna sandwiches. He watches western movies. He wants to ride out across the open plains. He cannot ride a horse. Instead he secretly longs for cowboy boots with tassels and patterns stamped into the leather. But this is England. They would stand out. He does not want to stand out.

He has pictures of cowboy boots on his phone.

He is secretly in love. With a woman on the train who he has never even made eye contact with. She reads books instead of looking at her phone. That is odd. She wears clothes that don’t quite match. They could be odd together if he could just speak to her. He cannot speak to her. Maybe she is mute anyway. He waits for the day her wedding ring is missing. One day the wedding ring is missing. He almost takes the opportunity to sit in the same carriage as her. He could sit behind her looking at her calf. He thinks about her calf. A week later the ring is back.

He does not sit in the same carriage as her.

He watches pornography. He does not watch pornography. He has it on as he reads the paper. It is not the same thing. He was married once. He has a vague memory of it. There are pictures. Of him smiling at the wedding Maybe in the spare room there are still pictures. It was a long time ago. The dog has been missing. For years. Perhaps it is in the spare room too. This weekend he will wash the car. Last weekend he washed the car. He has cleaned the outside of the car every weekend since he bought it.

He has never cleaned the inside of the car.

Inside the house is the furniture, it has been there a long time. The TV, the couch, the bed. There is not much else. He should go out drinking with mates more often. Take up a hobby. Leave the house more. Perhaps he will get another dog. He looks at the beer stashed in the corner. He should take in a boarder. Except in all those movies, boarders are serial killers. If he wants to survive he should not take in a boarder.

He wants to survive, there is no safe boarder.

He takes a beer from the stash in the corner. He switches on the TV. He thinks of how he needs to make a change. He will make a change.

Tomorrow he will walk across the grass.

Portraits from a town

Part 1

And so this was London. These weird overplayed notes in the darkness of the concert hall. If there was a dress code, it was black and grey and greyish black, like the sky and buildings, as if the whole place was constantly at a funeral.

She was married to man who’s name she never took the time to remember. And when she could remember it, she didn’t know him anyway. They never spoke. She never needed his name. It was mutual.

It hadn’t always been like that. There had a been a spark, a fire, then life. Life was like a fire extinguisher. The thought made her laugh. They had spent their life walking into the gushing nozzle of a fire extinguisher. It wasn’t a sophisticated thought. Not like these weird queasy notes, not like London. 

She sat in the concert hall wishing she’d brought a book. She could sit outside in her mismatched clothes in the empty bar, sucking in the smell of alcohol, her nose in a novel.

This was her life. So different to the other life. She came from somewhere no one had ever heard of and no one else had ever been. It meant nothing, the rest of London came from somewhere else as well, inexplicable how they all dressed the same.

London was another planet. You could be an alien in London and no one would know. It was not like that in the town where she lived. The music baffled her. Was that singing, is there a difference between noise made through your mouth and singing? She thought so.

Part 2

Another working day done, off the train, head down, up the hill, along the high street. It was dark as she dawdled home. Dithering in her bag on the pavement. He rushed past, ear phones in. He didn’t say sorry. He didn’t look. She simply didn’t exist. She was non-plussed, unimpressed. That level of speed, focus, direction was unnecessary in town. This was not London.

She kept going. Down that street, along that one, to her street. The van was blocking the pavement-again. They were standing there talking-again. She smiled. The van door was open. What would happen if she just climbed into the cab and just went through it, opened the door on the other side and leapt out. She didn’t. Wasn’t brave enough. She just went around and home. To Him, the one who’s name escaped her, again.

Part 3

He saw the woman dithering on the pavement, paid no attention, brushed past her, meant to say sorry but didn’t. He would have said it too loudly. These damn earplugs. He was listening to music his wife recommended. There had been a concert the night before. He had refused to attend. This was why. This rotten damn music. This singing, was it singing? It was just noise through your mouth and a plinky plonky keyboard. He didn’t enjoy it. He was trying but he didn’t like it.

This marriage, this life, he hadn’t made it work. How had he gotten here, the same place where had he come from. He was from here but never intended to end up here. He had wanted something different. This music was certainly different.

This noise, this music, it reminded him of a fire extinguisher, one had accidentally gone off at work. This odd music, that was exactly the sound it had made. How could she like it? He made an effort to think of her name when he thought of her. Otherwise he was worried he would forget it.

They had parked blocking the pavement-again. Damn it, he was just going to go through. The door was flung open, why not? Through their cab, open the door on the other side and leap out. They were standing there talking-again. He was going to go through, not around through. He got closer, closer still. Then at the last minute, he swerved, went around. Next time he told himself. Next time.

Two lives, they touched so briefly, almost. More similar than different, despite their beginnings. A moment, but not long enough to make their destinies collide. Maybe next time.

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

He sits outside the house in his car for longer than he should. He loves this car. Its like him, well built, smooth running, up a gear. If he were a car, this is the car he would be.

Outside of the car, inside of the house, is his life. The children don’t fit in the car. She had said it wouldn’t be a problem. Now it’s a problem. Everything is a problem.

He hadn’t thought it would be like this. He had always thought they were together, a unit, as one. It never occurred to him that they just met in the middle occasionally and then went back to their separate lives afterwards. It had been this way forever, when they were dating, when they lived together. They moved in the same circle, different circles, they met in the middle and moved away again as they chose.

And now, now he realised, that wasn’t a relationship at all. Worse. She had become anchored to one spot. Immovable. She was tied to that house and the life inside it. And her life, her circle of movement had shrunk, until she was just standing still looking around her. His circle had remained the same, maybe even gotten bigger. Except now, now she was demanding he shrink it. Demanding she have some of his circle, demanding that she should be able to move. The kids weren’t his fault. The kids were nice to have but shouldn’t restrict who he was. It had changed her, not him.

It was all reflected in their cars, hers full of car seats and wrappers and debris from toddler parties, his sleek and smooth and clean. She was chained to chaos, chained to a single spot and mayhem existed around her and somehow emanated out from her, like it was her super power. She reached out to settle it, but she couldn’t, didn’t want to. The house, their beautiful house, so shiny, so new, with its shades of beige and grey, so well put together, but always untidy, messy, unkempt. There weren’t enough words. He strode through the disorder like a titan, never looking down. He tried not to see it but there were squeaky toys on the couch. He could never find the remote. The place smelled of milk and pooh and powder.  

Then, now, there was Friday. It was a girls night out, one of the few times she would leave the house without them attached. The in-laws were coming, thank goodness, the in-laws were coming. But she wanted to take his car. It was like she hadn’t looked in the mirror lately. It wasn’t right that she should be seen in his car. In his head, there were two lives and they should be kept apart. There was the one that happened in the messy car and then there was this sleek, lithe machine. The former was her but this was him. He hadn’t changed, he had managed to carry on as before. He was aghast at how anchored she had become, how stuck. This car was not built for people who were anchored. This car was built for freedom.

He wasn’t sure what he’d ever seen in her. She had become an alien species, glued to that house. Riveted to that spot. That child, one or the other of them endlessly attached at the hip. He was faking it. He spent every spare minute watching porn or sitting in this car. This sleek clean vehicle. The world around him changed. He sat still in his nice shiny car. There is no way she could use this car.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town. What were the people like? who lived there?

Sameness came late in life. It didn’t have enough time to bed in. She always felt on the outer, even now. She still knew single women who owned bright scarves and loose fitting summer dresses. They danced on beaches in the moonlight in holiday brochures. In reality they drank cocktails and read racy novels by pools in places that were out of season, holidaying in weather that was slightly overcast.

She had learned to cry silently, just let the tears fall out of her eyes with no sound. She could do it anywhere. There was not the time or space to cry in front of anyone. She realised now that all women learned this skill somewhere. It was only men for whom tears were a show and tell session.

She supposed the house was nicely decorated. She did not know. It was the same with how she looked. She wasn’t indifferent just unsure. Maybe mirrors lied? She could never see her own image without seeing herself. She wanted to know what she looked like without knowing who she was, that way she could judge her looks objectively. How else could she know, how did anyone know? She didn’t know if other people had that problem and there was no one to ask.

The house was meant to be like her clothes, an extension of herself.  The walls were, grey, blue. Magnolia. Colours she never wore. She found it hard to see herself reflected back in décor. The whole idea seemed as elusive as the image in the mirror. It was a skill you could not learn. The house was a house. Nothing more. The car was the same. Things she knew she should be grateful for even though the weight of them on her shoulders…it was best not to think about it.

Then there was him. She did love him but she wasn’t sure he noticed. She couldn’t help thinking that if he had to choose between her and the sofa that the sofa might win. Or the telly. And almost certainly she was second to his phone. She had learned to cook, convinced herself to enjoy it. Convinced herself there was purpose in this life of looking after others. Contrary to her politics, to what she had spent her life saying, she had ‘settled down’. The emphasis she had realised too late was on the ‘down’.  

Trying to tell herself there was meaning in ironing someone’s shirts. It was bullshit. There was no meaning. The shirts were just ironed. They would need ironing next week. Wasn’t she lucky, she had a roof over her head? But when she added it up, the roof,  in exchange for the ironing? It had looked like a good deal on paper but was not so good in real life.

She knew she was meant to be happy and by comparison maybe she was. It was like the mirror, she didn’t really know. Certainly, there was no time to sit by a pool in overcast weather and read a book. Shouldn’t she be grateful for that? Except somewhere she wondered if women with bright scarves were actually dancing on beaches. 

She loved her children. They were both special and ordinary. There was no great tragedy to interrupt her days. No cataclysmic existential mountain she had to climb except everyday mundane existence. The ignomy of housework, the tedium of tidying up, the emotional hefting of small children, then big children. There was no war to suffer through, no hurdle that a tradesperson couldn’t overcome.

She loved her burgundy jacket with the same passion which she had once marched against-she couldn’t remember what she had marched against. Maybe she hated the jacket. Emotions were hard to separate when your time was spent moving the emotions between family members. His needs, childrens needs, someone else’s needs. Her thoughts and feelings only existed in the gaps. There were hardly any gaps. She went from yoga to pilates, to yoga again, sipping stupid ineffective diet tea along the way. She wore last seasons lip colour and this seasons nails.

She had friends but no one to talk to. She drank coffee in a place with an Italian name because otherwise it wasn’t real coffee, except that real coffee was grown in a different hemisphere. None of it made any sense. She tried hard, so hard, just to belong.

But hidden in the box in the back of the wardrobe, a place no one ever looked. In a box with a lock and key, hidden from the whole world, inside that box, written on a piece of paper-the name of a beach and bright, sparkly, brilliantly coloured –scarves.