The Writer’s Circle #21 – Smile

Elizabeth was aware that the story she was about to tell was, for the most part, the same story had she had recounted, tearfully, on the occasion of her first meeting at the Circle.  She had little to add but, she hoped, she now had a different outlook, a different viewpoint, a happier place from which to tell the story, particularly since this was a night of many firsts: the first time she had been forced to look at herself as others did, with a raised eyebrow and a resigned sigh; the first time she was ready to admit that she was more Miranda Hart than broken heart; the first time she had written anything creatively since school; the first time she had read to the group and, thanks to Phil’s little brainwave, the first time, in a long time, that she had set out with the deliberate intention of making other people smile… 

“…I know that people always say that they knew it was bad news as soon as they heard the knock on the door, but I was expecting an Amazon delivery, so I didn’t really pay much heed.  In fact, if you want the truth, I felt a little bit guilty about not answering the door quickly but I had just located a very long hair on my nipple and I wasn’t letting go until it was out.  My husband had told me about it.  It was the last thing he shouted at me as he left for work…

Well, you all know that it wasn’t the Amazon man.  (In fact he didn’t turn up until the morning of the funeral and then it was with a parcel for my next door neighbour – he wanted to know if he could leave their parcel in my bin because theirs was full.)  It’s so disconcerting to see a policeman at your door – particularly when you’re holding a piece of damp tissue to your breast – but you try to kid yourself that the news isn’t going to be bad even though you know, in your heart of hearts… well, they don’t send the police out to tell you that you’ve won the lottery, do they?  He was so young and so nervous that I found myself apologising to him: ‘I’m sorry you had to break that news to me,’ without actually taking in a single word of what he was saying.  ‘Mrs Walton, I am afraid you will never again see the man with whom you have spent the last thirty years of your life bickering,’ was what he was trying to tell me; ‘You will regret every little thing you have said and done over the last twenty four hours for the rest of your life,’ was what he was trying to say, but all I heard was ‘I’m really sorry,’ and it wasn’t his fault, was it?

I lost six months then – I don’t know where I put it, but it was almost certainly wearing my glasses – and then I woke up one morning in a poky little flat with only the vaguest of recollections of how I came to be there.  Everything in the flat was new, but it wasn’t mine.  Everything that was mine was ours and I’d sold it all because I couldn’t bear to have it around me without having him to moan about it.  I wouldn’t insult you by saying that he was the perfect husband, nor I the perfect wife, though it was pretty typical of him not to see the bloody bus coming, even though it was the one he had gone out to catch, but it wasn’t his fault that I fell to pieces so spectacularly and because of that, I’m not going to give him the credit for everything I’ve achieved since.  I have decorated my entire flat and wallpapered for the first time, with only one single piece upside down – something you can barely see since I spent the evening with the Tipp-Ex and the felt pens – and I have discovered that you can put kitchen tiles up with double-sided tape.  I have learned how to change a plug, and how to contact an emergency electrician: I have learned how to change the washer on a tap, and how to make an insurance claim.  I have discovered that I can’t paint, I can’t knit and that falling off a bike is exactly as easy as falling off a log.  I have mastered a new television and a new phone and as soon as I find out why my phone keeps changing the channels on my telly I will let you know.

I have learned that I can’t write, and that most of the time I struggle to read – particularly when it is those ghastly family sagas that I told you all I wrote.  I don’t of course, although you already know that, because I have also discovered that I am a terrible liar, and I guess it is something that nobody wants to admit to being very good at anyway.  Unless they’re not.  You know that thing where you have two people in the room and one of them can only tell the truth and the other can only lie; how do you tell which is which? And you think, why do I care?  Lock the door, let them sort it out; I’m having a glass of sherry and some Hobnobs.  Well, that’s how I feel anyway.  I’ve told you that I’m over the death of my husband and you know I’m not, but I’ve also told you that I am getting on with it and I have learned to smile and I have learned to enjoy and, whilst I’ve found out that I have no interest in the labyrinthine sagas of the extended families of Victorian match sellers, I have also discovered that it doesn’t matter.  I come here every week and, frankly, you don’t care as long as I pay my subs and remember who likes ice, who has peanuts and who has scratchings.  As long as I remember not to sit too close to Billy after he’s had cheese & onion, I always leave here feeling better than when I came.

Mostly, what I have discovered in the last year is that the only way of coping with being on your own is by not being on your own, and what I’ve found in the last few weeks is that I no longer am…”

Elizabeth sat down.  It wasn’t great.  She wasn’t sure if anyone had laughed; she wouldn’t have heard them if they had, but everyone was smiling and she was happy…

The first chapter of The Writer’s Circle ‘Penny’s Poem’ is here.
The previous story ‘The Lounge Bar in The Steam Hammer’ is here.
Episode 22 ‘The Price of Perceptibility’ is here.

In case you are wondering about Elizabeth, her story unfolds through ‘The Core’, ‘The New Chapter’ and ‘New Beginnings’.