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Table of Contents:
Grass can be Weeds, too
The Martyr’s Tale
The Allotment of Time
4 Degrees of Separation
The Monkey’s Sandwich
The Body in the Bed
Love is Like That
Sunday Night Séance Club
The House of Dreams
In a Town Like This
Sample: (Full Story)
Love is Like That
George shut the door, careful not to slam it, which Mary always chided him about when she had one of her heads. She always had one of her heads these days.
Quietly, as if afraid of waking a bear, he put his keys down on the table beside the door.
He needn’t have worried.
'Hi babe, I’m home,' he called out, somewhat redundantly. She sounded like she was in the kitchen. She was always in the kitchen when he came home. He liked it. It made the house feel somehow homely, him coming in from work and calling out that he was home, pointlessly, as she always heard him closing the front door, no matter how quietly he did it, her sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him.
She never had dinner ready, but then nobody is perfect. He didn’t mind cooking dinner. She was always grateful, and he had always been the better cook.
Walking through the house, touching objects as he went – he didn’t like to leave his hands free, so he touched furniture as he walked through the house – the Welsh dresser, with Mary’s collection of crockery (never used), the large mirror in which he checked the straightness of his tie (after Mary had checked it) and where there was no furniture or hangings he made do with doorframes.
His favourite part of the day was when he turned the corner of the last door, and Mary was sitting there, looking at him expectantly. Then he didn’t need to touch things anymore. It made him feel safe. He knew it was just anxiety, and that she was his anchor, stopping him from working himself into a state, floating on stormy seas, but it didn’t matter. She was there, he felt safe. It was all he needed to know.
He smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek.
'How was your day, then? Tell me all about it.'
'How’s your head?'
'Fine, darling. I’m having a good day today.'
'That’s good. Shall I put the kettle on?'
'That would be nice. Now tell me about your day.'
'OK, but I don’t want you to get too excited,' George said, as he filled the kettle from the sink tap, watching the level. It wouldn’t do to get water over the edge. He was always worried about excess water leaking into the electrics and shorting out a fuse. It was summer now, but Mary always hated it in the winter when the power went out. George had to admit, too, that since they had moved to their new house he was a little afraid of the dark. There were no street lights, and he’d put up motion sensitive lights around the house, but when there was a power cut it was pitch black. It played his anxiety up and that made Mary nervous. No, careful in all things, George would not short the electrics, even if it was a glorious summer evening.
Mary just smiled at him. 'I’m not some Victorian lady, you know, prone to fainting at the drop of a hat.'
'Well, it’s exciting news.'
'Now you’ve built it up it had better be good.'
The kettle was bubbling gently in the background, and the birds were singing in the trees outside, the leafy trees protecting them from the intrusive stares of their neighbours with their summer growth. In the winter they would have to pull the blinds. George didn’t like the thought of people looking into the house. He liked his privacy when he was at home. Sometimes he liked to sit at the kitchen table in his pyjamas, and he didn’t want the neighbours to think he was a slob.
'It is good news. Are you ready for it?'
'Oh, George, just spit it out would you?' said Mary, playfully. He could tell she wasn’t really annoyed. She only got angry when she had one of her heads, and he had known as soon as he got home that she was having a good day today.
'Alright, Alright, I’m just building up to it, you know, like a verbal fanfare.'
'Consider the fanfare redundant, sweetheart. Now tell me, before I kick you in the shin.'
George laughed. He knew he could rely on Mary to make him feel light.
'I got promoted today!'
'Oh, George, that’s wonderful news!' exclaimed Mary. 'Come and give me a celebratory kiss.'
'Now Mary, I don’t know if you’ve got the clearance necessary to kiss the Head of Appropriations.'
'Give me a kiss or suffer my wrath!'
George laughed again. He liked the sound of it. It was a mover’s laugh, an easy laugh, confident and ripe.
He kissed her on the lips, wrapping his arms around her. Eventually, when he broke away, she said, 'Somehow I feel special, being kissed by such a powerful man.'
'Now, Mary, don’t let it go to your head. It’s not like I’m a VP yet. I don’t get a company car or anything, but I do get to travel more, and they give me a car allowance. I’m thinking I might buy a new car anyway.'
'Oh, George, that would be wonderful. If we get a new car, perhaps you could take me away.'
'Now, darling, you know travelling brings on one of your heads.'
'But I’d so love to see the coast.'
'Well, we’ll think about it.' The kettle had boiled. 'For now, let’s have a cup of tea to celebrate.'
'Can’t we stretch to champagne?'
'Well, a cup of tea first, I’m gasping, then maybe I might just have brought something home with me for a special night.'
'I did! I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, so I left it in the porch. I’ll put it in the fridge in a minute. We can have a little tipple after dinner.'
'You rogue! You’ve been stringing me along ever since you got home.'
'I’m entitled to a bit of drama now and then, aren’t I?'
Mary just laughed. 'I suppose you are, my handsome man. I’m so proud of you, George. You’ve really worked hard for this. It’s somehow made all the late nights, all those sleepless nights, worth it. It must be nice to be rewarded.'
'I do feel like I deserve it. I don’t want to sound too big headed though.'
'You don’t sound big headed at all. You sound like a man who’s proud of their achievement. You’re worth it, darling.'
'My, Mary, well thank you for saying so,' said George, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head. His contented pose.
'Don’t go getting comfortable. You’re still making the tea.'
