A short story by Tina Konstant
Suzie opens her eyes. Today’s the day. A new start. She’s going to exercise, eat right, meditate, get the promotion… and say sorry to Alex.
6:28 a.m. Perfect. She sits up and swings her feet off the bed. Light streams into her window. She loves autumn. Loves her flat. Loves her job. Loves her friends. Loves Alex. Yes! Suzie throws her arms in the air. Today’s going to be a perfect day.
“Ahhh… Casper! Really? No. Come on. We’ve got a deal!”
Suzie kicks off her slipper, turns in a circle three times like she’s warding off bad luck and grabs a towel from her washing basket.
“This is fine.” She glares at Casper who licks his paws and wipes his face. “It’s still a perfect day. It’s all about attitude. Change what I can and accept what I can’t. Right?” Casper rolls his eyes and flops onto his back. “It says so on a fridge magnet so it has to be true.” The cat lets out a sigh and pads out of the room leaving Suzie to fully appreciate his gift. “I can’t change the fact that there’s a decapitated mouse in my slipper. I can toss my slipper in the bin. Problem solved.”
Suzie wraps her slipper in the towel, strides into the kitchen where she bundles the whole lot in the bin then scoops Casper into her arms. “The price you pay.” Suzie nuzzles into his belly. “You bring dead mice into my bedroom at the start of a perfect day, you get cuddled whether you like it or not.”
Casper doesn’t like.
He swipes a paw at Suzie’s neck, a single claw catches her skin, he flies out of her arms, sprints across the kitchen table, knocks a glass vase on its side spilling water and roses onto the floor.
“Oh, come on!” Suzie takes a step to save the vase then squeals. “Alex!” She hops around the table cradling her foot and throws a random piece of Lego across the room. “What adult still plays with Lego?”
Twenty minutes later, a dozen more Lego pieces and Caesar sulking at the top of a bookshelf, Suzie’s gone from having all the time in the world, to just 32 minutes to shower, get dressed, feed Casper (not that he deserves it), get out the door, onto a bus and into the office for eight.
Stupid roses. Alex had got them for her a week ago. The day after she found out he’d lifted her bank card and taken money from her account. Can you believe it? He’d snuck out at 2 a.m. to withdraw £250.00, snuck back in, stayed until breakfast, then disappeared for the rest of the weekend with his friends – compliments of Suzie. The next evening, he blew £3.99 on garage roses to say sorry. It wasn’t just some crazy weekend, he’d said. It was in remembrance of a friend who’d died a year ago. You know I’ll pay you back. It was an emergency. I was locked out my house. I told you I’d lost my keys.
Suzie hadn’t believed him. She was sure he’d spent the weekend with another woman so had raged like a porcupine in a paper bag until Anna, Suzie’s best friend, confirmed his story. Great. Now Suzie looked like a heartless, self-absorbed idiot. She should have listened. She should have been more generous and understanding. She should have been kinder. Nicer. Now she has to apologise.
Fifty-two minutes later Suzie’s on a bus. Not her usual bus, but that’s okay. There are no window seats and the back seats are full. She takes an aisle seat right in the front which means a blast of cold air hits her every time the door opens. The bus doesn’t move.
“Is there a problem?” She asks the driver, glancing at her watch.
“Ahead of schedule,” he mutters, pouring coffee from a flask letting the steam coat the windows of his booth. “Sitting tight for a bit.”
Suzie leans back in her seat. There’s time. She’s got time. Her article is nearly ready. She has until 10 a.m. to submit it. If the editor loves it, she gets her dream job. If he hates it, she gets fired from the job she’s got. No pressure. Calm. Perfect day.
The driver opens the door letting a woman in with three kids. “Archie, enough!” The woman drags one of the boys onto the bus.
“I wanted Cocopuffs!” the kid screams.
Suzie closes her eyes. “I accept what I cannot change,” she whispers to herself. “I can’t change the wind or the screaming kid or the driver’s schedule. I can change how I get to work. It’s a perfect day after all.”
She leaps off the bus and reaches her hand out for a cab. She’s late anyway. Might as well be late in comfort. It’ll give her space to think about the final tweaks she needs to make to the article. “Perfect day.” A small frown creeps over her face and stays there. “Finish the article. Get the job. Meet Alex for coffee. Apologise for not listening and presuming the worst. Make up and be happy… No… No! You have got to be…”
Words stick in Suzie’s throat as thoroughly as the mud on her shoes. The cab stops. Front wheel in a puddle. Back wheel in a puddle. The contents of both puddles coating Suzie from the knees down. She jerks the door open. “Are you insane? You just soaked me.”
“Ahh…” The cabbie stares at the damp patch. “Sorry. You need a cab?”
“Do I need cab? Of course I need a cab or I wouldn’t have stuck my arm out and stood in the middle of the road. I just didn’t need a face full of drain water.”
“Right. Sorry about that.” The cabbie grins. “Hop in if you like. I’ll put the heating on full. No charge.”
“For the cab ride or the heating?”
“The heating. The heating’s free.”
“Charming. Fine. I need to get to Houghton Towers.”
“News Day headquarters? You a journalist?”
Suzie glares at the cabbie. Who the hell is he to be all conversational after driving like a maniac? He glances at her in the rearview mirror then pulls into the traffic. Suzie stares at her reflection in the window then turns away, yanks wet-wipes from her bag and goes to work on her shoes. “No. Not really,” she mutters, her head down below the seat. “I’m a columnist. Sort of. A wanna-be columnist. I just do little bits here and there and make the tea.”
The cabbie laughs. “Sounds like a good gig.”
“Oh, it’d be good if I ever broke through.” Suzie sits up and straightens her hair. “I’ve got an article to finish and submit today.” She stops talking. Why is she telling him this?
She nods. “Based on that article, the editor decides who gets the job. Been working on the thing for a month.”
The driver takes a right then slows. “Well, traffic’s bad. I’ll get you in fast as I can. Might not make it before nine though.”
“Perfect.” Suzie scrubs, creating fine scratches on the surface of her shoes.
“You okay?” The driver’s eyes crease at the corners like he’s wondering just how crazy Suzie is. She doesn’t care.
“Fine.” She slumps into the seat. “Today was supposed to be a new start but I’m fast thinking about stopping at the nearest coffee shop for two kilos of chocolate cake and a caffeine shot.”
“Maybe that’s what you should do.”
“You kidding? Part of my new start is quitting sugar and I’m having withdrawals already.”
“So perhaps you should start with something a little more basic. Like taking a breath.”
“I…” Suzie stops. He’s right. She can’t remember the last time she took a deep breath in. Certainly not since Alex took money from her account. She lets air seep into her lungs and smiles. The heat finally sinks into her skin. “You don’t look like the usual cabbie. What’s your story?”
The driver shrugs. “Same as you. Working on breaking through.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a card and hands it to Suzie. Dan Crighton – actor, is written on one side. “Played the Artful Dodger in a school play when I was eight and got hooked.”
“I know who the Artful Dodger is.” Suzie’s smile widens. She can’t help it.
“Researched the role for months. Practiced like a pro. Now I’m working my way through drama school.”
“I’ll look for you at the Oscars.”
“Thanks.” Dan turns the heating up a notch. “I’ll look for your column.”
Suzie closes her eyes. At least someone has faith. Dan pushes a CD into a player and country music trickles through the speakers mingled with the warmth seeping into her pores. A gentle peace fills the cab. Comfortable quiet. That’s what she needs. Suzie looks out the window and watches the people run and bump, nudge and dodge each other. A few minutes of silence. Time to think. Meditate. That’s something else on her New-Suzie list. She presses her fingers together and imagines a burning candle. That’s how to do it, right? The road to Nirvana.
It doesn’t last.
“You have to be kidding.” Suzie opens her eyes, sits up straight and scrabbles through her bag. “What is that?” She jerks her phone out. Alex. He’d been messing with it again. Lighten up, he’d said when she told him to stop.
“Lighten up. I’ll lighten…” Suzie jabs a button to kill the Cheeky Girls and pins her phone between her ear and her shoulder. “Anna?”
There’s a squeal on the other end of the line. “Oh, my God. Suzie, please. Come over. I know you’ll be at work, but please. It’s Barry.”
Anna. Suzie’s oldest friend. The person Suzie turns to whenever Alex does something stupid or when she needs a crazy night out and a giggle.
“He’s dying. I’m sure he’s dying.” Anna sobs. There’s retching in the background. Something breaks.
“Anna. I’m… I’ve got…”
“Unbelievable.” Suzie taps Dan on the shoulder. “Change of plan. Harrow Street. Number 62.”
Dan spins the wheel and turns the car around. “Everything alright?”
“Fine. I’m sure. I think.” Suzie goes back to the phone. “Anna? Is anyone there with you?”
“No!” Anna wails. “It’s just me. I called an ambulance but they said they won’t come. He’s been throwing up and now he’s just lying there. Please, Suzie. Get here.”
