Monday 5 November 2012

The Diary

The Diary
Susan Wickham
Komodo – Dragon Blend

Jean knew exactly what time of day Barbara went shopping. 
It was always nine-thirty on the dot on a Monday.  It hardly ever varied but if it did, Jean was there knocking on her door asking if everything was all right. 
 You could call her nosey or you could call her concerned but not a lot went on in her road without Jean knowing about it.  If Barbara had a delivery of a parcel, you could put money on Jean popping up asking if she needed any help to carry it in.  She was in her absolute element if the delivery van arrived when Barbara was out.  She would appear at the gate saying, ‘She’s out. I can take it in.’ Then she would manhandle the parcel into her porch circling it every now and again trying to work out what it could possibly be.  There were often clues on the label as to where it had come from, or sometimes, with larger objects, there would actually be a picture of what was inside, for example the day Barbara had a new lawn mower delivered.
            ‘I’ve got your mower over here,’ she called out the minute she spotted Barbara arrive
Then things changed.
Jean couldn’t get to sleep because the dog had been constantly scratching at the bedroom door.
            ‘We are not letting him in,’ her husband had said firmly, and when he spoke in that tone of voice, Jean knew he meant it. But it seemed the dog just wouldn’t give up.  Finally, Jean crept out of bed and down the stairs followed by the dog sniffing round her ankles and wagging her tail.  Jean smiled; at least someone was pleased to see her. 
They were dog and house sitting.  It was to be a new start, their new venture to get some money together so that they could go on holiday, though why he wanted to spend a fortnight with her, Jean wasn’t quite sure, as lately they hadn’t been getting on too well.  Mrs Percival, the house owner, had left a note.
            Just leave all the doors open and Fluffy will go where she wants to go.
But Roger had said, ‘I’m not having that mongrel on the bed.  She sleeps downstairs.’ So, all right Jean felt sorry for the poor mutt, after all she was used to curling up on the bed with her owner.  Jean looked at the sofa; it certainly looked comfortable enough, just for the one night anyway.  Till she gets used to us, Jean told herself.  She wondered if it converted into a sofa bed.  It didn’t look like it, anyway she decided it would make a terrific racket pulling it out, and then Roger would come down and that didn’t bear thinking about, so she lay down on it and pulled the blanket over her.  Fluffy settled down at her feet and seemed content to just be with anyone. 
It was odd living in someone else’s house, surrounded by their belongings and personal items.  The strange smells in the bathroom and kitchen, someone else’s scents and aromas; though Jean wasn’t entirely sure that she would like someone who used the same chopping board for onions and fruit.   She’d thought she would find it exciting, but longed momentarily for her own comfortable bed.  Her eyes ran along the line of book titles on the shelf.  They looked pretty boring, no romances or thrillers.  All the spines stared back at her, all greys and blacks and she really couldn’t make out any of the titles from where she lay.  She sat up and stared harder, she noticed there was one pink spine which stood out from the rest.  She reached for her glasses, perhaps that was a romance, but then Fluffy roused, her ears pricked up.  Jean got up and pulled it out ‘Diary’ she read.  She felt a tinge of excitement, this could be good.  She liked standing at the bus stop keeping her ears open for other people’s conversations.  Sometimes they moved away when they saw her staring at them, but sometimes they didn’t even notice her, and she managed to hear all sorts of gossip that way. She also liked interrogating the neighbours about where they were going and what they had bought when they were out.  She spent hours at her window watching what people were doing, what they were having delivered and when she saw them go out, she would rush out and make conversation to find out where they were headed to.  She even had one of those post boxes on a stand put up in the front garden, so she could rush out and pretend to be seeing if she had any post.  After all, what was the point of having it delivered through the letter box if she was missing the chance of a chat with someone? 
She thought she heard Roger coming down the stairs and put it back hurriedly and went back to the sofa, but it was nothing.  It was no good, she just couldn’t sleep.  She thought of a hot drink, so went into the kitchen followed by Fluffy, obviously hoping for an early breakfast.   When she went back, all she could think of was that diary, and knew that she was going to reach for it.  She got up again and pulled out the book, telling herself that she expected it was only full of everyday appointments, gardening details and the weather.  She didn’t know anything about Mrs Percival or her life, and Mrs Percival didn’t know anything about them, apart from the impeccable references they had given.  Well, anyone can write a reference.
It was amazing what you could learn about someone by just looking around their house. It was almost an open book.  She could see Mrs Percival was evidently quite house-proud, no cobwebs in the bathroom in this house and yet the dog was allowed anywhere. It didn’t make sense.
She sighed and knew it would be hard work cleaning up before they left, especially with the dog.  She opened the diary and soon sat up when she started reading.

