NOVEL: "Ladybird, ladybird"

Chapter 18 (then)

After all attempts had failed and you had disappeared at the end of our garden, your father and I were sitting in the Italian trattoria Nonna Mariza on Upper Street in Islington. Andrea Bocelli was filling up the silence with a heartbreaking Bésame Mucho. The waiting staff seemed completely unfamiliar, and there was no sign of Jo, the short and chubby Calabrian owner – who we called the Godfather of Tiramisù as he insisted, probably rightly, that his version of the renowned sweet was the best outside of Italy.
“Maybe Jo sold it off?” I said missing his flamboyant welcome. Amici cari, come state? Haven’t seen you ages for! And that “for ages” meant a week or possibly two, rarely longer than that. And how about finishing your meal with the best tiramisù in London? I made it myself this morning!
“He probably just went on holiday!” said Jason apathetically, as he dug his mobile phone from the bottom of his front pocket, checked the display for received messages or missed calls and put it on the table, next to his glass of wine.
“Are you waiting for a call? This time in the evening? Can’t you just switch it off while we are having our dinner?”
A rainy and chilly evening was staring at us through the steamed-up windows. Gloominess had been pouring down from the grey sky for months and I could no longer remember what a sunny day looked and felt like. What do you talk about when you don’t want to talk about feelings and pain? Do you talk about food? Do you talk about work? Why do you, trying to fill the silence, end up quarrelling?
“I might be… There is no need to get worked up about it...”
“I’m not getting worked up! I would just prefer to have my food without a sound or sight of a mobile phone. Or just the tension of the fact that your phone might ring! Instead we can have a nice chat…”
“We can still have a chat.”
“Well…it’s not the same if you are waiting for a call…”
“Oh please, give me a break! Why do you always have to get annoyed with little and unimportant things?”
“Jason… I was just saying that you can surely survive without your mobile phone for half an hour or for the whole evening…”
“Don’t tell me what to do! You are always criticising me!”
“I’m not criticising you! I just said that it would be nice to have our dinner without the mobile phone ringing… ”
There was a side to Jason that only I knew and it was not pleasant at all. It was a combination of tiredness, pressure of work, his own private discontent, frequent migraines and shoulder aches; and the easiest option was to take it out on those closest to him.
Jason worked as a trademark attorney for a commercial law firm in Holborn. His was a stable and well paid job which in return asked for long days at the office and many extra hours at home. Sorry but have to do some reading tonight, have to prepare for a meeting tomorrow, for a brief with these American clients of ours, have to go to the UK Patent and Trademark office in Wales again tomorrow, another time next week, then the week after, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. These were his usual greetings when he would finally reach our door in the evening. I would just shrug my shoulders whatever, Jason.
“We haven’t had much time for each other…recently…” I added.
“I’m working on a very difficult case and I’m knackered all the time … I’m afraid you have to accept that! You have to take on board what I’m telling you...for a change.”
His voice got louder and I knew we were heading for an argument I could not face that night. I dropped my fork and knife halfway through my pizza with aubergines and Parma ham, grabbed my coat and bag from the chair behind me and ran out of the restaurant, my eyes filling with tears. For a few minutes I aimlessly walked down Upper Street, then I cut across to Liverpool Road and rambled around the less busy streets of Islington and Highbury feeling the rain drops oozing down my neck. I wished I could disappear. Or be brave enough to grab my passport and leave. Leave Jason, leave London, leave this rain behind and head somewhere else, somewhere sunnier and more optimistic. Maybe I should finally return to Lovran? But – I didn’t feel strong enough to explain to mother my sudden and final decision and tell her about your short existence. If I don’t tell anyone, you will still live with me.
Jason had changed over the last fifteen years. Our years together. His eyes were deepened with sadness and occasional powerless anger. Was it me, the circumstances or just the unstoppable rhythm of time? Was it the fact that we just wanted some calm and reassuring normality in our lives and we were just not able to get it? The line between a wish and obsession becomes invisible and you slip imperceptibly into the underworld of painful and incessant obsession. Your mind dissolves so easily and so quickly, just like an effervescent multivitamin with the taste of grapefruit. Whatever you do you can’t make someone happy just like that. Happiness becomes an unachievable concept, an unattainable wish. Our conversations became colder and then we just stopped talking all together. In our early days I used to miss him to the level of physical pain and was desperate for his presence, his touch, his kisses. How could all of that evaporate and turn into a repulsive force? Your family home becomes unwelcome and you would rather wander around nameless streets than turn the key in your door. We slept on the far sides of our king size bed not interrupting each other’s sleepless nights, trying not to touch with our elbows or bending knees.
You know where it’s all going to, but you just don’t want either to speed it up or prevent it from happening. You just want it to develop according to the course of nature and its own internal rhythm. Just like a slow-cooked stew. At the end of the day the result was absolutely the same whether you speeded it up, left it untouched or tried to prevent it from happening – it always ended up in a complete disintegration.


