Leuka slammed her hand down on the off-switch of the radio, managing to hit the channel-tuner at the same time and letting out a pair of well-matched swear-words. Country music grated on her nerves at the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times: she never wanted to hear another song about divorce again. Ever.
The word had hung in the air last night; it still hung around this morning, along with the smell of last night’s curry. But it was the lipstick that had done it — bright-red lipstick — not on his collar, but on a glass. He never was very thorough with the washing-up; but, she thought wearily as she stacked the breakfast things, you’d have thought he’d have made an effort with that particular glass at that particular moment. But no.
“I want a divorce.”
She couldn’t remember either of them saying it — but the words seemed to lie on the table between them, like the scrabble-letters she used to find, coming downstairs in the morning in the early days of their marriage, when they would spend evenings inventing words for each other’s amusement and making up definitions to go with them. ‘D-I-V-O-R-K’: that was one — definition: ‘a divorce triggered by an argument over a dirty fork.’ Well, it was close: a divorce over a dirty glass. D-I-V-A-S-S. Once they’d have gone into flights of Latinate fancy about that — conjugating it (DIVO, DIVASS, DIVAT) — and ended up embracing and reassuring each other that never, ever would they, Leuka and Leon, finish that conjugation.
And then she was sitting at the table crying, her tears spilling over the breakfast plates, mixing salt water with the dry crusts.
But later she was angry: why was he never there when she needed to yell at him? He had gone to work: he wouldn’t be home all day and she might have calmed down by the time he got back — and that would be a waste of emotion. She considered what to do. Phone him at work? No — he’d be driving; or in a meeting. Join him for lunch? But that looked rather too pally; too much like the old days when she couldn’t wait till the evening to see him and would rush to the pub with her sketch-pad to share her morning’s work over a beer and a ploughman’s. It wouldn’t be so easy to start yelling across a pub table. No — she would have to wait. Consider.
Yes. Consider her options. That was the cool-headed thing to do.
Leuka looked closely at the lipstick on the glass. The last time she had worn lipstick was in 1976, aged nineteen; after that she had abandoned make-up, not even wearing any on her wedding-day. On her wedding-day she’d worn a blue silk dress made specially for her in India and Leon had said she looked stunning.
What kind of woman was she, whose lip had made this blood-red print on the glass; this piece of evidence which so clearly, so vocally incriminated him? She held the glass up to the light and examined it closely, like a detective. Who was she, this woman with the blood-red lip? Where did she come from? Where did he meet her? — and suddenly the image swept through her mind of this bright-red lip kissing his; and she hurled the glass to the floor where it smashed into fragments. The shattered fragments skated over the hard kitchen tiles like a snowball on a frozen pond. Then she put her face in her hands and wept hot, furious tears: scalding with pain and fury at the thought that now, after this, there was no way she would be able to work today.
She went to look at herself in the small bedroom mirror. What has she got that I haven’t? — the cliche echoed in her mind. But if either of them had ‘let themselves go’, it was him: her figure was as good as ever, thanks to yoga. Without make-up she looked natural, the lips full and red, no need of lipstick; whereas he was getting paunchy, his hair receding from the temples.
Who was she, this woman? Downstairs the pieces of shattered glass still lay where they had scattered on the tiles; but incredibly, stubbornly, the part with the lip-print on had remained in one piece. She stared at the fragments and the pattern they made, splashed haphazardly on the tiles — then suddenly she went to the other room, grabbed her drawing pad and began to sketch the shards where they lay, the intact, lip-printed piece lying in the centre of the floor. She covered page after page with sketches; then fetched the easel and began to paint the shattered image of their marriage: fifteen years smashed into shards by one blood-red lip-print. She worked all morning and hardly heard the door at lunchtime. (He never came home for lunch.) He came to the kitchen door, saw the smashed glass, the shard with the blood-red lip-print; her painting of it. His mouth opened in a silent ‘o’.
Three months later she held her exhibition. He was there in the background, a shadowy figure of repentance — perhaps, she thought with a sly grin, she would paint him next in sackcloth and ashes. The exhibition was a success and, thanks to the timing — around the anniversary of 9/11 — the painting of the smashed glass with the lip-print was held by some to be symbolic of a terrorist attack on Western values. She caught his eye where he stood in the corner and almost smiled, but held back. There would be time enough for that later.
Sarada Gray is a Londoner; she grew up under the flight-path to Heathrow Airport and in the shadow of a church spire. She now lives in the centre of England and wrestles with radio drama, short stories, flash fiction, poetry and — eventually — a novel. She has two children who are home-schooled, and until recently she taught yoga but now writes full-time.