Dreaming.

 

 

 

Finding a shaded spot under a tree I begin to dream. Leaves tumble like confetti over me. My life dissolves leaving me behind and smells that are lacking usually begin to permeate my dream world. Jasmine and lavender mingle with summer showers on freshly cut grass. I am happy and safe. Uncle Fred is far away and Mom puts aside the brown paper bag that hides the bottle from the world. I conjure up a table laden with fragrant dishes surrounded by people laughing without derision. Cheerful songs blare from the radio and we all sing along. I never sing in the real world.

The school siren signals the end of lunch break. I keep my eyes closed willing time to expand but the spell is broken and I am once more – me, myself, I.

“Hey, freak wake up!” I open my eyes and glower at Matt as he kicks my shoe on his way back to the classroom. Gathering my bag I stand and flick the leaves from my uniform and follow Matt’s retreating figure. If I could I would walk backwards but I am already the last one outside.

Figures and facts swirl like whirlpools inside my head as the day inches forward. I doodle in the margins of my book slouching in my chair as one teacher merges into another. The final siren of the day brings the class to their feet. I stay sitting until everyone has left. The empty classroom smells of pencil shavings and chalk and echoes with fading footsteps. I could stay here forever cocooned in the quiet. I finally heave myself from behind my desk and walk down the echoing corridor and out of the school gates. A woman with thinning grey hair sits on the concrete step clutching her bag to her concave chest and her eyes flicker nervously. I sit on the curb playing Candy Crush on my phone until the bus arrives.

The bus judders to a stop. I step onto the verge and stare at the gaping front door. Mom must be home. She is early. My stomach lurches. Early is bad. Late is bad. The words repeat like a crazy mantra inside my head.

“Mom?” I say walking inside. The house greets me without enthusiasm. Limp furniture litters the lounge. I drop my bag onto the wine stained carpet. “Mom?” I say again.

“Lily! You’re home.” Uncle Fred comes out of the kitchen munching a sandwich.

“Where’s Mom?” I say, backing away.

“Sis has gone away for a few days. Asked me to check in on you. Aren’t you happy to see me? Hey honeybun come give your Uncle a hug.” He strides towards me his arms wide open and I stare as his sandwich bleeds mayonnaise onto the floor. I reverse into the dark wood dresser, which holds me out to him like a gift.

Early is bad, late is bad, my brain screams silently.

 

 

 

 

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If one door slams…

 

I gripped the letter with such force it split down the middle. The paper fluttered autumnally to the ground. I was as discarded as the carpet of leaves outside.

Watching the raindrops roll down the glass I allowed the heavens to do my crying for me. I was too angry to acknowledge the sadness pulsing behind my eyes. The years felt brittle as yesterday. When did I start pinning my dreams on Richard? I had always been fiercely independent. My Father had predicted that I would be an old maid if I kept it up. Men wanted to feel needed. Nothing good could come from an independent woman. And I thought I could cheat destiny even if I had to contort myself to avoid it.

Richard hypnotised me with his azure eyes and his toothpaste commercial smile. He was everything I had avoided for years. Popular, beautiful and irreverent, he radiated confidence and had a following reminiscent of a messiah. I prided myself a loner, following anyone or anything except a story, was not a possibility.

The night we met I was sipping a cocktail surrounded by the journalists of the newspaper I served but immersed in my own thoughts. My colleagues had learnt to give me a wide berth. The war had made it starkly evident that all was not equal and I was still bristling from the meeting with Doug.

“Too dangerous!” Douglas, our editor had bellowed, his handlebar moustache trembling with indignation. “God, woman, look around. Men are getting blown to bits and you want to join them? Bring me the fashion piece I asked you for days ago. Women will never make war correspondent on my paper.” And he dismissed me with a flick of his wrist.

I was peevish with disappointment and observed this man in uniform strut like a pigeon. My face must have been as dark as my thoughts because he broke from his adoring disciples and marched over to me.

“Hello beautiful lady, why so serious?” His face crinkled into a lopsided smile. I struggled to maintain my scowl. “Point out the rascal and I will sort him out.” He said smacking his fist into his palm.

His gaze never wavered that night. It was a light shining onto my face. I felt seen for the first time. We spent stolen moments from his military engagements intertwined like vines. I resented his easy comings and goings. I felt rooted, earth bound by him. No man had ever entered my soul as he did. I was trapped as surely as a gazelle in the jaws of a lion.

