Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 and onwards shall be filled with happiness

This year has been a mixed bag again. Until May it was utter shite, then I discovered the joy of bicycle mechanics and that changed everything. Well, not everything, but a lot. I know now that it's the way forward; it's what I want to do for a living and I've headed straight for that goal. I worked (on a voluntary basis in exchange for getting my bikes done) to gain experience and did the Level 2 mechanic certificate incl. wheel building. In order to be able to work on bikes I'm collecting tools, little by little gathering all bike mechanic's essentials. Plus, I'm going to start my own wheel-building business--something I'm passionate about, particularly 'vintage' wheels. I don't have the money to invest a large amount, so wheel-building is something I can do from home, which suits me just fine.

Shouting landlord badly drawn
There is, however, one thing I need to do/change, before I can dive into all the happiness:
I need to move. Urgently. Two reasons I've felt reasonably down recently are: the family of four living downstairs. I honestly don't think it should be allowed. Although they're nice people, they fail to keep their two small children under control. This building isn't made for families or more than two people in its flats, let alone two children running back and forth between the two rooms four hours every day, either screaming or screeching (the girl), and it drives me insane. No wonder if you keep the children cooped up inside. Something that wouldn't have happened when I was a kid. I was outside all day, or reading all day. No running in the house. Ever.
And, as you remember, I moved into this place finding out that the previous tenants have kept the massive cockroach infestation a secret. As to how I've not seen it leaves me puzzled to this day. You can smell cockroaches--of course only if you know the stink. I didn't notice when I moved in, not the roaches, nor a smell. Anyhow, if you'd like to read about that issue, you can read it here.
In addition to this dilemma, my landlord is one from hell. He's rude, doesn't keep his word, threatens and harasses me at random. For example, I call him up to negotiate a rent reduction for a flat I can't fully use due to cockroaches, I ask for 200 pounds (for two month combined), he offers 50 and declares the conversation over, and without even letting me talk, hangs up on me.
Another time, he stands outside the house and calls me up to shout at me as to why there are cables hanging loosely from the wall, not being fixed, and why the heck there's a sat dish. I had no idea, because I only have broadband and nothing else. He threatened to take a slash hammer to take it down. And there were more incidents like that. He also keeps telling me that he never wanted me to move in. Well, why rent it to me, then? Oh, and now he pulls the card of my keeping the iguana illegally. Gee, man, he's known I had this animals for two years, as I've lived in his son's flat (in the same building) beforehand. Everything to get that tenant evicted, right? He'd rather sell than rent, he's told me; of course, prices have gone up, so the agents say.
Worry  not, dear arsehole landlord, I'll be putting all my efforts into searching something new.
Once that's over, and I hopefully end up with a nice and quiet place, I can concentrate on the happiness I most certainly deserve. And, as soon as the sun comes out, I'm pretty sure I'll be working in my dream job, for I have at least three bike shops who'd like to have me, plus the wheel building business will have picked up by then, too.
Re-build of 1976 Viscount Aerospace Sport
In the meantime, I'm trying to get out on as many rides as possible--on my own or with someone from my newly founded local cycling club, as I've finished one winter project: the re-build of my new (old) frame, which is a dream. Other winter projects have to wait due to above stated priorities, but I'm fine with that.
Oh and of course I'll continue posting installments of my novel in progress. Might not be daily at the moment as it's near to impossible to find peace and quiet in this place. I've scheduled the planned release roughly about November/December 2014, taking the pressure off me, and make sure I have enough time to fiddle with it once it's completed.
I wish all of you, who are reading regularly, a wonderful evening, a great 2014, health, love, much laughter, and most of all: that you'll achieve the goals you set for yourselves. I'll be right there with you. :-)

Thursday, 26 December 2013

A croissant makes you smile

Without further ado, here's the next installment of my WIP:

