Welcome to the World of Taupe

 

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WARNING – this one really is totally fictional – my family is wonderful.

I suppose the rebellion started seriously on my fiftieth birthday, although my sister-in-law Lizzy had been winding me up from the moment she first appeared in our front room clinging coyly to my younger brother’s arm. She simpered and paid saccharine compliments to my parents; pretended to be interested in my little sister’s doll collection and when she wasn’t talking, she was gazing at my brother with puppy-dog eyes.

They were all smitten.

I wasn’t.

Lizzy seemed to realise this very quickly and whilst she was always ‘sweet and lovely’ to me when anyone else was present, her comments inevitably held a barb.

‘I do love your hair that colour – it suits an older skin – what dye did you use?’

I hadn’t dyed my hair at all.

‘Of course, you’re at the age now where purple is the only bright colour you can get away with – although it makes you look a bit …washed out.’

She was only three years younger than me and a good five years older than my little brother.

When I first met her, she reminded me of Amy from ‘Little Women‘ – self-centred and obsessed with clothes, hair, make-up – oh and did I mention – herself? She snatched my handsome and charming brother from under the noses of several younger and much nicer girls but unlike Amy, age did not improve her behaviour.

She was always attractive; big brown eyes, curly dark brown hair that settled itself into the kind of tousled curl that we all tried to achieve with perms but ended up in tight corkscrews for a month before dropping into sad waves. Her figure fell into the realms of petite but with an impressive cleavage, a tiny waist and pert apple bum cheeks that perched themselves seductively on my brother’s knees . She did try sitting on my father’s knees once, but the look my mother gave her made her shoot up and settle on the sofa with an apologetic ‘Oops’.

I was in the last stages of planning my wedding when Lizzy started seeing my brother. I made it quite clear that I was in charge and didn’t need any assistance (apart from my mother) but Lizzy was insidious. Once she realised that I had not fallen under her spell, she whispered ideas into my mother’s ear, knowing that they would be passed on to me as her original thoughts.

No. I did not want a horse and carriage to take me to and from the church – and while we are at it – I wanted the church up the road that I had passed every day on my way to school – not the overblown cathedral in the centre of the city which had no parking and was the wrong denomination anyway.

Nor did I want a flotilla of teeny bridesmaids in varying shades of deep pink tulle and crystals.

I had plumped for a lunchtime wedding with an afternoon reception, so that we could drive off to our honeymoon hotel in daylight. Lizzy (via my mother) felt that this was rather cheap and that we should have a disco and evening buffet. She had pointed out to my mother that the afternoon reception could be for close family and the evening event could be opened up to the rest of the family and ‘our’ friends. She even drew up a list  of who should attend which event but she missed a trick with this because my mother – instead of copying the list in her own hand – gave it straight to me with slightly pursed lips.

Not surprisingly Lizzy had excluded my favourite relatives from the afternoon, and bumped up the numbers in the evening by including a host of unknown people who were ‘dear friends’ of my brother – who looked at the list and shook his head in puzzlement after only recognising one or two names.

I won.

I had the elegant old black and silver Bentley for my wedding transport, we married in my favourite church, and my best friend and little sister were my only bridesmaids –  in blue silk dresses that matched the cornflowers in my bouquet – and could be worn again for parties and special occasions.

We made sure that all the relatives were invited to my afternoon reception, together with good friends that we knew. Lizzy sulked throughout but I didn’t care. She was eventually persuaded not to wear white.

It was my day.

Of course, when Lizzy married my brother – it was the event of the century that put my brother’s bank account into the red and milked every possible penny out of Lizzy’s elderly father as well.

It was pinker and frillier and more over the top than your average gypsy wedding; Lizzy had difficulty walking in her overblown and diamante-encrusted dress. Even my brother – who usually took Lizzy’s whims with heavy pinches of salt – was a little perturbed by her excessive Bridezilla demands.

To be fair, she didn’t shout and swear when thwarted; her little lips formed a semi-permanent pout, her little feet stamped a tarantella until my brother and her father consented and stumped up more cash.

I escaped being maid of honour in florid pink frills, but only because I was heavily pregnant with my first child at the time. Lizzy had been heard to mutter that I got pregnant deliberately just to spoil her wedding.

I didn’t but I almost wished that I had.

The one-upwomanship continued; I had two boys with gas and air, Lizzy had two girls by elective sections because she didn’t want ‘down there’ messed about with. My boys were bright, funny and very active, her girls inherited their mother’s hair and pleading eyes, as well as her methods of getting their own way. Males were putty in their hands and even my mother gave in once they lisped ‘Pwease Gwandma?’ and fluttered their eyelashes at her.

Should you really use mascara on the eyes of three and five-year olds?

My husband (not in any way influenced by me of course) had a deep and profound intolerance for his sister-in-law but lately I had found a new ally in my never-ending battle against Lizzy; my little sister was now a willowy teenager with Gothic tendencies. She loathed everything that Lizzy liked and was openly rude to her in a way that I envied and could never rebuke her for. This usually resulted in my sister being sent to her room by my father, whilst Lizzy sobbed prettily into a lace handkerchief and was attended by my doting (and slightly cross) brother and the two mini-Lizzy girls.

