This story was written in November 2010. It won a commendation in The Writer, a publication for medically qualified writers, and has appeared in the Summer 2011 edition of the journal.
Jon Lawson stared at his wife across the dinner table. He could hardly believe that she had just spoken the words she had without the slightest hint of artifice in her expression.
She was lying.
The implication brought him out in a cold sweat. What possible reason could she have for denying what he knew, for an absolute certainty, to be the truth?
She was lying.
He had always believed that dishonesty of any kind was contrary to Ginny’s nature. He had thought her to be a principled woman, both at home and in her work as a teacher. But yesterday he had seen with his own eyes how she had cheerily waved off the man from their garden gate. A man he had never set eyes on before. They’d not noticed him as he turned the corner at the top of the road. On impulse he’d retraced his steps, not returning for an hour or so. Of course, she’d not been expecting him so soon. There’d been yet another failed interview. He’d caught an earlier train, anxious to be home, imaging no reception other than one of quiet comfort and sympathy, or so he’d thought.
He had tried to make his enquiry sound nonchalant. Anyone called while he’d been out? His implication being that someone might have called round, or telephoned, about a job possibility when she got back from the school. She’d shaken her head.
“No. Not a soul. It’s really been very quiet.”
For the first time he could ever remember, she had told him a lie.
She must have seen something in his expression. “Something bothering you, darling? You’ve gone quite pale.”
He drew breath, on the verge of challenging her, yet quite unable to for fear of what she might tell him. He could only shake his head and mutter “I don’t know how much longer I can take these … these rejections”.
He’d hoped against hope that she would have told him that she’d had an unexpected visitor. If not about a job, perhaps one of her many cousins from Australia, visiting as they did from time to time. She’d have been telling him enthusiastically about the news she’d had about her family. But no. She had kept this meeting from him, and he could think of only one reason why she should have done so. Ginny was attractive in both looks and personality …
“Don’t take it so badly,” she murmured, the ever familiar concern in her voice.
Jon shook his head and said nothing. His redundancy had come out of the blue some three moths previously. Shock had given way to resentment, resentment to suspicion that someone had had it in for him. And fear that Ginny, such a rock in the past, was beginning to lose respect for him. He’d been rotten company over the weeks, he knew. Sometimes he wondered how she put up with his moods. Was her cheerfulness and optimism just a cover-up? Yes, now it seemed as if had been all along.
“Who the hell wants to take on a time-expired university lecturer? And a lecturer in botany of all things?” The bitterness in his voice was scarcely concealed.
She shook her head “You need a break, dear. It’s a fine morning. Take your sketch pad to the park. The maples are looking so lovely just now …”
Jon nodded. “Might as we’ll. It’s not as though there was anything else lined up.” In truth he wanted to get away from her, to find the opportunity to gather his thoughts. To decide what he must do.
The specimen of the acer palmatum was a particularly fine one, and exquisitely shaded in the early autumn. The fragment of pastel that Jon held between his thumb and forefinger ran deftly over the heavy paper block, reproducing the delicate tracery of the leaves and transforming the ephemeral reality into something that would outlast the seasons for, well, some years to come at least. As an illustrator he was good, and he knew it. His preoccupation took him out of the real world, and away from his mood of pain and anger.
His reverie was broken by a childish cry. “Hey, Mama It’s Mr Momiji! Let’s see what he’s drawing today”
He recognised the girl, a slight, pretty thing of about seven, with shiny black hair down to her shoulders. He put the block down on his knees and looked up and smiled at her. “Hi, Minami! No school today?”
She shook her head. “No … half term this week.” Of course it was. Ginny had told him. That was why she wasn’t at school.
Minami’s mother came up. “Aren’t you being a bit of a cheeky girl? I’m sure this gentleman isn’t really called ‘Mr Momiji’”
“It’s what I call him. And the other kids from school as well. It was my idea! My own special name for him”
“Oh.” Her mother looked apologetically at Jon, “I hope you don’t think she was being rude. You see, it’s the name we give to the maple tree in Japan.”
“Not at all. And I already knew what ‘momiji’ means. I take it as a compliment”. And his thoughts drifted back to another time, some years before. The year he and Ginny had got married in fact. They’d been on a tour on the Hakone National park, in the foothills of Mount Fuji, south of Tokyo, at just this time of year. Suddenly a murmur of excitement had run through the throng of Japanese tourists on the coach, almost like a repeated sigh: ‘Momiji … momiji!’ They had entered a forest of maples, their changing leaves ablaze in the afternoon sunshine. For some minutes silence fell on the sightseers. They sat gazing through with windows, mesmerised and enchanted by the beauty of what they were seeing. It had been as if the hills had been engulfed by a sea of crimson fire, the scent of lush, damp vegetation wafting through the open windows in strange contrast.
