June Journals #12 ~ Reliquishing Control

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a control freak. Not like I used to be: I don’t think you can parent for any length of time without easing up a bit. That or go bonkers.

But some projects I like to cling to. Others I’d happily share – cooking, laundry, getting up in the night – but funnily enough people seem quite content leaving them to me.

Painting the garden fence is a project I wanted to keep, despite the enormity of it. Partly for a sense of accomplishment. To be able to look out and say, ‘I did that. Me. All by myself.’ And partly because painting is kind of my thing, and I like it to be neat.

Stain, I’ve discovered, is anything but neat. I have three times as many little brown freckles on my arms and face when I finish. So when my son asked if he could help this morning, my ‘no’ was firm and immediate. Then my daughter came out in her painting clothes, and look so crestfallen at not being allowed to help, I gave in.

I thought I’d regret it, but it was mostly okay. I yelled a couple of times as they covered each other in stain, but actually they did a good job on the fence. The grass is also brown, but it’ll mow.

Oh my, but they were covered. I was quite happy when they started a water fight, but as fights soon end in tears, I suggested they wash the trampoline instead.

Genius. They had so much fun sliding around in the foam. Definitely storing that away for another day.

So some fence got painted, and the trampoline is clean. Relinquishing control has its benefits now and then.

Art in August #9 – Watercolour Dragon

Watercolour Dragon

Watercolour Dragon

I decided to introduce my daughter to the joys of watercolour painting today, using the proper kit rather than the cheap paints and brushes that come in kids’ kits.

We picked up a pad of heavy-weight grained paper after dropping little man at nursery, and I got out the hallowed box of expensive watercolour paints for the first time in five years.

I decided to have a go at drawing and painting a dragon, as that’s become a bit of a summer theme. I’m okay at copying things but I have no ability to draw things from my head, so I opted for a YouTube tutorial, seeing as that’s worked so well for the loom-bands.

I used this tutorial for the sketch – How to Draw a Dragon – Ten Minute Fast Doodle – and then made up the colours. I’m a bit rusty, and spent half the time watching my daughter like a hawk to make sure she didn’t leave my sable brush standing in the water pot (she did, frequently), but it was great fun.

Today reminded me of two things: 1) I love watercolours but need to practise more, and 2) detailed artwork and small children don’t really mix. I’m so precious about my paintings and my equipment and I’m like a two-year-old when it comes to sharing! One more thing to add to my ‘when the kids have left home’ list 😉

This post is part of the Art in August challenge from the Laptop on the Ironing Board blog.

You Can Paint Abstracts: 2013 365 Challenge #307

The rough draft of my book

The rough draft of my book

Following on from yesterday’s post about me having to give a talk on my art and paintings on Monday, I was digging around on my computer for things to use, and I came across a book I started writing a few years ago.

I’m always starting projects and then abandoning them. This one I abandoned because I couldn’t imagine ever convincing anyone to publish it. Now, with self publishing, I could probably resurrect it but I doubt it would be profitable, and I’m not short of things that need finishing!

The book is called Affordable Abstract Art Made Easy and I wrote it as a ‘teach yourself’ type book, for people who wanted bright artwork on their walls but didn’t want to pay gallery prices for it. Actually, you can buy some very beautiful pieces of original artwork off ebay for not much money, so the whole premise was flawed from the get-go.

More pages from my pretentious project!

More pages from my pretentious project!

This is the contents list:

  • Why do you want to paint – an introduction
  • What do you want to paint – considering the space
  • All about colour
  • Materials, what to buy and where to get them
  • Setting up your Studio
  • Don’t fear the blank canvas
  • Texture, to build or not to build
  • Taking it further – the perfect gift
  • Selling your work

What struck me was how similar it was to a Creative Writing craft book, and that led me on to consider how much I approach painting the same way I do writing. The first lines of my artist’s statement could equally apply to my writing:

“I paint because it makes me feel alive. I love creating something from nothing; starting with a blank canvas and building it up layer by layer without knowing what the final result will be.”

An almost blank canvas

An almost blank canvas

As a pantser I approach writing in exactly the same way. I start with a blank page and a few colours (characters / plot points / themes) and that’s it. I don’t sketch, I don’t plan, I just switch off my conscious brain and create.

I grew disillusioned with painting when I began to try too hard. I started finishing off the edges, working to make it perfect, not knowing when to stop. In writing terms I over-edited and my paintings lost their vibrancy. They grew bland and samey.

