Everything is ready (almost) for the launch on Tuesday 8th which will be non stop action, giveaways, competition announcements and a virtual treasure hunt. So rest now, sit back and have a read and meet Susan and her spaceman companion for the first time.
Housewife with a Half-Life by A.B.Wells
It was when she was scrubbing down the toilets that she heard the noise, a soft plopping sound. Well you know what she thought of course but that’s not the kind of thing nice people talk about so let’s move on to where she turned around. Susan was the kind of person who happened to have an ensuite with a separate shower, not that she set out looking for that sort of thing. But sometimes, if you’re extremely lucky in life, you wake up one day, hear a soft swishing noise, realise that you live in suburbia and that the sound is your husband having a good old scrub in the ensuite shower with the floor to ceiling wall tiles. You try to imagine that he’s the kind of metrosexual that never burps, farts or scratches himself in the wrong places and that when he comes back into the bedroom with the hand towel fastened around his middle you will think to yourself YES! This is the crazy motorbike toting, sex god of my dreams, the hard man with a soft centre.
Susan turned around. She was wearing Marigolds, two left ones. Her uncoiffered standy up hair made her look like a deformed toilet brush. She was on her knees – so not at all in the position to welcome or deflect a visitor, who happened, as far as she could tell, to be some kind of man who had appeared, dropped or plopped, as we have already mentioned, into the ensuite shower fully formed.
He was wearing a random outfit that consisted of a biker jacket, a t-shirt with the logo “42 – not as bad as you think” and a kilt. His legs, of which there were definitely just two, were truncated by a pair of purple iridescent Doc Martens. His hair was, well, the stuff of nightmares. I don’t want to name names, but let’s just say that the lead singer of Status Quo would have been the ideal poster boy for this gentleman. There was a ponytail, a receding hair line and a shiny pate that Susan had a compulsion to draw a question mark on. Why the hair style? Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my shower with the very nice Italian handmade tiles?
Susan said, ‘What are you doing in my shower matey?’ –referring inadvertently and in a postmodern ironic way to a popular 1970’s children’s bath foam in character shaped bottles that she kept in a very squidgy place in her memory. And somehow, by association, she felt immediately that this man kind of thing was someone she could end up being fond of. He wasn’t at all threatening and the only thing scary about him was his moustache.
When she spoke to him the man kind of thing lit up. I mean it. The insides of him glowed so you could see the shape of his lungs and his heart as if in an x-ray and then the glow went again as if someone was fiddling with a dimmer switch. And his face, his smile… She thought immediately of chocolate box grannies, Werther’s originals, hot cocoa by the open fire, the Virgin Mary looking into the middle distance. He came at her like a puppy, he couldn’t contain himself. The ensuite wasn’t large – by no means as large as Sandra Gleeson’s purpose built one. He bumbled and tumbled about; sending the toilet roll holder flying and making the toiletries on the open shelf skitter and revive like the bridge crew on the Starship Enterprise after a collision.
‘May I hug you?’ he asked, making for her with arms as wide as King Kong.
‘You are shorter than I realised, and your hands are made of…’ he gave them a little squeeze, ‘some kind of polyurethane – a petroleum product – which, although it shouldn’t be a problem,’ he turned his head to the side in a moment of pathos, ‘is a little disappointing in the current climate. Now…’
He shook himself and came closer.
Susan watched him with an uncomfortable fascination, the kind you feel watching a talent show where the person is on the wrong side of nerdy, a bit too heart on sleeve and the first notes out of their mouths are complete duds.
‘Now,’ he said, putting his hand inside his jacket. ‘Which one?’
If this was a film he would pull out a gun, thought Susan. Here I am on my knees on the bathroom floor wearing marigolds and a strange man is in front of me putting his hand into his jacket. But these thoughts occurred as if she was indeed watching a film and it wasn’t really happening to her. This was nothing unusual because 83.2% of her life she regarded it as kind of one step removed experience, as if she had wandered inadvertently onto a stage set.
From his pocket this strange individual with the glowing insides took out a little book with a light blue cover. When he opened it up she could see the title. It was The Little Book of Hugs. ‘A frame hug, side to side hug, smash and dash hug,’ he murmured.
