Authors: Lucy Diamond
Tags: #Fiction, #General
It wasn’t until Neil found the pill packets eleven months into their marriage that things got nasty. He was so angry that she’d deceived him. Furious. ‘Why couldn’t you just say in the first place, rather than lying about it?’ he’d yelled. ‘It’s like there’s a brick wall around you – you won’t let me through.’
She’d congratulated herself on that brick wall in private later. Brick walls were good, weren’t they? They stopped you getting hurt when your husband went off and had it away with Linda O’Connor.
‘Told you so,’ her mum had scoffed, when Katie had told her that she’d left Neil. ‘Didn’t I say he was no good?’
‘Yes, Mum,’ Katie had replied. ‘And you were right. If I ever see him again, it’ll be too soon.’
That Friday night, Katie and Steve had ended up getting royally smashed. Not in a joyous, celebratory kind of way, clinking glasses of bubbly and gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes. It was more of a let’s-get-through-this drinking session, where Katie found herself draining glass after glass of red wine as if it were some kind of medicinal broth that could take away the shock of Steve’s words.
The subject of marriage and children hadn’t been referred to again, although it hung between them like a toxic cloud, ever-present in the atmosphere. They’d made small talk about work stuff but she hadn’t been able to concentrate on what he was saying. Then they’d had rather unsatisfactory sex in the enormous roll-top bath – not a fancying-each-other burst of passion, more a mercy shag where Katie felt she had to make things up to Steve and clambered on top of him, easing her wet body onto his. A guilt shag. A sorry-I-said-no shag. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking; the bathroom was dimly lit and his face gave nothing away.
‘I do love you, you know,’ she whispered when he’d come.
He wrapped his arms around her, but said nothing. No I-love-you-too. She felt as if they were in a perilous place for a moment, as if he were building up to another marriage-and-children ultimatum, and sighed, sending a small skiff of bubbles sailing onto the black marble floor.
Where to now? How did they navigate their way through these choppy waters?
there a way back even, or was it straight on ’til Dumpsville?
Her thoughts drifted to the house – if he’d want to stay there, or if he’d move out and demand some kind of recompense for all the mortgage contributions he’d made. Would she have to sell up to pay him off? God, she hated the upheaval, the sheer bloody hard work of it, the packing and unpacking, the . . .
She stopped, sickened by herself. Why was she being so bloody practical, at a time like this? Why was she hard-wired to analyse everything so cold-mindedly, as if emotionally detached from it all? Maybe Neil had been right – maybe she
cold. Lying bitch, he’d called her when he’d found the pills she’d kept secret for so long. He’d thrown it in her face, the foil packet had scraped her cheek. For a split second, she was afraid of him: she actually thought he might belt her one, he seemed so clenched with rage.
She sat up clumsily now, disentangling herself from Steve’s embrace and sending a scented tidal wave sloshing over the curved edge of the bath. ‘Just going to check out the minibar,’ she mumbled, clambering out inelegantly. ‘Want anything?’
Loaded question. He looked at her and, for a moment, the pair of them were frozen in this awful tableau while she waited for his reply. Then he spoke. ‘Complete annihilation,’ he said. ‘Whatever they’ve got.’
Complete annihilation? God. That sounded pretty desperate. A broken man – and she’d done the breaking. Was it possible to mend the pieces of their relationship, glue them carefully back together, or were things shattered beyond repair?
It was Sunday now, and things still felt messy. Breakfast on Saturday had been a muted affair; a fry-up and coffee in the glitzy hotel restaurant, polite quiet conversation on neutral territory, flicking through the paper. Steve’s eyes were the giveaway. He had sparkly eyes, Steve, blue-grey with rogue flecks of yellow, light and amused, the skin at the edges frayed with laughter lines. But his eyes were dull that morning, his face sagging slightly. He hadn’t bothered to shave, and his iron-filing stubble seemed a reproach; a don’t-kiss-me statement. Or was she being paranoid?
She’d sat there barely able to eat her egg on toast, feeling as if she were stewing inside with guilt. She was actually starting to wish she’d said yes now, if only to evaporate the choking melancholic haze that hung over them. If she’d said yes, it wasn’t as if they’d necessarily have to
anything about getting married for years. People had long engagements, didn’t they? Just saying yes didn’t mean you actually had to go through with it. And as for the children bit . . . Well. She’d have to work up to that one. Or not. Maybe she could put that conversation off for a while, too. Say a few years . . .
