Flash Fiction – Real-Time Record/Write

After the amazing Basically Britt uploaded a video where she recorded herself reading in real-time, I felt inspired to do a Write With Me: Real-time video! If you’d like to see that click the link here!

As for what I wrote: Here it is. Prompt taken from ‘642 Things to Write About’ –

A conversation about you that you weren’t supposed to overhear: 

“No, I don’t want her to find out.”

“She has a right to know.”

“It’s not your decision to make.”

“It’s not yours either.”

I had come down for a glass of water. The glass I kept in my room, the one with the painted flowers, daisies and daffodils, cold in my hand. The second to last step always creaked. A guttural, squeal of pain-like sound, and my left foot hovered over it. Retreated to the previous step. My whole body was waiting on pause. Did they mean me?

“The sooner she knows, the sooner we can work to move forwards.” My dad’s voice, usually calm and reasonable, is almost hysterical. He can’t seem to shake the irritation from his voice. The betrayal.

“There are no forwards.” My mum’s voice. Usually shrill, cold and calculating today. I don’t like it. The world feels backwards. And I don’t understand what they’re saying. What they mean. “Not for me anyway.”

I perch on the step behind me. I’ve come in too deep in the conversation. I’ve missed the beginning. The catalyst. I’ve missed the whole point. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears, blood rushing through, straining to pick up more information. I wonder where they’re positioned. Are they perched on the sofa? Stood by the door?

More immediately I think, how can I move closer? I put the glass down gently, making sure it rests against the coarse carpet, and I wipe my sweat palms against my pyjama bottoms. I lean heavily on the bannister, skipping the squealing step, and trying with all my might to be delicate when my foot lands on the step below.

“If you keep talking like that, I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

I’ve never heard mum so defensive. So animalistic. She seems beyond anger, and I’m desperate to see it on her face. Desperate to see if I recognise her at all. My second foot follows the first, easily with the first rooted to the quieter step. I tuck my lips into my mouth in the hopes that it’ll silence any loud breathes. I know I’m breathing harder and faster. I’m so scared of what they’re saying. So, lost without the cause.

“What do you think will happen if you tell her?” Dad asks. “Why are you so scared she’ll know?”

Mum takes a minute to respond, and when she does the animal in her has tamed a little. “I don’t want her to look at my differently. I don’t want her to hate me.”

This doesn’t make sense. Mum and I row all the time. I tell her I hate her, and she tells me I’m spiteful. And then we both act like nothing’s changed. Nothing’s wrong. She knows I don’t hate her, can’t hate her. Not really. Not for long.

Still, this last sentence comforts me. At least it’s not cancer, at least she’s not dying. That means we’ve got time. Something we can fix. I’m more like Dad in that way. I want to help; I want to fix things. I want to make everything alright.

I’m by the door now, my eye peering through the crack between hinges. Mum is sitting on the sofa as dad stands over her. She looks close to tears. Dad is red in the face, his arms crossed. They both look tired. But dad looks more resolute than mum does. He knows he’s right. She does too.

“She won’t hate you. Not if you’re honest with her. But if you don’t tell her yourself, if she finds out on her own…”

“I just need more time.”

“You don’t have it.” Dad moves to pull her towards him, but though she stands she steps away from him.

“Don’t do that. Don’t coddle me like a child. This isn’t your problem. It’s mine.”

I can see, on dad’s face, in the way his jaw loosens, in the way his shoulders slack, and the way his hands don’t know what to do with themselves, he’s heart broken by that statement. She’s breaking his heart.

I push the door open slowly, unsure what impact this will have on the conversation, but I can’t bear to be on the outside of this anymore. Can’t bear to be cut out. To watch from the outside as they hurt each other. Over me.

“What’s the problem?” I ask. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked this question, whilst being flippant with mum, or cursing at dad. But it has so much weight here, in this room, in this moment. It makes me hot. And hotter still when they both just stare at me. Even dad’s disappointed. This isn’t how he wanted me to find out – whatever it is. Mum starts crying. Big wet sobs into her hands, and she turns away from me.

“It’s not the time,” Dad says, holding his hands out in supplication. Hoping I’ll back down or back off. I’ve never seen them like this. I don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to leave either.

