Excuse me while I freak out.

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Excuse me while I freak out.

So there was a lump. Turns out it’s nothing – stress probably. Nothing to worry about. Spot of cream for a few days and it’ll go away.

Only the lump is on Louis. Just one little spot, and nothing anywhere else, and not anywhere dodgy (ie. near lymph nodes)… but nonetheless, it’s on the two year old and therefore I will quietly (because it might not actually be cancer) FREAK OUT.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two days. And not telling anyone except Luuk because I don’t want anyone else freaking out… you know, unless it’s necessary. It’s remarkable how much effort it can take NOT to freak out, to NOT tell people what’s on your mind…

And if you know me, you know all about my natural talent for keeping my mouth shut.

The doctor pointed to Elena as the cause of Louis’ stress. She might be part of the equation but he seems so chilled out about her addition to the family. I’m thinking that the food dramas, potty training, new big-kid bed and the frustrations of increasing communication are probably all part of the problem. But how do you reduce the stress on a 2 year old? Consistency, I’m guessing. Giving him everything he wants whenever he wants won’t do it – because it’ll be so inconsistent, as well as NOT a long term solution.

Anyway, somehow I’ve managed to do quite a bit of my two main jobs this week: laundry and writing. I even did my French homework yesterday evening, in the waiting room for the doctor. I think I’m quite good at focussing my energy on one thing in order to keep from focussing it on another. But I certainly don’t want to perfect the art. Thank god he’s okay.

I have a French lesson this afternoon and I’m hoping to get lots of writing and editing done this morning, so that’s today’s plan. I’m adding scenes from the male protagonist’s perspective throughout my novel and it’s going really well – adding a lot to the story I think.

And just in case you’re curious, here’s the opening couple pages of my novel (having been tried and tested at my writers group so hopefully they spotted any glaring ickyness…)

Looming iron gates stood in the path of my trusty rusty car. Rain dripped down my collar, but that was nothing compared to my discomfort at even the memory of the last time I’d been here, for the reading of Gran’s will. No one understood why the old lady left her house and grounds – estate might be the more appropriate term – to her middle, and in nearly every way middling, grandchild.

Wrestling the gate latch, I couldn’t see the house at all – it was that far away, and ancient trees stood sentry, but the dark played some small part in its invisibility. I reached through wet cobwebs and see-sawed the latch till it gave way, pushing the reluctant gate open, and scraping up the gravel all the way to the post.

The radio was playing in the car – or not the radio; there’d been nothing but static for half an hour. ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will you soon, I suppose,’ Billy Joel sang, in my warm, dry car, packed to the ceiling with all my stuff. That Billy, he had it right. I would go, and soon, I supposed. A holiday at Gran’s house, and then I’d get on with real life.

I pulled a wad of soggy paper from the letter box and got back in the car, bouncing along the driveway over potholes and puddles. I feared the place might be a little worse for wear, untouched and neglected for over three years. God, the garden would be a mess. Steeling myself against the cold, I summoned every positive thought:

For starters, I didn’t know anyone in Ashbury except Aunty Susan. I would have no commitments, no one’s expectations except my own – derived from memories of summers long past; expectations I knew must be wrong. But in the absence of real information I held them loosely and hoped not to be entirely disappointed. There must be some sunshine, on occasion. Surely. There must be a few people around my age, or with some other common ground.

I was starting fresh. I could entirely reinvent myself.

A very seductive idea.

And I was free. Freedom was the most seductive idea of all.

Billy Joel crooned on, ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows.’ I parked close and dashed to the door with only my purse. The key slipped in my fingers, fingers that had lost all dexterity.

“Work, damn it!”

I jammed the key into the lock as if punishing it for defiance.

I was soaked through; what difference would it make if I spent another ten minutes in the downpour before dripping on Grandma’s carpet? She’d hardly be there to tell me off. I swallowed a sob, but why was I crying? For Grandma, or Carl (there would be dozens of missed calls by now, or defeated silence) or all the uncertainty of my future, uncertainty which had thrilled me time and again in the past but scared me now.

Angry rather than impatient, I jammed the key in further, twisting, swearing, slamming my hand against the wooden panelling. Until the key broke in the lock. I held the stub up to the beam of the headlights, wondering at my own strength. The fight had gone out of me and all feeling with it. I was certain that Carl would be fine, that everything would be fine – fine by me, at least, because I was suddenly and utterly detached.

