Misunderstanding

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In a tiny corner at the back of my mind, I knew that someday, someone would get the wrong idea. The prospect of this misunderstanding seemed so far into the future that I dismissed it even though I knew it would come.

I need time to myself — away.

Away from everyone and everything.

Living in a crowded city makes that almost laughable, but I found a way.

Our building is old — mid-1930s. Which means that the windows open (the ones that aren’t painted shut) and they are huge — almost door-sized huge.

Some paranoid soul, probably a previous owner frightened of being sued, nailed all the windows shut — but he missed one, perhaps because it is in a cupboard on our floor. I doubt that it has always been a cupboard. When the building was new, it would have been a half-width version of all the other double-hung windows, an elegant full stop to the symmetry that ran along the west wall.

For many decades it has cast daylight on brooms and cardboard boxes, coats and hats and probably bicycles.

I discovered the window’s ability one summers night after putting the children to bed.

I knew how it was supposed to work because my father worked on the restoration of old buildings. Invisible cords run through squeaky pullies pulled by heavy counterweights enabling the window to stay open at any height along its full travel.

There is a satisfying rumble as the window glides upward and the counterweights bang around inside the casement.

Cold air rushes in and hits you in the face forcing you to breathe in momentarily.

Hitching my dress up, I step uncertainly onto the wide stone ledge.

In this moment, I am the first human to step onto the stonework since the original builders packed up and went home, almost a hundred years ago. Even the window cleaners don’t step on the ledge. They glide past riding shiny metal saddles, flashing their rubber blades and soapy sponges.

This ledge is mine, shared only by the occasional bird.

Being untroubled by heights is a plus in a situation like this.

On windy days I have been worried, but I have steady hands, and I fix my gaze on a point way off in the distance. I can feel the stress draining out of me as I listen to the sounds wafting up from the street far below.

I cannot make out conversations, they are blown away before they reach me, but sirens and horns sometimes get through.

I hear the unmistakable sound of one of those ancient counterweights falling to the bottom of the wall cavity as the equally ancient cord gives way. With only one counterweight doing the work of two, the sash slowly slides down until it hits the sill and a similarly unmistakable sound of the window lock clicking into place greets my ears.

In rapid succession, my mind plays out what is likely to happen next.

I could stand here until someone assumes I’m going to jump and calls the authorities or I could break the window with my less than appropriate shoes. The second option has its dangers — loss of balance, nasty cut from flying glass, dead pedestrian far below.

I step out here so I can clear my mind and reengage with my world.

However this plays out, I believe that I have lost my only means of escape.

I don’t want to explain it all to them.

It’s so peaceful out here.

 

Illustration: Kenton Nelson

Runaway Wife.

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This story is now part of TRUST and SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.

“But how will you cope without a man?”

It was an honest question delivered by an honest friend, but I was tempted to give a cheeky answer.

When I was a little girl, I preferred playing with the boys. Girls were okay, but the boys did stuff, went places, got dirty — dogs followed them around because they knew that wherever boys were there would be an adventure.

It wasn’t long before I noticed the anatomical difference between my male playmates and myself. In the summer, we took off our clothes when we went swimming in the creek. This minimised the disapproving looks we got from our mother’s, regarding damp, muddy clothing.

In our ‘birthday suits,’ I noticed that everyone around me had ‘a little extra’, and in some cases, a lot extra. Boldly, I asked the boys what that ‘little extra’ was called. I got all the answers that you would expect but one of the older boys, who went to a posh school, told me not to listen to the crude boys, the correct name was ‘a penis’. I thought he said ‘happiness’, and come to think of it, under the right circumstances, I was right.

That night, after a bath and my favourite dinner, my mum put me to bed and read me a story, ‘Rufus and the mysterious case of the missing dog biscuits’. I was exhausted after playing all day, but as usual, I didn’t want the day to end. I engaged my mother in conversation, even though I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open. She indulged me because she knew that the Sandman would win this battle sooner rather than later.

Before I drifted off, I asked one last question. “Mum, why don’t I have a penis?” There was a long moment of silence during which I thought I may have fallen asleep, but eventually, my mother said, “Don’t you worry darling when you grow up you can have as many as you want.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but her answer was strangely reassuring, and I can picture her now delivering that line with a tiny smile on her face.

Mostly the boys accepted me for my daring and courage but sometimes, mostly during those swimming sessions, one of the boys would kid me about my lack of appendage. I simply delivered my mother’s famous line, and a look of bemusement would spread across their face, and things would return to normal.

It was probably then I learned that the world would leave you alone as long as you had a comeback line that sounded vaguely plausible, with a twist of confusion.

“Seriously Elena, how are you going to cope without a man?” My friend’s question was more urgent because I seemed to be in my own world. I was — I was remembering my beautiful mother and my exciting playmates, but now I had to come up with an answer, or she would not leave me alone.

“I do most of the things that a man does around the house. I fix the lights when the bulbs blow out. I sort out the tradesmen when we need them. I do the shopping, cleaning, ironing, and cooking. What do I need a man for?”

My friend smiled and blushed, and before she could speak, I said, “And for that, I have an ample supply of batteries.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant, Elena, but it does bring up a good point. What about friendship, companionship. Someone, to be with in your old age?”

When I replied, there was fire in my eyes.

 

“I’ll attract someone who doesn’t give me a backhander just because I looked at him when he was angry. I’ll choose someone who doesn’t frighten me and likes to share their day without a hint of condescension. A partner who will share the load, not dump it on me. I’m awake for the first time in more than thirty years, and I’m not going to waste the experience. I’ve got places to go and people to see. I’m going to listen and learn and I’m not going to say no when life says, ‘come this way’. I’m going to get to heal others because that is what I was sent to this earth to do. I know this now, and while I have breath in my body I’m going to follow my dream. The universe can have me and I will ride the waves with a smile on my face, and a glass of red in one hand and chocolate in the other.”

It occurred to me that this was the first time I had said these words out loud — the first time I had shared my excitement and frustration at my past. How could I have let it go on for so long? Children, of course. We do whatever is needed to give our kids a stable home, but sometimes, just sometimes it would be better if we didn’t hang around and watch the life-force drain out of us.

I was lucky. I discovered Nick. Well, I didn’t exactly discover him, he was always there, but I found him. A friend suggested that I go and speak to him. “Great,” I thought, “just what this bloke needs, another middle-aged housewife bleating about her boring life.” And, at first, that was what it was — me bleating away. Amazingly, he didn’t fall asleep during our sessions, and slowly he began to show me that there was something very special inside me.

That was all it took.

I was ready, and the teacher appeared.

I unfurled my wings and dried them in the sun — then I flew away.

A runaway wife.