An old-fashioned living room, lots of chintz and doilies, with an ornate fireplace at its centre. Blue and white chinoiserie dogs sit either side of the large vase of flowers. Out of the flowers peeps Irene’s head. Irene wears glasses and has a mauve set hair do. Her legs are in the fire place. She is wearing sensible shoes and tights.
I think I love cut flowers more than plants. Don’t get me wrong, plants are lovely, but they are too green. Like having a bunch of toads on your tea table and who wants toads anywhere near their petite fours? We’ll not me. I’m sure some people are that way inclined, and don’t get me wrong, it takes all sorts to make a world, but I’m am not one of those sorts. The nice thing about cut flowers is that when they are done, you can throw them out. They don’t linger. Unless you want them to. Unless you want to watch them wilt and wane. And then there’s the smell. It starts off smelling like the Avon lady. Then it fades, diffusing into the homestead ether of damp clothes and sage roasted chicken. And then, finally, there’s the rot. Damp carrion smells. Sometimes it’s the flies that clue you up to the death of a beloved posy. Small black buzzers that head straight for your teacakes when you aren’t looking and luxuriate in your butter. That’s how you know your flowers are dead. Dead as the marriage that bought them to your door. Sometimes I keep them in the fridge, just to watch the cycle of life as the flowers die and the flies multiple and start humping on that lump of old dried up cheddar you have been meaning to throw away, but waste not want not. Even flies have the right to cheese and good on ‘em I say.
Now don’t go getting the wrong idea. I am house proud. I’ve cleaned that kitchen floor with a toothbrush and carbolic soap until the blood oozed from my nail beds. Which admittedly was counterproductive, because I had to start all over again. I should have worn marigolds but you know, yellow has never been my colour. It makes me look very pallid. What with my colouring and the coral Revlon lipstick him indoors prefers, well, let’s just say that if I could get washing up gloves in any other colour, that would be helpful, you see? Not that I am any vainer than anyone else, but it doesn’t hurt to always look your best. Not flashy, not like them lot next door, I mean, I’m not judging but I’m also not a gypsy, if you follow. I just know what does and does not suit me, and I am never going to look good in acid green or citric yellow. Even shoes. I have lovely legs, I know I do. People have often said, oooooo Irene you’ve got lovely legs. But I don’t need that kind of reinforcement. Positive or otherwise. And I know lovely legs, curved, wobbling carves leading to shapely ankles and tiny feet, deserve good silk tights and a comfortable leather shoes with a heel just high enough to flex the old gastrocnemius muscle, bringing to life that sensual curve of the lower leg. Trust me, it drives the boys mad. Though, to be fair, it’s been a long time since I’ve driven any one mad. I’m a proper woman now, I’ll have you know.
My aunty Celia used to sit in the corner of the sitting room and pluck the chicken dinner. Now there was a proper woman. Deaf as a post, mind, but that always came in useful when it was time to wring the chicken’s neck. Nasty sound that. But Celia had hands like clamps. One twist and that was that. One chicken for the pot. Never married bless her. And ugly as sin. I think that’s why she became a nun. Though when you’ve got a face like a dirty dishcloth a wimple is never going to do you any favours. That and the teeth. Massive teeth, she had, all arranged like stone henge. Every solistice a group of druids used to turn up and dance round her naked. The druids, not Celia. That’s why she got chucked out of the nunnery and came to live back home. But awwww, she was a lovely woman, a very proper woman. And she did all that while daddy would sit in his chair and cry and mammy would scream, and scream, and scream. It was a very stable household. Though, I won’t tell a lie, I was slightly relieved when the whole lot of them were bombed to shit. Only thing that survived were these dogs here on the mantlepiece. Always remind me of mammy and daddy. Just lovely.
It’s nearly dinner time. No sign of him indoors. Thank the lord and the little baby Jesus. Not that I’m not happy. I am. Delightfully not happy. I have my own kingdom. All day, every day, I rule over the home. The beautifully empty home. And that’s how I like it. Who needs bodies cluttering up a beautifully tidy house. Moving things. Making things dirty. Ruffling sheets and getting pomade on the antimacassars. Leaving boot prints of the rugs. The thought alone makes me shudder. Like a draft in the nonnies. Though sometimes that’s a different kind of shudder.
Tonight is a lovely moist spotted dick. It’s large. A bit more stiff than I like my spotted dick to be, you know dense. I make spotted dick a lot. I know the variations that exists in the sponge and the fruit. How long you need to soak the raisins to get them just right, so they burst in your mouth. Little wet balls of sugar and sour. The other thing I am good at, really good at, is milk pudding. A silky creamy texture that dribbles down your chin, and slides its way down your throat. Delicious. Add a little sugar and spice and you get something nice. That’s my motto.
I think in my life, I’ve always been an optimist. It’s a radical life choice, given everything. Given the bombs, and the men and the marching – I bloody hate marching. If I never have to march again it would be too soon. Though it does wonders for the legs. It’s really helped maintain the pertness of the leg in the shoe. These legs are award winning I have you know. Lovely legs competition, Bognor Regis, 1963. If Bognor Regis was still the thing, I’m sure they would continue to be awarded. Legs weighed down with so many medals that I’d have to shuffle around the house. But I would be proud. House proud. Leg proud. Yes, other choices have been dubious but the legs and the house have been an unprecedented success. And that’s all I’ve really needed in life, to get on.
The sound of a key in a door.
Ah, the daily key in the daily door. The twist of the bolt as the lock opens. Marking 4:33. Exactly. Every day. And then I think of Celia chocking chickens and wonder if she had the right idea. To be ugly and ignored. Descending into deafness and content to pull the feathers out of the carcass of the old bird; the old bird in the corner with the chicken.
The sound of the door opening and slamming. Large heavy footsteps echo. A dark shadow looms over Irene.
Ooooo, are those cut flowers? How lovely.