Issue 2: Bloody Women

3 May

Welcome to Issue 2 of the Feminist Jumble Sale.  This edition’s mixed bags of donated goods have been unpacked to reveal another lovely selection of story, essay and review on the promised thorny theme of Bloody Women. We’ve laid out our stalls below for your enjoyment: 8 pieces of new writing by 6 people, at least three of whom share a birthday, including two new contributors and not one but two token men.

The Feminist Jumble Sale needs you – we relish and welcome your comments, donations and ideas for future themes.  Please send writings to feministjumble@hotmail.co.uk and post your comments and theme ideas on the blog.  Issue 3 on the theme of Bloody Weddings (plenty of fodder there – thanks Irvine W) will be out in early July.

Bloody Women Contents:

Slap – by Emily

Scooter – by Charlotte

The Duchess of Duke Street – by Celia

Anniversaries – by Jim

The Gift – by Amanda

Down Amongst the Vines – by David

Picnic at Alwalton Lock – by Emily

Red Riding Hood Film Review – by Amanda

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

SLAP by Emily

Any situation involving mass human contact can bring on a bout of misanthropy, but there’s nothing quite like a journey on public transport to exacerbate a mild underlying irritation to the point of murderous rage.  Normal annoyances become monstrous when people are forced into each others’ personal space and trapped in a metal box, usually under some kind of time pressure, forcing us up against the worst examples of bad manners, inconsideration, gormlessness.  Annoying people doing annoying things literally in your face is an unpleasant start to many peoples’ working days.  Of all the many offending behaviours, from gum-chewing to phone-based rudeness, from litter-dropping to snogging, the one which drives me to distraction – and to moving seats if at all possible –  is bloody women putting on their bloody make up on their way to work.  I must stress that I’m talking about a quick re-application of a bit of lippy, or a mirror-check for smudged eyeliner.  I’m talking about women doing the whole thing from scratch.

My irritation at this is complex, and I go through a number of responses every time I see it happen, which is on most bus commutes to work (ie several times a week).  Here I aim to get to the bottom of why seeing women putting on their faces causes me so much aggravation.

Firstly, there’s the obvious thought: why the hell didn’t she get up 20 minutes earlier?  The rest of us on the bus managed to make ourselves look presentable before leaving the house, so why can’t she?  Lazy cow. This is pure jealousy; of course I could have done with half an hour more kip before another day at work, if only I could get over my issues of the wrongness of public make-up application.  But imagine if every woman on the bus were doing it?  It would be like a mobile backstage dressing room and would actually be ridiculous.  The few women who do do this must think they are special.  And this makes me hate them.

Then there’s the issue that really, no-one should have to see anyone else’s “make-up face”.  Applying creams, powders and pigments to various parts of the visage requires some facial acrobatics; fact.  The grimaces and rictus grins rendered necessary look stupid; another fact.  No-one looks good while coating their eyelashes in shellac or their cheeks in rouge.  They look like fools, gurning at themselves into tiny mirrors and everyone seems to have their own special faces to pull depending on what is being applied and where.  This whole ridiculous exercise is embarrassing and should be done in private, like nose-picking or toenail-cutting.

More fundamental is the transgression of private and public; a social rule being blatantly broken. She is performing an extremely personal, intimate act in a public space and this makes me feel uncomfortable, like I do if I see someone pissing behind the bins on my estate, or fondling their lover’s ear for an entire bus journey (both of which I have experienced this week). I recently witnessed an offender on a 243 applying not just make up, but starting right from the beginning with a big pot of moisturiser.  Massaging creamy lotions into one’s skin is a private and intimate action and for the sake of common decency should be kept in its place: the bathroom or boudoir.  From moisturiser to finished face it took all the way from Dalston Junction to Clerkenwell.  In the morning rush hour this is quite a while.

This transgression connects to another aspect of the problem: the exhibitionism of it, the brazenness.  Some offenders take out vast make-up bags, and an array of “professional” brushes, applicators and products.  This is showing off, pure exhibitionism, and acts as a judgement on those of us who learnt our make-up skills from reading Just 17 when we were 12.  I imagine that these women want us to watch, learn and admire, as they show us how it should be done, note their skills at perfect eyeliner application while rammed up against fellow passengers on a heavily-braking 254. Well, they can fuck off.  I didn’t ask for a make-up tutorial on my journey to work.  I just want to read the paper or gaze out of the window.  Women who insist on treating the top deck like their dressing-table disrupt any possibility of reverie.

The exhibitionism of it is also a kind of public narcissism.  Witnessing a woman gazing intently, admiringly or critically, at her own face in a small mirror is quite horrible; the self-absorption and evident self-love is unpleasant to be forced to view.  Imagine if men sat on the bus gazing at themselves like that in mirrors?  The very idea is preposterous. This brings me to another question which I can’t help notice flying through my head when witnessing the public application of slap: What on earth do men think when they see this behaviour? I’m slightly disturbed by my own question here. Who cares what men think?  They probably don’t notice, or care, and certainly don’t judge, like women do.  I think this thought stems from embarrassment again; I feel embarrassed as a woman, as if these public-maker-uppers represent my gender and show it in a bad light to the other gender. And these thoughts prove I do care.

