It’s my Lockdown birthday today, so I thought I would share an excerpt from Just Say It with you.

Happy Birthday to ‘my twin’, and everybody else who started their lives on 16th April!

I’ve kind of stopped submissions, for now, but I am seriously thinking about serialising Just Say It either here or on Medium.  So watch this space.

Lockdown Birthday – shameless self-promotion…

My MC, Lisa Grant, returns home after work on her 40th Birthday birthday.  Enjoy.

8th October 1999

Lisa lunged at the rain-swollen front door of her cottage. It didn’t budge. She thumped it with the palm of her hand, before managing to muster the strength of a prop forward, and shouldering her way in.  The all-pervading smell of mould in the stark hallway was overwhelming. She had been putting off telling her lecherous landlord that the smell was getting worse. She would call and tell him he could come round any time, while she was at work. On the plus side, she was only paying a peppercorn rent, and her financial situation was dire.

Turning on the light, she bent down and picked up a small pile of cards and letters that had been pushed through the letterbox. Then walked through to the kitchen with a sense of urgency. Her boots creating an echo as they connected noisily with the ancient limestone flooring.

There was always a distinct chill inside the cottage, which was responsible for the black clusters of mould marching across its walls like aggressive armies of Unsullied. It was impossible to heat. She ran the tips of her fingers across the top of the old storage heater in the kitchen. It had only just come on so she would keep her coat on a little longer and there was no point in lighting the fire in the living room as she was going out later.  No significant other, so no candlelight dinner, but a night out with the girls, which would inevitably end up being pretty wild.

Sifting through the post, she put any birthday cards to one side. Then stuffed anything official looking with the ‘manana’ pile, gathering dust wedged behind a biscuit barrel. Opening the fridge, she took out a bottle of Monte das Uvas Branco and poured herself a glass. Taking a sip, she savoured the taste on her tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. Walking through to the sitting room, she exhaled the words ‘thank God it’s Friday’ before slumping into an armchair. Its springs protested loudly beneath the threadbare upholstery. The chair was just one of the pieces of neglected furniture that came with the rental, which had seen better days.

She had been feeling tired for weeks, with a constant sore throat and despite having started a course of ginseng, she wasn’t feeling any better. She had initially thought her general malaise might be something to do with inhaling mould spores. A more realistic self-diagnosis was that she was burnt out. Holding down a full-time job while staying up half the night finishing a novel, for two and a half years, had taken its toll.

She sighed heavily, putting her glass down and looked at the birthday cards on her lap. No doubt they would all feature the numbers 4 and 0, together, in large Technicolor font and splattered with glitter. Wording along the lines of the carefully chosen card from her co-workers, which she had opened earlier in the day.  I may be 40, but I feel like a 20-year-old when I wake up every morning. Unfortunately, there’s never one around.  Ouch! As the only forty-year-old in the office, what did she expect from her much younger colleagues?  

There were five cards, and she knew who had sent them all from the handwriting. Shuffling them into the order she wanted to open them in, she started with the person with whom she had the weakest emotional bond and opened her mother’s. A cheque fell out. She gasped at the break from tradition. Now Lisa was forty, had Elizabeth finally given up on the flimsy lingerie and pampering gift tokens? After forty years, had it finally sunk in that her daughter was never going to be a mollycoddled kept woman like her herself. Or, as Elizabeth would more succinctly put it, marriageable material.

A cheque was a definite improvement, although she couldn’t read either the writing or the figures. Elizabeth hated parting with money, so her handwriting always shrivelled on cheques. Lisa would need her new prescription glasses to decipher her Mother’s tiny scrawl.  

Through gritted teeth, she had parted with a substantial amount of cash to buy her first pair of glasses for reading and computer work.  She tried on most of the frames in the shop and was irritated by one of their poster girls, Diane Keaton. Thirteen years her senior, looking drop-dead gorgeous, wearing a pair of specs.  Youthful, intellectual and seductive, when Lisa felt she looked like a nerdy Seven Dwarfs’ Doc.

She fumbled around in the depths of her cavernous handbag, dragging out a Kit-Kat wrapper and a Starburst, organically combusting right at the bottom.  No glasses.  Frustrated, she ran her fingers through her hair and found them. She put them on and scanned her Mother’s cheque, £400. She was shocked. It was a very generous present, but couldn’t help thinking that there must be an ulterior motive.

She had spent her entire adult life pussyfooting around the fragile relationship she had with her mother but had recently finished a trip down therapy lane. She had analysed how the fallout from her dysfunctional childhood had affected her adult life while finishing the book she started writing in her early twenties. She hoped that the final draft had been edited with the nous of someone about to begin her fiftieth decade.  They Always Look at the Mother First was a spoof about her life, loosely disguised as fiction. The only way she felt she could eyeball the ghosts from her past and revisit her Mother’s appalling behaviour.  

Best friend Adele always buoyed her up, believing it had ‘… all the essential ingredients. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, all sewn together with a thread of deceit and a smattering of adultery, topped off with a dollop of heartache and pain. So… Bob ’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt, Li, you could well have a bestseller on your hands and what about the TV Rights? Move over Alexis Carrington and bring on Cynthia Baskerville-Clifford and you know what?  I can see Joan Collins bringing out the worst in your Mother.’ How she wished had Adele’s faith.

Reservoirs of choppy water had flowed under the bridge during the last forty years, taking some of the best bits of Lisa’s life with it, along with the flotsam and jetsam. She no longer had her high-flying job, and she would never find another Jack. She held her Mother responsible for the loss of the two most important things in her life.  Yet, despite her mother’s atrocious behaviour, she had never been able to sever the umbilical tie that bound them together. She kept her distance, but Elizabeth was always there, niggling into her subconscious.

Returning to Gloucestershire, to attempt to salvage what was left after the fire at her family home had been nothing more than a pipe dream. After rummaging through its charred remains, it only served to stir up memories of her dysfunctional upbringing. So, why was she still hanging around? Stagnating in the countryside. Ha! Stagnating.  A word her mother would use when referring to the country. It was time to move on. It was time to dig herself out of her self-dug rut.

Tipping her head back, she put the glass to her lips, drained its contents and started to open the rest of her cards.