They’ll be painting the park fence soon. It could do with a new coat. They do it every now and then. There must be a list of fences they have to paint pinned up on a wall somewhere. They probably do nothing else day in day out but paint fences. Not exactly an interesting life, painting park fences. Of course, there may be a closed season for fence painting, just like there is for football, and just like football it’s probably far too short.
Sorry, did you say something?
Can I deliver?
Oh! You mean the reproduction Queen Anne desk.
The one you’ve been trying to buy for the last half hour.
Of course I noticed. I was just teasing. I’ve been looking at the fence. Don’t you think it needs a new coat of paint?
Deliver? The trouble is I can’t leave the shop. You’ll have to wait for my husband to get back.
Well, that depends on how you look at it. His body will probably get in at midnight.
But his mind won’t actually get here until the morning…
As for Monday? That depends.
On what is booked in, other deliveries, collections. There’s a lot of that in the reproduction business. But mostly it depends on how they got on.
Man City. If they’ve lost, his soul won’t surface for days.
Why not leave me your details and I’ll get back to you.
George! That’s an old-fashioned name.
Yes, I thought that.
That was the first time I met George. He was just one of the customers. Popped in out of the rain one spring day and left having bought an over-priced reproduction Queen Anne desk. That should have been it, except he lived just around the corner and I kind of liked the look of him.
He had the kind of eyes I go for. The kind of eyes I saw in Chris all those years ago. Wicked. Almost evil. He was tallish, slim, but not skinny, and he had a foreign accent. From Romania. And when you’re stuck in a quiet shop overlooking the park with nothing much to do but watch people walking dogs, read a book or two and examine the park railings for signs of rust year in and year out. Well, sooner or later you look for something else. Not that I was unhappy. Why bother? You might as well keep smiling as anything else.
Chris got home late that night.
How did they get on?
Is 4–0 not good then?
I’m sorry about dinner, but if you will be late.
I could make you a sandwich.
The Chinese Take Away is probably still open.
There’s some beer in the fridge.
But it’s nearly midnight, all the pubs will be shut.
Ok. But do be quiet when you get in.
And off he went to a club.
I didn’t mind. It meant I could watch the telly in peace and go to bed.
I first met Chris in a club. I had just turned twenty.
I was out with the girls; you know how you do at that age. We were all single then. I suppose we were out on the pull. Seeing who could score first. I won.
Chris just came over to me and started talking, calm as you like, all broad shoulders, white teeth and dark cold eyes. Well, you can imagine, I fell for him there and then. It was like being hit over the back of the head with a shovel.
It was only later that he told me he only came over because I kept looking at him.
What do you mean I kept looking at you?
I may have been looking through you, but I certainly wasn’t looking at you.
Don’t be daft love, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I can’t give the eye to a rampaging bull elephant without my glasses on.
I moved in with Chris shortly after that. My mum said I was being hasty. But…
I love him, Mum.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve known each other, you can tell when you’re in love.
Do you have to keep going on about my dad? I can’t help if it didn’t work out for you.
I’m twenty. I’m a grown woman. I can move in with the Queen of Sheba if I’ve a mind to.
I don’t need a job, he’s got his own business.
I don’t like it when people get angry with me. Never have done. I just go quiet. Let them have their say. Let them rant a bit until they wear themselves out. It usually doesn’t take long. And when they’ve burned themselves out and finished with all the
‘You’re not listening to a word I’m saying,’
and all the
‘Can’t you see what you’re doing with your life?’
‘You just don’t care about anything do you?’
I quietly say what I need to say.
I’m leaving tonight. Chris will be here in half an hour. Here is my new address.
I like to get up early on a Sunday, that way I can take the kids to the park and nip to the paper shop before Chris finally rises and starts baying for his breakfast.
Sam! Be careful of that dog, he doesn’t know you!
I’ve got three children. Sam, he’s ten next June, Billy, just turned eight, and Lucy, who’s five at Easter. Sam and Billy were both mistakes.
Sam was a split rubber, on a weekend away in Morecombe, in a bed and breakfast run by a horrible old woman who locked the door at midnight. We had to climb up the fire escape and force the landing window open with Chris’s pen knife. And the bed creaked like nobody’s business.
The old bat started banging on the ceiling and as our rhythm increased so did hers. In the end we both fell off the bed, laughing our socks off.
