Ah…uh…well…hmm. I say, old chap, I hope you won’t take offense at – uh…no, no thank you. No tea for me. I…uh…don’t…that is, I eat and drink at home. What I make, you see. What I myself prepare. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes. I trust you won’t get offended by what I will tell you. You see, I only mean to help you see this situation in a…a different light…if you will permit me.
You…that is…you seem somewhat delighted, delighted as it were, at what you’ve done to her, but I fear you may have, uh…how shall we say…cause to retract your delight. Cause to retract it…your delight that is. Come now, don’t be offended. Stay your irritation for a moment; be patient with an old codger. Hear me out, old bean. I assure you, to hear me out is in your best interest. Your best interest, as it were.
That’s better, old chap. Now…uh…allow me, if you will, to tell you something about her. This person you’ve, if you will permit me to say, impudently and ignominiously wronged. Really, do calm down, Gascon. Steady on, old boy. It’s no good getting all worked up like that. You might break your cup, and it would be unfortunate if you were to break that cup. It’s a Villeroy and Boch. Am I right? I used to have a nice set myself before my business…dashed peculiar…I’m sure she…Yes, yes, I know it would be nothing for you to replace them, but all the same. Please. Do calm down. Bad for the heart. My doctor’s always advising me against –
Oh, yes…yes of course. Age, you know, old fellow. Age. Digression comes with it. Now, where was I? Ah, yes! I was saying…well, no, I hadn’t said…what’s that? Oh, yes. Sorry, old chap. Well, I was going to say that what you’ve done was quite imprudent. Quite. And I’ll tell you why, old chap.
You see, when she’s been wronged, she has the regrettably rude habit of not forgetting it. She’ll lay dormant for weeks, months, years…and then, at the most inopportune, inconvenient moment – and when you’re the least prepared for it – she exacts a terrible, proper revenge. And you’re helpless to retaliate; that’s the revolting part of it. You laugh, but I tell you it’s true. I tell you, you’ll be helpless to defend yourself. Business ruined…ruined…couldn’t defend my…What’s that? Oh…yes…well, you see, you wronged her, old boy. If you disgrace a woman in front of a room of guests…well…that’s…she’ll be angry, old chap. But Mrs. Dobree…well…she’ll get even. And her revenge, when she takes it, gives capacious berth to the illegal – it rests comfortably and cozily in the lap of conjecture – so you’re forced to swallow her bitter, contemptible physic. And worse…worse, you can’t prove she did anything, but you know she did! No, really. I won’t take tea, thank you. What is it though, old fellow? Gae Shan tea, eh? I’ve not had that before. Is that similar to Tienchi Flower tea? I used to take Tienchi Flower tea quite often before…you know…my business…never able to recover…Well, that’s the past. I have English Breakfast tea now and I seldom wander away from it. Not easy after…have to watch my spending…
I say, I see you’ve a new painting there. Why, that one on the wall behind you. No, no. Over your left shoulder old, chap. New, that one, yes? No? Ages? It can’t have been there for ages…I would have remembered…really? Well… hmm…that’s…could have sworn it was…well…haven’t seen you for…I seem to be forgetting quite a lot these…what? What’s that? Ah, yes. Mrs. Dobree. Oh, I see you’ve just about finished your tea, quite finished it, yes? I suppose you enjoy –
Oh…Yes…Of course. Digressing again, was I? Yes…uh…well…as I was saying, when she exacts her revenge – and she will, old chap – you won’t be able to prove she did anything, but you’ll know it was her. There’ll be no doubt in your mind. I tell you, you’ll know she is responsible for your sudden, brutal misery. Brutal, I tell you. Can’t afford servants…need a new waistcoat, but…
