This story is by Bessie Robertson and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The phone played an obnoxiously loud tune and Sarah swiped it into silence. As consciousness trickled into her brain, she remembered why she had set the alarm so early and stretched out her hand, feeling the emptiness of the other side of the bed. For 364 nights of the year, she spread out like a starfish, enjoying every inch of space in the king-size bed. But, for the past 22 years, on the night preceding this particular day, her subconscious somehow kept her rigidly on one side of the bed.
Sarah allowed her mind to wander back over images of Mark. Memories of him were seared into her brain, accompanied by emotions as strong as when she had first felt them as though preserved forever in an internal vault. Her mind replayed memories like a movie reel beginning with their first meeting, a chance encounter at a local market when, distracted by the delicious fruit and vegetables, they both reached for the produce bags at the same time. As the image paused in her brain, she felt again the strangely intense flutter in her stomach as their hands collided. Laughing and apologizing to each other, their eyes connected and held.
Her mind moved to more chance encounters at the market until it became obvious that they were no longer by chance. Swiftly now images sped through her brain, time marked by the changing seasons, until the spring day when, with her best friend Siobhan at her side, she and Mark committed themselves to each other.
Sarah got out of bed and headed for the shower, her mind sinking into more intimate memories of showers shared. As the water cascaded over her, she allowed herself to remember the intensity of their lovemaking, how Mark had seemed to understand the needs of her body better than she did herself. The memory of his lips on her hip bone stirred arousal deep inside, and Sarah never ceased to be amazed how she still reacted as though Mark was there kissing her to life. Pulling herself out of the deliciousness of the memory, she turned off the shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and headed back to her room to dress.
Opening the closet, Sarah cast her eyes over its contents, disregarding everything until her hands reached for the charcoal grey pants and simple ivory cotton shift. She dressed accompanied by continuing memories of Mark, the curl of his hair above his ear, the blue of his eyes and the stubble of a day’s beard growth rough to her fingertips.
As she headed down to breakfast, her mind moved to different memories. The dawning realization that days, weeks, and months had passed but despite their absolute best efforts, the expected pregnancy hadn’t happened. These memories were followed by those of numerous doctors’ offices. Her olfactory senses tricked her into again smelling the clinical scents that seemed to accompany each of the visits, and her heart contracted painfully. Her mood shifted and darkened, sadness inching its sticky tentacles into her soul, bringing with it the sickening sense of failure, loss, and self-loathing as it became apparent that the lack of fertility in their marriage was her responsibility. She remembered how Mark’s initial support had gradually dwindled, and the more he withdrew, the lower her self-esteem sank.
Throughout those dark days, Siobhan had been a rock. Now Sarah’s mind generated a different set of memories. Siobhan had been in her life since kindergarten when, during lunch, Siobhan had seen Sarah glancing at the candy packed in her lunch box and had halved it with her. That simple act had been the start of an incredible friendship carrying them through the highs and lows of childhood dramas, the rollercoaster of teenage loves and losses, and into their adult years. Sarah was a quiet, serious girl who loved to read. In her teens she developed a passion for creating amazing food, even becoming a highly respected chef. Although she was now the chef-patron of a highly successful restaurant, Sarah remained the quiet, predictable woman the child had been.
Siobhan on the other hand was stunning with a naturally perfect body, flowing hair the colour of rich orange marmalade, and green eyes any cat would have been proud of. It became apparent Siobhan had a talent for acting, so it came as no surprise to anyone when she joined the most prestigious theatre school in the country. Sarah and Siobhan knew each other’s darkest secrets and most fragile hopes. These memories chased through Sarah’s mind as she readied herself for the day ahead. Gathering up her keys as she headed out to her car.
Sarah drove through the city and out into the countryside, allowing herself to go back to that day when their lives had changed. Siobhan had been home for almost two years filming a drama series at a local studio. For Sarah, it had been bliss having Siobhan in the same space while they poured out hopes, fears, dreams, and gossip. Sarah had shared worries about her marriage with Siobhan, explaining how distant Mark seemed to have become, their sex life dwindling to nothing. Sarah had sobbed uncontrollably in Siobhan’s arms as she berated herself for not being able to give Mark the life he wanted. Then Mark had taken up running, training for a local marathon, and seemed to be returning to his old self. Siobhan was so happy, and Sarah felt blessed to have her as a friend. The only fly in the ointment was the lack of sex as Mark fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but Siobhan reassured her it was probably just the training.
Sarah’s grip on the wheel tightened as she remembered sitting on the sofa with Siobhan, worrying over another failed attempt at intimacy with Mark and catching the ever so fleeting smile at the corner of Siobhan’s mouth. After that, things fell into place quickly, and she realized that when Mark was out ‘running’ she was rarely able to get Siobhan on the phone. The fateful day of confirmation finally came when, parked in a hire car outside Siobhan’s house, she saw them leave and drive away together to a local park where Mark kissed Siobhan passionately before going off to run, working up a sweat before returning home to perpetuate his lies.
The walk down memory lane had carried Sarah to her destination, and she moved swiftly to be admitted into the building she had visited each year on this day for 22 years, the last four of which had brought her to this very room. She sat quietly as proceedings began, barely moving until it was her time to speak. She described to everyone in the room how the events under review had impacted her life irrevocably, and when she had finished, she waited for the man in the centre of the table to hand out his judgement. Again, the power of her words evoked the response she desired – Parole Denied.
Memories on the drive home had a much darker hue. Sarah felt again the cold rush of adrenaline, even after all these years, of finding the pregnancy test in the bathroom at Siobhan’s house, casually tossed in the trash just like Sarah’s marriage to Mark, because she had no doubt he was the father. Her thoughts turned to how easy it had been to get Mark to accompany her to Siobhan’s to prepare a surprise meal. Her hand tingled as she remembered the knife from Siobhan’s expensive set in the kitchen slipping in between Mark’s ribs and into his heart before she twisted it slightly, ensuring the damage was irreparable. In her mind’s eye, she saw the look of surprise in Mark’s beautiful blue eyes as he realized the disposable gloves she had worn because of her allergy to shellfish were to protect her hands from his blood, not the oysters.
The knife Sarah rinsed and returned to the knife block contained just enough of Mark’s blood to be traced, and any evidence of her in Siobhan’s home was only to be expected of a best friend. She had gathered up the food she had brought and headed out of the house, slowing only to check she was not seen as she left Siobhan’s drive. She sobbed to the police as she explained how Mark had confessed to the affair and Siobhan’s subsequent pregnancy to her. How he had come to his senses but never returned from going to tell Siobhan he would never leave Sarah, setting in place the motive for the murder. As she arrived home, the final and most recent memory appeared in her mind from earlier that day as she saw the look of abject despair on Siobhan’s face as she pleaded again that she was innocent. Sarah’s last thought as she closed her door and returned to her perfectly happy self, was that there was more than one way to end a life.