Cliffhanger – Week 24 of the 52 week short story challenge

Home For Sale Real Estate Sign Isolated on a White Background.

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. Wasn’t it?

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 party 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 very 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 twenty 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 walked 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..

She frowned. ‘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?’

‘Er, 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 twenty years. Where are you going?’ Sarah sat down on the very edge of the already crowded bed.  She didn’t like the house. She never had, and any attempt to remove the remnants of Andy’s childhood and his mother’s desire for neat, orderly and feminine, had been gently but firmly rebuffed.

‘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 edged pockets 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 up to pack my belongings and put them in 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 balled 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.

Nothing.

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.

Nothing.

She found no major moments of happiness either.

Andy would wake her with a cup of coffee, then he would shower and shave, 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 BBC 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 for her.

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.

‘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.

‘Andy?’ 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.

Thoughtful! How could it be thoughtful to abandon your partner of twenty 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 foodstuffs 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 normally 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 twenty 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. Abigail. No thanks. 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.

‘Jude?’ 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.’

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Angels of Amsterdam – cheesy, watery and well-watered – part 2′

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The view from our hotel window when we woke up on Tuesday morning.  A little grey and overcast maybe, but the distant towers and spires held promise for the day ahead.

Back tracking slightly; there were two worries in my head prior to flying off to Amsterdam (apart from the Pore Ole Leg that is).

My Dear Friend was past her due date for delivering the baby boy who would make her family complete.  Very obligingly she went into labour and delivered him just before lunch on the Monday we were due to fly out. He is ACE.

Phew! with Mother and Baby safe and well, and the promise of photographs soon, that was one worry out the way.

My Bezzie Mate had been called Southwards to do the waggle magic at which he excels.  He needed accommodation for the week we were away and issues with availability and price were causing him to threaten to sleep in his car.

Taking advantage of the fact that he was staying with us for the weekend and couldn’t escape my assertiveness, I found and booked a very nice apartment in Henley-on-Thames for the week.  It was cheaper than staying in a hotel, was in a very civilised area and the owner seemed like a nice bloke.

BM was driving down whilst we were in transit and it was good to receive, as I lay on my hotel bed nursing my bruised and battered knees, a text from him and from the apartment owner (the apartment was in the grounds of his house) confirming that BM had arrived and was settled in.

Worry number two dispelled.

Uni Boy was safe (if rather sunburnt) in York.

Gap Boy and the Scoobs were minding each other at home. My money was on Scoobs for being the responsible one.

All was well in the world – apart from the POL. Hey, who wants to sleep for more than two and a half hours at a time anyway?

After admiring the view from our window, Hub and I descended for breakfast, which was held in the restaurant on the ground floor – a wonderful place for people watching as the hotel was bang in the middle of Old Amsterdam and adjacent to dozens of shops – yes, yes – and seed cafes.

We went for a quiet stroll after breakfast; to get our bearings and generally suss out the environment.  One of the leaflets we picked up in the hotel foyer was advertising a number of different canal cruises. This was one thing we were both decided on – the canal cruise was a must.  Deep joy to discover that they did a two and a half hour cruise during the evening which included a three course meal cooked on the boat.

Yes!

It wasn’t far to the booking office and after we had parted with our euros, we decided to find the Koffiehuis recommended by last night’s angel.

Rest assured, my progress across roads and tram lines was more than tentative but Hub’s arm and his reassuring smile got me safely to our destination.

Smits Koffiehuis was just as our angel described it.  The weather was still a little overcast but we opted for outdoors and the marvellous view of canal life.

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As we walked/hobbled down the stairs to the restaurant, the first smell was of freshly squeezed orange juice – a certain way to Hub’s heart.

A charming waitress with impeccable English showed us to an outside table and brought menus.

Hub had slightly overdosed on scrambled egg at breakfast so he could only find room for a pudding.  I opted for something described as ‘Amsterdam Lunch’.  This seemed to please our waiter tremendously when he took the order.

I may have mistaken his pleasure for a ‘gullible-tourist snigger’ however.

Hub’s date and almond tarte with ice cream arrived and was pronounced excellent.

My ‘Amsterdam Lunch’ was less successful but I ate it bravely.

Apparently it is custom to eat a white roll (I am a brown bread woman) spread with margarine – or equivalent ( I am a butter-only woman) for one’s lunch.  On one half of the roll sits a limp slice of processed cheese (not Gouda or Edam but mild Cheddar) and on the other a steaming ham and cheese croquette.  Accompanied by some very nice potato salad and some not so nice coleslaw.  This was my Amsterdam Lunch.

