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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The couple who wanted to buy the big house: FTMT short story No3

This is the third Fairytale Management Short Story in a series of twelve - so what do you think?

The couple who wanted to buy the big house

Tony played a series of 10 lottery numbers every week. Tony liked numbers, he liked maths and he like calculation. He was sure everything in the world added up to something, though that something was unfathomable. Great minds that had tried had only scratched the surface as far as Tony was concerned, because he was sure maths held the keys to all the universe’s secrets. So Tony believed he had discovered a ratio that would give him a lottery win, eventually. Much of Tony’s thinking came from TV documentaries and magazine articles and he really had no grasp of maths or figures at all. He looked on the world of exploratory maths like a C Pass art student attending a Picasso exhibition. He knew the secrets were there, he knew they had power but the way into them and to unlock them was a puzzle in a foreign language. So Tony had come to his own High School level conclusions and settled for his idea to predict winning lottery numbers.

Sophie was a good deal brighter than Tony, less pretentious and more focused. She disliked his silly attempts at lottery prediction, his arrival at the 10 number combinations had no logical basis and to her the little they had won over the years convinced her of Tony’s continuing folly. Tony’s persistence with the numbers and his overly optimistic expectations of a big win no longer impressed or even amused her. Tony, she thought, was plainly a loser. Tony would pretend the numbers and game were only semi-serious fun if she ever challenged him, but she knew that somewhere inside Tony desperately wanted his number predictions to be proven right resulting in an enormous win. When that happened Tony would be a hero and they would buy a big country house, with grounds, stables, a pool, a huge garage and outhouses, paths and patios, gardens and driveways. “This is our dream”, Tony would say frequently to anyone who would listen to his lottery theory. Sophie hated it and was embarrassed whenever he talked about it.

So though Sophie shared the dream of the big house and the millionaire lifestyle she didn’t expect the finance to come from Tony’s numbers, her idea was simple. Over the twelve years of their marriage they had become comfortable though hardly rich, and had increasingly invested in insurance for themselves. A simple calculation told Sophie that Tony’s death was the best chance she had to get close to a financial windfall. She knew it was a well-worn idea, but Tony’s accidental death and all the money that would follow formed a constant and vivid fantasy in her mind. There was also the dream of being free from Tony’s clumsy number crunching and tiresome spreadsheet fiddling that supported his lottery scheme that remained an increasing irritant to her. So Sophie struggled, she knew she didn’t have the stomach to actually do the deed but the fantasy and the plan for the aftermath was like a large warm coat she could wear and relax into escape the humdrum, so she fed on it.

“As a man thinks, so he becomes”, somebody once said, and Sophie, thinking now like a murderer was busy making mental lists and plans. Hit man, poison, household accident, suicide, firearms accident, road traffic, drowning, falling from a tall building, strangling and asphyxiation. Of course it was all down to finding a convincing method, and one that would not implicate her allowing her to play the role of the grieving and now rather well-off widow. She enjoyed these private thoughts and felt very pleased and smug when a new angle or plot occurred to her.

It was a summer night, a Monday and Sophie lay in the hot tub, sticking and unsticking her toes in the hot and cold taps alternately, wincing at the feelings, heat and cold, pain and numbness. She counted and timed keeping various toes in either tap as she sloshed and soaked. She lay back dipped her ears under the water, enjoying the fudged sounds and dumb drumming of her fingers on the bath side. She squeezed the soap between her fingers and launched it underwater like a primitive submarine. She looked at the moles and occasional blemishes on her skin while a tiny money mallet hammer gave out a dull impatient and repetitive thud in her heart.

