“Out of that bed and into the bathroom!”, shouted Maude. Her head was wrapped in a scarf to keep the dust off. Her brows met in a permanent frown. Fred sleepily appeared from beneath the covers, his white legs revealing blue tracks of knotted veins. He was wearing only a short singlet and stray wisps of white hair stuck up from his small head. He shuffled into slippers, obeyed the command and entered the stark bathroom, looking stooped and defeated.
Maude was ready to attack, duster in hand, flicking it viciously around the room. She pulled tight the rumpled sheets, energetically beat the pillows into submission, and then flung the windows open. Her mouth was set into a thin hard line; she wore sensible lace up shoes and moved around like an angry bee. There was nothing soft or sloppy about Maude, everything in her cupboards was labeled and neatly stacked. Her rigorous cleaning even invaded poor Fred and his inner workings. He had found his tea gently frothing one morning, and discovered she was secretly administering liver salts in his morning brew. Under the scarf, Maude’s was hair short and neat, years ago it had been long and lustrous.
When she first met Fred, it resembled a thick glossy rope, almost to her waist. Fred had been attracted to her soft hair and supple body. He had pursued her vigorously; brought her flowers and taken her dancing until she accepted his marriage proposal.
There was very little joy in his life now; Maude was encased in a corset and no longer soft to touch. She had taken his ‘lucky’ jacket, the one he had worn to the races, thrown it into the bin last year.
Those wonderful days at the track, with an illicit cigarette, and the chance of a small win had been a source of sheer pleasure for Fred; it gave him a sense of belonging, and made up for the lack of warmth and human contact at home. For two years now he had been trapped in the house as Maude had restricted his access to any cash, so Fred had become quieter, visibly shrinking as Maude became stronger and more aggressive.
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Fred peered from the bathroom as she left to feverishly clean everything in her path. He mused for a moment about the past. Yet even then when she had a peachy complexion and gentle curves she was known for her cruel tongue. His friends often said it would ‘strip paint’. They had warned him against marrying her, but Fred with desire, didn’t hear them. There had been a brief period of serene gentleness in those first years they were together. For a while she was a warm perfumed refuge after his days at work. They had made love in the early mornings and curled together on cold nights. However, she then changed; their only son Robin said, “I can’t stand the thought of ending up like Dad, the poor old sod has no life at all. Mum has him scrubbed of all initiative, and he’s given up”. Jack his mate agreed; it was sad. Robin took the first chance he could to escape. He travelled to the backwoods of Canada, grew his hair long and wore open toed sandals. He lived with an assorted band of men, some of them gay, or at the very least merry.
When Robin left, Fred had no ally; he coped as well as he could. He developed a ploy to drown out the constant whine of her voice or of the vacuum cleaner. He wore earphones and stayed in bed, listening to race results or anything to avoid his wife’s nagging.
That sunny morning Maude poured streaming hot suds down the drain.She observed with satisfaction the shiny bubbles upstairs in the cold bedroom with the shining floor, suddenly there was silence; Maud abandoned her bucket and took a stiff walk upstairs, “It’s nearly nine you know, when are you going to get up? I’ve been out there working for two hours already, it’s alright for you!” She went on flicking her duster as she flounced across the room. Stupid man she thought, turning back towards the bed, how silly he looks in that singlet; like a plucked chicken, all goose bumps and hairs. “For goodness sake, get up!” she shouted, not realising at first that none of her words were reaching Fred, nor would they ever again. The racing results played into his unheeding ears. Fred was beyond her voice now. He was free.
Far away in Canada a wild goose landed on the water. The sounds of laughter echoed through the forest as Robin and his men chased each other, the warm sunlight playing on their bare skin.
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