Size / / /

Content warning:

My name is Violet. I’m married to Tom and I’m old and I’d like to say that’s how I introduce myself to people, but it would be a lie. I don’t introduce myself to anyone. I’m of no interest, not even to Tom, who has heard all my anecdotes so many times that he corrects me when I get the details wrong. Which I, quite deliberately, do.

I am sitting in the fairly chilly conservatory today in an attempt to start writing my memoirs, and if I ever manage to finish writing them, I’m going to walk out of the door of this house, leave Tom behind, and start living. That’s the promise I’ve made to myself. Right now he’s in the dining room finishing his boiled egg. He cramps my style with his devotion to the truth; he would look over my shoulder if he knew I was writing my life story, and have everything recorded the way he remembered it.

Maybe we’d agree on the bare bones: I was born in Bourne End, I got married, I had three children, I raised them, they left, I retired, Tom retired, we sat around and got ready to end in Bourne End. Yes, we could probably agree on that.

But the truth is also this:

The Taj Mahal was a huge white ship on the azure sea-sky. I swear it rocked and swayed on the waves of adulation that kept it monumental. It had a certain song to it that I still hear sometimes, at night, through the open window.

At a dinner party overlooking Martha’s Vineyard (she grew wonderful grapes) I turned once to Peter Ustinov and asked him if I should endeavour to tell the truth in all things, and he said something so incredibly witty that I can’t record it here in case your head should explode. Three people at the dinner party laughed so hard they had to be given emergency aspirin, and that included Mother Teresa.

I once ate the eyes of a tortoise at the behest of a Bahraini sheikh. It wasn’t even a delicacy; he just felt like setting a test, to see how far he could push me. It was that kind of a relationship. So I popped them in my mouth, quick, and he was so entertained by the face I pulled that he gave me the blinded tortoise as a gift. I took the tortoise back to my apartment in Paris and called it Oedipus. It lived for years, and I felt a stab of guilt every time it weaved its little head from side to side. Isn’t that appalling?

From my wicker seat—I never noticed before quite how uncomfortable wicker is—I have a good view of the street by the light of another indistinguishable morning. With my notebook open and ready to receive my thoughts, I find myself ruminating on my neighbours as they come and go, forming a tiny corner of a global pattern, like the tiny squares that make up lino. They have such busy lives, and all seem to have a purpose. The young man in 31 runs up and down the street in tiny shorts, only warming up, no doubt, before the big sprint through the park to keep his figure. I watch him to go past every morning, waiting for him to glance my way. To make me feel visible.

Young sweaty bodies are so pink and wet and agile, like salmon jumping upstream. I can’t even jump out of this chair.

There’s a crisp packet stuck in my front hedge. I’d better go and fish it out. It’ll be a bit of exercise for me. And then there’s flower arranging at the Garden Centre, and a hospital appointment for Tom. The results of the latest tests are in.

Today I want to write about the time I spent in Austria, because that’s where my life really started. I’d been travelling with my chaperone, Señor Velasquez, across Europe since the death of my mother. The Señor was kind, but not an approachable figure to a young girl, and he had his foibles; he carried a white cane everywhere that, with the touch of a secret button, could be transformed into a rainbow-striped umbrella. He performed this trick in settings designed to elicit a collective sigh from those around him, and Salzburg was no different. We disembarked from the train into a light rain, the taste of Munich beer still on our lips after the joy of the Oktoberfest, and hired a two-horse carriage to the Kapitelplatz, the Señor holding his cane over his shoulder, a quirk to his lips, putting a kink in the long black line of his moustache.

As he helped me down from the carriage, we stood at the south side of the Cathedral, looking up at the mighty dome. The Señor chose that moment to press his secret button, and lo! The rainbow umbrella brightened the rain-washed platz, and the local children, dressed in thick green lederhosen and floral pinafores, crowded around him in delight. I took advantage of the moment to escape the Señor’s watchful eyes, and stepped into the cool interior of the Cathedral, past the flanking golden candlesticks and into the airy, enlightened space that brought peace to my thoughts.

