The door swung open with a rather grand sweep into a small hall whose walls were covered in posters for the various community outreach programs, health board initiatives and council schemes to keep the populous healthy. He glanced at them as he started climbing the stairs to the first floor rooms of the councillors. With each step his feet felt heavier. He heard a door crash open and the clip of high heels cross the floor above him. With an effort he kept his pace and continued climbing while another door crashed open and a female figure appeared on the landing.
“Where the Hell have you been? I’ve been waiting for ages!” she hissed.
He looked up and his feet felt heavier.
I’m sorry” he said “I was held up at work. You know, those bad guys show no respect for long standing appointments. Maybe that’s why they’re bad?”
That’s no excuse!” said the woman on the landing “It’s made me look great hasn’t it? Sitting here like an idiot making small talk.”
She stood blocking the stairs, angry and determined with her arms folded. It suited her clothes which were just as determined. They were also confident and quite intimidating, a smart and expensive jacket and trousers emphasizing her slim tall figure. High heels adding a little extra intimidation, just in case. She was almost six feet tall in the heels and she stood every inch of it as he arrived on the landing. She glared at him with cold pale eyes. The bitterness in them amplified by her long, lean, angular face. She pushed her blonde hair back from her face and snapped.
“You really are useless. You could have phoned.”
He wanted to say, look Alexa, You’re the wrong side of forty to pinch and pout like that. You are a missed dinner away from being a skeleton and you really should be worried about wrinkles and creases. No amount of potions and creams will help if you’re as sour and wizened as this all the time. And what’s all this looming over me nonsense? I don’t intimidate easily, I’m a policeman. Instead he said.
“Yes, I should have. I’m really sorry. Let’s go in.”
He leaned towards her to kiss her on the cheek.
She turned away from him and snapped
“Don’t be so bloody stupid! Get in there and help me save our marriage!”
She opened the door to the offices and strode through the waiting room wrenched open a door and went through it. He followed noticing a couple sitting in the corner. They looked small and defeated. Ashamed to have the failure of their marriage made public. This wasn’t a couple who were fighting for their love, they were coming here for its death certificate to been signed. Both looked up at him, the wife looked a little embarrassed, the husband was like a dog in a vets waiting room. Maybe he was just going to get a thermometer in the rectum but he might be leaving with no testicles.
James smiled at them and pointed at the open door,
“Looks like I’m going in there then.”
The husband looked back at him. He struggled to come up with something to say gave up and gave James an emasculated smile back instead then looked at the floor. The wife glanced across at the door Alexa had just stormed through, turned back to James and gave him a look that said “I’m on her side.”
He walked slowly through the door and carefully closed it.
He was in a feebly lit large room. In its past it had been a respectable family drawing room designed to impress with its large bay window, ornate fire place and a high ceiling, picture rail and ornate cornicing. Now it had a slightly faded dignity. The fireplace had a three bar electric fire glowing in it giving it what James thought was a jaded 1970’s feeling. There was something sad about an old electric fire in such room. The decor seemed to have a 70’s feel to it too. He became a little more depressed. On one side of the fireplace there were two arm chairs and on the other, backing on to the window, was another armchair beside which stood a small woman in jeans, t-shirt and cardigan. She had a warm welcoming smile and her hand was thrust out.
“James. Welcome. My name is Margaret. Please, sit down”
She waved towards the chair furthest from the fire. Alexa sat in the other legs crossed away from his chair and she leaned towards the fire. James couldn’t decide if she was cold or was trying to get as far from him as possible. He smiled at her as he sat, she gave him a withering look back.
Margaret sat and down picked up a folder, opened it, read for a moment and said,
“Right, now that we are all here maybe we should start with you James. I have already had a chat with Alexa.
“Great,” thought James, “I’m screwed already. I’m three goals down before kick off.”
So, James,” she continued, “why are you here?”
“Because she said so” he said with a smile pointing at Alexa.
Alexa sighed loudly, almost violently, and rolled her eyes towards Margaret in an I-told-you-so way. Margaret gave James the sort of smile adults give children and said.
“Alexa did say that you hide behind humour but in this context I think it is better, helpful, to be honest.
She smiled that smile again.
James smiled back “actually I am being honest, she did tell me to come. Do you think I want to be here? Being slowly castrated by bitter words? Having all my faults and flaws exposed? I was happy up until Alexa decided I wasn’t. I thought our life together was strolling along hand in hand minding its own business and enjoying the view until I was told different and we urgently need counselling. I would rather be at the proctologists then here.”
He looked at Margaret with a will-that-do smile on his face. There seemed to him to be a lot of coded smiling involved in this business.
Margaret reorganised her smile, glanced at the clock, and turned to Alexa.
“Alexa” she said “I have already heard some of your concerns about your marriage but I think you should tell me again for James’s benefit.”
Alexa sat up, leaned forward slightly and began
“I have had doubts about our marriage for some time,” she declared clearly and somewhat formally. “there has been a drifting apart over the last few years. I do know that our respective careers have taken up much of our time and energy but James has seemed progressively more distant and uncaring. Very unsupportive during times of great stress in my life. He seems to live in a world of his own for far too much of the time.”
As Alexa continued James thought his armchair was actually very comfortable in a saggy sort of way and he pondered what approach to sitting in it he should have. Whether he would be better sitting in it like Bob Geldof in the Wall, a tired, broken and dispirited man, full of internal angst and about to snap but sitting very still, staring into a void, seemingly not aware or caring about what is happening around him. Or should it be Al Pacino in The Godfather? Comfortable, relaxed, legs crossed with his hands on the arms, staring with a calm menacing confidence. The problem with these character choices was that both of them ended up alone and broken. And they smoked. Both of them used cigarettes as props and he didn’t smoke. Maybe a pen…
He was a man whose mind is wandering aimlessly around the room in which his marriage is being given the last rites.
“Do you have anything to say?”
James looked around. Both Margaret and Alexa were looking at him.
“Sorry. Should I have?” he asked
“Christ almighty!” Alexa exploded “This is what I mean. He just drifts off and I’m talking to myself. What’s the point?”
James decided. Al Pacino.
“I can answer that one.” He said slowly as he adopted the Pacino pose.” None what so ever. If our marriage is this broken, nothing will save it. You can patch over the cracks but sooner or later they will reappear and we will be back to square one. All the same problems, fights and slamming doors. It’s a waste of time.” He brushed an imaginary crumb from his trousers in the way he though Michael Corleone did in the film. Though it occurred to him it felt more like Dave Allan getting rid of cigarette ash. Would he start drawling like a laconic Irishman now?
There was silence for a minute. Margaret slowly turned from James to Alexa.
Alexa looked at James with utter hatred creasing her face.
“Prick!” She shouted and stormed out. James thought it had an ironic symmetry as it was the same way she had entered the room.
He sighed and held the Michael Corleone look for a second or two then said
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that tonight?”
“Really?” said Margaret, this wasn’t her first storm out.
“I got someone from work to drop me off, my car is in the garage. I was hoping for a lift home.”
© 2014 Andrew Woodhouse