We lived within our means and tried not to feel envious when Lizzy boasted about their new house with its hot tub. On the rare occasions we were invited round, we sat nervously on the edge of their slippery pale pink Italian leather suite and prayed that our rambunctious boys wouldn’t break anything. The house (a five-bedroom detached with integral garage and a be-decked and be-paved garden because Lizzy didn’t do gardening) was a monument to pink, silver and black. Every room had at least three mirrors so that Lizzy could admire herself from every angle; after all, the small fortune that hadn’t been spent on the house or female clothing, was invested in Lizzy’s improved cleavage, her nipped chin and tucked buttocks.

Sitting there, in my cleanest jeans and said purple shirt, sipping a glass of very dry Prosecco and glaring at my reasonably well-behaved sons, I realised that envy was the last emotion that Lizzy caused me to experience. I decided not to fight against something that meant so little, and as I tried to relax back against the spiky, sequined scatter cushions, I knew that this was not what I wanted in my life.

Back to my fiftieth birthday. My parents had offered to host a birthday party but Lizzy jumped in and said that it would be too much for them ‘at their age’ and as they had just finished decorating their newly built orangery, she and my brother would be delighted to host the party.

How could I refuse? Well, I could have done but not without upsetting my parents and my not-so-little brother. Good living and business dinners had given him a paunch and a more than slightly pompous air. He had taken over his father-in-law’s accountancy business and appeared to be making a go of it. To think that I used to have to help him with his maths homework!

We dressed in our best. My husband and my older teenage boys were pried out of their jeans and into clean chinos and shirts. I wore a dark green lace dress that had been sitting in my wardrobe waiting for a suitable event. We collected my parents and sister – the joys of having a people carrier – who were also glammed up a bit. My sister had changed her Doc Martens for a pair of red sparkly Converse boots and was wearing black velvet instead her customary leggings and an oversized tee-shirt.

I coveted those Converse boots.

We thought we were attending a family affair so finding the driveway full of upmarket cars was a bit of a surprise. Lizzy seemed to have invited most of the local gentry and other influential people – to my fiftieth birthday party.

I smelled a rat and so did my husband and little sister.

We were ushered into the ‘orangery’ which Lizzy had now renamed the ‘Atrium‘ as there were no indoor orange trees to be had. The table was laid with a range of vol au vents and dainty finger foods. A hired butler circulated with a trays of drinks and an expression of extreme disdain.

To quote my youngest son – ‘This is a bit posh Mum. When can we go home?’

Once we were all settled with drinks in our hands, Lizzy tapped a fork on her glass to get more attention. She shimmered in silver lame that matched the window blinds and smelled – rather metallic.

‘Thank you all so much for coming here today to celebrate my older sister-in-law’s fiftieth birthday. Come over here dear, and let me give you this very special present.’

She beckoned to me, and reluctantly I handed my drink to my husband and went to join her centre stage. She handed me a gloriously beribboned and wrapped box. I actually felt a little excited, and having moved aside a platter of very pink King prawns, I put the box on the table and undid the ribbon.

As I lifted off the lid I glimpsed something that cut me to the core.

Taupe!

My least favourite colour.

Taupe.

The colour of old age; of sensible clothing, of a farewell to fun.

Taupe.

A memento mori shade.

I started to put the lid back on, my face in a rictus grin.

Lizzy yanked the lid out of my hands and like a magician, simultaneously pulled a garment out of the box.

I wish it had been a rabbit.

It was a cardigan.

A taupe cardigan.

Accompanying it was a pair of taupe Crimplene slacks.

Even my mother didn’t wear Crimplene – or taupe.

Lizzy laughed her affected little laugh and patted my hand.

‘Well, you are getting on now. You really should dress your age.’

Words failed me – which was just as well because they didn’t fail my little sister.

She pulled the offensive garments from Lizzy’s hands and threw them on the marble floor. She stamped on them with her sparkly red boots, emptied her glass of champagne and then swept the entire platter of King prawns – Rose-Marie sauce and all – on them as well.

‘You can stick your world of taupe crap where the sun doesn’t shine Lizzy. My sister is far too young for that rubbish and you know it. You are a pretentious prat. No one really likes you, your children are spoilt brats and you’ve ruined my brother.’

My little sister turned revealing the red flashing LEDs on her heels, and stalked out of the room. My husband and sons followed her out, meek in the stunned silence.

Mutely, I followed too.

When we climbed back into the car, my little sister handed me a gift-wrapped box.

A pair of sparkly red Converse boots with bright purple laces and flashing heels.

Goodbye to the World of Taupe.

 

 

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The Year I was born – Week 44 of the 52 week short story challenge

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This is a short, short story today because my fingers are busy doing NaNoWriMo – my ninth successive year with eight successful contributions behind me.

One of these days I will get around to editing the work and looking for an agent. I promise myself this every year but as 2016 has been so lousy, maybe this is the right time to start off a more productive new year.

I could have just worked my way through the Wiki page but when I looked there were only a few things that jumped out and had any influence on me and my life.

My birth took place on a council estate in my Mum and Dad’s bedroom at approximately 1620 hours and while my older siblings were watching ‘Popeye’ downstairs with my Dad. As a consequence my Dad wanted to have ‘Olive’ as my middle name. My Mum had different ideas and she won.