I sat in the nearest pew, and gazed up at the white figure of Christ on the dark wood of the cross. I prayed to him, and felt a change rise up in me; I felt goodness in myself that I had never suspected of existence. I had been a difficult child, exacerbating my mother’s condition, and I had carried a guilt with me since leaving London on that icy February morning. But now, I realised that my shame had run its course, and I had grown into a young woman with new choices to make, and new desires I could choose to indulge or deny as I wished.

That was the moment I realised I wanted to become a nun.

The Señor found me in the Cathedral and ushered me out, with little regard for the hushed atmosphere of worship. We strolled around Salzburg, took kaffee und Linzertorte, and he bought some Mozartkugeln and some cigars from a street vendor. I remained rapt in my vision of the future, and did not comment; I had to choose the time carefully in order to reveal my plans.

Later, in the drawing room of our modest Gasthof, the Señor pressed me on the issue of my withdrawn state. I found I could not dissemble; even though I had sought the perfect time and place for my revelation, I stammered out my intention to him, and his joyous reply shocked me, given his own proclaimed Godlessness.

“Fabelhaft!” he said. “My dear Violet, I am delighted that you have reached the same decision as I. You are far too delectable to belong to any man on Earth, and so we must dedicate you to God. Luckily, I am in the position to help you in your calling. There is a wonderful abbey in the hills surrounding Salzburg itself, and the abbess is a long-standing personal friend of mine. Allow me to introduce you to her.”

I didn’t ask how he had come by such an acquaintance, although the question did pass through my mind. Instead I thanked him, and before I knew it I was wearing a black robe and sneaking off before matins to sing in the hills, throwing out my arms in my uncontained joy at the glory of life. The abbess tolerated my behaviour, being the wise, benevolent sort, but eventually she confessed to me that she thought my calling might lie in a different direction after all. That was when she packed me off to look after the six wayward children of a local sea captain.

It was all downhill from there.

Being a nun is always better in principle than reality, I think. My time in Salzburg taught me that. Get out there and grab life. But grab it with the right man. Don’t fall into the clutches of men like the good-looking shorts-wearing man at 31. He’s nice to look at, but I’m betting he can’t be trusted.

I wish I was young enough to find out.

There he goes again, off to the park. Past my window, without once looking round. Without once seeing me.

I really did want to be a nun. I’d read a book about a nun who went to the colonies and helped lepers. I wasn’t so keen on the leper bit, but generally helping people and looking serene seemed to be the best thing a girl could do with her life. But not being Catholic put a spanner in the works. I still remember my mum explaining to me that nobody really became nuns any more, particularly when they were Church of England to start with. Still, I thought that maybe I could be a nun in spirit rather than in body, and I worked hard towards that. I never went near the local boys and scowled at any who came near me. This was back when girls went to school not to learn, but to meet husbands. I didn’t, of course, and so I was packed off to secretarial college and in between getting up to eighty words per minute and studying shorthand I met Ivan.

He was the son of my teacher. He used to wait for his mother by the bike shed outside the building, and he made a comment about my bike. Nice saddle, he said. I was getting a bit fed up of the nun act. Nobody seemed to notice my shining inner goodness. So I thought I’d find out how the other half lived.

I didn’t know it back then, but boys like number 31 and Ivan like to give bicycles a test drive, but they’re not interested in making the down payment. By the time I found out he’d got me pregnant he’d already moved on to a newer model.

Right, time for Tom’s elevenses. Apparently things will really start to go downhill fast in a few weeks or so, so the doctor said I should try to make sure I get as much rest as possible before then. But between providing round-the-clock care and writing a memoir, I can’t see that happening.

Of course, things turned ugly in Austria.

I don’t want to go into the details, but I managed to escape by disguising myself as a ticket inspector and taking the Munich Express out of Salzburg. It was an ill-fated decision: we never did reach Munich. The train was diverted before we’d crossed the German border, and it gained speed until it seemed that the mountains, pastures, and triangular roofs of the farms were blurring together into brown-green streaks, and all the charm of the Grossglockner pass was lost.

The other travellers began to get nervous. A few asked me questions, demanding to know what was happening, and I lied as well as I could, describing snowstorms in Munich, but it did not persuade them for long. Then the real ticket inspector came into the compartment, and my disguise was blown. I was marched off to the baggage cart and locked in, for the authorities to deal with when we reached … where? Some unknown destination. Meanwhile, the train sped on.

