I recently sat opposite
a very lovely boy someone over dinner who told me quite charmingly that I was interesting. He'd never eaten so slowly, he told me, as he did sat opposite me. I made him talk, he said, and think, and he wanted to hear me talk about what I had been thinking. And even though it was a big old plate of chicken in front of him that he was neglecting- and chicken is his favourite- HE DIDN'T CARE.
I laughed right in his face. "Yes," I replied. "Many a man thinks me amusing for the one meal, but pretty much by dessert they decide I'm just plain hard work."
Calum has told me this before. We have a grand old time together, but he told me once that after he has been with me- no matter for what length of time- he always needs a lie down. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about, but then I am writing this in the library where I am supposed to be writing some Spoken Word poetry, but instead I keep making him watch YouTube videos of my favourite artists.
After a particularly good one, we got talking about the fine line between sadness and hilarity, and so whilst he held a book about the Holocaust in his hand, and I referenced a comedy I wrote about abortion, we joked that we'd never be any good at invading Poland because we'd stop en route for lunch at a nice country pub and then get involved in a game of scrabble before somebody in big black boots with an SS armband tapped one of us on the shoulder lightly to say, "I'm sorry, I think you might be forgetting something," and we'd both laugh at our forgetfulness and ask to see the dessert menu.
He finally did draw the line when I ended up watching the scene from Coronation Street where Jack Duckworth dies, and I started to hold my breath so that I didn't sob out loud, which made Calum watch me in disgust, which made me choke on my tears, and then turn purple, and then I was laughing and crying and snotting everywhere and Calum just looked around embarrassed and told me to pull myself together.
"Do I have mascara under my eyes?" I finally asked, when the reactions had stopped.
"You look a mess," he told me. "And I can't cope with this. I'm going to go hit on that fittie over there. He seems like less hard work."
And both of our essays remain unfinished.
Having spent this past weekend at Mum and Dad's, I've received confirmation of my exhaustive tendencies. My hard work nature. I mean, when even your parents tell you...
You might wonder why I profess to have high self-esteem. It boils down to self-preservation; with Jane and Rick it's laugh or cry. "Isn't your head a funny shape for your body?" Mama has been heard to say. "I've got you some of that shampoo for lank and greasy hair," is another. "BREATH MINT LAURA" is frequent. My response rhymes with book toff.
We enjoyed lunch out in the garden when the sun was shining. Mama has a collection of silk cushions, and glass candle holders, and ceramic decorations, and that means there's no room on the table for plates but that everything certainly looks very pretty. Dad kept saying over and over again that there's nowhere else he'd rather have been. I was tempted to agree.
I idly flicked through the Sunday papers before tossing The Times Style mag on the floor. "It's all pissing weddings!" I said in disgust. "BORING."
"You wait," I was told. No, I thought. YOU wait. But then the sun was affecting my mood in all sorts of unusual ways. I felt quite calmed and charitable and, just for the record, I'm absolutely positive that these emotions are totally unrelated to said previous meal with
"Well. I might be a chronically single unmarriable feminist, for which I apologise," I said. "But you've done a good job with me haven't you?"
"Do you think so?" Mama said. "Really? Because I'm not like other mum's am I?"
I looked her in the eye. "Well, no. You're not. You never made me practice the violin for three hours a day, or make a rule that I had to do homework before I put the telly on, or even really stop me from getting drunk in bus stops at 14," I mused. "You didn't do any of that."
She nodded in agreement.
"I suppose some mums drive their children to ballet, or to a language tutor, and some mums get so drunk on holiday cocktails that their children have to lift their heads on to the pillow at bedtime, and that will be their overriding childhood memory."
"That was just once," she said defensively.
"Twice." I replied.
Dad sighed at me and I ignored him.
I caught them both up on what is happening in my life right now, and how excited I am for my summer travel plans. I'll be teaching in Italy for a few weeks before hopping on a train to explore Eastern Europe. I'm not sure why I'm so desperate to do that, but Serbia and Bosnia and Hungary and Turkey have my name on them this July. "God," said Mama. "I couldn't think of anything worse." A bit like when I told them I really wanted to do Bali, and Dad screwed up his nose and just said, "Bali? SHIT." He's never been.
Dad piped up, "But your friend, the one you're going with, doesn't she have a boyfriend?"
BITCH, PLEASE. Because a woman in a relationship can't ever travel alone? I jumped right on that one.
"I mean, GOD FORBID that she go off and do something ON HER OWN, without a man, OF HER OWN CHOICE, hey dad?" I began. "I know she shouldn't be making decisions of her own, should be willingly holding out her ankles for attachment to the kitchen the sink, and her arms up so that a full burka can be slipped over her shoulders to cover her body."
Dad once told mum that in the general election there was no sense in them both voting different parties, as it would cancel out each other's vote. So mum voted how she was told. He calls it traditionalist. I call it stupid. A bit like forcing the woman in your life to wear head-to-toe black so that other men won't desire her and if she happens to get raped by her cousin then she shouldn't have shown him her ankle in the first place.
"He MIGHT just miss her. She MIGHT just come back to him full of stories and adventures that mean their relationship stays alive instead of dying under the weighty boredom of monotonous daily drudgery where nothing changes and everything stays how it has always been because that is how it has always been done. They MIGHT miss each other but actually survive it, and he MIGHT just discover things he never knew about himself in her absence. MIGHTN'T HE?"
Dad sighed once again.
We sat in silence. I was just saying. You know?
"Dad?" I finally said.
He didn't even look up.
"Dad, do I exhaust you?" I finally asked, in a small voice, suddenly aware how he'd gone from not wanting to be anywhere else to seemingly looking around the garden for a rabbit hold to suffocate himself in.
"Laura," he replied. "Exhausting isn't the word. Try: debilitating."