Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Journey

I walk purposefully up the road as fast as my smart black court shoes will allow. I’ve hated these stupid sensible shoes since the day I bought them; even in the shop I hated them. I am going to throw them away tonight. I also want to lose the neat, easy to manage bob too. I want my wild chestnut mane back! I swear to myself that I will never ‘do’ sensible again. I will do fun. Be fun. Be wild! I will be me once again and nothing or no one will stop me. I feel a little surge of anger rise within me again which strengthens my resolve and that makes me walk faster still. It strikes me that if anyone were to see me right now they would think that a. I am a business woman and b. that I am very late for something. That is not the case. I am not a business woman at all, I haven’t been for years. And from this moment on I am nobody, nothing! I am not late for anything either. I have just dropped my children off at school, and I am leaving. I am never returning. I will not be there to greet them at the school gates this afternoon. No one will be there. I stop my thoughts right there. ‘Do not think about this’ I warn myself sternly-silently. ‘Do not think. Do not think. Just do. Just do’ I chant to myself over and over again.

I run up the stairs at the train station two at a time. I do not know what platform I need as I have absolutely no idea where I am going. There is a train on platform 3 which is going to Rochester and due to pull out in 10 minutes. I hurriedly jab the buttons on the ticket machine and stuff £20 note in to the payment slot. I hear the machine whirling and wining indicating that the machine is printing and dispensing my ticket and snatch it out of the machine. I run for the train as I hear my change drop in to the tray and I can hear someone shout that I have forgotten my money but that just makes me run faster still. I cannot stop. I cannot think. I have got to keep moving. The little satchel that I am carrying hits hard against my legs as I run up the cold hard stone steps but I do not stop. I force my legs to keep moving and burst in to the train with such force that it causes several commuters to look up at me in shock. Shakily I grope for a seat. There are quite a number available as this train is heading out of the city and it is technically still the rush hour. I slide in to a two seat chair, placing my bag on to the seat beside me in the hope that people will take the hint and not try to sit next to me. I lean my head against the cold hard window and stare unseeing at the grey plastic back of the seat in front. I am willing this train to leave but it resolutely stays for what feels like hours. Eventually the doors ‘beep’ a warning and slam closed. In the second between the doors closing and the train moving I am hardly able to breathe, my mind freezes and my eyes clamp shut. As I feel the train pull away from the station I finally find I am able to prise open my eyes and take a deep breath. It is then that I am hit by a whole host of emotions. Relief and panic wash over me in equal measure which is a confusing sensation. I am rooted to the seat but have the desperate urge to run. I feel guilty and evil. Trapped and free all at the same time. My head is spinning and my whole body hurts as though I have just been in a car crash. I am crying. Silent, hot, salty tears are streaming down my face. What have I done? What am I doing? But deep inside a little voice is asking ‘How can I do anything else’? I am in agony. I am hyperventilating! I didn’t think that emotional pain was ever enough to make a person die, but today I realise that it really can kill you. No one can survive agony this bad.

I have turned my body towards the window as I definitely don’t want people on the train to see that I am crying. It takes so long for me to calm myself down enough to be able to focus on the scenery outside of the window and see that we have now left the built up residential areas behind and there is a lot more soothing green to see. It does not sooth me today. I cannot remember the last time I sat on a train without a child. Thomas is seven and it would have been before he was born. Seven years is such a long time. I think about train journeys that I can remember. Thomas and Anna screaming and crying, old women tutting and men looking at you as though you are something they trod in! Who am I kidding? Like as if the woman behave any better! Why are people in this country so hostile towards young children and their parents? It is a strange feeling, to realise that people dislike you because you dare to bring your offspring out in public, do they honestly think you should stay at home with small children and never leave the house for goodness sake? Would they like people to look at their loved ones that way? I ponder this for the millionth time and still I never find an answer. I also wonder if in fact people are like that in all countries. I haven’t travelled abroad since having the children so have no answer to this either.
I don’t have any answers to many, many questions lately it seems. Ever since their Father left the children keep asking me why, and I honestly cannot tell them. Anna looks at me with her imploring hazel eyes pleading to see her beloved Father, and is so angry that I am never able to produce him. They are impatient to know why he does not come home every day, why he does not visit them, and why he never answers his phone; and I cannot tell them why. I have no answers to their pleas and I have no mechanisms to cope with their angry temper tantrums when they vent their frustrations at me. Thomas bites and spits his rage at me, he screams that he hates me and tries to scratch my face. I am covered in bruises and teeth marks from his many outraged bursts of anger, which is both physically and emotionally painful for me too.

Witnessing the agony my children are in and feeling powerless to help them is the worst feeling in the world. Worse than the breakup of my marriage, or anything else I can think of. Anna cries and screams her discontent. She does not want me to tuck her in to bed each night, or to kiss her goodbye, she only wants her Daddy. I found Thomas tucking his five year old sister in to bed three nights ago. She asked him over me. This sweet sight should have been heart warming, but it wasn’t. It was just as heart breaking as the rest of my whole life. I plead with the children to let me help them with their coats and shoes; I am unable to help them with their pain since they won’t allow me to. I beg to be allowed to hold them, soothe them and comfort them but they refuse me saying that they only want their Daddy! The crazy thing being that he has never helped the children dress even when he did live with them! I do understand how angry they feel though because if I could find Greg believe me I would bite, scream and kick and spit my rage at him too! But he is not there, only I am.
Greg just came home from work on Friday night three months and two weeks ago exactly. He didn’t apologise for being so late, but then he stopped apologising for being late months before that and I had given up complaining about it. He told me that he didn’t love me anymore! He refused to talk and refused to answer any of my questions or listen to any of my pleas. He packed a few essentials and then left! His phone has been permanently switched off ever since and I have called his office every day, four times a day since the Monday morning after he left, only to be told that he is not there when I know that he is-where else would he be? I foolishly thought that a weekend away from his family would have given him time to think, to change his mind and come home. I was so wrong. I have turned up to his office a number of times, and the security officers would not permit me to enter without an appointment! I was nearly arrested the last time I went there as I essentially tried to ‘storm’ the building! You will be forgiven if you think that this is simply impossible. That he simply could not have just walked away from his wife of ten years and his two beautiful children without a word of warning but you would be wrong. You could be forgiven for not believing me when I tell you that he has taken away any financial support that he should be providing me with since I gave up my job at his insistence, but you would be wrong there too. He has not put a single penny in to our joint account since before he left. It is nearly empty now and I have had sleepless night after sleepless night panicking about what I will do when it is empty. There is about £100 left. He had kept up with the Mortgage at least but that is all. I know that I will have to get a job as soon as possible, and I will be glad to do so, but he is still disgusting for dumping his responsibilities so heartlessly.

When I say that I cannot answer the children’s questions, well that isn’t strictly true since Greg finally emailed me. I got it last night, my first thought was ‘how cold!’ my second thought was that I should have thought to email him after he left. He might have responded to that. He informed me that he is filing for a divorce. He told me that he will agree a fair financial settlement if I agree to the divorce without fuss. He also added that he would reward me if I allow the divorce to move quickly. He wants this to be over as soon as possible so that he can marry her before their baby is born.

So there is a ‘her’. I suspected as much.

She is pregnant! Oh God!

He wants to marry her! Oh God! Oh God!

I feel another physical blow as this filters through my brain. Before their baby is born! He wants to marry her. Angry tears swell in my eyes again as I think about the fact. I knew he was cheating of course. There was no proof; I didn’t dare look for any, but there again I didn’t need any either. I just knew that he was cheating. I was frozen with fear and just kept hoping it would pass and he would be back to being my husband soon. We are married and have two young children, which just had to mean something to him. I didn’t believe for even one second that he would actually love her. That he would ever leave me and the children. I just kept my head down and hoped beyond hope that it would pass quickly. I thought it was just about sex really. Our sex life was pretty much nonexistent towards the end which was a relief to me really. I was often too tired for sex anyway and since he had piled on so much weight I didn’t exactly find Greg attractive. She did though, but I suppose his huge bank balance has something to do with that too I think spitefully. I did everything Greg wanted of me. He wanted his children to have the stability of a stay at home Mum, so home I stayed! Now apparently it is o.k. for them to have no satiability at all in their little lives. He didn’t want me to dress in trendy impractical clothes, so I now dress like a woman far older than my age. People baulk when they learn that I have only just passed 35 years old. Recently I have felt as if my practical clothes, shoes, hair and bags have been suffocating me. I started to feel as though I needed to escape from them and now that’s exactly what I will do.

I know how foolish I was shoving the blinkers on and hoping that his affair would just ‘go away’, but I felt powerless to do anything else. I do not know how long they were together before he left. It seems that it must have meant something to him. He must love her. He would not marry her simply because she is pregnant. Leaving his children is proof enough of that. So now I am a penniless, jobless single parent. I have zero support and I am entirely on my own looking after two angry, confused little children day and night. I am spent from the emotional upheaval I have been through, from the lack of sleep and frankly from being told how hated I am about fifty times a day. I have spent so many years trying to keep my little family together, and to do everything ‘just so’ that I cannot remember when I last had fun, when I last enjoyed life. When was the last time we did something fun as a family? I can’t remember because all I can see is the stress of days out, the children crying, Greg being angry that they are causing a scene, debating where to eat as often places he liked didn’t welcome children. It was awful. I know that people will judge me harshly for leaving my children; I also know that no one will judge Greg. Frankly from where I am sitting right now it seems to me that it is almost seen as entirely acceptable for a man to leave his family if he is unhappy, but a woman will be ‘dragged through the mud’ for doing the same thing. I am ready for that. I think.
I did not choose to become a single parent. It was forced upon me against my will, so why should I allow him to do this to me? I waited for the ring on my finger; I waited for the mortgage and the security that came with my marriage. I was raised by my Mother alone for many years until she met my step-father. I didn’t choose that for myself or my children so why should I allow this to be forced upon me? It is not my fault. I tried to make my marriage work. He wanted me to have the children and so I gave him the family that he asked for. I have looked after those children on my own all day, every day. His input was minimal at best. Greg insisted that I stop working and so I gave up my job, but I still made sure to read the Financial Times every day so that I could be informed and discuss my stock broker Husband’s day with him over supper each night. I also made sure to cook a separate supper for us each night so that we had time alone each evening. Also I could never imagine my husband eating a fish finger for his supper and equally I doubted that the children would really enjoy sushi or the other very adult food that my husband preferred to eat, so every night I would feed the children, bath them, let them say ‘goodnight’ to their Daddy (apart from Monday evenings when we agreed that Greg would read their bedtime story), then once they were in bed I would wash up, finish preparing our supper and then clean up after that again too. We used to sit and watch the news together every evening but once the affair started I would often find myself eating alone and watching the news alone. Then I just gave up and started eating with the children, at least this made them happy. That is a blessing as they are going to be far, far from happy now no matter what I try to do. The fact is that he has forced me to become something that I do not want to be, so why should I just sit there and allow him to do that to me? I will not stand for it. I will vote with my feet and walk away just like he has!

