Outside the front door of the house Mrs Brinkworth shared with her husband, two potted bay trees stood to attention. The door mat displayed the word “welcome” in faded letters but visitors were infrequent – invited or otherwise. Mrs Brinkworth kept the lawn tidy and had planted cottage garden plants in the borders, allowing them to run a little on the wild side despite the fact their house was situated on a modern estate and diversity of any kind was discouraged. Neighbouring gardens either had chippings or bark and solar lights and this was deemed acceptable but her garden, she felt, was the prettiest by far.
Inside, magnolia walls and beech laminate flooring were intended to create the look that modern home owners preferred. It irritated Mr Brinkworth that his wife had collected all manner of “junk” as he termed it and cluttered the house with it. Indeed, she had crammed it full of fabrics – beautiful colours, curtains that cascaded onto the floor, sumptuous cushions, twinkle lights that winked and twinkled all through the endless winter evenings, lamps that cast long shadows across the walls, beautiful rugs thrown carelessly here and there and the little curiosities that she collected from second-hand or charity shops carefully positioned in window sills, on shelves, book cases – collecting dust and cobwebs. These objects filled her empty world and gave her comfort, where Mr Brinkworth did not.
Mr and Mrs Brinkworth rarely spoke to each other except to trade insults and the silence between them was heavy and suppressive. Occasionally, Mr Brinkworth would clip her around the head to shut her up and she would bite her lip, either to kerb her anger or her tears, he did not care which.
Mr Brinkworth despised his wife for her fading middle-aged looks, even though he too was middle-aged and past his prime. Three children had stretched her skin, sagged her breasts a little and she was in danger of turning to fat if she didn’t watch out. No longer was she the strong, lean girl he had fallen in love with and married. The girl who had dimples when she smiled. Now, he noted with disgust, she had the beginnings of jowels.
Mrs Brinkworth was well aware of her husband’s reluvsion for her. That is why she collected things and cared so dearly for her garden. Over the years, it had become apparent to her that her husband had a roving eye. At first, discreetly. Sideways glances as another woman walked past, his eyes darting quickly back and forth so she might not notice but gradually as his respect for her dwindled, he made no bones about it. He openly stared at women, and sometimes very young women, and flirted and frequently made a show of himself in front of her with no mind at all for her feelings. Of course at first, she had minded terribly. Terribly. Then, strangely, she felt that she couldnt blame him really. She saw herself one day as he must see her and that image of herself filled her with anguish for her own lost beauty and youth and for a husband who betrayed her, not just with other woman, but because his love had been shallow and only skin-deep.
This is why for some time now, she had kept to herself the knowledge of his affair with Ms Langford, a divorcee who lived some streets away, on an untidy estate where the front gardens were untended with lawns trampled to mud, where dustbins lay on their sides and dogs roamed freely, fouling in gardens that weren’t their own and the children who lived there swore and threw stones at cars - even Police cars. Particularly Police cars.
Unchallenged and left to his own devices, Mr Brinkworth felt very pleased with himself. Very pleased with himself indeed. So dismissive was he of Mrs Brinkworth’s feelings that he neither knew nor cared if she had any inkling of his dealings with Ms Langford.
For some time, he had been rehearsing what he was going to ask Ms Langford the next time they met. So smitten was he, that he was no longer prepared to live a lie. He felt rejuvenated. “You old dog” he would laugh at himself, shaking his head, pretending to be surprised that he still had it in him.
So, yes, he was preparing what he would say to her. Something along the lines of “lets make it official”, perhaps. But what did that mean, exactly? What he really wanted was to leave his wife and move in with Ms Langford. He had been waiting expectantly for several months now for Ms Langford to ask him about it. But she never did and this made him sulky and cross and he took it out on Mrs Brinkworth when he returned home. And Mrs Brinkworth wondered to herself what was going to happen because she expected something was bound to happen sooner or later.
“Where’s my fags?”, drawers rattled and cupboard doors banged as she searched, ever more agitated. Crossly, she gave up and opened the back door. Stepping outside on bare feet, she crouched down beside a plastic flower pot brimming over with dog-ends and ash and flicked through them with her long nails until she found one that would do for now. She lit it and inhaled, relieved.
