- Lock and Key
Sienna gently shakes me awake, before shining my iPhone torch into both retinas. Argh! I grab the phone. It’s 5.48am. “Go back to bed,” I say but she is wide awake. “It’s morning,” she replies. I swipe to the Cebeebies App, select ‘Hey Duggee’ and give her the phone to take back to bed. My head is pounding, my mouth furry and I just want to go home, to get back to normality and forget about the last few days. I look at Simon, he is staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. He is not going to let any of this go easily.
Si: “Vita’s been up all night while you were snoring your head off.”
Me: “Sorry. I’ll feed her.”
Si: “Is it safe?”
Me: “I didn’t smoke anything.” Then I remember all the Marlboro Reds. Oh, God. Still, they are legal.
Si: “You’re still over the limit,” he grunts.
In the small kitchenette of the Granny annexe, built over Roge’s workshop for my mother’s mother, I defrost a pouch of expressed breast milk in the ancient microwave my Granny once used. I pour the milk into a MAM bottle and stir it with an 80s Royal wedding teaspoon. Apparently, Vita’s refusing to take the bottle again and hasn’t been eating much at all. I open the door to check on her, she is awake so I try to feed her from the bottle. She punches it away and nuzzles into my boobs. Oh god, I’m back where I started. I take a breath, cuddle her and mercifully she starts to drink from the bottle. She is hungry and gulps down the contents.
Si is cleaning his teeth with Sienna when I suggest we all head back to London and enjoy the weekend together there. “We can potter in the garden or go to Kew…”
Si: “Can’t, Army 100k cycle today.”
Me: “Not again.”
Si: “It’s been in the iCal for ages.”
Si: “This isn’t about cycling, it’s about repairing my career. I need to show my face at everything, do everything right from now on, not get pulled out of work by your parents because you’ve gone AWOL and left them with the kids. General Smith is gunning for me.”
Me: “Can we come and watch? The cycling, not the gunning, I mean.”
Si: “Not exactly a spectators sport,” he says curtly.
Me: “I think we’ll head back to London then.”
Si: “You need to apologise to your parents first.” I nod.
Si heads off and I get the children their breakfast. When they are both happily munching I call Granny. “Hello,” she says in a strained voice.
Me: “Can we come for coffee?”
Granny: “We are not receiving before 10 o’clock.”
“Oh, right. Okay,” I say, knowing I am firmly in the pooh.
So I decide to take the girls out on a country ramble instead, the sunshine will do us all good. I put Vita in a sling, help Sienna into her red wellies and open the door. Except it’s locked. I yank the handle down again. I then start looking for the key, but it’s nowhere to be found and in my heart, I already know what the problem is. Simon’s locked us in.
I call him but he doesn’t answer, so I call Granny back, knowing I will get both barrels.
Granny: “What now?” She says out of breath. “I keep putting a foot in the bath and then the phone rings.”
Me: “I’m locked in the flat, Si’s taken the key.”
Granny: “What’s wrong with you all?”
Roge opens the door with his key. He looks cross.
Roge: “You’ve broken me and your mother. You said the day.” He looks at me. “Eyes like piss holes in the snow. Why do you do it to yourself?” He gives me a hug.
Me: “I don’t know. Don’t worry we’re going back to London.”
Roge: “How? Your car’s in Cheltenham.”
Oh, bugger. I’d forgotten about that bit. And Granny’s not taking me back to the car until after lunch, because she’s brought in all our favourites and we are going to have to eat it, all of it.
Granny: “I can cope with the girls when you’re here but not on our own.” She says tossing a salad. The girls munch happily on olives and breadsticks, enjoying eating outside in their grandparents’ beautiful garden. Vita has thankfully found her appetite.
Granny: “We were so worried, she didn’t eat anything and wouldn’t stop crying and screaming and grandpa was brilliant because you know I can’t deal with crying babies but it almost pushed him over the edge.”
Me: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but Granny….”
“I haven’t finished. We love our grandchildren with every fibre of our being but yesterday was a nightmare and you’re not doing that to us again. So we have decided – and I’m sorry daring – we are not having them when you go to Italy. We just can’t. You’ll have to see if Si’s parents will have them in Devon – they’re much younger than us.”
Me: “The same age.”
Granny: “Vanessa I don’t think you realise how ill I am. I look okay on the outside but inside I’m 92. Would you like to see the amount of tablets I’m on?”
Me: “Dad said you could cope.”
Granny: “He says a lot of things.”
Roge: “I said for the day, not the whole night.”
