Monday, November 30, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 15

 Chapter 15

The second Kate got into the car she could tell something was wrong. An instant stomach ache settled itself inside her as she wondered if she had done the wrong thing persuading Ryan to tell Polly how he felt. The idea she was wrong confused her because when they had spoken in the bedroom, she felt sure that there was no way honesty wasn’t the best policy. Yet, the look on Polly’s face as she focused on the road in front of them told her she might have been mistaken.

“You ok?” She asked, trying to keep her voice as casual as possible.

“Mmmmhmmm,” said Polly, indicating to turn left using the right indicator.

“Bad day?” Kate decided there was no point in playing dumb; she reasoned with herself that even if she hadn’t spoken to Ryan she would know from Kate’s behaviour that something was up with her sister, so it felt natural to question her on it.

“Oh… no.” Polly distractedly indicated into the university car park and Kate pulled up the hood on her jumper in case any of her colleagues saw her turning up to the book club after having called in with period pains for the third time in two months. Kate decided not to push things with Polly. Her emotions were never far below her skin and so if she wasn’t instantly spilling her feelings then there must be a reason and it was probably better not to press too hard.

They pushed the door open into the seminar room being used for the meeting and took their seats on the plastic chairs. Kate avoided eye contact with Clara - she’d realised there was a deliciousness in being an adult and being able to pick and choose who you were friends with. She fully intended to exercise her right to not have to be friends with mean girls if she didn’t want to. She’d explained all about Clara to Ewan over dinner the previous night.

“I just don’t really know what I did wrong. I don’t really know where to go from here.” Kate had said through a mouthful of quiche.

“This is delicious,” said Ewan through a similar mouthload, “And why do you need to go anywhere from there?”

“What do you mean?” Asked Kate, swallowing.

“I mean… why not just accept you’re not friends with her and that’s ok? You don’t have to be rude, but you also don’t have to be friends if you don’t like each other.”

The idea had blown Kate’s mind. She was so used to needing everyone to like her that the idea that she could judge Clara’s behaviour and just decide not to be friends with her was a core rocking moment. She ate the rest of the quiche in wonderment - realising Ewan might just have his head screwed on more than most people she knew. He seemed so comfortable in himself. Her world had truly opened up in the last few weeks. She’d been trying to learn from Graeme how to be happy being silent, and now here was Ewan teaching her about how to have healthy adult relationships. At this rate she might be normal by Christmas.

The group discussed the rest of Interview with the Vampire, and how they felt about it since finishing the entire book. Kate had been planning to keep very quiet in case what she had to say was wrong or provoked an argument but since her chat with Ewan she had decided to plough on with her opinions and if people didn’t like them, or her, then that was ok. Well, not ok - she would prefer they did like her. But better they heard what she had to say and made their own minds up than she remained silent eternally just in case.

“Wonderful! Ah it’s so nice seeing new faces here. So, what shall we read next… the floor is open to suggestions…” said Sasha, checking her watch and raising her eyebrows in surprise at how long the discussion had gone on.

“How about The Handmaid’s Tale?” Piped up Clara almost immediately, “Everyone is talking about the TV show and we’ve never done an Atwood, and I think some of the themes of female value based on reproduction might be…”

“No!” Polly almost shouted it across the circle, causing even Frank’s head to snap up and Kate was pretty sure he’d been asleep for the last 30 minutes of the discussion, “No… no I can’t do that.”

“Alright,” Clara said, disgruntled, “There’s no need to shout. Look I know we got off to a bad start but…”

“It’s not that. I just can’t do a book about having babies or anything. No. I can’t. Oh for god’s sake I thought I was done with all this?” Kate was astonished to see Polly burst into tears. Lovely Sasha was quick to dart across the circle and kneel down in front of her. Where did she get tissues from? Kate wondered, she wished she was the sort of adult who always tissues ready for this kind of thing. Then she realised she looked very cold still sitting still while her sister sobbed. She darted out of her seat and over to Polly. “Oh my god - I’m so sorry, I’m so embarrassed. What am I like sitting here crying all like this? I just… oh fuck it. My husband wants another baby… we already have 4 children. I *just* got back to working full time and not being covered in vomit and shit constantly and now he wants to start again? But how do I say no? How can I tell him he can’t reproduce… that’s not my decision, so should he leave me and go and have a kid with someone else if I can’t give him what he wants or is it ok for me to say no? And what does it say about me as a mother that I can look at my four perfect children and not want more of them, not want to give them anyone else. Am I denying the existence of someone brilliant because I want to watch Masterchef without pausing it eighteen times an episode?”

