Friday, 28 June 2013

'BURST' Competition Winner - 'Cold Tea' by Roger Woodcock



Amanda woke with a start, the pain low down in her groin. She turned onto her back, sweat sticking like a limpet to her nightdress. It would pass, all she had to do was lie still, and wait.

In the fetid blackness she listened to the thump of her heart beating against her ribcage. A white light traced across the ceiling, the muffled sound of a car engine impinging momentarily on her brain as it sped along the street. Instinctively she put out her arm, her hand seeking the familiar humped shape lying beside her. Then she remembered and tears clouded her eyes.

He had gone without a word, his wardrobe emptied of the familiar jackets and trousers, old cardigans she`d been threatening to throw out for years. Ken. Good, old fashioned, stick-in-the-mud Ken with his weekly ounce of tobacco and worn-out slippers. How could she have misjudged him so badly. What pent-up passions had lain behind the screen of Old Holborn smoke, what desires and frustrations festered deep inside him as he sat watching David Attenborough and his copulating Rhinos?

She pushed back the duvet and sat on the edge of the bed, the pain now a dull ache. Slipping her feet into her slippers she gingerly felt her way around the end of the bed, her hand feeling for the familiar fluffiness of her dressing gown. On the landing she paused as another wave of pain shot across her stomach. She clutched the banister, beads of sweat pricking her forehead. Outside, the familiar drone of the night mail plane passed overhead. She only knew about the night mail because Ken had told her. He knew everything about everything did Ken. He`d once won a Brain of Britain contest, had his picture blazoned all over the local rag and been interviewed by some skinny crop-haired feminist on breakfast TV.

Slowly she began to descend the stairs. Why hadn`t she put the light on? After all there was no Ken to chastise her any more, tell her how the sudden brightness had disturbed the equilibrium of his brain cells..or some such pompous observation.

She reached the bottom of the stairs and felt for the light switch. The glow threw shadows across the cracked ceiling, showed up the faded wallpaper and the stained and threadbare carpet. Was that why he had gone, she wondered, thinking their relationship was cracked and faded, like the fabric of the old house.

She opened the kitchen door and switched on the light. Another wave of pain hit her, bile rising in her throat. She hung her head over the sink, the smell of disinfectant making the nausea worse. Ken had always insisted on her using disinfectant after every washing-up session. `Can`t be too careful when it comes to germs` he`d said, the stink of his pipe tobacco filling the tiny kitchen.

Gradually the nausea subsided. Clutching her side she lowered herself gently onto a kitchen chair. Why wasn`t he here, making her a drink, fussing over her, telling her she ought to go and see a doctor. Because Ken didn`t do that sort of thing, that`s why. `One has to be stoical about these things`, he`d told her last time she`d had one of her `turns.`

She had no idea where he had gone. And the more she`d thought about it the more she realized she didn`t really care. No, that wasn`t quite true. His salary from the Accountants where he worked would be missed, there was no denying that. But she would get herself a job, something her husband had never allowed her to do. `So demeaning to have people seeing ones wife going out to work`, he had pontificated or more than one occasion. She had trained as a social worker before her marriage. Maybe she would call into their office on the High Street and see if there were any vacancies. She filled up the kettle and set it on the gas ring. No more taking him a cup up to bed only for him to say it wasn`t quite hot enough. Why then had she felt a sudden sadness when she`d reached out for him in the bedroom? Was it the familiar cosiness of their marriage? After all they had been together for nearly half a century. Inertia. Isn`t that what they called it. Like not changing your bank even though you knew you could get a better deal elsewhere. Perhaps if there`d been children.... 

She snatched the boiling kettle from the hob and poured the water into the teapot. As she slipped the cosy over the pot the pain returned, so sharp that she swept her tea cup on to the floor. Doubling up she sank to her knees, cold sweat engulfing her. She had never had pain like this before, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. Slowly she crawled into the hallway, her hand reaching for the telephone table. Pulling herself up she dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance, the pain now so severe she began to sob. Through the tears she managed to give the operator her address. The soothing voice on the other end of the phone said the ambulance would be there in a few minutes and could she make sure the door was left unlocked. It was as she was crawling to the door that she passed out...

She opened her eyes, the face gradually coming into focus.

`Hi,` The voice was soft, reassuring. `You`re in hospital. I`m afraid your appendix burst but we got to you in time and everything is fine. Lucky your husband was there to let us in.`

Amanda stared at the nurse. `My husband..he`s..I don`t understand.`

The nurse smiled. `He was on the drive when the ambulance turned up. He seemed a little upset, mumbled something about a new start before he let the paramedics in. He`s in the corridor now if you want to see him.

Amanda slumped back onto her pillow. `Later....maybe.`






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