And the finished piece

And the finished piece

I’m all for reading books on writing craft – they’re really important if you want to become a better writer – and of course editing is essential. But I do think you can overdo it and edit out the very thing that makes your writing special.

I read a quote on Twitter recently by author Janie Storer that said: “If ever asked what style I write in, I shall simply reply ‘mine’.” Wise words.

Maybe that’s what I’ll say in my talk on Monday. The beauty of art and writing is that it is all about expression and never more so than when engaging in fiction or abstract paintings. No one can tell you if you’re doing it right except you. There will be lovers and haters, fans and detractors (and people who say “my two year old could do better.” That’s another post entirely!) As long as you’re having fun and giving your all that’s enough.

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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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Claire followed the SatNav’s directions through the town and out over the main road. A quick glance at the screen showed that the hostel was only a few hundred metres ahead.

I’m not sure about being so close to the A30: the noise is going to be horrendous. Maybe I should have stayed at the other one.

The reviews had suggested the town hostel was cleaner and had more facilities. It was the remoteness of the Tor hostel that attracted her. Although she wasn’t going to admit it, hiding out in secluded locations suited her frame of mind.

Not that Conor would approve. I’m meant to be researching tourism, not lurking in the wilderness by myself.

Claire gripped the steering wheel and pointed her car up the narrow lane, crawling along in a low gear ready to stop if another vehicle appeared.

How does anyone get anywhere around here? I can’t see more than a few metres in any direction, the hedges are like walls and there’s barely room for one car. And don’t talk to me about sign posts. Thank god for the SatNav.

Not for the first time Claire realised how much easier travel was with all the gadgets and gizmos. She couldn’t imagine trying to find her way around with just a road atlas. Never mind getting anything done without free WiFi and a permanent phone signal.

Although I haven’t had much of a signal for the last few days.

She grinned. One of the attractions of Dartmoor had been the poor reception. No need to worry that Conor might call and make a fuss. She only picked up messages when she climbed up the Tor.

I could grow to like this place.

The thought made her twist her lips in a wry smile. Three months ago, being out of phone signal for more than half an hour would have left her hyperventilating.

And when did I last have a Starbucks? Oh god, I’m going savage.

The hostel, when she arrived, looked like someone’s house; a sprawling brick building with large white chimneys, surrounded by trees. It had a homely feel, despite the looming woods encircling the place. As she got out of the car, she could hear the noise from the road below. It was steady, though, like a river or the wind in the trees, and she soon blocked it out.

The hostel appeared deserted. Leaving her bag in the car, Claire bypassed the house and went to explore the grounds. Behind the hostel the gardens stretched down the hillside. The sun beat down on her head as she rambled through the undergrowth.

After a while, aware of her grumbling tummy, Claire headed back to the building. It still felt completely empty. With a frown, she went to the main door. It was locked.

Damn. Don’t tell me it’s one that isn’t open all year round. I knew I should have rung ahead.

“Are you booked in?”

Claire span round at the sound of the low voice. A middle-aged man walked across the car park towards her, pushing a wheel barrow.

“No. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too busy, as it isn’t the school holidays yet.”

“Maybe not, but the reception is down at the other place. In town. You’ll need to go down there to fetch your keys.”

Then, without waiting for a response, the man vanished round the side of the house.

Resisting the urge to swear, Claire headed back to her car and prepared to drive back down towards town.

“Next time, I’ll call.”

***

Artistic Me? 2013 365 Challenge #306

One of my favourite pieces

One of my favourite pieces

Just when I thought I only had to struggle through a few more days until I can stop and be ill, when the children go back to school on Monday, I checked my calendar and discovered that I’m meant to be giving a talk on Monday to a local art group. Arrgghh. I vaguely remember the woman ringing me up weeks and weeks ago, and I agreed without really thinking how exhausted I would be after half term (even without the killer cold!)

Not that I don’t want to do it: I love talking about my paintings and hopefully inspiring others to try painting acrylic abstracts. They are wonderfully liberating; a great way to pour emotion onto canvas and create something beautiful. It’s just I don’t know how to do an hour-long talk on the subject. Particularly as I haven’t painted anything for two years. Two years! I couldn’t believe it when I realised that’s how long it has been since my solo exhibition.

I thought I would start with digging out my Artist’s Statement, that I produced to go with my artwork at the local gallery Art in the Heart. I was mortified to discover several typos in said document. Me! A writer! I even put ‘site’ instead of ‘sight’ in one sentence.

