‘Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things…’ Robert Frost
Daphne Robins decided to end her life immediately. Not in the conventional way with bullets or paracetamol or dangling from a beam. Far too dramatic. It was more of a replacement she was looking for. She’d been drifting. She knew it, and a change was needed. Not a small, measly, January-the-first-gym joining change, that wouldn’t do at all. She needed a profound, wow-your-so-brave-I-never-thought-you-would-could-facebook-status-update-to-all change. She placed her well-thumbed copy of the complete works of Robert Frost onto the speckled granite breakfast bar, but not before placing a soft kiss onto Robert’s sun-faded profile.
‘Thank you, Robert.’
She remembered Cathy at work telling her she was the kind of woman that thanked the speaking clock. Cathy was being kind, but she didn’t want to be that woman anymore. She snuck a glance at herself in the hallway mirror. Terrified. A cold shiver wrapped her neck. She shut her eyes and moved towards the mirror, placing her head against its coolness. Pulling back, she opened her eyes and lingered on an image not recognised for years. Recently, everywhere, in all the places that were her world, she’d felt the casual brutality the young display towards the old. How vulgar you are Daphne, hankering after youth, how vain, how selfish. How irresistible. Here she stood, woman, a dauber of paints, blushers and mascara. Why?
‘I’ll tell you why Daphne Robins,’ her nose pressed to the mirror now so that her eyes searched the blur for her soul, ‘because winter is eternal and because if you don’t the vultures and the east wind will be at your throat all the sooner.’ Her mascara moistened. It was overdone, she thought, and made an almost perfect oval with the dark bags under her eyes. Her large looped silver earrings injected a sense of drama that her features lacked.
In years to come, friends would discuss how Daphne Robins came to be in Mexico, and swap theories about secret lovers, undiscovered crimes. She wouldn’t be there to tell them, of course, but they would have been as surprised as Daphne at the speed with what followed, once she decided to end it all. Today.
I’ll treat it as a project, she thought, outlining the big steps in her head, as she returned to the bedroom to get her diary and write out some detail.
She would have to pack, of course, and tell work she wasn’t coming in. Never coming back? No, careful Daphne, let’s get to the end of the list first, see how things pan out, create a pros & cons list and perhaps a decision making tree. Fuck. Who was saying this in her head? This is real life, Daphne Robins and it’s passing you by.
She felt energized by the decision; her heart beat faster and more forcefully in her chest, as she poured the contents of her dressing table drawers onto the bed. She was making a start. She was doing stuff. This was real now. Gray nylon slips and white (always white) M&S bras and firm control full brief knickers filled the bed. She reached for her grey Samsonite suitcase above the wardrobe, last used for a girls’ weekend in Benidorm. Her friend, Suzie had tied a pink ribbon to the handle, so it could be recognised on the baggage belt. She wiped off the dust and eased the zipper carefully and opened the case onto the bed. Inside, a small pink ‘Victoria’s Secret’ box. She took out a lace-logo thong, pink, black silk edging, with tiny embroidered lettering, ‘sexy’, over a two-finger width gusset. Suzie had bought one for all the girls. Daphne wouldn’t wear it, said she’d like to keep it for a special occasion when she got back. She couldn’t even remember the names of the other girls now. They’d sung ‘Angelo’, it was number one, she remembered that.
High on a mountain in Mexico
Lived a young shepherd boy, Angelo
Who met a young girl and he loved her so
Running away together,
Running away forever,
Forty years. She ran a finger over the cool smooth fabric and rubbed the gusset lightly between forefinger and thumb.
‘Genie of the box, grant me three wishes.’
She waited to laugh at her joke, but instead tears arrived. Tears for the 18-year old Daphne. The Daphne who waited for men who liked the poetry of Robert Frost, the Daphne who wouldn’t wear a thong, the Daphne who wondered if life could be enjoyed only in the limbs of youth. She stripped, carefully hooked the thong through both feet and attempted to pull it up. Whether it was the age of the material, the width of her thighs, the speed with which she was keen to cover her nakedness, it didn’t matter now. The thong ripped and fell to the ground. Her nakedness shamed her. An indelible truth, deep at her core, surfaced. She must go, go now, not waste another second.
Running away together,
Running away forever,
She replaced the tattered material into its box, placed it in her case, along with a several pairs of plain pants in case she lost her nerve to buy a replacement. What would people think if she had an accident in those anyway? She imagined the stern face of the mortician, tutting and shaking his head masterly head at her body, on the slab, and dictating like they do on Prime Suspect,
“Here we have the obese body of a 58-year old woman, Caucasian, little in the way of expected track marks or tattoos given the wanton logo-laced thong covering, well covering not a lot…’
Lived a young shepherd boy, Angelo
Mexico. In large letters, now underlined, at the top of her fresh blank diary page. Good as anywhere to start over she thought. She wasn’t looking for a shepherd boy though. She liked rugged men. Men’s men. Fireman, broad shouldered, with stubble on their chin. Not like the men at the office. She imagined being carried over the shoulder of the shepherd boy, now grown fire captain, Angelo, her Angelo, with her thong-covered arse, bare to the sky, holding on to his leather chapped trousers for balance.
Running away together,
She was good at projects. She’d told her parents she was a project manager for ‘Decor homes.’ The good thing about old people is they don’t check facts. No detail required.
She was really an office administrator for a door furniture store. It wasn’t ‘Decor homes’ either, but ‘Knobs-R-Us.’ The irony wasn’t lost on Daphne. Every year, new apprentices would be sent to the office with some variation of asking the girls whether they’d like the small, or big knob catalogue. The other girls laughed, but Daphne had died a little each year.
She rehearsed the call into work. More than a husky voice was needed, as that would only buy a few days. D&V the same, but at least that would keep people away. No, she needed something serious; something that would take her out for a few weeks and make sure people didn’t visit. The lying came easily to her. Not that she was practiced. More that she had never lied before about anything serious and knew she could cash in on that reputation.
‘Hi, I won’t be in today …well for a while actually… probably…can’t say much, saw the doctor yesterday, small op needed… I’m going to my sister’s place in Grimsby… to recuperate.’
The tattered thong was soon joined by three pairs of slacks, four blouses (wing tipped collar, satin sheen effect, size 18 white, always white), flat bottomed brogue effect shoes, and her favourite comfort down toweling set, (just the bath robe, for space, she thought best.) Hair straighteners, dryer, toilet bag and cosmetics completed the pack. She placed the case by the front door, briefly admired its symbolism, headed to the study and fired up her PC. Click. 10:35 pm flight arriving at 05:00, Mexico City, the next day. Things always looked fresh at 05:00. New start. It felt right. Click. She wondered if the days would really ever be new again, rather than just following each other, like the arms of a Quixotic windmill, rising, falling, to rise again. And to what purpose? New days, new dawns. She had to believe, she had to have faith.
Click. Fourteen nights at the Hotel Stella Maris, three stars, not too ostentatious. She didn’t want to attract the wrong type of… Angelo. Click. Ocado delivery next for when she got back. ‘Mexican food’ in the search bar, brought up a range of tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, fajitas, black beans, nachos, and el paso dips. She imagined her burly Angelo tucking in, as she served him in a pink, (now always pink), skimpy thong. A new one. Fiery red jalapeño logos. She imagined lying on his thick, matted chest, her hands exploring him, licking guacamole from his erect nipples.
At checkout, the order was short, by twenty pounds, to qualify for free delivery. She added toilet duck, room freshener, thin bleach and some rich tea biscuits. Still ten pounds to go, she wondered what sort of things a man, a man like Angelo, any man, would really like. She settled for Yorkie bars (pack of 10), a variety of assorted real ales (4-pack), and … a small tub of guacamole. Click.
She wasn’t to know that the unopened bags lying in the porch would prompt a call to the Police. That, and the fact that she had no sister in Grimsby.
Daphne had seen the sign at check in, and signed up immediately.
Singles Night, Stella Maris – Join us for a night of Mariachi folk music.
She spent the morning shopping at the swanky Centro Santé Fe mall. At lunch, she ordered two cocktails (tequila with a grapefruit-soda served on the rocks with a lime wedge) and spent an hour choosing which lingerie shop she would visit. She wanted a quiet-no-fuss-no-chat assistant, preferably wearing headphones, distracted, I’ll-take-your-money-don’t-care-what-you-bought type. Fiorentina. 2pm. Quiet, as planned. She was met by the dead stare of three manikins, dressed in flimsy Oxford blue lace-lingerie. She felt sorry for them, stuck there all day, gawped at. She picked up the promotional packaging, carefully arranged at the manikins’ feet, and was pleasantly surprised to find a size 16. Head down to the till, pin code, bag, a mumbled ‘gracias’ and out. Job done.
Singles night was to start in the Galleon bar. She had just enough time to shower, shave her legs and slink into her new purchases. She picked up her free La Cucaracha hat from reception, the symbol of the singleton for the evening, and headed to the ship-themed bar. As she walked, she felt the soft satin slip easily against the fabric of her black dress, and felt sexy, confident. Perhaps. At a large oak effect table, signposted ‘Captain’s mates,’ she joined a group of three girls and two men. Conversation was simple, strained, and competed with the noise of faux timbers creaking, of plastic masts swaying, of nylon ropes whipping in a strong breeze against the paper canvas of the good ship, ‘Armada.’ There was laughter all around them, the hubbub of real conversation, knowing conversations, crescendo and diminuendo conversations, the melody and cadences of real couples. No lifejackets here, thought Daphne, as she looked for a lifeboat. Hang on stowaway, hang on girl.
It was the screams she heard first, screams that carried on the wind, followed by smoke and grit, and swirling vortices of rubble. One of the group fell at Daphne’s feet and as Daphne stooped to assist, she noticed most of the girl’s head was missing. Daphne threw herself under the table and tried to brace herself against the violent shaking and lumpish concrete that now fell like confetti from the four-floors above.
The days that followed carved no variation in the blackness that surrounded Daphne. When she was conscious she tried to feel her body by twitching areas in sequence from her feet. Her left arm was stretched ahead of her, stuck, with a little movement in her fingers. Her tongue fixed to the roof of her mouth, dry as parchment paper, and her breath, shallow, constrained by slabs of concrete. There were others near her. The dead. The crushed. Those, like her, waiting, twitching, dying. She was unique, but the same. The dilemma of being human.
Hiding from every stranger
‘Here! Under the slab. A Woman.’
A brilliant shard of light pierced Daphne’s left eye. She felt warmth in her left hand, a grinding pain in her arm, a vibratory low rumble of male voices, a noise, the scurrying of what sounded like animal paws, clawing, digging. Now, more clearly, she heard, ‘Here! Under the slab. A Woman.’
A rough pipe threaded through the dark space. Water. Fresh air. Hands touching her, grabbing her, caressing her. She gulped at a small rivulet of water that formed at the corner of her mouth. Daylight focused itself around a hand. Her hand, it was her hand, held by another. A strong hand, a calloused hand, a hand that had been digging for days, searching for her, restless, undaunted, fighting…for her.
‘Angel…?’ Her voice trailed off into the infinite space that now surrounded her. Lifted, floating, blinded by whitened Mexican sky, floating higher, higher in rarefied air. Her hand felt the firmness and gentle caress of him, and she strained to make out faint whispers from the blackness deep within and below,
‘…Angel?, … together … Angelo?
Banner Image: Pixabay.com. Shopping Centre Mexico City.