My thanks go to LadyCibelle, and my friend SH for assisting me in preparing this tale for posting. But ... well, it was written sometime ago and I've been fiddling again (this is actually revision 3), so there could be all kinds of cock-ups that have slipped in since either of them saw the draft!
God! That was a day to remember I can tell you! To all intent and purposes it was a normal Saturday evening dinner. Even young Rachel was there, staying with us for the weekend, as she most often did in those days.
Oh, I suppose I'd better explain up front, about the wherefore of young Rachel being there. Rachel's mother, Andorra -- who by the way, I'd never laid eyes on at the time -- was a widow and she worked some pretty horrendous hours as a dispatch controller for a taxi company most every weekend. Ottilie and Rachel had become best buddies at school and somewhere along the line it had become commonplace for the two girls to sleepover at each other's houses.
Eventually it had become standard procedure for Rachel to sleepover at our place Friday and Saturday nights whilst her mother did 12-hour night shifts and grabbed a few hours sleep during the day. Marge (Ottilie's mother and my one-time wife) had obviously gotten to know Andorra quite well, but quite honestly -- at the time -- I'd never even laid eyes on her. Not for any particular reason that I can think of ... unless Marge thought the lovely Andorra would turn my head; it was just how things had worked out.
I was on the road a lot back then; the company I worked for was young, and we were busy trying to grab our own chunk of a market that had been pretty well sown up by other suppliers for many years. It just so happened that Marge did all the dropping off and picking up. Although Rachel was often picked up from our place on Sundays by any of the Taxi's that happened to passing close by.
I think Rachel enjoyed being spoilt by those taxi drivers arriving armed with sweets and ice creams etc. when they came to collect her. Come to that, our Ottilie didn't mind when they called to collect Rachel either; she normally got the same goodies as they gave her.
Anyway where was I? Oh yeah, that infamous Saturday evening meal. So there the four of us were, sitting around the table eating. Marge had just served our sweet and I think I'd just returned to the table after putting the main course dishes in the kitchen. Anyway without a second thought about the two girls' sitting with us, and with no prior warning or build up whatsoever, Marge suddenly announced.
"Pete I want a divorce, I'm leaving you!" Then she tucks into her sweet like she'd not dropped just about the biggest brick she could come up with, on my head.
"Sorry?" was the extent of my reply, I believe.
When your wife of ten years, drops a statement like that into the conversation completely out of the blue; your first reaction is wonder whether your ears have just deceived you.
"I said that I want a divorce. I've found someone else and I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
Yeah well, what the soddin' hell could I reply to a statement like? Remembering of course that there were two impressionable eight-year-olds – one of whom was our daughter - sitting there at the table with us, to witness my every word ... and/or physical action.
I do believe that under the circumstances I showed outstanding control that day, and the patience of a saint. On reflection I have always been very proud of the restraint I displayed.
For some considerable time I sat there and played Marge's words back over in my mind. That is until, I convinced myself that I hadn't gone gaga and she had just told me that she wanted me out of her life.
I think I must have made some stupid statement like "If that's the case, I'll go flat hunting tomorrow." Or something stupid like that, anyway.
Remember, I suppose I was in a state of shock at the time, so my recollection of the details is probably a little bit faulty. Whatever, I did say something about moving out of the house, but Marge came back the real humdinger.
"No, you'll have to keep the house, I won't be needing it and you'll need it for Ottilie."
I stopped pretending to eat the rapidly melting ice cream on my dish and stared at Margery.
"We're going on a trip around the world, and Ottilie can't afford to miss all that schooling at her age." Marge nonchalantly added, not even looking up from her dish.
"You have to be kidding me!" I replied in a rather louder voice, than I'd intended.
Look, I wasn't keeping my emotions in check for Marge's sake, but for the two impressionable young girls sitting at the table with us. On reflection, I realise that Marge had probably chosen to make her announcement during the meal, because she knew full-well I'd restrain myself in front of the children.
