Saturday, 22 January 2011

DON'T MESS WITH A GORGON

Why on earth did he ask me to do this?

He sent me an email about ‘the meeting’ and said that would give me the best opportunity to reconstitute. No, that wasn’t it. It was re-something. What was it he called it? Renaissance? That wasn’t it. Can’t remember know.

Well, it looks like I’m the only one not invited to the meeting. I think something big is happening but I’m being kept out of the loop. Is that a good thing? Mike will let me know if it involves me.

I’m glad no one’s around ‘cause squatting in a pencil skirt is not the most dignifying thing to do, let alone see. I shouldn’t have cocked my leg out like that but there’s not much room to manoeuvre with these thighs. Maybe I should have knelt down. Too late for that, I need to be quick.

I’m squinting. It’s hard to see anything really. I’m trying to wink but I never was good at that. I look more like a gurning Sherlock Holmes. You know what I mean; when he’s inspecting things with his magnifying glass. I could do with something like that or one of those spy glasses. That’s it; spying. It was reconnaissance. Mike said I was to start my reconnaissance work whilst everyone was at the meeting.

Trying each eye doesn’t help as there’s not much to see through the keyhole. I grab the door handle to give me some leverage as I stand up but this is a big mistake. The handle turns and the door swings open with my hand still firmly attached. The momentum causes by body to follow as my weak knees have not the strength to rise quickly into a standing position.


It’s the boogie I blame it on. No, don’t laugh. The boogie was the cause of my knee affliction. The physio said I’d received similar knee damage seen in rugby players as they slam themselves to the ground in a tackle, scrum down or scoring a try. How I wish it were a sporting injury but alas, it was my rendition of a John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever that caused the mishap and thus created this one.

Yes, I must say, my enthusiasm was alcohol related. The cheering revellers should have been a warning; they were baying for blood. After all it was Christmas Eve, and everyone needs photo or a story to show and tell over the turkey dinner. Unfortunately, everyone got the story. They took mobile phone pictures but for some reason none came out fully in focus. Too busy laughing, I guess. The title track came on and like a coiled up spring, I shot off the bar stool, onto the dance floor, pushing people out of the way. This was my moment. Others wanted there moment too, so we lined up and performed the well-known dance like no other. I was doing pretty well, I thought, till it came to the Cossack section. Squat kick squat kick squat. I was meant to kick, but my knees went. Hot pain, rubber band snaps. As I fell backwards the mesmeric disco ball, that pirouettes so bright, was drowned out by the harsh flashes of mobile shots. I felt like Madonna entertaining the paparazzi. I wonder what she would’ve done in this situation. Yeah, she would; she’d do the splits. When someone eventually came to my aid and rolled up my trouser leg, a dislocated knee was revealed. I threw up. Then I fainted.

When I woke up I was in the back of an ambulance with a dreamboat. He kept going in and out of focus. His face was a pink blur within his green uniform. He spoke and I tried to concentrate on his mouth.

‘P R Z Y D K.’

What the heck? I can see his name badge. He’s Daniel. Oh, Daniel, who rescued me, from the lion’s den. What are you trying to tell me?

‘You …saying, pr…z…y…d…ka. What…that?

‘What?’

‘Hoorah. She’s awake. We’re taking you to A&E to get you checked out. You’ve a dislocated knee there, Tracey. Any pain?

I nod my head and shake it when he mentions pain relief.

‘You’ve been mumbling something while you were out of it. PRZYDKA.’

‘Prisyadka,’I corrected. ‘It’s Russian for drunk.’

It wasn’t the truth. It was the Russian dance. I couldn’t be bothered to explain.

So they fixed my knee and I was out of their loop. I feel like I’ve been here before.


I let go of the handle when the door stopped moving and rolled over on to my back, catching my breath. That was close. No popping of the knees, so that’s a plus point. I rolled on to my side and managed to get myself onto my feet again. Back to recon work.