Me: “But Simon came back in the afternoon.”
Granny: “None of us could cope.”
Me: “Well if three of you couldn’t, how do you think I do?”
Granny: “We are in our 70s and they’re YOUR children.”
Me: “I needed a day to myself.”
Granny: “Going to smoke wacky backy with your sister is not the answer.”
Me: “I didn’t.”
Granny: “But she’s still on it?”
Sienna: “On what Granny?”
Granny: “Eat your ham.”
Me: “She seems in a much better space.”
Granny: “Still with that appalling man, Brian the gorilla?”
Me: “Dog. They seem pretty close.”
Granny: “Until he goes back to his other wife and children.”
Me: “She’s touring with the West Country circus this summer I think we should go.”
Granny and Roge exchange uncomfortable glances.
We drive en-masse to pick up my stranded Volvo, me in the back again like a child between my own children. It shouldn’t feel humiliating but it does.
Granny: “Let’s see if there are any wheels on it.”
Me: “It’s Cheltenham.”
Granny: “The wrong side.”
The car is, of course, intact and mercifully Steph and Brian are out. Roge and Granny look disappointed; they haven’t seen Steph in over six months.
My car is finally packed with children, the beloved cuddly toys: Bunny, Tiggy, Taggy and all the other accoutrements. As I motor down the M4 back to London, I start to feel better, which is strange considering I’ve never wanted to live in a city, now I am leaving this recent blip behind me, I feel I can start anew. I will be better at this marriage and motherhood stuff. No more ball dropping.
I park up in our drive and wave at Mandy & Buck sitting on their picnic bench watching the children play in our close. And that’s when I realise I don’t have a front door key.
I turn my handbag upside down, the nappy bag and its contents are emptied over the lawn, just as Fiona returns from running her tits off again. She scowls at me and disappears into her house.
SIMON HAS TAKEN THE KEY.
This is too much. First the toys, then locking me in, now this. No wonder I went on a fricking bender. He’s driving me to it.
I call him and this time he answers. “Si you locked me in the Granny flat this morning and now you’ve taken the effing house key!”
“What?” he says out of breath. “Cycling. Big hill.”
Me: “House key!”
Si: “Oh.” He says. “Spare?”
Me: “Course we don’t have a spare, that would mean we were organised! (pause) Now we’re even.” I hang up before he can reply and saunter over to Mandy and Buck.
Me: “Hi guys. Enjoying the sunshine?”
“Listen, I’ve got a slight problem….”Advertisements
- Twisted Sister
Simon still isn’t returning my calls 24 hours after I stormed Salisbury Plain. And I’m tired of apologising and crying. Granny and Roge have been lovely, but they are beginning to do my head in as only parents can. Honestly, if Granny tells me one more time I’m not eating enough I will scream. I need to get away from all of them, my parents, my children, everyone.
I speak to Roge in his office. “I’m going to disappear for the day. Can you and Granny manage with the kids?” His initial facial expression is one of extreme fear but he grins at me.
Roge: “Go, have a walk, get some air into your lungs, we’ll be fine. (pause) You’ll be fine.”
Me: “Tell Granny I’m doing one of my challenges for Country Matters.”
Roge: “Where are you really going?”
Me: “To see Steph.” I leave before he can protest. I need a big sister fix.
I draw on a Marlboro Red, take it deep into my lungs and exhale. It’s not the fresh air Roge suggested but it seems to be doing the trick. I guzzle my pint of wine and lay back on the plastic sun lounger in Steph’s overgrown garden, surrounded by a broken whirligig washing line, builder’s rubble and the stench of dog poo. I look up, Hoolie (short for Hooligan) the English sheepdog is doing yet another sh*t in the long grass.
Me: “I think that dog’s got problems. He hasn’t stopped pooing since I got here.”
My sister takes an extra long toke on her bifta (a cannabis cigarette, for the uninitiated). “He’s a dog. That’s what they do. They sh*t,” she says smiling goofily exposing her nicotine-stained teeth.
Me: “And babies, they do the same, but I don’t let them do it on the lawn.”
Steph: “That’s because Simon’s made you uptight.” She offers me the joint. I wave it away.
Me: “I’m not uptight”.
She sits up. “Hah! You’re uptighter than a cat’s a-hole. Your channels are blocked; I can feel it from here. You need to free yourself. The mind is its own place, it can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Me: “Milton? Bit Judeo-Christian for you.”
Steph: “I like Milton. Have done since school.”
Me: “The only Milton I know these days is the stuff to clean up sick with.”
