Bad Snow by Mark Gordon Palmer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
For a blog project I started at the end of 2011, I set out to write a series of short stories that were always written in one sitting, with limited editing or rewriting, based upon: the time of year; the time of day; maybe a comment from a stranger I'd heard earlier in the day that, by the time night had fallen, had inspired me to write a short story on that theme. The stories could also be inspired by an item I'd seen on the news that day, or even a dream I'd had the night before. I wanted these stories to be a kind of fictional journalism; inspired by news or talk of any kind, on the day. I now continue to write these stories under the heading 'From Now On I'll Be Sure To Close The Curtains' as that's probably the best way to write them, and view them too!

Submitted: January 14, 2012

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Submitted: January 14, 2012

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A A A


She didn’t mean it to be the worst Christmas ever. It just happened that way. Four years of the same domestic routine and the constant asking of her: “where have you been?” by him. In the near enough words of Bryan Ferry; ‘he was just a jealous guy and didn’t mean to hurt her’, but in the near enough words of Shane McGowan and Kirsty MCCall; ‘he could have been someone, but so could anyone’ - and that ‘anyone’ turned out to be her. That was the real problem.

With a man spending the entire day just wondering who you were talking to at work, and asking you many times over when you got back home – well, wouldn’t you want to fly away too? But leaving wasn’t an option. She sort of loved him for a start. And their home was a safe sanctuary, even though, from time to time, the place that made her feel better – got really sick and had to go to bed with a temperature or a headache. Actually, maybe she didn’t love him at all, not even sort of. It was debatable that one – a bit like asking what came before existence, or if there is a point where the world just ends; a place where if you travel across space far enough you reach a brick wall that has the words: ‘end of the world, but not in a cataclysmic way, just literally the place where there’s no more space for any more of anything’ scratched upon it.

But there was something about him – a saving grace. A promise – of what? Potential? The way out - of something? The promise that one year, he’d save them – like Jesus. Until then, he was kind of just thinking about it. Ideas that were like wisps of exhaust fumes on a cold December’s morning – quickly there and quickly gone, but always leaving an acrid sort of aftertaste when they don’t work out. He had no idea what she thought about him, or about them. In the last seven years or so, the man she lived with had promised her repeatedly, that ‘this time next month’ (he didn’t even make it a ‘next year’ kind of promise, which would have made it a bit more believable) they’d be starting to run: their own bar by the coast; a guest house in Norfolk, an animal sanctuary in the New Forest; their own lifestyle magazine for a husband and wife to read together (they weren’t married or anything themselves, but the idea still counted) - or win the lottery. Yes, that had been his final words before she spent one fateful and really quite sweet and sticky (literally – thanks to a bottle of Baileys by the bedside) night after work with a boy from accounts who she actually found really funny and enthusiastic (he was mostly enthusiastic about the tight white woollen jumper she had worn that day, but still -) and ambitious. Ok, he looked pretty hot too and had nice bulges in all the right and none of the wrong places, showing through his cheap but cheerful, local charity shop suit. The Christmas party had found her sulking in chewy fatty turkey scraps that she left on the side of her plate and the big overweight boss had dropped some cigar ash down her jumper as they puffed away outside in the cold. The bitch. And then the boy – who she had been trying not to feel excited about him sitting beside her - had come outside with a pack of Marlboros and offered her another smoke, that she had accepted, and regretted, as the nicotine double rush mixed with all that cigar smoke made her cough and choke for a good minute and a half. Then she noticed – and brushed away - all the grey rotten ash from the cigar that still speckled her jumper, making it worse – turning snow white to slush.

“Need any help?”

“Not bloody likely.”

They’d laughed out loud at that. Did she have a boyfriend who would complain if he discovered a few ash-smeared thumbprints on her pure white jumper? No. She didn’t. On her white knickers? Laughing: no. How’d you know (they were white)?

After the party they’d headed back to his place. The boy bought some Baileys on the way home. And some mince pies. She hated mince pies. She hated Baileys too. Less so when he poured half the bottle over her as she sprawled on the bed undressed. It was sticky and stupid but so much fun.

That’s what she was missing. Fun. The chance to smile again. He never smiled anymore. Neither did she. They only had routine, and promises that were already being forgotten. When you run out of promises you run out of the will to live.

The boy didn’t last long as a lover. Not in a pleasure-giving kind of way. That went on forever. There had even been a break in the middle, so he could phone his mum to remind her to bring a box of crackers to the party he was organising with his girlfriend at her mum’s place on Boxing Day. No, he wasn’t a long term lover. There was no job security involved. More of an in-house training day.

“Where were you – do you know what time it is?” he’d say when she got home, she knew that.
On the slow-moving train home she stared out the window, crying, at the sun patchily trying to light up the sickly-looking grey morning – a dawn that looked like it felt as bad as she did. Luckily the trains from Victoria run every hour through the night. But she was still five hours later home than she had told him she would be.

A group of local lads on their way back to Croydon, after stumbling inside the train as it waited at Clapham Junction, had chatted her up for part of the way home. One of the group was pretty good-looking. For one fleeting moment she considered –. But, my god, no! What would that make you?

She got home, undressed and went to bed. He slept in a converted room in the loft – he called it his home office – and he soon walked in holding her sticky clothing, that stank of Baileys. It was obviously all over her as well. You don’t get the chance to come back from – to get yourself out of - a discovery like that. She could have tried -

The boss spilt cigar ash all over me, and then as we ate the Christmas pudding, a glass – no a bottle – of Baileys went flying over me as well.

(Then he grabs me, turns me over, touches the stickiness all over me, holds his hand to his nose, sniffs twice, hard, his eyes look to the ceiling then back down again at me – locked in his sights like a pistol ready to fire)

It‘s not Bailey’s, it’s a new scented moisturiser I’m using that smells like…it.

(He sees the hand print in ink on my skin – a big hand print. I think it was a hand. I’d wanted it to be ash, but he didn’t smoke, didn’t have an ashtray. It seemed funny at the time – he had wiped his hands over an old local newspaper and smeared the resulting smudge on a patch of smooth skin I asked him to try it out on first. It worked!)

I went back to the boy from account’s place. I’m sorry. I was really…

(What? Drunk -)

"Fed up. With us," she says out loud, not meaning to.

“What - have - I done?” he shouts.

What have you done? What -? Oh right, yeah … mouth talks while brain thinks. Didn't mean to do both at the same time. Still, it had to be said...

“Not fed up with us. I mean with me. I’m fed up with me.”

He gets a parcel out from under the bed and unwraps it. A beautiful blue silk dressing gown. On the outside of the wrapping paper I see the card that has the word ‘love’ written on it, in bright pink pen. He throws the dressing gown on top of me, and instantly it sticks to the remaining sheen on my skin of the Baileys from the night before. And the early hours of the morning after.

He gets out another parcel. Unwraps it. Pants and a bra from Coco de Mer. Nice. He throws the garments on top of me. They stick to my legs. On the card: ‘desire’ in bright pink pen.

This goes on for another five minutes. I get: love; desire; hunger; thirst; and read. ‘Read’ was a bit boring, but the rest were great presents. I felt so bad. I felt in love again. Because of five stupid presents. Well, one stupid and four pretty good.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. I still love you.

Men – stupid men. I was in control. He’d give in. He didn’t want to lose me. And I – brought home the bacon. And sometimes the Baileys. You know, I really did still love him. I wanted us to smile again. Already, with the stickiness of the Baileys glueing me a little to the bed, I wanted to laugh.

“I’ve been seeing a girl for the last two years,” he suddenly says. “It ended a few months back. She’s flying home to Australia for Christmas. Wanted me to go with her, to meet her family. I said no. She told me that we’d been together for two years, it was time.”

In that moment, my thoughts raced forward in my head like a bad food reaction waiting to be vomited clear of the body. But then all I thought was: she’s right. If you’ve been together two years, you should treat a girl with more respect. Meet her family. You owe her that much. I was suddenly on the side of this Australian tart, and I didn’t know why.Imagine the boy and me, together for two years, and before long we forget the Baileys and ink prints and start bathing in custard, or dripping Tesco olive oil over our bodies in the bath. Oh god. Actually - why not?Time to do the wounded girlfriend bit I felt…

“You bastard. I stuck by you. I loved you. I supported – .”

