The fog clung to the house like a mournful ghost eager to pay its respects, cold, grey and ghoulish, Hannah could almost see it’s head bowed. Perhaps it was David, she thought, her mind drifting away into the grey swirls, dimmed and numbed by the previous evening. Perhaps he’s had a change of heart and wished he’d never did it. She was glad the windows were closed. If David had changed his mind it was too late now. Far too bloody late. She almost smiled at that point and would have done if she were not exhausted from spending the whole night lying awake crying.
Apart from the shock of what she had seen and the attendant horror of the situation, a thousand questions whirled around her head. Why would he want to leave her? And why in such an awful way? After all he had put her through, after all she had swallowed and turned a blind eye to, the least he could have done was plough on for her sake. If not for her, then for Georgia. Not that Georgia would understand at her age, but still.
She was sitting at the kitchen table letting her coffee get cold as she stared out of the window into the gradually brightening sky, the sun hidden behind the thick, grey mist. She was still staring at the sky with the same cup of cold coffee at 10am when the police knocked on her front door to take her to the station. Fortunately her parents had collected Georgie up from nursery and were treating her to a surprise stayover at nanny’s, but Hannah still had to force herself to concentrate on such mundane matters as brushing her teeth and putting her shoes on before she allowed herself to be lead into the police car under the suspicious, gossipy stares of neighbours and driven into town to the station.
At the station everyone was terribly polite and spoke so softly and earnestly she felt like punching someone.
A fat, slightly grubby man in a blue suit that appeared to have been purchased when he was at least two stone lighter with a grimy open necked white shirt and a shining bald head came sweating through the double doors and held out a clammy hand for Hannah to shake. She did so as quickly as possible and thrust her hand into the pocket of her jeans to try to wipe the moisture from her palm. Trailing behind him was a short, blonde woman with an evil pinched face and a fake smile. Her clothes seemed to fit her perfectly and Hannah took an instant dislike to her. She seemed the sort of woman who took up a whole bench in the gym changing rooms and hogged the showers.
‘Thank you so much for coming in Mrs Chapman’ gurned the chubby man sympathetically. ‘I’m DCI Steve Thompson and this’ he turned and held up a sweaty palm in the direction of the immaculately dressed and preened blonde. ‘This is DI Ruth King, she’ll be sitting in with us if that’s acceptable?’
‘Of course’ nodded Hannah quietly and Thompson angled his bulk to one side, highlighting the sheen of his cheap suit and gesturing for her to follow DI King. King spun on her sharp heels without a change in expression and clattered away through the double doors and along a surprisingly clean and bright corridor lined with the usual office notice boards, photocopiers, pot plants and cardboard boxes, past a map of the world and into what had to be one of the nicest police interview rooms she had ever seen. Not that she had actually ever been in a police interview room before, but had seen plenty on Cracker and the Bill and Jack Frost to know that they were dingy, ill-lit, spartan places with dirty windows and suspicious stains in one corner where some mouthy slag had pushed his luck just that little too far.
You’re a long way from your stinking little mates, now billyboy billybob, you’re in the big smokey nah, you muppet and we’re gonna screw you till you squeal, nah for the last time WHER D’YA GET THE STUFF FROM? This room was nothing like that, it was carpeted, warm, bright with another pot plant and a tray of tea, coffee and biscuits on the table.
‘This is nice’ commented Hannah pointlessly and eased herself into the comfy chair indicated by the fixed smile of DI King.
‘Nice?’ questioned King suspiciously, as she flumped into a seat on the opposite side of the table. Thompson carefully closed the door and rather fell wearily into his seat. Hannah had the feeling King’s expression rarely changed, whether she was working, sleeping or screwing and her voice would forever suffer from the upward inflection and grainy suspicion of her upbringing and her police education. She was a ballsy woman in a man’s world and she figured if she wanted to cut it with the big boys, she’d have to kick ass and sweat just as much as they did, more if she wanted to earn their respect the hard way instead of taking coffee duties and doing the tits and ass routine. She’d come up the hard way on the sewage side o’ town and she taken as much shit as she was ever gonna take.
‘Nicer than I expected’ mumbled Hannah and suddenly felt very small and intimidated.
‘Coffee?’ asked Thompson with a smile, as he squeezed his corpulent copper bottom into the snug seat. Hannah nodded and Thompson gestured for King to pour, which she did with a flash of annoyance. As Hannah sipped at the rather bitter coffee, Thompson explained why he had called her in. ‘Now I appreciate this is a very difficult time for you Mrs Chapman’.
‘Thank you, Hannah. Oh tea for me please, Di’. Thompson wiped a fat hand across his eyes and seemed to lose his place for a moment, before placing his hands on the open notebook on the table before him before resuming. Di? DI Di King, thought Hannah? ‘Erm… like I said this must be a very difficult time for you, so we will try to be as brief as possible’. He smiled. His teeth could do with a little attention, as well as his weight.
‘We just need to ascertain a number of facts, Mrs Chapman pertaining to your husband’s death before we can allow you to leave’ said King, as she poured herself a glass of water. Thompson flashed her a look for a moment, then continued. Hannah disliked her with every word she said. She could picture her buying a bag of chips and trying to stare out the chipboy. One pound FIFTY? Are you sure that’s right, son?
‘All purely for our records you understand, a matter of formality, then we can get you home’. He smiled again and Hannah did her best to relax.
Hannah sipped her coffee, listened as intently as she could manage despite the maelstrom of emotions and memories whirling around inside her head. Thompson asked her to describe David. This took her a little by surprise, as she was expecting a kind of Holby City post-mortem experience.
‘Well… we were so different. Different in so many ways, everyone always said so, but we were always happy. Well, maybe not always but we were mostly happy. Despite… everything’.
‘What do you mean, despite everything?’ asked Thompson, the light gleaming on his round, bald head as he leaned forwards, propping his elbows on the table. Hannah nervously fingered her wedding ring and looked down at the table, avoiding looking into the eyes of anyone present. She sighed in through her teeth and tried to control herself, tried to compose herself before speaking. She had her self-respect despite everything and was determined that she would not break down in front of strangers, especially now. Especially in a police station. She had done nothing wrong, far from it.
‘You’re a right little goody two shoes, you are’ David used to say when she insisted on paying her train fare despite the gates being open or searching for a parking space rather than stop for five minutes on a disabled space or acting polite and restrained and never getting too pissed whenever they met with any of her school or uni chums. Where had her goodness ever got her? A dull job, a cheating husband, worry lines, a mostly sexless marriage and now a single mother with a suicide on her conscience.
‘Everyone said we were such opposites and… that was true. In a way’.
‘Did he ever beat you, Hannah?’ asked that annoyingly smug little bitch King. Hannah snorted, halfway between derision and laughter. She did not even want to entertain such a ridiculous question.
‘I… I have always had complete faith in people’. She paused. Thompson and King thankfully remained silent. ‘Not just people, in love, in truth, in life. In David’. That sounded woolly cobblers, but she knew it was true.
‘I don’t want to rush you and… and I certainly don’t want to make you feel pressured in any way, Mrs Chapman, but I feel the quicker we can get this over with the quicker we can get you home, is that ok?’
‘David believed in nothing’ sighed Hannah, lifting her gaze from her lap to the frosted, barred window. She ignored Thompson’s comment and continued. She needed to talk about him, if only briefly. She needed to talk, to talk through some of her thoughts of David and hoped that through talking about him a kind of answer would become apparent.
Hannah had always had a huge love of life. Of life and of all its sensual pleasures. She was an empiricist at heart, she never cared much for philosophy or science and did not consider herself a deep thinker. She took things how she found them, wanted to immerse herself completely in life and experience everything for herself. She loved to laugh, loved to eat, she loved sleep and sunshine, poetry and music, she loved to travel, to swim in the sea, loved to be kissed, but kissed properly, she would not accept token pecks on the cheek or a half-hearted dry lipped mouthbutt. She loved to feel the wind on her face, to smell flowers and to breathe in David’s scent as he slept, she loved wrapping herself on the sofa and blubbing at the end of old films on weekend afternoons. And she loved sex, with David in particular, but she had always loved it. But she was not exciting or adventurous enough for David. Or perhaps he just never loved it as simply and entirely as she did. He had to dress it up. Or her. Had to add props or locations or times or fantasies. Hannah had no sexual fantasies, which David found impossible to believe. He thought she was either too shy or too secretive to share them with him, when the simple truth was her only fantasy was to have sex. With him. Anywhere, anytime. No matter how often she told him or tried to think of something to please him, he never quite believed her. Perhaps that was why he felt the need to sleep around. To experiment.
David on the other hand had an infinite capacity for sadness, for rejection, for pessimism. He could go several days without speaking a word, which was impossible for Hannah to comprehend. Without talking, without human contact she felt abandoned, half-dead, lost. David could spend weeks alone and never be unhappy. Well, he said he wasn’t unhappy, you would never have thought if looking at his slab face. Bunking off work, drinking too much, fucking around.
Nihilistic he called it. Bloody miserable Hannah called it.
‘Hannah, are you ok?’ asked Thompson gently, lowering his head to look into her downturned face. This seemed to snap Hannah out of her contemplation. She looked up at Thompson with sore eyes and nodded.
‘I know this is painful for you, but I have to ask a couple of questions, then we can get you home, ok?’ Hannah nodded and Thompson’s eyes flicked down onto his notes as King poised her pencil over her own.
‘Has David been acting strangely in any way recently?’
‘Not that I noticed’ replied Hannah, suddenly feeling strangely detached from herself. As if she had retreated inside another person and was operating them from within, her own private numbskull. ‘He was always a little bit odd, quite sad and sullen really, but nothing unusual, no’. Thompson and King seemed to make identical scribbles in their notebooks before continuing.
‘Had he been…’ Thompson waved his podgy hands in the space between them over the desk. ‘Depressed in any way recently? Unhappy at all?’
‘Such as crying, fits, angry outbursts? Or showing any signs of… of violence? Mood swings? That sort of thing?’ added King. Hannah was liking her less and less with every comment from her thin, puckered lips.
‘No, like I said, nothing unusual’.
‘Had he ever threatened to kill himself, Hannah?’
‘Not to my knowledge’.
‘Have you ever thought he was so… so down or miserable that he might consider it?’
