The Madison Gap – Chapter 1

Projects on my desk at work were mounting up, their deadlines niggling like a persistent cough, but I put them out of my mind, switched off my Mac, and left the agency early. I had a valid excuse, to my mind anyway. Chrissy was coming to stay and I wanted to be there when she arrived.

She was due at four. By eight, she still hadn’t arrived. Conor and I gave up waiting and decided to eat.

I don’t pretend to be much of a cook and usually get home too late after work, and too whacked, to make dinner. Left to my own devices, I’ll shove a ready-made meal in the microwave, something from Fresh Meals or Youfoodz, but since this was Chrissy’s first night with us, I’d gone out of my way on the dinner front and made an effort. I poured Conor a glass of Merlot and lifted my beef casserole from the oven. Then I took a bottle of Chablis from the fridge and filled my own glass.

Conor put his arms around me and nuzzled the back of my neck. I turned to kiss him and he drew me close. ‘Do you think we’ve got time before she gets here?’

‘She was due four hours ago.’ By now it was well after eight, almost eight-thirty, and even if we’d had time, I wasn’t in the mood for making love. I was annoyed with Chrissy for being so late and not even bothering to phone. Would a text be so hard? I’d taken the lid off my casserole too soon and now it was drying out.

We were just sitting down to eat when we heard the squeal of brakes in the street outside and a jarring crunch of metal against metal. Conor and I rushed outside to see what had happened. There was a sign on the pavement in front of our house, declaring the parking spaces for residents only, and Chrissy had crashed right into it. The pole was now a steel disorder obstructing the pavement. It was going to annoy the hell out of the young mother I sometimes saw on weekends, wearily pushing her toddler past our gate in a stroller.

Chrissy stepped away from her Mazda with insouciance, as if creating a spot of wreckage in the neighbourhood was just the entrance she was aiming for. She wore a figure-hugging dress made from some green slinky fabric, and high spikey-heeled ocelot-striped shoes. She’d let her hair grow long since we’d last seen each other and the loose ponytail suited her.

I was wearing grey baggy track pants, a faded pink hoodie that had been too often through the wash, and an old pair of espadrilles. Chrissy was chic as a Ferrari and for an uncomfortable moment she made me feel like a second-hand Holden.

We hugged after which Chrissy kissed me first on one cheek and then again on the other, an affectation, for us Antipodeans anyway, that I thought she found as awkward as I did.

Her breath smelled of booze and over her shoulder I couldn’t help noticing how much gear she’d brought with her. Usually she arrived with a single faux-leather overnight bag, but this time there were two, on the back seat, and both so full Chrissy hadn’t been able to close them. More clothes lay in a jumbled heap: trousers, shirts, jackets, and dresses, some of them still on their hangers. It looked as if Chrissy had lifted them straight from her wardrobe and plonked them any old how into the back of her car.

On the passenger seat was a half empty bottle of green chartreuse.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve been drinking.’

Chrissy shrugged. ‘And you haven’t?’

‘I’m not driving.’

My sister laughed and proffered her cheek to Conor.