Chapter Two: Fitting the
2011 ended horribly. Although I began the year giving birth to a chubby smiling boy, on a day that was freakishly sunny, considering how bitterly cold the air had been. Michael my partner had missed the labour; he told me he felt bad, but
nobody managed to get hold of him and his phone battery had ran out at work,
that I looked beautiful, and our boy had his nose. Sweat at this moment was slicking my bleach blonde hair to my forehead. My stomach, thighs and ribs all ached, throbbed and stung, so he could forgive me if I really didn’t give a shit about the multitudinous reasons why he never saw the birth of his first (and only) son. He lost
out, not me, so he could bloody well help me into the wheelchair and take me to
the bath that I had been told I could have. This was January. By December I was a single mother, another statistic in the long line of statistics that seemed to be littering the early part of the twenty-first century.
The end could not have been better articulated than by a song that Simon would later play for me. Just one of the many things Simon seemed to do to give me a little perspective. It didn’t go down in flames; there was no final scene, no frozen frame. I just slowly watched it fade away. It felt like the end had been a long time coming though, not an overnight decision, but an evolutionary process in our lives together.
But we no longer loved each other, of that I am sure, I know it to be true for me, and Michael would claim he still loved me for the next three or four years. But the final conversation began with one more of his selfish wounding sentences.
“I have to leave Toni. I can’t be with you anymore.” The rain spattered against the windows, big bullet shaped drips glistened against the grey backdrop of winter. Outside the wind whipped dark evergreens into an epileptic frenzy, the branches rapidly waving goodbye. I sat down in the leather seat next to the garish pinks, yellows and reds enveloping Henry’s first ever Christmas presents. I was stunned to silence; at first I wasn’t even sure I heard him correctly.
“You have been so distant; I can’t connect to you these days. I can’t explain it. I don’t feel you love me anymore.” I was staring intensely at the cream carpet, simmering with anger, with hurt, and with an inferno of frustration. Ok it is fair to say that I would have liked to scream in fury at him, grab him by the lapels and shake him until his selfish teeth rattled in his head; but I stayed motionless awaiting the inevitable character assassination that accompanies broken relationships, and broken homes.
“I am so sorry, but it’s like living with a ghost. You have no interest in the relationship anymore do you. I am just a convenience, someone to talk to once in a while. I can’t breathe in this atmosphere any longer. I have to leave.” And that was the story of Michael. I should have told him I was distant because I was tired. I didn’t have my poker nights, my extended shifts at work, my weekend football matches or my nights sat up on fucking Facebook. I had Henry teething, Henry needing breakfast, Henry needing changed, Henry crying, Henry laughing, Henry throwing food, Henry pulling down Christmas decorations, Henry, Henry, Henry. I relaxed for one and a half hours, in front of a car crash mélange of soaps before tidying, ironing, washing and cooking. Yeah I was fucking distant, and no, Michael was not a convenience; he could be decidedly inconvenient to be perfectly honest.
The man could walk into an empty white, immaculate room, and leave it looking like a whirlwind had torn through it. At work, he was this charming handsome man, with a neatly pressed uniform, pristine nails, and not a hair out of place; all girls’ eyes on him with his luscious dirty blonde locks of cascading delight and penetrative blue eyes. At home the man was slovenly, tense and abrupt. He would have amazing moments of almost poetic flourishes, demonstrating his undying love for the “Queen of his castle,” who made the home and kept his, “Prince safe within his castle.” His castle, do you see? His fucking castle. Not to mention the monster he was to his son and me first thing in the morning.
As loving as he could be from the hours of ten o’clock onwards, it was a tense atmospheric nightmare, ducking and diving around his atrocious range of moods. If
he wasn’t angry at being woken up after a mere ten hours of sleep, he was pissed at being allowed to sleep in for so long, enraged that had to get up to feed his son and let me (fucking lazy bitch) lie in once a week, and incensed that the gas had gone and he had to walk to the shop to put some more on so we could have heating. So for all intents and purposes, he was a bloody inconvenience. So although I had told myself I loved him, when he walked out the door just before Christmas, he took an exceptionally large weight with him. That was 2011.
2012 began with the usual lack of expectation, unconvincing talks of wiping slates clean, and starting again. My maternity leave had expired, and as a shift manager at one of two local McDonalds I was thrust back into the hot and sweaty world of emptying grease traps, throwing lettuce at burgers and cleaning industrial sized grills, and the first real conversation I ever had with Simon.
With everything that followed, I wondered how it was that I hadn’t really noticed Simon before now. The guy was almost invisibly good looking, not outstanding, but a good figure, a nice large pair of eyes, winning smile and hair dyed a deep purple. He had worked here for about two months, learning the job that his friend (and guitar partner) Rob had helped him get, to tide him over during his course at college. By this time I knew only two things about him: He was cheekily confident, and he worked hard so as not to let his friend down. Rob was looking to climb the ladder of management at work, and being the unofficial second in command at this store, Simon felt that it was his duty to represent him in a professional and eager manner. Although everybody knew that Simon had designs elsewhere. I didn’t know any of this, for I was yet to notice Simon.
It was about four o’clock one raining Friday afternoon in the middle of a mild January, time dragging its rather heavy ass through a miserably quiet afternoon. The smell of grilling burgers clung thick and greasy to my rather tired nostrils when the conversation of age had started up around me. Simon and some weedy little new-start whose name escapes me were exchanging mildly crude banter, an irritating hum of camaraderie between co-workers that I couldn’t berate them for, although I wished they could mute their feigned frivolity.
“Dude you aint as old as that! Get out of here, thought you were only about twenty
“Nah mate, thirty this year. Thanks though, must be the ‘Oil of Olay’ working.” Simon chuckled obviously used to people thinking he was younger than he was. He nonchalantly wiped down the silver dressing table clean of stray lettuce slivers into his hand and tossed them into the bin. He looked at me briefly and smiled and continued to chat utter nonsense with…oh god what was his name?
“So how old would you say I am then?” I am not sure to this day what prompted me to join in their puerile conversation, maybe it was boredom, maybe it was because I hadn’t really had a proper conversation for a couple of weeks. Now I knew I looked young, I knew how they would answer, and yes I knew I would feel marginally better for hearing it again; you can’t blame a girl for wanting the odd meaningless compliment can you? To my dismay weedy-new-start-guy just shrugged noncommittally, perhaps affronted that I interrupted his first relatively successful attempt at trying to converse with an adult. Simon looked at me rather more appraisingly.
“Now, I’d have said eighteen or nineteen initially but you are a manager, and have a child so I am going to aim at…twenty one?” Simon was still looking at me assessing his decision in his mind. It was one thing I loved about Simon; when he was in a good mood, you could almost read his wide open mind. His thoughts twinkled in his green eyes; mischief was always evident with an almost unperceivable glint. So he added, “Unless you follow my beauty regime, then you could be upward of thirty five.” I felt guilty for not noticing or talking to him much prior to this, because his smile instantly warmed me.
“Twenty four and feeling every day of it right now.” I bent my head down to the paperwork that I had on a silver worktop attached to the warming bin. It was terribly important paperwork, which I pretended to have momentary rapt interest in.
“You can’t be that old, just think when you’re Simon's age you’ll look about my age. What’s your secret? Your bloke sends you away on regular spa weekends then?” Cheeky-bloody-what’s-his-names first contribution to the conversation hit me in the stomach harder than I ever imagined it could.
“Dude that aint cool. Toni and Mick split last month.” Simon knew. Had my life become so public that invisible people knew that my family life had disintegrated around me? Rob probably told him, they spent so much damned time together that it possibly would have come up. A glutinous moment hung before the new start made a solemn retraction and apology, but the blow still ached in my empty gut. I tried to tune into the low hubbub of idle chatter on the front counter, but there was no escaping the way I felt right then. I glanced up at Simon and I saw his dancing eyes soften as they met mine.
“Twenty four, and the wide world of fit and single guys to choose from. Can’t hurt that you look like a teenager can it?” Simon shot an experimental grin in my direction, hoping that the moment of atmosphere his unwitting partner in crime had created could be quelled.
“You’d think, but how am I going to get an older guy if look old enough to be his adolescent daughter?” It was an attempt at wit, trying to create a comfortable banter again, although I had a fair point. I had a brief interest in a man a couple of weeks prior to this, but he was my age. I never felt like I could connect with someone my own age and usually the norm around Corby was that the men were always a few years older than the women if they were to engage in any extra-curricular activities. Maybe that is generic for the world, however my brief interest fizzled out with his uncontrollable immaturity, and I realized that looking young can sometimes be a burden.
"Actually treacle you’d kinda fit the profile.” Simon smiled.
“Profile? What are you on about?” I chuckled in spite of myself.
“Well seriously there’s two ways you can look at it, and both go in your favour. Firstly according to many socio-biological psychological theories, if I took your picture aged it five and then ten years. Any men that I show it to would pick your picture just as you are out as the most attractive picture. Secondly, and this is just a theory I am working on, being twenty five and having a child makes you the most eligible bachelorette for guys my age.” Taken aback I stared at him for a few minutes trying to work out whether he was being serious or not. His voice sounded
sincere, almost as if he was giving a lecture to a group of students. Who expects psychological razzle-dazzle in between wiping clean silver surfaces and toasting buns?
“A child? How on earth do you expect that to make life easier? Isn’t there a stigma with single mothers anymore?”
“Not at all. Look, at the age of thirty most Men have already got one or two children themselves, and if I am anything to go by, they don’t want any more. If we find ourselves with a nice girl and she has a sprog, she is less likely to bug us for any more. Without a child, I am afraid you could be Angelina Jolie and I would pass you up, because you definitely will be bugging to give you a bun.” He smiled, still not sure whether he was being deliberately informative or winding me up. I looked over at whatever-he’s-called and almost choked at his look of complete miscomprehension on his face. Bless him, he was young, and he was probably lost at ‘socio-biological’, I couldn’t have expected a more intelligent answer from him.
“What, you wouldn’t nail Angelina Jolie? What is wrong with you?”
“Dude, I imparted some excellent wisdom, and all you got was Angelina Jolie. What
are you at college studying again?” Simon’s eyes lit up again. I smiled despite myself before realising that the dull ache in my stomach had abated.
“Hospitality mate, NVQ level one.” The boy looked puzzled at the question.
“Ah I see, too many syllables in one conversation for your little level one mind to understand what I was saying. Perhaps if I write it down for you, you may be able to google all those tricky six letter words that blew your mind.” Instantly I loved the playful side of this once invisible man. I loved his laugh, as a rather profane retort rattled from the red faced young lad. I watched deep from the swirl of my own little silent world as Simon continued to needle and torment this young man, safe in the knowledge that for some unknown reason, the world was a little brighter.
I miss moments like that, where I can gaze at someone from a cocoon of an inner smile, just watching them float and tumble around doing whatever task they had before them. Simon was always so animated when he spoke, flailing his arms and pulling faces, and amazing to watch with the sound turned off. You couldn’t help but admire his natural theatricality, his poise, and his confidence with wonder. He was nothing amazing to look at, but when he was on a roll, he was beatific.