Copyright F. B. Hogan
I was in the kitchen washing fruit when the doorbell rang. I wiped my hands on the paper towel and made my way to the front door. Early. She wasn’t expected for another half hour at least, I thought she would find it difficult to locate the house but then again, she had been here before, hadn’t she?
Short, dark hair; a pixie cut, they used to call it. Young, younger than me. Although, half the population must be younger than me now. She looked slim in her smart, navy, suit jacket and matching tailored trousers. She wore lipstick, not the expected blatant red but a nude shade, understated but glistening. Perfectly made-up, even for this. Cosmetically armoured and self-assured, standing on my doorstep, her hand held towards me as if we were still living in a world with social niceties.
I invited her in, what else could I do? I had orchestrated this little tête á tête, here in my house, on home turf. I knew she wouldn’t be able to refuse to come, that curiosity would get the better of her. How could she pass up the chance to see face-to-face, the woman in the picture frame on his office desk? Up very close and personal. A well-known photograph, almost iconic now, given my fame and his high profile. I liked to think I had evolved since that wedding portrait, grown into myself, become a different, more valid person but then again who was I to say what changes time had wrought? It had brought me here to this moment. Brought her here to me. It’s funny to think of the things that flit across one’s mind in these strange times.
She followed me into the kitchen, murmuring compliments about the house and its décor. Bland words issuing from her bland, beige mouth. She sat across the table as I poured the coffee - freshly brewed French Roast for her, instant decaf for me – I needed to keep my wits about me. She refused one of the homemade cookies I had artfully arranged although she did comment on the plate upon which they sat.
‘Oh, how lovely, I have this same design at home, your last collection, I believe?’
I nodded. It was a strange world where the mistress followed and even supported the wife’s career.
When a little mandatory conversation had passed I directed the flow of our words to the matter at hand. I told her I was amenable to a divorce, that I wouldn’t stand in the way of Jacques’ happiness. She had heard a version of this during our first conversation, on the phone. It was easy to save her number from his contacts – a silly, sloppy mistake on his part, he should have known how I checked his messages. It was my duty, not one I particularly relished but one I had come to accept with the passing of years. And so, here we were.
When I called her up, she was surprised, then defensive followed by distrustful and rude. But once I invited her to come and discuss our little situation, she jumped at the chance, quickly letting slip her eagerness to meet the woman who had been married for over three decades to her boss and lover.
I spoke without emotion, as if it were a mere business transaction, telling her it was only a matter of getting my solicitor to arrange things. When Jacques returned from Europe I would tell him. It was all very amicable. Of course, the house was mine to start with, and I had no designs on his fortune with my own very successful business. So, he would be free to move out of my bed and into hers whenever he wished. I even mentioned another man, throwing her a bone that she began to gnaw with vigour. She started to act as if we were now friends – friends whose paths converged at my husband but were now taking opposing routes.
I stood up from the table, signalling that our time together was at an end. She followed me, again admiring the ceramics on the wall, the green man, the faeries and other creatures whose images I had skilfully captured from clay.
She stopped at one face, a beautiful but tortured visage in pale-blue bone china. ‘She’s my favourite,’ she said reverently. She put out a hand to touch the face but pulled it back at the last minute.
‘Here,’ I took down the sculpture and allowed her to run her fingers over the smooth surface. ‘It’s tougher than it looks, bone china.’ I replaced it on the wall and turned to face her. ‘Would you like to see the workshop before you go?’
‘Oh, yes, I’d love to.’ She followed me like an eager puppy. It was as easy as that.
I slipped the latch on the door behind us, locking us in. She started to stumble so I made sure she didn’t fall against anything that might break. It didn’t take long, mere minutes from coffee cup to mouth, to her central nervous system. She seemed surprised, even apologized until realization hit and then came outrage. She fought me, trying to scratch my face but only getting my neck and arms as her strength gave out and although she screamed and raged, my steady grip was soon unnecessary. She had slipped into unconsciousness well before I even got her into the kiln.
There wasn’t much to put in the bin bag, a pair of sensible office heels, slightly scuffed, the knock-off designer bag complete with a selection of keys, pens and other miscellany – her phone accompanied her into the kiln, it just seemed one less thing to worry about.
I drove her car into the city and left it in a dark corner of the underground car park at the busy shopping centre. Disguised in my husband’s jacket, old gardening trousers, a hat pulled over my hair and sunglasses, I slipped out a side entrance. I took the bus home, walking a few miles to the long lane that led from the road to the house. The phone was ringing when I turned the key in the lock and when it stopped the answering machine cut in. I sighed and then smiled as Jacques’ familiar accent filled the room, telling me his plane was delayed.
The sound of the refuse lorry making its way down the narrow lane jolted me awake. Startled I checked the time and was surprised to notice I had been out for eight hours solid. At best I was granted three to four hour’s reprieve, five on a very good night. The last few days had stripped my energy reserves, but the night had seen fit to reward me with a sound rest. I launched myself from under the duvet and peered around the curtain to watch the large, black truck reverse into the drive, a bearded man in a reflective jacket hopped down and lifted the handle of the bin. I peered around the side of the curtain until the bin was lifted, emptied, and replaced at the bottom of the drive. The truck moved on past the house going back the way it came.
I showered and changed, applying fresh cream to the scratches and descended the stairs. In the kitchen I prepared a late lunch of cold cuts, a green salad, and sliced the crusty, homemade bread Jacques loved. I put the food away and washed my hands.
All was in readiness. No dirt, no dust, no loose ends.
Jacques was coming back - he always came back. And I had lied - there were no other men for me, never had been, never would be.
With a little time to spare before his arrival I went out into the yard. All was bright and shining after the rain, clear and clean. Fresh. The way I liked it.
In the workshop I picked up a few sketches hastily drawn from memory, a few scribbled lines that captured a twisted face, a portrait of pain. From this agony I would bring forth beauty. I already had a concept for my next piece. A centrepiece for my new collection of bone china. I would call it Rebirth.
F.B. Hogan lives in the rural midlands of Ireland, she masquerades as a sensible adult and mother but lives and breathes purely for horror. She has compiled three books of dark fiction and gothic horror. And although she dabbles in many genres from humorous fiction, romance, dark faerie to contemporary literary fiction, it's horror that feeds her soul.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”