Trouble with Anthea by R.T Hardwick

She’s pretty, isn’t she? Twenty-nine, long dark hair, sloe-coloured eyes, and the figure of someone painted by Raphael. The one called The Valeta – no, that’s a dance. I’ll have to look it up. La Velata, that’s it. She looks like the woman in La Velata. I ought to know, I’m her mother. 

My name’s Martha, by the way, though that won’t be of much interest to you. I named my daughter Anthea, after the ancient Greek goddess of flowers and floral wreaths. My daughter was born in March and Anthea was a poetic symbol of spring. It’s a fitting name, don’t you think? 

She’s let herself go since The Reptile left her. You just have to look at her to see that. That ice-blue ribbed sweater does nothing for her and the white slacks are only fit for the skip. It's been three months since she went to the hairdresser. It's been three months since she found herself single again. Good job there are no children - it would have been tough on them. 

You might wonder why I look a little careworn. I’m sure I’ve only developed crows feet recently, and I’ll never get rid of the bags below my eyes. I still look pretty good for fifty-five, despite my washday hands, and I’ve kept my slim figure. 

Well, Anthea’s back living with me and she hasn’t really been easy to get along with. I mean, 12, Bellshill Close is hardly a mansion, is it? - just a two up, one down terraced house. It’s one of these modern shoe-boxes thrown up in the seventies when there was an explosion of house-building hereabouts. 

If you look behind where we’re sitting, you’ll see the stairs to the bedrooms are in the lounge, cutting down the space and making the room seem claustrophobic. You should see the kitchen. It’s so small two people cannot pass each other without turning sideways. Anthea sits on the sofa day after day, looking at the wall, feeling sorry for herself. It’s ironic, isn’t it - my husband left me for a lipless doctor’s receptionist from Oswestry exactly a year ago, and now Anthea’s on the shelf as well. She doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about it. If I was her age, I’d be down the disco eyeing up the talent but she just sits there, with a vacant expression on her face like that fellow with a walrus moustache from Parks and Recreation on TV. 

You might wonder why I refer to Anthea’s ‘ex-’ as ‘the Reptile.’ You only have to look at him to see why. Shifty, restless eye movements, never looking at you directly, a lisping way of speaking as if he’s hissing, and a hairless face and body. I always wondered what she saw in him. He’d obviously been conducting an affair without her knowledge, because one day he left her a note which read: 

Sorry to tell you this, but I’ve found someone else and I’m moving in with her today. I’ll collect my clothes etc. on Wednesday when you’re round at the old bat’s. Goodbye and thanks for nothing.

I couldn’t care less whether he said I was an old bat or not. I was chuffed to bits that Anthea was rid of him and I looked forward to her hitching up with somebody handsome who works in a building society. I pointed out to her that you can get a cheap mortgage if you meet a man who works in a building society. 

Yet here she is, sitting on the sofa, slim legs tucked under her thighs, miserable as sin. She’s clutching one of those striped cushions I bought from IKEA as if it were a baby and it seems she has no intention of making an effort to meet any young men. I told her to join a book group, or an amateur dramatic society, even to go and join a church choir, for heaven’s sake. 

Even her girlfriends have abandoned her. I overheard one of them say that Anthea was no fun any more and when you rang her up, she would burst into tears over the phone. I don’t blame them – she's as morose as a chief mourner at a funeral. 

I’ve criticised her to her face, remonstrated with her, told her to get onto the internet to one of those dating agencies where everybody is grinning and seems perfectly matched with their chosen partner. There’s one bloke on the telly in one of those dating adverts who is grinning so widely it looks as if his face might split in half. 

None of this has done any good at all. 

Hello, there’s the phone. By George, Anthea’s stirred herself. She’s got up and answered it. The conversation is animated. She must know who she’s talking to. Oh, my word, there’s something I haven’t seen in weeks – a smile spreading across her face. She really is beautiful when she smiles. She speaks for a few minutes more, and replaces the receiver on its cradle with all the delicacy of a seamstress doing petit-point. 

She’s not smiling, she’s beaming. She speaks, and her words tumble out like confetti. ‘Mum, that was Derek. He’s finished with her. He says it was all a big mistake. She wasn’t what she seemed to be. She wouldn’t let him play football or have a night out with the lads. Mum, he wants to come back to me.’ 

It takes a while for all this to sink in and I am afraid my face drops like a portcullis. Pounding through my head is something I read at school, from Macbeth. It’s about a bloke who kills the King of Scotland or someone and cannot wipe the blood off his hands. He says something like ‘Get rid of that damned bloody spot.’ 

That’s what I hoped Anthea would do, but it seems she won’t. 

I suppose I’ll just have to put up with it. At least I’ll have my house back again.

Published in Issue #14

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