Friday, May 8, 2020

The Audience Adventure - day 20

Emma heard the revving of an engine from inside her living room and groaned - she just knew that had to be Norman outside in his fancy car trying to get their attention. Her phone started to buzz and she saw Fiona’s name across the screen. She’d still not heard from Theo so even though the call was expected the buzzing was enough to set off a mild hand sweat.

‘That’s one in the column for you don’t like Jack,’ she thought to herself, imagining the chalkboard with the little marks on it, ‘You don’t feel like this about him - he’s just nice to be around so that probably means you’re just not used to having friends.’ For some reason she felt profoundly more comfortable with the idea that she didn’t have a thing for Jack… that path felt messy, and complicated and she wouldn’t know what to do so she didn’t want it to be the case. She certainly didn’t feel the bubbles of nausea she felt when she thought about Theo, and she couldn’t imagine getting squashed between two cars hiding from Jack so, it couldn’t be love could it?

She grabbed her phone and backpack off the sofa and headed out of the door. She was intending to knock for Jack but she entered the hall to see him coming down the stairs.

“I’m assuming that’s Norman’s car outside?” He said, and his voice sounded recently woken up.

“I think so. Fiona is calling me.” She said back and they headed downstairs together to meet their shared fate.

Norman was in a buoyant mood - full of compliments for Fiona and obvious brags about himself or his company. The drive was excruciating - Emma couldn’t stand the way Fiona turned all simpering and agreeable with Norman. She was never like this in the shop? It was also excruciating because being in the back of Norman’s car felt much like being in a wooden go-kart that was being pulled at speed along a bumpy dirt track. Emma didn’t have much experience with expensive cars but she felt like Norman had been swindled? Perhaps he’d just never been in the back and didn’t know it was like this?

‘He might have been in the back - but probably not while it’s moving.’ A dirty thought occurred to Emma and she glanced at Fiona and then took her hands off the seat upholstery just in case.

“Anyone want the top down?” Norman called into the back seat and both Jack and Emma opened their mouths to say no but with the press of a button Norman initiated the folding down sequence and the top was coming down. That pretty much put paid to any small bits of conversation Jack and Emma had been trying to have in the back as the noise of the wind was too loud and she had to focus almost entirely on keeping bugs and her own hair out of her mouth.

They couldn’t get to the marina quickly enough, and eventually Norman indicated to come off and they parked up in a small car park. Emma could smell the sea and hear the jangling of ropes and sails on the boats tied up in the marina nearby. It felt very exciting. She smiled over at Jack.

“Great day for it.” Said Jack.

“Yeah,” said Emma, wondering if he meant because it was sunny, “Have you sailed much before?”

“No, not really. Bits and pieces.”

They clambered out of the car and stood looking at the boats wondering which one was Norman’s. Emma assumed the fanciest one but tried to swallow the unkind thought and cut Norman some slack - he wasn’t going to have a good day.

Norman locked up the car and they began to make their way down towards the labyrinth of jetties.

They were just reaching the last row of cars in the car park when the drivers door opened on a large 4x4 and to Emma’s horror she saw Helen, the Christmas tree woman, and Norman’s wife, stepping daintily out of the car. Emma, Norman and Fiona all seemed to spot her at once and stop dead in their tracks. Only Jack carried on walking; completely oblivious to what was going on.

Helen pushed her sunglasses up on to her head and crossed the remaining tarmac to stand in front of Norman.

“I bloody knew it.” She said, looking him up and down sneeringly, “I knew you were seeing her again.” Fiona seemed to visibly shrink into her clothes.

“No, I can explain…” Norman squeaked but Helen looked fierce and he quailed under her withering gaze. Jack had noticed the others stop walking and had turned around to join them again - looking utterly bewildered.

