It wasn’t a good day for a fight. Even before it got started, Simon instinctively knew it couldn’t end well.
‘You lying bastard! Five weeks you’ve been hiding it from me? And all that time you’ve been using our savings?’
From the supersonic pitch of her voice and the delirious sparkle in her eyes, it was clear that this was much more than a lovers’ tiff.
Her hand reached for the nearest weapon – a super-sized red mug of cold tea. He’d left it on the side the night before after dragging himself away from the television in a post-midnight stupor. It came sailing across the room at him. He ducked.
‘You bastard!’ she screamed. With strange satisfaction, he noted her limited vocabulary of abuse, although he wasn’t entirely clear as to whether this time she was referring to his errant behaviour or to the dark drops of tea now randomly splattered on the pale wall behind him.
‘I suppose I’ll have to clean up, as usual!’
It was highly unfair of her, he thought, given that he did most of the housework, and he could hardly be blamed for dodging. But she didn’t seem to care. It was a woman’s eternal right to claim the heavy burden of tending home, whether it was a fact or not.
She looked around furiously, looking for another weapon. Watching where her eyes were searching, he felt the need to intercede.
‘Not that, Eva, please!’
‘What?’ Her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted into a smirk. ‘You mean this?’
He should have known not to say anything.
There was a second or two of hesitation, as her pink-nailed hand with its slim gold bracelet hovered in mid-air. Then the beautiful black svelte Jesus from their Guatemalan trip came sailing towards him. With unusual grace and immaculate timing, he lifted his hand and lightly caught it. It was his turn to smirk.
Emitting a sound something between a gargle and a grunt, she turned on her four-inch heels, yanking the living room door behind her as she left. It caught on the carpet and Simon’s smirk broadened into a grin. A victory! Albeit a pyrrhic one.
His grin disappeared quickly as he remembered the reality. He was unemployed. Unemployed and a failure at the one thing he really loved.
He walked to the window and gazed out. The sign swinging gently by the gate was facing away from him, intended to lure passersby to his fledgling business, but all the same he knew it was missing an ‘a’. And, without it, the meaning was not entirely clear.
‘Terence’s T rot’.
At one time it had been shiny and new – just like his assumed name and his dream of making a living from Tarot reading. Now it creaked in the wind, refusing to blow away for once and for all, just hanging on in there by one rusty piece of metal.
And to make matters worse, some delinquent had recently added an ’s’ to the end so that it now read ‘Terence’s T rots’. Yes, perhaps that was eloquently fitting, given the verbal diarrhoea that had emerged from his mouth during the few Tarot readings he had done. No wonder he had returned to a real job in software support. He didn’t stop to wonder why he considered the latter a ‘real’ job, given that it had been of even shorter duration than his struggling career as a psychic.
He shrugged, dismissing the sign once more, and wandered into the kitchen, opening the fridge in the hope of distraction. Ah, string cheese – that would do. There was much comfort to be had, at times like these, from the simplest of things.
He opened the packet and, with slow careful movements, teased the tiniest strip off the side of the cheese, peeling it all the way to the bottom, before lowering it into his mouth and starting the process all over again. There was something addictive about string cheese. It wasn’t the flavour -he wasn’t even sure it had a flavour. And it wasn’t the texture either. It was more the search for the perfect peel – the one that was neither too thick nor too thin, the one with no dangling scraggly bits.
Fifteen peels later, he’d almost forgotten his predicament when she appeared in the doorway, and banged two cases down on the floor by her side. How had she managed to pack so quickly?
Well, that much was obvious.
She glared at him, irritated by his silence.
‘Go on then – say something!’
Say what, he wondered. He’d never been able to find words to counter her clever comments and loaded questions, and certainly none were occurring to him now that he was under pressure. She always had such a way with words, while he always struggled for them, especially under the harsh scrutiny of those pale blue eyes.
‘Well?!’ She demanded, her irritation increasing.
‘I don’t know what to say, Evangeline.’
He didn’t often use her full name. It was a bit of a mouthful, to be honest. But right then he was glad of the mouthful. It made him sound at least moderately in control.
‘I mean, what is there to say, Evangeline?’ he added, clinging to this meagre toehold on the slippery slope of self-respect.
Then, ’Maybe you’re going too far?’ he tentatively suggested.
‘How about sorry?’ she flung back at him, ignoring the suggestion that she might be over-reacting. ‘Or, how about, ‘I wish I hadn’t kept it secret from you’?
Men rarely behave well in the face of feminine fury and Simon was no different.
‘All these years, all those times I stood by you, and you can’t find a single word to say? I’ve just had it with you!’
How had unemployment suddenly turned into the end of a relationship? No wonder he’d delayed telling her. Not that she’d consider looking for work herself at any stage, he thought darkly. She had been going back to college since her acting career had failed to take off, with no sign of anything more than a few application forms that always ended up in the magazine stack. But whenever he brought it up, she always had a hundred and one logical explanations that always baffled him back into silence.
A horn bipped outside.
As usual, Evangeline was moving fast – as she always did when her mind was set on something. He could still remember the speed with which she’d originally invited herself into his house. It had left his head spinning. And it hadn’t stopped spinning since.
‘Would it be too much for you to help me with these?’ she asked, indicating the cases, sarcasm and exasperation vying for supremacy in her voice.
‘Mmm? Oh, yeah, sure honey…’
The term of endearment rolled automatically off his tongue. He cringed inwardly and played with the empty cheese string packet in his hand.
She didn’t have to say it. It was written all over her face as she shook her head one last time at him, then turned her back and started lugging the two cases down the porch steps on her own.
‘You’d never speak up, even if your life depended on it!’
He could hear her unspoken words in his head more clearly than any of his own.
‘How the hell did I end up here, in this godforsaken place with a man who manages to lose the only real job he’s ever had – and during a boom time, too.’
She was right, of course. He was no good for her. She deserved better. What had he ever done for her?
‘Well, there was the bed’, he muttered to himself in response to the flood of self-recriminations. The bed was one thing he had managed to get for her – a big sleigh bed, just as she’d wanted. And now she was leaving it – and him – behind.
He stepped out onto the porch, still toying with the plastic wrapper. Kim was parked at the kerb looking through the car window at him, her cold face clearly saying, ‘you dipstick’. As Eva dragged her luggage down the drive, she got out and between them they heaved the cases into the boot, then drove off without a backward glance.
And that, it seemed, was that.
Simon turned back indoors. The chill, late autumn, Pike County wind didn’t encourage hanging around and he knew Eva was unlikely to return now that she had gone.
A latent rebellious streak encouraged him to grab another string cheese and a bottle of beer from the fridge, before flicking the television on, surrendering to the ultimate indication of a wasted life that was daytime TV. He flicked through the channels. The Shopping Channel, of course, and plenty of wildlife documentaries. Something on car mechanics, too, that looked vaguely intriguing if entirely alien. Then there was the Minister Balls with his daily dose of ‘God’s Wisdom’.
‘And the Lord sayeth, ‘choose from among the many gifts in front of you and be satisfied.’
He could never figure out the attraction of television evangelists and yet the Minister St.John-Balls had been recently attaining such minor superstar status, with his Flash Sermons, that even Simon found himself watching for a few minutes in spite of himself. Sure, the Minister was a confident, striking, man, fully committed to his showmanship, and a man of God, too. A powerfully intoxicating mix, no doubt, to susceptible minds. And the mystery that he had created around himself with his pop-up Flash Sermons, which he gave wherever the Holy Spirit moved him, contributed a certain mystique. But did people really still believe that fire-and-brimstone stuff?
Simon shrugged and continued with his channel-hopping, eventually opting for the light porn channel in order to maximise the meagre power that came from his solitary rebellion.
Then he noticed that he needed a pee.
As he relieved himself in the bathroom, a pair of lace panties caught his attention, staring provocatively at him from where they’d been abandoned on the radiator. He shook off the last drops of urine and tucked himself away, struggling between the two equally strong desires of setting light to the panties and burying his face in their femininity. Impatiently, he dumped their delicate laciness in the metal pedal bin. Then, changing his mind, he plucked them out again, shoving them into his pocket. They might be useful later, he decided, as he wandered back into the living room to the soulless entanglements on the television screen and the rapidly warming beer.
By early evening, and after countless beers, Simon’s view of the world had improved radically. Maybe it wasn’t the worst situation in the world after all, he thought, sprawling out on the sofa, wet beer bottle in hand and tasty company on the screen. There was a lot to be said for the single life. And he was starting to warm up a little in the nether regions too. Georgina sprang to mind. Pretty, flirty, eyelash-extension-and-sculpted-eyebrow-wearing Georgina.
Awkwardly, he twisted round, fumbling under the sofa for his phone, his uncoordinated drunken fingers scrolling through the list of contacts for her number. She had always been sweet to him. Of course she’d be happy to hear from him. And why shouldn’t he ring her, now that he was free again? The fact that she bored the pants off him didn’t really enter into it right now. All he wanted was a stab at rebuilding his confidence.
He dialled, and waited. The phone rang. And kept ringing.
‘Hi, this is Georgina. I’m so sorry I can’t speak to you in person right now…’
Simon hung up and chucked the phone at the armchair, his mood plummeting once more, a descent further fuelled by alcohol. With a vicious jab, he turned the television off and reality intruded on him again. Disgusted at himself, he stared out the dark window in silence.
And who could Simon blame for his misery?
When he’d first lost his job and his few Tarot clients had all but dried up, he’d tried blaming God, but that had come to nothing. Then he’d tried blaming his family, who had doubted his sanity after his announcement that he was doing psychic readings, and now wanted nothing more to do with him. Finally, he’d blamed Eva, which obviously hadn’t worked either. He only had himself left. Simon from Pee Pee, Ohio, was finally on his own.
But then two things happened.
The phone rang, and Simon, rebounding from misery to hope, lunged to answer it, falling over his feet as he heard a faint but distinctive voice – lisping, latino, male.
‘’ello, ‘ello? Ith thith Thimon?’ the voice said.
Confusingly, the phone continued to ring on the armchair.
‘ello, can you hear me? Thimon?’ the voice insisted.
‘What?’ Simon shouted, finally grabbing the phone, drunken disorientation challenging his reason.
‘Thith ith Agador. I’ve been trying to reach you for weekth!’
The ringing stopped as Simon raised the phone to his ear, still forgetting to press the ‘answer’ button.
‘What?’ he repeated, sinking back on the armchair and holding the small lump of technology out in front of him. Clearly, the voice hadn’t come from there.
‘ello? ‘ello? Thimon?’
(Work in progress at 35,000 words)