Thursday, September 8, 2022

Addicted to quitting

Sometime early in the millennium, I quit drinking alcohol - chardonnay - for a few months, just to see if I could. I counted the days. After several self-congratulatory alcohol-free months, I cautiously reintroduced it. Al and I were on our first trip away without the kids, who were then about 19 and 20. The Kangaroo Island wines were irresistible. What was the harm in two glasses? Clearly, I could control it, having gone so long without.

Two weeks later, I was back to daily work stress and self-soothing every evening with most of a bottle of chardonnay, carefully leaving at least one glass in the bottle. Why shouldn’t I drink?  I worked hard. I also commuter-cycled about 14 kay a day and despite years of living with Type 1 diabetes, I was fitter than most people my age. I didn’t have a drinking problem.

By retirement, I’d reduced my normal drinking to about two glasses of chardonnay a night. I relished that punctuation mark in my days. We’d had a rough couple of years since I’d finished working and wine, I thought, helped. Except when I was wide-awake every night after only 90 minutes sleep, berating myself for having stupidly drunk wine again, despite the absolute knowledge that it was ruining any chance I had of sleeping.

I quit drinking again in 2019. Seven months this time. I wasn’t euphorically alcohol-free – I was dealing with too much grief - but I felt in control. I cautiously reintroduced white wine one hot afternoon sitting in a piazza in Cordoba, Spain. Honestly, I was a bit bored. Wine felt right. I knew it would interfere with my sleep. So what? For various reasons I wasn’t sleeping much anyway. I might as well enjoy wine in Spain. Right?

Back home, into routine. One or two glasses of wine a day isn’t a problem, is it? Plus, I had a couple of alcohol-free days each week when I went out to evening choir rehearsals. Except for the nights I’d get home around half-nine and quickly down a couple of chardies ‘to help me settle’. Settling meant three hours sleep on a good night, then, fuck, wide awake, and cursing myself as I journalled that I’d stupidly done it again.

How did I become this addict? Why do I have this problem with alcohol? Why have I battled to control this habit? Could it be that the problem is the alcohol?

Alcohol hardly featured in the English part of my childhood – 1956 until 1964 - before we emigrated to Australia. ‘Adverts’ from the time, proclaimed that ‘Guinness is good for you’. In one memory, my mother, in her late twenties, is sideways on her car seat, legs out of the open passenger door, smiling, face raised to the sun, as she savoured her drink. ‘Ooh, shall we stop, Fred?’  she’d said. It had been a tease, a game that my older sister and I were invited to enjoy. Kindly, Dad – how lovely he seemed - parked the Wolseley at the country pub, disappeared inside then returned with a tray. Lemonade for my sister and I, and crisps, with a twist of salt in a blue wrapper and shandy for mum. He’d have a ‘half of lager’. I don’t remember hearing the word ‘beer’.

At home, as far as I was aware, tea was the drink of choice. Almost from infancy we drank tea with milk and sugar. If it was too hot, we poured some into our saucers, which was later discouraged for being a bit ‘common’. Lemonade and Tizer – bottles of ‘pop’ - were special treats. Another bubbly thrill that I associate with our maternal grandmother was Dandelion and Burdock; ‘sassparilla’ she said in her Yorkshire accent. We drank fizzy Lucozade if we’d been ‘poorly’ and needed pepping up with a bit of glucose.

Once after a family dinner outing, my mother, wearing her fur coat, fainted in the doorway of a Chinese restaurant. I’d gone outside with her while my sister, Ruth, remained inside while dad paid. Mum had been feeling unwell. I stood solemnly next to her. ‘She’s probably drunk,’ I heard from a couple of passers-by. ‘She’s not, she’s my mummy and she’s fainted,’ I declared, standing guard. So I knew that ‘drunk’ was bad.

My parents didn’t become drinkers and smokers until after they’d begun their Australian lives. Their late-1960s/early 70s social life involved beer, wine and Craven Special Mild cigarettes, mum’s dispensed fashionably from a black Glomesh case. Ruth and I practised our teenage smoking by filching mum’s cigarettes. Couldn’t pinch dad’s. He’d know and his reprimands, depending on the mood he was in, could be ferocious.

My parents drank beer – there’d usually be a couple of long-necks in the fridge – and wine. Wine came in glass flagons and was dispensed into a carafe. Sophistication. That was before the wine bottling parties of the early 70s. My parents and a few friends, all with kids our age, pooled their funds and bought plastic vats of claret and chablis. Dad had a device to cork the bottles. Empty bottles were washed and sterilised in the oven. My sister and I, with dad's encouragement, happily drank an inch or two from the tops of the accidentally overfilled bottles so the corks could fit. Fabulous fun; joy and conviviality. Mum was entertaining and flirtatious – usually not with my dad, who was cheerfully engaged in the practical tasks of wine bottling. At evening’s end, the wine was divvied up and the adults, fully tanked, drove their families home.

