Okay, so I know it’s not Sunday or August, and yet this post is for a writing prompt from the August Bank Holiday. Even with my poor sense of timing it’d be hard to be nineteen days late. The reason I’m doing it now is I’m on the eve of challenge two in this year’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done any creative writing.
So a big thank you to Mel Cusick-Jones for the prompts provided via the Aside From Writing Sunday Write-Up website. It’s been a great help for blowing the cobwebs away before I embark on a weekend of squeezing a story into a thousand words.
The prompts provided were: idea; why; stupid; handsome; hello.
I would also like to point out that, generally, I’m a happy and carefree person. But put a laptop in front of me, ask me to type and it all gets a little dark.
The Pretend Truth
The guilt will come later, for now he wants one more time, decent thoughts can fill the sleepless nights in his future. Sweat and shame start to mingle in a fatigued mess. James is breathless from the effects of drink and its burgeoning hangover. The nameless woman beneath him is aware his condition merely is a simulation of passion.
Any genuine connection they felt last night passed as alcohol left their respective systems and the sun rose on a field of sensible thoughts. Before it is glaring, making the awkwardness of the situation obvious, they continue to engage in this communion that sees acquiescence replace their former lust.
James notes her lack of performance, something she had no problem ramping up to over-the-top levels in the early hours, is indicative that their giddy secret is now an uncomfortable lie. The deceit to James’s partner, Chloe, nearly matched by the one stating they are still enjoying this. Together they writhe muted. Both devoid of reason or respect.
Their faces close together is a personal touch James can abide no longer. He turns her over. As in agreement she moves as if they are performing a well rehearsed dance move. Strangers they may be but there is a choreography between them which displays how easy it was to connect.
Faces that have been spared the sight of one other now share the same view. It is a wall littered with photos of James and his partner. Chloe’s innocent smiles emerge from simple frames while her lover performs their sacred act on the bed they usually share.
It should be enough to take James out of his stride. But he has come this far, he can continue until he arrives at his destination. As he does – his callousness meant it was never in doubt – he feels the body of the nameless woman go limp. Not with the exhaustion of ecstasy from their original sins, it is from relief. For her this necessary but fallacious act is now over.
James doesn’t waste time giving her a kiss or any small talk. The previous ten minutes have demonstrated such pleasantries are no longer required. He’s confident that she got what she came for. Her drunken confidence is mistaken by James to mean she’s a fully liberated woman. That such forwardness makes her the female equivalent to his view on sex.
It never occurs to James she is looking for companionship or could be vulnerable.
He thinks admitting to her in a bar that he has a girlfriend means she understands it can only be about sex. For being so open he awards himself a figurative pat on the back. It’s important – he believes – to be honest whenever possible. There’s no way, now as she lies motionless, she can accuse James of pulling the wool over her eyes, of being deceitful. He saves these conditions for the woman he’s promised to marry.
“I’ll drive you home,” James says. His voice is flat now. The need for false bravado has also passed. She is now viewed as a great inconvenience by becoming the human embodiment of an overflowing dustbin that needs emptying.
These things always seem a good idea at the time. He reasons that Chloe will never find out, so there’s no harm. It’s only in the aftermath he remembers the hassle of having to speak to the women the following day, of making sure they get home okay, not to mention the deep clean of the bedroom. He’s confident his face will never leave a trace of what he’s been up to, that his voice will remain strong, but a stray hair can ruin everything. An immovable stain doesn’t bear thinking about.
“Thank you,” she replies after a short delay.
James considers asking where she lives but leaves it. Her face is buried in the pillow and he wonders if she requires a few minutes alone to compose herself.
“I’ll leave a towel out for you in the bathroom,” he says softly.
“Thank you,” she repeats like a broken toy.
This delay, while making the ensuing journey a tad more frantic, allows James to locate his special towel from the garage. A former guest to his late night extra-curricular activities once had the misfortune of ruining an expensive towel because it unexpectedly became “that time of the month.” He’d made a lame excuse about spilling wine to Chloe and explained he had thrown it straight in the garbage. James knows too many poor excuses – especially of a similar nature – would be apt to raise suspicion.
Taking pause for a few more seconds to admire how firm and supple the darker toned skin on the nameless stranger is, he recalls her mentioning studies. This now brings immediate shame. His university days were wasted doing this. Now over a decade later he is passing the baton on.
Finally walking away he makes a mental note that he should use protection when mingling with those that are sexually active in the university pool. Just in case.
Sweat drips from his forehead for the second time today in the bedroom. The bed sheets have been stripped off and now sit curled up in a grumpy pile. The vacuum cleaner is whining as James squeezes the nozzle into every nook and cranny around the bed and its furniture. He treats the area like the crime scene it is.
The noise from the vacuum on the floor becomes shrill. For a few seconds he ignores it – there’s little time left to be bothered by annoying sounds. If James tidied every day, and not just on these forensic clean-ups, he’d recognise the cry for help from the suction device as an explanation its end is blocked. But James is only an expert in ensuring his end can always operate freely.
“Hello, handsome,” Chloe purrs from the door.
James feels the heart in his chest for the first time. Each beat threatens to make him pass out. His fraudulence exists on many levels. He is neither good looking or well behaved. The man Chloe thinks is sharing her life doesn’t exist.
Love has blinded her to the superficial downfalls the rest of the world can see, just as it has prevented her from feeling the gaps in his character that should be tangible. Yet, they are not. She has become senseless with love. At least this is something they have in common. James has mastered the art of masking his pitfalls but he wonders when Chloe will begin to notice how his deficiencies make them less than whole.
“Do I get a kiss?” she asks.
The pleasant humour in her voice is a catalyst for his guilt. The combed back fair hair framing a fairer face.
“Of course,” he replies.
Instinctively he pulls the vacuum cleaner free from the rear of the bed and goes to kill the power.
Before he gets to the plug the cause of the blockage blanks out everything in the room apart from Chloe’s face.
The nameless woman – either accidentally or for some act of inverted decency – had left her bra behind the headboard. Now it sits in the middle of bed. James produces a few quick explanations in his mind. But his lips don’t move. A missing towel is barely noticed, a stranger’s bra on their bed during an impromptu cleaning session is more than an elephant in the room.
It’s a vast wilderness and they have both just stepped into it without a guide.
“Why?” she asks, fighting with all she has to make sure the solitary tear on her cheek remains the only emotion James robs from her today.
James is muted, again for the second time on the bed today, and sweats heavier.
“I only came back as a surprise,” she says absently. “I’m so stupid.”
“I guess you got the surprise,” James replies. Even now he finds it easier to produce an offhand remark rather than an apology.
“How long’s it been going on?” she asks.
It’s another half-truth. The numerous women, added up, have been a regular fixture for some time. He understands the implication: How long have you been seeing this woman. Chloe can only consider an affair – he knows this – not a one night stand.
He begins to feel a little more positive, this has allowed him to add some degree of honesty. It may give him a chance to fix the situation. With a half-truth they can move forward.