I swirled the wine in my glass, disappointed by it’s tinny flavour as it insisted itself upon my tastebuds. Wine is such a pathetic excuse for the colour red, don’t you think? We pretended to drink it because we were sophisticated, you and I, with our joint seven figure bank account and business diplomas. Mine is from Cambridge, yours is from Harvard. I thought we were clever. I really did.
We were celebrating, gathering what was left of our senses after the wedding, packing for our honeymoon to Spain. I leant against the marble kitchen counter and you sprawled yourself out on my sofa to gaze at me. I’ve told you not to, not with a glass in your hand because you’ll spill it and stain the white leather. And what did you do? Just exactly that. My face turned to stone.
‘Don’t worry,’ you said, rising. ‘A little vinegar and it will come right out.’ You set the glass with what was left of its contents on my mahogany coffee table without a coaster. It left a circle stain.
Everything was mine. You decided to move in with me after we got married because my house was the biggest. I don’t remember agreeing. In fact, I’m pretty sure you never asked.
‘Sorry, sorry,’ you apologised sheepishly, the corner of your mouth twitching upwards.
I set my own glass down. Marble countertops didn’t stain. Besides, it was a relief to lose that pathetic excuse for a drink. ‘There’s vinegar on the top shelf. I’ll get a towel.’
I rushed towards the guest room. There were towels and sheets in the cupboard, lots of cheap ones that I didn’t mind throwing away. I had to be quick. Stains set and I couldn’t have a cheap red one on my sofa. What would people think?
I grabbed a flannel, made for the door, then decided a hand towel would be better. The scent of lavender laundry detergent wafted from the open cupboard. Maybe some detergent was what was needed to scrub away the mark of a careless husband. You. The careless husband I’m talking about is you.
The house was eerily quiet except for the click of my own heels as I trotted back to the open plan kitchen and living room. When I first saw you standing there, staring at the floor, I thought you were on a phone call or something. That’s usually when you acquire that zombie-like, misty-eyed expression. Then I saw the door to the sink cupboard was wide open. Goosebumps pricked my bare arms.
Just hear me out. You’ve made it this far, you might as well hear me out. I couldn’t believe at first that the secret I’d kept all those years had finally been discovered. You have to understand the lengths I’d gone to, to conceal it from you, from my parents, from everyone.
‘Ember,’ you said, your voice hoarse and alarmingly lowered, ‘did you kill this woman?’
I folded the hand towel with my trembling hands. My first instinct had been correct, the flannel would have been better. I was supposed to say something now, to deny it, or defend myself. I tried to open my mouth but it was glued shut, paralysed. The air from the AC made my eyes water. My shock, my confusion, my fear, mirrored yours.
‘Kill who?’ I managed, finally.
‘The dead body, Ember.’ Your chest rose and fell with every breath. I tried to catch your eye, but you wouldn’t look at me. Maybe if you had just looked at me, seen the emotion written plainly on my face, you might have forgiven me. I wouldn’t be saying this. ‘The corpse under the sink.’
‘Why were you looking there? I told you the vinegar was on the top shelf.’ How typical of you not to listen. If you had just listened, you wouldn’t have found out. None of this would have happened.
‘The…’ you trailed off. Your jaw sagged and you swayed side to side in your black Manhattan Richelieu shoes.
‘Sit down. You look like you’re about to pass out. It’s that wine. It’s cheap stuff. I can’t even remember where we got it,’ I said and laughed but it met the tension in the air with strain.
‘Actually, you know what, I think it was a gift from Aileen. She has poor taste. Remember when we went to her wedding? The music, that dress…’
‘Not to mention the alcohol. Everyone got drunk, no one enjoyed it…’
‘Ember, will you stop!’ you imploded, eyes hardening. Blue veins pulsed at your temples, scaring me.
I swallowed, then cringed at the bitter aftertaste of Aileen’s wine in my mouth. ‘I’ll stop,’ I agreed and clicked in the direction of the sofa.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To clean up the mess you made. Look at what you did, splashed right across the seats…’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘And now it’s set. Stains are harder to remove once they’re set.’
‘Ember, there is a dead body under our sink,’ you said slowly as though I were a child. You’re not so high and mighty, you know. I thought you were clever. I thought we were clever. But you were standing, staring into nothing like a crazy person and I was, for the first time in my life, terrified.
‘M-my sink,’ I said.
You held your breath for a moment. ‘What?’
‘My sink. This is my house,’ I said more boldly, squaring my shoulders. ‘You never spoke to me about moving in, you know.’
‘Ember…’ You inhaled and exhaled, in and out, rapidly.
‘If you’d asked me, I’d have thought about it and said yes and then it would be our home, our sink. But you didn’t ask so it’s mine. You’re just living here.’
‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ you whispered.
‘Not on the floor, please.’ That was a rather selfish statement, I see that now.
I’m a realist. We spoke about this the night before our wedding, when we stayed up until midnight discussing everything under the stars. You were a realist too. That’s what you said, and I believed you. Now you were acting like… I don’t know. Maybe it was my fault.
‘Who is she?’
‘Who is who?’
You shuddered and rocked forward, clamping a hand over your mouth. Maybe you really were going to be sick, or maybe you were crying. How can I frame this gently? You overreacted.
‘You killed her,’ you said. At least, I think that’s what you said. You still had your hand over your mouth. Communication is key, you told me when we first started dating. Well you can’t be a good communicator with your hand over your mouth, I’m just saying.
‘Jonny, I really must get that stain…’
‘I don’t care about the stain! I don’t care about the stain, Ember!’ you roared, turning on me with fire in your eyes.
I stepped away. ‘It just wine, Jonny.’
‘It’s just wine? Wine! There is a dead woman under our sink… your sink! Say something! Answer me!’
‘I really think you should sit down.’
Tears spilled down your cheeks and I rolled my eyes. My fear dissolved like a Milton tablet in hot water. Crying didn’t suit you.
‘I’m calling the police.’
‘Why?’ I responded flatly, eyes cold.
‘I can’t do this, Ember. Just yesterday I would’ve sworn I knew you and what you were capable of but this… this…’ You pointed at the floor. Your shoulders shook on your next inhale. ‘I’m calling the police.’
I watched you unravel. Your layers shedded one by one. Composure crumpled first. Appearance second, when you started crying. Your logic dissipated last.
The police? You announced to me that you were calling the police… on me. You lost your mind so quickly, so easily. I thought you were better than that Jonny. I really thought you were clever.
It’s okay. I still love you. And you won’t ever disappoint me again, you’re incapable of it now. Don’t look at me like that. I did what I had to do.
I pour the rest of the wine down the sink. Disgusting stuff. I know something that’s really red and it swirls much nicer in my glass.
Deborah Rose Green is Contributing Editor for Hey Young Writer! She is also the author of Dragon Pearls (2019) and Crown My Heart (2020). You can follow her on Instagram at @authordeborahrose or visit her website, deborahrosegreen.co.uk!