Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 8

Emma sipped at her prosecco and looked at Fiona’s miserable face. For a heart stopping second she contemplated telling Fiona the truth about why she had moved to Bath, but even running the words over in her mind made her bowels turn to cold milkshake.

“You really don’t know anyone else in Bath?” Fiona asked, something in her eyes was searching Emma’s face for solace. Emma winced.

“Well, my old company has an office here… so, I know a few people that I’d had contact with. I wouldn’t say I had friends, I don’t even know their numbers but… if I went into the office and, introduced myself… clearly, they would remember who I was.”

Her voice bouncing off the marble and stone of the spa walls sounded pathetic. Emma listened to the words spilling out and felt so stupid and alone all of a sudden. She saw a vision of herself packing up her flat and bundling everything into a van to move back to London. Jack would be standing at the top of his staircase looking relieved that the nutter below was going, and he could get a decent housemate for the building. She’d be racing back along the M4 with her tail between her legs to sink into a different, but equally mind numbing job, in a different but equally life numbing company. Her parents would have her round for lunch one Sunday a month and her Dad would ruffle her hair and say he had missed her, while her mum would say she was very proud of her for trying to be independent but maybe Bath was a bit far and should she have perhaps tried Chiswick first? Then Emma, full of carbohydrates and milky tea, would traipse back on the underground to a new flat that felt small and dingy compared to the high ceilinged elegance of Bath.

It was a miserable little daydream even by her standards. But probably one of her more accurate ones. Back in the real world Fiona was topping up their glasses and sighing to herself.

“His name is Norman. I think that’s the thing I’m most embarrassed about, after the fact that I’m having an affair. Who has an affair with a man called Norman? Honestly.” The Prosecco and the cosy warmth of the heated chair beneath them was really loosening Fiona’s tongue. Emma was pleased, there was something ever so comforting about watching Fiona spill her real thoughts out between them. “People who have affairs are supposed to look mean, they’re meant be really wicked and heartless. In my defence I didn’t know he was married when I first met him see, we went on a few dates before he told me and I really liked him… and, obviously, he’s loaded so I just… I loved being spoiled too, I suppose. Then after a month or so, when he couldn’t keep dodging my questions about why I couldn’t go to his and stuff he told me he was married. I didn’t talk to him for two weeks; I was mortified. But then, oh god it’s so cliched when I hear it out loud, he called me up he did. He said things were over with his wife, that they were just going through the motions while he got up the courage, and the legal protection, to leave with his money. I believed him. I felt so flattered by him trying to win me back so desperately.”

Emma wondered if the chaise-longe nature of the seats was helping Fiona talk; it was just like being at a therapists, but with wine and in a bikini. Or maybe some therapists did offer that? She was almost certain she needed a therapist so maybe seeking one out who offered wine and a more relaxed atmosphere was a good idea? It would be a minefield to google though without finding some absolute rascals, she mused, before forcing her mind back to focusing on Fiona.

“They did break up. Oh that was the most wonderful month of my life. She found out about me, see. That night wasn’t wonderful, it was awful. She turned up at my house ranting and screaming and he had to come and tear her away. I felt bad for her, but then… I also sort of didn’t.” Fiona sounded almost wistful, “She was there in the front garden with her perfect hair, and face and figure and life, and house and career and dogs and she was spitting teeth at me. I remember standing in that front window looking at her thinking; you have everything, can’t you just let me have him? He isn’t even that great. But he’s something. He moved in with me for a bit after that… it was like having a proper boyfriend. I’ve never lived with a partner before that. Have you?”

Emma opened her mouth to answer but was saved the difficulty of replying by Fiona continuing regardless.

“After a couple of weeks though he got a hotel room… said he felt awkward being in my house surrounded by my stuff without his own space. I was a bit upset, but we said we could maybe think about getting a place together once the dust had settled, and he moved into a hotel. Then, next thing I know he’s telling me he has to go back to her… she’s not coping, got on the drink and begging him and he feels like he owes it to her to give it another shot. I was gutted. I had another two weeks of not talking to him, but then… I don’t know. I missed having the company. I don’t find it easy to make friends.”