I imagine their little faces this afternoon at the school when I do not come. They will be so confused and so very sad. Who will come for them I wonder? Will Greg? I doubt it. I remember when my Mum died, even though I was a grown woman, a mother myself at the time, I did feel as though she had abandoned me. It is a horrible feeling I acknowledge. My half-sister and I are not close. She lives in Spain and I hadn’t seen her for years until the funeral. I haven’t seen her since and that was 6 years ago. She has never met Anna. I receive a card every Christmas and that is the only contact we have. She will not ‘be there’ for my children. There is a chance that Greg’s parents might take care of them, but that is doubtful. They are elderly and infirm. I realise that the chances are that a Social Worker will be the person to collect them from school, a stranger. A stranger who will take them to stay with foster carers, more strangers! What will they think? How will they feel? I feel a sharp pain in my heart at this thought. They will be so scared I realise in horror. It will take many, many years of therapy to help them through this. I wish I hadn’t failed them too. Will they ever understand that their Father left me with little choice?

Did Greg have all of this angst and pain when he left the children I wonder for the first time? He didn’t appear to, but then I suppose he knew that they had me. They will not have him now I suspect. I hope he proves me wrong whilst at the same time I am terrified that he will prove me right.

I suddenly notice the castle up on the hill. I didn’t realise that you could see the castle from the train. I am now in Rochester and I hadn’t even noticed. I am grateful when I am finally able to get off of the train and in to the fresh air. I felt like I was suffocating sitting on the train. I don’t feel much better now I am off of the train though to be honest. It is almost 11.30am. I automatically wonder what the children are doing right now. It is a habit. I wonder how long it will take for me to lose it. I hope I never ever stop wondering what my children are doing. I hope that they will live wonderful, full and happy lives. I hope that they forget about me and at the same time pray that they will not. I hope that they will forgive me. Of course I know that I don’t deserve their forgiveness but I am not strong enough to raise two children all on my own. I have failed them so badly. I am a useless woman, a useless wife and a useless Mother. I do not deserve them and they deserve so much better than me.

Once I am off of the train I find the aimlessness of my journey makes me feel awkward and lost. I have nowhere to be and therefore where do I head? I stand at the exit of the station for a few minutes feeling so unsure of what to do. I can see some shops ahead of me and so with no idea where I am going, I just leave the station and walk in that direction. I look around at the surroundings I find myself in and wonder why I have never visited Rochester before. It isn’t very far away and it seems to be a lovely place, I used to think that I should take the children out of London more often for day trips, but I never really got around to it. I also wonder if this is where I will stay, if I will even sleep here tonight never mind every night from now on. I cannot picture this quaint little town with its pretty shops and cobbled streets as my future home as nice as it seems. I wonder if I will ever feel at home anywhere again. I wonder where I will find work and what I will do. The tears sting my eyes again making it very hard to see where I am going. My mind feels as though it is filled with fog and I cannot think straight. I find that I am fighting the urge to run again, but I have no idea where I want to run to, perhaps it’s more what I am wanting to run away from, oh I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I probably need some therapy too myself I acknowledge.

Suddenly I am finding it very hard to breathe again. I see a little coffee shop a few yards ahead of me, there is a row of metal tables and matching chairs lined up outside. I make my way there and sit down heavily on one of the chairs. My legs feel heavy and tired despite the fact that I have been sitting for the most part of the morning, something which I rarely do on a normal day. Mind you though, I feel tired all of the time lately. Stress and the physical excursion of looking after two young children have just felt too much for me lately. The very act of living has felt too much at times.

“What can I get you?” The cheery voice jolts me out of my miserable train of thought and makes me jump. Startled I look up to see a smiling rotund woman with short curly grey hair grinning at me. “In a world of your own, are you dear?” she scoffs kindly. I try to smile back, after all the sullen robotic faces that usually greet me in the coffee shops I normally frequent I want to make the effort for her, but I am aware that my effort is dismal. “Please can I have a tall skinny latte?” I ask in a voice that is barely more than a whisper. I think that she senses that I am a little bomb that is due to explode any moment and so she nods while giving me a rather concerned look but disappears without further comment. I barely notice her leave though. My eyes are fixed on the small blond woman pushing her baby in a pram with one hand while holding her toddler’s hand tightly in her other hand as he skips along happily beside her. The little boy of about three is chatting away happily while his mother is half trying to concentrate on what he is saying and half trying to manoeuvre the pram on the unhelpful cobbles. She looks tired and distracted, but somewhere beneath that, she looks content. I doubt that I will ever feel content again. Will I ever get used to seeing other woman with their children? Will the pain and guilt that this scene is causing me ever fade? No of course it won’t, how could it? How can I ever feel right again after what I have done today? I can run away from everything and everyone, but the pain and guilt will follow me round every day for the rest of my life and I know that I deserve it. I wonder if my children will ever be able to forgive me for abandoning them. Perhaps when they are grown they might want to find me and perhaps then we will be able to build a relationship again. When they are grown! As this statement forms in my mind two other thoughts also enter my head; the first is a nasty snide little comment really, it says ‘what when all of the hard work is done?’ the second is a sadness as I realise that I will have missed out on everything. They will have all of these memories of their lives and I will not have shared them. I find myself wondering who will share all of these memories with my children. That is a sobering thought. I feel jealous of this fictional stranger already and I am fully aware of how ridiculous I am being.

It is quite a while before I realise that my coffee and a bill have been placed in front of me. I didn’t even notice! I might be distracted but even so I notice that my latte is in fact a cup of warm milk with a spoon full of instant coffee in it! Normally this would send me in to a rage, but today it makes me smile. I drink it quickly and pay far more than the price just because it is the first time that I have smiled in weeks. Before I have time to even think about what I am doing I find that I am marching back towards the bridge that leads to the train station. I allowed my husband to leave me and make a new future and new memories with another woman and that is fine. That is his choice and I can’t stop him as painful as it may be. But I refuse to allow my children to suffer any further loss and I will not allow myself to lose them and let someone else raise my children. They are mine and that is my job come what may! They may think that they hate me now but I love my babies and I will not fail them this time. I don’t even know where the decision came from, only that it is made and that I am going to be at the school gates tonight after all!

I feel the heavy sobs of relief and anguish give way and I am now practically running back to the station. I don’t care that I have spent the whole day looking like a freak show. I just need to get home and I am in danger of being late if I don’t get a move on! When I finally stand on the correct platform with my ticket in my hand I scan the timetable and realise that I have twenty minutes until my train will arrive. I think that the journey took around two hours. So this means that I will arrive at the station exactly at 3.30pm. If I walk briskly I will make it to the school in 5 minutes which is fine, no one will notice that I am a little late. The twenty minutes that I wait for the train are simply painful. The cool November day has finally started to chill and numb my body, but my mind is no longer frozen, it is racing all over the place. I know in my heart that I would never really have left my children. I love them too much but I still hate myself for what I have done and even though my children will never know about this-thank goodness, I will still never, ever forgive myself. Again I start to wonder if Greg has these same feelings, but I stamp the thought out of my mind. I don’t know what he is thinking or feeling and he isn’t my problem anymore. I have to find the strength to stop caring. Yes I will try to sort contact out between him and the children and I will also reply to his email and demand that he start financially supporting his children as of today, or I will drag this divorce on for years! But apart from that he won’t be part of my life any more, and I will be glad for that one day.

I am ready to burst with frustration by the time the train finally pulls in. Again I sit so that I cannot be easily viewed by other passengers, not that there are many at this time of day, but there might be as we go along. I do not concentrate on the scenery outside. All I can focus on is getting back home to my children. I wish this train went faster. I want to get out and push the darn thing. I try to distract myself by thinking about what I will cook the children for dinner, what story I will read them at bedtime, if they allow me, but I cannot think about those things. All I can think about is the fact that I nearly left them today. A cold chill runs down my spine every time those words form in my mind.

Suddenly the train stops at a red signal. I can actually see the light from my seat. It is 2.45pm. I will the light to change quickly. The driver announces that we are being held at a red light and that we will be on the move again soon. He makes this announcement three times. 10 minutes later we pull off again. I am late! I will not make it to the school on time and I search through my brown satchel four times before I remember that I did not bring my phone with me. I didn’t want anyone to be able to contact me. My heart pounds as I realise that I cannot call the school and if one of my children got hurt or ill today the school would not have been able to call me. A sense of dread fills my body and the rest of the train journey is agony despite the fact that there are no further delays.

I literally run to the school as fast as my heinous shoes will allow and despite a vicious blister that has developed on each heel. As I reach the gate I can already see my children standing at the door with their teacher waiting for me. Anna is crying. Thomas looks, scared I think. I start apologising even though they cannot hear me as I run up the path to the door. Ms Harris opens the door and says cheerfully to the children “See now, here Mummy is, I told you she wouldn’t be very long”.

“I am so sorry” I gasp, with tears catching my throat again, “the train was delayed and I left my phone at home. I am so sorry” I plead. I am looking at my children, with their tiny little bodies’ stuffed in to their grown up, grey uniform. The both look so unhappy. I know that I have got to change this.

Ms Harris smiles kindly and assures me that as I am never normally late there is no need to worry. Clearly she can see that I have had a horrible day. I have had to inform the school about Greg so no doubt they are being so kind because they think I am late because I have been sorting things out. Well, in a way that is I correct I suppose. We start to walk home slowly. I am silent because I do not know what to tell the children and am trying to come up with an explanation. Suddenly Thomas blurts “We thought you had gone away Mummy”. I stop dead in my tracks and look down either side at the sad, tired little faces of my children. Both have dark hair and hazel eyes like their father, I will always be grateful to him for our children I decide, but they both also have dark circles under their eyes, and sad looking pale faces which is something that I will also hate him for always. I gently pull them both round in front of me and bend down to their level. In the most forceful voice I can muster I tell them that I will never, ever leave them while I try to look in to their eyes so that they know I am serious. I grab my babies and hug them tightly, and for the first time since I had to tell them that their father left, they both hold me and cry. Together we stay in this huddle and cry for what feels like a very long time. “Where were you?” my practical little Anna asks through her tears.

“I went to see a castle” I tell them “and I am taking you both to see it tomorrow” I hadn’t given it a single thought until I had said it, but it is just what we need! “Really!” they both chime. “Yes I tell them. Really! We are going to see a bit castle that is high up on a hill!”

“Will Daddy come too?” Thomas asks hopefully and with a loyalty that Greg does not deserve. Again my heart sinks but I try to stay strong as I explain once again “No Thomas. I am so sorry, but Daddy has gone to live in a new house and he will not be visiting today”. Anna asks when they will see him, and I explain that I will ask him again, and that until he tells me I do not know, but that I hope it is soon. This reinforces my decision to email him; I will demand that he take responsibility, see his children and provide us with an income and fulfil his obligations to us, and if he ignores me I will see a solicitor and I will drag this divorce out for as long as I can if he forces me to do that.

“But we can still have a lovely day” I add as we begin to walk again, “We will see the castle and then have a burger for lunch. Does that sound nice?”

“Yes” Anna cries.

“Can I have a sword?” Thomas adds.

