The Kitchen Aid

“Born to love, born to be partners to the opposite sex…and that is the most important thing they can do in life…to be wives and mothers, to fix their hearts on one man and to love and care for him with all the bounteous unselfishness that love can inspire,” this is what Monica Dickens told Judith and all the other readers of Woman’s Own. Judith had nothing against the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, but who was she to say what all women were born to love and be?

“Of course I love Fred,” Judith told Betty a couple of days later. “I just love other things too.”

“Like what, your books and that piano?” Betty’s voice hinted at sarcasm but her smile seemed warm and genuine. She adjusted her already immaculate hair as she turned away from Judith to pick up her mixing bowl.

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?” Judith replied, distracted for a moment by the sheer height of Betty’s hair. What did she have in there? Steel scaffolding?

“There’s nothing wrong with it, dear, but those things… Well, they’re folly, aren’t they? What girls do. You’re a married woman now, with a little one on the way,” Betty nodded towards Judith’s now bulging stomach. “You won’t have the time once the baby arrives and before you know it, you’ll likely have another one on the way. You’re hardly going to just have the one, are you?”

Judith said nothing for a while. Instead she studied Betty as she whisked her cake batter with deftness, that both fascinated and terrified Judith in equal measures. She looked around Betty’s kitchen, all equipped with the latest gadgets; an electric kettle was the latest, which her husband probably bought to keep up appearances more than anything.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate everything I have,” Judith pleaded her case further.

“I’m sure, just like you really do love Fred,” Betty stopped whisking for a moment and looked Judith straight in the eyes. “Don’t be fooled, Judith. We all have our secret wants and desires. Karen across the road there, she wanted to be a dancer. Maureen, she wanted to drive a bus of all things. Kate, well, Kate just dreams of having a full matching Tupperware set like mine, but we shan’t mention that,” Betty winked and Judith smiled. “ My point is, my dear, there are lots of things we all dream about, but this is real life and us women have a role and it’s a bloody hard one.”

Judith sat back, shocked that Betty had it in her to swear.

“I know, I’m not saying it’s not hard, and rewarding even, but – ”

“You wanted and hoped for more,” Betty interrupted her.

Judith shrugged, “I guess I did,” realising the time, she stood up, her posture more slumped than when she arrived. “I’d best get home to get dinner on.”

“Right you are. Chin up Judith, you’ll come round to it all soon enough,” Betty’s bright smile did little to improve Judith’s mood. “You don’t mind if I don’t see you out, do you? I need to get this batter in the cake tin whilst it’s still fluffy.”

“Not at all,” Judith returned the smile and left.

 

“Darling?” Fred called from the sitting room, not moving his eyes from the page he was reading. The doorbell trilled a second time. “Darling!” he repeated, louder this time, dropping his paper onto his lap.

Judith jolted back into the present, hearing the doorbell and her husband’s terse voice calling her. She took the water off the boil and dried her hands on a towel. Fred watched her as she passed him without so much as a sideward glance. Whoever had been ringing their doorbell had given up patience and left already. He picked up his paper and straightened the pages out with force, his brow furrowed and severe.

Judith put the water back on to boil and waited, her long, slender fingers stroking the shiny new counter – not dissimilar from Betty’s – that Fred had installed the week before. Her fingers began to take on a life of their own as they followed the melody of Elvis crooning, She’s Not You, over her wireless. She began to hum along, but angry bubbles spat at her from the pan, silencing her, as she pulled her scalded hands away. She turned down the heat, appeasing the water into a timid simmer and walked through to the dining room with two place mats. Her dulled grey eyes drifted to where the piano had stood, its stubborn footprints still evident in the carpet.

“Dinner is ready,” Judith called through to Fred.

It was a quiet affair, neither brave enough to break the deafening silence between them in fear of what might replace it. Not until their plates were empty, did Fred finally manage a few words.

“Thank you, that was lovely.”

“That’s kind of you to say and you’re welcome,” Judith began clearing the plates and stopped when she thought he was going to say something else. Instead of speaking again however, he wiped his mouth with his napkin, glanced at the marks in the carpet and left the room.

 

The next day was miserable. Judith watched the bulbous rain pelt the kitchen window listening to the washing machine complete its last cycle. Laundry always made her think of her mother in their old squashed terraced house – several miles and a lifetime away from the up-market suburban landscape she now resided in.

“Hasn’t she done well for herself marrying above her station, eh?” She could imagine the neighbours gossiping about her over their washing lines.

As a young child, every Monday Judith would watch, as her mother filled up the dolly tub, a big galvanised metal ribbed thing, with hot water and begin her lengthy and laborious weekly routine.