Of course, all of this leads me to consider my own relationship with cosmetics. I first fell in love with make up at about the age of 10 when I tried out my auntie’s mascara.  I grew up in a make-up free home, and discovering her stash of eyelash enhancements by the hall mirror, I felt I’d entered some kind of exciting and new world.  The love affair continued; the night I first kissed a boy I was wearing cheap market-bought mascara which smeared all down my cheeks  and no-one told me. By 13 I was hanging around the cheap make-up counters at Boots on a Saturday, spending hours deciding which products to but with my paper round money.  By 14 I was experimenting with all sorts of colours and designs, Siouxsie Sioux being my inspiration.  Tessa Rigby showed me the best way to apply eyeliner in the public toilets in Cathedral Square one drunken Saturday afternoon.  At school I was never without my powder compact, and served many a detention for insisting on wearing make up daily to school.  Since then, apart from a weird phase in my late teens, I’ve been enhancing/hiding/transforming my face with all sorts of powders and creams and pencils.  I enjoy it – it’s a creative act, allowing me to look how I want to, like who I want to be.

But it is not simply a creative act.  It’s a much more complex ritual, creative self-expression somewhat negated by the more sinister conforming to certain norms or standards of beauty, acceptability.  Beginning with pale concealer on dark circles, blotches and pigmentation patches, the next step is foundation, set with powder: this provides my blank, primed canvas.  This stage is all about correction implying that my face is somehow mistaken or wrong in its natural state.  My eyelids then get some colour – a powder, usually a blend of two or more colours: greys or purples or greens.  There is no correcting going on here – this is the fun part – deciding what colour to be today, whether to match my eyes in any way with my tights or top or jewellery choices.  Eyeliner follows, and while that dries, eyebrows get some pencil, brushing and tidying.  I hate doing this, but find I need to define my brows otherwise they are so pale they don’t really show…AS IF ANYONE ELSE NOTICES OR CARES!! Lastly, it’s mascara time, which I always overdo, I can’t help it, I’m still 10 when it comes to this product, my desert island make up.

Once I’ve done all this, I have my public face on, ready to face work or friends or the shop assistant at the corner shop.  I rarely go out without this face – certainly never to a social or professional situation.  I rarely see my own face naked, sometimes when I do I don’t recognise myself; I look younger and also older – more tired, unkempt, raw and vulnerable. Make up can never make eyes sparkle, but it can brighten a hungover, tired or heartbroken face, conceal the tell-tale signs of kissing someone who hasn’t shaved.  So, this activity is both about concealment and enhancement, introversion and extroversion, creativity and self confidence. I love seeing other women who have made themselves look fantastic with a particular swoop of eyeliner, or a lipstick colour that suits them.  I also judge women for putting on too much, or wearing false eyelashes in the daytime, or wearing brash and hideous colours and sheens, blushers and highlighters, ridiculously re-positioned eyebrows.  Likewise, I sometimes find myself thinking when I see a woman with no cosmetics if only she’d just make a bit of effort… I feel sad when i see a woman stuck in a make-up timewarp, and wonder when this will happen to me.

When I see advertising for make up it makes me feel embarrassed that I am so shallow as to be a target for these ads.  Products that promise “perfection”, “radiance”, “flawlessness”, “purity” (foundations) or “millionised”, “maxed-up”, “volume” (mascara), or “intrigue”, “allure” and “confidence” (lipstick) I feel disgusted by the marketing and the promise and, worse, the fact that these ideas appeal to me. Can make up really make a woman more beautiful?  Does any amount of slap increase a girl’s physical appeal?  Is it not purely the way a woman feels that shows on her face, whether it is “corrected” or “enhanced” or not? Beauty, after all is supposedly in the eye of the beholder. But perhaps not if the beholder is forced to witness the gurning and lengthy process of facial transgormation.

No wonder seeing other women perform these private rituals of transformation in public cause my mental anguish of a morning: for all these complex associations, and for giving away our secrets, our insecurities and our guilty pleasures.  The act of slapping it on on the bus is a betrayal.  It exposes us.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

SCOOTER by Charlotte

My mother, the 1970s feminist

Recently said to my son, “you can’t ride your sister’s scooter,

Because it’s pink.”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET  by Celia

You and me. We look up from our Google maps print out with rosy cheeks and friendly grins on our faces. A result of the intoxication of our burgeoning  friendship and of venturing somewhere new: a quiet side street just a few steps from the heavy footfall of shoppers and tourists on Oxford Street. That is, until she decides to wipe our smiles away as best she knows how.

We look up at her, our eyes scanning her red dress. It  has been carefully crafted by a master couturier just enough until it looks like it has been picked up from a PDSA charity shop in Hebden Bridge. She holds a long black cigarette holder which strangely bears no cigarette. Clearly, she herself has not drawn the style parallels with Cruella DeVille. A raised eyebrow tops off the vision.

“Is this the place you are looking for?” Her intonation implies she may  be dubious that her question would have any remote possibility of being answered in the affirmative.

“Erm, yes, I think it is” I look down at the map again.  ” ‘Le Chambre d’Aout’. Oh yes, that’s the one” I bumble in my chirpy teacher’s voice; the one I usually reserve for attempting to pacify confrontational teenage girls during form time.

“Have you booked a table?” Again, the extremely doubtful tone, this time combined with a running down over the clipboard with the empty cigarette holder.

“Well, no, we just wanted to watch the band. Can we stand at the bar or something?” This is your teacher’s voice now, perhaps last unveiled for the group of Hackney youngsters who you took on a tour of the churchyard, only to discover later that one of them had pinched the large padlock from the door of the vestry.

