The Dinner Party
December 6, 2012

Christmas ain’t Christmas without a bit of a spooky tale, so here’s mine …

tableware for dinner party‘A dinner party? Can I bring a plus one?’ A frisson of something trembled in my soul.

‘Of course – do we know them?’ He just laughed. We were on the phone so I couldn’t see his expression.

‘See you later then.’ He sounded happy – certainly not how I’d expected him to be after Clem, but he’d gone and I was left wondering.

‘Was that who I thought it was?’ The voice was muffled from under the table. The owner’s prone legs were splayed across the floor, extending oddly from under the table cloth, as if a murder victim had just been hastily stuffed out of sight.

‘Yes, and he’s coming tonight.’

‘That’ll be interesting after all this time.’ The tone was sarcastic.

‘With someone.’

‘Oh.’ Silence, then more curiously, ‘who?’

‘He didn’t say.’

‘In that case it’s going to be really interesting.’ The table shook as if the murder victim’s spirit was attacking it and then both table and legs settled into stillness. I waited for the body to rise from its last resting place, but table and legs remained motionless. It made me feel queasy but I didn’t know why.

‘Are you ok under there Alex?’ I asked, suddenly worried.

‘Yeah, just thinking.’

‘Thinking?’

‘About Jay and Clem and the way they just went – you know.’ Alex didn’t need to say any more. I did know. More than Alex did, in fact; but I was keeping that to myself.

‘Yes, well if you’re done under there, we should lay up now.’

‘Yep, all done, I’ve tightened up all the screws so it shouldn’t collapse under the weight of the food – or the conversation.’ The comment ended in muffled laughter and the table shook again. The legs wriggled out from underneath it, bringing the rest of the body with them.

‘Haha! Very funny.’ I turned away and went back to the kitchen to find the wine. Tuneless whistling floated in from the dining room and I guessed the table top was being transformed for the dinner party now it was safe to sit at again. I ignored the annoying whistling and turned my attention to the wine rack. I usually relished choosing exactly the right wine but my head wasn’t on it tonight. All I could think about was the plus one Jay was bringing – and what about Clem? I checked the clock. It was already seven-thirty. They were all due at eight. I called to the table and its legs.

‘If you’re done there, can you check the oven? I’m sorting the wine.’

‘OK.’ It was louder than expected and I turned in surprise as Alex appeared in the kitchen doorway, flushed and dishevelled from the table wrestling.

‘Maybe have a bit of a tidy up too?’ I added pointedly. Good humoured laughter bubbled around the hallway.

‘Um, I see what you mean.’ The reappearing vision was sleek and immaculate. I felt imperfect and uneasy. I pushed past into the cool of the hallway, assessing which me I saw in the mirror. I wondered what Jay would make of me, five years on. Five years – had it really been so long; since Clem had happened? I was startled out of my reverie by the doorbell jangling insistently.

‘It’s for you-oo,’ came light-heartedly from the kitchen, along with the smell of perfectly cooked Beef Wellington.

‘I’ve got it,’ I called back impatiently. I opened the door, the angry angst-ridden me well hidden under the hosts charming bonhomie. ‘Ange, Mike – how are you?  Ange enveloped me in a cloud of too-strong perfume and billowing chiffon.

‘Darrrling, how are you – it’s been ages.’ She was right – for all the overdone lovey-ness, it had been the same five years of ages as since I’d seen Jay or Clem.

‘We’re good, thanks Ange.’ I disentangled myself and Mike’s less flowery and more business-like hug was a relief. ‘Come on in.’ I turned to call out to the kitchen, but Alex arrived with drinks right on cue. Eventually the storm of hello’s, hugs and darrrrlings dissipated and we moved into the warmth of the lounge, warily convivial. The bell went again and I rushed to answer it, trying to quell the jitters that it would be Jay this time. It wasn’t. Agitation overcame courtesy with the Betterware woman collecting the catalogue she’d left earlier. I flung the unwanted package at her and slammed the door in her face. Belatedly a wave of shame made me redden. I re-joined the forced conversation in the lounge, knowing the only conversationalist I wanted to bandy words with was yet to arrive, but God knew who with. Unbidden, the old jealousy consumed me. I wondered if I could even be civil to Jay’s plus one. Trying too hard to concentrate on Ange’s gushing, I almost missed the third ring, but in the visceral depths of my gut, I heard it instinctively. I was beaten to the door. Momentarily I hated Alex with a hatred I’d felt only once before but I didn’t have time to dwell on when. The lounge door burst open and before I could prepare myself, Jay was standing in front of me.

‘Hey,’ he was embracing me and I was drowning in his sharp-spiced smell, his proximity, his warmth and the desperate yearning I still felt for him. My head spun and I held onto him tightly. ‘Such a long time.’ He breathed the words into my ear and they spiralled round my head like a tornado funnelling into oblivion. In the eye of the storm, was his plus one. As my head cleared and my vision settled, she stood quietly and ominously behind him in the dark hallway. I pulled away sharply, waves of fear travelling up and down my body like electricity, sparking, shorting, sparking; killing.  Clem from Dinner party

‘Clem!’ My exclamation killed all talk in the lounge. I sensed something behind me and found the lounge conversationalists had clustered there, mixing their sweat and perfume with my dismay. Jay smiled at Clem and beckoned her in. The clamouring bodies behind me parted like the red sea for the unexpected, and mysteriously, very alive, plus one.

She passed through us, as if we didn’t exist; or maybe she didn’t exist? I was starting to doubt my own senses and sanity now. Jay just smiled enigmatically, and followed her. From my vantage point obliquely opposite I observed her apprehensively. Exactly the same as the last time I’d seen that elongated bony face, with its too large eyes, black, black hair and white skin. Now if possible, the pale complexion had become almost translucent; unhealthily waxen, as if she really wasn’t there at all – the way I’d thought it was.

‘Who’s hungry? Shall we sit for dinner?’ The jovial enquiry broke the tense silence, and the buzz of who was sitting where eased us round the table. Legs sticking angularly out from a lifeless body as it sprawled out from under the table. I found myself directly opposite Clem and Jay; the last place I wanted to be.

‘Clemmie, darrrling; where have you been hiding yourself?’ Ange didn’t wait for a reply. She rounded straight on Jay. ‘We thought it must have been a crime passionelle when she just disappeared and then you went persona non grata too.’ I watched Ange preen herself for what she considered wit. Mike wriggled further back in his seat beside her, face closed, but body expressing his discomfort. I knew what was going on behind those blank grey eyes. I’d heard him explode at her once after she’d been particularly pretentious at one of our dinner parties long ago – Christ why were we having this one?

‘Crime passionelle and Jay? Oh, Jay would never hurt a fly. He wouldn’t be the one to be involved in a crime passionelle.’ Clem smiled icily and everyone froze a degree colder. Her eyes slid back to me. Jay interjected quickly.

‘We’ve been on a bit of a tour.’ Four pairs of eyes trained on Jay and waited for more. Clem remained supremely aloof, face shadowed, tensed, dangerous; in control. ‘Clem was a little unwell so we went some places to make her better.’ He flashed a brilliant smile at her and then at me, as if including me in the secret of the places they’d been to make Clem better. That last time, I’d left her, the skin had been pale as death, the face a mask, blood pooling stickily under her head.

‘You’re looking well now.’ Mike offered it up dubiously, and Clem nodded graciously at him. Ange looked at him as if he was mad – a green-eyed stare like a cat would give its enemy. Clem looked quiet and serious. A far cry from the lascivious woman who’d tried to steal greedy kisses from me just before I’d left her broken and lifeless.

‘The starter’s mushroom pate. I hope you all like mushrooms?’ Alex was valiantly trying to break the ice patina rapidly spreading over us.

‘Magic mushrooms, darrrling?’ Ange’s trill made the rest of us cringe.

‘Oh Ange, really …’ Jay patted her arm as if she was a naughty but delightful child. She tittered and combed her hair flirtatiously at him. Clem’s eyes swivelled back to her and the dark lights in their depths terrified me. Where had they been to make her better? How could you make a dead body better? 

‘How’s things in the psycho industry then Maz?’ He was talking directly to me. I pulled myself together enough to reply.

