‘Do you ever get tired of being the responsible adult?’ Ruth asked.
‘What do you mean?’ Diane replied, spooning instant coffee into her mug.
‘Well, I knew when I had kids that I’d have to grow up and be responsible for them. And I don’t mind that they still need me to help with stuff like job applications and bank forms.’
‘And failed love affairs,’ Diane added.
‘Yes, that too.’ Ruth smiled, pouring water onto her tea bag. ‘But it hit me last night when my Mick’s dad phoned to ask my advice on a disagreement with his neighbour. I feel like I’m responsible for the whole family: Mick, Mick’s parents, my parents, the kids. It all seems to fall to me now.’ They walked together, carrying their drinks back to their desks. ‘And I’m the definitely the responsible one in my marriage. Just occasionally I’d like to be carefree and reckless again. I want to be Reckless Ruth.’
That evening Reckless Ruth decided not to bother with the washing up. What was the worst that could happen? What happened was that the washing up was still there the next morning when she got up, and it was still there that evening when she got home from work. When Diane came round for coffee, she was shocked to see the state of Ruth’s kitchen. The sink was full, and the surfaces were covered with mugs and plates.
‘I’m trying to be young and carefree,’ Ruth said.
Diane raised her eyebrow but said nothing.
When Ruth came downstairs on the third day to piles of dirty, smelly pots, she realised that Mick wasn’t taking the hint, and leaving the washing up hadn’t made her feel young after all.
The next time Reckless Ruth appeared, it was accidental. She’d had so much on at work and so much to organise for the holiday, that for the first time in their married life she had left Mick to do his own packing. They arrived at the front of the check-in line at the airport, and she dug the tickets and passports out of her organiser handbag. The assistant flicked through them. She studied Mick’s passport for a few moments before turning to him.
‘I’m sorry sir, your passport has expired.’
Ruth felt her heart sink into her feet. She should have checked the passports like she usually did.
‘You won’t be able to board today,’ said the assistant, directing them to the airline enquiries desk. As they queued to see if they could get a refund, Ruth decided that leaving Mick to do his own packing hadn’t made her feel young after all.
When Mick’s new passport finally arrived, they booked a holiday to Spain with Diane and her husband Phil. This time Ruth took control of all the plans and all the packing. She even checked Diane and Phil’s passports.
While the boys were off playing golf, Diane and Ruth stretched out on sun loungers on the beach.
‘This is bliss,’ said Diane, taking a sip from her cocktail which was a vibrant orange colour.
‘It is,’ said Ruth, rolling over to tan her back, ‘but I still feel so grown up.’
‘You’re 50 years old,’ said Diane, ‘Of course you feel grown up.’
‘Sometimes I just want to feel young again.’
‘You want to feel young?’ said Diane, a cheeky smile spreading over her face.
Ruth sat up and bit her lip. ‘I’m not sure I could.’
‘Course you can, just take your bikini off and run into the sea.’
‘If you do!’
They looked at each other. Then Reckless Ruth was off the sun lounger, untying her bikini top and stepping out of her bottoms. She didn’t stop to see if Diane was following, she dropped the bikini onto the sun lounger and ran for the sea as fast as she could, large white breasts bouncing up and down and bottom wobbling. She didn’t stop until she was deep enough in the water to bob down and hide her pale body. Then she turned and saw that Diane was right behind her. She let out a shriek of joy. It felt wonderfully free. The water was cool and everything felt as if it was floating. This, at last, was the youthful abandon she had been craving.
‘Did anyone see us?’ she asked breathlessly.
‘I don’t think they would care if they did,’ said Diane. ‘This is Spain, loads of people go topless.’
It was only when they sat down to dinner with their husbands that evening, that Ruth realised she was sunburned. One’s bottom isn’t an area you normally need to put sun cream on, and Ruth’s was quite large.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ Diane whispered as Ruth wriggled on her seat.
‘Don’t tell the others, but I’ve got a sunburned bum!’
Ruth realised that skinny dipping hadn’t left her feeling young after all.
When the holiday was over and they were back at work, Diane slapped a flyer down on Ruth’s desk.
‘I’ve found just the thing for you,’ she declared.
‘Bungee jumping?’ exclaimed Ruth. ‘Why would I want to throw myself off a bridge?’
‘You said you wanted to feel young again.’
Ruth picked up the flyer and studied it. Diane had a point, it seemed very much the sort of thing a young person would do.
‘And it’s for charity,’ Diane added.
‘Will you do it too?’ asked Ruth, surprised to find that she was actually considering it.
‘’Course I will. Life’s too short.’
Reckless Ruth spent the next few evenings researching all the things which could go wrong with bungee jumping, and discovered that there were surprisingly few accidents, so three weekends later she found herself on a windy platform at the top of a crane.
She listened carefully to what the instructor told her, but there was a lot to take in. She was shaking and felt sick. If this was what being young was like, she wasn’t sure she liked it.
Diane jumped first, and Ruth watched as she disappeared, head-first with a squeal. Then it was Ruth’s turn. She stood on the edge of the platform, the wind whistling around her ears.
‘Go on, Ruth, you can do it,’ said the instructor. ‘It’s just like diving into a pool.’
Ruth took a deep breath and stepped forward. She decided to count backwards from five.
Then something took over and she threw herself forward. She was flying through the air, rushing downwards. There wasn’t time to notice how quickly the ground was coming up to meet her. She felt relieved, and exhilarated, and very irresponsible. Then suddenly, everything went black.
Ruth woke in a hospital bed with Mick by her side.
‘What happened?’ she asked.
‘You had an accident while bungee jumping,’
‘I was bungee jumping?’ Ruth was amazed.
‘Yes, you and Diane were doing a jump for charity. A freak gust of wind caught you, and you got tangled in the crane.’
‘I don’t remember,’ said Ruth.
Mick stroked her hand. ‘You broke your leg and it’ll be ages before you can walk again. It looks like I’m going to have to look after you for a while.’
When she looked up, she saw tears in his eyes.
‘There’s just one thing Ruth…’
She looked away, afraid of what he was going to say.
‘How do you work the dish washer?’
Jane Mooney writes about ordinary people and their ordinary lives. She lives in West Yorkshire where she enjoys walking in the Pennine hills and watching the sunset. Her short stories have been published by ‘Funny Pearls’, ‘Pure Slush’ and ‘Flash Fiction North’.