Modern Fairytale

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This piece was born from an exercise in an Urban Fantasy Lit Circle to place a fairytale character into a modern setting. This was the first image that came to mind:

 

“Yeah, Karen? We’re gonna need your assistance in Footwear.”

Karen sighed and clicked the microphone button. “Sure, what’s up?”

“See for yourself,” her boss crackled back.

Straightening her blue work shirt and smoothing down her hair, Karen entered the service lift and pressed the Level 2 button. She was always given the shitty jobs, but hey, it’s what you had to do to get a promotion around here. They certainly didn’t pay her enough now. Karen wondered what kind of job this would be; another kid throwing up everywhere, or another group of women fighting over the same cute pair of sandals?

She exited the lift into a new chaos.

As far as Karen could see, each shelf was empty. Every single shoe had vanished. Even the discarded pairs that usually littered the floor were gone. The bare white metal reflected Karen’s face as she tried to comprehend the vast emptiness. She was vaguely aware of a woman complaining to her right, and mumbled a brief, “we’re very sorry madam, we’re sorting it.”

A loud sobbing made her turn sharply left and follow the wretched sound.

She found the shoes.

Every single style, from slippered boot to stiletto, had been accumulated into a large footwear mountain. Amongst this, a woman sat crying into the folds of her pink and white dress. A crowd of women surrounded her, mumbling and giving her funny looks. Any time they reached for a pair, the woman in pink hissed at them.

They turned as Karen approached, expecting her to know how to handle the situation. She smiled nervously and knelt beside the distressed lady.

“What’s the matter, love?” She asked. The lady was surprisingly beautiful behind her puffy red eyes and soggy blonde hair.

“They all fit!” she moaned, hugging some court heels to her chest. Karen raised an eyebrow.

“Surely that’s a good thing?”

“No, you don’t understand! They all fit! All the shoes here fit more than one of us! There’s not a single pair here that just fit me! How will he recognise me now?”

Before Karen could reply, she broke down again, collapsing on the cheap pile of footwear and muttering about pumpkins between sobs.

 

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Mayday

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Mike caressed the worn woodwork in a way that he had never caressed his wife. Each dent and patch of sticky varnish rekindled memories beneath his fingertips; the chip where the ladder had fallen whilst decorating for Paddy’s Day; the dark red stain where Beth had dropped an entire bottle of rioja over a customer; the shreds of silver tinsel still stapled to the underside. He looked around the empty pub with tired eyes.

He had purchased The Captain’s Wife when he was just thirty years old; a derelict pub on the brink of demolition. Mike remembered as a child sliding on his knees across the hardwood floors, begging his parents for another coke as they contributed to the heavy smog around them. The pub had been a regular scene of his childhood. But time had eroded the decor and the owner until he could no longer maintain it. Mike, on a whim, decided to buy it, and with love and hard work restored the bar to its former glory.

The Captain ran in his blood like his current dose of morphine. It was the reason he got up in the morning and he could never shake it from his mind. But it was also a disease, eating away at his brain and crippling his brittle bones. The Captain was an addiction, and without his permission, Mike was being thrown into rehab.

He heard banging outside and looked away from the empty optics. Outside, a man in a suit was hammering a sign into the flowerbed, its crude letters sending a stabbing pain through his chest. It was like an invitation for the world to come and peer at his loss. A few weeks ago his wife would have been ecstatic at the sight. Well, he thought, you got what you wanted after all.

“You got everything, dad? This is the last from the cellar.” Paula plonked a cardboard box on the bar and began sifting through the pile of mail next to it. He smirked at the irony of her question, but didn’t have the heart to make a joke. “Yes, thanks love.”

Paula tutted. “More of the same,” she said, holding up several envelopes with “URGENT” stamped across the top. “I wish they’d just leave you alone, they know the situation.”

“It’s fine, love.”

“It’s not fine, everything’s-”

“It’s fine.”

Paula sighed. She squeezed his shoulder and said, “I’ll be in the car when you’re ready.” He smiled gratefully as she picked up the box and backed out of the front door. Silence engulfed Mike, and he loathed it. This was a place of noise and raucous laughter; the clinking of bottles and the smashing of glasses, the roaring chants of football fans, the tinny din of the outdated games machine. He’d give anything to have those back. But the iceberg had already been hit. The ship was sinking with its captain, neither steering through the storm without the other.

