Debonair, that was how Susan, my friend from Pilates, had always described my husband, Peter – before his accident. Now his blue eyes, roman nose, square chin and neatly cut jet-black hair – dyed, of course – stared back from the life-size photograph propped on the windowsill by the television. How I longed to smash it.
I tried to remember when Peter and I had last felt love for each other? Probably back on that Caribbean cruise eight years ago. Even then, he’d disappeared for two hours one evening, swearing that he’d accidentally got locked in an empty cabin. And then he’d excused himself from our usual love-making session, saying he had stomach ache. As if.
Anyway, then there was Anthea, his secretary, and Mildred, a lady ten years older than him, but ‘wearing well,’ at the golf club. But then Matthew, my Pilates instructor, had begun to show an interest in me. Knowing Peter was ‘playing away,’ I saw no reason to resist and over the years our efforts to pretend we weren’t seeing our lovers grew less and less, until we couldn’t be bothered any more. Peter moved to a guest bedroom and we only made love on birthdays and anniversaries, if then.
We made an effort for appearances’ sake when our children visited. Alistair, 25, worked for a large accountancy firm in Glasgow, and June, 23, taught History and English in Sussex. They had their own lives so it wasn’t often necessary, thankfully.
Then came the fateful day when Ellen, our cleaner, had come running, screaming that my husband was floating in the pool, face down. The autopsy had shown a haemorrhage of the brain. It was assumed that whilst raking leaves from the pool, he’d slipped in a moment of carelessness, banged his head and fallen in, drowning whilst unconscious.
The funeral had been a sad affair, our rural church full to the gills with mourners in black. Many were unknown to me, friends and acquaintances of Peter, I supposed. Of course, one has no real control over who may turn up. Alistair and June took it very badly, June in particular pressing tissues to her eyes for most of the service.
Then, three weeks later, June had presented me with a gift. It felt like a picture and I unwrapped it with eager anticipation, shocked instead to find a life-size portrait of my husband.
“What’s the matter, mum, don’t you like it?” she asked with sadness in her hazel eyes.
“Oh, sorry, dear. Of course, I’m thrilled. I think it just reminded me, er, how much I miss the old rascal.”
“Will you put it by the television, so it’s like he’s still here.”
“Er, yes, of course, it’s a lovely photograph, sweetheart.”
June hugged me tight. “I miss dad so much.”
I hugged her in return, not knowing what to say.
Now I knocked back a glass of Pinot Grigio, cursing Matthew and Peter simultaneously. Mathew and I were supposed to be going out for a meal to celebrate five years of our relationship but Matt had phoned, claiming a bad cold. True, he didn’t sound good, but I remembered the old ‘pepper trick’ that I’d used on more than one occasion myself.
Maybe it was the alcohol but I could have sworn I saw one of Peter’s eyes blink. I longed to turn the photograph face down but June was staying. She’d gone out to the cinema with her boyfriend, Robert. I didn’t know if they would go for a meal afterwards or come straight home, in which case they could be here any minute.
I picked the photograph up and looked at my husband’s handsome features. “You slimeball!” Just as I said it, a log shifted noisily in the fire and simultaneously a petal fell from a tulip in a vase.
I replaced the photograph, feeling spooked. I went to my desk and picked up a labradorite crystal ball, about two inches in diameter, feeling its heaviness in my palm, and watching the grey and black ball sparkle blue, turquoise and orange under the light. It looked like a fairy was shining a torch around inside it, an effect that I’d learnt was called labradorescence.
Then my mind went to a pair of beige Aran-wool socks, of which only one remained, in a drawer of Peter’s socks and underwear. If Matthew was messing me around, maybe I might just find a similar use for the other one.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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