About this Short Story
A woman who believes she may no longer be visible discovers she is the centre of attention for a writer
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Competitions & Prizes
Dripping flower baskets hung from brackets as tubs filled with damp colour shone softly in the brittle light. For a weekday morning, Covent Garden was sparsely populated and the few people encountered moved with a purposeful air, striding, as she strolled; behaving like a tourist who has arrived much too early for the main event.
The shops were barely open, with staff cleaning shelves or drinking coffee, glancing back at her with that dazed expression of early morning oblivion. She wandered amidst lofty buildings, making her way to the steps of the Royal Ballet, gazing up at an impressive facade. There was a time when she had dreams; dreams of performance and the heady rush that fame would bring. She still recalled how in her early teens she felt like a spirit in waiting; just waiting to be born, and to dance with majestic energy on the unbounded stage. She had longed for success, and dreamed of admirers who would cascade…
Short Story: Invisible Woman
Dripping flower baskets hung from brackets as tubs filled with damp colour shone softly in the brittle light. For a weekday morning, Covent Garden was sparsely populated and the few people encountered moved with a purposeful air, striding, as she strolled; behaving like a tourist who has arrived much too early for the main event.
The shops were barely open, with staff cleaning shelves or drinking coffee, glancing back at her with that dazed expression of early morning oblivion. She wandered amidst lofty buildings, making her way to the steps of the Royal Ballet, gazing up at an impressive facade. There was a time when she had dreams; dreams of performance and the heady rush that fame would bring. She still recalled how in her early teens she felt like a spirit in waiting; just waiting to be born, and to dance with majestic energy on the unbounded stage. She had longed for success, and dreamed of admirers who would cascade flowers at her feet, and lovers who would sweep her wildly into limousines to carry her to far flung corners of a world unknown.
Money was tight back then; the family moving too far away to allow her to continue weekly dance classes. In time she lost touch, lost hope. Now she was placing a hand against the door, the closest she was likely to come to fulfilling a long held dream, smiling gently before turning to gaze back along the rainbow puddled street.
Ruth moved calmly through unfamiliar territory, trying to appear as if she belonged, but with that curious air of uncertainty an outsider betrays. The sun was warm, but the breeze remained cool upon her upturned face and she turned up her collar, drifting towards the main piazza.
The girl at the counter examined the blouse before dropping it into a box at her feet marked ‘Returns’. Ruth wondered for a few seconds if other dolly-brained women came to do exactly the same, but glancing around the store found she remained the only customer.
“Do you want a refund Madam, or are you going to buy something else?”
The ‘Madam’ was cursory; she loathed it when shop assistants used that term, wanting to say, ‘please don’t’. Instead, she turned her head to look at the racks.
“I’ll find a replacement.”
The girl screwed her face into a manufactured smile, and turned away. Ruth obtained another top and bought something for her daughter. Jody was sure to hate it; rarely liking anything her mother chose.
Wandering about aimlessly, looking in shop windows, she browsed and entertained herself for another hour, discovering a small shop selling wooden toys. Marvelling at the ingenuity, she almost bought a yellow train, but Stephen was much too old for toys and would refuse to see the humour in it.
Her children were grown up and very wise. She hardly saw them these days, they came and went, consuming food she put on the table, sleeping in the beds she made religiously each morning. Geoff laughed when told that some days she didn’t speak to a soul until he came home. He said she needed to find some company; what had happened to the other women she’d known, weren’t they her friends still? Only Audrey ever had time for her, but since returning to work, they rarely had a good long talk and could only chat in the evenings. Maybe she needed to go back to work herself?
She sat at a table in the piazza, watching people stroll past. A young couple were sitting close together, the man constantly touching the woman, caressing arms and neck as they talked. She was smiling, laughing with that total freedom only lovers enjoy. He had eyes only for her, and they turned their bodies until they were face to face, appearing so close they could be locked limb to limb.
The slight breeze made her shiver, and she rubbed her thighs vigorously to provide warmth, wondering what made her do it in such a public place, but no one was looking. She laughed softly, it was nonsense in her head; the waiter was drawn across. He was young, dark, Mediterranean.
“Scusi Madam, I thought you called me.”
“Oh, but I did.” She made big eyes. “Another coffee, please. There’s still a chill, despite the sun.”
She drew it out, staring into his dark eyes, making more of it than it needed. He smiled pleasantly, and withdrew. She watched as he danced inside, feeling pleased with herself to have found someone to do her bidding.
