‘The usual?’ Bob was already reaching for the gin bottle.
‘Why would it be any different?’ Liz’s tone was waspish, unnecessarily sarcastic. She was still feeling fragile, off-balance.
Bob gave her a hard look as he poured the gin and tonic. Liz turned back to the stove. Bob took his beer around to the other side of the kitchen bench where he could see her side on.
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘You look a bit . . . peakish.’
‘Thanks for the compliment.’
‘Liz. I’m only asking. You don’t seem to be yourself lately.’
‘So nice of you to notice.’
‘So what is it?’
‘Nothing . . . everything. Oh nothing. I just get sick of doing the same thing, day in, day out.’
Bob took another sip of his beer. ‘Dot rang me today.’
‘Dot?’ Liz felt her stomach freeze. ‘Dot who?’
‘Dot. Your tennis friend.’
‘Oh? Why would she do that?’
‘She says you haven’t been at tennis lately. They’re all worried about you. She says she’s been ringing the house – no answer. And no answer to her messages either.’
‘Well, I haven’t heard the phone ring.’ Liz tried to sound off-hand. ‘Hasn’t rung much at all lately, come to think of it.’
‘Have you stopped tennis?’
‘Yes. I got a bit bored. Same old, same old. And those biddies. Always got too much to say about other people’s business.’
‘You didn’t think to tell them first?’ Bob was dialling a number on his mobile.
Liz ignored his question, tried to deflect the conversation, ‘Who are you calling?’ she asked.
‘Us. Checking out whether the phone is ringing.’ They both paused, listening to the ring-out tone on the mobile. The home phone stayed silent.
‘Strange,’ Bob strolled over and picked it up, ‘Oh! Here’s the problem. The volume button is pushed way down. I wonder how that happened?’
‘Maybe I did it when I was cleaning,’ Liz’s stomach was doing back-flips now. ‘I disinfected everything a few weeks back.’
‘Mmmm, doesn’t explain why it is not recording messages though.’ Bob dialled the number again and let the phone ring out to the message bank. ‘Testing, testing,’ he spoke into the mobile.
He was just about to play it back when Liz banged the dinner down on the table. ‘Oh, stop fussing will you. I’ll check it out tomorrow.’ She stabbed at the remote control. ‘Here – the news has already started. You’ll miss the headlines.’
Bob didn’t doze off on the lounge after dinner. He seemed to be unusually alert. Around ten, he suggested they turn in together. As he pulled back the covers on his side of the bed, he frowned.
‘Liz. Clean sheets?’
‘Liz. It’s the second pair this week.’
‘You notice these things?’
‘Well, I can hardly not notice. Yesterday’s were brown, these are blue.’
Liz hadn’t counted on this. She imagined Bob staggered up the stairs and fell in to bed each night oblivious to these things.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘I had a lay down, and . . . well, I had an accident. Embarrassing really. I had to change the sheets.’
‘What sort of accident?’
‘Really, Bob. I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Liz,’ Bob was looking very concerned, ‘are you sure you are quite well? You wouldn’t keep anything from me would you?’
‘Why would you think that?’
‘Well, when I was talking to Dot, I suggested you might have been still helping that new woman.’
‘Which woman?’ Liz was confused.
‘The new one at the tennis club. The one you said needed to have a second breast scan.’
‘Oh, her. No . . . no I haven’t seen her in a while.’
‘Well, it’s just that Dot said there was no new woman.’
Liz felt she was going to throw up. She wasn’t used to lying. She never imagined it would be so complicated.
‘Silly old -‘
Bob cut in. ‘Liz, it was you wasn’t it. You got a call back on your last scan. And you didn’t tell me. Why would you keep something like that from me? I’m your husband. I’m here to support you.’
Liz breathed out. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that!
‘Look,’ she said, more smoothly than she could have imagined she was capable of, ‘I didn’t want to worry you. Over nothing. And it was nothing – really.’
‘So why have you stopped tennis? And why are you lying down in the day? You’ve always been so energetic.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s probably menopause. Hot sweats and all that.’
