Monday 23rd March 2020
Meg and Bill, west London
The Living Room
So, she’d had a few glasses of Pinot – to be fair, if ever there was an excuse to be over gargling with the grape, being on enforced lockdown was it. Well, that and the unexpected message. Meg wondered, was it the wine or was it her real feelings that were making her want to reply to that WhatsApp from her ex? His little icon profile picture showed he still had ‘it’ – well, he had hair at least. Taking a sideways glance at Bill and his thin little patch of fuzz which sprouted like a hairy unicorn horn from his otherwise bald head, made her feel almost sorry for him. He’d had such a beautiful mop of copper curls up until he’d turned 45. But how could she feel sorry for him when he was so bloody annoying. His snoring was in perfect synchronicity with the dog’s, lying on the other side of her on the sofa – it was like having surround sound.
As Bill let out a quiet little belch, she shuddered. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to pour the remains of her glass of Pinot over that red, bloated face of his. She giggled silently to herself at the thought of it – imagining him jumping up, rudely awakened from his comfy slumber. He was probably dreaming about Tottenham Hotspur. That or Maria Cookson, the skinny little newsreader he seemed to have developed a soft spot for. Meg couldn’t understand the attraction – she had a face like a smacked arse and a reedy, strangulated voice. What made his crush even more irritating was the way Bill would smile excitedly when it was time for the News, sitting up straight as if he was being a good boy at the front of the class and Miss was handing out brownie points. Pathetic. Even worse, was that every time Meg moaned about the newsreader, Bill would give her a playful nudge and smugly say, “Ooh, jealous, are we?” Oh my God. ‘NO!’ she wanted to scream. ‘Why would I be jealous? Do you think she’d even look at you with your wobbly paunch, balding head and dodgy fashion sense! ‘
Draining the last of the wine, and in an effort to console herself about the petrifying Cornona Virus updates that kept pinging onto her phone newsfeed, not to mention her confusion about her ex’s message, she stood up to get a refill. “S’up babe…” Bill muttered sleepily, sensing she’d moved from her usual spot on the sofa. “Oh, nothing Bill. Go back to sleep” she snapped.
Meg shut the fridge door and thanked Heaven’s that she’d managed to stock up on essentials – especially wine – before all hell broke loose in Budgens that afternoon. She’d been listening to the news in the car and luckily, was parked outside the parade of shops when it was confirmed that, that evening, the Prime Minister would be addressing the country, instructing everyone to stay inside their homes and to only venture out if it is absolutely essential. In the local shop, people she’d known for years – and had even been to dinner parties with – were sneakily eyeing up each other’s shopping baskets, no doubt checking that they weren’t stockpiling loo rolls and hand sanitiser. Every terse smile and cheery sounding exchange – ‘Stay well Meg, see you soon – hopefully’ was followed by a nervous laugh and a panicky shuffle to move away to a ‘safe distance’ as quickly as possible.
As she’d lugged the bags full of groceries to the car, Meg felt a buzz in her back pocket. She’d put the bags in the boot and pulled out her phone, expecting to see another one of the funny memes her kids had been sending in an effort to take her mind off the worrying news. But it was her ex! She almost dropped it with shock. Pete, she thought, what on earth do you want? She was in two minds whether to just delete it and drive home. As if life wasn’t turbulent enough at the moment, she didn’t want to open old wounds. Sitting in the car, Meg took a couple of long, deep breaths to try and calm her racing heart and shaking hands.