‘Never’ lied Hannah. She had considered what she would do if he ever committed suicide many times. It was never a pleasant contemplation and she always managed to convince herself that she was overreacting to his melancholic nature. Either that or he was deliberately manipulating her feelings to make her feel as if she had to play up to him and cheer him up after he had acted like a bastard and was being quite rightly punished. ‘Never’.
Thompson and King made a few more silent scribbles in their notebooks, then King angled her book to show Thompson something. He nodded and looked up into Hannah’s eyes and gurned apologetically.
‘Did you notice anything unusual about him yesterday?’
‘Yes. He had a hole in his head and his brains were splashed all over the walls of our shed’. Thompson squirmed uncomfortably and apologised. Hannah looked at King disdainfully. She appeared to be trying to suppress a smile. Cow.
‘I’m sorry. I meant before you found his body’ mumbled Thompson contritely. That was an odd choice of words, thought Hannah. It seemed the instant someone died they somehow ceased to be a person, a friend, parent, lover, child. Instead they became a body, a lifeless husk of meat, blood and bone. Hannah did not believe that. She believed that the body was as much a person as their mind. Despite what David had done, he was still David. She had no idea whether minds and bodies separated at the moment of death, but he was still him.
‘Not really. He seemed quite happy, actually’.
‘Happier than usual?’
‘Not really’ drawled Hannah thoughtfully. ‘Just… just happy. He’d been happy for quite a while. He had been working from home two days a week for a couple of months that seemed to cheer him up, we didn’t have any money problems or any problems with Georgie recently, especially since she’s been sleeping in her own bed all night, so no. Nothing’.
‘Can you think of any reason why he might have done it?’ Hannah had of course, but replied in the negative.
‘Do you believe he committed suicide?’ asked King earnestly, leaning forwards with her tight blue shirt stretched against her tight, young boobs, boobs that had not been sagged and ruined by the strains of pregnancy and breast feeding. She probably had a tight bottom and cellulite and stretch mark free legs to go with her pretty blonde hair and dinky high heels. She was not too different from David’s little bitch Yasmin now she thought about it. Suddenly she disliked DI King even more than she had on first impression. David would have liked her.
‘The evidence is all over our shed, I’d say’.
‘I believe the question DI King was raising was whether you have any reason to suspect that your husband did not carry out this… unpleasant action alone, Hannah’. Hannah laughed involuntarily and stared at them in astonishment. ‘Or could he have been… assisted?’
‘Are you kidding?’ The faces staring back told her that they were not. ‘You think he might have been murdered?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Now, I never said that, Mrs Chapman’ said Thompson firmly. ‘We are merely postulating here and trying to gain an insight into your husband’s state of mind. I’m sure you would like a clear a picture as possible as much as we do’.
‘Why? He’d still be dead, wouldn’t he?’
There was a silence for a few moments. ‘Would you excuse us for a few moments please, Hannah’ murmured Thompson politely, as he and King stood and stepped out of the room for a moment. Hannah drained her cold coffee and stared into the dregs at the bottom of the cup. Murdered? Assisted? The selfish bastard shot himself. And in their shed, too! The least he could have done was gone to a hotel or a car park somewhere. She doubted there were suicide cleaners listed in the yellow pages.
Thompson and King returned smiling. ‘Thank you very much for coming in, Hannah’ said Thompson without sitting, gesturing for her to leave by holding open the door. ‘Oh just one more thing’ he muttered, almost absent-mindedly, as Hannah collected herself before standing. ‘We found a note in your husband’s pocket, I’ve got it here somewhere…’ He pulled a freshly laminated scrap of paper from his jacket pocket and passed it to her.
Hannah took the note with a cold ripple of trepidation slicing through her innards like a glacier. The note was blank. She turned it over. Written was a single word. “Estrella”.
‘Is that your husband’s handwriting?’ asked King. Hannah nodded, numb at seeing his writing and the mysterious name. ‘Does the name mean anything to you?’
‘Nothing’ said Hannah, shaking her head slowly. ‘Nothing at all’.
‘Could it mean something other than a name?’ suggested Thompson, sweating slightly and uncomfortably aware that he might be giving off a little guffwhiff. Hannah stared briefly at the chubby policeman, then immediately back to the note, the single word. The last thing David had ever written, possibly just seconds before he blew his brains out. ‘A place perhaps? A restaurant? A hotel?’
Hannah tried to speak but nothing came out of her mouth, her voice had been paralysed by the sight of a single word, a word she knew nothing about.
‘I did Google Estrella just before you arrived, actually. Over one and a half million pages, so I was really hoping you would be able to clarify this for us’ he chuckled. ‘I don’t fancy wading through… errr through all of those’.
‘I have no idea. No idea at all’ whispered Hannah without looking up. ‘I’ve never heard of Estrella. Never heard David mention an Estrella. Ever’. She continued to stare at the word.
‘There is even an Estrella search engine, but I don’t think that could be what he had in mind. After all, who would be thinking of a search engine at a time like….’. Thompson sighed and cleared his throat. ‘Well… we’ll do a little digging and see what we can come up with, but if anything springs to mind, please let me know, ok?’
‘Ok’ she whispered. Thompson reached out gingerly and took the laminated note back from Hannah’s trembling hand.
‘Good. If you’d like to follow DI King, we’ll get a car organised for you’ he said, gesturing once more with the open door.
‘What about my shed?’ said Hannah suddenly, staring at Thompson.
‘Iiiii’m sorry, what do you mean?’ asked King.
‘What am I meant to do with it? Leave it as it is? Clean it up? What?’ For some reason the thought of cleaning up David’s blood and splattered brains from the garden tools and reclining chairs suddenly crushed her cool and she burst into a sensationally loud flood of snotty tears, her face falling into her hands and pressing into the table.
Much later, after spurning King’s sympathy, but accepting Thompson’s offer to have the shed cleaned, Hannah lay in her own bed, their bed, alone. She had decided Georgia would stay at her parents for the night, an exciting overnight at Granny’s, but had decided against police and motherly advice and stayed in her own home, alone.
As the sound of the distant traffic gradually died away to be replaced by the night sounds of cooling, creaking floorboards and wandering cats and foxes, Hannah stayed awake, exhausted yet alert, her mind spinning through recent days, trying to pinpoint the exact moment at which David decided to end his life, trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. She pictured him leaving the house for the last time, walking into the garden alone, closing the shed door behind him, alone. How long had he sat there? Seconds? Hours? And where the fuck did he get a gun from anyway? Had he bought it that morning? Borrowed it? Had it been in the house for days or weeks? Where Georgie might have found it, the stupid bastard. Perhaps this Estrella gave him the gun and she was a clue. Or something. She was very confused and very tired.
She had always been a good wife, always loved him, supported him, helped him and endured him. She had allowed his idiotic idiosyncrasies of his, his silly little sulks, his predilection for kinky sex, the uniforms he liked her to wear, the food she cooked that was left untouched, she even forgave him his affairs, although she certainly made him earn that forgiveness. She had lost count over the twelve years they had been married how many women she had forgiven him.
Twelve years. How happy she had been twelve years ago. They were married less than two years after they met and he was incredible, in almost every way. He was handsome, he was funny, he was sexy, which was all obviously very attractive, but they also seemed to just fit together so perfectly. She liked to talk and he liked to listen, he liked to paint and she liked to pose, he liked to eat and she liked to cook. When they kissed it was as if their lips were designed to suit, they fit so comfortably and when they made love it was like a ferocious bliss that eradicated all other thought or sensation.
They were delightfully happy, so she thought. It was a mere eight months after the wedding that she discovered David had been having an affair. It had only been going for a matter of weeks, but she felt utterly destroyed. David apologised and she hit him, as hard as she could. She was amazed that she had a punch so hard or so heartfelt in her. From the look David gave her from the floor it seemed he was surprised too.
He begged and pleaded for her forgiveness, said he had been stupid and silly and didn’t know what came over him, blah blah. She gave him the full treatment that first time. Forced him to sleep on the sofa, ignored him unless she was shouting at him, left him to do his own cooking, own ironing, went out without telling him. But when she was alone she agonised over every aspect of herself and compared herself unfavourably to the mystery woman she had never met. She wondered whether she was too fat, her legs too short, her hair too long or too short or too curly or the wrong colour, whether her boobs were big enough, whether she was sexy enough, attentive enough, loving enough, adventurous enough. Worry after worry tumbled through her head almost constantly and she cried whenever she was alone.
After a week she decided that they had both suffered enough and ordered him never to cheat again. He promised and bought her dinner to make up. It was over two years until he cheated again. Or at least, two years until she found out he had cheated again.
If anything the pain was worse initially, but she came to the same conclusion sooner. He was her husband and she was keeping him.
Gradually over the years, each time it happened she cared less. She even had a one night stand to get back at him, only to discover that she felt similar feelings the following day that she felt when David cheated on her. She never told him.
By the time she fell pregnant with Georgia, she was beginning to wonder whether there was any point in them staying together. But Georgie gave her that reason. Now she treated his carnal wanderings with disdain and made sure he suffered for them. Even though he acted like he was some great seducer, as if he could really go off fucking some little slag and think that she wouldn’t notice. Poor David. Perhaps she should have let him go years ago.
In the wee small hours, hovering just above sleep, she thought of David. She was standing in the kitchen, emptying the Tesco bags and rummaging around searching for the mango she was certain she had bought. She had a taste on her tongue and that taste demanded mango salad. She growled as she emptied each bag in turn. David appeared at the kitchen door.
‘Oh I can’t find something’ she grouched.
David sighed patiently and walked away. Where was the sodding thing!
‘Oh! Where’s me mango?’ she whined in exasperation.
David reappeared at the kitchen door. ‘To de toilet’ he said in a cod Jamaican accent. She had laughed so much she had to sit on the kitchen floor…
She finally fell asleep around 4am with the Estrella question whizzing around her head.
ONE WEEK AD
The shed had been cleaned, but Hannah avoided it anyway. She thought there might be a lingering smell of death, mixed with the haunted memory of David, as if the walls of the shed had somehow absorbed his last moments and could echo his sadness and despair. Or selfishness. She had no desire to feel his sadness and despair. She had no desire to feel anything of David ever again. Her grief had turned to anger, anger at leaving her a widow, anger at leaving Georgia fatherless, anger at leaving their bed cold. At least it gave her an excuse to have 2 weeks off work, but it was fortunate the house had already been paid for or she would have wanted to kill him all over again.
