My Room

Image from Unsplash, taken by Clint Patterson

I thought I heard your voice,

But it was just an echo.

Outside a car door slammed.

It was spilling laughter around it,

People were shouting across it,

And I think it reminded me.

And that is all the noise I hear.

The room is silent.

I stopped the clock

As its loud ticking hurt me.

The shadows through the curtains

Rise and fall with the daylight.

My room is dark and paused.

I should light a candle.

I should eat some food.

I should breathe carefully.

I should get some sleep.

I should push myself out of here.

I am here, quiet in the dark.

You have gone and are elsewhere,

In the daylight and warmth.

And that is all.

There Should Be Storms

There should be storms, not the calm, still sky.

There should be storms, and dark castle walls.

This faded coffee shop, half empty, in the shade,

Is not the place to watch your life crash down.

I wait for you, and you are late again.

In the corner, reading a cheap magazine,

A woman droops and, trying not to yawn,

Turns the page to new adulteries.

I check my phone, there’s nothing new from you,

Just half an hour wait and waiting still.

I wonder if you know what waits here, crouching,

In this faded, shaded, tired coffee shop

Two girls behind the counter, talking low

Of boys and school and last week’s hair.

They bend the paper clip from next week’s hours

To try and free the block in the machine

They sound so young and earnest, taking care

Warning each other about the burning pipes

Promising to be there at the club

And one will lend the other their new dress

The woman yawns again and leaves the place

Out into the bright and shining mall

Past the old rabbi playing careful chess

Facetiming with his friend in Tel Aviv

The two old men talk with kindness, they are kind

And measure the words they use across the miles

What words can I use to you so close

When I stare across the table at your face.

The old rabbi taps his hearing aid and shouts

A gentle, kind goodbye across the miles.

Packs up his chess and leaves into the mall.

I am reading the left magazine

The coffee shop is shutting with the mall,

The sun is draining down the peaceful sky

There should be storms.  I text you, ‘It is over

Do not contact me again.  Goodbye.’

Another blast from the past, first published in 2016

Domestic Demon

two Caution signages
Image from Unsplash, taken by Oliver Hale

“I’m sorry, darling.” Darren smiled nervously at me.  “But it is only twice a year, and it is only from Thursday to Tuesday.”

I took a deep breath.  “Of course, I know.  Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye, but that’s okay.  She’s your mother and we both love you.  That’s why I’ve got the day off to get the house all set up for her.”

Darren winced.  “I’ll pick her up from the airport.  I’ll pick up a takeaway on my way back.”

“Absolutely not.” I said firmly.  “I’ll make a lovely casserole and that way it doesn’t matter if you are a little late.”

“Thank you, darling, I do appreciate it.” Darren gave me a quick kiss and hurried off to work.

Pamela, my mother-in-law, did only visit twice a year. She came in the first weekend after the Christmas break and the first weekend in July.  It was some awful ritual where a demon was unleashed twice a year.  They could make a Nicholas Cage movie out of it.  As for the takeaway, I was not falling for that again.  Four years ago I had made the mistake of allowing Darren to pick up a pizza on the way back.  For the last four years I had been hearing about how a proper wife made her husband meals, no matter what the circumstances.

I slouched into the kitchen.  I had never felt less like being a domestic goddess.  It was all so humiliating.  I was far too particular, according to my friends, and wasted far too much time cleaning.  According to Pamela, I was a slattern.  Every inch of this house would be scrutinised.  Last time I thought I had her.  There was no dust on the top of the kitchen cupboards and the walls had been washed down.  I had put brand new bedding on her bed and I had dusted behind every stick of furniture.  I had had the oven professionally cleaned and steamed the carpets.  The old witch had actually taken the drawers out of her dresser and found dust on the inside of the frame.  She had been so smug, sitting opposite me in my kitchen, eating my food which I had cooked, while Darren sat between us, twitching.

