‘Scissors’ by Jane Pearn

VHBNQYX. Not much potential there. My last two turns have yielded turd and shite. Unfortunate, but you have to use the letters available. Lucky this is an online game with a stranger, so I don’t need to apologise. Tweezeepeasie’s avatar is a cat wearing a garland. Though probably they’d call it a lei – such a useful little word to slot in a gap. Not a high-scorer though. Bethany says I’m addicted, but at least it’s not gin. She’s a good daughter, takes an interest. But she’s busy, and sometimes months go by. She says not, says she phones often. Her brother’s another story. I envy my friends with grandchildren, with their interests to encourage and crazes to learn about. None for me though. Shame. I could have taught them my favourite game.


I miss playing in real-life on a real board: Alan and I were evenly matched. And I miss those sparkling days when we’d take the boat out on the river, and feel young again. That was where we met, the rowing club. It’s been five years since he died. Rowed away, if you like. I find time passes in lurches. Sometimes I think he’s upstairs, other times I forget his face. Sketchy yoga today, just a few twists and stretches. But I like doing yoga nidra. I cover myself with the yak blanket we bought at that monastery, and mentally visit each part of the body. I like to feel the way it’s all connected. I make a point of giving each part its proper name – patella, femur, pelvis, scapula, clavicle, biceps. It takes a bit longer now to retrieve the words, and sometimes I lose my place and have to start all over again.


I saw Fiona in the street this morning – wanted to ask about her husband and whether he was home from hospital. But I’d forgotten his name. She probably thought I was ignoring her, but I was embarrassed. I couldn’t ask How’s your husband? when I knew him before I knew Fiona. In fact I introduced them, after her first husband died. He was Donald. David. That’s it. David. Too late now. I suppose I could phone with a story about being in a hurry earlier. And write down his name – both their names – before I phone. Yesterday I made myself smile. I wanted something, not a hat, to wear for the great-niece’s wedding in Portugal. One moment I had the word and the next it had vanished. I knew there was an F and it had four syllables. The nearest I could get was fibrillator, which wasn’t close enough for Google to hazard a guess. So I went at it sideways and searched for hair flower. And there was the word, fascinator, as if it had never been away. It felt as if it was taunting me. Actually, it was quite frightening – not really funny at all. It made me a bit nervous about travelling to the wedding. Suppose they ask at the check-in desk for my destination, and I momentarily forget? Or come up with a similar-sounding airport? I know they wouldn’t send me there, but I’d feel ashamed.


Strange how it’s the names of things, the nouns, that leak away. You’d think words that are some of the first we learn – teddy, milk, ball, hat – would be more embedded. You don’t find yourself struggling to say if the cup has fallen behind the table or on it or under it, or trying to remember the colour of grass. Or for that matter, confusing hello and goodbye. I’ve taken to naming objects as I go through the day. I’ll have to be sure I don’t start doing it when I’m out. It’s one thing to mutter at your shopping list, and maybe get a sympathetic smile from a passing stranger. But I wouldn’t want to be ranging along the shelves chanting oranges, apples, parsnip, onion, bananas. Maybe that’s the real point of extended families under one roof, so the elderly spend time with babies, naming things as they go. Babies need that.


I managed the trip, though I spent the flights worrying that I was on the wrong plane. I think I asked more than once. There may have been moments at the wedding, but I could blame the champagne, even if I didn’t drink any. It was a big hotel. I kept ending up on the wrong floor for breakfast and having to ask. Didn’t understand the shower in my room, it wasn’t like mine. Used the sink instead. Glad to be home.


A walk in the woods. Nettle, buttercup, chaffinch, fireweed, beech, chestnut, backscratcher. Sometimes a word appears out of nowhere. Maybe I was searching for it yesterday. They do that, words. You can be in mid-conversation with your next-door neighbour and suddenly the name of the author you wanted to recommend to the book group yesterday turns up. I’d rather the word stayed away altogether than popping up like that on the wrong day. It makes me quite angry sometimes. I’ve always thought that lateness was the height of bad manners.


