Cliched driven life was how her world was moving. Her diary remained empty, her computer screen blank and her phone showed no record of any texts. Eyes peered over her shoulder constantly and she jumped involuntarily each time they caught her own.
Her husband, a cardboard replica of the man she married, was charm itself. He should change his name to charm because that was all that was left. The rest of his personality had ebbed away as each year passed. Or was she getting harder to please?
Chloe paused, applied her eyeliner one more time, hiding the red-rimmed eyes. How could she have been so blind for so long? There was a song that played in her head from the seventies when they first met, he knows that she knows that he knows… She should have known better, her first husband was, how did they say it, as straight as a die. He would tell her if she looked daft in some get up. Oh, and they had some get-ups back then. Orange corduroy hot pants, her chubby white legs squeezed out like pasta from an extruder. Cheesecloth tops with elasticated bodices, oh the days of dancing barefoot in the park. Denis was her first love, she wondered would they still be married if he hadn’t gone and died on her. Young enough to start again but with the motivation of a hedgehog crossing a darkened road.
Tim sidled alongside her without her really noticing. Before long there were bouquets of flowers every week and tickets to the local flicks. She didn’t notice it was always his choice, just like she hadn’t really noticed they always watched his choice on the telly. She sighed as she realised, she hadn’t noticed much in the fifteen years of marriage but now she had woken up from a dream.
Little Terry from next door, well she supposed, big Terry now, she had minded him since he was two and bawling at his big sister to get away from him. Shirley, his mam was one of those overwrought women that could quite grasp being a mother to all her children so Chloe looked out for Terry and he would come and do his homework at her table whilst she made Tim’s tea for six o’clock. Terry came to see her last week, he was all formal and wouldn’t look her in the eye, shuffling from one foot to the next. Eventually, he blurted his story, well it wasn’t his, it was Tim’s.
He stood in the middle of her kitchen and told her he was getting engaged, before she could congratulate him he said very quietly, “I won’t treat her like Tim treats you,” and then pointed out a few things. Little things, that don’t add up to much in ones and twos but put in a big list like he did. She saw with clarity what her life had become.
Very slowly she had drifted away from her friends, her writing had dried up, her food became his, everything was on his terms with no compromise. Tim would flash that smile, benign to a stranger but with lethal intent to her. He had hollowed her out and filled her with nothing. When Terry left she began to weep, and still, she cried. He was forever changing her, he bought her clothes, making her feel like mutton dressed as a slaughtered lamb to be sacrificed for Tim and Tim alone.
Her first few plans to leave came to nothing, he would read her emails and texts and ask her to explain what they were about. Money was another issue, she was kept on a meagre budget, no room to squirrel anything away and yet just as caged birds sing she began to dream of freedom, of getting out of the ridiculous situation. With the new sense of seeing she now had, his flashy grin belied a controlling and manipulating man.
She began to write, she wrote letters to her younger self, she wrote to a nameless future self. She wrote poetry, making the painful existence beautiful and she wrote prayers, long detailed prayers and short to the point prayers. She wanted a way out and writing in the middle of the day was her outlet. She threw everything away, even the page underneath that he might find and shade. She was beginning very slowly to be as sneaky as him.
David Trickett lived next door to Chloe and Tim, on the other side to the overwhelmed Shirley. He had an odd kind of life, since getting TB as a youngster he was too weak to work and needed the heat on constantly, even in the summer. He could just about manage to get to the corner shop, but Mrs Khan had to get young Didi to deliver his groceries. He had lived here longer than anyone else, having seen both his parents die in this house, having seen children come and go, couples move in and move out. He watched life outside his windows, whilst he waited slowly for his time to pass.
The mornings he watched the people leave their houses and go to school or work. He had watched long enough for three recessions to change the way people did work. Mr Tanner across the road was a year out of work before his wife found out, he had piled up debt with some local shark and it was when she was called to the hospital, with him lying there; all tubes and bruises that she learned the truth.
In the afternoons he moved to the back window, he watched the birds flit down to eat the crumbs left out after lunch. For the last few months he watched Chloe rush down to the dustbin around three o’clock every day armed with paper that she tore up and placed under other rubbish.
After the third day he decided to investigate. The first attempt at gaining access to the bin ended in disaster and nettle stings in places he’d rather forget. It made him press on even more and so very slowly he cleared the patch of nettles, it took him a few days as even the smallest amount of exercise tired him out so much. It was in the middle of the second week that he got as far as the bin and delved in to find the pages.
Safely back in his bed and with sellotape in hand he pieced them back together. Oh he exclaimed when reading the first one. It was poem, beautiful phrasing with an ethereal presence. He copied the pages into his own notebook. He continued each day, saving and reconstructing pages and then transcribing them.
Last week he sent the poems off to a publisher and today he got a phone call from them. He dressed with care and leaving his front door he turned to Chloe’s door and began a journey that was to take both of them to a different world, far away from Tim and the rest of Jubilee Street.