This is by way of an I'm Not Dead post. Apologies for the late start up to this year. Fluffhead has metamorphosed, as does occasionally happen, into the scary and baneful Tetchyhead I mentioned ages ago. He's been ill, one thing after another for about 3 weeks now, and its left me no time to do anything much but nap when he does.
So here is an old story I wrote, so you have something to do when you sadly think - where is that Blackberry Juniper type person? You'll notice it blends a bit of writing in I've already shown you. Or you might not. Either way, I hope you like it, and I hope it makes you feel good and moody, or at the least confused. Since here I am sharing the frame of mind I'm in today - tired, doomy, and ready for bed! Enjoy, or not, but hopefully...
And regular transmissions will hopefully carry on soon!
What is the point of Bluebells?
I feel tired. When they ask me out for drinks, all I want to do is go home. And the board meeting minutes are unfinished; they need to be done by the end of today. But what’s the point of going home?
Toby will be there composing his music, it will be the same as usual – ‘fights about going to bed at a decent time, and because of that not happening, not having sex, let alone spending any time together’. This is what I said to Clare.
Clare watches with her usual intent expression, which also seems a bit puzzled, for some reason, and then disregards everything that has been said to her. ‘Yeah, but you’d feel better. So come out – just have a couple, get the sparkle on, and then go home and have a better sleep than you would have?’
I sigh, lots of that going on lately, deliberately unhunch my shoulders and go to the bathroom to fix my makeup. Redoing the eyeliner, I listen to the comments of Annabel in the toilet next door.
‘So you’re coming out then? Yay! Are you putting more paint on? You never used to do that…is it that thing when you’re having a downer day and you need more armour?’
‘Yup,’ I say, long ago having learned there is little point evading Annabel.
Two hours later
I step outside the pub. Bloody hell it’s bright.
I feel in my pocket for the cigarette packet, am dismayed to see there are only two left, and feel for the lighter. Bugger, Laura had taken it earlier in the day.
Rather than speak to any strangers, so not in the mood, I go round the corner to the restaurant next to our offices. Very convenient; restaurant on one side, pub on the other. It’s a quick job to poke my head round the corner of the kitchens at the back, and ask for a sachet of matches. ‘Santinis’. Benjamin, from Equador, gives me the matches, and insists, with a flourish, on lighting my cigarette for me. He lights one himself. I catch the flash of sulphur in my nostrils. I like it, its real and it feels like something. A nice change.
He’s half shaven, and it’s a good look on him – an aging someone’s dad with a glint in his eye. He makes an incredible omelette. He fed me one once, when I forgot my lunch – even cold, it was a masterpiece. He feeds and chats to all the stray people he finds, and I seem to be in this category. Which is nice. I am not choosing to find it insulting.
We stand together and watch the smoke swirl. I like his manner. He has that demeanour: the folded arms, resting easily back against the wall, turned not away from me, but not to me, that says to me – I’m here, you can talk. But you don’t have to. We watch the trees together. They swish softly in the breeze. Scents of pasta sauce and oysters mingle not unpleasingly together. I enjoy the drawing out of the saying nothing. I listen to small eddies of gravel get shushed along as the tiny yappy dog from the block of posh flats opposite, skitters past. The old lady who walks him frequently asks me what my name is; she always forgets and asks me again. She meanders past, and before she can see me, Benjamin engages her as she leans to reattach the small dog to its collar. I smile at him, and he winks, and I head back around the corner to the pub. I am unsteady on my feet, and have to make an effort to walk carefully in a straight line. Clare is right: this is way better than concentrating on all the other things.
Two hours later
I am doing that massively clichéd thing of fumbling with my key in the lock. I had texted Toby to say I would be late, this is all fine. He’s composing, he won’t notice any difference, me there, me not there, whichever. He didn’t reply.
I call out hello after I’ve slammed the door rather loudly. The house smells of nothing. He’s not eaten. I am aware of a deep quietness, and of the room spinning, all the colours still being wildly bright…my pink sweater, tossed over the side of the chair, screams to me to look at it.