'Alright, woman, let me gloat a little.' He sighed.
Mary was silent for a minute.
'Gloat over. Now, tea.'
George grumbled good-naturedly and got up, his knees cracking. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. He’d spent the best part of his early years chasing promotion within the company. He was comfortable there. He would never risk trying for a new job, not with his anxiety. Instead of moving on to newer pastures, and perhaps making more money, he had scrimped and saved during the lean years, and made do. Now he could afford a new cooker, a new fridge. Maybe some air conditioning to keep the heat away during the summer months. A new television would be nice. One of those flat screen things wouldn’t be too far of a stretch when he got his bonus. Perhaps one that hung from the wall.
He made the tea while Mary waited, and thought about dinner. There were steaks in the fridge. He didn’t know if steak went with champagne. He was more used to eating nibbles at work do’s than having champagne with meals. He didn’t think it would matter. Mary would think she was the queen, getting champagne with her meal. It would be good enough.
He put the tea down on the table in front of Mary, for which she thanked him.
'I’m just going out to the porch to get the champagne. I’ll get it chilled and we can have some with dinner.'
'Oh, are we posh? That’ll be lovely.'
'Won’t be a minute.'
George walked to the porch. He felt better now. The anxiety had faded, and he didn’t feel the need to be in touch with everything as he passed. It wasn’t going anywhere. He wouldn’t lose the house if he didn’t touch it. Everything was going to be fine. He would have enough money, Mary was with him, and they were alone together. Nobody would come round and spoil it for him. Just the two of them. It was perfect.
He shut the door quietly, champagne in hand, and returned the kitchen, hands resolutely away from the walls and the furniture. He saw marks there, where his hands had touched them before. Dust lay on top of the Welsh Dresser, and covered the face of the mirror. Mary hadn’t been doing the cleaning lately. He would have to do it himself. But he didn’t like to change things, and he was getting used to the dust. It was just something else that became habit, and he knew instinctively if he changed it, it would play him up. He couldn’t do that.
Returning to the kitchen, he saw Mary hadn’t touched her tea.
George felt his anxiety returning.
'I feel one of my heads coming on,' she said.
His head was swimming. Suddenly he felt like the carpet was pulled from underneath him, that he was standing on ball bearings, or at sea. His vision wavered for a moment and his heart started racing.
'I’ll…I…I’ll put some dinner on, then.'
'What’s the matter, George? You look quiet pale.'
'Nothing, darling. I just feel a bit faint.'
'Come and sit down. It’ll pass. Tonight’s a good night. Let’s not let anything spoil it.'
She was right, of course. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t drunk her tea. He didn’t know why such an inconsequential thing would set him off.
'I’m fine now, really. Do you want some tablets for your head?'
'Yes, thank you.'
'I’ll just get them.' George went to the pantry, where the medicine tin was kept, and took out two tablets. He noticed there weren’t many left. He would have to go to the pharmacy soon, and pick up her prescription. The tin rasped as he replaced it on the shelf, and that old familiarity made him calmer, somehow. He felt strong enough to walk again. His legs felt solid. Nothing to worry about.
Breathing deeply, counting his breaths as his doctor had told him to do, he returned to the table and placed some tablets before Mary.
'Do you want some water?'
'I can take them with my tea, thank you.'
'OK.' He waited for a moment, watching her. Then he waited some more. No conversation passed, and for a moment he thought she must have forgotten. Sometimes she forgot to take her pills, usually when she had one of her heads. Perhaps this was one of those times.
Gently, he touched her arm.
'Why don’t you take your pills, darling? You know they make you feel better.'
'Yes, I will.'
After another minute of silence had passed, George found himself getting angry at her. She wouldn’t do what was good for her. Why wouldn’t she take her pills?
'I’ll put dinner on,' he said, for something to say.
'I’m not really hungry anymore,' she said. 'Sorry darling, but when I’ve got one of my heads I can’t really eat.'
Well, then, take your pills and it will go away. They always work.
He was getting worked up again. He tried counting. It usually worked, but the feeling, of slipping, was stronger now. There was a strange smell in the air. Perhaps she hadn’t washed today.
'Please take your pills.'
She just sat, silently. 'You know I can’t, George.'
It was stronger now. The feeling. He turned to the cupboard above the kettle and took out the teabags. One by one, he took each out and began counting. One, two, three…the sickness in his stomach and the palpitations of his heart did not ease.
'Don’t be angry with me, George. You know why I can’t take my pills. You understand. Tell me you understand.'
That smell was there again. And smelling it, he understood. The feeling passed, and with it the understanding. His heartbeat slowed. His legs felt stronger.
Then, he was fine.
'Well, I’ll make some dinner for myself then, dearest. You don’t have to eat if you don’t want to.'
'Thank you, George. There’s a reason why I love you. You’re such a kind man. And so successful.'
George smiled, and kissed her on the cheek. 'You’re such a sweet talker. I love you.'
Perhaps it was her breath that smelled. It would be just like her to forget to brush her teeth, especially these days.
But then what were some bad odours between man and wife? He put it to one side. Sometimes she smelled bad, but then that was to be expected. In the heat, for some reason he didn’t understand, she smelled…well, almost rotten. Still, she couldn’t manage to bathe when she had one of her heads. It didn’t matter to him. He loved her anyway.
Sometimes, love is all about overlooking the little things.