That I have chosen comfort for the evening is evident from my choice of clothing. I am sprawled on the sofa like an elegant- albeit tipsy- cat, wearing lavender pyjama bottoms, a white top, and a lavender dressing gown. A glass of red wine rests in between my index and middle fingers delicately cradling the stem. No matter how tipsy I get, I would never harm a glass of wine, especially not a full glass. In fact, how carefully I hold on to the glass is directly proportional to how tipsy I am. And let’s face it, it doesn’t take too long for me to turn from tipsy to drunk.
I pour the last bit of wine down my mouth, a few drops carelessly spilling out through the crevices. I underestimated how big of a gulp I can take. The red drop rolls down my chin and I rub it off with the back of my hand. I look not only comfortable but also ever so slightly pathetic. I inwardly laud myself for being an open book. Comfortable but pathetic has been my state of mind for years now.
I stand up and walk towards the bar. Another drink is needed but when I lift up the bottle, it is empty. I open the cabinet that contains the most number of bottles of wine that £100 can get you. Turns out, if you don’t really care about quality, you can get as many as twelve if M&S Food is running a sale. Presently, however, the cabinet houses none of the twelve that I purchased last week.
“Harshanthi!” I cry, rather loudly, so that my voice can reach the corners of her room where I am sure she is currently huddled together with her phone, watching a drama from the country of her birth, Sri Lanka. I don’t care what she watches or when she watches it or how often she watches it as long as I can find what I need around the house. That was the whole point of employing her.
I can hear hurried footsteps rushing towards the living room.
“Where is all the wine, Hash?” I ask her, trying to conceal how drunk I am. It is a failed attempt, though, I realise within a second, because when you get twelve bottles of wine for £100, the quality of the wine is such that it is sure to stain your lips red too. Then the cat is quite out of the bag. “I bought many bottles last week”, I add.
“They are in the kitchen cabinet”, she says, almost taking a step back, as if afraid of how I might react.
“There was no room in that cabinet”, she raises a limp hand to point towards the cabinet behind me.
“Ah, I see”, I nod and look away.
“I can bring them here if it is empty now”, she says slowly.
I smile at her. “Would you?”
She walks away and I crawl back towards my sofa which has now started absorbing in its fibres a permanent print of my arse. I wonder if a reward is in order for Hash, for being so organised so that I don’t have to be. I do pay her monthly salary, but a little something to show her that her work is appreciated might be nice too. Extra money to send back to Sri Lanka, to her mother perhaps?
Hash walks back in carrying three bottles of wine, one in each hand, and another one tucked firmly in the pit of her arm. I resolve to let that bottle air out a bit more to rid it of any bacteria that live in her pits. Hopefully, I won’t be needing any more than one out of those three bottles.
“Give me”, I say, my hand reaching out to her as if the wine contains the elixir of life. She places the other two in the cabinet before turning to leave — at which point, I stop her.
“Hash, have you eaten dinner?” I ask her slowly. I find it awkward making conversation with her, even though she has been my housekeeper now for four years.
“Yes, madam”, she does a head bobble.
“Won’t you sit?” I tilt my head towards the empty couch next to my sofa.
She seems a bit frightened. “Don’t worry”, I try to assure her. “You are not in trouble”. I can’t think of any time I have been cross with her. If I have, I have kept it to myself because confrontation is not my favourite thing in the world, and especially not in the context of “who moved my wine?”
She does another head bobble and slowly moves toward the couch. I notice that she is only wearing a thin t-shirt and leggings that I recall once being part of my gym gear but that are now keeping her warm.
“Are you comfortable, Hash?” I ask her. “Not cold, are you?”
She shakes her head. Then, “only a little”.
“Have you ever had any alcohol?” I ask her.
She chuckles. “No. My husband would never let me.”
“Do you want to? It might warm you up.”
She continues to smile as if to say yes but she is scared to admit it.
“I mean, your husband isn’t here”, I continue, “so he won’t know if you did try it.”
She continues to smile and then nods with a small squeal. I chuckle.
I look at my cabinet to see if I can find something that wouldn’t make her hate her drink and settle for a Bacardi Breezer, watermelon flavour, or as I knew it at age eleven, my first alcoholic beverage.
“Don’t drink it too quickly” — I say as I hand it to her, “even if it does taste delicious. Do you want a snack?”
She shakes her head, holding her glass carefully with both hands, strangely resembling a child. That’s when I remember that she is nineteen.
“Well? What do you think?” I push her for feedback as if I concocted her drink myself.
She giggles. “It’s very tasty.”
I offer her some bread and cheese and watch her as she slowly sips her Breezer. It drives me a bit insane to watch her drink it that slowly but I also don’t want to have to take care of her as she stumbles to her bed. Stumbling to bed is usually what I have planned for most evenings for myself, not for anyone else.
‘How is your husband?’ I ask her.
