Evicting Mr Merlot

As she walked past the cupboard under the sink, she heard his muffled call. Clear to her, yet imperceptible to others. Laura opened the cupboard and obediently pulled out the bottle. Her brain registered satisfaction as the cork popped and the velvet red remedy tumbled into the stemmed glass.

Mr Merlot – as she had baptised him in a heated, one-sided argument with the wine bottle one evening – had been her companion since Vincent stormed out in anger, dragging Emily in his wake and leaving her in a terrifying silence. Her friends had long since fled, leaving her with two-faced Mr Merlot: her best friend, and her worst enemy. He anesthetized her pain and gently creaked open the flood gates retaining her sadness. He was like her; he hated to be alone, and refused to return to the cupboard until he was spent. So she gratefully drank up his company, right down to the bottom of his bottle-green soul.

Laura winced as she remembered Emily’s hot, tearful face against hers, the day Vince had left. But the judge had ruled that she wouldn’t get her daughter back until Mr Merlot disappeared from her life. She pulled the doctor’s card out of her pocket and inspected it as she sipped at her glass. It was battered at the corners, just like her.

Raising her glass to the kitchen, she silently admitted that she was dependent on the bottle – just like she had been dependent on Vince before he left her. When Laura had stepped off the well-worn rungs of the medical career ladder on to the homemaker’s wheel, she had never intended to stay there for long. She surfaced fifteen years later, and looked up through her domestic haze to see her husband teetering at the summit of his career.

He became increasingly distant until that fateful evening. She had fled to the garage, opened a bottle and methodically drained it in an attempt to forget his words.

“Take a good look at your life,” he had bellowed, glaring at her across the dinner table. His fork remained suspended in mid-air as his eyes locked on hers. « You’re useless, woman!”

She had merely offered up a wry smile in response, telling him: “If you wanted something useful, you should have married a Swiss knife.”  Karma promptly bit her on the backside – he fell in lust with a young medical student from Zürich with DD cup appendages, legs up to her armpits, a Ph.D and a tubal ligation.

Laura was startled out of her thoughts by a movement in the hall, then realised that it was her own reflection in the mirror. She put down her glass and approached with a combination of curiosity and fear – when was the last time she had looked in a mirror? She had avoided looking herself in the eye for too long. Her hesitant fingers traced the length of her cheekbones, then slid her hair neatly behind her ears. The mother in the mirror was tired, but not beaten yet. Deep in her mirror image’s green eyes, she saw life. And her daughter.

A sudden wave of resolve carried her back into the kitchen. Flinging open the kitchen cupboard, she opened and emptied the bottles. “I’m not useless,” she calmly informed the last bottle. “Goodbye, Mr Merlot.” She laughed out loud as the blood-red wine gurgled down the drain, then pulled the card out of her pocket and strode purposefully towards the phone.

Photo credit:  dontshoot.me!

 Note to my regular readers: I have signed up to “Tipsy Lit” in the hope of widening my writing horizons, meeting more bloggers and testing my limits in writing fiction. This post is  my first contribution. My choice of topic is unfortunate given the title of the blog, but it’s what came to mind when I read the challenge… Find the prompt and more entries at http://tipsylit.com/.

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In Hope of Thunder

Summer has arrived with a vengeance – a heavy blanket of dusty heat has descended on us. The cat has melted into a black puddle in the dust and cedar needles. Eyes closed, he is waiting, somewhere between consciousness and sleep, for the evening wind to rise and release him from the sweltering heat.

The shutters on our old building have all creaked closed in unison against the omnipresent heat and glaring sunshine. Behind them, in the gloomy coolness of the thick, nineteenth century walls, the older generation living on either side of us has gone to bed for the sacrosanct siesta until the heat-imposed curfew is over. To my left, memories of the good old days are no doubt being selected and revived in ageing but agile minds. To my right, I suspect that the perfect revenge is being concocted for these idealistic newcomers with too much enthusiasm for their own good.

The washing hangs rigid and still on the line, baking in the heat that rises from the dusty ground. Cicadas scratch away relentlessly in the pine trees behind the house, a constant and audible reminder of the suffocating heat. Towards nightfall, they will grudgingly give way to the nurse toads and frogs and their lazy, night-time concerto of whistles and chattering.

Clouds are gathering now, expanding like sky-born shaving foam. The trees are motionless. Nature seems to be holding its breath in expectation, in the hope of rainfall. “Maybe tonight….” the garden seems to whisper.

