Invisible

She passes through a door
One that is not held open
She sidles past everyone
Takes a table in the corner
She sits there for hours
And no one notices
It’s one of her superpowers
Something only menopausal woman can do

Spurned

She flushes blue,
Then red and then grey
Taps on the table
No one sees
She types on the lap top
Words of alacrity
That no one ever reads

Glorious

Its poetry
But without the rhyme
The cappuccino she orders
It never arrives
She pays anyway
Someone will profit
She can afford it
A fiver in the tip jar
No one even saw it

Salubrious

In between it all
She sips on a coffee
That is not hers
She takes it from the table
Of the man sitting to the side
He seems endlessly puzzled
Why his coffee is shrinking
He frowns, he gesticulates,
Spreads his legs
Keeps on drinking

Ostentatious

She forgets about pace
If life is a race
She has crossed the finish line
Later on she slips between tables
Through the crowded café
Her hand slips in and out of bags
Wraps itself in scarves
That belong to someone else
No one seems to see her
This is what life is like on the shelf

Perplexing

But there is pleasure
And there is freedom
In being nothing anymore
She hovers in the corner
Takes her clothes off
Drops them on the floor

Egregious

She stands resolute,
Naked and free
She walks through the café
She bumps and she sways
She lets it all hang out
As she wanders away

Gregarious

She has earned her nakedness,
Found out her truth
She walks to the station,
Gets onto the train
Splays her legs open wide
No one says a word
She lives in a world
Where voices are blurred

Salacious

Triumphant, victorious
She walks on home
The joy of just being her
was simply hers to own
No longer judged on how she looks,
What she wore
She laughs til she cries
As she walks through her door.

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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.

Blood is red

I was stabbed when I was 13. I don’t really remember it. It was 10 years ago.

I see the posters up everywhere. A picture. A boy. Not much older than me. I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t remember. I don’t think it can have been me. He was so much bigger, not older just bigger. He went to my school.

He plunged a knife into my stomach. I remember that bit. The knife. His surprise as it hit something hard. Like I had a rock inside of me. It was inexplicable. He left the knife there. Twisted it. I was looking into his eyes. He looked down. At the knife. A frozen moment. I don’t remember anything else.

No one ever saw him again.

I look at the posters. I feel for his family, but I can’t help.

All I remember after that is lying on my bathroom floor with the knife still inside me. Blood pouring out of me. Its warmth and life seeping through my fingers as I desperately tried to hold my body together.

I remember pulling the knife out. Just pulling it out. I don’t remember pain. I remember my mother coming in, the look of concern on her face. I remember days in bed. Healing when I should have been at school.

After that we grew apart my mother and I. As if she knew something I didn’t. I moved out a few years ago. I haven’t seen her since. She never called the police. Nor did I. There was no ambulance. She literally bandaged me up, put me to bed and left me to heal.

I remember her looking at the knife, at me, at my blood soaked clothes and the floor. So strangely. I guess she had never seen anyone stabbed before.

There is still a scar. I know if I told the police perhaps his family would have some closure. Perhaps every year on the anniversary the posters would not appear. Perhaps they would find out what happened.

My mother burned the clothes, cleaned the floor.

I still have the knife though. An odd idea. I carefully wrapped it. I never cleaned it. I have read a lot of books since then. I take the knife out every anniversary. I carefully unwrap it and examine it. The blood is still there. The problem is every book I ever read said human blood was red.

The blood on the knife, my blood, was not red.

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

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.