I find it fascinating how the characters develop. I normally see scenes in front of me, then, when a character enters, I'll let them speak. It doesn't work any other way for me. Today, I had Elaine's mother, who I had no idea how I wanted her. Nor did I know how Elaine looked. It all just happens organically. There were also a few changes to her character. I love giving mine depth, and also creating a 'next door neighbour' person, with weaknesses and strengths. Elaine is difficult, because she's grieving and absorbed in her own world, she's not a very pleasant person to be around. But then, Amy's her best friend and her mother is, well, her mother. In any other situation, I guess, Elaine could be easily disliked, but everyone gives her slack in those difficult times. It is a very thin line I'm walking. A tad too much and readers could get annoyed, too little, and her grieving isn't believable. I've never experienced this type of grief, so I have to rely on my empathic skills and put myself into the Elaine's shoes. Oh, and yes, I've got a title, but I won't tell. Now that would be stupid, wouldn't it? I love to be either creative with titles, like playing with words, or choose something that isn't common. It should reflect the content, though. I check Google and Amazon to see what comes up when typing in the title. This one seems to tick the boxes.
'No,' I heard Amy sigh, 'no signs of improvement. I really don't know what to do anymore, Sheila.' I shut the door and, not bothered by the stale smell of days not airing, I crawled under John's duvet. Downstairs, the faint sounds of Amy doing the dishes annoyed me. Why did she not leave it as I told her to? A few days with pots and plates in the sink won't hurt anyone, neither did the floor not being cleaned. My husband died, that's what hurts and no amount of cleaning would bring him back. So what? I'd ordered anyone, who came and visit aka 'look how I was doing' to not lift a finger. Quite frankly, I liked it the way it was. A clean place was the one John and I had lived in. This house wasn't the same without him, so there was no point in keeping it tidy. Mum said that one couldn't cook in a dirty kitchen; I'd replied that I wasn't hungry anyway. All I'd done was boil some pasta and poured the tomato sauce over it—straight from the jar. Why making an effort? Everything tasted the same. I'd loved rustling up great meals; John was a good and grateful eater, always appreciating my skills and creativity. Another thing I loved about him; he'd made me feel like nobody else could do what I'd done.
'Trust me,' he'd say, 'I've been on this planet for more than a decade longer than you.'
It would always make me laugh. He'd played the 'I'm much older than you' card without regrets. Unlike other men, he hadn't suffered from mid-life crisis; according to him, he'd had everything he'd needed: a great job, a home without mortgage—he'd inherited the house when his grandmother passed away—his health and, most importantly, as he'd never tired to stress: his soul mate. He'd always pull me into his arms, his warm brown eyes looking into mine, before telling me that he loved me. And I loved him back, so much I couldn't put it words, or grasp it. It was infinite, my love. 'I miss you,' I mumbled as I felt myself nodding off.
The car was too fast, way too fast for a cold and foggy day, and it was coming my way. Horns blared, tires screeched; a loud bang, then the sound of metal on metal groaning as the two cars slid over the damp road, interlocked, heading straight towards the tree. Knock, knock, knock. John's standing on a kitchen chair, hammering a nail into the wall above the mantelpiece; the photograph of our wedding day. Knock, knock, knock.
I sat up at once. 'John?' Groggily, I blinked into the light coming in from the door.
'Sweetheart, it's only me.'
Mum! I let myself fall back onto the pillow.
'It smells awful in here,' Mum said, coming in to open the window. 'You've slept all day. Why don't you have a shower and come downstairs? I've brought some stew.'
'I'm not hungry.'
'Sweetheart, you need to eat. Look how skinny you've become.'
I felt my stomach grumbling. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to humour her; from experience I knew she'd not let it go until she'd got her way. She'd always been a feeder. 'Okay, give me ten minutes.'
She searched my face for a second, then smiled. 'It's your favourite.'
'Wonderful.' I feigned enthusiasm.
Our en-suite was filled with the scent of John's shower gel. It looked as if he could be back any time. I couldn't bring myself to throw away any of his things, which were still neatly arranged on the shelves and in the cupboards. I wiped the mirror with my hand and stared at the empty-eyed person. How had he ever seen that beautiful woman he'd claimed I am? Dark hair framed my all too pale face, my blue eyes resembled more the colour of washed out jeans, than the sky John had always compared them with. I looked ill. I felt ill. Not bothering with combing my hair, I just twirled it into a bun and fixed it in place with a clip. Snuggled in John's cardigan and my leggings on, I went into the kitchen. It was empty.
'In here,' came the answer.
Rage prickled under my skull; I stomped into the dining room, grabbed the plate and headed into the kitchen where I sat it down with so much force, some of the stew spilled over.
'Elaine, sweetheart …'
I shoved a spoon full into my mouth. Don't say it, don't you dare say it!
'I thought it would be nice to eat in …
'I'm eating in the kitchen!'
'I said I'm eating in the kitchen!'
My mother's face changed from shock to hurt. I knew I went too hard on her, but I had no control over my actions.
'All right, sweetheart, you can eat where you like.'
'Thank you,' I said, trying to soften my tone. She gave me a half-smile and put a glass of water in front of me. John and I had never bothered with the dining room. Only when we'd had visitors we'd eaten there as the kitchen table was only big enough for two. We'd spent many a night in this kitchen, drinking wine, talking, making future plans, we once even clichédly wiped everything that was on it, when suddenly overcome by desire. If my mother knew, she'd probably vomit. Just remembering that night made me choke up.
'Oh, Elaine, what is it?'
I should have known that she'd watch me like a hawk. Nothing went unnoticed with my mother.
'I'm tired, that's all.'
She cocked her head. 'That's impossible. You probably slept too much. Maybe you should go for a walk tomorrow. The weather forecast says it'll be sunny. It'll do you good to breathe some fresh air.'
The furrow on her forehead deepened; she brushed a strand of greying hair out of her face and tutted. 'If you go on like this, you'll waste your life away. Do you think John would want this?'
'Leave John out of it!'
'Seriously, sweetheart. Everyone's worried about you. Amy's already pushed to her limits, with her father being ill, and her little daughter. I don't know how she manages anyway. All alone, without a husband to look after her, and …'
I glared at her. Trust her to put her foot in. Seemingly mortified, she busied herself cleaning up the spilled stew, muttering something like 'needing to get a grip' under her breath. Did I need a grip? Silently, I ate, while my mother put the rest of the stew into containers and stored it in the fridge.