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.

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