Jed woke up that morning with a feeling of exhilaration and dread. Normally, he was the kind of person who lay in, banged the off button on his alarm clock, enjoyed the delicious comfort of his blanket, till finally when time and fate could no longer be denied, he rose to face the morning. But today was different, today would change all his todays and tomorrows for ever. And that was a good enough reason to get up clearly.
He crept down the stairs to where he knew Linda would be sitting. Freakishly devoted to routine, Linda, he knew, would have woken up hours ago, racing laps in their heated pool, munching on her kiddish Captain Crunch cereal, and then jump into their shower room for a quick shower – it was always five minutes never more – before sailing off to work in her immaculate business suit. Jed admired her routine, her zest for life and was truly sad that he was responsible for taking it away.
He tiptoed into the kitchen and as expected he found Linda there munching on her favourite cereal. The horrendously loud grinning image of Captain Crunch contrasted badly with the scrunched up letter in her hand. So, she had found it. Well, it would have been foolish to expect otherwise. After all, he had set it right next to the carton of orange juice which she gulped down with her favourite cereal. The fact that the envelope just said a simple ‘Linda’ would suffice. Jed was a man who believed in economy, especially with words.
As always, Linda was pristine sitting neatly on a chair by the kitchen table reading his letter, a letter he had spent weeks drafting. In earlier drafts he had pleaded for forgiveness and in others he had been harsh calling her every inelegant name in the English language. Finally, good sense had prevailed and a document lay in her hand. A document? Well, yes, that was what it was. In it, he had sensibly and practically outlined the reasons for their incompatibility and hoped they could come to a mutual understanding.
Jed had thought and thought again about the situation and had decided that it was best to be business-like about the whole affair. He was even prepared to swoop in – in his role as the gallant knight – and offer to help her in her time of need. Sarah and he had discussed this and they both agreed that damage control was needed under the current circumstances. Linda was the wronged woman and he had to do whatever he could to help her. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise and Jed was a great believer in fairness.
It was extraordinary, he wondered for the umpteenth time, how such a small piece of paper would change all their lives. In the ordinary course of events, it would have been rolled into a ball by the children for a furious, frenetic, 15-minute game of catch and chased around by the cat, before eventually disappearing into the dustbin. But now in her hands it was a grenade causing explosions to a life they had meticulously built up. And he had killed it, killed it with a few penstrokes.
Jed braced himself for the expected verbal assault and wondered what he would do. Should he try to say something? Revert to old clichés that always seemed to work in the movies? ‘I think it’s best for us’; ‘I love you but not in the same way’; and ‘I hope we can over time still be friends.’ The lines were outlined by his best friend Joe with whom he shared all his friends and they were all so cringeworthy, especially when stated in the pristine boardroom of his office, that they had laughed, despite the sadness that crept over both of them. Joe loved him but he loved Linda more, Jed had always known that. And he was sad, sad that he was hurting his best friend too. One more grenade, he thought.
There was no easy way; no easy or nice way to tell anyone, especially his wife of 20 years, that this balding, paunch-carrying little man had found love. It was bad, it was wrong, it hurt everyone and yes it ruined the life he had, the only life he had known since he had blossomed into adulthood. But it was time for that new life now, a life that he wanted to lead with his new other. And he was relieved as he did not have to explain. The letter did it for him.
She looked up as he crept in tentatively, crumpled the envelope and the letter into a little ball and stared at him as he waited in silent and tremulous expectation. What would Linda do? Tears would have been too much, Linda did not cry. Tears, she had once told him once, were a luxury she could not afford. He expected coldness, even undiluted anger but not this nothingness. In fact, Linda looked as if she had just read The Times and once again had found the government’s policy or lack of it, on Brexit, disagreeable.
‘I am going to be late tonight Jed. Don’t wait up. Goodbye.’
Jed started. He had expected a lot of things but not this and he stared stupidly as Linda sailed out of the door to get into their waiting and practical family car outside. Confusion swept over him as he stared at the letter, now sitting on the floor, ironically curled into a ball. So the kids could play with it after all. What? What was he saying? He shook off his madness and tried to think as he sank into the chair she had thoughtfully vacated and rumbled through his feelings. He was surprised yes, but there was a feeling of elation. She knew! No more hiding and lying; no more gulping down breath-mints by the dozen before going home; no more stuffing unused condoms in his bottom drawer. Jed had hated this situation, hated it more than he had ever hated anything else in his life and now it was over. He was free.
