The women at the school gate clustered round me at pick-up time, eyes wide, children forgotten, left to damage each other with impunity in the playground while their mothers gathered to hear a story. “Tell us,” they begged. “Tell us!”
And I did. I told them the story of The Woman Who Had Come Back From Four Days In A Hotel On Her Own For An Absolutely Unavoidable Work Thing.
“On her own!” murmured the crowd. “Four days!” it susurrated. “Hotel!” whispered the wind.
“It was so,” I nodded over the heads of those already gathered as more were drawn towards us as iron filings to a magnet or a bare foot to discarded Lego. “I was that woman. Listen to my tale. I caught a train. I was in the quiet carriage. And people did obey the signs. It was a four-hour trip to Glasgow made in wondrous and enduring silence. I read a book. I gazed out of the window. Nobody asked me to check-wipe its bum, what happens when we die or ‘Why yellow is’.
“I got to my hotel at 10pm. I filled in a simple form and went up to my room. It had been vacuumed, its bed made with fresh sheets, the bathroom cleaned to perfection – none of it done requested through gritted teeth or ordered in a filthy rage by me. I checked my phone. The nine-volume laminated set of binders containing the basic rules and regulations of childrearing and a large banner saying, ‘If you cannot see brain or bone, DON’T CALL,’ that I had left had done their work and there were no messages claiming that my urgent assistance was required by either spouse or son.
It was a four-hour trip to Glasgow made in wondrous and enduring silence. I read a book. I gazed out of the window. Nobody asked me to check-wipe its bum, what happens when we die or ‘Why yellow is’
“I went to the loo and did an uninterrupted poo. I reflected that this brings me now as much happiness as a weekend at Babington House once did, and for free. You should all–” and here I spread my hands wide the better to disperse my wisdom, “think on this next time thou art wishing everyone in your household dead.”
They bowed their heads in mute compliance.
“I cleaned my teeth and got ready for bed. It was 10.07pm. I had no cats to feed. No PE kit to ready. No sandwiches to make. No fucks to give. I slept. For nine hours, in a double bed all to myself. I was uninterrupted by snores, phlegm rattles or erections pressed overoptimistically against me in the wee small hours.
“I awoke when my alarm went off and I got up. Nobody demanded breakfast, that I locate items of apparel that should have been placed in specific places last night before they went to bed or more milk because they had dropped an Octonaut in the first glass.
“I had a shower, went downstairs and was given breakfast of my own instead. ‘Toast and honey please,’ were the first words I had spoken in over 12 hours. I went to work, well-rested, calm and looking 38 again. I came back and repeated the cycle three more times before being forced on to – I mean catching – the train home to my husband and son.”
“Did you realise how much you had secretly missed them when you got home?” asked one – young! So young! – woman in the crowd. I turned to her, smiling gently. “I did not,” I said. “I did not.”