I saw him, in the pale yellow light, sleeping so peacefully. He looked just like an angel. I had to have got it wrong. But as soon as he saw me with the photograph, I knew. His face told me everything…”
by helen gallery
“It was perfect, you know, from the start. Too perfect, my mother would have said. Too good to be true.” I smile across the table at my companion. He’s got one of those spiral notebooks, the type you can get in packs of three at discount stores, and he’s making notes. He writes with a silver fountain pen, black ink, and it strikes me as odd that he chooses to write with an obviously expensive pen in such a cheap notebook. I wonder if he has a therapist who makes notes about what he says, too, and if he does what he would suggest it said about his personality. But he doesn’t look as though he needs a therapist, so I tuck the random thought away with all the other ones that pop into my head when I’m trying to concentrate on something else, and get back to thinking about what I should be.
I suck on my cigarette and blow blue, toxic fumes into the air above me, watching as they weave pretty patterns before disappearing into the atmosphere. He clears his throat and I realise I haven’t spoken for a few minutes. Too busy thinking about the chemicals I’ve just discharged into the environment, a distraction from the subject that hurts so much. I bring myself back to the conversation, and force another smile. “He’s the most romantic person I’ve ever met.” I say, and I can feel myself going all misty eyed like I’m the heroine in some kind of chick-flick rom-com. I can almost imagine the thought bubble appearing over my head, showing me walking hand in hand with Robert, on the beach, in a park, stroking a puppy, even though I don’t own one. And we never did go to the beach.
“He used to take me away for weekends in the country, and send me flowers by courier so they were waiting for me when I got in to the office. He sent poems by email and texts to say goodnight before he went to sleep. “I flick the ash too violently from the end of my cigarette and send it skipping across the table. “I always wondered how I got so lucky, and no-one had snapped him up before now.” I laugh, louder than I intended and the people at the table next to us turn round to look at me. “I should have realised he was an adulterous bastard sooner.”
Emotion hits me again, winding me, just like it has done ever since I found out about Robert’s wife. A wedding ring left carelessly in his jacket pocket to fall on the floor as I hunted for his lighter in the middle of the night. I hadn’t been able to sleep. I haven’t slept since. I could have ignored it, I suppose, pretended I hadn’t found it. But I would have been lying to myself. It hadn’t taken me long to find the photograph in his wallet either. I’d felt like a snooping child, but compulsion drove me on. As I’d sat there, in the dark, smoking on the balcony of the hotel, clutching the photo from his wallet, I’d thought about nothing more than the blonde woman, his poor wife, sitting at home, thinking her husband was away on business or something, oblivious to the fact that he was here, with me. In those few hours before Robert awoke I’d conjured not only an image of his wife but a couple of kids, and a dog. All waiting patiently for daddy to come home. Not knowing, of course, what he was really up to.
I’d been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, as the chilly dawn had been warmed by the rising sun. I saw him, in the pale yellow light, sleeping so peacefully. He looked just like an angel. I had to have got it wrong. But as soon as he saw me with the photograph, I knew. His face told me everything.
“I can’t believe I was so gullible.” I say, knocking back a mouthful of vodka. “Men are always the same, only after what they can get from life and bollocks to the consequences.”
My companion shifts awkwardly in his seat, and I catch the glint from his own wedding ring just as he tries to hide it from view. I mutter an apology; obviously he’s an exception to the general rule of man. I’m sure his marriage is a happy one, and he lives a chocolate box existence, with his wife, kids, dog and cat all living in harmony. The antithesis of my own sad, single serving life, with an adulterous boyfriend…I correct myself… an adulterous ex-boyfriend and a cat that ran away to my neighbour because she was home more often and fed him salmon from a tin.
“No apology needed,” he says, his eyes shine with amusement. “I can meet my mortgage payments on adulterous bastards alone.”
I’d given him the choice, his wife or me; simple. He couldn’t have us both, not now that I knew she existed, and he knew that. So he had to decide. He said he was going to choose me; he’d leave his wife, move out into a hotel. He didn’t love her, anyway, he said. But it would take some time. He wanted to take it one step at a time; didn’t want to rush into anything. We’ll be together soon, he’d said. I glance down at the photograph on the table in front of me, of Robert kissing his wife. Not just a peck on the cheek, either, but a full on, blow your socks off kind of kiss. The kind you save for private, not for viewing by passers-by in the street. I recognised the shirt he was wearing; it was one he’d bought last week. The photo was taken the same day he’d said he had to meet a client for lunch. It would be a long, boring afternoon, and the meeting would probably go on into the late evening. Call you tomorrow, he’d said as he’d walked out of my front door.
I’d known, deep down when I hired the man who was sitting opposite me now that this would be the outcome. I think that’s why I went to him in the first place, because I didn’t believe Robert, as much as I’d wanted to. I just needed someone to prove it to me, without a doubt. I stub out the cigarette and look directly at the man across the table. Suddenly I want all this over as soon as possible. I need to get on with my life, and sitting here, talking about him, thinking about him, is not the best way to do that.
“So how does this go?” I ask, lowering my voice, anxious that no-one overhears me. “What happens next?”
“That depends on what you want us to do.” He drops his voice to the same pitch as my own. “What is it you want?”
“I want him out of my life.” I say, “For good.”
It feels good to say it out loud. Final. End of one bad chapter in my life, and time to move on to the next. I know I can’t do that with Robert hanging over my head. I push a brown envelope across the table, and swiftly, deftly, he has picked it up, glanced at the contents and pocketed it before anyone has chance to see what he has done. He folds over the cover of the notebook and clips the lid onto his pen, pushing them both carefully into his pocket.
“We’ll take care of it,” he says. “Leave the details to us.” He pushes the chair back and stands, leaning over to take my hand in his. “Would you prefer that we didn’t contact you again? Or would you like us to tell you when it’s done?”
I shudder as I experience a pang of conscience. “Will it hurt?” I ask. He might be an adulterous bastard, and I might never wish to see him again, but he is still a human being. There’s still a part of me that loves him. He must sense my concern, perhaps I have a flicker of love still in my eyes, and they will betray your heart no matter how hard you try to hide your feelings. He places a warm, comforting hand over mine, reassuring. Kind, almost.
“Don’t worry. It will be painless. I promise. He won’t bother you again”
(illustration: troy dockins)
Helen Gallery lives in the northwest of England with her husband and multitude of pets. In her spare time, of which she has little, she procrastinates about writing short stories and articles, and has been occasionally known to dabble in poetry. Some of her short stories have been published in anthologies, including Slingink’s Footprints, and Great Writing’s The Anthology. She hopes one ay to be able to give up the day job so that she can procrastinate about writing full time.