Crawls under rock in shame. 

My excuse is I seem to remember I was mad-busy when I put it all together, to the point where I broke down sobbing in the shop where I went to have it all printed because it didn’t print properly. Ah, the wonders of sleep-deprived stress.

Anyway, this is my artist’s statement (hopefully now without typos). Do you think it makes a good enough place to start a discussion on me and my paintings? What else would you want to know?

Purple Ghost

Purple Ghost

I paint because it makes me feel alive. I love creating something from nothing; starting with a blank canvas and building it up layer by layer without knowing what the final result will be.

My paintings grow the more you look at them. What seem at first only blocks of colour become intricate landscapes and strange dancing figures. I believe art is a collaboration between the artist and the viewer and my paintings are created anew each time they are viewed. If someone sees something within one of my pieces – a face, an animal, a landscape – then that will always be there. The painting is recreated and will always be personal to them.

I was originally inspired to begin painting abstracts by a fellow artist and it has now become my main passion. I work in acrylic because I love the vibrancy of the colour, combined with the speed with which it dries. This allows layers of texture and colour to be built up using different brush strokes. This texture means the paintings change with changing light through-out the day.

Tranquility

Tranquility

I am inspired by the colours of everyday items: a glass of wine or the vibrant orange of autumn leaves. Although I don’t seek to reproduce on canvas the things that inspire me, I search for the same sense of joy the items bring: The sight of a sun-drenched landscape fills me with elation and I feel the same emotion when I am painting my abstracts.

My favourite colours are Rose Madder and Pthalo Blue. They are both strong colours that can be made soft and magical when mixed with white. The Pthlalo colours (blue and green) create beautiful sea colours that I find very restful. Rose Madder is wild, like blood or poppies. I work mostly in primary colours, with a restricted palette of two or three colours per piece. I prefer to mix colours directly on canvas and it never ceases to amaze me how many colours can come from mixing magenta, yellow and Pthalo blue.

I thought I would start with something like this, and then maybe talk through some of the individual pieces. I don’t think they want a demonstration, which is a shame, as that kills loads of time! 🙂 Ah well. Wish me luck. (Oh and I must send an updated personal statement to the gallery. Mortified!)

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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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Claire looked around the hostel lounge, gave a deep sigh and smiled. Although the room was crowded it wasn’t noisy. In the corner a family played cards; their muted voices punctuated occasionally by a cry of “Uno!” One or two people curled up in the deep red armchairs, their faces intent as they absorbed themselves in the books cradled in their laps. Claire wondered what worlds they inhabited, far away from the prosaic room.

Her contentment surprised her. The whitewashed stone walls, utilitarian carpet and faded furniture were not exactly the height of luxury. It was no different in the kitchen, with the formica-topped school-like tables and plastic chairs, or in the bare bunkrooms.

If I’d come here a few months ago I would have stayed one night and run away to a refurbished city hostel with relief.

The beauty of the place was not inside the cool stone walls, but outside, where the sun shone endlessly on an expanse of never-ending verdant nature. Somehow the mundane accommodation complemented the experience, allowing a visitor’s attention to focus on what was important.

Stretching her legs out in front of her, Claire shifted the laptop to a more comfortable position and continued typing. She’d been trying to capture her thoughts on the subject all evening, but her mind frolicked away from it like the Dartmoor ponies who visited the building from time to time.

She tabbed away from her open document to reread the reports she’d discovered on the company laptop. It had helped direct her writing, but she still wasn’t entirely sure she knew what she was doing. Something had to be written, though: she’d been in the Dartmoor hostel for nearly a week and knew that Conor would be expecting an update.

Conor.

Just thinking his name gave her goosebumps. They hadn’t spoken since their last meeting; communicating instead via email and text message. Claire had refused to even charge her phone for the first twenty-four hours, convinced she would discover impassioned messages from him after her sudden departure. There had been nothing for a day or two, and then only a polite enquiry as to whether the laptop worked and contained everything she needed.

Even so, Claire had left Salcombe hostel at dawn, following their evening together, and had driven in blind panic to the most remote accommodation she could discover; her only intention to find somewhere to lick her wounds and consider her options.

Who knew I would end up somewhere so beautiful. And restful.