The vibrating mobile dampened his elation. Sarah, shit Sarah. What was he going to tell her? A meticulous woman, Sarah had been over every line, every draft that he had composed to Linda and she naturally expected a full and thorough report. This interaction, if one could call it that, was neither full nor thorough. What could he tell her? That Linda had found the letter just where he had intended her to find it; that she had read it; and they had both said and done – nothing! How silly that sounded. Why hadn’t he said something? He wanted this didn’t he? Why then? What the hell was wrong with him!
The mobile kept ringing and he finally picked it up.
‘She found it.’
‘She walked out.’
Sarah’s grammar grew immaculate when she was angry and Jed could tell she was very angry indeed.
‘So Mr Jed, let us review the facts of this case.’
‘Sarah don’t do this.’
She went on not hearing him. ‘Let me understand this clearly Mr Jed. You wife walked out of the house after reading our well drafted document and you, I am given to understand, said and did nothing. This is, I believe, a correct summation? Yes, I believe it is. You let her walk out of the house because your duty was done. The delivery boy had delivered the document.’
Jed allowed her to vent in her impeccable grammar grateful because it allowed him to process his thoughts. It was time to be practical. It was just shock. Yes. He had read about people who went into shock and acted as if nothing had happened that the event had never occurred. Those mental, sorry, psychiatric doctors on TV said it all the time – what was it – post traumatic shock. Yes that was it. That was what had happened to both of them. It was understandable, he had to make Sarah see that. It was not easy to dissolve a deep love and a marriage of 20 years. Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, had he really used the words ‘deep love?’ ‘His Linda?’ What the hell was going on with him?
Jed sunk his head into his hands.
Linda was fuming as she walked out of the door. The little shit, he was dismissing her, his wife of 20 years, with a letter! A letter! Who wrote those stupid, archaic things anymore? She deserved better, she deserved more; she didn’t deserve to be summarily dismissed by a one page stupid document which she knew that his tart had drawn up. Lawyers! Pigs – all of them! Their job was to rummage through peoples’ personal lives and make a mess of them. Yes, that was what this woman had done. She must have seen Jed alone at parties, they had being going to their various work and social events alone for some time now, and latched onto the brainless, uncaring pig. What a b****.
But the big question remained. What was she to do now?
Linda was deep in thought as she walked the familiar route from the parking space where she always parked her car, thrust her thumb into the security device that marked her thumbprint and weaved her way through the revolving doors before finally entering the sanctity of her waiting office. No one was here yet, thank God, it gave her time to think. This was war! Oh yes, she didn’t love Jed, hadn’t for some time, but the thought that some little tart could grab him from under her nose was too much to bear. She and Jed together had worked their way from nothing to get to where they were. They had been practically homeless; they had nearly frozen to death because they couldn’t afford warm clothes; they had lived for days on food that Jed stole from a nearby store. Through all this they had survived, thrived and raised three beautiful healthy kids who would make their name known in the world. Linda was ambitious, brutally ambitious, and not a woman to be, as her American boss put it admiringly, messed with.
Jed would pay for this.
Linda twirled around in her office chair as she considered possible scenarios, the most probable one being Jed would leave. In fact, she expected a small note, another little letter perhaps, when she got home. Bloody letter writer! Could she stop him? Not likely. He must be packing right now, the scurrying little coward, taking the tube to jump into the arms of that doormat woman who would, Linda was sure, be willing to do handstands all day to keep him happy. No Jed would leave, she was sure of that, and so she would have to attack both Jed and Sarah.
The options weren’t many. Using the kids to send hate emails was effective but pointless. No man, Linda thought scornfully (she had a very low opinion about men) who walked out ever really thought about the kids. He would send her money, guilt money, from time to time, to hide the fact that he wasn’t there, wasn’t taking part in the their kids’ lives. Nope, using the kids was not an option. Play the sympathy card of the wronged wife? Her? She laughed. It was what they wanted anyway; they wanted to fix this mess with money and little treats for the kids. Threats and courts wouldn’t work either, lawyers as she knew from personal experience, loved to get nasty. It was then they thrived. In fact, the little tart had probably already drafted up divorce documents so she could get that noose ring around Jed’s finger as soon as possible. No, that was no good either. Also, she – Linda – would be the victim, a role she was unwilling to play. Whatever happened, she would never be an object of pity!
So what then?