Years of screaming sirens and distant explosions muffled the waiting, nights of passion amongst the bleeding and the pain. I never realised how much I waited. How could I put my life on hold for something so prosaic?

“Colette, God sake, woman where are you? Dreaming into space. That’s why women would make God awful soldiers.” I had been miles away dreaming of languishing in Richard’s arms. I resolved to put him from my mind until his jaunty rat-a-tat on my door but he remained on the periphery of my thoughts always.

Now he has put me outside his life. The letter informing me of his impending marriage was sour with memories of his kisses. I turned back to the window. The rain had stopped and a shaft of sunlight lit up my desk. I shifted my chair and sought the heat on my face.

I read once ‘It is better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all.’ One day I may feel that way but for now I needed to erase the smell of him. I closed my eyes and breathed slowly as if breathing in the rays of the sun.

“Colette!” I opened my eyes with a start. “You still want to be a war correspondent?” Douglas’s protuberant eyes bored into me.

“Ye…Yes.” I stammered.

“Stupidest idea ever but the board want a woman on the front. Woman’s perspective my arse…! Apologies, Colette but you want the job, it’s yours.”

Abruptly the gloom of moments before was bleached by sunlight. This was my destiny. The one I had always longed for. One door closed as another opened. The invitation was to step through this open door.

I didn’t hesitate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiff upper lip…

 

Then let me bravely leap into the shadows alone I thought looking out of the window. An oak tree was tapping on the glass, its bough heavy with acorns. Dr Ashbury was still staring sympathetically at me, his pen half-mast between the desk and his ear as if he was unsure what to do next. He had delivered a severe blow and I was not reacting as he was expecting.

It is a matter of honour that I process bad news in the sanctity of my own home. Public displays of emotion are vulgar and I hardly know this man sitting across from me. I can still feel his cool fingers palpating my breast. Nobody has touched me there since Dennis and he’s been gone for eleven years, six months and three days already. And now Dr Ashbury with his clipped moustache and lanky limbs has had the honour. I am not about to bestow any further on the man.

“Thank you.” I said standing and held out my hand to shake his. He scrambled up from his chair almost stumbling over his legs to cradle my hand with both of his. I gave him a tight smile although I was desperate to leave this place.

Johnson was leaning against the side of the Bentley and he leapt away when he saw me, his cap wedged under his armpit. His balding head glistened in the midday sun. He opened the car door with a bow. I was too tired to be irritated. Dennis had tried for years to get the staff to stop this antiquated behaviour. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes and I blinked them away. Johnson drove smoothly, intermittently sneaking a look at me in the rear view mirror. I kept my face neutral sitting upright with my hands in my lap.

Mrs Melville was waiting at the door as I stepped from the car. She took my coat.

“I took the liberty of arranging tea in the drawing room, Ma’am. It’s nice this time of year. The sun does shine so prettily…”

“Thank you but I am not hungry. Please ensure I am not disturbed. I have a headache.” Mrs Melville has a habit of rambling on and whereas I indulge her often today was not one of those days.

“Oh dear can I get you an aspirin Ma’am?” She wrung her hands like a vaudeville actor.

“You may, thank you.” I said walking up the stairs holding the bannisters tightly. My legs felt shaky. I dropped my handbag on the writing desk and waited, feeling light headed. I hoped she would not be long with the aspirin. I did not know whether I could keep standing. She entered with Daisy carrying a tray.

“I’ve taken the liberty of….” Mrs Melville began.

“Yes, Yes!” My voice was sharp and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry I have the most dreadful headache. Thank you Mrs Melville, and Daisy, thank you.” I said. Mrs Melville nodded not quite forgiving me. Daisy smiled, curtsied and they closed the door with a click.

I poured milk into a cup and picked up the teapot. My wrist buckled and scalding tea splashed over my hand. I dropped the teapot onto the tray with a whimper. Tears that I had controlled throughout the day seemed to burst from me and I sobbed like a child.

I cried because I have breast cancer and because Dennis who had sworn to love and protect me forever was not here to fulfil his promise. I mourned the loss of his strong arms and the smell of his pipe and the scratchiness of his chin. We were supposed to grow old together instead he has stayed forever in his prime while I grow older and frailer. Alone.

I cried the tears that for eleven years, six months and three days I had been unable to shed.