Warning: Contains adult themes and content
This is a short story that was written for the Women's National Book Association's Story Jam (WNBA - Greater Philadelphia Chapter), February 2016. Big thanks to Jandi for helping to refine the story.
Made with Love
a Short Story (flash fiction)
by Kim Lehman
On the stove, the kettle squealed. Steam seeped from the Gooseneck spout. Mara turned off the burner and set the kettle aside. For thirty-two years, Mara had been making her husband, Allan, an afternoon cup of tea whenever the two were together. She never missed a day, even when they traveled to Alaska for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Even when she was sick with the flu and had a fever of one hundred and two. And even when Allan was in the hospital for a week for heart surgery. She always made sure she found the time to brew him a cup. Always. It was something he looked forward to—a break from his stressful sales job, a reason to come out of his office. It made him happy. For Mara, that was all that mattered.
She smiled remembering the few times Allan had tried to make a cup of tea himself. A disaster. He burnt his hand. He didn’t put in enough sugar. He added too much milk.
“I can’t even make a goddamn cup of tea,” he complained the last time she caught him. “Why does yours always taste so much better.”
“Love,” she’d replied as she nudged him out of the kitchen. “My secret ingredient.”
It had taken his wife quite some time to perfect the recipe for him—Earl grey steeped for four minutes, a dollop of honey, a dash of milk.
Today, as always, Mara poured the water over the tea bag and added the essentials, stirring gently to make sure everything dissolved. She allowed it to steep, carefully pulled the teabag out, disposed of it, and carried the cup and saucer in to her husband’s office.
He smiled at the sight of her and stretched his hands across the back of his head. “Ah, is it that time already?”
“It’s that time.” She smiled back, setting the saucer in front of him.
He shook his head. “Where did the day go?” Glancing up at her, he brushed her hand, “Thank you, sweetheart.”
Mara nodded, “You’re welcome, dear.”
She watched him take a sip, then walked over to the window, pulling back the curtain to look outside. Dead leaves moved in erratic swirls. The wind had picked up steadily over the past couple of hours. They were calling for freezing rain. Tomorrow, snow. The roads would be messy.
“Mmm,” her husband groaned with delight. “Tastes different today. Sweeter. Added extra love, huh?” he joked.
Mara could feel a draft along the windowsill. She wondered the last time they’d had the windows properly sealed. Ten, fifteen years? They were probably due.
“Did I tell you?” she said to her husband, “I called around yesterday to get estimates on painting the bedroom.” She paused, noting dust buildup along the window’s ledge and shook her head. Always something else to clean, she thought. “I don’t know if you remember us talking about that?” she continued. “Did we talk about that?”
“Hmm,” her husband replied. She couldn’t see his expression, but it sounded like an acknowledgement.
Mara paused and laughed. “No sooner had I hung up with one of the contractors did the phone ring.” Mara shrugged. “But it was strange, there was no one on the other end of the line.” Behind her, her husband coughed, as if maybe the tea went down the wrong pipe. “You okay?” she asked, running a hand down the red, pinch-pleated curtains. They seemed more red than usual in this light. She winced. She never liked the color. Allan picked them out. She had wanted a smoky-gray, or something more subtle. “Anyway,” she continued, refocusing her thoughts. “Ten minutes later the phone rang again, but this time there was a woman—Lynn, she said her name was.” Behind Mara there was more coughing. It sounded worse. “She was looking for you,” Mara explained. “She said she had trouble finding your number. Said you forgot to give it to her after you two ended your date.” Mara chuckled. “I told her she had the wrong Allan. Then, she described you. Said you met in San Antonio.” There was a loud thud, as if a picture or something heavier fell to the floor. Mara didn’t turn around. “Now, I know what you’re thinking, Allan. Crazy, right? Must be a coincidence—the fact that you had a business trip there last month?” Mara nodded. “I had the same thought myself, but then I started to poke around your office and found the receipts from your business trips to Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago. They all had handwritten phone numbers. A few email addresses, too.” Mara huffed. “I know you’re going to say, ‘We talked about them, Mara.’ And, yes, we did. You’re right. ‘Potential clients,’ you told me.” Mara chuckled again. “Well, I called your potential clients, dear. All six of them.”
Mara waited for Allan to say something. When he didn’t respond she added, “All of them happened to be female.” Mara took a breath. She promised herself she wouldn’t cry. “Of course, I couldn’t tell them I was your wife, so I told them I was your secretary calling to schedule another dinner meeting.” She swallowed hard. “Only two seemed interested in seeing you again. The others were upset you hadn’t called sooner. Oh, and one of the women told me her rate had gone up since your last visit.”
Mara turned away from the window to face her husband. She looked around, but didn’t see him. The office was still. “Allan?”
She let the curtains fall from her hand and walked forward. When she reached the middle of the room she saw her husband’s shoes. His chair had fallen over. He was lying on his side next to it.
Mara walked calmly toward him, straddled his body, and leaned down. His eyes were wide, like silver dollars. His mouth gaped. Drool slid from the corner of his lips onto the floor. Mara pressed two fingers against the side of his neck. She couldn’t register a pulse.
She pulled herself up and sighed. “Well, guess I’ll have to call them all back and tell them you won’t be able to make it.” Before leaving the room she grabbed the saucer and empty teacup. A small drop of liquid remained at the bottom. Mara brushed a finger along the inside just enough to barely wet the tip, then lifted it to her mouth. She looked down at the floor to her cold, stiff husband. “You’re right, dear. It was sweeter. Perhaps a little too much love this time.”
© 2016 Kim Lehman. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reprinted without permission.