Short story by Colin Devonshire
Dinner for Two?
“Morning dear, you are up early. Your coffee is cold, let me make you a fresh one.”
She flitted across the kitchen and clicked on the kettle. One mug, two spoons of instant coffee, grabbing a carton of milk from the fridge, slopping a dash plus a splash into his favourite mug, the way he likes it. The kettle popped. A quick stir, and served in front of him the earlier cold mug hit the bubbly water in the sink.
“Toast?” she asked. “Peanut butter or Marmite, or would you like both? I’ll do that, you enjoyed it last time.”
She placed a knife and a small plate loaded with dripping bread in front of her husband.
“That’s yesterday’s paper, I’ll get you today’s.” She folded the old one and skipped to the mailbox.
Grabbing her raincoat from its hook, picked up her handbag from the top shelf of the shoe rack, then she quickly snatched a glance in the mirror. “My God, I’m looking old. Where’s my umbrella? Just in case,” she muttered.
“See you after work,” she called. “Don’t forget, I’ll be a bit late, shopping for our special meal.”
Mrs Jenkinson gently closed the door. No need to slam it these days. She had oiled the hinges, smiling to herself, another small achievement in her life. She could do so much more these days.
“Good morning, Pearl. Your garden is looking lovely, daffodils, tulips and snowdrops, beautiful,” she called to her neighbour.
“How is your husband, we have seen little of him lately?”
“Oh, he’s fine, busy with his paper. You know, he always read the sports pages first. These days he starts at page one. I guess his team is having a bad season? Or politics got interesting?”
“We don’t waste money on daily papers, we catch up on weekends.”
“Good idea. Maybe we should do that too? But as my husband no longer works, he needs something to occupy himself.” She laughed. “Better dash or I’ll be late.”
Gill Jenkinson upped her pace, checking her watch. She was never late. Today, she had some research to complete on top of her day-to-day duties. “Oh, the boss has a big meeting today.”
“Good morning, Gill,” bellowed her boss from the doorway.
“Yes, it’s a lovely start to the day. What time is your meeting?”
“You know very well it is ten o’clock on the dot.”
“I wondered if you had changed it? Will you need me to take notes?”
“Certainly, it’s important that we don’t miss out on this deal,” said Mr Burke. “I’ll need everything signed, sealed and then we’ll deliver.” He wandered to his office, nose in the air.
Mr Burke ran the family business. He hoped it would grow into something far bigger, get listed on the Stock Market, even. He was a chemist, taking over his father’s ice business as soon as he left university. Burke’s Ice, supplied the local fishing industry for generations. Now, more than ice was to be offered to the fish. Mr Burke had a new product, a liquid chemical to inject into dead fish to keep them looking fresh days longer than ice. The lorries supplying the trawlers were kept busy with Burke’s Ice. Soon they would also deliver vials of clear, tasteless liquid. Mr Burke’s future business used his knowledge of chemicals. Preserving the region’s fish. He hoped today’s meeting would complete a deal, ensuring his companies future.
Gill busied herself with the documents Mr Burke had supplied. One set each. She knew all there was to know about ice. Now she had an added interest in her boss’s chemicals.
She read all she could find on Wikipedia on BHT.
“BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene, is that how you say it? I wish these things had simpler names,” she said to herself. The creases on her forehead got deeper as she uncovered information on formaldehyde and other embalming fluids. “All very interesting, not that I’ll have to speak at the meeting. But, I should know what we have in our laboratory,” she said to herself.
“This way gentlemen, please,” said Gill as she led the men to the board room.
“Can I offer tea or coffee?”
The guests took their seats. Nodding their drink requests.
“I’ll inform Mr Burke you are here.”
Tapping on the MD’s door, “Your guests are all here.”
“Let them wait a few minutes, I don’t want them to think I’m desperate,” said Mr Burke brushing his hair back.
She nodded and returned to the boardroom with trays of steaming teacups.
“He won’t be a moment. He has an important matter to deal with on the phone.”
Sugar and milk were passed around accompanied by aimless chit-chat.
“How long have you worked with Mr Burke?” asked one suited man.
“I worked with Mr Burke Senior ten years before this Mr Burke took over. Lovely men, both of them,” Gill answered. “Ah, here he is.”
Pleasantries bounced from one to another. Hands were firmly shaken around the table.
Then the blah, blah, blah started and carried on for an hour. Lunch was offered and politely refused. Papers were signed.
Gill showed the guests to the main door, then returned to collect the china wear. Mr Burke had his feet on the table, hands behind his head.
“I thought that went pretty well. Didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir, congratulations, I know how hard you have worked for success.”
“No need to mention this to the staff, but I’d like to offer you a raise. You have worked tirelessly for what, twenty-one, twenty-two years for the company?”
“Thank you, no need really, I’m happy with what I earn,” answered Gill. She ducked her head and continued with the cups.
“You are the only employee who would refuse a little extra in their wage packet.”
“Can I ask for something?”
“Of course, anything?”
“I am preparing a special dinner for my husband tonight. It sounds funny, but I’d like a bath full of ice. I got a great deal on some fresh salmon. I’m afraid I overdid it and ordered too much. We can eat some tonight and the rest tomorrow. The fish won’t fit in my fridge, I am sorry if that’s a problem?”
Burke’s belly rumbled with laughter. “Of course, ask the driver to pop a few kilos around.”
Gill was typing up her report on the meeting, as Mr Burke popped his head around the door.
“I’m off to the golf club. I feel a bottle of champagne is in order. See you tomorrow.”
Gill, alone in the offices made her call to arrange her ice delivery, checked the laboratory for late-working staff, that along with the factory, empty. Alone, she rifled through drawers and cupboards until she found what she needed. Vials and long needles, plus a five-litre canister of clear liquid. She sniggered at the unpronounceable name on the label. She couldn’t say the name, but knew what it did.
It was raining so hard it bounced from the pavement.
“No need for shopping. I’ve got what I need,” she said to herself. “Salmon can wait.”
Her goodies were bundled into Tesco bags.
“People will think I’m mad, slow down, you are not Gene Kelly.”
She walked the rest of the way home at a controlled pace. Sacks of ice were piled outside the front door. She treated herself to a ‘Christmas morning’ smile.
The rain had saved her a grilling from the nosey neighbour.
“Why didn’t your husband move that load indoors?” she mimicked.
Up and down the stairs, she trudged. The bathtub was half-filled with ice.
She puffed as she entered the dining room.
“Hi, hon, I’m home.”
She sniffed the air around him and poked his slightly bloated cheek.
“Tonight, we’re having fish. I know you hate fish, but, I’m having what I like. And we are having white wine with bubbles, it’s sweet too. You would have chosen a powerful red. Tough luck.” She laughed aloud.
The five litres of liquid, long needles used for intramuscular jabs were placed gently on the window sill next to the bath.
“Now the real work begins,” she said.
Sliding that morning’s newspaper, to one side, a headline caught her eye, shaking her head, “I’ll read that later. I’ll have more time to myself.”
She placed her arms under his armpits and heaved. A loud crack, the shoulders dislocated. She dragged him to the floor with a thump.
“Shit, I guess I’ve left it too late. Why do I always listen to you?”