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
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
So, once again a summons from Nigel trumps everything else.
The usual spot it is then; a pitch-dark lay-by in the woods.
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
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,
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.