"I want to see the world whilst I'm still young enough to enjoy it!" Margery responded. Completely failing to see the irony in her statement.
At that point words completely failed me, and -- if it wasn't for the seriousness of the situation -- I might well have burst out laughing.
You see, when Marge and I first got together, I was dead keen on travelling. I'd grown up with the plan in the back of my head that when I finished my engineering training, I'd travel the world for a few years, before I settled down.
When Marge had come into my life, I hadn't seen any need to change that plan; I pictured Marge and I backpacking around exotic places together.
Marge however, had seen things a little differently. Yeah, just like me she had been keen to see the world. The Grand Canyon, The Rocky Mountains and those great big redwood trees they have over there. We even talked about places like Ayers Rock in Oz and the North Island of New Zealand with its boiling mud pools and things. A New Zealander mate of mine had told of us about his skiing trips on the south island; that had always sounded like fun; a bit more exotic than the Alps anyway.
But Marge had a slightly different game plan to mine in mind. Whereas I figured we'd get married and lit-out right after I'd qualified with what savings I/we'd managed to stash away. I'd figured, a couple of years or so travelling and then we'd come back to the UK, settle down and have some kids. That's always assuming that we hadn't found anywhere else we'd like to settle whilst on the road.
Marge's plan was to have the children first; ironically "Whilst I'm young enough to enjoy them!" had been her exact words. Was that ironic or what?
Okay at the time I thought I'd understood Marge's stance. Her parents had been quite old when her mother had her, and she'd always been conscious of the fact. Anyway Marge's idea was that when the children flew the nest, then we'd travel the world together.
Apparently -- or so it appeared -- Margery had had a change of heart. Maybe looking after Ottilie hadn't been as much fun as she'd thought it would be. I know that the pregnancy and actually giving birth hadn't been to her liking. The idea of having three children had rapidly been removed from the master plan once Ottilie had been born, without much of a discussion with anyone; that I had been aware of anyway.
I think that was the moment that I nearly broke, but I couldn't very well laugh out-loud; although looking back now, maybe I should have done. I couldn't sit there listening to Marge's crap any longer, or I'm sure I would have lost the plot and done something that I'd finish up regretting for a very long time.
I just got up from the table and went out into the garden, where for some reason, -- probably out of habit and because it was a job that just has to be done -- I started deadheading my roses.
I have no idea how much time passed before I was aware that I had company. It was Rachel's arm I think I noticed first, as she started deadheading the bush next to the one I was working on. Then I noted that Ottilie was working on the bush the other side of me. Neither of the girls had said anything to announce their arrival.
"Mind the thorns girls; you haven't got your gardening gloves on!" I found myself automatically warning them.
"We'll be careful daddy." Ottilie replied.
"What's your mother doing?" I asked, kind-of absent-mindedly. I'm not sure why I asked my daughter that, it was like another automatic response.
"I think she's upstairs, packing." Ottilie replied quietly, as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Suddenly I was so very angry again, I couldn't continue deadheading the damned roses. I feared that if I did, I'd pull the fresh blooms off as well. I found myself stepping back and watching the girls continue.
Really, I wanted to rush upstairs and throttle Margery. But not so much for announcing that she was leaving me out of the blue. More, because she'd virtually told our daughter that she didn't want Ottilie to go with her. I couldn't understand how any mother -- let alone my wife -- could do that to her child.
"I'm sorry Ottilie!" I found myself saying, without any further explanation/
"Why daddy, you haven't decided to leave us, mummy has?" My daughter replied obviously understanding what my apology was all about. "Most of the kids at school; it's their daddy's who have gone. I'd rather stay with a daddy who loved me, than a mummy who..."
Ottilie didn't complete her sentence and I wonder to this day what she had been intending to say. I've always wondered, but I suppose I'll never know what I'd missed over the years; had Margery somehow given Ottilie the impression that she didn't love her?