I also long to hear the distant rumbles of thunder and see the sky light up tonight. I will get out of bed and pad barefoot down the corridor in the dark, enjoying the basic, primal pleasure of walking on the cool tiles. Then I will step on to the balcony, and watch the storm approach as the pine trees sway in anticipation. My skin will prickle as the chilly storm air hurries past me into the house to announce the imminent arrival of redemption from the heat. I smile: peine perdue, my friend. The sleeping occupants are busy chasing dreams, and will not notice your presence at their sides.

lightning from Hell

Photo credit: phani_astronomy®

I will count in my head after each lightning flash: one elephant, two elephants, three elephants…. before the rumble and crash of the thunder. I will enjoy watching nature’s self-indulgent show as the blue and white streaks rip the night sky from top to bottom, tearing a strip out of the dark blanket wrapped around our world and illuminating the night for a few seconds. I will laugh at Mother Nature as she cheekily switches the lights on and off in this world we mistakenly believe we can control.

When the first drops of rain fall on my face, I will return to bed, and listen to the rain and the soft swishing of the cedar branches as they brush against each other. Goosebumps  will appear on my skin as the thunder rumbles away across the sky towards other awaiting storm lovers.

The plants will silently and gratefully soak up their long-awaited nightcap, and the amphibian concerto will start up again with renewed enthusiasm. I will breathe in the heady smell of wet earth as the cool breeze blows across me. Then I will pull the sheet over myself, smile, and fall asleep again.

FEED ME.

Murphy

Murphy.

Murphy minced his way through the front door, his rubbery legs crisscrossing in a delicate cat walk strut. He sat down at my feet, curled his tail neatly around his butt and stared up at me. A sphinx-like black statue. He meowed delicately – a quiet, meek squeak. His eyes widened, apparently surprised by his pathetic feline performance. He got back up on his paws, stretched lazily and padded around me, rubbing provocatively all around my legs with his black tail stuck up at ninety degrees like a flagpole. Sat down in front of me again. Stared up at me. Then let loose a loud, grating yowl.

FEED ME!

It occurred to me that Murphy doesn’t care much about anything. He can eat stinky cheap cat food at any time of the day or night. He couldn’t give a monkey’s uncle about meal times or his weight. He has no issues with eating week-old leftovers from the kitchen dustbin. He doesn’t care if his bed is covered in hair, and is a nocturnal nomad – he will even swap sleeping places all night without losing his sense of well-being. He rolls in the dust when he feels like it, licks himself clean and starts again. I want to be a cat.

Best of all, he doesn’t care. Nor does he love anyone. No care, no love…. no regrets. No existential dilemmas. No feeling bad about scratching a kid who tried to impose a hug on him. No angst. Just food, sleep and leisure on his own terms. The simplest possible way to exist. We are just the hands who feed him. When he decides. Stroke him. When he decides. He doesn’t have any feelings for us, or for anyone else. I am the cat that walks alone. Feed me, and I will tolerate you. Stop feeding me, and I’ll go elsewhere. He only shows emotion when other animals venture into his territory. Then he renews his vows with the dog and chases the intruder off the property before returning and asking for food.

FEED ME!

Murphy demands again. The yowl has developed into a gravelly and insistent miniature roar that is edged with irritation. I comply. He throws himself at his bowl, and noisily wolfs down his food without the slightest sign of thanks or recognition.  Animal instinct. Then he pads softly into the lounge; curls up in a neat ball on the armchair and transforms into a soft toy. He languorously licks his paws, and inspects me as I open the mail, tut, curse and shred the paper into confetti. His baleful eyes observe me from the depths of a compact black fur ball. Detached and free of emotion. He sniffles and snores as I make phone calls, press stars and hashtags and see my time go by as I wait for a stranger to reply. To give me a solution or to create a new problem.

Murphy’s paws twitch in his sleep. Does he dream? Does he awaken with his stomach flipping over like a greasy egg when he thinks about what lies in wait for him each day? Does he summon up his courage before stretching and stepping out? Does he decide again and again to be a new cat, to stop doing this and start doing that? No, he’s just true to himself. I want to be a cat. Eat. Sleep. Play. Meow.

FEED ME!

IMG_7956

Giving the cold caller the cold shoulder.

I love my job. I carry out painstaking linguistic cosmetic surgery on scientific articles,  correcting and rephrasing here and there to make it squeaky clean and ready for publication; the linguistic equivalent of transforming David Cameron into Winston Churchill (although the English I correct is rarely that bad). My nose glued to the screen, I sniff out the mistakes like Lindsay Lohan on the scent of a line of coke. Concentration is a must – the house is silent as I batter away on my keyboard and repeat sentences out loud until they sound right. So when the phone interrupts my progress through the thrills and spills of biophysics, turtle genetics or decision-making in primates, I always get up muttering incantations. Only the news that Dr Evil is holding PF hostage in his office would be deemed urgent enough to interrupt my scientific soliloquies.

