Chapter 4 Brenda Goes to London and Listens to Audrey’s Answering Machine – Part 4

An answering machine kicks in. “Mummy it’s me, just to let you know I’ve finally got to Furnace Creek and am in the hotel. Won’t be able to contact you for a few days as we’ll be shooting out in the desert and there probably won’t be signal. Sorry I missed you before I left. Hope all’s well with Stephen and Margaret”. The phone hangs up. Brenda likes the sound of the daughter’s posh voice, and scrawls her mind through the message in search of more clues about Audrey Saxton. Now she knows Audrey is a mother, but why hasn’t she come home? And where is she without her car? And where is Furnace Creek? Shooting?

Somewhere far away on the edge of Death Valley Fiona cut the call and immediately returned to the bar to finish her fourth marguerita and continue her quest. She was so close, it could surely not be much longer before the sound guy finally succumbed. Fiona had been watching him from behind her hair since they met at the gate at Heathrow airport. He was definitely her type: short, wiry, fit, with thin brown hair and a high hairline that would soon be chasing the cute little bald patch already shining on the back of his head. His eyes were dark blue and his nose the straightest ever, sharp, almost painful. His ears stuck out but not to the same degree and his teeth stood in a tidy row beneath a slightly too long expanse of gum and behind lips set in a cheeky smile. His skin was pearly pale with an irregular sprinkling of stubble.

It seemed to her that he hadn’t noticed Fiona and her uniform straight brown hair, the regulation parting, the trendy too thick eyebrows and that made him even more desirable. But he had, along with the predatory look writ so large across her pretty face. And if he had been of a mind for a bit of posh, he would have accepted her offer to sit in an adjacent expanse of slippy purple Premier Economy seat on the plane. But he wasn’t and teasing Fiona was more fun than shagging her at this point. She was oblivious. He watched her flick back her hair as she came back through the bar door, putting her phone away. Aware that she was watched as Fiona swung up onto her stool, she was sure it wouldn’t be long. The move was impressive Dave had to concede. It showed off long strong legs sliding out of a wraparound skirt, that fell open across her lap almost immediately. Fiona grabbed at the fabric and gave him a look. “Not yet my boy, not yet” she said in a low voice intended to tease. It was probably the least provokative line he had heard in a long time, still “But soon darlin’” he whispered back and ran a forefinger along her thigh. Fiona tried to hold his gaze, but Dave turned away to down another inch or so of his beer. She’s going to have to work for this one he thought and whispered, “You’re not ready yet luv, wait awhile”.

Lines like these would be his entertainment for the next few days, watching this toff not getting her way, sinking lower and lower to tempt him. And then as the sun drops suddenly out of the sky and the crew are getting ready to head into town, Dave whispers to her. “Over there in five. Then we’ll catch the bus with the others”. Fiona blushing, gushing, touches his hip and looks long and dark, not seeing the dark returned: “on my way”. Urgent and fast and rough in an empty production trailer, on the floor, wastebin flying, cables useful to hold her wrist tight to the deskleg, one hand below, his face pressed hard to her mouth and he pushes sudden, urgent, one knee on the floor, one pinning her leg as she fails to kick him away. And people outside could watch the trailer rock and hear Fiona’s muffled cries. He knew they’d seen her flirt, seen her tease, seen her look. He knew they’d smile for her. He took care to leave no visible marks and to tenderly wipe away her tears,“alright darlin’? What you wanted luv?”. He held tight her hand and forearm as they got on the bus heading for the hotel. Fiona, shocked, sore, humiliated and striving for dignity said in a quaking voice for her small audience: “nothing like a bit of rough of an evening”. Dave looked out of the window, “nothing like”. Their fellow passengers didn’t get it. Fiona kept out of his way for the rest of the shoot.