With a resigned sigh, he flipped the lights off, gave a last fond gaze and locked the door.

Taxes and Taxis

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Dusters at the ready, kids; I’ve finally uncovered the blog from underneath the enormous stack of paperwork on my desk! Much has happened in the many months I’ve been away/too lazy to upload anything – predominantly adult chores like work and bills and crying. I won’t bore you with that. In fact, I’ll get straight to the awesome bit:

I’m back at Uni!

This time I’m tackling the MA Creative Writing, and it has finally prompted me to write again! Not only does that mean I get motivated towards doing something with my life, but it also means you wonderful people get a lovely story to read (or another lousy post to scroll past, depending on how you look at it). And expect many more to come!

 

Just Here is Fine

Rosie watched the wooden prayer beads swinging dangerously from the rearview mirror and thought, Christ, even the car needs God right now. She had been in this taxi for less than five minutes and was already regretting her decision. Evidently she’d been kidnapped by some psychopath who’d just forged his license and stuck an Eagle Cars sticker on the side of his Peugeot.  Although what was the point in kidnapping her just to crash the damn car?

She put her phone on silent and sent a quick text to Megan. The driver didn’t notice. Her bare arms stuck to the old brown leather and her hand slipped from the grab handle. Fog slowly crept up the back windows and Rosie held back the urge to write “HELP!” with her fingertip.

Oh my God, why were they going this way?

Her eyes darted around the taxi interior, trying to peel her mind away from what would happen when they stopped. If they stopped.

 The minibus had six seats; two foldable for wheelchair access. There was a step on either side by  the sliding doors. The plastic screen separating the passenger from (their demise?) the driver had a visible handprint on it. There were smears across the floor; mud – blood maybe? It was too dark to tell. The driver started humming tunelessly. Rosie closed her eyes and muttered under her breath.

The musky stench of the leather mixed with the stale smell of other people – (How many others has he killed?) – and her own anxious body odour. This, combined with another sudden jolt had her heaving. Was this really going to be her final memory? Her mind flashed through all the people she’d ever loved. How many would even know she was gone? Did she have time to text more? She dared a quick peep through the window and almost cried when she saw her street name.

“Just here is fine,” she whispered. The taxi came to an abrupt halt and Rosie shot forwards in her seat. Fumbling to remove her seatbelt with wet fingers, she froze as the driver, this hulking silhouette of a man, lifted his arm –

– and pressed the button on the meter.

“Six fifty darlin’.” His voice was low and gruff, disinterested.

She reached a shaking hand into her purse and held out a ten pound note. The driver flipped on the lights and turned to take the money. She saw him for the first time: face set in a scowl beneath a jail cell haircut. His clothes were scruffy, layered beneath an even scruffier beard. But his clear grey-blue eyes yielded their terrible secret; he was painfully, exceptionally ordinary.

“Keep the change,” she mumbled, half disappointed, and fled.

 

…I’m exhausted already!

Unfeeling

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She walks among the tombstones with an air of ease. If she knew I was watching, maybe it would not be so. The bleak graveyard accentuates the deep red of her dress and the rosy hue of her intoxicating presence. She’s been to a ball again.

I do not know if it is out of guilt or habit that she comes here tonight. She follows the familiar pathways back to me. To what’s left of me. She kneels in the dirt, cool wind playfully flicking her curls.

The pattering nuisance of the rain hammers harder, yet despite its efforts it soaks me not. My darling Portia is equally unperturbed. The rain bites at her porcelain skin. It flattens her hair to her flushed cheeks. It deepens the red folds of her gown into pools of fresh blood. No single tear mingles with the rainwater. If her body is far from me, her mind is further.

She lies a singular rose upon my earthen corpse and sits there, reminiscing. I look toward the house I once called my home. Lights engulf the outer porch and ballroom windows. Singing and merriment beckon from within. And yet my widow lies out here with me, allowing her foolish new husband to orchestrate this grand soiree without his sweet songbird.

I glide closer to her, hoping my ethereal senses will grant me just the smell of her perfume, the beat of her heart, the warmth of her chest. Not so. I want to feel the blood coursing through her veins. I want to feel her in my arms once again. Just once.