“You were just telling her it is the time. The time for what? What are you guys talking about?”

Mum sniffs, and I can see her shoulders are still shaking. Dad is still trying to usher me out of the living room, he’s moved closer, trying to push me out without touching me.

“What is it? Is mum dying?” I know she isn’t. They would have said. They would have told me. Relief softens my dad’s face for a second.

“No, baby,” he says, “she’s not dying. Can we talk about this in the morning?”

“I can’t sleep not knowing,” I say, forcing my voice to stay flat. Stay calm. “Mum? Say something?”

Mum flinches. She goes quiet. She turns and her whole face is red from crying. Her eyes are bloodshot and desperate. I feel bad for pushing. I hate that I came downstairs. My skin runs cold and I expect her to tell me she hates me. Tell me I’ve ruined her life. I’m making it worse just by being here.

“I don’t know how to tell you…” she mumbles. “I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry…”

“Just…” I try to find the words, in equal measure annoyed she can’t and frantic. “Just say it. Whatever it is. I deserve to know.”

“I don’t… I’m not…” She goes quiet. A shadow falls across her face. “I’m not your mother. I’m your mum, I’ll always be your mum, but I’m not your mother. I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.”

It hits my chest and presses like bricks. One beat after the other pounds and hurts and I can’t breathe.

“What are you talking about? Of course, you’re my mum. People always say I look like you.”

“No, baby. I’m your auntie. My sister gave birth to you in prison.” I sink to the floor. The world sinks around me, and continues to sink, and sink, and sink. “She got out today,” mum continues. “She wants to meet you.”

Storytime – James Bond.

James Bond 

The tack room smelt of saddle wax and damp. A bizarre mixture of plastic and leather, oats and hay. A scent a thousand teenage girls carried with them, until they don’t. Riding lessons had been cancelled, so the other girls and I huddled inside, happy we at least had a counter to climb on and a mini fridge to raid. A small heater clicked in its corner as it attempted to heat the cold concrete, and we waited for our parents.

I was the youngest. Too short to climb up onto the counter, too chubby to try. Relegated to the floor. The cold seeped through my jodhpurs, and I still had my helmet on. It was heavy and warm on my head. Plus, the strap was fiddly.

I felt buried in my own silence. Redundant. The older girls were talking about boys. Who they fancied, when they would see them next, whilst I looked up at these girls wondering if I’d be invited to join in. One of the nicer girls noticed I was watching, and out of some misguided kindness extended the question to me.

‘Is there a boy you fancy?’

I’d had time to think about it, so my response was immediate.

‘James Bond.’ I said. ‘I love James Bond.’

There was silence. Tight lips tucked in on themselves.

‘Which one?’ a blonde girl broke.

Too young to understand, I persisted, ‘James Bond. All of them.’

Hyena like, pack-cackling rippled through the tack room, and I realised too late I’d made a mistake.

‘Do you mean Pierce Brosnan?’ a third girl pressed. She didn’t have kind eyes or a nice temper. She was baiting me. I was smart enough to know that much. If one of the nicer girls had asked, I’d have been more honest. I’d have explained the difference between traditional Bond over the newer, flashier Bond with his out of control gadgets and unnecessary explosions.

But I buckled under the eyes of this older girl. I nodded. Feeling like a coward. Not brave enough to admit Sean Connery was better.

*

A few years later, the scent of saddle wax had been replaced by salt watered air and evening cold. The faux shipwreck, climbing wall and wooden towers of Folkestone’s coastal park were haloed by the orange fluorescents of metal streetlights. Strange shades were cast by the palm trees, as our playground attempted its best impression of being anything other than a fishing town.

I’d been abandoned by my friends who were smoking weed in the top tower of the wooden castle. A boy with curly hair had offered me a toke and I’d politely refused.

He and I sat in the little children’s boats that rocked, his feet touched the floor whilst mine did not. He thought he was a bad boy because he’d done a bit of shop lifting, skipped school and smoked weed. He’d had sex too, which he was clearly proud of. He also walked his niece to school, played rugby religiously and offered me his hoodie when I shivered. I refused that too. I was determined to be warm in my rugby training jacket with South East Girls printed in barbie pink across my back. I didn’t want to look needy.

