Never Too Late (excerpt)

“Anally retentive indeed!” She grabbed the wrong kind of clothes peg in her fury. “Who does he think he’s calling anally retentive?”

Dilly wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but she knew it wasn’t a compliment. She jammed the peg down onto the shoulder of Ray’s vest as if she were plunging it into his flesh.

She replayed his voice in her head, picturing his sly sideways look and that nasty twitch of a smile. “I only did it to help.”

***

It had been a difficult morning. She’d struggled off the bus with the week’s shopping straight into a cloudburst, paddling up the street and past the living room, where her husband sat glued to the box. Water dripped from the end of her nose as she banged on the front door with her elbow, then her foot, without success.

You can hear me, I know you can. Go on then, ignore me, you big lump.

Putting a bag down on the sodden step, she managed to lean on the handle and let herself in.

“Oh,” Ray said, without taking his eyes off the screen. “You’re back. Put the kettle on, will you?”

She swallowed the urge to scream. Over three decades she’d trained herself not to react, however badly provoked. While she would have liked nothing better than to take one item after another from the bulging carriers and throw them at his head, she knew it would end up her loss. Ray would sit there until she‘d finished, then look her up and down.

“You’ve got the nastiest temper I’ve ever come across,” he would say, a sneer distorting his still-handsome features.

Then he’d put on his jacket and go out, returning for lunch, which he expected at 1 o’clock sharp. Hungry, Ray was a man starved of reason. Dilly had discovered that very soon after their marriage.

She ferried her bags through to the kitchen, aware she was being followed. Ray appeared in the doorway, the hint of a smile playing round his mouth.

Watching him out of the corner of her eye, she filled the kettle and turned to the cupboard for cups.

“I emptied the dishwasher for you,” he said.

Dilly’s fingers tightened on the knob.

Opening the door, she stared at the mess of crockery on the perfectly-lined shelves, usually so neat with cups and mugs in matching rows; the same patterns and colours together, handles all facing the same way. She clenched her teeth and took two odd mugs from the front of the pile, but she could see by the glint in his eye he knew he’d scored a direct hit.

She made the coffee, strong as he liked it, and waited until she heard his chair creak in the living room. Then she tiptoed over to the cupboard, opened it as quietly as the ancient hinges would allow, and unloaded the hotchpotch of crockery onto the worktop with shaking hands.

“Ha!”

Ray reappeared so suddenly that she dropped her favourite cup, which exploded in a hundred shining slivers on the worn lino.

“I knew you’d take it all out and do it again. Anally retentive, that’s what you are.”

He stomped back to his chair, his mirthless laugh echoing down the hall. A bitter taste rose from her throat and she shut her eyes, forcing it back.

***

The complete story is now published by Alfie Dog in a variety of formats. Also in Triclops. To order a copy, please go to the link below.

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