"Bitch," he says.“-you,” I finish. I always finish with that line about ‘I support you’ or ‘who does the cooking around here – me’ or ‘I pay the bills’ or ‘I once persuaded you not to jump off the top of the Devon lighthouse during that two hour tour we were on, when you had one of your moments of self-doubt and the ticket staff made us pay double fare for giving the elderly tour guide her first and last panic attack’.

“Damn it, you just had to say that again didn’t you? About supporting me – me! Like I’m some kind of a failure as a man, when I’m not - I’m stocked up to the brim with hormones …”

“Testosterone.”

“…stocked up to the brim with testosterone. I try my best. I want to get us away from here too, from his horrible old house, this life of boring, ness, from those creepy neighbours I can’t stand but obviously fancy you, and the dangerous boiler that I had to -.”

“Dangerous? Boiler dangerous?” Suddenly I was swapping words back to front and forgetting to punctuate my life.

“Yeah, I had a friend look at it last week.”

“You don’t have any friends.”

“A neighbour.”

“Who?”

It was her. The Australian cow. She wasn’t only great in bed and with thinner thighs than me and the rest of the girls in the world, but she could also service a boiler. I end up with Baileys Boy and he gets the pretty tomboy from Down Under who can probably surf as well as she can, you know, that.

“The old guy from two doors down, Basil. He was going on at me about being a retired domestic boiler technician. I invited him round.”

Ahh, Basil, dear old Basil…

“Oh, I'm sorry then.”

“For what?”

“For thinking too hard. ”

It was a week until Christmas Day. Which meant that, after our most serious row yet (although it was actually also one of our politest rows yet), we had two days of not talking to one another and five more days of asking each other what we had done with the other person who we were cheating with. His crowning moment was when he told me that he had once done it on top of a Haystack in the village of Pluckley in the middle of a storm with good ol’ Kylie; lightning had struck the barn and they had felt a body-shaking shock go through them as they were doing it in the wet hay – he swears the girl lit up in the dark so that he could see what was around them. Yeah, but I still had the Baileys and the ink prints on my arse. Still – he was rapidly becoming the enemy, with more confessional stories to tell than me, and I was becoming the unexpected good guy in all this, which had always been his role. I was always the slut – even though I wasn’t. It was the role he wanted me to play. And he was Mr Perfect. Damn it – I thought he had always been the boring one, the big fat loser with a self-importance more flimsy than the thongs he would buy me for my birthday once a year to, as he put it ‘spice myself up with’. To his face I would call him ‘Mr Fussputty’ a man whose only friend was apparently Basil the neighbour (and I didn’t even know for seven years that he even had that card up his sleeve). Suddenly I’m the primmest and most properist girl in town. I was the one struggling at work five days a week, but he was always the one with the job prospects that would ‘save us’. It was turning itself inside out. My world. My life. I’d gone from sudden adulterer to respectable lady of the house in one foul swoop. He’d gone from being a stay at home dad (we were still waiting for the children bit – no luck as yet, but he said it was always best to be ready, despite me not telling him that I was still on the pill) to King Rat, with the swagger to match. With his new found badness, I’d kind of fallen in love with him all over again.

Christmas Eve: he takes me outside. It’s snowing lightly. The heavy snow from the previous week has solidified into thick sheets of ice across the country. But our house has escaped the worst. No snow settles in our drive or on the roof. I decide that our bust up has radiated so much heat that the falling snow has melted upon touch with the tiles and on the cracked-up driveway. Into the back garden: he picks up some of the snow that has melted and starts patting it into a snowball. So I think it's time for payback: instead of settling our domestic with an argument about who gets to keep the cat, if we ever get one, we have to fight it out with snowballs in the back garden instead, being watched by Basil the retired boiler technician from a few doors along – his huge nose, it looks like, already peeking through the curtain in his upstairs bedroom window.

