Claire

Posted on Posted in Prose, Prose and Poems
Claire

Claire was standing looking out of her workshop window. In one hand she held a blow torch and in the other a mug of freshly brewed coffee. The sky was a lovely light blue tone, very reminiscent of the Blue Topaz gem stones that she was working with this week.  The sun, above the island, was shining and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. So why was it that she could only see dark clouds?  No matter what the weather was like outdoors, she could always see those dark clouds that had been with her since her husband’s gambling had wrecked her life.

All she had ever wanted was a normal, decent life.  She had never loved Mark, really loved him, but that didn’t matter. She wasn’t looking for a life full of romance. She was much more practical than that.

Mark had seemed nice enough. He had a good job in the finance sector, an Asset Manager, whatever that was, all she knew was that it paid well and that over the years it had provided for all the trappings of a successful life. The country house, the cars, the exotic holidays, a good education for their daughter. That’s all she ever wanted. If he had continued to provide that, then she would have been the best wife ever, but he was a fool.

He had destroyed her dream of a content and secure life. His gambling habit had come rushing into their lives like a tornado, indiscriminately wrecking everything in its path. Their lives had fallen apart. Like a row of dominoes, once one had fallen the others followed, one after the other until the very last one had fallen flat on its face, revealing a big fat double blank.

She took it badly, blaming herself for his failings. For a while she struggled to cope, staying in bed day after day.  Life was bleak but her daughter, Elizabeth visited every day and did her best to help.  “There’s nothing like a good cup of tea to make the world a better place” she would say as she entered the room carrying a silver tray with a freshly brewed pot of Eral Grey and two Dorchester Bone China cups and saucers.  But they both knew that something stronger than tea and a pleasant bedside manner was required and eventually, she agreed to see her GP. 

She had known Dr Plumbley since she had been a little girl, but she still couldn’t talk to him about how she was feeling, instead, she sat in the patient’s chair, saying nothing. Her head looking down at the floor, her eyes ablur.  She wanted to speak but her mouth wouldn’t work, instead, she began to cry. Just a sniff to start with and then she felt a tear run down her cheeks and then another and then she couldn’t hold them back anymore and she cried and cried. “It’s alright,” the Doctor said as he passed her a box of tissues. Of course, he had seen the symptoms all too often before and knew that Claire, like so many others, was suffering from anxiety and depression. He chatted a little but she couldn’t hear what he was saying, and when she composed herself enough to stand up he told her to come back in seven days time and handed her a prescription for anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. 

She didn’t like taking pills but there didn’t seem to be any alternatives. She couldn’t go on like this. The constant sadness, lack of sleep and frequent bouts of crying were taking their toll on her. After a few days, the sleeping pills started to help. She was getting some sleep now, not a lot, but a couple of hours a night, which was much better than what had become the norm. She wasn’t sure about the Prozac, she had hoped that it would make her happy. It didn’t. The best that she could say was that it ‘helped her get through the day’ but all her energy had gone and she constantly felt drowsy, dizzy and nervous. When Elizabeth had asked how she was getting on with the ‘happy pills’ she almost cried, “I don’t think that they are helping, I feel like a bloody Zombie, most of the time” she replied. But she kept taking them and after about six weeks, she started to feel a little bit better.   

Dr Plumbley had referred her to a counsellor and it was she, Dr Dyer who introduced her to cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). It seemed all a bit weird at first. Talking to a stranger about her life for an hour every Thursday morning. She thought that she would struggle to find things to say but the hour came and went before she knew it. The sessions became the highlight of her week. She had something to look forward to. Someone to share her thoughts with and to help guide her along the path to recovery. She learned new ways to cope, to shut off the external world and focus on herself. Dr Dyer also introduced her to mindfulness and body scans, techniques. They seemed even weirder, just laying there on the floor with her eyes shut, concentrating her focus on her breathing, in through her nose and out through her mouth, in and out, in and out. Of course, she couldn’t stop thoughts from drifting into her mind but she could decide on how to deal with them. ‘Hello Mr Thought can’t you see I’m busy,? Just pass on through as I’ve no time for you at the moment’. She would then shift her focus onto her body and starting with her feet, she would pay attention to the physical feelings in them: any pain, discomfort, coolness, warmth, tension, tightness, whatever. Simply paying attention to the physical feelings and sensations. Not judging them as good or bad, nor trying to change them, just being aware of them.

Slowly she would then allow her awareness to drift up from her feet to her lower legs, again simply paying attention to any physical sensations including any tightness, pain or discomfort. Then slowly shifting her awareness further up her body, doing the same gentle noticing for all of the parts of her body – her upper legs, hips, buttocks, pelvic region, stomach, chest, your lower back, upper back, fingers and hands, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, her head, forehead, temples, face – eyes, cheeks, nose, mouth, jaw line.

Then she let her awareness drift gently and slowly back down her body, noticing any other places where there was pain, discomfort or tension and simply noticing this until her awareness settled back at her feet. She would then bring her focus back into the room, roll over on to her right-hand side and when she was ready, gently push herself up to a sitting position and then slowly open her eyes. It only took 10 to 15 minutes out of her day and although she had no idea how it worked it did seem to help keep the demons at bay and that’s all that mattered for now.