Within the first week, three lightbulbs in the house blew. David knew she couldn’t do things around the house, it was almost as if his echoes were causing problems that only he could solve.
‘It’s just typical of him’ snivelled Hannah to her best friend Jenny, as they sat at the dining table necking a very tasty bottle of red, the remains of Jenny’s delish mushroom risotto pushed to an empty seat. ‘Lightbulbs gone all over the place, the toilet needs cleaning, my MP3 won’t charge…’.
‘I know. Typical’ replied Jenny genuinely, gulping down more red.
‘And last night I was all teary and pissed off after Pet Rescue and I desperately needed some pickled onions and I spent ten minutes trying to open that fucking jar and still couldn’t do it’.
‘Typical’ giggled Jenny.
‘I was bawling my eyes out by the time I gave up’.
‘I hate that. I hate the look Joe gives me when I take a jar to him to open for me, he’s all like “ahhhh need a big strong hand to help you out, you poor, weak girlie?” Makes me sick’.
‘Oh I know’.
‘But going without pickled onions would make me really cross, though’.
‘God! I was so furious’ said Hannah fiercely. ‘Really furious, partly because I really, really needed some pickled onions and partly because David should have been here to open them for me’. Jenny reached out a sympathetic hand, but Hannah shook her head a little too eagerly, flapped a hand loosely between them, then blew her nose as Jenny topped their glasses.
‘I’m alright’ she muttered. ‘Mostly’.
‘You’re being so brave’. Hannah snorted a short laugh and shook her head as she took a sip of wine.
‘Not being brave at all, really. I thought I was sad, thought I should grieve and let it all out, you know’.
‘Course’ agreed Jenny.
‘But there really isn’t much to let out. After all these years and all the cheating he did, I’ve done all the crying I’m ever gonna do over him. I’m more angry than anything’.
‘The way he did it?’
‘That he did it at all, the selfish bastard!’ she snapped angrily, jumped to her feet and slammed the plates into the sink, yanking open the cupboard next to the fridge and bringing a fat box of chocolates back to the table. ‘I’ve been saving these for a special occasion’ she grinned.
‘Oooh yum! I love these fancy choccies.’
‘I mean, why did he have to be so ostentatious about it?’ wondered Hannah as she slit the plastic from the chocs and tugged open the lid, offering Jenny first choice. Jenny wiggled her fingers over the box for a few seconds, feasting her eyes before her mouth joined in. ‘I mean, if he really had to do it, why not go to a hotel? Or a car park or something?’
‘Or throw himself off a cliff?’
‘Exactly, so selfish’. Hannah slid the box in front of her and jammed a strawberry swoon into her mouth. ‘And where the fuck did he get a gun from? He was a publisher, not a gangster’.
I know, it’s just so egotistical doing it somewhere at home where it’s obvious you or Georgia would find him’. Hannah’s hand froze between the choccie box and her mouth.
‘Oh my god. Can you imagine would it would have done to her if Georgie found him?’ Hannah and Jenny looked at each and shook their heads at the horrible image. They both took another chocolate.
‘Absolutely. Well at least the police got the shed cleaned up for me. As if I’m ever going to be able to use it again now’.
‘God no, I mean, how could you? After all that blood and everything’. They both shook their heads and took another choc.
‘I’m thinking of just selling the house and making a fresh start with Georgie’.
‘I think that’s a really, really good idea, actually. I mean, you’ll get a good deal for your place, especially with the way house prices are at the moment’.
‘Absolutely. I was thinking of selling up and maybe looking a nice little place somewhere between Georgie’s school and your place, you know like round the canals? Down by the little wood, I was thinking.’
‘Ooh some of those are really lovely’.
‘I know, I took the dog for a walk over there yesterday after I dropped Georgie off at school and there’s a nice little 2 bed with a lovely long garden right down the end past the bridge’.
‘Oooh I know the one you mean, I think one of the school governors lives there, but I know she’s retiring at the end of the year, so you could be well in there’. They sat in silence for a moment, Hannah dreaming of a lovely new house for just her and Georgie where she could pick everything without argument, sulks or masculine advice, whilst Jenny thought about the time she turned David down and how envious she realised she was over Hannah’s sudden freedom. Joe could be such a pig sometimes. She wouldn’t mind him meeting a nasty accident and letting her buy a nice little house by the canal.
‘So the police made a decision about David?’ asked Jenny nervously.
‘Suicide. Definitely’ said Hannah flatly.
‘Oh good’ whispered Jenny, reaching her hand over towards Hannah. ‘Well, not good exactly, but…’
‘It’s ok, I know what you mean’. Jenny took another chocolate as Hannah emptied the wine into her glass and got to her feet to collect another from the rack. ‘One last bottle?’
‘Oh go on then’ giggled Jenny, flushed with a mixture of memory, alcohol and embarrassment.
‘Funeral’s on Tuesday if you want to come’.
‘Course’. Hannah bit her lip nervously, then decided to just come right out with it. ‘Not gonna let you go through that on your own’.
‘Thanks’ smiled Hannah.
‘Unless you need me to look after Georgie’.
‘No, she’ll be at nursery fortunately’.
‘Jenny can I ask you something?’ Jenny nodded. ‘I don’t want it to go any further though, ok?’
‘Ok’ agreed Jenny anxiously. She began to worry that if Hannah asked whether David had ever tried it on she would not be able to lie convincingly.
‘Do you know anyone called Estrella?’
Phew! Thought Jenny. ‘Nnnnnnooooo, don’t think so. Why?’ Hannah explained about the note found on David when he died. ‘You are shitting me!’
‘I shit you not, that’s all he had on him’.
‘Fuck… So who is she?’
‘Dunno. I’ve been through his phone and there’s nothing on there, no Estrella in his address book or his pc, so I went through his emails and there’s no Estrella there, either’. Hannah sniffed sadly and took a large gulp of wine. ‘Plenty of other unpleasant surprises, but no Estrella’.
‘God, really?’ Hannah nodded. ‘Like what?’
‘Girls I’ve never heard of, gushing emails talking about nights they’d spent together, nude photos, porn…’
‘God, what a creep’.
‘And some very, very strange websites’. More wine was gulped.
‘If it’s the one with the cartoon girl you have to seduce, I’ve caught Joe on that a few times’ chuckled Jenny.
‘Oh no, much worse than that’.
‘Rape… whipping, really horrible bondage stuff, it really made me… made me sick’ whispered Hannah and her tears began again. Jenny jumped to her side and hugged her as she forced her crying to stop.
‘Come on Hann’ she whispered soothingly. ‘You said you were all cried out a minute ago!’ Hannah chuckled and patted Jenny thankfully on the hand.
‘It was horrible’ muttered Hannah, as she reached for a tissue. ‘I spent all day yesterday going through his files and stuff and he had all sorts tucked away’.
‘You think you know them, but you never do completely’ she said trying to comfort her grief.
‘I just deleted it all. Everything’.
‘Clive is gonna get it recycled for that Education in Africa thing? Seen it?’
‘God, they can use old pc’s, can they?’
‘Oh yeh, pc’s, faxes, mobiles, anything really’.
‘Wow, that’s good. As long as you make sure some little black boy isn’t gonna get a porno in the middle of his maths class’ she giggled and thankfully Hannah joined in. ‘So are you ok then? Really?’ asked Jenny earnestly. Hannah nodded and smiled. ‘Good. Means I can go to the loo then’. They laughed, but Hannah slipped into silent thought the moment Jenny left the room.
‘So… what are you going to do then?’ asked Jenny on her return.
‘About the house?’
‘Oh. That. Well, I’m taking all his clothes and shoes and stuff to the homeless mission tomorrow, so that’ll be one job done’ she hoped.
‘All of it?’ asked Jenny, surprised.
‘Yeh’ nodded Hannah decisively. ‘Why would I want any of that now? Who knows what he’s been up to in any of his clothes?’ Hannah sniffed sadly and looked into her glass.
‘It’s horrible, isn’t it?’ Hannah nodded just as Jenny farted and they both collapsed into a gale of tension breaking giggles. ‘There’s room for more wine!’
‘There’s room for a few bottles after that!’
‘So what about the rest of David’s stuff?’ asked Jenny when they had eventually stopped their drunken giggling and moved to the sofa.
‘Dunno yet. Could have a garage sale’.
‘If you had a garage’. Jenny lit a cigarette and puffed on it silently for a few minutes while Hannah waffled about how Georgia was taking a life without daddy.
‘…it’s almost as if she’s forgotten him already’ she concluded.
‘Well, she is only 3, Hann’.
‘Yes’ agreed Hannah reluctantly. ‘Well…’.
‘And as you’re free and single now, she might be seeing a different man about the house sometime’. Hannah gave Jenny a harsh look.
‘It’s only been a week, Jen’ she said fiercely. Jenny held up her hand between them in a conciliatory gesture.
‘True, but how long is it since you’ve really cared about him?’ Hannah looked into her wineglass and said nothing. ‘Paul asked about you this week’ smiled Jenny.
‘Paul who?’ asked Hannah without looking up.
‘Paul who…, who are you trying to fool?’ laughed Jenny and stubbed out her ciggie on a saucer on the table beside the sofa. ‘You know very well who Paul is’.
‘Well…’ Hannah remembered Paul perfectly. He was the nice bloke from trading who was chatting her up at the Christmas do. Quite good looking, very funny, very flirty and grabbed her arse when they slipped outside for a fag when she was just drunk enough to giggle it off, but not drunk enough to snog him. ‘So?’
‘So? So perhaps you should find a reason to go up to trading when you come back to work and let him see you’.
‘Ohhhh I don’t know, Jen’ said Hannah warily. ‘It’s only been a week after all’.
‘So? You don’t have to suck his face off over his desk, just a little chat…a little smile, set the wheels in motion’. Hannah smiled. It was an intriguing idea. What harm could it do?
‘How is work?’
‘As if you care’. They smiled at each other, glad to be talking about stuff. ‘Emma and Gemma can’t wait to see you back, though’ grinned Jenny.
‘Oh God, I don’t want to even think about those two stupid tarts’.
‘Haha, they can’t wait to see you!’
‘Hmm I bet’. There was a pause while Hannah raced through all the possible ways in which Emma and Gemma could infuriate her. These were woman who thought saying ‘Merci’ to a French hotelier on the phone to be the height of ironic wit.
‘Another glass?’ asked Jenny.
‘Go on then’ smiled Hannah and prepared herself for a hangover.
The following morning, Hannah drove Georgia to nursery in a hungover silence. Georgia was a very perceptive three year old and knew when mummy was not in the mood for talking, one mummysnap was usually enough to silence her. Hannah walked her into school and gave her a kiss, then stood in the drizzle watching her walk inside, enjoying the cool dampness on her face while she waited for the paracetamols to kick in. The hangover was not helped by Spam barking loudly as she got back into the car. Hannah shouted at him to be quiet, then drove him to the park to run off his exuberant energies. One mummysnap was not quite enough to silence Spam.
On the way, a song drifted from the CD player and made her think of David being silly.
‘Ahhh! My leetle darleeng, it is lurve, is it not?’ he sang as his hands slipped between her thighs. Hannah slapped it away
‘Keep your hands to yourself, silly, I’m driving’.
‘Ahhhh… you murrrst rememberrr zees, a kiss is just a kiss, a piiiiie is just a piiiiiieeee’. She giggled and tried to concentrate.
‘Just wait you, we’re nearly there’. His hands wandered over once again.
‘Ze fundemental theengs applyyyyyy as time parts thiiiiiiiighssss…’ She didn’t slap him the second time.
TWO WEEKS AD
Hannah had spent all of the previous week sorting through the hundreds and hundreds of photographs she owned, flicking through posh albums and loosely discarded pics thrown into the piccie drawer, storing away almost all of those that featured David into her new David box, destined for a corner of the loft. Georgia wanted to keep one beside her bed and loved the one of David holding her as a baby which was hung on the kitchen wall. All the rest were boxed up and lugged into the loft to gather dust with his memory.
Once the photographs had been completed, Hannah took Georgie to the zoo with her mother and had lots of new photographs taken, a slightly dogmatic approach to filling her world with new and happy memories.
The following day she had printed off over twenty of the photos and shown them to Georgia who received them gleefully and ran about the house breathlessly indecisive about where each one should stand. Hannah then set about removing all other signs of David from the house, hoping all physical, visual reminders would soothe the pain inside her and wipe him from her memories. Whomever Estrella was, she was not the only woman in his life and the thought of her and of the other women made Hannah feel worthless.
She wanted to feel special. Having an uncaring husband commit suicide in their shed was not the sort of special she wanted to feel and the eyes on her every day at nursery and along Harrison Street was making her feel persecuted rather than empathised, whispers at the school gate and twitchy curtains every time she opened the front door.
So Hannah removed the keepsakes, the mementoes, the snowdomes and gave all the jewellery he had bought her to Oxfam. Her mother was aghast to see such ruthless culling of her past.
‘Hannah dear, aren’t you being a little… well…’.
‘Practical?’ asked Hannah, as she carried another black sack of clothing to her mother’s car.
‘No, not exactly’.
‘Pragmatic?’ She asked as she returned.
‘No dear, I think you’re being too hardhearted about this and I have to say a little silly’. Hannah stopped in her tracks and turned to face her.
‘What do you mean, silly?’ Her mother swept her arms around the living room at the black sacks of clothing and jewellery she was willing to simply give away.
‘Well, all this of course!’
‘I don’t need any of it and I don’t want any of it’ snapped Hannah, grabbing another bag and heading for the front door, pursued by her mother. ‘Oxfam will be grateful for it and what use do I have for any of it?’.
‘What use!’ shouted her mother incredulously. ‘Hannah dear, giving away all your jewellery and all your husbands possessions is not a very sensible or normal thing to do now, is it?’
Hannah dumped the bag into her mothers boot and somehow managed to close it. ‘Having your loving hubby blow his brains out isn’t a very normal or sensible state of fucking affairs, mum’. Her mother cringed at her use of language.
‘Language Hann’ she scolded and followed her relentless daughter inside. Spam sniffed them both excitedly as they passed him, he could sense a walk coming up. ‘I just don’t want you doing something silly that you’re regret, that’s all’.
‘I won’t regret it, mum, trust me’.
‘You say that darling, but you said the same thing when you had that tattoo done’.
‘Mum, I was sixteen!’ she sighed.
‘I know darling, but you can make mistakes, so please just stop this’. Like she never made a mistake in her life, thought Hannah.
‘No. I don’t need it, I don’t want it and I don’t want anything of David hanging around making me miserable and remembering what he did’ she said defiantly, grabbing another bag and heading outside to her own car. ‘David might not want the rest of his life, but I want mine’.
Her mother waited inside this time and insisted she sit down and have a cup of tea with her. ‘Listen darling, I know what grief is like’ she whispered softly, earnestly. ‘You don’t remember your little brother, but I was all over the place when we lost him’. The plaintive sorrow in her voice was almost as bad as her patronising earlier, thought Hannah and she had heard this scratched record every time she did anything that her mother disapproved of. It’ll be Grandpa next. ‘And the same when your granddad died, we all go a bit mad and… and emotional, but you don’t want to do something or say something you regret’.
Hannah took a deep breath, looked into her mum’s pleading eyes and answered as calmly as she could. ‘Mum, it’s been almost three weeks. I’m not overreacting, I just want to move on and enjoy my life and do what’s best for Georgie and me’.
‘I know darling, but-‘
‘But nothing mum! You know some of the things David did! He was a crap dad to Georgie and a shit husband for most of the time. I just want to move on’.
‘But your diamonds, Hann!’
‘Oh Mum! If you care about them that much, you fucking have them, I don’t care’.
‘Hannah, I know you’re upset, but there is really no need to talk to me in such a way, I am your mother’.
‘Yes I know, I know’ she mumbled and stood. ‘Sorry’.
‘Just don’t be too rash, that’s all I’m saying’.
‘This can go in the loft as well’ said Hannah suddenly, grabbing her large, white wedding album from the shelf’.
‘Hannah! That’s your wed-‘.
‘I know what it is, mum, but the marriage is over, so I won’t be wanting to see this for a while, will I?’
‘Darling, have you seen a doctor?’
‘How many more times, Mum? I am completely fine, I’ve done my grieving, now I want to move on and this is how I want to do it, ok?’ Her mother said nothing this time. ‘Now are you going to help me take this stuff down to Oxfam or not?’ Her mother looked a little sheepish, licked her lips and got to her feet.
‘Can I really have your diamonds?’ Hannah laughed and hugged her mum tightly for a moment.
‘You can take whatever you want, I’ll make the tea while you have a good rummage’.
That night, after she and her diamond wearing mother had taken all David’s clothes and useables to Oxfam, Hannah sat with tea and biscuits, half-watching You are what you eat from your relocated relocated kitchen from hell and flicking through her wedding album before putting it into the loft to be forgotten.
They were certainly a handsome couple, there was no doubt about it, even if David had seemed to age much better than she had. But then Hannah was always a little too self-critical. She remembered the proposal perfectly.
They had only been together just over a year, but here they were sitting in a restaurant overlooking Sydney harbour! Life couldn’t get any better than this, could it?
‘Mmmm very’ she grinned back, bright as a star, her smile as wide as a Cheshire cat.
‘You look delicious’ he whispered as he reached across to take her hand. Hannah blushed slightly and smiled a little wider. After dinner, they strolled to the edge of the harbour beside the opera house and gazed at the moon hanging over the bridge, the eyes of Luna Park flickering on the water’s edge.
‘Pick a number between one and ten’ whispered David.
‘Four’ giggled Hannah, expecting some kind of silly nonsense to follow.
‘Well done, you win a husband’ he whispered and held out his hand before her. She looked down into his hand and began to shake. ‘Will you marry me?’
She took the box, opened it and screamed loud enough to wake the dead when she saw the ring inside. David slipped it onto her finger and kissed her. She floated back to their hotel on a cloud of bliss.
She remembered the rest of that evening pretty well too.
THREE WEEKS AD
It was with a sense of dreaded foreboding that Hannah returned to work, heavy of foot but surprisingly lighter of body thanks to almost three weeks of blubbing and skipping dinners. Thankfully Jenny had offered to collect her that first morning and stick with her throughout the day to ensure she was never at the mercy of the heartless hags of marketing and that Emma and Gemma were not too stupidly careless. Everyone was either totally disinterested in her (which suited her perfectly) or were overly apologetic and understanding (which did not). Hannah had had quite enough of feeling the sharp end of certain sympathies and just wanted to go back to being normal and invisible.
‘Ahhh how are you feeling, Hann?’ asked Gemma, the horsefaced, blondbo hag with the voice of dying dalek.
‘Fine, thanks’ replied Hannah as brightly as she could and took her seat.
‘Ohhh you don’t look fine, does she Gem?’ piped up Emma, the brunette bumshell, who insisted on squeezing her rotundness into figure-hugging outfits of eye-poppingly bulbous proportions whilst pontificating on the world from her Essex based view of droning, moaning monosyllabics. Emma grunted herself to her feet and wobbled to Hannah’s desk, her face of piggy sympathies and hand wringing self piety.
‘Really. I’m fine’ deadlined Hannah.
‘Ahhh poor thing’ said Gemma.
‘Must’ve been hard on yaaaa’ said Emma.
‘Leave her alone, you two’ interjected Jenny, barging them out of the way with a tray of coffees.
‘Alright Jen, keep your hair on’ objected Gemma. ‘We haven’t seen’ ha for weeks’.
‘Hannah has enough on her plate for today, so take it easy on her’.
‘I’m fine, honestly Jen’ intervened Hannah. ‘Thanks for your concern, but I just want to get back to work’.
‘Of course’ muttered Gemma and sat down heavily, still ‘ah’ing and gazing at Hannah sadly. ‘Can’t imagine how horrible it must have been to find your hubby like that, tho, eh Em?’
‘Horrible, poor thiiiiinnnnnnng’.
‘She said she’s fine’ interjected Jenny.
‘Oh I know, I fink you’re being sooooooo braaaaave’.
‘Gee, thanks’ said Hannah.
‘Must be terrible having someone that close top himself, though’ said Emma.
‘Oh no, I had the champagne out’ mumbled Hannah.
‘Oh I ‘ate champagne, me’ replied Emma.
‘Oooh I love it’ said Gemma, scratching the side of her nose unpleasantly.
‘Nah, ‘ate the sound of the corks flying out, makes me shit meself every time’.
‘Oh I know what you meeeean’ said Gemma, investigating the end of her finger. ‘Them corks are well scary, in’ay?’ Emma suddenly broke out into an unexpected smile.
