Tuesday, 16 September 2008


They met through their kids... as so often happens.

A stay-at-home Dad and a full-time Mum, brought together through the medium of the play-date.

It started with an invitation to tea. Amelia and Madeline had taken a shine to each other at school and wanted to get together afterwards. Of course, this meant that there were arrangements to be made in terms of timing and transportation and so she was dragged across the playground to sort things out immediately with Amelia's parent - one of the very few men waiting 'at the schoolgate'. Tall, dark, bespectacled. Not classically handsome, but with a certain je ne sais quoi. They found themselves smiling at each other as parent mode took over and the negotiations with their determined and persistent offspring began. 'No, not for tonight! You have swimming.' 'And Amelia has piano tomorrow.' So, it was agreed for Friday at her house.

The following morning, she had got her act together and was a little earlier than normal on the school run. Not the usual frantic half-run to make it into the playground before the whistle, the well-used buggy creaking and complaining at the pace. This was a much more leisurely stroll in the sunshine.

Only to find him with his daughters waiting for the green man at the traffic lights. Naturally Milly and Maddie wandered off in front of them, holding hands as they chattered excitedly about the day ahead and the forthcoming get together. Leaving their parents to walk more sedately with the two younger siblings and try to make small talk.

His wife was the full-time breadwinner. She should have guessed that, as she had seen the personalised numberplate on their BMW. He was a computer programmer who was between contracts so they had taken their daughters away from their usual childminder for a couple of months since he was at home anyway. He was enjoying spending time with his girls.

Her own husband was working longer and longer hours and they hardly saw each other. She would never have admitted it but she enjoyed this new male's company. Whilst she loved her coffee mums to bits, after eight years, she was a little tired of the continual circular subjects of breastfeeding, nappies and vomit.

They became friends and would stand together in the playground chatting whilst they waited for their girls to come out. Their bodies moving ever closer together as the unacknowledged mutual attraction grew. No one seemed to notice or care... except for her son.

With some strange sixth sense, he knew there was something not right. That this man was some kind of predator when it came to his mother and her attentions. He would climb out of his buggy and, determined to interrupt their chatter, do things to regain her gaze. If he was playing with his friends and saw the man come to talk with her, he would run over and push himself bodily between them, demanding to be picked up. From there he would alternate between using his own head to block her view of what he obviously deemed 'a threat' and glowering malevolently at him. If this did not work, he would physically drag her away. and settle her in the middle of the playground on her own, well away from the object of his fears. Returning to his own chums, he would watch her and, if she attempted to return to the man, he would go back and reposition her out of harm's way.

They both thought his behaviour was rather funny. For what was there for him to fear? They were just friends after all. With daughters of the same age, they had lots in common.

Of course there were further teas at both houses and then came the long Summer break. The girls were distraught at the prospect of not seeing each other for all that time so the arrangement was made for a whole afternoon.

She would deliver Maddie after lunch and come and collect before bedtime. It was all either child could talk about for days. And she couldn't help but look forward to the prospect of seeing him again. She was becoming aware of the way her daydreams would often involve him. Leave her wondering what it would feel like to touch his strong shoulders... to be wrapped up in his arms. Shaking herself, she would administer a mental slap at her silliness and firmly apply herself to cleaning the kitchen floor. Good, hard work, guaranteed to drag her mind away from such fripperies.

On the day itself, they walked to Amelia's house and, before they had made it even half way up the path, the door was flung open. Anyone would think the two girls hadn't seen each other for months rather than less than two weeks, the way they were carrying on. Hugging each other and shrieking excitedly in the way only little girls can.

As she turned to push the buggy home, he called her name. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw him smile shyly and offer coffee.

Every instinct in her was screaming 'No'! Bad idea. Further exposure. Going inside his house. But then she pulled herself together, remembering she had the ideal chaperone - her son.

So, whilst the girls rushed around upstairs using up their excited energy before settling in front of the big dolls house, the adults and the two younger children found themselves ensconsed in the kitchen. He started bustling around with his new coffee-making machine and she stood beside him as he showed her all the different varieties of flavours from which to choose. Immediately, the solid little body of a small boy burrowed its way between their legs and clutched at her thigh, whinging. She stooped to pick him up and he stopped at once. His presence interposed between them like some kind of forcefield whilst she made her selection and sat down at the table with his younger daughter.

The aroma of the fresh coffee was divine as he placed the steaming cup in front of her. Strong and black and full of flavour. She savoured each mouthful, whilst her son polished off his apple juice in short order. His plastic beaker refilled, he was dragged away by little Tamsin to watch a dvd, despite her voiced concerns about his ability to retain said liquid in the cup - even with the non-spill lid.

And there they were, alone at last with just the big wooden kitchen table between them. She couldn't meet his eye in case he should see the extremely unmaternal thoughts that were loitering there. She was horribly aware of the red stain as the blush made its way from her neck up into her cheeks.

'So, would you like to come upstairs then?'

'Excuse me?'

'The bathroom suite and the new fitted wardrobes I was telling you about before term ended. They're all finished now and, thank god, the mess has gone.'

