by Louise Yates
Chapter 2 - Changed from original Chapter 2
The room grew lighter around her, despite the blinds being pulled firmly closed, and she rubbed at her puffy eyes, feeling the slight sting from where the tissues had rubbed them raw.
She listened for the all too familiar morning sounds of Jake, the loud clink and clatter of crockery as he fixed his morning muesli, the sound of the shower as the water washed across his body, splashing off the bottles of shampoo and body gel and the inevitable crash as the tap fell off yet again, just another thing that required seeing to in the castle of broken dreams.
Silence pierced by the occasional, maddening drip of the kitchen tap drove the memory home. Jake was gone. She stood up, feeling dizzy. Rubbing her face, she felt the slight pull on her finger as her wedding band caught the skin of her cheek. Had Jake been wearing his ring? As far as she knew, it hadn’t left his finger since she had slid it on, inching it over his knuckle, at the church. Why couldn’t she recall seeing it?
Realising she was standing like a robot, she forced herself up the stairs. Relationships had never been her strong point. Yes, it was assumed by many of her friends that she had it all figured out. Boy were they wrong. A small laugh escaped her cracked lips. It would have been easier if she had dated more. That way she would have at least had something to go on. Jake had been her first, well only, serious boyfriend and they had seemed solid from the start. Yes, they had argued at times but they had never been apart. Now, a piece of her was missing and if she examined her heart, it felt more like she was mourning a dead husband and not a man who suddenly didn’t want to be with her. Signs. There had to be signs. That’s what those ridiculous chick flicks and self-help books always said. Things don’t happen for no reason. It must have been obvious for a while that something was wrong. If she knew anything about it husband it was that wasn’t really the spur of the moment kinda guy. Things were meticulously thought out and strategized to ensure he always achieve whatever goal he had set himself. At times she had felt like one of those little soldier figures in a table top recreation of some historic battle, waiting for the General’s orders to advance. She hadn’t always liked him holding her strings however, it had brought her a certain amount of comfort knowing that someone seemed to have some control of things. Now, it seemed like she didn’t know him at all. How could she have been so blind? Had it been obvious to their friends and if she picked up the phone and called one of them, she would be greeted by something akin to ‘I told ya so’?
If life had taught her anything, it was simply this: Don’t try to face a problem until you are ready and don’t stop moving until you do. She had things to do and if Jake’s note was any indication of his intentions, not much time to do it in. Step 1. Get organised. Step 2. Get Husband back. Step 3. Well, fuck step 3, that could come after the first steps were accomplished.
‘The number you are dialling is either switched off or disconnected…’
With a frown she hung up and looked at the time emblazoned in large digits on the screen. 10:15. She had meant to call him at 10am. As the time drew closer, the rehearsal in her head grew louder and more incoherent. What was she going to say to him? She knew she couldn’t cry. Crying wouldn’t help anything and besides, once the tears came she usually became a mass of unintelligible noises. She couldn’t beg him to come home. Anger mingled with the sadness. No, he had made his decision to leave and she had to accept that. The only question was, why.
With a shaking hand, she dialled his number, forgetting to use speed dial.
‘The number you are dialling is either switched off or disconnected.’
‘Javier, I know it is short notice but I need to know how many of my pieces you have sold.’
‘You seem to be the flavour of the month ma Cherie. You are, what is that crude American expression? Selling like hotcakes.’
‘Wonderful. I am going to give you updated bank details. I will be relocating shortly, just a change of scenery but don’t stress. I won’t stop working.’
She relayed the details of the account she had just set up and once she was certain the Frenchman had copied down the details correctly, ended the call. She had learnt the hard way that once Javier started talking, it would seem like a month before he stopped. On a good day, he could articulate himself reasonably well. More so when speaking in his native tongue. When forced to speak English, which she preferred since her French was rusty at best, he tripped over the words and his sentences were punctuated by ‘uh’ at regular intervals as he figured out each word in turn. She couldn’t really blame him, if forced to speak French, he would have to make do with rather long periods of silence while she searched her mind for the correct word.
With finances as secure as she could get them, she hurried over to the high street. Moving forward was the only option. If she stopped, for even a second it was possible that she wouldn’t move again. The ice in her veins would solidify. The fatigue she felt would weigh her down and she would fall into the catatonic state she feared would overtake her.
