Fixing Things

He stood in the centre of the aisle, staring at the array of boxes in front of him. He glanced down at the piece of paper in his hand. It must be there he thought, it had to be.

She had left him three weeks ago. They had been married for two years and, to him, it had all seemed quite nice and happy. But, as he’d gathered lately, she hadn’t felt the same way. She had been getting quieter and more irritable over the past few months. She didn’t really explain what was wrong and it hadn’t occurred to him to ask. Then there had been a row, and another, and another. The seriousness and volume growing with each encounter. Finally she had laid it out to him, he was making her miserable. He was? And like most people when confronted with the possibility that they might be hurting someone they loved, he lashed out. What was she talking about? Maybe the problem was with her? Why was she so grumpy all the time? Then it came out in one long emotional, stomach-clenching diatribe. He didn’t pay enough attention to her, he didn’t help around the house, he didn’t do anything with her, but then didn’t want her to do anything without him. He was a spoilt child and she was sick of it. She had taken one look at the smirk on his face and stormed upstairs, slamming the door behind her. He’d paced for a while, arguing with her in his head instead, because the truth was he couldn’t accept anything that she’d said. He didn’t want to. As guilt was beginning to kick in, he heard her walk down the stairs. It’ll be alright he had thought, she’ll apologise, she didn’t mean any of it. It was just a fight, like we always have, things can go back to normal now. But no. Her face was hard. She told him, she was leaving, for a while. She wasn’t leaving him, but she needed some time to think. A part of him was so angry, it wanted to shout and scream and tell her she wasn’t going, that she loved him and that he loved her and that she couldn’t go. But so dumbstruck was he by the fact that his beautiful wife was telling him she couldn’t live with him anymore, he just looked down at the floor, and couldn’t move. He heard her voice begin to tremble and she left the room. He was still sat there twenty minutes later, in a daze, when she walked into the room to tell him she was going to stay with her brother. He saw the bags in the hallway, his stomach clenching as he realised they weren’t packed for a short trip. He couldn’t speak. She walked over, bent down, and kissed him on the cheek. The next thing he knew her car was speeding up the street. She was gone.

At first he had been so angry. So incredibly angry. He had walked about the house shoving things, slamming things. How dare she? How dare she blame him? He hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, it served her right if she was miserable because she was making him miserable to. In a surge of energy he’d gone to the local Tesco and bought all the food she wouldn’t let him eat, but then ordered the takeaway she wouldn’t let him have instead. Then he had drunk more than she would have allowed and watched the films she didn’t want to watch. He would have a fine time without her. It served her right. He spent the next week revelling in being alone and doing whatever the hell he wanted. He told his family and friends what had happened, but not to worry ’cause she’d be right back. Then, exactly a week later, his stomach began to churn. He looked around at the empty house and began to feel her missing presence. Well, of course, he missed her, he thought. Of course he did. But it was more than that.

On the Monday she had officially been gone a week and a day. He didn’t want to get up that morning, and all day he walked around the office in a slump. He got home, walked into the living room, sat in the spot on the sofa where he had been when she had left, and began to sob. It was dark when he became aware of his surroundings again. He tore off his work suit, ordered pizza and lay on the sofa. It was like everything she’d said had been recorded in his subconscious and was only now being played back. He heard it all. They would talk about trips they wanted to take, which she would plan, if only he’d commit to a date. They had a rule about letting each other know in advance if they were going out with friends, he didn’t stick to this rule. She would even cancel plans because he had free time and wanted her to stay. To stay and do what? Make her watch the films that she didn’t mind him watching, and which she’d watch for him, but didn’t like. She didn’t mind him watching so much football either, she had other things to be getting on with. Other things that she didn’t end up doing because he wanted her to be there so they could go and do something after the football. But which they wouldn’t end up doing because he was in such a bad mood. He wouldn’t let her fix things around the house because he knew he should do them, but he never did. He had broken the oven some months ago and hadn’t fixed it. She had cooked everything on the hob since, not that he knew about this, because he let her cook everything.