“There,” he says, placing the snowball firmly on the window ledge behind me - and starts rolling another ball of snow. There’s not much snow to do it with. But when he is finished, he places that second, smaller snowball on top of the first. Puts his hand inside his pocket and takes out two black buttons. Mine of course. I keep those in my sewing box – they’re actually quite rare too. I want to ask him to go and put them back where he found them, but I daren’t. Then he takes out a scrap of paper that I soon see is actually a lottery ticket. He rolls it up and takes out a scrap of clingfilm that’s all stuck together so he has to unstick it all (much like me on my night of the Baileys incident, being unstuck from the silk sheets sticking to me on to the bed after a couple of hours sleep and a solidifying process that seemed designed to make me stay on until breakfast –the boy had said, as I got up to leave: “I do a mean bacon and brown sauce omelette you know - stay”, and it sounded gross, because I’m a coffee and croissant kind of girl).

Right, let’s get back to the story, even though this is where it all gets a bit sad and I’d rather not remember those last few days – we’ve reached the point where the lottery ticket is all neatly rolled up (he does everything neatly, I bet he even tidied up the hay in the stack on the night of the storm) and carefully covered in clingfilm. He then sticks the tube in the snowman’s head, to make a nose. I’m thinking at this point that he should have just cut off a bit of carrot to use as a nose instead, as this tube just looks silly. More silly than having a carrot for a nose, even though technically not when you think about it. He turns to me with a big grin on his face. “There. Now – every year I will do the same. I will buy a lottery ticket and stick it in the snowman as a nose, and every Christmas Day we will open the ticket, check the numbers, and I promise you that one day we will have the best luck in the world. There’s no way we can ever split up. We have to do this every year. It’s a contract.”

He turns to me, offers his hand. “Shake on it.” I'm quite impressed. He's suddenly all grown up and serious. I shake his hand. He strokes the snowman’s nose (which I must admit, as a gesture, did look a bit weird) and tells me: “This is our lucky ticket. It’s here to represent our love for one another. It doesn’t matter if it’s lucky or not – it’s a symbol.”

I think about this. The plan was sounding increasingly flawed. “But it would be better if it turns out to be a winning ticket.”

“Yes, that’s true. But it doesn’t matter if it isn’t.”

I think about this. “Yes it does. If it’s not a winning ticket, then it’s not lucky.”“But it could be next year,” he says, and I’m not sure if his teeth are clenched because of me, or because it’s cold.

“That’s a long time to wait. I kind of think that basing our entire relationship on Frosty’s nose being lucky, isn’t perhaps the best way forward. You were doing it on top of haystacks for two years without me knowing – I need more that a lottery ticket stuck in a snowman’s head as an apology.”

“Well, it was actually just once on the haystack. And what about you? Guess what my favourite Christmassy drink used to be. Guess what it’s not now?”

I punch him on the arm. “This doesn’t feel like appropriate proportion of blame to me.”

He laughs. “That’s posh.”

“What is?”

“That’s a posh way to talk about us. We never used to talk like that.”

I smile. He’s right. We didn’t talk at all really - full stop. We just used to communicate in slurred speech about nothingness, usually rude nothingness, about how he wanted to do it ‘this way’ while I would say there’s ‘no way’ that I would do it that way, or how much we hated our university ‘friends’ from a few years back – common ground. All we did when first going out, having landed our first proper jobs – mine serving tofu burgers at local football matches in a stall called the Veggie Van, him working on a local farm shovelling (oh god, just realised) - hay, was go to pubs and cheap but cheerful restaurants, spend all the money we had, which wasn’t much, and lose our jobs (him – not me, but his boss was a real bitch, so I had to offer him my support, and besides, that was back when he had the ambition to run a B&B in Brighton, which kind of sounded fun, even though we decided the bank manager probably wouldn’t agree, so quickly abandoned the idea and put it down to experience, or lack of experience – a lack of anything approaching experience in running a B&B at twenty two years old that would make any sane person lend us money, except for the fact we once spent the night in one). Most of the time we couldn’t get up the next day to do anything other than say how unwell we felt. That’s the thing about hangovers, you act like you’re not well and need some nursing support, like you’ve caught flu or something. Like some bloke on the train journey home sneezed a great big load of hangover snot all over your face. And you know that the day after, you’re going to come down with that hangover, and be really ill.

