Home > The Good Samaritan(4)

The Good Samaritan(4)
Author: John Marrs

With tins and packets placed inside the cupboards – the labels facing forward, and arranged in accordance of light colours to dark – I took a bag of frozen chicken breasts and stuffed them into a crammed fridge to defrost for tomorrow night. I unboxed a Victoria sponge, stuck my knife into a jar of jam and smeared some around the sides, then put a little more icing sugar on the top left-hand side than the right to make it look less perfect. I held up and examined a pair of jeans belonging to Zoe, one of my younger colleagues, who’d asked me to replace a broken zip. ‘No problem,’ I’d told her. ‘Give me a couple of days.’

To the End of the Line team I was a superwoman, a devoted mum-of-three who could turn her hand to any task, from repairing a jacket pocket to reupholstering a chair. But I knew little about baking or sewing – that’s what supermarkets and tailors were for. And no one I worked with needed to know that I outsourced my pastries and repairs.

A yawn caught me by surprise – it was only approaching four o’clock but it felt like much later in the day. The kids would have been let out of school by now, and Tony finished work in a couple of hours. So I poured myself a large glass of red wine while I had the opportunity, and sank into the armchair next to the bifold doors overlooking the patio and garden. I gazed out across the lawn, beyond the beds of brightly coloured lupins and peonies, towards the wooden fence and the flat, grassy playing fields.

When the first of the children arrived two years into our marriage, Tony often reminded me to make the most of my ‘me’ time where and when I could get it. Now they were older, I had too much ‘me’ time to fill, especially in this house, the one he’d made us move to. I’d been more than content in our last home, but Tony was insistent that once we made it onto the property ladder, we must keep climbing.

I inhaled the floral scent coming from a jasmine reed diffuser and glanced around the open-plan room. We’d knocked the kitchen, living and dining rooms into one large living space. I’d overseen the landscaping of the garden, the internal remodelling, the replastering and redecorating, and I knew every inch of the place like the back of my hand. Everything was just how Tony had envisaged it. Yet it felt alien to me.

‘We’ll only need to stay here a couple of years,’ he’d explained. ‘Once all the work is done and we can make a tidy profit, we can move on.’

But we hadn’t moved on. It had been three years and I was still sitting in the same living area.

I finished my wine and gave a sly smile as I stepped on the cat’s tail, causing him to spit and run. Upstairs, the bathroom door and the kids’ bedroom doors were shut, so I made sure they were ajar. They knew there were no closed doors in my house.

I peered into Alice’s room first. Her walls were still adorned with pink, sparkly paper and covered in posters of pop stars and TV personalities, like most nine-year-olds’ rooms were. But she was growing up fast and I was already feeling the apron strings tugging as she began to pull away. It wouldn’t be long before her thoughts became polluted with boys, make-up, and clothes that were tight in all the wrong places.

Effie’s bedroom showed the difference in their ages. Pictures of YouTube and Instagram stars I didn’t know the names of were affixed around a mirror and taped to her door in collages. She’d printed out photos of her friends, too, all of them featuring small gangs of overly made-up girls sucking their cheeks in so tightly they must’ve met in the centre of their mouths and pouting. Tummies were also held in, to make them look even skinnier than fourteen-year-old girls already are.

Effie’s confidence had grown and she was aware she was beginning to catch the eyes of boys her own age, along with men who had no business looking at young girls. Once upon a time, they used to look at me like that. Now it was as if I didn’t exist. I couldn’t help but hate her a little for it. She was like a vampire, sucking the beauty and vibrancy from me and keeping it for herself.

She was also keeping secrets from me, so I had to learn about my daughter’s private life by other means instead. I sat on her bed, switched on my mobile phone and clicked on the Facebook app. She still hadn’t changed her login password so I checked her inbox. Most of the messages were from her friends. Occasionally boys’ names appeared but the subjects were innocuous, with the exception of one.

She seemed keen on a boy called Thom, who was pictured behind the wheel of a small blue car that he’d obviously spent time and money trying to make look sporty. In another, he’d sent Effie his photo, lifting his T-shirt and revealing his bare belly. I remembered when Tony’s stomach had been as flat and smooth as that. I’d watched him in his swimming shorts from the shallow end of the school pool, imagining how it might feel to run my fingertips across him. Like velvet. When he caught me staring, he grinned and I swiftly turned my head to hide my reddening face. But the way he looked at me . . . the way he tilted his head, the way his eyes widened, the way the corners of his lips unfurled when he smiled . . . I knew that if I remained patient, he’d approach me and eventually he’d be mine. I always get what I set my sights on.

Effie had matched Thom’s picture like for like, only with her bra poking out from under her rolled-up T-shirt. I bristled.

The door to the third bedroom was the only one I left closed. One day I might venture in there, but not yet. I wasn’t ready yet.

I changed from my skirt and blouse into a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. I’d only bought them recently and I was struggling to button them up. And when I finally managed it, I looked down in dismay at my paunchy stomach perched upon the waistband like a fat pigeon bowing the branch of a tree. My thrice-weekly hot yoga classes and two swims weren’t doing to my figure what the posters on the gym wall promised. I wondered if there was any part of my body that Tony still found attractive. If there was, he’d never thought to mention it.

I glanced in the mirror at the prematurely ageing woman looking back at me. My dark roots were beginning to show through my honey-blonde highlights, and my once-prominent cheekbones appeared to have slipped down my face to create an avalanche of jowls. My light brown eyes with their youthful shine didn’t belong to this face.

I’d hoped the stress of ovarian cancer and chemotherapy had only damaged where people couldn’t see, but I’d been kidding myself. I was dead on the inside and decaying on the outside. Even now, over a year later, the impact was still revealing itself through my face. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be forced to ask one of the plastic school-gate mums for the number of their Botox and fillers clinic. The injections plus tooth veneers and the contact lenses for my nearsightedness meant there’d be very little left of the original me soon. Maybe Tony would prefer that.

I poured my third and fourth tablets of the day from the bottle of aspirin I kept in the bathroom cabinet, and swallowed them without water. Tony had no idea what the bottle actually contained – slimming tablets not approved for sale in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I’d ordered them from an online Eastern European pharmacy instead. They bound my fat and helped me lose weight quickly, but the side effects were crippling stomach cramps and oily diarrhoea. It was a small price to pay if it meant Tony might look at me again like he’d done that day in the swimming pool.

By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, the paperboy was cramming the local newspaper through the letterbox. I hurried my way through it, past the news and the property pull-outs until I found the pages I was searching for.

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