All Change Please

Entry by: Octopoda

15th December 2017
All Change

“Just get on with it and do it for God’s sake,” she said rolling her eyes up to the ceiling and letting out a sigh of exasperation. Pen stared back, her shoulders slumped, body paralysed and eyes glazed over, although she knew this would further frustrate her. “Well?” her voice getting louder, her hands balling into fists, clenched by her sides. She wants Pen to call her Mrs Hamilton. She calls her Girl, even though she was 26 and has an easily pronounceable name.

Pen turns slowly, holding the pile of freshly laundered towels. She can smell the fabric softener. For a minute she gets lost in the floral scent, closing her eyes and recalling the Sampaguita of her home. She often has moments like this, when smells and textures seem to do something to the synapses in her brain. All of a sudden she is transported somewhere; the momentary visions are short but vivid. A force at her back propelling her forwards wakes her from her reverie. She lands on the carpet, forehead on the scratchy floor. The towels still clutched to her chest. She didn’t have time to stop herself with her hands this time. Pen’s sure this will leave a mark, perhaps a small red burn or chafe. She’ll have to use some of that cream she found in the back of the children’s bathroom cupboard.

Pen knew Mrs Hamilton was miserable. She had been around miserable powerful people her whole life: people who had a lot of everything apart from kindness. They were all miserable in this house. Mr Hamilton was never home and when he was, he was always shouting at the children, or Mrs Hamilton. He was disappointed by the mediocrity of his family and his solution was to spend as little time with them as possible. The children were ordered around from one place to another. It was all miserable. She felt the misery vibrate through the fibers of the carpet. Pen realised that she was crying.

“Get up,” she said, “Now,” her voice drained of emotion. Pen waited until she heard her footsteps on the hall stairs, the rattle of keys and the front door close. Pen continued to lie there, until the light began to change and the hall was thrown into the semi-darkness of an early winter evening. The cat came up and rubbed its tail against her, begging for food. If she only knew when Mrs Hamilton would be back, maybe she could continue her search for her passport. Last time she had managed to look through the entire contents of her wardrobe, bedside table and study. Of course the passport would be in a safety deposit box somewhere, but the act of looking made her feel useful, as if she had a purpose.

Pen had felt perfectly qualified for this job, her overbearing father had taught her how to make herself small while her mother had shown her by example, how to become invisible. She sometimes felt as insubstantial as muslin sheet, hung out to dry, being buffeted by the wind. She remembers sitting on the soft mattress of her bed, legs crossed, while her grandmother brushed her hair. She had explained, with excitement, her plans to move abroad. Her grandmother had listened quietly, before exclaiming, “This life is hard. While the blanket is short, learn how to bend.” All her life she had adapted to her limited circumstances, twisting and folding herself like a wiry contortionist, to fit into the lives of others.

She unfolds her arms and pulls them stiffly out from underneath her, using her hands to push up from the floor. She puts the towels into the towel cupboard and walks downstairs to the kitchen. First she feeds the cat, before returning upstairs to the bedside table where she discovered the amber glass bottle of pills. Back in the kitchen, she takes the heavy pestle and mortar and empties out the contents of the bottle. She begins to slowly and meditatively grind the small white pills into a powder. She takes the large heavy casserole pot from the cupboard. When Mrs Hamilton returns she will expect a meal. She has left the recipe book out on kitchen table, with one of the little sticky notes she loves to use.