My arms are covered in scratches and old scars.  This is something I can feel.   I run my fingers over the marks, and I can feel the bumps and lumps all over. Afterwards I hid the craft knife at the back of the kitchen drawer so that he cannot find it, and then changed into a long sleeved t-shirt to cover up my battle-scarred arms.  He never notices anything I wear anyway.  Why can’t I feel anything, any emotion?  Other people laugh, cry and feel compassion, I feel nothing, but when I cut myself I can feel something.  It makes me feel normal, at least it is something I can feel.  Today was a bad day and I am empty.  I just want to feel so much.  Surely I should feel something for Peter, and my two girls – but I don’t.

I decided this morning I wasn’t going to do it anymore, but then I took Kate to school for her first day.  All the mothers were sniffing and I could see by their faces that they were choked up at leaving their kids but I couldn’t feel anything.  I pretended and kicked my toe on the brick wall which brought tears to my eyes.  One of the mothers put her hand on my shoulder.  I couldn’t wait to get home to actually feel something. So I failed again.

Today, I actually did something about it.  Something really stupid, I know.  I’ve just come back from the police station.  I don’t remember much about it, but they say I did it so I must have done.  I remember going to the library with the youngest one in the pushchair.  She’d fallen asleep on the way and as I pushed her through the double doors, a man held them open for me and smiled at me.  I remember thinking, thank you, thank you for recognising that I exist.  I pushed her into the children’s book part and the next thing I remember was standing at the bus stop alone.  I’m not a fit mother. I went home and waited for the police to arrive. They say I left her in the library and will be charged with neglect.  Their faces stared at me not understanding how a mother can leave her child.

I told the police I don’t care what they do to me.  It’s all a big front really.  It’s the only way I can cope with life.  I can’t feel guilt or anger; I can’t be sad or sorry for what I did.  I see mums cuddling their children and kissing them.  I wish more than anything to be like them.  They are so lucky …
‘What are you doing?’
Jean jumped and looked up – Roger was standing in the doorway. 
            ‘I couldn’t sleep, thought I’d come down and find a book to look at.’
            Roger turned round, shaking his head and walked back up the stairs.  Jean picked up the diary again.

 … A cry for help, I think that is what it was.  Why can’t they see that?  They say that I can’t see the children any more until I can get some help.  I hope they can give me some help.  Something needs to be done.  I think that something has happened in my childhood which I have blanked out and I am hoping that they will give me some therapy.  I have a probation officer now, she seems nice enough but had one of those low cut tops on. I once went to the hospital asking if they would take me in but they turned me away and told me to go and see my doctor.  I have been so many times but they just say I am depressed.  I know it is not that.

I did some painting today, I find it’s the only thing where I can really lose myself.  A letter arrived to say I had an appointment with a Mrs Medgett, so here’s hoping she can help me.     
 Jean felt herself nodding off and got up and put the diary back on the shelf and settled down for a sleep.  The next morning, she was woken by Fluffy and decided to take him for a walk before breakfast, but she couldn’t get the diary out of her mind and at the first opportunity, sat herself down to continue reading.

Horror upon horrors, it was in the local paper.  Headlines ‘Mother abandons child in library.’  Oh no, I felt so ashamed.  How could I have done it?

Appointment with Mrs Medgett today, she tells me I can have no access to the children and have to leave the family home for a while.  Do I feel anything when she tells me this news?  I am not sure.  I ask her where I am to go, and she mumbles something is being arranged.  I tell her I am a good mother and try my hardest to copy the other mothers.  She smiles and nods.  She says she will try and help me.  I hope she is telling the truth.  I go back to the house and pack up a few belongings.  I check the children’s rooms, I know Peter will look after them, he is going to take them away for a week. The house is strangely quiet.
Jean was so engrossed she didn’t hear Roger come in until he spoke.
‘Don’t you know we just can’t snoop about in other people’s houses,’ he shouted.  ‘We have to show an element of trust or we’re not going to succeed in this business.  We don’t look in their cupboards and read their personal stuff.’                                               
            ‘No,’ replied Jean, ‘I know it’s wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.  You know she…’
             ‘Don’t tell me anything, I don’t want to know.  You’ll never give up your snooping, will you?’        
            ‘Sorry,’ said Jean.  ‘I just couldn’t help myself.  I thought perhaps if I knew about Mrs Percival’s problems, maybe I could help her. ‘        
            ‘You can’t help her,’ said Roger.  ‘Don’t even think it.  How can you possibly help her?’
            ‘I don’t know,’ she replied.
            ‘You’re just being nosey again.  I thought by getting you away from our neighbourhood, you would be better, but you just can’t seem to help yourself, can you?’
            ‘Come on, Fluffy,’ she said, ‘time for another walk.’
            Roger had retired from work but his pension wasn’t enough to live on and so when Jean had come up with this latest scheme, he had agreed.  Jean had said it would be like going on holiday. Jean couldn’t believe her luck when he said ‘yes’. 

