Annie sat looking out of the window thoughtfully. She wasn’t musing, contemplating or otherwise channeling her thoughts in any creative direction. She was thinking in loops of fear which seemed to spin round in her head without settling on any final well-reasoned destination; much like a toy train going round in a circle on a plastic track. As she looked into the middle distance, her brow, already ingrained with deep pensive creases, furrowed some more. The intensity of this fresh furrow made her head feel dense and foggy. The furrow acted like a trigger for her inner dialogue:
‘I have to pick Chloe up from school because she can’t walk home with two bags….. and if I pick her up that limits the risk of her getting abducted……. and I will save her from being tired……but then I also need to be finishing off this piece of work for the boss and if I don’t get it done by 5 o’clock I will be in trouble…… and then I might lose my job……. and in any event I need to wait for a delivery to come………but then I need to go to Tesco’s or there won’t be any dinner and if I don’t cook sea bass in a fresh tarragon sauce then I will be depriving my family of the food they need…..and God forbid we would otherwise have to eat baked beans and then my husband will divorce me and run off with Cathy Barratt who makes her family pavlova on a Monday and soufflé on a Tuesday.’
Annie froze as she looked at her watch. It was already 3.30. She was late for the school run. The phone rang. It was her daughter, Chloe.
‘Alright Mum, I’m going round to Lindsay Barratt’s to do some homework. I’ll be back around 7’.
Annie was slightly thrown by this turn of events, which she had not foreseen. She usually sought to plan all eventualities before they happened. She not done any reconnaissance in her head and it was therefore outside of her control. She took a moment to gather herself and the quickly applied her thoughts to the thing that she now had control over: her work. She would sit down and finish her work.
Annie sat down at her desk and turned on her laptop. She only had the conclusion to finish and some editing to do. No sooner had she settled herself at her desk, an email from her boss flashed up on the screen. It read:
‘Don’t worry about the report Annie: Stefan has already done one on the same subject for another project so we are going to use that’.
Annie readjusted her thoughts. Now she had only one thing left that she had planned for: dinner. She now had two people to cater for instead of three as Chloe was not coming home. She also had a small megabite of space left in her head now that some of the afternoon’s anxieties had unravelled into nothing.
The megabite of headspace was not free for long. As she got into her car to go to the supermarket, the furrow deepened and the angsty thoughtforms descended like a doom-ridden fog:
‘Oh no look: someone has reversed into the back of the car! I can’t get it fixed on my insurance because then my premiums will go up but if I pay for it there won’t be enough money for the new fridge I have to buy. What will I do?………… Oooo and those new neighbours down the road have got teenagers who look like they are up to no good. I can’t have them living round here: they might be a bad influence on my kids……….. the garden is not tidy as the lawn has not been cut: I am bringing up my children in a property surrounded by weeds………aaaaaaaaagh!’
Annie sat in her car and sighed a big sigh as she put the key in the ignition. As she accelerated down the street, she started to plan the evening’s meal: see bass, white sauce, fresh tarragon, lemon, romanesco rather than broccoli and perhaps some potatoes dauphinoise on the side. Wine. White wine. It was always better to get two or three bottles just in case. It would be a disaster if there was no wine left which would almost certainly result in her husband going off with Cathy Barratt. There was no doubt that she had to get two bottles of wine to save any risk of impending divorce.
Annie loitered with intent at the fish counter. She did not want to be too close to the smiling woman in front of her in case she started up a conversation. She stood waiting and looked at her phone just to ward off the possibility of eye contact. As she glanced through her emails, her husband’s number flashed up on the screen. She pressed the red button. ‘Hello?’ she enquired, slightly surprised by the prospect of hearing from her husband at this time of the evening. She was expecting him back within half an hour.
‘Hello honey. Listen. Something’s come up. I have to work late and I won’t be home. In fact I won’t be back till tomorrow morning because I’m going to stay up here in London to finish what I have to do.’
There was an uncomfortable pause. Annie started to process what she had been told. ‘OK……I will see you tomorrow then’ she said and ended the call.
Slightly affronted, she picked up a lasagne for one and headed to the checkout. She caved and picked up a pavlova as well. She could have some tonight and her husband could finish it off tomorrow on his return from London. She was hoping it might be nicer than Cathy Barratt’s. That reminded her to give the Barratts a ring on the way home to find out whether she needed to pick up Chloe from Lindsay’s or whether Cathy could drop her back. She phoned the landline and a male voice answered.
‘Stuart Barratt here’ said the voice.
Annie had not foreseen the prospect of anyone other than Cathy answering the phone. This caused her to take a sharp intake of breath before she spoke.
‘Hi Stuart. It’s Chloe’s Mum. Is Cathy there?’
‘No. She is in London working. She won’t be back till tomorrow’.
‘Oh that’s a coincidence. My husband’s staying in London tonight as well’ she said, ‘I wonder if they are aware that the other is there. I just wondered whether you might be able to drop Chloe back.’
‘No problem. I’ll drop her round in an hour’ said Stuart.
Annie’s furrow started to deepen. She rang her husband.
‘Hi darling. I just wondered what you were having for dinner tonight’ she said.
And for dessert?
Annie ended the call. He was having PAVLOVA! Her husband and Cathy Barratt were in the same city and her husband was having pavlova for dessert. It was Monday. That could only mean one thing. Her husband must have been having an affair with Cathy Barratt.
The catastrophe was there, laid bare in front of her like a newly-discovered murder victim. She was the crime scene investigator. She had the damning evidence now. Her worst fears had come true. The nightmare of nightmares had begun. Perhaps it was because she had served him a tin of macaroni cheese instead of home-made salmon fishcakes last Wednesday.
Stuart Barratt dropped Chloe home. Annie did some more sleuthing as he got out of his Audi.
‘Where is Cathy staying then?’
‘At her Mum’s in Kent’
‘Are you sure?’ asked Cathy
‘Well yes: I spoke to them both just now’ said Stuart
‘And where will they be eating?’
‘There of course. Cathy’s mum always cooks’ said Stuart with a puzzled look on his face.
Annie was surprised yet again. She tried to process the flaws in her detective work but could not quite compute them. She decided to settle down with her chardonnay and work it all out whilst looking out of the window. Perhaps the vista of the garden might give her some inspiration to get the real answers she needed.