Karen Clarke: Without a Care

5am.The desperate yearning for sleep was futile. The nuclear snoring from her partner was enough to disturb the average night, and had done so on many occasions. In an attempt to soundproof herself from that immense, bed-shaking racket she had, sometimes, rammed the earplugs in so far that she feared she may need an embarrassing trip to A&E to get them removed by a no doubt bemused member of the medical staff. Though, of course, she realised that they would have previously dealt with far more salacious orifice blockages. Her mother had once told her that a partner’s habits only became aggravating if you didn’t actually like them in a fundamental way.

She had often wondered if that were true as she heard him snore, or watched him put salt on any meal before tasting it, or felt his Jimmy Carr laugh pierce through her. That bit isn’t true. She didn’t wonder at all. She knew. The dull ache in her lower back was constant but didn’t really register on the pain scale. It was merely a nagging throb. But her quest for sleep was over and so she decided to endeavour to prise herself from the marital bed. This in itself was easier said than done.

The low slung Swedish bed which he had chosen had always been a challenge for her from the exit and entry perspectives. Her arthritic hip had often given her a reminder of its presence when trying to get in and out of the bed. And the weight that she had gained recently served only to exacerbate the problem. It could even be said that someone choosing such a bed had made a very selfish decision. It had in fact been said, shouted, on a number of occasions. She approached her exit from the bed in cautious fashion. Swinging her legs out together and planting them on the floor was the easy part. The more complex and painful aspect was getting herself sitting upright on the edge of the bed. With a few deep breaths and grunts she managed it, then steeled herself for the move to get herself standing up by pushing down onto the bedframe as firmly as she could. She launched herself into the standing position,letting out only a tiny yelp as she did so. She placed an absent minded hand on her tummy as she peered through the crack in the blinds to greet the early morning sunrise. She glanced back briefly at her still snoring partner as she grabbed her dressing gown and headed for the door.

She avoided the clutter of paint cans, paint brushes, pasting table and assorted decorating kit on the landing as she made her way to the top of the stairs. She steadied herself at the top of the stairs, as the not distant enough memory of being held against the banister rail with his face screaming into hers, spit landing on her face, filled her mind for a few seconds. She shook her head to get rid of that image, and smiled as she caught sight of herself in the tall landing mirror. ‘You look beautiful’, she thought. Dishevelled but beautiful. Then she made her way carefully down the stairs.

Her recently enhanced sense of smell made her catch a strong whiff of last night’s red wine, brandy and cigars as she reached the last step. Had he been too drunk to remember to spray air freshener around before he joined her in bed or had he simply not bothered? That thought flashed through her mind as she decided on a decaf coffee to greet the day. But she didn’t care. Ambling to the kitchen she was aware that the dull ache in her back was making its presence felt just a tad more forcefully but she remained unconcerned. She carried on barefoot into the kitchen-diner, her part of the house, happy that she had won the warm wood versus cold stone flooring battle. She had often been ridiculed by her feisty female friends for claiming the kitchen-diner as ‘hers’. ‘That’s you out of the fucking sisterhood’.  But it was hers. She had defeated his beige masterplan for the rest of the house in this space. There were red, red, splashbacks. The island in the middle of the kitchen, and the stools lined up against it, were black, her signature colour. Her victory had partially extended to the contents of the kitchen too. The pull-out drawers contained, alongside the bulk bought beige crockery, bits and pieces of mismatched colourful bowls, plates and cups, some retrieved from her mother’s house and rescued from the skip he had hired. Some from local secondhand shops. There were also cooking utensils from the 1960’s and 1970’s, alongside the newly purchased pieces. The red and white plastic coated metal rotary whisk was her favourite, a reminder of aching arms whipping cream for her mother’s brandy snaps at Christmas. The battle over the colours in the kitchen had been fiercely fought, and painfully won. But it was her haven. Hers. It wasn’t completely finished. She knew that his final snub was to leave certain jobs on an eternal snagging list but she didn’t care. She didn’t care. She caught sight of herself in the shiny, red, glass splashback behind the hob and smiled. Beautiful.

Her decaf made (two spoons to try to make it resemble real coffee rather than Mellow Birds), she waddled to the lounge. She sank down onto one of the two huge sofas, placing her coffee on the small side table. At her side was the pile of her purchases from the previous few days: blankets, towels, sheets. All neutral in colour, this time not dictated by him but by her own uncertainty. She switched on the TV and spent the usual five minutes flicking between channels avoiding anything relating to tragic news or accidents involving children. By chance she happened upon a rerun of one of her favourite comedy programmes. She had watched this countless times but was smiling in anticipation of her favourite lines, knowing she would soon be laughing out loud with a probable short-breathed snort or two thrown in. She clutched one of the newly purchased woollen blankets to her tummy as she laughed. No sign of movement from upstairs. She didn’t care. She was so wrapped up in the total joy of the programme that she forgot herself. Almost.

Just as the programme was finishing the doorbell rang. 6.30 am. Who was this? And did they realise the effort it would take to stand up? She made her way to the front door and opened it to find her stepson standing there. ‘Thought I’d put in a long day on the decorating’ he muttered as he wandered past her. His red eyes, the outfit of jeans and tshirt and the whiff of not yet stale alcohol suggested to her that he had come straight from a night out but it didn’t matter. She watched him go straight to the fridge and down several glugs of orange juice straight from the carton, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he finished. ‘Ibuprofen? … Oh bollocks I forgot you don’t have any painkillers in this house at the moment, I’ll nip to the shop’. She smiled as he left the house, remembering the days when she would have turned up for work in a similar state. She guessed that it would be good if he finished decorating the room in question but she didn’t care.

As she went back to settle in the lounge the nagging pain in her lower back started to become far more present in her mind. She passed by the understairs cupboard which held her bag already packed in the hallway, just waiting for the right moment for her to make the necessary exit. She lowered herself onto the sofa and looked around the lounge, stroking her swollen tummy as she did. The pain started to grip across her front, causing her to take a few sharp breaths, til she recalled what she had been told about this and started to breathe more slowly. She focussed on the wall opposite as she tried to control her breathing and noticed the chip in the wall from a previously launched plate. She recalled ducking as it flew towards her. Only a few minutes later the pain began again. It’s starting, she thought. Her still drunk stepson had not returned. There was still no sign of life from upstairs. She smiled. She just didn’t care.

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karen

Karen is a 49 year old mother of one teen, and is yet to decide what she would like to do as a career. She has been a barmaid (possibly her favourite job because of the people watching opportunities), a less than civil servant, a lecturer and researcher in the social sciences (after a belated enrolment at Uni aged 26) and is currently a Project Manager (dull doesn’t cover it). She lives in Levenshulme, Manchester, a totally vibrant neighbourhood full of fantastic people. It would take a lottery win for Karen to leave. She is originally from Essex but now considers herself to be an adopted Mancunian. In terms of writing, she has written and published in an academic context but is now hoping to make a foray into fiction.

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