Tim was a... I don't know what. He would have described himself as collector, but was he a hoarder? When he died, the house was full of books and magazines. Airfix kits. Projects he was going to do. Newspapers he was going to read. Vintage things with sentimental connections. The first pandemic lockdown hit me really hard. My work dried up and I was more alone that I had ever been, in a house that I had fallen out of love with and was full of things that weren't mine. I fell close to the lowest I think I have ever been. It felt like a full stop. One morning, I made the decision to start sorting things. To move rooms around. To reclaim. And I started with the bedroom, the room where Tim had died. I cleared things out. Moved things around. Filled bags for the charity shop and for the bin. Painted the walls and the ceiling. Moved out spare furniture. And then I started to move around the house. Boxed up kits and cars for sale. Sold a room full of magazines on eBay, which took three van trips to clear. Painted and sorted and cleared. Until the house became mine. And as the rooms cleared, my head cleared, and I took the time to grieve. To take the first faltering steps forwards. So. It wasn't a full stop after all. It was a semicolon. Because after all, a semicolon is used when an author could've ended a sentence, their sentence, but chose not to.
Friday 23 February was a good night. A night when Tim and I went to the Star to meet an amazing bunch of friends. We laughed and drank and talked and argued. As we always did. Tim at the corner of the table with a packet of pork scratchings, a pint, and a Jameson's for sipping, people-watching. He dropped in little dry comments. Dredged up facts and film names from his phenomenal memory. Acted like the perfect gentle man and gentleman he was. And then leant back in his seat and stretched his fingers out, ready to sum up our meandering discussions, drop in a salient fact, or say something so acid it made Kenneth Williams look benign. And then the next morning his gentle mind and my wonderful life was ripped apart. A sound. A breath. And then silence. And the world continued. Radio 4 played. The Co-Op lorry delivered. The Parkrunners left without me. But we stopped still.
Your kiss was love everlasting. Under the Arc de Triomphe, in the shadows of the night, your lips cool on mine. You nipped my neck. I winced, but I've had worse, and money means more on a cold night than a bruise that fades. You touched your tongue to mine and I tasted the iron bitterness of blood, yours mixed with mine. When you let me go, and I had the clink of silver in my purse, I went home and slept like the dead, not waking until dark. But I wasn't hungry. Usually I wake ravenous, and so the silver coins went unspent. I walked to my usual spot, a quiet alley on the Champs Elysée, and waited for the restaurants to close. A young gentleman walked by and I caught his eye. We fumbled in the darkness. As he came, I felt the urge to bite. I drank his blood, hot, rich and spiced with fine food, whispered everlasting love in his ear, and walked home with his wallet in my pocket.
Petrichor is my favourite word. It's the smell of the rain on dry ground, and it makes me think of dancing in the rain. It reminds me of the day we ran, laughing, through the streets to get to the tents at the jazz festival when the skies opened. When we were and weren't quite yet together. The honeymoon in Greece sitting inside and watching the lightning from our beautiful flat. The day the thunder pealed, and we packed up the tent and headed for a hotel at the end of Le Mans Classic, and we finished the night eating steak and drinking brandy watching the setting sun. The night in Brittany eating seafood on the harbour under the gazebo as the rain pounded on the town square and the waiters made us laugh. The afternoon we watched the motor racing at Goodwood Revival huddled under your umbrella, gasping at the skills of the drivers making their cars dance in the rain.
