She gazed through the bedroom window. Angry clouds hurled every atom of their contents as if they had not a moment to lose in getting on with making the day as difficult as possible for another poor soul. She had to collect the children from school. As she summoned her resolve to move, the phone rang. Flying downstairs like a cat frightened by thunder she grabbed the phone terrified that she would be a second too late. She wasn’t. There was that bass voice, coming across the English Channel (or ‘La Manche’ as he had always insisted upon calling it). Trembling, she got her words out, ‘Jean-Pierre, how are you?’
‘Oui, je vais bien. I am okay. Is this how you say it?’
She and Jean-Pierre had met on a week-end break in Paris. Love came quickly, and seeped away, step-by-tiny step when she was back home. Back home where she belonged with her children: Sam and Lisa.
Stepping off the fight from Paris that Sunday evening she believed it could work. But six months on she knew all was not well. It had become very costly. He never contributed financially. Broke, always broke. With two kids and no job, romance with a French artist was not exactly practical. Romantic, yes; practical, no. He was barely working. She was supporting him financially and resented it.
He did not understand why she had become distant.
‘You don’t want me now you are back to UK?’ he said accusingly. He did rejection well. ‘Speak in French, don’t understand English well. Your French is good, okay?’ But her mind could hardy function in English never mind French. Last night she had taken her children shopping. On their return, dense choking fumes had emerged from under the bonnet getting into the car. It was dark, and it was terrifying. In the middle seemingly of nowhere and with no signal on her mobile. Her feeble but frantic attempts to attract the attention of the few passing motorists were studiously ignored. She could hardly blame them: a smoking car on an unlit country road, a wildly waving woman.
As she stood listening to Jean-Pierre, thoughts of the night before came flooding back. She recalled looking at her children on the back seat, little ones having every confidence that mummy would deal with the situation. She remembered image after terrifying image skidding across her mind like a series of nightmares. She closed her eyes as tightly as skin on a drum praying as she had never prayed, ‘God, send your angels.’
She turned the key in the ignition. The engine reached within itself and found some life. The smoky fumes were still there, but life was also there. The smoking, groaning car made it back, just. Reaching the front of the house, knowing its job was done, sensing it had delivered its precious cargo, it stopped. The angels had carried out their assignment.
Her evening slumbers had restored her perspective. She had spent the morning taking stock, and the car to the garage. The low-throated French voice asked
‘Are you still there, ma cherie? ‘
What sort of time was this to be thinking of love and romance?
‘Yes, I’m here.’ she replied, ‘ just thinking about the car, whether it can be fixed and how much they are going to charge me.’
‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there to help you,’ he said, without conviction.
‘You know it’s over between us, right?’ she said sadly.
‘Why is it over?’ came the reply with a seeming sob.
‘Our relationship is over, but you don’t want to believe it. You look for signs of life, but unlike my car’s engine there is nothing to re-ignite. No life within to revive. Nothing to bring us safely home, nothing amidst the smoke and the fumes.’
She glanced at the clock. It showed 3 pm. She was glad of the excuse to tell him that she had to go and collect the kids from school. She peered through the small window in the front door. It looked bleak but there were now breaks in the angry clouds. ‘Au revoir.’ she murmured
‘Yes, he said. ‘A bientot.’
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