Last Seen at Costa
She’d made it to town. Stepping out of the hotel was a triumph for her. Her anxiety was willing her to stay within the hotel’s comforting confinement. After all, it had a beautiful coastal view which she could gaze upon from behind the glass pane and from there she could write; no need to venture out her anxiety reminded her. However, that morning she woke ready to embrace the unfamiliar. She woke on her side with his side of the bed still made; cushions and pillows in place. He would join her on Saturday, but for now she would breathe in this mental health break so needed; so wanted. This would take her away from the weight of her own deadlines. “Do what you want not what you feel you must.” Her husband had offered. “Don’t place restrictions upon your time. Do it because you want to. If you take the work with you then you may as well just stay here. It’s about your oxygen mask. Put it on.” That’s what he told her and all at once she removed that expectation that had weighed heavily upon her to complete yet another task. Unrealistic expectations, Superwoman tendencies acknowledged and prevalent. It had been two years now. She had tried not to and even thought she wasn’t proceeding with old habits, but she was. She had drawn on every ounce of strength she had and defaulted into Superwoman. The trouble is, it no longer served her well. It had never served her well.
The break was his suggestion. Her husband was loving like that, recognised that same need in himself she suspected; she knew. Her tears, her constant questioning of her ability and her decisions, whirled around her head daily and her best laid plans didn’t go to plan. Her plan was to prove something. What?
Both of them hoped they might move here one day. Here is the Devon coast. They’d leave Suburbia behind when the children are all grown. But that was a future plan for when tomorrow comes. So here she sat in Costa. She had made it to town on her own. The asthma, or was it a panic attack, that was compromising her breathing, which had grabbed her by the throat as she was leaving the gate of the hotel in the blustery wind, had now subsided. And look she hadn’t died; hadn’t found herself needing rescuing. She was a grownup she could do this. When had she decided she couldn’t? She had walked along the jetty and when she reached the end the sea splashed up against the secure wall which she stood upon, next to the light house whose light no longer shone, and the wind teased and tousled her hair as she brushed it from her eyes over and again and the wind relentlessly pursued it's game. She wished she brought a hairband.
Looking back towards the town she feasted her eyes upon the facades of each house, pale pink, yellow and blue. And in the bay she watched the bobbing boats of all different sizes. A little in the distance a pirate ship sat cosseted by stone walls that protected it from winds and the weather that whistled in from the sea.
He will love it here. We can be here, she thought. As she walked the wind fought to be heard over her audible book playing through her husbands headphones; a Christmas present from her. He loved them. She’d be sure not to damage them.
She had taken photographs, sent them to him. He had joked with her about her poor sense of direction and marvelled that she’d made it; tongue-in-cheek joviality in his text and WhatsApp messages. They agreed the jury was still out about whether she could make it back to the hotel again without getting lost. It was a straight line, even she could cope with that, she was certain of it. She tried to capture the scenery, in all it’s beauty, on her camera phone. The weather would turn by the time he arrived it was forecast. But really the images did not do the scenery justice; one she was a hopeless photographer and two the camera didn’t capture that which her her senses were stimulated by. So much to take in, so much to binge upon. No, the camera couldn’t record what her eyes saw and her body and soul felt and her ears heard and what she smelt. He would have to experience it for himself, commit this beauty to memory as she had done when he stood in this spot. He would do that on Saturday, he’d be there by lunchtime. Walking up and down the coastal town, she could have picked any cafeteria, pub or restaurant, but she found herself in the familiar embrace of a Costa and there she sat her eyes darting up and down a bookshelf; £1 for adult books and 50p for children’t books. ‘All proceeds will go to charity’ the hand written note stated. So, there she sat writing short stories and in her possession two books by Maeve Binchy. Not an author she knew, but when had that ever stopped her. Best not sniff them here, she thought recalling a conversation