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Picture Imperfect
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Ken Orford

Modern Fiction

15




It’s sometimes said that anticipation is better than the event. Kashi knew that in this case that was definitely not true. She had been anticipating getting into the warm flat, putting her feet up and pouring a glass of red for the last hour. The tube journey had been even more chaotic than normal, and then the walk from the station in the rain - why did I wear my four inch heels today? - had capped a really rubbish day.

As well as a glass of wine, she was also looking forward to a cosy evening in front of the television snuggled up next to Tim. But first she had some precious time to herself, to recover from what had definitely been one of those days.

She pushed the door open, feeling some resistance. No doubt that was the post and the usual freebie newspapers – Did anyone actually read them? She threw her damp coat over the banister and picked up the pile of paper that had indeed been blocking the door. Kicking off her shoes as she went, she made her way to the kitchen whilst simultaneously giving the wedge of paper in her hand the once over.

Two free newspapers went straight into the recycle bin. An electricity bill and a credit card bill for Tim went into the growing pile of bills to sort out. Our credit rating must be slipping, there’s only two credit card applications! They joined the free newspapers. That left just one item of post – and as Kashi looked at it, her eyebrows raised. She turned it over in her hands, the frown growing. It was a brown, A4, stiff envelope – the kind you put photographs or certificates in. The label, addressed to her, was printed rather than written. Who the hell’s sending me something that they don’t want to get bent? Only one way to find out.

She got a knife out of the drawer and sliced the envelope open, careful not to damage the contents. The single photograph inside was slightly blurred, but easily sharp enough for Kashi to recognise the people and the situation. It took her a few seconds to realise she was holding her breath, and that her mouth was hanging open.

The photograph brought back all the smells, textures and sounds of that evening – was it really a week ago? The truth was that Kashi had hardly thought of anything else since. Her head was filled with the image of Adam’s tanned, muscular body. In her mind she recalled the light-headed, almost giddy feeling of euphoria. She could still smell his deodorant slowly replaced by the scent of their perspiring bodies and then the strong scent of sex. Her breasts tingled as she remembered his touch. Her thighs parted slightly at the memory of his powerful legs sliding between them. She closed her eyes, reliving the sensations … as she looked again at the image from the envelope, she licked her lips. In the photograph, her head was thrown back as she knelt astride him, her eyes were closed and her face showed a mixture of intense pleasure and fierce concentration.

Then the other thoughts that she’d been having all week flooded into her mind washing away the good feelings and replacing them with the weight of guilt. The tightness in her chest was replaced by a growing nausea. She felt she was going to throw up. Someone had been spying on her! She rushed to the sink, her hand shaking as she filled a glass with water and gulped it down. Her hope was that it would also wash away the feeling that she had been violated by some dirty old man photographer who had a half decent camera and a telephoto lens.

Although she was still breathing in short, rapid breaths the urge to vomit had subsided, and was replaced by chaotic thoughts crashing into her mind. Who the fuck had sent the photographs? Had the photographer known they would be there or was it just some voyeur who had lucked out being in the right place at the right time? And how the hell did they know where she lived? Then the more serious thoughts: What did the sender want? She checked the envelope again – no message, no demand for money. As waves of thoughts crashed into her head, she suddenly felt sick again …  Could it be Adam? Why would he do that? Then she dismissed the thought – no, that was stupid.

She glanced at the clock; Tim will be home soon, so the first thing was to hide the photograph. Tim must never find out about Adam, and what happened last week. If he does then it will be like my life is over. Why in God’s name did I do it? How could I have let it happen? How could I have been so fucking stupid? She put it back into the envelope and went upstairs – hiding it in one of her drawers. Kashi had never been one for tears, but right now she had never felt more like crying. But if she did, Tim would want to know what had caused it.

She decided to shower and change – in an attempt to calm herself and to wash away the growing panic she felt. But somewhere in the murky depths of her mind was the notion it might somehow cleanse her from last week’s act of betrayal that she so much regretted.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, her shoulder length hair still wet, she smelled clean and she looked clean. But clean was still the last thing she felt. She reached out for her mobile phone and flicked through to her stored numbers. The number she wanted was on the first screen – there aren’t many names earlier in the alphabet than Adam. She couldn’t believe she was about to dial the number she swore she’d never ring.

“Hi this is Adam. I’m sorry I can’t talk just now – but leave me message. Bye”

His voice sounded light and happy. Then she remembered how it had sounded when he whispered in her ear as they were in the middle of the hottest, most explosive sex she had ever had. Yes, it had been so exciting that it had made her light-headed and dizzy, but that momentary pleasure paled into insignificance when compared to the endless guilt and regret she had felt in the pit of her stomach every second since.

Kashi looked at the phone. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or not that Adam wasn’t there. She hadn’t even been sure what she would say, she just wanted to share the burden with the only person in the world that she could. She was still sitting on the bed, her hair slowly drying, when she heard Tim’s key in the lock and the door swing open. He shouted up to her with a cheery “Hi babe!”

She glanced around quickly, checking the envelope and its contents were well out of sight. She drew a deep breath, and mustered all her strength to call back as cheerfully as Tim had sounded. By the time he came into the bedroom she felt composed. He smiled and gave her a huge hug and went to kiss her. At that point Kashi realised she was a lousy actress. He pulled away from her, still holding her shoulders, and asked if she was okay.

“Yeah fine, just a bit of a crap day at work. That’s all.”

He smiled at her and nodded.

“Okay. Fancy a drink?”

She forced a laugh:

“I thought you’d never ask. Vodka tonic would go down a treat.”

With a “Coming right up”, Tim left her to finish dressing and she heard the clinking of glasses and ice coming from the kitchen. She decided she didn’t need underwear around the house, so just put on a t shirt and some loose jogging bottoms – real slobbing around gear. Plus, the easy access might tempt Tim into something a bit more than a cuddle. She wanted to feel Tim’s arms around her, to feel his warmth and strength, to feel him inside her and to freely give all of herself to him: as if that act would somehow take away the guilt she felt.

She looked around the bedroom, a place where she had felt happier than at any time in her life. It was Tim’s flat and she’d left her rented place three months ago. She remembered her surprise when she had offered to share the rent, and he’d told her the flat was his, and he owned it. It had been a present from his parents when he was twenty-one. She remembered being amazed that he’d never let on that his family was pretty well off. She knew Tim worked hard though and didn’t rely on his parents’ money – of course, not having a mortgage millstone or monthly rent helped. So, Tim was pretty rich, had a nice flat, a great car and could take her to expensive restaurants. But she’d fallen for him a long time before all that had become apparent to her. It hadn’t been the money or the car, but the smile, the wit and the warmth of his character. He was very bright, very talented, very funny - and rich, but didn’t brag about his Oxford first, or the fact he’d been offered a professional Rugby contract, or that he’d been paid for doing some stand-up. But most of all, he didn’t talk about his money.

As she contemplated the last three months she realised that she had fallen in love with Tim in a big way. And that made last week all the more bizarre and all the more painful. It also made her all the more desperate to sort it out, find out what was going on and put it behind her. Why the fuck did I do it? Yeah, Adam was nice, he’d treated me well and complemented me. The whole evening had seemed like a dream. He’d made me feel special. But so does Tim! The tears started to form, but she fought them back and forced herself to go downstairs, and try and have the evening she so craved.

It had been two days since that envelope had arrived, and as Kashi lay in her and Tim’s bed, although she was only half awake, the first thought that came into her head was what if another one comes in the post today? The early autumn sun was showing itself around the edges of the curtains. She reached out for Tim, but his side of the bed was empty. Oh God, suppose there’s something in the post and he gets there first. She started to panic and pushed the covers back to get out of the bed just as the door swung open.

“Morning sleepy head.”

Tim was carrying a tray with juice, coffee and croissants on it. Kashi bit her lip:

“Err, this is very nice, but …why?”

“I’m trying to lull you into a false sense of security because I’ve got something to ask you.”

Kashi felt her pulse quicken. But if he knows, he wouldn’t be bringing me breakfast in bed! He’d probably be throwing me out on the street. She pulled the covers up a bit:

“Okay, ask away.”

Tim put the tray down beside the bed.

“Well, you know we’re going to mum and dad’s for dinner tomorrow…”

She nodded in response. How could she forget? Although she’d been there several times and had even stayed there for a long weekend, Kashi never felt relaxed, never felt fully at home. His mum had always been warm and welcoming, but Tim’s dad had seemed to be the archetypal, upper class, domineering head of the household. And he always made her feel slightly out of place. She’d even mentioned it to Tim, but he’d just laughed it off saying his parents adored her.

“Well,” Tim continued, “I want to be able to tell them that we’ve got engaged. But before I do that, I thought I’d better check with you…”

“Oh my God Tim!”

Kashi threw back the covers and flung her arms round him. She planted a long, lingering, intense kiss on his mouth, and forced him onto his back on the bed.

“I take it that’s a ‘Yes’ then?”

Kneeling astride him, with tears forming in her eyes, she grinned and nodded, and then she kissed him again.

The coffee was cold by the time they had stopped, and she lay coffee brown leg draped across his white body, with his arm hugging her and playing with her black, wavy hair.

“You know, that was probably the worst proposal I have ever had.”

“Christ! How many have you had then?”

“One.”

She grinned, looking over at him. He looked into her eyes and rolled over, pinning her to the bed.

“God I love you.”

Kashi reached up and stroked her fiancé’s face. My fiancé, doesn’t that sound good.

“And I adore you, and you’ve made me the happiest woman in the world. And I love you more than anything.”

Kashi was quiet the next morning on the drive up to her future in-laws. It was Sunday – No post today, thank God! No opportunity for my dreams to be shattered. But Kashi knew she had to do something. Whoever had sent the photos was going to be in touch again. And it would be soon. Abruptly, she came to a decision. She’d seen enough television programmes and read enough stories, to know that the truth has a habit of coming out. And that the deeper the lie, the more drastic the fallout. I’m going to tell him. I’m going to tell him everything and hope to God he can forgive me. I can’t take the anguish any longer. I’m going to tell him tonight that I don’t to this day know why it happened, but that it will never happen again!

“That’s one of dad’s companies over there!”

She was jerked out of her thoughts by Tim’s pointing at a modern looking building, with a high security fence, and security men manning the car park barrier – even on a Sunday.

“Why all the security? It looks like Fort Knox.”

“Drugs, babe. Dad’s companies do research – and that one is a drugs research lab. There’s probably a couple of million quids worth of MDMA in there, plus other similar stuff.”

Kashi asked him what that was, and Tim just smiled:
“Methylenedioxymethamphetamine.”
Kashi just looked at him, with a crooked smile.
“E. Ecstasy. XTC. But don’t worry, the old bill aren’t on the way round to dad’s to bang him up. They do a lot of research into Amphetamines. They’re used a lot in helping people. E was widely used before it was made illegal.”

They were still talking drugs as Tim swung the car up the long drive to what Kashi thought of as his parents’ mansion. A far cry from the terraced house she was brought up in. As he turned off the ignition, she grabbed his hand and stroked his cheek. She looked into his eyes, and smiled at him:

“Tim, when we get home tonight I’ve got to tell you something really important. Really important! Don’t let me go to sleep without telling you, and don’t let me put it off. Okay?”

Tim looked at her with all the adoration and innocence of a puppy.

“Okay, no problem.”

She squeezed his hands, her eyes still fixed on his:

“Tim, it’s really important.”

Tim nodded, then he smiled at her, kissed her on the lips and headed for the house.

Tim’s mum answered the door and gushed suitably over the flowers Kashi handed her, and Kashi started to feel some of the tension ease. Why do I feel so nervous? They’re only people, and if Tim doesn’t throw me out after tonight, then I’ll just have to get used to them. And them to me! Tim asked where dad was, and his mum replied he was in his study, and that they should go and say hello, while she poured the coffee. Tim grabbed her hand and led her in to see his father.

The study was a mass of bookshelves and photographs. The tidy desk’s only adornments were a writing pad and a PC. Maybe Kashi was just getting used to him, but for the first time she felt at ease with Tim’s dad. He was more relaxed and quite openly cheerful, almost boyishly enthusiastic. She could see a lot of Tim in him today – something that had not been easily visible before.

Kashi looked round at the photos while Tim and his dad caught up about the latest goings on at the cricket club, where his dad was the Chairman, and Tim had been the star batsman. There, in pride of place, was a photo of his mum and dad with the Queen when his dad got the CBE. Then there was one of the cricket team, Tim’s dad, the captain at the time, in the centre and a very young Tim next to him.

She made a comment about it, and before Tim could say anything, his father said it was Tim’s first match for the first eleven, and at twelve he’d been the youngest ever first team player.

“You got a fifty if I remember rightly.” The pride obvious in his father’s voice.

With typical humility, Tim just said something about the bowlers going easy on him because he was just a kid.

Kashi squeezed his hand and kept looking round. Then she stopped. She stifled a scream, but a startled noise came out and she squeezed Tim’s hand hard. Both men looked round, interrupted by the noise.

“Are you okay babe?”

“Errr, yes. Yes I’m fine.”

She tore her eyes away from a photograph of four golfers holding a cup.

“Sorry, just a bit of a pain in my ankle. I twisted it running in my heels the other day.”

They fussed over her for a minute, then resumed their conversation while she turned back to the photo. There was no doubt about. It was definitely him. He had a golf cap on, but there was no mistaking it; the handsome guy holding the trophy, standing next to Tim’s dad … was Adam.

Kashi thought she was going to throw up. There was a pain across her chest and the growing feeling of nausea in her throat. She had to get out of that room, away from that picture. All she could see in her head was the other photograph. Her astride Adam, her eyes closed and … Oh God, make it go away!

She amazed herself at how calm she sounded when she said she’d go and help Tim’s mother. Tim nonchalantly said “Okay” and kept chatting while his father just looked at her, with an unblinking, steady smile. Oh God, he knows. He bloody well knows. He’s going to tell Tim. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!

As they sat in the Autumn sunshine drinking the coffee, Kashi studied Tim and his father. Tim’s body language was relaxed and his father kept glancing at her and curling the corners of his mouth up in that knowing smile. Kashi wanted to kill him. Then in the middle of a conversation about the garden, he remarked that Kashi hadn’t yet seen his roses:

“Come on Kashi, come and see my pride and joy.”

It was clear from his tone that this was a command and not a request, and Kashi knew as well that the topic of conversation would not be roses. Tim said he’d come too, but his dad told him to keep his mother company, and Tim, a bit reluctantly Kashi thought, took his seat again.

When they were out of earshot, Tim’s father smiled that hated, superior, “I am untouchable” smile and remarked that he noticed she’d seen the picture of their mutual friend.

“Yes, I noticed Adam.”

“Such a nice chap. Very good with women I understand. But of course, you know that already.”

Kashi said nothing, but felt the hatred and loathing rising in her. When she didn’t rise to the bait, he went on:

“I thought the photograph quality was slightly disappointing. For what I’d paid the photographer I had expected better.”

Kashi stopped, and looked at him. Her forehead was furrowed and her nose screwed up in an expression that broadcast a “What?” Tim’s father looked her in mock sympathy and resumed their walk.

“Oh dear, we aren’t very bright are we? Still, I suppose education at a comprehensive school and a so called degree from a jumped up Polytechnic of a University doesn’t really promise much, does it?”

“Excuse me! It may not have been Oxford but I worked bloody hard for that degree. And I appear to be bright enough for your son to want to marry me.”

“Yes, I was rather afraid of that. That’s why I decided I needed to make sure it didn’t happen. It seems I was just in time.”

Kashi stopped again, looking at this man who she would gladly cover in petrol and set on fire; her hatred was now so intense. Her voice was almost a whisper:

“You. You set it all up. You bloody bastard!”

“Bravo! I knew you’d get there in the end. I offered to pay Adam a grand. But he said you were such a good fuck – especially with a bit of … er, shall we say… ‘help’ - that he did it for free.”

Kashi now wanted to scratch his eyes out.

“You mean he drugged me?”

“Just a bit of something from the lab. Nothing like Rohypnol, or anything like that. Just something to ‘loosen you up’ a bit. Though Adam did say you were far from loose, if you get my drift.”

Kashi flung a fist at his smug face, but he was waiting for it and caught it with ease. He squeezed it until she winced in pain.

“Reflexes of an opening batter, my dear. Now, let’s discuss this situation like two civilized adults, shall we?”

Kashi exhaled, relaxed her arm, and he let go as her shoulders slumped. She felt crushed, defeated. She knew what was coming next.

“Now, we don’t want Tim hurt, do we? We don’t want him to see the true colours of the little tramp from the Leicester slums he thinks he fell in love with, do we?”

Kashi didn’t answer, but she could feel the tears forming in her eyes.

“No, I didn’t think so. So you’re going to have second thoughts. You’re going to tell him you don’t love him at all, and that you need to get away and want to get out of his life. Well, you can tell him whatever you like, but just make sure it ends. All right my dear?”

“But I was set up. I was drugged.”

He sighed and looked at her shaking his head slowly:

“Poor little thing. You don’t look drugged in the photographs. Oh there are others of the whole sordid evening. No, that won’t stand up. Let’s face it, you try and expose this and I’ll make sure you’ll be shown to be some working class gold digger. And that will really hurt Tim. This way, he’ll always think of you with fond memories and not hatred. No, it’s much better my way – for all of us.”

“This has nothing to do with my working class origins, has it? Nor my Comprehensive school education, nor my degree from an ex Polytechnic. The thing that really makes me hate you, is that you can’t even be honest with me. We all know what the real reason is ...”

+++

The two weeks since the meeting in the garden had been hell for Kashi. Going round estate agents had become almost therapeutic. There were a couple of affordable possibles here. She sat alone at the desk leafing through the prospective properties. The salesman came back with a couple more leaflets in his hand; and he stopped and looked round:

“Oh, where’s your friend gone?”

Kashi indicated towards the front of the shop.

“Outside. Phone call.”

The estate agent started rambling on about double aspects, and gardens and locations. When the door opened, they both looked up. Tim walked over shaking his head:

“Mum’s moved into my old flat. She’s invited us over there. She said she’s going to take the old bastard for everything he’s got. She said I can have half, but I told her I don’t want anything that’s been touched by him. I’ll make my own way, because I’ve got all I want now.”

Kashi looked at him, stood up, put her arms round his neck and kissed him. Then she turned to the salesman, picked up the leaflets and said they’d be back later. On the walk round to his old flat, he hugged her and said for the millionth time how glad he was she’d said before they’d even seen his father, that there was something she wanted to tell him.

“It all seemed so far fetched to me, and at first I didn’t really know what to think. But when mum said Adam had been round for dinner and he and dad had spent ages huddled in his study. And that he’d asked if we had a photo of you, then it all fell into place.”

They rang the bell of Tim’s old flat, and she turned to face him, and put her hand against his cheek:

“What I can’t understand is how a man like him produced someone like you.”

“There are lots of reasons I think. Remember his generation grew up with racial prejudice and social classes. As it all got torn down, most people got over it and ultimately found it easy to accept everyone, regardless of their skin or background. He was obviously someone who couldn’t. As for me, well remember it took two people to make me, and the other one always saw you and accepted you for what you were… someone that made her son ecstatically happy. But nature is only part of it. As for nurture, remember I went to public school and Oxford, where it’s more multicultural than the centre of London on a Friday night! I wonder if he will ever realise that his decision to send me there would be the catalyst to opening my mind.”







© Ken Orford, 2008



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