She doesn’t really make it clear that we can now enter, she merely resumes her conversation with a tall blond boy with hair in his eyes. We slip past with heads bowed and enter the room.

It is beautiful and so grand that a mist seems to hang in the air above the diners at the small circular tables all the way up to the eaves of the curved high  ceiling. People whisper to each other in the pearly hue  of spherical lamps. There are plants, flowers, even a tree. Everywhere it seems there is  ivy over the walls and ceiling.

We headed straight for the bar. It isn’t like bars I am used to, with beer: lager, ales on tap. Maybe a J2O or Corona in the fridge behind. Everything is chrome and there are no visible drinks to point to and say “Can I have one of those please?” There is a dark blue piece of card. It  has a velvety feel. We turn it over and it was a menu. “Maybe we could get a cocktail each” you say tentatively.

We start to laugh at the vodka. It is £200 for a bottle. Suddenly the bar man is upon us. “Ah, the vodka, an excellent choice.”

I tell him with a laugh that I work in the public sector and it is a bit out of my price range. He raises an eyebrow and asks, “Oh, you’re a public servant, are you?” We choose a couple of extortionately priced bottles of Japanese lager and try to find a seat.

I try perching at the end of a long table occupied by two girls wearing twin sets at the opposite end. One of them clicks her fingers at me and makes a sweeping gesture across the empty table, calling, “every one of these seats is occupied!” A credit card receipt for £300 flutters to the floor on the breeze. I hope for a myriad of bad things to happen to her, knowing that they probably won’t.

We end up sitting in the gangway to the kitchen on two plastic chairs behind a pillar in the corner. Waiters rush by with endless plates on which lie minuscule portions of burnt fish.

The alcohol fails to have any effect. We sit and take in the atmosphere. It had been your idea to come here. A Friday night out after a busy week. A temporary  ‘pop up’ club in a former Chapel in the Centre of town, to drink, watch bands and enjoy ourselves.  Maybe you read it in Time Out or a very distant friend of a friend  sent you an invite on Facebook. And so here we are.

The band comes to the stage. There are two people in the  band. A slim girl with straight peroxide hair stands at the front. She is  wearing a floor length yellow crocheted dress and has wild eyes.  A man with stubble and shoulder length dark hair sits behind her. He plays the drums and she sings and strums a mint green electric guitar with bitten nails flaked with chipped red nail polish. She addresses the inattentive crowd in a broad Lancashire accent. The song they are about to play is about how her and the man had been in bed eating a sandwich and an olive had fallen out of the sandwich. They are married. I have never tried an olive in a sandwich, but I vow to give it a go on her recommendation.

An extremely drunk Malaysian businesswoman in a gold suit moves towards the girl at the foot of the stage and tries to look up her dress. The music gets louder and faster until the feedback is so much that everyone has to put their fingers in their ears. Suddenly there is a flash and a loud bang and a puff of smoke as if a magician has just performed his final trick. The sound system  blows out and up and the girl and the boy leave the stage looking sheepish. We are enamoured with the brief performance and rush to the front to pick up the warn drumsticks that the man has just flung from the stage. One for you and one for me, we will treasure them.

We are queuing for one toilet. There is another cubicle, but the light isn’t working. I can hear voices. I think there are two people in the one cubicle we are waiting for. Suddenly a girl emerges from this cubicle and barges past the queue and out of the door. She quickly returns and goes straight back  into the cubicle. I think maybe her and her friend are  doing a pregnancy test so I don’t want to disturb them and bang on the door. Suddenly the blond haired boy from outside bursts into the women’s toilet. He goes straight to the front of the queue and begins banging on the cubicle door. “Tash!” he cries “Tash, where’s my Charlie? Where’s my Charlie, Tash?” At first I think  Charlie to be a small boy, like Charlie Brown from Peanuts or a boy from my primary school. But of course in the next instant I know, class A drugs. Expensive ones you stick up your nose. The one that made that former soap star’s nose fall out so she just had one massive nostril in the middle of her face.

Finally Tash emerges.  It’s her. Cruella from the door has a name.

They are all talking at the same time. It seems as if their jaws can’t keep up with all the words that they want to come out of their mouths. One girl is insisting on the cinematographic supremacy of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Another boy seems to be saying lots of unconnected  words with intonation suggesting enthusiasm for his subject. Tash turns to look at us, she is sweating and her pupils are enormous. Suddenly she bucks and vomits all over the floor, her friends now stand silent and slackjawed, looking at her with disapproval and embarrassment. We jostle past them and escape to the street heaving with laughter and running for the night bus.

When I cycle past a few months later, there is no trace at all of the Chambre D’Aout except a few stray leaves of ivy in a builder’s bucket in front of a derelict building with white washed windows.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

ANNIVERSAIES by Jim

I let the heavy door fall onto its latch and stood in the pitch dark.  Your eyes don’t adjust in that kind of blackout – it was like the deepest corner of an abandoned mine – but I could sense a presence and was trying to get a fix on it.  Something moved to my left, in the corner where my room was.

‘Are you there?’  I asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Can you let me by?’