I suppose it was then that the rubber split.
Billy! Why don’t you take Lucy on the swings, there’s a good boy.
Billy was with the cap. Just a quiet Bank Holiday afternoon with nothing much to do. I suppose I just didn’t fit it right.
I went on the pill after that.
Put the wrapper in the bin, Sam. The bin is over there. By the tree. That’s it.
Lucy was planned. One last go. I’d always wanted a girl and Chris said, ‘Alright.’ So, I came off the pill and waited.
It’s strange having sex when you know that you’re going to get pregnant. Chris couldn’t do it at first. Oh, he could get it up and all that. But he just couldn’t… well, you know… deliver.
Don’t push Lucy too hard, Billy, you know she doesn’t like to go too high.
I felt strange too. It wasn’t very sexy. I just wanted him to stick it in, do his stuff and take it out with the knowledge of a job well done.
It went on for weeks.
Surely it’s just a matter of getting it up.
Well I don’t know. I’ve never actually had one myself.
You never had a problem like that before.
I’m not getting at you.
Why don’t you just go and play with yourself for a bit. That might sort it out.
And so it went on. Until one day just after we’d had a row. I don’t know what it was about. I wasn’t listening. I was just waiting for him to quieten down.
He pushed against the settee, bent me over, pulled down my knickers and did it.
Well, it kind of did the trick, and Lucy turned up on schedule nine months later.
Don’t go too near the duck pond, Sam.
It’s not a matter of whether you can swim or not.
It was around that time that we moved into the new house. Only about half a mile from the shop, but it was nice not to live on top of the place. And anyway, with three growing kids we had to move.
I still take the kids to the park on Sundays. I thought it would be nice for them to play with other children, and of course there was…
George! I thought you weren’t coming.
Well, you’re here now. Why not just sit down. I’ve brought you some cakes. Lucy made them.
Do stop fussing and sit down.
For God’s sake. She’s your wife not your mother.
There’s nothing to be guilty about. All we’re doing is sitting in the park. Hardly grounds for divorce.
Sam! Do go and play with the other boys while I’m talking, there’s a good boy.
So, how’s your week been George?
It was all innocent between me and George. All we ever did was meet up, eat cakes and talk about his marriage. He had come over from Romania for a holiday and met Liz. They got married. He didn’t know her, couldn’t speak the language and didn’t understand the culture. He had been over here for three years and he was homesick. I was just someone to talk to. It was all innocent between me and George. But I could hardly tell Chris. You know what men are like.
When I had Lucy, I stayed in hospital for the whole week. I didn’t need to, and the nurses tried to persuade me to leave after a couple of days. But I dug my heels in. It was a holiday and after nine months of getting fatter and fatter, I thought I deserved it.
Of course, Chris came to see me. He first turned up the day after the birth, smelling of stale beer and looking like he’d just had an argument with the washing machine and lost.
There are some clean shirts in the top drawer.
I don’t know where you put the check one. It’s probably in the washing basket.
You don’t have to go to the launderette, we’ve got a state-of-the-art Zanussi hanging around in the kitchen with nothing much to do but wash your clothes for you.
Yes, there is a woman who does it for you, but it costs more.
Oh, do what you like.
Yes, she is, isn’t she. So small, and perfect.
I rather like Jane.
We can’t call her Lilette!
Because it’s the brand name of a sanitary towel.
We are not calling her Beyoncé!
Because it’s a silly name and I don’t like the songs.
How about Lucy?
Well, there’s no need to get in a huff about it.
I didn’t see him again until my week was up.
When I got home, suitcase in one hand and Lucy in the other, the house was a tip. If you had told me that a small herd of wildebeest had spent the week playing survival of the fittest with a pack of hyenas, I would have believed you. The bins were full of beers cans, the ash trays were over flowing and so was the sink. I don’t know what he’d been eating all week, but judging by the look of the water it was already further down the evolutionary scale than is considered polite in suburbia.
There were records, cassettes and CDs all over the place, a pool of water in the kitchen where the fridge had defrosted itself because it hadn’t had the decency to plug itself back in once Chris had finished with his electric razor.
Then, and I think it was the first thing he said to me that day, he said, ‘Bend down.’
I bent down.
‘Do you see that?’ he said, pointing at the skirting under the sideboard. ‘It needs dusting. Get on with it.’
I got the duster.