“We will see” I giggle. We will just have to see what happens next. But this time I believe that I am ready for what life will send my way, because I have realised that I do not want to give up on my life and my children. I also know that Greg will never step up and be the father that my children deserve because he never has even when we were still together. He never changed a nappy, fed them, changed their dirty clothes or dealt with a single ‘need’ that they had, beyond financial needs anyway. He has never attended a parents meeting and made me fax him their reports, he was annoyed when the schools would not email them to him. So I am going to have to fight their corners for them all of the way. After our visit to the castle tomorrow I will just have to ‘step up and do battle’. Perhaps I should buy myself a sword I muse. Poor Greg won’t know what has hit him!

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Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Ebony Collection

The cold wind hits me like a smack in the face as I leave the coffee shop making me want to turn round and run back in to the warmth of the shop again, and back to my lovely friends who are still inside having fun. It is bitterly cold now that the sun has set. I hug my coat tightly round myself and quicken my pace. I really need to grab some shopping on my way home and don’t want to be out in this bitter wind for even one second longer than necessary. Still it takes me two hours before I am finally walking up my road. I am numb with the cold and my eyes and ears are stinging from the brisk wind despite my woollen hat being pulled as low down as I can get away with without blinding myself. The shopping bags I am carrying feel like lead weights as I finally crunch up my gravel drive, I will be relieved when I don’t have to carry them any longer. I hook all of the bags on to one arm as I drag my keys out of my pocket. Letting myself in to my house is a hard task too as my gloved fingers are so numb that it is hard to grip the keys. I fumble around with the key for a couple of minutes but it feels like hours because I am so cold and tired. The warmth and joy from the coffee shop feel like distant memories to me now and I just want to be inside my house and warm.

Finally I fling the door open and rush inside. I drop my bags to the floor and bang the door shut smartly as I am keen to get the wind off of me. As I turn round I lean on to the door and catch my breath for a minute. My eyes are closed so have stopped watering for a second at least. When I prise my eyes open once again the whole world stops. Everything is still. Everything is silent. Everything other than the sound of my heart pumping in my throat and apart from the train that I can see two little Victorian children playing with on my hallway floor that is! Every hair on my body stands to attention as my eyes take in the scene, at the same time as I can feel my blood turn to ice I can also feel my flesh crawling in horror at what should be a lovely sight. There is a little girl of about seven with long blond hair which is tied back with a dark red ribbon which exactly matches her dress, sitting next to another child, a little boy of about four. He also has blond hair but is dressed in brown trousers and a blue shirt. They are sitting with their backs to me watching intently as the train chuffs around the track. I am standing frozen to the spot watching them in disbelief. I know that they cannot be there. This cannot be real. But none the less I cannot move, I am glued to the spot in terror although how I am standing with my legs shaking so violently is anyone’s guess. The little girl suddenly appears to realise that they are not alone; she turns to look to see who is there. When she spots me her eyes widen in shock and in a voice that it so well spoken that it belongs in a film she exclaims, “Your skin is the colour of ebony!” she then gently places her hand on what I assume is her little brothers arm and they vanish! At this exact point my legs give way and I fall to a heap on to the shopping which is scattered all over the floor. I know that I must be over tired and my mind must be playing tricks on me but I am shaking like a leaf. I have never believed in ghosts. I have laughed at people who have claimed that they have seen a spirit. Can I really have seen a ghost? Two in fact! And one of them racist! I am now laughing and crying hysterically. I must be delirious with tiredness I try to reason, I have been working horrendous hours lately making and selling occasion cards at the craft market is hard work, especially at the moment with the recession biting so hard and me losing money hand over fist. I cannot have seen what I thought I had, it is impossible. Slowly I get to my feet and pick up the shopping. Even though I know that I must have imagined the scene I am still as jumpy and skittish as a kitten for the rest of the night. I am constantly convinced that someone is behind me but of course every time I look no one is there.

I hardly sleep all night. Honestly every time I close my eyes I see the children sitting on the hallway floor playing so contently with the little toy train, how can such a seemingly happy and pleasant scene be so chilling and scary? They looked so real to me. The girl in particular looked so, so, confident, so sure of herself and who she was. Her voice rang through the room with crystal clarity and she had the type of crisp clear speech that no one uses these days. How could I have imagined that? But there again how could that have been possible? How could I have seen a ghost-they don’t exist and even if they did how could I possibly have seen the toy that they were playing with? Toys don’t have spirits or souls! These thoughts just go round and round in my head all night. Finally at 5.30am I give up on sleep. I get out of bed and throw my dressing gown on as I head to the kitchen for coffee. Expecting something to jump out at me at any minute I creep through my own home like an SAS operative. I can’t help but tremble as I creep down the stairs, but thankfully nothing or no one is in the hallway this time. I even stand with my back to the kitchen cupboards while I wait for the kettle to boil I am that afraid, it is the first time since I moved in to my house 9 months ago that I have ever been scared in it and I hate the feeling. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realise how silly I am being but of course fear has no logic.

Once my coffee is finally made I take it in to what used to be the dining room but is now my studio. I sit at the enormous table and take a long sip of my lovely warm, sweet coffee. Instantly I feel myself relaxing as I sit in my little haven. My studio is my favourite room in the house. I have an enormous wooden table which I work at. I have neat rows of embossing powder, glitter, glue guns, paints, inks, stamps and I find them comforting to look at while I work. Even with all of my equipment lined up neatly at the far end of the table it still has enormous space for me to work. I only have one chair in the room and I often find myself sitting in here jotting down ideas for cards even when I am not meant to be working. The room is light, bright and bare during daylight hours. The windows are large and face my pretty little garden. I often procrastinate as I sit and watch birds and other little creatures bobbing about in my garden while I am working. I once saw a squirrel sitting on my bird bath eating something it had found and made a stamp of the squirrel and used it to make a whole series of cards out of that scene. They didn’t do too badly. As I stare at my glue gun, and embossing equipment I wonder if I can recreate those cards again add some snow to them so that they look wintery. I do wonder about adding a window so that the buyer can slip a photo in to the card but decide to make six squirrel cards and then make a few others with windows. I have nothing to lose so I may as well get on with it I decide, it is only six weeks until Christmas so I need to hurry and prepare my stock. I quickly finish my coffee and rush up the stairs to change. I know it is odd but I always work in proper artist’s overalls even though no one can see me. It makes me feel prepared and ready for work.

I stand in the bathroom brushing my teeth and I cannot help it but as I look in the mirror I cannot help but look at the tone of my skin colour and wonder how I can be described as the colour of ebony! Ebony is black. My long plaited hair is ebony coloured, even my eyes in this light could pass for black, but my skin? I am not very fair in completion, but I am not that dark either. I would say my skin is the colour of, well, milk chocolate perhaps? I shake my head as I realise how ridiculous I am being. I am really being stupid for allowing this silly, illusion, dream or whatever it was get to me like this. I drop my toothbrush on to the side of the sink and turn to leave the bathroom. “I have a hairbrush made from ebony” a crystal very well spoken voice announces. I swear I jump out of my skin as I spin towards the door as if being confronted by a tiger! The same little Victorian children are standing in the door frame. They are holding hands, and for the first time I register their pale blue eyes, little button noses and rosebud lips. They are stunning. Frightening! I cannot speak, or move, I find that once again terror has rooted me to the spot and left me mute. I always imagined that fear would make your senses sharper, your brain faster, but I am frozen and unable to think. I’m not even sure if I am breathing. The little girl continues as if she is oblivious to my terror “Father bought it for my Birthday. I cannot find it now” she adds in a sad little confused voice. Her little brother-there is no doubt now they look too alike, pipes up in a similarly well spoken but younger voice “we cannot find Mother or Father either”. If I could have found my voice to answer I would not have had the time to respond. The girl nudges her brother and shakes her head at him in disapproval and they both simply vanish. There is no drama, no puff of smoke like I would have imagined there would be in such circumstances. They just disappear leaving a gaping hole of silence behind them. I grope around and find the toilet and sit down heavily on the lid. This is crazy. It has to be the lack of sleep causing me to have these hallucinations. Or perhaps the stress of my money worries and the possibility of loosing this house are finally getting too much for me. I am not sure what on earth is going on but I cannot-just cannot be seeing ghosts! They just do not exist! Part of me wants to run from the house screaming, I want to call someone but I know that no one would believe me and I really couldn’t take the humiliation of having to tell anyone about my illusions or rather delusions! They might get me sectioned; frankly if this carries on I think I might well get myself sectioned. So I do the only thing I can do. I dress quickly and hurry back in to my studio and get down to work.

Eight hours later I sit and look at the fruits of my labour. I have barely stopped working today and I am starving but also blissfully happy and proud of the cards that I have made. I have designed 14 pretty little water colour cards. I have hand drawn and painted them, apart from a little glitter they are very simple little paintings in their own right. I have painted the Victorian Children. The first card is basically the scene I walked in to last night. They are sitting on the ground playing with the little green steam train. I have added a beautiful Christmas tree in the background and the girl is holding a hairbrush made of ebony. Each card depicts a different scene, but in each card the girls ribbon is matched exactly to the colour of her dress and in each one there is a little ebony hairbrush hidden away somewhere, on a dresser, a table-somewhere in the scene. I am intending to call them the ‘Ebony Collection’. They are stunning and I know that they will sell. It is a shame that I haven’t had the time to make more, but I will. I have never been so proud of any other card that I have made. Hunger has forced me to stop working and after I have decided that after I eat something I will quickly make a few squirrel cards before getting to bed. I know I have an early start tomorrow but I really do need to have a decent supply of new cards as tomorrow is Friday and Friday and Saturday are the busiest days on the market, and the days when the rent on my stall is highest also. Of course I have made a number of cards earlier in the week but they pale in comparison to the stunning cards that I have just made. I am so tired and yet so satisfied that despite the fright I have had today I know that I will sleep well tonight.

I don’t sleep well however. Once I am lying in my bed my brain switches on and thoughts swirl around inside my head. Part of me is massively excited by the cards I painted of the children. My beautiful Ebony Collection will go down a storm; I have never been surer of anything in my life. I even love the name; I will know the real reason for choosing the name I did, but if asked I will explain that a brush made from ebony is hidden in each scene which I think is a lovely idea. But despite this ‘up side’ the fact remains that I am really perplexed by the children. They are here for a reason, if in fact they are here at all and I am not just going crazy. But what can I do to help them? Aren’t you meant to help ghosts ‘find the light’? How do you do that? They don’t seem to be looking for ‘the light’ anyway as far as I can tell. I think they might be looking for their parents. Also, my house isn’t even Victorian. It’s newer than that Edwardian I think, so I am unsure why they are even in my house in the first place. All of these thoughts run around in my mind until eventually I drift off in to a light and uneasy sleep.

