Sleeping Beauty

A bit of flash fiction today. Not entirely fictional…!

8pm. Great, baby asleep in good time. Should really go to bed now, but I’ll just have five minutes first. Ooh, there’s a repeat of that show I missed the other night. Right, I’ll make a cuppa and watch that; it’s only half an hour…

9.30pm. Gah, what’s that? Tea everywhere! Stupid, must have dozed off there. Only saw half of that programme too. Well, guess I may as well go to bed. A year ago I’d have just been getting going on the second round of drinks by now. But this is good. I like being a mum – most days. Yes. Really. Ok, bed.

10pm. And here we go. Baby awake. Change her, feed her. Put her back down. Still not asleep? Ok, we’ll try the old mummy dance. The last time I danced this slow with anyone I ended up with Baby. Sway, sway. Shuffle, shuffle. Sing, sing, softer and softer. Asleep. Back to bed.

11pm. Typical, been trying to get back to sleep and can’t. Might go make a hot chocolate.

11.30pm. It’s strange but true, you can actually go to sleep standing up. Maybe the hum of the microwave. Maybe the micro-waves of the microwave, scrambling my brain. Not sure how anyone would tell. Anyway, hot chocolate ready now. Will drink it in bed and definitely NOT doze and spill it on sheets.

Midnight. Well, a couple of spots on the sheet aren’t too bad in the scheme of things. And they’ll come out in the wash. There’s the baby again. Change, her feed her. Put her back down. Still not asleep? Sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle. Sing, sing, softer and softer. Asleep. Head straight for the door, watch out for the…yes, that toy there, the one with the flashing lights. Oh well, could have been worse. Didn’t wake her. Now if I’d stepped on that toy with the musical buttons that you can’t switch off…ah, yes, that would be the one. Sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle, sing, sing. Stumble in sleepy stupor. Wake up, mummy. Sing, sing, softer and softer.

1.30am. Asleep. Back to bed.

2.30am. Who in the name of all that’s holy is texting at this time of night?? Cath. Great, sounds like she’s having fun with the girls. She should be home in bed by now. I read something the other day, that if you get less than six hours of sleep every night, by the end of two weeks you’re actually operating at the level of someone who’s drunk. I prefer the old way. At least then you got a good time and a good drink before everything went fuzzy. And you were pretty sure after the hangover you’d be ok. This hangover’s lasted 5 weeks so far. Longest hangover in history. Back to sleep.

4am. Baby awake. Change her – why aren’t the tabs sticking? What’s wrong with this stupid nappy – trust me to get a dud one. Oh. Had it on backwards. Change her, feed her. Put her back down. Stayed asleep this time. Head for the door. Awake again. Sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle. Sing, sing, softer and softer. Back to bed.

5.30am. Baby awake. Change her. She can’t need feeding again, surely? No, it’s playtime.

Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty.

Stuck in the Mud

The woman tried to move her feet. However much she wriggled and jiggled her legs, they wouldn’t free. She stood up straight, hands pushing into the small of her back, closing her eyes with a weary sigh.

On every side the world moved around the mud puddle. Children danced and ran, energy pouring out of them and towards her in torrents, but the torrents died away to drips before they reached the mud puddle. Busy busy people power-walked, focused, in a straight line towards a goal she couldn’t see. Where their so-straight path crossed her puddle, it veered around the outskirts, as if repelled by the negative power like a magnetic forcefield.

She tried again to get free but her struggles only seemed to suck her further in. The mud crept up her leg, cold and dark, and she shivered. She started to call out for help. She called louder and louder; no-one heard, although every now and then someone would stop and look around them as if bothered by something they couldn’t quite work out. Shaking their heads, they always moved on.

To her left she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a dark cloud beginning to crawl over the sky. She sobbed once and the breath caught in her throat with the cold. Her legs were aching from the effort of holding her increasingly heavy body up, and she slumped, her hands resting on her thighs taking as much of her weight as they could. Shallow breaths turned to droplets in the damp air. As she began to give up her hands slid down her legs. She jerked herself up for one last look at the world around the mud puddle and saw, in the distance, other people stuck in their own puddles. One caught her eye and they smiled humourlessly at each other. He waved at her, and began to raise his leg. She watched him wobble as he managed to free first one foot, then the other, stepping out of his puddle and striding away, mingling into the crowd with only a watery brown mudstain on his clothes as evidence of his entrapment.

She gritted her teeth, grinding them until they hurt and her jaw was locked in place. She stared down at her legs and willed her foot to lift free of the slime around it. It began to move; still sucked under the surface but starting to shift slightly. At the edge of the circle the man stood waiting; he’d returned for her. Every ounce of strength was forced into that obedient leg and it juddered free. She took big sticky steps, wading through the treacly mud with aching slowness until she finally stood with one foot poised to step into freedom. She looked back over her shoulder at the ever-present, threatening dark cloud and then turned, put each foot in turn onto solid ground.

She stretched in the sunshine and revelled in the warmth seeping into her skin, like a lazy cat on some Mediterranean tiled roof. Her eyes narrowed against the brightness and the colour.

Then she walked away.

Cold Calling

The phone rang for the hundredth time. I sighed, put down the iron, and answered the call.

“Good afternoon!” a false, cheerful voice rang out. “Could I speak to the homeowner please?”
“I’m a tenant,” I said dourly.
“Ah!” The Voice never faltered. “In that case, can I just ask if you have taken out life insurance lately?” I screamed silently.
“I’m not interested.”
“But if I could just take two minutes of your time to tell you about…”
“I’m really not interested. And I have to go and feed my baby.”
“A baby! How lovely, many congratulations. And have you considered how your premature death or illness could affect your children?”
“Sorry, got to go.”
“Well, thanks for your…”

I returned to the ironing, seething. Just once, just ONCE, I was going to tell The Voice to take a long walk off a short pier. These cold calls were among the many things that were really irritating me at the minute. The phone rang again.

“Good afternoon!” The Voice sang. “Could I speak to the person in charge of the bills please?” I grunted, then smiled.
“Mummy’th not in now.” I chirped.
“Oh…is your daddy there?”
“Daddy’th with my babythitter. They’re having a cuddle.”
“Um, ok. So when would be a good time to call back?”
“I don’t know, thorry. Mummy’th out till very, very late.”
“Bye bye.” And I put the phone down with a smug grin.

The next day the phone shrieked again, and The Voice rang out once more.
“Good morning! Are you the homeowner, may I ask?”
“You may.”
“Ah, ok. Um…”
“Ask then.”
“Er, are you the homeowner?”
“No. Anything else?”
“I believe your contents insurance is currently due for renewal, is that right?”
“You seem to know more than me. Are you going to pay it for me?”
“Er, no, madam.” The Voice seemed to rally. “This is just a courtesy call, madam, to let you know that you could save over £100 a year with our contents insurance.”
“That’s fine thanks. I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to save over £100 per year?”
“Nope. My husband is paying the bill, and as he’s currently sleeping with my neighbour and I’m about to leave him for my dance teacher, I’d rather he was left with as big a bill as possible.”
“Is there anything else? My taxi’s waiting.”
“Well, I could…”

I was starting to enjoy the cold calling now. It certainly livened up the ironing, which seemed to go on and on and on and…anyway. Later there was another call.

