You've got to have a Dream...



a short story of  1650 words

by Barbara Erskine


She didn't care!

She sat looking at the phone after she had put it down, stunned by the realisation.  She really didn't care!

‘I know you've been expecting it, Meg.'

He was more or less right.  She had.  She must have been.  But not in that way.  Not at that moment.

‘It's the right time for the break, Meg, and if I accept the job and go to live in Bristol the office will pay for my move.  You can keep the house.  It's always been more yours than mine.  You deserve that at least.'

Which was the nearest he would ever get to an apology, to an acknowledgement of the last two years of heartache.  She did not bother to ask if Angela was going with him.  It was presumably a foregone conclusion.  She found she was smiling suddenly.  Why had he not made these world-shaking statements this morning as they ducked and wove around the kitchen, grabbing coffee and cereal and toast.  Why wait till both he and she were at work, miles from each other.  Why? Because he was a coward, that's why!

‘Bastard!' She said it almost affectionately.

Nicola glanced away from the screen on her desk, her fingers still clicking busily over the keyboard.  ‘Douglas?'

‘Who else?'

‘Need an ear?  Or a shoulder?'

Meg laughed.  ‘Maybe an extra set of brains.  He's off.  Leaving me.  So, where do I go from here?'  In spite of her light tone there was  suddenly a catch in her voice.

Nicola saved her document and spun her chair to face her friend.

‘Cake shop.  Come on.  The office can take care of itself for an hour or two.  That's what all these machines are for.  They don't need people.' She switched on the answer phone.  ‘Let's go and brain storm.'

As they grabbed their coats and turned the notice on the door to "closed"  Nicola stopped and looked  closely at Meg's face.  ‘You don't still love him, do you? No lurking regrets?'

Meg shook her head.  ‘Only for all  the time I've wasted hoping things would get better.'

It was over two years since they had set up their small flat share agency.  Since its first months where the office had consisted of Meg's kitchen table, a second hand word processor and two box files they had expanded to the point where there was room to take on staff, something they had  been planning over the last few days. 

‘Pity we haven't already got our new gofer.  Then we wouldn't have to  shut.'

Nicola led the way into the coffee shop three doors up from the office. ‘Of course we could have an extension put in here!' she joked.    ‘We spend enough time drinking their coffee!' In fact her mobile and note book were already on the smoked glass table in front of them as they sat down.  ‘Right. Fire away.' She reached for the  note book.  ‘Bullet points!'

Meg laughed.   ‘Nicola, this is my life we're talking about.  It doesn't have bullet points.'

‘That's the first place you've gone wrong then.   Everyone's life has bullet points.  Or should have.  There was some song my mother used to trill over the washing up when I was a kid.  "You've got to have a dream or how are you going to have a dream come true!"  So, what's your dream? Clearly not the wayward Douglas or you would be crying into your latté. Thanks, Allie.'  The waitress had brought them two large cups and two apricot Danish without being asked.  ‘So,' Nicola turned back to Meg. ‘Let's go back to basics.  No 1.  Do you like the job enough to go on wanting to do it forever?'

Meg smiled.  ‘I wonder why that's first.'

‘Because it effects me.  If you don't like it, I'll buy you out.'

There was a moment's stunned silence.

‘Do you mean that?' Meg scanned Nicola's face.

The latter nodded.  ‘I love working with you.  Don't get me wrong.  This is not a take over bid, but if you hate it, or feel trapped by it or need a change for whatever reason or just some different scenery  I'll use my grandmother's legacy  and buy you out.  That would give you enough bread to start again with something fresh.  Now.  Next point.' She wrote  No 2 on her piece of paper.  ‘The corpse of the marriage. How much will you get? Half the house?'

‘The whole house.  So he says.'

‘Get it in writing.' Once Nicola had slipped into practical mode she was formidable.  ‘It is the least he could do.  I've never seen Douglas do a damn thing to that house, whereas you've turned it into a real home.  No 3.  Money.'

Meg shook her head.  ‘Not a lot.  But having no children means its less complicated.'

‘What about the need for revenge?' Nicola's pen was hovering over the margin ready to write number 4.