It feels as though the alarm clock goes off within two seconds of me falling asleep. It is 4am and so it is dark and ice cold in the house, but still I don’t mess around. I rush to make coffee, and dress as quickly and warmly as possible ready for my day on the stall. Then I rush in to my studio and once again admire the beautiful cards I made. They seem even lovelier to me now. I am also very pleased with the six pretty squirrel cards that I made in a couple of hours thanks to the squirrel stamp that I had made the last time I made a similar design. They are embossed and glittery and fun in nice contrast to the beautiful ebony cards. I pack them all in to one of the boxes that are holding the other Christmas Cards I have made. I hope that these cards all do well today. I am careful to make sure that I take a good selection of other cards too. People can get very irritated if you don’t hold a good selection of cards at this time of year, after all people are still having Birthdays, babies and getting sick or new jobs even at this time of year so I try to please everyone, I also pack my lights and table covering and I am all set. I don’t drive so at 5.20am I am standing at my gate with six cardboard boxes waiting for my regular cab driver to come and collect me. The bitterly cold, misty morning isn’t the reason for my impatience; I am desperate to get to the market, and to put my cards on display today. I need people to see them and hopefully to love them as much as I do. I am certain that they will do fantastically well and cannot wait to show off what I have created.

“How much are these Christmas cards with the windows love?” a cheerful looking woman of around 30 asks. I smile as brightly as I can manage through my disappointment and inform her that they are £3 each. She sucks her cheeks in and wheels her buggy back and forth slowly soothing her sleeping rosy cheeked baby while she thinks about it. “That is a lot” she tells me bluntly. I know that she is right, and that we both know that she can buy a whole box of cards for that price, but I kindly point out that she can display a nice sized photo of her children in it, and that it is hand made with quality card and so it will be a ‘keep sake’ for the family member that she chooses to send it to, so I suggest that she should consider them as a small gift not just a card alone. She weighs this up and decides to buy four of the cards in the end; both sets of Grandparents and Great-grandparents are apparently going to be receiving these beautiful cards this year. I only have one window card left now, as I made the other cards all day yesterday. The other cards which I haven’t been able to sell one of! It is now 3pm and no one has bought a single one of my ebony cards or even one of the squirrel cards. A couple of people have admired the ebony cards, but the £4 each price tag just made them baulk and rush away from my stall as if I might actually rob them. They are ‘hand painted’ for goodness sake! My good mood vanished long before the mist did today. I am so disheartened. I was so sure that people would adore the cards and pay the asking price without a second thought. Stupid me! I have only made £26.50 today and I only have a couple of hours left before I have to pack the stall up. I have barely slept in days. I am cold. I am hungry as I only had one measly sandwich all day, I have been drooling over the food stalls and smelling their delicious food doesn’t help my hunger I can tell you. I cannot afford to buy their food right now. I cannot even afford the rent on my bloody stall. On Monday and Tuesday the rent for the stall is £10 a day, which is manageable, but for Friday’s and Saturday’s the rent is £50 each day. I haven’t even made £50 a day in weeks. Tears fill my eyes as I re-arrange the cards to cover the gaps my little sale has left. I feel so down that I am genuinely battling tears.

I sense that a customer is waiting and when I look up, fake smile on face, a middle aged business man is standing at the stall admiring the ebony cards. He sees that I have seen him and smiles warmly at me. He has dark brown hair, and eyes which appear like liquid gold. I have a good feeling about him as he sincerely appears delighted by them. “These are exquisite” he exclaims as he gently strokes one of the cards with his finger, “How much are they please”? I look him dead in the eye as I inform him that they are £4 each on account of the fact that they are hand painted. “Who painted them?” he inquires with genuine interest. I feel myself flush as I tell him that “I did”. He remarks that I have real talent and I swear I am so embarrassed that I do not know where to look. I point out that I have 14 different cards, and remind him that as they are hand painted, even if I tried to recreate the exact same scene I could never made an exact card again so each will be an original forever. I can see straight away that this appeals to him. He wants to buy all of them but says that £56 is too much. “I will give you £40”.

“No way” I shake my head laughing “the very least I would take for those cards is £50, painting them literally takes a whole day” I explain, “Believe me that it will choke me to even accept £50. They are divine” I add honestly, passionately and with no false modesty at all. He agrees and before I know it I have sold the whole lot for £50. For the first time in weeks I have made at least the cost of the stall and my equipment back! Any other little sale now will be a bonus. It is a small thing I realise, and I am far from being out of the woods, but it literally is the first ray of hope that I have had in weeks. On Sunday night when I sit and ‘do my accounts’ after my weekend on the market I work out that I have made a profit of £31 by the end of the weekend, not much of a wage for a weekends work but it is at least something. The Saturday wasn’t such a great day as the Friday but then again I had no time to make any more of the ‘ebony’ cards after the sales from Friday. I usually have a day off on Sunday before I am on the market again on Monday and Tuesday, but I know that this week I will have to work ‘flat out’ on Sunday to replace the ebony and window cards that I need to make. I really don’t mind the hard work however, I just feel so excited to have something positive to focus on instead of just endlessly worrying as I can see my savings and home slipping away right in from of my eyes.

I blink and it is Monday morning again and the alarm clock is announcing the arrival of 4am. I literally jump up out of my bed, wash and dress in a rush before heading in to the kitchen ready to make my coffee and my lunch for the day. I am anxious to get to the market. I have only been able to paint 16 ebony cards and make 12 window cards, but I worked the whole of Sunday to achieve that so certainly don’t feel glum about it. Once my lunch (a boring sandwich again) is ready I carry them through to the studio ready to pack everything away. I walk in to the room, flick the light on and freeze. The children are there, standing in front of the table looking at the cards that I have painted of them! My heart quickens its pace as usual and the hairs on my body spring to attention as usual, not that anything about this is ‘usual’. I realise that I am shaking my head in disbelief just as the little girl turns to face me. “Ebony” she demands “why are you painting little pictures of us”?
I find myself stuttering as I answer her, but it is progress that I have found my voice, or maybe I have just descended further in to madness “My, my, name is, is, Eve. I, I, m, make greeting cards for a living. T-they are C-Christmas cards I have painted, and y-yes, they are of you”. My voice and body are shaking so violently that I feel like I might vomit, but she seems oblivious to my terror once again.
“Why” she demands crossly, her little nose is screwed up in distaste and she is frowning at me once again. Her little brother is looking up at her in admiration. “I am, well, I guess I am very curious about you both” I inform her, “I don’t know why you are here or how to help you?” I falter at this point, I haven’t answered her question I realise, and she doesn’t answer mine. They both simply disappear. It feels like the exchange only lasts for seconds so I am confused when my driver starts beeping his horn outside. 45 minutes flew past without me feeling it. I quickly pack the last few cards and rush outside with the first two boxes. David, my elderly grey haired driver greets me cheerfully “oversleep did you Eve?”
“Something like that” I mutter as I rush inside for more boxes. I feel like today might be a long day.

I barely open my stall when the business man who bought the ebony cards appears. He greets me cheerfully and asks if I have any more of the cards yet. I show him the new cards and he asks to buy them all again. “Wow you must really like them” I remark. He tells me that his wife adored the last ones he bought and so he thought that he would pass by and see if I had made any more. He takes his time to look at each card and this time he pays the full asking price without question or hesitation. What a fabulous start to the week, £64 and the stall has only been open for five minutes! The rest of the day goes reasonably well. Mondays are never that fantastic but compared to previous weeks I do very well taking £108.75 in total. I have never had a Monday that did better than a Saturday until today. It doesn’t even worry me that I haven’t got time to make any further cards before opening the stall the next day, but I am aware that I will have Wednesday, and Thursday to get ready for the weekend. I might be tired and hungry when I get home but finally I am able to go to my bed happy. I feel as though those children have brought good luck in to my life, like they have been ‘sent to me ‘to help me turn my life around. I cannot think of any other explanation. For the first time in months I drift off in to a deep and relaxing sleep.

“Ebony! Ebony! Ebony!” the little voice is getting louder and more urgent with every call. “You have to get up, the house is on fire! Do you hear me Ebony?” I leap out of bed with a start. I am panicking but even so I take in the scene I am faced with. The little girl is dressed in exactly the same clothes that she has been wearing each time I have seen her. There is an awful strong smell of smoke in the house and I can feel the heat from the fire even though I cannot see any flames yet. The little Victorian girl is standing next to my bed and the terror on her face is undeniable. She grabs my arm, and I am stunned that I can ‘feel’ her toughing me, she is ice cold. “Run!” she hisses at me urgently-and I do! I fly out of my room and nearly fall down the stairs in my haste. The house is filled with smoke and I can barely see where I am going. I am choking and unable to breathe or really see more than an inch in front of my face and the little girl is having the same reaction which would have puzzled me if I had of had the time to think about it. I am halfway down the stairs when I hear a child screaming. “Joseph” the girl screams in panic as she halts to a stop, “we have to save him!”

“Where is he?” I ask through my terror, my heart is pounding in my ears, which is adding even more confusion to the situation as I literally cannot think straight as well as not being able to see. She is already running back up the stairs to my room. I blindly follow out of sheer instinct. It doesn’t occur to me to save myself and leave the children. Although I know that they are not really there, and that they have probably already died once, I just cannot leave them. So I race back in to my room just in time to see the girl dragging the boy out from under my bed. I notice my mobile phone on my bedside table, I pick it up and shove it in to the pocket of my pyjama bottoms and then without a second thought I take him in my arms, grab her hand and run with them out of the door and down the stairs. We practically tumble down the stairs through the thick smoke and I finally see great big flames licking the door of my studio. My heart breaks as I realise all of my cards are ruined, as well as the means I have to make a living and my home. All gone! It is only when they girl tugs my arm urgently and hisses at me to ‘run’ again that I realise I have stopped running and am just standing staring in horror at the flames. I am so devastated to realise that the fire must have been my own fault and I won’t get any insurance pay off because of that fact. I manage to make myself move again, I unbolt the door swiftly and fly out of the house gasping greedily at the clean air which makes me choke even more. As I run on the sharp gravel in my bare feet the pain causes me to stumble and then fall on to it with a harsh, painful bump. I then realise that the children have vanished. I don’t have time to think about it much. I scramble to my feet, find my phone and start to dial 999. I press 9 twice on the keypad when I realise with a shock that there are no flames or smoke any more. Everything is till and silent. The front door is wide open. I can clearly see the door to my studio which is now wide open and there are no flames, there is no smoke. I don’t know if it is shock, relief, or something else that hits me but I feel as though I have been dealt a physical blow. I fall to the floor once more and cry, and cry and cry until I am so cold that I am forced to re-enter the house.

Once inside I don’t know what on earth to do with myself. I am bewildered. It is almost 3am and there is no way I would sleep even if I did go to bed so I don’t bother. I go back to my room and wrap my dressing gown round myself and slowly make my way back down to the kitchen and flick the kettle on. As I stand in front of the kettle listening to its angry little hisses and clicks I suddenly realise that this is it. They died in a fire in this house, or a house that was here before this one had been built. No doubt that is how their parents died. Or perhaps they can’t find their parents because they didn’t die but left through the force of their grief. I have no idea when or if they will come back, but finally I am sure that I will need to find a way to help those children ‘move on’ or whatever. I will research them, I will find someone to help me and risk being seen as crazy. I will do something, for their sake and for the sake of my sanity. I am tempted to stay home and skip another freezing day out on the stall, but as I sit in the studio sipping my coffee I decide that it is best for me to go to the market. Honestly I don’t even want to sit in the house on my own today. It would be too hard, too awful to stay here.