I edged along the wall, opened my door and got the light on. Michael’s angelic face was revealed, floating in the outer space of our hall.  He hung around out there a lot, often just a glowing point of orange as he dragged on another fag. There was a high turnover of characters in these bedsits – who knew how they all ended up here? I gave him a friendly wave and closed the door, sat down and once again looked up at the picture of Jane and the baby, stuck to the cupboard above the sink.

There was a loud clunk as Malky, my neighbour, plugged in his sound system. He had pretty diverse tastes, but today he was going for hardcore dance.  I decided to make a social call.  With the exception of his psychiatric nurse’s uniform, which always hung neatly from the wardrobe door, Malky’s room was like a library that had been ransacked by a chain-smoking, junk-food bingeing alcoholic.  Inexplicably, he was kneeling in the middle of this mess, stripped to the waist and flexing a metal bar in front of his chest.  I perched on his bed and picked a textbook off the floor.

‘ “Time does not heal all wounds. There is no significance in the first or second anniversary of a loss”.  Who writes this crap?’

‘It’s nearly a year since your missus threw you out, I take it?’

He put his arms back and squeezed the gizmo behind himself, head bowed in a gesture of penitence.  His nickname was the Dalai Malky and he doubled as the flat guru.  I pretended to have to think for a minute. ‘Aye.  It was Guy Fawkes Night.  A year today.’

‘Well I don’t agree with the book,’ Malky reassured me.  ‘It builds people’s confidence, knowing they can get through a whole year after something heavy.’

I watched him contort himself into a weird balletic pose with the exercise tool.

‘Have you met someone?’  I asked.  I’d noticed that whenever Malky did something out of character, say for example wash his hair, there was usually a woman involved.  He tossed the muscle spring into a corner, fished a jumper out of a pile on his chair and performed a smell-check for freshness.  ‘Who is it?  Another nurse?’

‘No.’

I looked on as Malky dressed in a corner of his cramped boudoir.  Like his music and book collections, his wardrobe had been assembled from second hand shops, but not with the same arty finesse – it was just a right heap of tat.  Nevertheless, tonight he had created a definite look.  With a holey black polo neck, greying jeans with the knees gone and scuffed boots, he looked like the Milk Tray man after being shipwrecked for three months.

When someone knocked on the door, Malky kicked a curry carton under his bed and adjusted the curtains.  He opened up and in slouched Suzie, the sexy-but-scary Goth who had recently moved in.  Of course!   Malky’s black outfit must be designed to match hers. There was a tendency for him to mimic his girlfriends in some way, dabbling in their addictions or their belief systems.  Like his ‘therapeutic relationship’  with a displaced Basque separatist he’d med on the detox ward, which looked set to destroy his liver until, one night, in the nick of time, she emptied his pockets and left.  This had been followed by an agonizingly chaste affair with a Pentecostal student nurse.  That one came to grief during a sunbathing trip to the park, when she sleepily opened her eyes to find him staring like a madman at her groin.

‘Hey,’ Suzie husked, slinking round the hazards of the room and settling beside me on the edge of the bed. ‘Coming to the game?’ she asked me.

There was a telly in the hall and sometimes we would get together on a battered couch to watch a film or a big match. ‘Probably,’ I said, edging my way out.  ‘Maybe see you later.’  Closing the door on them, I silently wished Malky luck.  He might be heading for another fall, but he’d had more of those than the FTSE index and still he was emotionally solvent.   No sooner had I re-located the door of my room than Malky burst out of his.

‘Have you got any coffee or that?’ he asked.

‘Sure.’

‘Oh and two mugs.  Clean ones.’

‘What’s going on?’

‘I invited her round for coffee, but I’ve not got any.  Plus I don’t have any milk or sugar.  Or mugs.’  Unfortunately, The Art of Home Entertaining had never made it onto Malky’s reading list.

‘Right. I’ll bring them through, okay?’

‘Aw, cheers.  That’s great.  Just milk in hers.’

I looked up once again at Jane and the wee one – nearly two now.   It would soon be Christmas…

‘Oh, just in time, black with two sugars.’  Ted, the elder statesman of the place, had found his way in and I realised I’d been stirring the coffees for some seconds.

‘Sorry, these are for the customers in Booth Two. Back in a mo.’

When I returned from delivering the drinks, Ted was standing patiently at the window, enjoying the panoramic view of Glasgow.  His cropped white hair, weather-beaten sports jacket, zippo and cheap cigar gave him the air of a burnt-out hack.  He divided his time between bookies and pub and I was expecting him to tap me, but for once I was wrong.

‘Listen, do I owe you any money?’ he asked, proffering a wallet-full of notes.

‘No, actually, we’re all square.  Good day at the office?’

‘Aye. What do you think of this?’   He produced a games console from his pocket.

‘Nice, but not really my thing…’

‘It’s Michael’s birthday the morra.  Do you think he’ll like it?’

‘Oh, sure.  You’ve taken an interest in him, eh?’

‘I don’t think he’s had many breaks.”

‘You were saying he was in a home.’

‘Aye.’ Ted looked out the window. ‘ “There’s a thousand stories in the naked city”,’ he chuckled, and the pair of us stood there, watching as fireworks exploded across the skyline.