I had a mop of black hair when I was born and strange slanting eyes – so unlike my siblings that my Mum was convinced I had Down’s Syndrome. She eventually confessed her fears to the visiting midwife who told her to stop being so daft.

Very obligingly, my hair fell out a few days later and I turned into the blonde tot pictured a year later in the picture above.

My eyes turned out to be extremely short-sighted but this wasn’t discovered until I was eight years old. I had been a full-time spectacle wearer up until a year ago when I had cataract surgery on both eyes. My lens replacements mean that I only need specs for close work and my long-sight is on a par with the eagles (not the group).

I was born on the day that Berry Gordy Jnr founded Motown records.

A month later the music died when a plane with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (and their pilot Roger Peterson) crashed into a mountain in Iowa.

Fidel Castro became president of Cuba and women in Nepal won the right to vote.

Barbie made her debut in March; I always had Sindy dolls, although I did briefly own a Tressy – ‘her hair grows’  – well it did until my big brother and I investigated the outsize belly button that retracted her hair. Bald and unloved she went in the bin. We were callous children.

Various things happened throughout the summer – Cyprus gained independence and joined the UN – and the first Xerox machine was introduced to an adoring public. We no longer adore copiers and printers – we just shout at them.

The Twilight Zone premiered on telly and Asterix the Gaul was born.

November saw the completion of the first stage of the M1. It took another thirty years to complete it. More pertinent to me in my later life  – the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN.

I spent ten years working in child protection. Things have not improved over time and now that I am out of the official social care sector I feel sad that my ex-colleagues have so few resources to protect those who so badly need their support.

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A Secret – Week 40 of the 52 week short story challenge

‘Whose turn is it now?’

Suzie looked round the table and pointed at her aunt.

‘Auntie Carole! Come on Auntie Carole. You must have a secret tucked away?’

Carole felt a cold shiver down her spine and did her best to avoid looking at her mother who was sitting next to Suzie.

‘I might have to think about that Suzie. Move on to someone else while I do?’

Suzie looked disappointed but turned instead to her Uncle Paul.

‘How about you Paul?’

Squeezing his wife’s hand, Paul looked as if he were dredging up a past memory.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘Before I was courting your Auntie Marie, I actually fancied her friend Deborah. In fact I thought I was going to the pictures with her but she never turned up. Luckily I bumped into Marie, invited her to the pictures instead and the rest is history.’

Marie punched him in the arm.

‘You never told me that! You told me that you were going to meet up with some mates who let you down! I didn’t even know that you fancied Deborah!’

He squeezed her hand again and smiled.

‘I did say it was a secret. I didn’t tell you because once I’d spent the evening with you I didn’t fancy her anymore.’

‘Did Deborah ever tell you why she didn’t turn up?’ Suzie asked.

‘She went out with a guy called Tommy instead. You knew Tommy didn’t you Carole? He was in the same gang as you and your friends for a while.’

Another chill went down Carole’s spine and she began to get a sickening feeling in her stomach. It was the mere mention of his name that caused it. That sparked a far too vivid memory of his dark curly hair and his dark brown eyes. She glanced over at her mother and saw the barely perceptible shake of the head.

They were conspirators.

Carole and her mother.

Keepers of a secret that no one else knew about.

‘Whatever happened to Tommy?’ said Paul. ‘He was always hanging around and then, when I came back from America there was no sign of him. I suppose he gave up on Carole when she went off to stay with your Great Auntie Meg in Wales. It would have been a bit of a trek for him – even on that old motorbike he had – but I thought he was really smitten with you Carole.’

‘Ancient history darling,’ said his mother. ‘Come on birthday girl, choose another person with a dark and desperate secret.’

Suzie grinned, loving the attention, loving the fact that she had her family around her on this special day. She looked round the table again.

‘Daddy? Have you got a terrible secret?’

Her father took in a deep breath which made his wife hold hers in fear of what would come next.

‘Okay. I have never told anyone this but when I was a bit younger than you Suzie, I pinched some eggs from the farm next door. There was a stack of boxes outside on a table and a honesty box. Your Grandma had sent me out to buy eggs but I spent the money on tobacco so I had to pinch the eggs instead.’

‘I’m shocked Dad!’ said Paul, trying to keep a straight face. ‘Did you get caught?’

‘No. I had a birthday the following week and I used some of my birthday money from my sister Meg to put in the box. That’s the only thing I ever pinched and I spent the whole week feeling dreadful.’

‘Your turn Suzie? What secrets have you got hidden away?’

Trying not to blush now that the wrong kind of attention was turned on her, Suzie gulped and turned to her Auntie Carole.

‘I went into your room to try on one of your dresses once. I saw a box of letters in your wardrobe and I was going to look at them but I heard Mummy calling me so I sneaked out again. Who were the letters from Auntie Carole?’

Her mother interrupted before Carole could speak.

‘I expect she means the letters that you and I sent each other when you were in Wales Carole. We used to write to each other every week without fail. I got rather lonely without either of my children at home. I didn’t know that you’d kept all those letters Carole. How sweet of you.’

The expression Carole saw on her mother’s face was anything but sweet and she knew that she would have to find a new hiding place for the letters that held her secrets.

‘But then I came along,’ said Suzie ‘And you weren’t lonely anymore.’

‘You were a bit of a surprise but you were also a blessing my darling. Daddy and I had you all to ourselves when you were a baby.’

‘Life in the old dog yet, eh Dad?’ said Paul winking and leering. His wife punched his arm again, a little harder this time and pulled a face at him. He shook his head in bewilderment, but made no more comments.

‘Have you thought of anything yet Auntie Carole?’

Carole took in a deep breath, far deeper than her father’s and squared her shoulders.

‘I do have a secret. There’s only one person in this room that knows my secret apart from me and it’s one that I’ve kept for years.’

‘Tell me?’ Suzie jumped up and down in her seat. Her mother got up from the table.

‘That’s enough now. I need to clear the tea things away, and didn’t you say that you and Marie were going on to friends this evening Paul?’

This time Marie kicked him under the table, and Paul, knowing his wife’s methods of non-verbal communication, nodded.

‘Come and help me wash up Carole dear.’

Now silent, Carole followed her mother from the room. Her father fetched Paul and Marie’s coats, then with Suzie holding possessively onto his arm, walked them out to the car and waved them goodbye.

Paul was quiet at first but once they were clear of the house, he stopped the car and turned to Marie in puzzlement.

‘What was all that about? All the punchings and kickings?’

Marie shook her head.

‘For an intelligent man you are incredibly dim at times.’

‘What? What?’

‘How old is Suzie?’

‘Fifteen. You know she is. It’s her birthday today.’

‘And where were you when she was born?’

‘In America?’

Correct. And where was Carole?’

‘In Wales with  Auntie Meg? She went there to recover from glandular fever.’

‘Glandular fever was it?’

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here. She seemed fine when I went off to do my gap year in America and then I come back to find that she is in Wales herding sheep and my mother has had a baby. At her age!’

Marie looked pityingly at her husband.

‘Have you never wondered why it is that your parents, you and your sister are all fair with blue eyes, and Suzie has curly black hair and brown eyes?’

‘My God! Are you saying that my mother had an affair?’

Marie raised her eyes heavenwards.

‘You really are slow on the uptake sometimes Paul. Not your mother. Your sister. Carole.’

‘No! Who with? Some Welsh bloke? That would explain the colouring.’

‘Tommy. I saw the expression on Carole’s face when you mentioned his name so I didn’t say anything about what happened to him.’

‘What did happen to him?’

‘Motorbike accident. Well some say it was an accident, others say it was deliberate because Carole had had been sent away. Your parents wouldn’t tell him where she had gone and I don’t suppose he knew about your Auntie Meg living in Wales.’

‘But – but – if the baby was Carole’s how did Mum get away with pretending it was hers?’

‘Cushions, I suppose. People were a little surprised but a late life baby isn’t unusual. Your Mum and Dad went to Wales to see Carole for a fortnight and miraculously came back with Suzie. No one questioned it.’

‘So Suzie is my niece, not my sister?’

Marie nodded and put her hand on his knee.

‘What do I do Marie? What can I say?’

‘Say nothing. It isn’t your secret after all. I think that Carole came close to telling me once but your Mum came in and interrupted us. You love Carole and Suzie don’t you?’

‘Of course.’

‘I expect that they will tell Suzie one day – but it’s up to them. Apart from which I have a secret that I’ve been aching to tell you all afternoon.’

‘Oh no. Not more revelations!’

She took his free hand and placed it on her stomach.

‘This is the best kind of secret. I did a test this morning. I’d like to keep it a secret for another couple of weeks though?’

 

 

 

Loneliness – Week 34 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Dear Diary

I am writing this because my new counsellor has suggested that putting my thoughts on paper would help me with my anger issues.

Anger issues.

That’s what the judge called them anyway. My counsellor says that I got off quite lightly as most people who cause that level of criminal damage will get a prison sentence – even if it is only suspended – and some kind of community service.

My counsellor wants me to start from the point where my issues first emerged. So here goes.

I wasn’t very happy at school. Things weren’t too bad when we all wore uniform and were supposed to look the same.

Except I never did.

Being ginger was bad enough, being overweight and ginger was worse but being unfashionable, overweight and ginger meant that I was the butt of jokes from my fellow pupils and even some of the teachers.

Sixth form was a nightmare. Having always felt comfortable in my uniform, I turned up every day in a suit, smart shirt and tie. I stood out from the Goths. the Emos, the lumberjack shirts and skinny jeans. I was the best-dressed pupil in the school and put most of the scruffy teachers to shame.

My counsellor says that I might have felt less awkward if I’d had siblings to talk to – or even a father – but there has always only been me, my mum and my grandma. They like the way I dress.

I wanted to go onto university – Cambridge or Oxford – and to study politics, philosophy and economics like so many of my  political heroes did. I didn’t do well in my ‘A’ levels though; I was thrown out of the debating club for losing my temper with someone who just would NOT accept my opinions.

Things went downhill steadily after that and the principal told me that I would have to leave the course because of my anger issues.