I open the stall and set my stock out as usual. I realise that I have some very pretty cards although as far as I am concerned the ebony cards outshine every other one here. I look up in surprise when I see the same business man standing before me again. I laugh as I inform him that I have no ebony cards yet. “Give me a chance to paint some more!” I scoff playfully. He smiles broadly and again I get a really good vibe from him, he seems to have a really warm, nice air about him. “My name is Grant” he puts out his hand for me to shake “Grant Lewis”.
“Evangel” I offer as I shake his hand, “Evangel Brown”. I laugh as I see his eyebrows rise slightly, “My parents were VERY big in the Church” I offer with a grin, “Most people call me Eve” I offer “and I won’t mind if you do so too”.
“I own a company that prints calendars’ amongst many things” he explains to me. “My partners and I had a meeting about your Ebony Collection on the insistence of my wife” he informs me smiling, “and they would like to meet you if you are willing?”
“Why would they like to meet me” I enquire densely after another sleepless night my brain feels as though it is wading through mud! “Well” he laughs “the idea is for us to turn your fabulous cards in to a calendar” he tells me, “and we are also interested in looking at some of your other designs”. He picks up the squirrel cards and smiles broadly “perhaps you could bring these along for example” he pauses before adding “and anything else which you think might be suitable, if you are interested” he adds as an afterthought. I am open mouthed with shock and the rest of the conversation feels like a blur to me. Before I know where I am and what I am doing I am clutching his business card in my hand with a 12pm meeting at his head office. He assured me that they will make me a very handsome offer for my designs but suggests that I might like to take some legal advice to ensure that my interests are taken care of. He assures me that the calendar doesn’t need to be ready for the upcoming new year, the following one is what they are aiming for, so I won’t have to ‘kill myself’ to get it ready in time. It just feels like a dream, as though it is too good to be true and let’s face it I seem quite skilled at imagining things so I keep checking and re-checking the business card to see if it is actually real!

The rest of the day passes me by in a blur. I treat myself to a celebration Chinese meal from one of the food stalls at lunch time. Sense and logic tell me not to get ahead of myself, nothing is confirmed or ‘in the bag’ yet. Yet deep inside I sense that my money troubles are soon going to be a thing of the past. But no matter what, I will make sure I do the ‘right thing’ whatever that is by those children who have without doubt turned my whole life around!

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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Living The Lie

The problem with telling a lie is that it will come back to bite you on the arse. You won’t know when or how, but it will. It will come for you, for sure just as it has come for me right now. Not that I have actually LIED per say, just not been totally honest with everyone I know and love. I feel sick down in the pit of my stomach knowing as I do now that I need to fess up to everyone. I don’t know where to start, how to word what I need to tell them. I have behaved so disgustingly, and they will realise this, and the deceit! I can feel the tears welling up just thinking about how my parents are going to take this news. I am so angry with myself for being this stupid, and there is no excuse or reason for any of my behaviour. I think that is the worst part really; there is just nothing to excuse what I have done.

I know that you really don’t get where I am going with this. I am sure that knowing me, as you think you do, well you must think it is all a bunch of something out of nothing. After all, I am a respectable person, a mother and a career woman. I am sure you trust me implicitly. Bear with me, it’s hard to explain and I feel ill with the last few days of being stressed and trying to cover it up. You will have also noticed that I cannot stop crying. You will understand it when I have told you everything, not that I want your sympathy. I don’t deserve any sympathy.

The thing is, well, there are things that you need to know about me! I have told you about a friend I used to know before he moved away, Ian. Well you see, what I have never told anyone, oh God! How do I explain this?

Take a seat and I will start from the beginning:

Ian and I were very best friends, we basically grew up together. Well not from tiny, but the years that matter, the ones that really shape your life and decide who you are and where you are going. We were like brother and sister in many ways. We were always at each other’s houses; honestly from the day we met we were inseparable. To be honest I think our parents liked to keep us close as they didn’t want our friendship to progress in to anything other than what it was. He was three and a half years older than me, which is NOTHING, except for, it is when you are a 14 year old girl and you are always hanging around with a stunning guy of 17. My Dad really hated our friendship but any attempt to keep us apart failed miserably, so they took the line of ‘friends close enemies closer’ I think, and that was it, he became another member of our household.

We were completely obsessed with each other. My friends thought this was the height of amazing. Ian was gorgeous you see. They were all madly in love with this stunning boy come man. He was 5ft 11” tall, thin, but actually developing quite a muscular frame, he had the ‘classic’ pretty boy features that made us girls swoon, blazing green eyes and thick dark brown hair. It wasn’t lost on me how stunning he was, but I didn’t fancy him. I am less sure what he saw in me, and trust me, his friends were far less enthusiastic about my constant presence, but Ian made it clear that we came as a package, and he was so popular that no one dared argue with him. So his friends had to grudgingly accept this very young, and looks her age girl in to their group. I was a tiny 5ft, size 6, flat chested, slip of nothing! Not out and out ugly, but nowhere near good looking. I had dull mousey brown hair, dull brown eyes and freckles. I was not hot! I think he liked that I was funny, and I know that he enjoyed playing the ‘big brother’ to me and well who was I to object?!

We met on a funny old day. It was in the summer holidays. My Mum was trying to clean the house and sent me out to play; basically I was shoved out of the door after my early lunch and ordered not to return until dinner time. She did that all of the time in the holidays and on weekends my Mum. Rain or shine my Brother and I were shoved out of the door and told not to come home before dinner time. So we were left trying to occupy ourselves while trying not to be seen together. Trevor and I were never close, even at that age.

I didn’t have many friends at that point in my life. I knocked for my best friend Lucy and she was away at her Nan’s. Rebecca was on holiday so I didn’t even bother knocking at hers. Louis, who wasn’t my friend but who I fancied like mad wasn’t playing basketball so I didn’t stay and watch the boys for long. I went to the park for a bit but it was packed and I got bored of having to queue for ages in order to play on something for two seconds before someone else’s Mum or Dad had a go at me to give someone else a turn (namely their own child). I was so hot and bothered at that point so I sloped off towards the woods. I figured that it would be cooler there and a lot less crowded than the park. My Mum would have blown her top at me if she had of known where I went that day; we were always warned not to go to the woods on our own. Sometimes things had happened in the woods, I wasn’t sure what exactly because mum never actually said, but I was peed off with my Mum, so I went anyway.

I was right about the woods by the way. They were cool, calm and quiet. As soon as I walked in to the woods I felt the cool air lick around my overly hot skin, and listened to the birds singing with the cool breeze blowing; an air of calm washed over me. It was blissful. I spent ages exploring that afternoon, I was fascinated at looking at plants, flowers and creatures that I hadn’t really seen before and felt totally at peace. I came across a tree that had fallen in one of the storms we had had in the winter, so I sat down on it for a rest.

I wasn’t sure of the time but I started to feel a little hungry and thirsty as I sat on the tree. I was just wishing that I had of worn my watch when I heard someone coming through the bushes. I wasn’t scared at all, just sat on the fallen tree and watched him slowly work his way through the growth, and appear on the path blinking as he made it in to the bright light. It took a minute for him to spot me sitting on the branch. Now ordinarily I had always been a pretty shy child. Hence the fact that I wasn’t exactly surrounded by hordes of adoring peers. It was quite common for people to forget I was in the room at a party and teachers complained about me not joining in with class debates, but yet when this complete stranger appeared on the path that day, blinking like Bambi, I found myself laughing and crying out “He can see! Bless you Lord he can see” in my best ‘wild west’ accent. Ian roared with laughter and bleated about how dark it was in the woods. He strode over to me, plonked himself down on the branch as he threw his bag on to the floor and then promptly gave me a massive lecture about being in the woods on my own! Apparently a girl had been assaulted by an old man in the woods the year before and Ian informed me that he had never been caught so it was apparently only a matter of time before he would strike again. I wondered why Mum hadn’t just told me that, I might have listened to her if she had told me that. I explained to Ian why I was there, he agreed that the parents in the park had taken the pee out of me and told me that they wouldn’t have dared do that if my Mum had of been with me. It turned out that it was only three o’clock, so I had at least three hours before I could go home.

Ian told me that he had been at football training but sloped off from his friends in to the woods to escape the heat, apparently it was 32°c and being English we weren’t used to the heat. He said that he had regretted going off when he went too far in and got lost so he was very glad to see me, and more than happy to share his food and drink with me in exchange for me to show him the way out again. We ate, drank, chatted and laughed for hours. It was 8pm by the time I got home. Mum was less than impressed with my time keeping that night. I ate my cold dinner quite happily though; it had been such a wonderful day. Both of my parents were even less impressed when Ian knocked on the door for me the next day, and the next. I honestly don’t know what it was, but we were firm friends from that day on.

I realise that I am making this sound a little like a romance, it wasn’t like that at all, and we both went out with other people. Ian had a ‘string’ of girlfriends on account of the fact that he was very good looking and generally lovely. He went for the really good looking girls who were out to have a laugh and who were a little loose morally. I was always really intimidated by his girlfriends; they were all so pretty and had the type of feminine curves that I would have killed for. I always felt like such an ugly stick when stood next to them. They never lasted long though, he bored easily it seemed. They lasted a lot less long if they were dumb enough to be mean to me. I MUST have been a hugely irritating feature in their relationship. The smarter girls went out of their way to befriend me, they would treat me as though I were his kids sister, take me shopping, buy me sweets and generally try to work out how to ‘fit me in’ while keeping me out of the way of their man as much as possible. It didn’t matter how they played it, they were gone long before the cheap perfume they had bought me was finished.

I didn’t date until I was 15. Louis Smith. I was mad about him for two years before he paid any interest in me. Looking back now I actually think it was all the talk about me that finally made him look in my direction. You see as soon as I returned to school after the holidays I basically became a kind of celebrity. Girls who wanted to go out with Ian basically fawned over me, trying to win favour, even those in the 6th form fought for my attention in the hopes that they would get in Ian’s good books. Younger girls, and girls who had failed to get with or stay with Ian hated me, and kept bitching about me and spreading rumours, and it was the same with the guys, some were curious about me and kind of ‘hit’ on me in case it turned out that there was something great about me that they were missing out on, while others were suspicious and spread rumours about me being a tart. Ian got in more than one fight with boys at my school for saying that I had had sex with them when in fact I really hadn’t slept with anyone. So the long and short of it was that, not only did Louis finally look in my direction, but we were together within weeks. I have to admit that I loved the attention, even though quite a lot of it was very negative, but for years I had been overlooked and ignored, so to finally be the centre of attention was fantastic to me. Everyone knew my name, and I once caught Trevor bragging that I was his sister, so you know, it felt really good. I felt like I was finally someone, like I was alive.
If Louis thought that ‘getting’ with me would help catapult him in to Ian’s circle, and believe me they were the most popular guys in the neighbourhood so that probably was the hope, then he was wildly mistaken. Ian hated him. I quickly learnt not to tell Ian if Louis and I had an argument after the second time Louis was ‘jumped’ by a group of boys he didn’t know after school and was beaten up. I was smart enough to realise that both times that this had happened they had been preceded by my telling Ian that he had argued with me or been mean to me. Louis turned out to be a pretty rubbish boyfriend. He loved to put me down and make me feel insecure about myself. He would hint that I was a bit ugly, fat, boring or whatever, which I really was, well apart from fat. He tried to paint the picture that I was very lucky to have him. He flirted with other girls all of the time and rumours were rife that he did way more than just flirt with quite a number. But I just couldn’t just walk away from him, even though he was a massive disappointment. I had wanted him so much, for such a long time. It was too hard to just walk away from him, and to be honest I didn’t want to make people think that they were right when they said it wouldn’t last, which by the way everyone did say that. So I did my very best to keep Louis and Ian apart as far as possible because every time they were in a room together for more than 10 seconds Ian would end up losing his cool and there would be a massive bust up. It was massively stressful but to be honest, secretly I think that being the teenagers that we were, we actually quite liked the drama!

