The only imperative is to get away quickly before...
But I can’t go yet, not till the flat´s sold.
As soon as the flat´s sold I´ll go... doesn´t matter where, travel round the country perhaps... or abroad. I´ll rent... or maybe a caravan or a barge. No point in buying, not till I´ve found somewhere I want to settle or someone who...
Wish I could go now, but if I move out before we´ve sold it, if I go and leave him here, he’ll get his grubby hands on the place. He knows people who know people who know how you do that sort of thing. Martin... the worst mistake I ever made. On the other hand if I stay here much longer I’m going to make a worse mistake, much worse, the sort of mistake that can...
A door shutting. It’s her, Simone. Not turning to go down the stairs but tap-tapping straight across the landing with that rhythmic step of hers, one foot ever so slightly heavier than the other. And tap-tapping on the door; she does that rhythmically too: di-dum, di-dum, di-dum. I used to be pleased when I heard that tap, a break from... not that I said anything, not that I gave her a clue there was anything wrong between me and Martin. She could never have suspected, determined as she is to see only innate goodness and beauty and all that sort of rot when she peeks out of the window of her snug little smug little world.
Di-dum, di-dum, di-dum. She must know I´m here. She must have seen me come in. Or heard. I should climb the stairs more quietly, take off my shoes. No, if someone saw they’d think I’m... I can’t imagine what they’d think. How things change and people... Simone fruiting... and me.... suddenly baby-longing when it´s almost too late. It never used to be an issue, seemed a good idea to wait. Martin thought so, too. Or so he said... maybe even then, maybe that´s why, he knew we weren´t going to last.
“Helene, you there? It’s me, Simone.”
“In the bathroom. Just a minute.”
I can handle most things, getting fired, the break-in, dinner for fifteen at an hour’s notice, the calls to his mobile that I’m glad I answered otherwise who knows how long it would have taken till I found out about the adverts, about the dates. And knowing what I know, knowing the truth, I can handle that, too. And Simone chuckling when she thinks she’s done something that’ll please me, like photographing me and Martin pretending to be all lovey dovey and presenting me with that article about child-free couples - as they’re called these days - having a better chance of being happy than couples with children, I can handle that. But face to face with Simone and her ripening belly, luminous, wanting everyone round her to share her self-satisfaction, I scare myself... . The world is full of implements, pointed implements, sharp implements, dangerous implements. There are knives in the wooden knife block in the kitchen, a carving knife, a bread knife, utility knives - all dishwasher-safe with stainless steel blades and heads. There are scissors in the drawer underneath the hob and a tin opener. And in the tool set I bought Martin, the last present I gave him before... there´s a drill, a screwdriver...
I can´t put it off any longer, opening the door. I fold my arms round her shoulders, so that I don’t see it, and I stand far enough away so that I don’t touch it. Kiss, kiss. Kiss, kiss.
“Simone, I was just thinking of you.”
I tow her in.
“You´ll never guess what that silly husband of mine´s done,” she says indulgently.
“Cut right through a cable... so we´ve no electricity... none at all. I get home from a hard day´s toil dying for a cup of hot strong tea. If I have to wait much longer I don´t know...”
I settle her in the rocking chair by the window and busy myself noisily in the kitchen, pouring water into kettle and milk into milk jug, rattling cups and saucers and spoons, crashing cupboard doors.
What´s she saying now?
“I can’t hear, Simone.”
She comes to stand by me and chuckles that chuckle...
“I have a favour to ask you. I’d be so pleased. We’d be so pleased.”
“We want you to be godmother.”
“Yes, you. Who else?”
How can she ask ME? Can´t she see? If she’s my friend, if she thinks we’re friends, she should leave before I say something that´ll hurt. I don´t want to hurt her. She should understand that and help me contain the envy spite venom instead of...
“Bit soon, isn’t it?”
“I know but I have this long long to-do list and it feels so good crossing things off.”
“What does it involve,” I ask, “being a godmother?” To gain time. I know perfectly well what it involves but I need time to psyche myself up for the lie, paint a smile on my face, coax some affection into my voice.
I´ll be gone way before the baby´s born. And she won´t have a forwarding address. She’ll get over it, forget I´ve let her down, forget we were once friends. After all everyone gets let down, everyone loses friends. It´s part of being alive and if she hasn’t experienced that yet it’s high time she did. I´m doing her a favour.
I arrange the tea things on a tray, place the tray on the cane storage unit - which is high enough to hide it
when she sits down - and seat myself opposite her.
“Just what I need,” I say. “A short break.”
I hope she takes the hint. The sooner she goes the sooner I can get onto that estate agent, make sure she´s not slacking, make sure that selling this flat is her number one project.
Please God don´t let it fall through. Luck´s certainly been on our side so far. For a buyer to turn up so quickly... a cash buyer at that! But there can be last minute hitches glitches twitches. Was it Jane whose buyer had a stroke the very day they were due to complete? Please God let it go smoothly so that I never have to live side by side with him again. Or her. And my half of the money sitting safely in the bank. I should hear by ten-thirty they said, eleven at the latest. Then I tell the removers it´s on and as soon as my share of the stuff... must watch them, and Martin too. He´ll be back soon with a mate and a van. Unless... please God don´t let him change his mind and pull out now. I´ve told them every single item with a yellow sticker and the contents of every single cupboard drawer box with a yellow sticker but you have to watch them... as soon as everything´s packed and stored I´ll be off. Free as a bird winging wildly across the wide white orchards and dark green fields - how does it go? - on on and out of sight, Martin´s sight and Simone´s. No more counting ten twenty thirty a hundred till I´ve got my tongue under control. No more holding my breath till I´ve conquered my impulse to strike out. No more. No more. Just me. And if my luck holds, who knows...
A door closing. Simone? No her ´silly husband´ George. He´s not turning to go down the stairs - he´s marching straight across the landing, rapping urgently on the door.
“Helene. It´s George.”
He should be at work. Why isn´t he at work? I wanted to slip away without saying anything.
He looks paper pale and his lower lip is wobbling.
“Something the matter?”
“It´s Simone. Can you go to her? She fell...”
He nods. “My fault. I´d taken up a couple of floorboards...”
Somewhere behind my eyes a stopper is loosened and tears splash my cheeks. Somewhere in my throat a lid is lifted and I´m blubbing like an infant. There´s a swirling in my skull and a stirring in my gut. I´m losing my balance.
George catches me, helps me across the room, settles me in the rocking chair by the window.
“I didn´t mean to upset you. I´m sorry,” he says in a breaking voice. “Only Simone... she needs someone... and she won´t let me near her.”
What´s happening to me? I never cry. I´m not the crying type. But I can´t stop. I point to my handbag. He understands, opens it, passes me the tissues.
Eventually when I can get the words out I say that yes I´ll go to her, of course I will, and yes I´ll look after her, don´t worry, everything will be all right, and yes he can wait here, of course he can, and I´m sure I can get her to change her mind and I´ll call him as soon as, the very minute, I swear I will.