Cleanest things in first and Judith would beg to be allowed to use the three-legged dolly peg, a long odd looking pole with a handle on top – it was almost as big as her. Her mother would tell her no, as always, and would turn the contents clockwise and anticlockwise, alternating with the copper plunger, to plunge them up and down, up and down. Now every day was a washday.

The laundry done and hung up to dry, Judith pulled on her coat and left the house with her umbrella to do some shopping. On her return she was surprised to see Fred’s car. It was far too early for him to have finished work already. Worry furnished her face and with trepidation she unlocked the front door.

“Fred?” Judith called out.

He came out of the dining room into the lounge to meet her, his breath ragged and uneven.

“Here, let me take your coat,” not waiting for a reply he took the bags from her and removed her coat. Judith stood stunned and wary of the transformation in her husband.

“Is everything alright, Fred?”

“Yes, everything is absolutely fine. In fact, I have a surprise for you.”

“You do?”

“Well, yes. Sit down, Judith.”

Judith sat on the edge of the couch, scanning her husband’s face. Has he been drinking? His brown eyes had taken on the intense darkness that only occurred when he was angry or excited. He chewed on his slightly protruding bottom lip, making sure he had her attention before he spoke.

            “Now I know you all think a great deal of Betty, all you ladies, that is. And because of that I took what she said as gold.”

“What exactly did she say?”

“Never mind that, the important thing is, I realise I made a mistake. I thought she must be right and that the kitchen was the most important thing to make nice for you to be happy,” Fred took a breath and his excitement simmered down a notch, his brow furrowed as he contemplated his next words. “I’m sorry Judith, I was a fool. I was trying to do something special for you, but instead completely disregarded everything I actually know about you. You are a wonderful wife and will be a fabulous mother, but you are still you, aren’t you?”

Judith sat back, unable to speak.

“I’m prattling on, but the point is, I know you better than Betty does. I guess I just forgot and I’m sorry I took the piano away without consulting you. Come on.” Fred held out his hand and pulled Judith up from the couch.

 

The next day the sun had reappeared making the speckles of dust by the window fly around like dazzled fairies. Judith breezed past them as she went to answer the door.

“Oh, hello, Betty,” Judith smiled warmly at her.

“I saw a delivery van yesterday, but couldn’t spot what they were bringing in. I take it Fred decided to buy you a new cooker? You know the one I have makes such a difference,” Betty beamed at Judith, “of course, you won’t mind that I had a little word in his ear,” Betty winked at her.

“I had no idea you did. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

“Yes, that would be lovely.”

Judith opened the door further to let Betty walk through. She watched with amusement as Betty’s face soured at the sight of the dust sparkling in the window.

“Go on through to the kitchen if you like,” Judith felt liberated at not feeling the need to apologise for the mess.

Betty managed a smile and as she walked through to the dining room towards the kitchen, stood quite still at the sight she was faced with.

Judith grinned at her new piano. “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s no electric cooker, but who needs a new kitchen aid when you can have something as beautiful as this?”

 

Author’s Note

The story itself came about, as I was interested in the 1960s because it was such a turning point in social history for women. There was an entire counter-culture movement going on and young women were beginning to feel more independent, some even liberated, but many were on the sidelines. There were of course many women happy and proud in their domestic roles, but there were even more that were questioning their lives and the meaning of them. Even today it can be a difficult subject, in a time when it is now often frowned upon for a woman to want to be a mum at home; the 1960s were a time when it was more than likely to be frowned upon to want anything more. My piece isn’t a social criticism, but more an observation and a suggestion that as opposed to women being placed into a singular group and classed as wanting to be and being the same, the individual can sometimes be overlooked.


Back to it…

Life’s little (and big!) dramas are forever inconsiderate by getting in the way of writing and creativity.  I suppose the trick to master is to harness and channel it all; clearly not a skill I am accomplished at yet, but there is time.

The main kick up the rear however, is I am starting to market myself and my writing, which is troublesome when I don’t have an active blog.

So more content is coming very soon 🙂


Four Digits

Content Warning!! – This piece contains some ADULT themes

One. Two. Three. Four.  And again.  One. Two. Three. Four.  Sid counted the four digits on each hand, by pressing each tip onto his thumb in sequence.  First his left, then his right. He glanced at the clock hanging behind him on the wall: 5.45pm.  Just fifteen more minutes.  He’d have to get out quick or he would be faced with that horrible feeling of rejection.  Again.  It happened every Friday.  His wanker colleagues would all congregate into the small kitchen grabbing their coats and handbags.  Some of the girls would be changing into their going-out shoes and Sid would be clumsily teetering on the edge, trying to find his own coat, which had usually fallen and been trampled on.  When he had first started working at Hammer’s Sales and Lettings, he would hang back on purpose, just on the off-chance he might be invited along for Friday drinks.  Initially Alison had tried to make sympathetic noises and suggestions to give Sid an invite, but the likes of Jake and Sam would quickly brush over it and they would all hurry out, leaving Sid to un-crumple his coat off the floor.

