Apologies to those that have been looking back here and waiting for something to happen, I set myself a target and struggled to meet it! I must say that I feel strangely nervous about introducing you to Rachel but I feel guilty keeping her to myself. I don’t think that an introduction is really needed, if you keep reading then I hope that you will come to know Rachel as I have. Her story stretches to 25,000 words in print and some 250,000 in my mind which surprisingly means that she is more than half way to novel status and I hope that publishing here will encourage me to get more of her story transcribed.
To those that kindly offered an opinion on early words I apologise since you have seen this but I assure you that there is more to come so keep checking back. Welcome to the first chapters, stick around the girl’s got a lot to love.
It was a B wasn’t it, no a D surely? It had been on the tip of her tongue in the car but now seemed as distant as the moon. She strode purposefully through the grocery store ignoring the treats and luxury items piled high on the ends of isles, distractions for those that could afford the time. She ducked to the side to overtake a shopping cart as some elderly couple dithered over their choice of eggs. A quick glance at her basket gave an almost subconscious confirmation that the coffee, the fuel of her life and the sweetener, like anyone would notice if she put on a pound were already safely on board.
Extracting a BBQ chicken and a pepperoni pizza from the freezer cabinet, deftly lifted over the shoulder of a man pondering stuffed crusts it hit her. Zoe, though god only knows how that was related to a B or a D. It was Zoe’s birthday tomorrow. Nearly shutting stuffed crust man into the freezer she turned on the spot and charged back to the birthday cards. Flicking through her mental rolodex she selected a ’17’ card from her and the kids and a special ‘Happy Birthday Sister’ from Davey. Zoe had a soft spot for the happy 4 year old and would be thrilled with a crayon autograph.
Leaping at the shortest queue at the checkout she had just finished placing her products on the belt when the operator pointed to the “this lane closed” sign. She cast him a disdainful look, she had been that young once hadn’t she, a lifetime ago perhaps but she had, and she hadn’t been so disrespectful. Ok so maybe she had, to be honest it was too long ago to remember.
“Would you like a bag for life” the happy carefree voice broke her reverie. The young blonde checkout assistant held a bag up for her as if to demonstrate what she was referring to. No I don’t want a bag for bloody life, it is not for life or anywhere to close to it just like happiness, husbands and your bloody perky tits! “No thanks” she said scooping up her purchases and collecting her change.
Leaving the windowless grocery store she emerged into the bright sunlight of the car park. A gaggle of teenagers hung around aimlessly on a bench watching as one young lad did his best to impress the females in the group. All of fifteen the girls watched on with apparently little interest, texting on their phones and debating what “Shana looked like on Saturday”. She caught herself looking enviously at them with their panties hoisted half way up their back and jeans almost as low as their knees they still had it all to play for, they hadn’t wasted it yet.
Hurrying back to the car she through the shopping on the passenger seat and battled the pile of key fobs until she found the ignition key and inserted it. A quick glance at the dashboard clock, told Rachel that she was late already, now wasn’t that the story of her life. As if sensing her urgency the battered old Ford started on only the second attempt, belching a dark cloud of smoke like a long term smoker’s morning cough. Pulling out of the car park she noticed that the orange light remained illuminated, it used to come and go but lately it stayed on. She had no idea what the light meant, how could she? Adam had told her that it was an EMS light and she had nodded sagely but, despite studying it, she couldn’t decipher what it was meant to look like. She slid the chewing gum packet along the dash to save looking at the light, maybe with nobody looking, it would go out.
She longed for a coffee, a hot strong coffee, it had been hours since her breakfast cup and she was starting to fade. Georgia was on the way home though and she was already late there was no way that she could get home for a coffee and back. As she crawled along the high street she watched the girly girls, filing their way to the nail bars, hairdressers and boutiques. The ladies that lunch, how did they get such a different hand from life’s deck of cards?
Two hours after arriving at Georgia’s she was back in the car. Her bladder was uncomfortable, probably in protest at the awful chamomile tea that she insisted on serving. “Oh but it’s so purifying Rachel, you need to detox” no I don’t I need real coffee like a car needs petrol you hippie slut! She should have used the toilet before she left but she was worried that the bloody teacup would refill while she was in the bathroom so, like a coward, she had snuck away it was only ten minutes to home anyway.
Georgia was one of her ‘mummy buddies’ whose association had come about because of similarly aged children but she did genuinely like her. There was always a crisis in Georgia’s life though and she loved to share, well she loved to share with Rachel. All her friends confided in her and asked for advice, whilst she was the least qualified to help she was happy to listen if it made them feel better. The week’s Georgia crisis was with a young man known as Tom, despite a happy marriage and doting husband Georgia usually had a young man in tow. Rachel neither agreed nor condoned the extramarital activity but would listen patiently to her friend’s woes and murmur at what she hoped was appropriate points.
Tom was, by the most vivid accounts, a sexual dynamo. In keeping with Georgia’s earlier conquests Tom was younger and “keen to learn” and there was no doubt that Georgia was an enthusiastic teacher. Rachel never met the men that Georgia was involved with although she had met her husband David on several occasions and thought he was very nice. In truth she had grown accustomed to Georgia’s cycles of absence when she had a new man, patchy contact as she tired and then full on ‘sisterhood’ when it folded. The latest collapse had been more spectacular than usual when Georgia had attended a dinner party with David only for Tom to walk in and kiss his mother goodnight. There were no theatrics at the time but Tom was old enough to see the downside of an affair and it had crystallised in the form of David at his family’s dinner table.
The premature termination of the relationship meant that it had ended before Georgia had grown bored and this was not a good thing. Rachel had sat and been regaled with stories of a man built like no other, with the stamina of a racehorse and the attention to detail of a surgeon. Like a good friend she had listened as Georgia explained how a youthful tongue had helped her reach a level of orgasm that was previously undiscovered. Over the years Rachel had learnt to drift off and filter Georgia’s voice in her head. This way, rather than listen to a subject that she had almost forgotten she got a free pornographic audio book.
Locking the car she checked her watch and realised with dismay that she had only an hour to make a start on the housework before little Davey and Louise returned. She found that a lot lately, when she snatched a few rare hours they were absorbed by forces she barely saw and before she knew it they were gone, dispersed like second hand smoke. Opening the door she nearly tripped over the stack of odd shoes that had been hurriedly mined in a desperate attempt to make two small pairs and her own tired trainers. Kicking the discarded footwear back under the hall radiator she managed to maintain momentum all the way to the kitchen.
Her practiced hand steered the kettle under the tap whilst avoiding the towering pile of plates. It looked like Steve had gone for beans on toast this morning; she cast a glance at the closed microwave door and shuddered. While the kettle boiled she heaped two spoons of coffee into her cup and dropped a single sweetex into it. She smiled at the ‘World’s Best Mum’ cup; she kept it even though it was chipped because it had been a ‘gift’ from the kids. She had made a rule about her coffee cup, nobody washed it but Rachel and she washed it only once a day. It was a stupid rule; nobody else ever cleaned anything anyway. But to Rachel it was an important rule, her Dad had sworn that the patina on his mug would hold it together even if it had cracked in half “gives a tea its provenance” he would say. He had been passed some 10 years now but she couldn’t break his traditions, she just couldn’t.
She stirred the boiling jet black fuel and added just a dribble of cold water to cool the scalding brew, As she walked the house in her mind prioritising the tasks that she had to tackle she tried to remember what a good cup of coffee tasted like when served at normal temperature. Sure she had coffee with girlfriends but they didn’t appreciate it or need it the way she did, they would serve insipid, cheap instant coffee that was an affront to the name. She could remember, once, when coffee came with milk and was allowed to cool in the air. That was before her clock started running so fast that she couldn’t spare the time to allow coffee to cool, before ‘that’ top told her that she was the wrong end of a size 10 and before coffee become her fuel.