The situation made me feel low and alone. Why couldn’t people ever see things from my point of view? Even when I shouted at them to get their attention?

My GP signed me off with social anxiety and suggested that I take up some hobbies to try and help me relate to other people. She gave me a list of local groups – one of which was a political group that I liked the look of.

It took a great deal of courage to attend that meeting but the people were very welcoming. Most of them were older than me – middle-aged and pinning their hopes on a party leader who was also middle-aged.

I threw myself into the group. I walked the streets putting leaflets through door; after the first couple of occasions I got into arguments with passersby who wouldn’t agree with my opinions.  I was encouraged to stay behind at headquarters and put leaflets into envelopes after that so that other people could deliver them safely.

A red-letter day approached. Our leader was visiting the branch and I would get the opportunity to meet him – perhaps even get my photograph taken with him. I was so excited and my mum and grandma clubbed together to buy me a new suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie. They said I looked the business and the leader couldn’t fail to be impressed with me.

I met the leader. I had my photograph taken with him. I tried to tell him my ideas on policy and how he should take me on as a member of his campaign team so that I could advise him. He wasn’t mean to me but he didn’t really treat me with the respect I know I deserve. He shook my hand, wished me luck and then moved on to the next group of people who were waiting to meet him.

I felt gutted. This man was my hero and he completely failed to see my potential.

The only bright spot in that day was the commiseration I received from a couple of other people who also felt they had been slighted by the leader. They were closer to my age, they took me out for a drink after the meeting and told me that there was a splinter group forming that would be supporting a different candidate for the leadership.

They made their candidate sound like the only person who could save the party. He was young; a family man who had policies that I liked the look of. My new friends told me that I would be a valued member of the new group and that this was the way of the future.

They collected me for the next meeting. No one had ever done that before. I’d always  had to make my own way to the meetings and back. My new friends introduced me to other new and important friends who let me have my picture taken with them. I already had a Facebook page and had even ventured onto Twitter but now I was being shown how to use social media to support and promote our rightful leader during the election process.

I put the pictures on my Facebook page. Now other people could see how important I was and what a valued member of the party I had become. My mum and grandma were very impressed and told all their friends and our family about it.

With other members of my new team, I attended political rallies. I met our prospective leader, and he made me feel very special. He gave me an important role. I was to get myself a seat near the front of the room at each rally and cheer my head off whenever he spoke. I took it upon myself to boo and jeer when the man I used to respect was speaking. I glared at his supporters and if I was challenged I told them that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

The opportunity of a lifetime arose when I was asked to be part of an interview for a news special on TV. They said that there would be three young people – one for the old leader and two of us for the new leader (to be). We would be asked to give our opinions about why we thought our candidate would make the best leader.

This was my glittering prize.

The day came and I my friends took me to the studiom. I sat around a small table with another lad and a girl while the cameras rolled. The girl spoke first – she didn’t say a lot but I agreed with what she said. The other lad was to speak next and then me.

I felt like I was going to burst. I knew that my mum, my grandma and all their friends would be watching. This was my moment.

The other lad spoke. He was calm and relaxed. He smiled. His words were reasonable.

They made my blood boil.

My turn.

‘You’re talking rubbish!’ I said. ‘Everyone hates your candidate so he’s going to lose.’

There was silence.

My carefully composed statement had vanished. My face was red with embarrassment and anger.

I looked over to my friends. They had vanished.

The girl who had been in the interview with me gave me a dirty look and walked off. The other lad laughed and said ‘Is that the best argument you can come up with? Pathetic. Just like the bloke you are supporting.’

It’s a good job he moved fast because I wanted to hit him so much.

There was no sign of my friends when I came out of the studio. I had to go and draw the last of my benefits money out of the bank in order to get a train home.

Mum and grandma were very kind. They said my new suit looked very smart and that the other two young people looked very scruffy by comparison.

I tried to get in touch with my new friends but there was no response to my calls or texts.

Then I got the letter. It was delivered by hand but I wasn’t quick enough to see who put it through my letterbox.

I was told that the interview had been embarrassing for the party and that I had let them all down by my stupid and aggressive response. They asked me not to come to any more meetings and that my membership would be suspended because I had brought the party into disrepute by my actions.

I went to my room to calm down. I looked on Facebook and Twitter but all I could see were people laughing at me. I was alone.

A plan hatched in my head. I had some money tucked away in my sock drawer. The money was spent on spray paint. Blue spray paint.

I went down to the party headquarters. It was Saturday night and there was no one there. I sprayed paint over all the windows that I could reach. I left the cans in a heap by the front door, went home and went to bed.

The police came the next morning and arrested me. My fingerprints were taken and matched up with those on the cans. I wore a hoodie but forgot my gloves. There was CCTV footage of me buying the paint in the hardware store, and the pub opposite the headquarters had more footage of me spraying the windows.

There weren’t many people in court that day; mum came but grandma wasn’t well. My guilty plea made the process much quicker. There were cameras and reporters outside the court but my solicitor had advised me not to say anything in case I lost my temper again.

I think that I might feel a bit better now I’ve written this down. My mum says I am a good boy but I’m in my twenties now and I need to grow up.

But how?

Dear Diary.

At least I have you now and I am not so alone.

