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It’s Tuesday. Again.
The Tuesdays of my previous existence slipped by unnoticed. None of the loaded expectation of a Monday, the bittersweet bliss of a Sunday, nor the joyful anticipation of a Thursday. Instead, they simply vanished into the working week, absorbed by the busyness of life, eaten up by meetings and emails and Things To Attend To.
Tuesdays are somewhat different now.
There’s a poster in my therapist’s office. It’s hidden behind the door, as though she’s not quite sure if it’s good taste. Colourful calligraphy reminds me It’s good to talk! every time the door is closed, barring my escape. Good for her, yes. Even now, I still drive the four and a half miles to her practice, once a week. I pay my six pieces of silver (ten pound notes) and sit on her sofa (I am still a little disappointed by this; I had pictured a Le Corbusier for that money at the very least) and I cry like a bereaved mother is supposed to. I cry so much that I hate myself. I cry until blood vessels burst under my eyelids, until I’m so full of self-loathing that I want to scrub myself out and start all over again. And at the end of my 45 minutes I wipe my face, blow my nose and go home like a good girl.
Jack is waiting for my return, his face a backlit smudge hovering at the living room window as I pull up in my car. He’s hoping desperately for a breakthrough, for a sign that I’ve made some progress. But I have nothing to give him. Instead, I step into the hallway, put my bag down on the floor and silently wrap my arms around him. He doesn’t ask me how the session has gone.
Tonight, as usual, there’s something warm in the oven waiting; comfort food – even though he knows I’ll only pick at it. We make small talk over dinner and then, despite the fact it makes me drowsy with the medication I’m on, I drink red wine in front of the fireplace.
It’s not so much a fireplace as a brick-built fire area, complete with enormous tiled hearth, wood-burning stove and old rusty nails, left over from the previous owners’ collection of horse brasses. This is what you get for escaping to the country. An acre of land that leads down to a sad excuse for a river, five bedrooms, two bathrooms, outbuildings to house your husband’s new carpentry business, and no neighbours for three quarters of a mile.
The perfect family home. Except for the people dying on my doorstep on a regular basis, that is.
As we do every evening, we sit in front of this fireplace, in what people always describe as companionable silence, but more often is merely indifferent. Jack is reading. I know he wants to be watching TV really, a political drama on Netflix, something like that would do nicely, but he’s trying to be supportive, by providing the space for me to ‘open up’. Instead of talking to him, however, I am guiltily staring into that space, as I always do, counting the rusted horse-brass nails in the bricks, from top to bottom. There are eighteen, but I always count them carefully, in case I’ve missed one.
Today I’m thinking how, in a previous life, I would have used these nails for something decorative. To hang pictures, perhaps? Me, Jack and our adorable brood. No, that would have looked too messy. What else then? At Christmas, you could use them to hang a wreath from. Not a wreath, that’s the wrong word. Wreaths are for front doors and graves. A garland. A beautiful winding garland, with holly and snowberries - it would twist all around the arched opening to the fire, creating a ‘centrepiece’.
The week is stretching ahead of us, empty and cold. We haven’t lit the fire yet this year and my toes are chilly underneath my blanket. October is such an empty month. I wonder what we can do with a cold, dull weekend at the end of a cold, dull week, just the two of us here at home. A few weeks ago, my father made noises about coming to visit us this Sunday but as usual, he hasn’t confirmed. I phoned his PA yesterday. She had no record of his planned visit in her diary.
I swallow a large gulp of wine.
Suddenly, Jack puts down his book. My eyes rest on the spine. It’s a biography of a racing car driver, Senna. I am vaguely aware that he died young but that he died doing what he loved. People were devastated at his death, lamenting it as a terrible waste, but I envy him. That’s the way to go. We all have to go at some point, so why not go like that? And after all, death is only sad for the people you leave behind.
Jack is looking at me.
‘What are you thinking about?’ he says. In the dull light, his face looks more drawn than I remember it, and I give myself an inward kick for not noticing him more, the toll it’s taken on him too.
‘Senna,’ I say, because it’s true. I nod towards the book laid down on the arm of his chair. ‘I was thinking how much I envied him.’
Jack shakes his head. He doesn’t know how to deal with this. In the old days when I was given to moments of self pity he would write me off as being melodramatic, but I’m untouchable now.
‘Darling,’ he says, and I know he’s about to ask me how my therapy session went, but he thinks better of it and so he stops.
‘It’s fine,’ I say, giving a lopsided smile. ‘Sorry. I was being stupid.’ I adopt a sing song voice, all feigned nonchalance. I pick up my wine glass, holding it aloft. ‘Don’t worry. Not going to top myself. Not this week when there’s still Malbec left in the cellar!’
A flicker of disapproval passes across his face; his lips are set in a line. He knows the drinking makes my depression worse. I hate what I am doing to him.
‘I was only going to say that you had a phone call while you were out,’ he says. ‘But you looked so serious…’
A phone call. The way he’s said it makes me think that finally, finally, she’s got in touch. There’s been an epiphany and she’s penitent, devastated, she wants to beg for my forgiveness. She wants to make it right, somehow, even though she knows she never can.
But this is the Ash of my fantasies. She doesn’t exist, because she isn’t a real person. This isn’t how Ash is. This is someone far removed from reality, someone I imagined into existence when I met her, someone I credited with more than she could ever deserve.
Suddenly, the wine tastes acrid and I put my glass down on the coffee table, watching as one dark red drip travels back down the inside of the glass.
‘Who was it?’ I ask. In the few seconds before he replies, I try to guess. Kate perhaps? My father? Not my mother…
And then just as he tells me, I realise I already know. Of course it was him, he’s been trying to track me down for weeks. I don’t answer my mobile any more. Most of the time, in fact, it’s switched off. But I have seen the missed calls gathering, and I have listened to his breezy voicemail.
Jack lets out a great sigh. And I wonder if he knows, or if he’s just tired of dredging up the past, never knowing how I’ll react.
‘David,’ he says, and the name is somehow comforting; proof that my powers of deduction, if nothing else, aren’t as sodden as the rest of me.
‘He wants you to ring him.’
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