It still hurt. One week, two days and fourteen hours after the momentous event it still hurt like hell.
Which smartarse said that as each day passed the hurt would become a little bit less and the day would become a little bit better? He had likened it to spring creeping on top of winter and smothering it in a yellow blanket of buttermilk sunshine. Oh yes the arse in question had been her father. Well Daddy-O I can assure you it ain't getting any better, she thought.
He was coming round tonight to collect the last of his stuff before swaggering back to his slut with a smile and a hard-on. She felt sick when she thought of the hussy's hands all over him, touching him, caressing him, wanting him. Damn the thoughts that wouldn't go away, day and night they pestered her, prying at the edges of sleep and forcing it back so that her wilting eyes flew open under a barrage of painful images that she'd rather not imagine.
And that was how the plot came to be hatched. It shot across her thought process as she lovingly ironed along the seam of his fly on the dark grey boxer shorts, the ones with the tiny hole in the material of the left buttock. Sod him she thought. But that wasn't it. It came in the wake of sod him, and about three seconds later. "I'll tell him I've met someone else," she said aloud. She actually enjoyed doing the rest of the ironing and by the time she had pressed the last of his fourteen shirts she had invented, built and fleshed out the 'perfect' partner.
Later she had no idea why she'd done it. Though if she was in the mood for being totally honest with herself - which she wasn't - the nearest she could come to truth would be the fact that she was making a last ditch effort to make him realise just what he'd walked out on. She played the 'making up' scenario several times in her mind, him begging her not to go to someone else, the apologies, the regret. Her stomach fluttered as she imagined that first back-together-again kiss. Their cheeks would be wet with shed tears. The first touching of his lips to hers would be tender, gentle, filled with longing. She sighed as she put the iron away; finally she had something to feel hopeful about.
He was punctual. It was the first time she'd seen him since he left. The echo of the slammed door rang in her head long after he walked away from her that night. And now he was back. Could she make him stay? Would her plan work? She opened the door to him. It was the first time she'd ever opened that door to her husband. It wasn't right, wasn't the way it ought to be. She invited him in formally and he stood just inside the door with his eyes cast down to the carpet.
"How have you been?" he mumbled.
How had she been? How had she been? How the hell did he think she'd been? "Fine thanks. You?"
"Yes. Good thanks."
Good eh? What did that mean, Good times, good mornings, good egg,, good sex? She was losing it, her eyes pricked with tears and she had to pull back the situation before she crumpled into a soppy heap and lost her one chance to get him back.
"I'm sorry I haven't got time to make you a brew or anything, I'm going out tonight."
She saw him register surprise. Did he think all this effort had been for him? Egotistical Bastard, of course he did. "Where you going? Anywhere nice?" he asked with something verging on a sneer. He was playing right into her hands, asking the right questions.
"Actually I wanted to tell you, it's important that you hear it from me and not from somebody else. The thing is " pause for effect, "I've met someone else."
The possible sneer turned into a wide grin. Where were the tears, the begging and pleading? She couldn't believe this was the same man that twelve months ago would have thrown a tantrum of jealousy if another bloke so much as looked at her.
"Really? That's great. I hope he makes you happy. Nice one." That grin was getting irritating. This wasn't going quite as planned.
"Well, I've got all your stuff ready, got to hussle. He's picking me up at seven."
He should be kissing her by now, his eyes were twinkling and her heart was pounding, what if he took his stuff and turned and walked away now? She couldn't bear the thought of him walking back out of that door. "So what's he called then, this new bloke of yours?"
She was ready for this one. His name was so important. If she'd picked a 'Dave Smith' type of name he might not have believed her. It had to be something unusual, something a little bit classy and something that spoke of social standing and maybe just slyly insinuated that he had money.
"Daniel, Daniel Tulovski."
He spluttered and actually had the audacity to laugh out loud. "What!" he managed between snorts "Is he Russian? You haven't bought him off the Internet have you?"
"No I have not, and of course he's not Russian. He's Irish actually, but soft Irish you know, gentle, not hard inner city Irish."
"You sound smitten, where did you meet him then, this soft paddy?"
