Friday, February 15, 2013

Nana Cash

 “What’s the matter Nana?” Patience had said, leaning against my open back doorway
smoking an electronic cigarette.
Muttering to myself about the events my day it took me a while to work out that this leggy girl, with the shiny fake hair, was in fact my granddaughter.
But as soon as I did up I jumped, arms out and face stretched into a wide grin. It had been so long since I’d seen her that I’m afraid I hugged until she squealed in a voice I hadn’t heard since we buried her mother. Of course I was crying and laughing at the same time as I sat her down with a cup of tea and told her my news about the big win I’d had on the lottery. How it had all arrived that morning by armoured courier from the bank.
For some reason though I just couldn’t seem to summon up the right kind of enthusiasm. “Just all seems too much,” I had commented that morning to the cat as I stacked the bundles of notes into the dresser. What could one person honestly do with that much money apart from waste it and it would make getting the good china plates out really awkward.

These endless notes made me feel a bit queasy; “If you had fifty thousand pounds what would you do with it?” I asked her as I was pouring more tea. Patience had always had money on account of that ne’er do well of a Father whose bubble I had tried to burst a long time ago. So far she had spent her life hoping around the planet with nothing much to do but put together ever more flamboyant outfits for the next party,
“Hide it.” Patience had narrowed her eyes.
“Whatever for?” the speed of her reaction set me on edge.
Standing up she elegantly tossed her cigarette battery through my open back door. That will take a million lifetimes to biodegrade I thought ,but didn’t like to say, after all I didn’t want to fall out again.
“People are thieves Nana. Wake up to my world.” She seemed so tall I didn’t like to contradict.

I’m the kind of person who was always fond of making do, I enjoyed winter evenings darning socks and the springtime’s reusing of old plastic cartons to grow seedlings. It gave me a kind of inner satisfaction making spills from newspaper to save on firelighters and clipping out tokens. In fact I considered myself an extremely wealthy woman even before these piles of cash arrived. After all thanks to my garden, I had enough fruit and vegetables to get me through even the worst of winters. The only thing I hadn’t been able to afford all these years was a little almond tree and the cost of that wouldn’t even put a proper dent in this lot.

As Patience flicked through a lurid magazine her conversation solely seemed to be the latest celebrity scandal and what party she was going to next. I wondered out loud if she didn’t put a little too much “grand’ into granddaughter”. She gave me such a look.
“I wish I had five thousand pounds to get my breasts made bigger.”
What could I say apart from “bloody nonsense?” I blamed Barbie but I knew in my aching heart that motherless girls were always insecure.
In an effort to distract her I showed her the contents of the dresser and explained, I’d like to “give it all away to people who really need it.”
Patience sighed, impatient with my parochial attitude explaining that even in feeding centres they did not pick the most starving babies to feed but the ones most likely to survive.
What a horrible choice.  Well now I knew where to donate the money, Patience had come up trumps; pushing the cat off from his energetic kneading of my fleecy trousers I fetched an armour plated Jiffy bag and wrote The Feeding Centre on it. Now that felt organised. But then I paused, how could I find the right address?
Patience had a phone that knew the answer to everything so she offered to find it for me but while she was swiping the screen she started to question me.
 “Try to imagine Nana what will happen if someone in the post room finds an envelope with fifty grand in it.” Patience was obviously not as impressed as I had hoped she would be. 

How had she got such a patronising tendency?  But I had to admit she was right about sending money through the post. Perhaps I should deliver it myself.
Now, that seemed a good idea right there. I pictured myself handing a suitcase of money to a proud-faced tribal elder and of course I wouldn’t be able to resist indulging herself in a bit of their grateful hospitality. Then when I’d had enough I could jump on a plane and get back to the cat. In the face of their unrestrained thanks, “Dim problem” I would say, ‘no worries’.

Patience could see potential problems with this idea.
“Wouldn’t the next door village want to know why you didn’t give them the money?”  Patience simultaneously arched both eyebrows.
I asked if she couldn’t find somewhere on her smarty phone, an isolated tribe with no neighbours at all?”
“Again, not realistic Nana. The world is small, all of the good places are populated.”  Such an air of authority I found myself nodding along.
“What about if I divided the money so that everyone in a whole region could benefit?”
“But…” Didn’t my Patience seem to know all the buts?
“However big you make the area, someone will always be the next door neighbour watching: and that’s got to hurt.” Patience looked intensely into my eyes daring me to contradict.
I could see some wisdom in this, so I scrapped the ‘random village idea’ even though I had liked the bit about how grateful they might be.  The more I thought about it, the more difficult it seemed to become.