I thought not, well not that I had noticed; Marge had always seemed to me to be a loving mother to Ottilie. She also appeared to dote over Rachel when she was at the house as well. But if I was blind enough not to see that my wife had herself a fancy man tucked away somewhere; I had to wonder what else I had missed?
But then perhaps Ottilie had read into Margery's announcement that her mother didn't love her; purely because she wasn't taking Ottilie with her.
Suddenly I noted that the two girls were then working on the same rose bush together. What's more they were holding hands, one pulling the dead rose heads and the other taking them from her and dropping them into the basket.
At almost the same moment I realised that I could hear Margery talking to someone -- probably her new man -- on the telephone in the bedroom. The windows being open because it was a warm day.
I couldn't hear what she was actually saying to him, but knowing that children's hearing is often far better than adults, I realised that the girls might be able to.
"Ice-cream!" I found myself announcing loudly. "Come on girls, let's go and get ourselves the biggest ice-creams we can find?"
I knew they'd just had ice cream for their desert. My own, having melted whilst I pushed it around the dish. But it was the best idea my confused brain could come up with at such short notice.
Both girls erupted into whoops of joy and instantly seemed to forget about the roses and high five'd each other; something I'd never noticed them doing before. I found myself walking to the car with an eight-year-old skipping along either side of me, each holding one of my hands.
To make it a little special, I didn't take the girls to one of the local fast food places; we didn't have a proper ice cream shop locally. Instead I headed for one of the many restaurants around our town and ordered their blow-out desert ice cream Sundaes. I doubted that either child would actually finish eating them though; blimey was I wrong!
It took them some time to consume them, and that proved useful to me. I was beginning to get over the shock of Margery's sudden announcement and come to terms with what Marge was doing to us. And to take stock of what the resulting immediate and long-term ramifications were going to be.
For some inexplicable reason I found that personally I couldn't give two hoots that Margery was going. Oh yeah, I'd miss her but ... Well any actual love I'd felt for the woman had been instantly annihilated by her announcement and how she'd made it in front of Ottilie.
There was anger of course, but I had logistical problems to take care of. I had other things to worry about, there just wasn't any time to waste on those kinds of thoughts.
There was going to be a big problem that Margery's leaving, was going to give me, and that was childcare. Oh, I was sure I could look after Ottilie all right, but I'd had to have someone to take her to and collect from school everyday. I was sure that my employers would be as helpful as they could, but our office hours were nine until five; whereas school hours were nine until three. And ... who the hell was going to look after Ottilie during the holidays.
Rachel? Well, I was sorry, but I had my own problems; her mother would have to sort hers out as best she could. I remember thinking I'd have to call her later and explain the situation.
The only plan I could come up with, was my sister. Carol lived a good distance away, but maybe somehow she could collect Ottilie from school in the afternoons; even if it would mean a long drive for the both of us. The only drawback I could see there, were Carol's own children, they possibly finished school at the same time as Ottilie did.
I found myself pulling out my mobile phone and calling Carol; maybe if I threw the ball in her court, she'd come up with some plan or the other. Carol had always been pretty good at that kind of thing.
"She's done what!" Carol shouted down the telephone at me, when I explained Margery's announcement as briefly as I could and trying not to go into the details -- what I knew of them -- because the girls were sat at the table with me. Actually I surprised myself in how little I'd learned from what Margery had said. I had no idea how long her affair had been going on, or anything; not even the who, she was 'having it away' with.
"Carol, I said that Marge has run off with some guy and left us."
"Who? What guy?" Carol demanded.
"I have no idea Carol, just some Casanova she's picked up somewhere, I suppose. I didn't bother to ask!"
"His name's Ronald!" Ottilie announced, taking me completely by surprise.
"He's a customer at the library!" Rachel added, probably not to be outdone.
Marge had been doing a little part-time work, helping out at the library for some months. Just for pin money, and to get herself out of the house; or so she'd said.
I found myself staring at the two girls, who were still sitting there nonchalantly battling their way through their giant ice cream Sundaes, at the same time as I found myself echoing their statements to Carol.