‘You know what really makes me larf though, is some of ‘em are called Brut’ cackled Emma, a shrill, high-pitched shriek of a laugh. ‘You know, makes it sound all big and butch, like I’ll ‘ave a pint of Brute!’ Emma and Gemma cackled together, screwing their eyes at each other like a pair of donkeys in a spaghetti western.
‘Oh I’ve fort that as well’ replied Gemma. Hannah sighed and clicked open Outlook, then sighed in despair when she saw she had 319 emails. ‘So…. Is Cava Brut the same as Champagne Brut?’
‘Only if it’s from France’.
‘Oh you know everyfing about booze, Em’.
‘Yeh well, me mum used to work in Oddbins’. Hannah felt a cold wave ripple through her body as she considered whether Emma or Gemma were the kind of girl who would let David tie them up and do all sorts of disgusting things to them. She went to the lavatory and sat there for twenty minutes.
That evening, Hannah began working her way through David’s work, boxing up what looked important in readiness for a van to collect and take back to his office and bagging up the rest to take down the dump after she took Georgia to school the following morning.
She came across the odd printed email or letter from various people she had never heard of, but none were named Estrella. She had spent several hours scouring the internet for an Estrella, but came up with nothing conclusive. The thought that the identity of the woman David was thinking of at the moment he died rather than her eluding her forever or remaining a mystery forever ate away inside her. She desperately needed to discover who she was, whether a lover, an ex-girlfriend, a schoolmate, a colleague, a film star even, she needed to know.
Suddenly, she opened David’s laptop bag and a small, black notebook flopped out onto her lap. She had already scanned through the laptop itself, but had not thought to check out the case, but now as it was being collected and returned to her employer, had the answer to her prayer literally fallen into her lap.
She poured herself a glass of wine and flicked nervously, yet eagerly through the book. There were no references to an Estrella anywhere inside, but there were a number of login names and passwords jotted in his scrawlish handwriting at the back of the book, so Hannah topped up her glass, sat herself at the pc and prepared to do a little private eye work for the remainder of the evening.
First on the list was Friends Reunited, but that did not turn up anyone new or surprising, she had either met or heard of everyone on his list and the majority were school and uni boy chums, all ugly posho’s, self-righteous and obsessed with football, rugby, money or house prices. The only surprise was how much better his mates looked on the old photographs they had uploaded compared to how they appeared in the sagging, pallid flesh. Especially Ian the serial husband. It was no wonder he was on his fourth wife looking at his photograph, although she imagined that his last three wives were more interested in his bank balance and annual bonus than his current looks. Perhaps she caught him on a bad day.
However, what followed shocked her, appalled her, then finally sickened her. There was an email address David had set up that she knew nothing about, a secret Hotmail account from which he sent and received all the emails he did not want her to see, appointments, assignations, glowing memories from far too many women, none of whom appeared to be called Estrella, although there were a couple of sickeningly cutesy girls who called themselves ‘Bunny’ and ‘Minxy’ and even one who insisted on called David ‘My Lord!’
There were links from his hotmail account to what appeared to be a casual sex meeting site called Silk, as well as a few other swinging and S&M partner swap sites. It was horrible. There were also links into several chat rooms, photographs of willing ‘slaves’ and girls in various degrees of nudity.
Hannah angrily deleted everything on the laptop, then reconsidered and restored everything. If that’s what David used to enjoy, then his IT colleagues could enjoy it too.
She was still no closer to discovering Estrella, despite wading through David’s history of depraved filth.
The following morning, Hannah tried explaining to Jenny what she had discovered the previous evening quietly and surreptitiously, whilst Emma and Gemma desperately tried to earwig, their in-depth dissertation of the previous evening’s Emmerdale and Gemmerdale forgotten.
‘What are you two gossiping about over there?’ bellowed Emma as delicately as her thunderous jaws and torso would allow.
‘Mind your own’ snapped Jenny authoritatively. Emma frowned like a confused horse and stared at Gemma to back her up in her quest for truth. And gossip.
‘We don’t have any secrets in this office’ piped Gemma, glancing with interest between Hannah and Jenny. ‘We tell you all our little secrets, in’at right Em?’
‘Whether we want to hear them or not’ spat Jenny, hoping the crude thud of a blunt response would cool their curiosity. Fat chance.
‘Yeh, fairs fair-ahhhh’ wobbled Emma, totally unconcerned with fairness, just desperate whenever she thought that she might be missing out on salacious juice. Hannah stared hard at Jenny, who instantly understood that she did not want the Fattle girls in on anything to do with David.
‘We were just talking about what to have for lunch, if you must know’ insisted Jenny, to an air of disbelief from the fattle girls.
‘We were actually’ said Hannah. ‘Just wondering whether the restaurant would today be able to meet our culinary aspirations’.
‘You what?’ asked Emma in total bewilderment. She glanced at Gemma and together they looked at Hannah with brain meltingly blandness of their uncomprehending stares. Hannah was reminded of magazine articles in quality publications like Hello and Heat where there is a photograph of some young, smiling, pretty girl in a circle to one side of the article, then a photo of her as a mindless, expressionless, vacant blob, a husk of a human being burned out by bad drugs, unable to perform even the most simple of tasks, her face forever frozen into a mongoloid empty drool.
‘What the ‘ell is that?’ asked Gemma.
‘She means she can’t decided between the fish and chips or the cheesy pasta bake’ explained Jenny with a smile, whilst Hannah tried to suppress hers.
‘Oh I know already!’ exclaimed Emma. ‘I’m ‘aving the cheesy bake, mmmm’ she slobbered, rubbing her vast mound of corpulent bellyflesh. Inexplicably, this remark caused Gemma to shriek in a most ear-piercingly unpleasant way and double over laughing. There was hilarity coming, Hannah had seen this type of preamble before.
‘God, that reminds me! Oh, you’re gonna shit yourself at this, Em’ she howled, gurning quite repulsively and clenching her legs together, presumably in an attempt to prevent shitting herself.
‘Go on, go on’ jabbered Emma, almost hopping with the excitement of the tale to follow, such was Gemma’s howling laughter.
‘Oh God, you won't believe it right, but I tried to book a class in the gym the other day’. Jenny and Hannah exchanged doubtful looks, as they had reservations about whether either of the fattle girls ever attended a gym. ‘And the class was being taken by a bloke called Cheeseman!’ She wailed and double over again, her words a barely audible screech.
‘Nahhhhhhhhhh’ replied Emma, joining in the laughing, but thankfully not the screeching.
‘I shit you not! I was telling Gavin and he was like "like a man made of cheese!" and we were both pissing ourselves in the harvestahhhh’. Jenny and Hannah went to get some coffee, leaving the fatheaded fools to their mirth.
Hannah took the anonymity of the Starbucks queue to fill Jenny in on the rest of her discoveries.
‘Bunny!’ exclaimed Jenny a little too loudly and the man ahead of them pretended to check out the lemon muffins so he could sneak a peek at the mad woman standing behind him. ‘What woman in her right mind actually wants to be known as fucking Bunny?’
‘What woman in her right mind turns a blind eye to all her husbands screwing around until she doesn’t really know him anymore?’ replied Hannah sadly.
‘Oh come on, Hann. You don’t want to turn this into an excuse to blame yourself all over again’ sighed Jenny. She knew Hannah could be delicate at the best of times and this was certainly not the best of times. ‘You’re not the one who was fucking around, neglecting his wife, neglecting his daughter, smoking all night and pissing his life up the wall’.
‘No I know, but if I’d been a better-‘.
‘You can drop that shit right now, Hann’ said Jenny harshly. ‘You’re the nicest person I know and David was a shit while he was alive, so don’t turn him into some kind of Gandhi now he’s dead’. They were harsh words and she knew it, but Jenny believed it was time Hannah accepted the truth and accepted her situation, then moved on. She was always too good for David, now it was time to live for herself.
‘God, I’m not doing that! Not after some of the things I’ve seen over the past few weeks’. The man in front of them pretended to be interested in the muffins once more.
‘Oh yeh, sorry. What else was there then?’ Hannah glanced over Jenny’s shoulder at the muffin man, who looked suitably embarrassed as he cleared his throat and edged forwards. Hannah lowered her voice and told Jenny everything.
‘… and he even had a secret Hotmail account with all these photos of nude women and horrible links to these like… websites for sex meetings and swingers clubs and stuff like that’.
‘How disgusting’ said Jenny wrinkling her nose. They were now at the front of the queue and placed their skinny mocha and orange muffin orders, as Hannah continued.
‘I know! And there were these S&M things and chat rooms and these really nasty-‘
‘Don’t tell me anymore’ insisted Jenny, holding up one hand between them and closing her eyes in her ‘idonwannaknow’ face.
‘Well, I was going to delete everything, but then I thought if all his laptop and stuff are going back to his office, I might as well leave it all on there for IT to find’. Jenny’s eyes now slammed open along with her mouth.
‘I did! If they all think he’s such a wonderful bloke, they’ve got a surprise coming’ giggled Hannah and Jenny seemed genuinely impressed.
‘Yeh, you go girl!’
‘And do you know what else I found?’ whispered Hannah conspiratorially.
‘Excuse me ladies’ murmured a silky male voice from behind the two giggling girls. They turned and gasped together, before Jenny started giggling once more.
‘Paul!’ gasped Hannah.
‘As fascinating as your conversation was, I thought it would be ungentlemanly of me to allow you to continue’ he grinned. Hannah blushed and quickly looked to Jenny, then turned back to the counter.
‘How long have you been there?’ demanded Jenny, although despite bringing herself up to her full 5’2” and aggressively pressing her hands to her hips, her smirk somewhat spoiled her angry stance. Paul eyed Hannah’s bottom, then smiled at Jenny.
He leaned towards her and whispered ‘Bunny’.
‘Bastard’ chuckled Jenny, collected her coffee and wandered to the sugar station, trailing in Hannah’s urgent wake.
‘Hannah!’ called Paul as they were almost at the door, blushing red and glowing all the way. Reluctantly she stopped and turned to face him. ‘Muffin?’ he called cheekily, waving the orange delight she had left on the counter. Blushing harder than ever she half-heartedly raced back to the counter and grabbed her muffin.
‘Thank you’ she whispered.
‘Can I buy you lunch, Hannah?’ he asked as she started to turn away.
‘Oh… err… sorry I’m really busy. Sorry’. She edged away, but Paul was eager not to let her go.
