Plodding On: 2013 365 Challenge #349

Kids' Discos - not for the faint of heart

Kids’ Discos – not for the faint of heart

This festive season feels like an endurance trial, ticking off waypoints as we pass them. Today we struck off two that have been in the calendar for weeks and it felt great.

Even when there is nothing that needs to be done (aside from buying and wrapping gifts in this case), stuff on the calendar always takes up mental space. So, hair cuts for everyone (except Mummy, who has off-set the £30 saved by not getting her hair cut against excessive Christmas spending at least twice!) and then two birthday parties in the afternoon. Job done.

It was actually the perfect time to go to a party disco for five year olds (Hubbie got the shorter straw and went to the three-year-old’s village hall romp!) I got to catch up with mummy friends, watch my daughter dance, and sit quietly in the dark by myself (which is pretty much what I used to do at school discos when I was younger!) I adopted a young girl whose parents had dropped her off, who was standing alone, and was rewarded by seeing her join in a bit later on. And I only had a little stress about organising my own daughter’s do for after Christmas. (We’re doubling up with a school friend whose mummy is far more chilled than me, so could be an interesting experience for both of us. if she’s reading this, I’d like to apologise now for being a stressball worrywart!)

My glamorous dancing witch

My glamorous dancing witch

The afternoon was the hardest. Hubbie and I were both suffering from our 3am insomnia (if only the cricket was more worth listening to, I wouldn’t mind my newly discovered inability to sleep) and the children had to put up with a certain amount of grump.

I managed to make everyone dinner, do all the ironing and facilitate a play doh session, but crawled into bed at 8pm, unable to even stay awake for Strictly Come Dancing. I woke up at midnight, remembering I hadn’t written my post or even outlined my Claire installment. (And it seems I’m coming down with a cold which might explain a lot!) The knock-on of a spaced out Friday continues!

I have just read a very funny post on Elf on the Shelf for under achievers which made me chuckle, and also made me wonder why we opt for any extra stress at this manic time of year. My physio friend is happy though – she says the insomnia isn’t confined to hubbie and I, and she’s getting lots of extra work with people needing massages to relax. It’s an ill wind, and all that.

There’s certainly a strong, bitter, wind whistling round our house tonight. Brrr. I say, roll on Spring!

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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: 

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An arm snaked across the bed and pulled Claire into a warm embrace. She snuggled into Conor, finding the spot to lay her head on his chest that already felt like the most natural place in the world. They lay entwined in the dimly lit room, not speaking.

Slowly Claire opened her eyes, half expecting to see Conor’s apartment. The chill steel of the hostel furniture greeted her gaze and she was instantly awake. Events from the previous evening crashed into her like a runaway car.

As if sensing the tension in her body, Conor stroked her hair. “Are you okay?”

Claire gave a short laugh. “Depends. Was last night as awful as I remember?”

She felt Conor’s throaty laugh resonate through his body, and it sent sensations trickling across her skin. “I’ve had less hostile meals out. Restaurant was nice though; adequate food, amazing view, and–” he kissed her on the top of her head, “one rather gorgeous woman who agreed to come home with me. That counts as a result in my book.”

“I’m sorry about Kim, I don’t know what’s got into her.”

“You mean she doesn’t treat all of your…” he hesitated, searching for a word, “male friends to a sarcastic, caustic grilling? Don’t worry, I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

Claire’s thoughts skittered between memories of Kim’s vicious attempts at humour at dinner, and Conor’s hesitation over the word boyfriend. Why did such definitions get harder as you got older? You happily called a boy you never spoke to your boyfriend at school, but somewhere along the line it became loaded with significance.

After a few moments’ silence, Conor shifted so he could look at her face. “What’s wrong? Are you really upset? Kim’s just jealous, that’s all. Not of us, of her sister. Didn’t you say she ended up in hospital because she lost her baby? Having a glamorous sister turn up with a bump is going to hurt. She’ll be fine once she’s caught up.”

“She can’t.”

“What?”

“If by catch up you mean get pregnant again, she can’t. Doctors told her she couldn’t have any more children.”

“Oh.”

Conor fell silent and they lay wrapped in their own thoughts, with the thrum of their hearts beating loudly in their ears. Eventually they heard the unmistakeable sounds of life in the room next door, where Kim and Helena had spent the night.

Claire sighed. “Time to get up and think of a way to survive the day.”

“I say we go to the beach. The girls can gripe together, and you can show me how you surf.”

“You’re on!”

*

“Wow, loving the outfit.”

Conor’s lascivious grin made Claire blush. She looked down at the short wetsuit and shrugged. “It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.”

