All The Good Things
It's my turn today on the Blog Tour for All the Good things by Clare Fisher. I hope you enjoy an extract I have for you.
All the Good Things
1. Smelling a baby’s head right into your heart
2. Running until your body is a good place to be
3. When two people love each other enough to share silence
4. Friends you can be weird with
5. Curling up in a fleece blanket, in your own home
6. Reading out loud to people who listen
7. Flirting on orange wednesday
8. Falling asleep with your legs tangled up in someone else’s
9. When you’re so happy it hurts
10. When your body finally grows up
11. Owning up to bad things you’ve done
12. Telling the truth in club toilets
13. A soft ear in hard times
14. How cats can find sun to lie in, even on a cloudy day
15. Baby bellies
16. When your mum wraps a scarf around your neck
17. Doing the things that scare you most
18. Running as fast as the thames flows
19. Knowing that whatever else changes, you will get up at the same time every day
20. When a baby bites your nipple like it will never let go
22. The promise of a blank page
1. Smelling a baby’s head right into your heart
Of all the good things that have ever been in me, the first and the best is you. Every single part of you, from your stroke-able earlobes to the hope curled up in your toes. Remember that. Remember it when the dickheads say you’re a bad or a so-what thing. Remember it when you’re convinced the good things are jammed behind other people’s smiles. Remember it the hardest when you feel like nothing at all.
Writing a list of good things may seem pretty retarded – at least, that’s what I said when Erika brought it up. I didn’t know Erika before they put me in here but now we have to put up with each other for a whole hour every week. She has these geekster glasses that make her eyes look bigger than any person’s should; when I said the word ‘retarded’, they grew so big, it was like she knew everything about me and about the universe and about whatever lay outside the universe, and that made me feel small, and so I jumped up, gripped the back of my chair and said, ‘I’m not a retard.’
I waited for Erika to shout. Or press whatever button she had to press to bring the screws running. Instead, she sighed like I was some telly programme she wished would change into a better one.
I let go of the chair and sat back down.
‘Now,’ she said, laying her hands flat on the table between us. They were red raw and peeling, like she’d forgotten to wear washing-up gloves. ‘Why don’t you explain why you used that word – retard.’
‘I don’t know, do I? I open my mouth, the words come out. End of story.’
‘That’s one way of looking at it,’ said Erika. ‘But there are others. For example, I, like you, know what it is to be a mum. I’ve got three kids.’ The way her face moved, even a blind man could’ve clocked how much she loved them. Would a blind man have clocked how much I loved you? Would anyone?
‘One’s mad on football,’ she went on, ‘the other on Harry Potter, the third on spiders and spaceships. One hates loud noises, the other hates to eat anything round. It just so happens that one of them is autistic. But they’re all as real as each other.’ She paused and wiggled her eyebrows – eyebrows which, FYI, hadn’t been threaded or even plucked. ‘Do you see?’
The grown-up reply would have been sorry. And maybe: Thanks for talking to me like I’m just another mum. Like we’re just two human beings. But even though I’m twenty-one and have done 100% TM certified grown-up things like wash up my own plates in my own flat, rubber gloves and all; even though I’ve had a job and a boyfriend and a baby, grown-up isn’t always the way I am on the inside. I slumped down in my chair and mumbled, ‘Whatever.’
‘There are lots of ways to look at every person, and words like “retard” are dangerous because they make us believe there’s just one story.’
I opened my mouth but no words fell out, not even an almostword, like ‘Oh.’
‘I bet,’ she said, patting her grey-streaked boy-cut hair, ‘you know a thing or two about those kinds of words?’
Suddenly, Erika and her glasses and the custard yellow walls disappeared.
I was back in that courtroom, not knowing where to look because whether I looked at the judge and his wig or the clerk and her computer or the lawyers and their ring-binders or even the fake-wood walls, all I saw was the bad things I’d done. The things that stopped the other prisoners looking at me unless it was to give me the evils.
Erika’s voice shoved this memory to the part of my mind that’s a bit like the patch of carpet under the sofa: it’s close, dirty and dark, and although you mean to sort it out, you never do, because the only parts of you that ever see it are your ankles.
Back in the room, Erika was staring straight at me but for the first time in my life, I didn’t mind; there was no way of knowing what a person was or wasn’t thinking about me, and this was an OK or maybe even a good thing.
I opened my mouth and out came these words I’d no idea were there: ‘One of my foster mums, the fourth or like maybe the fifth, she was obsessed with cats.’
‘She loved them. If I said I felt ill, she’d tell me to stop making a fuss. But if the cat sneezed, she’d shove it into this dark plastic box and rush it to the vet. Before she put it in the box, it’d be OK – a bit dribbly or moody or whatever but basically OK. As soon as it clocked it was trapped, it went mental. Scratching and howling and yowling and shitting itself. Eventually, it’d go all saggy and depressed. Anyway, that’s how they make you feel – those kinds of words.’
Erika smiled like I’d done some better-than-good thing. I waited for her to tell me what it was; instead, she handed me this exercise book. ‘So you’ll have a go at the list?’
‘Haven’t seen a book like this since school. I’ll warn you now: I’m gonna get shit grades.’
‘I won’t give you a grade,’ she laughed. ‘I won’t even look at what you’ve written, not unless you want me to.’
I made my best whatever face, but my hands were all over it, stroking its rough recycled pages, because it was a long time since anyone had given anything to them or me, and the ending of this time felt good. ‘What’s the point then?’
‘The point is for you.’
‘Write down the good things about my life?’
‘But what if . . . I can’t think of any?’
If you’ve never seen a sad smile, you should’ve seen hers just
then. ‘You will.’
‘Oh well. At least it’s something to do.’
I tucked it into my waistband and stalked out. It jiggled against my pants, and the only way to stop it falling down the left leg was to walk weird, but I didn’t care, because every time I bent my leg I was reminded of you.
I was alone again at dinner that night but I didn’t care. For the first time since arriving here three weeks ago, the shaking in my hands stopped. I even managed to stuff in a few mouthfuls of the brown stuff that was meant to be chicken curry. The noise of other girls talking and eating and laughing was just as loud, but it didn’t poke holes in my heart. When I was locked back in my cell, I didn’t mind the silence, or the blank space where the handle should be on the door. I was remembering your eyelashes; how they were thick and black from the moment you were born, a heart-breaker, said the nurses. Or the way you’d murmur in your sleep, as if you were already dreaming the best dreams. If it was a really good one, you’d blow a spit bubble. The way you’d curl and stretch your toes when I changed your nappy. Best of all was the ridiculously delicious smell of your head; pressing my nose to your fluffy hair and breathing in deep was better than any drink or drug or new phone or any other thing people buy to feel good; I’d breathe it right down into my heart. Making you into a shape on the paper would be the next best thing to the thing I’d already done, i.e. making the actual you.
Who knows? Maybe, despite everything, this list will find its way to the you that I imagine growing up with some other mum, somewhere far from here. I hope this list, whatever it turns out to be, will show you that whatever bad or non stories you might hear about me and about the way your life began, they aren’t the only ones. You might think I’m retarded for hoping such a thing in the light, or rather the dark, of everything that’s happened. But you know what? I think it’s good. I think it’s a good thing to find hope where any other person would agree