Well I told her, I got pregnant when I was fourteen and was made to have a termination by my parents. I wanted the baby so badly, afterwards I think I shut down.  People called out things after me in the streets and the kids at school ignored me or called me names.  Mrs Medgett tells me we have to go back to the past, revisit it and sort it out.  It’s the only way to deal with it.  I hope she’s right. It is so painful. I don’t know that I can do this.

Jean could see Roger walking up and down in front of the window and the smell of the grass wafted in.  She pulled out the diary again but this time she took out another book and covered it up with that one.  If Roger came in suddenly, it would appear she was just reading a book, which was all very well until her arm jerked and her tea went all over the pages.  She froze for a while, thinking what to do.  Mrs Percival would surely know now that someone had been reading her private thoughts.  She dabbed the brown stains with a tissue but the page was all soggy and the print was disappearing rapidly.                     
            ‘Right that is it,’ said Roger, coming in catching her trying to mop up the brown tea stains.  ‘This is just not going to work.  After this weekend, we will have to find some other way to earn some money.  I can’t live with you doing this snooping all the time.’
            Jean sighed and lay down the book.  He would just have to accept that they didn’t get on any more.  She wasn’t even sure she wanted to go on holiday with him anyway.  The thought of spending two weeks solely in his company was beginning to suffocate her.  He didn’t like doing any of the things she did.  She liked talking to everyone but he told her – ‘Don’t keep smiling at everyone, why do you have to keep talking to all and sundry?’
            Oh well, she thought, no-one reads their own diary.  She should have taken it with her, or hid it in a better place if she didn’t want people reading it.
            ‘Sit down here,’ said Roger waving his hand at the settee.  ‘Now I want you to just listen.  I thought it would be a good idea to get you away from our neighbourhood, now I realise it was a great mistake.  You’re just being as snoopy as you always were, and I don’t think I can take any more.   No, let me finish.  In fact, it’s worse because you’ve been entrusted with someone else’s house and you still can’t stop.  We will finish out our time here and then when we go home, we will decide what to do.  Now you will give me that diary and I’ll put it away somewhere before you violate any more secrets.’
            ‘I’m only …’ started Jean.
            ‘No, enough, I mean it this time,’ said Roger holding out his hand.  ‘Now go and walk the dog or something.’                                                           
            Meekly, she handed over the diary.  Now she would never know what happened to Mrs Percival’s life.  Still, there weren’t many places he could hide it, she smiled to herself.  She would look for it when he went out.       
‘Hello,’ said Roger, answering the phone.
            ‘Hello, is that Roger?  This is Sophie Percival.  I just wanted to warn you that I‘ll be coming back tonight to pick something up.  Will that be all right?  I didn’t want to inconvenience you.’
            ‘Of course not, it’s your house. We will see you tonight then.’
            ‘Good, is everything okay?’
            ‘Yes, of course.   We will see you later.’
            ‘Thank you.’  She rang off.

Jean thought it odd when Roger said he was going for a walk.  It was dark after all; he never went walking especially at night.  When the doorbell rang and Mrs Percival, or that’s who she said she was, stood at the door, Jean was never more surprised.
            ‘I rang before, spoke to your husband.  Said I would be round to pick something up.  Hope that’s all right?’
Jean stared at her.  Who would have thought it?  She didn’t look a bit like she’d imagined.  She stood back and Mrs Percival walked in, going straight up to the book case.  She swivelled round and spotted the diary lying on the settee.  She looked at Jean. For once, Jean was lost for words and said nothing.
            ‘Get out now, get out of my house!’ she shouted.  ‘I’ll report you.  I’ll ring up the agency tomorrow and you’ll never work in anyone’s house again.  Get out!’ she shrieked.            Jean grabbed her coat and bag and ran from the house.  Roger had known about this and let her in for it.  She known he’d done it on purpose.  She would never forgive him.  She caught a bus back home and she was glad she did, for there sitting in Barbara’s drive was a large cardboard box obviously containing something exciting but now she would have to wait until the morning to find out what it was.  Then she wished she knew what Roger was doing.                                                                                                                                                     

Susan Wickham is now retired and has been writing on and off since her twenties.  She has won a runners-up prize for poetry in Writers Forum, had several articles published in magazines including Family History and The Lady, and won a runners-up prize in a short story competition.  She is at present working on a non-fiction book and enjoy entering writing competitions. She recently obtained an Open University BA (Hons) degree which included Creative Writing and Literature.

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