Lena

Not a summary, but I copy and pasted from my documents, so I'm sorry if it didn't work propery and the paragraphs have disappeared!

 

Where am I?

My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see anything.

Oh, it’s dark. Okay. I can deal with that. I’m not scared of the dark.

I heard footsteps creaking on wooden floorboards.

Maybe I’m not scared of the dark.

The footsteps were getting closer and my fight or flight reaction was fixed firmly on flight.

My legs were moving faster and faster.

“Ow!” I yelled having hit, at fairly high speed, a long metal bench. The impact jolted my senses into action and my eyes, finally, started to adjust to the dark. “Wooden floors, metal bench with a large…coffee machine on it! - I’m at the café.” I ended triumphantly.

 Getting my bearings was great, there was no place I knew as well as the café, but didn’t solve the more pressing problem at hand of the footsteps, which were now uncomfortably close.

“Run Lena!” Daisy the waitress yelled from somewhere in the now-not-so darkness.

Oh right. I was running from something scary.

Just as the silver flash of an axe came down I heeded her warning and ran towards the stairs.

“We have to get to the bottom!” I cried catching up with Daisy. I knew the elevator wouldn’t work, and even if it did we’d be trapped inside. The only choice was to run down all ten flights of stairs to the street below.

As I started down the first, very steep and narrow, flight of stairs, my internal alarm went off in its usual way: a niggling feeling in my stomach.

The café’s not ten stories high.

But I didn’t have time to think. The footsteps were almost upon us.

I gripped the handrail and tried to go faster, feeling splinters shredding my hands. A blonde fuzzy head brushed past me.

Daisy made it, good. 

Relieved as I was that she was alive I was more so because I didn’t want to be stuck as the last man standing in a horror movie fighting the bad guy alone in the dark.

That’s not at all a selfish thought Lena. I chastised myself panting, unused to the running. Another thought  occurred to me. Stairs. Wooden stairs. Axes are used by woodchoppers. Duh Lena! What are the stairs made of? Wood!

The owner of the footsteps was chopping at the stairs as we went. He wanted us to fall down ten flights.

I turned the corner; I was on the eighth floor now. A heavier slower creak sounded on the stairs. I’d know that step anywhere.

It was Fred; he’d joined us somewhere between the eighth and ninth floors. Oh no, he won’t be able to keep up with us.

I ran back up and started pulling him behind me as fast as I could. His feet were far too big for the steps and he was too heavy for the whole structure. Diets. This is why people invented diets! I thought, rather meanly as we caught up to Daisy, there were others with her now. Some of them I knew, most I didn’t.

Before I could wonder where they’d all come from everything ended in a dark abyss. It was time to make the choice. Keep running into the unknown or turn around and face the man with the axe. Or was it a woman? I shook my head. Priorities Lena!

 Everyone was waiting for me to make the decision.

Why me? Why do I have to seal their fates?

They were all so close behind me that there was no longer a decision to be made. I couldn’t go back, they were blocking the way. I took a last look at the top of the stairs; he, or she, was silhouetted in the doorway his, or her, hand poised to pull off the mask.

But the crowd, sensing danger, surged forward and I fell off the final step into the darkness below.

And then I woke up.

Sitting bolt upright on my lounge I started crying. Not out of fear, but from sheer frustration. As scared as I had been; I wanted to see the bad guy, even if it meant that I died.

Early morning light was coming in the window; there would be no more sleep for me.

I took an unreasonably long shower that morning. Martin was still asleep so I wouldn’t get a lecture about wasting water. Honestly. Don’t men know how many things women have to do in the shower? We have to wash our hair, then let the conditioner sit for a couple of minutes, shave legs, and I know mine aren’t very long, but it still takes a while, you have to wait until the goose bumps are gone from your legs so you don’t take the tops off them and get shaving rash. There’s exfoliating to be done, deep pore cleansing, armpits to be shaved. And they expect us to do all that in four minutes or under? And that doesn’t include the health benefits that come from just standing and letting the hot water wash over you in a calming therapeutic manner

I took out my anger at the unfairness of global warming, water restrictions and the detrimental effects these had on my well being by dreaming of a beautiful green lawn, maintained by constant watering with sprinklers and hoses.