When I was 16 I found out that I was pregnant. I took the test in the school toilets. I was in such a state when those lines showed up proving beyond the shadow of doubt that I was knocked up! I cried through third period, over my lack of a period, and then snuck out of school at lunch break. I walked to the college that Ian attended but I couldn’t find him. It was the longest afternoon of my life as I sat outside of that college waiting for Ian’s day to finish. As soon as he spotted me he knew that something was wrong. He took me to the Cafe. I can still picture his face when I told him my news. As the child I was then I couldn’t name the way he felt, I can now. He was crushed. He still managed to cuddle me and tell me that everything would be o.k. He was the only person to do that by the way, the only person I knew to offer me any comfort or reassurance.

Ian’s Mum demanded to know if the baby was his, and was relieved when I was able to assure her that there was no possible way that it was. My family asked the same question, but were less thrilled with the answer, especially when Louis denied ever having had sex with me and insisted that the baby could not be his. His Mother gave him her full backing, which was gutting as she herself was a single mother, so she should have had sympathy for me and my child’s situation. They moved away before my son was born, so my poor Levi has never seen his father. Ian did tell me to lie, tell everyone that the baby was in fact his but I refused. I didn’t want my poor baby to grow up believing that Ian was his Dad when I knew better.

Is that where you think I am going with this? That Ian is his Dad after all? That isn’t the case. You have no idea how many times while I was pregnant and in my Son’s first few months that I wished and wished that Ian was his father. I would never have allowed my son to grow up father-less for nothing. Especially as I know for a fact that Ian would have been a wonderful dad. He would have given us both a great life. I haven’t mentioned it until this point, but you do need to know that Ian’s family were filthy rich. In his own right now, at this moment in time, Ian is a millionaire. It had no relevance to me as a child, but it is relevant to what I need to tell you so I have to mention it to you now. Not only was Ian filthy rich, (even as a child he always had more cash than he knew what to do with thanks to his father’s generous allowance, and later the highly paid job in his father’s luxury car selling firm), but he was generous beyond words.

Life got really hard for me when my son was born as I am sure you can imagine. I sat my exams pregnant. I got fantastic grades, but college wasn’t an option at that point. My parents barely spoke to me, unless it was to chastise me over and over again for being so stupid, for throwing my life away and for bringing shame on the family. I was sent to live in a council flat on the worst estate in the area straight from the maternity ward as my parents refused to allow me to live in their house with a child. Well, to be honest it was my Dad who was demanding that I move out and ‘lie’ in the bed I had made! I am sure that my Mother would have allowed us to stay if it had been up to her. She did like having a baby to fuss over. I really wished she would fuss over me instead but I had disappointed her greatly and she let it show.
Ian was a life saver, Mum did help with a few essentials but Ian actually took me out and bought so much for the flat. He threw out the second hand cooker and fridge my parents had allowed me and bought brand new ones. My parents were so angry that I allowed him to waste their money but it wasn’t like he gave me a choice. He just strode in to my home and took it over, just like he strode in to my life and took it over in the first place! Dad expected me to wash our clothes by hand but Ian surprised me with a brand new washing machine and he even bought me a TV!
Sorry it always makes me cry when I remember him turning up with that huge bloody thing! He had two friends lugging it while he carried the video player (yes it was videos all the way back then) and the ariel. It was three weeks before Christmas and he was wearing a Santa hat! That was for Levi’s benefit no doubt but he was sound asleep when they arrived. I laughed and cried for ages on the doorstep at the sight of him and his wares.

I couldn’t even find the words to thank him. That was always my problem when faced with Ian’s generosity or loving nature, I could never find the words and I always felt so unworthy of his kindness and friendship. His friends basically shoved past me grumbling about wanting tea and being knackered! That still has to be one of the happiest days of my life to date. We ordered Chinese food; Ian wouldn’t even let me pay even though he had done so much for me. His friends drifted off once they had stuffed their faces and Ian and I stayed up watching the films he had also bought me on my tatty second hand sofa until we both fell asleep on it. We held each other tightly all night. We didn’t take it any further but that was the happiest night of my life and that was the first night that I felt truly safe in that flat. Nothing and no one could harm me as long as I had Ian’s strong arms wrapped tightly around me.
If I am honest with you, I really fell in love with Ian that night. I didn’t know it at the time. Despite my relationship with Louis I had never been in love. I just had this mad, crazy ‘feeling’, and I won’t lie, it petrified me. It especially scared me because that was the night that I realised that Ian was in love with me, he always had been. Finally I could see what the rest of the world could see, which made me feel pretty stupid to be honest. But I worked very, very hard at ignoring it. Louis had hurt me beyond belief, and well you can kind of see that my family hadn’t been the best and most loving environment in the world. Not that my parents were cruel or evil. They were just, well; they just weren’t the most affectionate people in the world. I know how stupid it sounds but I had this irrational idea that if Ian and I got together it wouldn’t work out between us. Then I reasoned that I would lose him from my life altogether, so it made more sense to keep things as they were and just pray that we would at least have our friendship forever.

As a woman now I feel so much shame realising how much it must have hurt that wonderful boy/man, seeing me grow another man’s baby in my body, struggle to survive on my own and continually refuse the many, many lifelines he offered me! How must it have felt to be him?

Sorry. I don’t mean to cry like this again. It’s all I have done for the last few days really, cry and cry. It’s just that he was so bloody lovely to me, and I have just treated him so badly! What must people have said to him about me? They must have thought that I was playing him, using him! They must have warned him off of me and called him an idiot. But it really, really wasn’t like that. You see, I honestly didn’t know how he felt about me until that night, I was 17 then. By that time I was so jaded and scared that I honestly buried my head in the sand. But selfishly, and it is only now as a woman that I understand how selfish it was, but I just couldn’t lose him from my life. So the logic I employed was to pretend that I didn’t know how he felt and to bury my own feelings too. If it makes you feel any better I had to endure the torture of watching him date woman after woman. I did ‘see’ one or two guys myself, but they were all idiots looking to hook up with someone who they thought they had a fair chance of bedding. If I didn’t cotton on and dump them they would sleep with me and then dump me like a hot potato as soon as they were finished with me. So life was just about as shit as it could get for me at that point.
Don’t get me wrong; Levi and I were doing just fine. He was growing up wonderfully and was the major light in my life. Mum loved him and Ian worshiped him. He was blissfully happy and thankfully unaware of just how much of a mess his Mother was making of her life. I was also working as a secretary and was bloody good at my job, so there were some good points.

But honestly, I was so lonely and depressed. Emotionally I was wrung out and hung out to dry by the age of 18. My fear at raising my son on my own and disappointment in how my life was going built up in to a huge wall of hate where Louis was concerned. It grew every time I had to decline an invitation to go out because I had no childcare, and trust me that was often. My friends were always out having fun or throwing parties, it took months and months of me not being able to join them before they stopped asking me. The wall hardened every time my son was sick and I had to nurse him better when I didn’t even know what the hell I was doing. The rage exploded on the afternoon that my son cried because a fat, stupid, ugly, snotty nosed little brat at his school kept teasing him and making him cry because he didn’t have a Daddy! I confronted the fat, ugly, snotty nosed Mother and she basically told me to ‘fuck off’ and pointed out that it was true, Levi didn’t have a Father! I wanted to kill her! Instead I took Levi to the park, and then out for a burger. I tucked him up in bed that night and then downed a bottle of wine and cried, and cried and cried.
Ian turned up late that night in a panic as I had been ignoring my phone all night, you need to realise that we spoke at least five times a day, every day so he instantly knew that something was wrong. I would have ignored my door too but he had a key by that time and just let himself in. He demanded to know what on earth was going on but I didn’t dare tell him. He would have battered that fat cow! So instead I poured out all this other stuff that I didn’t really know I had been feeling. I told him how tired I was, and how boring my life was, how inadequate I felt in every bloody way. I sobbed that I was lonely. That I was sick of working all the hours that God sent, but still being broke at the end of it. I wailed about my frustrations with my weak willed mother. I hated that she wouldn’t stand up for me with my hard hearted father. I shouted and yelled about my hate for my Dad, that he didn’t really bother to see my Son, and that he had thrown me out of the family house and then my hate for Louis. At some point my dad and Louis combined, morphed in to one monster and caused me to hiss and snarl! Then I just sobbed in his arms while he silently stroked my hair and allowed me to just get it all out. That was the second time we fell asleep on that sofa, holding on to each other for dear life, and no, we didn’t have sex. I was in an awful state and Ian wasn’t the sort of scum that would take advantage like that. He was so much more than that.

When I tell you what happened next you are totally going to be able to predict what I have to tell you so I am not going to drag it out too much, you won’t really need too many details. The very next day Ian booked us flights to Florida, we flew two months later, three days after Ian’s 22nd Birthday. He sorted out and paid for our passports, the hotels, flights and everything. Oh my goodness that was the most amazing three weeks of our lives. The beaches were stunning, the food was amazing, and everything was perfect; so perfect that I didn’t ever want to come home again. Yes we visited Disneyland and yes, we were married in Vegas.

I know I have confused you with that news, I can see by the look on your face that you didn’t really see that coming, well neither did I at the time. You didn’t know that I had ever been married? The thing is and the whole point of this is that I have NEVER told a living soul. How so? Well, this is the really shameful part.
We were married in this really tacky chapel, the Elvis impersonator didn’t conduct the ceremony, but he was one of our witnesses. The whole thing was just so stupid; I mean Levi sat on the floor eating a chocolate bar during the ring exchange as I had to put him down! We were there; it was the day before we were due to fly home and we just did it without even thinking about it. Well, I didn’t. It didn’t even feel legal to me; it was more like playing ‘dress up’ than really getting married.

Ian and I did agree to consummate the marriage and so we slept with each other for the first and final time. It was beyond wonderful between us. He was an amazing lover, but afterwards as he slept soundly a huge part of me started to feel like it was very, very wrong. I don’t know how to explain this to you. It is so hard to explain something that you really don’t understand yourself. I don’t know if because of how we were with each other that perhaps it just felt a bit incestuous, or perhaps my previous experience with Louis made me think that it was all going to go wrong and that Ian would change, start being horrible to me or something. I don’t know what exactly it was but I felt like I had ruined everything. It’s no good to me now to know how stupid that was. I wish I had known it then.