I like running. It frees up my head and boosts my mood. I'm awful at getting round to it though. I go to bed telling myself I will run first thing, then I hit snooze on the alarm and suddenly it's time to work. I then convince myself I will run at lunchtime, but by the time its 1 pm, I'm already running out of time. So – I'll run after work. But by then it's dark, or it's cold, or it's icy, or there's another monologue to write, or deadline to hit, or Zoom call to attend. And so I go to bed telling myself – again – that I will run first thing. I've tried laying out my running clothes on the bed (they fall off in the night), or leaving my shoes in the bathroom (I trip over them), or going to my desk in my running gear (I wear it all day and have to change out of it, unrun, for an online meeting). I'm running out of ideas, and if I'm not careful I'm going to run out of time to get ready for the Great North Run. Perhaps I need to try sleeping in my kit…
I had such big plans when I was a girl. I was going to be an actor. A doctor. I was going to invent things, discover things. Be a scientist, a sprinter, an Olympic swimmer, a champion cyclist. I wasn't going to stop. But then I grew up and discovered that things just aren't that easy. I didn't get the grades to be a doctor or a scientist, and there aren't any countries left to discover. I couldn’t think of anything to invent. I wasn't fast enough to win races on foot or on wheels, and ear problems meant I couldn't swim. Actors need to be able to remember the words, and I just kept on forgetting. But writing, now that's something different. Give me the pen and paper or the keyboard and I can create you the world where I, or you, or anyone can be an actor, a doctor, a scientist, an explorer or a race winner. Or anything. Because on paper I can have all the big plans I want.
Buster was a black shorthaired cat with golden eyes. We got him as a rescue with Diesel, a silky black and white shorthair. The names didn't work, so Diesel became Dizzy Gillespie. With one jazz musician in the house, there had to be another, and Buster was renamed Satchmo after fellow music maestro Louis Armstrong. Diz was sleepy, silly, soft and sleek. Satch was all quicksilver moods, wanting his belly stroked until all of a sudden, he changed his mind. He would fall asleep with his head tucked tight under my chin, purring fit to burst. A few years later, Satch got a severe ear infection, and lost his balance – the first we knew was when he tumbled all the way down the stairs. He was so wobbly at first that I had to hold his head while he ate, but he mended, and spent the rest of his life looking at the world with his head tip-tilted to one side, as if eternally asking a question he knew wasn't going to be answered.
I didn't really think there was such a thing as bad coffee. I love coffee in any form. Instant as a pick me up in a hurry, splash of skimmed, teaspoon tinkling in the mug as the water pours over. Freshly milled beans lovingly brewed in a stovetop moka pot, simmered on the hob until the surface turns blond. Forced through an AeroPress, a fragrant hiss of air as the world wakes up. Espresso in an Italian bar, crema the colour of clotted cream, quaffed with a few words with the waiting staff. A leisurely cappuccino, froth mountains flecked with chocolate powder, sipped over a pastry and a newspaper. Coffee was the punctuation in my day. That was until the office machine. A flimsy plastic cup of brown, with a squirt of white, the temperature of the dark side of the moon. Cup so wobbly it's almost empty by the time I get to my desk, and my shoe is almost full. I want to go back to working from home…
It's half past midnight and I'm in a shadowy jazz bar in the quiet part of town. I've got a new packet of cigarettes on the table in front of me and a fresh pint in my hand. The singer croons the blues, her voice the husky end of sexy, and she catches my eye. I raise my glass to her and smile, and she tips me a ghost of a wink. I peel the cellophane off the cigarettes and pull off the foil, inhaling the damp and woody scent of newly cut tobacco. I light one and blow smoke up into the clouded air, letting the buzz of the nicotine and alcohol blend with the sigh of the saxophone. The singer works the audience and pauses next to my table, her eyes on mine and her voice in my head. There are tiny beads of sweat on her upper lip, and I see the chips in the varnish of her nails as she lays her hand on mine. She steps away to the next table, but looks back over her shoulder at me, her smile knowing.
I'd only been in the Met a few weeks when I got my first opportunity of 'going under'. There'd been an outbreak of thefts from nail bars and someone needed to look closer. I wasn't picked for my skills or expertise – it was because I was the only woman on the team. There was a lot of piss taking from my male colleagues but a steely glance from the super, a woman clearly picked for her skills and expertise, knocked that on the head. The pampering in the nail bars was nice but I was starting to run out of excuses why I needed my nails doing again. In the fourth place I saw a face I had seen in all the others. A man, out of place amongst all the women, apparently checking out power cables. I collared him and found his bag was full of cash and purses. The super was pleased, but the next undercover job wasn't as glamourous – dodgy dealings in the abattoir. Where's my hand cream?
Writing short fiction, monologues and plays