"He's not a soft paddy, he's lovely and actually I met him at that party I went to last week."
This part was actually quite true. She'd read somewhere that the best lies were the ones closest to the truth. The week before she had been invited by an old friend to a housewarming party.
Adam and Janet had been asked to a workmates house warming party and had split up the week before. Adam asked Jenn if she'd like to go in her friend's place and rather than sit in alone she agreed. Janet was just glad to have him off her back.
The evening had gone along the exact lines that she had anticipated it would. She met Adam, and thought of Tom. She drank lager in a pub and thought of Tom. They went to the party and she thought of Tom. After an hour and a half she made her excuses and escaped home to bed, where she thought of Tom.
One man at the party made an impression though. He was called Daniel and had a few years on her thirty-eight. She would guess him to be mid to late forties. His hair was too long and needed a cut, but it was curly and looked soft to the touch. His eyes were brown like his hair and his smile lit up the room. If he'd been a few inches taller he would have really turned heads. As it was he made several jokes at his own expense about his lack of height. Jenn sat watching him from across the room and smiled to herself at his jokey nature.
Of course he hadn't taken the slightest interest in her. In fact they weren't even introduced and never so much as exchanged a word, but she needed a picture of her Daniel in her mind and with a few mental adjustments he fit the bill perfectly. Of course she made him taller and gave him piercing blue eyes unusual in a brown-haired man. Lastly she took him out of his formal suit and tie and gave him casual blue jeans and a Ben Sherman shirt.
The cocky smile was drooping a bit now. Suddenly Mr. I-don't-believe-you, was not looking quite so confident. "Oh right, what does he do?"
"He's an electrician at the ship yard, but not just any old spark, he is something technical to do with shipbuilding and electrical installations. It's all a bit high brow for me."
"Well I suppose I'd better let you get on then, have a nice night, eh?"
What could she do but let him go? After he left she was inconsolable and spent the night crying through some action movie that she didn't take in. Sometime after midnight she got a text message from him.
"Where are you?"
Since the night he left her for the barmaid he had only sent one text and that was the one asking if he could call round for the last of his stuff. Her heart soared; she had got to him after all. She put aside thoughts of where slapper-almighty was while he was texting her. She sent one back. "At Home. Why?"
"Just wondered did you have a good night?"
"Brilliant thanks, Daniel's just left."
"Did you sleep with him?"
Hah he was really running with the ball now. She had got to him. "Of course not, it's too soon. Er not that its any of your business."
"Okay. Goodnight then."
She was disappointed. "Goodnight."
The following week she met his sister in town. "I hear you've got a new man in your life."
She hadn't quite planned on having to tell her story to anyone else and blushed furiously as she told Julie that she had indeed. Julie wasn't only Tom's sister; she was also a friend and insisted on dragging her to the local café for cappuccino and gossip.
At first the details were sketchy. She didn't want to deceive her friend; it wasn't fair. Jules dug hard though and slowly, piece by piece, the information was passed across the table as she played with fourteen loose grains of sugar. Once she started she found that she couldn't stop, she told of his detached house in the better part of the next town, of the four-by-four he used for work and of the large Kawasaki motor-bike that he kept for fun. She described him in detail, right down to the mole behind his left ear that made him shudder when she kissed it softly.
Julie downed the last of her frothy-coffee and sighed. "He sounds perfect."
She worried then that she'd made him sound too good, too unbelievable, so she went on to tell Julie about his insane jealousy and some of the things he'd said about Tom.
"So when do we get to meet him then? I can't wait to give him the once over." She hadn't banked on that, now what was she going to say?
"Oh I intend to keep him all to myself for a little while, you know what this town's like for gossip, and apart from that I'd hate for us to be out and come face to face with Tom. That would be awful for him and I'm not sure how Daniel would react. But don't you worry when I'm ready to unleash him on the town you'll be the first to know."
Her cousin Louise asked her if she fancied a night out that weekend. Louise worked with Julie and sure enough she had heard about Daniel and wanted details. Once again she told about four-by-fours and big Honda's and again she made her excuses when mention of meeting the great man was made.