Later on, I returned from my nightly meeting to be greeted by a row of faces, aglow in front of the telly.  Apart from Malky, who was on night shift, everyone had gathered in the hall for the late kick-off.  Ted had already made a fair dent in his carry-out.  I squeezed in at the end of the settee, next to Suzie.   Scotland were away to some former Soviet republic that none of us had heard of and were being completely outclassed.  Well before the first goal went in, I had started to focus most of my attention on how tightly Suzie’s leg was pressed against mine.   It was strange to have the familiar sadness of following Scotland accompanied by strong feelings of arousal.   Ted started an ironic chorus of ‘Bonnie Scotland…’, but none of us joined in.  By the final whistle he was out for the count and Michael had disappeared, but Suzie was still huddled against me.  She woke the old guy up while I switched the telly off and we guided him to his room in the lingering phosphorescence.

‘Think the landlord’s every going to fix this light?’ I asked Suzie, when we found ourselves alone in the dark.

‘Dunno. Care for a nightcap?’

‘Well, as long as it’s Ovaltine.  You know I don’t drink.’

Suzie’s room was a kind of bat cave, full of black clothes, posters, make-up and CDs.  As she made us hot chocolate, I felt a growing excitement, mixed with disloyalty towards Malky and even Jane.

‘I wanted a word about Malky,’ she said.

‘Oh, aye?’

‘I think he’s falling for this girl I know.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘It’s just that I know he’s definitely a lot more interested than she is.’

‘Sounds familiar.’

‘I’ve tried to warn him not to get his hopes up, but I’m afraid he’s going to get hurt.’

‘Malky’s a lot tougher than you think.’

‘He thinks the world of you, you know.’

He thinks the world of me?’

‘Sure, why not?’  She gave me a long look.   ‘We all know you’re a bit messed up about your ex, but…’

‘Yeah, well,’ I cleared my throat.  ‘I’m getting there.  Malky’s been great.’

‘I feel better knowing you’re there for him too.   We all need a bit of support sometimes, eh?  Speaking of which, we’re playing on Friday night.  It would be good to see you there.’  She handed me a flier for her band, Fear of Death.

‘Thanks, I’d love to come.’

‘Cool, and don’t worry, I’m not asking you out, okay?   Not because you’re not cute – it’s just that I’m seeing someone at the moment.  The bassist,’ she added, pointing him out in the picture.

‘Nice one.’

When I got up to leave, Suzie gave me a lingering hug, which did nothing for my confused emotional state.

Out in the hall, a disembodied roll-up was burning in a corner.  ‘Goodnight Michael,’ I said, before checking on my luminous watch face that it was after midnight. ‘And happy birthday.’

‘Thanks.’

For once, entering my room, I avoided Jane’s gaze and walked over to the window.  A rocket flashed on the horizon as I closed the curtains.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

THE GIFT by Amanda

They walked the length of a drizzly afternoon. Jo had never liked the rain, but Katie enjoyed splashing through the puddles, sending up waves of muddy water against her mother’s legs. The familiar park seemed sad and tired in the grey November weather- few flowers poked their heads above the soil, and piles of sodden leaves dotted the paths.

“Look!” called out Katie, dropping to a crouch and picking up something from the side of the path.

“What is it?” asked Jo, trying to inject some enthusiasm into her voice.

Katie’s small fist unfurled and there was the body of a mouse, limp and bloody on her palm. Jo shuddered inwardly but obediently bent to examine it.

“Can I take it home? I want to show it to dad.”

For a moment, Jo had a mental picture of her husband’s face, nose wrinkled in distaste at the sight of the small body.

“Course you can,” Jo said “we can get a box to put it in, we could even put some wrapping paper on it if you like.”

Mother and daughter headed home, both splashing happily through the rain.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

DOWN AMONGST THE VINES  by David

There was something disquieting about the way those hills jutted out from the earth. Perhaps it was their resemblance to the craggy knuckles of an old man’s fist or the way they drew his gaze upwards into the glare of the late summer sun that made him feel giddy, diminished and child-like; vulnerable to forces beyond his control.

He downed the half glass of good red wine in one gulp and turned his back on the hills as if a decision had been reached.

He scanned the wedding party for his uncle. It was Freddy’s daughter’s wedding day, his cousin’s, and, Keith reasoned, a small favour was there for the asking. The night before he’d met a girl- no, a woman- and he wanted to ask her, with Freddy’s permission, to join him for the remainder of the celebrations.

They’d met at a bar in the well-to-do little town where Keith, his parents and his younger brother and sister were all staying, spread out over a couple of motel rooms, for the duration of the wedding; an extravagant, expense-be-damned, two day affair in the heart of some very expensive wine country.

His brother was a painter and his sister a psychiatrist and they had both come down from the city for the weekend. Keith didn’t see either of them very often so they had all gone out to the pub to catch up.

Keith felt his younger siblings looked down on him. He still lived in the same town they were raised in, he had worked for their father in the family business since dropping out of university ten years earlier. He drank too much and they all knew it, from the long distance phone calls with their worried mother, from the way he would disappear just after Christmas lunch and return sullen and irritable hours later, from the red lines that crowded his cheeks like the map of an ever-growing slum.

They had chatted amicably for an hour or so but, after a few rounds, talk moved on to Dom and Amy’s lives in the city and Keith felt his stomach knot with a familiar anxiety.  Dom mentioned he’d sold a painting for a couple of hundred dollars, his first sale that year.

“Two hundred bucks? That it, is it? Not packing in yer day job anytime soon, then?”

“Na, spose not.”

