HANNAH BAGNALL

Short Story Writer

The Lodger

She used every pot and pan in the kitchen when she cooked. Jeanie hated it.  There were always vegetable cuttings on the floor. They stuck to Jeanie’s feet. Jeanie would walk around the kitchen collecting potato peel and onion skin. She would have to brush it off into the bin and then sweep the floor before she could start cooking her own dinner. Jeanie regretted getting a lodger. The lodger also left splashes of water and tea all the way up the stairs and sometimes even on the wall from when she took a drink up to her room. She was always carrying too many things in her hands to be careful. There were often teabags left on the side of the sink, curled into a ball on a spoon.  When the lodger had come to look around the house, she was light and she spoke easily and she made Jeanie feel light and easy. Jeanie had not thought about the other things that come along with being light and easy.

          Jeanie would scrape out the pots and pans and wash them up and the more she scrubbed the more she felt that she was right and the lodger was wrong. To make her point, Jeanie would also clean all of the kitchen tops and the cupboard fronts. She went to a lot of trouble. On a day that she was feeling particularly right, she would wash the walls of the kitchen and polish the kettle. There were times when the lodger would come into the kitchen when Jeanie was clearing up after her and Jeanie would wash faster and rub harder. The lodger would offer to make Jeanie a cup of tea and insist that she was going to do the cleaning up later. The lodger did not seem embarrassed. Jeanie would say to herself that she had seen the lodger’s way of washing up and no thank you she would rather do it herself. The lodger’s way of washing up was to fill the sink with water, put all of her pots and pans and utensils in the water and leave it there for the next day or even the day after the next day. By then the water was cold and greasy and Jeanie had to empty it all and wash everything with especially hot water and lots of washing up liquid to make sure it was clean.

          Although Jeanie criticised the lodger inside her head, she never criticised her out loud. She smiled at the lodger and accepted her offer of a cup of tea even though she did not drink tea after five o’clock on any day of the week, not even on weekends. Jeanie would ask her how her day was and the lodger would jump up and sit on the kitchen top while she talked. She would swing her legs and clap her feet together and jump down when the kettle had boiled. Her movements were light and easy. Jeanie noticed that her movements were also quite wasteful, whereas Jeanie’s movements were very direct. Jeanie did not sway as she walked as the lodger did and she did not use her hands as she talked. Jeanie kept her limbs neatly tucked against her body.  The lodger took long, cat-like stretches as she yawned or stood stretching one leg at a time behind her back as she spoke or she would dance her way out of the kitchen when she could simply have walked. The lodger took up a lot of space with her body and with her light and easy talking.

Even though Jeanie was in the right about a lot of things, especially things to do with being tidy, she felt small around the lodger. She realised that if they were two characters in a film, everyone would like the lodger. They would think the lodger was fun and it wouldn’t matter how messy and wasteful she was. If anything, that would make her even more charming. That is how it works in fiction and it often works that way in real life too. Jeanie knew that in a film she would be the rigid and difficult one. People would sigh or laugh at her or even pity her and wonder why she couldn’t be more like the lodger. They would not imagine how she was cornered into her way of being by the way the lodger had of being light and easy.

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Joe

Joe had a radio. He held his radio to his ear as he walked around the town and when he was on the bus. When the signal was bad, he pressed the side of his face more firmly into the radio and he would squint and wave the aerial around. The aerial was always extended to its limit. The voices that came from the radio sounded as if they were speaking into a paper bag with air escaping around their edges and the music that it played rustled. Joe smiled. His fingernails were dirty and his t-shirt didn’t cover the stomach that hung over his trousers. His t-shirt was always loose around the neck and tight around the waist. In the winter, he wore a big cardigan that did not look warm and loafers with no socks. Joe didn’t sing along to his radio. He didn’t even hum. Nor did he tap his feet or bob his head. He was never seen clicking his fingers. Joe just smiled.

If Joe got on the bus and the only seat left was next to you, he would stand in the aisle, holding on to one of the poles. If the bus stopped suddenly or went round a corner fast, Joe would sometimes lose his footing and he would swing on the pole and sometimes you would notice that his trousers had slipped down too far but his radio would still be held tightly to his ear. Sometimes, on the bus, you would want to read your book or sit quietly and Joe’s radio would be irritating and you’d glare and sigh and shove your book back in your bag and other times you wouldn’t mind it or would even be glad of it and you would notice someone else being irritated by it and you would think it was a shame for them and you’d forget that you could ever be irritated by Joe’s radio.