I like wildlife programmes. Especially those where they actually show an animal catching something. I love seeing a cheetah running down one of those small deer-like things. All those muscles, the dust, the scuffle and then the blood and final hopeless struggle as the prey tries one last time to free itself from the grip of the jaws.
Lucy was four when George first came round to my house. Chris was away in London for some football match. City away at Charlton. My mother had taken the kids out for the day. I had the house to myself and since George just lived around the corner, I invited him round for lunch and to watch the telly. There was a wildlife programme on about sharks. I like sharks. There is something about their cold, black, almost dead eyes that fascinates me. Pure killing machines.
So where is your wife today?
George has the darkest eyes. I could almost fall into them watching him speak.
It’s a miserable day to go to Blackpool.
Not that I fancy him really. I mean we’re both married.
I’m sure she’ll bring you back a stick of rock.
And it was innocent between me and George.
Have you ever seen a shark, George?
George has been everywhere. He seems to have a wanderlust. I suppose it’s not surprising that his marriage didn’t work out.
Did you know that their teeth point backwards? It’s so that once they’ve got a grip of you, you just can’t get out.
George has got lovely teeth. Strong and white. And when he smiles, you just can’t help smiling with him. He could use the same smile to sell you something you didn’t want or drag you off to bed. Not that anything was going to happen between George and me.
Look how they turn their eyes backward when they strike. They roll them right back. At the moment they bite they can’t actually see what they’re biting.
I felt comfortable with George. Just sitting there watching the sharks attacking great chunks of meat hanging from the side of a boat, I felt relaxed. It was like I had never been relaxed before.
They say sharks have to keep swimming or they will drown.
George’s leg had fallen against mine. Or was it mine that fell against his. It didn’t matter. We were just friends. I suppose it just meant that he was as relaxed as I was. I didn’t move my leg away.
My goodness, they are very powerful. There are stories about them attacking boats. Have you ever seen Jaws?
It was then he kissed me for the first time.
I didn’t resist. I just let it happen. And when he’d finished…
Would you like another cup of tea George? I’ll put the kettle on.
They’ll be painting the fence soon. It could do with a new coat. They do it every now and then. Not much of a life painting park fences.
Some days no one comes into the shop. It doesn’t matter too much. We only have to sell an overpriced reproduction Elizabethan chest and a handful of fake Georgian chairs every other day and we make a decent profit. And besides, I’ve got my books. I like to read wildlife books. There is a whole world out there. A world of creatures just getting on with things and some of them are just so weird.
Take the angler fish. It has to be the ugliest thing in the sea. It’s all black, with a tiny body, evil eyes and a great big mouth full of horrible, twisted teeth. But does the angler fish mind that it is the ugliest thing in creation. No. Why should it? For one thing, they don’t have mirrors and for another, maybe angler fish actually like the look of other angler fish. Well, I suppose they must, otherwise there wouldn’t be any new angler fish.
It was George’s idea for me to do an A level.
I can’t do an A level. I was useless at school. The only things I came top of at school were detention and playing truant. If they did A levels for wagging it, I’d probably have more qualifications than you could wave a stick at, whatever that means.
What do I know about Biology?
But I only read about nature because, well, because I like it.
Biology is about blood and veins. I like nature for its blood and guts.
But George is persuasive, especially when he smiles that smile of his. He got me the enrolment forms and helped me fill them out.
But I didn’t send them.
‘Who’s going to look after the shop?’
‘We can’t afford an assistant.’
‘And what about the kids?’
‘I’m running a business here. We can’t just turn away customers because you want the day off.’
So I didn’t send off the forms.
Angler fish may be ugly, but beauty isn’t everything.
It was around that time that Chris started to get jealous.
He started to accuse me of having an affair. I don’t know where he got the idea. I mean, what chance did I have to do anything like that. If I wasn’t doing the housework, cooking or seeing the kids off to school, then I was shopping, doing the washing or weeding the garden. And if I wasn’t doing all that, I was in the shop reading wildlife books and waiting. If I was going to shag someone else, it would have to be a quickie, somewhere between ASDA and the school gates.
He started counting things. Stamps. We were on holiday in France and I nipped into a post office to get some stamps to send cards to my mother and Helen. They short-changed me in the shop.
They’ve short-changed me.
Only by one euro. It doesn’t matter.
