Rose Lane Ch 10
Posted: 30 December 2003
Word Count: 3833
Summary: The other chapters can be found in my profile.
Melanie hadn't been out of the house all week, save for the odd wander to Waitrose . Such a nice supermarket, Melanie always thought, calm, superior, better quality all round and her local in Islington was often peppered with celebrities. Just in one month she'd spotted Kate Winslett (Twice) a bald comedy TV presenter, that blonde bird from Bad Girls, a glamorous newsreader off the BBC and an ageing punk singer whose name she couldn't quite remember, but from the look of the contents of his shopping trolley, Remegel, Neurofen and a dozen toilet rolls, life hadn't been particularly kind to him in the intervening years. Fortunately these trips didn't take that long, not now when she was shopping for one.
She'd manage to brush off Sarah with tales of sore throats coupled with period pains.
"What, at your age? " Sarah tut tutted, not convinced. "Won't be able to use that excuse much longer will we luv? It'll be all hot flushes and feminine dryness"
They both laughed but secretly Melanie was horrified. All those years of whining on about your time of the month and soon it would all be over. No more budding little eggs, chirping to be set free, just a life time of grey hair and HRT.
Sarah gushed about Melanie's stood up blind date.
"You should have made the effort Mel, Finlay's absolutely gorgeous. I can tell he must be a demon in the sack, you should have seen the way he looked at me, couldn't keep his eyes off my tits, says he doesn't know what men see in young girls, he adores older women. I told him you were 44 and looked every inch of it."
Sarah meant well,she always does. Sarah likes everybody to be happy, especially herself.
"I'm very proud of my clavicle bone," she sometimes announces for no reason in particular.
"No matter how much weight I put on, you can always see it, like an exquisite, ivory birdcage pronouncing my frailty and femininity."
Yes, Sarah, whatever you say go on, have another joint.
Sunday lunch time, and Melanie decided it was time to venture out of her home made prison. Whites was the sort of place that was very popular on a Sunday. Full of families wolfing down restaurant roasts, lovers still hungover enjoying both post and pre shag meals, a variety of elderly relatives being treated to a meal, anniversaries, birthdays, all the pleasant occasions in life. Whites was a happy celebratory place to go with loved ones and here she was, just Melanie on her own, sipping a bloody Mary and sifting through the Sunday papers. Years ago this would have been the perfect way to spend the weekend but now it reeked of sadness and failure. Her kids were with their father and his girlfriend, her friends were with their families, fortunately not at Whites and her lover, well...he still lives in her head. Welcome to Melanie's world.
Melanie looked up on hearing her married title and was startled to see a young girl with tousled black hair scrunched into a ponytail standing beside her. The girls arms were straining under the weight of a heavy tray of dirty plates, she looked as though she could barely carry a new-born kitten never mind this mighty load.
"Hello, it's me Elise Rosheen, you used to teach me." said the doll like girl.
Melanie stared at her a moment, trying to remember, yes she knew her, an old pupil.
"Oh Elise, hello, I didn't know you worked here?"
Elise nodded, still trying to balance the tray.
"Yeah, only the occasional shift, my cousin's one of the managers, it's alright, but I'm not allowed behind the bar yet, not till I'm 18, so um..can I get you anything?"
Elise hadn't been a memorable student, just a quiet girl who always handed her work in on time and pretty much kept to herself.
"No, no I'm fine, you better put that tray down before you drop it."
Elise strengthened her grip but didn't move away.
"Anyone joining you?"she asked, casually.
"Um, no, just me."
"Ok, right, I'll send someone over."
For a moment Melanie wondered what she meant, someone? Did the restaurant have a room full of cheerful , single dinner guests just waiting to be paired off with the right lonely customer? No, she meant a food waiter.
Melanie read the complimentary Sunday papers as she idly picked at her smoked salmon and scrambled egg. The fleeting images of here today , gone tomorrow celebrities showing off designer gear at a variety of opening nights and glamorous parties did little to lift her spirits.
'Which much married Television quiz host has been enjoying hotel rendezvous with twin lap dancers?' screamed the headline. Probably any number of the bastards, thought Melanie as she spooned bright yellow egg onto her toasted ciabatta bread.
