61 & Separated - The Best Thing She's Ever Done
The Curative Nature of Tea
Her scrawny pale yellow hand, mottled with brownish-green marks, slipped through lank grey hair. The limp tresses offered no objection to the bony fingers; fine locks hung, barely brushing her petite shoulders. She had long ago abandoned all effort beyond a daily wash and comb through. It had not always been this way but he had never appreciated her efforts, he had never appreciated when she had primped and preened, when she had visited the hairdresser every Friday for a wash, set, blow-dry and occasional cut. He never complimented her, instead he accused her of wasting hard earned money; she knew he meant his money, that he made abundantly clear. His complaints were relentless and miserable and reluctantly she had gradually cut back the frequency of visits to Patricia’s Hair Salon, until eventually she just stopped going. She missed the familiarity of the salon and friendly banter enjoyed by the patrons. The atmosphere was for her quite magical she learnt new things, life things: words, trends, sex stuff and the who’s who of Dagenham. Patricia the owner was unsurprisingly glamorous, sheaves of chemically enhanced blonde hair and make-up for every outfit and occasion marked her out from the crowd, but what made Patricia particularly special is that she was such an unrepentant gossip with a seemingly endless stream of tales. She meant no harm, she was witty and charming and Patricia was good to her customers supplying them with pots of steaming tea and coffee, plates of chocolate biscuits, sympathy when needed, good advice when solicited and best of all, stories, unsupportable opinion, such funny, funny sometimes tragic but always funny stories. She sighed.
She shook her head at the image confronting her in the dust coated mirror. A single bony finger rubbed away at a soap smudge leaving the rest of the mirror protesting its’ dustiness. It was a wonder Harry hadn’t had a go at her for this particular housekeeping misdemeanour, no doubt he had noticed and was picking his moment for maximum impact. As he had shown on numerous occasions he was not beyond public humiliation.
“Aren’t you ready yet woman? ” Annoyance etched deep furrows into her forehead, she hated when he addressed her as ‘woman’ although she never openly objected. His accusation rose from below coinciding abruptly with a soft-sorrowful-sigh as she entered the dark stairwell, its brown carpet and wallpaper joined Harry in accusatory tone, the power of the moment was so much that she was for a moment overwhelmed, which was quite unlike her really because these days she mostly did not let things get to her, she kept emotions in check and held feelings in abeyance, she had long ago learnt that it was better that way. Stockinged feet moved quickly to where she had been summoned from.
The dim early morning sun put on a half-hearted attempt to break through lingering clouds, grey and stubborn they put up some resistance. Underneath the clouds, Harry and her walked without exchange of word the 10 minutes to the station. In the lightly filled carriage she surveyed the news compiling it from the various newspapers being read by the myriad of commuters passing through. Getting a seat straight away, she was grateful; the walk had taken its toll on her dejected and weakened body. The journey was short and uneventful and soon they were at the unattended reception desk of ward AW4 where all her pre and post op procedures and observations would be carried out. The loud white walls seemed out of place in the decrepit surroundings belying a clean and a healthy interior rather than a recent source of C Diff infection.
A black girl with the most radiant tea coloured skin and jet black mane the layered locks thick and lush was wheeled through the open doorway. She was impeccably and expensively dressed in embellished tunic, soft jersey trousers and soft suede pumps. Costume jewellery perfected selected to complete the look. No-one has the right to look so good this early in the morning Alma half laughed and half bitched. She was ashamed of this character trait, the envious, green-eyed monster. Rebecca had picked her up on this, cruelly pointing out that she couldn’t be bothered to do anything about her own appearance, yet scorned those who made such an effort. Rebecca was right of course but Alma couldn’t help herself, in many respects she was an odious little snob. She had paid dearly for her own destruction very dearly indeed.
Looking over to where the small group huddled together pangs of jealousy coursed through her fragile body concluding at her fragile heart, she couldn’t help but think what a pitiable pathetic little man he was, yet over the years Alma had relinquished, what little power she had had until she became reduced to the pale pathetic figure who had fled the mirror earlier that morning. Rebecca their only child hardly came to visit once she had left home, though she loved her mother dearly, she resented the weak sad woman and could not bear to witness his insidious bullying, though he had not dare try it on with her. Alma's thoughts took a visceral level it wasn’t often that she allowed herself to think so deeply, Sighing, she acknowledged her part in nigh-on destroying her relationship with Rebecca, her cheeks coloured, under the flaccid grey skin the colour was strangely attractive.
Growing fractious she fumbled in her worn leatherette handbag, toying with the tattered handles the embodiment of decay she laughed to herself, a sad laugh edged with pity and filled with sadness. Humour provided Alma’s rampart; so many memories she wished to erase but stubbornly remained, taunting, teasing reminding her of her misdemeanours; big and small. Basking in the attention (solicited though it may have been) Harry’s voice could be heard above the others, she cringed when he began telling his old worn-out jokes, the one's he had mostcertainly shared with his mistress ... She had been extremely tolerant of his dalliances but these displays of storytelling, passing himself off as a Mr Nice Guy were much too much and it was at that moment that Alma realised that their relationship was doomed by its history. “Shut up” she shouted “shut up you pathetic little man, shut up, shut the hell up you BASTARD you make me sick”. Footsteps stormed from all directions; a pre-cursor to Alma’s sectioning under the Mental Health Act. Never before had her life been placed under the microscope;never before had she drank so much tea made for her by strangers, the funny thing was that she was relieved, in fact happy that for once she didn’t have to be so guarded, that she could say what she felt and even use some of the expressions garnered at Patricia’s, she felt not just liberated, but alive, very much more alive than she had been for a very long time...
6 Months Later
The Heart 106.2 jingle rings out from the bedroom and the usual stream of nice- popular- sing-a-long songs follow. A cheeky film of dust has for the past couple of days settled on assembled flat pack furniture. Steam rises from the freshly run bath, sweet fluffy bubbles cocoon the toned petite occupant as she hums along to yet another familiar tune.
The job at the local charity is neither the most glamorous nor is it the best paid in the world yet it is amazing how sweetly £6.50 per hour translates at the end of the month when after deductions it goes into a sole bank account. Alma loved the little one bed flat the council had allocated to her following her break-down and the marriage break-up, the rent was low and the bills were moderate especially because she knew how to get the best deals having chopped and changed energy and communications companies over the years at his instruction. With no outstanding debts except for £357.94 she owed on that brand new 0% credit card, Alma managed really well.
Working at the charity shop had double benefits and Alma was able to snap-up the prime bits coming into the shop. Having been a dab hand with a sewing machine (she’d had no choice with the piddling housekeeping allowance he had given her), she was an expert seamstress and now the necklines were lower and the hemlines a little higher, classy but sexy was now a new word in her wardrobe vocabulary. Even Rebecca had noticed and it filled Alma with pride when Rebecca had borrowed an outfit of hers for a wedding last month.
Alma’s sleek auburn hair attracted a great many compliments. Life was sweet and Alma couldn’t wait to go off to Tenerife next month with Patricia and couple of other In-crowders from the salon.... Yes life was definitely looking good.