By the time I did get out of the shower, which had been excessive, even for me, I was relatively calm and relaxed; the dream was starting to slip away.

I stood in front of the mirror and looked through the window trying to decide what to wear.

It was unseasonably warm outside and I wanted to look  bright and happy. So I put on my new blue dress with pockets in the front, a black waistcoat over the top and spent half an hour looking for my sandals and tripping over Chris, before giving up and putting my yellow ballet flats with little lacy socklets on instead. I looked pretty funky if I did say so myself. Twisting my hair until it dried in longish dark waves and trying to fit a string of plastic red beads over my head twice I realized that leaving them on my head instead might be kinda cool. It gave me an art student meets 1920’s flapper look. I left the house hoping that I had the nerve to walk around with beads on my head.

 

 

Nothing of note ever happened in the village of Bulkington where I lived. The census in 2001 put the population at 6303 people; most of who had been born there and their parents before them going back for generations.

It’s only claim to fame  was St. James’s Anglican Church and its six bells,  which had never experienced the pleasure of dust collected through disuse thanks to the aspiring bell ringers that practiced daily in preparation for Sunday mornings when they had the chance to aurally delight the inhabitants of Bulkington.

Philip Barnard had been one of the original celebrity TV chefs, helping ensure a world filled with reality TV and gourmet cooking. But, as his language wasn’t as colourful as some of his successors, he quit while he was ahead, left the big smoke and opened Café Le Bon Jardin.

During the months of renovations before he opened, much fun was had by the formidable gossip mill of Bulkington, which spent most of its time in speculation about what was going into the old bakery on Main Street. When Phillip finally pulled down the sheets and threw the doors open to the first espresso machine this side of London the locals were in a tizzy. The beginning of the end, they said. A coffee machine today, a mega mall and super highway the next. Life in Bulkington would never be the same.  Our elders and betters declared loudly to anyone who bothered to listen.  However, those of us under the age of  thirty, especially the ones who had early morning classes and GCSE’s to get through reveled in having real coffee available to us without a seven-mile ride to Coventry on a rickety bus. We enjoyed sitting outside in the courtyard under the ancient Canadian Oak tree so much that, often, those early classes were forgotten or ‘cancelled’, if our parents caught us. We were almost solely responsible for Café Le Bon Jardin surviving the first twelve tenuous months that every small business hopes to get through.

My friends and I grew close to the staff and Philip held a special leaving lunch for us when we graduated in 2003, which was far superior to our official leaving do, that had been comprised of taffeta, balloons and heels so ridiculously high that by the end of the night we were certain they’d been designed by the devil.

It was a fact, written at the dawn of time. Everyone knew it.  I was never meant to be a small town girl and when the bright lights of London Town beckoned the day after graduation I answered the call immediately, along with half my form.

I spent the best nine months of my life living on the top floor of a terrace house in Town. There was a certain thrill to sweating my way up three flights of very narrow stairs to fight with the ancient lock to fit my key in and knowing that when I won the battle the messy flat waiting inside was mine. It was invigorating; cooking my own meals (occasionally), going to the pub and playing pool, coming home whenever I wanted to or not coming home at all, even paying the bills, I felt like a true grown up. I knew that I would live there forever.

Even at eighteen-years-old I had my routines. There was the small coffee cart near the station that always had my large skim latte waiting for me at 7:24 am, leaving me the perfect amount of time to read Ben’s morning text before getting on the 7:32 train into work.

Work was the Interlogic Temp agency. Only once, at my interview did I make it past the reception area. Every day I would walk in, catch up on the latest happenings with Jennifer, the receptionist while waiting for her to print off the address for the latest office I was needed at and raid the petty cash for taxi money to the afore-mentioned address.

