18+ The golden sand squeaks in soft protest as Megan presses her body into the beach towel. A gentle breeze carries the taste of the sea and cools the sweat tingling her sun-baked skin. Distant gulls crawk and nearby waves roll onto the shore in a relaxing rhythm. Megan licks her lips and sighs. And then the phone rings.
Megan clenches her teeth and waits for her husband to respond to the rude interruption. The phone drones on.
"Answer it, Edward!" she explodes, opening her eyes and turning towards him.
The beach vanishes, the phone keeps ringing. Megan groans, switches on her bedside lamp and reaches across Edward's vacant side of the bed for the phone.
"Hello, who's calling, please?" she asks, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and squinting at the alarm clock on the bedside table. 2 AM.
"Is that you, Meg?" asks a young woman with a familiar faux American accent. Megan's face flushes hot — she is suddenly wide awake.
"Yes, Zoe," Megan snaps, "who else would be answering our telephone at two in the morning?"
The phone line is silent for a few seconds and then, "Oh Meg, I'm so sorry, it's Ed, he's, he's ..."
Now there is loud sobbing. Megan does a quick time calculation — it's midday in New York.
"Zoe, what's happened?" she asks in a flat, no-nonsense tone as if questioning one of her daughters during the turbulent teenage years.
"Last night, Ed ... he had a heart attack. An ambulance got him to the hospital. But ... oh, Meg, he's dead. Ed died this morning."
There is more sobbing at the other end of the line. Megan draws a deep breath but feels nothing, not even guilt for feeling nothing.
"Thank you for letting me know, Zoe. I can't talk now. I will call Edward's office later today."
"Yes, of course. I'm so sorry, Meg ... Megan. For everything."
Megan knows she should reciprocate and console the younger woman, but simply hangs up the phone and lays back on her side of the bed. She switches off the bedside lamp and closes her eyes.
Tomorrow Megan will call her daughters with the news about their father. Then she will call his office and other family and friends and organise the funeral.
Tonight all she wants is to forget her failed marriage and Zoe's phone call, to fall asleep again and escape back to the beach.
© 2019 Robert Fairhead
Sydney, NSW, Australia.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is an editor and a writer for Tall And True and blogs at RobertFairhead.com. He enjoys reading, writing, playing the guitar, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Footy with his son. Robert has worked as an electrician, sales and marketing rep, computer programmer, dog trainer and (wanna-be) writer. He also had a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
I wrote a version of this short story in 1991 as an entry requirement for a tutor-led writers' circle. The tutor panned it as "too vague". Looking back, the original was vague, flowery and had the unbelievable premise the forlorn wife had despatched her philandering husband using medieval magic ... which she had learned at evening classes! But I still love the contrast between Megan's dream and her response to the phone call. And almost thirty years on, I appreciate her desire to escape to the beach.