Today's Reading

I sat at the island with my head in my hands and looked out at the room. A square glass vase of purple tulips sat on the dining table, just where I'd put it a few days before. I'd stopped at Tesco for some milk and had seen them by the entrance, their tight buds and dewy leaves a reminder that summer was on its way. The room was clean and tidy, just as it usually was, but it seemed tarnished now, somehow, like a nightclub in daylight.

There were fewer glasses on the cabinet shelves by the door. When Matt had moved in he'd brought with him some heavy crystal wineglasses his grandmother had given him and placed them in the cabinet. I hadn't liked them, had thought they were old-fashioned and doubted they were nice even when they were in fashion, so their disappearance now was no great loss. My Vera Wang glasses were still there, lined up and ready to party. Ready to party in an empty room.

My stomach rumbled and I went over to the fridge, though I couldn't face eating. The contents of the fridge seemed the same as they'd been at six that morning, when I'd left for Oxford. A supermarket delivery had arrived last night, ready for the weekend ahead, and everything was still there. There was twice as much as I'd need now. I'd ordered the food while I was at work and Matt had unpacked it with me, without a word to suggest he wouldn't be there to eat it. I slammed the fridge door shut and stood with my back to it, breathing heavily, my eyes squeezed tight. When my breathing slowed I opened my eyes and saw the gaps on the magnetic strip above the hob where he'd lovingly placed his Sabatier knives. Below was a space where his French press had stood.

I steeled myself and opened the cupboards.

His packets of coffee beans were gone, the grinder, too. If I leaned forward I could smell the faint aroma of coffee and wondered how long it would last. That was one thing he couldn't erase. I slammed the cabinet door shut. My head throbbed as I opened the lower cupboard and saw the space where his juicer usually stood. In another cupboard I saw his mugs had gone, the huge, ugly ones with logos. He'd carried them with him from university to bedsit and on to his London house and then to our home—my home—and I wished he'd left them so that I could smash them now.

I opened the fridge again and checked the compartments in the door this time. The bottle of ketchup that I never touched—gone. His jar of Marmite—gone. No great loss, as I disliked both of them, but why take them? I checked the kitchen bin and they weren't there. All my bottles and jars had been redistributed along the shelves, so it looked as though nothing was missing.

I pulled a chilled bottle of white wine from the fridge and one of my glasses from the cabinet and sat back at the island. I poured a full glass and drank it down, almost in one gulp, then poured another. I kept looking at my phone to check that his number had actually gone. My mind whirred. He'd been fine the night before; in fact, he'd been in a great mood. I'd got up early that morning to shower and get ready for my trip to Oxford. I'd left at dawn, terrified of getting caught up in the morning traffic. I'd panicked the whole journey in case I was late.

I'd leaned over before I left and kissed him softly on his cheek. His eyes were closed and his breathing steady. His face had been warm and still against my mouth. He was asleep, or at least I'd thought he was. Maybe he was awake, waiting for me to go? Maybe his eyes had snapped open the moment he heard my car drive off and he'd jumped up to start packing.

I started to cry then, at the thought of that. We'd been together for four years—how could he just walk out without an explanation? And to put all my things back in their old places; it was as though he'd never been here!

I drank most of the next glass down, too, and that made me cry again. I loved Matt. I'd always loved him, right from the start. He knew how much he meant to me; I'd told him so many times. We spent all our time together and the thought of being without him made my stomach gallop with panic. I reached out for my phone, wanting to talk to someone, but put it down again. I was filled with shame at being left, humiliated at the way he'd gone. How could I tell anyone what he'd done?

I took the bottle and my glass upstairs with me. I needed oblivion tonight and this was the quickest way there.

When I got to my bedroom door I knew what to expect, but still, the sight of the quilt cover, fresh and clean, upset me again. I'd changed the bed linen the Sunday before and just by chance had put on the burgundy cover he'd brought with him when he moved in. That was gone now; the quilt cover and pillowcases on our bed were embroidered white cotton, mine from long before I'd met him.

I steeled myself and opened his wardrobe doors. Of course it was empty. Wire hangers hung on the rail and there wasn't even the faintest smell of his cologne. There didn't seem much point in checking the drawers, but I did anyway. I opened each one and they were as empty as the day I bought them.

I took off my clothes and dropped them in the empty laundry basket in the bathroom, found my oldest and softest cotton pajamas and put them on, all the while avoiding my reflection in the mirror over my chest of drawers. I was too mortified to see my own face.

In bed as the night grew dark, with just the light from the landing coming through to the room, I poured glass after glass of wine and drank it without tasting it. I reached into the bottom drawer of my bedside dresser and found my headphones. They were the kind that canceled noise, just what I needed tonight, when I didn't want to hear anything, not even my own thoughts. In the darkness of the room, I could feel my head buzzing and my cheeks tightening as the alcohol entered my bloodstream. I took the pillow from Matt's side of the bed and curled into it. It smelled clean and fresh; there was no trace of him there. Tears ran down my face and no matter how many times I dried it, within seconds it was drenched again. When I thought of him packing up everything and leaving me without a word, without a hint that he was going, I felt like a fist was clenching my heart, squeezing it tight. I could hardly breathe.

Where was he?

This excerpt ends on page 22 of the paperback edition.
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