The Things We Did Not Like

We have things in our house that my husband does not like and that I do not like. We have things in our house that my husband does not like but I do like. We have things in our house that I do not like but my husband does like. We also have things in our house that neither one of us likes nor dislikes. We have things in our house that my husband especially does not like and that I do not like but I can live with and we have things in our house that I especially do not like and my husband does not like much but he can tolerate.

When we first moved into our house we decided that neither of us would live with things that we did not like. Our dislike for some of our things was clear to us and it was obvious that we could not begin in our new home with things that were not liked. These things that we did not like were conspicuous in our new home. They were stored in a spare room all together. We agreed that we would find things to replace the things that we did not like with things that we both liked. We were happy to compromise on the things that we liked but the other did not like so that we could both like the things in our new house.

After a few weeks it did not matter quite as much that there were things in our new house that either one of us or both of us did not like. Gradually some of the things we did not like were brought back into use because we had not replaced them before we needed them. We argued when perhaps the other person decided that they did not mind one of the things that we had both decided we did not like and they hung it on the wall because the wall was too bare. Over time we were each less willing to compromise on the things we did like but that the other did not like until it became easier to simply not think about the things we did not like and they became as invisible to us as the things that we did like.

Cilla When she was Alive

 

If Sylvia had to choose to be anyone she would choose to be Cilla Black. When Cilla Black was alive. Sylvia is not so down on herself that she would choose to be someone else when they were dead. If she was choosing to be someone else even though they were dead, she definitely wouldn’t choose to be Cilla Black. She would choose Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield because even when they’re dead they’re still more alive than Sylvia has ever felt. Being them when they were alive would be too much living for Sylvia but she thought she could manage being Cilla Black on a good day even when Cilla Black was alive.

 

Ferry Urgency

The grandmother was saying that the grandfather had no sense of urgency. She pointed out the way he was walking. It was very slow. It was not very slow due to his age. He was young for a grandfather.  He was looking all around him. He was swinging his arms. He was clicking his fingers. This told the grandmother that he was singing. He wasn’t moving his lips so he was singing to himself in his head. Either that or he was humming. Still, he was walking slowly and swinging his arms and singing and clicking his fingers. He had no sense of urgency. The grandmother said that you would not want to have to rely on the grandfather in an emergency.

They were all on a ferry and the grandfather had been sent to find something out. He was on his way back now. When he got closer to the car the grandmother wound down her window and asked him what had he been doing? The grandfather had been smiling but now he stopped. He told the grandmother that she knew exactly what he had been doing because she had been the one who had asked him to do it. She pointed out that he had not been in much of a hurry and he agreed that he had not been in much of a hurry and walked around the car to the driver’s seat and whistled the same tune he had been singing to himself. The grandmother told the grandfather that he had no sense of urgency and he’d never had any for as long as she’d known him. The grandfather agreed that it was more than likely true that he had no sense of urgency. The grandmother told him that she hoped he was never the only one around in an emergency. She’d probably die before he got around to doing anything. The grandfather asked Would you? as if he was asking a favour and told his granddaughter that the toilets were on the first floor.

The Things She had Lost

Quite honestly she’d lost count of the things she had lost – there had been that many. She took a moment to think and she shuffled back in her chair. Let’s see, there had been that pink sundress. Did the younger woman remember? It came with its own bag. The crinkly one. The younger woman was sorry she didn’t remember. She had worn it that time to Shelly’s party  when Robert had said that thing to Julie and Julie had gotten upset. Well anyway, she had lost that and the bag that had come with it somewhere , she had no idea where, and it was a shame because it was one of her favourites and she had lost stranger things than that, she had lost a bottle of Lea and Perrin’s sauce.

Yes, that was right. She had gone to use some in a recipe because she liked to use it in some things even though people thought it was strange but they had to agree that it did add a little something even if they weren’t quite sure what it was, it did add a little something. When she looked in her cupboard, it wasn’t there and she hadn’t remembered running out because that is something she would remember because as she said she liked to use it in things that you wouldn’t usually expect.

When she came to think of it she had lost other food things – one time she had lost some white icing for a Christmas cake. She had bought it specially and when she came to make the cake for Christmas and everybody always said how much they loved her Christmas cake so she made it every year because you have to don’t you. So everyone was expecting this cake and there it was, the icing was gone and she couldn’t believe when she saw that it was gone and she remembered at the time thinking how that was funny. She’d lost count of the things she’d lost and they were all an absolute mystery as things that you lose always are, aren’t they.

