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Romance Fiction Contemporary

It wasn’t my missing “La Prairie Skin Caviar” that annoyed me as much as the way Robert wore his baseball cap back to front. Admittedly, he had a lot of energy for a middle-aged man and he was fun to be with, but boy did he lack any sense of responsibility. My wake-up call came when he’d disappeared on a fishing trip for two weeks. I received a letter from our mortgage provider informing me that Robert had withdrawn £20,000 in cash after remortgaging our home. I was speechless when they discussed the new terms, however I questioned the circumstances. The bank stated that although they needed to check my I.D. to discuss the new financial product, they only required one signature to rearrange our joint financial commitment. Robert had acted alone without consulting me, regardless of our mutual liability.

#

   I first met Robert when we were both at college and set for a bright future in the city. His life peaked when he graduated from college and hit the big time. It was the first time he’d had money to spend and the illusion of freedom. He was the numbers whizz-kid and was snapped up as soon as he graduated. Robert was bright and fun to be with and charmed the company’s prospective clients on the golf course. He’s a natural who is blessed with a devastating tee shot and faultless short game. The company spotted his raw talent early on, and they seized the chance to exhibit him in front of their new clients. What he could do with a golf ball was unbelievable. He’d drive the ball past the flag, land it on the far edge of the green, and then his backspin would roll it backwards into the cup, as if by magic. Robert soon picked up the reputation for impressing the new customers with his trickery on a Friday afternoon. He was great for business, and the company had his diary booked way in advance. 

#

   As good as Robert was with bank world clients, it has to be said that Robert identified with adults half his age and he behaved just like them. The backward snapback definitely has a cut-off point at 23, not that I’m ageist or anything. It’s never a good look on a middle-aged man when he’s hanging with teenage kids. It’s just not cool. He jumped in the middle and goofed around and joked with them as though they were all mates. He always grabbed the game console controller and challenged them all to marathon car races and endless shoot-em-ups. They played along with him and took advantage when they could. They’re sneaky that way but, hey, he didn’t seem to mind. A limitless stream of takeaway pizzas arrived at the door for our two lads and their friends, courtesy of Mr Popular. He boundlessly enthusiastic and loved being part of the gang. It was as if Robert was reliving his glory days on looped repeat. When he hit 46, he laughed it off and joked that he was 23 again. At least I thought he was joking, maybe he wasn’t, I couldn’t tell anymore. He never admitted to feeling his age or experiencing any boundaries. He’d have a go at anything, anywhere at anytime, day or night. 

#

   It only seems like the other day when I caught Robert in front of the mirror. He wasn’t admiring himself; he was examining his hairline. As soon as he heard me, he pretended to be cleaning his teeth. I asked if he was ok and he mentioned something about a holiday with his golfing pals. I shrugged and slipped into the shower. His plans didn’t involve me, and my consent wasn’t requested or required anymore. 

#

   I’d enjoyed good health and a positive attitude throughout our marriage. I like to think that I was the level headed half in our relationship. Robert joked that I was a handful and wore the pants in our household. I just went along with his narrative for a quiet life. No marriage is perfect, obviously, and I held my own when I had to. 

   We started a family earlier than planned, and I retreated from my personal ambitions to be a full-time mum. My entry into this world was more of a trip-and-tumble from a dodgy high-board than an elegant dive. I fell into this role and came to enjoy nurturing our lads. We were fortunate to live in a family orientated part of town, and I soon got to know other young mums in the area. We all embraced those early years and formed a tight clique and supportive network. Everyone came round to mine at the end of the week and we’d enjoy a relaxing glass of wine or two. The kids would run wild round the house and we’d let them have fun with few boundaries. None of us had a problem with this, however it’s easy to become complacent. A habit, like a dripping tap, can be a corrosive force over time. None of us saw ourselves as drinkers, but then who does?

   Robert would often return from work after a couple of drinks in the city. In fact, when I could organise a baby sitter, I’d drive into town and join him for a night out and supper at the Oxo-Tower or another funky venue overlooking the Thames. I looked forward to our time together, and it was a marvellous escape to kick back and relax and chill in the city. It was a slice of the life I could have had in another lifetime. I would often drive back as Robert was always two or three glasses ahead of me when I arrived. Clearly I would be the return chauffeur for Robert on any of our nights off. 

   I should have insisted on him taking his turn early on, but I let Robert convince me it was my turn to drive again and again. Don’t tell me, I know, but it’s always obvious in retrospect. He was persuasive, and he was the one bringing in the money. You know, life on the golf course can be hellish and I’d got used to a pleasant life of nest building. As the weeks went by and the months became years, there was a point when I realised that one of us was going to have to be sober and responsible, and it would not be him. 

   The catalytic moment was when Sammy was 4 years old. He’d experienced whooping cough in his early years, but the occurrences were rare and we had a routine to combat any onset. We’d drive him around at night to calm him down and let the cool night air soothe his lungs. The attacks diminished in frequency after he was 3 years old and I presumed he’d out grown the problem. However, I remember, there was one night when an old school friend of mine visited us in our new apartment. Robert agreed that I could kick back and enjoy a few drinks and he’d cook and be on child-duty. Anyhow, Robert didn’t show up and regardless, I put the children to bed and entertained my friend. The night wore on and after midnight Robert returned worse for wear with a colleague and another bottle of vodka. We were all in high spirits and clinked our glasses, necked the shots. It was then that I heard a series of rasping hacks from upstairs. The grating coughs were accompanied by straining wheezes. I froze and looked at Robert, who was oblivious. He grinned, raised the bottle and poured more shots as I grabbed the kettle and left the room. 

   We both knew the routine. I bolted up stairs and opened the bedroom door. Sammy was shaking and gasping for breath on the side of his bed. I dashed across the room and threw my arm around his shoulders to comfort him as he strained for air. The steam from the kettle helped,, but he needed to get to casualty. 

   I went down stairs and prepared a pint of strong coffee. Robert and our guests were too far gone to be any help, and I just dealt with the situation. I shouldn’t have driven, but I had no choice; I couldn’t get a taxi for an hour and the emergency number was engaged. I was lucky it was a foggy night for two reasons. There was little traffic and the dense nocturnal shroud eased Sammy breathing. We were lucky to encounter a quiet night at the A&E department and the triage nurse, prioritised Sammy. He was as a youngster in distress and I was bad mum. She gave Sammy something to help him breathe until we saw a doctor. When he arrived, two hours later, he recommended an over night stay. He gave me the option to remain at the hospital but discretely suggested an alternative means of transport for my return home. He commended me for my timely response to the emergency and reserved his judgement about my condition. Nowadays, I would have been reported to the social services, let alone the police. I realised how stupid we’d been the next morning when Robert revealed he had no recollection of the previous night’s misadventure. Furthermore, he was surprised to discover our son was absent, never mind that he was recovering in hospital. 

   It was that morning when I decided one of us had to be sober. I believe most couples take it in turns to drive to and from social events, not in our case. If most married couples have a designated driver on a night out, we had our equivalent, the designated drunkard. My turn to relax and enjoy a drink never seemed to come around, so I learned how to enjoy myself and abstain. Over time, I benefitted from the role of being Robert’s personal chauffeur; my skin kept a youthful glow, and I retained my figure.

   Robert could be the life and soul of the party, but he had his quiet moments too. Recently I’d encountered him sitting on the edge of our bed with his head in his hands. It was as if someone had taken his batteries or he was recharging his power cells. He wasn’t what you might call a spiritual person, so I didn’t mistake his posture for a spot of meditation; more like exasperation. It was the first time I’d noticed his hair thinning on the top of his head. At six feet two inches, I rarely got to see him from this angle. It suddenly occurred to me that the cap was a semi-permanent fixture that I never queried. I detested the sight of it, but I’d stopped questioning its presence. It had become part of Robert. Obviously, he took it off to go to bed, but apart from that it was always lurking about his person. I never suspected it served a function, and I felt gormless not to have realised this before. I’d been drawn into the pretence that Robert was immortal. I had retained some of my youthful looks through being the careful driver and the sober partner. I was older in some ways, but now the scales were tipping in my favour. Robert was aging at last. I never questioned his hair colour until I discovered the empty dye packet in his open brief case. He must have been getting into his office early and colouring his roots at work. I’d never witnessed him do this at home. 