I gulp another mouthful of sauv blanc and watch my stoned sister dance around the garden in her tie-dye harem pants trying to comically avoid the dog poo landmines. She has an incredible body – her tummy is toned and brown, unlike my white blancmange overhang. She stands on one leg and brings the other up to her hand. My parents think she is a loser but I think she is astonishing. I wish I’d run away to the circus with her. I always wanted to work with horses and she does every day, standing on their backs, jumping through hoops of fire and travelling the world. Of course, there is a downside to her Gypsy life, namely her dysfunctional relationship with Brian-the-Dog, but my marriage isn’t exactly in the best of shape these days. My husband’s not even talking to me. But I’m not thinking about him today.
Steph snaps me out my reverie with a scream. She’s stood on a landmine.
I bring a soapy bucket of water out of her dilapidated Georgian flat in leafy Cheltenham. “You’re right, I need to get this garden cleaned up.” As she steeps her sh*tty foot, we hug. I draw her in tightly, my big sister, who introduced me to raves and MDMA. “Grown-up life is really hard,” I say, the tears now flowing.
“You’re acing it, Ness. Look at me – I’m standing with a foot in a bucket covered in dog shit.” She cackles like a witch, which is appropriate as she is one.
Steph: “Come on, let’s do a spell to thank the Goddess for our blessings, for Sienna, Vita, for Hooli, for Simon.”
Me: “Not him. Not yet.”
Steph: “Okay, not Simon.”
She runs inside and returns with a candle, an orange, baking parchment, string and Brian-the-Dog, back early after his day job collecting refuse. He is still in his hi-viz jacket and green combat trousers. The waft of rotting vegetables pokes me up the nose.
Brian: “Nessa. Come on give me a hug.”
And he means it too. I jump up from the lounger and start to runway from this hulk of a brown stinky man. I jump onto the rubble. “Careful – landmines!”
Brian: “I don’t bloody care, I’ve had a 2 week old nappy explode in my face.” He grabs me off the rubble and hugs me, I want to be sick because of the smell and he’s tickling me to death.
“B*gger off!” I shout.
He goes in for a shower and returns in a white kaftan. “Did Steph tell you?”
Me: “That you’re a weirdo?”
Brian: “That I’m the High Priest of Cheltenham.”
Steph is smiling nodding and I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about but I am smiling and nodding too. “That’s Great. Well done, Bri.”
Brian looks at me and searches my eyes. “She’s ain’t got a f*cking clue what I’m on about! So posh, so well mannered.”
Steph: “It means he’s head of our coven and the local chapter.”
Brian: “So I can perform special rituals.” They exchange glances and smirks. I decide I don’t want to know the details. He lights up, inhales deeply and cuts the orange in half with a golden dagger and then Steph lights a candle and drips wax on it or something else but I’m so battered I don’t know what’s going on or who I am. I stare into the flame vacantly.
My next memory is being in a Chinese Restaurant. Quite a smart one. Everyone is looking at us, Brian is back wearing his hi-viz jacket and we are sitting in a side room away from the other customers, drinking beer out of bottles, eating dry shredded beef – my favourite – when suddenly I have this idea to throw rice at Brian, and then more rice at my sister but these tiny act of rebellion cause Brian to go ‘proper mental’ and he starts throwing the whole meal at me, beer hits me like a wet slap in the face, a spring roll smacks me on the forehead and seaweed, loads of seaweed rains down like confetti. So I do the only thing I can think of, I throw the sweet and sour prawns at him.
Steph and I race outside leaving Brian to deal with the irate Chinese management. He is laughing saying ‘calm down, calm down, just have a larff.’ He tries to speak Chinese in his broad Gloucester accent, bowing at them, his hands pressed together but the diminutive manager is shouting, ‘Get Out! I do not want you back, ever.’ Brian insists on paying the bill and gives the man a crisp fifty.
Meanwhile, Steph sparks up another fruity rollie and then decides she needs a wee. She hands me the joint while she disappears to crouch down in a side alley, while I am left standing dazed, leaning against the restaurant, listening to the Manager now calmly chatting to Brian, because he ‘knows he’s not a bad man, it’s the bad women he’s with’.
Manager: “Double Trouble.”
Brian: “Both my girlfriends….”
Manager: “No way.”
The joint is burning away as I notice a car pull up to the curb. The window goes down. Oh God, they think I’m a hooker, I think as I look down at my stained orange sundress, flecked with strands of seaweed.
“Is that marijuana?”, comes a familiar voice. I look into the car more carefully.