HANNAH BAGNALL

Short Story Writer

Lizard Lunch

Weaklings they are. ‘Hello, Ida darling. Oo I know, you can’t beat that jelly, can you?’ Repulsive little reptilian thing she is, chasing that spoon around with her lipless hole. Basking lizards. Mouth breathers with coagulated spittle at the corners. That Eddie’s got a bag full of shiny little treats. Sits there on the edge of his bed in his best suit just waiting for his lift home. Poor bastard, they never come to get him. ‘What’s in yer bag there Eddie,’ I go in and ask him every day and he shows me. He unclasps the buckle. So proud he is. ‘Mind if I have a proper look, Eddie?’ I go and he stares at me with those black eyes. They’d give me the creeps if I really thought about them. I reach me hand in and have a good feel around. I seen a watch in there before. ‘You’re a rich man, Eddie,’ I say and I pat him on the shoulder. Sharon, the new one’s in the laundry today, feeling up the crusties’ underwear. Dirty little pervert she is. You can just see it. She gives me her best nursery school teacher smile as I go past. I’m saving her up for later. Mrs Naley is wandering about the halls with her frame. She’s looking for her husband. He died twenty years ago and everyone’s stopped reminding her. ‘Have you seen my Alf?’ She asks. ‘I was with him just now but now I can’t find him.’ ‘I think he went back to the dining room,’ I tell her.  ‘Let me help you on your way.’ I lay my arm around back. Like a little mouse, she is. Feels like her skeleton might collapse any minute. I rest my hand just over her pocket. ‘There you go, my girl. I’m sure he’ll be here somewhere,’ I says and leave her at the door. I don’t go in the dining room if I can help it. It’s bad enough when they’re given their snacks in the front room. Their wet little tongues probing around. Globs of mushed up baby food sitting on their caved in chests. Anyway, Edith will be back in her room now, having a lie down. ‘Hello gorgeous.’ That’s what I always call her. You should see what a little girl it makes of her.  ‘Hello gorgeous.’ She tucks her cheek into her shoulder and smiles all gummy. ‘Been breaking hearts again I hear.’ She covers her face with her claws. ‘You’ve made the place look nice since you got here, ey? Look at this over here.’ There’s a lovely little jewellery box. Family heirlooms. It’s visiting afternoon later. The families sit around trying not to look at their dribbling relatives. ‘How you settling in, Dad?’ Janette asks me. ‘I’m making friends,’ I say, thinking of my drawer.

Mrs Barber Visits her Daughter-in-Law

The Beginning

Starting at the beginning is advisable. It saves leaving gaps and creating confusion and having to find clever ways to explain things later. Mrs Barber does not like her daughter-in-law. Nothing came before her feeling that she does not like her daughter-in-law. It was a feeling that was already there in the beginning when she came to think about the abstract concept of a wife for her son.

Being Polite

Mrs Barber wipes her feet on her daughter-in-law’s doormat twenty times before she enters her home. A definite number allows for no misinterpretations. Mrs Barber is being polite.

Tea

Mrs Barber perches on the edge of the settee wincing with every sip of her tea. She hates the way her daughter-in-law makes tea. It is over-brewed and milky all at once. It is a combination of the two very types of tea that Mrs Barber hates the most. It is in a mug. She makes a rule of drinking every last drop.

Talking a lot

Her daughter-in-law talks a lot. She talks as she gathers great armfuls of children’s toys, clothes, food and moves them from one place to another in a heap. She talks as she comforts children after scuffs and scrapes and sends them away to play again. Mrs Barber refrains from talking in her daughter-in-law’s presence. If she can help it. That had been a trick she had learned from her own mother-in-law. If you do not talk, you can be neither understood nor misunderstood. Either could cause difficulty. Talking a lot provides context and context leads to discovering motives. Not being sure of sufficiently suppressing her one big underlying motive, Mrs Barber sticks to her policy of saying a maximum of five complete sentences on any one visit.

