Life without Paul

Every morning I brush my teeth before coffee and breakfast. I know that this doesn’t make sense, but I think it’s an important step for my waking up process. I find the mint in the toothpaste invigorating.  

Then, I apply my moisturizers.

When I feel clean and neat, I read my spiritual statement.

With the help of the archangel Michael, I cut every negative psychic string that connects me with compulsive behaviors, disorientation, emotional dependencies and escape tendencies, and I free my crown energy center from patterns of self-doubt, obsessions, and fear of success. I request total purification from my toxic anger and sadness.

Then I make breakfast for my kid: he likes slices of apple with cinnamon on peanut butter. Then I dress him (he isn’t even five) and take him to school.

Now I’m waiting for him to put his shoes on. It isn’t happening. I kneel and do it on his behalf.

I know that I ought to wait. Patience is a virtue. I never said that I’m a patient mom.

We get in the car, and I buckle him in. God, it’s 8:20 a. m., and I already feel exhausted. I only slept for three hours, because JJ woke me up at 3 a.m., then I couldn’t go back to sleep.

JJ’s school is beautiful, with tall trees and green playgrounds. A swarm of mums and dads is gathering in the rain. I struggle to open my umbrella. I hate the rain but I live in the wrong country – this is England.

JJ starts making fart sounds with his mouth. Two mums turn their heads to our direction and JJ laughs loudly. I feel it. The snake around my neck. My anger.

“Hey Patrice.” Beth, Mark’s mum says.

“Hi Beth.” Beth is standing two mums ahead of me. They both have buggies and a preschooler each.

“How are you doing? You know I’m thinking of you. You can bring JJ for a sleepover next weekend, so you can have some time for yourself.” Beth says and looks at me with sympathy if not cold compassion.

“Thanks. JJ would love that.” I lie. JJ hates Mark. JJ hates me and the world.

I avoid eye contact with the other mothers at school. They look very happy at being mothers, and I don’t feel very happy being a mother, especially the last two years. This makes me sad sometimes. But being a single mum is very difficult. You don’t sleep and you don’t rest, and your heart is racing, and your breath is short.

JJ gets into the classroom.

Mums are socializing in the rain.

Soaked, I get in my car. Sometimes I listen to music while I’m driving, but I have to be in the mood for that.  

My home has a smell that I don’t like. I always promise to myself that I will clean, and I always feel too tired and bored to pick up the toys, hoover, mop the floors. I always postpone the chore of cleaning. Perhaps freeing myself from procrastination has to be added to my spiritual statement. Or get a cleaner, perhaps.

Now I will drink my coffee. I work from home since the pandemic happened. I sell life and health insurance. I promise safety to people when and if tragic things happen. I’m sitting on the couch with my laptop in my lap. I turn it on. Facetime is on since yesterday’s meeting, and I see my face on the screen. Green defeated eyes, some lines of wisdom around them and a firm mouth which hesitates to smile. I force myself to smile. I look funny. My face is a discrepancy: sad eyes and a pseudo-happy mouth.

I look outside from my tall window in the living room. Our living room is small, and the big window helps because it gives you a sense of spaciousness. I see fields that are green and yellow and trees far away. Their leaves have started to fall because it’s autumn. I see the sky, thick and grey with shifting clouds. The clouds travel and travel, it seems. Sunlight trespasses through the blanket of clouds and I feel this warmth in my stomach.

My phone chimes and I read the text: Shall we meet over there, or you need a lift?

That’s William. A guy I met online, and tonight will meet for the first time in person. I don’t know if I feel like it.

I had arranged for Alex, an American girl who lives close by to come and babysit JJ, but I’m still contemplating the idea. I’m so grateful for Alex, she’s great with him, even if JJ is picking up her American accent and pronounces tomato as toomayto. I think I should go.  I must move on. My spiritual practice includes living my life.

I text back: I will meet you there.  

There is the local pub.

Looking forward to it, xx, he says.

I smile, even if it doesn’t mean anything. He doesn’t know me.

I have emails to answer. I have to read the claims and send them to my supervisor. A woman whose husband committed suicide submitted a claim yesterday. That’s a tricky one. Suicides don’t count like other deaths. Insurance companies usually don’t pay; it depends. I will read the deceased husband’s policy carefully. I hope she gets some money.

I forgot to pour some water in my glass. I’m drinking lots of water with my coffee. Energy work requires good hydration, my spiritual teacher told me, and I agree with him. Since I started my spiritual journey, I feel very thirsty and tired and bored.

“This is normal.” my teacher, O, told me during our Zoom meeting three days ago.

“What about the sadness and the madness?” I asked him.

“Madness? What do you mean?” he asked me patiently.

“I feel very angry sometimes. I feel that I want to break all the glasses, and the plates and the windows. I want to scream and yell.” I told him calmly. I forgot to tell him that sometimes I want to slap my kid, JJ. I never do, don’t rush to judge me, but sometimes I want to, so badly.

