She’d completed life by her 30th birthday. As she sat here now, glancing at her reflection in the rear view mirror of her latest Chelsea tractor as she sat at yet another red light on this interminable stage of the A452, she thought back to the young woman she was on that day, 25 years ago. A quarter of a century – it seemed a faintly ridiculous period of time, like something Tony Robinson would say on one of his sleep-inducing documentaries about archaeology. 

God, she was full of life then. It radiated from her. The incandescence of that peroxide-bleached blonde hair. The sparkle behind those azure blue eyes – they were duller these days, with bags and crow’s feet thrown in for good measure. She’d been effortlessly stylish, too; the glamorous attire her own external force field, repelling any insinuations of ‘feeling the pressure’. Two beautiful children, four and two. A further thirty ‘surrogate children’, as she liked to think of her Year 1 class at Greenfields Primary. She remembered reading that they’d knocked down the beautiful old Greenfields building a couple of years ago. Luxury apartments now. Everything changes. She often wondered what had possessed her to make the move to secondary teaching; she loved the wide-eyed innocence of primary children, the sense that she was integral to their understanding of the world and their place in it.    

She’d have been married, what, 5 years by then? Yes, it had to be – it had been their 30th anniversary in April. Pearl. She remembered the eager look on John’s face as she’d opened the velvet box containing the earrings. They were beautiful, of course they were, but what did he expect? An audible gasp? Should she have swooned; ‘come over all funny’ like some virtuous Marchioness from Austen’s imagination? He’d been everything to her over the years: school sweetheart, adventurous lover, something warm and dependable to come home to after a crappy day, like a thick-knit cardigan. On that day, 25 years ago, he’d surprised her with a four-week cruise round the Caribbean. Her heart had swelled at that; the shrieks and tears frightening their youngest. By the time she opened the earrings, it was something entirely different. A brief smile, a peck on the lips.

She tried in vain to chastise herself in the mirror. You bitch. You stupid, selfish bitch. But there was nothing there – the eyes a void; soulless. And the lights had changed. She pulled off – the hotel was just up here on the right. Gareth would be waiting. 

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