Another Planet – Week 21 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘I thought Millie was coming with you today.’ said  Angela as she sipped her mocha latte with two extra shots of espresso.

Selina tossed back her freshly coiffed blonde hair and flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her designer slacks. She did her best to avoid coffee fads and had a small cup of green tea cooling on the table in front of her.

‘She’s packing. She’s been packing for the past week. Every time I go into her room to talk to her she says that she’s packing.’

Angela pursed her lips. ‘Isn’t she living in halls? They don’t have that much room do they?’

Wincing as another sore point was touched, Selina concentrated her attention on her newly manicured fingernails. She had demanded that the nail technician concentrated on making her nails look as effortlessly natural as possible, and she was almost satisfied with the effect.

‘I’ve seen the university booklet and yes, the rooms are rather basic but at least she has her own en-suite. The kitchen is shared with six other students but I doubt if Millie will be doing any cooking. There is a restaurant in the same block and a laundry but I couldn’t find anything about service washes and cleaners.’

Hiding a grimace behind her coffee mug, Angela couldn’t help wondering if Millie had been totally truthful with her mother about student life.

‘Of course, I wanted her to stay home and attend Chester University. We offered to buy her a little car to make life easier but she was insistent that this was the only university that did the right course for her. It’s going to be so difficult having her living so far away.’

Selina sighed and put on the wounded mother look that she had been perfecting ever since Millie had announced her  plans for the future .

‘What is she going to be studying?’

‘Languages. Apparently this university has an excellent exchange system where she can spend her final year in France or Germany. Not quite the finishing school I would have liked for her but I understand that she could make some impressive contacts for her future career.’

‘Remind me – what does she want to do when she leaves uni?’

‘When she graduates from university Millie is looking to join Michael’s firm – her natural aptitude for languages will make her a valuable asset. Of course the other option was for her to go straight into working at the firm but Michael felt that she could do with getting more qualifications first.’

The expression on Selina’s face led Angela to believe that the decisions about Millie’s future had not been made as calmly as indicated. Angela liked Selina’s husband Michael. He was an easy-going chap who smiled at Selina’s excesses, ran a large and efficient export business, and spent much of his time travelling abroad.

‘When does Millie start? Won’t you be lonely without her?’

‘We are driving up on Saturday.’ Selina sighed and examined her nails again. ‘I wanted to go on Sunday but Millie says she needs time to settle in before lectures start. Why you should want to settle in to a student bedsit when you have a perfectly beautiful suite of rooms at home, I have no idea. I wouldn’t say that Millie is an ungrateful child but I do wonder sometimes if she really appreciates all that Michael and I do for her.’

*******

The packing excuse had worn thin and Millie knew that there was a limit to how many times she could back and repack her designer suitcases. There was an unopened box from Harrods that contained pillows, two duvets,  Egyptian cotton bedding and towels that Millie’s mother had assured her were a beautiful shade of cornflower and very soft. Millie hadn’t bothered to look in the box. She would far rather have gone to Asda or Tesco to get her bedding like the rest of the first year students. Another box contained cooking utensils, pans and crockery. Her father had intervened when Selina had been looking at bone china and Le Creuset. Unlike Selina, he had attended university and was far more practical in his outlook.

Millie loved her father. He understood her and did what he could to protect her from Selina’s extravagance.

‘She does love you sweetheart, she just doesn’t understand why you don’t have the same tastes as her.’

Millie had pulled a face. It was bad enough having your clothes bought for you, but Selina’s taste ran to expensive, elegant clothes that were more suited to a middle-aged woman than an eighteen-year old girl. Unbeknownst to Selina, Millie had been clothes shopping courtesy of a generous allowance from her father, and had arranged for her best friend Julia to put the more appropriate clothing in with her own clothes.

Selina didn’t know about Julia; didn’t know that Millie and Julia were best friends, that they were going to be on the same course together at University or that they were going to be in the same student flat. Millie had known from the first that Selina would not approve of Julia’s burgundy hair, her tattoos and piercings, her love of Steampunk and cosplay.

Michael had met Julia and thoroughly approved of her as a friend who could share freedom with his only child. He had to pull a few strings in order to get them in the same flat, and as he explained to Millie, it was a question of just not telling Selina things rather than blatantly lying about what was happening.

‘What her eye doesn’t see, her mind won’t grieve over.’ One of Michael’s oft-quoted maxims and one which defined the smooth-running of his relationship with his wife.

*****

In order to accommodate Millie’s luggage, as well as Selina’s essentials, Michael had borrowed one of the Range Rovers from work. Selina would rather have arrived in the Rolls, but had to acknowledge that it didn’t have the required storage space. She sat, rather uncomfortably in the passenger seat, whilst Millie sat behind her, in a position to exchange swift grins with her father but protected from her mother’s endless questions by earphones and feigned sleep.

Julia had been texting her all morning, having arrived early and already unpacked. It had been agreed that Millie would let Julia know once Selina had finally left the building. It was so difficult trying to keep her excitement in but Millie had learned over her eighteen years that expressing anything other than mild interest in anything, was guaranteed to get Selina’s hackles up in opposition.