I haven’t mentioned his nose have I? I’m just saying, because when he nodded it dipped down like a crow’s beak and had a black tinge to it and these are the kinds of peripheral things you notice when you should really be concentrating on what’s happening, where the story of your life is taking you. So come on Susan, forget the nose, and let’s have a close-up of the hug book. But he put the book back in his pocket so suddenly that Susan wasn’t sure she had actually seen him do it, although it seemed to her that she remembered. The memory was already so far in the past when surely it had happened in the last few seconds. It was the same feeling she had about this man kind of thing – that he had come from very long ago but that he was already embedded in the cells, laid down in her memory like a sleeping giant. It was like a childhood memory bubbling up from the dim splurge of the subconscious. You poke it with a memory stick and then you hit something full force – granite with beautiful flecks of quartz that fly up and spin in your heart like snowflakes.
‘The heart to heart hug, I think,’ he said, ‘May I?’
‘Ok…’ said Susan, not at all sure.
He put her arms around her and held her close to his chest. She was inside the leather jacket in the dark, breathing that muggy snugness and she could hear his heartbeat. He had only one heart, not two or none at all, and his heart went dum de dum de dum de dum in her ears. She thought of the pillow soldiers that marched when she had the measles. Hot happy tears slid down her face and most inconveniently but inevitably down the side of her nose. They conglomerated uncomfortably at its tip. She lifted her Marigold hand to stem the drip. But there is something that doesn’t work about polyurethane and mopping, so she took off the glove with the other hand and it was then that the kind of man thing screamed, swooned and clunked onto the cold floor.
She had a walk around him. She had a look. He had no visible weapon. He had put The Little Book of Hugs away. He looked bulky but Susan was no girly girl, she didn’t know her Uggs from her Manolos. She lifted sofas with one hand while hoovering, she ran half marathons with her babies under each arm and she once singlehandedly moved a hundredweight of wood pellets for the new boiler from the driveway to the back shed. In a tight spot she could clamber up a ladder without putting a ladder in her 15 denier tights. In short, she was the housewife for the job and in less than 75.2 seconds she hauled him out of the bathroom and hoisted him onto the bottom bunk of the children’s bed, where he lay groaning.
Susan pressed a flannel to his head. She removed her other glove and dabbed cool water on his brow admiring the luminescence of his face which resembled the relentlessly optimistic light of midmorning, the sort of hot, comforting light that a cat sits in.
He quit the groaning, opened his eyes and said exuberantly, ‘Oh they’re hands! I hadn’t any idea what they were dishing up to me. I’ve had some freaks in my day, but no-one so far with removable appendages.’
Susan raised an eyebrow. That’s what you do in stories when you want to signify surprise. But Susan wasn’t derivative, she came from a long line of eyebrow raisers, her mum of course, Geraldine, who used the technique to punctuate her husband’s spiels and then there was Susan’s granny who could stop a flying fib at twenty paces with the merest hint of an eyebrow lift.
‘I’m sorry, you’ve obviously no idea what I’m talking about and I’m not even sure I do,’ he said, sitting right up and banging his head on the underside of the bunk. ‘Argh,’ he clutched his head.
So far, Susan thought, this has been an eventful visit, lots of head banging but not in the way his biker jacket and ponytail would suggest.
‘Sorry,’ he said again, ‘you’re Susan right?’
He held out his hand which looked like any other hand except that the fingernails were very long and white and appeared to have had a professional manicure. Susan half expected him to have LOVE and HATE tattooed across his digits. ‘I’m your Fairly God Father. You can call me Fairly,’ he said.
‘What?’ said Susan, patting the underside of her bob.
Susan was in every way the perfect mother, even though we know nothing at all about her children and what kind of angels or monsters they might turn out to be. She looked as if she had been cut out from a 1950’s magazine. She had a pleasing face, a broad smile, gentle hazel eyes with demure eyelashes. Fair enough, she was wearing trousers, but they were slacks in a pale beige. She wore a V-neck sweater with a collar and over it she had a sort of housecoat apron thingy. Looking at Susan made you think of warm apple pie, oven gloves, tea cosies, open fires, toasted marshmallows and slippers.
‘I’m your Fairly God Father,’ he repeated. ‘I’m here to look after you.’
‘I’m Susan, Deacon now, but I usually go by my maiden name.’
‘Which is?’ the Fairly God Father asked.
‘Susan Strong,’ she replied
‘Strong, that’s good,’ he murmured, rubbing his head.
Susan ignored him, ‘Now what you need is a nice cup of tea.’