“Ok,” I say finally, upon some reflection. “This, err, snowman’s nose, is the lucky ticket, and tomorrow we take a look, and see how lucky we are.” It was quite romantic in its way. Flawed, but sort of romantic. Like him.

Christmas Day: we do all the usual stuff. Open presents. Drink too much. Not Baileys, before you ask – no; just red wine and a Tia Maria or two. And we had a great dinner - that sadly wasn’t as great as it could have been as I forgot to defrost the potatoes like the instructions said; this meant they were crispy on the outside but a solid block of ice inside. I’ve never known a roast potato do that before. Still, everything else was perfect – especially the gravy, that helped melt the potatoes a little bit. I decided to put a microwave on my Christmas list next year. At some point after lunch we went outside to check the ‘lucky nose’. Well, he did. I got to the door and he told me to go back inside.

Let me bring the nose to you; it’s more romantic that way, he said. An offer I couldn’t refuse. He eventually came back inside, his own nose red and drippy with the cold. He’d been out there twenty minutes. I thought the news must be so good that he’s gone into cardiac arrest, or that a thief had stolen the lucky snowman and gotten really lucky when he found out the nose had won him a few million.

“I have decided,” he said slowly. “That it will be much – much – more romantic, if we wait until next year to look at the nose. Or at some other lucky moment during the year ahead when the time feels right. For now, although we know that it’s lucky, we should wait and prove to ourselves that our saved relationship, doesn’t even need a winning lottery ticket to survive.”

“Just go and look at the bloody ticket,” I tell him, thinking about that Australian nympho and deciding that our relationship does still need a winning lottery ticket to survive.“No,” he says. “I believe I know what’s best, and that lucky ticket – “ he takes out the rolled up nose still in clingfilm and waves it at me – “goes back in the box of Christmas decorations until next year.”

“You’re floundering aren’t you?” I say. “You opened it and we didn’t win. Next Saturday, and probably every Saturday between now and next Christmas you are going to buy a lottery ticket and check to see if we have won a million. When we do win, you are going to rush up to me and tell me that we’ve won. That you decided the moment was right to check. That our relationship is a lucky one – officially and financially - lucky. You are going to tell me this even if we just win a tenner. Aren’t you?”

In that moment I love him more than ever.

“Yeah, we didn’t even get one number.”

But I know it’s all over. I kind of believed we could be lucky. I suspected we might even have a winning ticket. But if we had won a million, I know that if love can only survive with a big pot of gold at the end, then I wouldn’t want to spend my life being bathed in champagne and draped in expensive gold jewellery (for longer than a few years, or at most a decade, and a bit) and that at some point I’d probably be back on the Baileys. So in a way I loved him - and us – for not being winners, but at the same time, I didn’t think that I could watch him go out to buy a lottery ticket each week with huge optimism in his heart and see how heavy his face had fallen by the time he got home. Couldn’t keep thinking that to get through the bad times; to get through all the lies and boredom and the screaming (or even the quite polite) arguments - we only needed to match 6 numbers and the bonus ball. There has to be more to life. And I don’t just mean a quick fling with a boy from the accounts department at a Christmas party – I mean something more, to my life.

I lean towards him, and kiss him: “I want you to pretend we won the jackpot, that you told me not to check, but I did. You saw the snowman’s nose was missing, and I was gone too. I packed my bags and I left.”

He starts crying. I do too.

“I left, and you think I’ve run away with the winning ticket.”

“Jess – I don’t want …”

“But the next day you find a piece of paper scrawled up in the bin, and it’s the winning ticket.”

“…you to go.”

Copyright: Mark Gordon Palmer/ 2011
Contact: markgordonpalmer@aol.com


© Copyright 2017 Mark Gordon Palmer. All rights reserved.

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