Learning to Breath – a short story

Meg was feeling slightly sick as the little dinghy bobbed about on the swell. She and six others were all crowded on to the little rubber boat, tanks between their knees, pressed up against each other, sleek in their wetsuits.

She had got most of her kit on on-shore, struggling into her skin-tight wetsuit, heaving the heavy weight belt on with fingers numb from the cold Atlantic breeze, and strapping the big bladed knife to her thigh in case of trouble. Then, pleased to be feeling like ‘one of the boys’, she’d helped carry the rubber dinghy from the car park, down the pebbled beach, to where they launched it on to the choppy grey ocean.

This was her first ever open water dive. A virgin diver, the lads called her. She was the only woman on the trip, although there were one or two others who came to the weekly meetings at the echoey old Victorian pool back in London. That was where she’d trained and suffered, and where she’d very nearly drowned on many occasions in the five months or so since she’d joined the club.

She remembered the first lesson, when she was told she would have to swim 10 lengths with the weight belt on before they’d even consider teaching her anything else. Grim determination got her there, her arms pulling the water out of the way and legs kicking frantically, just managing to keep her slight frame afloat. It had taken four attempts, but she finally succeeded and progressed on to the next stage.

Clearing your mask.

Doesn’t sound very difficult she had thought at the time, but it proved to be another stumbling block, that, in truth, she still struggled with a bit. The trick, they told her, was to grasp the bottom of the mask and lift it up at the same time as blowing through your nose. Theoretically that should empty any accumulated water from it. But usually Meg ended up with her eyes stinging and feeling more like a goldfish peering through its bowl at the world beyond.

Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, she became more confident and was eventually able to attempt the final hurdle, which was to put all the equipment on at the bottom of the pool. Again, it took several attempts. Just diving down there was difficult enough, and then to position the weights across her legs before gasping at the air was well, challenging. On several occasions she just didn’t have enough air left in her lungs to blow the water from the mouthpiece before taking a breath, and resurfaced gasping and floundering. In the pub afterwards, the men would tease her mercilessly, but she’d stuck at it, and eventually built up the strength to get through it.

She had seen the advert for the diving club in the local paper. She’d tried one or two other types of clubs in the past, even the WI, but found, as the ‘new girl’ the small talk and false camaraderie made her feel like a fish out of water so she hadn’t stayed for long. She had never even dreamt about doing such a potentially dangerous thing before, but now she was alone, she felt that she needed something, a distraction, just to feel alive – to do something extraordinary to get away from the daily grind of surviving. Sod the danger.

Working as a receptionist at the surgery she’d always felt like piggy in the middle, with both the patients and the Doctors harassing her. She tried to be professional, really she did, but recently she’d found herself not only making uncharacteristic silly mistakes, but snapping at patients and colleagues alike, and to make things worse, she’d been called in for ‘a chat’ with Di, the Practice Manager who had even suggested she might benefit from medication. Bloody cheek!

Although she was slowly coming to terms with being on her own, the split had left her feeling bewildered, lost, hurt and angry. She knew very well that she’d been prickly and often said things she regretted later. She suspected, that that was probably why Dan had decided to leave her and go and live with his dad instead. A 15 year old boy only has so much understanding to give his mum.

Anyway, he had been very interested in her new hobby, and she was hoping that he might even start to join her at the pool every week. At least it would be regular contact. Not like now, when he often seemed too busy to even talk to her on the phone. She’d tried texting too, but her texts were clearly not so urgent as the saucy ones from his fan club of girls.

Now, though, now was her time. The virgin diver. She sat on the edge of the dinghy confidently adjusting the straps of the tank, pulling on the big black flippers, and tightening the mask that she knew would leave those unattractive ridges on her face when she took it off. Someone turned on her air supply and she put the mouthpiece in and immediately blew out, as had become natural now.

She tipped backwards over the edge of the dinghy, and briefly glimpsed her flippers against the sky before sinking. The shock of the cold water made her entire body contract as though the pressure on the outside had purged everything inside. She heard the comforting, and now familiar, mechanical sound of her breathing, and smiled to herself, before sending a quick ok signal to her companion. Then feeling strong and free she headed off into unknown waters.

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Moving

There is no weather at all outside.  The trees vein into the skin of the pallid sky in stillness. The birds are quiet, having their mid-day rest.  While the tune of unseen cars from a distant road filters through the glass of the shut tight window.

