One Honest Man by Mike Stafford: Warndon Villages were named after the meadows that were bulldozed to make way for them.

Article published on March 21, 2016.

Warndon Villages were named after the meadows that were bulldozed to make way for them. They were cul-de-sac upon cul-de-sac, a twisting mass of pre-planned artifice, a lie that the people I loved had been telling me all my life, first my mum and then Louise. They were where you ran to if you were too rich for community but too poor for character. I chafed against them once again as I pulled into our driveway.
Argument had been our default setting for months. I hadn’t called her in two days, hadn’t even turned my phone on. Her opening salvo was loud and venomous.
“Where the hell have you been?”
I closed the door calmly behind me. She stormed out of the kitchen.
“I spent the night in a police cell. It wasn’t pleasant.”
The scowl threw angles onto her soft features.
“I know where you’ve been!” Louise yelled.
She looked exhausted, a night without sleep, and probably a day at work on top too.
“Arrested for murder. Murder! Jesus Christ, Sean, what are you into?”
I stood at the foot of the stairs, holding onto the bannister, braced against the noise. Five years ago, Louise would have been on the phone to the IPCC wanting an apology. She’d have understood that I didn’t want to call from the station with coppers leering at me as I tried to speak to her.
“My job. Gerry’s been destroyed by this, by the way. Thanks for your concern.”
“I don’t care about that old man, I care about you! I care about you, and you didn’t even bother to call. How did I know you hadn’t been stabbed by your cell mate?”
“You’re thinking of prison. You’re alone in police cells.”
While she was still dumbfounded by my insolence, I holed up in the bathroom. The noise of the water in the pipes drowned out most of what she bellowed at me. The words were slightly different but the themes always the same.
The needles of water blasted the grime and stale sweat away. I stood in silence under the jets, replying to her internally with spite.
Why do you always have to correct me?
Because you’re always wrong?
How do you think I felt last night, not knowing where you were?
Comfortable, stretched over both sides of the bed.
Why am I the only one putting any effort into this relationship?
Shouting doesn’t equate to effort.
Then the killer.
Don’t you love me any more?
I turned off the shower, let the room fall silent.  Her voice lowered appropriately.
“You know what I want, Sean.”
I did. Something old, something new…
“And I don’t want it just because this was the relationship you were in when the music stopped.”
I stood amid the steam, water droplets tracing paths down my body.  Our toothbrushes nestled next to each other in the cup. Her designer shampoo and conditioners crowded my Wash and Go to the edge of the windowsill. I opened the door. She was sitting propped up against the door to our bedroom, an eco-warrior chained to a JCB.
“I love you, Louise, I do.” I loved her, but she kept getting in the way. The woman she thought she should be kept overpowering the woman she was.
“Words, Sean.” She folded her arms. “I’d prefer actions. Like phone calls, or proof of life, occasionally.”
“OK…” I set my anger down for a moment. “I was wrong not to call you. I’m sorry.”
Her lips twitched, she weighed up the options. Accept the apology and forgo saying her piece, or turn it down and sacrifice the high ground.
“I’m tired, Sean. I’m tired of being the only one in this relationship.”
She had on an old hoody of mine, and a pair of paint splattered jeans. She’d been ready for domesticity for a long time.
“You’re not the only one in it. You just expect more of it than I do.”
She snorted. I’ll say.
“You want me to be a whole army of people. Accountant, nurse, lover, entertainer, tour guide, priest…”
“That’s what a husband is, Sean.”
“I’m just one man.”
“That’s what a husband is, Sean. You don’t do half-measures for anyone else, why me?”
“This isn’t half-measures. This is being two people, two individuals who love each other.”
The volume started to rise again.
“And what does that look like, Sean? You get back from the outside world at ten just in time for dinner and a shag?”
I bristled. I wasn’t so crass and she knew it.
“It means you have a life, and I have a life.”
“Don’t talk to me about lives. I have a social life, Sean. It’s you that only has time for work. Work, and the fucking Webbs…”
Argue with someone long enough, and you know just where to strike.
“Oh just shut up, will you?”
She upped the volume again, her voice straining against itself.
“Shut up like a good little wife, shall I?”
She jumped up from her position, fixed me with a furious glare.
“Get out of my house, Sean. I’m sick of your shit.”
With that, she flounced into our bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
I walked the few steps to the door, tilted my head, ready to begin speaking. Then again, even if she could hear, she wouldn’t listen, and I had nothing to say. I headed towards the stairs.
In the kitchen, clean washing was piled high, freshly ironed.  I grabbed a shirt and jeans. I checked the fridge. Nothing appetising, just my half of a bolognese, cooked for me while I laid down in a cell.  I dressed, and ignored the hunger.
She called out to me softly, when I had one foot out of the door.
“You know what makes this ten times worse, Sean?”
The steam had tired me out, and the fight seemed to be draining from Louise like she was some battery full of bile.
“When you didn’t call, I had to check in at your office and hear where you were from that bitch.”
I raised clawed hands in front of my face, frustration contorting the fingers.
“How many times, Lou? She’s my business partner for fuck’s sake, she puts food on our table!”
“No, I put food on our table, Sean. I’m the one that cares for you, feeds you, sustains you. She just covers your costs. You of all people should know the difference.”
With that, she slammed the door to our bedroom. As I stepped outside, I heard the first sobs from upstairs.


I’d got word from Sam, since his home was behind blue and white tape, Sawicki was staying in the Premier Inn out by the motorway.


The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby


Hertfordshire Libraries LitFest 2016

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