Patience professed herself, ‘bored’ by the exercise of what to do with the money, declaring herself  ‘exhausted’ she went to lay down in my bedroom moaning about the rain.
Filled with missionary zeal, I spent the next hour tapping her phone looking for people who feed starving children. All of the main charities seemed to spend a fortune on ‘administration’ costs, perhaps Patience was right if I gave money to one person, would someone else always lose out? Not to mention the problem of unintended consequences, there seemed no easy way to change the world. I marched into the bedroom protesting, “What if my investment was responsible for a violent robbery or even a war?”

Patience feigned sleep but I kept on; “I don’t have enough to fund them all, how can I choose?”
“Stop worrying about it Nana nothing can be a hundred percent good” Patience said without opening her eyes. “Perhaps you should just give fifty thousand people a pound each.”
“Don’t be silly dear, what use would that be?” I could hear the pitch in my voice going up with irritation at this spoiled rich girl. Not for the first time that day I wondered if it was a good thing that Patience hadn’t a grasp of the nightmare of poverty.

“If I were you, first thing I would do is get buying myself a little almond tree.” Patience sat up suddenly alert. “That way you will leave someone a legacy whatever happens”
Delighted to find common ground at last and that the girl shared my love of nature if not grammar, I patted her shiny head. 
“Ahh, the acorn never falls far from the tree”.  I didn’t want to be a martyr; perhaps planting nut and fruit trees was the only sure way of feeding the people of the future.
I followed Patience into the kitchen to find that she had brought me an enormous chocolate cake.
“Ooh mhmm ” I could hear myself moaning, as the creamy sweet chocolaty flavour drenched my mouth.
That’s when I felt my first gush of warm love for my dear Patience. All that drifting around the world like a leaf in the wind, never staying more than a few months in any one place, always too busy to come home to visit. Maybe this was her way of making it up to me. Obviously she didn’t think herself too grand to get a train two hundred miles to bring a smile to an old woman’s face, or too busy to forget her Nana’s love of cake. Surely I had judged the child too harshly?

“Look” Patience cried out with the excitement of a three year old, “the sun’s coming out”
Miraculously, the wet day was transforming itself into a glorious late summer afternoon. We moved the table and chairs outside to admire the late bloomers.  And after another slice of cake, we took off for a little promenade around the flowerbeds giving me a chance to recount the tales of my rare “varieties.” With a glass of elderflower champagne held close to her face, Patience listened smiling at my anecdotes. But then she started to look like a girl again as together we picked a whole colander of wild strawberries. Popping as many of the tiny jewels as we could into our mouths, the juice literally ran down our chins until we were shrieking laughing. We even picked out a place for the imaginary almond tree.

Six o’clock seemed to come in the blink of an eye. Suddenly I was squeezing my darling Patience as tight as I could, and pecking at her downy cheek, before she had to leave. Secretly I squeezed a fistful of notes into the girl’s lavishly impractical coat pocket, not that she needed them but to thank her for my wonderful birthday. Tears prickled my eyes as I stood at the little wooden gate watching her go. How had I become so tight hearted? How could I think all those bad thoughts about my child’s only child?

As the whole garden was bathed gold by the dying sunlight, I saw myself planting the almond tree I’d always wanted and burying the banknotes beside it.  I would leave a treasure map for Patience in my will, it was what people had always done; let the young people decide for themselves what to do with it, perhaps it was just the natural thing to do. My death was still twenty years or more away, Patience for all her conceited bravado would be elderly herself one day and hopefully grown up enough to see this coming and not fritter the money on superficial stupidities. Happy to have the issue once, and for all resolved I went indoors and offered the cat an early night. As soon as the cool cotton sheets stroked my sun kissed skin I was snoring like a lion.

