This started out life as one of those silly LiveJournal memes. Y'know the sort of thing: "If you're on my friends list, answer the following questions: 1. How old are you? 2. Where do you live? 3. Where do you work? 4. Who's in your family? 5. What's going on in your life right now?" Etc, etc, repeat ad nauseum. Rather than repeating a list, it turned into a rather interesting writing exercise, and since I haven't written anything since, er, February, I thought I may as well chuck it up here. Enjoy - or not.
Two points of note:
1. I am ridiculously unhappy with the ending and will probably spend all day tweaking it and
2. UW, one of these paragraphs has made me realise I owe you some tea.
Caroline has always thought she has the look about her of someone a few years older than the thirty-six of them that she has so far tucked under her belt, primarily caused by smoking tabs since the age of ten, eating vast amounts of refined sugar on a daily basis and an inexplicable allergy to hair colourant so strong that the owner of her local salon once hurriedly gathered all her staff in a circle and used her as a live, impromptu case-study on the importance of patch tests. Most mornings, you can catch her peering vacantly over the rim of a mug that sports just a splash enough of milk, the teabag left in and the logo "www.fuckoff.com", trying to decide whether she feels fifty years old or fifteen, and her conclusion will depend upon one of two things: how badly she slept the night before, or how convinced she is that she never reached the end of that stage of arrested development that is so necessary for growing up.
Although she hasn't the faintest idea why, she nestles herself equidistantly between three London suburbs; were it not for the W12 postcode staring at her from the top of the unopened pile of bills behind the door, she would never be quite sure in which she actually resides. She tells people Hammersmith only because it's better than Shepherds Bush and because calling it Chiswick would be just one small stretch too far; at any rate, her breeding, if not her accent, would immediately scream 'fish out of water' were she to try that one. She knows that the tumbledown Victorian basement flat that she calls home - or 'home' - is slightly too rough around the edges to justify the rent; it's disjointed and nothing matches, but every time she adds another uncoordinated oddity to the fray she smiles to herself because while it makes sense to nobody else, in there, that's just the way it's supposed to be.
At the end of a 15 minute bike-ride every morning, during which she will call at least one white-van-man an insufferable cunt from behind the relative, anonymous safety of a pair of five-quid shades and a cycle helmet that she knows makes her look like a tit, but prefers to the prospect of having her head mashed under a bendy bus on the Uxbridge Road, Caroline stumbles half-cocked and generally half-asleep through her days as a content-producing drone for whichever of the corporation's websites will pay her enough money to do so at any particular point in time. She emails people who sit right next to her and avoids the phone like a dose of the clap, knowing full well that this creates issues on a daily basis with her boss - a man who delights in the finer points of micromanagement but whose occasional propensity to be a nice bloke is the only reason she hasn't downed tools and walked out this week.
She's never quite able to put her finger on what it is that keeps her going in day after day, but suspects it may be something to do with the chocolate chip muffins from the fifth floor canteen, which isn't quite as good as the ground floor one in the building across the courtyard but is infinitely better than the one at the faceless government department that used to keep her head floating above the water line before she came here; casting her mind back, she's not even sure she can remember which one it was. During the course of any particular day, she entertains herself by wittering pointlessly on LiveJournal, updating her Facebook status in the most passive-agressive way she knows how, laughing at uppity people on an etiquette forum as they earnestly debate the gravity of the social faux-pas committed by a woman not wearing a petticoat in public, and making as little tea for everyone else as she can get away with while still being considered a team-player.
Well, almost. Mostly, the iPod takes care of that one.
As she currently harbours the kind of love-life that is probably best buried and unspoken of and seems to be fast approaching that thing that's not supposed to happen until one's mid-to-late-forties - oh god, forty - Caroline will almost certainly not be having children - a fact that causes her to alternate between heaving huge sighs of relief and torturing herself with the notion that she has failed at the fundamental point of human being. She regularly shrugs off the nagging thought that the strays she seems to collect are some sort of compensation; there are three who live with her and deposit fluff and leaves and unspecified bits of cat all over her clean ivory bedding, and then there's Dave, who does not quite live with her and who she only counts as half a cat, because four would just be too many.
Could she be bothered to plug it in, Caroline could set her clock by Dave; if he's meowing outside the bedroom window, it must be midnight. Dave sneaks cat food from her kitchen when he thinks she's not looking and willfully craps in the passageway outside the back of her flat as if to make a point, but she doesn't mind because while he's doing that, he's warm and dry and full, and not becoming a tasty snack to a ruthless urban fox.
Tonight, Dave has made a liar out of her by meowing outside the window at 9.23.
Caroline hates liars.
Sometimes, she wonders how much can be explained away by the fact that the now 78-year-old Patrick took one look at her in the delivery room and apparently tied a knot in it. She knows she is far too much like him for her own good: intolerant, slightly anxious and a little paranoid, but with the kind of wry sense of humour that gets them both out of trouble and the ability to weave a story from the most innocuous of thoughts. Unlike Caroline, Patrick has an interesting past in motor racing and the ghosts of the 1960s and Monaco and Fangio always ensure he has a tale to tell at the drop of a hat, whereas Caroline's words just seem to float aimlessly around in her head with no outlet, never really going anywhere or making anything of themselves except as three-line promos on a website that disappear within a week and that nobody really reads. She resembles 75-year-old Elizabeth in looks only; together, they often have trouble holding a simple conversation about anything more complicated than the weather or what's on the telly that evening for want of a single square inch of common ground, although how much of this is down to Elizabeth's possibly emerging dementia of an as yet unconfirmed type is still open to debate.
Caroline hates television with a passion equally as strong as the opposing type she reserves for music, but will talk about it until the cows come home if it makes Patrick think that Elizabeth is still conversing. She hopes that in some familial, yin-and-yang kind of way, the longevity of their 52-year marriage will cancel out the fact that she's never quite got around to it.
With every day older that she becomes, her closest friends seem to live a little deeper inside the laptop than they did the one before, waking up with her when, rubbing the grit from her eyes, she lifts the lid just after the sun comes up, and sleeping when she snaps it shut for the night. She's never quite sure whether this is a good thing or not in a social development kind of way, but wouldn't be without them for all the tea in china. Oh, there are some in the real world, though; one with whom she lived for 11 years and who she only stopped trying to kill when there were several streets, followed by several towns, between them, and then another, who she adores but refuses point blank to sleep with, and with whom she can talk semi-drunken bollocks until the sun comes up; she sees enough of neither.
This week, Caroline is spending her Friday evening wracking her brains, desperately trying to think of three-to-five big things that are going on in her life right now. The one that until yesterday morning she would have put at the top of the pile has just imploded into oblivion, so she settles for being far too excited about 8pm on Sunday night than someone of her age can reasonably get away with in polite social circles.
At that point, Caroline forgets that she hates television, because she misses him so much already that she almost can not breathe.
Caroline has no idea what she will do tomorrow, and decides, as always, that she will cross that bridge when she comes to it.