The thing about being a writer is, some days I feel like I’m just pretending.
When I worked in an office I wore a suit. When I worked in a primary school I scrabbled around and after the third term I had started to resemble the Head Teacher. Recently there has been very little writing. It’s hard to focus when you’re getting divorced, when the legal bills slowly eat up all your savings. Let’s just say these last few years haven’t been my most productive.
So what have I been doing? Well, there’s been a great deal of staring out of the window so I moved my desk to face the wall. There’s been an amazing amount of online time wasting, so I unplugged the home hub. It didn’t last long, besides, I need my fix of witty tweets and funny cat videos and I don’t even like cats, I’m more of dog person. Dogs are loyal; they come to greet you when your days are bad.
It was on one of the horrible days of no writing that my best friend called me. She wanted to know how I was getting on. Three weeks ago I’d attempted a therapy session but the counsellor couldn’t find the bloody room.
“Would you like to try a different therapist?”, she suggested.
She had a list of names. I wasn’t going to get off that lightly. A new appointment was made. She had a nice name and this time I was sent to find her room. First door on the left, I knocked.
“Come in.” Said the voice, it was a nice voice. Much like the name, they matched. Unlike my socks, which I saw as I sat down, were from opposite ends of the colour spectrum. One black, one white.
“Are you comfortable?”, she asked.
I nodded. She smiled. Then silence. I tried to guess what she was thinking. The silence continued.
“What would you like to get out of this session?”
“If you like”, she said.
“Um”, I said and then I explained about the divorce. Then we returned to silence. I tapped my foot. I looked up at the clock. My mind wandered. Did I need anything from the Tesco? Did I switch my phone off? What was the theme tune to Dynasty?
“Perhaps we could try something?”, she said gesturing to the empty chair in the corner of the room. I looked at her blankly. Then she got up and dragged the chair over to our side of the room. She turned it toward me. I was now facing an empty chair. I started to panic. I looked at the door. Perhaps I was being too difficult. Maybe she needed an extra pair of hands. Clearly she needed to take advice on this one; obviously I’m a patient that needs help, I can’t even get dressed properly.
“Role-play”, she said. “It can help.”
Role-play?, I thought.
Memories of a disastrous stint at the local Saturday morning drama school filled my mind. My parents decided that all a shy, self-conscious, chubby twelve year old needed was a bit of improvisation at the local theatre club. I shuddered at the memory of being forced onto the stage in a munchkin costume for the end of year production of The Wizard of Oz.
If only I could just click my Uggs together three times and say, “There’s no place like Hay on Wye.” I could magic myself into writing a bestselling book.
“Don’t look so scared,” she said.
I looked behind her for signs of the prop-department.
“Imagine”, she said. “Imagine your ex is sitting in the seat opposite you.”
I stared at the empty chair.
“Imagine he is sitting in that chair.”
I glared at the chair.
“What would you like to say to him?”
I looked at the chair again and I tried to conjure his face before my eyes. My hands turned into fists and I clenched my jaw shut.
“I notice you’re still wearing your rings?”, she said and I looked down at my left hand.
The engagement ring, that was an interesting and expensive distraction. It was fun to wander around The Lanes one freezing January afternoon in Brighton. Emerald cut. Platinum setting. Just over a carat. Three years later we were married and then we got the dog.
“She came everywhere with us”, I said
“We moved house a lot.”
Fifteen addresses in ten years. No sooner had I settled into a new job and made friends and he’d declare his hatred of the house and the need for change. A month before my thirtieth and I could sense he was getting twitchy in our tiny cottage. He was tired of toiling away in the garret. His pile of rejection letters from publishers and agents increased. I had noticed him looking at country life again and eyeing up the latest Range Rover. He asked me how I felt about moving back to the city. “There’s nothing for us here.”
“That must have been very unsettling,” said the therapist, “Did you want to move?”
“No, not really, I never did.”
But he always got his own way so I handed in my notice one Friday and drove home hoping that this would be the last move.
When I got home the dog came to greet me but when I looked under the stairs all his jackets and coats were gone. The row of neatly lined shoes left an empty line of dusty silhouettes. I practically ran up the stairs. His books and files were not lined up on the desk. No computer, no laptop, no phone charger. No tangle of wires. In the dressing room a series of empty clothes rails and upturned shoe boxes scattered the floor and when I saw that the photograph of his late mother was absent from the bedside table, the blood spiked my veins and a deafening throb from my chest vibrated into my ears.
“There was a note on the desk,” I told her, “a fossil held it in place, we’d found it together on the beach.”
We had found it amongst all the stones, a perfect fossil, a sandy coloured spiral. A constant in our changing lives. I looked down at the note and I saw his writing in black ink. He had written just four lines. Four lines in that childlike scrawl. The same inky scrawl that appeared on the first letter he sent to me in 1997. The letter he wrote asking me to come to him, the one asking me for the first time to trust in him. On that letter he chose not to write the address and in its place he wrote “home.”
As I read the words they made no sense to me. I thought of him that morning, a towel wrapped round his waist, he had kissed me goodbye. I re-read the words and I started to shake as I realised what the note was telling me. I started crying. I was crying as I reread it and the tears dropped onto the paper as I saw the meaning in the four lines. Just four lines.
“I have to go. I have to be on my own now. Sorry to run out on you. I didn’t want a scene.”
“Oh my god Suzi, that is just awful. Is that all it said?”
“No, further down, at the bottom of the page was another line.”
“P.S I haven’t fed the dog.”