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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: John Michaelson

Title: Mr Cautious

With the sun moving out of Saturn, prepare yourself for changes. Professionally, this is a time of great promise, and if you are currently engaged in a new project, be sure to give it your all, as a certain somebody may well be watching. On the home front, keep love matters close to your chest - a slip up could spell trouble. For a more in-depth forecast, call my Aries line 0905 506 …

Michael closed the paper and folded it in half, propping it against the toast rack to the left of his place mat. He refused his wife’s offer of a second round, finished his coffee, and rose from the table. From the coat stand in the hall, he took the gabardine Mac he always wore to work. He put it on, looked in the hallway mirror, and ran his fingertips left to right through his thinning fringe. The sounds of morning television started up from the kitchen. He opened the front door, and left without saying goodbye.

The weather was warm and damp, the sky all motionless cloud. It hung so low, he felt as though he could almost reach up and touch it. Already he was feeling stuffy, and knew by the time he reached the bus stop he would have removed the Mac, or at the very least opened all the buttons. Closing the garden gate, he looked at the car in the driveway, and resented not being able to use it. But he never drove on a workday. It was neither eco-friendly nor cost-effective. And, it being Friday, Miriam would need the car for the weekly food shop.

He found a seat at the front of the bus and checked the messages on his palmtop. Nothing had changed. The meeting, as arranged on Tuesday, had not been rescheduled. He closed his eyes and tried to cut out the chatter coming from the back of the bus. School kids from the local comp, talking lewdly and loudly about something or other. Last night’s television probably, or the drugs they planned to take that coming weekend. Who they planned to shag, or already had. What was the youth of today coming to? Or maybe even, where was the youth of today coming from?

The route would take him from the suburbs, from suburbia, into the city. The hedgerows and grass verges, lush and green from the April downpours, would soon give way to a collage of metal, glass, and concrete. Suburbia, with its stay home wives and its fir-lined drives, would be left to its own devices. For Michael, this was no bad thing. He liked the distinction between work and home, and the geography and the journey helped to make this distinction all the more real.

When they reached the halfway point, the mass of school kids shambled off the bus, taking with them their profanity and their parents’ expectations. If they have any, that is, thought Michael. If they’re not just grateful that the state has taken the little shits off their hands for the day. After an outrush of pent up sighs from the other passengers, the bus lapsed into a kind of grateful quietness. Not a silence - for the engine and the gearbox and the rattle of the seats and windows made their own unique racket - but a quietness, an absence of conversation, an early morning lull.

Gabardine Mac draped across his lap, Michael let himself think about the meeting again. About Rachel. Of late, he had been imagining her in a knee-length skirt, with a plain white blouse and a black bra showing underneath. She would let him in without saying anything, and instead of following her through to the lounge, he would go to the kitchen and draw a glass of water from the tap. He would then drink it, in sips, aware that she was in there waiting, and aroused by the fact. Once the glass was finished, he would wash it, and dry it, and place it with utmost precision on the draining board where he had found it.

When he went in, the lounge would be gloomy, the thin curtains letting in a meek beige daylight, and she would be sitting back on the sofa with her knees bent, bare feet upon the cushions. Looking at him truculently, she would remove her hand from beneath the dress, and put her index finger in her mouth. And wordlessly, he would kneel before her, and reverently pull aside her underwear...

The bus spat him out at the usual stop, but instead of heading into the terminus for his connection, he hailed a black cab. Almost slipping on the curbstone, where some late night drunk had spilt a pot of hummus, he got in and threw his Mac into the corner. He stated his destination, sat back, and looked distractedly from the window. This time of morning, the roads were a snarl of traffic, and it would take a good twenty minutes before he got there. A woman at the pedestrian crossing caught his eye. She looked remarkably like Miriam, and his heart broke into a little gallop. Though he tried to avoid it, Michael was forced to consider, and not for the first time, what would happen if he were ever found out. Would he be able to justify it as easily to her as he could to himself? He suspected not.

For him, infidelity was almost as inevitable as death. And like death, it was very much feared by all and sundry. But if both were inevitable, where was the point of living his life in fear? Of course, society was happy to sell the idea of the eternally fulfilling marriage, but this was rarely the case. Yes, there were those who had managed it. But at what cost? Far from envying these unusual types, Michael actually pitied them. In fact, they freaked him out a little. There was something almost sinister about them. Something robot-like. They put him very much in mind of that movie: The Stepford Wives.

Obviously, Miriam would be devastated if she ever found out. And, besides not wanting the inevitable shit storm it would bring upon him, he truly did not want for her to be devastated. She didn’t deserve it. And therein lay the rub. The marriage bored him so much, some days he would happily set the house alight and incinerate them both to be free of it. In an abstract sense, of course. But his options were limited. He could divorce her; he could go out of his mind with the sheer grind of it all; or he could carry on the affair.

But try explaining that, try actually giving substance to these musings, and where would that get him? Men would either agree wholeheartedly that the affair was the best option, but this could be seen as acting in their own best interests and not in his. Or they would counsel him to leave his wife. Admittedly, they might also chastise him for his adultery, but who wanted advice from a robot? And the women? Unlikely that the affair would get the thumbs up, at any rate. As for the other options, well that was anybody’s guess. Women were just too hard to work out.

And that’s the thing, he told himself, as the cab drew up to his destination. There’s no point trying to explain it. We’re wired up differently. Might as well try explaining a kebab to a hardened vegan. He paid the driver, and told him to keep the change. It had started raining now, and the sky had grown menacingly dark. There was a storm on its way. He walked past several unkempt gardens until he reached her gate. Opening it, he went gingerly along the path, which was slick with rain and fallen fuchsia buds. Before he could ring the doorbell, he saw her shape coming toward him through the frosted glass panelling. She let him in without a word.

Afterwards, in bed, Rachel asked him how it was.

‘Fucking fantastic,’ he lied, to spare her feelings. For, in truth, it was not as he had imagined. He had arrived at her door like a starving man, who had tantalised himself with thoughts of the delicacies he would soon wolf down. And wolf them down he did, to the effect that he was too soon full, and too soon finished, having failed to partake in most of what he had pictured. And rightly so, he told himself, casually inspecting the slimy condom, then dropping it over the side of the bed. It’s the fantasy as much as anything that keeps me coming back.

‘Did you read your stars in The Herald this morning?’ she asked, propped up against the pillows.

He nodded and grunted. ‘Not that I take them all that seriously.’

‘Well,’ she said. ‘They’re always pretty accurate for me. I don’t see why they shouldn’t be for you as well.’

‘Oh come on,’ he scoffed. ‘You’ve got to take that stuff with a pinch of salt.’

‘I always read yours, you know?’

‘Should I be flattered?’

‘You can be what you like. I just don’t think it’d do any harm to be extra careful. It only takes a slip of the tongue …’

‘I’ve already given you one of those.’

‘… and very nice it was too, you dirty boy. But seriously, she’ll go spare if she finds out. Bit on the side is one thing, but best friend into the bargain?’

‘All right, all right. Just call me Mr Cautious,’ he smiled. ‘Don’t know about you, but I could murder a gin and tonic.’

‘Now you’re talking,’ she said, raising her pencilled eyebrows and nodding gamely.

Climbing out of bed, he went downstairs to the kitchen. She could hear him whistling away down there, could hear the crack of the ice cube tray, and the sound of the cubes clinking into the glasses. When he returned, she accepted her tumbler gladly, and watched him as he rounded the bottom of her queen-size bed. The movements of his muscular, hairy body never failed to please her.

As he reached the other side, his heel connected with the condom on the laminate flooring. He skidded forward, and both legs shot out in front of him, rising high in the air, like in a Disney animation. His body seemed to hang there, defying the immutable laws of physics. Time stood almost still.

He immediately knew that he would hurt himself badly, and wondered how he would explain it all to Miriam. As he landed, his head flew back, and the tumbler crashed onto his chest, spilling bubbles and ice cubes across his throat. He need not have worried about explaining anything to his wife. Rachel would have to do it. His neck was snapped clean through.

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