She sipped a second coffee, continuing to watch people passing by. Mainly it was women in two’s and three’s, but there were a few men on their own. She received barely a glance; it was disappointing to realise her looks were fading, and when he returned even the waiter placed the bill on the table without glancing at her; it was clear she had become invisible. It made her sad to be alone, but then she felt the warmth of the sun on her face again and felt pleased, closing her eyes to smile inwardly.
During the journey home she remained largely oblivious to whom or what was around her. It was only when the train was two stops from her station that she noticed the man sitting at the far end of the carriage. By then it was just the two of them, and curiosity drew her to observe. He was young, dark, and rugged, with a ‘lived in’ appearance as though completely detached from his surroundings. From time to time he glanced up but did not meet her eyes. At the station, she retrieved the car and drove onto the main road, spotting him again waiting at a bus stop. On impulse she stopped the car. The village was three miles up a steep and unrelenting hill, and buses at that time of day were rare.
“Do you want a lift to the village?”
His blue eyes darted to meet hers as he forced a grin.
He sat beside her in silence, while she attempted an awkward conversation.
“Have you lived in the village long?”
“Only since January.”
She took it in.
“And do you like it?”
“I’m still getting used to the place. These damned buses… I wouldn’t have needed to worry - usually I take the car, but it’s being serviced today. I had to come back by train.”
She nodded, although he didn’t look in her direction.
“Couldn’t your wife pick you up?”
He smiled at her then.
“No, my wife is away at the moment. She’s a scientist, doing research. I won’t see her for a couple of months.”
“You must miss her?”
“I do. Yes, I do.”
She looked at him, noting the dark lines under piercing eyes.
“I’ve seen you about I think,” he offered. “You live on the Main Road don’t you, the house with the Maple tree.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I thought it was you.” He glanced at her. “You’re very striking.”
“Am I?” she smiled. “Where did you see me?”
“You’ll think it odd.”
“I glimpsed you at your window, in the bedroom I think. Top left corner.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“You were standing up and brushing your hair…., it reminded me of a story I’d read.” He paused. “See, I told you it was odd.”
“No, really it’s quite...charming. I hope I was decent?”
“That I didn’t notice.”
She examined him discreetly, but smiled.
“Do you often peer into women's bedrooms?”
“Oh yes, there is so much to observe.”
He directed her to a house that sat back from the road. She knew it, but thought an old man lived there. Apparently he had died, and Jack and Barbara had bought the property. Jack told her he was a writer, but didn’t elaborate. Ruth dropped him at the front gate, watching as he walked up the path. To her mind, the exterior of the house needed a great deal of attention, with paint flaking off walls and a front door that appeared weather-beaten and dilapidated.
When she got home, she found the house empty. She dropped her purchases onto the bed and flopped beside them to kick off her shoes.
That word he used came to mind – ‘striking’ – although it could have meant anything. She had tried to take care of herself over the years, with a waist only two inches larger now than in her prime.
Her children were grown; Jody would be off to Australia soon, and then Stephen to University. The Empty Nest Syndrome with all that it portended.
Geoff had changed over the years to become job fixated, bringing work home with him at night and phoning people throughout the evening. She had tried to get him to calm down, but he refused to listen. He hardly ever listened to her now.
She remembered when they first met at the ‘Style’ bar. She had those memories to sustain her, but sometimes convinced herself the marriage had run its course; it was certainly in a rut, and she couldn’t imagine how to shake up the relationship. At times she felt an affair would do her good, but the men she came into contact with were like Geoff, but less attractive.
Today had proved interesting and she was pleased she had taken a chance to stop and pick him up. A man who described her as striking, there was a crumb of comfort, if she could believe what he had to say.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror, and experienced a moment of utter bleakness. All happy thoughts seeming to wash away until it was only her face staring back in all its stark detail. Who would want her now? How could they ever be attracted to what she had become? At times like this she didn’t recognise herself for the person she thought she was, it was as if a part of her had vanished, or been stolen over the years.
She sat up sharply, blew her nose and pulled the blouse out of the bag to hang on the back of the wardrobe. The attraction felt in Covent Garden had faded and she no longer cared for it, even if the girl in the shop had sworn it was her colour.
Two days later she came upon Jack in the village store. He seemed entirely self absorbed and completely oblivious to her presence. She had to say hello twice before he recognised her, and then did a double take.
She was wearing a shapeless waterproof against the rain.
“Hello. I’m so sorry – you’re the woman from the other day.”
“Yes, Ruth. How are you?”
He appeared distracted, considering the response he should make before replying. “I’m well.”
She smiled as he went to the counter to pay. She could tell by the contents of his basket he was buying for one, and offered to walk back with him.