‘But, you’re only fifty Liz. Would you be menopausal already?’
‘Lot’s of women are at that age.’
Bob looked unconvinced. ‘Well, I hope you’d tell me if there is anything serious. I’m concerned for you Liz. Something doesn’t seem quite right lately. You would tell me, wouldn’t you?’
‘Of course, silly.’ Liz gave him a hug and a kiss. ‘Thank you. You’re such a sweet man.’
Her mouth was saying one thing, her head was thinking another. And her stomach was roiling.
A few hours later Liz stirred to the sounds of gas rumbling in her stomach. It wasn’t long before she could feel hot acid churning in her gut. It was burning, running back up towards her throat. She couldn’t stay lying down. Liz shook herself awake and stumbled to the bathroom for some antacid. Then she sat in the big armchair in the bedroom, the one she used to nurse the children when they were little babies. She tried to doze off, sitting upright, like she used to do so long ago, but the reflux attack was the worst she had ever experienced. Her stomach and chest were on fire. She was in agony. She tip-toed to the bathroom downstairs and tried to throw up quietly, but nothing happened. She didn’t want to wake Bob, couldn’t face any more of his questions right then. She took another antacid and propped herself up on the lounge, willing the pain away. Eventually, she drifted into a light doze.
She was dreaming, images and conversations mixing and melding. Tony, Bob, houses, utes, number plates . . I BLD 4U. Srce Moy. My darling one. Dostoevsky. Caravans. Boring holidays. Her children. Babies nursing at her breast. Jan tap dancing. Her watering Jan’s garden. Tony again. Breast scans. But she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming. There was a voice in her head. It was asking over and over, is this dream or reality? And she was answering, this one is a dream, this one is reality.
It was the pre-dawn bird calls which stirred her again. After all, she must have slipped into a deeper sleep. She padded back upstairs and slipped into bed beside Bob. He rolled over and cuddled into her. ‘You okay?’ it was a muffled mumble into her hair.
‘Mmmm. Needed the toilet. Nothing to worry about. Go back to sleep.’
He pulled her closer and snuggled in. The snuffles a moment later told her he had dropped off again. She lay there planning what she should do next. She knew she had seen the answer in her dream. She just had to remember the message.
As soon as Bob left for the station, Liz was on her mobile. She jabbed in the number from the slip of paper she still had in her wallet. It answered on the third ring.
‘Yeah. Tony Babic here.’
‘Tony. It’s Liz.’
‘Liz?’ he sounded surprised.
‘Are you on your way to Jan’s?’
‘Yeah. What wrong Liz?’
‘Are you alone?’
‘Of course. Like usual.’
Liz took a breath. ‘Tony. I don’t want you to come here any more.’
‘Oh! You mean Liz – you wanna’ stop? Just like that? Why?’
This is it Liz. This is the moment where you say: ‘That’s right Tony. I don’t want you coming here any more. This was a bad idea. I don’t know why I didn’t realise before. I thought I was bored, but really I was content. I have a perfect life, perfect husband. He knows I am hiding something from him. Now he is worrying that I am sick with cancer and not telling him. This has got to stop.’
Liz clutched the phone tighter. ‘That’s right Tony. I don’t want you coming here any more. This was a bad idea. I don’t know why I didn’t realise before. My husband knows I am hiding something from him.’
‘Liz? You wan we stop seeing each other?’
‘No, silly. I mean it was a bad idea doing it here. I’ve had the key to Jan’s house all along. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before now.’
‘You wan meet in Jan’s house?’
‘Yes, of course. Much simpler.’
‘You think that good idea?’
‘It’s a great idea. Should have thought of it ages ago.’
‘Well, whatever you think is good.’
‘And another thing Tony . . . From now on, I choose the timing.’
‘Sure, boss.’ Liz could picture the grin on his face, ‘so I see you soon, ne?’
‘Mmmmm, might be time for me to keep you guessing.’ Liz was laughing now, ‘See you.’
Liz rang off, checked back into her call log and deleted the record. No point leaving a trail, she thought.
This is the ninth part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.
Previous Episodes: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight