[ Hello readers, a series of new challenges coupled with stories that need a little more research and development have delayed a regular posting. I will soon be exploring anthropomorphism, and sea changes, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy “Afternoon Flight”]
The broken key wobbled out of the door and fell to the floor. It was an old cast iron key, grown brittle and cracked. Now I would need to call for a pair of pliers to turn the key, and unlock the door. Locking myself in a room to escape my thoughtless children and their energetic offspring had seemed like a good idea.
On the fifth day of an enervating visit that had palled after the second day, I had hidden in my bedroom until everyone left the kitchen to romp in the pool. Treading the old stairs with caution, I avoided the creaking boards in the craftsman staircase. Hunching behind the kitchen bench I grabbed a tray, poured two cups of coffee (both for me), and grabbing a bowl of cereal, and a punnet of yoghurt, put everything on the tray. I went to the pantry and felt around in the dark corner, until my hand hit the large old crockpot in which I had prepared many meals when my children were growing up. Reaching inside I pulled out a tin of shortbreads that I had put away after Christmas two weeks before. I couldn’t bear for my best friend Ray’s award winning shortbreads to become blobs of mush beside the plates of overstuffed four and five year olds. I preferred to give them a nice solid Anzac biscuit to chew, spit, maul and yes, swallow.
As I ascended the stairs to peace, thinking with anticipation of settling into reading some limited editions from my teenage era purchased from a second hand book store, the phone rang. I returned to the kitchen, placed my tray on the bench, and answered the phone. I was wondering if I should hide the tin of biscuits under my jumper in case a grandchild appeared, when I realised it was Stella, my next door neighbour, “ I hate to bother you Amelia”, she was the only one who still called me that. Everyone else had been calling me Mia all my life. She’s going to bother me alright. I huffed. Here was another person that walked all over me because I wasn’t assertive. Yesterday I should have said, No Stella, I am not going to tell my children they can’t use the pool until 10 am. These are people that work fifty hour weeks and this is the only vacation they have with their children every year. Why don’t you go and visit your daughter Jane? Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead I had said, “Of course, Stella, of course I’ll see what I can do.” Why had I answered the phone? Because I thought it might be Mary suggesting a visit to the art gallery. After four evenings of babysitting while my children went to restaurants and the theatre, I was ready for a break.
I was trying to tune out Stella as she told me again how the kids were waking up her dogs at seven am, and then when they got in the pool the dogs would start barking incessantly. She wasn’t paying for a kennel just so my kids could use the pool all hours of the day and night. The “all hours of the day and night” part made me furious. The kids used the pool between the hours of nine am and five pm, unless their parents took them out in the afternoon. I opted for local government speak. I was definitely going to delegate this. “Stella thanks for calling. I will get Peter to handle your complaint. He will call you soon.” Stella sighed at the other end of the phone. “All the best,” I said and hung up.
I went as far as the landing where I searched for a piece of paper and a pen in the desk. My granddaughter Claire had been spending her evenings drawing pictures on random stationery from my first floor desk. I hadn’t discovered this until the third evening. I sighed, and withdrew my fingers from the back of the draw; in my hand was an A5 piece of paper. The one black fine tip pen I had rescued was already in my attic hideaway. I found the stub of a pencil and wrote a message.
Peter, I have gone out (I was tempted to say out of my mind, or out of sight, out of mind) but I continued in vague fashion. Stella asked me if you would call. Stella had driven my son Peter to many football practices when he was young; he would probably think she wanted to catch up, and call her straight away. Did Stella need practice being assertive? I smirked.
I returned to the bench downstairs and got my tray, congratulating myself that I had installed a microwave in my attic hideaway last year. With a bit of organisation, I could hide up there for half a day, pretending I didn’t hear the phone, or committee members from the charities I helped out banging on the front door. This had gotten tricky since the kids had given me a mobile phone for Christmas over twelve months before. Audrey my second born was beginning to roll her eyes, a lot like her teenage self, at the excuse “ that I left it downstairs, and then forgot to check it later.”