When it finally shuddered to a standstill, the voices of the passengers rose, and rose, and then the screaming started. I found all my reserves of courage and tenacity had been exhausted. The largest suitcase in the baggage cart—an enormous maroon portmanteau—was the only refuge I could find. Upon opening it, frothy confections of dancing costumes spewed forth, frills and feathers and lace lining galore; I pushed them back in and made a nest for myself inside them, like a mouse in a shoebox. I pulled the lid down, and waited, and waited. Eventually, somehow, I fell asleep.

The jarring of my spine through the layers of tulle and tinsel awoke me—the case was being lifted. There was the sensation of movement; was I being carried? The feathers tickled my face and the sequins scratched my hands. I realised I had grasped fistfuls of the material and was squeezing it, squeezing it tightly, trying to release the agony of fear from my body.

A shock, like a slap in the face—the case must have been dropped. I felt pain in my neck and back, and thanked God for the costumes that padded my hiding place. I waited until the ache subsided, listening intently, and the sensation of claustrophobia began to creep up over my brain, crowding out all other fears. What if the lid had been locked? What if I was trapped, forever, in this case? The air was thick in my lungs; I couldn’t wait a moment longer. I pushed against the lid and it popped open, offering no resistance. Bright light burned my eyes and I curled up in the case once more as a reflex; after a time, I began to make out shapes rotating above me—a triangle, a circle, a square, all pieces of coloured glass, spinning on an elaborate series of wires that covered the ceiling. The tall windows at the end of the grandiose hall let in glorious sunlight, illuminating the glass to provide me with one of the most beautiful sights of my life—the show of colour and movement of those ever-swaying mobiles.

And then I looked around me.

I was surrounded by cases, unopened; the rest of the contents of the train’s baggage cart were spread over the floor of the hall, in random order, and every piece of it was spattered in blood. Blood had soaked into the fabric holdalls and turned the material black. It had dried onto the leather suit-holders in crusted patterns, and it had caked the plastic luggage sets in gouts.

The smell hit me. It was the fresh tang of the butcher’s block, multiplied a hundredfold, so that I gagged and pulled free one of the petticoats from the portmanteau to cover my face. This was an atrocity that had only just happened, around me, while I slept. Whoever committed such a terrible act to leave this gory evidence had to be nearby.

How could I escape? The double doors opposite me or the tall windows were too obvious; who could guess what would await me there? I turned around, and spied a small grille that had to lead to an air duct against the back wall. There was a chance that I could squeeze inside.

I climbed to it, over the soaking, stinking cases, feeling the gore form a slick on my hands and ooze through the material of my trousers. Within moments I was sodden, and barely able to restrain myself from screaming, but I crawled on. The grille was loose—thank God!—and I was able to prize it off the wall. Yes, it would admit me; the blood on my clothes slicked the passage and facilitated my entrance. A long metal duct led away from that room of horror, and I started to wriggle as fast as I could, praying that it would not narrow and leave me trapped forever.

I crawled onwards and onwards. Time had no meaning. Nor did my exhaustion. I had to succeed.

I have no idea how much ground I actually covered before I popped out of a small hole on platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Railway Station.

I never did find out who—or what—killed those passengers, or to where they were taken.

There’s no way to end this part of the memoir nicely. I’m really disappointed with myself. I didn’t want to write about blood, or death, or fear. I’m getting enough of all that at home. But the thing I’ve found about writing a memoir is that the past is always at the mercy of the present. It can’t be viewed objectively. I make Tom’s hospital appointments, and I take care of him, and I hate it all. I despise him for his weakness, and his inability to defeat his own illness. I am filled with hate for him, as he suffers, and I am a bad wife, and a bad person. And so out it comes in the memoir, this stupid book that will go on and on until I discover where the end lies. I drag the worst of myself into it, and so I permeate every page.

It’s getting dark outside. Soon Coronation Street will finish, and I’ll take Tom upstairs for his wash. It’ll beat sitting in front of the telly and pretending I was once involved in an unexplained bloodbath.

