The Replacement Wife (part two - Madeleine - V.)
By Juliet OC
- 1180 reads
The car skidded on the gravel sending up a spray of stones as I entered the car park of Hexley Manor in the white convertible MG. Shit. If I scratched the paintwork Flynn would kill me. Sat around the pool in Spain it had been fun to think of all the things I wanted to do and experience before I died; owning a white sports car, travelling to India, and riding an elephant were the top three. One down two to go.
In the car showroom the salesman hadn’t been sure if Flynn and I were joking or not when he said he was only getting the loan in his name because my life insurance would pay it off.
“If they pay out, darling,” I said.
“So murder is out of the question then, dearest?”
“Fraid so my love, unless you can make it look like it was the bastard cancer.”
“S’all right I can wait,” he replied.
The poor man, flushed and flustered, shut his tie in the electric roof and nearly asphyxiated himself.
What I didn’t say to Flynn was I’d forgotten about the life insurance we’d taken out when we married. The premiums were paid from his account. From recollection they hadn’t exempted me for the cancer because it had been over five years. They would soon regret that cavalier decision, though I couldn’t remember how much I was worth it was probably enough to pay off the mortgage.
I cut the growling engine and opened the door, planting both feet firmly on the ground before pulling myself up. My right leg refused to co-operate. The numbness in my thigh was always worse after being in this car. Marion had mentioned ‘disability living allowance’ and a scheme to get an adapted car, but I told her I was nowhere near that and I refused point blank to consider a referral to the hospice. It’s not only where people go to die, she said, but that was exactly what it was. I checked my watch. It had just gone quarter past nine. I let go of the door and tested my right leg. The sensation returned in pins and needles. I hobbled to the boot and grabbed my beach bag limping inside; my heart beat crazily. Why was I nervous? This was supposed to be a treat.
The elegant décor suggested opulence, but a closer inspection revealed blown plaster and creeping mould. A chunk of cornice was missing in the corner. This barely concealed decay made me feel less out of place. The girl behind the desk arched her carefully drawn on eyebrows reminding me of Mum’s, and handed me a print out of my treatments. Her fingers were handicapped by long nails. I scanned the list. I was to have a facial at 10:30am, body scrub and massage at midday, lunch at 1:30pm and then a manicure and pedicure at three.
“Why did I have to get here at nine if my first treatment is not for another hour?” I said to her.
“We ask all our day guests to arrive at nine,” she said, which didn’t answer my question. “You need to fill out this health questionnaire.” She handed me a clipboard and pen, cocking her head to the side like a bird of paradise as she tried to make sense of my features.
I sat down on the settee by the door. The seat was harder than it looked. Yawning, I leant forward so my hair covered my face. I relied on my days off to recharge my batteries, sometimes sleeping for most of the day. Flynn had no idea how much I slept. No one did. Today I’d had to get up at seven when I could have had another hour in bed and I wasn’t sure this was even my kind of thing. The whole concept of ‘treatments’ reminded me of those weekly visits to the hospital for radiotherapy – where I was bolted down to the table under a mask that covered my face and head. Never had I experienced claustrophobia like it before and never did I want to again. A small mercy or a cruel irony that my face was the only place I didn’t have cancer?
I started to fill out the form. The first three questions were easy. No asthma, heart problems, or diabetes. Question 4) other medical conditions the therapists need to be aware of? The space to expand was tiny. I scribbled in small letters; adenoid cystic carcinoma of the parotid gland, radical parotidectomy (3 ½ years ago), radiotherapy to face, spine and pelvis. I ran out of room to write and turned over the sheet and found a small space at the bottom, where I was supposed to sign my name and added: spread to lung, liver, spine and pelvis; sciatica in right leg; recurrent cellulitis in upper right arm. I tapped the pen against my lip. Was that it? I turned the sheet back over. Under back problems, I put ‘right sided sciatica’ again. Question 7) Current medications: monthly calcium infusions, co-codamol, morphine sulphate, voltarol and… what was the name of the new painkiller to help with nerve pain? The name escaped me. It started with C… or was it G? I looked up at the girl on reception. She was staring, but looked away when I caught her eye. Gabapentin. That was it. I hated it. It made my mouth dry and my fingers fizz, but the consultant said it would calm the sciatic pain. As yet I had not noticed much difference.
I stood up and returned to the desk. “All done - though it’s a bit of an essay.”
She took it from me and placed it on a pile of other forms without even glancing at it.
“I’ll show you to your locker, where you can change into a robe.”