This was us being happy. My parents, ‘respectable’ good, church-going people, had our best interests at heart. I never saw them ‘rolling drunk’ or passed out. Dad occasionally admitted to having had too much to drink on a night out and had once confessed to parking the car until he’d recovered a bit so he could drive home. This was acknowledged as a bad thing; one shouldn’t get this drunk. Drinking to such a point was scorned. If mum was ever sick, it was because she had a migraine. As teenagers, we never doubted this.

I began drinking at 14. I learned early that I hated ‘the spins’ and even worse, vomiting, after too much. An excruciatingly nauseous experience with beer put me off it for life. My drinks of choice: apple cider, sweet Spritzig and Mateus rosé, Moselle, Bacardi and coke, whiskey and dry ginger, Advocaat and Lemonade and when I wanted to look cool, portagaff - stout and lemonade. With alcohol, I could socialize, joke, slide down stairs, sing and dance like an exhibitionist. My parents knew my sister and I drank illegally at licensed premises but accepted it. We were still up early for church on Sundays, where I sat in the front pew in my surplice and veil with my fellow choristers. I was developing nicely into a normal drinker.  

During my lifetime, I’ve pitied people who don’t drink, wondering what sort of twee fun they could possibly be having. I’ve generally had hilarious times drinking with others or relaxing solo-drinking chillouts in front of the television. I've sneaked cask-wine into dry church socials and a bottle of whiskey into a dry end-of-year school ball. Without alcohol, I considered these events to be unendurable, and perhaps they were. I’ve also combined my passion for wine with cycling kilometers around wine regions in Victoria, France and Germany. Healthy, normal living. And normal sleeping, well, for a couple of hours before the inevitable waking and self-admonition until dawn. Occasionally I’d stick a couple of fingers down my throat so I could vomit and stop the nausea. But this was only at special events, once or twice a year. Or so I tell myself. Otherwise i drank a steady, measured stream of chardonnay, which I started drinking in 1981 for ‘medicinal’ reasons: it had less sugar and I had-newly diagnosed diabetes mellitus, as they called it then, that is Type 1.

I’ve quit on and off over the last 52 years, like many habitual drinkers, to periodically prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic, with all its gutter connotations. I didn’t touch a drop during two pregnancies but shamefully admit that my children were introduced to alcohol with their breast milk. What hope did they have? I protected them from all manner of harm, swaddling them in sensible swimwear and smearing them with 50 plus sunscreen. Yet we raised them in a happy, functioning alcohol-filled family.

Like so many, I succumbed to the lie, in advertising and my environment, that alcohol is essential to every occasion worth enjoying. I’ve never, until recently, considered that it’s a highly addictive carcinogenic drug that has altered my brain chemistry. When I was young, I didn’t want my parents to know I smoked tobacco and didn’t smoke in front of them – both smokers at that stage – until I was 19. I quit smoking completely at 23 and was roundly congratulated. No one ever encouraged me to just have one, because it wouldn’t harm me.

Just over a month ago, I quit my wine habit for good, largely inspired by my son, now in his mid-30s who quit alcohol completely six months ago. I’m resolved never to drink again having battled with my addiction for too long. For support, I've immersed myself in a whole new world of 'quit lit' and sober social media, something I've never tried before. 

Now I just need to quit banging on about it.

 

 

 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Get Back. Thanks for the memories.

 

‘I'm surprised they ever recorded any music,’ said my husband, Al, watching Get Back, Peter Jackson's startlingly evocative film of The Beatles' 1969 final sessions. (Streaming on Disney+) Admittedly, at times I too was wondering why they didn’t just get on with it. But they didn’t create like that.

I watched through intermittent washes of tears prompted by floods of memory and emotion. Experiencing Get Back was like finding some part of my own childhood and adolescence that I didn't know had been filmed.

The Beatles mostly comprised the soundtrack to my formative years. In the playground in Sheffield, England, my playmates and I pledged our undying love for either John, Paul, George or Ringo, a different Beatle depending on the day. This group stirred passions we couldn’t understand. My sister and I would wait expectantly to dance to The Beatles on Top of The Pops on the tiny black and white TV in the corner.

My adulation migrated with me to Melbourne, along with 'insider knowledge' that I imagined gave me some sort of referent power, clout as I navigated the alien dynamics of the Australian playground. You see, my uncle Bob had once been a bouncer at a Beatles' concert in Hull in England’s north in the early sixties, something I'd share when we children started comparing notes on pop stars. And who was Col Joye anyway? Some Australian girls were going on about him. For me it was the Beatles and Mick Jagger. I was eight.