I looked around my lovely, clean kitchen.  Not only would she go over the room like a forensic detective but she would also sigh and complain that it looked too bare.  “It’s a shame you don’t have any knickknacks around,” she had said last time.  “Of course, not everyone has a flair for decorating.  Perhaps it is just as well that you haven’t tried.” She had smiled a wide, fake smile and patted my arm.  “I’ll bring you some nice things next time I come.  Then you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong.”

The old trout had great taste – for 1972!  I knew that she would have a suitcase full of cheap tat when she turned up, and that it would have to be in the same place she left it when she returned six months later – and she would know if the plastic grot had been moved an inch.  I swear the old bat had a photographic memory.

I threw together a boeuf bourguignon and put it on slow.  I’d already taken out every removable drawer in the house and cleaned behind them.  All the carpets, curtains and rugs had been steamed last week.  Not only was the bedding in her room new but so was the curtains.  I’d cleaned all the lampshades yesterday and dusted all the lightbulbs.  I sighed and started to pull out the fridge.  Then I paused.

Why was I playing her game?  Why was I running round in circles trying to get her to like me when nothing short of a sharp blow to the head would ever make her accept the woman who stole away her baby boy?  I’d been doing it wrong for years.  If she ran out of things to check I swear she would pull up the floorboards.  Okay, if she wanted something different, she could have something different.

By the time Darren’s car pulled into the drive I was finished.  I ached with the efforts, and I had had to get a few friends to help out.  It had been entirely worth it.  I looked around as I heard Darren carefully reversing into the garage.  The kitchen was smeared with jam and I had done my best to give a greasy feel by spraying the wall with the oil spray I used in cooking.  I had found some kitchen curtains in a skip which were now drooping at the window.  I had gone to every friend and neighbour and scrounged the contents of their vacuum cleaners.  After some trial I found that a light mist of water helped the dust of a dozen homes cling to walls, sink and bath.  I had put a mouse trap at the back of her dresser, just where it would get her if she checked, and I put the contents of four dryer filters under her bed.

The trip to the charity shop had been the most fun.  The house was awash with ‘accents’.  Our house was now a temple to the worse taste that ever landed on an Oxfam donation table.  There was plastic everywhere.  I had also got some extremely washed bedding from the charity shop and begged some curtains for Pamela’s room that they were going to send to the rag man and rubbed damp instant coffee granules along the edges for an added artistic touch.  I had had fun, and so had my friends.  Everyone had got photos.

I turned round as Darren unlocked the door.  “Darling, my mother’s plane has been delayed and she has decided not to come until the Christmas break after all…” He stopped as he walked in to the kitchen.  There was a long pause.  “Darling, would you like a drink?”

I’m working hard on a deadline at the moment, so I thought I’d have a look back at a story I first published back in 2015. I smiled when I re-read it, and I hope you also found it fun. Wishing good health to all.

Candlemas

Fiona watched Steve light the candles ranged across the mantelpiece and then along the windowsill. “It’s Candlemas. What does that mean?”

Steve slotted the lighter back on the shelf. “Candlemas, Imbolc, Feast of Lights. It’s a funny time of year. It’s one of the big festivals, you know. Lady Freydis has her realm lit up like a fairground.” He picked up his glass of wine. “I’ve heard it described as the first day of spring.” He shrugged and looked out at the snow outside. “I suppose you could say that it’s a little glimpse of hope. It’s still dark at breakfast and dinner time, but the nights are getting a minute or two shorter every day. It’s still foul weather, but there are snowdrops out there and the first stirrings of spring are around, like buds and shoots tucked away in the corners. It’s dark, but there’s hope of light. It’s cold, but there’s hope of spring.”

Fiona took her glass and gently touched it to his. “Cheers. It doesn’t feel like it’s getting better.”

Steve shook his head. “But all we can do is hold on to the hope that the darkness will pass. Because without that hope, it’s a very dark place indeed.”