Again I don’t know how to explain to you what happened next because I still don’t understand what happened next even 15 years later, so please don’t ask. You see on the flight home Ian said that he was so excited to tell everyone the news, and that he wanted to buy us a home and that I could quit my job if I liked! He told me that he hoped that we would have a baby soon. Me? I bloody freaked out! I begged him not to say anything, made him swear on my life that he would never tell a soul. I practically ran back to my flat, I buried my head in the sand and I cut off all contact between us! That was agony because Levi was always asking for him. Ian was patient at first, he honestly thought that I would calm down and we would end up together. He was such a positive person who always believed that things would work out in the end.

Then I met Josh and threw myself at him. I was pregnant within six months of dating him. You know how rotten Josh was to me. He hit me, cheated on me and generally treated me like crap. Don’t ask me how on earth I chose him over Ian, I have no idea. I was six months pregnant with mine and Josh’s daughter the last time I saw Ian. I was walking back from dropping Levi at nursery. I had the day off from work so I walked home and Ian was standing outside the block. Josh was at home sleeping so my heart was in my throat when I saw Ian standing there. I explained that he couldn’t come in so we went for a walk. He told me that he was leaving, moving to America, and that he wouldn’t be back. I didn’t believe him! I thought it was a trick. I honestly believed that he was trying to force me to take action, beg for him not to go. I couldn’t do that and honestly I didn’t think he would leave me alone even though he was so cold to me. It was so strange seeing him look at me with disgust; I was much more used to that from my parents than I was from Ian, as he had never done it before. He wasn’t exactly nice to me either by the way. He named called, he said that I had used him; he berated me for bringing a man who hit me in to my life and in to Levi’s life. He told me that I deserved everything I got from then on and truthfully he looked at my growing stomach with pure hate. He was right of course, I did deserve all the crap I was getting and all that which was still to come. I didn’t argue with this angry man who was filled with so much hate for me. My tears of shame were silent and I stared at the floor a lot. Then he was gone.

Josh was mad as hell when I turned up later that day having picked Levi up from school. I had stayed out all day, thinking and crying. I hated myself for what I had done to Ian, Levi and to myself.

Josh and I broke up before Anya’s first Birthday. I finally got the nerve to end our relationship when one of the women he had been cheating on me with called me to tell me that she was pregnant. I wasn’t heart broken or even upset for myself if you want me to be honest, I was glad to be shot of him. He went to live with her for a bit, but she threw him out when he hit her. Apparently she wasn’t the type of pushover he had become accustomed to through me. I did envy her for that. He saw the kids on and off for a few years, but when I endlessly refused to sleep with him he just lost interest and stopped coming at all. Anya has never met her half sister, so thanks to me they are doing pretty badly on the family front my poor kids. It was sad for them when he stopped showing up for visits but to be honest even the kids were glad when they didn’t have to put up with him and his awful temper even though they missed him in some ways. Not that he ever touched them. I wasn’t as weak as my Mother. I stuck up for my kids no end. They have no cause to doubt my love for them, I love them with passion and everyone knows it!

But that is the reason why I haven’t dated since Josh. Do you understand it now? I couldn’t keep allowing my kids to see a procession of men parading through the house, and the men I chose were about as awful as you could get, Ian excluded of course. I started therapy a couple of years ago after watching a documentary about women who can’t allow themselves to love; I thought that perhaps it might help me sort my issues out. If it is working then it is slow progress, but there again I haven’t even told my therapist about Ian yet. Perhaps I should. Perhaps it would help.
You know something though; it has just this second occurred to me that when Josh and I registered Anya’s Birth I never declared that I was married. I think I sort of forgot as I had pushed it so far out of my mind, I would have been too scared to tell Josh anyway, he would have battered me! Is that legal? What does that mean? I honestly haven’t thought about it before. I just got on with life and pushed that day far away from my life as I know it now. Oh my God! Will I go to prison?
What brought this all up? Why am I telling you this? Well, Ian is back. He wrote to me. I haven’t moved and it was easy for him to find me. I got a letter last week asking me to meet him today; I have hardly slept since I received it. I recognised his writing immediately so I didn’t even open it until after the kids were in bed sleeping.

I knew why he was writing. I have waited many, many years for that letter to arrive. He wants a divorce. He has finally met someone after 15 years and he wants to marry her! He is offering me a very generous settlement. Of course he could sue me for adultery, I have even told him to. I also offered to see if we could annul the marriage, after all we have never lived together as man and wife and I don’t deserve anything from him. He won’t agree to that though, in fact he hit the roof when I suggested it to him. He wants me to walk away with something, and in return he wants to walk away with his own pride intact. Obviously he is still kind and generous to a fault. I will give him what he wants no matter what. I will do everything I can to make this as easy for him as possible. I owe him that much at least. We both know that I owe him far more than that, but it is the only thing that I can do for him now. What if I could turn the clock back? Seriously! You need to ask?
I still cried when I read the letter, I still sobbed on seeing the word divorce, and yes, selfishly my heart broke when I read that he wants to get married.

He gave the address of what I thought was his home here in the UK. It turned out to be the address of the house that he bought after we were married, when he still thought my madness would pass and we would be together. Can you believe that he has continued paying the mortgage and even hired a woman to go and clean it once a week? She did a crap job judging by the dust in the house, but I bet she figured that no one ever checked her work and he didn’t warn her that he would be arriving.
The house is lovely by the way. I couldn’t help but stand in the kitchen and wonder what my life would have been like in that house, as Ian’s wife. That has to be the hardest moment of my whole life, standing there, facing all of the ‘what ifs’ in a life that I should have lived but that I threw away. The house has a huge Garden, three bedrooms, a dining room and oh my goodness why am I doing this. I cannot accept it. Neither can I accept the generous settlement he offered me. I realise that he isn’t only offering this to me to be nice. I am stupid I know, but even I can see that he wants me to accept the house and the money, because the thing is, if I do, I have to finally tell my family what we did and then what I did. He wants to finally tell his family too. He has kept our secret all of these years; then again I guess he felt too foolish to admit that he had married the most stupid, ungrateful, disloyal cow on earth! I can’t imagine that he was really looking to brag about it. He left his father’s firm; he left his whole life and the bloody country because of me! It makes me feel sick now to think about that.

Sure he has done really well for himself, as if there was ever any doubt, but I came face to face with the hurt that I caused him today. You could plainly see it in his eyes when we were standing in the house talking. They are still stunningly green, but they were hard and cold when looking at me. I bet he doesn’t look at his fiancĂ© that way. Isn’t it stupid of me to be jealous of her, I mean it, seriously I have a nerve but I hate her for having him. He moved to Florida when he left; it brought a lump to my throat to learn that he moved there.

Sorry to be crying again. Seriously it seems to be about the only thing that I can do right now. It’s just seeing him again, seeing what I did to him, and you know how much I must have hurt him. I keep shaking my head because I am trying to shake it all away again! This is the first time I have really been confronted with what I did. I have never really thought about it. Even in my darkest days I haven’t allowed my brain to go there, to remember him and what we had was too painful, so I just stopped.

So now I have to tell my family and even my children what I did. What a fool I am and how I hurt the most wonderful person in my life, kids excluded. Someone who didn’t deserve to be treated that way at all. I’m not sure how to even do that, where to begin even. How would you do it? What would you tell your parents and your kids? I feel sick even thinking about it, even picturing my Dad’s face makes me want to run away screaming. What do you think my Mum is going to say? I know you think I am stupid, and you are so right-I am. I know that I have to face this thing and deal with the fallout, but that doesn’t make it any easier to do.

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Sunday, 4 November 2012


I am spinning around, around and around. The music is blasting out of the speakers so loudly I cannot think. I feel like the star of a movie. In the movie I am a dancing star who is adored, revered and envied in equal measure. As I spin ever faster and faster I feel a bubble of laughter rise up within me and I feel a rush of pleasure as it erupts from my mouth. My own ears delight in the sound. I spin yet faster and faster to the beat of the music feeling free and unfettered. My long black hair fans around me. My hair is very sexy and tonight I know it. I know that my hair is one of my most alluring features, I am always told so by everyone I meet, it also keeps me looking young. Whenever people guess my age they always knock 10 years off, and I don’t mind I would love to be 24 again! I gasp as I feel myself collide with something, and tumble out of control. My laughter is gone as I hear the angry cries and shouts from all around as a hard thump into my stomach and ribs winds me. I hear the sound of snapping wood and the strangely nice tinkling sound of glass smashing. I keep my eyes tightly shut even when the noise has ended and I am still. I do not want to look. I do not want to see. My fantasy has been smashed along with the glass and I feel scared and vulnerable now.
“Oh my goodness is she hurt or unconscious?” a worried female voice asks close to my head.
“No I don’t think she’s knocked out her eyes are all scrunched up tight and no blood that I can see” a disapproving male voice observes, “She’s lucky. She is obviously off her face, did you see her? Spinning round pissed as a fart laughing her head off. She is lucky she didn’t hurt herself or someone else”.

As if I haven’t embarrassed myself enough I suddenly feel the shame give way to self pity and I burst in to tears. I immediately wish I hadn’t as this action forces my eyes open and I see that almost everyone in the club is staring at me in amusement. No one asks if I am o.k. and no one speaks directly to me. I can however see people nudging each other and pointing at me so clearly plenty of people are talking about me. The bouncer and a woman who has spent the evening clearing glasses from tables are bent over me looking more than a little annoyed. I have landed on, and broken a wooden chair and from what I can make out have knocked over several tables and chairs and I am covered in glass, as is the floor. I look into the bouncers eyes and to my shame I wail “I am not lucky, I am more hurt than you can ever know”!

I stagger to my feet and stumble forward as I try to escape. My drunken legs will not carry me fast enough and I am acutely aware of my audience. I hear snippets of what is being said about my being drunk and the assumption that I have been dumped. What is it with people that if they see a woman drunk they have to think it is about a man, “small minded fools” I mutter. One fat, orange, bleached blond girl is laughing at me so nastily that I want to punch her right in her ugly, fat pink mouth. Luckily my legs are still heading for the door and my brain is functioning enough to warn me away from making even more of a fool out of myself. She looks more stupid than me anyway I seethe. What with her bright yellow hair, orange skin and a florescent pink outfit. What a horrendous clash of colours. I finally make it to the door hoping that the fat, orange one gets what is coming to her via being publicly dumped and humiliated some day. Cow! Dumped! I wish I had been! I wish that was all! Once outside in the cool air I slow down. I catch my breath and look around. Some sad vultures have followed me outside of the club in the keen hope that the freak show will continue and they will be able to feel better about their sad little lives. I feel the tears well up again and swallow them down hard. Thankfully I only live a 10 minute walk from the club, so I take a deep breath and start to make my way home in the thick black night.