***


It was a sunny but nippy Saturday afternoon in early summer. After a morning of long showers and reading the newspapers, we drove to Homebase on Forrest Road. Jason backed into the first available parking bay, behind a large blue van with Modern Electric Solutions written on it, miles away from the shop.
“This will do!” He said satisfyingly.
“What? Are we leaving the car like this?”
“What’s the problem now? It’s perfectly all right like this. I’m quite pleased with my parking manoeuvres, actually!”
“But…how will we put the stepladder in? Don’t you ever think of these practical details?”
“We’ll manage… It’s not a big deal…is it?”
Oh Jason, it is – it’s a massive deal! You should think of these things. If it means a lot to me – it is a big thing! Your father never thought of the practicalities of everyday life. By this point, he had already given up on everything. And I could see you on the back seat, with ginger hair and a purple cardi from the Next baby range. You were about six months and were chatting away and putting everything in your mouth..
We lowered the front and back passenger seats and just about managed to lay the ladder on top of them, with a small part sticking out at the back.
“See… No problem!” said Jason triumphantly.
On the way back we stopped in the Co-op pharmacy on Wood Street and Jason waited in the car. The young Indian assistant took ages to collect my prescription and interview me about allergies and my own private history of ill health and diseases. When he disappeared in the back room I started nervously pacing the shop, glancing at a shelf full of cheap beauty products, mainly Nivea creams and Imperial Leather soaps.
When I reached the car, Jason was mad.
“What the hell took you so long?”
“I just knew it! I knew you would react like this! I was getting nervous in there…knowing that you would be pissed off as you had to wait so long in the car… As if it was my fault.”
“I’m not cross with you… I just can’t believe that it took them so long to give you a box of pills!”
“Why are you taking it out on me then? You probably think I had a coffee and a chat with the chemist while he was preparing my medicine!”
“I was just annoyed with waiting on the yellow line! I’m not a saint and you would like me to be a saint at all times.”
“Jason, I’m not discussing things in general… I’m discussing this moment in time. There was no need to yell at me. Maybe you should have gone to the pharmacy and have a go at the chemist who made you wait so long?!!”
Suddenly I felt like a broken vase; my eyes became heavy with dense tears and my chest got tight and painful. I looked through the car window as if everything was normal. Scores of people were walking on both sides of the street, some heading to the cafés, others carrying large shopping bags from Sainsbury’s and Asda’s. Yes – the world went on as normal.


***


Jason came back shortly before midnight, his breath smelling of beer.
“Oh…you’re still awake?”
“Kind of…”
I don’t tell him that I had been fast asleep on the sofa till ten minutes before when I woke up wandering where he was.
“Was working till late…And then a few of us popped out for a drink.”
“Ok. Fine. I’m off to bed now.”
Then he reaches for the remote control and flicks through the channels till the early hours of the morning.


***


You become obsessed without any warning signs and when you realise it you are already in the eye of the storm, in a whirl of painful thoughts and emotions. In a state of disillusion and broken hopes you don’t know how you got yourself into. You are in a gutter, but you can’t figure out why the hell you didn’t avoid, jump over or steer around it, anything rather than walking directly into it
“I can’t go on like this. You are pushing me over the edge!”
“But…”
“I can’t deal with your depressions anymore, with your negative moods… I know it’s hard, but you just have to accept it and move on. This is the prime of our life… I don’t want to spend it like this…”
”Jason, I just asked you to wake me up at 6 as you were up at 5!”
“I forgot, sorry…there is no need to have a go at me…”
“How can you forget to wake me up? It’s already seven o’clock, I’ll be in later than I wanted to be and it’s completely ruined my day!”
“People do oversleep, you know.”
“I did not oversleep! You couldn’t be bothered to wake me up! And not only you are not apologising, but you are also having a go at me for being cross with you!” I was getting a set of underwear from the chest when the drawer got stuck and I couldn’t close it. “This fucking drawer! It always gets stuck!” I pushed it violently, causing a bottle of perfume to fall on the floor and a few other things to disappear behind or underneath it. “Grrrrr… Excellent!”
“Listen, you...we...need help!” suggested Jason staring at my angry expression.
“Help? No we don’t!”
“Psychological advice? Counselling?”
“I don’t want any fucking counselling! I want my ginger girl back! No counselling can give me that.”
”You are losing it, honestly…”
I looked at Jason and he was full of rage, shouting at the top of his voice, not caring if the whole road heard him. I did not recognise the man I married, the man I fell in love with on that summery evening in Richmond, the man who went down on his knee and asked me to come back with him to London, the man I’d longed to spend the rest of my life with.
I felt dizzy and breathless, and the pain in my chest surged again, like a sharp knife ploughing deeper and deeper into my useless breasts.
At that moment I was actually frightened of your father. It was good you were not there as that could have scared you for the rest of your life.
I sat at the bottom end of the bed and tears came down in torrents.
“Don’t fucking do this! You just always start crying and make me look like the most horrible person in the world. I feel like I’m going insane!”
Life always changes in a moment. Even if you spent years preparing for it, it builds up inside you long before the eruption itself. If only you could close your eyes and go, disintegrate and disappear in the thin air, just like a cloud.
I started longing for Jason to be away as much as possible so that I could wear my miserable face and leave tears to plough down my face as much as they wanted to. And he was longing for the same.


