by Janet Howson
a mug of Horlicks
Nina came away from the drama meeting earlier than she normally did. She hadn’t confided in anyone there that Geoff wanted a divorce. She still felt sick when she thought about it. She had really messed up this time. The security of a faithful husband and two beautiful girls had been smashed to pieces in one afternoon. The afternoon when it was revealed that she was having an affair with Phil and Geoff couldn’t trust her anymore and wanted a quick divorce. She sat down on the wall that surrounded the church where the meeting had been held and shut her eyes tightly in an attempt to block the reality of life out.
Her mind wandered back to the meeting. Jordon had written a murder mystery and she had been cast as Dolly the mother of Fiona whose husband is murdered. Not a major part but she was happy with that as she had so much to get sorted out.
“Penny for them?” Nina turned round and saw the familiar and comforting figure of Jess. “You left so early I wanted to make sure you were all right.” She put her arm around Nina’s shoulders. “Not like you, we usually have to peel you away from the hall so that Shirley can lock up.”
Nina laughed despite herself. Jess always cheered her up even though it was common knowledge in the group that her husband, Michael was working his way through a string of very young girls, which nauseated Nina. They had never discussed it. Some topics were best left alone. “Oh I’m fine. You know what it’s like. My mother’s babysitting and doesn’t want to be too late home.”
Jess didn’t know what it was like. She had no children but that was about to change as she was pregnant with Michael’s child. She had split up with Michael but had decided to have the baby and bring the child up on her own. Nina knew nothing of this and she didn’t want to burden her whilst she was obviously so upset herself.
“Where’s the reliable Geoff tonight then? Not like him to shirk his parental duties,” Jess joked.
At the mention of Geoff and the children, Nina couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. She sobbed and sobbed on Jess’s shoulder, with her friend rubbing her back, uttering comforting platitudes.
“Hey, it can’t be as bad as you think it is. I find a good night’s sleep and things seem better in the morning.”
“This will never seem better. Oh Jess, I have messed up big time. I was having an affair with Phil, you know the young man who was brought in for “Relatively Speaking?”
“Wow, stop there, but he was about half your age?” Jess regretted saying that as soon as the words left her mouth. “I mean, he was lovely but I am just surprised that’s all.”
“I was completely stupid, Jess. Geoff and I had been going through a bad patch for a long time. He was having problems at work and objected to babysitting whilst I was rehearsing. When he found out I was seeing Phil he went berserk and demanded a divorce. The girls are devastated. They keep asking for their daddy. I haven’t even broken it to my mother yet. I keep thinking it’s all a nightmare and I will wake up and it isn’t true.” Once Nina had spilled this all out to her friend it felt as if a huge boulder had been lifted form her shoulders.
Jess was nodding her head slowly, a faint smile of understanding on her lips. She took Nina’s hands between hers. “I completely understand your unhappiness at being in a marriage where you no longer love your partner. It happens. We none of us plan these things. I could see you and Geoff weren’t happy, it was like a time bomb ready to go off. The times I started to say something then changed my mind as it was none of my business.”
“I feel so guilty though, particularly as Alwyne and Beth are so young and they idolise their father.”
“Has he moved out or have you?”
“He is staying with a mate in Romford. He rings the girls on their mobile phones. I haven’t spoken to him since it all happened. He collected his clothes and work stuff whilst I was out fetching the girls from school. My mother blames me. She doesn’t know the details, I just told her that the marriage had ended and she went on and on for what seemed hours about how I had neglected him and my daughters, always putting my desires over and above my family’s and she is probably right.”
“There are always two sides to a story, Nina. You adore those little girls and devote a lot of time to them. Who takes them to ballet and swimming and sits with them whilst they are doing their homework? Certainly not Geoff. He isn’t perfect by any means, so stop beating yourself up and think about the future.”
“What future have I got though, Jess? I will be a lonely single parent who will have to do everything herself, especially as now my mother has fallen out with me. She hardly spoke to me tonight when she arrived to babysit”
“She won’t be able to stay away from the girls. Mark my words she will be on that phone asking for you to leave them with her. Also, what about Phil? Have you told him what has happened?”
“Geoff’s bully boy, Toby, frightened him off. Also, he said that Phil was going out with a pretty, young girl in the drama group he is in and the fling with me wasn’t serious. I was stupid to believe someone as young and attractive as him would fancy me.”
“I wouldn’t believe all you hear, ring him. Has he tried to get in touch with you?”
“I deleted him from my contacts list and blocked his number, I was so angry.”
“Speak to him, even if it is just to get his side of the story. Did you really like him or was it just an escape from the life you were not enjoying?”
“I don’t know, I feel so confused. I have to devote all my time to Alwyne and Beth. I have to make it right for them and that will mean sacrifices on my part. After the Murder Mystery play I might have to give up the Drama Group.”
“But you love the…”
“Not as much as I love my girls.”
Jess sighed. “I know that, Nina, but don’t go making any decisions at the moment. Your head is all over the place.”
Nina stood up abruptly, “I’ve got to go, I promised I would be back before the ten o clock news and it’s nearly that now. Thank you so much for listening to me, you have really helped, just letting me talk about it all. I’ll ring Phil, once I get my courage up. I do need to know the truth. I don’t blame him in anyway. I was older and married, he was single and younger.”
