Short story: The Other Woman, by Helen Joy

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GLENDA sighed as she placed the fine china tea-cup gently back into its saucer with both hands.

She had tried with one but the shaking had caused the china to rattle, jangling her strained nerves further.

Glenda knew she had no right to feel this upset; it wasn’t as if she was his wife, it wasn’t her he had betrayed. Why was this particular case causing her so much anxiety? Some days she found her job unpleasant, and this was rapidly becoming one of them. Looking around the spotless kitchen she wondered about the woman who lived here and who loved him.

The marble surfaces sparkled in the sunlight pouring unseasonably through the large window, reflecting off the crystal glasses which stood in rows waiting to be filled. The chrome appliances buffed to high shine, not a stray fingerprint to seen.

The door to the utility room was ajar and Glenda could see that the tidiness stopped at that point. The ironing pile teetered over piles of discarded trainers and garden shoes. Open cereal boxes stood in untidy rows, their contents spilled onto the worktops. A lone gardening glove lay on its side, still holding the shape of the hand that had last worn it, the soil dried and flaking from the faded flowery cotton.

She could hear the low murmur of voices coming from the rest of the house and the large abundant garden. She knew she was intruding but it was unavoidable, she had her job to do.

She glanced once more at the silver framed photographs on the wooden dresser. Portraits of two smiling boys at varying ages right up to graduation shots, proud parents hugging the satisfied young men, ready to embark on the rest of their lives. Central to the selection of photographs was an image of Philip and his wife, taken at a black tie dinner. They smiled happily back at her, their arms around each other, champagne glasses raised and a lump rose in Glenda’s throat at their loss and the knowledge of what she was about to do.

“Mrs Stevens, there you are. I am so sorry to keep you waiting but...” Philips wife’s voice trailed off as she hurried into the room, her white face stark against the black of her dress. Her polite smile faded and the lines around her eyes deepened as she took in Glenda’s suit and air of formality.

Glenda smiled uncomfortably, trying to look reassuring but knowing she was about to destroy this woman’s world.

“I am sorry it had to be today, that it couldn’t wait,” Glenda gestured vaguely towards the kitchen window and the black clad guests outside as she began to stand. She eased herself gracefully up from the kitchen chair, stepping forward slightly, closing the distance between them.

Mrs Philips took an involuntary step backwards, flinching from Glenda’s approach.

“I am aware of your relationship with my husband, I just don’t know why you felt that you had to come here today.” She stared unblinkingly at Glenda, looking over her with an air of resigned dislike.

Swallowing deeply Glenda picked up the pale cream envelope which, had been sitting beside her cup and saucer, and handed it to Philip’s wife.

“My relationship with your husband was not the kind you seem to think. We were at university together many years ago and have worked together on a number of cases, that is all. I am here today on behalf of our client. She wishes to attend the reading of the will, she believes Philip will have made arrangements for her and their son. Judge Philip Marks was his father, the DNA tests have proved this conclusively and he promised they would be looked after in the event of his death. Due to his position she has no reason to doubt his word.”

Glenda looked into the horrified eyes of Mrs Marks. “I am truly sorry Mrs Marks. I respected your husband very much.”

Mrs Marks sank into the nearest kitchen chair as the envelope fluttered to the floor. She stared into Glenda’s eyes, desperately searching for any sign that she was bluffing, that this was a cynical exploitation of a dead man, a desperate attempt by some chancer to make a quick buck.

Glenda looked back at her calmly, her face showing no sign of emotion or concern. She knew her client was telling the truth, she had been responsible for giving the judge the results of the DNA test at his own request.

Glenda watched Mrs Philips face sag, as the realisation began to sink in: as all those late nights at work and weekend trips away began to slot into place; the other mobile phone that had been found in his office when her sons had helped sort through his chambers and the pregnant secretary, she had bought new baby gifts for, who had not looked her in the eye for the past eight years.

“Please leave,” she whispered as the tears began to flow silently down her ashen cheeks.

“Of course,” Glenda nodded and turned to make her way out through the mourners filling the hallway.

She walked past two tall, red-eyed young men who stared at her for a long painful moment before making their way into the kitchen to comfort their mother.