Wearily climbing the stairs she entered Davey’s bedroom first. The three year old was the star of her household; just entering the little boy’s room lifted her spirits. The room was, predictably, trashed there were toys everywhere and Rachel was thankful that she still had her trainers on when she stood on a hard plastic brick. Had she ever been able to stroll through her home in bare feet? She couldn’t remember, it felt like a seamless transition from teenage beer can littered bedsits to building bricks and squeaky toys. Clearing a path to his bed she shook the Superman duvet and returned the foraged toys to the pile. Davey spent his nights climbing out of bed and bringing toys back with him, many was the morning that he would wake up with a toy maker’s name impressed on his face.
A slurp of her coffee took Rachel to Louise’s bedroom, at the ripe old age of eight it was starting to get all the hallmarks of a young ladies room. With no difficulty negotiating the path to the bed it was a simple task of extracting discarded clothes before shaking the duvet out. Her watch told her that she had twenty minutes remaining, nana Joan (Steve’s mum) was always punctual and never failed to find reason to criticise Rachel for her lack of organisation or tardiness.
Another good slurp emptied her coffee cup and she headed to the bathroom. The damp smell bore witness to Steve’s shower before work; how could he open the window without getting cold he would complain, far better to leave it for Rachel to do of course. She pushed the window open and looked despairingly at the mess, she would address this later. Of course this was a deceit since there was currently no light in the bathroom, light bulbs only lasted a few days in this room despite the best efforts of several electricians and this meant that it would look better at night. She once joked that the light failed due to the poltergeist that smeared the toothpaste/shaving foam/clothes across the room but on reflection she thought that it was more likely a kindly spirit saving her shame. She could just make out the lid of the laundry basket under the pile of clothes, like a gremlin sneering at her daring her to discover what laid at the bottom of its wicker torso, ‘fat chance’ of ever getting that far she thought. Gathering up a pile of dirty clothes between her arms and pressing her chin into a wet towel to maintain the bundle she staggered out of the bathroom with her coffee cup balanced on one finger.
She had read about those men that stole panties from washing lines and had always considered that a couple of weeks of washing machine duty would cure them. God nine times out of ten she knew the family were ill before they vocalised it. She forced the machine door shut, added detergent, hit the start button and then applied an experienced foot to just the right part of the door. The machine was old, overworked and wouldn’t last much longer which would be a perfect strapline for Rachel.
She had made it to within two inches of the kettle when the doorbell rang. Abandoning the kettle she headed to the door, the kids and nana Joan were blurry silhouettes through the obscured glass. Out of the corner of her eye Rachel cursed the tired old woman that passed the mirror, 35 really was old. She opened the door to a storm front of children as Louise charged for the television whilst throwing a “hi mum” over her shoulder. Being the eldest meant a hard earned, whilst not necessarily real, right to choose the TV channel.
Davey stopped and wobbly presented one foot for shoe removal, bending down to remove the shoe Rachel received a kiss delivered in a fluid motion as Davey’s face turned to seek out his sister. To Joan’s muttered “Davey you should be taking your own shoes off” Rachel peeled her son’s remaining shoe off and, as if fired from a catapult, he shot into the lounge.
As Joan shut the door and the two women headed to the kitchen Rachel could feel her mother in law’s critical eyes scanning the hall like some robotic home inspector. Finally hitting the kettle again Rachel turned to Joan “Coffee? How were they?”. “Oh no dear I will have tea please, you shouldn’t drink coffee either it makes you look grey” oh joy here we go with the script again. Deliberately taking a teabag from the cupboard and not the caddy on the side gave Rachel the opportunity to turn her back to Joan and sneak two spoons of coffee in her cup. Yes she was an adult, yes it was her home but she was too tired to rock the boat and attract more criticism. Opening the fridge for the milk she caught Joan staring in barely disguised disgust at the tower of crockery in the sink “I only just beat you home” she offered, “I always have to clean before I leave, just in case I don’t come home”. Yes of course you bloody do, because you’re perfect and you have so little to worry about that you worry about not coming home, frankly a lot of the time not coming home sounds like heaven! “Oh you know how hard it is to get the kids out” she said.
A squeal called her to the lounge to mediate a diplomatic impasse over which particular inane puppet show was next on the afternoons viewing list. Joan, never one to miss the chance to snoop, called through from the kitchen “still drinking black coffee dear, that will stain your teeth and honestly the amount of milk in a cup of coffee will hardly have any effect on your size”. Oh thanks and I’m sure that me smacking you in the face with a hot iron will hardly have any effect on your face “I like it black now” she called back. Joan wasn’t the worse mother in law and she was good with the kids, she was actually quite accepting of Rachel being critical was just her nature. She was a 1950s wife, a professional homemaker and now a widow. She had long ago forgotten the stresses of young children and husbands reflecting through rose tinted glasses. Equality had passed her by, provided for by the man of the house, long after his passing, she saw no reason for the world to change.
Not that the position Rachel found herself in was due to driving ambition or some deep rooted feminism. Rachel would have been happy to have been a 1950s housewife, concentrating on bringing up the family and keeping the home fires burning. She never had been able to fathom when society decided that this was wrong, had ‘empowered’ women into the workplace. The ability to measure your success simply by the standard of the home and the wellbeing of the children was a luxury that she could only dream of.
As Joan told her how well her sister in law Karen was getting on Rachel looked longingly at the empty coffee cup. She could make another cup of course but Joan wouldn’t want one and would criticise her ‘dependence’ on coffee as if she was a drug addict or in some way depriving her family by spending money on coffee. Karen, of course, suffered no such obvious dependencies. The designer handbags and shoes that filled every space in her closets were not some desperate attempt to demonstrate ‘worth’ they were simply gifts from an adoring husband. Once again Rachel swore never to be like Joan when she was older, to be happy for her children and to understand that their lives were different, God she hoped they were different, to hers.
“So will you be driving on Saturday?” Joan broke Rachel’s reverie, what was Saturday? Where was she supposed to be driving? Too slowly the answers formed in her mind, Joan seized on the delay like a coiled snake “Oh you did remember that Karen and John are having a garden party on Saturday didn’t you?” Rachel rose and crossed the room “oh yes it’s just been such a busy week” She looked at the calendar pined to the overflowing corkboard, studied each curling scrap of paper imploringly. Not a thing, how could the insanity of a calendar that barely left her time to fuel the car let her down like this? She closed her eyes tight for a moment then looked again but Saturday remained steadfastly blank.
“Oh yes I will drive, it’s nice for Steve to let his hair down” she surreptitiously moved a note to cover the glaring vacancy on the calendar before Joan could see it. Yes it would be lovely for Steve to let his hair down, if he had any hair left thanks to male pattern baldness and he could certainly do with party food after all it was a full time job staying in the obese sector of the weight chart! “Excellent, the weather is supposed to be fine and Karen throws such a good garden party.
Rachel wondered again whether Joan had any concept of what a garden party was. Not that Rachel had ever actually attended one, well above her social standing, but she had at least seen them on the TV. The in-law version involved Karen unpacking this week’s Iceland bargains and carefully shredding the evidence, she had actually seen the gaudy coloured cardboard in the shredder on one occasion. Karen would be ‘merry’ by 10 am and pissed as a newt by 1 while John did his best to burn the chemicals off of whatever glutinous hybrids her sister in law had purchased. The image of the happy, independent couple, so carefully cultivated, would slowly wash off with the alcohol and by 3 pm Rachel would by trying to extricate her husband from a suburban Beirut. Steve for his part would be drunk and watching some sport on the huge TV, she swore it got larger every visit. She always marvelled at the ability of overweight males to feel that they could advise professional sportsmen on a sport that they couldn’t even dress for let alone play.
