I dedicate this micropoem to Peanut’s wonderful grandparents on both sides of the family tree.
This is the third and final part of Candy Floss that I am linking to the fabulous Summer of Words and Prose for Thought. You can read the first part here then click on this link to read the second part of my story.
I woke up to the cry of a wounded elephant in our living room. I knew what it sounded like because I once watched an animal programme about Africa on TV and this rescue team found an elephant with a thorn stuck in its foot. I cried with the elephant but there was a doctor with the team. She pulled the thorn out, the grey giant wriggled its trunk and I could stop worrying.
I left Alice snoring in mum’s and dad’s bed and went to see how an elephant got into our house.
I could hear it break things so I decided to tell it off. I tiptoed downstairs. Silly animal, of course there isn’t enough space in our house. I will help you find a way out, just stay still. I wondered where mum and dad were. I wondered whether mum came back and got dad his surprise.
A shadow of a beast was raging. I could hear it wail, kick something and howl some more. My heart was racing. Wild animals can smell your fear. I had to be brave so I held my breath and opened the door.
‘Dad, what’s wrong?’ I sprung to the body curled up on the floor. He was rocking from side to side, next to him a broken bottle and a glass and a phone smashed to pieces. A strong smell in the air. My dad’s hand was dripping blood. He turned his red, snotty face towards me and at first I smiled. Silly dad, had a tantrum like Alice, maybe he and mum had another fight.
‘Mum?’ I said out loud. Dad squeezed my hand so hard he left marks on it. I looked at the blood dotted on my nightie and at my dad’s shiny face and I knew. My mum was not coming back.
Once upon a time baby girl hid in her mother’s tummy underneath nine duvets, each a different colour, that protected her from all the Evil and everything else for nine months. Any music that reached her was muffled by the layers upon layers while the girl floated catching the stars.
Then one day her mum got bored with carrying the baby in her tummy and decided that the girl was ready to face the big world. As if by magic, one duvet disappeared after another. The sounds got louder, the light sharper, and the girl shut her eyes, covered her ears, kicked and scratched the hands that pulled her out. The stars dispersed and there was blood everywhere. When the last protective layer, pink and fluffy, was gone, the girl opened her eyes, uncovered her ears and stopped yelling. She breathed in the smells of the hospital disinfectant and her mum’s perfume and whimpered for some milk. Her life on the other side began.
This was one of my favourite bedtime stories.
From the night I found out until mu mum’s funeral I stayed with the pink duvet over my head, with my knees tucked up. No tears could be uncried. No pain could be undone. I sobbed and sobbed and I wished I had never watched that stupid elephant programme.
My sweet Alice brought a bowl filled with corn flakes and a glass of milk three times a day. Sometimes a pair of shiny black shoes came near my bed, stopped for a few minutes and strode away.
On the day of my mum’s funeral the sky opened, the angels cried with me and I told them to stop. ‘You have my mum now. You should be glad.’ After the brief ceremony I took Alice by the hand and we went for a walk.
‘Look! Look! Kite.’ I followed Alice’s hand and there it was – a red kite swirling in the air like the one we saw at the beach that day. We waved at mum.
‘There you are girls. Hurry up.’ Miss Jones appeared behind us.
‘I will be back.’ I whispered and followed her to the car.
Days passed; they turned into weeks and school was over for the summer. Nice policemen came to our house a few times, then stopped. Phrases like accident and tragic circumstances followed us for a while, then new memories erased them.
Once or twice Dad took me and Alice to the zoo; we ate chocolate ice cream and we had fun. Then he went back to living in his office and Miss Jones took care of us.
‘Poor souls,’ was what she said every time she saw us. ‘I’m not a bloody glorified nanny.’
I liked her. She smelled of cigarettes and chocolate biscuits.
Miss Jones let us eat cake for breakfast. We did not have to wash our hands all the time. I never had to face broccoli again.
Alice stopped wetting her bed and I stopped dreaming about chasing the red kite with my arms stretched out, almost touching it but never close enough. The clouds stifled my screams.
Trees turned from lively greens to warm yellows and cheeky reds. That September afternoon Alice and I were rolling in the leaves in the garden when dad called us in. I checked the time. It was not lunch yet.
