“I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She just…changed.”

Tony Smith sipped his pint in the local pub. His friend, another late twentysomething male, sat opposite him, listening to the lament. It was in stark contrast to the jolly sounds coming out of the jukebox.

“They do that, women”, said his friend. “Change. Don’t blame yourself. Easier to say than to do, but you have to move on, mate.”

“It’s more than that. We had a few bust-ups in the last year, but I didn’t see this one coming. One minute we’re having breakfast and discussing family stuff, the next I’m out on my ear. Thanks for putting up with me, by the way.”

“No problem. You’re a mate. I’m just sorry I can’t give you a sofa to crash on. My brother’s here for a week. It’s all over, then, with Karen? No make up sex or anything?”

Tony reached into his coat pocket, extracted his mobile phone and scrolled through messages expertly with his thumb.

“I’ll read you some of her messages. ‘Tony Smith you can fuck right off. Get your stuff while I’m at work and leave the key on the table. I never want to see you again, unless it’s to return my cat, you bastard.’ I think that’s pretty clear. Oh, I forgot the last one. ‘And you’re shit in bed.’” He put the phone down on the table.

His friend laughed. “You stole her cat?”

“Did I, fuck. I never liked it, but why would I do that?”

“Jealous of the cat, maybe?”

It was Tony’s turn to laugh. “She was obsessed with Twinkie. Sounds like she’s better in bed than me too.”

“Want me to get your stuff?”

“What, you mean, go round to Karen’s? “

“Yeah. By the sound of that text I bet she’s already got it boxed up. The stuff she hasn’t thrown out of the window. You won’t need to take time off work or get morose when you see her flat. Got a key still?”

“Cheers, mate. You’re a star.” Tony leant back in is chair so he could slide his hand deep inside his jeans pocket, pulling out a key attached to a kitten key fob. “There you go.”

* * * * * * *

I’m in love with Karen. It was love at first sight, for me anyway. Something that’s never happened to me before. I should have told her more often. I have, in my head. When we are together I am going tell her every day. I have all the words written down, but I’ve been rehearsing them so that they will come out right when we meet for the first time. I’ve had plenty of time, waiting for the right moment. Now, finally, she has kicked her stupid boyfriend out. My patience has paid off. This is my moment.

It’s not like we don’t know each other. I’ve been watching her for months. I know where she works, where she lives, where she does her weekly shopping. I even know what she buys. According to the till receipt her cat eats very well. She wears ‘Chloe’ perfume, drives an MX5, and could make better use of her gym membership. I thought most of her friends were idiots but they are always slagging Tony off, even to Karen’s face. In the club last week I was dancing really close to her. At one point our backs touched. I almost told her my words, but she didn’t turn around, was too drunk and her friends took her away.

I took her cat. It came out and rubbed its body against my legs as I was crouching in her back garden a few nights ago. I picked it up, stroked its little sooty head and shoved it in my rucksack. It made a right racket. I nearly fell off my bike it was jumping around so much. Typical cat, though. As soon as I fed it some of the same brand of tuna chunks Karen gives it, it was as happy as Larry. It didn’t even mind going in the travel crate. The best thing is, she will blame her boyfriend.

* * * * * * *

I couldn’t face going into work today so I called in and pulled a sickie. Closing the fridge door after my third cup of coffee, I tugged the ragged photo of Twinkie from under the fridge magnet, touched her little white nose with my finger and felt a tear run down my cheek. She has never done this before, run away, so Tony must have taken her. There’s no other explanation. He never shouted back, even when I laid into him and threw the dirty dishes. He just looked at me with those sad eyes. Those sad, big, blue sexy eyes. Even when I pushed him out of the door he said nothing. Why didn’t he just say something? That’s just so Tony. He can never say the right thing and his silence makes me so angry.

He had nothing to say, so he hurt me, as only he knew how, by taking Twinkie. Guilty as charged. I told him so in a text. I was pretty mean, but he deserved it. I just want someone the slightest bit reliable. He knew I was planning for us to see my parents next weekend but he conveniently forgot and booked a golf weekend with his mates. I have forgiven him on numerous occasions, but this was the last straw. If he really loved me he had a funny way of showing it.

I put the photo of Twinkie back and slid out a selfie of Tony and I from under another magnet. We took it on the London Eye last spring. We looked so happy. I started to cry again, then pushed the dustbin pedal with the tip of my toe and dropped the photo into the garbage. I’d made a start. Now I needed to deal with the rest, starting with his clothes. I checked my phone for the umpteenth time this morning. No messages. Bastard. I turned up the volume on the TV so I could hear ‘Good Morning’ from the kitchen of sorrow.

* * * * * *

It was a stroke of luck. She’s normally at work but today her Mazda was parked in its usual spot, right outside her block of flats. Ironically, I was nipping out to get some more tuna for the cat, when I saw the car. I squeezed the brakes so tightly the VW behind me nearly knocked me off my bike. The driver gave me an enduring blast of his car’s horn as it passed, making me jump. Luckily, nothing moved behind Karen’s window. This was the moment, but I needed something.

Twenty minutes later I was in a Grab taxi, Twinkie complaining almost as much as the driver did when I pushed the travel box onto the back seat. He tried to get more money out of me, talking about allergies and all that crap, but I just ignored him. The Grab dropped me around the corner as requested, near my usual observation post.

Third floor, apartment 302. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, one reception room, and a kitchen diner. That’s how similar properties in the block have been described on the estate agents’ websites. I took the stairs rather than the lift so as not to upset the cat, which was getting fractious. As I approached the door, my heart was thumping in my chest and rehearsed words were dancing around in my head. I heard voices from inside the apartment. This was unexpected.

* * * * * * *

I kicked the last cardboard box along the corridor towards the front door, knelt down and scribbled ‘Tony’ on it in big black letters using a marker pen. I heard something outside and got up to look through the peep glass. I was shocked to hear the sound of a key turning in the lock and dashed forwards to put the safety chain across the frame. The handle turned and the door opened, slapping the chain taut.

“Who is it?” I said, retreating.

“Clive. It’s Clive. Tony’s friend.”

“Hang on a second.” The TV volume was annoying loud, so I grabbed the remote and hit the mute button. “What the fuck do you want? Tony and I have split up.”

“I know. He told me. I’m really sorry. I said I’d come around and get his stuff.”

“That’s so Tony”, I said, walking forward to push the door closed to slacken the chain. “He’s such a fucking coward.” I stepped back.

Clive eased the door open slowly.

“You’d better have this”, he said, handing me the key, Tony’s key with the kitten key fob. I snatched it from him, fighting tears again. It had been that kind of morning. He stood in the doorway, looking like he was trying not to intrude.

“I see you’ve been busy”, he said, looking at the row of cardboard boxes, all sealed with brown tape and bearing Tony’s name in increasing order of anger.

“Take them and go”, please, I said. The sight of his boxes made me upset and desperate to end the chapter.

“Of course. Tony thought it was for the best. Clean break and all that.”

“He didn’t even want to try and apologise?” I said.

Clive just shrugged. Then he started to go out of the door.

“I’m sorry. Sorry to take it out on you. What’s the expression? ‘Don’t shoot the messenger?’ “ Look, are you in a rush? Do you want to stay for a coffee?”

Clive smiled. “That would be lovely. I do have something that might make you a bit happier.”

I was perplexed. He disappeared out of the door and came back in seconds later holding a pet travel crate in his outstretched arms.


February 27, 2020 08:42

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