The Liar, The Bitch & The Wardrobe
I hunch behind the densely packed rack of jackets and work shirts. My breath heats up the confined darkness. The luminous hands of my watch indicate half past five. Susan will be home from work any second. I have the grandest bunch of flowers at my feet, their sweet scent smothering me; a mixture of winter blooms that the florist assured me would set any woman’s heart racing. My own heart pumps so hard, I swear I can hear it. I’ve never done anything like this before – that’s the problem. Susan thinks I’m in Egypt on business. That’s what the latest row was about; I should be chasing her and not promotion, apparently. And so here I am, in my wardrobe, waiting…
Keys rattle against the front door. My knees complain as I brace myself; my heart accelerates in anticipation and my lungs scream for air, but my diaphragm has frozen, like a dying man’s ventilator with a blown fuse. I need to get out but I can’t. My claustrophobia will play second fiddle today. Cold sweat exudes from my brow, runs down my face and onto my hanging clothes. Wide-mouthed, I force myself to gulp air. It won’t be long.
Footsteps creak at the top of the stairs. My lungs seize once more. For God’s sake man, you’re only seconds away. I know she’s worth the suffering. I think about the two hundred pounds worth of flowers and the thousands in bonus I have forgone by missing my trip. Stevens will shit a brick, the homophobic public school midget. Three years younger than me at thirty-two, and he’s the one in charge. Screw Stevens. A few seconds more – tiny, weeny, infinitesimal seconds. I barely hear the bedroom door open over the cacophony in my head that is a mixture of panic, hope and excitement. I can’t lose her, must not lose her. Just one more second.
‘Not this room,’ says Susan.
What? Susan is not alone. A friend perhaps?
‘Yes, this room. I want you in the marital bed,’ a familiar voice replies.
Stevens! What the fuck. That bastard. That bitch. My breathing slows. My wife’s infidelity has done for my claustrophobia. I could care less. My chaotic thoughts turn to payback but timing is everything. Proof must be absolute. There can be no protestations of innocence or misunderstanding, no conclusions born solely of a suspicious ear and jealous heart. I wait. The perfect moment of confrontation can’t be rushed.
‘You promise he’ll get the promotion?’ asks Susan.
‘Yeah, yeah, I said so, didn’t I?’ says the bastard.
‘And less hours?’
‘Goes with the new position, darling. Talking of positions….’
‘He can’t find out.’
‘I’m hardly going to tell him, am I? Now are we doing this, or am I going back home to play with myself?’
Am I hearing this right? She’s doing this for us. Is she mad? This deed can’t save our marriage. Not now. I understand, I really do, but by witnessing her warped plan, forgiveness may be beyond me. No, I can’t let it happen. Susan’s motives are as pure as the act is sordid, but if she lets him in our bed, how could I bring myself to touch her again? I shudder and push the thought aside.
‘How did that loser bag a fine young thing like you? Put on a show for me. Somebody’s got to earn the promotion, and Tony’s not up to the job.”
‘He’s twice the man you are.’
‘Not when it comes to pleasing a woman. After me, he’ll seem like a shy lesbian lover.’
Enough. I pull a tie from around the neck of a hanging shirt. As I wrap the ends around my wrists and tug tight, I wonder how much slack I need to circumnavigate Stevens’ scrawny neck. Now. I burst through the wardrobe doors, never surer or calmer about what has to be done.
For a second I can’t see, the sudden brightness rendering my retinas useless. It clears. Susan’s mouth is wide open, and I take in her raw beauty. She is dressed to kill in a tiny jean skirt and a backless top.
‘Tony, what the hell?’ she exclaims.
‘But you’re in Cairo…’ says Stevens, backing away as I approach him with arms raised and tie taut. It’s my pink wedding tie. The irony only fuels my rage. I’m going to kill the bastard.
‘Stand back, Susan.’
Stevens is soon out of reversing space, and his back is pressed hard against the bedroom wall. His dark, Savile Row suit hangs from his boney frame. He looks at me, slate-grey eyes wide and pleading. ‘Come on old boy, I’m sure we can talk this over. It’s not what you think.’