‘Oh, mad as ever.’ The laughter was appreciative and I breathed out, avoiding Clem’s black-eyed stare, wishing I’d never visited their house that day. ‘I dream about you day and night, Maz. I want you. I know why you are always round here, always offering to help, always checking in on Jay … ’ Her hands were clawing at me, grasping, squeezing, her mouth almost on mine, her heavy breath hot on my face, stealing my own away from me… ‘You know what they say about psychiatrists don’t you?’ I might as well play my audience for all I could if it would deflect that hateful stare from me. ‘You can’t tell them from the patients …’ Raucous laughter showed it had been well received and the wine choice I’d made had been a good one – one of the highest alcohol volumes I had, and chosen specifically for that reason, but not to promote gaiety, to promote softening. Jay’s softening, Jay staying, Jay, Jay, Jay. I tried to shut down the insistent voice in my head, but it was replaced instead by Clem’s,‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ …

The memory of that last time I’d seen her couldn’t be ejected from my thoughts now. It had taken me over body and soul. She wouldn’t leave me alone; I couldn’t wipe the slimy disgust of her saliva from my lips or escape from her burning eyes, or the threat she posed … ‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ … ‘Get off me you stupid bitch. It’s not you I come here for, but Jay.’ I flung her forcefully away from me and her head cracked against the table edge…

‘Do psychiatrists live in the real world, or their imagination, do you think, Maz?’ Clem was coolly vicious. The conversation around us flowed on, witticism, quip, joke, flirt, ‘more wine?’ No-one else heard her low-voiced question. They weren’t meant to. Only she and I were in this discussion.

‘This is real, so of course the real world.’

‘Is it?’

‘Is it what?’

‘Is it real?’

‘Of course it is.’ I looked at the exaggerated expressions on the other dinner party guests; wide-eyed, laughing, bored, polite, exasperated. I realised they weren’t talking to us and we weren’t talking to them. There was an invisible barrier between us – like we were in another world, alongside but not touching. Clem smiled mysteriously. ‘Are you dead, or alive?’ She tilted her head quizzically and my mind rushed back to that day again. Her face collapsed in on itself as if life had imploded as her head struck the table; first the surprised look, then the blankness of death. She tumbled awkwardly to the floor and lay there. The table wobbled and then was still. Her legs stuck out angularly from the lifeless body as it sprawled half under the table. Shock turned to nausea as I turned to see Jay coming through the door to the room. Could he forgive me?

‘What do you want me to be?’ I considered the question. The real answer was neither. Alive meant either I was going insane or she was some awful thing from beyond the grave. Dead meant she was some awful thing from beyond the grave or I was already insane. ‘Or more to the point, why am I here with you, and they can’t see me?’ I looked around at the four other faces. They seemed even more distant than before.

‘What is going on?’ I hated her. Now I remembered that hatred in fine detail where I’d only remembered it dimly earlier. I wanted to address Jay, but he was across the divide with the other dinner guests. It was only Clem and me here.

‘It’s confession time, my dear. Just tell them what really happened and we’ll leave you in peace.’ I didn’t want Jay to go, but I wanted Clem to. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d taken my Jay and made him infatuated with her. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d tried to kiss and paw me when the only one I wanted to do that was Jay. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who had Jay, and didn’t even want him. ‘I won’t go away until you admit you killed me.’

‘You fell.’

‘Fell?’ Clem’s voice was sinuous like a python coiling round me.

‘You fell.’

‘Why did I fall?’

‘You just fell.’

‘I didn’t just fall. Tell them, tell them!’ Her voice rose from its soft sibilance to a harpies’ shriek. I covered my ears in agony as her banshee wail made my head split apart and the blood pooled stickily under it.

‘I pushed you, OK? I pushed you off of me, you slut, and you hit your head on the table.’ My voice reverberated around the room as the dinner party froze, forks in mid-air, glasses poised to clink, heads’ thrown back in surprise. I catapulted back through the eerie barrier from Clem’s world to my own.