After work would see me out with the girls from the office, most of whom I had met the day, for drinks before making my way home via one of two routes. The first passed an Indian take away, the best I’ve had to this day, the curries weren’t drowned in thick sauces, but delicately chosen spices sprinkled over the meat and veggies. The second route, used when I was feeling fiscally endowed, every other Thursday normally, was by way of a narrow cobblestone alley leading to a charming little restaurant run by an elderly couple and their daughter. The dining room was a courtyard surrounded by high wooden fences, covered in ivy vines and jasmine, a corrugated iron roof had been constructed to keep out the elements and was adorned with miles of fairy lights so that looking up was like looking into a starry sky. I would sit there and enjoy my three-course meal, with the fantastic company of a book, I often found fictional company preferable to real, it always responded the way you wanted it to and never made comments about not needing the extra bread sticks you’d ordered or pointing out that the meal you were having cost more than what you’d earned at work that day. Not that my boyfriend ever dared to say those things, but if he wasn’t around then a book was the second best thing.

I loved every aspect of my life. 

And then I moved back to Bulkington.

In nine months it had progressed at the rate of half a decade per month. The locals had been right about Philip. He had only been the start. That first intrepid adventurer to venture into the unknown.

When I returned tourism had embraced Bulkington, although the feeling was not fully reciprocated. Pretty little shops had sprung up offering “local goods and wares” at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting visitors. Bon Jardin was no longer the only café in town. Two chocolate “shoppe” cafes and a delicatessen now lined the main street. Even the pubs had tried to get their piece of the kitschy pie. The Top Pub advertised home cooked meals ‘like mum used to make’ and the Bottom Inn had ‘bed and breakfast’ style accommodation for the weary traveler.

Bulkington had come into the 21st century at last. Well at least it had crawled its way to the edge of the mid 1990’s. Philip, the once feared intruder now joined the regulars at the Top Pub for darts on a Friday evening to complain about all the new comers. But, for all its efforts at change that was as exciting as life got in our sleepy little town. Famous last words.

I hadn’t planned on ever living in Bulkington again. There was nothing there for me, my parents had sold their house and moved to two acres in Stourport-on-Severn. They raised chickens and had a goat for cheese and milk.

But between crying my eyes out and packing what was left of my life into boxes I up and bought a house in Bulkington. Reading the obits online, as I did daily, I saw that Old Tom had died; he had no surviving relatives. A quick Google search found that his old farmhouse was going up for auction as a deceased estate.

I showed up, right on time, with my temperamental old car filled with boxes. After waiting in vain for other bidders to arrive we held a very informal auction sitting at the kitchen table. I won the bidding by default, bought it at half what I had expected to and the auctioneer helped me unpack the car later the same day.

My new home wasn’t exactly what you’d call palatial. In fact most people would call it small and cramped: downright poky. But to me it was perfect. That’s not to say it wasn’t in a great state of disrepair.

Upstairs were the two bedrooms with sloping ceilings, ugly built in wardrobes and strange wooden beams that cut across the room at waist height making every night time trip to the toilet perilous. Downstairs contained the living room, kitchen and bathroom both with “original” fittings.  Which was real-estate lingo for decrepit. I was probably lucky to have electricity and running water.

Old Tom Glenorie and his wife had last decorated some time in the 60’s and it took me three whole days to scrape the very stylish Styrofoam tiles off the ceilings. Not to mention the brick wallpaper over the brick fireplace, the fake wood paneling on the walls and pulling up the green and orange paisley carpets. But I didn’t mind, it kept me busy.

When I was done and the paint was drying I got into my ancient car and drove into the town. I could see the rumour mill coming to life as I drove down the main street, past the post office, the supermarket and the tourist traps with everyone stopping in their tracks to stare at me. I rattled to a loud stop outside my destination.

Philip had heard the signature whistle of my fan belt well before I was in sight and was waiting by the stiff doors to welcome me back. It would have been nice to be able to think that I was glad to back. But I wasn’t.

