Sabotage – A Short Story by Rachel Deeming

This story was first published on Reedsy Prompts on reedsy.com and was inspired by the writing prompt “Write a story from the point of view of three different characters”.

Brad broke up with me today. I can’t say that I’m surprised after the disastrous dinner that we had at his mother’s where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I was hoping that we’d be able to talk it through and perhaps see the funny side but the conversation we had was so brief we never got that far. Although I have to admit that he had the decency to look a little pained and sorry about it. A small consolation.

When he suggested “The Little Cup”, a rather twee tearoom in the high street, I knew something was wrong. Do you know why I think he suggested there? Because he knew that no-one that mattered would be there, other than his mother’s cronies maybe and all they’d do is report back what she probably wanted to hear: that her lovely son was having to let a girl down gently…again.

You know, maybe I’ve had a lucky escape. I didn’t think that earlier in “The Little Cup” although I held myself together well. I was already there when Brad came in, drinking hot tea from a delicate china cup and saucer and sitting at a round table with a lace tablecloth. Boy, did I feel out of place! I was sat there, looking at my phone, trying to look less self conscious but quite clearly not achieving it. Two old dears were on the table next to me, having a toasted teacake and a pot of tea between them, a generic pair of geriatrics, floral and pale. They looked up when Brad walked in and he nodded a greeting and smiled at them and you could see them preen a little at the attention.

And then, inevitably, he saw me. There was a moment where he glanced away and I saw him take a deep breath and then head towards the table. He didn’t even take his coat off, just unbuttoned it before sitting down.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hello,” he replied, a little stiffly.

“How are you?” I asked, thinking that this was all a bit stilted. I mean, we were a couple at that point but neither of us hugged or reached for the other. The mood was set.

“Fine. Fine, thanks for asking,” he said. I mean, how formal is that? It’s like he’s meeting an aunt in a drawing room, not his middle-aged girlfriend and lover.

“So, what’s up? Why the period tearoom? Are you going all Mr Darcy on me?” My attempt at humour was ill-advised, I realise that now. Nerves always make me inappropriately humorous.

He was flustered, I could see that as he said a bit too quickly and sharply, “No! I mean, no. This place just seemed neutral, that’s all. And convenient.”

I remember raising an eyebrow and looking about me. “Neutral? That’s a strange way to describe this place. Do you mean like a no-man’s land in a war zone?”

He flinched at my analogy and rallied. “Not at all, no. Just a nice place and not too far for you to come, I thought.”

How considerate of him, I thought sarcastically. I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable now and Brad was very much starting to squirm in his seat, looking around him. I think I knew what was coming and I wanted him to get on with it but a contrary part of me wanted to make it difficult for him, even if it was excruciating for me.

“Are you looking for a waitress? Because there isn’t one. You have to order at the counter.” I nodded in the direction of the lady idling behind the cake display.

“Ah, no. I mean, I know but I won’t be ordering anything.” This must have given him some resolve, admitting this because he took a deep breath and said, “I may as well just say it.” Another breath. “I think that we should break up.”

Silence. I said absolutely nothing, knowing that he hated silences and would do anything to fill it.

“You see, after the dinner on Saturday, I just think that, erm, we probably aren’t best suited and, er, it might be better to just end it now rather than continue and find out later.”

Again, silence. I could feel my emotions mounting: sadness, hurt and anger. It took an effort, I can tell you to keep control but I did. I thought that I was falling in love with this man, you see, but right then, I didn’t like him at all.

The two pensioners on the table next to us were whispering quietly to themselves, having dropped the tone of their conversation considerably once they could see what was happening. There was no doubt that they were earwigging.

So, how to react? I wanted to cry. I wanted to rage. I wanted to punch him. But I’m not sure that even I could act so uninhibitedly in such a delicate and quaint location especially with such a gossip hungry audience. Should I stomp out? Plead with him? Ask him why? I could have done all of these things but instead, I simply said,

“Okay.”

This was obviously not the response he was expecting but it was one that offered him a modicum of relief as his shoulders released their tension and his face, which had been taut, relaxed somewhat into a less serious expression. I saw something akin to tenderness then enter his expression and quickly looked away from him, before my eyes betrayed the fact that they were filling despite my efforts to the contrary.

“Okay,” he repeated and then looked lost, having no idea how to end such an awkward meeting. I remained silent. I had already made my concession to the easing of this break-up. He was getting nothing more from me.

