For the third time that evening, Margaret slammed the book shut. This time however, she threw it across the room. Her aim was never that true and it failed to knock over the vase of dusty silk flowers. Margaret’s husband popped his head out of the kitchen and looked down at the book lying open on the floor. “Are you alright my sweet? Have you finished with Sally’s novel now? I’d quite like to have a look at it next.”
“Do I look alright Desmond? For a supposedly intelligent man you can be incredibly dense at times. I have most definitely finished with Sally’s stupid novel and I don’t really think that I want you to read it.”
Desmond picked the book up from the floor and closed it carefully before looking at the cover photograph of a hand squeezing a stress ball. He recognised the hand and wrist as Sally’s own, he had often been distracted by the charms on her bracelet during particularly dull meetings. The mere act of picking up the book was enough to increase Margaret’s ire however, and a large and heavily sequinned cushion made contact with Desmond’s head causing him to drop the book back on the floor. “Leave it! Have you finished the washing up yet?”
“Not yet my darling. I thought I should come in and check that you were okay first.”
“Well I’m not!”
“Has Sally written something bad about you? I thought you two had got on quite well when she was working in your team?”
“That’s the point you idiot! She hasn’t mentioned me at all. Nearly all of the people that we worked with get a mention; some of them even got killed off, but she has completely ignored my existence in this stupid book.”
“That’s good though isn’t it? It means that you weren’t on her list of people that she disliked.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Desmond realised that he had made a very silly mistake. The look on Margaret’s face confirmed his fear. “How do you know about the list?” she spat. “Have you been reading the book behind my back? Have you? Have you”
“No. No, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that. Louis was talking about it before a team meeting yesterday. He wasn’t very happy about the way Sally portrayed him, but after the meeting ended a couple of people were looking at the book and sniggering over Sally’s description.”
Margaret’s eyes narrowed as she considered whether to accept Desmond’s explanation. She knew that he had been at the team meeting, and she also knew that copies of the book had been circulating throughout the building. She had confiscated the copy she had been reading from her secretary who hadn’t been quick enough to hide the book in her desk drawer. “What else were they talking about?”
“Umm, the garden party section seemed to have amused most people – not Susie of course – she has vowed never to hold another garden party, in case people get ideas about spoiling it from the book. Most of her friends have dropped her after reading about her behaviour, so you should be pleased that you aren’t in the book, shouldn’t you?”
Margaret got up from the sofa. She was menacingly slow and Desmond knew that he had made another error.
“Not that Sally could have said anything so negative about you, my darling. Ouch!”
Kevin flinched from the second blow of the heavy cushion that Margaret had picked up from the floor. The sharp-edged sequins scratched his face in passing and he could see that Margaret was taking pleasure in having drawn blood.
He backed away and went back into the kitchen to finish the pile of washing up. He had asked many times for a dishwasher, but Margaret always refused and said that they couldn’t afford one. This was usually followed by an extravagant shopping expedition or an equally expensive trip to the hair salon so that Margaret could have her roots done; her way of showing Desmond that as she earned the most, she was the person who made the important financial decisions in this family. He listened carefully for the sounds confirming that Margaret had left the room and gone into the spare bedroom that she referred to as her ‘office’.
Stopping to mop up the trickle of blood from his face, Desmond peered into the living room. The cushion had been replaced on the sofa and there was no sign of the book. One of his friends had told him that you could get the book from Kindle, a good way of reading something slightly risky without anyone else knowing what you were up to. Desmond had asked about borrowing Margaret’s Kindle reader once. Only the once. It brought forth a volley of accusations about how he had no time to sit around reading considering the state of the house, and the indication that she knew precisely why Desmond liked to take long walks through the village every Saturday morning.
He didn’t consider visiting the betting shop once a week to be an unhealthy habit. Desmond used his personal allowance of £30 per week, and never exceeded his limit. He’d had a feeling that Margaret knew about his indulgence, and dreaded the day that she confronted him, withdrew his allowance and prevented him from his morning of freedom.
Margaret was well aware of how he spent his Saturday mornings, and equally aware of how his weekly allowance was being utilised. Throughout their marriage she witnessed his ill-conceived attempts at deceiving her, whether it was betting, escaping from the house, gossiping at work, or the occasional flirting with young female colleagues. Like an angler dangling bait, she allowed him the Saturday morning jaunts as a way of getting him to think that he had pulled the wool over her eyes. Fat chance.
Returning to the kitchen, Desmond finished the washing up, dried everything and put it away so that Margaret would have nothing to complain about in the morning. She would still find something amiss; she wasn’t really a morning person. When he stopped to think about it, she wasn’t a daytime person either. She was a night owl however and by the sounds of her fingers angrily smacking the computer keys, it was going to be another late night. At least that meant that he could get some sleep. On nights like these Margaret had decreed that Desmond should sleep in the bedroom used by either of their daughters when they were home from university. This meant that Margaret could have the luxury of their own bedroom without any nocturnal disturbance from Desmond. She claimed that he snored and fidgeted all night, but he knew from the rare nights he was allowed access to the marital bed, that it was Margaret who snored, shouted out in her sleep and was prone to lashing out and kicking him as if he were the villain in her nightmares.
Pausing in her punishment of the keyboard, Margaret listened to the sound of Desmond’s bathroom preparations and his eventual settling down to sleep. She looked at the report that she had been writing, knowing that there were spelling and syntax errors galore. Damn Sally! Sally who could always be relied upon to proofread and amend the work that Margaret sent her, even when the work was emailed five minutes before Sally was due to go home for the day. Margaret would invariably add that the report needed to be done by half past six, a good hour and a half after Sally’s finishing time. A finishing time with no option for overtime either.
Margaret picked up her mobile, looking for the details of a very bright but strange young man she had met at a conference in London. He was looking around for a new post in her region so that he could continue looking after his aged parents who had moved into a smaller house and insisted that he came to look after them. He didn’t say much about his family, but Margaret got the impression that his actions were dutiful rather than chosen, and that he would be happier if his parents ceased to be a burden on him.
She liked the sound of that. It obviously meant that his parents, or at least his mother, had some control over him. Margaret knew that he had a reputation for being a ruthless witch hunter in the field of Human Resources and that was just what she needed. Not only he could he do some undercover work on the traitorous Sally, he would be able to chop out some of the dead wood that was leeching its way throughout her ever-decreasing budget.
Gavin Slime. That was his name. She obtained his email details as well as his mobile number, and she settled down to send him the kind of email offer that he would be unable to resist. Assistant Head of Human Resources, answering to Margaret in the first instance. The wage was more than generous, and an eighteen-month contract would enable him to do her dirty work, and perhaps see his parents’ demise or admission into nursing care or hospital at the very least.
Pressing the ‘send’ button caused a thrill of excitement at another devious deed accomplished. She picked up Sally’s novel and turned to the garden party chapter. Susie had never invited Margaret and Desmond to any of her social gatherings, and this was something that rankled severely. Despite her anger with Sally, Margaret couldn’t help smirking at the thought of Susie’s social life being ruined by the well-placed splatter of evil-smelling slurry.
Perhaps her omission from the book had been deliberate because Sally didn’t see her in a negative light? No. Margaret had made up her mind. It was a deliberate slur on Margaret and her hard work for the local authority, and she was determined to make Sally suffer for the insult.
To bed and the opportunity to stretch out in the king-size bed without Desmond’s annoying presence.