by Jaclyn Lindsay
Sara pulled into the driveway of the three-bedroom red brick house that she used to love so much. It was an unassuming house, but they bought it together just before getting married and she spent a lot of time and money making it perfect for them. She couldn’t recall why she fell out of love with it, but she never felt giddy driving home anymore. The rain sounded like white noise as it pounded heavily against her car. She was already soaked from going from her office to the car, and the journey home with the heater on high hadn’t done much to stop her shivering. As she slowed to a stop, she looked down at the stack of papers sitting on her passenger seat. You’d think eight hours would be enough to get your days’ work over with – apparently not.
Steve’s car was already in the driveway and the dining room light was on. Hopefully he’d put the heating on when he got home. She reached for her laptop bag in the passenger footwell and the papers on the neighbouring seat before exiting the car and racing to the front door. Opening the front door, she gladly removed her wet raincoat as the warmth from the house enveloped her, and she inhaled a long, deep breath of the hot, homely air and looked around the warm and welcoming terracotta entrance hall. Maybe she still loved this house after all. A pang of guilt plucked at her as she thought of the last time she’d nurtured it, all it needed was a fresh coat of paint and some new curtains and she was sure she’d get that giddy feeling back. Inhaling again, Sara rolled her eyes as she noted the distinct lack of aroma from the kitchen. She couldn’t remember the last time Steve cooked for her. Even if he got home first - and no matter how hungry he was - he never took the initiative to get up off his ass and cook a meal. She was going to have to get herself showered and warmed up and then start the dinner. She slipped off her shoes while still standing on the mat by the front door–they had a strict ‘no shoe’ rule in the house, so her slippers were always waiting for her by the door when she arrived home. Sliding her aching feet into them, she let out a long, deep sigh. This was the closest thing she’d get to a foot massage any time soon.
Coming further into the house, she could hear the clickety clack of Steve punching away on his laptop – he’d also brought work home, it seemed. At least he’d get his finished at a reasonable hour. If tonight was anything like last night, she’d be up until almost midnight working. She wasn’t always this busy, being an events manager had its quiet periods, but the Chamber of Commerce were throwing their annual Business Awards Ceremony in just over a month, so she was going to be immensely busy until then.
“Hey” she said as she stood at the doorway of the dining room.
Sara lingered at the doorway for a few seconds, hoping that Steve would at least look at her, but knowing damn well that he wouldn’t.
“I’m just gonna grab a quick shower, then I’ll get the dinner on. It’s been a hell of a day.”
“Yeah… Listen, Sara, I’m real busy here.”
She nodded, then made her way upstairs. The wall up the stairs was like a gallery of their lives together, and she enjoyed looking at them each time she ascended the stairs – they reminded her of happier times. The first one was of her and Steve on their first holiday together at Loggas Beach in Corfu–they were both so skinny then. When did that change? Okay, it was fifteen years ago, and most people looked different at thirty-nine than they did at twenty-four, but she couldn’t help but notice that her arms were much bigger now than in that picture, not to mention her stomach. Steve had repeatedly told her how gorgeous she was while they were in Corfu, he even bought her three new bikinis to wear. I want to show you off, he told her. She scorned at her younger, skinnier self before looking at the next framed photo–her sister’s wedding. She’d been with Steve just over a year at this point, and she was still skinny. She was wearing a dusty pink bridesmaid’s dress, and holding a bouquet of calla lilies, while Steve stood proudly next to her in his fancy three-piece suit that he’d bought in Burton. That had been a big deal to him at the time because he’d never owned a nice suit, and for the next few years, that dark-grey pinstripe suit was brought out for every celebration. He figured that buying a new tie each time was enough, and often gave off at her for insisting on buying a new dress for each new special occasion that came along. She’d rolled her eyes at him then, and she was rolling her eyes again at the memory. That suit was in the attic somewhere. There was no way he was fitting into that now.
The next picture was her favourite–their wedding day. Still skinny. Although she’d been hitting the gym pretty hard in the months leading up to the wedding and her wedding dress ended up needing to be taken in. Steve had complained that she had become too muscular and lean, and she eventually gave up going to the gym to shut him up.
Moving closer to the top of the stairs, she took in the remaining photos that made up the gallery wall–their honeymoon in Dubai; a Halloween party for which they’d both dressed as Smurfs; a trek up Cave Hill with Belfast city as the backdrop; Sara on a night out with a group of her friends; Steve on a lads holiday with a group of his friends; and last, a picture of her twin nephews on their Christening Day.
The full-length mirror that greeted her as she walked into her bedroom reflected a stranger now. Who was this tired, overworked, joyless, and overweight woman? When did she stop having adventures? Every day blended into one now, breakfast, work, home, dinner, couch, wine. The weekends weren’t much different, lie-in, grocery shopping, wine. Rinse and repeat. She kicked off her slippers, undressed, and examined her naked body in the mirror. Her mousy brown hair was beginning to show signs of ageing and the skin under her eyes was getting darker by the day. Her thighs were dimpled like orange peel, her bum was sagging, her stomach was too big to suck in, her boobs were like windsocks on a still day and there was definitely an extra chin that wasn’t present in any of the pictures on her gallery wall. No wonder Steve had stopped paying attention to her. There was a time when he’d shower her with affection and compliments, but she couldn’t remember the last time he called her beautiful, let alone touched her. She’d often heard women complaining that pregnancy had changed their bodies, but she and Steve didn’t have children, although that wasn’t for lack of trying when they first got married. She’d always wanted three children, two boys and then a girl–Jason after her dad, Philip after Phil Lynott, and Charlotte after her grandmother. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and Steve had refused to even entertain the idea of adoption. In the end, it was easier to tell people that they didn’t want children than to tell them that Steve had a low sperm count.
