This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:
toxic :: imprint :: fluorescent :: cream :: water pressure
The fluorescent tube flickered above our heads, its failing light mimicking my suddenly irregular heartbeat. I picked at a tear in the greasy, checkered tablecloth, its plastic surface giving way to a toxic-looking underlay. I loosened some of it with a questing fingernail, wondering if I could sneak some into his coffee without him noticing.
‘Could you have picked a worse place to tell me this?’ I asked. The crackling buzz of the dying light filled my brain, and he made no move to reply. He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat, and his eyes flicked up to the wall behind me.
The imprint of his wedding ring was still on his finger. The skin where it had been was shiny-looking and new, like a freshly healed wound.
‘Look,’ he began, ‘I’m sorry. I never meant for any of this to hurt you.’
‘If that was true,’ I said, ‘you wouldn’t have done it.’
‘So, we can sort out the house and stuff at a later date, yeah?’ The eyes again, flicking up to the wall. I wondered what I was keeping him from, where he’d rather be.
‘Do you even care about me? Did you ever care?’
‘D’you want another coffee? I wouldn’t get the cream this time, though. It looks a bit off.’ He met my eyes and gave me his little boy smile, the one which managed to be sweet and apologetic at the same time, the one that said ‘sorry, love – I forgot to get the newspaper,’ or ‘sorry, love, I didn’t get around to washing the car.’ Sorry, love – I couldn’t remember how to love you, so I just stopped.
‘Is there someone else? Is that it?’
‘So, how’s work, and everything?’ he asked, winding his fingers together, his knuckles whitening. ‘Anything happening with the new boss?’
‘Is she younger? Better looking? No, forget I asked. I don’t want to know.’
He took one last look at the clock.
‘Look, I should probably go, you know? I have to meet someone, in a while. Will we just…’ he took a heavy breath, biting his lip as he gazed at me. After a few minutes he blinked, shaking his head. ‘I’ll be in touch then, right? In a few days?’ His voice was bright, and he was already half on his feet.
I expected him to reach over and shake my hand, then. I genuinely, honest to God, thought that’s what he was going to do, like I was a client and this was a business meeting.
I stood up, carefully. The table surface seemed too far away as I reached down to grab my phone and keys; my hands didn’t belong to me. I felt like a helium balloon, full to bursting, rising up and up toward the cobwebbed ceiling. I clamped my mouth shut, because I felt it coming, like I was a pipe under the wrong pressure, a water main about to blow, a sewer threatening to overflow.
‘Are you…’ he began, but he looked at me and his words just dried up. I’d never seen his mouth hang open before – not for me, at least. I said nothing, and he said no more.
I kept my mouth shut all the way home, driving carefully and considerately; I kept it shut as I locked the car, unlocked the front door, and kicked off my shoes. I kept it shut as I walked upstairs to the bathroom, and as I wrenched the rings from my finger, and as I pulled out the plunger from our – my – designer wash-hand basin, and as I dropped them down the plughole one by one.
I kept it shut as I dropped our wedding photograph onto the tiled kitchen floor, and even as I smashed the china bride-and-groom figurine he’d bought me for our first anniversary, and as I cut my wedding dress into a mass of tiny, silken squares, fit for nothing.
By the time I finally opened my mouth again, there was nothing left to say.