For a month she kept up the pretence of her secret lover. It did help when she was hurting over Tom. She longed to meet a man like Daniel Tulovski who would know exactly how to treat a lady. He would never go off with Mini-Skirt-Maureen as soon as the going got a bit rough between them.
The question on everyone's lips was, "Who is Daniel Tulovski?"
She had to sign some documents regarding the divorce. Divorce by Christ, how did that ugly word become tangled up in this whole mess. She didn't want to be divorced; all she wanted was for her husband to come home to her, to hell with the Tulovski's of the world. Okay so her Tom wasn't perfect but anyone could make a mistake couldn't they? Maybe he'd learned his lesson now and was ready to come home.
She didn't want to confront her divorce, but she did want to see him. He'd suggested meeting on 'neutral territory' in a pub, but she said that Daniel was coming round that night and it would be more convenient if he called at the house. She stressed the word 'early.'
He was late this time, almost an hour late and he smelled of beer when he came into the house without wiping his feet. He wasn't drunk and had probably only had one or two drinks, but it looked as though he'd called in to see 'her' at work and it rankled.
"Where is he then, this Tit-off-ski?" he carefully separated each syllable. "He should be here by now shouldn't he? Are you going to introduce us?"
"Actually he's been held up at work and will be here as soon as he can get away."
Tom laughed derisively. "Come on Jill, the games up, there is no boyfriend is there?"
She felt her colour rising, despite the lavish deception she'd embroidered regarding Daniel. She'd never been much good at lying. Her temper and feeling of righteous indignation flared as she squared up to his ridicule. "How dare you come in here reeking of alcohol and questioning me about my private life. To be perfectly honest Tom, I don't give a monkey's tit what you think; you can mock all you like. The only thing I want from you now is this divorce so that I can get you out of my life and accept Daniel's proposal of marriage."
She could have bitten her tongue off. What the bloody hell did she say that for? She was getting in too deep, making the story too lavish, too difficult to simply walk away from. She hid her confusion and rapidly retreating bluster by stalking across the room to get her pen.
"Everybody's laughing at you Jenn. We all know there's no boyfriend. Why didn't you turn up to Jaquie's and Dave's anniversary dinner the other week?"
"I explained to Jaquie that Daniel was called into work at the last minute, there was some problem on the ship that only he could deal with."
"Works hard this fella of yours doesn't he? Does he actually have any time left for you?"
"Yes he does work hard and yes he's very attentive and loving." She was furious now and felt a very real need to defend Daniel's good name. The fact that she was getting pulled into her own fantasy escaped her. "Daniel sent flowers to her to apologise the next day." She said defiantly. Jenn was grateful that her back was firmly facing her soon to be ex husband.
"Aha yes the expensive bouquet. Flowers that you ordered I believe, they must have set you back a fair bit." In truth they'd cost her over a full days pay. but people were starting to question her suspiciously about Daniel. Tom hadn't stopped to draw breath. "And then there's the Motor-bikes. Now which one was it that Daniel can be seen flying around on at the weekend? A Honda as you told Louise, or the Kawasaki version you gave to Jules?" his voice was dripping with sarcasm and she hadn't defended the previous accusation yet.
"Don't be so ridiculous, you know what I'm like with details. Honda, Kawasaki, Sushi; they're all the same to me. And anyway why are you so damned interested in what I do, you're asking for a divorce aren't you?" She turned and threw the sheaf of papers at him in fury and they fluttered to the floor.
"There's other things Jenn, lots of little things that don't add up. I don't give a damn what you do, but you are making a fool of yourself. Can't you see that people are laughing at you?"
I will not cry, I will not cry, she thought. "He is real, he is."
The last word came out as a wail, all her argument was used up and she was reduced to begging him to believe her. Her pride wouldn't let her come clean and admit she'd made Daniel up in an effort to make him jealous. That would be too humiliating and hadn't she been shamed enough with him flaunting his tart all over town?
"Okay then, prove it. If this wonderful bloke is real ring him. Right here, right now. Go on ring him up. I dare you."
How could he be so cruel? They both knew he was right so why did he have to hammer his victory home? At that moment she felt something akin to hatred for her husband. But still she couldn't back down.
"I can't ring, I told you he's at work."
"And this high-flyer doesn't have a cell phone? Ring his mobile."
"He, he, well he might have it turned off."
"And he might not. Ring him." How she hated this bullying side of him. Jenn was backed into a corner. "Tell you what, I'll dial the number for you. What is it?"
She heard herself reeling off an imaginary mobile phone number. "It's ringing." He handed the phone to her.
She felt as though she was trawling through some horrible nightmare. How could he do this to her? What would she say if someone answered? She'd been so stupid, but even now in this awful situation she couldn't bring herself to back down, maybe fate would be in her favour.
Oh dear God she pleaded silently, please, please, please don't let anyone answer, and please don't let it go onto voice mail.
Three rings. Four "Hello?"
A Man answered. Oh shit! "D-Daniel?" she stuttered.
Tom had his ear pressed against the phone's handset. He was closer to her than he'd been for months; she could feel his heartbeat, and she noticed that he'd changed his cologne, or she had changed it for him.
"Speaking." She felt Tom stiffen against her. Oh God this was getting worse.
"Daniel Tulovski?" she asked just wanting to put an end to the whole embarrassing mess now.
"Yes, who is this? It's not my Jenny is it? What's the matter Darling, you sound terrible?" The rich voice on the end of the phone had gone from mild confusion to sounding concerned and worried.
"Tom hasn't upset you has he? God Jenn I'm sorry I had to come into work, I'm almost finished now and I'm coming straight over."
She held the handset away from her face and stared at it. The voice sounded a long way off now, but she could still hear it.
"Jenn? Jenn? What's the matter? For God's sake talk to me." He was shouting now and the unmistakable Irish lilt carried tinnily down the phone line.
She hung up, slamming the phone down on its cradle as though it had suddenly become red hot.
"I'm so Sorry Jenn, I thought " Tom trailed off as he saw the horrified expression on his wife's face. The colour had left her and she was shaking visibly. He helped her into a chair and made a cup of tea.
"Right are you ready to tell me what the hell's going on? What scared you so much? Is he treating you well? I swear here and now I'll kill the bastard if he's hurting you." Her head was reeling, a hundred thoughts and questions tripping themselves up to formulate themselves in her mind. But she heard part of herself answering him calmly.
"I'm sorry Tom, I just went a little dizzy. I think it must be the heat in here. I'm quite all right now."
"Are you sure? Why did you hang up like that? Are you quite sure he's not hurting you in any way?"
"Yes. Yes, everything's fine. I've told you he's perfect. Perfect." She was herding him out of the front door, muttering about the unsigned papers. She had to get rid of him. She needed time to think.
After he'd gone the ritualistic act of making coffee calmed her. What the hell happened? Coincidence?
That conversation could hardly come under the heading of coincidence though. He had the correct name, he knew her name and he knew not only Tom's name but also that he was there with her. It was just too much. Tom couldn't have set it up because she provided him with the phone number and watched him punch it in. The mug of coffee cooled between her palms, untouched as she puzzled through the strange phone call.
She jumped when the soft knock came at the front door. Since she and Tom split up she rarely saw anybody in the evenings. Cold-calling for the Jehovah institution probably, she thought as she trudged to the door.
The door opened with a sinister creak. This might have been laughingly B-movie macabre, but every time she heard it, she couldn't help but be irritated at the number of times she'd asked Tom to see to it. Well she was a single, independent woman of the world now. How difficult could it be to take a bit of oil to a rusty hinge. The thought stuck to whichever part of the brain it is that works the thought process operations as she took in the sight of the evening caller.
Daniel Tulovski stood on the doorstep. She knew it was him because she had invented him, right down to the extra six inches and the perfect-blue-sky eyes. "Jenn? Are you all right love? " He asked as he burst through the door without waiting to be invited. "I was so worried about you when you hung up like that."
He tried to gather her into his arms, but she pushed him roughly away. "Who are you? What the hell's happening here? You aren't real. Who are you?"
Her voice had risen to a wail and she flailed at the air in front of her with flapping hands to keep him at arm's length. "Jenn, earlier when you rang off did you bang your head or something sweetheart?"