“Not got your car back yet?” she asked, trying not to seem too curious in asking questions.
“Yes I have, I just decided to walk. I spend so much time sitting in front of the laptop; I thought a walk would do me good.”
She hesitated to ask for details, but couldn’t prevent herself.
“What are you working on?”
“This and that; I could show you if you like?”
Her heart gave a little skip as she consented.
The interior of the house looked as if it had not been decorated in years, and she was at pains not to touch any of the surfaces. He directed her into the kitchen, dumping his bag onto the floor. She followed him into another room that remained bare, except for a table on which a laptop was perched with a single chair drawn up before it. The room was otherwise barren and resembled a cell.
“You work in here?” she asked incredulously.
“I know what you might think, but I expect my wife will sort out the house when she returns.”
“When do you expect her?”
“That’s the problem – her tour of duty’s been extended. It could be several months.”
She looked around doubtfully. “You can’t live like this.”
“I don’t have a great deal of choice.”
“I imagine she’ll expect you to have done something!" It was expressed with more than a little irony.
He shrugged. “I’m hopeless at decorating… no colour sense, no skill with DIY or building. You’ll have noticed the dilapidation I expect?”
She didn’t want to admit what she had observed, peering down at the laptop instead.
“What are you working on?”
“I’m writing a piece for a travel magazine. I went to India in the autumn, so I’ve got a factual piece to submit.”
“Is that what you do then, travel writing?”
“It pays the bills. Really I’m a frustrated novelist. I’ve written two, both rejected. I’m working on another.”
She smiled, looking about herself in the small room.
“It must be grim for you working here, all on your own?”
“Yeah, some days. It’s very quiet in the village, I suppose it’s what I came here for, but I do miss the city.”
She smiled indulgently.
“I think you’ve chosen well, the village will be perfect for you.”
He didn’t appear as impressed with this remark as she hoped. “I’m not so sure anymore. Lately Barbara’s work has taken her away too often. We’ve grown into a couple of strangers, and I wonder sometimes if we still want the same things.”
“You should ask, when she comes back.”
He snorted. “Yeah.”
He looked away despondently and she was going to suggest that she help with cleaning and decoration, but was afraid it might come across as too pushy.
“What will you do?”
He shrugged. “What do you suggest?”
They went into the lounge where it was more comfortable, opening a bottle of wine as she chatted about family and friends, until eventually coming onto the subject of his latest novel. He grew quite animated at this point, outlining the plot in great detail.
“It’s about a woman who vanishes, and is recreated as a spirit in the ether. It happens over a period of time, so she gets used to the change, learning that the only way to make her presence felt is to embark on a series of more and more bizarre activities, culminating in a brutal slaying.” He paused. “I suppose I want it to be part allegorical, part fable, and part psychological – but a thriller.”
“It sounds horrific.”
“Maybe it is.” He gleamed. “My belief is founded on observable fact. Women, when they are young, are highly visible, chased, charmed, seduced and loved – but as they grow older that part of their lives which was attractive in the past appears to vanish and they become a shell of their former selves.”
“Not entirely true.”
“Bear with me – I’m just giving an overview.”
Ruth remained unimpressed. “And what about women that do the chasing – what kind of post-feminist model are you seeking to employ?”
A boyish grin appeared on his face. “It’s a conventional woman I’m describing.”
“I’d love to meet her - downtrodden and voiceless?”
He hunched his shoulders. “Yes, if you like. Listen, I’m not trying to dodge the issue, merely illustrate an example to fit the story – it is fiction after all.”
Ruth sighed, feeling the need to stand up for her sex. “It isn’t real – very few women live the life of a Victorian heroine.”
He remained on focus. “Well mine is pretty modern, and the treatment she receives and the punishment meted out are what you read about in the press or see on TV on a daily basis – I’m not trying to influence opinion with what I write – just entertain.”
She regarded him doubtfully, but he was into his stride. “Another thing, she receives a credit card with no name on it. When she phones the company they confirm it is her card, and after some disagreement the supervisor asks ‘Are you satisfied with our service Madam?’ It sticks in her craw.”
Ruth shrugged. “This woman – she doesn’t have a family?”
“No. Not for the purposes of the novel.”
Ruth held his gaze. “Your basic contention is that women become less visible as they grow older?”
“Not just outwardly – inwardly too – putting the needs of others before themselves.”
She smiled. “We’re taught to do that from the cradle – it’s bred into us. And if you do write this story, try to be more sympathetic to the woman’s point of view. What you’re describing is obviously a breakdown, and it won’t be entirely fair to her unless you include the psychological side. Anyway, somebody must have consideration for her? Doesn’t she have any friends?”
