(published November 2021, in WriteTime Anthology Two http://www.writetime.org)
Meredith March studies the wreck peering at her from the mirror and adds a touch more mascara to already overly mascara-ed eyes. She is always heavily made up, having never fully recovered from her Dusty Springfield circa ’69 phase.
She’s sitting at a mock rococo dressing table wrestling with curling tongs. The dressing table has three mirrors so there’s no escape. The curling tong cable has folded back on itself in many places and refuses to straighten. Not in its nature. When Meredith tries to grab a lock of hair with the tongs, the tightly wound cable kinks, stiff and unyielding, knocking over bottles and assorted lipsticks. Stuff rolls to the edge of the dressing table. Meredith tries to stop things falling to the floor, but the tongs burn her cheek and tear her hair. Weak tears streak black under her eyes. Three sad faces remind her that she is tired and forgotten and life’s pretense is overwhelming.
The dressing table vibrates. There’s a message on her phone. “On way,“ it says. “Flight on time.”
Delete, she says. Delete and back to the primping which needs more care to be convincing. Delete says Meredith aloud at her three reflections, carefully unwinding her hair from the too-hot tongs. Delete she says again, dabbing cold cream on the red burn mark.
Delete. But then what?
What would she do instead, how would she persuade herself to do anything, go anywhere, see anyone if not for the stranger buckling up and peering out of the window at an airport monotony. He’s her main topic of conversation, with her friends, with the children … but with them less often, they know how she feels about their dad. They understand.
She knows it isn’t love with him, never was really. They don’t know that. It’s not lust any more, and they couldn’t even go there. It faded in about year three. “When I was seven,“ she ponders, struggling into a loud floral print dress he bought her for Christmas.
Seven in dog years is 49. Too old to still be living in different countries. Too old to be waiting for him to get a London posting. Too long to be so old, so static, so floral, so tired. Too long for this same routine.
It wasn’t so bad when the children were young. It wasn’t so bad when the money was anovelty, and the holidays too. New cars. Shopping with the girls. Inane gossip. Housey housey fixy upping. Following the lines. All of it too old. And now: Delete.
Downstairs, Meredith checks her black outfit in the hall mirror, florals now under the wheels of a dark revision. She searches for her car keys, checks the time, puts down food for the cat who’s asleep on a sunny window ledge. He ignores her wistful stroke of his head.
Meredith takes frozen pastries out of the freezer. He likes those Danish cinnamon whirls.
She puts on her coat, picks up her bag and … Delete. Puts the bag down again and runs upstairs. Breathless, she finds her passport and retrieves her stash of €784 in old holiday money. Waters a plant. Glances around the kitchen.
The journey to the airport is about as long as the flight from Madrid, give or take. There’s no need to hurry. She ponders his appearance in arrivals. He’ll be underdressed for the murky Manchester skies. He’ll shiver as they leave the terminal. He’ll say: “Ooh, so much colder than Madrid. I’ll need to pick up a coat.” He’s coming back to his home town, but he likes to remind her of his difference, it will give them something to do, something to fill the space between them. Meredith hears the reruns of those filler conversations as she starts the car and switches off the radio. Delete. No distractions now.
The phone tracker app shows flight BA0461 casting its line across the sky. The M6 is slow as ever and Meredith March has time between stops to scan her phone, check flights, book parking in the short-term carpark. £20 should be enough. Sitting in the traffic, silent, another message on the phone. She texts back: “Yes, I know I booked parking.“ Delete.
It’s Friday night. They can go and get him a coat tomorrow, hit the shopping mall masked and hand-sanitised and count the empty stores. He’ll want a pub lunch. She’ll explain that they can’t. He’ll tell her this commute will only be for another few months. And then he’ll change the subject.
She turns on the radio: “A shooting in Tampa, Florida … ” Delete. Tampa, Florida. We were there once. Flew in direct and spent two weeks arguing about alligators and sun cream with the children. Tampa. Delete.
Pulling into the short-term car park, watching the barrier bounce satisfyingly up, Meredith March smiles, parks and switches off the engine. She leaves the key on the rear passenger side tyre and turns away. She is early. There is time to kill. Kill or be killed. Delete.
When Mr March in his too-thin coat comes out of arrivals, his expensive four-wheeled carry-on in tow, Meredith is watching out of sight. She notes his handsome profile and the way his look slides across the people waiting, as he seeks her out. She’s not quite ready to turn away.
She sees him frown, sees him tap at his phone and wonders why her phone isn’t ringing. As Mr March stands legs astride his case, Meredith March heads quickly for Security before anything can happen to divert her. Amidst hoards of people she is reminded to social distance and to keep moving.
The bored security man in a purple turban is repeating his lines as he scans the queues, checking, always checking. “Laptops, tablets, shoes off, coats off, number four please, and madam to number two. Take off your jacket please”.
Bang bang with the boxes, through the screener, then shoes on, coat on, tablet retrieved. Phone buzzing.
A host of duty free shops on the other side, a host of strangers, a host of new worlds. It’s credit-card heaven in the Kurt Geiger shop with an excessively-made-up young woman, also channelling her inner Dusty. “Lovely make-up,” Meredith can’t help but say and the lovely young girl beams and pats her beehive. She hands over three bags with three new pairs of shoes and one with Meredith’s discards. “I’ll keep these on and you can keep the old ones,” smiles Meredith, handing back the bag.
Next stop is an expensive Tumi expandable carry-on for the shoes and now the Hugo Boss Japanese stretch crepe jacket and matching trousers. The Hermés scarf. The Cartier watch. And the lingerie. And the many hundreds of pounds worth of Sisley make-up.
Another glamourous young woman is massaging her face and holding sample skin tones, head on one side quizzical, eyebrows tight, unfeasibly long fingernails flickering under artificial light. “You have wonderful skin, you know. Shall we try something a little different?”
“Yes, please,” says Meredith. There’s a message from him. “In arrivals.” Delete.
She hands over the credit card and glimpses something a lot different in the mirror. She packs the new beauty regime in the new carry-on and heads for the cashpoint, teetering on her new heels. She withdraws maximum cash from all of his credit cards and has to sit down to stop from feeling dizzy. Picks up her phone again. “Waiting.“ Delete. “Are you held up?”Delete.
Meredith March steps away and checks her gate number, 46. Meredith March heads for the lounge. Sipping cava and picking at cheese she goes online and posts a picture on Facebook of her new suitcase and stilettoed feet with the message: “At airport still waiting for John.“ She crafts a text message to their son: “When you get this, tell him the keys are on the tyre. Level 2 K32. ”
The phone is buzzing again but it’s time for gate 46. Deep breath. Stand tall in those high heels. Tits and teeth. But that buzz. “Where are you?” Delete. As she wheels along in the high new shoes, behind her mask Meredith is gone. Delete.