What? Oh. Sorry, old fellow. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. You won’t be able to prove she’s ruined you…that she’s responsible for your misery, but you know and she knows and she knows you know that she’s revenged herself on you. And you want to retaliate…you want to…but you have in your possession the terrible knowledge that if you do, if you even attempt it, your life after that will have no worth; you’ll never again know tranquility; serenity will be a blighted memory. Blighted I tell you. No sir, I do not exaggerate! What?! Tripe and tosh?! It most certainly is not! No, no. I’m fine. Yes, I know it sounds rather…like tommyrot…but if I hadn’t…It’s just…you must understand that I speak with the utmost sincerity and I’m only giving you the facts as I know them. The facts.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes. You will, I assure you, swallow her physic with bitter contempt and you’ll hate her…hate her, I tell you, but while the vile physic is going down, a cold fear goes down with it because you know that as much as you hate her, she hates you more…more, I tell you…quite good at holding a grudge – what’s that? I say, not a very patient young cove, are y – Well, as I was saying, she can and will, whenever it suits her, give her hatred a terrifying, living, breathing form. And this knowledge…What? Sweating? Why, so I am. Perhaps a bit too close to the fire. There. Now, I was saying. Yes, this knowledge – of her hatred that is – this knowledge, appalling in its accuracy… appalling…transforms your hatred into horror. Dread, as it were. You hope – pray – that she’s done with you, forgotten about you, but you’re never sure, never quite sure, and so months…years actually…years after she’s exacted her revenge, you still look over your shoulder, still glance around unfamiliar corners before you proceed to disappear around what now feels like a maze of never-ending, sharp, unpredictable shadows, you still shiver unexpectedly in the middle of a wretched heat wave, I tell you, and you still glance into your tea cup trying to discover a smell or powder that shouldn’t be there. Yes, old chap, you eye all your food and drink with suspicion. Suspicion! You’re never sure, you see. Never sure. And you don’t know how long you’ll have to live your life regretting wrong-footing Mrs. Dobree.
Experto crede, Gascon, old fellow, you have regrettably acquired an enemy that you’d have been better off having as a friend. Me? No. No, I don’t talk to Mrs.…Mrs. Dobree. Any-anymore. Sweating? Ah. Yes. So I am. Still sweating. Perhaps still too close…Ah, you’ve gotten a bit cold…going to stand in front of the fireplace, are you? I say, you…you rather fancy yourself a grace note to that fireplace, don’t you? You always have…you know…fancied yourself…you’re a confident blighter, eh? Yes… always have…maybe not cold after all, maybe –
Why? Why what? Ah. Why don’t I talk to her anymore? Well, as I said, old chap, experto crede. Once you’ve wronged her, they’ll be no reason to talk to her. And besides, she won’t talk to you. Even if you made the attempt, it would be in vain. In vain. No use whatsoever.
I say, what’s the matter, old chap? You’re looking a bit pale. A bit unwell, that is. I say, is your ex-wife at the door? Why – this – it’s a Madeleine Chair, isn’t it? Yes, I remember you mentioning that several times. Like to brag a little, don’t you…ha-ha. It’s a bit snug, isn’t it? Can’t turn one’s self around so easily, can you? I’m afraid I’m…I’m starting to fill out in the midd –
Ah. There we are. No, no one at the door. Not as I can see. Although…that part of the room’s rather dark, isn’t it? Don’t think I could see your ex-wife even if she were there…would need a torch. Now, are you –
Good God! Maid! Maid! Ring 122, I mean 211, no, 991. Good God! Maid! Ring for help! What’s that, Gascon? Your stomach? All right. All right. Hold on, old fellow. Can’t lift you; too old, but hold on, I tell you. Maid! Terribly slow wom –
Dear God! You don’t suppose, Mrs. Dobree…
I say, old bean, while we’re waiting for your maid, did you know that Mrs. Dobree used to be in the theatre? Quite good she was, too. So I’m told. Could disguise herself and her voice to look and sound like almost anyone. Man or woman. That’s a rather convenient talent to have, don’t you think? The pain’s severe is it? It hurts rather badly, eh? Well, not to worry, old fellow. Stomach pains rarely kill. I’m sure whatever it is will pass right out of your system. It won’t leave a trace.
Kristal Peace enjoys autumns coloured with russet, lavender and red, winters obscured by snow, and books. Her poems and a short story have appeared in the Pennmen Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scrittura Magazine and Ink Pantry.