Brenda’s office is a no go area. If you’re called in there, I’m sure there’s a shoot she deposits you in when she’s done. One time, I remember Adam was summoned, via email, to Brenda’s office. He knocked on the door, paused, knocked again, and then tried the door handle. Hot air spilled from the gab as she slammed the door, with him still on the outside. The door opened again by Brenda, who pointed at his chest like a dagger, and pointed down to the floor in her room. It was like watching a dog with its handler. What a dreadful woman, I thought. He was given a harsh dressing down that was muffled behind the insulated walls. What I gathered was no one was ever to enter her room until she opened the door to let them in. What? Brenda wanted to personally invite people into her office. The mighty goddess figure wanted to walk and not shout her visitors to enter? We didn’t see Adam after that.

Theories were abounding. To summarise: she had something or someone to hide, she was a closet chocoholic, or as I thought, she needed time to ‘put her face on.’

There’s a full length mirror in the room but it seems to be placed a little too low for Brenda’s tall frame. Surely, her head will be cut off. Maybe she doesn’t like looking at herself? What? With a face like hers? Beautiful flawless skin, with natural make-up; the airbrush look. Her long, ringlets are fiery, like her temper, and eyes likewise, behind tinted glasses. She’s never to be seen without her signature item, a floaty scarf, worn in a variety of fashions, round her neck. I suppose she could be a vampire. Ha!

I spy what I’ve come in for on the desk, but I want to snoop some more. What is Brenda hiding? The filing cabinet looks favourable, and is it ever. When I open it I am more than surprised to find a sword and shield. Gotchya! She must be one of those dungeons and dragons geeks. 

Machinery starts to crank the lift into action. I grab my prize and knock over an ornament on the desk; a stone statuette of a man. He looks like a clothed Oscar. It’s funny, because he looks a bit like Adam. But it’s not. There’s a tag around his neck that says it’s Percy. I rush out as quickly as I can, close the door to the world of Brenda M. Gorgon, sorry, Brenda M. Gordon, hoping never to enter by secret or invitation again. With stapler in hand I make it to my desk and start typing.

Mike detests people using his possessions and now that I have his staple gun back I feel a sense of achievement. This is short lived. Isn’t it always the case? I see him coming out the lift and wave it in the air, only for it to be grasped out of my hand by Brenda.

‘Just what I need,’ she mutters, heading for her office. She loosens her scarf and raises the gun towards her head. As the door shuts I just gleam a wet scar that encircles her neck.

Monday, 17 January 2011

NOSTALGIA

I came back one last time and waited.

How long had I been in the room? It seemed like forever but it was no life sentence. The moments that passed were like treasures that I would unwrap to release memories, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. The stillness of the room was magical yet foreboding. Hazy shadows moved then froze with clarity as if captured in a photo or painting. Was that what living in the moment felt like when the past and future held no significance?

I was stood in the empty room opposite Great-granddaddies rocking chair, with its arms and feet worn thin from decades of rocking on hard stone floors; the connection I sensed with my past kin stirred an uneasiness of deja vu. In the far corner stood a full-length mirror angled as though capturing the illuminating, mesmerising summer light, and transporting it into the room. Blurred leaves appeared to dance like circling elves in their green-toned attire.

Glancing at myself in the mirror, I remembered a different me; a youthful, optimistic soul, not the sallow, drawn reflection full of weariness.

Mewing sounds broke me from my reverie, blowing at the burning embers of my heart, giving me encouragement to experience the beautiful scene unfolding before me. A woman sat in the rocking chair cradling a baby; it was Elizabeth with her daughter, my Grandchild, who I had never met. Short, muffled footsteps moved quickly down the corridor and entered the room. Elizabeth smiled at three year old Maisey, who skipped passed, catching the white voiles that fluttered like angel’s wings. She pirouetted, tittering with delight as her sea-green, flared dress bellowed out. Suddenly she stopped and pointed, calling out Granny Alice. She looked through me, to the drawer top at a fallen photo frame. Indeed, it was the photo of Elizabeth and me rocking in the chair all those years ago.  

