Something and nothing

By Rochelle Elliot ©

Oh, that’s so romantic.” That’s what people said when I told them how it happened. How we wandered down Regent Street under the Christmas lights, how I was captivated by a pair of ruby earrings in the window of a jewellery boutique. How he gently took my hand and led me across to the counter where a tall thin man with ruddy red cheeks winked at me, and produced a tray of brilliant diamond rings from under the counter. Mitchell got down on one knee in the middle of the shop and declared his true love, his desire to look after me and have beautiful babies with me. “You’re so lucky,” they all said, “what an amazing proposal.”

I left out the bit about him being drunk. Not fall over drunk, but enough for me to notice. The slight slur masquerading as emotion, the dilated pupils. He’d never mentioned marriage, I’d never wanted to be looked after, and we hadn’t talked about children. I couldn’t even remember to water the basil on the window sill. I had to buy a new one at the supermarket each fortnight, and I was pretty sure that wasn’t an option with babies.

But he’d done it in public. He was still on his knee and a small crowd had gathered. It would make my mother so happy, I could already hear her screams of delight and relief when I phoned to share the news. I was 29 and her only daughter, and though she never said it out loud, I could hear her panicked whispers of my spinsterhood, always hanging somewhere on the periphery of our conversations.

Things still going well with Mitchell?” She would ask. “Any developments?” I was letting her down and I had nowhere to go with this desperate feeling of under achievement. So I said yes. She was euphoric.

The hours after the proposal blurred in a volley of phone calls and texts. Strangers with company surnames surrounded us. Bob from Braithwaites, Samantha from Smith & Son’s, Jason from AdFirst, Cliff from DesignSolutions. Mitchell didn’t say he was inviting them, but their company credit cards kept the champagne and cocktails flowing, so I didn’t complain.

In the small hours of the morning we stood on the platform at Piccadilly station. Mitchell’s feet appeared cemented to the tiled floor, the central pivot around which his drunken body oscillated. I stared out across the tracks at the posters advertising stage shows and hair regrowth. The weight of the diamond on my left hand was pulling me down. I covered it with my right.

I thought about the unidentified object on the tracks between Green Park and Piccadilly yesterday.

It’ll be a body,” a man in a pin striped suit and a bright pink tie had said in a loud voice, to no one in particular, “Bloody ridiculous.” I’d doubled back, caught the Victoria line up to Oxford Circus, changed on to the Central line as far as Holborn, then change back to the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden. I’d marvelled at how I could navigate my way through the underground maze that was London’s transport system. I hadn’t thought about the body at all, but now I couldn’t shake it off. I wondered what it would feel like, here one moment, staring at posters for travel insurance, for cheap phone calls to foreign countries, and then gone. I searched for something profound in my thoughts, but I came up with nothing. Something, then nothing. Even the words sounded sad when you put them together. Mitchell dozed through Leicester Square, and I fought the urge to get off, to disappear into the city. To be something, then nothing.

The next day was our last in London. He was up early, a full day of meetings ahead. He pressed himself against me on the bed, kissing me firmly. I could taste alcohol and success. I wanted some of that, but I was only along for the ride this trip. I’d been his boss in the early days, before he got his promotion and shifted to a different set of accounts. I’ll admit I was a little uncomfortable just being on holiday, having nothing to contribute. He found it hilarious. He dropped a couple of twenty pound notes on the bed, told me to buy myself something nice. Said he liked a pretty woman on his arm.
I waited for him to leave and called the office. Suzy and I talked through the Castle account for the next half an hour. There were issues with copy right infringement that needed ironing out. Nothing exciting but if you don’t pay attention to the little details, you won’t get anywhere. It’s what I’m good at, why my bank account is so healthy. I wish those skills transferred to my personal life, but with Mitchell, somehow, I missed those little signs.

We flew back to Auckland together, my business class pod seat a temporary protection from the outside world. I was tired of the messages congratulating me on catching a good man. I was sick of my heart racing when I reached for a door handle and realised the ring on my hand was permanent. I put the diamond in my purse, chose a movie channel and smiled at the air hostess with the hot towels.