The closest I ever got to a bloodbath was when I miscarried. That was a lot of blood, and matter. I don’t want to get into describing it, but there was solid matter there. It would have been a baby. Of course, it’s a good thing that it wasn’t. I’d been too afraid to tell my parents that I was pregnant, so all I thought when I felt the blood running down my legs at the bus stop was thank God. It was only a couple of months later that I started crying and couldn’t stop.

Nobody knew what was wrong with me. There was a good doctor in Bourne End back then, and he had a clue about it but he was good enough not to make me tell. He packed me off to a decent clinic in London for women suffering with their nerves. I say it was a decent one because it charged a lot and it looked after you, not like some of the other ones around where there was screaming and being tied down in bed and things like that. Or is that only my imaginative side at work, thinking things like that happened? I asked my mother once, when she came to visit. She said that kind of thing only happened in romantic novels, and I had far too much imagination. I don’t think I’d want to read a romantic novel that had such things in it. It makes me wonder what kind of books she read.

No, it was restful. It had a garden, and a piano, but even so I just kept seeing the blood on my legs. I had been so happy about it at first.

It must have cost my parents a fortune to keep me in that clinic for two years; I still don’t know how they managed it. But they paid up, and we all waited for me to get well again, having no idea what would happen next. But then, who does?

It was safe to say my faith in humanity was lost. I trusted nobody. I could get no answers to the questions endlessly running through my head, and I couldn’t face returning to my own parents to face their questions in turn.

Had all those passengers died on that fateful train journey from Salzburg? Or had I imagined the whole horrible sight of the white room, glittering glass overhead, gore soaking through my shoes? I slept rough in London for a time; the expression is misleading because I can’t remember sleeping. I stared at brick walls, wondering if they would disappear, or if blood would pour through the cement cracks. I shivered my way through my insanity, feeling hunger, thirst, cold as mere distractions from my madness. I was unreachable, or so I thought. But then the travelling circus found me.

Or I suppose one could say I found them. I was stumbling along the South Bank, no doubt drawing looks of disgust from the tourists who mistook me for drunk rather than deranged, when I fell into a display of dancing dogs in leaf-green tutus, accidentally kicking the Rottweiler who barrelled into the tap-dancing Shih Tzu and knocked the Chihuahua pyramid flying.

The assembled crowd laughed heartily, and so did the dogs’ owner to my relief. She was an enormous bosomed lady called Etheline, and she sported the most impressive blonde beard and handlebar moustache I had ever laid eyes on; it was worthy of a Viking. “You should be a clown,” she said to me as she scooped me back on to my feet. “You have a gift for comedy, and yet the scent of tragedy is upon you, like the greatest circus performers. The most terrible of events feed the urge within us all to find a smile.” She must have seen in my wild eyes that I did not believe her. “So, this is a lesson you have yet to learn—you have seen the worst in life, and have yet to turn it to your advantage, am I correct? Maybe I can be of assistance. Come back to my caravan and let me help you. My life has hardly been free of strife, but I’ve made the weight of my beard work hard for me. Maybe we can do the same for you. What’s your name?”

“Violet,” I told her, and she laughed.

“An appropriate moniker for a clown, given that you stink of the gutter. You’re a walking contradiction, Violet.”

My timing could not have been better if I had rehearsed it; I fainted in my exhaustion and became not a walking contradiction but a prone one, and could not be roused for all the prancing dogs in London.

When I came to, the first sensation I experienced was a tickling on my chest. The next was an aroma; the smell of soap. And the third was the sight, when I managed to open my lids, of Etheline smiling down upon me, her beard hanging down over me like a curtain. For the first time since returning from Salzburg, I smiled. I smiled back at her, and I felt safe.

For Etheline saved me. She was the kindest of people, giving up the one bed in her caravan for me and devoting her time to my recovery, yet never asking for anything in return but an audience for the story of her own life, which in many surprising ways paralleled my own, with the addition of facial hair. She, too, had been found by circus folk at her lowest ebb, when she was unemployed in Greenland, and she was determined to perform the same good turn for me now. So, when I was rested and strong in my mind and body once more Etheline provided morning coffee and ginger nut biscuits for the meeting she set up in her own caravan with the all-powerful head of the Clown Division.