Today he realised, probably wouldn’t be any different and the general buzz in the office was making him nervous.

“You’re doing your thing,” Alison temporarily stopped her rhythmic typing, long enough to make eye contact with him from her desk, situated directly across from his.

He looked up; his face contorted into a half frown, half squint, “What thing?”  Sid hated looking at Alison now, but it was hard not to when she was sat in front of him.  It was bloody awkward.  He remembered with contempt, his clumsy attempt to seduce her at the recent work’s do.  He’d followed her to the bar and she’d entertained him, even flirted.  So he went for it.  Full on snogged her delicately painted pink lips, sliding his tongue inside her mouth.  She responded, so in a moment of madness he made a grab for her tits.  She had laughed and pushed him away.  She then didn’t look at him for the rest of the night and proceeded to go home with Jake.  Sid cringed at the memory.

“You know, the thing you do.”

“If I knew what you was talkin’ about, I wouldn’t have asked, would I?” he almost spat the words at her.

“Keep your ruddy hair on Sidnetta,” Alison winked at him before concentrating on her own screen again.

Sid clasped his hands tightly together, squeezing them between his knees before releasing one to move his mouse, feigning productivity.  Just ten more minutes.

A commotion started at the back of the office near the printer, followed by an eruption of laughter.  It was Jake.  Sid hated Jake, almost as much as he now detested Alison.  They were made from the same ilk; attractive, successful and confident.  Everything Sid wasn’t.  He recognised this fact and after thirty two years was beginning to accept that his overweight short-frame and rounded face were never going to win him the ladies.  He had begun to feel that what he lacked in charisma and physical attractiveness, he could perhaps make up with other pleasures, such as gaming and a bit of gambling here and there.  But this had led to debt.  A lot of it.  He looked around the office and noticed his peers; all in their shiny suits and well groomed hair, with manicured nails, white teeth and spray tans, and that was just the men.  No doubt they were all up to their eyes in credit too, but somehow they made it seem so easy.  Look at them all laughing, smug bastards.  He detested them all.  It made him wonder how he ever got into this business in the first place.

“Cunts.” He muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” Alison perked up from behind her screen again.

“Nothin’ was just talking to myself.”

“Ooooh, that’s a new one to your collection.” She smiled and carried on working.

Behind him, Sid could still hear Jake continuing his tale about his morning appointment, “She was like putty in my hands, I’m telling you, I got it in the bag lads.  Ten grand over their budget as well.  See, bit of charm and wit, ladies can’t get enough.  Watch that commission go on the board before the week’s out.” There was a slight pause and some hushed voices, “Hey Sid. What deals have you got coming in mate?”

Sid could feel all the blood rush to his plump face; his heavy shoulders sunk as his head lowered towards his keyboard.

“What’s that mate, didn’t quite catch that.” Laughter erupted again. “You’re aiming a bit above your weight there as well big fella.  We still on for that drink later Ali?”

Sid watched Alison smile coyly and wink at Jake.  More laughter.

“Poor Sidnetta,” she smiled at him, “take no notice of those boys.”

Sid’s teeth clenched together and his hand tightened around the mouse.  He glared across the desk at her perfect blonde little head sat smugly on top of her perfectly proportioned little body, with her perfect perky tits; he still wanted to grab them, the thought gave him a semi hard-on, but not as much as he wanted to grab her by the hair and smash her face against the computer screen in front of her, whilst screaming at her to “Stop. Being. Such. A. Smug. Fuckin’. Bitch.”

Sid no longer heard the clicking sound of Alison’s typing and the silence in the room began to ring in his ears.  He realised he was standing up and must have said the words aloud; the previously buzzing office now resembled a morgue.  His breathing quickened as he felt eyes on him from all around the room.  It was then he looked down and saw the blood on the mouse in his hand.  Not understanding where it was from, he looked down his body, but couldn’t see anything wrong.  A feeling of dread slowly seeped into his consciousness, as he looked across at Alison who was now whimpering and holding her bloodied face.  He didn’t fully comprehend what had happened, but could paint a fairly accurate picture from the scene unfolding around him.  He felt detached from his own body as a swarm of men wrenched him away, whilst a fist connected with his jaw.  He could hear someone shouting about calling the police.  The usually familiar clanking sounds of the pipes in the old building’s heating, all of a sudden sounded like the thunderous chime of a grandfather clock.  He managed to get a look at the clock on the wall behind him whilst being dragged into the manager’s office.  It was 6pm.  So close.

