Tuesday 15 February 2011

Cardboard Cut-Out

by Enid Reece
People, music and laughter; that's all you need for a party.  And conversation.
Why does Tom never talk to me? I’m watching him now. His hair is greying at the sides, but he still appears trim with a flat stomach and broad shoulders. Regular visits to the gym keep his body in shape. He's deep in conversation with Mike from computing. Tom nods his head and smiles at some comment. He never smiles when he talks to me. We have mundane chats about what to eat for dinner or who’s going to empty the rubbish. 
            I take a sip of wine. Has it only been an hour since our guests arrived?  Not that they’ve come to see me - it’s Tom’s party, after all. I’m just the hostess: the wife,  the fetcher, the carrier, the cardboard cut-out who props herself up and positions herself in the right places at the right times
. I walk towards the drinks table and the small group positioned there.  Perhaps my bartender skills are required.  I stand on the edge, listening.  They’re arranging a day out, going to a health farm for a bit of pampering.  That’s what I need. I open my mouth to say so, then shut it just as quickly, knowing they wouldn’t want the boss’s wife accompanying them.
           'Hello, Gwenda.’  A hand touches my arm and I turn on the hostess smile.   I recognise one of Tom’s girls.  Oh, I don’t mean that in the sexual kind of way. Her name’s Christine, one of the girls from his office.  I don’t know her all that well, just the occasional chat on the phone before she connects me to Tom’s office.  She’s changed her hairstyle. I’m sure she was a brunette last time we met. The bright red streaks through her hair look a little alarming. I guess it’s what the young do these days, change like the front page of a newspaper. 
            ‘Hello, Christine.  Would you like a glass of red or white?’
            ‘Ooh, red, please.’
            She takes the glass. Before I can engage her in conversation, she’s gone.  I’m not surprised.  I wonder what they see in me.  Good little housewife, great at organizing a party. How proud I must be of Tom and how well he’s done.
            I move away from the drinks table and huddle in the corner, my green dress matching the velvet curtains. I’m good at disappearing. 
No one would notice if I packed my bags and had a two week holiday as long as I cleaned up the party mess when I got back. 
            I glance over at Tom again. He’s leaning against the wall, a relaxed and confident smile on his face.  He’s moved on from Mike and is now talking to Fred, our next door neighbour.  I’ve never been too sure why we invite the neighbours. Tom thinks it’s a good idea for some reason I can never fathom.  I have very little in common with Margaret who is more interested in ‘doing lunch’ with her friends than doing something more substantial in life.  Fred is the opposite of Tom, quite happy working in the Accounts Department at the local Council offices. ‘No ambition,’ Tom has told me on numerous occasions.  I hear Fred give out a snorting laugh at one of Tom’s jokes.  How come I never find them funny? Have I really lost my sense of humour over the years? 
            My eyes move towards the buffet. The savouries are fast disappearing.  I walk towards the kitchen to replenish the plates. Two men, unfamiliar to me, are leaning against the units, discussing stocks and shares. They both look up as I enter, but there is no recognition in their eyes.
            ‘Hi, I’m Martin,’ says the taller of the two.  He smiles, showing dentistry which must have cost a fortune. ‘I don’t think we’ve met.’  He holds out a hand.
            ‘Gwenda, Tom’s wife,’ I inform him, holding out my hand.
            ‘Oh, great party. Food is amazing.’
            He takes my hand and releases it almost immediately, returning to his conversation.  Am I that boring?  When did I lose the art of conversation? Perhaps between having babies and doing the school runs.  Turning away, I busy myself preparing another tray of nibbles and return to the heart of the party. 
            ‘Lovely buffet,’ Moira, Tom’s secretary, tells me as I place the plates on the table. I open my mouth to say something, but she’s already moved away.  She obviously doesn’t want to hear some of my scintillating conversation, but then not one of this crowd do.
            It’s not all bad - I’ve had two comments about my food, both flattering.  I like to cook- it’s something I do well.  Seeing a well spread table gives me the courage I need to become hostess for the evening.
            I make my way over to Tom. Perhaps by some miracle he would like to make conversation with his wife, not that I’m hopeful. I can’t remember the last time we had a proper chat.  Probably just before the twins left home to go to university. There was laughter in the home then.  The house was full of teenagers, sleepovers, even days out.  Tom and I talked in those days.  Now the nesting is over and we’ve nothing to say to each other.   
            ‘Okay, darling?’ he asks when I reach his side. I nod my head and he returns to his conversation with yet another of his associates whose name I can’t remember.  It’s just a courtesy enquiry. I can tell he’s not interested, just being polite. Not sure why he even bothers. I stand next to his side, stiff and unfamiliar with the conversation.  I have tried to take an interest in his work, but investments are above my head. When I have attempted to try harder, he has just dismissed my efforts with an indulgent smile. 
            Giving up, I once again move towards the velvet curtains, a statue amongst the movers of life.  I wonder how these people would fit into my world. If I really think about, I’m not sure what my world is anymore.  I want it to include Tom, that much I know, but he seems to shut me out. He’s at a loss to know how to talk to me.  Have we outgrown each other? Moved in different directions without either of us noticing? 
            The grandmother clock hanging on the wall chimes the hour.  One more, and the party will start to draw to a close.  I move across the room, picking up empty glasses and plates.  Nobody notices, but then, why should I be surprised?  There’s laughter and music still coming from the party room as I load the dishwasher and begin my usual tidy.  I wonder if anyone misses me, Tom in particular.  The music stops for a moment and I hear his laughter; I’m glad he’s enjoying himself. 
            ‘Bye, Gwenda.’ A head pokes itself through the doorway. I look up and give the briefest of smiles to Margaret. ‘Lovely party, thanks for the invite.  Sorry we can’t stop any longer, Fred’s tired, insists he gets his eight hours of sleep.’ She gives a high laugh. I raise my hand to say goodbye; she turns her head, not noticing.
            Slowly through the hour, the partygoers leave.  I work around them, collecting, disposing and tidying as space become available.  I glance across at Tom as he helps one of ladies with her coat.  He looks tired. Strange I’ve never noticed before. He always seems to enjoy being the host.  He returns my gaze and I sense he knows I’m looking at him.  A smile I recognise from long ago spreads across his face and he lifts his shoulders. A habit from the past, a secret signal we used to share when we had had enough of other people’s company. I hunch my shoulders back at him. He nods his head in understanding before returning to his guest. 
            I’m in the kitchen. The final guests are leaving. The last of the plates are dispatched to the dishwasher.  I like tidying. I find it therapeutic: just me, a cloth and cleaning fluid.  My mind drifts to times past when Tom would help with the clearing.  We would laugh and share a joke, a glass of wine, then drift towards the bedroom to slowly undress each other and share a world of our own.  I confess I miss it.   
            The front door slams; the music turns off. The house is quiet except for the soft tread of Tom’s footsteps walking towards the kitchen. 
            ‘Glad that’s over,’ he says, picking up a couple of glasses and a bottle of wine. He pours us both a glass and passes one to me. He wants to talk, I can tell. Am I ready to listen?  I chew on my bottom lip and stare straight ahead, not sure I want to meet his gaze or hear what he has to say.
            ‘You didn’t enjoy it, the party, I mean?’ he says, raising the clear liquid to his lips.
            ‘No, if I’m honest.  It was your party more than mine.  I’m not part of their circle. They have no interest in me.’ 
            He doesn’t disagree but continues sipping his wine, a thoughtful expression on his face.
            ‘You could try and mix a little. Not just stand there and appear invisible.’ He swirls the liquid around in his glass, his eyes never look at me.
            My forefinger circles the edge of the glass in front of me as I try to think of a response.  ‘Have we drifted apart, Tom?’ I say, relieved the time seems to have arrived when we can talk.
            He stops swirling the wine glass and stares at me, carefully considering what to say next.
            ‘Probably,’ he finally admits.  ‘I suppose I’ve taken you for granted - rearing the kids, homemaking, and I never did encourage you to go to work.  You just began to merge with the furniture. Sorry, I don’t mean it to sound that bad, but you know what I mean.’
            ‘A cardboard cut-out,’ I say, as though that tells him everything he needs to know.  He frowns, not understanding.  ‘You know, someone you can move from room to room, place to place, hang a chosen dress on and she will do the rest. Don’t worry it’s just a name I’ve begun to call myself.’ I pick up my glass and take a large gulp. It’s sweet and heady, just like I used to be.
            ‘I’m not ready to give up you know,’ he says, picking up my hand and touching my wedding band.  Yesterday I would have pulled away, but tonight it seems different, the domestic closeness of the kitchen, Tom holding my hand.  It feels good to be touched.
            ‘No, me neither,’ I say, looking down at his hand in mine.
            ‘We’ll work it out,’ he promises. ‘How about going out for lunch tomorrow, just you and me?’
            ‘Would it be worth it?’ I ask. ‘We barely talk as it is.’
            ‘Meet me half way,’ he says. ‘You’ve already admitted you don’t want to give up on us.’ 
            He’s right. We have to start somewhere, get to know each other all over again.
            ‘Okay, lunch tomorrow.’  I feel something akin to assurance grow inside me - a knowing that with a little hard work from both sides, our lives will, once again be on track.  I squeeze his hand.
            We smile in unison, put down our glasses and head towards the staircase.
            ‘And no more talk of cardboard cut-outs,’ he says as he leads me through the bedroom door. 
 Author Bio:

Enid Reece lives in rural Warwickshire and rediscovered her love of writing when she became a widow eight years ago.  After joining a writing group she began to learn to craft of writing the short story.  After three years she had the courage to send of her first submission, The People's Friend send an acceptance and six months later she saw her first story 'The Hat Fits' in print.  Since then she had had several stories published in woman's magazines.  There are plenty of ideas in her head, it's just the time she needs to write them down.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Print On Demand

A lot of people still talk about this and there is still a bit of a perception that POD smack of self-publishing or worse still, vanity publishing.
Yet shouldn’t POD technology be welcomed? It is so less wasteful of paper and time. Customers can have pristine copies within a week – often sooner. Okay, so Lightning Source has the monopoly, but that considered they are very good to the publisher who use them:
  • Their product is superior to many of those of traditional printers.
  • They are quick and efficient.
  • There are rarely problems, but when there are, they are quick to respond.
  • They have an efficient support team ready to lend a hand when needed.
  • They are very well connected and if you go direct with them you have access to many distributors.
  • You can have books printed locally, thus saving on shipping costs.
There are other arguments anyway in favour of POD:
Books need never go out of print. This could be construed as a disadvantage. However, there is nothing to stop you taking a book out of print if you want to. It’s just that you don’t have to.
For the sake of a new ISBN and a new set-up cost, so, about £50.00, you can make frequent minor alterations to a book.
One disadvantage may be cost. A title that cost £1.50 to print may cost £0.20 using more traditional off-set printing. But for the latter you are talking about print-runs of thousands. Smaller companies may not be able to pay those sorts of figures up-front. Besides, the sort of companies who use POD – some of the 80,000 small presses - have few overheads so can still make a tidy profit on some ways of selling though generally price their books so that even the least lucrative way of selling makes a profit. For instance, Bridge House’s charity book, 100 for Haiti makes £7.00 for the appeal when bought straight from our site, though individual ones ordered by bookshops only make a few pence. Small presses can stay in charge. Once they’ve recouped the set up costs of the book, each book looks after itself.
Many people probably do not realise that most educational books and academic books are printed on demand. They tend not to be printed until they are ordered. This seems very sensible to me.
Print on Demand is very 21st century. Personally, I love it. I think we should embrace it whole-heartedly.