During the ups and downs of transitioning to life on Maggie, my 1920’s narrowboat, I have found myself slip back into full time cruiser mode. And I have really been thriving.
I picked up my green tartan shirt and gave it a tentative sniff.
Wrinkling my nose, I shrugged, picked up my trusty bottle of fabric febreeze and gave it a quick spray. Pulling it on, I shrugged.
“Good enough for another two days.”
With water wastage still on my mind, I wasn’t near a laundrette and didn’t want to waste water on washing clothes until I really needed to. Maggie luckily enough has a small bath tub, which the previous owner used to wash his clothes in, and I was intending to do the same, when that fateful day came.
Setting in front of the fireplace, I opened it to see a few simmering coals remaining from the previous night. Throwing some scraps of cardboard from food packaging inside, I stoked it enough for a small flame and placed some kindling that I had gathered along the towpath.
I sat in front of it for a few minutes, mesmerised by the twisting orange and gold within. This always was my favourite job on any boat. Keeping warm. Feeling as though I was transported back a hundred years ago and as though I could survive.
I smiled, brushing the hair away from my face and placed some lumps of coal on top of the smouldering fire. Waiting for the flames to burn without further immediate assistance, I shut the fireplace door.
There was some satisfaction of needing to do narrowboat jobs before you had managed to have your first cup of tea.
Tredding to the engine room, I checked the oil, and then satisfied with the level, cranked old “thump” into action to charge up my batteries. I tried to run thump for at least half an hour every day to give me enough power to use the lights and my fridge. I had already had emails from people telling me I should get solar power arranged- my narrowboat was 70ft- plenty of room for a few panels- but looking at my fast-dwindling bank balance, that was a next year’s job.
As I returned to the kitchen to boil some water for a cup of tea, I resisted checking my phone. I hadn’t heard from my London date in a while, and despite knowing the inevitable had happened, a small vulnerable part of me hoped that I had been mistaken by everything. But I knew.
The joys of dating.
As the kettle boiled, I moved into the bathroom, checked the compost loo to see how much room I had left in my urine container, and seeing it was already three-quarters full, carefully removed it. Checking left and right as I exited the boat for stray walkers along the towpath, I managed to dispose of it into the earth away from the path. It wasn’t a pretty job, but it made me feel some pride that I was no longer using a chemical toilet as I had been on Leviathan. Finding an elsan point along the canal every four days was a nightmare at best, and now living on Maggie where I liked to enjoy myself for two weeks at a time, made me more self-sufficient.
Diving back into the point, I placed the container back, thoroughly washed my hands and found myself standing above my phone once more.
“I’m just checking to see if my mates have contacted me,” I told myself, tapping my notifications bar. But there was nothing, except from my car insurance reminding me that I was due for renewal.
My jaw clenched and I placed my phone back on the counter harder than I meant to.
I hated dating. Hated everything about it. Becoming vulnerable, opening myself up and enjoying someone’s company.
“It’s fine,” I murmured to no one. “It’s fine. You were fine before, and you’ll be fine now.”
A high-pitched screech from the kettle jolted me from whatever depths I had momentarily plunged into, and I reversed back into the kitchen.
As I set about making a tea, a droplet of hot water scolded my toes. I looked down at the dirt around my feet and then turned, catching myself in the mirror. My shirt was creased. My hair, unwashed for three days was a wild mass, still in vain attempting to be held together in the plait I had slept in. Bruises covered my shins from climbing up and out of the cratch window to the roof and a line of coal was smeared on my cheek from arranging the fire this morning.
“Oh wow,” I said, a grim smile twisting my mouth. “Aren’t you a treat, Elizabeth?”
And for a split second, I doubted what I could bring to anyone. I took in another breath and took a step closer to the mirror, forcing myself to look truly at my reflection.
“You’ll stop this, you hear?” I warned, pointing at the girl staring back at me. I flicked against the cold surface. “You made choices and you’re a badass because of them.”
Annoyed and a little sad, I stomped to my bathroom and picked up my red lipstick. I stared at the scarlet tube as though it held the antidote to the poison I was feeling, before carefully applying it against my lips. I didn’t care that I had no one to see. I didn’t care about any of it. I just needed to feel powerful again. I felt as though all of my power had been stripped away, all of those talks and monologues about being ok alone had drifted away like the smoke from my fire.
I was ok alone. I was more than ok. I didn’t need to wait for someone to call me or message me. I didn’t need someone to tell me nice things about myself. I didn’t need the embraces of late-night talks. I didn’t need any of it. I didn’t want any of it.
I didn’t want to get to know someone and learn about them. I didn’t want to have to share memories of my past or aspects of my personality. I didn’t want them to see what I had done or achieved or talk about what heartache those choices had cost.
I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Because where would it get you? Hugging a hot water bottle for comfort because you didn’t have anyone to ask for a hug. Applying red lipstick when your feet were covered in mud, just to feel like some semblance of the Elizabeth I had before.
I allowed the annoyance to grow to anger that I had allowed myself to open to the idea of sharing my life experience with anyone. I had always been able to rely on myself. I had myself to count for stability, myself to count for love. I had never let myself down.
The hours passed until the light from the sky began to dim. I heaped more coal on the fire and applied more red lipstick after each cup of tea.
I stood in the centre of Maggie, the golden light from candles making every dark surface bounce with bronze and copper shimmers.
I felt the disappointment wash over me that this experience was yet another one to write in my diary, another footnote on my journey to meeting someone. And then felt disappointment in my excited naievity.
The darkness within Maggie wrapped around my bones, coating me in a blanket of safety as the fire cracked and snapped in the hearth.
You have everything you need here, Maggie seemed to whisper.
I lifted the cup to my red lips. At some point, it had turned from a cup of tea to a glass of red wine. Clever boat.
I didn’t need anyone. The rich liquid poured over my tongue and down my throat, heating up a comforting path. I exhaled, allowing the tension to run from my shoulders.
See? I could look after myself.
“I don’t need anyone,” I said to myself as if saying it aloud would finalise it into fact and I would stop feeling this way. “I don’t need anyone.”
But for once, I had to admit…
It would have been nice.