The Replacement Wife (part two - Madeleine - III.)
By Juliet OC
- 1176 reads
III. I heard Flynn’s key in the front door and scrambled for the remote switching off the TV and yanking up the venetian blinds. The sun flooded back into the lounge. I always felt guilty for watching the telly in the early evening, like I should have more worthwhile things to do; a hang up from childhood.
My parents never sat down before the ten o’clock news, but then with a five hundred year old house the DIY was a never-ending. I wished they hadn’t moved, but the house was too big for the two of them and with Dad’s Parkinson’s it was no longer practical. It had a creepy wine cellar that I used to take my friends down to and then switch off the light, pretending it was a ghost; and a priest hole behind a false step in the top staircase; and an inglenook fireplace boxed in behind the prim and mean Victorian mantel, which Dad decided to free one evening after dinner, not long after we moved in, despite Mum’s pleas about dust and the danger of falling masonry.
The uncovered fireplace surpassed even his expectations. It was big enough for me to stand up straight in at its highest point when I was thirteen. Grace, being a short arse, could still stand up in it as an adult. I found a petrified mouse sniffing the air, entombed on a stone shelf. It was as light as a feather. Its skin like black leather. But as soon as I ran into the kitchen to show Mum it began to disintegrate. First its ears and then the tip of its nose and finally its tail, until all I was left with was an empty husk. I cried. Mum told me nothing lasts forever and for the first time I got a sense of my own mortality.
“Hi honey, I’m home,” Flynn called out. He sounded like he was in a good mood.
I packed my memories away although I knew they wouldn’t stay there for long. With a terminal prognosis it was no wonder my thoughts travelled to the certainty of the past.
“You’re early for a change,” I said, entering the hall to see him slip his phone into his pocket.
He winked at me. “It’s Friday and it’s glorious. I couldn’t stand it in the office any longer. Let’s go out tonight. Santaniellos?”
“I’ve got dinner on,” I said. “Anyway, you’re eating out tomorrow night and I thought you wanted to watch your weight.”
“I thought you’d be too busy packing to cook,” he said, walking into the kitchen.
“Ruth cancelled on me,” I replied, trailing behind.
“Why?” He undid his tie and pulled it off slinging it over the stool.
“I think she and Brett might be breaking up. She couldn’t really talk. She said things were tense and it wasn’t a good time for a weekend visit.”
He opened the glasses cupboard. “Wine?”
He half-filled two large glasses, finishing off the bottle, and handed one to me. “I’m not surprised. The last time we saw them I thought Brett was acting distant.”
“I can’t say I noticed,” I said, looking at Flynn and wondering why he had. I do remember when I was still married to Ryan how I would look out for the same symptoms of marital malaise in our friends relationships.
“Anything I can eat now?” Flynn said, peering into the fridge.
“There are some stuffed olives in the door.”
He took out the jar. I got a ramekin out of the cupboard.
“Put them in here.”
He ignored me and popped one in his mouth.
“I could come with you tomorrow night now,” I said, only half-seriously. He’d already told me the college summer ball was more work than pleasure.
His brow creased. “There must be someone else you can go and stay with. What about your sister?”
“I wasn’t being serious Flynn. I know I can’t go and I am also more than capable of finding something to do. Spending an evening with Grace and two children, one still in nappies, is not my idea of a good time, particularly as we are spending a whole week with them in less than a month.”
“Well that’s OK then,” he said, eating another olive and grinning at me. “What’s for dinner?”
“Sausage and bean casserole.”
His nose wrinkled, but he didn’t say anything. I preferred dinners I could make earlier in the day because by mid-afternoon I was in need of a nap, but Flynn was not a fan of one pot meals.
“Why don’t you grab a shower and I’ll open another bottle of wine,” I said, stroking his arm. “You’re all hot and sweaty.”
“Are you saying I smell?”
“Of course not.” I grabbed him around the waist and buried my face into his chest. “I love your smell. You know that.” I exaggeratedly sniffed at his shirt. “You smell sexy,” I murmured, squeezing him tighter.
“Don’t. You’ll feel my rolls of fat.”
“You haven’t got any rolls of fat. You’re paranoid, I swear.” I let him go. “How about I come and scrub your back?”
“Been a busy day, I just want to soak.”
I tried not to sound sulky. “Well there’s always tomorrow night. I give you permission to wake me up when you get home drunk and horny...”
