Monday, April 20, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 6

Emma spent a sulky week lying on her sofa pretending to watch television and wondering what had happened to her life. She’d had to call Fiona and tell her that she’d hurt her ribs and needed a few days off work until the worst of the pain had subsided. Fiona had been oddly kind about the situation and insisted that Emma took an entire week. Emma was fully aware that she was not being paid for the time off, so she understood why Fiona wasn’t distraught, but that didn’t mean she had to sound quite so delighted about it.

The week passed painfully slowly, both in ribs and mind as Emma lay fermenting in her self-pity. To make matters worse she had been unable to come up with a plan to properly apologise to Jack for… for what had happened and so she’d tiptoed around her home the entire week hoping that if she was quiet enough he would forget she existed.

The drive home from the hospital had taken place in almost complete silence. Stood in the car park, Emma had just about managed to retch out the words “I’m sorry” to an ashen faced Jack. He had ignored it and simply asked if her ribs were ok, and then done an abrupt turn on his heel and marched her to his car. She’d stared out of the window at the streets of Bath on the way home, marvelling yet again at what a special place it was, but unable to convince herself she deserved to be there.

Jack had helped her up the stairs to her door, where she’d assured him she was fine getting in and settled.

“It’s not even that painful, really.” She’d said in a ludicrously over the top voice and then jabbed herself in the ribs with a finger to prove it, causing a convulsion of pain down through her torso.

“Good.” He’d replied, looking perhaps like he wanted to say more? Or was that just her imagination? Either way, he hadn’t said more. He’d nodded curtly and waved halfheartedly before heading upstairs staring at the steps as he did so.

From there Emma had spiralled into a pretty decent imitation of hibernation. She’d made the call to Fiona, done an online grocery shop… well, technically she’d done two of those, and she really hoped that the new tenants of her old flat in London were enjoying the first one. Then, Emma had taken up permanent residence on the sofa and begun to hope she’d just die in that position before she ruined anything else.

The cinema in her mind kept showing her brilliant other versions of her life, versions where someone else was in control of her body and mouth, and she did better things, said better things… was better. She replayed the events of the hospital day but with new endings… there Theo was walking down the street, oh, he was catching someone’s arm because he knew them and as the person turned to say hi and be surprised - ah! It was Emma!

“Hi! What are you doing here?” Theo would say, if someone else was in charge of Emma’s life.

“Oh! Theo… right?” Emma would breeze easily, taming her already tamed hair as it billowed like a well conditioned cape around her dandruff free shoulders.

“Yeah,” Theo would say, his eyes bright. “We used to work together in the London office.”

“Oh that’s right!” Emma’s laugh would be tinkling, “Yeah, fantastic company. I got headhunted and moved down here to run a charity that saves the lives of babies and dolphins. I live in that mansion on the hill over there.”

Theo’s eyes would follow Emma’s graceful, pale arm as she gestured and he’d see the grand but homely looking house on the hill with the sun giving it golden window panes. He’d look back to Emma and a vision would flash before his eyes of the two of them drinking daiquiris on the patio while their children played on the lawns.

“I actually knew you’d moved to Bath,” his voice would be lower by now, huskier, “It’s the reason I’m here. The office was just never the same after you left… that spark that you brought to it was gone, and I knew that I couldn’t carry on selling for a company when my heart wasn’t in it.” His eyes would come up to meet hers, “When my heart was in Bath.”

And then she’d kiss him. She’d lay her lips on to his and give him what he’d been dreaming of and…

The sound of dog paws scampering on the floorboards above broke in on Emma’s reverie. She was aware that her fantasy consisted mainly of Theo fantasising about her and she wondered what a therapist might have to say about and then realised that she was now daydreaming about telling a therapist about the daydreams she was daydreaming someone else daydreaming.

“You need help.” She said out loud and then shrank back into the sofa as she heard heavy footsteps creaking about on the floor above. Jack was home. She muted the television and lay very still. She felt the very least she could do after giving him one of the very worst afternoons of his life was to pretend she didn’t exist for the rest of time.

Her phone vibrated on the floor and she grabbed at it to silence it. Her heart swelled a little at the thought someone was messaging her, and then dropped back to morose again as she realised it was simply an annual price increase from her phone company. She idly flicked through her social media icons; no new notifications, of course, she never posted anything herself so what would someone have to interact with?

Emma opened up Facebook and began to scroll through the endless brilliance of her acquaintances’ lives. Meals, children, pets, excursions… all there in glorious technicolour and some even panoramic. As her thumb stroked over the name of an ex-colleague, ready to exile her post to the burning scrap heap of ignored social media content, she stopped suddenly and looked at what the post said.

“Judith Evans - No idea what to wear to the ball. Felt underdressed last year but I don’t have loads to spend on something new… Futurescope pals, what are you wearing? Help!”

Emma lay, frozen, staring at the words. The company Summer Ball. It must be only a matter of weeks away. She flicked to the calendar app; it was the 14th May today. She whizzed the screen to June and saw a small blue dot on the 6th June. Only a few weeks. She’d forgotten all about the Ball. Of course she had, she’d left the company. But it would still be happening. And all the regional offices were invited. Theo would be going. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely mad if she still went? She had been at the company for 6 years, she still had a lot of friends there… well, if not friends exactly then people she had companionably eaten lunch near every day. Sometimes people who had recently left still went to social occasions…

“Not ones who randomly handed in their notice with minimal warning and no explanation.” She reminded herself coaxingly, one brave thought trying vainly to steer this new disastrous idea into a better direction.

“But I could tell them any reason for leaving…” she thought in a wistful, dreamy voice - her minds eye flicking back to the hill mansion and all the rescued babies and dolphins and baby dolphins.

“But what’s the game plan?” Asked the sensible voice, snapping its fingers irritatedly at the day dream to get it to focus, “You barely managed to talk to Theo for all the years and Summer Balls where you did legitimately work with him - why would you think it’d go better now you also have to weave an absolute carpet of bullshit to seem normal?”

The thought had a point but it was too late. The daydream matinee showing was on the screen and Emma settled down into her blanket to enjoy. There she was, stepping out of a black stretch limousine…

“Who’s paying for that?” Tried her rational side, but it was shushed loudly from the front row of the cerebral cinema.

Her immaculate heels hit the pavement outside the fancy hotel, The Dorchester perhaps? No, The Ritz! The buildings quickly swapped places and she was stood outside the twinkling lights in a stunning floor length gown made of silk and Disney animation. Theo was by her side in an instant, gazing adoringly at her perfect make up and hyrdrated skin.

“I love you.” He said immediately, “I’ve loved you since the first day I laid eyes on you. I’m so glad you came.” Theo seemed to be talking like Jimmy Stewart and was in black and white in the daydream but Emma couldn’t seem to force her mind to correct it, besides, she had no problem with her daydream being a mash up with It’s a Wonderful Life if that’s what the director was doing. She’d take the moon on a string if Theo was offering it. She’d take just the string.

As Theo took her in his arms and kissed her a waft of perfume hit her perfect nostrils and she broke from the kiss to see Elaine waltzing past. What was Elaine doing in her daydream? Piss of Elaine. She tried to imagine an anvil crashing out of the Ritz promenade but nothing was coming and Elaine seemed to be wearing exactly the same dress she was but looked better… her skin was sparkling and her eyes were an almost violet glow. Elaine turned, with the hair of Jessica Rabbit slung over her shoulder and winked at Theo. Theo looked back to Emma and said “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”

No! No! No! Thought Emma wildly, this is my daydream… it’s supposed to be great. Theo let her go and she dropped to the pavement, waking up on the sofa in Bath with a start.

“Ah,” she realised, “So, not a day dream… just a dream in the day time.”

Her phone had slipped out of her hand and she scrabbled about for it on the sofa beside her. She shook off the brief nap and tried to think clearly. So, yes - obviously turning up to the ball wouldn’t exactly be a fairy tale… but, it might just be a great idea? She tried out a tamer fantasy.

“Theo isn’t it?” Said tame fantasy Emma wearing a lovely number from Debenhams.
“Yeah, Emma, right?” Said fantasy Theo, recognising her but not kissing her immediately.
“How’s it going? London life treating you well?” Good work! Emma congratulated her day dream self. A subtle push for information without being a complete weirdo.
“I moved to Bath actually.” Emma arranged the face of her daydream self to look surprised.
“Oh really? No way!” She laughed and, while it didn’t make live doves flock to her, neither was it a snort. “When? I’ve just moved there myself. What a bizarre coincidence.”

She vaguely imagined the surprised but friendly look on Theo’s face, and how he would suggest they swap numbers as he didn’t know many people in Bath. At that point he would lean in and whisper conspiritorially that the Futurescope lot were a little dull and Emma would laugh and say, “You think? Why do you think I left?” And then he would suggest livening up the ball by whisking her off to Paris right there and then.

Emma let the scene drop. Paris would have to wait.

So? She would go then? She opened her internet browser and began to look at trains… oof pricey. She left the tab open and began to look into hotels too, obviously it would be best to get a room at whatever hotel the ball was at just to avoid unnecessary transport OOH and she could do that cool thing where she discreetly passed the extra room key to Theo and mouthed the number after he had declared his love for her by the enormous flower arrangement by the staircase in the lobby and…

… she focused back on the hotel website. Crikey. That was a lot for a single night. Ok, so maybe a less good hotel and a short taxi ride. But for some reason hotel rooms in central London on a Saturday night in June were all very expensive and Emma’s fantasy of her splendid night of magical romance was just nowhere near as good when she tried to imagine it getting ready at a friends’ house and then sleeping on a sofa.

The helium was draining rapidly out of her exciting idea and it was settling lumpenly on the floor of her stomach. Another thing she’d managed to fail at without even leaving the sofa.

“You’re the worst.” She said out loud and immediately heard Elliott bark upstairs. Just a single bark but it sent a shiver down through her spine at the memory of Jack’s face outside the portacabin.

“No Summer Ball for you until you stop being a crazy person.” She told herself sternly, and more importantly, internally.

“But maybe some kind of treat?” Said a kinder version of herself, “A normal one.” It added hastily, and Emma thought maybe that thought was right. What could she do to treat herself that wasn’t barmy? What did people do?

She noticed a banner ad at the top of the hotel page she was still on. The Bath Spa. She clicked on the link and read the homepage of the delightful sounding natural spa. There! She decided, that was a thing normal people did - especially when they’d just moved here and were exploring and ESPECIALLY, she decided, when they had very sore ribs and were recuperating.

What normal people did not do, she failed to notice, was to buy two tickets when they were only one human being. But Emma, on a wave of cheerfulness at having made what she thought was a healthy, sane human being decision, did not even register that she progressed through the online checkout with a ticket for herself, and a plus one.

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