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Sue Townsend

The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year

© 2012

To my mother, Grace

‘Be kind, for everybody you meet is fightin

a hard battle’

attributed to Plato, and many others

1

After they’d gone Eva slid the bolt across the door and disconnected the telephone. She liked having the house to herself. She went from room to room tidying, straightening and collecting the cups and plates that her husband and children had left on various surfaces. Somebody had left a soup spoon on the arm of her special chair – the one she had upholstered at night school. She immediately went to the kitchen and examined the contents of her Kleeneze cleaning products box.

What would remove a Heinz tomato soup stain from embroidered silk damask?’

As she searched, she remonstrated with herself. ‘It’s your own fault. You should have kept the chair in your bedroom. It was pure vanity on your part to have it on display in the sitting room. You wanted visitors to notice the chair and to tell you how beautiful it was, so that you could tell them that it had taken two years to complete the embroidery, and that you had been inspired by Claude Monet’s “Water-Lily Pond and Weeping Willow”.’

The trees alone had taken a year.

There was a small pool of tomato soup on the kitchen floor that she hadn’t noticed until she stepped in it and left orange footprints. The little non-stick saucepan containing half a can of tomato soup was still simmering on the hob. ‘Too lazy to take a pan off the stove,’ she thought. Then she remembered that the twins were Leeds University’s problem now.

She caught her reflection in the smoky glass of the wall-mounted oven. She looked away quickly. If she had taken a while to look she would have seen a woman of fifty with a lovely, fine-boned face, pale inquisitive eyes and a Clara Bow mouth that always looked as though she were about to speak. Nobody – not even Brian, her husband – had seen her without lipstick. Eva thought that red lips complemented the black clothes she habitually wore. Sometimes she allowed herself a little grey.

Once, Brian had come home from work to find Eva in the garden, in her black wellingtons, having just pulled up a bunch of turnips. He’d said to her, ‘For Christ’s sake, Eva! You look like post-war Poland.’

Her face was currently fashionable. ‘Vintage’ according to the girl on the Chanel counter where she bought her lipstick (always remembering to throw the receipt away – her husband would not understand the outrageous expense).

She picked up the saucepan, walked from the kitchen into the sitting room and threw the soup all over her precious chair. She then went upstairs, into her bedroom and, without removing her clothes or her shoes, got into bed and stayed there for a year.

She didn’t know it would be a year. She climbed into bed thinking she would leave it again after half an hour, but the comfort of the bed was exquisite, the white sheets were fresh and smelled of new snow. She turned on her side towards the open window and watched the sycamore in the garden shed its blazing leaves.

She had always loved September.

She woke when it was getting dark, and she heard her husband shouting outside. Her mobile rang. The display showed that it was her daughter, Brianne. She ignored it. She pulled the duvet over her head and sang the words of Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk The Line’.

When she next poked her head out from under the duvet, she heard her next-door neighbour Julie’s excited voice saying, ‘It’s not right, Brian.’

They were in the front garden.

Her husband said, ‘I mean, I’ve been to Leeds and back, I need a shower.’

‘Of course you do.’

Eva thought about this exchange. Why would driving to Leeds and back necessitate having a shower? Was the northern air full of grit? Or had he been sweating on the M1? Cursing the lorries? Screaming at tailgaters? Angrily denouncing whatever the weather was doing?

She switched on the bedside lamp.

This provoked another episode of shouting outside, and demands that she, ‘Stop playing silly buggers and unbolt the door!’

She realised that, although she wanted to go downstairs and let him in, she couldn’t actually leave the bed. She felt as though she had fallen into a vat of warm quick-setting concrete, and that she was powerless to move. She felt an exquisite languor spread throughout her body, and thought, ‘I would have to be mad to leave this bed.’

There was the sound of breaking glass. Soon after, she heard Brian on the stairs.

He shouted her name.

She didn’t answer.

He opened the bedroom door. ‘There you are,’ he said.

‘Yes, here I am.’

‘Are you ill?’

‘No.’

Why are you in bed in your clothes and shoes? What are you playing at?’

‘I don’t know’

‘It’s empty-nest syndrome. I heard it on Woman’s Hour.’ When she didn’t speak, he said, Well, are you going to get up?’

‘No, I’m not.’

He asked, ‘What about dinner?’

‘No thanks, I’m not hungry.’

‘I meant what about my dinner? Is there anything?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, look in the fridge.’ He stomped downstairs. She heard his footsteps on the laminate floor he’d laid so ineptly the year before. She knew by the squeak of the floorboards that he’d gone into the sitting room. Soon he was stomping back up the stairs.

‘What the bloody hell has happened to your chair?’ he asked.

‘Somebody left a soup spoon on the arm.

‘There’s soup all over the bloody thing.’

‘I know I did it myself.’

‘What – threw the soup?’

Eva nodded.

‘You’re having a nervous breakdown, Eva. I’m ringing your mum.’

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