Conor came over and ran his hands down it, making her shiver. “I know.” His eyes gleamed in appreciation.

“Down, boy!” Claire glanced over towards Kim. She thought of all the times Kim and Jeff had made her feel jealous, with their overt displays of affection. Even so, she felt self-conscious receiving Conor’s flattery in front of her and her sister.

The hostilities seemed to have abated since breakfast. Kim looked drawn and tired, and Claire had to remind herself how hard this all was on her friend. It occurred to her that they should have invited Jeff, and she wondered why he wasn’t looking after his wife more. The awful idea that he had found someone else to comfort him germinated in her brain. It was difficult to imagine, but then he had lost a child and his wife, to a certain extent. Not that that made it right.

She gave her head a shake, trying to dislodge the uncomfortable thoughts. Turning her attention to Helena, she said, “There are toilets up there, and I’ve hired you both deckchairs.”

Helena smiled and Claire wondered what she made of it all. She had remained mostly silent and aloof since her arrival and Claire found it difficult to read her flawless, expressionless, face.

With a quick glance at Conor, whose face seemed to say, let’s skedaddle, Claire waved farewell to Kim and Helena and strode up the beach to where the surf came rolling in towards the sand.

With two quick strides, Conor caught up and walked alongside her. “They’ll be fine. Even Kim isn’t going to murder her sister in front of hundreds of witnesses.”

Claire gave him a grateful smile, but said nothing. She was still thinking about Jeff. “Do you think Kim’s husband might be having an affair?” she said suddenly. “Don’t you think it’s strange that he hasn’t been down to visit her, the whole time she’s been at her mum’s? He keeps saying he’s busy, but…”

Conor looked as if he’d rather not pass comment. Claire was about to change the subject when he said quietly, “Who knows? It’s a difficult situation. From what you’ve said, Kim has changed a lot since the miscarriage. Do you know him well enough to give him a call?”

They had reached the surf school, where they had agreed to hire boards and have Claire teach Conor the rudiments. She had told him a proper lesson might be advisable, but he’d just grinned.

“I guess.” Claire shrugged. It felt like it wasn’t her business, but she hated to see Kim so altered. Poor Conor, this wasn’t exactly the romantic weekend he might have hoped for. Determined to put in some effort, she reached over and gave him a lingering kiss.

Just as he was getting overly amorous, she pulled away. “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg.” She pecked him on the cheek and ran towards the surf school to get her board.

***

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Lazy Day and Lego: 2013 365 Challenge #61

Lego: Lots of Adult Patience Required

Lego: Lots of Adult Patience Required

Had a lazy day at home today. I’m still struggling with awful insomnia, averaging 2-3 hours’ sleep a night. I’m taking St John’s Wort so hoping that will kick in soon and let me sleep.

Husband had work and DIY to do so I had planned to take the children into town (I have new paintings to drop at Art in the Heart) but Aaron was in full stomping NO territory and it just didn’t happen. I didn’t actually manage to get him dressed until 10.30am and then I forgot to make sure he was ‘pointing down’ in his nappy so had to change his entire outfit an hour later when he peed all over it at the lunch table.

The only thing I managed to do all day was pull together a 50-page partial manuscript to send to an agent who had requested it (for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes ironically) and I only managed that by sitting the kids in front of the TV for an hour and ignoring shouts of “come sit with me Mummy.”

I feel like this is a good opportunity to reset the balance and fess up. In case anyone thinks I’m some kind of super-mum because my kids do craft and baking and go to the Farm and the Zoo: I only do those things to survive. I get bored if I can’t do something creative from time to time (hence painting and craft), I go crazy if I’m stuck in the house with them for more than two hours together (hence Zoo/Farm) and some days the only way not to yell is to be out in public where I’m likely to try harder to keep my mouth shut! Sometimes my kids beg to spend the day at home and I just can’t. I look at the clock and see twelve LONG hours until bedtime. Driving to the supermarket uses an hour up just in the car there and back. A trip to the Farm eats into three or four, maybe even five if they sleep on the way home.

From Here You Can Almost See The Sea - the picture I'm meant to be taking to the Gallery

From Here You Can Almost See The Sea – the picture I’m meant to be taking to the Gallery

Today, though, I was too tired to even drive. I lay in the paddling pool with them and read stories. I sat on the sofa with them for two hours after lunch while Aaron fell asleep watching Peppa Pig and Amber played on the iPad. I managed to crawl off the sofa and build Lego with Amber while Aaron slept some more (I never normally let him sleep for more than an hour as it makes bedtime hard, but today he slept for 2-3 hours). So, no super-mummy in this house! Just a normal SAHM getting on and getting by.

