Anna was already awake when the alarm clock went off. She loved to savour those last few moments of delicious drowsiness, that luxurious languor, before the day officially began at its pre-programmed time. Pete by contrast slept soundly, preferring unconsciousness until the appointed hour.
'Morning,' he groaned groggily, stretching his arm to touch the empty space where she had lain. Anna was up and about by now and yelled back from the bathroom a cheeky mock cockney 'Wakey, wakey, rise and shine.'
'Don't know what you are so cheerful about. Bloody Monday morning again...'
Anna, showering, missed the rest but guessed the general drift: Pete's Monday morning ritual moan.
Yes, she was cheerful and she knew why. Monday morning meant back to work. Perhaps for poor Pete it was only an unwelcome return to the daily grind, but Anna looked forward to it with barely disguised delight. She loved her job, the work itself and the independence it gave her.
They were a thoroughly modern professional couple. She is a lecturer in media studies at one of the local colleges, he 'something' in computers.
After the normal non-communicative breakfast, he gave her a perfunctory peck on the cheek before they each got into their separate cars and headed in opposite directions.
The blossom was pink and white overhead. It lay like confetti underfoot as Anna, smiling, walked from her car towards annexe where she taught.
She loved her job, but it was not just that Spring was in the air. Oh, it was so corny, she thought. She felt like a callow teenage schoolgirl smitten with first adolescent crush. She had to keep reminding herself she was a respectable married woman. This was real life and not some romance in a women's magazine. She always told her students to be objective, detached, analytical.
Three hours till lunch-break. She was hungry to see him and sailed through the morning in a pleasant dream of anticipation. They were to meet for lunch at the Art Gallery café. It had been arranged the previous Friday afternoon, as they snatched a furtive farewell kiss in the corridor before their weekend's exile from each other.
Greg had no teaching till the afternoon, so was there first, waiting for her when she arrived. They waived and she went over to the table where he sat.
There was no passionate embrace, not even a platonic kiss of greeting. They had to be discreet. This was too public a place to display intimacy. They could play footsie under the table, if they were lucky surreptitiously touch hands.
Both opted for light salads, which they picked at fitfully. They hadn't come here to eat but to feast their eyes on each other.
After the preliminary 'Missed You's', they caught up on what the other had done on the weekend, both agreeing that their time apart had not been much fun. They smiled and laughed. Anyone observing would have thought 'Love's young dream'. They weren't very successful at concealing their affection.
Unfortunately, their time together was only too brief. Anna had to be back promptly to welcome a speaker from Mills and Boon who would be giving a talk that afternoon. 'Very apt in the circumstances,' she teased him. 'Maybe I should send them my diary to publish!'
'And be damned!' quipped back Greg quick as a flash.
They left together, pausing for a few moments to admire a watercolour of a sunset which was a particular favourite of theirs. As they stood there side-by-side, Greg squeezed her hand gently and she felt the thrill of forbidden contact. Their legs brushed for a second as they turned and walked away. Heigh-ho, back to school,' Anna sighed.
All that afternoon she bathed in the warm afterglow of her meeting with Greg. The guest speaker gave an entertaining, informative talk and answered questions, allowing Anna the leisure to daydream.
Yes, her life was rather like the plot of some ridiculously predictable romantic novel, she thought. It was an old story: a marriage gone stale; a handsome stranger who gave her the attention, the flattery, a woman needed and deserved. Work had thrown them together (Greg taught in the same department as her). It had started with a little mild flirtation. Gradually they got to know each other better, spent more time in one another's company and, hey presto, love had blossomed in their lunch-breaks.
She didn't think of it as an affair really. She would never let it become serious. She had decided that much. It was and would remain, unconsummated, so couldn't be considered actual adultery, she tried to persuade herself. No, she couldn't bear to hurt Pete. She loved him, at least in a cosy familiar way, rather like one loves a favourite sweater. What she felt for Greg was different, probably only infatuation she told herself. But Greg made her feel alive, so young, so desirable. That is what caused her such emotional confusion. She was in a dilemma and didn't know what to do. If she were honest with herself, she wanted the best of both worlds. She wanted Pete and Greg. She wanted what she could not have.
Driving home, she attempted to brush aside the importance of that lunch-date. After all, it was relatively innocent. Work colleagues were allowed to socialise. It meant nothing. Yet she couldn't help noticing how even the tritest love song on the car radio seemed charged with personal significance.
Pete was working late, so Anna ate a solitary dinner. Remembering her lunch with Greg, she felt suddenly lonely.
However, being alone would give her an opportunity to compose herself before Pete came home. It was an effort for her to keep part of her life hidden from her own husband. She hated having to be clandestine. She felt guilty. What had poor Pete done to deserve this?
Pete had never been cruel to her exactly, not in any physical violent way (god forbid). A little mental unkindness perhaps, a caustic put-down here and there; a drip-by-drip slow erosion of her self confidence over the years, that was all. Nothing that would not pass for more or less normal in the average relationship. Like most married couples, they had their ups and downs but mostly, they got on well enough. Of course, any great passion had faded long ago. A cynic might say their marriage had become living proof that familiarity breeds contempt, but that would be too harsh a judgement. If Anna wasn't happy with Pete, neither was she particularly unhappy. She felt nothing very much, a numbness borne of humdrum habit. They took each other for granted.
She was engrossed in a pile of marking when Pete returned. He poked his head into the dining-room-cum-study just long enough for a brief 'hi, I'm back, see you later' and went upstairs to his beloved computer room ('the baby's bedroom' they had jokingly christened it when they'd bought the house).
Perhaps that room said it all. They had decided early on to put their careers first and had just never got round to starting a family. They were both workaholics and it had crossed her mind that seeing so little of each other was probably what kept their marriage intact.
When she had finished the next day's lesson-plans, Anna walked through to the lounge where Pete sat reading 'The Guardian'. It might have reminded her that things were happening in the world, more important things than her crisis. However, Anna found the news had lost its usual interest for her. She would rather escape into a fantasy world of her and Greg.
She sat in the armchair, not next to him on the sofa. It had been an unconscious choice, but she realized it spoke volumes about their relationship.
'Anything half-decent on TV?' Anna asked.
'Repeats. Old movies.' Pete replied with a mock-yawn, not looking from his paper.
'And what's wrong with old movies, pray? Remember I teach media studies.'
'Do you really fancy 'Brief Encounter' yet again? I thought you knew it off-by-heart now,' Pete said with an edge of sarcasm in his voice.
Anna felt a pang of guilt and blushed slightly. That was just too close for comfort. She gave a nervous cough.
'Oh well, you read your paper. I think I'll turn in. Busy day tomorrow.'
Anna liked getting an early night. She could be asleep by the time Pete went up. That would avoid having to feign another headache. Yes, she thought, she could be asleep and dreaming.
Anna was woken by the insistent dawn chorus of the alarm clock, shaking her rudely from dreams. Pete was already up and about, singing in the shower. How come he always managed to seem so bloody cheerful on a Monday morning? Almost as if he were eager to be away from her. Pete loved his work. She knew. She also suspected he was having an affair.
(Approx 1400 Words)
DAVY KING (1993)
Other Prose Fiction