Monday. First you fill the house with flowers. Stocks in a colour too deep to describe in a white enamel jug on the table. One glorious lime green zinnia in a crystal bud vase on the fireplace. Tatty Sweet Williams in a Betty Brown teapot on the draining board. Then you fill it with music. Songs that tell you how to feel. Songs about Summer. Songs just because. And you sing! You sing at the top of your voice. Swooping your little boy round in circles till dizziness gets the better of both of you. Pulling funny faces and talking in the silliest voice you can summon from your tummy just to make him giggle while you teach him over and over again the way to make his bed. To which he informs you, comedy voice et al, that its his way or the highway. And so having clearly reached an impasse you chase him down the stairs and thrill him to the toes with homemade squashed strawberry lolly ices. Some days it is enough.
You are on a diet of your own devising. Mostly red pepper houmous, rice cakes and cantaloupe melon. A diet without cutlery. Houmous scooped into your mouth in pepper sprinkled cucumber boats and melon juice running down your chin. You feel like somebody has scrubbed your insides out . After nine each night you sit down with pale pink olives, a tiny crumbly portion of dolcelatte or a single delicious brazil nut sugar coated in thick dark chocolate and cocoa dust. You miss your wine but have resolved not to be the kind of lush who drinks to drown the tiniest, most dodgy of unworthy sorrows and instead, on the nights you stay at home, or manage to stay awake, make Big Brother your vice of choice.
On Tuesday, just before a friend comes to pick you up and take you out, you stand knee deep in weeds in your stilettos and attack the overgrown laurel bush with your pink secateurs. Too often now you find yourself ridiculous. The weeds you have so successfully controlled for the past two Summers are running wild, a carpet of green nonsense you are choosing not to see, and yet that night, regardless, you could not go out without cutting the bay laurel back into shape. It was bothering your sense of peace and no amount of lipstick or coffee coloured lace could come between you and your clippers. Funny this ability to see only what you want to see and let the rest of the world fall to rack and ruin.
(You miss yourself now, fight a constant battle between your authentic self and she who has an entirely different agenda to that which you know provides the most gentle, most reassuring of pleasures… pottering around the house, a pile of books long ignored, candlelight and cosy quilts. It is as if your whole personality has split in two. Even your Mum doesn’t recognise you).
Wednesday. It is quite the oddest week. You drink a skimmed milk latte and re-read Romancing The Ordinary. At lunchtime you dip long straggly purple stemmed broccolli into a blue boiled egg and wonder why people get so dementedly obsessed with Sudoko. A phenomenon that has passed you by as successfully as the mystifying attraction of Brad Pitt. And that hospital drama George Clooney used to be in.
On Thursday you wake up at four thirty in the morning, parched. And so you sleep-wander downstairs in mild astonishment for the house is bathed in soothing grey light, the likes of which you have never seen before. (Mostly because you almost never come down before morning now, terrified in case the local mice come out to play when you are asleep or the bogeyman takes root in your armchair). But here you are. The geranium on the kitchen windowsill curtseys a surprised good morning and you boil the kettle and mix up a glass of warm water certain that cold water taken now will bloat your tetchy stomach in cruel reprisal. Something feels odd. As if something is coming to an end. You curl up on the sofa with your fuzzy green blanket and drowse, trying to pick up your dreams where you left them, swooshing suddenly into sleep like Alice falling into the burrow.
That night a man who eats enough cheese to give him nightmares for the rest of his life comes and sits at your table. You watch him shovelling stilton down his throat and feel bizarrely detached. You wonder what the hell’s bells you are doing! The reason why you invited him at all. Why you are bothering going through these pointless motions, when all you really want is a long oily bath and a nightie fragranced with rosewater. How very quick you are to try replace one mans affection with another, when it isn’t possible to fill the gaping hole the previous one dug in your heart. So you yawn. On purpose. He thanks you for your resentful hospitality and walks to the door carrying a yellow mustard cracker. He must be starving. You shut the porch door and thank the lord he has gone. Then watch a subtitled film and forget to concentrate. Something is coming to an end you see? You can feel it. You wonder how much longer you will have to wait. Your breath already shortening in anticipation. Or fear.
Friday, late, after the kids are in bed, Kath comes over and lies on your sofa, You are giggly, like teenagers. Working yourselves into a frenzy, screeching with delight over laundry tips you deem housekeeping porn. Irrationally thrilled at the idea of doing your whites on a 90 degree wash. Twice!! Just for kicks! (Never mind the planet). Then after the pair of you get positively giddy in pursuit of a hairy spider, you declare yourselves exhausted, and you stand in the lane, watching Kath run through the dark, till she turns into her path safe. You should go to bed yourself, your paisley eiderdown already turned back awaiting your return, but you don’t, choosing instead to pack your sons bag for his stay over at Daddys tomorrow and flick through a pile of Martha’s from 1997 till your eyes start to droop.
Saturday, you pad, slipper shod around the house. You pour cheap lemonade into vases full of withering blooms and poke wooden handled brushes around the insides of plastic milk bottles. You wonder whether everyone else finds recycling the constant exhausting obligation that you do. You hand your child over to his Father and find yourself banging around a terraced cottage as vast as a castle, all echoing chambers and dark shadows, hours stretching beseechingly ahead of you, yours to fill however you choose. You plant tiny, trusting seedlings in the back yard, pull ivy off the wall to drape along the mantle-piece and cut posies of rosemary and lavender to hang to dry from the finial of your bedpost. Later you take a nap, fully dressed. Then wake and lie mildly bewildered by the afternoon sunshine. It isn’t long off now. You know that. You write letters, fill forms and plan meals. You warm white beans and mash garlic and chilli into them for supper, scan vintage images into your laptop and wait. And at quarter to midnight it comes. A conversation that causes shock to roar through your veins, perforating your eardrums like the outraged shriek of a newborn baby.
You hope that in the face of it you are dignified and kind. That you set out your stall, honest and true. But nothing will ever be the same again: if only because now you have been brought kicking and screaming to stand in front of the extent to which you have, for more than eighteen months, been willing to deceive yourself. You have to wonder what is re
al. The ongoing saga of single parenthood, Mark, the drama that was the man you adored as a teenager and all the other flotsam, just trivia now.
The next morning you wipe away the artifice. Rub violent blue scrub into your fake tan and drag the skin of your fingers off with your false nails. You don’t have to be her anymore. You dress in a grey vest and yoga pants, rolling about on your exercise ball till your stomach muscles screech in protest. Then you get fetch a glass of cranberry juice, wandering through the house, tripping over toys, then straightening this and re-arranging that, till you come face to face with yourself in the mirror.
And there you are. Eyes wide open, like a confused child.