Polly’s questions reeled out of her mouth without space for anyone gathered round to even begin to answer. With each question mark Kate felt her stomach swooping lower and lower into her feet. The guilt. Oh god why did she get involved in Polly and Ryan’s marriage? Ryan knew what he was doing - he had had it all under control just waiting until his feelings blew over and then Kate had come along and made him talk about it. This is why she usually kept her mouth shut and just kept out of things - it was simpler and it led to far less crying. She looked at Polly, whose mascara was running in two enormous black rivers down her cheeks.

“Maybe I should get you home Poll?” Kate tried, but Polly wailed again.

“But I can’t go home because Ryan’s there and I can’t face talking to him yet… I won’t know what to say and it’ll end up sounding like I don’t love him or our family or something.”

“Poll, he’d never think that… he knows you love him, and he loves you - he knew it was unlikely you’d want a baby. That’s why he was keeping the storage locker secret.”

At the mention of the storage locker several eyes in the circle widened and Kate kicked herself, mentally. “Come on Poll,” she continued, “Let’s go back to mine and we can have a drink there before you go back home.” Kate looked up at Sasha, “Could you text me and let me know what the book will be and we’ll make sure we’ve read it by next time?”

Sasha nodded warmly and Kate led a sniffing Polly out of the seminar room and towards her car.

When they got back to Kate’s house she settled Polly onto the sofa and disappeared into the kitchen to find something alcoholic they could drink. She felt terribly guilty and worried. There was something so deeply, world shatteringly wrong about Polly being upset and Kate couldn’t handle the idea of there being a problem in Polly and Ryan’s marriage.

When she arrived back in the living room with a mixture of Amaretto and apple juice in each hand, she was surprised to see Ewan sitting on the opposite sofa to Polly, deep in conversation.

“Why don’t you just say that to him, he sounds like a nice guy - I’m sure he’d understand?” Ewan was saying. Kate was surprised to glean from that that Polly had opened up to Ewan.

“But… that’s not what married people with children do?” Polly said quietly, accepting the glass from Kate with a suspicious sniff.

“What isn’t?” Kate asked, sipping her drink which tasted remarkably like a toffee apple.

“Going on a trip!” Ewan said cheerily, “Polly said she just needed a break before she could consider what she wanted and I said, why don’t you just go for it? Why does loving someone mean you have to accept the normal way of living? If you both love each other you’ll come back from your trip still loving each other, and if a trip is enough to break you then, were you that happy anyway?”

“I could have the kids while you’re away!” Kate piped up, trying to remove any barriers to Polly’s happiness that she could.

“Oh, no.” Polly said suddenly, looking up, “I was thinking it would be us that go?”

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 14

 Chapter 14

Kate held her breath and tried not to grasp the bag of flour too tight lest it project more white dust out into the air and make her sneeze. The bed shifted above her and she prayed that Ryan would leave so she could work out what she was looking at here.

She felt the weight shift off the bed and saw Ryan’s feet move about on the carpet. Thank God, she thought: he’s leaving. But to her horror she saw the feet moving backwards and two knees descend onto the floor, along with a hand and eventually Ryan’s head.

“Jesus fuck!” Ryan cried at the sight of Kate under the bed, her pale face peered back at him from the gloom and he jerked backwards, his head slamming into the wooden frame as he tried to retreat.

“Hi Ryan,” said Kate, trying to sound casual but finding it near impossible to do. She shimmied out from under the bed, deciding to leave the bag of flour where it was for the time being.

“Kate! Holy shit… you scared the absolute daylights out of me. Good god, what are you doing here? Why are you under the bed?” Ryan was pacing around the room with his hand on his chest trying to get control of his breathing.

“I, um, I was looking for my phone,” said Kate, thinking quickly, “I couldn’t find it this morning so I assumed I must have left it here last night and I… had.”

“Under my bed?” Said Ryan, looking suspicious at her.

“Well, no - Er, in the bathroom was where it turned out to be but, when I heard you coming I thought you might have been a burglar so I hid.” Kate tried to hold Ryan’s gaze with an honest sort of look on her face. His face was softening. Kate supposed that was the great thing about being a colossal screw up was that your weird explanations for things seemed disappointingly believable.

“Right,” Ryan was processing, but his face seemed to have gone back to a normal human face colour now at least, “So…”

Kate stood looking him and decided to take up the offensive to get the heat off her, “Why are you home? I thought you’d be working all day?” Ryan shifted uneasily.

“Yeah, I will be going back in a minute - I just came back to check on something.”

“Something under the bed?” Kate raised an eyebrow.

“What, no? Why would I be checking on something under the bed?”

“Because you came up to your room and then squatted down and looked under the bed.” Kate said matter of factly, trying to channel Polly’s ability to look squarely at someone without blinking and pummel the truth out of them.

“I heard you moving!” Said Ryan triumphantly, clutching at straws.

“No you didn’t, or you wouldn’t have been so horribly surprised when you saw me. Were you looking for this?” Kate reached down and pulled out the little bag of flour. Ryan looked away. “Why are you coming home from work in the middle of the day to get a bag of flour? And why does it had a face drawn on it?”

Ryan’s mouth opened and closed a few times and then closed firmly. He nodded to himself and then spoke, “It’s Casey’s school project. She has to treat it like a baby for a week and she was supposed to bring it back today to school but she forgot it, and so I was popping back to get it and take it in for her.”

Kate waited in silence for a moment. The silences were always where Polly caught her out if she was lying, she knew the pressure of the silence would make Kate crack and talk eventually. Ryan looked firm though. Kate supposed he lived with Polly so was used to this method and would have a stronger backbone than she did. Or, he was telling the truth.

“So,” she began, “If I talk to Polly about this later she will agree that Casey forgot her school project today and that’s what this bag of flour is about?”

Ryan looked to the window and then back; looking worried again. He’s lying, thought Kate. “Yep.” He said. Kate pulled out her phone, keeping the screen shielded away from Ryan so he couldn’t see about the dead battery.

“Ok, so I’ll just text Polly and say… don’t worry love, I know you’re concerned Ryan is cheating on you because of those keys and now I’ve found him coming home to your marital bed in the middle of the day but it’s ok it’s all about -“

“Polly thinks I’m cheating on her?” Ryan looked horror struck. It pulled Kate up short.

“Well, what would you think if you found her with a set of keys she wouldn’t explain?”

“Oh god, no! I can’t believe she’d think I’d do that - I’d never do that!”

“Well, to be fair to her you are coming home to have weird afternoon trysts with a bag of flour that you’ve drawn a face on so maybe she’s not totally crazy?”

Ryan’s shoulders dropped and he looked at his feet, “Kate, promise you won’t tell Polly?”

Kate kept her lips tight and shook her head, “Nope, can’t do that.”

Ryan nodded, “No, I suppose not. But listen, I’m not cheating on Poll - I never would. I never would. The bag of flour… it is Casey’s school project. Or, it was… she had to look after it for a week but she was awful at it - really bad and I ended up sort of looking after it a bit for her and keeping it dry and stuff and… oh my god this is so dumb, I got really attached to the little bastard. Polly said I should put it in the cupboard to use and I… I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud to another adult, but… I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to eat him. So I put him under the bed where Polly wouldn’t look and I thought, I’ll just leave him there until I’ve got over this weird… thing.”

Kate was trying her hardest not to laugh at the thought of Ryan falling in love with a bag of flour. Sure, didn’t the man have enough children that he didn’t need to be looking after more? That was a good point she thought, so she said it out loud.

“Sure, don’t you have enough children that you don’t need surrogate floury ones, Ry?”

Ryan laughed to himself a little bitterly, “Ah you’d think wouldn’t you? But… ah in for a penny in for a pound. Well, that’s where the keys come in see. And I really don’t want Polly to know about this until I get over it, but… I’m dying for another baby. Kate I’m so broody I can’t think straight. And a few months ago Poll asked me to take all of Rhys’ baby stuff down to the charity shop and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know what came over me but I got it all in the car and I started out into town and I just didn’t want to get rid of it so… so I hired a storage locker and it’s all just sitting in there. I just need this feeling to pass and then I’ll do what she wants but I’m just not ready. I feel like a complete mad bastard crying over bags of flour and going and looking at a weird little cupboard full of hand me downs but… oh god I’d love another kid.”

“Does Polly?”

“No! She seems so delighted to be back to working finally, and look at this place… where would we put another kid? I just need to get it out of my system. Four is definitely enough. But I can’t stop thinking about the potential of who that fifth little guy might be?”

“Plain or self raising.” Said Kate, giving Ryan a warm smile, “Ah Ryan you dope. Why don’t you just talk to Polly? She’ll understand. And it’ll be better than her thinking you’re cheating on her.”

“I don’t want to ladle pressure on her. If she knows how I feel then she’ll start feeling guilty and she shouldn’t - there’s no way she would realistically be having another kid. No, I just need to get this out of my system. Please don’t tell her Kate.”

“Well, what am I going to tell her? I’m meant to be here spying and looking for clues. I’d say I’ve done bloody well.”