BT Artbox - Padded Cellphone Box

So I generally stare at the phone and try to work out who it is before picking it up. It’s not an easy mission. The screen of my phone has finally given up the ghost after too many failed bungy jumps out of paint, chocolate or cake-mix covered hands. Its display panel now looks more like a half-finished Tetris game than a line-up of numbers. So when it rings, I can never see who is calling.

If I ignore it,  I generally miss a call announcing that Rugby-boy has redecorated the school corridor with vomit, that my long-awaited parcel has gone back to the post office because I didn’t reply when he called, or that P.F. has missed his bus and is stuck in the most unpleasant part of town whilst bored teens with shaved heads lob pebbles at people getting off the tram.

So it goes without saying that when I pick up the phone expecting one of the above situations, there is in fact a brief silence followed by the droning voice of a disinterested human robot who tells me that he or she is delighted to have me on the line before embarking on a ten-minute long speech about roof insulation, window replacements or newfangled technology that will turn my home into the most sexy, ecologically sound joint in the universe.

At the beginning, I listened patiently, before telling them that I didn’t have time. Oh, yeah? No problem, they’ll call you back. Oh, it’s dinner time? No problem. They’ll call you later – just after you’ve brushed your teeth, for a goodnight kiss to your bank account sent all the way from a call centre in India. The next few times, you gratingly explain that it’s very kind of them to think of you, but you don’t need their solar-cycle-powered water heater even if it is the best thing since sliced bread. They insist, and are getting your back up now. No, honestly, you really don’t need their services, and yes, you are still fully capable of making your own decisions without the help of a complete stranger who has just interrupted your afternoon of work/shower/quiet five minutes of reading on the loo (the only place the kids  don’t track you down within seconds). No, you don’t need the insulation replacing, and no, unless he has a camera stuffed down the phone line, he cannot presume that your roof has more holes than Jamie Oliver’s sieve.

Six months later, you have had it with being polite with people who won’t take no for an answer. You angrily tell them that if you had said “yes” to them all, your house would currently be in the process of being demolished and rebuilt, and you would be up to your eyeballs in debt to pay for the installation of technology that will be out of date within two years anyway.

You take to acidly informing callers you are not the person they asked for, because they have massacred your name so badly that you don’t even recognise it as your own. Then you really get narked, and start slamming the phone down on them. I did it last week – I had got to the point of no return. I soberly admitted to my pillow that I had been rude; I had compromised both my values and my education.  But did I have to waste time listening to all their drivel for the sake of politeness?

I therefore got working on a few solutions that would safeguard my legendary British cool. Here are my favourite new techniques for cold callers; I’ve been trying them out this week, and am proud to say that they work beautifully.

anti-valentine

Uncharitable thoughts (Photo credit: rubygirl jewelry)

Firstly, immediately interrupt their spiel asking sweetly who they are (Nathalie who? How do you spell that?) and what company they are from. Then tell them they have 30 seconds to tell you exactly what they want to sell you. Asking them to cut to the chase not only takes the wind out of their sails, but also irritates the pants off them when you don’t behave as planned on their sheet.

If this doesn’t put them off, move in for step two. This one has four possible levels.

Level one. (Annoying but unaggressive caller.) Method: Quietly put the receiver down on the table and get on with whatever you were doing. They generally get bored with speaking to the plant within minutes.

Level two. (Insistent caller who refuses to stop machine-gunning you with his pre-printed sales patter.) Method: Inform them that you are passing them on to the household decision-maker. This makes the more chauvinistic callers purr, “Ah, very good wife, you are passing me to Môôsieur.” Then plop the telephone in Smelly Dog’s basket, point to it and say “eat”.

Level three. (Aggressive caller telling you that you will hear them out, or they will call you back.) Method: place on carpet beside vacuum cleaner. Switch on said appliance on highest possible setting. Repeat as necessary.

Level four. (Very aggressive and tenacious caller who no doubt spends his or her evenings sticking pins into the wax effigies of those who refused their calls, before melting them over scented Ikea candles.) Method: Place telephone beside speaker. Switch on Bigfoot’s AC-DC. Turn up volume.

Do you have any good techniques that I have not covered here? Are you a cold caller, and if so, what have you been subjected to by reticent homeowners?

Time up.

