By Ian Ayris
Marjorie had gone to work. E.J. Coalscuttle & Sons, Solicitors. On the high street. Forty years, she'd been there, ploughing through the muddy swamp of secretarial gumph such a prestigious organisation demands. Forty hard years. And in that time, Harold had sat back, wasting his life. Wasting her life. Lazy, that's what he was. All he had ever amounted to was one shoddy grocery shop.
Harold looked up from his newspaper to the clock above the fireplace, converting the big and little hands to army time in his head. 0930 hours.
Since he’d sold the greengrocers and taken early retirement on the proceeds, Harold's life had become a perpetual cycle of gardening and cleaning and preparing lunch and cleaning and preparing dinner and more cleaning.
He pulled back the dark velvet curtains from the patio doors and peered outside. Heavy black clouds gathered in the near distance. If he was to get the geraniums in, as Marjorie had asked / told / ordered him to, he’d better get on it straight away.
A cup of tea first, though. The geraniums can wait. As he filled the kettle from the kitchen tap and arranged his cup, he thought of the geraniums waiting, and of the storm-clouds gathering. A smile of a naughty child spread across his face. His eyes glistened, his heart beat a little faster, and visions and images formed on the picture-screen inside his mind.
Harold drank his tea, washed up his cup and placed it upside-down on the draining board. He looked once more at the clock above the fire-place. 1015 hours. She'd be home in two for lunch.
Military precision, that's what was needed. Military precision.
The rain was holding off. Thank the Lord. A bit of gardening would settle his mind. Slow it down. He picked up the gardening gloves from the shed, and a trowel, and tramped over to the tray of geraniums Marjorie had left by the back door.
And with the side of the trowel, he carefully cut off their heads, one by one.
1130 hours. Time for a bit of daytime telly. A man accusing his wife of cheating on him with their Alsation. The host, all pomposity and pressed trousers, striding around the stage, pointing his finger at the couple, whipping the assembled audience of bored housewives, students, and assorted circus freaks into a frenzy of tabloid morality. The couple were asked / told / ordered to look up at a pull-down screen, a screen upon which the Alsation appeared via video-link from an RSPCA kennels in Cromer.
Fantastic, thought Harold.
But time enough had been wasted. He knew that more than anyone. She would be home soon for her lunch. He switched the telly off at the wall, and sauntered into the kitchen. And that damned smile reappeared on his face.
That damned smile.
Harold opened the bread-bin and took out a fresh loaf of granary—her favourite. He took the bread knife from the cutlery drawer and cut off two neat slices. Butter. Fridge. And cheese. What else? Mayonnaise, of course. But no, he'd leave that in the jar and let her help herself. Doesn’t do to go interfering with a woman's condiments. Especially a woman like Marjorie. He took a side-plate from the cupboard and centred the sandwich upon it with a surgeon's precision. That’s it. Just right.
And he boiled the kettle for her tea.
A car pulled up outside. Her car. A shiny red run-around she'd asked / told / ordered him to buy with the money he’d made from the sale of his grocery shop. And out she stepped. Marjorie. The love of his life. Wobbling towards the house in a size twenty pink power-suit, high heels clacking.
He turned back to making the tea. The front door opened. The front door closed. "Hello, dear!" he called out, conscious of getting off on the right foot. And then in lower tones, "Lunch is ready."
Marjorie collapsed into an armchair, exhausted from her morning's work. That office, she thought. That office. And I hope he’s planted those geraniums like I asked him to. She scanned the lounge, and nodded. Spick and span. Well trained, that's my Harold.
Harold walked in, carrying her lunch on a tray.
"Here you go, dear. Tea's on."
She took the tray from him without so much as a word.
"Have you sorted out those geraniums?" she said, looking up suddenly, stabbing at him with the sharpness of her glare.
Harold retreated to the relative distance of the kitchen.
Marjorie opened her sandwich.
"No tomatoes?" she called out. "Mrs Lawrence brought some round fresh yesterday. They're in the fridge."
He knew about the tomatoes. He just needed to hear that jarring, hateful, jagged voice one last time.
"Coming, dear," he said.
Harold opened the fridge and took out two tomatoes. Holding one in each hand, he squeezed them hard till they exploded, broken and bleeding, between his fingers.
Then he brought out his gardening gloves from his pocket, slipped them on, and eased the carving knife from the cutlery drawer.
About Ian Ayris