Our friends heckled us from the tower. Making smoochie noises and laughing. He gave them the middle finger back, like a bad boy. And I laughed.

When the shouting died down, and fresh smoke billowed out of the tower. The tall boy relaxed his body into a slouch. I relaxed too. I liked this boy; he was funny and nice and that was all it took for me to like someone. He’d told me that he fancied someone in our group, and a small part of me hoped that now we were alone he’d tell me who it was. Not so I could mock, or shriek or sympathise. Just my common curiosity.

‘Is there someone you fancy?’ he asked, watching me in the haze of orange and black.

Less than a second passed before I answered. His game was clear to me, because it was the same as mine. I decided to reward his curiosity with the truth. Not the whole truth, I knew James Bond was not going to be the right answer. But I would tell this tall, curly haired rugby player exactly how I felt.

I shrugged. Looked him dead in the eye so he knew I was being honest and said,

‘Nah. Boys are stupid.’

Flash Fiction #2 – Date with Death

Writing.Prompt.s (Instagram) – A dating service where matching is based on people’s search history exists. You’re a serial killer. You go on a date with a writer. 

I check my bag again. Wire, cheese wire to be specific, with wooden handles in the first pocket. Duct tape, and a bin liner in the third. Purse, keys and my Urban Decay in Venom lipstick in the second – middle – pocket. It’s a dark purple. I haven’t put it on yet. My bag is just a handbag. Nothing special. Nothing expensive. Nothing I mind getting blood on, and then dumping. New though, so it shouldn’t have my DNA in it. Purse is also new. Keys are in a plastic baggie. More plastic baggies in the middle pocket, just in case.

I’m stood outside the restaurant. You can’t really call it a restaurant. It’s a Nando’s. It’s a thing unto itself. I do love a Nando’s though. I’ll have to get something I can eat with a knife and fork. Can’t have Piri Piri fingers leaving a mess at the scene. My scene. The thought sends a shiver up my spine. I’m excited. Not just for the murder. For my date as well. I know he’s going to be tall; I’ve seen his bio. And we’ve talked a little bit about where we spend our time. Mainly work. Mainly late-night walks. His favourite tv series is Wire in the Blood. It gave me the idea for the cheese wire in the first place.

In my coat pocket are my thick leather gloves. They’re men’s, and a little too big for me. Hopefully I won’t have to lend them to him. I’m also wearing flats. I hope he doesn’t mind. I went on a date with a guy once and he made a nasty comment about me looking wider in flat shoes. My profile photo is me in heels. I left it three weeks, which is a personal best, before I broke into his house and skewered his testicles and his eyes. He was found three days later, because no one gave a shit enough to visit him sooner.

Prick.

My date arrives and he is tall, which is a relief. He’s got big hands too. I imagine them holding the wooden ends of my cheese wire and feel a bit giddy. A bit shaky. He seems timid though. He goes to kiss me in a greeting and panics. Pulls away so it looks like he’s bowing to me awkwardly. Never mind. Hopefully it’s just first date nerves.

We’re led in, given menus and chicken. I’ve no idea what to order. He talks me through the menu like a child, and I can’t decide if it’s sweet or not. I go for sweet. It’s safer for him. I think about the lipstick in my handbag and decide it was a good idea not to go for it. It might put him off. Everything about him is softly spoken, reflective, and he uses words he must have read in books because he’s saying them wrong.

I get up and order my dinner. Chicken wrap – I’ll pull it apart with my knife and fork – rice, halloumi and a bottomless drink. I’ll need my energy. He gets a chicken burger. Chips. Mild sauce. I don’t know how to feel about this.

Back at our table, I ask him what he does. He’s a writer. I ask what kind. He shrugs. Ghost writer. Works on murder mystery books for a company that supplies bigger named writers with new stories. FBI agents. Big explosions. Poisoned coffee and deep psychopathy.

My disappointment is tangible. He feels it as deeply as I do. A lightbulb has burst for me, whilst his barely flickers. He doesn’t know. Not yet. I start to pray the chicken is brought to us quickly before he can realise.

