James Frankland

CLAIRE HAMILTON — CREATIVE WRITINGThe pen is mightier than the sword

Curiosity Killed the Cat
by James Frankland

‘To us, Richard,’ I said as we chinked our flutes. He still looked vibrant after all these years, I noticed under the soft lighting of our favourite restaurant. I suppose, I thought it was the occasion that finally wanted me to get it out of him. You see, a long time had passed; water under the bridge and all that.
    ‘Happy anniversary, love’ he replied, a smug smile illuminating him, like it always did.
    ‘Well, the champagne is superb,’ I said after taking a generous sip and placing the glass back on the gold coaster. ‘ It’s not the usual one we have, is it?’
    ‘No,’ he replied. ‘This is a vintage Cristal 2002, chosen by our Maitre d.’
    I noticed Richard’s jacket, the same one he wore each time; ragged with patched elbows yet in a charming way tidy.
    ‘He’s made a good choice then,’ I responded
    ‘Only the best for you, Aurelia. Forty years now and still going strong eh?’ he said in his mild Yorkshire twang.
    ‘Yes, I know and to think it all started here in this very place. Our place.’ My aging mind raced as I considered our years of matrimony. The gap in between though begged an answer, as the white golden liquid engaged my head gently. ‘Le Cinteque has changed over the years,’ I continued. ‘But it was still our first date. Even the staff appear as old as us now. Do you think we should have another bottle, Richard?’
    ‘Already one on ice, Aurelia,’ he replied. ‘You look a little distant, love. Is everything all right?’
    ‘Don’t be silly, darling,’ I said. ‘Of course everything is all right. Just a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.’ And I was, yet a little lie shrouded my response.
    Jacques, our Maitre’d, poured the remaining contents of the bottle into our flutes. He looked divine, I thought; part of the furniture of this splendid place, his hair greased back immaculately, slightly silver at the edges.

The restaurant was as busy as it had been all those years ago. A timeless place I thought, that took me back again; original beams, original chandeliers, the soft movement remaining considerate but deliberate, and the old Grandfather in the corner ticking the moments, that somehow, to me remained still. My inquiring mind though, nagged.
    ‘Your necklace is lovely as ever,’ he said, reaching across and fondling the small sapphires alarming me from my thoughts. Then he ate a piece of his bread roll, always without butter. Richard hated butter, something I could never understand. However, his dislike of this rich food reflected in his waistline, and I am always grateful for that.
    ‘I wore it the second time around, love. Do you remember,?’ I said, giggling, thinking this was a bit cheeky.
‘The second time around?’ he asked.
    ‘Yes, on the occasion of our later marriage, surely you haven’t forgotten?’ I said, chuckling like a child, and feeling young-looking in my golden years.
    ‘Course I haven’t. How could I forget.’ he responded, breadcrumbs falling over his jacket, enticing another laugh from me.
    ‘Now,’ he continued ‘what are you going to have?’
    I surveyed the menu in obedience to Richard’s request. Already aware of the choices within its green folder, I lifted my eyes above the tall booklet, and observed him while discreetly adjusting my chic 1920’s eyeglasses. He looked the same man I’d seen on the day I’d purchased the spectacles; dashing but severe. Then he caught my snooping eye.
    ‘Your usual?’ he asked, while placing his menu down with decision.
Oh, Richard, I’m tired of the lamb!’ I said loudly, challenging the increasing din around us. It’s nice but I prefer something else.’ I concluded, winking at him flirtatiously.
    ‘Aurelia, only thinking of you my dear,’ he responded. ‘Better to stick with what you know. After all you can be a fussy old thing.’ Then he winked back in the way only someone you’ve loved all your life can.

