by Sandra Crook
I hadn’t believed she’d come, so when her shadow falls across the table in the beer garden, I feel my heart leap.
She’s thinner than I remember, and her ash blonde hair is longer now, tied back at the sides but still falling about her shoulders. I remember how I used to wrap it round my fingers when I pulled her towards me, how fine it was, like spun silk.
“How are you Dave?” she says cautiously.
I keep my hands underneath the table; they’re shaking so badly I can’t let her see them.
I look deep into her eyes. I’ve always been able to read her through her eyes; I could tell when she was tired, exasperated … afraid. But they’re veiled. That’s something new she’s learned in the time we’ve been apart.
“I’m fine,” I say, standing up. “You’re looking good, Jen.”
Her gaze flickers across my half empty glass, and it seems that the veil across her eyes becomes even deeper.
“Tonic water,” I say, “What’ll you have?”
The waiter brings her a shandy, and another tonic water for me.
“How long’s it been?” she says, nodding at the glass.
“Nine months or more, now,” I say. “It’s not that bad once you get used to it. The first few weeks are the worst.”
In fact the first few weeks had been a bloody nightmare. The things I saw crawling up the walls, sitting on the end of the bed …
“Jen …” I start, but she looks away.
“Hear me out Jen, for God’s sake.”
Her shoulders slump, and she looks wearily at me, but doesn’t say anything.
“Jen, I’m a changed man, believe me. I’ve had time to think, and I see it all now, what I must have put you and Billy through. But I’m different now. And I want to make it up to you both.”
I watch as she circles the rim of her glass with her finger.
“I need you Jen, you and Billy.”
I hold out my hand to her, and we both pretend not to notice that it’s shaking. She’s seen that plenty of times, I just pray that this time she realises it’s nerves, not the drink. This has to work, I have to get her and Billy back, and my hands are giving away just how important this was to me.
She doesn’t take it though.
“I want you back, Jen. I want us to start again. None of that business will ever happen again, I swear to you. I’ll never lay a finger on you again, I want to be a proper husband and father.”
She swallows. “Things have changed, Dave. I … there’s someone else. A good man, and fond of Billy. We’re leaving for Australia next week. I came to tell you, that’s all.”
She stands up, drops a kiss on my forehead and walks away.
I sit there for a few minutes, my mind racing. I can’t believe what I’ve just heard, and wish I could rewind time so that I don’t have to take it in. So I can pretend she never said that.
Then the waiter comes by to take her glass.
“A double Scotch and pint of Ruddles,” I say curtly.
The booze tastes better than it ever has before. I’m going to fall off the wagon in spades.
Several drinks later, I make my way unsteadily into the car park.
And she’s there, standing beside her car, arms folded, watching me, as she must have been for the last hour.
“Not changed at all, then, Dave?”
I catch sight of Billy’s teddy bear on the back seat of her car, and the pain cuts through me like a knife as images of him race through my mind.
I think of him, on the other side of the world, growing up in the care of some stranger, sharing his life with him, looking up to him.
Before I can stop myself, my hand flies out and smacks her straight across her face. Her head snaps back, and a trickle of blood appears on her lip.
She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t cry, she just looks at me. And I watch as the veil lifts from her eyes at last. I see sadness, resignation and something else I don’t recognise at first. Then I understand.
Spinning on her heel, she gets into the car, and guns it out of the car park.
I glance down at my hand. There’s a smear of blood across the palm.
And it’s shaking.
No change there then.
Sandra Crook’s other work can be found here, at which site she also takes the opportunity to remove your will to live, with her photos and cruising reports from the French waterways.