As he pulled up on the driveway back at the house, Martin’s phone started to ring again. The screen showed the name, PAM. He answered with an upbeat tone. “Hello, love. How did it go?”
She squealed in reply, her voice raised and excited. “I got it. I got it!. They were really nice. It’s more than just filing and typing too. I will be the personal assistant to the chief executive. Can you believe that, love? This could be a great move for me”. He paused, and then tried to sound casual. “Remind me again, who is it you will be working for? You know me, I forgot”. She didn’t seem to be bothered by his forgetfulness. It’s that city firm I mentioned. You know, stocks and shares. Brokers, finances, all that stuff. It is called Harris-Coyle, and I will be working for Chloe Harris, the woman in charge”.
Martin felt a chill creep down his back, and said nothing. Pam continued, still excited. “Anyway, I am going to pop over to the shops in the West End, and get some new things to wear. They want me to start next week, an induction period. I will want to look my best. So I won’t be back in time to get Daisy from school. Don’t forget to pick her up, you will have to finish work early. I will order us a Chinese takeaway tonight, to celebrate. See you later, love”. She hung up without waiting for a reply. Martin sat quietly in the van. It seemed that the spiral was continuing. Whatever he wrote, however things changed, everything else remained interwoven in the new life. And now the past was interfering on a daily basis too. His real past, the one he had actually lived, and remembered. Or had he? It was getting too much for his mind to take in.
Climbing out of the van, he was still intending to search this house for any clues about his current life. There would be the usual papers to look for. Mortgage, Marriage, Bank statements, Utility bills. He would try to piece together the life of a married man in Basildon. Someone who was married to an office worker, and father to a schoolgirl. Someone who worked in his own business as a plasterer. He smiled grimly. A plasterer, for Christ’s sake. How did that ever happen? As he fished for the right key, he didn’t notice the woman standing on a step ladder against the front windows of the house next door, washing the glass with a soapy cloth. But her voice jolted him, and he slowly turned to look at her. “Hi, Martin. Home early today, or just skipping work? I promise I won’t tell Pam”.
He watched as she stepped down from the small platform, shaking soapy suds from the pair of yellow rubber gloves she was wearing. Her smile was warm, her face attractive, and her figure curvy. And that all confirmed what he had known when he heard her voice. It was Vanessa.
Despite not having a tan, she looked like her old self. At least the old self he remembered from the bank, and those first few days in Spain. He decided not to act surprised, and let her do the talking. It wasn’t easy to wait for her to start. “You OK, Martin love? You don’t look well. Like you’ve seen a ghost or something. Why don’t you pop in for a cup of tea? There is something I wanted to talk to you about, so now’s as good a time as any”. He nodded, eager to get it over with. Whatever ‘it’ was going to be. She left the step-ladder and bucket outside, and he followed her in through the open door. The house was lived-in. Not tidy, not messy. A pair of court shoes stood by the door, and an outdoor coat hung on a hook. It would appear she lived there alone.
“Go through, and I will bring your tea. Still two sugars, not much milk?” Martin nodded, and walked into the living room. The house was a mirror of the one next door, the one he apparently lived in with Pamela. He moved a colourful throw that was crumpled on an armchair, and sat down. She was soon back, placing the mug next to him on a side table. He played dumb. “So what did you want to talk to me about?” She leaned forward from her perch on the sofa opposite, close enough for him to smell her perfume. “Well, it’s about my son. You know, Pablo”. He picked up the tea, It was too hot to drink, but he held it close to his mouth, and waited. “He’s been getting fed up living with his Dad, and working as a waiter doesn’t suit him at all. He would much prefer to come and live here, with me. I thought you could take him on. Just try him out, train him up in your trade. Plasterers can make good money, and he’s bright enough. He will learn fast, I’m sure. Pam tells me you have plenty of work on, and you wouldn’t have to pay him too much. What do you think, love?”
Martin sipped the tea, even though it felt as if it was scalding his lips. He needed time to think, and he stalled Vanessa by appearing to be thinking over her proposition. Not only was he married to his ex office girl. Not only was he working as a plasterer, living in suburban Essex. Not only did he have a daughter who had just started her first year of secondary school. But now this. His former lover and one-time fiance was his next-door neighbour. And the waiter from the Tapas Bar and the fancy restaurant in the quiet street was her son. That presumably meant that the older Spanish guy who greeted them had been or was still her husband. All the different aspects of his life written up on the Remington were coming together, merging. And not in a good way. He no longer knew what was real or imaginary. But then it was all real, wasn’t it? The tea was hot, Vanessa looked amazing, and he had just spoken to Pam on the phone.
She was impatient for him to reply. “Well? What do you say, love. Can I give Pablo a call. Maybe start next month?” Martin swallowed more of the tea. He hadn’t realised how thirsty he was, and the hot sweet drink had made him feel much better. He gave her an affable grin. “I’m not sure. I mean, working with your friend’s son. Next-door neighbours and all that. If something went wrong, I would hate for us to fall out over it. Him working for me, well, he might not like that. It’s not like I even know him, after all”. He could tell she hadn’t got the answer she was expecting, as her tone changed completely. “I don’t see any of that as a problem. He speaks good English, he’s keen to learn, and I can vouch for him. He’s my flesh and blood, Martin. And living next door is ideal. You can pick him up every morning, and he will never be late for work”. She stopped there, as if the discussion was over.
He looked back at her over the rim of the mug. As always, she was confident, familiar. Relaxed in his company. “I don’t know. Neighbours, that’s one thing. It’s good to be friendly, but taking it further, I don’t know”. She put her mug down on the floor, still full of tea. “Well you didn’t think that last August, did you? At my barbecue, when everyone had gone, and Pam took Daisy in to put her to bed. Remember? Well I remember. Once up against the back wall of the garage, then in here on the carpet”. She pointed to the space on the floor between them, as Martin felt his face flush. Her expression was triumphant.
“I don’t recall you worrying about taking things further with a neighbour that night, love. In fact, it was me that said you had better get back next door, before Pam wondered where you were”. Of course, he didn’t remember. But he instinctively knew she was telling the truth. At least in her life, if not in his.
Vanessa stood up, her face softening, and a sly smile on her lips. She reached forward and took the mug out of his hands, placing it back on the table. Holding out a hand, she spoke like a purring cat. “Why don’t we go upstairs now, and I will convince you to give Pablo a chance?”
Despite everything, he knew he would follow her up those stairs.