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Gordon wiped the top of the kitchen work surface and threw the cloth into the sink. He liked things to be clean and tidy before eating so, satisfied, he slid onto the dining chair. He ground some black pepper on his spaghetti and wrapped the pasta around his fork and put it in his mouth.

‘Delicious,’ he spoke aloud, although there was nobody else in the room to hear him. It was a practice he’d come to use ever since Shelly, his wife, had died a year before. It helped him to combat the loneliness he felt every day when he came home to this empty house. She was more than his wife, she was his best friend.

The initial grieving was gone now but he knew he would never really get over the loss of her demise. Twenty-two years together took a lot of getting over so he didn’t even try. There was just acceptance. She would not and could not be replaced, ever. He relived that evening over and over, particularly in the early hours, as he lay alone in their king-sized bed. “If only” were the biggest words in his night-time vocabulary. It was his main unanswered question but it was also one amongst many others about that night. She was meeting her friends in town and decided to take the car. This wasn’t unusual as she barely drank alcohol even though the gang, as she called them, always met in a pub. The car had been hit by a truck when the driver was changing radio stations in his cab. She had died instantly, he was told.

She had been friends with Gail, Penny, and Rachel since junior school and they had all kept in touch throughout their lives. They’d supported each other through their traumas and the painful moments of their lives and Shelly, particularly, had been there for each of them when needed. She was that kind of person. When she died they all tried to support Gordon, but he wasn’t part of their clique so felt uncomfortable with the attention he was receiving. After Shelly’s funeral tea he never spoke to any of them again. They’d telephoned him, each in turn, so he knew it was planned between them. He didn’t answer the phone, he just wanted to be alone with his memories. 

‘If only you hadn’t gone to town that particular night,’ he spoke aloud again. ’You’d be here with me now, sitting at this table and enjoying my signature pasta dish. There’s plenty left.’ His voice echoed in the kitchen and he resumed his solitary meal. When he finished he took his dishes and put them in the dishwasher and switched it on. He settled down in his favorite chair and picked up the book he was halfway through and commenced reading. 

As the light outside began to fade he switched on the lamp and at the same time, there was a knock on his front door. Puzzled, he looked through the front window and was surprised to see Penny, one of Shelly’s friends standing there. She saw him and smiled. He couldn’t duck out now, he knew, so he waved and then went to open the door.

‘Hello Gordon, how have you been? We’ve all tried to contact you over the past few months, without success, so I thought I’d come around in person.’

‘Hi Penny, how lovely to see you,’ he said without meaning it. Sorry that I’ve not replied but I’ve been a little busy.’ Gordon knew that Penny had always been sweet on him as he and Shelly had often laughed about it. Although she was an attractive woman, he didn’t feel the same about her. They stood in the doorway looking at each other, uncomfortably, until Gordon invited her in. He didn’t want to but felt he should. She stepped past him and breezed into the lounge. He closed the front door then followed her into the room. By the time he entered she’d removed her jacket and placed it on the back of the sofa. Penny was dressed in a low cut red top and a short skirt, designed to show her figure. He felt embarrassed and tried to look away but she’d already seen him look. She gave him a smile of encouragement.

‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?’ he asked her and started to leave the room. 

’No thanks, Gordon. I just wanted to talk to you if I may?’

‘Of course, what can I do for you?’ Immediately regretting his turn of phrase, hoping she didn’t make any rash statements about them getting together. He sat down opposite her.

‘Well, as you know, we girls used to meet each week for a social evening. Just before poor Shelly’s demise, it had become a regular weekly event.’ She paused for a moment as though thinking of what to say next. Gordon sat patiently listening but wanting her to get on with it and then leave him alone. 

‘I’m not too sure how to say this Gordon, but here goes. After she died we decided, as a group, to continue the meetings weekly but to also leave a spare chair at the table for Shelly.’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Gordon, ‘why on earth would you do that?’ 

‘We just felt that as your wife had been an ever-present member then why should she be excluded just because she’d passed away. It seems logical to us. Anyway, that is what we’ve been doing.’

‘Why is that something I should know about?’ he asked. 

‘Because a month ago something strange and unexplainable happened. Shelly appeared, sitting on her chair, looking like she had the last time we’d seen her. We were all pretty freaked out, I can tell you, but she just sat there. She listened to our conversation but she never spoke, never answered any of our questions. She just sat there looking like, well, Shelly.’

Gordon tried to make sense of what had just been said. ’So, you’re trying to tell me that Shelly, my Shelly, my wife has been attending your weekly nights out for the past few weeks, even though you know she’s dead?’

‘Well yes, it’s so strange we decided that you should know. Gail wondered if Shelly had perhaps been to visit you here during that time?’ 

’No, and it sounds ridiculous. Does she only appear when you’ve all had a few drinks, Shelly used to tell me how much you all consumed?’

‘The first time she appeared, she was waiting for us at the table we’d reserved. We were so shocked we just sat down and accepted her presence. It was strange but felt normal, it was just a feeling we had, not to challenge her being there.’

‘I’m sorry Penny, I’d like you to leave now. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.’ Gordon stood up and walked to the door making it plain that he meant it. Penny rose and slipped her coat on and walked past him and out of the house. He watched her as she walked down the path and out of the gate, then he closed the door. He went back into the lounge and sat down.

‘You could have told me that you were still meeting them,’ he said and looked at his wife sitting on the other chair. She just smiled. 

March 10, 2020 13:21

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1 comment

Ola Hotchpotch
02:32 Mar 25, 2020

Good story. You kept the suspense till end.


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