“FINE. I’ll give it a go.” If just to make you shut up, I silently added.
Marie put down her pad to do one of those stupid little toddler claps where the culprit beats the heels of their palms silently together, fingers splayed.
“Yes! Oh, Alyssa, I’m so, so pleased you’re going to give it a try. I just think if you really put your mind to it…”
I watched her lips forming the words but I didn’t take in what was being said. My last drop of energy for the day had been spent sealing my fate. I alternating next between looking at her earrings and her eyes, both helpful twinkling distractions that were stopping me peeping a look at her scribbles about me. What happened to those, afterwards? Typed up, the originals then thrown into the recycling for anyone to fish out and take a look at my deepest fears, abbreviated? Or did she take them home and use for kindling in the charming rustic fireplace she inevitably owned?
I looked down to where her finger was tapping, explaining what each column of the grid was for, like I was a dummy who couldn’t read the headings for myself. I started pulling on and buttoning my jacket, roughly pushing the discs through the holes like an addict feeding a slot machine. Marie got up to see me out.
“You’re making great progress,” she said. She started putting her hand out, changed her mind, going for the right upper arm pat instead. The arm that was still healing from a tattoo I’d just got. I gave her a tight smile and told her thanks for the session. Burst out of the door onto the busy high street, allowing myself to be swept along with a current of chattering Spanish tourists. Sunshine. Grumpy delivery drivers leaning on their horns. Homeless slumped in doorways. Sandwich board obstacles. Some sort of cloud that had fallen from the sky and was trying to pass itself off as some woman’s dog. Some sort of dog that had flown up to the sky and was trying to pass itself off as God’s poodle.
I could guess it was the last thing some people wanted after coming out of a sparse room, having pried open their heart for a stranger to fish for all the messages in bottles than had sunk to the bottom. Not me. I liked the buzz. It overrode all the tiny nagging voices at the back of my mind. They preferred night-time anyway. That was their scene. They’d push two tables together and laugh and bicker until the bar was drained dry, leaving me to mop up the vomit in the early hours of the morning.
Started as soon as I put my key in the lock, didn’t it. One of Anya’s stripper heels (my name for them, not hers) got wedged under the door, meaning I had to get down and contort myself to unpluck the bloody thing to gain access to my so-called home. It’s rented. All my generation rent. I don’t know when I’ll ever…
I was already doing it and hadn’t even got my coat off. I filed it away mentally to add to the chart later.
I unzipped my boots and put them tidily away in the shoe rack. WHERE THEY BELONG. I shuffled through the take away menus and envelopes on top of the sideboard. Nothing for me but another final warning from the TV license people who were threatening to turn up with guns blazing. I don’t even have a TV. I tell them every year. And every year they say “thank you for telling us you don’t need a license” and then send an all red and capslocked screeching rectangle insinuating this act I haven’t actually committed is on par with buttfucking kittens…
“Stop,” I told myself. I closed my eyes and counted down from 10. Trick from session two. See, Marie? Just because someone’s unresponsive doesn’t mean they’re not listening. I reopened my eyes, plus the hand I hadn’t noticed I’d clenched, and let the crumpled letter drop to the floor. Anya could pick it up.
I went into the kitchen, kidding myself I was checking to see what Anya had managed to break that day. Yes, of course I went straight to my cupboard looking for a sugar fix. An array of (probably out of date) spices and useless tinned things. I checked the fridge. A mushy lettuce, a tub of margarine, a lump of cheddar now with the consistency of a brick and a bunch of stuff that needed things doing to it before it became edible. No plums in my icebox.
“No siree,” I said out loud. “Just can’t get your act together can you, can you Alyssa? Maybe if you spent less time reading trashy celebrity magazines and more time planning, you…”
I clamped my mouth shut. Made myself think, instead of react. Reasoned with myself. So I didn’t do it this week. I could just try again next week.
Strode out of the kitchen pretending the cracked, crumb drizzled lino had morphed into spotless red carpet.
But wait – who’s this haggard woman down the hall with the grey smudges under her eyes and the hair that desperately need to be introduced to a hairbrush? I walked over to her.
“Christ, look at you,” I started. “You know most people have lips as well as a slit for a mouth? And another outbreak starting. Maybe if you ate some fruit before work instead of stopping by the bakery every…”
I pictured a dial. I pictured me turning it down. I puffed my chest out in defiance of the mirror.
“Tits are looking great though,” I told my reflection.
I’d have to reword that when it came to writing up my homework. My cheeks suddenly started to tingle. They were being pulled in an unfamiliar direction. A smile. My first in…it must be days.
Because I’d accepted the challenge. I’d dared to be good to myself.