Loft conversion By Jeanette Lowe
I’ve just had a pay rise, he says, and there’s your redundancy. Stop worrying. See your friends, go shopping.
She does go shopping, she fills their wardrobe. She lunches with old work colleagues, pizza, tapas, and that new place, Turkish. They soon run out of things to say.
The new clothes rustle and waft as she slides open the glossy doors. They dangle like demi-people, heads and limbs severed. Ghosts. She slides the doors shut again, roams the house, goes into bedrooms where snotty toddlers once crawled. Bathrooms, lemon-scented and gleaming from the cleaner’s buffing. The dining room, little used. The utility room, where the ironing gets done. His shirts, her silks.
There are other places. The attic with a pull-down ladder. One day she yanks it free, climbs up and flicks the light-switch, wondering what’s in the boxes, why they keep stuff they never use. Her long painted fingernails prise open her old trunk, picked up at some junk shop years back. Decades. She stands and watches the dust float and swim. Then she looks inside. Fraying straw hats, and the black platform boots she wore when she was a teenager. The old rucksack she took to Thailand a year before she met him, dark blue canvas and cracked leather straps. A scrawny stuffed lion, browning paperbacks. Diaries she daren’t open in case the essence of her younger self escapes, wraps her, suffocates her.
Her mother’s water-ringed bedside cabinet sits by the chimney stack. It opens with a little verdigris key. She brings up a bottle of whiskey, a tumbler, places them inside. Lugs up a fluffy cream-coloured rug, adds a satin cushion from the bedroom. Lies back, only aware of soft radio-voices in the kitchen far below. She pours and sips. Pours some more. Loses her sense of where she has belonged.
She gets out of bed, opens the blind. There’s no sign of him. No towel on the shower room floor, no crumpled sofa cushions, no scummy mug on the coffee table. A text. Sorry darling, worked late, checked into the Travelodge.
After her granola she goes up into the attic and reaches for the little key.
Later, much later, she creeps back down with the rucksack, legs feeble. Dusk is settling, she doesn’t know how long she’s been gone, day-dreamy, stuck.
She lays the rucksack on the bed. Gives it a sniff, fiddles with the buckles and straps. It’s a little musty but it seems intact. She looks out the window, sees it’s been raining.
She brings up strong coffee and opens drawers. T-shirts, sandals. Jeans, jumper. A waterproof. Phone and charger. Credit cards. She laces on her comfy walking boots.
Lingering in the hallway, she considers leaving a note. She decides to text, Good luck, darling. She swings the rucksack onto her back, locks the front and posts the keys back through the letter box. Looks up. Day is sliding into night.