The hidden dangers of boredom are pretty obvious – getting up to no good. But Sally was trying to be constructive during the lockdown and do some of the jobs that were usually left on the back burner for a rainy day, which never came.
So, with time on her hands, Sally decided to clear out the cupboard under the stairs, which she’d been steadfastly ignoring. Goodness knows what was lurking in there. It was a long cupboard and crammed full of stuff.
Sally set about dragging everything out first, taking the items into the kitchen, so as not to completely block the hallway. Keith was busy in the garden. She hadn’t discussed this task with him before she began, knowing he might try to persuade her not to undertake it. He hated disorder, and despite how many times she’d said to him, ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg’, he just had an aversion to mess.
The half-used tins of paint, the old broken vacuum cleaner, the mop and bucket, the numerous toolboxes were first to come out and be dragged into the kitchen. As Sally got further into the cupboard, she came across a large item in a black plastic sack. It was well taped up, and Sally had no recollection of ever putting it there. It was heavy and unwieldy to haul out.
Sally left the rest of the cupboard for the moment, in order to investigate what was in this black plastic sack. She felt nervous. She knew whatever was in this sack, was not to do with her and had been hidden from view.
As Sally began to open the bag, Keith appeared from the garden, clambered over the items strewn around the kitchen and said, ‘What are you doing?’ in a voice tinged with hysteria.
‘Well’, said Sally, ‘I’ve been clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, and came across this and was about to see what exactly it is’.
‘Don’t’ said Keith. ‘It’s my old stuff and can go to the tip’.
And with that, he picked up the black sack and lugged it out to his car.
Oops thought Sally, her curiosity heightened. She determined she would take a peek at whatever was hidden. She knew the tip wasn’t open and thought it would be in the boot of his car for some considerable time. She’d bide her time and wait until he went to the supermarket. She’d craftily suggest he take her car and fill it with fuel for her. He’d fall for that.
A week later, with Keith safely out of the house for at least 3 hours, judging by the queues the last time she’d been to do a supermarket shop, she headed out to his car. But the sack was gone. How could that have happened. She was thwarted and he’d been cleverer than her.
But Sally couldn’t forget the sack of goodness-knows-what that had vanished from the back of Keith’s car. Nor could she find a way to ask him about it, without exposing her subterfuge. This began to eat away at her. She wished she’d been more straightforward in the first place and asked him but, she’d somehow not been able to, sensing his defensiveness. Her trust in him was beginning to crumble. Her imagination was taking off in all sorts of directions, some sinister.
Sally also wondered where and how he’d disposed of it. She racked her brains for when he’d gone out in the week before and, although there’d been the odd trip to the chemist and the post office, none had taken longer than she’d have expected.
As time passed, it became increasingly impossible to raise the topic but that didn’t quieten Sally’s unease. For her, it was the huge elephant in the room, that neither spoke of. She became emotionally distant, lost her happy, affectionate demeanour, closing down into her own bubble.
Keith sensed all was not well in his marriage but put it down to the strains of the lockdown and the imposed social distancing they were subject to. These were anxious, sombre times, with the ever-present threat of becoming ill and not knowing if you’d be one of the lucky ones who bounced back from the viral infection or end up on a ventilator or even dead.
The daily news bulletins were not exactly cheery and the prospect of being able to go back to a normal life seemed unlikely. He imagined Sally was feeling oppressed by it all. But he didn’t ask her. That might have given her an opening.
Keith hadn’t given the sack a second thought, once he’d disposed of it. For him, it was an embarrassment, containing, as it did, his early first drafts of a couple of novels that never saw the light of day.
Keith was quite successful and established these days and he’d forgotten these inept, clumsy attempts that he’d cut his teeth on. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to ever see them. He regretted that he’d not disposed of the numerous versions he’d bundled up in the sack ages ago, but he had quite literally forgotten they still existed.
Keith fed them into the galvanised incinerator bin one afternoon when Sally was out, as he couldn’t think of any other effective way to dispose of them. It took him most of the two hours that Sally was out on her walk, and he was just emerging from the shower when she returned. She was a little surprised to find him taking a shower in the middle of the afternoon, but not especially so. He’d wanted to wash the smell of smoke off himself. He’d also put a wash on, which was equally unusual but again she thought little of it.
So, Keith hadn’t trusted Sally enough to tell her of these stumbling attempts he’d made back in the early days as a novelist, he wanted her to think he’d emerged fully formed.
This was the start of their marriage falling apart. His egoism and her reticence were their downfall.
Once travel restrictions were lifted, Sally headed off to stay with her sister, Claire, in Norfolk. Claire had a big house and worked, so Sally would have plenty of time to herself.
‘Hi’, said Claire, as Sally brought in a surprising amount of luggage, ‘Would you like a cup of tea – or a glass of wine?’
‘Yes please, some tea, shall I take this up straight away?’
‘I’ll help you in a bit, let’s have our tea first’.
Claire was surprised by this visit, as Sally would normally come with Keith. She hadn’t asked when Sally rang, but guessed there was something amiss, or perhaps it was just a consequence of the lockdown and needing some space from each other.
‘So, how are you’ asked Claire, as she sipped her tea. ‘Decent drive?’
‘Yes, still less traffic than there used to be, and I know the best route to take these days’, replied Sally.
‘How are you’, Sally re-joined, ‘How are the children and the business?’
‘The kids are fine, both adapting to their courses being online, and the business has done quite well during this pandemic. There are always winners and losers.’
Claire helped Sally up with her bags and went down to start prepping an evening meal. Sally unpacked her bits and pieces and messaged Keith to say she’d arrived safely. He sent her a row of kisses. So like him to be minimal in his reply.
Claire had put Sally in her favourite room, decorated in a restful mixture of blue tones, like the sky or the sea, with a dressing table that could also serve as a desk. She would be able to set up her laptop and write. It was one of the ways that she processed her thoughts and feelings.
Sally wasn’t ready to talk to Claire, who she feared would be intrusive and have her own take on what was occurring, though what exactly was occurring was a bit of a mystery to Sally. She decided not to drink at all, as she didn’t want to risk becoming inebriated and revealing more than she wanted to. She knew how adept Claire was at wheedling things out of her.
But Claire had already opened a rather nice bottle of Chilean Pinot Noir, and it would have been rude not to accept a glass. Or two. As they relaxed, they spoke about the lockdown and all that they’d accomplished during these restricting times. Inevitably, Sally mentioned the cupboard under the stairs and, to her surprise, began to weep.
So, the whole sorry saga was revealed, and, against her expectations, Claire didn’t jump in with her opinion. Instead she listened carefully and eventually said,
‘You have to ask him what was in the black sack and what he did with it. This is insane.’
Sally agreed and thought it would be easier to ask at this distance. She could email. It gave them both some space to decide what they wanted to say.
Meanwhile, back at home, Keith was in an introspective frame of mind. He wondered why Sally had wanted to visit Claire on her own but put it down to being cooped up with him for goodness knows how long. He knew things weren’t ok between them and wondered if she was thinking of leaving him. He’d been left before and knew the signs. He was pleased to get her text but was at a loss as to what to say, so copped out as usual. Later that night, feeling braver after half a bottle of burgundy, he sent a text saying, ‘I miss you, xxx’.
Sally wasn’t impressed, the schoolteacher in her was to the fore and she felt like replying,
‘Could do better’. But she didn’t. She sent him three kisses.
It had been a long day and a long drive, and she slept well. Claire would be gone by 8.30am, heading to the office in Norwich, so Sally had a whole day to herself, in which to take a long bath, go for a walk, and sit down and write.
It took till the afternoon and she sat and stared at the screen, not knowing where to start. Then she knew, she had to start with the black sack. That’s when her life began to unravel. Why had Keith hidden the contents from her? Was she right to be suspicious? What exactly did she suspect? Why had she been so cowardly?
Sally wrote for over an hour, then lay down for another hour before making revisions and sending it to Keith. There, it was done. She’d said all she wanted to say. The relief was enormous. Whatever he said, she’d acquitted herself and had her self-respect back.
Keith was gardening and didn’t see the email in his inbox for some time. When he read it, he was completely taken aback. They really had drifted a long way apart. He felt ashamed of himself, ashamed of his stupid egotistical pride. Of course, he should have confided in Sally and not have been so furtive. It was obvious to him with the benefit of hindsight, but he genuinely had no idea it would have such an impact. It made him realise how fragile a relationship can be. How he hadn’t trusted her with his vulnerability. Keith knew Sally wouldn’t have needed to read it, she just needed to know what it was, so he had a lot to reflect on as to why he had acted as he did. But things did begin to look up for them both. And, after a rather torturous time, they’re communicating now better than ever. A salutary lesson for them both, in the dangers of staying silent.