The Good Samaritan

Page 16


The distance between Tony and me had expanded from a crack to the size of a chasm shortly before my cancer diagnosis. I wasn’t even worthy of a peck on the cheek when he brushed past me on the stairs. I’d remind him how good he looked as he changed into his gym gear, then pretend not to be hurt when he didn’t reciprocate with a compliment of his own. I’d even feign liking the sleeve of tattoos gradually expanding up his left arm from wrist to shoulder, when quietly I hated them.
For a man approaching his late thirties, Tony was in enviable shape. When his friends had visited our former house for summer barbecues and he wore a sleeveless top and cargo shorts, I’d watched their wives ogling him. Their husbands had ‘dad bods’ and beer bellies, and it was all the women could do to keep themselves from panting when they saw Tony. Once upon a time, I’d felt sorry for them, but now I was envious because at least their out-of-shape partners were present. Tony wasn’t. He was far, far away.
I poured myself another glass from the bottle of Merlot from the online wine club he’d joined and never got around to cancelling, and asked myself if I’d been more in tune with Tony’s feelings, might I have been able to pinpoint the exact moment he’d looked at me and decided I was no longer the woman he’d married?
The last time I’d instigated intimacy between us, the girls were playing with Henry in the garden and I’d followed Tony upstairs. He’d moved into the spare room weeks before, but I’d told myself it was only because the stress of setting up his own insurance brokerage was giving him sleepless nights. Then, somewhere along the line, he had decided to make the temporary measure permanent, and without discussion.
I crept up on him as he changed out of his work suit and, before he could protest, I slipped my hand down the front of his trousers and wrapped my other arm around his waist.
‘What are you doing?’ he’d asked. He sounded irritated.
‘I think you know what I’m doing,’ I replied, and moved my hand inside his briefs and played with his balls.
‘It was a rhetorical question,’ he replied. I could feel him stirring but he tried to resist. He squirmed until I removed my hand. But I wasn’t ready to give up, so I began unbuttoning my blouse. He used to find it sexy when I’d get naked while he was fully clothed. It would turn him on like nothing else.
‘Laura, stop it. I told you, I don’t have the time.’
‘You never have time,’ I sighed. ‘Not for me, anyway.’ Part of me hated myself for still desiring a physical relationship with someone who didn’t want one with me. But I longed to connect with him.
‘Maybe you should occupy more of your time with your children, and leave me the hell alone.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
He didn’t answer.
‘Do you think I’m spending too long at End of the Line? I can cut down my hours, if that’s what you want.’
‘I don’t care what you do.’
‘You used to. We can’t sort out whatever is happening between us if you don’t try.’
‘Some things are beyond sorting out.’
I felt sick. ‘I don’t understand why you’re being like this. We’ve been married for almost sixteen years. Every couple has bumps in the road . . .’
‘A bump? Is that what you’ve convinced yourself this is?’ He lowered his voice to make sure the children couldn’t hear him through the open window. Then he looked at me with a contempt I’d never seen in his eyes before.
‘I know about you, Laura,’ he growled. ‘I know what you are and what you’ve done. I know everything.’
My eyes locked on to his and my legs felt as if they were about to give way. He couldn’t have been referring to what I thought he was.
‘What . . . what are you talking about?’ I stammered.
‘You tried to hide your old social services file from me, but I found it and read the whole fucking thing,’ he snapped. ‘You have lied to me right from the very beginning of our relationship, and then every step of the way since. About what happened when you went into care in that house with Olly . . . the lot. I have no idea who I’m married to.’
I took a step back and felt the bile rising from my stomach, up my throat and into my mouth. I tried to pretend his words hadn’t just slashed me like broken glass.
‘You don’t have anything to say, do you?’ he continued.
He was right, I didn’t. I cursed myself; I knew it had been a huge mistake digging up the past. But once I had it written in black and white, I couldn’t dispose of it, no matter how hurtful and inaccurate it was. Instead, I’d hidden the file, so I could reread it and torture myself over and over again. Only Tony had clearly stumbled across it, too. It explained why he’d become so distant with me, why sometimes when I looked at him with love, he looked at me with loathing.
Suddenly I was brought back to the present by the sound of a car engine outside. I craned my neck, hoping to see Tony’s car. But it was the obese couple that lived next door. Tony was probably waiting until later, and for me to go to bed before he brought the girls home.
The oven timer chimed, so I slipped on my oven gloves and removed a large cooking pot. I pushed the lid to one side to remind myself it was a chicken casserole I’d made. I poured some into a bowl for me, and the rest I’d leave for the others to heat up if they were hungry. They’d probably ignore it though. The freezer was packed full of Tupperware meals I’d made for four, but that’d only been eaten by one.
‘If you can’t see yourself getting any better, what’s the best outcome you could hope for?’ I asked Steven.
Like all my questions, it was delivered in a caring, measured manner. But it was a loaded one. I focused on the second hand of the clock on the wall, measuring the time of his response. Twenty-four seconds elapsed before he spoke again.
‘That one morning I just don’t wake up.’
‘You don’t want to wake up,’ I reiterated. ‘I understand.’ And I did. The same thought had crossed my own mind over the years, more times than I cared to admit. Only, I possessed the strength to soldier on.
‘Aren’t you going to ask me what I have to live for?’ he said.
‘Would you like me to? Would you listen to me if I came up with some reasons?’
‘No, probably not.’
‘Then I won’t patronise you. When you’ve thought long and hard about bringing your life to an end like you have, I don’t have the right to tell you you’re wrong, and that’s not what End of the Line is here for. I’m not going to try to pull you out of a hole; I’m in that hole with you. Have you considered how you might do it? In our first conversation, you mentioned ending your life by standing in front of a train.’
‘I’ve changed my mind.’
‘What are your thoughts now?’
My eyes lit up. Almost sixty per cent of suicidal men end their lives by strangulation, but I’d yet to come across one. The prospect immediately excited me. My tally to date was eight overdoses on illegal or prescription drugs, three jumpers and four who’d bled to death.
I took a moment to compose myself. ‘Where would you do it?’
‘In my bedroom. I live in a cottage with a vaulted ceiling and wooden beams. I’ve tested them by doing pull-ups so I know they can take my weight. Honestly, it’s the perfect place.’ His voice was animated, like a child trying to impress a parent.