Love and Fallout

Love and Fallout

by Kathryn Simmonds

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781781721469
Publisher: Seren
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Simmonds is the author of the poetry collections The Visitations and Sunday at the Skin Launderette, which won the Forward Prize for best first collection, was short-listed for the Costa Poetry Award, and long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines and broadcast on Radio 4, and she has written an afternoon play for Radio 4 Poetry for Beginners. She is the poet-in-residence at the Charles Causley Trust in Cornwall.

Read an Excerpt

Love and Fallout


By Kathryn Simmonds

Poetry Wales Press Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Kathryn Simmonds
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78172-148-3



CHAPTER 1

Saturday Afternoon


Pete lowers his paper and quietens one of his trumpet-playing jazz legends. We exchange a smile and I make sure to give him a kiss, albeit a slightly self-conscious one, because Valeria has reminded us that mutual acknowledgement is important and these small acts of appreciation will help re-establish intimacy. If we're going to keep paying her sixty quid an hour for her advice, I for one am going to take it.

'How was the class?'

'Fine.' My mind brushes against the girl from the pool, then withdraws.

'Have you trimmed your beard?'

He passes a hand around his jaw. 'No harm in looking presentable.'

'None at all.' Something else is different. The Hoover's been out because our worn carpet is without fluff ball or paperclip. 'Spring cleaning?' The pile of newspapers usually stacked beside the bookshelves has disappeared; the broken dining-room chair propped against the wall for a fortnight has gone, and there's no hint of the usual low-level clutter. 'Looks great.' Pete's obviously trying too.

Assembling a cheese sandwich, I notice the fridge is whiter and all the kitchen surfaces have been recently wiped down. It smells lemony.

'Where's Dom?' I ask, eating the sandwich standing up.

'Working on his tan.'

That's a joke. If he's not plugged into Goth Friendly, his social networking site, the details of which he keeps a deliberate mystery, he'll be locked in a garage with his band mates rehearsing for greatness.

'There's a Hitchcock on soon,' Pete says. But I tell him I should get the seed potatoes in, then crack on with the leaflets.

'What leaflets?' His eyes leave the sports section.

'For Heston Fields.'

'Why are you doing them?'

'Someone's got to.'

He asks how much else I'm taking on, and I tell him we're just working out a few ideas then stop because there's a definite wrinkle in his brow, the wrinkle that leads to a frown and then on to the open highways of disagreement.

'You're running another campaign?'

We've had the Heston Fields discussion. Or row, as it turned out, and as far as Pete's concerned, if the council wants to sell a chunk of neglected land so a developer can build luxury flats there's no point losing any sleep. He calls it scrubland, or backlands, but the truth is, it's public land. All right, it's a bit tussocky, but kids play football there and people cross it to reach the parade that qualifies as Heston's high street. We used to play crickeet there with the kids. But I know there's no point reminding him of this because Heston Fields has become what Valeria would call a trigger point. Unwilling to provoke an incident, I stuff my mouth with a final sandwich crust.


When Pete appears at the garden door to say the film's starting, I'm on my knees making divots in the soil. He seems unusually agitated.

'What's got into you?' I ask, shading my eyes. That's meant to sound teasing but it comes out as stroppy. Valeria's right, communication isn't easy: words have so many ways of defying your intentions.

'Nothing.' He pauses to assess me. 'What have you got on?'

My shorts are in the wash, so I'm wearing an old pair of his, khaki and belted at the waist. 'They're only for the gardening.' My tone goes wrong again. He retreats. Should I call after him? But what will that achieve? We'll end up having an involved conversation about shorts which could easily escalate, just as other ordinary conversations have done, until we're not discussing shorts at all, we're arguing about why he doesn't want to help me save the local library and I don't want to watch him referee rugby.