I am hungry. He’s not been out to get bread. He never seems to go out to get anything anymore. I know he gets in late, with the contract being so far away – Northampton is a long journey back to the East End, but…I feel like I do everything now, since he started this job. I open a tin of baked beans and just eat them out of the tin – a treat this is, just like when I was small; then it was pilchards in the tin. He hates when I eat from a tin.
I realize I can hear no sounds. He’s already gone to bed. Right. So he is cross I am late, I get no dinner, and this is how we are going to play it. Right.
I go upstairs, feel my shoulders hunching up again, and try to say a few words to the lumpy form in the bed. I can’t even see his head properly. I go to turn the light on and think better of it. What’s the point? He’s not responding to me. I slide inside too, and feel no warmth from him; it’s as if he just isn’t there.
Like it has felt for months. My nose is blocked, so I lay on my back waiting for it to clear, I don’t turn to hold him. He doesn’t seem to notice, can’t even hear him breathing. I feel myself drifting into the spinning that is still within my head, even though my eyes are closed.
I think about going to see my mother tomorrow. At least she will be happy to see me?
I’m out with my mother, walking the Bluebell Trail near Alfriston. The day is warm after a cold start. I take off my pink sweater, and put my sunglasses on.
There’s that beautiful lowering of sound levels you get as you enter a wooded area, as we go in. The trees must absorb sound. They form a canopy over us, screening out some of the sun. The rest dapples the ground, in bright striations that move, as the leaves swish in the light breeze. So much better than London; I feel so many parts of me starting to relax.
I think about texting Toby, he loves bluebells, they are all around. Again, the niggling thought….what’s the point? He won’t text back. He doesn’t seem to want to talk to me at all. I don’t understand how distant he has become.
Birds are calling to each other from all directions overhead. There’s a sudden mass of sunlight breaking through, as a twitter of woodpigeons detach from a tall tree to the left. A black feather floats down right in front of my face and lands softly on my t-shirt. I pick it off, and my mother calls to me from ahead, snapping a photo of me. She’s using flash, and it blinds me for a second and I drop the feather, feeling its silkiness run through my fingers and be gone. When I look for it I can’t see it, but I find some dropped bluebells and pick them up. They are cool and sullen against my fingers, already losing their remarkable blue, paling quickly as they start to dry out. I take off my sunglasses to look at them properly. Toby would love these. I almost want to cry.
I look ahead of me to where my mother is. She’s come to a halt about a pond, and is struck by the reflections in the water. The reflections are striped with jagged tall tree images, black and mean. I walk over to her, skidding wetly on a patch of mud and having to steady myself on a hazel tree. Gripping its bark, I have a strong, though momentary sensation of intense earthiness. It feels, though it’s clearly a young tree, that it has been breathing evenly here for a thousand years or more. It is the most strongly rooted and locked into its sense of place thing I have ever touched. I release grip and move on, feeling less solid almost immediately. This I just the sort of thing I used to tell Toby, these weird sensations I get, changes in perception. He used to care.
Mum shows me the photo, her arm brushing against mine. She’s so thin, I feel her bones; and when she speaks, I imagine I hear her voice as softer than usual. She seems smaller beside me, and when she shows me the picture of me, I look alarmingly curvy, and more present than she, with her soft and flyaway hair, bobbed and fading to honey brown. I can see her scalp. Her lips look thinner and lacking in colour. But when she grasps my hand and pulls me on, commanding: ‘We have to bear to the left now’, I can see she is as strong as ever.
I’ve had the feeling all day that she’s been trying to talk to me about something. I assume it’s her and dad having problems again. I want to confide in her about Toby’s strange attitude. I keep wanting to ask her if she thinks he’s having an affair. But she never seems to quite get to what she wants to say.
My mother feeds me a bourbon biscuit, so I stop and fish about in my rucksack for the apple juice I bought on the way in. I plop into cross-legged sitting and glug it all down, closing my eyes and feeling it wash through me like a whole apple tree of crispness.
