Ashley shook off the excessive rain, put down the umbrella against the door, opened up her handbag and searched for the house key somewhere in the bag.
The door opened slowly, the umbrella fell on the floor.
The first thought that came to her mind was that the house had been burgled and that the thief may still be inside the house.
She walked carefully back down the steps into the front yard and quietly walked out through the gate without the umbrella, thinking what should she do next? She looked around hoping to see some neighbours on the street but no one was in sight. She often thought she was lucky to live in this quiet neighbourhood but now how she wished otherwise. She needed someone, anyone would do.
Her impulse was to knock on the door to see if any of her neighbours were home.
In the house on her right lived an unfriendly old man. Ashley’s mother had had a fight with him about the adjoining fence when she was alive many years ago. His garden was full of long grass, like a jungle. She hadn’t seen his frail hunch-backed figure for many months now.
In the house on her left lived a young Indian couple. They both worked and after work, they had the evening meal in their parents’ house. Home was only a place for them to sleep. So they were never home.
A few minutes later, with no motion in her house from what she could see from the street, she thought, maybe the thief was long gone.
Ashley decided to go into the house to see what damage had been done before she called the police.
Wiping the rain away from her face, she called out through the front door “Hello, is anyone there?”
There was no answer.
She walked into the house with her heart pounding like African drums.
From room to room, she slowly walked through the whole house. Everything was the same as she had left it that morning. There was no sign of a burglary or any disturbance.
She thought that maybe she had forgot to lock the door when she left in the morning.
The loud telephone ring gave her a fright. For a moment, she didn’t know whether to answer it or just leave it to the answering machine to pick up. She picked up the phone before it went to the answering machine.
“Jeremy is not well; he wants to see you.”
“Who is this?”
“John, remember? My wife and I had dinner with you and Jeremy once.”
“Hi John! Why can’t Jeremy call me himself?”
“He asked me to call you, he said you are the best thing that ever happened to him. He’s in a bad shape. If you don’t help him, he won’t survive.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He drinks too much, as you know. Since you two broke up, he’s become stupid, drinks like there’s no tomorrow. He needs you, please go and see him before it is too late.”
Hanging up the phone, Ashley dropped onto the floor and started to cry.
One stress after another, she didn’t know how to cope.
Crying makes her tired. She can’t think or feel much when she’s tired. Crying had become her secret weapon to fight against her stresses.
* * *
The room was getting darker. Ashley dried her face and hair with a towel and turned on the lights.
She got two packets of frozen weight loss meals out of the freezer.
While waiting for the meals to heat up in the microwave oven, she popped a piece of chocolate into her mouth.
She could almost hear Jeremy say “Look at you, your knees aren’t able to touch each other when you stand straight. That’s from the chocolate.” One day he had taken her to the full-length mirror to point it out to her.
That no good little man, she hated his guts. What about himself? A bald head covered with a few strands of hair pulled over from the left ear to the right. A ridiculous sight when the wind blowed, a few strands of long hair dancing in the wind, almost half the length of his body high.
Who gave him the right to tell her she was fat? She popped another piece of chocolate into her mouth.
She was a voluptuous girl, even when she was a young kid. Her father used to call her “My beautiful princess”. He said she looked like a real princess who ate well and lived well. “The skinny girls come from a poor background, not much meat on the bone isn’t an attractive look.”
When she first met Jeremy, he was full of candy coated words: “To be with you gives me pleasure beyond your buxom body.”
He had told her she was very much like Marilyn Monroe, fleshly, sensual and sexy. Marilyn Monroe? The American pop and cultural icon, the sex symbol of the world!
Those were the good days. So much to look forward to, so much to receive and so much to give.
She learnt to accept imperfect Jeremy perfectly.
That had been the happiest time in her life after her parents had gone – a man who adored her, treated her special, made her feel wonderful. She thought she was so lucky to be with Jeremy.
What went wrong? Did familiarity breed contempt?
* * *
She sat in front of the television to eat her dinner like every other night. Somehow tonight’s dinner didn’t taste as good as other nights’.
The phone call had brought Jeremy to her mind. The past happiness and sadness crumbled together, disturbed her taste buds. She needed something to help her to swallow down the meal.
She grabbed a bottle of tomato sauce from the pantry and reached out to the knife block to get a knife to loosen up the plastic wrapped around the top of the bottle.
She found two knives missing from the knife block. She thought she must have misplaced them somewhere, they’d turn up sooner or later.
As soon as she finished dinner, she was back onto the chocolate. Go to hell Jeremy, she thought, I’ll eat whatever I like, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Often she thought of Jeremy. Did he have a girlfriend? Was he married? What was she like? Did he think of her? Did he regret that they went their separate ways?
