No Such Thing as Can’t

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

‘I can’t do this,’ she whispers.

She retrieves a pair of smart black trousers from the wardrobe and lays them out on the bed. Shirt next. She has one in mind. It’s newish. Plainish. Smartish. First day material. It will help her blend in. But it isn’t where it’s supposed to be.

Hangers screech as she slides them left to right and right to left on their rail. It has to be there. It has to be hiding. It has to be.

She lunges for the wash basket, flips back the lid, and rifles through stale garments. It’s there, right at the bottom, crumpled into a ball.

Tears want to spill but she breathes and assesses the damage. She shakes the shirt out and examines it, front and back. Lots of creases. No stains, at least. A tentative sniff decides it; quick iron, spritz of Febreze, splash of perfume, and it’ll do the job.

She stubs her toe on the bed frame as she gathers up her outfit.

She traps a finger in the stiff hinge of the ironing board as she erects it.

She scatters bottles of cleaning products across the kitchen floor as she retrieves the iron from under the sink.

The iron is dead. The little light won’t turn on. It doesn’t get hot. Something inside it rattles when she shakes it.

She clenches her jaw. ‘I can’t do this.’

But there’s no such thing as can’t, according to her primary school teacher who used to utter the phrase so often that it stayed with her for decades. Can’t isn’t possible. Not in this case.

Job means money. Money pays mortgage. Mortgage offers shelter. Shelter provides life. She may as well die if she can’t do this.

She checks the clock. Sunday. Shops shut hours ago.

The ironing board is abandoned. She bolts back to the bedroom.

Hangers screech some more. There’s a dress she hates that could work. Still has the label attached. She bought it because she wanted it to be her, even though it wasn’t. It could work out alright. New colleagues might like her more in a phoney dress; it will bide her some time until she has to let the real her show. The thought makes her dizzy.

She strips to her underwear and throws the dress over her head, wriggling her arms into too-tight sleeves. The mirror tells her its okay, but she’d rather have trousers. She hasn’t shaved her legs and none of her shoes are comfortable enough for bare feet.

She digs in her sock drawer to find a pair of tights that was buried there years before. She stretches out the nylon and finds it plagued with ladders.

Tears come again. ‘I can’t do this.’

The tights are tossed in the bin and she tosses herself onto the bed. Nausea whirls and her head throbs. There is something stuck in her throat which feels like a ball of wet cardboard.

She thinks of the look on her husband’s face when she got the job offer. The look on her Mum’s face when she told her the start date. The look on her sister’s face when she described the role. Their hopeful smiles had made her feel like a caged animal, craving escape.

‘I can’t do that,’ she whispers.

This or that. Fight or flight. The choice is enormous.

The realisation that there could be a choice makes her breathe a little easier.

She pulls down a weekend bag from the top of the wardrobe. Shirts go in. A couple of pairs of jeans. Spare pair of shoes. Socks. Pants. Bras. Makeup bag and odds and sods of skincare and hair products. The book from her nightstand. Her phone gets a glance, but it remains untouched.

She’ll take the car. He’ll hate her for it; he’ll have to get the bus. But he’ll have the house. Fair exchange, she thinks. As long as he can manage the mortgage on his own. Which he can’t. She knows that.

She hopes the whizzing sound of the zip will knock her into reality, but it doesn’t.

She expects that dragging the bulky bag off the bed and down the stairs will remind her she’s ridiculous, but it doesn’t.

She thinks the sight of her husband, laid out on the sofa in front of the television, will make her feel guilty, but it doesn’t.

Her fingers are quivering and she can feel her pulse in her ears.

He barely glances at her as she hovers in the doorway.

‘I’m just going to the corner shop to see if they’ve got tights.’


Too easy. She wonders how long it will be until he realises. For a second, she pictures the way his forehead creases when he’s worried about something. It almost makes her stay. Then she remembers that if she does, the new job will be waiting in the morning.

‘Love you,’ she says, and she’s out the front door before she gets a reply.

The clunk of the car door sounds final.

‘I can’t, can I?’

No such thing as can’t, her primary school teacher would say.

She turns the ignition, releases the handbrake, and drives. The panic is left behind her.

She wonders how long it will be before it catches her up and pushes her back home. Last time it was less than 24 hours. This time she hopes to outrun it for days.