The Other Man
The photo could be of anyone, really. The red nails are characteristic of her, but the picture is hardly conclusive no matter how long I squint at it. Is that a man off to the side? Could be. Probably. If the woman is my wife then this is all the evidence I need, but who’s to say?
As private detectives go, he’s appalling really. I may as well have done it myself. He’s a stuttering little man, bright but socially inept and timid to a fault. Reckons he had something to do with intelligence during the war which is why I hired him. But his advert was a good deal more impressive than the man himself, a little tea-drinking desk jockey who wouldn’t say boo to a goose and panics at having to operate a camera.
He’s adamant the woman with the red nails is her, says he followed them to a hotel in an expensive part of town and was able to get this photograph from a balcony at the bar opposite. He says the man is tall – taller than me – and well-groomed. A diplomat perhaps or, the happiest of incomes, family money.
A whisky is the temporary answer and I pour myself a large one with just a splash of water and return to contemplating the photograph. If it is a man, his body looks younger than mine. I wonder if that’s what drives the whole thing – I knew when I came home for the final time, when that dreadful, dreadful war was over at last, that my scarred body, the limp, the cough might be unappealing to her. But I had thought that being a hero would make up the shortfall. She is evidently more of a cold fish than I could ever have dreamed.
I think of my service revolver sitting in the desk drawer in my study, hidden beneath my will. Shall I use it for myself or her? Or both? I resolve to decide on the way home. Or flip a coin. Or perhaps I shall sit there as she serves me lamb chops, buttered potatoes and peas for the third time this week, reeking of another man’s aftershave, and say nothing.