“Not if she’s managed to alienate them.”
“Then you’re making her into a monster.”
“Perhaps.” He conceded, but without belief.
He appeared daunted by the criticism, but she wasn’t about to let up.
“Besides, a modern conventional woman wouldn’t stand for that kind of treatment and is likely to react against it. No one willingly puts themselves up for martyrdom. Not real women in my experience.”
He sighed. “Perhaps some of what you say is right, but what if she chooses to put herself outside of the law – outside of what might be termed in polite society ‘acceptable behaviour’? What if she comes to enjoy what she has created for herself because it gives her greater power? And what if she enjoys gaining her revenge – isn’t that the real psychological value of the piece? What then?”
“Then it’s pure fantasy.”
“You may call it that – I prefer the term, proto-reality.”
She laughed, leaning back in the chair. It felt like ages since she’d had a good strong debate with another adult. “Weird. My son reads those horrific graphic novels – is that the kind of thing you mean?”
He ignored the remark. “No, and I am sympathetic – really I try to be.”
She let her glance fall. “If that’s true, then I wish you well.”
He smiled, attempting to lighten the mood. “Perhaps I’m generalising too much, but I wanted to give voice to her thought as much as to her actions.”
She wasn’t about to let him get away with that. “A mind reader too – you’re a talented man – you’ll be telling me next you know what I’m thinking.”
He took a breath, refilling her glass. “I don’t have to – you’re doing a pretty good job. My, but you’re a tough cookie – are you as hard on everyone you meet?”
She pondered on her response. “No, not really and besides, not everyone can be as creative. Me for example – the life I lead is entirely unrewarding, and I’m filled with admiration for those that do what you do.”
“Is that a compliment I wonder? Don’t put yourself down Ruth – besides it could easily be a piece of crap.”
She contemplated for a moment, adding more gently. “I know what you’re describing though…. It’s easy to disappear under other people’s perception of you, especially when you don’t connect.”
He grimaced. “That isn’t exactly what I had in mind. In my novel the woman evaporates entirely and becomes one with the ether – pure thought is all that is left of her.”
“Or no thought.” She chuckled. “So, how does she commit physical acts, if she has no physical body?”
“She wills it – employing a malignant force. It is all a question of will, is it not, to perform any act which is outside of normal behaviour?”
He glanced at her, seeking confirmation but she shrugged, forcing him into a broader explanation.
“How else do you explain some of the terrible deeds people are convicted of?”
“They’re mad I suppose, or at the very least psychotic.”
He laughed sharply. “Precisely! So it’s a question of mind – mind over matter.” He sighed. “When it’s finished I expect you’ll have a clearer understanding of her motivation.”
She pondered, closing eyes to evaluate.
“So really, it’s the story of a woman slowly losing touch with reality?”
“Or becoming more highly attuned.” He responded brightly. “It’s a matter of how you choose to interpret such things.”
She stared into his piercing eyes, admitting freely. “I’ve had moments like that myself - moments of complete distraction.”
His glance fell away as he made a movement in the air.
“We all do, it’s a very natural emotion - largely caused by the pressure we’re put under. It’s one reason I was glad to escape the city.”
She paused, examining her own feelings. “I do feel on my own at times.”
“Yes, but you’ve got a family, surely they help?”
“That’s the oddest thing – it doesn’t help in the slightest. My husband is a busy man, and the children have developed their own lives.” She paused again, catching the expression on his face. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
“Why ever not? Sometimes it’s easier to unburden with a stranger.”
The wine was working on her as she closed eyes momentarily, brought to sudden alertness as he slipped fingers between hers, and for a brief moment the sensuality felt so intense she flushed. “You can talk to me if you like. You may not believe this, but I’ve had mad moments myself when I thought I’d never be able to tell anyone what’s on my mind. I do miss my wife, and can hardly wait for her to return, but talking to you – it’s as if I’ve found a kindred spirit. It’s odd really, you won’t laugh, but after I first saw you I tried to put it out of mind. But it kept coming back, and then when you offered me a lift I realised that fate was throwing us into one another’s path.”
“We could have met under other circumstances,” she remarked, casting off the assertion.
“No, I believe very strongly in kismet – it’s happened before. I don’t fight fate.”
She examined his face, wondering if she could believe the same. “But you didn’t say anything, even now in the shop I thought, 'he’s ignoring me.'”
He gripped her fingers more forcefully. “Forgive me; I was trying to be strong. God, that sounds awful. I’m not given to pursuing women. I do truly love my wife.”