After a restless night, thanks to dreams that had me awaking with a gasp twice, but not remembering what they were about, and a slightly too hard mattress, I pulled the curtains open and was delighted to see only a few clouds lazily moving across the blue sky. Yet again, a wonderful day, and perfect for a run before breakfast. It was Christmas day and, if was honest to myself, I dreaded the community dining room. People were in an excited mood, lovers even more in love, and generally I didn't know if I could cope with all the 'happy, happy, bouncy' energy, but I would try my best. I stretched and nodded to myself, then put on my running gear, grabbed my iPod, and left. A quick glance at my watch revealed that it was 6.30. I pulled the door open and the quietness of a place with everyone else being asleep made me tiptoe my way downstairs. Muffled sounds of pots and pans hinted at someone preparing breakfast. I knocked at the kitchen door and stuck my head in; Susan, in a jumper with a Santa on it, turned her reddened face towards me. 'Oh, good morning, Elaine. Jesus, you're up early!'
'Well, so are you,' I replied and smiled.
'Touché!' She grinned. 'Do you need something?'
I shook my head. 'No, I just wanted to know when breakfast starts.'
'At eight, served till two, sort of a breakfast turning brunch.'
'Ah, okay, thanks.' I looked at the many pots, pans, and trays. 'Are you expecting a bus, then?'
She laughed. 'No, dear, all sixteen guests staying have booked today's special.'
'Sixteen? I thought you were fully booked.'
'We are. We only take x-amount of guests over the Christmas holidays. It's only me and my husband, the three other employees are on leave, you see?'
I nod. What a weird way of running a business. 'Very kind of you.'
'Well, I know it may sound odd, but it's not always about the money. We're not doing this to get rich, we're doing it because we love it. And we don't have kids, our staff have.'
'Makes sense, and it shows that you love what you're doing. Really admirable. There are plenty of people out there working in jobs they hate.'
'Exactly. Now, if you excuse me, please, I don't want to be rude, but I need to get this done; don't want to serve the guests burnt sausages.'
'Of course not, and I better do my run—work up an appetite.' I winked.
'You'll need it. Enjoy. And, Elaine?'
I stopped and turned. 'Yes?'
'Merry Christmas.'
'And to you,' I replied, hoping she wouldn't notice my internal wincing.
The cool morning air bit into my skin, I slowly began to run, picking up speed steadily until I was in the zone. Eminiam pushed me forwards, spurring me on with his beats. John used to make fun out of my love for that man, saying it was a miracle I didn't start swearing like a sailor. While my interest regarding music had always been diverse, John had been a keen fan of classical music or anything by the Eagles. The latter being more annoying and something I couldn't understand. Slim Shady shoved the memories out of my head, making space for the stunning countryside I was running through; the dew glistening on the twigs of leaf-stripped bushes, the rich green of the fields bordering the empty road, cows, sheep, and horses dozing, as if they knew that the world has slowed down for the day, hares hopping back and forth between them, deer grazing in the distance, laid back and unbothered; everything was so peaceful. It was as if someone had put me into a warm bubble; my feet rhythmically moving to the music, my breathing even.
A cyclist came towards me, in Lycra shorts, high visible long-sleeve shirt, gloves and the face hidden behind a scarf, sunglasses and a hat pulled deeply into the face. He whooshed past me at a respectable speed, crouched over the drop down handlebar, using the momentum of a slight downhill stretch. I could imagine that he enjoyed his ride just as much as I did my run; it felt as if we were the only people in this remote place in England.
An hour later, I was sitting in my window seat reading, passing the time until breakfast. I couldn't decide whether I liked the three main characters or not. Particularly the one girl, who started to grind on me, but I wanted to know what would happen to them, so I kept reading. A door being slammed again took me out of the story and into a rocket of anger. How difficult could it be to consider others? Had that guy ever heard of a door handle? They bloody had been invented for a reason. When I'd get the chance, I'd drop a comment—one that was clearer than the previous one. With a sigh, I put my book aside, I was hungry, which was a good thing.
The dining room was an explosion of colours, sounds and smells. People were shuffling back and fourth between the four tables along the panoramic windows and the buffet with a spread that could probably feed an army. A Christmas tree with its angel figure on top reaching the high ceiling, lovingly decorated in red and gold, was half-obscuring the view at the big fireplace. It was overwhelming. Out of habit I reached out to my right; realising that there wasn't a hand to squeeze, I quickly pulled it back and awkwardly ran it through my hair.. How much I wished John would be here; he would have liked it. With him, I'd been able to cope with the buzz floating about; as I expected it proved difficult to me. While everyone seemed to be in high spirits, I suddenly felt most alone, with only sadness for company. I was just about to turn on my heels when Susan, beaming with joy, rushed towards me and pulled me inside and to a table with three guys.
'Hello, my dears, you don't mind to have this lovely lady sitting with you, do you?'
They looked up from their plates, chewing, and shook their heads in unison. One of them, bald with a goatie, dabbed his mouth on a serviette. 'Not at all, it's Christmas, nobody should eat alone.' He then stretched out his hand. 'I'm Ronnie, by the way.'
I shook it and introduced myself. The other two were Ben and Gary and their accents led to the conclusion that they were Irish. Susan had left with a satisfied smile on her face. I had to give it to her, she had integrity and solved the awkwardness I must have projected by placing me with the gays. I stirred in my cup which Gary had poured me and looked around. There were further three couples, a family with two children and a table with three girls, who had the obnoxious guy completing their round. Of course he'd sit with them. Probably a homophobic. I suppressed a snort. Everyone was chatting and eating, every now and again someone laughed, Susan was busily flitting from table to table to make sure everyone was happy. It would have been perfect, if only I wouldn't have felt so terribly lost.
'Hey, love, what's the matter?' Ronnie waved his hand in front of my face.
I blinked and smiled weakly. 'Err, I think I'm not hungry.'
'Nonsense,' Ben said, picking up a bread basket. 'Here, have a croissant. Croissants will make you smile.'
'No, seriously, I'm not hungry.'
Gary studied me for a moment, then said, 'Whatever it is that makes you sad. Try to forget it for today. We're here, it's Christmas, we have delicious food, we're healthy and we're alive. And most importantly: we're not alone.'
If only you knew. I didn't say something. If I didn't want to be looked at with petty, I had to make an effort. I nodded and took one of the still warm croissants from the basket Ben was patiently holding up.
'There you go. It'll all be fine. Trust uncle Gary.'
Ben and Ronnie snorted and I smiled. Maybe there were right, maybe I should forget my sorrows for today and just try to enjoy being here in what seemed to be nice company. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the three girls flirting with Mr Obnoxious. That will hopefully keep him busy for the rest of the time.
Once I had one croissant and a tea down, my appetite returned, the three guys were keeping me occupied with little stories about their travels together.
'We always go away over this period,' Ronnie explained. 'Last year we were in Germany, Bavaria to be precise. Jesus Christ, I though the Irish were heavy on the drink, but those people there had a pint for breakfast.'
Ben shuddered. 'Yes, you know, and those white sausages. Well, they were quite something.' He leaned back and scratched his overweight stomach. Gary saw that and patted it lovingly; a gesture showing how comfortable they were with both each other and being gay. Ben and Gary had been friends for a few years and met Ronnie on one of their holidays. They'd been inseparable ever since. I envied them the ability to enjoy today. Even though they were rather entertaining, the loss of John kept sitting next to me on the invisible chair. On one hand I wanted to let go and join the merry mood, on the other hand I felt horribly guilty.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Ever heard of personal space?