“I have to get the kid’s tea on Joan, would you like something to eat?” it was a ritual rather than an offer and both women knew it. “No I have to be going and that processed food plays havoc with my colon dear” was at the polite end of Joan’s responses. Rachel didn’t bother to protest that she never fed the children actual processed food, although she did have her reservations as to how many fingers a cod had, besides the woman wouldn’t even know where her colon was let alone be able to identify it as the cause of any havoc. Walking into the lounge she urged the kids to say goodbye to their nan, partly this was polite and partly because like a mantra to warn of nefarious spirits she believed it would prevent a return visit until the next sunrise. As she followed Joan to the door she watched her do a swift sidestep and tut as she tripped over one of Davey’s discarded shoes. She bid the woman a safe trip, albeit with her fingers crossed, and closed the door behind her.
Popping her head in the lounge door she saw Davey upside down on the sofa with his head resting against Louise. They were both scrunched into the very end of the sofa from where Louise had tried to avoid her baby brother’s creeping advances until she tired and allowed him to snuggle. “Fish fingers, mash and peas for dinner, don’t fall asleep on me now you hoodlums” she called through, bringing Davey back from the brink of a nap. “Finger ash, mmmmm” confirmed that Davey had recognised the term and realised that it was food, the boy would eat anything. A critical stare from Louise was followed by “Susie from school has steak every night”, the relevance was lost somewhat on Rachel who was well aware that a meal served twice in any ten day period would get a thumbs down from Louise for being served “again!”
“Awh poor Susie she must get so bored, would you like to ring her and tell her she can come around for fish fingers to break the monotony” she was already heading to the kitchen as Louise’s retort made her ears “you’re so not funny mother”. She peeled potatoes, it was a point of pride to her that a few months ago Louise had returned from school upset because when faced with a potato waffle she had no idea what it was, processed food indeed! 5 “pure cod” fish fingers placed in the oven and potatoes simmering on the hob Rachel took the opportunity to make a three spoon coffee. Running the hot tap for a couple of minutes she realised that it was having no effect on the congealed food on the plates in the sink, a quick check confirmed that the water was cold.
Opening the cupboard she glared at the boiler, checked the pilot light was lit, pressed some buttons and turned the dial both ways, the pilot remained stubbornly alone. The boiler had been temperamental since they had moved into this house; it seemed to respond only to Steve who, when she complained, would patiently explain to her how to operate it. Rachel knew the truth; the boiler had been cursed by her mother in law to spite her and was destined never to understand her commands. She switched the immersion heater on, closed the door and boiled the kettle again. Three kettles later she was in her natural environment, up to her elbows in floating beans and soggy crumbs. Rachel could hear some nature presenter in her head while she toiled at the washing up “here we find domestic mum in her natural habitat, unconcerned as the detritus of family meals swirls around her arms. Note how her arms have become toughened to the scalding water allowing her to spend extended periods in the sink without a break”.
Dinner was served in the kitchen with the remote control for the TV, which she used like a piper to tease the children to the food and keep them there, resided on the worktop. Nursing her coffee she supervised commodity trading more complicated than any foreign exchange. Today peas were up and the ‘buy’ was a whole spoon of mashed potato, it was Rachel’s job to ensure that nobody shorted the market so trades, whilst not forbidden were strictly limited. The children accepted that their parents did not eat with them; Steve was rarely home at tea time anyway. Rachel had never really eaten with the children; when they had transitioned from baby food to adult food she had let the opportunity to eat together pass her by. There was a time when she felt guilty, especially after reading about eating disorders, for not having family meals but the children had healthy appetites and this was just part and parcel of a nuclear family wasn’t it? Anyway food was different for children; they were supposed to be growing whereas she needed to be shrinking.
She took another long slurp of coffee and looked down, she remembered pert, remembered when she had tits that held their own and sitting down didn’t generate bulges. She had been the envy of her friends after Davey when she had recovered her shape in record time. Alright she had never considered herself sexy she had always imagined that one of the benefits of not having an inflated chest was that gravity didn’t have so much of a target. She couldn’t quite remember when the weight had gone on but she remembered ‘that’ top as clear as day. Rachel took another swig of coffee; the slight bitter tang of the sweetener was a comfort as if reminding her that she was making an effort.
Davey, as reliable as ever, was starting to fade his blonde locks (inherited from Steve) were now wicking up more of his ice cream desert than his spoon. “Time for bed young man, you can barely stay awake” as always the concept of going to bed brought Davey around as quickly as a slap in the face “but mum, I’m not tired” he moaned whilst studiously trying to corral some invisible nugget of ice cream onto his spoon. What was it with children and their desire to push bed time out? Rachel would do anything to get a proper night’s sleep, started when she wanted, in cool fresh linen; she physically shivered at the fantasy before snapping back to reality and scooping Davey’s bowl up, despite his protestations, and delivering it to the sink.
Dispatching Davey up the stairs she turned to Louise who was presenting her best impression of an adult pose in order to avoid the conversation about retiring. This was so much a part of their routine now that Rachel had, on more than one occasion, considered coming back down from settling Davey, grabbing a bottle of wine with two glasses and inviting Louise to sit down for a girly night. The thing was though that, at the ripe old age of eight, she was no longer sure that her daughter would refuse the offer, besides wine? Have you seen the calories in that?
She looked up at the Jack Daniels clock on the wall, a view back to a previous life, it was 7pm “you have until half past young lady and then you are following your brother up those stairs or I will chase you telling you stories about what boys do to girls that don’t behave” “eurgghh no mum, anything but that she shrieked” as Rachel headed for the stairs. Slowing in the hall Rachel had a sudden realisation of how bad that routine would have sounded to a TV super nanny, god she would be on afternoon TV “mother scared her daughter with stories of boys and now she is dominated by her partner”. It wasn’t like that of course; in the playful routine that she had with Lou the boys smelt of whisky, cue theatrical “eurrgghhh”, and if you weren’t heading to bed on time they would rush up the stairs and make the bathroom smell of ‘boys’ “eurrgghhh”. Of course once a boy had contaminated the bathroom, how long did it take to decontaminate it? “Hours mum”, you had to wear a special suit and spray everything especially the sink full of shaving bugs.
The story had come about one night when Steve had a friend over and they had gone out for the night. The whisky had been on Steve’s breath when he leant down to kiss his daughter before going out and she had made a face. That night the bathroom had reeked of aftershave and male grooming an odour that hung, cloyingly, over a darker presence from an earlier curry. Steve had shaved and left the foam drying in the sink, as was his way, and little Louise had been convinced that there were little black bugs living in the foam hence ‘shaving bugs were born’. Walking up the stairs Rachel had the feeling that the line between growing out of childhood routines and being traumatised by them was incredibly thin.
Davey had no fear of a male bathroom and sometimes it seemed that he had already grown into adulthood in this particular area of life. Entering the bathroom the first thing that she noticed was that the toilet had not been flushed and there was a trickle of wet on the seat. Davey had been toilet trained to sit down, Rachel being aware that whilst a man could parallel park from the age of 7 wearing a blindfold he could no more accurately hit a toilet bowl from standing than he could embroider a Latin poem on silk. It was laziness that she cursed herself for now, worrying that when he was at school he would look odd, and she kept telling Steve to teach him ‘big boy’s toilet’. Rachel felt unable to teach him, not only did it seem somehow wrong to be involved in what was a transition to maturity but she had no experience. When she spoke to girlfriends they all advised that male partners had been responsible for that task but with Steve rarely home before Davey was asleep and seemingly as uncomfortable about the subject progress was slow to say the least.
Wiping the seat with she flushed the toilet “hey big boy why didn’t you flush the toilet?” she asked the toothpaste smothered child standing on a stool at the sink. “I did mummy, Davey is a big boy now silly” “well how come mummy had to flush it eh?” “Mummy did wee wee” he shrieked between mouthfuls of foam. The delight with which he shrieked the same line every time was starting to convince Rachel that she was bringing up a pervert! In truth she couldn’t chastise him, he had been fantastic with toilet training and the flush on the toilet, like everything else in the house, was tired and could take several attempts.