The April breeze is warm and fresh and the hum of a lawnmower floats over from a neighbouring garden while I kneel, cutting seed potatoes into sections, spacing them in a row. All long relationships suffer strain, it's only natural, every couple has their own argument playing out in different forms, the subjects they return to again and again, pressed like bruises that never fade. I sit back on my haunches. We never thought we'd end up seeing a therapist. In fact we probably wouldn't have if Pete's sister hadn't discreetly suggested it to him after a lunch visit. Of course we didn't row in front of her, but we gave ourselves away all the same. Lack of eye contact? Flinching when the other spoke? Plates clattered too loudly in the kitchen? Who knows. But because neither of us wanted to quash the idea, because we agreed the sessions were only a precautionary measure, we found ourselves in Valeria's tranquilly decorated living room with its South Asian tapestries and life-affirming pot plants.

I make another divot and turn my thoughts elsewhere, wondering what Pippa's up to at university on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Would it bother her if I called later? Perhaps a text? But it's impossible to say anything in a text – all those paraphrased thoughts, at every sign off the hopeful: 'be nice to spk sn, love mum xx.'

After a few minutes the doorbell chimes. It chimes again so I call to Pete. He must have his headphones on. I slip out of my clogs and hurry through the living room expecting to find Pru on the doorstep with a question about the meeting agenda. But when I open the door, Pru isn't standing there. Instead, smiling at me is a thin woman in her early forties who has the gloss and wing-mirror cheekbones of a former fashion model. Behind her is a camera crew. A camera crew. And there, waving, is Maggie. For a few stupefied seconds I can't work it out: in some bizarre coincidence she's stopped by at exactly the same moment as a TV crew.

'Are you Tessa Perry?' asks the thin woman.

Partly shielded by the door and ready to close it at any moment, I confirm my identity.

'Excellent,' she says, 'because we're here to ... ' Then she raises her arms along with her voice and everyone cries in unison, 'Make You Over!'

The penny teeters, bright and coppery at the edge of my comprehension then drops into a slot and rolls away. Maggie has brought these people here. Before I know what's happening, they're piling inside.


The living room, which was empty just minutes ago, is now crammed with bodies. One of the crew switches off a bright light and Jude, the woman with the cheekbones, declares, 'We're going to work a little miracle, darling. In a couple of days even your own husband won't recognise you.' Pete enters on cue carrying a tray of coffee mugs and proffers a plate of biscuits towards Jude. 'Gingernut?'

She looks at them as if they might be about to get up and tell her a joke. 'Not for me,' she says, flashing a stellar smile. That smile seems familiar now from the blur of television magazines racked up in Sainsbury's.

'Did you know about this?' I ask Pete. The spring cleaning suddenly makes sense.

'Not until the last minute.'

Maggie kisses my cheek, 'Isn't it brilliant?' She's wearing a turquoise dress I've never seen before. Her hair is shining. And another conversation is explained, the Colour me Lovely lady. Nothing comes out of my mouth, though there are thoughts, half formulated, careering at speed on unfinished tracks. But there's no time for discussion because the director, a wiry young man who's introduced himself as Zeb, gathers us together and we watch as the scene that's just played out is replayed on a tiny monitor.

There's me, startled in Pete's shorts, and there's Jude at the door saying, 'It's all thanks to your best friend,' and then Maggie stepping forwards for a hug, the camera framing us in close up, a faint streak of mud striping my cheek.

'Perfect!' Zeb claps his hands.

The waves of weirdness subside until I'm touching reality again, and when it comes my voice has an untethered quality, 'Wait!' The room falls quiet and the man who's been twiddling a valve on his headset stops twiddling. I look around at them trying to reason, like someone speaking to hostage takers. 'There's been a mistake. I don't want a make-over.' I turn to Maggie and repeat it, as if she might translate. 'I'm not going on television.'

Zeb steps in.

'Tessa, Tessa, don't worry, lots of our guests are nervous but we've got a great package lined up. We had a look at Maggie's letter and we're going to start with the Greenham Common angle, then bring in your charity work. Everything will reflect you, organic products, fair-trade fashion ...'

'Greenham Common angle?' My stomach drops at speed, like a bucket freefalling down a well shaft.

He consults his clipboard, 'You were there, weren't you?'

'Well yes, briefly, but ...' The sentence fades away. Greenham Common tumbles about in my head like dirty laundry as Zeb continues his spiel. While he speaks I'm bumping through images from the past, images I've not thought about for years, or rather not since this morning, when that green-eyed girl appeared at the pool.