I've never bought a Beatles' LP record. Too expensive. The records in our home were more Frank Sinatra or Dave Brubeck Quartet back then. No Beatles’ albums, but dad did buy She Loves You on a 45-rpm single, which we played repeatedly on the radiogram.

I’d learned all the words to Yesterday from the radio.  It was my first solo singing performance. Our grade 4 teacher, Mr Evans, the charming sadist, ordered his charges to either sing a song or get 'the cuts'.  (Imagine that today!) He'd line us all up at the front of the room and give us the choice. A single cut of the strap on your open palm or sing. No brainer. Other children’s post-strap grimaces suggested Mr Evans wasn't holding back. Me? I enjoyed singing and an audience and, do you know you can keep singing Yesterday for a very long time if you order your verses just so? I think Mr Evans had to threaten to strap me to make me sit down. Wonder if there's any connection between my solo rendition and subsequent bullying.

During the next four years, I evolved with Beatles' music, my hormones pulsing to the rhythm. The Beatles were simply there, usually on the radio. Mum called me inside from my play one Saturday morning in 1966 to listen to the satellite broadcast of All You Need is Love. ‘They’re making history,’ she told me in a wobbly voice, probably missing her home in England.

Aged thirteen, I attended a party for all the instrumental music students at my school. Old Mrs Florimel, my violin teacher, generously held the party in her gloriously shabby two-storey house – long since demolished - on a hill overlooking the Maribyrnong River. Someone had brought along the Abbey Road album which played continuously in the garden throughout the afternoon on a portable record player. Something, the George Harrison song, seemed to have floated down from heaven, the most sublime song I'd ever heard. Hormones? Perhaps, but it's still an extraordinary number.

1969. Sobbing in the schoolyard when we learned that The Beatles had broken up. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to feel grief. Remember how long life seemed and how grown up you felt at thirteen? How could this have happened?

All these memories fired as I watched Get Back. Jackson's three-part film is genius in its production values. The events seem to be happening in real time, all over again and yet we know they aren't. John, Paul, George and Ringo - and Yoko – don’t get me started! - are living in the minute. Obliviously carefree, apart from having to create an album and documentary from scratch in limited time. They smoke and drink through their days with no concept of what's written in the next few chapters of their lives. Ah, the overflowing ashtrays of youth in the sixties. Don't you wish you could still just smoke and drink with impunity?

My mind was in overdrive throughout the film. I didn't want it to end.

But this is the thing that bowled me over: the film allows us to witness the birth of songs that have become part of the canon. We see, for example, Paul playing the chord progressions of The Long and Winding Road before he's even thought up the words that we all know so well. This happens many times in the film. How is art created? You have nothing, you work at it and then you have something that didn't exist before you brought it into being. And The Beatles were well-practised, gifted artists.

Al, sitting next to me on the couch, was also a huge Beatles' fan. Watching the joking, chat, interruptions and delays as The Beatles worked on their songs, he became frustrated, wondering whether they'd ever accomplish anything. But I was transfixed, secure in the knowledge of the fabulous musical outcomes. My deep delight and satisfaction came from observing the creative process, despite the limpet-like presence of Yoko Ono. (It puzzles me, incidentally, that no one banged this apparently deeply insecure woman over the head with Maxwell's silver hammer. Too soon?)

Sure, I love lots of music, but The Beatles were my coming-of-age band.

 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pitfalls of a Covid relationship

Anyone else settled for a Covid relationship? I know how it happened in my case. I wasn’t out there, interacting, socialising, looking around.  So, after much painstaking online research I’d convinced myself that this was it. 

Initially the relationship almost met my needs. We seemed to work okay together. Admittedly, I was feeling a little cramped and constricted from the start. But better than being without, right?

 

I kept up the pretence and strode out in my new partnership, but at day’s end it hurt and I just wanted someone to rub my feet and tuck me into bed.

 

Then that day when it teemed with rain, we had a bust up. I was walking on eggshells trying not to get upset, literally struggling to just stay upright with my head held high. I’d had enough. What were they thinking with this match?

 

I called the company to complain.

 

“I didn’t expect this,” I said. “I should have been warned. I was promised something watertight that would see me through all kinds of weather, not trip me at the first hurdle. I didn’t pay all that money for a fair-weather relationship. I’ve been ripped off. I thought I was getting something else. Where were the signs warning me about this?”

 

Getting nowhere, I called an independent counsellor for advice.

 

“Just work through it,” she said. “Put it in writing. Be very firm. Demand your money back. Or threaten to go public. They don’t like a bad Google review. It should work out but here’s a case number if you need to get back to us. Believe me, I hear you. Things like this happen all the time.”