‘I haven’t said when yet’ he smiled, causing Hannah’s blush to turn from red to a shining crimson.
‘Oh. Sorry, gotta rush, sorry’ she blustered and headed towards a giggling Jenny at the door.
‘I’ll email you’ he shouted, but Hannah was out of the door as fast as her heels would allow. Paul smiled and ordered whilst picturing Hannah’s arse.
‘Oh God!’ wailed Hannah as she and Jenny walked back to the office. ‘How embarrassing!’
‘It wasn’t that embarrassing’ laughed Jenny.
‘You think?’ asked Hannah sarcastically, momentarily silenced as she and Jenny entered the building by the swing doors. ‘The colleague who has chatted me up and felt me up hears me telling my friend that my dead husband was into prostitutes, swinging and bondage and died thinking of another woman, although at least that woman wasn’t called Bunny?’
‘Hmmmm I see what you mean’. The lift pinged and they entered quickly, pressing the 7th floor button urgently before anyone else had the chance to join them, to enable them a few more seconds yab time. ‘Hang on though, it really isn’t that embarrassing, is it?’
‘Oh come on, Jen’.
‘No, really. Think about it, your dead husband was a bit of a perv, so what? Try seeing it from a man’s point of view. Your husband killed himself and was a selfish bastard who shagged other women, surfed for porn, paid you no attention and was into kinky sex’. Jenny smiled and nudged Hannah who was either stupid or had completely missed the point.
‘Urhh-hherrr’ said Jenny in her best mong voice. ‘Soooo, he’s thinking that he fancies you-‘.
‘Obviously’ smiled Hannah.
‘Obviously’. The lift opened and they walked back to their desks as slowly as possible. ‘So he thinks that you are desperate for attention, desperate for a bit of fun and as long as he’s attentive, charming and funny, he stands a good chance’.
‘Are there men who are always attentive, charming and funny?’
‘Yep, they’re the married or gay ones’.
‘David used to be attentive and funny’ she mused as they sat down, in the middle of a heated Em & Gem discussion about who they would most like to fuck out of Big Brother.
‘Yeh, about ten years ago’ said Jenny softly.
‘E’s well lush and I bet e’s well up for it as well’ gurgled Emma.
‘I’d the skinhead one, ‘e looks like e’d appreciate a real woman’ said Gemma.
Hannah pursed her lips at her and tried to shut out the fattle girls as she thought about how charming and funny David had been. In the beginning. The day they met he had asked her out, but she had said no because she was kind of, sort of seeing someone else. She was actually fucking a married man in the office and kept all her evenings free in case he could get away for a few hours. So stupid.
When she saw him in the same pub the following week, he was with a group of men from his office and she was with three men and a couple of girls from hers. She smiled and accidentally went to the bar just as he did.
‘Hi!’ she sang, so sweet in her surprise at seeing him.
‘Hi’ he smiled. ‘Hannah, right?’ Ahhh he remembered.
‘That’s right! How are you?’ she could hear her own voice inside her head and knew she was being too loud, too friendly and too interested. She needed to turn it down a little.
‘Not bad, thanks. You?’
‘Oh I’m fine, thank you!’ Her head was screaming TURNITDOWN TURNITDOWN. ‘Not been up to much, you know’ she said a little softer.
‘Yes, staying in mostly’.
‘Oh’. A barman appeared and David allowed her to be served first. She smiled at him and stared, hoping she could connect to his mind and let him know that she really wanted him to ask her again.
‘Work lunch?’ she asked, flicking her hair back and turning to place her elbow against the bar, so she was face to face with the handsome man she had stupidly turned down.
‘Something like that’ he grinned, then looked her up and down. Or rather down then up. ‘What about you? You all dressed up just for me or having a working lunch?’ Hannah tried to keep her over enthusiastic laugh down below the level of a cackle.
‘What this old thing?’ she joked. ‘It’s a lunch, but there’s not much work going on’.
‘Fifteen thirty-five please’ droned the barman, but Hannah did not notice him.
‘What is it you do again?’ she asked David as the barman looked at her with annoyance. David looked at the barman, then back to Hannah.
‘I’m erm… sort of in publishing’ he muttered, then looked to the barman again.
‘Oh really! That sounds interesting! More interesting than my job anyway!’ she cackled.
‘I err… I think he wants paying?’ asked David nodding towards the barman. At first Hannah thought this was a saucy innuendo she had never heard before and smiled her best sexy grin, but then realised he meant the barman and reluctantly coughed up, blushing slightly, then scooping up the tray of drinks and turning from the bar.
‘See you later then!’ she sang and walked away with an oompahpah hoping he was watching, but a little sad that he had not been as cheeky and suggestive with her as he had been on their first meeting.
An hour later they almost walked into each other at the top of the stairs leading down to the toilets with a pair of ‘oops’ and smiles.
‘Sorry’ chuckled Hannah with another blush.
‘Not quite the way I wanted to bump into you’ he smiled. Hannah backed up a couple of steps to allow David to pass. ‘Have you reconsidered letting me take you out sometime?’ he smiled and her heart flew into a flock of starlings.
‘Maybe’ she grinned. ‘As long as you make it next week’. He smiled a devilishly, gorgeous smile and produced a business card and pen from his jacket pocket.
‘Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you tomorrow’ he smarmed. She flushed, wrote away her future and descended to the ladies on a cloud of excitement.
He rang the following day and they met the same night.
FOUR WEEKS AD
Paul had emailed and asked her out to lunch. She had made an excuse about work and he had not replied. The following Monday he emailed her again. Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? It made her smile, but she wasn’t ready to go gallivanting off with the first man who showed an interest and fuck her life up all over again. She replied she was going swimming.
On Tuesday, Paul emailed again. Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? She smiled again and admired his resolve, but again made an excuse.
On Wednesday it came again. Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? She replied that she had a class at lunchtime and this time the excuse was true.
When the Thursday Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? appeared in her inbox, she giggled and felt she had kept him waiting long enough. Doggedness deserved some kind of reward, she thought, so allowed herself to be taken to the Rose for a drink and a sarnie.
Paul met her in reception then they walked to the pub together as he told a rambling and amusing story about how his feet have minds of their own.
‘I’m fine until I try to dance or walk somewhere the feet don’t want to go’ he smiled, suddenly veering off in a different direction and looking back at her plaintively, then mocking panic and waving his hands in the air. She giggled and he jogged to her side, just in time to reach the door of the Rose.
‘Bag of nuts?’ he asked at the bar.
‘Glass of red and a cheese salad sandwich please’ she giggled. Paul ordered and joined her at a small table under the dartboard with a glass of wine, pint and bag of nuts.
‘Felt like I should get some anyway’ he smiled.
They drank two drinks and Paul insisted on buying both, while they nattered away and the hour flew by. On the way back to the office, he asked what she was doing at the weekend.
‘Oh not much. Got an estate agent round to value the house on Saturday morning and taking Georgie to a farm on Sunday’ she replied.
‘Fancy coming out with me on Saturday night, then?’ he asked. The invitation took her completely by surprise and she stammered a line of ‘errm’s and ‘ah’s.
‘It’s a bit too ahh… too soon for me, Paul’ she said apologetically. Paul smiled and nodded.
‘No worries, just asking’ he grinned. ‘Here’s my number if you change your mind’ he said passing her a business card. ‘My home number’s on the back. I came prepared’.
She left him at the lift and spent the afternoon daydreaming and wondering.
She was disappointed not get a Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? on Friday morning, but imagined the brush off she had given him may have put him off asking her again.
Hannah spent Friday evening going through David’s books, shaking each one open in case there were hidden notes within, putting to one side any she wanted to keep or read and piling the others against the dining room wall ready to be packed off to Oxfam, where she had become something of a regular over the past few weeks.
Once she was done, the Oxfam pile was considerable and the keep pile numbered precisely eleven. Hannah bathed Georgia and put her to bed with a story David had once told her about motor racing bears, then poured herself a glass of wine, slipped on her slippers and pyjamas, switched on the radio and began reading through David’s diaries. She had managed to find them all with the exception of the current year, which was a little suspicious.
She resisted the temptation to open any from the years prior to their meeting and began with the date he had asked her out. She was disappointed to discover that this momentous occasion had not warranted a mention. In it’s place was some dull guff about work, lunch and a book he was reading at the time that Hannah had never heard of. This pissed her off enormously as she remembered the date and the day by heart. She did however rate an entire page for their first date where David drooled how beautiful, sexy and adorable she was. Hannah had to put the diary down at the end of that day and reach for the tissues.
By the time she had reached the end of the second bottle, it was after 1am and she had poured through their first four years together, an abundance of forgotten memories tumbling from the pages of David’s diaries, interspersed with occasional embarrassments and indecipherable code, stupid little cartoons and the odd, irrational rant. It was strange reading of shared moments from David’s perspective and his version of disagreements or arguments they had endured were wildly different from her points of view.
His proposal was trumpeted proudly and their wedding was an orgy of happy memories. The year after their wedding however, took a less amusing turn.
‘Men!’ she had spat in either disbelief, ridicule or amusement at several moments throughout the evening. It was in their third year together that the first ‘other woman’ appeared, at least openly. A colleague Hannah remembered as being absolutely certain had a thing for David at the time, but which he always laughed off whenever she mentioned her. Now she discovered that they had indeed been having an affair, an affair that lasted over four months and included sex in two meeting rooms in their offices, in the ladies toilets, a cleaning cupboard grope session and a post pub blowjob at his desk.
‘Bastard!’ she swore several times throughout the third year. The fourth diary ended with the horrible memory of the New Year’s Eve party at Alison and Jerry’s. She had been ill with flu all over Christmas and had not treated David too well, mostly down to her rotten condition and frustration at wasting the week lying in bed. David had tried to be nice to her and look after her, but she had snapped at him and shouted at him quite a few times and David had gone off in a sulk more than once.
She had been feeling better on the 30th and was out of bed, but the simmering from earlier in the week had continued and they had argued once more and slept separately.
David wrote that he suggested missing the NYE party and blaming her flu, although what he really meant by that was missing the party and blaming her. She insisted they would go, so go they did, although they rode in the cab over there in complete silence.
Whether it was the after-effects of her flu or the desire to drink away the frustration of her arguments with David, but Hannah was very drunk, very quickly. So quickly in fact that she was on her knees vomiting into the toilet by 1030. She vaguely remembered staggering downstairs to David, smelling of sick and teary, then Jenny driving her home and putting her to bed.
