by Nickie O’Hara
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Bel stretched out her left arm and clicked the snooze button on the alarm clock. The morning sun brightened the room as it shone against the beige cotton curtains. She opened one eye and squinted at the digital display on the alarm clock. 06:40: she had 10 more minutes until the alarm rang again and she intended not to rise from the bed until the last possible second but already her mind was whirring with the list of tasks to be accomplished that day.
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Joe heard her alarm clock bleeping away and felt the slight movement the bed as she stretched out her arm to hit the snooze button. Why did she do that? He knew that she was awake – her breathing was different. What was she thinking as she lay there? He felt himself drift… slowly… back… to… sleep…
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She turned in bed, opened both her eyes and looked at the digital display again although she already knew what it read. 06:50. Carefully and smoothly she swung her legs out of the bed, padded round the bedroom barefoot, collected the clothes she’d strategically piled on the dresser as she passed and made her way to the bathroom. On the way down the landing she called into each of her boys’ bedrooms, waking them up, reminding them that it was a school day: “Jamie! Ben! Time to get up. School. Now!” she called briskly.
She washed quickly and brushed her teeth, then dressed herself in the tiny bathroom so she wouldn’t disturb Joe in the bedroom. She couldn’t cope with his self-absorbency this early in the morning. It suited her that he chose to stay in bed although she often wondered what would happen if she refused to get up in the morning.
She caught sight of her reflection as she pulled up her tights and looked away again quickly. No wonder he didn’t want to touch her as often these days. She was three sizes bigger than when he’d met her twenty years ago, lumpy, saggy, scarred from operations; she poked at the excess flab on her thighs.
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He felt the bed move as she reached to turn the alarm off and she climbed out of bed. He watched her through almost-closed eyes as she moved quietly around the bed, picking up clothes to wear in her usual smooth motion. “I wish she wasn’t so negative about herself” he thought. “I wish she’d give me a chance. She’s up first, to bed last, she always wears pajamas. It’s almost like she’s avoiding me.” He could hear water splashing in the sink in the bathroom and the boys moving around their bedrooms. He rolled over onto his back and waited.
It was Friday evening. Bel had rushed home from work, phoned up and ordered a take-away for everyone from the local Chinese, wishing that someone had already done all this considering they were having a rare night out together with friends; it was someone’s birthday. A little while later, she stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a large bath towel then used a smaller one to rub the excess water from her hair. One look in the mirror told her that it was going to take longer than the usual ten minutes to look presentable. She stepped closer to the mirror and pulled slightly at the delicate skin under her eyes, trying to stretch the brown shadows away. Grabbing the tweezers from her make-up bag she plucked away a few stray hairs from her eyebrows… then one from her chin… then a couple from her top lip… then gave up. She quickly applied her make-up and chose a dress from the wardrobe. After she’d put it on, she tugged at the material, wishing it would fit better. Squinting her eyes at her reflection, she tried to imagine herself half a stone lighter. Yes, that would smooth the lumps and bumps if nothing else.
Shrugging at her reflection she attacked her hair half-heartedly with the straighteners, smoothed some wax through it, gave it a bit of a shake and tugged her fringe over her forehead and her non-existent wrinkles. She heard Joe’s heavy footsteps coming up the stairs as shoved her high-but-comfortable shoes and, as he walked into the room, she gave a little tip-toe twirl, “Will I do, love?” She heard the response, “You look fine” and choked back the tears that welled up and headed out of the room to grab a tissue before she smudged her mascara. All she wanted was for him to really like the way she looked.
He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she flew through the front door at 5.15pm. Smoothly, and without pausing, she hung her coat on the rail, kicked off her shoes, picked up the phone, placed the regular Friday evening order at the local Chinese take-away and had started organising the night’s events, “We’re meeting Maddie and Ste at the pub at 7.30, then we’ll probably do the usual route round town. Have you got your shirt sorted out?” She hardly took a breath and he felt that she needed to slow down. He would offer to do a few things for her but he knew she would only brush him aside and profess that she could do them quicker on her own.
Whilst she was in the shower he got his shirt out of the wardrobe, gave it a quick shake and hung it up over the door. He stood sideways as he looked in the mirror and smoothed his t-shirt over his ever-increasing paunch, hoping that the shirt would still fit. As he heard the shower shut off, he grabbed his electric shaver and headed downstairs so that she could use the bedroom in peace. After a quick spruce up he headed back up the stairs and into the bedroom to get changed. He saw Bel and thought she looked lovely. After all these years, she still managed to look beautiful without going overboard; just gorgeous. “Will I do, love?” she asked. He never knew how to pay her a compliment that wouldn’t get brushed aside or that she wouldn’t protest against and think that he was making it up to pacify her so he replied with, “You look fine.” As she pushed past him he was aware that he may have said the wrong thing, raised his eyes to the ceiling, opened his arms in silent despair and started to get dressed.
They stumbled through the front door just after 1am, both more drunk that they had been for a while, still laughing from the good night that they’d had with their friends, giggling whilst sharing a memory from earlier.
Remembering that the children were away for the night they looked at each other and Bel glanced towards the stairs, “Race ya…” she said, and set off up the stairs. Joe chased after her and they threw themselves on their bed, tearing at each other’s clothes, kissing wildly. “I love you so much,” murmured Bel. Joe slowed for a second and drank in those words. “I love you, too” he whispered back. Bel could hardly believe what she was hearing but didn’t question it and savoured the moment.
A short while later, Bel was curled up under the duvet, relishing the shared moments, wishing it was always like that. When she thought Joe was asleep, she slid carefully out of bed and padded to the bathroom, not bothering to put on her dressing gown, enjoying the naughtiness of being naked. She looked at herself in the mirror and cocked her head to the side. She didn’t know whether it was the after-glow of sex but she decided that what she saw wasn’t too bad after all…
Joe felt Bel slide out of the bed and watched her walk confidently towards the door. He thought back to only a short time ago when he’d been exploring every inch of her beautiful body. He couldn’t wait for her to come back…
Nickie O’Hara: 1972 model, good condition (large scratch on bodywork), one careful owner since 1990. Genuine mileage. Full history available.