Breaking Free – Living Alone

As Andy had pointed out, in yet another neatly typewritten note left in the cupboard where he kept his muesli and oats, and her chocolate Shreddies, he was leaving her on a Friday so that she had the weekend to get over it, and put on a brave face when she returned to work on the following Monday.

Two days to get over ten years of unmarried tolerance.

Jude had done her the world of good coming over with food and wine the night Andy flew out of her life.  Emboldened by red wine, the two of them had ignored all of Abigail’s calls, giggling like two schoolgirls, as the voice on the phone grew angrier and more frantic by the minute.

They stayed up late; watching rubbish films and nibbling on pieces of kebab meat. Sarah found other notes from Andy positioned strategically around the house; in the bathroom cabinet a yellow post-it reminded her that she had to make a dentist appointment, another note was sellotaped to the wall of the garage requesting very politely that Sarah did not use his mountain bike.  The bike was firmly chained to the garage wall in three places, and whilst Sarah contemplated buying a bolt cutter and giving the freed mountain bike to the first homeless person she saw, she decided that she would probably buy the wrong bolt cutters and have to leave the mangled mess for Andy to crow over when he returned.

The she remembered.

He wasn’t returning.

At least, not to this house.  This house was for sale and, if Roseanne the estate agent was to be believed, there were dozens of couples dying to buy it. Roseanne and Abigail had turned up at the house on the Sunday morning. Sarah let them in and half-heartedly apologised for not answering the phone. The she delivered some more apologies for the fact that the house was already a tip after only one and a half days of being Andy-free. Abigail brought out a frilled apron and a pair of Marigolds from her capacious handbag.  Sarah felt nauseous but watched sullenly from the sofa, whilst Abigail moved around the house like a miniature whirlwind; tidying up, wiping down, and separating the rubbish from the recycling. Roseanne wandered around the house too, identifying the fixtures and fittings that were to be sold with the house. Sarah felt strange; the numbness she had felt when Andy left, returned like protective armour against Abigail’s shrill complaints, and Roseanne’s endless advice about moving on and moving out sooner rather than later.

On the Monday morning Sarah phoned in sick.

She wasn’t lying, she was sick.  Sick and tired of finding Andy’s notes, and listening to the endless litany of Abigail’s phone messages. She and Jude had talked long into the night about what the future could hold for Sarah, and came to the conclusion that now was the time to make some drastic changes. Although she had worked her way through the ranks of social care to a reasonably senior position, Sarah had become disenchanted with the work several years ago.  She refused to apply for further promotions, and was known to be obstinate and bloody-minded, especially when her department started employing trouble-shooters with no social care experience to run the department and cut down on expenditure.

There had been mutterings in the office about voluntary redundancies but most of the staff, like Sarah, were afraid of change and decided to stay put in the safety zone.

“Except I’m not afraid of change now!”

Sarah said to herself as she jumbled up the cutlery in the drawer, and left an empty glass tumbler unwashed on the draining board.

“Change has been foisted on me and I’m going to do something about it.”

Jude was always there for her, if not in person, at least at the other end of a phone, but she had three children and a kind husband whilst Sarah had – well nothing much really. After having a long phone conversation with her manager, Sarah applied for, and was granted voluntary redundancy. She had to work a month’s notice but would get a reasonable lump sum that would tide her over until she knew what she wanted to do.

She didn’t want to carry on living in Andy’s house. He had put notes and post its in the most ridiculous places, and after six weeks she was still finding them, and what had seemed like a concerned fondness for so many years, was now seen as the act of a control freak. Jude had offered Sarah the use of their spare room, but it wasn’t really spare because it would mean moving their eldest child back in with her sisters. She had thanked Jude profusely, but explained that she felt the need to live in a completely new space. She just didn’t know where that space would be.

Three days after leaving her office for the last time, Sarah decided to go on a train ride. She and Andy had been on trains before, but they were always unusual, and had been restored by men in navy boiler suits, who enjoyed the way Andy bombarded them with technical questions whilst Sarah looked on, reading old station posters until she knew them off by heart.