The complaints began as soon as they arrived on campus. Selina peered out of the window and disapproved of the proximity of the student bar. The halls looked rather drab and ordinary. Why wasn’t the car park closer to the entrance? Did they really have to carry Millie’s luggage up two flights of stairs and go through three security doors to get to her flat? Was there no porter to do this? Or at least a lift!

Millie and Michael stayed silent and carried the luggage upstairs whilst Selina appropriated her daughter’s only (and very inferior) office chair and sniffed at the recently bleached en-suite shower room. Refusing her mother’s offer to unpack for her, Millie looked around the little room and exchanged another covert smile with her father.

‘Let’s leave Millie to it darling, there’s a nice little restaurant I’d like to take you to but it will take us a good hour to get there.’

Torn between wanting to continue dominance over her daughter, and the desire to be taken out for a meal by her adoring husband, Selina acquiesced gracefully and after bestowing a vaguely maternal hug, went off to wait in the car.

Michael gave his daughter a much warmer hug; he was going to miss her.

‘I’ve set up a shopping account for you sweetheart, and topped up your allowance. Let me know if you need anything. If you can manage to phone your mother tomorrow, my life will be much calmer.’

‘I know Daddy. I won’t go mad but I may need to buy some ordinary stuff for the kitchen – and maybe bedding – but that can wait till tomorrow.’

‘Buy what you need and donate the other stuff to charity. I can’t see your mother wanting to spend much time in your room or the kitchen. Next time we visit she will undoubtedly want to take you out for a meal – or to shop!’

‘God forbid! Julia says we can trade in some of my clothes at the uni charity shop. Was Mum always like this Daddy?’

Michael felt that it was time to tell a few hidden truths; he hoped that Millie would understand and not judge her mother too harshly. He sat down next to her on the unmade bed.

‘Your Mum isn’t like other people. I knew that when I met her, and I knew that I would have a hard time explaining to you one day. We’ve always been honest with you about the fact that Mum and I couldn’t have children so we adopted you.’

Millie nodded. Not possessing her mother’s genes had never really been an issue.

‘Your mother – came from a different place. She had to learn how to speak, act and dress from books and magazines – quite expensive and high class magazines.’

‘Well that explains quite a few things, but where did she come from Dad?’

‘I don’t really know. I found her wandering on a beach in New Zealand when I was on a business trip. She seemed so vulnerable – and lovely. She had no paperwork, communicated through sign language, just had the clothes she stood up in. I’m afraid that I am responsible for the way she is. I pulled a few strings, got her a passport and brought her back to England. Your Aunt Jane took care of her and that’s where she lived for six months – in a cottage out in the country, reading endless copies of the Tatler and Agatha Christie novels. She learned very quickly, I fell in love with her and we married. You know the rest.’

‘That doesn’t explain about where she really came from though Dad?’

Hastened to his feet by the sound of Selina tooting the car horn, Michael kissed Millie on the top of her head.

‘She isn’t of our world sweetheart. She comes from another planet.’

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‘Georgie’

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This figure of St George was one of my lovely mum’s favourite finds.

He belongs to an era when Mum had stalls at antique fairs in the South of England.

She had an eye for beautiful things anyway and when she retired, she decided to dabble in actually buying and selling.  My stepdad was generally roped in to lug the special boxes down three flights of stairs – the less special and more commercial boxes were kept in the very cold storage shed by the bins. He didn’t mind too much; he would sit at the back of the stall and read the Sunday papers once everything was set out, maybe strolling off to the nearest pub for a pint of real ale at lunchtime, and coming back to help Mum pack up again.

If he was working, it would fall to me to help.  I liked wandering amongst the other stalls, selling whilst Mum was off having a browse, and I even got into the swing of unwrapping the newspaper from each precious object, displaying it and wrapping it up again at the end of the day.

I learned from Mum. What was good and what was tat. What would sell and what would be endlessly wrapped and re-wrapped.  Different fairs called for different goods depending on the clientele.

I became eagle-eyed for those who came to pilfer; interrupting them with a smile and a question before they had the chance  to tuck the object of desire into a capacious pocket.

Even now special things sing to me from amongst the rubbish.  They may not always be worth much; I probably wouldn’t be any  good on ‘Bargain Hunt’ but as the saying goes – I know what I like.

Some of Mum’s favourites never actually made it onto the stall.  Her St George statue – or Georgie as he became affectionately known, was one of those objects. He stood proudly by the fire in every property Mum lived in: the third floor maisonette I grew up in, the sheltered housing flat she and my stepdad moved into when the stairs became too much, the even more sheltered accommodation just down the road from us that they moved 240 miles to in order to see more of their beloved grandsons, and finally the specially adapted bungalow that enabled Mum to escape from hospital and have an extra eighteen months of freedom.

I was always very fond of Georgie.  He’s a tactile boy with a lovely smile. I’d often sit on the floor next to him whilst watching the TV.  There was always something very reassuring about his solid wooden form.

Not surprisingly, years later when Uni Boy was a toddler, he developed an affection for Georgie too.  We had to watch him closely; the origins of Georgie’s paintwork were unknown and whilst mostly smooth, there were a few hard edges still.  Georgie was one of his first words, which pleased my Mum extremely.

