The Curse of Gotten Wood (sample)

So, I’ve been having a little fun going back to my writing roots (silliness) to move out of editorial mode and into creative mode for the next few months.  Last night I got more done in one go than I have done for aaaaages. So, I’m very happy.

In light of the fact that my last post raised wide-spread concern about the hearing loss (and thank you all very much who responded so kindly on facebook) I thought I’d lighten things up a bit around here. 

And yes, I’m deliberately writing in the omniscient voice. Gasp!

All thoughts, comments etc very welcome… please save me from the sound of the crickets!

15th March 2018, round about sixish

“I’ve been fantasising about my husband dying.” Emily twisted her ring and searched Matt’s face for signs of horror. He gave one of his earnest, sober nods and put his pad to one side, a gentle smile tugging at the corners of lips that she would launch herself upon if they didn’t belong to her trauma counsellor. Still, a smile—ovary-searingly-gorgeous though it was—struck her as an incorrect response. It looked like the response of a man who probably wasn’t listening. She cleared her throat. “You did hear me say I wanted my husband dead, didn’t you?”

“You said you fantasised about his death,” Matt corrected, hoping that the minute hand on the clock of the hired room would reach twelve before he had to delve into her more frightening follow-up statement. He slipped his glasses off and soothed his eyelids with the pads of forefinger and thumb. “You know, it’s not at all uncommon for people to fantasise about the deaths of their spouse. Especially a spouse like Brendan.” Oops. Badly put.

Emily grinned. “So much for objectivity.”

“I just mean… he put you through a great deal. It’s natural to want to escape a relationship where your sanity is continuously being challenged.”

“So… other people fantasise about their husbands driving their trucks off Grubberty Bridge?”

“Well… that’s quite a localised example, but—”

“What about stairs? Has anyone mentioned the convenient-yet-fatal plunge down the stairs or the terminal faceplant into the pon—” she brought herself up short, heat thundering through her cheeks.

Just because something was true, it ought not necessarily be expressed. One of her mother’s many truths. But then… why else had she asked her GP to refer her to a counsellor? Things needed expressing or she’d pop, and it wasn’t as if she’d get a fair or gentle ear from anyone who wasn’t paid to listen. Brendan was like the local no-discussion topic. The mere mention of his name was enough to send most people into the kind of shuddering fit you associate with a gin bottle shoved up the nostrils. And she was bloody married to the git.

Matt’s navy-blue eyes gleamed attentively, even as they flicked six feet NW of her left shoulder to the clock on the rear wall of the community centre’s mini-clinic. Once the local, unfriendly loan shark, he’d discovered himself in prison. Now, he was a reformed soul, the evidence of his reconnection to his conscience oozing from every sexy, compassionate pore. His collection of thin, clingy sweaters did nothing to hide the build lurking under his remodelled, conservative exterior.

She took his covert bum-shuffle towards the edge of his seat as the gentle hint intended. Session over—he was just too polite to slam the shutters down. She managed to force out a smile.

“I imagine that spousal death fantasies aren’t a recommended part of the ‘path to healing’.”

“They don’t feature much in the NLP practitioner’s manual.” He grinned as he gathered the papers on the tiny coffee table between his chair and her couch. “But it would be daft to pretend that people don’t have them.  Look, I’m not going to give you any stupid homework—”

“Like, ‘list the top ten most satisfying Brendan-deaths this week’?”

“Nope, none of that.  But there is something I would like you to think about until next Thursday. When you find yourself getting lost in these… escapist thoughts, I’d like you to pull yourself up short and think about what has happened to you in the hours before the fantasies started creeping up on you. It’s an efficient way of getting a handle on the marital issues that cause you the most frustration.”

“And then?”

Matt sighed, knowing there was no solution to Emily’s problems other than divorce, or her fantasies coming to life. He stood, reaching a hand down to her to haul her from the couch. She was fit and spry, but the bloody thing had come cheap with the community centre’s ‘rebuild’ and had a nasty tendency to trap octogenarians and anyone with arthritis. He felt Emily’s expectant, trusting gaze upon his cheek and guided her towards the door.

“And then,” he said, making it all up as he went along, “we work together to develop non-murderous coping strategies for your frustrations.”

Must not indulge feelings for client. Certainly must not fuck client. Repercussions—terrible.

He’d nearly herded her to the front doors when she came to a dead stop in front of the painting that had been hung behind the reception desk. He jerked his gaze towards the hazel bushes hemming in the entire building so he didn’t have to notice the way her bottle-green, jersey wraparound dress made her waist so neat or her backside so… cuppable.