Without her body scan mindfulness exercises and her twice daily doses of Prozac, she’s not sure that she would have been able to cope with the humiliation of having her home repossessed. ‘Had it really come to this?’

She moved in with Elizabeth and her partner Edward. Of course, she had never wanted her pride and joy to leave home in the first place, but now she was glad that she had. Her daughter was the most important thing in her life, had been now for some 26 years. She had been such a beautiful baby, with her blonde locks, little button nose, and those adorable big blue eyes.  But life isn’t based on looks alone, and she had made sure that Elizabeth understood the importance of a good education and the value of hard work. That’s why she had argued so vehemently with Mark that their daughter should attend King Edward’s School rather than the  and had gone on to study BSc Business Analytics at Southampton University, She wasn’t quite sure what an Operations Analyst at the NatWest Bank actually did, but it did seem to be a good job and she appeared happy, especially after she first started dating Rob. He was a few years older than her and taught Civil Engineering at Southampton University. They had first met on the train on their daily commute. He lived just along the road in Twyford and seemed to be nice enough but, then again, she had thought the same about Mark. 

Had it really been six months since Elizabeth had moved out? There’s no way that And now  And it was only a temporary arrangement “until you feel better and get a place of your own.”  She didn’t leave the house very often and was a bit surprised when Elizabeth had suggested that they both go to a Silversmithing and Jewellery Workshop being held by the Peter Symonds College in nearby Winchester.  She had always enjoyed cooking and baking but had never thought of herself as being a particularly creative person but much to her surprise, and Elizabeth’s delight, she had really enjoyed the workshop and agreed to sign up for a programme of evening classes, right there and then. It took her quite a while to accept that she was actually good at something but she seemed to have a knack for this jewellery malarky and, if truth be known, she was also finding it to be rather therapeutic.  Not only did it get her out of the house but she also made a few new friends, when one of them mentioned that she had noticed a cottage with a jeweller’s workshop for sale when on holiday on the Isle of Skye, her mind had gone into overdrive. She had been wise enough to have got into the habit of saving when at secondary school. To start with it was only a few pounds a week from her Saturday job and a little more during the summer holidays but she had kept up the habit and anything left over from the ‘house keeping’ had been quietly paid into her own Building Society account over the years and She was amazed that she could afford the cottage in Skye and still have enough set aside for a rainy day.  A was a big step to make but she really did need a fresh start away from it all.  She put a bid in for the property and was amazed when her first bid was accepted. Others were interested in the cottage but Claire had been the only cash buyer and that had swung it in her favour.

When a fellow student mentioned that she had been on holiday in the Isle of Skye and seen that there was a cottage with a jeweller’s workshop for sale when on h her mind had gone into overdrive. She had got into the habit of saving whilst at school and had continued to quietly pay money into her Newbury Building Society deposit account ever since.  To start with it had just been a few pounds a week from her Saturday job and a little more during the school holidays, over time it had built up and she never felt the need to say anything about it to Mark. She had always been thrifty and she made sure that there was always something left over from her housekeeping allowance from Mark, which she quietly paid into the Newbury for a rainy day.  Naturally, when her own mother had passed away, she had automatically paid her inheritance into her account. Strangely, although it was written in her account book, she never paid any attention to how much she had saved.  The amount didn’t really matter, the intention was never to actually spend her savings. quite the opposite, they were meant only for an emergency. In fact, she had never made even one withdrawal from her account. But even she realised that her rainy day had now arrived and she was amazed to discover that her little nest of savings was enough to cover the cost of the cottage and still have some left over. But it was still a massive decision not only to spend her savings but to use them to start a new life in a place that she knew no-one and had never even visited. She wrote down the pros and cons and found herself placing the ‘knowing no-one’ under the pro heading, rather than the cons. In fact, there weren’t too many listings under the cons heading at all and in theory, at least it was an easy choice to make.  She was moving to Scotland to make a fresh start away. She put a bid in for the property and was delighted when her first bid was accepted. Apparently, others had been interested in the cottage but Claire was the only cash buyer and that had swung the purchase in her favour.  It all seemed so remarkably easy for such a big step.

Had it really been ten months since she had made Skye her new home?  She had worked hard to set up her own little business during that time and for the most part had enjoyed her time in Scotland. She had survived the long dark wintry nights and now that Spring had come, she knew that she had made the correct decision. She still struggled with depression but she was coping and had even learned to smile again.

