Monday, August 13, 2007

Wanted: Purpose

She'd taken her time dressing, strapping the depressingly slight bra around her still slim body without thinking about it, pulling out a clean pair of panties from the un-ironed pile and slipping them on. She'd brushed her straight, shoulder length hair, then mussed her slim, ringless fingers through it, then thought better of the resulting mess and brushed it again. She'd considered the idea of facing the world without makeup, checked the state of the skin around her eyes, automatically reached for the foundation cream.

Joan had wanted to wear red today, but she was wearing business blue. Now she was ordering the usual coffee and the usual chelsea bun.

She collected the items and searched for a seat. Her favourite table was already occupied by two gossiping suits, but her second choice, further back towards the kitchen, had just been vacated and cleaned. She strode over to it quickly and settled herself down. As she studied the crossword puzzle in her paper she picked at the bun, consuming it in absent-minded portions pulled away from the motherlode and popped into her mouth.

When the phone rang, Joan checked the clock: 2:30 on the dot, as dutiful as always. "Hello, dear," she said.

"Hi, mum, how are you?"

"I'm doing fine. And you? Are you eating well?"

"Yes, mum." Lizzie already sounded bored. Without thinking, Joan picked up the pen and started doodling on the sugar-dotted napkin.

"So what have you been up to?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just the usual."

"The studying's going fine?"

"Yes. I'm enjoying the course. We've moved on to Picasso."

"That's good, dear." At least Joan managed to get both eyes on the same face when she drew them. "Have you heard from your father?"

"He, um, came to dinner a couple of days ago. Chris cooked one of his chinese specials."

Joan glanced down at the drawing, which was turning into a half-decent carnation. "Is that the Chris you told me about, dear?"

"Yes, mother! That's the Chris I've been living with for the past 2 months! Do you ever listen to me when we talk? Shit ..."

Joan listened as the phone line clicked off. "Apparently not, dear," she said to the dead connection.

She chewed the last tear of bun, wiped her chin with the drawing. Joan'll cope; that's what everyone always said of her. Having a baby? Joan'll cope. Getting divorced? Joan'll cope. Losing her mind? Oh, Joan'll know what to do. Dependable Joan, always in the background, always willing to give a hand. Sometimes she wanted to scream at people, but she knew they'd not notice.

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