Walking the dog is my escape and at the moment it’s a glorious one. The fields are full of oil seed rape, which normally gives me horrific hay-fever but this year doesn’t seem to be affecting me (famous last words!).
The trees are laden with blossom, which the wind drives down across the ground like snow. The trees are newly decked in summer glory in a hundred shades of green. The sun throws shadows across the hard ground as the branches dance in the breeze. Across the sky flocks of clouds skip and frolic like new-born lambs.
It makes me want to be poetic, lyrical. To write beautiful prose extolling the virtues of the British summer countryside. I search my sleep-deprived brain for words more succinct than “Wow”. They’re hard to find, in the foggy space that has become my interior landscape.
It reminds me of when I was a second-year university student and I pulled all-nighters (sometimes all-weekers) surviving on Diet Coke, Marlboro Lights and Frosties (a sugar-laden cereal for the non-British readers). I’d stumble into our communal kitchen in our dingy, dirty, run-down mid-terrace, and pump my more-awake housemates for better language:
“What’s another way to say ‘Stalin was pissed off?'” or “What’s that word, you know, the one that means the um, whatdoyacallit, Army, er took over the, um, took over from the people in charge.” (The answer is Coup, if you understood the question).
Why is it that language is the first thing that goes when you’re tired? My children always say, “Mummy you’re tired,” or “Mummy, you’re all full up,” when I get their names muddled up. The irony is my mind is often at its most creative when I’m exhausted. If only I could find the words to describe it all.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“How’s Sky? I hoped she’d be here. I miss her like a lost limb.” Ruth’s quiet voice filled the room.
“She’ll be in shortly. I rang Mum when you woke up. She’s missed you, too.” Claire watched Ruth’s complexion turn from deathly white to just pale and felt her own pulse steady in relief.
“Sounds like you guys had too much fun for her to want her boring old Mummy. Every time I spoke to her you were off somewhere new.”
Claire didn’t miss the bitterness in her sister’s voice. “That’s because I had no idea what else to do with her. I’m not good with kids like you. And the endless chatter and questions, my goodness it could drive a person loopy!” Claire stopped, realising it sounded too much like she was criticising her niece. A quick glance at Ruth’s face reassured her,.
“I know, it can be a bit relentless, especially in the holidays. That’s the problem when there isn’t another parent to share the load. I don’t mind too much, though. She’s good company.”
Claire thought about Ruth bringing Sky up alone; the bond they must share. It also brought to mind Sky’s meeting with her father in Norfolk. When the hell am I going to break that news to Ruth? Something must have shown in her face because Ruth tried to sit up, a frown creasing her translucent skin.
“What is it?”
Claire hesitated, not feeling comfortable lying to her sister but unsure how to get past the question. Ruth held her gaze, her eyes sparkling bright against her ashen face. As the tension stretched between them, Claire became aware of the chemical smell in the room from Ruth’s chemo, overlaid by the scent of perfume. The overhead light buzzed at the edge of hearing, as irritating as a fly.
Ruth inhaled and Claire tensed, waiting for the repeated question. A sound tip-tapped at the edge of her hearing and she recognised the rhythm of running footsteps. She turned to the door just as the handle rattled. All tension drained from the room as Claire jumped like a teenager watching a Stephen King movie.
“Mummy, Mummy.” Sky called through the door, trying unsuccessfully to release the handle. Claire stood to open the door, but relaxed back on the bed as it swung inward and Sky came barrelling into the room. Claire’s mother stood in the doorway, dark circles visible beneath her eyes in the lurid hospital lighting.
Poor Mum, she must be exhausted. I’ve only had Sky for ten days and I’m beat. She’s been looking after Ruth and Sky for weeks.
“Come and sit down, Mum.” Claire patted the bed next to her. It was the only free space in the room.
“Thank you, but I’m going to head back home and make sure your father is okay. Has Robert arrived yet?”
“Yes, a few hours ago. I’m surprised you didn’t see him, he was out there talking to the doctors.” She jerked her chin at the corridor behind her mother.
Her mother shook her head and shrugged. “Robert will be off somewhere finding out all the details I’ve missed.” Her voice was a mixture of rancour and relief. Robert had that effect on people.
Claire looked over to where Ruth and Sky lay cuddled together on the bed. She wondered if she could risk leaving them for long enough to take a shower and find a fresh outfit in the car. Unusually her mother seemed to sense the dilemma. Catching Claire’s gaze, she smiled wearily.
“Go on. Get cleaned up. I’ll stay for a while and make sure Sky doesn’t wear Ruth out.”
A lump pushed up into Claire’s throat and she swallowed hard against it. Not trusting herself to speak she stood up and headed for the door, rubbing her mother’s arm as she walked past.
Striding down the long white hallway, looking for the exit, Claire felt like someone searching for the way out of a labyrinth.