Worthing Walking Club

Someone was saying that they had walked down the same road last time hadn’t they and the person next to them agreed that yes they had walked down the same road the last time. The first person thought that she must have been right and was pleased with her correct observation. That van wasn’t there last time though, another person joined in, and those people hadn’t sold their house the last time either it was remembered by someone further back. Another person was sure that that house wasn’t that shade of yellow the last time they came but they were assured that it was because another person recalled having a conversation about whether it would be described as buttercup yellow or buttermilk yellow. Buttermilk was decided upon as they remembered. It was far too mellow to be considered buttercup. Something else must be different about it then, that person insisted. They didn’t know what, but something had changed.

The person at the front of the walking group was wearing a high visibility waistcoat. Everyone walked in twos behind the person wearing the high visibility waistcoat so that they stayed safe and so that nobody would get lost. Their leader stopped to cross the road and everyone queued behind.

They had crossed in that exact same spot last time, the first person pointed out and everyone was cheered to remember doing exactly the same thing as they had done before. That was right. They remembered standing in that exact same spot. One person was missing this time and there were two new members and so not everyone was walking with the exact same person and so it was also a little different. While they waited, they attempted to place who was standing with whom and in what order compared to last time. Then they could really measure just how similar or just how different this walk was from the last. Their heads bobbed around as they each counted and checked their position in relation to the other people around them and they judged by some innate feeling whether they were further forward in the group or further back than before. They leaned their heads away from their neighbours as they looked at them and tried to overlay this new picture on their memory of the last time to see how well the two matched. The new people even looked around as if trying to help.

It turned out that mostly the group had fallen into the same formation except for the few minor differences that couldn’t be helped because of the members that were missing and because of the new members. The new members searched around themselves for excuses but the road had cleared and the group could now cross.

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A Horse Wandered

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A Daughter Came to Visit

A daughter opened the door to her mother’s house with a key that she had. She called to her mother and only the quiet noises of the house answered. For instance, a clock ticked and some wind escaped through a window. She called again as she turned to close the door. Still, only the house answered.

She wandered about the rooms of her mother’s house. It was cold and the daylight was dark. She continued to call for her mother without a response but she knew her mother was there. The rooms were empty. They did contain furniture but other than the furniture, they were empty. The house was a perfect square with a central room and a corridor that ran all the way around the central room and which led to other rooms.After the third corner, this daughter found her mother in the dining room.

The mother was sitting at the dining room table. She was expectant but she was not waiting. There was a pot of tea and two cups laid out on the table and the mother gestured that the daughter could pour the tea into the cups for them both. The mother already knew what she was going to talk about but she didn’t like to instigate the conversation. The daughter did not know what they were going to talk about but she knew it had already been decided and so she asked lots of questions until she found it out. If the daughter accidentally steered the conversation away from the decided topic, her mother looked away at the window as if she was looking out of it at something not very interesting. The daughter would trace her way back to where she had strayed off course and her mother would start talking again. This way, a daughter can come to trace the boundaries of her mother’s conversation.

The mother expected that the daughter had things to do and so the daughter began collecting the cups and plates and the tea pot and put them onto the tray to tidy things away before she left. The mother insisted that she did not need to do that while she placed the things the daughter had forgotten onto the tray. The daughter put the tray in the kitchen and said goodbye to her mother who remained in her seat but participated in a hug. The daughter turned the fourth corner and was back at the front door. As she left, the daughter  pictured the map of their conversation but with her wrong turns erased.

Ugly Baby

The young mother was saying that she supposed her baby would grow into its looks. She was meeting her friend for the first time since the baby was born. She bounced the baby up and down. Unfortunately the baby had inherited her grandmother’s nose. The mother could see that already. The mother drew her friend’s attention to the baby’s cheeks which hung heavy and low either side of its chin. The friend said that they say an ugly baby will turn into a beautiful adult and cute babies often grow up to be a disappointment. The mother supposed that that was because with less good-looking babies, the expectations were lower and so people were pleasantly surprised if they turned out to be pretty or handsome as older children or adults, considering they had been ugly babies. The mother told her friend that it showed that mother’s do not always think their babies are beautiful even when their babies are really quite funny looking.