'Tight calf length denim skirts with diagonal hemlines are all the rage this season.' advised the fashion column. A photo of a young girl practically naked but for an extraordinary item of lingerie and a pair of boots was accompanied by the terrifying caption - 'Hurrah! Corsets are back.' As though we'd missed them, and campaigned and lobbied tirelessly for their much heralded return. These days Melanie couldn't really give a fig for what she wore. If it was on the floor next to her bed and not too excruciatingly filthy, it was chosen. Today's casual ensemble brought us faithful Gap blue jeans, with pink and white stripy T-shirt, also from Gap and a pair of Nike velcroed sandals. Comfortable, well worn and with the ability of rendering the owner invisible. Well almost, Elise sometimes caught her eye and smiled or pulled a face when she had a difficult customer or an even heavier tray.
When Melanie, folded up her newspapers and made to leave, taking the bill to the cashier, Elise was by her side.
"Can I get you a coffee or anything?"
"No thanks, I'm going to head off actually, spend the rest of the day sorting some stuff out."
Melanie had never been any good at lying, like that time she told her mother she'd been to school when in reality she'd spent the day hiding out at a friends house, stuffing her face with chocolates and biscuits and watching day time TV.
"Oh yeah, good." was her reply when her mother asked how school was.
"Really?" queried Pattie, her voice shaking with rage, "According to your teacher you never showed up, I ran into her in Woollies, she was buying a frozen chook, I said Oh hello Mrs Glover, remember me, Melanie Bakers mum? And she said to me, oh Mrs Baker, how is Melanie, she was off sick today I believe."
And the game was up and naughty Melanie was grounded for a whole month.
Elise looked over her shoulder, whipping her head left and right before furtively perching on the empty chair next to Melanie and leaning forward to speak, her voice a whisper.
"Look I was wondering , a friend of mine's doing a show .....well an installation really and well, if you're not too busy would you like to come and see it?"
Melanie didn't know what to say, the notion of going out was almost foreign to her.
"It's pretty amazing, I worked on it , a few of us did, you know Art students, you really shouldn't miss it."
Melanie heard her own voice, speaking without permission.
"An installation, really , sure, give me the details?"
" Great, well Oscar's...that's the artist, well he's having a special viewing this Friday; for friends and press and people...I know he'd really respect your opinion, do you fancy it?"
Melanie was used to the intensity of some of her young pupils. The girls would invariably see her as the mother they always wanted, someone they could discuss their creativity with , knowing they'd be understood and not questioned over where they spent the night last Saturday and do they really understand the importance of safe sex, when the time's right of course.
"This Friday...well..." Melanie tried hard to worm her way out of the invitation, in theory it sounded like a good idea but she still didn't feel ready for meeting new people.
"Oh come on please it it'll be a laugh, here I've got a leaflet somewhere."
Elise's eagerness was infectious, she reached into her pocket and took out a crumpled flyer.
"It's in a cemetery in Stoke Newington, off the High St, starts at 7, then drinks afterwards in the old crypt, it'll be amazing, see you there, maybe."
Wonderful she thought, at least I know I can wear black.
Enabled by the two fiery Bloody Marys and a good old dose of protein, Melanie set off for a walk in the park, yet another blatant Sunday family activity that could only have the worst possible effect on her well being.
Babies in pushchairs paraded through the park by excited new parents. See the first time fathers beaming with pride. Oh look, she's had another one, dad still pushing his beloved first born and tiny bundle of nothing dangling down his chest in one of those Scandinavian baby slings that make parenting look so easy.
Mel sighed, both her boys had been huge puddings when they were born, she tried the sling a couple of times but instead of making life easy and freeing up her arms and hands she found herself stooping forward, her back and shoulders aching after only a short stroll, nope she was a buggy girl that's for sure. Watching the older children cycling , roller blading and skateboarding was almost unbearable, how many times had she walked through this park with her boys? Hundreds, thousands, countless days when she was bored and distracted and wished she could be somewhere else, but now, My God, what she'd give to have them back.
When Matthew left he said he still loved her but Kim had more vitality, she was so positive about life, so energised, she had potential. Of course she was bloody energised, she was 27 years old. Melanie probably would have had more respect for Matthew if he'd left her for someone her own age, someone he could really talk to, someone he had more in common with. That would have been fine, perfectly acceptable, but no, he had to conform to every cliché in the manual and leave her for a younger woman with more potential.
Potential...what a rubbish word. You have potential, you're nowhere at the present but in time with a little work, you could be. Yes, potentially Kim could earn a lot of money and have a fabulous career in the media, potentially she could have an affair with her boss, she obviously likes older men, and worst of all, potentially Kim and Matthew could have a baby, more than one, babies, children, half - siblings for Ben and Alfie. Oh my God, she'd already let her own sons go on holiday with there 'potential' stepmother. Melanie had been so grown up about the situation and Kim had been so sympathetic about her broken wrist and everything.