The dark grey hostel at Dartmoor sat contented amid the National Park, with all sorts of outdoor activities on the doorstep. Claire had spent the last few days pushing herself to exhaustion; hiking to the top of Bellever Tor, exploring the forest and petting the Dartmoor ponies. She’d climbed the boulders at Dewerstone and cycled the Plym Valley.

Each night she’d collapsed into her bunk with weary muscles and a full head. Despite the endless blue skies, fresh air and amazing scenery, her brain still roiled with unruly thoughts.

Try as she might, she couldn’t decide how she felt about her boss’s advances. Unlike the grazes from her fall on the South West Coastal Path, her memories of that night refused to fade and heal. Her sense of outrage at his betrayal of trust warred with a lingering feeling of loss at his curt business-like manner ever since.

With another sigh, Claire brought her attention back to the screen in front of her.

Only eleven more weeks and I can hand in my report, collect my pay cheque, and get the hell away from here.

Back in the beginning, when she’d taken her first step on the journey away from her former life, she and Kim had jokingly come up with the name Two-Hundred Steps Home for her blog. It was looking like home was a lot further away than that.

***

RUE (Resist the urge to edit!): 2013 365 Challenge #183

Cheeky Thomas

Cheeky Thomas

I finally sent Baby Blues to the proofreader today.

I like that sentence. Somehow it makes me feel more like a proper author.

Even though I know the person I chose is more used to working on business documents, I have every confidence that she will pick up all the typos and poor grammar in my novel. And, the bonus part? I don’t have to read it again and find another dozen things wrong.

A book is never finished. But, having a deadline, giving it to someone else, that marks an ending.

I used to find the same with my paintings. Often they were better if I worked to a tight deadline, because I didn’t over-think or over-work them. In the end, my paintings became too bland, too safe, as I worried about giving them a professional finish. I think the same could happen with a novel. I merrily hacked out sections of Baby Blues, to both reduce the word count and resolve point of view issues.

I'm as happy as a little boy on a train!

I’m as happy as a little boy on a train!

Once you start hacking, though, it’s hard to stop. There were at least two chapters I thought about pulling but kept in, lest the story become too bare. Has the manuscript suffered from losing 7000 of mostly internal thought? Probably not, although possibly some of the depth of understanding about character motivation may have gone. Unlikely.

There’s an acroynm, a phrase, in editing. RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. Trust your readers get it, without hammering it home with a mallet. The first time I edited BBWS, I wrote RUE all over the manuscript. It’s easy to want to make sure your readers know what you and your characters really mean.

I think that’s why so many scenes ended up with me presenting the internal thoughts of both protagonists (and I can also see how confusing that can get).

I really hope Baby Blues does well, but for now it’s out of my hands. Time to get back to Claire, back to the children, back to Wimbledon and walking the dog. What would I really like to do right now (it’s 5pm)?

Go back to bed!

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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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Claire strode down the corridor, hoping the surge of anger didn’t fade before she reached her room. In her head, she replayed Michael’s words, and pushed all thoughts of Kim aside. Time enough to worry about her friend when she had her things and was safely away from the wedding. She had no idea where she would go, but that, too, could wait.

As she stalked past guests, she caught occasional glimpses of their faces. Some merely looked shocked to see her striding past like the grim reaper. Others glared and made noises as if to berate her. She shook them off like pesky flies.

At last the bedroom door was in front of her. She hoped, for a moment, that Michael had been bluffing and had re-joined the party. It would be a relief to collect her things and leave, with no more words spoken. Then his voice echoed in her mind, as he called her childish. His smug, arrogant voice, as he’d explained how he intended to brow-beat her into submission.

Bastard.

Claire flung open the door and had the satisfaction of seeing Michael jump. Before he could gather himself, she swept in and began collecting her things together. Hot words filled her mouth, but she knew the shaking in her limbs would betray her if she spoke. If she could gather everything up before Michael had a chance to open his mouth, he could hurl whatever accusations he liked at her retreating back.

It was a vain hope.

“What are you doing?”

“Packing.”

“I can see that.” He leant back against the headboard. “I mean, where are you going? It’s nearly midnight. We’re miles from anywhere. You can’t leave.”

“Watch me.”

Michael sat up, narrowly missing head-butting the top bunk. He swung his feet to the floor and glared up at her.

“Claire, you’re being childish. Go and find Kim, apologise. We’ll sleep on it and everything will seem a hundred times better in the morning.”

“Apologise? I have nothing to be sorry for. It was you who blurted her secret out to the whole party.”

