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Drama Romance Speculative

Tabitha turns to the left, turns to the right. Purses her lips.

    ‘How do I look?’

    Jacob glances over his newspaper. She’s in the green floral number. He weighs his answer for a moment.

    ‘Terrible.’

    Tabitha sucks in her tummy a bit and gives her bosom a hoick.

    ‘Really?’

    Jacob returns to his article.

    ‘Dog’s dinner, my darling.’ He raises an eyebrow at his inadvertent alliteration, then wryly adds: ‘Diabolical.’

    ‘Oh. I thought you liked this dress.’

    ‘I did, dear. Past tense. It looked fabulous on you, when you still had the wonderful, waifish figure for it.’ He’s pleased with this appraisal, thinks it not only fair but also slightly poetic.

    She sighs.

    ‘Yes, dear.’

    She heads back upstairs to change.

    Jacob returns his attention to the newspaper, whistling the flat edge of a half-remembered melody.

    A junior minister has been fired and fined – that’s the fourth this year – for breaching the Public Truth and Honesty Act. In a press conference in October, Ms Redfield told reporters that 16,000 affordable homes had been built the previous year. But a fact-check under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that while 16,000 homes had been built, only 400 of them were classed as ‘affordable’. In her defence, Ms Redfield stated it was ‘An honest mistake, a slip of the tongue.’

    Jacob tsks, turns the page.

    In the next article, a pop musician has taken an ‘influencer’ to court, seeking damages. The influencer, apparently, made several social media posts in which they proclaimed the singer’s latest song ‘brilliant’, ‘refreshing’ and ‘like, all the feels’. Unfortunately, though, the influencer was known to use sarcasm in their posts, and the pop musician is claiming public dishonesty on the part of the influencer has caused reputational damage and financial loss.

    A tricky one, thinks Jacob. Surely a matter of demonstrating intent.

    Bringing this legislation to parliament was one of the hardest, and finest, achievements of his forty-year career in the civil service. Stamping out the parameters nearly broke the entire department, but by god they got it through in the end.

    Glad of his retirement, he turns the page.

    The reports are all doom and gloom. Journalists, no longer allowed to ‘spin’ their findings to meet their biased editorial viewpoints, simply encapsulate events under increasingly bland headlines: ‘War still happening’; ‘Death of notable person’; ‘Economy far worse than ever before’. It paints a rather forlorn picture.

    Still, it’s good to know what’s what.

    Jacob remembers the old days, having to seek out the glimmer of facts through the quagmire of lies, opinions and wilful misinterpretations; the multi-layered double-speak of the post-truth world. He remembers the 'bad decades', around the dawn of the digital age, wherein public figures moved, in a few decades, from facades of integrity to cover-ups to shifty falsehoods to brazen, balls-out bullshitting. (He blushes at the language, but damn it, he feels strongly about this!) You could say what you liked, in those hellish days, as long as you had ten thousand twitter bots ready to back you up.

    These are simpler times, thinks Jacob. If you lie and you’re caught, you’re out. That’s that. The truth is no longer ‘out there’; it’s right here. Like it or lump it, as his mother used to say.

    True, the Public Truth and Honesty Act only really applies to politicians, broadcasters, public figures, and only covers public statements, press briefings, published articles, etc. It is not against the law, per se, for a man to tell a mistruth in his own home, to his own wife, in order to help her maintain a delusion. But it is a good code to live by, as Jacob frequently reminds Tabitha. Moral virtue begins with honesty.

    He folds his paper onto the occasional table, and in his carpet slippers pads silently up the stairs. He pauses outside Tabitha’s bedroom – formerly the spare room but, if truth be told, their relationship has cooled somewhat in recent years. He hears a cupboard door close. The sigh of a mattress as the sizeable bulk that was once his wife’s pert bottom is lowered onto it. He holds his breath and his heart quickens as he hears Tabitha sob, snort, mutter something to herself. Sniffle and sob some more.

    If the first casualty of war is the truth, then the first casualty of the truth is peace.

    She asked his opinion. It’s not his fault if she doesn’t like the answer.

    And the truth is, she has let herself go in recent years. An extra slice here, a skipped exercise class there. Her slim figure turned curvy, then voluptuous, now ‘plus-size’ as the adverts would say. Damned adverts, softening the edges of every truth they purport to convey. Jacob often regrets that they were unable to include advertisers under the purview of the legislation, given they are the most inherently dishonest people in society. Is ‘plus-size’ a euphemism (probably acceptable) or is it a downright lie (frankly illegal)? Shouldn’t they just say ‘fat’, plain and simple? He thinks to write to his MP, though wonders if three emails in a week may be too many. He doesn’t want people to think he’s some kind of busybody, a curtain-twitcher in his retirement. A sticky-beak, as his mother would say.

    Jacob returns to the living room via the kitchen, where he pours himself a small measure of blended whisky. Looking out at the gathering dark, he weighs up passing the evening watching the remainder of a documentary about ancient Greece, which he fell asleep in front of the other night, or starting a new book – perhaps the one with the new theory about Jack the Ripper. Since the passing of the Act, he’s found films, novels, all forms of fiction a little too synthetic, implausible. He can no longer get behind the protagonists, knowing full well that they were made up by someone’s over-active imagination for the sake of pecuniary advantage. Cynics masquerading as romantics. Liars, in short. They don’t fool Jacob.

    He decides on the book, and is just settling into his armchair when he hears Tabitha on the stairs. The adjectives that have been circling in his mind begin to crystalise: trashy, conceited, slutty; or maybe frumpy, dowdy, matronly, depending which way she’s gone. He doesn’t want to use any of them, doesn’t want to insult his wife, but it will be handy to have some answers ready for when she asks.

    But her steps move straight past the living room, and he hears the click of the front door opening, the finality of it closing.

    He’s quick to his feet. Catches the scent of perfume as he reaches to open the latch.

    She doesn’t turn.

    ‘Where are you going?’

    She stops, but doesn’t look back.

    ‘I asked you a question.’

    The implication being, therefore, that he requires a truthful answer.

    She half-turns. She has her dark jacket on so he can’t see what she’s wearing, aside from a knee-length black skirt and thick, modest tights (which do nothing for her calves, if he’s honest).

    ‘I’m going out.’

    ‘Where to?’ he asks sharply.

    ‘A bar,’ she replies.

    ‘A bar?’

    He means as in what bar, but her response is cutting. ‘You know, a drinking establishment where people meet in order to be sociable and have fun.’

    She sniffs and holds her chin high. Mascara can’t hide the redness of her eyes.

    ‘I know what a bar is, dear. I meant - it’s a bit sudden.’

    ‘It’s been planned for days.’

    ‘But I didn’t know.’

    ‘That’s because you’re not invited.’

    His heart begins to thump.

    ‘Who – who with?’ His voice falters, almost a whisper.

    Tabitha inhales deeply, turns to face him fully, and Jacob’s world lurches.

    ‘I’m going to a bar with Gregory. He’s a man I know through my aerobics classes. I enjoy spending time with him because he’s polite and courteous. He’s also a considerate and very capable lover, and his penis is considerably “plus-sized”, one might say, compared to yours. I'm sorry if that’s more information than you required, Jacob, but I know how you value the importance of honesty.’ Her jaw clenches, nostrils flare. She looks bolder than he’s seen her in . . . years. ‘We plan to move in together in the near future, once I’ve found a way to tell you what I’ve just told you. Oh, looks like I just did!’

    Jacob grips the doorframe, the world around him fuzzing out of focus, everything centred on his wife, his life, those wonderful lips that kissed him that night at the Enigma nightclub all those decades ago, that told him ‘I will’, that laughed and smiled with him in those older, happier days before it all went so wrong, so disappointing, so bitter. He wants to reach a hand out, to ask what he can do, what he did wrong, how he can fix it, but then a deeper feeling cuts through to the surface, and his heart burns in his chest.

    ‘You – you lied to me,’ he gasps, almost in satisfaction.

    ‘No I didn’t,’ she says with a smile. ‘I didn’t need to because you didn’t ask, because you didn’t care to notice. Goodbye, Jacob. I’ll be back in the morning to collect some things. It would be nice if you weren’t here.’

    ‘You look like –’ he says quickly, flustered, gabbling, but his mind won’t bring forth the rehearsed adjectives. ‘You can’t go out looking like some cheap–’

    ‘Yes I can, Jacob, because - to paraphrase one of those old fictional movies we used to love: frankly, my dear, I don’t give a flying fuck what you think.’

    She smiles tightly and walks away.

    She looks quite good in those heels, he thinks, her silver hair silken in the streetlights.

    

       

November 17, 2022 21:10

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1 comment

Tanya Humphreys
23:32 Nov 23, 2022

Very nicely written, you master vocabulary well. Nice short story too. Our protagonist is someone we don't like and how he gets his comeuppance in the end is deserving of a fist pump.

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