Category Archives: Anti Romance

Three’s a crowd- Extract

JESS

I’m packing up and I’m leaving. Leaving is final. Leaving will set me free.

I’m letting go of what was and what will never be again. I’m leaving because sometimes things can’t be fixed. Sometimes things are not broken, but shattered. Ever tried to glue back a shattered glass? Impossible.

I stand at the top of the stairs with my suitcases, a back pack and a Tesco bag stuffed with clothes. I wish I could walk out the door elegantly like they do in films but the bags are awkward. I want to take them all at once too. Going back up the stairs wouldn’t  give the drama I was hoping for. So, I stumble down the stairs, banging the cases on every step and ripping the wallpaper with the rucksack zips. The noise summons him out of the kitchen. He is cooking toast. How can he be hungry at a time like this? Is his heart not too broken to stomach food?

“You’re really going then?” He licks the peanut butter from the knife in his hand.

“What do you think?”

“Well you’ve got bags, so I guess you’re off. You want a slice of toast?”

“You insensitive shit. You don’t even care that I’m going, do you?”

“You won’t go. Or you will, but you’ll be back before I’ve finished my toast.”

“Watch me.” I try to comfortably pick up all the bags again and open the front door. It isn’t locked.

“You want a hand getting to the car with that lot?”

“Fuck you.” He licked the knife again.

“You’ll be back. See you in a week.”

How was he so sure I’d be back. Leaving this time meant leaving. I’d even packed my toothbrush, that’s how I knew it was for good. Last time I heard about him kissing some slut I did come back, yes. But that was different. This was an affair. This wasn’t something to forgive. That slut had been at my wedding, she’d got front row seats while had our first dance. The whole time she knew more about my husband than I did.

JAKE

I was cooking toast. I just fancied a bit of toast. It wasn’t trying to be an ‘insensitive shit’, I was hungry. She’d sprung the whole affair thing on my when I walked through the door, starving from a day at the office.

When I got home she was sat up straight on the edge of the brown cuddle chair. Her legs were crossed and her arms folded. I knew there was something wrong. I searched my mind and begged for it to be that I’d left the heating on all day, or she’d found out it was actually me who ran over the cats tail and cost us £200 in vets bills. Anything but her finding out about my other her.

“Who’s Jenny?”

“What do you mean who’s Jenny?” I said. My voice came out so high that it almost went through the roof.

“Jenny. Pub Jenny. The Cross Keys Jenny. The legs spread Jenny.” She uncrossed her legs, arms and ran at me like a spider. I dropped my bag on the floor to protect my face as she slapped me. It didn’t hurt. Jess is small and thin. “You’ve been shagging her, you shit.”

Busted. How could she know? I got the files out of my brain. The ones I’d logged under “how Jess could find out.” These were the options. Jenny told her. Luke, my best mate told her. She guessed because she was the one I never spoke about. She was tricking me.

Deny it all until proven guilty was my tactic.

“Where did you get this from?”

She stopped hitting me and breathlessly said, “she told me.” Back in the brain files I looked under “What to do if Jenny tells.”

“Jenny, you got this from Jenny?” I laughed. “She’s obsessed with me.” I grabbed her hands and looked into her eyes. “She won’t leave me alone, babe. She wants to break us up. She’s jealous.”

“You’re full of crap, Jake. She told me everything.” She wriggled her hands free and jabbed me in the shoulder with her sharp finger. “You know what, I believe her too. She knows too much.”

“Babe, she knows so much because she’s obsessed. Literally. Ask Luke.”

She shot off up the stairs crying. I didn’t chase her. Truth is I was shaking. My heart was bouncing about in my chest. I felt sick. I’d been caught and she wasn’t having my brain files of lies. She was on to me and my game was over.

Plan B. I act casual, like I’ve got nothing to hide. So, while she was upstairs banging about I splashed my face with cold water and I made a couple of slices of toast because I was hungry and eating calms you down.

JENNY

What did he expect me to do? Sit back and watch him have it all?

He pulls his pants back on and goes home to her while I go home to my roast dinner for one and the TV? Roast dinner for one is such a cliché too. God, I hated myself buying that. It’s not even easy to cook you know, part has to go in the oven, part in the microwave- the whole things gets right in the way of my programs.