Ever since she had broken up from Jeremy, living became a long and dark journey. There was no one to talk to on a daily basis, nothing to looking forward to on the weekends, nobody to share mid-week dining out with. She felt like she’d been abandoned by the whole human race, loneliness slowly ate into her heart.
Sometimes, she would stand under the shower crying, for no particular reason.
* * *
No doubt she was longing for companionship, yearning for a partner, desiring togetherness. She didn’t want to be left alone in a quiet and lonely corner when all others had moved on to another place.
Internet dating, speed dating, dinner dates and many other dating services, the more she tried the more she was disappointed. She couldn’t find anyone right. No one she could have a relationship with anyway.
Vince, that tall and slim, well-mannered gentleman. He was interested in a healthy diet. He talked about the benefit of chia seeds, an excellent source of fibre and antioxidants, the richest source of Omega-3 fatty acids. He had gone on and on the whole night, hardly stopping to taking a breath. On the third date, she saw the wet white patch at the corner of his lips meet. She could not bear to face him. Before they had ordered dinner, she made an excuse to cut the date short. No more krill oil, cranberries and pomegranates, what a relief.
Peter was a typical Australian man. Rugby and drinking were his life. He suffered serious hay fever, watery bloodshot eyes, sneezing, a congested nose. If he remembered to take his medication, the symptoms were controllable. When his nose was not running, his habit of sniffing continued. That constant sniffing drove her mad. She offered him tissues but he declined them every time. She couldn’t tell him to stop sniffing so she told him that she needed some time to think about whether their relationship was suitable for her to continue.
Ben was the son of English migrants, had had a good education and had a well paid job. Interested in aircraft, he had lots of model aircraft hanging in his rented flat. He was full of hate towards his ex-girlfriend. He couldn’t stop bagging her, she was bossy, uncaring, a gossip, jealous, competitive, lazy, dishonest, unfaithful…if he could spend years with someone that bad, how good could he be? Ashley could not warm up to Ben.
Luke was strong, caring, warm, thoughtful and relaxed. She liked his ‘nothing matters’ attitude and the fact that he didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He stuck his head under the kitchen sink, unblocked the drain, climbed up the roof to move the tiles and fixed the leakage; a really handy person to have around. Ashley thought that she had finally found her match, this could be the right man for her. Who knew he was a married man. She had wasted a few months of her life dating him. The best one became the worst one after all.
As for her group of friends from university, one by one they got married or settled in a defacto relationship. Some of them had started to have children. They didn’t have much time to go out with her anymore. Occasionally there was a phone call or two. Going out for dinner somewhere became a thing of the past.
Ashley constantly struggled with the quicksand of loneliness, with her emotions trapped, unable to escape from it.
* * *
She had been born in the house she lived in. Being an only child was so wonderful, life was great until she lost both her parents.
Jeremy had appeared at the right time. Her hunger for companionship was her weakness.
She hadn’t been attracted to Jeremy, his small build didn’t appeal to her. She liked someone with a solid build, like her father – a real man.
Jeremy was a witty man, he made her laugh. He had a way of talking to her. His consistency finally won her over.
They had talked about a wedding, reception and honeymoon, their children’s education and their future life. Talk, just talk, no actions, no real plan. Ashley had waited anxiously for the rose garden that Jeremy had promised her, to build a foundation for their life together.
One year went by. Jeremy didn’t propose. She knew his and John’s business was still struggling to build up clientele so she tried to be patient.
Another year went by. Jeremy enjoyed talking about the future but no real plans were put in place. She thought it would happen soon.
The third year passed. Jeremy gradually stopped talk about the future and he was too busy with work. She thought she would give it some time, it would settle down.
The fourth year passed. She saw Jeremy less and less. Meetings, travel or working late took up most of his time. When they did spend time together, he would pick on her weight and hairstyle, the clothes she wore or little habits she had.
She sensed the change. It left her no choice but to put the gloves on the table.
Finally, Ashley had asked “Are we going to get married or not?”
“Not until you lose some weight.”
“Where’s that coming from?”
“I tried to give you a hint many times in the past but you don’t seem to care to communicate with me.”
“What kind of rubbish are you talking about?”
“Let’s face it, Ashley my darling, women your size find it hard to have children. You do know I want children, don’t you?”
“I am the same weight as I was when I first met you, it didn’t bother you then.”
“Please don’t shout, I am not going to talk to you if you shout.”
“What kind of game are you playing? You don’t want to marry, is that it? Or you don’t want to marry me! Why do you have to lie? “
“Have I proposed to you? Have I asked you to marry me?”
“You are a bastard; you’ve been using me….”
“Did I ever force you?”
Ashley stormed off. That no good son of a bitch. From the beginning he was like a leech she couldn’t get off her back. He had manipulated her into believing this was the real thing, that they were going to tie the knot one day, share a life and grow old together.
