Chapter 1: Purgatory commences
It was six-thirty when I got back home. A cup of tea was my first priority then on with the paperwork. Another long day, and I wasn't finished yet. With the steaming mug of tea beside me I looked at the orders I had taken, about an hour I reckoned to get them all written and then the daily report, after that I could think about something to eat. I had picked up the post when I came in without looking at it, so it was getting on for eight-thirty after I had bolted down a micro-waved Curry, that I checked what post was there. You know you can tell what they are without even opening them. If they are addressed to 'the occupier' throw them in the bin, if the envelope says that you have six chances to win a quarter of a million pounds, throw them in the bin. Double glazing ... bin, money lenders ... bin, life insurance ... bin. Then came one with my name and address neatly printed and showing through the window. I turned it over and sure enough there was the name of the Solicitor. The hurried curry was now attempting to hurry back up. I knew this would not be good news. With a very uncomfortable stomach and a heavy sigh I opened it. It was there in neatly typed legal jargon, and a certificate attached to the back. I was divorced, dumped! And I still didn't know why. Irreconcilable differences. What did that mean? How could they be irreconcilable if I didn't know what the differences were in order to reconcile them? If she had talked to me then whatever it was, at least I would have a chance to change. But no. She had just walked out of my life without a word.
Jas and I had been married for three years. Jas (that was Jasmine, her mother had been a bit of a wild child in the sixties, and got into Eastern culture, you know, burning Joss sticks and hanging wind chimes in the house) was everything I could ask for in a wife. She wasn't classically beautiful, but had an open happy face, a pretty girl next door look. She was slim, ash-blonde, with a figure that looked good in Jeans, or a classy dress or anything in between, but especially when she had nothing on. Jas was a twenty-four year old walking dream. The most outstanding thing about her was her smile. It was a rival for Julia Robert's smile and could light up a room. When I saw her smile for the first time it was a done deal for me. Now I know all this was superficial, but the truth was that although her looks got to me, it was her personality that kept me. She was intelligent, I had to admit more than me, and had all that female savvy. She could argue her case, and make me think black was white, then when I was wilting under the weight of her case, she would smile that smile and tell me she was winding me up. She loved to do that, and I fell into her trap every time. Jas knew that but she was never cruel. Life together was simply great. We both worked and shared the cooking, household stuff and tending our little garden. There was always laughter. Our nights together were paradise, Jas was always eager to make love and was very uninhibited when we did, being very inventive at times. Having her in my bed was paradise. My work colleagues got pissed off with me as I wore a twenty-four hour smile. We had been married for three years when we starting to talk about having a baby. Jas was so excited and looked forward to being pregnant, which makes what happened so extraordinary.
I had been up to Stoke on Trent with my job. I had entertained a customer to Lunch and as misfortune would have it my car broke down late that afternoon. The Ford dealer could not get me on the road again until the next morning. I phoned Jas and told her what had happened, and that I would get myself a hotel room for the night. She seemed fine about it. My boss understood when I phoned him and agreed that the hotel account would be paid with my expenses.
I did get my car back about eleven in the morning and got on the road again, made some calls and eventually got home about five in the afternoon. The house was empty. This was not something to worry about, Jas often would not shop until late, usually after she had left work. By six-thirty I was getting worried. If she was doing something after work she would have called me, so I would not expect her home at the usual time, I checked my mobile just in case I had missed her call. No, no missed calls, no messages, no text. I called her mobile. "This number is no longer in service." said the automatic message. What? It had been yesterday when I called Jas. I called her parents. No they hadn't seen her or heard from her. I did the usual things, called Hospitals, best friends. Nobody would be at her work place so no point in calling there. No-one had seen her, nor spoken to her, although in the case of best friends they would of course have lied for her. I am sure mine would do the same for me. Hell, I would have lied for her if she asked me! I don't know what made me do it, but I went upstairs to our bedroom. It was as neat and tidy as Jas always kept it. I decided to hang up my Jacket which I had simply slung on the bed when I got home. I opened the wardrobe door and took a step back shocked to the core as rows of empty hangers mocked me, hanging beside the few that supported my clothes. The drawers told the same story, everything of hers had gone. I didn't need to check the bathroom, I knew it would be the same. I sat on the bed, numbly, and from the corner of my eye caught a glint of something. I turned my head to look at the dressing table. Two rings, a plain gold band and the silver one with the solitaire diamond were laying on the glass top. Jas's rings, the rings I had given her. Could there be any other explanation but one. Jas considered our marriage was over and had left me!
