MEET THE WIFE
Martin Jessop scrutinised his pallid features and receding hairline in the bathroom mirror. ‘I look at least six years older than thirty!’ he called out to his wife.
‘I’m not surprised,’ Angela replied. ‘Leading a dual life’s bound to affect you . . .’
‘I suppose so.’ Once abed, he instantly felt her warmth, smelled her freshly-bathed body.
He turned, cupped a breast. ‘Does Robert know yet?’ Her heartbeat faltered beneath his touch.
She moved closer, wide brown eyes fixing him. ‘No,’ she whispered. ‘But he’s going to find out soon, Martin. We can’t keep pretending Christmas falls on the twenty-third . . . He’s nearly four already . . .’
Gently stroking her flat stomach, he moistened his lips. ‘We’ll just have to tell him.’
Angela rose, on all fours, the bedsprings creaked. ‘What? Tell him his father’s a bigamist?’
‘Before our affair started, you knew I was married. I agreed to marrying you to give Robert my name - and because I love you, Ange...’
‘I know, we’ve been through all this before . . .’ She pressed herself against him. ‘I guess I could end up loving two people at once - just like you . . .’
‘Hence my grey hair,’ he chuckled.
‘I never believed it’d work out. I mean the police actually do turn a blind eye . . .’
Martin rolled over, pinned her down. ‘Happens all the time.’ He grinned. ‘And so does this...’
‘Daddy! Daddy!’ His son’s pummelling almost gave him a heart-attack. Squinting in the glaring light, his watering eyes stared: ‘Three o’clock!’
Angela was just entering with a tray of tea and biscuits. Robert had subsided a little, busy heaping his Christmas presents at the foot of the bed.
After his cup of tea, he felt much better and they both delighted in watching their son.
It really was like Christmas Day, he thought.
As the day wore on, and the daunting meal was eventually tucked away, they both sat back, replete, and watched Robert play.
For the last hour Angela had been subdued. Only one more night left together.
Kissing her tenderly, he whispered, ‘Perk up, love, I’ll think of something. Don’t worry...’
Then, in the early hours, it was time to say goodbye again.
On the porch, he briefly hugged her. ‘I’ll be back in about a fortnight, love.’ He intercepted a plea in her eyes, shook his head adamantly. ‘No, I can’t possibly make New Year’s Eve...’
Motoring his sports car on the way home to Ellen, he struggled with the dilemma he’d landed himself with. Something must be done. One of them had to go!
Since Ellen had lost the only baby she’d ever be able to have,
she’d become neurotic. He couldn’t possibly leave her. Besides, he still loved her.
Damn it, he loved them both! Leave the area with Ellen? No forwarding address . . . Send a regular untraceable payment to Angela and Robert? She’d understand . . . wouldn’t she?
The road-works ahead were almost on top of him before he realised. The seven-hour drive had dulled his reactions. He narrowly missed the red lanterns by the cliff edge.
Famished now, he finally arrived outside their cliff-top cottage. The lighthouse flashed distantly.
Ellen was in the lighted doorway to greet him.
He embraced her, inhaled the distinctive perfume. She was the complete opposite to Angela. Blonde, with a fuller figure. A little more sophisticated, too.
‘Just in time!’ she shouted, leading him through the hallway into the lounge.
The log-fire blazed. Shadows flickered over balloons and cards. In one corner sprouted a small spruce tree, a few needles already littering the carpet. Some bulky parcels surrounded the holly-daubed tub.
Removing his car-coat, he sighed. ‘It’s good to be home!’ And he meant it. Yes, he’d decided. Ellen needed him, needed his love now that a child was out of the question. Leave the area. Adoption – maybe that was the only solution.
‘Dinner’s almost ready,’ Ellen yelled from the kitchen.
He sat at his place, sniffed the turkey. ‘I’m starving!’
Presently, she entered, carrying a huge oval dish filled with steaming fowl and garnishing.
Martin rose. ‘Here let me cut it...’
‘No it’s all right, I’ve got the knack now.’ Ellen leaned over, forked a succulent looking slice onto his plate. She paused. ‘Your, wife phoned...’
He jerked upright in his seat, eyes level with the two dripping tines of the meat-fork. ‘Angela?’ he blurted.
Ellen nodded, left eye slightly twitching. ‘Yes - your other wife! Don’t bat an eyelid, Martin - or the turkey’ll have some grisly trimmings!’
He wanted to shout, to roar, don’t be so damned silly! But fear soaked into every fibre.
‘Put your hands behind the chair. ‘
He obeyed unflinchingly.
He almost leapt up at mention of her name, but the carving fork dissuaded him. His heart’s pounding quickened.
‘Angela thought you might kill me, get me out of the way. And she didn’t want any part of that, darling.’
‘But - I wouldn’t - not -’ Angela’s perfume wafted from behind. He felt her slender fingers bind his wrists with coarse rope.
‘I caught a plane after you left,’ Angela explained. ‘I must think of Robert, darling,’ she added, stroking his sweat-streaked cheek.
His stomach squirmed. ‘I - what are you doing? Please!’ he cried, sensing his bowels weakening.
‘Watch him,’ Ellen instructed, handing Angela the fork. She reached for the brandy bottle. ‘Martin, you’re going to become a Yuletide accident statistic.’ Ellen tilted the bottle to his quivering lips, forcing its contents down until he was gasping, choking, as if on fire!
‘Those road-works on the cliff - they should be better lit-up, you know . . .’
As his vision blurred, everything started spinning.
‘Yes, Angela, I’d like to see Robert - afterwards . . .’
Multi-coloured decorations gyrated. The tree swayed as if in a storm. His wives’ faces seemed like grotesque party masks.
‘Agreed. We’ll go halves on the insurance. . .’
Before the black curtain descended he glimpsed the flashing fairy-lights spelling out MERRY XMAS...
Previously published in Parade in 1972.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
If you enjoyed this, you might like Spanish Eye,
my short story collection featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases,
published by Crooked Cat Publishing.