But O knows this (that I suffer from rage and a part of me wants to slap JJ and the rest of humanity). O, it seems, knows everything. Or maybe he just knows what it means to be human?

I know what human is too. Human is shadow and light. Simple, just like that, at the same time.

“This is something to observe, but without judgement, Patrice. Observe it with kind curiosity,” O told me.

Staring at this claim, glancing at the text on my phone, I do. I observe my anger that, as I’ve said, feels like a heavy, muscular snake around my neck. A python, I reckon. I visualize its color: a light yellow. I’m afraid that Roberta Pratessi, this woman whose husband died by suicide, won’t get any money. Her husband’s insurance policy was less than a year.

How does she feel really? Did she know that her husband was capable of such an act?

I text back to William: Me too xx.

What about me? The day that my husband Paul left us two years ago, I had gone to the gym for a Pilates class. The first and last class that I attended. I remember when I returned home, I saw his debit card on the little table next to our door. We leave our keys there. Then I saw his keys. I didn’t feel anything odd at the time. I went to our bedroom. I didn’t notice the opened wardrobe and its emptiness inside. I jumped into the shower. I had loved the class. My body had felt good. The hot water soothed my already sore muscles. I was so happy that I started singing while showering. I do this when I feel joy. What I’m trying to say is that back then I was a happy person. A wife and mother in oblivion. 

After I got out of the shower, I noticed the empty wardrobe. I opened his drawers, and I faced the naked wood. I felt a pressure around my head and a tingling sensation around my fingertips. I stepped back into the bathroom and all his toiletries were there. He had just taken his clothes.

 I called his phone. It was turned off. Then, my phone chimed. My bank notified me that I had received money: my account had 100,000 pounds more. Then my phone swooshed. I read the email: I left. Sorry Patrice. I transferred you some money. Paul.

Emptiness: Where this is coming from? Boiling veins and this gasping hole between my breasts. This cannot be true. Then the feeling that I had been swallowed. By time. By life.

Did I know?

I knew. Paul wasn’t happy. But I was afraid to bring it up. He had asked me three years ago to see a couple’s therapist, but I didn’t want to go. We live in Box, close to Bath. It is such a small community. He stopped touching me and his once every two months trips to London became biweekly. Things changed since we became parents. But this is normal, isn’t it? Hmm. Denial always carries a high price in the end.

Some months passed, and they called me from my son’s nursery. They asked me if I was okay. JJ smelled. JJ had worn the same clothes for over a week. I got scared. I’ve heard stories about child services. That’s why I told them: Paul left us.

To be honest, I was never interested in spirituality and esotericism, in concepts such as higher purpose and learning. Actually, I was an atheist and pragmatist. But when you are not even sad, mad, angry, stressed, happy. In other words, when you are not. Then, you need to believe in something. Then something has to be done.


And it did: on my birthday last year, a friend from university who I hadn’t talked to in ages, wished me happy birthday on Messenger. We had studied Business Administration together. Margaret, in university, was a skinny woman with big grey eyes. Margaret chewed gum and ignored fashion trends in contrast with me – I always liked to dress up. I always liked her, but we hadn’t spoken since uni. We used to go out for a glass of wine here and there, but mostly I was going out with Paul. I knew that she had left the UK and gone to Oslo in Norway.

How are you doing? She asked.

I realized that I’d forgotten it was my birthday that day, and that heaviness I was carrying on my chest started shifting. Then a miracle happened – I broke into tears.

I wrote to her about everything. My fingers with virtuoso speed were forming words and sentences about my life, about what had happened to me. I should admit that this is very uncharacteristic of me. I’m secretive. I’m a Scorpio, if this helps you to understand more what I mean.  

Margaret asked me if it was OK to call me. I said yes, and she did. I couldn’t talk. I just cried and listened to her breathing from the other end of the line. Then she whispered, everything is going to be okay. Margaret’s voice was soft and calm. I felt good. I felt less alone, even if she lived in Norway.

That was it, we started talking.

Two months after our reconnection, she brought it up. Meditations, and spiritual work, karma, and dharma. She had gone through a very difficult divorce: her husband had had an affair with her sister, who’d got pregnant by her husband. Side note: Margaret cannot have children. She was devastated, she said. However, if she had a chance to change the past, she wouldn’t, she said.

I didn’t question. She gave me the number of my current spiritual teacher, O.


O is seven years younger than me (I’m thirty-eight) and he seems very enlightened. He looks younger but his hair is grey. His eyes are brown and big and his nose small like a child’s.  He told me that this life is a replication of a previous life that I had. In this life, I meet the same challenges that I had in my previous life, and this life is an opportunity to make the right choices. Choices based on trust and faith in myself, and not choices based on fear.

“Which life I’m replicating now?” I asked him three weeks ago.

“A life that you had during the 16th century in a small village outside Madrid, in Spain.” He told me and his eyes seem sagacious.

“What happened then?”