She rose from bath, escaping the steam as the drips ran off, wrapped herself in a robe and turban towelled her hair, it was 9:30 on a Monday evening and she felt at the painfully hungry and blank end of her tether. Tony was in his den on the PC, checking lottery numbers round the world, looking for links and connections. “Stupid man!” She tightened the tie on her robe and put on her slippers and made a face into the mirror. “Thirty-five, I’m thirty-five and nowhere ” she grumbled to herself, “ I need a change so badly”. She looked intently at her face, her features and her ageing annoyed her and she broke away from the mirror’s gaze sharply. Flushed by the warm bath and the colder air on the landing she breathed in deeply and headed for the kitchen to make some coffee and crackers before bed. It had been a tough day; the job was sucking a little more than usual, her period only a week away and a slight tension was building and Tony irritated her by still looking into his numbers for the missing link. Tomorrow would be no better. She knew work was still piling up at the office and there were a few difficult people to face first thing in the morning. She loosened her robe and looked at her tummy. Not flabby but the tight tummy she once had, it needed fixed, conditioned, pampered and admired beside some sunny pool or beach bar, with no Tony in tow.

The kettle boiled and she poured the coffee, automatically making a cup for Tony still busy calculating. She found herself staring at the cup, noticing its shape, the slight discolouring with use, the coffee granules in the bottom, some brown particles sticking to the side where the cup had been damp from the drainer. She looked at the handle shape and grasped it and picked it up and put it down between fingers as if rehearsing the drinking process. She dropped the spoon in and listened to the clink, she did it again and again. The coffee granules in the cup remained undisturbed until she added the hot water, and milk and stirred. For no reason she decided to count the stirs, thirty-two clockwise and thirty anti-clockwise, all with a further spoon clink at the end and then a practised pick up with that wonderfully designed handle. She stirred the coffee again, and again as if making a paste or mixing a colour then sipped some and stared down into the cup and then up at the kitchen clock flashing 9:55. She decide she didn’t like coffee really, it was one of those adult things that you hate as a child but you succumb to once an adult, like smoking cigarettes or drinking whisky or eating anchovies. It made no sense to her. She shivered at the thought and drank a little more. She became aware now of a bubble inside her, she could feel it now, not stomach acid or trapped air or indigestion, more like large blob of sticky saliva that was forming up inside, becoming hot and angry and volatile. “Bugger, I’m going to be sick!” but there was no sick or substance just bubble. Anger in a bubble that came from nowhere but had to go somewhere and began to as she hurled the coffee cup across the kitchen. It seemed to spread a pleasing muddy mayhem as it crashed like a Martian probe and into the sink where it smashed and spattered. A large coffee stain now decorated the wall and work top behind and dripped a brown design down tiles and formed pools on the work surface.

There was a hot silence. Sophie looked at the design and thought how nicely oriental it looked. She picked up the open milk carton and flung it into the sink accurately following the trajectory of the cup. A white explosion followed; though the carton, obviously designed for robust handling had remained intact its contents travelled everywhere and added to the coffee effect. Next the coffee jar aimed and fired at the sink, missing it but hitting the mixer taps, a very satisfying result followed however as a bomb burst of Jackson Pollock granules escaped, sticking and melting within the milk and water wreckage on the wall, the floor and work surface. Sophie was breathing hard now, her eyes were wide open and large, and her cheeks red and puffed as she began to lash out at the crockery, pans, plants and packets around her. She opened the cupboards and the fridge and emptied their contents in all directions. Of particular satisfaction was the moment the kettle, still containing hot water and escaping steam crashed out through the kitchen window surprisingly shattering the double glazing and bouncing on the path beyond. Sophie thought of some Union Pacific locomotive plunging down a ravine belching steam as its boilers burst open in an old western movie. The toaster and waffle machine followed, the blender however bounced back from hitting the other window and landed upright on the floor looking rather pleased with itself and defiant. Sophia wanted to tear it apart with her bare hands but as that was not possible she hurled it cleanly through the window with a refreshed enthusiasm. This caused it to skid and scratch across the bonnet of her car (parked outside in the drive) and then finally disappear into the darkness.

