She goes about her normal chores, checks the washing machine, feeds the cat, packs his case, washes out the muck he has left in the bath, and lifts the skin he has picked off his feet and left on the lounge floor. That’s how he sees her, someone to pick up the dead skin and clean out the bath. She re-arranges the towels that he leaves in a rumpled heap, woman’s work.
His case is packed, the clothes neatly folded, the toiletries wrapped in a poly bag, toilet bags are for wimps and he’s no wimp. She packs the book he has never tried to read. A book she spent hours choosing.
Last night she performed her wifely duties, longing for it to end. There is no passion left, now it is just another chore. Words like “slag” and “slapper” put paid to that. Each word another chip off any remaining affection; each utterance piercing her heart, until it is numbed with pain. But she is no slag; she is a lady, a lady who has forgotten how to live, a lady caught up in a trap of humiliation, false promises and financial disasters. Her dignity lies in tatters. She bides her time, like a big cat watching her prey.
He arrives home welcomed by a cup of steaming tea, sugared and stirred. His eyes search for something to criticise, as he throws down the coat he knows she will lift. He moves the plant a foot to the right of the window. Why does she always have things in the wrong place?
‘Have you got my bag ready. For God’s sake woman, I’ve told you before I don’t like that bloody shirt.’
She smiles, not uttering a word, picks out the shirt and flits upstairs. She almost takes the stairs two at a time, but then she restrains herself. (Mustn’t look too keen.) She returns with another shirt, ironed and folded. She drifts around the house looking for jobs to keep her mind occupied. Her head feels ready to burst, her heart thumps wildly.
‘Time to go’ he yells, stepping into the driver’s seat. He’s always in the driver’s seat. Inside she bubbles with excitement, but she must remain calm, as they drive to the airport in silence. Tom Petty sings “Learning to Fly” on the radio. She will remember that song for the rest of her life.
At the bustling airport she places a lukewarm kiss on his lips. She waves him goodbye, as he walks to Gate 6, the Gate that will open her life.
She arrives home, and sighs with relief as she fills the kettle for a much needed cup of tea. She’ll make cauliflower cheese tonight. He doesn’t like it so it’s a rare treat.
‘Did Steve get away okay?’ Jess asks, lifting her head from her book.
‘Yes, he got away okay’.
She stares out the window mesmerised. Aurora has come out tonight, flirting across the sky like a magic lantern, gyrating and turning her coat of many colours. ‘Aurora is celebrating my freedom. How amazing!’ But tonight her heart dances with Aurora. She stands there cherishing the moment. It can be hours if she wants, for tonight she can please herself.
The shrill of the phone shocks her back to reality
‘Did everything go according to plan. Have you told Jess yet?’
‘No, not yet, maybe I should wait ‘til the morning. I want her to have a good sleep. We have a long journey tomorrow.’
‘Okay its up to you, but I’ll be there waiting. Don’t doubt you’re doing the right thing, you should have left that bastard years ago’.
‘Okay, see you tomorrow.’
She replaces the receiver and sighs, knowing her brother is right. She knew she was not the failure, Libby her friend convinced her of that.
“Don’t let him pull you down,” she said.
“I should know, I left one just like him years ago.”
For a fleeting moment she recalls the good times, the hours of passion, the tearing at each other’s clothes, the longing, the tender moments, the promises. But like everything in his life, she was just a novelty, something to become tired of. Even the doting stepfather act didn’t last. Sulks and bad tempers manifested themselves if Claire should spend too much time with her daughter. And should the two older siblings visit, war would commence once they were gone. Anything that could possibly detract from her absolute attention was treated with contempt. The good times are a faded memory, obliterated by years of taunting, intimidation and humiliation. She understood the inability to relate, caused by a scarred childhood, and made great allowances for his behaviour.
Her brother in America cared only that she should escape from her life of torment. He wanted his sister back, not this broken spirit that phoned him regularly in tears. He wanted her to look pretty again. Her wardrobe was filled with clothes from the charity shop, but she still had style; style that caused insatiable jealousy. Insecurities became her persecution. But the persecution was over. He was gone; away on business, expecting her to be waiting dutifully at the airport when he returned. This time he would need to find his own way home.
‘Jess, what would you say if I told you we were going to America’.
She waited with pounding heart for her daughter’s reply.
Jess rose from her chair and smiled. Without a word she crossed the room and hugged her mother.
‘What took you so long Mum, what took you so long?’
Just then the sound of a car on the gravel made her jump. Before she reached the window he was there in the hall.
‘What the hell’s the matter with you, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Aren’t you pleased to see me?’
Oh God, could this really be happening, had she been so bad he was punishing her like this. Thank goodness her cases were out of sight.
‘Changed my jacket didn’t I and left my wallet in the old one. Wouldn’t get far without it, and as usual when I try to ring you’re on the phone. Who were you talking to anyway? Just as well, they got me booked on a later flight.
Relief chased through her system, she hoped it didn’t show. Jess carried out the part of the relaxed daughter beautifully. She obviously wanted this as much as her mother.
She descended the stairs clutching his wallet.
‘Can’t believe you let me go without my wallet. Don’t worry about taking me to the airport, don’t want to put you out.’ His sarcasm went over her head.
‘The taxi’s waiting outside for me.’ He glanced towards the pan of simmering cauliflower. ‘Christ that stuff stinks!’ He stomped out the door, without closing it. Why bother when there’s a woman there to do it for you.
Patsy Goodsir 2004 ©