‘We said to absent friends, Maz.’ Alex touched me lightly on the arm, ‘and how sad it is Clem isn’t here anymore, but we’ll toast her anyway – across the ether.’ She turned to the rest of faces round the table, all looking oddly at me, and added, ‘to Clem – RIP.’ I breathed in the smell of fruity red wine and Beef Wellington, over-perfumed women and after-shaved men. Maz from the dinner party

I looked gratefully at my wife Alex. Jay and his new girlfriend looked back.

To me she still looked exactly like Clem.

Enjoy.

I’m @StorytellerDeb on Twitter

and http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author on Facebook.

Chained melody final cover

If you fancy longer reading in 2013, my new novel ‘Chained Melody is out on 18th January and will be available then on Amazon.

Interview with the Author
November 21, 2012

I’m being a bit of a narcissist here but I was very flattered to be interviewed the other day and here is the interview report:

Interview with Debbie Martin, author of The Strategy

Tell us about The Strategy.
A bit of fun, with a serious purpose. If you’re single and don’t want to be, how to make the most of ALL your opportunities to meet a mate and make it last – without going online or embarrassingly trying to sell yourself via an introduction agency. What am I talking about ? The Strategy: Single and Don’t Want to Be? All the directions and none of the detours … Now out on Kindle for a teeny tiny £2 and yet containing so many ruses, surprises and clever tips – right down to how to respond to a text for maximum attraction – and from some of the most up and coming dating guru’s too.

What genre is it?
Dating and relationship/self-help.

What would you say if someone asked what makes you an expert on this subject?
I found myself single again over 7 years ago and in that time have tried more or less everything there is – introduction agencies, blind dates, speed-dating, internet dating and ‘singles’ groups – in the misapprehension that you HAVE to be in a relationship. Of course you don’t – we would all just prefer to be, and for many, it is the difference between contentment and dissatisfaction. My experiences have led me to believe that the old fashioned way of things actually work best – meet, befriend and then get intimate. As a result I now also run a singles social events group on the south coast of England with over 2000 members and we socialise. Of course some date too, but they are dating people they’ve already got to know and liked first …

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
Young, old and in between, as long as they’re single.

Aren’t the techniques a single 20 year old needs to employ different from those a 40 year old might use?
In many ways, no; you have to be able to make contact, flirt, interact and sustain a relationship in exactly the same way but possibly the venue and environment that a 20 year old does that in as opposed to a 40 year old differs sufficiently to make their behaviour different.

For a 20 year old a relationship can start and end in a night and they are still testing the waters with love and dating so their relationships are often more experimental and more casual. For a 40 something, the element of security and reliability is more important, so their approach will be more qualitative than quantitative. However, all the techniques in ‘The Strategy’ would work for either age or sex.

People sometimes say that if you go out looking for love that is when you are least likely to find it. Is that a nonsense?
No, I think it is true. When you aren’t seeking to impress or put on a show, you are your most natural self and you are far more likely to attract someone who is interested in the real you than when you are putting yourself on display. Think of all your friends – how did they become your friends? Because you went all out to convince them? Or because they simply got to know and liked you for who you are? The same applies with romantic relationships.

There are more singles out there than possibly ever before in human history. Are we just forgetting skills that came naturally to our forebears?
There are several reasons for the numbers of singles out there now.
• Firstly there is choice and independence. Women are not now expected to marry and settle down. They can – and sometimes do – choose to put more into their career than their relationship potential.
• There is no longer the same expectation that marriage is for life and you have to stick it out whatever. If it goes wrong, couples now choose to separate and try their luck with someone else.
• The internet. Yes, there is no doubt it has affected our people skills. Whilst we think we are getting better at them, we are in fact getting worse. How many Customer Service operatives do you find rude and abrupt, rather than welcoming and helpful? How many people spend more time texting than talking? How many people opt to send an email to a phone call because it can be winged off immediately and the answer left in abeyance until it suits to reply? How many internet daters do you hear complaining about being ignored, cut off dead, two-timed or made to feel of less interest than the other ones on their prospective dates list simply because they ARE on a list? Unfortunately the internet – for all its usefulness and expediency in current society – does create an artificial barrier between people which makes it easier to treat each other with less humanity, courtesy and care than if we had to deal with those same people face to face. Consequently our communication and people skills have become less sensitive and empathetic since the internet has connected us globally. If you had to talk to someone face to face and tell them why you had ignored their invitation to chat, would you ignore that invitation quite so readily…?

