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I Know I am Loved – a short story by Fiona Marshall

FIONA MARSHALL

I know I am loved

People ask me, what will you do when the dog’s gone, as if, you know, to prepare me? And no, I don’t know how I’m going to manage, but just for today I’m not going to think about that. Lying here on the grass in the heart of the estate, the trees around like a green womb, I am safe, secure. I breathe London, the scent of lime trees and dust, petrol fumes and humidity, the gray grainy smell of home, the sigh of a plane above is home, a sigh repeated again and again, like someone sighing in relief to be home.

London has so many of these tiny green spaces like little green hearts, beating the summer time gently away.  

Here I was born. Here I got married. Here I drank and got sober, in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in another age, before it was only for millionaires and immigrants.

Now London’s green arms hold me secure, rock me gently in the passing of time. I’ve made it.

I’ve made it. I’m 50. White trousers and blouse, red bag and sandals, turquoise toes, cherry lips going slightly soft. Big baby eyes, soft baby cheeks just beginning to fall in and wrinkle. Flat, east end voice, that I did my best to modulate. My hair a soft iron sheet down my back. If I were to have an out-of-the-body experience, so I would see myself, lying down there, on the green grass, all in white, red sandals and bag, sheet of grey hair. No one else has hair like me. The other day someone told me they recognised me across Victoria station by my hair. I’ve got a fringe like the dog’s!

There she is, peeping up out of my mobile phone, ears coy, dotingly groomed, black and white fringe immaculate. A pampered mutt with a fine salt and pepper mane. Forget breeds, she might have a bit of terrier in her.  Little white neat teeth. She has that demure, daft look, like a grown-up daughter nestling against her mother: I know I am loved.

Vet says she might last another year. She can’t manage the stairs any longer, and as for walks, it’s me walking and her being carried, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how old she is. She came from Battersea Dogs’ Home 13 years ago. Might have been one, maybe two, when I got her. Although my hair was stone grey even then. You could say we’re both living on borrowed time.

Have to leave her indoors with John on a day like this. So hot. London’s got so hot in recent years; and humid. Sun soaks into you, like a steam bath. I swear a storm is building. In the charity shop the back door stands open behind the till, onto a small green yard of ferns and young sycamores and a black iron spiral staircase. That’s my London, my childhood. Stairs rang and throbbed with my steps. Only in those days it was a newsagent’s, and I remember running down with two and six and reaching up to slap it onto the counter for my mother’s Players No 6. We took it for granted the alley behind was magic and that when you looked through the round knot-holes of the wood fence it was into another world, of streaming sunlight.

Not like this hot muggy humid sun, that seems to turn you and everything else to moisture. My mother would have been horrified at my being damp and sticky on a hot day. Oh no, we can’t have any of that. Sit up and shake my clothes around and I’ll soon dry. There must be a bit of a breeze somewhere – and oh my God what’s that. I’ve flooded. A big red patch between my thighs. Of course it would be when I’m wearing white trousers. What would Mother say to this, what could she say? An ominous, urgent pulsating out. My God it’s like a torrent. Flooding out of me.

– This is my last period, I know intuitively, it’s going. I’m going. It’s all going, all those unused years of fertility, the link with my mother, long dead, how I came from her womb and for a few years we were women together, all the other women in my family, all the generations going back, my own life, pouring out in a red stream, the hand of time squeezing and squeezing my womb so its coming out in squelches. This must be what giving birth is like, squeezing your womb again and again. Kind of almost rhythmic, you could almost count it, one-two, one-two. I’m being squeezed by time, maybe dying. So relentless. This cannot last. This has to stop or I’ll die, I’ll be gone.

And I think, all that for 30 years – for what? Pain and discomfort every month. No kids. Just a monthly sloughing off, in which the veil between the worlds thins and you’re in touch with you, the inner you, the tiny red being that lives in your red womb. The tiny shouting pulsating shaking red woman. The one you normally manage to keep down, keep civilised. The one who keeps shouting, how things really are. And now she’s dying, the little red woman is curling up and bleeding to death.

And I’m thinking of other things; how impregnated the summer shade here is with dust and pollen and traffic fumes and hay, like the bit in Great Expectations where Wemmick says to Pip, of that dismal yard at the coaching inn, ah, the retirement reminds you of the country; so it does me. And I’m thinking of the proposition from the corner shop man the other day, when out of the blue he says to me, I’m going to Birmingham for the weekend, would you like to come as well! Well I was very spontaneous in my reply! Come off it, Mustafa, I said, what about John? I don’t even know you, I said, I just come in here for my newspaper and a bit of dog food! And I’m thinking of my mother and how I never did go to a grammar school and how I still have a chip on my shoulder about not being educated. And I’m thinking of running up and down the alley as a child and collecting sycamore wings, and peepholes in fences into the other world and the iron stairs ringing under me.

And it’s like all these memories are running out of me with the blood.

So I’ve got to walk away from all this, get back to the flat. The grass beneath me is flattened and smeared and as I lean onto it, to get up, my hand comes away red. I never thought I’d bleed into the earth. Very elemental; and there’s a faint tang of iron in my nose. I feel a bit sick, actually. Bit faint. A sinking feeling. My bag, put that in front of me, red shielding red. And start walking across the grass to the foyer, praying I’ll meet nobody.  No chatty neighbours. Let the lift not be broken down, and dear God, it is working. Otherwise seven floors’ a long way up.

And rush straight to the bathroom, now at last I can peel off the red wet material. Wipe my inner thighs, white and puckering and now stained.  Already the flood is stemming, like the last cry of my body, the last scream of the little red woman inside. I’ll never wear these trousers again. Straight into a carrier bag and into the bin. I should lose some weight. I looked all right when the white trousers held me together. Now look at me, all rolling tyres and wet thighs with greying hairs all matted and stained. Brutal, really; quite brutal, what time does to you. But that’s okay. I know I am loved. SLQ

 

Fiona Marshall is a writer and editor, and has published short stories, poetry and non-fiction. Her short stories can be viewed at Ether Books, www.etherbooks.com