This was an intercity train ride, taking her away from her provincial town and into the heart of things. After leafing through a couple of social work magazines, she’d drawn up a list of agencies in the city that she liked the look of, and with a sheaf of CVs in her bag, she was armed and ready to see what a change of environment could do for her. She had taken her good suit to the dry cleaners and ironed a clean blouse – Andy had left a post-it on the iron which she screwed up and threw away, then retrieved and straightened it out because she couldn’t remember how to use the iron. With hair freshly washed, and a reasonable amount of make-up applied, Sarah had looked in the hall mirror before she left the house and decided that she looked very employable.

She had always been on the thin side and Andy’s healthy diet had kept her that way – despite the chocolate Shreddies.  People were supposed to lose weight when they split up; she was sure that she had read it somewhere in one of the glossy magazines she now felt able to buy without Andy snorting with derision.  Drinking wine and eating unhealthy food had caused Sarah to put on a little weight, but she could still get into her clothes, and Jude’s husband Dan said she looked better for it.

The thought of going into an agency and trying to sell herself seemed a little daunting but then she turned the situation on its head, and reminded herself that she had been going into strange houses and telling people how to live their lives for so many years now, that her nerves abated within seconds and the calm, controlled Sarah took over.

Watching the houses and fields go by, Sarah wondered idly what Andy was up to now. He sent her a postcard each week; his tiny writing full of descriptions of the places he had been and the people he had met.

They were SO boring.

She had to face up to it. Andy was boring too. He hadn’t made her feel happy or excited, or even interested for years. They had just plodded on; two people sharing the same airspace but with no interests in common, and no desire to encourage an interest either. Nevertheless, she had pinned each one, picture side up, on the kitchen noticeboard as a record of his travels. It appeared that he still hadn’t found himself though.

Looking around the fairly crowded carriage, Sarah noticed that nearly everyone was plugged into a computer device of some kind; large unwieldy laptops that took up all the room on the few tables in the carriage, smaller brightly coloured tablets and Kindles. She felt something of an oddity, and was reluctant to bring a dog-eared and much-loved paperback out of her bag. Despite his desire for efficiency, Andy despised modern technology and would just about tolerate her bringing her work laptop and mobile home. When she gave up her job and lost both useful items, Jude and Dan took her shopping for a new mobile phone that seemed to possess more apps than she knew what to do with, but had the advantage that neither Abigail nor Roseanne knew the number. When Sarah’s phone rang now, she knew that it was either a friendly call or someone wanting to sell her a new kitchen or boiler system. Whenever that happened, she told them that she was only renting, and passed on Abigail’s phone number, a smile of secret glee on her face when she thought of how much this would irritate Andy’s unlovely sister.

Looking around at her travelling companions, Sarah resolved to buy a new laptop if she did nothing else today.  She would go into one of those big stores, throw herself at the mercy of some squeaky-voiced youth that knew all there was to know about technology, and get herself kitted out with an all-singing, all-dancing, lightweight something or other in an unusual but functional bag. The thought of polluting the non-technological atmosphere of Andy’s house with such an item made her feel very happy, and it was with a lightness of step that she got off the train in the vast, glassy dome that was the station.

Dan and Jude had very kindly set up the sat nav on her phone and loaded in the addresses of the three agencies that seemed most likely to want to utilise her skills and talents. The first two were in easy reach of the station, but she would need to get a tram out to the third and had resolved to treat herself to lunch at the Quays, and a little retail therapy afterwards.

It was a long time since she’d had to attend any kind of a formal interview so Jude had given her some tips; don’t tell them that you are about to become homeless, don’t tell them that your partner of ten years has just left you and run off to Thailand, and most of all, don’t tell them that you took voluntary redundancy because you had become so bored and frustrated by your job that you had to force yourself to go in every day. Instead, she was to tell them that she was relocating to the city because she was looking for a new challenge, that she was flexible with regard to location and client group, and was available for work within a week. Jude also went through Sarah’s CV and updated it removing most of the information that had appeared so vital when she’d put it together ten years ago. Condensed down to two pages, even Sarah thought it looked impressive as Dan printed off several copies for her to take away.

