“It’s not like that,” Graham told his wife. Standing in the bedroom doorway, he watched her shoulders shudder along with her ragged sobs. Finally, she raised her face from her hands, grabbed the phone and flung it at him. It bounced off the doorframe and thudded to the carpet.
“You promised never again,” she said. “You promised.”
Half an hour prior, Sandra heard Graham’s phone vibrating while she was soaping the dinner dishes. Her husband had taken their son – the late in the game miracle – to get ready for bed. She listened to the vibrations for a moment, counting the seconds until it stopped, then reached for the Brillo pad.
The ringing started again.
Sandra pulled off her washing gloves and slapped them by the side of the sink. She traced the phone to Graham’s jacket pocket and checked the screen. It was an unknown number. Another fake insurance call, she assured herself, pressing the green button.
A young, female voice answered. “Hello? Is Graham there?”
“Wh– who is this?”
“I’m a friend from work. I’ll call back another time.”
The call disconnected. Sandra checked the number in the call history as she heard the toilet cistern flush. Every night for the last week, when he said he was going for a jog.
A week before, Graham bumped into Mindy leaving the ladies bathroom.
“Whoa there,” he said, in an easy, jokey way as she barreled into him. He caught her by her shoulders, expecting to help her rebalance, but she melted into him, throwing her arms around his neck. Graham patted her back twice, unsure if he should hold her or not. She was so small, her body warm and soft against his, except where his collar was growing wet.
“Is everything alright?”
“It’s nothing serious,” she said, pushing herself away and swiping under her eyes. “I messed up some paperwork. My manager said… It doesn’t matter.” She smoothed down her skirt. “Then my mum’s been calling, she’s all over the place. It’s difficult this time of year.” She took a breath. “I just really needed to see a friend.”
Graham listened, feeling out of his depth yet protective. His collar was cold against his neck. He scribbled his number on a scrap of paper. “Here,” he said, “if you need someone to talk to.”
A month before that, Mindy tripped over the loose square of carpet in the break room. The flask she’d been holding flew from her hands, flinging coffee onto the carpet and along the back wall with a splatter. She stared at the empty flask on the floor and the coffee dripping from the walls in horror, then at Graham. He was the only other person in the break room, though he had not realised that until the noise made him look up from his phone.
“What…what do I do?” Mindy asked.
“I think the cleaners leave the extra paper towels under the sink.” Graham opened the cupboard and grabbed a bunch. “Try these.”
“You’re a dream,” Mindy said as she wiped down the wall, leaving a brown stain on the cheap magnolia paint. “You must think I’m an idiot.”
“Not at all. It’s great to have someone else as clumsy as me around,” Graham said. He took some of the sodden towels and dropped them into the bin. “It was getting lonely.”
Mindy laughed so hard and so loudly that the lenses in her glasses misted up and Graham glanced nervously at the door. Before she went back to her desk, she touched his arm and said thank you with an abundance of eye contact that made Graham, as soon as she was gone, text his wife to ask how she was and whether she needed him to get anything on his way home.
Three months before that, Graham’s co-worker, Mark, looked up from his screen and stretched. His back clicked as he cast his eyes across the office, noticing a lady from HR showing Mindy around. He made a noise of appreciation.
“Check out the legs on that one. About time we had some young blood.” He grinned at Graham across the desk partition, then stood up, grabbing his brown ringed mug from the desk. “Gonna get a top up. You want?”
“No, thank you.”
Mark stopped at Graham’s desk all the same. He tapped his chin.
“What was the name of that last temp? Emma? Ellie?”
“I don’t remember.” Graham kept his eyes fixed on the screen.
“That’s funny. I thought you two were quite close.” Mark sauntered to the office kitchen, whistling.
And a year before that, Graham woke up in a Travelodge two miles from his house. He had a poisonous headache, and a text message from his wife that he read with bleary eyes and a jumpy, hopeful heart. It said: “let’s try again.”
Ten years before that, Mindy played Scrabble on the floor with her cousins, wearing a new black dress. It was past midnight and she was excited to stay up so late, but it was a sick, queasy excitement. She wished her mother would stop talking to her aunt, get up from the sofa and tell her it was time to go to bed, but they just kept drinking tea and watching the children playing. Mindy’s cousins didn’t seem to notice them watching or how late it was. Mindy pretended not to notice either.
“It could affect her later on,” her aunt said to her mother, dipping a biscuit into her cup. “Have you thought about therapy?”
“She doesn’t need it,” Mindy’s mother said, fingers tight on the saucer. “She’ll be fine. We both will.”
“Mindy, it’s your turn,” her cousin said and she turned her attention back to the tiles.
About The Author
Sarah M Jasat grew up believing her family was very strange but later discovered she was Indian. As part of the 2018 cohort for the Middle Way Mentoring Programme she has been developing short fiction exploring how individuals struggle within the constraints of traditional families. She dreams about writing a novel for older children if only she could get her own child to go to sleep. She lives in Leicester, UK.
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