After a few minutes the kitchen was completely wrecked and Sophie stood in the middle shaking and looking ready to sob, her head lurching back and forwards, a rolling pin in one hand and a chopping knife in the other. Her towel turban had fallen from her head and her damp hair was collapsing over her features, her exertions had loosened the robe and the flesh tones of her naked body underneath flashed through. Her feet, still in their slippers crunched on the glass and cereals and broken china on the floor. A thin line of blood ran down from a cut in her left thigh from when she had first picked up the knife, carelessly nicking herself with her flailing arms. There was colour and mess everywhere, the leaking and spilling and hanging askew of everything from corner to corner and she felt satisfied that the room transformation was complete.

She decided she’d been in he kitchen long enough and it was time to move on. She dropped the knife and rolling pin, walked out the back door and sat in her unlocked car. The key was in the ignition where she had left it and she turned it without thought. The car sparked to life and she pushed the accelerator and put it in gear. It lurched forward straight into the closed garage door continuing forward into the garage pushing the bent door onto the car roof. The car then stopped abruptly as it hit the tool bench and boxes that occupied the far end of the garage. There was a lot of noise now inside the garage and she decided to switch the engine off. She opened the car door ducking under the garage door still awkwardly perched on the car roof and staggered back into the kitchen. A puzzled neighbour looked out and across having heard the noise but saw only her shape heading back through the door into the house.

In the havoc that was the kitchen she picked up the knife and headed towards the study only to encounter Tony. He’d been awoken from his slumbers or studies in front of the PC by the sudden noise from the garage. “Where is the burglar? Are you ok?” he cried. In a flash Sophie’s right arm extended to Tony’s throat and she cut cleanly across and into the top of his neck with the small knife. Both a red splatter of blood and a scream came from Tony at the same time, he fell to his knees, then onto his face, he writhed for a few seconds and then lay still on the floor amongst the other broken household debris. A large pool of blood was forming where he lay and Sophie mesmerised for a moment suddenly awoke into the situation and shimmied backwards and round his body and out into the hall. “Tony is dead, Tony is dead”, she whispered to herself, unable to make any sense of the words she was saying. She looked at the hallway phone and wondered whom she should call whilst thinking ahead onto reasons and responses. Maybe Mum, sister, police, ambulance or no one. No one won.

Now she was cold, her robe was loose and wet with coffee and bloodstains, so she staggered upstairs and finally she threw it off and pulled on jeans and a sweater and began to brush her hair. The more she brushed the more she panted until the panting became worse, too much for her system and her breathing and she burst into tears and whimpers and rolled back and forth in agony across the top of the bed.

The alarm clock was buzzing fiercely and in an impolite tone to say that it was 7:30. The sun seemed to be streaming in more intensely than ever and Sophie was suddenly awake. For a few seconds her mind was truly blank, and then she wished it would remain blank as the horrors of the previous night came back. She managed a few token sobs, wiped her face and sat up on the edge of the bed. None of it was a dream, all of it had happened as the dried blood and staining on her discarded robe testified. She needed to think very quickly and she needed to visit the kitchen. Firstly though she went to the bathroom and allowed herself to be sick, an experience that seemed to help. As if expecting a burglar she quietly tiptoed downstairs and into the kitchen, she slowly looked through the doorway ready to survey the scene she had created.

It was the smell she noticed first, the clean normal kitchen smell. Shocked and surprised she looked in and past the door and saw that the kitchen was back to normal. Shelves, cups, utensils all where they should be, no broken window or stained walls and outside her car still gleamed in the drive. At the spot on the floor where Tony should have lain in a pool of his own blood there was nothing, only the usual polished floorboards. She felt weak and flushed and held onto a chair, it was all so real and now all was as it had been how could that be? Her head still swam with the images of last night as she stared at her hands and feet, then she remembered cutting her thigh. Not caring that she was in the kitchen she dropped her jeans, sure enough there was a messy looking cut that was fresh but now clotted over in the early stages of healing. She noticed the pain of it for the first time and studying it saw it was a cut from a sharp blade, about an inch long and not deep at all but still it had obviously bled significantly at the time of the injury.

