12+ Jennifer swivelled her chair away from the laptop and stared at the lights receding into the distance beyond the high-rise office window. Her eyes had welled up reading Stephen's unexpected emailed demand, and she reached for a tissue to dab at the tears.
"Twenty years," Jennifer exhaled softly, wiping her eyes.
If no longer romantic and loving, a casual observer could have described Jennifer and Stephen's relationship as settled, with the occasional disagreement. But not on the verge of a marriage breakdown.
"At least there aren't children," she sighed and swivelled back to the laptop.
Stephen had been emphatic on this point from the start. "We don't have the right to bequeath anyone an overpopulated, climate-ravaged world," he'd assert if someone raised the prospect. Jennifer had always been more ambivalent about children.
But she and Stephen were only in their mid-twenties when they married, bright young things, setting out on their careers and lives together. And in Jennifer's mind, there was plenty of time for a change of heart on parenthood.
After all, it wasn't as if they didn't like children. The family albums were full of photos of Auntie Jennifer and Uncle Stephen with a growing brood of nieces and nephews. However, family gatherings aside, they enjoyed their carefree, career-focused lifestyle, dining out regularly and holidaying overseas.
And then, as they ascended the higher rungs of their respective corporate ladders, Stephen suddenly announced he was giving it all up to be a writer. "I want to leave a legacy for future generations," he'd earnestly explain when anybody questioned his reasoning.
Jennifer hoped it might be a short-lived early midlife crisis, but she supported Stephen with his writing. And, as he wrote in his loft, she worked long hours to pay the bills, ensuring they could still afford to dine out and holiday overseas.
"Remember the bills, Stephen?" she asked his email.
The occasional disagreements grew more frequent as the publishers' rejections piled up. Although Jennifer loved her career and didn't begrudge financing Stephen's writing, she wished he had something to show for all the hours and money spent on it. And she couldn't understand why he had to attend so many writers' groups, workshops and festivals.
Share and showcase your writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — as a Guest Writer on Tall And True.
Jennifer re-read Stephen's email, clenching her jaw. She should have realised there was more to his writers' soirées than comparing manuscripts. In the email, Stephen claimed he'd found a "soul mate" who shared his "literary aspirations" and had decided to leave Stephanie for her.
Once again, Stephen's unilateral decision-making affected their lives, like not having children and his writing. But Jennifer resolved this time she also had a choice, though, after twenty years of marriage, it felt like choosing between a rock and a hard place. To accede to Stephen's demand for half their assets or fight him in court.
Jennifer closed her laptop with Stephen's email still on the screen. She walked to the door, turned off the office lights and, at the click of the switch, made her decision.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
- The 500-word short story had to include a CHAIR of some sort
- The words ALBUM, BRIGHT and CLICK (or longer variations)
- And a character who makes a CHOICE between two things.
I toyed with making my protagonist, Jennifer, the CHAIR of a corporation or department or CHAIRing a meeting but settled on having her swivel on an office CHAIR to stare at the city lights. (I found the perfect image accompanying this story on Pixabay.com)
I knew the story would feature a family photo ALBUM, but instead of opting for BRIGHT lights outside the office window, I had Jennifer reflecting on marrying Stephen when they were BRIGHT young things.
As for the CLICK, I saved that until the end, when Jennifer resolves that after twenty years of marriage and Stephen's unilateral decision-making and demands, she has a CHOICE, even if it's between a rock and a hard place. And what does she decide? That's your choice.
A fellow writer whose Furious Fiction entry (like mine) was not showcased or long-listed on the Writers' Centre's website for March commented that the judges seemed to want the CHAIR to have a dominant role in the story. And for it to have something to do with the CHOICE.
I replied that I didn't think about "winning formulas" when writing, and this may explain why my short stories don't win or get short or long-listed. But I still enjoy writing and sharing them!
N.B. You might enjoy reading about my latest Furious Fiction short story collection, Twelve More Furious Months.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.