My day was rather shite if I'm honest. I've come to the conclusion that my landlord is a bully who seems to be used to people jumping at a flick of his finger. After a massive argument on the phone I went to Noah's shop in order to get some inner and outer cables for my bike in progress. The cycling did wonders, so did quickly jumping in when a customer popped by to get a last-minute present for his girlfriend: a bicycle. It needed some minor adjustments, like a basket and longer seat post, so I quickly did it while Noah frantically prepared another Christmas present for sale. Working on that bike cooled down the still hot ashes of my anger and reminded me why I'd become a bike mechanic: I love it. Give me tools and a project and I'm happy. I then came home and made myself something to eat before starting to write. It's a shorter bit today as I simply can't concentrate for the noise downstairs.

Although only short, my walk whetted my desire for more. I stopped for a brief moment and inhaled deeply; the air smelled fresh, crisp, healthy. Nothing compared to the smog in London, Witchurch even tasted clean. It didn't mean I'd wanted to move here—no, it was way too far from the Metropole for me; I needed to be able to leave the house and step into life. London had a lot to offer, but it was good to be away, if only to appreciate what I had back home: friends, family, and a wonderful place to live in. And at some point I'd go back to my job. They'd been nice enough to find someone to fill in for me until I was ready. John's life insurance took care of my well-being in the meantime. Money, an important necessity in our modern world, something we long for when we put career first. Once you've had a taste of real love, money doesn't matter so much anyone. That big sum I had at my disposal didn't make me laugh when I was down, it wouldn't gently kiss my neck when it hurt from sitting at the desk all day, it wouldn't surprise me, or take me in its comforting arms when I needed a hug. I'd give all my personal possessions away without even thinking if John would be the other choice.
There was the Inn again; I'd been so deeply in thoughts I hadn't even realised. About to open the door, I heard a sound and turned my head. A guy in a parka was just locking a bike with one of those massive chains. He didn't seem to have noticed me and, before it would get awkward, I hurried inside and upstairs. 'Just my luck', I muttered as I turned the key. Compared to the cold outside and after my brisk walk, it was hot inside. I felt my cheeks burning and took off my coat. Bang—it seemed as if I'd found the culprit. My boots flew across the room—each into a different direction—frustration vented. The kettle boiled, I settled back into my seat with a Lady Grey and enjoyed the other sandwich, before returning to the hospital where the three main characters had their very own challenges to deal with.
Almost two hours later, I stood downstairs in the guest kitchen waiting for my curry to heat up. In search of a plate, I opened one of the two cupboards and had to chuckle; this wild mix of mismatching plates and mugs reminded me very much of Amy's and my first house. We'd shared with five other people; I think Amy and I lived there the longest, our flatmates changed continuously, so did the content of the cupboards. I shook my head at that memory and pulled out a blue plate just when the microwave pinged.
'Smells delicious,' a youthful sounding voice said. I nodded without looking up as I was carefully transferring the food onto the plate.
'What is it? Curry?'
I inched forwards, did that man know the term 'personal space'? 'Do you mind?'
'All right, babe, keep your hair on.'
With him retreating a bit I grabbed my plate and turned to leave. You've got to be kidding me! I could see his expression change from smirk to recognition at the exact the moment it dawned on me who'd been intruding my privacy; without his parka and hat he almost looked boyish.
'So the lady who runs into roads without looking is a curry fan, eh?'
'Not sure why it's any of your business, but since you're bringing it up, maybe I could share what else I'm a fan of: peace and quiet, which includes doors being shut in a respectful manner.'
He nodded slowly. 'I'll keep that in mind.'
'Good.' Having said what I wanted to get off my chest I strode past him and back to my room. At least that would be sorted. I sat down to eat, watching a new documentary.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Crazy cyclist in Witchurch

It's difficult to find the moments without distraction for writing. I've had troubles with my downstairs neighbours' two young children running from room to room, shouting and stomping for hours, which isn't really the best atmosphere for creativity. A friendly chat didn't change anything either, apart from a nice and warm friendly hello changing to a rather frosty nod. As soon as Christmas is over, I'll begin to look for flats again. My landlord is the rudest person I've ever met in my life and I hated this place from the day I'd moved in. If you've followed this blog for longer, you'd know why. However, despite my dreading the enormous bulk I still have to write--a panic that doesn't want to go away--I am determined to do my best and continue, and as a result, here are tonight's efforts. I'm quite happy with this, if I do say so myself. As always, keep in mind, it's fresh from the press and therefore contains errors. (If you're new to the blog and would rather read from the beginning, then you can start here.)

Wilderness in London
Will this never end? I splashed cold water into my face to make sure I didn't get odd looks at the supermarket. The outbreaks came in waves, though not as often as they did in the beginning, they'd become somewhat unpredictable. Yes, in the early phase of bereavement I didn't care much about the tears, now, as I've left the house and would bump into strangers on a daily basis, I felt exposed. It could happen at any moment a memory popped up before my inner eye and it would be rather embarrassing if that would be at the till or in the dining room at the B&B—considering that I'd come here to not be looked at as the woman who's lost her husband. I wanted normal. No well meant pat, or emphatic hug, no soft touch to my arms, nor nice words would bring John back; the loss of him was something that had left a gaping void. The lows, however, were throwing me back, every single time. It was as if I was threatening to drown in a pool of devastation, and I could only come up for air when someone pulled the plug—when the weeps became soft sighs and the tears stopped coming. I massaged my swollen eyes and, leaning closer to the mirror, checked if I was ready to face the public. A short ruffle of my locks and a nod later, I returned to the bedroom to put on my boots and coat.
Without the sun it was rather chilly and I was glad for my ability to learn from previous mistakes. At least I wouldn't freeze. I marched ahead, turning left at the end of the small way that lead to the Inn. I'd passed Tesco's on the way here in the cab. A tractor crept along the road, a car patiently driving behind it; in this village time went slower than in London. You never notice how hectic the city is until you leave for a while, it's like you went through a time machine. I sighed. If only there were such a thing. I'd give my life for having John back, and it wouldn't matter where we'd be, as long as I could see his wonderful face again—acne scars and all, his kind eyes which looked at me with so much love it hurt just thinking about it; once more to feel the warmth of his body next to mine when I wake up, or hear his voice—the particular rasp to it when he'd said he loved me. I blinked furiously, swallowing hard. 'No, Elaine, keep it together!' Determined, I took a deep, shuddering breath. Okay, you got this. And not a moment too early, as my destination appeared to the right, slightly hidden by a row of trees. I am not sure if it was my not looking before stepping into the road—the lack of the sound of a car engine gave me the confidence that it's secure to cross—or my being distracted, but a voice shouting, 'Oi, watch it!' taught me otherwise. At hair's width, a guy, clad in a parka, whizzed past me on a bike. He came so close, I could smell his clothes which carried the odour of food, and hear music blearing from his headphones.
'Sorry,' I called after him when I recovered from the surprise, but he was already too far gone.
It was something I'd expect at home, particularly with my working in the city centre, but here, how were the odds to collide with a cyclist? Shaking the incident off, I crossed the road. The supermarket wasn't too crowded. Strange, I thought, in London you'd be standing with your nose in someone's neck every time you'd turn—especially before Christmas. I guess that most folks here had done their shopping for the festive days already in one of the bigger stores in the city. Lucky for me; I hated queuing. Minutes later, and armed with a BLT, a curry, and a bottle of Zinfandel, I left the store. Outside I opened the sandwich packet and hungrily took a bite. It didn't take long to gobble it down. Appetite's definitely coming back. A good thing. I'd started to become worried myself, for I'd lost so much weight that everything was sitting rather loose, even my wedding ring had begun to slip off on several occasions. In fear of losing it, I'd taken it off, guilt punching me in the stomach as I closed the drawer. Parting with the symbol of my marriage, the vow, and the love I'd committed to wasn't something I'd ever planned doing. At least not that early. I'd expected it maybe to be thirty years later, after a long and fulfilled life together. I took a long look at my naked ring finger before putting my glove back on with a deep sigh.

Friday, 20 December 2013

I think I'd like to be Elaine this year

And here's the next section. It's the 24th and Elaine has arrived at the B&B. Remember, it's a first draft and will most likely be slightly amended and additional details added, but so far, you get the picture of where and how she is. I think there's a good opportunity for me to fill some pages; ideas are already firing, but nothing too concrete. I know, though, that there will be a person who doesn't pussyfoot around her and sets her straight. Someone she didn't see--or expect--coming. This will be fun to write, albeit a challenge. You'll have to wait until it happens as I don't want to take all the excitement away.

Evening in London

Seventy three days, and I dragged a suitcase on rolls through the doors of the Inn. The first thing that greeted me was a slate in fake snow, next to the stairs. The presents on it were piled up so high, it looked as if a draft could make them tumble.
'Good afternoon and welcome to Witchurch.' I jumped at the sound of the voice coming from the small reception desk to the left. 'You like our little display?'
Little isn't the word I'd use. 'Err, yes,' I lied, wondering if perhaps it had been a bad idea to come.
'Just wait until you see the dining room,' the woman said, her accent giving her away.
'Susan, right? I almost didn't recognise you with your short hair. Suits you.' Last time she wore her blonde hair in braid that went past her hips.
She beamed, running her finger through it. 'Thank you! Much easier and I got tired of it.'
'No regrets?'
'None.' She shook her head, sending her chin-long bob flying around her head like her saucer.
I let go of my suitcase and fumbled for the letter she'd sent to John in my pockets. 'I'm Elaine Smith, we—'
'Spoke,' she completed my sentence. 'Yes, I remember. Did you have a nice journey?'
Grateful for her keeping a straight face I replied, 'Train was a bit delayed, but what's new?'
'Good to hear; we have someone who came from up north, and they had to spent a night somewhere else as the trains were all cancelled due to the weather conditions.'
'It's always a hit and miss at this time of year, isn't it?'
'Indeed. Well, at least you're now here, safe and sound. Let's get you to your room. I'm pretty sure you'll like it.' She handed me the key with a number eight on it. Since I'd been here before, I didn't need further explaining, so I politely refused her offer to lead the way. With a bit of effort I hoisted my suitcase up the red-patterned carpet to the first floor and to the right. I kept walking to the end where I found my room. Upon opening the door, I noticed a faint smell of aged wood and flowers. Looking around, relief washed through me as I realised this room was not the one John and I'd stayed in, it could have been a room found in any other Bed & Breakfast. On the table, next to the large French door, was a large bowl with a dried flower mix, together with a small bottle of sparkling wine. Around it, fixed with a glitter rubber band, was a twig with a yellow and red Christmas ball, and a card that read For a special person at a special time.
I raised one eyebrow at this, then hurled my suitcase onto the bed in order to unpack it. How could two jeans, some long-sleeve t-shirts and a few jumpers and cardigans be so heavy? I hadn't brought any fancy clothes as I didn't plan on going out. All I wanted was to enjoy the peace and quiet, go for long walks, and sleep and read. The wardrobe was far too large for the few items I'd packed, so I decided to put them in the chest of drawers next to it. With a sigh, I swapped my boots with slippers and stepped in front of the French doors. Like last time, the view was magnificent: the sun hung low over green fields with cows and sheep to the left, horses with their heads up, alerted, to the right. Idyllic. Yes, it had been the right decision to come here. At that moment, I heard a door in the hallway—it sounded like across my room—being slammed shut, reminding me that there's always someone who will disturb the calmness.
'Idiot,' I muttered, hoping it wouldn't be someone who'd come home in the middle of the night, waking everyone. It was just past 1pm and I decided to try and relax with my book. I filled the kettle which was provided with enough water to fill the tea-pot and dragged one of the comfortable looking seats to the window.
Bliss. My mobile on silence, feet in thick socks up, the sun shining through the glass on my neck, and finally, being able to take in what I was reading, I dived into the world of drug trials.
I had no idea how long I'd sat there, gobbling up the words, but suddenly, I was pulled out of the book when the door was slammed again. I squinted in the direction of the disturbance in disbelief. Everything was shaking in my room. Didn't the person ever consider others? There was a general hustle and bustle in the hallway. Were those new arrivals? I glanced at my mobile to realise it was 4pm. That explained my having to adjust the light of my Kindle. And my grumbling stomach. I stood and stretched. Apart from a few nuts and an apple, I didn't have anything to eat after the early breakfast. If I remembered correctly, there was a Tesco's ten minutes down the road; a sandwich for now and something to just shove into the microwave later would do for tonight. Tomorrow and the day after, the Inn would serve a Christmas dinner—a special occasion for this event—all included in the price. New Year's Eve was optional. John had thought of everything, as usual. John! 'I wish you were here.' Like a tsunami, sadness rolled over me, suffocated me, took me with it. Unable to fight it, I sank onto the bed and sobbed uncontrollably.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Backwards progress

