I’d like to pick your brains AGAIN -this is the beginning of a short story – and the last line….
it’s about loss and change – any suggestions as to what might happen in between?
I am in the garden listening with Kate to someone singing on the little radio my mother bought for me last summer from a door-to-door salesman driving a white Morris Traveller. She also bought 4 grapefruit spoons from him which we never use because we’re not really grapefruit people. Too bitter. Too fussy. But mother likes rituals. “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” she has told me more times than I care to remember.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” the salesman asked when she brought out lemonade for us all on the big silver tray with ice cubes clinking against the sides of the crystal glasses in time with her steps. He had unclipped the camera dangling from a strap round his neck even before he asked, big, black and expensive-looking. “I’ll bring you the prints next time I call, ” he promised. “No charge. Free, gratis and for nothing. Now where shall I put you? Over there, I think.” It was like he was some big Hollywood film producer and we were his actors. “Yes, over there. By that tree, ” and he took picture after picture of us sitting on the lawn under the apple tree, with Kate jumping for a ball which he kept throwing up into the air for her to catch and which she kept bringing back to him, dropping at his feet then looking up at him, watching , anticipating his every movement, poised to go, tense with excitement. “Perfect…Just one more…” he kept saying. ” Last one…wait for it…watch the ball…… watch the ball.. now….that’s it…..perfect.” He had to move quickly after he had thrown the ball to press the shutter button at exactly the right moment to get us all in the picture, especially Kate, and in exactly the right position.
I think he was a pretty good photographer.
He must have taken at least a dozen pictures before he was satisfied then he drove himself out of our lives.
That was about a year ago.
Since then a lot has changed I think as I switch off the radio. Since then my mother has re-married, my best friend has moved to some place abroad – Kenya or Nigeria – one of these African places, and I have stopped eating. Oh and a 4th thing – the apple tree has gone – some sort of tree disease that couldn’t be cured.
I keep hoping the salesman will pitch up in his Morris Traveller with the photo of that day when we still had the apple tree and were all smiling and drinking lemonade.
I’m not banking on it though.
Of course I haven’t stopped eating altogether and I know all about anorexia and bulimia and all that eating-disorder stuff, who doesn’t? Pick up any magazine and there’s an article either on ‘How to tackle obesity’ or ‘What makes your daughter want to look like a stick insect’. It sometimes seems that half the world can’t stop eating and the other half can’t start.
I have to go once a week to talk to Mrs. Hunter who used to be a Modern Studies teacher but couldn’t take it any more and moved into Guidance. She’s about mother’s age, always bronzed as if she’s just come back from 2 weeks in Benidorm. Very intense. She gets more upset than I do when I talk to her. Because I’ve read so much about it I probably know more about what causes stuff like anorexia than she does. I make things up. ” I just hate the way I look, ” I tell her. ” I’d like to look like you. Do you work at it or is that just the way you naturally are? ” She ends up telling me all about herself while I listen with a sympathetic nod now and again to encourage her when she slows down which I don’t think is how it’s supposed to work out.
Of course I do eat but not when anyone’s watching. I’m sort of a secret eater. I don’t have much of an appetite any more but I’m not daft – I know that if I don’t eat I’ll die.
But then we all will.
I fiddle with my radio but there’s nothing I want to listen to so I shout to my mother that I’m taking Kate for a walk and she comes out of the kitchen drying her hands on her apron and hands me Kate’s lead. We saw a depressing film on television around Christmas time about a farmer whose young dog slipped out of its chain and chased a whole flock of sheep over a cliff. Killed the lot of them. The dog got shot but it was really the farmer’s fault – he hadn’t trained the dog properly, hadn’t made sure it was securely chained, and ever since, mother has seen Kate as a potential sheep-killer and warns me not to go near Collithie farm or if I do to keep Kate on her lead.
We don’t go near Collithie. Instead we go in completely the opposite direction, across the river and the railway line and up the hill to what’s left of some old castle, just an archway really which you can see from miles around on either side. We’re in sheep country again so I put Kate on her lead. Something to do with the chemical composition of the soil gives the saliva of the sheep which graze on this hill a sort of yellow colour so that they seem to have gold teeth. It’s a funny place. I like it.
I can see someone standing in the archway and as I get closer I hear someone talking. I’m glad I’ve got Kate with me. I let her off the lead but when I get to the archway there’s no-one there. There’s a cigarette stub on a flagstone and the usual bits of plastic litter but that could be from weeks ago. Kate sniffs around, pees against one of the stones, sits down and looks up at me, awaiting instructions.
* * *
Kate and I sit in the warm sun long after he has gone.
A plane crosses the cloudless sky, high up, heading for Spain. Or Africa.
“Well, Kate, ” I say. “I’m feeling hungry. Let’s go.”