“Right soldier let’s have a look at you” she spun Davey round and he giggled, he was at that age where any contact tickled and elicited the most delightful, innocent giggles. He looked like he was auditioning for a part as the snowman in the Christmas play having coated most of his face and much of his hair in the white toothpaste foam. “Open wide and mummy get the difficult one” this was one of the many feints that allowed Rachel to carry out a task without detracting from Davey’s status as a ‘big boy’. He opened his mouth and she gave his tiny teeth a quick brush amazed that with all of that foam she had still had to extract a large piece of fish finger.
Having wiped his squirming face with a flannel she offered him a cup of water “rinse”. She watched him and scolded “don’t drink it, rinse with it” when the water level fell too low. She scooted the little boy off the stool and moved it to the side with one hand whilst steering him along the hall with the other. In his bedroom she selected pyjamas from the top shelf of his wardrobe and helped him get dressed for bed. “Has my Davey got a tattoo?” she enquired, tracing her finger along the blue lines across his ribs. “Yep, Davey coloured him in” he beamed proud of his artistic work. Hoping that nana Joan was, at this very moment, cleaning felt tip pen from a door and finally realising why Rachel recommended 100% supervision she pulled the duvet over him.
“Can we go park torrow?” he enquired, not yet having mastered the number of syllables in tomorrow “yes if it’s nice and you go to sleep now”. She bent down, he grasped both of her cheeks like a passionate Italian, and she kissed his minty face “goodnight, love you” “night love you” he muttered into the duvet already late for his date with the sandman. As Rachel watched from the doorway he rolled once and then fell into the welcoming arms of innocent slumber, feeling guilty at the pang of jealousy she pulled the door closer and walked back to the bathroom.
Giving the sink a quick clean, lest Lou realised that her brother was a boy “eurrgghhh” she was pleased to find that the bath, whilst full of plastic toys, was clean. Calling down to Louise she got no response, Rachel had learnt long ago that as a mother everything was paid for in footsteps. No matter what you wanted done, whose attention you wanted or what you needed to know you had to walk to the source, motherhood was in fact just an extended marathon.
Wearily descending the stairs Rachel considered whether she had time for a coffee before settling Lou and decided that she would make it whilst her daughter was getting ready. She hit the kettle on the way through to the lounge and wondered when coffee had stopped being a drink to sip and savour and become a stolen moment to swill scalding fuel. “Hey Lou Lou, you’re next kidder” she said, brushing her daughters, already long, legs off the sofa. “My name is Louse and I’m watching this, can’t I finish it mum” was the retort from Lou as her sleepy eyes focused on the TV. “Oh I see, I apologise of course I didn’t realise that you were so keen to familiarise yourself with the works of NATO to address the middle-east. I am making a coffee then I will be upstairs to sort you out”. Caught out by the TV Louise slipped off the sofa and heading for the stairs called out “you drink too much coffee mum”.
She was right of course, Rachel drank too much coffee and she had too many sweeteners. She had read that sweeteners made rats hair fall out or gave them cancer but had brushed it aside after all weren’t the little tubes rat proof? Too much coffee, not enough nourishment but still too much belly not that anybody would ever notice. Rachel was, she realised, a service provider and nobody sees them do they? When was the last time somebody asked the milkman if he was ok or told the postman that red set of his eyes? Rachel was a mother, a friend, a taxi driver, housekeeper and confidant; this filled her time and overwrote her. She wasn’t like other women who were noticed or looked at, those days were gone, at 35 her choices had been made and she was a service provider.
Stirring the sweetener, sod the rats, into her coffee she slipped a chewing gum into her mouth. She didn’t want little Lou chasing her children in years to come with stories of dragons that breathed coffee fumes. Heading up the stairs she checked the time on her phone, she never wore a watch, ten to eight not too bad. The bathroom door was only partly open so she knew that it was empty. It was getting dark now and since the latest bathroom light had given up Lou would have had the door wide open. Passing Davey’s bedroom she peered in still amazed that the huge number of glow in the dark items didn’t disturb him when he woke up. His position had changed and a transformer robot appeared to have crawled up the duvet into his hand but he was sleeping soundly.
She found Louise rearranging the toys in her bed like some small interior designer. Rachel stood in the doorway and watched as the toys were carefully rearranged before Lou stepped back and considered the arrangement before altering again. “Hey madam why aren’t you in bed” turning to her mother Lou frowned and explained “Mr Pinky can’t sit next to Princess and I want them both close to me”. “Ah well you jump in and I will put Mr Pinky on this side” Rachel offered, knowing full well that Lou would have discarded all the toys within half an hour. The little girl was always the same, restless for the first 30-40 minutes and then never moved for the rest of the night, leaving Rachel to wonder if the mass of toys was a good idea but she wouldn’t go to sleep in anything less than a perfectly arranged toy sanctuary.
Silently agreeing to the compromise Lou slipped under the ‘Princess Barbie’ duvet, made a final check of the toys and held out her right arm for the soft elephant that was Mr Pinky. Rachel leant down and kissed her daughter at eight it was a passing kiss, the Italian passion of Davey long since grown out of. “Night darling, mummy loves you” she said as Louise snuggled into Mr Pinky “night mum”. Rachel stopped and waited for the ‘love you’ but none was forthcoming, she briefly considered demanding the response but discounted it and left the room. Closing Lou’s door so that the hall light wouldn’t disturb her Rachel headed down the stairs.
She knew that at some stage kids tended to stop saying ‘love you’ and then regained the phrase with maturity but at eight, surely not? Had she just forgot, the words meant nothing to children really it was just a phrase learnt by rote. But Rachel couldn’t help thinking that she had just been snubbed and that she had done something wrong. Forcing herself to drink her coffee she fought the urge to go back upstairs and ask little Lou to confirm that she loved her mother. Mostly she knew that she was being ridiculous, they hadn’t had a fight this was not an “I hate you tantrum” like her friend Claire seemed to face daily with her own daughter since splitting up with her husband. The small lack of validation from Lou had really disturbed Rachel, she considered winging a friend but that was not what she did. She was the friend that was called and not the one that called, besides what would she say? My 8 year old daughter didn’t say she loved me tonight and now I feel like a total failure. For god’s sake what was the matter with her? She finished her coffee and checked the time, it was now half past eight and Steve was due back just before ten if the traffic was ok.
Rachel resolved to have some time to herself a rare treat for busy mums apparently although, since she didn’t much like herself, she couldn’t see the treat bit. After checking that the front and back door were secure, she couldn’t have somebody stealing the coffee could she? Rachel wearily climbed the stairs and headed for the bathroom. Emptying the bath of toys she gave it a quick rinse then started to draw a bath. Fishing on top of the bathroom cabinet she located a couple of scented candles and the bath foam that a girlfriend had brought for her birthday in a vain attempt to make her more girly.
Lighting the candles she poured the foam into the bath and laid a new disposable razor on the side. The razor was a treat, taken from her secret supply, since Steve had a habit of using whatever he could lay his hands on. Leaving the hot water to fill the tub she walked back to the bedroom and pulled a new set of loose leggings and long T shirt out of the drawer. Didn’t you know this was the season’s new lingerie? She smiled at her joke, checked in on both children and grabbed a clean towel from the airing cupboard on the way back to the bathroom.
Hanging the clean clothes on the back of the door, which she closed but did not lock, she turned off the hot tap and checked the temperature. Allowing a little more cold to flow she withdrew her hand and shifted Davey’s stool to allow a little more space by the bath. Rechecking the temperature she closed the cold tap and watched the rising steam as the candles flickered, the perfect bath perhaps? Idly she remembered the days when she would have walked naked along the hall while the bath had filled instead she was now fully dressed until certain that the bath was ready. Nakedness was something that she avoided, a situation to be limited at all costs since youthful pride had long since departed.