He looked around at the home they had both wanted so badly. The home that she had made for them. He had let her decorate the way she wanted, ’cause he knew that would make her happy, but he hadn’t lifted a finger to help. He went up to the bathroom, running his hand along the unvarnished banister. Which she had been meaning to paint but didn’t have time. He said he would do it, but hadn’t. He sat on the toilet and narrowed his eyes at the travel brochure that had been left on the floor. He knew it was dog-eared on the pages for Italy, he didn’t need to look. He began to walk around the house and take in every little thing that he hadn’t done. And with each physical demonstration of his apathy he had remembered a new emotional one. Why hadn’t he taken her to the film she wanted to see at the cinema? Why hadn’t he tried that new restaurant? Why did he just eat takeaway and get drunk instead? She knew it wasn’t good for him, why didn’t he? She let him do anything he wanted, and because of his nature he let her do nothing. He thought he was making an effort to keep her close, but really, he was making her miserable. At last he sat down in the spare room. He sat in a chair she had bought and had wanted to get reupholstered. He picked up the copy of ‘Mansfield Park’ she had left there. He opened it up to see where she liked to write funny notes in the margin, and he cried with pain.

That night he had eaten pizza, drank heavily and slept on the sofa because he couldn’t bear to be in their bed without her. The next day he had woken and called in sick. He was hungover, sure, but mostly he was just sad. His boss didn’t even give him chance to explain, he understood completely. It seemed they had all been surprised by how well he had taken the separation, and a breakdown had been on the cards. That made him feel worse. He laid down on the sofa and thought. But thinking just made it even worse. He called his father instead. His father was a good listener and let him ramble for close to an hour. In the end his father quite calmly pointed out to him how he had it better than most people in his situation. She still loved him, and he still loved her. A lot of their problems had arisen from him not doing certain things, certain things which, no question about it, he should have done. It wouldn’t solve everything but fixing those things would be a good start.

His father had always given good advice. He was lucky. He could fix those things. But how? She’d asked that he not call her, that he had to wait until she called him. This hadn’t bothered him until now, when he really wanted to tell her that he wanted to change, and could change. But no, she was smart, his girl. She knew that talk meant little. Especially since he, himself, had talked so much and done so little. But what could he do? How could he show her? He wandered into the kitchen. And there it was, the oven. He walked straight back out of the room and to his mobile. His cousin was a repairman. It was only twenty minutes later that his cousin began to dismantle the oven. Through conversation it became apparent that the family had not only been discussing the separation but had maybe also laid the blame on him. His cousin, it seemed, had been really keen on finally getting his hands on that oven. He had stayed for a cup of coffee, before going home to his own wife and kids. With that thought still lingering, and his cousin gone, he had walked back into the kitchen. He thought glumly about her, her being somewhere other than with him right now. Then he looked at the oven, it was fixed, quite easily in fact. His brain twitched. He began to walk around the house, taking in every little thing. He grabbed a pad and began to write down everything he hadn’t fixed, everything he wanted to do for her. Everything he wanted to do to make her happy. The list wasn’t confined to physical things, he added reminders about not being grumpy when she tried to encourage him not to eat so much takeaway, and adding football games to the calendar, so he could also plan to do things with her afterwards or before. He could fix this.

His boss had told him to take the rest of the week off. So, the next morning, he woke early to start his project. His subconscious twinged, was he being too simplistic about this? What if it didn’t bring her back? But he remembered his father’s words. It was a start. He had to believe that it would work. He had to believe that if he worked hard enough she would come back to him. Because he had nothing else. He fixed the toilet, he varnished the banister, he fixed the statuette she’d loved but which he’d broken. And all of it completed, in no small part, due to the fact that she had made sure they had the proper tools in the house. That night he realised that he had completed everything he had been meaning to. A day, that was all it had taken. He was an idiot. He hadn’t glanced at his list since he’d made it. And now he realised that he’d completed it. He walked around the house, looking for something else. What else could he do to make her happy? Then he saw her chair.