I’ve got used to words escaping me. But today for the first time I couldn’t picture what I was looking for. I wanted to cut some flowers for a vase. I knew well enough it was the kitchen scissors I needed. But I couldn’t imagine what scissors might look like. It’s difficult searching for something without a picture in your head so I ended up calling for them scissors scissors scissors as if they might come to me. And in a way they did. When I saw them in the bath with their bright orange handles, I recognised them straight away. I still do that thing now and then with letters on the mobile whatsit. Nobody’s watching me while I think of a word. Anyway, it’s easy when the letters are already there.  And I still lie on the floor and name all the parts of me. But sometimes I have to skip a bit and wait for the word to wash up.  I might jump from my toes to my shoulders and back to my ankles, so my body’s a bit higgledy-piggledy. Now that’s a nice word.


I’m not driving any more, got lost on the way home from Tesco. I’ve told people it’s to save the planet. And no more clubs and book groups. Too many misses and wrong days. I’m getting away with it though. I tell them I’m too busy or I’d forget my head if. Laugh it off, talk about the weather. Don’t trouble the doctor. Let the phone answer itself. Don’t leave the kitchen if cooking. Sticky notes are good. I put one in my handbag when I go out in case I don’t know why. Next-door came round asking if I wanted my binsout. He kept saying binsout but I didn’t know what it meant. So in the end I shut it. The door.


It’s dark. I am in the street and a cold wind blows inside my nightie but I need a shop. I remember I dropped it on the floor and the thing, the glass thing, cracked. Faces, there’s could be next-door, voices around me I don’t know. Now a man, a police. I tell him I need to mend it. Looking for a shop to mend a scream. It’s not quite right but you have to use the letters you’ve got. He has a face like a potato but he seems kind. I tell him I want to go home. Where is home? He doesn’t know. He says he’ll take me to the station. I haven’t got a ticket, I haven’t got my bag packed. I don’t want a station, I want to go home. I panic and I push him away.


Everything has a label in the house. They say things like SWITCH ME OFF, DON’T USE THE COOKER, SATURDAY LUNCH. Here’s one on the front door with a smiley face. HEY ROSIE, PUT YOUR SHOES ON! I like her writing. She’s put all my photos out with labels too. Letitia. She comes to help. She’s always in a hurry but she has a kind smile. And a nose-ring. I don’t want to forget her name, so I get a green pen and draw a leaf on all the notices. There. Lettuce. Sometimes a different person comes but I call them Letitia anyway. But this one today is wearing a mask and her voice sounds funny. The hair’s the same but I can’t see the nose-ring. I go out in the rain to find Alan. He’ll know what to do. Maybe he’s gone down to the river. I drag the garden bench over to block the door so the burglar can’t escape.


For some reason the streets are in a different order, so I find some trees I know. It’s night time now and I’m hungry and wet through. My slippers are squelchy. A light shines in my eyes. Potato face. I tell him I’m looking for something but I can’t say what.


I’m allowed out for a walk but only in somebody else’s garden. It’s not mine, I don’t know why. There are old people here. They don’t have names. And other people wearing masks so I can’t tell if they’re smiling. But they have name badges. They ask about my family. I know my children’s names – of course I do. One of them begins with B. I just can’t always conjure in my head what they look like. It’s like the scissors all over again. Sometimes I get visitors, on a little telly – their faces bring to mind the people in my photos. They’re pleasant enough, but I can’t quite place them until they say their names. I match them with the labels and then I recognise them. Alan appears and I say, Why don’t we take the boat out? He says, I’m not dad, I’m Chris. Your son Chris. I tell them I should be off home now. They seem sad, and when they answer my questions there’s a tone in their voice as if they’ve already told me. Which they haven’t, or I wouldn’t be asking.


I like the garden. I sing back to the birds. I lie in the flower beds until the mask people catch me and shrill at me and pull me out. I tell them I’m becoming soil but my words don’t reach them. Now someone comes with me into the garden to make sure I know the names of everything. They’re called Barbara and Maggie. They may be the same person with different badges. They ask me what things are but that’s annoying. I don’t like to be asked. It makes it seem like some kind of test. Sometimes I growl at them. I like to name things in my own time. Tree. Sky. Thing. Begonia. Patella.


I’m cold. There is dark in the curtain-gap. I am lying on a hard with a swirly pattern. Floor. Something is twisted like the swirls. I visit my body to find what hurts. I call out my name but I don’t have all the letters. I call and call but I don’t come.

About the contributor

Jane Pearn
Jane Pearn’s work has appeared in online and print magazines, and she has two published poetry collections. She was a winner in the 2019 Guernsey International ‘Poems on the Move’ Competition, and she won the 2019 Exeter Literary Festival short story competition. She lives in Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders.

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