It was no solace that other men had gone through this, I just didn't care. What had happened to me was the most shattering experience. I cried, damn great sobs as tears poured down my face. I couldn't give a toss about third world starvation, nor about the fighting in Afghanistan at that moment, they were nothing compared with the pain I was suffering. I don't know how long I sat there on that bed. My tears stopped eventually, but I did nothing. Eventually, gradually, l subsided sideways, curling up into a foetal position with my head on Jas's pillow and slept, badly.
I kept waking through the night, every creak of the house would be interpreted by my mind as Jas trying her key in the lock. I would rush downstairs to welcome her back, only to be disappointed. I would climb the stairs slowly like an old man, with tears yet again staining my cheeks, and would slump back on the bed. Morning light slowly defined the window and wakened me, but could not inspire me to move. I hadn't reacted to the creaks for some time, I couldn't, the disappointment was too much. Inside I was empty, there were no priorities in my life anymore, no goals to achieve, no activities to pursue, no work to earn the money. Everything I had done was for Jas, and if there was no Jas, then there was little point. I slept again.
The ringing of the phone woke me in the morning. I stumbled my way slowly downstairs and answered the persistent ringing. It was my Sales Manager.
"Tim! What's the problem? You missed an appointment yesterday, and there has been no message from you. Not like you at all. What's going on? Are you ill?" It took me some time to get my head straight. An appointment? Yesterday? Gradually my mind cleared. I must have slept through twenty four hours!
"Tim! Are you there?" I could hear Mike getting angry.
"I am here, Mike. Sorry, I have only just woken up."
"Are you ill, Tim?"
"No, I ... I don't know how I feel. Just broken I suppose."
"Tim! What the hell's wrong with you."
"Everything, Mike. Jas has left me."
"What? Did you say Jas has left you?"
"Bloody impossible. You are the most loving couple I know. The way you two carry on is almost sickening at times. I don't believe you. Look, Tim, I am coming over to see you. I need to get to the bottom of this, and Tim. You had better have a damned good reason. Andrew is not best pleased I can tell you. I'll see you in about an hour."
I was still wearing the same clothes I had come home in yesterday, no! Two days ago. I got out of them and took a shower, shaved, then dressed in clean clothes. I needed a boost so unusually for me I made some strong coffee, and toasted some bread. Shit! That caffeine hit was important. I sat at the kitchen table thinking over everything of the past week, what had I done wrong, then I recalled the last month, nothing there to cause Jas to go. I had gone back six months still trying to remember anything that could have been the catalyst. There was nothing, nothing that I had done or failed to do, nothing said or unsaid that would anger Jas. Amid all this forensic examination of the past another thought, a really heartbreaking possibility, was gradually rising, like a monster from the depths. Jas had found someone else! Even the merest idea that Jas had come to love someone else, that she could have given herself to him, crushed me, shattered me and threatened to bring back the tears. The doorbell rang and I put those thoughts on hold. It was Mike.
I let him in and without saying anything walked back to the kitchen and poured more coffee. Again without words I handed him a mug and sat down. He sat down opposite me.
"OK, Tim. Why do you think that Jas has left you?"
"I think that the fact that all her clothes have gone, all her make-up gone, and that her wedding ring and engagement ring were sitting on the dressing table were clues enough." I replied bitterly.
