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Pete Goodland


A woman would come to the door. Only in her forties, circumstance having added twenty, she’d jerk nervously, self- consciously. Her silhouette etched through the stained glass front door of our house, the deep recess of the stone floor porch, the opening act of an unfolding drama. The final curtain drawing neither smiles nor applause, only wreathes, silence and an erasing of history.

Her name was Elaine Doyle. Desperate and needy she’d knock, then ring, then knock again, three, maybe four times. Incapable of offering anything other than sweet tea and custard creams, and just returned from school, I’d answer. Mum most likely was shopping or keeping an eye on someone in that Good Samaritan kind of way of hers. So, on my own, not really considering the history and maths homework - as if ever did, I’d sit and listen and nod. Elaine wasn’t normal, not in the sense I understood it. No, it wasn’t her incessant talking - I got that all the time with Mum - or her turning up unannounced, or her fidgety sifting through her Chanel bag of better days for a Park Drive untipped, then to a constant flick, flick, flick of flint to relight, inhale, exhale, relight once more. It was in her face, more precisely her teeth, all pub ceiling yellow with gaps - like wickets - smoke escaping from extra vents.  A sign, for me, that something was, well, not quite right.

Rewind the years, then with teeth matching Chanel, she’d appear perfect. Normal, in fact  - all the trappings of Mid England jam- making and WIs. Lying three quarters down an extensive fern- lined lawn, no rose petal misplaced, a yellow lounger would rest with parasol and low table by an elegant, though not ostentatious pool, that a thin man in pressed brown overalls would clean the first Wednesday of the month. There were two perfect sons - Rob and Tim - and positions like the secretary of the local Bridge Club, regular coffee mornings, neighbourly neighbours and a handicap of 12 at Greenacres, several trophies of varying heights, sitting proud and dust free on the Dining Room mantelpiece. Above all, there was Phillip, her once doting husband. The family divided together under one roof.

Affairs I’d heard of, kind of, in books, knowing they weren’t quite right, at least to those betrayed, unsure as to whether they were normal in the way Elaine’s manner no longer was. I soon got to hear expressions like 'cheat', 'wife beater', 'two- timing scumbag', uttered behind adult doors in raised whispers full of contempt. The perfect boys with ties straight still went to their Private School, fees paid in full.

I discovered the other woman - the term ‘other woman’, yet another addition to my vocabulary - to be Marie, a work colleague at Phillip’s firm. I’m led to understand that the other women are often secretaries. This one wasn’t. Unusually, she was a Partner, who too, once lived happily with someone else, on the other side of town, perhaps doting in a similar fashion. I had never doted.

Elaine got depressed. Plates were thrown. Husband carried on. Heartless. Through bribes and lies, he managed to maintain sons’ support who, embarrassed by their Mother’s unreasonable tantrums, no longer wished for her to take them to school. Sometimes Auntie Marie would wait at the gate to drive them to the other side of town. Dad, on hugging their Auntie, would explain that Mother had changed and she needed help. The young boys just thought her mad, and Dad did little to dissuade them.

Her movement became more awkward - limbs pulled by a demonic puppeteer - and visits more frenzied. The luminous pills of turquoise, orange and scarlet she produced and displayed - Smarties for the cheated and grieving - were to help her moods, which began to swing with a velocity I couldn’t begin to fathom. Would I, having tied a knot to honour and obey, turn to a doctor when spurned, whose prescription recommended three after every meal? Was this what adulthood had to offer?

Her prescription was different to those I’d seen, not before lunch, tea or supper, but nicotine. As blood drained from sallow features, she wept. I hoped to hear the key in the door, and an adult to prise me from politeness, to escape upstairs to my bedroom of bands, football teams and thoughts of Georgia, a girl I’d just met. Instead I brewed more tea and watched as contents were poured into mouth and saucer. Another cigarette was lit.

Soon the visits stopped. Social services and a scheming Mr Doyle had her committed, for her own good, he said, and that of the family. She continued with the medication, he continued with Marie. The boys, full of adult poison, began to hate their Mum, and Phillip just hated her for the inconvenience of living and being hurt. In a Victorian mansion, deep in fields, out of town, away from people, yet not from memory, she lingered, no chance of recovering, but no longer in sight. If you have no shame or remorse then I guess life must be much easier. The mantelpiece began to be divested of the past.

I visited her a few times. A twenty minute bus ride along corkscrew country roads unprotected by hedgerows would drop me outside an address with no name. I’d then take a ten minute walk up a gravel track to a kind of building I’d only ever seen when allowed to stay up late on Fridays to watch Peter Cushing spear vampires and save the world. I expected bats but saw none. The grey exterior contrasted with the stark neon on the in, large signs, red on white, warned of the dangers of sharp edges. Elaine had lost hers sometime since; muffled and tranquilized, she sat steadily rocking. I said I’d missed her dropping in after school - meant I could avoid homework, I joked. I think we use humour, no matter how unfunny, when, fumbling about, we are powerless to assist.

Then came separation leading eventually to divorce, or that was Mr Doyle’s and the Court’s intent before, on being released, and spending her first night alone in a small one bedroom flat in not such a bad area, Elaine, supplementing her shopping with gin, collapsed into a coma. The luminous pills used to soak up depression soaked up spirit instead. She didn’t die immediately. That day I passed and knocked to no answer. I called 999. It was a Tuesday, the leaves were beginning their Autumn retreat and I waited, the sirens getting closer, blue and white flashes nearing. To radio static and the chat of neighbours never met, Elaine, dead some 4 or 5 hours, was placed in the ambulance.

Mum said she’d died of an overdose. ‘Did she mean it?’ I enquired. The Coroner thought not. His verdict: death by misadventure. The Journal, our town’s local paper, gave the funeral arrangements. It was not to be a big affair. That had already happened.








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