Trisha, I remember her voice. She was tall blonde and pretty. I’d cross the busy Canterbury Road and wait for Trisha and her husband Ian on the corner opposite. For a long while they gave me a lift to work, we became friends, stayed friends for years; I moved away and we lost touch. Then I heard bad news. Trisha had been killed, a car accident on New Year’s Eve. They’d rushed her to hospital but it was too late.
I’d just about kept in touch with Ian. I remembered they had a little girl, Amy. Not sure what made me do it, but one day I gave Ian a call.
“Yes, come and stay, you can have my room” he laughed, hesitated then said
“It’ll be great to see you”
I hung up and repeated the words. It’ll be great to see you.
On the train journey to his house in Brighton, my mind drifted into an untold story.
He’d be so pleased to see me; we’d hug, that would do for the time being, things would develop later.. I’d get to know Amy, she’d be about three now I guessed, and later in the evening he’d get a takeaway. In my suitcase was a bottle of Merlot, Ian’s favourite wine. I’d let him talk, if he wanted to. I’d cook for him, really get to know Amy, bring her things little girls like; it would go on, my visits would turn into every weekend, then we would see.
One morning all those years ago, Trisha wasn’t in the Vauxhall when Ian picked me up for the lift to work. He drove on not saying much, just glancing at me a couple of times. We were about five minutes from work when he pulled the car up onto a grass verge.
He leant over and took hold of me, kissed me hard. You don’t forget a kiss like that at that time of the morning.
I breathed in his aftershave, intensified by the small space. He felt good, again and again he kissed me, held me tight, ruffled my hair.
Things were getting hot. At last it was me that broke away. We sat back. Minutes went by.
Slowly I reached for my make-up.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said, not looking at me.
He sat up a bit and straightened his tie in the rear view mirror, then started the car. We both fixed our eyes on the road ahead and didn’t speak until we got to work. I found time to relive what had happened. A long time after I still thought about those crazy fiery moments.
“I don’t know what to say” he’d said
And nothing, nothing was ever said.
I got to Brighton in time for lunch. It was a modern house on an estate, sun was streaming through the French windows, the room was bright, airy, toys everywhere. Ian started to get mugs out .
“ Tea, coffee?” and then from outside in the garden she walked in……“Oh Jinny, this is Freda.”
He turned his back and left us staring at each other.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Please sit down”, Freda said, gesturing to the dining table. “Ian’s said so much of you. Excuse my English, I don’t speak very well”The room went quiet.
“That’s Amy out there, isn’t it? She’s beautiful. No to sugar thanks”
“Yes and Magda, she’s the same age.”
Ian sat down opposite me at the table, Freda sat beside him.
“You must be wondering how we met?” Ian asked giving me a nervous smile. I listened, not looking at Freda. “Freda’s a single parent like me, it was Gingerbread that put us together”.
“They bring single parents together.”
“Oh, I see.” But I didn’t.
Ian attempted to take care of lunch, that left Freda and I to talk. We tried, but we talked as if we were interviewing each other for a job.
Freda was short, she should never have worn a skirt four inches above her knees: it drew attention to her fat legs. Between chopping vegetables, Ian would try to add to the chat or what there was of it.
“Is Magda ok with carrots?” “I’m making a mess of this, should have stuck to spag bol,” he muttered.
There were children’s playing noises coming from the garden and the sound of Ian banging dishes. Freda and I were stuck at the dining table. I let her ramble on about herself giving me time to take her in. Some might call her pretty but her face had a hardness about it. Thin lips, very red lipstick, blonde hair with a big line of black roots at a centre parting; her hair hung lankly, partly covering her face.
“Shit, this is going wrong.” Freda got up.
“Hey, I help. Let’s see, this is it,” she held up the recipe print out, squinting her eyes. I stood up and turned to look out at the children. Amy was pouring sand through a sieve that Magda was holding. Something made me turn round; I almost missed it. Freda and Ian were standing close at the work surface, Freda was busy stirring something. Ian put his arm round her waist, seeing me looking he quickly took it away.
“’Bout time for a drink isn’t it? All this hard work in the kitchen!” He mimed flicking sweat from his brow.
The afternoon drifted on, more wine! I concentrated hard on keeping Ian talking to me, about people we’d known in the past, what they were up to now, reminding him of fun times we’d shared with Trisha. Anything to shut Freda out. I must have overdone it. Freda got up saying it was time they were going.
“But you said you’d stay for dinner?” Ian looked at me as if he expected an answer. Freda glared at me.
“I think I’ll go. You two have so much to talk about,” she brushed past, shoving into me. “Oh, so sorry, I thought I heard crying”.
Ian stood like an animal caught in the headlights. Amy broke the silence, running in.
“Daddy, can Magda stay the night?Ooooooooooooooo yes Daddy.”Freda spoke to her child in German, holding out a big bag muttering to herself, stuffing all the toys in it. Picking the child up in her arms she marched out. Ian followed them to the door, Amy was close behind. They came back into the room, Amy started crying.
“I didn’t want her to go Daddy.”
“I know I know” He knelt down and hugged her. “Let’s go and put that sandpit to bed, shall we?”
I helped with bath and bedtime: Amy sang to her bath toys making the most of all this attention.Ready for bed she ran into her room, and came out with a book.
“You read.” Amy pressed the book at me.
“That’s her favourite” Ian said smiling. “ I’ll see you downstairs, I’ll be up to say ‘night ‘night Amy.” I tidied the bath toys and tucked Amy up in bed.
