She was cleaning when she came across them.
She found vacuuming soothing, the gentle hum and repetitive motions. She was cleaning their room, under the bed, it had been so long since she had vacuumed their room. The head of the vacuum dragged them free as she tried to get at that difficult corner.
A pair of red, lace panties.
They were vulgar things. Far too vulgar for her to ever consider buying, let alone wearing. She turned pale, and turning off the annoying drone of the vacuum she sat on the bed, clutching them. Tears began to well before falling, dragging down her mascara, cutting through her rouge, so carefully applied not long ago.
It was the end. She found it hard to breathe, with each breath she wanted to scream, give release to the feelings building inside her. Slowly, she stood, feet unsteady in her high heels, and left the room they had shared for almost twenty years. She made her way downstairs, to the sitting room. She moved carefully, her mind spinning through a thousand emotional shifts. Hurt, anger, pain.
What was wrong with her? Was she not good enough for him? What did she do wrong?
Reaching the sitting room, she went to the fireplace, immaculately clean, not even a speck of ash marred the surface. Carefully, she put the disgusting object onto the grate. She picked up the box of matches and with a swift, practised flick the match head burst into life, the fire merrily burning. She paused, staring at the flame, at its flickering elegance. She brought the match to the fabric, slowly the fabric caught. the slut-red panties began to burn, unimpressively at first, then the flames established their dominance, quickly burning through the underwear, leaving nothing behind but charred remains.
She looked at the ash, thinking of her marriage, that’s all it was now. A sham. Their love had burned away long ago, leaving them nothing but ash. Standing, she went into the kitchen, the fireplace needed to be cleaned.
First, she scraped away the ash with a small trowel, then taking a bucket of warm water and a cloth, she scrubbed feverishly at the remnants until it was back to its pristine glory. Each movement of the cloth exacerbated her anger. How dare he? How dare he? She had given him her life. They had been together since they were fifteen. There was no one else for her. She did everything for him, she cooked, she cleaned. Everything.
As she poured the blackened water down the sink something snapped. Something fundamental. Her mind began to fracture. Shaking her head lightly, she looked around, unsure of where she was. How silly of her, getting distracted. She had things to do! With everything back in its place, she returned to their bedroom, planning to finish the vacuuming, it was important to keep a clean and respectable home.
She glanced in the mirror as she passed and was shocked to see the state of her make up, streaked and uneven. Water must have splashed in her face as she emptied the bucket. A faint voice piped up “then why aren’t there any black marks” she frowned for a moment before pushing the thought down and smiling again. She would just have to fix her make up. Sitting at her dressing table, she carefully wiped away the make up that was left. She reached for her night cream, then laughed. She was so used to her make up remaining perfect, only removing it at the end of the day.
Reaching for her brushes, she began to reapply the façade with quick, practised movements. Normally she took her time, enjoying the daily ritual, but she was in a hurry now. She had to finish cleaning, then start dinner. She had somehow lost an hour. She could be so silly sometimes.
Finishing her make up, she continued to clean. The sound of the vacuum unnerved her, she didn’t like it. She finished quickly and surveyed the room. Normally she would consider it lazy, but really, who was going to notice. Only she would. Why should she care if no one else did? Simon cared. He liked a neat and tidy house. She laughed, Simon? Like he would notice.
A sudden image of red panties flashed across her eyes. She had to sit down again. There was no one. She had no one. No one but Simon.
They never had children, she thought they were too messy, Simon thought they were too noisy. No friends, who was there to meet? Her old friends have moved away or their friendships had just fallen apart. She had nothing. Every day was the same. Get up, shower, apply make up, wear a nice outfit, clean and make dinner. The only times she left the house was to go grocery shopping or for their bi-annual clothes shopping. Her eyes began to well up again, she could feel tears threatening to fall once more. She shook her head, dispelling the images and thoughts. It was no time to be thinking such silly things. Simon would be home soon, she didn’t have time to make their dinner and reapply her make up.
She looked down at her dress, relieved to see it wasn’t stained with make-up tainted tears. She realised with horror the dress she was wearing was slut-red. How on earth could she have bought that? How could she have worn it? Her mother would never approve. Stripping quickly, she stepped out of the dress that puddled at her feet and looked in her wardrobe. Picking a nice blue dress, a respectable one, one that could be worn to church, she slipped it on.
Looking at herself in the mirror she saw with dismay her jewellery no longer matched. She didn’t have many pieces, but what she had was carefully matched to her clothes.
Taking off her red necklace she carefully placed it on the display, then she took her blue one and put it one, shivering as the cold metal touched her skin. She swapped out two rings, they were small, subtle. She didn’t like to wear bracelets. They were gaudy.
She returned to the kitchen, her heels making the satisfying and reassuring click as they fell on the tiles. She began preparations for his favourite meal, a roast dinner. She wasn’t as prepared as she should have been, but no matter, it would be delicious anyway. She placed the joint of meat into a dish. Drops of blood fell on the white counter. There was something, small and persistent in the back of her mind. That colour, it called to her. Shaking her head, she wiped it away and continued with the preparations.
He would be home soon, the dinner was cooking, filling the house with delicious smells. She paused at the mirror to check once again. Her make up was perfect, hiding the fractured person underneath. She smoothed her dress nervously, then went to the kitchen.
He was normally home by half five. As six o clock passed, she began to worry. It wasn’t like him to be so late. Usually if he knew he would be late he would call her to let her know.
She sat in darkness, terrified of what might have happened to him. She moved around the house, turning on lights, she felt better, calmer. At half eight she heard his car pull up, his key in the lock. His heavy footsteps entering the house. She frowned. His feet better not be dirty. She had cleaned the hall just this morning. He came into the kitchen, then paused when he saw her sitting at the table. “Where were you?” “I had to work late” “you should have called, I was worried.” “You’re right. I’m sorry.” “No matter. Dinner will be ready in a moment, have a seat at the table.” As he sat down she lit the candles she had placed out.
The flames seemed to mesmerise her for a second. He was about to ask if she was ok when she snapped out of it. He didn’t give her her customary kiss. She felt slighted, but didn’t mention it.
“We need to talk.” “Soon, first, lets just enjoy dinner, it’s your favourite.”
She placed his food in front of him, piled high with everything he liked, generously doused in gravy, exactly how he liked it. Taking her own plate, she sat down across from him and smiled. There were glasses of wine, already out. He sipped at his at first, then took larger gulps. Soon draining the glass. He ate quickly.
She ate slowly enjoying each mouthful, savouring it. Occasionally, she would sip her wine, but no more than sip.
When they had finished eating, she cleared their plates from the table, putting them in the dishwasher. Simon looked tired.
“Can we talk now?” “In a few minutes, just let me enjoy this moment. It’s the best part of my day.” He looked uncertain, but stayed silent.
They sat at the table for a few moments before Simon clutched his stomach in pain. She smiled as he groaned. He fell from the chair, landing with a thud, writhing in agony on the floor. His body making new and fantastic shapes.
She knelt beside him, taking his head in her lap “shhh, shh, it’s ok, it’ll be over soon.”
She stayed with him until he died, then she began the difficult task. Slowly and carefully she dragged his body upstairs, gently putting him on their bed. The bed they had shared for twenty years. Lying down next to him, she reached for her bottle of pills, prescribed to aid sleep. Taking as many as she could swallow, she nestled in beside Simon. Gently she closed her eyes, they would be together now, forever.
Whether he liked it or not.