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.

***

Valentines Day Cards and 2013 365 Challenge #31

Valentine Day Card Production

Valentine Day Card Production

I can’t believe it is the last day of January and I have survived my first month of the 2013 challenge. I still have doubts about my ability to sustain it for a whole year but on 3rd January I’d have taken a month and been glad.

I have been making Valentines Day cards again today. It’s quite ironic considering my husband and I get the same card out of the cupboard every year with brownie points going to the person who remembers where the box is from the year before.

Actually, I’m about to go out to dinner – my bi-annual catch up with the girls I used to work with, who still work for a living. The rest of today’s post will be written in the morning. I just wanted to schedule something (even without the Claire’s bit) just in case I don’t manage to write any more tomorrow. Not because I’ll be hungover – I’m driving – but because I’m full of cold and going out to dinner might just finish me off!

P.S. I very much enjoyed my dinner with my old work colleagues, although I did feel like an Alien recently landed and trying to masquerade as a human being. From the moment I arrived the girls (all in their 30s and 40s) began discussing their latest fashion purchases, the films they had seen, books they had read, TV shows they follow and I didn’t understand a single world. They might have been talking Japanese. Usually there is some common ground when they talk about work or the kids but last night it was mostly films and books. I do read and I do watch movies but the books I read tend to be research (so Young Adult novels or contemporary woman’s fiction, not much literary stuff these days) and the TV I watch is all chosen by my husband. It tends to comprise Auction Hunters and Got To Dance with a bit of SG-1 or NCIS or Psych thrown in.

And we love it.

The characters are as familiar as friends, especially the judges on Got To Dance. It’s comfortable and fun, like going down the pub and listening to mates chat. I don’t have the emotional strength to watch harrowing movies or read heavy-going books. I’d rather do Disney Princesses and endless re-runs of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And don’t get me started on the cooking! They discussed meals and menus I had no clue about. We have Cottage Pie and Spag Bol and curry (from a jar). So I sat silently, enjoyed the conversation, chipped in where I could, and longed to get home to my husband, kids and blogs. Sad. When I did get home hubbie had had a shocker of a night with the kids so I felt a bit guilty. They’re not used to Mummy going out and they missed me. All in all probably good that it’ll be six months before we meet again!

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“Av-a-go-yer-mug, Claire!”

Claire tried to respond to the voice, her breath coming in sharp pants. The feeling was immense, overwhelming her. Her whole body quivered in anticipation. Just a bit more effort she thought between breaths.

“Wow! Ripper!” Josh’s voice was exuberant. Claire tried to share his joy but she felt depleted, her body soft and malleable, not to be trusted.

She pulled her bike alongside Josh’s and looked out over the view. She had to admit it was worth the exertion, although her breath still came in ragged gasps and a stitch tore at the left-hand side of her ribcage.

“You are unfit lady, look at you. When did you last do some true blue exercise?”

Claire bristled at the teasing tone. “I’ll have you know I go to the gym three times a week for spinning classes.”

“Pah, spinning. Stupid. Wasted sweat. Might as well go to a tart instead of taking time to seduce a beautiful lady.” His gaze rested marginally too long on Claire, bringing more redness to her already flushed cheeks. “I mean proper outdoors stuff, with real air in your lungs and a view worth the effort.”

“And real rain dripping down your neck, real blisters on your feet and a real two-hour bike ride back home?” Claire’s elated tone belied her negative words. She had to admit she felt amazing. She’d heard people talk about the feeling but had always thought that was just their way of conning you to join them in their misery, in the same way she liked to meet up with people on a Sunday morning over a Bloody Mary to share the agony of a hangover.

“Come on, when was the last time you were outdoors for more than the time it takes to walk to the car?”

“I walked the Pennine Way two days ago, thank you very much.”

Josh turned to face her, eyebrows raised. “Really, well I beg your pardon.” He mimicked her middle-England accent and Claire had to smile. “Alright, I was dragged out by some arse trying to score points with my boss.”

The eyebrows rose higher, almost vanishing in Josh’s sandy unkempt hair. His expression invited confidence so, while her breath slowly returned to normal and the pain in her side faded, Claire filled him in on the last few weeks of her life, omitting anything to do with Michael.

“He sounds like a proper dingbat that boss of yours. Why don’t you quit? It’s just a job and a shonky one at that. Get on a plane, go see the world before you get tied down with a husband and ankle-biters.”

Claire shuddered and bent quickly to massage her aching calf muscles. Josh’s eyes caught the movement and he chuckled. “Don’t fancy the whole wife-and-mother bit? I don’t blame you. Won’t catch me shackled for life. As long as the surf’s up somewhere and I can hitch a ride I’ll be there.”

It was Claire’s turn to be intrigued. “Does it ever get lonely?”

“Nah, why would it? There’s always blokes to chat to and chicks to keep you warm.” He winked.

“What do you do for money?” Claire realised it was a personal question and quickly added, “you don’t have to answer that. Sorry that was rude of me.”

“No worries, it’s fair enough. I work when I have to. Bar work mostly or fruit picking. Enough to get by. I only kip in hostels in the winter; mostly I pitch my tent somewhere for free. Or…” He stopped but something in his face gave the rest of the answer so Claire finished for him.

“Or find some warm sheila to give you a bed?” She flushed, thinking about their near-kiss the night before. Josh hadn’t tried anything since but then they’d been on this crazy bike ride since first light. When Claire had admitted, on the trip back to the hostel in the dark, that she’d not been on a bike since she was a teenager Josh had dared her to accompany him. Taking in the weak sun as it broke through the rain clouds to glint off the water, Claire was glad she had.

“At least the snow’s all gone.” Claire looked around, amazed at how quickly the snow had washed away in the overnight rain. “What’s your plan now?”

“Don’t have one.” Josh turned the bike ready to return to the hostel. “Don’t do plans.”

Claire tried to imagine a life without plans. It didn’t seem possible. Like trying to drive a road in the pitch black. Surely you have to see at least some of the way ahead?

“Well I do have a plan I’m afraid and I need to get going. The sooner I get round all two-hundred sodding hostels the sooner I can get my life back.”

“Is that all it is? Hard yakka? It’ll be a drag-arse year for you if that’s your view.”

“What other view is there? This is my job; it doesn’t have to be fun.”

“But it could be.” Josh pulled up alongside Claire and they mounted their bikes, freewheeling down the hill they had just climbed. Josh took his hands off the brakes and let the bike pick up speed.

His words floated over his shoulder as he sped off. “Just because you have to do something doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Let go and live a little!”

Claire watched his disappearing form and wondered if she could take her hands off the brakes too. What if she fell and hurt or humiliated herself? What if Josh laughed?

So what?

The traitorous part of her brain that often took over materialised with a sly smile. It prised her hands off the brakes one finger at a time. Until Claire, too, was flying.

***

Birthdays and (dare I say it) boredom… and 2013 365 Challenge #29

Card painting: the first painting I've done in over a year

Card painting: the first abstract painting I’ve done in over a year

As you read this it is (finally) my daughter’s fourth birthday. I’m writing the night before, as usual, and I have no words again. It’s been a long week.

Granddad came over for dinner this evening, so Amber had more gifts to open.She was overwhelmed after a long day at nursery and my poor son was bereft, even though I wrapped a few toys so he also had something to open. He didn’t even register what was under the wrapping so, after he went to bed, I wrapped a few more things from the playroom. Hopefully that will help tomorrow when Amber opens her final gifts. This birthday has lasted longer than Christmas! Although, as her labour lasted 32 hours, I guess that’s fairly appropriate.

I’ve also been painting today, for the first time since my solo exhibition over a year ago. It felt odd. It also reminded me why I haven’t painted in more than twelve months: I was cooking lunch for hubbie and it went cold while I tried to fix something that had gone wrong in the first painting. That’s the thing with the style of work I do – once you start you have to keep going until it’s finished or the acrylic dries funny. In the end hubbie had to tear the brush from my hand because I’d used some old paint which was full of dry bits and the painting was never going to come good. I finally managed to complete a batch ready to be cut up and stuck to card stock tomorrow. I have until Friday to get some Valentines Day cards to the Gallery. Nothing like a deadline!

I suspect Claire will have another quiet day today. This is the first time since the beginning of January that I’ve sat down at my laptop and thought bugger Claire I want to go watch TV. I have a fairly short attention span and I am finding it hard to think up a new situation for Claire every single day. Normally (for me) a first draft of a novel propels itself forward by its own momentum once I’ve got past the first ten or fifteen thousand words. Even though I have written 25,00 words about Claire so far this month, the challenge is starting to feel like writing a short story everyday. I loathe writing short stories.  If it only takes 30 days to build a habit this should be second nature by now. Some people say it take 60 days in which case I’m half way there. Just keep typing, just keep typing…

I did manage to get some research done this morning but not enough for a detailed post so I think it’s time Claire met someone to talk to. I am enjoying travelling around the North East via my laptop (even if I’m not enjoying thinking what to write about every twenty-four hours) but it’s almost as time-consuming as going there in person! Whose crazy idea was this postaday lark?

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“G’day, you need a hand?”

Claire ducked out from under the bonnet to find a tanned face full of teeth grinning at her.

“Car bust?”

“What?” Claire looked bewildered for a moment before realisation dawned. “Oh, no, I haven’t broken down. The engine’s at the other end. I’m just getting my boots out. They were wet so I put them in here instead of in the car. The carpets might be old and mouldy but I don’t want them stinking of damp or getting my bag soggy.”

She stopped speaking as she realised the words were rushing out in a torrent. As it was only half an hour’s drive from Byrness to Kielder Claire had decided to take a detour to the nearest town in search of coffee. She had arrived in Hawick in time for lunch and had lost a pleasant hour or two in Turnbulls. As she knew the Kielder Hostel reception wouldn’t open until 5pm she went on to another café bookshop and happily immersed herself in other people’s lives until it was late enough to head to Kielder. As a result she hadn’t spoken to anyone since her phone-call to Julia that morning. It seemed words built up like water behind a fallen tree if you didn’t use them.

Claire looked at the man to judge his reaction to her verbal diarrhoea. He didn’t seem fazed by it. He wandered closer and peered under the bonnet as if to confirm that there was, in fact, no engine there.

“I might be a girl but I do know what an engine looks like.” Claire’s voice came out sharper than intended. The man looked up and smiled again, and Claire was struck by how attractive he was. Something throbbed inside her and she looked down at her boots as if hoping they would fill the awkward gap in conversation. Brushing her hair behind her ears Claire reached in and retrieved the still-wet snow-boots. She tied the laces together and threw them over her shoulder where her rucksack was already in place.

The stranger stood up and dug his hands into his pockets. “You staying here?”

Claire swallowed a giggle and looked around the emptiness that surrounded them. “Oh have I missed the five-star spa resort?”

The man grinned as if to acknowledge his obvious question. “Name’s Josh. I’ve been here a while, you want me to show you around?”

Is he hitting on me? Claire couldn’t tell. It had been a long time since anyone had chatted her up. Apart from Mike from Accounts and that didn’t really count as she had initiated that particular conversation, more fool her. Deciding it didn’t really matter if Josh was interested or not Claire slammed the bonnet down and followed her new Aussie friend into the hostel.

Claire had been prepared for the remoteness of the hostel, after reading the information on the website. She knew, for example, that the nearest shop was 17 miles away. What she hadn’t noticed was that, all covered in snow, the place resembled a ski resort. It was comforting even though they weren’t in the mountains. Maybe I can pretend it is a five-star hotel, especially if it looks as smart on the inside as Byrness did.

After she had been shown to her dorm and had a chance to take in the wooden bunks and multi-coloured duvets Claire dismissed the similarities to a ski chalet. Never mind. Josh has promised to take care of me. She took out her least-creased top and her make-up bag. A dab of mascara, a spritz of perfume and she was ready.

Back in the lobby she looked at Josh askance. He was wrapped up in winter woollies including a giant hand-knitted bobble hat and scarf set that looked like it was a Christmas gift from his Gran.

“Um, are we going out? I thought there was nothing to do round here?”

“Have you looked out at the night’s sky? It’s a beaut. Be criminal not to get ourselves to the observatory on a night like this. Skedaddle back to your room for your coat or you’ll freeze.”

“What observatory?” Claire’s mind struggled to catch up. She was tired and hungry and wanted dinner and maybe a gin and tonic if that was possible.

“It’s about a mile away. Come on. Public viewing is from 8pm and it’ll take a while to walk there.”

Claire weighed up the merits of eating dinner alone or accompanying her handsome new friend to look at dots of burning gas in the sky. She looked at her watch. “It’s only 7pm. Why don’t we eat first then I’ll drive us up to your observatory thing if it’s so important. It’s too bloody cold to walk.”

“You beaut, that’s a bonza idea!” He pulled off his hat and beckoned Claire to follow him to the dining room.

Claire felt like a leaf that had just been blown by a gust of wind into a swollen river.

***

P.S. Apologies to any Australians – it’s a terrible mimicry of an Aussie speaking. What can I say, I’m tired!