Cold bath water

It becomes necessary for Mrs Barber to make use of her daughter-in-law’s bathroom before she leaves. Even when she is certain of her privacy, Mrs Barber does not permit herself to make faces at the toothpaste splashes on the mirror, or the scraps of soggy toilet roll that have tangled themselves around the toilet brush. The bath is filled with water. She does allow herself to put just one finger in the water to feel the temperature. Cold. Bubbles have collected at the edges of the water and have turned to dusty foam. Toys filled with water have sunk to the bottom.

The door is closed.

On the way out, Mrs Barber wipes her feet again out of habit. She stops in mid-swipe, remembering herself. She becomes afraid that she has given something away and she reprimands herself for her sloppiness. Her daughter-in-law waves from the doorstep with her children tangled around her legs. Her daughter-in-law does not seem to have noticed the little indiscretion. She waves and smiles and waves. The children pull her back into the house and she laughs and rolls her eyes good-naturedly. The door is closed.

Summary

Mrs Barber visits her daughter-in-law and wipes her feet and is pleased with her display of manners. She drains the over-brewed and milky mug of tea in spite of it being precisely the kind of tea she hates most of all. Her daughter-in-law talks rather a lot and Mrs Barber is sure to do the opposite. Her daughter-in-law has not tidied her bathroom in preparation for Mrs Barber’s visit.  Mrs Barber is careless as she leaves the house and nearly betrays her motives after all. Her daughter-in-law does not seem to notice.  Mrs Barber later relates the whole visit to a friend on the phone. They agree that Mrs Barber has been particularly unfortunate in her daughter-in-law.

Miss Edney

Miss Edney is close to her brother, Phillip. They have lived in the same town their whole lives, just a few streets away from one another. Miss Edney lives in a bungalow and her brother, Phillip, lives in a terraced house. Miss Edney lives alone and Phillip lives with his girlfriend. (He insists on calling her his girlfriend even though he is in his sixties and his girlfriend is in her early fifties. She giggles when he says ‘my girlfriend’. He always says my girlfriend with special emphasis and winks at his girlfriend as he is saying it.)

Miss Edney and her brother are not very similar but they get along nonetheless. There is a family resemblance in the way they look but they are not very similar in their personalities. In spite of their dissimilarity, they like each other very much. Phillip finds his sister very peculiar in a way that he thinks is very endearing. He laughs at her and cuddles her when she is explaining her grievances with her neighbours. Miss Edney finds her brother quite silly and naive and is very protective of him. She is also very proud when they are in public together or when her brother speaks to her neighbours when he visits. She can see that her neighbours are flattered that he talks to them. They smile and look shy and they are soft. When they are speaking to her they are brittle and aloof. They usually exchange cold and insincere smiles from across their gardens. When Phillip is visiting, her neighbours grin and wave at them both and she can see that they mean it deeply.

Miss Edney was in the pharmacy one morning and she was explaining to the pharmacist about her brother’s girlfriend. The pharmacist was very sympathetic. Miss Edney explained to him that Phillip’s girlfriend had not even lived with her own children. She had left and lived on her own, leaving her partner to bring up her children. She wasn’t even married to him and that is why she called him her partner. Miss Edney could see that the pharmacist was quite rightly appalled and that satisfied her. She couldn’t bear the woman, she told him and he nodded. Couldn’t bear her. Just could not bear her. The pharmacist couldn’t see that there was anything that Miss Edney could do about it. These things just are the way they are and what could you do? This response satisfied Miss Edney less. She was sure there was something she could do. It is all fair and well if this woman wants to be how she is on her own but she is not being how she is on her own; she is being how she is with Miss Edney’s own brother.

Miss Edney had also told the postman all about this girlfriend and he had to agree that she didn’t sound altogether good.  He said that she sounded like trouble to him and Miss Edney told him that she was inclined to agree. If there is anything Miss Edney knows, it is what is good for her own brother.