 

Well, I tried all that without success. However, the weather had fined up, so, as you do, I thought I’d give it another go. Perhaps time would rub off some of the friction; soften the edges. Things would get more comfortable between us. It didn’t really help, but we continued to stumble around together, hoping for a better outcome.

 

Then suddenly, like dawn on a new day, lockdown ended and I could go out again. Everything appeared brighter on the horizon. I even developed a spring in my step, despite the tightness I’d been enduring for so long. Like a veil had been lifted, I saw that what I’d been subjecting myself to was just crazy. It was over. Done. Mark it down to a Covid relationship, one that you put up with during a pandemic but one that could not endure under new-normal circumstances.

 

Consider it a lesson learned. Reframe it. See it as a gift. I’d lost nothing except a little money. and what else was I spending it on anyway?

 

The relationship simply wasn’t a good fit. I ended it.

 

Those overpriced, allegedly waterproof walking shoes, that ridiculously turned into skates in wet weather, have gone to the op shop.


(I may have bought dud shoes that weren't fit for purpose but I won't out the company here. After I did my due diligence - contacted ACCC and followed their advice - the company refunded 30 percent of the purchase price of the shoes. And hopefully, whoever buys the shoes from Savers won't break their neck if they wear them in wet weather.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Checkout Security Alert

Not much to do in this apparently unending lockdown, is there? But there's always the shopping. Anyone else relishing the variety afforded by a trip to the supermarket? 
Was checking myself out at my local Coles, when a tall young man, wide-eyed, with curls escaping under his cap, stood outside the checkout area in my line of vision, awaiting my acknowledgment. He patiently watched unitl he knew I'd sensed him in my periperal vision. I looked up to meet his enquiring gaze, wondering. Ex-student? One of my kids' friends? Hard to tell in our masks. He reminded me of a neighbourhood boy who'd now be about the same age. 
'I notice colours,' he told me. 
'Okay,' I responded, bit quizzically, continuing with my scanning and packing. 
'I noticed your colourful jacket!' A proclamation. 
'I'll take that as a compliment,' I said, scanning a block of cheese. My big raincoat was indeed colourful with its swirling pastels. 
'Please do,' he said, nodding politely before walking away. 
Some minutes later, he returned to where I was finishing my packing. 
'Goodbye,' he said earnestly, another nod as he left. 
'Bye,' I called after him, smiling under my mask. 
It was curious and diverting, but no problem. Not according to the shop assistant supervising the self-checkout. Apparently, with just a few baskets to clear and registers to routinely sterilise, she had time to be extra-mindful of customer safety. She power-walked over to me. 
'Don't go until he leaves the store,' she ordered, eyes alert watching his back. I glanced over. He seemed to be exiting in an unremarkable fashion. 'You can't be too careful,' she added. 
'Sorry? Does he have a reputation? Should I be alarmed?' He'd seemed harmless, if not delightful.
'No, but you never know.' 
'Don't worry, I'm tough,' I said. 'I used to be a secondary teacher. I can handle it.' I raised an arm as if to show my muscled bicep, hidden beneath my coat sleeve. Don't think my sense of humour made it out from under my mask.
'Just go straight to your car,' she advised, still checking the entrance. 
A middle-aged customer bustled over with her shopping bags to share her thoughts. 'Remember that man who murdered a woman in Brunswick?' Her eyes were wary under raised eyebrows. 'He used to shop here. Every week he'd come here to buy his Benson & Hedges Red.' 
'Did you tell the police?' I asked. 'It could have been a vital clue.' I was gathering my bags to leave. 
Both women eyed me icily before shifting position to close me out of their gossip. 
I left without calamity and haven't since spotted the man who noticed colours and brightened my day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Pandemic pondering

How was my lockdown? Since you ask, I've had too much time to explore every orifice, mostly metaphorically speaking. It doesn't help that something  compels me to keep a journal, the constant writing of which rarely amounts to anything other than something that may later make me chuckle. Or not. 

One day in August. I'd finished one journal and the process of getting out of bed and walking to another room to get a new notebook made me lose my train of thought. What was I writing? I wrote. For some reason, I decided to answer in my nascent German. Ja - yes - heute habe ich Deutschklasse - today I have German class. Unutterably boring, but it took slightly longer to compose in German. Had to think about whether the adjective 'deutsche' needed to stand alone with a lower case 'd' or if it was part of a compound noun thus requiring capitalisation. Jeeze. See what I mean?

So the pandemic. Suppose it helped that last year we'd been through something so much worse on a personal level. Who could have imagined that, in his awful dying, our daughter's young partner had been somehow gifting us the strength to proceed relatively unscathed through the forthcoming global crisis? 

