short story: My Secret
Is there still Love after Forty
Shane had a bad day at work and came home in a foul mood. He took one look at me digging in the garden and yelled, "For God's sake woman, leave that alone, and I'll do it on the weekend?"
"That'd be right! When would you have the time?" I snapped back as the perspiration ran down my face. I eased my aching back into a standing position.
"Very clever." he sneered. "Instead of doing my job, do something with your hair. You're starting to look fifty instead of like a forty year old."
That did it! The door slammed behind me as I hurried inside to hide my hurt pride. I washed the dirt from my hands, and spied my reflection in the mirror above the hand basin. To my horror, I had to agree with Shane, I looked terrible. The split ends; the hint of gray roots showing along my hairline, reminding me that I needed another rinse. I was on the wrong side of forty; and yes, I did look fifty. Without enough money, what could I do?
Our daughter made my woes, worse with her phone call on Monday morning. Unable to contain her excitement she blurted out, "Hi Granny,"
"What!" oh, what timing, I thought. "That's terrific love, how does Mark feel about having a baby?" I asked, telling her how happy I was for them. When, in fact I felt older. Didn't being a granny prove it?
"How is Dad? Still working too hard I suppose. I wish he would tell those bosses where to go for once."
"Oh well, you know your father, he never complains, except to me of course."
"Is his back playing up again?"
"Yeah, you know what he is like, anyway, enough of that. I'm sure he will be as proud of you as I am."I reassured her and hung up.
Shane's criticism started me thinking. I had become so overweight that I wore looser clothing to hide it. As we were not as intimate with one another Shane did not see the bulges, thank goodness.
After breakfast, I sat browsing our local paper, and noticed an advertisement for beginner classes, in Computers. I thought if I learnt how to use a computer, maybe I could obtain an office position somewhere. With this in mind, I made the necessary phone calls to the College and arranged to start the next week. While doing this course, I obtained a small job in the cafeteria. The money helped our budget and I had my hair done and bought a few little extras as well.
One day I noticed another position advertised on the college notice board and decided to try my luck. "So, Shane thinks I look fifty. I'll show him." What with rushing between jobs and my course, and without time to sit around pigging out on cakes and biscuits anymore, I had finally lost a lot of weight. I still wore my shapeless clothes, so Shane wouldn't know.
Not wanting to spoil my surprise that easily. I planned everything, down to the last detail, by saving my extra money each week for special clothes and makeup. I had worked so hard for this; it could not fail now or could it.
The College was having a display for the students work. Shane had promised to come with me, and surprise, surprise he had made a special effort to get home early. This was going to be my night, although the nerves were starting to get the better of me.. I dressed very carefully, taking great care with my makeup and then donned a light shapeless coat to hide my dress.
Shane stared at me. "You look different tonight love."
I pretended not to understand and asked. "What do you mean, by different?"
He looked embarrassed, at a loss for words. "Well you look real nice, but there's something... a special glow about you tonight that I haven't noticed before."
I shrugged, "It's probably just the outfit and makeup. If we don't hurry we'll be late for dinner."
The meal set the atmosphere for my surprise. Then we drove to the College and checked on the displays, looking at the pottery and jewelry sections first. I showed him my computer work, although I knew it didn't interest him. As he saw enough office procedures in his own line of work, although he made the appropriate remarks of praise for my benefit.
Eventually we came to the Art section and we looked at the paintings. Suddenly he pulled away, staring at a painting directly at one end of the room. I'll never forget the look of admiration in his eyes. When he saw me watching, he looked guilty.
The painting, aptly named The Masked Lady, was of a woman reclining on a couch. A whisper of cloth carefully draped across the lower part of her body, revealing her long slender legs. Her full breasts tastefully exposed through her tresses of long blond hair falling over them. Her face caught everyone's attention, partially hidden behind the black mask. The artist had somehow caught the glint in her eyes, her beautiful expression, reflected an aura of mystery about her, her lips curving into a smile of intrigue.
I had walked away from Shane to watch the reaction of others in the room, also admiring the painting. Obvious with their pleasure, I heard Shane say, "Gosh she's beautiful,"
Quietly I said, "Do you really think so?" Before he could answer I added, "Gee it's getting warm in here, could you hold this?" I let the bag fall to the floor. As he bent down, I slipped out of my coat. Fascinated, I watched the expression on his face when he picked it up. He was studying the black mask that had fallen onto the floor. He looked up, shocked. His eyes showed amazement as they carefully perused the red knitted dress, hugging every curve of my slim body.
He looked from the painting back to me, as realization dawned. "I don't believe it." He smiled the old smile that I remembered from way back, and then he winked at me. "I hope you won't have a headache tonight, I suddenly feel years younger." He hesitated, "Did I really say you looked fifty?"
"You sure did."
He looked back at the picture and asked, "Does anyone else know who that is?"
Happy at last, I said, "No, wearing the mask and wig was a condition of my employment. So that's our secret."
"In that case they can admire the painting anytime, I have the real you, all to myself.
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