Her heart thumped the more she thought about it. It wasn’t too late, was it? Could she backtrack, say that she’d reconsidered?
She sat forward in her chair. ‘Steve,’ she said suddenly. ‘I’ve been thinking—’
‘So have I,’ he said, lifting his eyes to hers for what felt like the first time all morning. ‘I think I’m going to move out for a bit.’
Crash. She felt faint, reeling from the slap of his words. She gripped the sides of the table as if the room were moving. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I don’t want you to.’
‘I don’t really want to either,’ he admitted. His voice was dulled with sadness. ‘But I need a bit of space. I need to think about . . . what we said last night. Or rather, what we didn’t say.’
‘No, wait,’ she said feverishly. This was all wrong. She could see the whole chain of events playing out in her head – the proposal, the rejection, the difficult silence, the guilt shag . . . each knocking the next one along, like toppling dominoes. She hadn’t expected the split. The last domino of all, falling flat on its face with a smack.
Cause and effect, her maths brain said. Question and answer. The
Her cutlery fell from her fingers onto the plate. Solid silver against china, clatter, clatter. ‘Steve, listen, I—’ She was trying to dredge up the right words, willing them to come to her tongue, but her brain felt overpowered by what he’d just said. ‘I wish I’d said yes!’ she burst out. Her throat constricted, tears dangerously close. ‘Is it too late to say yes?’
He looked at her deadpan. ‘Katie . . . you said no,’ he reminded her. ‘You made it pretty clear last night.’ He hesitated, looking wretched for a moment, then got to his feet. ‘I’m going to pack my stuff. You stay as long as you like, I’ve paid for the room until eleven. And . . . and I’ll call you in a few days to talk.’
She got up too, and clutched at his hand. ‘No, wait! You can’t go yet! Can’t we talk about it? You haven’t even finished your breakfast!’ It was so trivial. Why was she even looking at that lonely brown sausage on his plate, the triangle of toast?
He gently removed his hand from hers. ‘I’m not hungry. Look – I just need to get my head round this, that’s all. It’s not a drama, okay?’
She looked away. Not a drama? A tear was rolling down her cheek.
Get a load of this, everyone!
she wanted to shout hysterically to the other hotel diners, some of whom were now looking up from their newspapers at them.
Check us out, we’re splitting up! Right in front of you! No charge for the entertainment round here!
‘I’ll see you soon,’ he said, and left the room.
She stood there for a second, and more tears fell. She sat down heavily and saw them land plop, plop on the starched white linen tablecloth. ‘They’re all bastards,’ she heard her mum’s voice say in her head. ‘Didn’t I tell you? You’re better off without him, girl. Let the sod walk away – and good riddance!’
Saturday, 14 June 2008
The train seemed to be taking forever. Not that Georgia minded terribly. Part of her wished it
take forever, that she’d be stuck on it eternally, caught in its juddering limbo halfway through the Pennines. In many ways, thought Georgia, the journey was preferable to the arrival, particularly since she knew that her homecoming would mean the usual cocktail of recriminations and criticism that the Knight family excelled at.
So, what would it be this time? She’d forgotten to send a present for Ned’s birthday the other week. And when she
remembered to get a card in the post, she’d bought one that said
Happy 5th Birthday!
on it. ‘Only two years out,’ Carol had snapped humourlessly. ‘He’s seven, Georgia, not five!’
Yep, she was due some grief for that little faux pas. Oh yeah. She could already see her sister’s un-lipsticked mouth twisting with bitterness, could imagine her un-toned arms folding across that belly of hers, bingo-wings bulging at the sides. Just because she was a mum, just because she had given birth to two hulking infants, Carol thought she’d earned some kind of All-Woman badge of honour. It had always been like that with Carol, though.
I’m better than you!
All the way through their childhood like a broken record.
Ha. As if a boring husband like David and two gormless kids was something to aspire to, something for Georgia to feel jealous of. Dream on.
Don’t flatter yourself, Cazza
, she muttered under her breath.
