It was two o’clock in the morning. Dot was pacing around her lounge. Every now and then she would stop at the window, slightly part the slat blinds and look outside. The street was empty. It had stopped raining. She liked the sound of rain falling. It was a kind of company, an alternative to the television and radio. The noise of something familiar was important to her since the divorce. She was alone and lonely, always at night, never during the working day.
The delicatessen kept her occupied. She liked people, not in a Miss World way, not convincing herself that she really did like people just for image and effect, but, genuinely, she loved the banter, the gossip, the opinions, the humour and, yes, the complaints. The whole human interaction thing was such an important ingredient in her life. It kept her sharp, kept her interested. She hated to see and experience bad service and appalling manners from people working in shops and restaurants, as she mentioned to Jonathan over coffee. “He is a very nice man,” she thought as she moved away from the window. “He’s so good looking but what would he want with a woman like me? And that daughter of his, always sour-faced when she passes the deli, always that one quick glance through the window as she walks by. How he puts up with that I’ll never know. At least he didn’t allow her to develop as a thief after she tried to nick some cheese from me all those years ago. She could have gone off the rails, what with her mother leaving and all that. No one’s quite sure what happened there but she hasn’t been around for a good long while and it looks like Jonathan is single again. Anyway, he didn’t turn me down for Friday night, so that’s a sign of something or other, I suppose.”
When she could manage it, Dot had been keeping an eye on Jonathan’s movements to and from Maple Court, in a kind of light stalking way, but without any intention of menace. The other night, just after midnight, she reckoned that he had not come home yet and went out to sit on the stairs to wait in the hope that he would bump into her. She must have sat there for a couple of hours in the near-dark with only the faint yellow glow of a landing bulb above her head, but he didn’t show up. She reckoned he was home all along and she had just missed him, but, silly woman, she persevered straining her ears to try to catch the sound of this breathing through the walls. Ridiculous, of course but love can be silly, if this was a love thing at all. She knew she had frightened the young student girl who glided past and she realized that it was rude not to respond to her hello, but Dot just wanted to stay wrapped in her own little world for a while.
As she lay in bed, Dot thought about her six year marriage and the wonderful times she had with Bill, the Mediterranean holidays, the sun, sea and sex, the sightseeing, food and, wine, altogether the pure bliss of a perfect couple leading a comfortable life, totally in love with each other and planning a big family to stretch into future generations of children, grandchildren and on and on and on into their delightful old age. Bill had always said that he fancied a rocking chair on a porch, as he sipped his nightcap brandy and gazed out over a wonderful shadowy landscape bathed in moonlight. He said that Dot was everything he had ever wanted in a wife, lover and friend. He had said the same thing dozens and dozens of times. Dot loved to hear it. It was reassurance, of course, but it was also about his commitment to the present and, more importantly, to their future together.
But, when Bill dropped the divorce bombshell, their whole world imploded. He had been on a business trip to Madrid with a female work colleague and one thing lead to another, they had a fling that developed into an affair then into a stronger relationship and then into the decision to set up home together.
In the days that followed Bill’s announcement to leave, Dot maintained a professionalism and bonhomie in the deli. Customers would not have noticed any change in her personality, demeanor or mood. But away from work, Dot cried more tears than she knew a human being was capable of and only slept fitfully for a few weeks as she realized she was now on her own in life, in bed and in love.
The divorce settlement was quick with Dot retaining the flat and the business and Bill accepting the small villa in Tuscany and half of their investments. He was fair about all of that but it would take a long, long time for Dot to forgive him for throwing their relationship away. She tried not to think about him and his new woman together but every now and then images of their hand-holding happiness would flash through her mind. She would shake her head vigorously to dislodge the pictures mostly to no avail. All she ended up with was a light, dizzy headache.
Before drifting to sleep, Dot considered how best to play Friday night with Jonathan. If it was just a movie and a meal, then that would be great. If it evolved into something else, how would he react, how would she react and how would sour Sophie react? Whatever happened, Dot knew that she had to tread carefully to give any possibility of a relationship a chance to grow. It was not a time to rush. It was a time for stealth, for caution but not at the expense of her determination and the achievement of her end goal.