Short Story First Published on my Deviant Art Page (http://drownsindreams.deviantart.com/) in June 2006
Mrs Young had been called Mrs Young every day by everyone she met for as long as she could remember. Even her husband called her Mrs Young, and she called him Mr Young. This habit had begun on their wedding night, as a sort of joke, which soon became habit.
She vaguely supposed that his mistress didn’t call him Mr Young. They would be on more intimate terms. Which was presumably why Mr Young didn’t divorce Mrs Young and make Mrs Wight the second Mrs Young. Because when you marry someone, that’s all the intimacy gone. So Mrs Young supposed.
There was a point in time when Mr Wight had suggested that he and Mrs Young get their own back on their respective spouses and have an affair themselves. But Mrs Young didn’t really see Mr Wight in that way. She also suspected that her having an affair would be nothing but a relief to her husband. He wasn’t a bad man, and he took every care to keep his relationship with the blonde haired, large bosomed Mrs Wight a secret. He didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings. The trouble was that he was a terrible liar. He bought flowers when he lied. Mrs Young always had a vase of fresh flowers in every room.
So she had said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Mr Wight, who shuffled off and eventually had an affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Mrs Young felt bad about this for a while, because she could have saved him from the appalled reactions of their colleagues and friends. But she comforted herself with the thought that he probably would have done it anyway, if that was his ‘thing’. She did feel that Mrs Wight was a tad hypocritical for throwing him out, after all he’d only needed to have an affair in the first place because his wife was bonking his best friend. But she chose not to make a scene. She didn’t want to give Mr Young the excuse to walk out on her, and she thought perhaps that a public scene with his mistress might force him to make the choice between them. And she knew he wouldn’t choose her.
Mrs Young’s daughter was not called Miss Young, she was called Angela. Angela thought that Mrs Young should walk out on dad (who was Mr Young). Or at the very least have an affair of her own.
“You’re so pale mum, you need something to cheer you up,” Angela explained, as though anaemia could be cured by sex.
“I couldn’t do that to him,” Mrs Young said. “He’d be so humiliated. And anyway, I’m OK as I am.”
“You’re bored stiff mum, you know you are. You’ve been stuck in the same routine for the past twenty years.”
“You are bloody not.”
Angela was right of course. Mrs Young had been stuck in the same routine for twenty years. Actually, it was more like thirty.
Mrs Young was a teacher at a small high school in a small town. She taught first and second years in the mornings, third and fourth years in the gap between break and lunch, then fifth and sixth years in the afternoons. She liked afternoons because the fifth and sixth years didn’t mind being there. They had chosen her subject. This meant they sat there and listened to her, and did the homework.
Mrs Young deluded herself into thinking she was interested in what she did, although really she had only specialised in it at university because she could. Teaching had seemed like an obvious choice of profession - what better way to share her knowledge and enthusiasm? And she wanted children, so this would be the best way to have a career and spend time with them. When she was at school, they would be too. She wanted several children, this was one of her greatest dreams. It was also the main reason for marrying Mr Young. It hurt her that Angela was the only one.
She was a tall woman, very angular and thin. She didn’t eat much, because she wasn’t interested in food. She usually ate alone, as Mr Young was always off at conferences or working late. She could tell from his red nose and rounding belly that these conferences involved eating out a lot, or being cooked for by the voluptuous master chef Mrs Wight. Mrs Young opted mainly for crunchy salad out of a bag, because she was aware that nutrients were important. The HE teacher had lectured them on it one break time in the staff room, after Mr Davidson brought in a big tin of chocolate biscuits to share. He had never made that mistake again.
Her hair was mousey, with streaks of white running through it. Her eyes were a watery grey, her nose pointed. She had never been pretty. The closest to a compliment she ever got was ‘unusual looking’. Back in the days before they were married, when Mr Young had been called Mike, he had said she could be a supermodel, because she moved with grace and her looks were so striking. He might have been drunk, she thought now, but at the time he had seemed sincere.
Mrs Young’s main respite from the daily drudgery of her life was walking in the park with her golden retriever, Rosie. They walked together for hours, up hills and around the streets, because Rosie was young and energetic and Mrs Young didn’t want to go home to her empty bedroom; but the park was their favourite haunt. They would play the game of throwing the stick for hours, and they raced each other, and exchanged pleasantries with other dogs and their owners. Angela had bought Rosie for Mrs Young’s fiftieth birthday.
On one trip to the park, Mrs Young and Rosie met Mr Shaw and Max. Rosie and Max instantly became best friends, racing each other across the vast expanse of green to the trees at the other side of the park. Mrs Young was left to exchange pleasantries with Mr Shaw alone.
“I think you taught my son at school,” he ventured.
“Oh yes, what was his name?”
“Peter, that’s right. He got an A in his higher, didn’t he.”
It was more of a statement than a question.
“So what’s he up to now? He must be nearly finished university, he was around the same age as my daughter.”
Mr Shaw looked sad.
“He died in a car accident a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! He was such a nice boy.”
The type of thing you always say when you hear of something like this. How can you know what to say? What would you want to hear, in that situation? Nothing would help. Mrs Young had met more parents with this news than she cared to think about over the years. It put her own problems in perspective.
Mr Shaw was silent for a while.
“How did Mrs Shaw take it?”
“Oh, she didn’t live to see it happen. She died of stomach cancer just before he left school.”
Shit. She had known this. It was in the local paper. Mr Davidson had told them in the staff room, in a grave voice, how he had found Peter sitting alone in a science classroom, just staring out of the window. Mr Davidson had spoken to him, tried to get him to go home. But Peter had just stared blankly, unhearing.
“Sorry. That was insensitive of me.”
“You can’t be expected to remember everyone’s family situation,” he said cheerfully. “You’ve been teaching at that place for ages.”
“I have, haven’t I.”
Max and Rosie hadn’t reappeared. Mrs Young wondered if they were getting down to it already.
“Has Max been-“
“-No. Fraid not.”
“Oh. Oh well.”
Puppies wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They were worth quite a lot of money these days. And looking after them and their mother would give her something to keep her mind off Mr Young and Mrs Wight.
* * * * *
When she got home, there was a huge bouquet of lilies and a note waiting on the kitchen table.
The flowers of death, she thought. So he’s left me at last.
“We both know that our marriage is dead.”
A somewhat melodramatic beginning, in Mrs Young’s view.
“And you must know that Joy and I have been in love for some time now.”
Who on earth is Joy, she wondered for a moment, before realising that was Mrs Wight’s first name.
“We are going to relocate in the south of Spain. Joy has sold her house, so you need not worry about ours. You can continue living there, I will not contest it.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I wish you every happiness, and hope you will find it in your heart to forgive Joy and myself in ours. Yours sincerely-”
Bit formal, for a thirty year marriage…
She put the flowers in a vase, one by one. Cut an inch off the bottom of the stem, in a diagonal line. Most of the flowers were still closed, so they would last ages. She decided to put them in the downstairs loo. She never used that one. It was typical, she thought, as she placed the blue vase on the low table under the window, that he would make this last sweeping gesture, laden with symbolism, and forget that she was allergic to lilies.
Mrs Young went to bed that night, alone as usual, knowing that this new development, which ought to be so upsetting, would change absolutely nothing.