by Charlotte Baker
Julie sat on a wicker chair, looking out of her conservatory window. She’d already eaten her granola, read a magazine and visited B&Q but it was only 1pm. She hated Saturdays, spending hours alone in her house, feeling ignored by her son and looking through books of different Dulux paint charts. She had meant to get some shears for next door’s ivy which was crawling down her fence. A lot of people around her seem to think it looks whimsical, to have a garden snaked with flowered bindweed and obnoxious dandelions. Those retirees next door were kidding themselves that their measly plot looked like some kind of secret forest – that the kids enjoyed playing in it more if there were bugs to catch under the long grass.
Julie was glad she didn’t think that way.
Her lawn was mown into strips of Granada Green and Dublin Bay 5 and complemented her eyes, a small self-approving voice whispered: a voice she hadn’t heard from in a little while.
She padded to the kitchen, wincing as she passed the Laura Ashley couch that had cost easily half a month’s wage. The thought of herself spending one hundred and twenty-six hours staring at Edna’s cataracts in that small, sterile ward and the countless shop-bought lunches she had hurried in time for the next appointment crossed her mind. All that for the sake of a made-to-order Astoria in Jungle Fever 4 she wasn’t even very happy with. She altered one of the cushions, to see if she could bring herself to see its place in the room. Mel would be around at half-past six (though knowing her: quarter-past seven) so it might finally be worth it, to see her face turn a dim shade of Sea Foam.
A few hours later, she had pulled on a patterned dress from Monsoon and some beads from her trip to Gambia a few years ago, back when she tried to convince herself and her immediate family that she could live in a large shed and be happy. She smiled a little bit at the memory while settling down to watch the X Factor, perching at the end of her sofa, wishing she had asked for a colour more like Jungle Fever 5.
She knew why she couldn’t feel right with it really, or in this eighty-five pound cashmere-blend dress, or even in her own home- if she really thought about it. But that only happened when she was left alone for a few days, when her youngest son Jonny was on holiday with his girlfriend or staying with friends and things started to race around in her head; it was kept inside the other section of her mind that she didn’t like to visit very often: named ‘mother’.
Mel walked in at quarter-to-seven wearing similar attire to Julie, an incongruous mix of jewellery handmade by people poorer and much happier than her, and expensive department store clothing made specifically for women-of-a-certain-age-and-pocket in an earthy tonal palette. They had become friends in typing school and signed up to university in the same year, after their first child. She helped her through divorces, breakdowns, and in to middle class stability; all Mel asked for in return was a willing ear and an invitation to her every social endeavour. Julie’s marriage lasted five years longer than Mel’s, but only because Julie didn’t know how to break it to her mother. She had always liked Bob.
Mel was beginning to look a little podgy around the middle, Julie thought of her oldest friend, and the self-approving flicker she felt earlier burned shallower, but for longer than before.
They got into the car, on their way to Kirsten’s birthday party. She worked in Julie’s ward: one band higher, but four years older.
‘I think I’m going to cut sugar’
Mel sighed and carried on looking at the road ‘Ah, Julie. You’ve been reading Woman’s Own again, haven’t you?’
‘I hardly ever get it anymore, I bought it for Sue really’
‘Sue’s too young for Women’s Own, she’s in her thirties. All they ever talk about is diets, Loose Women, what dress will make you look thinner. Boring. To sell magazines to bored housewives- you’re a clever, professional woman, Julie. Not that you’d know it, looking at that washed-out IKEA couch in your living room!’ Mel chuckled and changed the Paolo Nutini track over to one that was a little more upbeat.
Julie took a second to respond, taking in the streets of cottages painted in Fresh Stem and Kiwi Krush, water clogged autumn fields in Moss Blanket. It was too much now, the chart was rich and bright and imposing, the air was thick and Julie could feel her face flushing warm and prickly. She pulled her head away from the road and looked her friend (a rare occasion, considering Mel’s driving) ‘It’s important to stay slim… it’s important for your health. You should borrow it. It might give you some tips.’
Julie’s face calmed, to something like Ocean Ripple 1.