She peeled of her dirty jeans and socks, folding them on the floor in deference to the overflowing laundry basket. Removing her well-worn, but more loved, Bon Jovi top and the bra that seemed to have to work harder every year she took stock in the blessedly low candlelight (there were some advantages to electrical gremlins). Having children had treated her better than a lot of life and she was proud that she had only a few small feint stretch marks despite ignoring all the vouchers for money off bloody Bio Oil! Her long legs were once the envy of friends but were now just a complication when shopping for jeans. Without the restriction of a waistband her stomach looked better but, whilst not fat, she was carrying more weight than she was comfortable with (there was that top). Her breasts no longer seemed to remember where they should be but, having never been over-endowed, gravity had a smaller target and there was still a reasonable gab between nipples and navel. It wasn’t that bad a body but she considered it more of a workhorse now as witnessed by the blue/grey bruises playing out on her legs, her left arm and a particularly vivid example on her ribs, each testament to her unique brand of coffee supressed exhaustion.
She vaguely remembered, as a young woman, spending time looking after her skin and her body like it was an incredible asset; it all seemed so long ago. She was always embarrassed by her own nakedness nowadays and so it was that as she slipped her panties off, in the candlelight, she immediately stepped into the bathtub and sat down, replacing cotton with scented bubbles. As an experienced mother she paused at this point, waiting for the unexpected cry from a child to disturb her peace, but all was silent in the house. Reassured she lifted her knees and slid deeper into the exotically scented water, silky bubbles washing over her.
As the heat of the water slowly reached into her tired bones she slipped deeper still. Closing her eyes she let the water wash over her face as she pushed her long dark hair under the water. The hot silky water enveloped her and the comfortable silence of the water felt as luxurious as the best spa. Sliding back up from the water she paused again to confirm the silence of the house, cherishing this precious time but always somehow concerned that she was missing something and would regret not checking on the children. It was as if even the act of bathing was, in some way, a luxury that she shouldn’t have. Soaping the sponge she lathered her arms individually, luxuriating in the time that she had. The soft bubbles lathered over her neck felt like heaven, drawing the tiredness and aches out of muscle and bone.
Lying soaking in the tub Rachel savoured the scent of the candles, the bath foam and the body-wash, enjoying the feminine experience. She could almost hear the girly Rachel of the past calling out to her, urging her to remember. She flicked the cap off the razor, smiling at the thought that there were no male ‘shaving bugs’ in her bath, and quickly skimmed under her arms for any fluff that had grown there. Lifting her left leg out of the water she lazily lathered before cleanly skimming any hint of hair from the long limb, deftly switching to the left leg she ran her hands along the finished product and felt smooth silky skin. Pushing her bum higher she soaped around the small tuft of her pubis and deftly removed any surrounding growth, checking carefully for any errant hairs. Sliding back in to the bath she wondered how long she would keep the ‘style’ of her personal grooming. What Steve had once called her ‘landing strip’ was no longer seeing active service with that pilot. Would she change the style for another man, would anyone ever see her neat handiwork again, apart from her GP that is? She smiled at the absurdity of a woman that had not slept with a man for three years trimming her pubic hair, like the warning to “wear clean underwear in case you get run over” it just seemed right to be neat.
At the thought of male company her hand wandered along her thigh and she shifted slightly in the water to accommodate the teasing fingers under the bubbles. The warm water and silky skin made for a sensuous combination, her mind started drifting as she relaxed, enjoying the gentle touch. The door flew open and she slid up in the bath covering her breasts with an arm in startled shock. “Bloody hell Rach have you taken to bathing in the dark, I’m sure you don’t look that rough yet” said Steve, lifting the toilet seat and releasing a stream of piss with the force of a fire hose. “Is nothing fucking sacred in this house? I was having a bath, couldn’t you have knocked? Called out? Let me know you intended to empty 6 pints of Fosters down the pan?” He shook himself, closed his zipper and looked at her “should have locked the door, I was bursting. Why don’t you just leave the light on and close your eyes save looking at yourself?” he walked off, neither flushing the toilet nor washing his hands. “The bathroom light still doesn’t work after the last wannabe electrician that you found in the pub couldn’t fix it actually” she called after him, reaching over to flush the toilet.
Her relaxation well and truly over she pulled the plug on the bathtub and quickly dried. Looking briefly at the body lotion she rejected the idea, the sooner that she was dressed the better. Checking her phone she realised that it was ten thirty and that she had a message from Georgia wanting to see her in the morning. The sexual being from the bath instantly forgotten she placed her laundry neatly on the…well she precariously balanced her laundry atop the pile, making certain that her panties were tucked well into the leg in case somebody should dislodge the pile. Blowing the candles out she opened the window a crack and went to make a coffee, as she walked past the bedroom she could see Steve sitting on the bed fighting with the laces on his shoes.
Rachel drunk her coffee slowly, texting Georgia to say that she would text her again in the morning and she hoped that she was alright, She checked that the television was turned off and that Steve had locked the front door. Noting that his car wasn’t on the drive she was pleased that he hadn’t driven home since he had clearly been to the pub on the way. Switching off the light on the cooker hood that was her preference over the harsh kitchen spotlights, was Steve right did she really hate being seen, she headed back upstairs. Working from knowledge in the dark she navigated the hallway of the 1960’s end of terrace that was home, skirting the first stair and its creaky tread she climbed towards the only light in the house, the small bedside lamp in their bedroom.
Looking in on Davey she found him surrounded by small toys but apparently in the same position that he had gone to sleep in. If Rachel had any understanding of the features of her phone she would have set it up as a camera in the little boy’s room to confirm that he actually did rise and collect the toys. Looking at the 3 year old innocently sleeping with his hands wrapped around a plastic dinosaur and a tank, hadn’t that been a transformer robot earlier, it looked for all the world as if the toys were invading his bed. She smiled and pushed the door open a little wider to ensure that any urgent night time toilet visits didn’t involve a black eye.
Stopping at Lou’s door she hesitated, a small thought at the back of her mind told her that if she opened the door she was risking her daughter sitting up in bed and shouting “I hate you”, after all she hadn’t said “love you” when she went to bed had she? Pushing the thought away as an irrational coffee fuelled senior moment she opened the door and looked in. Her daughter had expelled every one of the neatly stacked toys, her pillow and her duvet and had pulled most of the sheet from the mattress. This was Louise’s own unique style of settling, like a dog settling in his basket she would turn round and round before settling. Rachel shifted the sleeping child further up the bed and slid a Barbie pillow under her golden locks. Gently untangling her legs from the sheet Rachel tucked it, as best as she could, under the mattress and softly laid the duvet over her young shoulders.
Leaning down she brushed the gentlest of kisses over her daughter’s forehead, just to reassure her that she loved her in case she had caught some ethereal sense of her early thoughts. Lou stirred slightly, turned her head away from her mother and muttered under her breath. No matter how soft and how muttered Rachel knew that she had heard “Love you”, Mr Pinky was nowhere to be seen so that was definitely meant for her and suddenly the world was ok again, everything was right. Leaving her door ajar Rachel went to the bathroom and, once again, was grateful for the darkness as she brushed her teeth in front of a mirror that may as well have been a black hole.
Steve’s trousers were half inside out on the floor and the contents of his pockets strewn the sort of distance that can only be achieved when you fall out of your clothes. She picked up the visible change, the car keys and the absurd electronic cigarette that he had taken to using and placed them on the dressing table. When he had started with the electronic cigarette Rachel had thought that he was having an affair, they say that you act oddly when you are being unfaithful if it could really be called infidelity. He had never smoked, as far as she knew, and then one day she had come home to find him puffing on a plastic cigarette. They had argued about it for some time, less out of concern for Steve and more out of Rachel’s complete bemusement. In the end the compromise was reached that under no circumstances, absolutely none, would the children ever see their father smoking a cigarette, a cigar, an electronic cigarette or a flaming tampon. Smoking was bad and as parents they would never be seen to condone it. She considered putting the cigarette on charge, it even sounded odd, but decided against it and left it concealed under a twenty pound note.
