I've realised quite quickly that you only have to put the thought out there for things to happen to start the ball rolling. Of course, you sometimes just need to get on and do something first - like being brave enough to meet people and talk about what you've created.
It was a pleasure to watch the faces of people as I read snippets from my novel to them at the museum on Saturday - and even greater pleasure to sell them copies afterwards and to hear their own experiences. People say that they are impressed with what I have done - but it's been easy to do - it just takes perseverance. 'Never give up' is probably my catchphrase. I know what I've written isn't perfect and certainly not a masterpiece of literature. It's just a story that had to be told and has to be read.
Karen was feeling cold inside. The night had been long and lonely. Peter had come home late again, rolled into bed and had slept without a word. She almost wished he’d been like his old self, demanding her attention, wanting her. Anything was better than this emptiness. She craved for loving attention. She had lain awake all night, thinking and worrying about her future, trying to analyse the feelings she was struggling with. By six o’clock she’d given up trying to sleep and got up.
She was making coffee when she first felt sick. Her stomach churned the worry over and over until she vomited into the kitchen sink. As she washed it away she was aware of Peter standing in the doorway.
‘What the hell are you doing now?’ He looked at her in disgust.
‘I just feel sick.’ Karen wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
‘I told you there was something wrong with you,’ he snapped. ‘What have you picked up now?’
‘It’s just a bug. I feel better already.’
‘God it stinks in here. Have you thrown up in the sink?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Karen turned on the tap again. ‘I’ve cleaned it up.’
She turned back to look at him, but he’d gone and seconds later he left the house, slamming the door behind him.
Karen sighed to herself. She still felt queasy as she sat at the dining table with her coffee and a slice of toast. She forced herself to nibble at the toast, but something about the coffee made her feel even more sick. It tasted disgusting. She took it to the kitchen and tipped it down the sink. The thought of tea was almost as unwelcome so she finally decided just to drink water.
She sat and looked around their little home. She remembered the new beige carpet when they’d moved in and how the new furniture had echoed their hopes for the future. They’d painted the walls a trendy green and decorated them with pictures of sunsets. A gilt edged-mirror hung over the gas fire in the sitting room. Now the walls were just a shade of sickly olive, the carpet, which had once seemed so full of promise, was a dirty brown where their footsteps had worn a trail from the front door to the kitchen. The mirror above the fireplace was tarnished and reflected a life Karen no longer recognised as her dream.
She felt as though she was caught in a trap. Standing in the sitting room, gazing through the net curtains into the street, she felt her mind drifting. She could see herself standing there, detached from her real self. Her mind was numb. A feeling of panic was rising from somewhere deep inside.
Karen shook herself and ran up the stairs into the bathroom. She gripped hold of the wash basin as she felt the bile rising again. She caught a glimpse of her white face in the mirror and tried to swallow it down before vomiting violently into the sink.
The nausea was still floating in Karen’s stomach when she started the journey to work later that day.
She watched the world pass her by from the bus window. The houses and streets were shouting mantras to her senses, all seemingly filled with happy little families. She saw young mothers traversing garden gates with their babies in prams or toddlers in push-chairs. Everything she saw was a slap in her face. Each woman out shopping was a reminder that she should be the good wife that Peter wanted her to be.
The bus passed the park which was filled with children playing with their mothers. Mothers who were doing the right thing by staying at home to care for their families. The factories she passed were full of husbands working to pay the mortgages and bring home money to keep their wives and children in the manner which was expected.
Outside the factory door, leaning against the wall, women smoked, chatting to each other, some excited about what they’d spend their pin-money on, others worn out and worried about making ends meet.
‘Why do I feel it’s all wrong?’ Karen’s thoughts were draining her, dragging her down into some depth that she knew she was already dangerously out of.
The bus arrived in Fareham and Karen was like an automaton, walking from one stop to another, unaware of the bustle of the market-day shoppers. She sat at the rear of the bus and leaned her face against the window. Soon they were moving through the town.
At the next stop the bus filled with passengers - women on their way home from the market, and workers making their way to the hospital for the late shift. As the bus pulled off again Karen felt herself relaxing into her role as a nurse, slipping into her comfort zone, jostling together with people who understood her.
The bus moved off and soon the town was left behind as they wound their way through the countryside. She wondered what it must have been like a hundred years ago when the County Asylum first opened. In those days, once you made that journey as a patient it was rare that you ever made the trip home. She could feel the echo of despair that the poor souls must have felt.
‘It’s not like that any more,’ she thought. ‘This is the twentieth century.’
Shaking off these feelings of doom as the bus arrived at the gates, she stepped down onto the drive, turned towards the clock tower, and made her way into the shadows of the corridor. Her mood lifted as she climbed the now familiar staircase, the odour of the ward now almost a welcoming sensation in her throat.
She smiled inwardly and opened the door, her keys rattling in the lock.
The smells which had been seeping into the hallway hit her with a vengeance. A mixture of Paraldehyde and boiled cabbage churned in her already delicate stomach. She ran for the staff toilet and slammed the door behind her just in time to vomit into the basin in the small room.
Karen looked at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her face was white and drawn, her eyes deep and filled with pain. She’d seen that look in some of her patients and was afraid. She splashed her face with cold water, dried herself with a green paper towel, the rough material scratching her face, the chill of the water bringing back some of her strength. Scraping her hair back into a pony tail, she fastened it with an elastic band. Then, taking a deep breath, she gathered up her bag and emerged from the toilet, walking briskly towards the ward office.
Evelyn was watching from the doorway of her room. As she passed, Karen turned and smiled at her. Evelyn nodded, her head tipped to one side as she looked back, her mouth forming into a strange lop-sided smile.