The flat is dark when I arrive home from work though it does not surprise me as I am always the first one in these days. Even on the days when I drag my short journey out dreading the inevitable arrival home. The weather is freezing and the clouds race across the darkening sky. The dead tree in our pathetic excuse of a front garden annoys me as it does whenever I see it. It's the tenants' responsibility to have the bloody thing removed, but neither Simon nor I have thought about doing it. Flora and Betty are far too old to be worrying about a rotting tree. It's enough that the two old women who live in the flat above us keep our shared front entrance clean and tidy for I never think about running the vacuum cleaner out there. Betty hoovers every morning and sorts our post out and Flora is always putting fresh flowers on the hall table they lovingly polish; we shouldn't expect them to sort out the tree too. I have the same thought every time I walk past it, yet it's still there.
It is four in the afternoon and already night has fallen on this cold November day. Cars race up and down the road we live on and sirens blare in the background, as they seem to on any evening of the week in London. I turn off the alarm Simon insisted we have years ago, slam the door shut and flick on the lights. The flat is warm and smells of our meagre amount of laundry drying on the radiators, and the air fresheners Simon buys religiously. I cross the lounge and switch on the telly then walk into the kitchen to warm the oven for dinner.
Simon will be back soon and in preparation I go downstairs to turn on the bedroom and bathroom light. We live in a two bedroom flat in Highbury, North London; the ground floor and basement of a beautiful elegant three storey Victorian house has been our home for eight years but it is not a home to me anymore. I hate it. I hate the alarms and bars on the windows to keep out the burglars that Simon is paranoid about. I feel a fraud in a house with beautiful furniture that Simon has spent too much money on. What's the point? We're two people who never entertain anymore. The bathroom smells of the Radox he uses and the pictures on the walls are what he has chosen. There is very little of me now in this place I have lived all these years. Gradually it has become less and less in the last two years and I wonder if Simon has even noticed.
I switch the telly on in our bedroom and change out of my work clothes into cream slacks and a pale blue sweater while the news plays quietly in the background. There is a television in every room of our home, except the bathroom. Every evening my routine consists of putting each one on when I get in from work. Simon never comes home before me anymore and if I leave before him in the morning I know he keeps all the televisions on to chase the terrible silence away.
The quiet eats him up inside, not that he would ever admit that to me but I know it. I see the same thing in his eyes as I do in mine. The loneliness, pain and fear. He thinks he can hide it from me. He thinks he is strong for me. Why doesn't he see that both of us are pathetic creatures with nothing left? Two of us moving around each other in a horrible sterile flat that makes me think of a prison, and sleeping with a two foot gap between us that might as well be a two-hundred foot chasm.
The man I married eight years ago is unrecognisable to me now.
I am unrecognisable to me.
Wearily I troop back up to the kitchen to prepare the dinner that I will push around my plate before eventually tipping it in the bin. I never found any pleasure in cooking in the old days but now it is a mysterious therapy for me. Mixing, kneading, chopping and peeling; all the mundane things that bored me in my old life keep me occupied in this life. I buy recipe books and gadgets for my little haven in the flat I dislike so much and I teach myself to cook things I would never have dreamt of cooking before.
And Simon looks at me like I have gone mad.
Maybe I have gone insane. A cooking madness where I am doomed to spend the rest of my days preparing meals no one wants to eat. Small children will scurry quietly by my house in case I run out and try to foist food on them. I can see my dire future ahead of me like the long road to nowhere. I shiver and scrap my plans to make biscuits in case I become tempted to turn into the 'crazy baking lady at number eighty four'.