The stories are always about the exciting times; the battles and the princes, the adventures and the danger. But what happens when the last page is closed?
The stories tell of people who spend their entire lives happy. I’m can’t remember which stories, but I’m sure I got told them back in primary school, when the world was a far simpler and smaller place. At the time, I believed them. I have no idea why. It’s not like I had any experience in that field. Neither of my parents were happy.
Did I know that at the time? Maybe not. But surely some part of me was aware that the shouting and screaming equated to a certain degree of dissatisfaction. Either way, I grew up knowing I would one day find my prince and be happily married, then spend the rest of my life living after the last page was turned, where there were no ogres or evil witches or anything resembling interesting.
At the time, that was a wonderful thought. At the time, I’d have killed for the nothing interesting part of the fairy tales. The book finishes because everything that comes after is boring, relatively speaking. I’m not sure I could ever find living in a castle riding horses all day and ordered my servants around boring, but compared to fighting great battles or being held prisoner, it’s pretty dull.
Back then, that would have been perfect. Back then, that would have meant no shouting, no tears, no throwing stuff around, no doors being slammed, no alcohol breath, no missing dad for days on end. Back then, all I wanted was boring.
Now, it’s all I’ve got. Now, I’m so bored I could cry, if that wouldn’t upset my natural, simple, boring lifestyle. But it would, so I don’t. I merely write it down in my diary, just after my entry featuring what I had for breakfast this morning, the book I’m currently reading and what programs I watched today. There weren’t many. I get headaches if I stare at the TV too long.
Something happened last week that nearly upset the whole apple cart. Some cards came through the door and a couple of people phoned me, at least one claiming to be my granddaughter. I know, vaguely, that I have grandchildren, but I do my best to block them out. Noisy, scary, interesting things I’ll have no truck with.
But they did call and sang to me. Apparently, it was my birthday. 80 is a big age, they told me, why wasn’t I having a party? Once I’d stopped shaking I explained I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than attend a party, let alone throw one. They assured me they’d do the hosting, I just had to be there. I asked them if it was possible they throw me the party but I not attend. They laughed, like I was making a joke.
I’m 80. I forgot my birthday years ago, mostly because I knew I had children who’d always remind me, but also because I have no wish to be reminded I’m getting older. Old, now. The older I am, the less likely it is the prince will come and find me and whisk me away somewhere wonderful.
But then, I’m not sure I’m so keen on that, anymore. Because I’m bored. I glance down at my diary. It’s written there in black and white. In fact… I flick back and check yesterday. It’s written there as well, and the page before. I get back a whole month before I decide something should probably change. I never wanted the fairy tale, I just wanted the ending. Well, this is the ending and, aside from a few racey passages in the latest book I’m wading through, there’s not much here I’d recommend.
As a child, death didn’t really exist for me. It never occurred to me that the prince and princess would get old, or die. They would just go on, the same way Sleeping Beauty somehow remained young and virile whilst sleeping for a 100 years. I tried to explain the impossibility of that the first time they asked me to read to the grand kids. Worked wonders for getting out of doing story time.
But no one died or aged and that was how it should be. I don’t remember seeing my dad age, not until I was in my teens and looked at him one day to see someone I didn’t recognise. It wasn’t helped by the bloodshot eyes and fresh scar from last night’s drunken brawl, but that wasn’t enough to explain the change in his face. Truth was, he’d got older and I’d seen him so rarely, and looked at his face rarer still, that I just hadn’t noticed.
Death exists now. Dad died years ago and I mourned a whole hour before dancing a jig and spitting on his coffin. Mum joined me. Then she went two months later, leaving behind a note saying she couldn’t live without him.
I think that’s maybe when my heart went funny. I have bad things in my heart, like the bugs you find when you lift up a piece of fruit that looks fine on the top but is rotting and white and mouldy on the bottom. The day I found mum, spreadeagled across her bed with the pill bottle in her hand and foam coming out of her mouth was the day I knew there were no princes. But finding out that the abusive, sick piece of shit I called my father was still her prince was what banged in the final nail.
Love is a sick, twisted thing that makes no sense and is, very much, not boring. I glance down at my diary, then scrawl the words I’ve been searching for boring my entire life. Now I’ve found it and I want more.
I read them through a few times, then let them roll off my tongue. I don’t need to flick back to know I’ve written them before as well. How long have I been sitting here, lying to myself?
