Dodge in the Driveway
“I met someone at Amanda’s wedding a few weeks ago. She was smart and funny and we got on really well.” Elliot pulled another Marlborough Light out of the packet on his carved oak coffee table and thoughtfully squeezed the filter.
“Did you find her attractive?” I asked, knowing how rare it was for Elliot to meet someone that ticked all his boxes, as he put it. In all the nine years we’d been neighbours, I’d only known him have one brief romance.
“Yes, I did. I asked her if she’d have dinner with me and she said she didn’t date people which I thought was a bit strange, but in the end she said she would.”
“Have dinner with you?”
“Yeah,” said Elliot, pausing to light his cigarette. “I took her to that gorgeous little bistro with all the mad French bar staff near Leicester Square tube, whatiscalled?”
“Exactly. And it was weird because as we worked our way through a bottle of red and she started opening up, I realised there was something a bit odd about her, as if her light had gone out.” He looked at me thoughtfully. “She was married for fourteen years to this guy and they had a big house in Primrose Hill, she was working quite high up in the NHS earning good money, but I think he was abusing her.”
I squeezed the scrunched up ball of tissues in my hand. “In what way?”
“Well she only alluded to it and I don’t know if it was physical or mental but she ended up leaving him, she got made redundant and now she is nearly fifty, surviving on odd jobs, holed up in a council flat in Paddington.”
“Well if she’s housed by the council it sounds like she was a special case. Maybe she had a breakdown or wound up in a refuge?”
Elliot didn’t reply and just sucked on his cigarette.
“So did you end the evening with a polite goodnight?” I prompted him.
“Well after talking to her, I realised the last thing she wanted was any romance.” Elliot carefully blew smoke rings into the air. “The reason I am telling you this is because you are a beautiful and intelligent woman, a real catch and all I’m saying is that you don’t want to end up like her.”
“Oh thanks!” I frowned. It was better to feel a rush of indignation rather than self pity.
The smoke from Elliot’s cigarette hung motionless in the strips of golden sunlight streaming in through his living room window. “I just mean,” he paused, “that if you decide to stay with Paul and you keep swallowing all your pain, your light might go out too.”
“I’d never let it get that far Elliot. Please don’t worry about me making the wrong decision. I still love him but I am here for a reason. I needed to get away.”
“Yes but I know you, you don’t like to fail at anything. This is your marriage we’re talking about and I know you want to succeed at it.”
“True.” I could feel my tears welling up again. “The way he was last night came as such a shock. I can’t believe he isn’t even close to saying sorry, that he is still blaming me.” I ran my fingers over the bruises on my arms and hugged myself, shivering in my thin teeshirt even though the spring sunshine had made Elliot’s sofa warm to touch. “I shouldn’t have tried to stop him leaving. I just wish I had left him alone.”
Elliot shifted his heavy frame to the edge of his seat and stared at me. “Hey, don’t you dare start blaming yourself. You were trying to stop your husband walking out on you after a row, leaving you and Tom alone. He shouldn’t have used any force on you at all. Come on. What happens next time when you have a row and you end up with cracked ribs or a broken arm? Will that be your fault as well?”
“It won’t come to that.” I looked down and took a deep, shuddering breath.
Elliot heaved himself up from the sofa, patted my shoulder and went to the kitchen to make tea. I felt a wave of guilt that my son had been watching TV in Elliot’s spare room since we arrived that morning. He must have been watching for six hours straight.
I wiped my eyes with the wet knot of tissues disintegrating in my hands and looked out of the window into the sunshine, listening to the soothing tick tock of the grandfather clock and Elliot’s teaspoon tinkling as he stirred sugar into our tea in the kitchen.
The familiar roar of Paul’s Dodge coming down the street made me jump up and blood pumped into my cheeks. Its tires gave a thin screech as he pulled into our driveway next door.
Elliot stood watching me expectantly from the kitchen doorway, eyebrows raised, holding two steaming mugs of tea.
“I think I should go and see him.” I winced slightly, knowing this was not what Elliot wanted me to say.
All I could think about was that Paul had come back and how much I wanted to see him. Then, I caught sight of myself in Elliot’s gilt-edged mirror hanging over the fireplace and stopped to stare at the mess of me, my face swollen from crying. My thoughts clattered nosily into one another as I tried desperately to work out what to do. I would need a shower before I went home, I thought.
As I took a slurp of my tea, I heard a cry of ‘Mummy, where are you?’ from the spare room. Oh my beautiful little boy, I thought. How I am neglecting you.
I didn’t have to go home yet, did I? After all, Paul didn’t even know I was here.