But we find our books, our music, our groceries, our friends online – so why should our life partners be so different?
Because life is lived in the real world and whilst the internet is part of our real world, people and relationships are what add the star quality to it. Books, groceries, music are all commodities. Friends and lovers are not. And although there are now dating sites online where you can have a virtual relationship with an avatar of your choice – do you really want to?

I will just round off by saying that I had a lot of fun internet dating and I tell some of the funny stories, but also one or two more disturbing ones in my book Are You The One?

Is it true that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your prince?
Apparently we have to meet at least 17 people before the odds are stacked in our favour of one of them being attractive to you. OK, 17 people – that’s not so bad, but of course, whilst they might be the one out of your 17 that you find attractive, you might not be the one in their 17 that they find attractive – and so it goes on. I’ll leave you to calculate the odds of success…

You write fiction as well. Does writing non-fiction require a different skillset?
Writing fiction is totally different in terms of content, but the discipline is the same. You have to have a plan, try to stick to it and write a little every day or every time you’d planned to write. Sometimes you get stuck – the archetypal writers block, but the more you write the easier it is. If I get stuck I tend to leave it to distil a little and a few days later a new idea or a new twist on an old idea will pop out like a sausage out of the sausage machine – quite amusing really. Fiction is my real love and I have too many ideas usually. I often have at least 4 or 5 novel ideas simmering away at any one time but I only work on one idea at a time. I am just completing my third novel which includes a throwback to the Salem witch trials, but already have the ideas and even some of the sentences forming for the second book in my box of darkness trilogy, the first of which, ‘Courting the Dark’, should be out next year. It will have to wait until after Christmas though when I have planned to have the first draft of the Salem book completed otherwise they will cross-fertilise and become confused.

My first novel will be published in January 2013 – ‘Chained Melody’, an unusual love and life story, and it will be available on Amazon and through my website so watch this space for it and many more.
Fiction tends to be more methodical in that there are a set of facts, principles and ideas that you want to get across in a coherent whole, but whilst also making it entertaining and engaging and that can be more difficult than writing fiction, which is naturally more interesting because it involves applying imagination, but that also makes writing a good non-fiction book a challenge, and I love a challenge!

How long did this book take to write?
About 3 months.

And what was the most challenging part of the process?
Actually, marshalling all the information – there is a lot of it!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
A child almost of the sixties, I’ve experienced a variety of careers and life. Now widowed, with two teenage daughters, living in a thatched cottage in Hampshire, I run a small social events business, work as a business event co-ordinator for the University of Winchester and have discovered I love writing. My first two works are non-fiction, the third a novel, which is coming out in January, 2013.

Have you got a blog where readers can keep up with your work?
Yes https://debbiemartin.wordpress.com/

And where can we buy The Strategy?
Amazon or via my website.

What’s next?
My novel, Chained Melody is due out in January 2013 and novel number 2, which is going to be the first in a trilogy – Courting the Dark will be following later on in 2013.

Thank you Indie Author Land

Please do follow me on Twitter @StorytellerDeb for my writing

@SocialsingleDeb for Singles that Mingle news

And come and like the pages on Facebook for special offers and news coming soon:

My writing page :          http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author

Singles that Mingle:     http://www.facebook.com/singlesthatmingle

Beyond the page as Sandra sways …
July 5, 2012

Now it starts to get interesting for Sandra…

‘. . . Sandra glowered at him with hatred, but he didn’t see her venom. He was buried in his damn Telegraph as usual. ‘Blah, blah, blah . . .’ she mimicked him, from her hidden position behind the upheld pages, openly making mocking faces at him as she silently mouthed the words. He just continued to drone on about HIS views and HIS opinions and HIS ideas, never, once, ever, asking her about hers. And of course the weight problem came up too – it always did. He called her blubbery like a whale: and the fact that she didn’t work.