‘Sit down girls.’ Dad was clutching a magazine with a picture of a big building that made me think of a palace, with its perfect rows of trees stretching on both sides. Alice squealed.
‘Daddy, surprise, daddy.‘ She was spinning as she always did when she was very excited.
‘The thing is… I’ve a new job is in Singapore,’ his jaw clenched. I’d heard of Singapore in the geography class. It was far far away and dragons lived there. I wondered if the palace was in Singapore, our new home.
‘I’ve to leave very soon. Miss Jones will..,’ his voice trembled.
‘Alice, for god’s sake. Stop it,’ he banged the table. Alice stopped with a sigh, then he continued and with every word a bit of me disappeared. The palace in the photo was our new home, a boarding school in Switzerland where Alice and I would spend the next few years.
My lip quivered.
‘Don’t look at me like that Isabelle. You are a big girl and I expect you to take care of your sister. It’s an excellent school, very expensive so please be grateful. Enough with the drama, please. You will be back for Christmas and school holidays and if I can’t get away from work, you’ll stay with Uncle George and his family in Surrey.’
He let his hands fall open.
‘I hate you just like mum did, bloody Bloodsucker!’
I did not expect him to hit me. His palm and my shame burned on my cheek all night. I swore I would never say a word to him again.
Before we left for the airport I hid from everyone’s view in my parent’s bedroom. The sunshine poured in like honey and the dust swirled in the air. Something shiny was sticking out from underneath the bed. Mum’s favourite bottle of perfume. I put it in my pocket.
‘Alice. Isabelle. Time to go,’ the staccato of Miss Jones’ heels echoed in the hallway.
I sat in the car with my back straight, my fingers clutching the bottle and my teeth sunk into my lip. I found the physical pain soothing. Alice played with the big white buttons on her coat. Miss Jones was checking over and over our travel and school papers that she had stuffed in a big yellow envelope. She was tapping her foot while dad was shouting on the phone and firing people until we rolled into the parking lot.
‘Come on girls. Say goodbye to your dad.’
Dad’s face transformed into a grimacing mask and we crawled outside. It was refreshing to feel light rain on my face. Within seconds the sky opened and the mild drizzle turned into downpour.
The driver re-started the engine and I looked my dad in the eyes, the weeping glass between us. His lips moved but I could not hear him. I stuck my tongue out and he turned his back.
A plane roared above and the clouds turned into a funny shade of pink, just like candy floss.
The three of us ran inside.
‘Ready?’ Miss Jones straightened my skirt.
She threw the envelope into a bin.
More to follow soon! Enjoy 🙂
The first time Hector Fogg felt really ashamed was when his second daughter, Alice, was born. He stared at her and there she was, lying at his wife’s Pauline’s breast, still covered in the typical yellow gloop, whimpering and trying to sniff out the nipple. His last chance to have a son gone forever.
Pauline was very clear about not wanting to have any more children.
‘Not good for my figure,’ was her typical response.
His mother warned him about marrying a woman ‘only one step away from becoming a prostitute.’
He would have to live with the shame of not passing on his name and fortune to a male heir. Hector, the Financial Director of an international investment bank, felt more pity towards his daughters than any other emotion because he knew that their lives would revolve around choosing the right length of a pearl necklace and keeping their husbands happy until the said spouses would turn their heads towards a younger model, a nanny or a PA. Someone not from their own circles, to avoid unnecessary drama, and no amount expensive education that his daughters were going through would ever change that. These were the ways in Hector’s world.
Hector had heard of feminism and the 21st century and all that but he had also experience of running a very successful business and growing up in a household where a wife was a silent beautiful trophy until she became a piece of antique furniture that was best to be admired from a distance and not to be touched after she had fulfilled her purpose. A household where men discussed politics and women conversed about their next charity project.
During his career in the bank Hector had only ever worked with one female high profile manager. She had short silver hair, always wore black suits and had a nickname ‘Les’, given to her by a herd of overweight and permanently half-drunk market analysts. Hector avoided having too much to do with her. ‘Scared of a woman who doesn’t embroider?’ Pauline wiggled her finger at him.
