Authors: Jane Marciano
© Jane Marciano 2013
Jane Marciano has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd
Table of Contents
, we’ve had a blazing row and Freddie’s chucked me out! And I’m standing here outside the flat in the cold and wet and I’m getting wetter and I’m
fed up now, so
may I come round to yours for a while, bro?”
It was apparent that yelling into my mobile phone wasn’t having the desired effect, so I stopped for a moment and tried to concentrate, but still heard nothing. I wasn’t even sure I’d heard his voice in the first place. One’s imagination can play weird tricks on you when you’re desperate. And I know this, because my voice rose an octave despite my resolve.
“Oh, for God’s sake….Jonti? Are you there? Can you hear me?”
The phone suddenly squawked angrily into my ear. Wincing, but ever the optimist, I held it out and studied the battery icon. My despair increased at what I saw. Or, rather, what I didn’t see. No wonder no reception. I’d forgotten to charge the battery.
I glanced down at my watch, which was still working fine, though I don’t really know why I bothered to look. Just habit, I guess. After all, the time hardly mattered since it could hardly affect my currently dismal situation one way or another. But for good measure I clocked it as being just after nine pm and it was starting to get dark. Great if you’re all dolled up and about to go out for the evening and have yourself a fabulous time, and then have a place to return to afterwards where you can lay your head down and dream good dreams with someone you love beside you. Otherwise it’s pretty rubbish.How could I have guessed what the evening would bring?
It had begun when I’d arrived home from a late night working at the office and found my partner, Freddie Gillette, in bed with another woman, in actual fact a work colleague of mine and a friend – or so I’d always presumed.
Before the breadwinner in question had turned mouldy, Freddie and I had been living together for more than three years, and we’d been seeing one another a year or so before that, so you can understand how the destruction of my cosy world had come as a complete shock.
The day had started normally enough; Freddie had left the flat early to go to work at his studio and I’d locked up behind me before running to catch the bus for the nearest underground station which stopped a couple of blocks from where I worked in a bank as a
secretary. I didn’t drive, so pretty much relied on taxis and public transport generally to get me where I needed to go. Or Freddie would drive us. When we were going out together.
Due to an oversight on Kristie’s behalf, as her senior I’d had to work overtime. She’d only joined us about a year or so earlier, but we’d become friendly, so I took it on the chin while she’d left on time.
Of course, now I understood a little more about how she’d engineered it all, but at the time I wasn’t really fussed. After all, a late night getting home late wasn’t to have been a problem, because I knew that Freddie had planned to be home late, too, as he’d said he had to finish off a mural at his studio. Unusually for an artist, he liked to keep his studio and his work separate from his home. So for years he’d simply kept an old warehouse in Camden which he kept solely for that purpose.
When I did arrive home, even as I closed the door behind me I’d heard an intriguing sound coming from the direction of our bedroom. Now my wits at times might be dull, but my hearing’s pretty acute. For one brief, alarming moment I actually thought it may be burglars but then I quickly discounted that idea. Burglars didn’t sound anything like this, I was pretty sure of that, although I had never been in that sort of predicament. But surely burglars don’t give off girlish giggles and moan as they search through your drawers to pilfer whatever goodies they can find? At least, I wouldn’t have thought so, not unless they were really very weird. Or were women. Do you get women burglars? I don’t think so. Anyway, brave or foolish, I’d crept along the hallway, quietly opened the bedroom door and peered around it. And then I was struck dumb, literally, and I couldn’t move. I felt as if my feet had been glued to the floor. Even my heart seemed to have stopped beating as I took in the scene of Freddie and sweet little red-haired Kristie Gillingham, both naked on the duvet, enjoying the Super King that Freddie and I had bought only a few weeks earlier, when together we’d tested one mattress after another in the store until we’d found the perfect memory foam snug fit. And there was no doubt it was currently living up to its name.
It was then they both looked up and noticed me standing there gaping at them in total stupefaction. Freddie’s initial expression of guilt turned to one almost of irritation an annoyance, so that I felt almost as if I should have knocked first before entering. But then I looked at Kristie and I was well and truly shocked. I expected contrition. At least shame. I wanted apology. But the gaze she turned on me was one of pure gloating and undiluted triumph. I also felt her hatred, she didn’t even try to mask it, and it was unmistakeable. And it shook me to the centre of my core.
It was that cold-blooded look combining satisfaction and loathing that was to be my undoing because, instead of me keeping cool and in control, which I like to think is my normal way of approaching problems, or even appealing to Freddie’s sense of fair play, which might have got me somewhere, I found myself standing beside her. I wanted to remove that awful look from her face. So I slapped her. I did it without thought or reason, just a sheer reaction to the whole disgusting situation.
Of course, I was immediately appalled at what I’d done. I’d never hit anyone before, never. Never wanted to, had never been provoked enough to do so before. But also I’d never been pushed beyond human endurance the way I felt I had been then. So I stood there, stunned and uncomprehending, and I started crying.
And Kristie’s reaction to being slapped? Well, she screamed, of course. Very loudly. Then, holding the side of her face, she fell back onto the pillows with a great deal more impact and dramatization than the slap really warranted. A bit like a pro footballer on TV making more of a meal of a foul tackle than was absolutely justified.
As for me, I was in agony as it was. But I didn’t fail to notice how her lips curved into a mocking, self-satisfied smile, which unfortunately only I seemed to see, because Freddie reached across her as if shielding her from any further abuse that I might’ve decided to lay on her, and ordered me out of there. Naturally I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it, any of it. But I wasn’t going to beg or plead with the two-timing bastard. Not in front of her, anyway.