This meeting did not take place without preamble.

“He’s called Mikachu,” she had said, late the night before, as she tucked me into bed with the firm fondness of a mother, “and he’s a demanding taskmaster. Expect to work hard, but to gain great rewards under his tutelage, if he’ll have you. He’s trained all the greats: Yogi Wan, Trubblington Gravy, and Poopie-Pants the Purple Passionfruit of Bromwich all started with him.” These names meant nothing to me, but I nodded, and promised to make my funniest faces in the morning for his perusal.

“No,” she said, “don’t do any such thing, Violet. Don’t try to entertain him. Only try to show him that you have the potential to learn what entertainment is.”

This seemed somewhat cryptic to me, so under his gaze I found I had no idea what to do, and fell back on not doing anything at all. He was a tall, thin man with jet black hair and a severe set to his mouth that gave him an intimidating air. There was nothing of the clown that I could see about him, apart from the oily white sheen on his skin that I imagined was a permanent residue from his makeup. Etheline did all of the talking at that first meeting, relating my history and assuring him that I would be a great clown given the opportunity. He only looked dubious. I could well understand it. The whole thing seemed so utterly ridiculous that I couldn’t help but giggle into my morning coffee mug.

His sharp eyes met mine for the first time. I saw a hint of curiosity in his gaze; it softened that mouth, made it appealing.

“Etheline,” he said—he had a rough voice, with a broad accent, as one might expect to hear from a turnip farmer—“might you leave us for a moment?”

She fluttered out of the caravan, if a broad-chested hirsute woman could be described in such a manner. I think she had rather a crush on Mikachu. As soon as the caravan stopped rocking he began to speak, and it was clear that I was not expected to reply.

“I do not think you have it in you to be a great clown, Violet. I’m sorry to say it. Etheline has always been this way, picking up strays and imagining she sees more in them than what they are. Last time it was Budi, the Indonesian orphan whom she thought would make a world-class plate spinner, even though he had never handled crockery in his life. But I would like to humour her, being that she is such an excellent attraction and such a benevolent soul to boot, and so I will take you and train you if you wish it. You must promise to work hard and not run away or steal what I’d prefer to give freely, but my instinct tells me that all the hard labour in the world is not going to lift you to the esteemed heights of comedy. You’ll be good for a pie in the face or improbably large boots, I’m sure, but no more than that. Still, you are welcome to try to prove me wrong. What do you say?”

I felt the truth in his words. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll do my best, and I’m pretty certain I won’t prove you wrong. There’s no joy in my soul, and there never will be again, so how could I ever bring joy to others? But you can hit me with as many pies as you like. I don’t mind at all.”

“No joy,” he mused, “none at all. But you’re still so young. Are you sure that joy may not find you again when you least expect it?”

I smiled. “I’m certain. But you’re welcome to try and prove me wrong too, if you like.”

So we made a deal, sealed with a handshake, and by the end of the first week of training I already knew he had won. I adored him, and he made me happier than I could ever have imagined. Since I have quite an imagination that, in itself, was an impressive accomplishment. Yes, he fell in love with me and I with him. I never made a good clown; I was mediocre at my best, but I made him a better wife. At least, I tried to, although it was another role that didn’t come naturally to me. Still, I persevered. And I persevere still, believing in the phrase “till death do us part,” although now that the death part is coming up, for him at least, I have days where I wish I’d stuck with Etheline the bearded lady instead.

But no, I opted to become a wife. Violet, married to Mikachu alias Tom, with no laughter left in either of us now he’s suffering from skin cancer, perhaps from that thick white makeup he wore for so many years, leaving him with half a face and no time at all.

Fuck him. Fuck watching death crawl up over his face and laying its eggs under his skin. Fuck him for letting it, for making me be part of this slow degradation, and then leaving me alone at the end of it. What a joke this marriage has turned out to be. The greatest joke of his career.

A fitting end of Mikachu, perhaps. If only Tom had been a clown, a great man, and then this death could have had dramatic irony. But in the alternative version of my life he was a building surveyor. Working out in the sun, squinting up at high roofs, filling out reports in his small office with the picture of his family on his desk. And there’s no meaning, perverse or otherwise, in this end.

