It was put to us that we might want to write a story set in a café as that is where we meet to for Just Write. So I had a think about it. And this is what I came up with. A lot of writers write from the perspective of their own experience or about things that have happened to people around them. There’s more than a grain of truth in the following story…
James wondered how it was at all possible for all these people to be carrying on as normal, oblivious of what had recently happened. Of course, the fact was they just didn’t know yet. There were a few late commuters on flexi-time enjoying a late coffee and a Danish before making the short walk to the tram stop to travel into their offices in the city. In the corner there were a couple of Chorlton yummy mummys. They’d dropped their older offspring at school and were now enjoying a chat and a caffe latte before going back to what ever yummy mummys do in the day. Running their online business or maybe counting the hours until they can open a bottle of wine without worrying that they might be turning into alcoholics. Some senior citizens were finishing off breakfast. When the news broke maybe they’d remember the man sat at the bar in the window and wonder, incredulously, how close they’d been to him.
The pleasant waitress with the warm Irish accent brought over the coffee and cake he’d ordered. Large cappuccino and a piece of chocolate fudge cake coated in strawberry icing. He wondered when he would next be able to next indulge in such a simple pleasure. The pleasant girl placed his order in front of him with a smile. If she noticed anything strange about his demeanour she didn’t show any acknowledgement. He opened the sugar sachet, tipped it into the coffee foam, stirred and thought about the morning.
He’d been driving around the city for about half an hour from his home in the southern suburbs until he’d parked the car just on the edge of Chorlton village and walked along Wilbraham Road looking for somewhere to sit. The bars near the tram stop were still closed and the first place he came to that was open was the little cafe next to the village post office. It was the lull in the day after the morning rush, and even though he didn’t want somewhere too busy, he needed to think, he also needed people around him. He needed some normality at the moment, people just going about their own business.
He’d left home this morning at 7 30 am and arrived at work about 8. He’d been button holed by the Head of English almost as soon as he walked into the building. Something about an incident between a junior teacher and a truculent Year 10 boy yesterday. Being the successful head of a successful high school meant this had to be dealt with at some point, but not now. A promise of a meeting later in the day appeased her. But someone else would now have to deal with the Head of English, the junior teacher and the truculent Year 10 boy of course. He got to his office without further interruptions. Sheila, his PA brought in his coffee. She used to be one of the school secretaries but her job had gradually morphed into that of a PA as his own job had become increasingly complicated. She organised his day, prioritised what he needed to do, arranged meetings and filtered the requests on his limited time. And she knew how he liked his coffee. She was good at calming angry parents and teachers and deflecting them to other people in the school who were in a better position and had more time to deal with their problems. He appreciated her calming influence and efficiency.
Sheila rattled through the day’s events and the things he needed to do and when they were scheduled for. She looked a little taken aback when he told her something had turned up and he’d need to go out that morning. This would mean cancelling the visit by the Director of Education for the city to discuss the new maths strategy being implemented. The director wouldn’t be happy. She was about to ask what was so important that he had to cancel the director but something in his manner told her not to. She left to make the call before the director started out. He arranged some of his papers and at 9, as the school calmed down, he left, telling Sheila he would be in touch soon, and left for home. The ‘be in touch soon’ remarked confused her but she couldn’t think why.
Back in the cafe James was thinking about calls he needed to make. He looked at his watch. It was 10 45. He needed to time both calls perfectly. Back at school morning break would just be finishing. He fished his iPhone out of his pocket and made a direct call to Sheila’s work phone that gave him a direct line to her avoiding the school’s phone system and it’s irritating options system. Sheila picked up.
‘Morning Headmaster.’ In spite of having been working together for the best part of fifteen years she still liked to use the honorific title ‘headmaster’ while on school business. ‘Have you finished your important business? I have managed to put the Director of Education off until this afternoon. If I get Tony and Gwen to deal with some of your afternoon work we might just be able to save the day.’ She named two of the school’s deputies. James admired her efficiency. He took a breath to bring some calm to his voice. Saving today was going to be difficult, this was even well beyond cool, efficient Sheila.
‘That’ll be fine Sheila. But could you arrange for Tony and Gwen and Stuart to be in my office at 11 30? I think Tony and Stuart are free but Gwen will need cover. Could you see to it?’
