'Stupid woman,' I tell myself, glancing at the clock. Where have the last five minutes gone? Lost in that news item about the royal scandal, that's where. And I'm not even interested in the royals. Karl and Nick will be here at eight on the dot for their breakfasts and I've barely started. I turn off the TV.
Wiping my palms on my apron, I get to work, clanking down pans on the hob and turning the knobs. Gas hisses. I light each hotplate before checking: one pan for sausages and bacon, one for fried eggs, one for baked beans and one for tinned plum tomatoes. Hash browns already in the oven. They like the full Monty, these boys.
As always, Karl was out of the door by 7 a.m. I'm thankful for that at least. Gave me an hour to myself. He's gone to pick up Nick, his apprentice tree surgeon. Now they're out there doing who-knows-what. Sitting in the truck smoking fags, probably. Or maybe they've gone to Brunch 'n' Munch for coffee. As it's summer, they might be fitting in a tree-felling job before breakfast. That's what Karl tells me, anyway. Not sure what to believe.
Ten to eight now. Must get it done in time. God help me if I don't. I turn the bacon and sausages. Fat sizzles and spits. I like the smell, but I never have much of an appetite at this time of day. Hardly surprising really.
I can picture those two, sitting at the breakfast bar, wolfing down their food. Nick with his face set in a permanent sneer, grease smeared across his bristled chin. I've never had a good feeling about him.
Need to get the eggs on soon. Over easy for Karl. Sunnyside up for Nick. Eggs are the trickiest. Have to be careful not to overcook them.
Damn! I forgot the toast. I grab a packet of bread, take out four slices and slot them into the toaster. Check the clock again. Touch and go. Karl's toast needs time to cool. He doesn't like it with butter soaked through. I crack four eggs into the pan. Doing this every morning has made me a dab hand at keeping the yolks intact. They like dippy yolks, those two.
After they polish off their breakfast, there'll no doubt be a bit of 'argy-bargy'. Karl will come over and enclose me in a bear hug. By the time he lets go, I'll feel light-headed, like my lungs have been emptied. Then there'll be some air boxing, followed by a proper thump on the arm and maybe a right hook into the kidney. Places where no one can see the damage. All the while, Nick will sit there sniggering, wiping breakfast juices from his mouth with his sleeve.
Two minutes to go. Must start plating up. I pull on an oven glove, remove the hash browns and slide them onto waiting plates. The toast pops up. Using my fingertips, I take out the slices and leave them to cool. A quick check of the eggs. Time to flip Karl's. Then it's out with the sausages and bacon. Finally, I lift the eggs from the pan and ease them onto their plates. The yolks wobble. They're good to go.
Another look at the clock. 8 a.m., on the dot. I pause to listen for the truck pulling in. Still quiet. So I pick up the pan of beans and spoon the contents onto the plates. The amber concoction oozes like lava across to the other items. I dish-up the tomatoes and butter the toast before swooping the plates over to the breakfast bar. Still no sound of the truck. I tick off my mental checklist: sausages, bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes, hash browns, toast. It' all there. Except the tea.
It's already two minutes past. I scramble across to the kettle, turn the tap on full, splashing water over the counter and sides of the kettle. After flicking the switch, I grab two mugs from the cupboard and clatter them onto the counter. I shove in tea bags then pause, my heart pounding. I strain to listen above the sound of the hissing kettle. Still no sound of the truck. Three minutes past eight now.
I breathe in. Nothing to do but wait for the water to boil. If they burst through the door now, I'll just have to take my punishment. If only I could fast forward to after they've gone, the moment I can take off my apron and make myself a coffee with a splash of whiskey. Then just sit back and let the alcohol warm my aching limbs. After half-an-hour on the sofa watching Good Morning Britain, I'll clear-up the breakfast mess. Karl isn't home 'til after five. Plenty of time to prepare his dinner.
The kettle whistles. I switch it off. As the sound peters out, I fill the mugs with steaming water. Where are those two? If I hear the truck now, there'll just be time to whip out the tea bags, splash in the milk and have the cups beside the plates before they appear.
I wait another minute before dealing with the tea and setting the mugs down beside their plates. If they don't come soon, they'll blame me for the food being cold. Always my fault. Vera, when will you learn, you'll never win, that's what Karl always tells me.
Seven minutes past now. Strange. They're never late. I don't know how, but they always find a way to beat the traffic and be here, bang on eight. That's why I think they're always just parked up nearby, smoking and talking about who-knows-what.
I suppose it's possible they really did have a job today. Some last minute thing. At one of them rich people's homes. Well-paying. Something they couldn't refuse. Didn't I hear Karl talking on his mobile before he left? I think I did.
I wander over to the front door, open it a crack. No sign of the truck on the drive. I listen. The road is empty. But, in the distance: sirens. Maybe there's been an accident and they're stuck in traffic. That would explain it.
I close the door and go back to the breakfast bar. There's the two plates, loaded with food. Sausage skins are beginning to wrinkle. And there's a film developing over the beans. Cold eggs won't be very nice either.
I jump at the sound of a vehicle pulling onto the drive. Here they are. Panic rushes through me. I tinker with the knives and forks, making sure they're positioned neatly beside the plates. I hope they're not too upset about their breakfast being cold. It's not my fault, after all.
A knock on the door makes me jump again. Not what I'm expecting. They don't usually knock. Karl must have forgotten his key. I smooth out my apron and go to let them in. Breathing in, I pull open the door.
My eyes must be deceiving me. Two strangers are standing there. In blue uniforms. One man, one woman.
The man speaks. 'Mrs Remington? My name's Sergeant Dean Wickett and this is Constable Sandy Mead. May we come in?'
I stare, speechless.
'Mrs Remington?' the woman says.
My eyes shift to her. The realisation that it's two police officers at the door is beginning to surface. I stand aside to let them in.
The officers walk into the living room, glancing at the breakfasts before turning to face me. I smooth my apron, clear my throat and look at the floor.
The male officer says, 'Can I ask you to confirm your husband's name, Mrs Remington?'
My throat's dry. What do they want his name for? What's he done? 'Karl,' I mutter.
The police man glances at his partner, then back to me. 'I'm afraid I have some bad news.'
My eyes widen. Blood rushes to my face.
'Your husband's been involved in an accident.'
'I'm sorry to inform you that he was fatally injured whilst cutting down a tree this morning.'
Darkness. Then, a kaleidoscope of colours begins to swirl before my eyes. A woman's voice floats through. 'Mrs Remington? Would you like to sit down for a minute?'
I'm not sure how I got here, but suddenly I'm sitting on the sofa. The female officer is beside me, holding a glass of water. 'I'm sorry, Mrs Remington, I know this must be a terrible shock. Would you like a sip of water?'
I shake my head, glance at the breakfasts. They must be stone cold by now.
'Constable Mead will stay with you for a while,' the man says. 'She'll give you some information about what happens next and the support that's available to you. Do you have any questions?'
I start talking, but my mouth is so dry the words get caught in my throat. Constable Mead offers me the glass of water again and I take a sip. 'Was anyone else hurt?' I ask, my words coming out clearly this time.
Sergeant Wickett checks his notes. I'm not sure why. Surely he knows the answer.
He looks up. 'There was one other fatality, but unfortunately I can't give you any more information until the person's next of kin have been informed.'
'That'll be Nick,' I say. 'Nick Ferring, Karl's assistant.'
'We'll confirm as soon as we can,' the sergeant says in a soothing tone. 'Now, if there's no more questions, I'll be leaving, but, once again, my sincere condolences.'
I nod and raise my hand in goodbye as he walks away. After he's gone, Constable Mead makes me a cup of tea and talks about family members, coroners and liaison officers. I nod and sip the sweet tea, which is starting to clear my head.
Then, Constable Mead says she too is leaving but, not to worry, a family liaison officer will visit shortly. She hands me a card and says to call if there's anything I need, anything at all. I nod and see her to the door.
After she's gone, I stand in the living room for a few minutes in silence before switching on the TV. Good Morning Britain is still on. Good. I go over to the breakfast bar and look down at the cold breakfasts. Despite their unappetising appearance, I feel suddenly hungry. With a deep breath, I pick up Karl's knife and fork and tuck in.
About the author
David Lowis lives in Surrey, England. He writes mainly micro fiction with the occasional foray into longer pieces when time permits.
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)