Short, but bitter. ‘Ware typos. Enjoy. Was on old, now redundant blog.
Early Sunday morning. An October mist lingered over dampened grass, the field quiet except for the pounding of feet against the pitch and an occasional sharpened intake of breath. Overhead, a triangle of geese flew; their shape immaculately unconsidered. For a moment Daniel stopped, his chest heaving, heart pounding, and watched the birds without thinking. The silence was rare, both outside and in his head. There was nothing to consider, not yet.
He began again, turning out his knees into a quarter circle to stretch the inside of his legs as he jogged up the side of the pitch. It was early, too early, but it had been a few weeks since he’d last played a match, and he wanted this time now to get his head into the right place, think about the game. Sunday morning football. Escape.
A dog barked, the noise echoing through the trees, from the running track, breaking the spell he was wrapping around himself. The last few weeks still haunted him; the thrill of the chase somewhat lost after what they had found; humanity’s vomit. His boss had suggested a holiday, using up some leave, but Tessa was in a world of her own, and had dismissed the idea, saying she was too busy, and there was no point without her.
Daniel lifted his knees high, feeling muscles loosen, tendons give. A whisper of adrenaline infiltrated his veins and a little bit more life kicked in, the air less chilled. He looked towards the trees that fenced the pitch from the river, aware of another. A familiar sight emerged, wearing the same blue and black, the belly more rotund than his, redder eyes. The same, unchanged.
“Morning!” The accent was clipped, southern. A decade in the north had not robbed Andy of his roots. “You’re up early. Should bloody think so though, after missing so much training. How do I know you’re match-fit?”
Daniel shrugged, laughing. “You’ll have to relegate Cooky to the bench and see.”
Andy laughed, its tone chewed and roughed up. “’Pends who’s paying later.”
“Not seen Cooky buy a pint yet,” Daniel said, stopping the ball that came his way, then kicking it from one foot to the other, his eyes focused on the new leather. “How’s the missus?”
“Still in bed. Seeing her mother this afternoon, so I’m off the hook. Told her you’d probably be here – she said to come round during the week when Tessa’s on a late or something. Think she prefers you to me,” Andy said, stretching pitifully.
“Most women do,” Daniel said, passing the ball roughly to him. “Ones that have taste anyway.”
It was a weak sun that dripped through the gap between the curtains. She’d heard the door close, even though he’d tried to be quiet, wanting to let her sleep. She felt her chest expand with something she’d not felt for months, not since the whole other thing had started. Tessa sat up, holding her knees to her chest and looked around the room. She couldn’t take everything, barely anything. Bile crept up into her mouth and she rubbed her face. This had to be done quickly, before she could think about it too much. She inhaled, smelling him, Daniel. Dan. Danny. Daniel. The names that would no longer be hers. She wondered how long it would be before there was another woman in his bed, in their home. Would he stay here after she had gone? Would he know why she had gone?
Tessa made the bed, neater than usual, leaving his old t-shirt that she had slept him under her pillow. He would realise quickly, maybe as soon as he walked through the door this afternoon, half drunk, happy. He’d know. She didn’t try to stop the tears this time. It would be the only time she could let them fall.
She packed nothing personal, leaving jewellery, photos, the stuffed toy he had given her two years ago that slept on her pillow. She didn’t need much. He would be left with the detritus of their lives together, the clean up job. He didn’t deserve it. Not this, but there was nothing else, nothing she could do, or wanted to.
She went into the lounge, clearing the dishes from the takeaway last night, putting what was left of the wine back in the fridge, its pink liquid tart against her eyes. Her last supper. But she wasn’t Jesus, being sacrificed. Not this time. This time she had turned traitor. Judas. The kiss yet to be given, but it would come in time.
Church bells rang, calling the pious to prayer. It had been three years since her last confession, and there wouldn’t be another one soon. No one would have that length of time to listen. She laughed and it sounded hollow, the decision made.
Tessa sat on the sofa one last time, looking round at the room; photos of them; her; holidays; paradise. She could leave a note, a few scribbled lines a death knell on a scrap of paper, but he would never expect her to write. She always upped and left and he swept up, making everything clean for her return, the prodigal girlfriend who never did repent and this time would never return.
Tessa stood up, a chill gripping her. Their home seemed dusty, the particles choking her. She turned her back, her hand already gripping the small holdall that contained the only parts of this current life she wanted to save. Save from what? She had no idea how deep this pool was into which she was diving.
Outside the air was cold, its frosted fingers poking her as she walked away. She didn’t look back.
Victory was always sweet, especially after putting two goals away. Especially when the opposing goalie was the idiot who talked louder than anyone else in the station canteen. Daniel felt good; his legs ached, felt stretched; a slight bruise from a rough tackle thudded, but it was enough to make him feel alive, that life was good.
Home looked quiet, the windows empty, as if it had closed its eyes. Tessa wasn’t in – he’d already tried to phone, to see if she wanted to join him at the pub for a carvery, but he’d figured she’d probably gone shopping or to one of her friends. He turned the key in the lock and noticed the dust dance in the glare of the light.
The room was tidy. She’d washed up before she’d left, thrown away the wrappers from the Chinese, piled their magazines. Daniel left the door open, forgetting to shut it, and went into their bedroom. The bed was made, a drawer slightly open. Realisation didn’t hit like a train, but caressed his skin with a sickening embrace, freezing him, every inch inside went cold.
He sat down on the bed. Inhaling the faint scent that was hers, from them. His eyes caught sight of her jewellery, make up, underwear, the dress she’d worn on Friday night. He heard her laugh, her cry as she came, the way she said his name. She was paradise, however much harm she’d caused.
But she’d left.
Early Sunday morning.