For a while, she had thought Jeremy would turn up on her doorstep and ask for forgiveness, that he would email her and say he was sorry, that he would call and tell her he missed her.
Jeremy didn’t turn up on her doorstep, he didn’t email her, not even a phone call.
She was angry and hurt. Most of all she didn’t know how to get rid of her loneliness.
After months had passed, she stopped thinking of Jeremy as the love of her life, she thought of him as an inferior mate. Part of her was glad that Jeremy wouldn’t be her child’s father. She wouldn’t want to have a son that looked like him; that thread of thought held her together, stopped her from crumbling.
As time slowly passed by, the reality of approaching forty forced her to give up the dream of having children. She was too old to start a family now. She didn’t want her child to suffer what she had suffered. Her mother had had her when she was forty-five, her father was five years older. When they were both gone, she had been left on her own.
Seven billion people on the Earth but not one was connected to her. She was here all by herself, no one to care for, no one to love.
Ashley opened her mouth wide and cried out loud. She knew no one would hear her, she was sandwiched between a deaf old man and a vacant house.
To hear her own crying voice mixed with the noise of the television was far better than total silence.
* * *
A light swept through her mind. Hadn’t John said that Jeremy admitted that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him?
She stopped crying. Jeremy loved her, what John had said proved that he really loved her. Hadn’t he asked John to give her a call?
“Jeremy, you silly man, you should call me yourself, I would love to hear from you.”
Was Jeremy a terrible person? He was just being a man, an ordinary Australian man – arrogant, senseless towards others, over sensitive towards themselves.
Now looking back on what had happened, it had not been that a big deal, had it? She had felt hurt because she was concentrating on herself, she hadn’t really given Jeremy a chance.
Was it his male ego that stopped him from approaching her? After all, she had walked out on him and told him that she didn’t want to see him again.
She had never had a long relationship with any other man, Jeremy was the one and only.
He had faults but who doesn’t? Did she want to be alone for the rest of her life? Or try to overlook the faults and learn to cope with them?
Ashley looked in the mirror. She saw a lonely face with early signs of grey, the puffy eyes not able to fill the gaps between the wrinkles.
She called Jeremy. She was going to make the first move, who cared if it was the right or wrong thing to do? As long as the result was good, it was the only thing that counted.
No one answered the landline, no one answered the mobile either.
She tried again.
Again the answering machine and message bank spoke back to her.
She thought he must not be well enough to answer the calls. She was going to go to his place and let him know that she was going to look after him till he got better.
Ashley redid her makeup and changed into dry casual clothes, got into the car and drove to Jeremy’s house.
The rain had not stopped since the morning. She had cursed it while she was catching the bus to and from work. Now she didn’t care, her good mood had changed her perspective.
She planned to take tomorrow off work, spend some time with Jeremy. She was so touched that, after all this time, he would consider their relationship the best he had ever had.
* * *
Driving to Jeremy’s house was no trouble, even in the dark. It was as if their separation of the last three years had never existed.
Ashley pressed the doorbell, there was no answer from inside.
The whole house was in the dark; Jeremy must have been sleep or trying to get to sleep.
She found the spare key that Jeremy hid on the top of the doorframe. She had often used it to get into the house in the past.
She walked into the house. The street light shone through the windows, she could see Jeremy slumped in front of the computer in the study.
“Jeremy, you should stay in bed, why are you sitting in the dark?”
She put her arms around Jeremy. She felt some hard and pointy object between her and Jeremy.
She quickly switched on the lights.
She saw her two missing knives, both blades were in Jeremy’s chest.
Jeremy’s goldfish eyes had lost their usual spark, his face was pale, his clothes soaked with his own blood.
Ashley gasped for air, the shock had stopped her from breathing.
She stood in front of Jeremy, total blame on her brain.
After a long while, she held the handle of one of the knives and pulled it out. She couldn’t get hold of the second handle because her hands were covered with the slippery blood so she wiped her hands dry on her clothes and then pulled the second knife out.
Jeremy’s body fell onto the floor. Ashley sat down beside him and held him tightly in her arms.
“It’s ok, Jeremy, have a rest, everything can wait until tomorrow morning.”
* * *
When the police arrived in the morning following an anonymous phone call, they saw Jeremy lying on the king size bed with clean satin sheets. His eyes were closed and he looked clean and peaceful.
Ashley was wearing Jeremy’s tracksuit and looked tired.
The excess blood on the floor and chair in the study had been cleaned up. They found Jeremy’s and Ashley’s blood stained clothes in the washing machine. Two clean knives were in Ashley’s handbag.
The morning television news reported: A crazy ex-lover has stabbed a successful business man to death.