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.