She left, Jess sitting on the wall and made her way back to her car. Once inside she got out her mobile phone. Only one message and that was from Geoff. She knew she would have to read it but dreaded doing so. This would be the pattern for the future. Communication would be by text or a nod at the door when he came to pick up the girls. She opened the message, ‘I will pick the girls up tomorrow after school. I will bring them back by eight o clock. I am taking them to Pizza Express.’
Nina felt angry. He hadn’t even asked her if they had anything else on, a party or a project to be finished for homework. She would have to make it clear in the future that he was to give her good notice. However, she still felt so guilty about her daughters’ lives being torn apart by the separation of their parents, she just replied, ‘That’s fine, but we need to talk.’ She waited to see if he would reply to her text. After a while she gave up.
She was about to put her key in the ignition when she thought about what Jess had said about Phil. Perhaps Geoff had made it up that he was going out with a girl from the drama group he was in. She tapped the front of her phone nervously. She didn’t want to make herself more of a fool than she already was, if it was true. Well, there was only one way to find out. She knew Phil’s mobile number off by heart, so she tapped it in and waited, the ring tone repeating itself ominously for too long. He was obviously out, probably with ‘her. She felt cross that she had given way and phoned him. She was about to cancel the call when she heard his voice, “Nina, where are you? I have been trying to ring and text you but you were not answering. I have been so worried. My car was stolen and a thug warned me off seeing you. What happened? I was even going to call at your house but I know you told me never to do that in case Geoff or the girls were there.”
Nina didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He was a very good actor. “I thought you might be busy with your pretty, young girlfriend,” she replied petulantly.
“What pretty, young girlfriend? What are you talking about, Nina? You are the only woman I am interested in I have told you that a hundred times every time you talk about the age gap, which is of no relevance to me. “
Nina let his words of reassurance wrap round her. Then she remembered she had to get home to relieve her mother from babysitting duties. She was doing it again, putting herself before the needs of her children and her mother. “Listen, I can’t talk now, I will phone you late this evening once my mother has gone home and I know the girls are asleep.” With that they said their goodbyes and Nina accelerated out of the car park and drove home as quickly as the speed restrictions allowed.
Nina’s mother had already got her coat on and her car keys in her hand when Nina arrived home. “You are later than you promised. I will only just make it to see the news at home with my mug of Horlicks, but of course that is not as important to you as your drama group.”
The last sentence was spoken as her mother walked quickly down the footpath, “Oh, the girls were fine, by the way, if you are interested.” Nina literally recoiled from this parting shot as she shut the front door. She turned the television off with the remote control, took off her coat and crept up the stairs to check on Alwyne and Beth. They still shared the same bedroom as they loved talking and playing together, sometimes late into the night. However, tonight they were both sound asleep, curled up in foetal position, breathing noiselessly. She looked at her beautiful innocent angels who lived in a secure world that she had now destroyed. How could I have done that? She asked herself, what was I thinking of?
Nina knew what she should do. She should ring Phil and finish the relationship, then devote herself to her family, making up, albeit it in a small and inadequate way, for all the harm she had done them. She would give up everything took her away from this and if that meant giving up her favourite hobby, drama, she would.
She crept back down the stairs, fearful of waking the girls and sat on the settee. She found her mobile phone in her bag and again tapped in Phil’s number. Did she believe him when he said she was the only woman for him? Well, it didn’t matter now if she was finishing with him. As soon as he answered she knew she couldn’t do it. She needed his love, more so now that Geoff had left her.
“Hi, Phil. Where are you now?”
“At home, watching a Netflix film, just waiting for you to call back. I am just so pleased you rang me I was going frantic. Please say you will see me soon.”
Nina hesitated for a split second but the words from Jess flashed through her mind, don’t go making any decisions at the moment. Your head is all over the place.
“Phil, Geoff has left me so I will have to devote a lot more time to the girls. They are obviously upset and missing their daddy. Give me a couple of weeks to settle in to my new routine and then we can meet up one evening whilst Geoff has the girls. I know that is asking a lot, but it is all I can promise at the moment.”
“I can’t believe you have gone through all that and not told me. I feel terrible. I have caused your marriage to break up and disrupted your children’s life. I would not have been surprised if you never wanted to see me again.”
Again for the second time that evening Nina felt protected and comforted by his words, however, she would be cautious and tread carefully.
“Are you still there, Nina?”
“Yes I am and hopefully we will be around for each other for a very long time, but for now I will sort my life out the best I can and then I will ring you.”
As she spoke these words, Nina knew it was going to be a long journey but she would get there in the end, with Phil’s support and maybe, just maybe, she would one day be able to go back to her drama group. I mean, she told herself, I have accepted the part of Dolly in the next production. She smiled to herself, the first smile she had allowed herself since the start of the whole sordid business. Then she went into the kitchen and made herself a drink One trait she had inherited from her mother, the love of a comforting mug of Horlicks.
Janet Howson was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. Shejoined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received here, started to write short stories and has had stories published in anthologies and her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.
The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019
Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.
Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019
Story included: Solution.
Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley
Can be found on Amazon Books
It happened in Essex: tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group
Can be found on Amazon books