He's asking if I've any photos I could dig out. 'We like to give the viewers some back story, a feel for who you are.' But I don't want the unidentified masses to feel me. And I certainly don't want a discussion about Greenham Common. 'You'd be very now,' he says, 'with your environmental charity, and your ...'

'Issues,' says Jude, with an eye on my shorts.

The clematis bush has caught Zeb's attention; he thinks we could do some nice shots beside it for the reveal. I have to make this stop.

'I'm sorry, but this programme isn't for me.'

Zeb says the programme is for everyone, it will be wonderful, it will change my life and amazing things will happen. I tell him I'm quite happy with my untelevised life. Our exchange goes on until Pete steps in and diplomatically suggests the TV people leave. Zeb now has a harassed expression. He looks from Pete to me as if he might find a solution.

'Tell you what, we'll give you guys some space,' he says. 'Talk things over. Give me a ring later, or in the morning if you like.' I accept his card but say I won't be changing my mind.

When they've finally trooped back into their people-carrier there's only Maggie left in our living room.

'Tess,' she begins, and stops, as if unsure of what should follow. Her lipstick has bled away but a stencil of pink liner remains.

Pete collects a couple of coffee mugs and retreats to the kitchen. Then Maggie starts with a pitch just like the telly people, how exciting it's going to be, how they're going to spend a small fortune doing me up. I tell her I'm not a semi-detached. We'd usually laugh off cross words before it got to this, but in fact, I can't remember how it got to this at all – wasn't I planting potatoes?

'I thought it would be fun,' she says. 'I wanted to give you a treat, a helping hand.'

'If you wanted to help me you could distribute a few campaign leaflets, not arrange a lynching.'

'Tessa, you're overreacting. Most women would be thrilled.'

'About what? Getting shown up on national TV by their best friend?'

Maggie manages a pub, she always dresses the part and sometimes a little extra, but that's all right, that's who she is and I wouldn't try to change her, so why is she trying to change me?

'What about Colour me Lovely? You enjoyed that,' she says. I look at her for a second, she's giving me no choice. 'No, I didn't, I only went because you'd brought the bloody thing as a present. What else was I going to do?'

A ripple of hurt breaks over her face. I turn my gaze towards the newly tidied bookcase and wish none of this was happening. 'And anyway there's a big difference between that and going on telly. What was in your letter?' This is what I'm anxious to know. 'What's Greenham Common got to do with anything?'

She shrugs, as if I might as well know the truth. 'That's where it all started.'

'All what started?'

'Your saving the world thing.'

'My what?'

'You know what I mean.' Her tone is matter of fact.

My heart thuds. Do I know what she means?

She sighs. 'Look, this was supposed to be a nice surprise, a way to treat you, give you time for yourself, get you out of the bag lady gear for a ...' She stops short.

'Bag lady?' The words are neon-lit, they're a massive Blackpool extravaganza and we're standing beneath them. The letters are ton-heavy, teetering on a wire, sparking, ready to come crashing down between us.

'God, I didn't mean ...' she reaches at the space between us.

'What did you mean?'

We stare at each other. When Pete appears from the kitchen, Maggie is in the hall still apologising, but this has been enough for one afternoon and I walk away while Pete sees her out.

Afterwards me and Pete sit on the sofa. He puts out a hand uncertainly then settles his fingers on the small of my back and makes circles while I try to understand. Bag lady? Okay, there are lots of jeans and jumpers in my wardrobe, but I can dress up if I want to. My hair is an average brown with the first traces of silver running through. Sometimes I wrap it with a scarf or clip it up with combs. I don't wear make-up because I don't like the feel of it, or the palaver.

'She wouldn't have wanted to upset you; you know what she's like.'

'I can't stand the idea of those programmes.'

He nods. 'She wanted to give you a boost, a bit of, what do they call it, me time.'

'Me time? Seriously?' He shrugs, the circles stop and he removes his hand.

I can't help thinking this is the second time she's gone behind my back, even though we never discuss the first, having tacitly agreed years ago never to mention it. I say bag lady aloud, hoping Pete might rush to my defence but he doesn't, he tells me not to worry about Maggie, she was simply being clumsy.