This post is very different to what I usually write. Time to try my hand at a bit of fiction with today’s Daily Prompt: The Clock“Write about anything you’d like. Somewhere in your post, include the sentence, “I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked at the clock.”

Hour Glass

(Photo credit: Ömer Ünlü)

I struggled in vain, my fear and anger fuelling the adrenaline coursing though my veins. I was firmly anchored to the chair, my wrists and ankles deadened by the tightness of the tape. Rubbing my face against the shoulder of my pullover in a futile attempt to remove the tape placed over my mouth, I could smell Emily’s perfume. Emily. Please don’t come home tonight. Please stay at work late, please go for a drink with the girls after work, please get stuck in a traffic jam but please, for the sweet love of Jesus, don’t come home.

It had been easy for Anna to get into the house without me hearing her. I’m always half asleep when I surface in the afternoon, and she knew it. All our married life I had worked nights, and she had gradually replaced my presence in the evening with the bottle. First a glass of wine, then two, until I regularly found her asleep on the couch on my return from night shift. Eyes closed to the fresh-faced early morning T.V presenters, she was spread across the couch with the empty bottle at her side, the glass hanging from her fingers.

The bottle comforted her, never asked her any questions, and was always there when I wasn’t. I was no competition, and she couldn’t face life without her newfound companion. The divorce had been messy, and Emily had been my saviour. Anna had never forgiven me.

She hit me hard on the back of the head as I entered the kitchen.The wine bottle smashed with the impact, and I found myself lying on the tiles in a myriad of emerald coloured shards, staring up from between her dirty trainers into her laughing, drunken face. “Don’t tell me that hurt; it was empty, you wimp!” I rubbed the back of my head. “Wouldn’t be like you to waste alcohol,” I fired back.

She crouched down beside me. “Drink this, it’s aspirin”, she said as she pulled my head backwards and forced a small glass of liquid down my throat. Shortly afterwards, everything went black.

When I came around, I was firmly taped to a kitchen chair. She had swept all the objects off the table, and the floor was littered with opened mail, fruit and smashed crockery. A photograph and the kitchen wall clock had been neatly put in their place. I stared woozily at the picture of Emily and I, immortalizing our happiness after she had scraped me out of my misery and catapulted me into back into life.

Anna took a marker pen from the pen pot. She slowly and deliberately penned a moustache and beard on Emily’s face. Despite the rage in the pit of my stomach,  I feigned disinterest. “Why the clock?” I asked her. She grinned, and pulled a package from her rucksack. She thrust it in front of my nose. “See this? I made it. All by myself”.  Wires, dynamite. Oh, Christ.

She turned the strange contraption over and over in her hands, her eyes sparkling like a child who had constructed a new imaginary world. “The therapist told me I should take up a hobby, do you remember? I bet he didn’t think it would be explosives. It’s amazing what you can learn on internet these days”. She pulled up a chair and started unscrewing the back of the clock. “I’ve been practicing this every week for months. Wouldn’t want to miss the fireworks for a silly mistake, now, would we?”

As she talked, she fixed wires to her package. She admired her work with satisfaction then propped the clock up carefully against the  block of dynamite before heading over to the door, wires in hand.

“You’re not going to do that? Surely not? What would killing us do to make you happier? You’ve lost the plot, Anna, you need help. Let me help you”.  The panic was growing in me. She returned, kissed me on the forehead and stretched a piece of duct tape across my mouth. “This is part of my training,” she whispered softly in my ear. “You see, I’ve met someone. If I get this right, he’ll take me on. Remember the therapist? He wanted me to find a job to get over the alcohol, right? Well, it’s done”.

Anna held my face in her hands, her clear blue eyes boring into my soul. “She’ll be home soon. She’ll open the door, and the dynamite will blow. Time over. That’s good enough for me. If I can’t have you, neither can she”.

She grabbed her bag and stepped over the glass and debris to the stove. Slowly, deliberately, she turned all the knobs. “Oh, by the way. The clock’s not part of the equation; it’s just for you to see time go by as slowly as it did for me when you ran off with your redhead. Watch that clock!”

She climbed through the window, closing it carefully behind her. I concentrated on the sound of the gas hissing out of the hobs and the ticking of the seconds hand as it made its way slowly but surely around the clock face.

As each second passed by, Emily got closer. The hourglass was running out on us. I concentrated on the photo. Emily’s smile, her green eyes, her red hair. I twisted my arms desperately to stretch the duct tape, but it was as cold and unyielding as Anna had ever been. I heard the car on the gravel. The engine cut out. I heard the car door slam, and immediately looked at the clock. The key turned in the lock, and the door handle moved slowly downwards.