I went jogging at 6am, just as the sun was coming up. It rained. It had already started as I was leaving, but I thought, hoped, it would stop. It got heavier. I pulled my hoodie over my head, to keep my head phones dry.
By the time I got home, it had stopped. And I was freezing. I stood in front of the fire in the lounge. Bruno snuffled around my feet and licked the sweat off my legs. It tickled.
I was just drying my hair with a towel when there was a knock at the back door, it was my neighbour Beth.
“You been jogging in the rain again?”
“Yeah, well, gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“It will lead to no good,” said Beth. “I’ve told you before. Pneumonia and death not long after.”
“Good morning to you too, Beth.”
“And a jolly good morning it is too.”
“I’ve got to keep it all trim,” I said. “I never know when I have to use it.”
“Meditation,” said Beth. “I’ve told you before. Too much emphasis on,” she looked at my crotch, “ya thing…”
“Beth!” I laughed.
“Empty vessel, Joshy boy, empty vessel. You just end up chasing it around and your never ending wants leave you unfulfilled.” Beth’s right eye ticked, like she was winking at me. “Ends up driving you nuts. Driving you nuts, Josh.” She ticked uncontrollably for a few seconds.
“Jogging is my meditation…”
“False god, Josh my boy, false god…”
“It is when I relax…”
Beth held her hands out in front of her like she was holding the entire world in her hands. “You think,” emphasis on the think, as she pulled the world towards herself, “you are relaxing, Josh, but you’re not…
“But, I am…”
“No Josh, no Josh. You are still feeding your ego. You are doing it all for the wrong reasons. Besides, high impact is never going to lead you to nirvana.”
“The wrong reasons?” I pretty much knew what the answer to this was, why I asked I don’t know.
“You want to be discovering inner peace, not outward beauty.” Beth’s shoulder rotated quite unexpectedly. “Inner peace, Josh, not outward beauty.” She flattened her palms and slid them through the air in front of her. “Sanctuary is inside every one of us, we just have to take the time to look for it.” Her hands spread out like stars, as she briefly closed her eyes.
“Would you like a coffee, Beth?”
“The devils brew, Josh, the de..vil..’s brew.”
“Well, I was just about to have one.”
“Lemons,” Beth suddenly said. “I want lemons.”
Ah yes. She had stopped me in our street yesterday, to say is was curd making season, or some such thing. Out in the sun shine, in the light of the day, Beth talks at a much quicker clip, and she kind of cowers and speaks to the ground, as though the sun is super powering all of her anxieties. But I did get that she wanted lemons.
I glanced over at the fruit bowl to see a number of the yellow fruit hiding amongst the mandarins. “Help yourself.”
“You are a prince, Josh, a prince,” said Beth. “What would I do without you?”
“What would I do without you, Beth?”
She stepped with one foot, and kind of slid the other one behind the first, right up next to me. “You are not moving, are you Josh?
Beth has OCD and agoraphobia. “No.”
“You wouldn’t move on me, would you Josh?”
“No plans to, Beth.” We often had this conversation.
She glanced around, I am not sure why, then looked back at me. “Good.” She looked at the fruit bowl and talked while still gazing at it. “I’m not sure if I could cope if you moved, Josh. Pippa and Joe and Tommy either.” Our other neighbours, husband, wife, gorgeous son. She looked at me. “You still banging that boy?”
“Tommy?” I asked nervously. I was guessing she meant Tommy, but as I said it, I wasn’t sure.
“Yes, Tommy,” said Beth.
“No,” I said. “Not for some time.
“He is too young for you, anyway.”
“I’m only in my thirties.”
“Yes, old enough to know better.”
I had to change the subject. “Nobody is moving.”
“Nor Rob and Sally,” Beth reached out to the fruit bowl and picked out three lemons, one by one. “Rob and Sally aren’t moving, are they?”
“Not that I know of, Beth.” Rob and Sally are in their thirties, they are a professional couple with no kids, they have been married for ten years.
“I don’t want Rob and Sally to move either.”
“I haven’t heard.” Strapping Rob, there was a street Xmas party – we all live in single fronted terraces, there is a group of them, three either side of a narrow street – Rob drank many beers, more than six stubbies, he stayed back to help clean up, and funny Sally. They live over the road.
Beth had investigated the lemons as we spoke and she put one of them back in the fruit bowl and chose another. She looked at me. She grimaced. “It had a blemish, you don’t mind, do you?”
“Whatever lemons you like, Beth. Take them all.”
“You’re kind, Josh, very kind,” said Beth. “You will always be alright because you are kind.”
She held out the lemons in front of her. There was an awkward moment of silence. “A bag, josh?” said Beth. “Do you have a bag?”
“A supermarket bag, Josh. Might as well make it double use, while we can, before they ban them, you know.”
I pulled a grey plastic bag from my grey plastic bag carrier, screwed to the wall of the pantry.”
“Huh.” I held up the bag I had selected.
“Is it clean?”
“It wasn’t used to carry raw meat, was it Josh?”
“Or fresh fish,” said Beth. She pulled a face. “Fresh fish would be worse.” She laughed that self-conscious laugh. “No fresh fish.”
“I can’t vouch for every bag, Beth, you understand, but as far as I can remember...”
“Could you look.” She motioned with her chin. “Just a quick look. Humour me, Josh.”
I waved the bag through the air, so it would open up. “There.” I pushed my hand through the bag turning it inside out. “Clean as.”
“Could you put it back the other way,” said Beth. “So, the outside continues, er, to be on the outside.”
I pushed my hand back through the bag. Beth pushed the lemons into the bag.
“Gotta go. I’ll find that mediation book, for beginners,” she laughed. She took hold of the back door knob. “Inner peace for dummies.” She cackled. She disappeared through the door. I turned towards the coffee machine and pushed the button to turn it on.
I turned to see Beth in the doorway again. “I didn’t mean you were a dummy, Josh. I didn’t mean that at all. I just wanted to say.”
The coffee machine whirred. “No problem, Beth.”
She smiled. She twitched. Then she was gone again, with the rustle of a plastic bag.