Jacques opened the bottle and poured the wine into our anniversary glasses; silver-rimmed with a rose engraving on each one. Richard’s eye contact still seduced me after all these years, something I was grateful for; a constant source of loving. Yet the itching urge of curiosity beckoned within me, a murky corner in the root of my mind, thirsty for liberation.
    ‘In all the years we’ve been coming here, the lamb has been simply wonderful, but I’m afraid I’m changing my mind, dear.’ His small eyes widened, the furrows rising to his forehead.
    ‘So, what will you have?’ he asked.
    ‘The chicken I think,’ I said placing my hand on his, giving it a caressing squeeze.
    ‘I wouldn’t bother with the chicken, love,’ he said. ‘There has been a lot in the papers lately about how our hens are treated.’ And he smiled, squeezing my hand back.
    ‘You meant that, Richard,’ I replied. ‘Because, below your humorous exterior is that unquestionable sense of realism.’ He took his hand away and sipped on the champagne, engaging his thoughts.
    ‘Well it’s up to you, Aurelia, but if …’
    ‘Now don’t go all funny on me, darling,’ I interrupted, laughing mischievously. ‘I will be having the chicken.’ Then he looked at me, his eyes though retaining a seriousness.
    ‘There is something I need to tell you, love,’ he suddenly said. I was taken aback, baffled. I couldn’t hear the grandfather clock as the restaurant bustled; shuffling staff moved in a chaotic way around the twists and turns of this incomparable place. The delicate lighting seemed less tranquil now as I noticed tears in Richard’s eyes.
    ‘What is it?’ I asked taking his hand, just a firm grip this time.
    ‘I should have told you years ago, love,’ he said, wiping his eyes with a napkin. I noticed a breadcrumb on his moustache. This would have been funny a few moments ago but now for some reason it accentuated a sudden sadness I felt for him.
    ‘Told me what?’ I asked. My suspicion was hopeful.
    ‘The person I left you for,’ Richard said, finishing his glass and then proceeded to refill them. I felt a huge sense of relief, selfish I know but, after all, it wasn’t me who’d had an affair.
    ‘It is something I have been wanting to ask you, dear,’ I said, ‘but it doesn’t really matter, and you don’t need to upset yourself with it.’ However, within me, despite Richard’s distressed manner, I was dying for the truth. He fell quiet, and I watched him, his distance alarming me. The lively atmosphere seemed to calm – we, I sensed, contributing to this. With only eight or so other tables, I felt we were a little exposed, many stares I feared focusing on us.
    ‘Aurelia,’ he said, ‘I do need to tell you.’ His gaze on me remained constant. I felt sorry for him but was, at the same time loving him for his honesty.
    ‘So tell me then,’ I said. ‘Although I have an idea who it was.’
    ‘Who do you think then,’ he asked, in a detached kind of way.
    ‘I think it was Daphne,’ I said with a smirk. ‘She was always smooching around you at our garden parties all those years ago.’
    ‘She did have an eye for me, Aurelia,’ he replied. ‘But it wasn’t her.’
    ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I was kind of hoping it was.’ Then I giggled, in an attempt to cheer my stone-faced husband up.
    ‘You were hoping it was?’ he asked., stiffening.
    ‘Richard, for heavens sake,’ I responded a little angrily now. ‘It was all a lifetime ago, and I really don’t mind who it was. Daphne was always telling me what a lucky woman I was to have you. And I was, and I still am, dear.’
    ‘Well you won’t like it, love,’ he said, caressing the flute and seemingly focused on lines of bubbles running through the champagne.
    ‘What couldn’t I like, Richard dear? Was it multiple affairs then?’ I asked raising my voice further. ‘Did you have some lovechild, that people seem to enjoy reading so much about?’ Then I added hesitantly ‘You’re not having an affair are you?’
    ‘Nothing like that’ he said, his eyes still fixed on his glass, seemingly oblivious to my questions.
    The pianist started playing, and through the resumed clutter of restaurant activity I could make out the soft tinkling ivories to the appropriate As Time Goes By. But it wasn’t enjoyable, and no longer fitting. Neither were the delicate aromas of seafood, fresh garlic and herbs floating through the room. He looked up at me.
    ‘Richard, dear,’ I said. ‘Once I would have been angry but not now and not ever again,’ I concluded, hopefully convincing him to relax.
    But he didn’t.
    ‘It was an excellent choice of Champagne,’ he suddenly said,
    ‘I know it was Richard. Now do you want to get off the subject for now?’ I replied, assuming that that is what he wanted.
    ‘Not at all,’ he said. I was dismayed.
    ‘So who was she?’ I shouted, and a few heads did turn, I noticed after my brief outburst. I also detected a lack of colour in Richard’s complexion.
    ‘She, Aurelia sweetheart.’ he whispered, leaning across the table no more than ten inches from my face, ‘was a he, and as I’ve said, he chose an excellent Champagne for us on our anniversary.

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