Q: Leap years are all about correcting the drift of time. What if you could correct your life just for one day?
Chapter 1: Found Walter
Two socks. Both cotton black. One size nine, the other size one. Looking for their other halves. Dying to be entwined in a ball and thrown into the haven of the sock drawer. Constantly searching but never finding. Then…it’s a fuck it, it’ll do. They’re rolled together and shut away.
Ally sighed. She had just gone into the utility room for a clean shirt and managed to spend the past hour sorting through the family laundry. Now there was less time for her to work on her own stuff. Again. She wondered if her subconscious did it on purpose. Or was it just that she was the only one in the house that cared? What if she stopped and let it all fall apart? Would they manage? Most likely.
She lay down on the bed and grabbed her phone. Instagram. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Pause. Quill Kickers’s post:
Leap years are all about correcting the drift of time. What if you could correct your life just for one day?
The sock drawer taunted her. Shack up with Billy Crudup and get myself a herd of cats, she wrote. Always wanted cats but the answer every time, we can’t go away if we have pets darling. They never went away.
Suddenly the key turned in the front door. No one was due home. She headed down, out of curiosity, out of fear; knowing that there must be a reasonable explanation but still in that eight seconds of walking down, her heart chilled with the possibility that there might be a genuine reason to be a little frightened…
Or not…Billy Crudup stood in the doorway with a cat. Hey, he smiled. Found Walter stuck up the tree again. He leant into kiss Ally. Huh? Jaw dropped. She didn’t know whether to enjoy or be freaked out. Poor thing, he smiled, I think we should get her a ladder. Ally blinked. WTF.
Putting the cat down, he dazzled Ally with another smile. OK, so I need to practice my interview tomorrow for that breakfast show, will you listen and give me pointers? Speechless and shell-shocked, Ally nodded. She watched him put his fingers through his well-coiffed hair and marvelled at his skin tone. Man, he’s hot, she thought. Really don’t know what he’s doing in my kitchen but I’m damn well going to enjoy this.
I would never have thought I could have intuitively felt this character so much, he marvelled. I try to humanise creatively every scene…Ally thought to herself how much she would like to humanise him creatively but pushed away the thoughts. She grabbed her phone and surreptitiously took a photo of him; just in case no one believed her. She then went on to Instagram to review her Quill Kickers response. Her eyes skimmed over the other contributions…push Trump off a cliff, prevent Brexit…
Suddenly Billy’s phone rings. Hi, Shauna, yes, just preparing…what? Off a cliff? Bloody hell…how? Of course…that’s fine. Would you mind? Is that ok? So kind of you. Great, see you later. Billy turned to Ally. You’re not going to believe this but Trump’s fallen off a cliff so my segment’s been cancelled. We can go to the Maldives after all. Shauna’s coming over to look after the cats while we are away. Ally blinked. Cats? There’s more than one? Billy looked at her and laughed. You’re a funny one today. Yes, there’s more than one. Twenty two last time I counted. Gulp.
Billy headed upstairs to pack. Coming? Ally grinned nervously, sure, let me ask the husband. Billy laughed. You’re hilarious, I say yes. Ally picked up her phone. Seriously, let me just call…she goes to ‘Favourites’ on her phone but Billy’s name is the only one there. She thinks hard and tries to picture her real husband and his name but…nothing. Blank. What about the kids, she asks? Billy laughs again. Hilarious babe.
Ally goes round the house to find photos of her family but only pictures of her and Billy dot the room. What’s going on? What had she done?
Chapter 2: So take off all your clothes
Ally glanced over at the man next to her in the car. Billy bloody Crudup. What the hell. You couldn’t make this up. He was eye deep in a script, his wrinkles above his brow undulating as he scanned the sentences. She watched his lips mumble soft words and wondered to herself what it would be like to kiss them. Her heart started racing as her thoughts meandered to an x-rated version of The Morning Show, Billy singing the Sweeney Todd duet to her and then jumping on her in front of the whole office…
Are you ok, he asked? You’ve gone quite…pink. Ally blushed. It’s getting hot in here, she said. So take off all your clothes, she sang to herself in her head. Stop it, stop it, stop it. I’m fine, she smiled and opened the window.
They were nearing the airport. Off to the Maldives. Wow. Dream come true. Top of her bucket list.