Emily grimaced at the ‘artwork’ someone had seen fit as decoration for the otherwise inoffensive wall. It was a head-and-shoulders portrait without the impressively flake-free hair. In fact, nothing about the portrait’s sitter was even vaguely impressive. Against a nearly-black background, a haggard man, who she estimated to be in his late forties sagged under the weight of a fur coat. The coat’s collar deprived him of a neck and made his chin look poky and tiny between two foreboding jowls. His lower lip was overly fleshy and moist—eugh!—and his nostril arches were high. Above two watery grey eyes sat thick, unruly brows which would’ve made perfect convalescent homes for ill caterpillars.  The portrait’s sullen glare tugged her in for just a second, giving her a better peripheral view than she wanted of the warts lining his sideburns and the left side of his jaw. She blinked and turned back to Matt.

“Who,” she asked, pointing to the portrait, “is that?”

“I spend as little time looking at it as possible.”


“He’s the Marquis of Grab.” The voice came from a blonde, tight-bunned receptionist who’d appeared behind the desk as suddenly as if she’d been hydraulically launched from the basement.  The blonde slapped a shiny, colour-printed brochure onto the counter. “ ’parently, the villages of Grubberty, Gotten Wood and Lower Lickbourne were all part of this Marquis-bloke’s estate. Din’t read past the fifth paragraph but ‘s far ’s I can make out, ’e was a right dodgy type.”

“If he was so dodgy, why’s he on a wall in a community centre, in a commemorative, hard-to-avoid sort of location?”

“Read the brochure.”

“Right,” Emily agreed. “But how long’s that painting been there? I don’t remember seei—”

“Again, luv—the brochure.” The receptionist swung her ever-weary gaze over to the squash courts, from which exploded a riot of youthful male sounds and, shortly after, some lively bodies to accompany them. “It’s back to the coal-face for me—I’ve got to check all them scouts out from their regional sports night.”

“Okay.” She turned to see Matt staring fixedly through the front doors of the community centre and put a light hand to his upper arm. He’d gone a little pale. She squeezed and tried not to feel hurt as he pulled away. “What’s up?”

“Brendan’s here to pick you up. He’s seen me,” he added, like a trained ventriloquist.

“Oh… Christ. Just scuttle off somewhere. I’ll handle this.”

“You sure?”

The concern in his face and the tension in his shoulders would keep her sense of over-active romanticism happy for weeks. Her over-active romanticism was easy, that way. She nodded without moving her head—a long-learned skill—and strode towards Brendan with a smile of gratitude for saving her the bus-ride home. As Brendan’s hand gripped her elbow, towing her towards the car, she felt a great thump of relief to see Matt pretending to flirt with the receptionist as the Scout troop clustered around them, pointing up at the picture, laughing, and making assorted disgusted sounds.



Just pass it to Herod and his hairy shirt

That’s what I thought the cashier at Lidl said to me as I was packing up my bags. Most likely not, but my life has been rather confusing lately. I’ve had to battle on without my hearing aids, you see. And without them… it seems that I’m a rather crappy lipreader.

This comes as a competence shock, because I used to be excellent at it. Once upon a time, I could decipher the drunken mutterings of South Africans in dark corners at parties—even when they were elecutionally handicapped by slices of pizza.

But since Wednesday, it seems like all my skills have gone into hiding. Either that, or I’ve been dropped into a parallel universe in which everyone else suffers a particularly dire form of aphasia. It’s possible, I suppose; it could be global brain trauma caused by the loudness of my voice when I don’t have as much control over it. I don’t have an ‘inside voice’ at the best of times (unless ‘inside a rock venue’ counts).

The shock started on Thursday morning when I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast, and he assured me that all would be fine after the passing of the lime penguin.

I fetched him some Coco Pops, which appeared to come as a surprise, but was thankfully satisfactory nonetheless.  He was very good about my silence in the car (only a seven-minute drive in the car) and as I waved him off, he partly fondly with “elephant juice, bum.”

“I love you too,” I hazarded, and headed off to the co-op to sit in my car with my book until the traffic had calmed enough to drive home. There’s something extremely unsettling about driving with absolutely no noise. Anyway, I passed the day aid-free and problem-free, since I work from home. Picking little man up from school was a further challenge. I greeted him cheerfully as he exploded towards me from the rear door of his class as if fired from a cannon. He went from sprinting to stepping back rapidly. He wiggled his finger in his ear.