He sounded just like 'one of us Mums' and she laughed as she told him so - as much at herself for her silly worries as at the completion of his transition into the domesticity of full-time houseperson.

She finished the last mouthful of coffee and followed him up the stairs into the bathroom. It was lovely. A big family bathroom with a corner suite, complete with jacuzzi feature. All clean and white and fresh.

And then onto the bedrooms, where each room had beautifully fitted cupboards of light oak, each with it's own peculiar shaping to the doors to fit in with the sloping ceilings from all the dormers.

The master bedroom itself was on the very top floor. It looked out over their garden, one of the biggest in the area and, perched on an incline higher than the rest, it had a balcony giving a view over the other rooftops down to the sea. He opened the doors and she followed him out to lean against the railings beside him and admire the curve of the bay with the waves lapping against the shore.

They were so close and yet not quite touching. Each of them aware of the heat from the other's adjacent thigh. One of them had only to move a centimetre and they would be touching, but neither entirely confident to make that step.

Simultaneously they moved their faces towards the other. She was aware of the pounding in her ears as he smiled at her. His mouth coming closer and closer. Her lips opening to receive...

'Aaaargh,' the wail of a small child in the room behind them stopped them in their tracks.

They started and jumped apart with the speed of the guilty caught in the act. As she gasped for air, she realised that she had been holding her breath and needed oxygen before she could run to her son.

Stopping at the entrance, she took in the scene. He had brought his drink upstairs and placed it on the wide window sill on one side of the master bedroom. As he played with the toy car that came everywhere with him, he had managed to knock over the beaker, losing the lid in the process and the sticky juice had run down into the rather strange ventilating and heating unit affixed to the wall beneath.

Of course, it could just have been an accident... except for the triumphant grin that played around his little mouth as he glared at the man on his hands and knees frantically trying to mop up the mess.

Apologising profusely she made her embarrassed excuses and took her son home with all speed. When she drove back later to collect Maddie, it was his wife who met her at the door and made pleasantries as the girls sadly said goodbye. Part of her was glad not to have to say sorry yet again for her son's accident but another was sad not to have a chance to ensure that everything was still ok between them.

Due to both families' annual vacations, there would be no more play-dates before term restarted, so she wasn't surprised when she didn't hear from him again for the remainder of the holidays but, on the first morning, when there was no sign of him on the schoolrun and again in the playground that afternoon, she did start to wonder at his absence.

As the days passed, she realised that she missed the pitter patter of the butterflies of excitement in her stomach at the prospect of seeing him twice a day; the frisson of pleasure running through her like a shiver as she entered the playground and saw him standing there. His half-smile of encouragement as he waited for her to come over and entertain him... or his slightly nervous approach as he meandered across to her. The way her daydreams had been full of the closeness that she felt with him.

By the end of the week the news had filtered down the grapevine. He had been called in to fill an emergency contract which had taken him overseas for three months and Amelia and her sister were now in full-time childcare whilst their mother was at work.

He had been a catalyst between her body's recognition that there was something not quite right and her mind's acknowledgement of what it was.

She had been 'saved by the bell' so to speak and her world would now return to normal. Stable, routine, mundane. Dominated by housework and the female sub-culture of the coffee mornings of a stay-at-home mother. Once again her life would be... dull.

She missed him.


Morpheus said...

The kids know when something's not right. Even the very young ones.

Cate said...

But how long would she put up with that dull life?

Even if the events aren't the same, I think we have moments and experiences that make us see ourselves differently. I was once 'saved by the bell' but afterwards my normal life seemed so terribly boring and I was desperate to change it.

Cate xxx

Gorilla Bananas said...

Yes, boredom can be terrible. Perhaps she should take up a new hobby and see how that goes? Bonking another school parent should probably be a last resort.

ez cheese said...

Once you've had the wool pulled off your eyes it is difficult to put it back on

Hu said...

So near and yet so far! I hope I never get saved by the bell ;)

B said...

That was an excellent story. I feel myself agreeing with cate and ez, I wonder how long she will last before another temptation comes her way.

Riff Dog said...

To B and Cate's question, my guess would be not long!

But oh, the danger. I've had a couple "saved by the bell" situations too. So fun, exhilarating even . . . but the danger . . .

Apollo Unchained said...

That was brilliant. I confess I had to lookup the meaning of "frisson" (and Safari's spell checker never heard of it either). Lovely.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Someone you know? ;-)

The story, beautifully told as it is, is an old one. It is less about the dull and routine, and more about loneliness. It's about living with someone and yet being as alone as if you were a hermit. It is about emotional deprivation, and at the core, it is about human biology.

It is about not wanting to be left wallowing in the pool of mediocrity.

What will the next step be though?

Helga Hansen said...

Beautifully told, Ms Cake...

She missed him. How many of us have that someone that we miss?

Loving Annie said...

I remember that hook leading to disaster, and how I courted it while denying its damage potential... You wrote about it very well, Cake.

justme said...

Definately an early sign of things to come.........!