   Over the last year it’s been Robert who takes his time to get ready to go out at night. Nowadays I sit downstairs waiting for him to emerge after he’s groomed himself and moisturised his face to within an inch of suffocation. I say nothing and reassure him that he looks fine. It’s not that I’ve given up on my appearance; it’s just that I know how to make the best of what I’ve been given. I’ve grown to appreciate my life changes and enjoy myself regardless. I’m not lying about my age and I’m not out to impress anyone else. Robert has everything to prove it seems. Recently, he’s got very cavalier to the point where people smile with embarrassment when I turn a blind eye to his outrageous flirtations. He’s committed himself to growing old disgracefully, and I’m biding my time with stoic resilience. I imagine they view me as though I were a mute swan gliding over calm water. I might appear serene, but under the surface there is an organised fury as webbed feet propel me around each event we visit. 

   Would I behave the same way if I were let off the leash every so often? I don’t suppose I’ll know in the short term. I have got fed up and I’ve been advised to, “get a life,” whatever that means. I have a good friend, Sara, who lives in New Zealand and knows the two of us from college days. She has invited me to visit her for a couple of week’s respite. She has offered to help me “think things through.” It’s a tempting offer, and in the light of my recent discovery, I’ve got to say that I’m might just go. Next week would work for me. I could leave a note and a forwarding address for Robert to send my things.

   Sara advised me to leave a “Dear John letter”, although it would be addressed to Robert, of course. Traditionally they always start with the words, “Dear So-and-So, by the time you read this letter I’ll be gone” and continue with an explanation concerning the departure, etcetera, etcetera. It’s a last farewell from a disgruntled wife and an official sign-off. I imagine that offending parties often discuss the contents with friends whilst lamenting their misfortune and misery at being cast asunder. So be it.

   Now I’m at the point of composing my last communication, I’m uncertain what to write. I’ve never heard of a woman justifying its use or discussing its contents per se. Is it a brief note that makes a point by being to the point and therefore brief? Should the end of a relationship warrant a lengthy explanation and a litany of woes? Or is a casual farewell kinder all round? Can I justify my departure and should I entertain any reasoned response? I don’t know the answers anymore. I know that £20,000 in cash has gone walkies and there was no discussion or explanation concerning its sudden departure. The truth is, I just want things to be as they were and I can’t stop being in love with him. He might be a selfish idiot, but he’s my selfish idiot, nonetheless.

#

   I’m sealing my “Dear John” envelope when I hear a metallic rattle at the front door and the Yale lock catch snaps back. Robert calls out my name as though he expects me to be upstairs. I open the kitchen door and witness him tipping a taxi driver who dumps down a suitcase on our doorstep. There’s no sign of any angling equipment. I assume he’s lost or snapped his fishing rod. There’s no sign of any fish either, come to think of it.

   Robert turns to face me and raises his hands as I open my mouth to speak. “I know what you’re going to say, but let me explain.” 

He can’t contain his excitement, and he’s struggling to compose himself and takes a deep breath.

I bite my bottom lip and fold my arms. “We need to talk, Robert.”

   “You know I haven’t been myself for a while and I owe you an explanation.”

   “This better be good.” 

   “I haven’t been honest with you, and you should know that I haven’t been fishing.”

   “I would never have guessed.” 

   “I have a surprise.” He removes his hat and unfurls a bandage from his head.

   “Oh, my god.”

   “It’s all mine.” He smiles. “Every single hair of it.”

The idiot looks 10 years younger. 

I close my eyes. 

He leans forward and kisses me. 

   “Did you want to say something, love?”

   “You’re an idiot.”

   “Nothing else?”

   “No, just that,”



The End


December 05, 2020 04:53

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3 comments

Howdy, Howard! (Sorry, had to do it! Great story! Quick note-maybe instead of using hashtags to differentiate paragraphs as you did in some areas you could use ~, ., or _____. They are a bit more eye pleasing. The content was great!

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Howard Halsall
20:11 Dec 10, 2020

Aw shucks, thank you _____ noted !! # is a hard habit to break. I’m glad you enjoyed my story. Thank you for the feedback, it’s always appreciated :)

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Thanks! And yes, habits are hard to break!

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