“I need another coffee,” the fat, late middle-aged man says to the woman opposite him. She is greying and worn paper-thin. Her leg is encased in plaster, crutch propped against her chair.
Her eyes are moist and red. The corner of a paper handkerchief pokes out from a tightly clenched fist. They’d been rowing again that morning. He had wanted a ‘proper’ lie in and late breakfast; she’d wanted to learn how to fold paper napkins. He’d told her, “Square is good enough. You don’t need a bloody lesson for that. Christ, it’ll be ice carving next.” She’d thought better of telling him that she’d already signed up for the session.
The seconds tick by. He looks at her expectantly. It doesn’t seem like she is going to volunteer to get the drinks in, despite the fact she’s finished her habitual two slices of toast.
Honestly, what’s the point of all-inclusive if you’re just going to eat like a mouse?
He pushes the grease-slick plate away from his belly to reveal multiple bean and egg stains on the table and his t-shirt, hauls himself up from his chair, and lurches off across the self-service restaurant towards the coffee counter queue.
Behind him, he vaguely hears his wife’s muted request that, whilst he is up, could he please get a tea for her? But her voice barely pierces the hubbub of the other temporary sailors and that means he can plausibly ignore it. Should have spoken-up sooner and louder.
They’ve been at sea for two days, barely a third of the way across the Atlantic. A last-ditch effort on his part to save their crumbling marriage.
Though she probably thinks it’s flawless.
Already within the confines of the cruise she’s rubbing him up the wrong way.
Why does he bother? This has all been one huge mistake.
He returns with his coffee to the deserted table, wedges his over-size frame back into the chair, and slurps lukewarm brown sludge. Bloody typical, if she’s gone to get tea she could have at least offered to get him a coffee whilst she was up.
Ten minutes later, she’s still not retuned.
Where the Hell has she got to? Typical of the inconsiderate old sow, wandering off.
He swings round to the elderly lady sitting alone at the next table and speaks at her, raising his voice to a volume where he is sure everyone around will hear. “Eh, luv, did she say anything before she left? Maybe said where she was going?”
For a brief moment the woman looks confused that someone is taking an interest in her, then disdainful when she realises who it is.
“Blimey, did you bite a lemon, or summat?” He snorts out a laugh.
“She just said: tell him goodbye.”
© 2020 Lee Stoddart
Lee quit the corporate world to write spec-fic and horror. He was twice shortlisted and published by the HG Wells Short Story Competition.