A group of writers in Chichester coming together once a month for inspiration, collaboration and sensation
Derek Jarvis loved his wife, or so he thought. The trouble was, she really didn’t love him. And perhaps a part of him had always known that, deep down.
“And don’t forget that bloody lottery ticket!” she screamed, just as he was leaving for work.
“No dear. Don’t worry, I won’t.” he lied, kissing the soft cheek that could still turn a young man’s head. Sometimes he felt like a spider desperately trying to put off being eaten by its larger and more unpredictable mate. The friends that he’d once had, before he met her, had warned him to have no truck with Eastern European marriage websites and he wished now that he’d listened. Veronica was a good twenty-five years younger than him, and she was beautiful, with long lustrous natural blond curls. But he’d been a fool to put the house in her name. Somehow she ’d always known how to get the things she wanted from him and, as he got to know her better, he realized that he barely knew her at all. In the gents at work, he looked at his face in the mirror, trying to tell himself he still had it at fifty-two, and for a moment he saw a younger man staring back at him: the gift of his own pride. Yet, despite this, he knew well enough that we’re born blind to our own decrepitude; instead, as you grow old, other people seem to grow younger. He thought for a moment of his late mother, dying from Alzheimer’s, giggling like a young girl as she walked the streets alone at night, and he shivered.
Back in the office, the boss was already waiting. “Here we go,” thought Derek, arming himself with a practiced smile. But Prentice’s expression said it all, with a look of smug contempt that made Derek’s upbeat happy-face even harder to maintain. Still, the challenge of doing so felt more like the act of a true hero: one who suffers alone without the knowledge or appreciation of others.
“And what time do you call this?”
Derek dreamed of yelling back, but proffered instead a gentle “Sorry Mr Prentice. It won’t happen again.”
“If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard you say that Jarvis, I could retire to the Bahamas, in luxury!” Prentice snarled.
“Yes, and if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard you say that…” thought Derek in silence, lowering his eyes.
At lunchtime, it was only the lingering hurt of his wife’s words that made him remember to buy it, but it wasn’t so much what she’d said as the way that she’d said it. Anyway, she was right about his bad memory and sure enough, by the time he got home he’d forgotten all about the lottery ticket in his wallet. Strangely though, Veronica made no mention of it either, and later he recalled how she’d seemed distant that night, as if unwilling to share a burden.
Two nights later he came home to find the house deserted, and knew at once that she’d gone, even before he discovered that her clothes and suitcase were missing, along with some cash, the computer and most of his CDs. Collapsing onto the couch he found the letter, waiting for him on the coffee table, and read three times the spiteful admission of infidelity with ‘a real man worth ten of you’ before deciding to get drunk. Alcohol brought first anger, followed by the relief of tears, and finally a contemplative mood in which, after reading the letter again, he glimpsed that this might be more a blessing than a curse.
As the bliss of drunkenness passed into fatigue he dozed off, waking hours later in front of the telly as the lottery programme she used to watch alone played out. He normally couldn’t stand its upbeat presenter, but this time, as the man wittered on enthusiastically about the twenty-five million pound rollover, Derek suddenly pricked up his ears. On the screen, dancing coloured balls popped out from the machine one by one, and on a whim he decided to check his own numbers. As they lined up, he wondered if he might be dreaming, for they matched those on his ticket perfectly: not just one or two, but every single digit!
After half an hour, as the enormity of it began to sink in, he thought again of Veronica. He’d bought the ticket at her request, after all, and had merely forgotten to hand it over. It was probably hers, by rights – in law, even. He resolved to phone and let her know. In any case, if he told her about the money, it meant that maybe things between them could be different. He felt sure that he could win her back, and then they could be happy together.
He was about to come clean and call her with the good news when the phone rang out suddenly, loud and bright in the silence of the house. He thought it must be her, and was surprised to hear instead the condescending tone of Prentice on the other end. Derek found himself nervously fiddling with his tie, now loosely pulled apart, as if his boss might somehow recognize his dishevelled appearance down the line. At first, he couldn’t understand why Prentice kept wittering on about the house and how ‘they’ wanted him out. He wasn’t in the mood for nonsense and was about to hang up and call Veronica with the good news when he heard the faint but unmistakable sound of a woman’s stifled giggle, up close to the mouthpiece. He knew at once who it was and a red mist enveloped him that had nothing to do with whisky. As the blood pounded in his head, Derek struggled to ignore the image of his wife squirming on the other man’s lap, nibbling at the lobe of his ear and fondling the back of his neck with her carefully manicured nails.
Several hours later, long after he’d slammed the phone down, and long after the red mist had faded away, he sat on the sofa and stared at the ticket. Somehow he’d avoided blurting it out to them about the big win and so, if he was careful, they would never know. After all, she was none the wiser, having never even seen the ticket. He’d accept the money anonymously and they’d never see him again. They were welcome to the house and Prentice was welcome to her. Somehow his golden goose had laid him a golden egg and Derek was going to make sure that he enjoyed every delicious mouthful.