Writing 101, Day 11 – If we were having coffee right now...
Ok, I’m cheating with this one, because, well for a start, I don’t drink coffee. We’d have to be in an alternate universe, and I thought I might be able to write something jolly around that, but thinking about it made me get all heavy with gloom. I couldn’t help but start that in my alternate universe there wouldn’t be atrocities…
So instead I’m treating you to a short story I wrote years ago as part of the creative writing course I took with the Open University. Reading it back, it has it’s flaws, and I was limited by word count, so it’s not perfect, but a bit of fun, and well, it starts in a coffee shop….
A Sadie Frost Day
He had asked her to meet him at the coffee bar. It was unusual and she was wondering why the hell they couldn’t just meet at home? She had been at work when she got the text:
‘Need to meet urgently. Come to Starbucks NOW’
She had texted back
‘Am at wrk, will hv to be lunch’ and just received the one word response ‘NOW’
Her curiosity aroused, she had made an excuse about a doctor’s appointment and trotted across town as fast as she could.
She didn’t see him straight away. He was sitting in a corner with a paper held awkwardly, and rather conspicuously, to hide his face. She grabbed the top and pulled it down
‘What’re you playin’ at Bobby, I was busy.’ she said testily
‘sshh, keep it down. Sorry. Look it was, is, kind of an emergency’ To her surprise she saw he was trembling. He looked unusually shifty.
Celia dropped her bag down on a vacant seat, and sat down opposite him. Today he was wearing a long black wig, and pumpkin orange lipstick. His homage to Lucy Liu extended to an over-tight, over-skimpy black dress, complemented by staggeringly high, red, size 12 sling-backs. His masculine, muscular legs were wrapped in shiny flesh coloured tights, like chicken in cling film.
‘What is it now?’ she said, not without some concern
‘Its mum. I’ve, err, lost her.’ Seeing the instant change in Celia’s demeanor he bristled ‘look I’m sorry, but you know how she is. Oh god’ he wiped his hand across his face and she noticed the swatch of make-up it left on his palm.
‘Just because you are a drag queen, does not mean you have to be a drama queen too’ Celia was used to his histrionics, and used the term drag queen just to rile him. He had first turned his attention to dressing up in his early teens, when Celia was still too young to understand what was going on. Since then she had never known what he was going to look like from one day to the next. His ‘look’ was always based on some celebrity or other though.
She left Bobby ostentatiously dabbing at his eyes with a lace handkerchief while she went and got them both a ‘skinny latte’. Sitting back down she started to interrogate him as if he were a child: where had they been? Why were they out at all? How could he lose her?
Slowly Bobby began to recount the events of the morning
‘Mum was up before me this morning. It was one of her good days. She’d put lippy on and everything. She put on that fancy frock, you know, the one with the big red poppies’ Celia cringed. That dress was strapless, short and sequinned, and the most inappropriate piece of attire she could think of for a woman in her sixties.
‘She came and got me up – pulled the covers right off me she did. She was so full of it this morning Cee, so cheery. Anyhow, she’d made me some pancakes. Pancakes! Can you imagine? They were horrible. Horrible. All rubbery and chewy. But she stood over me while I ate them. Then… she told me what to wear – Lucy Lui! Huh! This is much more of a Sadie Frost day. She wouldn’t have it though ‘Lucy Lui’ she insisted. She did.’ Bobby paused and blew on his coffee sending a little breath of foam scooting off the top.
‘Love it when it does that’ he grinned showing the lipstick on his teeth for the first time. He wasn’t an artist when it came to applying make-up Celia observed.
‘An-nee-hoo..’ Bobby’s favourite expression was that one elongated, ill-pronounced word.
Pursing his lips and sticking his little finger out, he theatrically sipped at his coffee
‘So. We caught the bus. Can you imagine it? What the old ladies thought of the two of us, mum all dolled up, and me Lucy Lui on a Sadie Frost day’ he shook his head and sucked his teeth emitting a soft whistle.
