The ‘For Sale’ sign outside her house came as a bit of a shock. She didn’t remember putting it up for sale and she didn’t recall her partner Andy saying anything about it. Sarah parked her car outside the house, grabbed her bag and files, locked up and went to inspect the sign again. It looked new. Had the estate agent made a mistake and hammered it into the garden of the wrong house? She looked at the houses either side of hers and shook her head. Surely one of them would have said something; they were on good terms with all their neighbours and putting your house up for sale was the sort of thing you let other people know about.
Still puzzled, Sarah let herself in and put the files on the hall table, bag on the floor and keys in the designated bowl. Andy bought the bowl for her; partly out of affection and partly exasperation as they were late for yet another of his trainspotter meetings because she couldn’t find her keys. It was a very pretty bowl. White pottery with a pattern of delicate poppies and cornflowers. It was feminine in a way that, try as she could, Sarah could never achieve. She didn’t do little dresses with frills, spend hours over her hair and makeup, nor squeeze her feet into fashionably high and uncomfortable shoes. She was aware of the fact that she would never be Andy’s ideal woman, but then for the last ten years, he had been anything other than her ideal man.
“Andy? Hello?” She shrugged off her coat and hung it on the neat but characterless coat stand.
“Up here.” Came the reply. His voice sounded odd, and she wondered what she had done this time. Taking extra care to put her boots neatly on the shoe rack, Sarah walked slowly up the stripped pine stairs. He wasn’t in their bedroom. She turned around and went into the guest bedroom, not that they ever had any guests. Andy stood behind the bed, which was covered with clothes, toiletries, and a very large rucksack that still bore the label of the outdoor pursuits shop Andy loved to frequent. He looked up and gave a slightly guilty smile that made him look even more goat-like than he normally did.
“Some idiot’s gone and put a For Sale sign up in our front garden. I was just going to ring the estate agents and ask them to remove it. What’s all this Andy? Are we going somewhere?”
“Erm, WE aren’t. I am. The sign isn’t a mistake. I’m putting the house up for sale.”
“Our house? Why?”
“My house. My mother’s house originally. I’m going away.”
“But – but – we’ve lived here for ten years. Where are you going?”
Sarah sat down on the very edge of the already crowded bed. She didn’t like the house. She had never tried to remove the remnants of Andy’s childhood, and his mother’s desire for a neat, orderly and feminine environment. Any attempts on her part had been gently but firmly rebuffed, so she gave up eventually.
“We aren’t going anywhere Sarah. I’m leaving tonight and I’ve put the house sale in the hands of my solicitors. You can stay here until the house is sold of course, but the estate agent thinks that she can get a fairly quick sale.”
Brain whirring as she tried to process Andy’s words, Sarah sat immobile on the bed. Andy continued packing things into the rucksack. He was an excellent packer; she would say that for him. He folded clothes very precisely, and knew exactly which of the Velcro pockets of the rucksack would be best for the object in his hand.
“Where are you going Andy? Shouldn’t we have talked about this?”
Patiently, he put down the pair of immaculately ironed shorts that he was rolling into a sausage that would prevent any travel creases.
“I’m going to Thailand. I’ve worked my notice already, and my plane leaves at twenty-hundred hours. I have booked a taxi to take me to the airport. I don’t want any scenes; you know how embarrassing I find them.”
“Why Thailand? Why now? Are you going alone? Why are you selling the house? Why didn’t you tell me this a month ago when you handed in your notice?”
“So many questions Sarah. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand, and whenever I raised the subject, you made some silly comments about ladyboys and kidnapping. Some idea you got from one of those trashy novels you read, I suppose.”
“But – but – but what am I going to do? I won’t have a home anymore, what will our friends think?”
“MY friends already know, and think that I am making the right decision. We’ve gone stale Sarah. We were never that compatible in the first place, but your untidiness and slapdash ways have been driving me to distraction for years. It was charming at first, but now it’s just self-indulgent. My sister will be coming over to pack away my belongings and put them into storage while I’m away, so I’d be grateful if you could start looking for somewhere else to live so that she has less to go through.”
Sarah hated Andy’s sister Abigail with a passion. The thought of her rummaging through the house, their house, made her feel incredibly angry.
“Don’t I have any say in this at all?”
She shouted at him, her hands clenched into tight fists that desperately wanted to punch him in the face, to grab hold of that silly ginger goatee beard and tug it till his eyes watered.
“Ah yes. Time for the hysterics. This is why I didn’t tell you before. You really are rather predictable.”
“I hate you, Andy!” she said vehemently.
“Good. That makes it a lot easier for me.”
He picked up a neatly typed list and handed it to her.
