Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pandora's Box

Pandora’s Box.
This was it. She was over him. She had decided that the fifteenth of February, 2013 was to be the date chiselled indelibly into the headstone erected over the grave of their love. Today.
Every day for the last year Claire had stood under the fallout from the explosion that was the end of their relationship. Acid rain falling into her life. The adrenaline surges of anger, the myriad ghosts of memory everywhere she looked, peaceless spectres of the past with nowhere to go. Stabs of hatred, murderous thoughts as illicit as pornography, creeping into those darkest, sleepless hours. She had never before realized that to hate was as consuming as being in love, pulsing in every cell of her weary body.
It wasn’t David who was the principal target for this hatred. It was Kate. Her former best friend, betrayer, charmer, all round toxic human being. Sugar-coated cyanide. And thinner than her, too.
The fifteenth of February, 2013 would also mark the day when she finally buried the stinking corpse of her hatred, deep, deep underground, so it would never be dug up.
Claire looked around her and sighed. She had developed some atrocious habits during her year long mourning/hating period. Greasy dust caked every surface, deceased arachnids hung like warnings of a similar doom from the many cobwebs. A dirty teacup from her mother’s last visit two weeks ago (her mum refused to drink out of a mug), still sat on the magazine-strewn coffee table. Numerous filthy plates skulked, ashamed round the side of the sofa, their contents by now spot-welded on. There was a smell, too. An unloved sort of smell.
She thought about tidying up a bit before Ben arrived. But she decided that she didn’t have time and, more crucially, couldn’t be bothered. Ben wouldn’t care, anyway. He was used to her mess.
It had all begun three years ago, almost to the day she thought, with a fresh jolt to her heart. A cheesy Valentine’s card featuring a butterfly on a rosebud, unsigned of course, plopping on her doormat. Huge, embossed, glittery, undoubtedly expensive and as tasteless as they come. Still, it was the only Valentine’s card she had received in years, so she wasn’t going to scoff. She maintained a cynical attitude to the whole money-gobbling and emotionally-blackmailing enterprise and always said that she didn’t want a stupid Valentine’s card, anyway. But when this one arrived, smelling faintly of rose like the drifting scent of hope, she realized that this wasn’t true.
I reckon I know who this is from.” Kate had said, studying the card.
Who cares.” Claire replied with studied indifference.
You do.”
O.K. I’ll indulge you. Who do you think it’s from?”
Kate gave her a mischievous smile. “David. I caught him gazing at you the other day. And haven’t you noticed how he always goes to the coffee machine just after you?”
Now that Kate mentioned it, Claire had noticed...
Kate handed back the card. “He’s probably just winding you up, anyway. He must know how much you hate Valentine’s day. Everyone else does.”
But David hadn’t been winding her up. He really had fallen for her. Claire couldn’t think why, especially when he worked so closely with the beautiful, elegant (and thin) Kate.
Ben would be here, soon. At eleven on the dot, no doubt. He was the most prompt human being she had ever encountered.
But what was the point of torturing herself yet again with beginnings? The past was a prism in which to gaze, mesmerized by shards of bright, distorted memory, day after day, year after year, until all the years were gone.
She looked at her watch. Ben was late. In all the time she had known him... He had told her once, with his usual science-geek preciseness:
If I’m late, it’s probably because I’ve been abducted by aliens. Although, it is highly unlikely of course that alien life forms could adapt to breath our atmosphere. Or, they might exist in another dimension altogether and manifest only as minute dust particles. A quantum reality entirely separate from our own would, by definition, be unrecognisable and intangible...”
I get the message.” She had said. “And if I’m late?”
He shrugged, smiling. “An entirely normal scenario. I would suspect no alien interference.”
Good old Ben. Absolutely bonkers, but lovable and there. He had the most beautiful brown eyes too, like warm chocolate, she always thought. He had hugged her, mopped up her tears and listened to her tirades. He had braved her vile kitchen to cook her dinners and attempted to distract her by patiently teaching her why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Quantum theory couldn’t both be true, “although they demonstrably both are.”
He had been a bit quieter of late, though. Rather pensive.
Maybe he really had been abducted by aliens.
She and David had clicked immediately. It didn’t seem to matter that he wasn’t her type. Nothing like those nerdy, insanitary science-geeks she normally went for. He was handsome, accomplished, confident. He smelled nice. She broke all her own rules to be with him and she didn’t care.