David remembered the incident a little more viciously in his diary. Another day in paradise! Spent the day on the pc trying to finish the Radford proposal, while Hannah sulked all day sniffing and coughing ostentatiously whenever she wandered past. Bollocks to her, the way she’s been this week, she can make the 1st move this time.
Tonite to Alison & Jez for NYE. Another waste of time. Hannah was necking em and flirting with everything in trousers (cept mine, natch), draping herself over Alan and Phil then chucking up in the lav by 1030. What a state the stupid cow was in. Lucky for me that Jenny offered to take her home, leaving me to get guilt-free pissed on my own.
Got a bit too tanked and made a grab for Jenny at midnight, but she wasn’t having any of it, despite me pretending to be pissed, so strike her off the list. There was a surprise in the offing just after 1 tho while I was in A&J’s spare room trying to find my coat, Alison wandered in and asked for a NY kiss. After a couple of mins she dragged me into her spare room and started noshing me off! Well happy new year to you too, Al! was too pissed to come, so ended up fucking her on her & J’s bed. V naughty, but v nice. Will have to revisit that particular thrill on a more sober nite. Luckily J was hammered downstairs with the stickers.
Hannah was zonked and wasted by the time I got home and the bedroom stunk of sick, so I crashed on the sofa.
‘Bastard!’ she spat again and felt the tears welling up behind the wine, but would shed no more tears over him. Alison was another matter that she would have to deal with once she had finished with all his diaries.
The following morning, she drove Georgia to her parents house through a fug of a red wine hangover, then drove back alone to coffee and toast her way through the remainder of the diaries while she waited for the estate agent. Her mind wandered onto a fantasy of a super dishy EA with a sharp suit, sharper smile and 6pack to die for wanting to give more than her bedroom a through survey, but the headache and memories of David’s diaries drove those thoughts away.
From the 5th to the 9th year, the diaries began to hold less happy memories, more periods of blank pages or details of unease, arguments, silences, affairs, flirtations and bilious anger.
Midway through the 9th year, the estate agent arrived. He was bald, greasily unpleasant, 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Hannah answered his questions as briefly as possible, made him a coffee and left him to wander the house while she went back to her reading. By the time the agent had shook her hand and left, Hannah felt in need of some cleansing, so went for a swim and a sauna in the gym, then returned home to have a soak with some water and Classic FM.
She finished her weekend exhausted after cleaning the house and taking Georgia to the farm, but still had enough left in her to finish David’s diaries and wonder where he might have hidden the current year. Or even whether he might have left it with Estrella.
FIVE WEEKS AD
Hannah went to work on Monday morning in a morose mood, Georgia had a cold and had to go to her mother’s for the day, whining, sniffing and snotting all the way, Spam was in barkalot mode, it was cold and drizzly and there was an increasing amount of David mail that needed her attention. She was not yet quite in the right mood to deal with cancelling bank accounts and credit cards and the like. She had checked David’s balance and was gratified to discover there was more than enough money coming her way to deal with his outstanding bills, but it was still a dirty job she was not looking forward to. And David’s only living relative, his brother, had appeared at the funeral, barely spoken to Hannah and slipped silently away afterwards, so hopefully that was the last she was ever going to see of him. At least he looked nothing like David, so there were no double-take moments during the funeral, but Alan seemed peeved that she was not crying and howling like a Palestinian mother throughout. She thought David was bad enough, but when it came to the misery stakes, Alan was a Benedictine monk in a Big Brother crowd.
To make matters worse once she arrived at the office, Emma had the day off and Gemma wanted Hannah to hear all about her dullard weekend. Hannah tried to shut her up politely by going for a coffee, then getting some stationery, then going for a poo, but eventually had to tell her to shut up politely, which set Gemma into a strop, but at least made the office quiet. Then it popped into her inbox.
Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts?
She grinned and replied a little too eagerly, ‘Yes please!’ A flash of light into her murky Monday darkness.
‘Nice weekend?’ asked Paul cheerily in the Rose a couple of hours later, sipping at his pint then tearing open the bag of peanuts on the table before them, as the open fire of the Rose along with the warmth of Paul’s humour and attentions warmed Hannah through.
‘Shit, thanks’ she replied, equally cheerily, then proceeded to tell Paul all about it, but leaving out the part about flirting and puking at the New Year’s Eve party. Paul’s smile gradually dropped throughout the story until he was gaping at her.
‘So there you go’ she finished cheerily. ‘How was your weekend?’
‘Erm. Uneventful compared to yours’ he replied, as a flicker of a smile reappeared on his face, testing the waters to see whether a smile would be appreciated.
‘How’s your little girl taking it all? Georgia, isn’t it?’ he asked as he took three large gulps of lager heading for the bottom of his glass. Hannah watched him and wondered whether he worked out or just held in his stomach.
‘She’s fine, thanks. Bit of a cold at the moment, though’ she muttered and finished her wine. ‘Well done remembering her name, though, I am impressed’ she smiled.
‘Ah, I used to be Enormo, the memory man in another life’ he chuckled, then told a very silly mystic Red Indian joke, that Hannah felt wasn’t that funny but laughed anyway, mainly due to his ridiculous telling. He was beginning to weedle into her affections and the least he deserved so far was for her to put her hand in her pocket.
‘Another beer?’ Paul shook his head and started to get to his feet. ‘Listen here mister, if you won’t take a drink from me, I won’t come out again’.
‘Well… in that case’ he smiled and sat back down.
‘Lager then is it?’ Paul nodded dumbly, then watched her wiggle nicely to the bar of the Rose and order. The barman was eyeing her anyway and served her immediately and with the sort of sickly sweet smile Paul began to think he was flashing her way whenever he saw her. So there was nothing unique or unusual about him, it was just the way men were when faced with a beautiful woman.
She returned and they chatted for a while before Paul decided it was worth asking again.
‘Do you fancy coming out with me one night this week? For something?’
‘Do you mean going to the pub?’
‘Yeh!’ he smiled enthusiastically.
‘Hmm not really’ she replied, as his enthusiasm was shot down ruthlessly. ‘I’m not really a sitting in the pub all night kind of girl’. Paul felt deflated, as he was exactly the sitting in the pub kind of man, but tried not to show it.
‘Pictures then?’ he offered hopefully, temporarily flummoxed by the object of his desires agreeing in principle to a date, then crushing his hopes with her no pub rule. ‘Or you could let me buy you dinner? Or cook you dinner orrrr… orrr…’.
‘Or the Brodsky Quartet on Wednesday?’
‘Or the Brodsky Quartet on Wednesday?’ he repeated with a grin.
‘Well… if you could get tickets, I’d love to go…’ she smiled.
Hannah was back at her desk for less than half an hour when the email came through. Lunch? Beer? Bag of nuts? Brodsky Quartet? Tickets booked, meet you in the Ship at 7 on weds?
She grinned and answered an enthusiastic yes, then beckoned Jenny over to have a read. Jenny read the mail with wide eyes and wider mouth, then looking at Hannah for confirmation of what she had read, slapped her on the shoulder with an excited ‘Yes!’
‘Happy now?’ asked Hannah. ‘Now you’ve set me up?’
‘Hardly set you up, Hann’ smirked Jenny. ‘Just pushed you in the right direction’.
‘And what makes you think that Pa… err… that he is the right direction?’ whispered Hannah, keeping a careful eye on the flapping radar ears of the fattle.
‘Your fairy godmother knows all’ she replied and went back to her desk with a grin. Hannah had decided not to tell Jenny about the note in David’s diary about trying it on with her or that she knew that Jenny had turned him down. That was an unnecessary conversation she did not want to have. She’d had enough unpleasantness over the past few weeks.
On Wednesday, Hannah was nervous and excited and slightly sick about seeing Paul. It was an evening, an evening outside work, just the two of them. This was a date and she not been on a proper date for over twelve years. What if she forgot how to behave? What if he tried to drag her back to his place? What if he was dull and boring or worse? What if he found her dull and boring and didn’t try to snog her head off or drag her back to his place? She didn’t know which was worse.
Cool, cool, cool, she thought as she went into the pub. Paul was sitting at the edge of the bar nearest the door, bless him, making sure she didn’t have to wander around searching for him. He gave her a kiss on the cheek as she walked to him and she allowed him to, whilst wondering how early he had been. They had a drink and a quick, slightly awkward small talk chat, the kind she had forgotten existed, the kind where you want to fall into a man’s arms and eyes and tell him everything about you and listen to everything about him, the kind where she talked too much without saying anything and listened without actually taking in what he was saying while she gazed at his eyes and tried not to look at his package and wondered what sort of kisser he was, what sort of fuck he was and how he was on sleepy Sunday mornings.
The concert was lovely and there was time for another drink afterwards before grabbing a cab. He insisted the cab go to hers first, partly so he could see where she lived, then he gave her a proper kiss for the first time before she jumped out. It was a good kiss, deep and slow, a very good kiss. Shame it was only the one, she hadn’t been kissed like that for years.
Paul made the cabbie wait until she had reached her front door. It had been a very nice evening and like a greedy girl, she wanted some more.
On the following Saturday, Paul took her out for dinner and it was a much nicer, more relaxed conversation. Afterwards, he asked her to come back to his, but she refused. He asked to come to hers and again she refused.
‘I won’t try anything, honest’ he insisted, which made Hannah wonder why he wanted to. They weren’t teenagers, they were not going to spend a few hours snogging, they both knew that.
‘I’ve heard that before somewhere’ she teased. Paul looked earnest.
‘I won’t honestly, not if you don’t want to, I just, you know…’
‘Yeh, I know alright’ she laughed.
‘Well… no, not exactly, well… I mean yes obviously, sooner or later, but not now, I mean not… er… oh bollocks, I mean it sounds a bit wanky but I want to get to know you’. Hannah laughed aloud and Paul looked self-conscious. ‘Well, I did say it sounded wanky’ he muttered. Hannah laughed again, then leaned over and kissed him. The sort of kiss he had given her.
‘I’m sorry. I just don’t want to rush into anything’. He smiled and nodded and tried his luck with another kiss, which Hannah was happy to go along with.
However, she stuck to her guns grittily, so again they took a cab back to hers and again Paul kissed her deliciously, but she stopped there and entered her home alone, but as she slipped into bed that night, she wondered. She spent a good deal of time wondering, in fact. She wondered where this little adventure with Paul was going, she wondered how Georgie would react to a man in the house, she wondered whether he would lose interest immediately, quickly or eventually, she wondered what he looked like naked and finally she spent some time wondering why he was even interested in her in the first place.
There were better looking women in the world, that much was damn fine sure as mustard and she was certain that a great number of them did not had a three-year old daughter in tow. There were better looking, younger women in the world, that was something to bear in mind, too. She did not really know too much about Paul anyway. She guessed he was about her age, but he had one of those faces that was hard to gauge his age. Gauge his age, she liked that phrase. He could have been five years younger or ten years older.
Hannah lay in bed cursing her lack of intuitive and nitty-gritty questions when they had been together. Was he divorced? Where did he live? Why was he interested in her? This was the most puzzling, for although she was enjoying his company enormously, she was certain that a man of his looks and earnings could easily find someone better than her, without the undoubted baggage she was going to bring to any relationship. She tried convincing herself that men were unfathomable and that he just fancied her and she should be happy with that, but as she fell asleep, the doubts remained.
Meanwhile, alone in his bed, Paul lie awake, staring at the ceiling thinking of her piercing grey eyes, her wiggling hips, her gorgeous arse, her beautiful lips, the husky chuckle in her laugh, the sway in her walk, the curve of her calves, her dazzling smile…
The following Saturday, Georgia’s little friend Amy was having a party at the Wacky Warehouse and Georgie had recovered amazingly quickly now there was no school, so Amy’s mum collected her before lunch and Hannah had the house to herself again. She had taken David’s books to Oxfam and boxed his diaries into the loft. The only thing she had left to wipe out David from the house for good was his music. She had already boxed up all his old vinyl stuff and taken it to a record shop in Notting Hill the previous weekend and was astonished to be offered £620 for the lot. £620! What a result. That would be a nice little weekend away for her and Georgie, a nice breath of fresh air for both of them.
All that was left were the CD’s. She made herself a nice coffee and started separating them into 4 piles: Jazz, Keep, Ebay, Other.
All the jazz crap was plopped onto one corner of the dining table. This would be disposed of as a job lot on eBay, no question. Whatever happened in the future, she was never going to be get involved with a man who liked fucking jazz again.
The keeps were easy, as they were the ones she sort of liked or liked a track or two and wanted to add to her collection. She would mix them all into her CD’s in different places to make them meld into hers.
The Ebay pile was the sort of stuff that David loved and she hated, but thought other oddballs would pay her a few quid for, stuff like Radiohead and Oasis and Franz Ferdinand, stuff she would never listen to in a million years.
Finally there was the other pile. This was finally reduced to about 60 CD’s and were all of bands she had never heard of. The plan was to go through each on eBay and see if they were being sold off by anyone else, whilst listening to a track or two in case they caught her ear.
A few of the CD’s still had receipts stuck inside the covers and one had a note, which Hannah eagerly tore open. It was from another woman, naturally.
Thanks big boy, love Julia.
Bitch. Bastard. Hannah angrily smashed the CD on the arm of her chair until it shattered, then cursed her silly temper and got the hoover out. She threw the case in the bin and armed with a fresh coffee, sat at the pc with the Other pile at her feet to see whether there were any buyers for the strange rubbish David liked to listen to.
She slid the first into the CD player and hit Play. The cacophonous racket that shot from the speakers told her instantly she was never going to be a fan of the Pixies, whoever they were, so removed the CD and flicked through the Other pile, finding and removing one other CD and separating it from the pile.
The next CD was much more melodious and Hannah found herself quite enjoying it as she checked her emails. After a few minutes, she sorted through the Other pile and removed all the House of Love CD’s and put them into her Keep pile.
Over the next hour she discovered that she did not like the White Stripes, Sonic Youth, the Wedding Present, Battles, the Strokes or Muse either and all went into the No pile heading for a happy new owner via eBay.
The next CD on the pile was by another band she had never heard of called Cinerama. The cover had an old aeroplane propeller on the front with clouds beneath it. Hannah liked the cover and slipped the CD into the player.
The first track started and Hannah quite liked it. She had just started putting the jazz stack onto eBay and gleefully set an initial asking price of 99p. Whatever the Cinerama track was Hannah was enjoying it. She was enjoying it so much she reached down for the CD case and lifted it from the top of the Other pile on the floor. The track was called And When She Was Bad, which made her smile, as she had been having bad thoughts all day. Naughty thoughts about what fun she might get up to with Paul next time they met, lots more kissing and a lot less clothes sort of fun.
But then her guilty conscience had kicked it once again and she began to think of David. As the days and weeks went by, she was starting to remember him less as sprawled on the bloody shed floor with the back of his head missing and more as he had been when they had first met, when he had been happy and handsome, cool and charming.
She missed him. She missed him and it surprised her that she missed him. But then she realised that she had been missing him for several years, as the David she fell in love with, the David she married had long gone. For too long he had been a walking reminder, a slightly older, slightly chunkier version of the David she used to know, used to love.
She snapped herself from her daydream and stared out of the window into the garden. It had started to rain and the grass and bushes had begun to glisten in the grey light, heavy raindrops plopping onto the leaves causing them to dance in the rain, puddles quickly forming on the path, pinged and ringed with the falling drops. David liked the rain. Hannah was a sun lover, she liked a good tan, loved to lie on the beach or in the garden reading a good book. Perhaps she was seeing more to David than there had ever really been? Perhaps she just fancied him and imagined there was more to him than the cheating, lying, miserable bastard he finally became.
Track two started on the CD and Hannah did not like it as much as the previous track. She looked at the case on her lap to see that the track was called Two Girls. She was just about to eject the CD and put it in the Keep pile when she noticed the title of track three.
She stared at the word for a few moments unable to believe her eyes. The word that had tortured and taunted her for weeks was suddenly sitting in her lap.
Her heart was racing and her hand shaking as she reached for the remote and skipped onto track three. She listened to it, then skipped back and listened again.
She could make out most of the lyrics but wanted to see them. She tore open the CD cover with shaking fingers, but unlike most CD’s there were no lyrics reprinted inside.
Hannah cursed, then realised she was still sitting at the pc and quickly opened up Google and searched for Cinerama+Estrella+lyrics. The first site she opened had the lyrics in full.
She played the song once more and read along.
The wind has died and your tears have dried
But you're still not angry with me
Estrella please, don't just forgive me
I wish you weren't so understanding when I've told you lies
Why do you still believe these alibis?
Because you must know by now, something is wrong, somehow
And I thought by being sleazy
That I could, well, just make this easy
So why does your voice still sound so trusting when you ask me why
Why don't you doubt me when I say I'll try?
Because believe me, you should leave me
You're making it too hard
How can you disregard
What I'm doing, what I'm pursuing?
I don't know what you want to do
But I am not the man for you
You've never found out if I sleep around
But that's because you haven't even tried to
You don't even know when you're being lied to
I can't believe you don't suspect some slight adultery
You must see that you're much too good for me
Because believe me, you should leave me
You're making it too hard
How can you disregard
What I'm doing, who I'm pursuing?
I don't know what you want to do
But I am not the man for you
Oh, yes believe me, yes, you should leave me
You're making it too hard
How can you disregard
What I'm doing, who I've been screwing?
I don't know what you want to do
But I am not the man for you
The track ended and Hannah stared at the CD case gripped tightly in her hand. This was it. This is what he wanted her to find. She knew how his mind worked and he knew how she would methodically go through everything piece by piece until she came to this moment. It was probably why he had hidden or even destroyed his diary, so she would not read it and discover what he had been up to over the past few months.
So after all her searching Estrella didn’t even exist! She was just a cryptic clue to the puzzle. She could scarcely believe it. Not only he had committed suicide in her garden shed, blown his worthless brains all over her sun loungers, but he had done it because he was too much of a coward to divorce her! Too much of a coward even to tell her.
‘You WANKER!’ she screamed, throwing the CD case across the room. It hit the rubber tree pot and fell into pieces with a disappointingly small crack. ‘YOU FUCKING WANKER!’
Hannah jumped to her feet and began aimlessly stomping around the room, screaming and kicking over the piles of CD’s, furious in her anger and desperate for something to take it out on. If only she could see David once more, she thought she would smash the fucking bastard’s treacherous face in.
After a few minutes she stormed into the garden and stood in the rain. The tears in her eyes were tears of fury, not of sadness. She thought of the wasted years she had spent with him and of the wasted weeks since he had died worrying about what she could have done, how she could have saved him and her marriage.
Now she had her catharsis. Any lingering shred of love or respect she had for David had now been taken away. She stood in the rain until she was drenched and shivering. How could he do this to her? After all the years she had put up with him and his ridiculous screwing around? All the shit she had taken from him over the years and even in death he had to fuck with her mind like this.
And what if she hadn’t noticed the CD? What if she had never found Estrella? The name would have irked her for the rest of her days, haunted the back of her mind, wandering into her dreams as svelte, slinky and beautiful women, draped on his arm, his face and his worthless dick. She was stunned, stunned by this final betrayal, this final act of cowardice. She shook her head in the rain, stunned, angry and disappointed. You were a worthless husband, a useless father and now you’re a waste of a corpse, a waste of a life, she thought. She stood in the rain and stared sightlessly.
Eventually she came inside and went straight to the hall to rifle through her bag. She then sat at the phone and dialled.
‘Hi Paul, it’s Hannah’.
‘Hannah! Hi!’ he seemed genuinely surprised and excited to hear his voice, which was just what she wanted to hear. ‘What’s up? Didn’t expect to hear from you today! Not that this isn’t a nice surprise, because it is, it’s just that I thought, well I didn’t think exactly, but I sort of thought that-‘
‘Nothing’s up’ she replied smoothly. ‘Nothing at all. I was just wondering whether you’d like to come over for dinner tonight?’
‘Tonight? Well I did have a shirt to iron and a shower to have, so my evening’s pretty full, you know’. Hannah giggled and warned him this was a take it or leave it offer. ‘I’ll take it! I’ll take it!’.
‘Brilliant! See you then’.
‘Got a pen? I can give you the address’.
‘After two cabs, I think I can remember, Hann’ he smarmed. ‘See you then’.
‘Great’ she smiled and quickly put the phone down.
Whatever David was trying to achieve with his stupid little games, Hannah didn’t care anymore. She was starting her life again, her life after David.
And she was starting tonight.