I bring my hands and tie over his head, but he raises his forearms to prevent me crossing my wrists and completing the noose. ‘Blackmail my wife into having sex. You’re fucking disgusting,’ I scream at him.
‘But she …’
I don’t want to hear it. My knee drives upwards like a piston into his groin, and his hands drop to where the pain summons. His body, unable to double up as such a blow insists, bends hard into me, and I begin the strangulation, not allowing him to force me backwards. Not a sound escapes him. Bottle-green eyes bulge out of their sockets, and his tongue sticks out, giving his straining face a frog-like quality. I grit my teeth and pull harder, surprised at how easily violence has taken me over. I am lost in its grasp, but it is just and fairly dealt. It feels good. I smile. Pain explodes at the back of my head, and my legs buckle beneath me. Blackness floods in…
I wake up shivering and instinctively reach out to grab covers without opening my eyes. I don’t locate bedding, but Susan is next to me, and I pull her closer until my nose nestles into the side of her face. Wait a second. Something’s not right… She doesn’t smell like she should. My eyelids are heavy, and it takes a feat of willpower to open them. My nose is nestled in Stevens’ ear. I peer down the bed to view my arm resting across his hairless chest and one bare leg slung over his privates. The wrinkled skin of his scrotum caresses the inside of my thigh in time with his breathing. I pull away as if his body is charged with forty thousand volts.
‘Bloody Hell, Tony, it took me ages to get you into that pose.’
I turn to face Susan who is standing at the end of the bed with our digital camera in one hand, her brow furrowed accusingly. She’s calm, she’s always calm, but right now it scares me. My head thumps as if a tiny person has replaced my brain and is swinging a hammer against my skull’s inner walls. Is this Hell?
‘Susan, what are you playing at? What’s going on? Why am I naked?’
‘What the hell were you playing at, don’t you mean, Tony? You were seconds off killing the sack of shit.’
‘You were about to let him…’
‘Yes, so you can stop chasing that bloody promotion and start giving me some attention. How are you going to do that from a prison cell?’
‘The thought of him touching you…’
‘If you’d just gone to Egypt like you were supposed to, you’d have been none the wiser.’
‘That doesn’t make it right.’ Her eyes won’t meet mine. She purses her lips and turns her attention to the small camera. ‘What are you doing with that?’ I ask.
‘Taking incriminating photos so you get your promotion and he doesn’t call the police’
‘You got any better ideas? You know him better than me.’
I answer without thinking. ‘He’d rather die than be called a homo.’
‘That’s what I figured. Let’s get to work.’
I’m in my worst nightmare, and I can’t wake up. The back of my head smarts. I reach behind and feel a lump the size of half a lemon topped with weeping skinless flesh. I wince. Perhaps I’m brain damaged; it’s the only sane explanation.
Susan leans forward and strokes my cheek. ‘Sorry about the bottle, honey, it was all I could think of. Your eyes had glazed over; you were grinning for God’s sake.’
I relive the moment and know she speaks the truth. Susan removes her hand from my face.
‘Come on, before he wakes up,’ she urges.
I can’t shake off the cold and wonder if the blow to my head is still affecting me. I wrap my arms around myself. ‘Why’s it so cold?’
‘I turned the heating off. I thought it would get your nipples hard, make it look like you’re both really into it.’
My world tilts a little further from its axis, and my stomach drops like I’m on a roller coaster. ‘Haven’t you got enough?’
‘Not yet. Snuggle back up and act like you want him. Got to take one for the team, honey. For better or for worse and so on and so on, remember?’
As much as I rack my addled brain, I can’t concoct an alternative. I sidle back next to Stevens, bile rising in my throat. I swallow it down as Susan goes into full director mode.
‘Put your hand on his thingy. Don’t look at me like that. You don’t have to play with it, just smile and take hold of it. Think of the flash new car and saving our marriage.’
I inch my hand closer towards Steven’s penis, reaching into my deepest stores of resolve for the weakest of smiles, wishing I had got on that plane.
‘That’s it, honey. Now we’re talking,’ she says.
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