A picnic just for two.
Bert slips his finger round the rim of his collar and wishes he’d worn something less chunky today. A thick jumper seemed perfect this morning but now, with the warm golden light of a late September dusk beating on his head, he regrets his hasty choice. Autumn. He makes a soft noise of disgust. Should have known better, really. Still too changeable by far and he always breaks out into a sweat during one of these meetings. Another thing to chalk up and remember for next time, he muses, and mops his brow with his sleeve. Ah well… no help for it now.
Maggie told him to check out the ponies while she keeps an eye on the food. He didn’t want to and feels sure something’s about to go south, plus they aren’t the ones who’d been in the field the first time; he remembers them with little thrill of affection. A pretty little grey with huge brown eyes and a lovely reddish-brown, ginger, coloured one … Bert racks his brain about what horsey folk call it and then it comes. Chestnut. Yes, that’s right, chestnut. These ones are darker, with black tails and manes, but they have soft noses which push at his hands, hoping for a mint or bit of apple. He grins, digs a couple of pieces of granny smith out of his trouser pockets and then sniffs the air with appreciation when he catches the whiff of cooking sausage he’s put on the grill for their own supper. Bert extends his palm, apple offering in situ, and soft lips take it leaving a trace of slobber.
Fastidiously, Bert takes his hanky, a white cotton square with his name neatly embroidered in the corner, cleans his hand, and then gives a friendly last nod to the ponies. Cooked sausages wait for no man, and these smell as if they are done to a ‘t’. His mouth waters with anticipation and he takes off to the pretty copse where his van is parked where he can hear Maggie humming tunelessly. When he arrives, the sausages have started to catch and she’s not paying them any attention at all. What did he expect? Instead, he notices the open bottle of red wine on the small picnic table and the thick red lipstick marks colouring the rim of his best crystal wineglass.
Suppressing a twinge of irritation, he eyes her, wondering, not for the first time, why they agree to meet every year? “Maggie dear, couldn’t you have dealt with the sausages so they didn’t burn?”
“Bert,” she says, and her critical gaze turns on him, “you know they aren’t my thing. Bad for the figure and the heart.”
Bert shifts a little, aware he’s packed on more than a few pounds round the middle and his doctor told him to cut back on fat. “I remembered to bring salad -” he says, and nods towards a bowl of green leaves, assorted other veggies and tomatoes – “and salmon. I’m doing it the way you like with a bit of soy and ginger, sticky rice…” He trails off, fidgets a bit more, clenches his fists.
And Maggie’s expression softens to offer a thin smile. “That’s almost decent of you, Bert.”
“I do remember,” he says, choosing to ignore the dig and captures the cooking tongs with a nifty swipe at the table. Thankfully the sausages are only charred a wee bit and he can rescue them if he chops off the black bits. Behind him, he can hear Maggie glugging more wine into her glass; he knows she’ll be pissed soon. He attempts some small talk. “So… how’ve you been?”
“Same old, same old,” she says. “Could do with a change of scenery.”
“Couldn’t we all,” he agrees, and plates up the food with a deft touch, arranging it onto his mother’s delicate rose-patterned china. Mother, he recalls, hadn’t liked Maggie a single bit. Not when he first brought her home to meet her and certainly not when they got married. She’s a trollop, son, mark my words, no good will come of it – too much make up, disgusting. Mother’s words often haunt him. Bert notices his hand starts to tremble but he manages to hide it and sets Maggie’s food down in front of her. “Tah-dah…”
Maggie gives it the once over and Bert feels the old familiar rage begin to churn in his guts when she gives a dismissive snort. Every goddamn year it was the same. Always so critical, always sarcastic. Nothing is ever good enough for the whore. God knows, they had their differences, but didn’t it show he wants to try by coming along? And yet… and yet… Bert grinds his teeth, shoving the fury to one side into its neat little compartment. Then she speaks.
“Not bad, Bert, but not great, either. See you’re still using Pearl’s shitty, chipped, crockery. Would’ve thought the money she left could give you enough to buy something decent?” She stares at him, gloopy shit round her eyes. “Or are you still tight as a duck’s arse?”
So that’s the way of it? Bert sneers at her. Maggie hasn’t made a single move to eat her supper; she just sits there, in the camping chair with that damn, ugly, grin on her face, looking like crap. Her hair is a mess, lank and thin, dirty, and as for her makeup… well, let’s be honest, she looks like the common little piece of shite he first picked up in the pub all that time ago. Crimson lipstick is smeared across her bony lips and she’s still fucking grinning at him. Grinning.
“I don’t care if it’s chipped. It was mum’s and you should be grateful I let you eat of it instead of out of a dog bowel.”
“Oh please. You pathetic little excuse of a man.” Then she laughs, a hyaena’s bray of mockery.
A ruddy tsunami washes over Bert and he grabs up the shovel leaning against the bar-b-que, jolting the plate of blackened sausage to the ground, Pearl’s treasured plate smashing when it hits the stony ground. Incensed, Bert screams, “Shut up, you bitch. You’ve ruined it. Shut.Up!”
But Maggie keeps howling so Bert swings the shovel so hard against her head it flies off to hit the side of the van with a sickening thud. That’ll teach the cow to laugh at him. Bert gloats at first then snarls, revolted, when a streak of dessicated flesh clings to the side of his camper, brown and mud covered. If that isn’t just typical of Maggie. Always making a damn, repulsive, mess. One he’s going to have to clean up like always.
Snatching up the bundle of bones in the chair by its filthy rags, he hurls it back into the pit he dug earlier and throws the chair on top for good measure, then boots Maggie’s skull in after. It lands with the orbits staring back at him in accusation, makeup smeared over what’s left of Maggie’s face. Bert peers into the hole, kicks some dirt back over his ex-wife and growls. She ruins their get-to-gether every year. Every damn year.
Maybe Beryl will be a better option? They’re supposed to be meeting up in a month. Bert nods in satisfaction and begins to shovel soil back over the corpse. Yes, he’ll see Beryl. Maybe she won’t give him such a hard time?