“I don’t need you to explain.” Said Helen, her voice chilling the hot May day, “I thought this was probably going on and I just needed to confirm my suspicions so I could leave you without it having to be a total arse ache. Norman you are completely pathetic. Don’t come home tonight - you clearly want to be elsewhere and I’m really tired of feeling like it’s something I’ve done wrong. Have a nice life.” She turned away and stalked back to her car. Emma thought it might be the coolest thing she had ever seen in her entire life: someone actually using the phrase ‘Have a nice life.’ And then walking away, point made? She didn’t know much about Helen other than that she had a high ceilinged reception room and a lot of money but Emma had to hand it her - the woman was cool.

Norman stood stock still on the tarmac, mouth open, eyes following Helen back to her car. Fiona was staring at Norman. Jack was looking from person to person trying to catch the drift of what was going on. Helen’s car started and she neatly drove out of the car park.

“Who was that?” Jack half whispered to Emma.

“Helen. Norman’s wife.” Emma whispered back.

“Wife? Ex-wife? They’re getting divorced?”

“They are now.” Said Emma and shuffled her feet awkwardly.

Fiona rubbed Norman’s arm consolingly, “Are you alright?” She asked, shyly. Norman shook his head, seemingly coming back to life.

“Yes I’m fine.” He blustered, his volume a little too high and his face scarlet. “Come on.” He barked, and continued to head in the direction of the boat. Fiona looked at Emma in alarm and then scurried after Norman.

“We’re not still going out on the boat are we?” She asked him, hurrying to keep her place at his elbow.

“Of course. We’ve come all this way.” Norman’s eyes were fixed ahead of him. Fiona turned over her shoulder to give a helpless shrug to Emma and Jack as they began to amble after them.

“This is going to be awkward.” Emma muttered to Jack. Jack didn’t reply, just grunted slightly and she shot him a glance. He looked downcast.

Norman really did seem hell bent on them still having their day out on the boat. He was terse and monosyllabic but forging ahead with all the preparations for a day out in the calm bay. He and Jack wound ropes and checked things Emma couldn’t even begin to name while she and Fiona fussed about with other things like getting their picnic into the fridge. Emma would have complained that the gender division of the labour was a bit archaic but it was convenient to have an excuse to talk to Fiona.

“That was wild!” Said Fiona, as soon as they got below deck on Norman’s boat. “I had no idea she was going to be here!”

“So she was on to you then. Maybe she was looking for you at the shop and just managed to play it really cool?” Emma was fizzing with the drama of it all.

“It’s really ruined my plans though.” Said Fiona, tucking a baguette into a cupboard where it wouldn’t fall out.

“What?” Emma spun around, “Oh no you don’t Fiona - you have dragged me down here to hold you to your resolution now you are damn well going to do it.”

Fiona looked at Emma in horror, “I can’t do it now! Not now Helen has beaten me to it - that wouldn’t be fair. Emma come on! You can’t be serious?”

“I’m 100% serious.” Emma waggled a cucumber at Fiona accusingly, “You are dumping him. Today. Helen or no Helen, it makes no difference to your relationship. Think of poor Simon.” They put the rest of the shopping away in silence - each going over and over what the day might hold on deck.

Eventually the food was away and Norman said the boat was ready. They untied the ropes keeping it in the marina and Norman started the engine to pilot them out into the bay. It really was a beautiful day - hot, especially for May, and calm with just a light breeze that seemed to be picking up as they moved further out from the coast. Emma had to hand it to Norman - he really knew what he was doing and they made a smooth course out past the other boats.

“This is quite nice, isn’t it?” Emma said, settling herself beside Jack.
“Yeah.” Said Jack, eyes scanning the horizon.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been sailing on the sea before.”

“No.” Jack was being oddly monosyllabic.

“Everything alright?” Emma prompted but Jack just smiled and nodded and excused himself to check his phone. Emma felt a small shadow pass over her day. Jack had never been anything but cheerful towards her before and it felt odd to have him holding back. She tried to shake off the feeling that she had done something wrong. Perhaps he just felt sea sick or had had a bad text message or something? The memory of text messages prompted her to check her phone but there was nothing from Theo so she tucked her phone into a little cubby and stripped down to her vest and shorts to apply sun lotion and make the most of an extremely strange day.