She laughed, breaking the hold he had maintained. “So you’re in pursuit of me? You’ll be telling me next that people like us deserve to find a little happiness.” She paused, glancing at him directly. “Sorry, but I’ve experienced a little too much melodrama in life and this...this is turning into something very like a seduction.”
He turned away; prepared neither to admit or deny the assertion.
“Is that the way it seems?” he asked after a couple of blank seconds.
“You know that it does,” she answered. “Well you should also know I’m a woman with two children.”
“Grown, I think you said, and…” He glanced at her. “You omitted to mention that you’re a married woman. Strange I’d say, unless...” He grinned. “Why didn’t you?”
“I mentioned it earlier – or weren’t you listening?”
He smiled. “So you did.”
She felt herself glow, but restrained a natural tendency to get up and walk out. The thought was playing through her head ‘She forced herself to remain’. But surely it couldn’t be the very thing she had accused him of, and if it was a game he was playing, she was in the right mood, providing he realised the consequences. It was a long time since she had been given the opportunity to flirt with a man like him, and it was dangerous because he was too damned attractive – and probably knew it.
She lifted eyes to heaven, composing her mind for a moment before returning her gaze to rest on his face. “Perhaps I should learn to take a compliment; it’s just that they’ve grown as rare as hen’s teeth. You’ll think me entirely pedestrian – probably lacking the sophisticated skills you’re used to.” She glanced at him, narrowing her eyes. “I didn’t believe you of course. Men like you don’t make plays for women like me.”
“Men like me – women like you? I’m not the one making assumptions am I?” He grinned. “No, really…and this clumsy attempt at seduction was just my way of paying you a compliment - by saying I find you incredibly attractive. There.” He turned away. “I’ve said it – now you can choose to take it any way you like, but I know what I mean.” He paused, wiping his eyes wearily. “I don’t plan the way my mind works – I’m spontaneous, creative. Sorry, listen, forget I even mentioned it.”
How could she? And he knew it; she examined him as he poured another glass of wine, sipping slowly as she watched, smiling inwardly. He was a pretty poor actor, but knew exactly how to pace the process. She half-expected it to be a method he’d practised countless times before.
She decided to challenge. “Why? Why me – you can’t really mean what you say? What about your wife, a few moments ago you said that you loved and missed her?”
“I do.” He sighed. “Sometimes you have to allow the fates to conquer you. I don’t blame you for dismissing everything I say as a pack of lies, but just...don’t leave. Don’t walk out.”
She allowed the insincerity to wash over her. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t?”
He slumped back into the seat. “I’ve never been very good at things like this.” He sighed. “What I mean is, dismiss me if you must – just don’t let what I’ve said come between us – not unless you find it all too disagreeable.”
She wanted to laugh, but it was slowly moving beyond being a laughing matter. “The only disagreeable thing in all this is that you expect us to remain friends.” She answered slowly, adding with a little too much conviction. “And really I should leave. Someone is sure to miss me.”
“If that’s the way you feel,” he remarked, but when she remained where she was, he added, “I can see you’re not one of those women that are easily offended.”
Despite her belief that all or most of it was a deceit, she couldn’t rid herself of the notion that a man like him would look at her twice. “Oh, I do take offence, but I was wondering why me though – we hardly know one another?”
“But we can,” he answered brightly. “Slowly, and over time. I know you’ll come to see things the way I do. And if not, what does it cost if we discover we’re wrong for one another?”
She almost betrayed herself by smiling; it was a good line, and one she might have fallen for if she wasn’t already convinced of his lack of sincerity.
“Perhaps,” she remarked agreeably. “Perhaps it would be easier just to remain friends – or try to. All this other stuff – I’m sure it’s just in your head. If you miss your wife, and I think you must – you’ll see that nothing can possibly replace what you feel for her.”
“Maybe that’s true,” he conceded. “Tell me why we shouldn’t become lovers – even for a short time? I’d like to hear it from your lips.”
She took in the sullen expression. “No, you wouldn’t – that would be to indulge a fantasy that’s in your head alone, and we’re not that close. If you want a thrill – I’m sure there are dozens of websites that cater for that kind of thing.”
He turned away. “It doesn’t matter,” he answered flippantly.
She felt a chill, seeing that by closing a door too early he had lost heart and the game was in danger of collapsing. Her mind began moving rapidly as she felt more alive than she had done in years, and compelled to offer a lifeline. What continued to haunt her was the fear that she might overstep the mark by admitting too freely about a mood that had been on her for months that she should start an affair, and this man fitted the bill a little too nicely. She had never been one to believe in guardian angels, but after today anything seemed possible. And when she next met his gaze a fluid sensation ran through her limbs that made her drop her eyes.
