Jon Kemsley Clark ~ White

We were half way through the sec­ond course before she men­tioned it. Quite in pass­ing. Not that she came out and said it direct­ly. Just in pass­ing as if it was some­thing I already knew. Something like oh my hus­band would have done such and such or my hus­band would have said such and such. That seems rea­son­able, I told her, I would under­stand that. As if I knew him. As if she thought I knew about him. She had a tired look around the eyes that sug­gest­ed glass­es and lines at her neck that gave away her age. I had not noticed a ring but there was a ring and I noticed it now. I took a sip of the white and wished it was some­thing stronger. I’d had a lit­tle some­thing before the taxi arrived and then again at the bar as I was wait­ing for her to find the place so I sup­pose I only had myself to blame. The tables were arranged at odd angles and the restau­rant was oth­er­wise emp­ty. Light from the street passed in stages across the ceil­ing. She filled her glass with more of the white and smiled a tight smile and took a long drink. I let her talk which seemed to work well enough for her. I swal­lowed it all down along with the dregs in my glass and then waved the wait­er over and ordered anoth­er bot­tle of the same. There was chat­ter in the street and then laugh­ter. The wine came and the wine went as she filled her glass twice more. There was room for dessert once they’d tak­en away the bot­tles and the buck­et. Mine was some­thing from the back of the menu that had to be brought down from the top shelf and she chose some­thing she called sin­ful that arrived in a saucer with a sparkler stick­ing out of it. She picked at it with a fork as she list­ed off the crav­ings she’d been hav­ing recent­ly. The wait­er was sat at a table in the cor­ner read­ing a news­pa­per. I called for the bill and sucked in my lips and we set­tled up and left. I fol­lowed her to a taxi and then fol­lowed myself to a bar with a late licence.


Two weeks lat­er I was push­ing the hair out of my eyes and squint­ing at the hand­writ­ing over her door­bell. In my oth­er hand was a bot­tle of white. She let me in almost imme­di­ate­ly and smiled her tight smile. Apparently I was more than wel­come. The flat was on the ground floor and shared a hall­way with the one above which boast­ed a locked door behind which would have been a flight of stairs. The hall­way was full of box­es and every­thing was off to the left. A din­ing room and then a small kitchen and fur­ther back pre­sum­ably a bed­room and the door to a court­yard. To get to the bath­room you had to pass through the kitchen. Steam rose from what­ev­er was sim­mer­ing there and min­gled with the smell of damp in the hall­way. He appeared from out of the steam clutch­ing a tea tow­el. Hello I’m the hus­band, he began offer­ing his free hand, I hope you like apri­cots. And then notic­ing the wine he asked, what do you have there? I hand­ed the bot­tle over and fol­lowed him into the kitchen protest­ing that it hadn’t been chilled but he opened it any­way and filled three glass­es. He prod­ded at some­thing in a pan with a big spoon as she squeezed past us to attend to some­thing in the oven. It needs more time, she announced, shall we go through? We made our way out in sin­gle file spilling wine as we stepped over box­es. The din­ing room dou­bled as a lounge and there was a sofa with its back to the win­dow and a din­ing table pushed up against the oppo­site wall. No tele­vi­sion. Three hard-backed chairs with cush­ions tied at the seats had been posi­tioned around the table and three places set. The door from the hall­way opened inwards and didn’t quite clear the near­est chair. We get the sun in here in the after­noon, she said, so that’s nice. An open paper­back lay face down on the sofa and next to that was a tube of hand cream. She’s been work­ing nights, he explained, so she makes the most of it. Shall we sit? They offered me the fur­thest chair, she took the mid­dle chair and he the chair behind the door. Nobody said any­thing for what seemed like a cou­ple of min­utes and then we all spoke at once and then every­body went for their drinks. This hap­pened a sec­ond time and then a buzzer sound­ed. Shall I serve? she asked. Well we ought to eat real­ly, he replied. She dis­ap­peared off to the kitchen leav­ing me to make friends with the man of the house and so I let him talk. Which seemed to work well enough for him. To be hon­est I don’t believe it, he was telling me as she appeared again with plates, it’s one of those sub­ur­ban myths isn’t it? I had no idea what he was talk­ing about so I nod­ded and smiled and took the plate that was being passed to me. It’s one of those sub­ur­ban myths isn’t it? he repeat­ed to his wife. What is? she asked so he went back over it and this time I got it. Yes it’s one of those sub­ur­ban myths, she agreed. She paused and looked at me. Neither of us dri­ves, she said with a laugh and her hand went up to her mouth. Do you dri­ve? I’m sure you’ve already told me. We set­tled down to our meal as she went about arrang­ing serv­ing plates and side plates and the salt and pep­per. He ate with his fin­gers mak­ing lit­tle word­less nois­es of approval as he ate. I pushed the food around my plate with a fork and sep­a­rat­ed out one or two larg­er objects. I think we’ve done alright with this one, he said, how is it for you? Yes, I said, it’s very nice. I forked a lit­tle of the very nice into my mouth and chewed slow­ly. An ant made its way between the plates and over the side of the table and then anoth­er fol­lowed it. The con­ver­sa­tion turned to fam­i­ly and the weath­er. We’re think­ing of mov­ing back at the end of the sum­mer, he told me, because it would be real­ly too warm right now. And she, he said indi­cat­ing his wife, is going to need look­ing after. They both smiled at this and she pushed her glass away with a wink. Just the two of us then, I said to him with­out think­ing. I expect she can still take us both on, he quipped back. I coughed into my hand. A car engine start­ed up some­where in the street and then cut out and then start­ed up and cut out again. Who’s for dessert? We have dessert, she said quick­ly. A mus­cle in my cheek began to twitch and wouldn’t stop. I’ll clear the plates, he replied. There was the rat­tle of cut­lery against crock­ery as they shuf­fled out. I heard the kitchen door close. I leaned slow­ly out of my chair and reached for my jack­et which was draped over one arm of the sofa and then glanced back at my emp­ty glass. I could almost make out the con­ver­sa­tion com­ing from the kitchen.


Jon Kemsley Clark has recent­ly had pieces pub­lished in Joyzine, The Fiction Pool, Ghost Parachute, Storgy and Neon. He works in finance which is odd see­ing as he trained in sci­ence and he likes to mess about with old radios and tape recorders.