The theme of this year’s Dragonfly Tea competition was ‘discovery’, here’s my submission…
“Where are you? Are you hiding again?”
Yes I am hiding. I clasp a hand over my mouth to stifle a giggle. She’ll find me in a moment. I always choose the cupboard.
“Mother? Will you come out please? This is silly.”
“Get away from the door Jane. I’m fine.”
“It’s lunchtime and you’ve not taken your tablets.”
I knew she’d react like this. If I want to be in the cupboard, I should just be in the cupboard. I feel frustrated tears rising and I’m angrily digging at the embroidered handkerchief scrunched in my palm.
“Shhh, I’ll take them later. Just go away.”
I just about hear my Daughter firing frustrated sounds to my Son-In-Law behind the door.
“There’s no reasoning with her when she gets like this” I think I hear her mutter.
I reach into the darkness and pull the wooden stool through the winter coats and slowly ease myself onto it. Now I’ve shrunk a little I can see directly through the keyhole again. I squint through and see her let out a single giant sob and fall into Martin’s arms. She’s angry at me and I’m not sure why.
Among the walking boots and old coats I’m most comfortable and settle deeper into the cupboard with the musty wool brushing my skin. I’m not hurting anyone, if anything it’s the opposite, surely? I’m out the way, they know where I am. I’m safe. I know she worries but she shouldn’t.
I feel through the fabric and find the lip of a pocket and without thinking my bad habits resurface: searching for toffees. I know I’ll be disappointed. All these are mine now and diabetes has shunned my sweet tooth. I fumble through my fusty anorak’s gritty pocket, past a smooth pebble and loose change, the rustle of success. Gotcha! I pull out a chocolate lime and despite its stickiness and my wavering sugar levels; I unfurl the wrapper without hesitation and pop it in my mouth.
In the dark, on my stool, I bury myself further into the coats and deeply nurse the sour sweet. Once George went to the DIY shop and put in a light for me, so we didn’t need to rely on our fading eyesight and sense of touch through wrinkled, shaking hands. But I like the darkness. Well, now I do.
The first time I was in this cupboard, Father found me completely hysterical. I was crying hard and gasping for air with cold damp knickers. He’d dragged me out and I received three smacks to my soaking behind for my mischief and worrying Mother.
I planned it as an experiment to see if they’d noticed my absence. It seemed like hours had passed and the novelty had worn off, replaced by severe disappointment. They hadn’t sent out a search party or even noticed! I found myself trapped. I was locked in and my comfy hidey-hole transformed into an upright coffin in seconds. I didn’t go back in the cupboard for years and soon developed a crippling fear of the dark.
But I was a practical child, lonely, and prone to self-diagnosis. So as a strong-willed ten year old I forcibly shut myself in the cupboard again, counted to one thousand, and proclaimed myself cured.
George never realised, but the cupboard always makes me think of him. Before walking up the steps of the registry office I was in here. At twenty-years-old I’d secreted myself in the darkest, tightest spot. I closed my eyes and breathed. I was hesitating. Two years before, when we’d just started dating, I’d taken to hiding his sweet little letters and love notes to me in a shoebox nestled under a dusty picnic blanket. It was at this moment, so unaccustomed to heels, I tripped on a small basket of scarves and discovered the box again. We were married an hour later.
“Iris, are you still in there?”
“Yes Martin, I’m here.”
“Oh good. It had gone a bit quiet and we got worried.”
“I’m still alive Martin. Thank you for checking. I’ll call if I’m not.”
“Ok, you do that.”
I feel him walk away in a smog of simmering irritation. I quite like that. I sit still until his footsteps melt away into the living room carpet.
They kept asking if I’d ever write again. I miss it. They’ve given up on me now. I trace the small loose floorboard under my seat and blindly feel around for the manuscript. It’s my final book. Now they’ve accepted I’m just an odd granny who forgets her bus pass and swapped her pen for a crochet hook, but that’s only half true. We’re not a wealthy family; the book’s buried here until I am. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe Jane will find the appeal of the cupboard after that. But I’m unsure she’ll find it, too quick to clear out and sell up. Maybe Daniel will discover it, as long as his inquisitive nature grows with him.
I hear a soft, quick padding of footsteps over the carpet. I freeze. The steps move hurriedly, stopping dead, then rushing off again only for the sound to return moments later. A smile stretches over my face and I mask my heavy breaths with the handkerchief. The scuttling returns, closer this time and halt right outside my hiding place. I watch the glimmer of the cupboard door handle twitch; I hold my breath, and hear the faint grunts of a struggle; the door is quite stiff. A crack of light seeps through and widens quickly as the door is swung open.
“Found you Granny!”
“Yes you have! Now it’s your turn to hide.”