And really, all my co-morbidity, Diabetica, and I have had to do during the pandemic is avoid actual as opposed to virtual human contact. My personal shopper and husband, Al and I have everything we need. Just had to keep fit, for so long only within a five kilometre radius. 

Which led me on my bike to Fawkner Cemetery. Found it simply by heading north rather than south on the Upfield Bike Trail, thus avoiding congested paths. Apart from the deceased, none of whom I encountered on that visit, I spotted perhaps 20 other souls minding their own business in all that peaceful landscaped treed acreage. I pedalled around, stopped to read a few headstones and plaques; relished the mature ghost gums - my favourite trees. Also had a bit of a cry. Seemed like an appropriate place to allow it.

Took Al with me on my second ride to the surprisingly lovely cemetery. I inhaled it all, through my mandatory mask. Thought I wouldn't mind having my ashes under a towering ghost gum by the creek, sneaked in by someone with a trowel, on a bike ride . Who'd know? 

I parked my bike by the curb in the Italian section and worked my way along, giving Al a bit of a commentary. I have a compulsion to share my inner monologue with him telling myself he enjoys it. I dawdled along, companionably pondering the lives of the people in the photos who'd had all their dreams by 1967 or whatever year they'd died. At the last grave, I turned to Al. He wasn't there, having quietly pedalled off. Made my hair stand on end for an instant, wondering whose presence I'd so clearly felt by my side as I practised my Italian pronunciation all along those headstones.

Bit disappointed not to have a ghostly visitation on my third solo cemetery cycle, given how many potential spirits surrounded me. What I did get was a comforting sense of inevitability. So much life lived in its fullness, whatever that might have been. A tiny oblong slab marked the brief life of a two day old infant; so much hope and sorrow a hundred years ago. 

Whatever business those thousands of people had been in the middle of, whatever plans they'd had, whatever they still wanted to do, all those who'd lived and died, they'd had whatever life they'd had, for what it was worth. That was all.

You tend to think about your own mortality when you spend time in cemeteries. let alone during a pandemic. Contemplating it all and dreading death just isn't worth it. No one is getting out of the world alive. 

But somehow, all those dead people, and all those who'd loved them, got through it. I find that reassuring.







Thursday, July 16, 2020

Killing your darlings


Anyone else found anything interesting during a Covid clean-out? Like, for example, their own completed novella manuscript buried in a back room drawer? Well, that was what I found. I'd put it away, after too many publishing rejections, in 1997. A bit disappointed with myself, I shook the dust off and returned full time to my proper job as a secondary English teacher. Hadn't read my novella until recently. It's a bit of a time capsule and I can well understand the rejections and why a trusted reader proclaimed it a draft short of complete. But rereading it, I didn't hate it. Its themes are perennial and I am still interested in my protagonist's story.

So during Covid-19 lock-down, amongst other things I've been revising my novel. That means trying to improve my fiction writing. Call it a project. It's not for anything but it is creative and absorbing; good way to keep the black dog at bay. (And believe me, I can see it straining at the lead in my peripheral vision.)

You'd think that as an English teacher I'd be able to write passable fiction, given I taught writing for years in secondary school. Yeah? Well, no. Sure, I wasn't bad at encouraging others to develop their ideas.  Same with editing students' writing. I could easily correct grammar and spelling, slash redundant expressions and suggest modifications to anything clunky. I also had heaps of ideas as to how others could begin and develop their stories.

And yet, I've struggled with this in my own prose fiction. 

Somewhere in my thirties, I think I was trying too hard to be literary, or something. My fiction style became ponderous, laboured . No one's ever enjoyed my fiction writing. There's been a bit of damning with feint praise if not actually diving under bushes to avoid my asking them what they thought of something I'd written and foisted on them for comment. 

However, with the help of a couple of trusted, unpaid editors, I think I may be finally figuring it out.  Of course, one can Google all this stuff. Gems of wisdom are fed to me daily on social media. But something clicked when my editor-sister - also an English teacher - gave this piece of advice after she'd graciously suffered another telephone reading. Get rid of the scaffolding, she said.  Trust the reader's intelligence. Let the reader make the connections. She demonstrated in an example and, lo and behold, a veil fell away. Never mind that I'm a fascinated wanderer as I detail what I can see in my mind's eye. It's not doing it for the reader. 

It's the basic 'show don't tell' thing. And furthermore, don't make a ball of string out of a piece of cotton, which I fear I may have just done.

My last post, Broken Glass, was a short story that I wrote in the mid-1990s during my early try-hard literary phase. I've edited it, keeping my sister's sage advice in mind. Is it any better? Perhaps. Think I was quite depressed when I wrote it, having just lost a 39 year old friend to pancreatic cancer. Didn't realise how prescient that whole experience would be, given how things have turned out with the loss of our lovely 'son-in-law' to cancer last year.

