I am aware that I have not written my blog for exactly a year now, but I have been busy improving myself over 2017. In particular, I have been performing comedy sketches that I have written with the very talented Emma Swinn at the Hospital Club Co-Lab events and I have spent three months on a course at Faber under the expert guidance of Rowan Coleman, in order to propel my novel writing which is 40 000 words in and due to be finished end of March. I plan to join a sit-com writing course at City Lit once that is done, in order to proceed with my all female cross-cultural cross-generational idea, a slice of which was performed by me and a handful of wonderful actresses also at the Hospital Club a couple of years ago. In addition, I had the privilege of joining the dynamic and gifted Wolfpack Productions to feature in one of their filmed comedy sketches for 2017. The rest of this blog today will be A New Life , my short story I wrote years ago. I thought it might suit the new year. Love to all.
A NEW LIFE BY KATE TERENCE
“No, I’m afraid he’s not here, would you like his voicemail?” Hilda tried to prevent the tone of her voice from sounding bored. She would not have blamed herself if she had become slightly monotonous. She had been employing the same excuses to the callers of this company for seventeen years.
Red lights on the switchboard had started to flash persistently which tended to demarcate the time when Hilda’s back would begin its perennial afternoon ache. Her bladder felt uncomfortably full, but she was damned if she was going to give the rest of the company the satisfaction of knowing how many times Hilda Winthrop went to the toilet.
She sighed as she thought back to all those years ago, when she had started at
Schneid, Finchwade and Swallow. The office manager, a young, enthusiastic trainee lawyer had shown her around. It had been clarified that as a receptionist, Hilda’s job was to answer all calls to the firm and deal with any visitors. When Hilda enquired about the breaks that she could take through the course of the day, the junior article clerk assured her that there would be ‘no problem with that at all’.
To prove it to Hilda, she proudly demonstrated how to use the Tannoy system. That way, she repeated to Hilda, if she ever needed to take a pause, she was to announce this requirement to the entire firm of sixty employees, and succour in the form of one or other work colleague would soon follow.
As the weeks progressed, Hilda became part of the everyday furniture that the company possessed. It soon became apparent that the rest of the workforce did not seem particularly concerned about Hilda’s minimal, if not modest need for toilet breaks. It seemed to escape their attention that they themselves made frequent trips to answer the most human of all needs. Never having to suffer the indignity of announcing it to the world, their ability to empathise was limited. In fact, to her extreme humiliation, despite their regular and unnoticed ablutions, they also found it mildly amusing to casually tease her about her allegedly numerous visits to the lavatory, especially at Christmas parties.
Hilda took some comfort from the fact that it was only another ten minutes till the end of the day. Six hundred seconds before she would switch the board on to night service and head straight to the loo. She continued to answer the calls, maintaining as precise a tone as possible, as she clenched her legs together. As the digits on the screen hit six o’clock, Hilda pressed the appropriate buttons, grabbing her handbag and practically hobbling in the direction of relief.
Sighing with momentary solace, she just had enough time to wash her hands. As she drew a pinkish stain across what was left of her lips, the reflection in the mirror worried her. The unflattering lights shed a grey pallor across her face. What had once been laughter lines around her eyes and mouth appeared to be deeper crevices now, and the whites of her eyes had developed into a jaundiced shade.
As usual, the twenty-past from Kings Cross was disturbingly crowded. Hilda was sure she could feel varicose veins cropping up every minute as she stood, her lower back relentlessly throbbing into her spine. She put her left arm through the leather straps of her bag, placing her hand onto one of the metal rods to grip as if her life depended on it.
She felt her handbag as its weight pulled into the crease of her elbow, cursing herself for the unbroken habit of packing it so densely with unnecessary objects. Why she thought she needed small jars of coffee and some spare Marmite, only the heavens knew. Her spare hand dipped into her handbag, letting her fingers search for what she liked to call her lifesavers. After popping a barley sugar in her mouth, she did not feel so resentful, finding a sweetened world in the romantic novella she had started.
The train, almost out of spite, Hilda felt, drew into Kings Cross. She had just reached the part of the story in which the hero had decided that he had to declare how he felt to the leading lady. Hilda had naturally decided that she identified in every respect with the heroine, excepting of course the age. She gripped the book menacingly, marching purposefully towards the underground where the Victoria line would take her up to Walthamstow. Eyeing the carriage with intent, she spotted a seat, and like one possessed, ran to grab it.
As soon as she sat down, she joyfully re-entered the rosy world of the love story. After soaking up as much satisfaction as she could squeeze from the cheap words that decorated the page, Hilda took her nose out of her book. Looking up, a photograph of a young man and woman with back- packs grinned back at her from the wall. The advertisement advocated to “Live Your Life.” Below it was the name and logo of a well-known credit card that would supposedly help the individual to do so.
