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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Volcan-Toe meets the Volcano – we’ve been to Lanzarote for New Year and now we are back – the DeVere Grand harbour first though

The Volcan-Toe or V-Toe as it is now known – since it has very kindly stopped erupting – has graciously allowed me to take over the reins of this blog page for a while on the strict instructions that I write about our holiday in Lanzarote and that I MUST write fact – not fiction.  I’ll do my best but there hasn’t been much motivation for fact for the last three months – unless you count OU essays – which I don’t because they are largely regurgitated references to obscure publications by groups of people with unpronounceable names that send your spell checker running for the hills.

I know that the V-Toe has already written about this but my viewpoint is somewhat more elevated.

It may take me a few go’s before I finally get to the Lanzarote bit as I have to do the Christmas bit first.

Back in the summer, Lovely Hub hit on the idea of going away for New Year – going somewhere hot and totally different that we hadn’t been to before.  Christmas without my Dad – and the smelly cat – was daunting enough but New Year’s Eve presented fresh challenges and an impending feeling of fed-upness (not depression – I won’t do depression because it is like sulking – you can’t do anything else at the same time and it gets boring).

My experience of sunnier climes has hitherto been limited to Mallorca but Hub said it wouldn’t be warm enough.  Bowing to his superior knowledge of weather and al things abroad I let him choose our destination.  Lanzarote seemed to fit the bill and many hours were spent trying to find accommodation that would suit me, Hub, Uni Boy, College Boy and two of his friends.  One of the friends had to drop out courtesy of a clashing skiing trip but I found the ideal villa at last with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a heated swimming pool (UB and CB won’t share rooms any more – CB didn’t want to share with anyone – sharing does not come naturally to him – sometimes it doesn’t come at all).

Hub took the reins after this and did all the arrangements giving us something to focus on – and to look forward to.  In the interim we decided to head South just before Christmas and visit the folks to deliver presents and cards – which would have been a great idea if I hadn’t left a pile of cards on the floor at home.

We collected UB from Uni – with most of his worldly goods and came home to prepare for two nights in our favourite posh hotel and intense exposure to some of the family – couldn’t fit everyone in unfortunately.

Looking back, driving 250 miles the weekend before Christmas and driving back on Christmas Eve may not have been the wisest of decisions but we were feeling slightly reckless and ready to break with all previous traditions.

Talking of which, for some years we have ordered the Christmas food from M&S; braving the onslaught of gold handbags and matching shoes wielded by grey-haired old ladies who descend like a plague whenever you need to buy something in a hurry.   Every year it gets worse as you queue to pick up your boneless turkey (with stuffing and bacon lattice), an alternative to Christmas Pudding and the red cabbage (not as good as Oma’s).  One year we opted for an eight am collection that resulted in the boys being late for school, me being late for work and Hub grinding his teeth in frustration.  We went for the evening collection after that – the queues were just as bad but at least you got a thimble-full of mulled wine (or two – or even three on one occasion) for your pains.

This year we were down-sizing as there were only three of us; CB won’t eat Christmas dinner at the table, he prefers to swoop in and grab a few spuds, a bit of meat and fly back up to his room – or make his own delightful concoction of smoky-bacon flavoured super noodles, hot pepperoni and lashings of Tabasco sauce – both my boys are hot stuff.

Whilst sampling the delights of the new Sainsburys that opened just up the road on the new ‘urban development’ (lots of houses in a very small space) we discovered that they too did Christmas food ordering, with very similar items at a considerably lower price.  We booked with glee and paid with cold hard cash, arranging to pick up the goodies first thing Saturday morning before we made our journey Southwards, so that the food would be waiting for us to cook it when we returned on Christmas Eve.

So eight am-ish on Saturday saw Hub and I arriving and expecting hoards of other Christmas shoppers to be in attendance too.  Nah!  Just us and another lady.  In and out in ten minutes AND I whizzed round and picked up a couple of other essential items as well.