***


Sometime you desperately need someone, but that person has shut down. It’s just like the pointless desperation of running to the chemists at the end of the road with a raging toothache and no painkiller at home and discovering that it has closed five minutes earlier. You can see people in the back of the shop putting boxes of pills in bags and laughing at each other, pretending they can’t see you or your desperate waving at the front window.
Jason was working every single moment of the day. Non-stop. Like a perpetuum mobile. Maybe that was just a mechanism of protecting himself, it was his way of escape from the situation, from myself, from a life neither of us could recognise any longer.
I was desperately knocking on his doors. In vain.
Jason spent the most of August bank holiday weekend in the office. We were playing a hide-and-seek game, hiding inside our own universes and the destructive storms within us. This huge client of his was preparing a few opposition and cancellation cases and no one else could help him. All the documents were in the office and he just had to do it.
It was a sunny and warm, but somehow deflated Saturday. I watched morning TV with a disgusting tea with too much milk. Jason had left early; as if it was an ordinary working day. I put on some baggy clothes and walked to the post office at the end of our road, I bought a card, a stamp and The Independent. It was already 12.45 and they were closing in fifteen minutes. I quickly wrote the card to my mother. I’d already told her that we would not be coming at the end of September as planned. I did not know when we would visit her again. Hopefully before it got too cold in Lovran.
For the rest of the afternoon I watched crime dramas and then fell asleep. I woke up shortly before four feeling peckish, but did not fancy anything. The feeling of hunger was completely dissociated from the idea of taste or food itself. What used to be a sociable event and an everyday date with Jason, with a glass or two of wine, became just a physical necessity. I defrosted a French baton and sliced a few pieces of cheese. Couldn’t be bothered to butter it or add a leaf of lettuce or a slice of cucumber. Jason would get a Chinese take-away on the way home, probably. I forced myself to tidy up the mess in the kitchen, before going back to my armchair. The smells of barbeques and cheerful chatter were coming from the neighbouring gardens.
That was the weekend hope finally died. Next morning Jason and I were sitting on the stairs of the three bedroom semi-detached house we used to be so proud of and I looked into his eyes. There wasn’t any love left in the warm and deep brown eyes I fell for so many years before. Instead, I met with exhaustion and emptiness and I said in a calm voice:
“I blame it on mother nature. That unfair bitch. My time has expired...”
He looked straight ahead, his eyes glued to the main door, as if we were waiting for someone. For Godot. Or for a miracle that happens when you least expect it. It was Bank Holiday Monday so he couldn’t be waiting for the postman.
“I need some thinking time today, Jason…”
He would shortly go either to his office or his study and spend the rest of the day reading through some trademark law cases, preparing opposition forms and thinking of other expensive legal procedures. I walked aimlessly around London and came back in the evening completely numb and drained out. My thirties were long gone - a whole decade of desperation. When you are single things seem to be so much easier. No one else is involved into your choices. Being a woman used to be easy, a privilege until you reach your thirties, after that it becomes a burden. After that my body didn’t belong to me, it belonged to us; to Jason and me, to our families - my mother always insisted that was easier to keep a man if you had his kid, something which didn’t work out for her.
That morning I gave up. On everything. Jason. Us. Children. Life even, maybe.
Depression moved in slowly and carefully; just like a stray cat looking for a warm refuge in a frosty night. You don’t think much of it at first. It sits silently in a darkened corner and you assume it will leave tomorrow, or the day after, or with the spring warm air. And before you know it – you have a permanent lodger.