She quickly scrolled down, seeing how long the message was before taking in the words. But she’d opened it now, he’d see the 2 blue ticks and know. Ok, I can do this, she thought as she took another deep breath and read…
Hey beautiful. I guess you weren’t expecting your old love interest extraordinaire, were you?😂I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for ages. Gird your loins baby, because this is a looooong message. Here goes:
This is going to be a bit of a shock – or a lot of a shock – but truth is, I really miss you. It’s been 25 years since we split up but now that this devastating virus has hit, turning the world upside down, it’s made me question a lot. If I were to die from this virus (might sound dramatic, but remember my asthma?) would I have any regrets? Well, only one comes to mind and that is letting you go. Long story short – I never loved Charli the way I loved you but when you met Bill and looked so happy with him I married Charli because I thought I would grow to feel for her the way I did you. I needed to move on with my life and forget you. I really tried. I adore my children and I’ve had a great family life – but I know I’ve been lying to myself. The kids are off our hands now and I know that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least tell you how I feel. Even if you don’t feel the same for me…Well, that’s it. Have you picked your jaw off the floor yet? Sorry if this has blind-sided you Megsy Moo, but if there was ever a time to say what I really feel, I reckon that this is it. I love you and I want to be with you. If you think there would ever be a chance for you and me – that’s if either of us get outta here alive! – message me back. If not, I understand and I promise to leave you alone and not get in touch again. Think hard Megs, Pete xxxx
What. The. Actual. Fuck…
After dinner when they sat down to watch a film on Netflix, Bill promptly fell sleep before the opening titles had even finished and, rather than nudging him awake as she usually did, Meg could think of nothing else but that WhatsApp message. The more she thought about Pete, the more she questioned: Had Bill been a rebound, like her mum had worried about, all those years ago? Everyone had loved Pete. Peter Simmons, or ‘Pete the Perfect’ as her friends called him when she’d started going out with him. Not only was he a champion footballer turned successful lawyer, he was ridiculously handsome. He had broken her heart when he left her, citing his career (and not his secretary Charli) as the reason he couldn’t take their relationship to the next level. But Bill came along a year later, with his larger than life personality and made it all better, hadn’t he? She’d thought she’d never find love again and she wasn’t looking for love. In fact, she’d been looking for a plumber and Bill always revelled in telling people that they first met when he came over to fix her faulty boiler and he wound up fixing her broken heart too. His swagger and extrovert personality used to make her smile but now, if he got a bit lairy when they were out with friends, it made her cringe a bit. Pete never needed to show-off, his self-confidence was enough. And wasn’t it strange, Meg thought, how Pete had been turning up in her dreams after all these years? Only last week, she’d dreamt she was snogging him on the dance floor of their old local nightclub and it had seemed so real! It was such a lovely dream, rudely interrupted when Bill’s huge, hairy arm flopped across her body feeling like a lead weight and making her scrabble for air. His heavy limbs invading her space, along with her nightly hot flushes meant she’d hardly been getting a wink of sleep. She was even thinking about speaking to Bill about separate rooms – they had a couple now that the kids had left home.
It was almost 10pm and she was still sitting in the kitchen, nursing that glass of wine. Meg popped the kettle on – she and Bill always had a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive with the BBC news at 10. All of those little habits they had: Tea and biscuits at 10pm. Walk the dog around the river on Saturday before a sausage sandwich for breakfast. Sunday morning, a spot of gardening followed by a pub lunch. The competition they had going with each other during The Chase. All of these things were comforting and familiar. But did she want to do this day in, day out, for the rest of her life or did she want to run off with Pete and live with him in his modern apartment in Notting Hill and spend weekends in his country house, entertaining his glamorous, interesting friends? She could tell from having stalked his Facebook page that with Pete, she could say goodbye to chilly seaside staycations. Her holidays would be weekends away in 5-star-boutique hotels and summer long beachfront luxury – staying in the kind of hotels and villas that supplied you with a private butler serving non-stop cocktails and gourmet food.
The boiled kettle brought her back from her delicious reverie. Pouring the hot water into the cups, she heard the music from the news starting up. She stirred the tea – 2 sugars for Bill – and put the mugs and biscuits on the tray that their youngest had decorated in craft class when she was 10. The kids. How would she tell the kids that she was leaving their dad? They were adults, she reasoned, they would understand. That phrase – ‘you’ve got one life to live, so live it!’ was ruminating in her mind. She saw it today on an Instagram post by a bendy 50-year-old fitness guru who was standing on her head in a bikini on a sun-drenched beach. She was certainly living her life, Meg had mused.
“Ah, that’s my girl. Two biscuits each! Pushing the boat out tonight love. Be careful, you don’t want to spoil my Adonis-like body Meggy do you?” Bill snorted as he dunked both biscuits into his tea, then shoved them in his mouth, reaching for the TV remote. “This is a flipping nightmare, all this Corona business…” A speck of biscuit flew from Bill’s mouth as he spoke and landed on Meg’s face. Before she could wipe it, Bill leant over and softly sucked if off her cheek. “Looks like we will be stuck in with each other for weeks Meg. BoJo reckons it’s total lockdown now. Can’t even go to the pub! Anyway. At least we’ve got each other – and I couldn’t think of anyone better to be stuck with for weeks on end, could you?” Bill questioned, looking lovingly at Meg.
“Bill…I need to talk to you…”
Just then, the dog let out a fart so loud it stopped Meg mid-sentence. Bill spluttered, almost choking on his tea and Meg started to giggle and then laugh. She laughed so much that she started to shake, and as she looked at the dog, wagging its tail nonchalantly, she laughed even harder until tears began to trickle down her cheeks. Looking over at a hooting Bill, holding on to his heaving belly, his eyes shut tight. She tapped open her phone, scrolled to her latest WhatsApp message and hit delete.