He stood, clumsily, his chair scraping the floor. I was just sat, waiting for him to leave so that I could go too. It seemed symbolic of what he was doing, for him to walk away from me rather than me walk out ahead of him. And besides, I was contained while I was still but I felt like any movement might cause my emotions to slosh over, like water in a bowl.

“Okay,” he said again, running his hand through his hair. “Well, I guess this is goodbye, then.”

Pause.

“Goodbye, Tilly.”

I’d like to say I politely responded but I didn’t and as the little bell on the door signalled his departure, I gathered up my things as calmly as I could muster and once I knew it was safe, headed out. I heard the two ladies let out a sympathetic “Ah” as my hand touched the door handle and I left Brad and his break-up behind.

I’m not a great one for self-analysis as sometimes you can tie yourself in knots trying to decipher why this happened or that didn’t work or how someone feels about you but you know, it had to have been that dinner. I can’t think of anything else that could have made him feel differently. If I hadn’t stained the rug in the hallway with dog turd; if I had been able to eat the food; if I hadn’t accidentally kicked his mother’s dog; if I hadn’t put almond milk in the coffee instead of real milk – so many ifs. But sometimes, it just isn’t your day and sometimes, a series of unfortunate mishaps can lead to the end of a relationship.

Bye, Brad. There’s only one thing that can help me now. Or two, if you think about it. Ben and Jerry.

***

I had to break up with Tilly today, which went rather well, all things considered. Mother suggested that I choose somewhere neutral and convenient for Tilly like “The Little Cup” and it seemed as good a place as any although it always smells slightly of musty lavender which is a bit off-putting. Must be the odour of its older patrons. The older odour! Ha! Eau de Older Odour! Chanel should bottle that for the olds! Mother’s friends Mabel and Doris were there when I got there. I’d just come back from visiting Mother at home, still in bed after the almond milk incident of the weekend. Poor Mother. She tried so hard to impress Tilly, pulling out all the stops but it was just a disaster from start to finish. I mean, it could have been quite comical really if Mother had let herself see it that way. I am sure that Tilly would have seen the funny side of it; in fact, I know that she would have. I can just imagine us over morning coffee, laughing at when she realised that the awful stench was coming from her! Or when she felt something on her foot and kicked out only for it to be Petal, Mother’s Pekinese! The almond milk was a little more serious as Mother could have died if not for her Epipen but still. Such a catalogue of errors is Shakespearean in its farcicalness.

I’ll miss Tilly though. I really thought that she was the one. Funny, attractive, caring. It was always going to be a hurdle bringing her to meet Mother but I felt sure this time that they’d get along. I mean, it’s very difficult not to like Tilly, you know? But I suppose with all of the “catastrophic events” of Saturday, as Mother termed them, it was inevitable that Mother would feel badly. I wish that it had gone better. Tilly felt like she was made for me in some ways. We complemented each other so much, had shared interests and she had such a sexy smile… Oh well, plenty more fish and all that, I suppose.

But I was sad today. Tilly looked so lost in “The Little Cup”, I almost changed my mind. I really wanted to hold her, make her feel better. But Mother was adamant and told me, “The best way to do it is like removing a Band-Aid – with determination and the right amount of force. One firm pull and away!”

I followed her advice and I have to say that it went smoothly and there was no embarrassing flood of emotions from either of us but I can’t help but feel regret, like something has been left unfulfilled. Perhaps Tilly and I can be friends. I’m bound to see her around and we didn’t leave on bad terms – it was just a little distant. You know, I love Mother but I’m a grown man in his fifties and really, I need something more than my job and my hobbies and my mother. Mother has suggested that I get a dog for companionship when I am away from her, but it’s not the same. I’m not sure why she can’t see that. And a man has appetites, you know…

Perhaps I’ll drop Tilly a text and see if she wants to have a walk or something in a week or so.  There’s no harm in us being friends and I’d like to see how she’s doing. Who am I kidding? She makes me feel good, like no-one I’ve ever met before and I care about her, despite how Mother feels. I mean, Mother doesn’t have to know, does she?

***

When Bradley told me that he was bringing someone home, I wasn’t surprised. There had been signs for weeks of someone new being on the scene, so to speak and he was devoting a lot of the time that he would normally spend with me elsewhere so it was no great surprise when he asked if he could bring Tilly to dinner.