What else would she be in the doghouse for, then? She might as well prepare herself for the inevitable onslaught.
Not having phoned.
Not having visited.
Not having paid proper attention to the Hatters’ performance last season.
Not having leapt at the chance to go to the Warrington IKEA.
STILL not having a steady boyfriend.
Having married the wrong man in the first place.
Getting so old and decrepit that her eggs would be shrivelling in her ovaries. Her mum was always clipping out articles from the
about women’s fertility nosediving once they hit thirty-five. Big deal. Georgia would rather die in a car crash than ever wear maternity slacks like Carol.
Still, perhaps the black sheep of the family would be overlooked for once, with all the hoo-ha of Nan’s stroke . . .
She wrinkled her nose as the train slowed to a halt in Stoke-on-Trent.
That was seriously bad taste
, she told herself. Naff of her to even veer in the direction of being grateful for Nan having had a stroke. Nan was the best member of Georgia’s family by a mile. Statuesque, with hips like Blackpool Tower, and boobs like suet dumplings, Nan was a matriarch to be reckoned with.
Georgia shut her eyes, and a flood of images rushed into her head. Her nan wearing that big floral pinny to make jam tarts with Georgia and her sister when they were tots, the kitchen sweet and hot.
Her nan singing as she pegged out the washing in the back garden. (
My old man said follow the van, and don’t dilly-dally on the way!
Her nan smacking ten bells out of the lad who’d tried to grab her fat black handbag one day at the shops. As a kid, Georgia had been thrilled and terrified all at once.
Her nan’s mince and tatties, steaming gravy, the best Sunday roasts in the world, slabs of fruit cake on plates with doilies.
Oh, and of course her nan’s cuddles, her great matronly bosoms squashing against you, the smell of ironing and clean laundry . . . For a moment it was as if Georgia were eight years old again, awkward and scrawny with her dark plaits and scabby knees.
She hoped her nan didn’t die. She hoped this stroke didn’t wreck the end of her life. Somehow or other, she’d expected her nan to soldier on for ever, stumping back from the SPAR with her tinned peaches and evaporated milk, stirring stew at the stove and making that annoying high-pitched tuneless crooning noise, sinking a glass of bitter in the pub . . .
She gave herself a shake. She was getting horribly sentimental.
Nan is not going to die
, she told herself firmly. People recovered from strokes, didn’t they? And knowing Nan, she’d be up and about in no time. A trooper, that’s what she was. A hardy lass, tough as old hobnails. She’d outlive the lot of them.
The more Georgia thought about it, the more reassured she felt. Her mum was a bit of a drama queen, all said and done. Georgia could already imagine her nan rolling her eyes about it. ‘She never went and sent for you, did she?’ Nan would exclaim indignantly to Georgia. ‘By ’eck, she’ll have me at death’s door next! Well, I’ve got news for her . . . I’m not going anywhere!’
Georgia opened her eyes with a start as someone sat down beside her. Typical! She’d managed to get a double seat the whole way from Euston and now, just one stop before she had to get off, some Stokey bugger had got on next to her. Well, he’d better not start doing that leg-spreading thing men always seemed to do on trains – oof, must just widen my legs to make room for my gigantic cock, darlin’ – that type of nonsense.
She looked pointedly out of the window as he ferreted about in the bag by his feet, pulled out an iPod and book, stood up, dumped various bits and bobs on the seat, heaved his bag up to the luggage rack . . . For heaven’s sake! Could the man not keep still for two minutes?
She glanced over, her best withering expression on her face ready to stun the hell out of him, and then stared. Oh fuck. It wasn’t, was it? Surely not.
It was. Andy Milton, from her class at school. Gob of the North, her dad had always called him. She shut her eyes and pretended to be asleep so that she wouldn’t have to get into conversation with him. She wanted this trip home to be as swift and uncomplicated as possible. Straight there, spend a bit of time with Nan, and then back home to the real world, to her proper life. No getting bogged down with details of schoolmates from her past. No chit-chat with people she couldn’t care less about.
She sat there as still as she could manage, hoping to remain unnoticed, while the train rumbled and shuddered along, rocking her on her seat as it thundered through the fields and villages, past houses and roads.