Contest #241 shortlist ⭐️

The Kiss of Judas

Submitted into Contest #241 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected betrayal.... view prompt

43 comments

Fiction

The betrayal needled me at a 45-degree angle. It was caustic and driven, sinking its teeth into my flesh, razor-sharp in its edge and piercing. I sat there, staring at the Skype screen, wondering if I had heard my sister correctly, an out-of-body experience that had me floating between a time when I was complete and this moment when the wind was sucked out of my lungs. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't exhale. I was suspended in a repetition of a phrase, "We are flying into St. Louis first. We won't be arriving in Memphis until the fourth of October."

Her weak dispositioned husband, Steven, nodded in agreement. Cowardice, at its best.

I laughed it off with insincerity, a forced shrug while catching Kelly in my peripheral vision. She was gutted too, mouth ajar, staring into an empty void. I didn't know if I should put my arm around Kelly in solidarity or tell Donna to go to hell. I'm always the nice guy. It is the role I have been dealt.

I hear Donna mutter under her breath, "She doesn't like it," and I think to myself who the hell would? Steven shoots Donna a pleading look, imploring her not to say the obvious out loud.

In the span of twenty, maybe thirty seconds, I have relegated her to the fiery gates twice. There is a strong wish for my sister to disappear from the laptop screen. If only Virgil could lead her to the center of hell, so she could bear witness to her fraud. The white noise in my head hums a high pitch. A cold, irredeemable shadow passes over my skin. It feels like I have been kissed by Judas.

"Well, we'll see you guys next Saturday," I proffer, knowing I will never log in for another video session. It is over. Finite. Done for the rest of this lifetime.

I make a nice, pretended wave to the camera, and Kelly sits frozen in her disbelief, beholden to her astrological origins. You just don't sting a Scorpio first. It's the law of nature. The call ends. I wrestle with the growing static in my head. We both stare out the window of the study, the day overly bright, flooding our senses with its glaring intensity. The silence persists for many minutes, both of us urging our better selves to reflect and re-examine the conversation that has transpired. The Easter weekend is destined to be flat, truncated in this unseemly revelation. There is an unholiness in the silence.

Kelly starts it up again, as I know she is destined to do, the hurt flowing freely, "We have sat here for five years, waiting to see them. Our only connection has been Skype through these long, insufferable years of the pandemic. I mean," she pauses to catch her breath, "we've talked with them every Saturday at ten o'clock our time for something like two hundred fifty weeks in a row." Again, she stops, staring into some all-consuming darkness.

"It will be okay," I say without conviction.

"No, it won't be okay, Paul. It really won't. She's choosing to have Beth pick her up from the airport in St. Louis where they will stay for a week before they even come down here. They are traveling a world away from Sudbury to the grand ol' United States, and the first person she wants to see after all the time that has elapsed is Beth, your ex-wife."

"I know," there is a redundancy in the explanation. It's not that I fault her for explaining, but I don't rightly need an explanation. I am dumbfounded.

I try to retrace the broken connection in my head. It is the sister who I have only known existed for the last decade. My English mum gave her up for adoption when she was still in the UK. Of course, my mum was young and had a desirous yearning for the American soldiers at the Woodbridge Air Force base. It was a different time and a secret that almost cleaved a hole among my other siblings when Donna surfaced. I took her in without hesitation, welcoming Donna into the family while the others held out a stoic reluctance. To think that she would prefer visiting Beth for a week several states away when I have dutifully been the one to greet her at the airport baggage claim. It is deflating and nauseating. It conjures up the reasons for my divorce, a history that Donna has been privy to, and I am stunned to know that they still talk. It is worse than that though; they are close enough for an extended visit.

Sure, life seemed idyllic with Beth at first. We had a home on the lake, solid jobs, and older kids from separate relationships who would be embarking on their own lives in the nearing years. I had let my guard rest, knowing we had a relationship that was quiet, trusting, and calm. Little did I suspect what lurked beneath the niceties, the lies that were interwoven into the daily nuances of our lives. She was a chameleon at best, and the devil in her purest form. She acted her way through two years of marriage while she stole away my income, faked an interest in my pursuits, and planned a retreat to Missouri to be with her high school sweetheart. Yes, that one with the lizardry skin, the one whom she said got away. He slithered his way back, a drunken, inert loser. She deserved him more than she deserved my family. But my sister, this stranger now, must hold her out like a demi-god. She knows that Beth cheated on me, feigning to drive every other weekend to see a cousin who materialized out of nowhere. Of course, it is laughable now, the scope of my inattentiveness. I had become complacent in our relationship with a blind trust and a moldy interest. Perhaps on some level, I am to blame. Indifference in marriage breeds contempt, or something akin to a rot that one would find in Denmark, or England, or right under one's nose.

"Is there no loyalty?" I ask it aloud, not anticipating an answer. The question hangs in front of me, and then it is usurped back into my body, gnawing at the fresh wound. I choke on air for the slightest breath.

Kelly responds, "Loyalty, what is that, Paul?" she almost looks more broken than me. She is one to wear her emotions, but usually, it is a hard presentation, not a projection of defeat. 

She continues, looking at no one, the words quivering in sadness, "Loyalty is naming our son after her dead son, because our heart broke for her, even though he died long before you had a chance to meet him. Loyalty is choosing your brother over a heartless liar. Loyalty is being upfront and telling people your plans, not waiting until you've been painted into a corner where you're forced to share hurtful details. Loyalty is dead, and I'm most bothered by my gullibility, for not protecting the parts of me that I normally keep reserved. And she knows that my mom passed away a mere three weeks ago. Donna was the first person I called for comfort."

There is a blankness to her voice, contrasted against the brusque harshness that the mid-day sun relents. I glance over at her in time to see a tear slide a careful, sullen path down the rosiness of her cheek. I reach over to wipe it away, to let her know that I hear her. I am resolute to the pain. I can shoulder it for both of us.

In response, I add, "Loyalty is family." Shaking my head I utter, "She only met Beth once. I’m sure that Donna is mistaken in her intentions. You mean something to her, you must. Certainly, I do…or I did."

I rest with the new understanding. The schism cuts a permanent divide.

We sit tighter in our connection, a gentle silence, both of us looking into the blur of the afternoon sun through the window. There is an odd juxtaposition as if it is snowing, the white flower petals falling softly from the Bradford pear tree. I realize that we are instinctively holding hands. Out of nowhere, an uninvited Skype call rings through, the whimsical cadence of the music annoying in its out-of-touch frivolity. We look at the incoming call and then each other. My free hand reaches for the top of the laptop screen and folds it down with care, a strength in knowing we can manage the betrayal.

The hurt may take a little longer.

March 15, 2024 23:34

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43 comments

Martin Ross
21:15 Mar 17, 2024

Your opening description of betrayal is so vivid and dead-on, and you follow through so powerfully with the diplomacy and hypocrisy we’re forced to employ to keep what we think is the peace. Well-told and painfully compelling!

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Harry Stuart
00:15 Mar 18, 2024

Thank you very much, Martin. Your comments let me know I hit the marks I was aiming for in this story. Your story this week had everything- I’m still laughing at the footnotes!

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Martin Ross
01:23 Mar 18, 2024

Thanks, Harry!

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Daryl Kulak
14:11 Jun 20, 2024

Excellent story, Harry. Great use of language and imagery. I like the flower petals at the end.

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Fern Everton
22:33 May 28, 2024

Hey Harry! First of all, I don’t know if I already said this, but this story is a well-deserved Shortlist! Seriously, very well done! You can physically feel the pain the characters are experiencing and that is incredible. Secondly—and I hate to bother you—but what happened to the other stories you posted on here? It seems they’ve disappeared!

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Harry Stuart
17:29 May 29, 2024

Hey Fern! Thanks for the comments on my shortlisted story! I'm glad it resonated, and that you could feel it, so to speak. I'm moving back to SF this weekend, so decided to take some time away and wanted to house all my other works under me. I promise that I'll be back 😊 Hope you are well!

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Fern Everton
00:07 May 30, 2024

Ah, got it! Glad to know you’re doing well! Hoping your move is smooth and I can’t wait to get lost in your stories again!

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Harry Stuart
18:56 May 30, 2024

You're the best, Fern!! I am working on another "Fern" story, so definitely more to come! Enjoy the summer, and I'm sure we'll chat again soon. 😊

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Trudy Jas
11:51 May 18, 2024

Thanks Harry, for the Like on Can we talk, And yes, we can talk.

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13:58 Apr 30, 2024

Shocking betrayal. Very hurtful. On the surface, people can stay with whom they want, but in this instance it goes beyond thoughtlessness. You portrayed this so well and did some lovely setting descriptions as well. Thanks for reading one of mine.

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Annie Hewitt
02:13 Apr 07, 2024

I could feel the hurt from these characters. We’ve all had family or friends betray us in some way and this story resonates. Great job!

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Claire Marsh
14:32 Apr 06, 2024

I can see why this was shortlisted. If you pull back from it, the story is occurring in a matter of minutes. Yet your control of that exchange and the way your narrative weaves in the history, the pain, the complexities of the dynamics between the characters is masterful. You achieve depth so effectively, almost effortlessly (or at least that's how it seems). Part of this effectiveness is obvious in the fact I really, really dislike Beth. But also, that when I got to the end I was massively in favour of you 'head hopping', breaking PoV jus...

