Margaret Henderson Smith Margaret Henderson Smith
Margaret Henderson Smith
‘In trouble again!’

We’re up very early. Up very early to get the rest of the Christmas presents into the loft before all our rosy apples arrive. I’m watching my better-half disappearing the ladder into the hatch. I’m watching the smile breaking across his face. I’m watching him return to handsome. It’s been some time since I’ve seen him looking like this.

‘All done! At last!’ he says. ‘Now are you sure you’re not going back to ‘Spendsomemoremoney.com?’

‘No!’ I’m reassuring him. ‘All finished! All the Christmas shopping’s finished now.’ 

I’m in trouble again! I’m saying ‘No’ but I’m meaning ‘Yes.’

I’ve been checking the lists. Checking them all. I see they’re not even. I’m recalling the sacks. I’m feeling bad. Big apple’s tied off at less than a third of the way up. A third of the way up when most of the boxes destined for the rest of the sacks were just too big to go in.

It’s not going to do! She’ll be feeling left out! No big boxes! I’m back to the list. Only one doll in a car! I really need two! I can see it now. Me? In trouble again! No, I couldn’t leave it like that. I’m expecting some parcels. I’ve been on the scroll! Googling away! I’m oozing success! Such a cooperative store breezed into my life. All half price! Buy two get three! And that’s just what I did! A JCB trike! A huge big game! Now wait for it! A doll with more brains than body! A doll intent on keeping warm. A doll wrapped in furs sitting behind the wheel of her sports car keeping warm. I’m breathing a sigh of relief. No making and mending for this one on Christmas Eve!

I fear a huge big box. It’s coming today. I’m keeping quiet. I’ll have to smuggle it in. Smuggle it in or I’m in trouble again! I’m watching from the rain streaked window. I’m hopping around in case it arrives. I’m looking for a van and I’m thinking about a window cleaner. There’s one in the road. I’m thinking of asking him. I’m thinking of not. I’m having a dilemma! I’ll tell you later.

I’m still looking out. I can see Rosy apples car parking on the drive. They’re coming in ahead of their mummy. Mummy hidden behind lunch boxes. Hidden behind school bags, water bottles, coats and cardigans. She manages to speak. She’s got something to tell me if rosy apples will let her. They’re excited! So excited! Diving upstairs. Diving downstairs. Leaping around us. This morning they’ve opened another window on their advent calendars. Big apple’s putting me in the picture.

‘I got a snowman this morning,’ she’s saying, pointing to middle apple. ‘She’s just eaten her chocolate shepherd!’

‘Doesn’t yours have chocolate, too?’ I’m asking.

‘Of course it does. All the shapes are made of chocolate!’

I’m getting a ‘How could you not know that look?’ I’m in trouble again!

‘I’m going to be a shepherd.’ Littlest apple’s wanting us to know.

Rosy apples’ mummy’s in a hurry. She dumps the lot and squeezes a word in. She’s had a phone call. It’s presents again! Duplicate presents! Oh no, we’ve doubled up on Double-D dolls, littlest apple’s mummy and me. Another Double-D doll and her freezer will be travelling up. Heading north on its way up to middle apple. I’m flapping about.

‘It’s OK, she’ll change it.’ I’m being told. 

I’m feeling bad, littlest apple’s mummy can do without having to change it before they come up. Because of me! I expect this doll was front of the shop. Front of the shelves in the shop standing right by the door. Standing right by the door just waiting to leap into her basket. With her great big freezer! Oh no! I’m in trouble again!

We’re on our way out taking rosy apples to where they all go. They’re drawing Christmas into the mist on the windows. Middle apple’s drawn me a heart. It reminds me of something. Something I’d rather forget! They’re chattering away in the back of the car. It’s all about concerts. Babbling away! All fighting for air time.

‘I’m going to be a shepherd,’ little apple ‘s telling us again.

‘Oh, that’s nice!’ I say. ‘And is mummy making your costume?’

 I’m holding my breath. When big apple was little-only-apple she was a shepherd, too. She was a shepherd extolling the virtues of red wine from the tea-towel wrapped round her head!

No answer! Little apple’s thinking. I’m thinking too. I’m thinking of yesterday’s shopping. I’m thinking I must put those bottles of wine away in case they get knocked over. The silence is broken.

‘No! She bought it in the shop.’

‘Oh that’s nice!’ I’m saying. I’m breathing a sigh of relief!

We’re on our way back. I’m dreading the van. I’m thinking fast. I’m thinking of ways to keep my better-half away from the front. I’m thinking of windows. I’m thinking of back windows. Back windows needing cleaning! Needing cleaning for Christmas.

‘Right, I’m getting on with sorting all the bottles out. That’s if I can find them!’ My better-half’s looking at me.

‘Actually I was wondering about the windows. About the windows at the back. It’s Christmas! Do you think they need cleaning?’ I enquire.

‘What’s wrong with getting a window cleaner? As it happens there’s one in the road,’ he replies.

Oh there’s plenty wrong with a window cleaner. I’ll tell you about it. I’ll tell you the story of when I was too young to know better! We’d not long been in our very new house. Our very new house on the edge of the countryside. First to move into the first to be built on the very first row of this newly developing estate. Our very first house move well before The Big 40! That’s why I didn’t know better! We are gathering neighbours. I’m recommended a window cleaner. He arrives. He’s a pleasant guy. He’s a pleasant guy but I’m not into window cleaners. Oh, it’s not that they don’t do a good job, it’s more about where you hide whilst they’re doing it. I’m dodging around. I’m thinking he’s finished. He is! He rings the doorbell.

