~ or ~
Jackie and Frankie
~ or ~
Two Ladies in Search of Heaven Knows What
Francesca was letting the dust settle on a particularly
acrimonious divorce. She could almost hear the ghosts of her parents saying
"We told you so." Which they had. When she'd been hellbent on
marrying Barry Worth. Barely six months after her eighteenth birthday. She
hadn't even been pregnant.
Now, she figured it was a good thing they hadn't had any
children. It made the divorce so much simpler. With hindsight, she reckoned
Barry had had 'the snip' a very long time ago. In her mind, she could hear a
further parental comment. "The wife is always the last one to know."
As marriages went, it hadn't been so bad. They both had good
careers, had a beautiful house in the home counties - with the mortgage paid
off from her inheritance - and went on exotic holidays. He'd never laid a
finger on her either. Maybe it was a pity he hadn't. They could've got the
divorce out of the way a lot sooner and moved on. Instead, it had taken
twenty-five years before she 'saw the light,' or 'the writing on the wall.'
The irremediable rift occurred at their silver wedding party in
April, just over a year ago. They'd had a large marquee in the back garden.
Professional caterers had laid on a brilliant spread for family, friends and
close neighbours The sun shone, just as it had on their wedding day.
Francesca had been playing the regal hostess. Until she went
paid visit to the bathroom in the middle of the evening. She was leaving the
downstairs cloakroom for the use of guests. As she passed their bedroom door,
which wasn't quite shut, she heard grunts and moans. Initially, she was annoyed
by guests taking liberties. Then she recognized the source of the grunts.
She marched in, snapping on the light. Sure enough, Barry was
buried deep in one of the guests. A couple of steps more and she saw that the
legs hanging over her husband's shoulders belonged to Monica Vines. Who'd been
her bridesmaid. A double betrayal then!
Francesca went in nuclear meltdown. It wasn't pretty.
Screaming like a banshee, she'd grabbed Barry's feet. In
adrenaline fuelled rage, she yanked him on to the floor. Took a firm grip on
Monica's arm. Dragged her out of the bedroom, on to the landing. Monica was
more concerned with cramming her boobs back into her too tight dress. Gave up
as Francesca dragged her down the stairs. Didn't want to lose her footing and
break her neck.
Tense silence held the guests still as statues. No one
breathed. Francesca opened the front door.
"M-my shoes...?" Monica begged.
"I'll throw them out of the window. Now get out of my
house, you whore!"
With that, Francesca shoved Monica outside, slammed the door
and locked it. She turned back to the stunned guests and snarled, "Okay.
Carry on. Enjoy yourselves!"
Back upstairs, Barry was torn. Protest his innocence? Blame
Monica? Complain about the scene his wife had made? Grovel? One look at
Francesca's face told him none of these was going to work. Instead he stood in
shocked shamed silence as she went into a full-on rant. It was something he'd
never experience before - well not from his wife anyway.
"So pack your bags and get out of here," she
concluded. "You've got half an hour, then I never want to see you again.
Now, with the beautiful house sold and her belongings in storage until she
decided on her next move, Francesca was staying with a cousin in her native
Tiverton. She'd also dropped all her airs and graces and reverted to her old
On the Thursday, during the cousin's lunch hour, they visited an art
exhibition in the library. The standard wasn't particularly high, but several
did stand out. Looking at a painting of the harbour of La Rochelle, Frankie
said to her cousin, "I like this one."
"Thank you," said a quiet voice close by. Must be the artist. The
voice sounded vaguely familiar. Francesca turned towards the artist, who looked
familiar also. It took a long moment before the name surfaced in her mind.
"Jackie Harper?" She watched the same memory-search-look crossing
the artist's face. And home in on the bullseye.
"Frankie Tremayne! Oh, and it's Jackie Goodwin now." Jackie's
smile faded into sorrow.
While the two women had been at school together, they'd never been 'close
friends and bosom buddies.' Frankie was two years ahead of Jackie, and one
didn't fraternize much outside one's year group. But. They had shared certain
interests and belonged to the same school clubs and societies - drama, art and
literature mostly - and got on well when they were together.
Frankie wondered what had happened to Jackie to make her look so sad; also
what strange quirk of fate had brought them together again here, and now.
She turned to her cousin. "Do you mind if Jackie and I nip off for a
coffee and catch up on old times."
The cousin did not mind. She was due back at work soon and had some shopping
to do first.
There was a snack bar next door to the library. It was its convenience
rather than its ambience which took them there. They bought two coffees, latte
for Frankie, cappuccino for Jackie, then found a table for two in a quiet
"So, Jackie Goodwin, why the long face?" Frankie began.
"My husband died fifteen months ago."
"Oh god, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to trespass on your grief,"
Frankie said. Jackie's eyes were watering as she spoke. Must've been a happy
Jackie sighed. "It's okay. I should be getting used to it by
"But you're not," Frankie observed.
"Not really. It was such a shock - worst day of my life bar none. Mark
was eight years older than me, but a real fitness fanatic. My big strong hero -
so full of life. Then suddenly he wasn't there any more. Heart attack. Didn't
even reach fifty..."
Frankie focussed her gaze on her coffee. Said nothing. Didn't want to
After a while, Jackie took up the conversation again. "So what about
you? You still Frankie Tremayne?"
"I soon will be, when the paperwork's all cleared." She took in
Jackie's puzzled look. "Deed poll," she explained. "Don't know
if you remember him, but I married Barry Worth."
"Oh yes, I remember Barry. Fantastically good looking and clever with
it. We all had a crush on him. And you married him?" Jackie looked and
sounded very impressed.
"Yeah. I call him Barry Worthless now." Frankie scowled and
filled in the details. "So I'm footloose and fancy free."
"And where does the fancy take you?"
"I'm not sure. That's why I'm here. I thought I'd return to my roots
for a while to think things through. See if anything turned up. How about you?
It's nice to see you're still painting," Frankie smiled, eyes crinkling.
"It fills time now that the twins are away at university." Jackie
took in her companion's look of surprise. "Oh, don't get me wrong. I still
love my art. I'm not painting just to make money, though it's a nice perk. Pays
for my trips to France. What I'd really like to do is relocate to France. I
could stay there and make a living painting. In my dreams, I know!" Jackie
gave a wry grin.
"Well, why not? I mean, I don't know what your circumstances are or
anything, but seriously, what's stopping you?"
Jackie looked a little stunned. "I... I... Well, I have friends here
and... and Laura and Craig come home during their vacations from uni..."
"Couldn't they stay with you in France? It would be good experience
for them too, living abroad."
"Well, I suppose... And I have enough capital. The insurance paid off
"You're warming to the idea, aren't you?" Frankie grinned.
"The dream? Yeah, I am actually. You suddenly made it seem almost
"But? I can feel a but coming on..."
"Two buts," Jackie sighed. "One, it doesn't seem right to go
off and enjoy myself now that Mark's... dead. He should be here to enjoy the
fruits of his labours, as it were, with me. Two, I'm not used to gadding off
all by myself."
"Mm, I can understand that." Frankie looked thoughtful.
"Suppose it'd been the other way around. Would you want Mark to stay at
home being miserable?"
"Well no. Of course not."
"But you think he'd be happy for you to do that?"
"Oh no! Certainly not. He always did his best to make me happy. And I
was." Jackie stared into her coffee as if searching for answers. "I
suppose that's partly why I'd feel awkward going away on my own."
As there was no response to that, she looked up. Frankie was looking into
the middle distance, her face wearing a slightly startled expression.
"Are you okay, Frankie?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. I just had an idea, that's all. It's probably a very
silly idea, but... Do you believe in coincidence?"
"Coincidence? As in...?"
"As in what brought us both to the same place at the same time?"
"Not really. Things happen. Sometimes they're bound to happen at the
"Oh." Frankie looked disappointed.
"Well, you'll think I'm stupid, but I have a dream to."
"Why is that stupid?"
"Well, I'm a writer - just a hobbyist, y'know - but I've always wanted
to go and live abroad and write stories set in that other place. And I like
"So you thought maybe we could team up?" Jackie smiled.
"Yeah. Told you it was a silly idea."
"Oh, I don't know. It would take some thinking through but it could
"Really?" Frankie exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. "So
how shall we work it?"
"Well, in the first instance, I think we should take a holiday
together, say a month, six weeks maybe. I mean, we already know each other, but
not all that well. Plus it was a long time ago. We could have developed
annoying little habits that might drive the other up the wall after a few
weeks. So I don't think we should burn our boats too soon."
"Makes sense. Then there's the where. Not too hot or too touristy for
"Definitely!" Jackie agreed. "Somewhere off the beaten track
- well off the beaten track."
"Okay. Côtes-d'Armor? Ille-et-Vilaine? Finistère?"
"Ooh, sounds like the end of the world to me!" Frankie giggled.
"Be sensible. We're not at school now you know," Jackie said, a
distinct twinkle in her eyes giving the lie to the severity of her expression.
"Morbihan then? Or Loire-Atlantique?"
"Yes, or I'd be prepared to go as far south as the Vendée or
"Hm, we seem to be spoilt for choice, don't we?" Jackie, said a
little gloomily as if now that the decision had been made, she wanted to be off
now - before she got cold feet.
"Well, we don't have to decide this instant," Frankie pointed out.
"That's part of the point of taking a longish holiday. We can travel
around, see what's available and what we take a fancy to."
The gloom broke into a sunny smile. "So we can."