Did TJ get it wrong?
J M Curry
The water from the cracked down pipe took me by surprise. It’d shot out from a join and sprayed over my neck. I jumped two feet. “Agh!” I could feel it running down my shirt between my shoulder blades. My wife thought I’d gone to work. She’s been acting oddly recently. I’ve been on a shift of afternoons for three weeks straight, not getting home until after ten, getting dark, but still balmy. She has always been in bed. Not waiting up for me, to chat across a cup of cocoa, like we normally do. Always too tired.
I shook the water from my hair. How did that happen? It wasn’t even raining. I looked up to see a man twenty feet away, up a ladder, hose pipe oozing water along his guttering.
“Sorry about that Butt. I didn’t see you down in the alley. Just cleaning and testing it all. You okay?”
“Yeah, sure!” I managed a smile. “Well now you know this collar needs fixing,” I proffered to his thumbs up as I moved away.
Today is different. I left for work as usual. Delilah saw me to the door, pushing my lunch box into my hand giving me a perfunctory kiss on the cheek and closing the front door with what I thought was unseemly haste. I drove off in my car, but instead of heading for the link road to get me to the factory as usual, I circled the block of terraced houses and parked a few streets away. I made my way through the back alleys, until I came to this vantage point in the lane opposite. It affords a good view of my front door.
I’d stepped across the pot holed tarmac, to the opposite side whilst the man finished. But I was nervous my wife might look out the window and see me. Thankfully, or perhaps not so thankfully, he didn’t take too much longer and now I’ve taken up point on the corner of the lane. I’m obscured by the pine-end and the angle across the street; she’s not going to see me. What is she up to? I ask myself for the umpteenth time, fearful of the answer. Fretful, I reach to my back pocket for the comfort of my wallet, open it to look at her photo; curled at its edges, a little grubby, but still one of my favourites. She’s a prize catch my wife. All my mates were jealous when we got together. Nobody thought I had a chance with our local beauty queen. To be frank, I didn’t rate my chances either. But for some reason she chose lanky, spotty me. I was so lucky. I am so lucky. Or am I? The fearsome thoughts of betrayal chatter away in my head like roosting starlings. I think back seven years. I’m turning to see her gliding down the aisle, I contain a gasp and grin at the vision. Her auburn hair tumbling over her white silk gown; her smile beaming in compliment to the translucent seed pearl detail. Then she’s by my side and I can’t swallow. She turns to me and I melt into her velvet green eyes and I relax. I know I have her, she’s mine and I’m hers.
Or so I thought. Not now though. I know she’s betraying me. I can feel it. She’s taken an interest in our cluttered box room, pretending she’s using it as her study. Huh! I know her, she’s hiding something. She looks uncomfortable and changes the subject when I ask her about it. She’s even taken to locking it. I bet she’s been texting and tweeting her fancy man from there. Drooling over him when I’m out at bloody work. Always working to bring home the bacon. To buy things for the house, for us, for her. Working so hard and for what? So she can go shagging some stud while I’m out? And in my own home! Well not today my girl. Thinking you can make a fool out of me. Today I’m going to expose your deception. Today we’ll see, just who that fool is.
Hello? Who’s this pulling up outside my house? In my parking space! Bloody Hell! Smart car. Audi. Bright red. Flash git! He’s confident, striding up to my door. Yeah! This isn’t the first time is it, you cocky sod. She’s at the door, flashing her warmest smile. I’ve not seen many of those lately. Well, if she thinks I’m going to stand here while she flashes God knows what else. I’m moving before I think it through. He’s a big bloke. Taller than me, even. He’s going in now. Jeez! his shoulders almost fill the doorway. Hang on. I retreat to my position. She hasn’t seen me. Wait Tom. Yes, wait a minute see what happens.
She’s looking out of our bedroom window. So she’s upstairs then. That didn’t take long. Where’s he? What’s that? His shadow? Something’s moving behind her. He must be coming into our bedroom. Bastards! She’s obviously satisfied herself the coast is clear; she’s gone now. Yeah, too smart to draw the curtains; don’t want the neighbours being curious. But why let him park outside? I dismiss the little nag: they’ve obviously gotten bold: familiarity breeds contempt. Yeah! been at it for weeks by the look of it. I feel my knees tremble and I look down at my balled fists and see a tiny splash of water on my shoe. Not raining now is it? I look back towards my home. No rain. The house looks fuzzy. I wipe away the blur from my eyes. I’m gulping air now. My throat is dry; it feels like I’m swallowing burnt bread crusts. A funnel of fury fires in my chest and now I’m snorting flames and I’m kicking hell out of his car.
“Yeah, see how you like them eggs boyo!”
I can hear a voice shouting. My voice! I’m hammering on my front door. My own door and I’m having to knock for entry. I’m running back to his car. A flying kick caves his passenger door in. Aww! That feels good.
“What the bloody hell you doing, you crazy bugger?” he’s running out of my house. I dash around his car and I’m in. I slam the door behind me and bolt it again. She comes to greet me. She’s flushed. She’s guilty.
“Tom? What you doing home... What are you...”
“Yeah! Well you may ask, girlie. Weren’t expecting that were you! Not expecting me to come home and catch you at it. Well, your boyfriend can’t help you now.”