Dom looked down into his glass of beer. He never raised his voice, never retaliated. Their mother put it down to sensitivity, shyness, but Keith always suspected that Dom just didn’t sufficiently give a fuck, would never lower himself to rise to Keith’s antagonism. Amy had no such qualms.

“Don’t be an arsehole, Keith. Dom’s working hard, he’s good. The money will come”

“The money doesn’t matter.” Dom continued to study the contents of his glass.

“Tell that to yer landlord do ya? ‘Yeah, sorry mate, I know the rent’s due and that but, ya know, money doesn’t matter, eh?’”

Keith snorted as he pitched his voice up an octave in imitation of his softly spoken brother.

“That what ya tell him is it Dommy?”

“Yeah, that’s what I tell him Keith. Well, that or I could always get an advance from work, I suppose,  but, oh no, that’s right, I don’t work for my Dad. Night Amy.”

Dom finished his beer, gently placed the glass down on the bar, thanked the waitress and left.

“Good one Keith, see you tomorrow, eh?” Amy kissed him on the cheek, looked him in the eye and shook her head. They’d been close once, the two of them, now there was only pity left between them and an inexhaustible well of practiced, knowing sighs.

He was a good looking man, olive skinned with a strong jaw, only recently softened by the onset of jowls. He had been a top athlete at high school; rugby, athletics, swimming, and his lithe, muscular frame had yet to be entirely ruined. Fully clothed and in silhouette he could still pass for a twenty year old.

He had no trouble attracting women.  With his siblings gone he scanned the bar for a little company- even after all these years he still preferred not to drink alone.

He couldn’t remember much of the rest of the evening. He recalled approaching Helen (Yes, Helen, that’s right, that’s her name) and her friend, how they’d chatted, Keith being sure to keep his eyes fixed on her, the younger and prettier of the two. He had the vague impression he’d been more than usually charming, that they’d laughed at his jokes, that eventually Helen’s friend had gone home and that they’d stayed talking until closing time. Yes, he thought, she seemed to get him. She understood him better after a couple of hours than his last girlfriend, the mother of his daughter, ever had over their three years together. She understood more than Mum, more than Amy, with all her professional condescension, and certainly more than Dom- jumped up little shit.

As he wandered around the grounds of the vineyard which Freddy had so lavishly hired for the day, he fantasised a little about his and Helen’s future together. He imagined how her love and understanding would help him cut back on the booze, just a glass or two of wine at night over dinner from then on. How, with her support, he’d leave his job with his father, find something further north, not in the city maybe but closer to it. She’d be his rock, the piece of the jigsaw he’d been missing all this time, his lover and confidant, daughter to his mother (he was sure they‘d hit it off, they seemed so alike), mother to his daughter. One day at least, he thought, these things took time.

He found the bar before he found Freddy.

He eventually caught up with his uncle in the marquee, talking to a few elderly relatives from the groom’s family.

“Freddy mate, could I, uh, borrow you for a minute?”

“Yeah sure Keith, you alright mate? You look a bit flushed.”

“Yeah, na, I’m fine. Just wanted to ask you a favour…”

“Shoot.”

Keith laid out the situation to his uncle. Freddy seemed to waver a little but he was a good bloke and, besides, he didn’t really want to spend his only daughter’s wedding day talking to Keith about a bird.

“Well there’s two hundred here, I suppose, may as well make it 201, eh?”

“Cheers Fred. I’ll let her know.”

He texted Helen, giving her the address and offering to pay her taxi fare.

He fought down various, encroaching misgivings and moved through the neat rows of vines, climbing up to shoulder height and weighed down with ripe, black fruit; back to the coolness of the winery and the bar.

An hour passed before she phoned to let him know she was on her way. Keith made his way out to the car park where he was once again confronted with a view of those monstrous hills. His head swam a little with the heat and he could feel a wave of prickling sensations run from his scalp down to his neck and back. He cursed the heat and the hills and the drink then straightened as he watched a taxi wind its way up the olive tree-lined drive.

He kissed her awkwardly on the cheek as she got out the front, passenger-side door. As his lips brushed her ear he caught a note of cheap perfume, too-heavily applied and lingered a little longer than was necessary to disguise a wince. As he leaned in to pay, the driver winked leeringly at him,

“You kids have fun now.”

In the pitiless afternoon light she looked older than she had the previous night, older than him in fact, maybe by five or six years. She’d put on make-up in a hurry and it left her looking blotchy and smeared, out of focus. Her hair was lank in places and beginning to frizz in others. Her dress was too short.

Keith looked up at that great knuckle of rock just as a jet of hot, liquid vomit lurched up from his gut and into his mouth.

“Fuck” he managed to think to himself as a putrid, red mist exploded from between his clamped-shut lips. He was already retreating into himself, into his own bubble of drunken, soporific oblivion when the scream came. He was distantly aware of a few limp blows peppering his chest and jaw. Of a woman, a stranger, a total non-person, covered in a foul-smelling, viscous film hurling obscenities, her face distorted by shame and disgust.

Then his mother was at his side, wiping his face with a cool, damp handkerchief, not speaking, not looking at him. The asphalt beneath his body burnt a little but in a pleasing, soothing way- assuring him that whatever else lay ahead of him that day, at least he wouldn’t be cold.

He watched as his sister led away that angry pink-stained woman. He thought of pickled beetroot. The way it stained everything it sat on a plate with,  making pink potatoes, pink chicken, pink coleslaw, the very plate itself stained a hyper-real, sickly pink.

He looked up at his mother and for the first time in his life thought she looked old. Her mascara had started to run a little and two thin trails of soot had scarred her cheeks. They were like shadows of the lines and creases that criss-crossed her face. The overall effect, he thought, was rather beautiful.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

PICNIC AT ALWALTON LOCK by Emily

It’s the middle of August and I find it impossible to know what to wear.  The sky is white, the air still, sticky, warm but a summery cotton dress doesn’t seem right.  I rummage through some tee shirts; I never know what to wear anyway any more.  My clothes don’t quite fit, I feel as awkward in them as I do in my end-of-childhood skin.  I put something on: skirt, tee shirt, sandals although I don’t know what I’m meant to look like, or who I’m supposed to be. I put the brush through my long hair to get out the tangles.  The styling of adolescent self-expression, of crimping and back combing, gelling and spraying is still, like any idea of fashion,  a couple of years off.

I join my mum and sister in the kitchen and find them gathering food for the Women’s Group Picnic, our planned excursion for the day.  I volunteer to make my new signature dish of hoummous from tinned chickpeas, mum is pleased as it’s one less thing for her to do.  I’d first had this exotic dish earlier in the year when one of mum’s friends brought some round. My sister is cutting up cucumbers, mum suddenly decides to make sandwiches.  There’s a slight atmosphere of panic that I don’t understand, I’m not used to my mum seeming nervous, but there’s obviously something on her mind.  But I don’t know how to ask her what’s up any more.  Instead I concentrate on my task.

In the car on the way to Alwalton Lock, my sister asks what the picnic’s in aid of, is it a celebration, someone’s birthday? No, we just thought it would be nice to have a get together.  There’ll be lots of other kids there.  It’ll be fun! Our mum persuades.  This news cheers my little sister, but makes me feel nervous.  I know I won’t really know anyone there.

We arrive and carry our bags of food and picnic blanket along a dusty track beside a high hedge, the air hanging heavy in the vast fenland sky.  Crows fly  above distant treetops, and there is the hum and buzz of insects. I regret my clothes already, wish I was wearing trousers, my skirt is last summer’s and feels too short.  My sister seems to be skipping a bit, something I’m far too old to do, but feel secretly envious of her childish abandon, her innocence.  We spot some of the other picnickers putting blankets down across the field and head towards them.  I recognise a couple of women from CND demonstrations or occasional visits to our house.  We lay out our blanket and settle down, unpack our plastic containers, mum greets the other women, introduces me to some I don’t know. I look round at the offspring of mum’s Women’s Group friends in the hopes of some other kids my age.  Most are younger and already running around.  One girl is clinging onto her mother’s arm and whining. There’s another child, of indeterminate gender, intently reading a book buried in its cross legged lap, back turned to everyone else.  One older-looking girl is lying on a blanket at the edge of the group, possibly unwell.  This is worse than I’d feared.

The Women’s Group is a mixture of women, mostly single mothers who have outgrown the drudgery of their marriages or escaped abusive partners, or who were always lone parents who meet for political, social and supportive reasons.  They set up advice groups, campaign on women’s issues, talk earnestly and seriously.  They raise money for the Greenham Common women, but none are quite hardcore enough to join the camp. They meet to wonder where feminism has left them, all having read The Female Eunuch a few years before.  Not much laughter takes place when they get together.  Perhaps this picnic is an attempt to change that.  They assume their kids will all get on, that they’ll have a nice day out, share food, sit in the sun.  It doesn’t occur to them to go somewhere where there is stuff for kids to do.

I don’t really know who to talk to, whether to try and join in with the younger children or talk to the women.  As well as the mothers and their children are a few women on their own.  One, wearing denim jeans and a denim jacket, seems to be hanging around my mum, but I don’t get introduced. I’ve never met anyone wearing so much denim before, although I had seen this look on American TV shows. She seems to know the other women, some of whom glance at me when they see her making my mum laugh.  I hadn’t noticed anything funny in her conversation.  One of the women I vaguely know asks me about school.  Despite the boring subject, I’m pleased to be asked.

When the last blankets are put down, Tupperware boxes are opened and food is shared.  It’s a relief; there’s something to focus on for a while. There’s over-enthusiasm for my hoummous, although I know it is better than some of the other attempts that seem to lack vital ingredients, like salt.  There’s salad of rice and raisins, chunky sticks of carrots, marmite sandwiches aplenty.  Apples and flapjacks represent pudding.  I wished it had been someone’s birthday because there might have been cake.

Once the contents of most of the picnic bags has been consumed, lids are put back on boxes and there is now nothing to do. My sister returns to the younger children’s games, the woman in denim sits on the edge of the blanket smoking Silk Cuts, the book-reading child goes back to reading and I’m jealous. I’m on a tartan blanket in a field, surrounded by people but I don’t think in all of my ten years I’ve ever felt so alone.

I get up and say I’m going to walk by the river.  That seems OK by mum, who seems to be making a daisy chain, so I head towards the lock, confused at my feelings.  I haven’t reached the perfect moods of adolescence yet, but not understanding what is going on around me or what my place in the world is is confusing and horrible.  As I walk, I want to cry, but won’t allow the tears because I don’t understand why I’m upset. I wonder what we’d be doing if it were a Dad weekend.  Probably away visiting some people we didn’t know, expected to get on with their children, until we’re returned, late, Dad crying in the car, my sister and I having argued all the way home. I look at the expanse of the horizon, the white sky hanging above and realise that actually the sky is usually white, rarely blue.  That it’s blue is one of those picture-book myths; one of the many lies adults tell children. I feel an alien bitterness at the back of my mouth as I wonder how many more such myths there are yet to be shattered. I screw my face up against its glare.