When I was halfway upstairs, Stacey, my ancient Border Collie (70 in dog years) whined at me from the bottom step. She was mature but not that mature. I made clucking noises and she awkwardly climbed up to me and sniffed my hand. I tried to shoo her away, but my bet was she could smell the shortbread biscuits. She was probably bored and tired too. The previous afternoon she was trying to round up the clan, but the kids were too rambunctious for her ageing self. She had plopped down in the shade looking defeated. “What a disorderly flock”, I whispered to her, imagining she was grinning, as she panted away.
Finally we reached the attic, and entered our haven. I put the fan on, and while my coffee was heating in the microwave I placed Stacey’s bed under the fan. It could get close up here under the roof line. I went to the window, and watched my six grandchildren splashing in the pool. They looked like large fish from here, wet and shiny, some with rubber flippers poking through the pool surface. From a distance, they looked wonderful. I thought about what stories we might read, and what questions they might ask this evening. I indulged in some idle speculation about lunch but I wasn’t going downstairs to make it.
I ate my coffee and cereal at my neat wooden table with the lace doily, and I day dreamed for a while about a trip I had taken to New York the previous year. It was the first trip I had ever taken without a child to care for. My, it was relaxing, my conscious mind insisted and a little lonely and one-dimensional whispered an inner voice. There were no awestruck novices on that trip. No-one wide eyed with wonder at the Rockefeller Centre. Just a little rest, I sighed.
I enjoyed the book for an hour and then I sampled one of Ray’s biscuits. Stacey lifted her head with interest, and I fed her a mouthful. Another hour passed pleasantly, and I could hear comings and goings on the first floor landing. The phone rang a couple of times, and I could hear what I recognised as Peter’s deep voice. It was then that I discovered that I couldn’t escape easily from the room; that the old key had failed. Well, I thought, I may as well rest a while longer before raising the alarm. I stretched and feeling light-headed I returned to my chair. Waking some time later, I found the house was quiet.
It was now 12.30 pm. Feeling, pleasantly lazy I decided that shortbread biscuits would be more than adequate for lunch. I heated up the coffee, and ate four biscuits with it as I stretched by the window, and admired the roses of Gladys Parker who lived opposite. Stacey whined and I gave her a liver treat, from a stash I kept in the top drawer of a chest by a sloping wall.
I settled back in my recliner, and read another chapter. Then, I was holding my late husband Douglas’ hand, and it was 1968, on the morning of our wedding. He had snuck up to my window about 8 am, and knocked on the glass. I lifted the sash impatiently, imagining it was one of my thirteen year old twin brothers. There was Douglas, smiling, and holding out a white rose. “I’ve been awake for hours. I’m looking forward to marrying you.” I leant through the opening, grabbed his hand, and kissed him; gloriously, the kiss seemed to go on and on. Then I was floating. I was above Stacey as she looked up at me twitching her eyebrows and turning her head.
Whoosh and I was looking down at the pool; the cobblestone driveway, Peter and his wife Carol; Audrey and her husband Leon; and legs and arms of different shapes and sizes exiting two station wagons. The red and white packets featuring the Colonel were surrounded with an iridescent glow. I hadn’t let go of Douglas’ hand; his grip was so strong. I called out, “I love you”, to the heedless group below us.
Douglas and I swan dived across the street, and hovered over Gladys’ summer roses. Amazingly, a white, a red and a yellow bloom jumped into my hand. The colours were so wonderful, the perfume indescribable. I looked down at my weightless body, and saw it shake. I knew I was ecstatic. Douglas giggled, and we rose higher. I was drawn to a light that outshone the sun but drew my facile gaze. Everything that had left me seemed trivial, but I could not resist one more look. Stella appeared at her fence, and beckoned to Peter. I turned away, and with Douglas’ hand in mine, flew into the light.