From the kitchen watched a little boy, his brown eyes fixed on her as she smoked. He was eating toast and his lips were greasy from the butter. She pulled a face at him.
“Fuck off” she said spitefully and he looked away but continued with his toast, licking his fingers carefully when he was done. He did not look at her again, but instead carried his empty plate to the sink and, standing on his toes, rinsed it off carefully under the cold tap. Then he splashed his face with water and wiped the butter from his lips with a tea-towel. He shot her a sneaky look to see if she had noticed but she was hunched over her mobile phone, yellow hair falling across her face so that she could not see him and he could not see her.
He patted down his hair and picked up his rucksack from the sofa. He hesitated, “Bye” he called. Silence.
Out in the street, he was careful not to tread in dog shit so he walked with his head bowed over, staring at the pavement. The last time he had trod in some, she had made him clean it off himself and the smell of it had made him wretch.
Turning into the street, Mr Brinkworth had the windows down and the radio playing. He noticed Tyron and pulled over hastily and leaned out of the window.
“Hello son,” he said, “is your mother home?”
Tyron pretended not to hear and continued walking. Mr Brinkworth decided that perhaps Tyron was listening to music on his i-pod or something and hadn’t heard him. The truth was, Tyron didn’t possess an i-pod. As Mr Brinkworth drove off, Tyron allowed himself to glance back briefly. He saw his mother coming out of the front door in her nightie, throwing her arms around Mr Brinkworth’s neck. Tyron wondered if Mr Brinkworth noticed how much she stank of cigarettes as he kissed her.
Mr Brinkworth had taken to occasionally calling in on Ms Langford on his way to work in the mornings. If she minded, she did not show it and equally, she did not seem to be pleased either. Therefore, he decided it was ok. On one occasion, things being what they were and one thing leading to another, he had not made it into work at all. Instead, he had called in sick and he and Ms Langford had giggled about it later on in bed, he feeling reckless and youthful. He had never done anything like that before. Ms Langford did not have a job and he knew not to call in on Tuesday mornings because that was the day she liked to get to the post office as early to opening time as possible in order to avoid the queue. Today was Wednesday and he tooted as he pulled up outside the little row of red brick terraces where she lived in the middle one with Tyron. The paint on the front door was peeling off and he imagined himself sanding it down for her, repainting it properly, her sitting on the step watching him, mug of tea at the ready. He felt heroic in a way, it was as if he was what she had been waiting for.
Today he planned to talk to her. He could wait no longer. All the night before he had lain in bed hating Mrs Brinkworth has she breathed quietly in sleep beside him. He could take no more of it.
On the day that Mr Brinkworth had not gone into work but instead had had sex with Ms Langford on her black leather sofa in the front room, Mrs Brinkworth had noticed he had left his packed lunch on the radiator shelf in the hallway. Kindly, and as she was bussing into town herself that day, she took it with her with the intention of dropping it into the accountancy offices of Anderson James Johnson on the high street where he had worked these past 22 years and it was news to her ears when the young receptionist with the red hair told her that Mr Brinkworth was not in work today. Indeed, he was at his home ill. Mrs Brinkworth enquired as to what his ailment was but the young girl did not know. However, Mrs Brinkworth noted that the receptionist grimaced when she spoke Mr Brinkworth’s name and supposed, rightly, that Mr Brinkworth’s roving eye was as much in operation at work as it was out of it.
On that morning, the sun had been strong even at 10am and so she took his packed lunch and made her way to the park to eat it herself. She wondered what he might have packed since it had been a long, long while that she had made his sandwiches for him. She found an empty bench and unwrapped the tin foil, biting into a neat little sandwich, cut into triangles, water-cress peeping out at the sides. Sardine and Tomato fish paste .... she wrinkled her nose in disappointment and tossed it to a pigeon who had been waiting at a distance for a morsel and had now been rewarded with an entire sandwich.
But of course they knew because they had all been victim to mr brinkworths roving eye from time to time.
She saw mr brinkworth’s car pulling out ahead with a blonde woman in the passenger seat. Instinctively, she gasped and then drew in breath sharply, before composing herself and the journey home continued, she bumped along on the bus.