Saturday, 30 July 2011
In Hindsight (Chapter 1)
Ellie Morgan’s coffee mug slipped from her fingers, dropped onto the floor and smashed. Her other hand squeezed her apartment’s door handle so tightly, that her knuckles stood out on her fist like four pale pebbles.
Kate stood defiantly in the doorway, as the gentle strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas played in the background. She blinked calmly, unmoved by what she’d just revealed.
“He wouldn’t. I don’t believe you,” continued Ellie, the shake of her head barely perceptible.
Kate tilted her head a fraction to one side and raised her eyebrows. “Don’t you?”
Ellie had been on her way to the kitchen to take some baking out of the oven when a knock on her front door had disturbed her. Now the sweet spicy aroma of cooked mince pies was wafting from the kitchen. She didn’t know whether to rescue her pies or continue to listen to these ridiculous accusations. She decided to stay and listen.
“Why are you doing this?” Ellie frowned. “You said you understood why I’d asked you to leave. I’m sorry if I upset you…”
“Upset me?” Kate laughed, her mouth stretched wide but her eyes remained cold. “You threw me and my daughter out into the street just before Christmas. What would Tom have said about that?”
“Stop bringing Tom into this. You know why I asked you to leave and you know that I gave you time to find somewhere else. Besides, it doesn’t give you the excuse to come here and make up stories about my husband.”
The insincere smile slipped from Kate’s lips. “Tom’s dead.”
Ellie reeled at the venom in her voice. “Do you really think that I need reminding?”
“Yes, I do.” shouted Kate.
“How dare you, after all the chaos you’ve caused.” Ellie let go of the door handle and pointed at her. “I’ll tell you why you’re making up this rubbish. Because you had a crush on Tom and couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t attracted to you.” She gripped the handle again for support. “He was professional at his job and you couldn’t handle the reality that he was married and not interested. You might have men falling at your feet every day, but I don’t believe for a minute that Tom was weak enough to fall for your fluttering eyelashes. You models were all just part of the job; props to be dressed and photographed. You’re lying because I asked you to leave – because you’re jealous of what we had. It’s so easy to accuse him of sleeping with you when he’s not here to defend himself, isn’t it?”
Bizarrely, as Ellie was ranting, she’d noticed that her lanky Poinsettia was wilting over the side of its pot, just outside the doorway on the landing. Inanely, she made a mental note to water it.
Kate stared impassively back at her. “I have proof.”
Ellie didn’t believe for a minute that she had proof. She was just looking for a reaction and she wasn’t going to get one. How had it come to this? They’d been friends for the past year and now they couldn’t bear the sight of each other “I’m not interested in hearing any more lies. I’d like you to leave.”
The telephone rang inside the apartment, causing Ellie to momentarily turn. In that instant, Kate pushed past her and walked into the lounge.
“What the hell are you doing? Get out.”
The telephone continued to ring as Kate walked towards a framed photograph of Tom which was sitting on the coffee table. She picked it up and studied it. Tracing her fore-finger around Tom’s profile, she kissed her fingertip and touched his lips with it.
Ellie felt the bile rise in her throat, but took a calming breath, held out her arm and pointed towards the staircase. “Get out!” She rotated her hand so that her palm was facing upwards. “Give me the front door key first. I don’t want you ever coming back.” Her hand shook visibly as it lay upturned, hovering in the empty space between them.
“Look at him,” ordered Kate, turning the photograph.
Ellie continued to glare at Kate.
“Look at him!”
Ellie glanced at the picture of her husband. His kind almond-shaped eyes held her gaze, making it impossible for her to look away immediately. The photograph had been taken in Aubeterre, a small hamlet in France they’d often visited. It’d been awarded a sign which stated that it was a village of outstanding natural beauty. Tom had joked that she should be awarded a badge which read those very same words. He’d asked her to marry him in Aubeterre Square, kneeling on one knee beneath one of the Linden trees which grew around the Place Trarieux. The dappled light had patterned his earnest, smiling face. She could almost evoke the sweet aroma of the trees, just by envisioning them.
The phone stopped and for a few seconds the room was quiet, as the Christmas tree lights flashed on and off to the rhythm of Ellie’s pounding heartbeat. She blinked as a bird screeched an alarm call outside the window, its dark shadow flitting past the glass.
“How can you just move on?” asked Kate. "What’s the point of having photographs sitting around the place if you intend to exchange him like faulty goods?” She replaced the photograph and walked towards the window, her breath clouding the glass. “I could have made him happy you know?” she said quietly, almost to herself.