" ... but my problem is Carol. I have no idea what I'm going to do about picking up Ottilie from school everyday. I can drop her off in the mornings and go into the office a little late; but there's no way I can knock off at half-two everyday."
"That's all right daddy. Rachel's mother will collect me from school!" Ottilie pointed out with the logic of a child, and before Carol had time to reply.
"It wouldn't be fair to ask her to do that everyday Ottilie." I tried to explain to the child.
"Oh, it'll be no problem," Ottilie informed me. "We've got it all worked out, haven't we Rachel?"
Rachel looked up from her ice cream, nodded and then grinned at me; somehow telling me for the first time that the two girls had been quietly conspiring together. But where they had found the time, or opportunity that afternoon, I had no idea.
"Rachel will stay at our house on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights," Ottilie was explaining, "and I'll stay with Rachel and her mother on the other school nights. You can take us to school on Monday's and Rachel's mother will pick us up when she gets out of bed in the afternoon."
Ottilie gave me one of those child's satisfied 'easy-peasy, problem solved looks'.
I'm not sure what expression I had on my face, as I sat there in amazement. Carol though, must have overheard what Ottilie had said, because she was saying.
"Sounds like a brilliant plan to me, Pete. Have you asked her?"
"Well no Carol, for some reason I never thought about it. Look I've never met Rachel's mother; the idea never entered my head. I honestly have no idea whether she'll go for it; it's a lot to ask."
"The taxi man has been asking mummy to work on Sunday nights for a long time." Rachel suddenly joined the conversation. "Mummy said she'd get more money working Sunday nights at the taxi place than she does at the shop. But she didn't want to impose on Ottilie's mother by asking her to look after me."
I had to gather from reading between the lines of Rachel's statement, that her mother must have been working part-time in a shop somewhere during the week. Christ, the woman must be working around the clock, I thought to myself.
"Sounds to me like the children have got your problem licked. What's Ottilie's friend's mother like?"
"I have no idea; you know, I've never met the lady, Carol."
I had to be careful what I said, because I knew by then, that the two little innocents sitting the other side of the table were earwigging every word that I said.
"Well brother, I'd say you'd better get your arse round there and have a chat with Rachel's mother a bit sharpish, and see what she thinks of the children's plan." Then returning the subject to Margery, Carol asked. "Has the bitch moved out of the house already?"
"I have no idea Carol; the girls and I are in a restaurant in town. I brought them out for ice cream before ... Yeah well, you know! But I think she was packing when we left."
"I'd say that you'd better pick up some new door locks whilst you're in town then; I'm sure you don't need the cow trying to come back! Call me later if you need anything tonight Pete, or Frank and I can come over later if you want. But if we both come, we'd have to bring the children with us."
"Thanks Carol, but I don't think that will be necessary. You know, I do believe I've got all the help I'm going to need this evening, sitting here with me now."
The two girls grinned at each other, then at me and finally high five'd each other again; something I was to see them do many times in the following few months. Only at the time, I had little idea what the little sods were really up to.
Another thing I didn't notice was that Carol not only hadn't sounded especially surprised to hear that Margery was leaving me; she didn't sound particularly upset about it either. But then, I'd never have claimed that the two women got on at all well, and they definitely never could have been described as being close friends.
The girls' ice creams eventually consumed, we made our way back out to the car. But I still didn't drive home; I had a rather delicate mission to perform first. Rachel's mother had to be informed that I'd be the only adult in the house with the girls that night, and I needed to be assured she was okay with that fact. Well, there's some pretty weird characters about nowadays and as far as I knew, Rachel's mother had never clapped eyes on me.
I stopped outside the taxi office and -- leaving the girls in the car -- went in to find Rachel's mother.
"My names Pete Thomas and I'm looking for young Rachel's mother." I said to the taxi driver sitting behind the counter, who I thought I vaguely remembered collecting Rachel from the house one Sunday afternoon.