“You sneaky witches… I don’t know Kate, can you just tell her you didn’t find anything? I’ll think of a way to explain the keys and set her mind at rest. I don’t want her worrying.”

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 13

 Chapter 13

Polly pressed the keys into Kate’s hand, “I need you to investigate for me.”

Kate laughed, but Polly’s eyes didn’t crinkle to match hers, “I’m serious,” Polly pressed on, closing Kate’s hand around the keys, “I need you to try them out in locks and stuff until we find out where they’re going.”

“Why me…? Woah hang on a minute, Polly - no. You know I’d help you out anyway I could, but… what am I supposed to do just wander around town trying keys in people’s locks and then bursting in if they fit asking if they’re sleeping with a bloke called Ryan?”

Polly slumped, the reality of what she was asking for sinking in, “Maybe,” she said, eyes lighting up with a new idea, “maybe you could take them to a locksmith and ask them to check where they’re for? Maybe they have a database?”

“Polly, I don’t think they do love… I think that sounds very illegal and weird. Plus, I have to get new keys cut like every month and they’ve never once asked me the address that the keys are for.”

“You get new keys cut every month? When did you last change the locks?! Kate! That’s really dangerous!” Polly exploded, momentarily distracted from her thoughts of investigation.

“Oh… it’s fine, I’ve stopped putting my address on my key rings…” Kate waved away Polly’s furious face.

“You are… you are… how are you not dead?” Polly said, staring at Kate in disbelief.

“Because then you really would be the only one left so someone’s keeping me alive for a reason.”

“Yeah, me!” Polly finally smiled and Kate felt a little thawing in the tension in her back muscles.

“So what am I going to do, Kate? How are we going to find out what’s going on?” Kate sighed, mulling over various options.

“Ok, so we sort of need to investigate…?” She said slowly, trying to think of a way to be helpful without landing herself in a ridiculous scheme like checking every lock on the high street.

“I agree. So…” Polly began talking at once and Kate groaned, “Ryan and I will both be out at work tomorrow afternoon. You come over then and do some snooping about - see what you can find and then I’ll sneak over to yours once the kids are in bed tomorrow night and we can discuss. OK?”

Polly looked at Kate with bright, shiny eyes. Kate wanted to shout NO very loudly and for a very long time but then she thought of all the money and favours and scrapings up off the floors that Polly had done for her over the years and the thought of not being there for her in this just didn’t seem like an option. Besides, how hard could it be to just pop over here tomorrow. She could have a cursory look around and then watch TV here where Polly and Ryan could afford to have the heating on. Obviously, she’d have to play hookie from work again but… who was she kidding, that was a bonus whichever way you looked at it.

“Ok.” She said, and immediately regretted her decision.

At 11am the next morning, Kate put her key into the lock of Ryan and Polly’s front door and pushed the door open. She stepped into the hallway. It was weirdly quiet without the clatter of the children or the whirr of the dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer that always seemed to be on. That was the thing about six people living in a house - everything was constantly going. It made Kate feel settled and happy. She didn’t like silence and she preferred people being around to her own company.

She tucked her bag down by the hall table and looked around. She felt stupid: what was she supposed to be looking for? This was ridiculous. She didn’t know what was normal for Ryan to own and what wasn’t, so the chances were even if she did find something incriminating she wouldn’t know what it was.

Where to begin? She thought about where she might hide something if she needed to hide and then immediately realised she didn’t really have anything she’d need to hide. She supposed the bedroom? That was what always happened in films; they hid stuff down the back of the wardrobe or under the bed. It seemed unlikely Ryan would hide something from Polly in the main room they shared together but it was as good a place as any to start this stupid hunt. Kate wished she’d brought a pipe and a deer stalker with her.

She headed up stairs and slid open the big sliding doors of Polly and Ryan’s wardrobe. Inside it was immaculate: Polly hated clutter and mess, Kate would expect no less than shop levels of organisation in Polly’s wardrobe. Kate looked lamely at everything in its heaps. She pulled open a drawer and found a lot of Ryan’s underwear. Her hand half started to sift through it and then she thought about how often her sister’s husband’s bum had touched this fabric and she retracted her hand. If Ryan’s adultery was hidden in his pants drawer then fair enough; he won, she wasn’t looking in there.

She heard the front door slam downstairs and froze. Had she closed it behind her? She thought she had… was that someone coming home? Was it the wind catching it? She stood stock still; listening.