They sailed for the best part of two hours, conversation dipping and flowing in odd bursts as the four sailors lost themselves in their own personal reveries and then remembered they were supposed to be having a social day. Emma kept sending wide-eyed prompting expressions at Fiona to try and urge her to talk to Norman but Fiona was doing a wonderful job at turning away every time and pretending she hadn’t seen.

When Norman declared he was hungry around 1pm it took all of Emma’s self-restraint not to pull Fiona down into the galley by the hair.

“Fiona!” She hissed, “you absolutely have to break up with him.”

“Keep your voice down!” Fiona shushed back, “I know, I know! But I can’t… it’s so awkward!”

Emma felt her blood boiling in her veins, “I told you it would be more awkward to have us here! I absolutely told you! But you insisted we come so now I am going to hold you to your promise and you are going to do it. Fiona. Are you hearing me?”

Fiona nodded dumbly and they prepped the lunch and carried it carefully back up the wooden steps to the deck. Emma couldn’t think of a single thing to say to cover the awkwardness as they munched on sandwiches and crisps. Jack took a final swallow of his baguette and then cleared his throat.

“So, that was your wife then Norman?” He said, looking Norman directly in the eye. Norman blinked back like a bush baby.

“Er, yes. Yes that was Helen.” His eyes scurried across to Fiona, checking her for any reaction.

“How long had you been married?” Jack asked evenly.

“Just over 30 years.” Said Norman, his voice cracking nervously.

Jack frowned, “So, how long have… you two been together?” He waved a finger vaguely between Fiona and Norman.

“A few years now, it’s been, hasn’t it?” Mumbled Fiona, deeply uncomfortable looking. Jack nodded, processing the information.

“And Helen didn’t know?” He asked. Norman shook his head, finding no words to excuse his behaviour.

Emma swore to herself that if she got off this boat she was never, ever going to be in a situation as uncomfortable as this again. It was skin burningly awkward. The sort of scene that just didn’t happen to real people in real life; this was the sort of day dreamed up by a sitcom writer to torment the characters in their mockumentary series. Emma took a bite of her baguette but could barely taste it she was so focused on Jack, Fiona and Norman. Suddenly Jack’s eyes swivelled round to hers,

“Did you know this was an affair?” He asked, and she felt accused by his tone. Her skin, already a rosy heat due to the sun and situation, suddenly seemed to frazzle beneath his loaded glare. She nodded. Thinking what a good teacher he would have been to get this reaction with a simple question. Jack nodded to himself and went back to examining the crisps in his hand.

Usually Emma would have wished for the ground to open up and swallow her, but here out at sea she wasn’t sure how that would work. Was she hoping for a whirlpool? That felt like the logical sea version.

“But…” Emma heard the word come out of her mouth and tried with all her might to pull the sound back in and swallow it back again.

‘Noooooooo!’ Her inner voice shrieked, ‘Why have you said but?’ She swayed on her perch on the side of the boat.

‘Because Jack was being all fussy and so I wanted to say ‘But she’s breaking up with him here and now and it’s being done with my urgent backing.’ And then he wouldn’t be mad at me any more.’

‘So is this another tick in the We Like Him column?’ A quieter voice asked her.

‘We don’t have time for that right now. Everyone is looking at us.’ She was absolutely sure the coast guard would be able to spot her burning cheeks from the shore and would be along any minute to rescue them.

“But what?” Said Norman, seeming to suspect more bad news was around the corner.

“But…” said Emma carefully, trying desperately to buy herself some time to think but finding no useful thoughts in any of the places she usually searched for her emergency ones. “But…” she looked about herself for anything she could use to distract them. Why wasn’t Fiona helping her out? Get involved Fiona! Help! “But…” she locked eyes with Fiona and begged her silently for help but Fiona was staying stubbornly, or terrifiedly, quiet. Emma swallowed, “But… I heartily encouraged Fiona to end it with Norman and that’s really why we’re all here on the boat today.” The sentence had been formed in her mind for a while, and as the pressure to say something had mounted and no alternative sentences had made themselves available, Emma’s mouth had taken it upon itself to just use the nearest sentence to hand. Emma thought they would probably name the new shade of red her cheeks were discovering after her.