The article. The deadline. She’ll never get that column. Suzie drops her head in her hands. “I’m on my way. Just keep him calm. Sit tight.”
Choices. Suzie runs through her day in her head. She can deal with Barry, then fly to the office and still meet the deadline. Perfect day. I can still do this. With drain water between my toes. I can do this.
Six minutes later Dan pulls up in front of Anna’s flat.
“Can you wait?”
Dan presses random buttons on his dashboard. “Sorry, got another call around the corner. Can’t hang about. You have my card. Give me a call when you know what you need and I’ll be right back. I’m not going far. I mean it,” Dan says. “This ride’s on the house. Sorry for getting you wet.”
Suzie jams the card into her pocket. “Thanks,” she stares at him for a moment.
“Go help your friend. Make your perfect day,” he smiles.
Suzie shakes her head. “My perfect day is fast disintegrating into a perfect calamity.” She slams the door shut then takes the stairs to Anna’s flat two at a time. “I can do this.”
“Suzie!” Anna flings her door open. “Thank God. Thank you. I’m freaking out up here. He’s okay. He’s fine. Threw up everything, the silly idiot. He swallowed a keyring or something.” Anna hugs Suzie tight. “Thank you for coming.”
“It’s okay.” Suzie steps into her friend’s flat. They’ve known each other since they were six so Suzie should have known that a catastrophe for Anna is generally a mild inconvenience for everyone else.
“Look at this. Stupid dog.” Anna leads Suzie into the kitchen where a black lab lies spread out on the floor, tail wagging, licking his paws. A pool of half-digested food and part chewed Lego puddles out in front of him.
“When was Alex here?”
“What?” Anna blinks, blushes, then stares at the floor and gasps. “Oh… ahhhh…. he… what?”
“When was Alex here? That’s his keyring. He said he lost it last week. It’s why he had to stay at my place. Couldn’t get into his flat. That’s the night he lifted my bank card, took my money then went off with his mates. The memorial weekend.”
“Memorial weekend. Right. Yes. Ahhhh, I don’t know.”
Anna wrings her hands. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t have to. Piece fall into place. Slips in conversation. Small feelings and thoughts that Suzie had dismissed as paranoia. The other woman.
“How long?” Suzie breathes in and lets the air out. Calm. Be calm. This is, after all, a perfect day. “How long have you and Alex been seeing each other?”
“Ahh.” More wringing. More blushing. “It’s not what it looks like. Don’t jump to conclusions. You always do that. Nothing happened. We haven’t been seeing each other. Suzie. Are you nuts?”
Suzie turns and walks out. She doesn’t scream or cry or even slam the door. She should have known. Alex taking money out her account. Anna not answering her phone when Suzie had called to tell her about it. Alex’s phone always going to messages. The roses. The apology. The guilt-laden excuse.
Oh, God. A new start. A perfect day. That’s all she wanted.
Tears streak down her face. Something. Just one thing has to go right today. She steps onto the street, turns right and walks. 9.06 a.m. No way will she make the office in time to finish the article and submit it. She’ll never meet the deadline. She might as well find an internet cafe and send in her resignation. “This is impossible!” she snaps loud enough for an old man to pull his shopping cart full of tins out of her way.
Two blocks later she steps into the Ozone Coffee House, orders a chunk of chocolate cake, a latte and one hour of internet time. “I’ll not need more than that to quit my job.”
The cake on one side, the coffee on the other, Suzie stares at the screen. My perfect day. Her perfect day hadn’t included resigning. But then she hadn’t expected to find out her boyfriend was having an affair with her best friend.
Accept what I can’t change. Change what I can.
Suzie begins to type. Not the resignation letter but an article. Not the one she had worked on for a month. Another one. A rant. It’s what her editor wanted, wasn’t it? Pull the inhibit pin, he’d said. You’re too safe. Just let it out! Be angry. Be brave.
Suzie writes. She doesn’t hesitate. She doesn’t backtrack. She doesn’t rewrite. With five minutes left to go, she reads the article, corrects two typos and presses send.
“Perfect sodding day, my foot.” She sips her cold latte and puts it aside. Deadline met. The article is shorter than it should be, off the cuff and entirely insane. Idiot. She presses her lips together. It would have been quicker to write a resignation. And more dignified.
She glances at her watch. She’s supposed to be meeting Alex in thirty minutes. Alex and Anna. Anna and Alex. Are they really? No. She shakes her head. She’s doing it again. Flying off the handle and not listening. Jumping to conclusions. There has to be a rational explanation. Anna and Alex were friends before Alex and Suzie got together. Why wouldn’t he be at her flat? Now she sounds even more heartless and selfish.
Leaving the chocolate cake next to the latte, Suzie walks out the coffee shop and turns towards town. She puts her hand in her pocket and touches Dan’s card. No. The walk will be good. A new start. Not really the perfect day, if she’s honest, but a new start. It will give her time to think. Her and Alex just need to talk. That’s all.
Six blocks later Suzie stops outside the restaurant, breathes in and closes her eyes. A new Suzie. A more patient Suzie. A Suzie who listens. A calm Suzie. She practices her smile and opens her eyes. Alex is there already. At the table. He’s not alone. Anna? He’s talking to Anna? Their heads close together. An urgent conversation. He’s holding her hand. Touching. Whispering. Kissing?
Suzie ducks behind a tree and sinks to the ground. All she has to do is make herself small and this whole day will disappear.
Just go home. That’s it. Go home. Get ice-cream on the way. Lock the door. She fumbles through her pockets for her keys and pulls Dan’s card out instead. She dials. “Ahh, Dan? I need a cab. I need a lift…” Suzie can’t stop it. The sob heaves out of her chest burning her throat, blocking her nose, stinging her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m…” She glances up at Anna and Alex. “I’m outside Lupos. I just need…”
“I’ll be there in one minute.”
True to his word, one minute later, Suzie falls into the back seat of Dan’s cab and slams the door shut. She gives Dan her home address but he doesn’t move.
“So what happened?”
Suzie covers her face to keep it all in but she can’t. She starts with her plan for a perfect day, a fresh start, a new attitude, then tells him about the dead mouse, her cat, the money Alex had taken, the weekend away with his friends, her suspicions – just not about Anna, the roses, the bus, getting wet, Anna’s dog, the Lego on the floor, the rubbish article she submitted, Anna and Alex giggling and kissing…
“It’s time for my break. You fancy lunch?”
“What?” Suzie wipes her nose on a tissue Dan hands her. “Lunch?” Suzie stares at the front door leading into Lupos like it’s the gate to hell. “No. Well… No!”
“Fresh start? A perfect day? My treat. Please. At least I can make up for soaking you.”
Oh, Lord. Suzie takes Dan’s hand and lets him lead her into Lupos. Anna and Alex don’t notice them. “I’ll be back in a bit,” Dan whispers.
Suzie huddles into the leather booth, presses both hands to her face and breathes. A deep, save-her-life breath. She stops when her phone rings. Her editor. Great. Here it is: You’re fired. You’ve embarrassed yourself. You’ll never work again. She picks up.
“Suzie. It’s Michael. I got your article. I had no idea you had it in you. It’s perfect. It’s exactly what this column needs. Edgy. To the point. Merciless. This is great. The column is yours if you want it.”
“Yours. We’ll use this piece to launch tomorrow’s edition. We’ll need a new one every day, five days a week starting Monday. Same fire, fury and punch-you-in-the-gut honesty. Is that something a staff writer can deliver?”
“If you want it.”
“I want it!”
“Then you have it. Come to my office first thing tomorrow and we can make it official.”
“Thank you. Michael. Thank you.”
“You earned it, Suzie. See you in the morning.”
Dan settles back in the booth just as Alex and Anna make their way to the till. “Good news?” he asks.
Suzie nods and puts her phone away. “Good news.”
At the till Anna’s waving her hands, talking like she doesn’t have an off switch. Alex riffles through his pockets. All his pockets. A frown on his face. He glares at the waitress. And keeps riffling.
“Oh, no. You don’t get to pull that one on me,” Anna yells. “You were always telling Suzie you’d lost your wallet so she’d pay for everything. Not me. I’m not falling for that.”
Alex stares at Anna, then at the restaurant manager. “But I have. I swear. I had it. I just… I can’t find it. I’m not kidding. I had my wallet. It’s…” He keeps searching his pockets as Anna storms out the restaurant leaving him with the manager and a big guy dressed in black.
“Sir?” The manager crosses his arms and plants himself in front of Alex.
Dan puts his hand on the table in front of Suzie. When he moves it away he leaves a small, brown wallet behind. “Enjoying the show?”
Suzie stares at the wallet, then at Dan. “That’s Alex’s wallet.”
Dan grins. “I told you. I played the Artful Dodger when I was eight. Researched the role like a demon.”
The manager takes Alex by the arm and leads him through swinging doors at the back of the restaurant.
Dan holds up a glass. “To a perfect day,” he says.
Suzie laughs. “A perfect day.”