Footsteps. Those were definitely shoes on the hall floor. Kate looked around for somewhere to hide. She hoped her brain screaming fuuuuuuck wasn’t as audible to people outside her head as it was to her inside it. It couldn’t be Polly home or she’d have phoned. Kate checked her phone for missed calls and then wondered when the battery had died without her noticing. Maybe it was Polly then? But if it wasn’t… She heard the footsteps coming up the stairs and threw herself under the bed.

Maybe it was a burglar? No, what were the chances of Polly and Ryan getting broken into by two people at the same time? She held her breath under the bed and waited. Something was digging into her hip and she pulled it forward frantically so it would stop hurting her.

Just as she got it free out from under her and could relax and breathe properly into the carpet the bedroom door opened and she saw feet appearing in the doorway. Kate looked at the men’s feet approaching the wardrobe and felt the mattress sag above her as the figure - presumably Ryan? - sat down heavily on the bed above her. There was silence. What was he doing?

Just as Kate wondered how long she was going to have to lie with her nose in the dusty carpet, she noticed what she had pulled out from underneath her hip. Huh. Hidden under the bed eh? Clearly Ryan watched the same sitcoms and movies as she did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Day 12

 Chapter 12

Polly put her wine down on the coffee table and took a deep breath.

“Are you alright?” Kate asked, slightly alarmed by the sudden change in tone from Polly. Polly stood up and crossed the lounge to the door Ryan had just left through. She pushed it closed softly and then came and sat back down on the sofa next to Kate, “Poll? You’re worrying me?”

“Can I ask you about something, and I don’t want no judgement from you?” Polly said, looking at Kate. Kate began to feel a nervous trembling in the ends of her fingers as though the blood had stopped getting that far down. She didn’t have a good history with Polly needing to talk to her about serious things.

“What judgement could you get from me with no house, no plan, no boyfriend and no… whatever that other thing was that I didn’t have?” Kate feigned a laugh but it was shaky and false.

Polly took another deep breath, “So, the other day I was in a rush to get the kids to school and it was proper cold so on my way out the front door I just grabbed Ryan’s coat off the bottom of the banister,” although Kate wasn’t sure she was keen on where this was going it at least didn’t feel like Polly’s story was going to end in the death of a family member so Kate relaxed ever so slightly, “Obviously I didn’t think much of it, dropped them off, got back here and I stuck my hand in the pocket to get my keys out and I pulled out a set but they weren’t mine. I didn’t recognise them. Anyway, so I got mine out and unlocked the door and came in and then when I saw Ryan I just said, Oh I found these keys in your pocket - what are they for? And he was so weird about it.”

“What did he say?” Kate found herself leaning in close to follow Polly’s story, this was so strange. They were the perfect unit - it was rare that Polly admitted to anything being even slightly wrong in her life.

“Well, he said he didn’t recognise them, and I was like Ryan, how can you have a set of keys in your pocket that you don’t recognise?” Polly paused, hearing creaking from the floorboards upstairs. At the sound of the bathroom door closing she continued, “And he was like, I don’t know - I just don’t recognise them, so I said like, Well have you been out with any of the guys lately or anyone and you might have picked up their keys by mistake? Has anyone been in touch with you to say they’ve lost their keys?”

Kate nodded, that felt like a very traditional Polly approach; very sensible and not jumping to the conclusions that Kate’s mind was already hopping to, “So, what did he say?” Kate whispered.

“Well now this is the really weird bit. He said, Polly - I don’t know what these keys are for. And then he put them in the bin.”

“He put keys in the bin?” Kate wasn’t sure why, but she found the idea of keys in a bin really weird. Keys didn’t belong in a bin. Even if you had no idea what a key was for or where it went, you didn’t put it in a bin. You put a key in a drawer somewhere and then kept it forever just in case. “You don’t put keys in a bin.” Kate was emphatic about this. Of all the things she had ever known she knew or thought she knew, the fact that you don’t put keys in a bin was number one.

“That’s exactly what I said! I laughed and fished them back out again and was all like Ryan, you can’t just put keys in a bin - what if we realise what they’re for and then they’re already gone?”

“And what did he say to that?” The story was so odd Kate could scarcely imagine it happening between Polly and Ryan in their kitchen.

“He was all weird and defensive, he sort of said - fine if you want the keys that much then have them but I don’t know what they’re for. So now I just have this set of keys?” They both went quiet as they heard the bathroom door open and then footsteps across to the office. The office door closed and they both relaxed. Kate felt like she was on a sleepover aged 12 all over again.

“So, what are you going to do now?” Kate needed pop corn, but then she felt guilty for her sister’s life being titilating entertainment. Then she felt unguilty again when she thought of everything Polly had said in the car.