Her reverie was suddenly disturbed by the snake-like traffic. Coronavirus, said the driver. They’re checking everyone’s temperature before letting them through. Ally gulped. Shit, her temperature must be sky rocketing with her never-ending dirty thoughts. She was determined to go on this damn trip with this adonis, even if it killed her. Ok, calm yourself Ally. Think of a quiet stream, cold and wet…wet, no wrong word. Moist, damp, for fuck’s sake, get a grip of yourself lady. The car was nearing the medical tent. She grabbed her phone and opened up Quill Kickers. Eradicate coronavirus, she quickly typed.
It was their turn. The car drove into the tent. The driver wound down his window. A smartly dressed man leaned in…with two glasses of champagne. We’ve been expecting you Mr and Mrs Crudup. Let us fast track you, he said. This way please.
Sitting in the First Class Lounge, Ally sipped at her third glass of champagne. She was properly tipsy now. She had that nice feeling. You know the one? Where everything in the world felt possible. What should she correct next? She took out her phone. She didn’t know how this was all happening but who cared? Maybe it was like Zoltar in Big. That film was absolutely crazy, she thought to herself. The main female character essentially slept with a twelve year old and no one said anything. Wonder if it would still be made now? Then there’s Back to the Future…OMG. Ally sighed. The 80s were insane. No wonder the world was in a mess right now.
End poverty, she wrote. Suddenly the room filled up with people, all jostling for their freebies. We better get going, said Billy, if we want to avoid the queues for boarding. Queue? No way José, thought Ally. I’m not queuing. Not in this fantasy. She typed, buy shares in Apple twenty years ago and smiled at herself for her quick thinking. Immediately a Matrix-like security agent stepped forward. Your private jet is ready ma’am, he said. That’s more like it, thought Ally. Darling, I’ve never said this before but I’m in awe of your amazing investing talents that make our fantastic life possible, said Billy. Thanks husband, said Ally as she glanced at her latest Quill Kickers entry; Gender equality. You just concentrate on your lines and leave the hard stuff to me.
They finally arrived at their hotel in the Maldives. Ally opened her suitcase and found only her bikini and some condoms. Oops, she thought, that’s compact packing for you. At least Marie Kondo would be proud of her. Is that all you brought, laughed Billy? Nothing else ‘sparked joy’, he joked? Ally gave him a nervous smile. How the fuck did he know about Marie Kondo, she thought? Bit unsettling. Her real husband would have no clue. He would think it was some luxury apartment or something. Her real husband…Ally tried to recall him in her mind. What was he called again? Something in her heart suddenly yearned for him but it disappeared in a wisp. Meanwhile, her phone was going crazy with invitations to dinners and galas, now that she was Mrs Crudup. Or was it because of her new found wealth? Old contacts that she hadn’t heard from in years were filling up her inbox. Job opportunities were pinging up on her phone. The ‘Mean Mums’ from her kids’ school suddenly wanted her to join their WhatsApp group. Her kids…that aching feeling resonated through her body again. She had kids, didn’t she? She could feel it. What were their names again? She suddenly missed them. Desperately. She needed to see them. What was she doing here in the Maldives with Billy Crudup? It didn’t feel right. It was swarming with people anyway; not quite the island paradise that she had envisioned. Global equality now meant equal access to private beaches too, she supposed.
All of Ally’s ‘corrections’ were turning out not quite how she had imagined. She had meddled with the yang and the ying was beginning to haunt her. She suddenly wanted her old life back. She looked at her watch. It was getting close to midnight. Leap year day was about to end. The drift of time had been corrected. Was it too late for her to ‘correct’ back her life?
Chapter 3: Writing notes
The clock struck midnight. First of March. Leap Year day over for another four years. Ally sighed and looked over at her husband, Billy Crudup sleeping. WTF. In the dark, he looked like someone else, another familiar face. Who was it? She racked her brain. The name was on the tip of her tongue. But unreachable. Even if she strained her mind she couldn’t quite get it. Flicking through the various faces and moments in her memories, she nearly found it a few times but the name just lurked around the corner, sprinting away from her every time she caught up with it.
She picked up her phone and opened up Quill Kickers. She typed in everything go back to normal but nothing happened. Even when she switched her phone off and on, nothing changed. That normally worked. OMG. She was stuck.
Every hour, even every minute, she seemed to forget something of her past life. She didn’t want it to disappear all together. Like Guy Pearce in Memento, she started writing down messages to herself on pieces of paper and putting them in various drawers and cupboards to find later on. He’s not your real husband…you have children…this is not real. It felt real enough though. From the constant mewing from her herd of cats to the constant spewing from her husband’s lips. Don’t you think that marshmallows smell of babies’ nappies? Do you think I should have a feather cut to show my character’s multi-layered angst? Do you think we should send a donut basket or a hamster hamper to Oprah? Ally just wanted to roll her eyes at him and tell him to shut up but refrained from doing so.