Anyway, here it is Broken Glass, version 2


The crash sent Rick's mind back to his childhood, so he could almost feel the slippery opaque glass with its milky surface, and regular pattern of tiny coloured dots. Holding it was dangerous, but he'd wanted it.

Even his mother couldn't hold it easily in one hand.

"That's too much. Here." Cross again, she’d made a sucking snapping sound with her mouth. "I’ll do it. As if I haven't got enough to do around here." She'd helped him."Why did I buy these stupid looking things? I should throw them out." She kept saying she'd get rid of them but she hadn't.

His mother was outside at the line when he wanted a drink. Knowing he was supposed to have his drink in the kitchen, he chose instead to sit on the floor in front of the TV in his nest of cushions and blankets.

Despite his mum’s warning, he took one of the greedy, slippery glasses from the back of the cupboard where they lived with the Easter and Christmas mugs from his granny. "Cheap and nasty rubbish," according to his mum when Granny wasn't around to hear.

With infinite care, he poured his cordial from the heavy bottle in the fridge. It welled and splashed at first, but he wiped it up. He avoided resting the container on the side of the glass in case the glass tipped over. He didn’t completely fill it.

Holding the drink aloft, he walked in concentrated slow-motion to the lounge. His eyes flicked from glass to doorway guarding against a spill. Painstakingly pacing, his toes feeling the ground, he made slow progress on the tortuous route to the next room, six adult strides away.

After a sip, he placed the glass safely not near the edge but in the middle of the coffee table. He remembered his mum’s lessons.

Pleased with himself for not bothering his mother, he clambered into his nest. 

Suddenly his mum shouted sharply, "Rick! Get the door for me! Hurry up!"

In his haste to help her, he knocked the table. The drink washed over onto the floor on the far side. Helpless, he watched the slippery glass rolling across the table before smashing on the hardwood floorboards.

"Rick? Rick! What have you done now?"

He heard the backdoor and the alarming rush of air and temper as his mum flew
into the room. As he darted around the table, his bare feet lost their grip in cordial.

"Leave it! It's too late now! You've done the damage. What have I told you
about those damn glasses?"

Her feet outside the puddle, she reached out  and dragged him back. He’d felt sharp pain in his bottom and legs as glass jabbed into the ball of his foot near his little toe.

"Stop crying now. It's never as bad as it looks." Crimson splats dripped on the floorboards as she'd hobbled him back into the kitchen. She bathed his foot with cotton balls soggy from disinfectant mixed white in her baking dish. "Oh, it's all right!" Soothing, holding his face in her hands she kissed him and lifted him onto the table. "Sit there and I'll get you another drink. Don't worry about the rotten glass. Stupid looking things." She was quite sure she'd got all the glass out.

The memory flashed through Rick in the seconds after his son, Luke, accidentally nudged the wine glass off the edge of the bench. They both looked blankly at the spreading red pool on the floor and the glass, on its side, missing a jagged piece but with its stem intact.

Standing there, he remembered a few weeks ago looking outside over someone’s shoulder and watching the celebrant. Her lacquered dark hair was lifting slightly with the pace she was making. Brief case at her side, she was probably striding off to the next job. That bit of hem on her long black skirt was coming down. You'd think she'd have fixed it. He hadn't been able to stop cataloguing the details and felt guilty.

"I think we're talking about a very special person here," she'd said, her voice like liqueur. Her head to one side, she'd slowly scanned the crowd. She'd timed the pause while the mourners drew breath. Janine's sister in the front row released an enormous sob which hung for a while like the dust motes visible in the sun.

Rick shook the memory away, crouched and picked the two sections of glass out of the puddle which Luke was about to step into.  “Careful, mate. Go round that way and get the mop would you?’ 

"Sorry, dad." Luke's eyes filled with tears.

"Forget it, Luke. It was an accident. It doesn’t matter."

Rick had only drunk a mouthful out of that second glass and there was no more left in the bottle. He wasn’t sure he could manage through the night without another drink. Rationing it, he'd saved some from the night before. Sensibly, he’d consciously re-corked the bottle after he'd had his two and a bit glasses. 

'It's not a good time to give up drinking," some friend had told Rick, a couple of
months back. They'd shared a bottle of wine on a Tuesday morning. Janine had been asleep and wine seemed like a good idea. 

He hadn't had such a hectic social life since he was a teenager. The visitors with their cakes and casseroles had propelled them along. But that had stopped now. Life was supposed to go on after some respectful pause.

"I've got it dad." Luke mopped the floor while Rick prepared dinner, wondering whether he ought to go out and buy another bottle. Maybe later, after they'd eaten.

