Disasters in a Jar, Book 2 - Gwen's Misery Beach Cottage
Disasters in a Jar, Book 2 - Gwen's Misery Beach Cottage
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"I wake up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. For a moment, I forget where I am. Then, the memories come flooding back.My son is at university, my husband and I have split, and I've retired to my parent's beach house in Misery Beach, Australia. I had hoped to spend my days lounging in the sun and reading books, but that dream is short-lived.A series of asteroids strike the Earth, causing chaos across the globe. I'm frightened and alone, with no power or cell phone signal. The only company I have is my new cat, Canary."
Read Chapter 1 - Gwen's Misery Beach Cottage
Read Chapter 1 - Gwen's Misery Beach Cottage
“Gwen? Is there anything else?”
Gwen turned away from the kitchen window overlooking the backyard to face Al, one of the moving men who’d spent the morning emptying her home, stripping away the layers of the life she’d created here until it was nothing more than a shell. A carcass. A skeleton waiting for new owners to breathe life back into it. She mentally shook herself. Whatever happened to the young woman who thought of change as an adventure, the woman who’d pack a bag, jump into the car with friends, and see where the road took them? That woman once slept on the beach under the stars, with the crackling flames of a fire for company and the knowledge that the universe was looking out for her. This woman, though…
“Have you put Nigel on the truck?” She forced a smile. Nigel was the mannequin she’d had for years, named Nigel (even though it was so obviously female) by Zac, her son, who was kindergarten-age and obsessed with the name at the time.
“Nigel’s on the truck.” Al smiled at her. He must see this all the time, she thought, people reluctant to close the door behind them because that’s when it became real. “We’ll be on our way then.”
She turned back to the window, followed the sound of his footsteps out of the kitchen, along the hallway, and out the front door. She heard the rear doors of the truck closing, locking inside everything that she owned, picturing the books and the squashy sofas and the rugs straining for a glimpse of her, worried that she wouldn’t follow them.
She didn’t see the immaculate flowerbeds when she looked outside. She didn’t see the brick-built barbecue that Steven was so proud of, or the empty tree at the rear of the garden that once held the treehouse he’d built for Zac, or the vegetable patch overgrown with weeds. Instead, Gwen saw Zac hopping from one steppingstone to another, arms held out at right angles for balance, his bare knees bruised from falling off a bike or tripping over a ball. She remembered the mini goalposts Steven set up for him when he was a kid. They’d spend hours outside kicking a ball about—Zac had boundless energy as a child, so much so that when he went to bed in the evenings, Gwen and Steven would sit outside with a glass of wine and barely string a few sentences together.
She smiled to herself. She hoped that university wouldn’t drain the vitality out of her son. Whenever she spoke to him, he was still her little boy, still trying to cram all the stories he needed to tell her into a telephone conversation, distracted by the comings and goings of his mates. She’d seen them in the background when they were on a video chat. They all came over and said hi, waving at Gwen from over Zac’s shoulder; he’d never had trouble making friends which was something she’d always fretted about as he was an only child.
Why did she have to think about that now of all times? Gwen would’ve loved more children. Her friend Maureen still insisted that Gwen should’ve had at least five kids because she had the kind of face that reminded her of all the cuddly grandmas they ever read about in books when they were growing up. “An old face?” Gwen asked her once, teasing her even though she secretly pictured herself surrounded by lots of grandchildren. “No, a kind face,” Maureen had said.
Kind, Gwen thought, tearing her eyes away from the backyard and facing the empty kitchen. Look where that had gotten her.
Even the kitchen felt like a shadow of the room she’d spent so much time in over the years. She pictured Zac eating his breakfast at the pine table, freckles across his cheeks, his arms tanned, his hair turned gold from so much time spent outside playing sports. Even when he was eating, his body was itching to be up and away and doing something else.
She wandered through to the living room, dust motes spiraling in front of her eyes, playing in the sunlight streaming through the bare windows. Gwen recalled the day she and Steven had moved into the house. They’d had so many plans, so many dreams, children, Christmases, vacations, parties. She always put the Christmas tree in the corner by the window so that anyone walking past would catch a glimpse of twinkling fairy lights. Zac would kneel in front of the tree on Christmas morning and hand out their presents, his grandparents yawning on the sofa because they’d been woken early by his whoops of excitement.
Now, Gwen couldn’t picture Christmas by the beach. “It’s an adventure,” she told herself out loud. “New beginnings. Fresh start. Time to find the real Gwen.” All the cliches her friends had been spoon feeding her with since she and Steven split up.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t have plenty of warning. Her marriage to Steven had ended years ago, but they’d stayed together for Zac’s sake. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. She knew other people’s opinions didn’t match her own. Her friends told her that life was too short, that children were more resilient than grownups gave them credit for, that Zac would’ve adapted to his parents getting divorced so long as they were both happy, but in her head, she believed that she was doing the right thing for her son. She didn’t want him to split his time between his mom’s house and his dad’s. She wanted him to have the stable childhood that she’d had, that Steven had too. They were his formative years—she wanted to raise a well-balanced son even if it meant that she was living with a man she no longer loved.