Phillip brought his girlfriend to visit his sister on one occasion. She ate four biscuits from the plate and had looked at all of Miss Edney’s photos, which stood in their frames around the room, as if her living room was a gallery. She asked who everyone was and talked to Phillip about them as if she knew them based on the things that Phillip had obviously already told her. Miss Edney was angry with Phillip for sharing their family with his girlfriend who quite patently did not care for family. The girlfriend walked around their family history and told stories to Miss Edney about the people in the pictures as if she knew them better than Miss Edney did. Phillip sat in his chair smiling and proud of his girlfriend who listened to him and remembered the stories he told her about his family. His girlfriend who made his family seem exotic as they re-emerged filtered through her imagination. Miss Edney did not want to see her family re-imagined, least of all by this stranger.

She told the girl who came to do her hair how this girlfriend might be most happy telling stories about other people’s families seeing as she had deserted her own real family. Miss Edney could see that the girl thought that she was right about that and Miss Edney was content that she had hit the nail on the head.

A Mess

Drawers.

There are lots of ways that drawers can be in a mess. People often think that mess is just mess but like I said there are different ways that a thing can be in a mess. When people talk about a thing being in a mess they are really thinking of general disarray and really have no clear idea in their minds of exactly how the thing is in a mess.

There are obvious kinds of mess. Most people will recognise that unfolded clothes make a drawer a mess. They will accept that empty food wrappers or crumpled pieces of paper create a mess. If a drawer’s contents will not allow the drawer to be closed, most people would agree, that drawer is in a mess.

Most people will think that they know how to remedy these kinds of mess in their drawers. They will be satisfied with their efforts if their drawers are filled with folded clothes, or if they are free from what should rightly belong in the bin, or if their drawers can easily be closed. Although these people have cleared up some kinds of mess, unfortunately, they have not cleared up all kinds of mess.

There is one kind of mess that most people do not understand. This is unfortunate because it is the most important thing to understand about things being in a mess. They may think to themselves that something is amiss but they will not be able to discover exactly what. A clear system of categorisation is needed. Folded garments are necessary to prevent a mess but really they are the very beginning and not the end.

There are broad categories of garment that might go in a drawer: tops, bottoms, underwear. These can be further broken down into daywear and nightwear then broken down further into sleeve-length, neck shape, leg-length, tight-fitting or loose-fitting, patterned or plain, colours, type of fabric, old or new, casual or formal. Each category should have its own folded pile. You must be careful not to cross-contaminate between categories. That will create a mess. If you find that you have an item of clothing that does not belong to one distinct category but could belong to a number of categories all at once, then you must look again at your categories because there must be a flaw in your system. It is important to be distinct with your categories but not too specific. There is a risk of creating a category for each individual item of clothing if you are not sensible. Your categories should be neither too broad nor too narrow. If no flaw can be found in your categorisation, it might be that you need to create a new category. If, however, this one item of clothing is the only member of the new category, it will be better to dispose of the item of clothing altogether. You might be tempted to create a category that you will label miscellaneous.  Do not. With a category labelled miscellaneous there can only be a mess.  Really this is only the start but I think from my example you will see how to categorise clearly and simply.

The same rules apply for other types of contents in drawers. Kitchen utensils, for example, must be divided into categories: slicing, mixing, baking, roasting, frying, etc. Then, handle shape and colour, frequency of use, etc. Again, if you find that one item does not fit easily into any one category, it is better to dispose of it altogether.

Windows.

Most people do not think of windows as being parts of a house that can be a mess. You will see that as soon as you really come to think of windows you can see that it is obvious that windows can be a mess.

Carpets.

People tend to imagine that a carpet that is free of stains and dirt is a carpet that is not in a mess. This is a common conception and one which is easily forgiven. Rarely are people shown the many ways that a carpet can be made a mess.

One thing that can often be seen in the pile of a carpet is footprints. You may have gone to the trouble of hoovering your carpet only then to walk upon it afterwards. It should be obvious where you have made your mistake.

This brings me to another error that can commonly be seen and that is when the strokes of the hoover which should be administered in such a way as to create a clear pattern in the pile of the carpet are in fact administered haphazardly. This, it is clear, will only leave a mess where you have intended for there to be order.

Bed Linen.

Be careful not to sit on your bed once it is made until you go to bed that evening. If you are living your life tidily then you will find that sitting on your bed between sleeping times should not be necessary.