Folding his trousers and putting them on a chair she looked for the shirt and realised that he was still wearing it. Some girlfriend or the other had once told her that she had made it a personal rule never to take a partners shirt off. Her reasoning was that a man that was too drunk to deal with shirt buttons was too drunk to offer any sexual satisfaction the logic was sound but it was not relevant to her and Steve. If Steve had been able to take his shirt off with his teeth and not lose a button their relationship would remain as asexual as it had been for years. It was not that there was any big issue between them but their marriage had become one of logistical convenience and nothing more. Both of them worked and the children lived in a loving family home and that was something that Rachel wouldn’t/couldn’t compromise on. Whilst Rachel’s parents break up had not been traumatic or even particularly noteworthy she had sworn that her children would grow up in a family and they bloody well would, regardless of what happened in their parents’ bedroom.
Having cast an experienced eye over the bed Rachel pulled at the two or three places that would maximise the availability of duvet on her side and covered her husband’s chest. Turning off his bedside lamp, hers was already extinguished; she made her way to her side of the bed by the light from the hallway. The bedroom door had never been closed at nights since they had Davey which was probably for as long as Lou remembered. Nothing happened or was exposed in the bedroom that the children needed to be shielded from so the door was open whenever they had a nightmare or just needed a cuddle. She plugged her phone in and checked the time before placing it on the nightstand, not on silent, never on silent in case somebody, anybody needed her it was 11:40 and now it started.
Slipping under the duvet she kept to the edge of the bed and savoured the cool linen. Over the years they had somehow developed a subconscious set of bed boundaries that meant that they rarely touched in bed. The boundaries didn’t always work when alcohol was involved but if Steve rolled into her he always seemed to know and would roll away and then, almost oddly for a married couple, apologise in the morning. Despite a manic day fuelled only by coffee, sweetener and half of one finger of a Twix sleep would not come easy. Rachel smiled as the image of a frustrated rat trying to get into her sweetener briefly flashed through her mind; that would be the last smile of the night.
It was the same every night, her exhausted body would sink into the mattress and her mind would change gear, not down but up into overdrive. Her father, Bob, had noticed it when he stayed with them one weekend. Much more polite than Grace, her mother he had said that she looked tired and that she should beware, no matter how much physical work she did it wouldn’t quieten her thoughts. It always struck her that it was an odd thing for an old man to say, she had half expected him to tell her some story of a previously undisclosed murder that had haunted him for years but there was no more. That was the way of her dad you only ever got the briefest of emotional conversation then he shut down. She had girlfriends who were always their ‘daddies little princess’ and others who said that their dad was ‘their rock’ but her dad, much as she loved him, was just a rock. Maybe that was part of Rachel’s issue with broken families, without her mum around to interpret her father she never really knew what he felt, if there was any approval or even disproval she couldn’t read it in those grey eyes. Was he right? Did she try and exhaust her body in the hope that her mind followed? She wasn’t sure but she would gladly complete a pile of crosswords if it would put her inner self to sleep.
She would lie for hours considering her actions of the day and how they could be misconstrued or what possible consequences they could have. Tonight’s starter was the bedroom door, she had always considered that the door being open was inviting and comforting for the children, it was a small positive of having a purely logistical marriage. Was she right? Or was she simply teaching her children to aspire to goals that were not achievable? In years to come would she have to counsel Lou through broken relationships with partners who couldn’t understand that they had to sleep in clothes and maintain a distance whenever the children were in the house? She could see Lou on some day time TV show explaining that she was a spinster because her mother taught her that nothing ever happened in a married bedroom “after all wasn’t the bedroom door always open mother?” the camera would zoom in on a confused Rachel crying and stammering “but I thought that I was doing the right thing” Then the camera would pan back to the smug presenter as he told her “you have a beautiful daughter and your selfish decision to stay in a loveless marriage has condemned her to a lonely life. I only hope that our counsellors can do a better job back stage than you did”
No, you’re doing the best that you can do, it may not be a perfect situation but it you are making the best of it and anyway she said she loved you didn’t she? In her sleep that doesn’t count, that was meant for Mr Pinky she hates you but just doesn’t know it yet. Yes your Lou Lou hates you because by not being a girly girl you are holding her back; your baggage will be her future shame on you. Rachel clawed her way out of the growing concern for her daughter by picturing little Davey sleeping soundly but how long would that last? Did they have toilets in the boys at school or just urinals? Would Davey be forever scarred by having to ask to use the girl’s toilets because she hadn’t taught him to stand? The neatly ordered world of Rachel disintegrated when she hit bed, neurotic Rachel took over and played mental movies of disasters all night, ruined children, angry friends and disappointed parents were her nigh time company.
At some point Rachel must have slept but at 7am when the alarm woke her it didn’t feel like it had been for long. She turned over and silenced the alarm on her phone, well actually she pushed it off the nightstand then hauled it up by the lead and tried to make her ‘swipe lock’ upside down and then just turned the volume down and put it in a drawer. She hated the bloody smartphone it was, in her opinion, like giving a super computer to a chimpanzee. When she had brought the phone, to replace one that didn’t survive the washing machine, she had felt so silly in front of the spotty geek geniuses in the shop that she had taken the first one that they offered. If the young boy at the till had looked at her and said “Oh sorry madam this is a smart phone and, well, you’re not smart enough” she would have fled in shame
Rachel had to work this morning which meant that Steve was on child care duties. Steve was far from nanny material, especially hung-over, she would need to get the children washed, dressed and breakfasted or when she got back they would be sticky messes on the sofa looking the same as they did now, for that matter so would Steve. The muffled squawking coming from her drawer reminded her of the urgency of getting up so she threw off the minimal duvet coverage that she had retained during the night and slid her legs out of bed. Passing the dressing table she grabbed her brush and worked through the tangled mess of her long hair whilst looking at the sleeping form of her husband. Steve had once told her that she should have her hair cut because “as your one feminine feature it’s probably a trade description offence” She maintained the length of her hair but as she pulled handfuls of brittle black hair from the brush she wondered whether her steadfastly simple hair care routine would eventually see her bald.
Drawing the curtains she fished the now silent phone out of the drawer, found the ‘silence alarm’ function and checked the time before sliding it into her pocket. Opening the window a crack to let the crisp autumn air in Rachel walked around the bed and covered enough of Steve in duvet that the children wouldn’t be assaulted by the stale beer smell that she had awoken to. As was her morning ritual Rachel checked in on both children to see if any of the dark premonitions of the night had come true, she found both children sleeping lightly. Quite what she expected to find she didn’t know, did she think that Lou would pack a bag in the night and slip out leaving a note “see you on day time TV in a few years mother”, that was the thing with being irrational you knew you were doing it but that didn’t make you stop.
Walking downstairs she screwed her eyes up at the orange glow coming through the glazed panel of the front door until it was safely behind her. Subconsciously studying a pair of shoes she passed the woman in the hallway mirror, always better to avoid eye contact, she vaguely remembered a younger woman that would study her reflected self; so long ago. Filling the kettle and setting it down to boil Rachel rinsed her mug and dropped two heaped teaspoons of her freeze dried fuel into it, watching as the granules started to melt into the damp bottom of the mug as if eager to regain liquid form. The heady scent of the coffee reached her nostrils and was already pushing her brain into ‘day mode’ as she dropped a sweetener tablet into the mix and poured on the now boiled water. The first coffee of the day was a critical time, there was never long enough to savour the elixir but Rachel wouldn’t even face her own family without the black liquid circulating inside her. The tinniest top-up of cold tap water brought the liquid to a temperature that Rachel could just about sip and it took her only a couple of minutes to drain the mug.