My hands are resting on my lap, nails ridged with dirt from the planting, wedding ring grazed after years of wear, crosshatched with the knocks and scrapes of daily life. We bought the ring in Broadstairs when we were camping. Sunburnt under our shirts from three hot days, the sky threatening rain, fingers interlaced as we climbed a steep slope away from the beach. What must we have looked like asking to unlock cabinets and inspect the jewellery? But I think we enjoyed looking out of place, all that love everywhere we went, dancing invisibly around us like the flecks of salt in seaside air.

The question I've been resisting finds its way out.

'Do you think I need a make-over?'

'No,' Pete says. And then adds troublingly, 'You're just you, aren't you.'


An hour later The Heston Fields Action Group are gathered around my kitchen table. News of the Make me Over visit has caused a minor frenzy.

'When's it going to be on?' asks Pru, who is well into her seventies but has more vim than most thirty year olds.

'But Pru, I'm not actually going to do it.'

'You're not? Oh,' she says, disappointed. 'I do love Jude – what's she like in real life?'

We chat about Jude for a while until I manage to steer the conversation back to Heston Fields. This is only our second meeting and there are fewer people involved than in our drive to save the Post Office.

I begin checking my notepad, 'So David, if you could investigate the planning laws, as agreed?'

David Parish nods with a 'Will do'. He's a retired architect. Excellent with detail. I run through, ensuring everyone's happy with their roles, assign someone to write to the local paper and someone to circulate a petition. I'll design leaflets, create the web page and ring local friends.

'Eventually we could build towards a placard walk. But for now we need to think about ideas for fundraisers.'

'A placard walk?' repeats Alice Ainsley. This is the first time she's done anything in the way of campaigning. 'Do you ... do you think that's necessary?'

'We need to be visible, Alice. This is common land, public green space. It'll take work but we can turn things around.'

She nods as if willing herself to believe it and we begin to brainstorm publicity ideas. Pru, who's been unusually quiet for the past few minutes, sits up. 'You know Tessa, I've had a thought, something to get the message out.' Everyone looks towards her. She pauses, 'Television!'

I laugh. 'Full marks for positive thinking but that's slightly beyond budget.'

She smiles and lays down her pen. 'But doesn't one of us have the opportunity to become a television star?'

'Oh marvellous,' says David Parish, 'top drawer.'

Oh God, she's right. If I go on the programme and mention the campaign it'll be the best publicity we're ever likely to get. Then again, what about the Greenham Common angle? An uneasy feeling trickles into me. Television? No. I can't.

'Things are so busy at work,' I say, which is true. It's only a two-person office and we're approaching a funding review, Frieda can't get everything done by herself.

Four pairs of eyes fix on me. Pru's gaze is unwavering. 'I'm sure filming is swift.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds. Copyright © 2014 Kathryn Simmonds. Excerpted by permission of Poetry Wales Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Dedication,
Things,
Saturday Morning,
Part One – With our lovely feathers,
1. Saturday Afternoon,
2. Life and Death,
3. Eco Chic,
4. An Alien Mug,
5. Fallout,
6. Woman in a Bath,
7. Miniature Scotch Eggs,
8. Singing Lessons,
9. Green Woman Blues,
10. Women!,
11. Bolognese,
12. The Arm of the Law,
13. A Blast from the Past,
Part Two – Down at Greenham,
14. Never Trust a Journalist,
15. A Collapsible Bike,
16. A Pink J-Cloth,
17. Brandy,
18. Earache,
19. Curl up and Dye,
20. Embracing the Base,
21. Stripping the Fence,
22. Under the Weather,
23. Bacon and Eggs,
24. Telly,
25. Three Little Maids,
Part Three – Gonna Lay Down my Burden,
26. Meetings,
27. Silent Night,
28. A Two-Seater Sofa,
29. In the Cells,
30. Down by the Riverside,
31. Fires,
32. Miss Student Body,
33. Butterflies,
34. Bourbons,
35. The Muncher,
36. Feel Good,
37. Departures,
38. An Orange Tent,
39. Peace,
Acknowledgements,
Copyright,
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