Fiona dropped her barely nibbled sandwich on to the deck, staring at Emma in disbelief. Norman’s gawpy face swivelled round to assess Fiona.

“What’s she talking about?” Norman said to Fiona. But Fiona was stuck on pause, just staring at Emma as if she couldn’t believe she was real. Norman’s head swivelled back the other way to look back at Emma. “Emma?” He continued, “What do you mean?”

Emma’s throat was so dry. Even in her worst imaginings of what today was going to be like, she had never imagined it could be so bad that she would be breaking up with Norman for Fiona. Her hands were slippery with sweat and she felt herself wilting under the sun and stares of her two friends and Norman.

“Fiona doesn’t want to be your girlfriend any more.” Emma hoarsely said into the relative peace of the ocean. “She, she would like to break up with you.” Emma felt like a piece of flaky pastry - completely dried out and crispy. Completely weightless.

Norman’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline and he stood up suddenly, roaring the word “No!”

The shock of Norman’s body weight and sudden movement rocked the boat jerkily and the lemonade they were drinking sloshed over the sides of the cups. Just as Emma sloshed over the side of the boat. Her sweaty palms couldn’t keep their grip on the side of the yacht as she kicked her legs up in a flail and then fell backwards down into the water.

The cold hit her before she really realised what had happened. Her first thought was ridiculously of Goldie Hawn as she prayed with all her might she wouldn’t lose her memory. She kicked her legs out and uprighted herself, heading for the surface and spitting water out. She wiped the seawater out of her eyes and looked up to see three worried faces looking over the side of the boat at her. Jack’s arm shot out and she grabbed it. He pulled her neatly in towards the boat and held her by the side as she trod water.

“Are you ok?” He asked her, clearly worried.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Shock!” Said Emma. Norman called over from the back of the yacht where he had lowered the ladder.

“Can you swim round?” Jack asked, and Emma nodded and set off to the stern to climb back aboard. She heaved herself out of the sea, her limbs trembling with the change in temperature and the surprise of suddenly being overboard. Was this day ever going to end, she wondered? Surely nothing else could happen now?

It was a sincerely frosty trip back in to the marina. Fiona and Norman argued in hushed voices while Jack and Emma tried their best to give them as much space as the yacht would allow. Norman was gracious enough to still drive them back to Bath, although Emma’s clothes were soaked through and the journey back was as bad as the one there but now with added wet itchy skin.

The car pulled up back at Emma and Jack’s building and they said some miserable goodbyes to Fiona, who sat in the front seat looking wetter than Emma actually was. Emma trudged up to the front door.

“Sorry.” She mumbled to Jack, “There always seems to be some sort of disaster when we get together doesn’t there?”

“Yeah” Jack seemed distracted.

“Are you sure everything’s alright?” Emma asked him, “You’ve been terribly quiet all day? I mean, not that that’s surprising. It’s been a weird one. But still. You alright?”

Jack looked at her for a long moment, weighing her up it felt. “I’m just surprised you were ok with Fiona having… having an affair or whatever you want to call it. I’m just… surprised, that’s all. I’m probably just tired. I need to walk Elliott.” And with that he unlocked the front door and headed up the stairs without waiting for her. 

Emma stood on the doorstep. She hadn’t thought she could feel stupider or smaller and yet here she was on the doorstep feeling fully chastised. She felt she was one step off Jack having told her he was “not angry but disappointed” and she wasn’t sure why but it was rankling with her that he’d been angry. She hadn’t had an affair. What was she meant to do about it? A tiny kindled flame of anger licked into life inside her and she used it to completely scrub her internal chalk board tally clear.


Where does Emma go in the next episode?

  1. Department Store
  2. London
  3. Church
  4. You choose…?

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