Yes, that is the price of a stamp. Maybe she thought I’d bought three stamps and not two. I just can’t get the hang of these French numbers.
No, I only bought two stamps.
But I only sent two post cards.
What are you talking about?
I haven’t got a fancy man!
I don’t like it when people get angry with me. Never have done. I just go quiet. Think of something else, until they’ve finished all the
‘You’ve always been a little flirt.’
‘You’re just a common slapper at heart.’
‘I don’t know why I married you.’
I just wait for them to burn themselves out and dream of swimming in the sea with fish and seals and octopuses.
When I was young, I didn’t believe in octopuses. I thought they were like Father Christmas and mermaids. A nice idea for a fairy tale, but not what you’d expect in the real world. And then when I was about twelve, I saw a programme about them. I watched it with my father. He was home at the time. He told me that he had seen them. That he had swum with them and eaten them. So I had to believe in them.
But you have to admit they are funny little creatures. All legs and a soft, wobbly body.
When octopuses mate, the female lays her eggs in a little cave and then stays with them and looks after the eggs. She even stops eating because she can’t go out to hunt and leave them. In fact, she starves himself so much that when at last the eggs hatch out, she dies of starvation.
Chris would make a pretty poor octopus.
Monday mornings are always hectic in our house. There’s the kids to get up.
Are you awake yet Billy? It’s ten past eight. I’ll not tell you again!
Billy is the worst at getting up. He takes after his father. He could sleep for England.
Lucy’s the opposite. She is always up with the sun. In the summer she gets up at four in the morning. She doesn’t bother you though. She just busies herself playing with her dolls.
Do you want Coco Pops or Rice Krispies, Sam?
We haven’t got any Sugar Puffs.
Lucy had the last.
Sam is always grumpy in the mornings. He doesn’t really wake up until about mid-day.
Sam! Stop teasing Lucy. If she doesn’t want to finish her Sugar Puffs she doesn’t have to.
I’ll buy some more today. Now hurry up and eat your Rice Krispies.
Chris is always the last to get up. He doesn’t get up until all the kids are downstairs and nearly ready.
Billy! You’re not going to wear that shirt again. It’s filthy.
I don’t care if it’s your favourite! Go and change it.
Sometimes he doesn’t get up until I’ve taken the kids to school.
Why not wear that new red one?
But you liked it in the shop.
I usually know what kind of clothes to put out for Chris. If he’s doing deliveries, it’s sweatshirt and jeans. If he’s got a business meeting then it’s shirt and tie stuff. I lay them out on the chair by the bed before I wake the kids up.
Sometimes, though, I’m not sure what he needs. He might be doing a delivery before going to see the bank manager about the loan. Well, he can’t go to see the bank manager in jeans, but delivering in a shirt and tie would be silly.
No, Lucy. You can’t take Benjy to school.
You’d lose him. Leave him here and then you will know where he is.
So I leave both sets of clothes out. That way he can have a choice.
Come on you lot. Let’s get you in the car.
I turn off the radio, and Chris is at the top of the stairs.
‘Are you taking the piss or what, woman!’
‘Which clothes am I supposed to wear?’
‘Don’t come the innocent with me. You’re trying to confuse me aren’t you!’
‘Don’t you but me, you fat tart.’
The puffer fish is a silly little fish. It’s only about so big, kind of square, with a funny little face and fins so small that you just can’t believe that it can get around. It is covered with lots of spines that all lie flat on its back. And it just bobbles around the coral reefs looking for things to nibble.
When it’s attacked, it blows itself up to twice its normal size and all the spines stick out. Just like a hedgehog. A puffer fish must make a very prickly meal.
George found another way for me to do my A level. There was a correspondence course. All I had to do was read the right books, send off essays, turn up once a month in the evening to do some practicals and turn up for the exams in June.
Of course, I needed help. It’s one thing to sit in front of the telly and watch wildlife programmes, or read about leatherback turtles while waiting for some blue-rinse old bat to decide between the imitation Ming vase and a copy of the Hay Wain. But it’s quite another to write a coherent essay about genetic variation in the common fruit fly.
George took to dropping round to the shop when it was quiet.
But I don’t see why if you mate two flies with little wings all of the offspring don’t have little wings too.
I think some other little fruit fly has got in there and had its wicked way with Mrs Fruit Fly.
How can they know they’re virgins? Surely they don’t test each fly!