So I told her. Stop judging me. I didn’t ruin a happy marriage. It wasn’t happy and it was ruined the day Jake started coming in the Keys.

I tried to stop, I did. I’m not a bad person. God, stop with the looks. Why is it that the other woman always gets the judgement- what about Jake, or even Jess? Clearly Jake wasn’t happy and Jess wasn’t giving him enough- frigid apparently.

I kind of always knew it would be me who told her. Anyway, I’d had enough of the sneaking around and he wasn’t going to get the ball rolling, not while he had his cake and he got to eat it too. And boy did he.

JESS

I got myself a little room in a hotel. It is nothing special, at thirty pounds  a night I wouldn’t expect much. Got to hand it to the cleaners though, the place is spotless. Towels are a little rough, but they dry you better so that’s okay.

I spruced up the room when I checked in, just to make sure the place shone and felt warmer, cosy and more like home. I added a few little touches, a picture of me and my sister for the bedside table and a bunch of daffodils in a mug on the windowsill.

It will do. I’m not ready to fight for the house, not yet. Though, he had been unfaithful so it was well within my rights to stay there and for him to go. I just don’t have the fight in me. I feel like a balloon that has been at a party too long, all shrivelled up and deflated.

I flick through the four channels on the TV. The hotel doesn’t have free view, or Wi-Fi, but it will do. The only thing on is a home show, I turn it off because it reminds me of where I am not.

My phone has messages on it from my sister but I still haven’t replied because I’m not sure how to tell her where I am. Why my life changed on a Friday afternoon.  I curl up into a ball and I fall asleep on top of the crispy hotel sheets and bobbly blankets. It is no Hilton, but it will do.

I wake up an hour later, a bit annoyed that more time hadn’t passed. Sleeping is the perfect way to waste time because you can’t think your normal thoughts when you are dreaming. I can’t think about him, or her. I can’t replay the moment she stood on my door step, straight faced. All I do is replay her words.

When I’m walking I say the words to the beat of my feet. I. Slept. With. Jake. I’m. Sor-ry.

Bitch.

My head is heavy from sleep, I need fresh air. I brush my hair into a low pony tail, slip on my shoes, grab my bag and leave my room.  Before my brain has time to think my feet have taken me outside to the car. I drive and find myself at my parent’s house. It’s time. It’s time they knew what perfect Jake has done to their daughter. It’s time they knew the truth. I look down at my arm, the scar is still there, but I don’t think I’ll tell them everything. One thing  at a time.

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Happiness #2

“You’ve got a brick for a heart, don’t you know that?” He was crying harder now and the words were breaking as he spoke.

I was straight faced, standing above him and staring forward. He was sitting on the curb up hugging his legs to his chest. He looked pathetic. He was a muscly man, lifted weights and spent evenings at the gym. To me, he used to be a bear, now I saw him for what he was- a big soppy bastard.

“You need to see someone and sort your shit out, you know that?” he said.  I was sick of his tears, sick of him telling me who I was and what I had. How would he know, how would anyone?

I spat at him. A big foamy lump of spit landed on his already damp cheek. “You dare, you dare tell me who I am one more time and I swear…” He wiped his cheek on his sleeve.

“That was low,” he said. “Even for you.” He stayed on the curb, I expected more of a reaction to the gob on his face. I wanted a fight.

“If you don’t get up from there, I’ll get in the car and I promise I’ll run you over,” I said with my teeth gritted. He was leaning up against my car. The only way out of the space was to reverse.

“Do it, then seeing you like this won’t hurt.”

“Don’t be so fuckin’ melodramatic,” I said and kicked his foot. “I’ll make sure it hurts. I’ll run you so far into the ground that you become part of this puddle.” I skimmed by boot across the muddy water. It splashed him.

I could feel a burning in my stomach and all the muscles in my back that I had left were tightening. Anger was boiling inside me. I wanted to scream myself out of my skin. I slapped him round the ears and shouted, “Let me go and be happy.” Over and over. He curled up into a ball to protect his head and neck. When I stopped hitting him I was crying. Tears of lava were burning on my toddler tantrum face.

“I’ll let you go, soon as you get help.” He said.

“I don’t need no help. I don’t need it from them and I don’t need it from you. I fumbled around in my bag looking for the keys. The bag was deep and I could hear them chinking but couldn’t see them through my blurred tears. I tipped everything out onto the rainy road. Purse, pens, notepad, receipts, cards. My car keys landed in a puddle, next to the curb he was sitting on. He grabbed my wrist and stared me in the eyes.