"Oh, shit!" Mike was quiet for a moment. I could imagine that it was difficult to find a reply to that circumstance.
"Tim. Now I don't want you to jump down my throat, but have you been naughty?" I looked at him as if he had gone mad. He held his hands up to forestall the angry response.
"Right. Silly question to ask. But it's what Andrew will ask, so I have a definate reply for him." He sipped his coffee and thought for a moment.
"Have you spoken to her parents?" I nodded.
"Yes. They have no idea where she is, but possibly they wouldn't tell me even if they did, if my suspicion is right." Mike looked puzzled.
"I have gone over everything in my mind. I cannot think of a single reason that anything I have done would cause her to leave. I am left with the idea that she must have met someone else, and has gone to be with him." Mike looked stunned.
"No way! Absolutely no way! For heavens sake, two weeks ago you and Jas, Alice and I went out for dinner. When we were driving home Alice said to me that she had never seen a woman so much in love with her husband. Now Alice is good at picking up signs from people's demeanour and if there had been the slightest hint of trouble she would know." I listened but the words sounded false, all I could think of was that Jas had become a good actress.
"Mike, I cannot think of any other reason. It has to be that. It's the only one left."
Mike suggested that I have a few days off, but I refused. Working would be better than sitting around the house constantly being reminded of her.
"I'll tell Andrew about this. Expect a call to go and see him, you know what he's like. But don't worry, Tim. I am sure that everything will sort itself out, and that Jas will be back soon." I wished I could be as confident. After he left I tried to get back into work mode, making phone calls, first an apology to the customer who's appointment I had missed, then to others, planning my journeys for the next week. Another avenue to search suddenly came to my mind, and I phoned Jas's work. She worked as a receptionist at a Doctors surgery. I asked for Jas Shelton.
"Just one moment, who's calling?" I nearly said my name, then at the last minute decided that as Tim Shelton, I may not get a truthful reply. I quickly made up a name.
"Oh, it's John, John Watkins." The phone went quiet and then she was back.
"I'm sorry, but Jas isn't in today."
"Right. Do you think I could speak to Joan?" Jas had mentioned Joan on more than one occasion as the office ogre.
"Oh Hello Joan, this is Tim Shelton, Jas's husband."
"Tim! It's so nice to speak to you at last. I was going to phone you. Jas didn't come to work yesterday, nor today, and we can't get her on her mobile. Is she ill or something?" Joan had answered the question I was going to ask.
"Not to my knowledge. I got back from a trip two days ago, and Jas had gone."
"Yes, she packed up all her stuff and left. No note or anything to explain. I wondered if you knew anything about it, but obviously you don't."
"It looks like it."
"Unlikely Tim. All Jas talks about is you, and the wonderful life you two are having. Some of the girls here get really fed up with her."
"Well Joan the impossible seems to have happened. She left her engagement and wedding rings here. That seems pretty conclusive to me. And before you ask. No. I haven't done anything to cause her to leave."
"Oh Tim. I am so sorry. As you can gather we were wondering where she was. Now I get the feeling that we won't see her again. Have you called the Police?" Now that was something I hadn't thought of.
"I'll do that Joan. If I have any news do you want to know?"
"Yes definitely. Keep us up to date please."
I did go to the Police. What a waste of time. The bored Sergeant took the details, but when I told him that Jas had taken all her clothes and toiletries he shrugged his shoulders.
"It would appear Mr. Shelton, that your wife has simply left you. It could be another man, happens all the time. But with no suggestion of foul play, there is no point in us looking for her."
I thought I had managed, just for a moment to put my anguish to the back of my mind. The Sergeant reminded me and a picture of Jas, laying naked under another man and allowing him to enter her body flashed into my mind. My heart felt as if it had been slashed repeatedly with razor blades, and tears welled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks like rivers. The Policeman watched me disinterestedly as I left the station.