It seemed that half the town were there to witness my homecoming that day. Not by coincidence I’m sure. Mrs. McGinty with the Philby’s, all eight of them, Charles Lange and his new wife, Geraldine and her group of stitch witches. Most of them were offering their theories as to why I had come back here of all places. If I’d cared I may have been hypothesizing myself, like where Charles Lange had found this curvy blonde wife and what he’d done with his old model. In the old days I would have been whispering with my friends and having great fun putting the stories through their paces. But I was alone and for the first time found myself the subject of them instead of one of the crowd. I kept my head down and pretended to be absorbed in my newspaper, trying to ignore the whispers as they got louder. Philip and his staff were run off their feet trying to accommodate everyone. At least some good is coming out of this.

That day was the busiest non-tourist trade Café Le Bon Jardin had done in a long time.  I drank my two large skim lattes and gently encouraged my car to make it home after a brief stop to pick up the essentials: ice-cream, chocolate, ingredients for chocolate cake, juicy meat pies and oven baked chips. Food that until recently I had rarely eaten. But as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Successfully managing to carry all the bags in one go I found a large black cat was gracefully licking his paws on the front step. He stretched widely exposing his tummy to me nonchalantly before sitting up and waiting to be let inside.

“You must be Chris.” I said bending down to give him a pat. “I’ve been waiting for you. See?” I said shaking the bag that held the cat food I’d bought for him. According to the paperwork he was part of the property settlement. I poured him a bowl of milk and some dried biscuits, too tired to do more, and we curled up on the dusty lounge together in front of the fire.

The next day while I was elbow deep in bleach and soap suds, trying to bring the house up to inhabitable standards, Martin came knocking on my door. He was new in town and I didn’t ask any questions when he asked if there was a spare room he could live in, the extra money would be nice. He told me regardless. His wife of ten years had asked him to move out so that her lover, her female secretary, could move in. Being an accommodating type he’d agreed and applied for a job as a schoolteacher at the local prep.

He liked being so close to Coventry, said it was fitting, like he’d been sent to Coventry, cut off from everything. He was right, only ending up in Bulkington was worse.

Martin was very grateful to move out of the Bottom Inn, but I thought I got the best part of the deal. The acre of land my house was on had been very neglected in Tom’s last years and Martin was afraid of snakes, so lawn mowing became his favorite pastime. I didn’t mind; growing up a landscaper’s daughter had left me allergic to gardening.

Every other weekend his 8 year-old son Gabe came to stay with us, but Martin made sure they kept out of my hair. We lived peacefully.

 

I don’t tell time in analogue or digital. Or seconds, minutes or hours. I tell time in other, more meaningful ways. Two coffees is the equivalent of an hour and daylight is the wasted period between closing my eyes. Sunday night means that Monday is the next day and my life might finally start, because we all know that everything good happens on a Monday no matter what that old Mama’s and Papa’s song says. And a 42 minute television show which magically takes an hour of screen time can bother me for a week or more.

My story starts with a combination of the last two. Due to a 42 minute TV show on a Sunday night my life began the next day. Monday.

 

I closed the door and quietly walked back to the living room. As always I looked at the shadow against the wall. Running my hands over my hips I sighed resignedly. I could never quite come to terms with how much over hang I had over the top of my pants when I looked at the shadow.

Well, you could always stop looking at it. I thought to myself, pulling my straight brown hair into a messy bun. But if I stopped looking at it, who knows how that would affect me? I have my routines and that just happens to be one of them. If only I could just wish it away, or click my fingers and have the perfect body. Maybe one day there’ll be a pill for it. A pill that really does work.

At the grand height of 5’3 I couldn’t afford to have any excess weight on. Even a kilo or two could give me the dubious honour of being almost as round as I was tall. And since returning to Bulkington I had picked up the unfortunate habit of binge eating, gone were the teenage years of eating what I wanted to, whenever I wanted, never doing a scrap of exercise and kept a fairly good hour glass figure. My shoulder length dark brown hair used to be my favourite asset, but since I had tortured it and bleached it platinum blonde last year (thanks very much for the idea Blondie), it was too scared to grow more than an inch or two. Thankfully I the maintenance was too much for me and I dyed it back within a month. With deep brown eyes, smooth olive skin, a throwback to Dad’s Italian heritage and a well practiced wide-eyed innocent expression I was really quite pretty, beautiful even in the right light. Until you looked below my neck and my body gave me away.