‘You don’t say,’ thought Emma, raising her mind’s eyebrow ‘You have barely managed to say three words to me in 10 days of working together and now you’re spilling your entire life story to me due to half a glass of sparkling wine. You have nearly as much social skill as me.’ In a way, Emma liked that Fiona was quite clearly unhinged and sad like she was. Emma thought back over exchanges they’d had in the shop where Fiona had been snappy and curt, she overlaid Fiona’s snippy responses with an imagined internal verbal diarrhoea that Fiona could only keep at bay by being very cold. It worked.

“So I crawled back, didn’t I? Well, I mean, I more sort of stood still and let him crawl to me. But I let him back in. Only this time we have to be so careful in case she gets even a sniff. It’s… it’s not fun anymore at all.” Fiona looked like she might cry again, “But I’m too scared to end it and be alone.”

Emma wanted to hug Fiona but the heat and Prosecco had combined with a lifetime’s worth of memories of her being socially excruciating and she didn’t trust herself to stand up.

“I’m pathetic.” Said Fiona, “A stupid middle-aged woman who would rather be a sad mistress than alone. A sad, middle-aged shop manager. With bad hair.”

Emma quite liked Fiona’s hair. She opened her mouth to say so but different words came out;

“I moved to Bath because there was a guy in my office that I had a crush on and he got a transfer here so I just moved here. I didn’t even try and also get a transfer in case it didn’t work or took too long. I just quit the day I found out he’d gone and moved here. He has no idea. Probably doesn’t even remember who I am but I quit my job, a nice flat and everyone I knew and moved here because of an office crush.”

That was quite a lot more than just telling her she has nice hair.’ Emma thought numbly.

Fiona stared with her mouth actually open like a cartoon. “Really?” She wheezed, “No, you didn’t? That’s why you’re here? You’re crazy!”

Emma laughed. Despite the scooped out feeling she had from telling the truth, she felt oddly flamboyant about it. It was crazy! But she had said it out loud and the world hadn’t ended, she hadn’t expelled the truth and folded down like damp cardboard. No one had arrested her. She’d told the truth to a woman doing something equally barmy, and they were now just here; the two of them, hanging out in a spa being utterly unstable with their lives.

“Well aren’t we a pair?” Said Fiona, wondrously, “I was so jealous of you. I thought you were this ethereal free spirit who had -“

Emma snorted. Ethereal free-spirit? Her?

“Oh good god no!” She chuckled, “Clumsy stalker is more me at the moment.”

“You were always in a daze and so dreamy. I thought you were really cool. I didn’t realise you were scheming how best to trip over your love interest in the street and start a life with him.” Fiona’s eyes were no longer brimming with tears, she was smiling and looked less rigid against the chair. This was nice, Emma realised, this must be what having a friend was like.

“I was in shock, I think.” Emma said, and had she had a glass more of wine she might have admitted to Fiona that she’d hurt her ribs squatting behind a reversing car spying on Theo. She didn’t though, perhaps, if this friendship continued to blossom she would save that anecdote to cheer Fiona up on another disastrous occasion.

Fiona poured the remainder of the bottle into their flutes and they drank them, continuing to chat companionably. Emma hadn’t felt this cosy or content in a long, long time.

As they both began to shift a little, knowing it was time to leave but not wanting to break the delightful spell, Emma plucked up her courage again.

“So, do you think you might leave him now… you don’t want to go through this again, do you?”

Fiona thought for a moment. “I could do. It’s scary though.”

“Yeah.” Emma agreed, wondering if she’d have the confidence to do it if the boot was on the other foot.

“How about,” said Fiona, “We make a deal… I’ll end it with Norman…” Emma liked the sound of that. “If you make contact with your man Theo?”

Emma dropped her flute instantly. Luckily the spa were well prepared and the plastic flute just bounced across the marble floor instead of shattering into a thousand foot shredding pieces. Emma flinched, sending a shooting pain through her ribs. She desperately didn’t want to make contact with Theo, not yet - she wasn’t ready!

‘But when will you be ready?’ She asked herself.

‘When I’m 6’1” and very slim and rich with perfect hair.’ Came the outraged reply, ‘Obviously!’

No, she desperately didn’t want to make contact with Theo. But on the other hand… she looked at Fiona, who was mopping up the little puddle of Prosecco and retrieving Emma’s flute… if that was the push Fiona needed to stop seeing Norman, maybe that was best for her friend? Emma realised she had a friend. It had been a long time since she had thought that.


Does Emma say yes to Fiona’s deal?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Choose an object to feature in the next chapter:

  1. A telescope
  2. A pomegranate
  3. A unicycle
  4. Three shoes

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