My New Short Story Collection of Ten stories will be published before the end of the year. I hope you like the cover and enjoy Bed Crumbs with its mix of romantic suspense, intrigue and humour.
Bed Crumbs – Number 3 in the new Short Story Collection.
He fixes her gaze with his own, before lowering his eyes to the plate of half-finished food in front of him.
‘I think the two of you are lovers?’ It sounds like an ambiguous comment, which he tries to twist into a factual accusation. His iron clad indictment falls like cold stones into the silence. It’s as if the other dinner guests hear every word, enunciated, sharpened with bitterness. A ripple effect of unspoken accusations radiates from her heart, ring upon ring, moving outwards, ever expanding into the entire restaurant. She stops chewing, holding her breath, attempting to muffle her pounding heartbeat.
The hard set of his mouth demands an explanation, and his eyes are too painful to look at, too desperate to interpret.
Her mouth gapes, but the opening words gag and die in her throat. Like a car choking off on an icy winter’s morning, she coughs, pressing the white corner of the linen napkin to her lips, imagining it would camouflage her unease.
‘That’s ridiculous!’ she tries indignation as her first line of defence. ‘I’m old enough to be his mother!’
‘I heard he was old enough to be your lover.’ He reaches for his glass and sips the dry wine which matches the colour of his pallid face.
She snorts. ‘People talk.’ She, too, reaches for her glass, an anchor, something solid to hold on to in this treacherous sea of deceit. ‘Rather question the motives of those telling you such rubbish,’ she continues. ‘Think about it. What do they have to gain? Who are they scoring against?’
His ice-blue eyes flicker in recognition and she knows she’s made a connection, but his informer has more credibility and won’t be extricated from his rock-solid truth.
‘We’re good friends,’ she tries again, this time using the route of compromise. ‘We talk, spend time together. Be realistic. He lives with his parents, and I live with you and our son. Be logical,’ she sniggers. ‘Do you think I’m going to bang a young guy in the back of my car on my way to fetch our son from school?’
He draws in a deep breath, stalling for time to assess the situation.
‘I guess it’s about time we both came clean.’ His brow furrows as he considers how to unfold his infidelities. ‘Nothing remains neutral in domestic Nirvana, Anna.’ His use of her name prickles with persuasive salesmanship. Somehow, his tone makes her feel distant, living in some remote, faraway place, disconnected from her own husband. Was it her subconscious desire to escape from his presence? Watching him closely, she’s shocked at surviving ten-years of marriage to the man. Her twenties, her youth already used up in his service, meeting his demands and those of her son. He has evolved into an alien, and she can’t recall ever being truly intimate with him.
She’s playing her role, a devoted wife and mother, sucked dry, an empty husk drifting toward her mid-thirties.
He shifts in his seat, his voice drones on about the stress of work and business demands. She observes him as if he were a laboratory frog to be dissected in her high school biology class. There’s a confidential telltale lilt in his voice. He rolls his shoulders uneasily. The stage is set for personal disclosure, secrets he wished to wash away. She already knows what he’s about to say. She suppresses an urge to shove her starched napkin down his throat. His lips seem to move ahead of his words and her mind races to keep up with his sudden enthusiasm to disclose his own lies and liabilities.
‘I met her on a plane while returning to London about eighteen-months ago. Quite ironic, really, that she should live in the same country as me.’
‘So, it’s as I said.’ Anna’s cynical voice interrupts his reminiscence. ‘Why do you think I asked you several times last year if you were having an affair?’
‘It wasn’t an affair,’ he shoots back.
‘Well then, what the hell was it? What are you confessing now? On second thoughts, I don’t want to know!’
Red fiery anger rises into her throat, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. What kind of game was he playing this time?
He glances over her shoulder, his eyes watching the other diners, assessing storm damage, fearing his wife’s anger will draw unwanted attention into the expanding void between them.
He turns back to face her. ‘Let me finish.’