“And who told me that secret in the first place?” He raised an eyebrow at her, and she itched to slap him.

“I only said she wanted a baby. You put it together in your mind, because you’re obsessed. Honestly, Michael, what is it with you? I didn’t think men had a biological clock?”

She looked over at him, on her way to the bathroom to get her things, and saw something in his expression, a vulnerability, that made her hesitate. There was a reason behind his desire to be a dad. For a moment she wanted to know what it was. Then his face shifted and resumed the smug expression he had worn since the party. Resuming her journey to the en-suite, she spoke over her shoulder.

“I will apologise to Kim when she’s had a chance to calm down. I won’t encroach on her special day any further.  Walking back into the bedroom, she stood facing him, hands on hips.

“As for staying here tonight, I don’t think that’s appropriate, do you? I shall find a motel. Make yourself scarce tomorrow. You are not welcome, and I do not want to see you here when I return.” She stuffed the last of her things into her bag, enjoying the stunned silence.

Soon everything was packed, and it seemed she would escape without any more words from Michael. As she reached the door, he spoke.

“You’ve changed, Claire. You’ve grown hard. You never used to be this confrontational.”

She turned and smiled. “Well, more fool me. I haven’t grown hard, Michael, I’ve grown up. You should try it some time.”

With that she wrenched open the door and stormed down the corridor.

***

Blue tummies, yellow bath: 2013 365 Challenge #54

Bath Paints: made with cornflour and food colouring

Bath Paints: made with cornflour and food colouring

Out of sheer desperation I came up with the idea of Bath Art today.

Aaron was refusing to exit the Peppa Pig rocket they have at our local supermarket (after being a complete star all during a weekly food shop and lunch at a busy supermarket: Who knew it was still half term in our local town?)

As I toyed with the idea of breaking my own rule and putting another £1 into the Peppa Pig toy (it is cool – the rocket spins and there are buttons to press which illuminate different planets on a map of the solar system) I began going through a list of other more appealing activities to tempt him home.

The conversation went something like this:

“Playdough?”

“No!”

“Painting?”

“No!”

“Football?”

“No!”

“Space-hoppering?”

“No!”

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?”

“No!”

Bath Art: An experiment (next time maybe I'll just use paint!)

Bath Art: An experiment (next time maybe I’ll just use paint!)

That was the point at which I knew I could ask “Chocolate Cake?” and he’d say “No!” because he’s going through that phase. One of the ones your brain erases, like childbirth, because otherwise you’d never do it twice.

Actually, when Amber went through her ‘Why? / No!’ phase (as I like to call it) Aaron was already six months old so it was too late to send him back. Now I have a why/no toddler and a sulky teenager four-year-old.

Joy.

So my beleaguered brain remembered something I’d read on a parenting blog somewhere about making paints and taking them in the bath. Genius. At the time I thought the woman was mad but I was all out of other ideas on four hours’ sleep.

I made the paints out of cornflour and food colouring. Don’t know why I didn’t just use poster paint except I’m not a big fan and I had no idea if it would stain the grout/bath/children. As it turns out, food colouring stains grout/bath/children too, although not permanently thankfully. A second bath of bubbles eventually washed off the blue tummies and mostly erased the yellow scum tidal mark. Got rid of all the hot water too but that was a small price to pay on a day when it was bitter outside and Mummy and Daddy had zero energy.

Bath Art 2: Aaron's End (please ignore filthy grout!)

Bath Art 2: Aaron’s Masterpiece

At least I managed to write half an installment while walking the dog this evening (before my fingers became too cold to tap-tap) so hopefully it won’t be too painful to write the rest when the kids are in bed. I will have to search for a possible continuity error though as I’ve been writing recently about Ruth as Claire’s ‘little’ sister but I think Claire’s the youngest.

NB I was right, Claire is meant to be the youngest, so have changed one word in an old post from ‘little’ to ‘poor’. The challenges of writing and publishing on a daily basis!

I’m sneaking five minutes now to write this bit while the kids watch Mike the Knight with Daddy. I can’t stand Mike the Knight. If he was my child I’d be horrified, although I guess he always comes good in the end.

Oh, it’s finished. Time to go…. Ah. Both kids want Mummy to put them to bed. It’s going to be one of those nights. TTFN.

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“Still sulking Claire? Aren’t you a bit old to be acting like a silly schoolgirl?”

