a short story by Allan McCreedy
Melanie was exhausted. It had been a busy day at school, the term nearly over and the children excited. The parent meetings were in full swing but she didn’t mind. She enjoyed her job. She enjoyed helping others, giving everything she had to give. Her reward was the joy on the little faces, the gratitude of the parents, and the praise of her colleagues.
She lay in the oil infused bath and tried to unwind. Soothing classical music vibrated through tiny portable speakers. Honey blossom scented candles burned gently on the windowsill filling the steaming air with a calming bouquet. Maybe I’m getting too old, she thought. And then she laughed aloud. Listen to yourself. Mid-thirties is not too old. She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes.
She thought about Daniel, about meeting him at university and about the many years together, many happy, prosperous and fulfilling years. She recalled their studying together, their graduation and their finding jobs in teaching. She remembered their embracing each and every morning and the waving off to work, looking forward to the evening when they would share a bottle of wine and talk about their day. Melanie enjoyed their evenings, their discussions, their empathising and compassion. She remembered too how they would frequently dine out, holding hands across dimly lit tables and talking relentlessly as they sampled curious gastronomic cuisine. Daniel talked often about marriage and about kids. But they had each other. That was all Melanie wanted.
She recalled the first time they had travelled together to the sun, to the Canary Islands. It was just after university. They had been excited and nervous in equal measure not having lived together as students, each staying in their own shared houses. But they needn’t have worried. The holiday bound them together, many hours spent talking effortlessly in tourist cafes and bars and lying side by side at the poolside. They went to bed early and they lay late into the morning. They couldn’t bear to be apart.
Melanie remembered the incident at the holiday apartment, the day she felt ill. Sunstroke they thought. Daniel reluctantly left her alone and headed towards town in search of a pharmacy. She sat on a chair in the shade on their terrace missing him. She watched the sun move around from one side of the pool to the other. She looked at her watch and began to worry. She glanced from left to right but couldn’t see him. Her eyes welled. And then she heard a laugh, a familiar laugh. She looked towards the pool, towards Daniel sitting on the edge of a sun lounger with a golden-haired girl. She was laughing with him, her hand resting on his arm. Melanie recalled her dry throat, the queasiness. She wanted to call out to him but couldn’t. She stared, watched as they laughed together. She began to sob, heavy tears rolling down her face. She lifted herself from the chair and moved slowly into the apartment where she fell onto the bed holding her knees firmly to her chest. She cried herself to sleep. She recalled waking moments later with Daniel gently rubbing her head. She remembered turning to him and the tears again flowing fully and freely. He pulled her tight to him and cradled her like a child. He fed her water and the sickness pills from the pharmacy. He apologised for being away so long explaining that he had met neighbours of his parents. They had walked back from the town with him and had insisted he meet with Francine, their daughter, the daughter Daniel had played with as a child but had not seen for years.
Melanie smiled as she remembered how she had felt, the unfounded jealousy. They had talked about it all night. They restated their desire for each other. Melanie was relieved and Daniel was flattered by her envy. They laughed about it.
It was that night they decided to live together.
And so they bought a small terraced house. Daniel cared meticulously for the diminutive front garden, sculpturing and manicuring herbaceous borders to surround the lawn. If the outside was Daniel’s fervour then the inside was Melanie’s. It was her choice of furnishing, pastel colours brightening up the dark room served by a lonely narrow window. The sofas were deep, soft and neutral in colour. But not that it was obvious given they were constantly hidden under a blanket of rainbow cushions. There was little else in the room other than a compact television that was seldom watched and a tattered second-hand piano squeezed in to the corner. Melanie made sure there were always fresh flowers. Sometimes Daniel brought them home for her. Sometimes she bought them herself. It was a house array with bright colours and country aromas. It was home. It was their home.
But slowly they began to grow apart. Daniel began to spend more time at after school activities. He began to focus on his career, promotion becoming a goal. He attended numerous meetings; afternoon meetings, evening meetings and increasingly weekend seminars. He began to visit the gym at every opportunity. Melanie began to do her marking and lesson preparation in the classroom after school. She came home to an empty house. She began to eat alone. She lost the desire to relive her day through conversation. No longer did she feel they were as one. And so she tried to find herself. She visited boutiques and bought the best of clothes she could afford. She had regular appointments for manicures, facials and salon pampering. But it never felt right, not without him. She tried to understand, to consent. It was to no avail. Their nights and weekends together continued to shorten, and eventually became non-existent. The decision was mutual. After eight years together Daniel moved out and set up home with another.
She opened her eyes and shook her head as the bath water began to cool. That was all in the past she told herself. It was now the present. And there was a future. But what shape would the future take? What shape did she want it to take? She glanced at the clock. She smiled. Colin would be arriving soon. Focus on Colin she thought. Tonight should be about Colin.
She needed to get ready.
She stepped from the bath and wrapped herself in her robe. She stood in front of the full length mirror and scrunched her hair vigorously, massaging through the conditioner before she could work the hairdryer. She stepped back and looked at herself. She allowed the robe to fall away. She smiled again, teeth gleaming and even like a string of brilliant pearls. Her long hair swept away from her round face. Deep set bright sea blue eyes sparkled beneath thinly plucked brows. A short pert nose rested over full luscious lips. She turned to the side and regarded her body, nodding towards the mirror. She felt good, self-assured and confident. She smiled yet again. Yes, she thought, it is time to move on, to remedy the present, to shape the future. She knew what she had to do. She pulled the robe back over her shoulders and made for the bedroom and the dressing table with its body creams and perfumes.
She stood in front of the wardrobe. Demure is best she thought, keep it low-key. She knew Colin would revere her no matter what. She chose skinny jeans and a loose-fitting vest top. She slipped into a pair of low heeled roman sandals.
And then the car pulled up outside. The doorbell chimed.
Here we go she thought and walked carefully down the stairs. She checked her hair in the small mirror in the hall.
Slowly she opened the door and smiled at the tall broad-shouldered man, his greying hair recently cropped to merge seamlessly with a neatly trimmed beard. He smiled a boyish grin and eyes the colour of varnished oak glistened in the light. The corners of her mouth raised further, shallow dimples forming on her reddening cheeks. She flicked a stray lock away from her face. “Hello,” she said and bit her bottom lip gently.
“Hello,” he said still smiling and nodding slowly. He stepped aside and a small fair-haired boy moved forward, hands in pockets and a forlorn expression across his face.
She knelt down to him and placed her hand lightly on his head. “All set for your music lesson Colin?”
She watched Daniel as he walked back towards the car. She smiled as she thought about later, about telling him she knew he was alone, that she knew Francine was gone. She would tell him he didn’t need to be alone. She would tell him she was ready to be a mother.