This story is by Catharina Hof and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It is a truth acknowledged by many that a woman on her one-year anniversary is a happy one.
Except for Phoebe.
With her husband away, the anniversary was a reason to either reflect or to stay busy. She chose the latter.
She first had a hair appointment followed by lunch with Sally.
Her hairdresser, Janet, was still working on another client when Phoebe arrived, so the junior hairdresser washed her hair.
Phoebe sat back and was determined to relax and enjoy the warm water, the foam and the massaging of her head.
Thoughts of discomfort arose, but Phoebe pushed them back and focussed on the sensations of her head being massaged, and how it eased the tension in her head.
Janet was soon ready for her and they had a lot to catch up on in each other’s lives. They had known each other for close to ten years and it felt like they had developed a bit of a friendship.
They started by asking each other what was new. Phoebe found she didn’t feel like sharing about the anniversary. It brought up too many uncomfortable feelings.
They chatted about upcoming holidays. Janet was going to the South of France.
‘And what about you and Carl, are you going anywhere?’ Janet asked.
Phoebe felt herself tensing up. ‘Carl’s away this weekend with his mates. We haven’t made any firm holiday plans yet.’
‘Have you been talking about where you might go?’
‘We thought maybe Mercia in Spain.’ Phoebe made it up as they hadn’t talked about holidays at all. Carl was hoping to go on a golfing break to Mercia though.
‘That’ll be great for him,’ Janet said. ‘Just make sure you stay at a resort with plenty to do for you too.’
‘Will do.’ Phoebe didn’t want to continue this conversation. Luckily, Janet was happy to talk about her holiday to Provance. They were planning walks, and cycle routes through cute French villages, the river, and stopping along the way at cafés. They also planned to do a wine tasting at a vineyard one day.
It sounded lovely to Phoebe and she felt a pang at the thought that others could enjoy each other’s company, have fun and choose to spend time together.
So why didn’t Carl want to spend time with her? Maybe Sally had some ideas on how to fix things with Carl.
Before long, Phoebe was looking for the café where she and Sally had agreed to meet up.
It was an area of town where Phoebe wasn’t all that familiar, so her eyes darted back and forth as she looked for the café where Sally had told to meet her. She wanted to make sure she didn’t walk straight past it.
Then, she caught something. Sally and Carl sitting at the same table. Phoebe stopped and stared.
She was on the pavement on the other side of the road, cars whizzing past.
Sally looked at her watch and moved to put her jacket on. She pulled her handbag over her shoulder. As she got up, she leant over and kissed Carl, on his lips.
He pulled her over and tightened her into an embrace, lengthening the kiss.
Phoebe moved across the street. A car had to make an emergency stop, another honked the horn, but Phoebe walked across in a daze.
The honking car disrupted the couple and they looked out into the road, as did most other people in the café.
Phoebe entered and walked over to Carl and Sally who stood there staring at her.
‘You are no friend of mine,’ she said in a strained voice to Sally. She then turned to Carl. ‘Weren’t you meant to be playing golf in Somerset?’
She didn’t wait for a reply, but turned around and left the café.
She knew she was close to the harbour as she parked behind it, so she turned in that direction. Sea air was what she needed now.
She walked fast, but Sally and Carl caught up with her as she walked into the harbour.
For a Saturday, it was a relatively quiet morning. The harbour master was busy, some fisherman brought in their catch and a number of small groups and couples were wandering through the harbour, some of them stopping at the little fish stalls.
‘Phoebe, I’m sorry but you don’t understand,’ Sally started.
Phoebe stopped and turned so suddenly that Sally bumped into her.
‘Really?’ she said louder than she meant to. ‘What don’t I understand about you smooching my husband minutes before we’re supposed to be meeting for lunch?’ She looked to Carl as she said, ‘On our anniversary no less.’
She took a breath and continued before they could protest.
‘You,’ she pointed to Carl, ‘pretend to book a lad’s weekend away, preferring to play golf and drink with your mates than to celebrate our anniversary. And then,’ she said with a hysterical laugh, ‘I find you’re still in town, and kissing my best friend.’
He looked rather stumped.
‘It’s not what you think,’ Sally said in a quiet voice.
‘Right, and what is it then? Because that kiss was no kiss between “just friends”.’ Phoebe moved her fingers in the air to represent the quotation marks, and her voice was lined with sarcasm.
‘You haven’t been happy for months.’ Sally had a pleading look in her eyes.
‘That’s no reason to have an affair. Normal people break up and then start seeing someone else. How long,’ Phoebe folded her arms across her chest, ‘has this been going on anyway, because that was no first kiss either?’
She was met with silence.
She faced Carl and continued in a softer tone, ‘I thought we could just talk about things and fix it again.’
‘But we can’t fix this Pheebs,’ Carl replied.
‘We were good together.’
‘We never should have gotten married.’
‘What changed when we married then?’
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Dunno, but it definitely changed things,’ he mumbled.
‘Did I get complaisant? Or did I get too demanding? What changed?’
He just shrugged his shoulders.
‘This was never meant to happen,’ Sally said.
‘What? You mean I was never to find out?’ Phoebe got angry again.
‘I mean, Carl and me, it was never supposed to happen. He was just really upset and lonely, so we had a few chats and things just developed from there.’
‘Right, and when were you going to tell me about it?’
They both looked sheepish and averted their gaze to the ground.
Phoebe started walking away from them again.
‘Pheebs,’ Sally pleaded as she followed Phoebe.
‘I need some time alone,’ she replied and waved her hand as if to keep them away.
‘Sal, just give her some space,’ she heard Carl say. There was something in his voice that made her turn back towards them. Carl held Sally by the arm in a way she couldn’t ever remember him holding her. There was a tenderness and gentleness that she’d never seen in him before.
‘Is it over between us?’ she asked, her voice breaking and tears welling up in her eyes.
‘I suppose,’ he shrugged his shoulders.
She turned back into the wind and walked away, tears streaming down her face.
Five years they’d been together and she couldn’t remember him ever having been that soft and caring with her as he just was with Sally.
She was angry and upset with both him and Sally. She felt betrayed by them. She walked onto the promenade at the seafront and got hit by the cold northerly wind. The cold, biting wind felt just like her mood as she walked at a furious pace into the wind.
As she walked, she started reflecting. She had often wished Carl to be more assertive and decisive, and just now he wasn’t even willing to make a decision to stay with her, or to choose Sally.
She had long felt he wasn’t fully present in their relationship. The way he just said ‘I suppose’ with a shrug was really how he’d been about their relationship for as long as she could remember.
Despite this, for a long time she had felt like the luckiest girl for having Carl as a partner. He was right that something changed, but it changed before they got married.
After a mile or so of walking into the wind, her tears dried on her face. She turned back to find her car. Janet would despair of how her hair had been blown into a messy chaos. She listened to the waves coming into shore and the seagulls bleating overhead.
She got irritated by the seagulls, and realised it was just a reflection of her own state of mind. She was too angry to face Carl.
She was going home to pack some things and visit her mum for a while, at least until she calmed down a bit.