Which was just as well because she knew fine well just how comical she looked in her self-styled artisan’s attire. The suede leather apron, that had been left by the previous owner, was far too long for her 5’4 frame, but it was functional in that it protected her clothes, was heat resistant and surprisingly lightweight. Over her nose and mouth, she wore a white mask to stop her from breathing in any airborne particles and on top of this was her visor, which shielded her face from small flying debris such as that from her polishing mop. She thought to herself. ‘It’s much better to look silly than to have a face full of polish’  When she pushed the face shield back over her head, she revealed an attractive freckled face, blonde hair braided tight behind her ears and the sparkling blue eyes that she had inherited from her mother and passed on to Elizabeth.  Undoubtedly the last couple of years had taken their toll. Her once golden locks now had more than a few grey strands. Laughter lines and crows’ feet encircled her eyes and if you looked just a little bit closer you could see that within those dark blue eyes were deep pools of sadness.

To keep the sadness at bay, Claire liked to keep herself busy. That’s one of the main reasons that she had become self-employed. She could spend as many hours as she wanted to creating her hand made jewellery, but there were other aspects of the job which she hadn’t initially thought about but had to be done. Research; design; sourcing materials; marketing; sales; packaging and keeping on top of the orders and book keeping all provide challenges but made the project more interesting and allowed her to develop new skills and also to rebuild her shattered self-confidence. She wouldn’t have been able to learn all these skills without the support from Jill, an adviser provided by Business Gateway Highland in Portree. Jill had also drilled home to her the importance of closing the door on her workshop and going ‘home’, even if in reality it was just to the other side of an interior wall.  She never stayed in the workshop beyond 9 pm and spent her evenings in her cozy little cottage, reading or listening to radio 4 often with a glass or two of white wine or a G&T. It was her way of relaxing at the close of day but occasionally her mind would wander back to her husband and ask herself why she hadn’t seen any signs of his gambling and wonder if there’s anything that she should have done better.

How he had conned her, kept his gambling hidden from her until it was too late. They had lost everything: their lovely Hampshire house; both their cars; his job; their close friends; and she had lost her self-respect. How could she have been so blind?  She didn’t want to think about it but she often did and worse still, she still blamed herself.

But overall she knew that things were getting better, she had more good days than bad ones. Recently she had noticed that she had begun to feel more confident about herself. So much so, that she had decided to attend the craft fair and workshops being held on the mainland. She thought it would be a good way to get to know some of her fellow jewellery makers, yes to sus out some of the competition but also to talk to them about common issues and see if there were anyway that they could help each other.  She had turned down commissions in the past, maybe if she could pass them on, then others would do likewise.

The fair and the workshops had proved worthwhile and she had learned some new techniques and exchanged business cards with a number of, potentially useful, contacts.  She had even met a fellow jeweller who could alter her wedding ring for her, to make it look, well less like a wedding ring.  To ensure that she wouldn’t miss any of the Fair she had booked a guest house in Marchtown for three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She wasn’t sure how she would cope with being around so many people and had decided to give herself plenty of time to relax and recover on the Sunday before returning home on the Monday.

After the fair finished at 2 pm on the Sunday, she packed away all her materials and had a bit of a nap before borrowing a couple of random books from the guest library and placing them in her favourite blue rucksack, together with some hand cream, paper tissues and a small bottle of drinking water.

The landlady had informed her that there was a new coffee shop ‘Jilted Joe’ near the exit of the local park and, after having explored the park and it’s beautiful and fascinating Poets’ Rose Garden, she gently strolled towards the exit. She turned right and after less than 200m she arrived at the town’s new coffee shop.

There was a picture of the famous American Baseball player, Joe DiMaggio and his wife of 274 days, Marilyn Monroe in the window, which explained the shop’s, rather unusual name. She couldn’t help thinking, that things might have been better for her if she had also got divorced after nine months.

There were plenty of free tables when she arrived,  She ordered a skinny soya latte and tucked herself away in the corner at a small table with four chairs squeezed around it. She opened her rucksack and looked at the first book that she put her hands on. It had a bright pink cover and was, rather amusingly, entitled ‘How to Kill Your Husband’

Absentmindedly, she left her rucksack on the table.  Whilst the coffee was being prepared, the waitress wiped her table clean and placed the rucksack on one of the free chairs. Claire thought no more of it. Her coffee came with a little piece of shortbread on the side.

‘That’s nice’ she thought. It doesn’t cost much to add something to make an experience slightly better and she appreciated the effort.

Claire sat back enjoying the great tasting coffee and started to read the book.  She hadn’t really noticed the place filling but she soon noticed a stroppy looking guy walking towards her table. For a second she thought it was her ex and her pulse quickened.

‘Don’t be silly, it’s not him, it’s not him, relax’ she told herself as she started controlling her breathing.  A deep breath, in through the nose and then out of the mouth, nice and slowly. ‘Calm, calm, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, 10’.

She could sense him towering above her looking down his nose at her ‘May I?’ he snorted.

‘Why not sweetie’ she answered, trying to be friendly.

Claire placed her book down and moved her rucksack to the seat across from her. He almost sat on her rucksack!

‘God what is his rush?  Chill out, it’s meant to be a lazy Sunday afternoon, calm, keep calm’.

She was trying her best but he was sitting there staring at her. She buried her head back into the book but she could still sense him sitting there judging her.

‘Just who the hell does he think he is?  Leave me alone, leave me alone!’

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