Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Excuse

I wake up suddenly and lie still. Something has disturbed my sleep. It's dark in my bedroom. I distinguish my kidney shaped dressing table, cluttered with teenage girl necessaries. There's that noise again. A persistent plopping, like a tap dripping; Dad will be cross if I haven't turned the tap off on my hand-basin. I peer at my alarm. It's four thirty in the morning. A relief; he left for work at four so no chance of him finding out.

I try to go back to sleep. It's a long journey to work and back every day, leaving my parent's period house in this quiet Surrey village at seven thirty to arrive in London at nine and not getting back until seven thirty in the evening. A bus to the station, a train, then another bus, each stage of my commute tightly synchronised with no room for error; a long day for a fifteen year old probationary apprentice hairdresser, keen to impress her boss; but I can't drift off. The unrelenting plopping is gathering speed and volume.

I light my bedside lamp, place my naked feet on the parquet floor, gaze around my cosy bedroom. The chintz curtains are tightly closed over the leaded-light windows. I hear the click of the heating system as it automatically switches on. I turn my eyes towards the dark green tiled fireplace at the foot of my bed. The persistent plopping is coming from that direction. I pad barefoot to the fireplace and I am unable to scream, too revolted to move; rooted to the spot!

Maggots! Thousands of them! Plump, white maggots marching up and down the grouting of the tiled hearth like a regimental platoon. As the existing troops uniformly wriggle along they are rapidly joined by more foot soldiers, free-falling down the chimney breast, landing with the haunting 'Plop' onto the cold, green tiles, joining the swelling military ranks on the straight white lines as if under orders from a barking Sergeant Major. I am mesmerised but move quickly as the new arrivals, finding no room in the hearth, edge their way over the shiny brass fender to create a splinter group, within seconds finding the patterns on the wooden flooring and a second squad of squirming, writhing maggots occupying their new parade ground.

But the door to freedom is on the other side of the fireplace and its grisly inhabitants. I have to get past the invaders to escape. Choosing the alternative, I leap back to the comparative protection of the bed. Mum's bedroom is next door. Will she hear me screaming? No matter! I shriek and screech. She hears - comes rushing in.

'What are you screaming at for goodness sake?' as she clutches her dressing-gown around herself with one hand and pats her head full of spongy rollers with the other.

'Maggots - millions of them,' ' I'm blubbering.

Her face is white 'What?'

The marching maggots have reached legion proportions. She disappears, returning with a galvanised bucket brimming with steaming water, strong smelling disinfectant and a wooden handled mop; sloshing the contents over the wooden flooring and tiled fireplace. Things worsen as the tidal wave of boiling water sweeps the maggots along the floor, entirely surrounding my bed - proving maggots can swim. I am trapped, sobbing, shaking and already late for work.

'Get out of bed.' she ordered.

Mum may be as horrified as me by the gory sight, but at least she is wearing slippers, at the other side of the fireplace, near the door and a hasty exit.

'I'm not putting my feet on that floor,' as I bury myself in the pillows 'I can feel them crawling all over me! Get me some Wellington boots and dad's big waterproof mackintosh. Otherwise I'm not moving - ever!'

The scene in my bedroom is sheer desolation. Lifeless maggots, fat on dead, decaying bird, are stranded on my pretty hand-woven rug, like grains of cold boiled rice. Some maggots are making feeble efforts to escape to higher ground away from the avalanche of water by slithering into my work-shoes. Others are trapped in the tiled hearth, floating on the surface, joined by naive maggots plopping down the chimney to a certain death by drowning. Mum comes back with the waterproofs and the wellies; I escape the bedlam and collapse in a frenzied heap on the landing floor.

I get to work very late that day. I explain my valid reasons. My boss doesn't believe me. It's the most inventive excuse he's ever heard.


pal said...

Fabulous! You are back in full on writing mode. Hooray!

Why do I know that 'lifeless maggots' would look exactly 'like grains of cold boiled rice'? I don't ever remember seeing any en masse like that. Oh the power of a good similie.

Thanks for a good read - better than the Sunday papers!

Buggles Balham High Road said...

I read a book once by a Chef who described in great detail how a game bird had been hung for too long and an apprentice chef had roasted it and it was served to a diner. It wasn't until the plate came back to the kitchen, barely touched, that the Chef saw that the 'rice' on the plate were dead maggots.

This image stayed with me forever.

Thanks Pal. I shall post more Memoirs.

Rob Spence said...

I agree with Pal - great piece of writing. Vivid images. Powerful stuff. Actually rather repulsive...

Buggles Balham High Road said...

Thank you Rob. It was because of your encouraging comments on a piece I published on my Blog that I studied Creative Writing.

My tutor encouraged me to write memoirs. She was right as I can embellish the truth but can't make things up.

The OU have a first year presentation for a Level 3 Creative Writing course starting this October to include writing plays and much more.

Maybe 2009 for me.

kat said...

I don't know whether to say compulsive or repulsive reading. :-)