That wasn’t true though, was it? The voice inside her head was real. Admonishing. Judgmental even.
She still loved Steven.
There. She’d admitted it. Allowed the thought to materialize in her head, become something fully formed, something she would have to sit and analyze in her new home overlooking the ocean at Misery Beach.
Steven had always been the one for her right from the moment they first met in a bar near the college they both attended. Gwen inhaled deeply. Another thing she’d have to lock away in a compartment inside her brain each time she peered out of the window of the cottage at Misery Beach. How did people switch off their emotions? Steven fell out of love with Gwen when Zac was in middle school. He insisted that there was no one else, that his feelings simply weren’t there anymore, that he didn’t envisage spending the rest of his life with Gwen.
Tears squeezed from her eyes, and she sniffed loudly.
Was it unfair that she did envisage spending the rest of her life with Steven? Not that she’d imagined their retirement years in any detail, but it was always there, waiting for them at the end of the path. Until Steven snatched that away from her.
How did people even fall out of love? Did they wake up one morning, look at the face on the pillow next to them and think, this isn’t the person I fell in love with? That person had no grey hair. That person didn’t snore in her sleep or worry about mopping the kitchen floor or roll her eyes when her husband wanted to meet his mates at the pub. Or was it an erosion of feelings over time? A silent chipping away at the edges of the heart with every argument, with every disagreement over what to watch on TV, or what to have for dinner, or Steven coming home in the middle of the night, tiptoeing into the bedroom in the dark, when the pubs closed hours earlier.
Steven’s new wife was younger than Gwen. Quite a bit younger.
Gwen didn’t want to seem bitter about it, in fact she made a conscious effort not to look at her in that way, comparing their figures, their hair color, the fewer lines around his new wife’s mouth and the still-smooth skin on the back of her hands. Maureen said she was a younger version of Gwen, but she couldn’t allow herself to think about that because it raised all kinds of questions she couldn’t answer. Like, had Steven really fallen out of love with her or had he just wanted Gwen to stay looking young? Or, and she didn’t know if this was even more difficult to comprehend, was Steven the kind of shallow man who wanted to be seen with a young, pretty wife, even when he was middle-aged with silver hairs appearing in his stubble and a paunch accumulated from a few too many beverages over the years?
Not today, she told herself. She had enough emotions to cope with today.
Gwen climbed the stairs, instinctively avoiding the creaky step third one down from the top. She would get used to the cottage’s quirks and foibles in time. A few years down the line, and this moment, this heavy departure would be a hazy memory, something she’d look back on with a wistful smile and a shake of her head as she gazed out upon the ocean with a coffee in her hand. It would be behind her like plenty of other life events that she’d already handled.
Even so, her legs trembled as she wandered from room to room double-checking for the final time that she’d left nothing behind. A quick peep inside the bedroom she’d shared with Steven, knowing that it was already empty, Gwen shut the door behind her, swallowing her tears. She crossed the landing and entered Zac’s room, the door shushing across the carpet. The room looked larger, different, without the posters on the wall of Prince and Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley—such old tastes in music and movies for such a young, active boy. Gwen’s mom said that he’d been here before, that there was nothing they could teach him that he didn’t already know.
She stood in the middle of the room and turned three-sixty, picturing it as it was when his bed was still pushed up against the wall, when his desk was in the corner with his laptop and video game console on top, schoolbag slung underneath with a pile of odd socks that should’ve been in the laundry. She went to the window and peered outside.
The SOLD sign was leaning awkwardly on the lawn. When would the new owners take it down? This evening? Tomorrow? Would the neighbors come across over the weekend with casseroles or pie, introduce themselves, welcome the new owners to the neighborhood? How long before Gwen was forgotten? She imagined Jean across the road bumping into Ellen from number thirty-two in the grocery store in years to come, and saying, “Do you remember that woman who lived at number twenty? What was her name? Went to live in Misery Beach.”
Gwen straightened, turned away from the familiar view, and crossed Zac’s room, leaving the door open behind her as she headed back downstairs. Perhaps, if she left it open, it would mean that she’d be back someday, the same way not sliding a chair under someone’s table meant that you’d be back to visit them again.
Downstairs, Gwen picked up the keys to drop off at the realtor’s office, and stepped outside onto the porch, the door clicking shut behind her. She walked along the path to the sidewalk where she’d left her car parked. Sliding into the driver’s seat, she reached across and buckled the passenger seatbelt around Zac’s favorite teddy.
“It’s the start of a new adventure,” she said. “Here we go.”
Disasters in a Jar Series: Individual Stories of Hope when Mother Nature, Murphy, or Mankind has other ideas.
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