'Hidden Agenda' by E. F. S. Byrne

He was so impatient for her attention she couldn’t help but love his anxiety, and pump it full of hope, scraps of anticipation. “I promise. I’ll be home early.” He believed her.

Her hand sliced through the condensation on the mirror like a sail cutting across the horizon. Steam hissed from the tap, rising in a cloud to blot out her face. She leaned forward and let her finger trace a heart in the damp, her nails scratching wet glass with the shriek of a frightened cat. She shrunk back as the screeching pierced her ear. A long lazy night, the two of them, a steaming bath, wine glasses held like dainty birds, tinkling and chirping, delicately confident in the twilight.

She wiped the glass clean impatiently, then watched it fog up again as she squinted at her pale face, wrinkled slightly from the shower. Slowly, she began to apply blusher, forcing her cheeks to blossom alive through the steam. She wondered how long fingerprints lasted on the greasy surface, if they clung on after her reflection faded. She swiped another slice of clarity, a motorway across the slippery surface unleashing her cheeks from soft focus. “I promise. I’ll be there.”

She shifted her weight to her left leg and pulled the towel high over her breasts. The bathtub swarmed into view in the corner over her shoulder. She could hear the water dribbling, burping as it swirled down the plughole. She cocked her head to avoid his stare. A promise. That’s all it was. He took things so seriously.

A dark stain of deep purple slashed a line beneath her nose, another over her lower lip until she smeared them together, then dipped off the excess with a tissue and stood back once again to take stock, her mouth neatly puckered for another morning’s work. He never understood the pressure she was under, how the meetings went on and on, how getting home on time was nothing but a dream, how she wasn’t made to be a couple.

The bath plunged into focus as she twisted her head. It stared back at her in the looking glass. She cleaned away the steam again, rinsed clean water around the sink, and checked her fingers for stains before jerking her head upwards and staring at his reflection straight in the face. He was gaping, a limp smile lingering as he swam into focus over her shoulder blades. She licked her lips. His elbows hung listlessly over the slippery bath rim; his shoulders were jammed against the stainless steel taps. Steam was clearing, soft focus dashed aside by the harsh ray of daylight flushing through the window in the roof. She avoided his eyes. The white tub was streaked with red, rivulets of a wasted breath. It looked freezing. Too late. There was no way she was joining him now.

She turned around slowly, taking in the pale, pink tiling, the neat, mauve floor mat, and looked at his limp wrists. She clutched the blade from the sink and worried about prints again. The hair on his chest still glistened, his body parched and crinkling, white as snow under the blood red tide. She leaned over his shoulder and closed the taps. Her hair was frizzled from the heat. It would straighten out on the street. She checked she had a comb. She dried her hands carefully on a towel and searched her face one last time in the mirror before tossing the blade into the bath as she raced to get dressed. She had a meeting in thirty minutes. She’d try to come home early and clean up the mess. She promised.


E. F. S. Byrne works in education and writes when his teenage kids allow it. He blogs a regular micro flash story. Links to this and over fifty published pieces can be found at efsbyrne.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @efsbyrne.

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