I followed her past a coffee bar, a large formal dining room and downstairs into a softly lit corridor, with mirrors along one side. We entered a brightly lit changing area and she gave me a locker key.
“You’ll find a robe and complimentary slippers inside. Your first treatment is in the Sierra suite. You’ll see it signposted along the corridor.”
She turned to go. I wanted to grab hold of her like Grace used hold onto Mum at the school gates. “What do I do while I’m waiting?”
“You can use any of the facilities. The spa is through there.” She pointed to the other side of the changing room. “The dining room and lounge are back out on the other side of reception. There are the gardens at the rear and a large conservatory. Just make sure you arrive five minutes early for your appointments.”
She left. I got undressed pulling the white robe around me. It was still only twenty to ten. I took my Kindle, notepad and pen out of my bag. I would find somewhere to sit and relax. Maybe get a coffee. I wished Flynn was with me. He gave me confidence. He would’ve made friends with the receptionist and got her running after him by now.
I enjoyed the facial more than I thought I would. The therapist was very interested in my operation and when I explained about the lack of facial nerve on the right side she said, that’s why the skin is so smooth.
“You have lovely skin,” she said, “hardly any clogged pores. You must have a healthy diet.”
“I eat a lot of organic vegetables. We started growing our own because they are high in anti-oxidants.”
“Do they help to fight the cancer?”
“Yes. Sort of,” I replied.
“So is your cancer gone now?” She removed the hot cloth impregnated with moisturiser.
I liked her direct approach. I preferred it if people asked me about my face rather than pretending they hadn’t noticed. “No. Unfortunately it had already spread before I had this done.”
She was young. Twenty at most. Her eyes widened and her soft pink lips pouted. “Can’t you have chemotherapy?”
“No. You see my cancer is a slow growing one. Chemotherapy only works on fast growing cells. That’s why people go bald because hair cells are fast growing.”
“I never knew that,” she said, adding, “how awful,” as she moved to behind me to massage my forehead and scalp. It was a lovely releasing feeling, as if my skull had been held in a tight vice and she had loosened the screw.
“At least I get to keep my hair.”
“Is it naturally blonde?”
“You are lucky,” she said. I knew what she meant and at least she was trying to understand. “So is there any treatment you can have?”
“Only ones to try and slow it down. There isn’t a cure.”
She came round to the side of me again and began to do something on the metal table. “It’s so sad,” she said. “How do you cope?”
“By not thinking too far ahead. None of us know how long we’ve got. At least it makes me appreciate each and every day.”
“That’s true,” she said, and I found I wanted her to be happy.
“I could have years yet. I plan to travel. See the world.”
“Will you go alone?”
“No, my husband Flynn will come with me. He’s been fantastic.”
She began to work on my nose and chin area. When I got home I would fill in the retirement form. Start the process. Stop dithering. It wasn’t as if I had all the time in the world. And anyway I needed various letters from various doctors and an assessment with occupational health before anything would happen. I could always change my mind or put it off, but if we were serious about India then we needed money to finance it. It felt good to make the decision.
The facial came to an end. The therapist wished me luck with my travels and I went to the lounge to wait for my next appointment. I started to make a list of the things I had to get done to make our travel plans a reality. I needed to make an appointment with my GP and my hospital consultant for starters. What about travel insurance? Would I be able to get any?
I pushed my head back in the seat. The treatment had made me drowsy and loose limbed. It was an hour until my next appointment. I stared out onto the gardens; a mixture of formal and country kitchen. The sun had come out. Late October sunshine. I thought I might go out there for a walk after lunch. I might get some ideas for our garden. I curled my legs under me and took deep breaths in and out. It was nice to have the time and space to think things through. Life was always so frantic. I rarely stopped to take in how lucky we were that my health was holding up. It had been nearly a year since they’d told me it was terminal, but touch wood, nothing major had happened and I was getting better at managing my pain.
I arrived home just after 6pm. It was Friday and I’d already decided to get a takeaway, or go out for pasta. He wasn’t in. I checked my phone. There was a text.
#Have to go for birthday drinks. Should be back by 9pm. Ten at the latest.#
Bugger. I was buffed and scrubbed within an inch of my life. I’d so wanted to tell what I decided today about applying for early retirement. Grace thought it was a good idea when I rang her while I was in the gardens of the Manor. She’d said claiming my retirement benefits didn’t mean I couldn’t work at all. I could still do supply if I found myself bored. I told her I wouldn’t have time to be bored if I was to see as much of the world as possible, but I appreciated her perspective and the fact she was thinking about my long term future. I still had one, limited, but out there.
