While this was going on, Rex whined by the back door.
By , having finally calmed down, she washed and dressed in her office clothes. Giving her hair a final pat, she went to the lounge for her perfume. She couldn't see it at first, but then she spotted it in an empty fruit bowl on the sideboard. The perfume was the one
I stink, Rachel.
So you do, dear heart.
She slung the empty container in the kitchen waste then called Rex, urging him to hurry if he wanted a walk. His reluctance horrified her. ‘I'm sorry, baby,’ she cried, kneeling by him and nuzzling her chin in his neck. ‘It's not you I'm cross with.’ His tail began to flutter as she stroked his fur. ‘I'll buy you something special after work,’ she promised. ‘A nice piece of mackerel to go with your biscuits?’ The dog's tail moved like an oscillating fan and, as soon as the door was open, he projected himself down the path like a missile with a rotary blade.
As she slammed the front door behind her, Rachel resolved that in future she would devote herself solely to her dog.
It was only when she reached the road that she realised the car had gone. She was so used to it not being there she had passed by without thinking. She stopped to inspect the perfect indentations in the snow, the shallow crater where the car had stood, footprints leading to the driver's door, wheel tracks leading to the road. Rachel reviewed the situation impassively, only mildly irritated; her frenzied attack with the perfume spray had exhausted her rage.
That decided she set out to enjoy a brisk walk around the field.
AT the end of the day, weary and somewhat dishevelled after coping with a constant deluge of correspondence, advice notes, notices and rosters, Rachel left the works, taking the river route in order to calm her fraught nerves. Tugging the crimson bobble hat over her ears and holding a plaid scarf over her chin, she sucked in cold air until it saturated her lungs. She shivered then, and hurried home.
She collided with the smell of perfume as soon as she stepped inside the door; it was like coming up against an immovable screen of incense. She flapped her arms as if that would change the atmosphere.
Stopping only to reassure Rex that she was his for the rest of the night, Rachel went straight to the kitchen to fill the kettle. She set it on the gas to boil. With Rex drooling at her side, she unpacked the bits of mackerel and proceeded to chop it into his bowl. ‘Don't ever accuse me of not keeping promises,’ she said, mixing dog biscuits with the fish. ‘And don't expect this every day. This is a treat for putting up with my tantrums. Tinned stuff will be back on the menu tomorrow.’ She put the bowl on the floor, and waited a few seconds for Rex to demolish the food so she could pick it up again.
From the wall cupboard she collected tea bags and a carton of skimmed milk. She snipped the corner off the carton and threw the scissors into the sink. Then she stopped, the carton in her left hand, a bewildered look on her face. She turned slowly and stared at the mug positioned under the tap. It wasn't there this morning; she had meticulously cleared away every piece of crockery before she left, along with the other debris. The whistling kettle chose that moment to come to the boil and just as she rushed to lower the jet, the door opened and
It was a shock, seeing him, when she had almost convinced herself he wouldn't return. She was uncertain how to greet him: whether to welcome him with a silent rebuke or create an angry reception. She chose the former, and rancorously contemplated him as he drew out a chair and sat at the table.
‘I didn't see the car,’ she ventured, inanely.
‘It's being serviced,’
Fuming, Rachel turned her back and resumed the tea-making task. Not once had he looked at her; proof, she decided, that he was suffering a rare twinge of guilt. Well, let him. She would not give him the satisfaction of enquiring about his nightly prowls.
Putting the tea and mugs on the table, Rachel sat opposite
Rachel made no reply, merely gazed at the top of his head and waited for him to continue.
‘I misplaced the house keys. Couldn't find them anywhere.’
Rachel was sure she and Rex would have heard.
‘I slept in the car eventually.’
‘How did you finally get in?’
‘The keys were on the floor of the car.’
‘Come off it,
The sight of his heaving shoulders dispersed Rachel's own hurt.
THEY lay a distance apart in the double bed.
Pins and needles induced her to lie down and massage the afflicted hand, but her misgivings did not go away. She scrutinised the ceiling for a solution to the overwhelming uncertainty of existing in a state of permanent virginity. It would be difficult, struggling through the years without a functioning partner. She could, of course, take on a boyfriend; it wouldn't matter how she achieved satisfaction so long as there was some contentment in her life.
Even in the chilly bedroom she was uncomfortably warm in the thick pyjamas. Her hands were sweaty and she needed a drink. Sliding stealthily from the bed, she padded along the landing to the bathroom, stepping over Rex who had found warmth by the airing cupboard and had chosen to lie there instead of on his bed. The bathroom tiles, cold beneath her feet, dispelled the heat from her body so she wrapped a yellow bathrobe around her shoulders.
Raising the roller blind she looked out at the tiny garden, half of it illuminated by the moon, the other half hidden in the deep shadow of the trees. She saw the outline of a cat on the fence, eyes shining like pencil torches. Looking at the peaceful panorama, it was hard to accept that so many problems abounded.
WITH her robe belted tightly around her, Rex at her heels, Rachel went downstairs. She closed the door to counter
After discarding the robe, she reclined full stretch on the couch and opened the current free magazine. Idly fiddling with the buttons on her pyjama top, she turned the pages. An advertisement for inexpensive beds caught her eye and she considered the possibility of changing from double to twin. It would please Gary … and maybe her too.
She would consult Eric; he had a colleague in the furniture trade. As she mulled the idea over, she absently eased her hand inside her jacket, feeling the softness of her breast.
Don't you ever wear a brassiere?
Never, Mr H! I'm better without.
‘You don't know what you're missing,