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Contemporary

Everything was ready for the ritual of Halloween. The doorbell rang at intervals, as tiny dragons, gangsters, and princesses giggled their way up the porch steps looking for candy.

Inside, she and Rick had been talking, yet again, about their marriage. Twenty years moving at speed, to begin with, but now as exhausted as a patient dying of cancer.

Perhaps the reason she’d brought the subject up was that they were bound to be interrupted, and each hiatus would give her time to consider her tactics. As the evening wore on, the debate had stalled and Annie, tired now of putting a good face on things, suggested a trial separation.

Rick looked puzzled for a moment, then responded, as he had so many times before, with an increase in charm. He smiled at her, offered a truce, a back rub, a glass of wine. She’d accepted the wine. But his ploys didn’t work anymore—after all these years she felt she deserved something more substantial from him.

Annie answered the door again to two pint-sized superheroes accompanied by their fathers. Batman and Superman searched through the basket of treats, triumphantly pulling out a lollipop and some Reese’s Pieces. She closed the door without making a sound and perched on the edge of the sofa as if poised for flight. Picking up her merlot, she replaced it on the kitchen counter without even tasting it. For the sake of her conscience, she must try, one last time, to make him understand.

“I’ve given you everything,” he said. “There are women who’d die for the life you have with me.”

He might be right. On the other hand, she sometimes thought she might die, stifled by this existence.

“Yes, you have,” she said. “You’ve given me everything money can buy.”

He’d provided for her, and their two boys, now at college, and he’d never been stingy. All she needed to do was ask, as he so often said.

Rick found a can of expensive nuts and set it down on the arm of his leather recliner. He leaned back and smiled, evidently thinking he’d won this round.

“What I need,” Annie went on, before her nerve had a chance to fail her, “is someone who wants to spend time with me. Someone who listens. You used to make an effort, years ago, but now you’ve settled for golf and watching TV.”

“Hell, you go out with your friends and I’ve never tried to stop you,” said Rick. He delved through the can for the hazelnuts. Annie heard them crunch as he bit down hard.

She lifted her glass again and swirled the dark red liquid around before taking a sip.

“It’s just…” She paused. “I wanted you, not your money. And you haven’t been here for me for a very long time.”

She took a deep breath to soothe herself. This time, she wasn’t going to allow him to see her cry. She needed to look strong, to hold fast. Unable to maintain an appearance of calm, she rose, grabbed her jacket, and left. He hadn’t even bothered to lever his seat to the upright position.

Now Annie’s kitten heels clicked more swiftly along the shadowy sidewalk as something whispered in a nearby hedge, startling her. The wind was chasing newly fallen leaves down the street, and she turned up the collar of her jacket. The stream of trick-or-treaters coming to the house an hour before had turned to a trickle and finally stopped. So, the rustle was probably a raccoon.

Glancing into the garden, she shivered as a skull came into focus, its skeletal hands and feet poking through the grass as if being called to Judgment Day. The skeletons and graves upset her most, especially in the dark. She was a grown woman of forty-five, but these bones reminded her too painfully of the people she’d loved and lost over the years.

  Annie wondered how she would remember Rick if he weren’t there any longer, and tried to ignore what felt like a clammy hand on the back of her neck. She should have chosen something warmer to wear. Her light denim jacket was no match for the weather.

She crossed the road to avoid the next garden, which sported Styrofoam gravestones with unfunny epitaphs. Her shoulder-length hair whipped into her face, making her eyes water. Reaching into her pocket, she took out her phone and speed-dialed. The call didn’t take long. He might almost have been expecting it.

Walking toward home, Annie turned off the screen on her phone. That was that. Seeing the last flickers of the candles inside the jack o’lanterns, her mind still refused to let go of the exchanges with Rick, worrying at the words like a terrier with a bone.

She would be better off without him, wouldn’t she? A clean break, a new start, and all those other clichés.

And yet, she remembered, they’d been a couple for so long, and they’d been through a lot together. He was a witness to her life, and shared history was worth something, wasn’t it?

Some decisions were scarier than skeletons and ghosts.

The growl of an engine caught her attention. Annie turned and spotted a car crawling down the road behind her. For a moment she wondered whether it would stop when it reached her. She could almost hear her heart beating a little faster and found herself suddenly catching her breath, as though she’d been running.

As it drew level, she saw it was silver, but not particularly distinctive. The sort of vehicle which might belong to anyone. Annie breathed a sigh of relief. Not Rick, then, looking for her in the red Jaguar he’d insisted on buying last year. The driver looked at her, and the sedan picked up speed as it continued past. She watched it pull up some way beyond her house and park on the corner.

It seemed like an age since she’d left home, but squinting down at her watch as she passed beneath a streetlamp, she saw she’d been gone for less than an hour. The porch light cast a sickly shadow as she approached the house again. Someone would have to change the bulb for a brighter one. Stuffing her hands in her pockets she rummaged around for her key. Her fingers found only a damp tissue, so she knocked and waited for her husband to open the front door. He grinned at her and held out a lollipop.

“Sucker?” he asked.

“Not this time.”

She stepped across the threshold and walked past him and upstairs to collect the suitcase she’d already packed. And a warmer coat. She didn’t want to keep Steve, in his silver car on the corner, waiting.

# # #

October 22, 2021 16:31

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12 comments

Marlou Newkirk
22:52 Nov 05, 2021

Gabi, I loved it! Such a surprise ending but you are so good at that. Thanks for telling me about this website. Look forward to more of your writing here!! Namaste!

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Jon Casper
11:52 Nov 05, 2021

Lots of wonderful phrasing. This for example: "worrying at the words like a terrier with a bone." Excellent character development, and natural dialogue. Good work!

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Gabi Coatsworth
17:28 Nov 05, 2021

Thanks so much!

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Danielle Cole
21:30 Nov 03, 2021

Nicely written. Just enough detail, but not too much. The dialogue was very natural and had a realistic flow to it. I loved the surprise ending!

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Gabi Coatsworth
23:56 Nov 03, 2021

Thanks, Danielle!

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Charlie Murphy
17:57 Nov 02, 2021

Great story! I liked the little twist at the end, although it was kind of sad.

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Gabi Coatsworth
23:57 Nov 03, 2021

You may be right - I find it interesting how differently people react to the same story...It depends where they're coming from, I suspect

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22:05 Oct 31, 2021

I saw the silver car, but sure didn't see Steve coming. Great ending!!

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Lorraine Norwood
17:06 Oct 31, 2021

Good writing, Gabi! A prompt taken in an unexpected direction. And a painful reminder that in between love and hate is indifference . . . and Steve. Good job and good luck!

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Gabi Coatsworth
20:01 Oct 31, 2021

Thanks, Lorraine. I wrote this some years ago, and forgot about it until this contest came up. (I think my writing is probably better now...)

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Bella L
14:27 Oct 31, 2021

I love seeing the directions these prompts are taken! This was so different from what I’ve been seeing and definitely refreshing Please keep writing, I look forward to reading more!

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Gabi Coatsworth
15:48 Oct 31, 2021

Thanks, Bella - that's so kind of you. I'm not good at writing horror, so my writing tends to take a different tack with a prompt like this one. :)

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