I'm in panic. I still haven't made the 10k-mark, which is rare when I'm starting a novel. I also find it's moving too fast, but I could be wrong. Because I only write so little each day, I lose connection to what I've written before. But I don't want to read it all over again, as I'll get easily fed up. I'm assuming that I'll have to flesh the beginning out a bit. I'd planned to have Elaine suffer for the first quarter of the book, but hey, that's exactly what happens when you're incapable of outlining a story. I just can't. Tried it and failed. It's frustrating. However, I've already swapped some bits around as I'd written something that was supposed to be chapter 2, then made it chapter 3 and now put it back. It irritates the heck out of me, as my chronological order is out of order, so to speak. The time between 24th and 2nd, however, will be exciting. At least that's what I have in mind, but experience shows that it's always ends up going a different way. Doh!

Not a morning in London
After a hot shower, I sat at the kitchen table, trying to find answers in my steaming coffee while the clock's tick tock counted the seconds of my passing life. The door bell rang, making me jump. Since that day, my stomach turned every time I heard that sound.
'I really need to get that knocker,' I muttered as I went to see who it was. A middle-aged woman in business dress smiled at me. I'd seen her before, but never exchanged more than a few words.
'Good morning.'
'Good morning?'
She laughed, a strange sound almost sounding like a bark. 'My apologies for calling this early. I just saw you coming in from your run and thought I'd pop this by before I leave for work.' She held out a packet. I glanced at the address and my knees weakened—Mr John Smith. My head spun and I felt sick again. When I didn't immediately make an attempt to take it, she explained further, 'I don't know when it arrived, our cleaner must have taken it. We were away overseas … Asia.' I was still rooted to the spot while she prattled on, 'I'm sorry for bringing it this late. We only came back yesterday. Hope it's something nice—a Christmas present? Oh don't you love Christmas?'
That pulled me out of my trance. 'Thanks.' I took the package off her and, absent-mindedly, I closed the door.
With trembling hands, I opened the package and revealed a knitted jumper, thick, with a turtle neck and flowers of every available colour sewn onto it. The jumper resembled one of those bathing caps popular with older women, but much worse. Holding it close, I laughed under tears, thinking back to when John and I'd been in the south, where he'd had a meeting. It was a Friday, so we decided to make it a holiday weekend and stayed in a friendly Bed & Breakfast in nearby Witchurch, a beautiful little village. It was cold and I never stopped freezing. Of course, being a London girl I hadn't anticipated the countryside being so much colder. I ended up going to a charity shop to buy me something warmer. When I came back to the hotel, John laughed so hard, he snorted his wine out of his nose, giving me the opportunity to revel in Schadenfreude. My taste for jumpers was declared the worst ever. Under much howling, John said only I could have gone for the most horrific floral design available. I defended myself saying that it had been the only one looking warm enough. It had lasted two months, then I accidentally put it into the dryer. John claimed I did it on purpose and threatened to find me a new one. One that had now tears pearling off it. According to the leaflet it was hand-made to order. I shook my head. This was John's payback for the ugly kitchen clock. With the back of my hand, I wiped my cheek, then put the cardboard box—together with the jumper—onto the side board in the hallway, next to the pile of mail, which drew my eyes to it. Maybe it was time to read the condolences; I had to do it at some point. The letters ranged from standard to more personal, and I got through them within a matter of ten minutes. The last one, however, was addressed to John. It couldn't be bills as my mother had opened all letters that concerned utilities which John had made his responsibility. I flipped it around and recognised the return address: it was the Bed & Breakfast. I tossed it onto the pile, unopened; the last thing I needed was a cheery Christmas card.
With my coffee having cooled down, I decided to read. At least to try. Films just didn't to the trick anymore, and I couldn't just lie in bed thinking. Armed with a caramel rooibos tea, I settled down with Trial #1322, a thriller I'd downloaded as a freebie for my Kindle. Like with films, anything romantic wasn't on my radar. After reading the beginning three times, I gave up; my mind wouldn't stay focussed. I almost wished time would pass a bit faster until my mother arrived. The landline went, but I didn't recognise the number, so it wasn't anyone of my family.
'Oh, hello, is this Elaine, by any chance?' a friendly woman said in a faint Scottish accent.
'Yes, and you are?'
'Susan from the Inn in Witchurch.'
Great, I shouldn't have answered. I forced myself to be polite. 'Hi, Susan. How can I help?'
'I was wondering if I could speak to your husband?'
My heart stuttered and, first hot, then cold surged through me. 'I'm afraid, Susan, it's not possible.' I explained.
'I'm so, so sorry to hear that, Elaine. My condolences. I feel like an idiot.'
