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Hit and run


Nigel grabs his glass, and stares into the sun filled room, like a seaman searching for land. Not for the first time in a couple of years he’s scowling deeply. Their oscillating relationship had begun in this sunlit space. Thinking back, he loses count of the times since then they have tried to draw a line; to move on; to get on with their lives.
The light now is exactly as that day two years before; low autumn rays splaying fans across the carpet. The quiet too is the same. He notices usually hidden sounds - heating thermostat ticking; water pumping to radiators; wall clock scratching. They had kissed in this light; made love in this quiet; caressed each other’s goose bumps. Afterwards, they had stared for ages at the slanting sunlight stretched tight across their strewn clothing.
Gazing now at the carpet pattern that had framed their entwined bodies, Nigel feels again the sense of loss, like a stiletto between the ribs. He has to be with Nicky again, he thinks; and this time for good.
He turns back to his PC screen and feels another rush of adrenalin. How Nicky will react after all this time is uncertain. But Nigel is sure it will have an impact; he knows the buttons to press too well. He taps out the last few lines and attaches it to an email. Please see attached. We need to talk. Don’t reply to this email, I will ring or text x. Then, with a flurry of adept mouse-clicks he obliterates any record his proposition.
Leaning backwards in the chair Nigel knocks back his whisky, sucking every last drop of the smoky Laphroaig through the ice. He thinks of Celia. Of ten years spent furnishing their house; of buying art he couldn’t afford; of dinner parties with ‘influential’ people. Not for much longer, he thinks. Soon he will be free.
He pushes himself upright and strides out of the study, leather soles breaking the silence like a slow hand-clap. Four slender fingers and a silver-ringed thumb drag back through his dark, still thick hair, then ruffle the front and pull a couple of wisps between his full, arched eyebrows. He glides past limited edition prints, down the polished pine hall to the kitchen. As he pours more whisky, Nigel smiles faintly. Celia hates the smell of this stuff, she calls it creosote.
He glances at his watch; Celia will soon be leaving the office for her usual walk home. Sliding out his mobile he dabs a text message: Pls b at our spot in 1 hr x. He presses Send, deletes the message from Sent Items, then slings back the Laphroaig and heads for the front door, grabbing his car keys on the way out.
Nicky stares at the flat-screen monitor. It had taken a while to drum up the courage to open Nigel’s email. The first thought had been: I wonder how long since the particular pixels that spell out Nigel’s name have lined themselves up on this monitor? Six months? Since then, life has been like crawling out of a deep pit. Inch by agonising inch. Drinking and smoking too much; and spending more time than is healthy with the wrong men. Nicky has at times been too close to cracking up for comfort.
But it has been a recovery of sorts, and the sunny uplands of a half normal life are now in sight. At least until now.
The last two years play back like a slide-show. Nigel is basically a nice guy. He’s good-looking (those grey eyes!). But every time they got back together it had seemed to be more because he needed the buzz of the relationship than the love or even the sex. In the end Nicky had felt like another of Nigel’s extreme sports. Got to get back out on the slopes. Got to go diving. Got to get back with Nicky. Eventually, the emotional cost of being with Nigel rose above Nicky’s ability to pay.
Focusing on the bad times has helped the rehabilitation. An affair with a married man had seemed exciting at first. The reality was very different - like a continuous shuttle flight from London to Newcastle struggling out of oppressive gloom for a snatched glimpse of sun and deep blue sky, before sliding inexorably back beneath impenetrable cloud cover. And every descent had taken Nicky lower than the last.
But Nigel’s letter is clever. It brings back the best times. Those business lunches when they’d first met; the laughs; that first meeting at his house; his study carpet. Reading it through again, as on many previous occasions, ‘maybe this time’ thoughts begin to surface. There’s something different in Nigel’s tone, with fewer get-out clauses than in the past. And a promise to ‘finally deal with the Celia issue’.
The day dream is splintered by the Nokia on the desk. After reading the text, Nicky rings through to his secretary. ‘Deirdre I have some really heavy writing to get finished. Can you make sure I’m not disturbed for a couple of hours?’.
So, once again a summons from Nigel trumps everything else. The usual spot it is then; a pitch-dark lay-by in the woods. How fitting.
Nicky gets together a few things, pulls on some gloves and slips out through a connecting door into Simon the architect’s office. Simon won’t be back until late; the keys to his 4X4 are on the desk, Nicky hesitates briefly then picks them up and drops them into his pocket.
Celia steps out of her office and sniffs deeply at the cool, clean air. It’s getting dark at ground level, but the sky to the west still offers defiant rays of late sun. She relishes the walk home along the winding lanes that criss-cross the wooded slopes above town.
This evening though she is especially buoyant as she trudges down the hill. She has come to a decision: to leave Nigel. She even says it out loud a couple of times, just to make it feel more real: ‘I am leaving Nigel!’
Celia wonders to herself why this realisation has taken so long to materialise. She tries to isolate the moment she knew it was over. They had met at university. They had become attached. That was it! They became an item out of habit, out of lethargy about doing anything different. Just before they got married she had come across a guy from university she’d always fancied. There was a brief fling, but by then ‘Celia and Nigel’ had an unstoppable momentum and inevitably they’d tied the knot.
She isn’t angry or bitter. Nigel’s a nice guy. He has just never connected with her as a person. Celia stops walking for a moment to take in this stark and now blindingly obvious realisation. Shaking her head she pulls out her trusty torch and snaps it on before striding ahead.
He is unbelievably selfish, she thinks. Skiing trips on his own; diving in Cornwall; that ill-afforded car – she called it his MenoPorshe. She realises there is no single moment to identify. Like the furring of a kettle, the conviction that it is all going nowhere has accumulated slowly.
Recently she’d met again with ‘brief fling’ guy. He had got hold of her email address from somewhere. A couple of times they met for drinks. They spent an afternoon reminiscing in a hotel room. She has no illusions about where that’s all going, but it seems to open a doorway into another life that will slam shut in front of her if she hesitates.
These thoughts convect round her head as her shadow ahead darkens and stretches out in approaching headlights. She edges into the side of the road. Better safe than sorry, she thinks.
A car bursts round the bend; the two part harmony of rubber and tarmac building to a crescendo. White lines stream in like tracer fire as a lone pedestrian standing in a lay-by comes into view.
At the point of impact both femurs are shattered by the front bumper. Milliseconds later the bonnet thrusts shards of rib through liver, lung and major vessels. Finally the windscreen slaps the bones of the skull deep into previously thinking brain tissue.
Simon the architect’s 4x4 roars away from the lay-by. The driver is sobbing uncontrollably, but his relief is washing in like a rip tide. The obstruction to his future happiness has been removed; he will not be descending again into that deep pit. Nicky wipes his eyes and heads back towards the office. When he has parked up he will dump his gloves in a waste bin, just in case. Then he’ll re-enter through Simon’s room to emerge from his own office and wish Deidre good night before heading home.
Celia turns into her drive and strides, full of anticipation, up to her front door. In the lay-by, two grey eyes stare unseeing into the darkening sky as the nails of four slender fingers and a silver-ringed thumb turn a deathly blue.

Jon Billings

 

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