“I don’t know!” Polly said, throwing her arms up in exasperation, “What am I supposed to do? March into his office and say, Ryan are these keys to a flat you have with another family in it somewhere? Or, do I just forget that it ever happened. Do I want to know? Is it a surprise gift for me that I’ve ruined or something?”

“A gift? What would a gift be? Like a shed?”

“Well… yeah, I don’t know. But obviously all I’m thinking is that he’s having some sort of affair and I don’t know whether I want to pull at that thread but even if I don’t nag at it - I’m already worried aren’t I?”

Kate looked at Polly astonished, “What do you mean you’re not sure you want to pull at that thread? You mean you might just not ever pursue it? Just let him have an affair?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing here.

Polly sighed, “Oh Kate, look I’m not saying I want him to be having an affair - I’d love him not to be. I’m just saying if it was a choice between turning a blind eye or having to raise the kids by myself and start dating again, I suppose… well, I don’t know it’s something I’d have to think about.”

Kate was gobsmacked. In the space of a week her entire concept of relationships had been turned upside down. First Ewan and his polyamoury had waltzed into her life and now the most stable person she knew, her Polly, was calmly announcing she might let her husband have affairs on the side for an easier life. Was everything she thought she knew wrong? “So, like, would you have affairs?” She asked Polly, suddenly very curious.

“Oh god no, I don’t need more hassle in my life.” Polly laughed and took a big swig of wine. “I just don’t know Kate, I really don’t know. Those stupid keys are just sitting in the pocket of my garden fleece and I don’t know whether to never mention them again or to burst upstairs and pull everything up. What do I do?”

Kate didn’t think she had ever been asked for advice from Polly before and she sat, gobsmacked before her.


What does Kate say:

  1. Confront Ryan
  2. Never mention the keys again
  3. She will ask Ewan
  4. Look for other clues

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 11

 Chapter 11

Kate flew into the little room, panting with her fringe stuck to her forehead with sweat. Everyone looked up kindly at her entrance and she dropped into the plastic chair next to Polly. Polly patted Kate’s legs with a slightly patronising, slightly dismissive air. Oh well, thought Kate, at least Polly had a reason to feel about herself compared to Kate. She was helping the universe in some way. She blinked her hair out of her eyes. Ewan had dropped her as close as he could, but the campus was sprawling and she’d had to dash across the courtyard and what felt like several miles of buildings and stairs before she found the book club. Sasha smiled warmly at her across the room.

“Ah, Kate! Polly told us you had got held up. Have a seat - catch your breath.”

Polly smiled magnanimously at Kate - clearly thrilled with herself for having saved Kate’s behind from a scolding. Not that Kate felt like a scolding would have happened anyway. Wasn’t this supposed to be for fun? It wasn’t meant to feel like homework. Sasha didn’t seem like the type to get stroppy if someone was later or hadn’t done the reading, but then, she was the host of a book club and no one would run a book club unless they were a little doolally. 

“So,” Sasha continued, smiling round at everyone, “Clara was just saying, Kate, that she found the dating of the book very obvious.”

“That’s right,” Clara interrupted, “I can totally feel that it was written quite a long time ago and I think that kills some of the enjoyment for me. I find myself trying to concentrate on the differences between now, then and the time it’s set trying to think of what the author means by things.”

Kate frowned, trying to follow the logic of what Clara was saying as well as trying to stop panting like a stuck pig.

“You’re frowning?” Clara said directly at Kate, and Kate jumped with shock - feeling a cold trickle of her dashing sweat run unpleasantly down her back. The intensity of Calra’s gaze made her feel sure she was about to add some panic sweat to the moving sweat. How glamorous could one woman get? How could someone work out as much as she did and yet still have found that sprint across campus so difficult? Definitely back to the gym in the morning, she thought dismally.

“Oh, no I was just working out what you meant…” Kate smiled, scrabbling to explain her facial expressions. She attempted to smooth the frown off her forehead too - appalled that she’d looked so scrutinising.

“I was much clearer before, it’s just you were late.”

Kate nodded, not enjoying the exchange at all, “No absolutely - I was late. Yes, no - I’m sure you were clearer.” She frowned again, the furrow in her brow helping her brain to make connections.

“You’re frowning again, so you do disagree?”

Good god the woman was like a dog with a bone, Kate thought. She opened her mouth to argue and then decided against it. No, she did disagree so why not say it? No, she couldn’t say it, could she? But, then… what was the point of being in a book club if you didn’t say what you thought about the book?