It was different with peas. I understood it with peas. But then you don’t expect peas to run around being unfaithful, do you. Sex for peas is different. It just happens.
I enjoyed those afternoons. I’m not sure they helped me understand things, but it kept me going. George really wanted me to get that A level. It was almost like it was his A level. By the end I think he could have sat the exam himself, if it wasn’t for the fact that he couldn’t write very well in English.
George started to bring me little presents. Nothing big, just little joke-type things. When I was studying flowering plants, he brought me one of those dancing flowers. You know the type that moves to any sound in the room. When I was doing the kidneys, he brought a sample bottle that a friend of his nicked from the local hospital. And when I was doing the reproductive system, he turned with a packet of condoms.
He blew one of them up and chased me round the shop with it.
George made the whole thing fun. For the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying schoolwork. And you know, if you’re enjoying something, then it’s easy. I could have done with George at school.
Chris really likes Lucy. He won’t admit it, but she’s his favourite.
But I think she’s mine too. It’s not that I don’t love Sam and Billy. They are wonderful. It’s just that… well, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because she was planned, and maybe it’s because she’s a girl.
I really don’t know.
I remember in the hospital when she was born.
The nurse asked me if I wanted to hold the baby before they cleaned it up.
Not bloody likely! I don’t want all that blood and goo over me.
Just clean it up and then bring it to me.
Is it a boy or a girl?
When the nurse said it’s a girl, it had a strange effect on me.
I cried. I don’t cry very often. But I cried then. I don’t know why. I just found myself crying. I wasn’t upset that it was a girl. That’s what I wanted. But they weren’t tears of joy. I was happy it was a girl, but something inside wasn’t happy.
That night I lay there, with Lucy by my pillow, and we just stared into each other’s eyes. It was like we were falling in love. She had bright blue eyes, full of life and love. Her face was still scrunched up from the birth, but I could see my face in there. I couldn’t see anything of Chris. Not then. Not on that first night. It was like I had just given birth to a little version of me, and I loved her. From the very beginning, I loved Lucy. Not like I loved Sam or Billy when they were born. This was different. Like I was learning to love myself. I was learning to care what happened to me. Maybe that’s why I cried.
The man in the chip shop died. He had a heart attack while he was tidying the shop on Tuesday night. He wasn’t found until two in the morning. He was stone cold when his wife found him. Curled up like a baby clutching his chest with his eyes still open. He was fifty-five. Not very old when you think of it. I’d been going to that chip shop for years.
Fish and chips twice and a large portion of chips with three sausages. The kids will never eat a full portion each.
It’s a small chip shop with a door at the back that leads to the living space. They still live over the shop. Over thirty years and still living on top of the place.
It’s always quiet in the shop. Not just quiet, it’s like that chilled silence you get in churches. There isn’t often a queue, but when there is, no one talks. Even couples go silent in the queue at that chip shop. All you can hear is the gentle bubbling of the oil, like the sound of time passing.
Can I have salt and vinegar on one fish and chips, just salt on the other and nothing on the other one?
I love the smell of warm chips, cosy in the paper. It reminds me of when my father came back.
He was a sailor. He used to travel the world and when he came back it was fish and chips every night, trips out in his Rover 90 and days stolen from school to go to Blackpool.
It was my dad that got me into wildlife. He’d been everywhere. He would often jump ship and go and explore wherever he had ended up. I used to sit for hours listening to his tales of diving off the Barrier Reef, or trekking through the Indian jungle. He brought a monkey home once. My mother was livid. We called it George. Now that’s a coincidence, isn’t it? My dad said it was tame, but there was something about the way it was forever shrieking and pulling the curtains down that told my mother he was wrong. In the end, he sold it to some bloke down the pub. Shortly after that he went down the road to buy some fags and never came back. It wasn’t the first time. He had a wanderlust.
He first left when I was two. I don’t remember it, how could I, so I suppose it didn’t have an effect on me. He came back one day when I was ten. Just strolled up and asked if my mum was in. I was sitting on the front step at the time. I said she was in the kitchen and he just walked past me.
The second time he left I was thirteen, so I was old enough not to be affected by it.
Being unhappy is a waste of time, isn’t it. My sister was seven when he left. It really screwed her up.
The man in the chip shop died.
Well, it is our local chip shop. We’ve been going to that shop for years.