‘Can I leave my ladders on your front lawn whilst I’m having lunch?’ He’s smiling as he’s asking.

I’m saying ‘Yes’ when I’m meaning ‘No’. I’m trying to pay him but he won’t take it. He’s insisting on ‘later’ when he’s collecting his ladders. Later’s eternity! He’s smiling away. I’m passing him the money. He’s wanting to talk. He’s looking around.

‘You know people could think we’re having an affair if they’ve seen my ladders on your front lawn like that!’

I nearly die! I can’t believe it! I’m totally flummoxed. I’m telling him I’m in a hurry. I’m telling him I must go. I close the door. I’m rushing upstairs. I’m peering round the curtain. I’m feeling though I’ve just stopped breathing. He’s heaving his ladders to the top of his van. He’s opening the door. He’s getting in. He’s driving away. I’m thinking that’s it! No more of him! I’m feeling wobbly! Just like Harriet!

We’re catching the spindrift on the windows. Week after week we’re catching the spindrift on the windows.

‘What happened to the chap that used to do them?’ My better-half’s asking.

I’m shrugging my shoulders.

‘I’m sure you could find at least one with all these houses going up?’ He’s not letting go.

We need a window cleaner and I’m dodging a plasterer. He’s round and about correcting the faults. He’s just finished working on ours. He’s smiling. He’s friendly. He’s too friendly. Too friendly for me! I’m in trouble again! I’m going like jelly waiting for him to leave the house. Waiting for him to  reach the door. I’m thanking him. Waving him off. Closing the door. I’m breathing a sigh of relief! I’m feeling just like Harriet!

My better-half’s right. There are loads of window cleaners around. I’m answering the door saying ‘Yes’ when I really mean ‘No!’ I’m answering the door to another bucket and sponge. Another set of ladders and two eager faces. I’m breathing a sigh of relief! I don’t pay them now. They want it on Thursday. I hide my relief. I hide until they go.

It’s Thursday. I’m off with my chicks, we’ll be bussing it to school. I’m seeing a van driving towards us. He’s slowing down. He’s stopping. Oh no! It’s that jovial plasterer.

‘What’s wrong with your car?’ he’s asking.

‘It’s in for repair,’ I’m telling him.

‘Jump in the van. I’ll give you a lift.’

I’m politely refusing. I’m in trouble again! He’s smiling and waving. We’re catching the bus. He’s following us down. I’m on my way back. I’m walking back home. He pulls up his van. He’s offering a lift. I politely refuse. He’s not smiling and waving as I’m walking away. Oh no! I’m in trouble again! I’m feeling just like Harriet!

We come home from school. We get in the house. Biggest chick’s looking out of the window pointing to the newly plastered house at the back.

‘Look up there!’ she’s giggling. ‘Look up there, someone’s written ‘I love you!’

I’m in a flap. I’m in a spin. I’m getting their tea and I’m in a spin. The doorbell rings. I’m paying the window cleaners, in a spin. I close the door just seconds before my better-half comes home from work.

‘Have the window cleaners just called here?’ he’s asking.

‘Yes,’ I’m telling him. I’m still in a spin. ‘I’ve just paid them. Why?’

‘I’ve just overheard them talking, that’s all.’

‘Why? What did they say?’ I’m asking.

‘I wouldn’t mind doing the rounds with that one!’ My better-half’s not looking pleased. My head’s in a spin.

‘Doing the rounds? Me up a ladder? They’ve got to be joking!’ I say.

‘Not quite what they meant!’ My better-half’s looking out of the back. Looking out to the newly plastered house at the back. He’s looking up at the window. The window filled with writing. Oh no! I’m in trouble again! I’m definitely feeling just like Harriet!

Back to today. I’m in the middle of washing. I’ve left it all to look out of the window. I’m watching a van pulling up. I’m rushing downstairs. I’m opening the door. My better-half’s chatting to the van driver. Chatting to the window cleaner. Holding a box the size of a house, chatting to them both. I’m holding my breath. He’s walking towards me. This window cleaner’s walking towards me. He’s smiling away.

‘Yes! No probs! Would you like me to start today?’ He’s still smiling. He smiles and winks as he’s walking away. My better-half’s coming. He lowers the box. He’s not looking pleased. ‘Oh no! I’m in trouble again!

‘Come here a minute!’ he’s saying.

I’m following him in. He’s plonking the box down in the hall. I’m expecting the worst! We’re on our way to the utility and I’m suddenly remembering I’ve been emptying the tumble dryer. Draping the laundry all over his bottles before folding it up.

‘Where else could I put it?’ I’m asking. ‘You’ve taken up all of the space!’

‘It’s not that I’m talking about. The three bottles of red you got yesterday? I can’t find them anywhere!’ 

I’m looking around, then I’m looking across. Looking across to the other side of the sink. I’m looking at a tea-towel draped over wine bottles. I’m reminded of something funny. I’m lifting it off. There’s only two! I’m in trouble! Golly gosh! I’ve paid for three and only picked up two! Buy three get two! I’ve left one behind! I’m reminded of something definitely not funny. I’m reminded of the box in the hall! Oh no! I’m in trouble again! Just like Harriet! I must escape from my better-half.  It’s been some time since I’ve seen him looking like this!

 

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