‘. . . and that really is the crux of it?’ He suddenly put the pages down flat on his lap and looked directly at her over the top of his wire – rimmed glasses. Questioning, no: he wasn’t questioning her – he never questioned. He told : he told, criticised, belittled, and shamed her. He never questioned, otherwise he might have got a very different answer to the one he got. The question was rhetorical, just saying, ‘I’m right aren’t I?’ It just didn’t have the ‘aren’t I?‘ at the end of it.

Sandra hastily re-composed her belligerent sneer to a face of polite agreement. ‘If you think so, dear’ she said meekly, not even knowing what she was agreeing with because her mind had been totally taken up with the wonderful release of baring the teeth of her frustration at him in the seconds before the question-statement was posed.

‘Hmmm’ he said, narrowing his eyes at her, not quite sure if the response was satisfactory enough, and then obviously deciding it was only Sandra – it would do. He shook the newspaper pages slightly to remove any crumples from them and withdrew behind them again. The voice was slightly muffled as it continued from behind the barrier, ‘I’ll have that tea now, but make sure it’s not too weak, and there’s only one spoon of sugar in it, oh and I don’t want that flowery mug you gave me last time. You may want to act like a char woman but I drink my tea out of a proper cup and saucer like a gentleman would.’ He didn’t even look to see if Sandra acknowledged and obeyed the command: he knew she would.

Once the tea was satisfactorily made and provided in the appropriate format, Sandra escaped to the bedroom. She left the bedroom door just ajar – so she could hear if he moved from his throne and came upstairs to see what she was doing. Not that he was likely to. His interest in her had dwindled to nothing but the odd reprimand and string of orders years ago, once the children were grown. She’d outlived her attraction to him when she no longer provided anything material in his life. He’d already looked elsewhere, anyway. She knew that. She occasionally found the odd hotel or restaurant receipt in his jacket pocket when she took it to the dry cleaners. They were careless oversights on his part which merely told her he didn’t bother to hide anything anymore. Such absolute arrogance. She didn’t know who the current one was, but she suspected it was a woman at the office. She’d noticed his enlivened tone when he’d declaimed the woman as a tart for going to a belly dance class – a belly dance class of all things!

The comment had made Sandra pick up her ears – partly because she could tell that his interest was obviously piqued and whilst Sandra had long since ceased to care about his betrayals, she was canny enough to realise that it was wise to keep track for her own self-preservation. But she had also been curious about belly dancing. It conjured up tantalising images of raven haired beauties, barely covered in diaphanous silks, bejewelled and sequined, trailing seductively over the shoulders and sexual appetites of their male audience.  She almost smelt the heady scent of desire, the mystery of decadence, the pounding beat of the drum as the dancer flicked and shook her hips and breasts to its rhythm – the rhythm of sweat and thrust and sex. She shivered slightly in excitement. That was something she hadn’t experienced in a very long while. She crept to the bedroom door and listened silently for a few minutes. There was no sound at all below. He was either still deeply immersed in the stuffy news print or he’d dozed off. Either way, she could.

She stripped her shapeless woollen top off, dragging it over her head roughly, and hastily let her tracksuit pants drop around her ankles like a puddle. Hidden carefully at the back of her wardrobe, underneath an old dress, was the outfit. It was skimpy and exciting. She slid into it, smoothing the soft transparent drape of the skirt over her hips, running her hands down to her thighs, and then swinging them slightly, luxuriating in the way the fabric fell against her bodies outline, hiding it, but revealing all. She sighed with satisfaction, wriggled her shoulders slightly in a shimmy, making her breasts rub against each other exuberantly, bubbling over the top of the tiny sequined bra. She smiled.

 

More to follow next week …

Follow me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Debbie-Martin-author-and-writer/290947497649847

and on my website:

www.debbie@debbiemartin.co.uk

where you’ll find lots more to read and information when my books are going to be published.

Debbie Martin

Marys story continues – Beyond the page …
June 14, 2012

Now it all gets a little more curious as Marys’ little story turns into a big one. Now I’ve written the first bit but eventually I’m going to ask for your assistance as you decide what might happen to Mary as her story unfolds – and I will write it!

