She needs to tell him. She has to tell him. But when? Where? How?
There are voices inside her head, recurring echoes spoken by a long line of female relatives, all of them dead now, but their voices still very much alive: her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. They all tell her the same thing.
Leave him. Don’t be like us. Leave him. Never second best. Leave him.
It feels as though her thoughts have burrowed themselves underfoot, within the cracks of the pavement, among disturbed dirt and gritty sand.
She grinds her teeth together feeling them cancel each other out as she passes the depressing retirement home where her grandmother and great-grandmother spent their last days. The brown threadbare curtains which adorn each window are surprisingly dense, and seem to cling to the glass with a century’s worth of stale breath and dried-up conversation.
Leave him. Don’t be like us. Leave him.
She needs to tell him the truth, how she really feels and how things can’t continue as they are. She is her own woman, but since moving in with him she’s become someone else, someone she doesn’t fully recognise anymore.
As she rounds the corner of Lakeside Drive she becomes aware of the ring on her finger temporarily weighing her down. Engaged at her age? A preposterous idea! But at the time…nothing else mattered. It was just him and her.
Never second best.
The air becomes thick. The heat intensifies. She should never have worn that beige Mackintosh – the one he had bought her as a special treat. She had never owned a piece of clothing that was beige or cream or what some people called nude. The idea of parading about in flesh coloured tones filled her with dread. But he had told her that she suited the nude look.
At first, she hadn’t known whether to be flattered or appalled by the remark, but gradually over time, his assurances pushed her fears aside. He told her that he preferred brunettes, and that he could never understand the term gentlemen prefer blondes or that blondes have more fun. She had had blonde hair before it went grey. He told her that going dark was the best thing she ever did. At least now the darkness of her hair complimented her light blue eyes. She believed him.
The words in her head were fading. They were now mere fragments; faint whispers.
She thought she could feel something looming overhead, something wisp-like and feathery, which caused her to now and again scratch the tips of her ears, sometimes the crown of her head.
She had traded in her glasses for contact lenses. He had told her they were a bit frumpy-looking and said she should give them time as everybody finds them a damn nuisance to begin with. That was easy for him to say; he had perfect eyesight, no glasses or contacts for him. She hated the constant scratching of the lenses over her eyes; the way they made them water.
He had been right about one thing though, when she was able to catch sight of herself in a shop window, she did look easier on the eye.
She scratched the top of her head and her hand brushed against something heavy and dense. She envisaged a hand; a ghostly thing with five spindly digits plucking away at her thoughts, at the voices which once plagued her.
She felt lighter, her conscience at ease. What had her female ancestors been saying? The only word which came to her: him.
He was the world, her everything. And so what if he frequently called her Abby, the name of his ex, it was an easy mistake to make. After all, they did look frighteningly similar what with their dark brown hair, blue eyes, pale complexion and beige coloured Mackintoshes.
No, she wasn’t going to make the same mistakes as her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother who changed their appearances to live in another woman’s shadow; instead she was going to create one entirely of her own.
Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham and is often drunk on inspiration. Her work has been published by Word Bohemia, Synaesthesia Magazine, Bare Fiction, The Casket of Fictional Delights and Storgy Magazine where she is a contributing writer.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net