He asks what I do. I lie. Dentist. It’s what a friend said to say if you want a date to end quickly. But he’s interested. Am I private or NHS? Cosmetic or general? He knows more about dentistry than I do, and I’m starting to think he doesn’t believe me when – finally – our chicken arrives, and I can stop talking and start shovelling.

He brings up Wire in the Blood. Says he wants to write a series as good as that. That he’s been researching serial killers. Murders. Real, local crimes. I nod. Make a joke about having a passing fascination with the same things. He’s not convinced. The lightbulb is flickering more so now.

He asks how I spend my free time. We’ve mentioned it briefly over the website we met on. But I can’t remember whether I gave an honest answer. I make a joke about killing people. He doesn’t laugh. He finishes his chicken and looks at me. Asks me if I want to hang out after. I wipe my mouth; still glad I didn’t choose the dark lipstick. I’ve got hand sanitiser in my other coat pocket.  I squeeze more than I need to cover both my hands and rub it in over my wrists as well.

I’ve still not given him an answer. He seems genuinely keen though. And maybe this’ll be good for his next book.

Okay. I agree. But only if he promises not to scream.

Medusa’s Epic

I.
My family are immortal,
Born of Titans and sea.
My family are all monsters.
All, except for me.
My father is a creature with
Crab claws, a merman’s tail.
I have soft hands, soft features.
I am mortal. I am frail.
My mother is a goddess,
Her hair smells of sea and salt.
She has the strength of the ocean
And my beauty is her fault.
My sisters are both giants.
Their names mean strength and brawn
But my name means protection.
A curse to do me harm.
My brother is a dragon,
Full of venom and spite.
He’ll coil around his apple tree
And kill you with one bite.
Our name, Gorgon, means terrible.
But for me it isn’t true.
My hair is golden sunsets.
My eyes the deep sea blue.
My family are all monsters,
Nightmares in the dark.
Creatures of legend and myth.
Whilst I am beyond remark.
.
.
II.
My childhood clouds in mystery.
No one cared about my strife
I spent my time in solitude,
An isolated life.
At the utmost point of the mountain
is where I made my home.
My sisters rarely visited.
For the most I was alone.
I gazed upon the vale,
Watching the lives of little men
Thinking of the life I could have had,
If I’d been born as one of them.
But the fates had a plan for me
Which drew me down the tor.
They had a plan to destroy me,
To reveal the venom at my core.
I’d venture from my home sometimes,
To revel alongside mankind.
Amongst the drunken throng, you see,
Anonymity I would find.
No one saw my golden hair,
My face hidden in a mask.
To laugh and sing and dance to songs
Was my only happy task.
But a mid-June Panthenaia
Was where Poseidon spotted me.
Amidst Athena’s temple
He tore my dress with glee.
.
.
III.
I might have had a chance,
If I had been a titan.
If I’d had claws and a tail,
And the strength of a great python.
He kissed me harsh and fiercely
Freezing skin and bone.
Whilst cried for my mother.
Wished that I’d stayed home.
When Poseidon had filled the cup
And spilt mine on the floor
He left me crying, a sorry state,
Wanting me no more.
Athena understood me,
Because Athena is so wise.
She saw the anger in my stare
And burnt the venom on my thighs.
Athena gave me a choice,
To stay a mortal-torn.
Or curse me with a power which
Would make me a titan reborn.
If I had been a titan,
I might have had a chance.
So I accepted Athena’s gift to
Be able kill a man with a glance.
My golden hair recoiled,
Snakes sprung from my head.
Now anyone who touched me,
Would end up stone cold dead.
.
.
IV.
Perseus was a hero,
His start the same as mine.
His mother was a mortal,
But his father was divine.
Zeus, brother of my rapist,
Came to Danae one evening.
He showered her with soft kisses
In the form of a golden spring.
But King Acrisius of Argos
Had heard his fortune told
And believed Danae’s son would kill him
Before he could grow old.
When he learned Danae was pregnant,
He threw her in the sea.
Rescued by another king’s brother,
And as a hero raised to be.
King Polydectes fell in love with Danae,
But Perseus forbid their match.
The king would not give up easily,
And a plot began to hatch.
For the marriage of Hippodamia
He called people to bring offerings.
But for the horse tamer’s stable
Perseus could provide nothing.
Perseus was ashamed,
Unable to do his best.
So the King gave a command
And my head became his quest.
.
.
V.
I brought many men to ruin.
I was a formidable foe.
I was finally a monster
My family cared to know.
Rumours spread of my appearance
Many called it “punishment”.
But I knew Athena, wise Athena,
As only benevolent.
My appearance was grotesque,
I could turn men to stone.
And had I ever wanted,
I could have taken every throne.
I think Athena knew this.
She knew I’d never yield.
So when Perseus came for me,
She gave him a bronze shield.
Perseus fought bravely.
Fearless. Like a soldier.
And he swept that fatal blow
Took my head clean from my shoulders.
From my neck sprung my children
In a golden river flood.
Pegasus and Chrysaor
Of God and Gorgon blood.
Perseus took my head in a bag,
Carried it to his king.
Whilst Polydectes plotted revenge
Unaware of my continued sting.
.
.
VI.
Perseus was a hero
Everyone knew it to be true.
Having slain an evil monster,
His glory only grew.
He returned to Polydectes
Via Ethiopia
Plagued by Poseidon was this place
Full of drowning screams of fear.
For Poseidon had been insulted
And punished with fierce cruelty.
And only Andromeda could win the day
By sacrificing her beauty.
A story which sounds familiar
Yet she retains her fame.
Because rather than fight back, instead,
She let Perseus take the blame.
He killed a fearsome sea creature
He turned it to cold stone.
Then Andromeda’s father
Offered Perseus a home.
All the while I hung there,
My hair tangled in his hands.
Never getting the glory,
For saving those dry lands.
Athena took my head back
Placed me on her shield.
As a reminder to all women
Of the power that we wield.
.
.

