Chilling With Mary
Mary closes the patio door, inhaling on another Lambert and Butler.
She still had some of the Turkish ones left but stopped off at the Late-Shop after work
and decided from now on, she was only buying the real thing.
Season eight of Escape to The Chateau is paused on the new Panasonic TV as she
flumps onto the settee, blowing blue smoke toward the glass ceiling of the extension
An orange light pulses from the lock screen of her phone.
She wouldn’t be answering any calls, especially ones where she didn’t recognise the number no matter how many times they tried.
It was the little things she’d started to notice.
Like not waking up to Nicky Campbell on 5-live and no towels left on the bathroom floor.
And especially, being able to smoke in the house.
Her eyes skimmed the poster on the extension wall.
‘Ibiza-Danza-del-Fuego’, a replica from the Amnesia night in 1996 when she first met
Mick on holiday in San Antonio, and he’d had it framed as a birthday present.
Underneath was the letter from Mick’s work.
Still unopened on the mantelpiece.
He’d always say, what’s the point in getting married as they may not be together in a
year’s time, which always had a weird logic to it.
Mary and Mick never got married, even though at twenty-six years they’d been
together longer than most people they knew.
Mick was out of work when they got back from holiday so he’d moved up to Chorley and
worked on her dad’s farm.
There was always loads to do around lambing season and she’d watch from her
bedroom as he’d lump the bag of feed across the bottom field as the sheep would all
follow him like the pied piper.
When her dad was hit with another twelve-month ban, Mick ended up as his driver.
It was only what Mary had been doing since she was old enough to drive.
Dropping her Dad at Smithfield Market at four a.m. then spending afternoons hunting
him down in pubs around Beswick, and Ashton-New-Road along the route back to
Manchester city centre.
The landlords came to know the young blonde and would go out of their way to help,
even phoning round his usual haunts to try and pinpoint a location.
‘Let me guess’, she’d always say, ‘I’ve just missed him?’
It ended up a running joke, but Mick never saw the funny side when he took over.
Mary takes the bottle of rose Pinot-Noir from the fridge and slides it into the freezer sleeve.
She’d told everyone she wouldn’t be going to Mick’s funeral.
‘I’d be too upset’, she’d been saying for weeks before he died.
The more she’d said it, the more she’d convinced herself it was true.
Bad genes in that family.
His Dad dead in his forties.
Two uncles and a cousin, all with the same cancer of the stomach.
Losing his dad at such a young age left Mick convinced he’d end up the same way.
Everything was always done to the extremes - drugs, spending, clothes, almost as if
he was willing the day to come in some bizarre self-harming exercise.
At least he didn’t suffer like his dad.
Lasted ten years longer too.
When the banks closed in on the farm, Mary had to find a job for the first time in her
life, outside of the family business.
She always hoped her and Mick would eventually take over, but the farm debts ran
deeper than she feared and out of the five brothers of P.Jones & Sons Meat Supplies,
there was only her Dad who ended up losing his home.
She’d gone into cutting hair with a friend who ran her own Barbershop and could
never work out why Mick worked himself into such a state about it.
‘You’re too friendly', he’d say, 'They’ll get the wrong idea’.
'A man is only as faithful as his options', was another of his, but discovered it was
actually a line from a Chris Rock’s ‘Bigger and Blacker’ DVD.
All the spot-visits to drop off breakfast or dinners started getting embarrassing.
‘Him with the little Corsa’, they’d say and she’d told Mick not to park outside of the
shop anymore, eventually getting him to stay away altogether.
Word soon spread about the new blonde at the Barber's on Thursdays and Fridays,
but she grew immune to it all.
The constant testing of the water.
Compliments about her hair or perfume, carnal coffessions of weekend conquests,
the secret was to always keep the conversation moving and she eventually got it down to
six minutes a cut.
She never showed Mick any of the texts she received.
Some from lads young enough to be her son.
She noticed Graham’s haircuts went from once, to twice a month then once a
A dark, downy mop that clung to her fingers.
She couldn’t get over that he was almost 50.
Mick’s was the double whammy.
Grey and balding.
Like a badger.
It wasn’t an effort with Graham.
‘When you’re ready’ he’d always say.
He understood how complicated her situation was.
Never rushing things, even though she knew from the first time she saw him, where it
would end up.
A summer of hotel rooms and afternoon epiphany.
People would comment on how well she looked but she already knew.
There was a glow about her.
Forty-two wondrous days.
Mary never thought Mick would have her back.
She didn’t know of anyone who would in that situation, but he wanted to give it
She could have been braver.
Once it was out in the open, the hard part was done and it would have been best for
But she’d crumbled under the cloud of confusion and interference from people who
didn’t need to know, but somehow did.
There weren’t many shoulders left that Mick hadn’t cried on.
Graham waited and waited but in the end, she never replied.
There’s always fallout from these things.
Friends or not, in the end they get dropped.
Retribution for their complicity.
Better to never see someone again than to deal with the unspoken judgement.
One by one they stopped calling.
Mary left the barber shop and she and Mick carried on as if nothing had happened.
She saw Graham in Tesco last April.
He was buying a bag of recyclable cat litter and she followed him as he made his way
through the freezer section.
Frozen spinach was an odd choice but remembered it’d be for his breakfast smoothies.
She waited until he’d passed the checkout then watched him walk to his car.
He had a new Mercedes.
Still the 4x4, but had changed the black to a silver one.
Mary knew she’d deleted his number but could always remember the last four digits.
The last day of August.
Mary peels the price sticker from underneath the ashtray as her phone
vibrates with a missed call.
She could hand in her notice at the care home now.
Or at least cut back on the hours.
Mary always thought she could’ve saved her dad but once the farm went, the drinking
just seemed to get worse.
His neighbours would constantly complain about him passing out in the lift or the
playing of his music, but she couldn’t be there to sort him out like she used to.
She read the words Alcoholic liver disease on the death certificate and promised
herself to never speak again of what it said, preferring to tell the story that he was an
organ donor but the only thing they wanted were his corneas.
The care home job was her way of making it up to him.
But after the night shifts and the bank holidays, she felt the penance was pretty much
worked off by now.
The phone ripples across the kitchen worktop with a missed call.
Their insurance would clear the mortgage, but the main one was the death-in-service
payment from Mick’s work.
Four times his salary, he said.
A life-changing amount.
It was his lack of ambition that always wrankled.
But he’d worked his way up to shift manager at Watson’s Steel over the last ten
Even starting a pension.
The bloke who always thought he wouldn’t see fifty, all of a sudden thought he was
going to live forever.
He started riding his mountain bike on weekends, then away to Scotland.
He stopped smoking, even drinking.
She’d get the speech, ‘£7 a day on wine, £10 on cigs…’ then he’d somehow come up
with the figure of six thousand pounds a year.
He never knew about the Turkish shop.
Three packs for twelve quid in there.
She takes the envelope from the mantelpiece, seeing the Axa Insurance logo through
the address window.
Antalya was calling - a pilgrimage to the home of the porcelain veneer.
She thought of the passengers on the plane home and how funny it would be to stand
at the front and get a photo of them all with their new teeth,
‘Come on everyone - Say Cheese!’
She pushes her cheeks back towards her ears and stood to see what difference a chin tuck would make.
Easily ten years off, she reckoned.
Dick Strawbridge is paused on the giant TV, halfway up a ladder to the newly
renovated barn/summer-house as Mary sees her phone vibrating towards the edge of the kitchen
Thirteen missed calls since this morning.
‘Mary, please call me x’
‘Call me back please x’
All from a number ending in 526.
All signed, Jayne.
Mary thumbs the screen to keep it from locking.
She never asked anyone about the funeral.
The church was supposedly full and they had speakers at the door for those who
couldn't get in.
They’d talked about the music beforehand.
Mick said he wanted a song that’d remind everyone of their relationship, coming up
with Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting by Elton John.
Mary suggested ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ which they both thought would be hilarious,
but only they’d get the joke.
In the end, he went with ‘Strings of Life’ by Derrick May for the entrance and she was
glad as it was an old Amnesia classic.
But it was a song she’d never heard for that all-important exit.
‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ by Headless Heroes would leave them sobbing
all the way home, he reckoned.
Mary pulls away the envelope to read the contents.
Axa insurance on behalf of Watson’s Steel ltd.
‘We’re profoundly sorry…..’
‘We thank Michael for his years of service…..’
She folds the cheque along its perforated edge and holds it at arm’s length as to fully
‘Payee - Ms Mary Jones….’
‘The sum of….five hundred pounds’.
It’s not the first time Watson’s had messed things up.
They didn’t increase Mick's pay for three months after his last promotion and if he
hadn't caused a fuss, reckoned he’d never have got it.
She reads it again, focussing on the second to last paragraph,
'..defined share of death in service dividend in accordance with the expression of wish
agreement signed by the deceased.'
Mary launches the remote across the worktop, skidding into the toaster causing
crumbs to litter the wooden surface.
Her eyes start to fill as the echo ricochettes around the empty extension.
Is this the same Jayne as the one in his phone?
She always knew he was up to something.
The trips to Scotland, the weekends riding the Pennine Way.
No one wears aftershave to ride the Pennine Way.
A compendium of missed calls and unexpected nights away are unearthed from her
The ones where he’d missed a lift or been stuck in Fort William as the weather turned.
A man is only as faithful as his options.
Mary feels her heart rip at the pure spite of it all.
The phone vibrates and she swipes the green circle downward and selects the
‘Hello, Mary?’, says the voice.
‘What do you want?’
‘My name's Jayne Pierce and I’m the solicitor acting on behalf of Axa Insurance ltd’.
‘I’m so sorry. My phone's been playing up all day’.
‘I was hoping to speak at Michael's funeral.’
‘I didn’t go. I was too upset’
‘I heard. The cheque, you received it today?’
‘Yes I’ve seen it’.
‘I wanted to clarify - the amount is our contribution to the funeral costs as per the
conditions of Michael’s life cover.
You are aware he made some late amendments to the policy?’
‘Oh, here we go’.
‘He was quite specific. Unprecedented really, but Michael was very insistent’.
‘Jayne, I’ll save you the trouble. I think I’ve always known what he’s been up to’.
Well, it’s not an outright purchase, but a sizeable down-payment'.
‘I don’t understand’.
‘Your husband requested the entitlement would be invested on your behalf.
It's only around four acres but I believe the former owners used it to graze sheep’.
The high point of Ibiza Danza del Fuego was always when clubbers would move on
to the Cafe-Del-Mar and watch the sunrise over San Antonio Bay.
One time, Mick asked Pete Tong what time the Karaoke started, right in the middle of
Mary always said it’s the only time she’d ever belly-laughed whilst taking
The only person ever, Mick reckoned.
‘We weren’t married’, says Mary,
‘Mick always said we may not be together in a year's time so we didn’t bother’.