The morning sun shines through the window and she looks out at the sky and sees the moon is still there. Rattle of a magpie call shatters the early silence. She watches the bird tear at the flesh of a carcass. Black beak, raw, pink meat. Makes his breakfast while he reads the paper. Cooks his eggs. Puts tea on the table. He mutters, but she can’t hear what he’s saying. As he eats, the sound of his chewing and slurping and the rustling sound as he turns a page is loud in her ears. It gets louder with every mouthful, every sip, every movement of the paper. He stands, high above her. Pushes the chair under the table. Chair legs scrape on the floor. The noise goes through her. She looks up at him, afraid of his accusing eyes.
– You better get this place straightened out today, you hear me?
She nods, lowering her head. His image fades to nothing. Staring at the floor where he’d stood. The door slams shut behind him and she breathes relief.
Walking to the shops, she passes dangerous people on the pavement, looks away from their hateful stares. Spiteful idiocy, hurrying by, no time for nice. Bitter, mean women. Angry men. They all look like sinister dolls. Animated puppets with villainous Punch and Judy faces. She steps out of their way as they walk towards her, desperate to avoid contact or confrontation. The high street stretches out before her. Like every high street in every dead-end town. Shops are uninviting and hostile either side. The windows decorated with malevolent mannequins, watching, and unaffordable objects. Inside the supermarket, harsh lights make everything look wrong. Lurid, pink meat, chemical vegetables. Pushing the trolly round, one wheel jammed, keeping her eyes down, not wanting the viscous stares to penetrate her windows. At the till, she doesn’t have enough money. The cashier looks impatient. Long line of judgemental glares. Somebody tuts.
– I’ll put something back.
– It’s alright. I’ll get it.
The man behind her in the queue smiles. She tries not to respond but feels the blood in her face. An expensive looking camera hangs from his neck. He pays the difference and buys himself a magazine, which he puts in a briefcase.
– Thank you.
He smiles again and she looks at his shoes. Walking away but he’s at her side.
– Would you like to go for a coffee?
He watches fascinated while she stammers excuses.
– Come on.
A strange magic emanates from this man, a kind of mesmer, and she is obliged. Watches herself helpless, agreeing to go with him. In the café, she sits nervously picking her nails while he orders the coffees. What if someone sees her with this man? She tries to smile.
– Thank you for helping me.
They drink their coffees, eying each other. She doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t seem to mind the silence between them.
– Can I take a photo of you? You’re very pretty.
– Oh. I don’t know.
She’s embarrassed. He helped her, but she doesn’t want him to take her picture.
– It’s alright. You don’t have to. I’m a photographer, you see.
– Oh. What sort of photos do you take?
She’d blurted it out without thinking and now it’s too late. He reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a small square of paper, passes it to her across the table. A black and white photograph. Shame shoots through her core as she looks at the image. She is red and turns the photograph face down on the table. She looks up to see the photographer already standing.
– You can have that one.
He smiles and walks to the door.
– See you around.
She looks around the café. Everyone watching her. They all know. They can hear her thoughts too. An old woman looks at her, whispers to the woman beside her. She shoves the photo in her bag and finishes her coffee. Too hot, her dress clings to her. The sound of the coffee machine hides the whispers. The café shrinks around her.
The house is not untidy, she can’t understand what he wanted her to straighten out. Goes room to room picking things up, putting them back straight, symmetrical. Puffs up cushions, arranges them nicely on the sofa. She folds and puts away the washing. All the time, her handbag is there, with the photo inside. Can’t stop thinking about it. She’d have to get rid of it. Throw it away. What if he found it? The stairs creek, as she takes it up to the bedroom, and pulls it out of the bag, hands shaking. Looks at it, heat flashes through her. The image burns into her eyes. Sees herself tear the photo into tiny pieces. She can’t do it. Fascinated by the image, she places it in a drawer, under her folded clothes. The drawer gets stuck as she tries to close it. She struggles, frantic. Slams it shut.
He arrives home to find her putting his dinner on the table. She braces herself for the terrible atmosphere that often floods the house with his presence, but he appears more relaxed than usual. He takes off his coat and sits down to eat. Chews his food like an animal eating its prey. She watches his mouth, as it opens and closes. The food going round in saliva. Yellow teeth with bits of meat and green vegetables between. Blood runs from the meat, drips down his chin. He shoves in large forkfuls, before they can escape him. Vicious, angry bites, as though he is taking revenge on his meal for some terrible deed. He looks up and grins at her. Insinuating grin of a hungry wolf.
– How was your day?
She is surprised by this question and isn’t sure how to answer. Does he suspect her of any wrongdoing? Has he sensed her transgression? She is afraid he can see into her mind and hear her thoughts. Tries not to think. Deep breath, straight face. Controlled emotion.
– It was alright. I tidied the house. Did some shopping. Did you have a good day?
– Not too bad. This steak is nice. You’ve cooked it how I like it.
She doesn’t trust his pleasant attitude. It feels like some sort of trap. A sinister trick. He finishes his dinner, and she clears the table.
As she washes the dishes, she hears his thunderous laughter from the other room. She brings him his tea and he sits there, bathed in blue light, laughing at the TV. She looks at the screen. Watches the programme horrified. It’s a murder mystery. He is laughing at a tragic moment of drama. The police had discovered a body in the woods. He is laughing his head off. He looks at her with his big, horrendous face, mouth stretched wide, teeth and tongue. Some kind of monster. Guffawing, his whole body shaking. She feels as though she is expected to join in. Would he get angry if she didn’t? Perhaps death is amusing. She attempts a shy giggle. It sounds false and she is embarrassed. He looks back at the screen. Continues to laugh at scenes that don’t seem funny. She watches, afraid that he is building up to a preposterous explosion.
The programme ends and they go to bed. She fears a sickening attack on her person, as they enter the bedroom. It doesn’t happen. Feels him leering at her as she changes into her night clothes. Keeps looking at the drawer with the photograph. A beacon, calling for attention. He turns out the light. She lies there awake. Frightening shapes move in the dark around her. She can’t sleep. Pictures the photographic image in her mind. Heat between her legs. Waiting for him to start snoring.
Rob True was born in 1971. Unable to read or write very well, he left school with no qualifications. His wife taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation aged forty and he began writing stories. His work has been published in The Arsonist Magazine, Open Pen, Low Light Magazine, Occulum, Burning House Press, and Litro Magazine. His novel, In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn, is available from Influx Press. Twitter: @RobTrueStories