Friday, 7 March 2014

I recognised that burnished chuckle before I saw Amanda.  It had such a perfect veneer of warmth and authenticity that any fool could hear it was fake.  It echoed roundly against the chilly flat tiles, drowned out the constant roars and shrieks that rose and fell as the door to the swimming pool flapped wetly open.

I had been slumped on the bench for what felt like an eternity, willing my stolid body to get up, undress, pull on a costume, move through the warm foetid puddles of the changing room and out into the huge bright pool area.  I knew that once I was in the water, the muffled roar would soothe rather than scare; I would finally be weightless; the metallic song of bubbles would drown the jangling dissonance of my desperation.

I pulled a huge damp breath into my defeated body.  I willed myself to cling to the tattered rags of decency that flapped, like smoke-blackened pennant after a blitzkrieg.  The battle that had raged in my own body, leaving me bloody, empty and barren. I steeled myself to see her baby. I would never see mine, there would never be a single one, and that knowledge crushed me in a flat, endless pain.  I set my jaw against the howl of anguish that burned at the base of my throat.

She came in with her mother.  I recognised her from the baby group, from another life, when I had been happy; but I would have known their relationship anyway.  Both thoroughbreds, glossy and rippling, heads tossing, nostrils flared arrogantly. The mother's hair was an uncompromisingly crisp white and Amanda's an artful tawny, but the resemblance was startling.  Their laughter was an assault.

"Well, I hope she doesn't jump out of the window once he starts crying for the mid-morning feed.  Josh threatened again to sell him to the gypsies. The horror.  Three til five he was awake.  And we've got the Bishops drinks tonight.  I am exhausted."

"They're a great agency. She'll know what to do. Have a little swim, darling and let's see if you can have a massage.  It won't matter if we're a bit late.  They'll just charge a more, but you do need a break. Babies can be a real pain sometimes.  You go ahead, I'll go and find Suki and sort out a little treat."

I sat, a petrified lump of sorrow, as Amanda changed.  The soft billows of cashmere and silk, the smooth conker-brown boots, Amanda's spare, beautiful leather jacket.  Her bag I recognised from the glossy pages I stared at sometimes in my psychiatrist's waiting room.  It was butter-soft and pale yellow.  Like spring, like a chick, a daffodil, the sun.

She left it on the bench while she went to tie up her hair in front of the mirror.  She was a careless, heartless bitch.  Leaving her bag, leaving her baby.  She didn't deserve any of it.

It took me less than a minute to stand, my body jotled into action by the shot of anger I felt.  I picked up her bag, which hugged my hip with a fluidly sensuos ripple.  I strode through reception, past her mother gesturing elegantly at the receptionists; head down and out into the pale winter sunshine.   The river was just a few steps away and I stood on the towpath, breathing the smell of decay that rose from the dirty water; the putrefaction of plants and small animals, of melancholoy, of death.

I let the pale, soft strap slide down my arm, hoisted the bag upside down and emptied the perfumed, costly contents into the swirling dun water.   With soft splashes, things fell; a blue diary, a black fountain pen, a phone, little leather bags and pouches, a sheaf of polaroids, a single pale blue mitten, as small as a pixie's hat.

I flung the bag out into the middle of the river; the current eddied there, making roiling, confused circles and swells. It swirled in the undertow for a moment then disappeared into the undertow, a brief primrose flash then nothing.


  1. Hello Elizabeth,
    That hollow laugh ringing round the swimming pool changing room. How well we can imagine this, for us the source of many horrors as we do not 'do'water!

    And, in your story too a danger lurks in that dank atmosphere where many a teenage bully may have lurked or, as here, a petty crime may be committed. But what bigger crime Amanda has inflicted....simply by being. Jealousy can be such a powerful force.

    And, how cleverly one is led to draw a parallel with the idea that Amanda may be drowning as her possessions are tossed into the water and the detritus of her life ebbs, flows and drowns. Are we, the readers, also drowning in our own ways?

    1. Goodness you have an incredible eye fir detail. I'm very touched and flattered by such in-depth feedback. So generous of you both, I am very lucky to have such insightful readers!

  2. So much story told in so few words. Your writing is an exercise for the mind and imagination. Love it!

    1. Thank you James! It's such a pleasure to write for you.

  3. Once again, swept right along with this story as if watching it unfold in front of me!

    1. I'm delighted to have whisked you out of your life for a few moments!

  4. I'm so glad you are back with your absolutely stunning stories. Though I never dumped anyone's bag into the water, this brought back memories of trying and failing to conceive while women all around me were (seemingly) effortlessly having babies and making their own little jokes about how inconvenient those babies could be! I probably would have laughed at this story then, feeling the same sad little victory as the narrator. Now, reading your story, this adoptive mother of a 17-year old (making my own jokes about crazy teenaged girls) wants to reach back in time and give myself a hug and say that everything will be all right. I've never felt such closure to the pain of those years. Thank you for that, Elizabeth!

  5. I feel moved and incredibly privileged by your comment. A hug back in time from me too. I know how much it would have helped x


Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth