“It’s OK, people like you shouldn’t have children anyway.”
“What do you mean, mother? Why do you keep saying that? Why are you being so horrible?” Given that Petra had just saved her mother’s life, she felt that this was a little bit harsh, to say the least.
“People like you…” Petra’s mother, at 90, had forgotten the thread of the conversation.
“Why do you always get so nasty on Sundays? Is it because Alice is coming over and you need the practise when she starts bitching about me?” Petra was genuinely curious about this phenomenon. For someone with dementia, her mother always seemed to sense that it was Sunday, with similar results.
“You’re not very …nice…People like you deserve all they get. I don’t like clever people.”
“Is that why you let them behave like that? Is that why you join in? Because you don’t like clever people?” Petra felt the lump in her chest worsen as she realised that her life had been meaningless to her mother because she didn’t like clever people. “I gave up everything for you. I haven’t had a night out since 2003. I took you around Europe when they wanted to take your money and throw you into a care home. I restored your entire house. I took care of your husband and you. I’ll never own a house or have a family or a pension. That drink you are drinking cost me £1200 to put together. I had to fight the NHS to give it to you. Are you saying that I haven’t done enough for you?”
“Oh, I don’t know….I don’t know.” Petra’s mother appeared to be turning back into the pillow to go to sleep.
Petra, who had had three hours sleep, felt the tears return again. She went through to the lounge. One of the cats sensed her despair and settled next to her on the couch. She tried to pull herself together before the nurses would arrive to give her mother her daily injection. As it was Sunday, she would have to clean down the kitchen, hoover and remove any personal items from her mother’s room before her sister arrived to formulate her next complaint. Petra often wished she had let her family be prosecuted rather than prevent them from committing the crime in the first place.
At eleven, the nurses duly arrived. “There is a stain on the bed. Has she been sick?”
“My mother does not suffer from such problems, she does, however, like to throw her drink around a bit before drinking it.” Petra eyed the small green spot on the duvet cover.
“You need carers in. We want carers in.” The small silver haired nurse looked at Petra menacingly.
“That is too bad, because we value our privacy. Carers do not magically produce more bedsheets as far as I know.”
“That’s just it, it’s too much work for one person. We want carers in.”
“I live here. You are here for five minutes per day. I do not want any more people in making any more false allegations.” In the last three months, a variety of strangers had barged into the house inventing a surprising range of stories, usually relating to invented cat-related problems. Evidently these bitches did not like cats. “Are you done yet?” Two nurses stood over Petra as she patiently waited to be able to leave the room again. She knew from experience that if she left the room when they were here she would be accused of neglect. How one goes about neglecting a sleeping person had never been explained.
“We’ve got to look after you as well.” the nurse tried.
“Well, the best way of doing that is to leave, and not invite any more hostile strangers into my home. You have a salary, a pension, a home of your own and probably a family life. I have to lock myself behind that door even to continue giving up all of those things for my mother. You have no idea of the situation I’m in.”
“Oh we don’t deal with family dynamic.” the nurse pursed her lips.
“Exactly, so perhaps, since you refuse to take the biggest problem we have into account, you should stop trying to force me to do things I do not want to do.” Petra was trying hard not to lose her temper again.
At length the nurses gave up and left, and Petra finished up the washing and completed her removal of anything remotely incriminating before her sister was due to arrive. She locked the door to her mother’s room and left, leaving access for Alice. She returned to her room and continued to ponder which of the many tasks she had on her list to do next. There was the gardens, the cleaning, the books, the artwork, the shops, the writing. Petra had tasks for every mood, every time limit. She did not know how carers in smaller houses coped, since she had been driven nearly mad with her imprisonment. Alice would only stay for ten minutes, so she could not go out until she had gone.
Petra looked at the internet for a while. Gary Walsh, a motivational speaker she had admired and briefly known, was due to have an event in a month’s time. She looked down at herself. She did not look good enough to go. She looked at the prices, and considered the amount she would have to spend to go. No, surely not? Two days of carers, a housesitter, care for the cats. Gary would probably not want to see her anyway, particularly looking so ugly. Even if he let her into the non-refundable event, he would probably not speak to her.
At length, Petra thought more positively. Did she not deserve a day off? Should she not seize the day, as he frequently recommended? Try to grab the opportunity, since she would be unlikely to ever be able to afford to go to such an event again? Petra thought of her impending destitution, and at length decided that since life was so very short, she should go, regardless of her appearance. She emailed the organiser, asked whether Gary would object to her attending given that their relationship had been rather stormy in the past.
A few days later, no email had appeared. Petra was fasting, trying to lose some weight. She changed her hair in anticipation of ‘going or being damned’. She had snatched a couple of hours a day to walk, and try to repair her ailing health. She knew she had to make a big change in a short space of time even to organise all the help she would need to make it at all.
Two weeks later, and still no email. Petra looked in the mirror. She still looked awful. Should she go? She guessed that she did not begrudge him the cost of the ticket regardless, and bought it. She felt briefly empowered by this. This was what he recommended, after all. Positive thinking, not considering others, doing what you want to achieve what you want etc. Petra’s walk became noticeably straighter as she went about her mundane day.
Still no email. Petra had by now resolved her lack of suitable clothing for the event, hired the relevant people and informed the housesitter of the situation with visiting nurses and carers. The event was in the south of the country, and would require at least one overnight stay. So far her day out had cost £500. Petra had not, however, had a holiday for two years. She admired her own decisiveness and checked her car for the long journey. She ensured that nothing nasty could be said about the gardens, the house, or anything else, since she planned to tell people nothing that they did not need to know. She so wanted to see Gary, and discuss her half-finished book.