“You’re not going anywhere in this state. You’re worse than drunk.”

“I’d be happier dead than sitting here with you.” He pulled me close so we were head to head.

“I’ll help you,” he said through a snot bubble. “I’ll help you sort it all out.”

“I’m sorting it out, I’m getting rid of you. You’re the problem here, not me. Let go.”

I tried to pull myself away but he dragged me closer so we were nose to nose. I could smell kebab on his breath.

“You’re sick.”

“You’re a fuckin’ bastard.” My voice was deeper and coarse from screaming at him to let me go.

I just wanted to be free. I just wanted to be happy.

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Happiness

He looked over the top of his glasses, nodded his head and made a humming noise. I don’t know why he looked at the menu, we’d gone there every week for ten years. The menu never changed, except when they introduced steak night on Wednesday, but we went on Friday so what did it matter to us? It was a long ten minutes of swirling the dregs of his beer around in his glass, and gazing over the menu as if it was the directions to the Holy Grail. He finally closed his menu and put it on top of mine.

“You know what you’re having love?” I finished off the last of my Rioja and folded my arms on the table.

“Yes, the salmon. You?”

“I’m going to try their steak and ale pie.” Try? I thought. He’d been ‘trying’ it every other week since 1998.

The waitress didn’t even change. I didn’t know what was sadder, the fact we’d been eating there for 10 years, or the fact that she’d been working there all that time. She was a bowling ball. She rolled around the restaurant, between the tight tables. “Oops, coming through,” she’d say while trying to land a plate of vegetables on one table, and navigate her obscenely big bottom around the chairs. I thought how could you let yourself get like that. Must be picking in the kitchen and it is true what they say, little pickers really do wear big knickers.

She shuffled through the tables, pen behind her ear and note pad in her hand. Her tights were like the skin you get on sausages and her skirt was showing too much of them. Her gut was tucked in to her skirt and her shirt buttons weren’t done up high enough. Cleavage was spilling out all over the restaurant. She was smiling at us. Pretty face with heart shaped lips and big eyes. Lots of make-up but that’s what they do these days. Understated is out.

“Fancy seeing you here,” she said. I smiled and Al laughed.

“Yes, fancy it,” I said.

“Let me guess,” she put her fingers to her temples and hummed, she pointed at me. “The salmon?”

“That’s me,” I said. “How did you guess?”

“And you are having…” she looked at Al and did the same with her fingers on her temples. “Now, last week you had the sausage and mash, so this week it has got to be the pie!” Al laughed hysterically, I laughed a little.

“You’re so good at remembering,” he said breathless from laughing. Had he always laughed at jokes that weren’t funny? Jokes that weren’t even jokes.

“Did you want it with all the usual trimmings? Chips and peas with the pie, new potatoes and veg with the salmon?”

“Please.” We both said same tone, same time.

She shuffled back through the tables, the glasses chinked together as she passed. One week we when we were at the restaurant I spent the entire time thinking about how the place could be arranged better. Why did they even have so many tables? The place was never full, just a couple of regulars doing regular things.

I knew Al would go and get us both a drink, he liked to do something while he waited. I told him I’d have the large red and he shuffled off to get them.

He was at the bar.

“Hello Al, me old mate,” that was the barman. “What will it be?” He knew what it will be, bet he even knew the joke, wait for it and brace yourselves, it’s a good one.

“I’ll have a large red and a pint of Frog, not in the same glass mind!” The barman was kind, he laughed. I cringed every time I heard that bloody ‘joke’. To think, all those years ago when we met I’d laughed at that. I’d touched his shoulder in the pub while he ordered the first drink we ever shared and thought it was the funniest thing. Those were the days, back then when I was in a pub with my friends, having interesting conversations.

Good old conversations.

Since we moved out in the sticks ten years ago I lost touch with everyone. Al promised me it would be nice in the country, there would be groups to join and he could get a dog. He never got a dog and I never joined a group. He got old and I got shy.