It might seem odd but I had no idea what Rachel's mothers name actually was, at the time. Both Marge and Ottilie had always referred to her as Rachel's mother in my hearing, and Rachel had always called her mummy.
Several Guys -- obviously taxi drivers on a break -- were sitting around in old armchairs drinking tea or coffee. I felt that I had immediately become the centre of attention for them all, the moment I mentioned Rachel. All concentration on the TV playing in the corner of the office and conversation had come to an abrupt halt at the sound of her name.
She's indisposed at the moment in her private office; she'll be back soon." The guy behind the counter smiled at me, gesturing with his head towards a door bearing a sign saying "Ladies Only", but that some wag had taped a piece of paper to, bearing the words "Andorra's Office".
I stood and waited, trying not to show that I'd noticed that everyone in the place was studying me intensely. It seemed an eternity until the door finally opened and I got the surprise of my life.
I'm not sure what I had expected Rachel's mother to look like, but certainly it was nothing like how she did look.
It wasn't like she was dressed to the nines or anything; actually she was just wearing a pair of -- extremely close fitting -- old denims and a matching blue blouse; equally figure hugging. But damn, she was one of those women who had presence; she'd have look good dressed in an old sack. Add to that, the immaculate make-up -- not overdone just enough to accentuate her facial features -- and not having a hair out of place. God the woman looked like a model on a catwalk; she glided along with the same grace -- style or whatever you call it -- as they do as well as well.
I could definitely see and understand why, all those drivers had showed interest in my asking about her and possibly why they were all hanging around the taxi office.
"Andorra, there's this guy here, wants to see you." The man behind the counter said.
"Hi Pete, is there a problem?" She asked with a big smile on her face, but maybe a slightly concerned tone to her voice. I'll admit that I was a little ... er, I don't distracted I think and didn't answer her immediately.
Oh, well come on; how many women have you run into in you life with a name like "Andora?"
"Yes ... no, well there could be." I replied, looking around nervously at all the guys who were by then pretending, not to be watching and listening to us. "But Rachel's fine and there's nothing really to worry about; I just think I should let you know what's going on, that's all. Can we talk somewhere private?"
Instantly all the guys began to rise from their seats, I assume to go outside and leave us alone in the office. But Andorra told them stay; that we'd go outside.
"What's up Peter, you don't look too clever?" Andorra said, as the door closed behind us. But then she spotted the girls with their noises squashed against the car window and waved to them.
"Well the problem is ... Andorra ... Margery has left me!" I stumbled out.
It felt very strange talking to her, and even calling her Andorra; it was the first time we'd met. I had also been a little confused that she'd instantly recognised me, and knew who I was; I was sure we'd never met before.
"Oh my god, you poor man!" Was her first reaction; but then her mind must have realised the possible implications of the situation. "Oh, does this mean we have a child care problem this evening?"
"Oh no ... Andorra." I was having trouble with that name. "It's just that we've never met and I thought ... Well I don't know what I thought ... That you should know that I'll be minding the children on my own this evening, I think. I just thought you should know, after all we're virtual strangers."
"Not all that much Peter. Rachel goes on about you all the time; you might not realise it but she treats you like a surrogate father. She's even got a picture of you along with the one of my husband beside her bed.
"Oh my, where did she get that?"
"Ottilie gave it to her, I believe! Anyway, do you want me to get the night off and take the girls or anything... ? I can, if you want to be alone."
"Oh my god, no. No, I just thought it would be prudent to let you know the score. Christ I'd be in a real state if they hadn't been there this afternoon. I'm fine looking after Rachel; I was just a little concerned that you should know."
"I'm sure Rachel couldn't be in better hands, Peter." She said reaching out and taking hold of my hand as if to emphasize the point. "I'll come by and collect Rachel in the morning."
"No you need your sleep; five o'clock as usual will be fine. But maybe you could drop by yourself, because we really need to discus what's going to happen in the future. If you like, I can bring Rachel home?"