She stood in the shower, allowing the water to warm her up before she began washing. She used to shower first thing in the morning and make sure that she looked presentable before leaving the house. Now she almost always showered in the evenings. There was no one to look good for anymore. She had settled down and allowed herself to become so repulsive that no one would want her, anyway. She washed the day away, dried off and then got dressed in her pyjamas and dressing gown before making her way downstairs to get dinner started.
Passing the dining room, she could see Steve was still sitting in the same spot as before, still typing away on his laptop.
“Do ya fancy a takeaway? I’m exhausted and still have work to do.”
“I was really looking forward to that steak, to be honest,” he responded without lifting his eyes from the laptop.
Sara sighed heavily and made her way into the kitchen, and, seeing the breakfast dishes still sitting out, she sighed again–heavier this time. Most women would shout at him for being so lazy, but there was no point. She could shout until she was blue in the face; he wasn’t going to change now. She lifted the steak out of the fridge and left it on the sideboard while she peeled potatoes–her mind completely occupied with the work that still had to be done for this upcoming event. As she waited for the potatoes to boil, she retrieved her stack of papers and laptop from the hall table. The more work she got through now, the less she’d have to do later–then she could unwind with a glass of wine. When dinner was ready, she brought the plates into the dining room where Steve still hadn’t moved.
“No, I told you I have too much to do tonight.”
“You could’ve worked while the roasties were in the oven. Steak isn’t the same with mash.”
Sara clenched her jaw. She wanted to call him a lazy, ungrateful bastard, but she held her tongue and slowly chewed on a piece of steak. It was tough. Shit.
“Jesus Christ, Sara, what did you do to the steak? It’s like chewing sweaty slippers.”
“It’s not the good steak from the butcher, it’s from Lidl.”
“Doesn’t matter where it’s from, you’ve cooked the shit out of it.”
“Oh shut up, Steve, don’t eat it if you don’t like it.”
She put another forkful of tough steak into her mouth and chewed victoriously, refusing to look at him or acknowledge his shock. Instead, she looked at the painting behind his head. She loved that painting and insisted on buying it on that first trip to Loggas Beach, despite Steve’s protestations. It was of a small house on a cliff overlooking the beach with a beautiful sunset. She liked to imagine living there and opening her curtains every morning to the view of the ocean and watching the sunset every evening. It was peaceful at Loggas Beach, and she found peace each time she allowed herself to get lost in that painting.
Suddenly, she was pulled from her fantasy life in Corfu to the ugliest sound she had ever heard. She looked at Steve–the source of the ugly sound. His eyes were bulging. He was pointing at his throat. His mouth was agape, like he was trying to scream, but only a sickly gurgle managed to escape his mouth. He looked ridiculous. She couldn’t help herself as she let out a chuckle. Steve stood up now, causing the chair legs to scream out a high-pitched wail as they scratched along the floor. He was still silently screaming and began pounding his fists on the table and pointing to his throat.
I should probably help him.
Her mind raced back to that carefree, skinny twenty-four-year-old from her picture gallery. She could find her inner twenty-four-year-old again and do all the things that she should have been doing in her twenties but missed out on because she decided to settle down with Steve instead. She could sell their house and use Steve’s life insurance to buy a place in Corfu. She could hire a personal trainer and get in shape. She could colour her hair, start showering in the mornings and wearing makeup again. She could work in one of the tavernas at Loggas Beach and have casual sex with as many Greek men as she could find. She could watch the sunset every single night for the rest of her life and find a man that could give her babies and not complain about the rubbery steak from Lidl. Rubbery steak from Lidl would be the last thing on their minds because they’d be eating moussaka and souvlaki and drinking ouzo and making love on the sand because they were so happy and skinny and carefree.
She looked back at Steve–his face was as red as a beetroot, but his lips had a slight blue tinge. This was not a pretty sight. He was throwing himself against the edge of the table now, and she stood up so as not to get any food on her clean pyjamas. His eyes were bulging even wider than before, and he began alternating between throwing his chest against the edge of the table and his back against the wall. The rubbery steaks were no longer on their plates and the peas were all over the table and the floor. Only the mashed potatoes managed to stay on the plate. What a mess. Suddenly, Steve threw himself against the wall with such force that the painting of Loggas Beach fell and smashed on the floor.
“Jesus Christ, Steve!” Sara yelled at him.
The floor was now covered in peas, glass, and blood as the shards from the picture frame pierced Steve’s feet as he threw himself around, trying to dislodge the rubbery steak from his windpipe. This would be so much easier to clean if she’d allowed shoes in the house. Quietly hoping the painting wasn’t ripped, she looked from the messy floor to Steve, whose face was completely contorted now. The blue tinge around his lips had darkened and had spread a little more around his mouth and his fingertips looked blue. Sara couldn’t help but giggle as she remembered the picture of Steve on her gallery wall dressed like a Smurf and how he’d complained about the body paint because it took forever to wash off.
Then he fell.
Silence filled the room. Sara wanted to check if the painting was ripped but she couldn’t risk the shards of glass piercing her own feet. I’ll have to wear shoes in here to clean this mess, she thought as she reached into her dressing gown pocket for her phone.