Friday, 23 May 2014

Pink Pyjamas by Jean Mutch

For the last eleven years, eleven months and twenty-eight days I've washed my hair every morning.  Today will be different.  I wipe the tap.  Two, three.  Turn it on.  Watch the water swirl.  A shred of potato peel dances like a dervish in the plughole.  I pour the dregs from the kettle onto the plant.  Hold my hand in the flow.  The water limbers past two floors of overheated flats.  Its body-warmth ebbs slowly.  I fill the kettle.  The glass.  Gulp it down.  Ten … eleven … drain at twelve … never the number after … The water's icy, like the scuds of snow flecking past the window.  I switch the kettle on.  I never get the routine quite right.  The devil's in the detail. 

The sky's bruised purple-pink.  A naked birch shivers against it.  Exposed above the moss-greyed rooftops.   A white van pulls into the car park.  Slides into a space, alongside an anonymous silver car.  Not quite straight.  I wash my hands.  Marmalade?  Eggs?  I never was a breakfast person.  I have to make myself.  Porridge.  Comfort food.  The stream of oats pours creamy into the pan.  Half a cup.  Cup of milk.  Half a cup of water.  A twist of salt.  It's rubbish without salt.  The men in the van open flasks.  The driver's wearing a black hat.  He unwraps something.  Bites into it.  Shakes out a newspaper.  Baguette?  Sausage roll perhaps.  The silver car has tinted windows.  The porridge erupts.  I pull it off the heat and beat it into submission with a wooden spoon.  A splash sizzles on the stove, the smoke curling away as it blackens.  I can't even get this right.  I wipe it up.  Replace the pan.  It simmers sullenly, waiting till I turn my back.  Revenge is sweet.  I never had much of a sweet tooth.

I balance the tea on the bathroom sink.  Decaf.  The pink cup.  I wash my hands.  The face looking out of the mirror is old.  Weary.  My hair's growing through now.  I stopped colouring it in August.  He'd been out six months and I'd heard nothing.  Ash blonde it was, in another life.  It doesn't look so bad this morning.

The men are out of the van when I get back to the kitchen.  Toolboxes and reels of cable stacked on the wall.  They've come to fix the boiler.  Or the dodgy entry phone.  The porridge is thick and steamy.  It glurps into the bowl and waits for the butter and cream.  I scrub the pan.  Gouge the oatmeal skin with my nails.  Porridge isn't best served cold.  The first time I left him I washed the dishes.  Dried them.  Put them in the cupboard.  Wrapped Molly in a blanket.  Caught the bus across town.  He never understood why I did the dishes.  I've never understood why I went back.  The butter melts.  The van door bangs.  I pour on cream.  Oats combat cholesterol.  Good and bad.  Yin and Yang.  The balance.  I stir the porridge, leaving a rim of cream.  Sit at the table.  The Sudoku book's open ready.  The pencil's blunt.  I twist it in the sharpener.  Six … seven … never the number after … If I get it right, I won't need to wash my hair.  I can't see the van now.  I can hear the banter though.  Sounds, not words.  Normal.  Reassuring. 

It's Molly's birthday.  Twenty-ninth of February.  The thought's been battering at my mind for weeks.  A butterfly at a locked window.  She didn't have many birthdays.  Innocence doesn't.  I close my eyes and she's here.  Pink T-shirt.  Pink jeans.  Pink trainers.  Strawberry blonde hair.  Blue-green eyes reflecting eight candles on a pink cake.  She pushes back a curl.  Leans on tiptoe.  Blows out the candles.  Make a wish, Molly.  I know what she wishes for.  So pure.  He breathes thickly behind me.  So pure.  I can smell the booze.  He vanishes when the singing starts.  Back to the pub.  Happy birthday, dear Molly ...

I barely noticed the porridge.  It's all wrong.  I should have finished the sudoku first.  I run hot water in the kitchen.  A ladder clangs.  The driver's taken off his hat.  I don't know who's who any more.  One of them approaches the car.  Knocks on the window.  I plunge my hands into the water.  It's scalding.  Cleansing, but not enough.  I'll to have to wash my hair. 

The van man leans on the roof of the car.  Chats.  His mate rattles the ladder.  He's no more than a lad.  No idea what's going on.  I wash the bowl.  Round and round.  Inside and out.  My hands are red.  Whitening in the heat.  Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. 

The car door opens.  I can see the muzzle.  I know what's coming.  I straighten up.  The spoon falls into the water and everything unravels.  Backwards.  They drag him from the dock.  You can run, but you can't hide.  Slag.  It shouldn't have been that way.  She died protecting me.  What kind of a mother are you?  They can't conceal their contempt.  The courtroom's cold.  I'm alone.  They have to prise her from me.  I should have protected her.  I won't let her go.  There's nothing anyone can do. The paramedic's sobbing like a baby.  I don't know how they got here.  The police. The ambulance arrives.  How can one tiny body hold so much blood?   Blood everywhere.  Blood in my hair.  There's blood on my clothes.  She's limp in my arms.  He's too blind drunk to stop.  She launches herself at me.  No, Daddy.  She sees the blade before I do.  A birthday present from my mother.  Molly's on the stairs in her new pink pyjamas.  He erupts into the house.  This time I'm going to kill you.  Bitch.

The kitchen window implodes. Pain burns through every part of me. Purifying fire. At long last it all falls away. I won't need to wash my hair. Ever again.

About the Author: Born and brought up in Hertfordshire, Jean spent most of her adult life in Wiltshire.  The pattern of her life was often dictated by someone else's mental health issues.  Despite the chaos, she managed to bring up three amazing children.  She also achieved a degree in English and Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and a TEFL qualification.  When she finally understood that happy endings exist only in fairy tales, she set off to seek her fortune.  She gambled everything on the love of an alcoholic psychopath.  Lost.  And ended up in Luton.  Here, she joined a writers' group.  They encouraged her to do what she loves best.  Poorer but wiser, she now lives in Bristol.  She writes, teaches English on Skype and volunteers. Jean currently blogs as bluesinateacup.  She also dabbles in poetry and writes short stories.  Dysfunctional relationships is a recurrent theme.  Pink Pyjamas is her second published short story.  The first can be found in Luton Libraries' anthology Underground Rivers under the title Deeply Red.  

Image: (c) Chris Jones