Giving up alcohol a year ago had been difficult, yet it gave Jenny a resolve she knew she would need now that Peter would be leaving. His business trips requiring overnight stays had slowly increased. Once a month became twice a month, and sometimes two nights rather than the usual one. The need for him to attend a 5-day conference in the USA was, on reflection an indicator that their relationship was on a slow downturn. He had also become careless with his mobile phone.
As he prepared to leave for the office after the weekend break, Jenny saw that his phone was poking out from the laptop bag he carried everywhere. She barely touched it, before it fell into the gap between cushions on the sofa. Peter, late as usual, walked hurriedly into the room picked up his bag and after a perfunctory kiss on her cheek, left for the nearby station. His carelessness confirmed, as within seconds Jenny accessed his messages and texts and realised how serious things had become. The imagery in the photographs were the most distressing. She sat back on the sofa, running and re-running them, before returning to some intimate texts.
There was a bottle of quality Chianti, sat on a shelf in the kitchen. Instead, she reflected on her own business appointments that day at Head Office. Her job in research was important to her. An over-reaction to the content of Peter’s phone might prejudice her future, even though she knew calling in sick would be easy.
Jenny focused her anger externally. The wine could wait. Opening the mobile she replaced the existing SIM card and carefully stored the original. She emailed Peter advising him she had found his mobile under the cushions and did he want it sent to his office by taxi? His response was interesting. ‘Do me good to have a day off. Will see you tonight. Dinner out?’
As Peter walked into the house that night, the response to his dinner invitation was clear. The smell of a chicken curry dominated the kitchen. On the table was the unopened bottle of Chianti alongside two glasses. In the hall were several packed suitcases. Jenny looked relaxed as she nodded, then pointed towards his mobile phone sat on the adjacent worktop. He picked it up, then without appearing to notice the suitcases, gave his apologies and went upstairs to shower, change and return for the meal.
Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the room. He had not showered. Nodding towards the suitcases, Peter lifted his mobile phone and wiggled it at her.
‘I guess the fact this is duff reflects on my empty wardrobe upstairs?’ Jenny responded.
‘Last supper for the condemned man. Then cheerio, adios, aloha, Auf Wiedersehen, au revoir, bon voyage, sayonara. Take your pick you bastard. Eat, pick up your cases and then go.’
‘Do you hate me that much? Surely it wasn’t that of a surprise?’
‘Peter, nothing you can say or do, now or later can change how I felt this morning when I opened your mobile phone. I knew things weren’t brilliant, but the depths you have taken our relationship to is beyond the pall.’
‘Where’s my SIM card? There’s key information I need.’ His voice was strident. Jenny laughed.
‘Don’t worry. Safe place. Let’s eat and then I’ll explain further. Shall we sit down?’ She moved towards the oven. ‘Open the wine Peter, please. You know what it used to mean to me.’
‘If you’re getting sloshed again, like you used to most nights, then thanks, but I’ll take a rain check on Chianti. As for the curry, it’s my favourite, and thank you for even remembering it, when you were clearly in a state of rage.’
‘Was my anger and reaction justified? That’s what I’m trying to establish with you Peter. Do you have any understanding or conscience for what you’ve done? Let’s focus on the word conscience. By chance this morning, I opened your mobile phone.’ Peter interrupted.
‘By chance? I don’t believe that! You do nothing by chance! That’s half your problem Jenny. You are such a control freak; nothing is ever “by chance”. Even sex!’
‘Peter, this morning I opened your mobile phone. I was gutted at the content. Who are those other women showing their bits, and why, sat amongst them are images of me? Taken privately, in total confidence, when I genuinely believed in your integrity. Images at your instigation, for your own perverse needs. I trusted you Peter!’
‘Where’s the SIM card?
‘I’ve told you it’s somewhere safe.’
‘I want it back! Now! Clean, untampered with and usable. I’m prepared to delete certain sections or images but the whole card is more important than your personal vanities. What’s recorded was done without duress and you bloody well know it. You did it willingly, so don’t give me that tosh! Where’s the card? Now!’ Peter moved menacingly towards her.
‘Are you going to hit me again? Is that it?’ said Jenny. ‘I’ve packed your bags, your favourite meal is ready, within an hour you can be on your way, able to pursue whatever fantasy you wish. I like your idea of deleting sections from the SIM card, but that’s within my control, not yours. So let’s eat. Meanwhile, open the wine.’ He paused, then reached for the bottle.
Over the next half an hour, they sat quietly eating and looking at one another. Jenny suddenly got up and went to an adjacent cupboard. Tearing open the packaging, she spoke.
‘Sorry Peter. Forgot the Poppadoms. They’re from a packet but are just as tasty. Want some? Yes?’ He nodded and reached across the plate. As he did so, he felt a slight disturbance in his stomach and touching his forehead, realised that sweat was already forming there. His pupils felt strange, and he had difficulty focusing on his food, and in particular on Jenny.
‘I’m feeling odd.’ As he spoke Peter anxiously waved a hand in front of his face. ‘I’m hot. Jenny was that curry all right? I’m feeling dizzy.’
‘Well, I’ve had exactly the same. Sauce is out of a jar, but it always is’ Peter interrupted.
‘Have you done something? Put something in to punish me? Jenny have you done something?’ He stood up, then sat back down, before placing his face onto his arms resting on the table surface. He was silent for a few moments, then looked up. His eyes bleary and unfocused.
‘What have you done?’
‘Absolutely nothing. We’ve both had the same food; besides you feeling unwell came on so suddenly, the food could have hardly had time to digest.’
‘Then why am I like this. I feel dreadful.’
‘Well you’ve drunk nearly a bottle of wine. That might explain it. Have you taken your medication?’ Peter hesitated.
‘I forgot. Ran out of tablets yesterday. Prescription due for renewal. Anyway I can’t have drunk that much.’
‘Well, check the bottle. I haven’t even touched my glass yet, despite the temptation to get drunk.’ She lifted the bottle and waved it in front of him. ‘See? So you’ve come home hungry, not taken your pills, had serious wine, and now wonder why you feel ill. You’re pathetic. Oh, and thanks for the suggestion I might have poisoned you. Don’t think I haven’t been tempted.’
Peter stood up. ‘I need to go and lie down.’
‘Well, you’d better phone for a taxi. You don’t have a bed here any more.’
‘Oh, come on Jenny. This is ridiculous. Let me sleep for a couple of hours, then I’ll go. Promise.’ She stood up.
‘Two hours. Spare room. Then I’m calling a taxi. Which address of your various lady friends is he going to drop you off at?’
‘I’ll sort that out later.’ he said, moving gingerly out of the kitchen, before climbing the stairs. After he reached the landing Jenny heard a sudden retching sound from the adjacent bathroom.
She smiled before reaching across and tipping the remains of the bottle down the sink together with the contents of her own glass and washing them both carefully. Being a research chemist had its distinct advantages. It would be at least 6 months before those little blue pills he took regularly would work again.