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Ahead of the Game

by Cornelia 

Posted: 19 July 2012
Word Count: 1011
Summary: This is a humorous story with a domestic setting. It's intended more for a website than a womag

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‘I swear you’d fit optics on the wine bottles if you thought you'd get away with it, Clive. You really are one mean host when it comes to pouring drinks. I didn’t know where to look; I was so embarrassed. Careful with that small plate - it’s the last of the wedding set.’

Normally, Janice knew better than to accept Clive’s offer to help wash up; he just got under her feet. Tonight there were one or two things she wanted to say to him.

She twisted the tap and Clive stepped back to avoid the jet of water from the edge of the washing-up bowl. He steadied himself against the fridge, took a clean drying-up cloth from a drawer and turned to face her.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘there was no point in everybody getting drunk. Linda was driving, as usual, and Jack always feels he has to drink her share as well as his own. You know what he’s like when he’s had too much.’

‘Too much?’ Janice stretched a rubber glove then let go with a loud snap. ‘Not much chance of that, at the rate you were pouring. It was more likely we’d all die of thirst.’

Clive opened a cupboard door and checked the contents. Having satisfied himself he’d chosen the right one, he started re-arranging plates and dishes on shelves, matching sizes by holding them up to the light in front of his face.

‘And I couldn’t believe what you produced from the sideboard – I’ve never seen such tiny wine glasses. I told you when we cleared your mother’s place that we should send most of the kitchen stuff to Oxfam. It was like drinking out of egg-cups.’

Clive ranged cutlery in a drawer. Why were some spoons designed to look like forks? No wonder they got mixed up.

‘It didn’t help, either, that you kept disappearing. I wonder why we bother giving dinner parties at all. The idea was to celebrate your boss's birthday, not to alienate him!'

‘Disappearing?’ Clive turned, a fork in either hand. ‘Well, if I can’t answer a call of nature in my own house without being interrogated…’

‘You’d better make an appointment to get your prostate checked. ’ Janice squirted liquid into the bowl and swirled the bubbles round with her hand. ‘I hope you’re not up to your old tricks.’

She dried her hand on her apron then bent to the cupboard under the sink. ‘Did you remember to get the washing up liquid, Clive? It was on the list but I can’t see it here. Now what can I use inst...Oh!’

Clive suddenly darted between Janice and the sink. He hunkered down and began to shift the bottles and boxes on the shelf. Then, red-faced, he hauled himself upright again by clutching the edge of the sink. He placed a plastic bottle of green liquid on the draining board.

‘There you are. Panic over!’

‘I wasn’t panicking.’ Janice raised a tiny cut-glass goblet so it glinted in the light, before plunging it into the water. ‘I'd challenge even Jane Austen's women to get drunk with these.’

She gave Clive a thoughtful glance. ‘And what do you mean, I know what Jack’s like when he’s had too much?’

Clive examined the pattern on the edge of a plate then straightened his shoulders and looked at Janice.

‘You know very well what I mean. He gets too silly - laughing like a drain at your jokes, which we’ve all heard a dozen times before.’

‘Well, I’m just amazed he tolerates your meanness with the wine. Especially as he provided it.’

‘There was no call to repeat that one about could you borrow a saw because the top half of your glass wasn’t really serving any purpose. As for the wine he brought, he can’t complain. He certainly didn’t bankrupt himself. I re-corked it and slipped it into Linda’s bag as they left ’

‘You did what?’ Janice slapped the gloves down on the draining board and removed her apron. ‘Right, that’s it! I’ve had enough. I’m going to bed and you can finish up by yourself.’

‘Oh… alright, yes. Fine with me,’ said Clive. He stretched an arm to the radio as he turned to the sink. ‘I’ll just see if I can catch tomorrow’s weather forecast’.

‘There could be a storm brewing,’ muttered Janice, as she left the kitchen.

She made her way, scowling, up the stairs. Passing the book-case on the landing, she stopped to straighten a leather-bound volume of Dickens. Something clunked. Janice lifted the book to examine the gilt lettering on the spine. Great Expectations.

Swearing under her breath, she snatched at the half-full bottle of vodka hidden behind the row of books, then entered the bedroom. She paused and looked around.

After a few moments she crept to the other side of the room, opened the sash window and placed the bottle on the window sill outside, before drawing the curtains.

She chuckled as she turned back the bedcover, and retrieved a small bottle of brandy from under her pillow. She sat on the edge of the bed and unscrewed the stopper.