with her husband, brother and sister-in-law on the pleasures of, firstly owning a new book and secondly flicking the pages and inhaling the scent of each sheet. There’s nothing like it, her sister-in-law and she had agreed, much to the hilarity of the men. Her husbands imagination never failing him, he painted a picture of what that sniffing addiction may look like. Yes, the fondness for new books and the smell of these had somehow translated in to addiction and made them laugh. Her husband could see, in all clarity, his wife and sister-in-law handing over £20 for a new volume, scrunching up pages and inhaling to get their fix while shouting, “more” to their seller as they sniffed page after page to reach a state of heightened pleasure. Perhaps you had to be there, but she smiled at the joy upon her husbands face as he spouted his vision unable to contain his Mutley-the-dog chuckles—the dog from Wacky Races in case any of you are too young to know—as he brought to life the imagery that played out in his minds eye with much hilarity. It really was funny, she thought. The memory of that conversation still tickled her. She couldn’t help but smile and stopped herself from giggling aloud. The books, the ones she had purchased for £1 each, were new, she knew she was lucky to have found such a bargain as she popped the coins in to the box for charity. Opposite her and next to the shelf sat a couple with a Labrador or was it a Retriever, it was the long haired one and it was a guide-dog in training. “10 months old”, she heard the woman say to a customer who enquired of it’s age. In the background the noise of customers boomed over the voices of the baristas. Friendly tones, accents intwined from different parts of the country; an eclectic mix of heritage. A strong welsh accent filled the coffee shop and bounced off its walls. She always felt that accent was a song in itself. She had made it to Costa. She was breathing, not hyperventilating, and she was writing right there on a chair, in front of a table, in a town she didn’t know, and she was ok. She was a grownup; perfectly grown up and able and the world was still spinning and her head wasn’t. She had been absorbed and time was getting away with her. Almost lunch time, she noted, but she wasn’t hungry. The big breakfast at the hotel had filled her up more than she needed. “Should I go soon?”, she wondered.
‘Still time to get lost.’ Her husband chuckled by text as she sent him a photo of her medium, spiced cappuccino with a caption that read ‘Last seen at Costa xxx’ and a smiley face, the one that displays the teeth, was planted next to the kisses. She couldn’t wait to see him. She had butterflies thinking about him. They’d only been apart for 24 hours. Is it possible to be happy alone and miss him all at once? she thought Life was tough, is tough, at the moment, she thought. Stuff piling up on top of one another. All at once that stuff had come until it had backed up like a traffic jam, until I had nowhere left to turn, she thought. So here she was in a town, in Devon, unjamming herself. It had started not so well. A delay, her coach diverted. Anxiety upon anxiety triggered. But she had arrived ok. Flustered, but ok. A nice taxi driver had brought her to the hotel as she babbled while her nerves settled. Once everything had been deposited in her room she went to the Brasserie. The whole room appeared to stare at her as she walked in. She checked herself, conscious of them; self conscious. Nevertheless she made it to the bar. Nobody there! She waited, he apologised that he had kept her waiting. She had seen him, the bartender, carry a case to the lift he obviously wore different hats. She ordered a large Chenin Blanc and after a quick scan of the menu ordered a Hoisin duck wrap with a side of paprika chips. She didn’t eat it all. She finished her drink and went to bed put on the TV and text her husband. Soon after she fell asleep exhausted.
Today she was unable to recall what she had attempted to watch on TV just the night before in that small pocket before she got tired and then bored or was it bored and then tired? Her thoughts drifted. This year was full of promise and here I am in February exhausted. “Why is it all so hard?”, she wondered. With the coffee shop filling up she packed up her purchases put on her brown coat, which reminded her husband of Bungle from Rainbow, and left her table suitable for four to the milling customers wanting lunch. She sent her husband a text. “Off to the hotel. Will text when I arrive. Love you can’t wait for you to get here xxx” and she added a kissing emoji and a red heart. The CCTV at Costa captured her turning right as she exited.
There are no sightings after that.
By Nicola McDonald