Elizabeth called her over and hugged her with a free arm. Kiss, kiss for Alice, she responded and leaned in to place a gentle kiss on her sister’s nose. I’m so honoured that she named her after me.

Again those feelings stirred. The seed of understanding quickly flourished and my heart and soul, in contradiction, grew in love and died with grief. I looked up for the last time into Alice’s eyes for acknowledgment and she looked back with ancient eyes and smiled. The laughter of happy girls echoed behind me as I drifted away towards the luminescence.




Friday, 7 January 2011

THE LAST SUPPER


I am stood in the archway that separates the dinning-kitchen from the living room, looking at the calendar that is attached to the side of the wall unit. The number twenty-seven is haloed in black ink that resembles a loose ball of string. The accompanying picture for August features The Rehearsal by Degas, my favourite artist. The image demonstrates the harmony of colours and fluid movements that remind me of my childhood longing to be a ballet dancer, but I grew too tall.

I walk barefoot on the cold, grey slate floor to the modest, pine dinning-kitchen that offers natural light through the open window and double patio doors. I know pine is passé but I always wanted an antique-stained pine kitchen like Grandma’s; she used to say it made a house a home. The slight breeze invites scents from lavender and rosemary in their metallic planters that shine like lighthouses on the window sill. A bee hovers momentarily, then moves between the two playing ping-pong, undecided as to which is the better flora.

For a moment the cool air, against my bare legs, takes me back five years to a time when the draft in the hall used to bother me. With every degree drop in temperature the socks got thicker and the layered clothes made me look like a Michelin man; I was thin and susceptible then, unlike my fuller self today. It is always the cold chill that brings forth memories of needles, burning veins, lethargy and soft sympathetic voices. The memories cling to my skin like silk kaftans blowing in the breeze. I involuntarily shudder, shaking off the reverie.

It is Thursday and my family and I usually eat toad-in-the-hole with garden peas and thick, onion gravy, but today is a special day that calls for a new recipe. Brian has taken our nine year old son Carl and our twelve year old daughter Molly out for the day at my request, so that I can have some ‘me’ time.

I go and sit at the dinning table on one of four chairs, each with a different pastel-coloured cushion, an idea I told my husband Brian, would bring a touch of individuality to our home. He said it was mildly eccentric. The table is bare but for the heavy, food-stained cooking bible that lays like Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened.  Flicking through the pages I come across a postcard sized finger painting that Molly had created on her first day at nursery. I mark the page with the picture at the meal I’m going to prepare later in the day; Pot Roast Pork with juniper and rosemary. In the mean time I’ll enjoy a cup of tea and two mantecadas that Carl and I made yesterday. We are both love cooking and Brian often comes home from work to find us cooing, like pigeons over the T.V chef’s new creations.

In the warm, cream and coffee-toned living room, I sit with my swollen legs up on the brown leather sofa, welcoming its coolness against my hot, tender skin. Crumbs from the melt-in-the-mouth Spanish biscuits, flake off like snow, avalanching down my undulating breasts, which are cushioned within a canary yellow vest. The tea is hot so I place it on a green, oak leaf-shaped coaster and read another chapter from Nature Girl, a gift from Molly for my thirty-eighth birthday last month. Molly is about to hit her teens and I worry the growing distance between us will become cavernous with her fluctuating hormones. I hope she’ll be able to cope when I leave tomorrow.

I’m suddenly overcome with lethargy and my eyes flicker like strobe lights as I fight the urge to sleep. 

In my dream the colourful paint pot summers day gives way to a monochrome blue-grey. I have an overwhelming urge to go to the attic and leave the everyday noises of the humming washing machine, dripping taps and the Disney Channel that masks the raging sounds of the wind. My legs feel heavy as I climb the two flights of stairs and the monotonous, dull drudge fades and melts into a different sound that builds up with each step, reaching its crescendo in the attic. The roar is earthly and human born from anguish. Shutting my eyes, my senses picture a beast of vast proportions, all mouth and voice, producing hellish vocals, drawing me up like a puppet to its master.

