Craft for Beginners

Photo by Max Charping (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Max Charping (copied from Flickr)

Still your father only speaks when he has to. Occasionally you pass him on the landing or living room, when he moves twice a day from his bedroom to the lounge and then back again. Slowly it feels like summer in the suburbs of the small town where the house sits, on the wings of the estate in which each one looks the same.

And still you think you cannot sleep without the covers. Even into the year as the heat swells and half melts the heavy black tar of the driveway you lie locked down in the duvet. And you listen to the hum of the freezer in the kitchen below you or the sound of your father’s TV set retell the same news stories he has watched, you are sure, four times over. A boy is missing, fuel prices rise. With every window open you hear a man and his wife fight two doors down as their kid cries, and there are fat flies hitting the windowpane over and over until they buzz static on the sill and die.

At midnight the TV turns itself off and by three you are tracing the line of your legs where the thick hair breaks through follicles whilst the backs of your knees pool with sweat. And you cannot stop your hand as it touches every hair fleck and to the tips of your rawboned fingers they feel long and solid like lead. At four you get sick of feeling it, lock yourself in the bathroom where the ceramic of the bathtub is cool against your pale flesh and blindly you drag the blade across your calves and then knee bones, over then the bony expanse of your groin. Because your father has bought the same packs of blue plastic razors for as long as you remember and probably they are cheap and what’s more they’re coarse and efficient, from the same corner shop chemist as the mint budget toothpaste and the pills he keeps stashed in side drawers and corners of the airing cupboard. In minutes you have finished. You rinse in the sink and throw the blade away.

Despite the heat you dream of your twelfth birthday, at school in early September when it was still hot and you wore sandals but no tights. And you dream of being pushed tight against the back of the assembly hall, where Jamie had chewed gum and looked you in the eye. And there holding you with the force of one arm he had pushed the other deep under your school skirt, until his hand had reached the inside of the white cotton briefs that you bought in packs of five. As he walked away you rearranged your skirt and you cried.

In the afternoon you wake damp under the duvet where the sun seeps in through the slats of the blind to illuminate the sweat like dew on your chest. And the TV is not on so your father is working, behind the cashier’s desk of the garage out of town where he sells cola and cigarettes. And sometimes he brings back snacks past their sell by date and always he brings the bottles of whisky he buys with employee credit. Getting dressed already you can feel it growing back, you can feel its swell under the surface, you envision it breaking through the boundaries of your pores.

Downstairs there are envelopes for people who no longer live here. For the two years that you’ve lived here you’ve been opening the mail of strangers, you guess nobody ever left a forwarding address. As you run the tap cold you open Mr and Mrs Brown’s subscription fee request and the kind of anniversary card your father sells for thirty pence in the store. For some time you sit on the untended lawn where you imagine letters still pile high in the home you grew up in, that somewhere there are envelopes addressed under your family name. But somewhere you picture your mother signing her letters from Mrs someone or other, and you curse the fact you do not know her new last name. Suddenly your head begins to hurt from the heat. In front of the full length living room mirror you examine the pale skin of your legs, already beginning to become flecked with hair follicles.

You do not know how to spend the summer. At work your dad drinks in the store cupboard. There are no jobs for your average arts degree from the Met, nobody is looking for a waitress or shelf stacker. By the door there’s a leaflet from the community college, a badly designed timetable of their adult night classes. For two days you consider flower arrangements. Eventually you enrol yourself in some night class in crafts. You consider that it will structure the day.

Mostly at supper your dad makes simple dinners, and you swear you could suffocate from the warmth of both the season and the slow-cooking oven. In silence you eat at opposite ends of the room where you read whatever is piled on the table and your father watches some quiz show on TV. In the local paper you read about the boys who found a body beneath the bridge in a suitcase. You read how her limbs had been sliced to fit inside. Crossing the bridge to your night class you wonder how they tell the story to their classmates. You imagine that you find it too, you imagine how it would smell in the heat.

In community college most of the rooms are dark but you follow the hum of the air conditioning through the hallway, and you listen to the echo of your sandals hitting the hard wood floor as you make your way to Room 107. There are only three members of Craft for Beginners, and there in a calm voice a woman instructs you to make cards for those you are close to with stickers and coloured card and glue that smells like art class at primary school, that smells like the first year of your degree. You write yours out to Mr and Mrs Brown. On the way home you throw it in the drying river.

It is midsummer and there is strong heat and a hosepipe ban. Still you sleep under thick sheets, you consume the heat beneath them. At night you shave before you sleep and you sleep lightly. Recurrently you dream of swimming class the day after your twelfth birthday, in which you were paired with your grey teacher instead of the girls whose long hair had been tied up by their mothers. You recall them pretending not to watch your large crop haired body struggle out of its swimsuit. Conscious of the scars on your legs from your first failed attempt with your father’s razor, you faked notes to skip swimming class thereafter.

Violently you wake and move into the bathroom where the window hangs wide open and you turn on the unshaded light. In the intense flare you shear the raw skin of your limbs in a maniacal rhythm, shaving the same sallow skin over and over. You decide that you will not go back to your night class. And deep blood drips onto the white of the bath tub and you cannot stand any longer so you sit and you scratch the blade across the pallid skin between your legs. And you suppose that eventually you lie on the cool off-white tiles where you wake confused as your dad knocks the door in. He carries you to the car, kind of like he did as a kid when you were small and sleepy, when your mother waited in the passenger seat as he fastened the belt round your chest. And In silence he drives you across the bridge to the hospital, and you watch front lawns and street lamps pass fast through the window and you see some kids on a corner and could swear they are laughing but weak your eyes close and you sleep wrapped on the back seat. And all in your father’s black dressing gown so you cannot see the blood drip from your knees.

In the living room you lie bandaged on the sofa, staring at the beige anaglypta and the landscape painting hung high on the wall. And your body sweats under the bandages stuck tight to your legs despite the electric fan whirring on the desk. You feel like you did aged six the day after your mother left, when your father found you crying under the bed. And now he sits beside you on the stained carpet floor and you swear he is about to speak as you reach for the jug of iced water on the ledge but he just hands it to you as though silently he tells you it’s okay, get some rest.

In the slow setting sun you return to your night class and spend the hour making a card beside your classmates. And after class you walk away from the bridge, following the river dried almost up like a brook. Through a short cut you reach the old part of town where the park gives way to rows and rows of old terraced houses and you remember them bigger than this, you remember the doorways taller. But you meet with relief the cool dark of the evening, and the street lamps come on as you pass fast down the street. And though you can see strangers sitting down to supper you post your card through the door of the home and you make your way back to the house.

Celia Macdougall

About Celia Macdougall

Celia lives in Nottingham where she is working on her first novel after graduating with a first class honours degree in English with Creative Writing.

Celia lives in Nottingham where she is working on her first novel after graduating with a first class honours degree in English with Creative Writing.

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