I breathed in deeply and replied thinly. 'No, you couldn't possibly have known.'
'Thank you. I think in that case, I'll cancel the booking.'
Booking? 'What booking? As far as I'm aware there wasn't a booking.'
Though the telephone I heard her typing on her computer. 'Again, apologies. Your … err … Mr Smith made a booking and a down payment. That's why I called. The rest is due today. We have a lot of people asking, you see. When I didn't hear anything I thought I'd call.'
'Right,' I said.
'I'd understand if you want to cancel. I'd be happy to reimburse you. God, I feel so bad for saying that, Elaine. I'm so sorry.'
I could hear she was being earnest. 'From when to when was the room booked?'
'From the 24th to the 2nd of January.'
It had John written all over it. Maybe that was exactly what I needed. Flee the familiarity, the fussing, the letters, and having some alone time where nobody knew what was going on in my life. Nobody, but Susan, but I could tell she'd not be inclined to enter deep conversations with me about my passing husband.
'You know what? I'll come. Do you want me to pay the rest today?'
'Oh, don't be silly, Elaine. I'll make some arrangements and reserve a different room for you. No further payments needed. Take this as an apology from me. I'm not good with such matters.'
I smiled. She was doing much better than most. 'Don't worry about it. So it's settled. I'll be there at the 24th in the afternoon.'
'Yes, the room's yours. See you on the 24th.'
We said our goodbyes and I stared at the wall, unable to move. It would be a painful trip, with all the memories, but I'm sure it was better than spending it around family, having to put up with everyone looking at me with their petty, mind the huge elephant in the room. I didn't think I'd be able to take it. When I'd told my mother that I didn't want to do the big Christmas party at ours, she'd immediately offered my parents' house. I'd been reluctant to make commitments. It was quite impressive how an, to me, unimportant holiday had such a hold over me. It's not that it was celebrated the conventional way; we never had a Christmas tree or exchanged presents, the only thing we did was invite everyone around on Christmas day. Friends and Family. In that respect it was probably a good thing that I was an only child and John only had one brother with two children. We'd normally have about twelve people—depending on who was able or in the mood to come—sitting around the large dining table and it had been John's pleasure to cook up a storm while I did all the decorating. We never had a single argument, but lots of laughter.
Later, my mother was sitting across of me at the kitchen table, noisily slurping her tea while writing a shopping list.
'There'll be a change of plans for Christmas.'
My mother looked up, her lips forming a pout. 'Go on.'
I told her about my stay in Witchurch.
'With whom?'
She eyed me suspiciously. 'You're not planning on doing something silly, do you?'
'Not until now, but maybe I'll consider it since you've kindly mentioned it.'
'Elaine, don't say such things.'
'Relax, mum, I'm not going to kill myself. I thought you'd be happy to hear that I'm leaving the house.'
'I am, but do you think it's a good idea to be on your own?'
'Absolutely. Seriously, I need some time for myself, just me and some long walks. I need to think.'
'If that is what you want, sweetheart.' She took another sip of her tea.
'It is.'
'Fair enough,' she said, folding the shopping list.
'Don't get me wrong. I'm really appreciating what you and Amy have done, but you can't put your lives on hold for me.'
'But sweetheart, that's what we're there for. Nobody expects you to go on as if nothing happened, and I'm sure Amy would agree with me.'
'And I can't tell you how grateful I am to have this support. I wouldn't have been able to get through the last few weeks without you.'
My mother put her hands around the mug. 'Have I done something wrong? Somehow I get the feeling there's more to it.'
'No, mum. I just think it's time I got back on my feet, I can't rely on you to do the shopping and cooking for me forever. Plus, as you said, Amy has her plate full enough as it is, and I can't expect her to continue like this.' The last thing I wanted was to be a burden to my loved ones. I lost the most important person to me, the one I shared everything with, but it wasn't their responsibility to pick up the shards that resembled my life.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

I went too far ...

... ahead, that is. As I was trying to see what's at the horizon for Elaine, I had an idea yesterday night. Unfortunately I didn't feel like writing it, as it was just a seed, growing in my mind. Today, I wanted to find out how it would translate into words and typed it but, somehow, it bugged me: the scene I'd written felt wrong at this point of the book. However, it was perfect for the next chapter. I write in chronological order, anything else just confuses me. I've only once ventured into a different approach-- writing in scenes, then connecting them--and it didn't make my life exactly easier.
Now I was still blind to how Elaine would spend today. I wanted for her to get out of the house, so I added another little trait to her character in order to make that happen. While writing, I enjoyed one of my most favourite composers: Ludovico Einaudi