So, food stowed n the fridge and freezer, bags packed, boys in the car and plugged into earphones so that they wouldn’t have to talk to each other – or us, presents loaded and accessible, cards left lying on the floor and we were off to meet up with family at a riverside pub that we remembered from years ago.  Only ten miles from our eventual destination and a good place to bring us all together and swap presents.

I’d been having trouble connecting with Christmas; V-toe had made anything but very brief shopping sojourns almost impossible – especially if it was wet – so on-line present-buying featured heavily.  Yes, it is convenient but it doesn’t have the tangible enjoyment of picking something up and realising it is just right for so-and-so.  Our decorations had been scaled down too; in fact most of the decorations from Christmas Past stayed in the cupboard and garage whilst we went off to the garden centre and bought a three-foot fibre-optic tree with balls on (it takes five minutes to put up and doesn’t require tinsel).  We may decorate a bit in Christmas Yet To Come but – who knows what the fates will allow.

The pub was almost as I remembered it – except that last time we went there it was a blazing hot day in May and  I was heavily pregnant with UB.  Dressed in its Christmas best, with the River Test swollen by the recent heavy rains, The Mayfly took on a whole different aspect.  It was packed with pre-Christmas revellers and we were sandwiched  between a group of very imperious old-money Hampshire folk and a loud, tattooed, perma-tanned bunch of Test Valley nouveau riche (they annoyed CB especially as one of their number – mega loud and wearing a huge bunch of keys dangling from his belt –  kept squeezing past CB to get to the bar – and had the temerity to touch his shoulder – TWICE).

It was a lovely lunch though; full of talk and laughter and good food.  It made me feel like there was a Christmas Present after all.

Gifts and cards were exchanged with hugs and kisses in the muddy car park, and we were on our way to The DeVere Grand Harbour.

When we were young and living in the South, Hub and I watched this hotel being built on the waterfront.  The huge pyramid-shaped glass atrium at the front of the building made it stand out even then and the idea of ever being able to afford to stay there was just a pipe dream.

Hey – here we are living the dream!

We stayed at the hotel when the boys were small enough to still tolerate sleeping on the same sofa bed in the same room as us.  In the intervening years since our last visit this has become impossible and very unwise – getting them to stay civil in the same car is hard enough.  So we had three separate rooms and I dispensed stern instructions about only ordering room service if they checked it out with us first and under no circumstances were they to access the playstation or the adult TV channels.  UB looked at me with disdain because he is a Nintendo man.  CB just looked at me with disdain and thinly veiled disappointment that I had second-guessed him.

Tired and still stuffed from lunch, UB retired to bed.  We had planned to visit the vegetarian nightmare of a steakhouse that we discovered last time we were down but CB was tired and grouchy so Lovely Hub was sent off on a pilgrimage to get kebabs from Zorbas – yes, yes, we ate kebabs in a four-star hotel (used to be five-star but they lost a star when they gave up the valet parking).

Zorbas is a legend.  We have been eating kebabs from there since 1989 and their chilli sauce is one of the reasons our boys are hot stuff – they were weaned on it.  Good to be back home again – again.

That’ll do for today.  We have a new bed being delivered this afternoon and need to dismantle the old one and discover the things that have been lurking under it for many years. Bring on the Dyson and stout (ish) foot wear.  I must protect the V-toe (and myself) from any eight-legged marauders.

Toodle-pip.

By the way – it is my birthday tomorrow 🙂

Bring it all back home ….Day 1

We are on our jolly holidays – so this blog may be in bits and not all of them in a logical sequence – but that kind of sums up our families –  so fairly apt  really.

This week we are mostly in Hamble (or Hamble-le-Rice according to the signposts – nothing to do with risotto or pudding with a claggy skin – the rice is olde Englishe for Rise – so Hamble on the Hill really).  This area forms a link for Lovely Hub and I – we both spent (or misspent in my case) some of our formative years stomping around Hamble. Lovely Hub went to senior school here, and I wasted a couple of summers chasing (and sometimes catching) charming , suntanned grotty yachties with tumbled blonde curls and names like Giles, Piers and Jonty – usually coupled with at least two barrels of a surname.  Set on the Solent, for us it is a very special place.