Downstairs, Clive turned up the radio volume as he rummaged among the packets and bottles under the sink. He finally stood up, clutching a bottle of multi-purpose cleaner. At least, that was what the label said.

‘A close call,’ Clive reflected, as he put the bottle on the table and took a tumbler from the cupboard.

He’d smiled when he heard the clunk that told him the book decoy trick had worked. What a brainwave to use an old hiding place. Janice would never know it was water in the bottle, and she'd even believed the left-over wine story. He'd retrieve that from behind the sofa later.

He drew up a chair and adjusted the volume knob on the radio again. ‘Got to keep one step ahead of the game,’ he told himself. Then he poured himself a large drink from the bottle and settled to listen to the weather forecast.

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Comments by other Members

Freebird at 16:11 on 19 July 2012  Report this post
I enjoyed this, Cornelia - what a well-observed exchange between husband and wife. And it's true, the kitchen is a well known domestic battlefield! I liked the actions too, like
Janice stretched a rubber glove then let go with a loud snap
An action like that speaks volumes!

I wondered why he leapt between her and the kitchen cupboard to get the washing up liquid. And then we discover that he's got a bottle of alcohol hidden in there. Clive talks about hearing the clunk of the book and we discover that he put it there on purpose as a red herring. And I love this revelation that both partners think they are the one tricking the other, and that they've won!

Very quirky and clever

Bald Man at 14:22 on 20 July 2012  Report this post
Good story, witty, well-observed, and quite sad too. It catches marital tension in a crisp and realistic way, and highlights the very real issue of secret drinking in unhappy households.

I found this sentence a bit awkward to say aloud:

"And what exactly do you mean when you say I know what Jack’s like when he’s had too much?’

You could break it up a little with a comma:

'And what do you mean exactly, when you say I know what Jack's like when he's had too much'


Cornelia at 15:05 on 20 July 2012  Report this post
Thank you for reading and commenting, Colin. I will fix that right away.


fluffyduffy at 20:38 on 20 July 2012  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

I enjoyed this story. The conversation between husband and wife was very realistic and i liked that they both had drinking problems and thought they were hiding it well from each other. Very clever.

Clive ranged cutlery in a drawer. Why were some spoons designed to look like forks? No wonder they got mixed up.

This seemed to shift POV in the middle of their conversation. Also, shouldn't it be 'Clive rearranged the cutlery drawer'?

Janice squirted liquid into the bowl and swirled the bubbles round with her hand.

First you have the above about Janice squirting liquid into the sink, then you have...

She dried her hand on her apron then bent to the cupboard under the sink. ‘Did you remember to get the washing up liquid, Clive? It was on the list but I can’t see it here. Now what can I use

Had she used the last bit of liquid but needed more? I think this needs rewording slightly.

Also, and this could just be me, but I wondered why she put the bottle of vodka (water) onto the window sill. Was she trying to hide it? If so, why on the window sill?

Apart from that I really enjoyed this.


Katerina at 06:12 on 21 July 2012  Report this post
This is a great story Sheila, and I can't find anything to comment on - the others have pointed out the things I would have!

I think you should send this off to The Weekly News, Take A Break or Woman's Weekly as it's suitable for all of them.

Good luck


Cornelia at 07:51 on 21 July 2012  Report this post
Thanks, Alana, for spotting these glitches. At one point I had him putting dishes away before they'd been washed up! That's why he ended up just shuffling the dishes round on the shelf. It makes more sense to have him rummaging in the cutlery drawer. Good point, too about the washing up liquid. I will take another look at this to rearrange things She put the bottle outside to hide it from her husband but she might drink it herself later - she'll be disappointed when she finds it's water, not gin!


Cornelia at 07:58 on 21 July 2012  Report this post
Kat, I'm glad you like it. It doesn't read much like a womag story to me - none that I've read recently, anyway. I think it's a bit short for TWN bearing in mind what Jill said about preferring 1200 words, and I don't really want to lengthen it at this stage, but maybe TAB could take it. I'll have another look. I have quite a few of these conversation pieces that aren't really suitable for womags. Some of which have been accepted sites like 'Short Humour' and 'Pygmy Giant' which don't pay. Maybe I can sell them as an ebook anthology?


Katerina at 08:58 on 23 July 2012  Report this post
Sheila, Jill is happy to take anything from 900-1200 words, so I'd try TWN with it.


Cornelia at 09:01 on 23 July 2012  Report this post
Thanks, Kat. I'll try that. It's particularly attractive as Jill will accept emailed stories.


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