The End

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I inhabit my dreams. I walk between the pages of books, wander through the scenes of my favourite films and dance alongside the stars of the musical theatre stage. My world is sometimes monochrome, sometimes glorious technicolour, but always thrilling. Reality is simply the dull pause between my slumbers and my fantasies. Reality is not my place of preference.

This morning I sang in the rain, dancing with Don and Kathy, my tatty brolly held high above my head. Then he came home. Apparently, he’d forgotten some important papers. And there was I thinking he just wanted to see me.
It was almost lunchtime, so I made him a sandwich to save him getting one from the crappy canteen at work. We sat opposite each other at the kitchen table, chewing in unison.

‘So…’ I said, struggling to make conversation. After all, it was less than three hours since we had last spoken. ‘Good morning?’
He made a grunt that could mean anything. He had opened up his roll and was picking out each piece of onion, one by one, placing them in a pile at the side of his plate.

‘I thought you liked onion?’

He looked at me. He has spent years perfecting that look, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he practised it regularly in front of a mirror. His face, to an untrained eye, may seem blank. But the eyes are hard and penetrating, the lips in a tight, straight line. If I avert my eyes, his gaze somehow gains more menace in my peripheral vision. Thankfully, I am used to that look, otherwise I might have been quite upset. Now, it’s simply water off a duck’s back.

‘I hate onion.’ He enunciated every word as if he had been asked to repeat the phrase by an elocutionist. Or as if he was speaking to someone with a limited understanding of English and had to have every word pronounced slowly and correctly.

‘Oh. Sorry.’ I wasn’t, really. I knew for a fact that yesterday he’d eaten onion with gusto in the salad he’d brought home from Sainsbury’s. I also knew that this was a test, and whatever my reaction, I would fail. Failing is what I did on a daily basis, multiple times.

He gave me another look. It seemed as though I was going to get off lightly today. But, oh my, if looks could kill, I’d be a withered corpse on the floor by now. Leaving his plate with its forlorn heap of onion on the table, he picked up his papers and headed for the front door.

‘Bye,’ I said brightly. Another grunt was all I received in reply.

I washed up slowly. There wasn’t much – just the couple of plates we had eaten from and a few mugs – but if I made it last a long time, it made me feel as if I had done something useful. More useful than shoving it in the dishwasher, anyway. I was also trying to decide who to spend my afternoon with. Was I in the mood for light-hearted romance or a tragic cry-fest?

The warm, soapy suds soothed my hands, though I knew it was a short-sighted mistake to forego the marigolds. I would pay for it later when my skin was cracked and oozing, my hands so dry I could barely bear to touch anything. Instant gratification over long-term well-being. Every time.

I dried my hands thoroughly and went upstairs. Heathcliff was waiting for me on the bed. I snuggled up with him for a while until it all became a bit too intense. I tossed him aside and let myself wander to the places only I go.

I was rudely interrupted by a knock on the front door. I galloped down the stairs to find it was only the postman with a parcel for him. Probably another new watch or over-priced gadget. Regretting my decision to answer the door, I threw the packet onto the hall table. It was a sunny autumn day, and as I closed the door, beams of sunlight shone through the glass and were cast across the carpet. Come outside, they called to me, bathing my back in warmth as I retreated up the stairs. I almost turned around. That’s a lie. I didn’t. But a tiny part of me wanted to.

Back upstairs, I drew the curtains and settled down to enjoy an hour or two with Dorothy in Munchkinland. Heathcliff had left me drained for now, and I needed a bit of light relief before I ventured back to the bleak Yorkshire moors.

The gentle chiming of the church clock informed me it wouldn’t be long before he would be home again. I dragged myself out of bed and pulled a brush through my hair. The face that stared at me from the mirror was not me. This face had saggy eyes and a droopy mouth. The hair was lank and streaked with grey. How and when did I become middle-aged? Makeup could not fix it. After a few attempts, I wiped it off and went downstairs to start dinner.

The sound of the front door almost made me drop the tray I was taking out of the oven. I held my breath as I counted his steps down the length of the hall. Five… six… seven… eight… And there he was in the kitchen doorway.
‘Hello, darling.’ I put on my best Doris Day voice. ‘Dinner’s almost ready.’
We ate in silence, him fiddling with his phone, me sipping champagne at Rick’s.

‘The chicken’s overdone,’ he said, before getting up to take a call, leaving me to my reverie. He still hadn’t returned by the time I had finished, so I loaded the dishwasher and went upstairs. He was in the bedroom, having a conversation about some contract or other. I marvelled at how reasonable he sounded when he was discussing business.

He noticed me and gestured at me to leave as if batting away a fly. This is what I had become to him – nothing more than a bug. A tight knot formed in the pit of my stomach and rose to my throat.

I went back downstairs and opened the back door. The setting sun had immersed the garden in a golden glow, the fields beyond the fence lush and inviting.

Did I leave the house? I must have, because here I am, strolling across the plain, the spires of Melchester discernible in the distance, something hard and heavy weighing down my pocket. I pull out the object: a knife, its blade thick with dried blood, still tacky to the touch. I remember. And now I am weary as the air turns cold and the light hardens. I can go no further. I sink to the ground and lay my head on a stone. I am ready.


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