‘Yes headmaster.’ Sheila sounded confused. She really liked everything to be as it was supposed to be. All this uncertainty and last minute changes unsettled her.
‘And Sheila? I need you to be there as well.’
‘Of course, Headmaster.’ He rang off.
James took a sip of his coffee. It was coming up to 11. He had something to do quickly. Some arrangements had to be made for his daughter, Amy. She was obviously going to be badly affected by all of this. And, in her GCSE year, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. But he honestly hadn’t got up that morning determined to turn his daughter’s life upside down but, like it or not, it had happened. He considered his options. Ideally, she could live with her grandparents but they were on the Isle of Man. Her life was going to be turned upside down later on today and moving to the Isle of Man and changing school in such a vital year wasn’t going to help.
The best option he could come up with was Frances and Tom. They were good friends of the family. Vicky, Frances and Tom’s middle daughter, was Amy’s best friend at school. She spent a lot of time round at Vicky’s house with Vicky’s two sisters and brother. The house was full of noise, dogs, hamsters and cake presided over by near perfect parents, Frances and Tom. He considered calling Tom, but had it at the back of his mind that Tom was on a business trip to Tokyo. Plus, if he was at work, he might be free to take a call and that would make for an awkward explanation. He wasn’t ready for that, even with an old friend like Tom. Frances, however, would have her phone off or at least on silent. She worked as a teaching assistant in a local primary school. He calculated that their morning break was probably over and she’d be back in class, unavailable to answer. And so it proved. The phone went, he was relieved to hear, straight to answer phone. He told her something had come up and could she possibly allow Amy to come round for her dinner that evening? Would it be OK? He knew it would be.
When Frances switched on her phone at lunchtime she picked up the message. Having Amy over would be fine. She would text Vicky to get the message to Amy. She was rather perplexed by the ‘please look after Amy’ comment at the end. There was something about it that didn’t sit well with a simple request to give a child some dinner. An event that had happened many times over the years. Frances put it to the back of her mind and focussed on a list of equipment that Ms. Jones needed for a science lesson later that afternoon.
James looked at his watch again. 11:15. His coffee was gone but there was still some cake left. He caught the eye of the pleasant Irish waitress and ordered another coffee. He had ten minutes until his call to school. That call was going to bring out what had happened earlier that morning. He was pretty sure that no one knew about it yet. But it wasn’t the kind of thing that could be hidden. Once he’d admitted to it and it was out in the open it would all be out of his control.
He thought about his wife, Jane. He’d met her twenty years ago. At first he’d been amazed that someone as stunning as her could possibly be interested in him. But she was and, for the first five years it had all gone well. Amy had been born. James’ career as a teacher was taking off. He was good at it and he had great organisational skills. He was first a Head of Department, then deputy and finally a head of one of the best schools in the city. It was doing well when he got there and, under his guidance, raced up the Sunday Times list of good schools where it became a fixture in the top fifty in the country. Parents moved houses and made sacrifices to get their children in. He started to work with the city’s education department and was even consulted on educational matters by the Dept. of Ed. in London. Government ministers had him on speed dial.
Financially, he was well set up. His job paid well and money left to him by an elderly relative had been ploughed into a company that bought and restored houses with his brother, Sam. Some houses were kept to rent out, others were sold and they were now buying parcels of land in up and coming Manchester suburbs with the intention of putting up new apartments and houses.
The family had an enviable lifestyle. A large house with garden in a quiet road in Bowden, a cottage by the sea on the Llyen Peninisula where they kept a boat. And a half share, with his brother, in a villa on the nice side of Marbella. Jane had given up work after Amy was born and he provided well for his family so she didn’t return. Instead, she went into interior design. First just painting the houses that they were restoring but gradually building up the business by doing designs for friends, then private clients and then businesses. They had money and all the toys and ‘stuff’ it could buy. People envied them their lifestyle.
But all was not well. Something in Jane’s character caused her to wander. James often blamed himself. He was either working at school or doing something for their building business. Maybe the desire to give his family a good life, to make them financially secure, had caused him to neglect them. So he was shocked to find, seven years into the marriage, that Jane had been having an affair with a business associate. The marriage rocked for a while but Jane stopped the affair and their relationship sailed into calmer waters.