All of a sudden the idea hit her. Working its way by magic through the contours and crevices of her brain it started to take hold. She turned it over, flipped it 360 degrees, argued and counter-argued against it. There were flaws she agreed, it could backfire, but it was her best bet for revenge.
Then they would know, really know, who they were messing with.
‘You are insane!’
‘It’s the only way.’
‘Linda, are you sure you want to do this? There’s no going back. Are you sure you want that?’
Linda nodded, looked up and smiled.
‘It’s just what I want Pam. Will you get it done?’
Weeks passed but Jed was surprised and a little disappointed, at hearing nothing from Linda. Yes, he loved his new life, loved the heady days of first love that he had had once a time long ago. Sarah was different, kind, considerate and hungering for him in a way Linda never had. They made love passionately and hungrily, they kissed each other awake with soft butterfly kisses, they ate breakfast in bed naked before dissolving once more into one other. It was crazy, scary, beautiful, as to how much passion, how much want, hunger, need and love a middle aged couple could feel.
Despite the love, despite the freedom – a freedom he had never felt with Linda even in their best days – a part of him felt incomplete inside. Should he talk to her? Should he find out how she was doing? How had she made her life without him? Were the kids all right? They hadn’t called since he moved out. Such thoughts ran through his head a hundred times a day and at times he would wake up in bed, sweating and crying. Unlike Linda, Jed believed in tears. At times like this Sarah would envelop her arms around him, cradle his head and shush him to sleep. But it wasn’t enough. They both knew that Jed would soon have to face his demon in court.
It was around this time that Ramona appeared. In her pristine white shirt, grey V-necked sweater and skirt along with long socks that went beyond her knees Ramona looked every bit the 16-year-old schoolgirl that she was. In hindsight, it was simply bad luck. Making her debut with a blog aptly titled, ‘Sex With A Schoolgirl’ Ramona quickly and expertly worked her way through other social media revealing juicy titbits about her men with appropriate hashtags #NaughtySchoolgirl #SexandTell #OutofUniform. It spread like a virus on Twitter as viewers vented their spleen on the failing moral standards in the UK. Ramona was vilified, but as her publicist Pam had correctly identified, the people who would truly fall were the men. And fall they did as Ramona worked on mercilessly. Visuals were necessary as You Tube videos where she recounted her ordeal of men who had beaten her, done graphic unspeakable things to her, and then thrown her away like a dog onto the streets went viral. Women’s activists, MPs took up her cause, and the men stood no chance. Her phone was ringing round the clock as reporter after reporter, editor after editor demanded names, closeup shots and clues about which man was next. Very soon the campaign #MeToo2 was born.
Jed wouldn’t have cared about this except that Ramona had saved the ‘best man’ for last – him. He was white and successful, she was black and underage, and with race relations on a knife edge, the crime was a death sentence. The media turned on him, colleagues pretended not to know him, and the company even issued a statement that they would aid in any police inquiry. Jed was sacked, untouchable and unemployable. Men and women shrank from him; made weak excuses to get away; left him sitting in plush waiting rooms as he hunted in vain to get a job.
What was worse was that no one wanted to hear his side of the story. Yes he had been in a bar; yes he had bought her a drink; yes he had kissed her – a mutual kiss, one that she had initiated – no, he hadn’t known she was underage. This was his story but the facts – as repeated raucously round the clock by shrill excitable news anchors – were indisputable. How could he explain? How could he explain that it was a moment of weakness, he just wanted to talk to a woman, any woman about his problems. She was nice, she listened and the kiss was one of tenderness and understanding which lasted seconds. No, none of this mattered. Complexities complicated the narrative and Jed became part of #ThePredator list.
In short, Jed was dead.
At first Sarah tried to fight for him but it was an unequal fight. Schooled in the cut and thrust of the courtroom where rules applied she was out of her depth in this monster world of social media. So titbit after titbit, video after video, followed with her name getting dragged into the sex saga as well. It just didn’t end. Long distance cameras taking sneak shots of her as she ventured outside; reporters enveloping her in a mob as she struggled to get to her car; endless crank calls of lust filled men, indignant socially upright women, and reporters wanting exclusive one-on-one on whether she would stand by her man, filled up her life.
At first, Sarah was tough she fought back but the pressure it was relentless and unyielding. It was then that she shed her love-tinted glasses and began to see Jed with new eyes. His laugh once endearing became histrionic, his lack of table manners once charming became inexcusable, his endless stories of his life – once fascinating, became self-absorbing and the way he scratched, farted and sneezed slowly drove her mad.