Inside it’s warm, though bleak from packing up.  The light squares on the flowery walls are the ghosts of crated memories.  The vase no longer lives on the shelf, and the porcelain couple kiss elsewhere.  The rooms in this old house are now decorated with buff coloured boxes, all labelled and tagged, and sealed tight with brown tape.  They’ll be gone tomorrow. Along with the squidgy sofa, the coffee table, and the paisley patterned armchair and its worn out cushions. The pots and pans from the kitchen too, though the contents from the fridge have been discarded already.  The breakfast table and it’s wonky leg is going in the skip.

Upstairs the curtains have been taken down and the beds stripped. The naked mattress in the master bedroom, stained and fleshy with age, should probably be thrown out, but who can afford a new bed? Empty hangers rattle in the fitted wardrobes and the mirror reflects the emptiness.  Dust rises from the bedside lamp as it is boxed alongside the alarm clock. The ballerina sleeps in the jewellery box, protecting the paste necklaces and plated earrings. Underwear from the chest of drawers is stuffed into an old suitcase.

In the bathroom the medicine cabinet is emptied.  The contents fill two carrier bags. The still damp bath towel is hung over the radiator. The mould spotted shower curtain is removed and thrown away.

The other bedroom is empty but for echoes of the past. Some dusty children’s toys lie discarded in a corner, with a child’s blackboard bearing the legend ‘I luv granma’ in chalky scrawl.  Some old bedding and a fur covered hot water bottle are the only other contents, all of which, along with the narrow bed, is going in the skip.

Nothing more to do.  So the house is locked up tight for the night.

Back home, mum is waiting.

‘How did you get on?’

‘ok, it’s all done now. I’m getting a cup of tea, do you want one?’

‘Yes please dear. What about my things? You’re not throwing anything out are you?’

‘Nothing important.’

‘How do you know what’s important? It’s all important.’

‘Only the kids things in the spare room, and a few ornaments.’

‘I’ve kept those toys for years, the kids love them.  And you’re not to throw my ornaments. Not any of them, they’re my past.’

‘Yes mum, the kids loved them, but they’re all in their twenties and thirties now, and you wouldn’t want their children to play with that dusty old crap would you?’

‘It can be dusted.’

‘yes, but it’s still old crap’

‘Don’t use that language to me.’

The conversation descends into the usual bickering.

She’s got cantankerous as she’s got older, and I’ve got less patient.

In the morning, back at the house, the sun shines through the grubby windows revealing the dust particles dancing in the air.  The removal men come and make short work of clearing the house.  I’m ashamed of how the carpet looks once the furniture has been removed, but there’s nothing to do about it now.

While they are working I go out and stand in the tiny garden. It’s always bleak at this time of year, but still evident is the love and hard work that my mother has poured into it over the years. I wonder who’ll be appreciating her roses come summer.

Back at my house, I wrap and coddle mum in her big old winter coat and bundle her in the car.  It’s only a ten minute drive.

‘Nearer than before’ I tell her.  It doesn’t help.

The woman at the home greets us with a cheery smile, and helps me manoeuvre mum into the lift and up to her ‘apartment’.  Her old furniture and the boxes are already there, piled higgledy piggledy in the middle of the room.  Mum cries.

The woman suggests she takes mum downstairs to the day room while I sort her stuff out. Mum objects weakly, but the woman declines to hear, and wheels her away down the corridor.

The apartment is tiny.  Fitting the furniture is a life size jigsaw puzzle, but once I’ve heaved it about,  emptied the boxes, put up the curtains (I’ve brought way too many, I’ll need to ditch some), made the bed, and distributed the pictures around the room, it looks quite homely.

I find mum in the residents lounge, cup of coffee in one hand and biscuit in the other.  She’s chatting to the blue permed lady beside her.

‘Pam says there’s a quiz every Tuesday and Thursday’ mum says, dropping biscuit crumbs from her lips.

‘Lovely’ I say.

‘and the food is apparently very nice, roasts on Sundays too.’

‘Great’ I say

‘She says to keep on the right side of Sadie, she’s the cook you know, and she’ll give you extra puddings’

‘Sounds perfect.’ I say

Eventually, I take her back to her rooms. She’s upbeat, which I am terrifically relieved about.

‘Ta Da!’ I say as I wheel her in.

‘What did you bring that old armchair for? It looks tatty.’

‘I know, you told me not to throw anything though.’

‘Oh good grief, you brought that ghastly vase, I’ve always hated that.’

‘No you haven’t’

‘Oh and that dreadful picture that Uncle Paul painted, I can’t believe you’ve put that up.’

‘you’ve always had it up in the front room.’

‘I know but I don’t want other people to see it. Suppose I invite people in for tea? What would they think of me with that thing on my wall?’

‘I can take it down.’

