Jennifer threw the ironed table cloth over the table, transforming the scratched and dented top into a blank canvas suitable for the masterpiece of a meal she had spent hours preparing. She dropped a small bouquet of daffodils, freshly cut from the front yard, into a narrow vase, and placed it in the center of the cloth. From the dining room hutch she pulled two settings from the set of good china, as well as two long stemmed wine glasses. They were dusty from disuse, so she washed them by hand in the kitchen sink, taking care not to splatter sudsy water on the new dress she was wearing.
When the table was set to Jenifer’s satisfaction – dishes sparkling and silverware lined up just so – she went back to the hutch and pulled out two crystal candle holders and a pair of long white tapers. A small box of matches rested on the kitchen counter; she would light the candles the moment she heard Alec’s tires churning in the driveway gravel.
The stove timer binged a happy note. She pulled a tray of stuffed mushroom caps from the oven, glancing at the clock as she did so. Alec would home in moments, and her pulse skittered in anticipation. She turned the oven down to low, intending to keep the main course warm until they were ready to eat. Her face glowed in the reflection of the kitchen window as she peered outside, scanning the road for her husband’s approaching car. An expectant blush painted her cheeks with an inner radiance, and she smiled, pleased with her own appearance.
Jennifer twirled around, enjoying the swirl of her dress skirt as it flitted about her knees. She reached for the wine bottle, intending to decant it into the crystal server Alec and she had received as a wedding present. It hadn’t seen use in years, perhaps not since the first months of their marriage, five years ago.
The phone rang, and the shrill interruption caused her hand to jerk and splash wine onto the white tablecloth. She set the bottle down, and answered the phone, a coil of worry tightening in her stomach as she did so. Not this time, not this time, not this time, she chanted to herself. He promised.
She answered the phone, already knowing what would be said. Can’t avoid it – have to work late. Sorry, really, so very sorry. Don’t wait up. Someone laughed in the backroom and made a mumbled comment, too indistinct for her to hear. Alec didn’t seem to notice the sullen disappointment in her tone as she responded to his excuses in mono-syllabic fashion. She hung up, feeling as if her brain had left her body.
Jennifer poured herself a glass of wine. A soft curse escaped her lips when her shaking hand sent red droplets splattering onto her dress. She dumped the mushroom caps into the trash, and pulled the prime rib from the oven, leaving it on the counter top to cool. The wine in her glass disappeared with one gulping slug. She grabbed her purse, and her car keys, and left, not caring where she went, and not sure when – or if – she would come back.