I didn’t see anyone else eating one although it was lunchtime and we were in Amsterdam.

We walked/hobbled lunch off and got caught in a rain shower. Diving up a side street we found the most glorious cheese shop.

Half an hour later, courtesy of Henri  Willig, we came away with an impressive wheel of Gouda, some goat and cow cheese and chilli liquorice (shouldn’t work but does). The lady who served us was a mine of cheesy information and samples.  We could have stayed there longer and spent even more money but we only had cabin luggage and not much room for smelly cheeses.

www.henriwillig.com

Next door to the cheese shop was a restaurant displaying an eye-watering array of waffles – and as I had been strongly advised to try one dipped in Belgian chocolate by my literary and very knowledgeable cousin, we bought some.

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Exhausted by our exertions, we staggered back to the hotel and flopped – well I flopped.  Hub went back out and found a cash point. He also found a huge open square  – ideal for people watching – that we scheduled for the next day.

I tried out the shower – which nearly became a wet room because I forgot to tuck the curtain inside the bath – oops – much mopping and soggy towels.

I do like a hotel that supplies complimentary toiletries – it encourages cleanliness (not necessarily godliness) because the hotel exhorts you to use them and their replacements.  I usually take the unopened ones home – well it would be rude not to – and have an array of different freebies in the upstairs bathroom.

Not any more – or at least not when travelling abroad.

My tiny 20cm by 20cm resealable plastic bag was packed full of my life’s essentials already, and Hub had been persuaded to put toothpaste and underarm in his.  Would it be worth arousing the wrath of a nice Dutch security guard by taking extra liquids just to enhance my bathroom collection?

Nope.  Although I pinched the soap.

It occurs to me that the restrictions on liquids must therefore be saving hotels rather a lot of money on complimentary toiletries.

Not soap though.

Clean and refreshed, we ambled/hobbled down to the canal again and waited with our fellow diners for the canal boat to be ready.  We stood next to three lovely Irish ladies – two of whom were affable and friendly, and one of whom kept nipping off for a fag and a scowl.

The Captain beckoned to me and my walking stick, helping us very gently and courteously on board.  Hub and I sat opposite each other by a window, and we were joined by a young American couple. He was the strong and silent type.  She was assertive (read ‘Bossy’) and chatty – to him – not us.  A sly glance at her hand revealed an engagement ring and my nosy radar gained the opinion that this was their first trip abroad together.  Aaaah.

The food was gorgeous – no sign of anything processed, refined or packaged.

An amuse-bouche of meat wrapped in a teeny tiny tortilla, bottles of water already on the tables and a glass of Prosecco (which they kept topping up).

Warm brown bread and a choice of butter or dipping oil.

Serrano ham salad with potatoes, followed by a cappuccino of sweet red peppers (gorgeous).

Veal fillet with more potatoes and asparagus, followed by tarte tatin.

All cooked on board and all accompanied by free wine and beer. Oh, and coffee.

The cruise was brilliant.  It took in all the major landmarks of the watery side of the city; the houseboats and the raft dwellings, a constant procession of happy locals lazily moving their crafts out of each other’s way as they drank wine and talked and smiled and waved. Dutch people are so nice.

We stopped temporarily and I overheard one of the waitresses saying that a lady had to get off because she felt unwell. It couldn’t have been motion sickness – it was a very smooth ride.

The American couple had moved onto smiling and nodding at us by the time we arrived back at base. We climbed very slowly back up to street level; POL was complaining rather bitterly about having been sitting on a hard chair for two and a half hours.

Whilst we were standing, waiting for the blood flow to return to the POL, and admiring the scenery, two of the lovely Irish ladies came over to us.

They were now very jolly Irish ladies, and mid giggles, confided that they were best friends who had known each other for years. Their companion was the sister of one of them and the unscheduled stop on the cruise had to be made because they had a huge falling out with her and she voted with her feet.  Needless to say, they drank her wine as well as their own and were off in pursuit of nightlife after bidding us farewell.

Irish middle-aged angels.

It was late but not too late, and in keeping with the holiday spirit we indulged in a few drinks at the hotel bar. Another angel in the guise of a barmaid decided that it was still happy hour and doubled our drinks (I was on Diet Coke because of all the painkillers but Hub tucked into Amaretto with gusto). 10527421_10152525477889871_24506033207877107_n

Up to our room where the huge and knobbly purple pillows had been replaced by more traditional white ones.

It was a rather wonderful day full of rather wonderful people.