They set the world on fire when they were together. Their relationship mystified all their friends – how the heck did these two mesh? They liked different music, different food, different films; they had diametrically opposed political views. He was a wild, former public school boy who proudly voted Conservative. Claire was a thumping Liberal from the rough side of town, used to hard work and self-discipline. “Control freak.” He had called her. Then he had shown her how to lose control.
He won’t settle down, you know.” Kate had warned her. “I know him.”
Claire hadn’t realized, at that point, quite how well she knew him.
Ben had warned her, too. Her oldest friend from school days, he had watched with concern as her life spiralled out of control, never getting enough sleep, neglecting her work and every other part of her life. And it was true; the intensity of it all was beginning to wear her out. The highs left her dizzy and disoriented, a sort of love altitude sickness. And the lows... When he let her down, or said the wrong thing, or didn’t turn up at all, those times when she was left to free-fall into a dark place she hadn’t known existed. Then she found herself sobbing (yet again) into Ben’s best ‘Battlestar Galactica’ tee shirt.
Not that it slowed her down. She wanted more and more of David, his smiles, his touch, his wild, surprizing love, like a shot of some pure emotion drug, straight in the veins.
Until one day, getting ready to go on a night out with Kate. “May I remind you that there are other human beings on the planet, besides David.” Kate had said, when Claire hadn’t wanted to come. David was in London for a week and Claire was miserable. “You can spare your old pal an evening.”
Kate’s red box sat on her dressing table, mysteriously locked as ever. Claire had long been curious about its contents.
Is it Pandora’s box?” She asked.
It’s not Pandora’s. It’s mine.”
What’s in it?”
Never you mind.”
Secret treasures? The severed fingers of men you once dated?”
Kate had given her a measured, impenetrable smile and ushered her out of the door. But later, when they came back from the club (where Claire had mainly sulked in the corner), she escorted a very drunk Kate to the settee and sneaked into the bedroom. The box would be locked, of course...
But it wasn’t.
Love letters. From David to Kate, dating back to months before she and David had got together, the latest one written a week ago. Claire sprawled on the bed, reading them for hours, every wounding word, phrases that cut jugulars. She herself sometimes got a mention: ‘You were right, darling, when you warned me how clingy Claire is...’ And: ‘You know I don’t really love her. Not like I love you.’ Lastly, this one: ‘She could do with losing a few pounds...’
As far as she could see from the letters, David and Kate had set her up, a sort of joke between them, an aphrodisiac. A bet, almost. David even made reference to ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ in one of his letters.
Kate said later that she regretted the whole thing and had left the red box unlocked on purpose. “It had all got out of hand and I had to stop it. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist having a look.”
If only she had been able to see that Valentine’s card for what it was. She would have ripped it into a thousand million pieces of tack, scattering it to the wind like atomic dust.
For the first week afterwards she had holed herself up in her flat, alternately sobbing and staring into space. She spoke to no-one. She switched her phone off. She forgot to eat.
In the second week, she went to the hairdressers and had all her hair cut off. She gazed down with satisfaction at the long, gold locks shimmering on the floor and wondered if she was having a breakdown.
No such luck. She had just had to carry on, as if David and Kate hadn’t stolen her life. Now here she was a year later, no job, no social life to speak of and a short hair do. Ben said it suited her. Time to get her life back.
She was starting to get worried about Ben.
Then the door knocked. And there he was, standing on the doorstep, smiling sheepishly, his brown eyes melting into her heart. Ben.
How was your alien abduction?” She said, shifting enough debris from the settee for him to sit down. But he remained standing. “Well, you are... twenty minutes late.”
He dropped his eyes. “Something even more sinister than that, I’m afraid. I went to buy you a Valentine’s card but they’d sold out, it being the day after. Anyway, I reckoned you’d think it was tacky so... I made you this, instead.”
He reached clumsily into his pocket and stretched out a line of newspaper hearts.
Claire, I...”
She walked over to him, smiled into his deep brown eyes and held out her hand for the hearts.
This is much better.” She said.

The copyright of this post belongs to Alison

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