Joe's lottery win
It was a weird, walking up to their front door without Joe. Gone was that sick, almost giddy feeling, had his wife really gone out for the day? Alison tried to stay calm, but deep inside was a whole different kind of sick feeling.
As the sound of the doorbell faded Alison had to clamp down on her desire to turn tail. Obviously, they weren’t home. They had gotten a last-minute deal, gone away for the weekend. But that was crap. Joe gone away without telling her? Joe gone away with Lady Macbeth?
Her heart fluttered in time with the flickers of grey ghosting behind the frosted glass in the door but it wasn’t Joe. His wife blinked myopically as Alison mutely thrust forward the envelope with her cover story.
‘Lottery,’ she said. ‘Joe’s winnings. Is he here?’
Joe’s wife shook her head. She looked at the envelope, blinked again, then peered at Alison’s face. She began to smile. ‘Oh, it’s…’
‘Alison, from the club. It’s Joe’s winnings. It’s not much, but these things get misplaced, so…is Joe here?’
Joe’s wife was smiling broadly. She looked so warm and engaging, nothing like the double frosted dragon ice queen Joe was always describing.
‘Joe isn’t available, but how about a cup of tea?’
Alison wanted to be anywhere but here. She wanted to kick off her heels and run, because this was nuts – accept an offer from the wife of a guy you’ve been shagging? A guy no one has heard from in days?
But she had to know.
She followed Joe’s wife down the hall towards the kitchen, then asked if she could use the bathroom. She almost blew it by turning for the stairs before she got an answer, but covered herself by saying, ‘Upstairs, is it?’
Joe’s wife still looked so warm and granny-like. She nodded happily. ‘At the top of the stairs, dear.’
Alison didn’t need to use the toilet but she paused in the doorway and stared at the pink bathmat woven with roses. She and Joe had done it on the floor. They had done it in almost every room. Joe’s wife was an old granny, but not Joe. Yeah, he was grey, and yeah, he creaked up the stairs, but there was so much life still in Joe.
Alison could hear the sound of china tinkling from the kitchen. She flushed the toilet and then moved swiftly across to the bedroom where Joe slept alone. Of course it was crazy, and of course she didn’t believe it possible, but how many times had Joe told her that’s where she’d find him if he ever stopped calling her?
The sound of the kettle whistling kicked Alison into life. She dropped to her knees by the side of the bed, took a deep breath and pulled up the hanging edge of the valance draped over the iron framed bed. She grinned happily. What a dozy cow. Under the bed was nothing but a few bits and pieces, a faded stuffed animal, a handful of sepia tinged photographs.
A cough from behind chilled Alison’s blood. She tried to find a smile when she turned around but her failure didn’t matter. Joe’s wife was smiling enough for the both of them.