But, four hours later, a fly landed on my face.
Although it was only there for a moment, it was long enough to bring me immediately awake. Eyes wide open in the pitch black room I swiped the air fruitlessly.
“Very bright my Patience,” I found myself saying, as if the cat had questioned the fact. “Very bright girl, indeed.”
Perhaps, Patience was even canny enough not to react excessively to the idea of Nana donating her wealth to charity.  Not react that is, except to suggest a place to hide it.  
Then I remembered her terrible dream. Patience dressed in rhinestone-studded overalls hacking away at the base of my almond tree. Again and again I could hear the spade chopping down into the roots of that dainty little tree without a thought except getting her manicured hands on that boob-enhancing, tummy tucking money. 
Rubbing the sweat from my palms onto the coverlet, I pushed off my damp bedcovers to sit up properly. Oh my good goodness how had I got so naive to think that she wouldn’t be back as soon as my back was turned?  The little minx, pretending she was helping her Nan, when all along she was making sure she knew where to find the booty. I had to stop that wicked girl from stealing from her, for both our sakes.

Clambering out of bed trying not to disturb my apparently boneless cat I padded through the quiet house into the kitchen.  Then, pulling my coat on over my pyjamas I opened the kitchen door.  A colossal, cool silver moon hung low over the far end of the garden where the compost was kept. At that very moment I knew for absolute sure, what use I could find for that nasty trouble creating money.

Paper, being an excellent source of carbon and my wild strawberries always ravenous for nutrients, all I had to do now was shred it. Now where are my scissors?


The End

[2160 words]

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

cutting it out-

The young woman strokes the scalpel blade against her skin. She has carefully folded back the sterile foil wrapping to make a handle, and holds it firmly between her forefinger and thumb. 

Looking up at herself in the full length mirror of the hallway Alice finds her face frowning, the extreme edges of her mouth tugging down, in a clownish vex which she tries to correct. 

She had selected her favourite light cotton dress.  With her hair washed and brushed, it falls straight down over her shoulders but still she is not pretty.
She might not be pretty but tonight she was going to be something to look at.

Fearing the pain, Alice tentatively tests the scalpel, back and forth gently along her forearm preparing. Then, taking a deep breath, she cuts a short shallow line; lets out her breath, and stares at it intently.  It takes so long for blood to come that she wonders if she has got through the skin at all. When the dark line, thin as a hair, appears, she allows herself a smile and calmly begins work on the next cut.

Her research had uncovered that taking aspirin would make her blood thin and more fluid.   So, she has taken a couple over the maximum dose for several weeks now. Methodically now she cuts four lines of equal length into her arm, each time patiently waiting for the blood to come.

Glancing back to the picture of her in the mirror, she sees what looks like a cat scratch on her forearm.  Frowning harder, she raises her cutting hand higher and more triumphantly clutching at the blade. Pulling up the skirt of her dress, she began to cut slices into the flesh of her thighs.  Now the blood comes in plentiful oozes but still too neat, too obviously intentional. 

‘It doesn’t even hurt.’ Giggling she sets to work on both her shins and feet.  A coolness rinses her whole body; adrenalin clean.

Back to the mirror she looks. Light from the late afternoon diffuses through frosted glass, but still the hallway is dingy.  Brown banister beside her as functional as it is filthy, dark walls and smooth worn carpet, dimming her background to generalised dirt, a nondescript cave, save for the bright red colour blooming from her body.  She cuts again deeper, more viciously, across her belly through the cotton of her dress. Now she feels stinging, not pain exactly but rousing enough to make her inhale deep. 

The cuts had gone deep in the middle, two or three centimetres maybe, as she gazes hypnotically at the colour she begins to recognise the rusty stink of her blood.  Alice loses control, cutting longer and longer gashes some even slashing through existing cuts, but always making sure; “not too deep.” 

Alice plays a game of not letting herself look at the mirror, “not till you are finished,” she tells herself sternly like she is playing with dolls. Over an hour later finds her folding back her blade into its foil sheath.  Blood has flooded the tucks and folds of her dress and seeped strange patterns on the remaining complete cloth.  She has cut her face too, a grisly crisscross map of dribbling red lines.

As she squeezes the foil parcel into a crack between the stairs she is still not peeking. Not till she has arranged herself lying back against the wall so that through half closed eyes she can take in her full-length reflection. 

‘Oh!’ Alice knows she looks amazing bloody cuts feeding one another, exaggerating the damage, would anything so awful be aloud on news at six?