Al shuffled back, two glasses in his hands. He always placed them so gently on the coasters and had to line the rim up with the picture. He breathed heavy because he had polyps, and it was worse after any kind of physical activity- even walking to the bar. A couple of long hairs tickled his upper lip and I wished he’d used the nose hair trimmer I’d got him for Christmas. I took a sip of my drink; he took a sip of his. He looked around the room, and I did to. I lined the coaster up with the edge of the table, and counted the corners on the picture frames. I looked at my hands and stroked each soft nail, straightened my eternity ring.

Eternity means forever.  I spun it back round.

I knew exactly what he was going to say and I tried to stop him because every time he said it I hated him.

“I do love the wall paper here you know. You think we could do it at our place. Hire someone in maybe, you know I’m not too good with wall papering.” Words to that effect were said every week, every other week if I was lucky. The wall paper had been up since 2005. Big ugly flowers taking over an entire wall.

“Yes, I guess we could. We would have to hire someone of course,” I said. He nodded and took another sip of his drink. He sang along to a song he was too old to know and tapped his hand on his knee. Next, he had a choice of three people to talk about and two different topics. Either his brother giving his kids their inheritance last year, or the next door neighbor getting her teeth done.

It was our neighbor and the teeth. He was thinking about going down to talk to the dentist about his. He hated his teeth. Bit late to care now I thought, but I didn’t say anything. I nodded, smiled. He told me I was blessed with straight square teeth. Others would kill for my teeth he said, then the food came.

I didn’t see the signs, honest. I was looking down at my plate, picking at the fish and trying to remember if the salmon always tasted so bland. I was thinking what I would do if I ever got to cook something so different. I thought that rosemary and butter would make this salmon so much tastier and maybe a foil parcel would make it more moist. I decided that I’d make it for myself soon and Al could have his usual meat, veg and potatoes. I looked up to tell him how I was going to do the salmon, not that he’d care, and not that he’d react, but I had to say something.

Al looked different. His mouth was drooped at one side. His arms were heavy on his lap. “Al,” I said. “Are you okay? Is something wrong with the pie?”

He tried to speak but his words were slurring like he’d drank six pints of Frog, not one and a half. It clicked.

I threw my chair back, “Call an ambulance!” A stroke, of course. It was a blur, the staff rushing around, a couple of diners leaving their meals to lend mobiles. I didn’t know how to work it, I threw it back and said, “you call.”

When the flashing lights got there they bundled us both in the back of the ambulance, Al more carefully of course. I knew he was goner. It was how his mother went. I held his limp hand and thought how we hadn’t held hands in years.

His nose hair stopped tickling his upper lip on the road that led to the hospital. The paramedic turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, he’s gone.”

It felt like Christmas eve back when the kids were little. It felt like the weight of a 14 stone man had been lifted from my shoulders. It felt like happiness.

“Do you cook salmon in a foil parcel,” I said the paramedic, “or do you pan fry?”

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What are we?

What’s that “we” all about.

“We don’t really drink. We only have a couple of beers.”

Do you become a collective as soon as you say I’d love to be with you? Do you suddenly loose all sense of self and merge into one person who is unable to make a decision without the other?

“Can I take your order sir?”

Man looks at him, all panicked,  “I’ll just wait for the wife, she’ll be along soon.” This translates to: “I can’t make a decision without the Mrs making one first.”

We. What happened to I. Who am I. What do I do. What do I want to do?

I know who we are, we are a couple, a pair, two. We are that couple who make single people sick, sick with dread because we call each other pet names and drink, eat, think the same thing. I’ll have what you’re having. I was just thinking that.

I know who I am. I’m quiet. Is it because we are comfortable with silence but maybe I just have nothing to say, we have nothing to say. Maybe that’s okay though, the world is too loud anyway.

I know what I do. I do everything. I am classic. I cook, I clean, I read. I do all those tasks that I am expected to do as a female, because in my tiny frame I have ovaries and I have this fatty tissue in my chest. Lead balloons  than anchor me in the kitchen or bent over the toilet- scrubbing shit.

What do I want to do. That’s the one I don’t get. What do I want? Do I want to talk, no. I like the quiet. I don’t want it to be all roller coasters and high speed chases. What I do want is some love, some recognition for what I do. A kiss. So much power is in a kiss. A spontaneous I love you and a kiss on the end of my nose carries more than anything else, more than that bunch of flowers you spent a fortune on back a few years. That nose kiss, to me, means the world.

What are we?

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