‘Time for another wee brandy coffee, Karen, ‘she decided as she tried to convince herself that a liquid lunch would be less calorific while she watched a cookery programme. Unfortunately, when she ran the kitchen tap to fill the kettle, a puddle of water formed at her feet.
‘What the…? She moaned as it started spreading across the floor.
Still determined to have her brandy masquerading as something more respectable, Karen ignored the crisis until after she’d made her coffee and had a few calming sips. She then grabbed her mobile to use as a torch when she looked under the sink to see if she could find out where the water was coming from.
‘Shit!’ She cried out when she saw all the mouse droppings. Obviously they’d chewed up the waste pipe, but the damage wasn’t visible because of the board attached to the back of the unit.
‘You bloody, useless cat!’ she shouted at Molly, their eight-year-old tabby.
Molly jumped from the window ledge where she’d been sunning herself, before making a hasty retreat towards the cat flap. Karen was just about to berate her again as she shot past her legs, but she remembered with a guilty start that she couldn’t really blame Molly for what had happened. A cat can only do its job if it gets the chance, and she’d inadvertently locked her in the shed for three days, just the week before. That event had coincided with the temperature plummeting dramatically, so the mice had made a bee-line for the warmth of the house.
Karen took another slurp of her drink while she tried to work out what to do next. So much for putting her leg up. The only way she could get to the pipes behind the sink was to pull out the dishwasher, and it was impossible to shift because it was still full of dishes from the day before. She had no choice but to unload it and take everything through to the utility room. Twenty minutes later, they were all washed, so she left them to drip-dry while she went to investigate the pipes behind the dishwasher. Easier said than done. The dishwasher hadn’t been moved for years, so it took her ten minutes to wriggle it out to a point where there was enough space for her to squeeze in behind it. Armed with duct tape and a tea towel, she located the hole the mice had made, and wrapped the tape around it after she’d dried it off.
‘Who needs men!’ she said triumphantly when she stood up after she’d backed out of the hole and turned on the tap.
‘I do!’ she groaned, as the puddle started to spread across the kitchen floor again.
Karen decided to give up and wait for her son to come home. She had no idea if he would be able to fix the chewed up pipe, but anything had to be better than paying the call-out fee for a plumber. If it hadn’t been for her leg, and the fact that she found it almost impossible to do anything in such a confined space, she would have had another go, but she was already exhausted with the effort of it all, so decided to get cleaned up instead.
Karen laughed out loud when she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror above the bathroom sink. She certainly didn’t look like the ‘Lady of the Manor,’ as she used to be called by friends and family when they called round in the past. Her blond highlighted hair looked more like a crow's nest and, because she'd been confined to the house, she hadn't put on any make-up for days.
'You really are letting yourself go, Lady.’ Karen told her reflection as she reached for a brush.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much improvement after trying to resurrect her normal bed-head hairstyle, so Karen decided she deserved another brandy coffee to cheer herself up. This time she took it out to the patio outside her bedroom in the hope she could enjoy what was left of the autumn sun while she sat on one of the cast iron chairs at the table.
Where will I be this time next year? she wondered when she looked out over the beautiful back garden that had been her pride and joy for nearly twenty years. As the children had grown, so had the trees they’d planted to mark special occasions. An oak tree was planted for both Tony and Michelle’s, eighteenth, and twenty-first birthdays, and a stunning Sycamore for the millennium. How could she give up this wonderful place with all those memories? Even the herb garden held a special place in her heart. All year round her cooking was suffused with flavours from around the world, and Mr Schwartz hadn’t had a look in for years because she dried what she didn’t use fresh from the garden. No, leaving it all behind would be very hard.
Midway through her coffee, her mind wandered. Relaxed by the brandy, the need to practise sexy chat popped into her head again. If she was going to make any money, she would have to learn how to talk to the punters. Their meeting the next day was to discuss every aspect of working for a chat line, so she needed to get ahead of the game.
‘What can I do for you today, sexy?’ she slurred. ‘Would you like to see me naked?’
Karen burst out laughing. God, even I haven’t seen myself naked! she drunkenly thought to herself. The full length mirror in the bedroom had her old ‘skinny’ dressing gown draped over it, just to make sure she couldn’t catch a glimpse of herself when she was getting dressed and fortunately, her bathroom mirror only showed her head and shoulders. But Karen knew there were a lot of men out there who liked their women with a bit of meat on their bones, so she pretended she was talking to one of them.
