Monday 15 October 2018

Different Times

by Keelan LaForge

freshly squeezed orange juice 

“Thank God times have changed,” said Fiona, taking a sip of her mum’s good tea.
“Would you like a Digestive love?” Her mother offered her a tray of biscuits before taking one herself. She nibbled at it tentatively, like she wasn’t supposed to be eating while she was on duty.
“When we were little you had to do everything, Mum. I don’t remember Dad ever lifting a finger. He just sat all evening watching sport on TV.”
“Well, your dad was working, love. He was tired when he got home. You work the same hours Pete does, it’s different.”
The children were playing at Fiona’s feet. She’d just picked them up from their childminder: her mum.
“You’ve got a better lifestyle than we had. We couldn’t afford to buy anything or go anywhere.”
She stood over Fiona, waiting for her to drain her cup. The second she did, she put it on the tea trolley and wheeled it back into the kitchen with the weariness of a night-shift nurse. Fiona had seen her push that rusted trolley so many times she was surprised the thing hadn’t collapsed by now.
She followed her into the kitchen to wash the cups.
“Where is it you’re going tomorrow, again?”
“Majorca, mum.”
Her mother looked none the wiser, like she might have vaguely recognised the place name, but had not the slightest inkling where it was located, and probably never would. She’d never travelled abroad, they had seen it as an unnecessary extravagance. Fiona washed the cups and set them on the draining board.
“It’ll be a holiday for you too, Mum. It’ll give you a break from the kids for a few days.”
“I won’t know myself.”
“Well,” said Fiona, reading the clock on the wall. “We’d better hit the road – Pete will be waiting for us. He probably has the dinner underway.”
“Is he cooking?” her mum asked, with a flash of her eyebrows.
“He’s just sticking a lasagne in the oven from the freezer, Mum.”
“Different times,” said Edna, shaking her head. “Have a good holiday, love.”

The following day, the family were en-route to the airport, the kids fighting through their boredom in the back seat.
“Sarah, would you stop annoying your sister?” said Fiona. She turned her neck like an owl’s swivel to look her right in the retina.
Sarah slunk back in her seat, her smarmy smile straightening into a stiff-lipped sulk.
“Did you bring the sun cream love?” asked Pete, changing gears. He didn’t seem remotely bothered by the bickering, he didn’t take his eyes off the road for a second.
“The girls’ swimming things?”
“What about the mosquito repellent?”
“Yep. I made a list, Pete. We haven’t forgotten anything.”
They dropped the car at the long-stay car park and transferred their belongings to the airport bus, snapping at each other as they stacked the luggage in the boot of the bus. Fiona hoped things would turn a bit more pleasant once they were through airport security and things settled down.

“Got the passports?” asked Pete.
“The boarding passes?”
“Yes,” Fiona said, through her teeth.
“Good, now we can relax.”
Fiona gave Pete a curious look. She wondered when holiday mode would kick in for her. His had seemingly started with his departure from his office the previous day. She’d packed up every one of their belongings, unplugged every electrical appliance they owned, even cleaned out the fridge. Pete had spent the morning catching up on the sports news on his tablet. They got to the airport, got the cases checked in and waited impatiently at the gate. The place was packed with people, all sun-loving tourists dressed for the weather they anticipated. There were no seats left and people were sitting on their hand luggage, looking like they needed a holiday just from their journey through the airport. It was finally time to board and everyone beat their way to their allocated aisles, forcing their bags into the overhead compartments.
“Do you have sweets to stop the kids’ ears popping?” asked Pete.

