by Nick Archer about a month ago in divorce

A short story of indoor water-features and doing the right thing.

Photo by Cristi Goia on Unsplash


When the ceiling breaks, it cracks like thunder; a sudden and deafening sound that sends tremors through the living room.

You hear it fall.

Hear the paper that covers the surface rip, the wet wood twist and sheer, the plaster crash into the desk where you were sat just seconds before.

You don't see it. Your back is to the place where your computer sits with your paperwork and your diaries and your textbooks.

After the initial, ear-rending cacophony, the noise fades, like someone slowly turning the volume down. Chunks of plaster and wood and other things still fall, slow for a moment, then stop completely.

A tap twisted shut.

Then it is quiet. Only the relentless hammering of the rain outside the window, that until only a few moments ago you were enjoying the music of.

An elemental symphony, exquisite in its random sonata; it's repetitive chords comforting, knowing that it is beyond wall and window. You are safe in your manufactured cave.

Nature may scream and howl at your door, but inside, you are quietly victorious against her.

The forecast had boldly proclaimed a light shower, but it seems the rival forces of high and low pressure had other plans for you.

Yet now, you feel smaller particles, errant debris charting their own, separate path to the group, hitting the top of your abundant yet greying hair.

You dare not turn around at first.

At this moment you are free of the truth your eyes will soon provide, existing in a comfortable state of sensory ignorance, a blissful ambivalence.

You heard it, and you felt it, but you didn't see it.

It might not be what you think.

You have always been known for your ample imagination; this is just another example of that.

Then the smell hits you.

Dank and musty, the pervasive odour of moisture, the unmistakable child of wood and water together.

You turn your head and see the chaos. Chunks of plaster and shards of wood and islands of torn paper, all covering your large expensive desk. The twin flat-screen monitors are covered in white and grey dust, the keyboard lost beneath a strip of sodden paper, the once elegant computer tower battered by what remains of wooden boards.

And the water.

Dear god, the water.

There is so much of it.

Nature, enraged by your arrogance, has defied your will and insisted upon behind let in. Here it laughs at you, a torrent of water pouring inside like a jungle waterfall, splashing across the ornate desk and into the plunge pool once called the carpet.

In seconds, there is half an inch of water around your slippers.

You look at the technology, destroyed beyond repair. The piles of test papers that you were marking, saturated and now a single block of papier-mache.



And you smile.

Here, you think, is an opportunity.


You are shoving your bras into the gap between your blouses and skirts in the large suitcase when you hear it.

The whole bungalow seems to shudder, twice, like a shiver running through its body. The first is a crack and thud and the second seems more like a sigh.

It makes you jump and your heart suddenly starts pounding, your mind is alert, adrenaline flooding your veins.

Your body is preparing you.

Fight or flee.

The thought amuses you; you were already fleeing.

Taking your hand from the suitcase you step into the middle of the bedroom, listening.

The rain is still blasting down on the roof above, making it hard to hear anything else, but you can just about make out a new sound.

It is like a window has been left open, and the sound of pouring water is no longer muted behind glass panes, but clear and present.

You wipe tears of anger from your eyes, pushing your glasses up to access them, sniff to clear your nose and in turn, your mind.

You want to call out to Neil, but his name is still bitter in your mouth, and just listen for him instead. A few seconds pass and he does not call your name either.

What on earth has just happened?

In your gut, you know; you don't want to surmise, just in case you are correct.

Why isn't he calling out to you? Why isn't he running in?

You look at the suitcase on the bed, at the clothes still stacked high in it. Far too many to close the lid on, and your shoes are not yet packed, or your toiletries, or any of the myriad items that define your settled life.

How does one condense twenty years into one suitcase? Every little thing you are forced to leave behind seems to be a part of you, no matter how trivial you once considered it to be.

Every bit of plastic and wood and paper has a history; is drenched with memories.

Damn him.

It was perfect and Neil had gone and made a mess of everything.

You sigh, long and furious, frustration in every ounce of air expelled through pursed lips, and know that you need to go and see what has happened.

You leave the bedroom, walk along the wide corridor, past the photo of you and Neil in Morocco and Uruguay and Hong Kong and New Zealand, and shelves fulls of all the flea-market paraphernalia you bought together along the way.

You come to the doorway of the living room, but stay back, just out of sight and look at your husband.

He is tall and still handsome in 50s, grey and chiselled and even his gathering crows feet add only to his charm. It makes you hate him all the more.

He stands in the room, slowly turning around to see his beloved desk, crushed beneath the remains of the ceiling above it. You see that he has an empty cup of tea in his hand; he must have only just stood up to make fresh one when the world caved in behind him.

A flicker of relief in you, that he had moved just in time. Less than a second later, and he would have been in the same sorry state as the desk.

You watch as he stares at it, then your eyes widen as you see what he does next. Your mouth drops open.

Neil glances back at the door, and you step just out of sight, then watch.


You drop the cup on the floor and hear it break, risking a quick look at the living room door.

Susan has not come in yet. You still have time.

No, this is stupid; only a fool would consider something like this.

Someone desperate.

You raise an eyebrow at your inner self.

You are desperate.

Rainwater pours in. The broken panels above split the torrent into five or six waterfalls that crash into the desk and the carpet and the leather swivel chair.

Do it, you think, before you change your mind, before your inner coward wins out.

You take three or four quick, deep breaths and put your head under the crashing spouts, instantly soaking your hair and your shirt. The sudden coldness takes your breath away, but you keep going.

The noise is all around you now as you sit in the chair, the water filling he indentation like a child paddling pool and you immerse your backside in it.

It feels ridiculous, but you keep going. You pick the shreds of paper and plastic up and cover yourself in it, draping it across you, rubbing wet dust, now almost paste, into your cheeks and hair.