What are you on about? The man in the chip shop is nothing to me.
I haven’t got a fancy man!
I don’t even know his name.
But don’t you see! That is the point. I’ve been going to that chip shop for years and I don’t even know his name. All I ever said to him was fish and chips twice, and I must have said that a thousand times.
What I’m on about is the man in the chip shop has died. Nobody knows his name and nobody will miss him. All he ever was, was the man behind the counter. And now he’s dead. That chip shop was his life.
Chris first hit me the week after I moved in with him. I had been out with Helen and I got home late, so I suppose I deserved it. He didn’t do it often, and anyway it’s just part of life, isn’t it. It’s just that I was never quite sure when he was going to do it. Sometimes he’d just come home from the pub and hit me. I wouldn’t see it coming. Other times it would be at the end of a row. I was kind of expecting those, almost like I made it happen. And other times it would be because he just didn’t understand what I was talking about. I would pass it off as an accident.
I bumped into the door. The door bumped into me.
Man City weren’t doing well that season. And they weren’t doing well all over the country. It meant that Chris was away a lot at weekends. He’s a strange kind of fan. When they are losing, he has to go to every game. He says it’s because they need all the support they can get. As though him being there will make a difference.
I was glad that Man City were losing. I was especially glad that they were losing away from home. They were losing at Nottingham, losing at Norwich and losing at Queens Park Rangers. Sometimes it would just mean that he was away for the day. He’d come back in a right state and sulk for the rest of the weekend, but if it was far enough away, he’d have to stay overnight. I liked Man City to lose as far away from Manchester as possible. It’s a shame they don’t play Aberdeen every now and then.
It was one Saturday night when Man City had just lost at Southampton that I got rid of the kids and invited George round for dinner.
Go on, have another drink.
Oh dear, that’s the second bottle gone. I’ve got some beer in the fridge.
There’s more apple pie if you want it.
I think I’m a little drunk.
I don’t know why you don’t leave your wife. You never have anything good to say about her.
I couldn’t leave Chris. We’ve got kids. And anyway, you make your bed and you lie in it don’t you.
Chris isn’t that bad. He’s just a man. They’re all the same.
Well, I didn’t mean you. You make me laugh. You’re a friend.
Oh, don’t go soppy on me.
There’s a programme about polar bears on in a bit. Why not have a beer and I’ll do the washing up.
If you want to. I’ll wash and you dry.
We would often touch each other.
Nothing naughty, just like friends do. Our elbows would touch and we’d just let them stay there for a while.
It was nice and innocent. It was like that when we were doing the washing up. Every now and then George would say something funny and I would push him gently as I laughed and he would push me back. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the washing up as much before or since.
It wasn’t planned. He was just hugging me suddenly. But it was a nice hug. We kissed.
We didn’t watch the programme.
At half past eleven, we went upstairs.
I didn’t turn the light on. It didn’t seem right. I felt the warmth of his breath on my nipple, and his teeth against my skin.
I felt his hand drifting down my tummy to my jeans and his fingers fumbling at the button and pulling down the zip.
I’m sorry, I can’t.
I’m married. I’ve got kids. This is wrong.
I’m married. I don’t have to love him anymore. We’ve been together for years, he’s just part of my life.
I don’t need help!
I can handle him!
I think you ought to go, George.
I didn’t see George for a while after that. I suppose I deserved that. But I just couldn’t do it.
I was ready for my exams. They were just a week away. I’d managed to find an excuse not to be in the shop on the afternoons of the exams. My mother was going to look after the shop and pick up the kids from school.
The shop was especially quiet at the time. It meant all I had to do was revise. I had the books laid out on the counter and I sat there sometimes for the whole day doing nothing but reading and making notes. If a customer came in, I would close my book and politely get rid of them as quickly as possible. Some things in life are important. These exams were important, I’m not sure why. I was only taking one A level. It wasn’t as though I was going off to college, and A level Biology is hardly going to improve the rate of sales of reproduction Victorian candle holders, is it. But it was important because it was mine. It didn’t belong to the business, the kids or Chris. It was mine. And that made it important. Is that selfish?
Chris must have been standing there for a couple of minutes. I was too engrossed in my reading about sperm to notice him come in.
I’m just reading.
It’s just Biology.
I’m interested in it.
It’s not disgusting. It’s only sperm.
