Mona and Shelly were a lovely couple with equal parts affability and British stiff-upper-lip-ness.  They also seemed to be perfect for each other.  At least from the outside.  Then one day Mona called me to do some work at a different address.  Shortly after that, I was back at their old house helping Shelly prepare to sell it.

Another happy couple bites the dust, I thought.

A year and a half later Shelly asked me to come do some work at her new place.   I recognised some of the furnishings:  the curtains, the kitchen table and chairs … and the photos of her and Mona on her bookcase.  So perhaps they hadn’t gone to Splitsville.  Maybe they’d found a preferred way of living apart that would help keep them together.  The New, New Normal.

‘And how is Mona?’ I asked.

‘What?’  Her eyes bugged out like I’d just summoned the devil.  She spat out her words.  ‘I don’t know.  Why do you ask?’

‘I noticed you have a couple pictures of her here.’

‘I do?’

How could she not know?  How could she forget that there are not-one-but-two photographs of her and her ex-partner gracing her home?  It’s not like she had so many photos hung on the walls, standing on side-tables and magnetically fastened onto her fridge that she lost track of who was in them.  There were exactly two photos in her home and they both featured the same two women.

‘We haven’t spoken in two years,’ she said.

‘Oh.  I’m sorry.’

Awkward pause.

‘I’d still like her to be a part of my life but she doesn’t want anything to do with me.’

‘Oh dear,’ I said.

‘Don’t get me started,’ she said.

But clearly it was too late.  She’d started.   And before I knew it, she was already half-way through getting started and well on her way to nearly finishing.  I knew I should have kept my mouth shut.

‘We were together for twenty years and now I can’t even contact her.  She found another place to live but has moved on since then and I don’t know where.  My letters get returned to me.  It’s like a divorce.  Don’t ever get divorced.  I don’t recommend it to anyone.’

‘No … I … yeah, good advice.’

‘Have you heard from her?’ she asked me.

‘I was at one place she lived near her work,’ I said.  I think she was looking for better information.

‘She doesn’t live there anymore,’ she said.

I imagined Shelly going around to Mona’s place, knocking on the door, peering through the windows, climbing up the drainpipe and shimmying down the chimney to find an abandoned flat.  In a dusty spotlight in the middle of the hardwood floor, a torn photo of the two of them the only clue to Mona ever having been there.

But what I’d imagined was no worse than what Shelly had actually gone through.  It was bad enough that she was sad.  So sad in fact that she desperately asked her handyman, reliable though he is, for any help finding her old love.  This was one job for which I had no tools.