Lock and Key

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Key Husband Taken Key Vanessa Wilde

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.”

Me: “But…”

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?”

They nod.

“Listen, I’ve got a slight problem….”

 

 

 

 

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Toy Soldiers

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Lost cuddly toys toy soldiers Vanessa wilde

Wednesday 6.30pm
Si won’t stay for supper. He’s done the wall and needs to get back to Wiltshire – he has a big day tomorrow. He starts to tell me all about it but I zone out after the first military acronym…

I smell my seven-month old’s bottom. “Jesus! (To him) Sounds great, Simon. (To the kids) Right, bath time everyone.”

“I’ll help,” says Si getting the hint.

He washes Sienna’s hair while I dunk Baby Beelzebub.  These are the precious moments of family time, but now he has to rush off again to serve Queen and Country and for once I actually feel sorry for him. We make a good team and I love him deeply even though he annoys me to the stars and back. (I know the feeling is mutual).

He dries and dresses Vita, while Sienna continues to play mermaids in the bath. She has a new game of late where she sits on the edge and uses the side as a slide, creating a tidal wave of soapy water.

“No, Sienna!” we both say smiling at each other fully cognisant of the fact that mixing our genes and character traits was always going to to be a dangerous and devious experiment.

“She’s got your genes,” I say.

“No, it’s your Jock genes,” says Simon

He suddenly looks grey and weary. “Sorry I can’t stay,” he says. “I can’t wait for the time when we are all living together in the same house.”  We kiss again.  All this time I’ve been complaining about staying with the mini-psychopaths, when actually, it’s a greater wrench to leave. (That is until you get to where you’re going, free, unburdened, able to finish a sentence and concentrate, without vast changing bags of rice cakes, snacks and wet wipes weighing you down or the sudden palpable fear that you don’t know where The-One-That-Can-Walk IS!)

“Wish me luck,” he says descending the stairs.

“Good luck,” I say not having the faintest idea what for.  “Knock ‘em dead.” I add. Si grabs his Army hold-all, black rucksack and is gone.

It’s only when both tots are finally in their pyjamas I realise I haven’t seen Vita’s Bunny or Sienna’s two hedgehogs, Tiggy & Taggy.  I secure my feral creatures in Vita’s cot with some pop-up books and search downstairs for the cuddly toys. I’m not going to panic they are here somewhere. I look in the Chinese vase where bricks, magnets, and remotes are hidden. No. In the Ikea circus tent? Nope. Under the kitchen table? No.

I return upstairs and search the rooms, but the toys are nowhere to be seen and what’s worse, I can’t find a dummy for baby Vita to such, either.

Sienna laughs with excitement as I lift the cot up to see if Bunny or the dummies are underneath. Nothing.  This is getting serious.  I ask Sienna if has she’s seen Tiggy & Taggy.

Sienna: “Maybe they’re on holiday.”

Not a-f***ing-gain! Why has everything got to go on holiday? Except us!

I snap. “Where the hell have you hidden them?” The impending horror of what is to come for the next ten hours starts to close in on me: the broken sleep, the incessant wailing, the bloodcurdling screams.  No, no, no! They must be somewhere! 

I look Sienna in the eye, my face almost touching hers, “I’m going to ask you one more time, where is Bunny and the fricking hedgehogs?”

“I don’t know,” she says unblinking.

Me: “Yes, you bloody do.”

“No, I bloody don’t.” She shouts in my face. “Maybe they’re in the woods with Piglet.” (Another animal enjoying a ‘holiday’.)

I take a big breath.

F**K.

I run downstairs and Vita starts to howl. Sienna joins in for good measure, shouting “Tiggy and Taggy are lost in the woods and a fox is coming! And they are lonely!” She cries harder moved by her own story.

And I KNOW that two-year-old sod-ette is responsible for their loneliness and terror and I need to find them to avoid the same terrible fate. I tear downstairs apart, I tear upstairs apart; I run out into the Close like a woman-possessed, look on the trampoline, under it, in the Wendy House, under the cherry tree. I put out a message on the Patch Facebook Page. I Whatsapp my neighbours. And…. NOTHING.

And suddenly I’m in the middle of the Close, in the descending darkness looking this way and that, because there is no solution Taggy WAS Tiggy’s back up and Bunny doesn’t have an understudy. I am screwed.

I phone Si. It goes to voicemail. It’s not his fault, don’t yell at him. Breathe, breathe.

Me: “Hi honey, have you seen Bunny or Tiggy and Taggy? They are missing. Call me when you can.”

***

But he doesn’t call back and it’s midnight before the screams and wails stop and the small people finally fall asleep and so do I.  And then the night terrors begin with the baby passing the sleep-killing baton to the toddler and back again so I barely have any sleep.

By dawn I am broken, my teeth feel too big for my mouth and my face is numb because I’ve been sleeping on my phone waiting for Si to call.

