She probed her depression gingerly, the way one might investigate a tender bruise to the temple. Ouch, it felt bad, worse than she had at first thought. Surely the girls could get themselves off to school this morning, they didn't need her fussing and forcing them to eat a breakfast they didn't want. Janet snuggled back down into the soft feather pillows and realised that bed was one of the only pleasures she had in life, bed and medium-dry white wine. They were her two best friends.
At thirteen and fifteen the girls were hormonally evil, they missed no opportunity to make her feel inadequate and superfluous to their needs. And if they ever bothered to talk to her at all, it was only to either ask for money or berate her for being such a terrible mother. Kewl was in, nurturing and plenty of fresh fruit and veg was out. The ideal mother had a deep purse, a tank full of petrol, a closed mouth, and a credit account at Pizza-Hut. Janet fell immeasurably short of the maternal ideal. Well today they could go hang. They didn't have to eat a healthy breakfast if they didn't want to and if they forgot their PE kits then that was their look out. Janet was going to have a lively glass of something fruity and alcoholic for her lunch and until that time she was going back to sleep in the blessed hope that at least her dreams might be pleasant.
Geoff hadn't come home again last night; it felt strange to Janet that she had passed the point where this bothered her. Let him lie with whichever anorexic floosie he liked, it no longer mattered. After years of living their sham life he had finally got around to mentioning the Big-D on Sunday, but bless him he was provoked.
It was his mother's birthday, and it was tradition that when the wicked witch of the west had a birthday Janet had to fling herself into the occasion with gusto to make the day special for the old cow. While she was buying presents, baking cakes, planning surprises and cooking extravagantly, Geoff played golf and later basked in the glory of being the perfect son. The girls had the right idea; they made their excuses and bolted before dear Grandma chugged into sight on her broomstick. Grandma's birthday treat was cast in stone seventeen years before when Geoff and Janet had been married less than a year. The women hated each other then, and hated each other now and the only thing that had altered was the intensity of the venom. Of course it was all thinly veiled and covered with an oily veneer of tolerance. The daggers weren't so much drawn as finely sketched, they got to add their own shading.
"Have you dyed your hair Janet?"
"No Mother, those are grey bits."
"Oh silly me, of course they are, I can see that now, I thought you had suffered a bad experience at the hairdressers, but I didn't like to say. Are these carrots quite cooked Dear? They seem a little crunchy. Geoffrey likes them mashed with black pepper you know? He never was one for crunchy carrots "
And so the barbs were passed back and forth with the minted peas and lumpy gravy, the women smiled their eighteen-years-practised sickly smiles, as one by one they scored points off each other.
What had made last Sunday different?
There was no catalyst that brought about the sudden change in script, no camel crippling straw, she had just had one dinner too many hearing what a paragon of virtue her errant husband was. Listening to his mother's clipped accent screeching of Geoff's Godliness had given Janet an eighteen year indigestion and that particular Sunday the gasses had built to pressure release. She had already heard countless times how he sounded like an angel when he sang Ave Maria solo in the church choir and how his mother had cried like a baby when his voice broke.
"It's a pity he didn't sound so heavenly at four o clock this morning when he puked three quarters of a bottle of whiskey all over the bathroom floor." said Janet in the same tone of voice that she'd used to remark on how well the squares-for-refugees knitting appeal was going.
Mother closed her mouth and lowered the fork speared brussel sprout back to her plate as she curled her nose in distaste. It passed through Janet's mind that maybe people didn't talk about puke at the dinner table in her little world; perhaps they contented themselves with listening to her husband's sloppy eating.
There was a long awkward pause; her father-in-law chewed noisily with his mouth open and Geoff glared at her with a look that told her she was in for it later.
"Well," said mother trying to cover the gaping silence with a blanket of hasty words.
"I love the cardigan you bought me darling, how clever of you to remember that I'm fond of Mauve."
"He didn't buy it," cut in Janet. "I did, he was too busy shagging his latest tart, he likes it doggie style you know, and he doesn't come unless you talk dirty to him."
She smiled slightly as she remembered the look on her mother-in-law's face. Game, set, and match, you old bitch. She thought as she slumped a little bit lower into the warm bed.
Janet had been gaining weight for years. It snuck up on her, a pound eased on seamlessly when she wasn't looking, another when she turned her back. It was underhand, sneaky, an enemy that played dirty and wouldn't come out in the open where she could get a clear shot at it. Gradually she sunk into her chins much as she now sank into her pillows and surrendered.
She was fat and bored and depressed. Would anyone miss her if she wasn't there? It was a question that refused to be cast from her mind. The thought lingered in the sludge of her mind like anthrax. What would it feel like to die? Did she have the guts to do away with herself? That'd show them wouldn't it? Her mind was racing as she heaved her body out of bed. In the bathroom cabinet she found a plethora of deathly connotations. Pills to overdose, razor blades to cut, peroxide to poison, and thick cord left over from the curtain ties from which, if need be, she could hang. The heater trailed into the bathroom on an extension wire seemed to mock her with one blink of her eye and invite her with the next. It would be a quick way to do it, as good as any other. She put the plug in the bath and ran the hot tap. She wanted to make sure that she smelled clean when she was found, so she squirted a good stream of richly scented bath cream into the water. Unfortunate that she would be naked when she was discovered, she felt like the North Pole, about to be truly seen for the first time. She was going to show the world the exposed Janet Mason, bared to her soul. Electrocuting herself in the bath wouldn't be messy, but it would be damned ungainly. She contemplated putting her animal print swimming costume on but decided she would look even more ridiculous in death, if she looked like a fried leopard. The water felt good and she closed her eyes.
But all that was the day before. The next day Janet's life changed forever.
Because the following day Janet went for a walk, a long walk. Her calf muscles screamed in agony, her lungs felt like balloons at the mercy of an overly enthusiastic child, and sweat by-passed seeping out of her, and unleashed a flood as if a dam had burst under such unfamiliar exertion. It hurt, and it felt good.
She walked through miles of green fields, and the air was fresh and clean, and so as she breathed it in, she felt fresh and clean. As she leaned over a fence to stroke a friendly horse, it pushed its velvet mussle towards her and whickered its hay-sweet breath into her face. She watched rabbits flee as she approached them and she talked softly to curious sheep.
That night for the first time in years she had something to look forward to, and before she went to bed she laid her trainers by the front door ready for the following morning.
Janet met her divorce face on, and every day she remodelled her life a little more than the day before.