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Harry Stuart
01:53 Apr 07, 2024

You're definitely on to something, Claire -- a sequel is in order 😊 I like the idea of Donna morphing into a succubus to exact revenge on evil Beth. I'm glad you had strong disdain for her! Highly appreciative of your very nice comments. I like that you mentioned that the story encapsulates a handful of minutes...I didn't know how it would go over with it being a singular event that ended with the closing of the laptop. I'm humbled that it resonated as I wasn't expecting it to be received so well. Thank you for reading!!

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Story Time
05:00 Mar 26, 2024

This was a really gripping read. I found myself going back to certain sections, because I wanted to take it all in. Well done.

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Harry Stuart
02:47 Mar 27, 2024

Thanks so much for reading and your feedback! It’s always nice to hear when your work connects on some level.

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:13 Mar 24, 2024

Congrats.

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Harry Stuart
16:37 Mar 24, 2024

Thanks, Philip!

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E.L. Lallak
07:41 Mar 24, 2024

Perfect title.

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Harry Stuart
12:31 Mar 24, 2024

Thank you, E.L.!

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Curtis Jackson
00:37 Mar 24, 2024

Congratulations, Mr. Stuart, on your accomplishment in achieving the shortlist.

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Harry Stuart
13:10 Mar 24, 2024

Thanks, Mr. Jackson! I'll be sure to read some of your stories soon.

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John Rutherford
06:29 Mar 23, 2024

Congratulations.

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Harry Stuart
14:20 Mar 23, 2024

Thank you, John!

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Jeremy Burgess
23:32 Mar 22, 2024

The opening to this story is just delightfully on point in its capture of that moment of betrayal. I think the brief notes around the couple on the other end of the call are very evocative as well - we can share in the experience of watching them respond to the response of Kelly & the narrator. Well done!

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Harry Stuart
01:24 Mar 23, 2024

Thanks, Jeremy, for your feedback. Appreciative of you reading and liking the story! I enjoyed your work “The Greatness of Gletsby,” and look forward to reading more of your writings.

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Jeremy Burgess
07:26 Mar 23, 2024

Thanks Harry! Appreciate the encouragement — it's the first thing I've submitted on Reedsy, and I hope to do more in the future!

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Trudy Jas
16:32 Mar 22, 2024

Told you so! :-) Congratulations on getting the short list.

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Harry Stuart
17:37 Mar 22, 2024

You called it, Trudy! Thanks for your support! I can't believe it. What a great way to start the weekend!

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Trudy Jas
18:11 Mar 22, 2024

You bet! So well deserved. I'll have a glass of wine in your honor. (or two) :-)

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Harry Stuart
18:24 Mar 22, 2024

I’ll join you in that glass of wine! 😊

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Jessie Laverton
12:56 Mar 22, 2024

This depicts one short moment around a skype call and yet the feelings are so powerful and the complexity of the situation evident. I have a friend who recently had a similar experience with members of her family still going out of their way to socialise with her ex-husband who cheated on her. She was devastated. So this indirect experience of something similar makes this story ring very true for me. Well done.

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Harry Stuart
13:21 Mar 22, 2024

Thanks so much, Jessie, for your comments! You always hope to write something that is relatable and somehow speaks to the collective human experience. By the way, I’ve very much been enjoying reading your stories! Keep them coming!

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Jessie Laverton
13:30 Mar 22, 2024

Thank you for sending me encouragement in return :)

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Darvico Ulmeli
11:51 Mar 19, 2024

So true and equly painfull. I felted every word. Nice one.

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Harry Stuart
22:27 Mar 19, 2024

Thanks so much, Darvico! I plan to read more of your works that you’ve posted.

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Helen A Smith
11:03 Mar 18, 2024

A revelation of gut-wrenching betrayal. The lid needed to be closed on this and it was - at least for the time being. A vivid portrayal of emotional pain.

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Harry Stuart
14:50 Mar 18, 2024

Glad it came across as intended. Very appreciative of your comments, Helen!

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J. D. Lair
04:05 Mar 17, 2024

Great story Harry! You portray emotions well. It’s as if I was sitting there on the Skype call myself. Keep up the good work!

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Harry Stuart
17:22 Mar 17, 2024

Appreciative of the feedback, J. D. Thank you!

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Mary Bendickson
18:21 Mar 16, 2024

A hurtful betrayal. Thanks for liking my fable. And my museum piece. Thanks for the follow. Thanks for liking my Battle of the Sexes' Congrats on the shortlist.

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Harry Stuart
23:04 Mar 16, 2024

Thanks for reading and liking mine, Mary!

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Trudy Jas
01:45 Mar 16, 2024

Gut-wrenching. You built the story so well. Gave bits and pieces and let us in slowly. Gave just enough of the pain, bit by bit. and showed their strength, solidarity in the end. A winner in my book.

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Harry Stuart
17:31 Mar 16, 2024

Your feedback makes me think I’m on the right track. Thanks so much, Trudy!

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