The day before the event, arrangements in place, Petra noticed the email. She debated whether to open it. If the answer was no, she had wasted an awful lot of money. She decided against it. The rain also failed to put her off. She got into her car, bag in hand, and set off for the south.
It was a long drive. Petra loved long drives, so this left her unfazed. When she arrived she looked for somewhere to stay. The only place open was a Travelodge, which was rather uncomfortable. She checked in anyway and prepared herself for the possible disaster that would be the following day. Another night of little sleep, and finally the morning of the event arrived.
Petra approached the small town hall that the great Gary was to appear in. She was very surprised. Surely, a man this difficult to deal with was more famous than this? She was the first to arrive. The ticket office raised their eyebrows and whispered to each other when they saw the name on the ticket. Petra shut her eyes, assuming that she was not going to be let in.
At length, and after a phone call, she was ushered down to the front of the hall that Gary was to appear in. She had a VIP ticket. She tried not to look up as she approached the desk at which Gary was shuffling his papers.
She needn’t have worried. Gary did not appear to notice anybody else in the room. He was concentrating, she reasoned. She feigned interest in her very boring phone. A mild headache was developing.
As the other members of the audience filtered in, Gary started to look up and greet them. Petra now suspected that he did not even recognise her as he smiled and waved at his preferred punters. She was amazed at her smallness, given the time and thought she had wasted on Gary over the years. She felt sadder and sadder as she viewed the scene. She could not think of anything less motivational than being so utterly ignored. Petra wondered if she should stay for the full day, or sneak out at lunchtime rather than attempt to talk about her work.
When lunchtime finally came, Gary did his rounds of the wooden VIP benches. Petra was now terrified. He could not avoid her now. When he got to her she looked up at him, and was horrified when she saw the level of hatred in his eyes.
“And you are?” he extended a hand.
“You know who I am. I’m Petra, the lady with the book. Do you think you could spare some time to talk about it later?”
“If you had been more proactive when I spoke to you online, then I would have spoken to you. You should have said it then. My life has gone in a different direction now, you stupid bitch.” Gary seemed surprisingly bitter, and very angry with her.
“I’m, I’m sorry.” Petra was surprised to find herself apologising to somebody she had just had to pay so much to see because he had refused to speak to her online. “You could have tried a normal conversation?” She felt slightly indignant. “All I wanted was to give you the world, and you couldn’t even let me.”
“Let you? How could I let you when I didn’t even know about it? You think my staff have a clue about writing? That isn’t what I pay them for.”
“I did inform your agent at some length.” Petra frowned. “You are the big star, I was repeatedly told that I was a nothing.”
“Haven’t you learned anything from listening to me? You shouldn’t have let anything stand in your way. Why did you?” Gary still looked furious. “Your work is no use to me now. I have different priorities.”
“I waited for so long just for any sign at all that you were interested in the book, or anything that I had to say. You said nothing. What was I supposed to think?” Petra was now in physical pain at this disaster. She had thought of little but Gary for some years, and now this?
“You don’t wait, you make it happen. You just don’t get it, do you?” Gary moved on to the next person on the bench and pinned his smile back on.
Petra’s heart sank. He would not discuss it now, she was sure. She wondered if she should not just get back into her car and drive home. She had felt so courageous by coming here, and now it seemed that she had not been courageous enough. She had failed him, and failed herself. Petra was conscious of the melancholy creeping across her chest.
Gary finished the line and turned to return to his desk. As he reached Petra, he turned to her. “Well? Do you have it with you?”
“The idea was for you to give me some idea what else you wanted from it, so that I could complete the research.” Petra was now very downcast. “I wanted to give you high quality work.”
Gary leaned over her and put his lips to her ear “Fuck quality. I need speed.”
Considering the years of her time and emotion he had wasted on failing to talk to her, Petra was now close to snapping. “I am sorry, I can’t work like that. You are my muse. I need input for this element of the project, and I need to know that there is a point.”
“Bye then, no use to me. Life is short and I have other things, like my children to think about.” Gary returned to his desk.
Petra closed her eyes. He had no idea. None. That had initially been what she liked about him. Now it felt like a cancer eating her soul. She got up and left the hall. As she got to the door, she turned around. Gary was staring at her, a mixture of disgust and panic on his face. Petra frowned. Was she considered to be the bigger partner in this arrangement? How odd, considering she had been creating a gift for him? The conversation was over, however, that much was clear. Petra returned to her car. At least she would not have to pay for another night’s accommodation, she reasoned. What did that look on his face mean? What did he want from her?
Petra tried to think how she could have otherwise handled the situation. What she really wanted to do was slap him, rip his shirt off, possibly scratch his eyes out, demand that he left his wife and devote herself to making him globally famous. In the absence of any surety that she could actually pull all that off, she guessed that any of that would be pretty impolite. Besides, he had chosen to get married, to someone he presumably loved. He had rejected her attempt at conversation online. What on earth was she supposed to do? If life was short, as he said, she guessed that she should just walk back in there and do it, regardless of mother and cats. She put her head in her hands. Why did that man, out of any men, make her so crazy?
The real war, she reasoned, was between motivation and reality. Reality dictated that she drive home, leave him in peace, die, preferably soon, having wasted her work and her life. Motivation dictated that she ravish him on his desk regardless of the audience members, probably stuffing the pages of her book into his mouth so that he couldn’t continue to speak as she did so. Love is very messy, Petra thought, as the lump in her chest finally turned into yet more tears. She had no wish to upset anybody, and no confidence that doing so would make her anything other than insane and probably dangerous.
Life really is no fun, Petra thought, as she turned the key in the ignition and set off for home.