Once is enough.

She is too deep in thought to see me. I reach out to stroke her hair and she shivers uncontrollably. I put my arms around her, and her crimson lips turn purple. The heat is seeping out of her. I can almost feel it. So close! She tries to stand, but I won’t let her.

Finally, she sees me. She looks up with those wide hazel eyes and truly sees me. And her poor, frail, mortal heart ceases. She becomes as cold as me. I look upon her soft body one last time. Soon, my love. 

Cougar: Part Three

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Barbara

“Oh hi darling! Come in.” I kiss Kate on both cheeks and take her coat. “Cup of coffee? Or should we have a cheeky midday vino?”

“Just a coffee thanks,” Kate says, wiping her feet on the doormat. I bustle off to the kitchen, humming I’m in the Mood for Dancing. My mini chandeliers twinkle above me, casting droplets of light over my perfect, pristine home.

“Jake not in?” Kate calls from the hallway, probably making use of the large mirror. The words sting me.

“He’s at Paul’s,” I reply, watching the wine glug into my fanciest glasses. “Got the house to myself as usual!”

Kate walks in and perches herself on the sofa. I join her with the two large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

“Babs, I said coffee!” Kate moans as I thrust a glass into her hand.

“Oops. Must’ve misheard you,” I wink.

Kate sighs. “You are such a bad influence,” she says, elbowing me.

“Careful! I’ll spill it everywhere! Not wasting the sog-vig-non, it’s my last bottle from France.” Now that was a holiday. Sun, sea, suave French men…

I settle next to Kate and the cool leather instantly sticks to my bare, silky smooth legs. I pull my skirt down a little. I turn the TV on, and the speaker system booms around the room, making Kate jump. I giggle at her. I instantly switch to Channel 4. The Sex and the City theme tune begins playing. It’s so difficult not to squeal with excitement.

“Did you watch last week’s?” I ask as casually as possible.

“Yeah.”

I gasp and spill wine on my faux fur rug. “Oh my God, when Sam got with Jerry! I knew that was going to happen!”

“You don’t think he’s a bit young for her?” Kate asks sceptically.

“Oh God no. Haven’t you seen him? He’s a dream! I would.”

Before Kate can reply, my Blackberry buzzes. I pick it up in my perfectly manicured hands and feel the familiar disappointment.

“What’s up?” Kate asks.

“Jake’s staying out again. I hardly see him anymore. When’s he going to realise his mother needs him?”

Kate swirls her glass. “He can’t stay at home forever, you know.”

“Why not?” I snap. “He’s my baby. I’d be happy to have him.” We sip our wine in silence for a while, watching the TV. Both of us have our phones out, checking Facebook. But I can’t focus on the TV. I can’t focus on anything now.

I sigh and throw my phone gently onto the cushion. “I know why he’s always out,” I say bitterly. “He’s in love.”

Kate sits up and faces me. “Well Jessica is a lovely girl.”

I snort. “Oh, he left her the other day apparently. She’s the ninth girl he’s dumped without giving a reason why.”

“He gets bored easily then?”

“Not at all.”

“Cheats on them?”

“Nope. I feel like shaking him sometimes, it’s so obvious to everyone but him.”

“What is?”

I stare into my glass, tracing a line with my index finger around the rim. “I don’t think women are his type.

Kate gets my drift and tries to hide her smile. “I suppose men as good looking as him never bat for the right team.”

I look at her incredulously. “Dirty cow! Have you got the hots for my son?”

“Not at all!” Kate insists. “I’m just saying he’s handsome for a boy of his age, that’s all.”

I glare at her for a bit longer, teasing her. At that moment the key turns in the front door. My heart leaps out of my throat, and I leap off of the sofa.

“Hey baby!” I say as soon as Jake’s through the door. I wrap my arms around his neck.

“Alright, mum?” He says absently, hugging me back. He looks at the glass in my hand. “On the wine already?”

“We’ve been gossiping,” I say, tapping my nose and giggling.

“I see. Well I’m just gonna grab some stuff. Paul’s waiting round the corner.” Oh, that sinking feeling again.

“Say hello to Kate first!”

“Hi Kate.”

Kate waves back.

