Sorry For What I Said When We Were Putting Up the Tent

retro lamp hanging from tent during camping in nature in evening

Helen Gordon

It was the smell, shaken out with the crisped corpses of last summer’s earwigs; musty, with a tang of mould that will creep into the clothes that also act as my pillow – because polyester is for pussies; weak, and so left in plump perfection on the bed, in favour of fleece, which is versatile – good enough for you – and can be slept in later when the cold’s seeping  through the groundsheet, or balled, shivering, beneath my head; it doesn’t matter, because  either way I’ll wake with flesh pooling beneath my eyes and you’ll laugh and call me ‘grandma’, which is better than ‘woman!’ – shouted across the crackle of the mouse-holed groundsheet because I’d pegged the porch out wrong…and anyway, the pole clip snapped at my finger, bending the nail backwards so that a thin, white crescent, so implausibly delicate that it made me want to weep, appeared mid-way down the pink…and spiders are never funny, although you laughed, uproariously, winding yourself with hilarity until the children laughed too, too young yet to know anything but this; too enthralled by your backwoods bravado to mind cold water and damp towels and peeing in the hedge; allegiant, completely, in a way I never was, forever dreaming of the tiny tiered cakes and boldly folded towels at the Manor Hotel, which smelled of lilies, the way Granny did just from walking through its lobby, and never believing for a second that I’d still be crawling through three-year-old sand and undateable spider skeletons at the age of thirty-six, trying to clip together an inner and an outer that have no discernibly similar contours whilst the children giggle at my ineptitude and I keep my misery close – closer than the throbbing of my nail – knowing that any hint of dissatisfaction will set you off, and that the tent is, indeed, born of my lack of ambition; my choice to stay at home with the children; my failure to shake off motherhood and slip into something more fitted, and that if I was working we would have the money to eat from china plates and travel abroad enjoy the crisp luxuries of life that I seem to feel I deserve without ever working to achieve them.

All the same, I shouldn’t have sworn. I’m sorry.

Helen Gordon’s short fiction has been featured as Seren’s Short Story of the Month, shortlisted for the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and longlisted for the Mogford Prize, the Bridport Prize and the Fish International Short Story Prize. She works as a Freelance Journalist in Shropshire, where she lives with her husband and two sons.