‘That's a bullet point?'

‘Oh yes.' Nicola stared thoughtfully down at her plate for a moment.  ‘Anger can fester.  You may think you don't care now, but you might later.  When you're lonely, feeling down, maybe you even start to miss him.  Then you'll start to think about the slag who seduced your happily married husband.'

‘He wouldn't go for a slag,' Meg found herself protesting,  ‘and if we'd been happy she wouldn't have managed to seduce him.' She shook her head.

‘Don't you believe it.  The thirty-somethings trawling the male workforce are sophisticated babies.' Nicola raised a cynical eyebrow. ‘They want someone else's man;  one who is  mature and  steady and knows how to look after a woman and who is preferably rich or soon to be rich.  They weren't prepared to take a chance on a  penniless  youngster still in college,  like you and I did.  No, they  waited. Waited for a man who's been perfectly trained by another woman.   Like great black spiders.' She scowled.  ‘Don't forget, I know  what I'm talking about .  One of them hooked my old man when he was in hospital for God's sake! I only turned my back for a few hours and she had him convinced he'd die without her personal   physio talents! By the time he was fully conscious after the op. she had got him to agree to move in with her.  By the time he left hospital he thought he'd never walk again unless she was beside him.  But we're not talking about me.' She cut a wedge  of Danish and inserted it into her mouth. 

The minute or two of silence which followed,  allowed Meg space  to think for the first time since the  morning's shattering phone call.

Even so, after Nicola's unexpected tirade she couldn't resist asking the question.   ‘Did you extract your revenge?'

Nicola smiled.  ‘Oh yes.'

‘What was it?'

‘I let her have him.'

‘Wasn't that a rather hollow victory?'

‘Nope.  Their marriage lasted five months.  Then when he begged to come back I said no.' There was a hardness in her voice Meg had never heard  before.   ‘She took him for every penny he had had  left after I finished with him.'

Meg glanced at Nicola's face and for a fleeting second she glimpsed the pain  behind the other woman's eyes.  Nicola  had loved her husband and to Meg's certain knowledge there had never been anyone to replace him.

‘OK!' Nicola uncapped her pen again.  ‘No revenge then.   So, on to the dream. The dream before real life and the saintly unseducable  Douglas  made you compromise.' She had written a 4 in the margin.

‘I wanted to sail single handed round the world.'  As soon as she had said it Meg stopped,  completely stunned by her own words.  Where had they come from? She opened her mouth to call them back, deny them, but instead she found herself saying.  'Not without stopping.  Nothing like that.  I would stop everywhere.  Every island.  Every country.  Every  port. Every deserted river mouth.  And I would buy a camera and take a million photos and produce wonderful travel books to feed other people's dreams.'

Nicola stared at her, astonished.  ‘Can you sail?' she asked at last.

‘No. Haven't a clue!'  They gazed at each other for a full minute, and then dissolved into gales of laughter .   ‘I think point 5 had better be sailing lessons,' Nicola said quietly.  ‘Followed by 6 and 7,  photography and navigation.'

It took her two and half years, still working  in the day time with Nicola,  attending evening classes and courses and boat shows and photographic exhibitions. She lost weight, she grew her hair, she changed her wardrobe and she acquired a genuine, slightly-weathered tan, all unlooked-for but glorious side effects of her new found interests.  Douglas  had gone to Bristol, remarried, and then, as predicted returned to London without wife,  house or much money.  He met Meg for a drink - for old time's sake - and  found her, to her extreme gratification,  newly attractive.  Too late.  Meg had bought a boat with Nicola's buy-out money.

When she finally sailed, heading for southern climes she wasn't alone.  Her navigation instructor was with her.   Just to make sure she didn't take the wrong turning . She planned to allow him to disembark in the fullness of time but until that moment they were getting on  far too well and having much too much fun to worry about the future.

And the boat? She had called it "No. 8".     "Bullet Point" had not  had quite the romantic ring she sought and seemed a bit warlike for her purposes, but locked in her document case with the  charts and papers, was Nicola's original list.  When she returned to England with some of her million  photos and  the manuscript for her first book Meg planned to frame it.

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