“Still no hearing aids, mummy?”

“’Fraid not.” I grimaced apologetically. “Sorry. Am I being loud, again?”

“A teeny-weeny bit,” he admitted. “If you could bring it down a little bit…”

I uttered my next words more normally.

“Well done, mummy. That’s less like the noise of a plane landing.”


“You sound less like a plane landing now,” he reassured me, slowly and clearly, with a helpfully-angled forearm in graceful descent.

“Yes…. That’s what I hoped you hadn’t said,” I muttered. Then I noted that he was wearing a sticker saying ‘Musical mention’, which was lovely and surprising, since he doesn’t play an instrument. “What did you get that for?” I asked.

“I dusted monkeys in the shadows of the cliffs.” He looked so proud.

I encouraged him to talk all the way back to the car, hoping that something he said would add context to those mysterious syllables, thus enabling me to unravel the true facts of the matter. I just got more and more lost as lions hopscotched up the curtains to the sound of violins. His story involved lots of arm-waving and not many gaps between words, and our journey to the parking of the Skoda was enlivened by my detour into a tree. This happens when you’re lip-reading. I still have a tender patch above my right eyebrow.

“…and we followed caterpillars into the valley of the damned just before lunch,” he concluded, stepping into the car.

I’m going to blame that last bit of lipreading ineptitude on my ash tree headbutt.

A couple of days on, my skills are coming back to life. Bas’ breakfast request was Marmite on toast, which was far more normal. But frankly, re-learning to lipread with no contextual sound at all is a bit like learning a new language by being dropped into the culture. I’m working out that to lipread successfully, I need to be aidless for at least four days, which is a rather long time to put up with the situation.

I think… the time has come to start thinking about learning sign-language properly, and getting my husband and son to do it with me. I can’t spend this much of my life following the caterpillars into the valley of the damned.

And no, I still have no clue what he’d actually said… though I did get a better gist of the story when he repeated it for his daddy.

PMT + FedEx = Bad combination

At the moment, the world’s favourite ring-and-run service should be sighing a breath of relief. Why? Because I can’t phone and complain at them.  And if I had enough hearing to complain over the phone, I would add to my pre-existing complaints the fact they don’t allow complaints to be made online.

Let me walk you through this little cloud of dust I’ve kicked up by jumping up and down on the spot with indignant wrath.

My husband is expecting a package. It’s an important one. We were expecting delivery from today onwards. But what do I find at the delivery address? I find a Fedex failed-delivery card which has been stuck to the front door using a hastily-printed sticker. This sticker is itself a triumph of customer annoyance.

Firstly, it says ‘final attempt’ at delivery on it. Bollocks! I was at the delivery address the day before, and there was no hint of a note showing a previous attempt at delivery. I find that claim suspect at best. Secondly, it threatens to return the item to the sender unless we provide them with re-delivery instructions. But it doesn’t give a deadline for this. Thirdly, the ‘final attempt’ was made on friday afternoon, but their phone line for redeliveries is shut most of the weekend, as the delivery guys would’ve known when they stuck their grim-o-gram to my door.

Fourthly – yes, there’s more! – the sticker truncates the telephone number, chopping off the last couple of digits. Really helpful. So now I have to find them online and see if I can track down the last two digits on that sticker.  But… wait! Hope! There’s a little note, saying ‘cut wood in yard’. Could they have tucked the item in the pile of kindling under the veranda by the front door, I wonder? In hope, I check. No, nothing.  And that doesn’t make sense anyway; why print out a ‘final attempt’ sticker letting me know they hadn’t been able to deliver if they’ve left it in what they think is a safe place?

So, I think, ‘sod the sticker’. I turn over the card the sticker is stuck to, and spend a moment feeling foolish and relieved to find their redelivery website tracker address on the back. Aha! All is not lost. I take a deep breath and set up the laptop. Ommmm. I just got flooded with impatience hormones, that’s all.

I log in… to find that their package tracker is literally just a tracker.

Well, splendid. What a chocolate teapot of a site.

You can’t give them re-delivery instructions on this site, you can only note with chagrin that your package is lurking at the Camberley depot (which is *&%!!!! miles away) awaiting imminent return to its sender.  And of course, to give them actual re-delivery instructions, you can always call their helpline number.

I have managed to convey the situation to my other half, who will call first thing on Monday morning before they can do anything dastardly with the package.

In the meantime I’ll do some boxing and try not to take it personally that so many businesses just assume that people can use the phone.