Ready to face the day now Rachel sprung off the kitchen stool and headed through the lounge, drawing the curtains and returning sofa cushions to their correct position before heading through into the hall. Lifting Steve’s jacket from the floor onto the growing pile that hid the coat hooks by the door she headed upstairs to rouse the family. She started with Davey who was already stirring but screwed his eyes tight shut when he heard her calling his name “Morning Davey up and at em” she called whilst picking up the lower edge of the duvet and shaking it up and over his head, The little boys legs wriggled at the loss of heat and a voice murmured “Davey cuddles, later get up torrow”. Snatching an unprotected foot Rachel gave him a tickle “no torrow young man, up and at them, there’s a whole world to explore”. Knowing that she had done enough to break Davey’s sleep but also aware that the youngster needed a couple of minutes to fully awaken she headed down to Lou’s bedroom at the end of the hall, pausing to open the small fanlight window by the stairs.
“Morning Lou Lou, it’s a bright, cool day here on planet earth today and we’d like you to join us” she called out to the groaning dishevelled mess that was her daughter. Little hands appeared from under the duvet and bunched into fists to rub sleepy eyes “early mumma, too early” Rachel leaned down and pushed the tangled blonde hair off her daughter’s face “no baby it’s morning time, mummy is working today so we need to get you up and about”. Sealing the deal with a kiss she stood back up and watched as Lou sat up in bed, focused and look astonished at the loss of her platoon of small toys. Although the situation was the reverse of her brother’s, with Lou losing toys while Davey collected them, the incredulous look was the same. Lou never understood how her toys all escaped during the night but yet it never disturbed her, as if on some subconscious level she acknowledged that it was her doing. Rachel had often wondered why the children weren’t worried about the night time manoeuvres of their army of toys. Children spent so much time developing personalities for their toys that waking to find them flung to the four corners of the room was surely like awakening in the scene of a massacre? But it never seemed to bother them. “Is Lou Lou going to get dressed herself? You will need a warm jumper today” she enquired, already knowing the answer and backing out of the room “yes mummy” a suddenly enlivened Lou squealed and leapt out of bed.
Rachel found Davey screwed into a corner of his bed covered in duvet and pillow as if desperately pushing daytime away. As she pulled the duvet out the little boy rolled onto the mattress and giggled “no fair”, Rachel lifted him up and his arms reached immediately around her neck like a limpet. “Morning tiger, time for breakfast” she said to the back of a head that was burying into her shoulder and doubtless leaving a ‘mum stamp’ of dribble on her shirt. Pulling the surprisingly strong arms from around her neck she carefully set him down on wobbly legs that were trying to climb up her own “Davey I thought you were a big boy, big boys walk downstairs on their own” she teased him as he fought to cling on to her arm. Managing to extricate her arm she pulled away quickly and Davey shrieked as he chased her, Rachel watched the first few steps carefully, she could leave him to his own devices as long as he was actually awake but always worried about him trying to ‘sleepwalk’ the stairs.
“Come along my lazybones children, we will be serving our special continental breakfast in the kitchen just off the hallway in 5 minutes” she called over her shoulder like a pied piper as she headed for the stairs. Despite all of the noise associated with waking the house she noticed that Steve hadn’t moved, Rachel had always envied the ease with which Steve called on the sandman and the depth at which he slept even without the sedation of alcohol. Idly clearing a wide path through the discarded shoes at the door way she strode into the kitchen and cleared a space on the small kitchen table. The house was a reasonable size by modern standards and neither Rachel nor Steve could be called hoarders but since having children it seemed that every task was preceded by clearing a space.
Pulling two bowls from the cupboard she heard the thumps of Davey coming down the stairs intermingled with the frustrated footsteps of his sister “walk on the stairs you two, nicely”. Davey had discovered recently that if he ‘bum walked’ his way down the stairs he could take up enough space to prevent his sister beating him to the bottom. Quite why the stairs were important Rachel hadn’t yet worked out, Lou’s longer legs meant she always overtook her brother by halfway along the hall anyway. Lou leapt up on her stool causing it to wobble alarmingly until she gripped the table and stopped it. Rachel reached an arm around Davey and lifted him up on to his stool, no sooner had she let go than he started squirming and looking around inquisitively.
Pouring milk for Davey and water for Lou Rachel switched the kettle on, since the children had mentioned her consumption of coffee she liked to wait until they were seated before she switched the kettle on, the earlier cup was different. Setting bowls of cereal in front of them, rice crispies and corn flakes she didn’t believe in sugar loaded cereal, she made her coffee, extracted the last wash, loaded the washing machine and set it running again. “Lou Lou please remind daddy to get the washing out later or it will smell” oh and you could get him to actually put a wash on if he could lower himself to such domestic chores she thought. “Ok mummy I will tell him and help him because dads are just silly” passing Lou a tissue to wipe the milk from her chin she scooped Davey off the stool and sent him along the hall with a playful pat on the rump “go and find some clothes mummy will be up soon”. Downing the last of her coffee as she heard Louise turn the TV on she followed Davey upstairs.
With Davey dressed Rachel grabbed some clothes and, just in case Steve woke up, headed to the bathroom. Changing quickly into jeans and a T shirt, it would be warm at work; she brushed out her hair and tied it up. Brushing her teeth she saw a tired old version of herself staring back at her, quickly rinsed and returned to the bedroom. Rachel followed her foundation with gentle swirls of bronzer and applied a neutral lip gloss before secreting the makeup bag back in the drawer so as to ensure that it wasn’t confused with crayons as had happened before. She rarely wore makeup but the bronzer meant that she wouldn’t have to face questions over how white her face was at work, she had recently been accused by one young girl of being a goth because of the stark contrast between tired white skin and jet black hair,
Checking her phone, it was 08:20, she slipped it into her back pocket and shook Steve “wake up Steve I have to go to work” he murmured something intelligible and rolled over. Pulling the duvet back she tried again, somewhat louder “Steve if you don’t wake up I will give Davey your X box controller before I leave, you have ten minutes” this had happened once by mistake and the consequences were still fresh in Steve’s mind and on his credit card no doubt. His eyes opened and he rubbed a hand over a stubble filled chin, groaning “Ok Ok give me a minute will you, Christ it’s a Saturday”. He wasn’t unhandsome, no film star but a certain rugged charm she supposed well that was the reason that she told herself that they had got together, The thing was that with knowledge your perception changed and that rugged look was now a lazy one, that manly physique was fat and the protection that she sought in a partner had evaporated when she had to take two jobs to keep them afloat after he got fired.
Opening the window wide and turning the small stereo on their dressing table to volume that would irritate him if he tried to return to sleep she left Steve, collected a hair brush from Lou’s room and stopped at Davey’s. “Are you decent tiger?” she enquired before opening the door “muma tysanasorous roarrr” was pretty much a standard reply. She found Davey, still in pyjamas and merrily playing with plastic figures on his bed “mummy asked you to choose clothes Davey, no choice means mummy chooses so maybe a dress?” suddenly galvanised into action Davey leapt off the bed racing to the wardrobe “noooooo Davey big boy mumma”. Ten minutes later a fresh faced Davey, hair brushed and dressed followed Rachel downstairs. It was about halfway through the battle of brushing out Lou’s hair that she heard Steve’s heavy feet on the stairs and the kettle being filled “coffee” the word drifted into the lounge more a statement than a question “yes please”. Marshalling Lou’s blonde tresses into a pink band she scooted the little girl off her lap and headed for the kitchen.