“Shall we go to see some animals tomorrow, on a farm?” She nodded giving me her enormous smile.
Street lights shone through the kitchen window: Ian drew the blinds and walked over towards me.
“After that disastrous lunch, how about takeaway?”
“Great idea and I have some wine.” He took the bottle of Merlot out of the wine bag.
“Hey, you remembered!” he kissed me.
The empty wine bottle sat on the coffee table in front of us, the take-away boxes smelt bad, a silence hung in the air, the TV was off. We were at either end of the sofa, I couldn’t see any sign of him moving nearer me.
“Well, lovely to see you Jinny, think I’ll go up or would you like to use the bathroom first?”
“OK, thanks. It’s been so nice to see you, happy with Amy.” I leant a bit closer to make it easy for him.
“Yes,” he said getting up and clearing the table. I smiled, gave him a peck on the cheek and said “Goodnight, see you tomorrow,” and went upstairs.
He’d put a vase of tulips on the chest of drawers. I lay on the bed listening for sounds, waiting for him to go into the box room which was opposite his bedroom, the room he’d given up for me. I’d left my door slightly ajar; the hall light went out, but I could see cracks of light around the box room door. I lay on top of the bed wearing the new black robe I’d bought, the silkiness of it felt good against my skin. I waited. Did I hear something? A bed creak? Or just my imagination. I waited for how long I don’t know, then the hall light came on, here was my chance.
“Ian” I called out. Nothing. “Ian” louder.
Slowly my door opened. I could make out his shadow.
“You OK Jinny?” He came nearer.
“Sit,” patting the bed space next to me.
Ian sat on the bed a little distance from me, the hall light lit up the contours of his face.
I sat up.
“I couldn’t sleep. Too much going on.”
“I know.” I hugged my knees letting my robe slip away. He moved closer, folded his arms around me.
That was the start of things.
The next day he called to see if I’d got home OK.
“Come again soon won’t you?”
“It was so good to see you Ian.”
“Make it soon Jinny.”
I held the mobile to my chest.
A few weekends went by. Then I don’t know how it happened but I was there every weekend. I could feel us getting closer each time we met. Christmas was almost upon us.
“We could take Amy to Cinderella, I told you about it. Shall we do it soon? Should book, you know it gets crazy around Christmas.” But when I went down the next weekend he hadn’t booked it.
“Do you want me to book Cinderella I said…before they sell out? Come on Ian?”
“ No” , he said , “I’ll do it Monday.”
Ian was distant that weekend but I knew he had a lot on at work.
“You OK Ian, anything you want to talk about?”
“ No, I’m fine.” He turned away from me, going into the study.
The following week began well; I got promoted and there was promise of a Christmas bonus.
I didn’t make any plans, I just knew I’d be going to Ian’s for the break. We’d tentatively spoken about what to do on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t pursue it, I knew how hard it must be for him still.
We’d call each other a few times during the week, not every day but almost.
It was Tuesday, we hadn’t spoken since the weekend.
No worries I would wait until he’d put Amy to bed and we’d have a nice long chat.
I poured myself a large glass of wine, got comfortable and picked up the phone:-
answer machine. I hung up and rang his mobile, it went to voice mail.
Strange, I thought. I drank a couple more glasses then I tried again, answer machine, this time I left messages on the landline and the mobile.
“Hey, it’s me what you up to? Out on the town? Call me when you come in OK?, Kisses for Amy”
It was 10.45 still no call. I tried again, same thing, left another message saying I was a bit worried, please call. Drank more wine. I called my best friend Susie. She picked up straight away.
“ Could be his mobile? or he’s gone to sleep, he’ll call, don’t worry. Anyway it’s never worth it. Have more wine! Go to bed!”
It was 2 am, I thought of getting in my Audi and driving down there, I was convinced there was something wrong but amidst the alcoholic blur something told me not to.
5am I hadn’t slept much and hadn’t undressed. I had a coffee and jumped in the car, there just had to be something wrong, an accident? should I have called the hospitals? I could do it in two hours. My Audi was new so I put it through its paces.
Coming into Brighton I still drove fast, whizzing past houses, catching sight of Christmas tree lights, morning delivery people, a couple staggering home, a cat tearing across the road, back to its warm cosy house where it would sit on the mat outside. Patiently the cat would wait for lights to come on, which could mean only one thing, it would soon be fed.
I turned the heating up. Roads sparkled with a frosty glow. Nagging little voices came, supposing he was OK? Supposing he was dumping me? but no that simply could not be true. Everything was going really fine. Tears welled up in my eyes. What was going on? I tried his mobile again. Still on voice mail. I turned into the road before his and pulled over, switching off the engine. Suddenly I was scared. What was I scared of? I got to his house. His Merc was in the driveway. I pulled up behind it.
There was a light on in the hall and one on in the kitchen too. Amy must have woken , it was just before seven.
I rang the bell, the noise shrill and loud breaking into the dawn.
The door opened and there she was. Freda. She looked a mess, she stood for a moment, her mouth open, then pulled her tatty bath robe round herself and half closed the door.
“I’ll get Ian.”
He came out but I’d already jumped in my car and started the engine.
“Jinny wait!” he shouted rushing to my car.
Too late, too late, I knew she’d been there, she’d been there lots, he didn’t have to tell me.
I don’t remember the journey home.
When I got in the message light was flashing on my phone.
It was Ian, a very long message saying sorry I don’t know how many times.
I pressed delete.
I’d left a few things at his house, they could stay there.
To be continued on Encounters ‘B’