“What time will you be back tomorrow?” I ask hopefully. Jake shrugs and takes off up the stairs, three at a time.

I roll my eyes at Kate. “Kids, eh?”

Kate giggles before downing her entire glass. “I think I’d better be off,” she says suddenly. She hiccoughs.

“What? Why? You’ve only been here ten minutes!” I whine. Why does everyone always have to leave me on my own? I’m not even fifty yet, but I might as well start wearing beige and going to Bingo with all the action I get lately.

“Think I left the damn cat in the kitchen. God knows what she’s gotten up to! I’ll call you later.” Kate grabs her coat and shoots through the door before I can even reply.

“World’s gone mad,” I mutter. I sit on the sofa, eyes focused on the screen, but brain wandering elsewhere. Jake comes thundering down the stairs, rucksack swung casually over his shoulder.

“Bye mum,” he calls.

“Jake, wait a minute,” I say, tottering into the hallway and grabbing him by the shoulders. He rolls his eyes. “Look, if there’s anything you want to tell me, anything at all… I’m a cool mum. I can deal with it.”

Jake looks confused. “Anything…” I say desperately. “Anything about your latest relationship?”

His eyes widen guiltily, and I think I’m on to something at last. Finally, he’ll open up to me.

“You and Paul…?” I ask tenderly.

Jake shrugs me off. “Wait a second… you think I’m gay?”

“And that’s fine!” I gabble. “Just because you have fashion sense and like to look good and like men doesn’t mean our relationship’s any different! It means we have more in common for starters… but I’m still your mother! I still love you!”

Jake’s lip curls into a half smile. “I’m not gay, mum.”

“Well why else would you dump all those pretty girls?” I huff, hands on my hips.

Jake smirks. “I realised I prefer a more… mature kind of woman.” He kisses my cheek, and leaves me puzzled on the doorstep.

I close the door and flop down on the sofa, feeling the sudden emptiness of the room. Why is everyone acting weird and talking in riddles? Why is everyone abandoning me? And when did Kate even get a cat?

My phone buzzes again, and I immediately pick it up. It’s Jake. I open the message eagerly, and then my heart skips a beat.

Hey baby. Im round the corner. Cant believe mum still hasnt caught us out! See u in a few 😉 xxxxx

This isn’t my phone. It’s Kate’s.

Cougar: Part Two

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Jake

So I’m standing here with flowers. Never done this before. But I can’t stop thinking about her. The feel of her body against mine, the experience of those hands, the curve of her spine… I saw a whole new side to her that day. A side I want to see every time I wake up.

She hasn’t seen me yet. She’s too busy with her clients. Man, she looks sexy in her uniform. Black and pink suits her. I stand in front of the window, admiring the view. That’s when she finally sees me. I wink. Her eyes widen and she puts down the brush. She plasters a smile onto her face and tells the old woman in the chair that she’ll be back in a minute.

She says something to her boss, who looks curiously at me and nods. Kate walks through the shop door, letting out a waft of hair products and heat. “What the hell are you doing here?” She demands. Not the reaction I was after.

I point to the flowers. “Isn’t it obvious?” I grin.

“You know what I mean,” she says, looking around guiltily. Her boss keeps taking side glances at us from within. I’ve never seen Kate look this uncomfortable.

“I’m here to take you out for lunch,” I say. “You can take lunch at one, right? I’m paying…”

She glances at her watch and considers it. “Okay fine, but you’ve got to go away until then. We clear?”

I salute. “Yes ma’am.” She doesn’t seem to see the funny side, as she grabs the flowers and storms off. I watch for a couple of minutes as Kate undoubtedly makes an excuse to her boss as to why I brought her flowers, before I walk away.

I cross the road to the park and find a bench to sit on for the next half hour. It’s oddly peaceful here, despite the rumbles and beeps of the cars along the main road.

I feel calm, away from the stifling neatness of mum’s house. But even here the wild is tamed; the unruly grass is clipped, the flowers are dictated to grow in certain places. I feel claustrophobic, even out here in the open.

The kid’s playground lies deserted in the distance. The crumbling, rusty metal frame, red and yellow chipped paint, chains broken and coppered. I remember when that paint was fresh, when mum and dad used to take me to the swings every weekend. Those days are long gone now. So is dad. Now I’d much rather be in the pub. So would mum.