Even shopping didn’t spark joy any longer. When you could buy anything you wanted, the thrill somehow disappeared. Even a personalised tennis shoe based on her own unique DNA and astronomical birth chart did nothing for her.
The only good thing seemed to be that there was no longer a need for her to volunteer at the local food bank. People were no longer going hungry. That was great news. Wasn’t it? She felt a sudden loss of purpose. What was she doing in this new world of hers anyway? Idly whiling away her day, doing meaningless tasks,
surrounded by inanity. How could she turn back the clock? What was her major, earth-shattering, turning point, action moment going to be?
She decided to watch Big. She had to learn how mini-Tom-Hanks managed to reverse his spell, so that maybe she could do it too. Sad days. All he did was to find Zoltar and make another wish. Simples. Not like her jam. She wanted to scream. She couldn’t wait another three and a half years for Leap Year day to come round again. She would go mad. She pictured herself half-rocking, half-swaying to Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight over and over again waiting for the big day to come. The big drum roll on loop. Oh dear, how pathetic was she? What had her world come to?
The first year passed. Ally found one of her notes whilst getting ready for an ‘understanding misunderstood animals’ gala one night. It was in her favourite Jimmy Choos, given to her by…she couldn’t quite remember who but she knew that it was a special moment. You have another husband, the note said. It didn’t surprise her. She had felt that Billy wasn’t the one, even though he was this sexy Hollywood star. She always thought that she would be with someone who shared her love of silly humour and didn’t take themselves too seriously. She started writing down what he would look like, what he liked, disliked; a pen portrait. Jackson, auburn with a roguish smile, loves nothing more than having friends round for dinner for some hearty discussions and fine wine. Ally laughed, it sounded like Barbara Cartland’s Tinder page. She tried again. Jackson, social but sensitive, silly but serious, steady but clumsy, likes to spend time with his family…Family, that was that heavy feeling in her heart again. She imagined what her kids would look like. There was Layla, who wanted to be like Daniel Craig and then there was Tom who thought he was Billie Eilish…Her mind drifted off thinking of them.
Year two flew by. Her little notebook of her imaginary family kept growing and kept her sane.
The third year was the hardest of all. Ally found her last note, this is not real, which threw her in a chasm of depression. Even her imagination could not save her. By now, Billy spent most of his time in LA filming and the house had been taken over by the cats. It was like Grey Gardens, but without the glamour.
By the time 29th February arrived, Ally was a shell of her former self. Socialising no longer excited her and bit by bit she was becoming a recluse. So much so that she was taking a car load of her old dresses and party shoes to the local charity for donation, when she bumped into him. Literally. He was parking up with his kids and the tail end of his car gently nudged her as she was leaning in to her boot. The contents of her donation bag tumbled out. He picked up the Jimmy Choo and handed it to her. I’m sorry, he said, I didn’t see you or your pumpkin. Something in Ally stirred. Her heart raced slightly and her face flushed. I’m Jackson, he continued, sorry, bad joke. Yeah Dad, that was awful, said the boy next to him. Jackson playfully punched his son on the arm and introduced him as Tom and the girl on the other side as Layla. Jackson…Tom…Layla. A light in Ally suddenly sparked on. Her heart tightened and she became breathless. She stared up at Jackson and the kids. He had auburn hair with a roguish smile, just as Barbara had described and the two kids were as beautiful as she had hoped. I’m so clumsy, Jackson said, must be something to do with Leap Year day…forgive me? At that moment, Ally suddenly remembered. She remembered Leap Year day. She remembered wishing for Billy Crudup and the cats. She remembered the regrets. She remembered the longing. The longing for her perfect family that was staring back at her. A tear started down her cheek. Are you OK? Did I hurt you? Jackson’s worried face stared back at her. Wiping it away, Ally smiled up at him, shaking her head. I’m fine, she said. Just fine. I need to do something.
Ally leaned into her car for her phone and opened up Quill Kickers. She started typing something, then stopped. She nodded to herself as if she suddenly knew the answer. Turning it off, she threw it back into the car. She then looked back at Jackson and the kids and smiled. Would you guys help me take this in, she asked? I would really appreciate it.
As she followed Jackson and the two kids into the charity shop, she smiled to herself. This time, she wasn’t going to change a thing. If it’s meant to be, it will be. It was.