Claire looked up at Josh and tried to make sense of the sounds coming out of his mouth. Sulking, school girl, Sky, Ruth, sister. The words marched through her consciousness without leaving a mark. She felt rather than saw Josh lean over and peer into her face.

“Have I really upset you? Is it because we soaked you at the lake today? You looked cute: like a little kitten who’d toppled into a bath.”

Claire looked at the phone cradled in her lap and tried to absorb what Josh was saying.

He sat next to her on the sofa and his voice washed around her like a warm wave. He talked into her silence but the words barely registered. Something about it being lonely on the road and that maybe running away was the wrong thing to have done.

 Run away. I’d like to do that. I’m sure Ruth would too.

“You can’t run away from cancer,” she said, her voice alien and weak.

“What?” Josh’s response was curt. The harsh tone surprised Claire, momentarily dragging her out of her bewilderment.

“What?” She echoed him without understanding.

“You said you can’t run away from cancer, what did you mean by that?”

She turned to face him and fell into the blackness of his eyes. Shaking off feelings she couldn’t process, Claire said quietly “My sister has a brain tumour. They’re operating in the morning. She needs me to look after her six-year-old daughter for a week or two at Easter while she has chemo. Is there anything else you need to know?”

Josh moved to the edge of the sofa, his face white. “Did she say whether it was primary or secondary? What part of the brain is it in?” His voice was clipped and business like. “Where is she being treated?”

“Addenbrookes,” Claire responded, finally hearing a question she could answer. “How do you know to ask all those things?” Claire had sat mute as her sister broke the news, her brain empty and cavernous.

“Oncology is – was – my specialism.” Josh spoke the words as if they pained him.

“What’s Onc-whatever you said?”

“Treatment of cancer.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“I was.”

Claire looked at Josh. He’s not much older than me. What gives? Part of Claire wanted to pursue the thought, but curiosity about Josh’s past was soon swamped by her present worries. She wished she could recall everything Ruth said on the phone so she could ask Josh what it all meant. As hard as she tried to remember her sister’s words only two sentences were chiseled into her memory. I need you to take Sky and It’s malignant, they’re going to operate tomorrow.

Josh and Claire sat together on the sofa, close but not touching. Around them the hostel bustled with chatter. Beth’s laugh echoed from behind them, where a raucous game of Trivial Pursuit was underway. Each lost in their own thoughts, the two almost-strangers sat in silence.

***

Cards and Carpets: 2013 365 Challenge #46

Abstract Card Commission Complete! Hurrah

Abstract Card Commission Complete! Hurrah

Valentines Day is a bit different with kids in the house. I would try to describe it but it wouldn’t be better than the great post written by The Clothesline, so I’ll just shamelessly plug it here:

The First Valentines Day vs the Tenth Valentines Day

I’m not a big VDay person any more (maybe when I was sixteen) but it was nice to go to the coffee shop with my husband after dropping the kids off at nursery. Even if we did talk work before going to look at carpets.

I did manage to finish my cards commission by the skin of my teeth (my friend will be here to collect them in an hour) but I nearly forgot to walk the dog… All in all it was a normal day.

Claire’s post isn’t very romantic I’m afraid. It was the next thing on my list of topics to write about, it wasn’t meant to land on or near Valentines Day. That’s life I guess. It’s also quite long so I’ll keep my daily chit-chat to a minimum.

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Claire chose a table in the corner of the coffee shop and sat down. The latte didn’t look up to Starbucks’ standard but the mug was warm and she’d tipped in sufficient sugar to mask any unwanted taste. Looking around the crowded room she felt the warmth spreading through her hands and down into her body. She let out a sigh and closed her eyes.

The phone rang for several seconds before she recognised the sound as hers. It rang so rarely she’d forgotten the brassy ringtone selected to be audible in bars. I should probably change it to birdsong or something. As she patted her coat pockets to find the source of the noise Claire noticed several blue-rinse grannies doing the same thing and let out a chuckle. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

“Hello?” Claire hoped it was a sales call she could ditch quickly. She hated trying to hold a personal conversation in a public space.

“Claire, it’s Ruth. Where are you? Robert said something about you losing your job and ruralising. I told him he’d finally gone senile.”

“I’m in a coffee shop Ruth. Can I call you back?” She heard an intake of breath down the phone and felt her happy mood drain away. “I’m not fobbing you off. It’s just hard to talk. I’m all pressed in with people.” She nearly said the blue-rinse brigade but realised her southern vowels were carrying rather too well above the northern hubbub. She drained the last of her coffee and pulled at her coat, all the while keeping the phone to her ear.

“Hang on Ruth, I’ll go outside. Do you want me to call you back, save your bill?”

Her sister agreed and Claire was able to put her coat on with two hands. She hesitated then pulled on her gloves and hat too. The Skoda was parked at the other end of town and she had no idea how long her sister would talk for. Even though the sun was shining it was still sub-zero by the lake.

The phone connected after one ring. “Thanks for calling back. I needed to talk to you. I already called Mum and Robert.”

Claire felt a heavy weight drop into her stomach. Ruth rang Robert; that could only mean major news. Hang on, she rang him before me? Shaking away the irrelevant thought Claire looked around for somewhere to sit down.

“What is it?”

“I got the test results back. They’ve seen something and they want to investigate further.”

“What do you mean something?” Claire took a sharp breath of icy air and began coughing. As the fit passed she processes the words. “Do you mean a lump? A tumour? Cancer?” Framing words around the thought made them too real.

“They don’t know. A lump, yes, but it could be benign. They won’t know until they do a biopsy.”

Claire had majored in arts at school, science was not her forte, but she had a feeling biopsies meant inserting needles where they didn’t belong. Ruth confirmed it.

“They said it will be done under anaesthetic so I won’t feel it.”

A shiver tore through Claire, chilling her from the inside out.

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh god.” The sunny street dimmed as the words took on sense. “Do you need anything? I’m in Cumbria but I can head down if you need me to take Sky.”

“It’s fine, Sky will be at school and Mum will pick her up. It’s not a complicated procedure. I just thought you should know.”

“Of course. I’ve been meaning to call and ask about your results. It’s just. Well.” What excuse was there? I’ve been swinging through the trees like Tarzan or following an Aussie I only just met up mountains I’ve only just heard of? Even by their family standards that was pretty lame.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to explain. It must be difficult, with your job and Michael.” Ruth trailed off, waiting. When Claire didn’t add anything she gave a small sigh. “You can tell us what happened you know. We won’t judge.”

Ha! Not judge? It’s practically the family motto. Claire forced the thought away. “Sorry sis, there have been a lot of changes. I’m not being coy about Michael, there’s nothing to say. He wanted something I couldn’t give him so it needed to end now before it imploded later. And I haven’t lost my job but I am fighting to keep it, using a skill-set I didn’t possess last week. But none of that matters if you need me in Cambridge.”

There was silence. Claire wondered if Ruth was even still listening or whether she’d gone to see to Sky. She waited, unsure what to do. Her bum was freezing to the bench and she’d lost the feeling in her nose. Do I hang up and call back? Then she heard an rush of breath and what sounded like sobbing. Must be Sky.

It took a moment to realise the crying was coming from her sister. “Ruth? Are you okay?”

The sobbing intensified and Claire listened helplessly, feeling awkward at witnessing her sister’s grief. She got up and walked along the street to get her blood moving. Eventually the sobs gulped to a halt and her sister’s voice wavered in apology.

“Don’t be silly. You cry if you need to. I can’t imagine how scary it all is.”

“It’s not that. Well, I am terrified. More about how it’s going to affect Sky. No, it’s just you had everything. The flat, the job, the fit bloke. If it didn’t work for you, who does it work for? What is there to live for? Where’s the hope?”

Claire’s heart pounded loudly, thrumming in her wind-frozen ears. A lump formed in her throat and she grasped for words. “You have Sky. She’s your hope, surely?” As she said the words Claire felt the falseness. She couldn’t imagine living her future for a child who would be ever ungrateful. At the same time it rang true and she knew it was the right thing to give Ruth hope.

“You’re right. I’m being silly. It’s just, you and Michael, you clicked. He adored you. We all hoped he’d be the one.”

We? Claire didn’t like the idea that her family had been discussing her love life in her absence. If she thought they talked about her at all she hoped it was to envy her new car or latest work achievement. Did Michael adore me? Images flashed through her brain like a movie on fast forward. They were good pictures, full of laughter and understanding. It made her ache with emptiness.

She heard a loud noise coming from Ruth’s end of the phone and for once was relieved to have their conversation cut short by her niece.

“You give Sky a hug from me, Ruth, and let me know how it goes tomorrow. I can be in Cambridge if you need me. Just call.”

Her sister murmured her assent and hung up, leaving Claire motionless and alone on an unfamiliar high street.

***