“Actually, now that you mention it - yeah, I do disagree. No offence - I don’t mean this personally, it’s just literally how I feel about the book. I just… I kind of think the themes and the behaviours are sort of timeless and, especially given what Anne Rice went through, I think I found it pretty easy to switch off from the fact it was written so long ago. That’s all. I um, yes, that’s what I think”

Kate stopped talking and looked around the circle, feeling pleased with herself for saying what she thought but then instantly unsure she believed what she had said. It was a long time since she’d said that much out loud in front of strangers. Usually she just kept her head down and believed that if she didn’t say anything in a meeting then it meant the meeting was over quicker. She felt exhilarated from having said her piece.

“Well, perhaps it’s because I’m older than you and I have a bit more life experience so I am more aware of these differences than you?” Clara said and Kate felt a little stab of annoyance through her chest. Woah, that had got personal quickly?

“Oh, well - maybe, although… I mean, you don’t really know what my life experience is, so…”

To her complete shock, Clara laughed and looked around the room at the others. Kate felt two inches tall. She opened her mouth to respond but before she could say what she thought she heard another voice very similar to her own jumping in.

“Sorry, I’m not being funny but who the hell do you think you are? You have absolutely no idea what her life experience is so don’t go bringing all your assumptions to what’s meant to be a nice book club.” Clara gave an almost imperceptible shake to her head and then opened her mouth but Polly was quicker, “No, I’m not asking you to argue back - you owe my sister an apology.”

The atmosphere was frosty to say the least. No one in the circle seemed to know what to say at all. Kate felt humiliated and also guilty - this was only their second time at the book club and already they were causing issues. Why did trouble seem to follow her around? Sasha jumped in quickly to remedy the situation, “Hey! Listen, disagreements on the book are fine - that’s what we’re here for after all but I think we should try and keep all shots above the waist and firmly on the topic of the book, yes? Clara?”

Clara raised her eyebrows and sniffed. Kate decided she loathed her.

The second they got in the car to drive back down the hill towards their homes Polly exploded. Kate was alarmed at how often her hands were flying off the steering wheel and she was certain a hedge had actually moved out of their way to avoid getting squashed in as post-Clara fury.

“I’m sorry but I will not have her speaking to you like that - no way! What an absolute bitch. If that Sasha wasn’t so nice I’d have torn her a new one - how dare she suggest you don’t have any life experience. She doesn’t know anything about you. Just because you’re a bit of a shambles, that doesn’t give her the right to assume anything about you! You’re doing the best you can considering everything. Yes, yes you could have a better job or a boyfriend or a house or a plan, but just because you don’t have any of those things doesn’t mean any of it is a problem. That bitch.”

Kate started laughing and then found that no matter how hard she tried to get it under control it was impossible. She laughed and laughed. Only her sister could defend her and accidentally be worse to her than the person she was defending her from. Kate laughed until tears poured down her face and her abs ached. Polly looked over at Kate as frequently as the heavy traffic would allow?

“What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at me?” Polly squawke, “Kate! Let me in on the joke - I want to laugh. Katie!” Eventually, Kate’s laughing prompted a waterfall effect from Polly and she started to giggle along with the snorting and chuckling coming from the passenger seat.

They pulled into Polly’s driveway both killing themselves together, eventually Kate pulled herself together enough to look around outside the window and notice where they were. “What are we doing here? I thought you were taking me home?”

“Sod that, I need a glass of wine - I’ll get you a cab later.”

Kate shrugged, she was sure Ewan would have plenty of unpacking and settling in to do so wouldn’t mind that his new housemate had left him all alone for an evening. Perhaps he had one of his girlfriends round? Kate looked at Polly, wondering whether to tell her about the snake or the trio? She decided probably not. Polly was… traditional.

They slumped on the sofa with glasses of wine that technically should have been called two glasses of wine each. Ryan appeared for a quick wave and then immediately disappeared when he saw the glasses of wine.

“Up to his office.” Polly rolled her eyes and took a big gulp.


Choose a household item?

  1. Mobile phone
  2. Computer
  3. TV
  4. Keys

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Lockdown Book Club - Chapter 10

 Chapter 10

Kate waved goodbye to Christian and felt genuinely sad to see him go. It wasn’t that she’d particularly miss him, it was just she wasn’t that keen on change and now she had to have someone new move on. Ewan was due to arrive the next day and Kate had decided to swallow her fears about it and make sure the house looked inviting for him when he arrived.

She was trying not to be judgey but that was proving VERY difficult. She just was judgy. She’d never met anyone polyamorous before and her attempts to research it on the internet had been eye opening to say the least. She felt hopelessly uncool and very out of her depths? And why had she lied to him about having a boyfriend? She would try and smooth that over as early as possible. 