"Surely you're still in love with Matthew, you must be." stressed her friend Sarah, over red wine and French cheese one late night.
But no, said Melanie. I loved being with him, watching him sort out awkward situations, Matthew was known for his temper. Standing back and watching the fall out of his terrible accusations was what Melanie was used to. When motorists cut him up or the service in shops was too shoddy he had his say. She admired him, fancied him, felt very tender toward him, but love? No, not anymore. Melanie stood still in the park, stopped in her tracks at the awful realisation that she was in her forties and had probably never ever had or would experience real romantic love.
Shit! she thought, I need sex.
She watched some kids playing in the undergrowth, building a barricade of some sort with loose stones they'd found. Melanie shuddered at the thought of picking up a stone outdoors like that. Her Aussie upbringing had made her wary of monsters lurking under rocks. Dozens of busy writhing black legs - armies of camouflaged spiders preparing tactics for their next onslaught on a human being who suffered with terrible Anacrophobia. Eech!
She clocked an old couple shunting along the path by the pond. They were both stooped and clutching walking sticks, they looked so alike. Pasty faced complexions, hollow cheeks, knobbly noses and too many clothes for the warm weather. Husband and wife? Grown to resemble each other from a life time of mirroring the others expressions? Brother and sister? Mel wondered how old they might be and as she watched their walking sticks transformed into hoop sticks and she imagined them as children, running , skipping through the park, not a care in the world, a blitz rained down on London but what of it, they were survivors. She shook her head and the old couple were back, the ghosts of their childhood gone. Will anyone ever see the child in me when I'm old, a sixties little girl, enveloped by an oversized hoola hoop singing along to 'Oh bla dee oh bah da' by the Beatles? Blimey, hope not.
Just then she noticed a printed sign, cellotaped to a tree. The paper was yellow and the lettering red.
TO THE PERSON WHO LEFT ME THE MESSAGE ABOUT MY CAT, THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, NOW I CAN STOP SEARCHING AND GRIEVE FOR MISTY IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT I KNOW THE TRUTH.
Underneath someone had scrawled, 'Fuck off, you sad wanker!'
How extraordinary, Mel wondered what must have happened. Had someone run over a cat, then after seeing the missing poster, felt a tinge of guilt and phoned to confess to the concerned owner, that they had accidentally murdered his beloved pet? How brave, or on the other hand was it just a wind up, some cruel soul with nothing better to do, jotting down phone numbers printed on posters in the hope that someone will come forward and cease their terrible anxiety, only to play a macabre trick?
All the way home Melanie thought about the mystery cat MIsty, her imagination conjuring up even more dreadful scenarios and feline mayhem. By the time she reached her own front door, she was quite distraught and had to have at least three cigarettes and a strong coffee to calm herself down.
Brian took his mothers arm as he guided her along the gravelled path, past all the gravestones, old and new.
"Ooh my, did you see her, born 1876, died 1970. I wonder how many came to the funeral, she must have picked up a few waifs and strays along the way, wouldn't you say?"
They were visiting Brian's father, he'd been gone two years. Brian had been away in London when it happened. A telegram arrived at the minuscule, drab room he rented in on the noisy Talgarath Rd in West Kensington informing him that the only father he'd ever known was now deceased. He packed his bag, gave up his job as a waiter in a French restaurant in Covent Garden and flew back home. He only intended to sort things out, be there for his mother, hold her hand and make endless cups of tea. He was going to make sure she was alright, then leave her in the capable if not melanoma spotted hands of her best friend, the widowed Nancy before returning as soon as he could to London. That was his life now, attending drama classes, supporting himself by working in the catering industry and now and then the kindness of the many strangers he befriended. A regular Blanche Dubois. He loved his London life, sneaking into West End shows via the FOH staff he'd met in dark secret clubs and discos. Besides what of Charles, they'd been together for nearly six months and couldn't be happier. They shared a tiny bedsit, assuring the landlord one slept on the settee the other took the narrow bed by the window. Charles worked for the Ministry of Defence, collating war records and carrying out searches for the long since missing and dead for curious bereaved relatives.
Charles' parents were quite middle class, every other weekend Charles would slope off to the family home in Tenterden, Kent for Sunday lunch.
No, sorry, not this time, I promise I'll introduce you soon, just give me time.
But Brian never did get to see the family seat, there was always some excuse or another.
I should be back in a few months, weeks maybe, I'll miss you, I love you. They embraced and Brian gave his heart away. But Brian's letters to Charles remained unanswered, finally after three long months a mutual friend wrote and told him. Charles had given up the lease on the little bedsit and moved back near his parents. He commuted to work and his parents had just announced his forthcoming engagement to local girl, Amelia Townsend, his school sweetheart.
Poor cow, Brian thought, well she better bone up on the art of the better blow job or her groom will stray.
So he'd been living back in Sydney with his old widowed mum ever since, his London life a thing of the past. Dad hadn't been as cautious with his finances as first thought and there was so much needed doing around the house.
Besides as his mother repeatedly pointed out. You're getting on now Brian, coming up to the big 3 0, you can't go gallivanting around the world, you need to settle down.
Of course she didn't add start a family, what was the point he already had a family, her.
"Had a phone call from Nancy did I tell you?" His mother was always asking him if she'd already asked him something these days.
"I made you cup of tea didn't I? You did say you'd be in this Friday didn't you? Am I getting my hair set this Saturday?"
At first it was quite humorous, giving Brian endless entertaining dinner party anecdotes to amuse his friends with.
"Silly old goose, she only put the oven on for two hours and left the chicken in the freezer." But sometimes it became very tedious both to Brian and his home-made audience.
"And how is old Nance?" asked Brian without looking up from his paper.
"Oh the same as usual, wants me to go up the hospital with her next week, she's having x rays done, something wrong with her back. I said why can't your Rosemary take you, but she said Rosemary had gone to Hayman Island for a week, alright for some. You remember Rosemary don't you? I've got a photo somewhere of the two of you in an old tin bath in Nancy's back yard."
Oh he remembered alright, all through his teens and into his early twenties, his mother and Nancy had tried to play Cupid for Brian and Rosemary.
Wouldn't they make a lovely couple, and just think we'd be almost related.
And they laughed over their gin and tonics. Imagine if they have babies, we'll have the same grandchildren. Even Rosemary knew this proposed scenario was highly unlikely to eventuate and Brian, well - if he was ever going to consider joining the nuclear family establishment Rosemary would certainly not be a contender for the role of his wife. She was dull, frumpish and thought theatre was a place where doctors worked. Thankfully she grew up and became a nurse and quite often declared, the theatre! I'll tell you what the theatre really is?
Then would proceed to list all the gory details of the most horrific operation she'd recently assisted with.
Brian's mother, Mary and her friend Nancy had worked together on the switchboard at the GPO, (General Post Office.) They hadn't seen a lot of each these past few years, not since Nancy's husband Roy bought the caravan. They were always off on little jaunts to the South Coast.
"Oh you should come with us Mary, it's got bunk beds you know."
Brian thought the whole idea ghastly.
"Do you really want to stand there pumping away like a farmhand trying to get rid of your own waste? That's not my idea of a holiday Mother, couldn't think of anything worse, ergh!"
So Mary never bothered, she didn't want to give Brian something else to joke about. But now what with the two of them widows, retired and with grown children, they made time to be with each other.
Poor old Nancy, never pretty, a tall woman with a throaty laugh and broad shoulders.
"Pity I don't swim," she'd often exclaim. "Because I've got a swimmers back you know."
Prompting the voluptuous Mary to thrust her generous bosoms forward and declare, "Yeah, but I've got a woman's front". This, not even Brian could argue with.
Later that night, after visiting the cemetery and dining on cold meat and salad, Mary sloped of to bed early, when Brian poked his head around her door to see if she wanted a cup of tea, she called him over to her side.
"Brian luv, come here." she patted her pink,multi coloured crocheted bedspread and gestured for him to take a seat.
"It might be a good idea to have some kiddies one day, have I ever told you that?"
"No, not that I can think of. " he replied taken aback by her frankness.
"If you ever do meet the right person, for having kids with I mean, I don't want you to end up lonely."
Mary reached out and stroked her grown son's arm.
"Oh mum, don't go on, I never get the chance to be lonely dear, too much to do, too many people driving me up the wall."
"I know dear, for now, but they won't always be there." Mary sighed and looked down at her bedspread, mesmerised by the knitted patterns.
Brian felt uncomfortable, his mother was for keeping the house in order, making sure everything was washed and ironed, giving him a laugh with her outspoken opinions and adoring him. Not for all this, this bleak and solemn trajectory of his life.
"You don't even have to get married, not these days, promise me you'll think about it, please."
"Mother darling, I think you've spent too much time in that wretched cemetery, now go to sleep and dream about Barbara Stanwyck, there's a good girl, see you in the morning, I'll do brekky."
He closed the door but stood there, resting against it for a time, waiting, listening for the drone of his mothers snoring . At last, asleep, he walked down he hall, back into the lounge room and reached for his cigarettes. Lonely he thought, me, never.
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