The morning after

Until now, he’d never stayed for long after the first fuck. Always at their place: this avoided the awkward negotiation of asking them to leave, and had the added advantage of minimising the likelihood of a future encounter, of one day answering the door to a hard-lipped accusation (or worse, a fragile, clinging request for more).

They didn’t always mind. It had surprised him at first, this realisation that women’s desires too could be so transient, in the same way that years earlier he had discovered that the girls who placed a hand on his knee in the cinema were not unusually sexual, that their held-breath urges could be found, with careful exploration, somewhere beneath every surface.

Others would not ask him to go of their own accord, and his attempts to leave quietly, unblamed, would be unsuccessful. They would watch him, horizontal and mournful and hollow, or sit up, breasts uncovered or covered in redundant modesty. He would only speak if spoken to, so he rarely spoke.

This time, however, had been different. This time, for reasons he had yet to analyse, he had not risen from the muss of sheets and begun looking for his clothes. Instead he had stayed, and slept, and in the morning enjoyed a lazy, familiar reprise. Was this contentment?

Yes, he decided, pulling on the sock he’d found draped over the bedside lamp (always the most perilous part of lustful undressing: one wrong move and you’re just a nearly-naked man in socks, with an erection bobbing crane-like around your waist). Sex for a second time with a woman certainly had its benefits.

He should do it more often.

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Rosewood Drive

3,838 words – approx. 13 minutes

The house at 12 Rosewood Drive had seen better days, but even those had been far from magnificent. ­­Its paint, though, had once been more evenly spread, and the wooden panels the peeling white coats covered had not always seemed to be folding in on themselves. The front yard, too, had once been subject to a measure of control, in contrast to the sprawling, spiked wilderness that now welcomed its few visitors.

It had, once, seemed to shine – with the slick sheen of a realtor’s suit, but shine nonetheless. Now unidentifiable green shoots sprouted between the cracks in its walls, and the second floor front window had been smashed and left unrepaired, the floor of the room it led to sagging into the bathroom below like a spider’s sac. Time and the misfortune of its neighbourhood, one without inhabitants whose money, or regard, or simple stable presence could maintain or improve the property, had taken their toll.

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Exercise

My last girlfriend was a little on the fat side and shunned physical activity, so I tried sneakily to get her fit. My first idea was vigorous sex, but soon she complained of headaches and our nights were instead spent watching badly-acted movies. Then I decided to try to laugh her into shape: I showed her Youtube videos of sneezing pandas and cats in clothes, but nothing worked. She just sat there, filling the bed, staring stonily ahead.

Getaway

We crash through the state border, hearts stuffed in our mouths and your hand on my thigh. My driving has shaken open the bag on the back seat, and loose bills flutter and swirl around us like a game show finale. As the whine of the sirens recedes into the distance you look at me, your eyes so blue and glowing with love through the mesh of the tights over your face.

Originally posted on The Drabble.

Lottie’s many mistakes

The Burning of the Sausages was just the latest in a series of mistakes that Lottie had made that day. The first, the Forgetting to Set the Alarm, had technically been made the night before, but because it had only come to light at ten past seven when Tom happened to wake up, she counted it in that day’s tally.

When he heaved himself out of bed, grunting and swearing, she felt so guilty. Other men, she knew, would have shouted, become enraged, but Tom stayed practical, too immersed in his morning routine to criticise or blame her.

She was so sure she’d set the alarm.

Once Tom had flown down the stairs and out of the door, a slice of toast clamped between his teeth, Lottie left the bedroom; now there was no risk of getting in his way, of slowing him down even further.

She showered and dressed as quickly as she could, and forwent her breakfast, but it was not enough to prevent her next mistake: the Missing of the Train. She stood helplessly on the near-empty platform for the 15 minutes between services, in which time the platform filled up again. She had tried to remember where to stand, but when the train arrived she found herself at the join between two carriages, so by the time she crammed herself in there was barely room to stand, never mind sit, and it would have been impossible to read her book even if she had been able to extract it from her bag. As a result, she was frantic when it pulled in to Waterloo, and she pirouetted, accidentally, through the revolving door to the office, red-faced and with hair like a mushroom cloud.

“Lottie, gosh, are you okay?” asked Susan, who had worked there six weeks longer than Lottie and so spoke only with intense, patronising concern to her. Lottie looked up at Susan’s furrowed, pencilled eyebrows and said yes, yes fine, just a bit of a rush, that’s all, even though she felt like her brain was in a blender, stuck on high with the broccoli and garlic.

Her next mistake was the Muddling of the Appointments. Martin Davies was due to see Mr Pettigrew at 10am, and David Martin was expected for 11. Somehow – entirely understandably, soothed Susan afterwards over coffee – they had got mixed up, so Mr Pettigrew had David Martin’s folder first. He’d rung reception a few minutes after Martin Davies had been called through, sending Lottie scurrying up the stairs with the correct set of papers.

In spite of Susan’s and Mr Pettigrew’s assurances, and the fact that there were no further mishaps at work, Lottie was despondent on the journey home. When she got back she put the sausages in to cook, then turned on the news, although it never held much interest for her. She must have fallen asleep, because the harsh, incessant beeping of the smoke alarm roused her from her chair. She was caught between turning off the oven, which was issuing billowing black smoke, and turning off the hellish, piercing alarm, and so for several seconds she did neither.

In this paralysis she heard the scrape and clunk of a key in the lock. She waited, knowing her time was up, for Tom to investigate the horrendous sound and smell, and to find his ruined dinner and dismal wife, and whatever came next she knew would be well-deserved.

But still, she was so sure she had set the alarm.

Taken for granted

Sometimes I think about leaving my wife. I think she takes me for granted – every night she goes out and comes drunk and acidic from white wine, and I once found pictures of another man on her phone. She seems to assume that whatever she does I’ll still be here, in my chair in front of the television or asleep in our bed. But then, I haven’t left her yet, so she might be right.

All fires are distant

1,647 words – approx. 6 minutes

“I prefer natural disasters,” says Eric, without looking up. He’s been saying things like this a lot lately, strange sentences that aren’t what a divorced 42-year-old accountant should say.

“It does seem like one of those days where all the news is about bombings,” I reply, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. The words grate in my mouth like rocks: this was not an appropriate response. It’s rejecting a handshake with a hug, answering “Fuck you” to “Hello”. I’ve no idea whether there are other days when it feels like all the news is about bombing. Is that really a class of day? It doesn’t matter. It’s something to say.

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