I opened my eyes. Peace and quiet floated around me. What time was it? A quick glance at my mobile revealed it was 5.30am. Slowly, I turned on my side and stretched my arms and legs. Too big, this bed.
'Morning, John-Boy,' I said into the silence.
He spared me an answer.
'Not in the mood today? Too early for you, eh?'
'Well, at least you didn't snore. Unusual for you.'
'Me? I feel as if I didn't sleep one bit, you know, dreaming a lot.'
'Of who, you wonder? Of you, of course!'
My voice echoed around the room, bounced back from walls that have witnessed many private moments.
'I'm losing it,' I muttered, 'talking to my dead husband.' Dead husband! Sixty days, yet, I still couldn't believe it was true. Every morning when I woke, it took me a minute to realise that I was alone in this bed, alone in this house, and that, no matter how much I wished it weren't true, that very fact wouldn't change. Reality slapped me in the face, and as it hit me, anger seeped through every pore of my body, filled me up until I couldn't take it anymore. With one swift move, I got up and opened the window as wide as possible. I stood in the cool morning air, taking deep breaths, watching the morning sky without appreciating its beauty. On any other Sunday, back then when I woke up next to John, I'd tiptoe downstairs for a small breakfast consisting of yoghurt and muesli with an orange juice before going for a quick run in the park. When I'd come back I'd have a shower in the downstairs bathroom, before preparing breakfast which we'd have in bed. Contrary to me, John hadn't liked to get up early, he'd always said, it's inhuman to be woken before 8am. Let alone doing sportive activities in the morning. When my teeth began to chatter, I rubbed my arms, then pulled on John's cardigan, before going downstairs. I was hungry and longed to go outside to clear my head. Maybe mum was right and it would do me the world of good to leave the house for a while. It would be house until she'd come to babysit me. There was no yoghurt in the fridge, but some wholemeal toast.
Two slices and an orange juice later, I put on my running shoes and jacket and left into the still sleepy streets. The nearby park had always been my favourite route to run. Majestic trees reached into the sky, squirrels, used to humans, sat in the grass munching away on their finds; bushes lined the ways that snaked all across the park, building perfect little walks. There was a small pond in the middle, with swans and ducks, the nearby cafe always busy. Not this morning, though, Sundays, it was only populated by a few dog walkers, some greeted me with a nod and a smile, which I politely reciprocated. I didn't stop for a chat, not even when I met Therese, a wonderful old lady, who walked her border collie every day at the same time. I wasn't ready for small talk or telling people about the tragedy that had happened. Little by little. Leaving the house today was a huge step for me, anything else has to be approached with patience. I ran at a steady pace, trying not to think about anything, but keeping my eyes at the ground and letting the music dictate my rhythm. My breathing was even, my heart beat fast, but regular. One round turned into two and two into four. I jogged for fifty minutes. When I came back I was glowing. For the first time in weeks, I felt alive.
Charged with energy, I returned to our house, where the thick cloud of loneliness, that waited for me, sucked all positivity out of me again. My throat closed up and I gagged, just making it to the loo. It had probably been a bit too much exercising after the long break. I rinsed my mouth and stared at myself in the mirror. 'You're disappearing, Elaine Smith.'

Saturday, 14 December 2013

I'm Elaine

Of course I'm not. Unlike her, I've been spared the pain of losing my soul mate. I can't imagine how it must feel. Not one bit. On the other side, as a writer, creating a character who finds herself in exactly that situation, I have to put myself into her shoes and feel the pain, see through her eyes. It's not an easy task, but since I'm what others call an empathic person, I think I'm heading in the right direction.
I'd made the mistake to post this on a forum, where I fiercely criticise SP authors for the lack of story line or ability to write something compelling. Am I the ultimate writer? Hardly. I know that I can tell a decent yarn and create characters reader care for, but it doesn't make me a master of the craft. In addition to this, I specifically asked not to comment, mainly because, despite my being a harsh critique, I'm in a vulnerable state when it comes to writing. After almost a year of not being creative, my muse returned from the word-trip, throwing me out of kilter. It's a big deal to me to write again and, being in the early stages of a novel, the prospects of having to write a 'mere' 80k (that's what I aim for  with every novel and I know I need this amount of words to tell this story) is daunting. So, having posted that short excerpt which makes more sense when being read in context with the rest, was immediately 'edited' for show don't tell, despite my saying I'm not looking for suggestions on how to continue (my way out of the black hole). It's a first draft, which will be refined later on. I don't listen to anyone at this stage, because I've not even worked out where it's headed. Don't get me wrong, I can take criticism--when I'm asking for it. However, I know a few people are following this, so I'll keep posting here. This novel--above all--is my ... err ... come back for the lack of a better word, if you will. Not in that sensational sense, mind, but more to prove to myself that there's still the passionate writer somewhere in me.

While reading this, you may want to listen to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gq2f3dbSSY


In a rush of panic, I turned onto my stomach to stick my nose into the pillow, inhaling deeply; there, a faint hint of John's shower gel. With a sigh, I let myself sink back, returning to the film. I had no idea what was going on, why the man on the screen ran through a building, shouting at everyone, but even if I'd known, it wouldn't have been of interest to me. The land line rang and I let the answer machine take care of it. It was blinking furiously already, thirty-odd messages, yet I haven't listened to any of them. They were probably condolences at first, and now concerned friends wondering if they could do anything for me. The answer was no. All I wanted was to be alone, even though, in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn't healthy. How could it be? This was how an addict must feel in an ever-spinning circle. Only that I was addicted to sadness. It was all I had to be close to my husband, and I feared that, if I let go of it, I'd be betraying my vows to him. How could I possibly go out with Amy, like my mother suggested, and enjoy the evening, when John wasn't there to share it with me afterwards? How could this be right? It's only been fifty nine days since his accident. What are fifty nine days compared to forever? I wasn't sure how long I was supposed to cry myself to sleep every night, but I strongly believed that just under two months wasn't enough. We'd been together for almost four years, despite the age-difference, we'd proven our friends' and families' predictions that it wouldn't last wrong. I had broken up with my ex-boyfriend a day before I met John, who'd been single for a while. We both didn't know what had hit us and, within three weeks, I'd moved out of my shared house and into his flat. Another two weeks later, he'd proposed. Everyone had said it was far too early and that we should wait a bit more, but we knew we'd found a soul-mate in each other. A year after, we'd moved into the house. It was like a fairy tale and I refused to accept that it had ended. My mother was wrong, it doesn't matter at what age you become a widow, if you love someone so deeply I loved John, it's impossible to get over it. At least from where I was standing. That was what I'd replied to John in one of our many deep and meaningful conversations. No, I couldn't imagine being with another man. Not now, not in a year's time, not ever. John is—was—the love of my life and I'd keep it that way. Anything else was cheating. I didn't believe in God or him watching me, but I still felt his presence everywhere. Like in the bathroom, I'd left his clothes where he'd put them; the jumper over the chair, the gray shirt hung at the wardrobe, waiting to be ironed. If I'd stored them away, it would mean I'd have to sober up, cold-turkey, and face the fact that he'd not come back. That, I wasn't prepared for.
'Yeah, wallow in self-pity, Elaine,' a tiny voice inside me scoffed at me.
'Shut up, I have a right to be sad!' I sneered back. It was like an inner turmoil had began; reason appealing at my survival instinct and the defiant, fearsome kid in me hiding under the stairs. This was a new development and it frightened the hell out of me.
I squeezed my eyes shut as if to keep reason out, lowly whimpering to myself. If only John were here. Tears spilled onto the pillow, soaked my hair. And, naked and defenceless I welcomed sadness; the strange familiarity wrapping its protective arms around me as I drifted away.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Now this took ages!

