Talking to Strangers
K. A. Laity
I do talk to strangers. You don’t mind, do you? I know some people do. They move away from me on the bench, even if it’s raining and they get all wet. Sometimes I can understand. You want a bit of quiet, you want to think your thoughts. I feel that way sometimes, too. The thoughts they have a way of getting out or getting in, up in your brain like, I guess. They want to have a wander, they want to let you see the shape of them and hear their voices and sometimes that’s not bad at all.
Do you want a bite of my sandwich? It’s fresh. I just got it out back of the shop there. No one else but me has eaten it. No? Well, if you change your mind, don’t be shy.
Thoughts was it? I was thinking. We are all thinking. All the time. My husband used to say that’s why he drank. Joking like, you know, only joking—or was he? Sometimes I wasn’t sure. He had that deadpan wit, that quiet sort of way, only joking he would say and sometimes I figured, as you do, sometimes I figured he was only saying so, you know what I’m going to say, only saying so when he had been caught out and it wasn’t a joke at all just a thing he wanted to say and then walk back from as if he had never said it or meant it or not.
He was always like that. God rest his soul.
No, no: not dead. He’s alive last I knew. I think I saw him in town about a year ago, hurrying along to the betting shop. Getting his little flutter in. Like the drinking it was never so much, just a bit to distract him. Mostly from me. I think he regretted things, as you do, as we all do sometimes. The baby, I regretted the baby. We regretted the baby, I mean. A mistake, after all. A mistake when the house is not full of love. Babies need love. Babies need care. Constant care. You have to be there all the time. You have to be attentive. He wasn’t going to be the one. It had to be me.
I can share my chocolate bar. Shall I break off a piece? No? On a diet. Young thing like you shouldn’t worry about slimming. You never regret the chocolate. That’s one thing I can say for sure. Never regret the cakes or the biscuits. No. Children though, you regret them.
I haven’t thought of them in years. Children I mean. We can live our whole lives without them, you know. It’s not just modern women. In my time, too. Lots of women, lots, decided they could do without. That was the age of the pill. You take it for granted now. But in my day—
Oh listen to me! Talking like my gran, like I said I would never do. ‘In my day’ well, we all know things were different in the past though not always as much as we guess. Same as in my gran’s day because the priests you know, the priests said it was sinful so we had the babies we didn’t want and had to live with it make the best of it. That’s the way it was.
And it wasn’t what I meant to do, none of it. Didn’t really want a baby, not once I found out that I got tired of him. You can’t imagine how dull men are when they have you, when they don’t care to please you anymore. Just want a mum to clean up after them, feed them, bring them tea.
And all the time you have to be fussing with another baby, too, one that cries and screams and has the most foul smelling poo you ever could imagine in your life. No, wait until you find out for yourself. So foul.
And just a moment’s distraction. Well, a few minutes. I was only away a moment. The bath is—well, we should have had little baby one but himself didn’t want to buy it. Only a minute or so. The water was cold, I told them, because I was always afraid of scalding that tender skin. Really. Sad, it was, but he looked pretty as a doll once he was quiet.
Don’t you want a bite?