“Now you’re looking sad, Mr Momiji. You’ve drawn such a lovely picture of my fairy tree. How can you feel sad?” Minami peered down at the block, her nose threatening for a moment to smudge the carefully applied pastel. “And I think I can see the fairies in there. Yes, I can. You are so clever!”
Her mother smiled. “Come on now, Minami. We must leave your Mr Momiji to finish his drawing.” And turning back to look at Jon as he rose awkwardly from his seat she said, “You are a very talented man, I think. And you have a lovely way with children.” She paused for a moment. Then, softly, almost quizzically: “Momiji sensei ... I think you could have anything you might ask for.”
He delayed longer than he had intended, strangely reluctant to return home. But he doubted that Ginny would be much worried about him. Not now. He became lost in his thoughts. He still had not the slighted idea what he should do. A car sounded its horn loudly when he stepped off the edge of a pavement and almost into its path. “You looking to kill yourself, mate?” shouted the driver out of the window. Momentarily Jon thought, well, perhaps I am …
He felt his mobile vibrate in his shirt pocket. He flipped it open. A text from Ginny … his heart went to his mouth. “What’s keeping u? Someone here I want u to meet. Need to talk urgently.”
Was this it? Was this the end? He grasped his folding chair then slung it under his arm as if it were a gun, wishing for a moment that it was. He steeled himself as he rounded the corner and walked the last few yards to the house. At the open door stood Ginny. And with her a man, a man he recognised only too well.
To his amazement she broke into an excited smile as he walked up to them. The man beamed as he held out his hand in greeting.
Ginny hugged her husband tightly. “I’m just so sorry we had to keep it from you until Michael could be sure. And I told you such a dreadful fib when you asked me this morning, if I’d seen anyone. What you’d have thought if you’d turned up while he was here …”
Jon looked down and said nothing. Of course Ginny had expected him to be pleased. But his sense of relief in the realisation that the situation was not as he had feared was countered by a hot surge of resentment. Finding his words at last he looked directly at their visitor. “Mr Beaumont, while I appreciate your offer, I’m afraid I can’t accept it ...”
The smile evaporated from Ginny’s face. “But Jon ... Michael’s offer is really generous. I mean, his publishing company is getting a name. And it’s not as though you were an established artist. And he’s said he wants the complete set!”
Jon ignored her, his gaze fastened upon Michael Beaumont’s bemused face. “I can’t say that I’m exactly thrilled that my wife should have asked you here to go through my ... my private collection of illustrations without asking me. They’re my property, my own creations, and I’m not ready to part with them yet, however generous the offer I’m made.”
“I guess we miscalculated there, Mr Lawson. But you know, you have a real talent. If you change your mind ...”
Jon shook his head. “I think not. I am a teacher, a scientist. I’m well aware that my drawings are good, but they were never made to make someone’s living room look cute.”
The man nodded, his lips pursed. “I respect that.” He looked at his watch. “I won’t take any more of your time ... and I have another appointment back at the office.”
Ginny stared at her husband after their visitor had left them, her eyes moist. “Don’t be angry with me darling – I meant it for the best.”
Her husband nodded abruptly, a set expression on his face. “I don’t doubt it, Ginny. But losing my job, being out if work is my problem. I need to sort it out in my way. You don’t need to treat me as if I were a child.”
“So, what are you going to do? Why don’t you give yourself credit. You ... you could have anything ...!
Now it was Jon’s turn to look bemused. What Ginny had said. Almost an echo ...
It was some days later that he stood at the entrance of the regional television company. Assertiveness had not been an attribute of his, not until quite recently. But his sense of humiliation and the surge of uncharacteristic anger at the meeting with Michael Beaumont had sparked something. He hoped desperately that he could sustain his feeling of self confidence in the interview that was about to ensue. He had managed to get this far by, well, by being insistent, even pushy, over the telephone. The company director’s secretary had at last given in and agreed to speak to her boss. Miraculously, she in turn, for whatever reason, had agreed to see him.
Jon waited for an anxious quarter of an hour in the plush foyer, his hands white knuckled in his lap. The summons came at last.
“Mrs Holloway will see you now, sir.” The secretary held open the door.
At the sight of the slender woman who rose from behind the broad oak desk, his courage almost failed him. How on earth could such a … coincidence have come about? He had not thought for a moment ...
Her smile was warm and disarming. “Come and sit down. And tell me what you have in mind that you think we can use!”
He held his breath for a few moments, then took courage in both hands almost blurting out, “I’ve this proposal for a new series – an educational series directed at a young audience ... to show them something of the beauty and fascination of everything that grows in their parks, in their neighbourhoods.”
The woman slightly forwards across the desk, and placed the fingertips of both her hands together. Her gaze was penetrating, but Jon did not flinch. Then she nodded her head slowly and smiled again. “Well, Momiji-sensei you certainly worked your magic on my little Minami.”
“And you said that I ... I could have anything ... “
“Well, then, let’s talk this all through. And we’ll see if I am as good a judge of these things as I believe I am!”