The sky had a metallic quality to it. Heavy grey clouds hung low in the sky, laden with snow which was promised for later that afternoon. Kate peered into the street below and watched the opposite neighbour dragging a wheelie bin towards the pavement. Another was strapping a child into their car seat before setting off. Perhaps the little girl would visit Santa in the shopping centre before being dragged around the supermarket. Mundane tasks maybe, but a life which Kate had daydreamed about since meeting Tom.
Ellie stood with her arms folded, wondering if she was capable of physically removing Kate from her apartment. She doubted it. It was taking all her self-control not to run to the bathroom and retch.
“For your information, Tom was happy, not that it’s any of your business. You seem to have invented a set of circumstances which are all in your head. We were happy, Tom wasn’t a cheat and I am not seeing anyone else.”
Kate turned, tears balancing precariously on her eyelashes. Ellie let out a sigh as she felt her shoulders relax a little, with relief. Surely Kate was now regretting coming round and had come to her senses. Surely she now realised that making up lies about Tom wouldn’t help her feelings of loneliness.
“It’s okay Kate,” soothed Ellie. “It must be lonely being a single mum but…..”
“I hate you,” spat Kate. “It should’ve been me living here with Tom. I wouldn’t be running round after another man only a few months after he’d died if he’d been my husband. I don’t know why you don’t just ask James to move in, instead of all the ridiculous flirting that goes on. It’s sickening to watch.”
Ellie’s jaw dropped in shock before she regained her composure. “I’m not running around after another man!” shouted Ellie. “James is a friend. He understands it’s too early to think about…besides, how dare you tell me how to live my life. Tom died a year ago, and he would understand that friendships are important for support.”
“Friendship?” Kate mocked. “Come off it! We used to talk, remember?” She pointed at the sofa. “Sitting there. I’d listen to you giggling over what James had done or said. You told me how you felt about him. It made me sick to listen to how quickly you’d forgotten about Tom. How easily you’d moved on.”
“I’ll never stop loving Tom and you know it. James and I are just good friends.”
“That’s pathetic! Don’t insult me by using that old cliché. The only reason you’re not an item is because he doesn’t feel the same way about you.”
Ellie was shocked at how deeply those words had hurt. The notion that James didn’t think that they had something special growing between them, made her feel incredibly sad and isolated; as if she’d lost something very special. She tried to remember if James had ever shown her any affection; given her any hint that he might be interested in getting to known her more intimately. Yes, they’d shared some recent lingering looks, he’d held her hand when she’d been tearful and he’d always been so attentive. But what if Kate was right? What if friendship was all that was on his mind?
Kate continued, with Ellie only half listening. “Yours couldn’t have been a great marriage could it? You say Tom was happy. Why would he stray if he was happy at home?” She swept her hand in a semi-circle in front of her. “It should be us living here. I can’t sleep at night. I miss him. And you! Call yourself a wife? Have you no respect?”
Ellie was determined not to cry in front of Kate, even though she was screaming soundlessly inside. “For the last time, get out.” Her drained face was the only outward sign that Ellie’s memories of her beloved Tom had been shaken as violently as a child’s snow globe.
The sound of someone running upstairs from the apartment below stopped their conversation. James appeared in the open doorway.
“I just phoned you. I heard something smash.”
He looked down as he crunched on the shattered mug underfoot. He paused before raising his eyes to the two women facing each other across the coffee table. Ellie’s face looked ashen. It was instantly obvious that they’d been arguing.
“What’s going on?” He looked from one to the other.
“Well talk of the devil,” said Kate. “Were your ears burning?”
“Ellie?” he asked, looking at her.
“Kate was just leaving,” she replied. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, unsure of what to do with her hands as The Little Drummer Boy, rum-pum-pum-pummed from the speakers.
“Oh but we’re having such a lovely time,” cooed Kate, sarcastically. “Come and join us James. We’re just getting to know each other a little better.” She beckoned him into the room.
James didn’t move. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if Ellie wants you to leave, I think you’d better.”
Kate sauntered towards him and stopped an arm’s length away. “What Ellie wants, Ellie gets, is that it? Who are you, the perfect hero on a white charger? Have you come to rescue poor Ellie from the evil mistress? Her husband’s lover.” She laughed in his face. “Thought that would shock you.”
The bitter-sweet smell of burnt pastry drifted into the room as James looked at Ellie. She was chewing her bottom lip nervously and didn’t look up.
“It doesn’t matter why you’re here Kate, but I think it’s best if you leave now.” He stood to one side of the doorway.
Kate sneered. “Oh you do, do you?” She laughed whilst shaking her head. “It’s pathetic. You’ve no idea have you? Well if you think that piece of news shocked you, wait ‘til you hear this.”