“This is an inventory of the contents of the house. Those typed in black belong to me, those in red are yours, or things that we bought together that I don’t wish to keep. Abigail, my solicitor and the estate agent all have copies of this letter too. Would you mind moving off the bed now please? I have to finish my packing.”
Sarah stood up and walked slowly to the door. She felt numb, unreal. Her instinct was to go into their bedroom, throw herself on the bed and cry extremely loudly. This would have no effect on Andy whatsoever. Passion of any sort was alien to him.
She went into the bedroom nevertheless and got under the duvet. She rolled over to Andy’s side of the bed and sniffed his pillow hoping that the remaining scent of his hair might break through the wall that was building up around her.
He’d changed the bedding.
Sarah wanted to scream, and shout, and rave. How dare he! How dare he plot and scheme behind her back in this way? She’d seen no change in his manner over the past month, had she? She rewound her memories and found no major arguments.
She found no major moments of happiness either.
Andy would wake her with a cup of coffee, then he would shower and shave round the edges of his beard, eat his horribly healthy breakfast, and be out of the door before she had even made up her mind as to whether she would shower or have a bath. The choice was usually dictated by how long she had lingered over her coffee and the news. They had been embroiled in a cold war over the television in their bedroom almost from the start of their relationship. It was Sarah’s television, and she needed its cheery morning information to wake her up. Andy had no time for lingering, and lost no opportunity to express his disdain.
The more she thought about it, the more Sarah had to admit that Andy was right. They were going through the motions of a relationship but there was no laughter left, no fun. Just a distant, healthy, athletic landscape gardener and an untidy, disorganised social worker who found her partner’s style of living both reassuring, and stifling.
It was warm and comforting under the duvet and, as had always been her habit, Sarah fell into a deep sleep that wiped away all that had happened since she had arrived home. It was such a deep sleep that she barely registered the affectionate peck on the cheek and the gentle ‘Goodbye’ as the bedroom door clicked shut.
When she woke, the house was quiet, too quiet. She reached for the remote and turned on the television in time to catch the end of the ten o’clock news. It wasn’t until she’d finished watching the weather that she remembered Andy.
She called, half hoping that he would reply but knowing that he had gone. She rolled out of bed and wondered for a moment why she had been in bed fully clothed in her going-to-meetings suit and vaguely pretty blouse that she had allowed Andy to buy her.
She called again and pushed open the guest bedroom door. The bed was bare now, save for another copy of Andy’s inventory list. She pushed it onto the floor in disgust and decided that she was hungry. Making as much noise as her be-socked feet would let her, Sarah stomped down the stairs in a manner guaranteed to annoy Andy, if he was there.
But there was no response.
The curtains in the lounge were drawn and the sidelights on, the kitchen was similarly put into evening mode by Andy before he left.
Thoughtful to the last.
How could it be thoughtful to abandon your partner of ten years and sell the house from under her? Sarah pouted as she opened the fridge door looking for immediate food. The shelf containing Andy’s macrobiotic foodstuff, and bottles of water was empty. Her shelf was always more interesting anyway. It certainly was now; Andy had stocked it with the items that he usually found disgusting. Sarah extracted a can of Diet Coke, some sliced cheese and bread.
She made her sandwich and left the knife and chopping board on the worktop. She didn’t even bother with a plate, as ten years of Andy’s rules flew out of the window. It felt good to be curled up on the sofa, balancing her sandwich and can on the leather arm, whilst flicking through the TV channels for something other than wildlife and gardening.
The phone rang and without thinking, Sarah jumped to her feet knocking over the can and spreading breadcrumbs onto the floor.
She looked at the phone.
Leaving the answerphone to deal with her much-loathed sister-in-law, Sarah dug her mobile out of her bag and went back into the lounge, stepping over the sticky mess on the floor. She could hear Abigail’s annoyingly sweet voice being patronising over the phone as she left a message guaranteed to patronise and infuriate Sarah.
When in doubt, phone a friend.
Sarah could feel her voice cracking already.
“Hello Honey. No need to explain. I got home from work today to find a type-written note from your ex-beloved explaining why he was running away to Thailand without you and selling the house. Little rat!”
“Why didn’t you call me Jude?”
“Your phone was off.”
“He must have done it before he left. Pig!”
“He’s gone then?”
“Yes indeed!” Sarah tried to inject as much enthusiasm into her response as possible.
“And I bet you are drinking Diet Coke and eating a sandwich in the lounge without a plate or coaster in sight.”
“Right again. I’m not sure what to do now though. I spilt my drink on the floor and there are crumbs everywhere.”
“I’m on my way. Are you still hungry?”
“Yes, this cheese sandwich is disgusting.”
“Good, what we need is red wine and kebabs.”
“Won’t Dan mind?”
“No, my darling husband sends his love and hugs, and asks that you send me home in one piece tomorrow. I’ll be there in half an hour.”