Doing dishes

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The clocks ticked from either side of the kitchen. Like a metronome, one hand swept into the space where the other hand had just vacated. The noise was distinct yet seamless, a river of time was marked, flickered and then passed away into history’s vast sweep. Tick tick tick tock. Tick tick tick tock. Tick tick tick tock. It was 30 November, early and dark. Buses trundled in the distance and taxi drivers beetled past her window, driving in from Essex to plough the London streets for lucrative fares.

Ali stood in front of the sink. She stretched out her arms, felt every sinew stretch and strain right to the ends of her fingertips. Arms out and up as far as she could go. Pushing into space. Her muscles ached well, a satisfying feeling. She arched her back and pushed her consciousness into every tiny space. Raising her left shoulder to her ear and then her right, hunching up and relaxing. She windmilled her arms, cutting through the cold morning air.

Warmed up by her stretch, Ali stepped her slippered feet into the space where her ex-husband had stood three years earlier. She could see his ghost there still. Standing at the sink, six-feet-five of blond hair and easy charm, sweater sleeves rolled up, his hands encased in bright yellow washing-up gloves. He had almost had his nightly portion of beer. Usually, every night (Sunday to Thursday), it was four 620 mls of Stella Artois or Peroni. Enough to make him querulous, sneering and then sleepy. All between 8.30 and 9.30pm, a golden hour.

Bob's final bottle of beer that particular night stood on the side of the sink. Its green glass glowed, reflecting its heavy light in the shiny chrome kettle. It looked, to Ali, like a Christmas bauble. It caught her eye as she talked to her then husband.

She had been telling Bob about her cancer-stricken father and how she wanted to be closer to him for as long as he was sick. Bob's face almost immediately curled into a sneer. "There are only two possibilities: yes or no," he said. Ali knew the answer. She had seen it often. "It's important to me." "Look, Ali, I am not going to let a sick, old man in a hospital bed influence my life." He took a swig from the bottle of Stella Artois. The lager fizzed against his mouth and he wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

The words landed on her body with a sharp stabbing pain. Blinded by the pain, she had a second of clarity. And all the moments of their life together collapsed in on top of each other. Every time in the past that something had come up for her - a new job, an outing with friends or family, the possibility of a new hobby - Bob turned the attention back to him, an illness of his or his work preventing her from going. All of those events conflated into this one moment.

There was a choice. Swallow it down and keep going like she had for the previous 14 years? Each time adding one more not-allowed to the list, becoming slightly and slightly smaller as the years went on. With what at the end? A pile of shavings where once was a person? Or, choosing to go? Turning silently, packing and leaving in the night. Just leaving it all there. Bob in his world, drinking every night, constraining the world remark by remark.

What would the world be like for her? Outside a relationship? Would she be brave and free if she chose one of the other many worlds available to her? Could she cope by herself? If her consciousness were fixed in the world where she stayed? Would she be less happy than she could be?

What if she were in the other world where she left him? Would that be better? Would the loneliness and poverty be bearable? Could she make it without Bob's money, his house? Would there be another Bob? Another controlling man, just with a different name?

He looked at her. “Makes sense. His time is past. This is now. This is the time. This is our time.”

“But he’s my Dad” Ali replied. “But I’m your husband. I’m the man.”

Back in her kitchen Ali remembered her choice. And she breathed in the wonderful, free air. She told herself: "If this is the world I’m in right now and I’m conscious of it I want it to be the best it can be."

She pulled on her Marigolds and attacked the dirty dishes knowing she made the right choice.

About the Author: 
I'm Oonagh, a mum from London, who's trying to inspire three kids to learn about science and tell good stories.