I went to bed last night without even starting my post. I think the insomnia might be partially due to using my creative brain from 8pm to midnight and then expecting it just to switch off. Also I’ve been working hard at Twitter and my mind flashes like a strobe light with all the snippets of information. Time to take a step back and let the brain rest.

Even so, I wrote two pages of notes just as I lay down in bed last night as I had the next post floating in my brain. Typical, as normally I have no idea what is going to happen to Claire next. I guess leaving her hanging off a cliff as it were does help the creative flow! Kids had me up every two hours between them so actually I needn’t have worried about setting myself up for a good night’s sleep! Thankfully it’s Saturday (hurrah!) and they’re watching TV with Daddy this morning so I can play catch up.

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The Skoda closed in around Claire like a coffin. She looked out across the damp, grey Castlefield car park and wondered how far she could run before he caught her. This has gone from Miss Marple to bloomin Diagnose Murder. Her brain screamed Get out of the car before you’re next. Her body remained stubbornly glued to the plastic seat, all control over her muscles gone. Josh sat mute and still, the echo from his words still reverberating round them.

Claire inhaled slowly, filling her lungs with the scent of smoke and fear. It calmed the racing thoughts and brought her logic to the fore. Killed a child. Not murdered a child. An accident. Maybe he ran a child over or something. It doesn’t make him a bad person.

She wanted to ask but was afraid to hear the answers. She forced her head to turn and face him and the sight of his slumped body, of the tears dribbling down his stubbled cheek, drove everything but sympathy from her mind.

“Tell me.”

The words made them both jump; her voice sounded impossibly loud in the silence.

Josh began to speak, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the pent-up words rushed forth like a burst riverbank.

“It was a patient. A child. The same age as my eldest. The young children are the hardest. They’re so accepting of their fate. So cheerful. Uncrushable.” He paused as if trying to decide where to start. “I missed something. I should have ordered a test and I didn’t. I was cocky, I was sure. My Registrar overruled me and ordered the test but it was too late.”

Claire felt her stomach twist and her breathing speed up. She forced herself to listen without comment.

“The parents were so…. nice. Accepting. They’re worse than the ones that rail and rant. They thanked me. Thanked me. For doing everything I could to save their child. But I didn’t. I failed them. I missed something.” He ran his hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “There’s this fear, when you’re a doctor. It keeps you awake at night. Did I do something wrong? Have I done everything I can? It’s good. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you focussed. But I’d lost the fear. We had a new baby at home and there wasn’t much sleep.”

How many kids has he got, Claire thought but pushed the irrelevance aside.

“I was trying to help Fiona, trying to be a good father. Sick kids just make me want to hold mine tightly and never let go. But I keep thinking, was my judgement impaired? The inquest cleared me but, in my heart, eating me up like the cancer that killed that child, I’m to blame.”

“But if they cleared you?”

Josh turned suddenly, his skin mottled and red. He leant towards her and shouted, the words raking at her like claws. “You don’t get it. I blame me. Every night I see that tiny face, those enormous eyes gazing into mine. The mother looking to me for answers, certain she would find them. And I failed them. I let their child die.” He slumped back into the car seat and dropped his head into his hands. His words were muffled. “I had to leave. I couldn’t look at my own children any more. I don’t deserve them.”

Emotions swam around Claire like darting fish. Gut-wrenching sympathy, confusion, panic at Josh’s outburst. Mostly she felt sorrow. Sadness for Josh and his pain. Distress for the family who lost their child. Grief at her own insignificant meaningless life. How could I ever stress about clients and deadlines, about Carl and getting sacked? It was all pointless. No one will die if I don’t do a good job.

She reached across and stroked the side of Josh’s hand, unable to find any words of comfort that wouldn’t sound paltry and pathetic. She wanted to tell him he would always be one of the good guys. That working to save lives, even if he didn’t always succeed, was a noble thing. That Fiona was lucky to have him for a husband and his children needed their Daddy back. Her throat remained closed and all she could do was send silent support.

She thought about Fiona, left with at least two children to care for, wondering where her husband was. Getting on a plane to fly half way round the world, just her and the children. And I worry about taking Sky in a hostel for a week. Honestly girl, you’re pitiful.

Claire dredged her mind for the right words. Her job was all about finding the right phrase but her brain remained blank. In the end there was only one thing to say.

“Let’s go get drunk.”

