I had a choice of two posts to publish this weekend. In one, I explored my feelings about the youthful trend to remove every hair on one’s body apart from the head. I did some research and, in the interests of my blog and full honesty, went for a Hollywood myself.
However, I am not sure I am quite ready to reveal this journey to the world. I am still recovering from the shock and I’m not sure how people might react. I need to find my ‘fuck it’ face before I can share that experience.
The other post was the beginning of a story I have been toying with for some time. I have been advised so often to go to a writing group but haven’t got the guts. So instead I’m chucking it up on here and if anyone says anything nasty I can just ignore them!
I am aware this is not a healthy approach to growing as a writer. But feedback would be great.
Enough flim flam – here it is.
The Very, Very Old Woman: A Beginning
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises towards her day after day, like a terrible fish.
Turning ninety-three is a bit of a shock, I must admit. Not that I thought I’d die young – illness, suicide, murder; it’s just that I never could imagine being this old. Really old. Really, really old. What’s surprised me the most – apart from the obvious horrors of skin swinging from joints and my once fiery eyes disappearing in folds of floury flaps – is that I’ve mellowed. I’m not the evil bitch I used to be, I don’t seem to enjoy inflicting the little cruelties that used to be such a pleasure for me when I was younger. The little, unnoticed, mean-spirited jabs that I would dole out to people who had upset me are few and far between nowadays.
I still have a good go every now and then – that fuckwit Andy didn’t realise it was me who, with a flick of my fingers, caused his tool box to crash to the floor spinning spanners clattering across my terracotta tiles one landing painfully, thwacking against his elbow. A wince squeezed flat the puffed smuggery of his face and I enjoyed watching him struggle to maintain his facade of the affable handyman here to help out poor old Mrs M. who lived up the hill. Poor old Mrs M. my arse.
He came because he’d discovered my habit of slipping notes between the pages of my books. Since he started working at the house I noticed my ‘Wuthering Heights’ was £50 lighter, ‘Beloved’ had lost a twenty and my complete Shakespeare had been picked clean. Greasy fingers, more used to prying apart the pallid thighs of local tarts, have been inserting themselves between the pages of my books and milking them dry.
Firing him would be tedious. Besides, I quite like flexing the old muscles and torturing him, just a little: the sour slime clinging to the edges of the cup of tea I make with a toothy smile, the fragment of glass I spit into his boots so he walks with a grimace as he comes to the door. Sadly, though, I find as I age my powers have more of a cost; they are strong as ever but inflicting pain leaves me with a hangover, no matter how justified my punishment is.
Hah! The irony. It is almost as if a deity in which I don’t believe has decided to try and make me into a better person as I grow closer to death – good deeds seem to make my hair curl and my step lighter – bad ones give me indigestion and a headache. A shame, as I always wanted to be the girl from whose mouth toads leaped, not the insipid moron who spilled forth diamonds and pearls.
With irritation, I watched Andy washing his hands in the kitchen sink sending arcs of water flying onto my beech counters and leaving distressing puddles. His position at the window meant I could admire the spreading bald patch which he took such pains to conceal. I wondered if he had to hold his wife’s hands down in bed in case she tugged at his failing follicles in a moment of passion. I snorted in an attempt to smother my laugh at the thought of poor Angie being inspired to passion by this dough ball of a man.
‘Something funny, Mrs M?’ Andy asked, drying his hands and turning to me where I sat, crooked as a sixpence, at the kitchen table.
‘No nothing, dear,’ I had replied, squinting up at him and attempting a kindly smile. I don’t think it worked as he looked nervous. He often did when he worked up here, I think he found me watching him rather unsettling. It also meant he couldn’t get away with the little tricks of which I knew he was fond. Even now I cold see his restless little eyes scanning the kitchen, looking for jobs he could offer to fix – at a cost, of course. ‘What do I owe you, Mr Slade?’ As expected, he began to pack up rapidly, throwing over his shoulder that he would get Angie to send up an invoice, his words almost disappearing in the clatter of his retreat as he slammed the door.
Contemptuous little shit. Andy has no balls. His eye-watering bills have to be paid as he’s the only plumber in the village, he should have a house as big as mine with what he charges but he pisses it away. Gambling. Hence the light-fingered petty thieving he does on the side. I watched him as he got into his van. The wind thrashed a spiteful handful of rain against the window pane and I blinked, re-focused and smiled slowly. With a pass of my hand, the paint on his doors began to peel.
The headache started, sharp and sudden and I groaned with the pain of it. Bloody thing. Couldn’t they see the man was a cock who deserved everything he got? I drew a line across my forehead and although the pain eased, it didn’t go away. Stumping up the stairs I shivered in the cold before reaching the bedroom and easing myself onto my bed. All thoughts of that idiot Andy receded as I laid back and surveyed the ceiling.
Familiar landscapes shifted and twisted before my eyes as I drifted; faces formed and dissolved, skies and sunsets passed and I felt every minute of my years lie heavy in my bones.
Dreaming about Henry was always an irritation but I didn’t seem to be able to help it. Again and again I had to watch his face crumple as I refused him, dear God you’d think I would have forgotten all about him by now – it’s been years. I was sixteen when I met him, eighteen when he died and now, here he was, over seventy years later haunting my dreams. My powers were rough then, not easy to control although the shine of them could be seen in my hair, my eyes, and men flocked to its gloss and charm. I was such an idiot – I had no idea. I thought it was the size of my breasts, the hand span of my waist, the depth of my lipsticked smile.
I wonder why it’s Henry, of all of them, who I keep seeing recently. Not just in my dreams, but out of the corner of my eye as I walk through the wood, or in the smoke of the fire in the morning. Henry’s face peers at me, his mouth working but I hear nothing. Ach, I don’t know what he wants and don’t care much. With a strong bend of will I power the dream away from Henry’s face and slip with relief into a memory of sinking under water in the Indian Ocean sixty years ago. I watch again the rising stream of bubbles and feel the corrugated curves of sand under my feet.
Waking, as always, is an abrupt and disorienting plunge back into the realities of my age and I don’t need to glance at my grandmother’s clock on the bedside table to know it is a few minutes past four in the morning. ‘The witching hour,’ I grunt to myself and open the door to let in Eldrich who has been patiently waiting for me.
I draw some comfort from the hard push of her skull as she rubs her head against my knuckles and I pull her eyelids back as I stroke the soft darkness of her fur. She knows me so well, I think, as she leaps onto the arm of my little chair by the now cold fire; I have no time for her during the day, but in the night, when my ghosts follow me she knows her presence is welcome.
Sighing, I lean back in my chair and catch sight of my face in the window. The dark mirror shows my folds and lines and my eyes are hollow. I know with a bit of fire, some words and a pass of my hand I could, for a while, tighten my skin and darken my hair but it is too exhausting to even consider and so I empty my head and stroke the damn cat and studiously avoid my reflection as dawn begins to spread across the wood.