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I found the note in the top pocket of Edmund’s pinstripe jacket - his favourite jacket.
“It’s my lucky jacket,” he told me once, stroking the sleeve fondly.
The note was written on girlish pink paper, and when I pressed it to my nose I could smell the scent of an equally girlish perfume. It smelt like something I would never, ever wear - it was so sweet, sickly sweet. I pulled it back from my inhalation in disgust. The writing on it was small, neat; not the brash, confident, loopy writing I had imagined. It read:
Dinner at the Ritz on the 17th. Seven, sharp. Don’t be late.
I could glean much information from this note. For a start, she was obviously rich - much like my husband, so that could not be the reason of his preference of her to me. The Ritz, the note said. I could see the sort of table they would sit at; it would be adorned with elaborate bouquets of roses, all in assorted colours. It would be tucked into a corner, some place quiet where they would not be noticed, seen or overheard. But even so, their heads would lean together, and she would whisper enticing words into his ear like a poisonous, deceitful snake…
I shook my head, and looked at the note again.
Her sentences were direct, sharp they possessed enviable control over my husband. But what mistress did not possess control over the object of her desire? Don’t be late. It was a warning, not only a frank command. She was a woman that did not like to be messed around. And like a fool, my husband would dance to her tune and waltz out tomorrow evening, dressed in his finest dinner suit, the one reserved for important business meetings - and for me he would only leave a trail of excuses.
I gritted my teeth, crumpling the note in my hand. And, I must confess, it felt good to imagine myself crushing her.
Who was M? I wondered. Where had he met her? At work? What did M stand for? Melissa, I imagined. Or Miranda. Those sounded like suitable, sassy names for a mistress. Much more exotic than my name, which was duller than the arthritic goat that stood out on the paddock next to our farm house. Ingrid, I was called - my grandmother’s name. I didn’t want to dishonour her when she was cold in her grave, but it really was an appalling name. Perhaps I should demand to be called Cherry from now on.
I stomped up the stairs and into Edmund’s office, ignoring the yowls of Mimble as I shifted the cat from his comfy spot on the swivel chair. I sat down hesitantly, and paused for a moment. Could I really invade Edmund’s privacy like this? I stared at his papers, spread messily over the wooden antique desk. Then I got a hold of myself - I doted far too much on someone who would only betray my trust behind his back.
I rifled across the papers, unsure of what I was searching for. I pulled open drawers and shifted through the endless piles of junk that had been stacked inside them. And just when I was about to give up in my seemingly fruitless search, a small, turquoise box fell onto the floor.
I bent down to pick it up, just as the phone rang. I reached over and picked the phone up instead.
“Darling!” Edmund’s cheery voice boomed. He was a generally cheery man - I could have married worse, I supposed. He could have a biting temper though.
“Hello, Edmund,” I replied, drumming my fingers against the desk. “Why are you calling so early in the day?” I glanced at the clock. It was eight in the morning, and the sun had barely just risen. My husband had left but two hours ago.
“Ah, see, my dear,” Edmund began. “I have had a most brilliant business proposal - although it may not be so brilliant for you.”
“Oh,” I said tonelessly.
“It involves me going down to London for a few days.”
London - the Ritz. It all made sense! But, alas, I was always too cowardly to confront anyone, especially those I knew well. So instead, I said:
“Edmund, you must take any proposal that appears so brilliant.”
I could hear the grin in my husband’s voice - but this one would be smug. He thought I was fooled, but I was not as much of a fool as he thought. “I’m glad you’re not disappointed, darling. Especially as it’s your mother’s birthday dinner I will be missing.”
“Don’t mind that!” I waved it off. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“Oh, well then!” He seemed genuinely surprised. “I’ll be coming back to fetch a few things. Could you be a dear and pack me an overnight case?”
We rang off after that, and I placed the phone carefully back on its slot. Then, instead of opening the little box and fuming over its contents - of which I could probably imagine - I placed it back where I had found it, in the corner of the drawer that was hanging open. Edmund would never guess. For someone who was, admittedly, terribly clever, it was as if he viewed the world through a blindfold.
I exited the office, and walked briskly down the corridor to our bedroom. And, ever the dutiful wife, I mechanically unpacked all his best suits from the wardrobe. They were crisp and clean from the dry cleaners, folded perfectly and packed into their matte black Armani boxes. I placed the boxes in Edmund’s leather suitcase another one of his favourite items. Edmund was an easily pleased man, taken with frivolous luxuries and other materialistic things. As much as I liked my Oscar de La Renta dresses that my husband bought and insisted I wear, I could live happily without them - unlike my husband, who might self destruct if he did not have his leather suitcase.
I finished packing his silk patterned ties, socks and underwear. In the bathroom - not to my surprise - I found a prepacked toiletries bag, and I packed this without questioning it. I zipped up the bag and carried it carefully downstairs. I set it by the door, ready for Edmund to pick it up when he came home. One look at the clock confirmed my suspicions that he would be here any second.
I poured him a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. My husband adored my orange juice, as did most of the village. I sold it at farmers’ markets and made a small fortune from doing so. My friends could not understand why my oranges grew so well especially in England’s rainy climate - but they did, and they made divine orange juice. I was content.
As I was adding the finishing touches to my orange juice, I heard my husband’s car in the drive. A moment later he burst into the room, grinning from ear to ear. Immediately I smiled, and stepped forward to kiss his clean shaven cheeks.
“Hello, darling,” I said. I picked up the glass of orange juice and offered it to him. “Orange juice?”
He nodded gratefully as he took it. “I’m parched.”
I watched as he gulped all of it down in a few mouthfuls, feeling a genuine smile prick the corners of my mouth. Edmund noticed.
“You’re cheerful today,” he remarked as he placed the glass back down on the marble counter.
I shrugged innocently, and pointed to his luggage. “There’s your bag. I packed all your favourite suits.”
He smiled appreciatively, and I could have sworn that he never stopped smiling for a moment. He gave me a quick hug, and kissed the top of my head. Then he stepped back. “I wish I could stop,” he said. “But I must get going. I’ll be back on Thursday.” He paused. “Have a nice weekend!”
“I’m sure yours will be good,” I offered.
He smiled blissfully, because he was positive that it would be. I smiled blissfully, because I knew the truth.
Then he gave me a parting wave and ducked out the room. I heard footsteps down the hall, the front door slam, and I watched as he bounced, whistling in the sunshine, down the drive. He got into his shiny Mercedes, another toy of his. Its engine roared into life and the car crunched off down the gravel. I waved him off from the kitchen window, and watched him until he was completely gone. Then I turned back to the work surface. I washed the abandoned glass carefully, dried it with a tea towel and put it back in the cupboard. Then I chucked the tea towel in the washing machine, just to be safe.
Lastly I picked up the empty packet of sleeping pills and tossed it into the bin outside. When my husband’s car crashed, it certainly wouldn’t be my fault. A tragic overdose, they might say. But never would it be the fault of that poor, doting housewife who liked to make orange juice and bake casseroles all day.