1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
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    Manchester, England

    Winner Fabulosa Short Story Contest 59: Wrong Number

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Jan 25, 2010.

    Fabulosa - The List

    People accumulate things.

    But my Matt was not a materialistic man. Matt liked old, worn and broken things. He got a kick out of salvaged bicycles and draughty cars stuck together with duck tape. He wore generations of paint splattered hoodies which I would discretely bin when they were too far gone, feigning surprise at their disappearance. He had no interest in expensive things - or did he simply have no use for them? No bits to clean or stick or fix? There are so many questions after someone is gone.

    Matt’s presence has mostly been purged from this house. His cloths are gone - apart from a dear, old, raggy hoodie. I have cleared the yard of his bicycles and pieces of engines. I have kept his books and the photos of course, on display on the mantelpiece as they never were in his life. But sometimes I am blindsided by traces of him, like when I pick up a pencil and discover it has been pared with jagged, manly slices by his Stanley knife. Today is such a day. Today I found some scraps of paper between the pages of a book. Scraps of paper followed Matt like a smell. In the early days of our marriage, piles of paper - receipts for small items from shops, pieces of paper with nameless phone numbers, scribbled ideas and drawing - would be left on every work space in the kitchen. It was a great joke between us, how he saved every piece of irrelevance ever handed across a corner store counter. Of course, as the years went on, the paper trail strayed to the corners.

    Today, between the pages of an old hardback, I found two pieces of paper. On the first, was a black biro drawing of a beautiful girl. She had elphin features, flowing hair and full hips, but the rest of her body was a bare-boned skeleton. Blood dripped from her mouth. I smiled. Matt was talented at sketching, as at all intricate things, but even in his forties, he never moved past the Heavy Metal style and tattoo-ish subject matter of his youth.

    On the other page, in Matt’s almost childlike handwriting, was a list of women’s names.

    I knew what the list was without thinking. All things are finite. In anyone’s life there are only so many birthdays, so many holidays, so many hair cuts or traffic jams or cheeseburgers. There is a finite number of trips to the supermarkets or thunder storms. Tears are finite, as are good times. There are only so many lovers. This was a list of his - the definitive and final list of his - and it was not even very long. I sighed. Poor Matt.

    The first name on the list was Cheryl. I knew about Cheryl. Everyone always asks about their lover’s first. I knew he was fifteen and Cheryl was years ahead, at least in experience. They got it on in a friend’s car. He told me that when Cheryl had moaned in pleasure, he had stopped and asked her if she was alright? We laughed about his story - sweet, funny, endearing Matt - after we made love on my fold-out futon in our magical first year together, when we were still amazed at the miracle of each other and greedy for every detail.

    Next on his list was Stacey. Of her, I knew nothing, but I imagined an athletic college-blond. That is the kind of girl I would wish for Matt as a young man - and why not? Years ago, I would have felt secret pangs of jealousy over any other woman, even one Matt looked at in passing on the street - even sometimes over our own daughter and all the time they would spend together alone, doing whatever they did. But I’m over forty now and jealousy, like passion, has waned. It amazes me how I could ever have claimed to own someone and the private desires in their mind, knowing as I do now that all things are finite.

    Then came Lisa. I knew of Lisa, his first love and all-round good girl. In our early years together I had felt haunted by Lisa, who was the template, it appeared, for me. It is true that we looked very alike and that she too was a teacher. One of his old friends even called me her name by mistake one time. I pretended not to hear. Anyway, Lisa answered a higher calling and left Matt to do volunteer work in Africa. There followed an angry phase in Matt’s life, the highlights of which included, in his own words:

    The blond at the party

    The brunette in Amsterdam*



    The Brazilian chick*

    What did the last three do to deserve asterixes that the anonymous party blonde did not? Was it a rating system? Or did it mark some sex act that no-one else would provide? Old missionary-style Matt never shared anything less than vanilla with me, though perhaps that too was my doing. After our first magical years, I was not always keen on the hand creeping across the bed. I had headaches and he had his tool shed. I didn’t know then that all was finite. Regret stabbed at me. To ease my pain I imagined young Matt, on his legendary European adventure, wide-eyed on the streets of Amsterdam. There would be a girl in a window. A brunette for sale.