The next day he drove the chair to an upholsterer he’d found through a friend. Then he went home and grabbed the travel brochure, and the notebook of ideas she had kept by the side of the bed. He went to the travel agents and booked a holiday for the both of them. He knew he should maybe check with her, but he knew if he thought about it hard enough, he could remember where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. He would book it for a few months from now so she would be able to book time off work. He knew she’d appreciate this consideration. As he walked back through town a young couple, French, asked him to take their photo in the park. She was really good at taking photos, but she wasn’t here. This made him sad. He tried to imagine them on their holiday a few months from now. But this made him even sadder. He was terrible with cameras but as he held the couple’s he realised he recognised the brand. It was like his, but newer, and much fancier. He took their photo, they gave their thanks, and carried on. He had broken his own camera, well, their camera. When he was a little drunk. The memory card was still intact, the camera was not. But he’d refused to buy a new one until he knew this one couldn’t be fixed. That was over a year ago. The memory card still held the photos of their honeymoon, he hadn’t downloaded them. She had been upset when she thought they had been lost, and he hadn’t thought to double-check and reassure her.

He ran to the nearest camera shop. He was sick of his own excuses about checking things, and what the best prices were. He bought a better, newer version of his own camera, along with this fancy bridge camera he knew she had wanted for her birthday. He hadn’t gotten it for her, but he had it now. He raced home and inserted the old memory card into the computer. Praying that it was all still there. And it was. Photos stretching back to his parents’ anniversary party, their honeymoon, his Stag night. It was all there, why hadn’t he looked before? He flicked through photos of their honeymoon, smiling. But as he continued, the weight of what he’d done, how he’d acted, began to set in. He had let her down terribly. He knew he had to do something with the photos. What did people do? They put them on Facebook? He opened his not often used profile. He paused. What would she think? Would it bother her? Would she be surprised? But he realised, this was one of the things he had to do without caring about what she thought. He wanted to show her and everyone else that he loved her, that these was their experiences and she made him happy, and he wanted her back. He spent the whole of the next day uploading and sorting photos on his Facebook page. Tagging her in every single one of his happy memories.

By Friday he had run out of things to do in the house, and things to do elsewhere. He’d even booked tickets to take her to a touring musical that she had wanted to see. So he ventured out into the garden. He had always wanted a nice garden. She felt the same but she wasn’t really a gardener, he was, and he had hayfever. He had no medication to deal with it, she would have made sure that he had, and that he had taken it. He plowed on regardless, pulling out their small lawn mower and dealing with the months of overgrowth. Underneath it all was something which passed for a stone lined flowerbed. He pulled out their strimmer. It was broken, or at least the cord was. He had carefully written down the make and model and driven to the local B&Q. And that’s where he’s standing now. Looking for the correct cord…

Part of him isn’t focussing. Part of him knows that if he finds this it will be his last act. He was foolish for thinking that this would help win her back… No, he tells himself. He could do other things. He could plant up the garden. Yes, she didn’t care about the garden that much, but he knows that if he made it beautiful, it would make her happy. He wants to make her happy. Suddenly he really wants to find that cord. He grabs a passing shop assistant, who finds it for him. He buys it and dashes home. He doesn’t stop for a break, he begins working on the edging in the garden. It feels very important now, more than ever. His mobile phone begins to vibrate in his pocket. He pulls it out with one hand and looks at the screen. She’s calling, Sarah is calling. Then he sneezes, loudly and powerfully.The phone slips from his hand and into the path of the strimmer. The strimmer flicks it, and it slams against the wall with alarming speed and accuracy. As it lands he sees the screen is black. He stands, frozen to the spot. Then he hears the house phone ringing. He calmly turns off the strimmer, lays it down carefully on the grass, and runs into the house.

Keywords: Mobile phone, camera, strimmer. Provided by Maureen James.

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