In browsing through all my many hand written notes, stories and poems, I found this short story. I don’t remember when I wrote it but the pen is unmistakably mine so here goes:
The Shaping of Mrs Rob
I was always a good, hearty slice of ham, strong cheese and plenty of pickle sandwich kind of girl; preferable accompaniment large, extra creamy glass of milk. No skinny lattes for me. To dear old Gran I was “robust” or “built well”; to dad (and others, no doubt) just plain “fatty”. Surprising perhaps, for one of the female species, I was quite content with me, didn’t spend hours gazing in mirrors disconsolately or trapping friends and family with the, “does my bum, stomach, chest … look big in this?” question. I was too busy soaking up life for that. Note the was in my sentence. Things changed; when I met Rob that is.
Rob was rich, flashy, brash, charming, loud and completely handsome. He was everything I didn’t believe in, yet he made me laugh – at first. He walked into my good beer, don’t ask for lager and lime, sandwiches to get your teeth into local pub, made the stupidest comment about country pubs in an even more ridiculous put on accent, and I laughed. More disturbing still, I felt my insides shift about and fail to settle in a sort of pleasant-not-so-pleasant kind of way. Enough to catch my breath. Enough to distract me from the internal debate I was charging through with force. Enough to recognise that something new and exciting had just happened and there was no about turn to be had.
I had always kept a discreet, I’m better than that smile tucked away when my girlfriends twittered on in seemingly endless raptures about the latest Tom, or John or whomever. I listened, in the way that girls like them expected of girls like me. I was the ‘bezzie mate’ to call on and regale with tedious love stricken tales, the one to howl and rant to when it all went wrong, the one to forget when all was well.
The first date was great, though how we arrived at it I can’t quite piece together. There’s no clear memory of being asked or accepting, plans or discussions; it was like we just turned up. That was our starting point. He looked pristine, everything crisp-ironed just so, all creases in the right places and his hair so very neat it might not have been real. I was my usual jumble of colour and texture and life. We laughed and, when he kissed me, (how DID that happen?) I felt that shifting insides moment again. Only this time it was all good; sort of bubbly and fizzy and not like me at all.
“Now, what are we going to do with you girl?” he asked when he drew his lips from mine. I just smiled and fear I actually may have looked soppy and, worse still, girly. I might even have tittered and, let me tell you, I don’t do tittering. Or, at least, I didn’t before Rob.
The next evening on my return from work, a box sat calmly on my doorstep, complete with a single red rose resting quite perfectly in place across the top. Perfectly centred. Perfectly red. Perfectly devoid of thorns. Perfectly perfect. I gasped; I can’t believe I gasped. I was becoming an unwitting star in a dreamy romantic novel; only I couldn’t see it. All I saw was the contents of this rose decked, ribbon festooned, luxurious gift wrapped in a box that, on its own, may have cost more than I had ever spent on a single item of clothing. And inside? A sleek, pure black, shimmering slip of a dress. I don’t do sleek, black, shimmering slips of dresses but I did for Rob. Metamorphosis had begun and, fool that I was, I didn’t even notice.
In six months, all colour had gone from me. I wore neat, smart, lifeless clothes with pointy shoes that tried desperately to look dainty on my feet. I’d lost weight, lots of it, and everyone said I looked ‘gorgeous’. I’d started to feel grey. Numb. Numbed, like I was in a glossy, glitzy, everyone knows it’s not real life film and yet, though I could see it all unfold before me, I was on the outside looking in. I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t living yet still the film rolled. My flat, my cheerful, over-bright, just me flat became bland shades of cream with over-tidy shelves. All clutter, all those curious pebbles and ornaments and dusty books, were cleansed away; sent to charity shops for others to pick over and steal away for their solace. I was alone with my neatness, my kitchen cupboard with slimline tonic and half fat this and that; even my food had been sanitised, organised, depleted. Only Gran, dear old Gran, seemed to notice my increasing misery.
“Where’ve you gone, lass?” she said out of nowhere one night when I called in, before returning to her muddled journey forward and backward in time. Strong memories of old, lost memories of her last minute, last sentence. Her question stayed with me as if attached limpet-like to my now solidified insides. It clung on, just, as I agreed to Rob’s inflated proposal amid cheers in our new let’s clink glasses of white wine spritzers kind of cafe/ wine bar that served minimalist food to minimised people. It gripped even tighter as I was organised and dressed and moulded into the shape suitable for Mrs Rob. A shape that didn’t know me. A shape that wasn’t me at all. A shape that tried to hear Gran’s ‘where’ve you gone, lass’ question.
The week before THE DAY, the day Rob informed me would be the best day of my life, the day I would look perfect just for him, Gran died. It was neither expected or unexpected and Rob carried on as if it were nothing. Her voice, her question, grew louder and louder. At the altar, the perfect vicar stood in a backdrop of angelic choirboys and individually selected colourless blooms that overwhelmed the entire village with their scent. It rose to a crescendo as he asked, in the most solemn tones, if anyone knew of any reason why this woman, etc, etc. After a perfectly timed breath’s pause, he inhaled, poised to continue and I heard my own voice echo and bounce, bold and solid, from hallowed walls.
“Yes, I have a reason. This man is stifling me. I’ve lost all my colour. My life. Me.”
Rob gazed at me knowingly, pity resting on his slightly angled head.
“She’s nervous, vicar. Aren’t you darling?”
He was so damn sure of himself.
That was three years ago today. I am not Mrs Rob. I did not walk back up the aisle hand in hand with new husband, feigning smile and happiness. I ran, kicking off the pathetic, white, pointy, not me shoes and hitching up the hand sewn on sequins monstrosity of a dress that I would never have chosen. I ran and ran and ran, until I found me. The me I didn’t realise I’d lost, the me who loved life and mess and colour and jumble. The me that Gran knew. The me I liked. The me that knew that Rob was not love, or being in love and that those shiftings in me were not pleasure but an attempt to grapple with the assault of being changed. Love is something altogether different to that. Something I am just beginning to find out about but that’s another story. A story that’s not special to anyone but me and the man with a shock of crumpled hair and an endless grin sitting beside me in a rainbow of unrestrained colour, amid a disorganised countryside munching sandwiches with thick slices of home-cured ham, wickedly strong cheese and a good pickle.
In the far, far distance, yet clear as yesterday, I can hear Gran’s voice, wise and reassuring; “that’s more like it, lass. That’s more like it.” ©Liz MacKenzie