Julia returned home from her business trip with the small state of Luxembourg in her purse. Her husband, Mike, knew something was up right away and wasted no time in confronting her over his homemade moussaka that evening.
“You’ve done it again haven’t you?”
“You know what.”
“Don’t lie to me Julia, it’s written all over your face. The lying is worse than the stealing.”
“It’s stealing, Julia.” Mike slammed his fist on the table with just enough force to tinkle his cutlery but not spill his Malbec.
“It’s only a small one,” Julia said, flashing her best puppy dog eyes. “Barely even a country really. It’s a Principality, I think.”
“No it’s not. It’s a Grand Duchy. You’re thinking of Monaco, which was the last one you got caught with.”
“What’s the difference? Both ruled by some silly man in a hat.”
“Well, a Principality….wait. I’m not having this conversation. Tomorrow you’re taking Luxembourg back and you’re going to apologize and hope they don’t throw the fucking book at you! Then we’re making you an appointment with Doctor Frobisher. It’s time to grow up, Julia.” Mike stood up to leave the table, flinging his napkin down for gravitas.
“Where are you going?”
“You haven’t even finished your supper.”
“I made that moussaka for you! Because I was excited to have you home. It’s spoiled now.”
Alone in the candlelit kitchen, Julia opened her purse to gaze at her newly-pilfered dominion — all the little Luxembourgians going about their business, completely oblivious to having been stolen.
“A Grand Duchy,” she whispered.
She plucked a lash from each of her eyelids, dropped them down into the purse, so that they might fall like tar-black feathers and land on an old lady’s shoulder or on a young mother’s new dress. They would look up at the sky, strangely different today, and think that somewhere just out of sight, a covetous crow was watching them.
With nothing else to do, Julia headed to bed. In the bathroom, haloed in the light of the vanity mirror (the his and hers sinks — a “must have” she’d informed the interior designer) she brushed her teeth with her electric toothbrush, the pressure sufficient to lift the day’s buttery film without disturbing the little crocus flowers of her molars. She removed her makeup, wiping away the layers to reveal the subtle landscape of the years that had passed. The slow undulations of time that could never be rolled back. Some nights she longed for when there was just one sink, and they always left their toothbrushes touching in the glass.
As she crawled into bed and lay beside the pale slab of her husband’s back, it was only the thought of Luxembourg, sleeping soundly beneath its silken firmament, that would sustain her through the long night ahead. She was dreading taking it back, and knew how dearly she would miss it.
Mike, a light sleeper, and never one to hold a grudge, turned to Julia and offered her his arm, which she folded gratefully around herself.
“I know why you do it, you know,” Mike said. “Luxembourg, Monaco, Bermuda, all the rest of them. It’s for tax purposes isn’t it? I keep telling you, Julia, we’re doing fine. Just let me worry about all that, you work hard enough as it is.”
“Okay,” Julia said.
“And listen, fuck Doctor Frobisher, just take it back within twenty-four hours, okay?”
Mike was a good man, and theirs was a good life. He always cooked her dinner when she came home from a business trip, and without hesitation he would place himself at the centre of an international diplomatic incident, right there by her side.
Men always needed a reason for things. But Julia could never explain the feeling it gave her, to walk around with a whole country, snug inside her purse — a secret, known only to her. All those lives stretching off in every possible direction, infinite possibilities to be nurtured like a candle’s flame.
And how could he know? For she had never told him — about the test, the two pink lines, the little ball of cells and how it all came to an end, alone on the bathroom floor.
Sometimes there was just no reason for it, that’s what she’d been told, and she had learned to live with the truth of that in her own way. You could do everything you were supposed to do, make the perfect home — safe and warm and lovely. And sometimes, the tiny little people you put there, simply weren’t meant to stay.
RICK WHITE — Rick is a fiction writer from Manchester, UK whose work has been published in Milk Candy Review, Trampset, X-ray Lit Mag and many other fine lit-journals. Rick’s debut story collection Talking to Ghosts at Parties is forthcoming via Storgy Books. You can find Rick on Twitter @ricketywhite.
Art by KAITLIN NOEL HANRAHAN — Kaitlin is a little quirky, a little weird, the designated bad girl of the group, an IBS warrior, a sinner, and allergic to apples. Follow her on Twitter @coldslaw99.