The clock said 08:35 giving her ten minutes to get out of the door. A scan of the noticeboard revealed that there was nothing on the calendar to concern Steve who was standing at the kitchens rear door with his fake cigarette. “ We agreed that you wouldn’t do that around the children” “they’re in the lounge so I’m not around them” realising that there was no point in arguing Rachel carried on “ They have had breakfast and are washed and dressed but you need to get Lou to brush her teeth. When the washing machine has finished can you please put the wet stuff on the clotheshorse and maybe put another load in? They have nothing on this morning but its dry so why not take them to the park or something?” there was a vague and indecipherable grunt from the doorway. Downing what was left of her coffee she told Steve to feed the children lunch and she would be back in the afternoon. Walking into the lounge she stood in front of the TV to get some attention from the kids, who craned their necks to see around her, “give mummy kisses and I will see you later” she demanded and was rewarded with a series of wet kisses and murmured goodbyes.
Grabbing her hoody and checking that the car keys were in her pocket, Rachel was not a handbag type of girl, she extricated her trainers from the growing shoe pile, slipped them on and headed off.
Work, well Saturday work, was a small café in the village where the owner affectionately bestowed the title of ‘deputy assistant chef’ upon her. Roger had run the café for 7 years as a family concern; it was a small establishment with only a dozen or so covers but had been a retirement dream. Roger was the cook with his wife Tina helping out and clearing tables, except for Saturday when Tina helped out at a charity shop. Front of house was the couple’s 19 year old daughter who seemed less than impressed with the empire and made certain that she was only ever strictly front of house. It was a friendly place and Rachel got on with them all, even Emma who she thought looked upon her as bridge between youth, old age and really old age.
Parking the car in the small car park, thankfully still free, Rachel walked to the small Tesco express which was the closest the village came to a ‘big name’. She could remember when the building had been the post office, back when post was something other than bills and junk mail, but they said you couldn’t halt progress and the store was convenient. Picking up some pain killers for the headache that she was rapidly developing and some chewing gum Rachel headed to the self-scan counter. In her humble opinion somebody should be awarded the Nobel peace prize for this simple invention that allowed you to make a purchase without actually speaking to a person. The machine made the inevitable war cry when she scanned the pain killers and a young lad looked over at her “just have to confirm that you’re an adult” she glared in a very adult manner and he approved the purchase.
Dry swallowing two of the pills she placed the packet in her hoody pocket as she walked the short length of the high street to the “Bite size” café. Roger was convinced that this was a clever play on words given the small footprint of the café but it always made Rachel think that any passing builders would discount it for small portions. Entering through the peeling wooden door Rachel stepped down into the café and saw that there were two tables occupied, an elderly couple sipping tea and a ‘Saturday dad’ drinking coffee whilst his son wolfed down a burger. “Morning Tina how was your Friday night” the girl looked up from her magazine and the dark rings around her eyes answered the question for her “Morning Rach, was a late one”. Walking through the counter hatch Rachel hung her hoody in the cupboard and walked into the kitchen “morning Gordon” she called out to Roger as she washed her hands.
Rachel always called Roger Gordon after the loud and angry TV chef Gordon Ramsay. The name had come about after she had read something in a newspaper about scientists discovering dark matter and saying that there was essentially an opposite of everything in the world. If there was an opposite of Gordon it was Roger, a short, slim man who never seemed to get flustered and whose vocabulary seemed entirely bereft of profanity. “Ah Rachel how are you this morning? Did it look busy in the village? Should be a few people about after all it’s a dry one” “it’s never busy in the village Gordon, that’s why we live here, shall I make a brew before I start on the washing up, I think Tina would appreciate it” not waiting for an answer from Roger who was absorbed in the makings of a lasagne Rachel set about prepping three mugs. Into Roger’s oversize “The Boss” mug she dropped a Yorkshire tea bag, the colour of sunset, just a dash of milk and nowt else was his prescription, into one of the other two she heaped coffee and dropped a sweetener tablet and finally she heaped five sugars and a standard into the last. Pouring water from the wall mounted urn into each of the mugs Rachel patiently mashed and squeezed the tea bag and flashed the milk into Roger’s cup and then dropped it into the syrupy mix for Tina. The number of sugars varied with condition, today looked like a 5 not as bad as a party 7 but by no means an early night 3, but for Tina the tea seemed to just be an excuse to drink hot milk and sugar. Squeezing just a hint of colour from the teabag before discarding it Rachel topped the mug with milk and stirred.
“This should help your focus” she gave Tina the brew and spun the magazine that she appeared to be studying the right way around “it’s all in the presentation kidder”. The elderly couple were departing so Rachel took their money, gave them their change and thanked them for visiting before clearing the table. Back in the kitchen Roger was crafting the layers of pasta and sauce with a precision more suited to his previous career as an engineer than to the kitchen. Rachel took a slurp of coffee and headed to the sink there was no dishwasher as Roger liked to say “everything is handmade and hand washed here”. It turned out to be a reasonably busy morning and time flew past when Rachel got a chance to check the time on her phone, whilst covering the counter for one of Tina’s many smoke breaks, she saw that it was half past two. Roger walked out of the kitchen and took a chair by the window “how are those gorgeous children of yours Rachel?” he asked whilst looking at out at Tina “they are getting bigger and more troublesome every day Gordon, not sure where they find their energy” He turned to face her with an earnest look “enjoy the babies Rachel, enjoy their innocence once it’s gone, well it’s gone” he shrugged. “Tina is a good girl, she has a healthy spirit no more than that and she loves you” the door opened and Tina dragged herself to the counter. “You can get off Rachel; we won’t see much more today and you shouldn’t waste a single minute with those children”. Thanking Roger Rachel grabbed her hoody and walked out into the afternoon sun, it was one of those glorious autumnal days where you felt especially privileged to feel the sun on your shoulders.
Passing the Kings Arms she caught a waft of stale beer and heard the Saturday afternoon crowds shouting at whatever football match they were watching. Never a fan of football Rachel was always bemused by the fact that drunken men always felt that they knew better than professional coaches despite being unable to play the game themselves. As if to confirm her thoughts a man stepped through the door, calling over his shoulder “why did he sub Rooney?” as he stumbled, blinking at the strong sunlight before lighting his cigarette “sorry love”. Rachel sidestepped him and muttered a “no problem” wondering if he really thought that he could even keep upright with his eyes open for 90 minutes let alone play a game. Stopping at the little newsagents, after all you have to support your local shops; she purchased a large bar of chocolate for Zoe’s birthday gift. Suddenly feeling very self-conscious about the purchase she explained “late birthday gift, never know what to get them” before hurrying out of the shop. She wanted to wrap the bar up there and then and seal it to prove that it wasn’t for her, that she wasn’t so miserable that she was going to sit in the car and scoff the lot. Bloody local shopkeepers judging her, that’s why she favoured the impersonal self-service at Tesco. Calming down she told herself that she was being irrational and continued to the car but when she arrived she placed the chocolate in the boot, just in case anybody was watching.
On the third twist of the key she realised that the Ford was not going to play ball, carefully gauging her stabs at the throttle so as not to flood the engine she attempted a fourth twist the slow mechanical rotation sounded like it was the last gasps of the battery. Getting out of the car and looking around Rachel found she was alone in the car-park; she couldn’t ask Roger for help as he lived above the café and didn’t even own a car. The card for the recovery service was in the glove box but she knew that they would take a good half an hour. Popping the bonnet release Rachel lifted the panel and secured it on the metal stay. She peered at the guts of the motor vehicle as lost as if she had been peering into a nuclear reactor. Rachel was fiercely independent but even she acknowledges that this was an area well outside of her comfort zone. Pulling some wires and poking the hoses that coiled around the engine like snakes she confirmed that nothing seemed to be leaking any more than it usually did. There was no fluorescent ooze, no smoke and no plug hanging in free air. Having exhausted her knowledge of engines Rachel resorted to staring and willing it to life.