Which brought me to this
predicament.Now, despite being the victim in this old as the hills scenario, everything had gone awry. Instead of Kristie slinking away into the cold night air like the treacherous, lying little bitch she was, and me being chased by my lover into the sunset and then being caught and kissed and comforted, with him then telling me he was sorry he’d wronged me and swearing allegiance ever more before going down on one knee and begging me to marry him,
was the one who’d been cast adrift.Because the flat belonged to him and he’d decided
was the interloper.
Needless to say I was so shocked by all this that, dumb ass that I am, I’d stupidly not even considered grabbing any of my stuff before I was run
off.Actually, triple dumb ass, since as well as not having remembered to charge my phone for some time, I’d also left my umbrella back at the office.
So, here I was, single again, humiliated and homeless, holding a dead phone, and sopping wet because the rain was bucketing down around me in heavy sheets. Terrific!
It wasn’t so dark with the street lamps on but I was beginning to think I was becoming invisible. Because of the foul weather, there were few people around. What pedestrians there were passed me by hurriedly, sheltering under the covers of their umbrellas, their ears full of whatever they were listening to on their
iPhones, their eyes unseeing. I think it’s a sad result of today’s wondrous technology that nobody looks at anybody else anymore, not on public transport, and especially not at strangers in the street at night anymore, unless they’re really brave and fearless. Seems to me direct eye contact is verboten in case it’s mistaken for aggressive behaviour.
Even a group of youths on the street opposite didn’t bother crossing over the road to terrorise me -
a lone, single female in her thirties who normally might have been a prime target and vulnerable to attack if she hadn’t probably looked so completely wired herself. Because doubtlessly I must have looked like someone to be avoided as I stood by the kerb moaning and cursing. If anyone did look, they probably thought I was talking to myself, which I was, of course.
So not only was I out of touch with my brother because my damn phone was dead, I felt miserable and wretched and totally undesirable due to what had just happened. I felt like I was just a squashed creature of no account, ground to dust under a man’s disdainful heel because he’d found a younger and meatier mate.
I saw a taxi with its ‘for hire’ light on, so I hailed it. But either he really didn’t see me through his frantic windscreen wipers, or had decided to ignore me for whatever reason. Because it didn’t stop. Maybe he’d finished for the night and was on his way home. Who knows? Because I’m certainly not a threatening looking woman by any surge of the imagination. Another time I might have taken his registration and reported him, because I don’t think licensed black cabs are allowed to turn down a fare if they have their light on, but I was too dispirited and weary to make a fuss, so I just simply watched the guy drive away into the distance.
I felt numb, and wondered if I had enough change on me to get a bus. It meant walking a few stops in the rain, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do in the circumstances. Okay, my shoes weren’t exactly waterproof but I couldn’t just stand there, and there was no way I was going to hitch a lift. You hear all manner of dreadful things happening to people who ignored the common sense they were born with.
I had decided to take shelter in someone’s doorway to consider my next move and count whatever small change I had in my purse when something miraculous happened. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly a miracle, but it was certainly marvellous, because I hadn’t moved a muscle but suddenly a taxi cab slid up alongside me, and the driver wound down his window and spoke.
“You okay, Miss?” He sounded so concerned I was quite touched that there was still such kindness in the world.
I said, “One of your guys just drove straight past me when I tried to flag him down.”
He nodded apologetically. “Yes, I know, I saw what happened. I was just dropping off a fare further along the road. Disgraceful conduct.”
“Shouldn’t be allowed,” I grumbled. “Guys like that should be reported to The Public Carriage Office.”
“Yes, well, on behalf of all us knights of the road, I apologise profusely,” the guy said, with a smile that showed off some pretty fine, white teeth. “Perhaps I can be of service instead? Why don’t you get in before you melt?”
I didn’t need any more of an invitation, particularly since the rain was seeping through the soles of my shoes so that I could feel my toes squelching. Even as he turned off the ‘For Hire’ sign, I had opened the passenger door and clambered inside. “Thanks,” I said gratefully as I shook water off me and soaked the seats instead.
Giving the driver my brother’s address in Hadley Wood, I sank back against the soft leather, slicking my wet fringe from out of my eyes as he pared away from the kerb and gunned the engine.
I stared outside, not really looking at the passing scenery as we drove through the dark streets. Everything outside seemed to be one big blur. Numbness and tiredness had gripped me in equal measures. Maybe it was shock setting in at last, because I didn’t feel quite real, almost as if I were in a dream. I found myself reliving the events of the past couple of hours. I kept seeing Kristie’s face. The cruelty in her expression, the anger in his. And I kept seeing them together. Watching the whole sordid thing over and over again like a slow-motion movie in my mind. It was giving me a headache but it seemed I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it.
Fortunately, the taxi driver seemed to pick up on my mood and the fact that I wasn’t feeling very communicative, because after the first query to ask where I wanted to be taken, he didn’t try to attempt to chat, like some taxi drivers would, but kept his peace and simply drove expertly through the traffic until twenty minutes or so later we drew up at the block of flats where
Jonti, my brother, lived, with his wife, Miranda.
I opened the door of the cab and climbed out onto the pavement. For a moment I just stood there beside the taxi, staring listlessly ahead, presumably looking as spaced-out as I felt. Then I was aware of the sound of the engine dying as the driver also got out of the cab and the next moment a strong, steadying hand had gripped my elbow, supporting me, when I didn’t even realise I needed support.
“Here, let me help you,” a deep voice said kindly.
I turned my head to acknowledge him, and the taxi driver pointed to the short flight of steps leading to the main front door of the block of flats. “Here?” he asked gently. I nodded, unable to reply, suddenly feeling completely overwhelmed, and not just by earlier events.