Here’s how her story continues into Chapter 2 …

Chapter 2: Mary

The tumult of emotions still resonated within her – emotions she’d never even imagined before; the yearning of unrequited love twisted her heart uncomfortably and yet the humiliation made her shrivel  until the throb of revenge blended all the emotions into that one action –t he thrust of the knife. That had felt so good: so satisfying even as paradoxically she’d simultaneously felt the thrust of the bitter-sweet sadness of loss cut into her soul.

Nobody asked Mary questions about herself. They assumed she’d have nothing much to add to their experiences. Mary: plain, thirty-two and looking more like fifty-two. Life was a routine for Mary -it had been from the very first moments she could remember.  Mother’s routine then, but mother’s routine had become her routine as the years revolving round her mother had ingrained it in her too.

Mary stayed in her chair for a while, unsteady from the aftershocks of the first-time emotions.  Her world was unsettled. The surge of anger and the throb of passion had no place in the plod of her routine. Her stomach still churned from the anxious fear they’d instilled in her. She sat silently and still, waiting for the rolling waves in her stomach to settle, but they didn’t, and out of seemingly nowhere – just like the scene from the book had become solid around her, the unease turned dramatically into nausea, and she rushed to the bathroom, flinging the door wide as she made for the toilet, grabbing it’s rolled edge and hanging over the bowl, retching.

It reminded her of childhood tummy upsets. She’d always hated the thought of hanging her head over the toilet bowl when she felt sick as a child. Mother had issued dire warnings about touching toilet seats,

‘…covered in germs and they’ll get all over you…’ in that prim, I told you so voice that ordered Mary’s life.

She’d imagined the little army of germs mother said lived in toilets and on toilet seats – that was why you never touched them –  stomping up the incline of the bowl and swarming all over her head and face  and hands as she gripped the bowl and she was in turn gripped with the overpowering heaving of vomiting. Even as the rhythmic convulsions of her stomach resulted in of her stomach spewing  its’ contents out of her mouth, burning the back of her throat and making her eyes and nose run, so she imagined the germ army swarming over her microscopically – like a thin layer of iron filings bristling all over a magnet. After she’d been sick like that she’d always felt she wanted to scrub herself off to try to dislodge the germ fur all over her from the toilet bowl. It was no different this time even though there was no mother there to remind her…

At thirty-two she felt the same as she had at twelve, or even five, four – how young could she remember back to? The heaving sensation settled down and she sat back on her heels, away from the toilet bowl, yet still close enough to revert to hanging over it if the nausea returned. She swallowed hard, trying to soothe the rough soreness of her throat with her saliva, and swill away the acid taste left in her mouth by the vomit. She shivered with distaste but the nausea didn’t seem to be returning so she shakily stood up, flushed the toilet and held her hands under the running water from the hot tap. She squirted several sprays of liquid soap onto them and scrubbed, lathering the soap to a foaming froth, before rinsing it away, imagining a layer of germ army funnelling down the plughole, protesting and flailing as they tried to stop themselves being washed away. The incongruous picture she conjured up for herself made her giggle, but then she stifled it in mid-ripple, thinking ‘am I going mad?’  Why was she imagining armies of germs, like she had as a child? More to the point how and why had she imagined being a burlesque dancer stabbing a lover?

Mary carefully dried her hands on the rough white hand towel hanging over the edge of the bath, and cleaned her teeth. She felt better once she’d rinsed the vile after taste of the vomit from her mouth and the fresh spearmint of the toothpaste cleared her palate. She still felt unsteady so she returned to her armchair and sat down, confused and disturbed by what had engulfed her so totally for what seemed like hours, but from the time on the clock and the progress of the early evening shadows, had been no more than thirty minutes or so – only enough time to dive into a chapter in the book but no more.

She picked up the book from where it had tumbled from her lap onto the floor as she’d bolted for the bathroom. It was just as it had been when she’d settled it into the hollow of her lap and flipped the pages open – old worn leather, rough gilt edged pages, with a pattern chased just lightly into its’ leather binding. Then she remembered the knife – where was the knife that she’d been clutching? A tremor of fear fluttered through her chest – the knife that had pierced the man’s heart, and was smeared with his blood, deep red and sticky.

More next week – will she find the knife, do you think?

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where you’ll find lots more to read and information when my books are published.

Debbie Martin