“Either you want to punish me by remaining or something I said has struck a chord,” he remarked.
She produced a fluttering laugh, stifling it at once, but he took it as a sign of encouragement. “You’re probably the type of woman that needs to receive endearments. I have few accomplishments when it comes to that kind of thing. Can we take it as read - I’ll promise to try to improve if you give me the chance? What is it you like to hear by the way?”
She laughed at the sheer impudence of the man, deciding to continue playing along.
“It isn’t endearments or playful suggestions I need if that’s what troubles you – what I enjoy most is listening to a man speak from the heart, and anyway, I’ve got very few illusions about myself to believe anything you could say to try to impress me. Sincerity is everything – or is that too difficult Jack?”
He turned a blank expression on her as she continued. “What I do wonder is, what you get out of all this? I’ve probably read novels similar to you and seen the movies – I can see you cast as the heartless type that sets out to seduce and dump a woman. I watched Fatal Attraction three times and it’s impressed on my mind. You know I’d get you back.”
He smiled in disarming fashion. “I meant what I said – I find you both attractive and charming; earlier when you appeared to listen to what I was saying I was impressed, and well, that’s about it.” He looked away. “As you can see, I really do need to improve my technique.”
She contemplated the side of his head. “You’ve done this before – did it work for you then? I bet you thought you could use the same technique – who was she? Someone dumb like me, and desperate for attention?”
He turned his gaze on her. “I’m only interested in you.”
She felt suddenly weary, wondering what on earth he could find to appeal in a woman hidden beneath a shapeless waterproof and wearing mud splashed trainers; perhaps he was just weird?
“As seductions go, this one’s pretty abysmal,” she remarked.
“And?” he grinned expectantly.
“You’re the writer – you tell me what usually happens next.”
He sighed. “That’s the trouble – real life is never the way the author would like it to be, and besides, I can’t see that I’ve convinced you.”
“You haven’t, perhaps you should try harder.”
She said it, and wished that she hadn’t. Clearly he felt he’d done enough to gain his reward and was waiting for a signal to proceed.
She stared at him directly. “I’m going to be forthright Jack – just admit this is a sexual need and no more on your part. Be honest – if you can, but don’t tell me to imagine you’re offering anything different?”
He shook his head, pushing back hair. “A grown-up relationship is all I’m after – which is an oddity, as I don’t count myself as much of a grown up. I’m useless when it comes to expressing my feelings, and I’m not even reliable, as you can tell.”
She lost patience. “Oh shut up. Less of the winsome please.” She finished off the wine. “I pity your poor wife – I expect she’s used to this kind of treatment?”
He sighed. “Look, just say no if that’s the way you feel and I’ll never mention it again.”
“I haven’t decided yet if I would even be able to speak to you after today, and I ought really to slap you down – did you think that I wouldn’t? How long have you been planning this? I think I know – or can guess, it was after you spotted me at the window. I wasn’t dressed, was I? You saw me and you thought... I can guess what you thought.”
He laughed. “Have it your own way, but don’t let’s pretend you’re disgusted. You’re a woman with an appetite, I can tell and I’m a healthy male – we shouldn’t let it go to waste. And yes, if you like it is all about sex – I won’t deny it. I’ll even say it if you like, and then you can tell me to go to hell – but I want to sleep with you.” He smiled at the euphemism, moving closer, but she brushed him away. “Think about it, and give me an answer when you’re ready.”
“Jack, Jack – don’t you see. I think I’m worth far more than a quick screw.”
He held himself in check, contemplating. “Alright – maybe I misjudged you. It doesn’t mean I was wrong to ask.”
She grinned, patting a cheek before leaving.
Taking a bath before bed, she remained bemused. But the mood gradually lifted until she felt in a fury with herself and with him, trying to make sense of the confused dialogue raging within her head. This was interrupted as Jody began an argument of her own with the boyfriend. Tonight, however, it appeared Darren wasn’t playing ball, and soon stopped answering back. Jody grew progressively more ferocious, issuing the ultimate proclamation.
“If you don’t love me anymore, you’d better leave!”
Normally Darren spent time apologising before making up; tonight he simply stormed out of the house, and soon after, Jody’s bitter tears forced her from the comfort of the bath and into her daughter’s bedroom.
“Mum, he’s gone.”
She lost her cool; the events of the day and her own uncertain cocktail of emotion exploding in one almighty flash.