Alyse, Rick’s teenage daughter, had turned silent. Like Luke, she was helping out. Doing the washing. Setting the table. Taking over where Janine's mother had left off when she decided it'd be better for all of them if she returned to her own house.

Alyse briskly set out place mats, cutlery and serviettes like Janine had. Alyse's hair fell in golden glossy blobs. Rick had helped her to get the knots out when she was little. She used to hold him round the waist and press her face into his tummy while he smoothed out the tangles. He'd held her head gently so he wouldn't hurt her. There'd be a hot damp patch on his shirt where she'd been breathing. Now she  glanced up occasionally at The Simpsons on the television as she set the table. They watched television while they ate.

Rick was still painting the house. He hadn’t finished it in time, even though he'd
tried to. The garden was a clock, every day reminding him as he weeded it.  He'd never really bothered with it except for this last year. He’d thought it would be good for Janine. Some sort of compensation for their up and down life together for the last sixteen years. 

He'd really upset his mother-in-law when he'd refused to go and have one last look at Janine in the funeral home.

He'd felt a curious ecstasy after the funeral. He was ashamed of the feeling of relief after weeks of lying next to his dwindling sedated wife, her body swelling hideously and her  bones sticking out, never sure when death would strike or whether it already had.

The day of the funeral came blue and sunny; odd vaporous clouds drifted in a warm deep sky; weird metaphysical conditions that he couldn't help noticing. A compilation of Janine's favourites blasted at the crowd as they gathered outside the bizarre red-carpeted hopeless mechanised temple.

They'd all gone back to Rick's afterwards. He didn't know who'd organised the barrage of food and alcohol but it had all happened. The sun shone and he’d sat on the front veranda and held court with Janine's basketball girlfriends. One minute he’d forget and be laughing and getting drunk. Next he’d be slammed by violent engulfing waves of unthinkable loss and that putrid jasmine blooming by the front door.

Sometimes it is as bad as it looks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Broken Glass

I've been sorting through a few things to fill in my isolated days. Who hasn't? I found a short story and I thought I'd share it here. I wrote it when I was in my late thirties.


The glass was slippery, Ricky recalled, skidding back to his childhood in his memories.. This particular glass had a smooth milky opaque surface, and a regular pattern of tiny multi-coloured dots. It was awkward for him to hold, but he'd wanted it.

Even his mum couldn't hold it easily with one hand.

"Why did I buy these stupid looking things?" she'd said. "I should toss them out." She kept saying she'd get rid of them but she hadn't. Ricky liked the look of them and they held a lot of drink.

"That's too much. Here," she'd said to him more than once. She'd make a sucking snapping sound with her mouth. She was cross again. "I’ll do it," she snapped, "as if I haven't got enough to do around here-"

When his mother was outside at the line, Ricky had wanted a drink. He’d also wanted to watch the cartoons on TV. He knew he should have his drink in the kitchen but he'd made a nest of cushions and his special baby blanket on the floor in front of the TV.

He got one of the spotty, slippery glasses that his mum said he should be careful with. They were at the back of the cupboard with the Easter and Christmas mugs from his granny. "Cheap and nasty rubbish," his mum always said later when granny wasn't around to hear.

He poured his own cordial carefully from the heavy bottle in the fridge. It welled and splashed at first tip, but he wiped it up. He was careful not to rest the container on the side of the glass because he knew the glass might tip over. He didn’t fill the glass right up to the top because he didn’t want to spill it.

Carrying the glass of cordial, he walked with concentrated slow-motion through to the lounge. He held the glass in front of him, eyes darting from glass to doorway, trying to watch where he was going, but when he looked away he somehow tilted the glass so the drink almost ran over the edge. Neatly pacing, feeling his toes on the ground, he took painstaking tiny steps on the tortuous route to the next room, six adult strides away.

There. He sipped a bit of drink then placed the glass safely into the middle of the coffee table behind him. Not near the edge. "Not there, in the middle! Here." This was what his mum always reminded him. He might knock it over otherwise. He clambered into his nest, pleased and proud. He hadn't given his mum any bother. He didn’t have to trouble her and hear "What now?" if he called "Mu-um?" his high voice undulating with request.

Then his mum called sharply, "Ricky! Get the door for me! Hurry up!"

He jumped up to get the back door and in his haste knocked the table. The drink washed over the table, onto the floor on the far side. The slippery glass was rolling, rolling over the table then it smashed on the hardwood floorboards.

"Ricky? Ricky! What have you done now?"

He heard the backdoor and the alarming rush of air and temper as his mum flew into the room. He darted around the table, bare feet losing their grip in cordial,

"Leave it! It's too late now! You've done the damage. What have I told you about those damn glasses?"