***

Seat of Pants and Insomnia: 2013 365 Challenge #57

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

I got yesterday’s post out by the seat of my pants after bumping into a friend in the coffee shop where I go to work. It was lovely to chat but I had scheduled my post to go live at 10.30 and she left around 10.10. As I hadn’t written a word of the ‘Claire’ section I had to tap something out super-speedy-fast. So apologies if it was a bit random. Today’s is going to be no different. I’m suffering from severe insomnia at present which means I can barely keep my eyes open once the children are in bed. It’s 9am and I’ve only just opened this post with no idea what is going to happen to Claire today. I’m only 2 days away from my February finale and I’m not sure it’s going to happen!

On a happy note I sold two copies of Dragon Wraiths through kindle yesterday, after I decided to chuck the manuscript on there while Smashwords were reviewing it for their Premium Catalogue. Just as well as it failed the review process by Smashwords due to ‘inconsistent formatting’. I thought it might. They’re very strict about the use of fonts and templates and I wasn’t able to reset the whole novel to ‘normal’ as they recommend because I would have lost track of who was talking in all the dragon dialogue scenes. It’s all part of the learning I guess. If I have a day and buckets of energy I might try and format it again, but for now it’s on Kindle (although I haven’t previewed it yet to see how awful the formatting is!) Anyway, on to Claire.

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“My sister’s having surgery today.”

Maggie looked up from her book and focussed on Claire as she spoke into the silent room.

“Oh my.”

Maggie paused as if unsure what else to say. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Claire sat motionless on her bunk considering the question. Did she? She wasn’t even sure why she’d blurted out the news to a stranger, except that Maggie seemed effused with warmth and kindness.

“No, not really. She’s having a brain tumour removed. I’d rather not think about it.”

Maggie snapped her book shut and pushed off the bed. “Well then, what you need is some fresh air and Grasmere Gingerbread.”

“What?” Claire reeled from the sudden movement, her sleep-deprived brain struggling to process the change of speed.

“Grasmere Gingerbread. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it?”

Claire shook her head and swallowed the lump in her throat.

Maggie laughed gently and walked over to sit on the bunk next to Claire. She put her arm around her and squeezed, as if they’d known each other for years rather than hours.

“No need to look so crestfallen, it’s hardly a sin. We’re rather proud of our local shop, that’s all.”

“Oh are you from round here?” Claire considered Maggie’s Queens English. “You don’t sound, erm, Cumbrian?” She hesitated, hoping she hadn’t offended her new acquaintance.

“Haha no I don’t have the local dialect. My parents sent me to school in Leicestershire. So, how about it?”

Claire looked puzzled, trying to keep up. It felt like listening to the news from the bottom of a pond.

“The walk? To The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop?”

Claire nodded and let Maggie pull her up from the bed.

 

The air outside bit deep, cutting into Claire like a Sabatier knife. She huddled into her coat and tucked her chin into her collar. The landscape was flat and muted like a sepia photograph.

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

Maggie strode off, head high, arms swinging. Claire scurried after her and hoped it wasn’t a long walk. She felt like a small child trying to keep up with her mummy. Maggie seemed to realise she was walking alone and turned to see what had happened to Claire.

She laughed at the bundle of misery scuttling behind her. “Sorry Claire, I’m in hill-walking mode. I’ll slow down.”

“You walk across hills at that speed? Are you superhuman?”

“Just bred to it. My parents are avid hill-walkers.”

“My dad plays golf.”

 

The shop was dark and bustling with tourists browsing such delights as Kendal Mint Cake and Rum Butter. It felt like a sauna after the bitter wind outside. Claire soaked the heat into her bones and let the noise wash over her. She could imagine Sky in a place like this, jumping up and down to see over the counter and through the bodies of people queuing to buy their gingerbread.

Maybe I could bring her hostelling with me. At least she’d be company.

Maggie was explaining the history of the shop, how it was set up in the 1850s by Sarah Wilson a local lady. How she lost both her daughters to tuberculosis and her husband shortly after. Although said in a matter-of-fact tone, the words sank into Claire like lead-weights.

What if I lose Ruth? I barely know her. How much time have we spent together since we left home? Hardly any.

She felt the guilt surge up her throat and lodge in the back of her mouth. The heat of the room pressed in until she had to get out. She shouldered her way through the mingling people and pushed through the door. The winter air slapped her in the face, numbing her senses and causing her eyes to water.

Standing outside the tiny cottage Claire pulled freezing air into her lungs and stared around without seeing. She heard the click of the door behind her and felt an arm around her shoulders.

“Sorry, that was insensitive of me. I was so caught up in the history I forgot about your sister. You must be very worried. There’s a garden centre just down the road. Let’s go for a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.”

Claire let herself be comforted. Let herself be led away like a lost child.

***