One. Two. Three. Four.  And again.  One. Two. Three. Four.


Frosty morning

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The Cellar

The passage down to the cellar was a theatrical event in itself.  A small army of girls would be sent down there on a Sunday evening.  In our arms we carried our sheets and we would make our way to the chilly, stone spiral stairway that ran from the top floor of the building down to its darkened bowels below.  The cold which permeated from the stone would be the first thing that hit me and I would allow the palm of my hand to travel down across the smooth wall as we slowly descended the stairs.  I was aware that the stairs had been used by servants when the building was originally run as a house.  The idea of the old building as a home was reinstated by the disused servant bells, which could still be seen in the some of the classrooms.  Every girl was told the ghost stories upon arrival by her peers.  My imagination would run riot, as I pictured servant girls hurrying up and down the lethal stone staircase every day, some coming to their inevitable, murky end.

The smell of dampness would quickly fill my nostrils and the air felt dense due to the steam produced from the industrial tumble driers in use.  As we waited patiently in line, my eyes would be distracted from the well-lit laundry room ahead of us, straining to see the shapes protruding from the shadows.  It was impossible to know, but what were most likely nothing more exciting than old chairs and other pieces of furniture covered in sheets, looked to me ghostly and unnerving.

The oversized cellar was unlike any other I had been in before; its sheer scale was breathtaking with its never-ending maze of corridors.  Only once in my entire time at the boarding school had I been allowed to venture down there on a day other than a Sunday.  Another student and I accompanied the school’s caretaker, as we were on search for scenery for our annual play, on this occasion, The Wizard of Oz.  The corridor’s lighting was dim and inefficient for its purpose and we were firmly instructed to not touch anything or fall too far behind him; our little legs forced into a jog, trying to keep up.  The mixture of fear and excitement was heady.  It felt like I had been given access to the yellow brick road itself or even better, a magical wardrobe.  I was ready to see Narnia at any moment, looking to see where the fur coats would be hanging.  The memory makes me smile, as I realise how a small child’s imagination is a fierce and powerful force to be reckoned with.  If only we could capture and keep it forever.


The Sleeping Dinosaur

 

From the wide open blustery space of the Racecourse, the terraced houses seem like Lego buildings; each with identical windows, chimneys and garden walls, as if following a strict dress code.  Having been stationed here for over a hundred years, a static audience to the numerous changes to overcome these grounds, they are perhaps too young to have witnessed the more brutal events I recollect from a book on the area; such as the hangings which took place, alarmingly regularly, between 1715 and 1818.  In my somewhat limited knowledge of the buildings themselves, I think they must have at least been witness to the chaos and devastation of the two World Wars.  Not to mention the excitement the unofficial race meetings had to offer, which took place when it bore a different name; Northampton Heath.  The races weren’t without their own tragedies, with the fatalities of both spectators and jockeys, not forgetting the innocent horses that were raced there for the amusement of others.  The races were finally banished in 1904.  It occurs to me that this place has seen its fair share of death.

 

I take in the mature trees enclosing the grounds; they look devoid of life, the relentless wind having stripped them of their summery coats.  As if reminding me of the unpleasantries of days gone by, an aggressive wind slams against my body and my attention is snatched by the crusty brown leaves scattered over the damp grass, dancing with each violent gust of wind.  It makes me ponder on how life and death walk on similar paths, quite literally as is the case of the Racecourse; now a place for recreational sports and play, its sinister past long forgotten by most.

 

Despite its modern-day purpose, it retains an element of its historical dark past.  Its nickname, the Rapecourse, is not lost on the locals and those with enough sense and self-preservation avoid crossing it in the dark.  There have been a number of disturbing incidents of rape, muggings and even murder in recent years.  This fact makes me wonder about the individuals who were executed here, I recall there had been a number of rapists and murderers.  An entire gang had at one point been hung for their crimes, including rape, burglary and murder.  It would appear that some things aren’t completely altered by time.

 

I shake off the eerie feeling that I’m trespassing and try to instead become interested in more positive aspects of the Racecourse. I notice the swollen green mound in the distance, likening a sleeping dinosaur; the glistening silver slide, its elongated horn.  There are no children playing today, the blustery cold wind not appealing to small hands and faces.  I realise I’m in agreement and decide it’s time to make my way back inside.


Friday Sunset in Northampton

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