23 Millbrook Lane was an unassuming little house. A two-bedroomed terrace in a row of identical two-bedroomed terraces. Nothing on the outside suggested the horror that was going on inside. The curtains were pulled, and only a single, bare bulb shone in the hallway. There was a shred of fabric caught on the hedge, and a trickle of red ran across the step. There were screams from inside, and the police officer knocked hard, urgently. A haggard-faced woman opened the door, desperation in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, and then froze as footsteps came up behind her, from the shadowy hall. A blonde four-year-old grabbed the uniformed leg, sobbing. The police officer smiled sympathetically, as she scooped up her daughter, and picked up the wet crepe paper that had stained the step. There comes a point in every child's party when it's time to go home, however sad the guests are to leave.
It should have been a perfect night out. I'd picked the right restaurant, booked the right table. Worn the right shirt (and my lucky pants). Managed to get there on time, or actually a few minutes early, and on the right night too. And I waited. I didn't worry when you were a few minutes late. You were probably sending a last email before you ran out of the door. When you were 15 minutes late, I assumed that you had taken the wrong turn and couldn't find the restaurant. When it ticked round to 30 minutes late, I guessed that you'd missed a tube, and the Central Line was running slow again. At 45 minutes, the staff were starting to look sympathetic, and at an hour I think they were taking bets on whether I'd been stood up. The maître d' came to the table, looked hard at me, leaned in, licked my nose and purred. I sat up in shock, looking right into my startled cat's eyes. A nightmare. And I need to go, or I will be late…
I never thought I would see damage like this. The paintings were shredded, canvas hanging limply from the frames like heart-rending bunting. Ceramics were thrown on the floor, shards ground deep into the carpet. Framed prints with the glass broken and the images torn up. My gallery was insured, so there would be no financial loss, but months and years of work was gone in one night. I knew I had hurt him, but I thought everything was amicable. It seems not. How did I know it was him? And how do I know it was about her? No forced entry. Only her work was broken; none of the other work was touched. What should I do? Claiming on the insurance needed the police, and calling the police would inevitably lead to him. So I broke the glass in the back door, and trashed the rest of the artwork, sobbing all the time. I might love her, but I could never hate him that much.
They used to steal bodies. The resurrectionists. Come in the dead of night with dark lanterns and dig up the grave, sell the dead to the surgeons, six shillings for the first foot and then ninepence per inch. Some of them would get twenty guineas for a corpse – that's more than a weaver like my dad earned in a year.
The grave robbers liked a big, muscular man better, and a freak best of all. My dad was a watcher, and guarded the bodies the nights after a burial. Just until the body was… well, no use to a medical school anymore. One night the watchers caught a gang. Big, dangerous men with cudgels and pickaxes. One of them hit my dad and he fell. He died two nights later, and his last words were 'keep me safe'. My uncle the blacksmith created a cage of rods and plates and padlocks to keep away the resurrectionists. My uncle's mortsafe kept our dead unharmed until the robbing stopped.
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…
Writing short fiction, monologues and plays