It had been a month, and Sean knew it was time to go up into the attic. He had been avoiding it since he moved in. It was a complete mess up there. Why hadn’t he paid more attention to that estate agents check list? The old man hadn’t been required to clear it, and now it was all just up there, sitting there. Somebody elses stuff that just hadn’t been wanted any more. He had tried to motivate himself by watching Cash In The Attic and Antiques Roadshow, but Sean just wasn’t that lucky. He knew it would just be useless junk. He wasn’t even interested in it.
He went to the fridge and took out another beer, returned to the couch and sat there trying to decide why he thought he was so unlucky. The answer he knew was exactly the kind of thing that he hadn’t been thinking about for a while. It was the reason he was here in this house that he didn’t really like. It was the reason he was sitting on the couch drinking beer at 11 in the morning, and had had time to watch daytime television like Cash in the Attic.
But he had been trying hard, really hard, not to think about her. And he had started to wonder, just recently, if perhaps this effort wasn’t part of the problem. Perhaps the fact, that he hadn’t stopped and actually thought about it, was part of the reason why he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Each time the thought surfaced he would bat it away. It seemed to be every few seconds it would occur to him.
He would look at the way that the cutlery was arranged in the draw and know that Jennifer wouldn’t have arranged it that way. He would look at the way his living room looked like a dentist’s waiting room and know that Jennifer would never have laid it out that way. He would look into the fridge and know with a vague nagging sense that raw meat and cooked were supposed to be on separate shelves, and one was supposed to be above the other, and know that he’d been told a thousand times but had never bothered to really remember. And he knew he was certainly doing the washing up wrong, but couldn’t remember why.
All he knew, all too well, was why he was in this state. Sean had introduced Jennifer to his boss, and that was it, she had left Sean for his boss. This was the short truth of the situation. That was all of it in a nicely packaged single sentence. A single thought. If only he had never introduced them! Then none of this would have ever happened. They had been happy before that. Well sort of. But if they’d never gone to that stupid office party then none of this would have happened.
Could he have done more to stop it? Could he have tried to win her back? Maybe he could have, but he didn’t realise that she was going until it was all far too late. She had already fallen in love with his boss long before Sean had ever realised that she had had fallen out of love with him. And what wasn’t to love about him. Tony was a sort of perfect man, he had money, a great car, knew the good places to go to dinner, was cultured and knew about the theatre and stuff and he was sporty. He didn’t know as much about movies as Sean, but then that might have been something that Jennifer appreciated about him.
She was always asking him to stop analysing movies in the car on the way home. It wasn’t fair, they had used to love talking about movies when they first started going out and now what, she wanted him to change that as well? He’d changed to much for her already. He’d started putting the toilet seat down, he had worn shirts with collars, he’d done the washing up without being asked, he’d even not sworn when her parents were round for dinner. What more did she want? She wanted him to take down some his movie posters and stop talking about movies as much? Well that just was different! He could understand the other stuff, he knew he had just been getting away with stuff before, stuff that he shouldn’t have been doing anyway. And actually, once he tried it, even he could admit that he looked better in a shirt with a collar. But this stuff was different. This was changing something about him. But that’s where it had started to go wrong. He should have resisted, but he couldn’t.
He had decided to surprise her, to do something different. So on one movie night he started getting ready like usual, but when Jen had come in to ask him what they were going to see he presented her with the invite he’d been given at work. It was an invite to a swanky party. He got them all the time, not that he told Jen, but he never went. They were a perk of his job, he just didn’t like them. He just didn’t like all of the smoke and noise he told himself. But that wasn’t true, he loved all of that, he feared parties because they required him to make small talk, to make polite conversation with people who never had anything interesting to say, to listen to them babbling on about how they got there, what the traffic was like, how well they are doing in their boring pointless jobs. And then to hear himself doing the same back to them. He hated all of it, he was afraid of it. He saw it like some kind of gladiatorial challenge, the test being could he think of something to say the next time the other person stopped talking. Every time there was a pause in the conversation, his heart would start pounding, as though it was keeping a time of how many seconds had been silent. Fearing the shame, fearing the silence and especially fearing the inevitable moment where the person would say something like, “right well I’m going to mingle, I’ll catch you later” and then wonder off.
He feared them also because of the attractive women who would be flirting just feet away, not necessarily with him, but close enough. They made him sweat and he was sure they could smell it. And now it was worse because when he was with Jen, he felt that he shouldn’t look, and that she would see him looking or even just think he was looking. So now he just kept flitting between men, staring at one of them, and then violently snapping his head to the next guy trying to avoid even resting his eyes for a second on any of the women, even though he wanted to. Then he’d start worrying that Jen would think he was a gay and he’d start sweating again. So, taking Jennifer to a party instead of a movie was a big move for Sean.
And that’s where it all went wrong, thought Sean. He finished his beer and put it in the recycling box. Some things, he thought, had stuck. He liked the recycling box because it was like the beer walls that he used to construct as a student showing off how much beer they had managed to consume in a weekend. The box showed how much beer he’d drunk in a fortnight. Same idea.
Something about the word boxes triggered a memory in Sean’s mind. He remembered all too suddenly that he was supposed to be clearing the loft. Okay, he thought, I can do this. He went upstairs, opened the hatch, lowered the ladder and went in to the loft.
[This is part 1 of a 4 part story, check back next Friday for Part 2]