‘The Better Solutions honchos are a nasty, money-grabbing bunch of wankers Beth.’ Rick was saying as they pulled up outside her house, ‘For God’s sake, you are 34 years young. What the hell are you doing in this pissy job?’
Beth was too tired to answer after they had driven a 400-mile round trip in heavy traffic to attend the Better Solutions UK AGM. She shook her head and shrugged instead.
‘All we do is drive across half the country to care homes trying to persuade underpaid staff to buy Better Solutions bath hoists and Better bloody Solutions state of the art wheelchair ramps.’
Rick paused for breath but Beth knew he wasn’t stopping. She wondered sleepily how many times he’d said this to her in the course of the journey.
‘These people only come to our demonstrations to get the free mugs, pens, mouse mats, cakes and whatever the fuck else we have to sweeten them up with. We’re the ones feeling like bloody idiots slugging this stuff around and breaking our sodding backs in the process.’
‘I know, Rick, maybe one day I really will get round to moving on but…’
‘But what Beth? But is what I’ve been saying all my life. We both have dreams of doing something else. Why not?’
‘I know,’ she repeated, rubbing her hand over her eyes, ‘I’m too tired Rick, I’ll have to go in.’
‘Alright Beth love, I’ll see you tomorrow.’
Beth pulled herself out of his over-heated car and it was so cold that by the time she’d walked the fifteen steps to her front door, the metal door-handle felt wet to her frozen fingers.
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ she chanted as she fumbled with her key, seeing a frozen cloud coming from her mouth. The only light was a faint glow from the distant street lamp but even that was obscured by an overgrown bush. There were no lights on in the house, so Dan was already in bed. He would usually leave the porch light on if Beth still hadn’t come home from a long working day. He’d sometimes leave a note on the door for her too: Come to bed immediately! Or welcome home sexy!
Tonight there were neither of those things. She was worried about Dan, he’d been in a strange, uncommunicative mood for the last several weeks. His sullen moods were very unlike him. After asking a few times if he was okay and getting the brush off, she had decided to ignore it and wait for the real Dan to come back. It was probably just work stress, he had mentioned budget cuts.
All Beth wanted now was to get this bloody rigid bra off and curl up in bed next to a calm, sleeping Dan hoping he’d wake up in a better mood tomorrow.
When she got in, the dark house was freezing. Had Dan not had the heating on at all tonight? She went to the lounge and bent to turn on the glass-fronted faux-flame gas fire, holding out her hands to the flames. That’s when she noticed the envelope on the mantelpiece with BETH written in large black letters on the front. Had Dan left a welcome note after all? He’d never used an envelope before. She lifted it down drowsily, tempted to just put it in her pocket to read in the morning. Something about the formality of the sealed envelope made her open it though. When she pulled out the folded piece of A4 paper there was just one short line in Dan’s best cursive. Bile rose in her throat as she read the words:
I have loved you so much Beth, I’m so sorry. D xx
All thoughts of sleep suddenly vanished. ‘Oh my God, Dan,’ she screamed out, ‘Dan! Dan!’
She ran to the kitchen and switched on the light, there was nothing but a discarded half-drunk mug of cold tea.
She bolted to the stairs, running up them two at a time and threw open the door to the box room they used as an office. It was empty. With a pounding in her chest, she wheeled round and checked the bathroom. It was also empty, towels slung carelessly on the floor where she had left them this morning in her haste to dress. God! Finally she threw open the door to their bedroom. The bed was unmade but the room was empty. Thank God! All she felt was relief. No Dan hanging by his neck or convulsed on the bed or slumped in a cold bath of bloodied water.
But then the relief became despair. If the house was empty, Dan was gone.