“Where’s the ring?” Mary from reception asked, not bothering to help me with the file box, laptop and handbag I was dragging into the office. “Are you putting on morning tea?” We did. I fished out the diamond and let them all gush, while Mitchell accepted handshakes and worked the room. Then an email arrived with his list.

What the hell is this? I replied, and went to the gym.

Guest list for the wedding. He sent back,

I assumed you’d need it.

For WHAT?I replied, and went into a meeting where I made the guy from I.T cry.

I stomped home, making him walk fast to keep up.

I don’t see what the issue is, I just assumed you were sorting it out. Women love doing that stuff.”

Don’t mind me,” I yelled, “I’ll just do the cleaning since I’m a woman. We love this stuff.” I pulled the bucket and cleaning products out from the hall cupboard and snapped on the yellow plastic gloves. I scrubbed the shower till it shone and cleaned every window in my little flat. I heard the clink of the wine bottle being removed from the door of the fridge, the chink of a wine glass on the stainless steel bench top. One glass. I pulled everything out of my wardrobe, everything. I vacuumed the carpet, and cried into my shoes, all fifteen pairs. I lined them up in neat rows, colour coordinated, by heel height.

I organised it. One week while he was away in Sydney at a conference. I took a couple of days off work and sulked round at Mum’s while she twinkled and tinkled around me with her copies of Bride and Groom magazine. She had ideas, and I begrudgingly admitted they were pretty good. She pulled out the big round box and I tried on her wedding dress. It fitted well, and it would pass as vintage. She agreed to take all the bows off for me. Even the big one at the back.

“It’s just like organising the annual golf club Christmas party, only a bit bigger,” she’d explained over a plate of nachos at the afore-mentioned club. A young man behind the bar smiled at me, and I tried not to flirt. But I flicked my hair, a teenage habit that I’d never shaken. My mother rolled her eyes. “He’s gay,” she whispered into her Shandy. I nodded to show I had heard her, then I flicked my hair again.

The next morning I booked the Floating Pavilion. Mitchell, it seemed, was inviting every client he’d ever worked with, and the Pavilion were able to cater over 300 for a stand up cocktail function. I watched the rain streak the windows and felt the waves of greyness wash across the sky. They emailed through the menu choices and I let Mum choose the ones she wanted.

Pork belly on bruschetta with caramelised onion and pickled pear?” I asked.

Sounds divine,” she said, pushing the old orange ladle into the vegetable soup, scooping it up and pouring it into over sized mugs. My mouth watered as she cut thick slabs of butter that melted into crusty bread rolls.

You don’t have to,” she said, “I won’t mind.”

God, how could I not,” I replied, blowing the soup on my spoon to speed up the process. But I knew she wasn’t talking about lunch.

I’m just saying, I wouldn’t be upset. Just as long as you’re happy.”

I’m happy,” I said, knowing the rise in my voice belied my words.

I tapped the diamond on my ring finger gently on the table, a habit I’d developed in the past few weeks, one that was hard to shake. Mum watched while she ate her soup, the silence not uncomfortable, just a genuine pause for sustenance.

“You don’t like diamonds.” she said, her spoon clattering on to her plate. And there it was. I thought of the beautiful ruby earrings I should have bought, and we stared at the slightly too big square-cut diamond. “You sent me that email link, ten reasons why you shouldn’t buy diamonds. It’s all a big scam you said.”

I did. I did say that.

Mitchell arrived back from Sydney and stayed at his own apartment. We met at the gym the following three mornings. Had sushi for lunch at our favourite place. I told him I’d booked the venue and he nodded. I nodded back. There seemed to be an ocean of things we should have been discussing, but neither of us could find any words. Until Friday.

He was getting the drinks at the bar when his phone rang. I fished in his jacket pocket, felt the vibrations as I pulled it out.

Hello?” I yelled, the five o’clock swill at our local was growing.

Oh… sorry.” A woman’s voice. “Sorry,” she said again, then hung up. I looked up at Mitchell. I was still holding his phone to my ear. He was looking at me, his beer, my wine, forgotten at the bar. I don’t know how we knew, I didn’t need to know. He shrugged. I shrugged back.

No one cried, no one yelled. Just a moment in time, where the Friday buzz cocooned us, where friends waved out, colleagues hands were shaken and jokes were shared. It was here that our something became nothing. Perhaps our something had been nothing all along.