by Janet Howson
cartons of juiceNina held on tight to both her children’s hands. This part of the road was always busy. She still experienced a feeling of panic after all these years. Also, the guilt had never gone away. Her twin sister Freda was four at the time. The same age as her eldest daughter, Alwyne. They had been allowed to go to their local sweet shop, with strict instructions to stay together and to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. However, Nina could not be bothered to walk down to the crossing and leaving go of Freda’s hand she said she was going to run to the other side whilst there were no cars. Freda protested and sounded scared. Nina ignored her. “Cowardy, cowardy custard,” she shouted out to Freda. The next thing she remembers was the scream of the siren on the ambulance and her sister’s body being carried away. Her mother had never forgiven her and there was hardly a day went by that she didn’t mention Freda.
Her mother was looking after her two girls today. She couldn’t have them until four thirty as she volunteered in a charity shop on a Wednesday afternoon. Nina had a dress rehearsal for her drama group’s production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at seven thirty which left everything a bit tight. She said she would meet Phil round the corner from her mother’s house at four forty five. He would be in his car so they could go for a drive somewhere. Her mother thought she was meeting her friend Kay to do a bit of shopping. She had no idea about Phil.
They had met on the set of her drama group’s summer production, Alan Ayckbourne’s ‘Table Manners’. He had been Reg and she had been his wife Sarah. She had seen him before in other plays as he was in another local group but Shirley, their director, thought he would really suit the part and asked him to play it. He was excellent in the role and the two of them got on really well. Nina didn’t really know how it happened but one day they were talking after a rehearsal and the next minute they were kissing. They started to meet secretly. Nina feeling guilty about her disloyalty to her husband Geoff and her children. Whenever she swore to end it with Phil, she looked in his eyes and she was lost.
Nina rang on her mum’s doorbell. After a few minutes the door was opened.
“Hi mum, here they are, I’ve put two cartons of juice and two bananas for their snack in their school bags, and I will be back to collect them at six o clock. They can watch some T.V. after they've done their homework, as they are pretty tired.”
“Don’t be late. You know I like to get my dinner at six. I get indigestion if I eat any later.” She kissed Nina on the cheek and steered to girls inside listening to their news about school.
Nina called out to the girls, “be good for nanny, I won’t be long.” The girls ran off into her mother’s living room, quite happy to be with their nanny as she always allowed them, to watch more television than their mother. She could hear them arguing about who should operate the remote control. She shouted out to them, “Don’t forget your homework!” but didn’t expect a reply.
“See you later mum,” she said to her mother’s retreating back. She could never get used to her mother’s coldness towards her. The door was slammed and Nina turned and walked down the path scanning the road for signs of Phil’s blue Fiesta. She spotted it on the corner, he was revving the engine, very unusual for him. Perhaps he didn’t feel happy about being on her mother’s road. She walked briskly to the car, opened the door and got in and quickly shut the door. The car pulled away at speed. She turned to Phil. Her stomach lurched with shock. It wasn’t Phil.
“Who are you? Stop the car, I am so sorry, I thought you were a friend of mine, you’ve got the same car as him. You must think I’m mad.” Nina laughed uncertainly, “I did it once before when my husband was picking me up from the library, again it was the same make of car and the same colour. I realised immediately and he didn’t drive off. He thought it was quite funny… If you stop the car now I can easily walk back.” Nina paused hoping for a reaction but there was none. Why wasn’t he stopping? She started to feel slightly sick and her brow was wet with perspiration.
“Shut the fuck up,” the driver pressed harder on the accelerator pedal. Nina looked at him properly, trying to stay calm. He had a shaven head with one earing and a tattoo of a snake curling round his neck. She guessed he must be in his late twenties. He was chewing hard on gum. “I don’t wanner ‘ear your voice no more.” He leant over and turned on the radio. Heavy Metal music blasted out filling the small car with ear splitting sound.
Nina felt really frightened now. Who was he? He could be a serial killer, a rapist or a drug runner who would extort money from her to fund his habit, then kill her. Her mouth felt dry. She swallowed and tried to appear calm. She was not the kind of person to scream and shout but she was having problems supressing the desire to do so. She felt that would not be a good idea. She didn't want to make him angry.
“Listen, I have two young daughters waiting for me. I can give you some money if that’s what you want, but please just stop the car and let me out.”
He laughed. “You didn’t think of them when you was with your fancy man, did yer? A slut like you deserves all she gets. As for your toy boy he won’t be bothering you no more. Quite a nice little motor this. Too good for the sorts of ‘im.”
“What have you done to him?”
“I said I didn’t wanner ‘ere your bleeding voice again. You can talk all yer want when we meet up wiv your husband. You’ve gor a lot to explain. He’s a good man. He don’t deserve a tart like you.”
Nina remained silent. She feared what this vile man would do if she kept questioning him. She was in shock as well. So Geoff had organised this? Geoff, her reliable, staid husband who led a fairly organised but boring life. Work from nine to five, watching West Ham on a Saturday, taking the girls swimming on a Sunday. She felt she didn’t know him now. To send a thug to…She didn’t dare think what he had done to Phil or what was going to happen to her.
Suddenly the car swung sharply to the left and Nina could see ahead of her a building that looked like a warehouse. Parked outside was Geoff’s car. Her stomach lurched. She took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. Surely he wasn’t going to have her killed. She was the mother of his children This was ridiculous, it couldn’t be happening. She would apologise profusely. Explain it meant nothing, it was just a silly mid-life crisis. He would understand. He always understood. That’s what Geoff was, understanding.
The car was brought to a halt sharply. Nina lunged forward in her seat. The thug got out and went round to her side of the car, pulling the door open.
Nina struggled out of the car. She felt the nausea rising in her stomach. She musn’t let herself be sick. She swallowed.
“Right, stay by my side. You’re goin’ to go into the warehouse and then you ‘ave a lot of explaining to do.”
Nina walked with him and they entered the building by a back door. They went down several corridors until they reached an office. There was a plaque on the door saying Manager and Geoff’s name underneath. She had never realised this was where he worked. She just knew he went off to work each day as regular as clockwork in his car. He was a qualified engineer. They had met before he went to university and for three years they commuted between their separate universities. These thoughts were all going through her brain. Surely he couldn’t hate her so much? Not after all the years they had been together?
She felt a push from behind and she was rudely shoved into the room. There he sat, Geoff, tapping his fingers on the desk. He was reading a letter and didn’t look up at first.
“Geoff, please I can explain. We never planned it, it just happened and it got out of control. I felt so guilty, being unfaithful to you and the girls. I was going to tell Phil this evening that it was all over.”
Still Geoff didn’t look at her, he continued reading, mouthing the words silently to himself. She realised she didn’t know this man, the man who had been her husband, her lover the father to her kids. All these years and she would never have suspected he was capable of sending a thug to steal Phil’s car and hijack her, forcing her to confront him in a warehouse, miles from anywhere.
“Aren’t you going to speak to me? Please Geoff, what is it you want? Remember the girls. They don’t deserve to be punished by us splitting up or losing their mother.” Nina realised the thought had passed through her mind that he might kill her and dispose of her body then say she had run off with Phil? Did she think Phil was dead too? Had the thug killed him and then stolen the car? She felt suddenly very nauseous and thought she was going to faint. She looked round for a chair, there was one in the corner of the office.
“Can I sit down? I don’t feel too well.”
Geoff looked up sharply, “You don’t feel too well? How do you think I’ve felt knowing every time you are out that you might be seeing him? Every time you answer your phone and disappear into another room with it, that you are probably talking to him? You have no idea what you have put me through.”
“Geoff, I am so sorr..”
“Shut up, just shut up and listen. At first I thought you would tire of him and it was just a silly fling, then I realised you were not going to end the affair and it went on and on. You are never in long enough for us to have a proper conversation. What with seeing him, the drama group and seeing your mother. I was just an inconvenient hindrance in your life. I could see that. Then I started to get angry rather than feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to teach you both a lesson, so I had a word with one of the truck drivers. He tracked Phil down and warned him off. He got it out of him that you were meeting up outside your mum’s house and he would be in his car, the blue fiesta. So he ‘borrowed’ the car and he picked you up instead of Phil, and here you are. Oh, by the way, your precious Phil just thought it was a bit of fun. He said you were far too old for him.”
“Well he would say that if he was frightened for his life.”
“Oh that’s not all we found out about Phil the Philanderer. He is also going out with a young member of the drama group he belongs to. Been with her for years. She won’t be too happy when she hears about you.”
Nina was stunned into silence. She couldn’t believe she had been so stupid as to think a good looking man twenty years her junior would fancy her. He had taken her for a fool. Tears welled in her eyes and she held on to the desk for support.
“I want a divorce, Nina. I have lost all my trust in you and I don’t think it will ever return. I was just reading through a letter from my solicitor. If you admit blame because of your infidelity, the divorce could be quite painless. You owe me that at least. The least disruption the kids are put through, the better.”
His words were echoing in Nina’s head. She couldn’t make sense of any of it. The words divorce, solicitor, kids rang out. This was all moving so fast. She couldn’t keep up. He had to forgive her.
“Surely I am allowed a second chance? We can all make mistakes.”
Geoff roared with laughter. “Mistakes? This is more than mistakes. You have destroyed the family. Put your own desires above your children’s needs for a good mother. I have worked damn hard to bring in a reasonable income into the house and this is how I am repaid. You make me sick. Get out of my sight. Toby , take her back to her mother’s and return the car.”
Toby pushed Nina towards the door, she twisted her body round and tried again to reason with Geoff.
“Please, Geoff, just listen to my side of the story. I will change I will stay in more and…”
Geoff laughed again “and pigs might fly. I wouldn’t put it past you to still go to your dress rehearsal tonight as that has always come above your family in the past.”
Even in the state she was in, Nina glanced at the clock on the wall. She would never get there now. She would miss the most important rehearsal and the first performance was on Thursday. Shirley would be livid. She realised immediately what she was doing. Putting her own hobbies before her family. Geoff was right. She was selfish and now it looked that she would lose Geoff and the stability of her home. She would change. She would talk Geoff round eventually, Wouldn’t she?
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