‘No class, all mouth,’ said his mother the first time he brought Pauline home, and that remark made him like that girl with a fiery ponytail even more. Pauline with her jingly bangles, a bit too revealing top, a skirt verging on being called a belt and leopard peep toes sat on the beige designer couch and bit her nails under the silent scrutiny of his mother. Ma, with a string of pearls strangling her neck and a black and white Chanel suit, growled a couple of times and sharpened her freshly manicured claws against the antique coffee table and this was when Hector decided to marry Pauline who went against everything his family represented. He thought he would never get bored of her exotic personality and love for neon pink lipstick.
They met when he visited Fun Girls club on a night out with his business partners. A topless singer stretched across a stage of broken dreams and smiled at him. He took her back to his flat that night and she stayed for the rest of the week.
He spared his mother that detail and introduced Pauline as ‘an aspiring vocalist and interim waitress.’
‘Your mother hates me,’ soon became a handy excuse for Pauline to use whenever she wanted him to stop working on a Sunday, take her shopping to Harrods or visit her parents in their council house on the outskirts of Brighton.
Her parents never warmed up to Hector either. Not after he had parked his Bentley on his future mother in law’s rose patch and refused to touch the Indian takeaway they got especially delivered for the occasion. His worst crime in that class tug-of-war was to mumble something about Tory politics in his deep and long vowels only to later take their daughter away and return her occasionally. All changed and most of the time drunk.
Hector’s and Pauline’s parents met only once, at the Wedding. The gathering was not an agreeable affair and was never repeated. His mother almost fainted from wrapping her pearl necklace too tightly when Pauline’s dad offered her a pint of lager. Pauline’s mother claimed she couldn’t understand a word of what the members of the Fogg clan were saying. Hector did not remember much from that night, courtesy of his best man and endless supplies of gin and tonic
Even after the girls were born the visits were carefully scheduled to avoid any unnecessary exchange of (un)pleasantries and over the years, as the parents were dying one by one, Hector felt a certain relief. No more was there a nagging feeling of bridging the divides and dressing the wounds after yet another battle. Hector’s general view was that the less the girls had to do with that side of the family the better. Pauline’s exotic personality and neon pink lipstick became a drain on his patience and bank account.
Of course he never said it out loud to Pauline. She would have scratched his eyes out.
‘Pauline, where the hell are you?’ He thought as he sat in his living room with his face in his hands. The girls, Isabella and Alice, finally fell asleep, together in his marital bed. They insisted and he was too tired to say no.
He thought about how angry he was with his wife and how lucky he was that it was his PA, Miss Jones, who recognised the girls when she went outside to have a cigarette, something that Hector didn’t approve of, but she was a very efficient and discreet secretary nevertheless. He listened to the girls’ story about the beach and ice cream, a kite and missed school. About a surprise their mother had prepared for him and about a mobile phone smashed to pieces on a motorway.
He prepared a speech for when they would get home. A speech that he would end with ‘I want a divorce,’ and ‘You won’t get a penny.’
When he parked the car outside their house, the windows were dark, the curtains open and not a sign of life anywhere. Upstairs in the bedroom, Pauline’s wardrobe with its door wide open swallowed his anger and replaced it with anxiety. Her clothes were gone and so was a photo of her as a little girl riding a donkey on a beach in Blackpool. It was always there on her bedside table. ‘The best day of my life’, she often said.
Tonight the shame was even greater. How would he ever admit that his wife left him and there was that important golf game tomorrow to prepare for or (God forbid) cancel. And she abandoned him with two daughters that looked pretty in the pictures and with whom he occasionally spent an afternoon, more out of duty than pleasure, before he ran off to the peace and quiet of his office.
He cursed the day he agreed not to employ a nanny.
‘I don’t know them.’ He said quietly to himself and filled a tumbler with whisky reserved only for entertaining his sleazy Eton ‘chums’ as Pauline liked to call them.
He only managed one sip before the phone rang.
The day my mum ran away from home was the best day of my life.
I remember waking up, with a cold knot travelling from my stomach all the way down to my toes, reminding me about the looming English test that I had not prepared for. I knew that this time I would not get away with it as easily as last time and I decided to dive underneath the duvet. Whenever I was worried it always helped me to imagine I was cocooned inside a pink candy floss. My toes felt warm again.