Delilah stands there laughing. Telling me not to be daft. As if I’m the stupid one. I feel the knife in my hand. And now I’m slashing and stabbing. Delilah’s on the floor. He’s pounding on the door. She’s stopped screaming. Crash! he’s through the door. My rage vented, he takes the blooded steel from my hand. He’s shaking her by the shoulder, calling “Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Jones.”
My neighbour is here. Dialling 999.
I’m transfixed. Blood! So much blood. It’s not gushing now. There’s so much of it. Running under the skirting board.
Wham! he’s got me by the neck. Thudding me up against the wall. What’s that he’s saying? He’s yelling into my face. I can see his mouth moving. I catch it in parts.
“...Look upstairs... Stupid prick! ....I’m...working... carpenter...surprise... ”
I’m clobbering up the stairs now. I reach the landing: the box room door is open! I’m standing among an assortment of tools, shelving. The junk has gone. There are swathes of pastel paints on a wall. Swatches of wall paper on the windowsill. And in the corner stands a new handmade oak baby changing station.
I never knew. She hadn’t told me. I didn’t know.
"And that’s the day I relive over and over Doctor. It never goes away. No matter how many times I sit in this chair and tell you. I hear the screaming. I smell the fear. I see those dulled green eyes, fading into oblivion. And the blood, always the blood! And now I feel the panic of realisation and the utter despair; knowing I was so, so wrong. And knowing I can never tell Delilah or my unborn child how sorry I am."
J M Curry
Pain had stolen the comfort of sleep from Charles. He huffs over to his bedroom window; day is breaking, sticky and sultry. The sky an early morning indigo but the clouds are mottled grey and bunched like towels in a washing basket. He waits a while for the autumnal breeze to escort the clouds away, unaware that it is his day to meet me.
Charles heads towards the shop now, as the sun rises, bright, to his right side. The hump back bridge obscures his view as he crosses the road. He knows he is not as nimble following his operation but it is a long way to the crossing. I’ll just nip across to the shop and get back for my pain killers.
After a long shift, Jason Fellows crashes through his gears. He hopes to get back to the depot before 8am. He increases the pressure on the accelerator as he approaches the hump back bridge, needing to keep the engine revs up: the last drop off is a heavy load. He crests the brow, sparing a glance to his left over the gorge, at the river, azure in the early light, meandering through the valley. Beautiful. In that distracted jiffy he realises he is going too fast. He starts to apply the brakes as he begins to hurtle down the slope towards the village. Horrified, he sees a man in the road. Right in front of him! He slams on the brakes.
Too late for Charles. The forty tonne lorry thumps into his fragile body as Maria, from the local shop, is putting out the flower stand. She screams as Charles Bishop’s body thuds to the tarmac. She sees, almost in slow motion, the whip like movement of his upper torso as his head makes a sickening smash to the ground. In a blink he is swept under the trailer whilst Jason finally brings the lorry to a halt. Charles comes to rest around the fourth of the five axles.
Out of the cab in an instant Jason rushes to help. Maria is transfixed gazing at the shock events unfolding before her. Les rushes from within the shop dashing past Maria. The good citizen called by social conscience. He and Jason are quickly on the floor trying to reach Charles. Maria, suddenly galvanized into action, runs to the phone to ring the emergency services.
“He’s clear of the wheels. I can’t reach him. Pull your lorry forward. Slowly!”
“Oh! Jesus I didn’t see him. He was just there…”
“Pull the lorry forward!”
“I can’t I might catch him...” Jason is shaking, concern and fear overwhelming him. “I couldn’t help it – it wasn’t my fault.”
“Never mind that now! Pull the bloody lorry forward… Do it! …Now!”
Les can see life’s energy ebbing from Charles. If I can just get to him I might be able to stem the blood.
“Look mate don’t just stand there babbling. Shift the sodding lorry.”
Jason looks on, scragging his hands through his hair. With a wild look in his eye he keeps muttering, “there was nothing I could do.”
Les stands up and shakes Jason by the shoulders until he focuses on Les’s face.
“Watch me in your mirror. Just go slowly. You can do it.”
I see Jason reluctantly drag himself up to his cab, his heart booming in his chest. I cradle Charles and watch as the dark mass moves from above and Jason, Maria and Les try to tug Charles back from my hold. It is futile of course. I allow it for a while. They will feel better for having tried. We have a date, but it can wait a moment longer. Maria has put a pillow under his head and Les is applying pressure to the wound. Well intentioned, but misplaced efforts.
Ah! here comes my sister: Life. Late to the party. Too busy chivvying along the relatives.
“Please. At least let his wife have a moment with him,” she implores. We are two ends of the elastic band of time, Life and Me. It can stretch a bit further. No hurry. Anna rushes to Charles’ prone body; tears, confusion and fear crushing her. The consequence of decisions, poorly made and a momentary lapse in concentration, lie before her on the road.
Ah! a klaxon. The sirens approach. Time to go Charlie boy! Let me kiss that last breath away. Come with me now. That’s it. Hop aboard for your new journey.
J M Curry is a lawyer living in Wales. She enjoys the short story as a vehicle away from the formality of legal language, as a channel for the myriad of ideas that bombard her creative side. Her main writing focus is on criminal thrillers and she is currently working on her second novel.