She nods. ‘He’s fine, thank you for asking.’
‘What does he do?’
‘Oh, right, I remember you saying. It must be hard, staying away from him during the week, I assume?’
‘It’s not too bad. I have my one day off but his work isn’t as easy to get out of for the weekend, but we get to meet every once in a while.’
‘Are you happy, Hash? Here, I mean.’
She smiles. ‘I’m having a drink with you, Madam. I’m wearing your leggings. All I do all day is clean after one person. I am quite comfortable here. And happy.’
I nod slowly. She opens her mouth as if to say something and closes it again.
‘What do you want to say?’ I ask with a small grin.
It is quiet for a few seconds. Then, ‘I want you to look at me carefully and then tell me what you think.’
She looks at me for a second and I wonder what she sees. Heavy eyes, bags underneath them that would be even clearer if not for the cakey foundation underneath them from the makeup from earlier today, hair disheveled from being on my back all evening, laying on the sofa and watching all manner of television, mascara slightly smeared from rubbing my eyes when I forgot I had makeup on, and lipstick that now coats only the outline of my lips where the wine doesn’t reach.
‘It’s not my place’, she finally says.
‘You look a bit embarrassed.’
‘I am not happy’, I say matter-of-factly. ‘And that is why I drink.’
She doesn’t say or do anything and continues to sip her drink slowly.
‘You can take the drink inside. Lay back, relax and watch something nice. Get a snack if you want as well. Enjoy your first drink. You shouldn’t be with your employer when you have your first drink’, I add when she looks at me with a combination of embarrassment and confusion.
When she walks back inside, I refill my glass and settle down comfortably on the sofa, fiddling with the remote control, trying to find something to watch. I hit play but find my attention wandering everywhere. I pick up my phone and open Instagram, that cesspool of social media where we invariably land.
I start typing ‘M-O-’ but before I can finish typing the full name, the suggestions pop up. I click the first one, not surprised that the algorithm was able to get that on the first attempt.
The account that loads is a private one but the bio has three handles listed with their descriptions.
My Artistic Creations @flowersbymona
Dog Mum to @Jasperthedog
And wife to @NeilS88
I click the first one and a feed filled with colours pops up. The colour feels a bit disorientating, even though it is meant to be from the flowers. I am probably not the best judge of the feed due to unconscious bias about anything related to Mona. So even if the flowers did look gorgeous, I wouldn’t have anything nice to say about them.
I scroll down and a photo catches my eye, the one I had been looking for. It is a photo of a man and a woman. The woman is Mona. Her mouth is open in what looks like a gasp. The man is on one knee, a ring outstretched towards Mona. Mona’s dress has flowers, but aside from that there is no connection in the photo to flowers, which I would have thought would be the point of the Flowers by Mona page.
I stare at the photo for a few seconds, my eyes moving from the man to Mona, from Mona to the man a few times. I then look at the ring, zooming in to see what sort of design the supposed groom had gone for. The photo becomes grainy as I zoom in so I cannot make anything out.
I go back to the page with the three handles and click the dog’s handle. No amount of unconscious bias related to Mona can make me not like this page. The dog is undeniably cute — but so are all of them. Jasper is not exceptional. Jasper is not extraordinary. Jasper is just like Mona. A dog in a world of other dogs. Like Mona is an ordinary woman in a world filled with other ordinary women.
I go back one more time and click the husband’s page. NeilS88. It is a private page too but I continue to look at the photo in the little circular thumbnail. It is the same photo he had about four years ago. I take a screenshot and then zoom into the photo. I can see why I had fallen for this face all those years ago. There is a handsomeness there, and a style. Definitely a good-looking man. I go back to the page with the three handles, to Mona’s personal page. Wife to @NeilS88 stares at me. I go back to the flowers page and scroll down until I reach the proposal photo again. I read the caption.
‘Full circle! 24th July four years ago we had our first date. Fast forward to today, 24th July- we are engaged!’
The rest of the post is littered with multiple hashtags. Any and every hashtag related to getting married, being married, being happily married, or being together forever has been employed, presumably to get more likes and followers.
I close the app and walk into my bedroom, fishing out a journal from the bookshelf, with my name engraved on the cover, a present from a friend. I flip through the pages to 24th July 2017. The ink on the page has been smeared due to drops of tears, quite dramatic. The entry lasts for two pages. I am not going to read the whole thing, there are far too many emotions in it. Instead, I read the first paragraph.
‘Neil broke up with me. Apparently, he just isn’t the marrying kind. I asked him if breaking up with me had anything to do with Mona at all, seeing as he had been on the phone with her at least twice throughout the day. He said that it wasn’t Mona at all. It was his Mum. That I am crazy and paranoid and that he needed to go out for a drink on his own to clear his head. I felt awful. How could I have doubted him?’
I chuckle as I shut the notebook. ‘Full circle indeed’.