‘Mum, my head feels hot. I ’m not sure I can make it to school today.’
Mum appeared at my bed with Alice, my younger sister, and touched my forehead, asked me to stick my tongue out, and then a gentle pat on my head followed a strict order for me to be downstairs in three minutes and no later. Dad had already gone to work; the sounds of his never changing habits still echoing in the house. The buzzing of his electric toothbrush followed by a murmuring shower and then tap tap tap down the stairs finished with a big bang of the door.
I followed the faint smell of Dad’s aftershave down in to the kitchen where Alice had just finished creating her cornflake version of the sun. I jumped over to her, put two grapes as eyes and drew a smile with my finger. All that time Mum was standing with her back to us. I could see her face reflected in the kitchen window.
I froze and pulled my hair. Not again mum. Please.
I dropped a spoon on the floor; the cold sound of the metal against the stone. Chink. Mum jumped up.
‘Off we go girls. Hurry up.’
I quickly scooped some of the cornflakes and hid them in my pocket. Sometimes mum forgot about us and our breakfast and cereal was easy to hide in the pocket of my uniform and to share with Alice on the way to school. She was so forgetful, my mum.
A slam of the door. A fumble with seat belts. Two neatly packed lunch boxes, resting on top of each other on the kitchen table. My stomach grumbled angrily, louder than the rattling car engine.
See that girl, watch the scene, diggin’ the dancing queen was blasting out of the car speakers and I almost forgot about the test until we stopped outside the stern red brick school building. Miss Marble, my English teacher, was standing at the gate in her usual brown cardigan and carefully styled hair that looked like my cycling helmet, herding her little sheep to later slaughter them in the mid-term English exam.
There she was, waving her arms, smile twisting into a growl, as mum slowly reversed the car and drove past the flock of my classmates. I pressed my face against the window and showed Miss Marble my tongue. Time stopped. I pinched myself. Ouch.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.
‘I just need a bloody break.’ muttered mum, lit a cigarette and put on her big sunglasses. I chuckled. She looked like a fly. Last time I was laughing at her she pulled my ear, and when her blue eyes met mine, tearful and sulky, she would not let go.
‘ I don’t like naughty girls.’
Today was different. The air was hot and sticky, not a cloud to protect our white arms and knees from the scorching sun. ‘A family of vampires.’ was mum’s usual comment as she was smearing me, Alice and Dad in aloe vera gel after yet another day out at the beach.
There we were – back to our usual spot at the beach.
‘Hooray.’ Alice swirled, her red hair setting the world on fire. I didn’t join in. We hadn’t been here for a long time. Not since that FIGHT.
Sunday family afternoon. Dad behind the newspaper, clearing his throat. Mum and her handbag, always clinking. Alice rolling in the sand and I, pink clouds of candy floss melted on my cheek.
Mum’s hand diving into the bag, dad’s had catching it. Her bangles jingle as he tightens the grip.
‘You’ve had enough. We have guests tonight.’
‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ She grimaced. He folded the paper with one hand and turned the handbag upside down. Tissues, sunglasses, lipsticks I had secretly tested on my dolls and bottles with poison that mum had said would kill children if they touched it were scattered all over the sand. Brown, green and blue bottles, glistening in the sand. Her treasures. Dad let go of her arm and she screamed so loud I covered my ears. Alice stopped rolling in the sand. Mum didn’t stop crying and throwing sand at dad when he kicked the picnic basket that wouldn’t close its lid. She yelled when he dragged me and Alice through the sand. I stumbled and fell, the sharp pain of a rock cutting through my skin. ‘I’ve done a pee pee.’ cried Alice, a wet streak behind her quickly swallowed by the sand.
My parents didn’t speak for a long time after that.
But today was different. Alice and I found a blue and red kite floating in the water. I caught the string and ran with it across the beach, with Alice stumbling behind me. Mum waved and laughed. I couldn’t remember the last time my mum was laughing out loud.
Tired and sleepy we climbed into the car. Mum’s phone buzzed like an angry bee, she ignored it and when after a short pause it started moving across the dashboard again she opened the window and threw it out. Whoosh.
‘Let’s go and surprise dad.’ Mum’s hands were shaking as she reached for her bag.
Mr Very Important Bloodsucker was what mum called dad but he never laughed at the joke. Neither did I. He did not look like a Bloodsucker that mum drew for me once, more like a tree. Tall with long, thin branches reaching out to me and Alice, always missing us by an inch.
Not a Bloodsucker and not a tree but a king of a very shiny tower with a door like a big, hungry mouth that swallowed and spat out people all day long.
As we were standing outside dad’s fortress , Alice and I holding hands, with Mum behind us, I sighed. What a day.
‘Stay where you are girls. Mummy needs to get something from the car.’
‘Can I come with you?’
‘No, I won’t be long. Close your eyes and count to one hundred. I’ll be back when you finish. It’s a surprise!’
‘I need a pee.’ I tightened the grip as Alice tried to wriggle herself away.
‘Shush. Mum will be back soon and then we will go home. With dad.’
Alice stopped pulling my arm and before I closed my eyes, I briefly I saw Mum’s face swaying above me. Her skin, almost transparent, was covered in a web of black streaks that disappeared into a secret place between her jaw and neck. When she smiled, I noticed some of the red lipstick had stained her teeth and made her look like a Bloodsucker. I covered my eyes with my arm and took a deep breath.
I smiled, squeezed Alice’s hand and started counting as the sound of Mum’s clicking heels disappeared behind us.
Copyright: Both the story and the doodle belong to BlueBeretMum.
Some like the brown leather ones.
Or the oddly shaped like flying saucers ones, designed in high fashion labs. Not a stitch out of place and watch out if you come near with a bar of chocolate or a glass of red wine.
Others go for the white ones that twist and turn like the Milky (Motor) Way in their living rooms.
We all search for the right one.
Some like piles of cushions scattered everywhere, with no greater plan or reason.
Others like well–matched rows of embroidered squares and circles.
And some like cosiness, comfort and low-maintenance, and the odd crumb. So do I.
Every sofa tells a story and here is ours.
First there is the smell of spilled morning coffee and rushed routine. A stash of cornflakes hidden by Peanut, just in case.
The sleepy hollow in the left corner from the time when I carried my boy under my heart and needed those frequent naps or just liked to lie down with my eyes closed and listen to the birds chirping and cars rushing while stroking the Bump.
A few marks where Peanut chose to wipe his nose. Sorry about that. I know I should take better care of you but a part of me thinks that your shabby looks make you more special.
Some days Teddy 1 and Teddy 2 invade all the sofa space.
All these crumbs and cornflakes, chocolate stains (proof of my late night writing) and hollow spots tell stories about our family.
Stories of fun games and pillow fights. Laughing out loud. Building dens. Cosy evenings after long days; our feet up, plates on our laps and lazy chats.
Of Peanut squeezing through with a book, or two. Our goodnight reads and singing along to In the Night Garden songs.
Of holding hands when life on the small screen gets too scary. Of resting my head on BlueBeretDad’s shoulder and falling asleep when the football is on.
Of us mastering the baby babble, making plans for our future and listening to someone playing bagpipes in their garden.
Our sofa is not just another piece of furniture.
It is not about purpose and function and order.
It is more of a friend, though frayed around the edges.
It is a hiding spot for our memories.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I have received monetary compensation for writing it. All words, images and sofa memories are mine.
This week is all about language. Your first words that sound more and more ‘real’ and less like baby babble (which I find very adorable by the way).
Everyday we listen to you commenting on the food and demanding Unidentified Forbidden Objects. You get frustrated when we don’t understand what you want – sorry wee man. Sometimes we get it wrong.
You are growing up surrounded by two cultures and languages and I joke that you will be phonetically confused for a while. On one end of the spectrum – the pesky English sounds of th and ph. On the other end – Polish surging sz, cz and szcz as in szczcescie (luck in Polish).
I may be biased but your little voice is the cutest I have ever heard (even when you throw a tantrum – see below).
zis, yis, ahmam
your first words
busy swallows in your mouth
torrential tears, furrowed face
furious frog on the floor
my No – your sprawl
my keys, my phone, my time
my toast, my drink, my love
Dat is for what’s yours is mine