:: Article

Blanch

By Caitlin Ingham.

 

 

 

Blanch was made up of different shapes and styles; Minimal, Western, Feminine and Mock-Tudor all combined to form the residential buildings. The Garden and the Stadium were just a little further out. It all encircled a small factory that moaned in constant minor production, cranking away and heaving out deposits like something volcanic. The factory produced upmarket specialist vegetarian cooking equipment, mainly a kind of utensil that turned celeriac into little cheerios. The machines basically took care of themselves, but a number of Blanchers worked on the final production and packaging stages. It was a rite of passage to sneak into the factory at midnight when you hit twelve or thirteen. Barry Green deemed this the ‘Blanch Mitzvah’ and we had all had one.

Older inhabitants had occasionally likened the aesthetic of Blanch to a defunct airport, but for me it was fairly the whole world. Emotionally speaking, I’d venture Blanch was largely a tetchy place, although this atmosphere altered rapidly with the inspiration of a new project. There was a quick turnaround of projects; an idea or theme would inevitably crawl out of the works and overtake the contemporary pastime. Projects for the main group would usually last between a month and six months. Projects for the fractional or transient members could keep going for years. A lazy type of earnestness was rampant; it was easier, actually sort of vital, to be serious about the endeavours. And furthermore these hobbies were appealing! Meaningful and delightful and with potential to better personal intrigue. When a new project took hold, joy and confirmation saturated the crowd; every comment, every idea, every constructive tidbit all glossed and fortified. Shoes on your feet would look newish. Voices grew hoarse from invigorated chatter. Giant notepads were reeled out and scrawled on, discarded motions peeled off into scrunches that blew wonkily across the ground. I collected these notes, all of them that I could. At nighttime I would place them in a polythene bag and walk them back to my portacabin.

Everyone was at the presentation. Blanch felt quiet in a way I’m not sure we’d ever encountered before. The sun winked like a pervert on the half mile stretch of Garden. I suppose Garden was actually a park, but we all pretentiously and addictively referred to as ‘Garden’. We both stopped to stare at the land that was, on any other day, filled with Gardeners toiling and chuntering in the pots. For every periwinkle blossom there was usually the drone of a conversation on cactus fungus prevention; for every patch of furry green lawn, there was Angela Deterrer or Saul Constanza doubled over, prodding the earth with a mini-spade and farting gently into the air. But how irresistible Garden looked without its keepers! Full of potential. Dedicated flower patches with slug glitter on the stems. They had cajoled squares of earth into mounds of petals, slopped heaps of colour next to dried dirt and plastic gravel. It was a showy contrast; all the subtlety of a teenage dance recital. Made it seem as if weather didn’t exist. One passage of Garden would be a manic perfectionism of regimented bulbs, the other an excess of strewn weeds and wild flowers, all tangled, stubborn sprouts from knots of moss. Glancing from a section to the next was like looking around a party where in one corner people were playing chess and in the other they were pole dancing. The blood had subsided a little and I had wedged a ball of clean socks in my underwear as a buffer. Mary Alice and I had our elbows in a lattice, her breath on my earlobe.

‘This is obscene.’ Mary Alice muttered, ‘Why don’t we ever get to see this?’

‘We do! We come for showtime every Wednesday.’

‘Filled to the rafters with morons! You can barely move on those days, I just have to sit there
and sweat. But this is glorious. They have done something beautiful here, haven’t they?’

‘Maybe I should join the Garden Society?’

‘Oh no. It could be a handsome back up option for you but you have to keep going with your
personal statements Sweetness.’

‘But it’s a solid thing to do.’

‘Only today. It is only truly good right in this second.’

I rejigged my pant socks, which felt halfway soaked. Mary Alice was squatting in between the flowers, the plume of petals thick enough to envelope her barrel. The degree of change in that day was obnoxious. It was like spring impersonating spring and was all too much and completely right.

‘I thought we really had to go to the presentation?’ I nudged Mary Alice.

‘Oh I know. We will in a second.’

‘You were the one forcing me to go! I thought you were terrified of the repercussions?’

‘It just really feels like rules aren’t something we should be mindful of anymore. How did I never realise that Garden just needed to be empty? I could almost die here Sweetness. Oh if I wasn’t so old and fat I’d sit on top of that tree and look down at all of these beautiful plants.’

I tried not be pissed off but Mary Alice had shown an ugly side. A display of her priorities, that was clear. A daughter in need was a mild hiccup in her day, but an unattended stroll through Garden was worth everything she had. It was hard not to take the strength and sudden birth of happiness personally when her moods had always been so elusive and so rigidly tied to her own work. I marched passed her and groped the tree trunk and then hoisted myself on up, swinging my thighs and inserting my limbs through the tangled centre. Spread out up there, I was nearly a part of that tree. I laughed at the lazy Blanch skyline from several feet up. I meant to evoke some envy in her with my youthful agility but Mary Alice actually whooped with pleasure, on seeing me. I softened to her very slightly, for that.