That’s not to say there wasn’t happiness before we got here. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Tom made me happy when I met him. I went back to my small bedroom in my parents’ house in Bourne End when the Clinic pronounced me cured, and I didn’t go far. I used to walk down to the café—it’s a florist’s now, but back then it was a very hip place to be, with a jukebox and black and white lino on the floor—and spend an hour over a cup of tea. Tom would come in with his mates from work, and put Tears of a Clown on the jukebox. He loved Smokey Robinson, all that Motown music. He had energy. He’d dance along, and then he started asking me to dance with him, right in the middle of the café. I always said no, dreading that he’d make me, or that he’d stop asking. But he never did stop asking, until one day he stayed behind deliberately after his break, waited until the café was empty apart from us two, and then told me I had to dance or I’d break his heart.

So I did.

He said he could see I was sad. He said he’d make me smile again. He wanted to take care of me, and he meant it. Being taken care of, that’s a wonderful thing, right up until the point where you realise you can’t take care of yourself anymore. And then it’s the worst thing you ever signed up for. By the time I’d had his children, I was tied to Bourne End, and all my dreams of escape followed that first baby, trickling down my legs into the gutter, and crying softly in my ear at night.

“Violet,” said God, on that fateful moment last year after Tom had been diagnosed, “Violet, wake up. Meet me in the park in five minutes. Have a quick wee before you leave the house but don’t worry about your hair.”

I did as I was told. You don’t argue with God. At least, I don’t, not after eight years of Sunday school at a tender age and a run-in with nun-hood.

In the park, in the dark, I trembled. I hugged my dressing gown over my chest as I made my way to the playground, feeling the damp soak through my sheepskin slippers. God was waiting for me on the climbing frame, the red and blue one with the slide suitable for five- to eight-year-olds. He was throwing conkers down it, which was quite an achievement since it was late spring. It’s hard to say what he looked like. Old and venerable are the words that come to mind, but that kind of person doesn’t sit on the top of climbing frames, so there must have been something young and carefree about him too.

“I don’t think much of this place,” he said. I thought about pointing out that everything, including the playground, was made to his design, but he gave me such a stare that I didn’t bother. Thinking about it now, I’m sure he read my thoughts so there was no point in saying it anyway. I stood there, waiting for him to tell me what he wanted with me—I never thought to ask. It’s harder to have a conversation with God than you might imagine.

He snapped his fingers and in a blink we were on a desert island, a proper one with soft white sand and a translucent sea, and palm trees curving overhead, providing shade from the glorious sunshine.

“Is this heaven?” I asked him.

“It’s the Maldives,” he said. “It’s the closest most people get to heaven, to be honest. There’s an excellent hotel on stilts just along the beach.” His voice reminded me of Alan Whicker, a little bit. “Violet, it’s a rare person whom I choose to give answers to, but it seems to me that you could do with some hands-on guidance and in your case I’m not against providing it.”

“Thanks,” I said. I could feel sand irritating my bunion in my right sheepskin slipper, and my dressing gown was far too hot, but I didn’t dare strip off down to my nightie in front of him.

“It’s like this.” He sat down and pressed his fingers into the sand. “Your life has been a test.”

“A test?”

“A series of hoops to jump through, if you like. Once in a while I take a direct interest in a human’s life. I couldn’t say for sure how I pick ’em—someone leaps out of the crowd, even though they look as ordinary as the next person. It’s not about shape or size, or even about whether they bother to believe in me, but I find myself watching them. And sometimes I send certain events their way, just to see what they’ll do. How they’ll react. You’ve been one of those people, Violet. Ever since I heard you saying the Lord’s Prayer at Sunday School. You made it sound like a little singsong tune of love; it reminded me of Neil Sedaka’s ‘Carol’ a bit. I’ve always been fond of that one.”

“Me too,” I said. I sat down next to him and he started scooping sand over my legs until my slippers disappeared under a growing white mound.