Flash Fiction: #1

642 Things to Write About: Prompt:

You walk into your bedroom and discover someone going through your drawers.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked, leaning against the wooden doorframe. Terry was outlined by the falling light through the curtains, his hands wedged firmly in the top drawer of my chest of four.

‘Nothing,’ he said, his eyes opening wide and his face paling. His hands remained in the drawer.

‘Do you really think I’d hide it there?’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Terry replied, finally releasing the shirts he’d been rummaging through and closing the drawer.

‘I wouldn’t leave your present just anywhere for you to stumble across it, now, would I?’ I laughed, coming over and wrapping my arms around his waist.

‘So, you have got me a present?’

‘Of course. Ten years we’ve been married, did you think I’d forget?’

Terry rolled his eyes at me.

‘What is it?’

‘I’m still not telling.’ I shifted to release his waist, but he pulled my arms back around him, locking me in with his thicker, tanned arms wrapping around my back.

‘Tell me. I hate surprises.’

This was true. Terry hated surprises. He’d said as much on our first date which, really, when you thought about it, was a terrible idea.

‘When have you ever hated a surprise from me?’ I joked, feeling my laughter press my chest against his. We were the same height, but he was wider across the shoulders than me. Hairier than me. I was greyer.

‘There’s always a first.’ His eyes looked sad the moment it escaped his mouth. We released each other and stepped back. I moved to my side of the bed and pretended I’d come in for a book that was sitting on my side table.

‘Dinner will be done in ten,’ I muttered.

‘James… I didn’t mean…’

‘I know what you meant,’ I said with a half-smile. ‘I’ll see you downstairs in ten.’

Terry was still stood by the chest of drawers when I walked out of the bedroom.

Did I let anxiety win?

Preface: Anxiety affects everyone differently. If you read this and feel what I’m talking about doesn’t relate to you, that’s fine. It was nice having you, feel free to check out something different in my long line of content.

If it does, and you feel the need to speak to someone, please check out the Samaritans (or another charity of your choosing). They’ve helped me in the past, and I know they do good work:

Anyway – as you were…

When an ex-England rugby captain invites you to join her team, you don’t say no. You might preface the response text with such phrases as ‘bit intimidated by the team’ and ‘I’m a pretty rubbish player now’, but rugby is in the blood of my family, I couldn’t say no.