‘Oh just leave it for now, let’s have a cuppa.’

And so my mum’s new life began, as it has been and always will be, with bickering and a cuppa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Released – a bit of flash fiction

It’s early. Still dark. But the dog is insistent and if I don’t crawl out of bed now she’ll probably make a mess on the floor. She’s getting old now and her bladder isn’t what it used to be.

As I flip-flop down the stairs, I remember what day it is and a shiver passes through my body.

‘Someone walking over your grave’ my mother would have said.

I open the back door on to a world of white. Another dump of snow in the night. The dog almost disappears as she leaps into it with glee, her paw prints criss-crossing the garden in a crazy zig-zag of joy.

I leave her out there while I put the kettle on and try to liven myself up.

Sipping my tea and watching the slow glow of day creep in through the closed curtains, I try not to think too hard about the day ahead.  I’m supposed to be happy.  It’s supposed to be a red letter day. My husband is coming home.

He’s been away for four years.  Getting out early for good behaviour. I wonder if he’s going to be able to get here with the weather as it is.  I’m not going to pick him up. No. He understood. I’m sure he understood.

The dog comes in and unsuccessfully tries to leap on to my lap shaking snow from her coat and nearly spilling my tea as she does so. I shout at her, probably more fiercely than I should have and she slinks off and sits in her basket looking at me with her unblinking soulful eyes.

‘Sorry’ I say out loud, and pat her on the head.  That’s all she needs.  That’s all it takes sometimes, even with humans. Just a quick and heartfelt ‘sorry’, and the equivalent of a pat on the head. I dunno, a hug maybe, or just a smile.

I drag myself up the stairs and stand under the shower for a full five minutes, washing off the night with my ‘Japanese Spa’ shower gel.  I don’t know what’s so Japanese about it, I got it from the supermarket up the road. Anyway, it does the trick, I feel fresher once I’ve dried and put some clean clothes on.

I wasn’t sure what to wear. Should I try to look nice? Be welcoming? Or just look myself, in my old jeans and tatty jumper? I decide on the latter. It’s how he’ll remember me.

He’s not coming until the afternoon.

‘not sure what time’ he said, in our brief phone conversation ‘depends on the trains.’

I don’t know much about the trains. Haven’t been on one in years. I get a bit claustrophobic on public transport, it’s why I love my little car so much. She’s been a godsend.  Oh yes, it’s a she. I feel safe in her, comfortable and in control.  In fact, some times, on the bad nights, I go out to the drive and just sit in her, lock the doors and turn on the radio.  She is my mother ship..

The morning slips by in a haze of dog walking, dusting, changing the bed, and hoovering. Before I know it, it is lunchtime, but I can’t eat anything, the mere thought of food sends me dry heaving over the toilet.  It won’t do me any harm I suppose, I could probably do with losing a few pounds. It’s easy to eat rubbish when you’re on your own, and I’m sure my shape change won’t go unmentioned.

I watch the news at 1:00.  To my mock horror they don’t mention the imminent release of my spouse.  Amazing how such momentous events in a life can go completely unnoticed by the rest of the world.

I switch off the TV and let the dog out in the back garden again.  There’s a weak sun and the dogs paw prints are losing their shape as the top layer of snow begins to melt. The cold is refreshing and I suck in the dry winter air as if it’s my last gasp.

I don’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon. I try to paint, but the inspiration isn’t there and the paints won’t move on the paper as willingly as they usually do. Then I pick up my kindle.  That’s been a godsend, I read so many books, mostly psychological thrillers and murder mysteries.  It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I enjoy those more than the foolish romantic stuff women of my age are supposed to read.  Nonetheless, today I find the words swim about and even though I read the same page umpteen times, I can’t make sense of it.

It’s half past three, and getting dark already.  I prayed and prayed that he would arrive in daylight, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.   But then I hear a car grinding to a halt outside. It’s a taxi.

Should I go and open the door, or wait for him to knock? I don’t want him to think I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting, like I have, so I leave it and listen for the once familiar four raps.  I stand in the kitchen, my legs feel numb, my breath is sharp staccato, and I feel slightly dizzy.  Then the doorbell rings.

I reach out to the worktop to steady myself, take a deep breath, before walking as calmly as I can to the door.  I can see his shape through the glass. Instantly recognisable.  He’s tall, quite lanky really, and I can see a halo of curly hair outlined against the setting sun.

‘Took yer time’ he says, as I open the door.

I see him briefly appraising me.

‘Put on a bit a weight, Christ, I’d fergotten how bloody old you are’ he says, as he tries to push past me.

Instinctively I put my hand up against his chest, in a ‘halt’ motion. My body is on auto pilot.