How has it come to this, you ask yourself, this final desperate act of insanity, to save your dying marriage?

It should only have been a fling, you have reflected much in the last few hours; you should have stopped it months ago.

But you couldn't. You were addicted. Addicted to being wanted. The desire to be desired was the most powerful drug you had ever known, and Jenny was both dealer and substance.

Susan had found out about his affair only hours ago, and they had argued almost ceaselessly since he had come in from work. An age of exhausting, unanswerable questions and denials and admissions and apologies and deflections.

The result had been her throwing her clothes into a suitcase, ready to go to her sisters, whilst you had sat at your desk to mark test papers, to show that you did not care.

But you did. You care very much.

And you sit now, filled with regret and remorse, covering yourself with the fetid flesh of your home, one last Hail Mary to rescue your marriage.

It's not enough, you say to yourself, not nearly enough.

Your head is dizzy with the cold of the water, your heart pounding with the intensity of your resolve, you do what needs to be done, suddenly and brutally.


You press your fingertips against your nose as you watch the man you had spent twenty years of your life with, stage the scene to win you over.

To win you back.

He's an idiot.

But then he always was, and tonight has simply proven that point beyond all reasonable doubt.

Dripping wet and covered with the tattered entrails of the home you have paid for together for half a decade, sitting in the sodden chair and already looking forlorn and beaten, you watch in awe as he goes one step further.

It is so sudden you wonder if it really happened. Neil grips the edge of the desk, and brings his face down so hard and so fast you literally jump at the sound of the impact.

You cover your hand with your mouth, almost feel the pain as if it were your nose that had just been broken on the wood.

You watch Neil do it a second time, the sheer, masochistic violence of it making you gasp allowed this time.

Behind the veil of water, he cannot hear you.

You step forward a little, peer through at Neil as he peels his broken face away from the edge of the desk. He is facing away, so you cannot see the damage, but there are visible drops of crimson in the water pooling on the carpet.

What a fool he is. This was all so unnecessary. A poorly conceived comment had tumbled from his tongue, innocent in its intention, and almost trivial to boot, but it had unravelled Neil's lies.

You feel frustration rise in your chest. You are no idiot, unlike your husband.

You had known about the existence of Jenny for months, of her presence in the periphery of your life Not only had you accepted it, but had wholeheartedly welcomed it.

Guilt is a wonderful gift to the contrivance of romance, it makes the guilty party's more attentive, their mind sharper. In the past six months, you had enjoyed gifts and holidays and small acts of thoughtfulness that you never knew that Neil was capable of.

Since Easter, your marriage had been in the best shape since their first two years, before he took on more responsibility at the university, and you, the role of Senior Project Manager at your firm.

The notion of infiedlity as marital first aid was unplanned, but it had created an opportunity that you had taken advantage of.

Of course, you had not looked for Brian, but he had appeared at just the right moment. Younger than you, though not as young as Neil's 'mature' 28 year old student; Brian had made you feel alive again.

You smile. It was Neil who had saved their marriage, all the while fearing that he was endangering it.

There would be those who would cynically judge what their relationship had become, but you and Neil had built a life together; a home, domestic habits, holidays, plans for a second home in France.

You still want these things.

You desire ownership of your cake, but also you want it consumed.

And you had it all, until Neil, the idiot, had threatened it all.

You have ignored so much, overlooked his obvious lies, his pathetic attempts at deceit. One comment, made by him, so utterly absurd that he knew that he had caught himself out.

He said nothing, but his eyes had confessed.

And so you could ignore it no longer, for to so would have made you out to be a fool yourself. He had forced your hand.

You could not have this. You had no choice but to react and he had confessed it all, and what he took at anger at his unfaithfulness, was in fact fury at him ruining what you now had.

In twenty years, you had never been so wrathful of him.

But now, as you watch him, soaked and battered and bloody, his spirit broken, you feel affection for him.

Your heart flutters.

He's trying.

You will try too, and if you play this right, within weeks he'll be throwing himself at Jenny again, and you can continue with Brian, guilt-free.


Your face burns as though you had just buried in a pit of fire. Having never been in a real fight, your face has remained a virgin territory for physical violence. This sudden trauma is more shocking than you ever considered that it might be.

Pushing yourself away from the desk, seeing your blood running in tiny rivulets, mixing with the water, becoming one with it, you wonder if you had dreamed this incident; that this is some lucid exploration of your subconscious, your guilt rising to the surface like bubbles and popping.

You had worried if you could carry off this farce, having never excelled in acting, but shivering with the cold and wet, your face cracked and bleeding and aching, no performance is required.

Behind you, you hear feet splashing through the sodden carpet and then a warm, firm hand on your back, your shoulders your neck. You are turned, the debris is brushed from you, soft hands are on your cheeks, delicate fingers touch your broken nose.

You look up at Susan, her eyes full of concern, of worry and sympathy; emotions you have not elicited in her for many years and you feel tears prickled your eyes.

Real tears.

You reach out to her, grab onto her and she lifts you up, away from the chair and the desk, the Broadway stage of your ruse.

Susan embraces you, asks if you're okay, if you're hurt anywhere else, if you're okay again. You don't answer, just embrace her, bury your face in her neck and her hair, and in that embrace is every moment you had ever shared.

You are a fool, you realise. Jenny only made you feel young, wanted, and looked up to, but it was all false.

Like this desperate act of deceit here, that relationship was phony.

This, right here, this woman, was as real as the water pouring in over them.

You hold her tight and make a promise to yourself, that you would remain faithful to Susan forevermore. You'd make her happy again.

You hold her tighter, feel her respond in kind. You look out of the window, and not for the first time wonder how wrong the weather forecast had been.

Nick Archer
Nick Archer
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