Beyond the car the town lights beckoned. I picked up my purse and walked down the driveway, towards the light. The Ashfield Arms was a block and a half away. The rain eased then stopped and the walk warmed me a little, my muscles appreciating the activity after being cramped up in the car for most of the day. The shops looked the same as ever. The Salvation Army Store displayed the best of a bad lot of used clothes on broken mannequins, and next door the liquor store advertised fluorescent green drinks and a job vacancy. I slowed – not for the job advertisement, but because I heard fighting voices.

A woman demanded, “You think I don’t feel guilty?”

“That was your choice.”

I stopped walking, unwilling to be seen, but I saw them. She had her back to me, and black-stockinged legs with only marginally more girth than her stilettos.

He turned as if to walk away, to go back into the pub, then stopped when she spoke, his curly hair springing towards the door once more after he stopped moving.

“That only makes it worse.” She leaned toward him, desperate to be understood, “It’s easy for you. You’ve done nothing wrong. You never did do anything wrong. You didn’t have any tough decisions. You got all the perks. As always.”

He turned to face her, flushed and wide-eyed. He was tall and broad. How could they have been a couple? He’d have crushed her.

“You have nothing,” her voice caught beneath the eaves and echoed back, “nothing to feel guilty about. You’re free. You have nothing to regret.”

“I regret everything.” Each word sunk, heavy from his lips.

I edged toward the building, into the shadow. They were silent for a moment.

And then she slapped him.

He stood utterly still.

She strode away, got in her car and tore off.

He lifted his hand but didn’t actually touch his face, only wiggled his jaw side to side and, shook his head, and slunk inside.

I waited, not wanting him to know I’d witnessed the entire thing. I could hear music – a little background classic rock. The chill was settling between my shoulder blades. The warm light in the windows and the smell of frying chips beckoned me in.

***

No one said anything. No one even made a face, but Kim’s hand print must have been clear as red paint on my cheek. I ordered a beer and then went to the loo. The mirror in the men’s was a little larger than a dinner plate but gave me the information I needed. I splashed water on my face and wondered how hard I’d have to hit myself on the other cheek to make it look like I was just flushed from too much drink, or getting really excited about the cricket.

No. The cricket wouldn’t do the trick this time. India were cleaning up. As much fun as it is to watch the Aussies get their arses kicked, that was hardly face-flushing excitement material. Where’s a good nail-biting game of sport when you need one?

No one even commented on Kim’s absence. When had everyone discovered good manners? And why was I disappointed? Surely this was what I preferred – to keep everything under wraps and ignore my humiliation until it went away. Only the humiliation didn’t bother me much at all. In other circumstances it would have, but I was far too angry. If I spoke at all I might bark. I could manage ordering a drink. I could even manage a thank you and something like a smile, and Kylie knew to pour the pint and take the money and leave me be. We’d been doing this for years.

She had Greg to talk to if she needed someone. And Greg had Kylie, or the cricket if he liked. I suppose Kylie could have watched the cricket too, between pouring drinks and polishing glassware, but she wasn’t an avid sports fan. She followed who was playing who and who was winning what, but that was just by default. An occupational hazard she’d probably say.

When I came out of the loo, one cheek pink and the other definitely red, Greg and Kylie were talking to someone new – and I mean someone actually new.

New people were noteworthy in Ashbury. We weren’t on the main road and lacked much in the way of a tourist trade. The locals knew there was plenty to love about the place, but it was hard to market empty beaches and rolling hills and a couple of good vineyards. The beaches were warmer further north, the rolling hills weren’t the ones where they filmed Hobbiton, and there were dozens more vineyards on bus tours up in Hawkes Bay.

The lack of tourists was, perhaps, part of Ashbury’s appeal, but this girl, in her Argyle and merino and brown leather jacket, didn’t look the type to appreciate the benefits of a small town.

My cheek smarted. The sting came and went. Another beer, surely, hopefully, would at least lengthen the bouts of painlessness. Another beer was a good idea regardless. There were voices in my head – Kim’s as well as a ghost or two, and my own gnarly conscience – that needed to be silenced.

This is Tommy.” Greg nodded at me.

Thomas.” I corrected, though hardly anyone calls me Thomas.

Hi.” She waved and looked silly, which made me like her more. Her clothes were water-marked and clingy, her hair a stringy mess. She wasn’t having a great evening either. Not as bad as mine, certainly, but I sympathised.

And then I turned back to the cricket.