It was quite clear. Jed would have to go.
Jed woke up one morning to find the suitcases neatly packed, his clothes neatly pressed, with his favourite CDs, books and things she had given him as presents meticulously arranged, labelled and put on the table that stood next to the bedroom. Next to it was an envelope on which was entitled in immaculate writing – ‘Jed.’
Jed did not have to open the envelope to know that the letter lay inside. Nevertheless he did open it and found sound, practical and ‘mutually beneficial’ reasons why he needed to leave and preferably before she came home from work. What made him smile – a grim, bitter smile – was the fact the letter was a carbon copy of the text that she he had helped him draft to give Linda all those months ago. All these months later and she couldn’t even be original.
‘Lawyers,’ he squelched.
The two women sat across from one other, a glass of wine in their hands. But perhaps it was the drinks she had, perhaps there was something else inside here but slowly Linda found herself recounting her story of a man she still loved and hated – Jed. The arrogant stupid man, did he think that she did not know, not seen the little obscene messages on his mobile, the pack of condoms thrust into his pant pockets, the vague excuses about drinks with his friend Henri, a friend he had never seen and didn’t want. At times, Linda told the woman, she wanted to scream at her husband to at least have the decency to lie properly. That strangely seemed to hurt her more than the affair, she said, the fact that he couldn’t be bothered to lie properly to her. After 20 years, wasn’t she worth that much?
‘You’re quite right Linda,’ said Sarah. ‘He was a coward. Always a coward! We women are such fools.’
Linda regarded her thoughtfully.
‘All this is very charming but why have you called me here? What did you want to discuss?’
Sarah’s eyes glittered as she pulled out an envelope from her purse and handed it over to Linda. Linda pulled open the envelope and found not a letter but a very sleek, black pen drive.
‘What is this?’
‘Everything, Linda. And I have copies so don’t try anything.’
‘I don’t follow what you mean.’
‘Oh I think you do, my dear and I must say I admire you. It was a very well thought out strategy but you must know us lawyers, or well former lawyers, are not without resources of our own. Would you like me to tell you or would like to see this on the wonderful web world?
Linda’s cheeks ran cold as she faced the smiling Sarah. So she knew; knew that the three of them – Pam, Ramona and herself – had met in a quiet little flat on Edgware road where they had planned everything to the last detail. Ramona was an underage trickster and Pam had been quick to see her potential. She had nursed her, groomed her to tackle big things – most notably big, powerful men. Jed was never part of their picture, he was small fry, but Linda had called up and begged Pam. It was no coincidence he had met Ramona in the bar, it was no coincidence that she let him buy a drink and it was no coincidence that they had kissed. Pam had been doing her old school friend a favour – ruining her husband.
‘What do you want?’ she whispered.
Sarah smiled and leaned forward to whisper in Linda’s ear.
I want a letter drafted by you detailing carefully each step you took in this affair. I want you to detail the meetings, the proposals and I especially want to highlight the role of Ramona. They then will be gift-wrapped and given personally by yours truly to your husband Jed and a copy to the police.’
‘Sarah? I can understand me. But why do you want to hurt Jed?’
‘I want Jed hurt! Oh no, no, no dear Linda, I want him destroyed, the way the both of you destroyed me. I was fired from my job, I cannot stand crowds and therapy – my life is one big therapy session! Everywhere I looked he’s there, Linda, he’s there! Loving him destroyed me.’
‘Sarah, you’re mad. Jed is spending time in prison for having sex with an underage girl. He’s already suffering.’
Sarah shifted her eyes to Linda, ‘Oh! Is the lovely wife now having feelings for hubby dearest? Listen, Linda you don’t know the first thing about me and the hell I’ve been through all because of you and your husband! Prison for him isn’t good enough, he needs to rot, rot from the inside and its poetic justice if you do it, isn’t it? And you, I think you will enjoy life in jail. They say conjugal visits can be very therapeutic. And the women too will like you, you know?’
Linda swallowed. There was no question about it. This dirty vagrant-like woman, with big wide glassy eyes and slightly protruding tongue had gone mad. But in her madness lay the burning cleverness, the desire for revenge and so she had cleverly pieced the pieces together till the trail led to the only person it could – Linda. Linda knew Sarah would ruin them, ruin her high flying world, Jed, her children, everything.
All through a well drafted letter.