Tuesday morning first thing and it doesn't feel like a good day. November has brought with it the dull ache of a wintry despondency. The chill in the air has clawed its frozen fingers into my skull and blown an icy mistral across my mind. I feel a dense slumping of my energies, as if I am fighting against a swarm of craven and foggy negativity. I have to pummel my way out of the gloom with powerful fistfuls of punchy attitude. But somehow I've lost the will. My boyfriend has flown back to the U.S. after a flying visit and his leaving has now pulled me out of sync.
Drama queen. Just get on with it.
I go out to the shops to pay some bills and pick up a few items for my son's supper. I walk down to the high street of the small country town where I live. The wind is blowing up great gusts of bright orange leaves. The theatricals of the season appeal to my sensitive mood and I move in and out of the shops with the lonely listlessness of the recently bereaved. It appears that I believe myself to be in a place out of the reach of all others. I take on a parental voice internally and tell myself to 'snap out of it' and to 'pull myself together'. As I walk into a charity shop I wonder vaguely if they will have something suitable as a writing table which I have recently thought about investing in. And then I see it.
Stationed by the door and partially blocking the entrance is an elephantine chunk of furniture. It is a desk as solid as a carthorse and I am instantly drawn to its hefty ugliness. A plain, studious looking behemoth, one that you can push your knees under and which has school-teacher'ish rows of drawers on either side. I pull open a few of these and discover that they have a splattered inky wash which has turned the insides the pleasing colour of writers-blue. It is a light nondescript wood, roughly varnished with an Eastern European feel to it. Basic, without adornment and made for no-nonsense practical work, it is a communist of the furniture world. And though it is more Chairman Mao than Carla Bruni, with perhaps a touch of General Tito around the sturdy iron fittings, there is still a certain sexiness to its stance. This is apparent in its straight forward willingness to perform a standard task rather than a pampered and prosodic attitude to its being used for what it was made for. I love it all the more for its lack of understated elegance. It has all four of its low-heeled feet slammed solidly on the ground.
I start to imagine it in the little space just off my kitchen where I now plan to write, I don't trust my instincts though, and at £85 it seems a little over-priced and already beyond my own self-imposed budget. I decide I need my friend Lavender to see it first. Lavender has exquisite taste and will know instantly if it is right for me or my house.
But while I wait I become twitchy and territorial. I strut around the desk in a proprietorial manner. It is already mine and I try to infuse this feeling into the table itself in an effort to deflect any other possible buyers. I ask the woman behind the counter for a tape measure and I ostentatiously start to measure it up. I fling my body over the top as I hurl the tape around its circumference and during the seemingly long wait I endlessly circle it hoping to ward off other captors . Every passing person becomes a threat. I smile as sweetly as I can and try to take on a relaxed and authoritative air but inside I am fraught and angsty.
At last Lavender arrives. She takes one look. She doesn't like it. In fact she can see few, if any, redeeming features. Least of all the price. That’s when my heart really begins to sink.
We leave the shop in silence. I had asked for her opinion but I didn't get the reaction that I wanted and it hurts. The pain involved is by no means on the correct level for a rashly viewed grubby-looking table with inky drawers that someone else has given to a charity shop. But I am feeling disturbingly upset nonetheless.
We troop sullenly back to my house and have lunch. I feel low and dejected. Lavender is distracted by endless calls to her mobile. Lav has a very grand background. Her family have always had 'staff' and appear to have employed half of the local community at some time or other and one of them, a woman in her late 70's who used to be their housekeeper, needs cheering up. Everyone loves Lavender who is a well-bred beacon of tenderness in other peoples lowest moments. I still feel pointedly abject over her treatment of my table but agree to go with her to visit the distraught 'Lily'.
We go in my car and take Lav's dog Osbert with us. Osbert is a small and sharply intelligent cross-breed who smiles regularly to show his need to be included in all things human. He grins at me, as if trying to lift my mood, and shows me a full set of gleaming little doggy teeth. On the drive over Lavender pulls out a box of fudge. Osbert is ushered onto the back seat while Lav and I plough enjoyably through the top layer. This is the most delicious mouthwatering fudge I have ever tasted. It is tooth-meltingly sweet and deeply satisfying. I start to feel a genial warmth and remember that I actually have nothing wrong in my life, in fact my life is really rather good.
Once we arrive at Lily's we go into caring mode and listen as this hard-working and frail woman unfolds her sad tale. She has recently left her husband after 60 years of marriage and has now rented a tiny flat and furnished it exactly the way she wants it. She is thrilled with being on her own, running her own life and has obviously escaped from a cold and unloving marriage. A divorce from her 80 year old husband now looms in front of her and she is beginning to feel daunted and a little lost. It is a wretched situation and she talks and talks, more than a little fragile and desperately trying to hang on to what she has achieved at this stage in life. But she is also now fearful for what the future may hold. She is resolute in her having made the right decision over leaving her husband but she still feels uneasy confusion. One wonders if she has left it all a little too late.
We do our best to support and bolster her spirits, to admire her newly purchased carpet - first time in her life she has chosen something purely for herself, her pleasure is tangible - and sympathize with her feelings of bewilderment and panic.
As we leave her flat I am immensely grateful that the only wrinkle in my day has been the issue of the table and in the face of Lily's torment I can dismiss it as the trivia it truly is.
When we get out to the car again my first thought is of the fudge and the coming pleasure. Lavender rubs her hands together in glee and we both know what we are thinking about.
We open the car door to be greeted by a quiet looking Osbert. He lifts his head toward us. He doesn't smile. All around are strewn the shredded and empty waxy wrappings from the fudge box.