‘You look as if you’ve been on an all-night drugs binge,’ she says, trying for funny. ‘That or you’re reliving your student days. Which is it?’
Great, remind me of what I’m missing, Sarah. ‘Neither. It’s just me, the remote control and a chicken vindaloo,’ I say, not looking at her.
‘Sounds like the title of an arty film,’ she laughs lightly, gathering up the dirty coffee mugs.
‘Leave that stuff, I’ll do it.’
‘It’s no trouble.’
‘All the same.’
She looks at me, that sunshine smile fading fast. ‘Let me take care of you every now and then? Please?’
Resigned, I close my eyes and lay my head back against the sofa as she clears up my mess, feeling like a resentful teenager who’s mum just rocked up in his bedroom when he’d been about to knock one out. Jesus, I’m a dick. I can smell Sarah’s perfume, distinct and exotic, and it reminds me of nights out on the town, and even later nights in bed together. We haven’t had sex since the accident. In truth, we weren’t having all that much of it before it happened, either. I open my eyes as I hear her clatter the plates and cups into the kitchen sink. Her perfume lingers, layering over the smell of last night’s curry and my stale sweat. It’s not a good combination.
‘I thought we could head out in a while,’ she calls through, flicking the kitchen radio on. ‘It’s gorgeous out there today.’
I sigh, though not loud enough for her to hear. I feel rancid, and too worn out to bother doing anything about it. I don’t think I have any clean boxers left. My shoulder still hurts and my ribs still ache, probably because I’ve been neglecting the exercises given to me at the weekly physio appointments I sometimes attend. God knows why. My bones broke. They’ll mend. There isn’t any physio for my ear; the only thing I really care about them mending is the one thing that’s damaged for good. Oh, there’s talk of hearing aids and such stuff, but to be honest what’s the bloody point? The real problem is that my career broke, and there’s nothing the doctors can do to mend it.
‘What do you think?’ Sarah appears in the doorway again wearing the mint-green Marigolds she bought a few weeks back.
‘That you look like a fifties housewife?’
She rolls her eyes. ‘About going out, Jack. Just for a walk to the park or something, get some lunch at that new cafe on the Broadway, maybe. Someone said it’s very Californian.’
What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Wheat juice and kale? ‘Maybe.’
‘Shall I put the shower on for you?’
Irritation streaks through me. ‘What are you, my fucking mother?’
She doesn’t answer me, but I see the hurt settle in her eyes and feel like a cock again. I’m just sick of everyone fussing over me. If it’s not Sarah, it’s my mum turning up twice a week with food I don’t feel like eating.
‘Sorry,’ I mumble. ‘Off day.’
She nods slowly. If I could see inside her head, I expect she’d be having a good old rant, calling me all kinds of well-deserved names. I can clearly hear her shouting ‘selfish bastard’ even though she hasn’t said a thing.
‘Just go and take a shower,’ she says eventually, turning back towards the kitchen. I get up to do as she’s asked, and as I pass by the kitchen I consider wrapping my arms round her where she stands at the sink, kissing her neck, saying sorry properly. Then I hear the perky radio jingle, someone I used to consider a rival, and the acrid burn of jealousy wipes out any passing desire to be civil. Fuckers.
‘I don’t know what to do, Laurie.’ Sarah swills her wine around in her glass, looking thoroughly miserable. She texted earlier to see if there was any chance of meeting up for a drink after work; although I still had a bunch of emails to get through, I could tell from the tone of the message that she needed to get something off her chest, so I dropped them and went to meet her. I wasn’t wrong. I knew that life with Jack hadn’t been a bed of roses since his accident but from what she’s told me over the last hour or so it sounds as if lately he’s making things almost intolerable.
‘And now he’s decided that he’s not going to take any more painkillers,’ she says. ‘Flushed them all down the loo last night. He said they were making him numb, but I think he’d rather be in pain so he can moan about it.’
If she sounds uncharitable, don’t judge her harshly. She’s been trying her best to put a cheerful face on ever since the accident, and I know for a fact there’s been precious little coming back from Jack in the way of gratitude. It’s been almost three months now, and every time I’ve seen Jack since he got out of hospital he’s been borderline rude, particularly to Oscar. It’s got to the point where I’m almost avoiding him.
‘I take it he’s not had any joy on the job front?’ I know the answer to the question before I ask it. Although he’s well enough now physically, emotionally he’s far from out of the woods. Of all of the injuries he could have sustained, partial hearing loss seems particularly cruel given his career.
She shakes her head. ‘I don’t know if he’s even been looking and I’m damn sure he hasn’t been in contact with any stations.’ She eats a cashew from the bag open on the table between us. ‘I’m worried, Lu. He just seems so bloody angry all the time. And he doesn’t want to do anything; it’s a massive palaver to get him to even leave the house.’ She sighs. ‘I’m worried he’s becoming a recluse or something.’
I try to choose my words carefully. ‘He’s been through a big trauma. I guess it’s his coping mechanism?’
‘But that’s just it. He isn’t coping. He’s sitting and staring at the wall and growing a fucking beard that doesn’t suit him.’
I top our glasses up from the half-empty bottle of white in the cooler beside our table. ‘You could try talking to his doctor?’
‘Jack says I’m smothering him.’ She frowns into her glass. ‘He’ll be lucky if I don’t, the way he’s going. He never calls or texts me any more. I’ve had more texts from Luke than Jack since the accident. That’s how bad it’s gotten.’
Sarah has stayed in loose contact with Luke, the good-natured Aussie who found Jack’s phone on the night of the accident.
‘Is it bad that I can’t wait to go away next week?’
I shake my head. ‘Not bad at all. You must be desperate for a break.’ Her sister’s hen party in the Canaries couldn’t have been more timely. ‘It might do Jack good to stew on things without you there to jolly him up. He’ll have to fend for himself a bit more.’
She sighs, shrugging. ‘You’re so lucky with Oscar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a bad mood.’
I have to think really hard to remember the last time we clashed. ‘Yeah. He’s a pretty steady guy.’
‘I don’t suppose you’d call in on Jack while I’m away, would you?’ She looks at me as if I’m her last hope. ‘He might open up to you. God knows he won’t talk to me.’
What am I supposed to say? No isn’t an option. ‘Do you think he’d talk to Oscar? Maybe he’d be better with a man?’ Even before I say it I know it’s a ridiculous idea.
She shakes her head, downcast. ‘Please don’t be offended, Lu, and don’t repeat this to Oscar, but I don’t know if he and Jack are on the same wavelength. I mean, he likes him, but I think he struggles to know what to say around him sometimes.’
I don’t really know how to respond to that, so I just nod and knock back a mouthful of wine. Because I’m left with no other choice, I reach down into my Kate Spade bag and pull my diary out.
‘Okay.’ I flip it open and run my finger down next week’s page until I get to Saturday. ‘Looks like Oscar’s going shooting in the morning.’
I laugh when Sarah raises her eyebrows. ‘Don’t ask. One of those gift experience things someone gave his brother, I think. I could call round to see Jack while he’s off doing that?’