"Yes. No. I just got a bit dizzy that's all." she said, half remembering the line she'd used to get rid of Tom.
"I'm going to make you a strong cup of coffee and then we'll sit and talk. If you carry on like this I'm going to take you to casualty. Young lady you're worrying me."
He was already on his way through to the kitchen and seconds later she heard the comforting home-noises of cupboards being opened and the kettle being filled. How many more cups of liquid could her swelling bladder take? Yes that's right, you go into the kitchen where I can't see you and just let me think for a minute, I need to make sense of this. "The job was a bugger today Hun, The central reactor went down and it took all afternoon and half of the evening to fix it. I've got three men still working on it." His voice floated through from the kitchen. "Did Tom turn up? I can see he's upset you." he said answering his own question.
This is like Alice in Wonderland, soon we'll all have tea - or in this case strong coffee - and animals will talk to me and then I'll wake up. Her thoughts were coming clearer now. Yes that's it, all just a bizarre dream. "You don't exist you know. I made you up. My perfect man." She said quite conversationally as he walked through the door with two mugs of coffee. He'd given her the bone china mug with daisies on the front. She didn't like that one, the rim was too thin and it didn't feel chunky enough in her hands. Funny how you get used to certain things, she mused to herself as Daniel looked at her quizzically.
"Darling, you do say the strangest things sometimes. You still look a little bit peaky you know. So much for going out on the bike tonight."
"Were we going out on the bike?" she asked wondering if it was a Honda or a Kawasaki.
"Not any more we're not, you've been working too hard. Tonight young lady you are going to lie on that sofa and let me look after you. Now what do you fancy to eat?"
Bossy bugger, isn't he? His condescending manner was already beginning to grate on her nerves. And if he calls me 'young lady' just once more. She didn't remember anything about the 'young lady' business in her mental genetic make-up of him. He was good looking all right and if you didn't listen to what he was saying the voice was quite sexy, but 'smarmy' was the word that came instantly to her mind when she looked at him.
Slowly she took a sip of her coffee, eyeing the stranger over the delicate daisy rim. He seemed perfectly relaxed in her home, as though he'd been many times before. She had so many questions she wanted to ask him, but in dreams such as this, the correct questions were so difficult to formulate. Like for instance, who the fuck gave you permission to jump out of my fantasies and invade my life? Best to just drink the coffee. It tasted bitter and she screwed up her face.
"Drink it all now, there's a good girl, it'll make you feel better." He was talking to her in the crooning voice that a parent uses on a sick child. What had he put in the coffee?
"What have you put in the coffee?"
"Nothing, Darling, why? Drink it up now, come on."
She moved forward on her seat to put the mug on the coffee table, but he got up from his seat and came towards her. He took hold of her head firmly and forced the mug back towards her lips. She fought against him, she didn't want the coffee, but he exerted more force against her efforts. He was strong, and he overpowered her easily. He was breathing just a little bit raggedly and Jenn found herself powerless against him. All the while he was forcing her to drink the drugged coffee against her will, he talked at her in his soft Irish accent.
"Drink it all up now Jenn, it will be perfectly painless I promise. You'll just go gently to sleep and not wake up. You've got to die you see because I can't be stuck here with you. It's ridiculous, isn't it? Apparently I've even proposed to you now, so what was all that about eh young lady? You're quite right you did make me up, but what on earth makes you think a man of my breeding and status would want to be with you? I'm sorry dear, but it doesn't bear thinking about. You made me. You made me mortal, and for that I will always be grateful to you, but you must see; you just wouldn't look right on my arm love. Now that I have substance I'm going places and there's no room for a Jilted-Jenn like you in my life. That's it, close your eyes now and drift off to sleep. The police might look for me in due course, but they'll never find me Dear because you see, as far as they are concerned, I don't exist. I'm only here because you brought me. Tom may be believed if he says he heard me on the phone, but that doesn't matter because what was I? Nothing more than a fly-by-night boyfriend who jumped ships just like your husband did."
Friends found Jenn's body slumped in her favourite armchair the following day. Suicide, they said. Died of a broken heart, they said. Never got over her husband leaving her, they said. Funny about the boyfriend though, they said. There's some as say that he never existed.