Sitting, ever the attentive husband, hands clasped, mobile clutched in calloused hand. Your gaze traverses red and white chequered tablecloths to the kitsch antique clock whose minute hand points to a dusty ceiling corner. A spider makes her home there: deceptively fine gold threads somehow suspend her plump body in precarious poses as she splays her long, spindly legs like a skeletal hand.
Carved wooden doors swing open. Cold wind rushes in to sway the web dangerously. All eyes flick to the door; there she is, your partner, the love of your life and all that rot. She slides out of her Armani coat, lined and trimmed with silk – a present from your last Anniversary. A gift to show your appreciation.
On homicidal heels, she stalks resplendent down the central aisle, carpet scab-red, surrounded by an imaginary glowing nimbus that sucks the light from everything around her. She waves off hungry-eyed waiters in favour of smiling, thin-lipped, at you. The waiters eye you jealously. You drop your mobile into a pocket and rise, accepting her coat where the waiters failed, pulling out her seat.
Far above and behind her halo of hair, the spider has recovered from the disturbance and begins to weave her trap. Shining strands are laid intricately; ready to catch her next victim.
You and your wife face each other, gazes locking above the immaculate table. You finger the phone in your pocket, rubbing your thumb over the smooth curves, the chinks in the surface. She picks up a wine glass and examines it with half-lidded eyes.
“Have you ordered a wine?” she demands abruptly.
“Good.” She stretches her face into a smile.
A waiter approaches, licking his lips. Does she notice the way his eyes widen, the way he adjusts his pants?
Dazzling cobalt eyes stare at him in silent question, and you remember why you married her. You were young, yes, but you both knew what you desired from life and how you would get it. You’d shared an interest for certain things in life; this developed as you discovered the world together.
Her good looks cemented your choice. Your inheritance cemented hers.
Neither of you really proposed. It just … happened. There was no going down on one knee, no presenting of a diamond ring. Marriage was an assumed inevitability as you shopped together for rings you’d both tolerate.
Now, you are still married but the wedding is over. She climbs the business hierarchy, propelled by your love and support, always remembering her doting husband at home.
You stay; content to watch as she ascends.
Some days, like today, you meet on neutral ground where she won’t be recognized by business associates, or you by your friends.
You are as Pyramus and Thisbe; obligations and expectations are the wall between you.
But for the moment, the waiter plays the wall. “Do Sir or Mademoiselle desire the menu?”
A sculpted eyebrow fine as the spider’s silken threads raises. “Mademoiselle would.”
“Y – Yes. This is the menu. Menus. These are – here.” Facing anyone but her, the boy’s flourish would have been impressive, but it emerges like the panicked struggles of a fly caught in a spider’s web, as painfully awkward as a younger you. Halfway through his awkward performance, he gives up, sliding two menus onto the table. After a quick promise to return when Mademoiselle is ready to order, he stumbles away, free for now.
While she was distracted, you have withdrawn the phone, dropping it into your lap. Now she passes a menu with slender fingers, nails trimmed for work, and you accept, careful not to jostle the phone that it might clatter to the floor. You don’t want her to know, not yet. You don’t want to hurt her.
With thankfully steady hands, you open the menu and skim the descriptions of tender filet mignon and confit duck. You fail to take in the text and pick a meal at random, spurred by some fleeting memory of her praise for this dish; healthy, apparently.
In the distorted reflection of the water in the clear glass you clutch, you catch a glance of your wife. She watches you, smiling, not knowing your intended treachery. You lift the glass to your numb lips, disturbing the reflection, and look to the real woman instead. Right way up, her smile is a frown at your inattention.
“Have you chosen?”
You glance down again. “I thought I’d have the steak tartare.” Maybe your choice will brighten your image in her eyes and you won’t have to go through with your plan. She’ll apologise like she always does, kiss you and offer to pay for lunch.
“You should try something new,” she chides, then sighs. “I will have the salad niçoise.” Your wife signals the waiter with a regal wave, artificial light reflecting off the ring she wears on her left hand. She loves showing it off.
While she orders in caustic tones to the boy, who in his love-struck clumsiness struggles to pay attention to her words not her lips, you find your phonebook, picking the top number – the most recent added. She taught you how to use your phone, back when work hadn’t taken over her life.
The waiter leaves once more, and the phone drops, screen showing the details of Harry Pearce: Divorce Lawyer.
A buzzing catches your attention, and you notice a fly in your peripheral vision. Dizzyingly, it dips and swerves to unseen currents, drawing unknowingly towards the spider and her perfectly crafted web. You hope it misses, escapes her clutching fingers. It doesn’t.
In what seems too little time, the waiter returns with your meals.
In front of you, the steak tartare slowly breeds bacteria. Artificial pink gleams beneath the raw egg. Your stomach turns, but you pick up a fork.
Behind the sour seasoning, the bitter herbs, the coppery, salty taste of slightly mushy meat emerges, lubricated with slimy egg. You swallow the pulp, feeling the cold blood trickling down your gullet.
The spider has a better meal. Your wife turns the food in her mouth and sets down her cutlery. She has finished; you have too. Your attention wanders to the phone lying innocuously in your lap. The screen has darkened as if to hide your misdemeanours.
Should you make the call? Free yourself? Do you even need to?
The decision is postponed as the waiter – ever-so-attentive – returns for the fourth time, making a better show of it than before.
Mademoiselle requests the dessert menu – she always did appreciate sweet things, even if she indulges less, these days – and turns her warm gaze to you. Below the table, your fingers dance on the phone, making the decision for you, opening a message, typing the life-changing words, the words you’ve typed a dozen times in the last forty-eight hours. But still, indecision reigns, your desire for freedom quailing under the agonising guilt of leaving your wife for what? Nothing. A whim, a dream of something more. Certainly, you don’t need it. She is everything you’d ever wanted.
You cannot meet her gaze. Your own eyes seek reprieve, distraction in the form of the dust motes that linger in floating limbo in the corner near the spider. You look away, unable to bear watching as the wings of the frail fly are crushed and entangled in the spider’s deathly grip.
It feels as though everyone in the restaurant is the merciless jury. They all know of your treachery. She knows, too, but she is too kind to beg you to stay. She is giving you a taste of the freedom you don’t need.
The antique clock, a herald of your impending demise, cries out in shrieking cacophony.
The blood in your stomach rises.
Your head feels light, floating away like the dust motes. It has to be done.
You close your eyes, and press a button.