Rain. Huge big plops that call for a sunny yellow Sou’wester and a cherry red smile. Vegetable chilli in the slow cooker and candles lit everywhere because this is surely the darkest day in the history of all our Augusts. You fight your way through knee high cottage flowers to feed chickens that squawk in surprise to see you and reassure a child suddenly certain that the world is about to collapse around his optimistic little head. You avoid the computer, afraid that you won’t be able to hold in your petrified disgust.
Ten minutes later there is an old lady on your doorstep. A fine, upstanding fragile slip of a grey thing, clutching a pink handbag and wearing an anorak. You greet her cautiously. Old women are not in the habit of knocking on doors unless they have a gospel to spread and this one is no different. She clutches your hand as she tells you that the world is indeed about to end. That the bible warned that this day was imminent and now, with these so called disaffected youths running riot through our cities, the end is nigh and there is nothing left to do but to save ourselves. She eyes your seven year old with suspicion as she tells you that it is the children we must save, mostly from themselves because greed has over-run their darling little minds and from that can only stem destruction.
She looks scared, this lady, as she asks you what you will do. As she open her bible and holding your finger, runs it down a page full of threats and barely veiled warnings of terror at the hands of men and children. For a moment you experience the oddest sense of Motherly solidarity, but shake it off quickly as you tell her exactly what you intend to do to save your little boy from himself, from a world full of danger, how the only weapon you have is the kind of love that remains constantly, always, observant and that you hope it will be enough.
You rub away the dry kiss she presses on your cheek as you close the door behind her and go into the house to drink the richest coffee you can find and gather your wits long enough to play a round of Frustration with a child who has turned off the TV himself, too exhausted by trying to understand the words peculiar to the act of rioting being bandied about by the children’s news reports that keep interrupting his usual viewing. You avoid discussion of race and drugs and hide in the kitchen feeling like the coward you promised yourself you would never be when it came to telling the truth about society, to a child with a mind wide open. A child all too willing to try to understand. To empathise and form the kind of considered moral judgement that could break a grown-ups bitter heart.
Now you change beds and fold white towels fragrant with nothing but Fairy. Apply too much make up and run out into the rain. You are driving again and it feels good. You and your little one are both drenched and dithering by the time you arrive at the registry office: there to declare your intention to marry a good man. The woman who leads you into her cold bare office is deadly serious and frowns at you as you struggle to remember your potential husbands postcode and this is a frown only set to deepen when you turn to your child and ask him to confirm your partners middle name for somehow it has slipped into the part of your head in which you cannot fish and you find yourself fluttering with three possibilities and making inappropriate jokes and altogether looking exactly like the kind of woman intent of hitching herself up to a man she has just bought in Tesco’s.
You slink out ashamed. Take your child home and pack up a little overnight bag and a tub full of your chilli in case his potential step-mummy can’t cook or feels the urge to sprinkle a little gluten into anything that she does. She wouldn’t. Of course she wouldn’t. She is kind and funny and your son adores her but today your urge to protect him is at it’s fiercest and your need to touch him so compulsive that you experience the kind of wrench you have not had to endure since the early years of your separation as you wave him goodbye.
You go inside. You listen to Carol King and read vintage Judy Blume, the kind of 1978 escapist trash that has you questioning what you are. Where the seventeen year old you used to be went. Your own transformation into a Wifey…
Then he is here and you eat sitting next to each other curled up on the couch, a glass of rose in your hand and a growl on your lips. You are pre-menstrual. Your fingers so swollen your usually loose engagement ring will not shift. You are tired, sick of scenes too ugly for words on the news, so you are half way up the stairs to bed when the phone rings. You stop. It is late. You hear his voice subdued, agreeing, and you are pushing your feet into your shoes before the conversation has ended, on your way to the hospital again before you know it. Standing waiting for the ambulance carrying his Father to arrive at the casualty doors, then going to sit back down next to the man in handcuffs again, when yet another pulls up without your Father-In-Law inside.
All of human life is there. A girl so glamorous in leopard skin pyjamas you cannot take your eye’s off her. An old lady in a dusky pink mac asleep and alone. A lad with his throat cut and him: the man in handcuffs- your everyday scallywag. Meeting your eye and looking ashamed. Looking not like a man self-destructing, but like some other woman’s little boy. Your heart bleeds for her, whoever she is, for him and then it bleeds all over again when an ambulance backs up to the entrance and John’s stretcher is pulled inside, revealing him to be confused and mostly naked after three more fits have stripped away a little more of his dignity.
And so there you sit: in the centre of a world you forget exists when you are safely tucked up in your own bed. A world where nurses are kind and gentle and doctors, firm and concerned. A world where women shout at staff because their stubborn, sick husbands shout at them and registrars make jokes amongst themselves because they have to, because there is no other way to survive it.
It is four o’clock by the time you are home again. Scrubbing the stench of hospital off your hands and stuffing your face into fresh sheets. You are alone. Perspective settling on your shoulders and the riot in your own head enough to keep you awake. Across Liverpool, your husband to be is still sitting at his Father’s bedside, unclenching the fingers of his Dad’s useless hand and keeping his own crossed that their world isn’t about to end.
It is still raining.