Hilda felt irrationally captivated by the picture. Before she could stop herself, a tear began to trickle from one of her eyes down her cheek. She lifted her book quickly up to her face to hide any further embarrassment. Somehow, though, she could not force herself to continue reading.
It was as if reality, in its harsh entirety had stared her in the face. Those two seemingly real people who had smiled from a photograph appeared to be enjoying themselves. The characters in her cheap fantasy novel were being portrayed as living their lives at the height of their emotions. Hilda, on the other hand, was worried that fellow passengers would see how she truly felt. People on the tube always seemed to react to emotion so perversely. But she could not stop the tears.
All those years ago, when she first joined the firm, she had thought that Mr Swallow had shown an interest in her. She was not unattractive, and although she had one failed marriage behind her, she was certain that Charles Swallow did not find that a stumbling block. But after a brief, uneventful flirtation, it had become clear that Charles was friendly to everybody. It was just his way.
As Hilda walked along Edward Road, she looked up at the various little cottages. Lights warmed the insides of these happy homes. She pictured the contented faces of the couples preparing food for each other, after their hard day’s work. Although she herself smiled at the thought, her face felt stiff, unyielding in its movement. The pit of her stomach was as hollow as a cave.
As she placed her key in the lock, the pile of post shifted against the door. Slowly, she bent down and picked up the stuffed envelopes and flyers, heading upstairs. Spring had produced a gentle light to the marshes, so for a minute Hilda gazed outside dreamily. Every motion her body made was slow as if it had decided to stop completely.
Out of the freezer, she pulled one of her frozen food packs of steak and kidney pie, placing it in the microwave to defrost. She filled and switched on the kettle. Having removed her shoes with difficulty, she padded her way into the bathroom and turned on the bath taps. She did not bother with the bath salts. What, after all, was the point? Back into the kitchen she went, to pour out her tea.
In her bedroom, she removed her clothing, folding each item carefully onto the bedside chair. She sat on the end of the bed as she painstakingly pulled her tights off, the aches in her back persisting. Housecoat on and semi skimmed milk added to her tea, she took out the defrosted meal, and placed it in the oven. Mug in hand, she moved back to the bathroom and immersed herself into her beloved bath. She wondered what was on television tonight. She hoped it would be something funny. Hilda was in the mood for something funny.
Hilda sat up and gasped. The sitting room was baking hot. She had a terrible crick in her neck, and as she adjusted herself to the fact that she was in the armchair in front of the television, she looked at her watch. It was ten past three in the morning. After switching off the gas fire, lights and television, she dragged herself to bed.
She woke about eight hours later, the morning light already pouring through the gaps in her curtains. She continued to rest her head comfortably against the crushed feathers in her pillow, as she tried to work out what day it was. After a moment, she established that it was eleven o’clock, Wednesday morning. She was going to have to call the office to explain. Somehow though, the world felt good today. She was not going to panic.
Hilda picked up the receiver next to her, and dialled. After a considerable time, a flustered voice answered. To her own amazement, Hilda found herself saying that she was ill and that she did not know when she would be able to return. The voice on the other end of the telephone asked what she meant. Hilda repeated what she had said, her voice the same nondescript tone that she had used for work.
After putting the receiver down, she reached under her bed. She felt something like solid aluminium, and started to yank at it. As its top slid from under the bed, Hilda laughed in delighted recognition of her old stepladder. She quickly got up, dressing in some old clothes that she used to use for work around the house. She carefully positioned the ladder in front of the loft panel that led to the attic.
After making sure she had a torch in her hand, she braved the climb as if she had decided to pioneer entirely new territory. Ten minutes later, she descended, slightly dusty but jubilant with her ex-husband’s army backpack in her hands. The khaki coloured rucksack felt moist and was covered in mildew. Hilda looked at it and started to laugh. She felt no pain in her back, no weariness in her soul and a mild sense of euphoria began to overwhelm her. This old, foul smelling bag was Hilda’s happiest sight for years. Tears accompanied her laughter but she didn’t care because nobody could see her, and so what if they did?
Charles Swallow, one of the senior partners of Schneid, Finchwade and Swallow, sat at his desk. A bemused expression was playing across his face, as he read his morning post. His secretary brought in his coffee and croissant.
“Did you see the one from Hilda, Mr Swallow?” His secretary watched Charles’ face for a reaction.
“Yes, I did, thank you, Susan. Better alert Human Resources to get hold of a temp whilst we look for a permanent.” Charles’ expression remained blank.
“Right, Mr Swallow, I’ll do that right away.” As the door closed behind her, Charles started to chuckle. A close observer would have seen some sadness in his eyes.
“Good for Hilda.” He said, “I’ve often wondered what Australia was like myself.” Charles muttered under his breath, as he read her letter of resignation for a second time.