When he tells me the result I am in the drawing room. It used to be the room women would withdraw to, whilst the men were left to have important conversations around the dinner table, perhaps a cigar. My father told me that, although he pronounced it drawing rhum. He was of a generation where women were still considered to be the weaker sex, when there were ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’; can you imagine?
Philip does try to protect me from these things but clearly he has no choice under the circumstances. It’s a complete shock and I’m not sure what’s happening to me at first. It starts with a sort of sour fizz at the back of my nose, like gin and tonic going down the wrong way but then it spreads towards the eye area – what other people describe as ‘welling up’, perhaps at funerals and so forth. Well, of course, the early morning photo call immediately comes to mind and I jump to my feet, intent on putting a damn stop to it. At this point I would dearly love for Philip to simply pass me his handkerchief but he doesn’t like to use it, except on special occasions. He doesn’t seem to have noticed this might be one, although he does give me a hug. Well, as good as. He leans forward, pats me on the shoulder – or rather his hand hovers slightly above it – and says, “Bad luck, old girl”.
Normally I find Philip’s ‘Postman Pat channels Sir Ian McKellen’ impression quite charming but – today? I have to say, it makes me a little bit cross. I lunge at the nearest chair, drag it over to the mirror – which, I might add, hangs suspiciously high on the wall above the drinks cabinet – and I clamber on to the plush padded seat in my newest, murderously uncomfortable, kitten heels. Even from the rather unstable vantage point of what is effectively an 18th century wobble board, I can see my face is puffy and red. I blink rapidly, trying to keep my balance whilst at the same time attempting to stem the small, tepid pool of liquid forming in the corner of one eye with a fingertip. Philip asks me, and not without kindness, what the hell I’m doing and I snarl, “I’m considering an appropriate response to this issue”, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
Then, as I always do in a crisis, I give myself the hard word and mutter, “Hold on Theresa, hold on”. I’m almost bent double now, gripping the back of the chair; the sensation has travelled to my stomach, a sort of dull, empty ache, perhaps I’m just hungry. But there’s an uncomfortable pressure in my chest too – indigestion? My lips are forcing themselves into peculiar shapes, curling over my teeth and I give a shakier than usual instruction for Philip to fetch me at glass of water. I’ve got the eyes under control but my mouth is filling with something metallic and syrupy and when I open it to drink I can feel chewy strings of saliva stretching at the corners. I’m noticing a constriction in my throat too, how one might feel if one was being strangled and my head is starting to throb. I carefully dismount and lower myself into the chair, pressing the heels of my hands to my temples. I must get this under control or goodness knows what might happen. Where there’s an iron will, there’s a way.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and power down. I visualise the food banks. I summon up the housing crisis. I commune with my inner guide over zero-hour contracts. I think perfect thoughts about social care, disability benefit cuts and the public sector pay cap. I make peace with terrorism and transatlantic trade deals and selling arms to Saudi Arabia and post-Brexit Britain and – just like that – I am much, much calmer. I’m standing now, buttoning my jacket with one hand, smoothing my hair with the other. There are frustrations, of course; one is only human.
Philip stands before me again, closer now. He has removed his glasses and any hint of jocularity. His unsmiling eyes, pale and dry, mirror mine. He places a firm hand on my shoulder; a phone is in his other hand. We both know relationships are key and we must waste no time.
There is a great deal to be done.
[First published by Salomé, October 2017]
Monica Dickson is a short fiction writer from Leeds. Her work has appeared in The Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter, Ellipsis, Spelk, Dear Damsels and other places. You can find her online at writingandthelike.wordpress.com and on Twitter @Mon_Dickson.