A short story
Four and a half months after Constance’s birth Mia tried on her old jeans and smiled. The stiff denim felt good after a year of saggy, baggy, shapeless convenience.
‘Hello old friends. I missed you.’ She turned left and right in the mirror, arching her back and caressing her thighs.
‘Wow!’ announced her younger sister, Emma, ‘You look great!’
Two years later, the jeans were hidden at the back of the wardrobe again and the saggy baggies resumed their dominance.
It took longer for her figure to bounce back this time. But, finally, when Willoughby was a year old, she hauled the waistband over her soft, stretch-mark-ridged hips and tugged the buttonhole and the button together across her blancmange stomach.
‘Fab,’ said Carl, slapping her arse as he walked past.
But Emma’s reaction was one of sympathy this time. ‘Oh, you’ve not had time to go clothes shopping for years, poor thing. How about a trip to town and we get you some fashionable jeans? Those are a bit cardboardy. Jeans have more shape these days.’
Mia looked down at the soft, fading-yet-faithful blue and couldn’t see what was wrong but nodded.
The new, thinner jeans, ‘with 5% elastane’ needed pulling up every two minutes, shrank in the wash and lasted five months before they looked as if tiny maggots were escaping from the cloth.
Carl’s team won a match for the first time in two years and Desdemona was born nine months later.
The parents at baby and toddler group were getting younger. Mia felt tatty and exhausted and didn’t recognise the names of the people or places that they talked about. She looked at the other women’s slimfit jeans – worn under long, sexy boots, and as she watched them totter around on heels she felt old, fat and isolated. Emma had moved to Sri Lanka now, and wore khaki shorts every day, and talked about elephants.
She tried to pull on her old jeans, frowned, tucked them back into hiding and ordered skirts from the Internet.
She and Carl both lost their jobs and moved into a smaller house. Before she folded her old jeans and placed them carefully in a bag to go in the loft, she checked the pockets and found well-washed paper crumbs from some sort of ticket from her past. She thought back to when they used to sit in the prickly old seats in the cinema; when Carl took her to endless horror films, and how she was so thin she could curl her legs underneath her and snuggle up to Carl to hide her face in his shoulder as he laughed.
Now though, they ate too many take-aways, never went to the cinema and never encouraged the other to touch them for fear of disappointment.
When Carl left her to live in Glasgow with Denise from the chippy, he took the car with him. Now so plump and swollen Mia couldn’t remove her wedding ring even though she soaked her hands in ice, screaming with the pain and anguish of desertion; the desperation of betrayal causing her to bruise her knuckle until the veins swelled and her fingertip went blue.
She walked the children one point seven miles to school and back every day, and listened to their cries of indignation in the wind or rain or heat, and noted their dazed silence at the gob-smacking cold of winter early mornings. They lived on jacket potatoes and value beans. She drifted from day-to-day with a permanent headache, always leaving the little cheese and fruit she could afford for the children. She didn’t realise how thin she’d become until her wedding ring came off, as she twisted and turned it in hate, whilst waiting at a bus stop in the pouring rain with holes in her shoes.
Desdemona wasn’t growing well. At six she was the smallest and thinnest in her class and her tiny chilblained toes had swelled to such a size she needed time off school.
Although she tried, no one could employ someone who wanted to finish work at three and spend weekends with her children.
Carl phoned his children and cried, and sent useless, made-in-China, cheap plastic things but said he couldn’t afford to send money.
She was first in the queue at 5am for the first-come, first-served allotments. She took her fair share of free Co-op seeds, and went to the almost-empty, closing-down library to buy shabby 25-pence gardening books. She sold her wedding ring and bought four pairs of good, stout, all-purpose boots, and thick socks, and with her final pounds she bought a squeaky second-hand wheelbarrow and a rusty gardening fork.
She fetched the old clothes from the loft and put on her now too-big old jeans. She looped an old scarf through the belt hooks and fondly stroked the strong thick denim.
The other allotment-holders ran to her rescue as she fainted from weakness and hunger on the first day’s digging and clearing. There and then they all vowed to look after each other. Penny, from the now-closed library, brought Mia cheese sandwiches and pasta. John, from the closed down pub, who kept poultry where his beer garden used to be, swapped eggs and chickens for marrows and carrots, and lent Mia his car to drive to Glasgow so the children could see their father.
Her jeans fitted perfectly now. Smattered with holes and sun-bleached, they were permanently off-colour and they creased where she creased. As she leaned against the car and waited to pick the children up, Denise strolled over and eyed her jealously. ‘I see you’re doin’ alreet for yerself wi’ yer trendy designer jeans and yer fancy car,’ she scorned.
Mia looked down, and thought back to the day in 1989 when she’d got her first job and bought the jeans. She didn’t want them to be fashionable; they were far too durable.