Below is an extract from a popular-fiction I'm working on. Lucy Bramshawe is a currently heavy drinking, middle-aged, fiction writer experiencing a long publishing lull. Brian is her husband of twenty years.
Lucy Bramshawe Loses It
(Copyright Jane Bloomfield 2019)
‘Simple ways to poison a human being.' I typed ‘bean’ at first, but I didn’t think Google would get my joke. I doubt search engines have a sense of humour. An odd sound hits my ears. It may have been an embarrassed giggle. Mine.
The first page of boxed information read:
When simple household cleaners, which contain bleach (toilet cleaners) and ammonia (window cleaners) are mixed together, they produce a lethal chlorine gas. Even simple cleaners such as bleach and vinegar, when mixed together produce chlorine gas.
That’s a gas! How to kill oneself slowly while getting the house in order. Brian loves a clean window. He’d happily spend all weekend dashing about in a vinyl pinny with his spray bottle and a stack of microfibre cloths draped over his right shoulder (he’s left handed.) That’s Brian’s trick to achieving a streak-free window. A lint-free cloth. Only he uses a homemade potion of: half white vinegar and half water. Perhaps I could change his potion. Add bleach. ‘Is death by chlorine gas painful?’ I type.
What am I doing? I don’t want to be alone. I love Brian. I just don’t like him. At the moment. I don’t like myself. But I don’t want to kill my window-cleaning-husband. Do I? There must be a monumental, menopausal-hormone-dive messing with my head. I should go and talk to my GP. Pronto! She always has an armoury of pharmaceuticals up her sleeve to combat any complaint. No doubt. Even murderous intent.
But first things first. The dental hygienist. My appointment was for 2 pm. As instructed, I arrived ten minutes early to allow for form filling. I wished I hadn’t. The dental surgery’s tiny and overly stuffed reception area was claustrophobic. It reeked cloyingly of industrial, antibacterial mouthwash. One whole wall displayed posters and pamphlets to STOP Gingivitis and Get-The-smile-You-Really-Want. Three women were already sat on the narrow, green vinyl chairs, studiously bent over their clipboards, diligently answering their thirty plus questions. They’d probably all been head prefects at school. And belonged to the synchronised swim team.
A ponytailed receptionist, snug behind two giant computer screens was chatting loudly and slowly into her headpiece. To a pensioner it seemed in need of denture cream. A large arrangement of faux-flowers (unrecognisable in the natural world) haphazardly bunched together in an ecclesiastical type vase, loomed like a crazed triffid mid diet blitz, above her. The only thing missing in the cramped room was a precariously placed, giant-sized tank of tropical fish with a loud water pump.
I was fine with my questions until I got to number eleven. Legs eleven. Bingo. My current favourite subject (aside from chlorine gas.) Boozing. Do you drink alcohol Y. N? Yes! Of course! Who doesn’t? Next. If yes, now many units per week?
I sat bolt upright and knocked the back of my head into the wooden pamphlet wrack. The other women looked up, accusingly. Knowingly. I tried to make the calculation while rubbing my head. I had a bump. One unit is a very small wine. A sherry glass full. Seventy milligrams. I think. I started to count on my fingers, but soon ran out of digits.
What were the prefects (who were also middle-aged matrons, but trying to disguise this fact to the world by home-dying their hair soft-brown) writing? Were they telling the truth? God help us they were tea-totallers and they didn’t have to ask themselves, If so, how many wines in total do you slug back each week? They’d just ticked ‘N’ and skipped to the next question.
I decided to skip ahead myself. Do you smoke Y. N? No! I wrote and smiled. However, the next question was not, If so, how many per day? How annoying. I’d gleefully put down NONE. Nada. Zilch. Isn’t smoking the worst thing of all for your health? Out of all the worst-things. That’s just plain rude. I circled ‘No’ again. Then I re-circled it savagely and made a teeny hole in the paper. I gave up smoking in the mid-eighties, aged twenty five. That was thirty six years ago.
All it took was one final big night out clubbing in London, consuming a packet of Benson & Hedges Gold and too many tequila slammers to count. As well as my handsome but louche, punk-rocker boyfriend dumping me on the dance floor for his plain-Jane bass player. The next morning, I woke up in my flat in Lambeth, alone in my single bed, with pulsating temples and light sensitive. I got up and threw every cigarette and lighter I could find out of my window. Underneath the Northern Line. I pined after that lanky, tight-jeaned, fop haired, foul mouthed, well hung beau for months. Meanwhile, I relished the cramp off my lungs and the renewed life in my taste buds.
‘Nearly finished?’ asked the receptionist.
‘Nearly,’ I nodded.
Fuck it. No one tells the truth. Do they?
Ten minutes later, lying back on the hygienist’s chair, the following notions went over and over in my head, while I swallowed plaque and water as best I could to prevent drowning. How many pot smokers put ‘N’ when asked if they smoke? Hello, my name is Lucy, I smoke pot. Love me a bit of Mary Jane. And how many part-time smokers say, Hello, my name is Lucy, I just smoke other people’s, does that count?
My name is Lucy and I currently consume far too much wine.
At one point, the young hygienist leaned her forearm quite firmly on my right breast as she welded her ultrasonic water scaler over a back molar. That got my OCD type fiction writers mind mulling over other things! Lucky she’s not a guy-hygienist. Copping a feel. Sexual assault in a dentist chair . Etcetera. She was deep within my gob scraping behind my very back top left molar. An awkward position for any human to reach. But. My gums felt as though they’d been trimmed, rather short, when I paid the exorbitant fee. They oozed blood.
I sucked breath mints on the way home. My mouth throbbed. I thought of a friend of a friend who’d caught some nasty life-threatening bug after a routine trip to the dentist and ended up in ICU. I stopped at the supermarket and bought toilet paper, dish-wash liquid, bleach, 500 grams of salted cashews and a bottle of rather expensive organic, pinot gris.
I’d written 15 standard glasses per week, on my form. I had a target to meet ...