Flynn’s bottom lip jutted out. “I can’t. I booked a room at the hotel. With you being away, I didn’t see the point in stressing over trains.”
“But I’m going to be here, so you can come home.”
He walked into the hall. I followed him. “It’s booked and paid for. It would be silly to waste it.” He started up the stairs.
“Anyone would think you had a secret lover,” I said to his back.
“Where would I find the time,” he replied, without turning round.
I tried not to let it ruin my good mood and when I heard the shower switch off, I cut the crusty bread and took it into the dining room. I returned to the kitchen and took the casserole out of the oven. Sciatic pain shot down my right leg. I shoved the dish onto the work surface and jiggled my leg. Flynn came downstairs smelling of shampoo and aftershave.
“Can you open the new bottle of red, it’s on the table?” I switched off the oven and put the gloves back on.
“Sure thing lover,” he replied.
Lover? I wish. I picked up the casserole and, trying to hide my limp, followed him across the hall and into the dining room. I loved having a formal dining room. I never understood why anyone would want to eat in the kitchen with all the pots and pans and mess. It was probably why this house had been on the market for so long. The rooms were still in the 1930’s configuration, but then the man who had lived here had moved in when it was new. I asked the estate agent if he had died here. He said he didn’t know, but I think he did. Not that it mattered. Many people must have died in my childhood home and they never bothered me, although I did see a black cat on the main stairs a few times. Grace said it was a trick of the light and my imagination, but I know what I saw.
I served up the bubbling casserole. Flynn poured us both a glass of wine and took a huge gulp.
“Thirsty?” I said, raising my left eyebrow, which was especially comical as my right one had dropped and didn’t move at all.
“You’re not my mother.”
I picked up a piece of bread and tore it in half. “That reminds me. She rang earlier.”
He groaned. “What’s up now?”
“She doesn’t only ring when things go wrong,” I said, feeling a strange allegiance to Betty. “Although she did mention your Dad’s been a bit under the weather. Says he’s got pain in his tummy and ribs. I said it sounded like indigestion, but I told her he ought to see the doctor particularly if it is worrying him.”
Flynn blew across his spoon and looked up. “He won’t.”
“Anyway, I said you’d ring her later.”
Flynn put down the spoon without tasting any. “Why did you say that? A conversation with my mother is not my idea of a fun Friday night.”
“Because I knew you were out tomorrow and she’ll only phone me again if you don’t, and I also have better things to do with my time than placate your mother?”
“What things? Ruth cancelled your weekend.”
“Actually I have lots of plans - that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What?” he said, still sounding snappy.
“I’ve applied for an application pack from the VSO.”
“The Voluntary Service Overseas. I spent all afternoon researching the various projects. You can go anywhere as a teacher. And they need people with your IT skills too.”
“Why?” Flynn said.
“What do you mean ‘why’? We always said we were going to travel. It is in the marriage contract small print, remember,” I added, trying to keep it light. I could feel a hot flush coming. Since the radiotherapy on my lumbar spine my ovaries had decided to pack up, plunging me into a stop-start menopause.
“But that was before your prognosis,” Flynn said.
I stood up and crossed to the window yanking up the sash frame. My belly and chest soaking wet. “My prognosis is the reason why it has been to be now.”
“We can’t afford it with you going part time.”
“Ah but we can. Marion said I will be able to apply for early retirement and there’ll be a lump sum.”
“I don’t know I haven’t looked into it yet. It’ll be quite a lot I imagine. I’m just lucky I joined the pension scheme before Cameron came into power. It wouldn’t be worth diddly squat...”
“And you’ve spoken to someone from this VSO place. Checked they are happy to take you on with your medical problems?”
“Not specifically,” I said, but I don’t see why that is any business of theirs. I am well now and with these calcium injections I could remain well for a few years yet.”
“Or you could find yourself in a wheelchair by Christmas.”
“God Flynn, do you have to be such a pessimist.”
He lifted a spoonful of casserole to his mouth. “I think you’ll find I am being a realist.”
My head felt like it would burst with the heat. “Why are you being such a bastard? You always said you wanted to travel.” The tears rushed to join the sweat in a bid to squeeze all the moisture from my body.
“Typical. I mention reality and I’m the bastard,” Flynn replied, dropping his spoon into his bowl.
Why was he being so mean? He’d been in such a good mood when he’d got home. “I know my future is limited, but I’m not dead yet and I don’t want to just sit around waiting. I thought you understood?”
