Muriel climbed to the top of the bus. Even though she felt a little out of breath by the time she got there, she liked the view from above. Looking down on everyone. She travelled this route every Wednesday, to and from art class. Today, on her 65th birthday, it gave her time to think about her life and her family.

She knew Derek wouldn’t have remembered. He remembered nothing unless it involved football. Sat in front of the damn goggle box, day in and day out. She cursed this new-fangled technology. He could record every match and play it over and over again. Still, his mother had warned her he only had one thing on his mind. Couldn’t play the damn game, so he became an armchair addict. He loved her, really. He wasn’t horrid or anything like that. She should count herself lucky.

Then there was Carla, their eldest. Forty years old and still as needy as a young child. And obsessed with her weight. Carla actually blamed Muriel for her obsession with food. As if! Three meals a day, like her own mother had supplied. What on earth was wrong with that? And anyway, trying to keep up with what was good and bad for you was just too much effort. Boiled spuds couldn’t do much harm, could they? Muriel blamed Carla’s ex-husband for her weight obsession. He’d run off with a woman who resembled a stick insect. Now where’s the attraction with that? She smiled at a billboard showing the latest lingerie at M&S and promised to treat herself next time she was in town.

Muriel noted that they’d turned off the main street and along the park where some young boys were playing football. Her thoughts turned to Christopher. The son she’d conceived when she thought she was past it. Well, she should have been. Past it. But fifteen years ago he arrived, like a little ray of sunshine. Derek hardly noticed he was there. Wasn’t interested in football, not like his Dad. But he spent a lot of time with Muriel, helping her with the garden, shopping. Said he always wanted to live at home with her. Muriel wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

The bus lumbered up Somerfield Street, the street Muriel had lived on for all her life. She used to know who lived in every house, lined up snug together, each with a different coloured door. Now she didn’t know anyone. Oh well, she thought as she gingerly made her way down the spiral stairs. At least Xavier remembered her birthday. He was a tutor at the art class and so kind. He’d made a cake with candles, not 65, thank goodness, but it was good of him to remember.

‘It’s only me!’ she shouted as she opened the front door. Derek came through rather quickly for him, considering he hardly moved out of the chair.

‘Happy Birthday, love! Now you have something to tell us, don’t you?’ Derek was grinning widely, an unusual sparkle in his eye.

‘Do I?’ Muriel took off her hat and coat and hung them on a hook.

‘I think she’s got some explaining to do,’ said Carla, appearing from the lounge, a paper in her hand.

‘I have?’ asked Muriel. ‘Shall I put the kettle on?’ She made her way to the kitchen, but Christopher stood in the way.

‘My mates are all going to have a ball. I shall be a laughing stock. I don’t think I will ever forgive you.’ He sniffed. Muriel frowned.

‘So are you going to tell me what all this is about?’ Muriel asked wearily, as she entered the lounge covered with balloons hanging from the corners of the room and coloured paper chains. She beamed at Christopher, but he just scowled back.

‘Here, look at this and then tell us what it’s all about,’ said Carla, picking at her jumper and pulling in her tummy. ‘How could you?’

Muriel studied the page that fell open on her lap. It was a painting. A painting by Xavier. A painting by Xavier of Muriel. A life painting by Xavier of Muriel. Accompanying the photo was a small piece about the talented young artist and his elderly muse. He’d never mentioned a thing.

‘Well, I was rubbish at painting,’ said Muriel, peering at the painting again. It was quite good, she didn’t think she looked like that. Not in the flesh. ‘So when one of the life models pulled out,’ she stared at Derek, who was beaming like a Cheshire Cat. He obviously thought it was good. ‘Well, I thought, I’d give it a go? Why not?’

 

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