Sally, who had only meant to rest her eyes, woke to the captain’s smooth-voiced warning. Revised shipping forecasts had been received too late to return to port. Passengers should now prepare for ‘extremely rough conditions’.
Within ten minutes the ferry was sloshing about like a bath toy. Bottles of spirits skidded slantwise behind the bar, clinking like drunken dinner guests. Sally was pleased to note she didn’t feel queasy but asked a passing crewmember for a baggy ‘just in case’. Despite her protestations, she was swiftly ushered to the designated vomiting zone.
The pong suggested car-warmed bananas and microwaved train food. Sally took one of two remaining seats at the edge of the alcove, angled her body into the aisle and mouth-breathed carefully. Every pitch of the boat elicited a chorus of groaning and heaving, whilst a bronzed attendant minced back and forth with sick-bags pinched in latexed fingers.
When Columbogey was deposited in the opposite chair, she laughed out loud in astonishment. But Columbogey – riding a tsunami of nausea and dimly aware of keeping his cover – stared hard at the floor, his pasty brow beading with sweat.
Sally had first clocked the private detective two weeks’ earlier on her way home. He’d stalled at the lights on Alpine Road, then over-revved his engine in panic. Even from her rear-view mirror, she’d noticed his twitchy movements and intense stare. When Sally had picked out a meandering route – creatively interpreting the city’s variable speed limits as she did – Columbogey had followed at a uniform distance. That night she’d padded down the landing of the house she’d shared with her husband for over two decades and read his emails. The agency promised ‘unparalleled expertise in clandestine surveillance’.
Sally hadn’t expected to be tailed to her sister’s in Guernsey though. Clearly Pat was more invested in their marriage than she’d thought. (When she’d confessed last year’s office flirtation, she may as well have been talking to the understairs cupboard.)
Sally experienced a pleasant liquidy sensation spreading out from her chest, as if a secret reservoir of affection had been unstoppered. She smiled at Columbogey so long and so meaningfully that he had to meet her gaze.
‘I know who you are,’ she stage-whispered. Columbogey raised his eyebrows whilst continuing to spit drool from his lips. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Danny,’ he managed, before puking up his marmite on toast. He couldn’t be much older than the girls.
‘I won’t say anything,’ said Sally, after a respectful amount of time. Columbogey nodded gratefully. ‘But, just so you know, I’m far too knackered for an affair. Pat can be a pain in the backside at times but… we’re a team – of sorts.’
As the ferry came into Saint Peter Port, they enjoyed the cool of Sally’s mint imperials in their mouths; the comforting clack against the backs of their teeth. Columbogey – abruptly attractive having regained his olivey complexion – was the most stimulating thing to happen to Sally in years. She thought of Pat, installed on the sofa for a weekend of golf-watching and ‘fine ale’, and hoped to God he felt the same.
LUCY GOLDRING is based in Bristol and writes short and shorter fiction (along with developing her comedy writing). She has been shortlisted for Flash 500 and for the National Flash Fiction Day micro competition (2018 and 2019). Lucy has a story forthcoming in this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology and online publications with Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction and 100 Word Story. You can follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/livingallover