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Romance Fiction

The Other Woman

It’s a fairly innocuous piece of furniture. About three feet tall, cheap pine with a dark brown varnish, a couple of dents along the edges. Just a normal, unobtrusive hall table. When we first moved in, I kept a vase of flowers on it. I wanted to live in one of those houses you see in magazines. Floor-length curtains, hand-carved tables from Africa, splashes of colour on the walls. And so I filled my one Ikea vase with discounted flowers until functionality won, and the table reverted back to what it has always been: a dumping ground.

It took three weeks of co-habitation for me to give up the flowers. And six months to know there is another woman.

In place of the Ikea vase there is a giant plate made of slabs of purple and yellow frosted glass. A gift from his mother. It’s incredibly ugly, but that doesn’t matter. It’s so full of crap that we can’t see it anymore. Stale candy, “important” receipts, loose change, allen keys, gift vouchers we don’t want, broken sunglasses, keys to things we’ve lost, a few nice rocks, the instruction manual to the coffee machine, and the broken handle of my favourite mug. Plans, hopes, arguments, reconciliations, surprises, secrets. It is the secrets I am most interested in. The secrets that turn me upside-down and shake me around in the dead of night until I don’t know who I am anymore.

I have the afternoon to myself and plan on spending it sifting through the sedimentary layers of our life together. To broach the subject of infidelity is impossible. And so I make my own secrets instead.

Every piece tells a story. Even the useless keys are reminders of failed searches and the undying hope inherent in their continued presence in the bowl. The bottom layer of stale candy indicates an October move-in date, and that neither of us likes candy corn. The sunglasses on top demonstrate we’ve circled around to summer. And the rocks… my hand closes around one. It is reddish brown with orange flecks through it, rubbed perfectly smooth by the river over many thousands of years. Inert, cool, weighty. I remember when I found it one windy day when we were walking together. I presented it to him with outstretched arm.

‘Look at this one!’

He put his arm around my shoulder to bring me in close, sheltering me a little from the wind. He put his hand under mine, turning it a little to catch different angles.

‘It’s beautiful, just like you,’ he said. I knew it was a cliched thing to say; the meaning secondary to the reflexive spurt of words. But it still made me feel good. I tilted my face up for a kiss and put the rock in my pocket. I had wanted to put that memory in my pocket too; keep it for later. It was as though I knew things would get bad, and so I collected these objects. An attempt to grasp time and stop its inevitable march.

I guess it kind of worked. Here I am, standing in the quiet hallway with a rock in my hand, feeling my hair blowing madly, my lips becoming chapped in the wind, a comforting tap against my hip with every step along the river bank.

The rock has absorbed some of the warmth from my hand and feels alive somehow. I half expect to feel a heartbeat. I want to extend the happy memory and put the rock in my pocket. But I don’t have any pockets, and am forced to put it back into the bowl, letting it clatter against the glass in hopes that I accidentally break the hideous receptacle.

If I really want to uncover secrets, I should be looking through receipts. But the turquoise blue of the mug handle is far more appealing. Even without the accompanying mug, it fits perfectly in my hand. We bought it on our first trip together. I remember feeling unaccountably nervous in the hotel room. Like I was playing make-believe in someone else’s life. Like I was pretending to be a real grown-up and didn’t know if I was doing it right.

We walked hand in hand through the local markets. My face hurt from smiling. My hand was sweaty in his, but neither of us let go. We stopped at stalls and picked things up and looked at them, but all my attention was on him in my periphery. Was he having fun? Did he really like me? Did he look that good from every angle? It was during these thoughts that I realised I had a mug in my other hand. I had no idea where I’d picked it up.

‘Oh God, I think I stole a mug,’ I said.

I lifted it up and showed him. It was bright blue with a slight conical shape, glaze dripping down like melting ice-cream. Plain but beautiful. He looked at me, at the mug, then laughed.

‘Where did you even find it?’

‘I have no idea! We have to go back!’

We laughed and laughed and next minute we were kissing. The nervousness fell away from me. That trip was the first time I was really myself in front of him.  

I let the handle clatter back into the bowl, next to the rock. Myself wasn’t enough now.

The mug got broken during an argument. He emphatically made a point in the soapy washing up water, then brought his hand up holding only the handle, a look of surprise on his face.

I don’t know why I kept that handle.  

I don’t know why I kept any of it.  

I don’t know how I’ve come to this- searching for evidence I don’t want to find, in a place that used to hold flowers.

The bowl is the real problem. Or the origin. The other woman.

‘I was taught to hang the shirts as soon as the cycle is done.’

‘We always had dinner together, no matter what.’

‘Mum says our sofa is too soft, and it’s bad for posture.’

I knew from the first moment I met his mother. Her lip curled in mokery of a smile, and she nodded quietly to herself as if confirming an answer she already knew. In that moment I knew that she’d never like me. I should have walked away then. But I thought I had a chance. Me and my stupid ego.

Every passing day, our silences grow deeper. I don’t know what he’s thinking anymore, but something has changed. I can tell the other woman has won. When I speak, his lip curls, just like hers.

The bowl is the real problem.

I feel my hands move, but I don’t know what they’re doing. My mind is blank. Am I reaching for the rocks, or the handle again? My hands close on the rim of the bowl. I’m lifting it; tensing my shoulders at the weight of it. I’m turning around and walking with it. Next minute it’s on the floor. In my brain, the sound is a second behind the shards and the candy corn skittering across the floorboards. There’s glass and bits of our life everywhere. Overwhelmed, I turn back to the side table. Empty now, save for a clear, circular patch in the dust. I wipe it with my hand, returning the surface to a uniform dark brown. A cheap pine hall table that has infinte possibilites and a forgettable past.

I crunch over glass and pennies and retrieve my cheap vase from a kitchen cupboard. I place it on the table. My innocuous piece of furniture that will soon be the source of an argument that will end or begin my life.

I get the broom.

August 06, 2022 03:40

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8 comments

Jaye Rowan
06:16 Sep 06, 2022

Your writing is absolutely beautiful! Writer goals, if I'm being perfectly honest.

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Connie Neighbour
14:55 Sep 07, 2022

Thank you, I really appreciate that!

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Mike Lavine
22:59 Aug 11, 2022

Really enjoyed this, especially how the beginning and end are both tied to the table, which strikes me as sort of a “crime scene” for the failed relationship. Very well done! Also I like how you slowly revealed the other woman was his mother — and your description of the narrator’s first meeting with her says it all: Mom was against her from her outset! Great job.

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Connie Neighbour
16:16 Aug 14, 2022

Thank you, Mike!

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Michał Przywara
21:05 Aug 11, 2022

That's a neat twist, having the other woman be his mother. It's not quite the same competition, which means she can play dirty. I like how the narrator ties memories to physical objects, particularly "Here I am, standing in the quiet hallway with a rock in my hand, feeling my hair blowing madly". That's a neat description of memory, a good contrast of setting. We all imbue objects with significance, and the narrator focuses on ones related to the relationship. Critique-wise, I wonder if the opening would have been more powerful if you st...

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Connie Neighbour
16:17 Aug 14, 2022

Hey Michal, that's a great idea for a different opening, thank you! I hadn't consciously made the distinction between establishing setting and highlighting conflict in an intro. :)

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The Jazz King
15:45 Aug 06, 2022

Mothers can be a real pain!!! Excellent story.

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Connie Neighbour
16:18 Aug 14, 2022

Thank you!!

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