DAILY PROMPT: WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW
Write a post entirely in the present tense.
I’m sitting here regarding the day, about to blister your socks off with the sheer excitement of it all.
But then I’m thinking that rather than drown you in the irreversible tedium of watching me skip about like Fotherington-Thomas saying ‘hello clouds, hello sky’ (if you haven’t read Down with Skool, don’t worry, it’s not important), I’ll throw in a piece of present-tense fiction which at least has the virtue of novelty, given I usually burble on with at least a nod to reality.
THE LAST UNLESS
“Your childhood, Alison,” he murmurs. “Holidays. Start there.” He leans back, a small man with a large stomach on which he rests delicate white hands, like mouse paws. The executive chair tilts and swivels, propelled, she thinks, by the very tips of his tippy toes in polished shoes that barely reach the floor. She feels a snigger rising.
“Holidays, Alison,” he says again. “Tell me about those.” And she sighs and closes her eyes, the snigger drowned in a wave of weariness.
“When I was down beside the sea A wooden spade they gave to me…” Holidays at Noosa. At least there’s an association there, and the childhood singsong is strangely soothing. She’s thought of Twinkle twinkle and Baa baa black sheep in the past, but the possible implications in those loom like buzzards. The spade wasn’t wooden, of course. It was plastic, blue, and her little brother broke it on the first day, but at least she’s come up with something vaguely relevant.
“And?” he prompts. His voice intrudes like a nail on slate. “I can’t help unless you talk to me.”
Unless. How she hates that word! So many unlesses, scattered like stepping stones across the boggy marsh of life’s lessons. Unless you eat your spinach; unless you behave; unless you try harder… And now the big one: the stumbling block in her marriage to Oliver. Were they cumulative, those unlesses?
She opens her eyes. “Would it have helped if I’d eaten my spinach?”
The chair stops with a jolt on a sideways swing and inches its way back. His head doesn’t quite reach the headrest. His eyes have widened.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Spinach. If I’d eaten it without a fuss, so there was one less unless…” Her voice trails away and he blinks, slowly.
“And you feel…spinach…”
“No of course not.” When would she ever learn! “It was just… I was thinking…” She imagines his dainty salivation over the wanderings of her untidy mind and stops, too daunted to persevere.
“Soooo…” He leans forward. The light catches his glasses, hiding the gleam she imagines in his pebble eyes. “It was a cause of contention, this…spinach…”
She leans back, to avoid a waft of stale breath. The change of angle reveals his eyes again, surprising an errant flicker of satisfaction. She can almost see the note on her card, carefully inscribed: issues with personal space.
“But it isn’t about space,” she blurts. “It’s the smell of second-hand peppermint.”
She regrets it at once. Who knows what he’ll make of that? She scrabbles to tie her unrelated thoughts into a bouquet of logic fit for a shrink.
“My mother cooked spinach with mint,” she says brightly. “Well not even spinach, really, it was silver beet, all those white stalks. And she cooked it…” Her mind spins, losing traction in a quicksand of improvisation. “…with mint. Peppermint. Undercooked.” She grimaces at the very thought. Sorry Ma, wherever you are, but it’s all in a good cause.
“And that made you feel…”
“Revolted, really.” Well who wouldn’t be?
“And this revulsion… Did it perhaps transfer…”
To her mother? Oh for goodness sake! Yes, of course she’d hated her mother. For about a week when she was fifteen. That one was Unless you can keep your grades up, Allie… and for a whole week her mother had been the evil, iceberg witch who knew nothing of True Love. And then the cause of her falling grades had dumped her like a sack of carrots, and Ma was the one safe haven in a stormy and treacherous world.
“To Brussels sprouts? Cabbage? Oh definitely!” She beams. He licks his lips, opens his little rosebud mouth, and she jumps in feet first, imagining his pearly teeth gnashing on the indigestible gristle of her galloping fancy. “Peas I could cope with, and beans. It was the ones with leaves, you know? The ones that squished water when you bit.”
“Aaahh!” He perks up, and she sees the trap just before he springs it, alerted by the flash of greed he’s unable to hide. Aversion to mouthfuls of fluid?
And suddenly, from one minute to the next, she’s had enough. What is she doing here? performing mental gymnastics for a smarmy little man with soft white hands and a mind like a grease-trap… Grovelling to Oliver, that’s all. Because he’d said Unless you can be the person I thought you were… Oliver, who’d unwrapped his Barbie doll and found Allie instead.
She leans forward and he flinches, edging back into the cave of his supersize chair.
“Issues with personal space, Doctor?” She grins – evilly, she thinks, and doesn’t care. “Or should I say Clyde? Because we’re all friends here, aren’t we? So let me tell you what you want to know. I didn’t hate my mother, I loved her, God rest her soul. And my dad? He’s a good guy, you know? Ordinary, like my childhood, spinach and all. Did you like spinach Clyde? When you were a kid? So let’s save us both the bother and call it quits, because you know what? You’ve got more hang-ups than I have.”
She stands, collects her coat from the back of the chair and her bag from the floor beside it. He dithers, his mouth agape. She crosses the room and opens the door, then turns back.
“Shut your mouth, Clyde,” she says kindly. “You never know what might fly in.”
The elevator pings as she reaches the lobby. Oliver sets the paper aside and rises from the leather armchair he always occupies as he waits.
“So?” he says – again as always.
“So…” She pauses, looking him in the eye. “Unless you can accept me as I am, Oliver,” she says carefully, “you can get stuffed.”
Then she swings through the hush of the marble lobby with a new spring in her step, spins the revolving door and walks out into the bright morning, feeling its promise for the first time in months.