Gap Boy also enjoyed Georgie’s company and at first there were a few tussles regarding ownership but UB moved on to playing chess with Grandma, leaving GB to the less cerebral pleasures of Georgie hugging.

Just like Puff the Magic Dragon, Georgie was abandoned by my boys as they grew older and turned to gameboys and football but he still held pride of place by the fire; a memento of Mum’s antique fair days long after she left us in 2009.

Georgie was the first thing I saw when Hub and I began the long process of clearing out the bungalow after my beloved stepdad died suddenly in 2012.

I brought Georgie home to my own fireplace and he has been there ever since; a symbol of my Mum’s love for her heritage, for beautiful  and unusual things.

My lack of prowess in the field of housework is well-known.  I have had feather dusters but they invariably disintegrate from age rather than use. My mantelpiece is a display area for important but not necessarily priceless objects.

It is Georgie’s special day today so I have dusted him down and elevated him to the windowsill where he can keep company with the freesias and my star-gazing bunny.

Happy St Georgie’s Day Mum.

‘Hidden Treasures’

In a fortnight’s time we are having a new kitchen.

This is the first kitchen we have ever had designed and built for us in the twenty-seven years we’ve been together.

The construction of our new kitchen will take ten to fourteen days and we are prepared for the fact that we will have to live on takeaways, bottled water and spend even more time soothing Scoobs.  He likes the builder who will be bashing down walls, inserting an RSJ, stripping the tiles off and skimming the walls, but the idea of strange men making loud noises in the kitchen will undoubtedly cause him to freak out a bit.

We have to prepare for the upheaval.

The flat packed kitchen is being delivered the day before the building work begins and we have been supplied with some string and a blue balloon to tie to the gate and entice the delivery men.

More frightening is the fact that we have to clear a space in the garage to store all the packages.

Gap Boy is disgruntled; he NEEDS ALL the garage for his new motorbike.

Uni Boy will not come home to visit now until the new kitchen is well and truly installed.  Good job too as his room will be used for kitchen storage for a while.

Lovely friends are coming to help us clear out the unnecessary things in our old kitchen; they are far more ruthless and have no attachment to the piles of junk that fill every cupboard and cover the mean worktop space.

Before then however, there’s the desperate need for space in the garage for GB’s bike and an entire fitted kitchen.

Something had to go.

It is almost two years since we cleared out my parents bungalow after my Stepdad died.  Most of the household contents had been redistributed to family and to charity but at the back of the garage there were half a dozen boxes that were still wrapped up in packing tape.

Filled with resolve we decided to tackle the garage today.

Some of the boxes were easy to unpack; glassware and small china ornaments from the days when my Mum ran an antique stall, framed prints that were bought on their holiday travels and books about World War I and II.  I could cope with them but it was the photographs, some framed, some stuck on Christmas and birthday cards, others in SupaSnaps wallets, and a few loose or tucked into books.  It was the photographs that made me sad.

I did my best to divide up the last contents of their lives: charity shop, the tip and ‘put-it-in-this-bag-and-we”ll-look-at-it-later‘. I sat on the tailgate and used the open back of the car to sort out the boxes.

By lunch my heart was heavier than it had been for nearly eighteen months and the sadness of packing up their bungalow came back with a vengeance.

We took a break for lunch, dreading the thought of having to go back out on to the drive and continue with the unpacking.

Lovely Hub was sorting through boxes whilst I was dragging out my bread and cheese for as long as I could.  Not easy to do when you have an adoring but drooling dog on your feet just waiting for the crumbs to fall.

I heard voices. Then someone called out my name.

We are very lucky with our neighbours (apart from the couple that argue vociferously and the man with the drinking problem) and our nearest neighbours are the nicest.  They spend their retirement buying and selling antiques and oddments.

Their attention was caught by my assortment of boxes which were cluttering up the drive. My neighbour T, his nose twitching like a bloodhound, was in the boxes and rummaging before the car door was shut.  His wife apologised and having found out that we were sending the stuff to the charity shop, offered to re-sort it and extract those objects that might fetch us a few pennies at auction.

Before lunch I was sad because it felt like the mementos of my parents lives were just going to end up unloved and on a dusty charity shop shelf for years.  The obvious delight with which T was rummaging and holding up each new find with glee – and I was happy again.

We spent rather a lot of time chatting and putting the world to rights.  So long in fact that Scoob had to have his lead on and sit on the tailgate with me because he was lonely.  This was a bit traumatising for the cyclists, dog walkers and innocent bystanders as his bark was definitely worse than his bite (no biting as he doesn’t and anyway he was attached to me by his lead).

T and Hub sorted everything left over into charity shop and trip to the tip but we spent so long putting the world to rights that it was too late to deliver it – so it all went back into the garage for us to deal with bright and early tomorrow.

GB grumbled because he was hungry, we hadn’t gone shopping or picked up his new bike mirrors from the parcel depot, and because the boxes were too close to  his motorbike. Oh, and because he grumbles a lot anyway.  Hub and I are a great disappointment to him. Tough.

It was all remedied within the hour however, and as I write, GB has gone out on another of his nocturnal meanderings.

No early night for us then.

Thank you B and T for finding the treasures that I had stopped seeing, and for brightening up my day considerably.