Today didn't seem to be such a great day for writing. I had my usual struggles: not knowing where it's heading next. I knew I had Elaine and her mum in this scene, but I didn't know what they'd discuss, or what would happen. It's like having a blind spot and no matter you turn, you can't see anything until you run into it. I started about about 4.50pm and just decided to stop. It's 7.25 pm and if I forced myself it wouldn't be such a good idea. I'm happy with today's efforts, since it shows the relationship between mother and daughter very well.
On a side note: I had a conversation with a friend who's been reading all my books so far (no, he's not blowing smoke up my arse, he's told me that he wasn't a great fan of the Branded series), and he's rather intrigued. Well, after I told him what story line I had in mind. Nothing I can tell on here, but I've changed the middle/ending a few times again. Just in my mind. At this point, it's fine, but at any later state it would be a disaster. Okay, without further ado, here's the latest section. I hope you like it as much as I do.


'You know,' she said without turning, 'Auntie Barbara said it helped her to speak to someone after Uncle Fred passed away.'
'Is that so?'
'Yes. And she's happy with Edward.'
I rolled my eyes at her back; was that the point on which she planned to introduce me to one of her knitting group's women's sons?
As if she'd heard my thoughts she quickly said, 'That came our wrong, what I meant was it couldn't hurt to talk to someone … professional.'
'Not interested.'
'So, you're just giving up? Twenty seven's far too young to stay single.'
'Mum, give it a rest.' I bit my lip and formed fists under the table. This was going in the wrong direction.
She sighed. 'Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if you had a girls' night out with Amy.'
That was enough. How insensible could she be? I stood, almost knocking the chair over. 'Seriously, mum? John's body isn't even cold yet and you want to re-marry me? Have you lost it?'
'Watch your words, Elaine. You may be grieving, but that doesn't give you the right to talk to me like that. I'm still your mother!'
'Well, then don't make such stupid suggestions.' I muttered, sitting down again.
'You're reading too much into it. All I'm saying is that it may be good for you—take your mind off things. At least for a few hours. I don't see how locking yourself into the bedroom is any help.'
'Mum, don't you understand? I'm not ready yet. I can't switch off my feelings like a tap. I miss him.' My voice broke. 'I miss him so much.'
'I know, sweetheart, I know. We all do.' She gently stroked my rocking shoulder. 'It'll need time. It's true when they say time heals all wounds.'
'I don't need time,' I replied through my sobs, 'I need John. Why him? What have I ever done to deserve this?'
She continued to stroke my back while I helplessly slumped over the table. What could she have said to comfort me, that his time was up? Hardly.
When the tears finally ebbed, I sat up and wiped my nose on the sleeve. My mother shook her head, but said nothing. For a moment, I stared at the clock at the wall, a plate with a silly picture of a cockerel on it; I'd bought it as a joke present and John found it so hilarious, he'd immediately taken out the hammer to put it up, chuckling all the while. I'd planned to 'accidentally' smash it, but somehow got used to having it there. It did what it said on the tin: tell the time. Ugly and all. I tore my eyes from the clock and caught my mother studying me. 'What?'
'Nothing. It's just nice to see you smiling again.'
'Don't get used to it.'
'You say that now, but it'll change.'
I got up and stretched. 'I'll go and watch a film. Or two. Thanks for dinner.'
'Any time.'
Before leaving for the bedroom, I stopped to kiss my mother on the cheek. She petted my hand and said, 'I love you, too, sweetheart.'
My choice of films was limited; nothing that contained any sort of romance, nothing sad, with someone dying, which left me mostly with comedies, which so far didn't make me laugh, thrillers, or science fiction. I'd had exhausted documentaries and soaps on television and nothing offered distraction of the pain. Heartache, if only Ibuprofen could sort this. For the first two weeks I drank a lot of wine—to take the edge off, but since I didn't leave the house, the stock we had had dwindled fast. My mother and Amy refused to buy me more, saying my becoming an alcoholic wasn't the solution, which was fair enough. But at least it numbed the pain sufficiently. Watching films, however, did keep everyone off my back for a while. I picked a DVD at random and pressed play.
A knock on the door announced my mother's approach, she stuck her head in. 'I'm going home now. Do you need anything for tomorrow?'
I shook my head. What I needed, she couldn't get me. Nobody could.
'All right, then. Be back around ten-ish. Good night.'
'Night, mum.'
The door closed and I settled into my pillows, sniffing at the covers, it didn't smell of John anymore.