She had chosen Ewan for several reasons:

Firstly, He was the only one who didn’t scare her entirely; Tim’s bizarre attitude towards the size of the kitchen had set her on edge and she didn’t feel like she could live comfortably with someone who was that blunt about things he did and didn’t like. She was also very nervous of anyone who loved a cat as much as he seemed to. What if she stepped on its tail or kicked its litter tray and Tim killed her in her sleep? She couldn’t handle that pressure. No; it couldn’t be Tim.

Then there was Harvey… what an enigma Harvey had turned out to be. She didn’t feel like it would be too difficult to go vegetarian if she needed to; but how could she live with a man who only ate vegetables and smelled so strongly like meat? She was also seriously concerned that he might be eating his guinea pigs. Obviously he wasn’t; he’d said he was a vegetarian, but there was something shiftily creepy about him.

Of a weird batch of guys, Ewan was definitely the most normal. She was very nervous about having a snake in the house but she decided as long as it was in his room and in some kind of secure tank then it was fine. Also, perhaps one of his girlfriends might be lovely and become her new best friend? That would be good. Ok, so he wasn’t the perfect house mate but she was sure she could make it work. Kate was good at that. Hell, only a fortnight ago she had been trying to work out how she could settled down and marry Graeme simply because he was the only date she’d been on.

She anxiously put her key in the lock on her return home from work the day Ewan was due to have moved in. It felt odd to be coming home to a different person. Christian had been a bit of a non-entity housemate… she paused, perhaps that was why it hadn’t worked? She’d never really considered that it was his home; he just lived there and used rooms she wasn’t using. She promised herself that she would be more respectful to Ewan. It wasn’t that she hadn’t respected Christian… she just hadn’t really thought about him. What did she think about? Well, that was the problem, wasn’t it? She tried not to think.

She pushed the door open and called out an experimental hi. Ewan’s head appeared round the kitchen door frame,

“Hi housemate! How was work?” She noticed he was wearing her apron and wasn’t sure whether she was thrilled he felt at home, or annoyed at him for helping himself, “Turns out we have the same apron!” He laughed, pulling at the apron with his hand and immediately solving her problem of how to feel. She smiled, relaxing and promising herself she would try and engage properly.

“Work was alright. Work’s work isn’t it?” She said, shrugging.

“You don’t love it?” He said, disappearing into the kitchen which she took to be a cue to follow him in there. She sat down at the table and removed her coat and shoes.

“Not really, I’m not one of those live to work type people - I’m more… I have to go to work so I do.”

“Ah, that’s a shame - what would you prefer to do?”

Kate stared at him, “What do you mean?”

“Well, like, what’s the dream job?” He laughed a little, looking at her - confused as to why she didn’t understand.

“I don’t really have a dream job.” She admitted, “My dream is to not have a job.”

He laughed properly then and continued stirring, “What would you do with all that time if you didn’t have a job? What’s the dream life then?”

She stared at him again, “I don’t know… TV I suppose. This is a big investigation given that you’ve only just got here.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry. So, I’ve made us some dinner but I warn you now I’m a terrible cook.” He served something brown nice smelling out of a saucepan.

“Oh there you go! I’m a good cook… maybe I’d cook or something? You know - the job question or the spare time thing.”

“Ah well you should have said that in the interview! I’d have paid double for the room if you’d mentioned you were a great cook!” He sat down at the table and they picked up their cutlery. She took a big mouthful.

“This is lovely - you definitely can cook.” She said, honestly.

“Yeah, well it’s your turn tomorrow.” Kate’s phone rang and she answered it to hear Polly’s voice angrily barking at her.

“Where are you?” She barked, “I’ve been waiting five minutes outside - everyone else is in there.”

“Oh god book club! Um, yes - I’m um, I’m round the corner!” She said, and hung up. “Fuck! I forgot all about my book club - I’ve got to go, but thank you so much for the dinner. I’ll um, I’ll eat it when I get back.”

“Woah… do you need a lift?” Ewan called after her and Kate hesitated… it would be better than walking all the way back up the hill on her already quite tired feet. But, could she get in a car with someone she’d just met? Yes, she decided. Yes she could.

“Would you mind? Your dinner will go cold?”

Ewan waved a hand dismissively, “What are housemates for, eh?”


Who really disagrees with Kate at book club?

  1. Sasha
  2. Joe
  3. Frank
  4. Liesel
  5. Clara
  6. Maggie
  7. Polly