Watching the soft glow of morning grow and move into her space, Brenda must choose. Sit there with her tired flowers, or creak herself into action to move off of this chair into alien territory, into a stranger’s home. After a couple of false starts wrenching herself from the chair’s tenacious embrace, Brenda gets herself upright. The clock on the hob says it’s now nearly nine o’clock and the silence gives her confidence. She moves around the room, looking at cookbooks and a complicated looking coffee machine. She finds Marmite in a cupboard with miscellaneous packets and dried goods, a whole shelf full of chilli sauces arranged in size order in the fridge where there are also some very stinky cheeses sealed tight in plastic boxes. The kitchen drawers are meticulously organised, utensils arranged according to width, carefully confined in slatted holders. There is also milk in the fridge and a freezer full of neatly named and dated foods, including quite a lot of almond croissants. There are all manner of teas in bags and loose, and lots of biscuits in a labelled tin. Many of the cookbooks are in French and only a couple look at all used. Tea towels match the apron and immaculate oven gloves hanging near the cooker. Brenda waters sagging pots of parsley and basil, leaves her flowers soaking in the sink. 

Keeping the passion alive?

Whether you’re a writer or not, sometimes doing the same old same old day after day can get a little dreary, tedious even. And you find the contact problem gets harder and harder to solve. Much as you want to, you just can’t seem to keep your bottom in contact with the chair or your fingers in contact with the keyboard.

Any excuse will do: answering emails even the really uninteresting ones, checking to see if the postman’s been, having yet another cup of tea and having to go to the loo even more often. Doing the laundrey. You start to wonder if you should rearrange your knicker drawer, or straighten your speaker wires, maybe colour code the food in your freezer. In extreme cases, even the hoovering is irresistable. And the contact problem isn’t just about making contact with the chair. How often have you decided that your keyboard, screen and mouse need a thorough clean or at least a good scrape around with your fingernail or the scissors? Anything but look at the screen and keeping your fingertips in touch. But the contact problem must be brutally addressed, otherwise your chosen profession becomes a hobby. Don’t use excuses of any description, especially not that you have writer’s block. Sit down and get on with it, even if it’s just a limerick or a haikuor a comment on someone else’s bookish blog.

As you sink reluctantly into place, cracking your knuckles, fiddling with mouse and screen angle, it might help to remember that writing is like any passion. What keeps it alive is doing it over and over again because you love it, even if you might occasionally forget that you love it. Like sex it can get better every time, but not necessarily always, every time. You know from experience that there will be lows and highs, and even just middlings. But you never know which it will be so you keep at it. You hope and know that this is something you have to do, because without it you’ll turn into a neurotic and potentially violent mess. Remember that you learn from every encounter, whether it is with a lover, a favourite walk, or a book, or your work. Doing it is the point, and avoiding it will make you miserable.

This is definitely not a good way to solve the contact problem. No matter how much you love your shoes, keep them and your feet underneath the desk and get on with your work.

It’s as true for readers as well as writers. They and we want to keep on reading and writing because we are all constantly looking for connections, big or small, intense or feeble. We write to express something we don’t necessarily understand, because it takes a reader to give the work meaning. Otherwise it’s just hollow words on a page, a bunch of random shapes and glyphs. I have spent pretty much my entire career selling words and continue to do so, but not every one of those years of articles or projects has been an unmitigated thrill. Many times I still sit down and stare blank and empty at the page or screen. I watch the clock out of the corner of my eye. I see it tick away the moments as a deadline slowly rises dark and gloomy into unwelcome view.

For writers there is no other choice, but to ignore the gloom and distractions and to keep on writing. It’s the only thing to ease back into place the wayward screw that’s floating loose somewhere deep inside our heads. We keep on writing because without it, the world makes no sense. We must exercise that passion, intense, fleeting, irrational, wild or even crazy as it seems. Passion is about what we cannot rationalise. It’s about the intangible, the indescribable and momentarily knowable, about stimulation and response. Its fleeting nature keeps us coming back for more, like gin and chocolate and all those other marvellous intoxicants that lead us elsewhere from ourselves.

Social media is one such intoxicant. It’s one of the best ways to overcome the contact problem, but it is also corrosive, distractive. It eats away at time and motivation and the depth or durability of its merits are questionable. It strokes our vanity (all is vanity), encourages our voyeuristic tendencies. At its best it’s a tool for finding writers to share with or for growing our readerships. But mostly it’s time-wasting noise. For the rare few to have found a place amongst the noise, that place provides comfort, reassurance that someone hears you, is listening. They may even respond with something sensible beyond the expectation of a response in turn. That might be why whole days can go by with the contact problem solved, and not a word written other than social media monitoring and replies. Overcoming that rather different contact problem is much harder.