A short story…
The hall clock dolefully chimed the hour… seven eight, nine. She’d never been this late home from work before, not without telling him.
Danny leaned over from his chair, pushed aside the net curtain and peered into the gloom, his breath clouding the glass. Outside the traffic had dwindled to a trickle, the car lights intermittently creating translucent bubbles of white and red on the rain-streaked window… each car engine ascending and descending in tone as it approached, passed and disappeared into the distance, tyres swishing along the wet tarmac.
Occasionally a pedestrian would clip hurriedly past, head bowed, anxious to get home and out of the penetrating November rain. But none of them was Chloe. No one stopped outside, struggled with the poorly-fitting latch on the gate and pressed their key reassuringly into the lock. No familiar voice calling from the hallway, “Danny, I’m home.”
Something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Danny well knew the dangers of the local streets – he’d spent enough time on them. But he knew how to look after himself. She did not. The telephone rang, shattering his train of thought. He ran into the kitchen, just as the answering machine cut in with a message from Chloe’s mother… He trudged thoughtfully back to the living room and readopted his familiar position at the window, staring out into the night.
The minutes seemed to stretch endlessly, giving him ample time to reflect upon their relationship and appreciate just how much Chloe really mattered to him. How they’d first met nearby: she’d been too busy peering into a shop window to notice him at first but he’d been drawn to her immediately. Something instinctive, deep inside, tugged at him, telling him that here was someone special. Then she’d turned and their eyes met…
If a rapport could be instant it was this one. They shared a meal that evening, then her home… and then her bed. She had turned his life around, had seen something in him that others had ignored and taken him into her heart for what he was.
His patience snapped. He couldn’t just wait, riven by doubts and fears, waiting for a stranger to enter their home and tell him that his life with Chloe was over. He’d go out, walk to the bus stop… at least he’d get to see her that much sooner if she was coming back. Perhaps he’d find her even now at the shops, buying some last-minute things for dinner. He’d find her there…
Danny slipped quickly out through the front door… the rain, now a fine mizzle, immediately wetting his bare head. He took his usual short cut over the low brick garden wall and set off for the rank of shops that never seemed to close. As he walked past the Kebab House the powerful aroma of lamb assaulted his senses, reminding him that he had not eaten since breakfast. He peered inside the hard lit, empty shop to see the familiar, rounded face of Georgio. He had been one of the handful of people who had helped Danny when he had been down on his luck before he’d met Chloe, always happy to offer him a free meal.
“Ah, Danny my boy! On your own tonight? No Chloe?”
A couple abruptly bustled past on the narrow pavement, brushing against him, invading his space. Danny turned to voice his annoyance, but they had hurried off into the night, laughing together, oblivious to someone on their own. Someone without the person they loved.
A thought knifed through his mind: had she met another and forgotten him in the first flush of a new relationship? Was that why she was late? His anxiety turned to jealousy, anger. After all they’d been through… he’d even sacrificed his future chances of a family when she’d explained that she could never cope with babies… He winced at the memory of the pain. How could she?
No, no… he was getting this all wrong. There was bound to be a logical explanation. She had never let him down, never given him cause for jealousy. He was as big a part of her life as she in his. She had probably taken a different route, or got a taxi straight home. She’d be there now, waiting to tell him about some trivial incident that had held her up, worried about him not being there… she might even go looking for him.
He hurried back, diving across the road, dodging the traffic, rushed into the house and called out for her. Nothing. Silence.
He wandered disconsolately back into the living room and slumped down on the armchair. And it was there, just minutes later, where he heard the familiar sounds. The gate latch, the steps along the path, the key turning into the lock. “Danny, I’m home! What are you doing sat here in the dark?” Seconds later they were together, her body pressed against his, his head nuzzling into the warmth and softness of her neck. His fears had been ridiculous.
“I’m so sorry, Danny. I got caught up in Sarah’s leaving do at the pub. You must have thought I’d forgotten you – and you must be starving too. I know I am. Look, I’ll fix us both a quick drink and put on some dinner. Chloe poured out the milk and put the saucer down on the floor. Danny let out a low purr of appreciation and affection and rubbed against his mistress’s legs. Everything was alright. Chloe had come home.
Image: Todd Diemar, Unsplash