“Good afternoon!”
“It’s not twelve o clock yet.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You said good afternoon. It’s not afternoon yet. Not by my watch.” There was silence for a moment, and I pictured the caller checking the time. Which was about half two.
“Right, well my mistake, madam,” The Voice apologised in a not-very-sincere tone, clearly thinking I was a complete idiot. I was going to enjoy this one.
“Can I help you?” I said politely.
“As a matter of fact, I think I can help you. Have you renewed your car insurance yet?”
“I was just about to. You stopped me with my hand on the mouse.”
“Excellent Mrs Brown! I think I can save you hundreds on your premium, have you got a minute to hear how?”
“Not really.”
“Well, it will just take a moment. Or is your husband in? Perhaps he is the one to talk to.” This got my attention. Ignorant, misogynistic little…I seethed silently.
“Nope. I just put him under the patio.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I just buried him. Under the patio, so the smell doesn’t attract vermin. Except then I got a call from an insurance company, so it mustn’t work.”
“I, er, one moment please?” There was silence and I was confused. Surely at this point he hangs up and apologises for wasting my time? Or says he will phone back later? Surely, SURELY, he hasn’t been dim enough to believe that I just confessed to murdering my husband to a total stranger?
“Mrs Brown?”
“Could you, er, could you just go through your current quote for me?” What?
“That could take a while?”
“Great…I mean, that’s fine Mrs Brown.” Oh, now I got it. He was keeping me on the line. What, were the police going to turn up? I laughed.
“Right, ok, let’s just wind this up. I’m not interested, I just made that up to get rid of you. Ok?”
“Ah, of course Mrs Brown! Ha ha, excellent joke. Sorry for wasting your time.” And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cold caller hang up as fast.

I smiled and took my drink out onto the patio. Hopefully that prank would spread and I might get less sales calls. Presumably cold callers had some little society or something where they shared tips. I was feeling much less irritated now anyway.

“I can’t believe I was married to one of you people for so long,” I remarked to my sort-of absent husband, and shuddered.

I took another sip of my wine, and smiled again.

Friday Flashing

I’ve meant, for a couple of weeks, to have a go at the #FridayFlash meme on Twitter. I don’t know if you sign up to anywhere – if anyone knows, can you let me know in the comments please? Much appreciated. Anyway, the following conversation took place yesterday on Twitter between me and @alisonwells (whose excellent blog is here). NB read bottom tweet first:

So, gauntlet thrown down, I went away and did just that and here’s my Friday Flash Fiction. It’s very unpolished, so be forgiving please!

Alison’s Story

The peace was unprecedented. The hot weather meant that the children were out in the yard with a ball. The chores were done. The fire crackled in the grate with the kettle just beginning to bubble, and Alison pushed the window open a little further before checking everything was set up on her desk.

The tealeaves were carefully measured out. The tea cup was perfectly lined up with the milk jug to one side, while in the centre of the desk a sheaf of pristine paper stared at her, beckoning her. The quill and ink pot were positioned carefully to the other side. Neat, organised, just the way she liked it but so rarely managed to achieve. She poured hot water into the teapot and sat down with a sigh, wondering for the umpteenth time what it would be like in a world where women did not wear corsets or petticoats or have fires roaring in the heat of summer just so they could have a cup of tea or hot water. Shaking her head out of her fantasy, she picked up her pen, carefully shook off the excess ink and carefully wrote, ‘Chapter One’.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jamie kicked the ball out of the yard. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out, restored peace and recovered the ball, just before the coalcarrier’s cart went over it. Returning to her desk, she sipped her tea and recaptured the story that was still hovering at the front of her mind.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jack pushed me. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out and presided over the peace process, gave the stew a stir on her way back through the kitchen (fearing her sister Jane’s wrath should she let it burn before she returned) and took another sip of tea. The story still danced within her reach, and she picked up her quill again.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Jenny stole my marbles from me. She did it on purpose, Mama, she did!” She went out, discussed the stolen marbles and checked the washing on the line. Another sip of lukewarm tea helped her grasp an elusive thread of the story that was slipping away from her, and she picked up her quill again. This time she managed to write another word, ‘Once…’

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, going to the window and asking what the problem was. “Joe called me a nasty name. He did it on purpose, Mama, he did!” She went out, delivered a short but pithy lecture on appropriate language, and returned to the desk, stirring the coals on her way past before they died to glowing embers. She stared into her cold cup of tea, wondering if there had ever been a story or if she had only imagined it.

“Mama!” Alison sighed and pushed back her chair, looking up to see a line of small faces in front of her desk. “Can we have some paper and your pen? We want to be writers, just like you.” Alison looked at the paper, the pen, then the hopeful gazes fixed on her. She pushed her chair away and, leaving them busy pouring their words onto the paper, she put the kettle on to boil again.