I was famously lazy. It wasn’t that I hated exercise, it was just that there were so many other things I could be doing. If it was physical possible to read, write or clean the house while exercising then I might have been the exercise queen. No that’s not true, I hated exercise; in any form. So as it was I rarely did any and had to deal with the body I had. And try not to mope about it too much.

I went into the living room and plopped myself down on the lounge. As I reached for the remote I was vaguely surprised that the TV wasn’t already on. Trying hard to ignore the news update as I waited for my favourite Sunday night show to start I looked around in vain for the newspaper.

Why do I have to feel bad about making a mess when Martin leaves newspapers everywhere, all over the table, the floor, the chairs? I unearthed the latest paper from beneath a pile of washing that was begging to be folded and put away and turned straight to the crosswords. At least I got it before he did.

 Generally Martin and I were good housemates for each other, but sometimes I’d just had enough and wanted to be on my own.

Just wait my pretty, your time will come soon enough. They leave tomorrow. Martin and his young son were going to visit his parents. I was very excited about having a week all to myself. I’d loved living “adult-free” when I left school and couldn’t wait to have the chance again.

The theme song to my program started and I raced to settle myself, determined not to move for an hour.

It was only in the last few years that I had learnt to watch TV without doing something else at the same time. Growing up I always had a book or sewing or even, albeit rarely, homework in front of my as I watched. Now I could spend hours on end staring at the screen having to bribe myself to get up and turn off the TV. But to my credit I was almost always thinking or dreaming while I watched, by and large it wasn’t just mindless staring.

This particular evening was different. For the first fifteen minutes I’d sat staring at the screen, oblivious to anything other than the drama and angst of the story. Martin had come to watch and jerked his head my way as I began bouncing in frustration at the scene being played out.

“Are you okay?” He asked, more out of politeness than actual concern.

“No! She’s right there and no one can see her or is even thinking about her! After all they’ve seen how can it not seem possible that she’d be around?” I lapsed into silence glowering at the screen and clutching a cushion. This lasted all of two minutes. “Run!” I shouted, making Martin spill his tea. “Why do they always stare in loving adoration instead of running straight to each other?” Martin shook his head and grabbed the slightly crumpled newspaper from where I’d dropped it. I didn’t notice. “Oh, come on!” I begged the TV. “Please? You’ve waited so long. Just kiss her. Say I love you. Anything. You know the bad guys will get you if you hesitate. She’s come so far to see you. Hurry up!” A big smile stretched across my face as the two characters ran towards each other. “Finally!”

Happy I settled down into my seat again. My eyes widened as I saw what was about to happen. “No!” I wriggled down under the blanket and pulled it around my chin. My eyes filled with tears and I pulled the blanket over my head leaving a small gap to see the screen. I glanced fleetingly at Martin ensuring that he couldn’t see me crying. Satisfied that he couldn’t I let the tears flow freely. I didn’t move again until the end of the credits.

Jumping up so quickly that the cat ran for cover I half threw the remote at Martin. “Here. I don’t want it.” Catching it with his left hand he raised his eyebrows without comment knowing I would continue my rant without prompt. “It’s not fair! She can’t remember anything and she’ll never know what she’s missing. And as for the blonde, how can she be happy knowing that the real, original guy she fell in love with is off saving the world on his own? And that he knows she’s off having a real life with the fake one! And him! He had one last absolutely final chance to say I love you and he didn’t!” With that I flounced into the kitchen in search of chocolate.

Martin sat in his chair amused at how seriously I took a silly television show. He heard a bang and knew that I was grabbing the phone. Another bang told him that I was outside and once on the phone I’d be occupied for hours.

Outside it was colder than I had anticipated. Shivering I dialled my best friend, Abigail’s, phone number waited for her to answer. “C’mon Abby. Pick up the phone. Pick it up!” On the verge of a temper tantrum I hung up and dialled another number. Finally someone answered. “Oh my god Meg! Did you watch it?” I settled down for a long debrief with Meg satisfied.

 

The End

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