‘So what kind of place are you after?’ Holly stared across the desk at her. Her manicured nails in cherry red, hovering over her keyboard as she waited a response. Holly had been a prefect at the college she had attended and one of those women who were the definition of fake nice. Her blond hair was set firm with spray in an impenetrable helmet to protect the brains she must surely possess yet struggled to show.
Maggie looked down at her own hands. Acetone had dried her skin out so that the ridges closely resembled a desert and flecks of paint clung to her nails, evidence of the colour schemes of her latest work. A manicurist’s nightmare.
‘Oh, looking for a nice quiet place by the coast for when I need a change of scenery. Jake isn’t much for sea air however the city just isn’t doing it for me.’ Keep it simple Maggie. The less you say, the less you will be questioned. Just keep it brief and pray this bloody woman doesn’t ask after Jake.
‘Oh lovely. Yes, our menfolk can be quite annoying when it comes to what is best for the creative muse. I hear your last show was a success, although with the money Jake must make it is nice to have a “hobby” isn’t it. She stared at the woman, hearing the little devil on her shoulder egging her on.
Hobby! Your work isn’t a bloody hobby. Rip those bloody nails clean off her fingers and shove them down her throat.
Swallowing the bile which had risen in her throat, she smiled.
‘Oh yes, it certainly keeps me busy. Do you have anything on the books or shall I look elsewhere? I don’t want to waste your time after all.’
Holly turned back to her computer, her acrylic nails tapping away at the keys.
‘So, what are the main things you are after?’
‘Mainly by the water and quiet. If I can sleep through without being woken by cars and neighbours every day I will be happy.’
From her vantage point, she could see results displaying on the screen. She leant forward expectantly.
‘Hmmm. I’m not liking the look of this…’ the tapping of the keyboard grey louder as Holly continued to hit the down arrow. ‘That is out of your price range, this one is too far away - can’t see you and Jake commuting this far for the sake of a new little workshop for you.’
As Maggie watched, more and more listings were scanned and dismissed. Her hands began to clench and the pent-up frustrations and emotions she needed to release bubbled just below the surface. Her eye lid quivered and she wiped at her eye forcing it to still and not draw attention.
‘Oh the cheeky buggers! Holly, I think someone has just scampered with one of your signs,’ she stared towards the window at the front of the shop, craning her neck and pretending to view the outside world.
With a flick of her heels, Holly was up and barrelling towards the door on a mission. The coffee mug on her desk wobbling precariously from the sudden movement. Casting a quick look towards the door, Maggie moved around the desk, banging her thigh on the squared corner and dropped into the ergonomic chair. With her heart in her throat, she scrolled through the listings, scanning for the main points of interest.
A picture of a stone cottage caught her eye. She opened the listing and her breath caught as she saw images of untamed nature. Sapphire waves crashing against moss covered cliffs. Scrolling down, she scribbled the contact number for the agent on her palm, the ink of the pen bleeding into the lines that supposedly revealed her destiny.
Dropping the pen, she navigated back to the main search page and reclaimed her seat. Smoothing her pants and trying to control her breathing.
The door opened and Holly swept in, breathing heavily and staring at her like an eagle who had just had a scrap of meat torn from its beak.
‘I thought you said someone had pinched my signage. It’s still bloody outside.’
‘Oh, someone must have run past holding some different sign. Sorry, I could have sworn it was one of yours. Didn’t want anyone stealing anything off you. Anyway, are we done here? You didn’t have any luck, did you?’
‘Well I haven't finished my search but it isn’t looking like anything is suitable for you,’ a hand crept up to ensure her hair was still neat as she moved around the desk and threw herself back into her chair, which complained with a loud squeak.
‘Well I will get out of your hair then. Thanks for looking anyway. We should catch up for a drink soon.’
‘Yes, see you.’ Holly’s eyes returned to her computer screen, virtually dismissing Maggie from her presence.
Maggie didn’t wait around. Grabbing the well-worn leather handbag which she had dumped on the ground, she swung out of her chair and headed for the door.
Safely outside, she strode around the corner before reaching into her bag for her phone. With steady fingers, she typed in the phone number.
The phone began to dial.
‘Ello, Murphy’s Bluff Realty. This is Nigel Thickett.’