Written by Victoria Simons
The first thing I saw when consciousness hurled me back into reality was the outline of an empty whiskey bottle, swaying drunkenly, taunting me. I was momentarily absorbed in the hypnotic rhythm of the object, before my thoughts were scattered by the pounding of a familiar headache: a ceremonial gong sending thoughts scarpering frantically into their correct positions. This was only partially successful: there were glaring gaps in their ranks. Perhaps it was fear of what those gaps contained that caused my inner eye to be swamped by a striking red when I tried to focus in on their darkness. The more I searched, the more I could only see the flashes of red. A shiver of heat shook my body.
Most markedly, was the empty space in the bed beside me, though I was comforted by the fact that the sheets and pillows were disturbed; somebody had slept there last night. I can’t have been that bad.
Tentatively, I began to survey the rest of the room from the bed for clues about what had happened. There were no traces of last night’s clothes, everything was in order on the polished white dresser. Each drawer of the black chest was firmly closed. Every piece of furniture completed the regular pattern of alternating black, then white, black, then white. It didn’t fit. The careful comparison of the rigid uniformity with my technicoloured mess of memory chastised me, as she knew it would. The room which was supposed to feel most homely felt almost clinical: I couldn’t lay my eyes on one aspect of the space that was my own, my choice, my input. Perhaps this was also intentional. The sense of isolation I already experienced daily due to ‘intoxicated detachment’ was amplified by my wife’s insistence on dominating the décor department of our supposed shared life, so that I could not recognise a single article of comfort.
Whatever the reason, our bedroom was spotless. Cunning bitch.
There was no use entering the kitchen with caution or stealth: she was there waiting for me. Her sharp business suit with the cold reflective sheen winked sadistically at me as it caught the light, her movements around our home were quick and agile like a serpent waiting to strike. I tightened the tie on my rugged, once soft dressing gown which she hated, clutching the worn fabric closer to my skin. I recalled how I used to admire her elegant dancer’s physique: the ladylike mixture of strength and poise.
‘You said you really fancied some porridge, so I took the time to make it for you, with blueberries! Remember?’ Her tone was jovial but her expression betrayed whatever act she had chosen to adopt. ‘Remember?’ The stony set features of her chiselled face were a clear challenge, but I didn’t know the rules. She knew I didn’t. Yes, that was the challenge! I was to entertain her fancy today by attempting to perform the impossible task of learning the unlearnable. Uncovering what was lost in the depths of drunken memory. She would wait like a patient dog trainer whilst her undisciplined, stupid mutt wildly launched itself at the apparatus, knocked over the cones and finally to her shame and disappointment, pissed all over the course in his desperate attempt to please her.
It had been better at the start. When I would come in from work, hang up my suit jacket on our communal hook and be met by the heavenly scent of baking. She would swoop in like a homely mother hen, haphazard splodges of cake mixture adorning her mousey hair, which was loosely waved with kinks from her relaxed up-do the day before. Grinning mischievously she would giggle:
‘’Oh sweetie, I’ve made a mess of the kitchen again…’’, to which I would playfully reprimand her, wagging my finger, before sweeping her up in my arms and taking her to our bedroom. Laughing gleefully, she would eagerly do whatever I asked of her, and everything was how it was supposed to be.
I can’t remember the last time we made love. Though as she’d point out, I can’t remember a lot of things.
My inability to recollect certain events is something she particularly revels in holding over me like a guillotine, poised in an ever thought-out, and carefully positioned anticipation for when I fail her latest test. I’m sure she sharpens the blade in her spare time, admiring her polished reflection in the cold cut metal, picturing my blood splattered across its metallic-
RED. Recognition slapped me across the face. My neck was snapped back to the present, as my eyes locked onto the blinding redness. Dangling from her delicate white fingers was the red which had lingered in my memory, betraying alcohol’s promise of painless darkness. The crude red laced underwear that did not belong to my wife.
The guillotine plummets. The disgraced head of the criminal was being held by the executioner up to his family, friends and strangers. Adulterer! Adulterer! I was still conscious but that merely mocked me; my life had been irretrievably terminated, what remained was hell. Red, red, red dripped from my head. The faces, faces, swum until they became a grotesque multitude of flesh. Unrecognisable, flushed with red, the bodies squirmed and screamed in pleasure? Pain? The boiling of blood sent sickness surging through my decapitated being until it overwhelmed me. Piercing through the deafening rush of emotion was the heart wrenching question:
‘’Remember?’’ Beautiful doe-eyes, startled and hurt, tainted by the awful red.
My mind was suddenly cast back to our honeymoon. We’d agreed the destination together: I’d succumbed to her childhood dream of Venice and she’d let me select the traditional hotel with the elaborate gothic architecture, completing the perfect visage of mystery and romance. Gaily, she insisted on organising the entirety of our journey because I had worked so hard to support us living together. I was touched. The lads down the pub would rip into me mercilessly for this relinquishment of control: whoever had heard of a fiancé stepping back on such an obviously masculine matter? But she was not just a woman, she was the love of my life. I used to laugh at their cocky claims of experience, the laddish smirks, the boisterous banter, when all they had experienced was the female body; the exterior of a being, the almost inanimate. But, to my shame, my laugh gradually morphed itself into a snigger of bitterness and envy, my pitying eyes acquired a look of greedy lust until I was no longer distinguished from the men I sworn myself greater than. Why had I ceased to value what was once priceless? Why had I forgotten what had once been my highest priority? Why did I choose not to remember? It was my depleted sense of manhood, egged on by those pigs, which led me to screw the girl from the bar whilst my faithful wife stayed at home.
I can never forget.
More Short Stories like This…