A Yorkshire terrier runs over to me and starts sniffing my shoe. “Hey little guy,” I say and scratch behind his ears. His owner, a pretty young girl with a gorgeous tartan skirt, walks over and begins batting her eyelashes at me.

Instantly I sit back and put my headphones on, ignoring her until she goes away.

The world is made so much more interesting with music. A slow, elegant tune will make even the sunniest day tinted with cold sorrow. A quick, funky beat will make me see something good in any situation.

I’m listening to a happy tune when Kate walks shyly up the path towards me. I turn off my iPod and stand up to greet her.

“Sorry, lost track of time,” I admit.

“It’s okay…” she begins awkwardly. “Sorry if I seemed a little harsh earlier.”

“It’s cool,” I grin. I’m just relieved she agreed to meet me in the first place. But I don’t tell her that. Keep up the façade; today I’m the relaxed, awesome Jake. Not the cowardly, pathetic Jake who just wants to run and hide from this gorgeous woman.

We stand around silently for a moment. How can we be so embarrassed with each other when we’ve shared something so intimate?

I grab her hand. She pulls away as if to protest, then decides against it. She feels tense. We set off down the path at a casual pace. A jogger stares at us as he runs past, and Kate hangs her head.

“Good day at work?” I ask, trying to take her mind off things.

“It’s been alright,” she says vaguely, and we fall silent again.

“Guys, guys, look at that MILF!”

We turn to see a group of boys a bit younger than me, hoods up, pointing and laughing at us. They start making meowing noises, and I hear the words “cougar” and “dirty slut” hurled in our direction.

I look at Kate. She looks as if she’s about to cry. So I grab her arm, pull her to a stop and kiss her. Fiercely. Instantly it’s as if we’re alone. As if nobody else matters. She melts into my arms and we protect each other from the unwarranted rain of hatred.

The meowing turns into retching noises, but the boys soon pass.  Dickheads.

Kate’s shaking though, as if the cold words pierced her skin.

“Don’t be put off by them,” I plead.

“How can they be so horrible about people they know nothing about?” she asks angrily. Her fists clench. I put my arm around her, and walk her slowly in the direction of the pub.

People stare at us in here too, but I ignore them. I guide Kate to the bar and order our drinks. The bartender looks at us and asks me for ID. I feel Kate cringe next to me. This is going so well…

I show him my provisional and he studies it for a while before walking off to pour the drinks. “Aren’t you going to ask the lady for her ID?”  I shout after him angrily. “She looks shifty to me. Barely even eighteen!” He looks at me like I’ve just asked him to shave my balls.

But Kate laughs. It’s the first time I’ve heard her laugh since before her breakup. She looks gorgeous. I smile at her, pay for the drinks and follow her to a table in the centre of the room.

Cougar: Part One

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Kate

Bastard. How dare he. How dare he. After all I’ve done for him! He is not getting away with this. Not this time. If he wants to run off with a younger model well then that’s his problem, and I won’t let him forget it. She won’t be as experienced as me. Bastard.

…But how can I live without him? He’s everything to me! Now I have no-one to come home to at night, nobody to buy me flowers or make me feel special… We planned everything together! Our house, our future children, even my perfect wedding… all gone. Poof!

Barbara doesn’t understand. She just keeps pouring wine down my throat and telling me it will all be okay. That I can do better than him. She’s a bit rubbish at this whole comforting thing really. God I’m a mess. I need a man in my life, pronto.

Barbara keeps flicking between channels, changing every time there’s an on screen romance. I’m slowly going insane. Her nineteen year old son Jake comes down the stairs and flops onto the other sofa, paying us no attention.

He laughs at something on his phone, and his thumbs busily stab at the buttons.

“What’s so funny, baby?” Barbara asks eagerly.

Jake looks up with the laughter still bright in his eyes. He’s kind of hot for a teenager. If only I were twenty years younger…

“Nothing. Just something Jess said,” he replies, and goes back to ignoring us.

Barbara totters off to the kitchen to get more pinot. I’m sat here awkwardly, trying not to eye up her son. I end up studying the room, even though I know it better than my own house. The pink fluffy cushions, the expensive light fittings, the designer wallpaper over the fireplace wall, and the marble mantelpiece contrasting against all the pink.