‘yeah, pleased to see you too’ he says in his old familiar sarcastic way. ‘get outta the way woman, and go and get kettle on’.

I look him straight in his steely eyes, my body definitely in auto pilot, and say ‘No’.

Just like that.

‘No’.

It confuses him.  Of course it does. He snatches at my wrist to tug my hand away, but all of a sudden I’m quick and nimble. The dog is snapping at his ankles and he looks down and kicks at her. It gives me enough time to deftly bring my other hand up, the one with the kitchen knife in it, and slash at his turkey neck.

As he crumples, he looks surprised.  He shouldn’t be.

A bit of Christmas flash fiction

img_0791I was lucky enough to receive this exciting looking box for Christmas.  As you know, I love to write but, like most others, often have days when my mind can’t come up with anything worth writing.  Nonetheless, looking through some of the ‘tools’ in my ‘toolbox’ I admit I was a bit sniffy.  Their are sticks with random sentences, wheels with different protagonists, settings, obstacles etc, and ‘sixth sense cards’ which just seemed to have random ideas on.  In fact, my daughters and I had an hilarious half-hour trying to string these together into some sort of story.  It was rubbish of course, but fun.

However, once the Christmas festivities were over, and I was in a bit of a slump, I looked properly at the ‘instructions’.  Basically I should pick out three or four cards put them face down, turn over the first one and write about it for three minutes using the timer supplied, then the next and so on.  Not unlike some of the exercises we did on my creative writing course so ok, I’ll give it a go, I thought.

The cards I picked were:

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink

Sticky raspberry yogurt

Yoga girls toenails

the sound of a garden hose

I honestly followed the rules, and amazingly I was quite pleased with the result.  So pleased in fact, I’m sharing it with you here.  Enjoy!

No Lady

I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.  For my age that is.  Fifty year old women shouldn’t wear pink, or so my father used to say.  He’d know of course.  Women’s fashion was his thing.  He’d been a hairdresser in the 60’s, and met Mary Quant, or so he said.  She let him help design some of her collections, so he said.  He had an eye for fashion that’s for sure, especially the skimpy sort.

Apparently, some of his clientele was sure he was gay because of his good looks and nice manners, at least that what he said. Though it was probably because of his delicate fastidiousness in all things, which may have been appealing in the fancy salon, but drove us all mad at home.

I remember the day I spilt sticky raspberry yogurt on the carpet in the living room.  He was livid. Pinker than the yogurt with rage.  Made me scrub at it for ages until any hint of spillage had been eradicated completely.  I was only six. I had sore hands when I finished and dad wouldn’t let mum put any cream on them or anything. I think she was sorry for that.  I think she was sorry for a lot of things.  Including marrying my dad.

She was a model in a department store.  Modelling the clothes for other, richer, people to buy. She was pretty in a fairly conventional way but had to work to keep the slim figure that Twiggy was promoting around that time.  Dad even cut her hair the same as Twiggy’s.  He really liked that boyish look.

She used to practice yoga. It was the only time she seemed at peace.  Sitting cross-legged on her mat on the bedroom floor, quiet, closed eyes.  Once I painted all her toenails bright red while she was busy meditating and she didn’t even seem to notice.

My brother and I must have been a handful for her, but she never really complained, just meditated and smoked her funny cigarettes to ‘keep her calm’.  Dad would’ve been furious if he’d have caught her smoking, and we were sworn to secrecy.  No dirty ashtrays in our house, no dirty anything. Except dad.

Once I remember my brother and I messing about in the garden after it had been raining.  It’s fair to say that we got a bit carried away and were making mud pies and throwing them at each other, and at everything else in the garden too. It ended up like the Somme.  When dad found us, he turned the hose on full blast and made us stand naked under its powerful spray for a full ten minutes.  We were frozen stiff by the end of it.  The sound of a garden hose still makes me shiver.

Anyway, I digress. Yes, I’m wearing an outrageous long and tight flamingo frock, complete with feathers and sequins.  I’m wearing a wig of shoulder length silky blonde hair, and I’ve made sure my make-up is impeccable.  My entire torso is squeezed into spanx, giving me the curves my mother would have had if it weren’t for dad denying her chocolate and pies for years. Despite dads opinion, I look fabulous, even though I do say so myself.

I’m neat, and clean. Dad would be proud.

Or maybe not.

I’m not sure that he thought the way he treated me (us, my brother suffered just as I did), that he’d turn me into a full blown queer old drag queen.  Shame he didn’t see it, I would’ve enjoyed that.

