A Question of Morality

He stared blankly at the screen of his computer, only vaguely aware of the e-mail headings flashing up or down in response to the listless tapping of his long and, he thought, too elegant fingers. He paused when her name appeared, his empty stomach lurched. But it was on old mail and he tapped over it. He did not want to be reminded of how things had been before, before the weekend. What a different a weekend could make. 

The sudden shriek of the telephone snapped him out of his reverie before it had even properly begun. He slowly picked up the handset and put it to his ear.

“Tom,” he snapped his name. He knew who it would be.

He heard background noise, a breath, then…

“Hello Tom, it’s me.”

As he knew it would be … he said nothing and fought not to breathe.

“Tom, I’m sorry.”

Still he said nothing. He felt a sick emptiness in his stomach and gripped the handset tight against his ear. He could hear her breathing, knew she had the handset tight held too, the plastic casing creaked. He imagined her lips, generous, elegant, deep maroon and shining as if they were wet. He imagined them shaping the empty words.

“Tom, I don’t expect you to want to speak to me, but I need to speak to you, please…”

Still he said nothing. He was framing the words, preparing them carefully. He knew that if he spoke without preparing the words, he would give too much away. If he could get away without using any, that would be best.

He heard her sigh and remembered other times when it had been a pleasurable thing to hear. Now it was like a knife in his heart.

“Tom, please, I can explain…” there was a pause, background noise, a distant police siren, voices, then, 

“no…no actually, I’m sorry I can’t explain.”

The handset died. He felt part of him died with it. His ear was assaulted by the purring that asked him to dial. 

He replaced the handset and stared at the computer screen.

Only a weekend ago his life had been very nearly complete, at least the foundations were in place for it. On Friday he had spent a busy afternoon preparing for his two week absence. A clear conscience was an essential requirement for relaxation, no worrying about the office allowed. He would not be taking his work mobile and nobody from work knew his personal number. At six o’clock his laptop lid would be closed for two weeks, he would not be able to access his mail without it. There was nothing he found as exciting as preparing to go on vacation for two weeks. Well, of course there are plenty of things more exciting, but he knew what he meant.  He was so engrossed in his work that it wasn’t until five past six that it occurred to him that she had not yet contacted him. For an instant it cast the briefest shadow. She is as busy as I am, I haven’t contacted her either.

By six thirty he was ready to close the case of his laptop and lock it in the desk drawer. As she still hadn’t texted or telephoned, he left the laptop on until the last possible moment, finally shutting it down at seven o’clock. He checked his mobile, nothing. He switched it off and it joined the laptop in the drawer. Nothing on his personal mobile either. He dropped the device into the pocket of his jacket, slipped the jacket on and surveyed the office. All was in order. 

From 'A Question of Morality' by Tom Covenent.


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