We are just up the road from Hub’s parents and within easy visiting distance of the rest of the family.  Should you be interested, the house we are renting is on the market for £630,000 and is described as a ‘crewhouse’.  Ideal for housing international yachties and powerboat racers when they come here for Cowes week and all the other wet things that go on in this part of the world.  On a small and very select private estate of Art Deco bungalows built in the 1930s  – so posh that Hub and I didn’t even know it existed until we decided to rent it for a week.

As I know from said misspent youth, Hamble is a village designed for the the athletic pub crawler; you start at Ye Olde Whyte Harte, via the King and Queen and fetch up at The Bugle – there are others but this is a logical line for the inebriated sailor.

Before we even got here we had a mission to accomplish however.  A friend from way back moved to a village outside Oxford quite a few years ago and on another trip down South we had popped in to see her and her family – our two boys and her two boys were of a similar age and naturally hostile.  Hub and I had a nice time though.  We keep in touch and send birthday and Christmas cards and as she is one of our favourite people, we decided that the boys had matured sufficiently for another visit en route.

Lovely Hub brought cold meat and stuff to nibble; the boys and I decided to trust our luck to the motorway services.  Fools.  We pulled up at the M6 Toll services and were greeted with a burger place that didn’t bear either of the fast food names we were used to.  College Boy declined – he distrusts the unknown, but Uni Boy and I tested it out.  Overdone burgers, flaccid fries and totally charmless serving staff.  We won’t get fooled again.

The traffic was horrendous and so was the weather; torrential rain and forked lightning – very, very frightening (well, not really as Hub and I both like thunderstorms).  It slowed us down a fair bit though and we were already running rather late.  We were supposed to leave at 0900 hrs when I finished work but it was 1215 before we finally really hit the motorway.

Once we got to our friend’s house it was a great visit.  All four boys were bigger and more sociable.  If you listened to College Boy you would be under the impression that the planned hour-long visit (which stretched to two with no effort at all) was spent picking on him but he took most of it in good part – I thought.  He patted me on the head at one point and I flicked my hand out to brush him away and accidentally (no, honestly) caught his lip – so silly to put his face so close to my hand!  No blood – just a bit of localised swelling and a guilty Mum.

By the time we hit the road again College Boy was beyond reason he was so hungry.  I found him a BK in Newbury and once he had the food in his hands he let us have it – with both barrels – apparently we had conspired to starve and humiliate him and he hated all three of us.  He gets like that when he’s hungry.  We bailed and hit Sainburys, giving us a chance to stock up on some essentials and him the opportunity to demolish his burger (no bun or fries – he’s off carbs this week – another reason for being so grumpy).

The nice lady that owns this house was actually staying in the one-bedroom annexe attached to it; so she didn’t have far to go to let us in – just as well as I had arranged for us to be here late afternoon/early evening and we rattled in around 2030 hrs.  The house was as big, airy and well-equipped as we’d been led to believe from the photographs, and once all the bedrooms were allotted and luggage lugged in, Hub and CB went off to kill some kebabs.

Back twenty-five years when Lovely Hub and I first got together we used to get our kebabs from a shop in town called Zorbas.  It was (and still is) owned by a chap called John who came from Iran and who I knew by sight from my ‘A’ level sojourn at the local Tech.  Whenever we come home we have to make at least one pilgrimage to Zorbas; they have the best chilli sauce and all four of us will very happily bunch through a couple of trays of their  green chillies.  Sometimes John is there and he greets us like long-lost family.  So good to be back home again.

By the time my hunter-gatherers had returned with their kill, Uni Boy and I had unpacked (a little) and set up the laptops (yay for wifi).  After stopping to feed and drink (hard, cloudy cider – we really are home), we finally managed to stow everything away before midnight.  It was dark when we arrived so we didn’t get to see much of the outside of the building but decided to save that as a nice surprise for the next morning.  The TVs worked, the wifi worked (slow but constant at least) and the boys had stopped bickering.  Even the bed wasn’t too squashy.