I don’t like it when people get angry. I just go quiet. Like when my dad got angry. I was afraid that if I said anything he would go back to sea and leave me. Its best to just let it all pass. All the
‘So you think you’re smart enough to do an A level do you?’
‘You stupid, fat tart. You couldn’t pass an exam if your life depended on it.’
‘It would have to be Biology wouldn’t it. All you ever think about is shagging.’
I just wait. Sooner or later it will pass, and he will storm out and go to the pub with his mates so I can start cleaning up the mess. All the paper, the ripped library books. Apologise to the door for bumping into it again. Sooner or later the storm will pass. It always does.
I hadn’t seen George for weeks. I wondered whether I would see him again. But one day he turned up at the shop.
Hello George! How are you?
Oh, it’s nothing. I just bumped into a door.
I didn’t do the A level.
Chris found out.
I can handle him.
So, what have you been up to?
George was leaving his wife. It was about time; it had never worked. He was going back to Romania. He was homesick. He was going at the end of the month. He was going to travel over land, the long way. Take some time to see a bit of Europe again. To look up some of the wildlife before heading home.
It’s a strange word, home. We think that we know what it means, but I don’t think we do. Home is where you belong. Where you are safe. The place you most want to return to. George had become my home, and he was going away now. But he wanted me to go with him. He wanted me to leave Chris, to walk out of this shop and never look back. Never wonder whether the park fence needs a new coat or not. But he had one condition.
I can’t leave my sons.
Of course they’re like Chris. He’s their father.
But I can’t go without them. I can’t split my children up.
I couldn’t leave Lucy behind.
Don’t do this to me, George.
It’s strange the tricks that life plays on you. I had spent over ten years with Chris. Ten years imprisoned in my own life. And now that a chance to get out had turned up, there was a condition. Bring Lucy, but leave Sam and Billy.
The next day I took the kids to school, and then went home. Chris was out of town for the day so I took the day off. I gave the carpets a very quick hoover, and waited.
George turned up just after ten. He was nervous. I knew he wanted to ask me again, but I didn’t know what my answer was going to be. If it was yes, it would probably mean going to school and picking up Lucy there and then. Would I be able to say goodbye to Sam and Billy? And what about my mother and sister and brother? I couldn’t just leave without saying something. I didn’t care about Chris. I didn’t care if I never saw him again.
George took my hand and led me outside.
Where are we going?
There was something about the way he made a secret of everything that excited me.
It was like he was in complete control and I was just being whisked along through life.
It had been like that with Chris in the beginning.
We drove out of town towards the foothills of the Pennines. I was quiet. I just stared out of the car. Soon it would be time to decide and I was in no mood to make such a decision. And when you can’t make up your mind, no is probably the best decision to make. But that would mean Chris. The petty arguments, the lonely nights in, the jealous tantrums, the long, wasted days stuck in the shop staring out across the road to the park fence, the endless round of shopping and washing and shopping and tidying and washing, the forced sex, and the beatings – all going on year after year after year.
Eventually we pulled into a lay-by on a hill.
We got out. From there you could see the whole plain of Greater Manchester. You could almost see to the sea, and you could taste salt spray in the air. Except for two holidays, one in the South of France and one in Wales, I had spent the whole of my life in that plain. All the way from where we stood to a distant bed and breakfast on the sea front at Morecombe, which the salt in the air hinted of. My whole life lay before me, in one gorgeous panoramic view.
I had always wanted to see the world. Like my dad. Travel and find things. I wanted to watch lions in Africa, swim with dolphins and eat octopus on sandy beaches on warm evenings. And all I’ve ever seen is the grime of Greater Manchester.
I can’t leave Sam and Billy. But can I live with Chris anymore?
I had known George for three years. Three years of secret rendezvous. Moments stolen from his wife and my husband. The fear of being found out, even though we never did anything to be guilty about. Well, almost never. Tender moments when we would touch. The occasional kiss. So precious. So much more so than in a normal relationship, where kisses are so ordinary that they become boring.
Did you know that the Arctic Tern sees more daylight than any other creature?
It spends the northern summer in the Arctic Circle, where it takes advantage of the endless sun and does a bit of breeding. Then as the summer begins to fade, it flies south, some 17,000 miles or so to the Antarctic Circle, where it spends the southern summer. It crosses the world for the sun.
Chasing the sun. I’d like that.
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