And it was exciting. I’d not played a game of rugby in nearly six years. I’d coached, played one game for Aylesford, reffed a little. But to play, consistently, for a team? I missed it.

When I was at university, for whatever reason, I gave up rugby. Focused on my work and my course and didn’t give rugby (or horse riding) much thought. I didn’t realise at the time that I was suffering from anxiety, and that anxiety was taking away the two things I’d enjoyed most (after writing and reading), rugby and horse riding. By the time I’d finished my course, I didn’t horse ride and I didn’t play. And to put in context for you how important those things had been for me previously, I’d played for Kent and South East England – which meant training Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, horse riding Friday, a night off Saturday, game Sunday, recovery Monday. And then? Nothing. Weekdays filled with cramming in work and focusing on my writing.

It didn’t seem like that big a problem. Until I was invited – by Spencer – to play alongside Aylesford. I went to two training sessions, met some really nice girls. Played one game. And it was a shit game. I can’t even remember if we won. What I can remember is, I missed every tackle. I was breathing like I smoked forty a day, and I felt like I’d been in a car accident for the next two weeks.

No automatic alt text available.

Where had my body gone? Why was I know a size twenty not a size twelve? When did that happen?

I knew things were really bad when I was getting texts from five or six girls from the team asking if I was coming to training, and my physical response was to burst into tears. It wasn’t their fault I was shit. It wasn’t their fault I was crying because I was shit. And in hindsight, it wasn’t my fault either, but I felt like it was. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was a fat mess. A stupid fat mess.

On a night out, a group of lads had seen me at my heaviest and sung ‘Nelly the Elephant’ at me as I walked past. My mum (and I know she hates me telling this story, but it’s super relevant) once told me I had to go to rugby training, because ‘I weighed as much as she did when she was pregnant with me’. And that was at my lightest.

I resolved not to give a shit about my body anymore. I was going to the gym, eating healthy, and it didn’t seem to make a difference. I stopped responding to texts from the girls and basically fell off the side of the earth, hiding in my work and doing teacher training, where I gained more weight.

My dad suggested I go an see a hypnotherapist. If you think that sounds crazy, well, so did I. I thought ‘what’s the point? It’s not going to help. It’s a magic trick.’

But I went anyway – because you don’t say no to my dad – and I had my first session free and another three sessions for £40 after that. I cried pretty much that entire first session. I told the hypnotherapist that I hated my body, that I hated myself. And he told me, to give myself permission to go to the gym and get better. He asked what my parents would say to support me.

And it worked. I went to the gym. I started losing weight. I could run up and down the stairs without being out of breath because I gave myself permission to. I was coaching rugby full time, I did my ref course. I felt better. Happier. I dropped out of teaching and did my MA in creative writing – the best mistake I could have made! I finally understood how lucky I was.

But I still wasn’t playing rugby. And I still wasn’t horse riding. I’d tried loaning a horse, but it threw me, kicked at me, tried to bully me out of the field. And I just wasn’t confident enough. I went for a lesson with my old riding school, and had a panic attack whilst sat on the horse. Couldn’t breathe. Felt like my chest was trying to cave in on itself. I got off. Took some deep breathes. Got back on. Had a brilliant lesson, jumped, cantered, loved it.

And then in June of this year, Spencer invited me to play rugby again. This, though I didn’t know it, would be the real test to see if I’d kicked my anxiety squarely in the nads.

I think she messaged me on facebook – or text me, I can’t find it now. But she invited me to join the Old Elthamians and my immediate response was ‘Hell. Yes.’  Folkestone didn’t have a team anymore, everyone was off playing elsewhere or not playing at all. This was my chance to get back into rugby properly.

Of course, the first week was fitness testing. And I failed. Big time.

I had strong-ish arms and strong-ish legs. But when it came to running the mile, I felt sick. I was basically walking by halfway through the first quarter. And by half way round I had to stop. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t see straight. If I’d eaten more that day it would have resurfaced.

