A Grey Betrayal

This short story is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 700 words, and the prompt:

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Gulls flapped ahead of him as he marched along the shoreline, screeching loudly as he crossed the rough, stone pier to the offices beyond. He’d made this journey countless times, but never before had he fully appreciated the monotonicity of it. With the blank, grey village on one side, and the still, grey waters on the other, he found himself asking, for what must have been the hundredth time that year, why he lived in a town where the most interesting thing to happen would be a newborn seagull falling from a roof, or a child from down the road getting an unexpected grade at school.

Coming to the end of the pier, he made a sharp right into the first set of offices, smiling at the familiar receptionist as he wandered in without question. Everybody knew everybody in this village, and he was beginning to hate it. He turned down the corridor to his wife’s office, her packed lunch swinging at his side. She was always forgetting it, rushing off sometimes without a goodbye. He sighed. Even in a town such as this, she found her way to be stressed and agitated, when, really, there was no need. Today, however, he’d decided to delay the overstretched, exhausted form of his wife that he knew he would see later if she did not eat again. Against her many protests, he’d made the journey to her office, planning to force the food into her reluctant hand, if that’s what it took.

He was stopped short at the entrance to her office, by the appearance of a short, portly man emerging from it.

“Ah, Daniel Porter!” the man cried at the sight of him, and they shook hands. “I haven’t seen you in months! What on earth are you doing here, old chap? Can I help you with anything?” Mr Porter cleared his throat slightly, furrowing his eyebrows.

“My wife works here, Henry. I’ve come to visit her.” His response was somewhat blunt, but was that all together surprising, given the apparent ignorance of the man? They’d known each other since they were schoolboys, and Henry had worked with his wife for over five years. It wasn’t as if he’d never visited the offices before, anyway.

Henry Locke’s mouth dropped open a little, and he shuffled his feet, suddenly seeming a much smaller man than the one Mr Porter knew so well.

“Daniel… Your wife hasn’t worked here in weeks,” he stuttered, staring up at Mr Porter with a kind of horror. “I mean, surely she’s told you. Obviously – obviously you know why she left.” Mr Porter felt a mechanical cool take over his body.

“Why did she leave?” he asked, from this mechanical part of himself.

“Well that’s the question, isn’t it?” The little man exclaimed. “She was offered a promotion, you know! The next day, she was handing her notice in and walking straight out of the front doors,” the man hesitated. “Daniel, you did know this, didn’t you?” Mr Porter nodded curtly, and, saying nothing, turned and marched straight out of the front doors, following in his wife’s footsteps.

Five voicemail messages later, Mr Porter sat alone at the kitchen table, his phone in front of him, and his wife’s phone records in his hand. He felt so stupid; surely it had been obvious that something was wrong? Surely it had been clear that their routine of ten years had been broken? He scanned the list of numbers, looking for something: one anomaly, or discrepancy of any kind to point him in his way.

Mr Porter stood up abruptly, still clutching at the phone records. He punched in a number to his phone, not even looking at the records. It rung for several seconds, and then a voice answered his call.

“Hello, Britain’s Finest Travel Estate, how can I help you?”

“Kate,” Mr Porter breathed down the line. There was silence.

“Danny? Is that you? What-how did you-”

“You’ve gone back to him,” Mr Porter interrupted her. There was another silence, much longer, this time. Mr Porter hung up the phone, breathing heavily.

Britain’s Finest, run by a Mr Daryl Phillips, ex-husband to Mrs Kate Porter.

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