He watched her rolling and folding, placing each item into the deep suitcase. She had never let him pack when they were going away. She said he wasted too much space and she prided herself on getting everything into one case, no matter how long the holiday. Every Summer, he’d just wanted a case of his own that he could throw his things into at the end of the trip and pour out onto the bedroom floor once home, unleashing the smells of the Mediterranean into their cramped, Holloway flat. But she would just shoo him away and slot everything in, like a jigsaw made up of bras, toilet bags and shirts.
Now, however, she was packing just for one and it was not linens and bikinis for some short getaway, but clothes for her new life with a man she’d met online, whilst he had been working every hour God sent to pay for the mortgage, the kids’ school and university costs…. the holidays.
Watching her was like watching his mother making her famous Sunday trifle, thirty years earlier: A base layer of larger clothing – jumpers, jackets and formal dresses – were laid down first, then the T-shirts and trousers, balled up so they wouldn’t crease, and finally the underwear and socks, filling the gaps like thick cream oozing into any gaps between the fruit and sponge. But thinking of his mother brought no comfort as he struggled to accept his wife’s betrayal. As she rolled another T-shirt, squeezing the life out of it, searching for an air pocket in which to stuff it, his anger boiled up inside him, unleashed, never again to be packed tidily away.
And as his hands closed around her throat, squeezing the life out of it, the T-shirt fell to the floor.
As he looked into the suitcase, trying to fit everything in as neatly as she would have done, he realised that it was harder than it had ever looked and a fleeting, grudging admiration for her skill scuttled through his mind. But then this was always going to be harder than a few skirts and pants. Indeed, he was quite pleased with this first attempt. He’d put the heavy things in first, as he’d observed over all those years, making a base layer with the torso and the head, and if he could just loop this leg round a little more to line the edge of the case, he could probably get the zip done up.
(c) Maddy Allen