When I See Your Face, Part 5
“Cathy dear? I know you’re in there. It’s Aunt Grindle. Please open the door!”
God, why didn’t she have it in her to ignore the old lady’s pleading? Cathy swallowed hard, already half off the couch to answer the door.
More than a day had gone by since the horrible, humiliating incident in the shop. As she had resolved that evening, she hadn’t left the house since, living on her last stock of food and not daring to approach the window or keep the lights on at night.
Mrs. Grindle had been calling her at her door in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening, the last time obviously with an offering of food whose delicious smell had made her empty stomach do a few cartwheels. Each time, her voice had grown more worried and Cathy had grown more reluctant to keep silent.
Now, on the morning of the second day, she didn’t have the heart to refuse Mrs. Grindle. This was the one person who had shown her real kindness after months and months of being either ignored, flattered, laughed upon or abused.
“I’m coming,” she called out, her voice rough with crying so much and not drinking enough.
She had at first been fearing that Mark might have charmed her landlady and would try to enter her room with her, but somehow, this seemed ridiculous to her now. All she wanted was to look upon that kind, wrinkled face and listen to Mrs. Grindle chatter away effortlessly. She had a feeling though, that quite some talking on her side—anything but effortlessly—would be warranted.
As soon as she had opened the door, she was enveloped in a hug that almost knocked her off her feet and brought a prickling of fresh tears to her eyes. Mrs. Grindle pressed her to her ample bosom for a quiet minute, held her away at arm’s length, looker her over and clucked disapprovingly.
“My dear, how can you frighten me so? Look at your gaunt face and your red eyes! I was worried out of my wits! If you hadn’t opened the door this time, I would have asked Mr. Beckhurst—he’s the village policeman—to break the door in and check whether you’re still alive.”
The old lady’s voice was shaking audibly and Cathy cringed with guilt.
“I’m…fine. I just needed some time alone.”
“You’re anything but fine, my dear. Have you been starving yourself? Now you sit down right here and don’t move a finger. Aunt Grindle will hurry down and get you something to eat.”
Before she could reply, Mrs. Grindle had pushed her down onto the couch in a no-nonsense manner and was shuffling out of the room with surprising speed.
She waited without moving, her heart pounding in her chest for fear that this might be a trap and that her landlady would return with Mark in tow or said policeman. When Aunt Grindle came back, though, she was loaded with a loaf of brown bread, a banana, a tub of yoghurt and a packet of sausages. She didn’t let her protest, nor did she let her get up to cut the bread into slices and fry the sausages. Only when the young woman was chewing away on the improvised meal did the old lady calm down somewhat. She sat down next to her and for a while was content watching her eat. Finally, sitting up straighter, she broke the silence.
“I know we villagers tend to be rather snoopy and you townsfolk like to keep to themselves. However, there is something we should talk about.”
She held up a hand when Cathy opened her mouth to answer, not quite knowing what to say but willing to appease her companion.
“As you probably know, I heard about what happened at the shop. Bertha, the cashier lady, told me so over the phone that same day when you never came back to pick up your groceries and she got worried what might have happened to you. I will not judge you, but I need you to answer some questions truthfully.”
Here, Mrs. Grindle fixed her with a stern look that reminded her of a school teacher she had been quite scared of in her childhood. A nod was her only answer, though inside her head, a panicked voice was asking her to not reveal a thing, pack her belongings and leave before the situation got ugly for all.
“Why did you scream at…that man? What has he done to make you scold him so?”
There it was. She could break down sobbing now and confess her story of suffering or she could coldly tell the old lady to keep out of other people’s business. In the end, she did neither.
“That was my husband,” she said, adding with a coolness that surprised herself, “Hopefully to be my ex-husband soon.”
Mrs. Grindle’s eyebrows rose so high that they disappeared into her white hairline. For a second, she stared in astonishment almost palpable.
“Are you quite sure, my dear?” the old landlady finally asked.
Why couldn’t she stop being so inquisitive?!
“Well, I should know what my own husband looks like, now shouldn’t I?” Cathy snapped despite herself.
Aunt Grindle held up both hands in defense and seemed to ponder something.
“Cathy, I know this doesn’t make sense to you, but I promise I’ll explain myself in just another minute. Just one more thing: Do you by chance have a photo of your husband with you?”
Having no idea why the old lady wanted a photo, Cathy shook her head, deciding better not to snap at her again and hear her out. It was then that she remembered that she did have a photo.
She went to her handbag that was hanging by the door, fished out her embroidered cloth purse and took out the small picture of Mark that she had been carrying in it ever since their engagement. It was one of those photos he dealt out to the press when the time was ripe for another magazine interview with the nation’s rising star on the real estate sky.
Her husband was portrayed in a bust-sized black-and-white shot, in black suit jacket, white shirt and dark tie. He looked younger than his age of 37 and terribly handsome. With his tall, slim frame, his hard but well-proportioned facial features, his neatly gelled shock of black hair and his piercing gaze, he was a lady’s man in the way that screamed certain words at you. Rich, self-confident, successful, cool, apparently focusing all his attention solely on the person looking at him.
She bit her lip looking at the photo for a moment, lost in happier memories of her pre-marriage relationship with Mark, lost in a time when her friends all envied her the perfect match. Tearing her gaze from his, she silently held out the photo.
The old landlady let out a small gasp and involuntarily grabbed the photo out of Cathy’s hand, holding it closer to her eyes and staring at it as though there was a secret to be discovered. Swallowing audibly, she caught herself, mumbled an apology and placed the photo on the coffee table. During the next few sentences that she spoke very deliberately, her eyes strayed off to the photo a couple of times without her realizing it.
“So that is your husband.”
It was more a statement than a question, and one filled with a strange kind of confusion.
Cathy nodded and forced herself to spit out the words she’d rather have kept secret.
“We have been married for more than a year, but I have only ever earned abuse. So some weeks ago, I left home and fled to this village to start a new life. I had received a message that my husband wants a divorce but then…then he turned up here to ruin everything.”
As an afterthought, she added, “I’m sorry for causing a scene. I guess I lost it.”
Mrs. Grindle’s face softened, although she still looked more confused than would have been normal.
“Now please let me explain the whole thing to you. Don’t interrupt, dear, or I won’t be able to believe my own words.”
She paused a second as if to collect herself, before she ploughed resolutely ahead.
“The man you have seen at the shop, the man you shouted at…he’s not your husband.”
(To be continued tomorrow!)
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