The 38 year old woman in a big winter coat stands outside the pub unsure as to whether to go in.
The pub was not unfriendly, it being one of those strange mixes of German/American tourists hoping to get a feel for Dickens and Thackeray who wandered these parts and locals, usually actors, film students and restaurant workers from the local Sushi bars and Homous Restaurants in Soho. The woman- we’ll call her Sarah although she could easily be an Elisabeth or Ciarra or Yvonne, trembles. She is tall in stature, middle class looking with a beaky nose and darting dark eyes taking in everything- the Romany woman just down the street for example, selling Valentines Roses (for it is Valentine’s Day), the Chef having a sly fag, crouching on the steps of his restaurant, the pap wandering around with his camera hoping to find some celeb game and the youths, smoking spliffs and bleary eyed with it and drinking beer on the roundabout.
She is frightened. She looks in through the warm windows at the electric fire in the fire place, the candles on the tables, the couples holding hands. A feeling of loneliness cuts through her. It is loneliness which makes her go in.
She pushes open the door, expecting everyone to turn and look but no one bats an eyelid, She goes to the bar. What should she drink? She wants to be trashy and have a Stella but knows she must be more sophisticated. She orders a white wine from the Polish girl. And wants crisps immediately. A throwback to her earlier years, ten years ago as a twenty something and hanging around bars trying to write and being Romantic with it. She purchases the Cheese and Onion Crisps feeling uncouth. And glances to her favorite spot of long ago- by the fireplace and in the corner and with a view of the whole pub. A table just for one. And there it is, empty.
Gratefully she sits down. And thinks how strange she should end up here, on her first day out for a long time and after wandering the streets for so long, being unable after all; to resist the old pull of this false security.
She thinks back to the sad and lonely old house. For the house she lives in with her husband has become like her. Tired. Barely able to stand. And suphocated by the masses of flowers she decorates it with daily, as if in preparation for her own death.
This morning she cried again in the shower. Rohan her husband, the man who loved her and in doing so did not see the feelings were not returned, had married her out of pity. They had sex, Rohan could masturbate in her. But she was celibate in terms of feeling and pleasure. She despised herself for marrying him- but tired, alone; and stuck in that whirl pool of doing endless shitty customer service jobs in order to fund her writing, she had finally given in.
She had not told Rohan she was going out of the house, her first trip for 3 months. He was at work anyhow. But that morning she had awoken in a bathe of sweat. Little riverlets cascading down her naked body and soaking the bed sheets. Her face was hot and flushed. She knew – or convinced herself- that this was the beginning of her menopause. She knew women could have it even at her age. And that last little bit of hope she’d clung onto that she might one day have children with someone she loved was snuffed out forever. She felt a wall of grief hit her stomach and stay there. It was as though she was being fisted from inside. She knew she’d lost her battle with life then. And guilt swept over her. Failure and loss. For this was 2012. The era of post feminism where women all around her, including her peers; had children and careers. Some even had grandchildren. They’d managed it. Walked easy from school to university to job to husband to children, zooming fast towards old age fulfilled and happy. Women with half her intelligence and talent managed it. Though she hated brainwashing and conformity of any kind it was impossible for her not to be affected. Others didn’t seem to be with people they didn’t want to be. Others didn’t seem to be people they didn’t want to be. And everyone insisted they were with their true love. And she believed them.
But she was not without friends, though she was without understanding.
It was hard to explain how she got along with Rohan. She could only assume that his ‘unseeing’ of how she was really feeling was a result of complete insensitivity, a blindness he had towards her. She remembered the time he hooked her. If she could think of it that way. She- upset and crying at a party- again- was alone and drinking beer- he, seeing her tears, came and put his arm around her- not for the first time though this time for the final time. In the street later this quickly became kisses, fondles on the tube and the bus and then, back at his bachelor pad; him just eating her up. As though she were his final meal. She hated his eating habits. She always reckoned you could judge how a man would make love by watching how he ate. Rohan gobbled his food without really seeing or experiencing. And he gobbled like a fat turkey.
So she married him and because he was rich and held a good job, she at his insistence; gave up work. Instead she consigned herself to an ivory tower and concentrated on writing the poetry she had, up until that point; written in her spare time- on the bus home from work, at midnight until four in the morning.
But little by little she started to crack up. She was 38 now and afraid of 40 and thinking of death. She had married Rohan two years ago. Her mother constantly on the phone- when will I be a Granny Sarah?- Rohan watching her anxiously at dinner. He couldn’t get a word out of her.
When she had first cried in the shower- her totally naked of course- he didn’t know what to do. He had helped her out, dried her- tried to make love to her- of course he had an erection, pitying her seemed to turn him on and he thought that making love could solve everything- but she had pushed him away. That was 6 months ago. They had not made love since. He could not understand it, but during many visits to the Doctor he said he would wait forever for her to ‘return’ back to herself. She did not want to return back to herself, at least not with Rohan around. She knew he was wondering what had hit him but he was so obsessed with her there was no way he would leave . She kept hoping he would have an affair with one of his pretty PAs but there was never anything.
Her poetry kept pouring out in spite of this. A friend abroad read it and said she should publish. She tried to make the effort to do this but found that somehow the days just got the better of her and went before they even seemed to happen. Besides she just wanted to write and having no nous, never knew when to stop unless she was exhausted. Her friend was afraid she would kill herself. She was too. Although she thought she might have stopped caring.
Where had her life gone? And how?
Sitting in the pub swallowing the house wine which tasted how nail varnish smells she couldn’t see what she had to live for. Everything seemed so far away from her. Memories seemed like they had never happened. She could not believe that she had ever had feelings for the one and only man she had ever fallen in love with– someone so far removed from Rohan it was almost inconceivable. It was as though these things – these intense terrible feelings for him- of the need to mate (because the need for this man was to do with producing children), the need to hold up and support (she wanted to shout him out to the world) and the need to protect from illness and ultimately death- had never ever happened to her- they had happened to another woman, so far was she removed from herself. And she knew tomorrow that when she woke up she would not remember today.
Where was life? Where was it?
She had tried to talk about all of this to her friend abroad. Via skype. She had tried to say- I just feel like I am not here, I am gone. Her friend ignored these remarks- she knew her friend was afraid, was afraid for herself and that if she engaged with Sarah she too would be dragged down into something and so she ignored anything Sarah talked about . Instead she asked Sarah to write positively. That although her writing was good and beautiful that she felt, and probably women and men all over the world felt; that they needed a role model. Needed some hope. Because she, her friend needed hope. And what Sarah was doing was not enough.
Sarah had been very angry at this remark. She could never bear anyone telling her how or where she should go in terms of her art. Life yes, poetry- keep away.
She thought though about what her friend had said. It reminded her of a female lecturer she had had a few years ago on a creative writing course. This woman, American and intensely feminist hated anything Sarah wrote which had a female being remotely unsuccessful. She accused her of victimizing women. This had hurt. For Sarah had felt she was just writing how things were for some people in the world. Victimization had never entered her head. It took her a long time to realize that this was just a personal projection by this feminist, who was afraid of not succeeding, who adapted an aggressive stance towards everyone in general, as though this was the only way she could get along. Still Sarah in part sympathized with her friend’s request. But there was something wrong with it. And what was wrong with it was somehow tied up in with what was wrong with Sarah and how she was living. Untruth perhaps. Dishonesty. The feeling there was a right way to live as opposed to a wrong way.
Sitting there in the pub- having made herself crawl out of her hovel and face the world and realise that, just because she walked down the street her life wasn’t going to end- she understood that her friend wanted a script to follow. Like most people and in spite of her endless spiritualism ( she was into Casteneda and dreams and the Incas and Paulo Coelho and other writers) she just wanted a God after all. Wanted reassurance that she would make it. Be successful. She felt sure this was what her friend was asking her to provide. A work of art that provided others with a role model, which could inspire hope. But hadn’t the New Testament and other religions already done that?
With relief she realized how wrong her friend was. Her friend- spouting so much spiritualism but yet barely able to look the problems of her mates squarely in the face- mistook success. She believed that everyone would reap the rewards that came with hard work…and that these rewards really were recognition, money, fame and success.
But for her, for Sarah; not only was this a lie it also was not beauty, was not a symbol of hope. This was not the role model she wanted to provide. She realised that she was concerned with beauty, beauty in all its forms and that which comes uninvited, sometimes uninitiated and all on its own into people’s lives- if only they knew how to look for it. Like the light dappling on the wall of her study, which whatever her mood, gave her endless pleasure.
What could she provide for her friend?
Her friend, when listening to Sarah talk about her depression vaguely described a process known as ‘flicking the switch.’ She muttered something like ‘when I was feeling like that I flicked the switch. Wiped my mind. Pretended that all the negative things had never happened to me. As though my mind’s a hard drive you know. I can just clean it and reprogram it.’
Sarah thought this pretentious crap. It meant an inability to face things. As well as a disrespect for other people’s feelings and experiences of actual events. A sort of social amnesia. This why we continually have wars she thought.
She couldn’t just flick the switch. She couldn’t. She knew she had to blaze instead. No the answer lay with Rohan and beyond Rohan for she was already a mess before he came along. She was suddenly afraid of what she might say to him that night. She knew he was preparing something romantic for Valentines. Probably hoping to win entry back into her bed, as they now slept separately. But what if, at dinner suddenly; instead of swallowing down the finely prepared turbot and sipping the white wine she spewed out crudities instead? And even worse what if there was a visitor there – Rohan had, she noticed; taken to bringing along specially invited softly spoken guests whenever there was an occasion requiring a small private dinner party, just in case there was a ‘little scene’- what if instead of eating she spewed out ‘look, I’ve been meaning to tell you Rohan, I really don’t like your cock. I really don’t like the little bend in it near the end you know? And when you come and you’re grunting like a pig I want to puke.’ Or ‘I really don’t like this ridiculous clinging onto me you insist on performing, like a baby who won’t let go of its mother’s nipples. It makes me want to kill you.’
If these thoughts surprised her with their violence they also elated her. Coming here has done me good she thought. She was beginning a point of no return. As if on cue, a slight but hot flush slowly spread across her cheeks like red ink dispersing in water, reminding her once again of her soon impending inadequacies. The flush was almost a reprimand. An inner voice: ‘no you can’t, you’re not what you were; if you were younger then yes but it’s too late now. No one cares. No one looks. When was the last time a man looked you as though he wanted you?(she doesn’t remember) See. If a guy doesn’t want to shag you he definitely won’t love you or want to keep you company. You’ve no chance and if you leave Rohan you’ll be alone forever’. But there were other protesting thoughts inside her head sliding around like slippery eels. ‘You don’t need anyone, only yourself. And something’s changed. You can’t go back there, to that house. Not as you are. What’s changed? I don’t know but it’s something small, infinitesimal; so small if you blinked you’d miss it – so you must protect it, nuture it and let it grow around you.’ Again, ‘ What is it?’
‘Yes you you you!’
‘My voice? My voice saying yes, get up; it’s not over yet, get up go on, live stand up shout scream run whatever, but do something! Do something!”
The sound of breaking glass. Sarah looks down to see the wine glass crushed, the alcohol stinging the cuts on her hands. The bar maid does not run over as you might expect but just stares. Everyone stares. Someone nearby raises their eyebrows and whispers to their neighbour.
But it is just broken glass Sarah thinks. Or had she been talking out loud again?
But it’s obvious she is thought of unhinged. The polish lady comes over at last and clears up, giving Sarah something to wrap her hand in.
‘Can you get me another please?”
The bar maid is astounded and looks around to see if the public agrees but they have lost interest. She does as she is bid.
And Sarah is terrified. Terrified that the brief glimpse of something- called hope, plans; the brief illumination she saw and her understanding of her situation and what she must do to change it will be lost in the thick fog of depression and no thought land which she knew she was fast approaching like a locked on missile finding the mainland- and all because of a broken wine glass shattered in her enthusiasm and a raised disapproving eye brow from a man she did not know.
No no no.
What was her last thought she desperately thinks under the nasty authoritarian glare of Eyebrows. Like the end of a thread the thoughts gently and quietly float away. No no come back! What were they? Return! Sarah’s eyes fall on Eyebrows. His gaze flits up and down her body and then turns away with a smirk. It’s a smirk which says well, I know you. And I’ve decided about you. And I have no reason to feel insecure. I know I would never want to fuck you and so I don’t feel afraid. Or interested.
Sarah sees him clasp the hand of the woman next to her. Then he turns and actually kisses that woman. And she, her tongue out just enough so that Sarah can see, kisses him back. Eyebrows eyes Sarah over her shoulder. He thinks he knows her problem.
It’s then that she feels it. Something starting deep from within, from the womb and spreading like quickfire up the intestines, the stomach and up into her mouth, a great draft of air forcing her lips and teeth apart and forming a gigantic piercing wail, high pitched and soprano (surprising as Sarah was 2nd Alto). Its energy forces Sarah onto her feet, legs splayed and arms flung out like some sort of yoga position. She’s there, she’s bursting, it’ s happening.
Pint glasses shatter. Mouths drop. Pints are spilled. Children rushed out. The windows smash. At least Sarah imagines so. She carries on, the yell gaining momentum, louder and louder and she squares her shoulders, positions her hips; takes control with her body. This is good she thinks, this is damn good. Her voice fills the room, wraps itself around it; takes ownership, explores and then suddenly, exits through the front door. And is gone.
And in the pause Sarah says
I must go. And follow my voice.
And she is out. Out into the air and the street. Running. Chasing her voice which is inside her. The momentum propelling her away from London, away from Rohan and that house and onto a train. A train to god knows where except to somewhere.