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Out With Lanterns

Page 3

Jane Downing

The motel restaurant was deserted like some low-budget Marie Celeste, though the large clock on the wall confirmed it was the breakfast hour. On the side table, plastic containers offered cornflakes and rice bubbles plus yoghurt with a slimy crust around the rim of the bowl. She was relieved to notice an urn burbled promisingly on an adjacent table. Ros made a mug of instant coffee before moving her nose close to the jug of milk to check its freshness. Poured. A careful sip. Mmm. Revived, she decided on toast. There was bread blanketed under a tea towel, and a conveyer belt contraption – fresh bread in one end, a leisurely trundle through a fiery tunnel, toast dropped out the other. A solid metaphor for her life. The first slice had yet to drop when the restaurant’s door wheezed open.

A middle-aged man poked his head in. ‘Aren’t you coming?’ he asked. ‘They need help.’ He left the door open behind him.

The symbol for a new beginning, apparently, was an open door. Ros did not feel like going through another. She’d had her adventure. But his words sounded less like a question, more like a command, and she had always been good at obeying. She abandoned her coffee and followed the man into the main street of this town on the edge of a National Park.

The first shop Ros passed sold secondhand wares optimistically labelled antiques. The window looked like a display of her wedding presents: carnival glass and tarnished silver. She couldn’t linger. The slightly portly man she was obediently following crossed the road ahead. She hurried to keep up, though she’d had more than enough of walking, and her calves squealed a high, tight note and her back throbbed like a toothache.

Pain begat pain. This was only a short break from her life, there was so much still to do: so many ramifications to the split. Like getting rid of all the reminders of him around the house. She instantly decided her own wedding presents would be sent to a junk shop as soon as she got home. And she’d officially change back to her maiden name.

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