He heaved a sigh of relief, as he landed with a thud in the chair.
“Now, Arthur, don’t grunt like that. This is your birthday,” came the chirpy voice of his wife.
Celia! She always looked after him; always let him know the moment he put a foot wrong. What would he do without her? Especially since the accident. And here she was throwing him a birthday party. It was nice to see people again, after being stuck in the house for months. What a woman she was! The sort who had a knack for getting things done; people always seemed to fall in with her wishes. She made you feel she had everything under control, and at the same time, that she was doing exactly what you wanted. How did she do it? And where, where would he be without her …
Especially since the accident. Damn that car that had hit him from behind. Now, with his back injured, he might never fully recover. Fully recover? No, not fully. But if lucky he might walk again, unaided and without pain, some day.
“Cut the cake, Arthur!”
The command broke his reverie. He looked up, and saw Celia glaring at him. Glaring? What was she doing that for? It wasn’t as if she’d already asked him. Or had she? He had been thinking pretty deeply. And what was with that sudden cold look in her eyes? For a moment, she looked almost as if she hated him. It didn’t suit her, what with her pale blue eyes, and her prim, neat bob of baby-blonde hair.
“Cut the cake, Arthur. Cut the cake!”
Something in her tone stopped him from picking up the knife. What right did she have to use that tone? Made her sound like a school teacher. But no, he mustn’t think these things. She was Celia; the woman who had turned his life around. Why, he’d been over thirty when he’d married her, and still been little more than a junior accountant. Now he was an associate at his firm. And it had all been her doing. She had been the one who insisted he attend work functions, who had chatted up the directors, invited them home, wined them and dined them, and even made him appear cleverer than he was. What he owed her. And yet here she was, staring at him coldly and determinedly …
“Cut the cake, Arthur. Cut the cake!”
How could she look at him like that when she loved him? But maybe she didn’t. Had he ever really had proof? She had never actually said she loved him, though it had seemed obvious, after all she’d done for him. They would never have been able to afford the mortgage if he hadn’t become an associate. And she’d been such a careful housekeeper that they’d already paid most of it off, so that now they could just get by, even though he was only working part-time from home. Thank goodness there was enough money left to pay his son’s school fees – the fees for that private school she’d insisted on would have been impossible otherwise. They were still a burden, but there was no need for him to worry; Celia would somehow make sure they got paid. She would get by. She was the sort of woman who always would.
Still she was staring and glaring at him. Why on earth wouldn’t she stop looking at him like that? Oh, she didn’t love him! She couldn’t. People just didn’t give looks like that to people they loved …
Why had he asked her to marry him? But wait – had he really? He had wanted to, certainly, though he hadn’t had the nerve; such an elegant, poised, cool-headed young woman had rattled his nerve. He had had nothing to offer her; yet he had wanted to marry her. He she sensed it? She must have. And she had put her hand on his arm, rested her firm, perfectly manicured little fingers on his skin, and said, in such an unexpectedly demure little voice, “Arthur, darling, I think we should get married.” And he had loved and worshipped her all the more, for having said words he might never have had the courage to utter.
And now this. Again there came those hideous words –
“Cut the cake, Arthur. Cut the cake!”
She stared on at him with those icy blue eyes, and that hideous forced smile upon her face. A sudden feeling of revulsion shook him from head to toe. Had anybody noticed? There were over a dozen people present; surely one of them must have seen something? But no, they were all smiling away; smiling patiently, indulgently; smiling as if his world had not just been shattered. Why, he had never known her at all. She was a stranger. For fourteen years she had been his wife, and never had he known her …
He stared on at her, transfixed by the sneering blue eyes and that horrendous, determined smile. How could he go on? How could he live with her, now that he had seen into her soul? She was a monster. Cold, hard, as firm and implacable as those perfect, hard little fingernails. Why had he ever met her? Had any good come of it, now that he knew what she was like? Why, the only good was –
Michael! His son. What would happen to him if he left? That she-wolf would bring him up to be just like her. But he couldn’t live with her. Not after this. Unless he fled the iron would enter his soul, and he would never prize it out …
He looked around him in panic. He had to get away. For a moment Celia had stopped glaring at him, and was laughing shrilly with the guests. Was she laughing at him? What did it matter. He had to flee. But how to tell everyone? Was there even a way to do so?
His panic began to mount, so that he felt his mind would burst. What a day! What a realisation. Oh, how could life go on? If only he could flee. If only he could run and run, and stop feeling as if he were about to burst. He had to run and run …
But just when he felt about to scream in torment, realisation struck. Run? But there was the accident. The accident that had left him hardly able to walk. But he had to flee! He had to flee that woman or die …
But who on earth would look after him? His mother? She might take him back again – at first. But she was the conservative sort. Divorce? To her that was nonsense. One took one’s spouse for better or worse, for life – again and again he had heard her say it. Had she been trying to convince herself? His father had been a brute, and she had hardly seemed devastated when he died. And the money. There was only just enough. How would he support himself? His salary? That was hardly what it used to be. And Celia was responsible for it. They would take her side, all those suits he worked with – they all worshipped her. They might throw him over if he left her, and then how would he survive? The harsh, brutal world was no place for a cripple. He’d have to work from home … win his own clients … and how on earth to do that without Celia? She had done it all. He needed her. Yet he hated her.
The thoughts that had been whirling through his mind suddenly stopped. A hideous pain ran through him; pierced his stomach, and sent a shiver down his spine. It wasn’t the accident – it wasn’t even physical.
He knew suddenly that he was stuck with her. Oh dear God, he was trapped! Even if he got better, there was the money. He could never rebuild his life on his own. She had done it all. He owed everything to a person he hated. He was stuck with her. Again, he felt a searing pain run through his being …
But she was glaring at him again.
“Cut the cake, Arthur. Cut the cake!”
Now she was barely even pretending to be patient.
“Cut the cake, Arthur,” she sing-songed, in a high-pitched, patronising voice. “Don’t be scared.” A smile flashed across her lips – confident and flashy. “It’s only a birthday cake, Arthur.” Her eyebrows shot up in amusement. “Cut the cake!”
He did not move. But suddenly she swept down upon him, and – how had she done it? Somehow the knife was in his hands. Clumsily he clutched at it, as the blade rested against the icing.
“Cut the cake Arthur. Cut the cake!”
“All right dear … there’s no rush … I was only waiting for everyone to be ready …”
He mumbled on and on, clutching the knife too high, and feeling the cool blade pressing against one finger.
“Cut the cake, Arthur.” She cocked her head to one side. “Everybody’s waiting for you. Just cut!”
Protest was futile. She had won. He knew it in his very bones.
“Cut the cake, Arthur … that’s it … it’s not difficult … just cut!”
With murder in his heart, and iron in his soul, he pressed on the knife – and cut.

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