It feels amazingly peaceful, even though there is a bit of twig that has worked its way somehow into my boot, and is itching my ankle something chronic. My mother turns and smiles at me; she looks a bit sad, the corners of her mouth don’t quite make it upward. Perhaps worried. I wish she’d say whatever it is she wants to.
I arrive in the office, getting my jacket caught in the door as I always do. I jerk myself through it, spilling a bit of my coffee over my trousers. Great.
Some of the directors say hello to me as they arrive. I smile hello back, wondering why their eyes linger on me a beat longer than polite. I look down at my shirt, convinced I spilled more than I thought. I can’t see anything; I dab with a screen wipe anyway.
I text Toby, the little ‘love’ text we send each other every morning when we get to work; his is usually hours later than mine because of the length of the journey, stickiness of the traffic. At present I am trying to be detached, and see how many mornings I can send this and him just not respond. Alarmingly, I feel the need for a drink. This early. This is not good.
My supervisor, Maleka, comes up to me. She’s dyed her hair over the weekend, a vibrant chestnut red. I compliment her as I like her, she’s a straight up sort of person. Seems like she’s about to be that way now too, she has that look.
‘Kay,’ she begins, and my feeling is confirmed. She definitely has something to say. Grateful that somebody has something to say to me, I smile at her. Of course, I am now worried I’ve done something wrong.
‘Kay, Jeremy and I would like to see you, for a word?’ It’s not a question. I rise, gesturing to the phone. ‘Its ok, Laura will cover the switchboard. If you’d just…’ She takes my arm, an unprecedented step for her. Not a touch led person, Maleka.
I am ushered into the small meeting room, the one with the blinds, the one where bollockings take place. I am now decidedly uncomfortable. I am made more so, when I see Jeremy’s pinched face, looking paler than usual. I sit down, and he ceases his pen tapping on the table. I feel myself breathe in and hold it. I remember the board papers, they are late now. I flush. Shit. And I’ve been a bit late, recently, here and there. I’m just not sleeping so well.
Maleka arranges her skirt around her thin legs and clears her throat. Blimey, she’s uncomfortable too, this can’t be good…
Jeremy’s head looks strangled by the tightness of the purple tie. Against his pink shirt, it doesn’t go well, he looks ill.
‘We think you should take some time off,’ Jeremy gets out, and can barely make eye contact with me.
‘Eh?’ I say, then realise I actually said that out loud. ‘Er…why?’ I can feel my hear thudding – oh god, I’ve really messed up, it’s more than board papers, and I can’t even think what it was I did wrong.
Jeremy looks nervously at Maleka, and I can see a tiny twitch above his left eye. Their tension communicates itself to me. I hunch up and make an effort to sit straight at the same time. I feel like I’m holding myself very solid, ice-like.
Maleka takes my hand. I can feel myself raising my eyebrows, and my first urge is to pull away.
‘Since Toby’s death, you’ve been acting very odd,’ she says. Baldly.
I am frozen. I am ice.
‘We know it’s only been three months, and grieving takes many forms…’
I can feel my hand resting under hers. Hers burns me, I am so cold.
‘…but we are very concerned that you keep talking about him – as though he were still alive.’ She takes her hand away and puts a tendril of bottle chestnut red behind her ear.
My mouth is open, and my head moves of its own accord, from side to side. I keep getting clips in my head, of news reports, the news, me eating beans on toast, seeing news of a car crash on the M1…a bad one…a number for people to call. I see myself calling it. I see myself being sick. I see myself…nothing. I don’t see anymore.
I face her. Jeremy looks frozen too, white as a sheet. She is looking at me squarely. I see sympathy. I see my mother. I see Benjamin.
‘He isn’t dead.’ I hear myself say. I still have my phone in my hand – I show it to her; my hand is shaking. ‘He texts me every morning, see…?’
I put it in her hand. ‘Inbox, inbox…’ I say, gesturing. Or somebody does, I am far away. My eyes have gone funny.
‘But, Kay, my love,’ she says, and her voice cracks. ‘There’s nothing there. For three months now, there’s nothing there.’
I look down at the phone, see the emptiness. He is ignoring me. Why is he ignoring me? What have I done? It hurts.