'So you’re into fat birds, are you? Well, today’s your lucky day. Just ask my soon to be ex-husband. He’ll tell you what a fat cow I am, I’m sure.’
The reality of what she had just said, reduced Karen to tears. Why had she let her weight spiral until it was out of control? Right up to when the kids arrived, she’d never been bigger than a size ten. Now she was what? A size eighteen? No, probably bigger. That was the great thing about only buying baggy tops and joggers, you never had to face up to reality when you went out to buy clothes. Her new ‘just get extra-large and hope for the best’ philosophy, meant she never actually had to put a number to her dress size. Most of the clothes she’d packed away after she’d started putting on weight five years before were probably a twelve or fourteen. Fat chance she’d ever be able to get back into them. What a waste. Like Laura, she’d always bought fairly expensive, classic clothes in the past, a lot of which were still in fashion. Maybe she could give them to Michelle and see if they were any use to her? With that thought in mind, she abandoned her practice session and went to her bedroom through the patio doors so she could study the contents of her ‘thin’ wardrobe.
The first thing she pulled out was a black sleeveless cocktail dress she hadn’t worn since the opening of Mark’s new tile showroom in the South side of Glasgow. That had been six years ago, and it brought a tear to her eye again when she remembered that night. Mark had told her she looked stunning when she’d turned up at the showroom wearing it. With her hair caught up in a comb so the back of her neck was exposed, he’d planted a kiss there before he said it.
After pulling the dressing gown off the mirror, she held the coat hanger up with one hand, and pressed the dress to her body with the other.
‘You loved me then, didn’t you?’ she said out loud.
Karen let a sarcastic laugh when she looked at her reflection. If the dress was a size twelve, she must be a size twenty-four, because the dress only covered half her body. It was the same with just about everything she pulled out of the wardrobe. Even the clothes that had been fashionably baggy, looked far too small. Each rejected item was thrown to the floor as her frustration increased. Karen might have started the exercise to see if any of her clothes might be useable for Michelle, but now she had reconnected with the memories of when she’d last worn them, she wanted to be the only person to wear them again.
‘Okay, Lady,’ she said to her reflection. ‘Put your money where your mouth is!’
Karen then did something she hadn’t done for years. She stripped off and went into her ensuite to dig out the scales she’d hidden away when Mark left. After she took a deep breath and stood on them wearing just her bra and pants, she couldn’t believe what the digital screen told her. Karen had put on at least forty pounds since she last weighed herself. Numbed by her discovery, she pulled on her discarded dressing gown before she started picking the clothes up from the bedroom floor.
After she’d put them all back in the wardrobe, Karen went to the kitchen to make another brandy coffee. At that moment in time she was disgusted with herself, and it was the only thing she could think of to try and take away the pain of her self-imposed humiliation. She’d reached a point in her life where she had to do something to get her life back, and she didn’t just mean making some money. She’d put on weight when she started going through the menopause, and had stupidly thought she would lose it when it was over. But it wasn’t just that. The start of the menopause had reminded Karen that she probably wouldn’t have any more children, and being a mother had been her only real job since Tony and Michelle were born. What did it matter if she was overweight? Dah! Where was her handsome, loving husband now? As she finished her coffee, she remembered the words of Moya Angelou.
If you don’t like something, then change it. If you can’t change it, then change your attitude.
That, Karen decided, was exactly what she had to do. She’d fooled herself for long enough. No wonder Mark didn’t love her any more. The Karen of today wasn’t someone she loved very much either. She could understand why he’d looked elsewhere. He certainly wasn’t getting much love at home. Sex had been reduced to the odd Saturday night when they’d both had too much to drink, but even then, it was more of a per functionary act, than an act of love or passion. She had deluded herself into believing he would always love her, fat or thin. Obviously that wasn’t the case.
Determined to do something proactive, Karen went to the kitchen and opened all the cupboards where she kept the treats she cheered herself up with on a regular basis. She then divided it all between two large carrier bags, before putting one in each of the kid’s bedrooms. God knows, neither of them needed to lose weight, so it was only fair they weren’t deprived just because she did.
Karen was tempted to pour what was left of her bottle of brandy down the sink, but hesitated as she started to unscrew the cap. It was one thing to remove all the tempting nibbles out of sight, but her relationship with brandy was a different matter. Now her leg was beginning to heal, she had no excuse to take it for the pain, so she had to learn to manage how much she drank, instead of just hiding it away. There was a quarter of a bottle left, and she was determined it wouldn’t be touched until she’d lost at least forty pounds…