As Fenni Gonsalves explains to the policewoman that's first on the scene, it's really Marks and Spencers fault. Secondly, whoever had gifted the cat calendar with no space to write in more than one daily event. And Blossom nursery had so much paperwork. Fenni has watched all the seasons of Law and Order, she knows how to give a statement. Even if that frizzy-haired girl keeps looking at her watch. Events must be written down in their proper order, motive is important. It began this morning, Fenni's first day at work. Simon had unbrushed hair at breakfast, reading the Telegraph in his slippers and stroking his thin moustache. Someone had used school funds to buy fast cars, Simon hated cheating. It was only when his cousin Lazarus came down, scratching his curly head, that someone properly appreciated her tomato omelettes. Simon didn’t look up as she refilled his teacup. "You making bebinca for the Chang's tonight, acha?" "That's tomorrow. I'm making egg curry, their girl is vegetarian. I remember." She piled up the plates and gave them to Lazarus, who always helped with the washing up. Simon slapped his hand onto the table so fast the teacups rattled. "It's tonight. Friday the 30th. Look at the calendar." More rattling as Simon stood, started waving the paper around. "You said, going to work wouldn't cause any problems. Everything would be just the same. Shabaaz, congratulations. First day, already there's problems." Three hours twice a week answering phones at Blossom nursery hadn’t seemed a big change in their lives. Simon had explained she had no qualifications, no phone skills, no experience. Then never mentioned it again when she’d got the job. Her omelette was cooling rapidly in its wilting coriander garnish. She’d used all the eggs in her ‘everything is fine’ breakfast and they both knew this. A small hitch in her egg curry dinner menu. “I can go to the shops now, I’ve got time.” Simon showed tiny even teeth, as if he had been waiting for her to speak. “And who will eat your omelette? You always said to the children, eat it or wear it!” Simon always said to that to the children, and then stroked his little moustache, his tell that he was the smartest person in the room. She watched the facial hair as if it could help her. Egg won’t go with her new white blouse. “I can eat it, Fenni, your cooking is delicious.” The glare Simon gave Lazarus must have removed a layer of skin. “Haven’t you got to be at college today? And you eat too much anyway.” She was the one who had made the mistakes, she must try to fix the situation. She tried to swallow the cold slop, Simon’s eyes on each tiny, uncomfortable swallow. So, Fenni got on the bus to Clarendon Park late and desperately thinking of another fancy dessert. Bebinca! A treat for celebrations and holidays, with its careful layers of coconut milk batter. Simon must really want to impress the Changs. When she’d fnished completing the request for a telephone extension form, the computer access form, and many other forms, she had two hours to go shopping, get home and make dinner. Imagine her needing a piece of paper to say she was safe with children. With the twins at Loughborough University, home every weekend! With everyone around the table, eating vegetable chamucas and onion bhajis, Fenni’s stomach stopped roiling. She’d met Hazel Chang before at the Appliance World Christmas party, and Michael Chang played squash with Simon. Their daughter, June, was at the awkward-teenage stage but had lovely manners. She had her mother's high cheekbones and brown wavy hair, and her father's deep-set eyes and faint eye-brows. Fenni ran her fingers over her own thin,arched brows. She hated threading. Everyone cleared their plates, although Simon only took one bhaji. She and Lazarus brought out curry, pilau rice and beans with cashew nuts. The Chang brought Kingfisher beers, and everyone drank them. Apart from June, and Simon,on his third whiskey. They talked about work, Hazel explaining about her and Simon's boss wanting more time to play golf and looking for a deputy. Simon does a famous imitation of their manager giving the Christmas bonus speech, with waving hands and hair standing on end. He didn't join in tonight, but shook his almost empty glass until the ice clinksed. Lazarus filled up June's water glass, and Hazel watched him. Simon laughed, a jagged croak. "Don't worry, Hazel Martin. He doesn't have designs, even with his hyena eyes. He doesn't go that way." Lazarus over-filled the glass, mouth open, his large ears crimson. His mother insinuated about lack of girlfriends before he moved from Goa to attend Leicester University. But he's been polite and helpful, and moslty studied and played music by someone called Iron Lady. He must still be in the doghouse for his accidental defence of her earlier. June blushed, and Michael's forehead wrinkled. Hazel took the jug away and started dabbing the spill with a napkin. Fenni ran into the kitchen to get more. "Did you know that, Michael? She doesn't use your name at work. What does that tell you?" It's possible that these were not Simon's only whiskeys of the evening. Fenni scurried back, with piles of dishcloths and tea-towels. Michael's brows were drawn together, and he'd gripped his beer bottle with white-knuckled fingers. "It tells me she was working at the company before we were married and it was easier. What does it tell you?" Hazel patted June's hand and smilied at Lazarus, who looked less hyena-like and more like a drowning hamster. The puddle of water spread across Fenni’s mother's cornflower blue embroidered table-cloth, She clutched her bundle of assorted fabrics. The liquid Simon poured from a Johnny Walker bottle was clear. He's drinking home-brewed cashew-apple liquor, 70% proof. "It tells me I'm happy with my plump little housewife, with her nice round hips and her nice up-turned nose. Even though she's scowling at me to put this drink away." Fenni smoothed out her face and put down the cloths as they all turned, puppet-like. She crossed her arms over her chest in case that was next on the attribute list. Simon stared at Hazel, stroked his stupidly sparse lip-ornament. The water-stain, a fluid map of South America, pointed at Fenni accusingly. "The funny thing is, her sainted father, whose name is not to be taken in vain," he smirked and Fenni forgot not to scowl, "named her after this delicious spirit. Fennica, Fenny for short. We all knew, it was an open secret." Now the puppets turned to Simon, smug in his over-groomed moustache and left side-parting. "We all have secrets, don't we? Like Michael dyeing his hair. And losing at squash to the owner of those holiday lets, who bought all those washing machines from Fiona. " He raised his re-filled glass in mock salute. "Just in time for the interviews for the promotion." Simon loudly crunched ice-cubes, the judgement was over, she a tool in its deliverance. They've all been found wanting, tiny deceptions displayed. Fiona kept polishing her spotless glasses, Michael scraped the label off his beer with a thumbnail, Lazarus cut an egg into miniscule pieces and June lined up cashew nuts. Fenni looked at the uneaten food, the stained table-cloth and her husband's barely-hairy upper lip. He would not have the last word. "I made dessert! I forgot, but I'll bring it now. Lazarus, bowls please." She marched out, nose up-tilted, snatching the feni bottle. She paraded back in, crystal bowl held high. The heavy, ugly, deep one her sister-in-law gave as their wedding present, with her hand-written bebinca recipe and instructions about how to make Simon's tea. The lobeless, self-satisfied, moustache-failured drunk laughed. " You didn't make it! That's a Marks and Spencers trifle, I can smell the sherry from here. I'm not eating that." The problem was, the household rule was eat it or wear it. The ambulance is here now, the policewoman puts away the notebook and produces handcuffs. Fenni whispers the rest of her statement. The crystal bowl looked much better in pieces, but the strawberry jam and custard decoration didn't suit Simon. He always said Marks and Spencers put too much sherry in their trifle.
SKETCH ART BY MEG SHENOY
ABOUT THE WRITER Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Spelk, Lost Balloon and Terse. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, a reader for Bare Fiction and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer