Malaise (noun)

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  1. An indefinite feeling of debility or lack of health often indicative of or accompanying the onset of an illness,
  2. a vague sense of mental or moral ill-being.

(Ref: Merriam-Webster Online, Word of the Day, 11 August 2020)

Use it in a sentence

The sisters had their coffee on the porch every morning. Even when it rained. Especially when it rained. But today a warm summer sunshine lapped ever closer, up the porch steps, soon engulfing their feet and then their calves until they flinched or tucked up their legs.

‘Another hot one’ Clarissa murmured.

‘Mmm….’ said Alice.

The brilliant blue sky, the undulating magpie calls, the smell of freshly cut lawn would invigorate others. You could see neighbours rolling up their sleeves, clearing out sheds, getting into the garden. The children shouted, teetering on newly purchased bikes. The sisters often heard the rhythmic crack of the cricket ball, the sudden elated and victorious cries signalling the batter’s demise.

They didn’t exactly mind all these things, but for them summer usually triggered a general malaise that lasted until the first autumn showers. They found the dry and unrelenting heat oppressive, aggressive. Clarissa and Alice had never really adapted to the hot weather and December came upon them with a vigour they just didn’t have the capacity to embrace.

They missed Canada.

Nevertheless, they always insisted on hosting Christmas lunch. They were both of them gregarious and friendly, and had soon collected an overlapping circle of friends, almost all of them invited to the festivities. But they almost wept into their cranberry sauce, trying to recreate the stiff and bracing cold celebrations of Vancouver. Beads of perspiration would collect on their foreheads as they prepared the pastry for butter tarts. Their kitchen felt as hot as a blacksmith’s workshop with ovens on full blast, with a giant turkey and all the roast vegetables baking away. Their friends laughed kindly, offering suggestions for next year – some nice prawns, a few salads, maybe some cold meats. But the sisters persisted with heavy Christmas pudding, drowning it in an eggnog sauce that was an old family recipe.

They were loved dearly, but this staunch refusal to accept their fate, to adapt and adjust to their new home, pinched at their guests’ nerves. They felt uneasy, and their smiles were forced until the last bit of gravy was wiped off their plates. Their guests felt as though Christmas was a day of mourning for the sisters, and not a celebration.

Afterwards the guests would creep out to the porch, into the back room, lie on the back lawn and fall into a languid stupor, sometimes a deep sleep. Someone would make sure any lawn sleeper had some shade. Once the sun started to wane, they would rouse and come inside for seconds. A late guest would swan in with a pavlova, and once they’d had that with a glass of sherry, everyone revived and relaxed at the same time, and they playing card games late into the night, cackling with laughter and emptying bottles of champagne and beer.

But once the holiday season was over, there was nothing but the long deadening summer ahead of Clarissa and Alice. They sat on the porch for a minute longer.

‘Alice, go in and turn on the air con’.

And Alice, inhaling then exhaling deeply, did as she was asked. They crept back inside, shut the doors and drew the curtains.

Heyday (noun)

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  1. The period of one’s greatest popularity, vigor or prosperity.

(Ref: Merriam-Webster Online, Word of the Day, 5 September 2020)

Use it in a sentence

In her heyday, she could rival any act in any circus. It wasn’t just the knife throwing and the sword swallowing, or her prowess in juggling burning clubs whilst balancing a dagger on her head. It was the fact that she could do all of that, and then follow it up by drinking a gallon of beer in one beat, starting a fight between patrons, and then smiling coquettishly at the end of it all, as grown men lay about the floor, bloody and dazed, for her sake.

Delilah had held her own in the ring. All she had to do was crook her finger at the ringmaster, and everyone knew exactly who was leading the circus. He would invite her into the ring, bow graciously and then leave with a flourish so that she could start her act. But one afternoon she gave him a wink and a wolfish grin that was perceptible even from the back row, and invited him to stay – to be her volunteer. She turned her head to the side, then dropped her chin and looked long and hard at him. If there hadn’t been children present, Delilah would not have been able to resist a shimmy, or a hip thrust, or something equally suggestive to encourage the ringmaster. In any case, she need only stand there – her curvy figure spoke for itself.

She had pressed him up against the knife throwing board, her hands on his chest, and enjoyed every flinch, hard blink, and nervous smile. The crowd had loved it, whooping with an energy and hysteria none of them had ever seen. He played along and thanked her on stage, as the audience stamped their feet and begged for more. But the row they had later was terrible to behold. The strong man had hovered outside of her caravan, ready to intervene if he had to, and others milled around to see what would happen. They all heard them shouting at each other, hurling insults and recriminations. Something smashed dramatically and the strong man took a step forward, but the trapeze artist stayed him. ‘Hang on a minute,’ she told him. And soon enough the shouting died down, and the soft murmurings and gentle moans that followed made the crowd quietly melt away.

To look at her today, silver hair framing a pale face, walking frame perched beside her like a companion Labrador as she sinks into a giant sofa, you would never think Delilah was the darling of the circus world in 1936. She gets up now and then, to shuffle around the garden, stopping to admire the bluebells, and picking the daisies she was told she absolutely could not pick. She’s always back in time for cocoa, one particularly large daisy tucked in behind her ear and her chin thrust up at the nurse when he frowns at her. Her blue eyes have never lost their defiance. If you look long enough into them, you can see the crowd reflected in them, cheering and shouting her name.

Impregnable (adjective)

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  1. Incapable of being taken by assault: unconquerable
  2. unassailable; also: impenetrable.

(Ref: Merriam-Webster Online, Word of the Day, 8 September 2020)

Use it in a sentence

At first, he tried all the usual things. He presented Beth with flowers and chocolates, tickets to a show. Hands shaking slightly, he held them out to her, like a cat presenting his master with a dead mouse – the expression on her face held the same repugnance as the master. Without either of them exchanging a word, he would drop his hands, his head, swivel on his heel and walk away. He felt her eyes boring into the back of his head, willing him to burst into flames, he was sure of it. He felt the ridicule of everyone in the staff room too, crawling onto his back and making his neck itch.

But still. He felt compelled to keep trying. Her heart was not impregnable, it was just heavily fortified. He knew about her dead husband. Her childhood sweetheart that took his own life shortly after they were married. He knew she mourned him still, even after a decade or so. But all mourning must come to an end. Or at least a small gate must be cut into the fortress walls. He was no storming army – just an ordinary man.

He tried not to watch her too closely when he ate his lunch at work. Beth would sit at the same table every day and he would do the same, so that he could look at her out the corner of his eye without seeming too obvious. Her long brown hair would swing forward like a curtain as she bent her head forward, and his heart ached when she used her middle finger to hook it back up behind her ear, all the other fingers arcing away. She chewed her food solemnly, staring ahead, always poised and erect, and never slumped on one elbow.

One day, he gathered up the usual courage and walked as casually as he could towards her. Her eyes followed him as he crossed the room and when he stood in front of him, she looked at him without lifting her chin.

‘Your husband is at the same cemetery as my wife,’ he told her.

It was true. Possibly, it was why he loved Beth so much. He knew her suffering and knew that the constant anguish in her eyes was only a reflection of his. They both held fast to their memories, wearing them like clothes, close to the skin.

‘She died six years ago, in an accident. Can I take you there Sunday? We can both bring flowers.’

She nodded, a small movement at first, and then a long acknowledging nod. She gave him a small smile, ‘I’d like that.’ Then she cocked her head sideways, ‘Would you like to sit down?’

He smiled broadly. ‘I would.’