This short story, of 1176 words, was written in response to Kreative Kue 5, issued on this site a couple of days ago.
I thought it would be easy. He had come home from work and told me that he had been offered a job in the Middle East, one that would pay twice as much as he was earning here, and be tax-free, too.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked. “Go for it.”
“There’s a snag,” he explained, “the job is for two years, on a renewable contract, with married accommodation.”
“That’s great,” I said.
“But the accommodation won’t be ready for at least three months, so I have to go by myself initially. That means you’ll be on your own with the kids, probably until after Christmas.”
“That’s all right,” I said, “it’ll be worth it.”
I believed that, too. I knew that, come the new year, we’d be together again, in a nice new house in permanent sunshine. I could put up with anything with that dream scenario at the end of it. And it was only for a few months.
He left at the end of the following week. We waved him off as he got into the taxi that would take him to the railway station to catch the train to London. He had to go into the office to pick up some stuff, then to the airport for his long flight; his first time abroad.
As soon as he had gone, I went back into the kitchen and wrote the number 100 on the calendar. That was to be my countdown. That ever-decreasing number was what would keep me moving forward for the next hundred days. I was convinced that he would be back for us before it reached zero.
Or eldest was at school that day; she had said bye-bye to her daddy when he she left that morning. I put the two youngest down for an afternoon nap; I went into our… my bedroom and cried myself to sleep.
It wasn’t too bad. My friends were brilliant; they helped me in more ways than I could have imagined. Not a day went past when one of them didn’t pop in for coffee and a chat; some of them baby-sat so I could go into the town for some shopping without having to worry about the children becoming bored and acting up. They even sat with the children during the odd evening, so I could go out to the cinema with other friends.
That didn’t help at night, though. I still had to get through one hundred lonely night, one hundred nights when there would be no goodnight kiss, no cuddles, no closeness in sleep and none of the stuff we don’t tell the children about. For one hundred mornings I had to wake up with no-one beside me, no ‘good morning’ kiss; no ‘good morning’. No hug, no coffee in bed. Looking back on it, I’m not sure which was harder, the nights or the mornings.
The days weren’t too bad. There was always plenty to do. The eldest of the children was nine years old, the middle one barely two, and the youngest probably wouldn’t reach her first birthday before the hundred days were up. Taking care of their needs meant that I couldn’t show how sad and lonely I was, how desperately I was missing their father, until they were safely tucked up in bed, or until I was out with friends.
I telephoned him as often as I could. There was a telephone system of sorts, although it was not as reliable as I would have liked. I lost count of the number of times we were cut off in the middle of a conversation. I suppose we were lucky; he had his own office and his own phone, the wives of the men working outside didn’t have that luxury.
We got by. Not too many major problems, really. The most difficult job was dealing with the stuff we wanted to send out and the stuff we didn’t. Being in a rented apartment, we had to clear everything out before we all left. I had to pack up those things we would want with us and arrange for the rest to be sold or cleared. The house we would have out there came fully furnished, and I have been given a full list of its contents, so we could easily decide, between us, what we wanted to keep of our own stuff.
I wrote to him every day, telling him about my day, and all of the things we needed to decide on between us. He answered once or twice each week. I didn’t expect him to write every day, I knew how busy he was. In fact, my daily letter to him was more for me than it was for him. Some people pour their hearts out in a therapist’s office; some bare their souls to their priest; I had my letters. I wrote more than I sent. Some letters detailed all my fears, my worries and my anxieties. These were written, then burned. I didn’t want to place that burden on him, I wanted only to put it into words. Once I had laid myself bare on those pages, I had effectively exorcised my demons, and was free to write a cheerful, newsy and loving letter to him. I never let him know how low I was feeling, and he never let me into his innermost being. That may have been potentially destructive, but I believed at the time that it was working for us.
Christmas was awful. We tried, as a family, to celebrate it as we would have done had he been here, but you can’t, can you? We had all the decorations up, family came around to visit and to cheer us up but when, at the end of the day, when everyone had gone and the apartment contained only we four, the mood fell off. And when the middle one, with a two-year-old’s candour, said “I wish Daddy was here”, I’m afraid my Christmas ended. For the first time in nearly three months, I broke down in front of them. It didn’t help that the number on the calendar was down to the mid-teens. It didn’t help that we had only two more weeks to go. When the dam bursts, the flow will happen. I had the eldest put the other two to bed, after which she came back to me and comforted me as best she could.
Two weeks later, things were different. I got up with a new vigour, a new spring in my step.
“Today’s the day, kids,” I said, “Daddy’s coming home today.”
More than three months of loneliness, sadness, lost-ness, everything evaporated in that moment. We looked out of the window and saw him getting out of the taxi. We all rushed into the lift to descend to ground level. Those three floors had never taken so long. We went out into the corridor.
Looking towards the light, we saw his form appearing.
“Look, kids – Daddy’s home!”