A printer! She’d have to buy a printer too, but that would be too heavy to lug around with her today. Sarah shook her head. She was thinking of the large unwieldy printer stations dotted around the offices at work. They must make smaller ones than that surely?

She walked purposefully to the first agency, experiencing only the smallest hint of nervousness as she entered, and introduced herself to a bored-looking receptionist who took her CV and ushered her over to a row of chairs that had seen better days. There were two other people sitting on the chairs and Sarah felt perplexed as she took covert glances at them.

The male had huge holes in his ears and nostrils, made by the large ear and nose rings inserted there.  She could also see a line of stud piercings over one eyebrow. He had bothered to put on a shirt and tie, but the black tie looked out of place against his multi-coloured Hawaiian shirt, torn jeans and tattered red Converse boots. He wore no socks and looked about sixteen.

The female was no better. From the feet up she wore huge studded platform boots, fishnet tights that had seen better days, a tiny black net skirt and a yellow vest that showed her multitude of tattoos off to great advantage. Her hair was a back-combed nest of unfeasible green, and her tiny face sported even more piercings than her male companion. She might have been pretty once.

The receptionist beckoned Sarah over and led her down a dark corridor.  She knocked on the door before opening it and announcing, “Sarah Gibson to see you. Her CV is on the top of the pile.”

It was a very short interview.

The owner of the agency was very impressed by Sarah’s CV and would need to make some enquiries, but she was sure that she could find something suitable within the next month or so. In the meantime, had Sarah thought of doing domestic cleaning, caring or shop work? No, Sarah hadn’t and she didn’t want to, either. They parted with a handshake that convinced neither of them that a working partnership had been formed.

The second agency was even worse.

It appeared to be a meeting place for the disenfranchised youth of the area; the primary attraction being a free hot drinks machine, a large flat screen television, and armchairs. Sarah didn’t wait to be seen, she just dropped off her CV and got out of the door as quickly as she could.

Dispirited, Sarah decided to find the tram stop and start her retail therapy early.

The movement of the tram soothed her to some extent, and its low speed meant that she could take in the beautiful architecture of the city, and work out where the decent shops were. She liked the Quays though. It was one of the few places that Andy had taken her to that she actually appreciated.  Well, she didn’t really appreciate the War Museum, but she had been given the opportunity to go off and browse in the nearby outlet centre, provided that she didn’t buy anything for the house. She didn’t buy anything at all. She just looked and enjoyed.

The third agency was in the middle of the Quays, and a sudden change of mind inspired Sarah to get it over and done with so that she could enjoy the rest of the day. Walking in through the plate glass doors, she was glad that she hadn’t come here laden with shopping bags and tired from her exertions. The only other person waiting to be seen was wearing similar clothes to Sarah. No piercings, tattoos or strange coloured hair, she too was clutching her bag a little nervously and shot a tentative smile at Sarah when she sat down. Sarah smiled back.

The interview this time was more complex. The male interviewer went through Sarah’s CV with a fine toothcomb, and before long she found herself admitting to all the things Jude had told her not to say, and even, worst of all, getting slightly tearful when she talked about the break-up of her relationship. She was handed a box of scented tissues and tried to dab daintily although she desperately wanted to give her nose a good blow. Her CV was accepted however, and her hand was shaken very firmly on leaving. The interviewer and owner of the agency, now known as Miles, pointed her in the direction of a nice coffee shop. Sarah felt slightly more optimistic than she had at the previous two agencies and decided to treat herself to a large latte and a sticky cake to go with it. She had just sat down on a seat near the large glass windows when she heard a familiar but long-lost voice calling her name from the door.


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