Guilty Secret

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Another non-winning Ad Hoc Flash Fiction entry from last week! Thought I would share it here…

Late again. She swerved into the driveway, stopping sharply. She scanned her appearance in the mirror for anything out of place, smoothed her hair and took a deep breath. Affecting what she hoped would pass for an air of nonchalance, she walked slowly into the house.

She needn’t have bothered; he was engrossed in a sport documentary and barely registered her entrance. Relieved, she hung up her coat.

‘I was going to order a takeaway,’ he said without looking at her. ‘You’ve had a hard day. Chinese okay?’

‘Yeah, sure. That sounds nice. Shall I fetch it?’

‘No, I’ll go. You sit down.’

She leaned back against the soft cushions and closed her eyes, relaxing for the first time that day. The bang of the front door woke her with a jolt.

‘I know your secret.’

She froze; speechless. He tossed the empty jelly bean packet at her and winked.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7259030@N07/445455563″>jely bellies</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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The Salt Cellar

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This is not meant to be the next in a series of object related posts… It is pure coincidence that an object plays a part in this story and it felt like the right title!

I would love any feedback as usual, any issue no matter how small. Thanks for reading.

‘Just. Eat. It.’

Her tone was low and menacing. She glared across the table; arms folded but fists tightly clenched, the knuckles whitening against her green woollen cardigan. He knew she was on the verge of totally losing it; he’d seen her like this before. A special type of anger she seemed to reserve just for him. His sister never seemed to trigger these outbursts. She just seemed to sail through, never putting a foot wrong.

‘I’m trying!’

He pushed the lump around the edge of the plate with his fork. The anticipation of another mouthful of dry, chewy meat sickened him. Taking a deep breath he shoved it in, chewed rapidly, then attempted the swallow. He gagged, but managed to keep from regurgitating his entire meal, just.

‘For goodness sake, you’re pathetic!’ The salt cellar came flying towards him, crashed onto his plate and covered the remaining food with a thick layer of salt. Now he knew his problems were just beginning. He knew she would still make him eat the whole lot. And she did.

Just thinking back over the incident now, twenty-five years later, he felt an almost irrational anger gathering up inside himself. Jonathan stared at the salt cellar in front of him, it’s cut glass surface reflecting the bright sunlight that poured in through the glass doors of his mother’s dining room. He looked down at his plate. The same portmeirion china that she had collected all of his life. He doubted she would even recall the incident if challenged; just one of many insignificant dinner table battles. But to Jonathan, it represented much more. Lately he had been thinking over his own childhood in considerable detail. What sort of parent did that?

This time it was vegetable lasagne, a safe option. She had made it with Maria in mind, who was a vegetarian. That was kind of her, he conceded. Even though they lived the other side of the same city, it was rare that they all got together for a meal. He reached out his hand and placed it on Maria’s thigh underneath the blue linen tablecloth. She turned to him and smiled, before turning back to her food, oblivious to his inner conflict.

He glanced across the table; his mother and step-father were equally absorbed in the task at hand. Geoff’s calloused hands and worn shirt looked out of place against the formal tableware. His mother wore a white blouse under a cashmere sweater, a string of semi-precious stones around her pale neck. He’d often wondered what on earth they saw in each other as a couple; they seemed so different in their outlook. But then he never had understood the inner workings of his mother’s mind; getting older hadn’t changed that. He moved his water glass in front of the salt cellar and picked up his cutlery.

‘So. Have you two looked at any more houses yet? You’ve not got long now you know.’ Her gaze shifted rapidly between them both, demanding a response. Maria looked to Jonathan to answer.

‘Not really.’ He reached for a slice of bread from the basket and began to butter it on his side plate.

‘Well, there’s a really nice 1930’s semi on Hazel Drive. Needs quite a lot of work doing but it’s mainly cosmetic. We could go and have a look at it, together if you like?’

‘Mum, we can’t afford anything round here. I’ve told you that already.’ He wiped the edge of his plate with the bread, knowing she would be watching him and disapproving of his table manners.

‘I think you’d be surprised. They might take an offer, you never know. Anyway, you’ll be glad to have us close by when the baby comes.’ She dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her napkin.

‘Well, we were thinking that it probably wasn’t worth moving now, we may as well just stay where we are for the time being. We don’t want to add moving house to the stress of having a baby.’

At this, she sent her cutlery clattering on to her plate and tossed her napkin aside. ‘This is exactly why I told you to start looking early! It will be so much harder for you to move once you’ve got the baby here. You’ll never get around to it.’

‘I’m sure we will Mum, plenty of other people do! We just haven’t decided exactly what we want yet, okay?’

‘Well you need to start organising yourselves a bit better if you ask me.’ We didn’t, he thought to himself.

‘And have you thought about what you’ll do when Maria goes back to work yet?’

‘No Mum, the baby hasn’t even been born yet, we don’t need to plan everything with military precision!’ Jonathan was beginning to regret accepting his mother’s Sunday lunch invitation. Somehow it always seemed to turn out like this, with Maria and Geoff looking meekly on while his mother lambasted him about something or other. He determined to finish his food as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. He shovelled his food down in quick gulps, and drained his sparkling grape juice.

‘Well just give it some thought will you? Geoff would help you out with the renovations, wouldn’t you Geoff?’ she said nudging him viciously, stirring him from his stupor. Jonathan noticed that Geoff had emptied the last of the red wine from the bottle and was making inroads into a second.

‘Yeah, sure. Course,’ he mumbled into his beard.

‘You know, you could always put your place on the market and then move in with us for a while, until the right place comes up. That way, I could look after you all and help out with the baby.’ Geoff raised his eyebrows slightly at this suggestion, then settled back into his chair, cradling the bowl of his glass in his hand.

‘Mum. Thanks. That’s kind. But we’re happy where we are right now, aren’t we?’ He turned to Maria, feeling the need for some back-up, and squeezed her knee gently. Moving back in with his mother was the last thing he would ever consider. Why would he go back to the place he had yearned to escape from for so long?

‘Yes, yes.’ She was picking at the aubergines, she’d never liked them.

‘Fine. Now, who’s for lemon meringue pie?’

Over-catering was her forte. After the pudding and coffee, Jonathan excused himself to the lounge, then to the garden on the pretext of helping Geoff prune a fruit tree that was overhanging the driveway. He felt a pang of guilt leaving Maria to make small talk with his mother but decided she could handle herself. They could talk about pregnancy and labour; his mother would be in her element, imparting her wisdom on the feeding of infants no doubt. He’d heard it all before; she loved to be the expert and Maria would sweetly soak it all up.

By the time the men came back into the house, the atmosphere seemed to have dispersed somewhat. Jonathan’s mother was unloading the dishwasher and Maria was reclining on the armchair in the dining room, her feet propped up on a foot stool. Jonathan went over to her and gently stroked her hair. She seemed peaceful, content. He wondered if he had over-reacted earlier. He couldn’t expect Maria to understand, but something told him that he couldn’t let his mother get too close to them. He wouldn’t let her take over, the way he knew she wanted to.

‘Tea, anyone?’

Jonathan looked at Maria. She looked exhausted, her pregnant belly bulging over her maternity jeans, her eyes closed. She hadn’t been sleeping well recently; the baby was pressing against her ribs. He hated to disturb her.

‘Okay, just a quick one Mum, we’ve got a few things to get done at home before work tomorrow.’

As they sat sipping their tea, Jonathan reflected that family was family. He must make an effort to maintain relations for the sake of his child; his children. He exchanged some idle chat with his mother about local people and events then stood as if to begin a move towards the hallway.

‘Wait, I’ve got something for you. Might as well give it to you now, don’t know when we might see you again.’ Just when he’d thought she had let it go, she had to slip in one of her barbed comments. She just couldn’t help herself. He sighed and sat back down by the window, gazing longingly at his car.

His mother reappeared shortly with a paper package, which she placed into his open hands. He looked up at her, expectantly.

‘It’s a Christening gown. The one you wore, and your father wore too. Your Nana Clara made it.’

‘Thanks Mum. But, I think I told you, we’re not sure about getting the baby christened, neither of us is religious, you know?’

‘Well it’s important to me. It’s tradition.’

‘Okay, we’ll think about that. I’ll put it somewhere safe.’ Where I will never find it again, he thought, seething.

As they gathered up their things to leave, Jonathan picked up the salt cellar from the sideboard and palmed it into his jacket pocket. On the way out, he hurled it under the high beech hedge that bordered the neighbour’s property and smiled to himself. A small act of rebellion but it made him feel better. He vowed not to come back here before the birth, maybe not even before Christmas. Baby’s first Christmas; now there was another battle to be had.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51035739227@N01/8357719625″>Week 2 (2013) – 5-12 Jan – Backlight</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;