And then Sienna, lying next to me in my bed, whispers conspiratorially. “Maybe our toys jumped in Daddy’s rucksack?”

I squint at her from under the covers and she says with a shrug. “Maybe they wanted to go to Wiltshire.”

***

I load my protesting toddler and screaming baby (still without a dummy) into the back of the Volvo and finish packing up all the crap that two children under three require.

I lock up the house, jump in the driver’s seat and exit the Close, travelling up through West London to hit the M4 to Wiltshire.  I know Simon is doing something near Salisbury this morning. Jesus, maybe he’s dealing with Russians and Novichok? Should I turn around? I’m not really sure I want the kids as extras in McMafia. And then I remember he mentioned Salisbury Plain, so type it into the Satnav.

My mission is clear: I need to get Bunny and Tiggy & Taggy back and that’s it. And I KNOW they are in his rucksack because it’s the only logical explanation. Yes, Sienna will have put them in there, but he should have checked. He should have checked.

After several hours on the road, my iPhone tells me to turn right through a gateway in the middle of the plains. It looks like I’m in the right place, there’s the obligatory razor wire and loads of signs saying ‘KEEP OUT’, ‘MOD PROPERTY’ ‘DANGER’. I try to call Simon as I drive up the dusty track but the phone is switched off. I curse him as I hit pothole after pothole. Why the hell would you take Bunny and the hedgehogs? Why?! Are you chronically stupid, Simon?  No, I have married someone terminally stupid!!!!!

MEANWHILE, AT THE TOP OF SALISBURY PLAIN

Simon is preparing to host a Field Firing Exercise with live ammunition.

General Jeremy Smith is in a supervisory capacity, waiting for any slip-ups because after all the contretemps on the Patch he wants to see Simon fail.

Simon has been planning the exercise for months.  He takes out a map and explains to the adjudicators what is going to happen and what they intend to achieve.

CUT TO:

My ancient Volvo is coming to the brow of the hill. The children stare out of the window uncertain of their new surroundings.

Sienna: “But I thought we were going to Granny’s?”

Me: “We are. Later.”

I can see people waving at me, I wave back. They wave more enthusiastically. So do I, driving past them. One man even walks in front of the car causing me to swerve – I think he is also terminally stupid.

I can see Simon across the Plain in front of me and I can see his black rucksack in the front seat of an army Land Rover. I abandon the car and am drawn towards the rucksack like a woman-possessed in a strange twilight world. I duck under the barbwire, crawl through the scrub and run towards the Army Land Rover.

Simon, oblivious to the breach of security, shouts “FIRE” and suddenly – URGH! I am rugby tackled from both sides and now I am having a heart attack. URGH! So this is what it feels like. I’ve often wondered and now I KNOW. Urgh. The. Pain.

Whistles are blown. Alarms sound.

“Check Fire!!!!!” shouts Simon.

“Heart attack,” I say flailing about.

“You’re winded,” says a man in pan-stick and camouflage (my neighbour and Mandy’s husband).

Me: “Buck?”

Buck: “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”

I can’t speak.

Buck: “Just breathe. Breathe.”

Me: “Heart attack.”

Buck: “Winded.”

Simon peers down at me his eyes obsidian, his face beetroot from shouting. The General gets a good butchers, too.
“Bunny. Rucksack,” I say wheezing. I sit up and point shaking at the Army Land Rover.

Simon retrieves the rucksack and opens it as he walks back. He pulls out Bunny, Tiggy, and Taggy.  I am still struggling to breathe but tears of joy run down my face at seeing them; and then the overwhelming realisation I have interrupted Simon’s big day – which happens to be a live firing exercise hits home.  I look to the car, frantic. They’ll take my kids away. They’ll take them.  “The children.”

Buck: “Corporal Bone and Private Smethick are entertaining them.”

Buck puts his hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Once Mrs. Wilde is safely back in the car, and in a different county we will re-start the exercise, Sir.”

“Yes,” says Simon flabbergasted. He pulls himself together.  “We often coordinated a breach of security at the start of the exercise to ensure we can deal with any nuisance ramblers. The naked one is a persistent offender.”

“Really?” says the General.  “Naked rambling. Hmmm. (pause) Of course, I will be reporting the incident.”

Si: “Of course, Sir. There is a website.”

“Right.”

I am given a once over by Doctor Nick – who shakes his head and asks how many units a week I really drink – before I am escorted off the MoD site by armed guard who follow me all the way to Granny & Grandpa Roger’s house.

***

Granny puts her arm around me.

Me: “I’ve f***ed up his career. His life. And all for some cuddly toys.”

Roger: “Come on Frog Face, it’s not all bad. I mean getting onto the Plain AND under the wire – that’s pretty good going. When I was in the RAF I only managed to shin a radio mast and put a ‘We Sell Green Shield Stamps’ sign over the NAAFI”.

“Thanks Dad.” I say beginning to feel a tiny bit better. Maybe it’s in the genes?