And the girls on my new team cheered me on. They congratulated me – even though I was quite clearly the weakest link in their team. I’d thought it was going to be humiliating. Demoralising. But I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of girls to back me. I went home exhausted, and with a smile on my face.

Then I got the flu. Flu, in the summer. That sounds like an excuse. So I went to the gym, and made myself sicker. Then I had a meeting with my tutor in Bristol. So that was week three missed as well. And by week four, I’d torn my ACL. (The muscle in your knee that you need for any kind of movement apparently!) How? By standing in the kitchen. My knee made a weird popping motion to the side, and the damage was done. Another two weeks of recovery.

I was still getting texts from girls on my team ‘are you coming to training?’ ‘are we seeing you this week?’ ‘come along anyway, help out. Support.’ – But I didn’t want to just watch. I wanted to keep up. I wanted to play. And as the weeks rolled on, I was falling further and further behind – and I’d started as their shittest player anyway!

So this Wednesday was my first training session back. I’d missed Monday’s fitness training because I had a committee meeting (because I’m social sec now), and Spence had said she couldn’t give me a lift, so I’d have to make my own way.

That’s fine, I thought. I’ve been before. The girls will be happy for the numbers if nothing else. My morning was pretty chilled, Netflix, a bit of editing and lots of tea. At lunch, I had a meeting with another young writer I’m really excited to be working with, but driving back from our meeting I started crying.

The old phrases ‘fat mess’ ‘stupid’ ‘crap player’ ‘lazy’ rolling around in the back of my head. With new phrases like ‘slow’ ‘worst player’, ‘they wouldn’t even notice if you never showed up again’ ‘they’re just saying you should play so they’ve got numbers’ ‘why bother?’. And I cried the whole way home. By the time I got home, I thought I was over it. Posted a facebook status (which I never do) calling Anxiety a wankmaggot – like name calling made me super mature and able to handle it.

But the truth was, anxiety was using phrases I’d said to make me think I didn’t want to play rugby anymore. That it was too much trouble. A waste of time. That I didn’t really enjoy it anyway.

It made me feel completely alone too. Like I could die, and people would be annoyed I’d inconvenienced them. I thought about taking the ten-minute walk to the cliffs by my house. Jumping. Leaving a note on my computer that said ‘Happy now?’ like it was someone else’s fault. And then I felt guilty. What the fuck did I have to be upset about? I’m not homeless, or drug dependent, I’m a little overweight, over-emotional, and attention seeking. Get the fuck over it.

I was making tea, and mum tried to give me a hug. I told her not to touch me. Not to pander to me. I was being pathetic. She sat me down and talked to me. Really listened. Really cared. Told me I was putting too much pressure on myself not to feel. Too much pressure to be amazing at rugby. Because I was acting like I was scared. Not scared of the drive – Bristol to Kent is three to four hours, this was nothing like that. Not the people – because they’d been nothing but lovely to me. Fear of failure then. Of letting people down.

So I had to ask myself: Does the pressure need to be there? No. Will the girls care? No. Will they be disappointed if I don’t show up – probably not. Or is that anxiety creeping in again? Could I ask them? No, that’s not their problem.

What do you want then? Deep breathe. I want this. I want to get fitter, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I can’t let it win. So I packed my stuff, I shaved my legs and I went to training. I got a few comments about being a ‘stranger’, but people seemed happy enough to have me around. They remembered my name at least.

And yeah, the training session was hard. My knee starting hurting almost immediately. I avoided contact to begin with, but took on the tackle pad when it came to swapping people out. One girl could move me. Whether it was weight, or skill, or just planting my good leg in the way, girls were hitting the pad and bouncing off. I could do this.

We split off into forwards and backs. Had to work in pods. Take the ball, hit the pad, go down. I could do that too. But my knee collided with the floor and suddenly I felt like I was on fire. Like Someone had rubbed gunpowder into my knee. I couldn’t straighten it without it burning. I had to bow out. And I felt, again, like I was letting everyone down.

Now I’d had quite a positive response to the Facebook post. People, especially other rugby girls, sharing their support. I didn’t want to leave the pitch. That felt like giving up, and letting those people down too. I felt stupid. Pathetic. And it hurt so much.