I pick up Will’s picture and stare at it. Tears come, though not many. I miss him. But he wasn’t my prince, not like I imagined. He gave me children and holidays and a warm body at night, and every other trapping of boredom I could wish for. He was the perfect husband for someone who no longer believed in fairy tales. So what is it about my 80th birthday that makes me want to believe in them again?
I think it’s because I can see an adventure over the horizon. A real, honest to god, exciting thing is about to happen and it’s something no amount of guide books or TV shows can prepare me for. And I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the unknown, to the change.
But at the same time, I’m terrified. Because I’ve spent my whole life doing nothing and now it’s come to an end. I have to do something, to make it worthwhile. You could say, and I’m sure people will once I’m in my own coffin, that I did plenty. Both of my kids are happy, their children are healthy and happy. I created people out of nothing but sweat and blind luck and that’s something to be proud of.
And they’re probably right. But there was no adventure in that. Raising kids is no fairy tale. In fact, I’d wager everything I have that the writers of fairy tales had no children. Just the same way I know the people on the radio who sing about love don’t have kids either. They sing about worlds those with kids will never inhabit.
So an adventure. My prince may not be coming, but I can always go to him. Or maybe I could just go it alone, find something I’ve never done and do it. I slip my diary onto my side table and take a deep breath. It feels like I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, drinking in the view and slurping the rich air. The canyon was beautiful. Me and Will were there for sunset and it was the most perfect temperature.
Now, I’m back there, feeling the same sense of possibility I had back then. I feel the skin on my forehead crumple up as I frown. That was an adventure. I believed in fairy tales then, if only for a few moments.
I push myself from my chair and stand, feeling the ground shift beneath me. I don’t remember when the ground started moving. A few years back, I suspect. Now, walking is like trying to balance on a barrel in water. But all I need to do is make it through the front door to my car, the rest will be easy. I haven’t driven in a while.
I grab the door frame and pause, chuckling to myself. Thinking of driving takes me back to Australia, to that island. What was it called? I tap the wood until the name crawls up from the depths of my memories. It surfaces and I grab for it, but it slips back down. Anyway, an island made of sand. We rented a Land Rover and drove up and down the beach and through the woods. I can remember whooping as we bounced up and down like we were on a trampoline.
Driving up my street will be much easier than that. Not as much fun, but it’s what’s at the end that matters. I make it to the door and stare down at my shoes. My daughter insisted I move to slip-ons a few years back, so I didn’t have to bend over so much, but they look a million miles away and I still have to get my heels in or I break down the backs.
I don’t need shoes. It’s a lovely day outside and I used to go barefoot all the time. Me and Will spent an entire week barefoot out in Thailand, though it was probably the stupidest thing we could have done. All kinds of creepy crawlies out there, but it was so warm I couldn’t bear the thought of having shoes on. We didn’t get bitten so I don’t suppose it matters now. We did have the most amazing food, though.
I catch a whiff of the food stalls we ate from and I’m taken back. It’s funny how simple things, boring things like food, can carry such powerful memories. I can still taste it. I can still hear him moaning at me when I used to pinch stuff from his plate. You have to try everything, don’t you?
We never took the kids there. We got them out to Singapore and some of the islands out in Indonesia. Sam was so thrilled because we saw a monitor lizard in the wild. It was bloody huge, I nearly wet myself, but Sam and Will couldn’t stop talking about it.
The front door is locked. I can’t remember locking it when I came in, but then, I can’t remember the last time I came in. My keys hang on the hook, so at least I got that right. I crack open the front door and take another deep breath. It’s not quite the Grand canyon, but it’s warm and clean and smells of the country.
From my front door, I’m looking across fields. Boring, nothing fields, covered in hedgerows. We used to go foraging in them, finding field mice and bird’s nests. Rachel would be in charge, making sure Sam didn’t disturb anything or scare anything, whilst Will and I ambled along behind, hand in hand. I’m so glad my kids speak to one another.
I think I have a brother. His dad wasn’t my dad, lucky sod. But I haven’t seen him in years. I didn’t really know him. Maybe I could find him. Maybe that’s my adventure. I check my keys are still in my hand, step out onto the drive way, and feel a hand grip tight around my heart.
It squeezes, like a baby gripping a piece of fruit, and all the juice I thought long since dried up comes out of me in a huge gush. Then I’m lying on the floor with my feet getting cold. Death’s coming. My last big adventure. Doesn’t feel much like an adventure anymore. Feels more like cold concrete and an ache in my chest. I wish I had Will’s picture with me. My prince. Should have stayed in my chair. At least I’m not bored.