"Oh yes ... the future ... I wasn't thinking." Andorra replied, a somewhat even more concerned expression coming over her face. The possible long-term implications of Margery leaving me must have suddenly come to her mind.
"Don't be concerned I think between us we can possibly work something out. The girls are full of ideas already." I smiled at her as best I could.
Andorra looked slightly relieved. "Oh right, but I'll collect Rachel, I'm sure you'll have lots of things you need to concentrate on!"
"Thanks, yeah I suppose I have, if I could just get my head around them. I'll see you tomorrow evening then, and please don't worry about Rachel; she's a remarkable young lady."
"Aren't they both!" Andorra commented, as we walked over to the car, where she had few words with the girls, kissing them both good night and telling them to behave themselves.
There was a strange car parked in my drive when we arrived at the house. Margery got out of it and came over as I pulled to the curb.
"Where have you been, I've been waiting here for hours?" She demanded, before going on to tell us curtly that she was leaving now. Honestly even after that bomb she'd dropped on me earlier, I couldn't relate the way she was acting and speaking, to the woman I'd been married to for so long.
"If that's who I think it is, I suggest you tell the 'Git', to get his car out of my drive before I move it for him!" I replied just as curtly. Actually I was very near the mark, and I was extremely annoyed with Margery for having the guy there when we returned. Kind-a like rubbing my nose in it, I thought!
Looking back, I really think that I'd controlled my emotions impeccably that day; I'll admit mainly because the children were present. But to me, it appeared that Margery had been trying to push me over the top. Possibly, she could use that as some kind of justification to herself for what she was doing, if to no one else.
Margery gestured with her arm and the Jag roared into life, then slid out of the drive and parked across the street. Ignoring the fact that Margery was standing close beside the car, I slipped it back into gear and swung across the road so that I could reverse into the space where the Jag had been standing. Margery was complaining that I'd almost run her down, as I climbed out of the car.
"Oh are you still here, I thought you'd gone." I lied and walked towards the front door. But then I stopped and turned to look at her. "Aren't you taking that?" I demanded, gesturing towards the little Nissan that Margery usually drove. It had suddenly registered in my mind that the Jag was apparently packed to the roof with Margery's belongings, but the Nissan was empty.
"Not much point, you might as well sell it. We're flying out of the country on Wednesday." She retorted.
"Where to? Where do I have my solicitor send the divorce papers?" I found myself demanding. But Marge had pre-empted me.
"The address of Ronnie's solicitor is on the kitchen table, he'll know where to contact us." She curtly replied, and then turned to speak to Ottilie who along with Rachel had also got out of the car by then.
I'm afraid I didn't wait to hear what they said to each other, and my daughter and I have never discussed it since. But it couldn't have been very much because both girls followed me into the house seconds later and firmly closed the door.
What I didn't see, but I heard - somewhere in the back of my mind - was the pronounced "slap" of their hands as he little devils high-five'd each other yet again. I'm afraid to say, that I didn't read anything into the sound at the time.
The girls and I settled down on the sofa to watch TV for a while before I told them that I thought it was about time they hit the hay. Both gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, before disappearing up to bed without argument; a first on Ottilie's part from my recollection.
I have no idea what time I eventually hit the hay, although I'll admit I had a couple of scotches to help me sleep that night.
I awoke Sunday morning to the usual smell of frying bacon permeating the house. For a moment I forgot that Margery was gone, and looked at the clock in wonderment that she was up first on a Sunday. Then the memory of the day before came flooding back and I found myself looking around the room; something was not right, or different about it, but for a few seconds I couldn't put my finger on exactly what?
Then I realised, that when I'd gone to bed, there had been signs of Margery's departure all over the place; dresser draws left half open and her wardrobe doors ajar. Now they weren't just closed, all sign that Margery had ever existed, had disappeared from sight. Even the damned pictures of her mother and father I remembered noticing she'd left, were not on top of the now completely bare dressing table.