“You had the same husband and son. Your husband died in an accident. He fell from a horse while he was riding to see his mistress.”

“What? Was he cheating on me?”

“He did. Like he did in the life that you have now. You know that, Patrice.”

“I do. What about JJ?”

“You were harsh.” O said gently.

“Like in this life?” I asked.

“No, in this life you make changes. In your previous life, you were drinking a lot of alcohol.” O said and smiled a warm smile.

I bring our conversations to mind many times. Paul fell from a horse and died. Paul is alive in this life. He’s alive and dead because what I believed about who Paul is, died.  Then, in that previous life, I was very sad and became a drunk. I was neglecting and abusing my son.

We meet once a month. He charges fifty quid per session. With fifty quid, I buy some peace and tranquility. It’s worth it, isn’t it? I still don’t know if I believe in all that. I want to believe. He tells me that the spiritual statement is something like assuming responsibility over our lives. The free will, O says, can actualize and destroy. My choice.

It’s started raining outside. I like the sound of the rain on the windows. I’m inside, dry and warm, looking at the water puddles outside. What shall I wear to my date tonight?

I want to be pretty. I want to like this guy, William.


JJ likes the Avengers. He particularly likes Iron Man. He likes that Iron Man is protected by steel. Nothing can hurt Iron Man.

JJ struggles. JJ with scissors in hand opens his wardrobe and cuts holes on his clothes, then he carries on with my wardrobe. I called a child psychologist and he told me that JJ is grieving. That having holes on my jumper is a normal expression of grieving. I can’t help it. I shout and yell, sometimes. Especially, when I discovered that my Brunello Cuccinelli sweater had a hole the size of a small plate at the back. You can buy a good secondhand car if you sell it, perhaps even with the hole.

Ah, I know I shouldn’t yell. I shouldn’t take it personally. But his eyes are like Paul’s. A little Paul punishes me in his absence.

Universe, give me the wisdom and strength to be fair to my son. Give me the courage to feel love and only love for him. I whisper with closed eyelids. Sometimes this statement works, other times it doesn’t.

 JJ told me the other day: I want a different mummy, you should die.

I was stabbed; the snake almost suffocated me. I said to him, Great, let’s find you a new mummy.

Yup, I said that.

Then I cried and he cried. I locked myself in the bedroom and JJ was banging on my door. Open the door, I hate you! Don’t leave me!

 I instantly got out and hugged him. I said to myself, I’m a good enough mother. Then I wondered: Am I? I think I am.

Sometimes, JJ screams in the middle of the night. He misses Paul.

When JJ is mad (most of the time) he throws his food on the carpet. The carpet is a light green and the stains show. He also calls me smelly nappy and bad mummy.

When JJ is in a good mood, we snuggle in my bed and watch Grizzy and the Lemmings. Grizzy is a bear in Canada who argues with the Lemmings over the cabin of a forest ranger. Actually, it doesn’t matter what this show is about. Children’s shows are boring after all. However, what is worth mentioning is that JJ takes my hand and kisses it. He says I love you mummy.

Then, perhaps, I feel like Margaret – if I had the chance, I wouldn’t change anything.

What time is it?

It’s 2 p.m., and it’s time for my meditation practice. After that, I will pick up JJ from Reception.

I close my eyes; I inhale from my nose and the air fills up my stomach. I exhale and the air makes this whistling sound when it escapes from my mouth. My shoulders soften, my heart rate drops. I visualize the violet flame, the flame of metamorphosis and transmutation, it’s coming from the source, the sun, and enters my body. I let it fill me up from the toes to the crown of my head. I feel a warm, sweet numbness, a smooth pressure that covers me like a baby blanket.

I open my eyes. The sun is out, and the sunrays light up the wet road. I get in the car. I put some music on. More Than This. I sing along with Bryan Ferry. At the school, I get out of the car with my umbrella in hand because you never know. I wait outside JJ’s class with the other parents. I look at the wet concrete.

The little ones start getting out of the classroom. Little laughs and little voices, they sound cherubic to my ears today. I see JJ at the back. He starts jumping to see if I’m here. I nod. He sees me. He smiles a big bright smile.

“Mummy! Mummy, look!” he shouts.

“What?” I shout back. The other parents look at me.

“The rainbow, the rainbow!” he says and runs to me. I lift him up. His weight doesn’t bother me.

I turn and see it. A big arrow of colors.

Photo by Liam Pozz on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Corina K. Skentzou

Corina K. Skentzou graduated with a MA degree in creative writing from Bath Spa University and works as a psychotherapist in her private practice. She mostly writes short fiction but currently is working on a novel. Her notable work, Parents’ Evening won the first prize in the 2020 4th quarter LISP. Asphyxia was highly commended by Billy O’Callaghan— the 2019 judge of the Seán O'Faoláin Competition and was published in the Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles' 16th volume. Ephemera was published in the Avalon Literary Review Journal's 2021 Spring Edition.