It was so cold when Beth pulled herself out of Rick’s overheated car that by the time she’d walked the fifteen steps to her front door, the metal door-handle felt wet instead of cold 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, indicating that 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.
She was so tired. She and Rick had driven a 400-mile round trip to attend the annual national conference for Better Solutions UK. After a 4am start to get there, they’d left the conference at rush hour and it felt like they had never managed to get over 20mph the entire journey home, passing the time fantasising about leaving their jobs and starting something new that they actually enjoyed.
The Better Solutions honchos were a nasty corporate money-grabbing bunch of wankers in her opinion. Beth spent most days driving across the majority of northern England to care homes or supported housing developments to demonstrate her wares and try to persuade over-worked, underpaid staff that the place couldn’t manage without a Better Solutions bath hoist or a state of the art wheelchair ramp.
She could see the glazed look of most of the staff, ushered in to the demonstrations during the precious quiet minutes of their lunch breaks. Her van would be packed with free Better Solutions pens and free Better Solutions mugs to keep them happy while she broke her back slugging the equipment around and feeling like an idiot.
Better Solutions were, of course, very generous with their bonuses to the best sales people but the actual wages were laughable. She had done pretty well out of her ‘success’ but not everyone was so lucky.
Rick was adamant she should do something else. ‘Beth’, he’d tell her ‘you’re 34 years young, what the fuck are you doing languishing in this pissy job?’ He had a point; maybe she was just idling? Who knows, maybe this weekend would be a good time to research about the training she would need to get to where she wanted to be.
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. Ignoring her mother’s voice in her head saying ‘don’t do that Bethany, you’ll get chilblains’.
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! Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!’
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.