“Where the hell’s my breakfast?” he shouted impatiently. The sound carried clearly down the stairs to the kitchen where she was anxiously waiting for the kettle to boil.
“I’m sorry, Frank” she replied, taking a moment to look down regretfully at the well-worn wedding ring that adorned her tired, wrinkled hand. “I’m doing my best. I won’t be a moment.”
As she struggled up the stairs with a laden tray, her arthritic knees protesting with every step, she trembled at the prospect of Frank’s fury when he discovered there would be only be tea and toast. For most men, she thought, her forgetfulness would be a minor irritation, but with Frank this disruption to his routine was likely to be treated as unforgivable.
She carefully placed the heavy tray on his bedside table and, for what seemed an eternity, he viewed it silently. Suddenly, with a gesture of explosive fury he hurled the tray and all its contents across the room and bellowed his disgust,
“What … is…this? This is no breakfast for a man!”
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her roughly down onto the rumpled white sheets. As he viciously grabbed a handful of her thinning grey hair and forced her face to meet his, she glimpsed the beautiful Monet landscape that graced their bedroom wall.
She had bought the painting many years before, on a day that Frank had, as was customary, arrived home drunk and belligerent.
“Is this how you spend my hard earned money?” he ranted, clearly incensed. “Who gave you permission to buy this?”
“Frank dear, I …”
“Don’t Frank dear me, you … you …” His speech was halted by the force of his fist landing on her cheekbone. She cowered in the corner, awaiting the next blow.
In the months that followed, she would often gaze at the painting and dream of a new life within its picturesque landscape. She was young and beautiful and her adoring lover was waiting impatiently for her, hidden from sight beneath the concealing curtains of the graceful willow trees that grew at the edge of the pristine lake. Sometimes they would swim naked in the chilly water and then as the warm sun dried their nubile bodies, they would make passionate love on the moss-covered banks. Here she was happy. Here Frank couldn’t harm her.
Over the years, her mind increasingly escaped into the safe and happy world of the painting. When Frank hit her mouth, she felt only the tender kisses of her lover; when he drunkenly insisted on making ‘love’, she would look over his shoulder and mentally escape to her admirer’s gentle caresses. Her passivity in the face of his brutal behaviour only made Frank ever more violent, but by this time, she was so enthralled with her imaginary lover that she barely noticed.
Now, as he maliciously tugged at her hair, instead of the tranquil scene she sought, she saw only the contents of the broken milk jug running down the shattered glass face of her refuge. Rage and sorrow welled up from the depths of her psyche and something in her soul seemed to crack. For the first time in her marriage, she turned on Frank.
“You’ll pay for this” she hissed malevolently, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get you for this!”
“Oh, please!” he retorted arrogantly, recovering almost immediately from his surprise. “What would you have without me, you fat old hag, nothing! You’ve never earned a cent in your life. Just get out of my sight.”
Ignoring both Frank and the debris that now littered the floor, she carefully removed the painting from the wall and without a backward glance left the house.
“I need you to repair this for me urgently” she told the framer’s assistant.
“Sure, it’ll be ready in a week”, was the disinterested reply.
“You don’t understand! It’s an emergency. Can’t it be done today? Perhaps I can even wait for it?” she pleaded.
“Sorry, one week, no more, no less. Take it or leave it”.
Tears sprang into her faded blue eyes. She would never survive being separated from her lover for so long but reluctantly, she left her hidden love in the care of the assistant, limped back to her car and drove home.
She found herself unable to eat or sleep and paced the house tirelessly, watching the minutes pass on the hall clock. Her sole daily activity was to drive to the same strip of road each day, watch for the car to pass, note the time and leave again.
Back at the framer’s a week later, she hurriedly paid for the repair and clutched the painting lovingly to her breast breathing a long, slow sigh of relief. All was well, her love was safe and they were together again.
Slowly, she drove down the road to the spot she had been visiting all week, pulled the car off the road and made a brief phone call.
“A woman’s been hit by a drunk driver on St. Stephen’s Street, just past the bend” she stated when her call was answered.
She hung up quickly and painfully eased herself from the car. Standing on the edge of the road, holding the painting tightly to her, she softly whispered something to her lover and then stepped forward without hesitation straight into the path of the on-coming vehicle.
Frank stumbled drunkenly out of his car and slouched over the bonnet.
“Oh my God, Oh my God” he mumbled. “What have I done?” The wail of police sirens filled the air as he realised that the woman that he’d slammed his car into and was now sprawled dead on the tarmac was, in fact, his wife .
Her revenge was complete.
Cathy’s comments: They say a picture’s worth a thousand words … well this one is worth 1043. 🙂 The painting in question hangs on my guest room wall. I love its feeling of peace and tranquillity and thought it would be a great starting point for an antithetic piece of creative writing. According to Raymond Carver, a master of the genre, for a short story to be successful it requires a “tension, a sense that something is imminent, [and] that certain things are in relentless motion”. It is this tension that I’ve tried to convey. I hope I was successful.