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Charlotte's Web

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Brad looked completely exhausted as he fell through the front door, his arms full of  overflowing manilla folders.  Every day it was the same story.  He left home before the sun rose and returned after dark only to continue his work after a quick dinner and a couple of words with his long suffering wife.

 

She noticed how thin he looked in the crumpled grey suit he wore to work each day.  The tall man stooped as if he was carrying a huge weight on his back.  In truth he was burdened by a load of responsibility which was clearly overwhelming him.

‘Hi, honey. How are you?  You look tired,’ said Cathy, worried beyond the meaning those words could possibly convey.

‘Hey babe,’ replied Brad wearily.

Cathy watched him trudge past her after accepting a quick peck on the cheek which was all the affection they exchanged these days.  She wondered if she should try again to suggest he quit his job.  Last time it led to a heated discussion during which Brad pointed out that if Cathy wanted to maintain her current lifestyle then he could not possibly quit or refuse to take on extra work.

Furthermore this was exactly what he had forecast would happen if he got the kind of high profile, fat salary  employment that she always nagged him to get.  In short, he made it perfectly clear that Cathy had received what she wanted and she had no right to complain if he was too tired to enjoy it with her. So she kept quiet and watched her husband suffer and their marriage disintegrate.

One day Brad came home early. Astonished, Cathy said, ‘Hi honey, it’s only six thirty.  What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing’s wrong.  Can’t a man come early from work to spend some time with his beautiful wife?’

Weird and suspicious behavior. Cathy was too shocked to be pleased and was unable to answer his question.

Brad plonked down on the sofa next to Cathy who stared at him trying to read his face.  He looked like the Brad she married three years before with blue eyes shining from his babyface. There was animation in his voice as he stretched luxuriously then reached across to gently push some of Cathy’s thick blonde hair behind her ear. He sighed as he announced, ‘I’m going to quit!’

Over dinner they talked and Cathy drilled him with questions.  Brad answered  confidently that he would work for himself and he would work from home.  As he spoke he exuded all the boyish charm that Cathy so loved, and she believed in and was inspired by him.

That night they made love and as Cathy happily drifted off to sleep she decided that this dramatic turnaround could only a dream and in the morning things must return to normal.

Although Brad worked from home he continued to work long hours and insist that Cathy not disturb him.  He emphasized the need to really put in the time and effort necessary to ensure that his solo venture was a success.  He assured her it was only temporary, just until the new business was up and running.  Cathy accepted this although she had her doubts about it all.  Brad seemed even more consumed by his new venture than he was by his old job but at least now he was apparently enjoying himself.

A month passed and Brad was still spending almost every waking hour on the computer. Cathy could no longer suppress her suspicions.  She desperately wanted to trust him but she simply could not handle the fact that huge chunks of her husband’s life were a mystery to her.  What was he doing?  Wanting to respect Brad’s wishes that she not bother him or interfere or ask questions, Cathy pretended that everything was eventually going to be all right but she was desperately unhappy.

Sneaking up to Brad’s office, she carefully pressed her ear against the closed door.  At first she heard nothing except the tapping of keys but after a pause Brad laughed quietly.  More tapping was followed by another pause, then more tapping and more stifled laughter.  He was obviously not working because as little as she knew about finance, she did know it was a fairly humorless occupation.

Cathy remained glued to the door for some time waiting and hoping to hear Brad speak but all she heard was tapping and schoolboy sniggers.

Realizing there was every chance that Brad was having an affair with some anonymous woman in a chat room, she decided to find out for sure and to figure out a way to trick him into admitting it. As it turned out, no tricks were required.

Later that day she went to listen in to Brad’s cyber talk again.

‘Dammit,’ yelled Brad before slamming his open hand down on the desk.

Suddenly the office door flew open and Cathy almost fell in as Brad burst out.

She didn’t know what to say so she faked a casual voice and asked him if he wanted his dinner yet, but he was oblivious to her as he stormed down the hall to the kitchen.  Gazing over to the workstation Cathy noticed that Brad had left the computer on.  The temptation was too great.  She rushed over and was delighted, although sick with dread, to find that he was still online.  While still reading the text of the conversation Brad came back.

Cathy read it out loud in a mocking tone knowing that her guilty husband was standing there.

‘I don’t want to do this anymore.  It’s over.  It’s been fun but our sweet affair is over. Goodbye.  Charlotte.’

Turning to face the jilted lover she asked, ‘Was Charlotte her real name?  And what did she call you, honey?’

Brad opened his mouth to speak but sheepishly shrugged his shoulders instead.

‘How long has this been going on?’ asked Cathy as she stood akimbo, breathing fire.

In response to his silence she asked again. ‘How long Brad, have you and Charlotte had this thing going on behind my back?’

‘It’s not a thing, babe, it’s just talking. That’s all.’

‘That’s nice.  You quit your job so you can work from home and spend more time with me but instead you begin a special ‘just talking’ relationship with some stranger on the internet.  When did you say it started, honey?’

Brad paused, apparently deciding on whether to tell his wife the truth or not.

‘Tell me Brad, when?’

Looking at the floor, he mumbled something about the day he came home and said he was going to quit his job. Cathy’s reaction caused Brad to gasp. She pulled the computer monitor off the table and on to the floor, stared at it, then at her husband, and finally told him he was pathetic and slapped his already crimson face.

‘I think you should go back to a regular office job, don’t you?  Have you earned any money in this new venture of yours?’ she asked waving her hand dismissively.

Brad shook his head to which Cathy responded, ‘Get a job and stay off the internet. Okay?’

‘Okay, babe,’ said Brad.

D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works part time as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had more than 30 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) He blogs at Square pegs http://dacairns.blogspot.com.au and is the author of three novels, Devolution, Loathe Your Neighbor and Ashmore Grief. Details at http://dacairns.weebly.com

 

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