The assignment was to write a few paragraphs based on the opening sentence to an existing short story. There was no context given for the line, nor any indication of who wrote it.
There had been some discussion of death. Shelly had turned her nose up at the subject, though. Didn’t like dinner conversation to be so vulgar, she said. Mason thought her attitude was somewhere between pretentious and naïve.
He casually rolled the remains of their meal off the table. It landed with a thud on the tarpaulin sheet that he’d had the foresight to prepare. Mason liked efficiency. Eat and run, make cleanup easy. It kept the housekeeping minimal.
Shelly, meanwhile, between side-eyed glares in Mason’s direction, carefully collected their plates and silverware. She always used the good china for their infrequent meals. Lit candles. Set out the crystal wine glasses. She craved the romance they’d had early in their relationship, but familiarity breeds contempt.
And they were so very familiar with each other after this many years.
Mason used his toe to shove a gnawed leg back on to the plastic sheet. Shelly, in a rare moment of efficiency, wadded up the table linen and tossed it onto the remains before Mason folded the tarpaulin over the mess and grabbed a roll of duct tape from the mantle.
“Dinner was great tonight,” Mason said, lifting the torso of the corpse enough to wind the tape around it’s back. He let it drop back to the floor.
“I just wish you’d put in some effort. You didn’t even change clothes!” Shelly wasn’t looking at him. She was futilely dabbing at a spot on her white evening gown with a napkin. In the firelight, Mason could see her eyes shining. “Just once,” she said, abandoning the effort to scrub the blood from her dress. “Just once I’d like you to try to act like my husband again. Like when we were young.”
Mason sighed. “It was easier then,” he said. “We had more time back then. People cared less.” The tape made a zip as he bound the corpse’s feet. “We just can’t play these games anymore, Shelly. We can’t pretend that we’re normal. We don’t have that luxury anymore. Things have changed.” He stood up and licked something from his fingers before wiping his hands off on his jeans.
Shelly stared at him for a long moment. “They have, haven’t they?” A tear trailed its way down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand and turned toward the fireplace, shoulders hunched, arms crossed as though she were cold.
Mason hesitated. He hated to see her like this. She didn’t like change. He knew that he should be more sensitive to that.
He moved over to her, slid a hand over her bare shoulder, and drew her into an embrace. “Hey,” he said into her soft red hair. “I’m sorry. Next time… next time I promise I’ll make more of an effort. But we have to be more careful, Shel, or we’re going to get caught.”
She wrapped her arms around his midsection and nodded against his neck. “I know,” she let out a long breath. “Compromise is what makes marriage work.”
The doorbell chimed, and the two of them jumped.
Mason’s eyes went suddenly wide. “Fuck!” he hissed. “Fuck fuck fuck…” He rushed over to the body, struggling to hoist it onto his shoulders. The doorbell rang again.
“I’ll go deal with it,” Shelly said, wiping her eyes and straightening her gown. She strode over to Mason as he stood up, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Do I have anything in my teeth?”