An Epiphany

Twelfth Night looms and Harriet cannot wait for all traces of Christmas to be gone.  

Christmas tree

Simon packs every single decoration off the tree into its rightful place in its box. Only he knows where this is, so all Harriet can do is make tea. It’s Lapsang Souchong, brewed in a pot because he always says it tastes better that way.

Freelance journalist Harriet is a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.

On the first day of Christmas, Simon gave her a cashmere and silk jumper, but it’s not nearly as soft as Pushkin was.  

Pushkin

On the second day of Christmas, they had turkey drumsticks and leftover roast potatoes which, Simon reminded her, had not been as crisp on the day as they could have been. 

Of course they weren’t. The heart went out of Christmas several years ago.

The tree survived well, but that was because there was no Pushkin to climb its branches or bat the baubles off.

“It’s just ailurophobia” she’d told Simon at first.  But it wasn’t fear of cats.  His breathing was really bad, beyond the help of inhalers, pills and sprays, and there was a tissue permanently attached to his nose.  She tried products to keep down fur and dander, to no avail.  It would have to be the RSPCA or the Mayhew Home. What alternative was there?

It was December 18. Simon got the cat basket out of the cupboard and Pushkin promptly fled under the bed. 

“He’s gone into the bedroom!” cried Simon. “Now I’ll be wheezing all night.”

“Well, he won’t be here much longer, will he?” Harriet retorted.

Pushkin emerged warily, though not warily enough.

“Grab him, Harriet.  I’d rather not touch him.”

Harriet picked him up and kissed the soft places behind his ears.  It was too awful to let him go. “It’s raining,” she pointed out.  “Pushkin hates rain.”

“Put a towel over the basket if you’re so concerned.” 

cat basket

The car was parked two streets away.  Simon went to get it, but he drew the line at driving to the shelter.  “I’d rather not spend the next hour sitting a foot away from him.”

Harriet lugged the basket downstairs and into the car.  As Simon got out of the driver’s side, he warned, “Don’t bottle now, Harriet.”  He may as well have added it was only a cat.

Harriet negotiated the traffic out of London.  She thought the RSPCA place off the A1(M) would be best, as there’d be more chance of finding him a suitable home in a rural area.  Plus with a shelter that far she’d be less tempted to rush back and adopt Pushkin herself.

She got stuck in a fierce bottle-neck on the A41, trapped between a bus and a Chelsea tractor surely bound for Brent Cross. When she finally moved off, a van driver nearly clipped the wing of the Peugeot.

Harriet had transferred the basket to the passenger seat.  Pushkin yowled and stared at her through the grating with huge eyes.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, her voice catching.  “Everything’s going to be fine.” 

Her words failed to reassure a stressed Pushkin, and the car filled with an unmistakeable aroma.  Fresh dog turds occasionally smell of coffee grounds. Cat shit, on the other hand, only ever smells of one thing.

Harriet wept openly on arrival.  The kindness of the RSPCA staff only made things worse.

“My partner’s allergic to cats,” Harriet explained. 

“Has the cat had any health problems?” the girl asked.

“Well, he has a slight irritable bowel.”  What kind of luck was it to have a fastidious boyfriend and a cat with loose motions? 

Tears streaming, she left Pushkin and a large donation and returned to the car with the empty basket.  

The potatoes had been soggy and the turkey tasteless ever since.  

roast potatoes

As the last bauble goes into the box, Harriet thinks of this year’s Christmas message from the Queen and its theme of reconciliation.  She wonders whether it can ever apply to them.

***

Twelfth Night marks the end of Christmas for many people, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church Christmas isn’t until January 7. That means there’s still time to enjoy the Christmas Party Blog Hop devised by Helen Hollick. My own contribution is below, and you’ll find about 25 other bloggers taking part too.

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

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Finding a Man: the Sure-Fire 5-Point Plan

You’ve got to be organized, especially when you’re a single mum with four kids.  Karen’s good at lists.  Most of them look like this.

RSPCA memo pad

Karen is a character from my forthcoming novel, but if you have kids you probably know her. Her latest list is a plan.  A sure-fire 5-point plan to find herself a man.  Here goes:

1.  Be optimistic

2.  Look great at all times

3.  Network

4.  Go where the men are

5.  Leave comfort zone

OK, so she hasn’t met anyone since Tom moved out six months, but it shouldn’t be rocket science. After all, she used to be in HR.  She’ll get her man.

Point 1:  easy.  Karen’s always upbeat.  Her motto is ‘It’ll be fine’.  It’s simple, easy, and versatile.  It can be shouted when your 8-year old’s team is 7-0 down, as was the case last Sunday. Which sort of worked, because Damon didn’t let in any more goals after that.

All may not be fine, Karen admits, unless she implements 2 Look great at all times.  She learnt that lesson trying to flirt at the recycling centre when she looked like one of the totters.  Now she brushes her hair, applies lippy, and wears matching shoes even if she’s only doing the school run.  The other morning Charlotte watched critically from the doorway (she’s 10. Critical’s what she does).

“Mummy, why do you need mascara and blusher just to go to the bank?”

“You never know, sweetheart.  Suppose I run into Harry Potter in the high street?”

Karen has a new get-up too.  It’s for everyday wear, instead of the joggers that are only suitable for the garden, ideally on the compost heap.  She hadn’t been looking for new clothes, but she was in Sainsbury’s walking down the wrong aisle, which had a lot in common with her wedding.  Unlike her ex-husband, it was 25% off and came with double Nectar points.  

Sainsbury's signThe top isn’t quite the right size, but Karen fixes that in no time.  If she doesn’t raise her arms, nobody will even notice the staples.

On to point 3: Network.  Not so much using LinkedIn as mining existing contacts.  Surely somewhere there’s a friend of a friend who knows a single guy who isn’t an axe-murderer.  Karen doesn’t have the nerve to ask every mum at the school gates if they have a brother or a discarded husband/lover/toyboy, but she drops a few hints.

The outcome is the dinner party from hell, with single bachelordom represented by a monosyllabic quantity surveyor with personal hygiene issues.  Her hosts aren’t speaking to each other, which makes the evening as fun as a conference of Trappist monks.  The dinner is a roast and the meat wasn’t local.  Karen chews in dutiful silence, trying not to think of live lambs trapped for hours in an overcrowded container lorry.

Karen describes the evening to her best friend Rose.

“That’s no use” says Rose.  “You’ve got to go where the real men are.”

Karen recalls a teenage pastime.  “What, like hanging around the barracks and hoping to pick up a squaddie?”

“No, silly.   You’ve got a car.  And you like books, don’t you?”  Rose has a couple of suggestions.bookshelf

Coming soon: what happened when Karen left her comfort zone.

Meanwhile here’s one of dating blogs Karen has been reading http://www.nerve.com/advice

If her kids are still up, she looks at this site instead http://www.nectar.com