The river is thickly green, lined with reeds and burst bulrushes.  I walk along its edge up towards the lock, which I always found so exciting on visits here when I was younger.  The way the water drops in a sheer, rushing wall to the lower level, the trapped water seeming ready to burst but held fast by the lock.  Standing near the edge I feel the exhilaration of fear of falling in, the same rush as I get when on a cliff or at the top of a tall building.  I step back and walk on, heading for the old mill house round the bend in the river.  There’s no-one around; the picnicking women now out of sight, I catch myself beginning to enjoy my own company.

On the millpond are moorhens, coots, the water reflecting crows flying across the sky. More bulrushes line the edges, below the surface lurk dark green weeds.  Dragonflies fly low across the pond’s barely rippling surface, flashes of otherworldly turquoise. Water boatmen skate on the water, something I’ve always found magical.  I crouch down to have a better look when a rodent darts across the corner of my vision, a water rat probably, making me jump and I lose my footing at the edge of the pond, and suddenly I’m in the water with a massive splash, shocked, gasping, winded.  I cry out and move my arms in a frantic movement, kicking my legs, shouting again.  A good swimmer, I find panic has rendered me a pathetic doggy-paddler, arms flailing.  The weeds and reeds feel slimy against my skin, my clothes filling with dark brown water. I have to get out, but I’m too shocked to work out how, and just keep shouting, until I swallow a mothfull of earthy pond water. The fear begins to subside as I imagine my imminent rescue, surely my shouts and cries will have been heard,  someone will come and help me out.  They will be shocked and feel sorry for me.

This doesn’t seem to be happening, and I am now crying, sobbing, as I try to find a place on the bank to hoist myself out.  I grab handfuls of reeds, touch plants that hurt my palms with their sharp edges and tough fibrous leaves. I manage to get my other hand up onto a bit of stone pond edge which is lower, broken down.  I find a muddy foothold, my feet slipping, skidding, but I am determined and the reeds help me hoist myself up onto my front, from where I can get a knee up properly onto the wall of the pond.  I pull myself out and up to a sitting position, panting, still half expecting that someone would come to find me, responding to my cries.

Once my sobbing has subsided a little, my breath back, I stand and wring out the front of my tee shirt, take off my sodden skirt to squeeze.  My legs are smeared with mud and algae and blood from where I scraped my knee.  I put the skirt back on and, still shocked, shivering, start to walk back.  No one witnessed my drama, my terror, no one shared my salvation. I can see my sister sitting on my mum’s knee.  God, she’s such a baby, I think. I see the woman in denim smoking, and someone opening another plastic container. I wonder when any of them will notice, how close I’ll be before they know something happened.  I trudge towards them dripping, to tell my story.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

RED RIDING HOOD Film Review by Amanda

Fairytales, like a good steak, should be consumed rare, slightly bloody. The makers of the new version of Red Riding Hood seem to have grasped this, the blood certainly flows freely in this film. Red Riding Hood herself, here called Valerie, is prepared to get her own hands bloody too. When we first see her, as a small child, she’s hiding in the woods, watching a white rabbit, not admiring its cuteness, but planning how to accessorise her outfit with its fur.

In this version of tale, Red’s village is plagued by a werewolf who’s killed her sister. The story becomes a who-dunnit, or rather, a who is it, as the audience is drawn into deducing the human identity of the wolf.

The story is a well known one. It originated as a folk tale, where the girl escapes the wolf through her own cunning. The earliest printed version is by Charles Perrault in the 17th century. In Perrault’s story, the wolf not only disguises himself as Red’s grandmother, but consumes Red too. The brothers Grimm in the 19th century revised the ending to be slightly more upbeat; the girl is rescued by a hunter who kills the wolf. But the common denominator between all the versions is the girl’s red cloak or hood. Red, the colour of blood, perhaps signifying that the girl is on the verge of puberty and the onset of her menses. In this reading of the story, arguably the wolf signifies men who want to ‘consume’ women sexually.

This new film makes great visual use of the red cloak, its bright scarlet striking to the eye against the snow covering the log cabins of the village. The theme of sexuality is central here, as the heroine is about to be married off to the son of a rich family, although her heart belongs to another, the village ‘bad boy’. The film reverts to, and builds on, the earliest versions of the story, with Valerie exacting her bloody revenge on the werewolf that has decimated her family.

I went to see it quite prepared to splutter with derision, after all the Guardian Guide called it ‘laughable’, but bit by bit it seduced me. The story is carried by some excellent actors including Gary Oldman as the sinister, wolf hunting priest Solomon, and Julie Christie as the grandmother. It’s visually appealing, and gives a very familiar story a modern twist.

Advertisements

One Response to “Issue 2: Bloody Women”

  1. charlotte May 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Blimey Em, just read the picnic story, how incredibly evocative of that day, I could feel myself there and tried to remember my take on things. And the lady in denim…a shiver down the spine, as well as a laugh. Sorry everyone else, I haven’t read all the other contributions yet, but this blog is fantastic, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: