August 2018 Contest WinnerPosted 27/09/2018 under Magazine,
August 2018 Contest Winner
Colette Coen has most recently been published in Chroma, Structo and Crannog Magazines. Her novel All the Places I’ve Ever Been and short story collections are available on Amazon. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland with her husband and their two teenagers. She is also Mum to a university student who has flown the nest and whose bedroom now doubles as Colette’s office where she writes and runs her proofreading business. Follow http://colettecoen.wordpress.
It by Colette Coen
‘There’s no drying in the day,’ Cassie said as Judith set about to prove her wrong. ‘No drying at all.’
‘At least they’ll get an airing,’ Judith replied, as her mother-in-law watched from the doorstep. She should have helped her down, but that would have meant getting her slippers off and shoes on, then finding an outdoor scarf, before taking her arm and helping her diminishing frame down the few steps. It was bad enough that she had to listen to the criticisms being shouted over the grass without them being right in her ear. Are you not pairing the socks? Trousers get a better dry if you pin them the other way round. Judith doesn’t say that she thought there was no drying in the day either, that she’ll just throw everything into the Hotpoint for a tumble after Cassie goes to bed.
She just needed to get outside, to get away from Cassie’s hovering; always a step or two behind; always with her helpful household hints; always, always, always.
Judith filled her lungs; let the wintery sunbeams soak into her face. She missed being outdoors; missed the long walks she used to take after she’d dropped the kids at school, but before she settled down to tackle her freelance work. It wasn’t that she couldn’t leave Cassie alone. It was even that Cassie wouldn’t be left alone.
Are you going out? I’ll just come with you, there’s a few bits I want to pick up.
I’m not going to the shops.
Well, we could, along the way.
It was such a palaver; assessing the weather, and which grade of coat would be best for it, could take ten minutes; then there was the blasted scarf; the leather gloves, always black or brown; the shoes; the handbag; the I don’t think this is my purse. I’m sure my purse is red. (As if she ever had a red purse.) Then Judith would start to think that she too should change; no need for a Gortex and walking boots if they were only going as far as the Co.
She was beginning to hate her own name, its use almost as constant as Mummy once was. ‘You’ve dropped a brassiere, oh no, surely it will need to go into the wash again.’
‘It’s fine,’ Judith said, snapping the peg to hold it to the line.
‘Maybe that’s the problem,’ Cassie said.
‘Not taking care of your intimates. You know, without that it all falls apart.’
‘A marriage can be a fragile thing, you know. Not that I’m suggesting you should, when the children are home, or me for that matter. I don’t want to be around when all that nonsense is taking place. But it’s important for a marriage, Harry always insisted.’
Judith bent down to the laundry basket, was her mother-in-law really giving her marriage advice? Ed had always insisted that his parents only ever had sex twice: once on their wedding night, which had resulted in his birth; and again, on their third anniversary, which had brought Laura, who just missed his birthday by a day. Judith had played along with the comedy; the Ying to her parents’ Yang, with their merry-go-round of partners.
‘Are you crying my dear?’ Cassie asked.
Judith didn’t think she was, she had thought she was laughing, but somewhere the emotions got twisted, and now she wasn’t sure. Her heaving shoulders, the gulping for breath, the tears, streaming down her face.
Her bras were greying, needing replaced once she had lost a few pounds; and her knickers were stretched and worn. She was exhausted; they both were; her and Ed; Ed and her. Him having to take on more locum work to fill the gap of her lost income. Her brain deadened through lack of use; her body from inactivity. There was no other option, she knew that. Cassie couldn’t be left alone after the last incident, and Laura wouldn’t take her.
She pulled a hankie from her back pocket and blew her nose. Wiped the tears off her face with her hands before drying them on a wet towel and turning to her mother-in-law.
‘I’m just tired, that’s all,’ Judith said, as if there were a just and an all. She wasn’t tired, she was worn down to the core. ‘No, Cassie, don’t come down, the steps are slippy.’
Cassie’s determination was what got to Judith the most. She just wouldn’t be told. It’s not any trouble brought a chill to Judith, knowing that the fall-out from any task would be bigger than the task itself. I’ll just put the kettle on had resulted in a small explosion when the gas hit the electric element. I’ve put the dinner in the oven meant either burnt or raw. But now, maybe she should start listening.
‘We’re going out,’ Judith said with determination, taking her worn-out underwear off the line, and throwing it into the wheelie bin. ‘Into town. Let’s go.’
Cassie didn’t argue; but shuffled off to choose a scarf.
‘Should I be worried?’ Ed asked the next morning, as Judith borrowed a pair of his boxer shorts, and pulled a vest top over her DDs.
She’d tipped the wheelie bin over when they had got back from town. Pulled out the bras and knickers, put them in for a boil wash, dried them on the radiators overnight, but she still thought they stank of rubbish, or maybe still stank of her. It wasn’t really Cassie’s fault that the shopping trip had been such a disaster; she should have known it would be too tiring for her at that time of day, especially when they had to rush to get back for the kids. And it wasn’t Cassie who made the exasperated sighs when neither balcony, push-up nor plunge made her feel remotely attractive. In fact, Cassie managed to find herself a couple of nice little sets, that were pretty without being frumpy.
‘Judith,’ Ed said. He put his arms around her, and held her tight, but she was still aware of him checking his watch. ‘Talk to me.’
‘She drives me crazy,’ Judith said. ‘Absolutely stark, raving mad.’
‘I know,’ Ed said, stroking her head.
Judith started to laugh. ‘Do you know why I threw out all those clothes? Because your mum told me I had to be sexier.’
Now Ed started to laugh. ‘You are sexy,’ he said.
‘It goes deeper than bras and panties, you know that,’ he said. ‘The way you are with her, patient, like when the kids were wee and you were always there with a song and a biscuit when they hurt themselves. Or a cuddle when they were sad. That’s real-life sexy.’
‘I’m not patient with your mother, that’s the point. I want to scream and throw things at her and tell her to hurry up.’
‘You felt like that with the kids too, but it didn’t mean that you didn’t love them.’
‘They gave great cuddles though.’
‘So does my mum, and she won’t need you forever either.’
Cassie’s latest fall had broken a wrist, the left one, so she could still help, and Judith let her help now, remembering it was how she got through the days with the children. Help Mummy with the dusting. Who wants to see which one of you can tidy the playroom the quickest? Do you want to fold the washing?
She was calmer now, they both were. Judith no longer seeing the imposter as a time-thief, but another mother, the woman who tended to Ed’s sore knees or Laura’s broken heart. The woman who held them to her breast when she was just a girl herself. The woman who needed loved, not just cared for. Every time now that Cassie followed her around, Judith would turn and smile. Are you okay, Cassie? Sometimes she just needed reassurance that she was meant to be here; other times a task, or a prompt would do. But the times that now meant the most were when Cassie would step forward, and allow Judith to envelop her, and she would relax her head into Judith’s shoulder and they would breath in time, letting the anxiety drift out with every breath.
‘I’ll make us a cup of tea,’ Cassie said, as Judith sat down in the kitchen to work. It wasn’t the best solution, but with her earphones in, she could at least supervise the riskiest room in the house and still get some work done.
When the kettle boiled, Judith reminded her of the steps to make a cup of tea, and helped Cassie sit down next to her. ‘We can just drink this, then I’ll leave you in peace,’ Cassie said. ‘Oh, and Laura’s taking me to the pictures tonight, the children too, although I think they are seeing a different film. Just so you know.’
Judith smiled and she could have sworn Cassie winked. ‘Sounds like it will be fun,’ she said, and she thought about Ed and the lingerie that had just arrived by courier.