The sides are littered with pictures of Jake growing up: toddler Jake in dungarees on his mum’s lap. Primary school Jake’s toothless grin in his melancholy uniform. Teenage Jake playing the guitar… He’s a boy, I remind myself. I’ve watched him grow up, for God’s sake. I’ve babysat him. You’re just hormonal, and he’s the only guy in the room. It’s nothing.

“Oh shoot!” Barbara comes clip-clopping back into the front room, bringing a welcome break from my thoughts. “I’m all out. Don’t worry, I’ll nip to Waitrose.”

“I’ll come with,” I say, eager to leave.

“No!” Barbara almost shouts. She smiles at me. “No, you sit here and finish off that glass. I expect it all to be gone by the time I get back!” She gives her son a kiss on the head and whispers to him in the I’m-tipsy-so-I’m-not-really-whispering-at-all voice, “Dave just broke Katie’s heart, so don’t leave her on her own. Oh, and don’t talk about Jess or anything relationshippy.”

Jake nods absent-mindedly, still absorbed in his texts. “Do you want anything from the shop, baby?” Barbara asks him.

“Pizza and beer would be good, thanks mum,” he says. She kisses him on his forehead again, grabs her jacket and leaves.

The silence is unbearable. Barbara’s message has alerted Jake to my presence. He’s staring at me, and I’m looking anywhere but at him. Admittedly the wine’s helping my eyes to roll around the room by themselves. I must look like the Sindy doll I had when I was five; bleach blonde hair, fake tan and eyes jiggling around in the sockets. Even the black smudges around my face must look similar to the felt tip eyeliner I applied to poor Sindy.

Jake stands up and plonks himself down next to me. He puts his hand on my knee. “Are you alright, Katie?” He asks softly. Meaningfully. I’m being comforted by a teenager. A teenager in a successful relationship. A teenager in a relationship giving sympathy to a depressed, middle-aged, single, no hope, alcoholic woman. I burst into tears.

His arms shoot around me instantly and before I know it I’m crying into his chest. His arms feel strong and safe. He smells faintly of sweat and Lynx… it’s good. Oh God, what am I doing…

We stay embraced for a little while. It’s calming me, sobering me up. But I don’t want to be sober! I want to be young and wild and free for anything to happen. But I’m not. I pull away and examine the mascara smears all over his designer white T-Shirt.

“Sorry,” I snivel, attempting to wipe the shirt clean despite just wanting to rip it off. “You’ll want to change that before your mum comes home. Don’t want her getting the wrong idea.” I giggle hysterically. Jake smiles too. Ugh, I want to mount him.

The silence is awkward again. I finish off the wine as Barbara instructed me to. I am going to leave, I decide. I’m going to leave right now, and forget about this moment. I do NOT have feelings for Jake Aspinall.

Unfortunately, nature calls. I tell Jake I’m nipping to the loo and make a sharp exit. Sat on the toilet, knickers around my ankles, I try and slap myself out of it. But I can still smell him on me. My body has soaked in his fragrance. As if it needs to tell me it wants him. I want to hide in the bathroom forever. I shouldn’t see Jake again. But I have to leave sooner or later, so I flush, wash my hands and open the door.

Jake’s stood directly outside. He’s looking at me, and if I’m not mistaken, he has lust in his eyes. Before I have time to return a smouldering look, or think clearly and reject him, his mouth is pressing hard on mine and his hand is already unlatching my bra…

For the first time in forever I feel alive. I feel sexy. Dosed up on sex and alcohol, I could quite happily sleep. I can hear the rhythmic da-dum of this gorgeous man’s heartbeat pounding in my ear. I can hear him still panting for breath. I can hear…

…The front door opening. We both look at each other and race to find discarded shirts and underwear . “yoo-hoo!” Barbara calls from downstairs, bottles clinking in the carrier bags. I can’t find my knickers, so I have to go without. I race down the hall to the bathroom and run my fingers through my hair. I take a quick glance in the mirror, flush the toilet and turn the lock on the door. I walk down the stairs, face flushed.

Barbara looks at me expectantly, holding up the bags.

“Got caught short,” I say, and she believes it.