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.