    Lenka would be a pale, skanky Russian in high boots and short skirts. Hadn’t Matt once remarked that Russians had no souls? I had countered that nobody could be that morose without a soul. But maybe Lenka could. I shivered and hoped the Brazilian chick was nicer. It felt strange to hope that my late husband had had a good time with a prostitute twenty years before - assuming that this happened twenty years before. But if these women were so far back in time, I wondered why he hadn’t told me about them. Hadn’t I often remarked at tipsy dinner parties that if I was a man I would try a prostitute for the experience? Maybe he had once again confused me for Lisa. Or maybe he felt his needs were as inexplicable to me as the inside of one of his engines. I wish I had known my husband better.

    The next name on the list was Lauren. I gasped.

    We knew a Lauren. The wife of Matt’s old college friend, Ben. Surely not that Lauren? Ben was still living the bachelor life when I married Matt. We used to joke that I had rescued Matt from the mannish squalor of their shared apartment. Ben had yet to meet Lauren. She was never a friend of mine, although we would often meet up with them at parties, and once even a camping trip. She seemed insipid to me, mousy even. She never had much to say; Ben said she wasn’t comfortable in groups. I don’t ever remember Matt and her having any spark - although they shared a tendency to slink away from the centre of attention. Matt was good with her in the way that he was good with children and animals. He was a quiet presence, undemanding and reassuring. Ben and Lauren are divorced now.

    The only other Lauren we knew is our daughter.

    Matt and our Lauren were close. They always had their secrets and I was jealous. Always.

    Lauren has not yet recovered from the shock of finding her father in the tool shed that day, struck through the jugular with a Stanley knife. Blood was still spurting out. He must have been dead only moments when she came out screaming and drenched in her father’s blood.

    What happened to you Matt?

    You were such a quiet man. I did not know you wanted to die.
    Though I remember how you used to say you looked forward to the end of the world. I would scoff. Now I know what you meant; you meant the end of struggle. Now everyday I struggle. It has taken me months to believe that you killed yourself. How could you be a suicide? I still struggle to believe that you, who lived so gently, would take your own life so violently. Some days, to believe this is impossible. Those days my instincts and my sense of all that I knew of you will not believe that you stuck a Stanley knife through your own neck. Sometimes I imagine that instead you would choose a discrete death for yourself; you would run your car into a tree so no-one would ever know you wanted to die - that’s if you wanted to die before that morning. But you were dead on the tool shed floor; the facts speak. I just wish they would tell me more.

    You seemed content. I was content. I know we were not passionate like before, but our life together had a comforting rhythm. Or were we so faded from each other that we lived as strangers? Were you as much a creation of my imagination as Lenka? My questions seem endless. But then I comfort myself with the thought that they too are finite and will end.

    A tear drops onto the scrap of paper that is Matt’s list of lovers. Poor Matt. It’s a short list, his lifetime’s worth of passion: Cheryl, Stacy, Lisa, the blond at the party, the Amsterdam brunette, Lenka, the Brazilian chick… and the mysterious Lauren. At the end of the list he had written his total: the number eight. Of course it’s the wrong number. My husband had forgotten his wife.
  2. Fabulosa

    Fabulosa New Member

    Jun 17, 2009
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    :D Thanks for the votes. They've made my day. :D
    1 person likes this.
  3. Sky

    Sky New Member

    Jan 16, 2010
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    Somewhere far away
    Wow!! Amazing piece of writing! You nearly had me in tears (thats saying something, I don't cry easily).

    Truly, well done!
  4. digitig

    digitig Contributor Contributor

    Jan 21, 2010
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    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Uncomfortably realistic. Well written!
  5. lyethia

    lyethia Member

    May 29, 2009
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    Excellent interpretation! The twist at the end was really well-done =]

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