Taking a tentative step outdoors, Frannie feels as though she’s finally facing up to her loss. Her stupidity. She breathes deeply before leaving the relative safety of her garden.
It’s been months, close to a year, since Frannie last left her home. She walks down her narrow suburban street to the intersection where she used to catch the tram into the CBD. She can hear the bustle of people, and immediately she shrinks into herself. She stops on the spot, turns to look back at her house.
‘Fran? Is that you?’
Frannie freezes. She knows that voice, remembers its shrillness. A hand lightly touches her shoulder. She flinches, ever so slightly.
‘It is you!’
Frannie faces the voice. It belongs to Mrs Markham of course, the nosy neighbour who is partially responsible for sending Frannie into hibernation. Her mind flies back to the day Dan left. Mrs Markham had bailed him up during the street party. Frannie tried to intervene, but she was caught talking to Bill from Number 22, who poured her a generous plastic glass of bubbles to keep her captive while he recounted his latest colonoscopy.
Frannie could tell by Dan’s red face that Mrs Markham had spilled the beans. Dan gave their neighbour a tight, little smile, before he stormed towards Frannie. Bill was saying something about polyps as she walked to meet him.
‘How could you?’ Dan asked. They were standing in the middle of the street. A hush settled over the street party as the community listened and watched, while pretending to enjoy the party.
‘You had him over? You fucked him in our home?
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Oh spare me,’ Dan had said. His tone bit through her. ‘Mrs Markham just told me. She saw you on the verandah. Half-dressed, messy hair. Kissing a man goodbye.’
Frannie sighed. ‘Dan, it didn’t mean anything.’
‘Fuck you.’ Dan turned sharply on his heel and began walking to their home. Frannie trailed after him, like a puppy seeking attention. She could feel everyone’s eyes on them as they retreated into their yard. ‘I know it was him.’
Frannie’s world spun too fast. She watched as Dan packed a few belongings, curtly told her he’d be back for the rest of his stuff on the weekend. And could she be elsewhere.
‘I hope you’ll be happy with Max,’ he said, right before he slammed the door behind him.
Frannie had had a sense the day Max came over that Mrs Markham was watching from her window. She realised then, in the wake of Dan’s hurried exit, that the old bat must’ve been on a stakeout, certainly was there long enough to give a detailed description; if Max had been a suspect in a crime, the police would’ve picked him up in ten minutes. Bloody bold-as-brass, smug, interfering neighbour.
And here she stands again. ‘Hello Mrs Markham. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, dear. How are you and Dan these days?’
‘Dan left me, Mrs Markham. You know that.’ Fran studies her, takes in every wrinkle on her face, every sun-spot, freckle and broken capillary. She’s an old woman, who’s aged more than ten years since her husband passed away eighteen months ago. Frannie is ready to rip through her, but something stops her. Compassion maybe. Fear. An overwhelming desire to run back home and wait another six months before facing the world. Or maybe what stops her is an ownership of her own error.
‘I’m so sorry, dear,’ Mrs Markham says.
Frannie smiles. ‘Me too.’
‘Haven’t seen you for a while.’
‘No. But listen, I have to rush off.’ Frannie moves away, and it hits her. Meeting Mrs Markham this morning was exactly what she needed to propel her on her way.