‘She wanted to go to the park. Go to the swings like we used to when I was little, she said. Potty. She’s potty Cee, no mistake.’
‘Yes. I know’ Celia had finished her coffee and had begun staring out of the window to see if she could spot the poppified dress amongst the crowds. ‘I think you should get to the point where you lost her’ she said with an edge of irritation.
‘It was in the park, Cee. I only took my eyes off her for a minute or two.’ He was now staring doggedly into his cup as if the words were written there ‘There we these lads. Wolf-whistled me they did.’ He tittered to himself. Celia occasionally wondered if he only dressed up like that for attention rather than because of some innate urge, but the thought evaporated as quickly as it had come. No-one could keep up that pretence uninterrupted for fifteen years.
‘Well, they were very flattering. And one of them Cee, he would have been just right for you. A real looker he was’ Bobby was always trying to set Celia up with odd bods he had met, though he never showed interest in either women or men, and never had done as far as Celia could remember. She suspected he survived quite happily on narcissism.
‘We ought to go to the park. See if we can see her. She should be easy enough to spot in that dress’ she said, scraping the chair against the floor as she stood.
Bobby caught her arm and for the first time looked straight at her, his brown eyes framed by false eyelashes giving them the appearance of two crazed chrysanthemums.
‘I was glad’ he confessed soberly ‘I was glad to get rid of her. She was driving me mad, all that pottiness’ and he fluttered his polished nails around his temple.
‘You left her’ it was a statement rather than a question.
He could snivel all he wanted, she didn’t mind if he was miserable for a change. She had been the long-suffering sole breadwinner in the household for as long as she could remember. Neither she nor Bobby had known their respective fathers. They were long gone and followed by a succession of ‘uncles’ over the years. It was amazing that there weren’t more siblings to look after.
Their mother was bi-polar, the disease once known as manic-depressive. Her moods swung from over-jocular and inappropriate to the deepest self-destructive gloom. As well having a chameleon brother, Celia had had the far more disturbing experience of growing up not knowing how her mother would behave. In the past six months alone she had been hospitalized with slit-wrists and arrested twice for indecency.
Bobby coped by escaping into his own preternatural world. His eccentricities were not appreciated by prospective employers and he had never had a paying job. One day he would be Frieda Kahlo, with a thick black line joining his eyebrows in the middle, sombrely announcing
‘My art is my life’ and the next he would be Blondie, belting out ‘Sundae Girl’ in his baritone voice at the local karoke bar. It was fair to say that Bobby had a mercurial nature.
Celia sighed. She realised how tired she was of picking up the pieces of their chaotic lives. The office was some respite from the madness, but she felt alone there. How could she tell her colleagues about her mother, or Bobby? How could she take anyone home? She needed to escape.
‘Bobby, get a grip’ she said opening the door ‘I’m going back to work. Mum can find her own way home and you can……well, see you later’
On the way back, she stopped in the Estate Agents and by half past three that afternoon she had rented a tiny studio flat.
By five, there was a splash of unseasonal poppies spread out on the grass in the park.
It turned out that Bobby, in a fit of pique, had pushed his manic mother off of the little bridge that spanned the lake in the park. Far from wolf-whistling, the lads at the park gate had ridiculed him and been more interested in his flighty, flirty mother. The mother had, of course, been delighted with the attention and joined in enthusiastically with the derision. Being upstaged by a pensioner in a mini skirt had seriously irked him, and not given to arguing, Bobby had just seized his chance for revenge.
In court, dressed as Marlene Dietrich, he said he hadn’t meant for her to drown. He just thought a dunking would ‘bring her down a peg.’ He was out of sorts because ‘it wasn’t a Lucy Liu day’.
Bobby became a celebrity in his own right – ‘Transvestite Matricide’ with his picture alongside it, was splashed all over the papers.
He couldn’t wear a dress where he was going though.