‘How is it? How’s the view?’

‘You can see the bees. Their little wings are going so fast.’

‘Oh you save this up for your statement, Sweetness baby. I’ll sprawl out among these roots
and look up to you.’

‘I’m not sure how long I can stay up here. I’m still bleeding.’

‘Ah I know, you’re leaking away. One day you’re like that and before you know it you find
yourself a crinkle like me. You should enjoy that vitality between your legs. What do the cauliflowers look like from up top?’

‘Sort of like wrinkled faces.’

‘Well, that sounds wonderful. God, those bees! Such a sound. The irony that you can never usually hear it with all of that terrible stomping and hacking. Can’t usually smell the flowers for all that sweat.’

She looked so pleased with herself, as if hearing the bees required some innate talent. Such smugness. It irritated me. She started stroking the leaves and pressing them like she was testing a product. I tried to focus on the height of my seat and feeling of my legs being looped over the branches. The quiet felt lavish because of the rush we’d abandoned. I wasn’t bothered whatsoever that my sock was now squidged sideways and redundant and I was probably bleeding right on to the bark of the tree. Mary Alice sat at the bottom and briefly stroked my ankle.

‘This thing in your body though, it will really lock some pattern in.’

‘How?’

‘Lots of ways. With your statements. You forget the back-end of what you were saying the
month before, don’t you? I know you have trouble with that. You feel sick looking at points that previously you would have ran across a yard to defend? Well, now every month you’ll get a rush of a thing, you’ll get a little woozy and needy. Your mind could have been hallucinating, could have been bored rigid, but your body will be producing the same old fake blood. Sometimes the movements your body will have undergone will be more profound than any of your month’s mental offerings.’

Her arm punched out into a point.

‘Oh look at those vines, those purple creeper vines, twisting up and out like that! Sweetness, its easy to forget how strong nature is when you’re a crusty like myself. It can all feel so dried up that you forget that things happen of their own accord. If you think dripping isn’t all that nice, think how much better it is than drying. Your cells are doing something besides dying.’

She sighed and pulled at my ankle and gazed up at me. ‘Your flesh is burgeoning, my dear. You’ve been put into action.’

I suppose I hadn’t clocked the extent of my inactivity before this. Mary Alice had been wearing a loop of the same t-shirts for three years. I could picture the juice stains on them all in my sleep, yet I never thought of her as inactive. The saddest thing about her speech was how much I might have loved it if that was an option for me.

‘Can we get to the presentation now please?’

‘Leave it honey, just leave it a while.’

I thudded down from the tree and walked a little down the path. I stopped to look at a hot pink globular bloom and Mary Alice came up my rear.

‘Sit down, Sweetness honey. Just sit down and the ground here and relax. We’ll have another two minutes and then we’ll go the presentations. Come on, Sweetness, Sweetie. Tell me what’s on your mind. What else has been happening with you, besides the obvious? What is your news?’

I nodded at her questions. The rocks along the path were smooth like little glass shits. ‘Mary Alice, they have polished and buffered and varnished all the rocks here.’

‘Yes, it looks like they have.’

‘Has either of us ever completed a task with that dedication?’

‘You know I have and I know you have.’

That answer pleased me and we moved steadily down the path. Mary Alice stopped cooing at the flowers. She had been so consumed by sight of those plants! I felt a little squeamish, seeing it. One of the most odious edges of my personality was my habit of recognising something good in another person and barely celebrating it before succumbing to a heavy envy. Spontaneous goodness always seemed hard to accomplish. I had smiled at the smell of the organised pollen but Mary Alice was having an extraterrestrial experience.

Mary Alice requested that I sit on a stool outside of her house. She was only gone a minute or so before reappearing with some provisions for me and two fat sedative pills for the both of us. She had a little outhouse which I normally avoided due to its crustiness and all of the cockroach anecdotes. I used the hose to blast my crotch down with freezing water, so I was sodden but clean. The stains in my underwear weakened somewhat but still made me think of murdered housewives. Through the gap under the door, Mary Alice coaxed me through the tampon insertion with rocket metaphors and jock chants. When I finally got it in she whooped and yelled ‘¡Arriba, Arriba!’. I rejigged my underwear and checked the string was still there. I walked out of the outhouse with a sad sort of swagger, swallowing my sizeable pill without a sip of water. Mary Alice could be effectual, despite her laissez-faire persona. We both had personality rashes and we both actually struggled with background noise.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caitlin Ingham has an MA from UEA, where she was the recipient for the Seth Donaldson Memorial Bursary for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in A Women’s Thing, Words and Women Anthology Two and The White Review.

Her short story “Blanch” was selected as one of two runners up in the inaugural Desperate Literature Prize 2018 by judges Euan Monaghan, Hestia Peppe and Eley Williams.

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK
Found image, edited and manipulated by 3:AM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 5th, 2018.