The story so far… Spring 2014: Twenty-year-old Agnes Bee has received notification that her husband, Dougie, has started divorce proceedings. (They married because Agnes was pregnant, but the baby died late in the pregnancy.) Agnes is chronically depressed. She wants to change her life but doesn’t know where to begin. Her best friend, Kath suggests they start with something achievable ‒ they should give up smoking and use the money they save to buy tickets for Ed Sheeran’s gig at the Glasgow Hydro. (Agnes is a huge Ed Sheeran fan.) With the tickets bought, Kath has planned a night out…
HOW TO ACHIEVE THE PERFECT SMOKEY EYE IN 3 SIMPLE STEPS.
Agnes looks at the magazine balanced on the corner of the sink then stares at her reflection. She can’t get past simple step number two and this is her third go. Her hand’s too shaky. She huffs a little sigh and wipes off the wonky eyeliner with a tissue. Black smears all round her eyes.
Running the taps, washing all the black off. She can’t reinvent herself, even if Kath thinks it’s a good idea. Blotting her face with the towel, then it’s tinted moisturiser. Pointless going out all made up, attracting attention. Just pointless. She picks up her mascara and leans in to the mirror.
Tonight’s not going to be like the Smart Shop Christmas party where it was just work pals having a drink and a laugh, and it’s not going to be like when they went to that nightclub for Kath’s birthday, where it was just dancing. Tonight, Kath wants them to “meet people” which means guys.
Kath, all week: ‘You need to get out more! You’re young, free and single, remember.’ Little winks and nudges.
The thing is, she isn’t single, not officially. There’s been nothing from Dougie’s solicitor since she got the letter. It’s all paperwork and procedure but she can’t bring herself to look it up. All the details about what happens next and what to expect. It’ll come in its own time and it’ll probably be ages yet. Everyone knows divorces take ages, unless you’re Britney Spears.
She finishes her lashes then it’s lip gloss. In the bedroom, wriggling into her black jeans, pulling on her new top from Next. Kath was like, Go on, it looks great, treat yourself! Raking her fingers through her hair. She’s blow-dried it so it’s smooth and shiny, but it’s not for guys or even for herself. She’s done it so Kath will see that she’s made an effort.
They’re going to a new wine bar in town called Cork Blimey. It used to be Bertini’s Bistro, but Bert couldn’t compete with Costa so ten months after opening he was closing again. It was a shame, Agnes thought. She’d always liked Bert, the way he spoke with his funny Italian-Scottish accent and the coffee ‒ just lovely. Sadness every time she went past the empty shop, flyers and junk mail piling up inside. That’s life, people losing things, things not working out like they’d thought. People move on. It’s what Bert had done. It’s what Dougie did.
She puts on her shoes and stands in front of the wardrobe mirror. Maybe her hair looks okay, and her clothes look okay, but inside, it’s like dark sap rising, working through her veins, seeping into everything.
She doesn’t want to go.
It’s all that talking to strangers, making out she’s okay. Always faking: Hi, how’s it going? Smile, smile. Remembering to. It’s bad enough at work, but customers are busy with shopping so that’s just, Nice weather, Nasty weather, Cash or card, Do you need a bag? Autopilot. But going out, looking for people to talk to. All that eye contact, people trying to see inside when there’s nothing to see. She remembers blue sparkly sand in her grandad’s old egg timer. She used to like watching the steady trickle, the mound of sand growing in the bottom half and the way the grains slid down like mini avalanches. But now she pictures the top half, all drained out, the hole gaping like a greedy little mouth.
She sinks onto the bed and the duvet’s all soft. Imagining her jammies and crawling under, all quiet and peaceful with no one bothering her. That’s what she wants, but it’s not happening because Kath got the tickets and they’ve got to CELEBRATE. Kath’s got a new dress and she’s all excited because the bar’s a new place to go and they’ve not been out for ages and ages, so that’s that. She’s got to do it, for Kath.
She hears the taxi hooting outside and takes a deep breath. Maybe Cork Blimey will turn out to be rubbish and they’ll come back early. She comforts herself with that thought as she picks up her bag and opens the door.
‘This is Am-Ae-Zing!’
Kath’s lit up like a Christmas tree. She looks great in her stretchy blue dress and skyscraper heels, and she’s totally nailed the smoky eye. She’s done her hair with the tongs, so she’s got these gorgeous dark waves bobbing about on her shoulders and she’s checking out the room, not even bothered that people can see her doing it. Agnes sees people noticing them and she looks down.
The floor’s wooden – pale wide planks – a bit scuffed. There are wine racks hanging on the bare brick walls, and the tables are old wine barrels with wooden tops. She notices the exposed filaments in the lights, wonders if it’s okay to look at them or if they hurt your eyes. The candles on the tables are stuck into the necks of wine bottles and there’s wax dripping down, thick layers of it with fresh little trails on top. The bar’s verging on trendy, the kind of place you’d find in a city, the kind of place Dougie probably goes to now, with Fiona. She’s only just had that thought when she notices Melanie sitting in a corner with a couple of friends. She turns away, feels a knot tightening in her stomach.
Kath opens her clutch bag, minding her shiny red nails on the zip. ‘I’ll get the drinks. You get a table.’
When Kath comes back with two white wines she’s frowning. ‘Hey! No one puts Baby in the corner! We should be in the middle so we can look for potentials.’
‘Melanie’s over there.’ Agnes pulls a face. ‘This was farthest away.’
Kath looks across the bar. ‘Ah right. I see her, sitting with the rest of her coven.’
Agnes smiles and it’s a real smile. Kath’s so great. Funny, bright, beautiful. Always there, shining like a wee star. Kath could do anything, really be something and Agnes thinks she should tell her, because her mum and dad never do. They’re just like, Kath’s working at Smart Shop, she’s doing fine – she’ll get to be a supervisor one day, maybe.
Pushy parents! At least her own mum and dad thought about college.
Kath’s talking away, settling herself on the chair, hanging her bag over the back. She looks around, lifts her glass.
‘On the other hand, it probably doesn’t matter where we sit. It’s not exactly talent central in here is it?’ She sighs. ‘At least you’ve been married. I’ve never even come close.’
For Kath’s sake, Agnes is sorry that the bar’s a talent free zone. She nudges Kath’s foot under the table.
‘Okay, but if you could choose anyone to walk through that door right now, who would it be…?’ She swallows a mouthful of wine, gets a wee buzz from it. ‘Give me your top three dream men.’
‘Top three…?’ A slow smile breaks across Kath’s face. ‘Number one: Gerard Butler!’ She sips her drink. ‘Number two… would have to be… Beckham! You know I’ve got a soft spot for footballers, mind he’d have to keep his mouth shut. Number three… Oh… What’s his name–? That psycho from The Fall… He’s going to be Mr Fifty Shades…’
‘No! His real name?’
‘I don’t know his real name – but he’s creepy.’
‘He was acting creepy – in real life he’s lovely and he’s hot. He’s Irish.’
‘So’s Father Ted, but it doesn’t make him hot.’
Kath gives her a look. ‘I know what you’re doing… You’re stalling while you think of your three.’
‘Go on then…’
Agnes lifts her chin. ‘Number one: Ed Sheeran.’
Kath’s eyebrows shoot up. ‘Really? I know you love him but he’s seriously ginger.’
‘Kathleen Ferguson! You are seriously shallow.’
‘I’m not. But this is dream man, not give a dog a home.’
‘Okay, let me think… If Ed’s too ginger and Gerard’s taken, then…’ Scrolling through all the bland faces, her mind, scrolling, scrolling…
‘C’mon… You can have anyone!’
Kath pulls a face. ‘He’s got a nice bum, but I told you, it’s not a pity parade. It’s dream man!’
‘Okay, well what about Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Ryan Gosling?’
Kath rolls her eyes. ‘What about them? This is your game, your rules, your dream man.’
‘But you keep overruling me.’
‘It’s because you’re not playing properly! Hugh Grant’s ancient. So’s Colin Firth. You’re just plucking names out of the air!’
Reaching for her glass, drinking it down. It was a game for Kath, to cheer her up about no talent in the bar but Dougie slipped into her head and all she could see was him ‒ his eyes, his mouth, the way he looked at her ‒ and now Kath’s staring at her, wondering why she hasn’t got three real dream men and it’s because there’s just one. She can’t see past one and maybe she’s just got to say it.
‘What do you mean?
‘Dougie’s my dream-man.’ She holds up three fingers. ‘Number one, two and three: Dougie!’
‘But…that’s no use.’ Kath’s frowning. ‘He’s gone. You’re getting a divorce! You can’t think about him like that.’
The wine’s taken the edge off, but not enough for her to meet Kath’s gaze. She fiddles with the stem of her empty glass. ‘I try not to… It just happens.’
‘Which is why you need to get out and meet new people.’
‘I’m not interested.’
‘So―what? You’re going to spend the rest of your life under the duvet, pining? Watching Rom-coms! You’ll need a couple of cats, mind, just to complete the picture―’
© Tracy Gow