Eventually, the training ended. I dropped one of the girls off at the train station, called my friend and told her I was fine. I was fine. I’d done it. I’d gone to training, I’d given it my all. I’d hurt myself, but no one had died. That was a win.

400076_10150598927390659_328815983_nThe next day my knee didn’t hurt at all. And I was left with this deep, deep fear that it had all been in my head. That I was putting up physical roadblocks in the way of getting fitter. Because I feel trapped in this flabby mess I call my body. I’m stuck on the days when I could make every breakdown and high levels of competition. Run fast enough to be in the right place at the right time, make a tackle worthy of Spencer mentioning it in the newspaper article she was writing.

I went to a BNI business meeting, and one of the members who has me on Facebook came up and gave me a hug. Told me he’d seen my status and thought I needed it. I told him I’d just had a stupid wobble, and he said ‘we all have those’.

So to Priscilla, Claire, Yvonne, Bex, Katherine, Lina, Mark, and Andy – thank you so much for taking your time out to give me the nudge I needed when I needed it most. You’ll never know how important those comments and messages were to me at that moment.

And as for whether I let the anxiety win or not – I’ve no fucking idea. I’ve got serious DOMS today, which has annoyed me because I could/should have done more at training. But I’m also kind of smug, because I know somewhere in me is the capacity for good rugby.

And if you’re looking to join a really good, high-quality rugby team full of girls, let me put you in touch…

So what can you take away from this (frankly grotesque and self-indulgent) essay. Everyone has their own shit, sure. But it’s okay to ask for help, to feel inadequate, or insecure. So long as you know you can ask for help from those around you. And if you see someone is having a hard time, spare them a kind word, a quick message or a hug. It might make more difference than you realise.

 

Have you ever done a prank call?

My friend’s house wasn’t like my house. My house wasn’t clean, but at least there was colour. Her’s was brown, and brown, and beige. Maybe there were more colours, and I don’t remember any more. In my mind’s eye, everything was brown in the way every council house has a faded brown and red upholstered sofa, with brown detailing which might have been ‘golden’ when the sofa was new, and leather sofa-cushions that deflate the moment you sit on them mimicking the deep sigh the adults release when they finally get to sit. Beige linoleum flooring in the kitchen, with brown rings where the cat bowl was put. Beige walls with scuff marks and posters in frames chipped corners and ring marks. Net curtains you could see in through. Waste of time if you ask me.

But for all the brown, it’s where I liked to be. In her room, on her bed, watching her straighten her long – don’t call it ginger – hair. Freckles on her nose. Blue eyes she’s pop wide to make me laugh. White shirt, untucked. School kilt – yeah we had those even in 2003 – rolled up around the waist like a thick belt. Or a thick belt with studs on, half the studs missing because she played with it. Black eyeliner, only on the bottom waterline of the eye. Mascara. Lipgloss if you were feeling fancy. And the strong smell of hairspray, to keep it straight.

For her birthday she had a sleepover, about six girls crammed into a small living room in front of the television to watch The Ring. Not a good film. But in the dark, girls crept out of their sleeping bags and hid upstairs with her mum, one by one, until it was just she and I left. The girls came back when the film ended, and my mum called to say good night. It scared the crap out of everyone, except me – who could see the caller ID.

It gave us an idea though. We could prank call someone. Anyone. Pick a number at random. So we did. Put in our area code and then six random numbers. No idea who it could be. It was late too, some people didn’t bother answering. Finally, someone did. She put on a voice, we tried not to laugh. They got angry, asked who it was. We laughed out-loud and hung up. Continued with a couple more numbers. Called people we knew, told them our friends fancied them. Or we knew where they lived. Or that their car had been stolen.

Then the first person called us back. Asked to speak to her mum.

We’d forgotten to do that 1471 thing – where you block your number. Her mum went mad. Not just because we’d wound people up late at night, but because we didn’t pay the phone bill. How long had we been doing for? Who knew. We kept pretty quiet after that.

When I went home, my mum asked what we’d gotten up to – and I told her about The Ring and how her phone call had freaked everyone out. She laughed, so I left it there and didn’t tell her about the prank calls. That was kid stuff anyway.