Ms. U. Caliptus
We went to France and it was hotter than I thought, I remember. I hadn’t been anywhere hot for years, and it was our first holiday away with the children: they were one and a half and three. I had become an old person, I realised, since the last time we had gone away. I had packed a sharp knife wrapped in tea-towel, like I had always been irritated by my own mother doing on self-catering holidays, but now I was ok with it. It comes to us all, age and domesticity.
I enjoyed the heat but I struggled with it too. It was a small flat with a surprisingly big garden, just rough grass, a clothes drier and lots of trees. I loved sitting under them, or feeling the grass under my bare feet. Smallest child was starting to talk a lot and husband sat for hours teaching him words, I liked seeing them together, naming things. It’s a pine tree. It’s a yew tree. It’s a whirly-gig.
I had pretty much no interest in sex since having the babies. I only had the second baby because I went out with my mates to celebrate finishing breast-feeding the first one and got pissed. I didn’t miss it, or at least I didn’t feel like I missed it, because I didn’t want it, although on some level I must have. But it made me sad and anxious, worried I wasn’t ever going to want to again. I just spent so much more time than I felt I wanted having to touch and be touched, carrying children on my hips, wiping noses and bottoms. I felt like there wasn’t enough left of me. And I was frightened of my own body. I knew I had huge scars from an episiotomy that even made the midwife frown when she saw it so I daren’t look, and nothing seemed to feel right or be in its right place anymore.
But I think the sun helped. Feeling it on my skin. Not wearing too many clothes and being able to be outside in my own skin after dark in that garden. Something seemed to wake up.
My husband was keen, he always was, but even though I wasn’t quite as not-up-for-it as usual I was a bit put off because I had a cold, a really bad snuffle. It made me a bit irritable so we went to a French chemist and bought a very expensive jar of vapourub. It wasn’t like British vapourub, it was milder in scent and somehow more exotic.
So anyway I applied the vapourub and something magical seemed to happen. I mean, I am sure the lubrication of gallons of cheap French red wine and the sunshine helped too, but suddenly more than my sinuses started to clear and I began enjoying having sex again. It made me cry at first, as if I was letting go of something too-long-stored-up. And the joy of simply enjoying was wonderful. I looked forward to going to bed, to the hot nights and the deep sleeps that followed, of feeling adult when the children were asleep. All with the scent of eucalyptus.
And one night, I had been vaguely aware of flashing lights through the window whilst we were actually doing it. “Is that lightning?” my husband asked. “No, its just a security light from next door” I said, eager for no distractions. But afterwards, as we lay together, the flashes really were continuing pretty rapidly. “Come on, said my husband, that has to be a storm”. And so we crept out, barely clothed into the garden. Sure enough, the whole sky was lighting up, as far as the eye could see. “That’s some security light,” husband said. “It works for the whole of France.” And I chuckled as we stood together, watching it, breeze on our skin. And part of me felt like it was us, that were doing it, like it was our electricity.
Then, just as we were packing up to go home, I dropped the vapourub jar and it smashed. And I panicked. I thought, what if that’s it? What if it all just disappears again, as suddenly as it appears?
But happily it wasn’t the case.
It turns out French vapourub is not aphrodisiac after all.