Keeping her feet outside the puddle, she reached out, gripped his forearm and dragged him back. He’d felt sharp pain in his bottom and legs as glass jabbed into the ball of his foot near his little toe. There was lots of blood. 

"Stop crying now,” his mother had said more gently. “Come on. It's never as bad as it looks."

Crimson splats dripped on the floorboards as she'd hobbled him back into the kitchen. His mother had bathed his foot with cotton balls soggy from Dettol and water. 

"Oh, it's all right!" She’d held his face in her hands, smiled at him. She’d kissed him and lifted him onto the table. "Sit there and I'll get you another drink. Don't worry about the rotten glass. Stupid looking things." She was quite sure she'd got all the glass out, she'd said. 

That memory of his own childhood had flashed through Ricky in the seconds after his son, Luke, accidentally nudged the glass off the edge of the bench. A wine glass. They both looked blankly at the spreading red pool on the floor and the glass, on its side, with a jagged piece out of it, but its stem intact.

Then he remembered when he'd seen the celebrant through the window. He saw her over someone's shoulder. On one level he couldn't help noticing, as you do. Her dark hair, lacquered into place, was just lifting slightly with the pace she was making, striding with her brief case to the next job. It's how it had seemed. That bit of hem on her long black skirt was coming down. You'd think she'd have fixed it. He hadn't been able to stop cataloguing the details and felt guilty. "I think we're talking about a very special person here," she'd said in a voice like liqueur during the service, her head on one side, her eyes roving around the crowd. Then she'd timed the pause while the mourners drew breath and Janine's sister in the front row released an enormous sob which hung for a while in the dust motes shining in the sun.

“Mind!" said Ricky. "Go round that way and get the mop would you Luke?' Luke was eleven. Ricky crouched and picked the two sections of glass out of the puddle.

"Sorry, dad."

"Forget it, Luke. You can't stop shit happening."

He'd only had a mouthful out of that glass and there was no more left in the bottle. Ricky wasn’t sure he could manage through the night without it. He'd saved half a bottle from the night before. He was rationing it. He'd consciously re-corked the bottle after he'd had his two and a bit glasses. He was sensible about it.

Luke was filling a bucket. Good lad.

"It's not a good time to give up drinking," some friend had told Ricky, a couple of months back. They'd shared a bottle of wine on a Tuesday morning. Janine had been asleep and it seemed like a good idea. "Nope. Not a good time."

He hadn't had such a hectic social life since he was a teenager. The visitors with their cakes and casseroles had propelled them along. But that had stopped now. Life was supposed to go on after some respectful pause.

"I've got it dad." Luke mopped the floor and Ricky cut vegetables into even strips, wondering whether he ought to go out and buy another bottle. Maybe later, after dinner.

Alyse, Ricky's thirteen year old had turned silent. Like Luke, she was helping out. Doing the washing. Setting the table.Taking over where Janine's mother had left off when she decided it'd be better for all of them if she went back to her own house.

Alyse was briskly setting out place mats and cutlery. She put out bread and butter plates, folded paper serviettes, tucked them under the knives on the plates.

Alyse's hair fell in golden glossy blobs. Ricky sometimes had helped her to get the knots out when she was little. She used to hold him round the waist and press her face into his tummy while he smoothed out the tangles. He'd hold her head gently so he wouldn't hurt her. There'd be a hot damp patch on his cotton business shirt where she'd been breathing. Now she glanced up occasionally at The Simpsons on the television as she set the table. They’d watch television while they ate.

Ricky was still painting the house. He hadn’t finished it in time, even though he'd tried to. He'd been keeping the garden weeded. The garden was a clock reminding him. He'd never really bothered with it except for this last year. He’d thought it would be good for Janine. Some sort of compensation for their up and down life together for the last sixteen years. Like most people's lives, he supposed.

He'd really upset his mother-in-law when he'd refused to go and have one last look at Janine in the funeral home.

He'd felt a curious ecstasy after the funeral. He was ashamed of the feeling of relief after weeks of lying next to his dwindling sedated wife with her body swelling hideously and her bones sticking out, never sure when death would strike or whether it already had.

The day of the funeral came blue and sunny with odd drifts of vaporous clouds in a warm deep sky, odd, metaphysical conditions that he couldn't help noticing. A compilation tape of all Janine's favourites blasted at the crowd while they gathered outside the bizarre red carpeted hopeless mechanised temple.

They'd all gone back to Ricky's afterwards. He didn't know who'd organised the barrage of food and alcohol but it had all happened. The sun shone and he’d sat on the front veranda and held court with Janine's basketball girlfriends, wondering how he could be intermittently laughing and getting drunk, then suddenly being slammed by violent engulfing waves of unthinkable loss. Getting giddily plastered on wine and that putrid jasmine blooming by the front door.