Tilly! What sort of name is that for a grown woman? Really! Bradley has the most awful taste in women. I mean, she looked nice enough but you can never really tell by the way someone looks what they’re going to be like, can you? For example, look at Ted Bundy. Well presented and intelligent by all accounts; a caring family man and a loving husband but also a blooming sociopath. No, I had made up my mind before she had even reached the house – she was not the girl for my Bradley.

He had to see it for himself. But there was no harm in helping him along a little, was there? I always think that the measure of a couple is when they encounter difficulty, don’t you? How they master an obstacle or two, say, is where you really know what sort of partnership they’ll make. The fact that those obstacles are less than accidental and concentrated into one ill-fated evening is neither here nor there, in my opinion.

Petal, my darling Pekinese is always doing her business in the same part of the front lawn next to the driveway. I’m not sure why. It must be a favourite spot for some reason. Normally, I am quite fastidious in the disposal of her deposits but on hearing of Tilly’s imminent visit, I may have become a little lax in my vigilance at disposing of those little turds. I may have parked badly, leaving only a very small space for Bradley to park, with inadequate room for a passenger to get out on the tarmac. Dinner was at 8pm, just dark enough to allow twilight to distort small lumps on the lawn.

It was a shame that the Persian runner in the hallway had to be the recipient of such a tawdry coating but sacrifices are always made for the greater good and it had become a little threadbare in patches. Tilly was very apologetic, of course, but the damage was done and the scent of squashed dog turd and disinfectant was a heady reminder of her wrongdoing all evening.

Bradley had already told me that Tilly had a low tolerance for salt after she couldn’t finish a delicious salt encrusted bagel that he had very kindly bought her for a lunch date one day, even with her favourite toppings so it was simple enough to slip an extra spoonful or two into her meal. I had toyed with having finger foods but when I knew that I could easily salinate Tilly’s portion in the kitchen before bringing it out, well, it was perfect. She struggled admirably trying to eat it, I’ll give her that but the salt won out.

Obviously, after the poo incident, Tilly’s shoes were in need of some cleansing and I wouldn’t hear of her doing it herself, despite her protestations. I had just the thing to clean them up so that they would be as good as new and off to the utility room I went to do just that. It was the least I could do really, wasn’t it? I have to say that they were a really nice pair of shoes, if a little masculine. I could have done without such deep treads but an old toothbrush and plenty of hot water and they were pristine once more. It did aggravate my tennis elbow though and I did a lot of cursing under my breath. But I needed them to be super clean so that Tilly would feel comfortable putting them back on her feet and that spurred me on. The things we do for love!

Anyway, once they were sparkling, it was only right that I applied a little polish to them and a certain special preparation of liquidised dog food, Petal’s favourite which I was able to smear in small amounts over the shoe, knowing that the smell of it under the table would drive poor Petal mad. I didn’t want to make my darling dog my accomplice and I did so hate it when she let out that awful yelp of pain when Tilly’s foot connected with her midriff. Poor little Petal Pekinese.

I didn’t think that it would work so well especially when, as a compliment to my cleaning prowess, Tilly put the shoe to her nose and gave it a deep exaggerated sniff, probably in a jocular attempt to lighten the mood. I looked at her aghast and I think that she thought that it was a look of disgust as a result of what she was doing but I was actually more concerned that I was about to be rumbled. Luckily, she didn’t suspect a thing and her thinking that I was disgusted by her only made her even more ingratiating.

The almond milk was a little risky, I have to admit, as I do have quite a nasty allergic response to nuts. Without the swift delivery of the jab from an Epipen, there would have been a real danger of me losing my life. My friend Mabel likes to have almond milk in her chai latte coffee when she comes around. It’s a disgusting drink but she seems to like these fancy fragrant tastes – too much for my palate. Anyway, I have a jug of it in the fridge for her regular visits marked “Mabel’s Milk” and it’s always kept on the right.

Tilly, in a grand gesture, insisted on making the coffee and I thought that here was the opportunity that would surely seal Bradley’s removal of her from his life. If life has taught me anything it is to never miss an opportunity when presented. So whilst she nipped to the bathroom, I took the label off the jug that said “Mabel’s milk” and quickly switched the jugs and advised Tilly on her return to only use the jug on the left.

Mayhem ensued as you can imagine but dear Bradley knew exactly what to do as I knew he would.

I couldn’t bear to lose him.

Anyway, Tilly is out of the picture. Mabel is my witness to that at “The Little Cup”. She reported that it had all gone rather well for Bradley but do you know that Tilly didn’t shed a tear? No emotion at all. See? Remember what I said about Ted Bundy?

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