This is the thirty-eighth part of a fiction serial, in 805 words.
Before I signed up to a dating website, I went and had my hair done. Leah would sit quietly in a chair at the back as they did my hair, and despite the strange looks she got from other customers, the hairdresser was happy for her to be there. I also got her to give Leah’s hair a trim, as I never did a very good job of it myself. Back at home, I did my make up, put on a nice dress, and took a photo on the webcam to upload to my profile.
What to write about myself? That took some thinking about. I wasn’t about to exclude Leah, so I used the words ‘mother to a disabled teenage daughter’. I listed my occupation as ‘full-time carer’ and told the truth about my age. Then I ticked a few boxes about non-smoking, liking to eat out, and country walks, all the usual stuff that seemed to be on other profiles. Last but not least, I paid my fee for six months in advance, the only option, and clicked ‘Add profile’.
After that I felt strangely excited. Like when I had gone on my first real date at fourteen, which was to meet a boy in the local park and sit there feeling embarrassed for almost two hours, hoping I would know how to kiss him properly. He solved that problem by not trying to kiss me.
The options for my supposedly ideal partner were many and varied. I had kept it simple. A thirty mile radius of my house, age between forty and fifty, children yes or no. Then I sat back and waited for the messages that would have links to the matches they found for me. I could either contact them, or not. No repercussions if I didn’t, according to the dating company.
A phone call from Zoe distracted me from the screen. She had a date for her hip operation, so Unicorns was closing down until she had recovered. She had tried to get a friend to take it over while she was out of action, but couldn’t rely on her. I told her about going on the dating website, and was surprised by her reply.
“You have to be extra careful, Angela. There are some strange men on those sites. Many are attracted to women with vulnerable children you know. That sort of thing happens all the time. And Leah is terribly vulnerable, plus she could never tell you if anything horrible happened”. I thanked her for the warning, and wished her good luck with the operation.
Talk about bursting your balloon. It had never occured to me that any man might be interested in me in the hope of being able to abuse my daughter. This stuff was a bloody minefield. Then again, I had never intended to leave Leah alone with someone I met on a dating site. I would get mum and dad to watch her so I could go out. That was the whole point.
By the time I had fed and showered Leah, got her into bed, and fixed the rails on the sides, I felt worn out. Sitting on the sofa with no TV in the room was really relaxing. When Olly had been around, there was always something on. Mostly sport, but also rolling news, maybe a superhero film, then Newsnight on BBC2 before bed. He liked to watch stuff, said it helped him relax after reading all day at work.
Dinner for me that night was not really dinner. I had a toasted cheese sandwich, followed by half a box of Lindor chocolate balls. I was good though, limiting myself to just one glass of Chardonnay, and not finishing the whole box of Lindor.
When the phone rang, it was past ten, and I wondered who would be ringing so late. I was surprised to hear my mum’s voice.
“Angela, I have something to tell you, and I want you to listen, and not interrupt me. It’s not good news, but you do need to know. I have already spoken to Ronnie. I had some tests recently, and my doctor sent me to the hospital. Because there was going to be some delay for any scans and suchlike, your dad used his health insurance to get me into a clinic this morning. It’s cancer, I’m afraid, and in more than one place. Three places in fact. They have offered me various options, including surgery followed by other therapies. I am thinking those options over, but I have to tell you that either way, the specialist has said I may have less than a year. If I have nothing done, maybe three months. So now you know, okay?”
I sat wondering what to say to her, then realised she had already hung up.