Anna flicks her blonde hair from her eyes, smouldering with resentment. Did he expect her to swallow another story now? He is stalling again, unable to admit any wrongdoing, and he never apologises. She knows the drill. He is trying to read the lines around the set of her mouth so see how far he should go. She leans back in her chair, regarding him, the frogman pinned to a wooden table.
‘All I said…’
‘Just get on with it, Mike. What exactly are you trying to explain?’
‘I met her. She’s attractive, young, working for a computer company. We had dinner a few times…’
‘How’s that possible? I thought you talked to her on a plane?’
He shifts awkwardly. ‘Sure, but every time I went to Paris during the past year, we would meet up. All legitimate. I can assure you.’
‘That’s about a week out of every six…’
‘But Anna, we just talk, have drinks or a dinner… uh… we visited Euro Disney together.
Her voice grows cold and controlled. ‘This sounds like something even Mickey Mouse would find hard to swallow.’ She can see him gritting his teeth, the jaw pulsating with controlled agitation. ‘Are you still seeing her?’
‘No. No. I haven’t seen her since Christmas. I broke it off with her when I returned from New York last month.’
‘Broke it off?’ Anna’s voice lowers to a harsh whisper. ‘Broke it off? How do you break up something that’s not happening, Mr Smythe?’
‘I… am… calm.’ She spits out each syllable. ‘I’ve been calm for the entire duration of our marriage. It seems you are finally making an admission, hoping to net me into true confessions. I’ve nothing to confess, save a good, close and honest friendship with a young man. You have a decade or more of liaisons with heaven knows who, throughout our marriage, if you can call it that. You expect me to believe it’s a mere year’s clandestine connection with a young woman… how old is she?’
‘Great! An eighteen-year age gap. Touché, dear boy! There’s only twelve-years between the male student and me.’
She doesn’t want to use the student’s name; it would make him more real in her husband’s paranoid mind. She wants to keep Alex to herself and divorced from the unfolding domestic drama.
‘So, what made you and this… young woman break up?’
He shrugs. ‘You’re right. We didn’t break up. There was nothing to break up, really.’ He grimaces. ‘She came on strong, started phoning me at the office. I didn’t want to jeopardise my marriage to you.’
Anna guffaws with laughter. Yes, it was his marriage. Everything in it revolves around him. ‘I see,’ is her only response as her mind races ahead.
He tilts his head towards her, fixing his face into what he believes is deep sincerity. Anna wants to laugh at him. But all Anna sees is long stainless-steel pins piercing through his limbs, fixing him to a dissection board. His frog green body slimy with perspiration, his nostrils flared in anxiety. She is going to make him croak. She throws her napkin onto her plate of half-finished food.
‘What are you doing?’ he asks, surprised.
‘I’ve had enough. Enough dinner. Enough time alone. Enough of you.’
His face changes as if she has thrust a long metal pin into his genitals. Now there’s an idea.
‘I want to go home.’ Her words are definite, non -negotiable. Astonished at the harshness in her voice, he hesitates. She’s usually so pliable and accommodating. She stands, turning to leave the restaurant, and he waves his hand for the server to bring the bill.
They drive home in silence. The low hum of the Mercedes engine seems a brooding replica of the monotonous life Anna has lived as wife to Mr Right, an influential businessman and expert in narcissistic self-indulgence.
It all started about five-years-ago when his fanatical drive to make money and accumulate a bigger house, a flashier car and a greater and greater desire to be seen by friends and businesses associates as the epitome of success. All Anna experienced was an allergic reaction.
She grew resistant to business dinners, where the verbal exchanges with the red finger-nailed, and monosyllabic-brained wives of her husband’s banker, attorney, business partners and soft-balled associates proved boring. Where was the laughter? What ever happened to good clean fun? What the hell happened to her life? It had somehow grown into an uncontrollable monster, devouring everything, engorging itself on all she believes in, including herself.