The window I was meant to shut earlier in the day is struggling between opening and shutting. The harrowing resonance burns deep in my chest from the beast outside, that sucks at the window and pulls me up as I grab the handle. On the street below, few people are out on foot. Those that are walk stooped into the wind like Lowry’s matchstick people. They walk with short shuffles on the treadmill-like pavement, with hands on hats and coats bellowing out like super hero capes. I decide to close the window, to shut the noise out of my mind, but the letter flies out. I launch myself into the wind, which throws me about like a surfer riding a tsunami. Then comes the wipe out and I land on the neighbour’s shag-pile lawn.

I expect to wake in hospital with tubes and wires poking out from here and there; bright lights and soft whispering voices, but I see nothing. I hear music though, becoming louder with each note; an up tempo piano piece that I recognise as The Entertainer.

I wake from the dream to hear my mobile phone ringing. It’s Brian letting me know that they’d be home in an hour and a half; my cue to prepare the last supper.

‘My God, Christine that sounds so final calling it the last supper,’ he’d said, that morning.

‘It’s a joke. We are allowed a laugh you know.’

‘Sorry darling, you know what I’m like. I’ll have to get more chairs in then.’

‘There’s only going to be the four of us, Brian.’

‘So Jesus and his merry men aren’t invited then?’

We both hugged and laughed about that.

Straightening my headscarf, I head for the kitchen corner cupboard and take out the old, white colander with the broken handle where I keep some of the smaller vegetables. Taking out a garlic bulb in its white, crispy jacket I remove a couple of cloves in their red-pink shirts to reveal a milky-white, oily inner body with its warm healthy odour. Once sliced, I place them into slits in the pork. I then improvise a pestle and mortar by using a small pan and the end of the rolling pin and crush the juniper berries.

‘Is the rolling pin the pestle or the mortar? I can’t remember.’

The peppery, sweet pine aroma of the juniper and the bittersweet earthly element from the rosemary is reminiscent of the wet woodland walks in Scotland, when cousin Helen and I would run up the hills after Jack, Grandma’s terrier, singing like the von Trapp’s.

My brown eyes smart as I put the diced red onion into the pot. Adding the balsamic vinegar causes a sharp, warm smoke to fill the air enhancing the vaporous tear gas effect. The Campo Viejo creates the red wine gravy that has the appearance of liquorice but with the scent of ripe fruit and vanilla.

After forty minutes I turn the pork and the aroma permeates the room. I inhale slowly and deeply, enjoying the uplifting sensation flowing through my protruding veins. Shortly afterwards a burning pain squeezes my stomach like hands wringing a wet swimming costume. Luckily it isn’t ‘that’ pain just my body telling me I need nourishment.

I just finish setting the table when the brood arrive all full of talk about their day. The smell of the food excites them all as they eagerly sit at the table for their meal.

‘Tell me, what have you been up to?’

‘We got you a going away present,’ says Carl.

‘Hey, dope that was meant to be a surprise,’ says Molly, annoyed with her brother.

‘Let’s all calm down, we don’t want to spoil the end of the day,’ says Brian, as he reaches a hand out to me.

Carl tells me they’ve bought me a comfy pair of pyjamas from Mark’s and Spencer and a toilet bag with goodies picked out by Molly. I blew them both a kiss which they catch in the hands and put to their lips, smiling in return.

Despite my hunger pangs I eat very little. Everyone carries on as normal as I retreat for a leisurely soak, with an extravagant dollop of lavender bath mousse. Before getting in I look at the letter sent ten days ago, requesting me to be admitted on to the Darlington Breast Care Ward, for surgery the following day.

I pull off my headscarf letting it drop in the sink and rub my hands over my stubbly hair, smiling at my reflection.