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Adrienne Seed – The Spider and the Fly – Chapter 4

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Sofa so Good 


I drag myself out of bed and draw back the curtains. These days, I often have a real job just to motivate myself to get out of bed, although, I think part of that is down to the stultifying effects of the ant-retroviral medication. “Here we go,” I thought gloomily, “Another day in paradise – I don’t think!” It was bloody teeming down again.

 “What the hell am I doing here?” I ask myself despondently. How had I ended up back in Blackburn, the very place I’d been trying to escape from all my life?

Well, the answer to that was quite simple. It had been thanks to Brian of course. In fact, when I came to think about it, everything, past future and present, had been and was still being down to him. But he wasn’t here anymore – or was he? It sometimes felt like he was, but maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. The absence of his physical presence was a constant aching void, yet I felt he was still out there somewhere, even though I knew it was impossible because I’d been with him when he died and I swear I’d  felt his spirit flying over my shoulder. There were times though, when I had no doubt whatsoever that his ghostly presence was still hanging around and although I should have been glad that we still had some connection, be it only in spirit form, it felt more like he was spying on me rather than watching over me.

Why wouldn’t he leave me alone?

Those first terrible months after Brian had died, I’d often sensed his presence and even caught a fleeting shadow of him lurking on my stairs, wearing the red devil mask with the curved gold horns he’d bought when we were in Barcelona and used to like to terrify me with. Well, he was terrifying me now that was for sure. If he was so intent on hanging around in spirit form, then why not present himself as the Brian I had loved for most of my life and not the powerful, schizophrenic Brian, others (myself included) had had good reason to fear. He was obviously out to control me, as they say, from beyond the grave. But I didn’t want to be controlled by him anymore, or anyone for that matter and least of all a ghost.

It was always after midnight when he appeared and always in the same place. He never appeared during the day.

“What do you want now?” I’d ask him impatiently, before quickly scurrying into my bedroom. I’d started locking my bedroom door, as if that would keep him out. His tortured spirit could obviously not rest in peace. That’s what they say, isn’t it, about certain ghosts? But what were you supposed to do with the pesky things? Waft some rosemary in the air, wear a cross; light a candle to send them on their way.

On their way where?

The great beyond; whatever and wherever that may be?

Talking of the great beyond, I’d driven all the way to Liverpool to see this woman, a psychotherapist or something, who claimed in her brochure that she could help recently bereaved people like me who were suffering from the affects of grief.

The first thing she told me to do was to imagine Brian very big, towering over me like a huge shadow, which given the continued circumstances of his presence on my stairs was not hard to do, then shrink him in my mind and send him off to stand in the corner of the room.

“Like a naughty boy?” I asked her.

“If you like,” she said.

“There he goes, he’s over there in the corner,” I tell her. I was enjoying this, affording me as it was an unaccustomed feeling of power over him for a change, “But he looks like a MacDougall’s flour man with a round smiling face – a tiny Brian in a big bowler hat!”

“Excellent,” she praised me. “I can see you’re going to be very good at this.” 

“So what do I do about the blue then?” was my next question.

“The blue?” she repeated raising an intellectual eyebrow, which I noticed was in desperate need of plucking and about to join forces with her other one. My mum had always warned me to beware of people whose eyebrows met in the middle, a sure sign of the devil she said.

“The blue,” I sighed, “I can’t look at anything blue without thinking of him.”

“Colour association,” she scribbled on her pad, “Well, um, in that case you must get rid of everything blue,” she ordered, as if that were obvious and the easiest thing in the world to do. 

“How on earth do I do that?” I wanted to know, “How do I get rid of the blue sky, the blue sea; my own blue eyes staring back at me when I look in the mirror, lost and lonely and missing him still.”

“You just have to move on,” she told me briskly.

“Where to?” I demanded, thinking she meant move away and leave Blackburn. “I can’t leave Blackburn now. Brian’s family and the Executors of his Estate are not adhering to his wishes, especially in relation to me and I have to make sure they carry them out, both for his sake and mine. Anyway, I promised him, I promised him on his death bed,” my voice choked with emotion.

“I meant move on mentally,” she scowled, “But a change of habitat is always helpful in order to leave the past behind. However,” she sniffed dryly, “if you can’t move location, then make changes to your habitat, move your furniture around, change your room, buy some new curtains, but obviously not blue.”

If only it were that simple. Anyway, who did she think she was, Carol bloody Smiley Smiley? Linda buy this sofa Barker, Laurence Llewellyn bloody Bowen?

But nevertheless, I took her advice. Out went the green sofas Brian and I had bought together and off down to the salerooms. I bought some new ones, some blue ones. Bloody hell, why did I do that? What was the matter with me?

All right, I thought, I’ll get the decorators in to paint the walls and then move everything around, like she said – disrupt the energy; a bit of feng shui might do the trick.

It didn’t.

I know, I had another idea, I’ll try painting the bedroom, but I’ll do it myself this time, a nice restful pink and move the bed to the other side of the room, then maybe I can get some sleep. 

There, that felt better already. But I go to bed that night and from over the cover of my new colour coordinated duvet, I cast my gaze approvingly around the room and then my eyes hit upon a tiny scrap of paper, lying in the middle of the floor. 

“That won’t do,” I tut scoldingly, reluctantly getting out of bed. I bend down to throw it away then stop dead in my tracks. It was Brian’s note to me, the one he’d written in his spidery handwriting, just before he died.

“I’ve always loved you Adrienne.”

How the hell had it got there? It was in the study locked away with all my special papers. I’d nearly thrown it away.

He was still hanging around then.

Right, I asked the space at the top of the stairs where he usually stands, what do you want me to do? Carry on fighting your family and the Executors to insist that your wishes are carried out? That’s what I’m doing isn’t it?  Don’t stop painting, don’t stop sculpting? OK, OK, but I’m getting weak. For some reason my legs had started to ache, especially when I tried to climb the stairs. Try as I might, they didn’t want to work anymore. Push, push and up we go. And I kept losing my voice. Where was it going?

Then I got thrush in my mouth. I thought you only got that on your privates.

“Babies often get it in their mouths,” the doctor informed me, “It’s quite common, take this,” he handed me a magic potion.

Swallowed it every few hours, as directed and away it went. Then back it came again.

 “It’s back again doctor.” 

“Try these antibiotics,” he scribbled a prescription.

But my voice kept coming and going.  I never knew if it was going to work or not. Must be something seriously wrong with me I thought, so back to the doctor for some tests and off goes the swab to the lab, but they find nothing untoward.

I was working on a plaster model entitled The Couple’, trying to keep up the momentum and honour my promise to Brian that I would carry on sculpting, regardless of the fact that he was no longer with me to wield the artistic whip. Must be the plaster dust, I decide, getting on my chest. I know what to do, I’ll wear a mask. I should really wear one anyway, health and safety and all that. But I keep pulling it off. It hangs under my chin, strung around my neck like a huge goitre. Then one day, I try to move the plaster off the modelling stand and it fell out of my hands and broke in two – just like that!

Bugger! Stuck it back together again with some Araldite, but it was chipped and jagged with parts missing. A bit like me!

What was missing?

Brian was.

Alright, enough is enough I thought. I know what I’ll do; I’ll go back to Ibiza for a while, get right away from him and his pesky ghost. See Ben, my son – I still felt guilty that I’d been too preoccupied with Brian over the last few years to notice what was going on with him. I could see that now, although I couldn’t at the time. For me it had always been hard to see beyond Brian, he was that kind of man. Anyway, I thought, or rather Brian had thought that Ben was old enough to manage without his ‘over protective mother’. But in truth it was because he’d wanted me all to himself, without the added complication of a teenage son tagging along.

Decision made, I book a ticket, pack my suitcase and feel better immediately.

Ibiza. It felt great to be back and to see my only son who seemed to be in good form and I got time to spend time with all my old friends without Brian’s jealousy to intervene – sun, sea, no stairs, no ghosts.

“What’s happened to your lovely hair?” everyone kept asking me. “It’s gone a bit thin hasn’t it, why did you have it cut?”

“I didn’t,” I tell them. “It must be the menopause. It keeps falling out. I must be short of hormones or something.”

I go to see a Spanish doctor – the bloody thrush is back, must think it’s migration time.  “Chew raw garlic,” he prescribes, “And eat live yoghurt.” “At the same time?” I ask horrified.  “Drink this tea made from tree bark, it has ant-fungal properties,” he advises. It tastes foul. “And buy a tongue scraper,” he recommends as I scuttle out of the door.


The Spanish think garlic is the cure for everything, but it wasn’t enough to cure what was ailing me and neither for that matter, was the live yoghurt, the foul tree bark nor the bloody tongue scraper. My voice continued to keep coming and going, but I put it down to the weather. It was winter after all and unaccustomedly cold for Ibiza.

I was starting to act a bit odd, even for me. People begin to notice; then for some reason I decide I have to buy some new sofas for the flat.

“Why?” my friend Anne asks me, “What’s wrong with the ones you’ve got?”

“Wrong colour,” I tell her, “They have to be yellow.”

I drive miles in the dark on my own to a huge warehouse, somewhere near the airport, stacked full of sofas covered in sheets of heavy plastic. I search and search until I find them. Not really the yellow I had in mind, more of a custard colour really, but I have to have them regardless. Two for the price of one – great! Will they fit in the flat?

Don’t care.

They arrive the next day on the back of a lorry. Not enough room for them of course, so I change the rest of the furniture this way and that, but I’m feeling weak, no one there to help me. Ben has gone out. He doesn’t like change.

I start to sweat with the effort, use my knees to push things around the room, which instantly brings back painful memories of the time Brian and I had  been staying in that hotel in the Lake District, the one we’d escaped to when we’d found out he only had a few months left to live. He’d suffered a bad reaction to the radio iodine they’d pumped into him for the tests and had been burning up with fever. He’d wanted the bed to be nearer the window, so I’d pushed it with him lying on it across the room with my knees. Then I suddenly remembered; Brian had suffered from constant Thrush. Funny, I’d never thought of that before.

I finally manage to squeeze the new sofas in. They are a horrible colour, hideous in fact and I hate them, so I cover them with white cotton bed sheets. There, that’s better. I light the fire with some rolled up newspaper, then run a hot bath. I soak there till the water starts to turn cold, then I go to bed. I start shivering sometime in the night, teeth chattering away by themselves, talking to myself, calling out for my mum, my dad, Brian.

In the morning Ben comes in to my bedroom, demands some money, then goes out. I hear the telephone ringing in the living room, but I’m too weak to get up and answer it. Ben comes back at some point and disappears inside his room. I hear the doorbell ring again and again over the repetitive thumps and beats of his Techno music. I know he won’t answer the door or let anyone in. But I’m too ill to care.

I toss and turn all that night, burning with fever, throwing up into a plastic bowl, my head hurting like hell as though someone was hitting it repeatedly with a hammer.

My friend Anne finally manages to force her way through the door, past Ben, to find me curled up in a shivering heap, talking rubbish.

“That paranoid son of yours wouldn’t let me in,” she told me crossly, “I’ve been ringing and ringing. I knew something was wrong. Let me get you a clean nightie and here, I’ve made you some chicken soup.” 

“Get your bony hands off me,” I push her away.

“Right, I’m calling for the doctor,” she sniffs bossily.

“I’m not going to any bloody Spanish hospital,” I swear from inside the plastic bowl.

“You’ll do as you’re told,” she marches to the phone.

An ambulance arrives with a wail of sirens and whisks me off to the noisy Spanish hospital, where I am subjected to countless indignities then they attempt to put me in one of those long tube-like machines to be x-rayed.

“I’ve got claustrophobia,” I try to tell them as they strap me in. “I can’t go in tunnels. I can’t even go in a lift.”

“Put these headphones on,” a bossy Spanish nurse plonks them over my head.

It sounded like Ben’s horrible Techno music thumping in my ears.

I eventually come out the other end of the tube, then I’m whizzed in a wheelchair through a maze of endless brightly lit corridors then left on a high bed in a room all by myself. Someone in a scruffy white coat eventually comes along and wires me up to a cow udder drip dangling from a pole, then shoves a mask over my face.

“What’s up with me?” I mumble through the mask in Spanish, but he obviously didn’t understand my muffled attempt at the lingo and with a bad tempered grunt and an uncomprehending shrug of the shoulders, he disappears.

Pneumonia, the doctor declares the next morning on his rounds. Funny kind of pneumonia, I think. Different from the kind I had before. I could still breathe, even fancied a cigarette.

More x-rays, blood tests every two minutes, my arms were black and blue. Spanish nurses are not known for their delicacy. Then to my horror I was wheeled off down to theatre where a tube was thrust up my nose and down my throat with some kind of camera attached to it, to see what was going on down there. Nothing it turned out, at least nothing that shouldn’t be going on. The specialist couldn’t understand it. 

After a few days, I start to feel a bit better, but I’m lonely in the room on my own forced to talk to myself, the cleaners, the walls – and my mum of course, every day on the phone.

“Come home,” she nags.

“As soon as the doctors will let me,” I sniff pitifully.

 It was nearly Christmas. Ben didn’t come to visit me. He doesn’t like hospitals. Most of the other patients had been allowed to go home. Their rooms were empty. I pace the deserted corridors in my dressing gown and ride up and down in the lift to pass the time. I make endless trips to the vending machine. I go to see the Christmas tree and the Nativity in reception six times a day. The surly receptionist is sick of the sight of me.  I am sick of the sight of her.

The doctor finally tells me I can go back to England and I am wheeled to the plane in a wheelchair, clutching my laptop on my knees. I can’t even lift it to put it in the overhead lockers.

Back in Blackburn my mum nurses me back to health and once I’ve recovered, we decide to go back to Ibiza. It’s spring by this time and all the wild flowers are out. Poppies everywhere; wild orchids, butterflies fluttering around; it was beautiful and everything was going just fine, then would you believe it, the bloody thrush comes back. Off I go again to see another homeopathic doctor, this time in Ibiza town, and my friend Anne comes with me. The doctor chats about this and that and then questions me about my sex life, which to me seemed totally irrelevant. I tell him about Brian dying from sudden liver cancer and he shakes his head in sympathy, but doesn’t examine me. Bit strange I think. I try to show him the rash that has appeared all over my body and the strange bullet hole like spots, exactly the same as Brian’s, which itch like hell, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested.

“Would you like to have some tests?” he asks brightly.

“Of course,” I agree, anything, although I’d already had every test known to man, or at least I’d thought I had, in the hospital. He sends me off for a blood test with a long list of things to test me for.  A lot of the things I don’t recognize because they are written in Spanish, but some I do, and HIV is one of them. But of course I didn’t need to worry about that, did I? After all, I’d just come out of hospital. Surely they would have tested me for HIV wouldn’t they?

He makes another appointment for me in three weeks time, but several days later I get a message on my answer machine from his secretary to come to his office urgently. And that’s when I found out.

I then had to go back and tell my mum. She was sitting waiting for me at the café on the seafront we always used to frequent. It was a beautiful day I recall and the beach was already filling up with tourists laying their brightly coloured towels on the sand and putting up striped umbrellas. Children were excitedly splashing in the turquoise waves and the air was filled with the scents and the sounds of a bright summer morning. There was a whiff of suntan oil mixed with the gentle salty breeze and the delicate fragrance emitting from the colour clash of flowers lining the café walls: fluorescent pink, buttercup yellow, blood red petals, turning their vivid heads to the ever warming sun. Every detail of that morning remains etched in my memory and is crystal clear to me as though I was taking part in some kind of Technicolor dream. The early morning bustle of the café echoing around me, the waiters in immaculate white cotton shirts wielding silver trays of orange juice and newly baked croissants, the tantalising aroma of freshly ground coffee.

But it felt all wrong, the sun being out, the happy faces, the bright colours. This wasn’t the right scenario to break such shocking news to my poor old mum.  I sat down on the wicker chair opposite her and looked at her across the pink tablecloth – how the hell was I going to do this? My mum’s eyes were as turquoise as the sparkling sea, the kind of eyes that could see straight through you, so it was pointless trying to hide anything from her. Not that I wanted to. Now was the time  when I needed her more than ever and I knew that she would stand by me, whatever it was I was about to tell her, because that’s what mothers did – well, at least that’s what my mother did and I could stake my life on it.  My life? Did I still have one, and if I did, it would be very different from now on – and so would hers after I’d told her.

The waiter came up to our table beaming, pleased as ever to see me and I ordered my usual café con leche in a glass. After he’d gone I looked straight in my mum’s piercing blue eyes and told her.

“Mum, I’m HIV positive,” I said it out loud for the first time.

I will always remember the look of horror on her face, which she quickly tried to disguise.

“Don’t worry love,” she reached over the table and squeezed my shaking hand, “At least it’s not cancer. We can cope with this.”

We get on the first plane back to England.


  Viv Williams wrote @

Oh my God! He bit you!!

  june houlding wrote @

I am enthralled you will.o.wisp. although I met you later on when we were on the road to nowhere. I never knew your earlier life or your inner feelings about the spider, but the few times I met him I recognised his black aura, like the grim reaper resurrected. He put your glowing light into a dark shadow. And I never liked him. Well done Adrienne your writing is so good. And you echo my thoughts on Trinny and Susanna.

  andrea wrote @

Waw, what a fascinating read! I’ve been looking up the Clog and Billycock Pub, as my partner and I are looking at running a pub in the North West. I believe the pub shut some time ago, has anyone any idea why? Its in an amazing village, gorgeous setting, not sure why it’s closed. Look forward to a reply. ALL THE BEST TO EVERYONE IN 2008!

  hivine wrote @

Hi Andrea,
My family ran ‘The Clog and Billycock’ for about fifteen years and it was one of the busiest and best pubs in Blackburn. It was never the same after we left although many different people tried their hands at trying to make a success of it – maybe it is waiting for you? I hope so because it really was a special place and could be again with the right people at the helm (or beer pumps, if beer pumps still exist – or all they all hose pipes now?).
All the best to you too,

  Samuel Gambaiani wrote @

I REALLY liked your post and blog! It took me a minute bit to find your site…but I bookmarked it. Would you mind if I posted a link back to your post?

  Sigrid Tirpak wrote @

Awesome post. I so good to see someone taking the time to share this information

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