My neighbour Julie stands in her doorway encased in a dressing gown. It’s pink and quilted but she’s tall and makes it look glamourous, it shows a hint of calf, a nipped in waist.
She kisses her husband Tom goodbye. He’s wearing the blue suit — he looks good in blue. My ex-husband never looked good in blue — it was disappointing.
When Julie takes the children to school, I’m eating toast. Jake has his dinosaur backpack and holds hands with his sister, Lily, as they skip in unison. I always thought I would pick a name like that — Rose or Evelyn — something which felt good on the tongue and the teeth. Julie totters behind them in kitten heels. Cathy who lives the next street over says that all the mothers hate her because they’ve never seen her in trainers and she always has lipstick on.
When it gets dark the glow from their window stands out in the gloom. Tom gets home from work, throws his jacket on the back of the chair, kisses the kids on the forehead. I watch as food is consumed and heads are thrown back with laughter.
Later, sat on my sofa, she gulps wine — she only has twenty minutes, everything falls apart without her — and says she envies me.
I laugh. I tell her there’s nothing to envy.
No, really. It must be nice, she says, the quiet. To sleep in, to sleep alone with fingers stretched to either side, a starfish on the ocean floor.
I shrug and say it’s okay. It is what it is.
When she leaves, she hugs me until it’s uncomfortable, until I feel my ribs creak. It must be so nice she whispers in my ear.
Yes, I whisper back. It must be nice.
Samantha Palmer is a secondary school teacher from the UK. She is a short story and flash fiction writer and has had pieces in several e-zines, magazines and anthologies.