All stories

Think of a Happy Thought

[Nothing to see here…move along]


The garden was teeming with them. Everywhere Alison looked there they were, swarming, crashing into one another, screaming, sticky fingers forcing more and more cake into smeared gaping mouths. The pitch was ramping up slowly, but inevitably towards hysteria. Oh it was all ‘Pass the Parcel’ and laughing now, but in about twenty minutes or less, Alison predicted, the tears would begin in earnest.

At least that would mean they’d all bugger off home.

The Jones boy had already been sick twice and was being allowed to shovel more sugary treats into his vomit-smeared face. Anthony Davies’ little girl had had a nosebleed in the sand pit - a heavy one and Dave had cordoned off the bloody sand with plastic chairs.

Alison’s head was ringing. She checked her watch for the fifth time in two minutes. How could they all only have been here for an hour? She’d drunk so much tea she thought she’d burst with it and even Elizabeth Jones, mother of the vomiter and most enthusiastic small talker of the parents, had flagged, drooped and fallen silent.

This garden had once been Alison’s quiet place, somewhere she could go to think and relax and potter. There had been beautiful trellises, a pristine lawn and a small organised veg bed for potatoes and beans and beetroot. It had been her sanctuary.

Now the lawn was yellowed and worn from the trampoline and the paddling pool, the flowers on the trellises had faded, withered and died and Alison now watched sadly as a small child in a Tinkerbell t-shirt pulled fistfuls of leaves from the hebe and stuffed them in her knickers.

Her eyes picked out her own two children in the maelstrom of glitter and hair and balloons. Jessica was holding court as the birthday girl and Evan, two years older, was skulking on his own by the swing. How could she feel such love for her own children, yet so much revulsion for the offspring of these strangers she’d never have come across if they hadn’t been forced together at the school gates?

From the corner of her eye she spotted Elizabeth Jones gearing up with a second wind. That was it. She scanned the garden to make sure Dave was keeping everything under control, then slipped inside, pulling the door to.

In the cool quiet of the kitchen, Alison opened the fridge and eased out the bottle of pinot that she’d stashed for after the party. There was no way she’d last that long. When the Jones boy vomited for the third time, she’d need a drink inside her to be able to deal with that.

She tiptoed upstairs, half expecting to be caught and summoned back, but miraculously she made it all the way unmolested. She turned the lock of the bathroom door behind her, poured a large glass of the pinot and sank down among the towels and bath toys, the loo rolls and medicines and piles of dirty pants to create a brand new sanctuary for herself for ten minutes before the tears began.

At the bottom of the garden

It was to be Muriel’s sanctuary, her own quiet space at the bottom of the garden where she could paint and play music. A super posh shed on steroids, with big picture windows to let in the right kind of light she needed for her painting (her daubs, as her husband put it). It was a lot of money, but, as Muriel had said to Jack before they started the build, it wasn’t as if they had any kids to miff that their inheritance was at the bottom of the garden with its own hot tub deck and veranda for watching the local wildlife come snuffling down to the pond.

All that money spent and yet they couldn’t find a builder who wasn’t so incompetent? Which perhaps wasn’t that fair. His work was good, but how could a man be so disorganised? Every day it seemed to Muriel he would run out of something or other, something he needed to finish that particular task that he had started, a task so delicate that he couldn’t leave the site to go and get it.

And that was another thing - whyever had she let Jack talk her into letting him help with the build? Jack said it was something that he had wanted to do forever, put down his mark on the world by building something. And it would be a gift from him to her if he helped with the build, and not just with all the frippery and trimmings – he didn’t want to be some chump fobbed off on putting up the trellis. Get down and dirty with it, that’s what Jack wanted.

Which of course meant that with the builder and her husband working hand in glove like that it was down to Muriel to head out to the builder’s merchant for that day’s vital purchase. Today it was bloody sand that she muttered under her breath as she went and joined the queue. Thirty-five minutes of waiting only to be told they had run out of sand – it was all this covid, wasn’t it love, all these shortages. Patronising little gits.

On the journey home, as Muriel paused at the lights, she glanced back at the six bags of sand loaded in the back of the car. It made her feel a little giddy and a little warm at the same time. It was pleasing, to be keeping the build going, no matter what it took. Back home she entered the quiet place. Total silence, not a sign of Jack, or the builder. Jack’s phone vibrating on the kitchen counter made her jump when she rang it. She tried the builder’s next, and crept from the kitchen through the hallway to the stairs where she found a pair of crumpled work trousers muffling the sound of a phone on vibrate.

She floated up those stairs like Tinkerbell and used the faintest dust of a pixie push to ease the bedroom door open crack.

Muriel’s first thought: had her expression been one of such ecstasy when the young fella at the builder’s merchant who sorted her sand took her urgently from behind?