LET’S NOT by Colette Coen (2nd place, Flash Feb21)

‘There have been times,’ she stopped reading the magazine article, ‘when I’ve thought about it.’

‘Of course,’ he said, and she’s glad he understands. ‘Me too.’

‘Oh,’ came out of her mouth without warning – she hadn’t expected this response. It was an unequal marriage after all – she had the money and position, while he only had age and good looks on his side. She always imagined that if anyone was going to walk away, it would be her.

‘Not often,’ he said, ‘but every now and again.’

She struggled for a moment, her brain in a whirr, the questions whispering and shouting in her mind. ‘When?’ she asked, trying to sound as if it didn’t really matter.

‘Let’s not do this,’ he said, but though he lifted his newspaper, he didn’t start to read it.

‘That time Harry invited us to his villa in Menorca and you couldn’t take time off. I might have gone then,’ she said, without conviction, ‘not come back.’

‘You always say he’s a slimy toad. Besides, you hate going anywhere off-season.’

She thought again. ‘Alistair tried to kiss me at the last product launch, so did Tracy for that matter. I could have reinvented myself as a lesbian.’

He laughed.

‘Well, never mind leave you,’ she said, trying desperately to gain the higher ground, ‘I could kill you when you use my Clarins on your cracked feet.’

‘You moan when I pick the skin off.’

‘Because you leave it lying around. Lizzie has threatened to leave if you don’t stop.’

‘That’s not why she wants to quit,’ he said, though softly, like he didn’t really want her to hear. ‘Looks like Hart is about to be dropped,’ he said, shielding himself with his newspaper.

‘When?’ she asked again. ‘When did you want to leave me?’

‘Caroline,’ he said, folding his paper, once, twice. ‘Caroline. I am not doing this.’ He dropped his paper onto the coffee table, which he knew she hated, and walked towards the door.

‘I told you,’ she said. ‘Now you need to tell me.’

He looked at her, a rage building behind his eyes.

‘Yesterday,’ he said. ‘I wanted to leave you yesterday.’

Caroline looked at him in disbelief. ‘Yesterday?’

‘Yesterday,’ he said more vehemently this time, ‘and the day before, and the day before that.’

‘No,’ she said, then ‘no’ again, more quietly.

‘And the week before, and the week before that.’

‘Stop it,’ Caroline said, her voice quivering. ‘Stop it, please.’ Her voice was more imploring, as a huge void opened in the floor between them, as the walls around them shook, as the floor tilted. ‘You haven’t gone, though. You haven’t left me – that must mean something.’

He stood for a moment, his fist grasped around the door handle, then his grip loosened, and he came back to the chair opposite Caroline’s sofa.

‘Let’s not do this,’ he said turning to the crossword and lifting a pen.

‘Yes,’ Caroline agreed, ‘you’re right, let’s not.’

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