Mermaid

By Vita Forest

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Prue walked deliberately down the hallway, her toes shooting needles of pain up her shins every time they made contact with the floor.

“Please wear them,” Owen had begged her, and she had put on the shoes with the ridiculous heels.  Though she would be on her feet all night, though she would be walking back and forth from the kitchen, from the front door, from the deck.  Laden with food, laden with drinks, laden with plates.  The perfect hostess.

“Please.”

His work colleagues were coming.  The whole office.  The whole lot of them.  He had been in a state all day, adjusting the furniture, checking the menu, checking the bulbs in the fairy lights.  How much it took to give this appearance of unstudied elegance.

They had nearly had words.  Prue had come in from the garden with an armful of gardenias to see Owen, hands on hips, pulling selected cushions from the lounge.  Her tapestry cat, the patchwork number their son had made in primary school, the cheery yellow knitted cover she had bought at a craft market.

“Not appropriate?” she had teased, smiling.

He turned to her, preoccupied, his face serious.  Then he scooped up the cushions, walked by her to the bedroom and threw them in.

“I know you don’t think so, but this is important.”

She blinked and felt her eyes smart.

Then the shoes.  As she was dressing, he dug around at the bottom of the closet and produced the box.  She had forgotten them, they were so uncomfortable, so ridiculous, so not her.

“Please.”

So she had put them on and here she was, mincing up and down the hallway.  The interminable hallway, the endless hallway.  Brandishing the tray full of prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears.  Prue stopped at the end of the hall, adjusting her eyes to the darkness beyond.  Most of them were down in the garden, there were just a few up on the deck, leaning on the verandah balustrade, drinks in hand.

She paused and then she saw them.  She blinked and looked again.  It was not a trick of the light.  She was not mistaken.

There they were.  Her husband Owen and that Cressida.  That Cressida who he was always mentioning.  Her husband and that Cressida leaning on the verandah looking down at the garden.  Shoulder to shoulder.  Innocent from the garden.  Two colleagues having a chat.  But from behind, from where Prue stood, the light from the hallway caught their hands.  Their two intertwined hands, fingers twisting together out of sight of the party below.

Prue stared.

She backed away, away from the party.  She turned into the dark study and put down the tray on the desk.  She found the chair and lowered herself into it.  And with great tenderness, reached down and removed the shoes.

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