By Tamara von Werthern
The yellow quilted bedspread lay crumpled on the floor. There was blood and some hair, ripped out at the root.
In the shower she felt the needles of water hit her skin. She closed her eyes and turned up the heat until her body begged her to stop. Afterwards, she made it up to him by massaging the most expensive moisturiser she had into her skin. She lathered it on generously and gently covered the softly eroded surface of the womb, the breasts veined with the white diaphanous network of growth and tightening. She glanced at her body in the bathroom mirror as she did so. He was muscular and strong, with long legs and sun-tanned arms. Still cat-like somehow, only more like a cat who had had kittens now. It was impossible to tell once he was wrapped and packaged for the day though. He still made her look good. She had chosen skin-coloured silk next to the skin, jeans and a thin sky-blue T-shirt with a sand-coloured cashmere cardigan to wrap herself in, everything was in a pile neatly folded on the toilet seat. Piece by piece she girded and strengthened him for the day ahead. He was hers. She was grateful and proud. He was good to her. He was strong. He protected her when it mattered. She in turn would look after him.
She looked in the mirror. There were dark purplish shadows under her eyes, some fine wrinkles on her forehead and around her mouth, and some blemishes – work to be done there too. She covered her true face under foundation, applying base layer and powder, until her face was smooth and awake, exuding doll-like normality. Eyes and mouth looked dull and naked. She pulled out one stray black hair that grew like a dandelion in a manicured lawn. Seeing it gripped in the tweezer claws with the juicy white root at one end made her feel triumphantly satisfied. She wrapped it in paper and flushed it down the loo. That was easy. She applied eye shadow and eyeliner, mascara and lipstick, colouring in the bland nakedness and creating a face that would pass under any radar.
She stepped off the fluffy bath mat and nearly crashed to the ground – her naked foot had slipped in some viscous orange fluid unseen on the dark tiles. She grabbed hold of the sink to steady herself. Her heart racing. A closer look revealed a line of smears where she had padded over to the shower earlier. Yes. That. She would have to deal with that.
But first, coffee. The papers. Her routine. It was important, today more than ever before to do exactly what she did each morning. She cleaned her feet with toilet paper, and took care to avoid the stains on her way to the bedroom. Socks. Shoes. A light spring coat. Handbag. Don’t look at the space between window and bed. Out of the room. Open the front door. Out of the flat, close and lock the door, down the steps. He carried her through the morning, and he made her look good. She made sure she said hello to the friendly newsagent, tipped at the cafe, and got a few things at the greengrocers. Onions. Potato. Carrots. Coriander. ‘I’m making soup.’ She told the girl at the counter.
For the first time in a year, she felt purposeful, and alert and in control. They were a team, and they had achieved all that was possible. Today, under the friendly blue sky, there lay a better world, a cleaner, purer, more hopeful world, and it was all because of them. Him and her.
At home, she pulled on the overall she had used to decorate the house with all those years ago. She tied up her hair and pulled on a swimcap. She protected her eyes with goggles. She had to use a hand held saw, she couldn’t risk the noise. The plastic sheets that usually formed a warm protective layer over her vegetable patch during the winter came in useful. She watched her strong hands with the polished nails pull and tear, dig and separate so competently, it filled her with a warm glow. It was hard, physical work, and she had to cook in batches.
She stripped off the ruined overall and bundled it in a black bin bag. A Cath Kidson apron was more appropriate for the next bit. She listened to Radio 4 when chopping the onions, and soon a friendly smell of cooking filled the room. She fetched her daughter’s picture from the mantelpiece before adding the meat to brown. Her daughter was smiling delightedly, as she always did, but this time she really seemed to mean it.
There was so much, she would have to freeze most of it so it would keep. In the kitchen drawers there were many empty soup pots, with the round lids stacked separately. As she chopped the carrots and added the stock, red wine and herbs, she started humming to herself. Things were looking up. She tasted the soup off the wooden spoon. Her body agreed with her. It was delicious.