He made his way home and inserted his door key into the lock mentally preparing himself. “Mary, could you come in here please? I’ve got something to tell you”.

There was no answering voice in return. Mr. Williams dashed over the threshold of their new build house and called again “Mary, Mary where are you?”. The frantic appeal of his cry echoed the churning of his stomach at the thought of disclosing his distressing news.

He wandered into their sitting room where Mary usually sat, in her favourite armchair with a crossword or the radio for company. She detested tv or the gogglebox as she called it. She was old before her time, in his eyes. The years of infertility had taken their toll.

She wasn’t there and the paper sat on the side table, pen on top, crossword completed. This was unlike her. She wasn’t agoraphobic as such but she didn’t really like going out if she could avoid it. They even had their groceries delivered.

Mr. Williams went into the kitchen and the utility room and the conservatory, no sign of her. Deciding she had gone upstairs for a nap he went into the bedroom but despite  her indentation on the sheets she was not there either.

He spent five minutes searching the entire house. It was a compact new build on a new estate. They hadn’t lived there long. Luckily they had managed to sell their house and downsize to this before he had got the push at work.

He was starting to get worried that she was nowhere to be seen when he heard her key in the lock. “John, I’m home!”. “Why are you home so early?”. “Were you worried about me?”.

John Williams went downstairs reluctantly and met his wife in the living room. She stood there, coat over her arm, looking at him quizzically. “Why are you home darling?”, “aren’t you feeling well?”. “I’m fine ” he said brusquely.

“Look Mary, sit down, there’s something I need to tell you”. “Oh, John, can’t it wait? Don’t you want to know where I’ve been” she said excitedly. She looked more animated than he had seen her in years. Without giving him time to answer she rushed on “I’ve been next door. New people have moved in. I went to see if they needed any help. It’s strange, it’s not like me I know but I heard their dog barking and I had the sudden impulse to go and introduce myself”.

” A dog? ” he said. “Fantastic, be barking all night and leaving steaming piles everywhere we look”. “Don’t be like that John, he’s a lovely little thing. Yorkshire terrier cross, ever so good-natured and seemed very well housetrained”she said. He gazed at his wife, who was this smiling imposter and what had she done with his Mary?. She looked so happy, how could he tell her now?.

His time in the rundown office seemed a lifetime away as he studied her. Did she really have to know right now? He didn’t want to spoil the mood so he found himself agreeing “Yes, I started feeling rough after this morning’s staff meeting so I made my excuses and left. I doubt they’ll even miss me”.

“I’ll go and lie down for a bit I think”. He slowly went upstairs and sat on the edge of their bed. Suddenly the room seemed so beige. It had been the show home so they had got a huge discount on it but they’d had to take the fixtures and fittings it came with.

He steepled his fingers under his chin and thought. Time was what he needed. Time to plan his next move and think about what he wanted before he discussed it with Mary. She came into the room with a tray balancing a glass of water and a packet of painkillers. “I assume it’s your usual migraine, do you want me to draw the curtains?”.

“Yes please Mary. I’ll try to get some shuteye” he replied, reclining on the bed. He closed his eyes. She pulled the curtains to and tiptoed softly out of the room. He sat up again and opened his eyes. He pulled the letter out of his pocket and read it again, looking for further clues. Why did it have to be so cloak and dagger? Why couldn’t things be straightforward? he thought. With that came the realisation if these people had his address they likely had his phone number and could have phoned any time, Mary picking up the phone. He shuddered inwardly. He wasn’t necessarily ashamed of his past life but he would rather be the one to tell her than some uncaring stranger.

Till next time.

(If you haven’t already it would be helpful to read my post “A case of mistaken identity” as that is the origin of this tale. It was meant to be a one-off short story but someone asked if I had any plans to continue it so I decided to see where his story might go.).

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