I slammed around the house tidying up and changing the sheets on the bed. This was the second birthday drinks he’d attended in a month. He could have invited me to come down and join him. I know Grace thought he was having an affair when she saw him on the phone in Spain and I never did find out his new password. It was not a good time to ring her. The kids would be having baths and bottles. I dialled anyway. John would have to take over, I needed my little sister.
An hour later, I hung up and wiped away the tears that had come without warning. Grace didn’t know anything more than I did. But she did say his nights away were suspect. ‘If you really want to know, ask him. You’ll be able to tell by his reaction.’ I tried to explain how Flynn and I had agreed to be honest with each other and if one of us ever stopped loving the other, or met someone else, we would do the decent thing and come clean. But you didn’t have cancer then, Grace said, as if I was slow. It changes everything don’t you see? She made me angry when she said that, like Flynn only stayed with me out of pity. I cried a bit and she said she was there if I needed her. I told her I felt better for talking to her, but I didn’t.
It was getting on for 10pm. I made myself a cheese sandwich; so much for going out for pasta. I pictured him in a crowded pub basking in the adoration of his staff. Was there one in particular paying him too much attention? It reached eleven and I gave up waiting and got into bed with the Lonely Planet guide. I started marking up the pages of the places I wanted to see. The Taj Mahal of course, but other places, like the Agra Fort and Elephanta Island.
I came round to Flynn hurling up in the toilet at 3 am. I turned towards the bathroom. His phone was lit up on the bedside table. I leant over and looked at it. The screen was unlocked. I sat up and stared at the door to the en-suite while my hand groped for the phone. I had thirty seconds at most before it locked.
I pressed the message icon and scanned the most recent.
With a shaky hand I clicked on the unknown number.
#Hi Flynn. It’s Sara. I’ve lost Rebecca. Did she leave with you?#
I dropped the phone. It thudded in my lap. I heard the flush of the loo and grabbed it and put it back on his bedside table, but he didn’t come into the bedroom and I heard the shower start.
I picked it up and re read the message. Who was Rebecca? The name rang a bell. I went into his contacts. There it was: Rebecca (exams officer). I remember now, he’d said he’d walked her to the tube. He’d not mentioned her since. His phone beeped in my hand. I threw it back on the table and lay down.
He appeared clutching a towel. I sat up rubbing my eyes.
“Sorry,” he said. “I should have turned it off.” He came round the bed and picked it up.
“Who is it?” I faked a yawn. “It’s nearly 4 am.”
“Bloody T-mobile. You go back to sleep. I’m just going to get a glass of water. I think the curry was dodgy.”
I folded my arms. “Who did you say you were out with tonight?”
Flynn rubbed his stomach. He looked pale. “Eric and some others from work. I told you it was Eric’s birthday.”
“Didn’t you celebrate Eric’s birthday in the spring?”
“No. What made you think that?”
“That time in May when you were late I swear you said it was Eric’s birthday.”
“I can’t even remember the night you are talking about. I go out all the time.”
“I know,” I said.
“Don’t get precious. We agreed it was important we did things without each other.”
“I’m not getting precious. I must have remembered wrong.”
“You must have. Those painkillers make you forgetful.”
“They do my darling, I just don’t point it out every time. Like tonight. I knew you’d forget that’s why I texted.”
He was confusing me. He hadn’t mentioned tonight, had he?
“Whatever,” I said. “But ‘who’ others were you out with?”
“Why the third degree?”
He frowned and his gaze flicked towards the door. “Just the ones you met. Sue, Todd, Sara, Melody.”
“Our dippy new receptionist. I need to find the Rennies.”
“Who else?” I persisted.
“I’ve told you. A couple of guys from IT. Raj. I forgot him, but then he is so quiet. About ten of us. I left them to it. Sorry I was late, they persuaded me to go to a club. I knew it was a mistake. I stayed for twenty minutes. I should have just come home after the restaurant. It cost me ten quid to get in. What a waste.”
The only name he hadn’t mentioned was Rebecca and there could only be one reason.
“Can I go now?”
I turned onto my side away from him. My throat ached. “Be quiet when you come back to bed.”
He left the room. I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. I wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be. It was almost as if I was expecting this. But could I be wrong? Could it be innocent? Why not mention her name? And why would Sara assume he left with her? I heard the low murmur of the television. I would have to be more vigilant. I had to know for sure. Please be wrong, I whispered over and over, his side of the bed cold and empty.
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Hi Juliet, the story is
Hi Juliet, the story is going so well and you've now given it an exciting ending which keeps the reader wanting to know more. Keep going and well done. Jenny.
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