Gloria had a mouthful of wheat toast when Sandra’s shrill call reverberated through the house.
‘Good morning, everyone.’
She grimaced around the wet ball of mulch in her mouth. Pete grinned and raised his hand in greeting. The clop of Sandra’s heels on the wooden floor. Gloria struggled to hide her flinch when Sandra put her hands on her shoulders from behind.
Gloria carried on eating as Pete said that there was still coffee in the pot. Sandra, as if on cue, asked if it was the particular blend that he liked and he gave an enthusiastic nod.
‘Did you like the flowers, Gloria?’ Sandra said.
They were lovely. The apartment was beautiful, the food in the cupboards happened to be the best quality ingredients or, what was worse, pies and meals booked and wrapped in clingfilm with quirky pastel coloured notes and her signature flourish of a heart and a kiss. It was perfect, Peter had a glow to him that he put down to the climate and yet Gloria had fostered a perfect, sharp resentment that she carried in her gut like a changeling child.
‘They triggered my allergies but I appreciated the effort.’
She pretended to sneeze and Sandra vomited a litany of profuse apologies, taking the vase from the table and tossing the flowers into the bin. Peter had turned his head back to Gloria, frowning as he picked up the local newspaper. Sandra checked her phone, asked them both if things were okay, smiled at them both and then left. Her teeth were so white that looking at them gave Gloria sunspots in her vision afterwards.
‘You don’t read the paper, Peter.’
He grunted behind his paper.
‘You don’t have allergies. I don’t see what your problem is with her. She’s bending over backwards to make sure we’re happy.’
Gloria recalled the dreamy look in his eyes when she had come over, after her yoga class, stressing the importance of remaining supple as you got older. She had nudged Gloria, who flatly stated that her and Peter were past all that. So long as they had their health.
‘ The whole point of these places is that it’s like a home away from home.’
He lowered his newspaper and glared at her.
‘All Sandra has done is try and make us feel welcome, Glo.’
Even after the yoga class, Gloria could see the armour of lipgloss and the marks of the brush through her sandy-blonde hair. She would never say anything to Peter though. It would be an admission that things were not as solid as she made them out to be. Once you start pulling on a thread, you can unravel everything with a good, hard tug.
‘I suppose. I’m just not used to it.’
Peter, behind his newspaper again, sighed.
‘What are you reading about?’
He folded the newspaper down again. He had a gobbet of shaving foam behind his ear earlier, which she had taken a perverse delight in ignoring but it was gone now. Another small gesture that she began to spin into the perverse narrative that Gloria was weaving. It was a masochistic entertainment, but it was her incentive and her entertainment now that the kids were gone.
‘There’s a festival in the town, thought we could go. There’s some live bands, street theatre and all. We could go.’
Gloria grimaced and made a small, keening sound.
‘I thought we were going to see Watiemama today.’
He sighed and put the newspaper back up. Which was how so many conversations ended for them these days. Resignation, a vocabulary of sighs and silence that thirty years of marriage had rendered into a state of sublime eloquence.
Gloria decided that she would be going home. Later, over the dark chocolate mousse she told him this and he said that he wanted to stay on for a few days. There was a writer doing a signing that he wanted to make, one of those bearded gruff action thriller types that he read religiously. She blinked back tears, and a small voice, told him that it was fine.
It was three in the morning when he called. She supposed that she knew, even as he told her that he was not coming home. She did not ask why, but the shrill call of Sandra’s voice travelled through time and space to sit with her, alone and unable to avoid the cruel clarity of her suspicions finally blooming into life.
This story was an exercise from my writing group, to write 500 – 750 words about a news story that we had found. This is mine. The link is below.