“So, anyway, it’s my fault, that whole business in Salzburg. I had everyone on the train killed by crazed robbers, who were then bumped off in turn by the mayor in order to cover up his theft of the passengers’ belongings. You awoke in his summer house. Beautiful, wasn’t it?”

“Apart from the blood.”

“And I put the circus folk on the South Bank, ready for you to happen along. And, just recently, I gave Mikachu cancer. He’ll die of it, slowly. There’ll be another year of suffering yet, but if I didn’t make it agonising, it wouldn’t really be a test for you, would it?”

“Tom,” I said. “His name is Tom. Not Mikachu.”

“You know what, Violet? You’ve really done me proud so far. You’ve soldiered on, you never gave up, and you’ve really never questioned it either, have you? Good for you! You’re exactly the kind of person the Kingdom of Heaven needs. Once you kick the bucket I highly rate your chances of getting in.”

I couldn’t see my legs any more; the entire of my lower body was buried under an enormous mound of sand, and I couldn’t move an inch. I was sweating profusely in my dressing gown, and even in the shade of the palm trees the sun was beginning to burn my face. “Thank you,” I said, trying to keep the discomfort from my voice, “I really appreciate that. Do you think I might be able to go home now?”

“Of course! Anything for my favourite customer. I’ll take you back to bed, and you hang on in there for another sixteen years, and then I’ll see you again. I’ll have a piña colada lined up at the floating bar for you. As long as you handle this last decade and a half with dignity, of course. But I’m sure I can count on you.”

God didn’t do anything, as far as I could see—there was no click of the fingers, or blink of his eyes. I was simply back in bed again, sitting bolt upright, covered in sweat and sand with Tom lying next to me, snoring away as usual.

I know a lot of people take comfort from the idea of God. I can’t say he reassured me that night. Although I have always been fond of a piña colada.

So, that’s the end of this memoir. I’m done with writing, at least, until Tom is gone and I’m alone for the first time in thirty-eight years. Who knows what I’ll get up to then with the time that remains to me? Maybe I’ll travel to Austria. Or even rebel against God. That or take up salsa.

I know, I know—I said that once I finished this memoir I’d leave Tom. I really would love to leave, but I think we’ve all known that’s not on the cards. I’ll see him through his death, like the good wife I am.

So, only one question remains. What shall I do with this memoir?

Does it have to be put to some use? I suppose not. I could put it in a drawer somewhere, or even burn it. But I don’t think I will.

I can think of one person who might benefit from it.

Yes. I’m going to leave it on the doorstep of number 31. If he reads it, I think he might finally begin to understand that I’m here. That I exist in this world. He might even look round as he runs past, and give me a look that means—I understand you. Being young is not so different from being old, after all. Telling the truth is not so different from lying, when it comes to wanting to be alive. To be interesting. To be meaningful.

I’m going to sneak out tonight, after I’ve put Tom to bed, and I’m going to put this book where he can’t help but see it. Maybe he’ll step over it on his way to the park, for his morning run. But maybe, on the way back, he’ll pick it up.

First thing tomorrow morning, I’ll sit here, and watch the street, and wait for him to see me. He might knock on the door, and start a conversation.

Who knows? Anything could happen.

Aliya Whiteley's two recent novellas, The Beauty and The Arrival of Missives, were published in the UK by Unsung Stories and have been shortlisted between them for a Shirley Jackson Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The Beauty will be published in the US by Titan in November 2017. She is currently writing a short story a month for a Patreon project:
Current Issue
4 Mar 2024

Sometimes among the fish and crabs, we trawl squid and octopus, or little sharks, all added to the pots. Sometimes it’s a fish person, a thing we cut free and do not talk of, pretend we never saw. Today, it is part of a god.
no one wants to understand / why you smell like acid gut and carrion
Grandmother, the wolf’s voice was / a lullaby, the night sky...
Wednesday: Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall 
Issue 26 Feb 2024
Issue 19 Feb 2024
Issue 12 Feb 2024
Issue 5 Feb 2024
Issue 29 Jan 2024
Issue 15 Jan 2024
Issue 8 Jan 2024
Issue 1 Jan 2024
Issue 18 Dec 2023
Issue 11 Dec 2023
Load More
%d bloggers like this: