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Will she, won't she? Has she, hasn't she? Catch up the latest breathless installment.

‘Sorry.’ I tell Ian. And kiss him one last time.

I feel his gaze on my back as I walk off. But I don’t turn round. I instruct my legs to keep going. They do as they’re told.

There’d been this woman in the Bible. Married like me. Who looked back, full of longing and regret. Because she didn’t want to leave. Then paid a high price. What on earth was her name?

Knowing I could have gone with Ian makes it worse. I was supposed to be partying with a bunch of mates. So Awful Wedded Husband would assume I had crashed out at Poll’s. A more practised woman than me would take her pleasure, and set the alarm for dawn. At which time she’d be sober enough to drive back. My car is still parked outside his place.

I had said to Ian, ‘You know I want to.’

Just two things stopped me.

One was Gemma. There are still days when she’ll come into our bed after she wakes. I can’t bear the idea she might do this and not find me there. Her clear voice asking, ‘Where’s Mum?’

Also there’s a structure I built over thirteen years. Not just round Gemma and Awful Wedded Husband. Dougal and Dalilah too. It had felt unshakeable. But over the last months there has been movement. I know that staying with Ian would rock the foundations.

I am as far as the road next to ours, when I realise I’ve timed this wrong. If I come home now – before midnight - then AWH will be sat in bed reading the newspaper. He’ll lay one of the sections aside, push his reading glasses down his nose and ask why I’m back this early. Did I not have a good time?

I’ll retrace my steps. A walk round the backstreets should clear my head.

We used to have this game called Jenga. Dougal loved playing it. You put up this high tower made of layers of wood. Then, one at a time, you draw the pieces out. No matter how skilful you are there’s a limit to what can be removed. Then there’s this glorious, scary moment comes when everything comes crashing apart.

Going to bed with Ian will be like that.

With each stride the carrier - with half my dinner in – bashes against my leg. I could chuck the bag in the next skip, only it would be a waste. Also if some drunk decides to accost me, I can swing it at him.

Gemma’s off with a girl from school tomorrow. AWH said about mid-day, he’d nip to the office for some catching up. I have a ready-made lunch. I can eat, remember, plan...

Cars and the occasional taxi speed along. But away from the main street the pavements are deserted.

I walk in a ragged circle. By the health centre where they gave me the results of my pregnancy test. Past the hall where I took Gemma to playgroup. Near the restaurant where we celebrated Dougal and Dalilah’s just-about-adequate A-levels.

The temperature’s dropped right down. I’m cold when I could have been warm. Maybe I should laugh. Or else throw my head back and howl at the moon.How can I run off with another man?

I’m in that weird place between waking and sleep.

The not-so-conscious part of me looks from above, watches myself going home with Ian. But I’m unable to pause the dream, or slow it down. I can’t catch hold of what I need to know.

Does Ian keep a pile of books beside his bed? Is he chatty or quiet in the morning? Over breakfast do we listen to radio, as we drink our coffee? Which station?

The details are crucial if I’m to make up my mind.

This dream runs in reverse. Now I am back in the restaurant. Except Matt and Michelle aren’t at their table when I turn to give my order

The short man doesn’t hear my call at first. Then he swings round and his face is my mother’s. Who moves towards me and cackles.

‘You’ve already got what you need…’

I nuzzle my pillow. Crazy, but I’d swear I could smell real garlic, chilli and tomato.

So I reach out for AWH, expecting his curled spine, his skin. That body I know almost everything about.

I stretch right across but can’t touch him.

A ribbon of light gleams beneath the bedroom door. From downstairs I hear a clink, the microwave’s ping.

I sit up. I am fully awake.

‘What on earth are you doing?’

My husband looks up. His knife and fork hover above a steaming plate.

He claims he doesn’t know what I’m on about.

‘And why aren’t you asleep?’

‘I could ask the same of you.’

Our voices are loud. I must lower mine. Although I’d prefer to yell and scream.

‘I was… restless.’

‘Why?’ asks AWH.

I shrug, then go to sit with him.

He selects a prawn – a large prawn – then chomps on it.

‘You pig!’ I say. ‘That was mine.’

‘I didn’t know...’

‘Well who else’s could it have been?’

My husband has another forkful. He says he thought I was going somewhere grand.

‘Me too. But there was a change of plan…’ .

I break off. He stops chewing. There are feet, thumping down the stairs.

Gemma stands at the kitchen threshold. She’s wearing her pale blue pyjamas and she’s scowling .

The cat slips in as well. He pads over and rubs against the table leg.

‘Great!’ I say. ‘Why not have a party? Let’s call the neighbours.’

‘My duvet fell off,’ says Gemma. ‘I heard voices.’

AWH rips at the naan bread to mop his plate.

My daughter comes in further

‘You’re having a midnight feast!’

Not me,’ I protest. ‘Just your Dad.’

‘And you were shouting. What were you shouting about?’

AWH and I say we weren’t.

Gemma asks me to slice some bread so she can put it in toaster.

I tell her she’s not having any bloody toast.

My daughter thinks it is not polite to swear. And it’s cruel to deny her food. Then she sees the cartons.

‘You’ve only gone and got a take-way. After I made supper. Which you said was delicious.’

My husband defends himself by saying I bought out the curry.

I point out that it’s not me who’s scoffing it.

AWH adopts his sternest voice. ‘Go to bed, Gemma.’

Gemma says she will do this on three conditions. First somebody must go now and sort her duvet. Second, we’re both to be upstairs very soon.’

‘And the third?’

‘In the morning one of you has to make pancakes. With maple syrup.’

AWH and I eye each other. He cracks first. Yes, he’ll tuck her in. And he will do
pancakes for breakfast

I listen to their retreat. Only a few smears of sauce and a scrap of bread remain.

Believing I should be there for Gemma made me turn down a night with Ian. Truly, I must be out of my mind.

When AWH comes back he pulls his chair a bit closer. His face is grey and tired.

‘Sorry,’ he says.

Everyone’s sorry. But is he apologising for the jalfrezi? Or something else?

I let out a breath.

‘No. We’re supposed to share. What’s mine is yours. Isn’t that the idea?’

My husband risks a smile.

‘Gemma did cook rather a small supper....’

I nod, trace a fingertip round the edge of the plate

‘By the way … I didn’t bring the car back.’

His smile turns to a grin.

‘Quite a party then?’

‘That’s one way of putting it.’

AWH rests one palm on the table. My fingers are quite near. Almost, we are together.

‘What a life!’ he says.


A silence. Then I yawn.

‘I could drive you to Poll’s.’ he offers. ‘Tomorrow. Or rather today.’


‘You left the car there, didn’t you?’

I squeeze my hands in my lap.

‘No. I mean –I’ll walk. But thanks.’

My husband picks up the cartons. He dumps them in the bin, to lie among old cat food, dust and hair.

Then he returns to my side.

‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Let’s go to bed.’

Read previous installments of Brummy Mummy's exploits here



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