Lifting the phone to her face, Alice watches herself dial, without looking down her fingers finding the nine as she flicks it down.  When a concerned operator asks her “what service” she requires she says simply, “help me I’m going to die” and then lets the phone fall to the floor.  Lying back, legs outstretched, arms loosely by her sides. Alice concentrates on keeping her palms upwards in her surrender, coaching herself to stay “relaxed and ready, relaxed and ready”

Some fifteen minutes later feeling stiff and thirsty, Alice wonders if perhaps she should have given them her address rather than make them trace the call to find her. Shifting position slightly to avoid a cramp, she tries to look at the phone. Her tension relieves to see it is still connected.  Then she hears the clarion bell calling to her.  The dimming hallway becomes saturated with a pulsing blue which banishes the brown and turns her blood vibrant purple. Her moment has arrived and she is so excited she has to remember not to grin, although it is the blood seeping into her mouth from her face cuts that first reminds her.

Heavy footsteps at her door, then a large fist is pounding on her glass.  A pause, then a man’s deep voice is calling her name. Then more, not to be ignored knocking.  Each time the hand lands, Alice feels the call of sex swim through her deep tissue.

Smartly the letterbox is lifted open, and fingers framing blue eyes meet hers.  She watches the world’s most beautiful pupils dilate as they strive to see her. The skin around his eyes puckers in surprise as they make sense of what they see. Alice closes her eyes floating in the ecstasy of the scene, a hero had come to her rescue, she loves him already. 

The policeman must of shouted to someone else to “call an ambulance, and now” before he begins putting his shoulder into the door frame.  Frightening gnashes of metal make her jump back a few stairs, fearing injury, as her door is ripped open.  Disappointed that she can no longer see herself in the mirror she reminds herself that she must not smile.

The three big men in uniforms crowd around her.  One splutters, incoherent with shock, gagging on the blood, but the youngest one is coming towards her on bended knee, taking her hand gently.  “Can you hear me” he whispers seductively. The owner of the blue eyes is just stood starring at Alice, his face bloodless with shock, as if he had never seen anything like this in his life.  “Am I worse for them than a car crash” she wonders. 

The whining trumpet of an ambulance announces the arrival of more burly men, this time in greens, they seem to get to work with her right away.  “Alice, can you hear me Alice?”  This man is not attractive, he has bad skin and terrible bad breath, he checks her mechanically ruling out injuries from a list irrelevant to her. 

‘Fool’ Alice thinks as he pushes her hand holding young policeman out of the way.  His tone insistent, bordering on annoyed, over and over. “Come on Alice you can confirm for us that you are Alice Mottle can’t you?”  Alice nods to keep him from repeating the question one more time but she keeps her body limp as her pulse is taken by a gloved rubber hand.  The medic’s questions continue, intent upon reply. Alice decided weeks ago that she would not speak, she could not be expected to, in view of the obvious trauma she must have suffered. Then she had toyed with not granting them the relief of knowing she was even alive.
“Nothing here at all, all superficial cuts, probably self inflicted” the medic dictated for his colleague to write down as he snapped off his gloves and started to pack his kit away. 

For a moment, everything else is suspended still, in the once bustling hallway.  None of the policemen move and Alice holds her breath. 

“What do you mean?” The young officer beside her asks, rising to his feet “I don’t think I understand, do you mean… ?”

“Did it to herself,” he paused looking at her then adding. “Probably for the attention.” He spoke as if Alice wasn’t in the room, as if she was a case in which only they were involved. Alice heard her heart start to bang with fear.

Her focus locks onto the blue-eyed man who has held her in his gaze for so long, his eyebrows raised, all concern. She saw the glorious pity drain away. His face contorting into an angry snarl as two deep lines solidify between his eyes, and she recognises the hooded glare of repulsion. As his emotions communicate with his brain; disgust.

Alice lets her eyes rave wildly around the other men, searching for a smile, or understanding solace.  Only the medic seemed unperturbed.  Dabbing at the wounds, which seem to disappear invisible as he just drones on about the plasters she needs to buy herself and how she might not want to bathe “for at least two days.” He explains that they will send a psych team round as soon as one is available in the next few hours but that they could not afford to take her in themselves.

Alice knows enough that there is nothing she can say, or do, to stop them leaving now.  No stretcher, no saline solution drip to help her make up lost fluid, no siren sounding through streets of bright lights, just her, sat on her drab stairs, skin tingling from the antiseptic wipes and a couple of tummy strips.  She hates psych teams, always full of women who can’t wait to get practical about strategies for how she could cope better with what was “after all a pretty good standard of living compared to a lot of people”

As her front door is pulled as shut as it can go, Alice is returned back to the hallway of her life, but something seems so much further away.
The End.