“Jody you can be exceptionally selfish, but you’re my daughter and I love you. Do you love me?”
That got her attention. Jody was sufficiently startled that the sobbing subsided. “Of course I love you mum.”
“Well then, why do it? Why make my life so difficult? You love Darren don’t you?”
“Yes, but he takes me for granted.”
“And you take him for granted. I know – it’s how relationships work, but one day, when he doesn’t want you any more – who will you turn to then?”
She heard herself say it, biting her lip.
Jody scrutinised her mother. “Mum, what do you mean? Has something happened?”
She embraced her daughter. “Nothing has happened Jody, nothing ever happens. It just goes on the same way, day after day until you disappear into oblivion. Try to be different Jody, try to make yourself happy.”
She was sobbing herself now and far too fiercely, realising her daughter was skilled enough to extract the truth if too much emotion was put on display. She was pleased when the girl exclaimed, “If it upsets you so much Mum, I’m sorry, really sorry. I will apologise to Darren, I will.”
She held her daughter at arms length, taking a deep breath. “Don’t do it for me Jody – do it for yourself – understand? Everything you do - do it for yourself.”
There was a puzzled look on her daughter’s face, but the girl nodded in quiet compliance allowing Ruth to return to the solace of the bath in which to plunge the depths of her own uneasy conscience.
Jack opened the door wearing a pair of boxers, and a scruffy tee shirt. “I’ve been up all night,” He remarked gruffly. “Finishing a piece for a deadline. I’ve only just gone to bed.”
She stared at the tousled unshaven appearance, feeling disappointment loom at her heart. It wasn’t that she wanted to see him again, it was more to do with the fact she needed confirmation that what he had suggested really had taken place. Doubt loomed large in consideration of the facts and daft as it appeared. she needed to hear him repeat himself, if only to deny him more forcefully.
Now she was denied herself, asking, “Can I come in?”
“Not now, I really do need to sleep.”
It was futile trying to make sense of the facts if that was the way he intended to behave. She turned without a word walking back towards the gate.
“Wait.” He called after her. “Meet me at the pub about 1.15?”
The pub. She never went to the pub, unless Geoff took her, smiling helplessly. “Alright.”
As he closed the door she found herself with the rest of the morning to try to come to terms with what she was trying to achieve. She wondered if he was having second thoughts after realising the mistake he had made, but why not just come out and say so?
She didn’t know what to believe, finding it easier to continue playing a role in her mind – but it was proving difficult to know if in acting too provocatively she was not simply adding fuel to the fire, and it might be easier to ignore him altogether.
She returned home to change, afraid of creating the wrong impression. Even so, as she examined herself in the mirror, it seemed as if another woman was occupying her body; someone young and sparkling; someone she liked.
The pub was bright and cheerful, with two or three regulars lined up at the bar. She knew the landlady, and they chatted as she waited for Jack to appear. When 2 pm came and he failed to show she went to his house, staring up at curtains drawn across a bedroom window.
Returning home, she discovered Geoff in the lounge, and felt an initial sense of shock to find him at home in the middle of the day and must have flushed.
“I was told you were at the pub.” He laughed.
“By that busy body in the post office when I stopped off to buy a stamp.” She contemplated what he was telling her, unable to take it in. “I used to wonder what you got up to all day, and now I know.”
She pushed past him, turning in the doorway. “Why are you home?”
He grinned. “I’ve neglected you Ruth, I wanted to make it up to you, and told them at work to manage without me. I’ve booked tickets for the theatre. Get a shift on – we’ll have a bite to eat beforehand.”
She reacted impatiently. “Did you? Well you do choose your moments.”
He lost his smile for a moment, disappointed at the reaction.
“Ruth, I’ve never lost sight of you. You’ve always been my number one girl.”
“Hardly a girl anymore,”she remarked, softening.
The doorbell interrupted them, with Jack appearing in the hallway as Geoff opened the door.
“I’m sorry,” he began, staring at her raggedly. “I know I let you down.” She met his gaze, feeling panic take hold, although why she should feel guilt she had no idea. Meanwhile Geoff was peering from face to face awaiting an explanation for the other man’s sudden intrusion into their home.
“Is there something I should know?”
“Ask your wife.”
“Darling, what is this about?”
She immediately brought to mind the story about the woman vanishing into the ether, and found herself looking for a portal.
“Jack, why are you here?” she demanded.
“I came to apologise.”
“Why? What for?” Geoff asked, examining him closely.
Jack smiled disarmingly. “Your wife and I were planning a collaboration.”
Geoff glanced towards her, detecting something odd in the way she held herself at a distance. “I’d like to know what this is about.”