“Did you bring my ear plugs in case I have a nap?”
“I forgot.”
“Ok, so the list isn’t infallible."
“When are you going to have time to nap on a three hour-daytime flight with two kids?”
“They’re on their tablets, love.”
Fiona realised she was the only reliable adult supervision on board.
After a three-hour flight and each member of the family silently glued to their electronic devices, Fiona was feeling infinitely more relaxed; momentarily, at least. Pete had slept most of the way and the kids were otherwise occupied: no questions, no requests, no demands. She hoped it would continue now they were all on holiday. They disembarked, collected their luggage and completed all of the tasks that threaten to make a holiday dull.
“Have you got the directions to the hotel, honey?” Pete asked, inserting the keys into the hire car’s ignition.
“No, I thought you had them?”
Pete patted the back pocket of his shorts. He drew out a crumpled piece of paper.
“Oh, I do. Good, at least one of us is organised,” he said with puffed-up male pride. With one smile, he rendered all Fiona’s preparations obsolete.
They arrived at the hotel a short while later. It was a symbol of serenity, a glass-roofed paradise with not so much as a kettle to manually operate in sight. Fiona was glad they had gone for the all-inclusive deal. She could sit back on a sun-lounger and be waited on all week. Cooking, laundry and bed-making were off the menu.
Pete packed their towels onto a row of sun loungers. He spread his towel out and lay back, finding the best notch for the right recline.
“Oh, love, I forgot to get a coffee before we sat down. Are you going to the bar anyway?” He pulled his sunglasses from his hair and put them on without moving an inch.
“Cappuccino?” asked Fiona. 
“Yeah, two sugars. Thanks, love.”
The kids went directly to the pool, Lana pushing Sarah in.
“Be careful!” hollered Fiona. She presumed Pete’s eyes were closed behind his shades. Joining a lengthy queue, she sighed as fellow hotel users jumped ahead, taking orders for friends once they’d reached the barman. A ten-minute wait and ten more reasons for annoyance later, Fiona conveyed the rattling tray to the table. She nudged Pete.
“I got the kids Calipos.”
“You might have a hard time getting them out of the pool. I was just having a doze there. This heat is unreal.”
Fiona fanned herself with her unread magazine.“I might need to cool off in the pool for a while.”
“The girls could use some intervention anyway, honey. Looks like they’re trying to drown each other.”
She looked over and saw their arms flailing, heads beneath the water’s surface. Pete sat up like he was going to do something, reached for his coffee cup and leaned back into his chair.
“Watch you don’t get burnt lying there,” said Fiona, looking at his reddening forearm.
“Put the umbrella up, would you, love? That sun is strong.”
Fiona wrestled the parasol to get it to click into place. She topped up his sun cream and adjusted his lounger as requested. And finally, she submerged her sweaty body in the cool water of the pool, almost smiling. A few seconds later, her half-smile sank.
“Let’s race, mum,” shouted Sarah.
“I was just planning on cooling off for a minute.”
“Come on Mum, play with us.”
Fiona swam several lengths, woefully lagging behind.
Pete strolled over to the pool’s edge. Fiona was ready to swap roles and relief was upon her. He knelt down, so his lips could meet her at ear level, “I overheard the couple next to us saying there’s a kids’ club.”
“Great, when is it on?”
“We just missed it, but I thought you’d be glad of it tomorrow. Are you coming to have your coffee, love? It’s probably gone cold now. Maybe you should get another one.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she mumbled.
Fiona leaned back against the tiled side of the pool. She closed her eyes, hoping if she pretended to feel relaxed, her body might catch up. She could almost imagine she was in a spa if she blocked out the sound of children screaming around her. She envisioned herself lying on a massage table, chill-out music playing, the scent of massage oil soothing her stressed senses. “Can we get changed, mum. We’re hungry.”
The three of them walked back to the room, so everyone could get ready for dinner. Pete lingered behind, he’d mentioned something about going for a short swim before dinner. Walking past the cleaning lady, Fiona noticed the lady’s face was obscured by a pile of pressed towels and felt an inexplicable affinity to her. Pete joined them in the room an hour later, once everyone was washed and dressed.
“Ready for dinner?” asked Fiona, eyeing his sopping swimming trunks.
“I’ll only be ten minutes. You all relax on the balcony while I get changed, enjoy the scenery.” He said it like he was offering them an added extra. He strolled into the bathroom, dripping pool water all over the carefully mopped floor.
Fiona sat on the balcony in one of the plastic chairs,taking in the view she’d failed to notice on their way in. while the girls tried to make sense of Spanish TV. There were crickets chirping in the bushes and a water fountain trickling next to an idle gardener: the ideal setting for relaxation and refreshment. Fiona hoped by the second day of their holiday she’d have wound down a bit more from work. She was feeling unnaturally tense, even more so than she did when she was under pressure in the office.
“Right, I’m ready,” said Pete, appearing at the sliding door. “Do you have that mosquito repellent, love?”
Fiona went to her cosmetics bag and rifled through it, upsetting the order of her toiletries. She produced an electric blue bottle. It was the tone of one of those fly electrocution lights and promised to be as effective. She hadn’t thought to put any on herself yet, just on the kids. Pete handed it back to her.
“Could you put it on for me? I hate the smell of that stuff. It stays on your hands all night.”
Fiona wasn’t too keen on the scent herself, but she obliged.
The family walked to the lift.
“I’m having a great holiday, love,” said Pete, wrapping his arm around her. “Haven’t felt this relaxed in ages. Have you?”
Before Fiona had time to invent an appropriate answer, the girls cut in.
“It’s great here, Dad. Can we go to the pool after dinner?”
“It’ll be closed then. Your mum will take you when she goes down in the morning. You love a quiet, early morning swim anyway, don’t you love?”
He beamed at her and she supplied a submissive smile in return.
They walked the corridor to the all-inclusive buffet. Fiona wondered whose bright idea that had been. Plating up everyone’s desired dishes sounded like more work than the frozen pizza she would have stuck in the oven had they been at home.
They secured a table and Pete stood up. “I’m going to see what they’ve got.” He lifted an empty plate that promised him a pile of options. “I’ll let you know what they’ve got.”
Fiona gave up, sitting down in her scoop-backed chair, fanning herself with a napkin. She watched Pete across the room, filling his plate with a little bit of this, a little bit of that. She considered him from afar, thinking, the times may have changed, but had the sexes? 


About the author

Keelan LaForge is a mum of two and a writer. She writes for Terror House magazine and used to write for Vintage Life magazine. She has a personal blog She has written three novels which she is working on getting published.  

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