“I hate this,” he said.
“So do I, but Marion said there’s nothing to be gained in mourning the past. We have to get on with our future.”
Flynn’s top lip curled back. “Fucking Marion… what does she know? You’ve took my future away the day you told me you were dying.”
I opened my mouth, but it took a few moments to form the words. “I can’t believe you just said that. It’s not my fault I got cancer.”
His nostrils flared. “It doesn’t alter the facts.” He shoved his bowl away from him. A slop of casserole splashed onto the table.
My words came out around stuttering sobs. “Well in that case you’d better leave me. I’m the one without the future, not you.”
“How can I leave you now?” he said, and shoved back his chair. It slammed into the radiator.
I sunk to the floor under the window and buried my head in my knees. This was exactly what I had feared. Marion was wrong. Before tonight we were managing. We didn’t make love anymore and we didn’t talk about what was happening, but we got along. We didn’t argue. Now. Now it was out in the air. Our dead future. Our dead marriage.
It was dusk by the time I stopped crying. I clamped my lips tight around the juddering after-sobs and pulled myself to my feet, shivering with cold. The house roared in silence. I climbed the stairs feeling a hundred years old.
He was curled up on our bed with his back to the door. I touched his shoulder and he flinched. I knelt down on the floor beside him.
He turned onto his back so I could see his face. I rested my hand on his stomach.
“You need to talk to someone. A counsellor. I know you don’t think it will help, but it does. There are things we can’t say to each other. There are things you can’t say to me, but they still need to be said.”
“You’re right,” he said, his voice low and croaky.
I climbed on the bed and lay my head on his chest. “I can ask Marion to recommend someone.”
“No. Let me sort it out. It would make sense if I had the appointment in London.”
“She might know someone in London.”
I listened to his steady heart and breathed in his smell. “I’m sorry.” I heard a bird cry outside; out of place in the darkening nightscape.
“I’m scared,” Flynn said, as he gently stroked my hair. “I’m scared I won’t be what you need me to be.”
I leant up and looked at him. The shine of his eyes caught in the half light. “I don’t need you to be anything except here.”
“But what about when you get ill? I’m not sure I can do that. Become your nurse. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not like Dad.”
I just knew, like I knew I loved him, that I wouldn’t even consider not looking after him if the situation was reversed, but I nodded as if I understood.
“We’re not at that point yet. But there are hospices and we can afford nurses. I don’t want you to wipe my arse either.”
“Have you ever considered euthanasia?”
Was it the darkness making him brave, or was it he could no longer pretend nothing had changed? Did I give off the scent of decay? I lay my head back down on his chest and pulled myself in tighter to the line of his body.
“There is that clinic in Switzerland. Dignitas. I might consider it. I guess it depends. If I end up in a wheelchair, then I would definitely look into it – I would hate for you to have to push me around like I was handicapped.”
“You mustn’t do it for me. I didn’t mean that.”
“I know,” I said. “But you were right earlier. I have taken away your future. What do you have to look forward to?”
“But it sounds so selfish.”
“It doesn’t,” I reassured him. “You’re being honest. I appreciate that. As long as you love me that is all that matters. We will deal with the rest when it happens.” I could feel my breathing shorten and my heart fluttering ineffectually. Each in breath left me searching for more air. I sat up, gasping.
“I need… I can’t,” I stuttered through useless breaths. I grabbed for the side table, standing briefly, before collapsing back on the bed. The room closed down. Everything became dim and distant.
I felt Flynn’s hand on my shoulders and his knees nudge up behind me. “Just slow down your breathing. Do it with me. Breathe in for a count of four and out for seven.”
We breathed in together. I spluttered after three, but Flynn kept counting and I joined in again. All I could hear was the thudding of my heart and his voice counting in and counting out. The fluttery feeling in my chest stopped. I noticed the sweat cool on my skin. Flynn got off the bed, kneeling on the floor in front of me.
“You’re all right now,” he said, and stroked my face. “It was just a panic attack.”
“As long as I have you to love, I will always be all right,” I said, feeling heady with the ability to breathe again.
“I’ll try my hardest,” he said, but I daren’t ask him if he meant he’d try his hardest love me or to stay because without him there was no future at all.
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Hi Juliet, the tension is
Hi Juliet, the tension is strong in this part of the story and you've captured it well. So glad to see this was cherried, well deserved. On to next part. Jenny.
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