That dealt with, James carried on oblivious of what his wife was up to. Weekends away with an old school friend, who James assumed was female, was actually an old boyfriend from her school days. There there had been a tennis coach and various builders that she came into contact with. James knew of four affairs and there were probably more. It had all come out at a party where the wife of one of his school colleagues had cornered him, emboldened by more wine than was good for her, and asked him didn’t he have any idea of what his wife was up to? He was confused but she soon brought him up to speed with his wife’s various infidelities and an attempted seduction of her husband.
James had confronted Jane about this. It was as if a dam had burst and she was almost relieved that he knew. As well as the ones he already knew about, she filled him in on several he didn’t. It seemed that she was some kind of a serial adulterer. And rather than cooling the relationships with other men, the fact that he knew seemed to embolden her. She would flirt with men at parties, in bars, restaurants. She would flirt with his brother and even with some of Amy’s school friends. There had been a very uncomfortable meeting with the parents of one of the Year 12 boys who had banned their son from going to their house.
Jane didn’t seem to care. Normal marital relations stopped and James realised that he should have ended the marriage years ago. He stayed because of Amy, who must have known what was going on, and because there was still a part of him that loved his wife. She began to drink. When drunk she would be even more open with him about her infidelities, comparing her current paramour to James in every way possible and James could never match them. It went on for weeks, months, years; a constant drip feed of the denigration of James as a husband, a man and a person. He took it all on the chin. But there is only so much a man can take and James had reached that point yesterday. He’d arrived home to find Jane in the marital bed with her latest lover, a young Scottish, red headed builder from one of their projects. At least the builder had the good manners to be ashamed, blushing bright red and had left but Jane cared not. She went on at length how Doogie, she called him, was so much more of a man than he had ever been and went into detail about how he satisfied her. James spent the night in the spare room.
He looked down at his watch, it was 11 30. It was time. He called Sheila’s number for the second time. He imagined her and his three deputies sat in his office waiting for him to appear, confused as to why they were there. The phone rang three times. Then someone picked up. It was Shelia.
‘Hello Sheila. Is everyone there?
‘Yes Headmaster, but aren’t you joining us?’
‘No, Shelia, I’m still out. I’m in the little cafe by the post office in Chorlton. Can you put us on speakerphone please?’
Shelia forgot herself ‘Chorlton? What are you doing there?’ She recovered herself. ‘Of course Headmaster.’
There was a click and he heard the sound at the other end of the line change and knew that he had been put on speaker phone. ‘Is everyone there Sheila?’ he asked for the second time.
‘Yes Headmaster.’ He could tell she was being her usual efficient self but, from the tone of her voice, he knew she wasn’t happy with the situation. She liked everything just so.
‘Thank you Sheila. Gwen?’
‘I’m here James.’ There was the same confusion in her voice as there had been in Sheila’s.’
I’m going to have to make some changes to the running of the school. Gwen, I want you to take on the running of upper school, year 10 through 12.’
‘In a moment Gwen, is Stuart there?’
‘Yes Head.’ A male voice but the same perplexed tone.
‘I need you to take over lower school. And Tony? I need you to take on my work with all the outside agencies, local education department, D of E etc? I think you’re more than ready for that.’
James could imagine their confused faces in the office. ‘And Sheila?’
‘Yes Headmaster.’ He could tell she wasn’t having the best of mornings.
‘You know the cafe where I am?’ He knew Sheila lived in Chorlton. ‘ I need you to phone the police. Tell them where I am. I will wait here for them. Tell them there will be no need for sirens and lights. I won’t be resisting arrest.’ He thought he heard something fall to the floor in his office across the city. The dull thud of a coffee cup on carpet he thought.
‘Arrest? But why?’ What do I tell them? Why should I? What….?’
James was suddenly struck by the realisation that after this moment his life would change irrecoverably. He took a moment to calm himself, to steady his voice.
‘I can’t put it any other way. I really don’t want to upset you. I’m very sorry to burden you with this. But this morning I’m very much afraid that I have murdered my wife….’