I squish my stub under my stiletto, hitch up my boobs, and head out to face the rowdy crowd in the grubby nightclub. Easy money.

 

 

 

It seemed like a good idea…

Written in response to the Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner challenge week#2 – 2016

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It seemed like a good idea at the time, after all it was only another one of my brother’s ‘dares’.  He never believed I’d take them on, never believed in me, but oh did I love proving him wrong!

He watched as I climbed over the railing.  We were only one floor up but it still felt pretty high.  I clung on to the bannister and leaned out over the vast hall below. The floor shone from it’s morning polish, and the flowers in the huge vase in front of the portrait of my great-grandfather were fresh.  I could smell them even from my vantage point.

‘Go on then’ he urged, smugly waiting to taunt me.

So I leapt.

Falling forward as planned I grabbed the glistening chandelier. It’s crystal drops shuddered and tinkled as it took my weight.  Pleasingly, I heard my brother gasp.

But then I realised my predicament.  I hung there like a chimp, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t let go and I was too light to make the thing swing.

My arm ached but I managed to cling on until one of the butlers passed by. Not in a position to scold, he fetched a ladder to rescue me.

My mother was not amused.

A Loss? – Flash Fiction

Although the walls on each side were black and sooty, she could see the light in the distance beckoning her with the promise of safety.  She expected to hear her footsteps echo, but all she could hear were her gasps of effort.

She couldn’t quite remember how she had got there, although it seemed to her that it had been quite a journey.  She knew she wouldn’t have taken public transport, she hadn’t done that in at least fifty years.  She remembered quite clearly her revulsion at having to sit on the filthy seats, pressed too close to grubby strangers when she was a student, and how, as soon as she could, she’d bought herself a little car. But she hadn’t been able to drive for a couple of years now, not since they’d taken away her licence. Bloody old age.

She’d felt ok really.  Still had her wits about her although, in general, modern life was a bit of a puzzle.  The youngest members of her extended family seemed to live on a different planet, what with all their gadgets and gizmos, and what rare communication there was with them always seemed difficult. That’s not to say she didn’t love them all, but there were just so many these days…

She wondered where they were now, and instinctively looked down at her hand where the gold band still glistened, though it’s pair had been long gone.  It had been buried with him.  His only bit of decoration against the best black suit that they’d put him in. She wondered if it was still there, in the ground, encasing his bare finger bone, and shuddered at the thought of how cold his touch would now be.

Ineluctably her thoughts turned to her son who’d made it big in the US and then came to grief with the help of chemicals and alcohol.  She’d been mystified and heartbroken that her perfect boy had gone so soon. He’d been naughty as a child. A tease, with a cheeky chuckle, but he’d grown into a handsome man, broad and muscular with long dark hair that softened him and disclosed his gentle nature. She was so sad for his wife and their twin boys who had had to get along without him all those years, but they’d diligently kept in touch with her, emailing photos of special occasions, such as the boy’s weddings, and the babies births.

Looking ahead at the light, she saw she was progressing. It was becoming dazzling, and she closed her eyes, after all, she knew the path was safe. She could feel a slight breeze just brushing her cheeks like a gentle kiss, and for a second, thought she could smell perfume, the one her daughter Lillian liked that was hugely expensive and came in a fancy bottle. Smiling, she remembered her firstborn, who hadn’t been the brightest spark in school, but whose bright eyes and curves ensured that she’d married well.  She’d lived in an impressive house, with a room for the au pair, and a paddock for the ponies, but had ‘downsized’ to an idyllic country cottage when the children left for university. They had said it came with a ‘granny annex’ but they had converted it for the cleaner to live in before they moved in. It was a shame it was so far away, she felt she barely knew her children, or their children.

And then there was Jennifer.  Her youngest daughter, scrawny little Jenny with the mousey hair and crooked teeth. Always angry at the others, she was a loner who seemed content with her own company, so it astonished them when, in her fifties, she married a man 10 years her senior.  A professor or something.  He was a ramshackle widower, with umpteen adoring grandchildren always clinging to his hands. Jenny took them all on like a trooper. She became the perfect grandma, baking cakes and biscuits, letting the hoard have run of the house. It was good to see her happy though, even if it did make her forget her own mother sometimes.

Resolutely she strode on, picking up pace and as the light penetrated her lids, she knew she was close. Opening her eyes she grew accustomed to the brilliance enough to pick out dark shapes against it. As her excitement grew, her breath got louder in her ears and turned to an uneven rattle.  She gasped her last as she saw the shadows become the two men she missed so much, waiting for her, there, as she reached the end of the tunnel.

A Sadie Frost Day

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.