Ruth pulled herself together. “There is nothing, not really. Jack is a travel writer. We were going to work out a scene for a novel he’s working on. I promised to help if I could – didn’t I?”
“Oh, a writer.” Geoff’s concern fell away as disinterest replaced the anxiety he had felt. “I thought it was something else.” He extended a hand. “Pleased to meet you. A writer eh? How did you two meet?”
Jack shook hands in a nonchalant manner. “We found each other you could say.”
Ruth intervened. “At the library.”
There were a couple of minutes of strained conversation before Geoff went through into the kitchen, leaving them alone.
Her voice dropped a semi tone as she snarled. “Jack, you should never have come here. Not to my home.”
“I know that, but... Have you thought about what I suggested?”
She flushed angrily. “I’m not sure... No!”
He grinned disparagingly. “I told you how hopeless I am – I meant it you know, every word.”
“I’m sure you did – but you have to believe me when I tell you no.”
She ushered him towards the door, terrified Geoff would return to ask questions she felt unable to answer. “You have to go.”
He grabbed a hand, staring directly into her eyes. “If you change your mind, I’ll look for you at the window, just brush your hair, like you did before.”
“I’m going to get it cut, very short,” she snapped.
“It’ll make you less remarkable.” He smiled, slipping away.
The beating of her heart gradually subsided and with it went the awful fear, but not the excitement – or the eagerness Jack managed to induce for something indescribable. It was this that eventually decided her and racing upstairs grabbed the hair brush before heading to the window.
As Geoff came upstairs she was staring forlornly down into an empty street. “What are you doing?”
She turned away, biting her lip not to display the impatience she felt.
“Nothing, I was looking at the weather, wondering what to wear.”
He dismissed the notion, glancing into a mirror as he removed his tie. “What about that Jack?” He laughed. “You never mentioned him before.”
“Didn’t I? I don’t tell you everything that happens to me – do you? In fact, there are quite a few details about my life you probably don’t know. But then you never ask.”
He turned in her direction, but she deflected the gaze by bringing out the new top bought in Covent Garden. “What do you think of this? Is it my colour?”
He glanced at it without interest. “Now that really suits you.”
She smiled softly. “I thought you might say that.”
Rain was beginning to stroke the pane and she stared at it without real focus, tormenting her hair with the brush.
“I was thinking of getting a more modern cut,” she announced with her back turned towards him.
Geoff scrutinised her, half in and half out a pair of trousers. “Were you? Why?”
“Oh, just something to do. You don’t think it would make me appear less remarkable?”
“What a strange choice of phrase. It’s up to you; you know I think you’re perfect whatever the style.”
The glance she turned on him was scathing, but he failed to notice. Somehow, no matter what the compliment, it carried a false note to her ears, as if it wasn’t her that was being addressed but merely a version previously approved.
Why was that – couldn’t he see who she was anymore? The invisible woman of course; she bit her lip, remarking coolly. “Then again, I may not.”
He zipped himself. “Make your mind up Ruth, either you will or you won’t.”
She undressed, standing naked in front of the full length mirror to touch up hair and make up. He watched at a distance, knotting his tie.
“Ruth, you know anyone on the street could see you the way you are.”
She raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Do you think so?”
He dragged a curtain across the window. “Now, will you please tell me what’s got into you?”
She glanced in his direction, seeing the man she had married all those years before and yet unable to recognise him anymore, turning back to the mirror. “Nothing has – yet, but if it does I expect it will do me a power of good.”
He sighed. “You’re a puzzle Ruth, a real puzzle.”
She contemplated the woman in the glass catching sight of a determined expression, knowing that for the conceivable future life would remain exactly as it had been unless she acted to change the circumstances, but if she did it involved a risk. But what did life amount to without an element of risk?
“Anyway,” she answered after a minute’s silence. “What right do you have to judge me?”
“I don’t judge you Ruth – I love you.”
Despite herself she smiled, breaking into soft laughter. “It’s a long time since you said that.”
“Well I do – now, will you please hurry up.”
“Don’t rush me," she purred. “You know how long it takes for me to decide anything.”
The thought revolving in her mind was that invisibility made little sense - in fact no sense at all - and that the novel Jack was working on was crucially flawed. Women didn’t disappear and they didn’t give in, whatever the provocation. It was something he needed to discover for himself, but she couldn’t make up her mind about whether to continue teasing him when she next saw him or to come clean. The thought of seeing how far she could go seemed fun.
After all what else can an invisible woman get up to?
She bit her lip in contemplation.
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