BEYOND THE WORDS • by Clint Lowe

Fred sighed and rubbed the ball of fire in his lower back and opened the door. In the short term losing the job could be good for his back, no more hunching at a desk all day, but long term?

He heard a jump in the bedroom; Cathy wouldn’t suspect him home and may think he’s an intruder.

“Cathy,” he called, trying to sound enthusiastic.

“Fred?” came the call back from the bedroom. Yep, it was surprised. “You shouldn’t be home til six, it’s one-thirty.”

“Yeah, well.” Fred thought what to say here. They’ve been struggling for cash as it was. The house insurance was due, car soon to follow. He needed to think fast. “They gave me the rest of the week off, due to an over-order,” he stopped, stammered. “With pay, I’m getting paid.” That was the truth; he just didn’t mention it was severance pay.

“Just wait out there, I’m not decent.”

“Whatever, I’ll chill it on the couch.”

Fred popped a top on a Corona and put his feet up. He was gonna enjoy this beer. Worry about his work situation tomorrow.

Cathy came out of the bedroom, looking a little flushed, Fred thought.

“You alright, hon?” he asked.

“Fine.” She stopped and bit her lip. “Let’s go out.”

“Out? Where? What for?”

Cathy shrugged. “Lunch. Why not, we never get to, it be good for us, something different.”

Fred finished his beer fast — he was feeling anxious anyway and was already hitting it pretty hard. He stood up. “Let me get changed.”

He went toward the bedroom door, toward his wardrobe when Cathy flashed in front of him. “Wear that.” She rubbed his shirtsleeve. “Man in a shirt and tie looks good going out for lunch.” She winked. “Looks like we can afford it.”

Fred thought this was strange, she was never one to make appearances, and he looked at the closed door, then back at his wife. “Well, alright, but I think my wallet is in my top drawer, I looked for it in the car coming home from work but didn’t see it.”

That he had done. It was an instant reaction to losing his job; he wanted to see how much cash he had spare.

He took a step toward the door.

“I’ll get it.” Cathy stood in front of him again. “You wait in the car for me, dear. I’ll be out in a sec.”

Fred looked at his wife smiling at him, her face blushing. Then he nodded. “Alright.”

Cathy smiled in a way he hadn’t quite seen before. She stood there and waited for him to get moving. So he made his way toward the front door. Looking to the side and straining out of the corner of his eye, he watched his wife tilt open their bedroom door then slip inside.

Then she closed the door after her.

Fred shook his head. No, can’t be, I’m imagining things. He took the door handle then heard a thud coming from the bedroom. “Cath, hon?” he called.

“I’m nearly ready! Just wait in the car!” she called.

But he didn’t move to the car. Fred turned quietly like he stood on thin ice — perhaps he did. Then he crept toward his bedroom door. He was not meant to be home, he thought. And they’d been fighting of late, not real bad, but niggling. And she seemed nervous, didn’t want him in there. She wanted to go for lunch at random and she was always a planner. Planning everything. That’s why Fred knew she’d be stressed about him losing his job. So why not let him go to his own bedroom, his own bed?

His heart started to beat hard as he neared the door, he didn’t want to think what might be happening, didn’t want to know, but he crept closer. He had to know. Fred took the handle, felt a tremble through his hand, and his heart now beating through his throat.

He heard someone turn the sink on in the en-suite, then heard movement on the bed. There were two people inside. He pulled the handle and opened the door.

Cathy was at the sink. He looked at her through the reflection of the mirror and they met eyes. She froze and so did his heart; he was not meant to see this. He turned toward the bed and something lumpy was moving beneath the sheets. He went for it.

“Wait!” cried Cathy.

But Fred wouldn’t wait. Not for this. Not now, lost his job, and now his wife’s —

He ripped the blankets back and out jumped a blonde Labrador. It jumped on his chest and licked his face, tail wagging and thumping.

“I know you hate dogs.” Cathy came over. “I was going to introduce him slowly tonight.”

Fred stopped shaking and his heart settled. A calm swept over him — losing the job wasn’t that big a disaster after all. Things could be much worse; in fact, they’re pretty great.

Fred looked at Cathy and smiled. “I’ll take him for walks, be good for my back.”

Clint Lowe lives in the big land down under, Australia. Writer of fiction and self-help. Find him on YouTube here.

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