It is early May and I don’t have a coat on so really should be freezing cold. I am not. I feel nothing. Nothing! I feel the tears well up again so perhaps that is not strictly true, there is a huge mass of pain burning in the pit of my stomach, making me want to vomit, making me want to die. I wish I didn’t feel anything, I wish I was dead. I wish I was. I wish I was. I am sobbing again now. Hard! So hard that my legs give way and I fall on to the cold, hard pavement with a dull thud. I gasp in pain but I am crying so hard that I can hardly catch my breath again. Who knew that a person had so many tears in them? Who knew that it was possible to cry so much for so long?

“Carrie! Carrie! I found her Stewart! She’s at the top of the road. Give me a second. I’ll call you back”. I hear my sister Millie’s frantic calls and look up dazed. What is she doing here? How did she know where to find me? She looks petrified as she runs up the road frantically. “I thought,” she starts to admonish and doesn’t finish the sentence. She doesn’t need to; I know what she thought and who can blame her. I try to apologise but the words don’t ever really form in my head and just turn into an incomprehensible wail, a wail muffled by her squeezing me into her arms very tightly. I feel her body shaking as she cries with me and I hug her back. Together we cry like babies for a very long time. Just like tiny little babies....

In my head I am no longer there in the street crying with my sister after making a public fool of myself. I am in the maternity ward, holding my perfect newborn baby son in my arms after five hours of natural labour. Adam. My beautiful perfect little baby boy, born with a shock of jet black hair like me and the most stunning liquid brown eyes like his father. Even at birth he looked handsome there wasn’t a person who saw him who would tell you different. No red screwed up little face like the other newborns for him. His skin was smooth and clear and beautiful. As I look at his amazing little face and drink in the smell of his brand new life I feel like a lottery winner. More than a lottery winner really as money was nothing in comparison to the wonder of our boy. Having our son after eight long years of trying was such a wonderful start to the New Year, we were sure that the year ahead, and indeed the whole future would be perfect. He was born on the 2nd January weighing 6lbs 7oz, a perfect weight, and a perfect baby. Believe me I am not over using that word; I am under using it by a mile! I felt like an amazing specimen of a woman producing that fabulous little being who had the whole world at his teeny tiny feet!

Even my pregnancy had been so easy. I hadn’t been plagued by morning sickness, tiredness, weird cravings or even the slightest backache. My sister had been so jealous of how I had sailed through those nine months. He came just a week before his due date so I was ready but not yet fed up of being pregnant. I had had it so easy. My bump had been small and neat. My skin had glowed and I knew that my hair had never looked better. It had been blissful. It had been too easy.

We buried him today.

I got up on 30th April to find my baby cold and lifeless in his Moses Basket. There was no warning, no illness, nothing wrong with him at all as far as we could see. He had been a healthy, happy baby right up until the moment he had died. I knew something was wrong though. I had fed him at 10pm; he had been happy, smiling and wide awake. I changed his nappy and sang him songs until he fell asleep peacefully and I fell asleep right after him. I can remember gently prising my finger out of his tiny little hand, wrapping his blanket around him and sighing contentedly as I snuggled down in to my own bed. My husband was watching the end of a film that I didn’t really want to watch and the bed was cool, crisp and fresh. It was blissful. When I woke up in the morning and realised that it was 6.28am and Adam had not fed in the night. Instinct told me that something was very wrong. I sat in my bed paralysed with fear as I tried to pluck up the courage to look at him, telling myself that I was paranoid and silly, but I wasn’t. I knew there was something wrong and as soon as I touched my gorgeous little boy my world collapsed. He was so cold; the little white blanket he was wrapped in was useless, my baby’s tiny little body was ice cold. My screaming woke Stewart who came running to the Moses Basket tripping over in his haste to see what on earth was going on. I wonder if he wishes he hadn’t of seen what I saw? I still see that sight every time I close my eyes. Perhaps he does too.

Cot death they call it, or Sudden Infant death Syndrome to give it its cold, harsh clinical name. He had never even slept in his cot I have screamed over and over again. I feel like I have been screaming every day since, when I am not wondering if I wasted precious minutes sitting in that bed scared. Stewart doesn’t run to me anymore when I scream or cry. He doesn’t touch me or even look at me much anymore. We have only really talked to discuss arrangements. Arrangements for a day that neither of us ever wanted to arrive, a date that we will hate forever. Because this is the hateful day when we were forced to put our beautiful little boy in to a coffin, and then bury him in the cold, hard ground. We will have nothing to talk about anymore I realised as we sat in the car on the way to the church. It was the first time we had ever sat in a car without touching, talking or even looking at each other. I wondered in that car how long it would be before he left me too. I kept trying to read his body language, to see a sign in his eyes, but it was no good. I saw nothing, just an empty space where his love for me had once been.

The funeral was held at our local church at 1pm. Again I screamed as Stewart carried our son’s coffin into the church, I rushed forward as I wanted to stop him from taking Adam inside, as if that somehow could stop him from being dead. I cannot remember who grabbed me and stopped me and I am glad as I would hate them for it forever. I can however remember how Stewart looked at me and I wish I couldn’t, he just looked so embarrassed and ashamed. He used to look at me with love and even lust. He will never look at me like that again I fear.

Afterwards many people who attended said that the service was lovely. “Are they stupid”? I yelled at Stewart, “How can anything be lovely about burying a tiny little body in the ground”? What can possibly be lovely about seeing that tiny little coffin holding my little Adam‘s lifeless body? Stupid idiots! Every single person who said that it was a lovely or beautiful service was just stupid. They are thoughtless idiots as far as I can see! I couldn’t take any more; it was just all too much for me. I ran out of the wake, literally just got up and ran out. I ended up at a bar getting blind drunk, and then on the way home I had to pass the club. Everyone in the queue or even just out the front smoking all looked so happy, and in my drunken haze I felt this longing to be in the company of happy people for just a short while. I just didn’t want to have to go home to the solemn sadness that was waiting for me. I didn’t want to have to face my husband, or our families. I wanted to drink. I wanted to dance, to laugh and to forget even if it was only for a short while.

“Stewart is worried sick” Millie is telling me, “he was searching everywhere, he even went to the hospital to see if you were hurt”. By hurt I hear “he thought you had killed yourself”, I wonder if he would have cared. Perhaps that would have been a relief for him? Then he could move on and have a fresh start with another woman. Adam and I would just be sad memories from the past. He wouldn’t see my failure every time he looked at her face.

“He hates me” I state bluntly, “I’ve failed him, failed our son. I am an embarrassment to him”. I wail that he hates me over and over. I can acknowledge that I hate myself more. Millie shakes me as she tells me sternly “He loves you Carrie, he always has and always will. He is petrified. He has lost his son and now he thinks he is losing you too”, I can see the distress in Millie’s pretty face. Her usually beautiful sparkling brown eyes are dull and lifeless, and it makes me realise I haven’t noticed her or anyone else’s distress before. That little realisation stuns me for a minute. All I have been able to see was my little Adam’s cold, lifeless body. Shame rises in me again and again I am crying and again Millie wraps her slender arms around me and hugs me tightly. “You will come through this”. I shake my head but she is insistent, “you will Carrie. You will never forget and it will hurt like hell for a very long time, but one day you will feel joy again, one day you will feel happy again, and on the days when you cannot feel happy and cannot be o.k. we will be there. We will always be there if only you will just let us in”.
“How will life ever be o.k. again? How will I ever be able to feel joy again? I can’t see an end to the pain Millie. I can’t ever imagine a time when life will feel good”.

“Of course you can’t now” Millie insists, “now is only a few weeks after Adam died” we both wince as she states this fact, “but now will pass. You have to believe that”. The last point is almost a plea and I want to agree, I want to make her right, but I cannot speak. I cannot say that she is right when I truly do not believe that she is.

“Sorry I couldn’t wait any longer” Stewart’s soft voice interrupts, “Are you ok. Carrie? Are you hurt?” I notice a quiver in his voice. Millie gets to her feet and assures him that I am unhurt. I try to stand but aside from being very drunk my legs are dead from the cold and I re-land in an undignified heap again. I cannot look up at my husband as he tells my sister that her husband is waiting to take her home. She has children to get back to I think with a bitterness that I cannot help but still do not like. I don’t watch Millie and Lennon leave. I am too busy staring at Stewarts highly polished, shiny black shoes. They are immaculate still even after the long horrible day. He always looks immaculate; it’s something that I normally love about him. Now I hate him for it. I dread to think of the state I must look. He squats down beside me and pulls my face round until I have to look at him. I feel so shocked to see for the first time how sallow his skin looks, how lined and stressed his handsome face looks. He seems to have aged about 15 years since I last looked at him properly, his soft brown hair is a mess and looks as though it hasn’t seen a brush much recently and I have never seen him look so tired. Stewart holds my face still and he kisses me for a very long time. After a while I kiss him back fiercely and we hold each other and kiss as though our very lives depend on it. When we finally let go there is a shocked silence sitting between us. I break it. “I’m so sorry that I failed you, and Adam. That I wasn’t a good enough Mum and I couldn’t keep him” my voice trails off as I see Stewart shaking his head fiercely but my tears do not stop flowing. “Do you blame me?” he asks simply. This question stuns me but I answer in a heartbeat “No! Of course not”! I rush to defend this point but he doesn’t let me get any further. He demands to know how I can blame myself and yet not blame him at all! “I was his Father; am his Father, it was as much my job to protect him as it was yours. We were helpless to protect him from that, that, from it. From cot death” at this point saying that hateful phrase, I realise that he is crying and I reach out and hold him. For the first time in days my eyes remain dry and I actually manage to comfort my grieving husband. When his tears subside we talk, out in the freezing cold street in the dead of night we open up and talk and cry and hold one another for the first time since we found our beautiful baby cold in his bed. “He was a lucky little boy really” Stewart tells me. I flinch at that statement, “How so?”
“Because he was wanted Carrie, very, very wanted. We longed for him, tried for him for eight long years” he shakes his head in wonder, and when he finally arrived we adored him” he laughs wryly, “both of our families adored him and bombarded us with visits as they wanted to see him so much. He was so loved, for every second of his short life”.
We talk and talk, both saying our peace and finally get all of the feelings, hurt and anger out. We spew it all out in to the empty street. All of the things that we were too afraid to say, and all of the feelings that we were too afraid to admit that we were feeling spill out and are lost in the cold night. After a while he informs me “its 4am, we need to go home. You are shivering” he rubs my arms frantically trying to warm me up.
“So are you” I acknowledge but he still takes off his jacket and wraps it tightly around me. “Will we be ok?” I ask Stewart fearfully as he helps me to my feet and tries to steady me as I wobble unsteadily on my freezing cold, numb legs.
“I really don’t know Carrie” he shakes his head in bewilderment as my heart contracts with dread at what I will hear next, “I used to be so sure about everything and now” he takes a deep breath; I’m not sure about anything anymore”. On seeing my face he adds with a solemn nod, “but I want us to be”. He is holding me now, trying to guide me home. I am reluctant as my cold, drunk, stiff body moves slowly towards my uncertain future, but I know that I have to keep moving. I know that I have to face up to everything that is waiting for me. Sadly I know that the sun will still rise every morning, still set every night and I will have to fill the void that is each day in between.

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