Monsters and Angels

July 1975. Hottest summer on record for years says the news. I am nine years old, and I am washing up after tea in our new house. The door is closed on purpose and the stinging heat rises. I have rolled up the sleeves of my favourite cheese cloth blouse and with a gasp of pleasure I plunge my arms deeply into the soothing washing-up liquid bubbles. My long brown hair is tied back in a ponytail, but strands of fringe loosen and tickle, so I stick out my lower lip and blow sharp blasts of air upwards in a futile attempt to shift them.

Mum says the kitchen is not big enough for us all. I don’t mind though, it’s quiet in here, this small, yellow room in our new house with stairs, in a close, in a city. Our old house was a bungalow in the countryside, in a village. We had a big kitchen; you could fit a table in it. Soon this new kitchen won’t be tiny anymore. We’re going to have an extension. I’m not sure what this means but mum says she’ll be able to “do more” in it and we will all fit in it. 

I don’t allow myself to think about the mess surrounding me. The mess left behind in the wake of this evening’s meal. A congealed brown glupe covers the cooker rings and there are large splatters around the oven door and there are trails too across the orange linoleum. It’s as if two large bears have had a fight to the death in here. I will not allow myself to feel daunted. I tell myself it’s ok because I know how to clean. Eileen taught me. We had to live with Eileen and her family before we moved here. The house between our old one and this one. Eileen was mum’s friend and she had short brown hair, was very tall and had a London accent. She didn’t mind swearing and said “bleedin ‘el love!” when you made her laugh, and she was kind.  

Eileen already lived with her own family, but she made space for us. I discovered that when you are moving to a new house, you’re “in a chain,” linked to lots of people who are also all moving house. Our chain broke on the very day we were moving. So, Mum said we had to stay with Eileen for a bit because our new house still had the previous family in it.

I often wonder about the previous family. Were they upset when the chain broke? Had they had to move out of their home and find a temporary place as we had? And had they, like us, had to go to a strange school suddenly, for only a few months? Did they wish they hadn’t moved?

Not that there were any signs of the old family when we moved in.  Well, unless you count the garden. I love our new garden. There are lots of colours all the time; reds, yellows, pinks with a bright green lawn for us to play in. I often think that the man, the previous Dad, must have worked hard on this garden and I sometimes wonder if he misses it or wonders if anyone enjoys it and looks after it as he did. Sometimes I imagine meeting him and saying thank you.

In the yellow kitchen I pick up a saucepan. The inside is badly caked with black bits. I ponder upon how the previous family had managed in the tiny kitchen. Did the previous mother struggle to cook stuff in such a small space? Had the previous daughter perhaps stood in this exact spot trying desperately to scrub black tar from old, never-to-be-shiny-again saucepans because her mother couldn’t manage in a small kitchen? Perhaps this was why they’d moved to a new house?

I have discovered that if I put loads of fairy liquid onto the sponge and keep squeezing it, eventually a vast mountain of bubbles will begin to grow and grow until it has a life of its own and if I get really carried away this body of bubbles can cover the entire sink and begin to seep over the draining board. Also, you can sculpt shapes from it. This is good fun.

Eileen once spent a whole morning teaching me how to properly wash up and even how to clean an oven. She always noticed when I helped and said I was really good at it. I take another dirty pan from the side. Burnt potato smell spills out. The smell fills me with a need to take great panicking gasps of fresh air. I hate the smell. You cannot escape it, it sticks to your clothes, your hair, your skin and even gets into cupboards so that when you open them, it can launch an attack on you again and again, “take this, and this, and this.”

As I stand at the sink softly sculpting shapes out of bubbles, I discover I can almost make a face. I sculpt a sort of large round dome; I decide it looks like a head and push my fingers into the soft flesh of bubbles, making two eyes, then I add some frothy bits to make a nose and oh! I gasp out loud. I’ve made a hideous face by accident. I’m staring at a monster. Suddenly I find myself thinking back to a time in the kitchen at our old house. Dad was in hospital after his accident and Mum was late back from visiting him. She was tired she said and so would do sandwiches for tea. I was pleased because this probably meant peanut butter sandwiches, which I loved. I was really hungry after playing outside all day. 

We sat around the table and mum put a plate of peanut butter sandwiches in front of my brother and a plate of the same in front of my sister. They immediately began to tuck in. She then placed an empty plate in front of me and in the middle of the table set down a small, strange looking tin which had had the top lopped off. Inside lurked a pale pink skin-like substance covered in a sluggish white gel that seemed to ooze, of its own accord, out of the tin. It looked as if someone had cut off a human hand and shoved it inside the tin whilst fatty tissue issued forth from the severed limb. I was confused. Where was my sandwich? Mum was looking at me, unsmiling.

“It’s spam.”  She said. “There’s no bread left, so you and I are having spam salad.” I tried to eat it. 

To encourage me mum said, “I’m on a diet. I’ve put weight on round the middle. You’ve a figure like mine. You take after me, I can already see you’ll be the same, you’ve got a tummy. I don’t want you getting fat. You’ll thank me one day. Eat the spam.”

Tears had begun to squeeze out of the edges of my eyes as I tried to eat the spam, but I couldn’t. The smell, the look, and the feel of the white globby fat on my tongue was turning my stomach. I felt sick. Mum said, “If you don’t eat it for tea, you’ll eat it for breakfast.”

I decided to run away from home. This involved going down to the shop at the end of our road. I had no money. I’d even forgotten to put a coat on. I was eight. I’d never run away before. I was a good girl. Was I fat, I wondered, had I got a tummy? In a foggy daze I wandered up and down the shopping aisles. Row upon row of tightly packed shelves crammed with cheerful enticing items like cereal boxes, brightly wrapped biscuits, packets of sweets, bars of chocolate all tortuously mingling with the deliciously teasing aroma of that morning’s freshly baked bread. My tummy hurt with hunger. There was nothing to do except go home. 

My return went unnoticed. Passing me in the hall Mum said I was to eat the spam and I if I did not it would be put in the fridge for my breakfast. And it was.


Here, in our new yellow kitchen, I push the monstrous head made out of bubbles inwards and bits of bubbles drop off. I smooth the bottom part out making a sort of large triangular shape and begin to mould a smaller, circular shape on top. As I do so my fingers press into the middle of the small globe and an altogether different sort of face begins to emerge. I step back from the sink surprised. I see that the triangle shape has become a sort of dress, a cloak wrapped around the body of a serenely faced figure. I see that I have made the shape of a small angel. This I know because from behind her long white dress of frothy bubbles, I see that she has wings.

About Kim Hare

Kim lives in Bath, Somerset, UK with her husband and two children. Kim is interested in the ways in which different sorts of creative writing can support and help us learn about ourselves and others by revealing how we may unconsciously be organising our experiences.

Kim lives in Bath, Somerset, UK with her husband and two children. Kim is interested in the ways in which different sorts of creative writing can support and help us learn about ourselves and others by revealing how we may unconsciously be organising our experiences.

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