The telephone is ringing and I run dripping to it. I’m disappointed to see that it’s Sarah. Her picture is showing on the phone. Really, she looks the same now but the picture was from before, so I still like to see it. I like to see it more than I’d like to hear her excuse about last night.
I’ve stopped even making dinner for her now. I leave it to go to voicemail, she lies better on the voicemail, and go back to get a towel.
I’m eating toast with caramelised sugar on it when the telephone rings again. I started doing this recently, I don’t know why. I don’t think I even really like it. It’s her ringing, not Sarah, the other woman.
I look at it for a few rings more, but fewer than the number that it would take to go to voicemail, and I pretend that I am thinking about why I am going to answer it. But all of the time I know I am going to answer.
“Hi, are you there?”
“Hello, can you hear me?”
“Yes. I can hear you.”
“Who is this?” she asks.
“You rang me.”
“You rang me first. I had a missed call from you yesterday.”
“You asked me to…”
“I had lost my phone, but when I found my phone you had rang…”
“Yes – I was the man in the shop.”
“…but you didn’t leave a message so I didn’t know who you were.”
She seemed to have stopped talking so I tried again.
“Yes, I was the man in the shop, in the shoe shop, I mean the shoe department, on the bench, you sat next to me and…”
“Oh, the cute guy.”
“The cute guy who never did anything wrong in his life, but spent his whole life apologising for it.”
“I don’t know how many people you sat down next to in the shoe shop, I mean department, yesterday.”
“Yeah, it was definitely you.”
“Well, that clears that up then.”
“So are you going to meet me for a drink?”
“Um… I’m not sure that’s such a good…”
“I need to say thank you, and, anyway… Do you know this place… Eldon’s. I like to have a drink around seven o’clock.”
“That place is at the end of my…”
And suddenly I was talking to a disconnected telephone.
I munch some cereal and pour some coffee. I sit there trying to decide if I should start thinking about what just happened. I decide not to. I consider going for a run, but I know that that would mean that I was preparing for a date and I wasn’t sure I was ready to start thinking like that.
I picked up an apple and my book and sat at the window not reading or eating.
Long drawn out spaces in time are my speciality. I sit and zone out, I’m just staring into space. I’m not even sure I’m thinking. I realise that I haven’t moved for hours when my legs fall asleep before the rest of my body. I get up and stretch. I realise that I have been holding the telephone. I don’t remember picking it up.
There’s a noise at the door. It will be Sarah and I remember that I haven’t even got around to listening to her voicemail message. The door opens with the key and she is standing at the door. It hurts to look at her. Why am I so attracted to the pain she brings? I turn away.
She looks across the room of half-eaten breakfast things to me half-dressed and asks, “Busy morning?”
She used to ask if I’d heard her excuse, now she doesn’t bother. She has the best of both worlds. Freedom and a place to stay. And what do I want? To get revenge with this telephone woman? For Sarah to finally leave and make things easier? For Sarah to leave David or whoever and come back to me? No, I wanted things back as they were, but really back. Not a fake, ‘let’s pretend the last six months didn’t happen’.
I’d like especially not to have started thinking that perhaps the thing I found most attractive in Sarah was exactly the same character trait that had driven her away from our, in my words, ‘contented’ relationship. She called it ‘boring’. Doomed to only want to screw women who wanted to screw me over.
I try and think, if that were the case, would that mean that I would love her more or less now that she had done this to me? That way madness lies. I walked to the fridge, opened it, I didn’t open a beer, and closed the door again.
“How’s the work going?” she asked.
“About as good as usual, maybe better.”
“That’s good news Mark, that’s really good news.”
She decided the conversation was finished and walked into the bedroom with her overnight bag. She spent some time in there unpacking and repacking it. It must be a Wednesday, the maid would be coming later. With my left hand, I wrote myself a note to say, ‘get dressed, maid coming’ on the dry erase board on the freezer door, while I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator with my right hand.
I looked down at my watch, but it wasn’t there. I was just a skinny man in boxer shorts, a cuckold who hadn’t even got married yet. Was it too early to drink this beer? Without the watch I thought it might be hard to tell, but then I wondered if there might be a rule about getting dressed before you have a beer. How many hours had I been looking out of the window?
There was a noise behind me and I realised it was Sarah calling from the other room. “You might want to get dressed, Marta will be here soon.” So it was afternoon. I opened the beer and started drinking. She continued, “I’m going to take a bath, do you have any questions for me before I go in? I don’t need you to come in to try and take a look at me naked… So ask your questions now.” We have been in a relationship for seven years. I think about this and this new restriction, and to the early days when it felt like we could have gone in the bath together but we never did.
“Mark?” she’s suddenly right by me.
“Did you hear me? I don’t want you coming in.”
“There’s a lock.”
“I don’t want to feel I have to use it.”
“Neither do I. Sorry, I won’t come in, I’ll get dressed. Sorry. Marta’s coming, I’ll get dressed. The work’s going great by the way, did I say?”
“Yeah you did, that’s great.”
“Yeah it is.”
Four hours later Marta’s been and gone, so has Sarah, Marta has got her a clean set of clothes. I check I have my keys in my jacket, lock the door and walk to Eldon’s.
The noise in Eldon’s seems to pound in my ears more than it should. I find myself feeling tense as I walk to the bar. I suddenly realise that I forgot my telephone, but I haven’t – it’s in my jacket pocket. I remember that I’ve been checking a lot and feel stupid, then I remember I’ve forgotten it and check again. I’m doing this subtly, just touching the outside of my jacket where the phone is.
I sit down at the bar, my beer and a shot arrive and she turns to me.
“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I thought Sarah would never leave.”
“So did I.”