Somewhere between the dream and reality there is a believable place that can fit in with both states, rules apply equally or are waived and ignored as the case may be. Sophie felt the shock wave of lost control wash over her, weaken her physically even more and urge her back upstairs to the bedroom, then to remove the jeans and sweater she’d slept in and to cocoon herself naked under the duvet, eyes tightly closed and safely curled up.

She slept a restless sleep until a noise downstairs stirred her, still mildly in shock and not sure of anything she peered out from the security of the duvet world and saw on the clock that it was 12:33. The noise was of kitchen cupboards opening and closing, a distant playing radio, and a kettle about to sing. It was still bright and sunny in the bedroom in contrast to her mood, which was swinging between panic and despair like a lead line in a Channel squall. Some brighter sense kicked in and she realised that however improbable it was, Tony was home and having lunch in the kitchen. She got up, glanced at herself in the mirror and put on the robe despite the coffee and bloodstains across its lower half. She moved downstairs like a shattered ghost emerging into Tony’s field of vision as he looked up from a salad roll. He didn’t seem surprised at her peculiar state. “Darling, another bad night with the PMS?” Tony sounded genuinely concerned as he spoke though a hint of a smirk was heading across his face from somewhere like an unpredictable weather front. ”Frank next door said he saw you out on the drive last night pacing up and down”. Sophie picked up a tomato from the basket on the work top, the handiest thing she could reach and threw it at Tony catching him square between the eyes. It was an impressive shot. “Yeouch! Bloody do what you like!” shouted Tony “ I’ll be sleeping in the spare room again tonight, whatever!” He got up, wiped the tomato from his face and headed out the door without a further word.

Sophie sat down on the warm stool where Tony had been and supped the remainder of his still warm coffee. She looked around the kitchen and thought about all the things she liked and disliked about it, colours, features, appliances, and layout. She then thought of all things she liked and looked again at the changes and touches she’d added recently. She imagined she was describing them to a television interviewer or some minor celeb who was doing a show on home improvements. She wondered what she might be wearing and how her hair would be done and then whether the camera would add or remove pounds from her. She thought about her tits and ankles and her bum. She spun around on the stool, admired her nail polish and spoke a few glib words aloud about how happy she was with her kitchen. Then she thought about Tony, his remarks and the tomato. “He really does love me” she said out loud, “ and I just think he’s such a complete prick most of the time.”

By the time Tony came home Sophie had showered, changed, made herself up and was looking good, she’d phoned her office to say she was sick and been for a walk to the Deli and back. He forgave her for the lunchtime fracas and she forgave him for the remark. They sat cosy together on the couch all evening and ate pasta made with new fresh tomatoes, ham and a creamy cheese sauce she’d concocted. Then they drank a bottle of cheapish red together and headed for bed to make up the way that most couples do.

The next evening Tony won the midweek lottery, on a rollover. The jackpot was £7.7m. He looked at his ticket and looked at the numbers on the screen and they lined up perfectly. He had done it, he had won, the glow he felt was so strong he almost lost consciousness, but he couldn’t move from the chair or even speak. The power of the events was more than he could take, his numbers, his method and now his millions and the life he had dreamt of, all of it was opening up before him. He sat, stunned and overpowered. Sophie was upstairs and asleep unaware of the major event that had occurred below in the lounge, she hadn’t really slept very well the previous night after all. Tony remained in his seat and stared at the numbers and for a final comparison looked at a copy of his prized spreadsheet of predictions. It was then he truly realised that he had the winning ticket all right, but that the numbers he’d used were not quite the ones on the spreadsheet. Quickly it dawned on him that something unexpected and unpredictable had actually happened and that his theory remained unproved.

After the tomato incident at lunchtime the previous day and on his way back to work he’d stopped of at the local shop to purchase his tickets, something he regularly did on a Tuesday afternoon. Of course now he could see that in his upset, anger and haste he had pencilled in the wrong boxes on the slip and had not used his predicted winning sequence at all. Suddenly the thought occurred to him: “what if she hadn’t thrown the tomato?”

1 comment:

Jim Igoe said...

I'm scared to show this story to Sheena! Neither of us do the lottery, mind.