This short story has been written specifically for week 37 of The Prompt linky, hosted by the Mum Turned Mom blog. The prompt word was ‘books’. Please do have a read and leave a comment. Why not also check out the linky to see what others have been writing.
Sun shone in through the curtain-free window, illuminating what had once been a living room. Where chairs, tables, lamps book cases and other furniture once stood there was nothing, save for an untidy pile of books and clothes in the middle of the floor.
Although the room was illuminated, Dan’s mood was not. The stuff piled up on the floor was the detritus of a failed relationship. Dealing with it wasn’t making him particularly happy.
One by one, he was carefully picking books up off the floor and placing them into a large cardboard box, ready to take the contents to a charity store. The books weren’t his. They belonged to Marian, his soon to be ex-wife. Along with some bags of clothes, she’d left the books behind when moving her possessions out several months ago.
Despite numerous reminders, Marian had made no attempt to collect the remaining items. Dan had some news about Marian from a mutual friend. It was one of the few mutual friends that hadn’t run a mile when the couple split. He’d informed Dan his ex was seeing a guy she’d met on a dating website. Clearly Marian was a bit too wrapped up in the present to tie up the loose ends of a painful past. Even Dan found it hard to hold this against her.
The sale of the former marital home was due to complete the very next day. Dan didn’t feel it was correct or proper to leave this stuff in the house for the new owners. Aside from anything else, he was living in a rented flat just a few minutes away. He didn’t want to bump into the buyers and be asked what they should do with his ex-wife’s bits and pieces. That would have been awkward. A charity shop seemed like the best option.
Dan had been packing stuff away and cleaning for two hours. He decided to rest for a short while. He took a swig from a plastic bottle of water then laid down on the floor, closed his eyes and did some relaxation exercises.
The break-up had been a typical, long drawn out affair. It had started two years ago when a conversation about when to have children had turned into one about if they should have children. He was keen, she wasn’t. Over the following weeks, heated conversations followed about how they were always broke and couldn’t afford to have kids, although this seemed to be solely Marian’s opinion.
During this period, Dan was offered a contract job in the United States. Marian didn’t want to leave the UK, even temporarily. Marian felt guilty that she was holding her husband back, but this made her resentful. Dan was equally resentful that he wouldn’t get to work in the States. The resentment grew until every minor domestic misdemeanour, such as an unwashed saucepan, lead to confrontation.
Marian started going out and partying with single friends. Dan did the same. Work pressures meant they barely saw each other during the week and at weekends, well, they were both socialising elsewhere, usually drunk. Subconsciously both Dan and Marian knew they were simply avoiding each other and a dying relationship.
After a particularly hedonistic night out, Dan woke up in a strange house next to a woman whose name he didn’t know. What troubled him most was that he didn’t feel guilty. It was a clear sign the marriage was in the deepest of trouble and he confessed all to Marian.
She had screamed and wailed and threw crockery at him. After a couple of days she calmed down. As if to prove these things are never black and white, she admitted to relying on a former boyfriend “for comfort,” and that they had “got naked” but “not gone all the way”. Marian said she had only done it because she was “lonely” and “messed up”.
Dan and Marian tried counselling to repair the damage and resolve their differences but it didn’t work. After a few weeks they were in separate beds. After a couple of months, separate addresses. They weren’t bad people, simply mismatched and so things had remained relatively cordial, although these days direct contact between the two revolved around the house sale and the divorce.
With his exercises finished, Dan felt reinvigorated. He promised himself a couple more minutes of rest before getting back to work.
In those final minutes he looked through a few of the books. There was a copy of the Tom Stoppard play, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead. It had scribblings in the margins and a stamp from Marian’s secondary school inside the front cover.
“Obviously something she studied at A-level and never returned,” muttered Dan.
There were a couple of travel guides; one of Paris and one of Frankfurt. These were destinations where he and Marian had gone on city breaks during their seven years together.
He then stumbled across something he found amusing. It was a well known guide for lovers; Sex; How to Do Everything by Em and Lo. One night, after too much wine, they’d worked through several pages of the book. It bought a smile to his face as he remembered having a good time. Unfortunately he had drunk too much to recall everything that had gone on between the sheets (on top of the sheets, on the rug and the tiled floor of the bathroom).
The book had been used once and never again. Was it suitable to give to a charity store he wondered?
“Yeah, why not,” he said out loud before turfing it into the box.
“If they can’t sell it, I’m sure one of the staff will make good use of it.”
Lying underneath that book was a misplaced CD. He looked at it and exhaled. It was the album Let it Ride by Shed 7.
“I thought she took all the CDs months ago,” he said, quietly.
It was a group that Dan and Marian had seen live numerous times because she was a big fan. They came from her home city of York. She’d even gone to school with a couple of the band’s members, although they were older so Marian didn’t really mix with them.
Dan slowly turned the CD case over in his hands. Marian had several Shed 7 albums that had been autographed by the group but this wasn’t one of them. There was nothing remarkable about it and so he placed it in the box with the books. It could go to charity.
This was a positive sign and he knew it. Music and emotion are powerful things. If he had stumbled across that CD six months ago it would have reduced him to tears. He had struggled to listen to all manner of songs for quite some time because of the memories they invoked.
Yes, he was upset the marriage had fallen apart. Yet placing that CD in a box destined for a charity shop meant he was on the mend. It was a small but significant gesture.
Tomorrow the house would be sold. He already had a decree nisi, the decree absolute dissolving the marriage completely was just a couple of weeks away. He’d moved house, she’d moved house. She was seeing another guy and a female friend was trying to set him up with her younger sister.
Life was moving on. Nothing but a sense of duty was keeping Dan in that house and he knew it. What about the duty of care he owed himself?
He picked himself up off the floor and vowed to finish the job quickly. Instead of carefully sifting through the books, he collected them up in several big armfuls, dumped them in the box and carried it to his car. He did the same with Marian’s remaining clothes.
Dan returned to the living room one final time. Although he’d arrived with every intention of removing all the cobwebs and vacuuming the floor, he had more important things to do. He had to take those books to the charity shop and text his friend saying he’d be delighted to see her sister. There were also clothes to be bought, ready for the date he would be going on if she agreed.
This house, books and clothes represented his old life. He was moving on. Someone else could clean those cobwebs away. He walked out of the building, blew it a kiss and put the keys through the letterbox. Dan knew the future was uncertain, but he was leaving his old home in a positive frame of mind, off to create a new life for himself.
Copyright, John L.Adams, London, October 2014.