The Perfect Hostess (short fiction)

A little while ago I put some short fiction up here – Oranges – and people said nice things, so I thought I’d do it again!  It’s a bit different this time… Picture again irrelevant; I just don’t like putting up posts without pictures…

“Oh, did you get a moment’s sleep?”

I answered that I had slept perfectly well, thank you.

“Oh, but you look shattered.  I’d be surprised if you did as much as close your eyes.  The spare bedroom is terribly uncomfortable, I’m afraid – especially for a man, I always think.”

I didn’t try to work out her reasoning; instead, I said again that my night’s sleep had been all I could have wished, and we spent another moment or two politely disagreeing with each other on the matter.  She obviously believed herself to be the perfect hostess, and would have been shocked to find that anybody thought anything else.

“Here’s a nice cup of coffee, that will help.  Unless you’d prefer tea?”

As she was holding the coffee towards me, I could hardly do anything other than take it and drink, but luckily it was exactly what I wanted.  Although the bed had been comfortable (“like sleeping on broken glass, I know“) and the room an entirely ordinary temperature (“it blows gales through that room, you don’t have to tell me – or otherwise it’s a perfect oven“) I hadn’t slept quite as well as I made out.

“And what would you like breakfast?  There’s only one egg, but I could pop out and get some more?  Nothing would be easier.”

She started towards to the door, and I quickly intervened.  Of course I was quite happy without eggs.  I didn’t normally have anything except coffee for breakfast as it was.

“Nonsense!  I don’t want people saying that I’ve neglected you.”

I was a bit startled.  Why would anybody say that?  Who would say that?  I couldn’t imagine anybody considering me to be the victim of neglect, especially when I’d had to throw away four pairs of trousers while packing yesterday, as they’d all been noticeably too tight.

“Just a spot of toast, then.  You remember where the plates are, of course?”

Of course, I did.  I hoped fervently that she’d sit down, or – better yet – leave the room completely, and let me eat my undesired toast alone. But she simply stood in the middle of the room, perhaps uncertain how to act, despite the stream of words.  And yet, when she spoke, it was with the confidence of an actress who has thoroughly memorised her part.

“I’m going to get everything sorted today.  Well, as best as I can.  (I’m afraid the jam isn’t homemade, but I believe it isn’t actually inedible.  But, please, do say if it is.)  If I have any questions, would it be too much of an inconvenience to phone you?”

I wished that she would say a sentence precisely the way she thought it, without any of the trappings of etiquette and show.  Everything would be so much simpler.  I chewed the toast and jam (certainly edible – pleasant, even) and said as little as I could without seeming terse.  When she was quiet for a few moments, I looked up; she was staring at my hand.  After a second, she recovered.

“Look!  It’s quarter past eight.  You have to leave at quarter past eight, don’t you?”  She picked up my plate and took it towards the sink, but stopped after a step.  “Unless you’d like anything else – ?”

No, no, I did indeed have to go to work now.  The office had never seemed so inviting.  As I did up my shoelaces and put on my coat, she fussed around me, asking whether I’d like an apple, or to borrow an umbrella, and (not, apparently, one to leave a point unlaboured) apologised again for the bed in the spare room.  Her voice followed me down the short path to the pavement.  “And – if I may – I’ll speak to you soon.  I do so hope it doesn’t rain today.”

I got into my car feeling more or less how Dorothy must have felt upon landing in Oz.

To think – that, until yesterday, this woman had been my wife.

24 thoughts on “The Perfect Hostess (short fiction)

  • November 8, 2013 at 4:28 am
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    No photos required Simon. Your images were most powerful. more please

    Martina

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm
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      Thanks Karen! I don't get ideas all that often, but I shall endeavour to finish writing the ones I *do* get :)

      Reply
  • November 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm
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    Glad to see a shot of Grasmere sneaking in, how ever irrelevant..!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm
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    Oh dear…I feel a bit sad now. Best to concentrate on the toast and jam…

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm
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      Toast and jam, always focus on that! I'm intrigued that Belle found it hilarious and you found it sad (I think you were closer to what I intended!)

      Reply
  • November 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm
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    Brilliant! Thank you.

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm
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      Thanks Samara! I was hoping it would cause a bit of a jolt, but also make sense of the rest :)

      Reply
  • November 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm
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    It’s a really nice story, Simon. Thank you for sharing. I think the ending is great but what I really like is the style, for instance:
    “I hoped fervently that she'd sit down, or – better yet – leave the room completely, and let me eat my undesired toast alone. But she simply stood in the middle of the room, perhaps uncertain how to act, despite the stream of words. And yet, when she spoke, it was with the confidence of an actress who has thoroughly memorised her part”. I think this is such a great pleasure to read.
    Hope to read some more soon.

    Reply
    • November 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm
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      That's so lovely of you, Agnieszka, and thank you for picking out a bit you particularly liked, that means a lot :)

      Reply
  • November 9, 2013 at 6:10 am
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    Simon, the dialogue is so stunningly well observed, it screams major talent and deserves far longer treatment, not a fobbed off cute ending. Novel time, my friend.

    Diana

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm
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      Thank you so much, Diana! I find structuring and sustaining prose so hard, but I would love to write a novel if I could maintain momentum.

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  • November 9, 2013 at 9:05 am
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    That 'end kick' sent me back to re-read it – and what a different read it made, knowing the ending. Ouch. Brilliant.

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm
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      Thanks so much Mum! I was hoping people might re-read with that new angle :) x

      Reply
  • November 10, 2013 at 2:32 am
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    Author! Author! Reminds me a little of an Edith Wharton story Persephone printed in the Biannually a few issues back.

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    • November 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm
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      I should go and have a look! I never seem to get around to reading the stories in the PBs.

      Reply

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