Posted: 15 May 2014
Word Count: 1327
Summary: Two very shorts stitched together as they were both written after a first sentence prompt and the idea flowed together. It's a bit melancholy
There was only one letter this morning and as she read it, tears welled in her eyes and made their way down her face. She was sitting on the spindle-back chair at the kitchen table as she read. His chair.
It was only once. One indiscretion that she had kept locked within herself and which had haunted her ever since. They say everyone is entitled to make a mistake, don’t they? But there are some actions that we take - knowing they are wrong - with not a thought for the consequences. But the consequence had writhed within her like tangled rope for the last thirteen years. It was her guilt. She had wanted to tell him. How many times had she sat at this same table with a sheet of paper before her trying to put into words her regret, her shame, some sort of explanation for what she had done? Even now she could pick out the faint trace lines of writing in the surface of the pine kitchen table. Her pen gripped too tightly - the pressure too hard such that the words went through.
Linda got up and walked to the kitchen counter. He’ll be up soon and will be expecting his tea to be ready as it always had been for these last twenty-five years of their marriage. How many days is it exactly: three hundred and sixty five multiplied by twenty-five? When she was younger she would have been able to work it out in her head but her mind wasn’t so agile now. Where had she put the calculator?
It was no more than an office fling really, two people that were overwhelmingly attracted to each other. She worked in the accounts department and he was in sales. He was married, of course. The relationship only lasted three months but they stole every moment they could to be with each other. She could remember those trysts now. Their scheming and cunning came so natural to them as they found ways to meet up in empty offices and corridors, anywhere out of prying eyes, just to hold each other for a brief moment. And then there was that afternoon. Ah yes, that afternoon. They had both arranged to work late and when everyone had gone home, they had each other and they had the time to move their relationship past one of just a kiss and a cuddle. Linda pushed the memory aside as quickly as it formed.
It all ended when he was posted to another office down South. They both knew it couldn’t carry on and they mutually accepted it. “Nobody knows about it and no harm has been done,” he said. No harm has been done?
Linda poured boiling water into the mugs and stirred the tea absent-mindedly. She took the envelope out from the pocket of her dressing gown. It was a Silver wedding Anniversary card from her daughters and within it was two tickets - tickets for a mediterranean cruise - a gift from their children to celebrate their anniversary. To celebrate their “perfect marriage” as they put it. But it wasn’t perfect was it? The silver was tarnished and scratched and only she could see it, only she knew it was flawed. How could she accept the gift when it would be a lie? A mockery of all those years together.
She heard her husband’s footfalls on the stairs and stood up to greet him, at the same time pushing the tickets deep into her pocket. “Happy Anniversary, dear’” he said. He held her tenderly in his arms and kissed her. Linda kissed him back - her loving, faultless, unsuspecting husband. She pressed her face into the warm crook made by his shoulder and neck and softly began to cry.
A slight gust of wind lifted an oak leaf from its enfeebled mooring and settled it between them on the park bench. Linda picked it up. It was veined and leathery like a bat’s wing, she thought. Why a bat’s wing? Derek wanted to say that it wouldn’t be like the last time, she was a single woman now, wasn’t she? But instead he said nothing and moved ever so slightly away. Linda held the leaf by its stem and examined it as intently as a botanist. The colours of the leaf shifted from dull brown through to gold, amber and red. Autumn colours. She’d read somewhere that the colours were simply a result of the tree cutting off water from the leaf so that it withers on the branch. They were the colours of its decay - it was already dead. Science spoils everything, she thought, knowledge takes the magic away.
What if that mediterranean cruise had been a prize in a competition? She could have kept that quiet. She could have sent it back or just simply ripped it up. But it wasn’t a prize; it was a gift from her children, a gift to their parents to celebrate their twenty-five years together. There was no hiding that. They would turn up at the house, their faces beaming, proud of their gift, and chattering excitedly about the forthcoming cruise. No, there was no hiding that, and so she had to tell him.
She remembered that morning when she told her husband of her affair; how she had wrenched the words out of herself like a sinner in the confessional, how he had suddenly appeared frail and vulnerable and beat, like a priest that had lost his faith. He said he forgave her, that it was all in the past, but things between them were never quite the same. Whenever they had good times together, and there were good times, they never laughed quite as freely as before. When their eyes met and they stared into each others, she could see the unasked questions in his. He still told her he loved her like he had every day of their marriage, but to her it now felt more out of duty, a reassurance, and she felt those knotted ropes of guilt within her twist as she responded with her “I love you, too”.
He died three years later, taken by prostrate cancer. She was with him by his hospital bed when he died. She sat there and watched in silence as the colour drained away from his face. His lips, pale-blue and drawn - the colours of death again. She hardly recognised him.
The children don’t seem to come around as often as they used to do. They have their own lives to live now, she supposed. They had never understood the way she felt anyway. Affairs seem to be commonplace to the young, almost a part of life that is easily patched, covered up and forgotten. They shrug off guilt as easily as shrugging off a coat on a warm, spring day. How she envied them.
“Will I see you again?” said Derek.
His voice pulled her out of her thoughts.
“I mean, just as friends ... if you like?”
Linda got up from the bench, stood before him and held his cold hands in hers that were colder still. He leaned forward to kiss her. “Good bye, Derek,” said Linda as she withdrew.
Alone, Linda followed the walkway that gently curved ahead, bounded by the lake on one side and the park on the other. In the distance a mother was calling to her son who was kicking up the leaves before him that had been left in a pile by a gardener, waiting to be collected later. It was odd, thought Linda, that she had been more faithful to the ghost of her husband than when he was alive.
She opened the door to her empty house. The absence of her husband was palpable but she felt calm. A score had been settled. The guilt had been redressed somehow, and she felt those ropes start to unravel.
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